April 25–Come, Come Whoever You Are: No Despair

We are no caravan of despair.
Come, yet again, come.

On some level, we want the whole experience, and we need to know that the whole experience of our humanity is accepted, is not judged, is welcome.

Most of us walk around with a public face that we wear.  This is the face by which we are mostly known.  Most of us also walk around hiding behind that face the other aspects of ourselves that we are not sure will be accepted–by others and perhaps even by ourselves. We might have concrete experiences of being rejected because of those aspects of ourselves, and we do not wish to repeat those experiences.  We long for a place and a people who simply welcomes us.

Come, come whoever you are . . . 

We develop, then, the public face–one that is generally accepted or, if not entirely accepted, one that will get us through.  Some of our public faces look intellectual.  Others come across as aggressive and fierce. Some public faces are quiet and withdrawn in the hopes that we are just not noticed.  Some become almost like clowns, the life and energy of the party, always and everywhere.  All–faces behind which we can hide, take some safety, and avoid rejection.

Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving . . . 

The great irony to me in this whole dynamic (one that I am convinced from which no one really escapes entirely) is that even while I am hiding behind my public face in hopes of not being rejected or judged by the communities I long to be welcome in, I myself harbor thoughts and feelings of judgment and rejection toward others.  I like to walk around thinking that I am not that way.  Then, someone lowers their public face just a bit, and I see some aspect that I did not know was there.  It surprises me.  Frightens me.  Disorients me, and I recover to my public face with some judgment:  that’s not right; that’s not acceptable; that’s not welcome.  I even worry in those moments that I will be found out for my hypocrisy and judged and rejected.  What sort of horrible game am I caught in, are we caught in?

We are no caravan of despair.

I show up in my various communities–especially the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett–because I intend for it to be a community of no despair, a welcoming place for all.  I intend that, and I believe that others with whom I gather also believe this.  We are no caravan of despair. But.  We are all struggling with this same basic conundrum. We welcome and we want to be welcome and we still struggle with fear, anger, and confusion. We all, to some degree, wear public faces and have hidden selves that we are coaxing toward healing.  So . . .

Come, come whoever you are.

Join us in the dance.  Join us in the struggle.  Join us in the mystery.  Join us, and let’s work together.  There is much to learn.  There are many to love, beginning with those we find staring back in the mirror.

Bob Patrick

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April 20–Come, Come Whoever You Are–to the Mother

This Spring is there something worth a celebration of the newness and the arrival of good in your life? Has a needed, wanted person come back into your story?  Do you need to go get someone from the underworld (like Persephone in her story)?  Please don’t let our current political climate, our climate change, our horrible treatment of many who are so disadvantaged, steal all you joy.  Please don’t give all your joy away to the worthiness of our struggles.  Spring is a reminder that it cannot stay winter forever.

We must cope with a constant element from our tribal past and our ancient religious traditions.  Both the God of the Jewish people and the Roman Gods required sacrifices to offer favor and atonement for the wrongs done by humanity. Jesus in the Christian story is the ultimate sacrifice, and poor Persephone is given in marriage to the Underworld, and in many versions of this story she has no say in the matter.

Who are we sacrificing, in an attempt to make things better? This is ancient, tribal appeal to appease tribal deities. Does your most holy require human sacrifice still, and if so, why?

I want to offer this Easter season that we tell the Gods that we have given enough innocent blood for what we thought would make things better. We are no longer willing to do so.  We want to offer up some stuff we can do without on the altar.

We will give up our need to seek tribal revenge on ancient grievances and we want to offer flowers to the Goddess of Forgiveness if she will have us.  We want to seek resolution for our family feuds.  That would include the entire family.

We want to find our old Mother Goddess who birthed humanity, before the Father God arrived and pushed her out of the story.  Mother we want to offer our humble recognition of being one family of humanity.

Mother help us get there. We have some siblings who have taken over and it’s not working.

This Easter we want to honor our striving to come back to life with the ability to forgive and love like we mean it.  Maybe love so intently that death can’t stop the good we had in mind, nor the connection we feel.

This Easter we want to be so loving that we are made strong in our ability to stop acts of unlove and hate.  Mother, help us to do it as though we are restoring and resurrecting something so great that we have never seen in our human family.

