Recording of our October 4, 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 Teresa Honnold. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Greeter Mary Jo Ebert.
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 two announcements this morning:
First - This Tuesday, October 6 at 7:00 pm is our first monthly vespers service on Facebook Live. Vespers are evening services at that center gratitude and introspection. The service will include candle lighting in remembrance of your beloved dead and any concerns in your heart. Names and information for candle lighting can be submitted on our website or shared during the service on Facebook Live. To join the service on Tuesday, visit the BUC Facebook page at 7:00 pm.
Second - Due to Covid-19, South Oakland Shelter’s host congregations are not housing guests in their buildings this year. Instead, host congregations are supplying meals for SOS guests. The BUC SOS leadership team has opted to finance the food, rather than manage the Covid safety-related issues of preparing and delivering meals. We will be joined in this effort by our usual partner congregations, including Muslim Unity Center, UU Church of Farmington, Northwest UU, and Beacon UU. Our target goal of $7,000 and donations of any amount are gratefully accepted. Contributions can be made through the BUC website or write a check made out to BUC with “SOS Host” on the memo line and mail it to the BUC office. The deadline for giving is October 25th.
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, but we are joined by a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice:
We light this chalice as a beacon of hope in a time of confusion and fear. In all things, may we be guided by love.
by Tim Haley
Amid all the noise in our lives,
we take this moment to sit in silence --
to give thanks for another day;
to give thanks for all those in our lives
who have brought us warmth and love;
to give thanks for the gift of life.
We know we are on our pilgrimage here but a brief moment in time.
Let us open ourselves, here, now,
to the process of becoming more whole --
of living more fully;
of giving and forgiving more freely;
of understanding more completely
the meaning of our lives here on this earth.
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 Terry Gates - My friend Mirelle badly hurt her ankle 6 months ago and just started physical therapy. Please pray that it all works out.
from Larry Freedman - Long time member Ed Brouhard has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The prognosis is not good, as the cancer has started to spread. Keep Ed and his family in your hearts and prayers.
from Steven Dearing - Thinking of Emily Dearing, beloved grandmother of Rahkesh and Raina who passed 10/2/2019. Your presence and spirit are deeply missed.
Worship Associate Reflection
by Teresa Honnold
I am the youngest of three daughters. My oldest sister, the golden firstborn, looked like the Gerber baby with her blue eyes and blond hair. My mother called her the smart one. My middle sister had dark curly hair like my fathers, and my mother would twirl her hair around her fingers, making perfect sausage curls like Shirley Temple’s. Google her name and you will see what I mean. My mother praised her as the musical talent in the family, with piano skills and a two octave range. Then there was---me. My mother sighed at my straight hair, my energy (don’t run) and singled me out for being left handed. She called me the clumsy one. I was 22 months younger than the middle sister, and mom thought it was funny to say things like “We always wanted a third child, just not so soon.” And my favorite, “that’s what happens when you skip church.”
Years later, my sisters and I realized that when she praised us, it was usually when speaking to one of us about the other. When I was married and pregnant with my first child, I asked her why she never said those things directly to me. She said that my father did enough of that for both of them and she didn’t want me to get a big head.
Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that we grew up thinking we were worthless. Our parents were the products of farm families where children were judged on their work and their contribution to the family. Children were not “coddled.” Our mother parented as she had been raised. Fortunately, we three sisters were strong and we had each other. But I know myself well enough to hear when her voice is burbling in the background of my thoughts. And that is true for many of us here this morning. This is when we all need to have compassion for ourselves. Because regardless of all of the messages we have received in our lifetimes, we can be grounded in our own self love.
by Rev. Mandy Beal
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a Presidential election underway. I want you to know as we get closer to Election Day, we are going to be talking about it. I know this is a touchy subject and many of us, myself included, are pretty tired of it. However, the purpose of church is to explore life’s big questions, and we’d be remiss to ignore our country’s most pressing issue. We deserve an opportunity to spiritually reflect on the challenges of our world.
There’s virtually no way to isolate ourselves from the political anxiety of our time. Hateful rhetoric and fear-mongering have become the air we breathe. The people of this nation are split into factions and living in vastly different versions of our country. Our media diets are increasingly segregated, leading to echo chambers that bring us to the conclusion that the people who don’t agree with us are crazy, mean, and/or stupid. The discourse is confused by subtext that isn’t universally understood. For example, the “phrase law and order” is understood by some as a racist statement; others have no idea why. That’s why it’s called a dog whistle; only some of us can hear it. Both sides are convinced they are fighting for the soul of our nation, their safety, and their freedom. We are all afraid.
No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we all think we’re right and those who don’t agree with us are wrong; there is no middle ground. A time when political discourse is limited to binary thinking; it’s 100% this or 100% that with no option in between. There is no room for nuance and everywhere we turn, there is yet another line in the sand. We are constantly bombarded with conflicting information, making us increasingly apprehensive and paranoid.
The stark political divisions of our time leave many Unitarian Universalists conflicted. We might feel that our values align with a certain political party, but we also believe in the worth and dignity of every person and interdependence. How do we reconcile these beliefs with rage and fear for those who do not share our political perspective? And I want to be very explicit here, I’m not implying that we all share the same political perspective. There is a diversity of political thought in our congregation and in every religious tradition. What I intend to say is, regardless of which political party we feel our understanding of Unitarian Universalism aligns with, we feel conflicted by the deep divisions in our nation. This is not a question of which party is inherently more compatible with Unitarian Universalism, but how we are faithful to our UU values when we are being pitted against each other and it feels like life or death. Perhaps for some of us it really is life or death.
