Vases in the Vestibule

In every New England church there is a vestibule, or antechamber, that bridges the space between the outside of the Meeting House and the inside of the Sanctuary. In the harsh, snowy winters, this space is an important buffer between the cold of outside and the heated warmth inside. In my childhood congregation, this space was also where the greeters, ushers, and bell tollers welcomed members of the congregation as they arrived for services. Imagine if you will, that the hallway that joins this Sanctuary with Bortin Hall was the vestibule but that it is only as big as the space up here on the Chancel. At times it would be crowded with people and I imagine on Flower Communion Sunday, also with vases of flowers.

I have to imagine what the vestibule would look like with the vases of flowers because as I was growing up, we didn’t celebrate the Flower Ceremony as we do now. In fact, very few of our American Unitarian Universalist congregations engaged in this beautiful ritual back then. And yet, today the Unitarians in Prague are celebrating the 95th anniversary of Flower Communion. I give thanks to the Partner Church Council, who in the late 1990s, reintroduced the ceremony to churches in this country.

I will admit, that while it was not a ceremony of my childhood Unitarian Universalist church, the flower communion is one of my favorite services of the year. I love that each of us brings a flower and joins that flower with the those of our fellow worshippers. The bouquet that we create this morning is a flower representation of the beautiful bouquet of people we make every time with gather.

I have the privilege of sitting up here on the chancel regularly, which means that I can easily look out over the congregation and take in the beautiful bouquet that you are. Each Sunday I look out and see our sturdy flowers and frail flowers, our wall flowers and wilting flowers; the flowers that are just blooming and blossoming, the flowers that need a little extra attention and the flowers that quietly fill out the bouquet.

I love that we make room for all the types of flowers that arrive – the easily to identify and the ones we don’t quite yet understand as flowers. We search for the beauty within each flower, bless it for being with us, and hopefully help it to grow and thrive for a time. And just as we make space in our vases to ensure that every flower can be included, we make space in our community to ensure that every person can be included.

The diversity of the flowers is important. It reminds us that each of us is beautiful and important in our uniquness, that we have something special to offer one another. (and if I may – since we all have something special to offer one another, if you are an adult over the age of 26, please consider teaching in our children and youth Religious Education program next fall).

To me, the beauty that comes through the diversity of the flowers in our bouquet (and congregation) is what has given me the courage to be who I am and do what I have done. I could not have come out as transgender 22 years ago, could not have thrived in my ministry and invited you to change with me, had it not been for the foundational message of love and appreciation for diversity that our faith offers us.

Today, as I take my flower from the bouquet I will do so with appreciation of all that we have done together these past three years, of all the ways we have grown and changed – as individuals and as a community.

Taking a flower different from the one we bring reminds us of how we are forever changed by being together for a time. I am grateful to you for changing me and giving me the privilege of witnessing your changing. May the bouquet that is this community continue to unfold in beautiful ways.

Published in: on 4 June 2017 at 20.06  Leave a Comment  

Mmm…Goodness!

Keynote address given to the St. Lawrence District Assembly on 30 April 2011

I want to start with a story Unitarian Universalist religious educator Barbara Marshman told my Mom, Carol Greve, who told me…

At the edge of the forest stood a large squat toadstool. Next to him grew a spindly plant about the same height with four leaves.

One day the toadstool said to his companion, “Hey Skinny, I’ve been watching you. Tell me this – how come when somebody kicks a toadstool, we fall all to pieces. But when someone steps on you, you can straighten right up again as good as new?”

The skinny plant thought for a while, and then answered, “I guess it’s because I have something down under the ground called roots. They go down deep and when I get stepped on I just hang on tight with my roots until I’m all right again.”

“Hey, that’s a great idea,” said the toadstool. “How do you go about getting these roots?”

“Wellllll,” said his friend slowly, “it takes a long time. I’ve been growing mine for almost a year.”

“A year!” shouted the toadstool, “Who has got that kind of time! A whole year growing something that you can’t even see! Roots may be handy, but that’s the silliest waste of time I ever heard.” And he laughed and laughed.

Finally, he said to his forest friend, “By the way Spindly, when you’ve got all your fancy roots grown, what do you expect to be?”

The Spindly plant seemed to grow taller as he spoke. “Do you see that tallest oak tree standing against the winds on the top of that hill? That’s my mother and someday I’m going to be strong and tall just like her.”

A deep religious faith is like the deep roots of the oak tree. It helps to give us strength to weather the storms of life. Engaging in Multigenerational Multiculturalism requires that we cultivate our roots so that as the ground shakes and we sway, there is still something to which we can hold on.

In hir book, Exile and Pride Eli Clare writes “Gender reaches into disability; disability wraps around class; class strains against abuse; abuse snarls into sexuality; sexuality folds on top of race… everything finally piling into a single human body. To write about any aspect of identity, any aspect of the body, means writing about this entire maze. This I know, and yet the question remains: where to start? Maybe with my own white skin, stubbly red hair, left ear pierced, shoulders set slightly off center, left riding higher than right, hands tremoring, traced with veins, legs well-muscled. Or with me in the mirror, dressing to go out, knotting my tie, slipping into my blazer, curve of hip and breast vanishing beneath my clothes. Or possibly with the memory of how my body felt swimming in the river, chinook fingerlings nibbling at my toes. There are a million ways to start, but how do I reach beneath the skin?”[1]

Where do we start? For some of us, identity is an intensely personal piece of the puzzle that makes up who we are. It is the badge we carry on our sleeves and with our bodies and can not put down. For some of us we have not yet had to think about how we would identify ourselves and our bodies. We have had the privilege of moving through life “fitting in” with the dominant paradigms. For some of us, our identities are defined with labels that others have put upon us; described by words we would not have chosen but have learned to embrace and make our own.

Regardless of what our personal identities are, we all know that navigating the maze of identity labeling can be difficult. What do you call me? What do I call you? Which word or words do I use so that I honor all of who you are? How will I know when I’ve stumbled upon the correct terminology? Will I offend you if I don’t always get it right? Why does language matter so much? Where can I buy the Official Handbook of Identity Terminology?

Words matter. Many of us have labels that do not do justice to our true identities. The words give us power – the power to name ourselves and our own identity. This is important. Too often that power is taken away from the oppressed. Too often identity goes unnamed and individuals are left feeling isolated and without community.

As a child, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t grow up to be the guy that I am today. I’ve known my gender since I was in kindergarten, but back then, and as I was growing up, I never heard the word “transgender.” I saw no reflections of myself in mainstream media or elsewhere in my life. I struggled with how to describe what I knew inside was a truth: my gender wasn’t like the two options everyone else fit into. And because I had no language to describe what I knew, I felt very isolated and alone. I had nowhere to go and no one to talk to. It was over a decade later that I learned about the multiplicity of gender and the importance of labels.

The words we use to label our identities are sometimes more important than the very identity itself. Language can give us power. It can give us the opportunity to name ourselves and find others like us. But the label is not the end of the journey.

In the time since I was in kindergarten my gender and sexual orientation have been labeled: Girl, Woman, Lesbian, Transgender, Transgender Lesbian, Straight Man, Transgender guy, Bisexual, Queer, and Other. They are but some of the many labels; identities I have been in my lifetime. Alone, none of them adequately describe me. Together, with the labels that define my race, ability, class, and other aspects of whom I am; together they offer a glimpse of who I was at a particular moment in time.

This multiplicity of my identity offers a snapshot of who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming. My identity does not exist in isolation, because few of us exist in isolation. We seek out communities of people like ourselves, and in those communities we find common language to name ourselves. What I call you and what you call me is not only about the words – the labels, it is also about the relationship between who I am and who you are and who we are together.

Where do we start? Eli Clare reminds us that “There are a million ways to start, but how do [we] reach beneath the skin?”[2] We can reach beneath the skin by telling our stories and learning each others’ stories. We can pay attention to the words we use. And we can create common language together.

It is important to start any conversation about multiculturalism by understanding and more importantly, acknowledging our own identities and social locations because it is never possible to fully remove them from our perceptions and experiences. So we must be aware of them, knowing that some influence our understanding of our experiences in the world, some grant us more privilege than others, and some cause us more difficulty than others.

Howard Thurman writes in his book The Search for Common Ground, “I have always wanted to be me without making it difficult for you to be you.”[3] Much as I like the sentiment behind Thurman’s comments, I’m not sure it is possible. I know that as I have become clearer and more open about my own identities, I have made it difficult for others to be themselves. And likewise, the more I have learned about other identities, the more I am aware of privileges I am granted, privileges which sometimes I need to be willing to give up to in order to help bring about the complicated world I desire. The world Deane referred to last night – The world where Paradise is here and now.

So where do we start? We start by recognizing who we each are… by sharing our identities and social locations as individuals and learning one another’s passions. I am an “out” transgender queer guy of mixed race, complicated family dynamics, and a life-long Unitarian Universalist. I live with learning disabilities and a deteriorating body. I live in a physical world and society that constantly reminds me that if I am to survive it will be at my own effort, for the world on its own is not moving fast enough to embrace my fullness.

While my particularities may be unique to me, I am not alone in my location; you are not alone in your location. Unitarian Universalism teaches us that relationship is at the core of connections. Our faith teaches us that learning to understand and affirm the differences between us will enhance our relationships.

But this is not easily done, particularly when the present understanding of difference “defines it as absolute otherness, mutual exclusion, categorical opposition.”[4] Such an understanding leads to a conceptualization of those who are different as outsiders, with those belonging to the dominant group having the power to decide what is normative (themselves) and what is deviant (others). As long as this continues to be the prevalent understanding, there is no possibility of having just personal relationships or of creating just societal structures that will not benefit some groups at the expense of others.

Thus it becomes doubly important that when we engage in relationships with people whose lived experience is different from our own, we are careful to do so in ways that do not further this act of “other-izing.” This is particularly difficult to do when we know that personal stories are one of the best ways for people to understand oppression and privilege.

For those of us that benefit form society’s favor and privileges, we are often not aware of the existence of certain types of ‘otherness,’ which in turn suggests that we may not be aware of that aspect of our own identity. This is ok as long as we are willing to be open to learning new things about ourselves, knowing that our process of learning may be uncomfortable for all involved.

For example, my friend Jane is of European-American descent and shared with me that it was not until she began to do anti-racism work that she was even aware of her own “whiteness.” Like us, Jane lives in a society that favors Euro-centric ethnicities over other ethnicities. Before engaging in anti-racism work and because her ethnicity placed her in the dominant group, she never had to become aware of this aspect of her identity. As a result, her encounters with People of Color prior to doing anti-racism work both ignored and minimized the whole person and prohibited her from having “just personal relationships.” Conversely, those she was encountering likewise were prohibited from having “just relationships” with her.

In Jane’s anti-racism work, she attended a training where a small group of People of [some] Color[s] sat in front of the training group and shared their experiences living life where they were not of the dominant ethnicity and/or race. It was in hearing of the pain, suffering and unfair injustices each person had experienced based on their skin color, ethnicity and race that moved Jane towards beginning to analyze the structures of racism and White-Supremacy found within the United States of America.

Jane needed to hear of the pain and suffering the ‘other’ had experienced before she could acknowledge her own privilege and contribution to that pain and suffering. For her, it was a necessity in the equation towards a true encounter with the ‘other.’ And that makes sense – many of us here today have probably had similar experiences.

Accountable relationships require that we also understand the other side of the equation. We need to consider what the ‘other’s’ encounter with us is like.

Bodies

            Transgender artist and photographer, Aiden writes “When you’re gay it can be scary to hold hands in public, but there is an understanding of the gay community. I’m trans and it makes people uncomfortable in a whole other way. It’s different than being thought of as a tomboy or lesbian; people look at me and they aren’t sure what I am. They stare and point and whisper.[5]

While I’m sure that none of you would stare and point and whisper, Aiden’s reminder that transgender and genderqueer people are constantly objectified by the larger society is an important one to hold on to. It happens on the street, at sites of employment, in the classrooms, and in religious institutions. Transgender and genderqueer people are tokenized and expected to teach the wider communities about their existence and “issues.” In the name of curiosity and teaching they are dehumanized and yet at the same time, expected to strive for normalcy; to “fit in;” to not make an issue of their “transgenderdness.” But, as Jason Cromwell writes in his book Queering the Binaries, “However much they may pass, transpeople, whether they identify as trans or not, are always aware of their transness – an awareness situated in their bodies.”[6]

This awareness of one’s body and “transness” becomes more tangible in moments of physical need, such as the use of public bathrooms.

