||Rev. Beverly Waring Sermon
January 22, 2012
Chinese New Year starts with the new moon on the first day of the New Year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. This year, the year
of the Dragon, starts tomorrow, January 23rd. Few Western religious traditions have embraced Chinese philosophy as extensively as
Unitarian ministers were some of the first to bring Chinese thinking to America. Ralph Waldo Emerson was fascinated with Asian thought
and he often quoted Confucius. James Freeman Clarke introduced Confucian and Taoist thought to a wide audience when he published
his book, Ten Great Religions, in 1871. The end of the nineteenth century saw a strong interest in Buddhism that eclipsed the interest in
other Chinese philosophic traditions.
Leaning more toward humanism than spiritualism, rationalism rather than mysticism, Chinese thought parallels the thinking of many
Unitarian Universalists. It has been observed by many that the Chinese are much more inclined towards what is considered philosophies
rather than religions. They seemed less concerned with worship and gods and more apt to think about how to be in right relationship with
one another, with right thinking, and finding balance between mind and body.
A key strength of Confucianism is its ability to guide human beings in relationship to one another. Here the focus is on good conduct,
practical wisdom and ethics in relationships. Wise guidance is offered by Buddhism in the realm of right thinking, a way to perceive the
world and reflect on our role in it. Taoism is often looked to mainly for guidance on how to be healthy in body from a physical
perspective. Taoism has been described by some as the way of humankind’s cooperation with the course of the natural world.
None of these philosophies, Confucianism, Taoism nor Buddhism bind us to a single text or a controlling God. Each has a human focus
in this world and does not look beyond this place for salvation or redemption.
Perhaps you see, as I do, the similarities in these three spiritual paths with Unitarian Universalism. We are often more interested in
building and strengthen relationship with one another with less emphasis (if any) on understanding the role of outside forces such as
God. Our focus appears to be finding ways to live balanced, ethical lives and taking responsibility for that goal ourselves rather than
relying on the supernatural to guide, protect or even inform us.
And like many practitioners of Chinese philosophies, UUs show some ease with embracing more than one spiritual path at a time. I know
many UUs who also call themselves Buddhist, Jewish or Pagan and find value in living a life that embraces elements of multiple spiritual
Likewise, it is not uncommon for a Chinese person to spend the morning in contemplation of one of the Confucian relationships, go to a
Buddhist temple at noon to meditate and in the evening practice personal self-care according to Taoist precepts.
Let's look now at the Chinese New Year itself. One of the most significant holidays in China, observant Chinese use these 15 days of
celebration to focus on important relationships, mostly human-to-human ones, but also some that are more spiritually inclined. Chinese
New Year is truly a celebration that honors the past while looking towards the future with great expectations of growth, new beginnings
Chinese New Year is also about family unity. For many of us, joining a UU congregation is akin to expanding the circle of people we
consider family. Just as in families, it takes all kinds of people to form a successful, thriving congregation. I don’t know about you, but if I
could hand pick every member of my family – birth, extended and blended -- I might be tempted to trade a couple of folks in – tempted,
but what a big mistake that would be.
You see, over my many years of being the reserved, quiet, non-hugging member of my loud, assertive, physically affectionate extended
Italian family I have come to realize that my presence has made a positive difference - to me and to them.
What would family gatherings be like if my sister-in-law – the one I clash with the most (probably because we are most alike) did not assert
some “truth” that generated several minutes of lively debate? Where would the laughter have come from if my mother-in-law had not had
to run through all the grandkids names in order to recall the one she was really speaking about?
And this brings me to the whole concept of the Chinese zodiac. Unlike its Western counterpart, the Chinese zodiac sign changes on a
yearly basis, repeating the pattern every twelve years. Personalities are assumed, not just for the people born under the sign, but for the
As I mentioned earlier, this is the year of the Dragon. Here is what some say about 2012; “a year marked by excitement, unpredictability,
exhilaration and intensity. A year in which the tendency will be to respond with energy, vitality and unbridled enthusiasm.
This particular Chinese New Year 2012 ushers in the Water Dragon. Water exerts a calming influence on the Dragon’s innate fire. Water
Dragons are more open to other people’s opinions than other Dragons which gives them the ability to channel their personal charisma
into real leadership qualities.
Now here is some really good news for many of us personally as well as for this congregation. Dragon years are lucky for anyone
thinking of starting a business or initiating a new project of any sort because money is easier to come by for everyone, whether it’s
earned, borrowed or received as a gift. Fortunes can be made but they can also be lost so keep in mind like all good things, the Year of
the Dragon will come to an end and you will be held accountable for unreasonable extravagances.
So between the good economic climate predicted for this year and the excitement, vitality, intensity and enthusiasm, it sounds like the
perfect time to make great progress on envisioning your future, implementing some new ideas and improving the financial situation here
at UUCGF, don’t you think?
All this research into Chinese New Year and the different personalities based on the year of birth led me to a realization that I am still
troubled by. I was born in 1958, and as such, always thought of myself as being born in the year of the dog. That would make me
sporting, attentive, loyal, honest though somewhat guarded. And it is said that sometimes, dogs tend to worry too much. This was
information I gleaned years ago from a very reliable source – the placemat at my favorite Chinese restaurant.
