Black Lives Matter

“Black Lives Matter”

For the Rededication of our

Black Lives Matter Banner

Worship Service for

Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, Illinois
December 3, 2017
The Rev. Jennie Ann Barrington, Interim Minister

 

First Reading: Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing to his teenage son:

“It was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street like some awesome declaration of their inviolable power would never be punished. It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 p.m. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.  I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in a false Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself.”

“Fear,” by Raymond Carver

Fear of seeing a police car pull into the drive.
Fear of falling asleep at night.
Fear of not falling asleep.
Fear of the past rising up.
Fear of the present taking flight.
Fear of the telephone that rings in the dead of night.
Fear of electrical storms.
Fear of the cleaning woman who has a spot on her cheek!
Fear of dogs I’ve been told won’t bite.
Fear of anxiety!
Fear of having to identify the body of a dead friend.
Fear of running out of money.
Fear of having too much, though people will not believe this.
Fear of psychological profiles.
Fear of being late and fear of arriving before anyone else.
Fear of my children’s handwriting on envelopes.
Fear they’ll die before I do, and I’ll feel guilty.
Fear of having to live with my mother in her old age, and mine.
Fear of confusion.
Fear this day will end on an unhappy note.
Fear of waking up to find you gone.
Fear of not loving, and fear of not loving enough.
Fear that what I love will prove lethal to those I love.
Fear of death.
Fear of living too long.
Fear of death.

I’ve said that.

 

Musical Message

Sermon: “Black Lives Matter”

 

“Black Lives Matter” is complex.  –as a banner to choose to put up, and then put up again; for the challenging conversations it prompts when it is worn as a button; on tee-shirts, and in blog posts, and websites, and books; on yard signs, that are taken down, or defaced, and then replaced, faithfully; and as a rallying cry at marches and demonstrations; “Black Lives Matter” calls us to humble ourselves, and stretch ourselves to go deeper and learn more. The slogan, “Black Lives Matter” insists that we, individually and collectively, acknowledge that systemic racism is a wound in our nation that we must not simply walk passed and ignore.

 

The hashtag, “Black Lives Matter” was created in 2014 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Through it, they, and people of color, and their allies, are hoping and praying that attention be paid to our nation’s history of racism, from its early days of slavery, to this present day when people who are black or Latino are, statistics overwhelming prove, stopped while doing nothing wrong, frisked, harassed, detained, and treated with deadly force, far more often than people who are white. Our nation’s history around race has, within it, brutality, and the treating of people of color as less valuable. We Unitarian Universalists hold, as our first principle, the affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings. And so, this morning, we are rededicating our Black Lives Matter banner. In so doing, we are recommitting, both on an individual level and as a whole congregation, that we will not sidestep the challenging, humbling conversations about racism and white supremacy. And we will continue our social justice work and advocacy to dismantle systemic racism, consistently and faithfully.

 

“Black Lives Matter” is complex. But we Unitarian Universalists can handle that, and we are engaging with that, openly, vulnerably, and earnestly. In recent years, when our congregations have put up Black Lives Matter signs and banners, Unitarian Universalists have responded by asking, “Shouldn’t they say, ‘All Lives Matter’?” And if we pause for a moment, we can understand where they are coming from in asking that. Unitarian Universalists, especially in our Universalist theology, are inclusive. In our UU history we have constantly reminded ourselves and stretched ourselves to learn more about, and be respectful of a diversity of worthy religious and philosophical beliefs, and all peoples who are marginalized and discriminated against, and a variety of sexual orientations, including the rights of transgender people. So, yes, of course it is true that All Lives Matter. But advocating for human rights is not a zero-sum equation. Advocating for the rights of one group of people who are marginalized and oppressed does not diminish our advocacy for other groups. And it is also true that we in our nation have more work to do, much more work to do, for years to come, to learn and understand and undo and heal from America’s history of racism.

 

Greater minds than mine have asserted that this is the case. One of the greatest among them is Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote:

 

“…anyone’s dignity can be violated [by the humiliations of unconstitutional searches]. But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny. For generations, black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’–  instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger–  all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.”

 

Justice Sotomayor’s words are part of her dissenting opinion in the case of, Utah, Petitioner v. Edward Joseph Strieff, Jr. [June 20, 2016], a case of an illegal, suspicionless stop and search. She writes that Edward Strieff “just happened to be the first person to leave a house that the officer thought might contain ‘drug activity.’” I encourage you to read her dissent in its entirety. It is available online.

 

[This is the link.] https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/14-1373_83i7.pdf

 

I found it in, The Best American Non-Required Reading, 2017. Her opinion convinced me of the ways illegal searches and suspicionless arrests can irreparably harm an innocent person’s life. She writes in part:

 

“Writing only for myself, and drawing on my professional experiences, I would add that unlawful ‘stops’ have severe consequences much greater than the inconvenience suggested by the name…  The indignity of the stop is not limited to an officer telling you that you look like a criminal. The officer may next ask for your ‘consent’ to inspect your bag or purse without telling you that you can decline…  If the officer chooses, he may handcuff you and take you to jail for doing nothing more than speeding, jaywalking, or ‘driving [your] pickup truck… with [your] 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter… without [your] seatbelt fastened.’ …Even if you are innocent, you will now join the 65 million Americans with an arrest record and experience the ‘civil death’ of discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever else conducts a background check…  This case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be catalogued. We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are ‘isolated.’ They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but. I dissent.”

 

“Black Lives Matter” is complex. In writing about the reality of people of color being targeted by police officers, I mean no disrespect toward any individual law enforcement officer. I have trust and faith in law enforcement because of the individual people I have known who are police officers, or who have worked for the FBI or the CIA. But we all also know that, as systems, law enforcement agencies can be corrupt. What are we to do in the midst of that fact? A few months after the Presidential Election last year, I talked with a leader in the UU congregation I was serving in Columbia, South Carolina. His name is David Crockett, and he is black. A

great resident scholar, in that congregation and city, David is Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, with specialization in sociological aspects of consumer behavior and the consequences of social inequality. He believes that individual people can make a difference in effecting systemic change. I told him that I do agree, but that, from my view, individual people have to have back-up– They have to have support for their efforts at effecting positive change. He then said,  “Exactly; it’s all about ‘the strength of weak ties.’” This was a new concept to me. So I looked into the concept of the strength of weak ties. Originated in 1973 by Mark Granovetter, it is essentially the fact that, in order to accomplish something [including getting a job after graduating from college] you should reach out beyond the inner circle of people you always associate with. And in their paper about this phenomenon, Daniel Levin, Rob Cross, and Lisa Abrams write that some elements must be present for the weak ties to be effective: competence, and benevolence-based trust. In order for a person to help and/or be helped by someone with whom their ties are weak, they must be able to feel trust and faith that that person is competent, and that he or she has their best interest at heart. And that’s why persistence is so important– and the necessity that we keep trying to reach out until we do connect with someone competent and benevolent who can help us, our communities, and our nation.

“Black Lives Matter” is complex. But we can each do our part to strengthen our “weak ties,” infusing them with competence and benevolence-based trust, beginning with opening ourselves to new learning, new experiences, and new relationships.

I’ll close with this true story from Dr. Howard Thurman’s collection called, Meditations of the Heart.  Howard Thurman was one of the twentieth century America’s greatest theologians, philosophers, and mystics–  a black minister devoted to interracial and inter-denominational progress.  In his essay, “She Practices Brotherhood,” he writes:

 

“The telephone rang at seven-fifteen in the morning.  And on the other end was a lady whose voice seemed full of years, soft but strong.  What she had to say was profoundly stirring:  [she said] ‘I am sorry to disturb you so early in the morning, but I wanted to call you before you left the hotel for the day.  About ten years ago [she said] (I am now sixty-nine) I decided to examine my life to see what, if anything, I could do to put into practice my own convictions about brotherhood…   The first thing I discovered was that I knew almost nothing about other races in my own city, particularly about [people who are black].  I went to the library and was given a small list of books and magazines.  I began to work.  The things I learned!  When it seemed to me that I had my hands on enough facts… I plotted a course of action.  Then I was stumped.  What could I do?  I had no particular abilities, very little energy, and an extremely modest income.  But I did like to talk to people as I met them on the buses and in the stores.  I decided that I would spread the facts I had and my own concern among all the people whose lives were touched by mine in direct conversation.  It took me some time to develop a simple approach that would not be an intrusion or a discourtesy.  For several years, I have been doing this on the bus riding into town each week, in a department store where I have made my purchases for two decades, and in various other places.  Occasionally, I run into a person in the street who stops to introduce himself and to remind me of a previous meeting.  One such person said, “I guess you have forgotten, but about four years ago I sat by you on a bus, and I don’t know how the question came up but we talked about [people who are black]; and you started me thinking along lines that had never occurred to me.  You even gave me the name of a book which I noted and purchased.  Since then, I have been instrumental in changing the whole personnel practice of our business on this question.  Thanks to you!”’  Continuing, she said, ‘I know that this is not very much, and I guess many people are doing much more.  But I thought I would tell you this so that, in your moments of discouragement, you may remember what one simple old lady was doing to help in little ways to right big wrongs.”

 

The overwhelming wrongs in the world are being righted one commitment at a time.

 

Offering [Share with the Minister’s Discretionary Fund] [Announcements: After the benediction, please join us outside under the Black Lives Matter banner, for brief words, and a group photograph.]

**Closing hymn #1017 Building a New Way

**[I invite you to join hands.]  **Benediction: From Kim Hampton

 

“We name these instances in order to face them; we face them in order to change. Together we must forge a culture of care for all… We need a culture of risk and vulnerability, of speaking truth to power, of paying attention to who is not at the table, and of celebration that also acknowledges our work is not done.”

 

Words for Outside Under the Banner:

 

We, the Members and Friends of Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, heartily rededicate our Black Lives Matter banner, today, and for all the days ahead, as this struggle continues. In doing so, we affirm that this commitment is both on an individual level, and as a whole congregation. In the words of the Rev. Louise Green:

“To display the sign, Black Lives Matter, is an act of cultural resistance, of public witness. This action is a symbol of something larger, and a spiritual practice as well—focus, attention, and steadiness. The aim and desire is to keep the spotlight on the complex set of issues affecting Black people in this country, dating from slavery through to (2017). Not since the Civil Rights Era has there been such a sustained commitment to make broad change. Black Lives Matter is a statement about that renewed commitment, a vow to keep looking, watching, and struggling.” (the Rev. Louise Green, Minister for Congregational Life, River Road UU Church, Bethesda MD)

And:

the words of Olympia Brown:

“We can never make the world safe by fighting. Every nation must learn that the people of all nations are children of God, and must share the wealth of the world. You may say this is impracticable, far away, can never be accomplished, but it is the work we are appointed to do. Sometime, somehow, somewhere, we must ever-teach this great lesson.”