All too often, there is an expectation that the transgender/genderqueer person will “act normal” and “just fit in.” But Shelley Tremain in hir essay We’re Here. We’re Disabled and Queer. Get Used to It challenges us to reconsider ideas of normalcy and the power attached to it. Tremain writes, ”…usually when I come out as a disabled person to one who is non-disabled, she or he…reassures me that she or he would not have suspected that I am disabled if I had not said so, and then tells me that I “look normal.” But, remarks like these are reprehensible regardless of whether I am, or I am not, accustomed to them. In order for one to make such a remark, she or he must already hold discriminatory beliefs about, for example, who counts as a disabled person, what disabled persons look like, what kinds of lives we lead, and how we wish to identify.”[7]

While Tremain discusses normalcy from a disabled queer person’s perspective, the experience of being expected to be or act ‘normal’ is familiar to most people in historically marginalized groups. We must consider the impact of and on thea/ologies that expect any people to conform to a concept of normalcy in order to be respected and welcomed in religious community.

Historically, religions have been used to create and reinforce the very boxes that limit a person’s possibility. At its core, any and all religion can (and should) be used to provide a wealth of possibility for becoming.

Christina K. Hutchins writes, “The space of becoming resides in the instability and incompleteness of the categories we live by, always shrinking or expanding according to the ways in which we iterate and articulate our becomings. The expansion of public space for the discourse of becoming carries significance for and beyond the political. In the language of religious institutions, such expansion embodies the motion of the holy.”[8]

To depict the holy as something in motion and not as a fixed entity is of importance in this work. Process theology lends itself nicely to this piece of the conversation, providing room for the holy to exist as events constantly in motion, with infinite possibilities yet to become. When considered as such, divinity can then be found in the differences between people rather than within the sameness.

Such a concept begins to challenge our very understanding of Imago Dei. That is to say that if our image of God (or the Sacred) shifts from a static image to a dynamic image, one that is always becoming, than I believe we can begin to embrace difference as part of the holiness of life rather than view difference as a threat to life and/or what is considered “sacred.”

The biological, physical, and metaphysical world teaches us that life is pluralistic. From micro-organisms through to the stars and beyond, difference is in abundance. The boundaries that separate these differences are porous, not closed.

Do you know Edwin Markim’s poem? “Heretic, Rebel a thing to flout; he drew a circle that shut me out. But love and I had the wit to win, we drew a circle that took him in.” In a sense it is like an amoeba, broadening the boundaries to encompass all that is around us, but different in that unlike the amoeba which absorbs and assimilates everything else, this new organism allows for each of the cells to remain individual and connected. It’s as if we are creating a whole new being.

Yet we mere humans continue to attempt to treat the differences between us as threats to fixed boundaries rather than as examples of the holy.

“When an individual occup(ies) a space that transgresses borders [boundaries], [we feel] challenged and when [we] feel challenged, [WE] GET UNCOMFORTABLE and [blame the transgressor] because, of course, the only goal in [the individual’s life] is to MAKE [US] FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE![9]

The burden of imagination is put on those individuals who transgress the boundaries (those ‘others’) because these boundary crossers are already in the uncomfortable role of bringing the unimagined into being. In order to both survive and thrive, a new world must be imagined.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith teaches that all things in this life are connected, not just to each other but also to what was, what is, what is becoming, and what could have been.

Religion’s Role

            What is religion’s role? Religion’s role is to offer an understanding of salvation that embraces all of life: past, present, and future. A salvation that, as Stephanie Mitchem puts it, “is found not in formulaic answers but in the search for wholeness. Redemption is a journey that begins by daring to care for oneself in the face of repeated assaults on one’s identity and value. Salvation is born of the struggle to reconcile some assigned “place” in the world with a self-determined identity that springs from hope and is grounded in faith.”[10]

Religion’s role is to provide places where “otherness” can be appreciated and affirmed for all that it is, without a need to conform or assimilate to a dominant societal view. Religion’s role is to defend the porous boundaries, not so that the boundaries become firm but so that the porous quality of those boundaries is always mushy and moving. Religion’s role is to imagine and bring forth a new world that embraces the messiness and mixidy of life. A world that acknowledges that each one of us has something to offer and together the puzzle will make sense.

You hopefully are familiar with the story of the Elephant in Dark House as told by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi …

The elephant was in a dark house; some Hindus had brought it for exhibition.
In order to see it, many people were going, every one, into that darkness.
As seeing it with the eye was impossible, [each one] was feeling it in the dark with the palm of his hand.
The hand of one fell on its trunk; he said: “This creature is like a water-pipe.”
The hand of another touched its ear: to him it appeared to be like a fan.
Since another handled its leg, he said: “I found the elephant’s shape to be like a pillar.”
Another laid his hand on its back: he said, “Truly, this elephant was like a throne.”
Similarly, whenever anyone heard [a description of the elephant]. he understood [it only in respect of] the part that he had touched.

If there had been a candle in each one’s hand, the difference would have gone out of their words.

In Rumi’s rendition of the story, each person is invited to sit together at the end of the tour and share hir experiences and observations. He points out that only through this sharing can “The Truth” be found.

Another story …

A young boy once approached his father to ask, “Dad, why does the wind blow?” to which the father responded, “I don’t know, son.” “Dad, where do the clouds come from?” “I’m not sure, son.” “Dad, what makes a rainbow?” “No idea, son.” “Dad, do you mind me asking you all these questions.?” “Not at all, son. How else are you going to learn?”[11]

We learn not only by asking questions, but also by observing what is happening around us. As a child and young teen I often accompanied my parents to congregational meetings at the First Parish in Framingham, where I have been a member for almost 40 years. One of my favorite experiences was attending the annual meeting. Every year up until a few years ago the members of the congregation debated the same issue at each meeting – whether to take an offering during worship services. Both sides of the debate had valid points: One side believing that passing the collection plates allowed the gathered worshippers to make a token donation thus keeping the connection between finances and spirituality tangible and visible. The other side believing that to pass the collection plates during worship gave members the false impression that what was put in the collection plate would be enough to financially sustain the congregation.

I loved that this agenda item was proposed from the floor of the annual meeting under the last article on the meeting warrant, the “any other business” article, keeping in practice the ability and right of the congregation’s membership to propose business alongside the elected leadership. I also loved this issue because while on the night of the meeting it divided meeting participants into sides, these sides never lasted longer than the meeting. Through my observation (and eventual participation) in these annual meetings I learned the importance of keeping community even in the midst of disagreement.

One of the important lessons I have learned growing up as a Unitarian Universalist is the power of community, particularly as it applies to a learning community. It is one thing to read and reflect on an experience or idea, but to do so engaged in conversation and study with other members of the congregation can be a powerful experience. By learning together we challenge one another to think outside the box and at the same time hold a mirror of faith to one another as a reminder of our individual and collective values. We learn together how best to live out our faith, not just on Sunday mornings but all week long.

I have been practicing our faith my whole life. This I can say for certain: Our faith is not an easy one to practice! It demands of us that we be in constant awareness and dialogue with the world. Unitarian Universalism requires religious engagement, not just when it is convenient or easy, but in every moment. One of the greatest strengths Unitarian Universalist thea/olgies offers is an image of life that is in motion and pluralistic. Through our focus on community and covenant, we learn that the holy takes place in our connections to and with one another.

Participation in religious community should help each of us to answer life’s questions. It should teach us holy engagement not only on holidays and at social justice rallies, but also in everyday life. It should challenge us to become better people and provide us with the tools to live out our religious values. It should help us to clearly define and articulate what we individually and collectively believe about life’s deepest (and not so deep) questions.

Sufism, the mystical side of Islam offers us this story:

A small boy banged a drum all day and loved every moment of it. He would not be quiet, no matter what anyone said. Various people were invited by the neighbours to do something about the child. The first person told the boy that he would burst his eardrums, if he continued to make so much noise, – but this was too advanced an idea for the child. The second told him that drum beating was a sacred activity and should be carried out only on special occasions. The third offered the neighbours earplugs while the fourth gave the boy a book. Some of these cures worked for a short while, but none worked for long. A Sufi [traveler] came along. He looked at the situation, handed the boy a hammer and chisel, and said, ‘I wonder what is inside the drum?’

The Sufi traveler reminds us that sometimes we need to approach each activity as a learning/teaching opportunity. We learn through asking questions and finding answers. We learn through engagement with materials presented to us. We learn through observation of what is happening around us. And we learn by noticing what is not happening around us. Therefore, everything that happens in congregational life is part of a multigenerational religious education curriculum.

Maria Harris, in her book “Fashion Me a People” offers us the idea that “…a fuller and more extensive curriculum is already present in the church’s life: in teaching, worship, community, proclamation, and outreach. Printed resources that serve this wider curriculum are in the treasury, of the church, especially the comprehensive curricular materials designed over the last century in the United States. These, however, are not the curriculum. The curriculum is both more basic and more profound. It is the entire course of the church’s life, found in the fundamental forms of that life. It is the priestly, prophetic, and political work of didache [teaching], leiturgia [worship], koinonia [community], kerygma [proclamation], and diakonia [outreach]. Where education is the fashioning and refashioning of these forms in interplay, curriculum is the subject matter and processes that make them to be what they are. Where education is the living and the fashioning, curriculum is the life, the substance that is fashioned.”[12]

Harris’ theory that it takes all aspects of church life to complete the curriculum of religious education makes sense to me. Within the children’s religious education program there is not enough time to teach all that needs to be taught. Let us pretend for a moment that each child in the congregation of East Cupcake was going to be present for every class – their annual classroom instruction (not including special activities for holidays, school vacations, etc.), would amount to approximately 24 hours of religious instruction. In one year’s worth of living they will have spent 1 day engaged in formal religious education. That’s just not enough time to teach everything we want to teach them! And we adults spend even less time (if any at all) in classroom-based religious instruction.

But by using Harris’ framework for what makes the curriculum we can note that we are teaching and learning through all that we do. Our use of fair trade coffees and teas, our commitment to lessen our impact on the environment and our work with communities outside our doors keeps our focus not only on ourselves but on the rest of the world as well. These are important aspects of our curriculum of outreach.

I would like to add an additional component to the curriculum Harris refers to – that which happens in the family. Religious education happens when we share our thoughts and questions with family and friends. It happens when we engage in the world and reflect on those experiences. It is my hope that our religious education programs provide us all with the tools needed to make sense out of our everyday lives. Religious education does not happen solely in the church building, but also at home and at hockey practice, it happens during music rehearsals and while running errands. It happens at the dinner table and while watching television.

The Reverend A. Powell Davies wrote, “Religion is not something separate and apart from ordinary life. It is life – life of every kind viewed from the standpoint of meaning and purpose: life lived in the fuller awareness of its human quality and spiritual significance.” I hope that at its core, Religious Education teaches this message of the inextricable connection between religion and life. I hope that through religious education we cultivate our roots in order to better bend and sway to the changing times.

            Sofia Lyon Fahs, who served as the American Unitarian Association’s National Director of Religious Education in the late 1930s through to the 1950’s and who is often considered the grandmother of Unitarian Universalist Religious Education, focused on incorporating experiential learning into religious education programs as well as tried to keep us focused on recognizing the spiritual needs of our children. While her writings often mention only children, her ideas are applicable to all of us regardless of age.

            In her book, Today’s Children and Yesterday’s Heritage, first published in 1952 she writes, “Instead of helping children to think about ‘religious things’, we need to learn how to help children to think about ordinary things until insights and feelings are found which have a religious quality. And what is this religious quality or way of studying?

The religious way is the deep way, the way with a growing perspective and an expanding view. It is the way that dips into the heart of things, into personal feelings, yearnings, hostilities that so often must be buried and despised and left misunderstood. The reli­gious way is the way that sees what physical eyes alone fail to see, the intangibles of the heart of every phenomenon. The religious way is the way that touches universal relationships; that goes high, wide and deep, that expands the feelings of kinship. And if God symbolizes or means those larger relationships, the religious way means finding God; but the word in itself is not too important. It is the enlarged and deepening experiences that bring the growing insights and that create the sustaining ambition to “find life and to find it abundantly” that really count most. When such a religious quality is the goal, any subject, any phenomenon, anything, animate or inanimate, human or animal, may be the starting point.”

