As we prepare the building for the accessibility project, I would like to share excerpts from the sermon I gave on Sunday [April 29] about the distinction between attachment and commitment. In a year when we have had to make some difficult decisions about what to keep and what to let go, in terms of items, traditions, and practices, I found this distinction helpful.
As I clean out my office in preparation for the building renovation, I find that I constantly need to discern the difference between attachment and commitment. I have accumulated a lot of stuff over the last fifteen years. It is amazing how hard it is to let go of it all, even things I didn’t realize I had in my drawers and on my bookshelves or buried on my desks. Candles; colored rocks; and lots of articles and books. With the books and articles in particular, I am realizing that I am attached to the idea of reading them someday, rather than committed to actually reading them. So, I am fostering a discipline of letting go: if I can’t remember when or where I got a book or article, then I am obviously not going to read it. Or, if I am someday, I trust that it will find its way back into my life. Meanwhile, I see also the books that I use often, the ones that articulate and reflect my faith and my ministry. These, I am carefully packing to keep for the journey.
I realize too that discerning the difference between attachment and commitment is an ongoing spiritual practice. The world around us is constantly changing, and therefore we are constantly called to change with it, to let go of things that no longer serve. In Unitarian Universalism and in our country, we are engaged in difficult and often bitterly divisive debates about privilege and power with regard to race, gender, class, and social status. It can be difficult, especially those of us living within the privilege of one or more of these things, to discern the difference between attachment and commitment. No matter where we stand, there can be no healing if we remain attached and entrenched in anger, fear, greed, or self-righteousness. Attachments are those things that offer us a sense of security or safety, that help us feel that we are in control. Commitments are those things that call us to live into our deepest hopes and possibilities, and as such, challenge us to take risks and step out of our comfort zones. Often, we are required to wander in the wilderness for a time until we find our new bearings.
I just returned last Saturday from another service trip to Louisiana. For last decade or so, members of our congregation have gone down there to rebuild homes damaged by the flood waters first of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and then a terrible storm in Baton Rouge in August of 2016. There is nothing like a crisis to clarify the difference between attachment and commitment. We have worked on the homes of people who literally lost everything that reflected the stories of their lives before the floods. When I listen to the stories of what happened when they realized they had to flee their homes, I hear over and over again about how they went first to help ensure the safety of those they knew were most vulnerable among their family, friends and neighbors or how they themselves were rescued. There was deep grief for what was lost. Photographs, family heirlooms, handmade pictures. I will never forget Chef Earl telling us how he lost all his cookbooks, passed down through the generations of cooks and chefs in his family. And yet, amidst all this loss was a sense of gratitude and commitment. For ten of the twelve service trips, we have stayed at the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in the Broadmoor neighborhood of New Orleans. This is a congregation that has lived into its commitment, its faith. After Katrina, the church was flooded, and the membership reduced to less than fifty members. The congregation committed, however, to rebuilding not only their church but their community. They went $1 million into debt to refurbish their building, renovate their kitchen and office space to house and feed volunteers, to reopen a community nursery school and to house staff. Every year we go, they have reorganized their building to meet the changing needs of their church and the surrounding community. In order to pay off this debt, they have sold property and assets they no longer need. They became the central gathering place for the diverse neighbors and groups in Broadmoor to meet and plan for the area’s recovery and rebuilding. It is a remarkable story to have witnessed over the last decade. And New Orleans’ Mayor Elect, LaToya Cantrell, the first woman ever elected mayor, started her political career as part one of the community activists working with Annunciation and Broadmoor.
I don’t think that attachment is necessarily a bad thing. Our attachments are often concrete symbols of our commitments. My wedding ring is a symbol of my commitment and love to Josh. Family heirlooms and photographs tell the story of my family and my life. My stole is a symbol of my call to ministry. Many of items that I am attached to describe my connections, my relationships, my history, my identity. They carry meaning. Our building and all its contents embody the story, the history of First Parish through the generations. But understanding that relationship, the commitment beneath, is important. My stole is not my call to ministry—that is something I live into and if the stole were to disappear, I would still have my call. This building is our home. But First Parish itself is all of us: generations past, present and future, gathering for worship, mutual care, and service to the common good. That is our commitment.