Home from Kentucky

pulpit pic ssl

What a week it has been!  My partner Anne and I learned about the Supreme Court decisions during a layover in the Atlanta airport.  The plane for SLC was about to board and we were listening to the national news on a screen near the gate. I was also on my cell phone following twitter.  My “yes!” when I got the affirming tweet beat the TV announcement by a full minute.

We had been waiting for that decision all week.  OK, maybe we had been waiting our whole lives, but the suspense was really building while I was in Kentucky attending meetings of both the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association and the General Assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The suspense, the hope and the fear, was in the background all week as we gathered with roughly 3500 other Unitarian Universalists to bear witness, worship, learn, reflect, and make decisions. The week was intense, kind of like drinking from a firehouse of inspiration and challenging ideas. The worship service and many of the speakers brought tears into my eyes.  I love this faith of ours, and there is nothing better than when a whole bunch of us gather to try and live out our values.

There is no way I can cover all that happened at GA in one sermon.  I will instead offer a just few highlights.  It is all on the web at uua.org, most in both text and video.

You can also go to twitter #uuaga and read the comments of attendees.  I am new to twitter and this was the first time I really saw its power.  People were tweeting and re-tweeting constantly, commenting on what was going on.  It added an extra dimension to the experience, a back channel that was going on while speakers were at the podium.  A tweet I posted read, “What happens at GA should not stay at GA.  Remember to bring the ideas, the love, the energy back home and share it.”  I got the idea from our worship committee while we were discussing this service.  Quite a few people shared that comment via retweeting.  Twitter was also used it to collect ideas on how GA might be improved in the future.  Go to #newuuaga to read those comments.

How many of you are on twitter?  Would you like to try using it sometime during a service or part of a service?  I’d be interested in experimenting with it to see what it can do for our worship experience.  I know, that probably terrifies some of you.  It just might require a leap of faith.   I really loved how it worked at GA.  (We try it – using #uuogden as the hashtag)

Now for some highlights that you don’t have to go to the internet for:

The keynote speaker at Ministry Days was Lillian Daniel, a UCC minister who wrote the book, “When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough.”  She was passionate and very funny and set the tone for the coming weeks. A few of her lines:

“Having deep thoughts by yourself is boring. What is challenging is having them in community.”

“In community, other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you.”

“If you find God in nature, do you find God in cancer? You need community to wrestle with that.”

“Best argument for why church matters is somewhere between ‘burn in hell’ and ‘whatever floats your boat’”

“Growing up Episcopalian, talking about sin was like mistaking the fish fork for the salad fork.“

“Need same effort to find your family’s church as spent finding best college for your children.“

“Can you honestly say to someone who missed church that you really missed something?”

“Joining church is not like joining a gym. The church is not about providing services, not about meeting all of your needs.”

Her talk resonated with me as it reminded me of the conversations we have been having about why people come to a church and what they are looking for when they do.

Spiritual depth and a focus on mission are the two places where many of our churches are lacking.

People attend church because they want to feed their spirits, they want people to celebrate with when good things are happening, and they also want a place to grieve and to deal with loss and with fear.

When I realized that the Supreme Court would announce their decisions while I was in transit, it freaked me out a little.  I wanted to hear the news, bad or good, in the company of my religious community.  We need each other to hold both our joys and our sorrows.  I am glad we are celebrating together today.

People also want a church that has a clear mission, one that makes a difference in the world.  So many times during the last week, when I said that I was from this church, people responded by saying they had heard of us and of all the good work we are doing here.  They knew that we started OUTreach, they knew about the occupy camp we had on our lawn, and they knew about our completely intergenerational worship.  We’re making a difference.

We tried to make a difference in Kentucky too, while we were there.  On Thursday afternoon, we walked several blocks to the banks of the Ohio River to hold the largest environmental justice event in the history of that state.  Kentucky, like Utah, is owned by the mining industry and the pollution of the air, land and water is horrible there.  The Sierra Club, Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, and other groups joined us at the rally.  Our own Tim De Christopher spoke, as did Wendell Berry.

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer, poet and writer.  Our hymnal includes a quite a number of readings by him.