While Fahs directs her writing to the needs of children I offer that the need to think about ordinary things in such a way that they touch our hearts is not age-specific. Engaging in the practice of thinking so deeply about something that we feel it – this is religious work. Learning the tools with which to do such engagement is Religious Education for the Soul. It is at the heart of why we gather in religious community, regardless of our age, and can be the common ground from which we grow our multigenerational multicultural efforts.

Sandra Cisneros offers us an important lesson on multigenerational engagement in her poem Eleven:

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two and one.

And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t.

You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today.

And you don’t feel eleven at all.  You feel like you’re still ten.  And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.

Like some days you might say something stupid and that’s the part of you that’s still ten.

Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mother’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five.

And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like you’re three, and that’s okay.

That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry.  Maybe she’s feeling three.

Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next.  That’s how being eleven years old is.

You don’t feel eleven.  Not right away.  It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say Eleven when they ask you.

And you don’t feel smart eleven, not until you’re almost twelve.  That’s the way it is.

Multigenerational…

            connections made across the generations and ages. Groups of people made up of many generations, many ages – working together for a common cause or purpose. But more than working together, multigenerational means that we are being intentional about honoring each of the generations and are making space for those not already present.

This might mean changing the time we hold meetings or classes or social events so that those who don’t drive at night and those who go to bed early can both be with us. It might mean that we older adults intentionally invite the youth to join us, or that we remember to advertise our events through Facebook and Twitter. It might mean that worship becomes more interactive, uses multimedia and different music, or meets at a different time. It might mean that sometimes we are uncomfortable with how things are being done, but because we are in community we trust that sometimes we will also be as comfortable as we need.

Multiculturalism…

what exactly do we mean by multiculturalsim? There is no good definition of it. Some would say that it is to honor and celebrate a multiplicity of cultures and identities. I would offer you that while this is true, I think that it is an action – it is a way of being in the world; living with an openness to new things and the messy complexity of life.

I suspect that Multigenerational Multiculturalism is already happening in your congregation. Our children’s and youth religious education programs tend to be hotbeds of multicultural activity. The foundation of what most of our congregations teach is not necessarily found in the curricula used every week, it is found in the ethos of the programs. This is in part because the bodies that make up our children and youth religious education programs is often more ethnically and racially diverse than the adult make-up of the congregation.

It is also because we are teaching our children from the earliest ages that it is important to recognize each other’s differences and to honor those differences. But there is more that we can do in their programs and throughout the curriculum of the church.

Creating this multicultural ethos means that we are making space for multiple learning styles and physical abilities. It means making sure that our buildings and meeting sites are physically accessible and affordable. It might mean that we pool our collective financial resources together to ensure that who might not otherwise be able, are able to represent our congregations at General Assembly and other such events.

Being a multicultural community means that we are learning about people and communities around the globe and honoring the dates important to them, particularly when members of those communities are part of our church community.

I ask the teachers in my program to begin with the assumption that diversity is present in the room, whether they recognize it or not. I ask that instead of relegating one session a year to a “diversity” session, we make sure that the stories that we choose and the language that we use models the multiculturalism that we hope will be present.

This sometimes means changing the relationships of people in the stories in order to reflect multiple sexual orientations. This sometimes means assuming more than two genders, that we make room for a multiplicity of gender identities. This sometimes means using pronouns that are not “he” and “she” … using pronouns such as “ze” and “gher.” I challenge my teachers and myself to always use “ze” and “gher” or other non-traditionally used pronouns whenever the gender or the character is not important to the story.

This takes work and intentionality, but it is worth it. I invite my volunteer teachers to continue these practices even after they’ve finished teaching. I challenge them (and today I challenge you) to continue these practices in their daily lives. I also encourage them to stretch themselves to be aware of the places in their lives where they have privilege and power – inviting them to use their power to help shape the world toward justice.

Being a multigenerational multicultural community also means that we are willing to make mistakes and are willing to be called to task on our mistakes. It means that we are willing to accept that when we or others make mistakes it is despite best efforts and good intentions and thus we must be willing to be gentle and forgive one another. It means that we give one another permission to fail and permission to pause when the going gets rough; trusting and nudging each other back on the path after a spell. It means being willing to take risks and catch one another; remembering that we are never in this alone! It also means that at times we must be willing to return to past choices and reconsider our decisions.

And with that in mind I ask you to join me in holding the Thomas Jefferson District Assembly in your hearts and prayers today as they meet to reconsider changing their district name to the Southeast District.

The impetus for this reconsideration of the name was a challenge brought by people of color and white allies at the 1993 General Assembly at which was scheduled a Thomas Jefferson Ball. GA participants were encouraged to attend this ball dressed in costumes of the period. African Americans asked the Assembly to consider what they should wear, suggesting perhaps “rags and chains.” In 1996 the district board began a serious discussion about how the name disenfranchises some Unitarian Universalists, especially those of African descent, Native American, and women. They began a two-year period of study that culminated in a vote at the 1997 District’s Annual Meeting in Charlotte. The motion to change the name was supported by the majority of delegates present (achieving a simple majority) but because of the two-thirds super majority required for passage, the motion failed by a slim margin.

After the vote, a second proposal was made that asked the board to bring the name change amendment back for reconsideration in five years. That motion carried and went to vote last year, again achieving a simple majority but not the required super majority.

Five congregations in their district petitioned to have the discussion and vote placed on this year’s agenda and at 3.45p this afternoon they will begin that piece of their agenda – may their deliberations be fruitful and may they know that they are not alone.

May we all know that we are not alone; indeed only by working together can we bring about the multigenerational multicultural that “Mmm… Goodness!” that this hurting world so desperately needs.

May it be so; and may we be the ones to make it so.

ENDNOTES


[1] Clare, Eli, Exile and Pride (South End Press: Cambridge 1999) 123.

[2] from Exile and Pride, p. 123

[3] Thurman, Howard. The Search for Common Ground. (Richmond, IA: 1971), xiii.

[4] Young, Iris Marion, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990) 169.

[5] “Transfigurations” [online: Jana Marcus 2003-06]. <http://www.jlmphotography.com/recent/TransPresentation/sld034.htm>

[6] Cromwell, Jason, Queering the Binaries: Transsituated Identities (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press 1999) 128.

[7] Tremain, Shelley, Pushing the Limits: Disabled Dykes Produce Culture (Women’s Press 1996) 15.

[8] Keller, Catherine and Anne Daniell, editors, Process and difference: between cosmological and poststructuralist postmodernisms (Albany: State University of New York Press 2002) 132.

[9] Unpublished email exchange between author and Ibrahim Farajajé, 7 December 2005.

[10] Mitchem, Stephanie. “Womanist & Unfinished Constructions of Salvation” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 2001: 99.

[11] Source unknown

[12] Harris, Maria. Fashion Me a People. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 1989) 63-64.

Published in: on 30 April 2011 at 10.39  Leave a Comment  

Opening Worship Reflection

23 October 2009
Liberal Religious Educators Association; Providence, RI
Mr. Barb Greve

As some of you know, my mother is a (once again) retired Director of Religious Education. As a child growing up in the congregation in which she served I got to see what was happening behind the curtain, and I swore that no matter what, I would NEVER become a Religious Educator! There seemed to be no end to the amount of work: teacher recruitment, committee meetings, lesson plan copying, supply closet cleaning, meetings with parents, meetings with the board, budget worries, locking and unlocking the doors, making coffee, cleaning up coffee, finding last minute substitutes, putting away tables and chairs, creating worship that works for all ages, buying Kleenex, sleeping on church floors for youth overnights, and never leaving the building when she said we were heading home. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why my mother enjoyed her job as much as she did. But she did and still does love her work and our faith and that love of both has rubbed off on me.

I have been a Unitarian Universalist for almost 40 years. I am a member of the first generation of Unitarian Universalists – those who were raised in the post-consolidation; after the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association combined their congregations and resources to create the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Unlike what happened in the sanctuary, what was taught in the religious education programs in the post-consolidation was a new religion, not a merged form of the two faiths from which we come.

I have been practicing Unitarian Universalism my whole life and can say only one thing for certain: Our faith is not an easy one to practice! It demands of us that we be in constant awareness and dialogue with the world. Unitarian Universalism requires religious engagement, not just when it is convenient or easy, but in every moment. We have a rich history and complicated thea/ology but too often our members and even we religious educators, shy away from learning either. One of the greatest strengths Unitarian Universalist thea/olgy offers is an image of life that is in motion and pluralistic.

Now, there have been times in life when I wished for a colossal puppeteer in the sky with whom I could scream and beg and who would make the changes I desired. But our faith challenges us to not place all the blame and expectation on a puppeteer but rather on ourselves and those around us. Through our focus on community and covenant, we learn that the holy takes place in our connections to and with one another. Because divinity exists in these connections it is important that we are careful with how we treat one another, which is why I am committed to combating oppression and celebrating multiculturalism.

The faith of my childhood taught me to put my trust in that mysterious force we sometimes call God or Goddess or Allah or Vishnu or Nature… and always call Sacred and Divine. This faith taught me to trust my life experiences (question them always, but still trust that the experiences were real).

One of the most transformational experiences of my life can be credited on none other than Pat Ellenwood. In my late teen years as I was successfully rebuilding the youth group of my home congregation, Pat invited me to lead a workshop on successful advising of youth groups for the district’s annual religious educators conference. With this simple invitation, Pat opened a door for me, a door that I would, from time to time peak through. And as I met many religious educators and learned more about the profession of religious education, I continued to shy away from the profession, if only because the long list of “to-do’s” seemed unbearable. During my 10 years working at the Unitarian Universalist Association I resisted becoming a member of LREDA. Not because this organization isn’t anything other than fabulous, but because to become a member would mean admitting that I was following in my mother’s path – a path that would take more time in my life than I thought I was willing to give up.

So it seemed a strange suggestion when Deb Levering suggested that I apply for the interim director of religious education position in Hamden, CT. But having just graduated from Starr King School for the Ministry, I was anxious to find a paying job, religious educator or otherwise. What I learned soon after I started in Hamden is that I love “the work.” I love the opportunity to help members of the congregation connect their daily living with their spiritual lives. I love working with committees as they struggle to decide what is important and how to make decisions based on faith and values. I don’t even mind the shopping for supplies and the long hours!

Your work is important. Our work is important. We have the opportunity to open doors for those who don’t realize the doors are even there. We are poised at the threshold of the mundane and the mystical. We will remind the world that, in the words of the great Unitarian Minister and leader of Unitarian Universalism, A. Powell Davies, “Religion is not something separate and apart from ordinary life. It is life–life of every kind viewed from the standpoint of meaning and purpose: life lived in the fuller awareness of its human quality and spiritual significance.”

Your work is important. Our work is important. May it always be so.
Amin.

Published in: on 23 October 2009 at 20.24  Comments (3)  
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Though I’ve Broken My Vows a Thousand Times

9 March 2008
Unitarian Society of New Haven; Hamden, CT
Mr. Barb Greve

READING:
Aurangzeb the Hat Seller

There was a young man called Aurangzeb who used to roam from town to town selling hats for a living. One day he would be in one town and the next in another. One summer afternoon, Aurangzeb had just traveled across a vast plain, so he felt tired and wanted to take a nap in the jungle. He found a mango tree with lots of branches and cool shade. Placing his bag of hats beside him, he went to sleep.

Aurangzeb was fast asleep in no time. When he woke up after a refreshing nap, he found that there were no hats in his bag! ‘Oh, no!’ he said to himself and shook his head sadly, ‘Of all the people, why did the thieves have to rob me?’ Suddenly, he looked up and noticed that the mango tree was full of cute monkeys wearing colourful hats. He yelled at the monkeys and they screamed back. He made faces at them and they returned the same funny faces. He threw a stone at them and they showered him with raw mangos. ‘How do I get my hats back?’ Aurangzeb pondered.

