Reflections February 2017

Over the last couple of weeks, I have attended three of the Accessibility Building Project capital campaign receptions. I am full of gratitude for the generosity of this congregation and your willingness to support what is an important expression of our commitment to our Unitarian Universalist values for the long run although an expensive and disruptive enterprise, in the short term. I have shared the following words by Kenneth Patton (#444 in Singing the Living Tradition) as a chalice lighting at a couple of these receptions. Patton, a Universalist minister, was a naturalistic humanist and a gifted worship leader who believed in bringing beauty through art, music, and poetry from all the world’s religions and the natural world into the sanctuary.
"This House”
This house is for the ingathering of nature and human nature.
It is a house of friendships, a haven in trouble, an open room for the encouragement of our struggle.
It is a house of freedom, guarding the dignity and worth of every person.
It offers a platform for the free voice, for declaring, both in times of security and danger, the full and undivided conflict of opinion.
It is a house of truth-seeking, where scientists can encourage devotion to their quest, where mystics can abide in a community of searchers.
It is a house of art, adorning its celebrations with melodies and handiworks.
It is a house of prophecy, outrunning times past and times present in visions of growth and progress. This house is a cradle for our dreams, the workshop of our common endeavor.
I have seen many of these things play out over the last month. I know this to be a house where a family was welcomed and supported in mourning the death of their father, brother, uncle, and friend. I know this to be a house where our youth felt empowered to share their beliefs and experiences, not just with one another but with adults who listen and take them seriously. I know this to be a house where people, moved by the call for justice, equity and compassion for human relations and care for the earth, empowered and accompanied one another to bear witness for justice and peace in the streets. I know this to be a house where when people are ill or injured in body or spirit, they held in an embrace embodied by meals, calls, cards, and prayer shawls. I know this to be a house where music and melodies lift our spirits. I know this to be a house to be the workshop where we practice our best intentions to live into beloved community, knowing that because we are human, we will fail and yet, that this common endeavor is worth our commitment to keep at it.
It is a difficult time in our country. Many people feel that their freedoms and even their lives are at risk. Our house has become even more important to me for all the reasons Patton lists. It is our sanctuary, the place where we can gather to be renewed in mind, body and spirit and recalled to our deepest purpose, our sacred why.

Rev. Ellen

Reflections January 2017

2017 is here. I am greeting it with a mixture of trepidation and hope. It is not clear what the New Year will bring, only that it looks to be a turbulent time, both in the U.S. and abroad. At our December Solstice service, I shared a story told to me by my friend and colleague, the Reverend Shayna Appel from her time out in Standing Rock, North Dakota. She and my other colleague, the Reverend Megan Lynes, went as volunteer chaplains to the Oceti Sakowin, the camp where the Sioux Water Protectors and their native and non-native allies have gathered to protect the Missouri River from the proposed Dakota access oil pipeline. I repeat it here because I think it has a lot to teach us about how to engage in our world, especially in turbulent and conflicted times. So here is what Shayna told me and my colleagues:

Sometime the week of December 5th, a number of young adults representing a few different Native tribes went to the Sheriff’s Department in Bismarck. This was in response to a call put out by the Department that they needed all these supplies because of the long "stand-off" at Standing Rock. As you may or may not know, among Native Peoples there is a deep commitment to own ones own actions as well as the impact those actions have on others...even if you disagree with them. So, the young indigenous people, who started the action at Standing Rock, immediately realized that the need of the Law Enforcement officials was a result of something they had started. Therefore, they felt an obligation to answer the call. They filled up a truck, maybe a few of them, with supplies and headed to the Sheriff’s Department. When they got there they knocked on the door. A sheriff answered in a simple work uniform, told them to wait so he could get his sergeant, and then left. Soon, another officer arrived in full riot gear...flack jacket, helmet, visor, and AK-47 semi-automatic rifle. A young Native woman was standing by the door when he appeared, and did the only thing she could think of at the time...she hugged him!

I learn, or learn again, from this story about the power of love as a religious and spiritual practice. As Shayna noted in the telling of this story, just the previous weekend, these same law enforcement officials had tear gassed, pepper sprayed, and used a water cannon in sub-zero temperatures against the Water Protectors. Yet, the young woman who hugged the officer fully equipped in his riot gear, never lost sight of his humanity.

I believe that the core purpose, the mission if you will, of our UU faith is simple: to love the sacred (however we experience it) with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves, to never lose sight of each other’s humanity. I see three primary practices we need to engage in to do this. First, there will be times when we need to resist on behalf of our neighbors, on behalf of what we hold as sacred. There will be times when we need to take a stand for the ethics and religious commitments we have made in our UUA and First Parish covenants. Second, there will be times when we need to engage in repair and restoration. We need to look for opportunities and offer invitations to reach across differences to engage in dialogue and healing. I know from online and in person conversations, people feel very strongly about engaging in one practice or the other. Shayna’s story from Standing Rock reminds me that this is a both/and. We will have to discern as a community how to work in the tension of these two practices, and see how they can work together to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.

Which brings me to the third essential practice: rejoicing. Let us not forget that worship—lifting up and celebrating the sacred, that which is worthy of our deepest love, loyalty, and hope—is the foundational act of religious community. Coming together to honor and celebrate all that which gives our lives meaning and purpose; which inspires in us gratitude and an appreciation for beauty and joy; that offers us comfort and hope when we are in despair; that names the sacred bonds that tie each one to the other, to the creation, and to our source of life and the sacred—reminds us why we need to engage in resistance and restoration with our neighbors. I find so much to celebrate, to rejoice in, when I am with all of you. The care you offer one another, the generosity of time, talent, and treasure you give to First Parish, and the compassion and desire for justice you demonstrate for our larger community and the creation are wonders to behold. These give me hope.

Happy New Year. 
Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824