SERMON: Beautiful Together

OPENING WORDS
adapted from Bets Wienecke

As we gather together this morning,
May we learn to recognize and affirm
The pieces of possibility —
The bits of good each of us bring to this community.

May we encourage rather than control;
Love rather than possess;
Enable rather than envy.

May we allow our individual gifts to weave a patchwork of peace:

The soft deep blue of sensitivity and understanding
The risky, fragile green of new growth;
The golden radiance of gratitude;
The orange heat of conviction;
The red energy of creativity;
The warm rose of love.

Each of us is indispensable if we are to minister to a broken and wounded world.

Together, in our gathered diversity, we form the whole. We are beautiful and powerful, together.

MEDITATION
by Telos Whitfield

This is the time in our service when we can allow ourselves to rest, to settle. We can be reminded of our connection to each other, the greater forces at work in the world and to our own sources of inspiration and guidance.

It is never too late to remember, to remember that we are loved always, that we can reach out to each other for support, for companionship, for nourishment. We are not alone. We are involved in a spiritual community for which we can be grateful. Like the way that the roots of the aspen trees interlock in one incredible living organism that spans the breadth of a mountain, we are interconnected.

Loving Presence, Intimate Partner in this journey called life, we ask for your support and love. We ask to remember those in our community who are suffering and in need of love; who have experienced losses or hardship. Let us wrap them in love and hold them in our hearts this morning.

Great Mystery, we ask for your energy in celebrating with those who have experienced good fortune, new life or opportunities in our community. Let the energy of hope strengthen and excite us. It is true that loss and hope, sorrow and joy are forces at work together within our lives all the time.

We can draw on Love, that mysterious, powerful force to strengthen and sustain us. It is infused into these walls, into this community of faith. Let us remember that we can bring our lives, our everyday happenings, here to the altar of South Valley. Nothing is too small to offer.

Blessed Be and Amen.

SERMON
You may have noticed that the room feels a little empty today. That is because today is Pride Sunday. Many of our members and friends are marching in the Salt Lake City Pride Parade today, making sure that people know that our congregation and our association is a place where bisexual, gay, intersex, lesbian, queer, questioning, straight and transgender people are welcome and celebrated. I am always proud that our congregation has a large contingent in the parade, letting people know that we offer real community—a home—for the beauty and diversity of all people.

Many of you know that I am also gay and transgender, and that I choose to march in the parade every other year. In the years I don’t march, like this one, I choose to be here and to use this time to talk about Pride and about why we, as a congregation, and a larger faith community, support equality and inclusion for all people—as our welcoming words say, “regardless of who you love.”

On my first Sunday at South Valley—before you had even called me to be your minister—I told you my story. I told you of my childhood, of the slow realization that I am transgender, of my transition from female to male. But more importantly, I told you about my commitment to living with integrity, to being whole, and to helping others do the same. I expressed my love for life, my gratitude for the privilege of serving in this ministry, and my hope for a future where no one is excluded by prejudice, but we all sit together at life’s welcome table.

I sometimes call that sermon my “Trans 101” sermon. Its basic message is: “I am a human being just like you, my experience is valid, and I am healthy and happy even though my life is outside the norm.” Now that is an important message and I gladly preach that sermon often, in congregations around the country. But I find myself getting restless—getting ready, if you will, for “Trans 102”—the next step on the road of understanding and acceptance.

What is the next step? I can only describe it by relating a conversation I’ve had many times with many colleagues. I am often asked, “Does your congregation ever have a problem with you being transgender?” I am lucky that I can answer truthfully, “No. In my congregation, my identity is, for the most part, irrelevant.” And it’s true. My identity as transgender, or as a gay man for that matter, have not been an issue since I arrived almost five years ago. In fact, the subject rarely comes up at all. My life, my story, my partner and kids—all are accepted here. I’ve seen no evidence that I am anything but accepted and loved as I am. And that is good.

But whenever I give that answer, “My identity is irrelevant in my congregation,” I feel a little uncomfortable. Why? Well, because while its true that my gender identity and sexual orientation are not a problem here, they are also almost invisible. I don’t often talk about it. I tell newcomers a bit of my story so they are not caught by surprise, but I don’t say more. I often find myself stopping short, holding back, not telling a certain story or offering my unique experience or insight.

