Online Sunday Service: The Sacred Work of Justice-making

Responsive Chalice Lighting

Written for UU the Vote by the Rev. Ashley Horan

Another world is possible. We say it, again and again,

even when the proof lies somewhere beyond the horizon,

beyond our reach, beyond our imagination.

This is our faith: Another world is possible.

Not somewhere else–another world, another lifetime — but here, and now,

for us and for all.

Another world is possible. There is no single path toward that world;

no one strategy or approach that will restore balance, heal brokenness,

sow wholeness, free creation.

There are many routes toward liberation; toward freedom.

But the abundance of options does not absolve us of the responsibility of acting.

Another world is possible. The call — the duty — of each moment in history is to discern: Who are we, and what can we bring with humility, integrity, faith?

What is the context, and how can we address it with agility, resilience, skill?

What is the vision, and how can we realize it with accountability, relationship, joy?

Another world is possible. In this time of despair, of fear, of collapse — this time that is both like every other era and like no other time in history —

It is audacious to declare our faith and to commit our work to a world that is more free, more just, more whole.

But we are an audacious people in good company, with many kin, and we are ready to show up and work hard and stay humble and make friends and hold the vision

starting here, now, today, with us and persevering– however long it takes– until that other world is not only possible, but another world is here.

The Sacraments of the Word and Celebration, by Victoria Safford

How does our faith hold brokenness, injustice, and suffering?

Clumsily. Gingerly. Tenderly. Bravely, Lovingly, Reverently. Humbly and deliberately. Imperfectly.

One by one, we hold brokenness in our blood and bones and memory as human beings susceptible to hurt and betrayal, mercy and grace. We respond every day in ways that are bold and ways that are skittish or selfish, ways radiantly healthy and ways tragic, dangerous, and flawed.

As Unitarian Universalists, we hold brokenness collectively, communally, theologically – in covenant with each other in congregations and with the circles of community that bind us by circumstance and choice. Yet the work of holding brokenness begins within each of us singly, deeply, privately, perhaps not even consciously, whenever we re-member the fragments of our story, whenever our imagination expands to acknowledge and embrace the plain and radiant humanity of someone else.                     

In congregations, this expansion of the heart (and mind and soul) is our principal work. Our most urgent questions as individuals and in communities is thus, how can we hold brokenness, injustice, and suffering, with wide open eyes and open arms, and at the same time greet the day with gladness, with gratitude and hope, with forgiveness,

with love of life and of one another? We can begin with the sacrament of the living word and the sacrament of celebration.

On Sunday morning especially, but also other times, we tell sacred stories…The church exists, in part, to remember – to rescue from a vast silence the stories that might not otherwise be heard, to ask questions that might not elsewhere be asked, to celebrate victories and mourn losses that might otherwise be forgotten, to bless what might go unblessed. 

This remembering, this naming of truth, the consecration of stories forgotten, forbidden, and hidden, both terrible and beautiful is the sacrament of the living word.

The UUA Presents: Pandemic, A Poem by Rev. Lynn Ungar

Reverend Leslie Kee: Message/Sermon: Why Deeds?

The Unitarian Universalist theologian, Thandeka, writes, “The theological foundation of our social justice work is protecting souls.” Before we veer off into a debate about whether or not human beings even have a soul; or if they do, what is the nature of a soul, for the sake of the discussion, let’s look at it this way: human beings have a brain and a heart, and so the active functioning  of each, in essence, is a process of cocreation. The process of cocreation within the human body is the ‘being’ part of who we are: ‘To be’ is the most intriguing and all-encompassing verb in the human vocabulary – To be means I am, you are, they are, she is, he is, we are – to be embodies the aliveness within the words human being and so, to be human is to be alive and to be unique in our aliveness.

The heart is where we feel the experiences of living; and the brain is where the feelings the heart generates are sorted, analyzed to some degree, and then assigned meaning. This relationship permeates the whole body and, more significantly, has an integrity of its own, and so I am a human being means I am alive and I can do stuff. Another way to conceptualize it is –  I have soul.

Thandeka agrees with the 19th century Unitarian Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller who wrote, “What is done here at home in my heart is my religion.”

