Monday, May 31, 2021

Sharing Stories about our Mothers by Reverend Tom Capo


This is a personal story written by a member of our congregation, Pipi Granat Cuadrado .  It is called "A Mango For Meemo".   Thank you so much Pipi for allowing us to share your story.

It is summer, and mango season. She sits staring as I walk in with the mangoes. The look is as blank as flat concrete. I steel myself for the sheering force of the shell my mother has become. She may take my hand and say my name. Or she may say, “Who is this? This place isn’t for you. Go home.“ with all the Alzheimer patients I have had in my family practice, you would think I would be prepared for this turmoil.

Having her at our home seemed the right thing to do after her adoring new husband of 3 years could not care for her. She had called me daily at the office saying he was trying to kill her. I had to baby-proof the house as though a toddler lived there. She was up all right wandering around. Medications for sleep made her stagger, those for agitation made her nauseated.

She often thought I was trying to harm her. Once she came at me and grabbed my face with her fingernails, twisting my cheek like a cat fight among girls. I screamed for my husband, unwilling to fight my tiny mother. A minute later she hugged me and told me how much she loved me—what blessed forgetfulness. This was my sweet mother who had kissed my forehead when I was a child and who told and retold the story of how I was burning up with fever as I was bundled off to the hospital, aged 4, temperature 106 degrees Fahrenheit. I had typhoid fever when there was no treatment for it. Several children in that mini-epidemic on Miami Beach had died. And she kept saying to my father, “What if she dies? What if she dies?” And every time she told the story, tears would softly stream into her eyes, but she held them back so they never fell onto her cheeks.

These days my mother often looks at me with expressions identical to those of when she was normal. I look into her eyes and can no longer fathom the blankness I know is there. It is the mirror of the piercing stare of a newborn who seems to know what you are thinking. I am learning what the families of my patients come to know while they are suffering: They are doing their grief work in advance.

I bring her mangoes, her favorite fruit…mine, too. “Do you know what I brought you, Meemo?” I ask (she was renamed “Meemo” long ago by a grandchild). “Why do you ask such a stupid question?” she says. “I don't’ know, and I don’ care.” She does not recognize the mangoes. “Remember how Daddy used to plant fish heads under the mango tree to fertilize it?” I ask. This is one of our favorite family secrets. She pushes the mangoes away. I go to the kitchen of the house where she lives and peel a mango, fighting the same tears she always fought. I admonish myself: This is not about you; this is about her. I bring the plate of mangoes with a fork. She will not touch them. I force a jolly smile and pierce a piece of mango, bringing it to her lips, as she must have done for me as an infant. She licks it, then opens her mouth like a little bird. She knows the mango! She takes the fork, a smile spreading over her face. She gobbles down the plate of mangoes, grinning as the juice runs down her chin.

My mother was a no-nonsense practical lady, but she was sentimental. She was cute and quick and had written a book of poetry that the refused to call by that name. She called it verse and said she was a viersifier, not a poet. Some verses were one-liners: “Life is dress rehearsal for which there will never be an opening night.” She could not have known how slowly and painfully the curtain would descend and that the theater would be empty before the stage lights would finally go out. 

Until then, I will bring her mangoes or whatever else is in season.



Let me start with sharing a passage from A Tale of Boxes: the role of myth in creating and changing our stories by Robert T. Latham:

"Jack and Jill

Went up the hill

To fetch a pail of water.

Jack fell down

And broke his crown

And Jill came tumbling after.

            Jack is a story.  Jill is a story.  The hill is a story.  Going up the hill is story.  Fetching is a story.  The pail is a story.  The water is a story.  Jack falling is a story.  Breaking his crown is a story.  Jill tumbling after is a story.  All of these smaller stories make up the larger story of this nursery rhyme.

            Everything that exists is a story…Every story is a tale of encounter with other stories.  My story is what I create from the meaning I give my experiences… [And] our stories forever mingle… "

             We all tell stories.  And each story we tell has at least a little piece of us within it, whether it is a personal story or a fable, myth, or historical reenactment.  And each story we hear leaves us with questions, feelings, thoughts.  They affect us, remind us, change us sometimes in subtle and sometimes profound ways.  The best stories stay with us long after they are told.      

