Sermons 2010-11

Beloved Community

Beloved Community
1-16-11
Rev. Douglas Taylor

I found a humorous book a few weeks ago called The Savvy Convert’s Guide to Choosing a Religion which encourages the reader to “Compare and contrast before you commit” to one of the “99 religions to choose from!” It is all in good fun but it certainly points out the consumer-angled and individual-focused nature of religion today. The book offers a side-by-side comparison for you using categories such as dietary restrictions and afterlife quality, time commitment and sex regulations. In short, the book allows a person to research the question: “What do I get out of it? What does this or that religion offer me?”

Every religion can be boiled down to such questions. One offers Inner Peace while another presents you with Enlightenment. Perhaps you are really seeking Salvation, or it could be you’re just looking for a personal Purpose in this Life. Depending on if you want Paradise, Detached Calm, or a Fully Realized Human Potential – well, just scroll through the lists and pick the best fit. Every religion has something to offer the individual.

Of course the serious religions don’t stop there. Not that you’ll necessarily see this part outlined in The Savvy Convert’s Guide, but religion is not just a private occupation. Despite Alfred North Whitehead claim that “religion is what an individual does with his solitariness,” there is often a strong ethic involved in each religion that outlines how we are to treat other people – something more than ‘restrictions’ in certain behaviors; something closer to a call to participate in creating a better world. And the best among the religions go so far as to declare not just a social ethic but also a social order. They answer the question, “What do we get out of it?” Or “What is the vision of the optimal religious society?”

There is a little tension in the practice of every religion between the individual and the community. Religion needs to keep a dynamic balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community. In religions that over-emphasize the community-aspects of faith there is a need to work a little extra to allow the individual’s needs to be addressed. And in religions such as ours that over emphasize the individual-aspects of faith there is a need to work a little extra to allow the community’s needs to be addressed.

For all that we Unitarian Universalists focus on the dignity and worth of each individual and how each person is on their own religious path, we also have a vision of religious community that rises naturally from our way of faith. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations speak of themselves as Beloved Communities, or as striving to become such. In many ways “Beloved Community” is growing into almost a cliché or at least a buzz-phrase among us.

Do we know what it means? Do you remember when I said we tend to over-emphasize the individual in our tradition? Here is a perfect example: the phrase “Beloved Community” means one thing to some people and something else to other people. This week I read articles and sermons from UU ministers stating that Beloved Community is about justice making and specifically about racial justice. I read other places that Beloved Community is basically a very healthy religious community. Some will argue that the phrase can stand in for whatever we want while others will insist we use the phrase as it was originally used. And a multitude will happily point out that our debate about Beloved Community is actually a perfect example of our version of it – because Unitarian Universalist congregations have a healthy sense of individual conscience and civil debate is one positive mark of individuals in community.

While it comes up a lot around UUs, we of course did not originate the phrase. It was popularized by Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. Beloved Community was central to his efforts of racial integration. The phrase first appears in a speech he gave at the conclusion of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The U.S. Supreme Court decision to desegregate the seats on the busses, and during the victory rally King reflected that the end goal of such non-violent boycotts was not simply the legislation of desegregation. He said, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community.”

But King was not even the one to first use the phrase, “Beloved Community.” The phrase was actually coined in the early 20th century by an obscure Idealist named Josiah Royce, founder of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. King, a member of that same Fellowship of reconciliation, brought the phrase into more common use. The phrase comes from Royce’s book The Problem of Christianity in which he wrote:

“Since the office of religion is to aim towards the creation on earth of the Beloved Community, the future task of religion is the task of inventing and applying the arts which will win all over to unity, and which shall overcome their original hatefulness by gracious love, not of mere individuality but of communities.”

Royce saw it, not as heaven and the ‘here-after,’ but heaven on earth where hate and division were no more. He said it was a form of community we work to create here on earth marked by unity and gracious love. King, when he first used the phrase, compared it to redemption and reconciliation, words that evoke a change from disharmony and disparity to harmony and equality.

In that speech he gave at the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in ’56 King went on to say this: “It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. … It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.” What King was after was not simply the legislation of desegregation. He was after a transformation in the hearts of all people to the end that we might learn to live and love together as one people, as a Beloved Community.

The most similar metaphor I can think of to compare with “Beloved Community” is “the Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God is meant to convey a sense of the divinely intended order of life. In the Kingdom of God, which is not yet realized – ‘thy kingdom come’ the prayer says because it is not yet here – in the Kingdom of God there is an order of things, a harmony with the lion and the lamb laying down together in peace. Shifting the language to “Beloved Community” creates a different tone, an even more egalitarian tone. The idea at the root is still he same: there will come a time when the Divine social order is lived among all humanity – a social order that declares all equal and all included with peace and harmony. Both phrases offer that idea at the root.

But notice this also: like many of the metaphors used for God in the Bible (such as Father, Master, and Lord) King is meant to be heard as one end of a relationship. The Father has a child; the master and lord have servants; the king has subjects. There is a relationship evoked in the metaphors. Certainly it is saying “God is like this;” but it is also saying “God is like this with us.” In shifting away from the phrase Kingdom of God and toward the phrase Beloved Community we are still using a relational metaphor, but we’ve left out the hierarchy and patriarchy embedded in the older Biblical phrase.

Beloved Community was the end goal of what Martin Luther King Jr. was striving for. The specific point of struggle began around racism in America. His end goal was bigger than racial injustice. He also spoke out and marched and protested against war and poverty. He fought against all injustice and oppression. He was working to create the beloved Community with equality and justice for all.

When he said that he dreamt of a day when “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” he was talking about the equality of the Beloved Community. When he said he dreamt of the day “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers,” he was talking about the how we are all connected to each other as one family, as God’s children together with a song of freedom on our lips.

That’s what the Beloved Community meant to King. It looked like equality and fairness. It looked like kinship with all the care and responsibility that comes with that. He called for the “solidarity of the human family.” He insisted that “all life is interrelated.” And if only he had been caught up by the feminist movement too he would have worded this a little differently but listen graciously to this. He said, “We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

That’s what King meant by the phrase Beloved Community. Is that what we mean when we use the phrase? I think it is when we can allow ourselves to rise out of the individual focus where we tend to reside. Clarence Skinner, an early 20th century Universalist minister, author and dean of Tufts School of Religion wrote, [in his book Worship and a Well Ordered Life, in the chapter called “The Church and the Beloved Community.]