Mother, help us, one to another choose love and choose the best way out of winter, out of our justified fear, out of our of cold heartedness and into warmth that enlivens our relationships and strengthens our best collective and individual selves.

Rev. Duncan Teague
(Excerpted from Easter Sunday sermon, April 16, 2017)

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April 18–Come, Come Whoever You Are: Typed

For several days now I have had a conversation going on the actual data that we have for what is referred to (to the chagrin of many) as “white privilege.”  As I noted yesterday, much of that conversation has turned into white people discussing whether or not the term “white privilege” is acceptable, but the original article that I shared was about the data–actual measures that we have of how, in general, white people benefit over People of Color in this culture.  You can read that article here.

Last night, a different sort of thing happened.  A man whom I do not know and have never met joined the conversation (I post almost everything on FB publicly).  Shortly into the conversation, he posted this:  “Bob, I’ve met people like you before. You’re an easily recognizable type. You don’t seem to have much in the way of substance to offer.”

Those were the opening three sentences of a 6 paragraph post most filled with all that he knew about people like me.  I tried several times to bring him back to a discussion of the issue–the ways that we treat each other in this culture of ours, but that didn’t happen.

He left me with this “gift.”  How we draw up in our minds and hearts a “type” that we stick people in.  I understand that certain sectors of our brains are and have been far back into pre-history built this way–to help us recognize our clans and our enemies, to escape danger and defend our turf.  I also know that the human brain as well as the human experience of the inner life has evolved beyond that as our only take on life and one another.  We have the capacity–if we choose to use it–to look at another and think:  I have no idea who you are, and I want to know more.

It struck me last night as I read those words (paragraphs!) written about me as someone that I didn’t recognize–written so quickly and easily by someone who did not know me–that this is what we as a culture do, and we do it all the time.  “I know your type . . . ” and then we pull black drivers over; we follow black shoppers around the store waiting to catch them shoplifting; we refuse people of color loans for homes in certain neighborhoods; we see the large black man coming and assume danger.  We see a white person and allow possibility, goodness, the possibility of friendship.  We see a scarved woman and assume that she is abused and has no rights in her religion and home.  We see brown people and think “day laborers”  and brown children and wonder if they speak English or run drugs.

“I know your type . . . ” whether those words come our of our mouths or from our typing on screen, they tend to rule our thinking and ACTING.  They pretend that we can reduce another human being to a type and that once the type is named there is nothing else to know.  That’s also, by the way, at the root of certain objections to the term “white privilege,” but that discussion is for another day.

Typing people strips them of the mystery of their own creation.  It’s a deadly, dehumanizing activity, and it threatens, these days, to destroy human community.

Bob Patrick

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April 17–Come, Come Whoever You Are: Radically Welcoming

. . . we are becoming a
radically welcoming congregation.

Vision Statement of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett

Like many in our community, I was actively involved in writing our vision statement, and in the difficult conversations over this line of the vision statement.  Were we saying too much, going too far?  What would people think of when they heard the word “radically?” We wrestled with the ideas, the feelings.  We listened.  And we ultimately embraced it.

That embrace came in more difficult ways for some than others.  I embraced it early, and now I find myself pondering over it again–not as something that I wish we had not said, but in the realization that it creates for me a challenge–a challenge to try and live into.

What does it mean for me to be radically welcoming?  When we sing “Come, come whoever you are” do I REALLY mean “whoever?”  I’m finding places of hesitation within me, and some for good reason.  I hesitate over someone who thinks that all Muslims are terrorists.  I balk at the idea of someone who wants to jail members of the LBGTQ communities or who believes that people of color are inferior to whites.  I am in community with and love people who belong to those communities and therefore, in my own loving and friendship, not only are people dear to me implicated by a certain perceived danger, but so am I.

So am I.  There is where being radically welcoming challenges me the most.  I have not come to terms with what being radically welcoming might require of me, and that unknown is both intellectually and emotionally disturbing.

I spent some time during the Easter weekend in a Racism workshop at UUCG.  I spent various amounts of time in a FB conversation about the statistics of white privilege.  Statistics.  Measures.  Numbers.  Evidence.  Most of the conversation was made up of white people talking about which words we use (we are willing to use, we will not use, we don’t like to use, we are offended by, we are angry about, we should use) to describe our own role in the racial injustices of this nation.  I KNOW that I have black friends who were watching this very conversation, and I find that deeply disturbing.  Here we go again.  We white folks cannot get past the words so that we can move on to the real discussion of what we are gong to DO about the issues of racial equity . . .