The Prodigal Son

“The Prodigal Son”

Worship Service for

Ingathering of New Members, for

Second Unitarian Church of
Chicago, Illinois
November 19, 2017
The Rev. Jennie Ann Barrington, Interim Minister

 

First Reading: Luke 15: 11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son

There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.” And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.’” And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to make merry. Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.” But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, “Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!” And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

 

Second Reading, “The Bridge,” from Generation to Generation – Family Process in Church and Synagogue, by Edwin Friedman

“There was a man who had given much thought to what he wanted from life. He had experienced many moods and trials. He had experimented with different ways of living, and he had had his share of both success and failure.  At last, he began to see clearly where he wanted to go. Diligently, he searched for the right opportunity. Sometimes he came close, only to be pushed away. Often he applied all his strength and imagination, only to find the path hopelessly blocked. And then at last it came. But the opportunity would not wait. It would be made available only for a short time. If it were seen that he was not committed, the opportunity would not come again. Eager to arrive, he started on his journey. With each step, he wanted to move faster; with each thought about his goal, his heart beat quicker; with each vision of what lay ahead, he found renewed vigor…   Hurrying along, he came upon a bridge that crossed through the middle of a town. It had been built high above a river in order to protect it from the floods of spring. He started across.  Then he noticed someone coming from the opposite direction. As they moved closer, it seemed as though the other were coming to greet him. He could see clearly, however, that he did not know this other, who was dressed similarly except for something tied around his waist. When they were within hailing distance, he could see that what the other had about his waist was a rope…  The other began to uncurl the rope, and, just as they were coming close, the stranger said, “Pardon me, would you be so kind as to hold the end for a moment?”  Surprised by this politely-phrased but curious request, he agreed without a thought, reached out, and took it.  “Thank you,” said the other… and jumped off the bridge…  “What are you trying to do?!” the man on the bridge yelled. “Just hold tight,” said the other.  “This is ridiculous,” the man thought and began trying to haul the other in.  He could not get the leverage, however. It was as though the weight of the other person and the length of the rope had been carefully calculated in advance so that together they created a counterweight just beyond the strength to bring the other back to safety. “Why did you do this?” the man on the bridge called out. “Remember,” said the other, “if you let go, I will be lost.” “But I cannot pull you up,” the man cried. “I am your responsibility,” said the other. “Well, I did not ask for it,” the man said. “If you let go, I am lost,” repeated the other. The man on the bridge began to look for help. But there was no one. How long would he have to wait? Why did this happen to befall him now, just as he was on the verge of true success? …There was no way to get rid of this newfound burden, even temporarily. “What do you want?” he asked the other hanging below. “Just your help,” the other answered. “How can I help? I cannot pull you in, and there is no place to tie the rope so that I can go and find someone to help me help you.” “Just hang on…  Just remember, my life is in your hands,” said the other.  What should he do? “If I let go, all my life I will know that I let this other die. If I stay, I risk losing my momentum toward my own long-sought-after salvation. Either way this will haunt me forever.” …As time went by, still no one came.  The critical moment of decision was drawing near. To show his commitment to his own goals, he would have to continue on his journey now. It was already almost too late to arrive in time. But what a terrible choice to have to make. Then a new thought occurred to him. While he could not pull this other up solely by his own efforts, if the other would shorten the rope from his end by curling it around his waist again and again, together they could do it. Actually, the other could do it by himself, so long as the man standing on the bridge kept it steady and still. “Now listen,” he shouted down. “I think I know how to save you.” And he explained his plan. But the other wasn’t interested. “You mean you won’t help? But I told you I cannot pull you up myself, and I don’t think I can hang on much longer either.” “You must try,” the other shouted back in tears. “If you fail, I die.” The point of decision arrived. What should he do? “My life or the other’s?” And then [suddenly] a new idea. A revelation. So new, in fact, it seemed heretical, so alien was it to his traditional way of thinking. ”I want you to listen carefully,” the man on the bridge said, “because I mean what I am about to say. I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own; the position of choice for your own life, I hereby give back to you.” “What do you mean?” the other asked, afraid. “I mean, simply, it’s up to you.  You decide which way this ends. I will become the counterweight. You do the pulling and bring yourself up. I will even tug a little from here.”  The man on the bridge began unwinding the rope from his waist and braced himself anew against the side. “You cannot mean what you say,” the other shrieked. “You would not be so selfish. I am your responsibility. What could be so important that you would let someone die? Do not do this to me.” The man on the bridge waited a moment. There was no change in the tension of the rope. “I accept your choice,” the man on the bridge said at last, and freed his hands.

Choir Anthem  “Total Praise”

Homily:  “The Prodigal Son”

This morning we are joyfully honoring the people who have recently joined our congregation: Alex Champagne, Brittany Fuller, Susan Hier, Shelly Kurzynski, Banita McCarn, Amber Meriweather, and Jess Vogt.

 

And, Alex, Brittany, Susan, Shelly, Banita, Amber, and Jess, we offer you something that is a precious thing in our world today–  a community that has pledged and is ever-striving to live in right-relationship with each other. Unitarian Universalist congregations and other groups are covenantal in nature. In part, that means that we have promised each other that we will try to act with integrity and compassion, toward one another, and in all our relationship, and in our daily living, inside of and beyond our congregation. So this Ingathering Sunday brings to mind for me the qualities of what it means to strive to live in right-relationship, especially among a diversity of beliefs, values, and backgrounds.

 

And it is also the case that, during this Thanksgiving Week, and in the weeks ahead, we will find ourselves at gatherings of extended family, or parties in our workplace or neighborhood. And so we will find ourselves in conversations with some people whose life choices, or values, or beliefs we disagree with. How do we stay in right-relationship with such people?

 

One of the main authorities that clergy look to for answers to those questions is Edwin Friedman, and his book, Generation to Generation – Family Process in Church and Synagogue. His theories are also called “family systems theory.” Those theories have been enormously helpful to clergy and social services professionals since Friedman first published them in 1985. But it’s also been said that his book isn’t the most readable text on this subject. What is a lot easier for many people to read and reflect on, and apply to their lives in helpful ways, is his supplemental text called, Friedman’s Fables.  So I wanted us to hear, as our second reading this morning, the first parable in that collection, called, “The Bridge.” That parable can be a starting place for us to reflect on how we can strive to stay in right-relationship. And it raises many questions for us all–  including what, if anything, more we should do when someone says they will be lost without us, and we help them see choices they have of ways they could improve their lot, and they are not interested in pursuing those choices. Friedman, himself, names some more questions that this parable raises. These questions include:

  • How does this parable get played out in families, schools, congregations, and business organizations? And
  • How would you get the man hanging from the rope to take responsibility for himself? And
  • Why do people who are needy often get most needy when others around them are functioning best? [In fact, Friedman’s moral of this parable is: When things start going really well, watch out.] He also raises the questions:
  • Could both men be the same person? And the biggest question:
  • How much responsibility does the man on the bridge have for the other?

Friedman would say that, in order for a member of a family or a congregation to grow, we have to be differentiated enough from them that we are not over-functioning  –not trying to do their work of growth and development for them. Friedman writes that the two key elements in a healthy relationship are being a non-anxious presence with one another, and resiliency. He says this is actually very hard to do. Most people who care about another person [or even about a project, or other work] have a natural tendency to over-function. Then there isn’t enough emotional distance. A family member feels emotionally smothered and so leaves, creating physical distance. But the unresolved emotional issues remain, despite the miles.  The better way to create space in a relationship is to develop “the capacity to define [one’s] self in the relationship, and [the capacity] to control one’s own reactive mechanisms.” [see p. 42] In other words, when we feel someone is pushing our buttons, we should take time to get our head on straight about it, remember not to take it personally, and cool down so we can respond in a non-anxious way.  Friedman says doing so will go a long way toward family members and the whole family becoming healthier emotionally. When Friedman writes, “the capacity to define [one’s] self in the relationship,” we call that having appropriate boundaries.  In general, knowing what your boundaries are means knowing where you end off and the other person begins. It means knowing what your feelings are, and what are the other person’s–  what your issues are, and what are the other person’s–  what your beliefs and values are, and what are the other person’s. And it means our ability to accurately take in feedback and either accept it, modify it, or discard it—and our ability to recognize other people’s boundaries and not violate them.  When you have good boundaries, you are able to:

  • Be around someone else who is feeling intense feelings without taking their feelings onto yourself;

 

  • Determine what your responsibility is in a conflict and what the other person’s responsibility is;
  • Respect the other person’s right to privacy, and their right to their own internal world of thoughts and feelings;
  • Recognize that you won’t live or die depending on whether someone likes you or not; and
  • You are able to say “no” without feeling guilty.

Having good boundaries means realizing that we have responsibilities to other people–  the responsibility to encourage, support, listen, be fair and empathetic, and be truthful, clear, and timely in communicating. But, ultimately, we are not responsible for another adult.  Ultimately, it is not our responsibility to fix, nor rescue, nor control them, nor to carry their feelings. We can help people see the many possible choices they do have before them [and we should help them see those choices].  But, ultimately, people have the right to make their own life choices. And the consequences of those choices are theirs to live with.

 

The much more well-known parable about entangled complex family relationships is the parable of the prodigal son. Though it is familiar to all of us, it’s worth a second look. Its reunion of a father and two dramatically different sons has much to teach us about how to be in healthy relationship with each other, such that we help each other to grow and develop into our fullest best selves.

 

How many of us even know what “prodigal” means, anyway? Before looking it up, I might have guessed that it meant one who alienated his family, then repented, then returned to the fold. But “prodigal” actually means “so extravagant as to be wasteful.” As such, that’s a way of acting that can be spiritually unhealthy for the person and those close to him or her. And when we really look at the prodigal son’s father, we can see where the prodigal son may have gotten his extravagance from. The father had a tendency to be generous, which is good, but to a fault, which can end up doing more harm than good in the long run. The older son, on the other hand, was not a risk-taker. He obeyed rules and stayed within reasonable limits. That’s good– But he ended up resenting his lot, and that tainted his relationships. A middle way  –a way of moderation– is spiritually healthier over the long run– neither over-indulging nor overly depriving oneself. That way of moderation is, in fact, what the Buddha taught, and how Buddhists still strive to live today, as a spiritual practice. It’s a little hard to imagine how the family in the parable is going to achieve healthier spiritual practices. The three of them have some unhealthy habits to break.

