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Archive for the ‘Growing the Beloved Community’ Category

Black Lives Matter: Why We Care

uucj-blm-bannerThe congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jackson has placed a banner and affirmed a statement in support of Black Lives Matter to demonstrate our commitment to challenging long-standing racism and systems of oppression that impact people based on class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and language.

Black Lives Matter is an affirmation of the contributions of African Americans to this society and humanity. This movement arose in response to enduring injustices including the criminalization of Black life, racist police practices, repeated and unjustified violence directed at Black people, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the persistent economic disadvantages facing Black people.

Find out more information at: http://www.uujackson.org/why-we-care/

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Deus Ex Machina and the Ghost in the Shell

This sermon is the completion of a trilogy (I suppose I could call it a three-part series but the former sounds better) Around James Luther Adams concept of the Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion. I preached this sermon on the first Sunday In December 2016. Upon  rehearing the sermon (during editing) I had to admit that I was having a lot of fun but wasn’t sure where I was going, but then my goal is not to arrive before I get there. If you find yourself wondering where I am going throughout this sermon just let yourself go and experience the path, but don’t think about it as a conclusion, maybe more of a resolution.

Before preaching the sermon I posted this summation:

I wish you could have been along for the ride while I debated back and forth about this title through inner dialogue. Deus Ex Machina is Latin for God out of the Machine a common narrative trope found in stage and screen also in books and even theology. Ghost in a Shell is a story about a marionette created by an old man named Gepeddo, that came to life after wishing on a star… wait no… that’s Pinocchio. Either way, I want to talk about something that binds us together, I will be continuing through James Luther Adams’ Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Region. Today’s topic, hope.

We’re Better Off Together

This sermon, is part two of my Exploration of the 5 Smooth Stones. Before starting this sermon I read a lengthy section from a James Luther Adams essay called Our Response in Society. 

During the Sermon I have an extended reading from Eboo Patel’s book Acts of Faith, and will reference it often as I explore the question of why do some choose a violent path.

Synopsis:

Early on in my work with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jackson I would have to confront a basic question from good natured believers of a differing theology. When I explained the lack of theological homogeneity (as it refers to the existence of God) of our collective, I would no doubt be met with blank stares and then the question, “So you’re not really a church?” Early on I was dumbfounded when met with this question because I had work to do, I didn’t know how to enter into a dialogue that would begin with, “Church, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

Revelation and Inspiration: The Art of Not Knowing in an Interdependent World

This sermon is the first of three built around James Luther Adams’ 5 Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion.

To set the mood I read from Revelation 1:4-15 and listened to Son House play John the Revelator.

Synopsis:

My oldest questions revolved around one simple idea “How do we know?” Over time I became more and more dissatisfied with the answer. Being a parent didn’t help me find an answer. Over time, I learned responsibility happened even in the absence of preparation, making me question John the Revelator…even while trying to embrace the breath of God. The old Gospel/Blues song asked the question, “Who’s that writing?” That’s one of many questions I’ll be asking on Sunday.

Camping, Records, and Community

Sunrise at Roosevelt State Park

Sunrise at Roosevelt State Park

I was surprised! The night was actually cool as I drifted off to sleep in my tent. I arrived at Roosevelt State Park for a camping trip at about three o’clock in the afternoon. I found my space and set up my tent. Then, covered in sweat, I sat down in front of the Gaudet’s pop-up trailer and relaxed. We sat, talked and during conversation we would drift into silence, then back into conversation. Simply put, it was a relaxing day.

That evening we had dinner with other campers from church and then moved to Paul’s campfire. We all agreed that the fire was a beautiful centerpiece but the warmth of the Mississippi summer did not require it’s necessity. The small group of us sat around in chairs refreshed by wonderful beverages, telling stories, laughing together, and like typical UUs, we discussed politics.

As usual when I camp, I woke early the next morning and made coffee and breakfast over a small camp stove. I burned my biscuits but had the best coffee and eggs a man could want.

That morning, I marveled at the sun’s rays coming through the trees and the lake–so much so that it seemed that the lake was on fire. After breaking camp, I returned to where I started–sitting with Ross Gaudet–this time, through a delightfully cool morning. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay another night. Work was calling, so I chose to leave before other church members arrived causing me, for sure, not to want to leave. But as I left, I felt the calm and peace of the morning settle into my soul and the heart of community beat within my chest and I drove in the noon-day sun ready to finish my work.

We often talk about growing our church and building our community. As UUs, we know that means we will struggle and fight together for equality. Our members may work day-to-day in their jobs but often in their spare time, they struggle with building a more just and fair world. We see each other throughout the day supporting fair-minded local businesses or demonstrating in front of the Capitol building. This work is part of what makes us a thriving church. We read about the issues we fight for, we talk about them in forum and service, we organize around them, and though we tell ourselves we can do even better, at the end of the day we are tired and filled with exhaustion.

But the day is filled with more than just work and activism. During the day we have conversations, break bread together, and sometimes just eat good cookies together. These other things are also very important in community building and church growing. In fact, events like the church camping trip can help create strong bonds of friendship.

