April 9, 2017
STORY: The Stream and the Desert. www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=498
READING: Metamorphosis by Rachel Hadas
Why does transformation
sneak up on us so?
In life, not just narration,
why does transformation
creep up—yes, in slow motion,
Why does transformation
sneak up on us so?
Like the stream in this morning’s story striving to cross the desert, we humans have a tendency to hurl ourselves forward determined to overcome obstacles. And like the stream, the old methods are tried over and over again. Even when the old methods no longer work, people are often afraid to change. They worry they may lose their identity. This is the rub, this fear that transformation will take something of one’s identity.
It might be a lot easier to change if there were some assurance of exactly what we would change into, such as changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Or from a human into a comic book superhero, maybe Wonder Woman, one of my favorites. Her transformation into Wonder Woman was accomplished not by breaking through a chrysalis but by – do any of you know? – by spinning round.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to choose exactly how we will change and when? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to spin around and become whatever your version of Wonder Woman is? And then to be able to run out and save the world? Wouldn’t it be something if transformation were so beautiful, so easy, if we got to decide how it would go? Maybe. Maybe not.
Rachel Hadas in her poem, “Metamorphosis,” observes that transformation does not work that way. It sneaks up on us. It creeps up on us … in slow motion, she says. Inexorably – in a way that cannot be stopped. That is exactly what makes transformation scary and mysterious and powerful. Hadas asks a telling question: “why does transformation sneak up on us so?”
The simple answer is: because it is a creative process. Because it is a process of becoming more whole, more fully human, and none of us gets to be in total control of that. The creative process is not linear, and it is not predictable. It sneaks up on us, grabs us, and will not let us go. I have discovered this creative process at work in my own life over and over again. When I have an idea about how I would like to change my life or the world, life has a way of changing me. Life has its own ideas and transforms my heart’s desire along the way.
Let me share a story. Some of you have heard versions of this before. Nearly two decades ago, I experienced a period of intense spiritual yearning, following the difficult end of a relationship. I read as many self-help books as I could manage, probably more than any one human being need ever read. I went to meditation classes and mindfulness workshops. I saw a therapist. I switched jobs. And then I did something even more radical: I visited a church.
I grew up United Methodist but left the institutional church when I went off to college. I dabbled in churches from time to time as a young adult. But I had trouble finding one that made sense to me, one where I belonged. Until I walked into a Unitarian Universalist church one Sunday morning. It was summer. The service was lay-led. The congregation’s minister had recently left to serve another church. An interim minister would not be starting for a month. By the time the new minister arrived, I knew I was a Unitarian Universalist. Up to that point, I had just not had a name for it. Then my minister led a women’s curriculum called “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven.” In the company of my minister and other UU women exploring the feminine divine, I discovered that I was a stream trying to cross a desert.
The desert sands were whispering in my ear. And finally that voice burst through the fog of my being. I had the thought: I think I am being called to ministry. No one was more surprised than me. I had never, not once in the 40 years up to that point in my life, imagined being a minister. Maybe I should have. I grew up on Church Road. Once I accepted that I was indeed being called to ministry and trusted the wind would carry me, I applied to the local seminary. And when I was accepted, I still really had no idea that the transformation had only just begun. The transformation that was happening was the transformation of my own being.
Henry Nelson Wieman called this process of transformation “creative interchange.” He wrote extensively about how the creative process transforms the heart. He was one of the religious pioneers in the first half of the 20th century. He was first ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1912, and switched his affiliation and was fellowshipped in 1950 as a Unitarian minister. Wieman believed that religious questions can be grounded in science. It is no wonder he became a Unitarian. (Ralph Burhoe. Unitarian Universalist Directory, abr. Boston. 1976. www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/biographies/henry-nelson-wieman/)
One of the questions that drove Wieman’s philosophical pursuits was: what can transform us? What power or what force or what event can propel deep-seated change? He wanted to know, in his words:
What operates in human life with such character and power that it will transform [people] as [they] cannot transform [themselves], saving [them] from evil and leading [them] to the best that human life can ever reach? (Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography. http://uudb.org/articles/henrynelsonwieman.html)
Wieman called this “creative interchange.” This was his God concept. God, he believed, is a natural creative process or structure. And that natural creative process increases human good. This happens when people or communities create new meaning and enrich human life. (Grace to the rescue: Unitarian Universalist ideas about what saves us. Myriam Renaud. Sept. 26, 2011. www.uuworld.org/articles/grace-rescue). This creative process is what transforms people, said Wieman. It does not shape the world to what a person desires, so much as it transforms a person’s desire. According to Wieman:
The creative event cannot be used to shape the world closer to the heart’s desire because it transforms the heart’s desire so that one wants something very different from what one desired in the beginning.
