April 27, 2016
Remarks made at the First Unitarian Church of Saint Louis, April 23, 2016
My Dear People, long ago according to Mr. Tolkien, Bilbo Baggins gave a speech at his one-hundred-and-eleventh birthday party. I have borrowed some of Bilbo’s words, and added some of my own, to properly to honor this marvelous event, our Fellowship of the Church Dinner.
My dear Dusenberys and Fathmans, and Koebbes, O’Briens and O’Malleys, and my dear Myers and Kindlebergers, and so many more. Too many to name and count, including individuals such as Bovento and Hoeklman, going on to those at the end of the alphabet, such as the Wires, and the inestimable Weck. WELCOME! Also, my greetings go to all those who have worked to make this party possible including Ms. Clemons and Ms. Underwood, and our custodian, Mr. Smith.
Today, this church is more than a hundred and eleven years old! In fact, it is only a couple of months past its hundred and eighty-first birthday! Since we did not celebrate our birthday at the end of January, let’s do that now. Cheers!
I hope you are all enjoying yourselves as much as I am. I shall not keep you long. We have feasting to do, but we are gathered together for a purpose. Indeed, I have three Purposes for this speech.
First of all, I speak to tell you that I am immensely fond of you all and that five years is too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable Unitarians and to say that I am sorry to be leaving you in a few months.
I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
Secondly, we are here to celebrate birthdays of another sort, the anniversaries of all who joined this church 15 years, 25 years, 50 and 55 years ago. I am not going to add up all those years, all the Sundays celebrated, all the Fellowship Dinners attended, all the money that you gave or any of that, but it is not a trifling amount. It is a form of inheritance given to us for which we should be grateful.
It is also, if I may be allowed to refer to ancient history, the sixth anniversary of my arrival by barrel here at our annual Fellowship Dinner; this was the first time we were, properly, introduced. I was only fifty then, but I had the honor of being seated at a front table with the eldest of our elders, including Marietta Hunsche, who on that day was not even a hundred and who, tomorrow we will memorialize in words and song. The banquet that night was very splendid; I was as grateful to be here then as now. I repeat what I said then, ‘Thank you very much for coming to this little party and for including me.’ I now expand on what I said then: thank you for including me in all that we have done together for the past five years.
Thirdly and finally, I wish to say that this party is not my party, even though I briefly wondered if the Tolkien inspired theme was chosen just to please me. In fact, this dinner is not about me at all. This party is about you, the fellowship of this church. The minister of a church makes visible the good of the church, but he or she is not its goodness. I represent the center, but I am not the center. I clarify our purposes, but I do not determine our purposes. I choose a course across the wilderness, I can name the dangers and the joys we should face in our journey together, but I cannot choose what you do or how you do it. You are the fellowship of the church. Even when I give a great speech, without you to create the occasion, to support my work, to open your minds and hearts, I am just talking to myself. And when I am gone, when someone else holds this office, you are the church. With you and only through you does the church live and love and remember and hope. Together, as a fellowship, you must seek the truth, seek love, seek justice, and seek honesty, integrity, and inspiration, because the finding is in the seeking.
But tonight we cease from seeking. Together, we rest from our eternal journey to find the spiritual ring of Love, Justice, Dignity and Tolerance. We take the time to look around and to see in each other, the fellowship of the church, to appreciate how far we have come on our journey, and to see clearly the spirit that moves us all to do the hard work of committees, and boards, feasts, and festivals. Tonight you are all to be honored, for you are the mighty Fellowship of the church.
April 6, 2016
Often, while marching in Ferguson, we chanted “No Justice, no Peace.” I thought to myself as I chanted, “Know Justice, know Peace.” However, during a lull in the chanting, I asked a young man next to me, “What do you think ‘justice’ is?” He replied without hesitation, “Put that murderer away.”
Last month, on the Books and Culture website, Tim Stafford posted an essay titled, “Why Justice Divides Us; And how it can unite us.” You can Find it here. (Tim Stafford is a self-avowed Evangelical Christian, an author and the general editor of a recent publication, God’s Justice: The Holy Bible (Zondervan).)
In his essay, he notes how most people contrast justice with mercy, and associate justice merely with laws, and punishment for breaking laws. He notes the obvious parallel between how Christians often see the “Law” of the Old Testament and the “Grace” of the New Testament. But, Stafford argues, that ultimately, Biblical justice “Is not the application of a static body of law, but a foundational component in the great story of God setting right the creation he loves.” In fact, he emphasizes that the Biblical view of justice contains and incorporates Grace and Mercy.
He writes: “The gospel is not just about personal transformation. The good news is that God is setting right everything: individuals and society, nations and nature. If the gospel is strictly about sin and atonement in the individual’s heart, “your God is too small.”” I have met many people, even Unitarian Universalists, who’s God is too small.
Many people in UU congregations struggle with what appears as an absence of a clear and unifying theology, because we have no creed. In fact, we have a robust theology (defined as “a way of speaking about the holiest and trusted source of all that is good and right in our lives”), and it centers on a Beloved Community of Ultimate Justice.
Our theology shows up in what we do and value. For example, we are often very proud of being among the first, in this country, to speak out against slavery, to ordain women, and to affirm gay and lesbian marriages. We feel energized by action on climate change, or engagement with immigration reform, or demands that our political system treat the most vulnerable and poor with a fair and generous hand. These examples show what we think is of greatest worth and that the heart of our faith is a vision of Ultimate Justice (what Stafford calls “God’s Justice”). This vision draws from all our religious sources, Biblical, and Humanistic. Thus, it is an act of worship for us to chant “Know justice, know peace” if we remember that Justice is an integration of radical mercy, kindness and reconciliation into the application of the Law.