State of the UUA 2017: The Road through Humansville

Reverend Kent Hemmen Saleska
UU Church of Minntonka
July 2, 2017

First Reading: From “Willing to be Made a People
By Victoria Weinstein

Second “Reading” – Video Clip: President’s and Staff Report (from 30:48 to 34:51)
Unitarian Universalist Interim co-presidents: Dr. Leon Spencer, Rev. Bill Sinkford, Rev. Sofia Betancourt

Third “Reading” – Video Clip: Black Lives of UU report (from 14:33 to 18:50)
Passing the baton from Mel Hoover and Paula Cole Jones to Lena Gardner and BLUU

SERMON
State of the UUA 2017: The Road through Humansville
Reverend Kent Hemmen Saleska
UU Church of Minnetonka
July 2, 2017

Friends, it is good to see you again. After a month away on Study Leave and attending General Assembly, our denomination’s annual business meeting, this year in New Orleans, it is good to be back here, it is good to see you all again, it is good to share with each other stories of our time apart, and it is good to be home.

Though I must say, with all the recent transition in our lives on so many levels, the notion of “home” seems to keep evolving. As many of you know, I am wresting with and moving through a divorce that has shaken me deeply, and challenges my notion of family and of home. And of course, as a congregation, we are now a month in to living in and worshipping in the beautiful new space. This transition has been a great joy and relief, but it has also involved some hard conversations and interactions, which are inevitable in a transition like this. And this new building is also a space that will likely takes us many months, if not years, to actually and deeply call this place our spiritual “home.” And on the denominational, hoo-boy, there has been a lot going on, which I’ll get into in a few moments…and then there’s all the incredibly disrespectful, mean and even downright brutal things going on in our nation and our world.

The stereotypical notion of home conjures up images of safety, refuge, security, and of close family who love us no matter what. But the reality is that the notion of “home” brings up painful, or even traumatic feelings or memories in some people. And when we talk about a church community, our congregation or any Unitarian Universalist congregation, a group of people who voluntarily join together in covenant to share values, faith, and action, we are far too varied to hold here the stereotypical notions of home.

The truth is that being in relationship, being a people of covenant, is that we can’t always be in a safe space. Especially if we have any value of growth at all, we don’t grow and transform seated in a comfortable easy chair. Too often we talk about needing to create a “safe space” so that people will feel accepted or feel heard, but too often when we say “safe space,” what we really mean is something like “I want to say what I want to say without getting challenged on what I’m saying.” So I’ve appreciated the new phrase I’ve heard in Unitarian Universalist gatherings over the past few months, that rather than create or enter into “safe space,” that we enter together into “brave space.” Because “brave space” is what allows us to both share our truths as well as hold each other accountable through our covenant to our deepest communal values and highest communal aspirations. So let us enter now into some “brave space.”

This sermon, on the first Sunday in July, is Sunday when I return from General Assembly, our annual denominational conference and business meeting, and report on what I experienced and learned, in an attempt to bring all that home to you. It is always an impossible task, because there is always more learning from a week of experiences that can fit into a 20-minute sermon or a one-hour service. But I do my best to condense that experience to give you at least a bit of a sense of what is going on in the larger UU world.

If you don’t know, or have not been following denominational concerns, this year there has been a flurry of heartbreaking events. And I want to give you a warning here that some of these may be a trigger for some people, and I want to let you know I will be available after the service if you want or need to talk more about any of these. At the Unitarian Universalist Ministry Days during the three days prior to General Assembly, we addressed seven major issues or responses in both worship and in conversation:

  • First there was the redaction of the Barry Street Lecture given by a female minister last year, after she called out clergy sexual misconduct from some older male ministers, and one of the named ministers threatened legal action;
  • Next there was the arrest of the Reverend Ron Robinson on child pornography charges. Ron was a well-respected minister doing powerful ministry in Oklahoma for some of the most disenfranchised people there;
  • Later this spring we unmasked white supremacy in our Unitarian Universalist Association when a white male was chosen for a top level UUA position by other white males over a well-qualified Hispanic woman;
  • Subsequently, and in an unprecedented move, this resulted in the president of our Unitarian Universalist Association, Peter Morales, resigning from his post only three months before the end of his term; following him two more top-level white men resigned, who it was later discovered had been given some $500 thousand severance packages, which was over four times the allowed amount for firings – yet these men had left voluntarily;
  • Fifth, in response, the Black Lives of UUs (BLUU – also known as “blue”) called for a denomination-wide White Supremacy teach-in;
  • Sixth, Don Southworth, a white male and the Executive Director of the UU Minister’s Association, sent out an open letter on Easter Sunday calling out behaviors by the UUA board he did not agree with, and hurt a lot of people of color, and white allies, in the process;
  • Finally, there was the response to Don’s letter by the board of the UU Minister’s Association, and their range of responses within their letter.

So, as you may imagine, there was a lot of tension and anxiety among both  ministers and congregants as some 4,000 of us descended upon New Orleans.

For my part, one way I decided to address the tension and anxiety in both my personal and professional life, was to ride my motorcycle from here down to New Orleans and back.

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It was a journey that took me 2,830 miles through seven states…

…retracing parts of a bicycle trip I took in 1984, and included a breakdown in Mississippi on my return trip, rides through a couple of rain storms and a near miss with tropical storm Cindy.
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But on my way, I discovered an amazing little road, off the side of a side road in the middle of Missouri. I was headed down this main highway when suddenly I saw a road I just had to take, no matter where it was going to lead. It was, of course, Highway UU.
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So I turned off the main road and began to follow Highway UU, but what do you think happened barely a mile or two later? Of course, even given what you’ve heard this morning, that road turned to gravel and dirt. And that road crossed a few streams on bridges without any railings.