. . . and we are radically welcoming.

I think what is truer for me–and probably for our community–is that we have agreed to struggle with what it means to be radically welcoming, and some days we might not want to struggle too much.  Some would call that very dynamic a privileged position.  We can choose when we want to struggle and when we do not.

It makes me uncomfortable.  I think one of the realities that I am coming to is that discomfort comes with radical welcomes.

Bob Patrick

 

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April 11–Come, Come Whoever You Are–And Let’s Talk About What You Do

The work of Jay Smooth came to my attention this week, thanks to Denise Benshoof who shared it with us on our FB page.  You can see his 3 minute video “How to tell someone they sound racist” here.  He has a longer 11 minute TEDx Talk as well.  He writes political-activist blog called Ill Doctrine.  I just started following him on Twitter.  Can you tell that I am impressed?  I am impressed because this man’s work–just the brief examples I’ve seen, have shown me myself and helped me understand my inner workings a little better.

In short, he distinguishes between what we do and who we are.  I suspect that ultimately he, like many of us, believes that who we are and what we do are expressions of each other. His focus in these short videos, however, are those places where how we experience ourselves on the inside (along with how we think about ourselves) differs from things we say or things we do.

Smooth is clear:  when we encounter someone else (often a friend) saying something that sounds racist, they must be held accountable.  It’s not okay to let it slide.  Smooth suggests that when that happens we focus on “what you said” or “what you did.”  He cautions, however, that culturally too many of us have learned to shut down that conversation by flipping it to a conversation about who we are.

Example:

“Hey, friend, that thing you just said sounds racist.”

“What?  You think I am a racist?  But I’m a good person.  You know that I am a good person!”

And there it is.  In one interchange the conversation flipped from “what you did” to “who I am.”

This has been my own inner turmoil lately.  The news of the hiring practices of the Unitarian Universalist Association came to light last week demonstrating clear, long standing preferences for white males in a religious community that professes and stands for the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  Black Lives UU has responded by asking us to consider how a white supremacist system continues to run an organization that is not made up of white supremacists.  How does that happen?  It’s a damn good question.

My reaction (and to be honest, the reactions of friends around me) was immediately:  but I’m not a white supremacist, and I don’t know any white supremacists, certainly not in th Unitarian Universalist community that I know!

I flipped it.  I am invited to consider WHAT WE DO, and I turned it into WHO WE ARE.

Doing that feels right and righteous.  We are NOT white supremacists.  The sad reality that I am coming to terms with is that by flipping it (Just as Jay Smooth points out) from a consideration of what we do to a defense of who we are, we avoid making any of the necessary changes that we would otherwise want to reflect who we are.

Smooth notes in his TEDx talk:  if a friend noted that you had some spinach stuck in your teeth, would you respond immediately by proclaiming:  but I’m a clean person!  Probably not. You might be embarrassed that you’ve been carrying on conversation all afternoon with green spinach in your teeth. You would go immediately to the bathroom to take care of the problem. You’d thank you friend for calling it to your attention, and your status as a clean person would still be firmly in tact.  Your friend would still be your friend who helped you out.

We have work to do on how we act as a religious organization.  I am deeply moved by who we are and what we hold dear in our Principles. Working on how we act only strengthens who we are. Ultimately, if we do not do this work on racial equity and justice, how we act will begin to tell people that this is really who we are.

Bob Patrick

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April 6–Come, Come Whoever You Are–To What?

Rumi’s words in this beloved hymn of ours are so powerfully those of invitation.  Come. Wanderer, come.  Worshiper, come. Lover of leaving, come.

To what is Rumi (what are we) inviting the wanderer, the worshiper, or the lover of leaving to come?

Certainly we would say that we are inviting others to community.  We are inviting others to consider our Unitarian Universalist Principles.

I wonder how many of us think about inviting others into some deep trouble.  If we are honest, that’s ALSO what we have to offer.  We are, these days, all reeling and ruminating over recent events in our Unitarian Universalist Association regarding racial equity and justice, the continuing presence of white supremacy systems in our own association. When we invite others into our community, the sobering reality is that we are inviting them into our brokenness as well as our principles, and that is humbling.  Churches almost never put that on the billboard or the new member materials.  But, we have to.  This is also who we are.

