Recording of our November 8, 2020 online worship service
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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 Co-Directors of Music Ministry, Abha and Steven Dearing and Worship Associate Ed Sharples. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Greeter Dreika DeGraff.
BUC is a spiritual home for all people of good will. We are a congregation of many beliefs, many backgrounds, and identities. Our social justice work this year is focused on four areas: racial justice, environmental justice, economic inequality, and civic engagement. We are a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which is about our commitment to our planet, and a Welcoming Congregation, which is about our commitment to LGBTQ inclusion. More information about those designations can be found on our website.
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. 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 3 announcements this morning:
Please join the Humanists of BUC this evening at 7:00 pm when their featured speaker will be Marilyn Kelly, a BUC member and former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Marilyn will be speaking on "The Future of the US Supreme Court." Zoom access info is on the Meeting Calendar.
The next session of Getting to Know UU has been moved to next Sunday, November 15. Everyone is welcome to the class, which will include a short history of BUC and a virtual tour of our campus.
We are very happy to report that thanks to the generosity of congregants at BUC, the Muslim Unity Center, Northwest UU, Beacon UU, and UU Farmington, we raised over $15,000 for South Oakland Shelter! That’s more than double our original goal. Those funds will be used to finance meals for 100 people who are currently housed in local motel rooms. Thank you so much for your support.
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 in our separate homes this morning, but we are joined by a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice:
We light this chalice to mark the possibilities of forgiveness, hope, and healing in our nation and our personal relationships. May we find a way forward guided by the beacons of truth and justice.
by Rev. Mandy Beal
This year, bless its heart, has been wild. There is a time for everything in life, and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for this time to be over.
I was always planning to use the book of Ecclesiastes this morning. That’s how Steve, Abha, and I planned for the offertory. To everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. That passage was a natural fit for what I assumed would be the end of the Trump presidency. And then the election cycle went the way it did, so about a month ago, I decided to switch to a darker, more bleak section of Ecclesiastes that comes before the assertion that everything changes. That passage literally begins: “Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” Ed wrote a lovely reflection about the absurdity of life found in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and I was ready to talk about Jean-Paul Sartre, but then things changed again! So I moved my thinking back to my original choice, the iconic passage about how everything has its time and Ed was good enough to accommodate me. Then, last night, President Elect Joe Biden quoted this passage, the one Ed read a moment ago, in his acceptance speech, so I guess it was always meant to be. In summary, today’s sermon has nothing to do with the Battlestar Galactica. Ed and I have put our work about the meaninglessness of life into a drawer. We have agreed there will be another occasion for that subject.
But not today. Today marks the beginning of a new season in the United States. To everything there is a season, and this is a season of joy. This is a season for healing, for building, for hope.
Talking about politics in church is always tricky. There are many considerations, but perhaps the most important is what it does to our relationships. I know there are members of our church community who are Republicans. Diversity of political thought is part of what Unitarian Universalism aspires to. Our 4th principle affirms our commitment to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
UU congregations need to have a diversity of beliefs and opinions because free thinking is at the heart of our Liberal Religious Tradition. One of the functions of a UU church is to provide a marketplace of ideas, where our own beliefs and values are shaped by those of others. But there are boundaries to those ideas. Wide, permeable boundaries, but boundaries nonetheless. Unitarian Universalism has an identity. We do not have a shared set of beliefs, but we have a shared set of values. Those values are guided by our 7 principles and evident in our actions. Among these: the sanctity of the individual, the right to conscience, and the importance of the democratic process.
Those values play well on both sides of the aisle. It is absolutely possible to be a Republican and a UU. In fact, I’m told that many of our congregations were majority Republican until...well, until they weren’t, perhaps sometime during the Reagan administration, but that could be UU folklore. There is a far cry between the traditional platform of the Republican party and what we’ve seen from the Trump administration. I, for one, would welcome the involvement of traditional Republicans in our congregation. Perhaps even some of you were once Republicans and might be considering a return to a party that has a chance to return to sanity. Many of the values of the traditional Republican party are compatible with Unitarian Universalism. The values of Trumpism are not.
It’s true that I can’t endorse a specific candidate; but the election is over now so I don’t have to! I wouldn’t actually tell you who to vote for. What I have done is told you to vote your values. I know when I’ve said “vote your values,” that has sounded partisan. That’s not because I’ve made a partisan statement, it’s because only one party has acted in accordance with our values for years. In the past, the phrase “vote your values” might have left you with some food for thought to consider the nuances and possible outcomes of different platforms. In this election, however, there was only one candidate who came remotely close to aligning with UU values. That says more about the leadership of the Republican party than it does about me or modern Unitarian Universalism.
There have been a few disaffected people in our congregation and in our larger Association that have expressed irritation at the implication that all UUs are Democrats. It’s true that not all UUs are Democrats. And yet, I’m still waiting for someone to talk with me about how the values and actions of the Trump administration are compatible with Unitarian Universalism. I have only received two responses to that invitation. The first is that Barack Obama deported people, too. I know that. I spoke out against mass deportation during the Obama presidency. That kind of deflection indicates an unwillingness to address the actions of the Trump administration. And an attempt to get a rise out of me.
The second response to my invitation to talk about the compatibility of Trumpism and Unitarian Universalism is a line about how discussing politics is inappropriate for churches or for ministers. That is also deflection and further indicates that there is no compatibility to be had. To say that politics shouldn’t come up at church is utter nonsense. It’s more than appropriate for churches and ministers to deal with politics; in fact, I think it’s imperative. When churches operate outside of the context of reality, they stop being churches and become a thought experiment.
Politics and religion are inherently linked because politics are values writ large. We always vote our values, whether or not a minister admonishes us to do so. My preaching and ethical analysis has never been an attack on the Republican party, it has been an indictment of the specific actions and policies of the Trump administration. And, you can be sure that I will continue that same line of ethical analysis in the years to come. In fact, I already disagree with Joe Biden on a few important topics. My purview as a UU minister is not to condemn another person’s beliefs, but their actions. So when Joe Biden’s actions don't align with UU values and commitments, you better believe that you’ll hear about it from me.
But there’s no need to get ahead of myself on that. Today is a turning point, a new season in the history of our nation. The time has come for healing and forgiveness, starting with plucking up what has been planted. The bitter fruit that came to full bloom during the last four years was planted at the founding of our nation. It has been germinating just below the surface, fed by selfishness and complacency.
This was not some strange season that came upon us from sources unknown. What happened was a group of people learned how to tap into the systems of power and oppression that have always existed in our country and to weaponize them in a new way. Donald Trump is not the cause of our nation’s disparities and violence; he was the symptom. So let us not be fooled into believing that we will go back to being something we never were.
It will take work to root out the divisions of our nation and sew the seeds of a new possibility. But it can be done. The example of so many Black women working in the Georgia is proof of that. I specifically want to name Stacey Abrams, Tamieka Atkins, Helen Butler, Rebecca DeHart, Deborah Scott, and acknowledge there are many others.
It’s time to get to work plucking up those seeds and planting something new. It is time to heal, to love, to build, to make peace. It’s time to restore our faith in each other. A time to embrace - but not literally because of social distancing. This is an exciting time. We have the opportunity to plant a new garden, one that meets all of our needs. We may not exactly know what that garden will be like, and we may have different ideas of how to get there, but it’s time to get to work on it. This is the beginning of a new season of hope and possibility.