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“Oh, the Places We’ll Go!”

I don’t know about you, but at my house we have spent the past week working in the yard. I say we, but the truth is that it is mostly my husband, Chuck.

I get out there in between other responsibilities. He does the bulk of it. Raking up leaves and pine needles, clipping shrubs and trees, carting it all off into the woods. He is meticulous with this, like so many other things he takes on. He comes by it naturally, by training and by passion. Whether he is caring for a public land somewhere or just our little plot of it, he is a steward in the true sense of the word. A steward is someone who looks after someone or something, takes responsibility for it, arranges it, and keeps order – I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times I have heard him say he needed to bring order to the forest!

We have our stewards here, too, at the Meeting House. Leadership folks who manage our finances and overall direction in general. People with a passion for some aspect of church life that they dig into and nurture – all the committees and we can’t forget the thrift shop. Those who tend to our building, it’s upkeep and the needs it cries out for. The loving caretakers of our members in small groups and in times of grief or celebration. We are all, to some extent, stewards of this faith community, be it with our time or our talents or our treasures. In the much-loved children’s book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Dr. Suess points to two reasons that ensure the ongoing success of the reader. He says it is with the brains in their head and the feet in their shoes. He trusts that the reader can figure out what is necessary and combine that knowledge with action steps that move them along their way to whatever stated goals they may have. I titled this message, “Oh, the Places We’ll Go!” because I trust similarly in the minds and hearts, hands and feet of the Meeting House to move us ahead in amazing ways to great places.

In our reading this morning, Amy Brooks talks about all the ways to love a church. Stewardship is, after all, about love. They talk about the tangible ways to love the church – the hands-on things that need to be done, the places where we apply our various gifts and abilities, knowledge we have gleaned from life and practice, apply those bits of expertise to the work of the whole. They talk, too, about showing up and this isn’t so much about just our individual contributions to tasks at hand, as it is about showing up with our whole selves when it is joyful and easy and when it asks us to examine ourselves – our intentions – our values – our relationships and how we live into them – the deeper, harder stuff of community. Because we need one another on this journey as we grow our spirits in the context of this container we call church – or in our case – meeting house. They talk about the invitational nature of beloved community, how we are invited into something sacred or set aside for this great purpose, to build a world where love is the touchstone for all else that exists.

Last October, as we began this church year, we celebrated 25 years in this location here on the hill. And we lifted up the foresight of those founding members who saw an opportunity and trusted in the love that existed in their midst to take a chance – to take a big step – in purchasing a building to call home. A place of your own from which that love could radiate outward into the wider community. And so we sit here today, a quarter century hence, the result of that love and trust, the product of those many years of stewarding the dream into being. Some of those folks are still with us and we are so grateful that they believed in the potential, the sacred opportunity to make a Unitarian Universalist presence known in Chatham. This place, this community is their gift to us, something precious to tend to.

I chose as a beach read for my vacation

Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.” I am a latecomer to this book, published nearly ten years ago, but it was highly recommended by the professor who led my course of study at the UUMA Institute back in February. It is chock full of wisdom, to be sure, and I am glad for the gift of its suggestion. In it the author talks about the nature of an object being changed by the way it comes to us – as a gift or as a commodity. This Meeting House is a gift from our founders and all those since who have kept the hope alive. Sometimes we might treat it more like a commodity and that is when we run into trouble.

Kimmerer makes an example of a pair of colorful, cozy wool socks we might buy at the store. We can be grateful for the sheep who gave the wool and the worker who knitted them, but she has no inherent obligation to the socks as private property. On the other hand, perhaps her grandmother had knit those socks, maybe even spun the wool herself, and given them as a gift. This changes everything! In the giving a relationship is created, something ongoing. She writes a thank-you note, cares for them well, wears them when she sees her grandmother, even if they aren’t her favorites! And she gives a gift in return when it is called for by occasion.

