– July 12, 2020 – “Letting Go – Holding On” – Rev. Tracy Johnson
It was a week or so ago and there I was, faced with a dilemma that I hadn’t expected or intended, but nonetheless, smack in the middle of it. I have been reaching out to UUMH members and friends to introduce myself and to have a little chat to get to know you all a bit better. I received a call back with an invitation to talk over lunch and I could not have been more delighted - an opportunity to follow through on my plan. Calendars checked, date, time, and location, deliberated, DONE! Sounds great, right? Except for one small detail that I seem to have overlooked in my zeal to connect!
My forays out and about have been cautious, to say the least; masked – distanced – only on a truly as needed basis. Even as we relax some of that – the definition of need expanding to perhaps our need to see people we know and love face to face – the mask and distancing have not disappeared and it is not recommended that they do. I awoke the following morning knowing I had to make a phone call that I wished with all my heart I didn’t need to make. We would find a date and time that we could sit outdoors with masks and distance and talk for a while, getting to know one another better. It would be okay, just not the same. To be honest, I was somewhat embarrassed by the whole thing, but I know I am not alone. Our leadership here has grappled with the same stuff.
I am reminded that we have had to relinquish a fair amount of spontaneity over the past four months. And it is easy to forget. We are so used to coming and going as we please; accustomed to following the desires of our hearts without a lot of pre-planning. A trip to the grocery store now involves a mental checklist: mask? – check; hand sanitizer? – check; disinfectant wipes? – check. You probably have a similar list for every time you exit the safety of your home. It no longer feels like an adventure. When the power goes out in a big storm, I am good for about three days, possibly five if I stretch it, of what I call, “Little House on the Prairie mode.” After that I want my lights and heat and refrigeration from their usual sources. Lanterns, the wood stove and a cooler out on the porch in the snow are only fun for so long! This time we are in isn’t fun anymore – if it ever really was, and we are feeling it.
I have heard some of you sharing what you are letting go of – browsing for books in the library – visits with family and friends – rites of passages planned and rescheduled – tasks that were perhaps too much anyway; holding on to what makes connection possible in these times and the hope of a return to what truly matters.
An awareness of how much time one has left on this earth – not wanting to waste it, but not wanting to rush things either; letting go of issues and disagreements with those we love while trying to hold fast to our values – in the midst of all this holding on to family and friends – to a knowing that people are basically good and kind and probably scared right now.
An idea bubbles up – a way to connect and raise some funds for the Meeting House at the same time. We jump at – trying to figure out safe ways to do it – because we want to be able to do it without so much fuss. But as we roll it around in our minds – passing emails back and forth – we come back to the same thing. We can’t just dive in like we used to and safety plays a big part in it. We are holding onto life.
I am reminded that in letting go of spontaneity I am holding on to health and safety for myself; my family; strangers with whom I come into contact. My individual planning benefits the larger plan. I am holding on to the future. In letting go of the lunch piece I am making way for the focus of our time to be spent on the conversation; the relationship. The food does take away some of the awkwardness inherent in the unknowns of letting new people into our lives; something to talk about when the inevitable silences come, but the quiet spaces are made for taking into ourselves the richness of another being.
As I think back over the past four months – watching the daily news – the numbers as they rise and fall here and beyond – I feel us letting go of some of our innocence. We are young as a nation by most standards and there is an innocent, almost childlike quality to our understanding of who we are and what we can expect to encounter in our days. And we are not used to losing. These harder truths that we have come to face; the impermanence of power and status and humanity; more fleeting than we had been told. And yet, we hold on to courage and science and goodness, not because of our innocence, but because we see it all around us, too, alongside what slips so easily through our fingers.
Two weeks ago I attended the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly and the annual gathering of UU ministers that precedes it. I let go of chance encounters in convention center hallways with friends and colleagues that I see only once a year; let go of planned celebrations; of worshipping with several thousand other faithful UU’s; the power of our voices lifted in song. I held tightly to the spirit of it all; that slightly electric undercurrent which managed to make its way across the airwaves through my laptop screen and into my kitchen – the child dedications of my young colleagues infant children speaks to my heart still – the wise words of ministers celebrating 25 and 50 years of ministry - each taking a turn – the powerful messages grounded in our theme – What are we rooted in? Inspiration for the journey. Ready to act in a world so in need of what we offer.
Much of that week which was supposed to be in Providence and commemorate the history of our indigenous people – our relationships to indigenous people, did not let go of the resounding theme of our complicity with a colonization mindset that dates back to well before any of our forebears landed on these shores. Instead it held that truth – those stories – up to the light for our examination. Featured speakers were all black, indigenous, people of color or non-gender conforming folks. We let go of the need to center our whiteness which is what has dominated this faith tradition, and held up the hearts and minds and voices of those we so often hear less from; the voices from the margins. We were invited to hold on to whatever discomfort we might find welling up within ourselves; really experience it with the full knowledge that it is a feeling that the marginalized live with every day. It is time for us to take a turn.
During the annual meetings of the Minister’s Association and the UUA we abandoned Robert’s Rules of Order somewhat and opted for something called a “Progressive Stack.” This format yielded the first two minutes of discussion on any motion to black, indigenous, people of color and trans gender identified persons in order that their voices be given a priority place over the voices of the dominant group. It was time to step back so that our marginalized siblings in faith could step up, unencumbered, letting go of privilege and holding on to our stated values. It was time to walk the talk.
Last month, with the permission of the Meeting House Board of Trustees I ordered a sign to be placed in our Wayside Pulpit. You have probably seen these on people’s lawns – they come in all sizes and styles. I felt then and I continue to believe that we should be using our pulpit to express our values since we weren’t advertising upcoming services and speakers which, of course, make a statement of their own! The sign lists a series of things under the heading, “In this house we believe” – and says that Black Lives Matter – that women’s rights are human rights – that no human is illegal – that science is real – that love is love and that kindness is everything. This is a Unitarian Universalist Meeting House and in this House – this meeting house - we value all these things.
Sometimes we hesitate to say so succinctly the things we believe because we fear that we may offend someone or that we will suffer repercussions. Words are powerful tools for change and spoken in allyship with the marginalized can make a difference in our world. I have come away from General Assembly letting go of the fear that I harbor – fear that I will offend or that my privilege will suffer in doing what I know in my heart to be right action. These are not the times to be sitting on the fence. Our Association President, the Rev. Susan Frederick Gray has said over and over that this is no time for a casual faith. I cannot on the one hand bear witness to the racist violence and hatred that has been there all along and is now so very clear, so as not to be ignored and on the other keep silent if I believe myself to be an ally in this struggle. This is about humanity, about our kinship with all of creation.
This is an invitation to shift our focus – to shake things up a little. It is an invitation to let go of the status quo; release the grip on some of our privilege; an invitation to set aside fears and a scarcity mentality that would have us walking on eggshells rather than acting. What delightful things of beauty might be awaiting us just out of sight? What are we missing when we fail to shift that could be a new source of inspiration; of hope; of love? This is an invitation to hold on to what really matters deep within us, at the core of our beings and our faith community and to take action in ways that express what we are rooted in. It is an invitation to hold on to one another through this time of pandemic and uncertainty as we journey to the opposite shore – stronger – freer and more resilient than ever before.
So may it be and Amen.