 

When a family member is in a pattern of destructive behavior like the prodigal son, Friedman says that just telling them to stop it generally doesn’t work. But what you can do, he writes, is challenge the person. You can challenge them to raise the bar of the choices they are making. Friedman would probably suggest that the father say to the prodigal son, “If you will try to make healthier choices, I will try to stop putting you in the role of the ‘black sheep’ of the family; I will try to stop expecting that you will keep messing up.” This family in the parable really needs a fresh start and a clean slate. And for all his errant ways, the younger son has given them the opportunity to begin again in a more healthy way. He really looked at himself and his patterns of behavior and his lot in life. He admitted his mistakes, and declared that he is turning over a new leaf. I admire that. There is hope for this family. But they will need to re-covenant with each other. They’ll need to vow not to forget that the other is a human being. Being human means both potential for greatness and the fact that we will sometimes mess up.  They will need to try to see the best in one another and not expect each other to be perfect. They will need to remember that they don’t need to solve all their relationship problems all at once. They’ll need to promise one another that they will act with respect and compassion, such that no one ends up feeling used, nor even overlooked. Being compassionate isn’t exactly the same thing as being kind. Being compassionate may mean saying to someone, “You have talents and potential that you are neglecting– You’re wasting abilities and missing opportunities. I’d like to see you do more toward becoming your fullest and best self.”

 

Imagine if your challenging some others in your life to make healthier choices resulted in their renewed commitment to meet a higher standard in all their relationships–   like a no-longer-prodigal son.

 

Offering [Share with UUSC, our denomination’s international and national human rights organization.]

 

**Closing hymn #170 We are a Gentle, Angry People

 

**[I invite you to join hands.]

 

**Closing Words [Mother Teresa]

 

“Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary.  What we need is to love without getting tired.  Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” [and] “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

 

Adlai Stevenson (The Election Sermon)

“Adlai Stevenson” (The Election Sermon)

Worship Service for

Second Unitarian Church of
Chicago, Illinois
November 5, 2017
The Rev. Jennie Ann Barrington, Interim Minister

 

Time for All Ages

 

This is a picture of my favorite famous Unitarian, Adlai Stevenson. He was born on February 5, 1900. He grew up in Illinois, in Bloomington, and he became Governor of Illinois. Adlai Stevenson ran for president of the United States twice. He did not win either time. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother learning about him. By running for President, and by the honorable, intelligent way that he ran, Adlai made those elections about joys and concerns that really matter in people’s daily lives, instead of just about gossip.

 

I want to tell you a little bit about what Adlai was like as a boy. He had an older sister named Buffie. As a boy, he loved being outdoors, camping, all kinds of trains, and stamp collecting. Stamp collecting led him to be very interested in geography, history, travel, and especially castles and cathedrals. He was a late-bloomer; it often took him a few tries to pass a written test. But he had great curiosity, imagination, and physical energy. He loved riding horses. His family owned a newspaper. He was the editor of his high school newspaper and his college newspaper, at Princeton. As an adult, he had good manners, he was a great sports fan, and he loved lively conversations with people, especially women. People he was in conversation with always felt he really respected them and cared about who they really were. Eleanor Roosevelt was his very close friend, and together they helped establish the United Nations.

 

This picture was taken while Adlai Stevenson was campaigning for President; he is writing a speech he is about to deliver. Now some of the older people here today can tell us what is so funny about the picture of the bottom of Adlai’s shoe. [There’s a hole in it.] The photograph shows how Adlai tried to get every last bit of mileage out of a pair of shoes before he threw them out, and how much he was walking around listening to people on the campaign trail, and how earthy he was. After that picture hit all the newspapers, hundreds of people sent Adlai shoes. This photograph won the Pulitzer Prize because it summed up Adlai so well.

Adlai Stevenson was also very funny. He was cracking jokes all the time. Often he made fun of himself. His jokes were never cruel toward other people. After the photographer who took this picture won the Pulitzer Prize for it, Adlai sent him a congratulatory telegram that said, “Glad to hear you won with a hole in one.”

 

Morning Reading [Adlai Stevenson, written in 1952; see McKeever bio, p. 257]:

 

“I have traversed the New England hills, ablaze with autumn color, and felt the touch of the soft air of the Southland.  I have flown over the mighty mountains to the Golden Gate and the blue Pacific.  I have flown over fir-clad slopes and the rolling wheat fields of the great Northwest, and over the lonely cattle lands of the old Southwest.  I have traveled the route my forebears followed westward to Illinois. I have seen the old stone houses in the Pennsylvania hills, and I have come home to the sweep and the swell of the free soil of our beloved Illinois.  I have seen an America where all of the signs read “Men at Work.” But we have much to do in this century in this country of ours before its greatness may be fully realized and shared by all Americans.  As we plan for change, let us be sure that our vision is high enough and broad enough so that it encompasses every single hope and dream of both the greatest and the humblest among us.

 

I see an America where slums and tenements have vanished and children are raised in decency and self-respect.

 

I see an America where men and women have leisure from toil–  leisure to cultivate the resources of the spirit.

 

I see an America where no man is another’s master–  where no man’s mind is dark with fear.

 

I see an America at peace with the world.

 

I see an America as the horizon of human hopes.

 

This is our design for the American cathedral, and we shall build it brick by brick and stone by stone, patiently, bravely, and prayerfully. And to those who say that the design defies our abilities to complete it, I answer: To act with enthusiasm and faith is the condition of acting greatly.”

 

Musical Message

 

Sermon:

What does it really mean to be a Public Servant? It means that it’s not all about him or her; it’s about doing what’s in the best interest of one’s constituency. It means working for the long-term betterment of one’s communities, not for short-term accolades nor ego-enhancement. It means being accessible and available; accountable, responsible, and honest; it means listening and responding. At his or her best, a real Public Servant inspires younger generations to go into public service too, to work for the common good. Adlai Stevenson was a public servant who actually served the public.

 

Adlai Stevenson is my favorite famous Unitarian. What most people remember him for is that he helped to create the United Nations. Later in his political career, he was made U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. But that was after he ran for President of the United States twice, and lost both times. I so admire him for daring to run a second time, after that first defeat. I imagine he knew he wouldn’t win. He was running against General Eisenhower, who was a national hero. Yet Adlai had the best chance of winning of any Democrat at those times, and so he “threw his hat in the ring,” as we say. He did so, so that he could make those elections about ideas, ideals, and real issues that were affecting people’s daily lives, instead of sparring matches of name-calling, insults, verbal attacks; what they called, “mud-slinging,” or “mud fights.” In fact, in describing the political climate of his day, Adlai said, “It is an ancient political vehicle, held together by soft soap and hunger and with front-seat drivers and back-seat drivers contradicting each other in a bedlam of voices, shouting ‘go right’ and ‘go left’ at the same time.” [Doesn’t that sound familiar?]  So by running for President, and by the honorable, intelligent, and good humored, way that he ran, Adlai Stevenson raised the level of discourse, in the political arena, and across our whole nation. That was sorely needed in his day. And it is sorely needed still, in ours.

 

Several weeks ago, when I was thinking about what to preach about for this Sunday, I googled “this day in history.” That was when I saw that, sixty-five years ago this morning, Adlai Stevenson lost the race for President, to General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower. Well, a year ago, on the morning after our national elections, we were dealt history-changing losses, too. So many of us were stunned, no matter which candidate we had wanted to be President. And so many of us grieved. I think it is only recently that we are realizing what a hard season that was, emotionally and psychologically, one that many of us feel wounded about, still. It is a fact that has come to light that many people could not handle the results of that election, not without help–  help from family, friends, colleagues, and health care professionals. It is a fact that many people sought therapy. Some people have told me that they watched the entire series, “The West Wing,” all over again. And many people severely limited their time on social media, and exposure to the news, to save their peace of mind. Yet in the past year, all of us have found some glimmers of inspiration and hope, from a variety of sources. I have given thanks profoundly for all UU congregations, as tangible evidence that I am not alone. And I have given thanks for the organizations, local, regional, and national, that share our progressive values and mission. We have Planned Parenthood, and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the ACLU, and the NAACP; we have the free press; we have coalitions against gun violence, and organizations that support immigrants and refugees. This past year has been a time for us all to clarify, articulate, and recommit to the peoples and causes our hearts call us to advocate for, and to volunteer. This past year has been a time for us to keep being idealistic. And so as I looked to the writing of Adlai Stevenson this past week. I saw that he never stopped being idealistic. And I was helped and inspired by these words from his speech at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, sixty-five years ago. He wrote:

 

“I do not believe it is man’s destiny to compress this once boundless earth into a small neighborhood, the better to destroy it. Nor do I believe it is in the nature of man to strike eternally at the image of himself, and therefore of God.  I profoundly believe that there is, on this horizon, as yet only dimly perceived, a new dawn of conscience. In that purer light, people will come to see themselves in each other, which is to say they will make themselves known to one another by their similarities rather than by their differences. [Human beings’] knowledge of things will begin to be matched by [human beings’] knowledge of self. The significance of a smaller world will be measured not in terms of military advantage, but in terms of advantage for the human community. It will be the triumph of the heartbeat over the drumbeat. These are my beliefs and I hold them deeply, but they would be without any inner meaning for me unless I felt that they were also the deep beliefs of human beings everywhere. And the proof of this, to my mind, is the very existence of the United Nations.”

 

The first public service job Adlai did was as Governor of Illinois, from 1948 to 1952. There had been corruption in the state for a long time which he cleaned up, he made the state police force far more effective, he cracked down on illegal gambling, and he improved the state highway system. Those were serious improvement– But as I said, Adlai also had a wonderful sense of humor.  When he became Governor, the legislature kept trying to pass bills that would please their supporters, even though Adlai would probably want to veto them. [see McKeever bio, p. 134]. “One of [those bills was], pushed for years by bird lovers concerned over the dangers posed by cats…”  In Adlai’s veto of it, he wrote: “It is the nature of cats to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming…  The problem of car versus bird is as old as time. If we attempt to solve it by legislation who knows but what we may be called upon to take sides as well in the age old problems of dog versus cat, bird versus bird, or even bird versus worm. In my opinion, the State of Illinois and its local governing bodies already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency. For these reasons, and not because I love birds the less or cats more, I veto and withhold my approval from Senate Bill No. 93.”

 

As Adlai was finishing his first term as Governor, he didn’t think he was necessarily qualified to run for President, and he didn’t want to run for President. He wanted to keep being Governor for four more years because he knew it would take four more years for the improvements he had made to really stick.  So the way he became the Democratic candidate for President was very unusual in our political history. His nomination was not the result of his getting an inner circle of powerful politicians to tell the people on the floor of the convention to pick him. The people on the floor of the convention, of their own accord, and in an overwhelming voice, chose Adlai as the nominee for President, because they were moved by his ideas and ideals, and the way he spoke about his ideals.  The people on the floor lifted him up to power. Every time I think of that, I feel moved. It was called a genuine draft, because he was genuinely drafted for the position by the people, because they believed in him.  Adlai Stevenson believed in them, too. He believed that people have the right to govern themselves, and the ability to govern themselves, especially with education, and the example of democratic process that works, such that differing ideas can be openly aired and debated.