But here’s the thing. You want to know where that road ultimately took me? Well, ultimately it took me to New Orleans, but in that moment…and you may not believe this but I’ll be happy to show you on a map after the service…but that road dumped me out into the little town of Humansville, population 1,048.

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I don’t know about you, and I don’t know where that town got that name, but I can’t imagine a better metaphor for what we are doing this year, or perhaps any year, or all the time, as Unitarian Universalists. And for this morning, I intentionally did NOT subtitle my sermon, “The Road TO Humansville,” I subtitled it, “The Road THROUGH Humansville.” I wrote the title that way because being human is not a destination. It’s a process. It’s a matter of entering brave space in order to grow and expand and transform. And this year, more than any year in my memory, and in every area of life, from personal to professional, congregational, denominational and national, we have dragged ourselves through dirt and across spans without railings in our fumbling attempts to be human and move through our humanity.

On the hills and valleys of the remainder of my ride down south, on one day I mourned the acquittal of Officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philandro Castile. I heard the news through friends and colleagues on Facebook, but I could only mourn in solidarity from a distance.

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And then in a complete turnaround, the next day in Mississippi I discovered the birthplace of Kermit the Frog (Leland, Mississippi), and continued Onward to my destination, General Assembly in New Orleans.

 

For those of you who have never been, and for whom this congregation is your only experience of Unitarian Universalism – and even for someone like me who has been to many of them – it is an amazing experience to walk into a great hall with some four or five thousand other Unitarian Universalists.

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So let me share with you a little more of what we did.

  • There was a push to amend our first principle, to reword it so it would say “we affirm and promote the inherent worth of all beings” instead of “the inherent worth of every person,” so as to include animals and our natural world. Many people argued that the seventh principle, that we are part of an interdepended web of existence, already covered that. But more importantly, the people who brought this amendment forward asked that it be tabled in order for us to focus on the Commission on Institutional Change, a newly appointed group, to explore the work around creating an 8th
  • The Black Lives of UU (BLUU) Organizing Collective encourages all Unitarian Universalists to advocate for the formal adoption of an 8th principle, articulating a commitment to the dismantling of white supremacy, within the stated principles of our faith. According to a statement from BLUU: “It has been 20 years since the 1997 General Assembly, where delegates voted that the Unitarian Universalist Association commit to intentionally becoming a multicultural and anti-racist institution. Notably, this act came some 5 years after the passage of the 1992 Resolution of Immediate Witness which, in part, affirmed the “vision of a racially diverse and multicultural Unitarian Universalism.” The proposed 8th Principle was written by Bruce Pollack-Johnson and Paula Cole Jones…and states:

“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”

  • In a plenary session of General Assembly, we did resolve to send this 8th principle to the study commission to bring it back next year.
  • We also made a resolution to change the name of the justice campaign “Standing on the Side of Love,” to something more inclusive, in the way that composer Jason Shelton has already changed the title and lyrics of the song to “Answering the Call of Love.”
  • We had the first of two votes to amend the wording of the sources of our faith to be gender-neutral (so changing phrases like “prophetic women and men” to “prophetic people”), though we won’t officially amend them until the vote at next year’s GA.

For about four or five years at General Assembly we’ve been working toward more and more inclusion and access for people who have physical challenges getting around, and for those who are non-gender-binary by having designated bathrooms around the convention center that allow use by all people.

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As General Assembly continued, the Exhibit Hall housed all kinds of great books, clothing, jewelry and resources for sale, while workshops continued on all levels.

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On Thursday night we held the Service of the Living Tradition, the annual service that honors ministers, religious educators and music directors. And this year, after it was over, the Reverend Jason Shelton conducted a jazz band and a combined choir in the “Ruby Bridges Suite,” a beautiful and heartbreaking piece of music that honors Ruby Bridges, who was six years old in 1960 when she was the first black child to integrate the New Orleans school system.

 

And on Friday, Andrea Heier and I participated in a march through the streets of New Orleans and a rally for “Love Resists” with several inspiring speakers, most of whom were local.

And then on Saturday night, the man who spoke at the Ware Lecture was Bryan Stephenson, who wrote the book “Just Mercy,” which some people in our congregation read and discussed last year. He gave an hour-long speech without notes, that was more captivating because it was full of his personal stories of service, learning, and growth.

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Bryan Stevenson’s four points for the night were:

  • Get proximate – that is, get close to and in relationship with the people who need justice the most;
  • Change the narrative under the policies – that is, change the dominant story so that it includes the experiences of those who live at the margins
  • Maintain hope; and
  • Be willing to get uncomfortable – as he said, “We can’t change the world until good people make the choice to do something uncomfortable.”

Finally, at this year’s General Assembly we also made another historic “first.” We elected our first female president, the Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray (though Sofia Betancourt, as part of the three-person, three-month interim presidency was actually the first female president to serve our denomination). It was the first time with electronic voting that included an instant run-off process, and this time she will serve for one six-year term, rather than a four-year term with a chance at re-election. This is also the first time we have ever had a president who was not a baby boomer. The significance of this, if any, has yet to be seen, but many feel this is a significant shift in a good way.

So now I’d like to introduce the Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray to you through this video of her accepting her new role on Saturday afternoon:

UUA Presidential Election Results: Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
Clip from 10:20 to 18:25
GA2017 Video #443a

It was a wonderful night, celebrating the new presidency of Susan Frederick-Gray. Unfortunately, and horrifically, one of her first acts as president later that night was to visit the bedsides of two UUA staff members who were brutally attacked and beaten in the French Quarter, and then share that news with the entire General Assembly before worship last Sunday morning. One of the men was released from the hospital quickly, while the other remains in a New Orleans hospital in serious but stable condition, and it is believed he will recover.

