News from Heart Land

Sarah Richards
July 10, 2016

News from Heart Land

So many words. So many words written on FaceBook, emails, newspapers. So, so many words spoken on the radio, on the tv, in press conferences, vigils, words shouted in pain and words whispered lest the babies hear. So many words, and none of them can give us what we are all yearning for—meaning, understanding, resolution, making things “right.” So while I’m going to speak some more words this morning, I’m going to leave some silence, too, make some space for all of us to center ourselves, draw strength from the presence of others in community.

***

When we set the theme for this month, “Journeys,” we were thinking about vacation travel, summertime visits to new and familiar places, and the internal journeys we take in this reflective time. We find ourselves now on a different kind of journey, the opposite of a “get-away.” This journey is revelatory, the opposite of relaxing. We are seeing with new eyes the divisions in our country and our community, embedded imbalances of power and authority based on wealth and race and religion and sexual orientation and gender…and right now, our collective destination seems more uncertain than ever, farther from our UU ideals of wholeness, justice and harmony. I said this journey is revelatory—and I want to share with you this morning some of the revelations from my experience from the annual General Assembly I attended a few weeks ago. These revelations were about the divisions experienced within our UU movement, within our congregations, and I believe, can inform how we respond to divisions in our society. The theme of the GA, held in Columbus Ohio, was Heart Land: Where Faiths Connect. Interfaith communication, collaboration was highlighted, but there were many other divisions: generational, racial, political and others that were revealed and addressed at the Assembly.

Youth and young adults of color led the opening and the closing ceremonies of General Assembly, and many led or participated in workshops throughout the five days. Alumni of Multicultural Leadership School and participants in this summer’s Thrive Programs, Youth and Young Adults of Color began the Opening Celebration singing, “Where do we come from, what are we, where are we going.” They lit the chalice saying, “We honor the flame of commitment, the spark of truth in the chalice of our hearts, we light this chalice because we are better together, and wherever we are going, we are going together.[i]

These young people remind us that we are fellow travellers, and they remind us that we make progress on our journey by challenging assumptions and moving beyond our comfortable certainties.

Kamila A. Jacob and Aisha Ansano, young adult religious professionals of color, invited us to challenge ourselves during GA, to practice listening to stories of others. “Not grilling them about their positions or beliefs, not arguing with them, not trying to change their minds to get them to agree with you… Simply practice listening deeply.[ii]

They invited humanists struggling with theism, “to consider bringing [their] open mind[s] and heart[s] to a UU Christian Fellowship service,” they urged theists struggling with humanism to bring their open minds and hearts to a UU Humanist event, those who enjoy traditional worship forms to attend sensory-rich worship workshop, those who prefer to think or write about justice than engage it physically, were invited to multifaith public witness events to boldly work for black liberation. If you are struggling with White Privilege, consider the workshop, Spiritual practices for White Discomfort…

Jacob and Ansano reminded us that at GA,

“There are so many opportunities to shift outside of comfort zones, to give ourselves the opportunity to grow and change, and as we do, we connect with others, ask them about their experiences and listen to them. And maybe, if you are invited, share your own experiences, too. Taking risks like this, being vulnerable can be difficult. But…taking risks allows for something amazing to happen. Something new and something exciting.[iii]

There were so many growth experiences at GA—and there are so many opportunities for us to engage in this movement beyond our comfort zones in our lives right here in Southern Illinois. I invite you to take a moment now to think about someone here at CUF or elsewhere in your life with whom you differ in some way, someone whom you might risk listening to, deeply.

***
With whom do we need to connect, with whom do you need to be in relationship in order to grow beyond assumptions and divisions of otherness? Krista Tippett, the long-time host of the On Being radio show was this year’s Ware lecturer at GA. It was a mind-expanding, beautifully thought-provoking talk which I encourage all of you to view online—all of the plenary worship services, presentations and ceremonies are available online at UUA.org. To whet your appetite, I will tell you that she gave us three encouragements: words matter, listening is a social art, and love is a public good. She said, “we’ve been living [love] as feeling, when it is a way of being.[iv]” Afterward I bought her book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. I found this quote from her interview with legal and racial scholar john powell speaks to connection in time of great division:

“The human condition is one of belonging. We simply cannot thrive unless we are in relationship. I just gave a lecture on health. If you’re isolated, the negative health consequence is worse than smoking, obesity, high blood pressure—just being isolated. We need to be in relationship with each other. And so, when you look at what groups are doing, whether they are disability groups or whether they’re groups organized around race, they are really trying to make the claim, “I belong. I’m a member.” If you think about Black Lives Matter, it’s really just saying, “We belong.” How we define the other affects how we define ourselves. And so when we define the other at an extreme distance from ourselves, it means we have to cut off large parts of our self.[v]

***

A few other stories from GA about hanging in when things get uncomfortable – there are so, so many. I especially want you to know about the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism initiative – but that deserves much more attention than I can give it this morning. You’ll be hearing and reading about BLUU in the near future. Meanwhile, back at GA: There was a special kind of panel discussion on the business resolution about divestment of UUA stocks from corporations who do business in occupied Palestine. It was a moderated conversation with four UUs, three of Jewish heritage and one married to a Palestinian, two against the resolution, two for it. Each person was asked to share their stories, and explain why they felt the way they did about the resolution. There was no arguments or cross-talk, their stories were wrenching, emotional and well reasoned. With each one, my own opinion swayed back and forth, pro and con. Each was gentle, respectful and even loving of the others—but we in the assembly were not so compassionate. We were admonished, too late, by one of the panelists in tears—why did people cheer after some of the statements? It was not a debate, but a chance to listen and connect across difference. When it came time for the vote the next day, we were reminded again that the “winners” should not celebrate what was a painful issue.

