The reading that I'd like to share with you this morning is written by Thomas Merton from his book conjectures of a guilty bystander. And if any of you know Thomas Merton and his work this is the famous fourth and walnut passage from conjectures. In Louisville at the corner of 4th and walnut in the center of the shopping district I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people. That they were mine and I was theirs. That we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, a spurious self isolation in a special world. The world of renunciation and supposed holiness. This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. I have the immense joy of being human. A member of a race in which God became incarnate as if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me.
I think my earring's making noise. I'm sorry. I'm gonna take it off.
As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me. Now I realize what we all are. And if only everyone could realize this but it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are walking around shining like the Sun. There is no way of telling people that they are walking around shining like the Sun. Then it was this as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach the core of their reality. The person that each one of us really is. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way.
I'm going to say that last line again. if only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could each see the other that way all the time. Oh but that's not really possible is it? we're just human we all make mistakes and we fall out of covenant and we work to get back into covenant. As Unitarian Universalists we do not ascribe to any Dogma or Creed but that does not mean we are not grounded. We are indeed grounded in seven principles and we draw our faith from six sources. That is to say we are tied together in many things. Common purpose, liberal theology, a covenant, a desire for inclusivity, and a love of community of Beloved Community. This community like many faiths or spirit based communities have many things in common with other types of groups. One of these things is that we often operate within Systems Theory. Families are also governed by Systems Theory for the most part. Some would argue that but we're not going to argue sociology this morning. One of the main things to think about when dealing with a system like ours, you know this church, this congregation, this community is that nothing can happen without it having an effect on everything else in the system. Think of a mobile of little paper planes or something made out of you know how we used to make them out coat hangers and stuff. You touch one and the whole thing goes higgledy-piggledy. That's why when conflict happens even if it is only between a few people, the effect ripples out and it is impossible to know what the changes are. Even if we try to keep it quiet and just like in a family things don't go always go perfectly. People make mistakes say things they wish they hadn't. Talk about instead of to someone they had disagree or had a problem with and we generally act like human beings. I don't know about you but I haven't figured out the perfection thing. None of us is perfect.
This message is called moving forward together. Where do we come from? I don't want to talk about the history of this building or those various buildings or the moves or the ministers you've had. I want to talk about where you are coming from. How has the past two years affected you personally and this community as a whole. When a congregation goes through difficulty it takes its toll on the systems within it. You will never be the same. But you will learn and grow from the experience. You've all heard of post-traumatic stress. Well there's also a thing called post-traumatic growth. I'm not suggesting that people are traumatized. That's not my point. But there is a tremendous opportunity for growth in this congregation. Because we are all capable of growth. And just like in any family when things go sideways you get together and you figure out how to get through it in a healthy way. That's normal. I don't know about you but I have not always gotten along with my brothers. Have you always gotten along with your siblings? I have three older brothers and I only like two of them. And he knows that. We tolerate each other when we are family gatherings but I'm working on it. I'm working on it. I'm trying. I'd like to have a deeper relationship with him. So I'd like to propose a couple of things that we can do together to bring us to a place of healing.
The first: I'm going to set up a series of chances to have conversations in small groups and I call them fishbowl conversations they are going to be public. You're going to email me and tell me you want to be in a conversation group. Minister@uuctc.org or you can phone the office. I'm gonna put you in a group but you will not know who was in your group. These and only the people that have signed up are going to be able to talk but other people can come and observe and not speak. We will make a covenant at the beginning. I will facilitate the conversations. There will be some in the morning, some in the afternoon, some on weekends so that everyone has a chance. I will be putting a notice out into an all congregation email. If you're not on an email list on the email list please stop by at the Welcome Table on your way out. Does anybody have any questions about that I don't want to just leave it right there. So this has been actually suggested to me by experts in interim ministry when I have described some of what's happened here over the last couple of years from my perspective. I have heard lots of people have been talking to me and I'm really privileged to be hearing those conversations. And I have in good wisdom sought the counsel of experts in interim ministry and this is what was suggested is these conversations. So see how it goes I think it will help. I shouldn't stand in front of that microphone.
