Worship transcript for July 26, 2020

Opening music

“Yonder Come Day”

Yonder come day! Day is a-breakin’
Yonder come day, o my soul
Yonder come day! Day is a-breakin’
Sun is a-risin’ in my soul!

Welcome (Rev. Rob Keithan)

Hello, and thanks for joining us for worship with All Souls!

I want to start with news about our clergy team for next year. Last week, Rev. Tony Coleman announced an unexpected change in his life, in that he and his family realized that it was best for them to relocate to Memphis. The good news is that, because church will continue to happen on-line for quite some time, Rev. Tony will continue working part-time for All Souls as our Minister of Adult Spiritual Development and as a worship leader. To support our ministry of congregational care, we’ve hired another minister to work part-time, which in the end gives us exactly the same staffing as last year but with different people in the roles. And I’m pleased to announce that our new Minister of Congregational Care is Rev. Louise Green. Louise served All Souls from 2004 to 2011, and has extensive experience in the exact skills sets needed to support a ministry of congregational care with a commitment to anti-racism and multicultural sensitivity. By sheer coincidence—or not, depending on how you think the universe works!—she was also our guest preacher last week.

The Board and Staff are well-aware that having only one minister of color working part-time is not acceptable in the long-term. Given that we were already in the transition of our senior minister, we filled the sudden vacancy with someone we knew was available, extremely well-qualified, and already familiar with–and known by many– at All Souls.

We believed this was a more responsible option than a rushed search, at a time that is off-cycle with the ministerial hiring process, where the pressure could easily lead to tokenization.

We will determine an end date for this staffing arrangement as soon as we, with leadership from our interim Senior Minister, Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, establish a timeline for running a hiring process with the time and integrity it deserves. Please feel free to reach out to Traci Hughes or me with any questions and comments.

And now, to our worship service. Our theme for today is “Breaking Points.” I know that many of us are close to, or actually are, experiencing breaking points in our own lives. And our world, and our nation, are at breaking points in so many ways.

As we’re mourning the loss of civil rights icons Rep. John Lewis and Rev. CT Vivian, our President is shamelessly using federal power, including the border patrol, to pursue his personal political goals. And as most schools are announcing this week that they will not resume in-person education in the fall, parents are scrambling for what to do. And coronavirus cases in the DMV are on the rise. There’s no way around it: this is not an easy time.

But we are not the first, and we will not be the last, generation to experience such challenges. We literally would not be here right now if our ancestors hadn’t been able to adapt to changing circumstances.

So may worship today lift our spirits and help us to find a way forward.

Come, let us worship together.

Chalice Lighting and Pastoral Prayer (Rev. Tony Coleman)

Will you join me in our chalice lighting?

While we may be separated physically, each closed into the sanctuary of our homes, let this light be an energy that connects us spiritually. Let it remind us of the power that lives inside each and every one of us, a power that grows rather than withers as we share it. May this time of worship be a time for nourishing and feeding that power, so that we can nourish and feed the world.

As we prepare ourselves for a moment of prayer, let us call to mind the names of the people, the joys, and the concerns our church carries this morning.

We call out the name, Rowan Caylor, along with his family, Marissa, Nick, and Milo. Baby Rowan is recovering right now from the latest of a series of surgeries, so we send him prayers for quick and peaceful healing, and we send his family prayers of strength as they care for him.

We call out the name of Chris Cochran’s father, Jerry, who is waiting for news as he recovers from a recent and very serious medical procedure.

We also call out the names of civil rights leaders Rep. John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian as our country continues to mourn the loss of these national heroes.

And finally, in the silence that follows, I invite you to call out the names of the people and the places that are on your heart this morning.

Let us continue in prayer.

Great and Gracious Spirit of Life,
we gather together in Your presence,
even as we find ourselves still gathering apart.

So many of us find ourselves weary and worn out by
the days turned weeks turned months of all
this distance. So many of us are ready for a return
to normal life, ready for a return to how things
used to be.

And yet, even as we grow weary and worn out
by all that is hard and different, we also know that
the normal we knew
left so much to be desired.
The normal we mourn was also, of course,
its own kind of broken, its own kind of hard.

In this time, in this moment, here at the threshold
of change, at the doorstep to the future,
at this breaking point of the new,
let us make time, yes, to grieve
and let us also make room to dream.

