A month after I was divorced from my wife of almost 22 years, I was visiting with friends in Houston and we were at a very cool farm-to-table restaurant and the waitress came by and I saw the tattoo on her forearm: “In the end, everything will be ok. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.” The moment was lit up by something that felt transcendent.
How did the Universe know I needed to hear that, at that precise time?
These moments happen first-hand but can also happen upon the mere hearing of a story. Here’s one I ran into just a few days ago. Comes from a Mrs. Margie Anderson, from Abeline, Texas. She writes, “When my granddaughter Bethany was four years old, she visited my home for a few days. I gave her some crayons and pictures for coloring. When I looked down, I saw she had used a crayon to draw purple marks all over her legs. ‘Bethany,’ I asked, ‘what are you doing?’ ‘Why Grandma, you have such pretty purple lines up and down your legs, and I wanted mine to look just like yours.’ Since then, I’ve worn my varicose veins with pride, and they get prettier each year.”
Stories like this light us up. It feels like there’s more possibility in the world rather than less. Stories like
- The Little Engine That Could—about an underdog who never gives up
- Horton Hears a Who—about standing up for what you know even if others around you don’t believe
- The Ugly Ducking—about being deeply mistaken about who you are, and coming to learn the beautiful truth
You just feel lit up.
But some stories are too large to be captured in 50 words or a picture book. In particular I’m thinking about our collective Unitarian Universalist story which is 500+ years long, and which formally started in Transylvania and Poland—although we would need to go back 2000 years to do it full justice.
In this big story: all sorts of Ugly Ducklings and Hortons Hearing Whos and Little Engines That Could. All sorts of personalities and situations and themes.
But this is why we have our Seven Principles. They serve to remind us of the smaller stories that combine to make up the BIG story:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Each one of these Principles could be illustrated by hundreds of smaller stories from our history. Each of these principles has been earned—blood, sweat, and tears behind every one….
As just one example, take the story of 19th century reformer Susan B. Anthony, who, by the way, is to be featured on the back of America’s ten dollar bills come 2020. Not too shabby, huh? Her very last words were, “Failure Is Impossible.” She was a long-time member of the Unitarian Church in Rochester, New York and that congregation supported her in her work for women’s rights. In a time when women were not allowed to vote, she took matters into her own hands and, in 1872, went ahead and voted illegally in the presidential election. She was arrested as a criminal; she unsuccessfully fought the charges; she was fined $100; and she never paid.
We have “failure is impossible” in our blood; Susan B. Anthony is our spiritual kin. When you stand within our big 500+ year-long story, you stand with her and thousands like her.
But let’s see the degree to which she’s with us. Let me share a recent news item, about how the media is talking about female Olympians these days. I quote, from The Guardian:
The Chicago Tribune announced American trap shooter Corey Cogdell-Unrein’s medal win with the headline: “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics”, not even bothering to mention her name.
In the afterglow of Katinka Hosszu’s world-record-breaking swim, NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks pointed out Hosszu’s husband and gushed: “And there’s the man responsible.”
People Magazine called Simone Biles “the Michael Jordan of gymnastics”, as though we can’t possibly comprehend female greatness without a male proxy.
In a Twitter exchange that rapidly went viral, Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten lamented her injuries after a crash, inspiring some random man to explain to her how to ride a bike: “First lesson in bicycling, keep your bike steady … whether fast or slow.” [I think that’s what you would call “mansplaining,”right?]
Hearing all of this, can you feel the Susan B. Anthony inside you? Can you hear her? What is she saying?
This is the other thing we need to know about stories. They can fight each other. Our big 500+ year long Unitarian Universalist story fights others that push people out, dehumanize, degrade. Our story has power. Power to expose bias and hate. Power to liberate. Power to transform.
Susan B. Anthony’s jaw is set and squared, and she is saying, “Failure is impossible.”
Sexism is doomed. So are all the other –isms. It’s only a matter of time.
Why DO we gather in? Why DO we ingather?
The immediate reason is that school is back in session and summertime staycations and vacations are ending and we are beginning a new cycle of the seasons: fall to winter to spring to summer.
But the deeper reason is that we get to personally reconnect with and recommit to one of the greatest stories ever told, our 500+ year Unitarian Universalist story, which, says, ultimately:
Love is our one source.
Love is our one destiny.
No one left out.
Stand within our collective UU story, and power comes to you. Hands and hearts are joined across the years. A rich heritage is yours, and you are building a rich legacy for the future. You give, and you receive.
This is home. This is our spiritual home.
Let it light up our lives.
“Failure is impossible.”
This is why we gather in. This is why we ingather.