WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Both the Burning and the Light

By Sean Parker Dennison

It's in one tiny moment in time / for life to shine to shine
Burn away the darkness
You've got one tiny moment in time / for life to shine to shine
To burn away the darkness
I will be light.
— “I Will Be Light” by Matisyahu

About six months ago, I got a new tattoo. It’s a lit match on my right wrist, added to an arm full of paintbrushes, pens and other art supplies. As a minister, my tattoos are sometimes controversial, and I was a little nervous about what people would think about this addition. When people asked why I chose a lit match, I’d joke that it was either to burn the world down or to light my inner chalice.

These days the joke is less funny because things have gotten more serious. As the new President signs executive orders that give tax breaks to the most privileged while attacking immigrants, refugees, Muslims, GLBTQ people, people with disabilities, and anyone else he disagrees with, I am more and more committed to resistance. This deepened calling to a life of non-compliance will take a lot of burning and a lot of light.

As an artist and religious leader, I believe in the necessity of creative destruction. A magnet on my refrigerator says, “Go forth and set the world on fire.” (St. Ignatius Loyola) For me it’s a statement of passion and a reminder that in order for justice to flourish, injustice must be dismantled. In order for freedom to be real, fences, cells, and walls must be torn down. In order for forests to remain healthy, wildfires must burn away the overgrowth. I am ready to embrace creative destruction as one of the tools we need in these times.

But we need more than destruction. We also need to support each other. Lighting the flame of our common chalice (real or symbolic) is a powerful reminder that we cannot sustain ourselves by ourselves. We are not enough individually, and enclaves of “like-minded” people are not enough. We need each other to share the wisdom of lived experience, to remind each other to keep learning, and to love each other through the inevitable failures and eventual success of our resistance.

We need both the burning and the light.

Spirit of Justice, help us be courageous and committed in these times. Let us transform our ideals into action, our words into deeds. Let the fire of our passion burn with both light and warmth. In our anger, help us embody the spirit of creative destruction, always making room for more justice, more compassion, more love. May it be so. May we be the ones that make it so. Amen.

About the Author

Sean Parker Dennison

Rev. Sean Parker Dennison is the minister at Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ashland, Oregon. Ordained in 2000, Rev. Dennison has served congregations in California, Utah, and Illinois and cofounded TRUUsT, an organization for transgender UU religious leaders, in 2004. They are...


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a cluster of wooden matches, tips in the same direction, are alit. A large orange tongue of flame trails into a blue plume of smoke.
A color tattoo, on Sean Dennison's inner wrist, of a match with flame.

Sean Dennison's newest tattoo, as described in his reflection.