“Locker Room talk” is nothing new. The response now is.

How many women, I ask you, were implicitly trained as girls and as teenagers that to refuse the sexual desires of a man was a moral injury to the man? How many women were trained to see sexual indiscretions of men as their own moral stain? How many men are trained that locker room talk about women was a way to express their manliness and strength? And how many boys does this deeply wound, forcing them to suppress who they really are to become the men they think they are supposed to be?

I’m sure Donald Trump thought he was being awfully manly when he said those things about taking women how and when he wanted. I’m sure it made him feel powerful, and probably Billy Bush as well, this relatively young upstart, sitting with this multimillionaire and laughing with Donald while they demeaned the woman they were about to meet when their bus arrived. When they shared this secret between them as they got off that bus and pretended to be honorable and upstanding men, they thought the joke was on her.
Well now, the joke is on them. And really, it was never a joke. This is the thing. We women learn very early on that this is how men will talk about us. At first we are shocked, horrified, and often overwhelmed with shame, thinking that this really is about us. That we did something to deserve it. We try to learn to accept that this is simply what men do, thinking it will make our lives easier and that we will face fewer disappointments. After all, do we really have any power to change it? Sometimes we fight back, often we lose the fight. Apparently, at least 1/3 of us have been raped. And those are just the physical rapes. There are other kinds of rape that that go beyond who put what in where.

Last week, during the Vice Presidential Debate, someone on twitter posted that the moderator, a woman, should stop trying to moderate men and go back to the kitchen. I retweeted the post with my own comment, “This is what sexism looks like.” What followed was a firestorm of what I presume were men, ganging up on me, telling me to go back to the kitchen, to make them a sandwich, that I wasn’t beautiful enough to have an opinion, that I was a f***** bulldyke that no man would want. Someone posted a picture of a horse next to mine and said its teeth were smaller (this isn’t the first time a man has made fun of me for my rather large front teeth). Someone posted a picture of a ghoul with my name on it, I was called a god damn feminist who needed to learn a lesson, and on and on and on. There are others but I stopped reading. It was rather startling to see how fast the woman-bashing train left the station and how many men hopped on. I ended up simply blocking every single offensive tweet.

I struggled inside with what was happening. I am beyond the place of internalizing any shame for what I said or being hurt by what those men were saying about me. I know that the comments have nothing to do with me and more to do with their own hatred. They were showing themselves for who they are. But what I did take personally was that this was an offensive launched not only against me but against any woman who dares to speak her mind, who dares to call out sexism. If I had been a young woman unprepared for this onslaught, how would it have affected me? My sense of self-worth?

Now this is a rather obvious example, but there are other ways that it happens to me and other women, more silent and sinister ways, like when I hear ideas I’ve expressed at a meeting claimed by men as their own (and yes, this has happened to me in every Unitarian Universalist church I have served). I’ve had men tell me, especially when I was younger, that they thought I was smart for my age. Somehow I was supposed to take that as a compliment. I doubt that anyone would say that to a man. I’ve been complimented, sometimes too eagerly, on my clothing or my figure. If I was starting my career over again, I would wear a robe every single Sunday to lessen the comments on my clothing choices or my body. I know many women who robe for exactly this reason.

These comments are lessening as I get older. The grey hair and the growing wrinkles, although fairly slight yet, are making a difference. But I know that eventually I’ll pass the threshold into “old woman” and I’ll become more and more invisible and less and less threatening, unless I actually try to claim some authority. We see where this is getting Hillary.

What Donald Trump said on that bus and all these experiences I’ve had, and many woman have had, are all connected. They happen because we are seen as lesser than, of lesser value, and of a value determined more by our bodies than our minds.

