General Assembly 2015 Event 504
The stories we tell matter. They have the power to shape who we are and who we are becoming. We Unitarian Universalists (UUs) are blessed to draw from many sources. How do we choose stories that inspire us to live into the promise of our faith and up to the challenges of our time? Join Rev. Alison Miller (Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, NJ) and Music Director, Bertram Gulhaugen (West Side UU Congregation, Seattle) along with thousands for the largest annual worship featuring a 180-voice GA Choir and new music by UU composers.
- Rev. Allison Miller
- Bertram Gulhaugen
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.
*Opening Hymn: "Morning Has Come," by Shelton
Susan Peck: Our opening hymn this morning was written by Jason Shelton at The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center, just before the UU Musicians Network convened there for their annual conference in 2001. Members of UUMN sang the song for the first time in our Sunday worship, surrounded by the swirling mist of clouds and sunlight of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Please lift your hearts, lift your voices, and join the GA Choir singing “Morning Has Come.”
Rev. Peter Morales: Welcome!
What a pleasure it is to worship with you all this morning.
This service, Sunday morning at our General Assembly, is a thrill for me. We show off the GA choir, this group of singers who with very few rehearsals create the magic you will soon hear. Thank you to director Bertram Gulhaugen and accompanist David Servias, Music Coordinator Susan Peck, the UU Musicians Network quartet and the GA band led by Mark David Buckles.
I asked the Rev. Alison Miller to lead our worship this morning. Alison has been living the theme of this General Assembly, Building a New Way, her entire life and you will learn more of her remarkable story this morning. She is the minister at the Morristown Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in New Jersey. Her ministry is strong and wide reaching with involvement in our Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship, the UU Legislative Ministry of New Jersey, the Morris Area Interfaith Clergy Council, and the United Way of Northern New Jersey. A recurring theme in her ministry is the power of story to shape our lives. Her sermon this morning explores the link between story and hope.
There is another piece that is unique to Sunday morning worship at GA. This is our largest public worship. Over 5000 Unitarian Universalists are here today! And it gets better. Our doors are open to all of Portland this morning and I hope those who have joined us find a warm welcome and are inspired.
I am so glad you are here and let us now together honor the divine moments that have brought us into this space made sacred by our being together.
[Peter rings singing bell]
Miller and Snedden Family
David Snedden: We kindle the flaming chalice,
Symbol born of a story
Of daring and hope,
Of sacrifice and service,
That made love visible
And gave it flesh.
Marilyn Snedden: We kindle the fire of our faith,
Ritual that calls out across time and space
To give new life to the promise:
William Miller: To put an end to injustice,
To heal what is broken and,
To create love in its every form.
[David and Asher Miller-Snedden light the chalice]
Choral Music: "Pass on the Light," by Elicker/Hardin
Bertram Gulhaugen, GA choir director
Rev. Clark Olsen: Gathered we are, to celebrate, remember, and commit to our future. Our community extends in all directions - in time, physical distance—to those who know us, those we have known and to myriad pioneers who doubted the common understandings of their time, as we assert our doubts in our time.
Our spiritual comrades include many stories, individual and cultural, which tell of the human adventure, of stars and humans, dust and knowledge emergent. Knowledge glorious to behold, as we can, in our time, put orbiting telescope images of the universe on our computer desktops.
Our stories tell also of ignorance, greed; of betrayal and hate. Of injustices and cowardice. These also tell our story. We are of the human community.
May we this morning commit ourselves, in body and spirit, to further fulfillment of the dreams of our forebears, to the dreams of our children, to the dreams of humankind.
Together, in this place, in this hour together, we hear once again of stories that illuminate our lives, connect our hearts, teach us and touch us to the core of our being. We are here to worship, re-membering us to each other, to Unitarians and Universalists from centuries ago, to skeptics and seekers from all peoples, from all ages of humankind. We worship together.