Stories, particularly stories about mothers and mothering, touch something deep within us, something ineffable, something that can be paradoxical and complicated.  Our birth mothers are our first physical connection with another human being.  Often it is from our birth mothers that we have our initial experience of security, connection, support, love, however flawed any or all those might be and often are. And besides our birth mothers there are often people in our lives who give us mothering, let's call them our spiritual mothers; they offer us security, connection, support, unconditional love, usually at some critical moment in our lives. The stories of mothers in our lives often influence our sense of worth, our understanding of love, and how deeply we can trust.  Because these stories are so deep and impactful in our lives, when a mother changes, whether through aging or other reasons, our relationships with and our stories about them change. 

            I was particularly touched by the story that Pipi allowed me to share with you today.  She shared a story of how her relationship with biological her mother changed.  What did you hear, feel, think, or experience as you heard the story?  Did you think of your mother or of someone in your life who mothered you or of your own mothering of someone in your life?  Did stories your own stories begin to fill your mind or heart?

            That's what happen to me when I first read this story.  I remembered a time when my mother calmly and with great practicality took care of me when an edger cut off two of my toes.  I was crying, out of control, in shock, not knowing what to do.  I ran right to her.  Despite my panic I knew she was the one who could take care of me.  She wrapped up my foot with my almost completely severed toes, stopping the blood loss, and took me immediately to the doctor.  He reattached my toes back and put my whole leg, my whole leg in a cast.  My mom came through, as she always did.  She was that kind of person. 

            And I remembered how she still loved me even when I did things that, let's say, were dangerous or scary.  After a long day out in the cow fields near my home, I brought home a black racer snake in a pillow case.  I thought I would keep it.  But I needed something to put it in.  I found my father's crab trap.  I thought that would work despite the obvious space between the wooden slates in the trap being wider than the width of the snake.  It was just at this point that my mother came to see what I was up to.  I poured the snake into the trap and it easily squirmed out and raced straight toward my mother.  Fortunately it was as scared of her and she was of it, and it turned away from her at the last second. 

            Pipi's story reminded me of my father, and his final years with Alzheimer's disease, unable to leave home without becoming disoriented, asking countless questions or telling the same stories over and over again.  And how my mother in turn mothered him, as he increasing became more limited, more needy, more childlike.  And it took a toll on her.

            And I reflected on my mother now, as she ages, with increasing physical limitations, and my concern for her safety and security while I live several states away.  I know my brothers live close, but she still lives in her own home, alone, valuing her independence.

            I also found myself asking questions as I heard Pipi's story, about the mystery of the mangoes, about her mother's husband of three years.  Of the toll it took on Pipi as she cared for her mother.  Of typhoid fever, its impact on Pipi and her mother. All the stories that were left untold, but still calling to me.

            And I wondered what I might do if I were in Pipi's shoes.  How would I act, react, cope?  The wondering continues even now. 

            My stories and Pipi story now intertwine.  And I suspect her story intertwined with your stories, your questions, your wonderings. 

            Sometimes a story can be engaging, sometimes healing and sometimes it can be a triggering.  Some of us might not have had a positive relationship with your biological mother, or had what might be described as a complicated relationship with those who mothered you.  Some of us crave a mothering figure in our lives, or are experiencing a significant change in our relationship with someone who mothered us. Hearing "Happy Mother's Day" may poke a still-healing bruise on your heart, and for that I am sorry.

            Some people have found Mother's Day too commercial and not really all that focused on honoring our mothers. 

            And still others feel like they honor their mothers all the time, and don't feel they need a special day for that.


Maybe it's time to write a new story about Mother's Day, one that can hold fresh purpose or meaning.  Did you know that the first Mother's Day was the result of a proclamation written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870?  Do you know who she is?  Howe was an American poet and author, best known for writing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".  She was also an advocate for abolitionism and a social activist, working particularly for women's suffrage and she was a Unitarian. She urged women across the world to join the cause of peace-building. Her words—written in the language of her time-- held a radical call to create peace that still resonates today:

"Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: 'Disarm! Disarm!'"

Following her proclamation, Howe began advocating the creation of a “Mother’s Day for Peace” on June 2.  As Unitarian Universalists, we could certainly celebrate Mother's Day by working for peace, inspired by our Unitarian forebear, Julia Ward Howe.