All of us have internalized sexism. I can honestly say that some of the most dismissive and hurtful treatment I have received as a Unitarian Universalist minister has been from older women. Again, I try not to take this personally. Women are encouraged to turn against each other and compete with each other. It’s how patriarchy is perpetuated. Those of us who are young are envied by those who are older. Those of us who are young will dismiss older woman because they no longer have what we have, youth. Older women will act out against us because we have what they used to have, youth. I once had an older woman tell me that there was no need to spend time with younger women. She had nothing to learn from them because she had experienced everything they had. They had nothing to offer her. I found that to be an exceedingly hurtful comment. And I’ve seen younger women pity older women, dismiss their ideas, see them as “has beens” with little left to offer. When we do this do each other, we perpetuate sexism. We punish each other for the oppression we all experience and often have no words with which to name.

So when we hurl epithets of outrage at Donald Trump, and he deserves every single one and certainly should be kept as far from the White House as possible, remember that the fact that he actually said those things, and had other men laugh with him, is a scourge that belongs to all of us. There is nothing unusual in what he did. It happens all the time. What is unusual is that we seem to have reached a line in the sand when making this behavior public could actually hold a man in search of power accountable for his actions. A man could fail to reach his goal because he disrespects women.

May we anchor ourselves in our own inherent worth and dignity. May we raise little girls who have no shame in raising their voices and expressing their opinions, who know without a doubt that their bodies are their own and that consen can be given and it can be taken away, at any moment, with no danger resulting. May we raise little boys who learn to respect women, to listen to women, to see their own manliness as an expression of respect and strength through love. May we of all genders love our bodies, our spirits, our minds, and see our deepest yearnings for wholeness as an expression of the holy, waiting to be released into the world

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We ain’t gonna stop until the people are free

The chorus of “Neighbor,” by the band “Rev. Sekou and the Holy Ghost,” which formed after the Ferguson Uprising, goes like this:

“I can hear my neighbor crying, saying ‘I can’t breathe.”
And now I’m in the struggle, saying, “I can’t leave.”
We’re calling out the violence of the racist police.
And we ain’t gonna stop until the people are free.”

When I first heard the words, I choked on the third line. I thought to myself, “Are they saying that all police are racist? Isn’t that a bit radical? I don’t know if I can sign on for this.”

White fragility is a term coined by Robin De Angelo to name the conditioned response to shut down any authentic conversations about race. Whites have been programmed to be deeply uncomfortable when confronted with the reality of white supremacy. They are taught to see the discomfort as something to be avoided and that comfort is our right. So when we hear uncomfortable things about race, we shut it down, either by literally leaving the conversation or by trying to stop those who make us uncomfortable, often through the use of shame. In my case, I was uncomfortable with the lyrics of the song and saw my discomfort as a sign that something was wrong with the song, something was wrong with the black voices singing it, not that something was wrong with me or that something was really wrong with the system in which policing happens. Given that I’m pretty shy, if I had given in to my white fragility I probably wouldn’t have literally challenged them. I probably would have just gone home, withdrawing my support, my time, and my heart from the work at hand. That’s what white fragility looks like.

On October 15 the #ReviveLove Tour came to St. Louis. Sponsored by Standing on the Side of Love UUA and Black Lives of Unitarian Universalists, the intent of the tour is to offer love back to Unitarian Universalist activists who have been the heart of the Unitarian Universalist response, engagement and commitment to Black Lives Matter.

Leslie and Drew MacFayden, two Unitarian Universalist activists, offered a challenging workshop focused on the many manifestations of white supremacy, how to recognize when we are looking through its life-denying lens, and how to combat the fear and shame that sustain it.

They encouraged us to stay present to the truth that all of us have been indoctrinated into the cult of white supremacy, a cult that shames, shuns and kills those who disagree with its tenets. All of us, regardless of the race we are assigned, are indoctrinated into this cult. It is reinforced by anti-blackness, which identifies white as the norm and anything else as other, less than human, even less than animal. Among liberals, it is reinforced by simplistic understandings of racism – racism looks like the KKK and the confederate flag, not like us. Leslie and Drew asked us to see the gradations of racism so that we could see it in our own hearts. They encouraged us to resist the white fragility that blinds us to our place in the system. They invited us to treat white supremacy like a cult from which one must be deprogrammed. It begins by learning the basic rules of anti-racism, deepens into a respect for otherness, and culminates into a lived understanding that we are part of a larger liberation.

