THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
(by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) ( * )
WELCOMING WORDS: Lauren F:
SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT BY THE MINISTERIAL SEARCH COMMITTEE
CALL TO WORSHIP:
(“Marginal Wisdom” by Leslie Takahashi) ( * )
They teach us to read in black and white.
Truth is this-the rest is false.
You are whole-or broken.
Who you love is acceptable-or not.
Life tells its truths in many hues.
We are taught to think in either or.
To believe the teachings of Jesus-OR Buddha.
To believe in human potential – OR a power beyond a single will.
I am broken OR I am powerful.
Life embraces multiple truths, speaks of both and of and.
We are taught to see in absolutes.
Good vs. evil.
Male vs. female.
Old vs. young.
Gay vs. straight.
Let us see the fractions, the spectrum, the margins.
Let us open our hearts to the complexity of our worlds.
Let us make our lives sanctuaries, to nurture our many identities.
The day is coming when all will know
That the rainbow world is more gorgeous than monochrome,
That a river of identities can ebb and flow over the static, stubborn rocks in its course,
That the margins hold the center.
LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Mari and Luke M.
Chalice of light
open our hearts
lift our spirits
Help us welcome this day together.
(by Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)
OPENING HYMN: “Enter, Rejoice and Come In” (# 361)
Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest for truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve humankind in fellowship,
To the end that all souls
Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.
This is our great covenant,
One with another, and with our God.
SONG OF ASPIRATION:
From all that dwell below the skies,
Let songs of hope and faith arise,
Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,
Through every land, by every tongue.
CHILDREN’S TIME: Rev. Anita
SINGING CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:
Go now in peace, go now in peace;
may the love of God surround you,
you may go.
CANDLES OF JOY AND SORROW
MEDITATION AND PRAYER
GENDER: “Why This Matters to Me” by Ginger L.
My name is Ginger, and I am a woman. I imagine this is no surprise to you. I use she/her pronouns; my hair and clothes and physique all suggest femininity. I grew up knowing myself as female, and aside from that time in 8th grade when I had a short haircut, I have been regarded by others as female for the majority of my 45 years. I have the organs traditionally associated with femaleness, and I have mostly used them in the expected ways, such as gestating and nursing my children. For these reasons, my sense of my own gender has always been relatively straightforward.
Still, I have to confess that I don’t know how to “girl” very well. I never wear make-up or paint my nails. I physically cannot wear high heels thanks to my double wide feet and poor balance. I loathe shopping, I’m not especially fussy about my wardrobe, and I have not shaved my legs since 1992. (Rev. Anita said this had to be personal.) When I’m with a group of women and topics like grooming or self-adornment come up, I have little to contribute. I also have characteristics that don’t fit well with our culture’s prevailing expectations of women: I’m not very chatty; I can be impatient, cranky, bossy, and crass. Also I am an unapologetic feminist, and you know what a pain we are.
In my teenage years, I was very sensitive to comments and opinions and behaviors that implied inflexible gender expectations – and the privilege of identity over the other. I remember my hurt and frustration when friends and relatives mansplained that “he” was a “gender neutral” pronoun, or argued that feminism was an affront to humanity, or insisted that gay men have “feminine traits.” I could not always put into words why this mattered so much to me, and would like as not end up crying in the bathroom.
In college I double-majored in theater and women’s studies. Feminist theory taught me that gender is a performance. There is nothing essential about gender. It is literally something you perform for other people. You choose the costume, the make-up and hair, and the scripts that make the most sense to you, given your place in society, your relationships to other people, your culture, and your tastes and personality. The degree to which you’re comfortable individualizing your script might depend on the consequences, in your community, of diverging from the predominant one – consequences that include indifference, ridicule, shame, exclusion, hostility, or violence. Performance does not always mean hiding something, though. When liberated from fear and judgment, gender expression reflects a profound truth. It is different than anatomy – the fleshy facts of the body. But gender IS truth. Having a vagina is a physical reality – and no more real than the vagina-bearer’s desire to present and act and love in the world in their own unique way.
For all my discomfort with gender-based prescriptions and assumptions, I do in some ways profoundly identify with other people who call themselves women. We have something here at MUUC called a women’s retreat, and in three weeks I will be attending it for the fourth time. Every retreat has brought wonderful opportunities for fellowship and connection. The retreaters represent a range of personalities, tastes, passions, and life histories, and still there is much that is familiar and comfortable in our shared experience.
