Reading A Powell Davies:“At every level, people are almost good, they are tempted to be good, but they resist the temptation. The struggle is seldom between good and evil, but between good and almost good. Truth trembles on the tongue, is almost spoken, and then not quite spoken. Everyone present seems relieved. It saves embarrassment. Yet everyone is also disappointed, deeply and secretly disappointed. It has happened again. The same old surrender. The same old defeat. It need not have happened. Sometimes thank god, it does not happen. Truth really is spoken, and in spite of embarrassment, even in spite of protest and dismay, all who hear it know that humanity has been lifted a little higher in that moment and thus, there is more of hope for all of us. Someone has been tempted to do good.”
There is no question to the debate that biological diversity is beneficial and necessary for our eco-system. I think this speaks to the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. From the very basics of reproduction, we know our species needs a diversity of gender to reproduce. Some species do not need that, but humans still do. In nature we see this. As humanity and its ability to reproduce expands, we crowd out other species. And that has repercussions as well. Such as when the natural predator of deer such wolves, cougars, bobcats etc are forced out of communities because of the dangers they pose to humans, we get an overflow of deer in our communities. Not that I want wolves and cougars roaming our streets, but to point out that limiting diversity has unintended consequences. We know diversity is beneficial on a microbiological level as well allowing different species to survive, part of an evolutionary spiral that has allowed humans to survive as well.
I always think to the ending lines of the HG Well’s book (and the movie) War of the Worlds when the aliens were defeated by bacteria. “From the moment the invaders arrived, breathed our air, ate and drank, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. By the toll of a billion deaths, humans had earned their immunity, their right to survive among this planet's infinite organisms. Humans do not live or die in vain” I want to highlight it doesn’t say our right to destroy other organisms but to survive among them. In this country in particular we have a long history of destroying and enslaving and discriminating against others who have been different from us.
But as the quote in the order of service by Rebecca Parker indicates, “As I gain more knowledge, I enter into a different community, a community of presence, awareness, responsibility, and consciousness.” – So what are we aware of in regard to diversity in our Congregation. There are many different types of diversity. Age of congregants from infants to our oldest members who are over 90, length of time in the Congregation, some just new, some who have been here over 40 years, diversity in theology (here that is a big one), Diversity in Sexual orientation and gender identity, diversity in liturgical preferences (some like people greeting each other, some people hate that), diversity in style of music, (some like classical, some like hymns, some like rock), we have economic diversity, we have educational diversity, we have Physical diversity. We are more accepting of some of these diversities than others. But we should be accepting of all types of diversities, for all are worthy.
There is of course one more diversity that I want to speak of today, and that is racial diversity. We are most racially diverse amongst our children. And that is a start. As they grow, we have to consider how they will feel welcome here. How will they develop their identity?
I am thrilled that we have so many multi-racial families here so that our children and their parents as they grow, will have a community that they can identify with. I think that is an important part of development. What role models do we have. Are there others like us in the world. So often we feel cut off, alienated from others, that we need a community that helps us identify with who we are and what we believe. Our religious identity is one of religious freedom. But we all come in here with many identities, including some with multiple religious identities.
That is the rub. We come together to search for meaning, to learn how to be our unique selves, and as well how to feel comfortable doing that while in relationship with others who are their own unique selves. I imagine for someone new, it is hard to figure out how to belong here, how to connect here. How to engage with others, especially when they don’t automatically self-identify with others. That is easier with some other religions. They can point to a birthright, or a cross, or a set of strict rules to follow. Here it takes building relationships. It requires A radical hospitality. I was particularly moved by the words of Lonni Pratt in her book entitled (not surprisingly) Radical Hospitality. She writes “Hospitality does not focus on the goal of being hospitable. It is not about the one offering hospitality. Instead, it is singularly focused on the object of hospitality—the stranger, the guest, the delightful other. One of the inherent problems with programs to develop radical hospitality is the focus on hospitality as a goal. Hospitality requires that our focus is on the other rather than attainment of a concept.” We have to not only care about others, but we also need to engage with others. Particularly with others who might be different in some way from you. In fact in some way everyone is different from you.
In my first year here, we had a visitor who was interested in our church, and came to me and said, he thought he would not be accepted because his body was completely covered in tattoos and the one time he attended here, no one talked to him during coffee time. Among people even of my generation and particularly of younger generations, tattoos are becoming more commonplace. I know it makes some uncomfortable, but sometimes to be radically hospitable we have to be uncomfortable. But I didn’t know how to answer his question. So I was honest. I told him I didn’t know how everyone would react. I told him about our first principle of the inherent worth and dignity of all people. I told him about the right of conscience and our belief in individual expression.
