Presented November 29th, 2020 Rev. Fiona Heath
When I think of people actively engaged, I think of people like Greta and George – they understand the climate crisis to be the crucial problem of our era – and they do whatever they can, however they can to respond.
They have found ways to communicate clearly about what is needed – protect the forests, restore eco-systems, fund renewable energy.
We need people who are actively engaged to heal the planet and our relationship with it. People who are tending to the golden threads of our interdependent web. People who like spiders are sending out silken strands to repair torn threads.
Spiders after all are unsung creatures, much maligned as terrible and scary, a cause of fear and phobias. And while, like humans, there are a few spiders that are dangerous and will bite, the majority live peacefully. Spiders are actually helpers – they eat the insects that eat agricultural crops as well as household flies.
Activists are treated like spiders – a cause of fear. But most are helpers. Activists are often first seen as crazy radicals out to destroy society, then they are grudgingly listened to and told what they want is impossible, too difficult, will cause harm. And sometimes, many years later, the change happens and the activist becomes a beloved prophet.
Our own 19th century Rev. Theodore Parker went from radical to beloved.
Parker was the first to write about “the moral arc of the universe [that is] is long but tends towards justice”. He wrote these words in 1853, Martin Luther King Jr. paraphrased them and made them famous. Parker is now considered one of our beloved ancestors who helped shape Unitarianism in North America.
But as a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts during the mid 1800s he was denounced as an infidel, even by many of his colleagues.
Parker was a radical, both in his theology – he rejected most of biblical and traditional Protestantism, focusing on God’s love – who he called both Father and Mother.
Parker was also radical in his actions. Rev. Parker was an early endorser of women’s suffrage – in the 1840s; he fought for the rights of the poor and was a staunch abolitionist, helping fugitive black people escape slavery.
Today Theodore Parker – who placed active engagement in the centre of our faith – is beloved by Unitarian Universalists. His way of doing church has become the UU way.
But during his ministry years in Boston Parker was that crazy preacher on the margins who was accused of not being Christian enough and shunned by most Unitarians.
I find this helpful to remember whenever I begin to resist someone’s call for change. New ways of being always sound weird, dangerous, or just plain wrong.
I try to remember that it is easy to resist change but it is better to be open to the possibility. I have to learn this over and over again.
Listen to the margins.
Listen to the activists.
The impossible just takes a little longer to arrive.
Activists are necessary to the web of life – tending to the tattered threads damaged by injustice. They are actively engaged in repairing the web.
One of our Canadian UU aspirations is “to be Actively Engaged: We strive to work joyfully for a just and compassionate society, experimenting with new forms of community.” This aspiration echoes our second principle to promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations. It is a guidepost to making real the second principle – by being actively engaged, working joyfully, experimenting with new forms of community.
This is our work to build healthier relationships among all beings.
Of the five aspirations of Canadian Unitarian Universalism, this is the aspiration that is the biggest stretch for me. Being on the introvert side of things, raised to be quiet and polite, I prefer to be an observer rather than an active participant.
I also know that achieving social change and improving public policy is actually a lot of connecting and talking and meetings and events and mulling over details and talking and accepting compromises and then more planning and meetings and details and compromises and repeat over and over again.
Not to mention the failed initiatives and the defeated motions and all the disappointment over and over again.
This is a nothing but a painful slog to me.
And yet I know that’s exactly how slavery was abolished, why there are weekends and minimum wages, how women got the vote, how same sex couples can marry. Because people – not the people in power – but ordinary everyday people made it so, fought for these rights over and over and over again until even the powerful had to shift.
So I know it’s vital to be actively engaged, particularly for people of the chalice who seek a world of love and justice. This world won’t happen without us.
Fortunately for introverted me, our aspiration says we are to work joyfully. I think the joyful part is essential.
Being actively engaged isn’t a one and done situation, and all the meetings and talking and planning are only part of the task. I was part of the climate change movement in 1992, almost thirty years ago, and the warnings had already been around for twenty years even then.
Which means striving for a just and compassionate society takes a lifetime. And that means it has to be a part of a full life that includes joy.
As a young woman, Russian anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman insisted that her revolution did not demand the denial of life and joy. She insisted on her right to dance and said the revolution must include “freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” (https://www.lib.berkeley.edu/goldman/Features/danceswithfeminists.html)
Everybody has a right to beautiful, radiant things.
So as we strive to work joyfully for a better world let us find the beautiful and radiant things along the way. Especially as we head into the winter holiday season – a time that especially features beauty and radiance – garlands and love and shortbread and fellowship and starlight.
This may be a hard holiday for joy – given that we just can’t celebrate the way we traditionally do – can’t be with the loved ones we usually are with – but it will be good for our souls if we can find something beautiful, something radiant in this season of peace.
I encourage all of you to find what you value most about this holiday and seek it out.
And when it comes to our aspiration to be actively engaged – let us find the work that is joyful for us.
Being a martyr, sacrificing yourself to the common good, giving until it hurts – it’s a great final scene for an action movie – but in real life – commitment to a cause lasts when you are grounded in the goodness of life.
Find a cause that is dear to your heart and you like the people you are working with.
Find a cause that matters and offer the skills you love to use.
If you love details and planning and meetings – go forth with all your heart.
For myself, I can use my voice, my skills in research and writing to lift up new ways of being. I find the words and love doing so.
As a collective we became a designated Green Sanctuary last year because of our love of the earth. Some of us explored earth based spirituality, others organized petitions to ban single use plastic water bottles. There’s room for all our talents and gifts.
And we support the Unitarian Universalist Office at the United Nations in New York. Our UU at the UN office is tiny. And only two dozen congregations across North America become 6th principle congregations.
But their work matters – the UU@UN are consistently a leader in listening to women, to the impoverished, to indigenous voices. They have worked for years to amplify the climate crisis and call for climate justice on the international stage. And to help UUs find local ways to act.
Their work matters.
Every voice matters.
Every action matters.
Your voice matters.
Your actions matter.
May each of us find a way to be actively engaged in creating a just and compassionate society.
May we work with joy, finding the beautiful and radiant along the way.
So Say We All.