May 12: “Silver and Gold” with Rev. Kendyl Gibbons
Click here to start at the sermon.
Every year, of course, has its highs and lows; its historic moments. But fifty years ago, in 1969, the world shifted in some unusually significant ways. In May, the first color pictures of the earth as seen from outer space were published – just consider that for a moment, how it changes our relationship to the planet.
Then on July 20, two American astronauts first set human foot on the moon. In June, the Stonewall riots in New York initiated the modern gay rights movement – so much that came out of that, right? And the three-day concert at Woodstock in August defined the music, and the ethos, of a generation. In December the four-node ARPANET networking system successfully communicated among computers at UCLA, Stanford, the University of Utah, and the University of California at Santa Barbara, establishing the foundation for today’s internet. 1969, y’all. Some of us weren’t even around then, but several aspects of the global culture that we take for granted today first appeared in that seminal year a half century ago.
Closer to home, that year All Souls followed the celebration of its Centennial anniversary in 1968 by commissioning 85 families from among its more than 700 members to found a new UU church in Johnson County Kansas. The adept Humanist minister Dr. Ray Bragg, for whom this auditorium is named, was then at the height of a productive 21 year ministry here, and Unitarian Universalism had been experiencing a national growth spurt. This building had been dedicated nine years earlier, with the education wing completed three years after that. Sunday School classrooms were overflowing as the last of the baby boom children cycled through a religious education program staffed primarily by volunteer moms.
Decades of non-violent protest for civil rights were hardening into privileged white resistance and calls for black power after the assassination of Martin Luther King. The UUA suffered a white fragility spasm and lost credibility with its own members of color and their larger communities. Second wave feminism was moving from the theoretical writings of Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan to the political activism that would culminate in the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment five years later. It was in 1969 that Mary Daly published The Church and the Second Sex; progressive religious communities began publically reconsidering the role and authority of women as professional leaders. It was both a yeasty and a challenging time for liberal thought in general; Unitarian Universalism was lifted and tossed on those same cultural waves.
Most people, when they choose to join a church community, don’t think of themselves as part of a societal trend. It feels more like a personal decision; part of an ongoing spiritual journey, a search for support in life’s difficulties, a need for validation in changing political or theological convictions, a yearning for friends. And so it is – a personal decision that is always based on the interweaving of complex factors, always a bit of a risk and a venturing into the unknown. It requires a certain courage, to reach out into a new group; it’s an act of faith, really — believing in the possibility of human connection. Trusting that what we share as human beings is more formative than all the things you think – and I think — are uniquely messed up about our individual selves. It’s a gamble; can this institution really live up to the values that it claims to promote? Will these people actually be authentic, and kind to each other, and interested in what I have to offer?
The answer of course, is No. Not absolutely, not entirely, not perfectly. The fifty year folks are already aware of this, by the way – new members, this warning is largely for your benefit. And a reminder to us all. This congregation, like all other assemblies of real people, is full of cranks, and bores, and cowards and failures, and judgmental hypocrites, and those who are angry and those who are deeply un-woke, and all the other human flaws that you can think of. All of us struggle; all of us carry hidden burdens and scars; all of us, at one time or another, have let the people we care about down. Just like you. And me. Whatever your secret despair, someone here shares it. But we are here, in the midst of all these imperfect others, because life is not a do it yourself alone project. And all the perfect people have already found each other, in some other church that I have never encountered.
Still, here, in this confused and awkward more or less organization, if we are willing to let it, something amazing happens. The silver threads of friendship begin to spin themselves from one faulty, broken heart to another; and if we keep showing up, and putting our hopes and our hands out there, those fragile silver threads of new friendship grow strong, and are tested, and over time ripen into the golden bonds of long connection that are the web of meaning to sustain us all in community. Ideally, you need them both, the old and the new; new friends, to enrich and enliven that community, and spread it wider; as well as old timers, who hold the center and carry the collective memory, and know how to survive a crisis without falling too far apart.
Dearly Beloved, there is no one but us. No perfect community, no unblemished members – just the fallible, hopeful people here right now, willing to take a chance again on being human together, so that we might help each other do better than we otherwise might in this project of living. Think of all the changes that have washed over our nation and our world – and our church – since 1969! What wisdom might we learn from these our elders, about survival, and integrity, and balance, and staying power? What insight might these newcomers have to teach us, about the urgencies and possibilities of this new millennium? How might we discover together the place where your gifts – which are just as real and just as deep as your brokenness – can be made fruitful for the present needs of our world? And how might we make this place, this temple of the human spirit, a house of wisdom and welcome for years beyond our own? It begins by choosing – choosing to risk, choosing to reach out, choosing to connect, choosing to stay for the long haul. It begins by choosing love.