When Risks Turn to Dreams

Prelude: Jim Pearce

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: Chloe Morgen

Words of Welcome and Announcements: Hannah Cowart

Good morning! I am Hannah Cowart, 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. 

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.

Our congregation is an exciting place to be, and we love it when you share the good news so please go ahead and check in on your social media of choice and then set your phones to worship mode for an hour free from distractions.  Although we cannot be physically together to greet each other today with hugs, high-fives, smiles, and words of love, let’s be together right now in spirit.  

And now let us prepare for worship with the song “One More Step” sung by Traci Montgomery.

Music: “One More Step” Traci Montgomery

Call to Worship: Chloe Morgen

Our call to worship this morning is the poem, Dreams, by Langston Hughes.

Dreams
Langston Hughes 

Hold fast to dreams 
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird 
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Shelton Chau will now light our chalice, the symbol of our Unitarian Universalist faith.

Lighting of the Chalice: Shelton Chau

Story Wisdom: “Ruby Bridges Goes to School”

Reflection: Chloe Morgen

And then the day came,
When the risk
To remain tight in a bud
Was more painful
Than the risk
It took to bloom

— “Risk” by Anais Nin

For me the day that came where not taking any risks became more painful than just giving it a try was when I changed schools in 8th grade. Throughout elementary and middle school I developed deep insecurities and fears which held me back from making healthy friendships or friends in general really. I isolated myself and struggled to find where I fit in at school, at church, and at home with myself. I was a very tight bud only becoming tighter as I fought with my own self-hatred and fear, self aware enough to understand I was doing it to myself, aware enough to logically know the things I would need to do to better myself but scared and stuck in the environment I was in. The opportunity to change school systems came at the end of my seventh grade year and I was faced with a choice, switch schools and repeat the same patterns of self isolation, or to switch schools and use it as a complete fresh start, make some new friends and maybe not be so lonely anymore. It was my chance to find some friends, a community, a chance to become an active participant in my life, an active participant in the spaces around me. The prospect was terrifying, eighth grade being the last year of middle school meant everyone already had their friend groups, usually of people they had known since elementary school or younger. I was entering an established community with no idea where I would fit into the equation. It was a big risk but the opportunity also meant a big reward if and only if I could put in the work. And I did put in the work. I opened myself up to be vulnerable, to try new things, and make connections with the people around me. I didn’t always think it was gonna work. I still struggled with my own insecurities but it worked. For the first time in years I was making friends and getting involved in school by joining the jazz band and small ensemble group. I made myself fit into those scary established friend groups, I felt good. For the first time in years I felt like I could be the version of me I wanted to be, and that version of me was valid, it was likable, I even won the citizenship superlative at the end of the year. I surprised myself with my own vulnerability and perseverance even when I truly did not think I had it in me and I do want to emphasize that I did not always trust the process or trust my ability to make change but I did trust my ability to put in the work. I trusted that I knew the things U had to do, I knew how to do them I just actually had to try. My risk to put in a little effort and be a little vulnerable made the same effort and vulnerability easier as I moved onto high school, as I became more involved with my church community, as I decided to go to therapy for the first time, and as I made decisions for my future as a college applicant. I always knew college was my plan, an experience I wanted and needed but as the months creeped closer to actually applying and making concrete decisions about my future I wavered in my confidence. Why bother applying to schools that I don’t think I’ll get into even if it’s my dream school? I hovered between my aspirations and selling myself short. Insecurities of my intelligence, of my aptitude, of my ability to put in the hard work stayed present on my mind. My grades aren’t good enough. I’m not involved enough at school. I’m not a good applicant and they won’t accept me anyway. Why bother trying so hard if it’s just going to hurt when I get rejected?  I had always prided myself in the idea that I was good at making big decisions for myself, that once I committed to an idea I went and did it. I always felt sure in my ability to make decisions with intention and the belief that I was only making decisions that I truly believed would make me happy but as I sat down to write my essays and fill out forms that image of myself started to crumble. Not completely of course but enough to leave me wondering, questioning. Was I actually ready for the risk, ready to put myself out there with the distinct possibility of rejection and failure. I didn’t feel ready but I also didn’t feel ready in eight grade walking into my first day of at new school. I didn’t feel ready when I tried out for the school jazz band or when I was a worship associate for the first time, I don’t even really feel ready to lead a service of my own for the first time like I am this morning. Risk taking I learned does not require a steady mind or even much confidence in the outcome, it only requires the want, the need for growth. So I applied to college, I applied to my dream school early decision, a binding application that would mean if I got into the school the decision would already be made. I also applied to some safety schools and some other reach schools, of course. But I wasn’t going to apply early decision for Bryn Mawr at first, it was a last minute decision made in a moment of let’s just see what happens and ignore my insecurities and fears of both getting in or getting rejected. For a few months I thought my first choice was University of North Carolina at Asheville, a great school but also a school I was confident in my ability to get into with little effort. It wasn’t as scary as the more prestigious private schools, it wasn’t as far away from home and it was a town I’ve been to and know I love. It was an easy school, I thought I wanted easy because easy meant comfortable. I didn’t know what was scarier, being rejected from a school and having to face the idea that I was not good enough or getting into a school and having to face the idea that I was good enough or that I didn’t deserve the place I received. I compared my grades, my test scores, my after school activities to numbers and statistics online and I doubted myself. I doubted myself right up until I opened my acceptance letter and even now I doubt my place at a school like Bryn Mawr. Did I really deserve the spot? I felt alone and confused, talking about applying was frustrating and I wanted to push it off and push it off because dealing with the decision meant facing my insecurities and my expectations. 

