Barbara stands in the kitchen, in front of the window, in the morning light.
She holds a small glass plate so the light streams through it. “Look how beautiful this is,” she says, “See how the sun highlights the deep blue and makes it sparkle.”
I see neither blue nor sparkle. I see her hand holding up a small square object. From the angle where I stand no direct rays of the sun shine through. From a different perspective I cannot see the beauty.
Slavery is the topic of two films nominated for Best Picture of 2012. Lincoln tells how the President moves to see abolition as a moral requirement, and a strategic necessity. Django Unchained demonstrates the physical and spiritual violence of slavery through the revenge of a freed slave.
Two perspectives, two lenses: each showing the light of truth from a different angle.
Two men love one another and long to marry. A Southern Baptist Oklahoma preacher sees sin, and illegality. The Bay Area daughter of two mothers sees beauty, and legitimacy. Two perspectives: is there room for mutual understanding? Where is the light of truth?
Over the last several years I’ve been particularly interested in understanding the impact on our lives of differences in perspective. Whether it’s the angle of the light, the shadows of our consciousness, the height from which we observe, or what we expect to see, there are many variables that go into producing what we experience as truth.
We know those optical illusions where what you see depends on whether you focus on black or white. Is it a man playing a saxophone or a woman’s face?
Is it a young woman or an old woman?
Is it a duck or a rabbit?
What you see depends on how you look, and where you look. What you see depends on what you look for.
Was God wearing a red hat, or a blue hat? Was it neither, or both? How do you know and what difference does it make?
How much of what I see is because of how I was trained to see? What did my parents, my teachers, my church, teach me to see? This complex of influences grows as we factor in our geographical location.
I was raised in Oklahoma. I was raised in the United States. I’m a “Boomer,” born in the post World War II era to parents who were teenagers in the Great Depression. How is my perspective a product of these influences?
What complex of influences has shaped your perspective?
We call these patterns of influence “culture,” referring to the shared beliefs, attitudes, and values that shape our life practices. To a great extent we are products of our culture, and we know all too well what happens when cultures collide.
Whether in our families, political parties, or nation states, we human beings, ground-based through all the years of our evolution have been territorial creatures, marking the lines of us and them.
We fight wars over territory. We build huge steel walls to prevent migration. They are expressions of our “culture wars.”
It was only forty years ago that any of us saw for the first time a picture taken from space showing the full Earth, void of any national boundaries and state lines.
Forty years is not long in the evolution of human consciousness. It’s only in recent decades we have used metaphors like “the interdependent web of all existence” to describe not only our ecological unity but also our evolving understanding of human culture.
I believe Unitarian Universalists have an important role to play in the evolution of the inter-cultural consciousness needed to create a non-violent, compassionate, justice-oriented future for our global community. We ground our faith in the affirmation of the search for truth and meaning with the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
We affirm truth from all sources. We teach our children the importance of asking questions. At our best we are a culture of inquiry, open to growing.
These qualities lend themselves nicely to the cultivation of intercultural competence, but, just like any other field of knowledge it requires learning and practice.
If we are to grow in knowledge, skills, and abilities to interact across cultures we need to develop openness to the unfamiliar, comfort in the adventure of learning something new. That’s not always easy. We are comfortable with what is familiar. We need one another to remind us that what is familiar must grow and change to be a valued part of tomorrow’s culture.
Think of the culture of communication and information technology. I can’t keep up with it. By the time I’m a little comfortable in using my new phone, it’s three generations behind.
But I do believe, to successfully transform into a global community we need to know and name what we find meaningful, and be curious to learn what is meaningful to folks in cultures new to us. They may be cultures defined by geography, age, language, religion, identity, music, technology, or other factors.
We need to value differences, and not assume we hold things in common. We need to encourage one another to ask questions, to discover if we do hold things in common, and, if so, to build on them.
Do we affirm similar values, or can we negotiate shared values?
Unitarian Universalists practice covenant-making. We know how to express our values, how to listen to and appreciate others. We know how to agree on norms and how to make promises. We can apply this practice of covenant-making in ever-larger circles.
