Spirit of Life, God of many names and understandings
Hold us all as we stand together this evening
Knowing we are one people
No matter who we are or what we have
No matter where we are or where we have been
No matter what we have done or not done
We are human
Children of God
Made in the divine image
We all deserve respect
We all deserve compassion
We all deserve a decent place to live
Enough food to eat
And tender care when we are sick
Forgive us for our failings
Forgive us for our fears
Grant us the wisdom to know what we must do
To change what is not right
To bring this community and this country
Back to the promise of a decent life for all
Give us the energy to keep working
Give us the courage to stand strong
Give us the faith to know that change will come
Help us to know that is us,
And no one else that can turn despair into hope
And fear into compassion
We can only do this through the redeeming power of love.
May it be so Amen, blessed be and Namaste.
What an effort it must have been
To climb down from that cross
So many centuries ago
They thought you were dead forever
It certainly looked like that
You’d prayed your last prayer
Healed your last leper
Driven out your last demon.
They even buried you.
It must have felt so good
To lay your head down
The funeral cloths were soft.
The darkness was comforting
So weary you were
Tired, hurt, bleeding.
You’d seen so much
Suffered so much
Done so much
What harm could it do
To give into rest
For a few days
It must have been hard
To hear the weeping
Of those who had loved you
Of those who had betrayed you
The stone was heavy
But you had to push it aside
Rolling away defeat
What an effort it must have taken
To come back not knowing
What people would think
How they would respond
Would they think the miracle
Was only about you?
Thank you for letting us know
That we each have the chance
The opportunity, the responsibility
To be reborn
Again and again.
Like the earth
Forever and ever
Happy Easter. There are other holidays at this time of year. The Jewish Passover celebration is one of liberation, of freedom from slavery. The ritual meal, the Seder, recalls the time the Jewish people spent in Egypt as slaves, and tells the story of their escape to the Promised Land. That holiday can hold deep meaning for those who do not identify as Jewish
Oester is the pagan celebration of spring and fertility. It is where we get the name Easter, and it is also where the Easter Bunny comes from. Rabbits don’t normally lay eggs, but the Goddess Oester was in the form of a rabbit, an animal known for its fertility. The holiday holds meaning for those who do not identify as pagan. It is also a particularly fun one for children.
Easter is the story of Jesus and his death and resurrection. A Christian story, it too holds meaning for those who do not identify as Christian.
The Easter story is a rich one, an important one, and not an easy one to understand. It has been the source of hope and renewal for millions. Millions have fought and died over how it should be understood.
It is good to be celebrating Easter this morning as a Unitarian Universalist! We can dig into the story, ask some hard questions about it, and – best of all – we do not have to agree on all the answers. Hallelujah! No religious wars here.
Easter is most simply a story about a victory over death.
If Easter had not happened, Jesus would have likely been remembered as simply one more in a long line of Hebrew prophets. Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and so many others who called their people back to God, to faithfulness, and back to caring for others, particularly for the poor and oppressed.
He was a teacher and a healer, traveling around preaching to ordinary people with a fairly ragtag group of followers.
He made some people mad. The occupying Romans certainly weren’t happy with him; some of his followers thought he was the messiah, a new king that would free his people and bring Israel back to her glory.
The established religious authorities weren’t crazy about him either. He ranted about the money lenders in the temple. And, just like the pay day lenders of today, I am sure they made a lot of financial contributions to those who had the power. He healed people and he didn’t charge them for it. He fed the hungry, also for free. Yes, he must have made a lot of people mad.
So who was Jesus? Was he a man, a malcontent, a prophet, a lunatic, or a God? Find your own answer to that question, and cherish the freedom you have to do so.
Jesus went to Jerusalem the week before Easter. On Palm Sunday he entered on a donkey and crowds of the poor welcomed him.
On the other side of town, at the same time, there was a procession honoring Pilate, the Roman governor. A different crowd greeted him and cheered him on.
Jesus had a meal, a Passover Seder and then he was betrayed by one of his followers, a man named Judas. A quick trial of sorts followed and then he was hung on a cross, tortured, and died. It was a common form of execution in the occupied territories of the Roman Empire.
So who killed Jesus? Was it the Romans or was it the Jews? Or was his death planned all along by God? People have died because of the various answers to that question. Jesus and all of his followers were Jewish, but still Jews have been blamed for his death by many Christians over the centuries and even today. Would the holocaust have happened without that version of the Easter story? And if his death was God’s plan, why would the Jews or even Judas be blamed?
I say it was the Romans, with the strong encouragement of both the religious and secular authorities of the day. It was the 1% trying to protect their wealth and power from a movement that frankly scared them. It is the answer that makes the most sense to me, but you get to decide for yourself what makes sense to you.
The idea that it was God’s plan is worth exploring more deeply, however, as it raises an important theological issue.
The issue even has a name, “theodicy.” The term comes from the Greek and involves the effort to reconcile the traditional characteristics of God as all good, all loving, and all-powerful with the fact of evil in the world. In simple terms, the question is why do bad things happen to good people? If God is running the world, then why does God let those things happen? I handle that issue for myself by understanding God as a force for good, and not as an all-powerful being. Others believe that even bad things come from God, as lessons, as tests, or as punishments.
It is an issue worth exploring, and the Easter story is a prime example of how the same event can be interpreted in different ways.
Jesus was a good person and a bad thing happened to him. He suffered. He cried out in despair and thought that his God had forsaken him. He died and he was buried, sealed in a tomb by a heavy stone.
Some interesting things are said to have happened while Jesus was on the cross. One of my favorites is from John 19.
“standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.”
This is a curious verse in that there was not just one, or even two, but three Mary’s there. And who was the disciple Jesus loved? Didn’t he love them all? Or was there one special one? And who was it? Was it Mary Magdalene? Or was it a male disciple because he said “Woman behold your son?” It is hard to tell as these writings were all oral traditions before they were written down, but it is interesting that both the nature of the relationship and the gender of the “disciple whom he loved” are fairly ambiguous.
This is obviously not a traditional interpretation of that verse, but is another one worth thinking about. In any case, the verse shows that even as he neared death, Jesus cared about both his family and his friends. He wanted to make sure they would take care of each other after he was gone.
It is also clear that Jesus despaired. He felt that God had left him, forsaken him. It is an emotion that I think all of us have felt at one time or another. Even if we have never believed in God, there are times when most of us have been alone and afraid and have felt that there is no help for us left anywhere in the universe. It is not so very hard to identify with the suffering Jesus.
