Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

August 10, 2008: “Love Must Overcome Hate “

After the recent shooting at the Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church I believe it is even more important to emphasize the power of love to overcome hate, and that sometimes we must laugh so that we can get over the tears. We UUs like to poke fun at our liberal religion,..

How to know that you’re a UU?:

You may be a Unitarian Universalist:
    if you and your cat share the same therapist...
    if you consider Charlie Brown & Dilbert to be spiritual leaders...
    if you take your day planner church instead of the Bible...
    if you think "Whatever" is a valid theological point.
    if on Halloween you explain to everyone the Pagan significance of their
    if you know at least 5 ways to say - Happy holidays!
    if your Christmas tree has 7 symbols on its top... or...
     if Santa Claus was the last entity in which you believed.

How Many UUs Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?
Perhaps the light bulb does not changing at all, and we actually need to reexamine our own expectations….

    Only one... if she scores well on the Myers Briggs.

    I don't know, but we can ask the board to appoint a committee to see if the light bulb really needs to be changed...or if it does not understand its task...or if we are rushing the process too much...

     Can you be more specific about what you mean when you say "light bulb?"

    Three - 1 to facilitate, 1 to do the task, and 1 to explain the process...

And I’d like to add another, based on the old therapy joke-how many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?

    One, but the light bulb must want to change.

We kid ourselves about our views of religion because we have been turned off by traditional religion and doctrine, and by those people- and especially those preachers- who seem so deadly serious about their religion; indeed, our patron saint Emerson called those kind of preachers, even in our Unitarian pulpits, corpse cold Unitarianism, devoid of feeling. We have become a liberal religion, that is an open minded, free thinking way of exploring the sacred dimension of religion, of spirituality, of theology and especially of social justice that should underlie all religion, the prophetic part that calls us the love and do justice we for the poor, the underprivileged, the marginalized, the despised, the hated. We have a history of, well, heresy, a word that comes from the Greek and means, choice, we have found that we are like the child that not only says the emperor has no clothes on but that he's no God, either. We have chosen for ourselves how we will see God, Goddess or the way we decide to describe the sacred dimension, the sense of the Holy, even if it is to be described as theists with no God at all. Our history is a liberal one coming out of the 19th and 20th century of combining humanism and liberal Christianity, with other religions, so that we emphasize not right belief but good or ethical behavior, love being the doctrine of this church, we often say.

We have been at the forefront of many of the liberal causes, and the Knoxville church was certainly active in the civil rights movement, but more recently like most of our churches, active in what was called the Welcoming Congregation movement, which was an actual congregational porches of learning how to welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folk among us, and lately to promote marriage as a civil right between two adults realizing that gender has more than two designations.  So our denomination has become known as the most liberal one, and so recently we have been the target of hate personified by the shooting recently

It is ironic that in this age of fundamentalism and terrorism the two people who died in the church shooting can be seen as martyrs, yet theirs was no holy war against anyone but just the opposite. They did not kill themselves or others, but died because they loved to much, too many people, and the wrong kind of people.

They were killed for their liberalism, for their love, for their welcoming of the stranger, of those in the community who have been rejected by traditional religion, the gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, the sexually different. Whose side do you think Jesus would be on? No, I didn't ask which side would the high church authorities be on? Which side would love be on?  I am proud to belong to a church whose high church authorities also welcome those who we call the GLBT community; I am proud of and yes, I revere, our UUA president Bill Sinkford, as my spiritual leader. He wrote in one of his press releases:

UUA President Responds to Knoxville Tragedy, Vows Continued Social Justice Work
July 29, 2008
Unitarian Universalism is a faith that is not based on a particular creed. Instead, it is grounded in a few deeply held principles. First among these principles is the inherent worth and dignity of all people, a belief that compels us to speak out on important justice issues. This has been part of our mission since the early days of abolitionism, continuing through women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and our current advocacy on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. We truly are a church of all souls, not just some souls.

It will take time for Unitarian Universalists to mourn and to heal. But let me assure you that we will not change our beliefs or compromise our demands for social justice. Fear will not prevent us from standing on the side of love, and we will continue to open our doors and our hearts to all people. This Sunday, just like any other, more than one thousand Unitarian Universalist congregations will be open for business, and our business is to welcome the stranger, to love our neighbor, to nurture the spirits of our people, and to help heal our wounded world.

