Making Space for Grace


Audio podcast available here.

Reading: X by Wendell Berry 

making space for grace (1).pngSermon: Making Space for Grace 

How am I going to live through this?

This is the question people ask when they are in the middle of a crisis, a trauma, or in grief that won’t seem to find its bottom.

It’s a question I’ve heard more than a few times in recent days.

It’s not always about the actions of the US President, but almost always, those things are in there somewhere.

There is a collective anxiety and dread washing over our country – and even, over much of the world – as the campaign promises to turn our backs on desperate people seeking refuge, or to end an imperfect but better-than-nothing health care law, or to erect a $15 billion wall across mountains and rivers to keep people out…or maybe, in – as all of these and more start to move from theory to reality….fear is growing, as is a sense of helplessness.

Meanwhile, it’s not like all the regular parts of life got themselves figured out– life continues to be filled in big and small ways with struggle – broken relationships, illness, money troubles, job stress and strain. The work of simply trying to make a life, to become the person you are meant to be. Put all of this together and you come to that question: How are we are going to live through this?

Collectively and historically, as a faith tradition, we have answered this question in one primary way – which is, to get busy. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, busiER.

In our Unitarian Universalist faith, as theologian Rebecca Parker says it, “WE are the agents of history, we are the creators.” We will build a land where we bind up the broken. We will.

And this feels good, necessary, and justified….until….we find ourselves in moments like the one we’re are currently in. Moments where we’ve been working hard and efforting, and marching and doing ALL THE THINGS, yet still the outlook for justice feels bleak, and even science is considered just somebody’s “opinion,” and we’re tired.

As Parker says, “We come up against our helplessness, the inability to stop loved ones from dying, or turn our children from paths of self-destruction, or from those we love from breaking our hearts. And we find ourselves asking, ‘Is there any source of help beyond my own strength? Is there anything I can trust beyond our power to make it right?’”

Today marks the fourth and last official service in our sermon series that we’ve been calling “We all go together,” which is exploring Universalism for the 21st century, although as we turn next to Courageous Love, we’ll keep coming back to this theology that can be summed up so well in the song that we’ve sung each of these Sundays:

There is a love holding us. There is a love holding all that we love. There is a love holding all. We rest in this love.

While the Unitarian strand of our faith would tell us that we better get busy, it’s all on us, the good news of our Universalist theology is that there is something bigger than us that we can trust, something that is holding us and healing us, that has nothing to do with our effort. As Parker puts it, “There is a gift, already given, to all people, a gift that does not have to be earned, that will never be lost, that cannot be taken away.”

This is grace. And in these times, it feels like exactly the good news we need.

Which is why we decided to step back from our usual monthly themes, and instead dig into Universalism, because we knew we would need to remember – there IS a love holding us – there is a GIFT already given – we are already blessed – already healed – and it is by resting in this love that we have any hope of remaining awake to all that’s broken in our world – and NOT becoming ourselves broken.

Yet even as I was working on this sermon, and then hearing the latest crazy news, I started to think – this isn’t the message we need! We need to take action. We need to do more, call more, read more articles, create more outrage, wake ourselves and our world UP to this tragedy, …this…pain….it’s up to US.

The early Christian monk, Augustine of Hippo – a great proponent of the idea of grace – once said, that God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.

This is one of those sayings I should write on post its and place everywhere as a reminder…..because grace is the gift that life keeps trying to give to us, but if we’re so busy doing ALL THE THINGS, and our hands, which is to say our HEARTS and our LIVES are FILLED UP.  We cannot find our way to grace. There’s just NO ROOM.

In place of grace, we just see US, and WORK, and ALL THERE IS TO DO, and ALL THE NEWS ARTICLES and the LATEST thing to be OUTRAGED ABOUT.

But when we pause. When we slow down. When we imagine ourselves not in charge of everything, responsible for everything – but rather, as partners with something greater than us all.

Then, things like – the National Park Service going rogue – appear.

Or, spontaneous mass-gatherings happening at airports across the country with chants saying over and over, let them in, let them in, let them in.  And there too, lawyers working pro-bono on behalf of those detained. And taxi drivers rising up.  And then suddenly, a judge in New York City agrees, and there’s hope, again. All while most of us were resting.

This is grace.

Grace breaks through, and we breathe, and we notice how the sun came up once again – none of us did that – yet here it is.

“No leaf or grain is filled By work of ours; the field is tilled And left to grace. That we may reap, Great work is done while we’re asleep.”

To our great surprise and delight, we arrive in a room filled with these others who have come to sing, even to surround us in song – these souls who come still to hope, to figure it out, still not pulling the covers over our heads afterall, but feeling called by this possibility of peace, this righteous sense that Love still connects us, heals us, holds us. That we could rest in this love.

If the first week of this Presidency is any indication, it’s a long road ahead, my friends.

We don’t know which way the universe is going to toss us, what ups or downs – and sometimes this is daily, hourly.

If we are going to make it through – we need to make space for grace – that is – we need to make space between ourselves, and everything, and everyone else, so that love can break through. We know to know what part of the work is ours, and which is not.  We need to know where we stand, what we’re willing to do.  And we need to do this all from a deep connection to our center, to that peace within, that grounding. To live from this place, even as we are engaged with openness towards all that comes our way.

In our courageous love workshop yesterday, we called this the practice of compassion, with boundaries, although you might just as easily name it using the concept from family systems theory called “self-differentiation.”

Our colleague the Rev. Jake Morrill, he’s a UU minister in Tennessee, and a guru when it comes to systems thinking describes self-differentiation as a matter of three puzzle pieces. They go like this:

1. Take a stand.
2. Keep in touch.
3. Keep cool.

Taking a stand is the part of knowing where you are, what’s ok with you, what isn’t, and sticking with it. It’s the piece of the world, and the work that is yours. And it is discerning and maintaining a great clarity of self, no matter what.

Keeping in touch on the other hand is about connecting openly with others- individuals, and also, the news, and all that’s happening. It is observing, and staying awake, with a great curiosity and care, including a willingness to consider how or if this information could or should alter your “stand.”

The trick is not to let this second piece destabilize the first. Which is where we come to the third practice – keeping cool. Maintaining both 1 and 2 is anxiety-producing, for everyone. There’s no getting around it – if you’re human, trying to figure out how to be a differentiated in relationship with others– you’re going to be anxious. So keeping cool isn’t about no anxiety. Just about regulating that anxiety.

I encourage the use of the word “fascinating” to help with this. As in, that is so fascinating that humans behave like that. It reminds you that YOU are NOT them, and yet keeps you connected without being toppled over.

Especially in a highly anxious time such as today, this can be a great challenge. We may find ourselves being touchy about stuff that isn’t that big of a deal – being stubborn or over-reactive about something we can usually let go of, or trying to solve the whole world by way of adding to our personal to-do lists….these are great indicators that anxiety is trying to derail us – even for ourselves we can say “isn’t that fascinating that I’m reacting like that.”

There are many things to help when anxiety gets the best of us. Breathing deeply. Singing. Taking a walk.

Still, none of these in-the-moment things will help as much those practices we take up outside-of-the-moment, those regular habits that help us know where we stand, who we are, whose we are, and by what, and to what we are called.

There are many sorts of practices that help with this, but I want to end my sermon today by focusing in on one in particular that I believe would be transformative and sustaining for all of us individuals, and as a congregation, and would be a radical act of faith – Universalist faith – for we who still often seek salvation by way of the to-do list.