And yet…is gender really the main thing that makes us similar? We’re almost all white. Mostly educated. Mostly professional. Mostly liberal. Mostly married and/or attracted to men. Would we find commonality with women of other races, economic classes, ethnicities, abilities, beliefs, sexual orientations? Perhaps. But gender scripts for people of marginalized identities can be very different than for those only one chromosome away from the seat of power. My friends who are women with disabilities struggle with a script that says they are asexual, without any hope of making themselves desirable or acting on their desires. My friends who are women of color tend to be exoticized and fetishized by the predominant cultural script.
My theater major taught me a lot about performance, too. More importantly, my love for theater drew me into a world of people who – at least more than the general population – embraced the full colorful spectrum of gender identity and orientation. In the theater world, I have made friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer; who are transgender; who are gender fluid and nonbinary. Polyamorous and into bondage. People who perform their own delicious flavor of gender to the hilt.
Years ago I attended the wedding of a fellow playwright and her girlfriend. The day after the ceremony, many guests, who were mostly queer women, were hanging out and relaxing at the inn. I found myself on the patio playing board games with some other geeky folk, while my then-husband took the opportunity to watch football with the butches. (I think it’s worth noting that we were out on the patio in the October chill because one of the guests had severe chemical sensitivity and was more comfortable outdoors, and that we played games accessible to the guests who were Deaf and hard of hearing.) To me this scene feels very right – inclusive, welcoming, people sorted according to their interests rather than their genitalia. Even with my mostly mainstream gender identity, I find myself happiest and most comfortable around gender outlaws. They give me full permission to be myself.
Gender matters. But if even a white, middle-class, cisgender, heterosexual, breeding female person feels constricted by the prevailing script, it needs to matter much, much less.
ANTHEM SOLO: “When I Was a Boy” Ginger L.
READING: “The Miracle of Life” by Edward, incarcerated member of the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF)
Dear CLF Family,
The miracle that I would like to share is… what it means to me to be truly alive.
… I was talking to my best friend about how my life had been one gigantic lie. He suggested that I should try living and telling the truth. Simple, huh? Not so much for me. The ramifications of truth-telling could be-and were-devastating.
I told two truths to my family and friends. The first was that I lied about not doing the thing that put me in prison. The second was that I am gay. Well, as you might guess, all but eight people left me. Eight! My pastor stopped visiting … because he couldn’t support me being gay. In fact, being gay was the main reason why everyone stayed away.
Where is the miracle in all of that? Happiness, contentment, and so much more. Freedom to be me! Because of this freedom I have found Wicca which feels true to my beliefs … Not living in lies is awesome. Living is so much easier now.
This is my miracle. Something bad turned out for my good.
HYMN: “No Other People’s Children” (see insert)
“They Know they are Goats”
The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson (c)
“300 Goats”. A poem by Naomi Shihab Nye:
In icy fields.
Is water flowing in the tank?
Will they huddle together, warm bodies pressing?
(Is it the year of the goat or the sheep?
Scholars debating Chinese zodiac,
follower or leader.)
O lead them to a warm corner,
little ones toward bulkier bodies.
Lead them to the brush, which cuts the icy wind.
Another frigid night swooping down –
Aren’t you worried about them? I ask my friend,
who lives by herself on the ranch of goats,
far from here near the town of Ozona.
She shrugs, “Not really,
they know what to do. They’re goats.”
They know what to do. They’re goats. Were it only so simple for us… for us, human beings, who don’t always know what to do. Who often do not even know who we are, or who the people we love are. Or why it is that we don’t know.
Many years ago a boy sat in my office- a boy becoming a man. He was in high school. He had grown up in the church, as had his father. I knew his grandparents, his parents and his siblings; I had performed the weddings for his brothers. I loved them.
But this day Ryan sat in my office in tears. I waited. Eventually he was able to speak, of his life, his pain, his loneliness, his sorrow. He wasn’t even sure he should tell me, but he was at the end of his rope. He didn’t think he could go on like this much longer. He was living a lie.
Finally, he found the words that would crack the shell of loneliness, and connect him in truth, to another soul. Ryan told me he was gay. He told me he hadn’t meant to be. He had tried not to be. He had gone out with girls, girls he liked, girls he admired. Girls he wanted as friends. But he was deceiving them. And he felt terrible, like he was using them to cover up his truth, rather than respecting them and treating them fairly. He was living a lie, and because of that, had lost the capacity for meaningful relationships. He was heartbreakingly lonely, despairing and ashamed.