We can also identify with his followers and their despair after his death. Some of us will never forget when Martin and Malcolm were murdered, when the Kennedy brothers were killed, or when Harvey Milk was slain. Many of us wept bitter tears at those times. I know I did.
But Easter, although an upsetting story in so many ways has a miracle at the end. The stone gets rolled away and Jesus comes back to life! Hallelujah!
Easter can also lead us to reflect on what is blocking our pathway to a more abundant life. What is the stone that seals the tomb that you may have buried yourself in? Did someone else put us there? Are you able to roll that stone away by yourself? Do you need some help? If you want to come back to life, the stone has just got to go! Roll it away!
The resurrection of Jesus can be interpreted as a metaphor, and it can also be seen as a fact. In either case, what does it mean? Does it signify hope for all of us? Did his death save us? Who do we mean by us? What do we mean by salvation?
Very early in Christianity, there was a lot of argument about this. OK, there is still a lot of argument about this.
The earliest Universalists, prior to the 4th century even, were divided over some of these issues, but they were in agreement that if the death of Jesus provided salvation, it was salvation for everybody by the grace and goodness of God. No exclusions. No restricting salvation to just Christians; it is universal. Not everyone agreed then and not everyone agrees now.
There is a New Testament verse that is often quoted that deals with some of this. John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The conservative interpretation of this text has caused a lot of grief. “God loves us, he sacrificed his son, believe this or you will die.” The book of John is the most mystical of the Gospels, and taking it at all literally doesn’t make much sense to me, and it also doesn’t really do it justice.
Are humans so evil that such a sacrifice would be required? The verse itself says God gave his son out of love. Perhaps it was a simple gift, and not a sacrifice.
Maybe the message from God was instead, “Here is this man in whom I have invested my spirit, listen to what he says, believe him, follow him, and life will come to you.”
The Easter story should be one of pure joy, of pure relief. There was suffering and there was death, but out of it came new life and new hope. Jesus reappeared after only three days. The tomb was empty. He came back to life.
Can we listen to this story of hope? Can we find out how to get our own heavy stones rolled away so we can find our way back to life? Can we learn to do justice and love mercy? Can we love our neighbor as ourselves? Can we see every human being as both our parent and our child? How long will it take us? Are three days enough? Three years? Three decades?
Those questions are for each of you to answer, each in your own way. But as Unitarian Universalists we are called to life, to be born and reborn again and again.
You can live with your questions, cherish your doubts, and believe what you must, but don’t let anything keep you shut inside a cold tomb of despair. Come back. Come back. Come back to Life. Come back to hope and commitment; come back to searching for a better way; roll those heavy stones away. Blessed Be. Happy Easter.
“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.” That song has been running through my head lately, only with the words I used in the title above.
I am a minister. Being a minister is always hard work. There is a reason people struggle against a call to ministry. “Oh no, not me, God, send somebody else.”
But we are called. We know it deep in our bones and we have to say yes to that call. Resistance to that call is futile.
Ministers are called to serve, to comfort, and yes, sometimes, to challenge and confront. I am serving in a specialized kind of ministry, a ministry with a congregation that has a troubled history and long established patterns of dysfunctional behavior. Ah, but it is also a congregation with a proud history, and it is filled with people yearning for something more that what they have been. Old patterns are hard to change, however, and this ministry has required me to point out systemic problems and to be relatively firm in maintaining what I consider to be appropriate boundaries.
I never expected this particular ministry to be easy. I never expected people to agree with everything I thought should be done or not done. Reasonable and caring people can disagree about how to do things, and any change also brings some loss with it. Pain and anger are so close together in most of our hearts. Some anger is to be expected. I have felt strongly, however, that if I did not raise the issues I thought were important, then I would be failing this congregation in the ways that matter most. Ministry should not be about just coasting along, about taking the path of least resistance, about always doing what some or even most of the people say they want. Passover is almost upon us. What would it been like if Moses had said, “oh, ok, you all don’t like it here in the desert, sure, let’s just go back to Egypt, no problem.” And no, I don’t think I am a Moses. But you know, Moses didn’t see himself that way either: “Send someone else.”
I also expected that some in the congregation would have issues with a minister exercising any real authority, even and perhaps especially over worship. Quality in worship is important to me. Mediocre just isn’t good enough to offer to folks that are hurting or who are seeking more meaning in their lives. We need to hold our worship time as sacred.
What I did not expect, although maybe I should have, was the way the criticisms would play out. Very little is about actual things I have done or not done. No, the real critique is pretty much all about my style.
My style is pretty direct. I grew up working class, among people who said what they thought. I am also a lesbian, a dyke if you will, and although I don’t identify as transgender, I definitely don’t fit many of the feminine stereotypes. I come off as both assertive and confident. I always try to be respectful, but when I have an opinion, I express it clearly. This style is freaking a few folks out.
It didn’t occur to me for quite a awhile, but in the last week it has become pretty clear that part of the dynamic going on between me and a small group of my congregants is simply because of who I am and what this congregation has experienced in the past. I am their first openly gay minister. I am also only the second woman minister in their over 50 years of existence. This is very unusual for a UU congregation. We have as members a few gay men, a handful of trans folk, and a number of people who identify as bisexual. So far anyway, I have met no one else here who is an open lesbian.
This congregation has a history of expressing suspicion and hostility toward most of their ministers. I expected that as well. But there is an undercurrent in a lot of it that I don’t think would exist if I were either a male or a straight minister. Hostile people will use whatever weapons they have available. Homophobia will come out, if it exists, during a conflict, just as racism will. Even among liberals and self defined radicals and progressives. It is in our culture and individuals can’t always help it, but it is also important to name it when it happens.
I have been accused of “unwelcome touching.”
I have been called a bully.
I think they were really calling me a bull dyke.
I think they are afraid of me.
I hope I can find a way to walk with them through that fear. It isn’t everybody. It is only two or three people that seem to be acting out of a deep, maybe even a subconscious, fear. One won’t agree to talk to me directly, even with a facilitator. There are a number of other people that don’t agree with me about one thing or another, but they are willing to talk with me about those issues. That’s normal, respectful, and reasonable. If we can talk to each other, we can also listen. Ministry is about listening as well as leading. That, too, I know in my bones. What I am hearing now from a few people is fear.
