Identity”

Worship Script 5


 Worship Script (5 of 5)

Welcoming Our Identities

 

OPENING WORDS

“Come One, Come All” by Ian W. Riddell

 

Come one, come all!

Come with your missing pieces and your extra screws

Come with your hard edges and your soft spots

Come with your bowed heads and upright spines

Come all you flamboyant and drab

verbose and quiet fidgeting and lethargic

All you with large vision and tender hearts

All you with small courage and tender fears

Bring your lisp and your stutter and your song

Bring your gravel and your drawl and your lilt

Bring your anger and your joy and your righteous indignation

Misfits and conformists and everyone in between

Come into this space and be welcome

Bring who you are

Bring where you’ve traveled

Bring what you long for

and let us worship together

  

HYMN #188  Come, Come Whoever You Are  **

** This hymn is encouraged to include the second line of Rumi’s words that are not in the hymn, “Though you have broken your vows a thousand times”. This illustrates something that is unique about Islamic theology and mysticism, that God’s love extends beyond anything you have done, or will do, no matter the vows you have broken over and over again.

 

FIRST READING

A Quote from “A Religion for Greatness” by Clarence Skinner.

This reading comes from the chapter on racism, and it is presented as Skinner wrote it, without changing the male gender references that were common parlance at the time. if you wish please change to more expansive language, simply announce that you are paraphrasing Skinner, and using more gender inclusive language.  

The religion of the unities and universals is (a) radical cure. It gets down to the roots out of which prejudice grows. It digs into the soil of man’s selfishness, superstitions, and distortions. It destroys the vicious partialisms which would lock men into divisive cells of race, denying them the common rights of humanity. This enemy must be routed on every front—economic, social, biological, and cultural. The only way to rout it is to supplant the fears and errors of partialism by a vigorous, realistic religion of universalism. For every denial we must make an assertion. Man must enlarge the borders of his consciousness to include the human race. We must think, feel, and act in universe terms, and thus see how petty and sinful are the partialisms of our lesser selves. We must welcome differences because life in a varied world is richer than life in uniformity. We must recognize the rightful place of color, shape, and history in a syncretic culture. If we “see life steadily and see it whole,” we can appreciate all the parts. The part becomes misunderstood only when we see it without relationships, as an end in itself. One race is no more necessary than one kind of tree or one kind of horse. Each has its own genius and each may contribute to a life that is “rounded, divine, complete.” 

It is a time for greatness. There must be a religion for greatness to meet the need of the time. 

 

SECOND READING

“Invitation to Join the Journey”, by Lyn Cox 

Come you accidental pilgrims, you who find yourself on a journey of surprise and wonder. Come you who emerge into this place as an act of liberation. Come you who seek a life of mindfulness and a place to test your thoughts. Come you who bring hearts of all kinds: heavy hearts, rusty hearts, hearts broken open in revelation, hearts full of love to share. Come you who seek courage, and you who have more courage than you realize. Come you who stand behind the curtain, gathering up the resources to claim your truth. Come you who have been in a bubble, you who are poised for transformation. 

We begin our story again, gathering courage, love, mindfulness, and a sense of purpose. We gather as people of all ages, of different abilities, different backgrounds, and different perspectives. We share a covenant, a direction for our shared journey, and a commitment to encourage and challenge one another to spiritual growth. 

This path will ask much from us. Let us move forward with love. Let us move forward with appreciation for one another. Let us move forward knowing we are not alone. Whoever you are, whatever your gifts, you are welcome to join this journey. 

 

HYMN #1053 How Could Anyone

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

Belonging Fannie Barrier Williams  by  Janeen K Grohsmeyer

 

Our hearts should be too warm and too large for hatred.

More than one hundred fifty years ago, back when trains were new and airplanes and cars hadn't been invented, back when women always wore long skirts and everyone wore hats, a girl named Fannie Barrier lived in a town in New York State.

Fannie lived with her older brother, George, and her older sister, Ella, and their parents. During the week, Fannie and George and Ella would get up and get dressed and eat breakfast, and then go to school. In the afternoon, they would play in the woods or maybe go sledding in the snow with their friends, then do their chores, eat dinner, do their homework, and go to bed.

On Sundays, the whole Barrier family would go to church. Fannie's father was a deacon, a leader at the church. Her mother taught Bible school. When Fannie was old enough, she played the piano while people sang hymns. She sang, too, and painted pictures. Maybe some of you like to do those things, too.