I told him though, each person is on a different part of their journey, and some have not travelled as far as others. It is critical for us to be willing to remain on the journey, to keep our minds and hearts open to new and different people, open to the other, for by rejecting the other, we oppress them. Think about who it is that you avoid at coffee hour? We don’t like to think of ourselves as oppressors, but every time we reject someone, or ignore them, that is what we are doing. We are all on an ongoing journey of awareness. Sometimes being with someone different than ourselves can make us feel insecure, we can feel lost, and don’t know what to do. We just sort of feel stuck.
And as it is in coffee time, so it is in the greater world as well. We know there is inequality, we know there is discrimination, we know there is injustice. We know we can and should do something to create a more just world. You may feel that you have personally not acted in such a way, so your hands are clean. You may feel you have struggled to achieve what you have, so therefore anyone has that opportunity. I challenge you stay on your journey and to challenge your assumptions. If we believe in our principles, if we believe that every person should have the opportunity to be able to live up to their full potential, than we cannot be stuck when young children are being given a substandard education, we cannot be stuck when young children are going to school hungry every day and our country reduces food stamps while approving farm subsidies. We cannot be stuck when we know that there is ongoing discrimination in the workplace. We cannot be stuck when youth and young adults of color are routinely stopped and searched and arrested and fed into the prison system and thereafter denied their opportunity to live out their full potential. We must not be stuck. We must continue on our journey. As the quote I read earlier said, once we have knowledge, we also enter into a community of responsibility. Once we know, we cannot shut our eyes to this. We must continue on the journey.
I am reminded of a story I read somewhere of a traveler driving through the corn and soy fields of Iowa, that after driving in for a while, became convinced that they was on the wrong road, and so, at the first town they came to they stopped. Calling one of the townspeople to the car window, they said, friend, I need help. I m lost. The towns person looked at them for a moment and asked “do you know where you are: Yes, said the traveler, I saw the name of the town as I entered. The towns person nodded his head. Do you know where you want to go, yes, the traveler replied, and named their destination. The villager looked away for a moment ruminating. You not lost, you just need directions.”
We know where we are. We have continually educate ourselves on multiculturalism, anti-racism, and anti-oppression issues and we need to continue to do so. We know where we are going. We are trying to build the beloved community, where all are welcome, where all are loved for who they are, where all have the opportunity to reach their full potential of their humanity. But we need some directions on how to get there. Rev. Jo Ellen Willis says “The problem of theology in the work of anti-racism, I would suggest lies not in its theory but in its practice. It is not the acknowledgment of evil that restrains us. We have the will to acknowledge the imperfections of the world and the shortcomings of our society. We are almost good. What we lack is the courage to acknowledge that we ourselves are imperfect in relationships with oppressed groups. What we lack is the perseverance to see such a task to completion. And what we lack is the grace to be humble. Intellectual courage is not in short supply among us. We are brave in our reflections. We are not so bold in our actions.“
So I invite you to be humble. To not judge others on their differences. And as well I invite you to be bold. I invite you to join our Social Justice Group MIRED and their work with Drug Court, I invite you to be bold and join our lgbtqia group and participate in our QC Pride booth in June. I invite you to be bold, to join the At Risk Youth Group in their tutoring. I invite you to be bold, to join our immigration group as we meet next Saturday with Hispanic and other Community Group Leaders to see what we can do to bring justice surrounding immigration issues. I invite you to be bold, to work with our partner Quad Cities interfaith on their 100 ready worker program which is training economically and socially disadvantaged individuals for Constructions jobs that will be coming to the Quad Cities. I invite you to be bold and to become engaged with people that are different than you. We are not all like minded people, but just because someone is different, doesn’t mean they are wolves and cougars that need to be kept away, they are just fellow travelers with the same hopes and dreams for themselves and their families, that you have.
Because it is not so much about the good work that we will do, it is as much about how the engagement with others changes us as well. It makes us more aware of those who are unlike us in some ways, and as well like us in other ways….and by so doing transforms us into a more compassionate person. And when you meet anyone in the community who may be different than you, let them know that you are a Unitarian, that our religion is a religion of true hospitality, a religion of caring, a religion of love, a religion where people are free to believe and free to be who they are and grow into who they want to become. Let us be better than almost good, let us do good.
Let us hear that voice within that says I can be loving and compassionate in all my actions. Let us hear that voice within us that tells us when something is not just Let us hear that voice within and give it a sound and speak our truth to others in word and in action. For when we hear the truth spoken, deep down we know it. And if we don’t respond to the truth, something inside us dies, and when we do respond to the truth, we know we feel alive in a way that is beyond description. Let us continue our journey. May we do good, let us speak the truth, let us feel alive. May it be so.