            How many of you have heard of Mama's Day?  "The first Mamas Day [in May 2011] began as a project of the Strong Families Network. Partners included: California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, Young Women's Freedom Center, Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, Sankofa Collective Northwest, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, Western States Center and Bold Futures. This first event set the foundation that all other Mamas Days have been built on, uplifting the diversity and beauty of all forms of mamahood.  The campaign seeks to reach and highlight the mamas that the Strong Families Network organizations work with — folks who are often overlooked in mainstream celebrations of Mother’s Day, including young mamas, working mamas, immigrant mamas, single mamas, incarcerated mamas and mamas struggling with substance abuse." (  Perhaps there is a story in celebrating Mamas Day that might hold meaning and purpose for you this time of the year.

            Our Unitarian Universalist 2nd and 3rd Principles call us to affirm and promote: "A free and responsible search for truth and meaning." and "Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations."  These Principles, remind me that we are not a static faith with static beliefs and traditions.  We are a covenantal faith.  In other words, we decide as equals in this community who we are, who we want to be, how we want to worship.  We choose what we choose to celebrate and how we choose to celebrate special days, times, transitions, holiday and holy days.  Mother's Day is just one example of a day that we might consider together.  How does it hold meaning and purpose for us in this community? 

            As a covenantal community, we support one another in our individual search for truth and meaning and we seek, as a congregation, to grow spiritually, however we choose to define that.  Our covenant is inclusive of our individual as well as our collective answers to the Big Why's— why we want UU Miami to exist, thrive, make a difference in the world.   Our covenant is created as we share our stories with one another and we find meaning and purpose in our experiences with one another.  The most effective covenants are created consciously, in open sharing with one another.  That is why we held a Visioning Workshop together a couple of weeks ago and why we will continue this Visioning process, so that we consciously create the story that forms the foundation of this congregation's understanding of who we are and why we exist.

             There are innumerable stories within each of us, including those about our mothers.  Some we will share and some we choose not to.  In this congregation your stories are just as important as any else's stories.  Please know that we gather in this community to accept one another's stories, to be affected by one another's stories, and to better understand who we are, both individually and as a community, through the sharing of our stories.  Some of our stories may be very difficult to tell, and some may be difficult to hear.  But in this community we respect your stories and we understand that if you choose to share them with us, they become part of our story.  We as Unitarian Universalists respect one another's worth enough to hear your pain and we listen to hear what hurts, and we will love you through it to the other side. 

            "[Stories] convey experience not by 'talking about', but by opening hearts and minds in ways that make them capable of experiencing that which cannot be described." (Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham)  One last thing about Pipi's story.  So much of what I experienced as I heard her story was found in what was not said.  Pipi opened up a piece of who she is and how she experiences the world to us.  She offered us more than a simple story about feeding her mother mangoes, -- aren't most stories shared not simple stories when we really listen—she offered us an opportunity to experience the ineffable, the profound.  She offered connection by sharing her vulnerability, and in doing so offered us a heart space to share our own vulnerability.  In that act, we experience what Wendell Berry wrote about:

We clasp the hands of those that go before us,

And the hands of those who come after us.

We enter the little circle of each other's arms

And the larger circle of lovers,

Whose hands are joined in a dance,

And the larger circle of all creatures,

Passing in and out of life, who move also in a dance,

To a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it

Except in fragments.


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Considering the Easter Myth or How does Resurrection fit in Unitarian Universalism? by Reverend Tom Capo


         Martha and I grew up in Texas.  The five seasons in Texas, like Florida, are not so hot, hot, very hot, very hot and wet, hot and very wet, and then we start over again.  When we moved up to the Midwest about 13 plus years ago, we were enchanted by the seasons.  We arrived in August and it wasn’t all that hot compared to Houston, then fall came with all the leaves changing color; it was so beautiful.  Then winter, cold and snowy, unlike anything we had ever experienced.  These first few years we were ridiculously excited to experience all the things you do when it is winter, shoveling snow, wearing layers of clothing, buying scarves caps, because you really needed them.  You may laugh, but to us it was a real adventure. 

            And then came spring.  One of the things I noticed was that everyone who had been staying in their homes during the winter spilled out of their houses and came outside, as if stones had been rolled from in front of the tombs of their homes, letting them out.  I mean everyone was outside in the spring, as if there was some kind of celebration going on—in our small neighborhood in Iowa, people were out walking, biking, cleaning out their gardens, finally taking down their Christmas lights.  There is nothing comparable to this that happens in Texas.  I mean you stay inside in the air conditioning when it is too hot to go outside, but people don’t come out of their home in droves when fall comes and it is not so hot, and they certainly don’t suddenly appear in the streets when spring comes and it starts to get hotter.

