One Tribe One People
preached for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing
by the Rev. Kathryn A. Bert
September 14, 2014
We stopped short of the last verse to that hymn because, if you read ahead, it is a Kwanzaa hymn. Kwanzaa is a holiday we haven’t celebrated here, mostly because it is an African American and Pan-African holiday, and this is largely a European American congregation. Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture, and as such, is one we can all relate to, regardless of the origins of our particular ancestors. The message this morning is one of unity. We are one tribe, one people. We are focusing on what is similar underneath, but this is not in order to deny our minimize our differences. Because they are what makes life interesting and beautiful. That video with the song by the Black Eyed Peas works because of the contrast between the images of people hating and hurting one another because of their differences and the images of different people coming together as one people. It’s an anthem to our desire to celebrate not only our differences but our underlying common humanity.
Our underlying common humanity. Sounds simple enough, but you and I both know how very hard it can be. Because one part of being human is that we make mistakes, and that we are different from one another, no matter how similar we may appear on the surface. So what one person says with one intent, can be heard with a completely different impact and meaning. Just talking to one another can be fraught with difficulty. Much less trying to actually accomplish a task or, heaven forbid, to change the status quo. I am amazed sometimes that we ever get anything done at all in this world.
But we do. We’ve been trying to explain it and understand it for a very long time. Last week in worship you heard some very traditional Jewish and Christian scripture: The Tower of Babel, the Jewish scripture which the kids are studying this month, and 1st Corinthians, a Christian scripture. Both texts are attempts by the ancients to explain this really hard-to-understand phenomenon of our concurrent unity and diversity.
In the Tower of Babel, the people who speak one language and work together,are able to build a tower so high it almost reaches the heavens… which is a little threatening to God, who doesn’t like all that human power and enterprise, and so God confuses their languages and scatters them across the face of the earth, making it difficult to join together and work as one. Kind of an odd story about the hubris of humanity, but which kind of comes off as a story about a jealous God.
But there’s underlying truth the story, of course, because human power, unfettered, has led to many problems and much pain, environmental degradation and global and personal violence, to mention a few.
The solution of scattering humanity and confusing their languages may seem odd…but it does slow us down and prevent us from moving too fast to conclusion and action.
It is hubris that invented margarine, for example – with our limited knowledge we thought that animal fat was always bad. Now, of course, that science has been put into question. We now know that trans fats, found in lots of margarine, were really bad for us, and now there is new evidence that eating some animal fat is not so bad.
My Grandpa Norrie could have told you that the world would come around on the issue of butter, for example. Grandpa was born in 1904 and died in 1999, so he lived through all the changes towards margarine, but didn’t live long enough to see it all come back round. He never gave up on butter, never believed, despite heart condition, high cholesterol, that butter was bad for you, no matter what the experts said.
You might say that he was ignoring the scientific evidence, but it turns out, he was right. I believe he was listening to different and perhaps more reliable scientific evidence: the evidence of his own body. But that is a sermon for another day.
I was speaking of how human hubris led to margarine, and how the story of the Tower of Babel warns us to be careful about building our towers toward the heavens thinking that we know better than Nature.
and then last week there was first Corinthians about how we are all different parts of the same body.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18
The imagery speaks to a truth, that we are all connected, and that we all have different gifts. We are united and we are unique.
Board president, K. Lovell, last week talked about the Beloved Community and how when we focus on what we love, we can care more about us than me.
That is the challenge of Beloved Community – to care about interests beyond our own, and people beyond our reach. Stephen Vrla last week spoke to life beyond our own, and life beyond our reach.
Unity is what are focusing on this month, and we introduced the subject with a diversity of speakers on purpose. Because both are true. We are each unique, but we can be united. We are One Tribe, One People.
