Standing, Speaking, Singing, Acting, and Dancing on the Side of Love

Delivered by Roberta Altamari, September 29, 2013

A meditation bell invites us to quiet contemplation.
Please turn off cell phones, blackberries and similar devices
that can interfere with our hearing assistance technology.
PRELUDE Debra Morris-Bennett
Today I will be referencing the “Standing on the Side of Love” message. For those of you not familiar with its history, here are a mix of writings I found on the UUA website.
“Standing on the Side of Love is a public advocacy campaign that seeks to harness love’s power to stop oppression. It is sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association and all are welcomed to join. This is a time of great hope and possibility, yet our communities are threatened by the increased prevalence of acts motivated by fear and hate. No one should be dehumanized through acts of exclusion, oppression, or violence because of their identities. In public debates over immigration, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, and more, religious people stand on the side of love and call for respect, inclusion, and compassion. The Standing on the Side of Love campaign elevates compassionate religious voices to influence public attitudes and public policy. Through community activism, social networking, and media outreach, people across the nation are equipped to counter fear and make love real in the world.
The message, “standing on the side of love,” emerged as a rallying point for people of faith in Massachusetts during their early efforts for fully inclusive marriage, and later during the fight against Proposition 8 in California. The Standing on the Side of Love Campaign was inspired by the 2008 shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, which was targeted because they are welcoming to LGBT people and have a liberal stance on many issues. The Knoxville Community responded with an outpouring of love that inspired the leadership at the Unitarian Universalist Association to launch a campaign that would harness love’s power to challenging exclusion, oppression and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, race, religion, or any other identity.” The campaign enthusiastically continues to this day. Are you all ready to stand on the side of love? Yeah! Are you ready to greet your neighbor with that same spirit of love? Let’s do it!
(adapted from the Folk Song, “This Little Light of Mine)
This little light of mine, I’m going let it shine,
I’m going to take it everywhere, I’m going to let it shine
I won’t let it blow it out, I’m going to let it shine
Every day, every day it will shine.
*HYMN # 1024 When Your Spirit Says Do
(Children and their Guides leave for Religious Exploration)
During this time, we speak only of ourselves and of the people and events that touch our lives. Come forward and place a stone in the bowl or stand in your place. Use a microphone so that you can be heard in the sanctuary as well as on the recording of today’s service. Tell us your name and, briefly, what joy or sorrow you wish to share.
For all those joys and sorrows spoken and unspoken, we hold you in our hearts as I share with you this meditation written by Tim Haley.
Amid all the noise in our live,
We take this moment to sit in silence –
To give thanks for another day;
To give thanks for all those in our lives who have brought us warmth and love;
To give thanks for the gift of life.
Let us open ourselves, here, now,
To the process of becoming more whole –
Of living more fully;
Of giving and forgiving more freely;
Of understanding more completely the meaning of our lives here on this earth.
Standing, Speaking, Singing, Acting, and Dancing on the Side of Love
Ms. Roberta Altamari
During my opening words, I shared with you the history of the “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign. It has inspired countless people, Unitarian Universalists and others, to live our values in the world.
During my “message for all ages”, I shared the story of the young boy who inspired me to consider the famous Unitarian Universalist call to live our faith by “Standing on the Side of Love” from different perspectives. How might the way we describe the way we “live our faith” transform our expression and commitment to it? What does it really mean to stand, speak, sing, act, or dance on the side of love? What other verbs can we use to express ways of living our faith?
Consider this message to “vote on the side of love”. It is parts of the transcript from a video that won a UUA contest. “If fear and hate are poisoning our country, what is the antidote? Love. Love, based not on some cynical partisan desire to find an edge, but coming from our hearts and our beliefs. Love, whether they were born on the same side of town, the wrong side of the tracks or the other side of the world. Love. Even if they might not look like us, pray like us, talk like us or love like us. Love is part of being human. And no one should be dehumanized just because of who they are. Because when the most important thing goes from “who’s wrong” to “who’s been wronged,” the conversation changes dramatically. And once that change has been made, it spreads. Suddenly, it’s not about fighting. It’s about faith. It’s not about who your friends are. It’s about who your family is. Your big family. Your human family. It’s about remembering that what makes people different is a lot smaller than what makes them the same. It’s about turning a cheek and lending a hand. It’s about lowering your voice and elevating the conversation. It’s about love. And the power of love to overcome our differences and make the world a better place for all of us. It’s about treating people as people. And once you get to know people as people, it makes all the difference. So this November, amid the fear and hate, remember the one thing that can truly make a change. The one thing that can bring clarity to our disagreements and justice to the oppressed. Take a stand, but never forget what side you stand on. And when someone asks for your vote, stand with love.” Wow, now that definitely inspires me to vote on the side of love!
