We arrive in this place today
Each of us deserving of respect and worthy of love
And not always believing we are
We come here to find
A sanctuary from the hardness we have found elsewhere
A place of acceptance
A place of challenge
A place of love
A place where we can know and believe in our own value
And that of all the others
May the flame we kindle now illuminate the worth and dignity of every human being
And may it be a sign of welcome and embrace to all
Reading: Brave Are We, by Alison Trower
Delicate wings can carry me far.
I am strong in my fragility, powerful
Look how the air sustains bodies
yet my hand goes through it as if through nothing.
Gossamer tenderness can heal the
ravages of this world; it can warm
like the sun
and soften edges with a whisper.
I do not underestimate gentleness,
Life itself is out on a limb.
I am out on a limb.
My nerves are exposed,
my veins visible, my pulse is a
quick and quiet tapping,
yet I dare to take part.
In all my vulnerability I dare to fly.
I have scars.
My wings have ragged ends.
Brave are we who are born at all.
It takes courage, to be sentient,
to not know the future,
to have blind-spots, thin skin,
to ache, to bleed, to lose.
Like a bug I could be crushed and spilled,
so I carry my dainty body with care,
knowing my cargo is precious.
My cargo is my sentience.
In being breathed life I was
It is human to live amongst the things that hurt.
I am flesh,
I take part.
Message part 1, by Rev. Andy Pakula
So much is new!
A new place, a new year, our old building about to get a year-long renovation.
How does this feel?
Even good and welcome change can be disorienting. It can make us anxious and dazed. It can leave us surprisingly emotional - angry, fragile, or sad in ways that we don’t expect.
I wanted to name this because it’s what’s real for many of us now - including me. I also want to name it because it is so relevant to our topic for today and our theme for the next three months. The theme is human relations - how humans relate to one another for better and for worse. We’ll be talking about love and hate and bias and cooperation and war and lots more. If you think of something you’d love to hear about, please let me know or tell one of the members of the Sunday Gatherings Team.
So, here we are, humans feeling all kinds of things and probably keeping most of those to ourselves. How we feel about the change at New Unity is probably minor compared to most of what you have on your hearts from time to time.
Why keep it to ourselves?
We have all heard the advice to ‘be yourself.’ ‘Just be yourself.’
It’s one of the most popular one-size-fits-all pieces of advice out there and, of course, none of them is always appropriate.
It happens all the time. You may have been nervous about an interview, a date, giving a talk, an interrogation, the Spanish Inquisition, or maybe doing a message in a Sunday Gathering. And someone said ‘just be yourself - you’ll be great.’
And you know first of all that this is the least actionable advice you could get! What does it even mean? Which self? None of us is just one thing. We all have many, many ways of being that are completely authentic to us. I can be authentic being silly, serious, bossy, petulant, manic – the list goes on.
And you also know that the advice is probably just plain wrong. In plenty of circumstances, ‘being yourself’ - some open and vulnerable and authentic version of you - is one of the worst things you could do. If you’ve ever been deposed in a legal matter or interrogated by the police, you know that being your funny or irreverent or silly or surly or subversive self is not going to be ideal.
So let’s take ‘just be yourself’ off the table for the moment.
Being Ironman is amazing. If you wear that Ironman suit, you are nearly invulnerable. You have all kinds of information available to you inside your helmet, you are kept comfortable inside that suit whether it’s blazing hot or freezing cold outside.
You can dispatch enemies with several different long distance weapons. Most of the time, you don’t even need to get in close to a foe. Fire some rockets or an energy beam and pow – done.
You are never exposed, so no one need know who you are or what is really going on for you.
Oh, you can also fly – which is nice.
And Ironman is a hero! So, except for some envious superhero chums and the occasional evil supervillain out to crush Ironman to a mix of scrap metal and gore, everyone LOVES Ironman. Well, sort of.
Everyone loves the suit and the helmet and the character.
As Ironman - no one ever loves you for who you are. We can’t love what we don’t know. We can’t love a person who is not available enough for us to understand their joys and their greatest struggles.
And as Ironman, you never really see anyone else as they really are because they won’t show themselves that way to someone who they can’t know, someone who never shows themselves, someone they never see beyond the suit and the character. So you can’t love anyone else either.
A real-life Ironman would have no deep relationships.
In our human relationships, the less we can show of ourselves, the less potential we have to really love and to be loved.
Reading: Our Jeopardy, by Thomas John Carlisle
It is good to use the best china
the most genuine goblets
or the oldest lace tablecloth
there is a risk of course
every time we use anything
or anyone shares an inmost
mood or movement
or a fragile cup of revelation
but not to touch not to
handle not to employ the available
artefacts of being a human being
that is the quiet crash the deadly catastrophe
where nothing is ever
enjoyed or broken
or spoken or spilled
or stained or mended
where nothing is ever
Message part 2 - by Rev. Andy Pakula
When we’re little children, we don’t know any other way but to be ourselves - to let everyone see everything that is going on with our emotions. When we are happy, the world knows it. When we are angry, we show that too. And when we’re sad, we can wail powerfully enough to overwhelm the best noise-cancelling headphones.
As we grow, we begin to learn that being authentic like that doesn’t get us what we want. We learn to pretend to love our younger siblings - at least when the parents are around. Some of us find out that crying can get us teased, so we learn to hide our sorrow. We learn that being happy can get us in trouble for seeming to lack humility, so we hide that too.
As we approach adulthood, we have accumulated enough of these restraints that what we really feel and think are pretty well hidden from the world. Now, if we’re lucky, we have a few people we feel we can share anything with – but this is increasingly rare.
And in the adult world, there are plenty of good reasons to keep those guards up.
In this world, there are people who have power over us and who can change our futures for the better or worse depending on their own idiosyncratic evaluations. There are teachers who can change our potential in life and bosses who can propel or disrupt a career. There are police and lawyers and judges and civil servants whose positive appraisal we need.
We learn in life to show people who have power over us what they want to see. And this way of being becomes increasingly fixed for most of us as we solidify and secure the suit that will get us what we want and what we need.
So practiced do these restraints become that we allow fewer and fewer emotions out and fewer and fewer people in. In time, we may lose track ourselves of how to show our true emotions and even lose touch ourselves with how we feel.
Eventually, we become Ironman and there is no difference between the suit and the person within.
This is a disaster. Relationship matters - our happiness depends on it. We can’t love without openness. We can’t befriend without openness. We can’t learn to understand and care for the stranger without openness. Our love and our justice are at risk.
What can we do? We can get lots of therapy, for one thing. Well, that’s usually a good thing anyway.
But another way to recover the person from the suit is to provide an environment where it is safe to show your emotions - a place where a man can cry without being called a sissy, where a woman can be emotional without being called needy, a place that accepts and embraces you no matter what. A radically-inclusive community.
Our acceptance is not just a warm welcome. It is not simple good hospitality. It is the basis of a life-sustaining, transformative, way of building love and justice in the world.
Let us learn to accept ourselves as we are but not just for ourselves. It is a step in becoming people who build a world of greater love and justice.
Accepting yourself as you are is not the easy way out
It is a hard, culture-challenging practice
Working to love yourself is not self-indulgent
It flies in the face of everything we learned from the teachers, bullies, and bosses
And this care for ourselves is essential for our mission
We cannot love and understand others until we feel safe being ourselves
Love and justice start in our own hearts
They grow in a community of embracing acceptance
They turn outward to help remake the world.