Sunday, May 17, 2015

Order of Service:"All I Ever Really Needed to Know About Faith I Learned in Kindergarten"

Order of Service - First Parish Church of Fitchburg - May 17, 2015
"All I Ever Really Needed to Know About Faith I Learned in Kindergarten"

Wil Darcangelo, Speaker
Robin Dinda, Piano
Jamie Cormier, Liturgist

Service held in fellowship hall at tables.  Crayons and paper are at each table.

Special thanks to Heather Chandler for the winning concept of this Sunday’s theme.

“What I notice is that every adult or child I give a new set of Crayolas to goes a little funny. The kids smile, get a glazed look on their faces, pour the crayons out, and just look at them for a while....The adults always get the most wonderful kind of sheepish smile on their faces--a mixture of delight and nostalgia and silliness. And they immediately start telling you about all their experiences with Crayolas.”
― Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten


Welcome and Announcements
Good morning and welcome to First Parish Church where for 247 years a congregation has gathered to seek, to find, to laugh, to cry, to remember to hold hands, and take a deep breath.  Please remember to turn off your devices and then forget you own them for the next little while.  You are invited for coffee and refreshments following the service.  If you are new, we are glad you’re here and hope that you’ll stick around for the fun.  This is a wonderful little group of seekers here. And you are most welcome.

Morning Announcements:
  • Like us on Facebook!  
  • Seeking website volunteer(s)
  • refresh window box idea
  • new idea: construction of a small meditation chapel
  • other announcements...

Gathering Words
Let us begin…  breathe deeply and sink into the chair as you exhale.  Mentally reach across to the others in this room.  Extend an imaginary silver cord to all those present, the ones you love, the ones you hardly know, the even ones by whom you feel challenged.  Plug into their beings, their hearts.  And while we are connected, see if you can remember yourself as a child.  The hope.  The birthday wishes.  The dreams unrestrained by the realities of adult life.  Remember kindergarten.  For most of us it was the first time being away from our parents on a regular basis.  A new freedom and a new surrounding and new adult figures to influence us and set us on a path of learning, of deliberate exploration.  Remember the silver strands and see them reaching out toward one another from your heart to theirs.  Now, while we continue to place our awareness on the connection we share, remember a joyful moment from your childhood.  Picture it, the smells, the laughter, the location...  Imbue yourself with that memory... ...and send that joy outward along the silver strands into each and everyone present...  Literally pump that joy into the strands and see it gliding along them into the others present.  Gratefully and openly receive the joy of others’ memories too along these strands.  Breathe deeply.  What was once a number of separate individuals is now one single gathering.  A few minutes ago we were people.  Now we are a people.  Let’s remember that as we light our chalice.

Chalice Lighting
    From light we come and to light we return.  In the meantime, we represent our best version of ourselves with a single flame.  A flame of hope and of home.  A flame of remembrance and honor.  Of reverence and faith.  And say after me: May it deeply warm us.

Please rise for our first hymn "Magic Penny," which is printed in the order of service.  Then remain standing for the reading of our Covenant.

*Hymn “Magic Penny” Malvina Reynolds

Verse 1:
Happiness is something if you give it away,
give it away, give it away.
Happiness is something if you give it away.  
Then it comes right back to you.

Oh, it’s just like a magic penny.
Hold on tight and you won’t get any.
Lend it, spend it, give it away,
Then it comes right back to you.

Verse 3: A hug is something if you give it away…
Verse 2: Love is something if you give it away…

Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest for truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek connection consciously,
To the end that all souls grow in harmony
Thus do we covenant together.

Candles of Joy and Concern
    We share our joys that we may receive blessing.  We share our sorrows that we may receive comfort.  We listen that we may love.  Candles of Joy and Concern will now be heard.

(Offer prayer drawing from the joys and concerns shared.)

Meditation and Responsive Affirmation: “Unprovable Proof of Importance”
In Robert Fulghum’s 1988 book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, he writes the following: “Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, co-workers. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, important ways. People who teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the dailiness of life. We never tell them. I don’t know why, but we don’t.
And, of course, we fill that role ourselves. There are those who depend on us, watch us, learn from us, take from us. And we never know.
You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.”  