My heart was breaking as I listened. At church we all loved Ryan, valued him, enjoyed his company, appreciated the gifts he shared not only with Youth Group, but with the whole church. He was a cherished part of our congregation. But Ryan couldn’t feel that; couldn’t believe it or trust it, because the Ryan we loved, was a lie. A figment of his creation. We loved, he thought the “normal” Ryan, the Ryan he had created out of his imagination of what normal would look like, if he were normal…which he wasn’t. We loved the presentation, not the person behind it, he thought, not the boy who loved other boys.
I will tell you now, that I was scared. I was scared that Ryan was suicidal…that I might be his last stop before taking his hopeless and despairing life. And all I had to offer was my certainty that Ryan was loved, loved for who he was not for whom he loved, loved by his family and his church, and I had to trust that.
I advised him to tell his parents. He was shocked. I offered to go with him. I told him that I knew his parents loved him, no matter what, and that they would want to know who he really was. Inside my head and heart I prayed that they would be up to it. He said he’d think about it.
A week or so later I received a phone call from Ryan’s mother. He had told them, his Mom and Dad. His mother said that while it was difficult to hear, she was glad that he had told them, that now they could understand better why he had been so moody, sometimes distant, sometimes depressed. She admitted that his Dad was having a hard time of it, but she was sure he would come around. And he did.
This boy/man who was on the verge of suicide found himself wrapped in love. This boy/man who felt totally isolated and alone, found out that he had meaningful relationships. This young man grew up to be a wonderfully successful and productive adult in his career and his personal life. I know this because about every ten years or so, at some Unitarian Universalist event, I run into his mother who grabs me and hugs me, and tells me how well Ryan is doing, how proud they are of him, and how grateful they are to me, for giving him back to them, the real him, back to the real them, the real them who would love him no matter what.
They had been challenged and in the face of their son’s truth, had found strength and guidance in their UU principles. They had been asked to walk their talk, to embody the values they had spoken so often and taught to their children.
“Aren’t you worried about them?” Naomi Shihab Nye asked her friend, who lives by herself on the ranch of goats…
“She shrugs, “Not really,
they know what to do. They’re goats.”
They know what to do. They’re goats. When we know who we are, we know what to do. When we live faithfully to ourselves, we know what to do. We know how to love, and how to be in relationship. When we enter the world congruently, honestly, presenting who we are and who we were meant to be, we can let the world in.
Edward, the CLF member whose letter I read, like Ryan, had struggled with living a lie. He had thought it would make his life easier to pretend to be who others wanted him to be. He had not understood the cost, the cost of denying his own self, the cost of living an inauthentic life.
On the one hand, some of his fears were realized. He lost relationships when he shared his truth, his authentic lived identity, relationships grounded in illusion, relationships unable to sustain. Edward writes:
In fact, being gay was the main reason why everyone else has stayed away.
Where is the miracle in all of that? Happiness, contentment, and so much more. Freedom to be me! … Not living in lies is awesome. Living is so much easier now.
This is my miracle.
Today we are asking you to consider the profound issues of authenticity that the gender topic surfaces. What does it mean to allow each person to name themselves in their own way, out of their own experience? What is the damage inflicted when we refuse to allow a person their own identity? What is the real cost in relationship when we do not let ourselves or others to be known? How lonely a world are we willing to inhabit?
Goats know that they are goats. They are not going to let anyone talk them out of it, nor will they ever present otherwise. In our human world, it is different. We don’t always know what we are or who we are becoming. Our identifies evolve and emerge. And our communities need to allow that, holding firmly to our principles, honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person, engaging in the quest for truth, experiencing the assurance of the network of mutuality.
It is a mutuality of rich diversity, nourishing and sustaining, when we each bring our true selves, in honesty and humble dignity, to this life we share in common. Can we do that? Do it for ourselves, do it for others, and for our children, and their children, and the generations that come after? I believe we can.
May it be so. Amen.
CLOSING HYMN: “When Our Heart is in a Holy Place” (# 1008)
EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE (read by the congregation):
We extinguish the 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.
May the long time sun shine upon you,
all love surround you,
and the pure light within you
guide you all the way home.
( * ) Indicates a person of color
 Not his real name
 Edward, “The Miracle of Life,” CLF member incarcerated in Ohio, printed in Quest, April, 2018