I think of church as a microcosm of the world at large, a practice ground for expressing our uniquenesses in service to a united goal of Beloved Community. As a practice ground, this is a place of learning. In the past few years, we have become more intentional about that learning environment. We have become, what we often refer to as a “teaching congregation” – and by that I mean, we have nurtured learners of all ages, and introduced the training of ministers into our repertoire. Duffy Peet was our first ministerial intern. He now serves the Pocatello Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Idaho. Greg Martin was our second intern. He serves the Unitarian Universalist Community Church located in Portage, MI. Both these men had unique gifts and were united in a desire to serve the beloved community of Unitarian Universalism and the world.
Last year, we did not have ministerial interns in the same way. Nic Cable had arrived with his now wife who is attending law school at MSU. A lifelong UU and graduate of Chicago Theological Seminary, he was looking for something to do until Hattie graduates. and Julica Hermann, a member of this congregation, began seminary herself intending to become a UU minister. Last year was an amazing learning opportunity for all of us, and Julica discovered that she had a ministry to do that did not involve seminary or ordination, but rather a continuation of the life coaching career she had begun. She seeks to return to this congregation not as an aspiring minister, but as a congregant. and I think that’s probably a very hard thing to do.
We gave Nic the title of Young Adult and Campus Minister last year, fulfilling a dream that the late George Thornton had for the congregation with a small bequest for campus ministry. That money did not go far, and the discernment of Nic and the young adult community here was that they desired to be integrated into the life of this congregation, not served separately and apart. And Nic realized that he had a great learning environment available to him here, and that he wanted to structure that learning in a more formal way.
So, this year we are calling him an intern – though he will still do another internship when he leaves here – and we’ve named an internship committee for him that will help him set some learning goals and guide him on this journey. Thank you to Daniel DeVaney, Shawn Riley, Lynn Scott, and Deb Wiese, for agreeing to serve in this capacity.
I am explaining all of this to you because I believe that part of being a teaching congregation is to understand how ministers are educated and formed. Ministers, like everyone else, are connected to others and exist in relationship. We are not isolated beings, but united in purpose with congregants, but unique in our role with the church.
We generally commission our interns, so that everyone has some shared understanding of their role here. Interns serve as ministers-in-training. They have the luxury of trying on the role, but with an added safety net of having a supervisor who is behind the scenes responsible.
As this internship is different – primarily he has fewer hours than either Duffy or Greg – we are specifying his internship as “for multigenerational community” – so that you and he are aware that he remains focused on helping this congregation integrate young adults into the life of the congregation and serve people of all ages together. The reason Nic is with us for fewer hours is that he also has a full-time job with the Unitarian Universalist Association – a job that he conducts from here – his office is upstairs shared with the Peace Education Center.
You saw Nic a lot in worship last year – he regularly served as Celebrant at the 9:15 service. This year, he is focusing on different aspects of the ministry – this fall, on stewardship. In the winter he will be working with our children and youth, and in the spring, likely to take on one-on-one and small group work with adults. Nic will be with us for the next two years, and will probably focus on completely different aspects of the ministry in the following program year.
And so, if you’re ready, I’d like to ask a few people to come forward. Nic, our Board President, Kay Lovell, and members of the internship committee, Daniel DeVaney, Lynn Scott, Shawn Riley and Deb Wiese …
Kay Lovell, President of the Board:
Will the members and friends of the congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, those gathered here this morning please rise as able? Nic Cable, recognizing your sense of call to serve the cause of liberal religion and having received the Master of Divinity degree from Chicago Theological Seminary, we desire to commission you as a Ministerial Intern for Multigenerational Community. Among us as you continue to learn your calling, we would have you speak the word of truth in freedom and love, ministering alike to our joys and sorrows, setting forth no less by your example than by your precept, the principles of our free faith. Are you ready to enter upon this ministry?
Nic: I am.
Congregation: We, the members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing do hereby commission you, Nic Cable, to serve us as Ministerial Intern for Multigenerational Community this year. We do pledge ourselves to walk with you in the unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in truth and love.