After reporting on the attacks, “The Advocate” online newspaper continued: “Meanwhile, members of the liberal religious organization for which both victims worked appeared in court during the bail hearing to spread a message of mercy… Unitarian Universalists packed a row in Magistrate Court as the four men accused of taking part in the attack appeared in court. Several of the observers wore “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts. After the hearing, one of the Unitarians said they had hoped the young men would receive lower bails. “We wanted to show up for restorative justice. We wanted to advocate for a reasonable bond for all four,” said Jolanda Walter, 43, of New Orleans. “We don’t want these young men thrown away.”

In the wake of this attack, some may question our stance on racial justice and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. But friends, we are committed. As my colleague the Reverend Jordin Nelson Long says, “and in those commitments we learn what those covenants are made of, and indeed, what *we* are made of, when it’s hard.”

Friends, our little UU Highway through Humansville can turn to dirt and gravel, and get bumpy and full of potholes sometimes, and lead to some unexpected and even unwanted detours, especially this year. But we ARE a people of covenant, a people of promise, made by our promises. On this road through our humanity we know, even if we don’t always want to admit it, that our faith calls us to greater love, to honor the promises we make through our covenants, that it calls us to remember and to know that the line between “good” and “evil” is not between you and me. That line is not between any group we consider “us” and any other group we consider “them.” No friends, that line between good and evil runs right through the middle of the human heart. Each one of us is capable of meanness and cruelty. But we are capable of so much promise and love too. This is how we honor anyone who is attacked and brutalized. Choose a willingness and commitment to stay at the table. Choose love. Honor who and what we are by demanding that the world become a better place by navigating the road that takes us through the larger, harder, and more challenging love.

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To Transform and Redeem: Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community

Reverend Kent Hemmen Saleska
Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka
September 20, 2015

FIRST READING: from “Justice without Violence”
By Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1957:
It is necessary to boycott sometimes but the non-violent resister realized that boycott is never an end within itself, but merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor. The aftermath of violence is bitterness; the aftermath of non-violence is the creation of the beloved community; the aftermath of non-violence is redemption and reconciliation. This is a method that seeks to transform and to redeem, and win the friendship of the opponent, and make it possible for [people] to live together…in a community, and not continually live with bitterness and friction.

SECOND READING: from “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
By Martin Luther King, Jr., April 16, 1963:
My friends…We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see…that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

[So] I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

THIRD READING: from “Courage for Black Lives Matter: A Love Letter to White Unitarian Universalists (and other White Folks too)”
By Chris Crass (a white heterosexual male Unitarian Universalist)
September 11, 2015
Our commitment to living the values of our faith is being tested….With FOX News leading a media frenzy denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group, as terrorists, as anti-white, some of us are retreating from wearing Black Lives Matter buttons and some of us are questioning whether or not to take down the Black Lives Matter banners from our churches.

It would be easy for me to say all of the white UUs who are faltering are just falling back into their white privilege, are sinking back into their liberal white racism. It would be easy for me to distance myself and feel superior. It is much harder for me to say, that I too, as a white Unitarian Universalist, have been scared. After months of wearing my Black Lives Matter button, I found myself second-guessing whether to wear it.

What if I am challenged at the grocery store or walking in the park with my son? It was much easier to wear my button after the latest police murder of an unarmed Black person. Filled with anger and a desire to “do something”, I wore my button with defiance to racism and a commitment to racial justice.

I held my button in my hand, and I knew that all of this is much bigger than buttons and banners. This is about breaking a centuries-old code of white silence and white consent for anti-Black racist violence and institutional white supremacy and its legal and cultural dispersal of white privilege and white entitlement. Entitlement to safety and comfort, at the expense of people of color having the same. Entitlement to our [white] children not needing to think about the color of their skin or [not] wondering if the color of their skin puts them at risk of socially- and state-sanctioned violence.

This is about choosing what side of justice we put our bodies on. And like other white UUs, I don’t want to be part of this racist society. I want to stand in the tradition of Unitarian Universalist abolitionists and Civil Rights workers, knowing that even within our faith tradition it has not always been easy. I want to stand on the side of love, like we did on Marriage Equality, even when it was illegal in every state and scary for many of us to be publicly out for LGBT rights.

The Black Lives Matter movement is the leading struggle for racial justice of our times. It is a movement led by Black people who are women, queer, youth, working class, including Black UUs around the country….And it is a movement that puts a challenge to every white person who believes themselves a proponent of racial equality, every white person inspired by the Civil Rights movement, every white person who believes they would be on the right side of history if an injustice of great magnitude were taking place.  The movement is a challenge to put our values into practice, not just when it is easy, but also when it is hard.


SERMON: To Transform and Redeem: Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community
By Reverend Kent Hemmen Saleska

Five decades ago the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a book called Why We Can’t Wait, a book based on a letter he wrote in April 1963 while imprisoned in the Birmingham jail after being arrested for nonviolent action against racist practices in that city.  A statement titled “A Call for Unity” by eight white Alabama clergymen against King and his methods was printed in the newspaper.  In their statement, the white clergymen agreed that social injustices existed, but argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought in the courts, not on the streets. The statement provoked King so much that he began writing a response in the margins of the newspaper, and later finished it on a pad of notepaper.  King’s letter was an eloquent and powerful defense of not only the tactics and goals of the Birmingham Campaign, but of the use of nonviolence and the entire Civil Rights movement.

Today much of America venerates Martin Luther King.  Even some conservatives strive for misguided attempts to line up in King’s shadow. In some of the recent news coverage, I even read that Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who is denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples because she says it is against her religious beliefs, was reading Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” while she was in jail for contempt of court.