 

One of his most famous speeches is about patriotism. He said that, “True Patriotism, it seems to me, is based on tolerance and a large measure of humility. [He went on to say that] The anatomy of patriotism is complex. But surely [it] … cannot be cloaked in… the denial of the right to hold ideas that are different—the freedom of man to think as he pleases…  And freedom of the mind, my friends, has served America well. The vigor of our political life, our capacity for change, our cultural, scientific and industrial achievements, all derive from free inquiry, from the free mind–  from the imagination, resourcefulness and daring of [people] who are not afraid of new ideas. Most all of us favor free enterprise for business. Let us also favor free enterprise for the mind. For, in the last analysis, we would fight to the death to protect it.  Why is it, then, that we are sometimes slow to detect, or are indifferent to, the dangers that beset [the free mind]?”

 

Adlai Stevenson had what could almost be called a religious faith in the democratic process as a way we could all peaceable live together as one human family–  all people of differing ideals, all nations of competing interests. That is why he was so devoted to the United Nations, and was so effective in educating people about it, and advocating for it. Many people criticized the U.N. for the fact that every member nation, large and small, has one vote, and that criticism is still heard today. But Adlai “saw this as a necessary effort to apply to nations the principle we try to apply to individual citizens: the principle of equality before the law–  one [person], one vote; one nation, one vote.” [McKeever bio, p. 568] Adlai saw the United Nations as a way to give developing nations the lived experience of effective democratic process in action.  He believed that all nations had the right, and the ability to govern themselves democratically, and to thereby live civilly with each other, and with other countries.

 

And so, as I think back over the past year, and the huge turn-outs at marches, protests, rallies, and town hall meetings, I wonder what Adlai Stevenson would think of them. And I think he would be thrilled.  Because he was nominated by a genuine draft, and because he had an almost religious faith in democracy, I think he would feel inspired and proud to see people showing up, stepping up, and speaking up, in informed and impassioned ways, as they engage in the public debates that are our right, and also our responsibility. The images from those town hall meetings still amaze me; people holding signs that vary from, “Agree” and “Disagree” to “Answer the Question” and “You’re Dodging the Question.” Two other common ones were: “First Do No Harm” and “You Work for Us.” And there were several: “Unpaid Peaceful Protestor” and “Unpaid Concerned Citizen.” At a town hall meeting in central Tennessee, people chanted, “This is what Democracy looks like.” And these events were all shared on-line and on local TV news.

 

Adlai would be thrilled to see that a variety of perspectives are being voiced and publicized, because he always considered all sides of an issue before he made a decision. For that, he was labeled as indecisive. And that label hurt him in his Presidential candidacies. But the people who worked with him on those campaigns maintained that he was not indecisive. Adlai didn’t have difficulty making up his mind. The fact is, the people who labeled him as indecisive didn’t like the positions he took after he weighed all sides and then made up his mind. He did not believe people are stupid, and he didn’t campaign as if people are stupid. Adlai Stevenson viewed people, and whole countries, as being capable of greatness, especially when they are educated about the facts of an issue, and the future consequences of a course of action. That’s how he made political discourse in his day more informed and more sophisticated.

 

He also, even back over fifty years ago, had a vision of globalization as a vehicle for peace, within nations and between nations. In his last speech to the delegates of United Nations, five days before he died, he said:

 

“Already science and technology are integrating our world into an open workshop where each new invention defines a new task, and reveals a shared interest, and invites yet another common venture. In our sprawling workshop of world community, nations are joined in cooperative endeavor: improving soils, purifying water, harnessing rivers, eradicating disease, feeding children, diffusing knowledge, spreading technology, surveying resources, lending capital, probing the seas, forecasting the weather, setting standards, developing law, and working away at a near infinitude of down-to-earth tasks–  tasks for which science has given us the knowledge, and technology has given us the tools, and common sense has given us the wit to perceive that common interest impels us to common enterprise. Common enterprise is the pulse of the world community– the heartbeat of a working peace.”

 

The main thing Adlai Stevenson is remembered for is that he inspired young people by his example of politics as noble service through which peoples could live together more peaceably.  He inspired college students, and high school students, and even very young children to enter public service as an honorable and admirable career. As J. Epstein wrote, in his commentary, “Madly for Adlai:” “He was a fundamentally decent man in a political climate where decency was a rare commodity.” As such, Adlai Stevenson’s legacy is not so much one of quantifiable accomplishments, but rather a dedication to enduring values and truths:

 

  • Adlai was good to his word, and would not make public statements he did not believe in;

 

  • His use of good-natured humor lightened conflicts and even created a sense of community and generosity;
  • His vision of the common good included special attention to the needs of people who did not have his privileges; and
  • Adlai believed that both the power of governmental structures, and the convictions of ordinary human beings, were good things, that, collaboratively, could make for a more peaceful and prosperous world.

    What the world needs now, is more Public Servants like him.

 

**Closing Words [Adlai Stevenson]

 

“Looking back, I am content. I have told you the truth as I see it. I have said what I meant and meant what I said. I have not done as well as I should like to have done, but I have done my best, frankly and forthrightly; no [person] can do more, and you are entitled to no less.” [Go in peace.]

 

To Fulfill Human Potential

“To Fulfill Human Potential”

Worship Service for

Second Unitarian Church of
Chicago, Illinois
October 22, 2017
The Rev. Jennie Ann Barrington, Interim Minister

 

First Reading: from, Moneyball, by Michael Lewis (p. 115):

“The inability to envision a certain kind of person doing a certain kind of thing because you’ve never seen someone who looks like him do it before is not just a vice. It’s a luxury. What begins as a failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job.”

 

Second Reading, from, “The Desiderata,” by Max Ehrmann

“The Desiderata,” by Max Ehrmann

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste,

and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even [those who are called] dull and ignorant; they too have their story…

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass…
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive [God] to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life

keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world…”

Musical Message

 

Sermon: “To Fulfill Human Potential”

 

Baseball has been on our minds, and in our hearts, this week. Our spirits have, alternately, risen up in hope, then dashed down in despair, then hope again, then despair, then finally the realization that, for our beloved Cubs, this season is over. Our city has seemed sad and quiet these past few days, as though people are not exactly sure how to feel. Our city is a mix of emotions. And on Thursday I found sentiments written by journalist Liz Stephens, who is a junior at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. The Daily Eastern News is their student newspaper, and in her column of October 15, 2017, Ms. Stephens wrote:

 

“There are two kinds of people in the world–  those who fail 100 times and keep trying until they reach their goal, and those who fail twice and decide to give up because they think trying again is too hard.” Though the Cubs’ losses this week hit us hard, I suggest that we think of them as a team that tried over 100 times until they reached their goal last year. And may we always hold dear that glorious moment in time they gave us last year, and hope for more glory for Chicago, soon.

 

I’ve been thinking about that sentence that starts with, “There are two kinds of people…”  We’ve all heard various endings to that sentence. Most of the endings I recalled try to set up a dichotomy as though people can be divided into two mutually exclusive or contradictory groups, one of which is better than the other. I realized that I had never allowed myself to think that way about individuals. This is, in part, because of how I was raised. My parents raised us not to go around acting like we were better than anybody else. And it was in part because I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist all my life. The core values of Unitarian Universalism include trying to be inclusive, liberal, non-judgmental, democratic, and egalitarian. Universalism has meant not damning people for things that are not their fault nor their choice. Unitarianism has meant affirming and promoting the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings.

 

But are there any times or ways it could be helpful to say, “There are two different kinds of people…”? If you google that phrase, a search turns up pages of material! –including wisdom, humor, poems, surveys conducted by newspapers and magazines, and blog entries. I choose not to use these thoughts in a way that condemns any individual or group as never being capable of change, growth, and development. But it is still helpful to me to consider these thoughts-  helpful personally, as I continue to strive to be my fullest best self, and helpful professionally, as I encourage this congregation to become as healthy, sustainable, and flourishing as it can possibly be.

 

So do you want to hear what “Dear Abby” had to say about this? Abigail Van Buren wrote: “There are two kinds of people in the world–  those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are!’ and those who say, ‘Here I am!’”  Similarly, Dan Pink’s expanded answer reads:

 

“There are two kinds of people in the world…

Those who make your life easier — and those who make it harder.

Those whose presence helps you perform better — and those whose presence makes you do worse.

Those concerned about doing the work — and those concerned about getting the credit.

Those who leave you feeling up — and those who leave you feeling down.

Those who simplify — and those who complicate.

Those who listen when others are talking — and those who wait when others are talking.

Those who give — and those who take.

Those who last — and those who fade. Which are you?”

Even Indira Gandhi has weighed in, with the quote:  “There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.”  And I appreciated this quote by Ron White, with its emphasis on the importance of mentoring: “There are two kinds of [comedians]; there are the ones who build bridges, and then there are the people who walk across the bridges as though they built them. The bridge builders are few and far between.”  But the answer that touched me the most was written in simple plain language, by a blogger known as “AngieMain,” on the Daily Post’s “wordpress” site. It says:

 

“There are two types of people in the world:  those who give a damn and those who don’t. Life can be easier for those who don’t give a damn as they meander through life’s path not worrying about those who they affect en route. For those who give a damn, life is harder. They care about those they hurt, seek to make others happy, and sometimes despair at the sadness in the world. All in all, I’d rather be part of ‘those who give a damn.’”

 

And so I readily admit to you, I struggle with this topic. I feel it is wrong for me to finish the sentence, “There are two kinds of people…” in ways that set up a false dichotomy that unfairly condemns an individual or group, or is an inaccurate overgeneralization, or that gets me stuck in blaming others to no good end.  But examining the differences between some kinds of people can lead me to greater self-understanding, giving me more information and insight in my efforts to choose how I develop myself and all my relationships. Moreover, we gather together as a congregation of Unitarian Universalists for exactly that reason:  to illuminate, address, and make intentional choices about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, gifts and graces, and unique identity, in the furtherance of the congregation’s mission. Our congregation is here to help its members flourish into their fullest best selves, individually, and in all our relationships. And the real answer to the question, “Are there two kinds of people?” is that there are many, many different kinds of people. And that’s okay. The world needs so many different kinds of people, and so does our congregation. We can be more help to our wider community and the whole world when we clarify our strengths and passions, and put them to good use.

 

One strategy by which we can do that is in the movie and book called, Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. Moneyball is the true story of the baseball team, the Oakland Athletics. Through the leadership of their manager, Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s, went from being losing underdogs to champions, in only a few short years, and with only a fraction of the budget larger teams like the Yankees have. How did they do that? They looked past players’ surface-y outer appearances and other superficial traits people are misjudged by, and noticed their inner talents and passions, and put them to good use. What really caught my attention about Billy Beane’s plan relates directly to our congregation. Billy Beane had three empty slots to fill on his team (because the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cardinals had bought away three of their star players: Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen).  But Billy Beane sought the consultation of a statistician knowledgeable in sabermetrics who advised him: it isn’t about filling three slots, it’s about building a team. We shouldn’t be buying players; we should be buying wins.  We need to look at skills needed for the team to win, and find players whose talents combine in complementary ways for the team to win.  Sabermetrics was developed by a man named Bill James, as a way to analyze baseball players’ real abilities, and what it really takes to consistently win baseball games. The common practice had been for scouts to choose players who seemed like they had more star power or glamour. As Billy Beane’s character keeps saying to the scouts throughout the movie, “We’re not casting a [blue] jeans commercial here; we’re building a winning team.” Billy Beane looked at what skills the whole team needed, and at the players’ talents and records of successes. Then he created a team that would become increasingly stronger year after year. The Oakland A’s went on to achieve something that had never been done before in the history of baseball: they won twenty games in a row.