President of the Board: Will the internship committee please respond?
Internship Committee: In celebration, in the spirit of love and with great pride, we affirm this commissioning.
Nic: Mindful of its privileges and its responsibilities, I take up the ministry to which you commission me. I do pledge myself, so far as it lies in me, to speak the truth and love both publicly and privately and to fulfill the offices of the ministry to the best of my abilities. It is with understanding and faith that I pledge myself to continue our mutual search; to nurture and kindle curiosity; to encourage growth and sensitivity; to foster a sense of wonder about the universe and to act courageously in our quest for truth, peace, and justice.
Kathryn: And so it is my great pleasure, Nic, to hand you, for the time you are with us until about June of 2016, a nametag with your name and title on it.
Thank you all. You may be seated.
Aren’t we lucky to have such a healthy congregation that students seek us out to learn Beloved Community from us?
While we’re on the subject, I do want to mention that our Celebrant this morning, Edith Gibson, is also considering the UU ministry in her future. She has a degree from United Theological Seminary in the twin cities, and has submitted her paperwork to the UUA to begin this journey as well. We will keep you informed of her progress.
But aren’t we lucky to have such enthusiastic learners and teachers among us?
(I also improvised reference to Zachary Lindquist who is learning from our professional musicians and Jennifer and Gina’s relationship with the ASL interpretation, and the camera that was filming them.)
Growing and changing together is one of the phrases we repeat each week in worship, and I like that we take those words seriously. For as Stephen Vrla reminded us last week, without change, we die. Albert Schweitzer explained reverence for life as a single, uniting ethic. We have a will to live and a desire to flourish. . and because we are “life which wills to live, in the midst of life which wills to live,” we are responsible for protecting and promoting our own survival and flourishing as well as the survival and flourishing of all other living beings. That is, “It is good to maintain and to encourage life; it is bad to destroy life or to obstruct it.”
The quote on the front of your order of service is one of my favorite bumper sticker slogans. It just amuses me no end. I tend to laugh at tragedy – it’s a protective measure, I know. But this slogan - “When Jesus said love your enemies, I’m pretty sure he meant don’t kill them.” - points out the contradiction, the insanity, of using religion as an excuse to kill people. I believe the real message of most religions is that we are connected, united, in some way – that we are one tribe, one people, and that our divisions are transitory and illusory.
Religion is powerful because it speaks to our whole beings and our collective identity, and that power can be used for ill or for good. I am proud of all the ways in which members of this congregation seek to change the world for the better. Not only have many of you chosen work and careers that improve the world, but many of you also spend time not working for money on projects that help life flourish – whether it be environmental justice or immigration or prison reform. Feeding the homeless at Advent House or choosing a co-housing living situation. or Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Every second Sunday of the month, we donate all the money which goes into the offering plate to further a cause for justice. This month, in September, our money goes to support Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America founded by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts on December 15, 2012, in response to the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The organization quickly flourished into a leading force for gun violence prevention. Our local chapter is headed by long time member of this church, Linda Brundage.
“When Jesus said love your enemies, I’m pretty sure he meant don’t kill them.” I am pretty sure that Jesus wouldn’t support gun violence. There is such work to do in this world, to unite us in love and purpose, to help us recognize that we are One Tribe One People, that we are beautifully unique and beautifully connected.
Harry Belafonte recognized this when he wrote the song we’re about to sing. In his first introduction to the song, Belafonte said:
"I discovered that song in Africa. I was in a country called Guinea; I went deep into the interior of the country and in a little village, I met with a storyteller. And that storyteller went way back into African tradition and African mythology and began to tell the story about the fire, which means the sun, and about the water and about the earth and that he pointed out that all these things put together turn the world around. And that all of us are here for a very, very short time and in that time when we're here, there really isn't any difference in any of us if we take time out to understand each other. And the question is, do I know who you are, do you know who I am, and do we care about each other? Cause if we do, together, we can turn the world around."