The Risk to Blossom

Prelude: Jim Pearce 2021

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: Rev. Misha Sanders

Words of Welcome and Announcements: Chloe Morgen

Good morning! I am Chloe Morgen, a member of your Board of Trustees, and a Worship Associate here at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sandy Springs, Georgia. 

Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation seeks to create loving community, inspire joy and spiritual growth, and support courageous action. All are welcome, as together we journey towards justice and equity by learning, caring, and acting together.

We especially welcome any newcomers and visitors we have today.  I hope you’ll join us after worship for coffee hour… from the comfort of your own homes.  You can just stay right here when the service ends. There is no need to leave this zoom call, we will begin coffee hour as soon as the postlude is over. 

We have a joyful announcement today! This coming Saturday, February 13, from 12-1 pm, please join Northwest member Dr. Veta Tucker for a virtual presentation and discussion on the 19th Century enslaved labor force at Smith Plantation through the particular perspective of one woman named Clarinda and her family, in honor of Black History Month and Roswell Roots.  Using available records and knowledge, this story will bear witness to the life of a woman who began her life enslaved by the Smith family but lived through the years of Civil War and Emancipation to chart her own course as Clarinda Richardson. Lecture is recommended for adults and consists of a 40 minute presentation with a 10 to 15 minute question and answer session. We would LOVE to see a lot of NWUUC faces in the virtual audience to support our own Dr. Tucker, and to learn from her years of experience teaching the history of the Smith Plantation. 

If you haven’t already, now is a great time to grab whatever materials you’ll need to light your own chalice if you’d like that to be part of your worship experience today.

As always, kindly set your phones to worship mode; we won’t know, but I think you might enjoy the hour free from distractions.  And feel free to check in on your social media of choice to let your friends and family know about this place of caring you’ve found today. Our congregation is an exciting place to be, and we love it when you share the good news. 

And although we cannot be physically together to greet each other today with hugs, high-fives, smiles, and words of love, we are all together in spirit and each and every one of us is welcome.  

And now let us prepare for worship with the song “Gather the Spirit” by our Director of Music, Dr. Philip Rogers. 

Music: “Gather the Spirit” Dr. Philip Rogers

Call to Worship: Robert Niedermeyer

Call to Worship and Action 
By Sharon Wylie

It is said that ministers are here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
I say, we are all afflicted, and we are all comfortable.
May our time together this morning be a comfort and a confrontation.
May we here find peace in times of tumult;
May we here invite tumult into lives of peace.
May we here find calm in times of restlessness;
May we here allow restlessness to evolve into action.
Let this be the place you consider what you’ve never considered;
Let this be the place you imagine for yourself something new and unthinkable.
May this hour bring dreams of new ways of being in the world.
Come, let us worship together.

And now, David Niedermeyer will light our Chalice.

Lighting of the Chalice: David Niedermeyer

Our chalice lighting words were written by Melanie Davis.

A Spark of Hope

If ever there were a time for a candle in the darkness,
this would be it.
Using a spark of hope,
kindle the flame of love,
ignite the light of peace,
and feed the flame of justice.

Please enjoy our story today entitled Dreamers by Yuyi Morales featuring Elissa and Christina Branum-Martin.

Story Wisdom: “Dreamers” Elissa and Christina Branum-Martin   

Reflection: Chloe Morgen

To Risk
by William Arthur Ward

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out to another is to risk involvement,
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return,
To live is to risk dying,
To hope is to risk despair,
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live.
Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.
The pessimist complains about the wind;
The optimist expects it to change;
And the realist adjusts the sails.”

Please listen with me now as Traci Montgomery sings “One More Step”.

Interlude: VIDEO “One More Step” Traci Montgomery

Joys and Sorrows: Robert Niedermeyer

Good Morning. I am Robert Niedermeyer, a member of the youth group at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation and I am here to bring you the Joys and Sorrows this morning. And I invite you all now, those of you with Joys and Sorrows to share with our congregation here gathered virtually, to open the chat box at the bottom of your screen and enter your Joys and Sorrows.

