you are enough.

27 Oct

Catching up on some sermon posting this week.  This was delivered 6/14/2015

Moment for All Ages


Turning on the TV the other day, my mood went from pleasant to grumpy to depressed in a five minute span. The show I’d turned on featured a family doing some amazing and fun activity together. This triggered my guilt that our favorite family past-time tends to be watching movies together – not very extraordinary. Then came a commercial break: first a commercial for a plastic surgeon, then a commercial for a drug that will make sure men are ready for whatever, um, adventure, comes their way, then a tutoring service to help kids get better grades, then a new diet guaranteed to lose that belly fat. At the end of 5 minutes, viewers received the message that they aren’t enough in many different ways: not extraordinary enough, not pretty enough, not virile enough, not smart enough, not thin enough.

Watching through the next commercial break, the messages continued: my hair isn’t shiny enough, my car is too old, my pores are too big. Not to mention the lead story in the local news about a 10 year old picked up by the cops for walking to a playground 3 blocks from home, because heaven knows we are not safe enough.

Everywhere we turn, we get the message that we are not enough. Usually, this message is followed with a remedy: buy this product and it will make you better. But it doesn’t make you better, because there is always another way you are found to be lacking. It takes a tole on our self-esteem.

And it’s not just companies shilling their products that takes a tole on our sense of self-worth. Studies have shown that one in three respondents felt more dissatisfied with their own lives after spending time on facebook. This is because facebook represents what we want the world to see of us – our best, or even imaginary, selves. But when we read other people’s status, we read them like the blind man who felt an elephants leg and decided it was a tree – we don’t get the whole picture, and so we envy other people and fear we are missing out on life when our real life doesn’t compare to someone’s facebook life.

When we are told we are not enough, we often feel a sense of shame. We feel that intensely painful feeling that we are flawed and that therefore we are unworthy of acceptance and belonging. We are unworthy because we can never be good enough, perfect enough, thin enough, powerful enough, successful enough, smart enough, certain enough, safe enough, extraordinary enough. Brené Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, says that “most of us, if not all, have built significant parts of our lives around shame. Individuals, families and communities use shame as a tool to change others and to protect themselves. In doing this, we create a society that fails to recognize how much damage shame does to our spirit and the soul of our families and communities.” Shame tells us that we are not enough and that therefore we are unworthy of love and acceptance.

Our ministry theme for this month is compassion. Part of being compassionate, indeed perhaps the starting point, is to have compassion for ourselves. This requires confronting the shame we feel and providing an antidote. And it is particularly fitting to provide an antidote to shame in this, a religious institution, because much of our cultural tendency towards shame originates, I believe, in religion – one particular religious viewpoint that was adopted hundreds of years ago. I am talking about the theologian Augustine, and his interpretation of how Adam and Eve were cast from the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis.

For those you unfamiliar with this story, it is part of the creation story shared by Jewish, Christian and Muslim people: God created everything, and it was good. God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a paradise, and gave them one rule: don’t eat from this one tree. Long story short, they did. And they lost their innocence, and were cast out from paradise.

Augustine was an early Christian theologian, writing around the year 400. It was his view on original sin that became church doctrine. He thought that passion interfered with Adam and Eve’s willpower, it made them prideful and foolish, and so they sinned against God and ate from the tree. But this act, this very first, original sin, was not confined to Adam and Eve. Augustine said it is instead passed down to all human beings and that it is this original sin that separates us from God and makes us doomed to eternity in hell.

My colleague, the Rev. Ian White Maher, speaking to a group of ministers recently, eloquently connected original sin to the shame many of us internalize. He said:

One of our greatest fears is of being loved and then having that love taken away. It is devastating because it can…reaffirm those voices in our heads that tell us that we are not good enough, that we don’t deserve it, that we are always messing things up. Unfortunately, this has also happened culturally to us with the sacred relationship. The primary story for half of the world’s people…is of Adam, Eve and God. And within just a few paragraphs of the story’s opening pages, humans have disappointed God so greatly we are thrown out of paradise and it is forever hidden from us henceforth. We made a mistake and God cannot or will not forgive us and the rest of the story is about us trying to show that we love God but are never really good enough.