We’re all a long way from home. Give us the courage we need for the journey,
A lot of people cry in church, and that is usually a good thing. Tears can be good, and in times of grief or disappointment just letting them flow can be very healing. We cry when are hearts are touched, and our Sunday morning services should touch our hearts.
But people also cry in churches because their church is hurting them, telling them that they are somehow less than worthy, less than whole. They are told that God doesn’t love them just as they are if they are gay. They may also be told that they are less than worthy if they happen to be female. It is in the Bible after all.
This morning’s sermon title is “The Gospel Truth” There really should be a question mark. Just like St Patrick did not really drive the snakes from Ireland because there were no snakes there to begin with, much of what we are told about the Bible is simply wrong. This sermon today might help some of you dialogue with or resist anyone who might be beating you about the head and wounding your heart with their literal interpretations of scripture.
The word Gospel comes from the Greek word, euangélion, and means quite literally “good news.”
It did not mean absolute fact, something that can’t be questioned, although the word has taken on that meaning in our language today.
In ancient Greece when a city-state was at war, and soldiers were far away engaged in combat, the people at home worried, just as we do today when our sons and daughters are at risk in foreign lands. After a battle, a runner raced back home, hopefully to bring the word of victory, to spread the gospel, the good news. That is the earliest evidence we have of how the word gospel was used.
When the early Christians were writing in Greek, they used the same term with the same meaning because they believed that the message of Jesus, the message of a loving God, of hope for the poor and oppressed, was very good news indeed.
Now we all want good news to be true. There is nothing so upsetting as to think something wonderful has happened and to find out there was disaster instead.
You know that feeling when you have struggled to park in the last tiny spot on a crowded street and then while walking away, you discover a small sign that tells you it is street sweeping day? We want good news to be true. We want to park our cars, our lives, someplace good, and not have to move them again. We don’t want to be required to read the fine print.
So it is with the Bible. If you read the fine print, if you study it, you will find that while it may still be good news, and it certainly contains much wisdom, what it says is not literal fact.
My Old Testament professor in seminary, a delightfully droll Franciscan priest, was fond of saying that the Bible is not history, it is not science, and it should never be used as a club, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
The Bible, he said, is a collection of the stories of a people and their struggles to be in right relationship with the divine, with God. It is full of metaphor and full of inconsistencies. It wasn’t written down all at one time; and God didn’t dictate it.
Biblical scholars, using modern methods, have determined that the bible is in fact a collection of stories, many of which were originally oral traditions, and almost of which were edited and changed over time.
The word Bible actually means library and comes from the name of the town Býblos, a Phoenician port where papyrus was prepared. And there is not just one Bible, a fact that many Biblical literalists don’t know. The Hebrew Scriptures are a collection of 24 books in three divisions: the law (or Torah), the prophets, and the writings. The Protestant Old Testament contains all the same books, but arranges them differently in order to make a theological point. The Roman Catholic Old Testament is larger than the protestant version; containing 15 additional books also known as the apocrypha, which means literally “hidden away”. The Greek Orthodox Church includes even more, and the Ethiopian Church yet again more.
So when someone tells you that they follow what is in the Bible, it would not be at all unreasonable to ask, “Which one?”
The official version of the bible and the books included in it is often referred to as the canon.
Most of the individual books have also been edited. Some are clearly combinations of different earlier versions. The Torah, what Christians call the Pentateuch, is composed of the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scripture: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Scholars have determined that there were originally as many as five separate and distinct written versions of the material in the Torah that were combined at a later time. They are referred to as the J, D, E, and P versions; P is for priestly and the style is rather dry and formulaic. The D source is found mainly in Deuteronomy.
J and E refer to two different Hebrew names for God. Scholars are still arguing about which source came first and the actual number of different sources, but they are in full agreement that the Torah was not written by Moses.
Have you ever wondered why there are two versions of the creation story in Genesis? Genesis one describes creation as happening in seven days and God creating both man and woman in his image at the same time. It is in Genesis 2 that God takes a rib from Adam to create Eve.
From the story of the flood to the tales of Abraham and Sarah, from the parting of the Red Seas to the listing of the Ten Commandments, there are both repetitions and differences in what the Bible says. So if someone tells you they believe what the Bible says, after they tell you which version, you might want to ask, which part of that version?
You also might want to ask them, if they say the Bible is the literal truth, if they think men really have one less rib than women. Did anyone else ever try to count their ribs and those of an opposite gender friend or sibling? I did. It was very confusing. It also wasn’t particularly easy and I don’t remember even getting a firm number. Pull out an anatomy textbook later, or ask your doctor if you still aren’t sure. We aren’t going to engage in rib counting this morning here in church, but if you want, you can do that later, in the privacy of your own homes.
The New Testament section of the Bible was created in a similar fashion. It is a collection of stories and letters about Jesus and the early Church, some of which are repeated and many of which are inconsistent with each other.
Most scholars agree that some of the letters attributed to Paul were written earlier than any of the actual Gospels. They agree that Mark was the first gospel written; at least of the ones included in the canon, and that the authors of Matthew and Luke had access to Mark when they wrote their versions of the life of Jesus. Many believe that they also had copies of another text, possibly older than Mark, which contained various sayings of Jesus. That document is referred to as “Q”.
There was much controversy in the early church over what writings should be included. There was a lot of very diverse material floating around for the first four centuries, as well as very different oral traditions. People argued about what should be included and what should be left out. Even as late as the protestant reformation Martin Luther argued that the book of James should not be included in the canon.
Some writings were lost for more than a thousand years, but scholars were aware of their existence because of historical records that made reference to them. Many of these texts were found in modern times. You may have heard of the Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which Tom read a portion of earlier. Often referred to as the Gnostic Gospels, more than 52 ancient Christian writings were discovered in 1945 in Egypt.
These writings, that are still being studied by scholars, give us a lot of clues about the diversity of Christian belief in the earliest years.
So, when someone tells you women should be silent in church because it says that in the Bible maybe you might want to quote from the Gospel of Mary where Levi calls Peter hot headed because he does not want to believe what Mary is saying.
You might also ask them why Paul felt the need to tell women they should be quiet. Most likely they were speaking up and he wanted to silence them.
The Gospel Truth really is a question mark. I haven’t even gone into the whole issue of translations, but it is pretty clear that Jesus didn’t speak King James English. He didn’t even speak Greek. Anyone who speaks more than one language knows very well that literal translations often result in distorted meanings.
Once while in a fairly impish mood, talking to someone who said that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuals, I quoted from the King James Version, Luke 17:34. The verse reads, literally:
“I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.”
