Friday Morning Worship: Brave and Strong, General Assembly 2017
General Assembly 2017 Event 302
Captions were created during the live event, and contain some errors. Captioning is not available for some copyrighted material.
A time of ritual, blessing, and embodied prayer as we prepare for our day of witness and learning in a sacred community. Let us find humility and care in community that is strong, resilient and capable of transformation.
Order of Service
Liturgist: the Rev. Patrice Curtis
With Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson and Rev. Jake Morrill and Marcy Baruch with the General Assembly Band
Featured Songs: "What Wondrous Love," "The Strength of Love," "Love Will Guide Us"
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.
Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, The Rev. Jake Morrill and Body Prayer Team (Bo Glover, Rev. Sara Goodman, Vanessa Birchell and Dylan Doyle Debelis)
Instrumental, #18: "What Wondrous Love"
Opening Words/Chalice Lighting
Jake: Holy One, Precious God:
With us on the mountaintops,
And in the valleys, as well,
Prepare our hearts
For the feast of loving-kindness
We are about to receive;
Let the words and music
In which we are about to partake
Nourish us in all the ways we have needed;
Let us be filled, once again,
And made ready to be instruments
Of peace, forged by justice,
In the work, play, and rest
That's before us today.
With all that we are,
Let us worship as one.
Our musical artist this morning is Marcy Baruch. Full of radiant warmth, her music is born of one soul mission: to remind us of the wondrous magnificence of who we truly are. Marcy has been singing, leading chant, and teaching at spiritual centers across the country for 15 years.
Marcy sings "Strength of Love" with piano and background vocalists
Kimberly: Since I was invited to deliver this homily, a few months ago, I have been reflecting on the theme: Resist and Rejoice.
We have been hearing a lot about resistance since the election this November.
Resist Trump. Resist fascism. Resist Authoritarianism. Resist corporate greed.
Resist the destruction of this planet.
Resist deportation. Resist the criminalization of black and brown bodies. Resist hate. Resist fear.
How many of you have found yourself—in these past few months—participating in some acts of resistance, some mode of resistance?
That large (or small) scale political resistance is not the only kind of resistance. If you’re like me, you can see resistance in your daily life as well. I resist things all the time. I resisted handing this homily in to the GA folks in April, for instance. (That made things very difficult for the people working with me)
We resist things that inconvenience us. We resist things that make us uncomfortable. We resist things that are unfamiliar. We resist change.
We have been experiencing some resistance here, in our faith. Perhaps you have been feeling it in your church, or your congregation, or your fellowship as well. Resistance to how we talk about the holy. Resistance to how we worship. And the big one: resistance to the use of the term white supremacy. Resistance to the sense, for some, that they are losing their place in their church—once familiar and safe, now foreign, and challenging. And isn’t that the same story of this country today?
Sometimes, when we are resisting, we are resisting authoritarianism, fascism, and corporate greed. Sometimes, when we are resisting, we are resisting discomfort and inconvenience. And sometimes when we are resisting, we are resisting change and progress and truth.
Not all resistance is the same. Resist Authoritarianism. Resist a conversation about whiteness.
Not all resistance is the same. How do we tell the difference?
What I use as my guide—my litmus test—and what I really want to talk with you about this morning: is love.
I don’t mean a thin romantic love, juiced up on hormones (that’s temporary). I don’t mean affect or feeling—what the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called ‘emotional bosh.’ I mean revolutionary love. Some of you were at a conference with me, a few weeks ago, about revolutionary love. Love, King offers us, paired with Power. Love, that Audre Lorde tells us, is the servant of justice. Love as a practice. Love as a commitment. Revolutionary Love.
To put it another way: Love is the act of connection. Love is a commitment to act in the ways that honor and nurture our interdependence—our interconnectedness—what King called that network of mutuality. Love is the daily practice of acting in ways that create more space and more opportunities—not for ourselves, but others.
Love is a rejection of the fear that pervades our society. Love is a rejection of the lie that difference is a threat. Love is a rejection of a culture of domination. Love is a rejection of the false comfort of safety.
bell hooks invites us: “When we choose to love, we choose to move against fear—against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect—to find ourselves in the other.” “The practice of love,” she promises, “offers no place of safety. We risk loss, hurt, pain. We risk being acted upon by forces outside our control.”