“Every being with a gift, every being with a responsibility,” Kimmerer writes. I found myself circling these words in one form or another, over and over as I read: “All of our flourishing is mutual.” The plants that she knows so well as an indigenous person and as a biologist have lessons for us – more so our relationships with them. They need us to pick and prune in order that they continue their cycles of living and in return they offer to us of their bounty.

And I take this as lesson for us, too, here at the Meeting House. Each of us has a role to play in the ongoing life of this faith community. And when we give to it, we establish a relationship with it. So it has been for the past 25 years – members and friends giving to the common good and receiving the gifts that are offered here – a community of care – a place of social consciousness and public witness – opportunities to learn and to grow, to feed our minds and spirits – a setting out of which our larger lives are given meaning and sustenance.

The keynote speakers at the UUMA Institute for the Learning Ministry, notable theologians and professors from our tradition and others, all of them people of color, generously expounded on the theme of resilience in ways I might not have expected, but that speak to me of our journey together. I heard about the importance of the contexts out of which we come, our learned values and subjectivities, the imprints on our senses, in shaping who we are,[i] but also how we respond in the present and as we make plans for the future. And I wondered what is helpful about that from our individual and collective lives and what about it gets in my way. I heard that progressive theology is imaginative, but it can also be limiting in that it posits a safe range of possibilities, falling short of what is needed for true resilience, and that fantasy – that wildest of our dreaming – is what is necessary to meet the challenges of our times[ii]. From our own UU seminary in California, I heard the president talking about survival of the beloved community we are building as lying well beyond the institutions we now enjoy[iii]. What I heard her saying was that we have gotten too comfortable as a faith tradition and that the world is moving on in creative ways and that it may just leave us in the dust if we don’t explore – fantasize even – about ways to make our systems and institutions more accessible to the expansive world that surrounds us. We need a theology that is applicable to the current struggles of our lives, said one[iv]. An understanding of what is holy or sacred that answers our needs and those of humanity and our planet. And then I was reminded that our personal destiny is interwoven with community[v] – each of us as individuals, but even more so our destiny here – woven with the warp and weft first gifted to us, each thread and stripe in the tapestry a gift of one or another in our midst. On and on it goes connecting past to present to future – all flourishing is mutual; born of reciprocity. Stewardship. Love.

What I heard was an invitation to think out of the box – maybe even to throw the box away and just think in expanding spirals of existence that spread our message while simultaneously drawing in, to think about the gift of our faith, its values and principles, and how we might reciprocate, to think about the preciousness of what we have, that priceless nugget at our core and how we can best share that gift with the wider community and our world. Now is not the time to sit back and wait, to let caution born of the fear of change get in the way of our becoming all we can be in and for these times of unprecedented shifting in our culture and society. Out of gratitude for the gift we have been given, now is the time to ensure that original dream is carried forward into the next generation.

This is the time of year when we are asked to consider how we contribute to the good of the whole here at the Meeting House. After the service we will hear from our Treasurer about what it takes to sustain this place physically with a viable professional ministry – the basics. Today I invite you to go beyond what is necessary for the present in your thinking about UUMH, to consider the gift in its fullness – how it impacts your life and its potential to impact so much more. I invite you into a season of thoughtful giving and creative imagining – dare I say, fantasizing – about what we have and how to make it available to each of us and to the lives of those we encounter every day, because the gift of this faith is too important to do anything less.

May it be so, and Blessed be.

Rev. Tracy Johnson

UUMH Chatham, March 27, 2022

[i] Benjamin Valentin, Ph.D.; currently Associate Professor Yale University [ii] Anthony B. Pinn, Ph.D.; currently Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University [iii] Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt; President of Starr King School for the Ministry [iv] Rev. Sofia Betancourt; Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics at Starr King School for the Ministry; incoming President for the Commission on Institutional Change [v] Dr. Elias Ortega; President of Meadville Lombard Theological School



​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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