Now, when you interpret that verse literally it is pretty clear that at least half of the gay people go to heaven, isn’t it?
I don’t actually suggest that you leave here today and go out and start arguments with biblical literalists. But if it interests you, do some reading about biblical scholarship. If you want some recommendations, let me know. There are a lot of very good books out there, some very academic and some easier to read and digest.
But what I most want to leave you with today are some questions. What is your holy text, and what good news does it contain?
Do you find it in scripture; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or perhaps another tradition? Do you find it in poetry, in nature, in connections with other people?
Each of us must find our own truth. We find it in our own lives and in the lives of others that we come to know. We find it in the world around us. It is helpful to read, to study, and to learn what others believe to be true. But in the end, we must each make our own peace with the meaning of our own life, and our own peace with whatever we mean when we say the word God. There is some gospel, some good news, however, even if there is not just one “gospel truth.” We don’t have to do any of this alone. There are other souls around engaged in similar journeys. Maybe we can learn from one another. Maybe we can stop using sacred texts like the Bible to justify our own bias and bigotry. Maybe love will finally find a way to vanquish hate.
Amen and Blessed Be. Can we have a hallelujah too?
We could skim along the surface
Drift high above the clouds
Following the rainbow
We’ve always known is there.
But to grow a garden
A vision strong and true
We must engage the soil
Here among the earthworms
We tend the sacred ground.
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.
Church is like that, or should be like that.
The full Annie Dillard quote, referenced in our reading is as follows:
“Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”
—Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.
Now I know a lot of us here don’t believe in any kind supreme being, but whoever is doing the waking up, religious community is about change. If coming on Sunday mornings isn’t changing your life in some way, if it isn’t making you think and feel just a little bit differently than when you walked in, then we aren’t doing our job here. We aren’t fulfilling our mission. Our mission is in our bylaws, and conveniently enough on the front of our order of service.
“Building character, enriching spirits, promoting community, and serving humankind through spiritual growth and social action.”
The mission statement is what this congregation has said it will do. We are part of a proud and active tradition. This weekend, Unitarian Universalists from around the country have gathered in Selma Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march there. 50 years ago, there were more Unitarian ministers at Selma than from any other predominantly white denomination. Clark Olson, then the minister of this fellowship was there. He was with James Reeb when racist thugs attacked them, an encounter that ended Rev. Reeb’s life.
Unitarian Universalists have always worked for justice. It is in our DNA.
Another thing that is in our DNA is that we are changing. Change can be difficult for people and for institutions. Crash helmets really might be a good idea.
Let’s go back to our reading for a minute:
Unitarian Universalist Minister, Tom Schade, in our reading, named four different conceptions of our congregations. (http://www.tomschade.com/2013/05/re-imagining-unitarian-universalism_3544.html)
One – our congregations are places where smart people gather for the intellectual exploration of life issues, in an atmosphere freed of religion dogma.
Is that part of why you are here? If so, raise your hand. You are all smart people, by the way. I don’t care how much formal education you may have had or not had.
Two – our congregations are places to connect to the rebellious and counter-culture trends in society, a place to meet more radical, committed and interesting people there than anywhere else in town.
Is that part of why you are here? If so, raise your hand. Interesting.
Three – our congregations serve as a place for community, a community perhaps more welcoming and supportive than you have found anywhere else.
I think Rev. Schade was wrong to label these “stages” as if they are something that we move through and leave behind. Instead, they are not only part of what we once were, but they are part of what we still are today and part of who we will be in the future. They are in the water, so to speak.
But, what of his fourth so-called stage? Do you have your crash helmets on? Should we issue them to our visitors when they walk in the door?
How many of you come here to be challenged, to wake up, and to become maybe a little off-balance? How many of you want to discover a way to change and improve your own life and also the world around you?
OK, if that rings true for you, please raise your hands. We have some brave souls here!
There has been a lot of conversation going on right now about where Unitarian Universalism is going. Are we the religion for our time or are we going to fade away like most of the mainline protestant denominations seem to be doing?
The Reverend Christine Robinson talked about this a lot as the keynote speaker at our regional assembly a couple of years ago. (http://pwruua.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/RA-Lecture-Rev-Christine-Robinson-4-26-13.pdf)
Her main point was that the religious landscape of America is changing, that the fastest growing group of people in America are those who think of themselves as spiritual but not religious.
“People used to come to us because “We honor your religious freedom,” but that is not bringing many people any more. Now, when people decide that they don’t believe what they were raised to believe, they often go for years without belonging to any congregation, and in the new religious ecology, there’s no pressure to join one. When they decide they want to go to church again, it is not because they want freedom; they’ve had freedom.
They come looking for something that they can’t get in the secular world. They want spiritual instruction, not freedom. They want a safe place to explore what happens to them when they start to deepen their lives.
They come to us because they know their beliefs are not orthodox and because they would feel hypocritical in an orthodox church…. in this they resemble their elders. But once here, they want to do very different things.”
Robison’s guess at a slogan for us is this: “Spiritual growth in a theologically diverse community.”
She also called it, “Spiritual not dogmatic.”
Rev. Robinson did not go into it in detail, but an important part of spiritual growth is sharing that larger spirit into the world, serving others and creating a more just world. Yes, we should be issuing crash helmets.
Another thing we need to be clearer about is our theology. The Rev. Marilyn Sewell tried to define a common Unitarian Universalist theology and listed the following:
“We believe that human beings should be free to choose their beliefs according to the dictates of their own conscience.
We believe in original goodness, with the understanding that sin is sometimes chosen, often because of pain or ignorance.
- We believe that God is One.
- We believe that revelation is ever unfolding.
We believe that the Kingdom of God is to be created here on this earth.
We believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, and that other prophets from God have risen in other faith traditions.
- We believe that love is more important than doctrine.
We believe that God’s mercy will reconcile all unto itself in the end.”
Now, those work really well for me. I agree with them. But then again, I believe in God, although my understanding of God is nothing like the understanding of clergy from more orthodox traditions. Some of the atheists had a huge problem with her use of the word God. It probably made a number of you feel like you are being excluded from what was stated to be a common theology.
I think if her ideas were simply rearranged, however, and a small phrase added, then there would not be the same level of controversy about them.
Listen again, and see if they work better for you.
“We believe that human beings should be free to choose their beliefs according to the dictates of their own conscience.” Agree? Raise your hand. It is our fourth principle somewhat restated.