There is just such a creative power at work right now in Unitarian Universalism. This creative force seems to have sneaked up, grabbed hold, spun us around, and is re-shaping the heart’s desire.
As I shared with you in a letter Ebee Bromley read during worship last week, the President of our Unitarian Universalist Association, The Rev. Peter Morales, stepped down recently, just three months before the end of his term. He resigned in the midst of a controversy over the Unitarian Universalist Association’s hiring practices, which reflect white supremacy and fail to promote diversity at the institution’s highest levels. A white male minister was hired over a woman of color who is a religious educator for a regional lead position. To provide a bit of context, support for UU congregations is organized into five regional groups. Our region is the Central East Region. Each of the five regions is headed up by what is called a regional lead. All five regional leads are white.
Following the resignation of Peter Morales, the UUA’s Leadership Council issued an apology in which it recommitted to examining “more deeply than we ever have the patterns of institutional racism that are embedded in our practices of leadership, including hiring.” It is worth noting that the leadership council is made up of 11 department heads, 10 of which are white. This past week two more senior leaders, both on that leadership council, have also resigned.
Black Lives of UU, a relatively new group that has formed within our movement, has issued a statement on UU and UUA power structures and hiring practices. The Black Lives of UU met just a few weeks ago in New Orleans. One of our members, Donald Davis, attended. I believe at this time it is crucial that we hear the voices of people of color in our Unitarian Universalist Association. And I want to urge us to listen not from our heads so much as from our hearts, not from a place where we want to question, challenge, or deny, but from a place of openness and non-defensiveness.
Listen to just a portion of their statement:
The Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective believes strongly in the promise of Unitarian Universalism. At our convening in New Orleans a few weeks ago, we witnessed - through intense worship, joyful celebration, organizing work, and hard conversations - seemingly limitless possibility of what this faith can be. Getting there will be uncomfortable, and messy, and impolite - just as work for justice has always been.In order for us to be a powerful force against supremacy, everyone in our shared faith - from the smallest congregations to our national Association - must go beyond the bravery it takes to put up a ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner, and be courageous enough to look at the white supremacy within.
Let me pause for a moment. That term “white supremacy” is no doubt making some of us uncomfortable. I won’t ask you to raise your hands, but does the term “white supremacy” make you feel uncomfortable? [many hands go up to acknowledge this in a supportive way]. Black Lives of UU says this:
White supremacy is a provocative prhase, as it conjures up images of hoods and mobs. Yet in 2017 actual “white supremacists” are not required in order to uphold white supremacist culture. Building a faith full of people who understand that key distinction is essential as we work toward a more just society in difficult political times.
At this juncture, Unitarian Universalism seems like a stream trying to cross a desert. Historically, when it comes to race, Unitarian Universalism has hurled itself at the desert. Over and over again. And Unitarian Universalism just like the United States is steeped in a long history of racism and white supremacy. Nothing is going to change as long as we all keep using the same methods that got us here in the first place. As long as we are unable to bravely go beyond. As long as we stay stuck in our fear. As Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”
I wish that Unitarian Universalism could spin around and all of us could become super-heroes of anti-racism. I wish we could spin around and racism would be a thing of the past. But the changes that we are being called to as a religious movement will certainly not be easy. They will not be simple. They may even be scary and uncertain to many of us.
I wonder: if we allow ourselves to be carried by the wind across the desert, will we be the same stream, the same Unitarian Universalism that called me to ministry? Will we be the same UUism that called you here this morning? What if we are not the same stream, the same movement, anymore?
But perhaps these are not the best questions. It is time to take a deep breath and let go. Because what could be more scary than to keep hurling ourselves at the desert where we will surely be swallowed up? Where we will surely fail to live up to the ideals of our faith? Where we will surely fail to address the damaging realities of racism and oppression? Perhaps the questions we need to ask is: What could be more scary than to remain stagnant and unwilling to grow?
On Sunday April 30 our congregation will participate in a “White Supremacy Teach In” being spearheaded by Black Lives of UU. 300 congregations have signed on. This will be an opportunity for Unitarian Universalists to dedicate their collective focus to learning about racism and taking action.
The winds of transformation are blowing all around us. The desert sands are whispering in our ears. They are coaxing us to learn new methods. They are calling us to courageously widen our understanding and embrace of diversity. Are we ready? Are we ready to be transformed?
Dear God, I hope so. I pray it might be so.
Amen. Blessed be.