Let us dream of a time when our children
can play in parks that honor and celebrate
our nation’s heroes. Let us dream of a time
when our leaders lead with competence
and dignity. Let us dream of a country
that cares for its people, that cultivates
our potential, and carries on a tradition
of liberty and justice for truly all.

Great and Gracious Spirit of Life,
as we stand at the threshold of a new day,
let us grieve and let us dream,
boldly, deeply, and together.

Ashe and Amen.

Music (Jen Hayman and Rochelle Rice, vocals; John Lee, guitar)

“Spirit of Life” (words and music by Carolyn McDade) (sung in English and Spanish)

Fuente de amor, ven hacia mi
Y al corazon cantale tu compassion
Sopla al volar, sube en la mar
Hasta moldear la justicia de la vida
Arraigame, liberame
Fuente de amor, ven a mi, ven a mi

Spirit of life, come unto me
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice
Roots hold me close, wings set me free
Spirit of life, come to me, come to me.

Message (Rev. Keithan)

As I wrote in the introduction for today, our summer theme of “threshold” can be understood as a transition point, like a doorway. But a threshold can also be a breaking point where something gives way. And I don’t know about you, but these days I can see—and feel—breaking points all over the place. Some are good breaking points, like outrage and actual change following the death of George Floyd, and the announcement that the Washington football team will finally change its name. Other breaking points are, of course, bad. Like the strain on individuals and families from lack of food or income. Like the mental health breaking point of being isolated, and the grief of being apart from loved ones in sickness and death. Like the stress felt by parents with kids at home when there’s so few options for what to do.

There are some key differences between good and bad breaking points, but I think there’s at least one important similarity as well. So that’s what I want to reflect on today.

I want to talk about the bad breaking points first. The ones we want to avoid. As you might expect, one of the key variables is control. My friend Jenn just shared a meme with me that’s quite relevant. It’s an Instagram post from someone using the handle “Lessons from the Minivan”:

Society: Spend more time with your family. At the end of life, no one wishes they’d spent more time at the office. Money can’t buy happiness. Change your routine, change your life.

2020: Here ya go. Wishes granted.

Society: Not like that!

I suspect that all of us are feeling a loss of control, and there’s definitely aspects of it that are very real. There are things we cannot do, places we cannot go, and people we cannot be with. I think it’s also true, and important to recognize, that some of what we’ve lost is not ACTUAL control, but the ILLUSION of control.

Because, in reality, much of our lives are built around things that we cannot control. Things like health and employment can change in an instant. The fact that it’s happened globally is different, for sure. But many of these same dynamics could happen to us at any time: a serious illness. Job loss. A catastrophic accident.

Now, it’s not pleasant to live in fear, so I’m not suggesting that we spent more time reminding ourselves of what might go wrong. Instead, I’m suggesting that we take a lesson from earthquake resistant architecture. Since earthquakes cannot be prevented, the only real response is to make buildings that can handle them.

You’re probably aware that one of the keys is flexibility: buildings that can move and flex fare much better than ones that are rigid. What’s even better than a flexible building, though, is a flexible foundation. If the foundation is rigid, the rigidity transfers the full energy of the earthquake to the building. However, when the foundation itself is flexible, it absorbs much of the energy from the earthquake, and the building itself moves much less.

So, for us, what would it look like if the foundations of our lives and choices weren’t based on plans, or external factors, but on flexibility? So that when something shook our lives, it didn’t threaten to topple us over, but instead was something we could absorb and keep going? What would it look like to intentionally cultivate flexibility as a foundational value for us as individuals, as families, and as a community?

As an image to hold on to, look at, or imagine in your mind, a building with rigid foundations. Now imagine an earthquake, and feel how all that shaking is transferred directly to the building.

Now, instead, look at or imagine in your mind, a building with flexible foundations. When the earthquake shakes, the foundation moves back and forth, just as it was designed to do. And the building barely moves at all. I hope you can think of this imagery to help you have flexible foundations.

I want to share one another principle for helping us to avoid unwanted breaking points. It comes from research into what enables liberal and progressive people to have better relationships with conservative family members and friends, but it can also be applied to any relationship where there’s significant differences in expectations, like coming to terms with someone who’s let you down.