“We believe in original goodness, with the understanding that sin is sometimes chosen, often because of pain or ignorance.” Raise your hand.
Then for the next five, let’s add the words, “if we believe in God or if we were to believe in a God,” The addition of those words should be helpful for the atheists and agnostics among us.
“We believe that God is One.” Raise your hands.
“We believe that revelation is ever unfolding.” Raise your hands.
“We believe that the Kingdom of God is to be created here on this earth.” Raise your hands.
“We believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, and that other prophets from God have risen in other faith traditions.” Raise your hands.
We believe that God’s mercy will reconcile all unto itself in the end.” Raise your hands.
And finally, and this one is I think the most important of all:
“We believe that love is more important than doctrine.” Raise your hands.
None of that was 100%, but it was pretty close, and it really is a distinctive theology, particularly among denominations that are part of the Christian tradition, as we have been and still are in many ways.
Those of us that believe in God believe in a merciful loving God, not a judgmental or punishing one.
Those of us that believe in an afterlife do not believe in a hell where people are punished after we die.
I could go on, but being a Unitarian Universalist, is not a “believe whatever you want,” kind of religion.
So my hope for our new members, and for our longer-term members as well, is that you find here not only what you are looking for, but also what you might need.
I hope that being involved in this congregation makes you think, and I hope you find the ideas and the other people here interesting. I hope you feel welcome and supported in this community. And I hope that you sometimes feel challenged, surprised, and maybe even a little off balance. I hope you discover ways to improve your own life and to make this world a better place for all who share this planet with us.
What do you want? What do you need?
Feel it. Imagine it. Make it so.
What should we do with our anger?
Shall we hold it inside?
Until it explodes
Scorching the earth with hate
Fight like there’s no tomorrow
Burn down every bridge that we see?
What should we do with our anger
Shall we bury it deep in our hearts
Feed it with resentment
A smoldering coal that smokes
And colors our vision grey.
What shall we do with our anger?
Shall we release it bit by bit
Hiding a nasty word with a smile
A dagger sly behind a hug
A pretended innocence
Oh, what shall you do with your anger
What shall I do with mine?
Can we build a fire to light our way
And warm our ragged hearts?
Can fury give us the energy
To build the world anew?
Can justice come from rage?
Can anger be guided by love?
Can it become a blessing
Instead of a curse?
Only love will make it so.
Our culture does not always teach us how to deal with anger in healthy ways. We are expected to be nice and polite and to act like everything is fine, even when it is not. We can hold our anger in, deny it and pretend it doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t make it go away. If we do not acknowledge our anger and treat it like the useful tool it is, then we run the risk of our anger exploding outward in destructive ways or staying inside of us and poisoning our spirits.
Anger is a normal human emotion, and as was stated by feminist theologian, Beverly Harrison, in this morning’s reading, it is best understood as a simple feeling-signal that all is not well.
If we are angry, it also means we care. We don’t often get really angry about things that don’t matter much. Maybe we get irritated at minor things, a slow car in front of us on the freeway, a houseguest that leaves dirty dishes in the sink for us to deal with, but unless we allow it to build, those types of irritations do not turn into rage.
Anger is a normal emotion, but it can also be complicated. It is not always clear what is making us angry; we just know that something does not feel right. Maybe something seems unfair, maybe we feel disrespected or ignored, or perhaps we feel betrayed. Underneath our anger there is often another emotion; sometimes it is hurt, disappointment, or fear.
You ask someone not to do something and they do it anyway. Someone does something that creates a situation that feels dangerous to you.
A precious object is broken and cannot be repaired.
Sometimes we are angry with others. Sometimes we are angry with ourselves. Sometimes we are angry with God.
Anger is energy – it doesn’t just go away. We need to do something with that energy and the choice of what to do with it is ours.
All of us carry pain, sometimes from our childhoods and sometimes from experiences we have had as adults. Sometimes in order to bury the pain we wrap it in anger, in resentment. It can be like carrying a time bomb around inside. If the wrong thing happens, maybe even if someone says the wrong thing in all innocence, it can be a trigger that can make the bomb explode. This is what I think happens in cases of road rage.
Let me give another example, a fairly easy one to understand. Perhaps when you were younger, a dog bit you, or at least scared you badly. As a result, you are now afraid of dogs. Many years later maybe you go hiking in an area where dogs are not allowed. Then suddenly you see a dog running loose, the owner close behind. You might very well want to scream at the owner. You might even do it. How dare they have a dog here!
But if you weren’t really afraid of dogs, if you hadn’t had that earlier experience, you might be irritated that someone was breaking the rules. You might even comment that the dog should not be there. Chances are, however, that you would not be particularly afraid and it would be very unlikely that you would start screaming angrily at the dog’s owner.
Fear and anger can be an explosive combination. How can we learn to manage anger in healthy ways?
Step one, I think is to simply acknowledge that we are angry. It is nothing to be ashamed of. As I said, it is a normal human emotion, something that tells us that something is wrong.
Step two would be to try and understand what you are angry about. This is where counting to ten can help. Taking a few breaths, pausing before you react to your angry feelings doesn’t make the anger go away, but it gives you a moment to think.
It might help now to be thinking about a time when you have felt angry. Maybe you want to think about a time when you have been furious, maybe even “blind with rage.” If you don’t want to go there right now, and that is OK, just think of a time when you have been seriously irritated.
What made you so angry? What were you feeling?
Our bodies usually produce adrenalin when we experience anger – the old flight or fight response of our brains that are programmed for survival. What was the immediate cause of your angry reaction? Did it remind you of anything else? Was your anger deeper and stronger than seems justified by the particular event?
Two examples: Sometimes when I am working on the computer, and having a hard time either writing a sermon or composing a sensitive email, I can get irritated if I am interrupted. I have even been known to speak too sharply to my lovely wife when she asks me about the shopping list.
It is clear that my reaction is all about me and is not at all a fair response to anything she did. It’s kind of like the old line about having a bad day at work and going home and kicking your dog.
That was an example of misplaced or misdirected anger, and if we take a minute to think before we speak, we can avoid hurting someone else’s feelings.
Sometimes our anger is directed correctly, however, but is much more intense that the particular situation calls for. The second example: your teenager’s room is filthy, as usual. You have calmly asked her to clean it up every day for the last week, but it hasn’t happened. Then she asks to go to the movies with a friend, and you explode and yell that she is not leaving the house until her room is clean.
