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“Frayed But Not Afraid”

I don’t know about you, but I am feeling a little frayed around the edges these days. Have you noticed it, too? I am noticing that frayed seems to be in fashion – you can buy a pair of jeans that have no hem – just fraying strands of thread, coming unwoven – holes at stress points unraveling. It makes you think that being frayed is the way it should be! Normalizes the notion. Our friend Randy Woodley i whose thoughts I have shared with you before, says that he could go on about the bleak outlook for our future – the hottest years, the dwindling water supply, plant and animal extinctions, topsoil erosion and ocean pollution, but he won’t because we know all this and sometimes, we need to stop the influx of anxiety producing data. The state of our planet is certainly something I find fraying.

The divisiveness of an election year and our polarized leadership has a way of eating away at my edges, too. I have so little patience for the adolescent behavior of those we have put in charge. Don’t they have some real work they are supposed to be doing? If one more person mindlessly drives into a place of business or a home, I feel like I will just burst! And when did it become okay to drive away from an accident scene? What has happened to us, I want to ask of humanity. Have we all become so frayed around the edges that we no longer know how to act, acquiescing to the new norm?

My journal book this year asks me a question every day – really not a question – it asks me to complete a sentence: I felt unrest when . . . . and in the past month there have been lots of things that cropped up – a bit of overwhelm about new work, the condescending tone of my rheumatologist, migraines at times when I really had no time for them, agitated strangers showing no restraint, disturbing details about the last hours of a child’s life, broken trees, insurance snafoos, tech issues, descriptions of indigenous torture I had not heard about before, impatience, negativity – the list goes on. I share all this because it ranges from the mundane to the mortifying and you, no doubt, would have a similar list if you thought about it. In all these ways – personal ways – I become a little more frayed in the moment. But naming them, writing them down seems to help – a release of sorts so I can go on to the next day, ready to be filled with what I hope are fewer fraying incidents. This is a false hope, to be sure, because there will always be more fraying news as much as there is good stuff.

All these things are fraying. The big world events that are so alive in our times cut right to the center of one’s being. There are days when my frayed sense of experience goes deeper into my being and turns to fear. Will the senseless violence in Gaza and Ukraine ever stop or will it escalate into something horrific for even more of our world? Will women continue to have their rights to control their bodies be whittled away until there is nothing left? Will Mother Earth’s crying out for healing finally take its toll on our existence? Real fears that knock on the door of my heart. Likely yours too.

I saw a quote the other day from Cara E. Yar Khan. She said, “Life is really just a lesson in finding balance between fear and courage.” Cara was born in India and raised in Canada. She led a loving and joyful life, pursued a master’s degree in public policy, traveled extensively and has worked for the United Nations. When she was 30 years old, she was diagnosed with a rare muscle-wasting disease and while she now uses a wheelchair to get around, she works tirelessly for human rights, disability rights and the fight against human trafficking. In her TED Talk ii which I strongly commend to you, she shared about her goal of traveling down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and rafting her way out, post diagnosis. She did so with the help of an amazing cadre of people but discovered a serious fear of heights while perched on horseback on the way down. And so, she navigates this adventure holding both fear and courage, one moment one direction and the next shifting toward the other.

Courage has its roots in the heart – from the Latin “cor” meaning heart, the seat of feelings, spirit, and confidence. And so, it coexists alongside of the fears that well up when exposed to too much of the fray. Our passions dwell there, too. And a quick search tells me that passion is rooted in a Latin word for suffering. This is an interesting juxtaposition because I think of passions as those things we love so fiercely – but perhaps it can be related to the idea of a deep aching within. And so, these fears that resonate in our midst speak to our passions for a different kind of world and marry that ache to the courage we need to get through it all.

It is these acts of courage that ease the heartsickness I find as the fraying turns to fear. UCC pastor and author, Molly Baskette iii, writes that global studies cite moral beauty as one of the most awe-inspiring wonders of life – simple acts of generosity or courage undertaken by folks that we witness with astonishment. Woodley suggests that whatever we do – however we act in courageous ways in the face of really despairing news – matters. If we are doing something, he says, it means something. “Light bulbs, laundry lines and compostable sandwich bags are something . . . recycling, reusing and minimalizing your lifestyle are something.”

Last week I heard about a woman who donated a billion dollars to a medical school to pay the tuition for upcoming doctors and nurses and others in the field so that they could go on into the world focused on their passion instead of their debt. Innocent bystanders throw themselves into the fray to save other lives every day. It is courage born of passions for a world that is safe and life giving.

We have our passions here, too, as Unitarian Universalists – those Principles we espouse about the nature of humanity, the oneness of our existence, the right to think and be heard. And these values we noticed in our midst – generosity, justice, equity, transformation, pluralism. As we live into our faith, we are doing something that matters. We gather as a people of like-values and in the safety of this space our courage grows and as we work collaboratively together and, in our communities, an interpersonal courage forms creating a foundation of intellectual, artistic, and political courage iv from which true goodness can arise. In covenanted community, we are no longer afraid, and we have the tools to mend the fraying in real time.

I want to invite you into an exercise in naming and healing this morning. We haven’t done anything like this in a while and we are running out of time for us to ritualize together! So, as we pass the basket, take a little card and a pencil if you didn’t grab one on the way in. Those of you at home just need a piece of paper and something to write with. There are two prompts on the cards and on the screens – “I felt unrest when . . .” and “I felt peace when . . .” Let’s take a few moments to think back over the past week or so and jot down one of each. Notice which comes more easily. Let both rise up. We will take the opportunity for those of you who wish to share, moving from single hearts to the heart of this place – a place from which courage rises and meets our world.


A poem from Lynn Ungar – Breaking Ground.

Blessed be.

Rev. Tracy Johnson

UUMH Chatham, March 3, 2024

i Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth by Randy Woodley; Broadleaf Books, MN; 2022

iii Bend Lent Devotional 2024; Molly Baskette; February 27th; Pilgrim Press, Cleveland OH

iv Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal path to Freedom by Gregory Kramer; Shambala, Boulder: 2007.



​Unitarian Universalist

Meeting House of Chatham
Sunday Services  10:30 AM

819 Main Street
All MAIL To: PO Box 18​​
Chatham, MA 02633
(508) 945-2075

Serving our Cape Cod Community in Chatham since 1986

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