“The Beloved Community is not an organization of individuals seeking private and selfish security for their souls. It is a new adventure, a spontaneous fellowship of consecrated men seeking a new world.” Again we hear the tension between the individual and the community: on the one hand we have individuals seeking ‘private security’ while on the other we have individuals in fellowship ‘seeking a new world.’

I believe that ‘new world’ is one in which differences are honored as a way to highlight our individuality but are never used to divide us into tribes and cliques. I believe that ‘new world’ is one in which equality and fairness give balance to extremes of greed and selfishness. I believe that ‘new world’ is one in which we afford one another a little extra grace when we are trying to understand one another.

If only we could find ourselves in such a civil and gracious society today. Instead we find an ever increasing level of anger and hate, ignorance and animosity posing as civil discourse in our country. Far from Beloved, our American society squanders its greatness with destructive one-up-man-ship posing as open discourse. How much longer can we spew hatred upon people for the simple fact that they disagree with us? How much longer can we tear each other apart in partisan anger and still say we live in a great nation? How much longer can we ignore the needs of the least of these among us and continue to pretend to be decent people and decent nation? How much longer can we go on without recognizing the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood that lay just a step beyond our pride and our pity?

In 1967, after a dozen years of struggle and speeches and protests and boycotts to usher in the Beloved Community, King published a book entitled “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” And now, 2 score and 4 years later we still stand on the edge and wonder, “where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?”

My colleague Mark Morrison-Reed says, “The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind us each to all.” This is the work of the Beloved Community: to unveil those bonds – to help us feel that we are all equal in all the important ways. Morrison-Reed says, “There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others. Once felt, it inspires us to act for justice.”

And that, dear ones, is exactly how the conversation of Beloved Community gets us into the conversation about justice. For if there injustice anywhere it is because we are not honoring that bond, that connectedness. Yes we have our differences; we have “particulars in our own lives and in the lives of others.” The path of chaos calls us to tear those bonds, to make those differences seem insurmountable as if we can survive without our brothers and sisters. But when the bond is felt, when the relationship is recognized, then we are compelled to seek what is good for our brothers and sisters as well as for ourselves. It is not the left or the right that is destroying the fabric of our nation. It is the debate itself – the level of hate and meanness we let pass for debate. We still stand on the edge between Chaos and Community. Where do we go from here?

Let me finish the quote from Mark Morrison-Reed. He says, “It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together, our vision widens and strength is renewed.” (SLT #580)

“What do I get out of it? What does this religion have to offer me?” Let me offer an answer that will not be found in the Savvy Convert’s Guide. Any religious community worthy of you will offer you the unveiling of the bonds that bind you to the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and the despised. It will unveil the bonds that bind you to all those people you do not like and those with whom you disagree and those with whom you are so very, very different from in thought and interest and values. Such a religion will offer you a seat at the table of humanity and humility and will call you to welcome in the last person you might wish to join you.

The dream Dr. King cast forth into history was not a dream that equality and freedom could be easily won. It was a dream that we would grow to be better people, that we would live up to the lofty ideals we espouse, that we would become the people our world needs us to be for the dream of equality and peace to be made true.

In a world without end, may it be so.

My Soul Cries Out for Water

My Soul Cries Out for Water
1-9-11
Rev. Douglas Taylor

Last week I was reading through sections of the Tao Te Ch’ing with people as part of the Jumpin’ January Spiritual Practices workshop I was leading. And as always, one concept that rises in the reflections is about how hard it is to express the inexpressible. Indeed, the first chapter of the Tao Te Ch’ing states: “The Tao that can be told is not the true Tao; the name that can be named is not the eternal Name.” It seems as if we all have experiences of something sacred, something holy, yet just how we experience it is unique and very hard to express, hard to put into words. And here we have Lao Tzu, the wise soul who apprehended the Tao and the way words are a poor means to convey the deep truth of the Tao, and Lao Tzu writes down a whole book full of words as an expression of the inexpressible.

In Anthony de Mello’s book of meditations, The Song of the Bird, there is this passage:

The disciples were full of questions about God.
Said the master, “God is Unknown and Unknowable. Every statement about him, every answer to your questions, is a distortion of the truth.”
The disciples were bewildered. “Then why do you speak about him at all?”
“Why does the bird sing?” said the master.

Aristotle wrote, “Midway between the unintelligible and the commonplace, it is metaphor which most produces knowledge.” Religious language is an attempt to speak about that which is inexpressible. The natural world and our experiences of it are complex and varied.  We live and move in a complex, multi dimensional world.

Words are like maps that represent our experiences.  And it was Alfred Korzybski who coined the phrase, “the map is not the territory.”  We are like cartographers faced with the task of creating a flat map of a curved earth.  Words can be close approximations at best, never exact representations. Thus we use a form of language, religious and metaphorical, to express what we experience.

The primary purpose of such speaking, the primary use of such language is for worship. We use religious language to sing about that which is praise-worthy. Religious images and words are most useful, most powerful, in the context of religious worship.

When I was on Sabbatical last year at Meadville Lombard Theological School, I sat in on a Pragmatic Theology course. The professor would occasionally refer to Doxological language. And he would use that word strung into sentence full of words that made me run to my dictionary. But I discovered ‘doxological’ is not in the dictionary. I had to look up the root and frustratingly interpret what he was saying. I had forgotten this tendency of academics. But what I discovered was that our professor was making the case that worship was the primary use of theology and of all religious language.

Everything that can be said about God is partial and flawed and ultimately a distortion of the truth. Why speak of God at all? For doxological reasons. From all that dwell below the sky, let songs of hope and faith arise. This is a doxology. This is a song of praise. In religious language we begin to express the important things we need to say together.

And the author of the reading we heard this morning (Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology) agrees when she states, “The primary context for any discussion of religious language is worship. [One must have] a sense of the mystery surrounding existence, of the profound inadequacy of all our thoughts and words.” (p2) But for this to work, we must recognize that we are not stating scientific facts of eye witness historical accounts of reality. We are using a language of metaphor and poetry to speak about the inexpressible reality of the sacred, of the Tao, of God.

