General Assembly 2019 Event #202
Unedited live captions of Worship, Opening, Framing (TXT) were created during the event, and contain some errors. Captioning is not available for some copyrighted material.
We are living in defining times, precarious times. More is being called from us as Unitarian Universalists. If together we can lean into vulnerability, we can discern and listen to how we are being called and chart a path to wholeness, life and freedom.
- Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
- Rev. Lauren Smith
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.
Susan Frederick-Gray: Precious ones—Welcome! We are gathered again in body and in spirit as the 2019 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly! Last night, we gathered, welcoming one another in a ritual of coming home—gathering as this temporary, once a year, regular and yet impermanent body of Unitarian Universalists. Today—throughout the day, I invite us all to dive deeper, to open ourselves up to vulnerability—to share more deeply the honest stories of struggle and joy that live in our hearts and experience as Unitarian Universalists and that live in our gathered communities around the world. For the power of we—the strength of we—emerges from the the truth telling, the learning, the leaning in and the growing of We.
As we gather in worship this morning, we light a chalice, the symbol of our Unitarian Universalist faith and tradition. I invite the Rev. Lauren Smith, the UUA’s director of Stewardship and Development who is leading service with me to join me in lighting the chalice.
This morning we light our chalice with the words of the 14th century Persian mystic poet, Hafiz, whose lyric poetry speaks of faith, love and the divine, as well as naming hypocrisy. Hafiz is one of the most well-loved Persian writers and continues to be perhaps the most popular poet in Iran today. Many say that his writing has influenced post-14th century Persian writing more than any other author. In the 18th century, when his work was translated into English, it profoundly influence some of the most important Western writers, including Unitarians Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Hafiz writes:
Out of a great need
We are all holding hands
Not loving is a letting go.
The terrain around here
Opening Hymn: "Morning Has Come"
Reflection: "A Love to Heal the World"
Rev. Lauren Smith
Song: “Meditation is True Things” by J.J. Heller
Homily: "A Love to Change the World"
Susan Frederick-Gray: There is an old Jewish folktale from 1700’s told by Jacob ben Wolf Kranz, Maggid of Dubno, that begins with a beautiful, absolutely stunning diamond.
Like many old stories—I’ve heard it told a number of ways. The one I know best begins with this diamond, which is the prized possession of a town. The townspeople are so proud of their diamond, they keep in on display in the center of town so that everyone can enjoy it.
But one day, they wake up to find it has a long deep crack running along its length. The people are shocked and heartbroken. They ask every jeweler they know, but each one says it cannot be fixed. To even try would be to risk breaking the diamond into several pieces.
But then one day, a stranger—a stonecutter—comes to their town and says they can fix the diamond. They say they’ll have to take it back to their shop and it will take at least two weeks to fix it but they promise to return with it better than ever.
The townspeople are wary—after all this person is a stranger, but their hope outweighs their fear. They give the diamond to the stonecutter.
On exactly the fourteenth day, the stonecutter returns and opens a bag and hands the diamond to one of the town’s elders. The elder looks at the diamond and is amazed. The stonecutter had not polished the crack away. Rather, they had carved a beautiful rose into the face of the diamond, using the crack as part of the rose’s stem. The elder held the diamond up to the townspeople and said to the stonecutter—“you have taken something that was cracked and broken and made it even more beautiful than it was before.”
As the poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen writes “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
The metaphor of light is important to us as Unitarian Universalists. The act of lighting the chalice a ritual. The flame a symbol of truth and justice, the divine spark, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, a beacon to guide our way.
BUT the flaming chalice—the symbol of our tradition- is actually a combination of two symbols—the flame and the cup. The cup is a symbol of community, of care and sustenance, the nourishment we offer each other in religious community.
It is the cup that holds the light, the cup where the flame is tended. The cup is what we create when we reach out our hands, our spirits, our hearts to one other—when we are out here, holding hands, climbing, moving, together.
The cup is also what can break.
So to unlock the life-affirming, life-saving, life sustaining power of this faith—the power of We—then we need to remember that the cup needs our attention too.
For it is easy to hold up a light and declare that everyone is welcome. It is harder to build a place where everyone is actually at home.
Rev. Lauren asks us to consider “What are you here for? In what do you place your trust? “
I am here for life—and I am here for love. And I put my trust in the possibility that we have to heal one another—to grow courage out of love and out of community.
And I am here—literally here—because when I was five years old, the ministry, the congregation and two very special religious education teachers at the UU church where I grew up saved my life. In a time when my family was falling part—when my home did not feel safe, this Sunday school class gave me so much love and joy. In that classroom, singing and dancing with those teachers and other kids—I felt safe, I felt free, I felt loved.
