Do The Right Thing and the Theologians Will Follow

A few weeks ago I was speaking to a group of Presbyterian students at the University of Tennessee about Unitarian Universalism. During the question and answer session someone asked me, “How much education does it take to become a Unitarian Universalist minister?”  My answer was, “Too much.”

In order to prepare for the ministry I went to theology school where I learned about process theology, empirical theology, biblical theology, postmodern theology, orthodox theology, neo-orthodox theology, liberal theology,  feminist theology, womanist theology, metaphorical theology, non-theistic theology, humanistic theology, scientific theology, liberation theology, qweer theology, ecotheology, ecumenical theology, interfaith theology, public theology and more.  In many ways I am a better person for it. 

And yet all too often the emphasis in theology schools of every faith tradition is placed on what the Hindus call jnana yoga. The emphasis is on holding the right beliefs, correct doctrine, attaining true knowledge, through the study of scriptures, commentaries and traditions. 

However, there is another school of thought that suggests that action speaks louder than words. This is what the Hindus call karma yoga. Here the emphasis is on right action, acts of compassion, kindness, mercy, forgiveness. The goal is to lead a life of goodwill and sacrificial service. In jnana yoga, right belief leads to right action. In karma yoga right action leads to right belief. 

I think every religion, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism has something like this tension between jnana yoga and karma yoga, a tension between the focus on knowledge and action. There is some merit to both paths and indeed there is value in finding balance between the two options. I once heard someone say, “The problem with our world is that those who act don’t think and those who think don’t act.” And so an important part of spiritual living is aligning thought with action and action with thought. 

The apostle Paul argued in favor of right beliefs. He declared that we are saved by faith alone, however, he was met with opposition by the apostle James who focused on right action. James proclaimed that “faith without works is dead.” 

This past Monday night our church turned out big time for the rally organized by Justice Knox. Some of us came in person and some of us participated online. This is an interfaith effort of congregations working together to revitalize grassroots democracy in our city (and in the age of political insurrection, voter disenfranchisement and pandemic disinformation we need to revitalize democracy.) Democracy is only a promise, until we make it real. It is through our participation that we make democracy a reality. Justice Knox is working on creating affordable housing, and accessible mental health care including getting the nonviolent mentally ill out of our prisons and into our health care system. Through household meetings and a vote on Monday night we voted on a new priority addressing the problem of violence in our community. In that room on Monday there were Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ, AME Zion, Baptist, Muslims and Jews, an interfaith gathering dedicated to combining faith with works, thought with action. 

One of my favorite heroines who did so much to revitalize American democracy is Lucretia Mott. She was a 19th century radical Quaker who often preached from Unitarian pulpits and campaigned for women’s rights including the right to vote. I consider her an honorary Quaker Unitarian. In her efforts to do the right thing she often encountered opposition from theologians and she was not afraid to challenge them in return. She told her audiences, 

“Appeals have been made to the Scriptures placing them as authority for the wrong. Let us never be afraid to take hold of the right, however error and wrong may be sanctioned…by some quotations from scriptures.Women in particular have pinned their faith to ministers’ sleeves. They dare not rely on their own God given powers of discernment. We do err…when we resort to the Bible to find authority for anything that is wrong. We have a divine teaching to which we should adhere. The great principles of justice, love, and truth are divinely implanted in our hearts. If we pay proper heed unto these, we shall have no occasion to go to the ancient practices to find authority for our actions.”

In other words, Lucretia Mott is saying, “Do the right thing and the theologians will catch up.” Do the right thing and the church, the synagogue, the mosque and the temple will catch up. There is an ancient saying, “Do justice though the heavens fall.” Do justice regardless of opposition. And one of the reasons we may have this expression is because all too often theologians paint a picture of God that is so aligned with the status quo that when justice is done it feels like the heavens fall. 

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality many people felt like the heavens fell but they did not. And when federal and state governments made partial and incomplete efforts to expand healthcare some screamed like the heavens fell but they had not. And today when working people demand a living wage many employers act like the heavens will fall but they will not. Indeed, our faith teaches the exact opposite. Do justice and heavenly light will shine. Do justice because as the prayer tells us, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

Thy will be done in Kenosha Wisconsin. Thy will be done in Glynn County, Georgia. Thy will be done here and everywhere because I did not have to go to theology school to know that on earth and in heaven Black Lives Matter. 

