For so many of us,
the last year has been one of isolation.
Boundaries, distances necessarily held firmly
And yet, other parts of us,
of our life, our being
for we are beings wired for connection.
We need one another to survive.
Some of us have spent perhaps too much time
with a small number of others
and the reality of needing a community to raise our children
needing friends to sustain our partnerships
has become so vividly, strikingly true.
This virus has made so clear our need for one another
and the deep interdependence we have
that sometimes requires us to create space
And other times requires us to reach out.
I hope that these realizations of our interdependence
change us and who we are post-pandemic.
That we are freed, liberated
by this acceptance of our need for one another.
And our capacity to both reach out
and create space.
I hope that the power of community
can continue to change us, shift our very beings.
It has for so many throughout all time.
I want to share with you now
the story of one from around now.
Brooke is a friend and fellow good trouble maker of mine
in Charleston, WV.
She is a social worker and an organizer,
a daughter and a runner.
I met Brooke when I was a volunteer for a grassroots group
she leads with a few others
that does harm reduction, addiction and recovery work.
One night, I was on a zoom meeting with a city council member
along with Brooke and other leaders in the group,
just answering this politicians questions and talking
about the importance of what we do.
As the Pastor,
I am there for the moral points
so I talk about how the work we do
is about medical health and safety, yes,
but it is also about treating humans like humans.
That the people we serve,
the poor and homeless folks who use drugs,
most everywhere else they go they are not treated as humans.
Not met with caring eyes
or a “how are you”.
That this is an important part of our work, too.
I tell them how scientists and social workers who say
opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is community.
They know that it’s community that can save us.
And that’s the work we’re doing.
Brooke responds, that this was true for her.
That it was community that saved her,
that brought her into recovery.
After the meeting, I ask her about this.
She told me that
again and again throughout her life
she has been saved by others.
As a kid,
as an adult finding recovery
and again, as an adult,
finding a way to be out about being in recovery.
This most recent saving
has just occurred for her in the last couple of years
when she met organizers and social workers
medical and helping professionals
who were out about being in recovery!
A thing she thought she could never do
because of stigma and discrimination she’d experienced.
When she first saw them share their stories, outing themselves
She was amazed and overwhelmed,
and a little frightened for them.
Didn’t they know?
They could lose their jobs?
Or would at least get harassed, constantly judged and doubted??
And slowly she saw, they didn’t.
Their speaking out,
living out loud
They made space for her to heal
from the isolation and stigma she’d experienced.
One day at a work meeting,
she was sitting across the table
from a woman she thought she could trust.
And the need to share this part of herself
kept growing up inside her.
across the table, “I am in Recovery”
And she didn’t combust.
Nothing bad happened.
This important part of who she was
that she felt she had to hide.
Here she was, now able to whisper it.
She was able to do all this thanks to the recovery community
who were out,
loud and proud.
Because of them
Brooke could heal
and become these things too.
Brooke is now able to do a lot more than whisper these realities.
She openly speaks out about her own recovery
while advocating for others who use drugs or are also in recovery
Hearing others share their stories and realities
made space for her own healing
and eventually her own sharing.
No longer having to separate and hide aspects of herself.
She experienced her own shift,
into being more fully herself, more freely herself.
Brooke reunited with herself,
Thanks to community.
Salvation is found in community
And sin is separation.
These are maybe different-than-you’ve-heard
descriptions and definitions
of familiar concepts.
Sin in popular context often comes to mean
acts that are defined as not good or right.
Christian theologians, however, from Orthodox to so progressive-they’re-not-really-Christian-anymore agree that sin is separation.
That the reason why these acts defined as sin,
are that they are acts that separate.
To speak to us, we’ll turn to Paul Tillich,
who’s in that so-very-progressive category.
“Sin is separation.
To be in the state of sin is to be in the state of separation.
And separation is threefold:
there is separation among individual lives,
separation of a man from himself,
and separation of all men from the Ground of Being.”
Separation from others
separation from self,
and separation from the “Ground of Being”,
Tillich’s name for the ultimate, whether divine or not.
This definition, I think, works for addiction
The sin of the disease of addiction
is that it separates.
It separates humans from ourselves, one another
the ground of being.
The opposite if addiction is not sobriety,
it is connection.
The opposite of Addiction is Connection.
This brings us to our working definition of salvation.
Now Salvation in Christianity is being reunited with God.
The opposite of the sin of separation,
it is the reunion.
Back to Tillich’s concept,
and theological concepts that speak more fully
to Unitarian Universalists and religious progressives:
Salvation is then our reuniting
with ourselves, one another and our Ground of Being.
We are saved when we are reconnected
when we reunite with parts of ourselves
and our communities
that our ties had been severed with,
perhaps that had been severed since the beginning of our lives.
Salvation then is a continual process.
Always becoming more saved
more reunited with ourselves
who we are
and who we are in community.
Now how does this salvation happen?
We saw it happen to Brooke when she heard others in recovery
sharing their stories openly.
Their stories made space for her healing,
which continued with her own sharing.
She was able to reunite with herself
and with her community and God, too.
This lines up with what Rita and Rebecca wrote:
with the courage of witnesses whose gaze is steady.
Steady witnesses neither flee in horror to hide their eyes,
nor console with sweet words.
Steady witnesses end the hidden life of violence
by bringing it to public attention.
They help to restore souls fragmented
They accompany the journey to healing…”
Salvation begins with the courage of
Witnesses whose gaze is steady.
Who do not use trite platitudes
who are next to us, week in and week out
holding our joys and sorrows in love.
They bring to public attention the hidden life of violence.
They speak out about being in recovery
about the stigmas and oppressions that bear down on us
that cause violence and isolation.
And in this, these steady witnesses are saving themselves, too.
They are reuniting with themselves
and their connections with others.
And creating the space for us to do the same.
Creating the healing space for others to move to being saved
This connection, this space making, comes
from bonds of love
Back to Rebecca and Rita..
Salvation requires love…
Love is neither transcendence nor undifferentiated union.
Love is the wisdom of life that knows when connection can heal
and when separation will make life flourish.
Love is the capacity to use the powers of holding on and letting go
in the service of life.
Love is capable of detachment as well as empathy,
differentiation as well as union,
hierarchy as well as mutuality.
Love is the guardian of powers.
Love directs the use of specific powers,
in response to particular circumstances,
for the sake of creating, sustaining, or healing life.
In every situation, love asks,
“What will serve life?”
We have learned something, this past year,
about love as choosing life.
About love asking us what will serve life
and how sometimes we have to separate from one another
and other times we have to reach out.
Love is both
the holding of the boundaries of connection
and tightening those bonds.
Love is both
because love is choosing life.
Again and again.
And community is the space we do this
the place where love lives, within and between us
that interdependent web of life and love.
Rebecca and Rita again,
“We have experienced life-giving communities
that foster knowledge of spirit, awareness of presence.
We know that, at their best,
communities practice the right use of the powers of life
and lead people to experience wholeness, right relationship, and beauty. When this happens, such communities teach us to know
ourselves and the world as sacred
and sustain an ethic of appreciative care for life.”
Communities teach us again and again how to say yes to life.
How to love
Communities create the spaces for us to heal
to be healed by steady witness
to be saved and to save.
The opposite of addiction is community.
The opposite of sin is community.
The opposite of isolation is community.
We find our salvation in community
It is what will save us, again and again.
May it be the love that leads us to
an ever-deepening reunion
and the ground of our being,
the web of all being.