We need to remember, though, that Dr. King was not the mild and inoffensive figure America likes to make him out to be these days.  He was not just a nice guy who wanted everyone to have equal rights. He was a radical. He pushed the boundaries of white comfort and the white status quo. His philosophy was to take what many people wanted to ignore or sweep under the rug and make it visible by making white people uncomfortable.  The eight white clergy in Birmingham were uncomfortable. They agreed that social inequality existed, and they agreed with his goal, they just didn’t like his means. They didn’t like that he was getting in their faces and marching in their streets and sitting at the lunch counters that were clearly designated for white people only.  Instead, they had some alternate vision where Dr. King and black people in America would protest nicely, and orderly, and in ways that would not offend white people by doing it in ways that white people wanted him to do it – only through the courts.

Yet in events that reverberate and replay today in current events and in the response of the Black Lives Matter movement, black people were being killed and beaten and refused access to voting rights and economic equality and equal educational opportunities.  As Dr. King said at a Memphis rally in 1968:

“Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”

1963 was an explosive year for Civil Rights.  In his book, Why We Can’t Wait, Dr. King gave several reasons why. Here are a few of them:

  • As the centennial of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, it reminded black people that they remained oppressed despite their nominal legal freedom;
  • Nine years after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, black people in America were disillusioned with the slow speed of desegregation; and
  • The Great Depression never ended for African Americans; while others enjoyed economic recovery after World War II and while white soldiers reaped the benefits of the GI bill, black unemployment rose and returning black soldiers were denied the educational and housing benefits granted to their white colleagues.

As for the suddenness of what was being called the “Negro Revolution,” Dr. King wrote: “Just as lightning makes no sound until it strikes, the Negro Revolution generated quietly. But when it struck, the revealing flash of its power and the impact of its sincerity and fervor displayed a force of a frightening intensity. Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse, and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.”

Today we are faced with the replay of events and attitudes pulled right out from the years of Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.  Today, within the past two years or so, we’ve seen an explosion of angry hurting people in America who are attempting to claim their equality and humanity in the midst of a culture that values black bodies on the field in sports, and black bodies in advertising, and black bodies in the military, and understands black bodies as scary and frightening on the streets – but does not value black lives in equal measure to white lives.

Here we are, 52 years after that explosive summer, which was 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and 50 years after the voting rights act that was depicted in the recent movie “Selma,” and 47 years after the assassination of Dr. King, and we still do not have racial equality in America.  And we have all kinds of parallels between the two movements in the national events, in the fight for equality, and in the reactions and attitudes of white people across the entire religious and political spectrum from conservative to liberal.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Martin Luther King began saying it and Jesse Jackson continued the refrain that “Black is Beautiful!” Today a prominent leader of the Black Lives Matter movement by the name of DeRay McKesson will end every day he is on Twitter with the phrase “I love your blackness. And mine.”

In the 1950s and 60s, when black people marched on the streets or stood in rallies in nonviolent protest, the liberals would often say they agreed with the goals and vision of racial equality but did not like the in-your-face methods of getting there, while the conservatives would physically block the entrances to the voting booths and universities, and would bring out the fire hoses and call out the State Troopers and police dogs to attack the black protestors. Today when the Black Lives Matter movement marches on the interstates or stands up in protest at the Mall of America, the liberals will often still say they agree with the goals and vision of racial equality but not with those methods that interrupt our normal every day lives, while the conservatives will call out massive curb-to-curb police forces that are increasingly militarized in full riot gear and six-wheeled military vehicles due to acquiring the military equipment leftover from a decade and a half of global warfare, and will call the nonviolent group “terrorists,” and in broad sweeping attempts at fear-mongering advocate for the deportation of 11 million immigrants.

Many people would like the Black Livers Matter movement to either change their tactics or to simply go away, either by choice or by force.  But in 1963 Martin Luther King wrote that “Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse, and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.”  And arising from the nonviolent efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement, the same is true today, except that now it is three hundred and FIFTY years.

In 1963, giving voice to his view about why black people can no longer wait for equality, Dr. King wrote to his white moderate clergy colleagues in his Letter from Birmingham Jail “My friends…We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see…that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

And in words to his white moderate colleagues that unfortunately has some similar application to white moderates today, Dr. King continued his letter with what seems to be a mixture of bitterness, encouragement, sorrow and lament:

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I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
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So I wonder today how much we in America really value Dr. King’s vision. And I wonder how much we liberals will put our values and veneration of Dr. King into action.  I wonder which we prefer more – venerating a historical figure or giving weight and action to his teaching and vision?  Take a look at reading #565 in your hardcover hymnal. Clinton Lee Scott writes there that it is “always easier to pay homage to prophets than to heed the direction of their vision. / It is easier to glorify the heroes of the race than to give weight to their examples.”

I wonder these things and yet I also know we are a people called by love to be love’s people.  We are called by love to love the hell out of the world.  We are called by love to follow love – not to reduce and limit love, but to expand love and compassion so that it will multiply throughout the world.  That’s what we learned when we fought in Minnesota for same-sex marriage. So that’s what we can do as we fight for racial justice too.

We are called by love not just to pay homage to a prophet, but to heed the direction of Martin Luther King’s vision.  “The Beloved Community” is a term that was first coined by the theologian Josiah Royce, but it was Dr. King who popularized the term and invested it with a deeper meaning. For King, the Beloved Community was not a lofty utopian goal.  Rather, it is a global vision in which all people share in the wealth of the earth, where poverty, hunger, homelessness and discrimination are not tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. It is a realistic, achievable goal that may be attained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence.  In 1963 King wrote: “The aftermath of violence is bitterness; the aftermath of non-violence is the creation of the beloved community; the aftermath of non-violence is redemption and reconciliation. This is a method that seeks to transform and to redeem, and win the friendship of the opponent, and make it possible for [people] to live together…in a community.”