Now, come to find out, the year 2012 (and all the others for that matter) start on different dates. And according to some sources, the
year of the animal starts on a date after the start of the New Year. It is not like the calendar we are more familiar with where the New Year
begins January 1st. So, if you are born in late January or early February, you have to find out on what date the Chinese New Year animal
started to figure out your zodiac sign. According to one website I was born a few days too early to be considered the year of the dog and
instead was born in the year of the rooster.
Roosters are also considered loyal, up-front and honest people. They are happiest when they are surrounded by others, and often
exhibit a quick wit. They are also known to be brave, romantic and motivated.
But, here is the thing – I love dogs. And truth be told, Roosters (and all birds) scare me a bit – but that is a story for another time. I’ve
thought of myself as being born in the year of the dog for at least 4 decades and after all, I was born a couple of weeks premature so
maybe I am the best of both animals. It would be interesting to me for any of you born in January or early February to look at the two
signs near your years of birth and consider where you feel you most naturally fit.
But back to other individual personalities foretold by the zodiac signs and membership in a UU congregation? How do we blend them to
make a spiritually stimulating, welcoming, efficient faith community? If you look at the insert in your order of service and find your year of
birth you can then read a little about your birth sign. According to Chinese tradition, people born in the year of the dragon are energetic,
warm-hearted, charismatic, natural born leaders. They are passionate, brave and self-assured. At their best they are pioneering spirits;
at their worst, they epitomize the old adage: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Dragons are generous with their resources, a tendency that at its most negative can reflect a foolhardy attitude towards money. But
Dragons in general are blessed with good fortune. They are smart, enterprising and have a wicked sense of humor and a natural flair for
fashion. For those of you born in 1952 or 1964 or any of those other years of the Dragon does this description fit?
I think you can see, just by this brief look at the Dragon, the Dog and the Rooster – three of the twelve animals represented in the
Chinese calendar, how important it is to welcome, embrace and nurture all who want to join and support our Unitarian Universalist
congregations. We need everyone, with all their strengths and areas for growth working and playing together to make us the vibrant,
honest community that we are.
As I reflect on my 30 years of membership in a UU congregation, I can see where some of the characteristics of a Dog served me well in
some roles and caused me and others angst at other times. Our loyalty, our devotion to a person or a cause can be comforting and
inspiring - unless you are more like a Dragon –the animal honored this year. Remember, the Dragon is said to be unique, imaginative,
demanding and sometimes overly dramatic. A Dragon’s tendency to be moody and to strive for perfection makes Dogs tend to be wary
Imagine a Dog and a Dragon co-chairing a committee together – the Dog, loyal and faithful to the mission of the committee and attentive
and honest to the process, encounters a Dragon. A Dragon who relies on imagination and intuition to guide him. A Dragon whose
moodiness and tendency towards drama can derail a seemingly smooth and consistent process with a single look or word. You can see, I
am sure, where the conflict could arise.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying things are better when controlled by a Dog or a Dragon or any other animal of the Chinese
zodiac. What I am saying is an awareness of differences, an embracing of diversity, an openness to trying alternatives, is essential when
attempting to navigate the complexities of a congregation (or a family).
What I am saying is that when entering into personal relationships, serving on committees, interacting with colleagues, it may be a good
idea to understand ourselves enough to know how our strengths can best serve us in the situation. And it does not hurt to pay attention
to how our innate characteristics can comfort or conversely drive the other person in the relationship crazy.
For example, not everyone is cut out to teach Sunday school, or to stand up here and speak before a large group of people. We are not
all great (or even good) at running an annual canvass, organizing a fundraiser or tending to the valuable archives and historical
documents of this church. Not all of us have the inclination to keep the walkways or roof free of snow and ice, or write notes to visitors or
provide refreshments for coffee hour. But where would we be if no one was suited for any of those tasks? What would become of us if no
one was willing to stretch out of their comfort zones, try something new or something old in a new way? Who would be here this morning if
the expectation was we were all alike, absolutely compatible in our thinking, our actions and our beliefs?
What do I hope we walk away with today? That in recognizing the Chinese New Year and the religious/philosophical context in which it
takes place, we will, as Confucianism teaches, consider our own needs to find spiritual direction as guides in our congregational
relationships. And we will honor our need to find a way of understanding the world and life and questions of meaning and truth, which is a
goal of Buddhism. And we will embrace the Taoist need for not just our minds to be engaged but also our bodies and hearts.
Membership in a Unitarian Universalist congregation is very much like being in a family. As long as we always try to bring our best selves
into the room – aware that it is our differences as well as our similarities that create who and what we are as a group – the results will
always amaze us. And whether you are as innovative as a Rat, dependable as an Ox, daring as a Tiger or honest as a Dog, whether you
have the sincerity of the Pig, ambition of the Rabbit, imagination of the Dragon or curiosity of the Monkey, whether you are wise like a
Snake, optimistic like a Horse, creative like a Goat, or reliable like a Rooster there is room – no there is a need and a welcoming embrace
for you here at The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Glens Falls.
Let It Be So.
| Dragons and Dogs and Roosters, Oh My!