The study of theology is a valuable thing to do, however, even the most progressive theology can feel like a road map of known territory whereas spirituality takes us into unknown territory. There is an old Universalist affirmation that declares “We avow our faith in the authority of truth, known and to be known.” Theology is often and effort to think about the Infinite based on what is known, whereas spirituality is about the question, “How do we act in spite of all we do not know?” 

At this moment in time half of our congregation is watching this service online while half is in the room. How are we going to build a community that includes us all in this particular time? The truth is we don’t know. We don’t know. We are in uncharted territory. Nevertheless we will act. 

Buckminster Fuller, and many other mystical thinkers, have declared that “God is a verb and not a noun” God is an action word. The poet Michael Benidikt put it this way

God is the good we do

When and where we do it

God is practiced, like dance, like music

Like kindness, like love….

God is the good we do

In everything we do….

Perhaps this is why God prefers a good atheist

To a wicked believer. 

If God is a verb and not a noun, if God is the good we do in everything we do then actions are more important to our theology than our words. Religion and spirituality becomes about deeds not creeds. The emphasis becomes on orthopraxy (right action) rather than orthodoxy (right belief.) 

If you’ve been paying attention to the United Nations gathering of leaders in Glasgow, Scotland, attempting to address the problem of climate change then you know what I mean. These deliberations can feel as slow, plodding and intractable as a contentious synod of bishops. A picture of the paralysis of analysis. 

There are many who argue that if we move away from fossil fuels the heavens will fall but they won’t. Indeed, the change is inevitable. Whoever embraces these changes will be a leader in our world. Whoever procrastinates will not. 

Fortunately, there are some theologians who are ahead of the politicians. Pope Francis has issued an Encyclical Letter called Laudato Si’ On Care For Our Common Home where he argues that responsible environmental policies are not only good for us politically or materially but spiritually. He writes, “Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up  in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending.” Can anyone say Black Friday? Pope Francis continues, “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more they need things to buy, own and consume.” Pope Francis argues that good policies and good lifestyle changes would benefit not only the earth, our bodies but also our souls by helping us to focus on what’s most important in life. Sustainable living is good for our hearts. 

Religion and science do not have to be adversaries but can be partners. As eco-activist Gus Speth once wrote, “I used to think the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

What we need now is spiritual transformation, right thinking and right action working together. However, the older I get the more I think transformation begins with action. 

Whenever someone comes up to me and says they want to get involved in social change but they don’t know that much about the issues and don’t know exactly what position they should take politically, I simply say, “Get involved and let your involvement be part of your education.” Go to the community meeting. Go to the rally. Go to the protest. Log onto the internet, go to People’s Hub and learn about online organizing. Get involved and eventually your mind will catch up. Feed the hungry, care for the sick, listen to the heartbroken, reach out to the lonely. Your thoughts will catch up with you. Your beliefs will catch up with you. 

As the Sermon on the Mount teaches, “When you give, don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.” In other words, don’t overthink it. Don’t be overly self conscious. Forget yourself. Be spontaneous. Let go of your ego.  Educate yourself but don’t educate yourself too much. Remember that theology is like outward scaffolding but what is most important is our inner life. As the poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, 

The Props assist the House

Until the House is built

And then the props withdraw

And adequate, erect,

The House supports itself

And cease to recollect 

The Auger and the Carpenter

Just such a retrospect

Hath the perfected Life –

A Past of Plank and Nail

And slowness – then the scaffolds drop

Affirming it a Soul.

Which is to say, when the props fall away heavenly light will shine within you. So get involved. Find your issue. Find your work. Get in where you fit in. Do the right thing and I promise you that eventually the theologians will catch up.

(The Reverend Chris Buice gave this sermon at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday, November 21, 2021)


Freedom Faith

“I have a dream!” These are words we associate with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but he actually borrowed the phrase from Prathia Hall with her permission. She was a young woman at the time, about 24 years old. 

Dr. King’s best friend, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy put it this way. He said, “The secret to good preaching is when you stop borrowing from other preachers and start outright stealing.” I suspect he was not the first person to say this. 

Even so Dr. King borrowed the phrase with permission. He didn’t steal it. He  first heard her use the phrase at a prayer vigil in 1965 after two black churches in Southwest Georgia were burned down to the ground by white vigilantes in retaliation for their civil rights work in an act of terrorism. Prathia Hall who was a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)  gave a prayer where she shared her dream of “being free from the bullets and the burnings…free to worship and free to learn.” 