Over and over this is what Dr. King taught: that our work of racial justice through nonviolent action is to create the beloved community, a method that seeks to transform and redeem all of us so that all of us are saved from the hell of bitterness and injustice and inequality and environmental destruction.

A few weeks before his death, William Stafford wrote a poem called “The Way it Is.”  As we imagine the evolution of oppressed people and the struggle for equality from the time of the American Civil War until today, and as we contemplate our liberal values of justice, equity and compassion in human relations that unites and inspires both our action and our veneration of Martin Luther King, listen to these words from William Stafford:

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

“Black Lives Matter” means something.  It is not a terrorist group as some people in America would have you believe.  And it is no more lawless or a radical fringe than Martin Luther King and his people were lawless or a radical fringe. The “Black Lives Matter” movement is the thread of racial justice work we hold on to today. In his “love letter” to white Unitarian Universalists, the UU Chris Crass describes the current “Black Lives Matter” movement as “the leading struggle for racial justice of our times.”

Struggling toward racial justice is not easy.  It comes with making a lot of mistakes, of sometimes inadvertently saying things that offend someone, sometimes even being unaware of or clueless about our white privilege and the impact that has on people of color.  Fortunately, though, we do have more and more resources to help us. This year I am hopeful that our congregation will be able to host a new curriculum called “Beloved Conversations.” This is a curriculum about racial justice that is similar to the Welcoming Congregation effort, which was a curriculum developed in the 1980s and 1990s to help Unitarian Universalists become more welcoming toward people who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning. If you are interested in working with me to bring the “Beloved Conversations” workshop here, please talk with me after the service.

Sometimes this effort to address racial justice is filled with a simple challenge to communicate, and sometimes it is disheartening and scary. A few weeks ago a colleague sent out a call on our minister’s Facebook group to support a Unitarian Universalist congregation in rural southern New Jersey that had put up a “Black Lives Matter” banner outside their church.  They were getting lots of pushback from the community with some very aggressive messages on their church’s Facebook page. So the call went out asking us to write comments of support on their Facebook page.  Along with some other colleagues, I joined in – and I began getting attacked for my comments until at one point one man responded to one of my posts with the words, “There’s a new implant that can fix stupid.” And the picture he attached was an image of a bullet.

In 1963 America got defensive and angry when the people of its former slaves began to demand equality and decent treatment. Today America is getting defensive and angry when people of color and white co-conspirators simply utter the phrase that “Black Lives Matter.” But it is apparent that the reaction is proof for why the phrase is needed and is so important.

Our Unitarian Universalist brother Chris Crass shares that the reason this is so important is that “This is about breaking a centuries-old code of white silence and white consent for anti-Black racist violence and institutional white supremacy and its legal and cultural dispersal of white privilege and white entitlement. Entitlement to safety and comfort, at the expense of people of color having the same…This is about choosing what side of justice we put our bodies on…I want to stand on the side of love, like we did on Marriage Equality, even when it was illegal in every state and scary for many of us to be publicly out for LGBT rights.” He goes on to say that “The Black Lives Matter movement is…led by Black people who are women, queer, youth, working class, including Black UUs around the country….And it is a movement that puts a challenge to every white person who believes themselves a proponent of racial equality, every white person inspired by the Civil Rights movement, every white person who believes they would be on the right side of history if an injustice of great magnitude were taking place.  The movement is a challenge to put our values into practice, not just when it is easy, but also when it is hard.”

It was Martin Luther King’s vision to transform and redeem the oppressor, not by capitulating to the oppressor’s timetable or desires, but through nonviolent direct action.  To honor his vision, it is our work in this day to hold on to the thread of justice and love, to put our values into practice, to allow ourselves to be claimed as love’s people, not just when it is easy, but even when it is hard. May we find the courage to be so filled with our faith to be so brave and so bold.

Mary’s Song of Justice: A Christmas Eve Homily

READING: Luke 1:39-55 (NRSV)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted [her cousin] Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”


Mary’s Song of Justice
Reverend Kent Hemmen Saleska
UU Church of Minnetonka
Christmas Eve 2014

This is a beautiful night.  A bit miserable and unseasonal with all the rain and fog on a Christmas Eve, but beautiful even so.  We are here, we are with family, we are with friends, we gather together at this, one of our most well-attended services each year to be together in body and in spirit as we celebrate the end of the advent season, the season of waiting.  Like those in earth-centered traditions we are waiting for the return of light.  Like those in Buddhist traditions we come seeking enlightenment and the peace that comes from non-attachment.  Like those in Christian traditions, we anticipate the birth and rebirth of peace and justice as in arrives in the birth of each child.

And yet we Unitarian Universalists sometimes struggle with what to do with Jesus.  Most of us believe that his teachings are powerful, meaningful, and still relevant today.  At the same time, most of us do not believe that he was God, nor the son of God, at least not more so than any of us are also the children of an eternally creative and powerful universe.  So then what are we doing here on Christmas Eve, a specifically Christian celebration that honors the birth of a child who will save the world from pain and suffering?

Part of our answer comes in the form of the Sophia Lyon Fahs poem, “The Gift,” the one that Andrea Heier read earlier, with the line that says, “each night a child is born is a holy night.”  It is a belief not just in the potential brilliance and good work that a baby may do sometime in the future, but in our human work to grow in our efforts toward compassion.

