Recording of our October 11, 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 Religious Education Coordinator Nico Van Ostrand. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Greeter Jane O’Neil.
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 three announcements this morning:
Instead of hosting guests from South Oakland Shelter in our building this year, BUC and our fellow host congregations are raising funds to provide meals during the first week of November. Our goal is $7000 and donations of any amount are gratefully welcome. To contribute, please visit BUC’s website or send a check with SOS in the memo line to our office. Deadline is 10/25.
Join the Humanists of BUC this evening at 7:00 pm when their featured speaker will be Rev. Suzanne Paul, past president of the American Humanist Association and a retired Unitarian Universalist minister. Rev. Suzanne's topic is "Balancing Head and Heart," and her talk will be followed by an open discussion period. Please come with your ideas regarding reason, emotions, feelings, and Humanism. Zoom access info is on BUC’s Meeting Calendar.
The Membership Committee welcomes everyone to the first session of Getting to Know UU, starting today after the service. In these four non-sequential classes, you will learn about BUC and how it can serve you as your spiritual home. This an interactive, introspective, and fun experience for anyone who wants to explore Unitarian Universalism and know more other BUCers. The classes will be co-led by Brianna Zamborsky and Rob Davidson. Today’s session will begin promptly at noon using a different Zoom link than the one you used to join today’s service. That link is also on BUC’s meetings calendar. And just a heads up that coffee hour will end at 11:45 today so that we can start the class promptly at noon.
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.
Nico Van Ostrand
We enter now into a time of joy and wonder.
Our church is a home for big questions and exploring who we are. We honor the questions and the many paths by which we travel.
We are a community of learners, all of us seeking and finding new answers throughout our lives. Let us never be satisfied, but stay open and curious.
This is a laboratory of values. We find new parts of ourselves here, in each other’s company, and we are made better by our interactions.
The mission of Birmingham Unitarian Church is to create a free and welcoming religious community that encourages lives of integrity, learning, service and joy. This is the work to which we give our time, talent, and treasure. Let there be an offering for support of this Beloved Community and our good works. Contributions can be made through our website and through Venmo, or a check in the mail. In an act of love and support for our congregation, I invite you to give generously.
Joys and Sorrows
From Cheryl Shettel - Jim is maintaining his positive spirits as he begins the long healing process following surgery for a knee he fractured in a fall.
Carol Jackson and Alex Tselis share a joy. Carol says - On Oct. 17, 1981, when I lived in NYC, I met Alex at a friend's party in Rhode Island. That night (& morning) we had a 6-hour conversation that has been going on for 39 years, including our wedding on Oct. 6, 1984. In the past 39 years, we have lived in 10 different states (6 of them together), had 3 children, a plethora of furrier mammals, & the usual assortment of joys & sorrows (happily, more of the former). Our relationship has been supported by our family, friends, & society, and it is a deep joy to us that this kind of open hearted support is now available to all. Upon the occasion of our wedding anniversary, we want to thank this congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County (NJ), where we were married, & the UUA for their roles in making that life-affirming change possible.
A joy from Kelly Taylor: This week I finally moved back into my house after being homeless for 4 weeks while black mold was removed from my home. It feels great to be back in my own house.
Story for All Ages
“The Angry Lady Bug and the Very Polite Spider,” by Sarah Skochko, adapted by Amy Peterson Derrick
Bugsburg was for everybody. There were caterpillars, and ants, and beetles; there were moths and flies and ladybugs; and everyone lived in harmony together, that is until one day Ant said, “have you all noticed that a lot of bugs have gone missing?”
The Angry Ladybug replied, “oh yeah, didn’t you know? It’s that suspiciously polite spider that just moved in.”
“I beg your pardon” said the spider, who was at that moment chewing on an ant leg, “how dare you,” said the spider. “How dare you accuse me with no proof. I have been nothing but kind to the residents of Bugsburg. Have I ever raised my voice at any of you?”
“Well no,” said Caterpillar, “you haven't raised your voice…”
“Yeah, but you HAVE been eating people!” said the angry ladybug.
The spider looked shocked and with his back legs he pushed all the bug leftovers from his lunch behind his web where no one could see. “I can't believe I'm being treated this way,” said the suspiciously polite spider. “In Bugsburg, of all places. I would have expected better from all of you. Is this who you really want to be?” “I know I don’t want to be eaten!” said the angry ladybug.
“You are unbelievably rude.” said the spider. The ladybug stamped three of her feet on one side and said, “Me? Rude? I'm being honest!” “This is just low,” said the spider, and he crawled back into his web sadly.
The next day, in the town square in Bugsburg there was a poster: “Debate at noon! Ladybug versus spider!” When the ladybug saw this she was shocked. She ran straight to the spider's web and said, “Debate?!” I didn't agree to any debate!”
“Wow,” said the polite spider, “so you accuse me in public of eating bugs -- something heinous, something no spider would do--” “I'm pretty sure that's what spiders do…” said the ladybug.
“I digress,” said the spider, “you accuse me in public and then refuse to meet for a reasonable, logical debate in front of everyone in the marketplace of ideas.”
“I don't want to get eaten,” said the ladybug. “Have I ever eaten you?” said the spider.
“I'm sorry-- are you picking your teeth with a beetle shell?” the ladybug said. “You have no proof that this is a beetle shell…” said the polite spider.
“Okay fine!” said the ladybug. “What is it we're debating? The fact that you keep eating bugs?”
“I'm not sure that that's up for debate,” said the spider, “have we really established that at all? No, what we're debating today is the trend of ladybugs accusing spiders of things. We're going to get to the bottom of this,” said the spider.
“I'm not sure I want to be in this debate,” said the ladybug. “Ah,” said the spider to everyone who had assembled, “so you see, the ladybug wants to level accusations at people and then not defend herself. Typical.”
“He does have a point,” said one of the ants, who was, at that moment being eaten by the spider.
“This is ridiculous! You are mean!” shouted the ladybug.
“You're yelling,” said the spider, “You've called me names-- we can see who's in the right here.” The ladybug stomped off. And so, the bugs in Bugsburg kept right on disappearing, until one day, no one was left to question the suspiciously polite spider. And so, the spider packed up his web and went to another town.
“Do you have any references from Bugsburg?” they said. “Before we let you move in we'd like to know everything went well.” “Well,” said the spider, “have you heard anything bad about me from the residents of Bugsburg?” “Well, no…” said the chief ant in AntsVille. And - they let him move in.
I wonder--who was in the right? The angry ladybug? or the very polite spider?
by Rev. Mandy Beal
There’s a lot going on in this story about an angry ladybug and a suspiciously polite spider. Being polite is important, but what happens if someone uses politeness so they can get away with hurting others? There’s a musical called Into the Woods, by Stephen Sondheim. One of the songs in that musical has the line “nice is different than good.” That’s what today’s story was all about: nice is different than good.
Unitarian Universalists get confused about this a lot. UUs promise to value the inherent worth and dignity of all people, or in this case, all bugs. Like the ant and caterpillar in this story, most UUs want to believe what the spider said about not eating other bugs. We don’t want to call the spider a liar because it seems rude. But the spider was clearly eating other bugs!
I’ve heard a lot of UUs say it’s inappropriate for us to talk about someone’s bad behavior because it’s “gossip” or “unkind” and our 7 Principles say that everyone has inherent worth and dignity. It’s true our 1st principle calls us to respect the inherent worth and dignity of each person (or bug), but that doesn’t mean we should pretend nothing harmful is happening when it clearly is.
Bad behavior has serious consequences for the people who were hurt and for everyone in the community. When bad behavior goes unchecked, it leads to more bad behavior. If we keep giving the spider the benefit of the doubt, that only leads to more bugs being eaten. When we speak out against harmful behavior, it doesn’t mean we don’t value the worth and dignity of the person in question. People have worth and dignity. Behaviors do not.
