Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Welcoming Rev. Jacqueline Luck to East Tennessee

I was privileged to participate in the installation of my colleague, Rev. Jacqueline Luck, as minister of the Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Gray. It was a great service. I was invited to offer a word of welcome. I post it below:

I begin with a quote from a famous UU, Margaret Fuller:

“Reverence the highest, have patience with the lowest. Let this day's performance of the meanest duty be thy religion. Are the stars too distant, pick up the pebble that lies at thy feet, and from it learn the all.”

Jacqueline, it is an honor for me to be here. I am thrilled to participate in your installation. On behalf of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, I welcome you to East Tennessee.

I hope that you as I have will fall in love with this area. East Tennessee is a beautiful sacred place. Its mountains reverberate with ancient spirituality. You hear this spirituality in the music; you feel it in the fierce independence of those whose roots are firmly planted here; you breathe it in the gentle winds that embrace the oldest mountains on our continent.

It is also a place where many people are searching for authentic spiritual expression in communities that foster growth. Many people are looking for communities in which they can be free to question, to search, to embrace the sacred in all Her manifestations, and to participate in the work of justice and peace. You and I are both fortunate to be ministers in such communities.

In my short time here, I have found more and more people who resonate with the ethos of progressive religion and have been looking for others who share this ethos. Many have given up hope of finding these places. A man who joined our church last year said that he had been living in Elizabethton for 20 years and didn’t even know we existed.

He wrote me recently regarding the importance of communities like those you and I are privileged to serve:

“…[it is] for people who are not afraid of free thought, free will, enlightenment. This stage of my life is the ONLY time I ever wanted to go to church and it is because I finally have validation for the religious perspective that I developed myself in a vacuum. I finally have a community!”

For many people our communities are oases. They are places of healing and refuge.

But they are not only that. Our communities have a larger purpose. We have, I believe, a sacred calling to be agents of peace and justice in our world. To do that we cannot allow ourselves to exist in isolation. We need to link arms and find ways to work together, to share resources, and to be partners in our common task.

I also believe we have a sacred calling to let the people of East Tennessee know we are here. As that sage, Jesus of Nazareth, once told his disciples, “Don’t put your light under a bushel” we should be bold to let the light of progressive religion shine.

I can think of three ways in which we might consider working together in 2008.

In March, our congregation will be hosting a workshop, “Creating a Culture of Peace” that is a 16 hour workshop on training for active non-violence. It is a program for personal and social change. I hope we can be partners in this program.

In September, you will be hosting Michael Dowd, author of the recent book, “Thank God for Evolution!” If there is any way we might help promote and participate in helping you welcome him to East Tennessee, we would love to do that.

Finally, I am hoping that we might find ways to connect our young people. It is not easy being a progressive middle school or high school youth in this area. It is a challenge to provide opportunities for growth and service. I hope we might find a couple of opportunities to connect our youth in 2008.

I didn’t intend to get quite so specific in my words of welcome to you. Yet I didn’t want to give up an opportunity to publicly state my desire and the desire of our congregation to partner with all of you in significant ways.

“Reverence the highest, have patience with the lowest. Let this day's performance of the meanest duty be thy religion. Are the stars too distant, pick up the pebble that lies at thy feet, and from it learn the all.”

At last, in my words of welcome, I close with the wisdom of Molly Ivins. We lost her about this time last year. She reminded us that the cause for peace and justice is not easy. We will face opposition. We may lose more than we win. So we need to see our calling not as drudgery but as a joy. Whatever we do, we need to have fun. I will give Molly Ivins the last word:

So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth.

Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.