Many years later when Prathia Hall was the Reverend Dr. Prathia Hall she was asked about the famous phrase. She said, “I remember saying ‘I have a dream’ in the prayer…(because) when there is a raging nightmare, you need a dream.” Her memory reminds us that the dream was never about naivete or  wishful thinking or denial about how bad things really are. For it is when we are in the middle of a raging nightmare that we most need a dream. And aren’t we in the middle of a nightmare in our times; in the middle of the pandemic of racism, the pandemic of Covid 19 and the pandemic of gun violence. It’s a nightmare. 

So Dr. King got his famous phrase from Prathia Hall. Indeed, he said that she was the only platform speaker that he would never want to follow. He said this outloud so others would know how much he respected her. Today, the Reverend Dr. Prathia Hall is not as well known. Indeed I know of her because of the Reverend Dr. Johnny Skinner of Mount Zion Baptist Church. Dr. Skinner studied with her at the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where she was professor. Reverend Skinner is so open in his admiration and effusive in his praise that I was inspired to learn more about her. So I wanted to learn more about her not only to understand history but in order to be a better conversation partner with Dr. Skinner. 

If you are looking for a good way to learn more I recommend the book Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall by Courtney Pace who is a professor of church history at Memphis Theological Seminary in West Tennessee. One of the great things about it is, that as often as possible, the author allows Prathia Hall to speak and preach for herself. 

However, it is not only what she preached but where she preached it that matters. 

As a civil rights worker Prathia Hall had close brushes with death. She was injured in a late night drive by shooting that targeted the house she was staying in. Once a bomb was thrown in through a window and landed next to the bed but through some good fortune did not go off. She experienced violence and harassment at the hands of the police. She was willing to put herself into dangerous places because as she said, “Where there is sickness, suffering, poverty, pain, captivity, oppression…there is the place of proclamation. There is the preaching place.” 

Prathia Hall practiced what she called the Freedom Faith. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Go where freedom is not and I say, ‘I am for it!’.”Prathia Hall did just that. She went where freedom was not and made it abundantly clear that she was for it. 

Practicing the Freedom Faith requires courage. For the courage it took to be an activist in the civil rights movement went beyond reason. The bravery involved was beyond the level of the rational. To be an activist committed to working for freedom required a faith that transcended reason. 

She once wrote of her experience in the most dangerous days of the movement, “Fear was the most sane and intelligent response… we lived with the fear, we came to understand it and then our job was to work with it.” “Fear was part of the survival kit. The challenge was to use fear as a signal to exercise caution while refusing to allow fear to paralyze you.”

She preached that the goal of ministry is liberation. Her ministry was grounded in the vision of the prophet Isaiah who rejected emphasis on private piety of fasting and prayer for a faith that would set people free. 

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

The goal of the ministry is to break every yoke and remove every chain, she preached. “In some places it’s racism. In some places, it’s sexism. In some places it is ageism. In some places, it’s heterosexism.” Any -ism that can divide us or separate us from each other and try to keep us from being the very human beings that God intended us to be. “This is our challenge: living our ministries that remove chains from hearts, minds, spirits and bodies, so that the oppressed may go free and set others free.” And she summed it all up in this one sentence, “It’s not a ministry if it doesn’t liberate us.” 

I would argue that the Freedom Faith is essentially an interfaith movement. The Freedom Faith is about being free together. The Freedom Faith declares, “No one can be free until everyone is free.” The Freedom Faith is about breaking every yoke. The yoke of racism. The yoke of sexism. The yoke of homophobia. The yoke of religious bigotry. We must break every yoke. 

The Freedom Faith is about the freedom we find together. Those who are rebelling against vaccines, mask mandates, physical distancing and other mitigation efforts in the middle of a global pandemic are not practicing the Freedom Faith. Freedom Faith includes the young and the old, the weak and the strong, the tender and the tough, the sick and the healthy. Freedom Faith is when we build the beloved community together that includes everyone. 