They offered some basic rules to help us start:

1. If you are in a privileged group, do not engage in intracommunity dialogue when you are not a member. You are there to listen and to support.
2. If you are in a privileged group, do not question the tactics oppressed people use to get free.
3. If you are in an oppressed group, realize that you too have internalized the very beliefs and systems that oppress you.
4. If you are faced with your own racism, resist the urge to become defensive. Listen, consider what you are hearing, and integrate what you have learned in your thoughts and actions.
5. Know that we will all make mistakes. Be aware that when you experience discomfort and want to run, that is fragility interpreting discomfort as bad. Stay with the discomfort. It is the path to liberation.

We spent time exploring how the expression of our 21st century Unitarian Universalist theology with its devotion to diversity has often reinforced white supremacy rather than dismantle it. We have misused the first principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, to justify ideas which are harmful, seeing them as personal expressions of freedom. With a power and privilege analysis, we instead condition our first principle with the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. A commitment to diversity does not mean that all ideas are equally true. When a person of color speaks of racism, this carries more weight than a white person speaking of racism. When we give all perspectives the same value, a white person speaking of racism could contribute to the silencing of the person of color’s experience of racism, thus reinforcing white supremacy and anti-blackness. This often indicates that white fragility is shutting down the conversation.

So I’m not going to run from the words of those at the heart of the resistance:

“I can hear my neighbor crying, saying ‘I can’t breathe.”
And now I’m in the struggle, saying, “I can’t leave.”
We’re calling out the violence of the racist police.
And we ain’t gonna stop until the people are free.”

Will you join us? When the killings stop, when white supremacy is unwound from its core of hatred, fear and shame, we will be free.

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The “Silver Lining” of Racism

If you learn what to look for, systemic racism becomes painfully apparent in even the most well meaning of conversations.

This morning, the first hour of the Diane Rehm show focused on the opiate addiction epidemic.  There was a guest host, as Diane is having medical treatments.

Addiction to opiates has skyrocketed, mainly because of over prescription by health care providers for pain management. The cost in human life has been staggering, with addiction-related deaths skyrocketing.

The Governor of New Hampshire was invited as a guest, as was a mother of an adult child struggling with addiction after being prescribed opiates following a sports injury. There were 2 doctors. The message was clear: we have an unparalleled raging epidemic in this country and something has to be done.

There were strong arguments made against the criminalization of drug addiction and for reclassifying addiction as a health issue. Th guests also asserted that this addiction epidemic is worse than the heroin epidemic of the 70s and the crack cocaine epidemic of the 90s. One guest even stated that the death rate of young white men from opiate addiction has surpassed the AIDS epidemic of the late 1980s. All of this was held up to impress upon us the uniqueness of this particular addiction epidemic.

I was waiting for someone to raise the concern that the attention being paid to this epidemic is a result of its impact on middle class white communities. Now that it’s middle class white teenagers and suburban moms and middle class white men being brought down by addiction, this is when America pays attention.

It didn’t happen.  No one brought it up.

Finally, someone submitted a question via email. It went something like this: The primary demographic experiencing this epidemic is white. Is this why we are giving this epidemic such attention?  Is racism at play here?

The doctor spoke up.   “Of course racism is at play here,” he said.

“Oh good,” I thought. “This is finally going to be addressed.”