In fact the hymn we just sang, “It came upon a midnight clear,” was written by the Reverend Edmund Hamilton Sears, a 19th Century Unitarian Minister who served churches in Massachusetts.  This hymn is remarkable – and appreciated by many Unitarian Universalists – because it does not focus on Bethlehem, and does not mention Jesus anywhere.  Instead, it focuses on today – on the “today” of Reverend Sears’ own time, and on the “today” of our own experience as well.  Edmund Sears wrote the hymn in 1849, partly in response to the recently ended Mexican-American war.  Reverend Sears was a pacifist and abolitionist.  So his hymn does not focus on Jesus, but on the angels who sing their song of peace – if only we will hear it – particularly in the third verse as it is printed in our hymnal:

Yet with the woes of [war] and strife
the world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
two thousand years of wrong;
And [we who fight the wars] hear not
the love song which they bring;
O hush the noise [of battle] strife
and hear the angels sing.

For Reverend Sears, Jesus was neither a primarily historical figure nor a subject for “theological pugilism.” Instead, because of the consistent message of justice and peace throughout Hebrew and Christian scriptures, Reverend Edmund Sears saw Jesus and his teachings as an integrated experience in daily life.[1]

Mary, the mother of Jesus, has a similar perspective.  In the stories that come down to us, we don’t hear Mary’s voice very often – which is a little bit strange for someone who is supposed to be the midwife of Divine presence.  I suspect though, that that has more to do with later editors than it does with what she may actually have taught.  In fact, there is evidence that an entire Gospel of Mary existed at one time, which was never included in the four-gospel cannon that comes down to us today.  Even so, when Mary does speak, she speaks powerfully.

According to the story, angels appear to both Mary and her cousin’s husband to let them know they will bear special children.  Each time, though it must have been a little frightening to be instilled with a divine vision, the first part of the vision tells both of them, “Do not be afraid.”  Do not be afraid.  Hard to do in a time of great fear and anxiety, but deeply needed.

Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, eventually gives birth to John the Baptist, who foretells the birth of Jesus, and Mary eventually gives birth to Jesus.  But before that, before either child is born, Mary and Elizabeth meet and talk over their excitement and fear about the children they will soon have.  For both of them it is their first pregnancy.  Elizabeth, though, is old, and has been wanting a child for a long time, while for Mary, the pregnancy was quite unexpected, and in her joy, she shares with Elizabeth the song for her child.

We know that in many tribal cultures around the world, parents or tribal elders create a song for each child when they are born, a song that tells them how unique and special and brilliant each child is.  So too, Mary, in her tribal culture, creates a song for her unborn child as well.  This song of Mary’s has come to be known as “the Magnificat,” taking its name from the first line when Mary sings: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

The most common interpretation of these scriptures is that this entire song is a praise song to the great Divine presence.  And certainly it starts out that way.  But there is much more to this song.  Remember who is singing.  This is Mary.  This is Mary, an unwed pregnant teenager.  This is Mary, a citizen of country that is occupied by foreigners, the Roman army.  This is Mary, who must travel many days to the land of her ancestors because that occupying Roman army has declared that she and everyone else in her country must do this so that the army can keep track of their subordinates.  This is a pregnant Mary, a person in a country where her people have little to no voice in governing of themselves.  This is a pregnant teenage Mary who must pick up every piece of their daily life at a moment’s notice and travel at the very end of her pregnancy to a far away city where she ends up giving birth in a barn.  I imagine that this Mary just might be a little bit angry.

So yes, as faithful people do in many faiths, and even as people do who reside in the gratitude of simply being alive in a creative and beautiful universe, Mary feels a sense of humility and praises the Divine life and love that moves within and among and beyond all things that created her and chose her for the birth of this child.  But at the same time, she sings a song that is more than just praise.  This Mary, who lives in oppression under an occupying army, sings of the work of justice she envisions for her child: He will show great strength, she sings, and will scatter those who feel pride and self-righteousness in their hearts.  He will bring down the powerful from their thrones, and will lift up those who are downtrodden.  He will fill the hungry with good things, and will send the rich people away empty.

This is not simply a meek and mild mother gazing at her adorable infant son, this is a mother demanding justice in a world of oppression.

This is the season of Advent, the season of waiting and anticipation. But it is not simply waiting, it is a planning and a preparation for the work of justice.  This season for mystery and wonder was never meant to be a season simply for joy and celebration.  It is a season intended to remind us of the birth and rebirth of justice and compassion in a world that so often lacks both.  The “Occupy” movement and the “Black Lives Matter” movement are not just secular distractions to our season of loveliness and quiet contemplation, they are part of the focus that we are called to as people of faith, we who say we value the inherent worth of each person, and who value the interrelated universe of which we are a part.

This baby whose birth we celebrate tonight is symbolic of every child born – which means too, when you think about it, it is symbolic of our own births as well.  This baby in the story had a mother who created a song about him because she believed in him and knew the power and brilliance that existed inside him,  so much so that when he grew up he could later teach, as he is recorded as doing in the 17th chapter of the book of Luke (17:20-21), “When he was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

This is Mary’s song for her son, and this is our song for the world: to recognize that the divine power of the universe is within us, and in the words of Howard Thurman, “To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart.”

Down through the ages, this is our song.  And this is the song we sing to our children.  This IS our song.  This is OUR song.

[Motion to the choir to come up and sing Howard Thurman’s words. Note: this video is not our choir, but it is the song our choir sang after this homily]

[1] The information on Edmund Hamilton Sears comes from two primary pages: http://uudb.org/articles/edmundhamiltonsears.html and http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/8732.shtml

Honest Doubt

A sermon by the Reverend Kent Hemmen Saleska
UU Church of Minnetonka
November 2, 2014


Note: It seems that a lot of people appreciated this sermon yesterday.  It continues to be a mystery to me why some sermons get rave reviews, and others nary a whisper.  It seems to depend less on me and the effort I put into the sermon, and more on the headspace and heartspace of the hearer.  For whatever reason, this one seemed to be deeply meaningful for a lot of people today since almost every person through the line at the end of the service went out of their way to say how good they thought it was.  I even received complementary emails about it later in the day.  So – I thought I’d share it here!


