Some New Kind of Adventure
Our reading today is title, “Things to Watch While You Drive” by Joyce Sutphen, the Poet Laureate of Minnesota
The trees, slipping
across the fields, changing places with
barns and silos,
the hills, rolling over
on command, their bellies
green and leafy,
the sun-tiger, riding
on your rooftop, its shadow racing
up and down the ditches,
a flock of birds,
carrying the sky by the corners,
a giant sheet of blue,
the road, always
twisting towards or away from you —
both, at the same time.
I found myself wondering how many times I had packed up the car over the last two years — how many times I said goodbye, how many times I said “No, I’m not dragging that old thing with me” and instead donated it to Goodwill. This time, I found myself confronted with two packed cars.
Two cars heading into the unknown, two cars with a different part of the country waiting at the end of the road, two cars that surely forgot to pack that one thing we absolutely should’ve had the sense to remember. My partner and I were ready to say goodbye to the home we had known in Illinois for most of our lives. For me, the farewells were less impactful and tearful, my mother still held back her emotions, the other relatives did as well.
I would be lying if I believed that it was truly less impactful. Any goodbye is hard to grapple with — whether it is final or temporary. This goodbye, only four days ago, had a level of finality to it. We were leaving and, yes we would visit, but we would not be down the road or in the next room. The distance was going to last.
At some point during all of the moving and traveling I’ve done over the past couple years, it has become all too familiar and routine. It was readily apparent to me when I realized that I knew where everything needed to go in my car — there was a set place for each item — the road maps, the emergency kit — the clothes hamper filled with anything that could fit — the empty dunkin donuts cups. All pieces of a puzzle that allowed me to hit the road and move on to the next chapter of this or that adventure.
Each time, with that final slam of the trunk and the crossing of state lines, it became commonplace, expected, with the emotions tucked away. The stress was still there but it was not front and center and bearing down on me. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but for those of you that have travelled and moved often, perhaps this has a ring of familiarity.
You find yourself suddenly accustomed to knowing what you need and living with far less than you could imagine, and the excitement or dread of what is at the end of the road is all part of the routine. While picking up our lives and settling elsewhere is not unheard of, I found my mind, during all of those hours on the road, looking back to people that had it much harder than I ever will.
I would think back to the great Unitarians and Universalists of old. Picking up and moving was a way of life for them. They did not know what awaited them on the other side but it was their calling, their purpose, and their mission to go where the good news of hope instead of hell was needed.
I think specifically of the Iowa Sisterhood. Those pioneering women of the late 19th century that accepted the call to be ministers when it was still uncommon and new to have a woman preach and lead.
They travelled from their comfortable and privileged Boston homes and accepted pulpits in the wild and untamed Midwest — also known as Iowa. The towns in which these callings rested often had no roads, a frontier way of life, few colleagues for support, and few buildings – if any – to hold worship.
Many of these women walked into towns that were not quite sure why they needed Unitarianism or Universalism in the first place, let alone religion as taught by a woman.
But still they packed up what they had — they carried the baggage of being challenged, doubted, looked down upon, but also the baggage of joyful service, new beginnings, and expectancy — and made a journey far harder than any we know today.
Where they settled they planted roots, and hope, and the foundations of a large portion of, yes, Midwestern UUism, but also across the nation the foundations of Western and Southern UUism as well. The Iowa Sisterhood was not an isolated occurrence.
And so, like those generations past — but with significantly less barriers to living out my call — I, and perhaps many of you, carry with me the baggage, not all of it heavy, of my past. I am the only son of South Side Chicagoans — a subculture of Chicago that is known for it’s hardiness, grit, and rough-around-the-edges demeanor. I come from a family of publishers, soldiers, priests, and originally, farmers.
Though my roots will always be in Chicago, there are branches of my being and family that reach the rolling hills of England and Ireland, the mountains of Pennsylvania and the tobacco fields of Western Kentucky.
I cannot claim to know and feel those facets of my family, but still they are there. Still they influenced my parents, grandparents, and ancestors beyond — still they are part of the journey I make every day and the roots I plant myself.
But, so, too I carry my hopes for the present and future.
While I will never know the challenges those pioneering women faced — and still the challenges faced by female clergy today — I am continuing a tradition of ministers picking up and settling down wherever the innermost callings of wonder and awe draw people.
