General Assembly 2014 Event 402
DAVID GLASGOW: Well good morning, Unitarian Universalist Association. Is your mind, by any chance, stayed on freedom this morning? Let's get our souls moving with some wonderful African American spiritual music. Join us, raise your voices. Don't be afraid to move a little bit as we sing together, get some juices flowing. [SINGING] Could I get that chord again, Wendyl, my head is gone.
Singing the Living Tradition (SLT) #153: “Oh, I Woke Up This Morning”
SLT 141: “I’ve Got a New Name”
Singing the Journey (STJ): “Building a New Way”
SPEAKER 1: Can I have an amen?
REV. TOM SCHADE: Good morning. Good morning. Somewhere in an alternate universe it's the weekend. It's a day for sleeping in. It's a day for house chores and errands. For some it's eventually a day for leisure, a day not in school for the young. For others it's another and even busier work day.
And for some ministers the cursor blinks in the corner of a blank screen. But for us here in this huge room we share so far from sunlight and fresh air it is another day of being together, another day of sharing and teaching and learning. Another day of doing the work of religious leadership together.
Preparing ourselves, preparing ourselves to reach out with love to those who hunger for affirmation who await an encouraging word, who need our compassion and our solidarity. We gather in worship this morning before we turn to our labors, to be inspired by the wisdom of our tradition, to be grounded in the gravity of the work we are called to do.
And to be lifted up by our shared hope and resolution. We gather in worship to hear the stories of a few and to reflect on our common struggle. Come, come let this moment to be one of wonder and power. Let us worship together.
SPEAKER 1: We gather to worship because we believe in freedom. Because we believe that the world can be a better place. And that It will be a better place sooner if we work together to make it so. We gather to worship because we wish for a world of universal justice and peace. And because we share the belief of songwriters Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas, that when we work together in love wishes come true.
Hymn: "I Wish I Knew How It Would Be Feel to be Free"
MS. KIM HAMPTON: Holy is the flame that each one carries. The living unique flying of experience and truth. Holy, too, is the chalice that holds the gathered fire, where one is all, and all is one, and none are ever lost.
Rev. Peter Boullata
REV. PETER BOULLATA: As a gay youth coming out in the 1980s it felt like there was no place to be all of who I was. No space in which I could even begin to imagine who I could be. With few role models in the culture at large and without access to the kinds of social spaces that adult gay men inhabited, there was nowhere to go.
It was difficult to imagine a future at a time when that HIV/AIDS epidemic was affecting large numbers of men who loved men. There was a pervasive nostalgia for a time that was. For previous eras of gay male life that seemed more free, and it was for this that I longed. Knowing that a fulfilled past could be a model for a fulfilling future.
Imagining a time before the rise of patriarchy, before the disavowal of the sacred function of gender non-conforming and same sex loving men was a way to imagine the future. The work of Utopian feminists and radical gay liberationists set the tone, as in this reading by Monique [INAUDIBLE] from her text [FOREIGN LANGUAGE].
There was a time when you were not a slave. Remember that. You walked alone, full of laughter. You bathed bare-bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it. Remember. You say there are no words to describe this time. You say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember or, failing that, invent.
KIM HAMPTON: I grew up in a religious family. In many ways I've always considered myself more religious than spiritual, at least in how those terms are thrown around in these times. For the longest time I ignored the little voice. Many of you might know that little voice. That little voice that calls you to something bigger than yourself. That voice that calls you to something greater than you ever imagined.
But as brother James Baldwin tells us in Nothing Personal, nothing is fixed. Forever and forever and forever it is not fixed. The earth is always shifting. The light is always changing. The water does not cease to grind down the rock. Generations do not cease to be born. And we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have.
The sea rises, the light fails. Lovers cling to each other. And children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out. Nothing is fixed. Nothing. Most definitely love is not fixed. No matter how far one might try to run from both, that little voice and from love, it, or rather they, will catch you.
And they will bring you home. They will change you. They will show you that, while nothing being fixed might look like nothing but chaos, in reality it means that we are growing into more fully human beings. This is the process of a lifetime. It is the process of generations. And it is the responsibility of all of us because if one person or generation stops loving, or becomes fixed, that truly is the beginning of the end.
DAVID GLASGOW: Todd, if we could get a little extra piano in the vocal monitors, that would be helpful. Our next song, like so many in the African American tradition, reflects a hopeful optimism in the justice leaning of the universes moral arc. And the stubborn refusal to relent in the work we do to bend that arc. Would you rise with us in body or spirit and join us in singing.
Hymn: "I’m On My Way"
Mr. Barb Greve
MR. BARB GREVE: He drew a circle that shut me out, heretic, rebel a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle and took him in. This poem, titled Outwitted, by Edwin Markham, was used to open children's chapels when I was a child. And continues to remind me that our faith wins only when the circle is large enough to embrace us all.
