Sunday, October 13
9:30 am & 11:00 am
What do butterflies and Dolly have to teach us in our journey of becoming our truest selves? Dolly Parton’s life story can model how we can all honor our roots while becoming someone new. We can have Pride in who we have become while also having pride in where we have come from.
Message One: Bill Kramer
My neighbor is a Lutheran minister and occasionally on a Sunday morning, I’ll see him dressed in his clerical collar, bible or hymnal in hand leave to preach the gospel. I wave and nod and wonder what he would think if he came to this congregation – especially today.
Unitarian Universalism is a faith that draws from many sources – the sacred texts of great religions, poets, philosophers, activists, and web bloggers. So…Dolly Parton.
Finding insight and inspiration in unconventional places is what we do well as UUs. And today, we are reflecting on the life and work of one of the greatest and most respected musical artists in history. A life not only filled with great music, but one lived with great authenticity.
Dolly Parton was born in Sevier County, in eastern Tennessee, the fourth of 12 children, in a two room house, with no running water, she was poor, she wore rags. As we just heard (saw) her life is literally a country song.
Despite real obstacles that would have discouraged and defeated others, she would succeed as a songwriter, singer, actress, businesswoman, and philanthropist. But she never forgets where she came from and is never ashamed to be “a backwoods Barbie”. Dolly has often said she never left the Smokey Mountains; she took the Smokies with her wherever she went around the world. Home is always with her.
I think this is wonderful insight.
Dolly left for Nashville to pursue her dreams the day after her high school graduation. She couldn’t wait to follow her calling. As a young person, I couldn’t wait to leave my small town either. My Catholic school, the socially conservative town, the lack of diversity. Knowing I could never come out of the closet and feel safe.
But when I got to Los Angeles, to attend college, I was unmoored. Sure, freshman year is a time of rapid change, for experimentation, and for new experiences, but my “roots” were showing – my small town, Midwestern roots, that is. I would get teased by friends because I still made my bed every day.
I tried leaving it unmade but when people came over to my dorm and sat down on it, I wanted to jump up and push them off. (I went to a very laid back college where taking showers and washing clothes was even less common than most colleges.) But I’m too nice and would never be such a rude host.
I was finding you could take the boy out of Minnesota, but you couldn’t take the Minnesota out of the boy. What appeared as overly rigid or uptight to my friends, was just who I am and I had to learn to be comfortable with and embrace my style and values, even as I embraced and welcomed different ideas and experiences into my life.
But “home” is where I learned about love, about a type of family, about the values that were important. Some lessons of “home” were positive and some were not, but it was where I also learned what I needed to live authentically, even if it took time and distance before that could happen, before I could become a butterfly.
“Home” shapes my true self in a way I can’t erase simply by moving to a new town.
So with her wigs and rhinestones and high heels, Dolly Parton may seem very inauthentic and in ways she understands this image is counter to the sweet country girl, but she is authentic and glamorous – glamorously authentic. We are shaped by home even if we’ve redecorated.
Today service is part of the mystic activism series, where we explore the theology and lives of prophets whose mysticism—their sense that the Divine moves through all things—calls them to confront injustice, with compassion and love.
Dolly Parton fits this description. In her autobiography she describes time spent as a child in an abandoned chapel, in the woods near her house, and the conversations with God that became the basis for her faith. And she has lived a life of service through music, using her means and access to improve the lives of others.
Her Dollywood theme part is the largest employer in Sevier county and critical to the economic success of the entire region. She could have invested in any business, but she was rooted to home and the people.
Dolly Parton has given away over 1 million books to young children to improve literacy and stimulate imagination. During the wildfires that ravaged Sevier County a few years ago, Dolly gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars to families in need.
Dolly Parton’s music, art, and philanthropy are inspiring, but I think about the challenges she faced to reach her dream – the poverty of her childhood, the sexism of the country music and entertainment industries, and the elitism of non-Southerners – she could have easily failed and lived in anonymity. But she didn’t.
I don’t want to romanticize her life – growing up 14 people in a shack with no running water can’t be easy – while that experience might have been hard, it wasn’t wrong. This was her life and being poor, being a woman, and being from the South are part of her authenticity.
For Dolly Parton, home was where she felt love, where she felt provided for, where her dreams and ambition were nurtured and accepted. It’s where she cultivated a relationship with the Divine and developed a faith that celebrated her success and supported her in her weakest times.
