Change v. Transformation; The Necessity of Discomfort

Between September 20th and 27th, millions of people around the world will walk out of our workplaces and homes to join young climate strikers on the streets and demand an end to the age of fossil fuels.  The web page at reads:  “Our house is on fire – let’s act like it.”  In a time that calls people of faith into a space of radical transformation, this Sunday we will explore “Change v Transformation: The Necessary Discomfort.”


“Change v Transformation; The Necessity of Discomfort”

A Sermon Offered to All Souls Church; UU

September 22, 2019

Rev. Shayna Appel

Between September 20th and 27th, millions of people around the world will walk out of our workplaces and homes to join young climate strikers on the streets and demand an end to the age of fossil fuels.  The web page at reads:  “Our house is on fire – let’s act like it.”  In a time that calls people of faith into a space of radical transformation, this Sunday we will explore “Change v Transformation: The Necessary Discomfort.”


Welcome & Announcements

Prelude Adagio by Thomas Albinoni, Tom Baehr, flute

Chalice Lighting  by Julianne Lepp

 We seek our place in the world

and the answers to our hearts’ deep questions.

As we seek, may our hearts be open to unexpected answers.

May the light of our chalice remind us that this is a community of warmth, of wisdom,

and welcoming of multiple truths.

Hymn  #40 The Morning Hangs a Signal

Opening Words [CHANGE!] By Bill Neely / From With or Without Candlelight, a Meditation Anthology, edited by Victoria Safford, and published by Skinner House in 2009. 

When breath catches in the crisp night air,

and sight turns to stars, mind to moon,

silence asserts itself,

breathing the beauty of night into being.

Silence, breathing beauty alive.

Each new night,

without effort, without planning,

turns eyes from task to sky,

feet from stride to stillness,

thoughts from next to now.

Each new night turns endings into


holds its splendor

in the awe of silence,

in wordless, voiceless, reverence.

The ancient night, new each eve,

turning, turning

the proud to humility,

the sure to wondrousness,

the clamorous to quiet.

The noise of days recedes

into a gentle, dark embrace—

exhaling into crisp silence.

Held by night, new and old,

embracing beginnings, again.


Time for All Ages  “The Stream” a Sufi Story

A stream, from its course in the far-off mountains, passing through every kind and description of countryside, at last reached the sands of the desert. Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.

It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross this desert, and yet there was no way. Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself, whispered: “The wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream.”

The stream objected that the wind could fly, and this was why it could cross a desert.

“By hurtling in your own accustomed way you cannot get across. You will either disappear or become a marsh. You must allow the wind to carry you over to your destination.”

But how could this happen?

“By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind.”

This idea was not acceptable to the stream. After all, it had never been absorbed before. It did not want to lose its individuality. And, once having lost it, how was one to know that one’s identity could ever be regained?

“The wind,” said the sand, “performs this function. It takes up water, carries it over the desert, and then lets it fall again.”

“How can I know that this is true?”

“It is so, and if you do not believe it, you cannot become more than a quagmire.”

“But can I not remain the same stream that I am today?”

“You cannot in either case remain so,” the whisper said. When it heard this, echoes began to arise in the thoughts of the stream. Dimly it remembered a state in which it—or some part of it?—had been held in the arms of a wind.

And the stream raised its vapor into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily bore it upwards and along, letting it fall softly as rain once they reached the roof of a mountain, many, many miles away, where it then became a river.

Reading #1 General Assembly Statement of Conscience on the Threat of Global Warming, 2006.

Earth is our home. We are part of this world and its destiny is our own. Life on this planet will be gravely affected unless we embrace new practices, ethics, and values to guide our lives on a warming planet. As Unitarian Universalists, how can our faith inform our actions to remedy and mitigate global warming/climate change? We declare by this Statement of Conscience that we will not acquiesce to the ongoing degradation and destruction of life that human actions are leaving to our children and grandchildren. We as Unitarian Universalists are called to join with others to halt practices that fuel global warming/climate change, to instigate sustainable alternatives, and to mitigate the impending effects of global warming/climate change with just and ethical responses. As a people of faith, we commit to a renewed reverence for life and respect for the interdependent web of all existence.

Statement of Conscience on the Threat of Global from our UU General Assembly…2006!

Reading #2 from “The Necessity of Discomfort” by Ruth MacKenzie 

Recently, in preparation for my daily practice of mindfulness and prayer, I came across a stunning piece of information. In The Book of Awakening; Having the Life You Want to Have by Being Present to the Life You Have, by the poet Mark Nepo, I learned that a baby chick doesn’t just hatch. Well, it does hatch, but the process of hatching is actually a terrifying event if you look at it from the bird’s perspective.

