Welcoming our Full Selves
A Full Community Service
September 10, 2017
Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains, Grass Valley, CA
Opening Words – The Rev. Kevin Tarsa
When I first visited a Unitarian Universalist congregation 30 years ago I wasn’t sure what to expect and I wasn’t sure that the people would accept me or welcome me. At that time I did not know of any religious groups or churches that welcomed gay people like me.
It’s not the kind of thing I would have told people right away, usually I’d want people to get to know other parts of me first, but a UU Fellowship invited me to come speak about being a gay person. “Putting a Face on Homosexuality” was the title in the newspaper, so right away they knew about this part of me, and I knew that they were a very different kind of religious group than I had ever met before. They welcomed me. Completely. They were warm and kind and interested and interesting.
That was the very first, and for a long time the only, non-gay group of people in which I felt comfortable being out as a gay person, in which I could really be me fully and comfortably.
Gail Geisenhainer, tells the story of the first time she visited a UU congregation. She didn’t really want to go.
“I was thirty-eight years old, living in Maine, driving a snowplow for a living and feeling very sorry for myself when a friend invited me to his church. He said it was different. I rudely refused. I cursed his church. “All blank-ing churches are the same,” I informed him. “They say they’re open—but they don’t want queer folk. To heck with church!”
My friend persisted. He knew his church was different. He told me his church cared about people, embraced diverse families, and worked to make a better world. He assured me I could come and not have to hide any aspects of myself. So I went.
And I dressed sooooo . . . carefully for my first Sunday visit. I spiked my short hair straight up into the air. I dug out my heaviest, oldest work boots, the ones with the chainsaw cut that exposed the steel toe. I got my torn blue jeans and my leather jacket. There would not be a shred of ambiguity this Sunday morning. (meaning that they would know exactly what kind of person she was) They would embrace me in my full Amazon glory, or they could fry ice.
I carefully arranged my outfit so it would highlight the rock-hard chip I carried on my shoulder, I bundled up every shred of pain and hurt and betrayal I had harbored from every other religious experience in my life, and I lumbered into that tiny meeting house on the coast of Maine. [She was just daring them to welcome her.]
I expected the gray-haired ladies in the foyer to step back in fear. That would have been familiar. Instead, they stepped forward, offered me a bulletin, and a newsletter, and invited me to stay for coffee. It was so . . . odd! They never even flinched!
They called me “dear.” “Stay for coffee, dear.”
I stayed for coffee. I stayed for Unitarian Universalism.
Over time, the good folks of that church loved up the scattered parts of me and guided me from shattered to whole; from outcast to beloved among many. And those folks listened to me.”
From “A Different Church” by Gail R Geisenhainer in UU World, Fall 2012.
Starhawk writes that “we are all longing to go home, to some place we’ve never been.” A place where people listen to us, see us as we are, welcome us as we are. A place where people “[love] up the scattered parts of [us] and [guide us] from shattered to whole; from outcast to beloved among many.” A place where, maybe for the first time, we can be… free.
May you and I, all of us together, be such a home for one another and for those at our door who are still dreaming of such a place – a home where the light of love, the light of peace, the light of hope, the light of welcome shines on every face.
Entering the Story Kristin Famula, Acting Director of Religious Education
Today, and this month, we are exploring together this theme of “welcome”.
Especially the kinds of welcome that sometimes are a little uncomfortable, or require courage.
We’re going to be thinking about how we…
welcome a gay man when it’s not common to do so;
Or how we welcome a person with spiked hair and torn jeans.
We’re going to be thinking about all of us at UUCM – and how we make our space a welcoming place for all the people who might show up here.
We’re also going to consider the parts of ourselves – the pieces of our identity – that we choose to show – or hide away when we’re not sure how other people will receive them.
Sometimes it’s little things – like sometimes, when I’m meeting people for the first time, I’ll wear long sleeves to cover my tattoos – so that people don’t create the wrong impression of me.
(Do some of you have things about you that you can hide if you decide to?)
AND, sometimes, I make sure my tattoos are showing proudly when I meet certain groups of people – because I do want them to understand that side of me.
There are other things I can hide if I want to…
Sometimes when I’m meeting people for the first time, I don’t say that I work for a UU church, or I don’t talk about my peacebuilding work.
(Are there parts of you that you don’t talk about?)
AND, sometimes, I make sure those pieces of my identity are shared proudly.
Sometimes, there are parts of me, that no one knows about for a loooong time – or ever.
(Is it the same for you?)
And sometimes there are things that you can’t cover up. When you can’t just wear long sleeves to cover up pieces of you – and so you just don’t go to certain places because you’re not sure (or you ARE sure) about how you’ll be welcomed.
(Are there pieces of who you are – that you aren’t comfortable with – or you don’t know how people will react – so you don’t share them?)
I wonder what pieces of you you bring to UUCM – and what pieces you leave behind?
What parts of you don’t come to church on Sunday? What parts do you want to bring in order to be your full self? Sometimes we dare people to welcome us – all of us – and sometimes we don’t bring all of us.