Prathia Hall made a special point of denouncing sexism. She preached “If God is not racist, neither can God be sexist. God is not a bigot.” A couple of weeks ago, I was rearranging my bookshelves and I decided to put some biographies together that had hitherto been on other shelves under other categories. However, now on one book shelf I have together biographies of Sojourner Truth and Lucretia Mott, Susan B Anthony and Rosa Parks, Ella Baker and Ziphilia Horton, Harriet Tubman and Flannery O’Connor, Margaret Fuller and Alice Paul, the Grimke Sisters and Septima Clark, Dorothy Day and Viola Liuzzo, Benazir Bhutto and Fannie Lou Hammer,  Alice Walker and Lydia Maria Child, Mother Thersa and Mother Jones, and I could go on and on. However, one of the unintended results of rearranging my bookshelves is that I can feel the power from that collection of women emanating from the shelf, so great a cloud of witnesses. I feel the communion of saints. I feel  a distinctively feminist power and a distinctly womanist energy. And that power is missing from too many churches where God may not be a bigot but God is still a baritone. I have definitely been in many churches where it seemed pretty clear that God was a baritone. 

As Dr. Hall preached, “The extent to which one engages in sexism or tolerates sexism, of fails to fight actively against sexism, or refuses to purge it from one’s heart, one’s own soul, one’s own mind, one’s own life and one’s own ministry is the extent to which God is defied…We must understand that when the church distorts or oppresses women, it is not really about the sisters. It is God who is defied.” As the Hebrew prophet Joel proclaimed God’s word, “And…I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old will dream dreams, your young will see visions.” 

This morning we have on display a proclamation that honors one of our church members of blessed memory who died in September of last year, Elandria Williams who was a Unitarian Universalist who practiced the Freedom Faith. The proclamation on display is for the Award for the Distinguished Service for the Cause of Unitarian Universalism which is a huge honor of national and international significance. Elandria served as Co-Moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association, 2018-2020, which is the highest volunteer position in our Association. 

And let me say, Elandria piloted our faith through a storm. E guided our denomination through a time of disagreement, acrimony, discord and division that saw the President of our denomination at the time, resign just weeks before his term ended. However, Elandria could always see the creative possibilities in such moments of turmoil. 

I told Elandria, “You have a tough job because you are the Moderator for the most immoderate of all denominations” Because I am currently one of the chaplains to the UUA Board of Trustees, I was there at many of those passionate meetings and I bore witness to E’s incredible organizing skills and inspirational leadership. When Elandria walked into our denomination’s headquarters people just lit up, everyone did, from the President of the UUA to the janitor to the bookstore clerk to the administrators. This was because E radiated respect for everyone. E radiated joy. 

Elandria also radiated the spirit behind the proposed 8th principle of Unitarian Universalism, “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”

Elandria was an organizer for the Highlander Center where Dr. King and Rosa Parks and many other activists got their training. Elandria worked for People’s Hub so E practiced what we preach all over the world as a global community organizer. E traveled to places and worked with people who risked their lives for justice, risked their lives for freedom, risked their lives to do the right thing. E went to places where fear was the sanest reaction to the situation and there E brought faith. 

If Elandria were here today E would lead us in the chant and so I invite you to repeat after me. 

Solid as a rock

Rooted like a tree

We are here

We are strong

In our rightful place 

Elandria died in 2020. The Reverend Dr. Prathia Hall died in 2002. So let me end by asking some of the same questions Elandria asked in the meditation we heard earlier, words that resonate with the Freedom Faith of the Reverend Dr. Prathia Hall, words that can be put into practice by people of all faiths. These are Elandria’s words. 

When you hear the word liberation – what does it conjure in your soul? 

When you hear, “We are the liberating force, spirit, light and love,” what does it conjure in your spirit? 

When you hear that we have the power to transform the world around us, what does that mean in your bones? 

When you hear, “We are the people we have been waiting for,” how does it feel in your blood?

We are the light, we are the wisdom, we are the ancestors, we are those yet to come. 

So go out there and get busy. Prophetic church the world awaits your liberating ministry. Get out there and get busy because in so many ways it’s a nightmare out there…and it is in the middle of a nightmare that the world most needs your dream. 

(This sermon was given by the Reverend Chris Buice at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday, November 14, 2021.)

Loving and Losing: An All Saints Sermon for Dad

My father was an Episcopal priest who once gave me advice on preaching in the form of a story. When Martin Luther was a young man he would write out his sermons word for word and then read it word for word from the pulpit. One day a parishioner said to him, “Martin Luther, that’s no way to preach a sermon. You don’t need to prepare anything. All you need to do is simply step up into the pulpit and let the Spirit speak through you.” Martin Luther said, “I did that once. I got up in the pulpit and I heard the Spirit say, ‘Martin Luther, you should have prepared a sermon.’ ” 

So this morning I have followed my father’s advice (as I do every Sunday morning) and I have come prepared to give a sermon. This morning’s sermon is about loving and losing for All Saints Day. As many of you know I lost my father this year on September 3rd. And so this morning I want to share some stories from my father’s life that can help us all in our own processes of loving and losing. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson once suggested that a sermon can be foolishly spoken but wisely heard. I saw my father do this with foolish statements many times. Many years ago media mogul Ted Turner said that “Christianity is a religion for losers.” Many people were insulted by the remark but my father, the Christian minister, chose to hear it wisely. He told me, “He’s right, you know.” The point my father was trying to make is that none of us gets through life without losing. 

