Delivered December 7, 2014 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca
(Lightly edited version)
I began this joy service my 2nd year at UUFSD because I felt that we all needed more joy, and when I say we all, that includes me, UUFSD as a congregation and the world in general. I have always thought this time of the year calls to us to be joyous whether we actually find our way there or not, and I wanted to do what could to support that as much as possible, so we started a joy service that now always takes place on the first Sunday of December.
Until today’s service, nothing really has made me think how hard it would be to have a service on joy when I am not feeling particularly joyful. I understand that there is a wide range of both awareness and thoughts on the current stand of racial issues in America. I understand that people have different opinions about what is happening across the country, what did the grand jury evidence say, who really saw it and what did they see, who is right and who is wrong? I want you to know that as a minister in a tradition that heeded the call of Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Selma and that is very connected to social media, it is hard not to be inundated and frankly overwhelmed with the volume of information and opinions surrounding these issues. I have been trying to sort all this out for a couple of reasons, one certainly is to understand it myself, and the other is that I take my calling as the minister and spiritual leader of this congregation incredibly seriously. Taking it so seriously, I feel a need to understand what to do with all this information when it comes to my duty to you, this congregation that I serve, to the broader faith tradition of Unitarian Universalism which I also serve and perhaps most importantly to my conscience.
So I think to myself, here we are in a pretty affluent area of the country compared to many, with wonderful people that mirror the average demographics of many UU congregations, pretty well educated, middle to upper middle class and almost entirely made up of Caucasians. And then I wonder, with all the information, opinions and suggestions I am reading and hearing about how to deal with the recent grand jury decisions and resulting upheaval, as the spiritual leader, should I comfort the congregation, should I challenge the congregation, should I push the congregation to the limits of their comfort, should I hit the streets in protest and see who joins me? These are all questions that I have pondered.
I was talking about this with my wife Alice the other day and she reminded of a quote from Possessing the Secret of Joy, a very challenging book from Alice Walker that I have read about but haven’t read and the quote says, "resistance is the secret of joy." Having read about the book, the story and the intent of the line, my interpretation is that the secret of joy is the birthing of a new way through resistance to the ways that have brought us to pain, anguish and broken relationship. My understanding of this line is that the way to joy is resistance to the systems that always bring us back to the same point, that keep an unjust status quo, that keep us ill-informed, that favor unearned privilege, that cause pain and inequality, and that value a white life more than a black life.
We have had a number of joy services and we have had fun and we have been silly and we have also been serious at times. In 2011 at the Joy service I said, “Opening to joy actually does come with another question for me. A question that has deep meaning, and for me is one of the most essential questions of the world, the question is, “what in life really matters?’ We are facing substantial challenges in this world, but I really think we can't let these challenges, just like the news we watch, read or listen to, overwhelm the joys that come to us all the time in our lives. Sometimes, life is about just being able to keep perspective about what really matters. Perspective is such a valuable thing. Perspective and taking stock of what truly matters isn’t easy and doesn’t happen all that often. We get so caught up in the details of our everyday lives that sometimes we find it hard to break our patterns.”
Well, I would like to augment that today, and in some ways apologize for saying that because I really am reflecting on the question “what in life really matters” today much differently than I did in 2011. Today I am thinking that dealing with the challenges we are facing in the world are the things in life that really matter. Can you imagine the joy we would feel if we had social and political agreement on climate change and took actions that reversed the degradation of our planets’ ecosystem? Can you imagine the joy if we all were able to open up about race and deal with hundreds of years of systemic oppressions in this country? Can you imagine your joy if women were paid equally to men? Can you imagine the joy if every American had good health care and it was affordable? Can you imagine if you personally went to bed at night and said, I really did something today where I resisted the forces of hate or fear, oppression or racism, or any of the deepest divisions that cause us such pain, anguish and broken relationships in this world?
I have to tell you, in thinking about this and in reflecting on this sense of the deepest joy, there have been a couple of time in my life when I have actually gone to bed with that incredible sense of joy and if I were willing to take the risk, I think there could be many many more. I am not specifically saying go out tomorrow and march as allies with the African American community protesting police violence, although you could. I am not specifically saying go out and get arrested protesting the keystone pipeline, although at least one of among us has. I am not saying run for office to make sure your Unitarian Universalist voice is in the public arena, although our congregation has a good deal of representation in Encinitas. I am not specifically saying you should become a teacher of small children, a doctor, a social worker, a volunteer board member for a non profit or so many other things that so many of you have done to live your values, contribute to this world and hopefully reap a deep sense of joy. What I am saying that we are at a moment in this country on a couple of very very important issues and of those issues what may be the hardest, the most challenging for us personally, and certainly at the top of the list is the culture of violence in which we live, highlighted by systemic racism and injustice that persists in institutions of power and authority like police departments all over the country.
What I am also saying is that I have decided that I should do all of the above;
I should comfort the congregation in times of need when the flashpoints of violence, racism and tragedy rise to the surface,
I should challenge the congregation to respond with resistance to the ills that plague the world,
I should push the congregation to the limits of our comfort, comfort around our own thoughts and assumptions as well as our activities and our actions,
And, I should challenge myself to stretch beyond my own limits of comfort which may include hitting the streets in protest and then see who joins me.
For those of you who have worked on civil rights issues in the past, guess what, however good the work has been, however far we have come, there is still a long way to go. This social illness has raised its ugly head in a big way and the movement is mobilizing. The issue of our culture of violence in this country, both non-institutional and institutional has been brought to the surface. The pain and anguish of the constant loss of human dignity of people from communities of color has always been bad and is continuing more publicly today. We are Unitarian Universalist, our very first principle is about the inherent worth and dignity of every person. For a long time that was focused inward about our individualism within a congregation. It is time to send that focus like a laser beam outward to each and every person who suffers oppression from the systems that privilege one skin color over another. There is a small group of people who have expressed interest to me about coming together to discuss our next move. Some of us our going to meet today at 1:00 here in the hall. If you are interested, please join us.
Next Sunday the 14th, after hosting the Interfaith Sandy Hook Anniversary Candlelight vigil here at UUFSD, I hope to lay my head on my pillow at the end of the day knowing that sense of deep joy that comes from resistance. I will do that in part through the persistence of one person who has challenged his own comfort level and mine, Steve Bartram whose desire to do something about this culture of violence had led us to hosting this vigil.
All this brings to mind another quote, this one is from Rumi and it says, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” It is time for us to do this work of the soul, this opportunity to feel that deep sense of joy. A joy that comes from saying, “I really did something today where I resisted the forces of hate and fear, oppression and racism, I resisted the deepest divisions that cause us such pain, anguish and broken relationships in this world?” These times are calling for us to resist, the universe is providing us an incredible opportunity to do the work of the soul and fill our lives with joy, and as Unitarian Universalists, people who place the inherent worth and dignity of each and every person as a primary focus of our faith, we all have the ability and the responsibility to come together and help heal the world.
May that be so and Amen.