If you keep reading, I will try to tell you the only important thing.
But first, some context: Several members of St. John’s, and ministers and members of other area UU congregations, had occasion to be in court asking for an order of protection. The details don’t matter. What matters is that before the judge invited us to speak, she spoke to two young women, one at a time. She told them the limits of the court’s power to protect them. They asked what to do next. They worried about their safety.
It occurred to me that this judge listens to stories from people like these women five days a week, all year long. That is a lot of fear, violence, and worry in one court room.
It seems to me that the problem of violence does not rest with just one mis-behaving, sick, or criminal person. The context for the person who commits acts of violence is a society that rewards violence, or is so slow to condemn said violence that the perpetrator feels justified.
This is the context of a bunch of UUs in a court room seeking safety.
And I mean to tell you truly that creating safety in a violent world is not about us, or them, or that other guy over there. I tell you this one important thing: Under everything we think categorizes us is a deeper truth that holds us all. Our work as people of faith is to nurture the deep truth that nurtures us, sustains us, and calls us to love more fully.
Imagine a tree with long branches that offer fragrant, beautiful blossoms which then turn to sweet fruit. As people of faith, we might think that our task is to tend the bloom, to nurture the fruit. And, without a doubt, part of our work is just that. But the first part of our job is to tend that which nurtures the branch. Below the trunk is a root extending as deep as the crown grows high. This root gathers the waters of life and moves them to each and every branch. We might think of each branch as a cause for justice; and, surely we want justice done. But if in caring for the branch, we forget the root, our efforts will be short lived and futile.
The women in the court were as one branch and we were as another. The peoples who cannot access justice due to barriers of societal prejudices and oppressions have their own branches. In our telling, the tree has as many branches as all the variety of life we can imagine. And our prayer, our hearts desire is to see the whole tree in bright bloom.
My most radical invitation is for us to keep concern for the deep root central to our every action. This root binds us to the earth, connects us, and brings us the waters of life.
What is the root? To this question, I can answer in riddle, metaphor, or mystery. Our denomination does not hold a creed, nor do we have a catechism. What we do have is a way of being with each other and the world.
The root, the center, the deeper essence of things, then, can be glimpsed in the way we practice being together.
What does that look like? It looks like a commitment to the principle of respect for all. It looks like wide and warm welcome. It looks like attentive listening and humbly allowing ourselves to be guided by love.
Even as we are bees moving from the blossoms of one branch to the blooms of another as we flit from cause to cause, we are the gardener watching the sky for rain, remembering last season’s weather. We set the hose, augment the soil, protect the trunk and tend the root.
The less flashy work of caring for the center of things is what leads us into work for the immigrant, for cross cultural understanding, and respect for people no matter how they embody or move in the world. Root work is slow and inner. It happens in darkness and in conversations with our souls. It is a life we feel and know but cannot see. It is life creating transformation that breaks through into the world we share.
The same culture that is slow to respond to violence, teaches us that change only comes through large and direct action. And justice work needs to gather the sunlight and use it to fuel growth – Justice needs the picket line and the marches, the boycotts and the public witness. But if the root needs the leaf, then the leaf needs the root.
In faith, I invite you to do the root work of the soul. Tend to the center. Go deep. Be still. Resist quick changes in the weather. Since the word “radical” originates from the Latin word “radix”, or “root”, this is the most radical work we can do.
The only important thing I know is this: Tend our common root and good will grow from there.