As the poet Mary Oliver once wrote, 

“To live in this world

You must be able

To do three things

To love what is mortal

To hold it

Against your bones knowing

Your own life depends on it; 

And, when the time comes to let it go,

To let it go.”

None of us gets through life without losing. Therefore any religion that is going to help us get through life will need to be a religion for losers. 

My father grew up Baptist but became an Episcopalion. To give you an idea of how well this went over, when my Aunt Jenny learned I was a Unitarian she told my brother Sam, “A Unitarian, I thought he was at least Episcopalion.” My brother is also an Episcopal priest so Aunt Jenny’s remark was not in the best interests of family diplomacy. 

Once my father, my brother and I were watching television, two Episcipal priests and one Unitarian Universalist minister. All of a sudden the TV started malfunctioning. Weird images appeared on the screen and strange sounds emanated from it. My father turned to my brother and said, “If this television doesn’t start acting right, you or I will have to perform an exorcism…and if that doesn’t work Chris can reason with it.” 

Indeed, when I became a Unitarian Universalist my father said, “I’ve always thought you might be one.” Perhaps it was my penchant for reason and rationality or my willingness to question everything that gave it away. My father was always very respectful of my spiritual journey. Since he was an Episcopal priest I suppose he could have seen my departure from that church as personal slight or a rejection of all he held dear. However, I do not remember him ever taking it personally, indeed, my spiritual journey was informed by many conversations with him that helped me think for myself. 

I remember one day in 1979 Dad came home from work and asked me, “Chris, have you ever seen the movie The Life of Brian?” I said, “No.” So he continued, “I just left a ministers meeting where everybody said it was a terribly sacrilegious movie that should be banned. Want to go see it?” So that night me and my dad got in the car and went to see that Monty Python movie that was causing so much controversy at the time. Afterwards, we had a very interesting conversation about it. We both agreed it was insightful religious satire albeit dad did not feel that every joke was in good taste. Nevertheless he taught me not to judge a movie before I’d seen it. Indeed, I am something of a knee-jerk banned book reader and reflexive banned movie attender. So I got some of my religious liberal instincts from my father. 

Returning to the theme that religion is for losers, I have to say that one of the reasons I am a Unitarian Universalist is because of losses. My older brother Bill died in an automobile accident just a block away from our home when he was eighteen years old. My parents got divorced shortly thereafter. Somewhere in there I spent two weeks with a fundamentalist camp counselor of the hellfire and damnation variety that made me want to have a religious do-over. Start again with a clean slate.Tabula rosa.  In a relatively short period of time I’d lost a brother, watched my parents lose their marriage and then lost my faith. The theologian Paul Tillich describes God as the Ground of All Being. At this phase in my life my being felt groundless. I felt adrift in an indifferent universe. 

However, even in this phase of questioning everything (and I was questioning everything) my father and I had a good relationship and had many good conversations. After my parents got divorced my dad and I shared a bachelor pad together. When people ask me what that was like I will sometimes say, “We talked a lot about theology and ate a lot of Hamburger Helper.” Also we grilled out on the back deck a lot. 

As I grew older my theology began to evolve. When I discovered the Unitarian Universalist Church I signed up for a class called Build Your Own Theology where we were invited (but not required) to write our own personal definition of the word God. I wrote, “Whenever two or more are gathered to love, support and encourage each other there is a power greater than ourselves that can renew, restore and sustain us. That is my definition of God.” Love is the spirit of this church. Love is the Ground of My Being. 

My father was supportive of my decision to go into the Unitarian Universalist ministry. At my ordination he shared the prayer of Saint Francis, “Make me an instrument of peace, where there is hatred may I bring love.” He was there for me in other moments that were far more difficult. After the hate crime that desecrated this sanctuary in July of 2008 and traumatized our whole community my father came up from Georgia to drive me to meetings because sometimes my hands were too shaky and my concentration scattered. Where there was hatred he brought love. 

