Say Yes – Stewardship and Celebration Sunday Feb 4 2018

We are here today because many people  over many generations said yes.

We could go back further, but I want to start with the yes that came 120 years ago, almost exactly – January 2nd, 1898.

A small group of professors and administrators connected to this place – this school–or its 1898 version, a college for farmers and ranchers –finally said yes to an invitation they’d been pondering. You might call it a challenge.

The Rev. Anna Jane Norris had been traveling from Longmont to Fort Collins, back and forth, trying to stir up enough energy from the hundreds who had been coming to hear her preach – trying to see if she could get a willing YES/AND – she had a vision for a Unitarian church in northern Colorado.

If it sounds radical that it was a female minister in the 19th century doing all this preaching – it was.

She was a part of a whole group of women that we can thank for their yes.  Their yes brought liberal religion west.  Because the men were like – Go west? Nope.   But that’s another story.

Can you imagine what it must’ve been like to arrive here at that time and try to start a Unitarian church, and as a female?

But Rev Anna Jane, she was committed to her YES, AND…and she was giving it her all  preaching regularly the good news of liberal religion from Longmont to Fort Collins, Fort Collins to Longmont – and finally, on January 2nd, 1898, the nascent congregation in nascent Fort Collins said YES.

There is still no Unitarian congregation in Longmont, by the way – they’re still thinking about it.

I’d like to see their faces, that group of Unitarians who gathered on January 2nd and signed their charter to develop a church of humanity, progressive in spirit – I’d like to see their faces, if they could see us now here today.

((()))).

But that’s how it always is.  We never really know what we are saying yes to – all the worlds that our yes will open up.  The way the story will change.  You saw it in your tables just now. This is the power of yes/and….

Be honest now.

How many of you, when you realized that you weren’t going to just watch improv, but actually join in – were like – YES.  Alright!

And how many thought.  Nope.  Or even, no freaking way.

Right.

Because you know, yes is dangerous. Yes takes on a life of its own – especially once you add your AND to the yes – it goes on to be so much bigger than you.  Or at least, this is the hope.

When I was in college, my friends and I had a dream of creating a theatre troupe we wanted to call the YES company, because we wanted to surround ourselves with people whose first instinct was yes. Not just yes, but yes – and.  The people who will receive whatever is thrown at them with open arms and then give back something even better.

Although I was working in the theatre, I didn’t think of this as a theatre thing, but more a life thing. Yes people are fun, interesting – they make life more fun, interesting, joy-filled.  I liked who I was with yes people – it made me more of a yes person.  My natural inclination towards over-seriousness gave way to more playfulness, daring, and open-heartedness.

Yes people create a space where creativity can happen – crazy creativity, wild ridiculous ideas – bad ideas, all of these are safe in a community of yes – which is vital because in order to succeed, you gotta fail a lot, first – at least, as long as the failure includes learning and changing – yes, and.

This whole last year however, I started to understand the instinct.  Not for yes, but for no.  And even, no way.  It started last January when a lot of the days, I wanted to hide my head under the covers and refuse to see the world, as it actually was. That’s what saying yes means, to start – it’s accepting reality as it actually is.

Not agreeing with it, necessarily, just receiving it. Letting it in.

And then from there, responding with a positive contribution to make it better.

We’ve been talking the last few Sundays about Showing up, today we begin a new series called Join In – show up, say yes – but don’t stop there – Join in – add something, add yourself. Yes/And.

I was predisposed to no, I admit – coming into last year. Like many of you I’m guessing, I just could not accept this President would be our President, not after all he’d said about women, immigrants, people of color, not given his ignorance, his climate-change-denial, his arrogance – Just, no.

There’s a lot of energy in “no,” or at least there is initially.  A common enemy has given rise to many powerful moments in history, and creates fast friendships –but the energy doesn’t last.  You can’t make a life only by un-doing.   Life asks us to be builders. Creators. Life asks us to find our yes.

Now, don’t mishear me, I’m not talking about what I call a Holy No. And by the way, all you kids out there, that’s the kind of no that your parents are saying, whenever they say no.  Parental no’s are always holy nos.  I just realized my kids were gonna be in the room so I wanted to be clear.

But really, a Holy no is driven by an underlying YES –a connection to a positive vision and value.  The holy no is about boundaries, and most of us could use more Holy No’s in our life. But that’s not this.  The no I’m talking about is about fear, self-protection, defensiveness – denial, or sadness, or – maybe, just getting by.

