Dear Members and Friends,
Who are you?
Who are you to think?
Who are you to think that?
Who are you to think that you can?
Who are you to think that you can change?
Who are you to think that you can change the world?
These words were on a poster hanging in my father’s study when I was growing up. It was a shiny, metallic sheet with purple and black lettering. At the bottom in small letters it read “The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.” This past Sunday Board member, Steve Grathwohl opened the service acknowledging Feb 4 is the anniversary of Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp’s dangerous mission to smuggle refugees out of Nazi occupied countries with the Unitarian Service Committee, I knew I had to change up my opening words.
It was so good to be with you these past few days—they have been very full! The evening with Crys Matthews at Voices Cafe was a fabulous community experience and then worship on Sunday morning was both fun and memorable. The jazz music provided by the choir was truly nourishing, and I received multiple requests for the text of the sermon. I share it as the reading below.
If you haven’t done so already, I hope you will view the 10-minute Brene Brown video on “The Anatomy of Trust”. If you want to hear more, begin at the 6 minute mark of the video of Brene Brown talking with Maria Forleo about “BRAVING”. I look forward to further conversations on ZOOM about how these concepts may help you and our community. If you’re available Friday morning, come join me at 11am this Friday HERE.
I’m thrilled the author of Transforming Conflict will be joining us the weekend of March 23 and 24. The Adult Faith Formation Team is providing copies Rev. Terasa Cooley’s book on Sunday at reduced cost. Stay tuned for opportunities to discuss this easy-to-read framework on how to engage disagreements in healthy, productive ways.
I write this as I await to board a plane as I make my way to Bakersfield, CA, for the coming week. This weekend I help my father move into assisted living where several other retired teachers and professors live. I will be attending several ZOOM and phone meetings, but it may take me a couple days to get back to you by email.
Approximate text of Sunday’s sermon renamed as “Whose Rhythms Are You Moving To?”:
This past week, I saw the documentary on Netflix, “The Greatest Night in Pop” about how Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson wrote the song “We Are the World” and gathered superstars Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Cindy Lauper, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Huey Louis, Diana Ross, and 36 other superstars. It led me down memory lane.
My favorite pop-rock songs growing up were those that questioned whether we really know who we are. I loved Culture Club. And when Boy George sang Karma chameleon, I wondered if my karma was to be a chameleon!
At a very early age, I knew that my identity was and is shaped significantly by the people around me and I watched with amusement and sometimes with horror just how much I changed depending on my surroundings. For I grew up with the capacity to mold myself to the people and situations I encountered. I found that I could be at ease with all sorts of different people as long as I danced to the beat of whomever I encountered, and I could dance to just about any beat, and even multiple beats, but there was only one problem, I struggled to know who I really am. How about you? Do you often wonder if you’re dancing to someone else’s drum or all sorts of drums by the wider society? Are you aware of your own personal rhythms? What rhythms of love and compassion are calling you to orient your own life to who you really are?
Parker Palmer, a Quaker spiritual director, in his wonderful book A Hidden Wholenesswrites,
“Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.”
I’ve shared with you Brene Brown’s exploration of the Anatomy of Trust with BRAVING and facilitated three gatherings thus far to discuss her provocative ideas. One thing that really jumped out at several of us is her definition of privilege. She said, “Opting out of speaking out because we might get criticized, to me, is the definition of privilege.”
In other places she has said, “To opt out of conversations about privilege and oppression because they make you uncomfortable is the epitome of privilege.” “I’ve learned enough about privilege to know that we’re at our most dangerous when we think we’ve learned everything we need to know about it. That’s when you stop paying attention to injustice. And make no mistake, not paying attention because you’re not the one getting harassed or fired or pulled over or underpaid is the definition of privilege.”
A couple months ago, I quoted Audre Lorde: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Audre Lorde was a self-described “Black lesbian mother warrior poet” who raged against conventional identity fifty years ago. She saw clearly how people who weren’t in the dominant group would often give away their power. She recognized a mythical norm where power resides in our society. She says, “In America, this mythical norm is usually defined as white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure.”
I happen to fit every one of those categories except that of Christian, but as a member of the clergy along with the other categories, you are looking at a paragon of privilege!
This morning, there’s something I’ve got to cop to. As a straight white financially secure male, it is easier for me and people like me to dance to the conventional rhythms of society. For each degree of difference within a human being, there is the need to recognize one’s own rhythm, there is the need to come out or claim an identity. And as Audre Lorde recognized, we are not awake and we cannot claim our power until recognizing our own rhythm—and seeing how it complements and plays off and calls in others.