And if this were all there was to this then we would spend the rest of our morning basking in metaphor and poetic imagery. But there is a secondary context to religious language, one that – if you’ll pardon the metaphor – throws a wrench in the works. That secondary function is interpretive. By this we mean that religious language is used not only to praise what is worth, but also to interpret reality – to identify what is praiseworthy: to name it and interpret it.

And herein lays the crux of McFague’s conundrum which is the root of her whole book: Not only is it a paradoxical impossibility to use the religious language interpretively, we now do so in our modern context which makes the task that much more impossible. She explains: “We do not live in a sacramental universe in which things of this world … are understood as connected to and permeated by divine power.” (p1) People used to live in a world wherein the meaningfulness and the truth of religious language was not a question. Prior to the widespread understanding and use of modern science, people perceived the world as an example of the divine order established by God.

(At least this is how it unfolded in the West. I suppose a very similar disillusionment and de-sanctification may well have taken place in the Orient when Modernity hit there as well, but I am not enough of a student of world history to say so with certainty.) So, at least in the West, people understood that “each and every scrap of creation, both natural and human, participates in and signifies the divine order.” (p11) And that is just no longer the case. People today, generally, do not see the world as suffused with divinity. And thus religious language is irrelevant.

At least that is one possibility: irrelevancy. The other alternative is found on the conservative end of practiced religion: idolatry. Because there is so obvious a disconnect between religious language and modern reality we can either take our religious language too seriously and see the symbols and metaphors as literally true (which is the particular danger that fundamentalist and conservative religion faces) or we can take our religious language not seriously enough and see the metaphors as quaintly archaic (which is the particular danger that liberal religion in general and Unitarian Universalism in particular faces.) If we see the metaphors as literally true then they become idolatrous. If we see them as quaintly archaic they become irrelevant.

We enjoy seeing the ready critique liberal religion offers to the literalists. One of the most captivating lines from the Tao of Physics book states, “Because our representation of reality is so much easier to grasp than reality itself, we tend to confuse the two and to take our concepts and symbols for reality.” (P 28)  Along that same line of thought, theologian Paul Tillich argues that the first step we took away from the sacramental understanding on the universe was when religion “defended its great symbols, not as symbols, but as literal stories.” (from Tillich’s Lost Dimension of Religion.) Because in doing so, it pulls the symbol down into the realm of being verified by science or history or logic.

Harder to see and enjoy is the critique leveled against liberal religion for ceding religious language to the fundamentalists because we’ve lost sight of its relevance to our lives. We, the ever-faithful iconoclasts, always ready to tear down the idols and point out that the emperor has no clothes, have unfortunately slipped allowed our most powerful words to slip away into irrelevancy.

So, of course, Tillich along with McFague and perhaps Lao Tzu as well, sees a way out of this conundrum. There is a way to use religious language without it falling into either idolatry or irrelevance. Instead, we can see religious language as metaphorical and vibrant. To think and speak metaphorically is not notice the thread of similarity between two dissimilar things or events, one of which is well known and the other less well known. We can then say “this” which we don’t know so well is like “that” which we do know. To use an old Buddhist parable, it is the finger pointing to the moon. The focus is the moon, what we understand is the pointing finger. If we focus only on the pointing finger we miss the object of the metaphor.

So we try to understand something like spiritual longing and I tell you my soul cries out for water. Well, we know what it is like to be thirsty therefore we can begin to speak about spiritual longing through the metaphor. In this same way we can begin to speak of Grace and Beloved Community and God as well as hope, fear, love, joy, and so on. Metaphor is not mere poetic adornment and ornamentation with which to add flavor or color to otherwise boring or flat language. Metaphor is our doorway into the otherwise inexpressible experiences we share.

Ultimate Reality is a mystery to which we have clues, but will never fully understand. The words we use, as Augustine is quoted to have said in the reading, are halting and inadequate. Words are helpful, but they also get in the way.

Theoretical Physicist Werner Heisenberg once said “that every word or concept, clear as it may seem to be, has only a limited range of applicability.”  Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein went a step farther saying “The limits of one’s language are the limits of one’s world.” Yet through imagination and metaphor we are able to stretch beyond that limit. Metaphorical language takes us beyond such limits to begin to apprehend infinity.

Taoist sage, Chang Tzu wrote:

Fishing baskets are employed to catch fish; but when the fish are got, the men forget the baskets; snares are employed to catch hares, but when the hares are got, men forget the snares.  Words are employed to convey ideas; but when the ideas are grasped, men forget the words.

Words get us there, and words get in the way; but they are all we have.  I firmly assert that anything we can say about the deepest, most profound levels of life must necessarily be filtered through our human language.  As a means of discussing all that is Holy, human words and concepts are hopelessly inadequate.  However, we must try because spiritual growth is important, and it can only be accomplished through dialogue with yourself, with your neighbor, and with your God.  We need words for this.

Remembering the basic concept of how metaphorical language works – we need one thing to be fairly well known and the other to be somewhat unknown or unknowable. So if we look in the Bible for our religious language it can be hit or miss. When we speak of God as a shepherd or as a king, it assumes that shepherds and kings are still in our regular daily living – and they are not. When it speaks of Jesus as the Anointed One, anointing is not a concept we experience in our daily living. We at least know what kings and shepherds are even though they are uncommon. The only anointing that happens nowadays is in religious ritual! It is a self-referencing metaphor If a metaphor is to help us understand one thing by comparing it to a well known other thing – then it is a broken metaphor if we really don’t understand either!

But that’s not all there is in the traditional Christian lexicon of metaphor. Consider the times when God is referred to as spirit – which is a word wonderfully tangled up with both breath and wind. Consider the times in scripture when God is referred to as bread or water or shelter or love. These are all in there. And do we know anything about breath and water, bread and shelter, and love? We know that these are all biological necessities for life. And so the language is comparing God to those basic elements that make living possible.

But we need not even turn back to the traditional metaphors if we don’t want. The best part of being a heretic is the freedom to uncover new images and metaphors. And perhaps you’ve noticed: we don’t talk a lot about bread and breath … or do we?