Either way, this sort of no is not living, not all the way.   This no helps you survive. But only yes allows you to thrive.

Anyone here a Gray’s Anatomy fan, or maybe Scandal fans, or….How to Get Away With Murder? I love all of these TV shows – they are the brainchild of writer and producer, Shonda Rhimes. Her brilliance is mind-boggling; her passion and creativity are endless. Or at least, they were until a couple years ago when she went through her own period of No.

Nothing was fun, it was just – routine, a machine – just getting by.

But then, one day, her toddler caught her on the way out the door and asked, Do you want to play with me, mommy?

Shonda is a very busy woman and doesn’t often stop and play, but in that time when her whole life felt like No – she decided to say yes to her daughter.

And they played.   They “improv’d” like kids often improv.  Yes/and comes naturally for most kids.

Playing with her daughter, she could feel her inner no becoming yes.  An active yes, an alive yes, a choice to try something she didn’t expect, a yes that pulled her towards something bigger.

After that she decided to spend a whole year saying yes to all the unexpected things –The things that scared her, the things that pulled her out of her routine, her comfort zone.  She realized she wanted to live her life like she was worthy of yes. Because she realized she didn’t before – she didn’t believe she was worthy of a life that bold, that brave, that uncontrolled, unpredictable – a life filled with that much life.

There are a thousand reasons today to be pre-disposed to no. A thousand reasons to resist and hold back, to hide under the covers. Life is scary, and more than anything, this last year has affirmed how often, regardless of our all-out effort, our desire and good intent – it doesn’t go as planned, how there are no guarantees, about any of it.

But refusing reality does not actually change it.  It just keeps us out of the scene.

And so like Shonda Rhimes’ toddler, I am here to ask, do you want to play?

The world needs us –all of us – more than it ever has before – all of us who are these 120 years later, still committed to the church of humanity – progressive in spirit – we need all of us, to release ourselves from whatever story is keeping us from joining all the way in, whatever fear, or feeling that we may not be worthy of a yes –whatever story we have.

Because it’s going to take all of us, taking the full leap into this scene, this life and giving of ourselves, knowing that we will not live to see the way it all turns out, because this yes is the work of our whole lives.  It is a yes for the version of this gathering in 2138 – to make the way for their dreams, their vision, their courageous love.

In a few moments, we’re going to ask everyone here to consider making a financial commitment for the coming year.  For some of you, this is nothing new, you’ve been saying yes to this ask for 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 years.  Thank you.  We are here because of your yes.

For others of you, maybe this is new.  Maybe you’re even a little uncomfortable, and you’re pretty sure that your phone is ringing and you need step out to take it.  But before that….

I want to invite everyone here to imagine that this financial commitment is one major way for you to express your yes/and.  Your way of saying I’m in -for this vision, for this scene that we’re playing out here at Foothills – this story of unleashing courageous love.

There’s no minimum – and I can’t underscore this enough.  Like Nathan said last week – get in where you fit in.  This past year we’ve had pledges at $2/month, and it all counts.  And we’ve had pledges at $20,000 a year.  It all counts.

By the way, there’s no maximum either.

We are here because people just like us were offered an invitation, you could say, a challenge, and said yes, without guarantee.  Over and over, across generations.

We are yes people – Yes/and people.

Let’s play.

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About Rev. Gretchen Haley

Gretchen Haley is relentlessly curious about most things, especially the big stuff of theology, the beauty of creation, the magic of collaboration, and the great joy of pop culture (reflected in this blog by random posts on Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Scandal, Orphan Black, or the latest Marvel movie). She has an audacious ambition for the liberal church, believing in its capacity to transform lives and our world by way of hyper-local relationships and partnerships that inspire the unleashing of courageous love. She's all in on adrienne maree brown's emergent strategy, and finds solace in the trails in and around Fort Collins Colorado where she serves with the brilliant Rev. Sean Neil-Barron as one of the ministers of the Foothills Unitarian Church. She and her amazing partner of 19 years, Carri, have 2 children, Gracie (12) and Josef (10) who both relish and resent being PKs, and who keep her grounded, frustrated, inspired, and humbled, everyday. She is basically obsessed with her puppy, a large sized mutt, Charlie.
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