We do not think our way home to the heart of our religious faith. We are moved there by emotions, affections, moods, dispositions, and attitudes which have been transformed into personal experiences of regeneration and renewal. This is why we say personal experience is the first reference for our faith. We feel transformed, reengaged, and enlivened not by a creed or a doctrine but by a heartfelt experience. What occurs here at home in our heart is a foundational experience of our liberal religious tradition.’

Thandeka goes on to assert, ‘We are a liberal religious people because we make space for the emotional integrity of the heart as well as the intellectual integrity of the mind, (and in so doing), we mend souls.”

Another foundational aspect to Unitarian Universalist theology is how we value the capability which is inherent in our being. As much as I understand and value the first UU principle, ‘affirmation of the worth and dignity of every human being,’ I have taken it upon myself to change it up a bit, and so instead, I affirm the inherent worth and capability of every human being.

I’m not sure where the term “dignity” came from, but for me capability is more apt because it implies a flow of energy, a plugged-in agency, which is what humans are doing with the living energy that animates their being. Humans are hard-wired to do stuff.

We especially like to build things; from cities, roadways, museums and galleries for our pretties, to economies and governments which help us live together peacefully; and of course the most important of all: we build relationships.

It is important that we push ourselves to look past the material structures, institutions, and systems which, though effectual and pervasive, are imperfect because they embody and amplify the imperfections of their builders. Classic examples of these systemic flaws include the racial ignorance which was built into the electoral system after the Civil War and, of course, the short-sighted disenfranchisement of all women for almost four decades after the 15th amendment gave black men the right to vote.

Some folks believe it is possible to dispel the power inherent in these types of institutionalized flaws which, in the end, serve the self-interest of only a select group. So when today’s UUs think about at the phrase, ‘deeds not creeds,’ the preference is to focus on the deeds and keep the creeds out of it. Throughout history, creeds have been like the mortar holding together many of society’s powerful but flawed institutions. In the context of organized religions, creeds are an anathema to those who believe in their own worth and capability, especially when it comes to discerning and then living out personal religious and spiritual beliefs and values.

Religions organized around a creed, tend to make belief in and allegiance to the creed a requirement for membership. One of the most well-known creeds coming out of the Christian tradition, is the Apostle’s Creed.

Orthodox Christian theology requires belief in this creed, and along with the sacrament of baptism, are what define a Christian before anything else. I, like many other UUs, was raised in the Christian tradition and so the organizing principle for my youthful religious practice was this very image – a deity, who fathered a human son; and because the son was mortal, he suffered a horrendous death; and after being dead for three days, his body disappeared from the tomb.

The biblical story has his beloved disciple, Mary Magdalen, and the other women who traveled with Jesus, seeing him alive on the third day; but after that, there is no mention of Jesus returning to his previous human life as an iterant preacher and prophet. This is the fundamental theological principle around which 2000 years of Christianity has been built and practiced: a God which exists in three forms: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The human brain is an amazing thing and the science which studies the brain is just as amazing. When the psychologist, Jean Piaget, articulated his theory of cognitive development, he was interested in learning the nature of knowledge itself and how humans gradually come to acquire, construct and use it.*  It has since been established that children construct an understanding of the world around them; then they begin experiencing discrepancies between what they have come to know and what they are discovering in their environment; so they adjust their ideas accordingly. Piaget claimed that cognitive development is at the center of the human organism, and language is contingent on knowledge and understanding acquired through cognitive development.

Because I’m a believer in science and all of its genres, I think, when it came to the religious-belief structure constructed with neuro pathways inside my brain, cognitive development happened to me! Because one of the first things I memorized as a child was the Apostle’s Creed, I grew up believing it was the true nature of God, and I behaved accordingly, especially when it came to the teachings of the gentle wise man named Jesus.

So when things like the Voting Rights Movement was reaching its peak in the 1960s and the Anti-war movement was ramping up in front of a generation of youth, like me, watching the televised conflict every night  — looking back, Piaget’s assertion that when experience conflicts with or contradicts what one supposedly knows, then ideas get adjusted accordingly.

Through the years, many folks who have found their way to Unitarian Universalism have compared their growing up stories about religious experiences and, not surprisingly, there are many similarities. According to developmental cognitive theory, when an individual has matured into the Formal Operational Stage, intelligence is demonstrated through the logical use of symbols related to abstract concepts… at this point, a person is capable of hypothetical and deductive reasoning. In other words, people have developed the ability to think and communicate with each other about abstract concepts. At the same time, psychologists have found that not all people reach this stage of cognitive function and language development – and that’s ok, Unitarian Universalism is all about valuing diversity and respecting the inherent worth and capability of every person.