“Spirit of life, blow in the wind.” Breath and wind and spirit have always been tangled together in translation, as they are in symbol and metaphor. “Roots hold me close,” we sing, without ever questioning that this is of course a metaphor. “Wings set me free,” we sing, finding the metaphor to a powerful one that nourishes us.

And also we speak of a web of life, an interconnectedness in the universe that begins to sound a great deal like a sacramental understanding of the universe. To be sure there is a literal analogy here at the atomic level and with the laws of physics. But more importantly there is a metaphorical level where we say “this” is like “that.” The universe is like a web, you and I are connected in a way that resembles a web of thread linking all life together. Seek ye metaphors and symbols in your living that you may be thus nourished. And so I say, my soul cries out for water. Perhaps you will not hear this as a request for a glass of H2O. And perhaps you will not hear this as a mere poetical flourish on my part. Perhaps, perhaps you will hear and recognize what thirst is like. Perhaps you will hear and recognize a longing, a yearning, a thirst within yourself as well. Perhaps we can be together and say to one another, “Yes. Let us drink deeply from this well together. Let us seek to quench this thirst.”

Come, let us drink deep together.

In a world without end, may it be so.

Practicing Spirit

Practicing Spirit
1-2-11
Douglas Taylor

On a hot Monday in July several years ago, my family went out hunting for dinosaur fossils. This was an activity that Keenan, our middle child now 18, had requested for his birthday party. He had turned ten years old that year back in April, but there were delays. If we had been able, for example, to coordinate sooner with the paleontologist who took us on the tour, we might not have been so hot. We invited five families to join us and we explored two different sites. We drank a lot of water that hot July day.

This took place back when we lived in D.C. and as it turns out Washington D.C. sits atop a fossil band that runs parallel to the eastern coast. Our paleontologist guide told us that this is a critical point: If you are going to try to find dinosaur fossils you should look where you can reasonably expect to be able to find some. We did not find any fossilized dinosaur bones. We found sharks’ teeth, crystals, very old rocks, and petrified wood from the time of the dinosaurs. Our paleontologist guide told us that this is a second critical point: If you do not find anything it does not mean you lack special skills or have not tried hard enough, it just means you have not been lucky enough.

Our spiritual lives can be like searching for dinosaur fossils on a hot Monday in July. If you are going to try to find spiritual nourishment, you would do well to look where you can reasonably expect to find some. For example, read the Tao Te Ching, the Bible, and the Humanist Manifesto, go to church, pray, meditate, join a Small Group, increase your charitable giving, sing in the choir, volunteer to help people in need. These are tried and true places where one can reasonable expect to find spiritual nourishment. It is known that there is a rich vein of spirit runs parallel to these activities.

And if nothing special happens, or only happens for you once in a long time, that doesn’t mean you ‘don’t get it’ or are not spiritual enough. It simply means you have hit a dry time in your spiritual life. Remember that this can still be a wonderful time if you don’t worry and you don’t stop reading, attending, singing, praying, giving, and serving as you usually do. Trust also that the dry time will end and you will find that fossil or be struck by that deep personal and spiritual insight.

And here, amidst my delightful metaphor of the free and responsible search for dinosaur fossils I want to point out the metaphorical language that keeps popping up when we talk about spirituality. Much of the language we use for engaging in a spiritual practice speaks of a search, a quest, an attempt to find something. We long to find that spiritual insight, that fossil bone, or simply an inner calm and peace. When in our UU Principles we lift up the free and responsible search it is for truth and meaning – and it is the search for meaning that is the heart of a spiritual practice.

And what is meaning, after all, but the depth dimension we make of this life ourselves! “This hour is sacred because we make it so,” (a common Call to Worship I use by Jim Wickman). Meaning is a level of depth we find in our living; it is a quality of richness. How often do we slog through life or portions of our lives just going through the motions – no passion or careful thought expended; nothing of ourselves in the tasks? But our lives are like a rich fossil bed awaiting our effort and attention. With some practice, a wealth of spirit is just waiting to flow into our living.

In the introduction of the book Everyday Spiritual Practice, Editor Scott Alexander offers the guiding definition he used for deciding what to include in the book. He wrote that an everyday spiritual practice can be prayer or meditation, yoga or justice-making, recycling or quilting. “They are any activity or attitude in which you can regularly and intentionally engage, and which significantly deepens the quality of your relationship with the miracle of life both within and beyond you.” (p 5)

So, brushing your teeth or any number of personal hygiene rituals can be considered an “activity in which you regularly and intentionally engage.” But it is not a spiritual activity. Gardening can be just gardening, even though you do it every day in season. Sitting and staring off into space might be daydreaming rather than meditation even if you schedule it into your daily routine. These activities have the intentionality and the regularity but lack the depth implied in naming them as ‘spiritual’ practices. Alexander said it could be “any activity or attitude in which you can regularly and intentionally engage, and which significantly deepens the quality of your relationship with the miracle of life both within and beyond you.” Intentionality and regularity are important, but depth makes the difference.

And it seems to me one implication of this line of thinking is this: if you wish to begin a spiritual practice, you don’t need to choose a traditional form such as daily prayer or yoga or sitting Zen. You could as readily choose a practice you already have such as gardening or quilting and add the depth dimension to it. It may prove easier to add a depth dimension to a current practice than it would be to begin and sustain a new practice.

To be sure, the traditional practices we thinks of when we considers spiritual practices are excellent choices because, as my paleontologist guide offered, “If you are going to try to find dinosaur fossils you should look where you can reasonably expect to be able to find some.” But as Unitarian Universalist we are iconoclasts – doing religion the way it has always been done holds little interest for most people who gather here. Thus, Alexander’s point is well made: any activity in which you regularly and intentionally engage can serve when you add the depth dimension to it, when you use it to “significantly deepen the quality of your relationship” with life.

Listen to this story of cellist Pablo Casals that I found in the new Spirit in Practice curriculum from the UUA – the curriculum (as it happens) that Jeff Donahue will be leading next month (February.)