Rumi often refers to the Beloved.  It’s easy to say that Beloved equals God, and it does.  As soon as one says it, though, it’s wrong. Rumi didn’t use the term God.  Rumi, like all gifted poets, knew that the metaphor is the more powerful language for Mystery.

The invitation to the wanderer, the worshiper, the lover of leaving, to the horrified life long member of a Unitarian Universalist Church, to a Person of Color who just signed the book in a UU Church is the same:  come, and discover the Beloved–in yourself, in your neighbor, in the stranger, in the one you think of as other, in the one you know as oppressor, in the one you are frightened of.  Come to the Beloved.  Come, yet again, come. Come, and let us find our way together.  I need you.  Come.  You need me.  Come.  We cannot do this alone.  Come, yet again, come.

Bob Patrick

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April 5–Come, Come Whoever You Are: The Invitation

Wander.  Worshiper.  Lover of leaving.
Though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times.
Come. Rumi

Except for one (the worshiper) in the list above, Rumi’s captivating invitation seems to be aimed at misfits and failures.

Wanderers have no direction.

Lover’s of leaving can’t make or keep commitments.

And breakers of vows simply can’t be trusted.

Why include worshipers into this list of people who, otherwise, clearly are a broken, fragile lot who need lots of encouragement, compassion and support?

I like to think that it’s because Rumi knew the human heart, mind and experience well. That’s one way of thinking about what the mystic is or what mystical experience is.  The mystic allows him/herself to explore deeply who we are, opens her/his heart and mind to the hearts and minds and especially the stories of other travelers along the human highway.

I like to think that Rumi knew that even the faithful worshiper, the one who always shows up at the sanctuary, who is always there, continues to suffer the tribulations of the wanderer.  That even the faithful worshiper has moments of despair or anger or even infantile selfishness where he/she wants to gather up their toys and go home because everyone else is being so difficult.  That even the faithful worshiper who answers the call to prayer every single time knows that she/he has broken their vows a thousand times.

In other words, this is not an invitation for misfits and failures, for those poor few who can’t get it together.  It’s the invitation that every human being needs to hear and experience as we wander, as we worship, as we leave and return and leave and return, as we break our vows and come to the broken, fragile places that broken vows always leave us.  We need the invitation because this is how human beings live, love and grow.  I’ve come to think that they are all necessary parts of the spiritual life that is of any substance.

Wandering.  Worshiping.  Leaving.  Breaking vows.  And returning, again and again, to the Beloved.

Bob Patrick

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April 3–Come, Come Whoever You Are: Two-way Invitation

This song sings as if it is our invitation to others.  We sing:

Come, Come, Whoever You Are
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
Ours is no caravan of despair.
Come, yet again, come.

We sing within the sacred space of our sanctuary, and we issue, with sincere hearts, this invitation that Rumi made in his mystical poetry centuries ago.  We issue the invitation as those who know that we ourselves have broken our vows a thousand times, and we invite others who may also be aware of their own fragility.

It is easy to sing this message with confidence and with the sense of those who belong. Welcome to our church.  Welcome to our sanctuary.  Welcome to our sacred space.  Come, come, whoever you are.

And people do.  And then what?

The subtle reality is that whenever I invite you into my space, into my home, to my table, suddenly everything changes–BECAUSE YOU ARE HERE.  And because you are here, because you, whoever you are, answered my invitation, this space is no longer my space as I knew it.  Now, it is (or should be) our space instantly being transformed because you are here.

Are we willing to let that happen?  It is the magical, mystical power of a genuine invitation.

Most of what I am writing here came out of a conversation with Nathalie Bigord after the service yesterday as we reflected on our adult RE session.  She facilitated the session about recent events in the Unitarian Universalist Association that brought to light practices of hiring and leadership appointments that stand in direct contradiction to our stated principles (all of them, really) but especially those that pertain to race, gender and social status.  We pondered the powerful story, reflections and sermon given by Karen Smith, Lorena Griffin and Dan Kelly.

When you say–come, come whoever you are–and people show up, then what? Surely if we continue to pretend that nothing has changed about us when folks show up, it would be like welcoming invited folks to your home and then disappearing back in front of the television and ignoring them.  Our invitation and welcome, while it certainly is an opening to others is also a deep, often challenging invitation to ourselves to take on the next set of changes that we will make in order to be that caravan of no despair.