Frustrated, he took off his own hat and threw it on the ground. To his surprise, the monkeys also threw their hats! Aurangzeb did not waste a second and hurriedly collected the hats and went on his way to the next town. Fifty years later, young Habib, grandson of the famous hat-seller Aurangzeb, who worked hard to maintain the family business, was passing through the same jungle. After a long walk he was very tired and found a nice mango tree with lots of branches and cool shade. Habib decided to rest a while and very soon was fast asleep.

A few hours later, when Habib woke up, he realised that all the hats from his bag were gone! He started searching for them and to his surprise found some monkeys sitting in the mango tree wearing his hats.

He was frustrated and did not know what to do, but then he remembered a story his grandfather used to tell him. ‘Oh, I can fool these monkeys!’ said Habib.

‘I will make them imitate me and very soon I will get all the hats back!’ Habib waved at the monkeys and the monkeys waved back at him. He blew his nose and the monkeys blew their noses.

He started dancing and the monkeys also danced. He pulled his ears and the monkeys pulled their ears. He raised his hands and the monkeys raised their hands. Then, he threw his hat on the ground. One monkey jumped down from the mango tree, walked up to Habib and said, ‘Do you think only you had a grandfather?’

SERMON:
Mulla Nasrudin preached on Fridays at the village mosque. One day, having nothing to preach about, he asked the congregation:
“Do you know the subject I am going to discuss today?”
“No” said the people.
“Then I refuse to preach to such an ignorant assembly. How could you not know given the events of the past week?” asked Nasrudin and left hurriedly.
Next Friday he went up the pulpit and asked: “Do you know the subject of my sermon today?”
People fearing a repetition of what had taken place a week before nodded and said: “Yes yes, indeed we know.”
“Well, then. There is no point in telling you what you already know”, said Nasrudin and left.
On the third Friday he ascended the pulpit and asked: “Do you know what I am going to speak about today?”
Not knowing what to say, some said yes and some said no.
“Then those who know can tell those who don’t”, said Nasrudin and left.(1)

Mulla Nasrudin is a satirical Sufi figure believed to have originated in Persia in the 13th Century. Sufi stories are often paradoxically simple and profound while also using humor to make their point. I appreciate this aspect of Sufism as much as I appreciate the ritualized practice of prayer.

Sufism, the mystical side of Islam, has “For thousands of years… offered a path on which one can progress toward the “great end” of Self-realization, or God-realization. Sufism is a way of love, a way of devotion, and a way of knowledge.

There is no single, systematic approach to Sufi teachings, and not all of its teachings can be communicated in words. The wisdom of Sufism can be found in stories, poetry, art, calligraphy, rituals, exercises, readings, dance movements, and prayer.

Sufism is often described as a path, suggesting both an origin and a destination. The aim of Sufism is the elimination of all veils between the individual and God. Traveling this path, one can acquire knowledge of Reality.” (2)

Thus Sufism has much in common with Unitarian Universalism. Both religions put a higher emphasis on the journey to the answers than on the answers themselves. But that is not all we have in common. We have some overlap in our history that perhaps helped to form our similarities. To understand these overlaps we must look back to a time and place in the world’s history called Al Andalus.

In the year 712 C.E. Muslims were expanding their empire through North Africa and Spain. As far as empire expansions go, this was a relatively non-violent expansion due to Qur’anic rulings requiring that mercy must be extended to surrendering opponents. The Qur’an further requires that conquerors must allow people of the lands they capture to continue practicing their faith of origin. As a result Jews, Christians, and Muslims worshipped peacefully side-by-side.

During the centuries of Muslim occupation, peace reigned in Al Andalus as it became a center of academic and cultural exchange. Together Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholars worked to translate the classics from Greek and Hebrew into Latin.

By 1492 Trinitarian Christians had re-conquered Spain, driving out over 800,000 Muslims and Jews and destroying the peaceful collaborative culture that had existed in Al Andalus. But the lessons of the peaceful cultural exchange would continue on.

In 1511 Michael Servetus, one of our Unitarian martyrs, was born in northern Spain. Servetus was a bright young man, who came of age at a time in history when people were being killed for their beliefs. In 1531 Servetus published “On the Errors of the Trinity” challenging the doctrine of the established Church and was burned at the stake for holding to his beliefs 20 years later. But before he was killed, Servetus taught Ferenc Dávid, who would become the court preacher to Queen Isabella of Hungary.

Ferenc Dávid continued in Servetus’ line of thinking, finding no Biblical basis for the Doctrine of the Trinity. He is credited as the father of Unitarianism and perhaps best known nowadays for his declaration that “we need not think alike to love alike.”

Queen Isabella’s son John became King John Sigismund, the first and so far-only Unitarian king. In 1568 King Sigismund issued the Edict of Torda, which proclaimed freedom of religion for all people under his rule.

From Al Andalus to Transylvania, a spirit of religious freedom and cultural exchange existed in both Unitarianism and Sufism. And it was in this spirit of cultural exchange that I found myself sitting in a Sufi Dhikrullah, or Ceremony of Divine Remembrance. A dear friend of mine had invited me to observe the ceremony – I had no idea it would have such a profound impact on my life.

The room was nothing special – your standard multi-use carpeted room. As we arrived at the entrance we were asked to remove our shoes before entering. Once inside, we sat in a large circle on the floor – about 20 of us all told. The Sheik, or spiritual leader, sat at the front, if you can imagine a circle having a front. For the next four hours he led us first in a series of sung chants and later in a group whirling. For the group whirling, we stood, remaining in a circle with all facing to the right. We placed our left hands palm up at the small of our backs and our right hands in the hand of the person in front of us. Slowly we moved, stepping forward with our right foot and sliding our left to meet it. We continued our chanting while we whirled.

As if by some unspoken instruction, two members of the group broke from the larger circle and began to whirl alone inside the circle – it was wondrously beautiful. The end brought us spiraling out in such a way that we greeted each person in the circle, looking deeply into one another’s eyes and hearts before offering blessings and thanks. And when all had greeted and been greeted, we broke for a feast.

I left that night still holding the warm embrace of the holy presence that I had just felt. That embrace was palpable and as the days passed I yearned to feel it again. I asked my friend if I could join him at another Dhiker thinking that it would be months before they held another one. Imagine my surprise when he told me they held weekly gatherings.

I asked my friend to teach me about his Sufi order – the Nur Ashki Jerrarhi order. I learned that currently they have a woman as their Sheika and that they are queer-friendly. This was important to me, given my identity. My friend gave me a reading that has become one of the foundations of my spirituality – it matched up so well with our Universalist theology:

“Love is the bond that binds hearts, the basis upon which to build. If love is the foundation, your building will withstand all earthquakes and storms, and you may build it as high and wide as you please without it being in danger. Therefore, our Way is the Way of Love. Leave what is keeping you from following that Path and turn to follow it with perseverance, follow this path all the way to your destination…”(3)

I began to study more about Sufism. I learned that “The Sufi way is not a path of retreat from the world but a way of seeking the Divine while still actively engaged in the world. Engagement in the world provides opportunities for spiritual growth, opportunities to practice love, awareness, generosity, and nonattachment. The Sufi approach is summarized by Sheikh Muzaffer, a modern Sufi teacher: “Keep your hands busy with your duties in this world, and you heart busy with God.”(4)

I find comfort in the idea that such an intensive form of prayer and spiritual practice did not mean disengagement from the world. There is too much that needs doing in the world and I didn’t want to choose a spiritual path that would isolate me from the work at hand. Among the Unitarian Universalist teachings I value greatly is that prayer is lived through our actions. I didn’t want to lose that idea as I began to integrate a new spiritual practice into my Unitarian Universalist identity.

Thus I found great comfort in what is now one of my favorite stories, about Rabi’a al-Adawiyya, the famous Sufi mystic and saint. She lived in Basra, Iraq in the 8th century and the stories of her say she was consumed with the fire and love and longing for the Beloved, her name for Allah or the divine.

The story teaches that one day, Rabi’a was seen running, carrying fire in one hand and water in the other. They asked her the meaning of her action and where she was going. She replied, “I am going to light a fire in Paradise and pour water on Hell…”

I love both the symbolism and the idea behind Rabi’a’s actions. For me it is a reminder that we can’t get too complacent – that even in the moments when we feel we have reached enlightenment, there is still more work to be done – within our own beings (souls if you will) and out in the world we live in. On an internal level, for me this meant lighting a fire under my Unitarian Universalism and opening myself up to the possibility of connecting with a Divine presence. And on an external level, Rabi’a’s actions seem right in working order with my Unitarian Universalist values of full engagement with the interdependent web of which we are a part.

Another place where Unitarian Universalism and Sufism seem to overlap is in our willingness to see human beings as holy and flawed. Sufism teaches that it is inevitable that we will break our vows, thus what is more important is our intent to not break them and our willingness to return again and again to the Path. I am appreciative of this teaching – it helps me to not give up when I fall short of my vows.

The words from our first hymn this morning come from a Rumi poem, which when read in its entirety reads,

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.

I believe what Rumi is reminding us of in this poem is that not only will we break our vows, but that even when we do we are still welcome on the Path. Our vows can be broken in numerous ways – through broken promises to others or ourselves, but falling short of our intended goals, or by shutting our hearts to the world’s suffering.

As Sheik Ragip Robert Frager al Jarrahi writes in the introduction to his book Essential Sufism:

“Our hearts have become frozen, armored against the pain and suffering we have all experienced in this world. With the help of a devoted teacher and sincere [companions] along the path, we can defrost them.

Love, service, and compassion help us reopen our hearts and come closer to God. One of the greatest services we can perform is to help heal the injured hearts of others. Our hands are made to lift up those who have fallen, to wipe the tears of those who are suffering from the trials of this world. Sheikh Muzaffer also said, “A kind word or glance softens your heart, and every hurtful word or act closes or hardens your heart.”

And so I leave you with one final Sufi story, as told by Idries Shah :(5)

A small boy banged a drum all day and loved every moment of it. He would not be quiet, no matter what anyone said. Various people were invited by the neighbours to do something about the child. The first person told the boy that he would burst his eardrums, if he continued to make so much noise, – but this was too advanced an idea for the child. The second told him that drum beating was a sacred activity and should be carried out only on special occasions. The third offered the neighbours earplugs while the fourth gave the boy a book. Some of these cures worked for a short while, but none worked for long. A Sufi came along. He looked at the situation, handed the boy a hammer and chisel, and said, ‘I wonder what is inside the drum?’

May we each remember to follow the paths that keep our hearts open and our minds ready to hand over a hammer and chisel. May it ever be so.

Amin and Ashé.

ENDNOTES:

(1) http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Nasrudin#Preaching

(2) Fadiman, James and Robert Frager. Essential Sufism. (San Francisco: HarperCollins 1997) 1.

(3) Mawlana Shaykh Muhammad Nazim Adil Hakkani al-Kibrisi al-Naksibendi

(4) Fadiman, James and Robert Frager. Essential Sufism. (San Francisco: HarperCollins 1997) 35.

(5)Fadiman, James and Robert Frager. Essential Sufism. (San Francisco: HarperCollins 1997) 35.

(6) http://www.katinkahesselink.net/sufi/stories.html

Published in: on 9 March 2008 at 19.56  Comments (22)  
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The Grace of Missing the Bus

17 June 2007
Arlington Street Church
Mr. Barb Greve & Mr. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson

Barb:
So you missed the bus and here you are. Or perhaps you didn’t want to take the bus to the farm this morning and instead chose to be here in the sanctuary – our gigantic and eloquently adorned bus station! Or you might be visiting for the first time, wondering how religion and buses are even connected.

Congregational life is like riding on a public bus. Seriously! Have you ever ridden a transit bus consistently? Are you one of the regulars; have you ridden frequently enough to notice that there are “regulars” on the route? Bus riders seem to create their own micro-communities. Riders will notice one another. They recognize each other’s faces. If they’ve been riding together long enough they might even know one another’s names and stories. And you can be sure that at least one of the regulars will notice when one among them misses the bus.

If you think of our congregation as a gigantic bus, we’re really not all that different. Like buses, we have our transient and permanent riders – those who stop by to check us out, and those who return again and again. We have some who stay on the route for a few weeks and then move on, and some who only stay for one particular day. We have those who got on the wrong bus, or missed the bus they thought they were supposed to be on and hopped on ours because we were the next bus to come along. Some arrive when they are touring or visiting the area, and some who jump onboard because we are exactly what they were searching for. Hopefully most who take this ride will return to join us in community.

