Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tearing Down Walls

I’m not someone who gets excited about tearing things down.  I like to build up – not tear down.  And once something is there – I like to preserve it.  Maybe that’s just part of human nature.  But sometimes it’s not in the best interest of all. 

I was so excited when the congregation voted to accept the gift of the building on the corner of Cypress Lake Rd and the by-pass to renovate for our new home.  And I’m still very excited.  But I’ve had to overcome a little uncomfortableness along the way – and it’s related to our topic for today – tearing down walls.  You see there are some interior walls on the south end of the building where the office area was separating three rooms, a storage area and a bathroom.  In my own mind, I had envisioned that perhaps we could USE these rooms for RE space.  But while planning with the Building Committee, others pointed out the need to have the sanctuary meeting space on that end of the building – and Matt even pointed out that the spacing with the walls wasn’t best for our purposes even if the RE classes were on this side.  I knew they were right.  For us to best utilize that space for worship and teaching and other aspects of our mission, those walls would need to be demolished. 

What I did not admit to the building committee – or even to myself – was that my initial hesitancy about tearing down the walls was probably more related to my personal history of having been involved with putting them up in the first place when we built that building with the hopes of my son having a successful body shop business there.  All those shelves back in that storage area,… I put them up myself.  But that dream died.  Fortunately, there is new life and purpose for that building, and those walls WILL come down. 

The theme for this series of sermons is “Building Our Church; Building Our Faith.”   And sometimes, that does require tearing down walls. 

Now I’m not hesitant about tearing down all walls.  I love tearing some down.  We Unitarian Universalists have worked on removing walls for decades – especially those that unnecessarily divide us and lead to oppression – all those ism walls:  racism, sexism, classism, and also phobia walls, built with bricks of FEAR: xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia, and on and on…  Yes, all those walls that prevent folks from honoring that first principle of respecting the inherent worth and dignity of all.  And we celebrate the success we’ve had working with others to knock down some of these walls today.  Many of you are wearing Rainbow colors in honor of 25 years of National Coming Out Days.   Brick by brick we are tearing down those walls and we will continue to do so.  I don’t have the same kind of hesitancy about tearing down those walls that are clearly obstructing a loving future. 

But there are others that bring that same feeling of hesitancy to me that I felt about tearing the walls down in our building.  That’s the same feeling of hesitancy I had when I first heard of some new ideas about the future of Unitarian Universalism proposed by our current president Peter Morales.  Now – you know, we have congregational polity.  And just because our president says something – doesn’t mean it’s so.  But we did democratically elect him, so I thought I should listen to what he had to say.  Let me share a little about this vision he has for Unitarian Universalism.   

It starts with a look at the rapid change in our religious culture as discussed in a sermon he preached called “Breaking Down the Walls.”  Peter is just a little older than me so I can also relate to much of this.  He says:
"When I went off to college in the 1960s, only five percent of young adults said they had no religious identity. In other words, 19 out of 20 young adults at least claimed some religious label. By the year 2000, the number who said they had no religious affiliation had grown from five percent to 12 percent—from one in 20 to one in eight. That is significant, but nothing compared to what has happened since. The number of the “nones” (in this age category) has jumped to more than 30 percent today. The “nones” are, by a large margin, the fastest growing religion in America.… Make no mistake, this is a sea change in our culture."

Here’s more specific information I found from the Pew foundation.

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.

In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

Now Peter, with the help of some others, did a little research on these Nones to find out who they were.  And this is what they discovered: 

While the tens of millions of nones are skeptical of religious institutions, they are not hostile to spirituality. All kinds of surveys show that nones often describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” They want depth and meaning in their lives. They want to connect with ideals that transcend their narrow lives in service of something beyond the banality of consumer culture. In addition, the nones are open minded. They accept glbt people without a second thought. Marriage equality is no big deal.

The nones are also accepting of racial and ethnic diversity. They grew up among immigrants. And the nones are also accepting of cultural and religious diversity. They have no patience for a perspective that says one religion has all the truth and is the one and only way.

And the nones care about economic justice and the environment. We see their involvement in such things as the Occupy Wall Street movement. They care about issues like global warming and sustainability.

Who do they remind you of?

