We Are Groot


We Are Groot

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We Are Groot

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Groot Hat


When I was initially working on this sermon, as evidenced by the description of the worship service from January, I thought the focus should be more on our first principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every person. But the more I’ve worked through it, the more I’ve found this story to be about the seventh principle — the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

That’s quite a mouthful. You’d think it could be shorter, you know, maybe just “the interdependent web”. But humans sometimes aren’t that good at recognizing the bigger story, especially when we’re in pain, or mad, or afraid. And us Unitarian Universalists in particular, sometimes we like to believe that we’re exceptional to the point of being set apart from others, removed from the things that we think we’ve rejected or left behind as our tradition has progressed. So we need this big mouthful of a reminder that we are deeply, deeply set into this web of existence, whether it’s moving us to joy or to sorrow.

The interdependent web of all existence. Even the pieces we don’t like.

The interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. We are intimately, inextricably connected to the people we dislike. Dare I say it, we are inextricable from those we hate.

We are a part of those who we try to shut out and disown as not being us.

This brings me to the reading, often titled “The Faith of the Canaanite woman”. I think it should have a subtitle: “In Which Jesus Is Wrong.”

I love this story. It’s one of the best stories for a perfectionist, overfunctioning person like me who’s spent years learning that mistakes are inevitable, that we are flawed beings always learning how to be better to each other.

And there’s lots of different interpretations of this story in Christian exegesis, and lots of different ways of working the text so that Jesus is still perfect. Perhaps those versions of the story speak to you, and that’s perfectly ok. One of the things I love most about Unitarian Universalism is that not only do we embrace different stories, we embrace different sides of the same story. We say, “Yes, and.”

So this morning, we’re focusing on the idea that Jesus was wrong. He gets called out on it, and instead of doubling down in his wrongness, throwing a tantrum, or any other deflecting behavior, he says, “Oh my gosh, you’re right.” And then he makes amends.

Think about the power dynamics here. A desperate women from an oppressed, systematically maligned population shows up asking for help for her child from a healer. This healer, who knows he could ease this child’s suffering, says, “No, I don’t think so. You’re not the right kind of people. In fact, I’m not sure you’re even a person. You’re like a dog.” (Which, I just want to point out, I know for many in this congregation, is not an insult. But apparently it was for Jesus. That’s another sermon).

And this woman, who has already made herself vulnerable just by showing up and begging for help, doesn’t back down. She says, “Even dogs get scraps from the table.” Even dogs are part of the household.

Even if I’m willing to debase myself to agree with your assessment of me as less than you, I’m still a part of the interdependent web and you should respect that.

I am willing to believe in you and your power to save my child. Why won’t you believe in me?

And there it is. Jesus realizes that he actually knows nothing about her life, or what difficult choices she had to make to survive. He has judged her worth solely on her identity as a Canaanite. He reacts like a bigot.

Now, this is not to say that the Canaanite woman is perfect. We don’t know anything about her, or her past behavior. She could be toxic in any number of ways– but not just because she’s a Canaanite.

And that’s the point of the story — that in this moment, it doesn’t matter. In this moment, right here, she is asking for help for someone she loves from someone she knows can help at no risk or loss to himself. Whatever she may have said or done in her past is irrelevant.

So how does this tie in to Guardians of the Galaxy?

I love genre stories, because they help us get understanding about our own lives by removing us from it. When Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on the original Star Trek series, was considering leaving the show, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked her to stay on. He told her how important it was for black people, especially young black children, to see themselves on television as something other than a servant. Star Wars tells us a story about the search for identity and resisting imperialism. Superheroes awe us with their powers while teaching us how to process the power of our emotions and actions in the world.

And sometimes, those heroes are anti-heros. The Guardians of the Galaxy are our Canaanites, and unlike the Canaanite woman from our others story, we know all about the history of this motley crew of criminals.

Peter Quill, con man and thief. He was kidnapped from earth as a young boy, after the death of his mother, and maintains emotional distance from those around him as a protection.

Gamora, thief, assassin for hire. Her family was killed in front of her when she was a child, and she was “adopted” by the man who did it. He turned her into a living weapon. She is fighting to both survive and find a way out.