The shooting points out to me and to the world, I hope, how desperately we are needed, love is needed, liberalism is needed. . . And here, I don't mean political or partisan or Democrat or Republican liberalism.  The word liberal, derived from the Latin liber, or liberty,   free, or from A 19th-century Protestant movement that favored free intellectual inquiry, stressed the ethical and humanitarian content of Christianity, and de-emphasized dogmatic theology.

Like the civil rights issue of the earlier times, like inter-racial marriages, even like divorce, once thought unChristian and still by some Catholics, for some reason most have adapted to new times; so I believe, eventually, we will do the same with issues of Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. Love must overcome not just hate, but also prejudice, fear, ignorance.  Like the violence of the civil rights era, during which the Knoxville church and many other churches also suffered violence. There will be more violence until love overcomes hate, and we must not give up on love and liberalism of freedom and equality.

I've been fascinated with 19th century Unitarianism for a long time especially, Emerson, and his many colleagues in what came to be called  Transcendentalism, but what was seen originally as a threat to the very beginning of organized Unitarianism, already more liberal than Calvinism of its time. Indeed, with nature centered and individualist and mysticism centered there seemed to be little need for a church at all, and then of course, where would we get the salaries for we ministers? Of course we were threatened!  Did I say, we? Yet many Unitarian ministers, like Theodore Parker, the only U minister to be formally accused of heresy while still in ministry (Emerson, at least, had the decency, to quit the ministry!), remained in the institution to reform it from within. Religious Liberalism, you see, does not stop, or it becomes conservative! Emerson once said that as well. He accused the liberal Unitarians of already become corpse cold!  So the 19th century saw the Unitarians struggle for theological identity as they went from leaving the Trinitarian Christian to what they called pure Christian to liberal Christian, then to beyond just Christian, and then to Free religion, humanism, and so on until today, when we count behavior more important than belief, and require no checking of theological boxes.

So in the South, our churches often stand out even more because of their liberal stances, especially in the 1950s for their early civil rights and desegregation stands, then the peace movement, and  more recently for the welcoming congregation movement of accepting gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender folks. Our liberal approach to religion does not stop at the church door on Sunday morning. The Knoxville Church had seen violence before, but we still question why it is still going on.

UUA president, Bill Sinkford said at the evening worship service at the Knoxville Church:

I'll bet many of you here have spent some time in confusion: What does this all mean? I know it doesn't make any sense, but what am I supposed to feel? What am I supposed to feel when I see those images and hear those stories? What is the good person supposed to feel and do?

I'll bet all of those emotions and many more have been present for the persons who have gathered here. And then we have the difficult question of how we respond to the person who created this havoc and this tragedy in our life. How do we respond to the person? I was asked by the reporter earlier today whether I thought the shooter would go to hell, and my response was that in my religious tradition, we would say that that person had been living in a hell here on earth, for years.

And to the extent that that person took issue with some of the stands of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, and Unitarian Universalism in general.  We live in a society where there are differences of opinion, and Unitarian Universalism and our congregations here have a long history of standing on the side of love, of standing up for justice and saying everyone should be welcome, and saying that we are churches that welcome all souls, not just some souls. And that's a deep religious calling for us, and the Tennessee Valley church and the Westside church and Unitarian Universalism are not going to change living our religion that way. We simply are not. Amen! And you can say Amen to that!

And you know what? More of the people in this sanctuary here tonight, would say the same things: that we need to be willing to stand up and stand on the side of that larger love which can help us move through these difficult times, resulting from this tragedy, but [also] these difficult times for our world, right now.

And we're not going to stop, and you can't stop it. You can't allow your fear or your confusion or your sorrow, or your anger you can't allow any of those emotions to keep you separated from what is central to your living, however you express it religiously.

This gathering here tonight is a hopeful gathering and I am very glad that I am here. Even though it's in the midst of tragedy. Because this gathering here tonight represents our greatest hope. Because there is no capacity that we need more than the ability to come together as people of faith across the boundaries of theology and liturgy and practice that we are so often told must keep us apart. There is no capacity that is more important than for us to be able to be here tonight, together as one community. Because in the face of great tragedy, human beings, time after time, have done exactly this.

It is a simple and a profound act of presence for us to be together tonight. To know that there is anger, and sorrow, and pain, and confusion in all of us to some degree. And to say at some fundamental human level that we need to be together now. Because if we cannot be together now, we will never find a way to be together. Blessings on each and every one of you, on the churches where you attend, the synagogues, the mosques, and the places of worship where you find your spiritual nurturance. But remember the importance of this place, and this night, and the hope that is here, in the presence of tragedy.

