Begin Again in Love

Note: This was originally published on the now defunct TinaLBPorter website on 2/23/2018. I’m working on filling in some of the spaces between the beginnings of this blog and the jump to writing new content here. So her’s a rerun, of sorts. –Tina

Way back in January, when I offered to fill the pulpit at my congregation on March 11, I had no clue I would be preaching on Daylight Saving day. But I did it.

I preached about beginning again, in love, after the Litany of Atonement reading by Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, which is included in the back of Singing the Living Tradition, our UU Hymnal. And now that I have had the after sermon naps, and powered through the day after the harsh removal of a single hour, I google the reading and come across a Church of the Larger Fellowship video of the Rev. Eller-Isaacs reading his original version, prefaced by his explanation for the difference. I wish that I had found this before the service. I wish I had thought to google it rather than just read it in the back of the hymnal. If you have a few minutes, listen to him read it.

Like Rev. Eller-Isaacs, I, too, prefer his original version, where it reads “I forgive myself, I forgive you, We begin again in love.”

If I were able to go back and redo the sermon to read it this way, I would. Because that is exactly what I wanted to say to my home community, the community I left several years ago when I felt overwhelmed by life and disappointed in not only the way other people were pursuing the stated goals of our congregation, but the way I was doing so, as well.

So the homily I preached on Sunday was one where, in the midst of it, I said “I feel like Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, when she says to Hugh Grant, “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”

The sermon was years in the making, but I only knew it a few weeks ago. I had a different piece of my mind to give the congregation when I volunteered, but wisdom struck at some point reminding me that I needed to ask to be back before I could waltz in and say “You’re Doing It Wrong!” which was the sermon I was going to give, kind of.

But as I was cleaning up my office one day, I found the notes for a UU World article I wrote about the fires in California last spring and fall. Rev. Jan Christian’s words leapt off the page at me, as I was readying to toss them in the recycle bin. “It is a reminder that we belong to each other,” she said. And I remembered how it was to talk to all those ministers who were holding people who had lost so much, if not everything, who were living in communities that disappeared into ash. How they talked, with the exhaustion etching their words so that I felt them, rather than heard them. Each one echoing some sentiment of Rev. Christian, echoing how the church was a place to go when there was no home. The congregation was the people who were, as Rev. Christian also said, “present in the loss.”

And as I looked at those last words, I realized my own loss in my willingness to walk away from a congregation that had, as Dr. Mark Hicks says, “loved us into being.” We grew up in this church. One story I didn’t tell is that my youngest daughter actually lost her umbilical stump somewhere between the nursery and the minister’s office on the day we signed the membership book. And I mean LOST, as in I couldn’t find it. (I kept trying slyly to fish through the cushions of the couch in the office, hoping to find it before anyone else did, but no luck.) And that baby is nearly 20 years old. (Now 21!)

Walking away from love is sometimes necessary. I get that. It was for us at that time in our life, in the church’s life. And one of the lessons I learned is that the church is not me anymore than it is anyone in particular that attends. The world spun on. No one is indispensable and the church stayed afloat.

It is nice to know that when the time comes and you have to stand before the crowd and ask them to love you, you can get the forgiveness you seek, not only from others, but from yourself, as Rev. Eller-Isaacs’ reading suggests.

It’s been way too long. And I’m not ready to jump into a leadership role at the church, I’m ready to get in and roll around in the messy way of living and loving that happens when well-meaning people rub up against each other for the common good.

Onward, dear friends. Onward we go, remembering that good old saw: love thy neighbor as they self. And also, love thyself as you would love thy neighbor.

Final note: “not ready to jump into a leadership role” — Hah! I have been serving as the Ministerial Search Committee Chair for more than a year.