It’s hard not to feel alone when faced with hard decisions or scary new beginnings and I am deeply acquainted with the feeling of loneliness. I had felt so alone for so long, my loneliness was ingrained in my self-isolating behaviors, in my insecurity and fear. Being given a new beginning in eight grade helped my loneliness, it helped a lot but I still had and have a long way to go. Even as I was gaining new friendships, a new feeling of belonging in my community, my mind, and my body I was and still am a deeply lonely person. My risk taking is directly related to my own loneliness and lonely is hard to unlearn but it pushed me to risk in ways I was uncomfortable with, I had to risk rejection, failure, the repetition of toxic patterns in myself. I had to face the prospect of unlearning my loneliness and it was almost as scary as not doing anything at all. But I made myself grow and change my behavior because I recognized my hurt, my pain. Growing up I always had grand ideas of what college is that have stayed with me all throughout my childhood, ideas of lifelong friendships and new experiences. Those ideas and the fact that I would be surrounded by people my own age gave me equal amounts of terror and comfort. Applying meant facing the reality of who I am and who I want to be. That friendships are hard and I don’t know if I am any good at them. Would I be able to risk the amount of vulnerability I would need to find the relationships I have been searching for.  I hope so, I think so. I know where I am going to be going to school in the fall. I’m going to be leaving Georgia, leaving the comfort of my family and the routine I know. I hope it will give me the chance to reset and try to be a better risk taker, small and large. I hope I will not feel alone because I know I am not alone just as I was not alone starting eighth grade. I have a home, a family, and a community here that I can come back to if I am feeling a little lonely or a little scared. This is my love letter to the feeling of belonging that northwest has been able to provide for me in my most desperate years where school was not providing that same belonging, a belonging that I had only been able to find with my own nuclear family. I always believed that k through 12 education and classrooms were suppose to be what teaches you how to take risks, to be prepared for the emotional openness that communities require, to find belonging but for me the opportunity to speak my voice, to be unabashedly involved in this community has taught me more about risk taking and the joy to be found in risking a little vulnerability surrounded by loving people has been more beneficial than any amount of facing school insecurities ever have in my years in public education. It has taught me to give that same amount of unabashed love and involvement in the college community that I have learned to give here in this community. I will be entering somewhere completely new and as I grow from this home and try to find a home at Bryn Mawr I hope and believe in all my heart I will be able to find that same love in a college community because I have risked having and believing in the community here. It’s ironic that my first time leading a service of my own is the month with the theme of risk just as I learn of my college acceptance and grow ever closer to leaving this home that’s given me a safe place to come home to after trying to be a better and bigger risk taker. I grew from that tight bud I found myself in with the love, guidance and safe space of exploration because no one can take big risks alone and I have never been alone here at northwest. 

Thank You. 

Now let’s enjoy Dail Edwards singing “There is More Love Somewhere”.

Interlude: “There Is More Love Somewhere” Dail Edwards

Joys and Sorrows: Ashley Fournier-Goodnight

Good morning. I’m Ashley Fournier-Goodnight, a member of the Care Corps, and I am here to bring you the joys and sorrows this morning.

