Posts Tagged action

Why?

Changing the World @ the UUFP

For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive MillardRev. Andrew Clive Millard

Many parents dread that age when their child starts asking “Why?”  Not because they don’t want their child to be curious, but because whatever the answer, it usually leads to another “Why?” until the final answer, out of frustration, is something like “Because I said so!”  (The theological problem that answer represents is a topic for another time…)  Olivia hasn’t reached that phase yet, but she certainly asks plenty of other questions and I know it’s just a matter of time!

While it’s a phase that’s usually outgrown within a few years, the question still sticks with us throughout our lives.  And “why” is distinct from the other question words: “what”, “where”, “when” and “who” often have concrete answers, and in fact the rule of thumb for announcing an event is to include those answers as the most important details.  Even “how”, though more…

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

As we enter the final weeks of 2011, stores are busy with last-minute shopping and post offices are crowded with last-minute mailing, and it won’t be too long before we’re into 2012 and life gets back to what, for most of us, passes as ‘normal’.  For the week and a half from Christmas Eve through to New Year’s, though, I am thoughtfully wishing (to use Unitarian Universalist minister Forrest Church’s phrase) for a time of happiness and peace, of precious respite from the busy-ness of our modern society, for you and yours and our whole world.

The end of each year is a natural time for looking back.  Much of what seems to be on television right now, for instance, seems to be year-in-review retrospectives, whether it’s the year’s most interesting people or the year’s funniest adverts.  It’s also a time for looking ahead, for thinking about what we want to do and who we want to be.  Imaginative dreaming lifts us up for the longer view, to see what seeds we might plant for the distant future while continuing to nurture the past’s growing seedlings so they may in time bear fruit.  New Year’s resolutions, of course, need to be specific, bringing creativity to bear on imagination and turning vision into action.  In a similar way, my congregation’s staff and lay leaders are preparing for the second half of the church year, planning meaningful Sunday services, fun-raising social events, informative and inspiring religious education classes and workshops, and prophetic work for justice, all of which are dedicated to our mission of creating a dynamic community that celebrates life and searches for truths.

One of the questions that is occasionally asked about our congregation’s mission is where justice comes in.  After all, Sunday services, community events and faith development are clearly implicated, but what about our work in the wider world?  Indeed, as the great Unitarian (and then Unitarian Universalist) theologian James Luther Adams put it (in one of my favorite quotes!), “a purely spiritual religion is a purely spurious religion.”  Certainly prophetic action that speaks truth to power is one of the hallmarks of our faith, inherited from both Unitarian and particularly Universalist halves of our religious heritage, being integral to most of our Seven Principles as well as built into the very governance of the congregation.  From my perspective, however, our efforts to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice are represented — required, even — by all three pieces of our mission statement.

First, a community is dynamic to the extent it includes diversity.  Homogeneity breeds stagnation for if there is no difference or variation then there is no impetus for change or growth.  Diversity does not automatically lead to fairness, however, and in fact will only survive where there is equity, compassion and acceptance of one another.  Second, the celebration of life recognizes both joys and sorrows, lifting up the good times but not pretending that there are no bad times.  In this we honor everyone’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and we work together to insure that everyone may speak their conscience and be heard, finding healthy ways to agree to disagree when necessary.  Third, we embrace a plurality of truths.  As a religion that helps us to figure out for ourselves what it is we truly believe, we actively encourage one another’s spiritual growth, providing a safe place for exploration and demanding a world where people are not treated differently just because of who they are or what they believe.  Our ability to create a dynamic community that celebrates life and searches for truth, then, depends intimately and necessarily on an orientation toward justice, both within our own walls and beyond.

I’m looking forward to seeing how we live our welcoming, worth-shaping, wondering faith in the year ahead, bringing our good news to those who so need to hear it.  My thoughtful wish is that 2012 may offer celebration where there is joy and comfort where there is sorrow, invitation where there is loneliness and generosity where there is fullness, great-heartedness where there is difference and strengthening hope where there is difficulty.  So may it be.

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Bending Toward Justice

It’s sometimes hard to get everything I want to say on a particular topic into a single sermon.  While I want to emphasize certain points with an illustration to make more concrete what might otherwise remain abstract, such an illustration must be brief at the risk of becoming a distracting tangent or, worse, sidelining the sermon’s intended message.  Sometimes, however, an illustration deserves considerably more airtime.

My Yom Kippur sermon in early October, for example, mentioned the importance of rejecting “cheap grace” when it comes to healing brokenness and restoring wholeness.  I cited the wisdom my mother shared with me that it will take at least as long to mend something as it did to break it.  I then said:

Just think about what that means in this country when it comes to something like racism and the legacy of slavery, which existed as a legal institution for 246 years but was only abolished 146 years ago.  By my reckoning that means we have at least a century of work still to do — and just because we have an African-American President in the White House does not mean we’re done!

Unitarian minister Theodore Parker knew this in 1830 when he spoke of the arc of the moral universe being long but bending toward justice.  This understanding was paraphrased 130 years later by Dr. King and repeated more recently by (then Senator) Barack Obama.  What for Parker was a matter of faithful intuition, however, became a matter of determined action for Obama: the moral arc bends because we put our hands on it and make it bend toward justice.

Picking up on this theme, our newly renamed Southeast District has launched a campaign called “Bending the Arc” which is aimed at taking the racial and social justice work of Unitarian Universalism in the South to a new level.  With a vision for transforming the Southeast into the world we dream about, the campaign will, amongst other efforts, focus attention on racial justice in a Southern context, create linkages between congregations to maximize our social justice impact, assist congregations in developing effective interfaith and community partnerships, and seed UU legislative advocacy groups to work on critical social issues.

This is, of course, work that we are called to undertake at my congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula, and I intend to begin a conversation in the new year about what that might mean for us and how we might engage with it.  We’ll start with workshops for youth and adults based on The Arc of the Universe is Long, a book recently published by the UUA’s Skinner House that presents a history of “Unitarian Universalists, Anti-Racism and the Journey from Calgary” from the mid-1980s to 2006.

Arc is based on original interviews as well as written records and other documents that address matters of race and ethnicity, and traces the work of anti-racist, anti-oppressive multiculturalism from the 1983 report Empowerment: One Denomination’s Quest for Racial Justice to the 1992 resolution “Racial and Cultural Diversity in Unitarian Universalism” through the renewed commitment expressed at the 2006 General Assembly to address racism and classism in Unitarian Universalist congregations.  The five-session curriculum by one of the authors, UU minister Leslie Takahashi Morris, is intended to generate a discussion about race, identity, relationships, social change and faith in ways that are respectful and constructive.

The most recent issue of UU World includes an article by UU minister Mark Morrison-Reed, whose Black Pioneers in a White Denomination is generally credited with renewing the Unitarian Universalist conversation around race and racism in the 1980s.  In that article, he notes that UUs remain unreconciled over issues of multiculturalism four decades after our Association wounded itself over “black empowerment”, and yet even that failure to live up to our vaunted ideals underscores our common humanity.  The Arc of the Universe Is Long reminds us that our journey toward justice continues, so let us dedicate ourselves to this soul work of redemption and transformation!

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