Recording of our August 16, 2020 online worship service
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (email@example.com), unless otherwise attributed.
Good morning, and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am the Reverend Mandy Beal, this congregation’s Senior Minister. I am joined in worship leadership by our Accompanist, Forrest Howell, and vocalist Brian Schandevel. Our Worship Associate this morning is Judy Amir. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Bouncer Drieka DeGraff.
BUC is a spiritual home for all people of good will. We believe in justice and hospitality and have earned such designations from the Unitarian Universalist Association. We are a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which means that we have educated ourselves and taken action to protect our environment. We are also a Welcoming Congregation, a term that means we are intentionally inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. Our commitment to both of these programs was renewed in this year. And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to that work, as well.
Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on Facebook. After the service, we invite you to stay for a virtual coffee hour. You will be randomly sorted into breakout groups and we hope that you’ll participate in this opportunity to connect with others. If you are worshiping us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you. We hope that you’ll stay after the service and get to know us.
We have one announcement this morning -
Members of the BUC community are invited and encouraged to participate in the Confronting Racism series. Our next session is on Tuesday night at 7:00. We’ll discuss which race-related terms are appropriate to use and when. We’ll also learn about the Black Lives Matter movement and discuss what our roles can be in this work. The Zoom link will be on our website, and you can contact Mary Jo Ebert or Izzy Khapoya for more details.
Thank you, again, for joining us this morning, or whenever you’re watching this. Although we are not together physically, we are together in spirit, and it is good to be together again.
And with that, our service will begin.
We worship from our separate homes this morning, but we are joined by a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our Chalice:
This flame cannot live without oxygen and we cannot live without each other. Let us be a beacon of hope, love, and joy that knows it’s worth and it’s interdependence with the world around it.
“We Need One Another” by Erik Walker Wikstrom
We come together this morning because within us there is something that knows we need more than we can find in our aloneness.
We know—instinctively, in the depths of ourselves—that we need others for this journey of life even though we also guard our independence and individuality quite jealously.
So let us celebrate all that makes us unique yet also all that makes us one, and let us dream dreams of all that we can do... together.
We come back to this worshiping community because we have found value here. The words, music, and silence we share, even at a distance, provide us with meaning and comfort in difficult times and in good.
The care and stewardship of this community is in your hands. Unitarian Universalism is a free faith without a centralized authority. That is a privilege and it is also a responsibility. We can’t do this work without your financial support. Your contributions can be sent through our website or Venmo, username @BUCMI. Let there be an offering for support of this Beloved Community.
Joys and Sorrows
Amy Smalley & Cindy MacLeod - We are celebrating our 25th anniversary today! We met at BUC almost 26 years ago.
Jane O’Neil - After attending my latest BUC committee meeting, I am struck once again with gratitude for the chance to be connected with such fine people--caring, intelligent people who are willing to take action for what they believe in. I truly feel privileged to know you and to have you in my life.
Gloria C Abrams - Ray has recovered from his surgery and is doing well. Thanks for thinking of him.
Kelly Taylor - A concern: I had a liver biopsy on Thursday and am looking for thoughts and prayers that the results will be negative. Thank you.
"The Grout" by Marcus Hartlief
The Unitarian Universalist congregation where I served as an intern made a mosaic Tree of Life the summer before I arrived. Congregants of all ages came together to craft the tree’s leaves, using bits and pieces of broken ceramics, jewelry, glass, and stone. There are many precious personal items in the tree, including fragments of the Berlin Wall, a father’s watch face, pieces of great grandmother’s china, and a key to the front door of a loved home. Like the members of the community that brought them together, each part is imbued with memories and meaning; each fragment holds a piece of truth.
Unitarian Universalists are mosaic makers. We are a people who bring together the broken pieces of our histories and the shining pieces of our seeking and, piece by piece, create a mosaic religion. Our Tree of Life is found in the stories of our living tradition. The bead from a transformational moment of worship at a youth conference. The bit of paper stamped with the blazing emblem of the Unitarian Service Committee that saved lives during World War II. The button or patch on a backpack that proudly proclaims the first justice issue that lit our souls on fire. But our mosaic making tells another story too, one that is often more difficult to see. One that is essential to the purpose of religious community. One that lies not in the beautiful and broken bits and pieces but in the grout.
