How the Light Gets In

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Anthem, Anthem

If I knew how to give a perfect offering it would be a sermon in which I knew exactly the right way to share tragic news, hard truths, and soul-deep questions, but I don’t know how to strike just that perfect balance today, so forget a perfect offering. Today we are going to just have to settle for hoping some light seeps through the cracks.  

Beloveds, many of you have heard the news and no doubt some of you have not; Our dear Bob Thacker was in a tragic accident this week, and has passed away.   

Let us offer the imperfect offering of our silence for just a moment.

That is enough, and yet it is not the only thing weighing heavy on the hearts of our beloved community today. My dear, fiercely loving people, in a perfect offering I would not have to mention that another long-time member of our community is fighting demons – yes, the metaphorical kind not the theological kind – fighting demons that caused him to be arrested for child pornography. And since shock, anger, fear, and sadness are completely appropriate responses to that news, let us sit with all of those things for another imperfect offering right now in silence.

I wish that were all, but we came in the doors this morning on high alert because of a virus we do not fully understand yet, and we have CDC workers here among us as congregants who are right in the thick of the crisis, as well as so many elders and medically-fragile beloveds, and it is an appropriate response that some of them didn’t show up to church today for their own protection and ours.  

And so for a world full of  people wearing masks and avoiding touching each other just when a perfect offering would be a the comfort of each others’ embraces and clasped held hands, let us offer the imperfect offering of sitting with our fear in silence.

A perfect offering would include being able to say there is still a chance for us in the next year to finally and for the first time ever say the words “Madame President” in this country, but that dream ended this week. Politics aside, it is the time to just go ahead and give women at least a moment before we brush ourselves off as we always do and just nevertheless keep on persisting, and let us mourn and grieve and rage. It’s all kinds of imperfect, but let’s sit with it for just a moment. [pause]

Beloveds, these are the times, these are the heavy things, for which we gather to be with one another.  This is what church is for.   

And so every one of us is brokenhearted over conflict from within that distracts us from the business of offering ourselves imperfectly to each other when we need each other the most.  We have controversy and misunderstandings, and conversations in the grapevines, and downright inaccuracies being spread, and mistrust of a Board of Trustees that is as hard-working, transparent, soul-deep compassionate and committed as any group of people I have ever encountered in my life. We will be having hard, honest conversations with all of you in the upcoming weeks, and right now it is appropriate if you feel you are sitting here with more questions than answers and you feel unsettled and confused and maybe even a little betrayed. This is as messy and imperfect as it gets, friends, and I’m feeling all of those things right along with you, so let’s sit with each other with all of that for a moment.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

You can add up the parts
You won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart to love will come
But like a refugee

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Anthem, Anthem

Will you please turn to page 354 in your gray hymnals? I can’t offer anything more perfect about why this place and you, the people o this place, matter so deeply in this time of crisis that is too big. So, here’s what Shelley Denham offered:

We laugh, we cry, we live, we die; we dance, we sing our song.
We need to feel there’s something here to which we can belong.
We need to feel the freedom just to have some time alone.
But most of all we need close friends we can call our very own.
And we believe in life, and in the strength of love;
and we have found a need to be together.
We have our hearts to give, we have our thoughts to receive;
and we believe that sharing is an answer.

A child is born among us and we feel a special glow.
We see time’s endless journey as we watch the baby grow.
We thrill to hear imagination freely running wild.
We dedicate our minds and heart to the spirit of this child.
And we believe in life, and in the strength of love;
and we have found a time to be together.
And with the grace of age, we share the wonder of youth,
and we believe that growing is an answer.

Our lives are full of wonder and our time is very brief.
The death of one among us fills us all with pain and grief.
But as we live, so shall we die, and when our lives are done
the memories we shared with friends, they will linger on and on.
And we believe in life, and in the strength of love;
and we have found a place to be together.
We have the right to grow, we have the gift to believe
that peace within our living is an answer.

We seek elusive answers to the questions of this life.
We seek to put an end to all the waste of human strife.
We search for truth, equality, and blessed peace of mind.
And then, we come together here, to make sense of what we find.
And we believe in life, and in the strength of love,
and we have found a joy being together.
And in our search for peace, maybe we’ll finally see:
even to question, truly is an answer.