This next chapter of our lives here at UUCL will unfold in ways we do not yet know. As I shared with you during our week together in May — we will continue the work that is before us. As with all things church, this work may not be completed for many years.
It will require of all of us patience, adaptability, and curiosity. It will ask us to pick up all of who we are and, as we heard in our reading today, to move both toward and away from something all at once.
My goals as your minister are primarily, as any minister should do, to listen to the needs of those of you here today, to work with your leaders, to be present to you in your times of joy and sorrow, and to put my support behind the desires of you — the people of UUCL. It sounds far more simple than it is. And as passive as those goals sound, I assure you there are active goals as well.
The mission and vision of UUCL will be the backbone of all the work that is ahead of us. I will support the staff of this congregation and all of the work they do — as it supports our mission and vision.
I will work on making us more connected, communicative, and responsive — as it supports our mission and vision. We will make our values heard in Frankfort, Lexington, and Central Kentucky — as it supports our mission and vision.
And I could go on and on with the same refrain — mission and vision. But I will need your help too. A minister, just as any person, cannot do this work alone — as much as I wish I could! The success of whatever we endeavor to do rests on all of us as one community.
It requires us to communicate our needs, put in copious amounts of elbow grease, and break free from that good ol’ UU tendency to discuss and debate the idea of action. If we are to grow — not just in numbers — we must first grapple with our own various interpretations of Unitarian Universalism and to share them openly with each other and our visitors.
Through this we will find that though one might be a Christian or Buddhist and the other an Eclectic Pagan or Atheist (and so on and so forth) — our values have a shared foundation.
Additionally and of equal importance — we must welcome the stranger and the oppressed without hesitation: we are not done now that marriage equality is nationwide. As UUA President Peter Morales said in Portland, Oregon when the ruling was made public, we have only but a moment to be satisfied and revel — our faith was instrumental in seeing marriage equality become a reality — but there is always more to do.
Here in Kentucky, just down interstate 64 in Rowan County — same-sex couples are still being denied the right to marry. And so, too, our transgender siblings still face immense odds and loss of life due to hatred.
And we cannot forget the disproportionate loss of life experienced by Black Americans — still the news reports the names of young black kids being gunned down for incomprehensible reasons. Yes, there is more work to do — much more than I have mentioned, much more that threatens our planet, our lives, and our hope for a more just world.
Realistically, we cannot accomplish all of this on our own as much as we’d like to believe we can. We will need others. We will need other religious progressives to join us in these endeavors — and perhaps, dare I suggest it, some not-so-progressive people of faith as well. Unitarian Universalism can still be an enclave, especially here in Kentucky, for people in search of another way of being religious — but we cannot be cloistered away.
And with all of these things we “must” do — as always, true to our UU way of engaging, exploring, and discerning — if being at the sidelines or working behind the scene is your preferred way, you will not be asked to do more until you want to.
We UUs are often a busy people — we have a lot we want to accomplish. But, your participation here must first enrich your experience before enriching everyone else’s. Our endeavors and our desire to grow begins in this room before it moves outward. You — each and every one of you — matters to this congregation. Whether it is your first time here or your 2,000th time here, what you carry with you into this space is needed.
What have you brought with you today into this place? What do you carry through these doors every single Sunday? What have you packed away time and time again and where do you see yourself going in the next chapter of your life?
Knowing that we all bring our emotions, our collected experiences, our expertise and our growing edges to every moment is necessary in a place like church. It allows us to rest in knowing that church is not perfect or unchangeable because we, with all that makes up our lives, are not perfect or unchangeable.
If Unitarian Universalism is one thing, it is a religion of constant travelers. We pack up what we have, used and tattered, sometimes brand new — and bring it with us into every encounter and chapter of our lives. Today a new leg of the journey begins for you, me, and UUCL.
Over these next couple months of time together, we will be learning about one another on a deeper level. We will figure out where this congregation wants to direct its energy, how we can put the mission and vision at the forefront of all we do, and discern who and how we want to be.
We will each bring our own individual journeys to every committee meeting, every Sunday service, every potluck and fundraiser, every RE class and choir rehearsal.
While it will not always be easy to find common ground with our differences, or to embark upon the difficult and the unknown as we push this community forward — may we find hope in having come this far already and even though change is inevitable, may we still find a place that can be called home when we enter through these doors.
May it always be so. Blessed Be. Amen.