In the moments before birth the small hatchling has eaten all its food, and its growing body presses against every contour and curve of the shell. There is no more room. There is no more food. The chick hatches because its body is painfully cramped inside the world of the egg, and it is starving.

There is so much discomfort that the chick is driven to peck its way into whatever is on the other side of the world, whatever is on the other side of safety, because there is nothing else to do and still survive. The world literally breaks apart. The chick eats bits of its own shell, and its body squeezes through the emerging cracks.

Hatching is not graceful. There is wrestling and rolling around. There is crying and prying. There is exhaustion, and power naps. There is stumbling and trying to hold the head up while getting feet underneath the body. Hatching is not graceful. It is beautiful to behold, but I daresay the chick would not describe it that way. I think the chick would say: hatching is necessity. As Mark Nepo writes: “Once everything it has relied on falls away, the chick is born. It doesn’t die, but falls into the world.”

Sermon  “Change v Transformation; The Necessity of Discomfort”

My good friends Barbara and Paul live just up the road from me.  Barbara is a retired UU minister and we were in seminary together.  Her husband Paul is a contractor who’s been building net-zero houses since before most towns understood how to issue building permits for them.  They drive a Prius…with a big ol’ bicycle rack and a ton of liberal and UU bumperstickers on the back!  

A little over a decade ago they bought a beautiful home in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire and they have slowly turned it into a gentle persons farm, of sorts.  They have amended the soil over time so that they now produce an abundance of vegetables, berries and herbs each year.  All organic, of course.  And, they are as generous with their produce as their land has been with them.

In her retirement, Barbara has decided to amend her fitness quotient by engaging in some pretty rigorous bicycling.  “Gravel grinding” is what I think it’s called.  She stands at about 5 feet 9-10 inches, I’d guess, and weighs about as much as my 35 year-old daughter! (I hate them both!)

In his retirement, Paul has become quite an active and valuable member of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.  And both Barb and Paul have spent a great deal of time, energy and resources lately coming to terms with white supremacy and the damage it has wrought, in their own lives and in the wider world.  They’ve traveled to the south and taken the Civil Rights Tour and read almost every book on the subject that I know of.

A few years back they decided that if they were going to continue to eat meat, they’d have to put themselves more in touch with what that meant.  So, they began raising lambs each spring and in early fall, the lambs go off to ‘freezer camp’.  That is always a really hard day for Barbara and Paul…probably more so for Paul since he’s usually the one feeding the lambs during the spring and summer.

What I know from having watched my dear friends go through this process now for a number of years is that I could not do it.  I admire them to the moon and back for being as dedicated as they are to responsible consumption overall, and especially where their food sources are concerned, and I couldn’t do it.  It is said the word ‘vegetarian’ is an ancient word meaning, “one who can not hunt.”  And if I had to raise and then slaughter my own meat sources, or hunt for them, I would be a vegetarian!  By way of offering a penance for my lack of fortitude, or maybe because it’s a small way in which I can support Barbara and Paul as they live out their virtuous lives, I make them cocktails each year on the eve when the beloved lambs have left the farm. It’s what I can do!

Thinking about Barbara and Paul’s evolution, if you will, from two lovely people into two justice warriors, (and probably the coolest grandparents any grandkids ever had!), I am aware that that the transformation did not happen over night.  I watched and listened to them wrestle with aspects of how they were living their lives and noted, with compassion, their increasing discomfort.  I guess, when what they were doing – how they were living – became uncomfortable enough, they found the courage to peck their way to the other side of the egg.  I guess when the squeeze between their ideals and how they were actually living reached the point of maximal discomfort, they fell into a new world.

On Fridays throughout our world this past year, millions of students also felt the press into a new world.  They were simultaneously terrified by the rapid decline of our world’s environment, and inspired by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and others to compel climate action by walking out of classrooms and into the streets.  Many of you may have heard of Greta Thunberg prior to this past week.  She is the 16 year old Swedish environmental activist who is credited with raising global awareness of the risks posed by climate change. Greta has also done an outstanding job holding politicians to account for their lack of action on the current climate crises.

Some of you may remember my mentioning in a sermon last year a group of young people here in the United States who are suing our government for failing to adequately protect the Earth from the effects of climate change.  Twenty-one youths in total are claiming in their law suit that the federal government’s promotion of fossil fuel production and its indifference to the risks posed by greenhouse gas emissions have resulted in “a dangerous destabilizing climate system” that threatens the survival of future generations. That lapse violates, the court papers argue, their fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. The lawsuit also argues that the government violated the public trust doctrine, a legal concept grounded in ancient law that holds the government is responsible for protecting public resources, such as land and water—or in this case, the climate system—for public use. 