I invite you to consider the ways you have redecorated your spirit’s home. How you bring your sense of home and your origin story with you, whoever you have become.
Dolly Parton wears her challenges like rhinestones; proud of all she pushed through to achieve her calling and be her true self. May we, too, love our whole selves with the same conviction.
Message 2: Taryn
Radical Self-Acceptance and the Faith of Dolly Parton
Has anyone ever told you to tone it down?
When you were a child, and you tried something new? Maybe as a boy, you longed to try your mother’s lipstick, to feel that shine on your lips, that bright red, blooming smile. Maybe as a little girl, you wanted to rip off your shirt and run against the wind, racing fiercely like a bull, gripping a football, leaving all the other kids in the dust. Who were you in your hometown, in your community? Did you earn a reputation? Did you spend your young life ducking and covering, trying to blend in with the family, with the other kids, or with the wall paper? Were you allowed to be out and proud, taking whatever form you wished?
Pride is for all of us now, as a celebration of flamboyance, of coats of many colors, be they rainbow or rhinestones, it’s an authenticity expression of the self, of love across genders, across sexes, across boundaries.
It’s that time of year when we come out as our true selves, after hiding, wrestling, testing, trying on, we come out. Proud.
As the butterfly transforms over a season, so we transform over our life’s seasons, hopefully becoming more ourselves as we grow.
Dolly Parton was born into poverty in Sevier County, Tennessee. I went to high school in Knoxville, and one of my friends’ parents went to school with Dolly and knew her to be “loose,” with the boys. That was the reputation she had. She came from a large, impoverished Appalachian family, and in the middle of that mileu, when puberty hit, her body caught people’s attention, and so her community assigned its patriarchal projections onto her as a young girl. What a small, small world she inhabited.
Yet, she had dreams of a big world, as a country music star.
Over the course of her life, rather than hide her body, she enhanced it. Her body continued to be a part of her narrative. She famously underwent plastic surgery, enhancing what God had already given her, becoming somehow, even more herself.
Does this enhancement, this transformation remind you of anyone else? People who live their lives on the edge of gender, on the edge of society’s comprehension, daring to alter their bodies and risking becoming something more radical, beyond the comfort of people who ascribe to patriarchal notions of gender.
When someone in our community, in our lives, or even in our culture transforms into a beautiful, powerful, passionately authentic version of themselves, well that offers grace to each of us. the power of that authenticity changes all of us. This gives us the permission and the power to become who we were always meant to be.
When people transition into themselves more fully, it’s terrifying to the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy that earns its money off of our insecurity.
Be yourself, and so what if that changes over time? This is why I believe Dolly has chosen a butterfly to the be the animal of her spirit, because you are every version of yourself you have ever been. Where did you come from? It’s still with you, somewhere in there, you can’t escape it, but maybe you can learn to love it, the way Dolly has embraced Eastern Tennessee and all of its dark hollers of hate, it’s cold mountains of xenophobic fear,
it’s salt-of-the-earth pride in making a life if coal country, hard-scrabble mountainside towns with two stoplights and not much more than a dollar general. If she can embrace that country where she’s from, and learn to love it, what can happen? She has changed it. . . slowly, ever slowly.
Dolly’s fans span all spectrums: gay and straight, conservative and liberal, rural and urban. The universality of her appeal feels transgressive in this moment of cultural divisiveness.
Her story holds meaning for so many of us. For every gay person who left their small town to find themselves amongst a more welcoming community in the big city, but wants to embrace the part of themselves that is their home.
For every immigrant who traveled across oceans and political borders for a bigger life, but still longs for the home they left behind. For everyone who had to leave their cocoon of a rural or small town life to learn of a self they hadn’t met, Dolly sings for all of us.
Some are preachers / some are gay / some are addicts, drunks and strays / But not a one is turned away when it’s family.
As Unitarian Universalists we know love makes a family, we celebrate love in all its forms, and we will use our gifts to bring down strucutres of evil that would regulate, terrorize, and murder that love.
Today, we will take to the streets in joyful fabulousness, celebrating authentic glamour, transgressive selves, and push our cultural boundaries in the name of love that is revolutionary.
Now is not the time to tone it down. Wherever you are from, bring it with you into your becoming. You will need your fiercest, most fabulous self. We’ve got a fight for our right to love and live freely ahead of us.
Today, let’s sing out, loud, fierce, fabulous and proud. Look around you, at all these beautiful butterflies. This is your family.