In 1849 the English poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem about a good friend of his, Arthur Henry Hallam, who had died some years earlier of a cerebral hemorrhage.  In that poem, titled In Memoriam A.H.H., Tennyson wrote these memorable lines:

There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.

Unitarian Universalists over the ages – my mother, an English literature teacher who taught this poem to her high school students, was one of them – have resonated deeply with these lines.  For hundreds of years, people have turned toward Unitarianism and Universalism for many reasons, especially after experiencing suppression of curiosity and the sometimes brutal enforcement of conformity of thought in the most conservative of Christian, Jewish, and other religious traditions.  In reaction and response, people have sometimes turned to the stream of our faith tradition to drink from the refreshing water that nourishes and values questions, curiosity, and relationship over creedal belief statements.

For the month of November we are exploring the theme of “doubt.”  In our plan for worship, we are in the second year of a three-year arc of themes that parallel the construction of a building.  Last year our overall theme was “Foundations of Faith.”  This year, as we imagine the construction of rooms in a building, we are exploring how we here in our congregation may “make space” or “make room” for various qualities of faith and for various ways of being in together in community.  Last month we explored how we may “make room” for being Welcoming.  This month, we are exploring how we may make room for doubt – what doubt means, what it sometimes feels like, and what we might be able to do with it.

Doubt about the beliefs taught in mainline churches and Christianity is one thing that still motivates people to seek out a new, more liberal, and more open religious community.  And yet, we Unitarian Universalists may not be as unique as we like to think we are.  While nine out of ten Americans say they believe in God, recent results from a Pew Religious Landscape survey[1] of America’s 43 largest religions indicates quite a range of beliefs.  The survey asked people if they believed in God, and followed with the question, “Are you absolutely certain, fairly certain, not too certain, or not at all certain?”  The most theologically conservative groups had high levels of certainty of course, but it was interesting to see the breakdown after that.

Behind Seventh Day Adventists, Southern Baptists and Mormons, just over 80% of American Muslims were absolutely certain there is a God, just under 80% of Orthodox Jews were absolutely certain, and about 75% of Catholics were absolutely certain.  Now there’s more to look at with this, but that means that 20% of Muslims and Orthodox Jews are NOT absolutely certain that God exists, and 25% of Catholics are not absolutely certain that God exists.  There’s a lot to ponder there in terms of our assumptions of even more conservative faiths.

Next in line, all these faiths had between 60% and 70% of people who were “absolutely certain” that there is a God: Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, American Baptist, Friends, United Church of Christ, and Congregationalists.  Hindus had about 55%.  One of the funniest things about this survey to me is that at the bottom, 15% of agnostics are “absolutely certain” that God exists, and 6% of Atheists are “absolutely certain” that God exists!  It seems to me that it’s not so much that these people are confused or somehow gave a wrong answer, as much as it is how labels mean different things to different people.

Now, perhaps not surprisingly, because we tend to attract a lot of people who question mainline beliefs, we are a little lower on the survey.  Both the Buddhists and the Unitarian Universalists have about 35% of people who are “absolutely certain” there is a God.  While that ranks us lower than most of the other 43 religions, I suspect that number is higher than many of us would have thought.  Doing the math, that means that three or four out of every 10 people in this room believe in God.

A few weeks ago during the Question Box Sunday, I received two different questions.  One was, “Am I correct that the Unitarian Church started as Christian-based?” and the other was, “Can you be an atheist and UU?”  The answer to both questions is “Yes.”  As a matter of fact, in 1825 when the American Unitarian Association first organized, they created a pamphlet titled, “100 Scriptural Arguments for Unitarianism.”  The introduction to that pamphlet states:


Unitarian Christians believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and the Saviour of men.  They believe in the divinity of his mission and in the divinity of his doctrines. They believe that the Gospel which he proclaimed came from God; that the knowledge it imparts, the morality it enjoins, the spirit it breathes, the acceptance it provides, the promises it makes, the prospects it exhibits, the rewards it proposes, the punishments it threatens, all proceed from the Great Jehovah.  But they do not believe that Jesus Christ is the Supreme God. They believe that, though exalted far above all other created intelligences, he is a being distinct from, inferior to, and dependent upon, the Father Almighty.  For this belief they urge, among other reasons, the following arguments from the Scriptures.


Then it goes on to quote 100 passages from Christian scripture that support a belief in one God.  A century later, in 1933, a new group of thinkers created a document called “The Humanist Manifesto,” and it was signed by 35 men, at least 10 of whom were Unitarian ministers.

Our faith tradition is firmly rooted in the Christian tradition, and these days we continue to have many people who are theistic in their beliefs.  At the same time, we have a strong tradition of curiosity and free thought that arises from our Unitarian Christian heritage of doubting and questioning traditional beliefs to create the belief statement that Jesus was not God.

Sometimes there is conflict in our religion between those whose beliefs are theistic and those whose beliefs are atheistic.  It is almost inevitable that when I use the word “God” or “Spirit,” someone will come up afterwards to question why I used that language.  And if I go too long without using language of the spirit, someone will come up and say to me that if we are a religion, why can’t we have more language that reflects spirit and mystery?  In fact, a third question from the Question Box Sunday was, “What is it like to be a minister to such a wide range of belief systems from atheists to those who believe in god or a higher power?”