At this point, I can’t tell you if this little corner of the closet exists mainly in me, or if it is a response to something in our congregation’s culture. I can only offer you the truth of what I feel: it sometimes feels safer for me to hold back and pretend I am just like everyone else. I don’t mean this as a criticism, but an exploration of the question that has been haunting me: “Is there something more than being accepted? Is it possible that who I am—who each of us is—can be celebrated in this community of faith?” When we name ourselves “an intentionally diverse religious community,” surely we mean that no one need hide any part of their story. So what keeps me from throwing caution to the wind and just being me?

Samuel Miller wrote:

Let your soul speak for itself. Some souls hold conversation with God in music, and some in the sowing of seed, and others in the smell of sawed wood, and still others in the affectionate understanding of their friends. All souls are not alike. . . Utter your own prayer, in the language of your own joy.

Quit dressing your soul in someone else’s piety. Your soul is not a pauper. Let it live its own life. Truth is just as necessary for the life of the soul as faith and humility. And truth is, not merely the final, authoritative statement of the universe’s wide design or life’s deepest meaning. No, truth is the soul being itself. Most of all, unite your soul, give it room to breathe, let it play, do not be ashamed of it…

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the Salt Lake Interfaith Pride Service. Somewhere around 200 people gathered to celebrate together in Library Square. There were prayers, singing, and chanting from a wide variety of traditions and I was thrilled to be able to tell them all what I consider to be the core messages of Unitarian Universalism. I watched tears spring to people’s eyes as I preached what I think is our saving message: You are good. You are loved. You can make a difference.
Those simple words: “You are good. You are loved. You can make a difference,” have such power. To truly believe them and live them is to find the kind of truth that Samuel Miller described—the soul being itself.

Yesterday we all witnessed something beautiful as Buddhists, Pagans, Latter Day Saints, Native Americans, Unitarian Universalists, and Christians of all stripes stood together in acceptance, love, and faith. We saw, with our own eyes, the strength and joy that come when differences are truly celebrated and souls encouraged to speak the language of their own joy. I was reminded again that who I am, who you are, who each and every one of us is—is not only relevant—it is vital to the human community. Each of us is beautiful, but we are even more beautiful together, side by side, strong in ourselves and stronger together.

That is the kind of vitality and diversity I think we are building at South Valley. It is a kind of community that encourages people—even the minister—to be fully present and fully proud of who we are and where we have come from. We do not have to be “like everyone else” to be accepted here. We can celebrate and learn from our differences, knowing that we are made more beautiful by every color of the rainbow and enriched by every form and experience of love.

Unitarian Universalism is a faith that grows and changes. We committed ourselves to standing on the side of love—the side of equality and justice –long ago. We ordain, marry, accept, and celebrate our bisexual, gay, intersex, lesbian, queer, questioning, straight and transgender family. We welcome their gifts and unique insight. Over the past thirty years, we have shown that we can learn and talk and grow in our understanding of issues of sexual orientation and gender. But there is work still to do. Our congregations are not all welcoming and not only to the GLBT community. Our efforts in racial and economic justice have not been as comprehensive or effective. We can still widen our welcome, and when we do our community will grow still stronger and more beautiful.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called this “the beloved community” and described it this way:

…[T]he end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in [human] hearts.

As I continue to work through the lessons that I am learning about wholeness and fearlessness, Dr. King’s vision of healing brings me hope. Love has and does bring about miracles in human hearts. I have seen it. I have experienced and witnessed the kind of transformation Dr. King reminds us is possible. Together we can build a beloved community where all people can let their souls play without shame, where each of us and all of us can tell our stories and celebrate in the language of our own joy. We have come a long way since we began this journey, and we will find our way home. We will find ourselves stronger, healthier, and ever more beautiful together.
Amen. Ashé. And Blessed Be.

CLOSING WORDS
adapted from Jean M. Rickard
We have a calling in this world:
We are called to honor diversity,
To respect differences with dignity,
And to challenge those who would forbid it.
We are people of a wide path and a loving heart.
Let us be a beacon of welcome, a place where all can gather, in the beauty of our differences, to become whole.
Each day, may we be reminded to live in gratitude and grace, and may we go our way in peace.
Amen. Ashé. And Blessed be.

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One thought on “SERMON: Beautiful Together

  1. I’m not sure how I ended up on your website this morning. It may have been from the ejournal from Starr King. I should be working on my assignment for my online class on congregational polity.

    Something caught my attention – perhaps that you are from Utah. I spent twenty years struggling to live in the Mormon world. So I connected to your blog and then onto your sermons where your quote from Samuel Miller touched my soul.

    Quit dressing your soul in someone else’s piety. Your soul is not a pauper. Let it live its own life.

    I love it. Where can I find this quote in its entirety?

    In faith,

    N

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