“Where Do We Go From Here?” — UUS:E Virtual Service, November 15, 2020

“Love. Because….”
By Molly Vigeant

I made my daughter in the stock of my bones.
How dare I call myself anything less than a miracle

Bringer of life,
Believer in the inherent worth and dignity of Every single person.

Respect for the interconnected web of all existence,
of which, so undeniably, both You, and I, are a part.


All lives Can’t matter,
until black lives do

All lives Can’t matter,
until women control their bodies

All lives Can’t matter,
until our neighbors are set Free

All lives Will matter,
when Humanity becomes Human once more

Please, never forget that you are stardust,
You are the stew of your ancestor’s bones,
You are nothing less than miraculous,
You are rare as perfect circumstance.

You have always been lovable,
You have always been more than good enough.

Right now,
Right now you are worthy Right Now.

Not when you get a new job,
not when you lose weight,
or gain weight,
not when you move,
not when you “do better”,
not when you have more money,
not when things change.
I promise.

You have been worthy now,
miraculous now,
interconnected now,
inherently needed to feed the souls of our planet.
Our energies are so entwined,
I’m sure you have felt the ripples in our web
when people go,
wherever they go…

The milky way has held you,
Mother earth raised you,
Womb crafted,
Big Bang Blasted,
don’t you dare
call yourself less
than Miraculous.


“Where Do We Go From Here”
Rev. Josh Pawelek
Unitarian Universalist Society: East
Manchester, CT
November 15, 2020

Thanks Dan and Jenn. “Where Do We Go From Here?” from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack. “Where do we go from here? / Where do we go from here? / The battle’s done, / And we kinda won. / So we sound our victory cheer. / Where do we go from here?”

Mindful that the president still refuses to accept the reality of his loss, which is infuriating and frightening, I’m going to proceed, trusting there will be a successful transition of power, and that, once in office, the Biden/Harris administration’s overarching answer to the question, where do we go from here? will be their attempt to heal our divided nation. Their themes will be reconciliation, unity, restoring trust. Though their opponents portrayed hem as monstrous, radical socialists, that’s not what they are. While there is certainly room in their vision for progressive change, they campaigned as centrists. I believe they believe their mandate is healing—medical and economic healing from the pandemic, racial healing, spiritual healing for the divided soul of our nation. Pushing a hard left, progressive policy agenda will not bring healing. They will carve out a place in the political center around which, they hope, a large majority of people can unite even if it lacks the bold solutions and fundamental transformations that those on the far left and far right would prefer. Given that this is likely how they will govern, especially in the near-future, how do we participate? Or, should we be wary? Where do we go from here?

Our ministry theme for November is healing, so it makes sense to explore these questions now. To begin, it is clear to me that our UU participation in efforts at this kind of public, communal healing is fraught. We face a dilemma. On one hand, such healing is really important to us. Reconciliation, learning to compromise, ending the bitter partisan divide, understanding people who think differently is all really important. This is theological for us: we preach interconnectedness, relatedness, neighborliness, oneness. Our seventh principle names the interdependent web of all existence. Our sixth principle sets the goal of world community. So when our nation, towns, neighborhoods and families are suffering through division an inability to even talk to each other, it hurts. It feels wrong. We want to end the demonization. We want to be part of the healing. Pat sang those familiar words from the Youngbloods, “Come on people now / Smile on your brother / Everybody get together / Try to love one another / Right now.”

On the other hand, our principles also lead us to make certain collective religious, social and political commitments that place us squarely on one side of the divided soul of the nation. To compromise on those commitments for the sake of a greater unity would require us not only to betray our principles, but to betray actual flesh and blood people who are members of our congregations.

For example, we are not going to abandon gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people for the sake of unity with an evangelical population that wants to end marriage equality and carve out a legal justification for discrimination. Ain’t gonna happen, friends. We will not abandon our GLBTQ members and friends who’ve been out and proud in our faith for a generation and whose presence has blessed our congregations in countless ways. Religious liberty means you have the right to practice your religion as your faith dictates. It does not mean you have the right to discriminate against people because of who they love or how they present themselves to the world. That’s non-negotiable for us.

We’re not going to abandon our commitments to immigrants. We’re not going to abandon our commitments to confronting white supremacy culture and the legacies of settler colonialism. We’re not going to abandon our commitment to the earth, which is grounded in a more fundamental commitment to heeding the guidance of reason and the results of science. We’re not going to abandon our commitment to women’s full equality in American society or to sustaining full reproductive rights. Molly Vigeant’s poem/prayer named some of our commitments: “Love. Because… / All lives Can’t matter, / until black lives do / All lives Can’t matter, / until women control their bodies / All lives Can’t matter, / until our neighbors are set Free / All lives Will matter, when Humanity becomes Human once more.” There’s a judgement here about what being a good human really means. We make that judgement without apology.

