Beatific Vision

September 30, 2018

Rev. Douglas Taylor


Let me tell you about my vision.

First, let me tell you a story. As part of the process of becoming a minister, we take a battery of psychological inventories, personality styles, leadership styles, conflict styles; this includes the classic MMPI-2. I was part of a group weekend event, and at one point I was talking with another young man from an evangelical tradition. He had just come out of the big interview with the Psychologist where they talk with each of us about the flags that come up in the inventories and assessments. He was shaken. He complained about one question in particular. The question asked, ‘Do you see things that others do not see?’ My friend had answered “yes.” The psychologist leading the interviews flagged that as a concern.

“You don’t understand,” my friend said to me after, I imagine, a frustrating conversation with the psychologist. “In my tradition, it is expected. I’ve seen the Beatific Vision! If I don’t have a vision of God’s Kingdom, how am I supposed to lead the people into it? Of course, I see something others do not see. That’s why I am going into ministry!”

I’ve carried that conversation with me these past two decades; thinking about what I see, what I am wanting the world to see, trying to show others what we can be together as people of faith. That conversation with my friend about his misinterpretation of the MMPI-2’s question (or the misinterpretation of his answer,) was not the first or last time I’ve had this concept brought to my attention, but it is the most memorable.

So, from time to time I ask myself, “What is my vision for our congregation? What do I see that others perhaps do not see?” This practice of asking myself this question has shaped my ministry over the years.

In his essay, “Natural History of Intellect,” Ralph Waldo Emerson commented on this sort of experience. Emerson, you may recall, had been a Unitarian minister before launching himself as an essayist and lecturer for the transcendentalist movement. He wrote:

What is life but the angle of vision? A man is measured by the angle at which he looks at objects. What is life but what a man is thinking of all day? This is his fate and his employer. Knowing is the measure of the man. By how much we know, so much we are.  

Or as Sue Monk Kidd has said: “We become what we pay attention to.” Or, to put even more mundanely, “We are what we eat.” “What is life but the angle of vision?” So, let me tell you about my angle of vision, about what I have been paying attention to.

Let me tell you about my vision.

I see us becoming a living version of the Beloved Community. The vision I have for this congregation – although not exclusively for this congregation – is to live into the experience of being a community of justice, compassion, grace, and mercy. The details involve us engaging across our differences, being together in joy, serving needs beyond our walls, demonstrating resilience and grace to a world polarized and paralyzed by fear. “We become what we pay attention to.” “What is life but the angle of vision?” That’s what I am aiming for. That’s what I see, what I long for us to become.

Last week our Ministerial Intern, Aileen Fitzke preached about vision. She offered a quote from Jennifer Nordstrom’s book Justice on Earth about having a vision that I want to repeat in part: Nordstrom writes:

I hold a vision of Beloved Community beyond the horizon of my own knowing. In this community of human and nonhuman beings, we live with each other and the earth… We have diverse, flourishing cultures that cooperate with respect, and learn from one another without prejudice and hierarchy… We live in tune with the rhythms of our own hearts.

As a side note, I will share with you that Nordstrom’s book will be the UUA Common Read this year. Watch for an invitation from Aileen who has agreed to lead a discussion about the book alter this fall.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about Beloved Community a lot. I found a clear definition of King’s vision through The King Center in Atlanta GA, the memorial institution founded by Coretta Scott King to further the goals of Dr. King.

Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

This idea of becoming a Beloved Community is deeply resonate across multiple religious and spiritual perspectives. The idea is not rooted in a concrete example from the past, instead it is more loosely based on the values we want to carry us into the future: Respect, Compassion, Justice, Decency, and Grace.

Now, I must warn you, this morning’s sermon is meant to be the Capital Campaign kick-off, my “Sermon on Amount,” that inspirational talking-to that gets us all in the mood to generously support the financial endeavors of the congregation – in particular: the Capital Campaign!

To accomplish the blending of an inspirational homily on money with all this talk of vision and Beloved Community, let me tell you another story.