 

The leadership of this congregation and I want to know how our church can provide people with opportunities to do things they enjoy doing, and have been good at in the past, that will further their personal development, as expressions of their passions and values. And if there are things members want to learn to do, we want to provide training and mentoring. Specifically, we plan to offer a leadership development program from the UUA called, “Harvest the Power.” It’s described as:

 

“Many Unitarian Universalists experience a deepening commitment to their faith and congregation as a call to accept a position of leadership—as a lay worship leader, a leader of children or youth or a member of a task force, committee or governing board. Harvest the Power provides leadership skill development that goes hand-in-hand with faith development. The program helps lay leaders grow in spirit as they grow as leaders… The program’s workshops offer opportunities for both new and experienced leaders to enrich the skills they bring to their leadership and to experience their leadership journey as a Unitarian Universalist faith journey.” We’d like to offer two of these workshops between now and the holidays. And we plan to offer a brief introductory session on either Saturday, November 25th or December 2nd. If you are interested in taking part, please contact me, or John Broome, who is the coordinator of Adult Religious Education.

 

So what would the “Moneyball” leadership development strategy look like when applied to real individual people? My favorite example in the movie is a pitcher whose gifts and passions had gone entirely unnoticed. The statistician Peter Brand says to Billy Beane: “This is Chad Bradford. He’s a relief pitcher. He is one of the most undervalued players in baseball. His defect is that he throws funny. Nobody in the big leagues cares about him, because he looks funny. This guy could be, not just the best pitcher in our bullpen, but one of the most effective relief pitchers in all of baseball.”

 

As many of you know, Theo Epstein used the “Moneyball” strategy to help the Boston Red Sox finally win the series in 2004. Then in 2012 he came over here and became President of the Cubs. So what has Theo Epstein been saying lately about the “Moneyball” strategy? In short, he has come to believe that creating a winning team is about broader, deeper things than just statistics. In an interview with Rick Telander in the Chicago Sun-Times, Epstein said:

 

“I think the real competitive advantage now is in player development–  understanding that your young players are human beings…  Understanding them physically, fundamentally, and mentally  –investing in them as people–  and helping them progress. And there’s no stat for that.” His “player development” program includes helping the players practice mindfulness, and living in the moment, and understanding failure, so that they are more prepared for the emotional highs and lows of major league baseball. Attention is now being given to the whole person, including their spirits, vulnerabilities, and flaws.

 

Leadership development isn’t about filling empty slots quickly and then thinking we are done until the next committee chair resigns or moves away. It’s about beginning now to nurture people’s talents, providing them with feedback and technical instruction that is tailored to their specific skills, so that a few years from now, our congregation will have a cadre of strong leaders who, together, make this congregation a winning team.

 

In the movie, Moneyball, the statistician Peter Brand says: “Using the stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players that nobody else can see. People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws:  age, appearance, personality.  Bill James, and mathematics, cuts straight through that. Of the 20,000 notable players for us to consider, I believe that there is a championship team of twenty-five people, that we can afford, because everyone else in baseball undervalues them–  like an Island of Misfit Toys.”

 

Now let’s adapt those words and imagine them as a vision for our congregation:  “Using feedback about members’ talents and passions, we’ll find value in people of all different ages that nobody else can see. People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws:  age, appearance, personality. Our affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings cuts straight through that. In our congregation of women and men and children and youth, I believe every one has potential gifts and graces, that we can notice and nurture, in mutually rewarding ways, to provide help and hope for the world–  like an alternative congregational family in which we tend to one another, and receive tenderness in return.”

 

Both the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs had come to feel they had been cursed. Haven’t UU congregations always been a place where people can come who feel that they or their beliefs have been cursed in other settings? Hasn’t our congregation always been a place where we strive to respond to different people and beliefs with understanding and blessing? There’s something about this true story, and this concept, called “Moneyball,” that is salvific–  salvific in a this-worldly way; salvific in a Humanist way. Humanism is a faith in the very best that human beings can be, individually, in groups, and as an entire human race, encompassing past history, these contemporary times, and extending into the generations to come. Our congregation is here to highlight and nurture human potential. We do that by really looking at how many different kinds of people our congregation needs, and the world needs. We do that by realizing that not every person is right for every role. We do that by being places where people can admit that they made mistakes, where we hold each other to accountability and high standards, envision how we all can do better next time, and then try, with understanding and compassion, to do better in the future. Then, as the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker has said, “we can choose to bless the world.”  I’ll close with this alternative answer to my opening question, which is by John M. Richardson, Jr., to help us all clarify who and how we should strive to be: “When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”

 

**Closing Words from, What Happy People Know, by Dan Baker, Ph.D.:

 

“And yet, despite our suffering, we stay so strong!  It’s astonishing how strong most people are.  With death inevitable and pain a part of every day, we still wake up each morning with new plans, and sleep each night with new dreams.  We build a better world each workday of our lives, without the slightest hope of being alive in 100 years to reap the reward.  We say that we’re doing it for our children, or for our children’s children, but the childless among us do it, too–  because building is simply what people do.  Why do we do it? That’s easy: because it feels good.”

 

Resistance and Resilience

“Resistance and Resilience”

Service for Second Unitarian Church

Chicago, Illinois

September 24, 2017

the Rev. Jennie Barrington, Interim Minister

 

First Reading: [the words of Luisah Teish]

“There are times when I look at what human history has been and I say, Oh, OK, there have always been people like us who get a momentum started and then it dies down and nothing becomes of it.  And it’s a hundred years or so before those thoughts are resurrected. But there’s a little voice in my ears that insists that I continue.  It insists that something really important is happening here, something that is going to have an effect here for years. Something that is going to make a significant change in the world.”

Second Reading: the words of Albert Camus, translated by Justin O’Brien

 

Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves.

Perhaps, then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear,

amid the uproar of empires and [of] nations, a faint flutter of wings,

the gentle stirring of life and hope.

 

Some will say that this hope lies in a nation;

others, in a human being.

 

I believe, rather, that [this hope] is awakened, revived, nourished

by millions of solitary individuals

whose deeds and works every day

negate frontiers, and [negate] the crudest implications of history.

 

As a result, there shines forth fleetingly

the ever-threatened truth

that each and every person,

on the foundation of their own sufferings and joys,

builds for them all.

 

Choir Anthem “We Resist”

 

The Morning Sermon:

 

About two years ago, when I had just begun serving as the Interim Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, South Carolina, I received a phone call from a professor and theologian named Larry Dixon. Dr. Dixon teaches theology at Columbia International University (which was formerly Columbia Bible College), a seminary in the evangelical tradition. He said that, in the spring, he would be teaching a graduate class called, “Eternal Destinies.” He was asking representatives of a variety of faith traditions to each present one of the class sessions. These included Islam, Hinduism, Baha’i, Mormonism, Judaism, Jehovah’s Witness, and Christian Science. He asked if I would present for the class on Unitarian Universalism, a lecture on our religion’s understanding of the afterlife, particularly Heaven and Hell, and then answer questions. I said I’d be delighted. Unitarians, and especially Universalists have, after all, had a great deal to say about Heaven and Hell. I’m sure most of the Unitarian Universalists who I told what I had agreed to do viewed it as jumping into a lions’ den. But, frankly, I gave the class, and their teacher, a lot of credit for inviting me, and representatives of so many other faith traditions, to talk with them about our religious beliefs.

 

For the class, which began at 8 a.m., I had hand-outs; I had a chalice with matches to light it. I had bookmarks with our UU principles on them; they were rainbow-colored. And I had notes to speak from. It was not a large class, and I came to view them on a continuum from open, friendly, and receptive to one student far at the other end who was very assertive and prone to proof-texting verses of Christian scripture. I talked with them about the martyr Jan Hus, whom our flaming chalice symbol honors, and about my maternal grandmother, who was a Universalist in rural Maine. I talked with them about how the early Unitarians viewed Jesus as a prophet and an exemplary human being, rather than as divine. And I talked with them about the early Universalists’ rejection of the concept of Hell, and how they believed we were supposed to make this world, here and now, a better place for everyone to live. And I told them that Unitarian Universalists today believe many different things about an afterlife. But that we all share a commitment to social justice, including raising the standard of living for everyone in our communities, equal rights, democracy, public education, and environmental causes. I also told them about my background growing up as a Unitarian Universalist, and serving as a UU minister, both settled, and as an interim, over the course of many years.

The question and answer part was hard. They, especially the student on the highly-assertive end of the continuum, were so passionate about their acceptance of Jesus as their Savior, and loath to accept that I, and so many Unitarian Universalists, have not personally incorporated that belief. But that wasn’t what was most mind-boggling to me. As the questions and answers were wrapping up, I asked them about their plans after seminary. Were they on a track to be ordained? By a certain denomination? Were they currently interning in a congregation? In short, their answers were, no. Some of them might teach, or work with one of a few possible agencies or organizations that were loosely affiliated with evangelical Christianity. But these students had not come out of any strong congregational nor denominational institutional tradition, nor were they headed toward strengthening nor promoting any specific religious institution. As religious people, their background was very individualistic, and their aim was, as individuals, to influence other individuals in their acceptance of Jesus as their Savior. That realization blew my mind. As a life-long Unitarian Universalist and long-time UU minister, I support and strengthen UU congregations, and the UUA, and its affiliate organizations and camps and conference centers and seminaries. And my earliest memories are of my mother working with the League of Women Voters, and my father working for environmental conservation long before it was fashionable to do so. And my adult years were full of working with other liberal religious people on voter drives, immigrant rights and workers’ rights, gay rights, and grassroots citizen initiatives. I am an institutionalist, and I believe in and support collective action. How could it be that the religious formation of the students in that room was so different than my own? [I wondered, astounded.] It was as though their religious formation had excluded the influence and power of denominations, institutions, interfaith efforts, and collective action. By mid-afternoon, as I was still processing the morning’s class and conversation, I further postulated: It was as though their religious formation had excluded the entire Social Gospel Movement.

