Becoming Beloved

Take a look at this slide:

1. Nonjudgment day is near
2. Who would Jesus bomb?
3. Love is our soul purpose
4. I’m not lost–I’m exploring
5. Democracy is not a spectator sport
6. God bless the whole world. No exceptions.
7. Everything is connected

These are all bumper sticker messages—I know because I was at the Phoenix and Dragon the other day and they had stacks of them and I found myself going through them one at a time and laughing and nodding my head YES and on and on… Remembering how, when I see these on a car bumper, I can’t help but wonder: is the car owner one of us? Are they Unitarian Universalist but don’t know it? Or better: are they Unitarian Universalist and they DO know it?

Now look at this slide:

1. Born okay the first time
2. Be the change you wish to see
3. I’m for the separation of church and hate
4. I think therefore I’m dangerous
5. Get involved. The world is run by those who show up
6. Think globally, act locally
7. When you throw something away, where is away?

Here, what I’d like you to do is go back and forth between the first and second slides. Do you see common themes developing between the bumper sticker messages at position 1, and then at position 2, and so on? As in

1. Nonjudgment day is near
1. Born okay the first time

Which actually sounds a whole lot like

1. Affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person

which is our Unitarian Universalist First Principle. We can go right down the line, and we will see that the messages at the different positions correspond to the Unitarian Universalist Principle with the same number. As in:

3. Love is our soul purpose
3. I’m for the separation of church and hate

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations

That’s right folks: our Unitarian Universalist Seven Principles make up all the coolest bumper sticker messages out there. You see one of those bumper stickers that make you laugh or make you go YEAH and it’s our very own UU wisdom winking back at us!

1. Affirming inherent worth and dignity
2. Justice, equity and compassion
3. Acceptance and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
4. The free and responsible search
5. Conscience and democracy as our working principles
6. Goal of world community
7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

OR…

1. Celebrate diversity
2. Humankind–be both
3. The meaning of life is to find your gift / the purpose of life is to give it away
4. Not all who wander are lost
5. There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship
6. Visualize whirled peas
7. Treehugging dirt worshipper

I love it!

But my message today is not just that our Seven Unitarian Universalist Principles are good enough to be brain-popping bumper stickers. More importantly, our Principles are good enough to be nothing less than Beloved Community builders. “Our goal,” said Dr. King once, “is to create a Beloved Community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” Our Principles show the way. To the degree we let them and allow ourselves to be changed by them, we become Beloved.

And we must know what is at stake. The opposite way is NOT Beloved. The opposite of our Principles is not pretty.

Recently I came across a story about a psychology experiment called the Stanford Prison Experiment. It was 1971, and psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues wanted to explore how people are impacted by situational variables or by how one’s external circumstances are set up and the social position one find oneself in.

What they did was this. From a larger group of undergraduates, Philip Zombardo selected 24 because they had no criminal background, they had no psychological issues, they had no major medical conditions. They were normal. The 24 then agreed to participate for a one- to two-week period in exchange for $15 a day. To participate as either a prison guard or a prisoner.

That was the experiment: what happens to your heart and what happens to your behavior when you’re given roles and responsibilities and you take them on, you start believing in them, you get into them in progressively deeper and deeper ways.

Here’s what happened.

One report puts it like this: “The experiment had to be stopped after just six days due to what was happening to the student participants. The guards became abusive and the prisoners began to show signs of extreme stress and anxiety. While the prisoners and guards were allowed to interact in any way they wanted, the interactions were generally hostile or even dehumanizing. The guards began to behave in ways that were aggressive and abusive toward the prisoners, while the prisoners became passive and depressed. Five of the prisoners began to experience such severe negative emotions, including crying and acute anxiety, that they had to be released from the study early. Even the researchers themselves began to lose sight of the reality of the situation. Zimbardo, who acted as the prison warden, overlooked the abusive behavior of the prison guards until graduate student Christina Maslach voiced objections to the conditions in the simulated prison and the morality of continuing the experiment.”

It means we crumble unless we hold fast to Beloved Community Principles.

Something’s got to help prevent us from losing sight of reality.