It is the ancient spiritual practice of “Sabbath.” Anyone who knows me even a bit will realize that here we reach the part of the sermon that is aimed almost entirely at myself. It’s ok, it happens sometimes.

Over the past few weeks, my family has been trying out a mini-version of Sabbath. We call it “Family Fun Night.” It starts whenever I get home on Sunday, and it is completely tech free – that means no TV, no phones, no screens at all, and all four of us are together, and we do something that we think is fun. One time we played charades, and laughed hysterically. Another we made paper airplanes and had flight competitions all around the house. Most recently we played basketball and went swimming.

I confess that we all are terrible whiners as we attempt to begin – we’re too tired – or too worried about the text we might miss – or too lazy to come up with something that doesn’t involve a screen. But without fail, every time, once we’ve given in, it’s the best. It reminds us who we are, and what really matters. And guess what, the world keeps on going on without us….

Next up in my Sabbath practice, I want to let these Family Fun Nights move right into Monday rest day. It’s something I’ve tried with partial success over the years, emphasis on partial. But like with everything else these days, it’s time to get serious. It’s time to lean in to this major premise of our faith – the promise of grace.

So I wonder if you would you like to try this out with me – one day a week – no tech, or at the least, no social media….one day a week for rest, for remembering, for reclaiming who you are, whose you are, and what really matters. Don’t get too stuck on the particular day – I’ve heard that Sunday is a popular choice….but like I said, I’m on Mondays. All that matters is that you choose one day – every week where

As Wayne Muller says – “there is no rush to get to the end, because we are never finished.” Sabbath, he says, “reminds us to be still. Stop. Take time to rest, and eat, and drink. Listen to the sound the heart makes as it speaks the quiet truth of what is needed.”

Every other day, we can be the ones doing, marching, writing, reading, calling….just one day, we make space for grace to show up and do its healing work on our hearts, and in the world.

In this turbulent world, and in these trying times, let us rest in this faith – our faith, and in this love.

May it be so.

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Harden Not Your Heart

Audio Podcast available here.  mlk service meme.png

MLK Service 1/15/17 “Harden Not Your Heart”

You might remember a few weeks ago I spoke about my momentary anxiety around how you all would react to the signs that we put out on Drake. I braced myself for someone to feel anxious about the particular adjectives and groups we identified there. But then, I got nothing.  Nothing except positive affirmation and pride that we would make such a clear statement of solidarity.

It was only in this past week, when we changed out one of the signs, that suddenly I got a flurry of comments in person, over email and on texts.  Republicans?!

Let me be clear that just as we have representatives from all of the other signs in our congregation, we also have republicans in our congregation. Also like the others, they tend to be in the minority. And yet unlike the others, this one caused people to question. One person semi-joked….”Republicans?!  We love Republicans?!”

This is the crux of the challenge of Universalism today, it seems to me. It is the tension that especially in the few weeks after the election I knew so many were wrestling with,
and many still are – does compassion for all and love for all mean endorsing all? How do we imagine that our call for Universal Love can be put together with the need to resist injustice – naming clearly and transforming forces of evil and oppression?

The topic of evil deserves its own sermon – and in fact that IS Sean’s sermon topic next week, which I confess gives me some relief….thanks for tackling that Sean.

For today, I am starting with the assumption that there is evil in this world. There is injustice. And there is a brokenness that exists both within each of us and among us all that we are called to resist and transform. Universal Love, and our commitment that “no one is indispensable” as Sean talked about last Sunday does not mean that we are not also fiercely drawing lines of right and wrong. Because the other part of that mantra he spoke about last week is equally, “no more victims.”

Since November I have been traveling back and forth to my home with this book  – it’s the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. MLK wrote so much more than just his I have a dream speech, or his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Each essay and sermon, interview and book excerpt is so powerful, and filled with so many layers of theology and political and social analysis – so much of it relevant for our times.

Early on I was struck by just how Universalist King seemed to me in his theology and practice – I wasn’t exactly surprised – King attended UU churches here and there and considered seriously becoming a Unitarian Universalist – except felt that he wouldn’t reach the size of audience he had in mind through Unitarian Universalism.

And then, he also came to some struggles with some of the liberal insistence on a high regard for humanity….but his core philosophies, especially that of non-violence come across as if he was reading a 19th century Universalist as he was shaping them….

Which in some ways, he was. As Eleanor shared, and as Richard Trudeau writes in his book Universalism 101, “King was inspired by the freedom fighter Mohandas Ghandi, who was inspired by the religious writings of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, with whom Ghandi corresponded, at the end of Tolstoy’s life.

Tolstoy consulted with Ballou about his thoughts on and experiences with pacifism as he wrote his master work on non-violent theory, [The Kingdom of God is Within You].

Adin Ballou – not to be confused with his distant cousin Hosea Ballou who Sean spoke about last week- served Universalist congregations for 56 years, beginning in the early 19th century.  He was a leading theorist of non-violent resistance and pacifism, and had a keen sense of optimism and faith for the possibilities of the future – ever-hopeful that the message of love that he felt in his heart would prevail and transform the world.

As he said in one of his most influential works, “A great transition of the human mind has commenced and the reign of military and penal violence must ultimately give place to that of forbearance, forgiveness, and mercy.”

A hundred years later, as Martin Luther King Jr turned to non-violence as a way to address injustice and brokenness, this message and these ideas were still struggling to gain traction – because still there was this idea that Love was not compatible with resistance –
that if we are to meet the forces of evil and injustice with Love it must mean – like the Cobra, we let the forces destroy us, and continue, indefinitely.

MLK talks about this as one state of how African Americans had been before the Civil Rights movement in fact – that they had been accepting of their oppression in a certain way, not making unrest.  Referencing the Hebrew prophets, he calls this a peace where there is no peace.  “True peace,” he says, “is not merely the absence of some negative force – tension, confusion, or war; it is the presence of some positive force – justice, good will, and brotherhood.”

As the Civil Rights movement grew, however, African Americans and oppressed people everywhere started to push and lead towards this positive presence – for true justice – and as MLK said, “privileged groups rarely give up their privileges without a strong resistance,” and for MLK and his Universalist theology, that resistance had to be non-violent, grounded in Agape Love.

We don’t hear King’s own words on this subject enough – and because I have so appreciated reading these with more depth, I wanted to spend some time this morning reading to you from one of King’s articles on non-violence, this from an article that ran in the Christian Century called “Nonviolence and Racial Justice.”

It was published in 1957, so it was a relatively early piece of writing – he was 28.
About six months before, the Montgomery Bus Boycott had concluded, and offered a living example of how to resist injustice with love.

As I read this I invite you to consider the theological convictions he is exploring, and how they sit with your understandings of Universalism and what it means to love courageously.

“The alternative to violence is non-violent resistance. This method was made famous in our generation by Mohandas K. Gandhi, who used it to free India from the domination of the British empire.  Five points can be made concerning non-violence as a method in bringing about better racial conditions.

First, this is not a method for cowards; it does resist. The non-violent resister is just as strongly opposed to the evil against which he protests as is the person who uses violence.
His method is passive or non-aggressive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive toward his opponent.  But his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade the opponent that he is mistaken. This method is passive physically but strongly active spiritually; it is non-aggressive physically but dynamically aggressive spiritually.”

(Side note – in other works MLK talked about the need to cultivate a tough mind, but a tender heart, and I think that’s a little of what he’s getting at here…..)