“I hate to say it, but you could say that racism is the silver lining for blacks here. Doctors were more likely to prescribe opiates to whites than to blacks because they were concerned that blacks would sell them on the street. The doctors’ racism created a protective shield around black communities that were left relatively untouched by this epidemic.” (my paraphrasing…)

When is it ever appropriate to identify racism as having a “silver lining”?   I call this paternalism of the most insidious kind.  If the black community has truly been spared this particular addiction epidemic, that is a good thing, but we should never glorify or celebrate or express gratitude for the racism that fueled it.  It is disrespectful and harmful to talk about racism as having a shielding impact on the black community.   When has racism ever been a protective shield or silver lining to those being oppressed? How often have blacks experienced white health care providers distrusting them and then misdiagnosing serious health issues?   While white doctors were refusing to prescribe opiates to blacks, black communities were criminalized, their kids were being pushed through the school to prison pipeline, and white fear of blacks was used to justify militarizing the police and building the biggest prison industrial complex in the world.   And, when community leaders protested, when they advocated for better mental health resources, for educational resources, investment in infrastructure and employment initiatives, who listened?  More often they were disregarded by whites and those with influence and power as lazy and unwilling to take responsibility for their community issues.

Why weren’t their voices enough? They should be been enough.

But it gets better. The doctor and other guests insinuated that an epidemic that is predominantly affecting white communities was helping the black community because “we” are beginning to understand that addiction isn’t a moral failing, it’s a disease.   “We” are now understanding that prison isn’t the answer to addiction. “We” are understanding the complexity of drug abuse.

Apparently it is only through the tragic experience of addiction-related white deaths that “we” are able to understand the reality of addiction.

The deaths of black children should have been enough. The call from black leaders to decriminalize addiction should have been enough.  The epidemic of the criminalization of black communities, which currently lands 1 in 3 black men in prison, should have been enough. The call for massive investment in predominantly black communities should have been enough.

But it wasn’t, and for many white Americans, it still isn’t. A drug epidemic isn’t an epidemic until it hits middle class white communities. The crack cocaine epidemic fuelled the “get tough on crime” prison industrial complex. The opiate epidemic is fuelling reform…

… reform that is years overdue.

White America owes the black community not only an apology, but also reparations for the irreversible damage done to countless communities and families. All “we” had to do was to listen, to believe, to care, and to act.

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Epiphany Reflections for the Black Lives Matter Movement

Today is the Epiphany, the formal end of the Christmas Season. According to the Gospel of Matthew, wisemen from the East who have followed the Star to Bethlehem pay a visit to King Herod, hoping that he is the right person to help them find the new King who has been foretold by the star. King Herod greets them politely, but when he hears the reason for their journey he is terrified and angry. Who is this new King?   Is he a danger to Herod’s throne? He asks the wisemen to let him know the whereabouts of the newborn King so that he can pay his respects. Secretly, he plans to kill this newborn king as soon as he finds him.

The wisemen find Jesus, offer their gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, and return home without paying a second visit to King Herod because they are told in a dream not to. Mary and Joseph, also tipped off by a dream, flee with Jesus to Egypt.

King Herod takes the news of the new King to his advisors who are equally distressed. What could a new King intend? They imagine the worst. King Herod waits for the wisemen to share Jesus’ location. When he realizes they have gone, he  decrees that every Jewish child under the age of 2 in Bethlehem is to be killed. This is done. Mothers wail in the streets as their babes are ripped from their arms, never to return. Their babies’ bodies have born the burden of empire.

Those in our time who would strip Jesus’ birth of its political message do an injustice to its liberating countercultural promise.

Jesus was not a threat to Herod in the way Herod feared. He had no aspersions to political power in its traditional form. Jesus message and mission was a threat in a much bigger way. His purpose on earth was to upend the established power relations of his time, to use a modern phrase, to #shutitdown and create a new heaven on earth where the last were first and the mighty would tumble. “Blessed are those who suffer for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus was the antithesis of empire.   He was the realization of love.

We in the United States are in a powerful and frightening time, witnessing the second Civil Rights movement of the post-World War 2 era. Some of us are actively participating in this movement and allowing our lives to be reshaped by it and our hearts and spirits to be liberated by it. Many of us are learning the true meaning of a life dedicated to compassion.

