WE CARRY THE FLAME

On Sunday, June 28, we offered thanks for how, across generations and through time, we carry the flame…fighting injustice, singing the songs, speaking the truth, and moving toward a vision of a better future. The Story for All Ages was “There” by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, and Glen Caradus sang Hold On, both of which I refer to in my reflection. 
Here it is, with a few edits for clarity: 

What a week I’ve had! Hanging the Black Lives Matter/Indigenous Lives Matter banner on our street sign. Attending Ministry Days and General Assembly both of which are laser-focused on how we must become anti-racist if we are to be relevant into the future. Reading the Commission on Institutional Change’s report, called Widening the Circle of Concern. And  participating in a panel that the Canadian Unitarian Council had on Thursday evening where we heard the personal experiences of black Canadians.

All of this is steeping in my heart and my bones…So you can just imagine the kind of tea that’s brewing, I have a particular vision in mind. I’ve got my eye on that prize…or maybe better, I’m trying to listen to people who have their eye on the prize. And ‘there’ is becoming quite alluring and compelling. I’ll get to that in a moment.

First let’s just think about today’s story…sweet, right? There. Are we there yet? Makes me think of the song we sing sometimes…Woyaya… “We are going, heaven knows where we are going, but we know within…”

And so it is with the youngun in the story. They’re asking a lot of questions…expressing both anticipation and trepidation about what is to come. Wondering if they’re ready.
Yet somehow, most of the time, they keep facing toward ‘there’…knowing it’s beckoning them and that they’re gonna keep moving toward it.

But you know, I got a little concerned in the final pages when staying ‘here’ seemed a better option, because I think that’s what we too often do. It can be too easy to settle into ‘here’ because it’s comfortable and known and it doesn’t require much of us.

At the CUC event on Thursday, which a few of you were present for, Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana spoke about how a faith community should not be a place of comfort…but rather a place for us to practice being uncomfortable, which he compares to be faithful.

And, there is good reason to be uncomfortable, if we’re willing to look. The pandemic and the global response against racism is reason enough, to be sure. We’re experiencing things we’ve never seen before. There’s no ‘normal’ anymore. Even though these times contain great promise, it’s uncomfortable.

Within our ‘walls’…that is within Unitarian Universalism, the Commission on Institutional Change for the UUA was charged three years ago with supporting “long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism.” They begin their report with a list of hard realities, including these: 

  • New generations face a bleak future. There’s despair caused by income inequality, climate change, the opioid crisis, and now the pandemic. Young people are increasingly at risk and need a sustaining faith.
  • But our society is moving away from institutional religion. We continue to attract a greater diversity of people, but retain a small percentage.
  • More of those who enter our doors today are not coming OUT of some other faith, but rather are coming seeking spiritual ground. And we are not ready for them. We have not invested in developing a vocabulary of faith sufficient to meet these troubling times.
  • We have a beautiful theology which promotes equity, inclusion, and diversity, yet that’s not what is often experienced within our congregations. People coming to us for spiritual sustenance expect cultural competency…but we don’t offer it…yet.

The list is long, and while we could put this report aside as something made far away by a group of people we don’t know, let’s not do that. Let’s sit in the discomfort and allow it to change us. Because, if young people leave, and those who come to UFP don’t find what they need, our saving message will not help them. And we will not survive.

Fred Woodson, a colleague older than I, said in a recent facebook post that he was feeling obsolete, but that while his feelings are real, reality is so much larger than those feelings. It’s not about me, he said. So he expressed a willingness to listen amid the fires, earthquakes and winds around him.

Again, if we’re going to contribute to a different future, we have to set aside our own feelings and be willing to be changed. Even to make the changes ourselves.

What helps me is to hold a vision of ‘there’…of that place toward which we are moving…is a vision of the beloved community. A place where every person is valued. A place where the earth is honoured. A place where all of our relationships are grounded in respect and compassion. A place where power is shared, and is used to ensure that everyone has what they need to thrive.

For this congregation, my vision of ‘there’ is….a place where we listen deeply to all voices, where we share the ministry knowing that every person has unique gifts. It’s a centre for social action, and where we have partnerships with others working to restore wholeness in our community. It’s a place where we’re willing to step aside humbly, to seek true reconciliation and to center those who experience marginalization. Where those of us who have power work to understand our privilege, and how we can use it to heal, not to harm. It’s a place where black and indigenous and people of colour feel welcome, because we’ve done our work to become culturally competent. It’s a place where youth and young adults have agency to explore truth and meaning. It’s a building that is accessible to those of differing abilities. Here is where loving and justice-seeking energy exudes out and beyond our walls, drawing the community in, and us back out again…to greater interconnection and healing.

Can you see it? Do you share this vision?

And BTW, I was bothered by today’s story in that the youngun seems to be making the journey all alone. That’s simply a lie. None of us are making the journey to ‘there’ alone, and when we imagine that we are, I believe that we are contributing to the problem. Wholeness, in community…where all that is broken is healing AND healed…only happens when we are in it together. I know that, especially right now, many folks are feeling alone…physical distancing will do that to a person.

Beloved COMMUNITY is antithetical to being alone. We’ve got to remember that we…and by ‘we’ I mean all of us…are walking that path together, passing the flame one to the other, receiving from those who’ve gone before, and passing it on to those who will come.

Rev. Danielle Di Bona, a UU minister who identifies as biracial (half Wampanoag Indian) told a beautiful story in a worship service earlier this week. She spoke of attending a pow-wow, where as is tradition, everyone danced in a circle. But one elder was dancing in the opposite direction, going upstream, bumping up against the flow. And when asked why, he said that there is so much wrong right now that the world has tilted off its axis, and that he was dancing counterclockwise in order to tilt it back.

Uncomfortable? Sure. But the world needs us.
So be it.