What else would we like to do on the side of love? I was visiting with Beth Rust recently and she was telling me about different programs for the inmates including meditation, religious services, healthy relationships workshops, and an art class. She spoke of the wonderful volunteers who come to prisons to lead such programs. She remarked that the process of taking time to paint a picture can be truly transformative and it felt like her god was coming alive within her through the creative process. She declared that the group process felt like “creating on the side of love” and that a group of ten women inmates is creating an art gallery next month. Beth’s stories really broadened my perspective on “standing on the side of love”. Her experience of meditation and attending different worship services led her to profound insights about the similarities of the different religions. It truly connected her to people who were different from her. I’m calling it worshiping on the side of love! What felt most significant for me was the realization that there are countless ways to be on the side of love. What ways speak to you? How do you want to live on the side of love?
As a religious community of many creative intellectuals, we have no shortage of inspiring messages of the ways we can live our faith. Before (and after) the “standing on the side of love” message came out, many Unitarian Universalists professed that our seven U.U. principles are the ideal way for living our faith. Think about it for a moment. Respecting all beings, promoting tolerance and compassion, working for peace and freedom for all, and taking care of the interdependent web of life are perfect examples of living our values.
But how do we balance our ideals with acceptance of the real world where our UU principles can feel impossible to live by? Honestly, I really want you to think about this. Can you actually follow all seven principles in the real world? Can you fully adhere to any one of the principles on a daily basis? My older daughter shared during a lay led service this summer that she struggled with the concept of respecting someone who had been disrespectful to her and her friends. Respecting all people is not as easy as it sounds. Nor is following any of our other principles. We have to be careful to not to let our religious ideals get in the way of living our faith. By accepting that our real worlds won’t be ideal or even remotely resembling our ideal, we can begin to take natural steps to strive for living our faith. It sounds backwards, but the ideals can actually hold us back. How many times have you heard someone say they aren’t going to bother recycling or reducing their carbon footprint because it won’t make a difference? Or ask why they should respect all people when no one else does? Living our faith is about behaving in ways that we believe are right … regardless of how big or small the impact is and regardless of how others behave. We must begin by taking small steps in the right direction.
When we let go of the focus on magic success stories or doing things perfectly, then the real work of “living our faith” can begin. When we let go of our own ego and practice self-acceptance and self-forgiveness, we can share that compassion with others ranging from strangers to our loved ones. I have countless personal stories of learning from my mistakes. I can guide others to accept and grow from their mistakes. I have other stories of times when I was afraid to try something new or meet someone who was different from me. What if they didn’t like me? What if I said or did something that offended them? I am sometimes so afraid of being politically incorrect that I don’t speak or act. We know we grew up in this society that conditioned us with far too many biased and prejudice beliefs that we are constantly afraid of opening up in situations with people who are different from us. But what if instead of hiding, we tried speaking whatever fear we were feeling in the moment? The more people I speak deeply and honestly with, the more I realize that these are universal tendencies. We are all insecure. We are all afraid.
During the “Living Our Faith” talk last week, I was talking to Susan Curnan about her idea for hosting conversations about “Faith Not Fear”. I thought she was sharing another inspiring way to live our faith, and I’d love to talk more with her and you to go deeper into that reflection. But for now, I will keep it simple and surprisingly harsh by asking you honestly, “How often are you living your life based on fear instead of faith?”