Ferguson Uprising has planted the seeds of the antithesis of empire.   It has held up the scourge of the modern day extrajudicial killings of black adults and children, their bodies bearing the burden of empire.

The militarized response to the peaceful protests and the misuse of the grand jury process is not unlike Herod and his advisors, reacting in fear and choosing to remove an entire generation of children to preserve their power. What is at stake in St. Louis, Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Waller County, McKinney, Los Angeles and across the nation is the empire of white supremacy, a death culture so powerful that even those of us who have thrown ourselves into the movement see its poison alive in us.

We all have a bit of Herod in our hearts. We feel the panic as established ways are questioned. We see our hand in the systems that we seek to dismantle. Is it any wonder that the reaction to this movement is so strong and often so hateful? Is it any wonder that 1½ years after Ferguson Uprising many in the movement struggle with the inevitable divisions that filter across the boundaries we have crossed to unify our resources and compel the powerful to relent. These divisions are the voice of Herod, the voice of fear laced with a powerful self-serving intransigence. What is at stake is nothing less than the Christ child itself.

But we also have a mighty star to follow. In Unitarian Universalism we speak of the divine spark within.   That spark is the Star of the East guiding us into a shared vision of the Holy and the True.

“O Star of Wonder, Star of night, Star with royal beauty bright. Westward leading, still proceeding. Guide us to thy perfect Light.”  

The star’s draw is so powerful that many of us have accepted its invitation and set off across the desert in search of a prince of peace, embodied in no one person but in the vision of justice and renewal that we thirst for.

I have met so many wisemen in the last year and a half, people I would never have known because of the racial stratification and geographical apartheid that shapes our nation.   Some of these people have become good friends. Others are familiar faces that I recognize from attending marches.   Some of these relationships exist on social media. There are also pre-existing relationships that have deepened because of our growing commitment to join this marathon – colleagues, parishioners, friends, neighbors, family.   These relationships are my wisemen and they give me hope for the long journey.  They help me to see when I’ve stepped into Herod’s court and what it might look like to get back to the streets of Bethlehem.

What it would look like, in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, to kneel before the Christ child and offer gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense? Perhaps we have money, status, privilege, power, knowledge, wisdom, curiosity and humility. We have our spheres of influence. We have our voices, our hands, our eyes, and our feet. We have our smartphones and our laptops and our cameras. We have our patience and persistence.  We have the ability to follow.  But none of this means a thing if we do not have love, for it is love that fuels the brilliance of the Star of the East; it is love that draws us to one another; it is love that pushes us out from the court of Herod and before the manger in Bethlehem. Let us gather our gifts and bring them to the child.

May you have a blessed epiphany.


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A Unitarian Universalist ‘Black Lives Matter’ Theology – reposted

from a respected fellow journeyer: Kenny Wiley.  A Unitarian Universalist ‘Black Lives Matter’ Theology.

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Preliminary Reflections on the Department of Justice Report on the Ferguson Police Department

The theme of the month at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel (www.emersonuuchapel.org) the congregation I serve, is letting go.  Starting in early February, I began working with the 4th to 7th Grades to create our annual worship service.  I asked them to reflect on the theme of “letting go” and they came up with the topic of forgiveness.   It was incredible to me, the insights they had on forgiveness. We talked about when it’s easy to forgive and when it’s not. What does it mean to forgive and what it does not mean (like forgetting)? What does it take to forgive?

I have found myself thinking a great deal about forgiveness and what it means in the context of justice. I spent considerable time reading the Department of Justice Report on Ferguson, and reflecting deeply on it.  Honestly, it was worse than I had suspected. Even as a dedicated white ally, committed to believing the stories of blacks in our city who spoke of feeling preyed upon by law enforcement, I was shocked by what I had read. I found myself wondering how anyone could have been a party to such overt discrimination and oppression? I wondered if the leaders really understood what they were doing. And if they did, what did that mean?
I found myself wondering about how good people can do evil things and still believe they are good. It was easy to become judgmental reading the report. “‘Those’ people did this to our black brothers and sisters.” But in whose name? Were they really just protecting Ferguson, or were those leaders doing this in our name? It is a common thing to hear during coffee hour after worship that St. Louis is a segregated city. But rarely do we talk about our collective responsibility for that reality.  It is much easier to distance ourselves from the dynamics that created the segregation and the systemic violence that maintains it.

