Making Room at the Table
"We are the people who return to love like a North Star and to the truth that we are greater together than we are alone."
—Rev. Theresa Soto, in "We Hold Hope Close"
I spend a lot of my Saturday evenings feeling awkward at wedding receptions, because most guests don’t want to talk to The Minister. Are they worried that I’m boring, or that I’ll look them deeply in the eye and ask about their relationship with God? Either way, being alone with a plate of hors d'oeuvres is preferable to going home to finish my sermon.
A few weeks ago, though, I was delighted when a table of wedding guests—obviously friends, who'd traveled in from two states away—waved me over.
“We’re therapists,” one of them explained, “so nobody ever wants to talk to us, either.” Upon learning that I’m a Unitarian Universalist, the entire group—not all of them white, not all of them straight, not all of them gender conforming—exchanged knowing looks.
“What?” I probed.
“That means you’re safe,” one of them announced as the others nodded. They’re not religious, they elaborated, but they trust UU communities to accept them without judgement.
It makes you want to cheer, doesn’t it, when outsiders praise the people you call home? I so wanted to gather up their affirmations to dole out back at the UU ranch… but I couldn’t. As I smiled politely, I called to mind the UUs in my life who are queer; who live with a disability; who are people of color. I thought about their countless stories of their lived experience being painted over with the brush of privilege, and the harm inflicted upon them by people with good intentions. I remembered my colleague Sean Parker Dennison’s reminder that there are many people in the world who are never completely safe—and don’t expect to be.
Those of us inside the Unitarian Universalist fold know that when it comes to living our expansive, inclusive, anti-oppression faith, we fall short (sometimes in 3-D, technicolor ways). I do. And every time my privilege and I cause harm, I get to decide whether my arrogant decision that I’m enlightened or woke outweighs evidence to the contrary.
It was a gift, on that early summer evening, to be received by a group of strangers as if I belonged, and to hear them call my UU kindred a haven. While I know there’s a gap between who they say we are and who we are in practice, those seven therapists gave me a second gift: they fortified my commitment to keep closing that gap, and to transform our UU communities into havens: a home for all who need us.
God who takes the form of people seeking connection, thank you for letting us off the hook when it comes to being perfect. Thank you also for not letting us off the hook; for calling us to rise to the promise of who we might be.