“A second point is that nonviolent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through non-cooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that these are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

“A third characteristic of this method is that the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil. It is the evil that we are seeking to defeat, not the persons victimized by evil. Those of us who struggle against racial injustice must come to see that the basic tension is not between races. As I like to say to the people in Montgomery Alabama: The tension in this city is not between white people and Negro people. The tension is at bottom between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. And if there is a victory it will be a victory not merely for fifty thousand Negroes but a victory for justice and the forces of light. We are out to defeat injustice, and not white persons who may happen to be unjust.

“A fourth point that must be brought out concerning nonviolent resistance is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. In struggling for human dignity the oppressed people of the world must not allow themselves to become bitter or indulge in hate campaigns.

“To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify hate in the world.
Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives.”

(Let me pause in reading King’s words for a minute to share a story from our colleague Andy Burnette, who serves the UU congregation in Chandler Arizona. Andy tells about a member of his congregation who is a Holocaust survivor who came to tell his story at his church. He says, “I think I will never forget him sitting with his arms crossed in a way that made visible the numbers tattooed on his forearm, saying he wanted children to know that if you let hatred for one person or group of people get into your heart, it makes it easier for you to hate others.

“Then the hate is in you,” he said. “And it’s hard to get it out.” Don’t let it in, friends. No matter what. It takes work, but don’t let it in.”

King is talking about the ways that letting your heart become bitter or hateful corrupts the world, but this story from Andy reminds us that it also corrupts you.)

The title of today’s service – Harden Not Your Heart – is a phrase that appears in both the Hebrew bible and the Christian Scriptures – but when I was thinking of it for today, I was thinking of the Pharoah in the story of Moses and the Israelites as they escape from Egypt.

It’s a really complicated thing that happens in this story because God is helping Moses to appeal to the Pharoah, but then also God hardens Pharoah’s heart and makes him unwilling to concede – over and over this happens, and each time, the Egyptians are hit with more violence and death – it’s terrible. Pain and suffering, and the Israelites still are enslaved. It is only when finally Pharoah’s heart is not hardened, that he releases the Israelites – and his own people stop suffering.

Last week Sean described Universalism as a profoundly difficult faith to hold. Because it asks us to find that path where we are seeking true liberation and justice – staying that line – even while we manage not to harden our hearts. It is a faith that asks us, even when we read the headlines about an action we find morally reprehensible – or the many actions piling up – we remember the humanity, the love that connects and has the power to heal us all ,and that we not lose faith in that love.

Which brings me back to King, for just a few moments to conclude – he says

“In speaking of love, at this point, we are not referring to some sentimental emotion.
It would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. “Love” in this context means understanding good will. There are three words for love in the Greek New Testament. First, there is eros, which has come to mean a sort of romantic love.
Second there is philia, which denotes a sort of reciprocal love: the person loves because he is loved. When we speak of loving those who oppose us we refer to neither eros nor philia; we speak of a love which is expressed in the Greek word agape. Agape means nothing sentimental or basically affectionate; it means understanding, redeeming good will for all, an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in human life.  When we love on the agape level, we love people not because we like them, not because their attitudes and ways appeal to us, but because God loves them”

(Because they are a part of us in a greater sense – held in love as we are)

“Here we rise to the position of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed he does.”

Love like this is not a simple endorsement – of Republican ideas or every GLBTQ person, or every immigrant – that’s not what our signs mean. Love like this asks exactly the opposite of such an easy acceptance – requiring instead that we hold those we love accountable, call them to their better selves.

Ultimately King’s vision of love, the Universalist vision of love, courageous love asks us to find that difficult practice that offers compassion, with boundaries; radical acceptance with an unfaltering call for justice. It does not stand for a peace that is no peace, but requires the disruptive presence of a Love that keeps rising up, until the great promise and dream of liberty and justice for all might finally ring true.

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Christmas Eve Homily 2016


Linocut created by Ben Wildflower – text from Luke 1:46-55

Text: Luke 2:1-19

Homily: The Radical Story of Christmas – Mary, Jazz and Turning the World Upside Down 

It starts with being counted.


Whether or not they wanted to make the journey,
it didn’t matter. They had to go. In those final weeks of pregnancy, when the discomfort was everywhere and the eager anticipation bursting in every breath right then, these two young Jewish parents-to-be had to make the long and difficult journey. The Roman Emperor required it. He’d declared there was to be a registry, so they had to register.

Joseph and Mary were natives to this land – it was the land of their birth, their families –
but that wasn’t the point. As Jews under Roman rule, they were counted not because they were valued – at least not as people, but because they were sources of income. The registry was a way to make sure they were properly taxed. Their lives, their child’s life, ironically didn’t count for all that much.

This is where our story begins.

In our time, in our world today, hardly anyone knows the bible all too well, but the passage from Luke that I read is something most people have heard, and recognize. It’s a story that’s everywhere. Or at least, a version of it is everywhere – the old-standards children’s Christmas pageant story that can be told without risk or scandal – this story we know well.

But the fuller story – the story that starts with this couple that came to be counted,
but whose lives didn’t really count – this story still hasn’t been heard. And it’s this story that is worthy of our announcing joy to the world, glory to this universe,
go tell it on the mountain.

This story of Christmas is risky – the kind of risk that would put an image of Mary as a warrior trampling death in the image of a serpent with the words “cast down the mighty”
and “send the rich away” in your Christmas program.

I made sure that we printed the scriptural reference there below the artwork – as I was worried you might not realize that these radical sounding words can be found in the chapter right before this part of Luke that we more often read every year.

They are a part of a song that Mary belts out when she meets her sister Elizabeth and they celebrate their pregnancies – when Mary thinks about this new life she’s giving birth to,
she sings out about how God will bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly, care for the hungry, and send the rich away.

See, Mary herself was one of the lowly, the hungry, the powerless. Yet through her, love would be born anew, and through her all people would be brought into the transforming, healing, relentless power of this love. As Universalists we do mean to say all when we talk about the power of this love, as we affirm that there is nothing anyone could do that would alienate them from the presence and pull of this healing, transforming love.

Through this young woman who was required to be counted but whose life didn’t really count, the whole world would change.

All of this has to be in our minds when we hear this story of these young unmarried parents to be, and this story of their child’s birth. So that, for example – at the end of the scripture when it says “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart,”
you might get the sense that this is a sweet contemplation – the way that mothers often ponder their children and how lovely they are – how many people adore them – but when you put this line in context with the preceding fierce proclamation – “from this day all generations will call me blessed” and “God has cast down the mighty from their thrones.”
suddenly you can hear how she was pondering these things in her heart not in such a quaint, saccharine sort of way, but in a powerful, prophetic imaginative contemplation, as she, and we begin to realize just how much the world is being turned upside down.

It is ironic that so many of us believe we know this story, that its telling has become almost boring – because it is a story that is supposed to turn our world upside down, shock us with a total reversal, offering a vision of a world that is perpetually and powerfully subversive. The lowly become the powerful, the outcast becomes king, and the social rejects – which is what shepherds were considered at the time – the bottom of the social ladder, rejected as liars and thieves….these are the types of people chosen to first receive this good news…by way of God’s messengers singing in the sky, meeting them right where they were, inviting them to become themselves messengers, hope-bringers, bearers of great joy.

Later we are told, that all of these lowly outcasts drew the attention of the truly wise and wealthy by way of the magi who willingly traveled far just to kneel at the feet of a family
that according to the world powers, didn’t count at all.

Cast down the mighty, lift the lowly, turn everything upside down.