I tell ya, it ain’t always so easy!  The good thing is that we are not a religion based on a creed you must subscribe to in order to belong here.  Instead, we are a religion based on making promises to each other and creating covenant about how we want to be in relationship with one another – not despite our different beliefs, but through our different beliefs.  Our promises and agreements hold us together, not a creed.  So my challenge as a minister is not to make sure everyone has the “right” belief, but more to be a facilitator monitoring whether we are in right relationship, making room for the range of voices to be heard.

So being a minister to people with many different beliefs helps me ask and answer the question, “What is our goal here?”  That is, are we here to bicker over who is “right”?  Are we here to argue over which belief is wrong because it is either “magical thinking” or because it is “cold and impersonal”?

Or instead, are we here because we have a mission and purpose in the world, and that part of our mission is to live with diversity through the promises we make in our evolving relationship with one another?

It is our calling, our work, to constantly return the question of our purpose in the world, of holding up the quality of good, healthy relationship, because part of what we can do – when we do this covenant thing well – is to take this model of how we behave with each other out into the world and use it as a tool for relating to other people with a variety of other differences.

All of this then raises the issue again of “doubt.”  It is good to be a safe place where people may bring their doubts and feel welcome, and feel that this is our spiritual and religious home.  But what draws us in isn’t always what may sustain us, or nurture us, or inspire us, or keep us relevant in an ever-evolving world.  It is not a very effective political campaign to say, “Anyone but George,” and neither would it be a very effective or relevant religion to have our primary faith statement revolve around pride in our definition of what we are not.

Over the past several decades I’ve seen a shift in our denomination, in our people, and I think it is a good one, but it is still taking shape.  Except for the very conservative religions, specific nuances of faith are becoming less important about what defines a faith.  Simply saying that “I am a Unitarian Universalist” does not have as much impact or definition as it did 100 years ago.  There are so many people in so many other religions for whom the issue of whether Jesus is God is no longer a relevant question.  I even wonder sometimes how long we will be able to continue with using the name of a theology to name our faith.  What does “Unitarian” even mean anymore to the 65% or so of UUs who are NOT certain that a God even exists?  Our very name is becoming less and less relevant, both to ourselves internally, and to the world outside.

More and more, it seems to me, religions will be defined not by their beliefs, but by their actions.  Or maybe the beliefs will still be important, because belief always precedes behavior, but it will be a matter of how those beliefs are put into action.

If it is true that our calling, our work, is to constantly return the question of our purpose in the world, in order to create, nurture, maintain, repair and evolve good, healthy relationships in a variety of diverse situations and beliefs, then we have our work cut out for us.  We can no longer rely on the way we’ve always done church in the past.  We may not have an answer, and we may not know the way forward, but we need to pay attention to the shifting religious landscape around us, and through study, and trial and error, begin to learn those ways.  I do know that part of being relevant in the increasingly connected world is building relationships with younger generations and across the generations, and building relationships across lines of color, race, faith, and political affiliation.  It may be that questioning and doubt bring us into this place, but it needs to be relationship and action that carries us forward through a common mission and purpose.

Doubt gives way to action, which turns into transformation – both in society and in our hearts – when we reach across the traditional lines that separate us and  engage deeply in relationship.  Our great Unitarian theologian, James Luther Adams said it this way: there is a “moral obligation to direct one’s efforts toward the establishment of a just and loving community.”  Furthermore, and as part of that community, the meaning of life is found when we participate in the “processes that give body and form to universal justice.”  In different words, Martin Luther King, Jr., described this as “the beloved community.”

In this rapidly evolving digital world, we need to reach out and continually build relationships with ever-rotating younger generations.  In places like Ferguson, Missouri, and here at home even around the Twin Cities, we see the deadly consequences, especially for people of color, where communities have not built or established a web of relationships.

Anyone who has been in one knows it is not easy to do good relationships well.  Even being in a marriage or a long-term relationship with one other person you love and choose is challenging as all get-out.  It is even more difficult to relate well with a whole congregation full of people with differing beliefs and unique ideas – and even more of a challenge to do those relationships well out in the world.  There is a passage, though, in the book of Micah in the Hebrew Scriptures that advises the chosen people to “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

“Doing justice” and “loving mercy” are things we liberals are usually pretty good at.  Good action and compassion go hand in hand.  Walking humbly with the meaning of life, though, is more difficult.   Walking humbly means admitting that we don’t always have the right answer, or even any answer.  Walking humbly sometimes means not knowing what to do.  Walking humbly means letting go, listening, learning, paying attention, moving through the process with a beginner’s mind.  Echoing the prophet Micah, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote in his poem:

Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.

Whether you call it a God-given gift, or a gift from the universe in the form of evolution, or both, we have the gift of intelligence and reason, so it is important to use it.  “Honest doubt” does not mean being scornful of people who believe in God or a higher power.  “Honest doubt” means asking a question you don’t know the answer to. “Honest doubt” means letting go of our ego and just simply getting curious.  “Honest doubt” means recognizing we may not have an answer, or any answer, and asking other people – the people on the other side of the social demarcations we rarely relate to in any meaningful way – what is important for them, and what they need for their survival and what they need for the nourishment of their souls.  And then we can share our own and build from there.

When we finally let go, when we finally stop assuming that we have or can find all the answers if we just work hard enough, then we can begin to grow.  Then we can begin to grow in spiritual maturity and grow in our relationships to others.  When we let go, we recognize that something larger is moving through us.  We begin to feel the flow of another spirit, another heart, another soul longing for justice, connection and compassion, and that we need to work together to make that happen.

The next lines of Tennyson’s poem say:

He faced the spectres of the mind
And laid them; thus he came at length
To find a stronger faith his own.

May our welcoming of questions and our building of relationships bring us, too, to a stronger faith that is our own.

[1] Found at: http://tobingrant.religionnews.com/2014/10/24/belief-god-atheists-graphs-churches-religions-faiths/