            Spring really does feel like a time of celebration in the Midwest. Spring feels like a tangible expression of hope, and so maybe that's one of the reasons we have many holy days and holidays happening this time of year-- Passover when the Jews celebrate their escape from slavery in Egypt; Ostara when pagans celebrate the season’s change from dark winter to brightening spring with the occurrence of the spring equinox; and Holi, the festival of colors, when Hindus celebrate the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, and the end of winter.  For many Hindus, Holi is a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships.  Many spring holidays are dedicated to mother goddesses in a number of religions: Astarte, Isis, Aphrodite, Cybele and the Virgin Mary. Many believe that the goddess shows herself in the blossoms, the leaves on the trees, the sprouting of the crops, the birth of young animals. In the agricultural cycle, spring is time for planting. Spring is also a time when many of us feel hope, reassurance at the visible evidence that life will continue. There is Earth Day, celebrating this planet that we live on.  And there is April Fool’s Day, a day for pranks and practical jokes.  Did you know there used to be a tradition in the Catholic and Orthodox Christian church when Easter Sunday falls on April 1st; it was called risus paschalis  [Ri  sus    Pas cal  us].  Priests would urge their congregations to laugh out loud on Easter and tell jokes inside the church?  I know April Fools was a few days ago, but in that tradition, I offer these:

Q: Why did the UU cross the road?

A: To support the chicken in its search for its own path.

Q: How does a UU walk on water?

A: She waits until winter.

A little Unitarian Universalist girl was sitting on the curb in front of her house with a sad look on her face. An older lady happened upon her and asked her why she looked so sad. The girl replied, “My kitty cat died.”

The older woman, trying to be helpful, said to the little girl, “I know you’re sad, but right now your kitty cat is with Jesus.”

The girl crinkled her nose for a second and replied, “What would Jesus want with a dead cat?”

            But generally, Unitarian Universalists don't seem to talk much about Easter.  Easter is a Christian holy day in the mythology that was taught to many of us, and if not taught to us, shared by those around us, because in this part of the world, Christianity is the dominant myth of the over-culture.   A myth is "a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events." (Oxford dictionary) 

            Before the mythopoetic story of Easter, the Christian Bible tells us of a very spiritual young man who taught people about how to live a more loving and just life with parables and metaphor.  A young man who most likely probably lived a couple of thousand years ago.  A young man named Jesus, from whose life and teachings grounded a religion that grew up about him.  And as this religion developed so did stories about him, some of which became myths.  There is a birth narrative—a myth-- about him with angels and shepherds and foreign kings, with a virgin birth and a star pointing down to manger.      

            The mythopoetic stories of this young man end with the myth of him getting crucified, dying, being put in a tomb, and on the sabbath day, some of his followers including Mary Magdalene found the stone had been rolled away from the tomb's entrance. Later Jesus's followers see him resurrected, a supernatural miracle.  This miracle drew many ancient people to Christianity.  Later, after Jesus's death, a doctrine was developed that his death would relieve his followers of their sins, particularly the original sin of Adam, you know Adam, from the Judeo-Christian origin story of the universe; he and Eve ate the apple god told them not to.  Thus Jesus’s death opened for his followers, now free of sin, the door to an afterlife with their god.

            In the blog Patheos Pagan, John Beckettt wrote: "I prefer the traditional Unitarian Christian view that it is better to follow Jesus—[his parables, teachings, and model his behavior]-- than to worship him. Still, two billion Christians aren’t categorically wrong, and there can be value in worshipping Jesus as a god and honoring him as a teacher. But let’s draw a sharp, bright line between worshiping Jesus as one god among many and accepting the exclusivist doctrines and theologies about Jesus made up by men long after he was gone from this world.”

            John goes on, “So what can we take from the Easter story? It is not a story of sacrifice. Sacrifice is an acknowledgement of the reality and necessity of hard truths…  Jesus’ death wasn’t a sacrifice – it was a brutal state-sanctioned murder. Jesus didn’t die for your sins or for anyone else’s sins – the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is a relic of a hierarchical, barbaric worldview that persists [even] in our time in honor killings… The message of Easter [for me] is that death is not the end and that the grave is merely a waystation on the route to the next world. That’s a message worth affirming in any religious tradition."