Last week, as I mentioned a moment ago, Aileen Fitzke preached about vision. I sat near the back that Sunday. When it came time for the hymns I tried to not sing too loud. It is different singing up front as I usually do. Usually I try to sing a little louder so as to help lead the hymn, not to show off but to help everyone find their way into the song. But when I am in the congregation, in the back, I need to be quieter, to blend in rather than stand out.

I don’t need to stand out because our congregation is a ‘singing congregation.’ I have visited other congregations who do not sing the way we do. We are comfortable with singing. Other congregations, I can barely hear them singing above the sound of the piano or organ. I’m not knocking those congregations – they are amazing at other things. Here, music is important to us and we like to sing, we enjoy it and that shows.

I know there are some people in our congregation who are not great singers. There are some who do not sing when we do the hymns, or who mumble along, or just hum. And there are some here with professional training, some who sing in the choir regularly, some who sing solos, or play as guest musicians. We have a range of abilities and levels of participation – but as a whole, we are a ‘singing congregation.’

That’s what this Capital Campaign will be like for us.

Yes, we have some soloists, there will be large donors. Yes, we will have some guest musicians, we’ve already received a generous check from a former member. Yes, there will be a core group of people who, like the choir, do a lot of the giving because that is one way they can give and receive joy. The people who sing in the choir do so because they love to sing. They offer the gift of their voices and, for them, it is a gift to offer it. And… there are people for whom that is what it is like with money.

And … ours is a singing congregation. The singing is not done only by the song leaders and the choir. We all sing in our own ways.

The Capital Campaign began with a vision. The team asked us to dream a little. Then the team asked us to put a few particulars on paper. Over time we have pulled that dream closer to reality and practicality. And that has brought us to today. Tomorrow morning, we launch the official two-month focused portion of the years-long endeavor: the Capital Campaign – the actual raising of the pledges.

The Capital Campaign vision has narrowed into two stated goals. First, there is a dollar amount. We are aiming to raise one-and-a-quarter million dollars. Second there is a participation amount. We are aiming for 100% participation from members. I am paying attention to the second goal. That’s the one I care about.

If we reach that first goal and do not reach the second goal, if we raise the money but not everyone participates – we will have a big party and people will be happy… We will build and renovate this place into what we have been dreaming about … And yet … something will feel off. We will have reached the financial goal, but we will not have reached it together. It is not enough to raise the money if we miss the goal of full participation.

I would be far more comfortable reaching the second goal if we only get to reach one of them. Of course, I hope we reach both. Of course, I am going to do what I can to reach both the financial goal and the participation goal. But I want you to know which goal is my priority.

I want every member to be able to walk into the building after we’re done and be able to look around with pride and ownership. It is important to me that each one of us be able to look back and say “We did this.”

We have a variety of voices among us. Some will sing solos, many are in the choir. Some will only hum or mumble along. But all of us are in the song together. Ours is a singing congregation.

In our reading, Rev. Patrick O’Neill shared that when he visited the great Chartres Cathedral, he was amazed by the windows.

“These windows, many of them,” said my guide, “were given one mosaic at a time, piece by piece, coin by coin, by people who wanted to contribute something beautiful to last the ages.”

My vision is not about where we end up, but of how we get there. My visionary goal is not about a result, it is a about the process of arriving at that result. It is less about the amazing window and more about the “coin by coin.” Because, let me tell you about my vision: My vision is for us to live into a version of the Beloved Community together. And to do that, we can’t wait until after the Capital Campaign – that is how we have to do the Capital Campaign.

The only way to become a Beloved Community is to behave a little more each day as people living in a Beloved Community; cleaving to our values of Compassion, Justice, Decency, and Grace.

The only way we will accomplish this Capital Campaign is by doing it in integrity as the community we are and in alignment with the community we long to become. That means we will all move forward together: knowing that we each will take part as we are able, and also knowing that in the end we will have done this together.

In a world without end,

May it be so.