Wednesday was the bridge between Ministry CENTER Days and General Assembly. It was a day that held a number of moments of grace for me that moved from head to heart.
The UUMA meeting held its 25/50 worship service in the morning and and Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie was the speaker chosen by her peers celebrating 25 years in ministry. She spoke in a wonderful narrative style of the loneliness and isolation that comes with the ministry, but doesn’t have to if we minister to each other. She spoke of being minister in Provincetown, MA during the early days of AIDS when she tore out an entire M page from her address book – “they were all dead.” She spoke of being the target of a parishioner’s venom and angst and her own personal struggles and pain, and yet there was a light in the story. She had come through so much, learned so much, been transformed by the lessons she learned about how to be human, and how to be a better person and minister. My own failings seems small and my own ability to do this work, this service, seemed so much more full of possibility and hope and energy. She had a great way of opening hearts with what seemed like such tragic tales of the ministry, but was really a look at the rays of hope.
I then went to The Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island with a couple of colleagues. I stopped and took many photographs of birds, lizards, beetles and my hiking companions, and the ever present, majestic mountains as well as the Great Salt Lake. The mountain air was still and quiet unless we disturbed some birds who in their own asked us to get off their porch.
I had come home to place I’d never been before. I’ve not done much hiking around mountains, but I’m drawn. I could have sat on one of the rocks on that hillside for hours. I could not leave without touching the water. So we went down to the water and I dipped in my hand, disturbing the brine flies.
I spoke to my companions about having traveled once again to a place my mother has seen, and liking the connection to have been in common places with my parents.
Upon returning from the lake, I attended the Berry Street Lecture. The Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor discussed the need for the UUA to have actual demographic numbers so we can actually know if we are making any progress in making our congregations and our association more diverse and multicultural. He noted that the only actual hard numbers we have are two flawed studies done ten years apart in 1997 and in 2007 and one was done by the Pew Forum, not the UUA. After looking at the studies, and adjusting for the methodologies, Rasor noted that we really haven’t grown any more diverse.
I became more engaged with Rasor’s talk when he got away from demographics and got theological. He suggested that as Unitarian Universalists, “our primary engagement with the culture has been intellectual,” (and I paraphrase) yet this legacy encourages us to keep our religious commitments largely in our heads and feel spiritually safe and multiculturalism threatens this safety. In essence, we can’t reason our way into multiculturalism. ( I don’t have his exact quote but it was just about) “We have to wade in up to our necks without being able to predict the storm currents.” Rasor said we need to move from a pluralism of ideas into a pluralism of being.
The Universalist in me especially appreciated his conclusion – All creation is united in a common destiny of universal salvation – all would be saved. Universalists doctrine refused to divide the world, we’re all in this together and we’re all sharing in it. Our personal salvation was no more important that anyone else’s. The individual was linked to all of humanity, thus it led to thinkning of how things effected the community and an egalitarianism of outcome and radically inclusive community.
Rasor suggests there is something useful in the universal insight and in our contemporary theological jargon, we would say it is a commitment to liberation. James Luther Adams, he pointed out, noted liberalism’s characteristic feature is human beings should be liberated. Liberation is communal not individual and liberation is only possible in open and inclusive communities.
Nice, but the big move from head to heart was made experiential by the response to his essay by Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt.
Rev. McNatt said that what we’re really talking about is culture, the culture of Unitarian Universalism and we don’t want to go there – we have an alienating culture and we have to grieve the loss of the familiar and embrace the new.
These things are the work of the spirit! James Luther Adams, also said, she reminded us, that church is where we practice what it means to be human. Safety is a relative term when it comes to being religious.
The reality is, if we become multicultural, we will change what is familiar about being Unitarian Universalist and deep down a lot people may not want that to change – organ music, lecture style, long sermons, what other things?
The day ended with the opening worship of General Assembly, a time to remember that we are a religious movement and association, not a political, cultural, or social organization. It was a great surprise to see a former classmate of mine from my UU Religious Education class, Angela Herrera, who is still an M.Div. student at Harvard Divinity School, give the sermon at opening worship! Nice job, Angela!