Maybe Fannie's life sounds a lot like your life, even if she did wear long skirts instead of pants and use kerosene lamps instead of electric lights and cook food on a wood stove instead of in a microwave oven. Going to school and to church, doing homework and chores, making music and playing with friends – these are all things we still do today.

But Fannie's life was different. Very different. Because back then, one hundred fifty years ago in the United States of America, most people didn't believe that everyone was equal. Most people believed that some groups of people were better than other groups. They believed that men were better than women. They believed that Protestants were better than Catholics or Jews. And they believed that people with light skin were better than people with dark skin.

Fannie Barrier had dark skin.

When she was a teenager, she went to the city of Boston to study music. Some of the other students said, “We don't want her here. She's dark, so she doesn't belong. If she stays, we'll all go.” The school asked Fannie to leave.

So, Fannie went to Washington DC to study painting. She had to hide behind a screen so no one could see her. “If the other students know you're here,” the teacher told Fannie, “they'll want you to leave.”

Over and over again, all through her life, Fannie was told she wasn't wanted and couldn't belong, just because she had dark skin.

When she was forty years old and living in the city of Chicago, some women invited her to join a women's club. But some other women in the club said, “We don't want her here. She's dark, so she can't belong. If she stays, we'll all go.” The people in the club argued about it for more than a year. Finally, they voted to let Fannie in. But when she joined, those other women left.

Now, Fannie didn't like that. It hurts when people won't let you belong. It hurts when people don't want you around. Some days Fannie felt angry about it. Some days she felt sad.

But most days, Fannie had no time to feel angry or sad, because she was busy making groups of her own. Fannie knew how much it hurt to be left out. And she knew it would be a lot easier, and more fun, to get things done together with others, than by yourself. She and her husband, the lawyer S. Laing Williams, joined the All Souls Unitarian Church in Chicago. They helped start a hospital, where everyone was welcome, no matter the color of their skin. They created a group to study art and music.

Fannie Barrier Williams helped start a home for girls in Chicago, and she started a center where people could live together, no matter the color of their skin. She was part of the group that started the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the NAACP), along with Frederick Douglass, Ida Wells Barnett, Frances Watkins Harper, and W.E.B. DuBois.

Fannie also worked with suffragists like Susan B. Anthony, helping women get the chance to vote. Because back then, remember, people thought that men were better than women. Women couldn't own property or have a bank account or vote in elections.

In 1920, when Fannie was sixty-five years old, women were finally allowed to vote. And about fifty years after that, people starting letting everyone vote and everyone belong to groups, no matter the color of their skin.

Fannie Barrier Williams didn't live to see that. She didn't live long enough to see the United States of America become a place where most of the people believe that everyone is equal.

But she helped make it happen. When some groups kept people out, Fannie Barrier Williams started groups that let everyone in. When the laws of our country said she and thousands of others couldn't belong because of the color of their skin or the church they went to or because they were girls instead of boys, Fannie Barrier Williams worked to change the laws so that everyone could belong – and would belong – no matter what. 

 

MEDITATION

“The Courage to Continue on the Journey” by Lyn Cox

Spirit of Life and Love, known by many names and yet fully known by none, we give thanks for this time and this place of renewal. We give thanks for the ability to begin again: after the disaster, after the tragedy, after the loss, after meeting the challenge set before us. Grant us the courage to continue on the journey, the courage to speak up for the well being of others and ourselves and the planet. May we forgive each other when our courage falls short, and may we try again. Grant us hearts to love boldly, to embody our faith and our values in living words and deeds. May our hearts open to embrace humility, grace, and reconciliation. Grant us the ability to learn and grow, to let the Spirit of Love and Truth work its transformation upon us and within us. Grant us the spirit of hospitality, the willingness to sustain a fit dwelling place for the holy that resides in all being. Grant us a sense of being at peace in the world, even as we are in motion. Let us cultivate together the strength to welcome every kind of gift and all manner of ways to be on the journey together. To this we add the silent prayers of our hearts. 

(Pause) Blessed be. 

 

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

Can You Be Anybody You Want?

By Erik Walker Wikstrom

We’ve been saying the same words of welcome to and with one another for several years now.  “Whoever you are, whomever you love, however you express your identity … you have a place here.  We all have a place here.  We all are welcome here.”