Pablo Casals, born in Vendrell, Spain to a Puerto Rican mother, is thought by many to be the greatest cellist who ever lived. His recordings of the Bach Cello Suites, made between 1936 and 1939, are considered unsurpassed to this day.
Casals’ prodigious musical talent became evident early. By the age of four he could play the violin, piano, and flute (having been taught by the church organist and choir director). When he first heard a cello at the age of 11, he decided to dedicate himself to that instrument, and he had already given a solo recital in Barcelona three years later at the age of 14. Five years later he was on the faculty of the renowned Municipal School of Music in Barcelona and was principal cellist of the Barcelona Opera House. He gained international acclaim in a career of such length that he performed in the United States for both President Theodore Roosevelt and President John F. Kennedy.
Yet even having attained such unquestionable mastery of his instrument, throughout his entire life Casals maintained a disciplined regimen of practicing for five or six hours every day. On the day he died, at the age of 96, he had already put in several hours practicing his scales. A few years earlier, when he was 93, a friend asked him why, after all he had achieved; he was still practicing as hard as ever. “Because,” Casals replied, “I think I’m making progress.”

So, practice! Casels found that the simple act of a daily routine was an essential part of the gift he had to offer the world. What would your life be like if you practiced something – anything – for five hours every day? I personally find this a daunting prospect. Even if we reduce the question to a mere 15 minutes each day.

I have, over the years, grumbled at myself that while I can manage to add a quality of depth to nearly any activity in my life, it is sustaining a regularity of practice that eludes me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve tried everything, but I have tried a lot of different practices and nothing sticks. In my self-depreciating voice I would say I am completely lacking in discipline! Alexander says a spiritual practice should have intentionality and regularity as well as depth. I can reach the depth, but the regularity is so very hard for me.

But then I read one of the early chapters in that Everyday Spirituality book. I read the chapter (entitled “Eclectic Spirituality”) in which my colleague Barbara Wells writes about her preferred spiritual practice:

“I have come to realize that my spiritual practice can best be described as “eclectic.’ I have been fed through diverse and what may seem to be conflicting ways. I have gained spiritual knowledge in places as different as a college class-room and a New Age support group. I have journaled, prayed, meditated, danced, and sung to nurture my spirit. I have worshipped alone on a mountainside and in a ballroom filled with thousands. I have gone months without doing anything that looks remotely spiritual and have prayed every day for weeks at a time. That variety has been extraordinarily fulfilling and good for my soul.
“Eclectic spiritual practice [Wells continues] goes against the prevailing view that spiritual practice is like exercise: It must be a consistent, daily regimen, or your spirit will wither and die. Because this belief is so common, I have on occasion been called to task for not being ‘spiritual enough.’ But I believe there is no one-size-fits-all spirituality.” (p29)

And so perhaps there isn’t even a one-size-fits-me spirituality! And maybe, just maybe, that is not a cop-out on my part. Maybe this can be real because the point of a spiritual practice is not to do it the way the monks and mystics of old had always done it. The point is not to go through the motions of a spiritual practice. The point is to reach that depth on a regular basis, to develop the capacity to reach that quality of depth in living on a regular basis because it will make life better. Wells, in her “Eclectic Spirituality” essay adds this, “Spiritual practice is ultimately designed for something more: to make us better people and to bring our gifts into the world.” (Ibid, p32)

I like that wrinkle in the defined purpose of spiritual practices! To bring our gifts into the world! Certainly when I think of deeply spiritual people who spend their lives in traditional spiritual practice this definition can work: the gift they bring is of peace and compassion in their interactions with all people. That kind of peace spreads. It is good stuff! It is a gift they bring the world. But that is not the only gift a person can have. There is no one-size-fits-all gift we all have (except perhaps love – but I’ll leave that argument for another morning.)

What if your gift is for laughter or organizing things or seeing connections that others might miss? What if your gift is for song or listening or building things? There is a way to tap into your gift through regular, intentional practice. You can find and bring forth that best part of yourself.

And here I lift up a delightful paradox, at least a paradox in the words we use to describe what is going on. We speak of spiritual practice as being a search, a quest, an attempt to find something. And yet, notice in the Fulghum reading I offered this morning (from All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten, “Get Found, Kid” p54-56) how sometimes we speak not of finding but of being found. Notice how sometimes we will hide things about ourselves that are too intimate or tender to share, or would make us too vulnerable. Notice how sometimes what we are searching to find is only our own selves – and thus we are found.

When we hide a part of ourselves away in shame or fear, it may well be a deep part of ourselves that is linked to our gift. Some argue that it always is. Whatever you are after when you engage in a spiritual practice, be it God or your own gift, or the deep vulnerable core of yourself – I wish you good hunting. On hot Mondays in July or cold Sundays in January, may that spiritual insight or fossil bone turn up in your search!

In a world without end,
May it be so.

And the Wisdom to Know the Difference

And the Wisdom to Know the Difference
Rev. Douglas Taylor
12-12-10

The serenity prayer, composed by famous 20th century liberal Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, is a mainstay of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. This prayer has been used ritually to open or close meetings for decades. So many people know this simple three line prayer. It is not uncommon for simple pieces like this to be embellished over time and amplified in many ways. Such a simple prayer says so much, it ought to have more words; it ought to take longer to say it. But there it is:

God grant me
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

I know it by heart. God help me to have the qualities I need to be in control of my life again. When I was a psychology student in college I remember being fascinated by the section in personality studies about the difference between an internal vs. an external locus of control. What part of the problem do you have control over and what part do you not have control over? And do you have a realistic perspective on that or do you blame others for what is clearly within your control? Or do you blame yourself for things that are really beyond your control? God grant me the wisdom to know the difference. Knowing that prayer as I did, I thought the conversation about internal vs. external loci control was so very familiar.

I grew up in an alcoholic home and by the time I was an older teen, my father, older brother and one of my two older sisters were all recovering alcoholics. I am very fluent with the vocabulary of AA and NA. Easy Does It. One Day at a Time. Keep It Simple, Stupid. All these sayings were batted around our house during the second half of my teenage years. We would occasionally talk about the alcoholism like it was a third party in the room, an entity with whom we must deal with. “That was the disease in him,” we might say. Or, “That was the alcohol talking.” We were trying to sort out what part of the horrible things we’d been through were things we needed to seek forgiveness for and what part were beyond our control that we needed only to acknowledge.