So, what’s happening here?  What’s going on?  We’ve known about the dangers of climate change for a good long time now.  We Unitarian Universalists successfully passed a Statement of Conscience at our 2006 General Assembly.  In 2005 we laid the groundwork for green meetings that integrates environmentally responsible measures into event contracts.  Identifying clear targets and goals has allowed us both to integrate greening clauses into contracts and tie final payments of convention centers to receipts of environmental documentation.

But this issue is far bigger than just us, and it has been around longer too! “Among the earliest written reports of climatic fluctuations are the inscriptions recording the yearly levels of the Nile flood.., some of them from around 3000 B.C.E .”  And records of the earliest known famine were found in the tomb of Ankhtifi in Egypt from around 2180 to 2130 B.C.E.  Scientific writing on the subject could be said to have begun with Aristotle between 384-322 B.C.E.  But the matter certainly garnered more attention half-way through our last century, and by the early 1970’s, it had taken on a tone of urgency as well.  Just listen to this short passage from H. H. Lamb’s book, “Climate: Past, Present and Future,” published in 1977:

Climatology has arrived at a crossroads in recent years, a point where it must either stand still or arrange advances along several different roads simultaneously. Only by the latter decision can it hope to meet the challenge presented by the demand for advice on probable future climatic developments and trend…The establishing of the past climatic record and its interpretation in terms of physical and mathematical theory is an exciting interdisciplinary quest, perhaps the broadest challenge in any field of science to interdisciplinary collaboration. And the problems of our times demand that it be pursued. Climatology promises to become the most essential branch of the Earth sciences to human welfare. 

So, what’s going on here?  Whats going on now?  Twenty-one youths are suing the US Government, and they’d like to know that the adult citizens of this great nation have their backs. A sixteen year-old climate activist is inspiring a world-wide movement for climate awareness and change, and organizers estimate the turnout for Friday’s Climate Strike to have been around 4 million in thousands of cities world-wide. These climate activists would like to know that we have their backs.  These children and young adult are anxious about their future on a hotter planet and they are angry at world leaders for failing to arrest the crises.  And for them, the time is now.

Where we are, what we are doing, how we are being, has now become so uncomfortable, so constraining, that like a chick who’s time to hatch has come, we have no choice but to peck our way to whatever is on the other side of the egg we have relied on, whatever is on the other side of safety, because there is no way we are going to survive if we stay in this egg.  These are times that call for something far greater than change.  They are times that call us to transformation.  And I want to suggest to you all this morning that, not only are we up to this challenge, but as people of faith we have a particular role to play in it. We have a particular gift to offer and now is not the time to be stingy or coy with it!

The gift we have is the gift of faith and a whole lot of experience leaning into the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen [Hebrews 1:1]. Which is what that little chick does right before it falls into the world.  It leans into some mysterious store of courage, finds some assurance in things hoped for, some conviction in things unseen, and then starts nibbling away.  We humans do it too, from time to time, when we find ourselves wrestling with our lives the way they are.  When we cry and pry ourselves loose from the discomfort of the known in order to drop into whatever is next.  And at some point, each and every one of us will be called beyond this egg we know as life into the great whatever.

The times we are in call for great transformation.  They call for change that cannot be undone.  If I take an ice cube out of the freezer, drop it into a dish and wait awhile, I’ll have water, which I could put back into the fridge and freeze.  That’s change.  Transformation is something altogether different.  It’s like the little chick who comes out of the egg, who cannot possibly return once all the work is done. That’s transformation.  That’s what’s needed now.

My friends, do not, for a moment, undervalue what happens in this church, or in hundreds of thousands of churches around the globe.  As people of faith we stop and pay particular focus to many things many others run right past.  That focus equips us to see what sometimes others cannot.  That throughout time, whenever God’s children thought they were at the end, a new way forward was made clear.  In these days, with so much fear, anxiety and uncertainty, I think our communities, our nation and indeed our world could benefit from a little blessed assurance.  And I can’t think of a better group of messengers to bring it out into a beautiful but struggling world.

Hymn #298 Wake Now My Senses [v. 1,2,3 & 5]

Offering shared with Brattleboro Cable Television

Offertory Theme from Spartacus by Alex North

Blessing Candles of Joy & Sorrow

Unison Affirmation

Hymn  #1018 Come and Go With Me

Extinguish the Chalice

Inside the egg we recognize that the worldview from here is not enough.

Welcoming discomfort, and trusting in what is not yet, we extinguish this chalice…

and begin pecking our way into the unknown.

Closing Circle