February 2015 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our February ministry theme is brokenness. We’ll take time this month in worship and in other contexts to ask ourselves what it means to say that we human beings can be “broken.” Some religions begin with the premise that people are somehow broken and need to be made whole. Other religions begin with the premise that brokenness is an illusion we must learn to see through. We more or less understand a broken leg, a broken heart, a broken relationship, a broken political or economic system. But is there something in our human spirit that can actually break, such that we lose our capacity for hope, faith, love? And if there is, once it breaks, what can we do to mend it?

Maybe brokenness isn’t a useful concept. Maybe we’re perfect and beautiful just the way we are, and inquiring about brokenness simply distracts us from recognizing this truth. I tend to believe this. But I still wonder about brokenness, mainly because there have been many people in my life who experience themselves as broken in some way – people living with post-traumatic stress disorder, survivors of abuse, people living with life-threatening illnesses, people who’ve been beaten down by poverty, racism or homophobia. It doesn’t seem fair or pastoral to inform them that their experience is an illusion, that they are perfect and beautiful just the way they are. They don’t feel that way. Who am I to tell them otherwise? Who am I to deny their experience of themselves?

So, though I don’t believe we are somehow inherently broken, I do believe we can break under certain circumstances. But if we can break, then I also believe we must be able to heal. This month you may hear me recite a meditation from the late spiritual writer and UU minister, Nancy Shaffer, entitled “Mending.” In it she asks, How shall we mend you, sweet Soul? / What shall we use, and how is it / in the first place you’ve come to be torn? / Come sit. Come tell me. / We will find a way to mend you.

She continues: I would offer you, sweet Soul, / this chair by the window, this sunlight / on the floor and the cat asleep in it. / I would offer you my silence, / my presence, all this love I have, / and my sorrow you’ve become torn.

Whether or not one finds “brokenness” to be a useful term, there are times when we break. And the question that matters to me is how we respond to brokenness in ourselves and others. How do we heal? How do we help others to heal? How do we mend? How do we help others to mend? I often think asking and answering these questions is the essence of being a Unitarian Universalist and a person of faith. For this month, and for all the days to come, may we stay focused on healing and mending the brokenness in the world. When we get underneath all the verbiage and by-laws, is that not the essence of our mission as a congregation? I think it is. I’ll be curious to know what you think.

With love,

Rev. Josh