Our theme for our stewardship campaign this year is “Gathering in Hope.” The way in which we seek to nurture experiences of open- mindedness and open-heartedness in all of our gatherings is so very hopeful. When we create a presence of openness that is grounded in the truth of our lives we affirm the capacity of our human hearts to care, to heal, and to be transformed. A capacity that acknowledges salvation is not a solo act. Come and celebrate our call to be stewards of such a great hope.
Reading One: Walking together by Unitarian Universalist Historian Conrad Wright
An acceptance of diversity, an awareness of differences, is a constant challenge to us to widen our vision, to re-examine our unexamined prejudgments, perhaps even to learn from others. We need such challenges if our faith is to be alive and creative. But an atmosphere of trust is needed if the challenge of diversity is to lead to intellectual and spiritual growth, instead of to hardening of old prejudices. A common acceptance of basic unitive values makes that possible. The consensus we share is created, sustained and developed by persons who have chosen to walk together. We long ago rejected creedal tests for membership as a way to exclude those whose views are not quite in line with the doctrinal position prevailing among those who are already members. The boundary lines of our churches are drawn by individual choice, not by official ecclesiastical authority or judgment. There are risks involved, to be sure: King’s Chapel ends up being somewhat different from a fellowship in California. Some people who join us find that they are in the wrong pew and move somewhere else. But there are others who find at last a place where they belong. They are the ones whose individual perspectives may be added to enrich the consensus that helps to make a community out of a collection of unrelated individuals. Can two walk together except they be agreed? Yes and No.
Reading Two: Love Is A Place -E. E. Cummings
love is a place
& through this place of
(with brightness of peace)
yes is a world
& in this world of yes live
How many of you come to church to find hope? You see the Stewardship committee knew what they were doing when the picked the theme gathering in hope for our stewardship drive this year. Funny, though, when I asked about 20 of you in an email more specifically where you find hope, I didn’t hear a peep from anyone. Maybe hope is simply too elusive right now, or too big, or too circumstantial or important to describe in a few short sentences. So, this morning I am here to talk about how we gather in hope. And since this is only my second year as your minister I am going to extend the conversation to my experience of hope as a Unitarian Universalist over the years. If you asked me 20 years ago as a new Unitarian Universalist what gave me hope, I would have said, being a Unitarian Universalist gave me an identity. I was a feminist, and still am, and back then people were known by their identities. Maybe you were all about social justice, and you were about women’s rights, and you were about gay rights, and the UUA had offices for all of them, and boy were people mad when they closed down the women’s rights office, and then a few years later the youth office, and then a few years later the UUA dissociated from all it’s identity-based affiliate organizations in part because the identity was becoming more important than that of being a UU and because all these categories weren’t working for everyone, for what about you who are gender fluid, or you who are bisexual, or you who are interracial, or you who are doing work on poverty that crossed all these identities, where do you fit in?
Over the last 10 years or so, we have developed as a faith tradition, a deepening understanding of the intersectionality of identities and it is a blessing intellectually and in our hearts that we are learning to weave together strings of identities each with their own historical, cultural, and political backgrounds, and in our relationships with each other, and with people in the world; a weaving together also in our hearts and souls. To illustrate please put your hands together and weave your fingers inside and out to create a net. This an art thing my daughter taught me. Focus at first on your fingers, the positive space of each of our bodies. Then gradually shift your attention now to the negative space, the space in between, and as we shift our focus to the space, we invite something new, something beyond the silo of our identities, something more fluid, more changing, more alive. We have done this with our theology too. When I started in ministry there were Christian, Humanist, Pagan and Universalist congregations, and as a self-claimed mystic on a spectrum of humanist to theist, I was called to a very humanist congregation. But what we learned in the meeting of our silo identities is that the space in between began to weave us together, as people said, “I’m influenced by that Buddhist teaching,” and others said “that earth spirituality is so beautiful” and others found that Christian ethic powerful or that humanist teaching grounding. We become intersectional in our souls and the congregation becomes intra- sectional in our faith, for something happened in the space in-between, something fluid, something new, something more alive.1
This newness is the place I find hope now. And it always surprises me though I am not sure why, because this creative possibility was built into how we organized ourselves over 200 years ago. Conrad Wright, the UU historian and author of our reading, taught for years at Harvard, and formed the generation of ministers who formed me. He taught us we are the Free Church, and free churches consists of two things, the free individual, and the freely gathered community. People knew back then that they had to break away from kings, popes, and bishops to have an authentic religious life. My colleague Gail Seavey, who knew and loved Conrad says this move was political and profoundly theological. The freedom was to protect the space in between us, so we didn’t get tangled up with each other. A freedom theologically based on the gospel of John, when Jesus said to Nicodemius in the tree, “the spirit will bloweth where it will. We don’t know where it came from or where it’s going but it makes all things new.” This is the basis of our free church, our polity.