            I offer this blog post for a different perspective on Easter than the one we are commonly taught.  There are a couple of ideas in this blog that might make sense to or resonate with some Unitarian Universalists.  One is that Jesus's life and teachings are one way to live a spiritual life, a way that has value and worth and meaning.  And two that the death of Jesus is not important, except to understand that death part of the ongoing journey of existence.

            And speaking of Pagans, many scholars say that the term Easter actually comes from the pre-Christian goddess Eostre in England, who was celebrated at the beginning of the Spring.  The only reference to this goddess comes form the writings of Venerable Bede, a British monk who lived in the late 7th century. The word Easter and the celebration of Easter were co-oped by Christians to bring Pagans into their faith.  And the various earth-centered celebrations of Easter were brought to America by the Europeans.  For instance,  "In Germany and among the Pennsylvania Germans toy rabbits or hares made of canton flannel stuffed with cotton are given as gifts on Easter morning. The children are told that this Osh’ter has laid the Easter eggs. This curious idea is thus explained: The hare was originally a bird, and was changed into a quadruped by the goddess Ostara; in gratitude to Ostara or Eastre, the hare exercises its original bird function to lay eggs for the goddess on her festal day." (A response to a question about the origins of Easter hares in the 8 June 1889 issue of the journal American Notes and Queries) 

            The Christian myth emphasizes an after-life with god and that's a mythopoetical construct that doesn't resonate for many Unitarian Universalists, although it does for some.  For those of us who aren't just making time here on earth until we can get to heaven, is there any meaning we can glean from the Easter story?  It has its origins in the natural phenomena of the seasons and the earth's revolving around the sun, and in our modern lives we don't tend to experience that as miraculous—it's just science.  Is there any "both/and" here?  Can a phenomenon explained by science still be experienced as miraculous?  I have often made time to open my heart to miraculous in Spring.

            While I had fun as a child hunting painted eggs around my house, some of which we, both parents who hid and child who sought them, couldn't find until days after Easter when they began to smell up the house, these simple rituals seemed wholly disconnected from the teachings of the Catholic Church in which I grew up in.  The same kind of disconnect is also present in Unitarian Universalism.  In all my years as a UU, I have enjoyed watching my kids participate in Easter Eggs hunts at home and at our local Unitarian Universalist church.  But I have continued to wonder about the meaning of Easter, what meaning have I passed onto my children, about how Easter fits into the Unitarian Universalist congregations I’ve served?  Is there anything beyond hunting for eggs and singing about flowers for a UU at Easter?  Is it just vestigial for us?  Just something left over from the religious observances of our childhood?

            I wonder what you think or believe about Easter?  In the coffee hour after the service, I would like to hear some of your thoughts and beliefs. I often see some letting go, some reconciliation and some incorporation around this Easter time as part of our free and responsible search for truth and meaning that each of us individually and all of us as a congregation do, as we decide, intentionally decide the meaning and purpose of Easter.   We do this process with many holy days, holidays, rituals, beliefs and traditions, letting go of some, reconciling with other or incorporating aspects or in whole some holy days, holidays, rituals, beliefs or traditions.  And we accept and support one another’s beliefs, rituals, traditions, and we encourage one another’s spiritual growth.  And collectively, as a congregation, we decide on which beliefs, rituals, traditions hold meaning for us, letting go, reconciling or incorporating some and embracing others; and we accept the tension in this, a tension that is inherent when a body of people, many of whom hold different truths in their individual hearts, choose to share their spiritual journeys together. 

            As I have wondered about holidays, holy days, beliefs, rituals, and traditions, I have come to believe a couple things.  One is that the behaviors and beliefs and rituals and traditions we hold onto reinforce our sense of connection with others, and when our connections with others are strong, we feel centered and safer in a chaotic and always changing world.  And I suppose this year especially, with so many of us having received our Covid vaccinations and once again able to physically spend time with our loved ones.  We again feel that sense of connection—of interconnection across the web of life—that we know is so necessary.  We're thirsty for it—thirsty for the hugs and the chance to spend time with each other.  After a year of quarantine it almost feels like a miracle.  It isn't, of course it's science, but doesn't it feel like a miracle?  Like a stone being removed from our tomb of isolation.

Unitarian Universalist Reverend Richard Gilbert wrote:

A tomb is no place to stay

When each morning announces our reprieve,

And we know we are granted yet another day of living.

A tomb is no place to stay

When life laughs a welcome

To hearts which have been away too long.