Choral Music: "Draw the Circle Wide," by Light/Miller
Wisdom from Sacred Stories
Crossing the Red Sea
Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons: Crossing the Red Sea is a Jewish story derived from Midrash.
Moses and the Israelites are struggling to leave Egypt. Following the tenth plague, Pharaoh finally let them go. But, he changes his mind and sends his army to bring them back.
The Egyptian army comes thundering towards them and eventually catches up just as the Israelites arrive at the expanse of the Red Sea. Moses looks ahead. If they attempt to cross they may drown. He looks behind. If they try to turn back, the army may capture or kill them.
The Israelites cry out to Moses, “Why have you brought us out here to die!”
Moses says to the people, “Don’t worry! God will save us!”
God says to Moses, “Why are you talking about me?! Tell the people to move! Lift your staff, and part the waters.”
Moses, the leader of this people, is temporarily frozen before the choice—perhaps, he is thinking—yes, but which way should I tell them to move?!
He does listen to God and raises his staff to part the Sea, but nothing happens.
So, Moses prays to God again for help. God rebukes Moses, “This is not the time for prayer or passively waiting on me.”
Meanwhile, the tribal leaders are arguing with each other about who should enter the sea first. No one wants to be that person.
Nachshon emerges from the crowd. He looks around. Nachshon sees the people crying, the tribal leaders hesitating, Moses and God arguing, and decides to take the first step.
He moves swiftly towards the turbulent waters and enters the sea. First, his ankles are covered, and then his knees. Everyone stops arguing and turns to watch. He wades in up to his hip, and then his shoulders, and finally the water is up to his neck. He steps forward once more and the water now covers his mouth and nostrils. He can’t breathe.
Just at that moment, Moses lifts his staff, and this time and not a second before, the waters begin to part. The Israelites follow Nachshon’s courageous example, run into the parting waters, and join Nachshon on the other side of the sea.
Parable of the Mustard Seed
Laura Beth Brown: Our next story is a Buddhist Story, the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
Kisa Gotami had one child, who she adored. When he reached the age where he could run and talk, he suddenly died.
Kisa was overcome by grief. She convinced herself he was ill and not dead.
She wrapped him in a blanket and carried him from door to door asking neighbors if they knew of any medicine to make him well.
One kind man saw her suffering and responded, “I do not have medicine, but I know of one who does. Go and see the Buddha.”
She visited the Buddha and said, "My child is ill. I was told you would have medicine."
"Yes, I know of some," said the Buddha.
Since it was customary for patients to provide the herbs, she asked, “What herbs do you need?”
"Bring me mustard seeds," he began. Kisa was so relieved he asked for something easy to find she almost ran out without all the instructions. He continued, "You must get it from a home where no one has died.”
Kisa knocked on the first house. A woman opened the door and Kisa asked, “Do you have any mustard seeds?” The woman said, “Yes,” and went inside to find the spice.
Kisa was about to accept the seeds when she remembered, “Oh, one thing, has anyone died in this house?” The woman responded, “Yes, I lost my mother last year.” Kisa was disappointed, but she thanked the woman and went on to the next house.
A man was sitting out front. She again asked for mustard seed. This time, she remembered to ask, “Has anyone died in this house?” The man looked at Kisa with a sadness in his eyes that was a reflection of her own, “My beloved wife of forty years passed away four years ago.”
She went to other houses, but the answer was always the same. Every house had lost loved ones. In one home a wise woman shared, “The living are few, but the dead are many.”
Kisa finally understood death was a natural part of life. As much as it pained her, she accepted her son was gone. She laid him down and buried him.
Then, Kisa went back to the Buddha and devoted herself to his teachings.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Rev. Marisol Caballero: I will share the Christian story of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
A lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him, “you have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
He said “the one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The recipient of this morning's offering is the Re-entry Transition Center: helping to successfully reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals into the community.
