A Sermon Presented on 7-18-10 in The Woodlands, Texas
at Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church.
I’ll start with a little about where I’m from and where I’ve been, so maybe we can go somewhere in our hearts together:
My soul had its start in my upbringing. As a child of a tenant farmer I was poor, but I didn’t know it since there was another kid in our town of 1200 who was poorer! I got much from my childhood:
Honesty and integrity
The Work Ethic and the concept of earning
Joy in harmony of voices in song
Some immunity to anger and crises as my Daddy was explosive and Mother was nonexpressive.
Positivism – This may be a genetic gift. Some of my friends have called me a Pollyanna, which is going a bit far but I have always been an internal optimist, no matter the external situation. Maybe even an eternal optimist.
Maybe some of this optimism came from the years of gospel music. I used to hear music directors say, “Listen for the harmony” and luckily I did just that. When I find myself a bit off base, I listen to the harmonies of life. . .
I married and had 2 sons who brought me much happiness and taught me well. Now I’m blessed with 5 grandkids!
I did go through my Political Period. When my sons were tiny I went back to finish my degree. While I was there a bill was introduced which banned guppies in kindergarten, turning off classroom lights at transition times, and a class called personal development in high school as well as statues of David in any art book, yada, yada, because they smacked of sex!
I went against 35,000 signatures (obtained illegally in post offices around the state) with a counter petition and coordinated senate hearings in which the guppies won!
In the early 70’s I moved to Texas, and found that at risk children were about to lose state funding. Out came the typewriter and telephone (no WPs then!) and Plan A found its place in Texas schools!
This was about when I helped start Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in our community north of Houston. It was hard to leave it when I retired to Florida but I stay connected with many wonderful people there.
After a dozen years of teaching I started Treetop School because I knew three students I had taught in the past who came to me for help. My sons and I spent several hours a week that summer trying to find an appropriate “placement” for these kiddoes, but found the world wasn’t too interested in people who dance to a different drummer.
So I rented a 10 by 12 room with yard and bathroom privileges, and forged a haven for a dozen kids whose needs were not being met. It went over so well that I bought a fine little gingerbread house on a wooded acre full of frogs, owls and nature, and the school settled in there for a couple of decades.
We served anyone who needed a sense of community and a lift in reading, algebra, or self-esteem. I insisted on being affordable. We also served a number of part time after schoolers for tutoring with a twist. Many of them were students who would have received no services within the system. I sometimes call them the borderline kids.
Many folks think illiteracy, both intellectual and emotional, exists only in certain groups, but I’m here to tell you it is in this and every community—in mainstream America. (Much is a lack of bonding with themselves and their world.) These students know WHY I DON’T DIG THE BORDERLINE JIG:
Dancing a tune to the borderline time, a little off beat and feeling the heat.
Can’t pass the failure test so borderline’s mine.
No help my woes to meet but constantly feeling defeat.
We were able to create a homey environment to let kids from 4 to 46 blossom, and it was grand!
Then came my Date with Grief. It began with Hurricane Alicia in ’83. From there it blazed downhill as midlife crises hit my now ex-husband and by the time Christmas rolled around I got tears in my stocking. That was the year I wrote my GRIEF TEARBOOK. Financial and emotional ruin kept me company. I chose to heal:
Now is a time to heal; let’s act on what we feel.
Healing is a choice. Seek it with one voice.
Hug the ones who grieve. Draw circles that receive.
Now is a time to heal; let’s get on with what is real.
Next was my Humor Period. My sons were just about grown. I had more time, and a friend and I were starting a series of values books for pre-teens, and I was writing for a few local publications. Enter Larry Mac. Larry hastened to encourage me both in teaching and in writing my psychoeducational articles as well as the humorous tidbits I’d collected for years out of the mouths of kids and others. I decided long ago to refer to these as my Near Life Experiences. Here are a few:
I heard lots of “almost accurate” reports about our world. I was told about the country by Egypt called Cereal. Haven’t things changed—they called it Syria when I was in school. One girl told me about a program she heard about music in Aging Egypt. Same shelf of the brain as ancient, eh?
A little elf rushed in one morning to tell about a bad accident on the Fierce Elevated. He asked me why it was called fierce, maybe because it was an accident location? Kids can think upside down, but you adults probably call it the Pierce Elevated (an exit near downtown Houston).
Older students have to learn of long ago and far away. It was Greek to all of us the day when we studied epic poultry, or was that epic pottery? I don’t really know, I just write poetry myself.
The best one was a jewel for all seasons. We ran onto the word Frankenstein in a book. One student knew all about it. “That’s what the wise men gave baby Jesus: gold, Frankenstein, and myrrh!”