            To me this year I'm really feeling the resurrection part of the Easter story.  Not so much back from the dead.  But with the vaccine distribution in the back of my mind, I'm thinking more about the resurrection of our lives before Covid.   We stand in the front of an empty tomb this Easter.  Inside the tomb is this past year—a year of fear, uncertainty, too many deaths, too much loss, and perhaps—at least every once in a while, maybe—a loss of hope.  The vaccine has miraculously rolled the stone—offering us a way to leave that tomb.  Now it is incumbent upon us to resurrect ourselves as we step out of quarantine.  A tomb is no place to stay.

            How have you been changed while in your tomb this year?  What will you chose to resurrect?  In this season of new growth, of re-emergence and rejuvenated life, what will you choose to nurture into existence?  What new work has been begun in you this year that you will share with the world during this Easter season?

For the Future (of Unitarian Universalism) by Reverend Tom Capo


             "Out of the ruins and rubble, Out of the smoke --the song goes-- We can build A beautiful city, Not a city of angels, But we can build a city of man." ("Beautiful City" from Godspell, Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz)   Now while the language is non-inclusive, the message is one that we might consider as we begin our journey through past and present to the future of this congregation and of Unitarian Universalism.  This congregation has a rich, interesting history and sometimes troubled history, has grown to hundreds of members and has become a congregation of less than a hundred members, has been a place in Miami to come for beautiful jazz music and a place known for its justice work.  This congregation is not what it once was, and I know some of you may be mourning that.  But I would ask you this: are you what you once were?  Do you mourn that?  Or do you do something else?  Maybe bring some of who you were to who you are now?  I envision us building an enriching spiritual, musical, and social justice hub for Miami/Dade, with enough space for anyone who finds a home with us.  That's my vision—what is yours?  I believe in order for us to be that hub, that home for heart, mind, and spirit, that we have to do a couple things.  One is to assess what we believe Unitarian Universalism is here in Miami. 

            Before I go too far, I want to offer a reading by one of our Unitarian forebears and a Transcendentalist, Reverend Theodore Parker.  I think the message that he delivered at the Ordination of Rev. Charles C. Shackford in the Hawes Place Church, in Boston, Massachusetts on May 19, 1841 might offer us some reflection as we consider what is Unitarian Universalism:

            In actual Christianity -- that is, in that portion of Christianity which is preached and believed -- there seem to have been, ever since the time of its earthly founder, two elements, the one transient, the other permanent. The one is the thought, the folly, the uncertain wisdom, the theological notions, the impiety of [people]; the other, the eternal truth of God. These two bear perhaps the same relation to each other that the phenomena of outward nature, such as sunshine and cloud, growth, decay, and reproduction, bear to the great law of nature, which underlies and supports them all...

            [But] anyone, who traces the history of what is called Christianity, will see that nothing changes more from age to age than the doctrines taught as Christian, and insisted on as essential to Christianity and personal salvation. What is falsehood in one province passes for truth in another. The heresy of one age is the orthodox belief and "only infallible rule" of the next...

            For, strictly speaking, there is but one kind of religion, as there is but one kind of love, though the manifestations of this religion, in forms, doctrine, and life, be never so diverse. It is through these, [people] approximate to the true expression of this religion...."

            So let me break this down. First, let's agree that Unitarian Universalism is a religion.  There are two aspects of a religion: the transient—the things that will change over time, be seen differently, practiced differently.  For instance, did you know that lighting a chalice at the beginning of our service didn't start in Unitarian or Universalist churches until after World War II?  Do you know when the Water Communion and Flower Communion, rituals that bookend our church year, that affirm our desire to share our spiritual and ethical journeys through life together, and affirm the unity in our diversity of thought, belief, sexual orientation, gender, skills, talents, every aspect of our diversity started showing up in Unitarian Universalist Churches.  The Flower Communion began in the 1940's and the Water Communion in the 1980's.  The second aspect of a religion is the permanent—that which does not change, is at the core of a religion.  What is the permanent in Unitarian Universalism?  What do we, UUs here in Miami, believe is the permanent in Unitarian Universalism?  As we reflect on permanence in our religion and within our congregation, we might consider what the Buddha said, "Praise, blame, gain, loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind.  To be happy, rest like giant tree in the midst of them all."  What about Unitarian Universalism and about UU Miami is like a great tree amidst chaos and change, praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow?