When I was in my twenties, I read this eye-opening book by local authors Terry Hunt and Karen Paine-Gernee called “Emotional Healing”. Twenty years later, I still often remember the main message that emotionally healthy people live life by seeking pleasure while those of us who grew up in dysfunctional families live life by avoiding pain. Throughout my life, fear has often held me back from reaching for my dreams and seeking joy. The books says that by accepting that pain and challenges and hard days are a natural part of life, we ultimately live lives filled with more joy and happiness by not being afraid to look for and go after what we want.
While sayings like “go for your dreams” and “work for what you want” often conjure up materialistic visions, I am now understanding that human beings want love and connection more than anything else. I have said before that the most common regrets expressed at the time of death are ones about not making enough time to enjoy loved ones or saying or doing something that hurt a love one. We live in a society so focused on financial success that we too often forget to focus our energy on relational success. Human connection really does matter! That’s a big part of why we gather here together. Having loved ones around us inspires us to keep going on our bad days and makes the good days feel even better.
I believe that human connection inspires us to overcome our fears and is the key to living our faith. One of my favorite movies/books that I’ve shared with the teenagers here is “Soul Surfer”. It is a true story of a girl who overcame losing her arm to a shark bite to continue on competitive surfing. But my favorite part of the story was not her almost winning a surfing competition at the end, but the part when she begins to heal her emotional pain by going on a mission trip. She went with her church youth group to the area affected by the Tsunami. There she met young children afraid to go in the water. Devastating experiences caused both her and the children to fear the ocean water. Together, they overcame that fear. First by holding hands as they touched their toes in the water. Next by spashing in the shallow waves. And so on until together they felt less afraid. The shared experiences and human connections across the language differences allowed them all to heal.
Likewise, I will never forget one part of my older daughter’s credo shared here on Coming-of-Age Sunday a few years ago. She talked about how meeting the kids at Renewal House changed her life. For a few years, my two daughters and I would travel to Roxbury once a month to host a Birthday Wishes party for Renewal House. Our trip in was usually stressful as we complained about rushed schedules, traffic, etc. I was also usually secretly a little afraid of what would happen once we got there. My girls admitted that they were nervous too. And it never failed that we would have a wonderful visit and left feeling like our hearts were full. As Dominique said in her credo, the value wasn’t about us doing a community service project. It was about us meeting people and enjoying the moment. The most profound one for her was near the holidays when this sweet little girl tried to give her a present. How could this little girl living in a shelter with so little have the generosity to share? It touched Dominique enough that she wrote about it five months later.
These real human interactions are what matter in our lives. These human connections are what make living our faith important. Real people to real people. One step at a time. Doing our best. For a long time, I have been uninspired by the huge expensive Mission Trips that many churches go on. I don’t admire the concept of the wealthy white people going to the poor cities, states, or countries to save the day. To me, that is really not what it is about. We have all been wronged by the messages and oppressions in our society and part of reaching the ideals of our U.U. principles will be combining our resources to create equality, peace, and freedom for everyone. I believe that when I am honestly living my faith, I am saying “I am humbled and hurting just like you”, “I am privileged living the way I do and I would like to share some of the resources I have”, and “I would like to work with you to make the world better for everyone.”
The one place I am willing to travel to do Social Justice work is New York City so that I can take our teenagers to the Youth Service Opportunities Project. When I first started working here in Sudbury, I wasn’t able to take the teens my first year because the R.E. committee had the same concern I expressed about Mission Trips. Why travel all the way to New York City when we have plenty of shelters and soup kitchens right here in Boston. That year, I brought a group of teens to Rosie’s Place and worked serving dinner. The teens did the service project, but did not speak to or connect with any of the guests from Rosie’s Place. A year later, we tried YSOP where the program requires the youth to not just make and serve dinner, but to then sit down at the table and eat dinner together, talk, and play games. While it might just look like a bunch of people playing board games, it is transformative as people are relating, connecting, telling stories, exchanging jokes, and breaking down stereotypes. When you hear a person who is homeless tell his or her story, they are no longer just a stereotype. They are a real person suffering through some hard times. When you discover something you share in common with that person, your understanding is transformed. Last year, after hearing that more than 50,000 people had spent the previous night in a New York City homeless shelter and seeing a young child come into the soup kitchen without a parent, Oliver Willett proclaimed “If there is a god, he has a lot of explaining to do.” Every year that I bring our teens, I am in awe by how they overcome their fears of this unknown, stereotype filled world and come home with deeper compassion and gratitude. I will keep driving to New York if it means I can introduce our teens to this kind of experience.