And if you will, please repeat after me:
I am important.
I am impactful.
I am powerful.
I make a difference everywhere I go.
I am grateful for those who make a positive impact on me.
I will remember my own power of influence and use it wisely.
I will remember my own power of influence and use it lovingly.
I will remember my own power of influence and use it purposefully.
I am proof of my existence.
I am proof of my ability to love.
I am proof of my compassion.
So mote it be.

Unison Prayer Response (sing 2 times)
All shall be well and all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.

Time for All Ages: “Draw A Picture of Your Happiness” (Have everyone use the crayons and paper at all the tables to draw with the kids.)

Singing to the Children (as children leave the sanctuary)
Go now in peace, go now in peace;
May the spirit of love surround you
Everywhere, everywhere you may go.


For the power to give, for the gift to be,
May our song be of thanks, to thou and to thee.

*Hymn #338 I Seek the Spirit of a Child

Sermon: “Everything I Need to Know About Faith I Learned in Kindergarten”

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don't hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Don't take things that aren't yours.
  • Say you're SORRY when you HURT somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday... some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.
― Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Matthew 18:2-4 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
2 And He called a child to himself and set him before them, 3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

So what might this all mean?  What do we, as a spiritual people who actively examine our faith, think of words like these?  The word converted is there.  The phrase Kingdom of Heaven is there.  A lot of people have a hard time with these words.  To what are we converting, exactly?  What is the Kingdom of Heaven anyway?  Many of us have religious triggers when we hear words like this.  So let’s take them apart a little.
Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is saying here that in order to gain a benefit of some kind, we need to be like a child.  He is giving his disciples some advice on how to be in the world.  To be like children.  But does that mean that they need to regress, to de-evolve their experience, to become innocent?  Probably.  At least metaphorically, yes.  He was suggesting to them that they forget what they have been told.  Suspend disbelief.  Exist in a state of wonder and unknowing.  To be humble as a child who knows that they know so little.  
It is a humbling experience to realize how little we really know.  How much like children we really are.  How blind, how deaf, how ignorant, how jaded by life we have become.  To look at a child with disdain or disgust or maybe regret rather than admiration for the blessed stage of life they are in.  The playfulness.  The joy.  The willingness to love.
What might we learn from children?  Any good teacher will tell you we learn as much, if not more, from kids than we ever manage to teach them.  An open hearted teacher is one who learns as much as teaches.
Once I posted a poem that I wrote in all the teacher’s bathrooms at Fitchburg High School.  I put it opposite the toilet in each one.  Here's what I wrote:

Here I sit,
broken hearted.
Tried to teach,
yet barely started.

But if I try—
do what I must
to open hearts,
engender trust—
I just might find
that what I see
is an open heart
inside of me.

For if my heart
is open wide
(despite my fears
which make it hide),
I'll find a link
between the two,
and learn that
I've been learning, too.

For if I learn
as well as teach,
then every heart
my hand will reach.