One of the steps in the AA process, one of the 12-steps is to take a fearless moral inventory; to really look at yourself and your history with bare honesty. In that inventory, the recovering alcoholic needs to weigh all the painful and shameful truths and decide: is this something that I did for which I need to make amends? And while it is at some points along the way helpful to divide out a portion of blame for the influence of the drug or the alcohol, ultimately each addict knows that the buck stops with the person.

But addiction is one of those tricky places when we are talking about control. One of the definitions of addiction is that you’ve lost your self-control over the craving and addiction. We Unitarian Universalists prize our capacity to choose good over evil. Here we speak highly of the freedom we have to follow our conscience and to do what we know is right. But this gets muddy when speaking of addiction because addiction is a self-destruction that feeds on itself. As Unitarian Universalists we seek to be whole people, but there is no doubt that one aspect we lift high is the use of reason. Some still call us the rational religion. Yet addiction is not rational. Addiction is often about rationalizing! But it is not rational.

Thus, the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous begins with a leap of faith, a religious conversion experience. The basic outline of the story – and this works for any addiction: drinking, smoking, drug abuse, sex-addiction, over-eating … all of it – the basic outline is that when the addict hits rock bottom they realize they can’t manage it or hide it or deal with it any more. Step one says: we admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. Step two is: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. And Step three is: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Steps 4 – 10 focus on that fearless moral inventory I mentioned earlier and the process of confession, forgiveness, and atonement with God and with other people. Step11 is for prayer and discernment while 12 is about witnessing to others about our “spiritual awakening.” But steps 1-3 outline the spiritual awakening – the conversion experience.

As you might guess, there have been many non-theistic versions of the 12-step program that have arisen over the years. For many atheists, agnostics, and humanists it is enough to do the program, work through the steps using what you can and ignoring the rest. But others just cannot work with what feels to them like a thinly masked Christian process of conversion and redemption. Therefore there have grown up around AA several alternatives ranging in theology. And interesting twist to the AA model is a Buddhist take on recovery that mixes the twelve steps with the four noble truths and the eightfold path.

The first noble truth of Buddhism says that all life is suffering. The first step in the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous says that our lives have become unmanageable and out of control; that we are suffering. The second noble truth of Buddhism says that the root of our suffering is attachment, our seemingly insatiable craving and desire; our grasping after something we think will give us pleasure but ultimately does not. And the third noble truth tells us that there is a way out of suffering; it is possible to end the craving and grasping. The second step in the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous says that there is a higher power in our lives that can lead us out of the addiction and put our lives back into control. The third step is the declaration that we have made a commitment to turn our lives over to the source of this health; that we have decided to turn our selves over to that which can stop the suffering and return us to sanity. The fourth noble truth outlines the decision to follow the path of liberation, to take refuge in the wisdom and community of the eightfold path.

The author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (Sogyal Rinpoche) writes: “Basically, the same methods that work against attachment are effective against addiction, but one needs to realize that mental transformation via meditation and reflection can be effective, but it is not an instant-solution.”

The process of recovery, of regaining control of your life that has been devastated by addiction, is to step into a process that is both psychological and spiritual. It doesn’t need to be the traditional AA model – but the basic experience of surrendering your out-of-control life over to a power greater than your own is at the root of all of it. (For more on that thought, skim through the sermon I delivered last month on the paradox of surrender.)

But getting back to the psychological and spiritual mixture of addiction, let me finish the quote from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (Sogyal Rinpoche). “We need to realize that addiction is usually a result of underlying problems/frustrations; it is no secret that addiction and depression often go hand in hand, so apart from the physical addiction there is usually a lot of healing needed. …there is usually an underlying frustration or problem we try to forget by absorbing ourselves in something else.”

And this is the point when my sermon is not written only for those who are living with addiction in their lives or in their families. We all have frustrations and problems in life. For addicts the addiction is a problem but it is also a mask. The self-destructive behavior is a cover for the deeper pain the person does not want to really deal with.

There is an interesting connection from the philosophy and history of Alcoholics Anonymous and Psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung was the one who broadened Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis approach through interpreting emotional disturbances through a spiritual and archetypal perspective. Jung claimed, for example, that most emotional problems were rooted in a person’s attempts to find personal and spiritual wholeness. M. Scott Peck tells the story in his book Further Along the Road Less Traveled.

(I have taken this telling of the story from a sermon by UU colleague Mark Worth from 2000 entitled “Thirsting for Wholeness.”)
Jung had a patient back in the 1920s, an alcoholic man who after about a year of therapy had made no progress. Finally Jung threw up his hands and said to him, “Listen, you’re just wasting your money with me. I don’t know how to help you. I can’t help you.” And the man asked, “Is there no hope for me then? Is there nothing you can suggest?” And Jung said, “The only thing I can suggest is that you might seek a religious conversion. I’ve heard reports of a few people who underwent religious conversions and stopped drinking. It makes a kind of sense to me.”
The man took Jung at his word and went out seeking a religious conversion. After about six years he had a religious conversion and stopped drinking. He introduced the idea to an alcoholic friend, Ebby. Ebby also had a religious conversion, and stopped drinking. Not long after that, Ebby dropped in one night to see his old drinking buddy, Bill W. Bill W. said, “Hey, Ebby, have a drink.” But Ebby said, “I don’t drink anymore.” Bill W. said, “That’s impossible. You’re a hopeless alcoholic, just like me.” So Ebby told the story of how he had met a man who was a patient of Jung’s who had undergone a religious conversion and stopped drinking, and how he had done the same. Bill W. thought it was a good idea. Along with his friend, Dr. Bob S., Bill W. decided that the way to fight alcoholism was through a religious conversion and in the company of other alcoholics, who shared “their experience, strength and hope” with one another so that they could stay sober and save each other’s lives. Together Bill W. and Dr. Bob S. founded Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron, Ohio in 1935.
About twenty years later, once it had really gotten off the ground, Bill W. wrote to Jung to tell him about the role that he had inadvertently played in the founding of AA. And Jung wrote him back a fascinating letter. Jung said he was glad to hear that his patient had done well, and he was glad to have played some small role in the founding of AA. And he was particularly glad to get the letter from Bill W. because, while there were not many people he could talk to about these ideas, it had occurred to him that it was perhaps no accident that we traditionally referred to alcoholic drinks as spirits. Perhaps alcoholics were people who had a greater thirst for the spirit than others, and perhaps alcoholism was a spiritual disorder, or better yet, a spiritual condition.