Ever been there? After you explode, you realize that you let your anger build up to a point where you could no longer contain it. A better plan would have been to tell her earlier in the week that you were getting angry because her room was still a mess, and that she needed to clean it before she does anything fun.
Step three for managing anger, is figuring out what to do with it. No worries, there are only three steps. One: acknowledge it. Two: understand it. Three: do something with it.
Once we realize that we are angry and know why, only then we can know what we should do about it.
If you don’t acknowledge that you are angry, even to yourself, your anger festers inside of you.
It becomes easy to turn the anger against yourself. There must be something wrong with me for feeling this way. Anger is energy, and it will find somewhere to go. If there is too much social pressure to be polite and to not be angry, our anger will either make us sick or come out in other ways. How many of you have experienced passive aggressive behavior from others? How many of you have practiced it?
People often resort to passive aggressive behavior like saying something nasty with a smile, giving a backhanded compliment, asking a not-so-innocent question.
People do that when they don’t want to acknowledge even to themselves that they are angry or because they are afraid of the consequences of expressing their anger. I didn’t mean it that way. It’s OK. I am fine.
And then there is malicious compliance. Oh, I was just doing what you said you wanted.
Sometimes passive aggressive behavior and malicious compliance are simply coping mechanisms when the angry person feels powerless.
It is much better, if you can admit that you are angry and you can understand why, to express that anger in a direct and appropriate way. Using “I” statements is much better than the accusatory “you.” It is more effective to say, “I am angry” than “you made me angry”, because it is less likely to trigger a defensive reaction. It is also more effective if you can articulate why you are angry, and include at least some of reasons that your anger may be more intense than expected.
“It makes me angry when it seems like you aren’t listening to me. It really upsets me a lot partly because my mother never listened to me when I was a child.” Expressing anger in that way is very positive. It can create changed behavior and increase mutual understanding.
Beverly Harrison said,
“Where anger arises, the energy to act is present. . .
We must never lose touch with the fact that all serious human moral activity, especially action for social change, takes its bearings from the rising power of human anger.”
I don’t get really angry with individuals very often, but I am simply furious about much of what is going on in our world and our country. I am outraged at the increasing income disparity between the rich and the poor and that people can work full time and not earn enough to survive. I am furious that our politicians have put their votes up for sale and that corporations have been allowed to buy our democratic institutions. I am angry about what we are doing to our planet. I am angry that the police have killed so many unarmed young black men. I am angry that there have been so few prosecutions of those crimes. It fills me with rage when I think of all the young people who commit suicide, particularly our transgender youth. I could go on. Homelessness? I am old enough to remember the years before Ronald Reagan cut the federal housing budget and closed the state mental hospitals. Those were years when there were very few people without a place to live. Health care? Too many people still don’t have health care that is both affordable and decent. I could go on, there are so many things that merit our anger and our rage.
My solution to my own feelings of anger is to write, agitate, and OK yeah, preach about it. “Don’t mourn, organize,” is good advice for all of us.
Marge Piercy wrote the following poem:
Anger shines through me.
Anger shines through me.
I am a burning bush.
My rage is a cloud of flame.
My rage is a cloud of flame
in which I walk
like a precipice.
How the streets
of the iron city
and the dirty air
between me and things,
A good anger acted upon
is beautiful as lightning
and swift with power.
A good anger swallowed,
a good anger swallowed
clots the blood
Our anger can be good if we own it, understand it, and use it wisely. My prayer is that we will not use our righteous rage against ourselves or against innocent bystanders. My hope is that even when our eyes flash in anger, behind them is the light of love.
The warmth of compassion that lives in our hearts can help us understand that we all suffer from structures of oppression and habits of mistrust that surround us. Something is wrong, many things are wrong, our anger should provide the energy we will need to bring more love and justice into the world. We can go on if we take each other’s hand and move forward in love and in hope. May it be so.
Something seems wrong
When the words won’t flow
With the force of a waterfall
There is cause for fear
When old faithful fails
And there is no release.
The waters churn
The ocean rolls
The spirit tries
The spirit yearns
The earth it slowly turns
Until patience brings
An unexpected delight
Love is more
Than a valentine
A sunset beach
Or a fancy meal
Love is more than
Than a roaring fire
On a snowy night
Or dreams of sweet delight
Love runs deep
Flows on and on
It lives in all we do
Washing the dishes
Raking the leaves
Tending the children
We sing a song
Hearing our days drift by
We pray that love
Will grow and spread
To wrap the world around
Feeding the hungry
Caring for the sick
Healing the earth
The work of love
Is what we all must do
We talk about love a lot here. A big banner outside of this hall proclaims that we are standing on the side of love. It is how we describe our national social justice work for immigration, for racial justice and for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights. Love is part of our tradition. It is the doctrine of our church. Our Universalist ancestors believed in a loving God, one that would condemn no one to hell, no matter what they believed or did not believe and no matter what they did or did not do.
But what is this love we talk about? That is a complicated question. Most of you know by now that this fellowship is not a place to come if you are looking for easy answers.
We are doing some songs about love today. Some of you likely remember the Frank Sinatra song about love being a many splendored thing. We aren’t doing that one today, but it goes…
“It’s the April rose that only grows in the early spring. Love is nature’s way of giving a reason to be living.”
The Greeks, who were quite excellent at philosophy, broke love down into four different types: Eros, a passionate and intense love that arouses romantic feelings,
Storge, (store gay) which is family or brotherly love, something you might feel for your children or your very best friend, Phileo, is the affection you feel for the people you like, and last, but not least, there is Agape, (ah gah pee) which is love in the verb form, an unconditional love that requires action.
The Greeks distinguished their forms of love not only by the qualities of the different types of love they were defining, but also about where that love was directed: to a lover, a family member, a friend, or to the world.
What they left out was love of self, which is an odd and significant omission I think. I have no clue as to why, except maybe it was just assumed that people love themselves. The Greeks were much less guilt ridden and prone to self-esteem issues than are people in our modern culture.
It is very difficult to love anyone else if you don’t love and respect yourself. Can we apply all four of the Greek forms of love to ourselves? Can we like ourselves as in Phileo? Other people like us, so it shouldn’t be that hard for us to like ourselves as well. Can we love ourselves like a close family member? After all, we know ourselves better than we know anyone else. I also don’t think there is anything wrong with self-love in terms of Eros. We are all sexual beings; passion is part of our nature.
Loving yourself, satisfying yourself sexually, is not a sin.
For me, a sin is something that actually causes harm, not just something that someone says you shouldn’t do.