When we choose to learn from children, we become more like them.  When we remember that same invisible silver cord which connects us to everyone also connects us to children, we open ourselves to be more like them.  When you speak to a child, what is your attitude about that?  Are you open to them, or expecting them to just be open to you?  Because they expect the exchange to be two-way.  Do you?  Children who are asked to be seen and not heard, to listen and not question, are not very hospitable proteges.  And why do you think that is?  Because they know better.  Because they know how it’s really supposed to work.  And you’re doing it wrong.  
When Jesus suggests to his disciples that they need to convert, they are probably surprised.  Convert?  Aren’t we already converted?  They probably thought that they were already about as converted as they were ever likely to get.
But I don't think Jesus was talking about religion.  He was talking about attitude.  And not (snap) attitude, but attitude, countenance, the mantle of your intent.  Merriam-Webster defines the word attitude as “the way you think and feel about someone or something; a feeling or way of thinking that affects a person's behavior.”  That’s what attitude means.  It’s a mantle we place upon ourselves.  A state of being that is adopted by choice.  Mindfully so.
What is our attitude about the child we once were?  Would we have liked ourselves as children?  Would we have done things differently if we could?  Do we harbor resentments about our childhood?  Either from something we did, or was done to us?  How much does your opinion of your own childhood self, if you choose to remember it at all, influences your attitude when interacting with children today?  Think on that for a moment....  
To what are we converting, really?
Are we converting to our former self?  Or are we inventing a new child within us?  Are we choosing to see with fresh eyes the world we look at as adults?  Are we able to look at a stranger without fear as our first reaction?  Most children have a hard time not speaking to strangers when really put to the test.  Are we afraid to speak to strangers?  Are we afraid to get to know them?  Them to know us?  When was the last time you walked right up to someone on the playground and said “Hi! What’s your name?”  And what might happen if you did?
There is a lot of speculation about what the religiously-charged phrase, “Kingdom of Heaven” might mean.  Many Christian believers think it’s the inevitable rule of Jesus Christ on Earth in the time beyond Judgement Day.  But since that concept is a little farther out there than most of us are comfortable wrapping our heads around, what if we chose to define that phrase differently?  When imagining what might be meant by the phrase Kingdom of Heaven, what if we took a look at what Jesus was actually trying to get us to do.  In my view his ministry was about teaching people to get along with each other.  And more than just get along, know each other, love each other.  That there is a point to loving each other.  A purpose.  A benefit.  And the term Kingdom of Heaven is the result—reward, if you will—to be expected from that action.  If you can just get along, the Kingdom of Heaven is yours.  So if we want to try to infer what Jesus meant by “Kingdom of Heaven” in this context we could ask: What might the natural result of getting along be?  Peace, perhaps?  That’s a novel idea.  A loving idea.  What if Kingdom of Heaven is a poetic turn of phrase to describe the state of the world when we finally learn to just get along with each other?  
To me, Jesus offered a list of do’s and don’t’s for learning how to just get along.  And more than anything, that might have been his entire point.  Please just get along.  Really cool things will happen if you can just manage to do that one little thing.  He termed those really cool things the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  And if Heaven in this Christian context is understood to mean the realm of an unconditionally loving God, then: As Above, So Below.  As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.  If we can just get along and love one another, then all that heavenly loving happens right here on Earth.  If we can just learn to get along with one another, we will have peace with one another.  So in my view, the Kingdom of God Jesus is talking about is actual real time Peace on Earth.
And Peace on Earth is only the beginning…  For once achieved, what might we do with real peace on this earth?  What might we do with all of our time?  Our resources?  What would we teach our children if the world was at peace?  What might be spent on the arts and on learning?  Free from having to maintain a protective, untrusting attitude, what then might we be open to learning from children?  And might this peace on earth be brought about someday if we make a little deliberate action on our part right now to act as if it already existed?  
Like children, let’s use our imagination.  Let’s dispense with our knowledge of how we think the world works and think like children for a moment.  Close your eyes and imagine world peace.  Not just everyone shaking hands or hugging, but imagine actually existing in a world without war.  And more than just an absence of war, how about an abundance of love?  What is it like when our culture has a reason to trust one another?  What are the different choices we might make?  What does foreign policy in a peaceful world look like?  What does the national budget look like?  What does money spent on the environment look like?  What might our military do in a peaceful world?  What does our future culture have to say about the fighting we do today?  The blood shed?  What do our future selves think of our today selves?  They probably think we are barbarians.  
Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
So let’s lean into our kindergarten selves.  Let’s believe in the improbable just for the sake of it.  Let’s mindfully connect with people.  Let’s use our childlike imaginations to convert our world into a sphere of love and mutual service.  Let’s experience Heaven on Earth.  Let’s invite it into being.  Let’s apply for citizenship to a land where peace is king.  Where love is the only rule.  And where something as simple as a crayon can share a message of profound hope and utter happiness.
*Hymn #409 Sleep My Child

Benediction & Extinguishing of Chalice
    May you be as children.  Full of wonder.  Full of excitement over the simplest of things.  May you be ever optimistic and hopeful.  Believing in fairies and magic and Bigfoot and the Easter Bunny.  May you dream of your child self in the coming days and be reminded of what that child self of yours was truly like.  As you spend time with them, notice them.  Learn from them.  If they are wounded, heal them, comfort them.  Give your child self courage and strength for the years they have ahead of them.  Remind them not to lose a belief in magic as they get older.  (Extinguish chalice and candles of joy and concern like a birthday cake.)  Remind them that every time a candle is blown out the flame may go, but the wish remains.  Go forth and be exceedingly well.


All service elements (c) 2015 Wil Darcangelo, except where indicated otherwise.

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