Grout. The chalky, gritty stuff that is squeezed between the cracks of tiles. In a mosaic, the grout holds the image together, unifying disparate pieces into a whole. The grout of a community takes years to lay and settle. Grout happens in board meetings and committee meetings and endless emails and slow-moving institutions. It is in weekly potlucks shared by neighbors, a ride to church, and coffee in the social hall after worship. While the folks who show up for church only on Christmas and Easter will hopefully enjoy the beauty of the mosaic they find, they may never know the power of the grout that holds us through all the seasons of life.
We help to make the grout when we learn each other’s names and when we reach out across generational divides. We help to make the grout when we show up on Sunday morning without having checked first to see if we’re interested in the sermon topic. When a newborn arrives to be blessed by the community, it is the grout that enables us to welcome them. And it is in the grout that we rest when we gather to grieve and memorialize a beloved one who has died.
Hold us, O Grout.
Gather us in, through time and space, and make all our broken pieces whole in community. In our multiplicity, make us one. From each of our jagged edges, give us the shape of a communal beauty.
by the Reverend Mandy Beal
There’s a common misconception that Unitarian Universalism fell out of the sky in 1961, and one of our goals today is to dispel this myth. 1961 was the year that the Unitarians and the Universalists merged, but there was a whole lot of history before then. The roots of our Living Tradition stretch back thousands of years, if not always in a straight line. Looking into our history often brings perspective to our modern struggles.
In the mid-16th century through mid-17th century, Poland was a safe haven for religious heretics and political dissidents. This was not intentional, but a confluence of political and economic interests. At the time, the Polish monarchy was decentralized and almost democratic. Royal succession was decided through a vote by the wealthy, landowning elite, which meant they had a lot of political power. They wanted to keep the peace so they could protect their wealth. This was a time when wars were raging between Catholics and Protestants throughout Europe, so in order to prevent that violence from spilling into Poland, they made a declaration of religious tolerance.
The peace in Poland led to the prosperity they had intended, and that in turn allowed the sons of wealthy families to be sent off to Italy for education. Once their training was complete, they came home and often brought with them humanist ideas. When I say humanist here, I mean the humanism of the Italian Renaissance. When we say Humanism in our modern context, we usually mean a belief system that rejects supernatural solutions to human problems. These 16th Century humanists were not quite that, but their beliefs that were radical for the time.
Common beliefs of these proto-Humanists included the separation of church and state, pacifism, and shared wealth - a kind of “communism lite.” These religious ideas, considered dangerous and heretical throughout the rest of Europe, began to cross-pollinate in freethinking 16th Century Poland. A new religious movement came forth, originally called the Minor Church and eventually taking on the term “Unitarian.” Wanting to carve out a life that fit their values, the Unitarian utopian community of Racovia was founded in 1569.
There really doesn’t seem to be a lot to say about Racovia’s first 30 years. There was a lot of bickering and some power struggles, but no major accomplishments. In 1600, however, a change in leadership invigorated the ideals upon which the community was founded. They already had a printing press and now they added a paper mill. This gave them complete autonomy to publish at will. They also opened a tuition-free academy for young men of all social classes, attracting students from across Europe. The free exchange of ideas fueled the Racovian printing presses at an astounding rate.
Racovia was a hotbed of liberal, heretical thinking. They accomplished a great deal in a short period of time. They are perhaps best known for the Racovian Catechism of 1605. It was a groundbreaking and dangerous document. In a grossly abbreviated nutshell, it said that Jesus is not God, there is no original sin, and there is no predestination. It says more than that, of course. The Racovian Catechism was an insult to Catholics and Protestants alike. The unique circumstances of early 17th century Poland, plus a completely self-sufficient printing press, meant Racovia was the only place in Europe where such ideas were tolerated.
