A number of years ago, I struggled with boredom. I’m a person who has rarely been bored in my life. I have always considered it a failure of imagination to be bored. But this wasn’t the kind of boredom where I was sitting around whining “I’m so bored.” Instead it was a situation in which I was lacking my usual spark of enthusiasm. Things had lost their color.
A colleague of mine recommended that I become a “connoisseur of boring.” Rather than running away from what I was experiencing, he suggested that I explore “boring” with a sense of curiosity. I started asking a lot of questions. “Is God ever bored,” I wondered. And I did some research. I rediscovered myths that explain human existence as arising out of the boredom of the gods. These stories suggest that the gods created humans because they were bored. They needed something to make life more interesting.
I did more research. I found a type of boredom just like mine that emerges from a loss of meaning. Indeed, I had experienced a difficult loss that left me wondering, “what now? What shall I do with my life?”
The Teacher Ecclesiastes speaks of those times when things have lost their color, have lost their meaning. Listen to his wonderful, philosophical passage from the Old Testament, which is in our hymnal. He writes:
Vanity of vanities.All is vanity.What do people gainfrom all the toil at which they toilunder the sun?All things are wearisome;more than one can express.There is nothing new under the sun.Go, eat your bread with enjoyment,and drink your wine with a merry heart,for God has long ago approved what you do. ….Enjoy all the … days that are given you under the sun,because that is your portion in life.
Well, I did more research. I discovered that the word boring is a homonym. Remember what a homonym is? It’s a word that has two different meanings with each of them having the same spelling and the same pronunciation. So of course boring can mean uninteresting. But it can also mean making a hole in a circular motion, like drilling, like spiraling. It can be like dancing, another colleague suggested to me. She said, “Maybe you need to take up dancing.”
Being a “connoisseur of boring” turned out to be anything but boring. I didn’t take up dancing, but I did fall in love, and I rededicated myself to helping others, and I rekindled my interest in writing. And so on.
What’s lost its color invites us to turn things around. To turn our lives around. That means making a change – a small one or maybe a radical one. It may call for a change in our circumstances or it may call for us to change of our minds and hearts in some way. Louis L’Amour said: “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” When that time comes, when that time comes when it seems everything is finished, that is a time to listen harder, to connect more deeply with others, to seek a renewed understanding of the reality of existence. What we discover may not be exactly what we had envisioned. It may not be exactly what we hoped for. It may not be quite the beginning we had in mind. But it will be a beginning.
Anyone who has ever been stuck in a job that no longer holds meaning for them knows just what I mean. Most of us have been there at some point in our lives. Maybe the work place is hostile. Maybe it’s just boring. Maybe it requires us to sit through lots of tedious meetings or do work that we don’t find energizing. A new job may be just the thing we need. But maybe we can’t find a job. Maybe we need to go back to school or learn new skills – or it might require moving across the country or the world to have that job, to change our circumstance. Or maybe we lose our job. Then we’re flung into that situation where things have lost their color, and we’re forced to find a new path.
An illness or a health issue can be similar. It can be an indication to us that it’s time to make a change, time to start an exercise routine. It could be a wake up call that we need to have better nutrition and take care of our bodies. Aging and retirement – these can be an exciting and wonderful time. And it can also be for some a time when things seem a bit in transition, and not always in a positive way. Aging and retirement can call for a renewed understanding of what life will be and what our role in the world will be.
What’s lost its color may be calling for a radical transformation. And it may be calling not just for a radical transformation in our person lives. It may be calling for a radical transformation in religion and society. Just think about it. A number of the world’s religions got born when something seemed bleakest and most colorless. They arose out of a real need.
Prince Siddhartha grew up sheltered from pain. When he finally left the privilege and protection of his upbringing in his father’s castle, he came face to face with suffering for the first time. His encounters with suffering, with people who were struggling, led to Buddhism. His exposure to the reality of the human condition led him not to despair but to enlightenment. And not just for himself, but for all living beings.
There is also the story of Exodus, which is the central story in Judaism. The Hebrew people suffered as slaves in Egypt. Out of that experience of bondage, a leader emerged who led them to freedom. That leader, of course, was Moses. Their physical liberation, as hard as it was, turned out to be a lot easier to achieve than their spiritual liberation. They wandered through the wilderness for many days and many nights. They lamented. They even wanted to go back. They had to endure a complete change of body, mind, and spirit before being transformed into a new community, into a new people. Only then, did they finally break the bonds that held them captive. (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World)
What’s lost its color has generated social justice movements. The “Black Lives Matter” movement emerged from the need to intentionally and loudly proclaim that the lives of people of color matter. What’s lost its color is inspiring immigration justice initiatives. Today we’ll be taking our monthly special collection for the dreamer’s scholarship fund of the Greater Reading Immigration Project. This fund grew out of the need to bring hope to young people - who due to their citizenship status - aren’t eligible for financial assistance to go to college.