 

What had those students thought [I wondered] about my going on and on about that fact that religious liberals believe we are here to make the world a better place, through congregations, and other institutions, collectively? We had parted in mutual respect and appreciation of each other’s time and consideration. And they had told me that, as part of their class work, they would be writing up summaries of each of the class presentations. They wanted to put those summaries together in a self-published book. They said they would run the summary of my presentation by me, for my feedback and corrections, and they did send it to me. This story has a surprising ending, which I’ll share with you in a few minutes. But on the day of that class, I promised myself I would learn more about why religious liberals today continue to believe in, and engage in collective action, in the service of the common good. What was originally at the roots of that belief and engagement of ours? It was the Social Gospel Movement at the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the twentieth century. And what, since that time, have been some models for doing Social Justice that work–  collectively and sustainably? The answers to that question will be fodder for another sermon, or, more likely, several sermons. And I’ll look forward to hearing about your successes, and even your concerns or frustrations, with the social justice work you’ve done collectively, through UU congregations, and with other groups. But for now, let’s look at the origins of why we Unitarian Universalists are called to save the world.

 

The roots of the Social Gospel movement were theological, and Unitarians’ influence were a significant part of its inception. In America, in the early nineteenth century, Unitarians believed god was accessible through people’s lived experience, emphasized reason in the interpretation of scripture, and the goodness of humanity. Unitarians and Universalists interpreted Biblical scripture ethically, rather than doctrinally. Rather than worshipping Jesus as a god, Unitarians tried to apply the teachings of Jesus as a call to make the world more just and loving. But I think it can also be said that, earlier in America’s religious history, people thought that if religion made individuals better people, then that would naturally lead to a better world. Yet, after the Civil War, people could see that systemic changes were necessary, and sorely needed. In his new book, The Social Gospel in American Religion – A History, Christopher H. Evans writes [p. 3]:

“…many religious leaders were coming to terms with a nation that was coping with immigration, industrialization, urbanization, and new manifestations of institutional racism. Those who embraced what became known as the social gospel were alarmed by the social inequalities that existed in American society and increasingly challenged taken-for-granted assumptions about the inherent goodness of laissez-faire capitalism.” [Doesn’t that sound like it could be written about our nation today?] In part, Dr. Evans defines the social gospel movement as: “an offshoot of theological liberalism that strove to apply a progressive theological vision to engage American social, political, and economic structures….. in ways that advocated for systemic, structural changes in American institutions.” [p. 2] He adds: “for many social gospelers, the kingdom of God was a powerful and dynamic theological concept. It served as a prism to judge religion’s role in seeking to change American social institutions, including government, businesses, families, and even cultural structures. Put another way, social gospel leaders believed that salvation was not about escaping the sins of the world, it was about saving the world.” [p. 6]

The clergy who were leaders in the social gospel movement were hugely influential in their day, from their pulpits, as public speakers, and in their published writings. But there were many more lay people who engaged in those collective efforts toward systemic change. And the legacy of many of those organizations continues today. Among them were the settlement house movement, including right here in Chicago; women’s home missions; the YMCA and YWCA, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The Fellowship of Reconciliation was founded in 1915, and Jane Addams was one of its founders. It is a peace and justice organization that emphasizes non-violent alternatives to conflict and the right of conscience.

 

One thing I have wondered about, when the social gospel movement is referenced, is how much people from different faith tradition were talking with each other and working together. From Dr. Evans’ book, I can see that, sadly, the answer is, not very much, at least in the beginnings of the movement. And it is true that, growing up as a Unitarian Universalist in New England, I did not hear enough about the worthy social justice efforts of other faith traditions. Protestants, Jewish people, and Catholics were all part of the social gospel movement, and admirably so. But there were theological differences, and also prejudices, that kept them from working collaboratively as much as I would have liked to have seen. However, over time, the ideals of the social gospel movement led to, first ecumenicalism, then to interfaith organizations, and eventually to ways liberals today are continuing to change the world, both religiously-based and secularly.

 

Again, that will be fodder for another sermon. But for now, I’ll take you back to that class of evangelical Christian graduate students, and the summary they wrote of my presentation to them. I opened the email from their teacher with trepidation. I printed it out, and sat down before I read it. But I am moved to tell you that what they wrote is complimentary, and even generous of heart. As well, they had done in-depth research, including the websites of the UUA, the UU World Magazine, and the UU Christian Fellowship. They called my time with them conversational, casual, lively, and very informative. They wrote in detail about Unitarian Universalism’s roots in the Protestant Reformation, and its historic views of God, good and evil, Heaven and Hell, and varying eschatological beliefs. Then they got to their final section, which was called, “Evangelistic Recommendations.” How [they posited] might evangelicals best enter into conversation with Unitarian Universalists? This is what they wrote:

 

 

“The main idea when having a conversation with a person of the UU faith is to first realize that in a lot of ways the Universalist is right. We should be more loving and we should be more concerned with injustice in the world than we are currently. Often times the first thing to do is to agree with the person of the UU faith, and apologize for Christians who are not living out God’s loving attributes in the world. But then explain to them that just because Christians are not necessarily loving all the time does not mean we have rejected every other attribute of God in order to make the world a more loving place.”

 

In our time together, my evangelical colleagues had not just waited while I was talking–  They had listened while I was talking. And then they admitted to ways they and other Christians have fallen short, missed opportunities, and could do better. And then they apologized, and agreed that they should be doing more to make the world more loving and fair. The power of such a testimony from them has left me feeling humbled, changed, and inspired.

 

Since a Yankee Unitarian Universalist woman minister can find common ground with some evangelical Christian men at a fundamentalist seminary in the Bible Belt South, then there are more possibilities for interfaith collaborations for the common good than any one individual could ever imagine.

 

*Benediction [V. Emil Gudmundson]:

“And now, may we have faith in life to do wise planting, that the generations to come may reap even more abundantly than we. May we be bold in bringing to fruition the golden dreams of human kinship and justice. This we ask: that the fields of promise become fields of reality.”

 

Engaging with the Wider Community

“Engaging with the Wider Community”

Service for Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, Illinois

August 27, 2017

the Rev. Jennie Barrington, Interim Minister

 

*Chalice Lighting and Call to Worship [adapted from Deuteronomy 6:11]:

 

“We build on foundations we did not lay

We warm ourselves by fires we did not light

We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant

We drink from wells we did not dig

We profit from persons we did not know.

This is as it should be.

Together we are more than any one person could be.

Together we can build across the generations.

Together we can renew our hope and faith in the life that is yet to unfold.”

First Reading: [the words of Luisah Teish]

“There are times when I look at what human history has been and I say, Oh, OK, there have always been people like us who get a momentum started and then it dies down and nothing becomes of it.  And it’s a hundred years or so before those thoughts are resurrected. But there’s a little voice in my ears that insists that I continue.  It insists that something really important is happening here, something that is going to have an effect here for years. Something that is going to make a significant change in the world.”

Second Reading: adapted from, “Prophets of a Future not our Own” [which was written in honor of Archbishop Oscar Romero]
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.

The [Beloved Community] is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the

magnificent enterprise that is [the work of that which is divine].

Nothing we do is complete… ,

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the [whole mission of our congregation nor our denomination].

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

 

This is what we are about.

We plant seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything,

and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and do it very well.

 

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,

an opportunity for [divine] grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference

between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders,

ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

 

Special Music: [Kimberly and MarySue]

 

The Morning Sermon:

 

“Captain’s log, Star date 45944.1. Following a magnetic wave survey of the Parvenium system, we have detected an object which we cannot immediately identify.”

 

Whoops.  Let me back up a minute. I was supposed to start this sermon talking about the wonderful insights I have gleaned from the conversations I’ve had with so many of you, about this congregation’s values–  and how we can convey those values to the wider community, so that they will live on. Those conversations have been a joy–  And I look forward to having many more of them. I’ve talked with members who are doing social justice work, and welcoming and engaging new members, with board members and the nominating and leadership committee, with our consultant, the Rev. Scott Aaseng, who has worked with us on community organizing, and I’ve met with the Strategic Planning team, to begin to envision what we want 2U to be like several years from now.

 

These conversations have been about what is at the core of our work, here: to be a religious voice that is liberal, progressive, humane, compassionate, and accepting. Those elements are at the core of 2U’s mission, and purpose, and way of being in right-relationship with each other and our wider community. That’s a tall order and a profound mission for us all to reflect on this morning, and every day.

 

My favorite episode of Star Trek Next Generation is called, “The Inner Light.” In that episode, the community of Ressik, on the planet Kataan, has to distill what of their way of life they want to preserve, and has to find some way for their civilization to outlive them, for the most dire of reasons– Their sun is becoming increasingly hotter– It is destined to go nova–  All life on their planet is going to cease to exist. Captain Jean-Luc Picard is the only hope they have to be remembered, and remembered well. How do they convey what is worthy about their way of life to him?

 

Wondering about that question, and reflecting on the conversations I’ve had about 2U’s core values, led me to reflect on four models of ways a congregation conveys its values to the larger community. They are in the book by Alice Mann called, Raising the Roof – The Pastoral-to-Program Size Transition. She is citing the work of “church sociologists” David Roozen, John McKinney, and Jackson Carroll. I offer the four models to you this morning in light of the ways this congregation has, throughout its history, lived out its mission and purpose.

 

The first model is an activist culture. This congregation certainly has activism in its history, including speaking up for people who are marginalized, and for environmental issues, and for racial minorities, and for refugees and immigrants. In the 1950s and 60s, this congregation’s membership was dwindling. It was served by two student ministers, who led the church in social activism in response to the political conflicts of the times, including taking part in demonstrations around the 1968 Democratic National Convention. And in the 1980s, when the church was served by the Rev. Charlie Kast, Rev. Kast and members provided help, comfort, and advocacy to people who were gay, during the AIDS crisis. Rev. Kast also officiated civil union ceremonies for gay couples.

 

The second model in Alice Mann’s book is a civic culture, which “promotes the public good through involvement with existing social and economic institutions.” And there are many ways that members of our congregation have influenced other institutions and organizations in this neighborhood, in Chicago, and beyond. Did you know that, in the late 1800s, this congregation once started a school for the children of immigrants? It turned into a community center, basic education and employment training were provided, as well as meals, and there was a day care center. In the late 1930s, the community center merged with the North Side Boys Club. Can you imagine ways 2U could support and collaborate with schools, community centers, and day care centers, now?

 

The third model is an evangelistic culture. And I know that that word does not sit well with some of you. But as I said a minute ago, in the conversations I’ve been having with so many individuals and groups, I am hearing a lot about reaching out more to the wider community. And a main way that we spread our UU message is through the way we are in relationship with everyone–  our respectful way, of being tolerant and accepting of diversity. Whenever we are in the wider community in our yellow Standing on the Side of Love tee shirts, we are spreading our UU values, even if you don’t want to use the words “evangelizing.”

 

The fourth model for “doing church” that Alice Mann cites is the one that may feel most comfortable to you. It is when the congregation sees itself primarily as a sanctuary, in which members experience “transcendence over the trials of daily life.” Indeed, many of you view 2U as a home, a haven, a safe place, an oasis within a larger community which is troubling, a place where we do not have to pretend that we are someone we’re not, a place where we do not have to say we believe something we do not, and a place where we are among like-minded people. That’s a beautiful thing. I would even say that that is a sacred thing. And I never want 2U to lose that quality of being a safe haven. And I also believe that we can be, not just a sanctuary, but a beacon. We can keep finding was to proclaim to the wider world who we are, what we stand for, and why we are here.