So, how do we know what resistance is worth engaging in? How do we know what resistance is not a response to discomfort or to change. How do you know what resistance closes you off? And what resistance opens you up?
Resistance that is grounded in and blossoming out of love—that is a resistance worth my time and my energy. Resistance that emboldens us to face fear. Resistance that courts bravery over safety.
Resistance, by itself, can steer us wrong; can keep us narrow and closed off. But Love is expansive. Resistance paired with love—Resistance born from love. Resistance that pushes open doors, knocks down walls. Builds up bridges. Resistance—born from love—changes the world.”
I was, I admit, a little surprised to encounter “Rejoice” “exclamation point” as the second part of our theme. In my experience, Unitarian Universalists don’t usually give over to rejoicing. We have a few songs that talk about “joy.” We teach our babies: Enter, Rejoice, and Come In, sung to a peppy, upbeat melody.
But joy, like love, is one of those things that we tend to get wrong. Maybe not completely wrong—we get a little bit of the meaning of it—but joy, like love, is one of those things that we don’t always get right—not completely and not wholly. Like Love, Joy is not a feeling or an affect. Joy, too, is a choice. It is a commitment. Joy is a recognition and an acknowledgement of love—even in the face of suffering and despair.
The theologian Barbara Holmes tells us that
is not silent,
it moans, hums, bends
to the rhythm of a dancing universe.
It is a fractal of transcendent hope,
a hologram of God’s heart,
a black hole of knowing.
For our free African ancestors,
joy unspeakable is drum talk
that invites the spirits to dance with us,
and tell tall tales by the fire.
For the desert Mothers and Fathers,
joy unspeakable is respite
from the maddening crowds,
and freedom from
“church” as usual
And so, when we Rejoice!, we give expression to our joy, even the joy that is unspeakable, especially the joy that is unspeakable—the joy twirling around, writhing, moaning, humming, dancing, drumming with sadness, with anger, with grief.
Rejoicing opens up a space for healing and for strength. Rejoicing makes bearable the hurt, loss, and pain of love.
Rejoicing is what gets us through suffering to the other side. To rejoice is to give in to and to be lifted by a faith in something beyond ourselves: a faith in God; a faith in the past or the future; a faith in love. To rejoice is to enter into a collective celebration—a collective effervescence that magnifies itself, that amplifies itself, that creates something entirely new.
When we rejoice, we are birthing the strength of love that is enough to hold the world.
When we rejoice, we are breathing the strength of love that lifts us up and carries us on.
When we rejoice, we are blessing the strength of love: bringing it forth and sending it on its way.
Instrumental, with “Ohhhh’s" sung by Marcy and vocalists
Jake: Let us pray.
Spirit of Love, Source of All,
Known to the ages in laughter and tears,
We acknowledge this morning
We have sometimes fallen short
Of our highest calling--to love with abandon.
In our anxiety, in our fear,
We have sometimes chosen the smooth pathways of expediency
Over the rugged road that would lead us all to justice.
In these times, in this moment,
Help us find the courage we need
To simply be whole-hearted practitioners
Of the love that could heal the world.
Help us to be radical not only in word, but in our daily deeds,
Testifying to the trust we have
In that non-violent, cooperative, inter-weaving, upholding, re-making, gentle, powerful breath of life
At the heart of all things.
And let our lives, in the end,
Leave a resonating echo of the song
Whose verses are justice and whose chorus is love.
All this we pray, in thy holy name,
Instrumental Outro, with “Ohhhh’s" sung by Marcy and vocalists. Marcy sings: “We are blessing the strength, we are blessing the strength, you and I, everyone of us now. We are blessing the strength, we are blessing the strength, of love”
Kimberly: We leave you with words attributed to the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz
of a great need
we are all holding hands and climbing.
Not loving is a letting go. Listen,
the terrain around here
We are called to a revolutionary love that demands that we not let go. A love that demands that we draw our circle wider, and wider, and wider still. A love that asks nothing in return.
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,
"You owe me."
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”
A love like this—a love like ours—A Revolutionary Love can light up the whole sky. It can heal the world. May your love light up the whole world. May your love heal the world.”
“Love Will Guide Us” #131 in Singing the Living Tradition