As a non-creedal religious tradition, this is where our affinity for questions marks comes into play. For the most part, Unitarian Universalists are fond of asking questions and many of us have been pleasantly surprised when, after finding a UU community, realize there are other folks who like asking questions and talking about religion – especially a religion where the theology is organized around freedom –  the freedom to seek out what it is you truly believe and value, and then learn how to articulate your beliefs and values in your own words.

But, belonging to and being allied with a creed-free religious tradition has its own challenges, because the fundamental question that must be asked first is, ‘if a deity and a long-standing practice of how this deity is to be worshipped and obeyed, is not the primary principle around which the religious institution is organized, then what is the primary organizing principle or belief?

The respected UU theologian, Paul Rasor, responds to this important distinction when he writes, “Unitarian Universalist ecclesiology begins with the concept of covenant; a contract based on mutual obligation. In religious contexts, these commitments are understood as sacred, and covenant becomes a vehicle for defining group identity. Covenant starts with the premises that we are a free church and that we have come together voluntarily around a set of shared values in order to form a religious community.”

Rasor goes on to say, “Covenant helps clarify our religious identity if we take it seriously enough to specify its terms. What is the content of our Unitarian Universalist covenant? What, exactly, are we promising, and to whom?

What are we committing ourselves to do? When new members join our congregations, what are they signing on to? What expectations do we have of them, and what might they reasonably expect of us?

Is it simply a vague feeling of comfort and camaraderie, or a general expectation to provide a supportive community for our individual spiritual journeys, or is there more to it than that?”

An important discussion has been taking place throughout the larger UU community these past few years, and it revolves around the question, how do we hold the tension that arises from the different congregational personalities and historic identities and the fact every UU congregation is a UU congregation? To visit different UU churches is to experience the differences because some are passionate about, for example, social justice or environmental justice or gender equality. Some have deep Christian Universalist roots. Some are tenacious western heritage fellowships which have survived despite all the odds. But in the end, amid all the differences, you will find a creedless, inclusive, free church whose heart feels the same no matter which town or city you are in.

Again, there is wisdom in the words of the UU theologian Thandeka who reminds us, we must start with the heart – that source of unconditional and self-renewing love.

We do not think our way home to the heart of our religious faith. We are moved there by emotions, affections, moods, dispositions, and attitudes which have been transformed into personal experiences of regeneration and renewal…. We feel transformed, reengaged, and enlivened not by a creed or a doctrine but by a heartfelt experience….

Because we are thinking about the idea of ‘deeds not creeds’ this month, the words of Paul Rasor also guide us as we think about how being a covenanted community includes a commitment to social justice. For UUS, social justice is more than a general obligation of social ethics, it is part of the deeper covenant this religious community has made with the secular world. This deeper covenant is what makes Unitarian Universalism relevant beyond our meeting houses and zoom rooms because it is the holy and beautiful custom which brings us together in a spiritual communion with all we hold sacred. And it is in our heart where we face our ideals, offer thanks; make confession, ask for and offer forgiveness; and our heart is the source of our strength to do the right thing – that which is pleasing to God or no-God, whichever the case may be. Amyn


A People So Bold: Theology and Ministry for Unitarian Universalists, John Gibb Millspaugh, ed.; Skinner House Books, 2010.

*Cognitive Development – Encyclopedia of Special Education: A Reference for the Education of Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Disabilities and Other Exceptional Individuals – Credo Reference”. (Wikipedia)

Franzoi, Stephen. Essentials of Psychology. p. 119. ISBN 978-1-5178014-2-7. ) (Wikipedia)

Closing Song  “MY LIFE FLOWS ON” A tune by Lowry Improvisation by Glen Thomas Rideout

Closing Words & Extinguish Chalice

Prayer for Living in Tension by the Rev. Joe Cherry

If we have any hope of transforming the world and changing ourselves,

We must be Bold enough to move into our discomfort,

Brave enough to be clumsy there,

Loving enough to forgive ourselves and others.

May we, as a people of faith, be granted the strength to be

So bold, So brave, And so loving.