I am so proud to be a part of this church. What a vibrant, big-loving, truth-telling people you are. I hope you hear that this morning.
Part of our commitment to being a Welcoming Congregation, for that is what this the First Parish of Watertown is, means considering what it means to truly belong in this place. And we can do this in a myriad of ways. Being a place of welcome can mean a lot of things. But at its core, and underneath all the different ways that we express and live welcome, is LOVE, which is the closest we Unitarian Universalists get to a theological center point that we can agree upon: LOVE. For what is radical welcome, what is building a place of belonging but being an Embodied House of Love? Love made manifest.
And this is challenging. Because embodying love means opening your mind and heart to the new and the unknown, and there is no final destination here. We do not say ‘welcome’ and call it a day. Being welcome, living welcome, embodying welcome–these are ongoing practices. Some of which can rock our worlds and worldviews. And these are some of the touchstones that make this our Unitarian Universalist tradition alive. This is the reason we call ourselves a living tradition, because we commit to never stop stretching and growing, loving bigger and bigger and bigger. It’s so dang inconvenient, but so very magnificent too.
In this service we have been talking about our transgender siblings. People whose bodies, whose identities, are not historically welcome in our culture. People whose bodies and identities are questioned as being ‘valid’ or ‘real’–up for debate by those of us who inhabit bodies and identities that fit gender norms, or what in our culture is considered “normal,” “acceptable,” and “familiar.”
And look, I am a child of the 70’s. I didn’t grow up with words like ‘transgender’ or ‘gender identity.’ I was taught about girls and boys. She’s and He’s. Period. I have had to learn this. It’s okay. We aren’t bad people for not knowing what we don’t know. We aren’t bad people if we find it new and maybe even confusing at first. We commit to learning and being learners.
And something that has really helped me in this learning is to consider my body. Start here.
One of my favorite people, Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor, writes in her book An Altar in the World that the practice of wearing skin, for that is what she calls it, that the practice of wearing skin means being able to take in one’s body and say, “Here I am. This is the body like no other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.” And this body–this our souls’ address–connects us to other bodies. For, and these are Brown’s words, “for one of the truer things about bodies is that it is just about impossible to increase the reverence I show mine without also increasing the reverence I show yours.”
In Christian teachings, followers of Jesus were called to honor the bodies of their neighbors as they honored their own because Jesus’ ministry was all about encountering and loving bodies who were utterly discounted by the world in which they lived. Those were the original Christian teachings. These discounted bodies were the people Jesus hung out with. These were the banished bodies that he called Holy. And the foundational Love that our modern Unitarian Universalist faith holds tight to–that theological centerpoint–is tightly tethered to our Universalist history and Christian theology which preached the gospel of God as Love and no one–not one soul on this Earth–being beyond this love. Radical, stretched, love.
And it’s helpful to look to our practice of this Big Love as one of widening circles. Circles that expand out of our own lives and stretch out and out and out. And that being in our own bodies–no matter how shattered or discounted or inconvenient–and understanding them to be blessed houses of the soul contribute to our ability to see other bodies as the same: blessed houses of the soul.
Maybe you will find it helpful, as I have, to consider how you treat your own body. How you talk about it. How you honor it or don’t. How you belong to it or don’t. And then draw the circle out. Consider this place, this house of belonging and welcome. Where are the boundaries of belonging here? Where can we expand? Being a Welcoming Congregation means we commit ourselves to drawing these circles wider so that we might be a true home, a church body, for ALL SOULS.
And I am so proud that this congregation is already asking many of these questions and that you have been for a long while. That in this place we can gather today and center the names of those tragically lost this year to bring these trans peoples into this our circle of belonging and care–I am so proud that we do this here. And let us keep going! Let us commit ourselves to being learners. Stretch your love. Be welcome.
And in the spirit of drawing the circle wider I invite you to take some of the names of our lost trans beloveds home with you today. For those present, a basket is being placed on our joys and sorrows table with each of these names printed on pieces of paper. If you are joining us from home today Allison is going to put a link in the chat for you. Choose a few to look up. Come to know them. Where were they from? Who did they love? Get to know the soul these bodies housed. Put these names on your Thanksgiving table. Let us do this together. And let us do it with love in our hearts and welcome on our lips.
And I say to you may it be so.
And now let us join our hearts in song.