For two hundred years Unitarian Universalists have affirmed that what holds us together is not a creedal list of religious beliefs, but the practice of encouraging one another on the journey of authenticity.
We affirm the gifts of our differences: the knowledge that comes from scientific pursuit, the insight that comes from spiritual practice.
We can offer this gift to a world in need of practices that create community not out of sameness but from shared pursuit.
I sat with a group of people from this congregation. We looked around the circle and wondered, “Who is not here? Whose voice are we not hearing?” When it comes to intercultural work, we can notice, and reach out. We can stretch our comfort zones and invite conversation.
We can stretch our comfort zone with a willingness to experience vulnerability, to speak the truth we know with care, and let our true selves be seen.
What happens to you when you experience someone being authentic, sharing from a deep place of compassion and concern?
If you are like me you begin feeling compassionate and inspired to stretch and risk being authentic.
We do this for one another. Here in this religious community we do this in our small group ministry circles, sitting around the chalice, the flame of truth, of community, listening one another into deeper presence.
We can stretch our comfort zones further.
Four years ago this month, Barbara and I headed to India intent on stretching, on encountering the many and diverse expressions of religious life that enrich the subcontinent. We visited Maher, an organization created by a Catholic nun to house abused women and their children.
It is an amazing place of comfort and excitement. Women discover and develop skills they didn’t know they had. Children are raised in loving community.
Sister Lucy’s catholicism is spelled with a lower case “c,” meaning wide-reaching, all-embracing. Their banner displays religious symbols from around the world.
Imagine being a child raised by loving elders where the best of all the world’s religions is your everyday curriculum. Maher invites us to see from many perspectives, to have our vision informed by the wisdom of the world. Maher invites us to practice seeing from others’ perspectives, and from the encounter to create a more beautiful world.
Together, across ages, from the youngest to the oldest among us, we are invited to participate in a community art project. We will create another mosaic, The River of Life.
Mosaics bring together different perspectives, materials from our lives, broken bits of ceramic and tile and objects. Each of us, from our perspective, with the direction of our mosaic artist, Kim Larson, can make part of the mosaic and out of this diversity create a community expression of beauty. Next week, after the 11:00 service, in the first of three workshops you will have an opportunity to make a portion of the mosaic.
Bring some pieces of ceramic or tile with you.
It will be a chance to stretch, to engage, to practice the art of community.
* * * * * * *
Rise up. Rise up above the steel fence.
Rise up above all that separates and divides.
The Divine walks right down the middle.
Rise up to the view that extinguishes false boundaries.
See the vista on all sides:
“All the colors, yes the Black and the White and the Red
and the Brown and the Yellow.”
Is it a young woman, or an old woman? Yes.
Is it a rabbit, or a duck? Yes.
When the cultural mix you are meets the cultural mix of another, may a new vision of what is possible emerge, and may you give yourself to the creation of a beautiful tomorrow.
Rise up, and rise up further, until you can see that
“other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.”
Rise up until you can hear
“Other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.”
Worship at UUCB
Sundays in December
September—May Worship at 9:00 and 11:00 a.m.
Summer Worship at 10:00 a.m. May 18 - August 31
December’s Theme: “Stories”
Sunday, December 7: The Last Straw - an Intergenerational Worship service that features the epic journey of Hoshmakatu the Camel who is called to carry the gifts of the Magi. Hoshmakatu is an old camel who was never particularly thoughtful or generous of spirit. Come to learn the interesting reasons why he goes and the life-changing things he learns on the way. QUESTION: We all get 'set in our ways' from time to time. What has the power to get us to live lives larger than we previously thought?
Sunday, December 14: Holiday Wars - Every year just before Christmas religious conservatives announce there is a 'War on Christmas!' Christmas, they claim, is being dishonored and shortchanged because it isn't allowed to reign supreme over other religious holidays. But there is something we all lose in this holiday hoopla. This is an open letter to conservative talk show host Bill O'Reilly. QUESTION: Is there tension between Christmas and other cultural winter holidays and, if so, what is at the heart of that tension?
