© Barbara F. Meyers 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
August 22, 2010

I'd like to share with you the poem that gave me the inspiration for this sermon. It is "Our Greatest Fear" and it is by Marianne Williamson. [In Return to Love by Marianne Williamson, Harper Collins, 1992.]

Our Greatest Fear by Marianne Williamson

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.

It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.


What kinds of people take the leap and overcome their fears and become being successful beyond their dreams? Here are some stories of people who have made the transition from powerlessness to power

Mental Health Crusader of the mid 1800's: Dorothea Dix

Charming, determined and self-effacing, the Unitarian Dorothea Lynde Dix was the foremost crusader for the mentally ill in the United States in the mid-1800s. In an era when women didn't have the right to vote, she managed by sheer force of will, hard work, and astuteness to convince legislatures in many states to appropriate public funds to build over 30 hospitals for the care of the seriously mentally ill. She was deeply religious, having been raised by her grandmother to be a Unitarian, later worshiping in the church of the Rev. William Ellery Channing, the founder of American Unitarianism, beginning in 1823. The sense of religious purpose in her life is what drove her to her acts of public service. She was propelled into this life work out of a mental crisis of her own, when she collapsed in exhaustion after trying unsuccessfully to keep a school she had started running. She spent four years in England recuperating at the estate of some family acquaintances. After her return, she was asked to take over a Sunday school class at the Middlesex County House of Correction in East Cambridge. After teaching her lesson to the women prisoners, she noticed that there were some insane prisoners who were being kept at the jail. Her instant compassion for these insane prisoners was the beginning of her life's calling.

Today's Mental Health Activists: Jay Mahler and Sally Zinman

For some more recent examples of transition from powerlessness to power, I'd like to talk about some of the mental health advocates I have met in the course of my work. Jay Mahler was a student at UC Berkeley when he had his first encounter with the mental health system. He was hospitalized many times, given electroshock treatments against his will and labeled a schizophrenic with poor prognosis. After living in the back room of his parent's house for years, he was given a job at a local drug store, and slowly began reentering society. Eventually he became an advocate for mental health consumers, and how is the director of consumer affairs for Alameda County Behavioral Healthcare and the recipient of their outstanding management award this year. I remember someone introducing Jay by saying that good things seem to happen when Jay is around.

Sally Zinman was hospitalized and treated brutally in mental hospitals in the 1960's. When she was released and learned of work of other former patients, she became an instant crusader, eventually becoming the leader of the California Network of Mental Health Clients. She now works in Alameda County and has been very instrumental in getting significant funding for consumer projects from the Mental Health Services Act. This is a first for the consumer movement.

[For those of you who want to hear more of Jay's and Sally's stories, watch the Mental Health Matters TV program where they were my guests: The Consumer Movement.]

Virtually all the founders of the world's great religions have come from humble origins or lived significant portions of their lives in poverty. At some point, Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed, and Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), often after spending time alone in meditation, came to see in themselves something of the great purpose that helped them to articulate great religious principles and galvanize others to follow them, even centuries later.

Let's examine what led these people, often after serious setbacks, to believe in themselves again and go on to achieve more than they at one time ever thought possible.


To start us thinking on how this topic applies to each of us, I'd like to ask some questions:

I'll give you a minute or two to think about these questions. You may then have something in mind for how this sermon applies to you. (Always a question for a Sunday morning!)

[Silence ended by a bell.]

Theological Reflection

Let's do some theological reflection on this topic.

Theology is that basic understanding of our human beingness and our relationship with the ultimate. In the early 19th century our forbearer William Ellery Channing rejected Calvin's theology that human beings were born depraved and that God predestined human life. In its place he helped forge a new understanding that human beings have a capacity to reason, to choose, to sense the presence of God and that we possess an innate sense of right and wrong.

The nature of Divinity is today the area of most diversity within Unitarian Universalism. Some find the expression of the ultimate in nature; some find it in human hearts, some in community, some in a supernatural presence, and some in multiple places. Some reject the idea that there is a being called God, and believe instead that it is up to humans alone to save our world and ourselves. Others believe that Jesus, while not divine, is the exemplar to follow, and consider themselves to be Christians. Others believe that Buddhism most closely represents the ideals and guidelines for their lives. Others construct their own set of beliefs through their own personal search for truth and meaning in their lives. And, these views change over time.

Marianne Williamson's poem speaks about divinity within each person, or what can be called the immanence of the holy, or the ultimate. This wasn't part of the Christian upbringing that I received, although I realize now that some Christians believe this. God was in the sky. Thinking that divinity might be part of me was a big leap in concept. The Humanists have a head start on this: there is good within each person without God having to be a part of the picture.

For theists, living up to our potential as a human being means being what God meant us to be. If you are a Humanist, it means being the most of who you are.

Shadow Side of this Topic

There is a shadow side of this topic: Narcissism. A narcissist is someone who has a grandiose sense of his or her own self-importance; someone who is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love; someone who believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people; and someone who requires excessive admiration.

Narcissists have inflated egos and tiny consciences. While they may not be actively trying to hurt people, they just never consider other people at all, unless they want something. This is the key to guarding against narcissism: whether or not the needs of other people are being considered.

I believing that it is possible that you can believe you are special and unique, and also live out that potential while considering the needs of others. I'll leave further reflection on this point as an assignment for you.

Liberating Others

If you've watched Mental Health Matters, the TV show that I produce, you probably have noticed that I always include as one of the guests someone who have lived with a mental disorder and is now in a better place. I do that because I know the power of having role models for people living with mental illness in giving hope. And, hope is the first step in recovery - knowing that it is possible, that others have done it.

The example of seeing someone who has recovered can be very liberating to others. So, when you decide to "go for it," in a kind of ripple effect, others will take notice and think that maybe someday they can "go for it" too.


Earlier, I asked you to reflect on some questions:

Maybe you have something in mind as an answer to one or more of these.

In summary, I challenge you to:

In short, be your own fabulous self!

I'd love to hear your stories about how this goes in your life.

May it be so.


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