Rev. Greg Ward: We all have a story. This is one of two lives—two people—Alverda McCoy and Felton Howard—whose stories had difficult beginnings.
Felton Howard: My father was a well known minister in Portland. But I decided to go a different way. By 16, my real commitment was to drugs and running the streets.
Alverda McCoy: I got in trouble at a young age. I did time in Juvenile facilities. At 14 years old, I hung out with an older crowd. At 18 I was sent to prison. Over the next two decades, I did time in three different prisons in three separate states.
Felton: I went to work every day and had four kids, but lived on the fringe. I could have been a better father. I could have been a better son. I knew it. They knew it.
Greg: If we are lucky, if we are aware and open to possibilities, if we look and listen, mentors step up.
Felton: My epiphany came just before I went to prison. My father went to my sentencing. In one of the last conversations we ever had, he said, "I know you’re not proud of how you’ve lived this life. But you’ve come through something big. And you have something big to offer."
Alverda: Out of jail and in recovery, I know it would not have been possible for me to overcome my barriers without my faith in God. People stepped up for me. Talked to me. Trained me. Gave me a chance. They showed me my life was not lost. And I found my passion for helping people.
Greg: Five years ago when The Reentry Transition Center was established by Mercy Corps Northwest, Felton and Alverda were hired to help others reclaim their lives. With a network of partner agencies, they help over a 1000 people a year to change their lives, to change their story.
Alverda: Mercy Corps’ story is about caring. It’s about mentoring. Teaching life skills.
Felton: The RTC is a model for reconciliation and extending a sense of acceptance and community. It’s a place where we help each other.
Alverda: I tell people “I been where you have been… I walked in your shoes… I found my way out… you can too.”
Greg: Get a pen in your hand. It’s time to write a new story. 'Building a New Way' is not just about W-R-I-T-I-N-G a story. It's about R-I-G-H-T-i-n-g a story.
Felton: Your contributions become a new character in a story that can bend this story toward justice. This year, we have a 75% employment rate for participants using our employment supports. What about next year?
Alverda: This year, we have reduced the number of our participants going back to prison by 30%. What about next year?
Greg: How much should your check be? Let me ask you this: how much do you really want a new story? How have mentors changed your story from bad to good? Or from good to great? Mentors make an unimaginable difference for all of us in critical moments. Today, it’s time to imagine that difference. And understand the severe consequences some face when those who could be difference makers aren’t part of R-I-G-H-T-I-N-G a well-imagined ending.
Felton: RTC gives hope [SLIDE 1] to individuals and families every year in this city.
Greg: The dollar amount? Take the number you think is needed—and multiply by the number of times someone stepped up and changed your life. That’s the difference Alverda & Felton are making. That’s the hope they inspire and represent for RTC participants. Please give generously to support Portland, and the Re-entry Transition Center.
Alverda: Thank you for your gifts that make a difference to so many.
Offertory Music: "We Will Walk Together," by Elicker/Hardin
Hymn: "When Our Heart Is In a Holy Place," by Poley
Leon Burke: Many of our most singable UU hymns and songs come from a couple hundred miles north and west of here, from the lovely singer-songwriter Joyce Poley, who lives in Surrey, British Columbia. Will you please rise in body or spirit to sing #1008 in Singing the Journey “When Our Heart Is In a Holy Place.”
*Meditation and Prayer
Pastor Danny Givens, Jr.: When a person finds a coin on the ground, one of the first things they might do is flip it over to look at the year. A memory may come to mind. Dates help us to mark milestones of great joy or sorrow, of great change or challenge.
Take the penny you were given on the way into worship, and look at the year etched on it. If the year is before you were born, or if you don’t have a coin with you, just choose any year you wish. What was going on at that time? What stories were unfolding in your life? How have you changed since that year, whether it is recent or long ago? Let us enter into a time of silence… of memory… of meditation.
Lena K. Gardner: With the thoughts and feelings that the meditation have brought into your spirit and mind, we invite you into a prayerful space and time with us now.