I am surprised that I am finding hope in our polity, it was my least favorite class in seminary, maybe because Conrad had retired. This insight came to me last Tuesday, at a Worship Committee meeting when each of us was asked to answer the question “Why do you engage in this faith community?” It is a question people are asking a lot lately especially in justice circles, to help define your self-interest, what is it that motivates you. At the meeting the answer was clear as a bell, that I engage in this faith to free myself from the patterns of fear. The ones still out there in the world, and the ones I learned as a child. On the face of it, my family was perfect. My parents were driven, my dad climbed the corporate ladder, my mom, a college professor, asked perfection of herself and her children. There we were, like six rocks precariously stacked up on top of each other like a Cairn that marks a trail. We of course were not perfect; my dad was an alcoholic and by the time my sisters were young adults they were both seriously addicted and as a family we learned to keep secrets. That’s what you do in alcoholic families. It wasn’t until my oldest sister fell that we all came tumbling down in pieces with her on the ground. Her marriage over, her health threatened, her spirit broken, and her first tentative first step towards sobriety, is what opened us all up to honesty and newly found compassion. There was space in between us now, and we had room for the spirit to make things new, and we slowly we moved into a place I call love a place where yes can germinate…a place I find hope. But I didn’t navigate this terrain alone, the quality of space and love I experienced in my UU congregations taught me that this quality of space and love is possible both as a reality and an aspiration because this family system stuff is persistent. Each of us has our own story, our own patterns to heal, but most us, when triggered experience intense emotions, begin telling secrets, and get all tangled up with some people, while disconnecting from others. I have been watching this happen here lately. What was open, closes, and the spirit bloweth not. This is not unique to us of course, we see this entangled intensity at community gatherings, especially last week. But what is unique is that we are the Free Church and we choose to walk together, seeking always to balance the free individual and the freely gathered community. We can’t have one without the other. Everything depends on keeping the space between us open, honest, and connected. What we have, in our hope chest, are the tools of our wisdom sources, and the practices of our principles, and the accomplished presence of so many of you who have done the walk, with mentors, Buddhist teachers, biblical scholars, meditation buddies, fellow worshipers of our cosmic connections, to free your heart and mind and claim an authenticity that connects you to the gifts of your life and the gift you are to others. And we have our theology, which affirms that there is a kind of divine acceptance or grace in each of our beings, and a moral force that unites the universe. This our true north, a compass setting that connects us with the relational power of trust and compassion that grows as each person opens to it.
So I ask you today, why do you engage in this faith community? What is your self- interest, what motivates you? Does this free faith keeps your heart open, and does our collective courage and wisdom keeps your spirit free? Do you find freedom here, a place of openness, newness, aliveness where the spirit can bloweth? What would you say to your neighbor to convince them to pledge between three to five percent of their income to this church? We will be hearing different people answer this question over the next four weeks, but today, we ask you to pledge because this place is rare and rather fragile. A temple where all the complexities of who you are, who we are, are woven together in a living expression of humanity, and at its center, is this tender space of possibility, where yes can germinate. A seed that you and you embody and bring out there to a divisive and anxious culture that is closing in on itself. For this we gather in hope. Stand by this faith, listen to the call of your hearts and minds, to weave, dance and hold the space in-between. That’s all we need, for all the possibilities are there.
1. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind, 2018 p.147-151↩