This year you have allowed Kelly and I to travel along your route with you. We have been blessed with your willingness to help us on the bus that is Arlington Street Church. Like any bus traveling in New England, our ride has traversed many types of terrain – from smooth comfortable roads to tumultuous ground, and everything imaginable in between.

In some sense we have become regulars on your bus. Our faces are familiar to one another; the stories of your lives, those that you have shared, are etched in our memories. We have traveled together through the loss of loved ones, the arrival of new children, holidays, worship services, trips to New Orleans, efforts to bring justice into our world, educational classes, spiritual passions, and the never-ending cycle of meetings.

Together we have built upon an incredible community. We have explored what it means to live in community, even in the times when we don’t agree. We have, at the core, lived into and deepened our understanding of this living tradition, this faith called Unitarian Universalism.

Kelly:
Unitarians, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists have long been uncomfortable with, and even adversarial towards, the concept of grace. In the European Christianity from which both Unitarianism and Universalism emerged, grace is traditionally understood as an expression of love from an infinitely kind deity towards a fallen and undeserving humanity. Such grace is the source of salvation, whether in life or after it. This is the situation described by the famous hymn, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

Calvinism, the ancient adversary of both Unitarians and Universalists, has held for centuries that the grace of Heaven is irresistible and completely predetermined. It’s mercy is reserved for the few while being kept from the many, and no human action can change this division between the winners and the losers. Some are meant for glory, while most are meant only to die.

The response of liberal religion, of Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists, to this narrow and oppressive understanding of grace has been our clearest uniting point for four centuries: The work of human hands, and the thought of human minds, matters. Whatever salvation there is to be had in the universe is available to all, and it is found and distributed by our working together for the common good, in this life, on this Earth. This position, which is just as sorely needed today as it was 300 years ago, cherishes human agency, and so it has often left little room for grace.

But life is about more than just ourselves. It is about more, even, than each other. Beyond the reach of our own control, the world still spins. The parts of our experience that we do not choose for ourselves: the sunshine and the rain, the stranger encountered on the street, the old photograph found in a neglected drawer, the missed bus or train; our lives are shaped not only by our choices, but also by the countless elements of chance that we do not choose. These unchosen pieces of life are often dismissed as random and meaningless, in order to make room in the world for free will, and preserve the sense that our choices matter.

Abandoning the twists and quirks of our every day lives as without meaning or purpose may feel easy, but it is an awful lot to surrender. How much of your life, goes according to plan? We can choose to discard the moments when the world colors outside the lines of our plans for it, or we can, cultivate an openness to serendipity.

Serendipity means finding something good or important when you weren’t looking for it. The word comes from an Iranian fairy tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip”. Through their travels, the main characters in that story find numerous clues and facts important to a puzzle they were not trying to solve. The opportunity to learn is most potent when it catches us by surprise. Scientist, science-fictionist and prolific author Isaac Asimov said that the most exciting phrase in science, the one most likely to accompany a major breakthrough or discovery is not “Eureka, I’ve found it!” Rather, it is far better to hear “That’s funny…” Yet, modern living is predicated on predictability. Jobs, families, the demands of living in the here-and-now frequently require us to hold to schedules and strategies that leave little space for the unexpected.

But to live religiously requires openness to change, and the cracks in the shell of the sky are the points where the light comes in. Staving off our own moral agoraphobia, the habit of hiding in the familiar, fearing the challenges of the unknown, requires the injection of new ideas and new experiences into our lives. Luckily, whether we seek it out or do our best to avoid it, the world outside our skin slips every day into our living; it can be a wise and playful instructor, if we let it.

In Taoism, an old and influential religious and philosophical tradition from China, there is a crucial term: wu-wei, a practice of following the rhythm set by the world rather than struggling to enforce your rhythm upon it. Among many other things, wu-wei means a willingness to be spontaneous, and to embrace the randomness provided by the world as a constant potential for serendipity. A teacher of mine, a Catholic expert on Hindu theology and a leading voice in the field of interreligious dialogue, taught me once that there are two types of grace: cat grace and monkey grace. Cat grace is when something outside ourselves picks us up, whether we like it or not, and puts us back down where we need to be, like a parenting cat lifting a kitten by the scruff of the neck. Monkey grace, on the other hand, follows a different pattern: the parenting monkey will carry the child long distances, but the child has a part to play as well – it has to hold on. To hold on to the possibility to learn and change, provided in every moment, we sometimes need to let go of our plans and expectations.

Barb:
The bus has stopped for a moment, and we have arrived at a destination. It is time for some good folks to disembark and continue down a different path. Kelly and I must depart for the time being, going off into the world more fully formed than when we arrived. As we turn and say our good-byes, we leave you with some parting thoughts…

Always remember and warmly greet the visiting passengers and newer riders. Like you way back when, they probably jumped on our bus for a variety of reasons. But, also like you, they are more likely to stay if they feel connected. The riders of this bus are an amazing group of people and you have incredible stories to share with one another. I charge you to spend time each coffee hour sharing and learning the stories of people here you don’t yet know well.

Become good stewards and congregational citizens. By this I mean, attend to the details of your own involvement and lead by example. Doing the work of being a congregational citizen is hard work! It means helping newer and/or overwhelmed members of the community find their places in the congregation and celebrating the involvement of those who are often taken for granted – those who plug along week after week. Being a good steward and congregational citizen means doing what needs to be done, even in the moments when you might not want to be the one doing it (and of course doing what needs to be done when you do want to be doing it also!). It means giving generously of your time, talent, energy, spirit, and money – putting all that you can into the congregation, knowing that if all were to do this, the congregation could truly be more than ever imagined.

Find the places where your soul’s passion and the world’s longing meet and plunge fully into that work. Be unapologetically religious! Know our living tradition and allow your lives to live out of your faith values. Take good care of one another and this magnificent place. The history steeped into the walls and pipes of this building have told the stories of generations of amazing people; people who will never be famous beyond these walls but who are nonetheless famous for their beliefs and deeds. There are more generations waiting to come – leave them a building worthy of their lives. This building is the physical manifestation of a living legacy; a legacy that believes in human worth and dignity, salvation for all beings, and embracing questions more than answers.

As Kelly and I disembark from this bus that is Arlington Street Church and board our next buses, we say thank-you. Thank you for being who you are and for sharing of yourselves with us. Thank you for making room for us to be here and for growing alongside us. The bus’s roar will echo in our souls for many years to come…

{ringing of bowl}

Published in: on 17 June 2007 at 11.20  Leave a Comment  

What Woke Me Up

9 June 2007 ~ Boston Queer Pride Service
Arlington Street Church
Mr. Barb Greve

It should have been enough when Sylvia Rivera, a 17-year-old, street-smart, Puerto Rican drag queen threw one of the first bottles at the police, fighting back for our dignity and rights in what we now call the Stonewall riots of 1969.

It should have been enough that in the aftermath of the Stonewall riots, transgender participation and the participation of people of color began to be erased from our histories in order to make our queer communities more palatable for the public majority.

It should have been enough when the “Twinkie Defense” was accepted as a defense to why Dan White, a former San Francisco Supervisor assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk on November 27, 1978.

It should have been enough that even as other mainstream churches were using their thea/ologies to justify the persecution and discrimination against homosexual and bisexual peoples, Unitarian Universalism was speaking out in support of queer communities.

But I slept…

It should have been enough when my kindergarten teacher told me I could not grow up to be the guy you see standing here before you today.

It should have been enough the first time I was kicked out of the women’s bathroom because I didn’t match the model of womanhood the other women in the bathroom ascribed to.

It should have been enough when, in 1979, the first national homosexual rights march on Washington, DC was held.

Or when in that same year Harry Hay issued the first call for a Radical Faerie gathering.

But still I slept…

It should have been enough when The Moral Majority started its anti-homosexual crusade.

It should have been enough when Massachusetts Representative Gerry Studds became the first openly homosexual member of the US Congress by coming out on the floor of the House.

It should have been enough when I learned more about HIV and AIDS in my church’s About Your Sexuality class than I did in my public school health class.

But still I slept…

It should have been enough when a lesbian couple was banned from attending their high school prom the same year I didn’t take who I wanted to mine.

It should have been enough when I came out publicly as a lesbian.

It should have been enough when Brandon Teena was raped and murdered in 1993, or when the third gay rights march on Washington, DC was held that same year.

It should have been enough when I came out publicly as a transgender guy.

It should have been enough when I heard a lone voice on a panel credit me for why he was able to come out as a transgender guy his sophomore year in high school.

But still I slept…

I began to wake up with the world as we responded in outrage after Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was tied to a fence and left to die. I further woke up as I served the UUA’s Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns.

The Office served as my perpetual alarm clock. For it was not the atrocities against queer peoples nor the successes of the queer movement that woke me up, but rather the stories I would hear from our congregants and congregations who were working on queer rights issues or going through the Welcoming Congregation Program.

I woke up as day after day I received calls, letters, and emails telling me about the struggles in our own congregations. I woke up as I realized that the people on the other end of the correspondence were engaging in their struggles – our struggles – because that was what was needed to fully live our values and stay in right relationship with one another and the world.

I woke up as we Unitarian Universalists stated our commitment to justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.

I woke up as Unitarian Universalists recognized and proclaimed that some things are rights, not privileges:

Access to healthcare;
Physical safety at work, home, school and church;
Correct pronoun usage;
Freedom of choice to dress as one feels best expresses oneself;
The ability to perform bodily functions in peace without raised eyebrows;
The ability to marry who you want;
The ability to travel where you want; and
The ability to say what you need without threat or reprisal…

…We Unitarian Universalists recognize that these are rights not privileges.

We have woken up and because it is important to honor where we come from, we gather at moments like this to learn from one another and to celebrate. We continue to imagine how the world might be different so that we can bring that difference into being. We listen for dissonance, recognizing that life is pluralistic and through that pluralism is our strength. We celebrate queer communities and stay awake to our ever-changing needs.

I invite you to stay awake and join in moving the world further towards justice! And today, we honor all that we have been through and celebrate one another’s presence in our lives! Stay awake and join in the struggle and celebration!

Published in: on 9 June 2007 at 11.25  Leave a Comment  

A Life Saved

3 May 2007
NA LREDA at Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua
Mr. Barb Greve
Dedicated to all Unitarian Universalist Religious Educators!

I sat in the dark theater, listening in wonder and anxiety as I waited for the folks around me to start snickering. I knew my jaw had dropped in disbelief, and my heart was fluttering with . . . I don’t know what exactly, excitement perhaps. Or maybe it was something deeper, a sense of validation? Or hope… hope that we are making changes in the world. As I sat there and no one around me said anything, I began to wonder if I had misheard the character. And as I thought about it more I second guessed myself so much that I no longer believed I had heard it at all. I mean, come on no character in Star Trek would start a wedding toast with the greeting, “Ladies, Gentlemen, and invited Transgender Species.” Or would they?

I asked my companion about it on the drive home. Sure enough, I had heard it right. We were feeling pretty good about life – think about it . . . language for our gender was used in the most recent Star Trek movie. Shouldn’t we feel good? Ok, so we agreed that we could live without the “species” being tacked on to the end, but still, we were feeling good. And then it hit me like a brick. We shouldn’t be feeling good; we should be outraged. Or at least be less excited than we were. We shouldn’t need recognition from pop culture to feel like our lives are worthy; that our gender does exist and is recognized.

I mean, come on – I’ve known my gender since I was in kindergarten. I figured it out at the same time I learned that I was to spend the better part of my life on rocky terrain. I remember the day when my kindergarten teacher asked us to draw a picture of what we were going to be when we grew up. Without hesitation I began drawing a picture of my future self. I had no doubt that I would grow up to be a minister and so I drew a picture of myself preaching a sermon from my congregation’s pulpit. Because church was a formal affair, I drew myself wearing my best suit. As my teacher walked around the classroom he congratulated each of the students on both our career choice and artwork. When he arrived at my place he took a quick look at my picture and asked me whom I had drawn. As I sat there in my pretty purple dress, I explained that the person in the drawing was me. He told me that, “I was wrong. I wouldn’t grow up to be a man, only boys could do that.”