Joys and Sorrows is our time in this space to honor these sacred moments and milestones. For our Ritual, we have water and we have river stones. Smooth and heavy in our hands, these river stones symbolize life’s pleasures and times of ease and life’s burdens and times of heaviness. The water in our bowl is a precious natural resource. We use it sparingly, reminding us of the preciousness of each life and its unique journey.

Rev. Christina Branum Martin has been ill over the past week or so, but is feeling much better this weekend. A stone of concern for Rev. Christina.

Congratulations to Chloe Morgen on her acceptance this weekend to attend Bryn Mawr next year! A stone of joy for  Chloe.

And, as always, please keep in mind those in our congregation who are ill, hospitalized or recovering, as well as those grieving a loss. Your prayers, healing thoughts, cards and emails are welcome.

John Wienert
Hugh Fordyce is feeling better this week.

As always, mailing addresses for all of the above can be found in the REALM database.  

We also have some birthdays this week.  

02/07 David Benoy
02/07 Sharon Cameron
02/07 David Stewart

Happy Birthday to you all!

Prayer and Meditation: Robert Niedermeyer

The Edge 
By David O Rankin

“A religion that promises a life without tension, a life without conflict, a life without suffering, is a religion of passivity, a religion of mediocrity, a religion of insignificance. Everything worth doing in the world is a desperate gamble, a game of chance, where nothing is certain.

What is love? Is it not a wild and sublime speculation that can end in ecstasy or despair?

What is courage? Is it not a hazardous risk of fortune that can end in victory or defeat?

What is adventure? Is it not a blind leap in the dark that can end in joy or disaster?

What is faith? Is it not a prayerful flip of the coin that can end in heaven or hell?

If I refuse to play the game, if I refuse to risk myself, if I refuse to throw the dice, I am never really alive. I am then only flesh, baking in the sun on a middling plateau, with no view of the valley and no road to the peak.”

And now, “A Million Dreams” covered by Alexandra Porat: 

Music Interlude: “A Million Dreams” The Greatest Showman cover by Alexandra Porat

Sermon: “The Risk to Blossom” Rev. Misha Sanders

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

It’s Black History Month.  

The late, great Dr. Maya Angelou often said in her later years, when she was offering grace and love to people who hadn’t always deserved it but were learning and growing, “When you know better, you do better.” 

I hope that someday, as a nation, we will do so much better than this current non-risk of relegating Black History to just one month. But, for now, for now, it is Black History Month, and that is worth lifting up in celebration and honor. Please, Northwest, if you can, do show up next Saturday for Dr. Veta Tucker’s presentation that Chloe was telling us about earlier, and that Cameron or Melissa put a link into in the chat. If you can, please register today, so you don’t forget.

It is also, of course, Love month. Valentine’s Day coming up next week, and all.  

And it is a month in which our worship and education theme is RISK.  

Risk. Love. Black History.  

I like that combination. It all fits just fine, to me.  

And to me, it speaks to where we are as a world, a nation, a state, a denomination, and as people.  

Speaking of denomination, and Black History, and love, and risk… our UUA Side With Love team put together a Valentine’s Day gift for us, and we will be receiving it next Sunday.  

Here’s the invitation we received: 

“We invite you to celebrate Side With Love Sunday by showing our full video worship service on Sunday, February 14, 2021. 

What if to “side with love” meant making bold, faith-full choices? What if it were even a little bit scary? This worship service brings together worship leaders and musicians from across the country to offer hopeful, moving, challenging reminders about what we, as Unitarian Universalists, are called to do, and BE, in the world.”