I want to know where the Beloved Community Principles in a place like Ferguson, Missouri are—which crumbles as police and people of color act out their tragic roles as if they were some variant of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

I want to know where the Beloved Community Principles in a place like Brainerd, Tennessee are—which crumbles as the Senior Pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church says that Christians should never stop discriminating against homosexuals, claiming that gays could choose to be straight if they only accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Oh, he also said that gays should be put to death. The Senior Pastor actually said that last Sunday to thousands of people and folks are acting out their tragic roles as if it was the Stanford Prison Experiment all over again. Here, it’s the Senior Pastor and his minions who are the guards, and they want all the GLBTQ folk to be the prisoners.

It’s all about power and the misuse of power.

Something’s got to help prevent us from losing sight of reality.

You know, at times people can be frustrated with Unitarian Universalism because for one reason or another it just doesn’t seem to cut it. We get that grass-is-green-on-the-other-side case of envy. We equate our UU creative wandering with lostness. But look at that megachurch over there in Brainerd, Tennessee. They don’t seem lost. Look at their building which is as huge and modern as a shopping mall and everything is top notch. Look at how the money just rolls for them. They seem to know who they are, no questions about their identity, no questions about their focus.

And they are the ones who want to stone people.

They have lost sight of reality.

So you know what? I’ll take my Seven Unitarian Universalist Beloved Community-Building Principles, thank you very much. I’m going to take them seriously. I’m going to use them to study myself deep and study myself clear. Because I’m with Dr. King. I want a qualitative change in my soul and a quantitative change in my life. I don’t want to be a character in some sad variant of the Stanford Prison Experiment which, you know, WAS a kind of community. It was! But not just any kind of community is good. Give me Beloved Community.

Let’s become Beloved.

Let’s use our Seven Principles to study ourselves and how power flows here. Let’s be frank and clear.

Nonjudgement day is near. Are we really practicing that among ourselves and also with our staff (since they too are a part of our Beloved Community)? Are we kind to each other in this space, in the way that our congregational covenant asks us to be?

Here’s another bumper sticker that I got at the Phoenix and Dragon, and I got it because it so hit the nail on the head regarding how we can get so judgmental, so prickly, even the best of us.

“Why is it that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone going faster is a maniac”?

Now, what happens when you hit traffic in this place, you feel disappointed or displeased? Do you stop to wonder about what might be going on behind the scenes? Do you stop to assume good intent? Or do you just go straight into “they’re an idiot” or “they’re a maniac”? That’s more of the Stanford Prison Experiment path. Judgers are puffed up in anger, people being judged growing anxious and depressed and it’s not good. This is not who we are. If we want more leaders to lead things, if we want staff to stay awhile, we have to be kinder. Nonjudgment day is near! That’s a part of what it means to affirm inherent worth and dignity and to become Beloved.

Our Principles want so much for us.

You know, another place of stress has been our Fall-focused annual stewardship campaigns. For two or more months in the Fall, everything gets laser focused on the campaign and we want to crank it up to 11 (fans of the mockumentary Spinal Tap will know exactly what I mean here) but that’s getting harder and harder to do…. It’s not that we don’t want to be financially generous. We love this place. This is our spiritual home and we want to take care of it. But for quite a few reasons, we are seeing that it’s time for a change. UUCA is not NPR and when we pattern our pledge drive after theirs, we’re sending mixed messages. It’s just time to treat pledging as a normal spending activity comparable to paying the monthly rent or the monthly mortgage and not something that needs to be agonized over each year.

So the change to year-round stewardship. Essentially, everyone here is divided up in to 12 groups (the 12 Tribes of UUCA) and every month, members of one of the tribes are contacted about their pledge, to reconfirm it. That’s it in essence. A different way of supporting the generosity that makes this place happen.

There’s obviously so much more that can be said—and after the second service today, we are holding a conversation where more WILL be said, so please come—but I bring this up to illustrate how as an institution (not just as individuals) we are on a free and responsible search after truth and meaning. “Not all who wander are lost,” says the bumper sticker. This congregation is on an amazing journey, and yes with change come bumps. We’ve got practically an entirely new staff so, you know, we’re slowly but surely finding our groove.

We’re all finding it, together….

I love all those bumper stickers. I think it is so cool that our UU Principles are in them, winking out at us:

1. Celebrate diversity
2. Humankind–be both
3. The meaning of life is to find your gift / the purpose of life is to give it away
4. Not all who wander are lost
5. There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship
6. Visualize whirled peas
7. Treehugging dirt worshiper

May our treehugging dirt worshiping Beloved Community be a meaning-of-life-kind-of-place where we find our gift and we give it away.