I left school that day confused and with a deep understanding that I was different than the other students in my class. While my teacher was telling me that I couldn’t grow up to be a guy I was absolutely sure that I would. In some regards, this was in conflict with the lessons I was learning in church school. Growing up in a Unitarian Universalist congregation and household, I was taught to always trust my inner voice and life experiences. But what is a kindergartener to do when that inner voice and the teacher are saying contradictory messages? The lesson I learned was that my knowledge of my gender was something to be hidden and never shared with anyone ever again. Thankfully, I’m a slow learner and I challenged this lesson later in my life.

But back then, as I was growing up, I never heard the word “transgender.” No one ever told me that it was ok to identify as something other than man or woman. Alone, I struggled with how to describe what I knew inside was a truth: I was not going to grow up to be either one. And since I thought I would grow up to be a guy, I was sure some mistake had been made.

Unfortunately, society’s need to define, dichotomize, and limit gender sacrifices the real life experience of people like me. Rather than trust us to identify our own gender, society tries to force us into one of two options: man or woman.

When transgender folks are strong enough to refuse this dichotomy of gender, we are still forced to buy into a continuum that puts two options on opposing ends with us “transitioning” between the two: I was a man, now I’m becoming a woman or you identified me as a woman, but now I’m creating the man I’ve always known I am. Is it so hard to imagine that there are more than these 2 fixed points? What if there is a different point for each gender? What if some folks always stay where they start, others transition between 2 or 3 or more genders, some live in the intersection where it all comes together, and still others don’t live anywhere near the intersection?

Some of the most common questions people have asked me over the last 12 years are “How is your transition going?”, “When did you transition?”, and “When will you transition?” Interestingly, no one that I can recall has ever asked IF I will transition –

The act of transitioning,
of transformation;
of morphing
from what we were
to what we are becoming –
this act is not a simple act.
Nor is it a once in a life-time, check it off the list, “I’m done with that task now” item.
It is an act,
an action
and it can be both difficult
and constant.
We can not be anything other than whom and what we are.
We are we; I am me.
And yet at the same time,
we are in a persistent state of flux.
We are forever the link
between the past
and the future,
moving with time and space,
yet constantly caught between the done
and the imagined.
For some of what was yesterday’s future
is today’s past.
We
are the present in motion,
constantly becoming,
forever transforming what could be
into what was
and
what is
into what
can be.

Just as we are forever the link between what was and is, I am also forever myself. The all of me, not just the pieces I want to focus on nor just the pieces you want to focus on, but all of the pieces. And yet, more often than not the focus comes back to the “trans–”… that is: transgender and transition, but not necessarily transformation.

On Star Island, I was asked, “How is your transition going?” – Perhaps she meant it as a friendly question, such as “how are you?” or “how is your family?” But it digs deeper. Is it truly meant as a friendly question, asked by someone who is or is becoming an ally? Or is it more asked out of entitled curiosity? Does it matter that my transition lasted a week or less – that my “transition” is less about me than it is about you. I suspect you assume that I am transsexual, not transgender and as such you also assume I will change my body and name. …

For perhaps you have known me in previous identities and this present one makes it difficult for you to cleanly put me in a box. But I am un-boxable – at least not boxable in the sense that that question implies. How do I answer you with authentic integrity without making one or both of us uncomfortable?

Howard Thurman wrote in his book The Search for Common Ground, “I have always wanted to be me without making it difficult for you to be you.”(1) Much as that is the sentiment with which I move through the world, I have learned that for me to move at all is to risk making it difficult for you to be you. And conversely, for you to be you often makes it difficult for me to be me. Does this mean that we should stop moving in the world? Perhaps build walls and cocoons around ourselves and never interact with others? Shelter ourselves from the danger of influence and change; protecting our imaginations until we no longer dream…until we give up and believe that only a Creator, or Savior, can make a difference. When we do this we forget that anyone can Co-Create.

Walls, like chrysali will not hold forever. We can choose to either break out of them when we are ready to fly or wait until they crumble on their own. Each one of us who chooses to emerge from our chrysalis and re-engage with the world is a Creator – a person who dreams of flying and opens up to the possibilities waiting to happen. In a world order that continually pushes us towards isolation and fear, pitting one group against another, in a world such as this, anyone who refuses to stop dreaming, who engages in communities, who challenges fears, privileges, and assumptions, who breaks out to fly – anyone who does these things can make a difference.

In my experience, Unitarian Universalist Religious Educators have continuously been the dreamers of our faith. You have not only dreamed new dreams, but taught our members of all ages how to dream. And you have taught many of us how to bring our dreams into being. You have created classrooms and communities where possibilities are waiting to happen.

As a transgender guy in a world that tells me on a moment-to-moment basis that my life is without value, I am certain that it has been the values and self-worth that being raised Unitarian Universalist instilled in me that have not only sustained me but also inspired me and compelled me to help bring about a better world.

I have little doubt that without my church youth group, I would not have so successfully survived my teen years. In those years I wondered if I would ever be understood. I worried that I would never be able to be myself and be loved. Had I not had our Unitarian Universalist faith and the support of my congregation to fall back on, I would have given up during the hard times. But my church school and the people of my congregation taught me to trust the entirety of my life’s journey.

Sadly, not all transgender people are instilled with such a strong empowering message. As transgender people we often feel great despair deep in our hearts because it is rare that we are told that we are good people. Everything in our lives reinforces that there is not yet a place in the world for us. From public bathrooms and dressing rooms, conference housing options, governmental identifications, and language we are reminded that we do not belong. We do not see our lives reflected in the stories told in history classes or the authors read in literature classes. The first question we hear asked when a baby is born is not “is it healthy” but rather, “is it a boy or a girl?” Again, we are not even counted among the options.

Despite all this, transgender people have existed and survived. To exist at all is to show courage and fortitude of the spirit that cannot be destroyed. But too often spirits are broken. They are broken not because we are transgender but because the world has broken us in its attempts to make us into something that we are not. It has broken our hearts and spirits time and time again in an attempt to mold us into a binary gender system rather than embrace us for the natural diversity that we bring forth. …

Our spirits are broken because after years and decades of being reminded that the world does not want to acknowledge our existence, we internalize this message. We question everything we are and do. We begin to believe that we are not as worthy as other people in our lives. We accept substandard health care, and are thankful that we have health care at all. We give up our religions and rather than find new ones, we assume there is no religion that would accept us and thus we are left to our own devises to create spiritual fulfillment.

Religion need not reject the variety of existences that transgender people provide. Churches need not be additional places of pain and suffering for the transgender spirit. Religion and churches are meant to lift the spirit up and remind us of the goodness in life. Unitarian Universalism can do this.

I believe that Unitarian Universalism saves lives. I know that Unitarian Universalist religious education saves lives. I know this because it has saved my life time and time again. As the television show Babylon 5’s character Brother Alwyn Macomber says, “Our faith sustains us in the hour when reason tells us that we can not continue, that the whole of our whole lives is without meaning.”(2) Through religious education, I was taught and subsequently internalized a faith that has sustained me throughout my life.

Our congregations provide us with, James Luther Adams writes, “A place to practice what it means to be human.” I believe that the world needs more places like this – places where we can each show up with all of our gifts, flaws, and growing edges. Places where when we join with one another we can be a collective force for goodness in the world.

Unitarian Universalism has a prophetic message that proclaims freedom of thought and equal justice; it reminds us that all life is connected and interconnected. Our faith calls us to think not just of ourselves and our immediate neighbors but also of those beings geographically far from us. Unitarian Universalism challenges us to be the best human beings we can be, guides us in times of trial and tribulation, and gives us a faith that holds us through all life brings our way.

Throughout our history Religious Educators have been the tenders of the faith. You have held our feet to the fire and carried the flame of our faith to each new generation. Without your steadfastness and imagination we would not be who we are today. Unitarian Universalism saves lives because you put the time, effort, and love into creating communities where dreams can be dreamed. Bless you all for jobs well done – you make a difference; you save lives!
May it be so.
Amin. Ashé. Blessed Be.

Endnotes:

1) Thurman, Howard. The Search for Common Ground. (Richmond: Friends United Press 1971), xiii.

2) Babylon 5, Episode no. 422, first broadcast 27 October 1997. Directed by Stephen Furst and written by J. Michael Straczynski (Although this episode is part of the fifth-season production run, it’s actually the fourth-season finale. The fifth-season finale, “Sleeping in Light,” was shot during the fourth-season production run because it wasn’t clear that the show was being renewed; once the renewal was announced, another episode had to be substituted. For some reason the onscreen credits at the end of the episode don’t reflect that; they list a production number of 422 rather than the more accurate 501.)

Published in: on 3 May 2007 at 9.30  Leave a Comment  

With Grace and Gratitude

18 March 2007
Arlington Street Church
Mr. Barb Greve

SERMON:

There was a man who set out on a long journey. The day he set out was very hot, and the sun was blazing down. It wasn’t long before the man began to feel hot and thirsty. He said, “I must find some water,” and before long he came to a well. He ran over to the well, but it was dry.

Now he felt thirstier than ever. The sun blazed down and he continued walking, saying to himself, “I will find another well.” Before long he saw another well, but it too was dry. He was getting worried and he was getting weak. He knew that if he did not find water soon, he would die. He gathered all his strength and kept walking. After a long time he found another well. As he looked down into the well—way, way down—he saw the sparkle of water. “Allah be praised!” he said. He looked at the well, searching for a bucket and rope to lower into the water to get a drink, but there was no bucket and no rope either. There was only one way to get the water.

He climbed into the well and began to inch himself down, down, deep into the well. Finally, he reached the cool water, cupped one hand and drank and drank until his thirst was quenched. He thanked Allah again for the life-giving liquid and then began his journey up the well, inch by inch. Eventually he climbed out of the well and prepared to continue his journey.

As he was about to leave, he heard a soft whining sound and there was the most miserable creature he’d ever seen. It was a dog and it was panting with thirst. The traveler looked down at the dog and remembered all he had been taught about dogs. They were filthy, begging creatures and utterly without value. It was even said that an angel would never enter a home where a dog was present. “What should I do?” thought the traveler. “If I don’t do something, this dog will die.”

After much thought, he said to the dog, “Stay here. I will get you some water.” He climbed back into the well and began the long descent. Down, down, down he climbed, until again he reached the water. But how was he going to get the water back to the dog? He took off a boot, filled it with water, and put it between his teeth. Then he did it with the other boot. Then he put his hands on the sides of the well and inched his way back up. It was a harder trip with the heavy boots in his mouth and he slipped several times. But eventually he reached the top and gave the water to the dog, who drank and drank. When he had drunk his fill, the dog wagged his tail and said, “Now neither of us will die of thirst.” It was at that moment that Allah was so pleased by the man’s kindness that he forgave all his sins.

This is a good story to remind us that sometimes voicing our gratitude is not enough. Had the man left the well satiated and grateful, he would not have experienced the full power of his gratitude. His own thirst and its relief enabled him to see past his prejudice and feel compassion for the dog’s suffering. His gratitude moved past the words “Allah be praised” and on to “I will get you water.” Until his words were transformed into action, his thanksgiving was incomplete.

Grace was present when the thirsty man realized that he had the power to quench the thirst of the dog and then despite all that he had been taught about dogs, he went ahead and did what he could. I believe that grace is present at that moment when knowing our own gratitude moves into empathy for others…when we can take our own experiences and transform them into guidance for our actions.

In my sermon a month ago I invited you to join me in efforts to create a “complaint free world.” The movement is modeled after Maya Angelou’s comment, “If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” The challenge is to go 21 days without complaining. To aid in your efforts, a purple bracelet was provided which could be moved from one wrist to the other as needed if and when you found yourself engaging in complaints, gossip, or criticism of the things you could change.

Shortly after the Sunday I preached that sermon, the “Complaint Free World” idea was given instant fame through printed and televised media. I have been shocked by the amount of people and companies who have contacted the church office and me in hopes of getting their own purple bracelet – these are people who are hoping to change their lives. And I have been gratefully awed by the stories some of you have shared with me about your struggles and joys in working towards less complaining in your daily lives.