Danny Givens: Whether you call out to God, the spirit of life, or just come into a space of quiet where they unknown mysteries of life abound, pray with us now.
Lena K. Gardner: As hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees flee with their lives, as drug wars in Mexico disappear thousands and leave thousands of women raped and murdered, as the United States imprisons millions, too many of them Black and brown bodies, we pray for justice. We know there are too many wars to name and too many people killed by the police, too much brokenness in the world, yet we pray now for healing, wholeness, and justice. We hold sacred each and every human life, and life itself in the form of our earthly home.
Danny Givens: We pray that the light that burns in every life, the divine love that resides in every heart hears our call for justice and rises up to heal the broken parts that we can, that are within in our reach. Within our little corner of life, within our own hearts that have been broken.
Lena K. Gardner: We pray our traditions, practices and expressions of faith will invite the world to live with undying love and fervor as we work to believe in who we are called to be. We pray the call will resound across the many intersections of divinity, humanity, and indifference. And as we answer let it be with voices united, let it be with heart’s sinewed by purpose, let it be with emblazoned spirits that refused to be repressed, let it be with minds forged by an understanding of love that not only embraces indifference but is willing to fight for the right to be different.
Danny Givens: We pray those who strive to manage the brunt of hearts laden with grief, sorrow, and loss. We call upon the light of hope to restore the vision of those who seem to be losing sight while fighting to lead lives of meaningfulness. We pray for the fortitude to not only rise above the travesties we’ve faced over the years but the courage to name the issues of our hearts in hopes of embodying real and lasting change.
[Danny rings singing bell]
Video: "On Holy Ground," by Webb/Denver Film and Digital
Lena K. Gardner: From birth to death, our lives are a remarkable patchwork of stories—stories of accomplishments and challenges, stories of heartbreak or shout-from-the-rooftop joy. This video highlights a few of these moments. And at their core, our stories are not so different. You'll see others in these photos and you may also see a bit of yourself. It's our common humanity on holy ground.
Sermon: “Re-Storying Hope”
Rev. Alison B. Miller: On a flight from Boston to New York, I wound up in conversation with the teenager seated next to me. She was bubbly and filled with a spark. She shared the story of how she just spent the week with some fellow youth in Boston at a church conference focused on social justice.
My ears perked up. Boston… social justice… I wondered to myself, is she a Unitarian Universalist?
Other religions care about making a difference in the world, and not wanting to be narrow minded about it, I said, “It sounds like you’ve just had a powerful experience. Tell me, what church are you a part of?”
She responded, “Oh, the normal kind.”
“What’s the normal kind?” I asked her.
She said a bit apprehensively, “Well, you could say it’s one of the Protestant traditions.”
Now, I knew she was UU, and I just wanted her to be able to say it to a stranger out loud.
“Oh, which one?” I asked.
“You’ve never heard of it,” she said.
I finally said, “You’re a Unitarian Universalist, right?
Her eyes widened and she exclaimed, “How did you know?!”
“So am I.”
This experience and others like it have me wondering: How do we tell our story?
Is the story, “No one will understand our religion. I can’t talk about it with a stranger, especially on a plane!”
Is the story, “We are small. No one has heard of us. This person wouldn’t be interested.”
What if the story changed into, “This is a chance to share how my faith has made a difference in my life.”
What if it is, “People are hungry to know a religion like ours exists—a religion that honors many paths to wisdom and sees the divine imprint of love on every human being.”
Yes, how do we tell our stories? How are we equipping one another to share the stories of our lives and our faith? For that matter, what are the stories we choose to tell? Who and what do we include, and who and what do we leave out? Ultimately, what meaning do we draw from the way we tell our stories, and can that meaning change? Can the story change?
Many treasured stories, ancient and modern, help us grow into and grab hold of a new story. They engage our imagination and plant possibilities of healing and transformation where hope has grown dim and all seems lost. The Jewish midrash on crossing the Red Sea; the Buddhist parable of the Mustard Seed; and the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan are prime examples.
