"Beauty"

Worship Script 2


Loving Ugly

Worship Script (2 of 4)

 

OPENING WORDS

Attributed to Kalidasa

Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of achievement
Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

 

HYMN #147 When All the Peoples on This Earth

 

FIRST READING

From About Page, This Body Is Not An Apology, by Sonya Renee Taylor
 

This was a February 9, 2011 Facebook status that I made after posting a profile picture of myself in a saucy black corset. I was clear that my big, brown, queer body was not supposed to be seen or sexy, but I posted it anyway. This terribly frightening act was birthed from the outlandishly simple idea that no human being should be ashamed of being in a human body.

Less than 24 hours after posting that picture, a movement was born. People across the country began posting their own pictures and stories. Folks began sharing photos of empowered, perfectly imperfect bodies, shaped by differences in age, race, size, gender, dis/ability, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, class, and other attributes. They were willing to exist unapologetically for just that moment.

Since that profile picture in February of 2011, The Body Is Not An Apology has been a refuge for tens of thousands of people who have joined our movement of unapologetic self-love and body empowerment. Refusing to be held hostage by the Body Terrorism of the media and of the forces of social inequality, Unapologetic Posse members as far away as New Zealand, Thailand, India, and more have committed to dismantling personal shame and developing a new relationship with their bodies and spirits that is absent of apology. The Body Is Not An Apology was created to remind us that we do not need to wait to feel beautiful, powerful, or worthy tomorrow. We can choose to act in honor of our bodies today, no matter the form they currently take. All lasting, healthy growth is born of love. Your body needs you to love it today, just as it is, however it is, unapologetically.


SECOND READING
Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size  
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,  
The stride of my step,  
The curl of my lips.  
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,  
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,  
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.  
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.  
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,  
And the flash of my teeth,  
The swing in my waist,  
And the joy in my feet.  
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered  
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,  
They say they still can’t see.  
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,  
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.  
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.  
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,  
The bend of my hair,  
the palm of my hand,  
The need for my care.  
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
 

HYMN #1053 How Could Anyone Ever Tell Your

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
Beautiful Tiger, by Christopher Buice, from “A Bucketful of Dreams: Contemporary Parables for All Ages”


There once was a beautiful and powerful tiger.

One day she was captured by a mean and cruel man who put her into a cage. The man kept the cage in the jungle not far from his house. Everyday he would bring out a bowl of water and some food for the lonely tiger.

Sometimes the tiger would see her own reflection in the bowl of water and she would say, “My, I must be a beautiful tiger.”

When the man heard her say this he would lie and tell her, “No, you are not a beautiful tiger. You’re very ugly. You’re a pitiful creature.”

Sadly, the tiger would believe the man.

Some days, after she ate her food, she would walk back and forth in her small cage and feel energy and power moving through her body, and she would say, “My, I must be a powerful tiger.”

When the man heard her say this, he would lie and tell her, “No, you are weak and puny. You’re a pitiful creature.”

Sadly, the tiger would believe the man.

Then one day, when the man was nowhere around, a lion happened to walk by the cage. The lion saw the tiger inside and spoke to her, “Beautiful and powerful tiger, what are you doing lying about in that cage?”

“Do not make fun of me,” replied the tiger. “I know that I am neither beautiful nor powerful.”

“I’m not making fun of you,” said the lion. “You are surely the most beautiful and powerful tiger I have ever seen. I am only surprised to see you lying here when you are clearly strong enough to break out of that cage.”

“You really think I could break out of here?” asked the tiger.

“Quite easily, I should think,” replied the lion

The tiger was not so sure at first. She had been told so many times that she was a weak and pitiful creature.

But suddenly it seemed that she could feel energy and strength moving through her body. She began to pace back and forth in her cage and then, almost without thought, she leapt against the cage door and it flew open without any resistance.

Once outside she seemed dazed. “That cage didn’t even have a lock on it,” she said. “I spent so much of my life stuck in there and the door wasn’t even locked.

The lion looked at her with soft brown eyes and said, “Those kinds of traps don’t need locks, for it is the lies we believe in that keep us in our cages...and it is the truth that sets us free.”

 

MEDITATION
by Francisco A. Alarcon, Adapted

May our ears

Hear

What nobody

Wants to hear.

 

May our eyes

See

What everyone

Wants to hide.

 

May our mouths

Speak

Our true faces

And hearts.

 

May our arms

be branches

that give shade

And joy.

 

Let us drizzle

A sudden storm

Let us get wet

In the rain.

 

Let us be the key

 

The hand the door

The kick the ball

The road

 

Let us arrive

As children

To this huge playground -

 

The universe.

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is.  We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

Loving Ugly, by Ranwa Hammamy


Have you ever been worshipped? I’m not talking about the “bring offerings to an altar built in your name” kind of worship—although if you do happen to have offerings of chocolate, I’m open. I’m talking about the core meaning of the word “worship,” looking into its origins and oldest implications. I’m wondering if you have ever had anyone hold you and your life in awe? I’m curious if you have had someone ascribe worth to the fullness of your being? Have you ever been worshipped?