In my view, a central role of a Unitarian Universalist congregation is to foster a community where each person can be who they are in a community of real diversity. And a second central role is to nourish those who participate on the front lines of culture change and social justice. It doesn’t mean everyone is working on the front lines but we all are doing things that make this is a place that nourishes those who are doing the challenging work of standing in the gap between where the world is and where it can be.
A third central role of a UU Congregation is to create a “faith for the free,” which is a faith that calls us to ensure freedom for all. James Luther Adams, the most influential Unitarian theologian of the twentieth century identified three tenets for “a faith for the free.” The first is this: Our ultimate dependence for being and freedom is upon a creative power and upon processes not of our own making. Regardless whether one would call this creative power and these processes God, Adams suggests the phrase, “that which we should place our confidence in.” The inescapable, commanding reality that sustains and transforms all meaningful existence.
The second basis for the faith of the free is this: the commanding, sustaining, transforming reality finds its richest focus in meaningful human history, in free, cooperative effort for the common good. In other words, this reality fulfills our life only when people stand in right relation to each other, authentically engage one another, and trust in the solidarity and responsibility that characterizes true community.
The third and final tenet for a free faith Adams identifies is a little harder for religious liberals. It is this: the achievement of freedom in community requires the power of organization and the organization of power. As Adams says, “The free person will be unfree, will be a victim of tyranny from within or from without, if her or his faith does not assume form, in both word and deed. The commanding transforming reality is a shaping power; it shapes one’s beliefs about that reality and when it works through persons it shapes the community of justice and love.” [from The Prophethood for All Believers, in the chapter “A Faith for the Free”]
I changed up the focus of my sermon today in part because I learned we would have fabulous jazz music this morning, and because Crys Matthews performed here last night, bringing extraordinary music.
This month our theme is “Justice, Equity and Compassion,” and that’s what Crys shared and embodied last night. For a congregation with many people of great privilege, the commitment to justice equity and compassion begins with listening to the stories, often deeply painful stories, of women, of racial minorities, of gay lesbian people. Such stories have opened my consciousness and shaped my identity as an ally. And as an ally, it is my work to call upon fellow white folk, and especially fellow privileged white folk to wake up to the racism in our midst, to call upon fellow men to wake up to the violence and oppression against women, to call upon my fellow heterosexuals to wake up to both the pain and beauty that comes with claiming one’s own identity as a sexual minority, and to call upon my fellow cisgender sisters and brothers to ensure ever more spaces are safe and welcoming for our transgender, non-binary, and other queer-identified siblings.
As Unitarian Universalists, we have largely recognized these realities. We were on the front lines calling for marriage equality. It is no coincidence that last night’s beneficiary from Voices Cafe was Transhaven, and that Planned Parenthood is among the most supported organizations among Unitarian Universalists. And it’s so good the Reproductive Justice and Gender Equity Teams are gathering people following the service to put together care bags for people undergoing abortions, thanks to the funds raised by so many of you baking last fall.
Last night when Crys Matthews shared a song that she wrote just after the 2016 election, I thought of the song that Melanie DeMore, another Black lesbian songwriter, penned at that same time. It’s called “Lead with Love” and here’s how it goes:
You gotta put one foot in front of the other
And lead with love
Put one foot in front of the other
And lead with love
Don’t give up hope
You’re not alone
Don’t you give up
Keep movin on
You gotta put one foot in front of the other…
Lift up your eyes
Don’t you despair
Look up ahead
The path is there
You gotta put one foot in front of the other…
I know you’re scared
And I’m scared too
But here I am
Right next to you
As a UU congregation there’s plenty of opportunity to ally with others. And there’s plenty of opportunity to grow as human beings. As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe deeply that people can change, that we need not tacitly accept the norms and beliefs in which we live. I believe human hearts can be touched and transformed, that enough of us can get beyond the fears that divide us.
Who are you to think that you can change the world? My answer is a Unitarian Universalist, a human being called to create community where we find inspiration where we cultivate hope and new courage among us, where we learn together how to recognize, accept, and celebrate our differences so that we replace the fear in our lives with love, calling for more love, less fear.
My friends, our faith calls us to dance, and we are here to improvise on the chords of love and compassion. It is time for us to move in response to what is really real, to what really matters.
Blessed be. Amen.