I have been honored to work with children and teens for so many years striving in small ways to work for peace, equality, and compassion in our world. It doesn’t matter who brings more resources to the table. As long as we all show up ready to work. While this visioning of “living our faith” might sound impossible to achieve in our lifetimes, it really just requires us to begin one step at a time. Moment by moment. Opening up and listening to each others’ stories with compassion. Everyone should be invited to the table to share their stories. Everyone should be invited to begin taking steps to live their faith in the ways that they are inspired to do. How might you share your love each day? Somedays, it might be simply to slow down and spend time with a loved one. Somedays, it might be to help a neighbor. Somedays, it might be to gather with a group to do a project … like today, our youth group will join with folks from other Sudbury faith communities to package food for our local food panties. And somedays, it might be sharing resources with an international organization living our values in the world.
What is most important is to do something every day that is living your faith. Sometimes, it is the way we talk. Speak on the side of love! Sometimes, it requires standing up for something we value. Stand on the side of love! Sometimes, it calls for us to celebrate something we value. Dance on the side of love! Sometimes, it demands that we get loud and fight for something we value. Shout on the side of love! Sometimes, it inspires mindfulness about changing our way of thinking to not believe oppressive messages. Think on the side of love! Sometimes, it challenges you to change the way you have been behaving to be more respectful of someone. Act on the side of love! Sometimes, it welcomes you to come together with others to do any of this kind of work. Gather on the side of love! I hope you get my point. There are countless ways to live our faith and spread love throughout our world. First Parish has a new “Living Our Faith Task Force” that will give us even more opportunities to connect to the impressive individual projects happening by our members and to come together to work on one big project. I encourage you to live your faith that way. I also encourage you to live your faith by spreading love first to yourself, and then to your loved ones, and then to your neighbors, and then to your town, and then to your community, and then to the world.
To adapted the great words of Lao Tzu….
“If there is to be love in the world,
There must be love in the nations.
If there is to be love in the nations,
There must be love in the cities.
If there is to be love in the cities,
There must be love between neighbors.
If there is to be love between neighbors,
There must be love in the home.
If there is to be love in the home,
There must be love in the heart.”
May there be love in each of your hearts and homes! And may that love inspire you to go out and “do something on the side of love” today!
*HYMN # 1008 When Our Heart Is In A Holy Place
Today, First Parish is honored to share the plate and our volunteer power with an awesome Interfaith Service Project to benefit our local neighbors! Below are details about the general event, but you can also support it by giving generously to the offering. Middlesex County is the hungriest county in Massachusetts with over 130,000 people living in households that struggle to put food on the table. Today, the congregations of Sudbury have a unique opportunity to help. Beginning at 11am, the Sudbury Clergy Association will be sponsoring an event to package 37,500 meals in honor of Sudbury’s upcoming 375th anniversary. These nutritious meals are comprised of rice, fortified soy protein, vegetables, and essential vitamins & minerals. The nutritionally beneficial dry food packages contain six servings, have a long shelf life, and are easy to prepare at a cost of only 25 cents each. You can help out in several ways. You can give generously in today’s offering. You can also volunteer your time by signing up for a 1 hour shift (or more!). Four assembly lines of 12 people each will be set up in Ames Hall at Memorial Congregational Church. Join with volunteers from all over Sudbury to put the meal packages together. In 1 hour, 50 volunteers can package 8,000 meals! We anticipate completing our goal of 37,500 in 5 hours. Our youth will be helping from noon till 2pm, and it would be great to see many of you following their lead in giving. This is a great opportunity to work side-by-side with your neighbors to make a real difference in our area. Please be generous.
We extinguish this flame but not the light of truth,
the warmth of community, or the fire of commitment. These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.
– Elizabeth Selle Jones
I close with two quotes for you. The first is from Buddha. “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
The second is from James Barrie, “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves.” Our worship is ending, but may our service continue out in the world.
…. Blessed be and Ahem.
POSTLUDE Please remain seated until the music ends