What Makes Us Great

June 25, 2017

READING ~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu & His Holiness the 14th Dalia Lama

“Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”  — Desmond Tutu

“We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family, God's family.” — Desmond Tutu

“Hard times build determination and inner strength. Through them we can also come to appreciate the uselessness of anger. Instead of getting angry nurture a deep caring and respect for troublemakers because by creating such trying circumstances they provide us with invaluable opportunities to practice tolerance and patience.” — Dalai Lama

“Try to remain truthful. The power of truth never declines. Force and violence may be effective in the short term, but in the long run it’s truth that prevails. Being honest and truthful engenders trust and trust leads to friendship and a good reputation. Because we all need friends, honesty and transparency are a basic aspect of human nature.” — Dalai Lama

 

READING: The Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA) Interim Co-Presidents, the Revs. Sofía Betancourt and William Sinkford and Dr. Leon Spencer

At the beginning of our service, we can speak only to our hopes. We have been charged to “call upon Unitarian Universalism to redeem its history by planning for and taking the steps toward living into an antiracist, multicultural future.”

We are committed to making this a time of opportunity and not merely a troubled time to be survived. We have been charged to put in place a process of analysis of where we are on our journey toward wholeness. We have been committed to that journey for decades.

The positive energy of our re-engagement with racism and privilege calls us to say goodbye to habits and patterns many of us have known for a lifetime. We will not grieve the ending of those patterns and the hurtful results that they have sustained, but we will certainly experience their absence.

To say that change is hard may be trite, but it is true.

What we are embarking upon is deeply religious work. We are called to act as if love is real, and by our living make it so. We are called to insist that the Beloved Community is not just an idle dream. We are called to be present to both our past and to our dreams for the future in this faith of memory and of hope.

. . . . We hope that our new president, elected in New Orleans, can view our work as a foundation. Some of the truth telling and some of the healing will have begun. Some confidence will have been reestablished. We hope that our new president can begin not only with a commitment to move toward the Beloved Community but with some hope grounded in the initial work we will, together, set in motion.

SERMON

What makes us great - - Both a question and an answer.

As I headed off last Monday to New Orleans for our UU Ministry Days and our General Assembly, it was, for me, a question. What makes us – Unitarian Universalists– great? During 2017, we have endured upheaval and a good deal of confusion and suffering at our own hands. We are a collection of deeply faithful people working at, and failing to achieve, beloved community.

For those of you who are just coming into this conversation, let me simply say that in the last four months, we have experienced a series of events that have revealed that our faith is still operating in the waters of persistent institutional racism. People have been hurt. People have been blamed, or at least criticized, for their lack of awareness and insensitivity. Our UUA President, Peter Morales, resigned three months short of the end of his term. Two more senior staff—the Rev. Harlan Limpert, chief operating officer, and the Rev. Scott Tayler, director of Congregational Life— resigned as well. The Executive Director of the Ministers’ Association tried to respond to the crisis, but did so in a way that proved unhelpful. He resigned. Our UUA Moderator, Jim Key, was the only senior official left in place and he was working day and night to bring people together. Then, he resigned in May due to very serious health concerns that prevented him from continuing. To our great grief, Jim died from cancer a few weeks ago. So … coming into our general assembly, we have three acting Presidents, an acting Executive Director of the ministers’ association, an acting moderator, and an acting chief operation officer.

To say that it has been a hard few months, is an understatement.

I was asking myself – in such a time as this, “What makes us great?”

Seriously questioning, yet remaining faithful to each other and to our religious tradition, I and thousands more ministers and lay people headed off to be together - - to see what we might be able to accomplish when we put ourselves to the tasks of truth telling and truth listening; grace and forgiveness; and a commitment to massive change for a strong and better future.

I return from my time in New Orleans wanting to share with you an answer. Oh my goodness, not a complete answer and not a final answer, but the beginning of an answer. What makes us great is love; our love for each other and for our faith. Trite, perhaps, but what I saw and heard and felt from people of color and people in leadership makes it true. What I experienced first at our ministers’ meeting and then for the opening days of the General Assembly was person after person offering a humble and honest assessment of where we are, what we have done wrong, what we have failed to do, what we need, and where we need to be going.

We are now intentionally confronting the deep racism in our faith – not our people, but our institution and how it operates. This racism is described as the water we swim in. I’m so much one with it that I can’t even differentiate myself from its pervasive influence. Like a fish swimming in water who cannot separate itself from the water, we are so much a part of centuries of racism in America and in our religious tradition that we cannot separate ourselves from it and its effects.