And caravans are always on the move.

Bob Patrick

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April 2 – Come Come Whoever You Are: Broken Vows

Come, Come, Whoever You Are

Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come. 

~ Jalaluddin Rumi 

 

In transmuting this poem into the lyric of a hymn (#188 in the UU hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition), one key phrase has been omitted.  It is this “missing” concept upon which I wish to focus this morning.

Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. 

It is apparent that Rumi’s words intentionally welcome the stranger, regardless of their imperfection.  I’d like to invite you to consider a meaning even broader than that:

What if we are welcoming both the friend and the stranger, regardless of our own imperfection.

Our vision statements are declarations of what we strive to be.  That we often ourselves fall short of these ideals is almost the point.  It is in the continual striving that we live into our covenant, with ourselves and with each other.  It is in the implied acknowledgement of imperfection that we find our calling to remain ever vigilant in putting forth the effort to achieve, if not perfection, then at the very least our somewhat lofty professed ideals – justice, equality, freedom, peace…

This last week, just how woefully short we fall has been laid bare.  We admit our failings, and we recommit our whole selves to finding and implementing solutions which draw us closer to creating systems which embody these ideals.

I am imperfect.  You are imperfect.  Our shared community is imperfect. Not only are we imperfect, we have broken our vows.

Acknowledging our imperfection is not enough – we must address the roots of our inadequacy, honestly face our failure to serve all those we have claimed to represent and that which we have claimed to support.  And we need everyone tending the garden of this truth.  Only then can we transform the fruit it bears.

Come, come, whoever you are – though we have broken our vows a thousand times, we still welcome you to become or to remain a part of our open-hearted, admittedly imperfect community which actively strives to live up to our promises.   There is much work to be done…

Come, yet again, come.

~ Christiana 

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March 31–Everything Possible: Conditions all right

The Buddha taught that when all the conditions were right, a thing would happen.  This little bit of wisdom can be applied to everything, great and small.  For example, a thin piece of paper comes at just the right angle, just the right speed, toward my finger, and suddenly without any evidence of a cut, blood flows. A paper cut.  We have all had one. When it happens for more than the first time we know it, and plead:  oh no, why me.  And yet, we all survive paper cuts.  How did that happen?  Why me? Because all of the conditions were right.

Bigger things happen.  Presidential elections.  Why this?  Because all of the conditions were right.

And this:  A crisis within the Unitarian Universalist Association over the systemic obstacles to People of Color arising to positions of leadership.  Documented.  Witnessed.

Why this?  Why us?  Why now?

Because all of the conditions are in place. “Right” makes it sound like it’s a good thing. This is not a good thing, and it has not been for a long time.  It’s a good thing that it’s finally happening, but it’s not a good thing.

I’ve been listening to the issues as they arise, and I’ve assembled a few thoughts for consideration about this set of conditions that are happening now, among us:

1. All religious community dialogue that is genuine will cause disturbance. I offer that as an affirmation and not a complaint.

2. When we are disturbed, we must ask:  is this disturbance one that can expand me as a person or one which I must oppose because of the clarity I have? If it’s the latter, one can then stay and be the prophetic voice, or choose to leave the community. However, leaving because one is disgruntled is not a sign of deep community.  It’s a sign of shallow community.

3. We often think of democratic process as if it is “simply” majority rule. For me, this is an area that is too much unexplored in our community and likely in Unitarian Universalism as a whole. You do not need religious community for simple majority rule, and even in our nation’s constitution there was a solid attempt to protect minorities from that kind of abuse.

4. If we choose not to discuss anything that makes anyone uncomfortable then eventually we really cannot discuss anything, and we really are not community in any imaginable way.

It is very painful to me to lose anyone from community–especially if they are angry and even more especially if they are angry, remain silent, and leave. That benefits no one. Having said that, I’m like everyone else: I don’t enjoy the discomfort that comes from difficult issues. I can do avoidance like anyone else. Unitarian Universalism invites me into something else.

Unitarian Universalism invites me into this very real thing:  all things are possible.  That thing which made me so uncomfortable is my next invitation into the next thing that can be possible.  And I need a minute to live into that.

Bob Patrick

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