            I ask those of you to who are with us online, to open your YouTube chat.  And those of you who are with us in person, to come up to the microphone, maintaining social distance, one at a time.  Now please write or speak some of the aspects of Unitarian Universalism that you believe are the permanent, the things that you believe don't change even as we add new rituals, new songs, as we try on new ways to do worship, religious exploration, or governance. 


I will share some of my thoughts on this as well. The permanent beliefs that are at the core of Unitarian Universalism as I understand it are our Fourth Principle that we affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning or said another way we believe that each person must be free to search for what is true and right in life.  And a combination of our 2nd and 6th Principles that we affirm and promote justice, equity, and compassion in human relations and the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice, in other words: we believe that all people should be treated fairly and kindly and we believe in working for a peaceful, fair, and free world.  So, you might ask me: "Well, Reverend Tom, if you only believe in three of the Principles, are you still a Unitarian Universalist?" 

            I would answer: when I describe what Unitarian Universalism is to someone quickly, say, in less than a couple minutes– I talk about how we all search for truth and meaning and work to make the world more just, equitable, peaceful and compassionate because they are the core of our faith as I understand it. Just because I believe those three Principles are core to our faith, doesn't mean I only believe in them. I believe in all the 7 Principles—the worth and dignity of every person, the right of conscience and the democratic process, acceptance of one another, encouragement to spiritual growth, and respect for the interdependent web of exitance.  I also draw from our Six Sources—personal experience, Christian and Jewish teachings, words and deeds of prophetic people, the world religions, humanist teachings and earth-centered traditions-- for spiritual sustenance and wisdom as I search for truth and meaning.  And if I have time in describing our faith I include those ideas as well.  If you were to describe Unitarian Universalism, how would you describe it?  Would you use some of our Unitarian Universalist Principles or Sources?  Which ones?  Are there 2 or 3 in particular?

            But here's something that throws a wrench in the gears about being a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami, Congregational Polity.  Congregation Polity has been foundational to Unitarian Universalism since its beginning here in the United States in the 1700's.  Sorry just toss out Congregational Polity like everyone would know what it means.  What this means is that there is no hierarchy at the Unitarian Universalist office in Boston that can tell Unitarian Universalist congregations what to do or how to do anything.  There are no Unitarian Universalist Bishops or Pope, only an association of congregations that makes decisions together.  The members and friends of any Unitarian Universalist congregation, including this congregation, decide together what they believe, what they think is most important to them collectively, and how those ideas and beliefs manifest themselves in the life of this congregation.  Post modernists love Unitarian Universalism because we are not into simple answers about what we believe.  In addition, Post Modernists, Unitarian Universalists, and UU congregations lean away from absolutes, like yes or no, right or wrong, good or bad.  Post Modernists are all about the complexities, the grey areas, the both/ands in life.  So are Unitarian Universalists.  You might even say that Unitarian Universalist congregations are both/and places, places that embrace life’s complexities, places that change as new people join them, as the world changes, and as we learn more.  When I tell you what I think is permanent about our faith, it's just that what I think is permanent.  The questions then become "What do you think is permanent?"  and “How do what I think and what you think fit together?”  That's kind of what congregational polity is: finding out what we each believe and how all our beliefs together?  We are in this community to decide together, to co-create the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami.  And beyond that our voices also determine what Unitarian Universalism is, just like the 7 Principles and 6 Sources were decided on collectively, and may change, probably will change, someday.

            So if our Principles and Sources can change, what is permanent?  If what our minister thinks is permanent can change, and what each of us thinks is permanent can change, how do we describe Unitarian Universalism?  There are no easy answers that describe our faith, no simple concepts, no simple place to go to—like to one Unitarian Universalist or one congregation; there is no single text or source.  What it is and where it comes from is within each of us and with all of us collectively.  We sit at an intersection that we call Unitarian Universalism.  An intersection which is both each of us and all of us.  The authority for our faith comes from our personal spiritual and ethical journeys and our journeys together. And perhaps that is what doesn't change, that is the permanent.  This is a dynamic faith, or a faith that the Buddha might describe with the metaphor the foot feels the foot when it touches the ground.  We experience this faith individually and collectively in UU Miami and denominationally as Unitarian Universalists in each moment when our foot touches the ground, in other words as we live our lives as Unitarian Universalists in the present.  We are constantly becoming Unitarian Universalists.