Some of you have embraced this idea so much that you give me daily updates on how things are going – updates I am happy to receive. Some of you have come to me to confess that you have chosen to remove the bracelet because the act of switching it from one wrist to the other was too discouraging. ‘Though I must admit that I have been amused that some of you who have chosen to remove your bracelets have also shared with me that despite the bracelet being gone, you still find yourself thinking often about whether or not what you have just said is a complaint. Realizing, of course, that the bracelet is but one tool to help us refocus our mindset and live with renewed intentionality; but it is not the only way.

I mentioned in my sermon last month that the act of embracing a complaint free world for me was serving as an opportunity to refocus my life on gratitude rather than frustration. As the days pass by and I find myself doing less and less complaining, I also find myself appreciating more of life with grace and gratitude.

Gratitude for all the beauty around us: For the warm days last week and the fresh snow this weekend. For the sunrises I often see on my way into the city and the moon slivers that light my way home. For the warm smiles and hard stories many of you have shared with me in the past few months. For the easy laughs and deep conversations about thea/ology, life, church, and all the many things that we have talked about. And for each and every one of you just being yourselves.

The Reverend Sean Dennison writes, “It is clear to me that gratitude is necessary. In our private lives, gratitude counters despair and cynicism. In our relationships, gratitude and appreciation for those we love helps deepen our commitment and ease our disappointments. In society, gratitude is a foundational part of civility—helping us balance our desire to acquire with a recognition of how much we have been given. Gratitude is important, yes. But I can’t join the chorus of voices in pop culture that have recently been touting gratitude as the next path to health, satisfaction, and riches.”

A quick surfing of the Internet can land on websites claiming that, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life…It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” I can only say, I wish it were that simple. I do believe gratitude is important and that it can improve our lives.

But gratitude itself is not enough to sustain us through all of life. Sometimes we need something deeper, more meaningful. Sometimes we need grace to enter into our lives. Sometimes we need to know that the actions of others will help make the world a better place.

A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers ‘the Little Flower’ because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.

Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions–ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.” So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.(1)

LaGuardia’s decision to use the power of the bench to provide this grandmother with some money so that she could feed her family is a great illustration of grace. He did not have to be there that night. Nor did he have to do anything more than follow the letter of the law. But LaGuardia recognized the opportunity for what it was and took advantage of it to help out someone who was in need. Grace – that inexplicable force that seems to be present when the right thing happens at the right time.

Grace is also present in the moments when our gratitude can fail us. When we reflect upon our experiences and realize that we are not living up to our ideals. Or when we feel like life is giving us an unfair challenge. I believe grace is that component that helps to hold us up when we can’t go on – it can be a personal extension of the power of a church community.

But for some, Grace can be a hard word to use and a harder concept to accept. Our Universalist heritage was all about grace. Our Universalist heritage taught that God had unconditional love for humanity, and this love was described as Grace.

The Reverend Lillie Mae Henley, minister of Universalist National Memorial Church writes, (2)

“The culture in which we live embodies the antithesis of grace. In our society, it seems we must earn everything—including forgiveness. It is hard for us to accept grace-filled actions.”

… there are still those who cannot embrace the concept of grace or the belief in God’s unconditional love for everyone. Our Universalism calls us to live out the grace that Jesus brought to [the religious story of Christianity and] human consciousness. It calls us to implement unconditional love in our lives for each other. No matter what the issues, we are all challenged to live out the principles of our religion.

What would it look like if we intentionally saw every person we meet as a person worthy of unconditional love, a grace-filled person? … after church, at work, at play—a stranger we meet in line at the grocery store? Would the conversation be any different if we asked them, “What in your life brings you blessings?” or “joy;” instead of “What do you do?” or “Where do you live?”

Wouldn’t our lives be different—better—if we could see every person we meet, including those with whom we disagree, as an opportunity to spread God’s grace and unconditional love?

Grace, living out unconditional love [in] the world. Is it possible?

With Grace and Gratitude on our side, we can live out an unconditional love in the world. And we can help to bring it into being for others.

Amin. Ashé. Blessed Be.

ENDNOTES:

(1) Manning , Brennan. The Ragamuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp 91-2.

(2)  http://www.universalist.org/archives/000356words_by_rev_lillie_grace.html#more

Published in: on 18 March 2007 at 15.07  Comments (1)  

No Complaints

18 February 2007
Arlington Street Church
Mr. Barb Greve

SERMON:
A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?” The monk replied, “Food bad.” After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts. He said, “Bed hard.” Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.” “It doesn’t surprise me a bit.” Replied the monk’s superior. “You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”

It is easy to go the way of our monk and take all our opportunities to complain. Complaining can be fun, it can even become a way of life. Often it is easier to complain than to find the worth and goodness in every situation. Sometimes complaining is an important piece of the story. It is the beginning of what Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann would call “public processing of pain” – bringing into the public awareness injustices that otherwise go ignored. But this is not the type of complaining I’m referring to today. I’m talking about the every day annoyances that we choose to complain about. The things that either we can do something about but don’t, or wish others would deal with so we don’t have to.

I know how easy it is to complain, to find dissatisfaction with a situation or circumstance. I used to be that monk in our story. On my not-so-great days I still am. But on my better days I try to live differently. On my better days I try to find the pieces of my experiences I can appreciate rather than complain about. I was recently reminded (or perhaps more properly said, I was recently challenged) to again embark on a journey towards living without complaint when I went out to California last month.

While there, a colleague told me about the Reverend Will Bowen, pastor of Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, Missouri. Apparently, after reading Maya Angelou’s comment, “If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” the Reverend Bowen had a simple idea that he shared with his congregation, “Just stop complaining.” And to help his congregation remember, he offered each one of them a purple bracelet stamped with the word spirit. The challenge – go 21 days without mumbling a complaining word and no gossiping or criticizing either.

Why 21 days? Scientists believe it takes 21 days to form a new habit and complaining is habitual for most of us. As Mark Twain said, “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” The bracelet then serves as a powerful tool to remind the wearer of how well s/he is creating hir life with positive intention.

Now, we don’t know what circumstances pushed Reverend Bowen to decide to challenge his congregation to “Just stop complaining.” And I certainly don’t want to make any implications about our congregation. But I do know that what started with a challenge from one pastor to his congregation is spreading throughout the religious world… and beyond. I also know that in the time since I have renewed my intention to not complain, my life feels more blessed.

When I first donned my purple bracelet I assumed that it would be easy to stop complaining. I thought I would just not say anything that might be construed as a complaint. That’s simple, isn’t it? Just hold my tongue. On the surface, it sure is. But the spiritual challenge isn’t to simply stop complaining; rather it is to begin to find new appreciation in our experiences.

Sometimes this happens by changing the dynamics of our experiences, as George Mikes writes in “How to be Decadent”(1) as he tells the following story:

In Budapest, a man goes to the rabbi and complains, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?”

The rabbi answers, “Take your goat into the room with you.” The man is incredulous, but the rabbi insists. “Do as I say and come back in a week.”

A week later the man comes back looking more distraught than before. “We cannot stand it,” he tells the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.”

The rabbi nods and tells him, “Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week.”

A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, “Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat – there are only the nine of us.”

Sometimes things are not as easy as adding and removing a goat from our living quarters. Sometimes the shift from complaint to appreciation can be a difficult one. It takes effort to find appreciation, certainly more effort than it does to complain. It means that we embark on a life of recognition and gratitude for what we have, not what we are missing. The glass then becomes half full rather than half empty.

But how do we make such a shift? We seem to be living in a culture where complaining is not only the ‘norm’ but also a rewarded behavior. I learned this last year when dealing with my HMO. I was actually told by a nurse in the system that if I wanted better service from my doctors, my best bet was to become the “squeaky wheel.” I was astonished that I was being told that instead of being respectful and patient I had to be forceful and loud – only then would I get the care that we all deserve. What does that say about the values our society is placing on complaining and gratitude? And what happens to our souls when we embrace such values?

I believe that if we spend our lives constantly finding and focusing on what is not going well our spirits can become dejected and frustrated. We risk losing our connections to the sacred, to our families, our friends, and to our communities. The spiral downward is a short one. Before long we may not only be complaining, but also blaming others for that about which we complain. We may even stop taking responsibility for our own parts in the equation.

Thus, making the shift from complaint to appreciation requires spiritual discipline and growth. We can consider the act of making this shift a spiritual one. It requires of us a diligence and attention to our lives that perhaps we do not already have. It challenges us to live life more fully, with grace and gratitude.

When I first donned my purple “spirit” bracelet I was constantly moving it from one arm to the other as each time I complained I reset my count towards 21-days of no complaining. I even found myself complaining about the fact that I was complaining.

Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew.” I had to pull out not only my skills at self-restraint in talking, but also any and all ways of reframing my understanding of my experiences if this bracelet was going to stay on one wrist.

One of the tools I find most useful as I now enter my 18th day of no complaints is that of appreciative inquiry. Designed as a tool for organizational development, appreciative inquiry is sweeping through the non-profit world.

It provides a framework with 4 points:

1. DISCOVER: processes that work well.
2. DREAM: of processes that would work well in the future.
3. DESIGN: and prioritize processes that would work well.
4. DELIVER: the proposed design.

So while Appreciative Inquiry was developed and is used to help organizations evaluate their strategies and effectiveness, I believe the steps can be modified to help us focus on gratitude rather than complaint. Reframed to apply to our daily lives, here are my 4 suggestions:

1. DISCOVER: what in our experiences we wish to appreciate.
2. DREAM: of how we might replicate the experiences we appreciate.
3. DESIGN: ways in which we can share our appreciation.
4. DELIVER: ourselves from the temptation to complain.

And what better time to begin a life of appreciation, than today – the first day of the Chinese New Year? In case you have fallen by the wayside at keeping any New Year Resolutions you may have set at the turn of the Gregorian calendar, here is a chance to reconsider. Or perhaps today can just serve as a new beginning, for today begins the Chinese New Year of the Golden Pig.

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, starts at the beginning of spring and is China’s biggest holiday. Its origin is ancient, but many believe the word Nian, which means “year”, was the name of a beast that preyed on people on the eve of a new year.

In one legend, the beast, Nian, had the power to swallow up all the people in a village in one big bite. One day, an old man came to the villagers’ rescue, offering to subdue Nian. The old man said to the beast, “I know you can swallow people, but can you swallow other beasts of prey instead of people who are by no means your worthy opponents?”

Nian accepted the old man’s challenge and swallowed the beasts that had harassed the villagers and their farm animals for years. Afterwards, the old man then disappeared, riding off on Nian. But before the old man left, he told the villagers to put red paper decorations on their windows and doors at each year’s end in order to keep Nian away, for it is believed that Nian is afraid of the color red. The custom of putting up red paper and lighting firecrackers to scare away Nian continues today.

According to this legend, the old man turned out to be an immortal god. In the end, Nian is gone and the other beasts of prey are scared into hiding in the forests. The villagers can once again enjoy and appreciate their peaceful life.

The Chinese New Year is a time for reconciliation, for old grudges to be forgiven. It is a time when people are warm and friendly toward one another and peace and happiness are wished for all.

Seems to me that this is as good a time as any to invite you to engage in a life of grace, gratitude, and appreciation. So…

… in a couple of weeks we will be handing out purple spirit bracelets at the back of the sanctuary. I encourage you to consider taking one at that time and embarking upon a complaint-free life.

The suggested rules are simple:

1. Begin to wear the bracelet, on either wrist.

2. When you catch yourself complaining, gossiping or criticizing (it’s ok, everyone does), move the bracelet to the other arm and begin again.

3. (my favorite) If you hear someone else who is wearing a bracelet complain, you may point out hir need to switch the bracelet to the other arm; BUT if you’re going to do this, you must move your own bracelet first!

And

4. Stay with it. It may take many months but when you reach 21 days you will find that your entire life is happier, more loving, more positive and more blessed.

The Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon he and his family) said: “There are two qualities which a wise person could readily appreciate: kind words and generosity. Both demonstrate kindness and care for others. When people are well received and offered food and hospitality, they are grateful. Offering these when one is able to do so does not only earn people’s gratitude, but it earns reward from God. When these become normal characteristics of a person, they ensure admission into Paradise”(2)

I invite you to take a purple spirit bracelet when they arrive and embark upon a complaint-free life, so that we may bring Paradise into being here and now.