When most of us think about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, we remember two things. Moses lifts his staff, and God parts the waters. Midrash, a rabbinic tradition of filling gaps in the torah, imagines there is more to the story. In this retelling, Moses raises his staff, but… nothing happens. Just when it seems the Israelites have journeyed all this way only to perish, Nachshon bravely puts one foot in front of the other and wades into the water until he is in, literally, over his head. His courageous act inspires others to join him. In another midrash, it is only when every man, woman, and child joins Nachshon that the waters part and the path to freedom unfolds. The story shifts from one of divine intervention to one requiring ordinary human beings, like us, to step out into prophetic possibilities.
Kisa Gotami cannot imagine life going on, or having any meaning, after the devastating loss of her child. The Buddha sends her on a journey to hear tales of sorrow and survival that reflect her pain and remind her she is not alone. Kisa realizes that to love what is mortal comes with the risk of loss. She is able to let go of her son, to honor the immense love that bound them together, and to begin down a path of healing.
The Good Samaritan is not merely about being a good neighbor; it is about tearing down borders human beings construct between themselves and the ‘other.’ Jesus is telling a story to a fellow Israelite. The enmity between Israelites and Samaritans was legendary. It is shocking to hear it is a Samaritan who cares for the fallen man, brings him to an inn, and offers to pay whatever the cost. The story imagines a future where the lines we have drawn between ‘ourselves’ and ‘others’ are erased and where we act out the religious truth: We are one human family.
These wisdom tales remind us: The stories we tell matter. They have the power to shape who we are and who we are becoming. As Unitarians, we lift up stories that call us to live into the spark of divinity, or the depths of humanity, that resides in each of us. As Universalists, we lift up stories that call us to act out our belief that all life is interconnected and our fates are intertwined. As religious liberals, we choose guiding stories from myriad sources—sacred texts, literature, science, nature, the prophetic deeds of ancestors, and out of the pages of our lives.
The following is a story of finding hope in the face of uncertainty from a UU family I know well. Illness and grief struck three times in less than two years. First, a woman lost her husband. Then, she lost her father. Then, her sixteen-year-old daughter noticed a mass growing in her arm.
After many scans and tests, the woman sat with her daughter waiting to hear what next. The oncologist said, “Your daughter has a rare form of cancer for which there is no successful protocol. I give her a 3% chance of survival. She would have to go through excruciating and debilitating treatments. If it were me, I would take her home and love her for the little time she has left, and not bother with such torture.”
His words were filled with confidence. The mother was stunned. Like Kisa, she was still clinging to loss. Her story seemed to be everyone she loved would die (and soon). Like Moses and Nachshon, she faced an ocean of trouble, one that would likely lead to the death of her daughter. Should she step forward into the turbulent waters? Or, should she accept what the oncologist interpreted as a clear end to the story?
I am so grateful my mother didn’t choose to follow that doctor’s script.
My mother and I visited another doctor, who looked at all the same tests and shared the same dire numbers, but who told of a different possibility.
She said, “I need to be honest with you. There is no successful treatment for this cancer. However, let’s go on an odyssey together to figure something out. Any chance is worth it.”
We did go on an odyssey and it included a degree of torture, but here I am today—alive, a minister and a mother—against all odds. You would have no idea this happened, but for the scars and diminished capacity of this arm.
My story isn’t complete without sharing how my religious community buoyed me up on those turbulent waters and allowed me precious moments to catch my breath. In fact, that community ensured I would experience a degree of healing even had I not survived. I was held by our religion without easy answers, and this reflected real life. I remember spending hours talking to my youth advisor and peers, as they helped me live into the question marks that punctuated my days. Youth group moved to the pediatric oncology ward on some Sundays testifying to their willingness to go to hard places to share the healing blessing of community.
