2013 UN Sunday Readings
The Wonder of Us AllNothing is more sacred than the human body. It is the essence of life. From the glint in our eyes to the formation of our toes, the assembly of molecules that make up each individual human being is as unique as a flame rising from a lighted chalice. None is us is exactly alike - none of the 7.2 billion people on our planet today or the billions that have come before us is exactly alike. The mystery and wonder of that reality is beyond human comprehension. It is what makes life sacred. Because holding this degree of diversity is so challenging, over the centuries, we have created categories in which to place people: gender, skin color, size, nationality, ability, points of view, belief. These categories help us to organize the world, to simplify the complexities that life offers, to make sense of what can overwhelm us. We find comfort in people who look like us, act like us, have customs we understand, believe in issues that are consistent with our own. None of these categories has been as simply defined as gender identity and the expectation of sexual/affectional orientation. Is it a boy or a girl? Male or female. Man or woman. However, we say it, the meaning is clear. You are one or the other. There have only been two choices available to us - no in-betweens, no exceptions. Which one you are assigned at birth defines what is expected of you, the gender roles you are assigned. If you’re a boy, you’re expected to be strong, to fight, to lead. And, if you’re a girl, you are expected to be soft, gentle, and submissive. Boys grow up to marry women. A girl’s job is to find a good husband. In the 21st century of the common era, in what has been called the third wave of feminism, we have begun to recognize, and in some cases, even accept that not all people fit neatly into this binary definition of what it means to be human. Our bodies might not be clearly defined with male or female organs, or in some cases, might be inconsistent with our psychological identity. And who we find attractive, who we come to love, is not limited to the so-called “opposite sex.” For every person to be fully honored in the unique and sacred package that makes them human, we are challenged to let go of the categories that have brought us comfort in the past. Our deepest, most spiritual task is to open our minds and our hearts to the beauty that lives in the differences between us. For some of us, this opens up the world and increases our understanding of the challenges that people face. Through this, we develop empathy for and feel a connection to their mutual humanity that would never have been possible before. For others of us, letting go of the binary categories of gender identity and sexual orientation is discomforting, even scary. We experience the differences as threatening, and in some cases, even immoral. Rather than reach out to develop better understanding, we retreat further into the safety of our own limited lives. As some places in the world have become more accepting, other places are passing new laws to force people back into the categories they have determined to be acceptable. As a result, people who are perceived to be different are bullied, beaten, fired, thrown out of their homes, driven to suicide, jailed, and, in way too many instances, even killed. Which type of person are you? Is your world constantly open to new discoveries, to being transformed by what you learn from others, to the unique and wondrous differences between us? Or is it shut down, walled off, fearful of change? The choice you make matters. How you live your daily life within your own family, with your children, and your grandchildren, your colleagues at work, the people in your congregation matters. Your advocacy for just laws and equal treatment matters. Your witness to what it means to be uniquely, divinely, sacredly human matters. If you’re worried about knowing all the terminology, all the definitions, all the new categories that people of today are claiming for themselves, it’s OK to let that go. Sure, it’s great to feel informed, to be knowledgeable, but all you really have to do is be open to the differences. “Tell me about your life and let me tell you about mine.” And then celebrate the wonder of us all.
Click for more information about UN SundayWeek 6 Our contribution this week is a poem written by Lucas Ryan. Lucas Ryan is a junior at Topeka High School in Topeka, Kansas. He is president of the debate and forensics program at Topeka High. He loves attending youth CONs and the UU-UNO Intergenerational Spring Seminar. This piece was written for the poetry slam at the 2013 Intergenerational Spring Seminar on gloabl LGBTQ human rights.
Our Place Canada. Italy. Sweden. Uganda. China. The United States of America. California. Kansas. New Mexico. Maryland. New York. Staten Island. The Bronx. Brooklyn. Queens. Manhattan. Broadway. Houston. Lexington. 1st Ave. 72nd St. 44th St. The UU-UNO. Place after place. City after City. This place. Our place. Young. Old. Somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter. White. Black. Red. Yellow. Or some new rainbow. It doesn’t matter. Gay. Straight. Bi. Omni. Pan. Asexual. It doesn’t matter. Male. Female. Gender queer. It doesn’t matter. In this place. Our place. One word, only one, matters. Human. Jewish. Catholic. UU. Lutheran. Atheist. Hindu. Human. This place is a beacon. This is a roaring wildfire in the dark. The dark of ignorance. The dark of hate. This place. Our place We send a message. Lies are made of words. Truth is made of one. Human.
