Building a New Way
Rev. Jane Page
March 7, 2021
Last weekend I came to you via Zoom from my motel room near Sylva NC where I was visiting my grandson and great-grandchildren and assisting them with getting a new place to live. While I was there, I depended on my GPS on my phone to get me to where I needed to go. I don’t know about yours, but my GPS sometimes takes me through some “interesting” places. And I took a couple of wrong turns when I did not have my GPS on – and ended up seeing some beautiful and interesting countryside there as well.
I did not always value the possibilities on the road. When my then husband Fred and I were traveling from Statesboro, GA to Starkville, MS for graduate school with our two young children, we stopped over in Montgomery to see some friends and have some supper with them. Now Montgomery was where we were to get off highway 80 and get on highway 82 to travel the rest of the way to Starkville. And after we left our friend’s house, I reminded Fred to look for the intersection to get on 82. He did see it and got on it. But a couple of hours later, he said “Jane – is there a Georgia County in Alabama – because we just passed a “Welcome to Georgia sign.” UGH – he had headed EAST on highway 82. So, he turned around in the Holiday Inn parking lot and said – “it’s your turn to drive.” I did not see that as an adventure for learning and discovery. It was not the NEW way I was looking for – for sure.
Some say, it’s about the journey – not the destination and that everything happens for a reason. I did not buy into that on that long journey through. I know we can LEARN through mistakes and pitfalls and unexpected detours, but I’m not one in thinking that it’s all part of God’s plan.
The message from the song we are using as our sacred text today says, “We are building a new way.” - Not we are falling into a new way. Building is an intentional activity. As I was researching the topic of building a new way, I came across an article with directions for building a new driveway. And there were eight steps of preparation you had to take before you got around to pouring the concrete. Things like – knowing your boundaries, making sure to remove anything that may be problematic, leveling out the sand and more. And that’s hopefully how we move forward with some of the work in our congregations. We study, we prepare, we attempt to predict what could be problematic and remedy that or find alternative possibilities. If we want to have a smooth journey together, we plan well together.
Yet – as the bumper sticker says, “Sh- it happens.”
In March of 2020, we got the word that the pandemic was traveling so fast in the US that we would need to quit having face-to-face services. I suggested that we meet jointly via zoom since I could get a good professional rate through the UU Ministers Association and we took what we thought at the time would be a short detour. It was like a boulder fell down in the road – and we had to build a new way. And we did not have the time to do all those preparation steps that I talked about with the driveway article – so our beginning had LOTS of bumps in the road. Of course, at the same time, many of you were having to find new ways to do your work – or to make ends meet if your work was no longer there. We had to figure out new ways to keep our children safe and our parents as well. We had to determine new ways to connect to our loved ones, and sadly – new ways to let go of lost loved ones. And we had to find new ways to stay physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy.
The path that we’ve taken as congregations has not been a smooth way – but we have survived – and occasionally – even thrived.
How is this even possible in such difficult times.
My colleague - shared with her congregation:
Joy and woe are woven fine throughout our lives, and neither is imbued with a deeper meaning other than what we give it. We are the meaning makers. We take each experience, add it the ones that came before, and in the doing, discover more of who we are, what we are made of, and what we are made for.
She continues…My journey thus far has taught me that we are beings of infinite worth, that we are made of stardust, and we are made for love. We are made for moments of amazing grace and we are made of courage to face whatever Cyclops we may encounter along the way. As the prolific writer and spiritual luminary Henry Nouwen once said, “You can’t see the whole path ahead, but there is usually enough light to take the next step.”
Enough light – to take the next step. Yet – for us, we still have real destinations for our journey. Our song reminds us that we are building a new way in hope. Our choir lifted up words like:
We are working to be free.
We can feed our every need.
Peace and Freedom is our cry.
Yes, we should enjoy and learn from the journey – including the detours and rocky paths, but we must also be mindful of those ideas that call us to journey together – love, freedom, peace, justice, and more.
Sometimes, I’ve wondered if we took the right path to work for these ideals. We could have done what many congregations did – and just streamed the minister and musician from church without any interaction possibilities provided through zoom. It may have been easier, for sure. And – possibly better.
You know the old Robert Frost poem:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
When we have a choice – especially when there is little time to explore possibilities, we just make a choice – and for better or worse, that choice makes a difference. Now it wasn’t that the road less traveled was a better one – but it is the one that traveler in Frost’s poem took. And similarly, our path is the one that we took, and we are doing our best to move through it with love, compassion, and humility.
And now – we can see that the main highway lies ahead, and we are going to be able to get back together again. Many of us have already received our vaccinations and according to President Joe Biden, others should be able to be vaccinated before summer arrives.
To be on the safe side (because we hear something different everyday), your program committees are planning summer services online for June and July with us returning to our sanctuaries and RE classrooms in August. And we look forward to that time. But we are not there yet – and there is much to learn on the path we are on.
Some may ask – do we even know where we are going?
Is it like the song “Woyaya” in the Teal Hymnal – “We are going, heaven knows where we are going, but we know within. And we’ll get there, heaven knows how we will get there, but we know we will. Wo-ya-ya. Wo yay a.
I like singing that songs and just going with flow – so to speak. But I do think we know something of where we are headed as Unitarian Universalists. We may travel separate theological paths and have different ideas about a destination in an afterlife, but we are choosing to travel in this life together as Unitarian Universalists for a land of promise on this earth – achieving some of it perhaps in our lifetimes and preparing the way for others to move forward in the future. We are going to that Beloved Community, one in which -
“all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated… Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit.” (from King Center Memorial)
And peace will prevail.
But as we travel as Unitarian Universalists and others headed in that directions, we will encounter more than bumps in the road. There are some monsters on the road.
shares, “We know what the …Cyclops that we are likely to encounter look like. They look like hatred and greed. They look like all the isms – racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism. They look like patriarchy and white supremacy….”
She continues, “Together we find the courage to face whatever structures of oppression we may encounter, the ones internalized within ourselves, and the ones that exist within society at large. Together we find the strength and the stamina to dismantle them, making the way clear for the Promised Land to arise.”
We have opportunities to continue to take steps to especially dismantle racism in southeast Georgia by joining with others who are doing this at this critical moment in the history of our nation and our association. “For there is work to do, my friends – important work, holy work, ahead of us, work that will ask much of us. But remember, we are worthy of the task…. We are made for this journey. We are made for love.” (Dowgiert)
You know --- Although we may have experienced some of these terrible isms and attitudes within ourselves and others on this PANDEMIC detour, I’ve also seen many glimpses of that Promised land – that Beloved Community – that keep me going – have YOU? You have to be on the look-out for the Beloved Community in action – and you have to create some yourself and some with others. But we sure have folks who are doing that here with us. And that’s a real blessing as we build a new way together.
Earlier in the service, you heard the beginning of Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road. At the end of this long poem, he shares an invitation. He writes:
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
Now, I’m not asking you to stick with me – Jane Page – for as long as you live – (well, maybe - one of you) – but I do hope you’ll commit to traveling this road to the beloved community. And you know, it can be a difficult road, so you do need good traveling companions. I’ve found that Unitarian Universalists are some of the best.
If you are not already on this road with us, I give you my hand. Will you come travel with us?
I invite all of you to put on your traveling shoes -
“We are building a new way feeling stronger everyday – we are building a new way.”
May it be so!
Amen and Blessed Be.