And expectations are key. In all the research I’ve seen, and in my own experience counseling both congregants and congregants, one of the hallmark changes that improves these relationships is a significant shift in expectations.

For people in these situations who have extremely high, and rigid, expectations of others, it’s much more likely that interactions are close to the breaking point. And therefore, by definition, those conversations are significantly more stressful and exhausting. Because people are coming in with expectations that have little to no chance of being met.

In these cases, shifting expectations means that we’re reclaiming our power. When our expectations are unreasonably high, we’re unconsciously giving the other person power, because a positive outcome is dependent on their actions.

When we define success by what we can control—like our expectations—we reclaim power. And that sense of agency, and the reduced levels of disappointment, help us to feel much better about ourselves and the interactions.

I believe we can apply this principle to the current pandemic situation as well: we need to seriously change our expectations. Whatever plans we had for ourselves, our families, church, work, education, friends—for everything—we need to relax our expectations.

Take a deep breath, or 2, or 10, or 20, and let go. What’s possible now is very different than what seemed possible before the pandemic, and there’s a lot of plans and expectations that we simply need to let go.

Now, I want to shift gears for a moment and talk about the good breaking points, related to injustice. The victories that in many cases took many decades to achieve. The Voting Rights Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act. Marriage equality.

In these cases there was definitely some flexibility, in terms of shifting strategies and tactics. But the expectations did, and needed to, remain high. When you’re fighting injustice, you don’t compromise on the goal. The foundations are NOT flexible, and they shouldn’t be.

The common theme I find, in how we approach both the bad and the good breaking points, is community. And not community in the sense of just anyone. Lord knows there’s a lot of people out there who are happy to give us terrible advice! I’m talking about community as the people we trust, and the people we know have similar values and priorities.

When it comes to having inflexible, or overly high, expectations, I think we’re much, MUCH more likely to do that when acting alone. First and foremost, the dominant culture promotes individualism as a self-defense mechanism, because individuals acting alone, and breaking alone, are not powerful.

Second, having privilege re-enforces individuality and isolation. The more privilege we have, the more likely it is that we’ll be inflexible, or have expectations of other people that they can’t possibly live up to, because privilege encourages isolation, competition, and perfectionism.

If you’re honest with people whose opinion you value and trust, and tell them about a tough relationship or situation, I doubt any of them will say “Even though it’s not reasonable, it’s not working and it’s making you completely miserable, you should keep doing that thing! Just ignore all the evidence and keep trying that impossible task!”

No, when we talk to people we trust, they’ll give us the same good support we’d give them. We need to talk with each about flexibility, and expectations, and help each other shift and relax.

And it’s important, so important, to remember: this individualism mentality is powerfully engrained by the dominant culture. It is not a personal failing. And, like racism, even though it’s not our fault it’s still our responsibility.

In terms of working for justice, we need trusted community to help us understand when to be flexible and when not to. And we need community to keep us going through the long struggle and inevitable setbacks.

And so, friends, I pray that we can let go of the things we cannot control, and focus on the things we can. We can cultivate flexible foundations that absorb the shock waves rather than knocking us down.

We can shift our expectations so that we’re not making our happiness dependent on what others do or don’t do. We can talk to each about our struggles.

And we can resolve to lean in, and lean on, and lift each other up in our work for justice, so those foundations and commitments stay strong.

This is my prayer for us today. Amen.

Music (Jen Hayman and Rochelle Rice, vocals; Matt McCleskey and John Lee, guitars)

“Dear Someone” (Gillian Welch)

I wanna go all over the world
And start living free
I know that there’s somebody who
Is waiting for me

I’ll build a boat, steady and true
As soon as it’s done
I’m gonna sail along in the dream
Of my dear someone

One little star, smiling tonight
Knows where you are
Stay, little star, steady and bright
To guide me afar

Blow, little wind, over the deep
For now I’ve begun
Hurry and take me straight into the arms
Of my dear someone
Hurry and take me into the arms
Of my dear someone

Offertory/Benediction (Rev. Coleman)

We thank you for joining us for this week’s long-distance worship service. If you can, we invite you to make a donation to All Souls, either online or by mail. Your gifts help ensure that the gift of our community continues and persists, even in these challenging times.

So, friends, as we stand on the threshold of this new week, let us go forth ready to withstand the breaking points that challenge us and ready to encourage the breaking points that lead to new life.