150 people from the congregation gave blood in my name! Quite literally, I am here in part because they gave a piece of themselves so I could live. These experiences as well as others have given me a deep perspective that while life is not a given, it is a gift.
Each of us arrives at this moment in part because of the love and compassion or the courage and sacrifice of others, and each of us can offer the same in return. Moses and Nachshon need each other, and they both need the wider community, to reach for freedom. Kisa needs neighbors to open the door of their hearts and bear witness to life after loss. The Israelite beaten in the road needs the Samaritan’s care, but the Samaritan needs the Israelite to accept his help, and together they create a story based on unity rather than division.
Sacred stories speak of a creative healing power of love that is able to break through suffering and brokenness in our lives and in the world beyond. Do we tell stories and act in ways that make the bonds of love visible? Who are we in these stories?
The man wounded by the side of the road lives in my town. He is a Day Laborer who waited by the train station with many others hoping to find work. A landscaper picked him up and took him to a jobsite where he was injured. The landscaper offered a ride to the hospital, but instead abandoned him by the road two towns over, bleeding, without pay. When the man shared his story, I blamed the landscaper who I saw as the ‘robber’ and a clear villain.
This incident happened in the context of many inhumane actions towards undocumented immigrants in our community. Our mayor had publicly vowed, “to sweep the streets clean of immigrants.” He applied to have our police officers deputized as Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the purpose of expediting deportations from our county jail.
The Mayor presented this plan to the Town Council members who were indifferent. Like the travelers who walked past the beaten man in the road, they averted their eyes as they heard story after story from immigrants protesting at the mike. They shared testimony of false arrests, raids to their homes, separation of families, and the propensity of officers to draw guns against unarmed people as in the case of one six-year-old child. Now, I laid blame with our elected officials who seemed callous and cowardly in the face of injustice.
However, as I looked around at who remained seated, I realized it was also the fault of those of us with white privilege who didn’t yet have the compassion and vision of the Samaritan to cross boundaries and challenge the status quo.
While I wasn’t sure whether my words would suffice, I felt called to speak out. Moses stuttered, and Nachshon didn’t even speak, but he did have the courage to act. I joined the immigrants at the mike and began, “Mayor, as a person of faith, I believe this plan will further divide rather than unite our community. We have more work to do of listening to all of our residents, cultivating compassion, and choosing a solution to benefit all.” I lifted up our history of racial profiling and countered his narrative that fewer immigrants is good for the economy. I shared of a heartbreaking evening I spent in prayer with a mother and child the night before a mastectomy without her husband present because he was in jail awaiting deportation… on loitering charges.
During the break, the mayor shook me by the arm and shouted at the top of his lungs, “How dare you speak against me in public!” When the meeting resumed, he began a tirade, “How will that woman minister feel, when the next woman in our town is raped?...” and continued with a racist set of points. I guess he did not appreciate my re-storying of his narrative.
Thankfully, many others, clergy and lay people, immigrants and citizens, were ready to cross lines and cross turbulent waters to fight for justice. When the Pro-America Rally was organized at our town hall with hundreds in attendance, we were ready. We showed up in greater numbers and demonstrated through non-violent protest our view of all people as children of God.
After the rally, we coordinated an educational campaign to shatter myths about undocumented immigrants. Then, we formed a Workers Center Taskforce with a vision of connecting diverse immigrants and citizens to work that paid fair wages. I was honored to co-chair this collaborative partnership between faith communities, non-profits, and immigrant rights organizations.
The mayor did his best to thwart our efforts. He said we were wasting our time. He predicted we would never get the wider community to come together. He leveraged bureaucratic roadblocks at every turn.
We did not let any of that stop us. We were like Nachshon moving forward as far as our limbs and spirit would take us. It wasn’t a waste of time. The wider community did come together. “Pathways to Work” successfully opened and has since connected thousands to employment, legal counsel and other opportunities.