In my personal music blog Friday Vinyl I recently posted about my acquisition of the reissue of the vinyl version of Led Zeppelin I. As I walked out the door to pick up my record from the door-step it occurred to me that there is a core part of community building being laid asunder by technology. I remember when the last locally owned record store in Jackson (that actually sold vinyl records) closed its doors. I know the owner didn’t feel good about it and neither did I. I had made stopping in to buy records part of my normal Friday schedule and that was now gone. Don’t get me wrong–I love technology and am a big supporter of social networking online but I will always prefer walking into a store to buy a record (even standing in line on its release day) instead of walking out my front door seeing that it has been delivered by the postal service. When I walked in the door of Morning Bell Records, I was part of the community. When I walked out my front door, I was just the weirdo who doesn’t think mp3s are good enough.

Led Zeppelin I: Friday Vinyl

Led Zeppelin I: Friday Vinyl

There is an important theological concept where these two stories cross–community. When we sat together at Roosevelt State Park, we weren’t overrun with work or church business. We simply sat–enjoying one another’s company. The bonding that took place in the park is different than the bond that takes place over online social networks. Don’t get me wrong–the latter is important but the former is key. This concept is the same with my favorite shops. I don’t mind going online for some things, but there are other purchases that are more fun to make in person.

Fun helps build community, coming together to laugh is what strengthens us so that we can come together to act. We may not all want to go camping but we may love karaoke. We may not care for drinks around a fire but we may love coffee and poetry. I know that if we come together for fun it will help us build a bond of love, so that when we stand together we will not be moved.

Reflections on Being an Ally

“In every age, no matter how cruel the oppression carried on by those in power, there have been those who struggled for a different world. I believe this is the genius of humankind, the thing that makes us half divine: the fact that some human beings can envision a world that has never existed.”

-Anne Braden

Anne Braden was a white civil rights activist in Louisville, Kentucky; one of very few white American’s Martin Luther King, Jr. was quoted to say that he trusted to have his back. I was introduced to her legacy while attending the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2013. Her story quickly began to weave its way into my soul. If you don’t know much about her there is a wonderful documentary about her life. This post is not about Anne Braden, but her life story is very important when we consider what it means to be an ally.

Sadly, in our generation being an ally is a learned ideal. With the recent news from Arizona, Kansas, and a myriad of other states our ability to stand with others will become very important. Civil rights leaders have fought a long embittered struggle through the latter half of the 20th century to end one form of segregation only to be met with segregation anew in the 21st. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have been fighting an uphill battle for many years and they must be gaining ground because opposition to equality has really kicked into overdrive. In the United States we look to Arizona reinstituting Jim Crow. Russia now makes demonstrating for the LGBTQ community a crime, and different countries in Africa calling for prison and death–all for people who just want the right to be themselves. Now, this new segregation is making its way into Mississippi.

When I was a child I never understood why two people of the same sex couldn’t be married. When I was in high school very brave friends starting coming out, and as I grew to be an adult I found that I knew more people in the LGBTQ community than I had imagined. Human beings–not faceless masses huddled in alleyways–but friends, family, and loved ones. I noticed that when I needed an ear, they listened; when I needed a shoulder to cry on, they offered; and when I needed support, they provided. They are different than me, but not really. Our hearts beat the same, our blood pumps the same, and when it comes down to brass tacks, we want the same thing– love. In fact I find the continued use of the terms they and them in this post problematic. I feel limited by language, but then in reality isn’t that just a reflection of the privileges I am granted automatically by being white, male, and heterosexual?

The happiest day of my life was my wedding, and it is a terrible tragedy that weddings only come to those born within a narrow range of acceptability. Love shouldn’t be allowed only for the privileged. Over the years being an ally has meant different things, but the core has always been the same. People I love are being marginalized and mistreated because of who they are, and I find that unacceptable. Perhaps a better word is shameful. But we have to continue to work together with that vision of a different world– the one we write poems about, the one we sing songs about. Staying in the struggle and the power will enable us to get there together.

Justin

I have a Quick Question

When I was new to Unitarian Universalism a lot of my friends and family wanted to know more about the religion. After doing a fairly “shoddy” job of explaining it I would get the response, “So it’s not really a religion then.” I was always confused by that statement, because after my time with the UU church I came to see what many would call “true religion.” My Christian heritage actually defines true religion, and I have seen it as long as I have been a UU.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

-James 1:27

In fact there are two big things that strike me the most about this statement: first, UU’s do this without having to fear God will strike them dead or send them to hell–care is part of our nature; and second, we are not afraid to make it part of our politics. UU’s generally try, though partners and members, to make this list a little longer. We argue on behalf of those who are unable, and we help let others know their voice matters.

In fact, one of the most important things “religious” people do is practice their religion. Okay, maybe that sounds a little cyclical. Let’s take a look at it. Most people define religion very narrowly. I notice often that many have a hard time defining a religion to be a religion without invoking the name of Jesus. UU’s go one step further and don’t even require members to invoke the name of a god.

In so doing, we still use words like faith, communion, and even prayer. I believe UU’s do something revolutionary and extremely honest. We set a basic set of principles and ask that while we work together we abide by them. Religion for us then is not about belief or necessarily even G/god–it is about being part of community and our responsibility to that community.

For Unitarian Universalists, religion is about what we do. What does the existence of G/god even matter when we let children starve, prejudice to be defended, and the innocent die? What makes us strong is that we work together so we don’t have to be afraid, even though we rest in the minority.

Many religions are also defined by their daily practice–whether that practice be prayer, reading, or doing good deeds. Unitarian Univesalists do this as well. We just let others decide their own practice. While some may practice through reading or prayer, others do so through feeding the poor. Still others define practice through revitalizing their community. What is your daily practice, and why is it important to you?

Justin