 

 

Wondering about these questions also led me to recall a book I read in seminary. The book, by Christian theologian H. Richard Niebuhr, is about several ways communities of faith convey their values into the secular culture around them. So I recalled the book as being titled, “Church and Culture.” But I recalled the title wrong; it’s actually called, “Christ and Culture.” I propose, for our purposes this morning, we take Niebuhr’s models and adapt them to call them, “Unitarians and Culture.”  That way we can assess how we might best make our values live on in society after we’re gone.  To begin with, what does Niebuhr mean by “culture” anyway? He means that which human beings superimpose onto that which is natural; he means “language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organization, inherited artifacts, technical processes, and values.” [p. 32] He calls all that the “social heritage” that we inherit, contribute to during our lifetime, and leave behind us.  “Social heritage” is the result of human achievement, including “speech, education, tradition, myth, science, art, philosophy, government, law, rite, beliefs, inventions, and technologies.” [p. 33] All of these things have been created as the end result of specific values human being were trying to convey. We preserve and recreate our social heritage as a way of trying to make our values live on.  The first way Niebuhr describes is people of faith against culture, i.e., viewing secular culture as suspicious or sinful– something to do battle against. This tendency isn’t normative for Unitarian Universalists.  The second way we could call “Unitarians of culture.” This way, there is no great tension between the ethics of the faith community and the norms and laws of the wider community. So people of the faith community can become influential leaders in government and community organizations, and we know that Unitarians do.  We could call the third way “Unitarians above culture.” That would mean we believe our principles and beliefs are what the world needs in order to be saved. Niebuhr feels that the danger of thinking this way is that a faith community becomes too institutionalized– It begins to think too highly of itself and its members– to worship them, even– Its main purpose becomes to maintain and sustain itself, rather than serving a greater good. And I think we need to be careful that 2U is not just maintaining and sustaining itself, but is also focused on serving a greater good. We could call Niebuhr’s fourth way “Unitarians and Culture in Paradox.”  This may be how many of you feel in trying to speak and practice our beliefs in a time in our nation when we see such harsh treatment of people who are vulnerable due to their race, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation or identity. When we Unitarian Universalists watch the national news, we see resistance and opposition to our values. Niebuhr feels the danger with the “in paradox” model is that it becomes too static. There is the danger that we will do nothing to try to change those we perceive as resistant or in opposition to us.

 

Lastly, we could adapt Niebuhr’s fifth model to read, “Unitarians transforming Culture.” You can tell by the slant of the writing that this fifth model is Niebuhr’s favorite. It describes a faith community with a hopeful optimistic view of secular culture. The faith community’s affirmative outlook on humanity and all life motivates it to work for justice, beauty, and truth. In Niebuhr’s conclusion, he reminds us of the larger community of souls on whose behalf we labor. He calls that community “God’s Kingdom.” He was, after all, writing in 1951.  But what if we adapt what Niebuhr was trying to describe so it suits Unitarian Universalists today? Instead of “God’s Kingdom,” we can say, “Beloved Community.” Or what if we think of that larger community of souls as our long rich Unitarian Universalist heritage– all the Unitarian Universalists who have lived before, and all the ones we hope will carry on our values?  Or what if we think of that community of all souls as what Karl Jung described as the collective unconscious? If we adapt, somewhat, Niebuhr’s conclusion to his book, it reads: “To make our decisions in faith is to make them in view of the fact that no single person or group or historical time is the [beloved community]; but that there is a [beloved community] in which we do our partial, relative work and on which we count. It is to make [our decisions] … in view of the fact that the world of culture  –humanity’s achievement– exists within the world of grace…” [or, I might say, within the world of the collective unconscious, that place where everything of worth that we have learned and experienced abides eternally]. Might that be a way of being “humanistically religious” that our whole congregation could embrace?

 

Alice Mann gave us four models for living out 2U’s mission: activist, civic, evangelistic, and sanctuary. And Niebuhr has given us five choices of how to be in relationship with our wider community– But one way is not an option in his book: the congregation apart from culture. He presupposes that there is always something of a relationship. Therefore it is up to us to be mindful of how we are in relationship with people who do not share our beliefs, and how the legacy of our lives will be in relationship with posterity.

 

And now to get back to that episode of Star Trek Next Generation, called, “The Inner Light.” Captain Picard suddenly finds himself in the community of Ressik, living the life of a man named Kamin. He feels as if he is dreaming, but his experience is as real as his life on the Enterprise felt. His life in Ressik, which continues, day after day, year after year, is immensely satisfying. He has friends; a respected voice in political decisions; a wife and two children; work, as an “iron weaver;” and the hobbies of exploring the hillsides and charting the stars.  The community is gracious, caring, and optimistic. They are agrarian, perhaps entirely vegetarian, and they celebrate the arts. Theirs is a kind and gentle way of life. Though not as sophisticated as the world from which Picard has come, they are trying to expand their scientific knowledge of why their atmosphere is becoming hotter and hotter. In defiance of the drought, they plant a tree in the town square as a symbol of hope and affirmation of life. They keep it alive by each contributing some of their water rations to it.  By the time Picard, living the life of Kamin, becomes 85 years old, the drought is so severe that crops can no longer be sustained. He tells the municipal authorities that extinction is inevitable. They tell him that there is a plan to save some piece of their civilization. Throughout his life on Ressik, Picard plays a small flute. [Though in his whole former life on the Enterprise, he had never done so at all.] Doing so brings him a simple but real pleasure, helps him think through problems, and provides him with meditative time. He becomes skilled enough to write and play a haunting melody for his son’s naming ceremony. His son grows to become proficient enough to be a professional musician.  Though filled with love and pride for his children and grandchildren, Picard, as the eighty-five year old Kamin, is brokenhearted that their future looks so brief.  Then his family surrounds him and draws his attention to the launching of a probe. The spirits of his deceased wife and best friend reappear and explain to him that the probe is being sent into the future. The community’s hope is that it will encounter someone, a teacher, to whom they can convey what they were, and how they lived. “Oh, it’s me… [Picard says] I’m the someone. I’m the one it finds.” They say to him, “If you will tell others about us, then we will have found life again.”

 

Back on the Enterprise, Picard’s dream state finally ends. He emerges from it physically fine, but disoriented as to what time period he is in now. The crew tell him that no more than twenty minutes has actually passed. And they tell him that the civilization on Kataan has been gone for over a thousand years. When they open up the probe, the crew finds only a small wooden box, which they bring to Picard. He opens it to find the flute he so loved playing in his dream life. He clutches it to his heart, then lifts it to his mouth to find that he is still able to play his haunting melody.

 

We can only guess why the story is called, “The Inner Light.” My guess is that the increasingly oppressive atmosphere of Kataan’s world was not what matters in the end. What matters is the gifts and graces within each person. For some, that was planting or planning or cooking or studying– For Kamin it was musicality illuminated by a flute. It was only by reaching out that the Enterprise crew and the people of Ressik came to understand and empathize with each other. Since they did, all that was worthy in Kamin’s ancient world became part of Picard’s new world. It is only from reaching out to others that we learn what their inner light is. At first glance, some people’s values can seem so different than ours.  But I believe we must try to reach out to people who seem to be in another galaxy than us. I believe I must keep trying to reach out to people who seem to be in another galaxy than I am. Imagine if the most important communities for Unitarian Universalists to reach out to seem to be in–  “Space– the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise: its continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

 

Live long and prosper.

 

*Hymn #1018 “Come and Go with Me

 

Offering:

This morning, and every Sunday this month, we are sharing our offering with UUANI, a Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network throughout Illinois, that trains leaders to build power for congregational social action.

 

*Closing hymn #1064 Blue Boat Home

 

*Parting Words [W.E.B. DuBois, his last statement to the world]:

 

“One thing alone I charge you. As long as you live, believe in Life! Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader, and fuller life. The only possible death is to lose belief in this truth simply because the great end comes slowly, [simply] because time is long.”

 

Reflections on Neighborhood

“Reflections on Neighborhood”

Inaugural Sermon for

Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, Illinois

August 20, 2017

the Rev. Jennie Barrington, Interim Minister

 

First Reading: from, Grounded – Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution, by Diana Butler Bass [from her chapter on, “Neighborhood,” p. 222]

 

“In the twentieth century, Jewish theologian Martin Buber explained that most arenas of human activity  –politics, economics, and education–  actually alienate us, because they treat human beings as objects. Modern culture has trained us to distance ourselves from one another, seeing others and the world itself as something to be observed, examined, and critiqued. Essentially, we view everyone and everything as problems to be fixed. When we know others only as objects, what Buber called the ‘I-it’ relationship, it precludes the possibility of community. There is, however, an alternative. If we encounter our neighbors with empathy, remembering that others are subjects, we can enter into an ‘I-Thou’ relationship. Seeing others as ‘Thou’ opens the possibility of real affection and mutual responsibility. True neighborliness can be described as being mutual subjects, acting toward one another with respect and understanding. Buber said that modern society is an ‘it’ world. But he also claimed that a ‘Thou’ world, of connection and compassion, was the only path toward a healthy human future. Buber’s vision easily translates to the possibility of neighborhood–  ‘Thou’ is another way of talking about empathy, a connective source for community. If we want good neighborhoods and to be good neighbors, we must be able to treat both places and people as subjects, not objects.”

 

Second Reading: from, The Spirit of Community, by Amitai Etzioni

 

“Some time ago I was driving home in snow that had snarled Washington, D.C., and was forced to abandon my car and hitch a ride with someone whose car had four-wheel drive.  When I finally arrived at my home in Bethesda, Maryland, neighbors were standing in my kitchen–  crying.  I found out that my wife had been in a serious car accident.  My young son had been taken to an emergency room with her.  Two of my neighbors offered to drive me to the emergency room, despite the icy roads (we did spin out of control on the way), and others simply stated that they were going to stay in my place to wait for my other sons to arrive.  My wife did not survive the accident, and in the weeks that followed, my neighbors took care of me.  They brought over food; one couple spent the entire evening with me, although it was one of two evenings their son was home from college.  Another dedicated his only day off from work to go to the car wreck and retrieve some documents, a task I could not face.  They called on me frequently for weeks on end.