Drax, a man consumed by a need for violent revenge after the slaughter of his family. He solves problems with brute force.

Rocket. He’s a freak, a mistake made from the progress of science without the temper of ethics. He is, more than any of the rest of them, alone in the universe, carrying memories of torture and abuse and living with the constant ridicule and mocking of those around him every day. He is cruel, and angry.

All created by the systems in which they existed. All have had to live for most of their lives with no one validating their inherent worth and dignity, so they are forced to carve it out for themselves, often resorting to brutality, fear, and avoidance rather than right relationship.

And yet, when push comes to shove, when they realize that they can contribute in a meaningful way to the larger community, to the survival of the very people who malign and oppress them, they rise to the occasion.

And then there’s Groot, the giant tree-being. Groot enters this story as Rocket’s muscle, giving him physical and emotional support in a world that created him and then abandoned him. While Groot can only vocalize the words “I am Groot,” he understands everything said to him. Groot becomes the force binding them together, the one among them who can create beauty amongst ugliness.

All of this is important for the moment that made this movie worth a sermon. You have to know how awfully these people have been treated to understand how huge it was for them to join the fight to save the world that had abused them. You have to know how criminal their choices have been to understand the risk they took by contacting the NovaCorps, the military and police forces of the first planet to be attacked.

You have to know how little they think of themselves, how little expect from their lives to understand how shocking it was that Groot sacrificed himself to save them. In that moment, when Groot uses “we” for the first time, he is using his power to heal those he cares about. He is telling them, you showed up, and so you are worth saving.

So where do you find yourself in this story?

Maybe you’re one of this mercenary crew, asking for someone to believe in you, to believe that you can change the world even as it’s trying to tear you down. Maybe you’re one of the NovaCorps, having to decide whether or not to give these people a chance despite their history.

And yes, I know that there are people, that there are relationships, that are so toxic we must, one-on-one, break those ties, for our safety and for the safety of others in our care. I’ve had to do this myself. There are people I will never let back into my life. One person cannot take down a Ronan, bent on destroying everything them just because they can. And people like this do exist.

But these toxic, destructive people remain part of our interdependent web. Even if we can’t be in direct relationship with them, we will always be in indirect relationship with them, and so by pouring love and and kindness out into that interdependent web of all existence, we can support them from a distance. Intimacy is not always required to provide care.

A large, healthy system, like the one this congregation has worked so hard to become, is strong enough to take a risk as a community when the risk is too great for one single person to bear. Like the criminal protagonists and the NovaCorps, we are stronger when we work together to fight a common enemy for the good of all. Like Jesus, we have the power to heal those who come to us, who willingly join with us.

And here’s the really difficult part of the story for us to bring into our daily lives. After the Guardians defeat Ronan, after they save the planet, and stop the spread of destruction to the rest of the universe, NovaCorps erases their criminal records. Builds them a ship to replace the one they lost in the battle. And then lets them go free.

They are given a clean slate, and the chance for a new beginning. The past is forgiven, but not forgotten — there is an understanding that if they break this new covenant, there will be repercussions. But until that happens, they will be treated like any other member of the community. I love this, because it’s not a magical panacea that erases everything about their lives and personalities.

Your past is always a part of who you are. Their personalities have not changed, but now? Now they have a vision of the future in which they are empowered to make better choices, despite the systems of oppression that have formed them. The sequel hasn’t come out yet, so I’m sure we’re going to see some bad choices yet to come. They’re flawed. We’re flawed.

But as the story of the Canaanite woman tells us, even Jesus was flawed. Groot was flawed. We can be flawed and still be powerful beings co-creating the universe, one choice at a time. We can still recognize the respect the ways in which we are connected to one another, from our closest friends and family to strangers on the other side of the globe.

We are Groot.


I Love Supergirl


I have confession to make.

I love Supergirl.

I watched it last year as it aired, and recently my seven-year-old daughter asked to watch it. So I’ve been watching it again, knowing what’s coming, and experiencing it through her eyes for the first time.