No matter how many times we replay the story, we human beings are never really good enough, we always fall short. And we always get kicked out of the garden. We are separated from God, from the divine, from love, and as Hafiz wrote in our opening words, this is the hardest work in this world. It is excruciatingly painful because we humans are hardwired for connection – connection with one another, with the divine, with love. Connection, Brené Brown says, is why we are here – it gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering. Our shame keeps us disconnected.

But what if we turn that story around. What if the ancestors got it wrong? Theologian Matthew Fox denies the doctrine of original sin, and instead writes of original blessing. He says that we are born into love. Instead of focusing on being cast out from paradise, he looks at the preceding verses. First, God created heaven and earth. And it was good. And then God created day and night. And that was good too! And then God created the sky, and the earth, and the waters, and the plants, and the animals, and the people. And after each thing God created, God declared it good.

Fox writes, “We can say blessing preceded creation, too, for blessing was its purpose. Thus there is no doubt that original blessing is the basis of all trust and of all faith. Original blessing underlies all being, all creation, all time, all space, all unfolding and evolving of what is. As Rabbi Heschel puts it, ‘Just to be is a blessing; just to live is holy.’”

Fox’s theology resonates with historical Universalist theology, which focused on a benevolent God who would offer universal salvation to all – that no sin, original or not, was too great to separate us from the divine.

Original sin tells us we are dirty, shameful creatures, unfit to be in the presence of the divine. Original blessing tells us that we are good, we are lovable and we are enough. Or, as Julian of Norwich would say, that all will be well.

So what does it look like to incarnate, embody, a belief in original blessing rather than original sin?Brené Brown says the opposite of shame is being wholehearted. “Wholehearted living,” she writes, “is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

In her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brown writes that because “true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

So how do we improve our level of self-acceptance? Brown outlines 10 guideposts in her book. One she mentions frequently is through practicing vulnerability. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with one another, we strengthen our connection to our own worthiness and to each other. Brown says “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”  The path to wholeheartedness.

And so I’m going to ask you to be vulnerable with me, and with one another for a moment. I would like to pass around a blessing. I’ll start each seating section off, and then one at a time you will pass the blessing around, much like we would play the game of telephone, until each of us has blessed one another. The person giving the blessing will turn to the receiver, and the giver will say “You are enough.” The receiver will then answer “I am enough.” And together you will say “Blessed be.” Then the receiver turns to their neighbor and becomes the giver, passing the blessing along.

Shame tells us that we are not enough: not good enough, not perfect enough, not thin enough, not powerful enough, not successful enough, not smart enough, not certain enough, not safe enough, not extraordinary enough. But shame’s origins are in a faulty theology of original sin passed down from the generations.

Instead of shame, let us embrace a Universalist theology that tells us we are lovable, we are worthy, we are enough. A theology of original blessing. Let us remind ourselves of this by joining together in litany of wholeheartedness. After each phrase I read, you respond “We let go of who we ought to be and embrace who we are.”

Because there have been times when shame has crushed our ability to be wholehearted…
We let go of who we ought to be and embrace who we are.

Because we have not always had the courage to be imperfect…
We let go of who we ought to be and embrace who we are.

Because we have struggled to have compassion for ourselves or others…
We let go of who we ought to be and embrace who we are.

Because we have been afraid of our own vulnerability…
We let go of who we ought to be and embrace who we are.

Because we are sometimes too scared to live authentically…
We let go of who we ought to be and embrace who we are.

Because we want to be whole-hearted people, confident in our worthiness and our belonging…
We let go of who we ought to be and embrace who we are.

May it be so. Blessed be.

2 Responses to “you are enough.”

  1. melhpine October 27, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

    Reblogged this on Mel's Mouth and commented:
    My friend the Rev. Dawn Cooley, minister at First Unitarian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, is a shining light in our Unitarian Universalist faith. I’m honored to share her recent sermon: “You are enough.”

  2. Lynne Bodle October 27, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

    Well said, Dawn. thank you!

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