All That You Touch

small toddler hand on adult hand

Excerpts from a sermon preached by the Rev. Theresa Ines Soto at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Flint (MI), January 22, 2017. Used with permission.

The central idea behind this sermon today is a quote from Octavia Butler:

All that you touch you change.
All that you change changes you.
The only lasting truth is change…
God is change.

What is Butler talking about?

These particular thoughts—that the world can be summed up by the changes that occur around us, are included in what we would call both process philosophy and process theology. Okay? For a minute, though, I want you to imagine that you have a lot of space around you. You use this sometimes when you stretch and you take up all the space. I want you to imagine that that’s the space you have around you right now... That’s how much space there is for all the ideas, beliefs, and thoughts that you bring with you today, and we’re going to have this specific conversation.

I want you to think of process thought as one of the ways to measure what happens in the world. The measuring stick in process thought is change. That's why people sometimes sum up process theology as the notion that not only does God change us, but we also change God. In that way, God isn't loved or worshipped. Instead, God is perceived, shaped, and ultimately the field or the ground of transformation. As people participating in the process of change, both changed and the changers, you become agents of co-creation with the larger forces at work in the universe.

A bigger question is this: How does being a co-creator of change affect the way you live your life each day?

A quote now from Amiri Baraka: “People did not send you to college so you could just drift off into the woods reciting Shakespeare; they sent you to college so you could come back home and help them fight. You understand that? ... to come back and help us— help your old parents who have been fighting all these years. Now it is your turn to come back here, with more information and the same heart that you had before.”

I want to urge you with that same spirit. You don't come to this community and this congregation so that you can wander off into your daily life with happy quotes and sunshine feelings. You are here to prepare your heart to be a better human. You are here to prepare your actions to be the edge of creation. You are here to prepare your will to last for the long-haul.

The tricky part about the long-haul is that to perceive the future in the things you do today is a little confusing. People tend to use time as a way to break up the unclear future into measurable pieces. But it isn't always measurable for us how change works. What was the moment in which freedom to marry gained enough strength to be ordinary and not fantastical? What were the thousands or even millions of just acts that accumulated into the passage of the Affordable Care Act?

If time plus change equals new futures, how do you account for the change you want to see? Time brings change from the future into the present. Because the things you're doing right now, right now, they equal change.

I believe that no matter our specific political affiliations, we dream together and act together for a vision of beloved community that resists human degradation and disconnection. When I talk to you about resistance from this pulpit, in no way am I asking you to choose between a donkey and an elephant. I'm asking you to say yes to humanity.

One of the immediate takeaways is that every moment counts. The moments when you care for yourself are resistance. They make you available to the greater purpose of your life. The moments that you care for your family are resistance. The people that you love and the people that love you pull you forward into that new future. The moments that you care for your community, whether you teach or do committee work, whether you offer refreshments or make music – these are resistance. You are the antidote to isolation. You are the tonic for depleted human hearts and weakened human wills. And, when you come here and your heart is depleted and your emotions are running sad, you come here. We are the ones who are waiting for you. We know that our possibility is greater for the future as we move together; we hold on to each other. We hold out for this possibility.

Rev. angel Kyodo williams [this is how she writes her name] put it this way: The work over time, with all due respect to Gandhi, is not to be the change we wish to see in the world but instead, to let ourselves be truly transformed. And then, by our presence and example, to become the catalyst for the transformation of others, and through them, eventually, the transformation of the world.

It's in the community, as a cell in a larger organism, that you are able to reflect the power and the possibility of everything we are together. Peter Block writes extensively on the nature of transformation in community. He reflects that, [t]o create an alternative future, we need to advance our understanding of the nature of communal or collective transformation.

Once, I observed two children playing in this way. They were playing together—one of them was playing house, the other one was playing grocery store. We laugh about it but one of the things that this reflects, is the way that individual self-improvement can work out. Towns full of people who have improved themself, but have forgotten, at the same time, to improve their communities.

I want to take a minute and say that one of the ways that we give consideration to community is to build connections among and between ourselves. We have participated with a few small groups coordinated with monthly themes, but in the new year and in this time of transition, we are amplifying our efforts by changing the group to a resilience circle. A resilience circle has three purposes: learning, mutual aid, and social action.

Robert Putnam observed the health of communities and quantified it this way: He found that community health, educational achievement, local economic strength, and other measures of community well-being were dependent on the level of social capital that exists in a community. In other words, a community’s well-being [has] to do with the quality of the relationships, or the cohesion that exists among its citizens, or, in our case, members. He called that web of relationships and their connectedness social capital.

Social capital is about acting on and valuing our interdependence and our sense of belonging. It is the extent to which we extend hospitality and affection to one another. If Putnam is right, to improve the common measures of community health—economy, education, health and safety, the environment—we need to create a community where each person has the experience of being connected to those around them and knows that their safety and success are dependent on the success of all others.

I've talked to you about this before and put it in a very simple way. I'm going to remind you, in case you forgot: All of us, need all of us, to make it.