Sunday, July 5, 2015

Spiritually Speaking: Building a New Way?

I’ve just returned from a week in Portland, Oregon.  Roughly 5,000 Unitarian Universalists gathered for our annual General Assembly.  Some traveled only by foot to arrive and some live-streamed it all from their living room, others boarded planes from the corners of the United States and some Unitarian Universalist leaders traveled from far outside the boarders of the U.S. to be with us.  While in Portland, I attended workshops, meetings, and presented on our multi-site ministry.  The theme for the conference was “Building a New Way.”

From the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the new healthcare structure to marriage equality and reproductive rights, it was indeed a new way across the country.  Euphoria captured the hearts of many Unitarian Universalists in Portland,.  Yet, in the midst of our joy and rainbow flag flying, there were other flags flown as well.  As President Obama offered Reverend Pinckney’s eulogy, the Confederate flag flew over the state capitol.  Just three days later, Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole in Columbia and removed the flag.  It was promptly replaced.  Here in Charlotte, a church, Briar Creek Baptist was set ablaze.  We do not yet know why it was set on fire, but we know it was intentional and a community is aching from the loss and knowledge that someone harmed them.  Here in Salisbury, protestors gathered around the statue of a Confederate soldier with confederate flags and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. 

Are we building a new way?  Or are we walking in circles?

Yes, I’ve begun to answer to these questions.  Yes.

This past week was euphoric and heartbreaking.  Both are true. We can live into the paradox of allowing love to make and break our hearts.  This is the paradox of being alive.  We do not have to choose between celebrating the victories in the LGBTQ community and the sweet relief of marriage equality and mourning the assault on African Americans and the continued presence of the virus of racism.   We can hold joy and pain.  In fact, by holding both, we live in the solidarity that is the call of our faith.

We have progressed and we have regressed.  Both are true.  The spiritual evolution of a people is not linear but punctuated, unpredictable and complex.  The new way is still emerging and may yet be impossible for us to fully comprehend.  As Louis Amstrong sings in one of my favorites,
I’ve heard babies cryin’.  I watch them grow.  They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know.  And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
We do not yet understand the spirit of justice emerging in our midst.  This is the nature of faithful organizing and spiritual response: we step out into new territories.  We move beyond the old narratives of liberals and conservatives.  We move past the shame of the South and identifying it as a diagnosed patient in the disease of racism.  Instead, we see that the virus of racism has mutated to infect vast systems across this country.  We move beyond the old narratives of polarized public debate and into the nuance of real humans.  We step into actual relationship with one another.  One of my colleagues, Rev. Anthony Smith, who preached at our congregation, went down to the statue of the Confederate soldier.  He engaged the protestors in conversation.  He tried to understand why they would wave a symbol that to him is the epitome of the narrative of white superiority. 

As I try to make space for the spirit of justice in my heart, I seek the courage of Rev. Anthony Smith.  The courage to respond and humbly ask why and what now is indeed building the new way.

See you in the emerging lands where the winds of justice howl and soothe, wake and warn…

With faith and love and a good deal of hope,

Rev. Robin

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