At the end of this morning’s service we’re going to sing together Fred Small’s beautifully moving song, “Everything Possible”:

You can be anybody you want to be,
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still

This song – which never fails to bring a whole lot of us to tears whenever we hear it – and our welcoming words express the sentiment that so many of us believe is the beating heart of our Unitarian Universalist faith – ours is a tradition in which everybody, anybody, is welcome.  All are welcome here.

But is that true?  Is everybody welcome here?  The classic challenge to this idea is asking whether a card-carrying, sheet-wearing member of the KKK would be truly welcomed into this community.  Just this past Friday night one of our members was talking to me about this very thing – he raised the question of whether someone who was wearing, with no sense of irony, a “Make America Great” tee shirt would find a warm welcome here.

Just as our tradition is often incorrectly described as one in which, “you can believe anything you want to,” the idea that “everyone is welcome here,” is equally lovely sounding, and equally untrue.  I’ll come back in a moment to ask if we’d actually want it to be true, but first I want to look at some of the reasons it might be said so often.

The Unitarian and Universalist traditions – the “parents,” if you will, that gave birth to our modern Unitarian Universalist faith – have a long history of valuing and reaching out to traditionally marginalized communities.

One of the founders, in 1784, of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery was the Universalist Benjamin Rush, and in 1785, one of the signers of the founding compact of the first Universalist congregation in the United States – then called the Independent Christian Church and now known as the Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Church – was an African American man named Gloster Dalton.  Although our history also includes the Unitarian President Millard Fillmore, who in 1850 signed into law the odious “Fugitive Slave Act,” it also includes the Unitarian clergyman John Haynes Holmes, who was a founding member of NAACP.

Universalists Lydia Ann Jenkins and Olympia Brown were the first two ordained women in the United States whose ordination was recognized by a full denominational authority (in 1858 and 1863, respectively).   Suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are part of our Unitarian heritage, and although their focus on women’s rights came at the cost of attention to, and support of, the liberation of people of color, we also are descendants of people who understood the connections, such as Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone, and the Rev. Theodore Parker, a radical on women’s rights and slavery, who often wrote his sermons with a handgun on his desk, ready if necessary to defend the lives of the runaway slaves who were staying that night in his cellar on their way to Canada and freedom.

Dorothea Dix, who was an early, and tireless, advocate for the rights of people with mental illness; Octavia Hill, who, was a pioneer in the areas of housing and education reform for the working class; and Lydia Maria Child who, among other things, was a proponent of Native American rights – they were all led to their convictions and their activism for social justice by their Unitarian faith.

In this century, the first ordained minister of a major religious group in the U.S. or Canada to come out as gay was UU Minister James Stoll in 1969.  (Although, to be completely transparent, after coming out he never again was called to serve a congregation.)  Unitarian Universalism was the first denomination to accept openly transgender people as full members with eligibility to become clergy, and in 1988 it was a Unitarian Universalist congregation that ordained the first openly transgender person in the United States.

Although our faith tradition, and those that preceded it, do not have a 100% sterling history, we have often been in the forefront of advocating for people who were marginalized and rejected by other faith communities, and by the wider US society.  Our Universalist ancestors avowed their belief in, “the supreme worth of every human personality,” a way of looking at and understanding the world which lives on, today, in the UUA’s first principle, “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”  The French fashion designer and oft-quoted figure Coco Channel famously said, “A girl should be two things:  who and what she wants.”  Our Unitarian and Universalist ancestors, and our present Unitarian Universalist tradition, would only disagree with the gender limitation in her sentiment.

“Whoever you are, whomever you love, however you express your identity … your presence here is a gift … we all are welcome here.”  “You can be anybody you want to be … and know I will love you still.”

This is one of the great gifts of our faith to the world.  I remember the day, going on twenty years ago now, that I received a call from a woman who wanted to know if I would officiate her wedding.  She wasn’t a member of our congregation, she wasn’t even a Unitarian Universalist, but she had been calling churches all morning to find one where she could be married to the love of her life.  As soon as they found out that the love of her life was also a woman, though, church after church hung up on her.  One even laughed before doing so.  When I told her that I’d be honored to celebrate their love, she wept.