We face a dilemma: our commitments to oppressed and marginalized people, our judgement about what it means to be good, our criteria for healthy, safe communities, our process for determining what is true—all of it makes it hard to move toward a center where what we care most deeply about is up for debate. We’re not going to debate the value of black lives. We’re not going to negotiate a definition of religious liberty that allows for discrimination. We’re not going to support public health or environmental policies that aren’t grounded in the scientific data.  

It often feels like we have to choose between social healing, which inevitably involves compromise, or holding fast to our commitments which are part of our identity as people of faith. I wonder how this dilemma plays out in your lives. Do you have family members, neighbors or co-workers who live across the divided soul of the nation from you? Do you feel this dilemma I’m describing? I have felt it acutely throughout my ministry.

Somehow the dynamics of US political, social and religious life and the ongoing culture war create in us and, I suspect, in people who live across the divide from us, the very real feeling that we must choose. But in fact it’s a false choice and we don’t have to make it. We can do both. I may be criticized for even raising this question, but why can’t we pursue unity and maintain our commitments at the same time? More to the point, if our commitments are worth anything, how can we not do both?

I’m thinking back to an experience we had about fifteen years ago when UUS:E was a member of the Greater Hartford Interfaith Coalition for Equity and Justice (ICEJ). We were working with ICEJ on immigration, education, health care and tax reform at the same time we were working with Love Makes a Family on marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. It turned out, some of the congregations in ICEJ were working in opposition to marriage equality. One night 80 of us showed up at one of those congregations for a big public meeting, and encountered a series of anti-gay posters on the wall. It hurt so much. For some of our gay and lesbian members it was traumatic. We thought we were on safe ground. We weren’t. And there was the dilemma: we had unity among fifty diverse congregations; but the price of that unity, it seemed, was the safety and well-being of our gay and lesbian members.  Perhaps we needed to leave ICEJ.

In the end, we didn’t have to choose. First, in no way was UUS:E ever going to abandon its gay and lesbian members or mute its commitment to equality and justice for GLBTQ people. Second, there is high value for us in being in coalition with other congregations across lines of race, class and culture. Third, we knew that in a coalition of 40 or 50 congregations there are bound to be differences, disagreements, conflicts. So, what kind of unity do we have? Does it demand that we avoid our conflicts, or does it allow us to have them? It turned out to be the latter. We were able to say to the rest of the coalition that encountering those posters on the wall was painful to our members. We were able to assert our commitment and ask that other coalition members be sensitive to who we are as a faith community. Did everyone change their minds? No. But everyone grew from that encounter. We recognized that being in coalition with people who held radically different commitments was in fact the only way to impact their thinking over time. Leaving the coalition would have no such impact. Moving forward, we were mindful of the possibility of future pain and heart-ache. We had to guard against that. But we also knew that when the meetings happened at UUS:E the rainbow flags and the pro-GBLTQ fliers and pamphlets were also highly visible. It wasn’t ‘everybody get together, try to love one another right now.’ But we learned we could stay unified despite our differences, and our commitments could be spoken, heard and respected.

We can do both.

Many years ago a community organizing whose name I’ve long since forgotten, taught me there are essentially three ways of being a self in community. This goes for people and for congregations. You can selfish, meaning you bring your needs and commitments to the community and expect that it will do what you want it to do. You can be selfless, meaning you bring nothing of yourself to the community and try always to meet others’ needs. Or you can be self-interested, meaning that you bring your commitments, your values, your concerns—your self—to the community, always mindful that others bring their selves as well.

When we get caught in the dilemma and feel like we have to choose between unity and our commitments, we tend to retreat either to selfishness—where we pummel the other side with our commitments (often on social media where the other side isn’t even listening)—or to selflessness, where we reach out to understand the other side and silence our commitments so that we don’t make them uncomfortable. But neither of those options leads to real unity. And neither leads to genuine healing. We can’t heal if we’re trying to dominate the other side; and we can’t heal if we fail to share what’s deeply important to us. But bringing our full selves—to use Molly’s words, “our stardust,” “our ancestors’ bones,” our “Womb crafted / Big Bang Blasted … Miraculous” selves, coupled with a recognition that the other has such a self as well, that’s where healing starts. And right now, we have to get to the starting place.

We can do both. And if our commitments are to have any power in the wider world, we must do both.

Amen and blessed be.