Mom and Mother Teresa

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					           “Mom and Mother Teresa”
           A Sermon by Reverend Chris Buice delivered on May 14, 2006
           at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church

No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless. There's too much work to do.

                                                                           Dorothy Day


              hen I was about 5 years old my brothers, Sam and Bill, asked me if they
              could borrow some of my clothes to make a dummy. I was happy to help.
              After they assembled the dumbie they asked me if I wanted to climb up on
top of the roof of our house. Not knowing any better I said, “Sure.” And so we all
climbed up on the roof and positioned ourselves above the picture window of our living
room below. At this point, I should mention that my mother was having a tea party in the
living room with that wonderful picture window. Meanwhile back on the roof, my
brother Sam said to me, “Okay when I say go I want you to scream.” A smarter child
might have put two and two together, figured out what was going on and wisely staid
silent. However, I was not that smarter child. When Sam said go I did scream and at that
same moment my brothers threw the dummy so that it fell in front of that wonderful
picture window. I‟ve never seen so many women move so fast in my life, running out of
the house in high heels. Needless to say we all ended up in a whole lot of trouble.

       I tell this story because on Mother‟s Day we need to be especially aware that
being a mother requires a great deal of tolerance and patience. My mom died this
December so I have been thinking about her a lot this Mother‟s Day. I am one of five
children and from my story you can imagine that my mom had her hands full. Someone
once said, “Every mother is physically handicapped. They only have two hands.” And
one could add they only have two eyes, two ears, one brain and any other number of
handicaps (and this is if they are lucky enough to have all of these.) When you are a
parent sometimes you need to be in two places at once. While your body is in the living
room entertaining guests your eyes may need to be on the roof.
                                                                           Mom and Mother Teresa
                                                                    A Sermon by Reverend Chris Buice

       My mom had a tremendous amount of mothering energy. She raised 5 kids,
Merrianne, Shannon, Sam, Bill and me. And she also took in 3 foster kids Debbie,
Donna and Chad, not to mention Steve, a person making the transition from prison to the
outside world. And during this time she helped start a Girl‟s Club in the inner city. And
these are only the things she did in my early childhood. And so when all her kids were
grown and out of the nest; after we had all completed college and established ourselves in
careers, I was not completely surprised when my Mom told me one day that she had
decided to go to India in order to work for a few months in Mother Teresa‟s mission to
the poorest of the poor. I suppose it was only a matter of time before my mom would get
together with Mother Teresa.

       Of course, Mother Teresa was no longer living by the time my Mom went to
India. But that was okay, because my mom was not so much interested in meeting
Mother Teresa as she was absorbing the spirit of her work. I think my mom felt she had
something to learn spiritually from this work.

       I know that one of things that attracted my mom to Mother Teresa was her
theology of responsibility. A theology that reminds us that we have a responsibility not
only to our own children but to all God‟s children. And my mom and Mother Teresa
would have agreed with Martin Luther King when he said, “To expect God to do
everything while we do nothing is not faith. It is superstition.”

       Mother Teresa‟s sense of responsibility led her to modify the words of the Lord‟s
Prayer. Instead of saying “Give us this day our daily bread.” Mother Teresa led her co-
workers in a prayer for the poorest of the poor that any mother might say for her children.
“Give them through our hands their daily bread.” In other words if we want God to feed
the hungry then we should be willing to use our own hands to help do the job.

       This spring many of us here at TVUUC went through the training in order to
volunteer for the Interfaith Hospitality Network. For one week four times a year our
congregation hosts families who are homeless. We cooperate with others to help them
find homes. One of the great spiritual disciplines that each of us is challenged to learn in

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                                                                         Mom and Mother Teresa
                                                                  A Sermon by Reverend Chris Buice

this kind of work is how to give without taking; how to give shelter without taking away
dignity; how to give food without taking away self-confidence; how to give help without
taking away a feeling of autonomy, personal worth and value. Our trainer told us to think
about our words. To be sure not to go down the halls of the church saying, “Hey, the
homeless are here.” We need to be sensitive; to not be overly inquisitive about their life
stories or press them for details about how they became homeless. Over the course of life
they will have to tell this story to many different people. And it can be a blessing to be
seen simply as a human being and not as a social service case. It is important for us to
think about how our words and actions affect our guests.

       When a young activist went to South Africa to help in the days of apartheid he
was told by a local man, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you
have come to because you have discovered that your liberation is bound up in mine, then
we can work together”

       I believe people are not only hungry for food but hungry to be treated with
dignity; thirsty not only for drink but for justice; homeless not only because of a lack of
shelter but also because of a lack of community and love. Mother Teresa was known for
her willingness to touch people who others considered to be untouchable. To touch those
suffering from extreme poverty and disease but she often said, “The biggest disease today
is not leprosy or tuberculosis, (or AIDS) but rather the feeling of being unwanted,
uncared for, and deserted by everyone. ” In our own country where we pride ourselves
on having found cures to so many diseases we need to acknowledge that this disease; this
disease of loneliness is still rampant.