Following the report, many Black Lives Matters leaders reaffirmed what the report shared, that the actions of the leaders in Ferguson were not unique to Ferguson. This is happening throughout our city. Blacks are systemically harassed in the ways written about in the DOJ report, throughout St. Louis. In fact, in the annual report about traffic stops in the region of St. Louis, Chesterfield ranks particularly high as a city that practices racial profiling. So do many of the communities that our members and friends live in. These law enforcement practices, supported by our elected leaders, are also implicitly and unconsciously supported by the residents of our many municipalities.

I have come to believe that one of the ways we start is by acknowledging what we have at stake in the status quo. You have to recognize what you’re responsible for before even considering asking for forgiveness. You have to recognize that you actually need forgiveness because we have helped create what exists now. And then, we have to undo the status quo that continues to damage and destroy so many lives.

When the Ferguson shooting first happened, I was deeply uncomfortable with the slogan “Shut it Down.” I felt it went too far. After reading the Department of Justice Report, I no longer feel this is a radical statement. When systemic racism is so deeply embedded, one wonders whether simple reform could ever be sufficient. I understand more deeply why the new generation of civil rights activists have largely abandoned the politics of respectability that shaped the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, It’s been 50 years since Blood Sunday and the march for voting rights. They are tired of waiting, tired of being polite, waiting for the rest of the country to recognize and understand what is happening to them. After reading the Department of Justice report, I can understand why they are tired and impatient.
So this Sunday we will see a sweet play about forgiveness. But look deeply at the message in the story, and let’s ask ourselves, what does it really mean to ask for forgiveness? What does it ask of us? What are those we are asking to forgive us being asked to let go of?

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Journeying with Grace – A Sermon

The challenge in this religious community has always been:  what will we do with that yearning for home? Will it make us inward focused, thinking only about ourselves and what we need and want, or will our yearning for home and permanence open our hearts up to the world, seeing home in the human heart, seeing home in the spiritual discipline of hospitality, open mindedness, and a deep compassion for the suffering in the world? Like many religious communities, this congregation’s predominant inclination is to focus inwards and we have always struggled with how to put the need for home in proper perspective so we do not become simply about ourselves. The challenge for us is to internalize the abiding truth that when you have an outward focus, you are taking care of the hearth fire. An outward focus will bring inward richness and bounty.

This sermon was delivered at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel (www.emersonuuchapel.org) on Sunday January 25, 2014:

Today we’re talking about journeying with grace. Packing our bag, looking toward a horizon, and moving towards it. How do we do that with integrity and with grace? Two weeks ago I talked about the kind of grace that is like receiving peace in complicated times.   Today I want to talk about grace as a way of moving through the world and in our relationships with others, grace as a way of finding new life over and over again.

Twenty-two years ago, I set off on a grand adventure! I wanted to set off on my own, free and independent. I got a job in a college cafeteria in Germany. I borrowed my brother’s knapsack, borrowed money from an uncle to pay the airfare, and set off. I hoped that I would be able to eat in the cafeteria until my first paycheck. I chose not to buy a travel guide, thinking I would save money by finding my way once I got there.

I also didn’t have money for lightweight clothing so my pack was pretty heavy. This became painfully obvious when I got lost looking for a hostel in Frankfurt because I didn’t have a travel guide for directions. Gone went a pair of prized jeans, several t-shirts, an extra pair of shoes, and a bottle of moisturizer, given to the pink haired punk kids who lived outside the train station. On the second day I got food poisoning at a German Chinese Restaurant. You think American Chinese is bad? Try German Chinese! Food poisoning was a mixed blessing. I had not desire to spend my dwindling cash supply on food.

