Four people with taper candles light chalice framed by two rings

“Nevertheless, We Remembered” – April 16th, 2023

Apr 17, 2023

READING:

Our reading today comes from Muskogee or “Creek” Nation Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo.  It is called Remember.

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you…

…Remember.

SERMON:

In 2019, at the Spokane, Washington General Assembly–our faith’s annual, national conference–I attended my first UU Women’s Federation breakfast. The UUWF is a group I am proud to be a member of and it was one of GA’s highlights for me that year. They hold a gathering at every GA and a part of the morning together is getting to hear the winning sermon that the UUWF votes on out of hundreds of submissions. That year, the winner was Rev. Kimberly Debus. In her sermon she told the following story:

“Twenty-five years ago at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York a woman named Elizabeth Schell read a difficult story from the Hebrew Bible. It came from the Book of Judges and is a horrific tale of an unnamed woman who is violated and torn into twelve pieces, and whose violation then leads to the violation of countless other women. This is a text not included in lectionaries, this is a text to be avoided in worship. But Schell,” as Rev. Kimberly recounted, “was consumed by the story, and was compelled to make something of it. So she created a twelve-foot-long doll, in twelve pieces. When she first presented her at Union Seminary in 1999, the doll’s parts were strewn around the chapel, and during the service, that Elizabeth Schell offered, people gathered her and put her back together. Over the ensuing years, Elizabeth used her in workshops, retreats, and other worship services… leaning into messages of healing. This massive doll is covered not only in her original art, but with the names of those seeking their own healing, or healing for their ancestors, written as prayers and affirmations all over her…body.”

Big Woman, as she came to be called, became famous at Union. Rev. Kimberley was able to meet Elizabeth Schell and generously loaned Big Woman to her, so that Rev. Kimberley might “continue her journey.”  So Big Woman was there at that Spokane breakfast, propped up in the corner, having been divided up into four large pieces of checked luggage, and flown across the country with Rev. Kimberley to make our acquaintance.

Rev. Kimberley preached: “Her pieces are tied together, wearing names like scars, representing the hundreds of battles fought by women, for women…But her story isn’t just the story of women. It’s the story of all of us, battle worn, scarred, broken, exhausted. And today, Rev. Kimberly said, she is here – to hold our brokenness, and call us to healing.”

I can’t tell you what a thrill and honor it was to write on Big Woman’s arm: “Sophia Lyons, daughter of survivors.” That is what I wrote.

Her story isn’t just the story of women. It’s the story of all of us.

So often feminism, womanism, goddess theology and spirituality, gets mistakenly labelled as anti-men. This response and concern is what is called binary thinking: either/or. Either my identity is centered or yours is. Only two options. Either/Or thinking is a symptom of the Dominator Model, I learned about this model from the great scholar and activist Rhiann Eisler. The Dominator Model is what our global society currently adheres to. We­ have for thousands of years. It’s hierarchical. It ranks us as either inferior or superior–one part of humanity over the other.

Most often, when those who are deemed as superior in the Dominator Model are challenged, or asked to make space, or even to be quiet for a time, the auto-response is one of supplanting. Meaning, I am being replaced and erased. Either/or. Either my identity is centered or yours is. Only two options.

Our brains our literally wired to this default button response. That there couldn’t possibly be room for both of us, let alone ALL of us, at the same time. My friends, we see this play out in all anti-oppression work. Particularly right now among white folks. This does not make us bad people. We are all victims of this toxic system. Just hold that for a second.

A personal story: in 2017 I had a spiritual crisis. After taking a course on feminist theology, I realized that the God that I had come to know and love in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, my Higher Power, as many of us in recovery like to call God, this power was male. And I had never told anyone. And I felt embarrassed by this, and closeted. For how could I tell any of my UU fellows, how could I tell any of my strong and formidable feminist and womanist friends, that my God felt like a man.

And then I got angry. Because I felt like I had been taken advantage of, at my most vulnerable. You see the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous which is given to all newcomers–a book which contains detailed, step by step instructions about how to recover from a hopeless disease–this book with all its language about finding a Higher Power of one’s own understanding, refers to this power as ‘HE/HIM’ or ‘Father’ hundreds of times. Not unlike the bible. And while I thought I was quietly translating that word “He” to mean something more universal, the truth was that…I wasn’t. While I was not reared up in a church, I suddenly felt like so many of my fellow Unitarian Universalists whose childhood churches left them feeling the same way. A bit duped.

So, six years ago, I did what I thought to be the only reasonable thing. I kicked this God to the curb and told him to never return. I for sure used different words, but I won’t say them from the pulpit today.