And so, I am excited to participate in that service next week with you all, and I do hope you will come and receive this generous no-added-cost-to-us gift of love from our UUA.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin  (Anah-Ees Neen), born in 1903 and died in 1977, was a French-Cuban-American writer who was a TAKER OF RISKS, in all capital letters. Now, what I knew prior to this week about Anais Nin was that she was a famous diarist, which would probably have translated into being a wildly popular blogger if she were alive and working right now. She also wrote fiction, but is best known for her diaries and, in some circles, her erotica. Now, we Unitarian Universalists are proudly the church of Our Whole Lives, which we fondly know as OWL, which is what we call our comprehensive sexuality education program. OWL programs teach age-appropriate, science-based facts about our natures as sexual beings for each life stage, from the youngest of elementary school children to our elders. It also teaches consent and diversity in sexuality and gender, and many ways of being ethical and free and fully-embodied and in right relationships with ourselves first, and then with others.  

So, mentioning erotica from a virtual pulpit…that’s not groundbreaking. And, as I actually just mentioned a few weeks ago, we are a religion with roots in Judaism and Christianity, the scriptures of which feature an entire book of erotica… so, none of that seemed off-limits to lift in a sermon, even if not everyone listening in is an adult. It is, after all, the first week of our month exploring the themes of both love and risk.  

I found, however, that it didn’t even take a very deep dive into the life of Anais Nin to realize that she took some risks that I don’t imagine she ended up believing were worth taking. And neither do I.  And in two weeks, that will be exactly our topic… things that are just not worth the risk… and I will probably mention Ms. Nin again.  

For now, I am going to just briefly and without all the nuance it deserves, lift her work as a feminist woman in the first half of the twentieth century, who had the audacity to write about the radical notion that women are in charge of their own bodies, their own happiness, their own decisions, mistakes, failures, successes and glories. Because that is a bold risk worth lifting up as remarkable.  

In one of her diaries, Nin wrote this, the first sentence of which was the jumping off point for today’s service: 

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.

Living never wore one out so much as the effort not to live.

Loving never wore one out so much as the effort not to love.

Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat.

Perfection is static, and I am in full progress.”

I’m going to repeat those last two lines, because those were the ones where I got offended and thought that maybe she had time-traveled to read MY personal diaries for a minute.  

“Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat. 

Perfection is static, and I am in full progress.”  

Full progress.  Not perfection. 

Why is that hard to live into, even if we nod and agree that it is the only way forward?  Why is it easy for me to say it to you, but not to believe it for myself?  Why is it what we wholeheartedly tell our children and our youth, while expecting better of ourselves?   

I’ll tell you why, for me, at least.  

Because letting you see me try and fail feels like just too big a big RISK!  

See I was raised on a church pew and a victory speech. And I fought hard for standards I was never meant to reach. So, I don’t know, maybe that’s why sometimes I hold my tongue when the pain is great, and I cover my tears as we celebrate. While a private war rages with all the fear and the doubt, and I try to talk faster and laugh my way out.  I’m convinced if I stumble, you’ll just cast me aside and mock at my weakness and shatter my pride. See, I’ve watched as we’ve stoned the more hesitant soul. So, we all must remember that it’s still just grace we all need to know. Because we all feel lost sometimes, and we all feel hurt inside.  And we all cry, and we all need a redeeming love to free us.”

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

The amazing bell hooks had this to say about that redeeming love we all need… in her book entitled All About Love: 

“Cultures of domination rely on the cultivation of fear as a way to ensure obedience. In our society we make much of love and say little about fear. Yet we are all terribly afraid most of the time. As a culture we are obsessed with the notion of safety. Yet we do not question why we live in states of extreme anxiety and dread. Fear is the primary force upholding structures of domination. It promotes the desire for separation, the desire not to be known. When we are taught that safety lies always with sameness, then difference, of any kind, will appear as a threat. When we choose to love we choose to move against fear—against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect—to find ourselves in the other.”

I wonder what it would be like to take the risk of choosing love above all else, even when… especially when… we are terrified of it.  