It’s this combination of encountering in the most familiar story of Christmas the most surprising and subversive story that had me thinking about jazz as we started our Christmas service planning.  Because jazz has all the same components as every regular, traditional sort of music – and yet it takes all of this and has the potential to go in a whole different direction- depending on the musicians, and the ways they come together,
their openness to respond to the moment, their willingness to be vulnerable, to make mistakes and to be present for one another, and to the creative forces moving through and among them.

Like the Christmas story, jazz repeats itself – and yet each time it does so with revision –
retelling through a rewrite – it is an expression of both memory and hope, tradition and transformation. Since its inception and throughout its history, jazz has been, a site for subversive collaboration – bringing together white and black musicians and listeners in ways that upended long-standing traditions of racial segregation in music. And along the way created music that had never yet been imagined or heard, something profoundly unexpected, and even upside down.

I’ve heard about Christmas Eve jazz services for a while, but in asking around I struggled to find a Unitarian Universalist example – we tend to do the traditional, the reflective, and the contemplative – less so the improvisational and energetic. But this year I kept thinking about how relevant the surprising upside down parts of this story is for our world today – in this time when the extremely-wealthy have a seemingly unstoppable grip on power and influence, when violence grows and division reigns, when yet again we are talking about who counts, and who matters, where we turn away from the immigrant, the refugee, the young and vulnerable seeking shelter, turn away from our neighbors, our family, ourselves…..

Maybe in other years we might not realize just what good news this story is, and so it could remain for us safe, traditional, distant and theoretical. But this year, this story – in all of its powerful unexpected, risky reversal is for us. This year we need the good news that something new is happening, here among us, even in the most invisible and unglamorous parts of our lives, those parts that society might reject, those places where we feel most outcast that even here a new and transforming love is struggling to be born – and we are the ones who can prepare it room.

Our lives – like the rooms of Bethlehem are often overly full. Filled up with cynicism and debt; busy-ness and bitterness –with all sorts of things that only we know about, that keep our hearts closed off and that get in the way of the love that would heal us, and connect us, upend and transform us and make whole the whole world round.

But this year we need to make the room, prepare the space because we need this Christmas story – in all of its radical vision, we need to clear the way in our lives, in our hearts for a love this powerful, this transformational – to release ourselves from those things that keep us busy yet unsatisfied – getting by, yet still longing for more –
isolated out in the fields believing all hope is lost – Christmas asks us to be this brave –
that we might hear the call breaking through the cold dark night: whispering, be not afraid.
That we might respond to the call of love arriving in all those places that the world says doesn’t count.  In the face and lives of the most vulnerable.  In the places of our lives
we believe are unseen and unheard, in those people who have been cast out, there the holy calls us to risk making the way, risk stepping out into the night, to gather with others,
imagining a whole new world, to say it is possible, to proclaim the good news of its birth.

There is much in the world and in life today that would have us despair, feeling powerlessness. But this two thousand year old familiar story still comes, and challenges us to be radically surprised – to imagine an entirely different world, to see in the darkest coldest night a bright bold light still arriving, to play not the standard melody but to risk a new note and a syncopated rhythm, a brave new story possible when people leave their familiar fields and set out on behalf of strangers and outcasts, on behalf of a love big enough to save the whole world.

This is the promise of Christmas worthy of being shouted from the mountain top
Don’t give up, love is just getting started.
Let us prepare it room – joining our voices in a great and glorious: alleluia!
Amen, and blessed be.

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When God Had a Body

when-god-had-a-body-1Text: The Education of God – The Incarnation by David Bumbaugh

Sermon “When God Had a Body,” December 11, 2016

New Testament scholar and sometimes-skeptic Bart Ehrman tells the story of one special person who lived about 2000 years ago.

Just before this person was born, “a heavenly figure appeared to his mother, telling her that her son would be not just human but also divine. His birth was surrounded by all sorts of supernatural signs, and as a child he taught those who were much older than he about religious insights and ideas.

This person went town to town with his message, gathered around him disciples
who witnessed his teachings, flawless character and multiple miracles. At the end of his life, however, his enemies made up charges and he was placed on trial before the Roman authorities and put to death.

After he died, some claimed he had ascended bodily into heaven; others said he appeared to them, that they had talked with and touched him. A number of followers spread the good news about this man, recounting what they had seen him say and do.” (From Ehrman’s New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings)

Unfortunately, however, this news never made it much further than his own time, so it’s unlikely you have ever heard of the neo-Pythagorean teacher, pagan, and holy man known as Apollonius of Tyana – who is the special man that Ehrman describes.

I start with this story because my plan for today is to go full-on Jesus….for us to explore not just the story of Jesus as human – something we do with some degree of comfort as Unitarians, but less traditionally for us, also the story of Jesus as the embodiment of the Infinite Mystery that some call God….and I know that for some of us, this idea brings up some resistance, annoyance, and injury. And, I understand.

When I first started attending a Unitarian Universalist church, I told some friends, with great passion, that one of the best things about my new religion was that they barely ever said Jesus. Jesus had been used as a weapon against me, and my wounds were still pretty fresh.

Over time, however, I have become even more passionate that we should no more allow a profound perversion of the story of Jesus -for example, any version that could be used as a weapon – to be represented as the truth – than we would allow the perversion of science to stand as the central truth about the earth, or our climate, or our place in this universe.

Both of these, if left unopposed are equally capable of destroying human life. And so we need to be just as willing to engage the Jesus story as we are any of our other sources for truth – especially when the perversion of the story of the “prince of peace” has never felt more pervasive, or dangerous.

Which is all to say, I hope that Apollonius of Tyana helps. Apollonius and the many other stories of the divine becoming human circulating around the 1st century remind us that there is something here that has captured the imagination of many different sorts of people for millennia, in ways that may or may not be related to what we now call the Christian religion.

And so my question is why – what is it about this story of God as a person,
and the divine as flesh – what is it about this that speaks to people – that keeps speaking to people – powerfully, resiliently?

Many of us today feel liberated by the opposite, actually. If we engage with a concept of God at all, it’s usually by way of “Spirit of Life,” or Infinite Love, Great Mystery, or even simply, the Universe. No body, no being.

But here we have this story that proclaims the eternal has been given form, and gender and skin, a particular, living, breathing existence.

What liberation might be found here?
What piece of the truth, and what good news might this story offer us, and our world?

The good news, of course, starts with a baby, which is always good news….except…not entirely. Because babies are beautiful, and awe-inspiring, and smell really good…..but also can be real jerks. They cry and don’t use their words; they refuse to do their own laundry, and they never do the grocery shopping. They wake you up at all hours of the night, and demand you feed them, change their diapers, or just hang out and pay attention to them.

These human realities are some of the many reasons why scholar Cynthia Rigby describes the idea of God becoming “one of us,” as the song would have it, scandalous. (Check out Rigby’s essay in Constructive Theology edited by Serene Jones & Paul Lakeland)

How could something infinite be contained in something so profoundly limited?

And how could the perfectly good and entirely powerful square with something so messy, selfish, dependent, and demanding?

Also, It’s actually wrong to say that this starts with a baby – it starts with a woman who grew that baby, which is to say a woman who created God, formed God, a woman who was pregnant with God, and who gave birth to God with all the mess and blood and curse words that come with labor and birth.

And no one ever seems to talk about the fact that this God necessarily was a teenager – awkward and pimply, eager and even…..horny…


This is the mystery of the incarnation, and in the earliest days, no one thought to try to solve it. This paradox of God in a human body sought no explanation, no clarification, no resolution, no absolutely sinless life, no doctrine of the virgin birth.