By the way, the mayor wasn’t re-elected.
However, the struggle for economic justice, to end racism and to counter oppression is never about removing one person from power. We are far from the end of this story. That would be too comfortable and too complacent a narrative. No, it is about the continuous work of disrupting narratives of privilege that are woven into the fabric of society and institutions that rationalize why some people deserve the benefits they receive while others merit less.
We have written a number of chapters since the opening of Pathways. Some are a painful reminder that the work of justice and healing does not ascend in a straight line from brokenness to wholeness while other chapters are a hopeful reminder of what is possible when we co-create with a love that excludes no one. Two recent examples: Last month our police officers began to wear body cams, and this summer we figured out a way to open access to the town pool to children whose parents work all day, which disproportionately excluded children of color.
What are the stories you and your congregation are living into? The stories you tell are powerful spiritual tools. They impact the way you see the world and how you respond to it. One story may cause you to be fearful and less resilient in the face of uncertainty and challenge. While another story can bring you hope and strength, compassion and creativity.
Unitarian Universalists are always on the lookout for new narratives that invite us into a greater wholeness than we know today. Our faith is the one that asserts revelation is never sealed. Is it time to seek and find a new story?
There was a time I needed a new story. Long after being cured of cancer, when I thought my healing was complete, I was serving as a chaplain. I recall intentionally reaching out to patients with my “good” arm and not my “bad” arm. I wanted to be sure to touch them from a place of strength and wholeness. One day, I met a patient, the only person I have ever met with the same cancer.
When she asked me to pray with her, for the first time it felt right to reach out with my left arm. I opened the fingers as far as I am able, and placed them on her shoulder. I knew in an instant that I had the story wrong. This is my strong arm, the one that knows something about withstanding pain and loss… the one that has experienced healing. It’s not as functional as the other arm, but it most definitely embodies strength. I never thought of it as my “bad” arm again.
You too, have known suffering,
You too, have known healing!
You have been in over your head,
And others have saved you.
You have seen others in pain,
And you have reached out to save them.
These are our stories!
Tell your story with pride, with hope, find meaning in the broken places!
Raise your arms to the sky!
You shall make way for freedom!
We shall make way for justice!
Together, your strength and my weakness,
My strength and your weakness,
Can make a way through turbulent waters.
Let us learn to tell a new story!
And then let us live into it with the precious gift of this day.
Hymn: "I Wish I Knew How," by Taylor/Dallas
Susan Peck: Our final congregational song this morning was written by jazz gospel songwriter Billy Taylor with Dick Dallas, and has been sung by Nina Simone, Ray Charles, John Denver, Mary Travers, Leontyne Price, John Legend, and countless others. Let us keep singing together, today and always, of the freedoms we desire for our community—to speak our truths, to move in peace on our streets, to remove the bars that separate us, to give all that our hearts can give. Please rise in body and spirit to sing #151 in Singing the Living Tradition “I Wish I Knew How it would feel to be free.”
Alison Miller: May a spirit of love and creativity,
Flow in us and among us and through us,
So that we might become authors, one and all,
Of a today, and a tomorrow, and a tomorrow,
Where our faith emboldens us
To embrace changes that give rise to new life,
To take risks that make love visible in our world,
And to celebrate every fragment of wholeness and
holiness that comes our way.
Musical Benediction: "Overflowing," by Tate
Cecelia Hayes, soloist
*The Tibetan singing bowl is used as a means of focus in meditation. The rich tone gathers us together.
Special thanks to Liturgist Dea Brayden; Worship Arts Team Chair Rev. Carolyn Patierno; UU Musicians Network ensemble and Susan Peck; Rev. Dr. Brian Eslinger (Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University) for his help with Sacred Stories; the GA Band: Mark David Buckles, guitar and GA Band Leader; Dustin Hunley, keyboard; Tim Gilson, bass; Timothy Rap, drums; the GA choir and accompanist David Servias.