According to Jung then, some people feel a particular spiritual hunger or craving for wholeness that is unmet. Following that line of thought Tom Brady Jr., in his book Thirsting for Wholeness, contends that some people need life to be more than just what is found on the surface. “These are the thirsty ones,” He writes. “The thirst they feel is not physical, it is spiritual. It is an inner craving for the wholeness that comes through union with others and with God.” Among the thirsty ones we find poets, musicians, artists, philosophers, writers, religious thinkers and mystics – and addicts. Brady, echoing Jung, says that all addictions have their root in spiritual thirst.

You may have just such a thirst. You’re not alone. It doesn’t mean you’re an addict or a mystic – only that you’re attuned to that deep yearning within your soul. If things are not well in your life, if indeed you have caught yourself in that self-destructive pattern of behavior, then I encourage you to reach out for help. You’re not alone in this suffering. If you have already reached out and are recovering, I encourage you now to look again at the pain and the yearning deep within you. May God grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. And remember you are not alone.

Perhaps you’ve heard the parable wherein someone says: I was walking down the street and suddenly fell into a hole I had not seen in front of me. It took me a long time to climb out. The next day I was walking down the same street and I fell into the same hole again by mistake. The third day, I saw the hole ahead of me but I still fell into it. The fourth day I saw the hole and made plans to avoid it, but somehow fell in again anyway. The tale goes on like this until eventual after many times I learn to successfully avoid falling into the hole.

I recently heard a version of this ‘falling into the same hole again’ parable that is delightfully mixed with the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan. It goes like this:
A man was walking down the street and he fell into a deep hole. So he started shouting for help. A doctor walked by, and the man down in the hole yelled out, “Can you help me?” The doctor wrote a prescription on a piece of paper, and dropped it in the hole. Then a clergyman walked by. The man in the hole shouted, “Can you help me?” The clergyman wrote out a prayer on a piece of paper and dropped it in the hole. Finally the man’s best friend walked by, and the man in the hole said, “Can you help me?” So his best friend jumped in the hole with him. The first man said, “Why did you do that? Now we’re both in the hole.” And his friend said, “Yes, but I’ve been here before, and I know the way out.”

In a world without end,
May it be so.

A People So Bold

A People So Bold
Rev. Douglas Taylor
12-5-10

It is inspiring to me to realize that we, as a denomination and as individual congregations, continue to make important contributions toward the establishment of justice. Ours is a religious tradition which has often played a prominent role in social justice issues throughout the past few centuries. It has been this willingness to engage the real problems of the world that has caused me to be most proud that I am a Unitarian Universalist.

This congregation, before my time, had developed a strong history of activism by sending its minister to Selma during the Civil Rights movement and by serving as one of the starting places for the Binghamton – El Charcon Sister City project. And there are a variety of ways we do the work of Justice in this congregation today.

For example, the Green Sanctuary committee has been doing a great deal around earth justice, projects ranging from petitions to end gas-drilling, to weatherizing our own church building. And we just had solar panels installed on our roof. Another example is found in the group of members that joins with other community members on the court house steps each Monday protesting the current wars. Yet another group pulled together and planned last year’s annual interfaith worship service affirming gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in religious life. We host an annual “Justice Sunday” with a worship service and program each spring. We provide and serve a local green salad each month for the free community dinner in downtown Johnson City, and once a year (on election night) we provide and serve the entire meal.
The Children’s Religious Education committee has adopted the Rescue Mission’s Men’s Shelter – the only homeless shelter for men in Broome County – and every first Sunday after services we’ve been making meals for the shelter to serve. We take a special collection once a month for a local charity or organization that is doing good in our community. We have a corporate-level membership in the NAACP, and there are regularly members of our congregation on the local NAACP board. There are so many ways to make a difference.

That’s an exhausting list. There are so many ways to get involved, so many ways to make the world a better place. It’s exhausting, but I doubt it is an exhaustive list! I’m sure I’ve left some important things off my list – someone will come up to me after service and say I forgot to mention something.

But the huge impressive list is not really what I wanted to talk about. Really I want to ask: Why do we do all this? What compels us as individuals and as a community to work for justice? James Luther Adams, our 20th century Unitarian theologian, called for the liberal church to be a prophetic church, to boldly declare liberation against all oppressions of the mind and body. And he called for the Prophethood of all believers. In his essay by that title, Adams writes that religious liberals shy away from the claim that a prophet is one who predicts future doom, and instead we emphasize the interpretation that a prophet is one who speaks truth to power:

Religious liberals are accustomed to emphasizing the prophetic task of the church. [He writes] But we have long ago abandoned the whole idea of predicting the future by means of interpreting the biblical prophecies. In conformity with the findings of modern historical research, we have held that prediction is a secondary and even an unimportant aspect of Old Testament prophecy.

He goes on to talk about our view of prophets not as foretellers but as ‘forthtellers,’ meaning people to speak forth the truth with love. A prophet, Adams tells us, “stands at the end of a community’s experience and tradition, … viewing human life from a piercing perspective and bringing an imperative sense of the perennial an inescapable struggle of good against evil, of justice against injustice.” We see a prophet, not as one who predicts the future, proclaiming doom and impending destruction. Instead, we see a prophet as one who stands forth to announce a crisis, to demand that the ethical decisions be made here and now.

But a short way into the essay we discover that Adams is challenging this liberal view as truncated. He writes:

But we fall far short of understanding the full nature of prophecy if we think of prophets merely as critics dealing with religious and ethical generalities. In the great ages of prophecy the prophets have been foretellers as well as forthtellers. They have been predictors.

And here I am reminded that Martin Luther King Jr. was not merely a critic of culture and our country’s race relations record. King never said “I have a critique.” He said “I have a dream.” He was a foreteller as well as a forthteller. King dreamt of a better land, a beloved community. King was a critic but he was more than that, he interpreted the signs of the times and predicted where we were going and called us to a better place.