Joys and sorrows is our time in this space to honor sacred moments and milestones. For our ritual, we have water and river stones. 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. Smooth and heavy in our hands, the river stones symbolize life’s pleasures and times of ease as well as life’s burdens and times of heaviness. I invite those of you who have joys and sorrows you wish to share with our congregation to enter them into the chat box.  

Cathy Frost is at home recovering from elbow surgery, which was successful. A stone of joy for Cathy, Jim and their family.

Hugh Fordyce is recovering from illness, but is up and about and feeling much better. And, we hear that he has a license to drive now. A stone of joy for Hugh.

Judy McKinley spent her recent birthday with her son, daughter-in-law and 2 granddaughters on their farm in Minnesota. They enjoyed the minus 30 degree weather. A stone of joy.

Michael Cain has had ongoing side effects from the medication he takes for cancer; but, he reports his senses of smell and taste are returning. And, there’s more good news. He wrote a play with Letitia Switzer. Linton and Priscilla Hopkins attended an actors review of the play and said it was a beautiful reading. “What Took you So Long?” is a play about the desegregation of Atlanta’s Herren’s Restaurant. Congratulations to Michael and Letitia – a stone of joy.

2 weeks ago today, Gwen Kahn’s mother, Mary Lowrey, passed away after a very lengthy illness. A stone of sorrow for Gwen, Sydney, Jay, Anthony and all who loved Mary.

Ryan Wilson, nephew of Marti Wilson, still remains at Kennestone recovering from a recent surgery. A stone of concern for him.

John Weinert is in a long term rehabilitation facility following a fall. Cards and notes should be addressed to Penny Raney

Your prayers, healing thoughts, cards and emails are welcome for all those in our congregation who are ill, hospitalized or recovering as well as those grieving a loss. Contact information for those mentioned today can be found in Realm.

We have some birthdays this week:

Deborah Ross, today, 02/28; Becky Gregory, Monday 03/01; and Tammy Clabby, Sunday, 03/07, Ella Morgen, Thursday 03/25 – happy birthday. A stone of joy.

I will end our ritual by placing a final stone for all the joys and sorrows held in our hearts this morning, but unspoken.

Prayer and Meditation: Chloe Morgen

Our prayer and meditation today is a poem written by Chude Allen entitled “To Be Twenty Again.” This poem is a reflection on their involvement in the Mississippi Summer Project voter registration efforts of 1964.  

To Be Twenty Again

For Debbie Rand, Volunteer, Mississippi Summer Project, 1964

To be twenty again,
believing with such fervor,
sure of the way,
committed unto death if need be.
Willing to offer myself without reservation,
to share my talents and hopes
without equivocation.
To be twenty again,
believing change is possible
because I have changed,
believing barriers can be lifted,
distrust transcended
because I have known friendship
across the color line, deep friendship.
To be twenty again
and to know the power
of a social movement
that transforms its participants
as well as the world,
to know I’ve found a place, a way of life that allows love of God
and commitment to justice
to flourish side by side.
To fall in love again and again
with life and idealism as it manifests
first in one and then another
young man’s eyes.
I lived so intensely,
believed so absolutely,
felt so acutely.
I had the energy to do so
and lacked the experience
to feel afraid or use caution.
I grew outside the bounds
of my white, middle class upbringing.
I grew outside the experience
of my professors at college.
There were times of connection
and transcendence,
times of anger
and fear of losing all we’d worked for.
There were times of trust
and times the trust shriveled
in the light of a sharp afternoon.
Oh, to be twenty again
and refuse compromise.
To believe justice is attainable.
That love will replace greed.
To believe people can live
and work in mutual respect for one another.
To be twenty again
and believe it is all possible.

Thank you. 

Now, we will hear a new courage and risk medley sung by Director of Music, Dr. Philip Rogers.

Music Interlude: “Courage and Risk Medley” Philip Rogers

Reflection: Hannah Cowart

RIIIIIISSSSSSKKKKKKK!!!!!

Aaaaahhhh. 

I don’t know about y’all, but this four-letter word rattles me a little. And we’ve spent the entire month of February talking about it. We talked about the risk of blossoming and we talked about when things are simply not worth the risk. And today, we’re spending some time in the middle where we don’t know if we’re fixing to blossom or if we need to back off. That messiness where many of us MAY spend lots of time. How do we know? How do we know when to go all in or when it’s not worth it? 