My seminary friend, the Reverend Theresa Ines Soto, received Preliminary Fellowship this year, and so she participated with all of the other clergy marking milestones in the Service of the Living Tradition. Theresa did not walk across the stage to receive congratulations from the UUA president, she drove her scooter. She had a sign in her scooter basket that said, “OUCH” which she raised each time someone used ableist language during the service, in the sermon and songs. She asks us to listen for how phrases like “standing on the side of love” excludes and ignores people with physical disabilities. She asks us to be aware of these divisions that we create without thinking, and to find universalist expressions, that recognize belonging of all in our movement.

Nancy McDonald Ladd gave the sermon at the closing worship—again, I encourage you to watch it online—here’s the thumbnail from the UU World coverage:

McDonald Ladd’s sermon lamented the “fake fights we waste our time on,” like “what color to paint the church bathroom,” as others struggle against injustice. McDonald Ladd’s words repeatedly brought cheers and ovations from the crowd as she weaved together personal narrative, humor, and her vision for a Unitarian Universalism focused on “real struggles and real battles” and not “confined by the smallness of our loving.”

“The world does not need another place where like-minded liberals hang out and fight about who is in charge,” McDonald Ladd said.”[vi]

I invite you to take a moment to think about how you have made an effort to be inclusive, in language, thought, or action. Or a moment in which you let go of some small annoyance to focus on a larger problem.

***

So you could say that the news of the Heart Land was all about listening and love. If that sounds saccharine and wimpy to you, let me rephrase it in Krista Tippett’s words “listening as a civic tool” and love as something “practical and robust in public.[vii]” These were underlying themes of a riveting powerful sermon called “Prophetic Mourning” given by Rev. William Barber, Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, Pres. of the NC NAACP and architect of the Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina. If you only watch one of the GA talks, maybe this one should be it.

He told us UUs, “Hate fuels hate…racial hate, homophobic hate, class hate, religious hate, and the rhetoric of hate that drives the terrorist and the mob and the racist and the homophobe.   We cannot give into the culture of hate…. We need a revival, a moral revolution of values in this nation. Especially because there are those …who try to highjack religion and use it in the service of hate and violence, and we cannot stand for it.[viii]

Rev. Barber told us that “we must mourn those killed in Orlando, and we must remember those from Charleston a year ago, but we must mourn and protest violence, discrimination, and hate in all of its forms.” He spoke of the violence of market values rather than moral values, systemic racism, anti-LGBTQ legislation, lack of living wage, anti-immigration bills, states that make it easier to get a gun than it is to vote… He said:

“We must protest the lock that the NRA has on too many of our politicians—that’s violence. We must protest the violence of warmongering, sending young to fight wars of rich people over oil…we must mourn and protest whatever hate and discrimination it is that allows a country to see a candidate endorsed for president whose party leadership calls him a racist, and they say, ‘he’s a racist but I’ll still support him.’ Like Coretta Scott King taught us, we must speak out against all hate, all discrimination and all violence because hate grows hate, discrimination grows discrimination, and violence grows violence….This is the time that we must choose whether we will lash out with fear and division, and petulance, hate or whether we will embrace love more boldly and walk in truth and justice…. The time is now for us to join those who lived before us, who in the face of hate chose community, chose love, chose nonviolence, chose the way of justice.[ix]

Fellow travelers on this journey, we’ve had a difficult week filled with violence and suffering. We need to mourn and protest, listen deeply, love fiercely. In the days, weeks and months ahead, may we remember the lessons of those who fought for justice in the past, may we follow the lead of the young people fighting for true liberation. With words and deeds, silence and song, we must do the work—this is what we are here for. This is why we are together.

Amen.

[i] http://www.uua.org/ga/off-site/2016/worship/opening accessed 7/7/16.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Tippett, Krista. June 23, 2016 The Ware Lecture, UUA GA http://www.uua.org/action/ga/ware

[v] powell, john, 2016. Quoted in Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett, New York: Penguin Press, p. 118.

[vi] Wiley, Kenny. June 24, 2016. “’No More Fake Fights’: Sunday morning worship at GA inspires, sings” http://www.uuworld.org/articles/uuaga16-sunday-morning-worship accessed 7/7/16.

[vii] Op. Cit., Tippett.

[viii] Barber, William. June 23, 2016 Address to UUA General Assembly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UI-orXYl9l0&feature=youtu.be&t=2m42s accessed 7/7/16.

[ix] Ibid.