Whenever I have found myself struggling with who to be or how to live in the world, this poem returns me to center. At times I have been the one standing on the outside hoping to be invited in. And at other times I have had the power to draw the circle that took others in. 28 years ago I chose to join a Unitarian Universalist congregation.
I was raised as a Unitarian Universalist but became an official member of my congregation at the age of 15. Despite having been here since the beginning of my life, there have been times when I've considered leaving our faith. These have been the times when the circle has shut me out, when our commitments to justice and affirmation are more words than action.
Moments when I am asked to be inauthentic for the comfort of all. To be patient as we learn to be anti-oppressive communities. These are the moments when I am most reminded of Markham's poem. When I am challenged to draw our circle of love even larger. May we always partner with love and draw a circle that brings all in.
Rev. Tom Schade
REV. TOM SCHADE: There's a moment when what the world assumes you to be rubs up against the person you know yourself to be. That external expectation oh, it has so many forms. It can be the box of a racial or ethnic stereotype. It could be a resource denied to you because of the part of town you live in or the school that you go to.
It can be the cold indifference of the assumption that people like you are used to suffering. Are used to working for low wages or being without health insurance. It can be even closer and more personal than that. The assumption of your heterosexuality. Even the assumption of your gender and your gender expression.
And it can be less severe than that. The assumption that you're always going to go to the same church as your grandmother's. Or in the surprise that your friends have when you decide to go to church at all. It can be the assumption that a high paying job is everybody's goal. And that external assumption, that external expectation, can come from your school, from your church, and even from the people who love you the most and seem to know you the least.
And a moment comes for so many people that the friction that comes between the rubbing of those assumptions and your reality creates a little spark and a little flame. Mary Oliver's great poem, The Journey Ends With These Lines, there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own. That kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do.
Determined to save the only life you could save. You could save. Or as our song just said, if they say no I'll go anyhow. I'm on my way. I'm on my way to that freedom land. If they say no I'll go anyhow. How many people around the world right now are guarding such a little flame? As they strive deeper and deeper into the world.
They hold it close. They guard that little flame. They guard it against the prejudice and indifference of the social order. Against racism and sexism and homophobia and xenaphobia and transphobia, and all the phobias and fears of difference. And it may be just the small flame of a different ambition, the personal need to make art or music.
They become pilgrims carrying a little flame with them. Moving toward what seems to them to be the freedom land. It has been one of the signature gestures of liberal religion to draw a circle to bring the pilgrim in. To reach out and love and to offer them a chalice to hold their flame. And to build a fire of many such flames, where no flame is ever lost.
I believe that Unitarian Universalism will lose a vital piece of its soul if it loses touch with that moment of self assertion when a person says no, I can't stay here. I must leave. I must go any way. Come with me if you can. But if you say no I'll go anyhow. Liberation and self determination are sometimes individual and hard and scary and irreversible and an essential piece of the spiritual journey.
And if we are to love we must reach out to everyone struggling with that first step. But on our growing edge, Unitarian Universalism is also more than leaving. And more than welcoming the wandering stranger. Sometimes love is staying. Sometimes love is staying in a relationship. Sometimes love is staying in a congregation.
Sometimes love is staying because you entered into a covenant. Sometimes love is staying at the table when the discussion is making you very uncomfortable. Sometimes love reaches out to the one who is thinking about breaking the covenant and inviting them to try again to find a way forward. So sometimes we go and sometimes we welcome and sometimes we stay and sometimes we welcome them back.
And how do you know when for each? For everything there is a season. How do you know? Love reaches out and love shows us how. The opposite of love is indifference. Love is engaged caring. Love is never saying I can't worry about that person, their issues are too great for me. Love is never saying not my problem. Love is not trying to fix everything, but it is reaching out to care.
Love reaches out. As this hymn coming says when our spirits like a chalice fill with gladness, when our voices full and clear sing out the truth, when our longings free from envy seek the humble, love is reaching out here by our side. Walking our way. Love is reaching out here by our side walking our way.
SPEAKER 3: Much of the Spanish language music we've shared this week is found in our purple hymnal, [SPANISH], which few of our congregations own. But this piece is found in the teal singing the journey hymnal. And its powerful message of outreach expressed both in Spanish and in English makes it an excellent choice for introducing Spanish language singing into your home congregation.
[SPANISH] Rise in body or spirit and join us in singing Cuando el Pobre.
Hymn: "Cuando el Pobre"
Rev. Tom Schade
REV. TOM SCHADE: And may the spirit of love reach out to you today. And may it fill the chalice of our spirits with gladness. And may your love overflow your heart and touch all those around you. And may you see the infinite spirit of love by your side, moving with you throughout this day. Amen and blessed be. May it be so. And may your love also reach out to our fabulous moderator.
And to all the other participants in this plenary session this morning, let us open our hearts to their leadership as we do this work together. Amen and blessed be.