What I experienced was person after person speaking from their heart and speaking the truth about the impact of racism in their lives. Serious change is required to move toward full respect and participation and the eradication of racism and its ill effects.

Some of you may remember that we have been in a similar place before. We promised to make changes and do better. And we began the work in earnest. It started alright, but after a while, it became too much for us. We relaxed our attention and slid back into comfortable patterns – patterns reflective of our national white supremacy. Most of us did not notice this slide away from our best intentions. Our people of color noticed. Many of them had put their faith in the promises of our leaders and their associates only to be heart-broken. As you know, we can be profoundly hurt by the ones we love. Our people of color felt betrayed and hurt by the ones they love. Many of them left the UUA and we are the poorer for their departure.

And, many stayed. Why? Our liberal religious faith is compelling. Ours is a spirituality not found elsewhere.

Now is our time to persist. There is strong reason to think we won’t abandon our promises and our resolve. What gives me hope, and even a bit of confidence, is that our people of color are seeing and experiencing something different. They are not leaving. They are staying. This is their religious home. They really want us to work through the present difficulties and move into a different future.

I can’t even begin to tell you how emotional it has been to listen to our friends of color as they talk about how they have experienced racism and oppression within our faith. Against all odds. Against their previous experience. Against the lessons of the past. Against their own pain, mistrust, and misgivings. Like Charlie Brown doubting that Lucy will really hold the football steady as he runs into the kick, they are giving it another try. Even though they can honestly say, “We have been here before and our trust was broken,” they are staying. A few of those who have been missing since 1969 are coming back - reaching out to lead and to co-create a different future for all of us - - - ALL OF US.

What changes or commitments will we make? We will speak the truth and we will sit down and be quiet and hear the truth before speaking or doing. We will not make excuses. We will not blame the harmed. We will not turn away from our past transgressions, we will admit them and change our ways so that we won’t repeat them. We will not take the quick and easy path toward reconciliation, for that path has been worn down into nothingness long ago.

It’s complicated. It’s complex. It’s confounding. Working through two hundred years of racism is not for the faint-hearted, the defensive, the insecure, or the fragile. If anyone knows the complexity and difficulty of facing our truth and reconciling our differences, it is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He says that “True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.” And I do believe he knows more about it than any of us.

Working through our own unintentional participation in white supremacy is hard. We can’t easily recognize it, so we need help. Help. That help cannot be the responsibility of those who have been harmed; we cannot expect that people of color will lead us white folks through our process of birthing something new and bold and loving in our faith.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is credited with having said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Well, we Unitarian Universalists are at a crossroads. We are being invited to make that difficult and uncomfortable journey through the complexities of a legacy of white supremacy so that we might come through to the other side where we can be simply whole and where love is real.

How?

For starters, as the Hebrew prophet, Micah, said we must love justice, we must practice kindness, and we must walk humbly with our God. Then we face our reality with hearts and eyes wide open.

Our work includes these things . . .

  • Truth – Speaking the truth and Hearing the truth
  • Recognition of past harm
  • Repentance – of wrongdoing . . . personally, and collectively
  • Responsibility & Accountability – honestly and humbly accepting our responsibility and accountability for what has gone wrong and for doing the work necessary for setting things right
  • Reparation & Amends – it is not enough to be sorry; we need to find ways to make whole those who have been harmed and to make right that which is asunder
  • Reconciliation – when the time is right, we are called upon to come together in love and trust to reconcile our differences and make new our commitment to each other
  • We Begin Again in Love – Always. Not just once, but as often as necessary.

We can do this hard thing. I know it’s not easy, but I believe that it is so, we can do this hard thing. I witnessed the beginnings of healing. I am full of hope. I am full of confidence in our leadership and the leaders yet to emerge into this wider world of Unitarian Universalist faith.

What makes us great? Our greatness lies in the love we share and in our willingness to do the work we must do to become the people we long to be; to continue to build beloved community where:

All are called.
Everyone is Loved Beyond Belief.
And No one is left behind – No one.

I began with the hopeful words from our three interim presidents.

Let me conclude with the words of our newly elected president and soon to be installed this morning, The Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray.

“This is a defining moment, and the stakes are very high. We have deep work to do within our association and our tradition, and critical work to do beyond the association. I believe we are up to it. I look forward to working with you on this transformative path ahead.”

I too believe we are up to the task that calls us forth into real and lasting greatness. This is what I know , even as we struggle together to do this hard work- - There is a Love that holds us and will never let us go – not me, not you, ever.

My dear Spiritual Companions, Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. Come, let us all meet there.

Ashe.   I Love You. Amen.

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Rev. Margaret A. Beckman

Rev. Margaret A. Beckman

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