And this spiritual crisis ultimately plopped me on the path of Dr. Carol Christ, who is one of the most celebrated and preeminent feminist and goddess theology scholars of our time. And in 2018 I was guided through Crete on a pilgrimage with her, I’ve shared about this time before, where we studied the ancient Neolithic and Minoan Goddess civilizations who taught us about a different model of living. For while they worshipped the Goddess, they were egalitarian. All people were equal. The Dominator Model didn’t exist–they had no understanding of it, until they were decimated by it. They were “both/and” peoples–the Partnership Model. This isn’t some wacky, fringe hypothesis. There are mountains of scholarly, evidence-based research to be found on this. I hope you will jump into it.

When I went to Crete, in spiritual crisis, having booted God out the door, angry at AA, I went to find a female Goddess to dethrone or supplant that male one–that’s about as far as my either/or brain could go. But what I found there was integration through re-membering. Tying back together the scattered parts. Like Big Woman. Re-membering. And through remembering. It’s a sweet word–that it can be both those things. Re-member/Remember.

On the first night together in Crete, our group sat in a circle on the roof of our hotel. We were asked to state our lineage using the first names of our female ancestors. We were given a minute or two to think about how far back we could go, which was its own feat–for I could only go back 3 or 4 generations. And we were asked to speak this lineage in a particular way, closing with words that I am about to share with you. On that night I said: “I am Sophia, daughter of Cass, daughter of Norah, daughter of Elsie, daughter of Katherine…I come from a long line of women, some whose names are known, many unknown, going all the way back to Africa.” Africa, as science now tells us, being the birthplace of us all. Where we homo sapiens began, more than 150,000  years ago. And this re-membering ritual was powerful for me. Healing. Gentle. Not unlike the wind in our Time for All Ages today.

Remembering the women, and we continued to do this in lots of different ways over the following weeks, remarkably helped me to call home that male God that I had banished too. What a surprise.

You see, when we carefully tie back together my, yours, our shared story of humanity and existence, all the way back to Africa, when we carefully tie this back together, re-member it, those who have been diminished and silenced/made invisible and forgotten, are retied. And this body–this big body–is made whole. We aren’t supplanting, or replacing, kicking out the door with curse words, as I did, we are re-membering. Integrating. Do you see this? Do you see that nobody is whole or healed when any of our siblings in this world are apart? Or put on the hierarchical scale of value?

The Dominator Model dismembers us all. We have ALL been violated by it, not unlike our woman in the Book of Judges. Feminists and womanists aren’t out to get men. People of color aren’t out to get white people. We are out to get the system which has broken us all apart.

And there is a revolution brewing. There is healing to be found and had. A thrust for thriving is in the air. Our Unitarian Universalist faith is leading us in this right now. The young UU resistors are rising up and teaching us about ‘both/and’–showing us how to make room in this ever-widening circle. There is plenty of room they tell us! And that this plentiful, re-membering place– that is where God is. That is WHAT God is, they say.

And all of this–this great resistance movement–is meant to be beautiful and creative and healing and gentle and joyful! That is what I felt in Crete: JOY. Male God, Female God, Genderless, Gender-fluid God, evolving, creative God. Healing, Gentle God. That was the integration I discovered there.

Rev. Kimberly, at that UU Womens’ Federation breakfast, closed her sermon with this:

“Big Woman…invites us to make a choice in how to go forward. We always have the incredible opportunity to decide how we want to put the pieces back together. Despite the messages our culture sends, no matter how hard it can be to be our whole selves in a culture that isn’t made for us to be whole, we are whole anyway, and we can put ourselves aright, wearing the scars and the cracks as evidence of our beautiful, broken wholeness…”

In the spirit of all this, I pray that you can begin to trace your fingers over your lineages. Ask yourselves who you don’t know the names of, and why. Ask yourselves how your ancestors survived, who made this possible–for better or worse. Resist the urge to either/or this. You can love your ancestors and abhor their actions all at the same time. You can hold their names dear and hold other names dear too. Your hearts and minds and beings are big enough for all of this my friends. Tie these stories, all these stories, together. Re-member Big Woman–so much more than one part–all parts. All of humanity. One body. Resist supplanting. Resist and Remember.

I want to close by re-reading Remember to you. Joy Harjo’s beautiful poem:

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you…

…Remember.

Amen and May it be so. And we will not let NO keep us from this! Let’s sing that now:

#116 I’m on My Way

Reverend Sophia Lyons
Website | + posts

Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.

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