It has been, and is still, often virtually impossible to simply, and freely, and openly be “who and what [you] want.”  Often it’s not even a matter of who you want to be.  Our multiple and intersecting identities are most often not a matter of choice – it’s who we are.  The only choice is whether or not to be open and out about it, and too often that’s not really all that much of a choice, either.  Simply put, it simply isn’t safe to simply be who we are in so many places.  We know, we’ve been taught, we’re reminded in ways both large and small, both implicit and explicit, that we can’t be both who and what we are, if who and what we are deviates in any way from the straight, white, cis-male, well-educated norm.

So it is, I believe, one of our missions in the world, as Unitarian Universalists, to create safe haven for those who have found themselves unsafe in so many other places.  If South African Archbishop Desmund Tutu is right that the religious community should be “an audio visual aid for the sake of the world,” showing the world how it could be, then it is one of our missions as a religious tradition to show the world that each and every “human personality,” each and every person is born with worth and dignity – whoever we are, whomever we love, however we express our identity.  The way the world should be is one in which each and every one of us is welcomed, and celebrated, for who we are … who we really and truly are.

And here’s the rub:  we can’t really be this welcoming place if “everybody’s welcome here.”  It is an paradox inherent within much liberal thought that “liberal” implies an expansiveness which includes everything.  If we’re really a liberal community, then everybody should be welcome here, right?  Even that non-ironic wearer of the Donald Trump tee shirt.  Right?

Well … no.  Not right.  At least, not necessarily.

I’ll bet some of you may be feeling your stomach knot up a bit when you heard me say that.  Maybe your heart’s beating a little more quickly, this is such a challenge to our usual self-understanding. Others may be feeling a sense of relief that we don’t have to wrestle with how to be welcoming to people that are hateful or those who are actively trying to hurt others.

You might be feeling all sorts of things, but check in with what you’re feeling when you hear me say that we absolutely should not even try to welcome everyone.  That we should, in fact, intentionally exclude some people.

One of the things that can be hard about being who and what you really are, is that it means being clear about who and what you’re not.  To really and truly, fully authentically be ourselves we have to resist the temptation to try to be everything to everyone.  This is true for individuals, it’s true for communities, it’s true for nations.

Look at our congregation and you can see how hard it is.  We want to be welcoming.  We think that means we should strive to be welcoming to everyone … no matter what.  But we can’t.  We shouldn’t even try.  We shouldn’t even want to.  Because there’s a reason not every place feels safe and welcoming to people who have traditionally been marginalized – because many places are full of the very people who have perpetuated and protected that marginalization.

Do such people have “inherent worth and dignity?”  Of course.  They, too, descend from the stars and are intimately interrelated with all that is.  And there is a difference between a person and their behavior … their actions.  We could make this distinction to say that every one is welcome here, but not every kind of behavior is.

Still some people have so bonded their beliefs and their actions that they are indistinguishable.  With some people you can’t separate the to, and those people are not welcome here; those people should not be welcome here.  Because if we do extend our welcome to them, we’ll be closing it off to others.  (Or won’t feel themselves to be welcome, which is really the same thing.)

I know longer say, “all are welcome here.”  Instead, just about every Sunday I say, “We are a Unitarian Universalist congregation that welcomes all who welcome all.”  Semantics?  Perhaps.  But words matter, and thinking carefully about what you say and the impact your words may have is, itself, a step toward greater justice.  If we are to be true to ourUnitarian Universalist principles and values, then we need to be a congregation that is sure enough about who we are what we stand for, that we can be equally clear about who we are not, and what we will not stand for.  Not everyone should be welcome here, because not every kind of behavior should be welcome here, and sometimes you just can’t discern a difference.  You can’t be anybody you want to be here, because there are some ways of being that are anathema to who we are, because we’re committed to being a safe and nurturing place for those for whom there are so few, a place where we can sing that song that for far too long was rarely sung, and rarely very loudly.

If you have felt unwelcome because of who you are, whom you love, how you express your identity, your situation in life … if you wish to make this a community that strives to invite the uninvited … then we have a place here.  Ours is, ours needs to be, a community that welcomes all who welcome all. 

 

HYMN #1019  Everything Possible

 

BENEDICTION
#692  by Lauralyn Bellamy

 

If, here, you have found freedom,

Take it with you into the world.

 

If you have found comfort,

Go and share it with others.

 

If you have dreamed dreams,

Help one another.

That they may come true!

 

If you have known love,

Give some back

To a bruised and hurting world.

 

Go in peace.