It is also the last day of Black History Month. In honor of this day, let’s explore the stories of two important individuals that navigated risk here in Georgia. Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes. Mrs. Hunter-Gault and Dr. Holmes were the first African American students admitted into the University of Georgia in January of 1961. Being a UGA-grad, I have heard this piece of history a number of times. Mrs. Hunter-Gault is a journalist and activist. She still actively mentors and supports students at UGA. Dr. Holmes went on to become the first African American to be accepted into Emory’s School of Medicine beginning a successful career as an orthopaedic physician, professor and dean at Emory. Prior to being admitted to UGA, Mrs. Hunter-Gault and Dr. Holmes graduated in the top of their class from Henry McNeal Turner High School in Atlanta in 1959 and that’s where we will pick up on their journey. 

So, thinking about risk. 1959 in Atlanta, Georgia. Can we imagine for a moment the risk that young Charlayne and Hamilton faced at that time? 

For some context. Graduating in 1959 likely means that they both began high school around 1955 a year after Brown vs. Board of Education was decided. In 1955 here in Georgia, those two young minds were beginning their highschool journey. Freshman year of high school–new environment, new people, new challenges. So much risk built in already. That year though, the year after segregation in schools was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the Georgia Board of Education ordered that any teacher supporting integration in Georgia would be fired, and then they went on to fire all black teachers who were known to be members of the NAACP. Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin supported this move wholeheartedly. And in 1955 in his inaugural address, he stated: 

“So long as Marvin Griffin is your governor, there will be no mixing of the races in the classrooms of our schools and colleges of Georgia.” 

This is the freshman year of high school into which Charlayne and Hamilton entered. 

This same year, 14 year old Emmett Till was kidnapped and murdered in Mississippi. Likely about the same age as then young Charlayne and Hunter. 

Can we consider the risks?

In their Sophomore year of high school- 1956, Governors of Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia agreed to block integration of schools in a document called “The Southern Manifesto” and every single member of the elected GA House of Representatives signed the manifesto. 

In 1957, their Junior year, the Georgia Senate voted to declare the 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution null and void in Georgia. These are the Amendments that granted citizenship and the right to vote.

Can we consider the risks?

In 1958, their Senior year, news in Atlanta was full of what became known as the “Temple Bombing” where dynamite was set off in Atlanta’s oldest and most prominent synagogue: the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation. Synagogues were being targeted for their support of the Civil Rights Movement. Also in 1958, Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin and the state legislature purchased Stone Mountain with public funds and created the Stone Mountain Memorial Association. At that time Stone Mountain was just partially carved, but it’s reputation as a meeting place for the KKK and a monument to the confederacy was firmly held. This move was thought by many to be an effort to solidify the mountain in deeply racist white southern history. 

Can we fathom the risks that young Charlayne and Hamilton may have been considering in their hearts? Can we fathom the risks that their parents may have been considering as they launched their most prized creations into the world? 

In 1959 Charlayne and Hamilton applied for admission to the University of Georgia. And they continued to apply, quarter after quarter and each application was denied.  

In 1961, Charlayne and Hamilton were finally admitted to UGA after a full legal trial. Riots broke out in Athens around the same time as arrests were being made in Atlanta for sit ins. Months later Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy visited UGA promising to enforce civil rights while speaking to the UGA Law School. 

Later in 1961 and into 1962, the Albany Movement began in Albany, GA after all interstate buses were prohibited from discrimination in seating. Hundreds of people were arrested. Voter registration efforts also picked up and were met with more violence as two black churches in the Albany area used for voter registration were burned. 

The following year, 1963–Mrs. Hunter-Gault and Dr. Holmes graduated, the same year that Dr. King delivered his “I have a Dream” speech. 

That was a great deal of context. But, let’s sit with it for a moment. Consider the world as young Charlayne and Hamilton transitioned into and out of high school, began studying at UGA and graduated in 1963. Consider it maybe, as we think about our own youth and young adults as they approach a similar time in their lives. Consider the risks for Charlayne and Hamilton. Can we imagine? Can we take a moment and try to visualize, try to bring that context into awareness. What feelings are coming up?

Mrs. Hunter-Gault said recently in a speech: 

“Pursue your dreams—whatever it takes. Don’t give up despite what might be in your way. It was our determination—mine and Hamilton’s—to follow our dreams at the place that was best suited to help us fulfill them.”