 

I know, as clearly as one can ever tell about human motivations, that they did not calculate how much I had done for them in the past or would do for them in a future moment of need.  It was quite evident that they did what they could to help out of a sense of compassion.  True, there is, quite properly, in any relationship or community some vague sense of appropriate reciprocity, of the need to contribute to a climate of mutuality.  But basically people help one another and sustain the spirit of community because they sense it is the right thing to do.” [p. 145]

 

Musical Message “Won’t you be my Neighbor,” by Fred Rogers

 

The Morning Sermon: “Reflections on Neighborhood”

 

Good morning, and welcome, and may I say again how honored and delighted I am to be starting up as the interim minister for your very caring and fun congregation, in this beautiful neighborhood known affectionately as Lakeview. While I was considering coming here to be your new interim minister, I talked with many people familiar with “2U” and Lakeview. Those people included ministers and seminary students, and other Unitarian Universalists who once attended here, or who have family who either attended here, or lived here. I also talked with realtors, and people from the moving company, and I googled a bunch of things. All of the feedback said some variation of: it’s a wonderful congregation, with a long, rich history, and what a great neighborhood! I had an especially helpful conversation with the long-time staff person from your congregation’s UUA District and Region, the Rev. Ian Evison. He told me how nice you all are, and talked about the ups and downs 2U has had over the decades–  how there were a few times when the number of members dwindled, and the congregation might have closed its doors, but it rallied, and asked for and received help from other Unitarians and Universalists, and rose up to flourish once again. And they he said, “It’s a really hip neighborhood!” Another person I talked to, shortly after I said yes to coming here, was your Congregational Administrator, Andrew. I told him that I had begun looking into possible apartments, some of which would necessitate talking the El or the bus every day. Andrew said, “I think you should live in this neighborhood. Everything you’d need would be within walking distance.  It’s a great neighborhood.” So that’s what I decided to do, and happily so. I also wanted my first sermon for you to be about something that you could relate to, and which would feel meaningful to you. And everyone says that “Chicago is a city of neighborhoods.”

 

Both of the authors of the two readings we heard this morning have reflected deeply on the concept of neighborhood. Diana Butler Bass, in her book, Grounded – Finding God in the World, devotes a whole chapter to “Neighborhood.” Some of her other chapters are called, “Roots,” “Home,” and “Commons.”  At the beginning of her chapter, she writes:

 

“The English word ‘neighbor’ comes from the Old English words neah (or nigh) for ‘near,’ and gebur, meaning ‘dweller.’ By 1600 or so, the word ‘neighborhood,’ which had meant the ‘state or condition of living in a neighborly fashion,’ came into its modern usage as a noun for a community of people who dwell near one another…  Put simply, people create neighborhoods when they gather together beyond family ties, live close to others, and choose to share certain resources (in the contemporary world, those resources include, for example, electricity, schools, roads, places of worship, stores, and often a park or some other commons). Neighborhoods are born when people settle in a certain geographical space and turn it, in common effort with others, into a habitable place.”

 

There’s a delightful example of people “living in a neighborly fashion” right in our neighborhood. I pass it as I walk between my apartment and the church. It’s the Margaret Donahue Park. If you don’t know who Margaret Donahue was, you should look into her and her remarkable life and career–  especially since she was a Cubs Fan. She started out doing secretarial work for the Cubs, back in 1919. But she soon rose to working for the Cubs in an executive capacity, and became their vice president in 1950–  the first woman in that role in the major leagues. She introduced many innovations to the way baseball was managed, including reduced price tickets for children. The Margaret Donahue Park was created in our church’s neighborhood through a collaboration with the Chicago Park District, the School Advisory Council, and the Chicago Cubs. I love seeing all the lively activity brimming over in that park every time I walk passed it. There is sharing of healthy food, attention to physical health, healthy competition, friendships being nurtured through social networking, anti-bullying initiatives, and understanding of ethnic and cultural diversity. And the adults in the park are engaging in all of those things, too :)! Our congregation should notice, nurture, and support hubs of multigenerational interaction and enrichment like the Margaret Donahue Park.

 

Dr. Butler Bass’s description helps us visualize the many positive attributes at the center of a lively and collaborative neighborhood. But what do the edges of a neighborhood look like? And how are they defined? A bit later in her chapter, she writes about her neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia. She says that she found a web platform that helps neighbors share and communicate. What her neighborhood’s formal association had been using was a list of people’s email addresses. She talked with the administrator of that list. He was open to the idea of using the web platform instead. He sent out email requests to the people in the neighborhood association inviting them to join. But Dr. Butler Bass wanted to include households on streets that were adjacent to the association. She wanted “all those who considered themselves neighbors to be able to access the platform.” The administrator of the list raised concerns about people’s safety and privacy. “’What [he asked] should be the appropriate boundaries of the neighborhood?’ [Dr. Butler Bass wrote] We needed to find a balance between inclusion and order, between welcome and security. We finally negotiated a map of neighborhood that best fit with my desire to include and his need to trust.”

 

In next week’s sermon, I’ll expand on the concept of neighborhood, to reflect on ways we engage with the wider community. Between now and then, we can give some thought to who the people in our neighborhood are  —all the people in our neighborhood. And we should give some thought and have some conversations about that. It’s always harder to notice the people around us who have less power, privilege, and voice–  people in need of our support and advocacy. I welcome hearing your thoughts on who, in our church’s neighborhood, we might notice more, learn from, and form friendships with.

 

The author of our second reading, Amitai Etzioni, describes the concept of neighborhood at its very best, and most compassionate. In 1993, he wrote his book, The Spirit of Community – the Reinvention of American Society.  Dr. Etzioni is a communitarian.  I would interpret that term to mean he is part of an organized effort to urge communities to live in a more intentionally compassionate and principled way.  I heard Dr. Etzioni speak at a Unitarian Universalist General Assembly several years ago. He was the distinguished Ware Lecturer. And I still recall how moved I was by his address.  That doesn’t mean you have to agree with all of his ideas. But it is a fact that his ideas about building better communities have been very thoughtfully researched, discussed, and developed.  In short, he writes that community life has deteriorated in the United States, and we cannot expect communities that are caring and responsible to simply pop up on their own.  Facilitators of many types of community groups should be trained to lead those groups well. That takes time, money, and other resources. But it is necessary to end the isolation and neglect of so many people’s needs.  I think he is simply saying that we all must take more responsibility for both ourselves and for others. In Dr. Etzioni’s view, first of all, “people have a moral responsibility to help themselves as best they can.” He then says, “the second line of responsibility lies with those closest to the person, including kin, friends, neighbors, and other community members.”  He feels that “as a rule every community ought to be expected to do the best it can to take care of its own [and] Each community must be expected to reach out to members of other communities that are less well-endowed and hence less able to deal with their own problems. The ways are almost endless, from sending food, blankets, and volunteers when a neighboring community is overwhelmed, housing ‘refugees’ from a hurricane or earthquake, to sharing equipment such as snow plows.  Last but not least, societies (which are nothing but communities of communities) must help those communities whose ability to help their members is severely limited.” [pp. 144-147]

 

If we stop and think about it, I’m sure we all could recall being on the receiving end of a neighbor reaching out to help us, and selflessly so, out of their ethical believe that it’s the right thing to do. I’m recalling a time when I received such help and support, a little less than two years ago. Shortly after I moved to Columbia, South Carolina, to serve as interim minister of the UU congregation there, our area experienced historic floods so severe they only happen once in one hundred years. Roads and bridges were becoming washed over, and flood gates and dams were straining, especially around the apartment complex where I lived, a neighborhood called, Forest Acres, through the center of which runs Gills Creek. My next door neighbors were a young adult couple, Chris, and his fiancé, Jennifer. They had a little dog named Optimist, so we called him, “Opti.” Fortuitously for us, Jennifer worked at the office of the Water District, so we were more up to date on the developing floods than some people were. On Monday, October 5th, we really thought that the storm was moving away from our area. But instead it stayed over us and just kept raining and raining. Then Chris knocked on my door and said residents of Forest Acres were being advised to evacuate. I remember he pointed to our neighbors down the hill a ways and said, “See, over there–  Those families are packing their vehicles up to evacuate.” So I thanked him and went inside to begin to pull together some essential things. I had just gone to the Department of Motor Vehicles a couple days before. So I had my personal I.D. papers all together in a big envelope. I started putting a raincoat and sweater in a bag when Chris pounded on the door again, really loudly this time. I opened the door and he said, “We have to evacuate, now. They are saying that the Forest Acres Dam is about to breach. If it does, there will be water rushing all over this whole area. You have to get in your car and drive out of here, now.” I told him that I didn’t even know which direction I should drive in. He said, “You should drive toward Lexington. Then you’ll be out of the path of the water.” He then patiently and clearly talked me through which roads to take to get onto the right highway to drive to Lexington. I thanked him again, threw some things in my car and jumped into it, and started driving. I did have a GPS, but I still felt really shaky about it all. I wondered if I could find a hotel room, but I doubted it. While I was driving, our Student Minister called me on my cell. She’d heard that our area had been told to evacuate. She was checking to see if I was okay. I told her which highway I was on, and which direction I was driving in. And she said, “You should just come stay with us.” Then she talked me through how to get to her home. And I spent two days with her, her husband, and their three young children, who were delighted and excited that their minister was visiting them.

 

Of course I will be forever grateful to our Student Minister, and her family, for taking me in during those historic floods. But it’s the way that my young neighbor, Chris, reached out and helped me, that still fills me with a sense of awe. Why did he do that? Why did he take the time and care to make sure I would be okay? Why didn’t he just get himself, his fiancé, and their dog into their truck and drive to safety as fast as he could? He did it because he was raised with the ethical sense that helping your neighbor in a time of need is the right thing to do. One of the most inspiring things in my lifetime, to me, is when people do something that they do not have to do–  something charitable, an exhibition of higher responsibility, consideration that extends beyond their own needs to that which would support, nurture, and comfort some of their neighbors on this planet earth. What my young neighbor, Chris, did for me that stormy day gives me hope for younger generations, and for our world.

 

I’ll close this morning with a true story of the awe and joy a person can feel when witnessing good neighborliness. It’s from New York Times Columnist David Brooks’ essay of June 2nd, 2017. Mr. Brooks writes, “People are attracted by goodness and repelled by selfishness.” He cites N.Y.U. social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who “has studied the surges of elevation we feel when we see somebody performing a selfless action. Haidt describes the time a guy spontaneously leapt out of a car to help an old lady shovel snow from her driveway. One of his friends, who witnessed this small act, later wrote: ‘I felt like jumping out of the car and hugging this guy. I felt like singing and running, or skipping and laughing. Just being active. I felt like saying nice things about people. Writing a beautiful poem or love song. Playing in the snow like a child. Telling everybody about his deed.’”

 

Let us all do our part to make our “City of Neighborhoods” a City of Neighborly Love.

 

Hymn #1021 Lean on Me

Offering (Share The Plate with UUANI)

Closing Hymn #1017 Building a New Way

 

Benediction [William R. Murry]:

 

“Now let us go forth with the faith that life is worth living, that defeat and adversity can be transformed into victory and hope, that love is eternal, and that life is stronger than death.  And may that faith inspire us to live our lives with dignity, love, and courage in the days and weeks ahead.”