And then there is Agape, love as a verb, love as unconditional. Agape love directed inward is a form of radical self-acceptance. It drives us toward spiritual health, and moves us to make the changes in our own lives that allow us to focus that Agape love on other people and on the planet.
And it is agape love that helps us love our neighbor, and we know that everyone on this planet is our neighbor. Agape also helps us feel love toward people we don’t like, and even toward our enemies. Both of those can be difficult, and it is important to remember that it is fine to set boundaries. Spiritual maturity can even mean that you decide not to be around people whose behavior is harmful to you or others. You can love them but you can also set limits on your interactions with them. Communities, and even churches, can also define what is acceptable behavior and what is not. That can be confusing in a liberal faith such as ours. We don’t judge people for who they are or who they love, and we say we welcome everyone, but we also don’t want to let pedophiles near our children. We don’t think it is ok to steal from the offering plate or another member’s wallet. We don’t think it OK to spread malicious gossip or to demonize other people.
Let me repeat that. It is not OK to demonize other people, even when their actions are really offensive. It is hard to do that when you are hurting. It can be hard not to see the other to a conflict as having purely evil intentions.
But love calls us to see that differently, to remember that everyone has pain, and that most of the time, unpleasant or even evil behavior comes from that pain. Abusers have often been abused themselves. Limits and boundaries are important ways that can help us still feel some love and compassion, even for those who behave very badly.
Healing, reconciliation, restoration, is always possible. The God imagined by the Universalists loved everyone and they believed that everyone would eventually find salvation in that holy love.
So what do you think love is? Do you think it can be divided into categories like the Greeks did?
Some quotes about love:
Rita Mae Brown: “Sorrow is how we learn to love. Your heart isn’t breaking. It hurts because it’s getting larger. The larger it gets, the more love it holds.”
Marianne Williamson:”Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth.
Lord Byron: “There are four questions of value in life: What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.”
Everyone, it seems, has something to say about love. The minister who officiated at my wedding asked both Anne and I what we had learned about love what was then our 39 years together. This is what I wrote:
“What I have learned about love is this: it doesn’t come easy. It isn’t a happily ever after riding into the sunset with a prince or princess by your side. Soul mates aren’t magic mirrors reflecting back how you want to see yourself or them. Reach through the mirror, pay attention to the cracks. They are how the love – and light gets in. Leonard Cohen taught me a lot with that line. You aren’t royalty either, just a frog like other frogs. Life is the swamp can be lovely though. It is not necessary to sing every song in tune or dance in time with a perfect rhythm.
Marriage means so much more if you have been engaged for decades.
I know this from experience. Because engagement is the thing, one of them, that can make a marriage, a partnership work. Be real and honest and yourself. Listen carefully. Pay attention. Hold your lover’s hand, but don’t hold them back, and try to catch them when they fall. You will stumble too. Stay engaged even after you are married. I think that might be the key. In any case be grateful. If someone really loves you, it is a miracle
Love, like justice, does not come easy, but with enough grace, with enough effort, it comes. Engagement is the key, in marriage, in justice work, and in congregational life.
After the wedding reception, our daughter gave a toast that expressed what she had learned from Anne and I about love. It really moved me, and I am going to read part of it for you.
“Some of you might know that last summer, I hiked the John Muir Trail. It’s a backcountry trail that runs 218 miles from Yosemite, over 8 mountain passes to Mt. Whitney, all in the backcountry. This is something I would never have considered if not for the wonderful summers my mothers spent taking the three of us camping in Yosemite, in Yellowstone, in Glacier national parks.
One of the things I was thinking about as I was hiking, was my moms. I had called them from an outpost a week into the hike, and they told me that they had been officially married in California.
It’s good I had my moms to think about because while the trail was beautiful, actually hiking it was also the hardest thing I have ever done.
My backpack was too heavy; it weighed 45 pounds. I had to clamber up these endless 10-mile inclines, up thousands of feet in elevation, to get to each peak. And then I had to do it all over again. Those climbs were absolutely horrible.
But then, I’d get to the top.
And the top was unfailingly the most beautiful place I’d ever been, each peak more breathtaking than the last. There were turquoise alpine lakes, wildflowers, and snowcapped peaks, the whole world spread out below your feet.
And I realized, this is what I know about love. And I learned it from my moms. It is hard sometimes. It can be horrible. There are endless switchbacks and sometimes you don’t know if they’ll end, you’re not sure if you’ll make it to the top.
But you keep working at it, you put your head down and put one foot in front of the other and you make it to the top. And at the top is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been.
And then you do it all over again.
Her words made me cry when I heard them, and they still make me a bit teary-eyed.
All of us here have known many hard times over the years. This congregation has also suffered some hard times. There has been conflict and there has been grief. Life can be like that. But even in the midst of pain, we know that life is better because of love. Love can make life better.
I want to end this sermon with some words paraphrased from 1 John 4.
Let us love one another, because love is from God.
No one has ever seen God, if we love one another, God lives in us.
Those who say “I love God” and hate their brothers and sisters are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
God is love, love is God. It is all we need.
Namaste my friends, Namaste.
How many of you have seen or read, “The Hunger Games”? Quite a few of you have, I see. I haven’t read the book yet, and probably won’t go to see any of the movies. I get a large enough dose of violence just reading about world events. Watching violence on the big screen just freaks me out.
But from what I have learned from reading about it, the hunger games are very deadly.
So, unfortunately, are many of the gender games we play.
It is much more than just stunting the potential of more than half of our population. We do that when we limit the possibilities and career paths open to girls. We are still guiding them mostly toward the caregiving roles. We are also stunting the emotional growth and the career possibilities for our boys, trapping them in the stereotypes of what it means to be a man.
That is deadly enough because it means that we are killing people’s spirits by not allowing them to flourish into their own individuality, with their own unique gifts. It is a huge loss for the person and a huge loss for the world.
The rules of the gender games are enforced primarily by social pressure. If someone really breaks the rules, however, the penalty can be not only violence, but too often it is death.
When Malaya Yousafzai broke the rules in her native land of Pakistan by trying to get an education, an attempt was made on her life. That young girl’s courage and persistence should inspire us all.
How much would you risk to get an education? How much would you risk to be what your culture tells you is not only impossible but wrong?
Every year, on November 20th a day is set aside internationally to remember those who have been killed in the last year because of their gender identity. Transgender Remembrance Day reminds us that Pakistan is not the only country where the penalty for breaking gender rules is violence and death.