US!  They are US – but they are not here.  My initial thoughts are:  Well, let’s bring them in.  And we may be successful with some of them – but others aren’t coming here. And these nones are in addition to approximately 500,000 folks who IDENTIFY as UU’s but who are not affiliated with any congregation. All of these folks “out there” – beyond our walls – are like the WOLVES in our children’s story.  They may be starving for spiritual nourishment, but they will not come in our walls for fear of losing their freedom.  So what do we do to harness our resources with their resources and ideas to make a positive difference in the world and nourish one another spiritually?   

That’s what prompted Morales and others to take another look at the walls we have in our congregations – and encourage us to take some of them down or at least lower them.  These ideas are outlined in a document entitled “Congregations and Beyond.”  In this document Morales makes it clear that he still considers the congregation to be the base for what we do.  But to be effective today, we Unitarian Universalists need to move beyond our congregations.

The main gist of this is how we view ourselves.  We have long defined ourselves as an association of congregations. Morales says that instead – “we need to think of ourselves as a religious movement. The difference is potentially huge.”

Associations and institutions are just not sexy enough I guess.  Here’s an example of something that happened to Morales that probably affected his reasoning on this. 

A couple of years ago, hundreds of Unitarian Universalists, all wearing their bold yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” t-shirts, joined in a huge protest of immigration policies in Arizona while they were at the Justice GA in Phoenix.  Morales said that the news media were there in full force. His assistant was trying to get him interviewed on television by asking if they wanted to interview the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association – but before she could get “association” out of her mouth – they were gone.  Then she had an inspiration and asked the CNN reporter if he’d like to interview the leader of the Yellow Love shirts --- and Morales was on live at the top of the hour. 

I’ve also found in many of the things I’m doing with others in Statesboro – that I can often get a WHOLE lot more done, if I’m willing for some larger movement to get the credit – rather that highlight my own church.  Now I’m still evangelizing for Unitarian Universalism – but I’m just sayin’…  Sometimes, you have to let that go and just flow for goodness sake. 

According to this “Congregations and Beyond” document, the implications of thinking of ourselves as a religious movement rather than only a collection of congregations are profound and liberating. Here is a few of the ways:

* We focus more on connection and less on “membership.” Paying attention to who our ministry serves, how many lives we change, and the difference we are making in the world can help us redirect our efforts outward.

* We invite people to connect to our UU movement whether or not they choose to join a congregation. We can reach out to young adults, students, snow birds, people living in foreign countries, linguistic and ethnic minorities, etc. They can all be part of the UU movement.
* We continue our efforts to connect with UU college students. We would make clear that they are still a part of our movement.

* We have a good way of taking in people through such portals as Standing on the Side of Love.

Now one reason I’m feeling better about this document and idea of lowering our walls is that our congregation is already doing it.  That really became evident to me as we prepared our chalice lighter grant.  Our Chalice Lighter Coordinator, Leon Spencer, suggested that we include a visual that showed our “footprint” – how we connected with others outside our own congregation.  Here’s the visual he came up with after getting input from committee members.

These are groups outside our congregation that we have worked with in the past or that we continue to connect with in many ways.  Indeed, we have lowered our walls at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro. 

We plan to be part of the bigger community this month by sharing our values in the upcoming Ogeechee Fair Parade – with our theme of growing our values. And we’ll also be sharing at the community Trick or Treat at Mill Creek on October 31. Of course our children will Trick or Treat for UNICEF on October 27 and we’ll pass on our gifts to the international community.   Yes, we’ll partner with Magnolia Baptist Church in Feeding loads of hungry folks on October 15 – that’s this Tuesday folks.  Your minister has also been invited for the very first time to take part in the Community Thanksgiving Service and she has enabled them to move it from the “main street churches” to the Averitt Center, so that it will truly be a community service.  We also plan to work with Voces Unidas in having another wonderful celebration of Las Posadas in early December. And we’ll work with the pagan community in the celebration of the solstice.  We’ve set up a “pagans in the boro” Facebook page for these folks to use to connect and make their planning easier.  Additionally we have a virtual study group that is open to all called the Statesboro New Jim Crow Study Group on Facebook.  Just this month alone, I’ll be representing you as your minister at two Georgia Southern events – presenting there at an LGBTQ conference and on a panel.  Plus – our virtual outreach is wider than you think.  Our “Just Jane” blog which has my sermons and other postings has had almost 23,000 pages viewed by folks from all over the world.  We HAVE moved beyond the walls are widening our outreach-- and if you are not doing it with us, we encourage you to get involved. 

Help us tear down any walls that are hindering us so that we can heal and nurture our congregation, our community, and the world. 

Oh, may it be so.

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