We’re going to read a story this morning about someone who risked bringing their full self to the world … let’s see what happens.
Story Brontorina by James Howe and Randy Cecil
Brontorina is a dinosaur who dreams of dancing, but Brontorina is too large to fit in Madame Lucille’s dance studio and doesn’t have the right shoes. The mother of a student makes a special pair of shoes and Madame Lucille realizes that the problem is not that Brontorina is too large, it’s that her studio is too small.
Reflection: The Rev. Kevin Tarsa
“One of the things I appreciate about this story is the way that the dance teacher and the dance students find a way to think outside their box. At first, the question they are asking is “Does Brontorina fit in our room?” That’s the usual question. “She’s bumping up against our ceiling! She’s making a mess! Does she really fit in our room?”
But eventually, as they learn to see Brontorina as the true ballerina she is – especially after someone notices and is kind enough to make her a special pair of shoes just her size, which helps other people to see her as a ballerina too – then the teacher and the students change their question from “Does Brontorina fit in our room?” to “How can we make room for Brontorina?” “How can we find room for Brontorina to be who she is with us?”
In other words, they made room for Brontorina in their hearts first. like the gray-haired ladies who invited Gail to “stay for coffee, dear.”
Never underestimate the power of a sincere invitation to stay for connection or to come back. In my case it was Ruth Gamble who said, “I look forward to seeing you next week.” She didn’t even ask whether I’d be coming back. I did come back. I came back for Unitarian Universalism.
We can hear the Brontorina story from Brontorina’s point of view, or from the Dance Academy’s point of view.
Is there a part of you – your head, your heart, or your spirit, maybe – that feels like it’s bumping up against a ceiling that is a little too low in your life, or pressing against a wall that feels a little too close, or do you feel like you keep knocking over other people’s…stuff…when what you really need is room to dance who you are and what matters to you?
If you are wanting to be more fully and truly who you are at your core, frightening as that possibility may be, what part of you do you really hope other people will see and welcome in you? Is there a way you might make that known?
And from the other side of the story:
Are you noticing people whose heads, hearts or spirits seem to be bumping up against our current ceilings, people who might need more room, might need to be welcomed especially thoughtfully, gently, tenderly, courageously, when they walk through our doors looking…..different…..with spiky personalities, and torn hearts and leathered layers of emotional protection and carefully arranged chips on their shoulders.
How willing are we to think outside our own “boxes,” outside our usual rooms – outside the way we always do things in order to welcome the person who doesn’t look like most of us, or act like most of us, or believe like we think most of us believe?
From either perspective, inside or outside, welcoming – making room – happens first in our hearts, and then has to be lived in what we say and do. It is a spiritual practice to offer welcome. It means revealing something of who we are, risky, yes, and it means taking the initiative and responsibility, as members and friends, to be the welcoming team at UUCM – all of us, always, so that the light in your eyes helps people know that this just might be a spiritual home for them.
I invite you into such a spiritual practice this year.
The thing is, when we make more space for others, in our hearts and in our congregation, we create more space for ourselves too, even the parts of ourselves that we don’t always let people know or see.
And the more we can do that here together, with each other…the more we can do that in this city, in this county, in this country, in this world.
Reflection: Kristin Famula
We feel really strongly about this at UUCM.
We want you – each of you and ALL of each of you – to be welcomed in and loved for your full self. And we want to make space for all of the other dinosaurs out there, who want to dance at UUCM, to be welcome and loved as well.
We feel so strongly about this – that we’re going to create a piece of art that will remind us of this every time we come to UUCM.
In front of our church home, you may have noticed a patch of garden space that currently just has some woodchips and sparse plants. In this space, we are going to place a beautiful rock garden in the shape of a running stream. The stream will be made up of individual, painted rocks – each in different colors and shapes and sizes – that will represent each of our unique selves – in all of their full authenticity.
After the service today, we invite you to paint a rock, which will represent you.
For those who aren’t with us today, we will provide other opportunities for painting their own individual rock – before we create our flowing, collective stream in front of UUCM.
When we create our group art-piece, we will leave open space at the end, to represent all of the other Brontorina’s who may wish to find in UUCM a home.
Some of our children and youth have already had an opportunity to create their rocks. (youth come forward – each holding a rock)
May each of these rocks encourage our creativity in designing a rock that represents each of us; and the courage to bring that full authenticity with us when we come to UUCM, and when we show up in life; and may UUCM be open and ready to welcome in ALL of anyone who is looking for a community here.
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^ Closing Words
(Thanks first – participants, summer worship, new entry art, B-days) – Kevin
When Gail Geisenhainer talks about being welcomed by that UU congregation she says: “Please don’t think the transition was smooth or swift. These were not imaginary super-heroes, they were human beings. …We walked together and we helped each other grow…
That is our commitment to one another in a UU congregation like this one – to walk together and to help each other grow.
“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.” ― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth