Walking in Loud Shoes

I wore loud shoes today.  I want to stomp my feet for all the oppressed people in the world.  I want to make a difference in the world, in whatever way I can.

For Unitarian Universalists, it isn’t as important what we believe, as what we do.  “Deeds, not creeds,” is our traditional motto.

Even though we spend a lot of time talking about theological matters and our diversity of belief, we know that what really matters most is our actions.  Of course, our belief systems motivate our actions, and we need to turn inward to renew our source.  But then we need to turn outward and express the beauty and the goodness and the love we find in our spiritual practice.  It’s a dance we do – the turning inward, turning outward.  It’s receiving love from the universe and giving it.  It’s a balance we seek, and for those who are good at it, the giving becomes as nourishing as the receiving.  It becomes a receiving in itself.

I’ve never considered myself particularly good at it.  My nature is better able to turn inward than outward.  I’m in that category some people call “navel gazers.”  I’m so busy looking for the spiritual connection that I trust will motivate me to action, that it’s hard to get to the action part.

When I was in seminary at Meadville/Lombard, this was something I struggled with a great deal.  It seemed like there was an expectation that to be a Unitarian Universalist minister, one had to be an activist.  We were being called to be prophets, and so many of my classmates seemed to be so good at it.  It felt to me as if I needed to be able to lead a charge to fix what was wrong with the world, and that was just so not me.

And so I struggled.  Can I be a UU minister if I am not first and foremost a prophet, leading congregations to fight the injustices in the world, speaking out loudly and often myself and influencing others to fight for my causes?

As I wrestled with this, I gradually came to the conclusion that I didn’t have to be the one out in front brandishing the standard.  I decided I didn’t have to be an activist to be an effective minister.   I decided I don’t have to do all the justice work myself, I just have to motivate and support justice work in the congregation.  I admire and want to do all I can to support the activists; the ones who are on the front lines, so to speak.  The organizers, the ones who can mobilize people to get things done to make the world a better place.

And the congregations I have served have fed my passion for justice and given me a context for living out my faith.   It is through participating in a congregation that I am best able to live my faith.

It is, for example, so much easier for me to write my Congressional Representative when somebody in the congregation organizes a letter-writing gathering.  Or I am much more likely to call my representatives when somebody sends me an email with the phone numbers and suggestions of ways to word the message.

Congregational involvement helps me move my feet to work toward justice as well.

How many of you came out for the Pride march on October 13th?  What a blast that was!

This congregation provides many opportunities to engage our faith and make a difference in the world.

How many of you helped with the food supply for Promise the Children on November 24th?  How many participate in the Hope-Hill ministry with this congregation?

The Hope-Hill School Partnership is a long-standing program where UUCA provides mentoring, tutoring, social, and education opportunities for John Hope Elementary students and their families.  It was organized as an all-congregation social justice project some 20 years ago, and over the years has served countless underprivileged students in an area of Atlanta where poverty looms large.

Promise the Children defines itself on our website as a community of activists for children within UUCA, providing a unifying voice for our faith community to speak and act on behalf of children. They advocate for a public agenda that ensures the well-being of all of Georgia’s children. And they put their faith into action through direct service, working with organizations that serve children in need.

Are you aware of just how many groups we have here?:

  • Interweave – A community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersexed and queer (LGBTQ) persons and allies within UUCA.
  • Peace Network – A team of UUCA members and friends working for global peace.
  • Fiesta de Libros – Provides books to children of Spanish-speaking parents.
  • Racial & Ethnic Concerns – A group working to increase racial and ethnic diversity in our congregation and working together for racial and economic justice.
  • Reproductive Justice – our newest social justice group, inspired by the denominational initiative to seek justice for women around issues of reproduction.
  • Dining for Women – Participating in a national organization, this group has potluck dinners together and donates the money they would have spent on dinner out to benefit women and girls in third world countries.
  • Ens and Outs – engages in environmental advocacy
  • UU Service Committee – our congregation’s liason to the national justice organization of Unitarian Universalism

And there are more.

So many good people doing so many good things for the world.  So many ways to put our Unitarian Universalist faith into action.