Like most freshman shows, it takes an episode or few to get its bearings, to figure out what it is and what kind of stories it’s going to tell. So if you passed on it last year, I’m here to tell you to try it again, as the full first season was just added to Netflix streaming in anticipation of season two beginning on The CW this month.

You may be asking yourself, “But why on earth (or on Krypton, for that matter) is this worth a mention in our congregational newsletter?”

Without going too far into spoiler territory, the narrative arc of season one is about how unregulated, thoughtless consumption of resources destroyed one planet, and asks how far one is willing to go to prevent that from happening to another. It tells a story about love of a planet not just for what it can give us, but how we can exist on it and with it. Supergirl asks us to look at how the interdependent webs of our lives are inextricable from the physical water, earth, and air around us.

Like all the best stories, the external conflicts are directly related to the internal ones. Kara Zor-El was old enough when Krypton was destroyed that she has a young girl’s memories of its culture, its ethics, and her own family members. Now that she has grown up, she is discovering the nuance required to navigate worlds full of multi-faceted, multi-layered beings, who often have as much conflict within themselves as they do with others. Loss, grief, and isolation exist alongside joy, satisfaction, and belonging. And as she’s learning about what it means to be a human, she is also passing on the lessons she learned from Krypton about working together, sharing burdens, and bonds of love that go beyond family ties.

Ultimately, for me, the show asks us about our choices. How much will we sacrifice for the greater good? How will we find ways to work together when we are afraid? When we are angry? Supergirl, like all good stories, helps us to think about our own lives and the choices we make every day to live into our covenants with each other.


Frozen Flower Communion: Call to Worship

This is the Call to Worship I wrote for our Frozen-themed, multigenerational Flower Communion at First UU Nashville on April 10th, 2016.



Do you wanna build a snowman? It doesn't have to be a snowman...
Do you wanna build a snowman? It doesn’t have to be a snowman…

We gather this morning in worship, one congregation made from many lives, holding each other in joys and in sorrows.

We gather to celebrate our differences, to learn from each other, to live into the promise that we are better together.

We gather to create community that sustains itself by using the power of love and understanding, both in times of conflict and in times of peace.

We gather this morning into a story of a relationship between two sisters, broken apart by fear and misunderstanding, and how they came together again by hearing, seeing, being with each other; how they came to let go of the burdens unfairly placed on them by the mistakes of others.

We gather this morning, so that we may always remember — even when we hide ourselves away behind a door, there will always be someone who loves us knocking on the other side, calling us back to our best selves.

Welcome to this sacred time in this gathered community.


Honest Work

This is the text of a sermon given at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville on September 6th, 2015.

Honest Work


Listen to the sermon:

Honest Work

So I have this friend, Allison, we’ve been friends since 2nd grade. We’ve watched each other grow up. She found her calling as a jeweller, and she’s really good at it, and she amazes me with what she can do — it starts in her brain as an image, and then she takes that image and figures out what raw materials she needs to make it a reality, and then she uses her hands and eyes to craft the most beautiful things to put on our beautiful bodies. And that’s what I love about her work — she doesn’t just make things for their own sake, but in her vision she sees how they will interact with necks and wrists and fingers in movement. She sees how everything interconnects, that we are bodies in motion, and she crafts things that honour those connections, that understanding that we aren’t static beings. We exist in relationships, we exist to create.

Now, I can’t do what she does. I have zero sense of design or spatial architecture. Josh can tell you about how I made him layout the photos for my final project in Vocational Praxis, or the boxes full of unused scrapbooking supplies in our home. But, what Allison and I do have in common is cutting stones.

I believe that the purpose of religious leadership is to help people into the best version of themselves — to enable them to find wholeness of mind, body, and spirit. And my favourite metaphor these days is that of a gem cutter. The raw material, the stone, can be used in any number of industrial efforts as nothing more than a means to an end, one part in the unthinking machine. The raw material is left undeveloped, becomes invisible. The stone has the potential to be beautiful in its own right, bringing energy into its facets and then reflecting it back out in new ways, but first it must be shaped in order to maximize its potential. And cutting a stone into a gem is delicate, difficult work that must be done with extreme care… or else the stone will lose more of itself than it needs to. Sometimes, it can even shatter under the pressure.