My father’s Episcopal church experienced some of the trauma of our nation’s culture wars as well. When Gene Robinson became the first openly gay man to be ordained a bishop in the Episcopal church it caused a lot of controversy and there was threat of schism. At his ordination to that office he wore a bullet proof vest under his vestments. During this time my dad called me and said, “I suppose the idea of a gay bishop would not be very controversial in your church.” And I said, “Actually the idea of a bishop would be very controversial.”

Speaking of controversies, David Massey, a member of this church, came into my office one day and asked me the question, “Do you know Carl Buice?” “Yes,” I said, “He’s my father.” And so David told the story about how in 1973 he was the editor of a journal for all Atlanta area theological seminaries and decided to do a big article about Homosexuality and the Church and one of the people he interviewed was my dad. David showed me the article that included my father’s statement of inclusiveness that “Homosexuals are God’s children.” Well the upshot is that this article caused so much controversy that the issue was banned and that made David start looking for an exit strategy for his job. After my conversation with David I called my dad to say, “Hey, do you know you helped one of my congregants lose his job!” 

So sometimes we lose a loved one to death and sometimes we lose a job or need to resign for reasons of conscience. Sometimes we go through breakups and divorces and sometimes we lose someone through a transfer or geographic move. Sometimes we lose our car keys and sometimes we lose our faith but none of us gets through this life without being a loser. None of us gets through life without experiencing loss. 

Meister Eckhart once said, “Nothing in all the world is so much like God as stillness” and my father knew how to be still. Once during a large (and somewhat noisy) family gathering my father and I and my stepsister Erin were sitting on the back porch, looking over Lake Sinclair being still, drinking in all the beauty, when all of a sudden Erin stood up and said in frustration, “Y’all have no idea how hard it is for me to sit still like this.” And it is hard for many people to be still – but not for dad. 

When he retired I asked him what he planned to do and he said, “I plan to lead the contemplative life.” This was interesting because I thought he already was doing that. However, it may be this quality that can most help us navigate our times of loss, including those losses that come with retirement. Even as we grieve a loss we can be grateful for life. Even as we are hurt by separation we can be grateful for love. This is part of what it means to lead the contemplative life. 

When we were children Dad read to us the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. He began with The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  And the lion Aslan is still for me one of the more meaningful images of God to be found in all literature. Even to this day, Aslan’s voice is my father’s voice. 

My father grew up around strong women. My grandmother was a strong woman. My Aunt Jenny was a strong woman. Later, my mother was a strong woman. My stepmother Hulane George is a strong woman, a retired circuit court judge. Hulane is a person who makes candid observations. Once someone said to Hulane, “You need to be more diplomatic.” To which she said, “I am diplomatic. You just don’t know all the things I don’t say.” When my stepbrother Brian joined the Unitarian Universalist Church she remarked, “Brian has finally found a church where God is as smart as he is.” I think she nailed us. My dad and Hulane had a strong partnership, a real love match. Once when they were walking down a steep rocky hill together at a family wedding Hulane said to dad, “If we fall we fall together.” I can’t think of a better definition of the meaning of marriage than that. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health until by death we do part but until that day – if we fall we fall together. 

I was able to be with my Dad on his last night. At one point he looked at me and said, “Isn’t it about time for us to go home? Isn’t it about time for us to hit the road?” The next morning he went home so gently and quietly I hardly even knew he was gone. 

Once again the words of the poet Mary Oliver come to mind, 

“The spirit

likes to dress up like this:

ten fingers,

ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest..”

Of course, sometimes the spirit needs a change of clothes. I don’t think my father wanted to say goodbye to any of his family or friends but I do believe he was ready to say goodbye to his body that no longer served the needs of the Spirit. 

The scripture tells us, “The wind blows where it will. You can hear its sound but you cannot tell where it is coming from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.” And my father was born of the spirit. For the fruits of the spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” 

On All Saints Day we remember those who have gone before us and the lessons they still have to teach us. Many years ago media mogul Ted Turner declared, “Christianity is a religion for losers” and I would add so is every religion worth anything to anybody. Religion exists to accompany us through our times of loss even as it reminds us of a deeper truth found through the study of all the great world religions, “It is by giving that we receive. It is by emptying that we are filled. It is by letting go that we gain and it is by losing our life that we find it.” 

(This sermon was preached by the Reverend Chris Buice at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on November 7, 2021)