Much of what I did at Treetop was built around my passion. I developed methods especially for particular situations. My first and foremost method is warm caring relationship:
You’ve gotta love ‘em to teach ‘em. If you don’t love ‘em, scoot.
Cause they’ll make you go to screechin’ and they won’t give a hoot
If your lesson plans are carried out.
Their little hearts are not so stout, but what they need caring before all.
Ya know . . . respect and measles have several things in common; they are both catching, and they can both take a lot out of you.
I used carefrontation and gentle goading when needed. We tried to find a child’s learning channel, and help them learn to tune it in by standing on their strengths to pull up their weaknesses. I spent much time keeping kids, parents, and teachers encouraged. Then I’d add a sprinkle of technology to empower them, especially those heretofore excluded from the mainstream—like kids with coordinative problems who thrive when using a word processor or word prediction program.
My motto was and is:
We cheer them up when they need us. . .
We cheer them on when they don’t.
I like to top it off with joy and the unexpected, like the time at the end of ’89 when our social studies activity was to brainstorm a list to summarize the decade. Pretty soon I turned the ideas into a rap, and the students made their own booklets, and drummed or danced along to The 80’s Rap. I call that think-joy!
Other times require the hypnotic voice for students, parents and myself:
Back off, busy – hello calm.
Time is ripe for a healing balm.
Then there’s doubt, the yeast of thought!
Bully for a certain lack of confidence.
At times have that certain bit of doubt that keeps you searching for what it’s about.
I’m always trying to do more, and wondering. . . and struggling.
Yet I see we all are growing.
Maybe the struggle is the fertilizer.
It doesn’t always smell great, but it does the job!
If I’ve learned anything so far, from my long and lovely life, it is that we can be about the business of drawing circles that include, then guard to see that it doesn’t slip into excluding folks who are not yet, or may never choose to be, in our circle.
Circles are ingrained into our habits early in life: 3rd graders, cheerleaders, geeks, vegetarians, yada yada. Commonalities are good, yet those same circles which embrace us can turn against us and our success as a society, a world.
Cherish the circles we have: of friends, of commonalities, of opinions, of humanness, etc. but don’t hold them too close or squeeze them too tight, or they’ll stop being open circles.
One way to say it is that closed circles don’t let light in and become more hardened with passage of time. Open even just a crack in the circle, and light floods in, and the inner light of one circle is shared with others and the world. This communication with others constructs, one thread at a time, the high wire spinnerets on which peace and harmony live.
How can we think we’re better than (fill in the blank) northerners, southerners, Democrats, Republicans, Baptist, Catholics Methodists, Hindu, or that our child-rearing methods or socioeconmic level or beliefs and customs are somehow superior to the fill in the blank. You know the drill by now.
There’s a long list of people who lived “out of the net” of human tradition and learning: Edison, Nolan Ryan, Walt Disney, Whoopi, Michangelo, Jesus, Mark Twain, the prophet Mohammed, Paul Ehrlich, and several Olympic champs.
Think of all our circles as 3D bumper cars. Only if we leave them open so we can get light to steer by, can we avoid hitting others, and maybe even have fun and fellowship at times with those in other circles.
Also, my idea is that any peace and harmony there is to be had dwells in the space between and among the circles. It’s fragile, like spinnerets spiders make, yet it’s where the action is, although once made, it is quite strong. But we can only work on its construction when our circles are constantly being extended to include. . .
What if we commit to keeping all our circles cracked open to let the light in, sharing hope with others by including someone who is a bit different from us? What if we practice acceptance? How will that change our shared lives? What if we forgive others, and maybe even ourselves? Doing all of these on a regular basis might even help us hear the harmonies of life.
In the words of a former Northwoods minister Don Vaughn Forester: At this time we can ponder or pray as is your personal preference.
As we relish our shared silence, enjoy floating on it. We might even think about the circles of our lives, Hear the universe singing, and listen for the harmony.
Love is like air:
Breathe it in, but you can’t hold it.
Let it go, and it’s still there. All around.
May all your circles be open and
May you enjoy listening for the harmony!
Copyright by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.
(To listen to the podcast take this link.)
Additional material which was spoken just before reading the story Tacky the Penguin to the children assembled in the front:
ADULTS – Close your eyes just long enough to transport yourself into a childhood thinking mode, and you’ll reawaken a bit to the tolerance in your heart.
KIDS – Are you sitting on an iceberg? Is everybody good and cold? Let me see you shiver, then give a Brr! Now help me make a Listening Silence. We’ll count to 10–but at 5 we’ll start whispering. Let’s see if we can make a silence when we whisper the number 10.
(reading of the story Tacky the Penguin using a puppet)
As we sing while you go to your classes, you can come and touch Tacky on your way out. Tacky is an odd bird, but a nice bird to touch:-)