Click for more information about UN SundayWeek 5 This week our contribution comes from Rev. Dr. Monica L. Cummings who has served Unitarian Universalism as a parish minister and currently as the Ministry to Youth and Young Adults of Color in Faith Development Office at the UUA. Rev. Dr. Cummings received her Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Care and Counseling at the Claremont School of Theology and is an active member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. Rev. Dr. Cummings spent 26 months as an education and community development Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa. She continues her education efforts through creating education videos and discussion guides to support youth and young adults in their identity development. Rev. Dr. Cummings is an Adjunct Professor at Meadville Lombard Theological School where she teaches courses related Pastoral Care and she is a published author. Rev. Dr. Cummings works with Association, district, regional and congregational staff, Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), Allies for Racial Equity (ARE) and Multiracial and Multiethnic families on programming to support the ministry needs of Youth and Young Adults of Color and their allies. See more about her work in the Living Mosaic blog. Rev. Dr. Cummings wrote opening and closing words for the video Introduction to Gender and Sexual Orientation. Opening Words I am a noun. I am a person. I am a person who identifies as female, male, transgender, cisgender* I am a person who is questioning my gender. I am a noun. I am a person. I am a person who is attracted to people who share my gender. I am a person who is attracted to people do not share my gender. I am a person and I am questioning who I am attracted to. I am a noun. I am a person with inherent worth and dignity. Closing Words Do you know me? Do you know I am a human being just like you? Do you know I deserve to be loved just like you? Do you know your words hurt as much as a bullet wound? Do you know me? Do you know I am a human being just like you? Do you know I deserve to be respected just like you? Do you know I was created in the image of a Loving Creator just like you? Do you know I have inherent worth and dignity? I know, you do. *pronounced “CISS-gender”
Click for more information about UN SundayWeek 4 Our contribution this week is from Jessica Halperin. Jessica Halperin works as the UUA’s Witness Ministries Program Associate. As the reproductive justice and environmental justice staff person at their office in Washington, D.C., she works with interfaith coalitions and secular partners in order to develop resources and opportunities for congregations and groups to initiate, contextualize, deepen, and strengthen their social justice work. A lifelong Unitarian Universalist, Jessica grew in Pittsburgh, PA, and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Earlham College. Her DC-based professional background is in nonprofit/interfaith marketing and communications. A service on LGBTQ human rights is a challenging and exciting theme. When I try to get down to the theological underpinnings of our justice work around sexuality issues, I often go to the Religious Institute’s res ources. The following passage is also featured in the Reproductive Justice Curriculum:
"An Open Letter to Religious Leaders About Sex Education” written by a colloquium of theologians in 2002 (sponsored by the Religious Institute)
Religious traditions affirm that sexuality is a divinely bestowed blessing for expressing love and generating life, for mutual companionship and pleasure. It is also capable of misuse, leading to exploitation, abuse, and suffering. Sexuality, from a religious point of view, needs to be celebrated with joy, holiness, and integrity, but it also demands understanding, respect, and self-discipline. Our traditions affirm the goodness of creation, our bodies, and our sexuality; we are called to stewardship of these gifts.
Click for more information about UN SundayWeek 3 This week our contribution is a prayer written by Andrew Coate. Andrew is a recent college graduate living in New England. When not engaged in queer activism Andrew spends a lot of time kayaking, reading, and trying to change the world with a combination of twitter, church, and positive thinking. He is currently a M.Div student at Boston University School of Theology and plans to enter Unitarian Universalist Ministry. Learn more about Andrew and read more prayers to and for the transgender community through his blog.
When we pray “God of Justice” do we picture Lady Liberty?
When we meditate on “rights” are we thinking of the United States Supreme Court?
When we hear a sermon on “Pride” do we picture freely marching through the streets?
God of Justice, move us beyond our borders and into the hearts and minds and lands of people working for their own safety, their own equity, their own freedom of self without imposing our perceptions. God of Justice allow us to see “rights” not as something we must gain for others but something we all deserve simply by virtue of being human.
God of Justice give us pride in who we are as a world community of people who have broken from norms and allow those pride parades to move out of the streets and into every home and every school, every place of worship and every job.
God of Justice let us truly see that borders are but arbitrary lines reinforced by stigma but that this community that has seen, and will see, hardship is stronger than barriers.
Click for more information about UN SundayWeek 2 Our contribution this week is a story by Rev. Shawn Newton. The Reverend Shawn Newton became the 23rd minister of First Unitarian Toronto in September 2007, arriving in Toronto with his spouse, Bob, after living for many years in Boston. Shawn loves to travel, to take in theatre and classical music, and to explore the fascinating array of neighbourhoods in Toronto. Click to read more about Shawn’s work in ministry.