Sunday, December21: The Straight Skinny on the Fat Man in Red - Who is Santa Claus? St. Nick? The jolliest of all Christmas ambassadors? What have we been told about him and what's really true. What's important for us to know as we try to separate fact from fiction? QUESTION: Does a story have to be 'factual' in order to be 'true'?
Wednesday, December 24 – 5:00 p.m. Christmas Eve Family Service - In this family friendly traditional Christmas Pageant, we will ALL get a chance to participate and celebrate the great journey to Christmas. Everyone is welcome to come participate (dress in costume) to bring to life the story of a holy family travelling with shepherds, donkeys, wise men, stars, angels, cats, penguins, and even aardvarks.
Wednesday, December 24 – 10:00 p.m. Christmas Eve Candlelight Service - In this beautiful and moving service we will enjoy lessons and carols where we will learn to see ourselves in each of the characters travelling to Bethlehem. Come, follow a star and travel to this place of good cheer where love and hope is born.
Sunday, December 28: To the Other Side - Liberals are pretty much alike everywhere, in Transylvania and in the US: stand on the side of love, represent the countercultural opposition to oppression in society, sing songs like Come, Come, Whoever You Are. And we are pretty serious about it. In the closeness of the New Year, we see even clearer now: the most important things in life meet us unprepared, and we still have to respond to them, immediately. It’s not the preparation, but our presence that makes the difference, the courage to get into the storm, to the other side.
Rev. Dr. Szabolcs (Szabi) Czire is a core faculty member at the Protestant Theological Institute in Kolozsvar (Cluj-Napoca), Romania. He teaches Biblical studies, hermeneutics, meditation-relaxation, and religious sociology. He is currently a research scholar at Starr King School for the Ministry
After his seminary graduation in 1996, he was minister for three years in a small congregation in South Transylvania. He spent 1999-2000 study year at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. In 2005 as a “Emily Sharp Scholar,” he visited Oxford and Manchester in the UK. He completed his PhD dissertation in 2007 on historical Jesus research. He also has a BA in sociology.
Sundays in November
November’s Theme: “Calling”
Daylight Savings Time ends at 2:00 a.m. Sunday, November 2. Set your clocks back 1 hour on Saturday!
November 2 - Lost in Translation - Have you ever been 'called' to something important but missed the 'call' because you didn't understand what was being asked? What was at stake? Being able to hear, understand and interpret what the world is asking of us is of critical importance if we are to figure out how to become integral and necessary to the future. QUESTION: How is careful listening and 'understanding' (rather than 'agreement') important in personal and spiritual growth rather than just 'getting our way.'
November 9 - Power vs. Force - All that happens in life is made possible by energy flow and distribution. This includes everything we do as human beings. But do we ever stop to notice the kind of energy we're bringing to each situation? Is it compelling energy or coercive energy? This is a service where we get to stop and take stock of the energy we're experiencing and the energy we're offering. QUESTION: What is the difference between 'Power' and 'Force' in terms of the energy we use to make changes and shape our life?
November 16 - The Rope - Family Systems talks about how people work together to do two things: maintain stability and establish connection. But sometimes, when an individual in the system - or the system itself - is called to something greater than stability, it can be hard. This service is about answering the call too important to ignore. QUESTION: In what ways have we gotten 'stuck' in our lives and how do we get 'unstuck' so that both we - and others - are able to grow?
November 23 - Music Sunday - You Are The Music! With Bryan Baker, Luminescence Choir and more!
November 30 - I Said ‘Yes’ to Life - Sometimes, life’s challenges feel so overwhelming that we may want to say “no” to the world; to close ourselves off, or shut our surroundings out. When our energy feels completely drained, where do we find the strength to answer our life’s deepest call?
A graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry, Abbey Tennis now serves as the school’s Interim Advancement Director. Before entering the ministry, she was a lay leader for fifteen years, serving as a youth on the UUA board of trustees, working in the UUA’s Youth Office, and as a member of the continental UU Ministerial Fellowship Committee. Abbey had the honor of keynoting at the 2008 UU Allies for Racial Equity (ARE) conference, and she recently interned at All Souls Church in Washington, D.C. Her previous career included climate change policy work and professional facilitation.
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