I’m surprised I got to the school. I was saved by English speaking travelers and kind ladies who mistook my odd way of speaking German for being Swedish. I was saved by having parents who answered my collect calls and an ex-boyfriend who mailed a travel guide. I was saved by the cafeteria women, who treated me like a granddaughter. I gained 20 twenty pounds in 2 months.

In other words, I didn’t do my journey alone. I became ever more embedded in a network of relationships spanning continents, cultures, languages, and generations. All I had to do was set aside my pride and ask for help. It was not at all how I had envisioned my journey into independence, but it was how I made it through.

Our particular culture doesn’t always give us this story. The dominant story in the western world, especially for those of us who are white, educated, and middle class, is that going it on our own is morally superior to leaning on others. Self-reliance is a sign of moral strength. This is the story I hoped to live on my adventure. I wanted to be completely independent.  I will readily admit I felt some shame, even years later, for not being able to do that.

What I wonder now, is that perhaps I wasn’t giving myself credit for how strong I was. A foolish person would have kept trying to go it alone. A wise person knows when to ask for help. Perhaps this is a stronger way of being than being stoically suffering.

The word clouds that we saw this morning, created by the visioning process that this congregation is engaging, contain a lot of meaning, too much to examine in one sermon, but I think they show us a way of living in resistance to this dominant story.  I want to focus on four words that came up over and over again in those word clouds: community, children, home, and permanence.

Many of us have come here seeking out community because deep down we have learned that we can’t do life on our own. We are being wounded over and over by trying to live into the story of the self-made person.   What we are yearning for is interdependence, which is very different. Independence is standing alone. Interdependence is standing strong within the web of life, knowing that you are held in so many ways.

The other word that came up frequently is “children”. Many of you come to church for your children, you stay for your children, and even after they go off to college, you continue to stay because this is now your community and you want this community to be strong for those who come after you. Those of us who do not have children at home come to church because we want to be in a multigenerational community.

What is it about having children woven into our community life that is so spiritually nurturing? Children show us, without apology, what interdependence really looks like.   Children have permission to need us. We know that is the deal. When there are children in our midst, we can’t just up and go live our independent adventures. We have to think about our every choice and how it will impact them.

Some churches don’t do this very well. There is a strong generational divide between kids, their parents, and everyone else. We have made a different choice. Sometimes it makes life more complicated, often it even makes life more expensive, but we welcome that as a blessing because we believe it brings us into right relationship with each other. Multigenerational community is one of our spiritual disciplines.

The other two words that came up over and over again were “home” and “permanent”. Most of us know exactly where those words come from in the context of this church. Last summer, we experienced us packing up, selling, and leaving the place that we called home for 24 years. It’s not surprising that there is an emptiness because we don’t have that physical anchor anymore. I know that many of us have had the experience of packing up homes that we have lived in for generations, perhaps the family home when a parent passes away or needs a different level of care.   We will remember how hard it is to make the decisions – what do you keep, what goes to Goodwill, what gets thrown away? Every decision seems to be about how you will honor the history that you have experienced, the love, the memories. It is exhausting.

When you’ve packed the last box, locked the door, and driven away, it can feel like a hole in your heart. An anchor that has always been there, the centering of a physical place, is no longer there. It can be very disorienting and spiritually painful to accept your new normal. How long does it take to get used to this new normal? It can take a long time. There is a reason that the prevailing wisdom about a major loss is that you should make no significant decisions for 1-2 years after the loss. You may simply not be in the right frame of mind to make strong decisions. The loss defines the decisions for you.

It would be easy to assume from the word clouds that the presence of the words “home” and “permanent” is predominantly because of what we have just been through. But I think there is more to it than that.

