Thanksliving and Thanksloving in a Challenging Time
By Clark Taylor, Published on June 30, 2017
Thanksliving and Thanksloving in a Challenging Time
By Kay and Clark Taylor
Introductory note: The following was given as the sermon on June 25. It introduces two made up words, which you can see italicized in the title just below, and it seeks to define and enlighten the notion of “Beloved Community,” which Martin Luther King Jr. used to describe what he was working to create. It is based on a powerful love that transforms enemies into people we can work with to find the way to justice and peace. In the sermon, we drew on our own spiritual practices and the deeply real sense of community that infuses this church to point out that the Beloved Community that we find in our personal relationships and this church will lead us to work to create it in the wider world.
K: How do we — any of us — deal with life “in a challenging time”? Clark, you and I struggled early in our marriage to have a family and came through it with one wonderful biological son and two wonderful adopted daughters. That was a challenging time for us, for sure. During that time we found ourselves agonized over the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, which was a different form of challenge to make sense of. And there have been many other challenges along the way. But now both of us find that, given our health and aging issues, this time stands out as particularly challenging. As all of us sit here this morning, each of us can think about the challenges we have faced and are currently facing in our own lives. And most of us can probably agree that as we currently experience life as citizens of our nation, with our cherished democracy hanging in the balance, this is a challenging time indeed.
C: The two of us experience this church as a warm and loving community of people that is helping us in a powerful way to meet both the personal and societal challenges of our lives. And we have become aware of the ideal of the Beloved Community, which the UUA has taken as a central part of its belief system. Three years ago, 21of us heard Meck Groot, an official of the UUA, speak in this church about Beloved Community, including its use by Martin Luther King Jr. It is based, she said, on the belief that love is the greatest force in the world, which is to be expressed through right relationships of love and respect. At times, she said, the love of Beloved Community is confrontational, bringing to mind the recent huge demonstrations that have been organized to resist the negative, backward-looking policies of our President and the efforts of the rich powerful oppressors to become ever more rich and powerful. But underlying the resistance and protest is a disciplined love, respect, and iron will that is determined to stop the oppressors in their tracks. The goal is to make their oppression too expensive for them and too much getting in the way of what they are intent on doing. At that point, they may find it necessary to sit down to work out a constructive solution based in our mutual humanity. Martin Luther King said about it: “It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.… It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
K: Beloved Community, in other words, is not based in a spineless weakness, but in tough love and strength. Within that framework it provides plenty of room for respectful tenderness and love. At this point in our 59 years of married life together we also experience our own love as an expression of Beloved Community. And we also find that our church community participates in it, as well. Our deep love and this church community are imperfect expressions of it, to be sure, but the vision of it inspires and guides us. Because I know I am loved, I have strengths and energy to reach out to each of you and the world beyond.
C: Let’s start logically with thanksliving in our personal lives in the context of our church. We think of thanksliving as an outward impulse. It reaches out from us for this or that good experience, friend, family member, or aspect of our lives. The two of us have spoken before of our practice of lighting a chalice in our home every day when we are first together in the morning. Regardless of the kind of sleep we have had or the various pains in our bodies, we start with a simple candle of thanks that, in effect, lights a fire within us. We are first of all thankful for a precious new day as a gift of life and love to share with each other and with others. We used to just take a new day for granted.
K: Then we are thankful for the particulars that come to mind, including family, church friends, and the challenges that are before us in that day. The hope is to set a pattern for the day to make the whole time we are awake lived in a thanksliving way. Realistically, it never lasts through all parts of the day—especially when we are deeply frustrated by some problem in our lives. You can fill in the blanks of points in your day when you lose all sight of living thankfully. But the challenge is there to find ways of centering ourselves to recover the fire of the thanksliving spirit. And this church helps us do it.
C: Science itself is supportive in this endeavor to live thankfully and names amazing multiple benefits that come from thanksliving. A Newsweek article quotes a psychologist from the University of Birmingham, who noted in 2013 that the “list of potential benefits [of living thankfully] is almost endless: fewer intellectual biases, more effective learning strategies, more helpfulness towards others, raised self-confidence, better work attitude, strengthened resiliency, less physical pain, improved health, and longevity.” The author goes on to name five more specific ones, all scientifically demonstrated. What’s not to like about thankful living? You can be sure that the two of us are listening to ourselves even as we speak, to find a way more deeply into the benefits.
K: Thanksloving can be singled out as a profound form of thanksliving. It is relational at its core. As human beings we find it difficult to impossible to love ourselves if we do not experience others reaching out to us in a loving way. You may point to one person in your growing up life who inspired you with the will and confidence to live in a productive way. For some it is a teacher, a grandparent, or a special caregiver. We may well have several such people in our lives. Thankful living, thus, incorporates thankful loving, but the loving aspect is worth focusing on in itself because of its profound importance in our relationship with others and, ultimately, with how we love ourselves.
C: The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote of contrasting ways of engaging with others, as I-Thou, on the one hand, and I-It on the other. I-Thou involves treating other people as holy or sacred loving others rather than as things, as “its.” Every person, whoever we are, has an innate desire to have others care about us in a loving way. In our defensiveness, we often have developed habits and attitudes that make it difficult for us to be easily loved and accepted by others. But we can remind ourselves that all of us are alike in that essential way of needing to be lovingly accepted by others. Quakers speak of “the god in us” and “holding one another in the light,” i.e., with reference to the holy Thou in all of us. Kay, you and I have developed ways of working through the difficult differences of our lives.
K: I was and am more focused on creativity and beauty, while you have been committed to social change and activism. Then you took up garden photography as a hobby, which served as a bridge for our interests. Even with that, I found it hard not to think of your social justice work as more valuable than my focus on artistic beauty. But I have come around to becoming very supportive of your justice work, which I also believe in. As a result, we have become each other’s cheerleaders. As we have become older and are now heading into some difficult uncertainty on the health front, our thankfulness and love for each other has become deeper and even more emotionally satisfying and life fulfilling.
C: We have been offering a window into our marriage as a kind of case study of how we have worked to become more intentional in our thanksliving and thanksloving. But as all of us here today seek to become more thankful and loving people, both in our primary relationships, our friendship circles, and in our church, the further truth is that it opens the possibility for us to offer more as citizens in uplifting artistic beauty and the political justice struggles in our world. Another way of saying this is as we work to create the Beloved Community in our church, we are more prepared to work toward the Beloved Community at a grander loving justice scale as we join forces with others in the world around us. As a church we can see that we are already on that journey:
K: Our church has tackled the challenges of Beloved Community-building in many ways. To mention a few: by becoming a green congregation, with support for the health of the planet, and a welcoming congregation with an open love for all people, including LGBTQ, transgendered people, and folks of all gender identities. We have taken on the challenge of becoming a more racially just congregation and the cause of helping to release people who have been trafficked and try to support them. We are in the process of deciding whether to become a sanctuary congregation that would support a faith community that has enough space to house an undocumented immigrant or family.
C: Given these outreach efforts and others, in which many of us have been involved, we can say that this church is engaged in helping to create the Beloved Community in the world around us. And if we add up every single thing different ones of us are doing as volunteers or in our places of employment to make the world a more just and peaceful place, we would be impressed. You who are volunteering or working for a just peace at work are unheralded ambassadors of the spirit of this church. But clearly there is much more to be done. We invite you to consider what you can do in light of your own spiritual practices to become more of an ambassador for beauty, justice, and peace. Our hope here in sharing some of our own thanksliving and thanksloving practice is not that you will do what we do, but that you will draw on your own way of building and sharing in Beloved Community.