One of my favorite recent examples of this kind of worship comes from a joyously unexpected place—the movie Magic Mike XXL. It’s a story about five male strippers on a road trip for one last major hoorah at an annual stripper convention. In the last scene of the film, when our main characters are about to take the stage, their MC, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, asks the crowd of women if they “are ready to be worshipped.”

What then takes place is a kind of worship that, as feminist writer Roxanne Gay describes it, caused moviegoers to throw actual dollar bills at the screen. It was raunchy, it was risqué, it was filled with fantasies of all kinds. As each character performed his act, we saw consenting women of various body shapes, skin colors, and ages being treated as attractive, sensual, and yes, sexual beings. Throughout the scene, we saw women with many—though admittedly not all—kinds of bodies being held up as worthy of physical intimacy and love, as attractive and beautiful.

And the effects of that worship were made clear immediately after I saw the movie with my friend. When the film was over, we started walking down the theater steps to exit. As we began making our way out of the room, we found ourselves behind a couple of women, one of whom looked to be in her 40s and another who looked older, maybe in her 70s. As we followed them down the steps, the older of these two women turned to us, grinned and said: “I need to find myself a young man!” The exchange was made ever more perfect by the 20-something theater employee, whose eyes went wide with shock when the older woman exclaimed her need.

Part what makes Magic Mike more than a film about five male entertainers on a road trip is its prophetic message about the limited definition of what we call physically “beautiful” in our society. In its affirmation of the beauty and worthiness of a range of women’s physical forms, it challenges the exclusionary features that are so often required for anyone to be considered a person of beauty. In its worship of this wider-than-traditionally-accepted range of women’s bodies, the film ascribes worth to—sees the beauty of—what has so often been called “ugly.”

That message contradicts the way that many of the physical characteristics we might call “ugly” are treated in our typical discourse. Rather than see them as features worthy of worship, we are too often taught that we need to change or eradicate them. We are sold make-up to hide acne marks and wrinkles; we use control-top pantyhose and heels to get the “perfect” butt and thighs; we color the gray in our hair; we cycle through the newest diet and exercise fad every month because we think, “Maybe this one will actually get rid of my gut.” Our culture is constantly reminding us that to be worthy of the label “beautiful” we have to get rid of everything that is not part of a very specific, and largely unrealistic but idolized form.

And when we say something is “ugly” in our society, what else are we attributing to those physical characteristics? What are we saying about what we believe is its nature? About how we should interact with it? Something that is “ugly” is unattractive. It is unpleasant or repugnant. Something that is ugly is repulsive, nasty, appalling, shameful, objectionable, horrible, vile, or even frightful. When we call something “ugly,” we are saying it is “less than.” We are saying it is not worthy of love.

And that angle just considers how we are constantly approaching what we have been conditioned to see as physically ugly. What does it mean for all that we have been conditioned to see as socially or culturally ugly? What does it mean for people and characteristics that we have been conditioned to see as unpleasant not just in our sight, but in our minds? Repulsive and shameful to our spirits? Objectionable or frightful in our hearts? What else are we saying is not worthy of our worship? Not worthy of our love?

What has been deemed “ugly” in our society is unfortunately not limited to our body image. Much of the marginalization, hatred, and violence inflicted upon certain people and communities is the result of being judged and treated as “ugly,” as with people who our larger cultural narratives tell us don’t live up to what we are conditioned to think is “good” or “right.”

In the example of racism, black and brown lives have been historically portrayed and treated as “ugly,” as less good and less worthy than white lives. From narratives of savagery towards indigenous peoples, to narratives of inferiority justifying the forced enslavement of Africans in European colonies, people of color have long been presented as being “ugly” in U.S. cultural history. What we call our “criminal justice system” has long been used to treat black and brown people as ugly—as inherently violent, threatening, and criminal.

Narratives surrounding gender identity also carry their own ideas of what has been deemed culturally “ugly” or objectionable. In a sad example, in 2015 residents of the city of Houston voted to overturn HERO, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that had made it illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of multiple protected classes, including race, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. HERO was a great example of a “loving ugly” measure, designed to prevent treatment of certain marginalized identities as “less than,” by offering protections that affirmed their inherent worth and legal rights. Unfortunately, what happened in Houston with the repeal of HERO was anything but love.

When this kind of treatment of people and communities as “ugly” or “less than” in our society goes unchallenged, the consequences can be devastating and even fatal. Verbal abuse and the denial of legal protections can cause trans and gender-non-conforming people, especially youth, to internalize the messages of hate and worthlessness that surround them, and ultimately lead to their pursuit of self-harm and suicide at rates that are nearly ten times the average.