The hard lines of orthodoxy came later, along with the organizing, the power struggles, the boundaries of who’s wrong, who’s right, who’s in, who’s out.

But before all of this, there was only the allure of this impossible possibility: that the eternal would know the mortal, and perhaps more importantly, that the mortal would know the eternal.

That the two seeming opposites would fully co-exist in a great intimacy and partnership between human life and the universal source.

God doesn’t just walk among humans, God is human.

God doesn’t just shape human life, but is subject to that shaping.

God is not residing in some celestial heaven, God abides here, fully present with us, in us.

The story of God becoming human lifts up God’s immanence – instead of an untouchable transcendence that occasionally comes over us in a great and rare sacred shiver, this story says that the holy knows human life intimately – that the universe knows what it means to want what you cannot have, and also the pleasure of getting everything you hoped for, and more. Strong mother God, working night and day;

This story says says the spirit of life gets why you’re losing your temper, and knows how much you long to be forgiven; it says the Ultimate knows what it is to be betrayed by those you love, and also to die too soon, and to long for more life.  Warm Father God, feeling all the strains of human living;

This story says that Life at its very essence understands when things fall apart, the helplessness of realizing there is no fixing this, and the reasons why you’d decide to show up and love anyway. Old, aching God, grey with endless care.

There is something deeply comforting and consoling about imagining the vast infinite this present – that this aging body, this stumbling spirit, this doubting, suffering, hopeful, imperfect person; that every boring, embarrassing, gorgeous corner of our lives; every melting glacier and bullied child, every relapsing addict and terrified soldier – all of it, and all of us is known and held in divinity, known entirely by the infinite universe.

We speak about an infinite love that will not let us go, a love that has not broken faith with us, and never will – this is the promise of this story. Emmanuel – God With Us.

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said this was the real scandal of this story – not what it implies about the divine, but what it says about humans – and how much we are loved. This infinite, unconditional love is too much for us – it’s an embarrassment of love, an unfathomable abundance, a scandal.

We should have to earn love like that, we think, only some could deserve love like that – not everyone; only some parts of ourselves should be loved like that….not all the parts….not the pimply parts…The co-existence of God with flesh, however, refuses such a division. All are worthy, all are loved; every part of you is worthy, every part of you is known, accepted, and loved.

It is a problem, however, that this story comes to us with God as man, let’s be honest.
David Bumbaugh’s winking response – that God could learn more about limitations by becoming a man – and also Satan’s question about whether or not God has fallen victim to sexist assumptions – pretty smart, ok.

Some say that the story wouldn’t have had the lasting power if it had been focused on a woman who was fully human, fully divine; others say that the transgressions of a woman in the first century of Palestine would not have held as much social and political power as they did for a man – it had to be a story about a man.

All of these are good ways to think about the fact that this culture-shaping story centers on God becoming a man – but it’s still a problem. Because they can’t overcome the inevitable conclusions that – as feminist theologian Mary Daly put it, “if God is male, then the male is God.”

With that said, focusing too much on Jesus’ gender overemphasizes the humanity in the story over the divinity – the point is that neither is more present than the other –
they are equally co-existent. Which means, as I keep saying about our signs – the particular expression does not necessarily limit the infinite reality it points to, but just gives it tangible expression.


Janet McKenzie’s Jesus of the People

Which is one of many reasons I love the artists who toy with how they portray Jesus – willingly offering a Jesus who presents as female, Hispanic, disabled, or even – Caucasian.
These portrayals remind us that the particular embodiment should not be confused with a permanent limitation.

Despite all this talk of scandal, it was not new or radical to imagine that God is changed or changeable, or even that the source of that change is human interaction. Much of the Hebrew scriptures tell stories of God learning, messing up, trying again, and as the hymn goes, “being changed by what God started.”

The new part of this story is the body. It was the fact that God had a body, the story goes, that changed everything – for humans, and for God, from then on. Which I think makes sense.

It reminds me of a poem I have read at memorials – from Dorothy Monroe, it goes:
“Death is not too high a price to pay for having lived.
Mountains never die, nor do the seas or rocks or endless sky….
they stay eternal, deathless.
Yet they never live!
If choice there were, I would not hesitate to choose mortality.
Whatever Fate demanded in return for life I’d give,
for, never to have seen the fertile plains
nor heard the winds
nor felt the warm sun on sands beside the salty sea,
nor touched the hands of those I love–
without these,
all the gains of timelessness would not be worth one day of living and of loving.”

We idealize the possibility of immortality, omniscience, omnipotence, but there is something particularly beautiful and transformative about our simple, limited, vulnerable human life.

Once God had a body, the idea of living forever like the rocks and the sky, of remaining at a distance from everything and everyone – it just wouldn’t have had the same appeal. We so often curse our unknowing, imperfect existence –  but when you think about it –
how beautiful this stumbling and sometimes surrender can be – you too might understand how it might persuade divinity to abide with us, forever.

Unitarian Universalist minister Galen Guengerich says that in our world today, “each of us are the face of God in this world, and God’s voice and hands.”

And so it may be true that there is no all-knowing, all-controlling force, but rather God is that which is present in all, the presence which remains, that abides – that presence that chooses to stay within and among humankind, and that power that knows how to love –
that presence that loves abundantly, scandalously.

Such an idea would mean that we are all the saviors of the world, or we could be, which is terrifying, especially right now, but only scandalous if we fail to take our responsibility seriously. If we fail to see in every person, a possible partner, an image of God.

And so, in this dark time, let us pray by way of persistent kindness, worship through a practice of relentless compassion, and restore our beloved creation, and ourselves,
through the tender task of seeing one another, in all our humanity, holy, and abundantly loved.

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Eyes to See, Ears to Hear

Listen to this sermon here.

Story – The Beggar and the Box from Eckhart Tolleeyes-to-seeears-to-hear

That story is one of my favorites, I’ve told it a few times here.

In this season where we are making lists of all the stuff we’d like to receive or do, things that would feel like a treasure to us – this is a good story to remind us that the “gold” we are seeking often can’t be bought in a store, or even online, and isn’t even a matter of that mythical dream of “completing our to do list.”

But hearing the story this time, I kept getting stuck on how angry that guy must be.
I seriously never thought of it before, but this guy, he’d been sitting there for 30 years (!) starving, and then this other guy comes in and basically mansplains his solution. He spent three decades begging, sitting, striving, longing, waiting for the change to come. When in reality that whole time, he was literally sitting on everything he needed. The story says he was elated but really, how could he not be furious?

Even when the outcome is good, plot twist can still feel traumatic.

I know, it’s a new month, and a new theme – but I have to confess, I’m still not done processing last month’s theme – which was story – and really, just last month entirely…. And that plot twist we all experienced.

In many ways I appreciate the fast pace of life today – it suits my ever-present sense of how short life is and how much there is to do……but also, sometimes even I feel like it would be good if everything could slow way down. Like, if we could hit the global pause button for like, a year, that would be good for everyone – don’t you think? Like, a global time out. Where stuff could stop happening, and we could just take in and absorb where we are, all that’s happened, like, forever, we could take each other for coffee and clean out one another’s basements – literally and figuratively….

But of course life doesn’t work like that. Like poet Adrienne Rich says – ideally we would “make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history, or music, that we should begin with the simple exercises first and slowly go on trying the hard ones, practicing till strength and accuracy became one with the daring to leap into transcendence…. but we can’t live like that: we take on everything at once before we’ve even begun to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin in the midst of the hardest movement, the one already sounding as we are born.”