For many years, I have held either an evening service on that day, or addressed the issue during a Sunday Service. We missed it this year here at the fellowship; there were just too many other things going on at the same time.
Part of the format of a Transgender Day of Remembrance service is to read the list of names of those people who have been killed in the last year. It is always a partial list. It also includes only those who have been murdered, not those who took their own lives.
I want to lift up the story of one young person who died by suicide on December 28 of this year.
Leelah Alcorn was born Joshua Ryan Alcorn on November 15, 1997
Alcorn was raised in a conservative Christian household in Ohio. At age 14, she came out as trans to her parents, Carla and Doug Alcorn, who refused to accept her gender identity. When she was 16, they denied her request to undergo transition treatment, instead sending her to Christian conversion therapy with the intention of convincing her to reject her gender identity and accept her gender as assigned at birth. After she revealed her attraction toward males to her classmates, her parents removed her from school and revoked her access to social media. In her suicide note, Alcorn cited loneliness and alienation as key reasons for her decision to end her life and blamed her parents for causing these feelings. She committed suicide by walking out in front of oncoming traffic on the Interstate 71 highway.
Alcorn arranged for her suicide note to be posted online several hours after her death, and it soon attracted international attention across mainstream and social media. (info on Leelah Alcorn from wikipedia)
Dominic wrote an original song about Leelah, which he will sing during the offering.
Leelah was a victim of our static gender roles no less so that those who have been murdered by direct violence. She broke the rules by not living within the cultural norms of how women and men should be.
Those norms are maintained by violence, and people who appear to be transgender bare the brunt of that violence.
As horrible as these crimes are, it is important to understand that that they are not isolated aberrations. They are not simply crimes committed by warped individuals. They are part of the gender system. It is hard to call it a game because it is so deadly, but they are only the most obvious means of social control and punishment for when you break the gender rules.
You know this. How many of the men here have been called a sissy when you were young simply because you dared to shed a tear or two? How many of you were beaten up or called a faggot because you were lousy at sports?
Girls are called dykes if they are too assertive. If they are brave, they are told they have balls.
It is crazy. It is mean. It does damage to people’s souls and their sense of wholeness and worth.
It is where a lot of homophobia comes from I think. If gay people have all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that heterosexuals do, then what will we threaten our children with if they want to do something that is out of the norm for their gender?
Telling a child that they “must be gay,” loses all of its negative punch if it is no big deal to be gay.
There may be some natural differences between the genders. Anne and I have three children. One of our sons is an accountant and the other is a chemist.
Our daughter has been a special education teacher and she is now working for an educational non-profit. They all seem well suited as individuals for what they are doing, even though they have chosen careers that match the stereotypical gender roles in our culture.
Our children should be able to choose the lives they want for themselves, but we have to make sure that they are real choices, not just the results of the limitations imposed upon them because of their gender. We always told our kids that they could choose to be and do whatever they wanted. There was no guarantee of success, but ours was definitely a family that did not have specific gender roles that they felt compelled to follow.
Which is why the legalization and acceptance of same gender marriage really is a threat to traditional marriage. It isn’t a threat to heterosexual marriage at all, but it does directly challenge traditional gender roles. Guess what, though, all you straight couples who try and equalize the power dynamics within your relationships, you too are a threat to traditional marriage.
Congratulations! It is work well worth doing for your daughters and for your sons.
But let me go back to the issue of violence for a minute. The violence against people who are transgender is the most extreme example of punishment for breaking the gender rules. Anti-gay violence is another.
We also have sexual violence, usually used against women and girls, but sometimes against men as well. Some have referred to it as a culture of rape. Women and even young girls are sexualized to the extent that their bodies are seen as primarily objects of sexual desire. Fashion and popular culture play into it. Girls are cautioned not to go out at night unless they are in a large group or have a male escort. The risk of assault and rape is high, so it is understandable that parents offer this advice. The fear of rape limits the choices of women. It too is a form of social control based on violence or the threat of violence. The killings in Santa Barbara last year were only an extreme example of why women (#yesallwomen) too often live in fear.
Let me share some statistics:
Average number of rape cases reported in the US annually 89,000
Percent of women who experienced an attempted or completed rape 16%
Percent of men who experienced an attempted or completed rape 3%
Percent of victims raped by a friend or acquaintance 38%
Percent raped by a stranger 26%
And perhaps the scariest statistic of all:
Percent of rapes that are never reported to authorities 60%
That is a truly horrifying number. All the numbers are disturbing because violence is disturbing, but why are so few rapes reported?
If someone is robbed or their home is burglarized, it is almost always going to be reported to the police. People are not afraid of admitting that their wallet was stolen. They know that no one will say it was their own fault. No one will consider them “damaged goods.”
So we have the violence of rape, coupled with the social stigma that, in some circles at least, becomes attached to the victim. No wonder young women are afraid to go out alone at night. No wonder some boys learn that they don’t have to take no for an answer.
But some young women do go out at night. Some, like Malaya dare to learn what girls are not supposed to learn. Some young men learn that no means no and that the freely given love and respect of an equal is so much sweeter than anything they can demand or try to force.
The gender games don’t have to be so violent. We all really can be just who we are, respected and treasured. We need to recognize the courage of those who dare to live authentic lives. I am so proud of and grateful for the openly transgender people who are a part of this community.
They are heroes who refuse to play the gender game by someone else’s rules.
In my sermon blurb describing this service, I said there were theological issues about this topic.
You will discover, if you haven’t already, that I think there are always theological issues. Defining God as male is a problem. It is also not an accident that the religious institutions that refuse to ordain women are also the most homophobic and trans-phobic. If you need examples, think of the Southern Baptists, the Missouri Synod Lutherans, the LDS church and the Catholic Church. Think of all but the most liberal of the many Muslim groups. The rules of the gender game were written by these conservative faiths so unlike our own.
Our Universalist ancestors believed God loved everyone, no exceptions. Our Unitarian ancestors believed that every human being had the potential within them to be divine.
Holly Near wrote a song that has the words:
“Something changes in me when I witness someone’s courage. Something changes in me anytime there’s someone standing. For the right to be completely all the good things that we are
Do not forget the children, they are singers in the storm
And when their hearts are threatened, well a fire is bound to start. It wakes us up at midnight, we feel an ancient pain
And I do believe that loves directs the flame”
May we let love direct our own flames. May we let its bright light shine upon the gender games and help us know we can play by healthier and happier rules. Blessed Be