One thing that’s needed is a way to coordinate all these groups and activities.  Right now, they each are on their own, separate silos with no formal means of communication among them.  I am forming a Social Justice Coordinating Team to help me and Rev. Makar oversee the justice activities of the congregation.

Initially, the team will function as a task force to take a broad view of the congregation’s Social Justice program as a whole, and to identify where it needs to go.  For instance, should we have a closer connection with justice leaders of other UU congregations in our cluster or state, or with justice leaders in other religious institutions locally?  Should we initiate a new congregation-wide Social Justice project? (This was something that came up in the Long-Range Planning process.)  To what extent do we wish to participate in denominational initiatives?  These questions and more are what the team will be examining.

But the goal is to have this team be not just a temporary task force, but also a Coordinating Team to give oversight and direction to the Social Justice programming at UUCA.  We envision that this team will stay in place to continue to oversee and coordinate this vital aspect of our congregational ministry.

The deadline for applying to serve on this team is December 31st, so there’s still time if you’re interested.  It’s not to be made up of representatives from our various programs, but rather of people who can see the whole and decide on priorities based on congregation-wide needs and resources.  People committed to the overall well-being of Social Justice programming as a whole.

In Greek myth, Sisyphus is condemned by the gods to an eternity spent pushing a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down again.  As soon as he is finished with his task, he has to do it over again, and over again, for eternity.

Like Sisyphus’ task, much of our work for a better world is never done. The sense of futility comes when we think that there must be an end.  That we will get the work done.

But the work will never be done.  This can be seen as a blessing, in that there will always be work to do. We are fulfilled by doing work we deem important.  As Jeffrey Lockwood says in a little essay called “Futility Refuted,” “we forget that virtue lies in the doing of good works, not in the completing of our task.”  The fulfillment comes in engaging in the task, in doing the work we are called to do, and in doing it well.  What matters isn’t so much the difference it makes in the world, but the difference it makes in ourselves.

Lockwood says that “to know what we must do, to understand what the world needs of us, we must look into the eyes of the frightened soldier and the terrified child.  But to sustain our work, we must look inside ourselves.  There we shall find the understanding that the endless labor of life is not about changing the world but about creating ourselves.  We cannot make the world peaceful, but neither can the world make us hopeless.” (A Guest of the World, p. 55)

We may not have control over the world around us or the ability to make it conform to our vision of a better world, but we can control our own attitude.  We can take pride in the work we do to sustain that vision, and we can choose to enjoy it.  We can keep on going, one step at a time, together, knowing that hope exists in the integrity of our own lives.

Albert Camus says that “Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods [–or the fates] and raises rocks.  He too concludes that all is well. . . .The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a [person’s] heart.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

The good news is that, unlike Sisyphus, we are not alone in our struggle toward the heights.

I wore loud shoes today.  Did you?  Let’s see how much noise we can make, in spite of the carpet.  Let’s stomp our feet for all the women who can’t wear loud shoes, for all the children who don’t even have shoes, for all the people who are paid inadequately and treated poorly to make our shoes.

Let’s stomp our feet for all the people in this country who suffer in poverty, even though they work two jobs, while their companies’ bosses lead lives of extravagant excess.  Let’s stomp our feet for the people in all countries who don’t have access to the resources of their society because their skin isn’t the right color or their ethnic background isn’t approved of or because they don’t love the right kind of people.  Let’s stomp for the animals who are used and abused for the benefit of human beings, with no recognition of their inherent worth and dignity.  Let’s stomp for the planet that’s being poisoned and heated, threatening life itself.  Stomp for whatever your passion is, whatever issue moves you and calls for your compassion.

And when you leave here, let the sound of loud shoes forever remind you that you can make a difference, especially when you come together with others who care in the context of this Unitarian Universalist congregation.

May we be happy like Sisyphus, engaging in the struggle toward the heights, rolling the boulder of peace and justice up the hill of strife and inequity.  May the world reflect the peace in our hearts that we gain from knowing we are doing what we can.  May our Unitarian Universalist light shine on the world and lighten up some burdens, as well as our own hearts.

Blessed be.  Amen.