We are thrown into the story of life already full force, already sounding, and so we just try to show up, to get present enough that we can be actors in this story, characters with a voice, who meaningfully impact the tenor and arc of that story, even as we are trying to understand what’s even happening….

Presence is this month’s theme – as in, how to be present in this month, rather than last…not as in – P-R-E-S-E-N-T-S, though we do hope you’ll consider how our presence P-R-E-S-E-N-C-E is inhibited or enhanced by those T-S presents, and also how we go searching for presents TS when really we are yearning for presence CE – as in our story –
looking for something outside ourselves, when really what we need is already here.

The last time I was with you on a Sunday – it was right after the election, it was a powerful day….and embodied well what we mean by presence. We were present to grief, and the pain, and present to what the Hebrew and Christian scriptures would call “the cry of the oppressed.”

I didn’t read it to you that day, but every day since the election I’ve been thinking about the poem by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire where she says, “I held an atlas in my lap/ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered/where does it hurt? It answered everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.” We were present that day to the suffering that is everywhere.

It was like we had opened a circuit into the great energy of all the world and its people,
and were in the flow of it. We’ve spoken about the idea of thin places – those holy spaces where we feel more deeply connected and alive to the great big everything that some call God. Usually we think of thin places as being connected to joy, as in a great and ultimate elation. That Sunday was a thin place for me, but it wasn’t elation, it was painful, exhausting, heart-aching.

Which is perhaps why, in the second service, at the end in the part we call the gratefulness response – when I said to you all my usual something like, “let us take a moment to feel grateful.” Someone went – Humh! Like…what?!

And I got it.

Whenever we are present to suffering like that – when we allow ourselves to really see it –
hear the stories of grief and loss –take them in to our person – it can end up feeling like it’s all we see – so that suffering and pain become truly everywhere, everywhere, and everything we hear confirms our sense of how terrible, and broken the world is.
Gratitude?! Humh!

Instead of just seeing and hearing pain, what we tapped into was a kind of seeing and hearing that indicates a deeper spiritual lens – a way of viewing the world, and being present to it. Everywhere, everything.

This is the sort of seeing and hearing that the phrase “eyes to see, and ears to hear” –
a common phrase throughout Hebrew and Christian scripture – is meant to convey.
It’s a phrase that’s asking if we are really understanding the world we live in for what it truly is, in its larger context and larger story – its greater reality. By the way, in scripture, the answer is, mostly we don’t.

In our story, it wasn’t just that the man didn’t see the gold in the box, there was something about his whole world view – is way of SEEING that didn’t lead him to look in the box at all.

For many of us, our way of seeing has been altered in the past few weeks, as we have been present to the pain in this world in new and different ways, perspective-changing ways, ways that – as teachers like Joanna Macy would say – might just inspire us to make the often difficult sacrifices required for necessary change.

Some of you have told me about your desire to keep up this seeing, to keep up a certain vigilance. In this I hear the reminder from Unitarian Universalist theologian Rebecca Parker who recalls that a full review of Nazi Germany makes it clear that the Holocaust became possible because people lost this sight of human suffering – she says, “somehow those who built and operated the death chambers, those who gave the orders and carried them out, disconnected from what the activity actually meant.”

We do need to be vigilant, and remain present. The important question is – how.
How we will be present, how shall we see?

In my experience, there seems to be two main ways someone might be changed by a traumatic loss. In the first way, there isn’t just the death of the one who has died;
there is another death – the death of the one who technically remains alive but whose entire life is now filled up by that death – it becomes all they can see. Everywhere, everywhere is the loss; everywhere is the pain. Marriages end, jobs are lost, addictions return with a vengeance, or take hold anew. Despair and bitterness are overwhelming.
Or, sometimes, just a kind of numbness. That’s one way.

The other way is when that same person finds in that suffering a new and powerful connection to compassion, love, and joy – that somehow the window into suffering they experience becomes a window into love. And this makes sense, actually, because why would suffering even matter – except because of love? So we can open the atlas, and ask also, where is there love? And it will answer, every where, everywhere, everywhere.

Matthew Shepherd’s mother Judy seems a good example of this type of change –
after the brutal murder of her son, she was not overcome by that loss, nor did she deny it,
but instead went on to start a foundation in his name dedicated to help parents with gay children grow in acceptance, and travel the country telling his story and opening hearts.
More recently, the mothers of the most well-known young black men shot by the police,
the women who have become known as the mothers of the movement – they too demonstrate this kind of response to trauma, this simultaneous connection to pain and love; heartache and hope.

Parker Palmer says – there are two ways for the heart to break – to shatter and scatter,
or to break open into a greater capacity to hold even more of the world’s suffering,
but also joy, love, and hope.

Sometimes, when it comes to holding the suffering of the world, the heartbreak of injustice, it seems like we only know how to live as scattered and shattered. If we’re going to let it in, it must be everywhere and only. We have to be outraged! We can’t be grateful, the world is terrible! We can’t be joyous, we’ve got work to do!  I mean grateful….HUMH!

And yet there is another way to hold this pain. Another way for hearts to break….this place where suffering and love are profoundly connected – even two sides of the same reality….. so that as we lean into suffering, we will see that we are actually sitting on the golden treasure of love. That love we are trying to build in the world is right here, already.

I know you might be making an inner “Humh,” and so I have an example, provided by our signs that are out on Drake.

In the first few days after the election, I was so connected to the thread of suffering that connects human life. In that painful place, it was very clear to me that we needed signs. What they should say, how they’d look, I wasn’t sure – but we needed signs. The suffering required response, because of who we say we are. So we started talking and before too long settled in on the phrase that you see out there right now. We love our / Black / Muslim / GLBTQ / Immigrant / neighbors.

It’s specific – a response to the suffering – but also grounded in our Universalist good news that all are worthy of love. So if you look just at the first and the last sign,
you get the whole of the message – we love our neighbors. Period.

It took a while to get the signs ordered, and then to figure out the logistics, so that by the time our administrator, Carolyn Myers – and one of our members, Rich Roberts – on his birthday by the way, thank you Rich – they were out there on Drake putting them up and suddenly I had a panic. How will people in the community react? How would you all react?

Which is to say, I lost track of the suffering – and instead turned to my own fear and self-protection. Which is absurd – because the message shouldn’t even be controversial – right? Except that it is now, which is the point. I want to lift up this momentary panic because, I think it’s something we can anticipate as we are attempting to make good on our mission. It is called courageous love because the path ahead is going to require that we do some hard things, things that might rightfully make any one of us and potentially many of us afraid. But that fear does not mean that what we’re doing isn’t the right thing to do.

So if and when this happens, my lesson is to connect back – away from fear – to instead return to hear the cries of the suffering, and the call of courageous love.

By this point in the story of our signs, however, it was long past the time for second-guessing – they were going up. So I took a deep breath, and waited to hear about the reactions. It started immediately – the honking, the waving, the thumbs up – all in joy. One woman pulled over to talk to them, in tears of gratitude – she was an International student – would she be able to get back into the country next semester? Did she no longer belong here? Our signs were a light in the darkness.

Since that day, the response has grown. Emails, and calls and facebook messages and drop ins – all saying thank you, and sharing stories of how much the signs mean, and why –
stories of grief, and heartbreak. The signs offered beacon of hope, and compassion. What began by opening a circuit to the world’s suffering, instead has become like tapping into the great circuit of love.

