From Liberal to Liberating – Rev. Kristin Grassel Schmidt

Rev. Kristin Grassel Schmidt led the second of two services as part of UUCSS Ministerial Candidating Week. Following the service, members of UUCSS voted to call Rev. Schmidt to be the congregation’s next settled minister!

A link to a video of the entire service is provided. Sermon text follows:

A few months ago, when we could still do exciting things like eat at restaurants, I went out for breakfast one day. I was seated a couple tables away from a family with a toddler. She was very cute, with tight black curls in pretty barrettes. And she was pretty delightful to be around, at least until she drank all of her milk. In the time it took for her mom to order more milk and the server to bring it, the child’s demands got louder and louder until mom plopped her in her lap and said “Hush, don’t make a scene.” 

Most of us have been there, either as the toddler or the parent. 

Most of us learn from an early age not to make those kinds of scenes. It’s part of how we grow up. Through a combination of social and cultural nurturing, we learn what kind of behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. We learn early on that behaving in ways that draw too much attention, that stick out too much, can be embarrassing. And as a result, as a society we spend a lot of time and money on things like hair dye and plastic surgery, Botox and teeth whitening trying to control how we are perceived in the world. 

Many of us have chosen to resist some of society’s expectations, to live our lives fully as ourselves, even if doing so makes others think we’re making a scene. It can be freeing to resist those expectations, but it can also be exhausting, risky or even dangerous, especially when the things that don’t fit the white supremacist, patriarchal standard are a deep part of who we are. 

Years ago I scraped the Obama sticker off my bumper before moving to Houston. I was worried that putting my political views on display in that conservative area could put me at risk.

It was something I had the privilege to choose not to reveal. But as African American poet Rudy Francisco writes, “I can’t unzip this skin after a long night.” Racism, inequality, and privilege are not new in this country, but this pandemic is laying bare just how many people our systems treat as if they are disposable. 

Between the climate catastrophe, racial inequity, and the widening gap between the ultr-arich and poor, our society seems to be approaching a threshold. Things could either become more oppressive, divided, unsustainable, or things could change and evolve. And people of faith can play a large role in tipping things away from greater oppression and towards equality and sustainability. So, as we enter into our reflection time, I invite you to consider two questions:

What choices have you made to live your values? 

What actions have you taken to make the world a better place?

Many of us have in our own lives made choices and taken action to live out our values and make the world a better place. But this is work we can also do together, as families, as neighborhoods, as congregations. As Rev. Morrison Reed wrote in our second reading this morning, “It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community.”

In some of the meetings I’ve had during candidating week I’ve asked what’s made you most proud to be a member of this congregation. And an overwhelming majority have told me about the work you did together to advocate for equal marriage rights. 

This is a full-hearted congregation that has experience coming together across difference and working for justice. 

Now for a lesson from our country’s history. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter after being jailed for taking part in desegregation demonstrations. It’s called a Letter from Birmingham Jail and it’s well-known now. But what you may not know is that he wrote it in response to a letter that eight white clergymen from Birmingham had written in the lead up to the demonstrations. 

In their letter, these religious leaders acknowledged that they felt they were on Dr. King’s side; they didn’t support segregation either. They said they believed in the equality of all people. But they didn’t like his “tactics” and the disruption the demonstrations had caused. “When rights are consistently denied,” they wrote in their letter “a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets.” 

In other words, they wanted the movement to stop making a scene. But as we know, it took more than just believing in desegregation to make it happen. It took people coming together, equipping and sustaining one another, and taking bold action. 

We often talk about our churches as places where people are like-minded. But as we say again and again, our liberal faith isn’t just about what’s up here. Instead our faith is reflected in the way we behave, in the actions we take, in the scenes we’re willing to make. 

We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people, but it’s the way our behavior reflects this idea that matters most. I can’t imagine a more important time for Unitarian Universalists to come together and take action than right now and in the days to come. And this is why I believe we are being called into not just a liberal faith, but a liberating one: liberation from the systems that harm all of us and our planet. 

Ministry in the days ahead may be very different from what any of us imagined even a couple of months ago. And yet, I believe we have gifts to bring to this work. I can’t imagine a time more ripe for people to join together across differences, to grow in accountable relationships with those most harmed by the way things are now, and to act for change and freedom. And I can imagine no people I’d rather make a scene with and serve love and justice with than all of you, and I can think of no place I’d rather be for the days that lie ahead than here at UUCSS. 

May the week we’ve shared be just the beginning of our ministry together, 

may we find joy in our action and service together, 

and may love move in, with, and through us 

to give our lives and world the shape of justice. Amen.