What’s lost its color led to the creation of our own Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. The Service Committee is devoted to human rights work. It started during the Second World War. Many Jews, Unitarians, and others in Eastern Europe were being killed and they were being imprisoned by the Nazis. The Unitarian Service Committee was established to protect people and help them escape Nazi persecution. This was before the merger between the Unitarians and Universalists.
The Service Committee wanted to make its work look official to others. It wanted to be recognizable to those in need. Its director, Rev. Charles Joy, hired the artist Hans Deutsch to create a symbol that could be printed on their materials to make them look official. Deutsch had gotten into trouble for drawing cartoons exposing Nazi atrocities and had himself escaped from the Nazis in Paris, France. Who better to create this symbol for our faith. Noreen Kimball describes the symbol Hans Deutsch created this way:
Deutsch borrowed an old symbol of strength and freedom from Czechoslovakia - a chalice with a flame. Rev. Joy wrote to his friends in Boston that the new symbol seemed to show the real spirit of the Unitarian religion. It showed a chalice, or cup, that was used for giving a healing drink to others. And it showed a flame on top of the chalice because a flame was often used to represent a spirit of helpfulness and sacrifice. And so the flaming chalice became the official symbol of the Unitarian Service Committee. (Noreen Kimball, www.uua.org/worship/words/reading/5963.shtml)
In the years following the war, the flaming chalice came to be a recognizable symbol not only of the Service Committee but also of our Unitarian Universalist religion. And by the 1970s, many Unitarian Universalist congregations, like ours, congregations in the United States and Canada were lighting a flaming chalice during worship services.
This morning, we lit our flaming chalice with the words of Albert Schweitzer. His words remind us of the power of this symbol of ours. His words remind us of the way it connects us to each other across time and place, bringing color to the world. He so wisely said:
Sometimes our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
The chalice rekindles our light. It reminds us that life is beautiful and good, and that there are others from whom we can draw our strength and our hope.
I think of the story of an elderly Czech woman. She told how this Czech flaming chalice helped her while she was in a Nazi prison camp. Every day she drew a picture of the chalice in the sand. Under it she wrote the motto, “Pravda vitezi.” These were the words that were printed under the picture of the flaming chalice in Czechoslovakia. In English, the words mean: "truth prevails."
Why did she do this? She said: "It gave me strength to live each day.” She couldn’t alter her situation. But she could change her mind, and she could change her heart. Paul Jean-Sartre, the existentialist, wrote: “There are two ways to go to the gas chamber, free or not free.” And Barbara Brown Taylor says that pain occurs in the body but suffering happens in the mind.
I think both of these speak to the situation that we sometimes find ourselves in when we can’t change our circumstance or we have limited choices. But even then we always have a choice. We can always choose how we will respond. That’s what the older Czech woman did. She chose a mindset. She chose how she would live each day. She chose to embrace life and to find hope. She chose to live a life of color. She chose to do that even while imprisoned by the Nazis.
She chose to find strength in the knowledge that truth would overcome. The flaming chalice enabled her to hold onto the belief that truth would overcome the terrible lies and the terrible injuries. She held to her conviction of the worth and dignity of every person and the importance of our freedom to think and believe as we choose.
Whatever we are experiencing – whatever has lost its color, whether it is something relatively minor or something temporary or something that feels overwhelming – we have a choice. We have a choice to live a life of color.
Has something in your life lost its color? Let openness and curiosity be your guide. Be a connoisseur of whatever you are experiencing.
Has something in your life lost its color? Let someone else rekindle your spark. Whatever we are experiencing is part of the human condition. There is nothing new under the sun. We are not alone.
Others before us found a way to find joy in the moment. They re-affirmed freedom and expressed gratitude for the gift of life.
Has something in your life lost its color? Reach out to help someone else. Others may need you. Others may be struggling, wondering, doubting, feeling heartache, or may have lost their way. Rekindle the spark of another person. Chose connection.
Has something lost its color? Create something. Create a work of art or a social justice movement. Be like the gods. Create something beautiful. Restore beauty to your life and to the life of others.
Has something in your life lost its color? Light the chalice. Let its deep history and symbolism bring you hope. Find strength in the knowledge that truth overcomes and that life is good and beautiful.
May the fire of truth, may the fire of compassion, and may the fire of justice give us courage. May it give us courage to turn our lives around and to turn the world around.
Amen. Blessed be.