In the gospel of Matthew,  when Jesus talks about the eye as the lamp of the body – the text is on the front of your order of service – he’s pointing to this Jewish tradition of talking about the eye and sight as a metaphor for vision in a deeper sense. And so this text is about how the way we see life – the perspective we choose to take – will shape everything else.

The way we see will make all the difference in whether we spend 30 years starving – or if instead we will SEE the presence of joy and love that is already here, ready to feed not just us but our hungry world.

As we journey together, we get to choose, if we will see in a way that will have our hearts scattered and shattered…..or if we will allow our hearts to break wide open, awake to suffering as connected to love, shadow as connected to light. We get to choose if – like Emma Goldman – there will be dancing at our revolution. If there will remain laughter in our lives, if we will still overflow with gratitude because we are committed to the beauty….

Life is too short, and there is still so much work to do. Let us not spend our years seeking change, only to wake up decades later having missed out on the love and the joy and the good that was right here. Let our broken hearts burst with shouts of joy, and let us sing out in a protest of praise, still, alleluia.

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Being present in abnormal times

You are not abnormal.  You are having a normal response to abnormal circumstances.  I’ve said this sentence a hundred times in my care with and for congregants who were dealing with difficult times.  It is normal that you are struggling – it is the normal, regular response.  It’s the situation you are in that is tragic and traumatic- not you. That you are having this response is a sign of your health and resilience.

Since the election, and also, since the 18 months leading up to the election, and then over these days since the election with all the hatred and misinformation given new levels of power and legitimacy – since all of it, I’ve been in a series of conversations about the question of a “new normal,” because – survival, sustainability, getting out of bed….but mostly I’ve been resistant – there’s a difference between living with a new normal and retaining a double-awareness about how the new normal is anything but – to relentlessly claim our normal response to an abnormal reality.

MLK called this being “maladjusted.”  In his 1957 speech at UC Berkeley, King said,

“there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination.  I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out, ‘All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ God grant that we will be so maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change our world and our civilization.  And then we will be able to move from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daylight of freedom and justice.”

Our church theme this month is “presence” – as in, how are we present? To what or to whom are we present? Is there a greater presence within and among us? Thinking about this theme,  I’ve been wondering what it would mean to be both present to life as it is – and also to the ways it is not as it should be, and to hold faith with that vision of life as it could and still must be.  Like Langston Hughes, “America will be!” 

King had an incredible faith in this righteous vision – what he called the Beloved Community, the long and larger hope of something far beyond our view.  It was a vision of joy and founded on love – a vision of all people being profoundly wrapped up in a single garment of destiny, interconnected and connected by love and sustained by justice.  Only by grounding ourselves in such a vision, in being profoundly present to its possibility and its deeper reality – by holding fast to this vision of the really real behind the abnormally real – might we sustain ourselves and our lives together in these abnormal times.  This is presence as imagination, presence as faith, presence as resistance- and presence as steadfast partnership as we labor together in service of this life we are meant for, still, always.


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Waking Up – Sermon 11/13/2016

Audio podcast of this sermon is available here.

ecc45a77-d1e2-4d7f-a704-c6adab74da89.pngReading – For a Time Such As This by Jake Morrill

As a part of our monthly theme, this Sunday, we were supposed to explore the question: when in your life have you experienced a plot twist? Back in September, when decided on these weekly questions, we were like, hmm, plot twist, great that will be interesting….But then, this past Tuesday night, I suddenly realized plot twists are only “interesting” in retrospect. The middle of a plot twist isn’t interesting, it’s traumatic.

It was around 10:30 on Tuesday night when the trauma started to hit; like millions of people all across the country, our staff team was texting each other in earnest: what is happening?

Up until that point, I thought we’d been preparing for any outcome, regardless of how the election went, the message for Sunday and in all of our work together would be the generally the same – in the midst of a divided country, our faith’s good news of the inherent worth of all and our ultimate interconnectedness – the faith that we “need not think alike to love alike” – offers us the tools and the responsibility to connect across differences, heal the divisions in our country and in our hearts, and weave a new shared story together. No matter the results, I thought, this would be the message.

Over the course of the night, however, I realized, I’d been fooling myself.

It started around 7:30, maybe 8. I was in a meeting when my partner, Carri, started to text. Our daughter had been watching the election returns with a friend, and had come home sobbing, sure that she and/or her friends would be sent to Mexico. My daughter, Gracie Ella is Hispanic – her birth father was Mexican – but she was born in Denver, and we are her legal parents – both of us. She’s been with us since she was three days old. But, it’s confusing. Kids don’t get it – grown-ups don’t always either, as we’ve seen – so while we have reassured her that no one can take her from us, there’s still an underlying sense of risk that we can’t entirely reassure in her, or truthfully, in us.

When I got that text from Carri, a lump started to form in my throat, and all night as the returns came in, it grew bigger and bigger, as I imagined all the Hispanic kids across the country, all the Muslim children, the *trans youth, the women who have experienced sexual assault (which is about 1 of every 5), and all the people working so hard for our planet, this lump just grew and grew, as I felt so many people all across the country, like my daughter – scared, hurting, all of them sobbing.

The lump in my throat told me: all of our plans were wrong. I mean, they were good, still true, but they’d been plans for a different world, a different story than what was emerging – they were assuming a world of greater safety, greater predictability, a level of continuity – a world that could no longer be counted on. We needed a new plan, for Sunday, and likely, for everything.

Our nation woke up Wednesday morning into a new world.

The transition from sleep to waking has always been hard for me. I’m usually disoriented, bleary-eyed –angry, irrational – I’m not a very good mom or partner when I’m trying to wake up, and it’s a slow process. I resist the idea that sleeping is over, grieve the loss of my cozy quiet, and fight the requirement to do something new, like, move or talk, or see things with my eyes open.

This is exactly how I’ve been feeling since Tuesday night. Disoriented, angry, grief-stricken. I managed to get the letter out to you all about the election results and invite the vespers service on Wednesday, but immediately after that I sat there at midnight sobbing the way I imagined my daughter had a few hours before. And the lump in my throat, it was still there – is still there, even now.

We woke up Wednesday morning to a new world, but it wasn’t like the world wasn’t there before. So many of our lives have been so much more at risk than most of us have been paying attention to – black lives, immigrant lives, queer lives, the lives of the poor, the chronically ill, children’s lives – really all of our lives – are so fragile. And so many of our social systems are inadequate, or broken, and racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia – these are real, and systemic and generational. We know this, but also, we try not to think about it – especially those of us who don’t have to think about it.

We take for granted a certain inevitability of moral progress – assuming that as time moves forward, so will the reach of justice – that it must be that as each day passes, the world becomes more inclusive, more compassionate, more loving – this story exists deep in our consciousness – we assume that progress of any sort means progress of all sorts.
As Unitarian minister Theodore Parker’s quote that both Martin Luther King Jr and President Obama have referenced: the moral arc of the universe surely bends towards justice.

This week we awoke to the reality that our Native American siblings have been living with for centuries: there is nothing inevitable about the march of justice. Sometimes, the moral arc bends away from justice, just as suddenly as it had moved towards it. And sometimes the new day brings not greater clarity or goodness, but chaos, fear, and loss.