Around the country, even the world, there were vigils and services, to bring hope to this act of violence, hate, and it must be said, mental confusion. The shooter clearly had a mental disfunction or illness that went beyond just anger or hate. Indeed, it is a sign of our liberalness that we even try to understand what it was that might have driven him to do what he did, and perhaps to get him help, but still to hold him responsible and to prevent him from doing this again.

The hope in this is that people might see that our churches are not cults nor new age wackiness, nor satanic masses. but good people exploring different options which might include a variety of approaches which might include those things called new age or pagan or other different approaches as well as traditional. We come together as religious community,  with families as well as singles of all ages and colors and sexual orientations as well as religious orientations, and yes as you might imagine, it is difficult for we UU ministers to satisfy everyone, so we don't try! That is, our job is not to satisfy, but to be guides for the journey, comfort for the difficult nights of the soul, resources for reading ideas, listeners when you need to just talk to someone, and most of all to try to love you, to try to help build you up into a loving, a beloved community of faith as well as doubt. Always with the free spirit, the liberal outlook of religion the free church. The kids in the church were putting on the musical, Annie, after all with that beloved song, Tomorrow,:

The sun’ll come out Tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow There’ll be sun!

Just thinkin’ about Tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs,
And the sorrow ‘Til there’s none!

The sun’ll come out
So ya gotta hang on
‘Til tomorrow
Come what may
Tomorrow! Tomorrow!
I love ya Tomorrow!
You’re always A day A way!

I close with these words

Rev. Tim Kutzmark The Unitarian Universalist Church of Reading, Massachusetts? Thursday, July 31, 2008

This past year, there were many Sundays when we spoke or sang together these words by Libby Roderick.  We chanted these words to our infants and young children as they were blessed and dedicated.  We sang these words to our teens as they went off to New Orleans for their journey of service and rebuilding. We prayed these words for our loved ones who were ill. We reached out with these words to those who had passed into the mysteries of death.  We meant these words for each other and our world:

How could anyone ever tell you
You were anything less than beautiful?
How could anyone ever tell you
You were less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
That your Loving is a miracle?
How deeply you’re connected to my soul?

And yet, there are many ways we tell others they are less than beautiful, they are less than whole.  There are so many ways we fail to notice that loving is a miracle, how deeply were connected.
When Jim D. Adkisson walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday, he had forgotten these things. He was so confused, so angry, so totally lost, so ill in mind that he committed an unconscionable violation of life, innocence, and sacred sanctuary. Reports suggest Jim D. Adkisson targeted the Unitarian Universalist church because he wanted to strike out at liberals, who he had come to believe were the source of his problems.  He wanted to strike out against gays and lesbians, who he had come to believe were one cause of this country's misfortune.  He wanted to do something to end his helplessness and despair.  Rage distorted his humanity into something unrecognizable. And a liberal church community became his battleground. (And yes, let us never be naﶥ: rage and helplessness can so easily distort our humanity.) And so, two lives are lost. So many souls are shattered.
The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word liberal is rooted in the word liberty; it comes from a Latin word meaning free.  Throughout history, in Roman times, through the Renaissance, through the Age of Enlightenment, through the period of American and World Revolution, Liberal has been meant: "befitting free people, noble, generous"; "free from restraint in speech or action, "free from prejudice, tolerant."  To be a religious liberal should not be and will not be a death sentence? To be a religious liberal should not be and will not be a danger? To be a religious liberal should not be and will not be a label of derogation or dismissal. To be a religious liberal is and always will be a specific way of living and loving. To be a religious liberal is and always will be a way of looking at the world through open hearts and open minds. To be a religious liberal is and always will be a way of relating to our world with reason and reverence.     And so, on this night, to our world, To the members and friends of the Knoxville area Unitarian Universalist Congregations, To those whose humanity has been distorted, To our sisters and brothers of this faith, other faiths, and no faiths,To one another, to those who are afraid of us, to those who stand with us,

We, in one voice, will proudly stand and always say:

How could anyone ever tell you
You were anything less than beautiful? ?
How could anyone ever tell you
You were less than whole
How could anyone fail to notice
That your Loving is a miracle?
How deeply you’re connected to my soul?
Amen, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. Vaya con Dios is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is Go with God, SO I adapted it to say Vaya Con su Dios, Go with your idea or interpretation of God.

Let Love Guide us.