That class was only for an hour, once a week, for a few months in my life, yet it showed me that something else was possible in a family, something else was possible for me. And that glimpse of possibility, that gift of joy and love—provided healing and hope that made a powerful difference in my life. The seeds of my own journey into Unitarian Universalist ministry were planted in that classroom.
But there is also a limitation in this story. An unspoken part of my story is the ease with which I fit into that community. How many other stories do you know, have you heard, and for UUs of color, trans and non-binary UUs, UUs of varying ability and disability, young UUs, poor UUs—how many moments have you yourself lived—where the experience of community has been harmful or exclusionary. How many come—drawn by the light of our Unitarian Universalist principles and theology, but do not find a cup made to hold them—made to hold all of us.
It is easy to hold up a light and declare that everyone is welcome. It is harder to build a place where everyone is actually at home.
Our cup needs work. But the good news is, this is not the end of the story.
When that stonecutter looked at the diamond, they didn’t just see the flaw. They saw in the brokenness, the potential of the rose.
The brokenness and struggle for justice, equity and inclusion in our congregations mirrors the broader brokenness of our culture and society—a culture of domination, racism, patriarchy, white supremacy and colonialism.
These are generational forces of culture and harm that live in all of us. They live in every single one of us although the impact and losses these systems enact are not the same for all of us.
I can imagine that if we heard more of the story of the townspeople and the diamond, that we might learn that some people had seen small cracks in the diamond all along—but maybe no one listened, so caught up in the idea of the diamond’s perfection.
Brokenness is not the end of the story—it’s in some ways the beginning.
There was a time when Unitarianism led some to think that perfectibility—of the character, of our virtues, of society, was the path to salvation. But it was our Universalist forebears who saw the brokenness in the world and loved it all the same. Universalism that saw how love could bring forth a rose from the cracks. And that is the kind of love—that is the kind of religion—that has the power to bring more wholeness, life and freedom for us all.
This path—this practice of love—involves risk. Just like the townspeople took a risk in trusting the stranger with the diamond. We have to risk to create that rose.
What we are signing up to do together is no easy task. To build a community that can be a container, a cup, to nurture a love that burns so brightly and boldly it acts as a force for justice within our lives, our congregations and our movement as a whole.
This would be a resilient community, a community of deep commitment and practice where we don’t let go of one another because we know that “letting go is not loving—and it is far too dangerous for that here.” A community where love and solidarity help us develop a greater capacity for community, for risk, for courage, for truth telling, for vulnerability and joy.
This is the kind of love that can change the world. This is the kind of love that can tend a flame strong enough to light up a movement for justice and peace.
It’s the love of Sunday school teachers offering refuge to children who need those life saving moments of unconditional love and joy.
It’s the love that opens our doors as sanctuary to families whose lives are thrown into tumult by our immigration policy.
It’s a love that repairs and replaces a Black Lives Matter sign after a vandal rips it down.
It is a love that has the courage to shut down jails and to put our bodies between the violence of the state and vulnerable communities.
A love that fights bathroom bills because we know they are an assault on trans people and on all of our bodily autonomy.
A love that organizes rides across state lines and networks of reproductive health for women in states where it is under attack
A love that won’t be silent, that will not rest, until everyone is safe, free, and whole.
It is no small thing to be part of a faith tradition where our forebears offered safety on the underground railroad, where our contemporaries offer sanctuary to families under threat, and where each generation before us found their way of passing the faith along.
There is a future for Unitarian Universalism where our communities reflect a spirit of compassion and solidarity, where we create space not just to bring our shared interests or our intellects, but our boldness and our brokenness, our dreams and our despair, our vibrancy and our vulnerability. Communities that welcome our children and offer ministry to the needs of families today, communities that gather and worship in ways that name fearlessly the conditions of our lives and the possibility that lives in the joy, beauty and love that is within us all. A future where we build a marginless center and where our communities all have the skills, the language, the spirit, the resources and respect to create a places where not only is everyone welcome but everyone is at home. This is the community I want to be a part of. This is the community that I need—for my life, for my strength, for my soul.
Because it is this kind of love—one that makes room for grief and inspires courage—that lives in the fullness of our tradition and holds a power to lead to the fullness of our compassion and humanity. May we be communities that nurture for and in all of us—every single one of us—a love that will not be silent, that will not rest, until everyone is safe, free and whole.
My fellow Unitarian Universalists, may it be so.
Improvisational Music Offering
Susan Frederick-Gray: As we close this service, but continue in a community of sharing, making room for vulnerability and learning, let us remember to give praise for this gift of life, to wonder and marvel at its beauty, to kindle more joy, more love and more song into our hearts and into our days.
May we be led out in peace and may we give back love.