May it be so.
Amin. Ashé. Blessed Be.

ENDNOTES:

(1) George Mikes, How to be Decadent, (London: Andre Deutsch, 1977).

(2) Safar/Rabi-Ul Awwal 1422 H, (www.islamicvoice.com, May 2002 Volume 15-05 No: 185).

Published in: on 18 February 2007 at 21.57  Comments (4)  

Get Your Salvation Here!

13 December 2007
Arlington Street Church
Mr. Barb Greve

SERMON:
Salvation is one of the big thea/olgoical topics that all too often we shy away from. We Unitarian Universalists tend to ignore the topic or over-intellectualize it. We poke fun at faiths that provide a solid salvific message to their followers, forgetting that we too have one. Particularly here in the United States of America, where Christianity (and more to the point, a fundamentalist and sometimes literal understanding of Christianity) concretely defines concepts like salvation; rather than engage in the conversation of what we believe we avoid the topic altogether.

But now is the time for us to turn around and face our trespasses. Now is the time to understand our historical concepts of salvation and to offer up to the world a new understanding. Now is the time to be saved – to get your salvation here!

As the Reverend Dr. Rebecca Parker writes, “You can define salvation, healing and wholeness in many ways. But you cannot hold to the view that there will be an ultimate separation of the saved from the damned in which the good are rewarded with eternal bliss and the damned are punished with eternal suffering. Unitarian Universalism is clear that all souls are of worth. There is no final solution to be had by the privileged protection of some and the destruction of others. We hold that salvation is universal.”(1)

I imagine that religious life centuries ago must have been easier than it is in today’s world. For our present day faith is not an easy one to practice. In the “good ‘ole days” The Church provided members with clear do’s and don’ts, explained what behaviors were acceptable and what ones were not. People could judge their actions by knowing what would get them into Heaven, what would put them in Purgatory, and what would land them in Hell.

But our understanding of Salvation has changed over the years. We no longer focus on what comes after life, but rather what is happening here and now. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Salvation isn’t reaching the destination of absolute morality, but it’s being in the process and on the right road.” We recognize that to be saved today means to be living in harmony with the divine. To celebrate the pluralism of the world. To be making spaces for all life to flourish, to putting an end to unnecessary violence, death, and destruction. To recognizing our impact on the planet and doing what we can to minimize that impact so that others may live. To be saved today is to recognize the pains of the world, hold them in our hearts, and make changes. To be saved today is to celebrate the complexity of life, for all that it is, and constantly be making room for more complexity.

Our faith is not an easy one to practice because it demands of us that we be in constant awareness and dialogue with the present world. Our faith does not give us the luxury of sitting on our haunches while other lives are snuffed out. Our faith challenges us to not expect all to be alike, but rather encourages us to celebrate the wide diversity naturally found in life. It forces us to question again and again the roles we play in life; never choosing a better life after death over the present. Our faith constantly reminds us that salvation happens now, not later.

I sometimes fantasize about living back in the “good ‘ole days.” I think I might have been one of the folks who stood on the street corners shouting “Get Your Salvation Here!” I can imagine the reactions of the people passing by – some would stop to find out what else I might have to offer, some would rush to the other side of the street, and yet others might pause to refute me.

I wonder how the same scenario would play out today. I can imagine standing on the steps of our church (preferably after the T construction is completed) and yelling “Come One, Come All – Get Your Salvation Here!” I wonder if anyone would stop by to listen to me or if everyone would quicken their pace, scurrying to the other side of the street. We don’t often experience proclamations of faith and salvation in today’s world – at least not from religions such as ours, liberal religions. But I would love to do it. I would love to stand out there and share the saving message of Unitarian Universalism.

I can look back on my life and know with certainty that the single, utmost saving grace in my life comes from my internalized sense of worth and goodness that is a direct result of being raised within Unitarian Universalism. The thea/ology I was taught as a small child, along with encouragement to always live out my thea/ology has given me a faith to sustain me, “in the hour when my reason tells [me] that [I] can not continue, that the whole of [my] life is without meaning.”(2) It has been the saving message of Unitarian Universalism that has saved mine and others’ lives time and time again.

But there are some people within Unitarian Universalism who claim that we are a dying faith because we don’t offer salvation; that we don’t provide a salvific story… As the Reverend Davidson Lohr claims, our tradition does not have an “understanding of the human condition, its malaise, and its prescription for satisfying the deep yearning that has always marked serious religions, and its sense of how and why living out of this story makes our lives more fulfilling and useful to the larger world.”(3)

I would argue that Lohr is wrong. Historically, our Universalist forbearers offered a Universal salvation – a salvation for all. Regardless of faith, practice, and life lived. They left the how up to G*d but they believed and proclaimed that all souls would be saved. At the time, and even still to this day, that is a radical proclamation. All souls will be saved – not some, not a chosen few, but ALL souls. As the Rev. Robert Hardies, senior minister at All Souls Church in Washington D.C., points out, you don’t often see a church called ‘Some Souls’.

The Reverend Sean Parker Dennison writes, “Our Universalist theology makes it impossible for us to treat some human beings as expendable evildoers. It makes it impossible for us to justify violence as a means to salvation. Instead, we are urged to creativity, healing, love, and justice. We are called to repair the world, to be part of our own soteriology—continually acting in ways that will save ourselves and the world.”(4)

Lohr claims that we Unitarian Universalists have “no distinctive understanding of the human condition, its problems, or the solution…” I would argue that we have a deep understanding of these three, for otherwise we would not be involved in efforts to change the world. I believe it is because we are a covenantal faith, which holds living in community essential, that we have a broader understanding of the human condition that that with which Lohr credits us. Our churches and communities constantly struggle with how best to live in community when there are competing needs and desires. We listen to, learn from, and trust one another’s life experiences so that we can work together to make a better world; to bring Paradise into existence here and now.

“Many Unitarian Universalists question the very need to be saved. “Saved from what?” they ask. Our Universalist forbears have an answer for this that continues to be relevant: We create heaven or hell right here on earth. We need to be saved from ourselves, and the hells that we create. Looking at the current state of the world, it is hard to disagree.”(5)

During my years working in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns I heard countless stories from people about how finding our churches saved their lives. For may queer folks, the religion of their childhoods guaranteed that if they continued to be queer they would be barred entrance to paradise. Finding Unitarian Universalism offered these individuals an opportunity to no longer fear for their souls, to enjoy religious life and hold on to an integrity of self not otherwise available.

My childhood minister, the Rev. Charles Gaines offers us this insight. He writes, “I learned from my years in ministry comes from my own Universalist theology. It concerns the idea that a loving God does not condemn anyone to eternal damnation. And when I apply this concept here on earth, I feel it is my responsibility to work for inclusion in all contexts.”

He continues, “I have always felt that ostracism of any kind is a hell on earth, imposed by those who have power to control through their own sense of superiority. Yet I believe that every person, no matter how evil, has the seed of goodness within. And no person, because of [hir] past, must forever be alienated from the trust and goodwill of the community.”(6)

Historically, religions have been used to create and reinforce the very boxes that limit a person’s possibility. I believe that at its core, any and all religion can (and should) be used to provide a wealth of possibility for becoming.

Christina K. Hutchins writes,
The space of becoming resides in the instability and incompleteness of the categories we live by, always shrinking or expanding according to the ways in which we iterate and articulate our becomings. The expansion of public space for the discourse of becoming carries significance for and beyond the political. In the language of religious institutions, such expansion embodies the motion of the holy.(7)

To depict the holy as something in motion and not as a fixed entity is of importance in this discourse. Process theology lends itself nicely to this piece of the conversation, providing room for the holy to exist as events constantly in motion, with infinite possibilities yet to become. When considered as such, divinity can then be found in the differences between people rather than within the sameness.

Such a concept begins to challenge our very understanding of Imago Dei. That is to say that if our image of God shifts from a static image to a dynamic image, one that is always becoming, than I believe we can begin to embrace difference as part of the holiness of life rather than view difference as a threat to life and/or what is considered “sacred.”

The biological, physical, and metaphysical world teaches us that life is pluralistic. From micro-organisms through to the stars and beyond, difference is in abundance. The boundaries that separate these differences are porous, not closed. Yet we mere humans continue to attempt to treat the differences between us as threats to fixed boundaries rather than as examples of the holy.

One of the greatest strengths our faith offers us is an image of life that is in motion and pluralistic. Through our focus on community and covenant, we learn that the holy takes place in our connections to one another. We are constantly reminded that we need not think alike to love alike. Nor do we need to become a uniform body of people; looking, and acting the same. Through our willingness to embrace a diversity of thought and action, we provide spaces for life to flourish. Always making room for that which we have yet to discover.

Howard Thurman, in his book Building Common Ground stated “I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be you.”(8) I believe that until we humans are ready to embrace the pluralism of all life, this task is not possible and we will continue to build hells on earth rather than paradise.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” I would add that the burden of imagination is put on those individuals who transgress the boundaries because these boundary crossers are already in the uncomfortable role of bringing the unimagined into being. In order to both survive and thrive, a new world must be imagined and in this new world, a new understanding of religion must be brought into existence.

As Beverly Harrison writes in her article, The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,
“One sort of otherworldly religion appears…It reflects a hopelessness about this world that is engendered by living daily with the evil of oppression, but it also fuels and encourages an ongoing struggle against the present order by conjuring a better time and a better place, beyond the oppression here and now.”(9)

The Unitarian Universalist faith in which I was raised and whose thea/ologies I ascribe to teaches that all things in this life are connected, not just to each other but also to what was, what is, what is becoming, and what could have been. It teaches us that the interconnectedness of all life is what is core to salvation. When we recognize and celebrate our connections to one another and to what is holy we create paradise here and now. When we forget these connections, we create our own hells.

In closing, I offer these words from the Reverend Dr. Rebecca Parker, “…you can see this world as tragically flawed, wondrously gifted, or all of the above, but you cannot hold the view that salvation is to be found solely beyond this world – in some life after death or a world other than this world. While remaining open to mysteries that may be revealed beyond the grave or in realms beyond what we know at present, UUsm is clear that the ultimate is present here and now, and can be grasped and experienced, even if only partially, within this limited frame of our mortal existence. This means we do not hold to a hope that is only attained in the sweet by and by. We hold that this world, this life, these bodies are the dwelling place of the sacred.

Within these theological boundaries there is room for tremendous variety, diversity, and dissent. But there is also a defining focus: a devotion to the flourishing of life.”(10)

May it be so.
Amin. Ashé. Blessed Be.

Endnotes:

1) Parker, Rebecca, Keep the Circle Whole: The Challenge of Unitarian Universalist Theology, Pacific Central District Annual Conference (UU), Concord, 29 April 2006.

2) Babylon 5, Episode no. 422, first broadcast 27 October 1997. Directed by Stephen Furst and written by J. Michael Straczynski (Although this episode is part of the fifth-season production run, it’s actually the fourth-season finale. The fifth-season finale, “Sleeping in Light,” was shot during the fourth-season production run because it wasn’t clear that the show was being renewed; once the renewal was announced, another episode had to be substituted. For some reason the onscreen credits at the end of the episode don’t reflect that; they list a production number of 422 rather than the more accurate 501.)

3) Loehr, Davidson. Why “Unitarian Universalism” is Dying, Theme Talk at SUUSI, 21 July 2004.

4) Dennison, Sean Parker. Our Theological House, South Valley Unitarian Universalist Church; Salt Lake City, UT, 17 September 2006.

5) ibid.

6) Owen-Towel, Tom. The Gospel of Universalism: Hope, Courage, and the Love of God. (Boston: Skinner House Books 1993) 25.

7) Keller, Catherine and Anne Daniell, editors, Process and difference: between cosmological and poststructuralist postmodernisms (Albany: State University of New York Press 2002) 132.

8) Thurman, Howard. The Search for Common Ground. (Richmond: Friends United Press 1971), xiii.

9) Harrison, Beverly Wildung, Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics (Boston: Beacon Press 1985) 6.

10) Parker, Rebecca, Keep the Circle Whole: The Challenge of Unitarian Universalist Theology, Pacific Central District Annual Conference (UU), Concord, 29 April 2006.

Published in: on 14 January 2007 at 20.19  Comments (1)