But we know that the narratives around what is seen as worthy and beautiful, and what is seen as less than and ugly, can and have to be changed. And if we wish to live into that first Unitarian Universalist principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we must commit ourselves to affirming people whose worth and beauty have for too long been denied.

And that work, that effort, is happening. Today, there are numerous movements by people on the margins, people who have been treated as “ugly,” to proclaim their beauty and challenge the attitudes and structures that say they are anything else. These are movements of self-love, assertions of worthiness and power that are being led by the very people who have been denied their right to be worshipped, to have their lives held in awe.

In the area of body image, particularly for women, there is a growing effort to affirm the beauty of all body sizes, shapes, and colors. There are campaigns like the international movement, “The Body Is Not An Apology,” founded by Sonya Renee Taylor. This campaign promotes radical body empowerment, and the affirmation of “perfectly imperfect bodies, shaped by differences in age, race, size, gender, dis/ability, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, class, and other attributes” as all beautiful and worthy of love. And Mirna Valerio, a marathon runner whose blog, “Fat Girl Running,” breaks through the stereotype that bigger bodies cannot be healthy or capable of amazing athletic feats.

It is worth noting that Taylor and Valerio are women of color, a reality that points to another campaign of self-love and affirmation of worth—Black Lives Matter, which, in the words of its organizers, “is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” It is a richly intersectional effort that both includes and goes beyond challenging police brutality and mass incarceration. It seeks to ensure the inclusion and affirmation of black lives and experiences in multiple justice movements such as disability justice, housing affordability, employment and economic justice, healthcare access, and LGBTQ equality. It resists cultural narratives that have dehumanized or erased the experience of being black in our society, and thus helps to make black lives visible, reminding all of us that they have yet to be treated as the worthy and beautiful lives that they are.

And despite the heartbreaking outcome of the HERO vote in Houston, there have been many successes that lift up the beauty and worth of trans lives. Twenty states have laws on the books that explicitly protect transgender people from discrimination. Transgender storylines, and in particular ones featuring transgender actors, are slowly gaining nuanced representation in popular culture and media. While invisibility and fear-based lies continue to present trans lives as ugly, major legal and cultural efforts have been generated to challenge this assumption with life-saving affirmations of worth.

So how are we called to love what has for too long been called ugly? Some of us may hold identities or be part of communities that continue to bear the status of ugly in our society. Loving what has been called ugly in your life may very much be an act of self-love, a breaking down of the cage of lies that have declared you are not beautiful or powerful, or worthy of worship. Loving “ugly” may largely be an act of resistance to cultural narratives around your worth, through the celebration of your own beauty.

For all of us, and especially those who may hold identities that have historically had the privilege of being affirmed as beautiful and worthy, loving ugly is an active process. It is much more than simply believing that all people possess an inherent worth and sacred beauty that should never be denied, although that is an essential part of the process. But feeling or thinking that so much of what has been called ugly should be seen as beautiful is not the same as acting upon it.

To love ugly is to engage in the act of transformation, to commit ourselves to ensuring the affirmation of another’s worth. It is to take the risk of naming the beauty and value of what has been called ugly in the public sphere, knowing there will likely be resistance. It is to lovingly challenge the assumptions of ugliness embedded in the minds and hearts of those closest to us, knowing that the cost to our relationships is likely to be less than the cost to the lives that have been deemed less worthy if those assumptions are allowed to go unaddressed.

It requires a willingness to be transformed ourselves—a willingness to let our relationships with the people who have been called “ugly” and “less worthy” change how our minds and hearts understand the world. Loving ugly means we build into our lives regular interactions and relationships of accountability that ensure we are indeed listening to the proclamations of self-worth being made by the “ugly” members of our society. It means checking our actions to make sure they are in line with the needs and direction of the people whose worth we are seeking to affirm.

Loving ugly means not necessarily being the ones to lead change, but rather becoming respectful and accountable accomplices in the work for universal justice. Loving ugly is a process of learning from the visions of those who have been called less worthy or less beautiful, and supporting their strategies for achieving affirmation and change. It is not so much about giving power to the marginalized in our society, but instead about seeing and following the power they already have, the power that nobody else has been willing to recognize. It is about actively worshipping the beautiful in all the infinite variety of its forms, making more and more places for that beauty to bloom and grow.

 

HYMN #118 This Little Light of Mine

 

BENEDICTION
Inspired by Madeleine L’Engle, Written by Emily DeTar Birt

In a Wrinkle In Time, Mrs. Whatsit gives a curious blessing:

“Meg, I give you your faults."

"My faults!" Meg cried.

"Your faults."

"But I'm always trying to get rid of my faults!"

"Yes," Mrs. Whatsit said. "However, I think you'll find they'll come in very handy.”

May you have the blessing of your faults, and see the beauty in them.

For you may find, in this lifetime, you faults will come in

Very handy. And even show you

How truly beautiful you are.

May it be so and Amen.