The second and immediate thing that we are going to do is to bring an opportunity for healing is this. You all got a little piece of paper if you didn't get a little piece of paper please raise your hand and someone some kind person will get you one. I'm gonna ask you to do a little writing exercise in a moment. First though let me tell you this is for your eyes only. You will not be sharing what you write and on your way out I'm going to ask you to put your paper in the Black Cauldron by the door. Thank you to Mary Ann Foley for the Black Cauldron. And I'm going to take it outside immediately and make a sacred fire with your thoughtful and meaningful words. And then I'm going to take the ashes and I'm going to mix them with the bonfire from last night over on this side so the ashes from your words will be mixed in with the bonfire. So take a breath and set a boundary for yourself to keep yourself feeling safe as you as you do this and safe as you possibly can. The task is this. Please write down on your piece of paper anything you wish to release. Any feelings, any thoughts, anything that is not serving you well. If you have had difficult emotions or thoughts regarding the events here over the past couple of years, focus in on that and let it go. If you were this not part of your experience if you are visiting here this must seem really weird and I apologize. But you could think about your own life and what is not serving you well. Let a gentle tide of love wash away any lines you have drawn in the sand. This exercise is by invitation and only if you feel safe to let yourself name something you wish you hadn't said or done, something you wish you had said or done, or a feeling you wish to diminish. When you are done and if you choose, flip over the paper and write a short message of hope a blessing if you will for yourself I loved one or this congregation. I'll give you a few minutes to do this.
My friends I want to remind you you are a part of a system that creates closeness and sometimes that can be great and sometimes that can be painful. Hang on to your paper do not share it with anyone and on your way out again there is a Black Cauldron. Black iron pot. There is an african concept called Ubuntu. The blue moon rising choir is part of the Ubuntu choir Network. There's like a operating systems computer thing called Ubuntu, the phrase is being thrown around a lot. It basically means humanity. It sometimes is translated as "I am because we are I am because we are." in parts of Africa, or so the meme on Facebook told me,if someone does something wrong the person is put into the middle of the village while their people talk to them for a day or two about all the wonderful things they have done. This is to remind them of who they truly are. This is reconciliation in action. Even when we haven't done anything wrong it is so important to be reminded of all the wonderful things we have done. So that we too can remember what is truly important. In the spirit of Ubuntu let's remind one another of all the positive and life-giving events, opportunities, the outreach, the times we have helped our neighbors from this congregation. I'm just going to ask you to call out a few things, so just think in your head what is it that you have participated in over the last time of you being in this congregation or however many years you've been here. The interesting thing is I can really can't go anywhere and introduce myself to anyone in this city, West Lafayette or Lafayette, without them telling me of an experience that they have had here. Something they're connected to this congregation in some way. I find it quite astounding.
So what are some of the things you remember happening in this congregation that is the spirit that is in the spirit of Ubuntu? can anyone think of anything? the talent show. Building community building community absolutely. Anybody else? Barney? service after the banners. I saw another hand. Starting up the forum. Ping-pong. Working together. There is a lot of stuff you guys do. That black lives matter event. I went to the social justice committee meeting the other night I was astounded at all of the things that is done through this church that benefit the community. I think you should be proud. I am looking forward to the talent show, there's the Art Fair that benefits the community. I think what's really important for you from my perspective believe me or not, that it is so important that you are here because you are a beacon of that we are here because we are a beacon of liberalism and not necessary political liberalism but liberal theology, so we will we're not going to say that you somebody's going to go to hell because they don't believe in a particular way. This is a place where people come and feel safe and they don't have to believe in a particular way or be a particular way. It is important that we are here.
Thank you for participating and I promise next week's message will be more positive. I want to conclude with Merton's words. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the Sun. We - you - all of us are walking around shining like the Sun.