And James Luther Adams wants our congregations to be prophetic churches filled with prophets. What would that look like? Do we have prophetic-minded people? Are we merely critics dealing in religious and ethical generalities? Or is there a vision leading us?

So I put it out there. I asked the individuals on the Social Justice Council to tell me, “Why do you do this work?” What is it that makes us so bold? The first response I got was from George McAnanama who said, “I have an overdeveloped sense of right and wrong. Therefore Social Justice work keeps me both sane and out of jail.” Though, he did allow that there were those who would argue with his assertions about it keeping him sane. And I would argue that it might be keeping him out of jail, but working for justice is the sort of thing that has seen others sent to jail.

Eric Loeb responded to my question of ‘why’ saying, “like the Boy Scouts (‘though I’ve never been one) I want to leave my “campsite” better than I found it. Doing so gives me great personal satisfaction as well as helping me develop satisfying relationships with other people. It’s unquestionably spiritual, though, having been raised by atheists of Jewish descent, that’s not a word I use very often.” He acknowledged that working for justice was just something he grew up with; his parents were doing it around him all the time. “I guess I’ve been a social activist since, as a pre-teen, I was “Number One Boy” for The Council for Community Action.”

Chris Niskanen also wrote about the example from her parents. In her e-mail she added, “I do social justice work because I firmly believe in fairness & equality for everyone, as well as helping those people who are less fortunate than myself. I feel I can best do this in a group. As Margaret Mead said a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

This note began a theme I heard from several of the people on the council. Toni Norton wrote: “The little I can do, together with the work of others, can make a huge difference in the world.” Sue McAnanama wrote: “Working in community with others to accomplish what I cannot possibly do alone is a path that goes to the heart of my religious beliefs.” And Carol Miyake said it like this:

Often there is a sense that one as an individual can do little to help create a more just and peaceful world, but joining together with others in our faith community gives a sense that by working together, it is possible to make real progress. I find rich spirituality in working together with others towards a better world for all.

Several people spoke of doing justice as a core part of what it means for them to be religious or spiritual. Toni Norton said, “Helping those less fortunate and those affected by widespread social injustice, goes to the core of my being and belief.” And Sue McAnanama said, “I try to incorporate the core values of equality, non-violence, and peace into my daily life.”

Petra Stone also responded saying this:

To me, doing social justice work is the essence of my spirituality. One of my core beliefs is that we are ALL connected. So if my fellow travelers suffer, I suffer. If I work to improve the lives of those around me, I will be better off as well as will future generations. Although sitting on a mountain and connecting with God/dess can be helpful at times, I see little value in it, if I do not then spread the love that such a connection to the divine affords me to others. “Let you light shine, so others may not feel so alone and in the dark and know that there is always hope.”

I imagine that for many of us, the reasons we strive to make the world a better place has been articulated well by these statements. It is a core part of being religious for many of us. It is how we engage spiritually. Putting our faith and beliefs into actions to help others is not only an ethical thing to do it is also a spiritual thing to do. And I do hear a vision, a far-sighted goal in what people are doing. We are working toward a world with more “fairness and equality.” We are working in community to help those in need because peace, equality and compassion matter. And we all want to shine. And we all feel the suffering of our neighbor. This is the prophetic element in our justice work: the shared vision of a better world that we work to build.

Rema Loeb sent me a very inspiring and deeply spiritual response to my question, why do you pursue Justice?

A large part of social justice for me is the recognition that we are all a part of the natural world, that there need be no division among us, whether we are two leggeds or part of what many native people recognize as all of our brothers and sisters. That we cannot harm the Mother without harming ourselves seems so clear.

It should then be easier to recognize the pain and suffering that we cause to others, often in ignorance. Social justice is simply accepting the fact that we can be more in touch with the balance of life and therefore be a helper on this great journey.

It is easy to get discouraged, even apathetic, and feel that there is so much to be done, too few to do it.

Maybe we just need to realize that whether a simple sharing of food or of time, of leaning more about the needs of others and sharing that knowledge, of signing or launching petitions or lobbying, of working for peace or healthcare or the elimination of poverty, of helping to build a world of more love, more inclusion or even just encouraging others, we can all have a part in creating the world of which we dream. It is a journey of patience, a journey that holds much joy even through difficulties; and always with the knowledge that if the 99th monkey gives up, we will never arrive at the 100th monkey.

You don’t have to be a great and stirring speaker like Dr. King to be a prophet, and you need not be a wild-eyed woman wearing a sandwich board sign declaring the end (or the beginning) to be near. You can be an ordinary soul with a conscience and a voice and a heart. You don’t have to be super-amazing. You can be just regular-amazing like most of the people around here. I don’t think Adams meant for the ‘Prophethood of all believers’ to be an impossible task. He explains a little further in this passage:

We have long held to the idea of the Priesthood of all believers, the idea that all believers have direct access to the ultimate resources of the religious life and that every believer has the responsibility of achieving as explicit faith for free persons. As an element of this radical laicism we need also a firm belief in the prophethood of all believers. The prophetic liberal church is the church in which persons think and work together to interpret the signs of the times in the light of their faith.

Adams is saying the key ingredient is the capacity to interpret the signs of the times in the light of our faith. He is saying that as a community we can and should evaluate our world, weigh it against our shared vision and dream of what we can be.

The prophetic liberal church is the church in which all members share the common responsibility to attempt to foresee the consequences of human behavior (both individual and institutional), with the intention of making history in place of merely being pushed around by it. Only through the prophetism of all believers can we together foresee doom and mend our common ways.

We are builders and doers and planters and seekers. We are lovers and dreamers, makers of institutions and rebels against institutions. We cry out in frustration and we wait patiently through the labor for daybreak to come. We stand in witness we sit in protest, we walk in solidarity and we run the race in faith. We are the ones who see what can be and start the work of building that dream into a reality. We are the ones who critique the injustice – yes! – and also boldly declare what the world can be when we see justice rolls down like water and peace like an ever flowing stream.

Our shared vision of a better world is why we do all the justice work we do. It is a spiritual path for many of us because it is not mere critique we are offering – but a prophetic declaration of a better world. The world we dream of, our prophetic vision is of our world made more beautiful by fairness and equality and peace; it is the world we are boldly working to build together.

In a world without end
May it be so