From The Shooting Star. Copyright 2010, Ellen Rowse Spero. All rights reserved
We had a joyful Ingathering Sunday. In the line after the service, I heard over and over again how happy people are to be back to church. It felt wonderful. I am very excited about this upcoming church year. We will be looking at all kinds of opportunities for our immediate, mid, and long term future, working together to make some decisions about how we can live out our congregational covenant at an even deeper level. This can feel both exciting and scary. As we said in our covenant today with the Standing Committee, it will be important for us all to listen well, speak our truth in love, and assume good intentions. To help us do this better, the Standing Committee, the Committee on Ministry, and I encourage those of you who feel a deep commitment to the church, whether you are in a leadership position or not, to attend a workshop on congregational change on October 23rd, led by the Reverend Sue Philips. An excited group of lay leaders from the Groton UU church will be joining us. Please read the article about this in this issue of the Shooting Star.
Last spring, head ushers Kirk Kirkpatrick and Edith Murphy met with me and Cyndi Bliss to brainstorm ways to alleviate some of the pre-service crowding in the narthex. The choirs generously agreed to rearrange their rehearsal schedules. The Intermediate Choir will now rehearse after the service and after the Junior Choir at 1 PM. This allows the Senior Choir to warm up at 10 AM, fifteen minutes earlier than last year. Thus, the ushers can open up the sanctuary at about 10:20. Hopefully this will allow people more time to get settled in the sanctuary. We can all help by giving ourselves more time to get to church in the morning, arriving before 10:45. Please remember that we can no longer park in the Ginger Ale Plaza (ie, Bertucci's and the Java room). Extra parking can be found behind the old town hall across North Road/Route 4. If you can easily cross the street and do not have young children, we encourage you to park there. This will leave room for people with mobility issues or families with young children for whom getting across the street is hard, as well as for visitors who may be joining us for the first time. We don't want to keep people away because there is no place to park. Also, we are reserving the two spots next to the handicapped parking space for more handicapped parking. We try to get the signs out before everyone arrives. If you come early, please keep this in mind.
I have been wrestling with myself about whether or not to address the issue of the Florida pastor who threatened to burn copies of the Qur'an. Part of me is outraged that someone would treat a sacred text, a word of God, with such vitriol and hatred. I remember the pit I felt in my stomach when the Taliban destroyed those two giant ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. It was a terrible desecration. On the other hand, responding to this gentleman only gives him the attention and power he desires. He has gotten the ears of the highest officials in the land. That seems much more than he deserves. The events of September 11th are as horrifying now as they were nine years ago. This pastor's means of "remembrance" honors neither its victims nor our nation.
Furthermore, we live in a country with two important freedoms: the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. There are people in this country who get as upset about the burning of the American flag as others in this country are about the threatened burning of the Qur'an. While the flag is not a religious symbol, it is sacred to many. And yet the right to burn the flag has become a cornerstone case in the rights of free speech.
That said, there are limits to free speech. One of them is the safety and well-being of others. If one's freedom of speech endangers lives or risks safety, then this right must take a back seat. It is the old "you can't yell fire in a crowded movie theater." And burning the Qur'an could threaten the safety of and endanger lives: those of Muslims in this country, our troops serving in war zones, and Americans abroad. All of this shows how fragile our human relationships are in the face of extremism, religious or otherwise.
It is more important than ever for our religious voice be very present in our world. Our Unitarian Universalist light may be small, but we can't hide it under a bushel. We may not be able to stop hate. But we can and must present alternative visions, grounded in right relationship and beloved community, that are clearer and more compelling than those which preach revenge and hate. When I think of the joy and warmth of our worship service this past Sunday, I know that we have something wonderful to give the world, as well as one another. And I thank you.