Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.
Young man walking forward in front of a wall mural that says courage

October 16, 2022: “Courage: Being the Change We Seek…”

This month, we are exploring the themes of Courage. And within our tradition, there is a constant theme of Liberation.  

Maya Angelou once said,

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

Saturating our Unitarian Universalist Theologies since before the U and the U were married, Liberation theologies permeate into all aspects of our tradition. It is my belief that Courage is the catalyst for that lliberation.

I’d like to start with the notion that joy and suffering are both corporate and individual experiences. When one experiences joy, our interconnection spreads that joy to each of us. You heard Rev Joe a couple of weeks ago: Witness and With-ness. There is a responsibility on each of us to receive this suffering and this joy — embracing our shared humanity, seeing and hearing the Lived experience of the marginalized.
     You just heard Jared reflecting on a courageous time in his life, a time of Revolution and a time of connection.
     This connection is like the mycelial networks of fungi sharing molecules throughout an ecosystem — do you know about that? — offering glucose to this tree because they need it and offering phosphorus to this other tree because they need it, And so on. Our joys and our sorrows are shared in these ways. These natural ways.

But sometimes there are barriers to receiving these messages, this
data stream of joy or sorrow. It can be difficult to experience the joy of
others or their suffering. We anesthetize ourselves so that we don’t
experience it. And other times, our siblings might prune our own
connections by exacting trauma upon us, casting stones within our path
and limiting our experience. There are many ways that we cut ourselves
off from others.
Sometimes it is to protect ourselves from further hurt, or to offer
ourselves an oasis away from the traumas moving our way. These
traumas can feel like a cloud of locusts, coming to consume all nutrients
and nourishment from our lives.
I can get specific. There are 22 figures outside right now
representing the trauma our community experiences. There are 22 figures
outside right now representing the trauma experienced by individuals.
Here is an understatement:  It takes an incredible amount of courage to
break free from domestic violence, and a library’s worth of books to
unpack the word “break-free” within that sentence.

     These clouds of locusts coming…

     The New York Times a few weeks ago said that all
Americans under age 65 should be screened for anxiety and
depression. They quoted Dr Lori Pbert, a clinical psychologist
and professor at the University of Massachusetts Chan
Medical School, who serves in the U.S. Preventive Services
Task Force within the dept of human and health services. Dr
Pbert said, “Americans have been reporting outsize anxiety
levels in response to a confluence of stressors, including
inflation and crime rates, fear of illness and loss of loved ones
from Covid-19.”

     Taking care of ourselves and taking care of our siblings is something that
requires enormous courage and incredible compassion–an uncanny
level of empathy–to begin not seeing our differences but rather noticing
our similarities.
     Being here the little bit that I have, getting to know all of you as I have, I
know that courage and compassion are traits that describe this church.
     And while we are naming Courage–let’s acknowledge that this
institution is flexing through change. This congregation decided to build
when their advisors said not to–incredible and courageous and
successful! The search for a minister, the search for committee chairs
and board members, the decisions of whether to do this or not, do we
mask or not and the incredible weight of “who’s gonna fill their shoes?”
As volunteers and leaders move on to other areas, or rotate to other
ventures, we are left with uncertainty. And, in each of these moments of
uncertainty, a grief response kicks in–sometimes manifesting as fear and
     Whether we are talking about personal, institutional, or societal needs,
we are really talking about liberation. Maybe this is the revolution that
college students fight for, or maybe this is the revolution that redeems
and redirects the darkest of villains toward self sacrifice And the path to
liberation requires courage.
     So let’s talk about Courage… What is Courage? Take a moment and ask
your shoulder partner.

From the Oxford Dictionary
– the ability to do something that frightens one:
“She called on all her courage to face the ordeal”
– strength in the face of pain or grief:
“He fought his illness with great courage.”

– mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger,
fear, or difficulty
Etymology is latin–cor means heart–and so deriving meaning today
lends itself to living wholeheartedly with valor

Turn to your partner. What’s an example you’ve witnessed in yourself, in
a loved one or in an institution?

What’s an agreed upon definition here?

     I looked at the academic research here too. Looking at research on
moral and character education utilizing meta-analysis of over 800
pieces of research, CATHY J. LASSITER posits that courage can be
broken into four main types of behaviors if we are to have the kind of courage it takes to build beloved community:

● Disciplined Courage is the courage to be reflective, strategic, and
focused in the face of constant distractions and opposition.
Leaders with this brand of courage have great clarity on their
vision and the impact they want to have on those in the
● Intellectual Courage is the courage to challenge old assumptions
and understandings and act on new understandings and insights
gleaned from experience and/or research.
● Moral Courage is the courage to stand up for one’s beliefs in the
face of overwhelming opposition. Moral Courage is the outward
expression of the leader’s personal values and core beliefs, and the
resulting actions are focused on a greater good.
● Empathetic Courage — or the courage to open and feel deeply for
others. It takes humility and courage to put aside your own biases
and assumptions and let go of control and certainty for the sake of
learning something new.But it is only when you are willing to listen
to a different perspective, and manage to empathize, that will you
can be enriched by a new way of thinking. These three types of
empathy include cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and
empathetic concern.

     So, don’t just offer your two cents, offer up a dime: Disciplined Courage,
Intellectual Courage, Moral Courage and Empathetic Courage.

I know that in my life, when I’ve had to look at myself and decide how
much of my whole heart to bear—as we decide how to wield our
privilege—to be an ally, Advocate, accomplice or co-conspirator as we
decide just how far to take it. And being a co-conspirator, being an
accomplice courage is required and all four of these forms are required I
know this from the work that I do. It seems as though I meet with white
supremacists-misogynist-trans phobic-fat phobic people every day. I meet
with people who strong-arm others using their political power for
stopgap measures. I meet with people who are militia men, fear
mongers to perpetuate the heteronormative patriarchy in tangible ways–
that control the bodies of our brown and black siblings, and sexualize our
youth, without affording them voice in their own sexuality, and bullies
that make grown people cry, casting shame to mask their own pain and
torment. Trauma begets trauma—and it takes an enormous amount of
courage to lean on empathy and love, inching our way into beloved
community. I can share more of this anti-oppression work during coffee
hour, or within other talks.
     But, as you are helping your neighbor to grow—principles 2, 3, and 4–
the daily efforts of acceptance of one another, spiritual growth, justice in our relations as
we all seek truth —
     This takes discipline: specific goal setting, refinement. It takes
intellectual courage to look at yourself, to reflect, to challenge old
assumptions. It takes moral courage to stand up for right, to let justice
have that capital J. To be the justice pray-ers and the acolytes of peace in
our communities and our relationships. Balls to bones– it takes
empathy to look at our siblings as ourselves, to know that we are not that
much different— to know their actions as a manifestation of their best
self, right now.
     In an effort to plant the seeds of living courageously, and being whole
hearted, during coffee hour, find your shoulder partner and ask them,
what is something in your life that needs courage? Maybe it is deciding
to be the chairperson of that committee, or maybe it is being disciplined
in your responses to others to afford them presences and safe space, or
maybe it is starting a revolution, or changing a policy— being an ally and
advocate or an accomplice.
     I’d like to close with a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt. It’s a
quote from over 100 years ago and he uses the word man, to mean
humanity or a person, and matches that with gendered pronouns that
match. When I read this, I mean it with full and radial inclusion. This is
read for all of us.
      “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the
strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them
better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose
face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who
errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without
error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who
knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a
worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high
achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring
greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Dare greatly, courageously, my friends and love wholeheartedly.Amen.