A Sunday Gathering Message from New Unity

We kindle a flame of freedom

By the light of this flame, our visions of true liberty shine bright

This light shines for freedom from tyranny

Freedom from oppression

Freedom of body and of mind

We kindle this flame as we remember the struggles for freedom past and those yet to come

We kindle this flame to guide us toward the land of freedom


Autobiography of Eve, by Ansel Elkins

Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first
radical road out of that old kingdom
toward a new unknown.
When I came to those great flaming gates
of burning gold,
I stood alone in terror at the threshold
between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake—
at once alive in a blaze of green fire.
Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.
I leapt
to freedom.

Sweet Darkness, by David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

Message, by Andy Pakula

Yesterday was the first day of the Jewish festival of Passover. Last night, a few dozen of us celebrated together at our Upper Street building in the traditional way. We held a ritual meal called a Seder. Passover is a celebration of freedom and, at the Seder, that story is recounted. The bitterness of slavery is symbolized by bitter vegetables. Salt water stands for the tears are people living in captivity.

A reminder of the back-breaking work the slaves were compelled to do comes in the form of a mixture of nuts and apples called charoset that is meant to resemble mortar.

And the hope and sweetness of freedom is present too, in the sweetness of the charoset, in the tender green herbs, with eggs that symbolise new life, and, in our version of the Seder, orange slices symbolise the journey to liberation for LGBT people.

We told the old stories last night and we spoke of how struggles for freedom have not disappeared with the pharaohs. Those struggles appear still in our world today. We recognised how xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, and the power of tyrants continue to limit freedoms even now.

Too many people remain unable to speak freely, unable to travel freely, unable to work freely, unable to love freely who they love, unable to practice their religion freely or to admit they don’t believe what they are told they must. Too many remain prisoners of oppressive regimes or trapped in poverty and too many remain confined by terror in places so dangerous that to leave home is to take one’s life in their hands.

My ancestors lacked freedom and felt the sting of oppression in Russia and Poland and elsewhere. Perhaps I had ancestors amongst the slaves in Egypt or under occupation in ancient Israel. I can’t know that for certain, but I do know that I have never been enslaved or profoundly oppressed. I have been one of many in the western world who has not had to fight for the freedoms that most lacked in the past and that many still lack around the world.

Freedom is sweet and that sweetness may not be noticed if we haven’t had the bitterness of oppression and slavery forced upon us.

My ancestors, living in Russia and Poland until just over two hundred years ago, knew this bitterness. They would have been limited in where they could live. They would have been restricted in the work they could do. They would have been double-taxed relative to non-Jews. And, toward the end of the 19th century, amid new government-sponsored anti-Jewish policies, waves of anti-Jewish riots - called pogroms - erupted. Jews found their homes burned and their livelihoods destroyed. Many were injured or killed and fear would have been a constant.
They felt little freedom. Their lives would have been filled with the captivity of poverty, hatred, harassment, and constant danger. Eventually, my ancestors fled to the west and arrived in the United States. They found hardship there too, but it would have been a very different and much freer life than they had ever known before.

How sweet that freedom must have tasted to them. Despite the trials of travelling to a foreign land and struggling with a new language and new ways, they were now free.

Many of your ancestors - and indeed - some of you may have known the sweet taste of freedom having been fed on the bitterness of captivity and oppression. It must have seemed that anything was now possible. The paralysis of constant fear would have lessened and they or you could at last relax into living without that constant dread of danger.

And yet, I know that we do not all feel completely free. Most of us do not wake to notice the sweetness of freedom. We worry. We fret about the future. We are not entirely free.

Please take your right hand and grab hold of the inside of your left wrist. And now, without releasing, have your left hand grab the inside of your right wrist.

Despite our substantial freedom, we may hold ourselves captive. To be sure, it is not captivity like the Jews in ancient Egypt or the refugees held today in Turkey or Greece, or the asylum-seekers detained here in Britain, or those living under repressive rulers.

But we restrict ourselves and prevent our own growth. We confine our possibilities and cage our potential for joy.

We have many ways of keeping ourselves captive and, as our bodies are freed, our minds and hearts may remain captive.

In Ansel Elkins’ poem “Autobiography of Eve”, Eve is awakened by the mysterious echo of her own voice - of a self that has been confined in a different kind of captivity. “Let it be known” she says “I did not fall from grace. I leapt to freedom.”

Where is your voice? How are you holding your truest self in captivity? How is your love restrained?

Don’t give up your freedom willingly.

Today, in our complex world, we make prisoners of ourselves.

As Alice Walker wrote, “...freedom is a personal and lonely battle; and one faces down fears of today so that those of tomorrow might be engaged.”  

The cell in which we are held is made of fear.

We all have such fears - fears that can restrict us as much as iron bars and stone walls can do.
What do you fear? What are the fears that keep you confined - that keep you from being free?

Do you fear exposure? That if you let others see you as you are, you will be rejected and seen as inadequate?

Do you fear failure and have a sense that you will end up destitute?

Perhaps you are afraid of being alone and lonely for the rest of your life?

Do you fear for your safety so much that you can not enjoy your life fully?

We each bring many fears to life and these bind us and keep us from experiencing true freedom.

I’d like to invite you to write a fear that limits your freedom on the slip of paper you received this morning. No one will know what you wrote. When you’re done writing, fold it in half and pass it to the closest aisle. I will then read them aloud from the front

[congregation participates]

These fears are the bars of the prisons we build. They are the source of our limitations and our captivity.

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, says that fear is what keeps us apart from one another. He writes “Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion.”

Fear prevents connection. The reverse is also true - connection and relationship are tools that can allow us to weaken the bars of fear.

It is in relationship that we can test and lessen and disprove the fears we have about our own inadequacy. It is in relationship that we can learn that who we are inside is enough - that we are acceptable and lovable - that we are even strong enough to help others in their own growth and journey toward freedom.

It is in relationship that our fears of helplessness are eased as we learn that we are truly not alone.

This is the healing power of community. We need to be together. We need to be together to be loved, to be held, to be strong for others, and to be challenged so that we can grow.

Community is not simple. It is not without its challenges. It requires our dedication, our hard work, and our courage to face difficult truths.

Let us be together. Together with compassion and honesty and commitment and love.

Community is healing. Community can set us free.

May it be so.

We are free to bind ourselves to one another
It is in choosing to be bound in relationship that we become truly free.
May love overcome your fear
May you be a liberator of others
May all people know true freedom