On Being a Faithful Unitarian Universalist
Ours is a faith that takes time. While there certainly can be moments of stunning insight—moments when a change of heart breaks forth in an instant. It is the slow and steady work of this faith that transforms us over the long-haul, as we have our assumptions challenged, our prejudices confronted, and, hopefully, our hearts and minds changed for good.When I think about that work in my life, I reflect back on the many people in the various congregations I’ve been a part of, who have loved me, and challenged me, and shaped me into the UU that I am today. One of those people for me was Daniel Sargant Cheever, who died just over a year ago at the age of 94. Dan was a life-long member of the Arlington Street Church in Boston. He was also a Boston Brahmin. For those who might not know, Brahmin is the name given long ago to the descendants of the ancient English families who settled Boston— and who have, for generations, dominated the city’s upper classes. Brahmins were and are a privileged bunch. The name, which refers to Brahmin scholars in the Hindu caste system, isn't entirely a compliment, as these wealthy members of society are sometimes seen as having a bit too much self-regard. As an old poem puts it:
And this is good old Boston, The home of the bean and the cod, Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots, And the Cabots talk only to God.For almost two centuries, the Brahmins filled the pews and the pulpits of the Unitarian churches in Boston. Dan was likely one of, if not, the last. He had an amazing life. In his early 20s, as the assistant to Alger Hiss, he was present for the writing of the UN Charter and at the official birth of the United Nations. He eventually traveled the world, taught international affairs at Harvard, and remained an ardent supporter of the UU-UNO for the rest of his long life. He was happily married and the father and grandfather and great-grandfather of a very large clan. He proudly served on the board of Arlington Street Church and sang in the choir for decades. He was also on the finance committee 17 years ago when I became the business administrator of that congregation. The first person I hired in that role was my own assistant. My decision caused an unexpected bit of controversy, as the person I hired was a young transgendered man. Though Arlington Street had long been a beacon for the lesbian and gay communities, and was made up of significant populations of each—probably at least 50%—people weren't entirely comfortable with a transgender person on staff. For a few weeks, I heard a level of confusion and upset that broke my heart. In the midst of all of that, I attended a meeting of the finance committee. When the meeting was over that night, I ended up walking to the subway with Dan. As we walked, he, then a man in his late 70s, turned to me and said, “I have a question for you.” I braced myself. I had had many difficult conversations that had started just the same way in recent days. And I dreaded the thought of having a difficult conversation with Dan. I really had no idea how I was going to explain the concept of “genderqueer” to him. And, then, to my great surprise, Dan said: “Tell me about the lovely new person in the office.” I said, “his name is Mycroft. He grew up in Boston. He is transgendered. And, he’s really happy to be working with us.” And, then, Dan said, “well, then I’m happy, too.” That was the end of conversation on that topic. I had given him the information he needed. And we never discussed it again. But I have never forgotten that moment. That moment when I got to see a great Unitarian walk his talk. Where with such gentle words he not only shattered my unfair assumptions about him, but proved himself to be perhaps the most accepting person in the whole congregation. For years after that, Dan proudly sat in the choir for the annual Pride Service. And in what he said was a small but tasteful sign of solidarity with the queer community, he delighted in wearing his wife’s pearls. I can think of nothing better than to suggest in our quest for greater diversity and understanding that we strive to be like Dan—curious and open-hearted, playful and faithful.
Click for more information about UN SundayWeek 1 Our first contribution of the series is a poem written by Alex Kapitan. Alex works in the UUA’s Multicultural Growth & Witness staff group, helping to empower UU congregations and community leaders to minister effectively in our multicultural world. Alex is also a part-time consultant for Transfaith, a nonprofit organization working to further the spiritual well-being and leadership of transgender people. In addition, Alex is a member of the Clara Barton District anti-racism team GRACE, a member of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, and blogs at Roots Grow the Tree. This piece was written and performed at the UU-UNO Intergenerational Spring Seminar (Sex, Love, and Violence: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in a Globalized World) in April, 2013. This week is the first in our series of UN Sunday Readings. Choice
I want to talk about choice.
I want to talk about the fact that just because someone who is out to destroy you says you chose to be the way you are does not mean the path of best protection is to counter with “no I didn’t, it’s not a choice, I was born this way and I’ve always been this way.”
Is who I am—my sexuality, my gender—a deep and real part of me, close to my soul? Yes. Are there choices involved? Of course there are.
I have made one choice after another to feel more at ease, more vibrant, more alive. I chose to change my name. I chose to allow myself to open to the idea that I might be attracted to women. I chose to open myself to the idea that first of all genderqueer people exist, second that I might be one, and third that I might be attracted to other genderqueer folks. After all of this, I chose to remain open to the idea that I was still attracted to men and might actually like being in a relationship with one. If I hadn’t made these choices I never could have lived into my full authentic self.
And you know, there are some things that are more attractive to me than gender. I am attracted to feminists. I’m attracted to queer people, and radicals. I am attracted to people who are assertive and like to make decisions. Is any of this biologically hardwired into me? Probably not. Is all of it impacted by culture? Definitely. But do I have every right to pursue relationships and experiences with whoever I want, because it’s my body and my sexuality? YES.
It doesn’t matter who I seek intimacy, ecstasy, joy, or camaraderie with—sexuality is sacred. Love is sacred. And I deserve and demand the right to full control over my body and what I do with it and who I share it with.
So if anyone ever tries to invalidate you or the way you seek intimacy by saying “it’s just a choice,” tell them choice is sacred.
Tell them the inherent right of every person to have full authority and agency over choices they make about their lives and their bodies is a spiritual and human imperative—that there is a word for this and it’s liberation. That there is nothing more worth fighting for.
Tell them that in your faith tradition we don’t love people despite their differences or because they can’t help being different, we love people because of their differences and because diversity enriches our world and our communities.
Tell them that in the final reckoning there is only one choice that will be judged, and that’s their choice. Tell them you hope they choose love.Click for the UUA LGBTQ webpage for more information about Alex's wonderful work. Click for to learn about the LGBT rights work of Standing on the Side of Love
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