“We Laugh We Cry,” Shelley Denham, Singing the Living Tradition #354

At General Assembly in 2016, my dear friend Nancy McDonald Ladd said these words: 

“For as long as two or more have gathered in the name of the spirit, those two or more have fought some fake fights.

You remember, perhaps, the classic wedding reading from Corinthians, which says, If I speak in the tongues of mortals or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal… if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

That letter from the Apostle Paul to the early Christian community in Corinth has nothing whatsoever to do with weddings.  

That’s a letter from an overextended pastor with occasionally dubious judgment to a congregation whose leaders are in a constant state of fierce and unremitting conflict. The early Christians in the Corinth congregation were literally shouting their prayers like clanging cymbals overtop of one another to try and prove who was better at praying. They were making faith into a contest, and whether he was Saintly or not, Paul was having none of it.

The collective wisdom of the ages reminds us that the stakes are high and the ultimate prize we must reach out for in community is greater than the imagined divisions and trumped-up arguments that pull us apart.

Here’s a segue way you won’t see coming: you know in Wrestlemania, when professional wrestlers have those fake fights? Sometimes they really are at risk of getting hurt. And do you know what they do, before the muscle snaps or the bones break in that fake fight? They tap out. They bang the mat. When the fake fight gets close to having real consequences, they tap out.  

I tell you what, I’m tapping out—right now—and I invite you to join me. I’m tapping out of every fake fight in our congregations and our movement about getting what I want or what you want or what we think we want, because the stakes are too high and we don’t have time for fake fights anymore.

A fake fight about the bylaws in the annual meeting is most often a carefully concealed real fight about the values that undergird our history coming into relationship with the values that may undergird our future. If we can get past duking it out over the paint color in the church bathroom, we may encounter a pastoral window into the inner life of one whose voice in the world seems increasingly powerless. 

I know, for a fact, that the real conversations are waiting. Just beneath the surface of the fake fight is the the actual encounter: soul to soul and hand to hand, in which change is possible.  

So let’s have that conversation—the real one, the hard one, the one that requires us to keep showing up—and let ‘s do it with edge and forgiveness, calling out and calling in, calling forth a new kind of community both in our congregations and in the world.

The real fight beckons—the real conversation about our history, our identity, our relevance, our resistance. The world does not need another place for like-minded liberal leaning people to hang out together and fight about who’s in charge. The world does not need a place where you or I or any of us is going to get what we want.

What the world needs is a movement like ours to step more fully into our higher calling; to serve as an instrument for encounter with one another, with the holy, and with the world, so that we might love more fully, and speak more truly and serve with greater efficacy.” 

Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd

Thus ends the reading of Rev. Ladd’s words. 

They are about as close to a perfect offering as I could get to for sharing with you all today.  

Because the stakes ARE high, Northwest UU.  

There is a long history of conflict here, and also a history of surviving it, and here we are, deciding NOW how we will be with each other into the future.  

And so here is what I am going to do, and it’s gonna just keep on being imperfect as hell, I guarantee you. 

I am tapping out of the fake fights so that we can all have strength for the real work.   

I am going to be here while we grieve our losses to the unfairness of death. 

I am going to be here while we rage in anger over betrayal of trust that exploits our children. 

I am going to be here while we navigate how to do church in a time of pandemic crisis. 

I am going to be here while conflict from within boils over and causes hurt to the point of severing relationships, and I am going to uphold truth along the way and not give in to maligning of people based on heresay and partial information. 

I am going to be here to answer all the questions I can, and to uphold our hired and elected congregational leaders who are doing hard good work to further our mission in the world. 

I am going to hear you when you say hard things and respond with the truth in love. 

I am TAPPED OUT of fake fights. 

And I hope that you will join me.  

Because we can offer no more perfect offering than to love each other through it. Through grief of death.  Through the anger at deep betrayal of trust. Through the fear of pandemic. Through the very real loss of a women-led dream for our nation. Through the confusion of what’s going on among members in contention with each other and leadership in question. We have no option that I can think of that is not loving ah other through it.  

So, I’m tapped out of the fake fights.

And, in case it is unclear, I remain all in for the real work.  

Can we trust that the only way the light is going to get in might just be through the cracks right now, and just go ahead and offere our imperfect offering of being all in for each other? 

I’m all in. 

I hear you.

I grieve and rage and worry with you.

Nevertheless, we persist.

And I love you.  

Delivered at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation

March 8, 2020

© Rev. Misha Sanders