Our political rhetoric, combined with the existential crisis of the COVID pandemic (and now a President who has COVID), exacerbates feelings of isolation, fear, and hopelessness. Scaling the walls between ourselves and others has always been difficult. Humans find it easier to be divided and seek what we want at the exclusion of what others need. Unitarian Universalism names interconnectedness as a principle because it takes effort; it is an aspirational goal. An intentional focus on interdependence is a nudge in the direction of communal health. As Unitarian Universalists, we have aligned ourselves with a covenant that affirms we are interdependent. In the face of division, amplified by fear and paranoia, the emotional labor of interdependence is just short of impossible. And yet our faith still calls us to this work. We share a common origin and a common destiny. Our interdependence cannot be severed, so it’s time we act like it.
There is a cluster of social sciences that conceptualize human relationships as systems where all parts work together to constitute the whole. When a system becomes toxic, the only way to improve the overall health is to nurture healthy components. Dysfunctional relational systems resist change by attempting to pull everyone into toxic behaviors. One of the mechanisms of maintaining dysfunction in a relational system is codependency. In a codependent relationship, toxic behaviors reinforce each other. The members of that relationship depend on each other for approval, affirmation, and a sense of identity. The need for external emotional support is so great that it enables bad behavior. Bad behavior is tolerated because any disruption of the behavior might mean a disruption in external validation, and so the cycle continues. No one wants to rock the boat because they have come to rely on each other to feel loved. In a codependent relationship, peace is prioritized over well-being. But it isn’t really peace, it’s the absence of conflict.
Our political system and the rhetoric that surrounds it have become toxic. And we are all a part of that toxic system; there is currently no opt out option other than willful ignorance. When relationships get strained and emotions run high, some of us find it hard to take a clearly defined position because we think it pulls against our stated goal of interdependence. But it has to be possible for us to say what behaviors align with our understanding of Unitarian Universalism. Affirming our interdependence doesn’t mean we have to avoid tough conversations or to refuse to take a position. In our efforts toward group cohesion in the name of our 7th principle, we often confuse interdependence and codependence. We do not have to prove our Unitarian Universalism by bending over backwards to accommodate people whose values do not align with our own.
Over the past few months, I’ve gotten so many questions about how we love people who don’t agree with us. I think the first step is to clarify what we mean by “love.” RuPaul Charles is arguably the most famous drag queen the world has even known. He has a massive following and an Emmy award winning public platform. On the surface, that platform is a reality show about drag queens competing for a cash prize and title, but what the show is really about is self-love. Every season includes tearful interviews with performers recounting tales of childhood bullying and abuse at the hands of their loved ones. Some even talk about considering suicide. Each of these stories underscores the power of learning to love yourself. Over all 12 seasons of the show, every episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race ends with the following reminder: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”
Well, you can’t. You can’t love somebody else if you don’t love yourself. Each of us has a need for love and acceptance that can be filled only by ourselves. If that love is outsourced to another, we become willing to hide or jettison things about ourself that might be disappointing to that outside source. A relationship that requires us to make ourselves small in order to feel loved isn’t love. It’s codependence.
In codependent relationships, boundaries become blurred. Relationships in which there are no boundaries, or the boundaries are not strong enough, are lopsided. Lack of boundaries leads to resentments, and that is not love. Boundaries are love. They are what keeps us authentically connected. Love of another is grounded in love of self. Loving yourself means being clear and honest, which means being able to disagree. It might seem counterintuitive, but boundaries are what allows us to be interdependent. A system is a sum of its parts. If the parts lose their distinctions, the system can no longer function in a healthy manner.
Loving other people means loving yourself enough to set and maintain healthy boundaries. We stop needing other people to agree with us. We stop needing to avoid conflict. That doesn’t mean that we intentionally seek conflict. It just means that we develop a tolerance for discomfort that allows us to be who we really are. If we try to fit ourselves into the image of what we think someone else wants us to be, we become a caricature of ourselves. We can only love as our authentic selves.
Love for people that do not share our political opinion begins with loving ourselves by setting boundaries. We can set boundaries on what we will discuss with whom. If you know a certain person is going to goad you or try to hook you emotionally, you don’t have to subject yourself to that bad behavior. We can set boundaries about how much we expose ourselves to outrage. You don’t have to check the news and social media the moment you wake up and every 30 minutes throughout the rest of the day. And we certainly do not have to participate in our own oppression. If a candidate’s positions put your physical, mental, or spiritual health at risk, you do not have to consider their candidacy based on how great their economic stance is. Nor should you have to defend that boundary to anyone else.
I understand the UU impulse to love everyone and I agree that we are called to that work. But there is a difference between loving and being nice. Loving other people doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, pretend to agree with them, gloss over bad behavior, or avoid conflict. Love means drawing and maintaining boundaries that allow us to show up as our authentic selves. The first step to loving others is to love yourself. That is true of all relationships, including and most especially as it relates to our current political context.