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Lives Lived

Sermon by Rev. Lynn Harrison and Rev. Shawn Newton.

Floating Flower
Each year, in early January, we mark the lives of those—the famous and not-so-famous—whose lives, in ways big or small, changed our world. This Sunday, Lynn, Dallas, and I will deliver short eulogies for a number of people who died in 2020, from Salome Bey and Christie Blatchford to Alex Trebeck and Paul Bear Vasquez. Our team of musicians will offer music by Johnny Nash, Laura Smith, and Bill Withers. We look forward, as always, to sharing this life-affirming service with you

Here are the start of 2021, I want to offer you an observation and an invitation.

The Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism are sometimes dismissed as being overly broad. They are thought by some to be so universally held as to have no meaningful power or purpose. I reject that view with every fiber of my being. Such statements, I believe, come from people who haven’t spent a lot of time or effort actually trying to put these lofty principles into personal or collective practice. Affirming these principles in our daily living, through our words and deeds, is a lot harder than it looks. (Can I get an “Amen”?!) Closing the gap between our aspirations and our actions is the work of our lives and the purpose of our faith.

This thought, in the largest frame, has been very much on my mind in recent days as we struggle mightily to get a handle on the pandemic, here and elsewhere, especially as it decimates our elders living in long-term care and some of the most marginalized members of our society. And the thought has been very present to me as I’ve watched with shock but little surprise the anti-democratic events taking place south of the border this week. Beyond the current headlines, of course, there remains so much work to be done: to make real progress against climate change, to live into the demands of racial justice and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, to build up the Beloved Community that upholds the fundamentals of fairness for one and all. We as a society still have so far to go.

And, then, of course, there is the smaller, personal, and far more intimate frame of each of our individual lives. The gap between our aspirations and our actions can certainly be felt at times in our relationships with our nearest and dearest, or even with our own conscience. But the felt awareness of that gap and a willingness to pay attention to it is a helpful place to start, if our goal is to bring more love and justice into the world.

As we begin this new year with all of the challenges it promises to present, may we be guided by our principles. I invite you to spend a bit of time, now or in the days ahead, reflecting more deeply on the meaning of each of these statements of our values—for you, for us, and for our world. You might even consider devoting a day of the coming week to meditate on each one.

We, the member congregations of the Canadian Unitarian Council, covenant to affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

On a personal note, I’ll be taking a sabbatical break for a few weeks between mid-January and mid-February to move ahead with my doctoral studies.

May these weeks of deep winter be a time of growth and reflection for us all.

Be safe, and take good care.

In faith and love,
Shawn

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