One of the fabulous things I learned about in seminary is something called transformational leadership, which is when we use our abilities to help others realize their abilities. It requires recognizing that others’ interests, motives, and needs are as valid as our own. Once we understand this, we realize how difficult it actually is to come together and work for a common future, for a common good, for a better world for everyone — even moreso for UUs, because we don’t even have the requirement of shared beliefs or creeds as a starting place. Some people mistake our seven principles for those things, but they’re calls to action, an ethical test of the strength of our covenants. Those seven principles ask us to stay at the table even when it’s harder to stick around than to leave.

So, here we are with all this raw material that we’re supposed to make into US — how do we fashion ourselves into precious gems? Well, I’m a UU, so I don’t have any answers, just more questions.

How do the multitude of our personal beliefs, our individual spiritual journeys, the billions of choices we make, work to manifest a world that recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of every person? How do we make justice, equity, and compassion a reality for everyone? How do we fit ourselves into the interdependent web that connects us with Syrian refugees dying in our oceans, that connects us with the construction workers treated like slaves in our own community? It’s the honest work, the hard work, of Unitarian Universalists to look at the patterns of our lives and identify what makes us tick, how we have each been shaped, by the things we consider important. For me, there’s been two primary elements: the stories we tell and the relationships we build.

I was pretty young when I first learned about all the texts that didn’t make it into the “official” Christian Bible. Not only did this discovery instill in me a lifelong obsession with fantastic words like “codex”, but I became fascinated with the exclusionary nature of history and its editors. When I found The Other Bible on the shelf in some enormous chain bookstore years later, it was the perfect gift to me from the universe. There, in one book, were selections from the Jewish Pseudepigraphia, Kabbalah, Haggadah, Midrash, Christian Apocrypha, and Gnostic scriptures, and that was only the tip of the iceberg. I had proof, there in my hands, that there was more to the idea of sacred scripture than the book in the pews at my friends’ churches, and that divine inspiration was not limited to those few pages. Humans had decided what was relevant centuries ago, and so, therefore, could humans continue to decide what will be relevant to them in the here and now.

When did you first encounter the idea that some people choose to tell certain stories over others?

One of the works I found most relevant to me was The Song of the Lioness quartet of novels by Tamora Pierce. I wish I could tell you how I first found them, as their profound effect on me is worthy of a great beginning. But they have become so steeped into my formation as a person that I can’t even remember how old I was when I read them for the first time, or what the context of my life was. All I know is that I must have been old enough to have an allowance and to walk around the YA section of a bookstore. The story of Alanna: her quest for knighthood, her struggle with her femininity, her profound faith, her bodily awakening, her growth as a healer without losing her strength as a warrior — it spoke to me at every level of my being. Her coming of age is intricately tied into a plot of power and ethics that literally tears the land apart and costs her some of her dearest companions, and yet she uses the whole of her life experience: love, training, trust, faith, friendship, and scholarship, to fulfill her sworn duty to her king, her country, and her Goddess. I still reread these books at least once a year.

Who is the character you return to, over and over again, to remember the very first person you wanted to be as you grew up?

I could go on and on about the stunning work of art and collaboration that is The West Wing, including the faults that it retains as part of its manifest humanity of a particular time and place. What got to me was how those characters are, without a doubt, some of the most privileged, educated people in their universe. And yet, they live their lives for something larger than themselves, humbled at every turn by the immensity of the call to justice and democracy. They come from different faiths — some none at all — and they still always believe in the mission and in each other. This show told me it was possible to both have privilege and strive for humility at the same time; in the words of the Hebrew prophet Micah: to do justice, to love steadfastly, and to walk humbly.

What have you watched, or read, or heard in your life that made you realize what gifts and privileges you had to make the world a better place?

