In my travels around the country, I visit lots of churches. These days, most of them are part of the United Church of Christ. Since one strand of the UCC traces its heritage to the New England-based Congregationalist Church, there are a large number of churches named Plymouth, or Mayflower, or Pilgrim.
Although when we hear the word “pilgrim” many of us think of Thanksgiving, and Plymouth Rock, and things of the past, it seems that there is a new use for the word. Progressive people of faith would do well to see themselves as modern day pilgrims.
Author, teacher and Cistercian monk Father Basil Pennington wrote:
We are all the Pilgrim People. We have passed through the sea and received the Divine directives; we must continue on the journey. Each of us as an individual longs to reach the Promised Land and to enjoy the fullness of the promise, yet it is only as a People, the human family that we can hope to successfully negotiate the journey with all its demands and do it joyfully in our shared love and celebration of who we are as a Pilgrim People.
How different would religion be today if we saw ourselves as people on a journey together rather than as people who have arrived? What if we lived as a people seeking truth, rather than as people who knew truth and were determined to persuade others to our way of viewing life? What would life be like if we traveled lightly rather than encumbered by so many things that we think we “need”?
Christians first were called “People of the Way.” It seems that it might be time to resume that approach to life. Maybe if we lived in the Way and walked together seeking the sacred/divine/holy we people of the Pilgrim Way might find others wanting to join us. Who knows; we might even begin to encounter more of the holy if we became active seekers.
This week’s article was written by Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, President of the United Church of Christ ~
I am a person of faith. It would be fair to say that much of my life has focused on questions about “belief.”
My Christianity has gone from high degrees of certainty about dogmatic truths that I accepted without question to an invitation to open my heart in ways that let me be at peace with my neighbor no matter what their belief might be.
I live with ambiguity and doubt. They are partners with me that stand comfortably alongside whatever is there for me to ‘believe in.’
Because of this, I find myself curious about and intrigued by the Oprah Winfrey campaign inviting people to express their belief in three words. I love what she is doing. I can’t wait to see what creative fellow travelers have to say about what belief grounds or inspires them.
I am going to offer my three words. They reflect one of my core values: Every. Voice. Matters.
I have chosen to be an active listener. My life has been shaped and reshaped by words that others spoke to me. One of the manifestations of my privilege — be that my privilege as a male in a patriarchal culture; as a heterosexual in a hetero-normative culture; as a white man in a racist culture — is that most of the voices I heard growing up, and especially the voices of those whom my parents and teachers and role models gave me access to, were the voices of white men.
White men gave me the news.
White men either wrote, edited, or approved the texts books I was given.
White men coached the teams I played on or the teams I watched.
White priests (and therefore white men) instructed me, or instructed those who instructed me, about what I could or could not believe.
White men wrote the novels I read.
White men taught me in college — with one or two exceptions.
Somewhere along the line, others whom I loved and trusted named this to me and challenged me to start listening to other voices.
I was never the same.
James Cone, Lettie Russell, Bell Hooks, Maya Angelou, Andrew Sung-Park, Michelle Alexander, Carol Gilligan, Phyllis Trible, and dozens of others found their way into my consciousness.
People’s dignity and worth cannot be fully maintained when their voices can’t be heard. And it is my belief that I cannot fully live into my own humanity without being stretched by the truths they speak.
Every. Voice. Matters.
Listening to the story of another changes us. It changes them. Their story matters. Their experience matters. Their truth matters. Listening comes as gift to another; it comes as gift to you.
Voice is something without which your own life loses meaning. Take it away — not so much the power to speak as the power to be heard — and you strip a person of their dignity, respect, and worth.
Every. Voice. Matters.
I believe that. It is foundational for me. Whatever it is I want or need from religion any more — it must include the capacity to utilize its agency to open up safe spaces for voices to be heard. It must question every power, including its own, that closes the spaces in which all voices can be heard.
The letter below was written by Kim and shared at our Community Sunday on October 11. We’ve included it here for those of you who were unable to attend.
My Beloved Community,
Welcome home! This is the first of our twice monthly community Sundays and I cannot tell you how sorry I am that I am not physically with you tonight. However, I am very much present in spirit and am sharing this worship with you. As most of you have heard by now, I am recovering from brain surgery for a tumor. My prognosis is good and my progress has been steady. Your prayers have been felt and welcomed.
I want to share three things with you tonight.
First, this worship service was planned before my emergency surgery and I want to explain a little bit about it. When I went in for my regular scans (CT and MRI), I heard the tune of this hymn playing in my mind. This is not an uncommon experience for me when I am in the apparatus. However, when I left the clinic and headed home, this same hymn was playing on my Pandora and that is an unusual experience–a hymn this old is not heard very often. At that moment I knew that this was a hymn I needed to look into and to share with all of you. That was the genesis of this worship service, in which we practice audio divina with this particular hymn. Thank you to Carol Chivers and Andrew Jamieson for taking the lead on the reflections and music and to Sue Ann for leading worship.
Second, the Church Council will meet Monday evening to plan for the upcoming few months when I will be absent. I hope to be back by our anniversary service on the fourth Sunday of November. However, things can change and what I want to particularly share with you tonight is my conviction that all will be well and that, no matter what happens, we are being held in God’s loving arms.
Finally, since I will not be speaking with you directly for the next few weeks, I want to share an experience I had during my surgery. Before the surgery I shared with one of the doctors that I had been praying for the medical team during the night and he shared with me that he had been praying for me also. During the surgery, I had the experience of seeing myself walking down a corridor with many doors on either side. It was clear that there was light behind each door. All of the doors were welcoming to me but none of them were particularly calling to me and so I kept walking. I want to assure you there was no fear, but there was curiosity and delight at the thought of what lay behind those doors, as well as the knowledge that I will certainly one day see that which lays behind. When I awoke from my surgery, I was surrounded by my family and so many other people whose love had held me in prayer. I share these things with you tonight because I want you to know that there is no reason in your own lives to fear what lies behind the doors. There is peace and there is joy and I have seen it.
Until we meet again in the next few weeks, know that I am praying for you daily and feel your love in a very special way. You are indeed my Beloved Community and I am privileged to be walking this walk with you.
And now I send you into worship with these words from Julian of Norwich (ca 1342 ~ ca 1416), who wrote, after her own brush with a very serious illness, “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.”