Pursue your dreams, she says. She didn’t mention risking her life. She didn’t mention the unimaginable stress and terror that her, Hamilton and their families had to have been wading through. She didn’t mention seeing the burning torches on top of Stone Mountain on her way to Athens, hearing the Governor of Georgia attack her citizenship and humanity. She didn’t mention the bombings or the violence. Pursue your dreams, she says–whatever it takes.

At some point between when the notion first occurred to them to pursue education at UGA, a shift occurred. Somehow the risk that Charlayne and Hamilton faced turned into a dream. 

How does that happen? 

I can’t know how that happened for Mrs. Hunter-Gault or Dr. Holmes. But her words give us a hint. “Pursue your dreams, don’t give up, determination, follow our dreams, fulfill them”. These words are coming from the depths of her heart. A place of the deepest conviction. Because that’s the only thing that could have gotten her through that time. 

I believe something may happen when we consider a risk deep in our hearts, when we take that risk to the place of our deepest conviction. We either find alignment and grounding–as it seems Mrs. Hunter-Gault did, or we recognize it’s a risk that’s just not worth taking. But, when that grounding aligns with our truest self, I believe that what once felt like the riskiest risk begins to feel necessary. It feels essential. And our hearts are drawn to it, drawn to that dream. 

Last year, pre-Covid, I remember one beautiful Sunday during coffee hour at Northwest. Not zoom coffee hour, I mean the one where we waited in line for dozens of minutes balancing a coffee cup and snacks. Do y’all remember when we used to lovingly complain about waiting in line for our coffee? We spent plenty of minutes in a few meetings talking about how we may be able to speed that process up. How much do you wish that we could be stuck in that line today? Stacking baby carrots and cherry tomatoes and Hungry Ear leftovers onto those teeny tiny plates as we balanced a piping hot cup of coffee cup and lord help you if you take cream and sugar–that was “a whole nother” challenge? I don’t know about you, but I am A-OK to wait in line for coffee forever if it means I get to be waiting with people I love. 

So, anyway–I remember sitting with a dear friend telling them about my most recent big risk–ditching my secure job with a pay check and health insurance and a regular schedule to go back to school right as I reluctantly approach that cliff of turning 40. I was freaking out. It still felt so risky. And my dear friend said: “I’m so proud of you for following your dreams.” And, it stopped me in my tracks. Was I following my dreams? Never in my life had I felt like I was really aware of my dreams much less consciously following them. But my friend was 100% right. For the first time, probably in my life, I was following my dreams. And, I remember discovering them. I remember in meditation one evening bringing my riskiest concerns as close to my heart as I could get them, and I remember the feeling as my life began to align with my true self. My next steps immediately felt necessary. This alignment doesn’t happen with all of the risks I consider…maybe I don’t take the time to bring them into my heart, or maybe I do and they turn out to be risks not worth taking. But, this time it clicked. I didn’t know to call it a dream at that point. But, that coffee hour conversation helped me realize that’s exactly what it is. 

Some risks are not worth taking but some risks turn into dreams. I believe that all it takes to decipher the two is to bring them as close to our heart as possible and listen. 

This risk pales in comparison to Mrs. Hunter-Gault and Dr. Holmes’ lives in the early 1960’s, but I’d like to think that somewhere in there we might’ve had a similar moment. And, did you hear in Chloe’s beautiful words where she had that moment too? That moment when our risk turns into a dream and our hearts take over–after all, that’s the only thing strong enough to get us through.

So, to everyone considering a big risk right now, let’s ask: how close have you brought it to your heart? What does your truest self say? Is it a risk not worth taking, or can you feel that risk turning into a dream? 

And, when we get close to our heart–if it does turn into a dream, let’s follow Mrs. Hunter-Gault’s priceless words when she says “Pursue your dreams, whatever it takes. Don’t give up.” 

May it be so.

This next short video clip gives us a glimpse of the impact dreams can have when we don’t give up.

Music for Reflection: Celebrating Charlayne

Introduction of the Offering: Hannah Cowart

We give to remind ourselves how many gifts we have to offer.
We give to remember that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
We give with the faith that, together, we have enough.
We give to say yes to something we value. 
With our gifts, freely given, may we say yes to the values of our faith. Our offering will now be given and gratefully received.

Offering: Josie Miller

Dedication of the Offering: Hannah Cowart

Please join me in the Dedication of the 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: Chloe Morgen

Wayne B. Arnason

Take courage friends.
The way is often hard, the path is never clear,
And the stakes are very high.
Take courage.
For deep down, there is another truth:
You are not alone.

Postlude: Jim Pearce