Two weeks ago I talked about the impact on our psyches of having a very transient society. Most of us have lived in 3 or more states. We assume that our children will live in another city when they grow up. We assume that family may not mean an every day presence in our lives. I think this takes its toll. I know it has taken its toll on me. Living far from my family.   Far from childhood friends, having to recreate a community time after time.   Every new loss brings up echoes of older ones. I suspect that the sale of our building has touched on older losses that are still working themselves out in our psyches.

In every single visioning process this church has done, even before the move, even before I became your minister, home was always way up there. It would still be up there if we had remained in our building because we live in such a highly mobile society that we are managing loss all the time. So the presence of those is words is about more than just what happened six months ago.   It’s always been there, but it is magnified right now because of the move.

The challenge in this religious community has always been what will we do with that yearning for home. Will it make us inward focused, thinking only about ourselves and what we need and want, or will our yearning for home and permanence open our hearts up to the world, seeing home in the human heart, seeing home in the spiritual discipline of hospitality, open mindedness, and a deep compassion for the suffering in the world? Like many religious communities, this congregation’s predominant inclination is to focus inwards and we have always struggled with how to put the need for home in proper perspective so we do not become simply about ourselves. The challenge for us is to internalize the abiding truth that when you have an outward focus, you are taking care of the hearth fire.  An outward focus will bring inward richness and bounty.

As many of you know, we have been holding vigils for racial justice for three months. Every Saturday we stand at the same intersection at the Chesterfield Commons. Doing this has helped us create home in Chesterfield. We are claiming our place in a very different way than Emerson Chapel ever has before, by moving out into the world rather than into a physical building.   We are practicing the spiritual discipline of standing on the side of love. And for me, at least, St. Louis feels more like home than it ever has, because I have anchored in Unitarian Universalist values for my city. Home has happened by creating our sanctuary on a busy commercial drive. Our sanctuary is our bodies, standing together in love in the wind, in the rain, in the cold, and sometimes blissfully in the sun.

We know that it is going to take several years to have a permanent home again, even to rent a space that is only ours. We are going to have to grow as a congregation, quite a lot, and the board is going to look at exactly how much we would need to grow so that we have a realistic timeline for getting there. So, we need to keep that long term goal in front of us, and at the same time, look at how we will create home and permanence right now. With who we are now, where we are now.

When I look at all the faiths in the world, I see so many different ways of creating home. A Roman Catholic has home when they pull out their rosary beads. A Baptist is home when they open up the family Bible. A Jewish person has home when they say the Sabbath prayers. A Muslim is home when they face Mecca.

What is home for Unitarian Universalists? Our home is in our spiritual disciplines of interdependence, compassion, justice, equality, and reverence.

You know what one of my favorite times of the week has become? Sunday from 9- 10 a.m. because that’s when we create our sacred space. We move chairs, hang curtains, wire the sound, and roll in the pulpit and chalice. We make the coffee and set up the greeter table. Everyone is working together to create our sacred place. What we are doing is Unitarian Universalist theology in action.   We are incarnating interdependence. We all need each other, coming together, with our various skills and understandings, to create the vehicle for our community to connect and deepen. And when the chalice is extinguished at the end of worship, its transformative power goes into our hearts. We put all the material trappings of church away in Room 135, and the true center of our faith goes out into the world incarnated in us who have been strengthened and renewed in coming together.

If this is not an act of journeying with grace, then I don’t know what is. Sometimes my heart feels so big I don’t know how I will be able to hold it all, because of what I see us creating together, because of how I see us living our Unitarian Universalism. We often say that Unitarian Universalism is about thinking outside the box, standing against the grain, being creative and open minded, ready for new ideas and new ways of being. We aren’t just talking about that anymore, we are living it.

In this way, we are journeying with grace, remaining open and kind, thankful and generous, anchored in the present and looking to the future. Wherever we land years from now, right now, we have landed here, and we have the opportunity to find home right now. And we will find new life, over and over again.

May the spirit be with you and yours. Amen and blessed be.

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