       In our day and age most of us are aware of a host of global problems and it is easy
to let our feelings of being overwhelmed prevent us from doing anything at all. Of
course, Mother Teresa used to say it is not what we do, but how much love we put into
doing it. Our actions are important but the spirit with which we do our actions is even
more important. We may not be able to do everything but we can do something and that
something we must do in the spirit of love. I think this is a sentiment that is important for
all of us in our efforts to make a difference in the world. And I think it is a sentiment that

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                                                                           Mom and Mother Teresa
                                                                    A Sermon by Reverend Chris Buice

all mothers can identify with. For every parent knows that we cannot solve every
problem, prevent every disaster; or shelter our children from every adversity. Every
parent knows this on a very deep level. But we can love them and we can hope that it
will be enough.

        I once had a member of my congregation in Oxford, Ohio who was very critical
of Mother Teresa. She said she put too much emphasis on charity and not enough on
social justice; too much focus on service and not enough on systemic change. And I too
am a big believer in systemic social change. I think for every Mother Teresa there needs
to be a Mother Jones. For every social service provider there needs to be an organizer.

        This said, when my mom got back from India I mentioned this criticism to her
and she replied, “Have you ever been to India? There is no system? There are signs on
the side of the road that say, „Please pay your taxes.‟ It is very hard to focus on systemic
change when there is no system.” I have never been to India so I am in no position to
judge whether my mom‟s comments are accurate. However, I can say this, without fear
of refutation, that there is no system on earth that is so perfect that it does not also require
a mother‟s love. And it is easier to be critical of someone else‟s parenting than it is to do
the job our selves. The view from a suburb in Ohio is very different from the view from
the slums of Calcutta.

        Of course, mothers do not always agree on what is best for their children. And
my mom did have differences with Mother Teresa; my mom was not celibate. In fact, in
the last few months of her life my mom gave a talk at the Center for Creative Aging on
“Seniors & Sexuality” and after the talk someone who was there told me that there was
loud sustained applause. My first thought was, “Boy, I wish I could have been there.”
My second thought was, “Boy I am glad I wasn‟t there.”

        So my mom was different from Mother Theresa. Unlike Mother Teresa my mom
was pro-choice. She felt that “in a perfect world there would be no abortion but that we
do not live in a perfect world.” She supported family planning and the vision of a world
where “every child is a wanted child.” Her work as a psychologist meant she had a

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                                                                         Mom and Mother Teresa
                                                                  A Sermon by Reverend Chris Buice

window into lives where there were no easy answers and she had compassion for people
who made difficult choices.

       Today is Mother‟s Day and this is a day that brings up lots of different feelings
within people. Some of us have had very positive relationships with our mothers. Some
of us are aware of having less than perfect relationships. Some of us may have both
feelings at the same time. Some of us may never have had the opportunity to know our
mothers. Some of our mothers are living and some of them are no longer with us. And
so I know there are many different feelings in the room on this day.

       And I think it is fair to say that no mother is a saint. Even Mother Teresa isn‟t a
saint . . . yet. My mom raised five kids and earned a Phd. She was a clinical
psychologist. And I have to confess that all five of us had, at certain times, a kind of
sibling rivalry with her clients. Because when you are one of five children you rarely get
an hour of your mother‟s undivided attention (something her clients took for granted.) A
mother would need to be five different people all at once in order to be able to do that.
And no human mother could ever pull off such a feat.

       Perhaps that is why some of the earliest images of God are images of a woman,
not a Barbie doll either, but a round robust woman. The earliest images of the divine
may be of a woman because our needs for mothering exceed the capacity of any one
woman, including our own mother. At some point we need something more to sustain us.

       The Universalists of the last century understood this when they sang the hymn,
“The Motherhood of God” and spoke of a mother‟s love that “ever holds us, safe enfolds
us, underneath, around above.” Since my mother died I have grown to have a deeper
appreciation of the divine feminine; the mother whose presence is felt but who is unseen.

       My mother was a big believer in the divine feminine. She had statue of Kwan
Yin the Buddhist goddess of compassion, kindness and mercy, in her garden. This was
part of her collection of images that included Mother Mary and Hindu gods and
goddesses. One of the interesting features of Kwan Yin is that she has many hands.
Unlike mere mortal mothers she does not have the physical handicap of only having two

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                                                                       Mom and Mother Teresa
                                                                A Sermon by Reverend Chris Buice

hands. She has hands for every child. She has ears to hear and eyes to see every child.
The divine mother could no doubt throw a tea party in her living room while also keeping
a watch upon her children on the roof. For this reason every mother could use a little
help from Kwan Yin.

       I think there is something very appropriate about the image of god as a woman
with many hands. For as Saint Theresa said (long before my mother or Mother Teresa
were born,)
              On this earth God has no hands but our hands with which to do the
       work of healing. No eyes but our eyes to see the work that needs to be
       done. No feet but our feet, with which to walk about doing good.

       It takes many hands to do the work of God. I believe we are all invited into the
Great Mothers work, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to minister to the sick.
Everyone of us must do our part. No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless.
There is too much work to do. For better or for worse a mother‟s work is never done.

       Happy Mother‟s Day.

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