Those statements would have led to execution anywhere else. As copies of the Catechism made their way throughout Europe, Calvinists and Catholics came to agree on something - these heretical ideas had to go. Printed copies were confiscated and destroyed, but Racovia could freely continue to produce them under the protection of the Polish government. For a while.
Over the 100 year period of the Unitarian religious movement in Poland, Unitarians had removed themselves from civic life and thus given up their political power. They felt their core values of separation of church and state, pacifism, and shared wealth were incompatible with public office. This allowed Calvinists and Catholics to gain influence and in the election of a new king, the Catholics won.
This new Catholic king was completely unsympathetic to any Protestants, especially the heretics in Racovia. In 1660, everyone in Poland was given the opportunity to convert to Catholicism, or leave. The Racovian experiment was officially over.
Over the centuries, there have been a number of Unitarian and Universalists utopian experiments. We have tried and tried again to rid ourselves of the trappings of culture and politics that prevent us from reaching our spiritual goals. And how many of them have you heard of? Exactly. None of those attempts have enjoyed more than fleeting success, and in some cases, those attempts were disastrous.
And yet, the desire to separate ourselves from people who don’t think like us remains strong. Wouldn’t it be great if we could surround ourselves with UU values and commitments? A lot of us imagine that future where the world is fair and everyone lives by our 7 principles and we all get along and there is no racism, homophobia, sexism, or anything that divides us. I don’t think I’m alone in an escapist fantasy of moving to an uninhabited island and founding the country of UUlandia. Or, if you’ll indulge me in a bad joke, UUtopia.
We want to think there is an escape from living in a world that doesn’t share our values. But there isn’t. It isn’t possible because we are not separate from the troubles of the world; they are a part of us everywhere we go. Our 7th principle affirms that we are inherently, inescapably interconnected with all that is. We don’t exist outside of society, we are society. We are a part of all that is, even an anxious political landscape and the crisis of a pandemic. We did not personally cause it, but we exist within its context. Whatever the problems of the day might be, we exist within their context, not above or beyond, only within relationship. This is why our UU utopian communities have consistently failed. The problems of the world are not caused by a foreign entity (you know, like the Devil). Problems are caused by people - we’re people.
And that isn’t bad. Unitarian Universalism also affirms that we are born whole and holy. Remember, the Racovian catechism refuted the concept of original sin, and you’d be hard pressed to find a UU who does believe in original sin. If we are not born sinful, and yet we keep recreating the same societal shortcomings, but we reject the idea of outside evil influence, we are left to conclude that the origin of those shortcomings are not innate, or imposed, but endemic. Therefore, to opt out of wrestling with the shortcomings, to refuse responsibility for creating and for resolving them, is morally indefensible.
We can’t create a special “UUs-only clubhouse” and check our problems at the door. Our values have been developed within the context of human society. Unitarian Universalist ideals, commitments, and hope for the future come as a response to the ideals, commitments and reality of the world as it currently is. If that vision means something to us, we are not free to keep it to ourselves. We value it, we have found it transformative, therefore we share it in the hope that others will find value and transformation as well.
The ideals of the Racovian experiment and its Catechism have been passed down to us. The Racovians rejected the collusion of church and state. We don’t accept outside authority over our religious lives either. Our Fourth Principle is the right to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning and the Fifth is the right to conscience and the democratic process. There might be diversity in our stance on pacifism, but I think we can all agree that baseless aggression is incompatible with our values and commitments. That’s our Sixth Principle, the goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. And again, we may not have such a literal embrace of shared wealth as our spiritual ancestors in Racovia, but we agree people should be given every opportunity to be financially secure and have their basic needs met. We find that in our First Principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and our Second Principle, justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
We want these things. But we can’t want them only for ourselves. Our Principles, founded on the theology of Racovia and so many other sources, are visions of the world. Not just for UUs, but for everyone. The inherent worth and dignity of every person, not every UU. We can’t hoard these values, nor should we want to. We are one human family and we are bound together in the web of life. We share a common origin. We share a common destiny. We imagine a world made fair for everyone. We don’t get there unless we all get there. We can’t move to that far off UUlandia, so let’s do what we can to make UUlandia right here, right now, through our actions and our words.