There’s a Kelly Clarkson song called “I Dare You to Love” that has been on a loop on my personal playlist for a few weeks now, and I encourage you to look it up and maybe you will love it just as much as I do. If we could have gotten permission to share it I would have asked Dr. Philip to include it today, but maybe it’s something for a live worship when we are back together again.  

The chorus is a call to risk loving, and it challenges the listener, 

“I dare you to love, even if you can’t
I dare you to love
Even if you’re hurt
And you can only see the worst 
Even if you think it’s not enough
I dare you to love.”

It’s okay to love through fear, to love even if your voice shakes, to love even if it’s not returned, maybe you can’t even see how it is deserved. 

I remind us of that quote from bell hooks earlier which said, in part, “Fear is the primary force upholding structures of domination. It promotes the desire for separation, the desire not to be known. When we choose to love we choose to move against fear—against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect—to find ourselves in the other.”

Love is a risk. Mamuse and the Thrive choir are about to remind us that we shall be known by the company we keep; by the ones who gather round to tend these fires.’ But also, that it is time NOW… it is time now that we thrive. Many of you know this song. You know I will weep as I sing along, and I invite you to join me in the spirit of collective worship and sing along if you know it. Maybe look it up and learn it more this week if it speaks to you like it speaks to me and some of the rest of us here.  

Anais Nin was burned by love over and over and over, countless times in her tumultuous life. And yeah, she took some risks not worth taking. She paid a high price. And yet she said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

It is always a risk to love.  

It is a risk to gather anyone around to help tend our fires.  

It is a risk to thrive. 

And I believe to the bottom of my soul that it is a risk worth taking.  

You are a risk worth taking.  

Love is a risk worth taking.

I love you.  

Music for Reflection: VIDEO We Shall Be Known,” written by MaMuse and performed by “Thrive Choir.”

Introduction to Donate the Plate: David Niedermeyer

The International Rescue Committee has been selected by members of the NWUUC Older Youth group as the Donate the Plate recipient for this month. The International Rescue Committee is an organization that provides opportunities for refugees, asylees, victims of human trafficking, survivors of torture, and other immigrants to thrive in America. Each year, thousands of people, forced to flee violence and persecution, are welcomed by the people of the United States into the safety and freedom of America. These individuals have survived against incredible odds. The IRC works with government bodies, civil society actors, and local volunteers to help them translate their past experiences into assets that are valuable to their new communities. In Atlanta and other offices across the country, the IRC helps them to rebuild their lives.

Offering : “One More Step” Jim Pearce

Dedication of the Offering: David Niedermeyer

Please join me in the dedication of our offering.

“To the work of this congregation, which is weaving a tapestry of love and action, we dedicate our offerings and the best of who we are.”

Benediction: Rev. Misha Sanders

A Blessing for Risk-Takers and Failures
By Robin Tanner

Today we share in a blessing for losers, risk-takers, all failures far and wide….
Blessed are they who fall in the mud, who jump with gusto and rip the pants, who skin the elbows, and bruise the ego,
for they shall know the sweetness of risk.
Blessed are they who make giant mistakes, whose intentions are good but impact has injured, who know the hot sense of regret and ask for mercy,
for their hearts will know the gift of forgiveness.
Blessed are they who have seen a D or an F or C or any letter less than perfect, who are painfully familiar with the red pen and the labels as “less than,”
for they know the wisdom in the imperfect.
Blessed are they who try again, who dust off, who wash up, who extend the wish for peace, who return to sites of failure, who are dogged in their pursuit,
for they will discover the secret to dreams.
Blessed are they who refuse to listen to the naysayers,
for their hearts will be houses for hope.
Blessed are they who see beyond the surface of another,
for they will be able to delight in the gift of compassion.
Blessed are they who stop running the race to help a fellow traveler, who pick up the fallen, who stop for injured life,
for they shall know the kindness of strangers.
Blessed are they who wildly, boldly abandon winning,
for they shall know the path of justice.

Postlude: Jim Pearce