The ladybug knew it was important for someone to stand up to the spider. The other bugs didn’t want to listen to her because they thought she was being rude to the spider. But, it’s actually ruder for the spider to eat other bugs. If someone has been hurtful, it’s important for us to say something about it. As UUs, our job is to protect people from harm, not to protect people who cause harm. Who you tell, when you tell, and how you tell about bad behavior is important, but honestly and accurately describing another person’s behavior and how it made you feel is not unkind--it’s just true.
What was really confusing to the bugs in our story was the difference in tone between the ladybug and the spider. The ladybug was loud and angry. She was not polite. She knew the spider was doing very harmful things. And she was scared that the spider was eventually going to eat all of them, including her. She tried to tell everyone exactly what the spider was doing, but because she was angry, the spider made it sound like she was picking on him. It’s ok for the ladybug to be angry about the damage caused by the spider. It’s ok for her to use angry words and an angry tone when talking about him. Angry is not the same as mean.
On the other hand, the suspiciously polite spider used a more pleasant tone to deny he was causing harm - while he was literally eating other bugs. He acted like he had been attacked and as if he couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong. Someone who uses all of the right words and a pleasing tone can still do a lot of damage with their actions. Nice is different than good and actions are more important than words.
We UUs have covenants that guide our behavior. We have to be accountable to each other for staying within those covenants. All of us are going to be out of covenant at some point. All of us will do something hurtful, probably not on purpose and probably not as serious as eating other people. Having a conversation about how our behavior has impacted someone else is the first step to healing. Even if it makes us uncomfortable, we have to be willing to talk about it and consider that we may have been wrong. Although it might be uncomfortable, accountability is not punishment.
There are people in our country, and even in UU churches, who think they can act however they want, without regard to how it makes other people feel. When their behavior is questioned, they say it’s ok for them to do whatever they want because of “free speech” or “religious freedom.” That confuses things. We want people to have free speech and the freedom to practice their religion. After all, we don’t want someone telling us what we can say or what religion we have to be.
But when someone says that it’s OK for them to use language that hurts others because of their right to free speech or their religious freedom, it’s really just an excuse. The people who say those hurtful things have learned how to use important American values to justify their bad behavior. They use the ideas of free speech and religious freedom so they can slip out of being held accountable for their actions.
Over the years, the people who say those hurtful words have started using the term “political correctness” as a code for words they think are silly. Sometimes people who say hurtful things use the term “political correctness” to deflect criticism of their behavior. Sometimes they even say that others are trying to control them by asking them to use different, kinder words.
And it’s true, UUs believe no one should tell another person what to do, but there are consequences to our words and actions. If we hurt someone, especially if we do it on purpose, we have broken our covenants. Using words that hurt other people, on purpose, is bad behavior. And just like the ladybug, it’s our job to name bad behavior and hold ourselves and each other accountable.
That doesn’t mean we’re trying to “control” them. What I’ve always wondered is - why do some people think it’s more important for them to be able to do and say whatever they want than it is for other people to feel valued? When someone thinks they have the right to say whatever they want and it doesn’t matter how people feel, what they’re really saying is they value their opinion over someone else’s experience. They are saying they don’t have to care about anybody but themselves and other people like them. They’re saying their comfort is more important than someone else’s pain.
If we have to pick between the comfort of one person or the worth and dignity of another person, we really have to be on the side of the person who is being hurt. People say that words can’t hurt you, but that’s not true. Words have power. There’s a lot of evidence that words can cause depression and worse in marginalized groups. There is a big difference between the discomfort of accountability and the pain caused by hurtful speech.
UUs believe in treating people with dignity and respect. Sometimes, that means we need to have uncomfortable conversations about falling short. But it’s our job to stick up for ourselves and others. Even if we’re pretty sure that someone is nice, that doesn’t mean they are kind. Nice is different from good and it’s ok for us to get upset about bad behavior.