It can be terrible waking up. Since Tuesday, many of us have been bleary-eyed and grieving- just wanting to pull the covers over our heads. We’ve started rationalizing or blaming, turning the whole thing into an intellectual exercise – why did the polling go wrong? Maybe the third party voters are to blame – or the two-party system. The Electoral College, or the media. Or, we bargain, maybe it’s not so bad, maybe he didn’t mean all the things he said. Or even, maybe now we will have real change…..maybe this will turn out to be a good thing….burn it all down.

We are each coping in different ways to this global plot twist – this trauma – depending on how personally we feel the potential impact, how vulnerable we or our children are, the story we thought we were living in about how the world should or does work, and maybe most of all, how committed we are to the cozy quiet and the not seeing things with our eyes open.

Before Tuesday, my coping strategy had been what I’d called “the long view.” I’d been channeling my teacher Vincent Harding, I quoted him a few weeks ago – he’s the one who said America was in the process of birthing a new story, and it was our job to be midwives for a new day.

Since waking up on Wednesday, I’ve needed something more than the long view – it’s what I call the “longer view.” Because Dr. Harding died last year, meaning he lived to see the first African American president – he call him Brother Barack – but he did not have to see his brother hand over the presidency to a man endorsed by the KKK.

So instead of Dr. Harding I’ve needed to think about those people who lived in crazy times, terrible times, and who died with the world still terrible, but who were still a part of the resistance and the resilient love, their whole lives. People like Susan B. Anthony who died before women got the vote, or Sojourner Truth who died after the civil war, but long before seeing the real liberation for African Americans and women that she fought for her whole life, or Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein, or a thousand other gay men and women and *trans and gender-non-conforming people who loved and survived and claimed their truth, even at the risk of imprisonment or death.

As Theresa Hardy wrote this week:
“I got out of bed this morning because of all those who had to get out of bed before me:
Martin and Coretta, the day after his home was bombed. (What did they tell the children?).
John Lewis, after nearly escaping death on the Edmund Pettus bridge.
My ancestors, who were dragged to the U.S. in chains,
laid flat like chattel on ships… and survived.
They survived and got out of bed each morning.
I am sick and tired and grieving and ready to quit this country.
But I got out of bed, shamed by the thought of letting these ancestors down.
And for now that’s how I am getting through this day.”

One of the ancestors I’ve been drawing on these past few days has been Theodore Parker, he of that troublesome quote on the arc of the moral universe. Parker’s life was filled with plot twists, traumatic and heartbreaking. Seven of his siblings and both of his parents died of tuberculosis before he’d even entered the ministry, and that grief inspired his search to understand and experience an unadorned and true God. His search led him to reject traditional religion, as well as traditional thinking when it came to slavery. His faith in a loving, freedom-insisting God required abolition, and resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act – as well as numerous other social and political reforms.

We Unitarians consider ourselves to be quite progressive today, but back then, while some of us were anti-slavery, we were not abolitionists – we supported a more gradual transformation. We couldn’t risk the cotton money that flowed through our churches – besides, it was the law.

All this meant that Parker was scorned and excluded by the other Unitarian ministers, even while his bold claims for a loving God and a deeper justice created a huge and committed following in his church. He often saw 2,000 people on a Sunday, which for his time was incredible.

Still I imagine Parker was often lonely, and on many days wasn’t sure if all his sacrifice was really making a difference. See, Parker died in 1860, a year before the outbreak of the civil war, three years before the emancipation proclamation. It is from this context that I’ve realized we need to hear his famous quote – which I’ll share in full:

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. was known for his refrain – how long? Not long.

But this week I’ve been thinking: How long? Long. Maybe very long.

Considering the story of his life, I believe that Parker knew this – and so did Martin Luther King, of course.

Our eyes, and our lives reach but a little ways – the moral arc is long, long, and often longer. We can’t complete the figure by experience of sight, only by conscience.
In this moment, maybe in a number of moments to come, we may not be able to see the good, the just – but we can feel its righteousness, feel what is right in our hearts, our guts, and by our faith. By our faith, we know, that in the longer arc, there is more love somewhere, and we shall overcome.

Over these last four years with you, I have tried to draw a line between liberal religion and liberal politics, I have urged us to remember our mission as the former rather than the latter. Despite what you may have taken from all that I have said this morning, I remain committed to this distinction – because it is our faith that has something to say about that lump in our throats.

No matter how we voted, or how we feel about the results, our faith calls us to see the tears of our children, our Hispanic children, our black children, our Jewish children, our disabled children, our children who are different in all sorts of ways, who are homeless, or hungry, who were already too vulnerable. It asks us to take seriously the potential appointment of Sheriff Joe Arpaio that was floated this week– the terrorizing Sheriff who was finally ousted from Arizona, who is now being considered as the head of Homeland Security. It asks us not to turn away, but to keep waking up, each day, again, and more.

You may be wondering if you’re up for this, if we’re up for such a task, and how.
But also….have you heard the reports, the stories being shared, the chants of “Build that Wall,” the calls to “make America White again,” they say that hate has been “unleashed.” I keep hearing people use that word, the word that incredibly – we carefully and boldly declared was our word, just a couple weeks ago – that we would unleash courageous love.
And I can’t help thinking, it is possible that we were made for a time such as this.

Like Queen Esther, we need not act hastily, but only deliberately. As we have this morning, we need to gather together first – and then again and again over time – in prayer, in song, in tenderness, in community. Because while we feel the fierce urgency of now, we cannot calculate the curve of this moral arc; it could be a long, long road ahead.

Which means, we need a regular practice that tends to beauty, cultivates wonder, awe and gratitude, allows us to renew and to sort out all we are seeing and feeling along the way.

Which is to say, these are the days when we need to keep coming to church – and the days when we need to invite our friends. I know UUs are often shy about our faith, but this too needs a new plan. Too many are grieving and struggling, and could use this community, and we need them. Bring them all, and bring yourselves in more fully, more often. We need each other, and the world needs us to coordinate and work together.

Inviting our friends to church is the easy part, of course. The harder part is putting into practice the courageous part of courageous love.

What will be asked of us, what risks of comfort, stability, clarity or safety will our faithfulness require? We are just starting to learn – from early reports, the schools are a place to start – K-12, but also CSU and Front Range – surely our ministry with and for families and children and youth, and immigrants will also need a new plan – but even this is not clear.

For this morning, we have two small yet meaningful ways to unleash love in the coming days. The first is to wear a safety pin as a sign of solidarity with potentially targeted groups. The idea originated after Brexit, when the UK saw a 57% increase in anti-immigrant attacks – people there wore a safety pin to signal they were safe. We have safety pins– take one and wear it, and as you do make a commitment to speak up, to shield, to risk your comfort on behalf of another.

The second is a practice being called, “Neighborhood Love Notes.” We have chalk for you, and we’d like you to take it, and then go out and write messages of love and solidarity – wherever you feel that love is needed. Which is, everywhere.

When you write a “love note” please snap a photo, and then post it to the Foothills Facebook page, with the hashtag #unleashlove – or send it to us and we’ll do it on your behalf. And also, any other time that you are witness to what you’d call courageous love, feel free to use that same hashtag #unleashlove.

After any trauma, the healing process begins with baby steps, little ways of beginning to move forward, which can be hard because some of us want to launch forward with giant leaps. The time for giant leaps will come, but we don’t know enough yet, which I know, can make our fear debilitating instead of motivating.  And so I want to end with this quote from activist and writer Rebecca Solnit, who reminds us, while “The future is dark, [it is] a darkness as much of the womb as of the grave.”

Steady yourselves friends, and lean in closer, the great labor is just beginning.

I love you.

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