Two years ago, he spent four days camped outside of the governor’s office to protest mountaintop removal mining.  He also withdrew his personal papers from the University of Kentucky when they renamed their basketball players’ dormitory after the coal industry. He read his poem entitles “Questionnaire”

1. How much poison are you willing to eat for the success of the free market and global trade? Please name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much evil are you willing to do? Fill in the following blanks with the names of your favorite evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared to make for culture and civilization? Please list the monuments, shrines, and works of art you would most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and the flag, how much of our beloved land are you willing to desecrate? List in the following spaces the mountains, rivers, towns, and farms you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes, the energy sources, the kinds of security, for which you would kill a child. Name, please, the children whom you would be willing to kill.

Later in the week, inspired by these words, the delegates voted to begin the process of divestment of all Unitarian Universalist investments in the fossil fuel industry. You can look at the website to find out the results of other votes.  The meetings at General Assembly are a fascinating exercise of democracy in action.  It was hard not to start chanting: “This is what democracy looks like” while the debate over various issues and how things would be worded went on in an extremely organized fashion.  We also elected a new moderator, Jim Key, in a very close election. Both candidates were excellent, so I was not surprised that there were only 45 votes separating the two.

Our reading this morning was from Vanessa Southern’s rousing sermon at the Service of the Living Tradition on Saturday night.  She made a case that a new spiritual awakening is coming and that Unitarian Universalism must be ready to embrace a new generation of spiritual seekers who want to engage both with faith and with the world.

She said:

“In this new world, congregations whose mission is just to maintain the congregation, and denominations whose de facto mission is simply to keep the bureaucracy alive, are out. What is in are communities alive to spirit, people gathered who question, doubt, struggle, live with ambiguity, serve directly, are ecologically minded and affirming of the pluralism across all real and supposed differences.

These are the only communities this cohort of adults, growing in size and strength by the year, will join and offer its allegiance to.”

If Unitarian Universalism is to answer this challenge, she says we have to:

“… abolish stinginess. Big missions don’t happen on starvation budgets. We need to stop pretending we are just careful with our money and just get crazy generous.”
Crazy generous! We have a big mission – you can read it on the cover of the order of service, but let me sum it up as – “To bring love and justice into the world.”  The caring, inclusive community, the spiritual and intellectual growth help get us there, but our bottom line mission is to bring love and justice into the world.  It is a big mission and to make it happen we need to be crazy generous – generous with our time, our talents, and with our money.  Most of all, we need to be generous with our love.

(We also, she said,) “have to become great experimenters in our laboratories of religious life. We have to be like 1000 R & D departments, reporting in daily from our congregations and community ministries about where our experiments brought faith more alive and where they have failed. We have to laugh and tell stories of our victories and wipe-out-face-plants and be pioneers of the spirit; entrepreneurs of soul and service. Married to mission, dating everything else. (one of my favorite lines of hers) We must do this to be partners and co-creators of the next great awakening.”

Her sermon was surrounded by a wave of gospel music led by musicians from our large and racially diverse church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The service basically ended with a dance party.  She said,

“A train is coming, my fellow pioneers of this faith. Love and Unity wait to take their rightful place front and center on the human stage. Spirit wants to claim the age. It is a Great Awakening for which we have been preparing for a lifetime. And for this, we are asked to leap just beyond the surface of what we know and trust.”

Ready to leap?  I knew you would be!

I wrote 6 poems while in I was in Kentucky.  I will read 3.  The rest are posted on my blog.

It’s been a waterfall of words so far

Roaring round my brain.

In my ears and out of my mouth

As we all respond in song

The back channel flows

New friends are made

Follow me I’ll follow you

There is a pause to wonder,

“Is my smart phone

Smarter than me?”

That might be true

But maybe not

One truth I know is right

We is more than me

Join us now

Wherever you are

Whoever you might be

It is time to ride the waterfall

And swim in a bigger sea.

I believe because I must believe

That God loves each and all

I believe because I want to believe

That peace will come someday

I believe because I need to believe

That justice will come to be

I believe because my eyes have seen

The rainbow after the storm

I believe because my ears have heard

The people sing the Spirit’s song

I believe because my heart can beat

With the pulse of love and gratitude

I believe because we work as one

In a harmony of diversity

I believe because I am not alone

And finally,

Rock us

Knock our socks off

Shake us up

And send us forth

Teachers, preachers


Of the faith.

Amen and Rock on!

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