September 6th, 2020 Sunday Service Message: Power of Connection

Blessed are the Peacemakers

In the classic Disney film Dumbo, the hero of the story, a young elephant with unusually large ears who is learning to navigate his way in the world, learns that he can turn his difference that others see as a disadvantage into a “superpower.”  Through a happy accident and the support of a friend, Dumbo discovers that his large ears allow him to fly.  Unsure of himself, this friend gives him a feather to hold in his trunk and convinces him that with the use of the feather, he can fly.

In this second talk of the September Be a Superhero to Your Community series, Rev. Joanne shares that her young granddaughter, like most children, loves to wear a cape and mask and become a superhero.  Through her power of imagination, what she conceives in her mind becomes real.

Rev. Joanne reminds us, however, that each and every one of us is a superhero, but what we need to do is to take off our cape and mask and “show up” as our authentic self, as the Divine Christ Light that we are.  In that way we will become that superhero to our community.

Dumbo, having learned that he can fly with the use of a feather, was unaware that it was not the feather but a unique and wonderful special quality that he possessed that allow him to fly – the large ears that others found comical.  Ultimately, through another happy accident where he drops his magic feather in mid-flight, Dumbo learns that he can fly without the help of anything or anyone, but of his own innate ability.  And as Rev. Joanne tells us, as we express ourselves as the unique manifestation of God in us, we show up in our superpower.

Comic book heroes are a favorite of film makers these days.  With modern computer-generate imagery techniques, we can now see in live-action movies what once was available only in animated feature films.  One such modern film is Marvel Studios, Black Panther.  In interviews surrounding the promotion of the film Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed the title character, shared personal stories of the experiences he had while developing his career in Hollywood.  These experiences included questioning the depiction of blacks in movies and television, and working to change perceptions of stereotypes.

While Boseman played the comic book superhero Black Panther, his life reflected actual heroism beyond the onscreen heroics of saving the day.  In 2016, right about the time he received his first role as Black Panther, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.  After fours years of treatments and courageously facing this challenge, sadly he succumbed to the disease.  But throughout the whole time of his battle, he never asked for sympathy or special treatment.  If fact, he extended to others going through similar challenges the hope and encouragement to never give up and live life to the fullest.  Though he could have played the victim, he transcended that impulse and behaved truly as a superhero.

Boseman’s heroic actions in the face of mortal illness are just one way us “ordinary humans” can be heroes.  Being a good and faithful spouse, a loving and supportive parent, an encouraging and mentoring boss or a colleague who is happy for, not jealous of, the success of their peers are just a few ways people act as heroes every day.  These are all ways that we make positive connections with fellow human beings.

The idea that being in positive connection with others is actually good for our health has long been known.  Humans are social creatures, and since time immemorial those who have such support are generally happier and healthier.  But this is not just “folk wisdom.”  Rev. Joanne shares with us the work of Dr. Edward Hallowell, M.D. who published a book, titled Connect in 1999, that focuses on how and why we need connection in our lives.  An excerpt that illustrates the main idea of the book:

A five-minute conversation can make all the difference in the world if the parties participate actively.  To make it work, you have to set aside what you’re doing, put down the memo you were reading, disengage from your laptop, abandon your daydream and bring your attention to bear upon the person you are with.  Usually, when you do this, the other person (or people) will feel the energy and respond in kind, naturally.1

Last week, at our Saturday Open Hearts, Open Minds talk, we listened to Zen Buddhist master Thich Naht Hanh regarding the topic of mindfulness.  Among the most important kernels of Truth he shared was the idea that the greatest gift we can give to another person is not something that can be purchased with money, but our full and loving presence and attention.  When this is shared with those we are closest to - our spouse, children, parents – it creates a level of intimacy and bonding that is truly priceless.

When we share this with those others we encounter in our lives, be they people we know well or the clerk at the corner store we have never seen before and may never see again, it fosters the kind of goodwill and loving-kindness that has the ability to foster understanding instead of prejudice, trust instead of suspicion, and love instead of hatred.  This is a superpower everyone has within them, if we will only allow ourselves to release it.

Unity teaches about this idea.  Unity Minister Winifred Wilkinson Hausmann (1922-2012) wrote How to Deal with Stress with Biblical Methods2.  In it, she writes:

No one can make us angry.  Neither can anyone cause us embarrassment or hurt our feelings.  We may choose to let the other person’s action cause us to react, but that is our choice.  And when we become aware that we are giving others the power to determine our thoughts and feelings, we can choose to refuse to allow the wrongs perpetrated by others to ruffle our feathers or cause a build-up of stress in our lives.

Jesus neither expressed anger toward the scribes and Pharisees nor condemned the woman.  He quietly allowed the situation to settle down and then handled it in the way that was right for all concerned.

Many times our problems with other people are the result of hurriedly reacting to what they have said or done, instead of quietly letting the strong feeling subside, while we sift the sands of our own inner being, listening to the voice of Spirit within us until we come up with the right answer.  How much stress could be avoided simply by remembering that we do not have to react quickly or strongly to others!  In our own innate divinity, we have the power to choose, and we can choose peace, harmony and wisdom.

These are wise words.  But as is often the case with things we know are correct and true, actually living into those ideals is much more difficult.  That they are difficult does not, therefore, mean we should not continually make the attempt.  It is a truism that “whatever we focus on expands.”  If we are always on the lookout for offense where none was intended or even exists, then that is what we are likely to find.  If, instead, we are always looking for the good in others then we are more likely to find that as well.  This does not mean that offense is not real, or that everyone always acts from a place of good intentions.  It merely means that it is much healthier and much more spiritually fulfilling to start from a place of love.

In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).  As Thich Naht Hanh and so many other wise teachers have told us, when we give our full attention to others, we will not only hear what they are actually saying, but also have a much better chance of understanding what they mean.  We increase the chance that we hear “blessed are the peacemakers,” and decrease the chance that we instead hear “blessed are the cheesemakers.”3  Afterall, what’s so special about cheesemakers?  Smile.

A good start to being a superhero to your community is to listen, truly listen; we can then be peacemakers.  A superpower indeed.

Scripture:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God..  1 John 4:7

Spiritual Practice:

This week, practice being in connection with others.  When you feel upset, consider how you can shift by forgiving the error and see divine potential.  Listen for the voice of God within you as you consider “What does love look like here?”

Greg Skuderin

1 Hallowell EM. Connect. New York, NY: Pocket Books; 1999, p.126.

2Hausmann, Winifred Wilkinson.  How to Deal with Stress with Biblical Principles.  Unity Press.  1985.

3 Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1979.