Then, there was The Vicar of Dibley. This is when I learned how profoundly representation matters. I have felt the call to ministry for most of my life, but I never saw anyone who looked like me, or talked like me, or thought like me, in ministry. Not in my friends’ churches growing up here in Nashville. Not in my books, my music, on my screen. They were male, and only used limited scripture, and pop culture taught me they all party poopers. I was one of the teenagers in Footloose, not the bible-thumping father. And then, there was Geraldine Granger, the Vicar of Dibley. She is written and presented as a woman who navigates the delicate road between respecting tradition and keeping religion relevant. She pastors to the village in her care with love and compassion at the same time she pushes them to be better people. And the show was not afraid to remind us that she also makes mistakes. She actively resists the idea that she cannot be a minister because she a woman. She is both human and holy, always seeking to be better, and she changed how I saw myself.

What story in your life made you see yourself differently, made you ask, “What if?”

Even with that shift in my self-perspective, though, I knew I could never limit myself to just Hebrew and Christian scriptures enough to be a traditional Christian, so I tried other ways to reach people through stories. I wrote a few songs, a movie. Eventually I realized I didn’t have the patience for the “Hollywood” side of screenwriting. Executives were more concerned with the fact that I was a woman than whether or not my years as a devoted geek meant I could actually write a sci-fi thriller that would appeal to teenage boys. During the last writers’ guild strike, I faded away and couldn’t bring myself to go back.

And this is where the relationships come in. Without relationships, life cannot fully call us to where we belong. Relationships are how I realized I am a Unitarian Universalist.

A long, long time ago, my mother attended the Quaker meeting here. The youth consisted of me, another girl my age, and a toddler. The lay leaders didn’t really know what to do with us, but bless them, because at least they knew they had to do something. One day, they brought me and Valerie, the other tweener, to the day activities of a local UU youth con. Now, to understand the importance of this event, you need to know that the school I went to here in Nashville was small and sustained itself on the immaturity of mean girls. Now, full disclosure, I’m Facebooks friends with most of them now, and we’ve all grown up into much better people than we were. But I came to that youth con over twenty years ago expecting yet another day of trying, and failing, to be seen and heard.

And then, the most amazing thing happened. They welcomed me. And I don’t mean instant friendship based on common interests, like me and Allison. What made this so amazing was that I wasn’t like them, and it didn’t matter. It was just so natural to them to include me. And I carried that with me for the next twenty years, tucked away, until my first child was on the way. And I remembered those youth, and I wanted my kid to be just like them. So we joined a UU congregation.

Of course I had finally found a religious home that agreed with me about variety of human experiences and the inspiration we draw from everything around us. But by then, I had internalized so many things that I thought I couldn’t do. I had a mortgage to pay, a kid and a spouse to feed and clothe, and at that point in my life, even if I had finally found my religious home, my call to ministry was much more of a daydream than a possible reality.

So even when I had stuff of a religion clearly telling me I could, in fact, take up this call, it was the people who showed me the way to do it. The deeper I threw myself into congregational life the more I heard from those around me that I should consider ministry.

And the most important thing I take away from this revelation at that point in my life, is how important it is to have relationships that not only teach you about yourself, that show you where your facets should go, but that also steady your hand when you have to make those cuts into your stone. People who are willing to give of themselves to make sure you have the right tools for success. The only reason I am here today is because I have the privilege of people in my life who believe in me, who are willing to keep a roof over our heads and put food in our fridge. You all were my first choice for a teaching congregation, but without the coincidence of my family also living here, there was no way I could have moved here, and survived, for an entire year.

How many others have let their call fade into a daydream because they don’t have the resources to take that leap? For whatever reason, they don’t see themselves in the stories in their lives. They are tied by circumstance to a particular job, a particular location, a particular path, because the consequences of failure would have a much worse effect on them and their loved ones than the slim chance of success.

Our first principle calls us to not only make manifest people’s inherent dignity, but also their worth. Our seventh principle calls us to always remember our interconnectedness, not just with the ecology of the planet, but also with each other. The Unitarian Universalist youth of Nashville taught me that. I can’t remember any of their faces, or their names, but they left an indelible mark on my being, and my ability to realize the fullness of that being. So how do we honour that legacy, and fulfill the call to action our principles demand of us? In true UU fashion, I believe the answer is found in questions we can ask others in addition to ourselves:

What do you love?

What do you need?

How can I help?