Two Sundays ago, while the congregation of the First Unitarian Church of New Orleans was in worship, during that most sacred time of prayer and meditation, visitors who had come in wearing jackets and button up shirts, tore off their shirts revealing that they were part of the anti-abortion fundamentalist group Operation Save America. Out of the sacred silence, they began yelling about how our church was a place of Satan, a church of murderers. For you see, just a few weeks ago, the only planned parenthood clinic in New Orleans had used the church for its ground breaking ceremony since their building site was flooded by recent rains.
As the Rev. Deanna Vandiver, the church’s community minister who was leading worship that day told Rachel Maddow, the most amazing thing happened. In the midst of that violation, the youth, who had just spent the week being trained in leadership, made a circle around the congregation with their backs to the protesters and started singing. Over their voices, Rev. Deanna, asked the protesters to either join in singing or take their malice outside across the threshold of the church.
The protesters left and took their signs and went over to the religious education building a pushed their signs up against the glass windows of the nursery. Again, our young adults who were caring for the smallest ones acted with courage, simply picking up the kids and moving them to an interior classroom.
Operation Save America decried the invasion publicly but on its onsite congratulated the protesters for their ‘dynamic witness’. In the interview Rev. Deanna, said she was so grateful that her people were not willing to live in fear but were willing to stand on the side of love. They acted from a place of compassion and respect even though that was not what they were feeling. She went on to say that regardless of anyone’s belief about abortion to invade a church service was deny the fundamental right of our democracy, the right to peacefully practice our religion.
I want us to become courage. Listen carefully to what Rev. Deanna said, which she spoke so calmly. "Despite what they were feeling they acted out of compassion and respect."
I believe that in order to live a fuller spiritual life – and let me say that by spiritual life, I mean any practice that leads us to peace and greater understanding – we must act in a way that goes beyond our feelings. Fear is the great Satan here. Fear drives people to kill, fear drives them to abandon their families, their principles, their communities, even this one. Courage rests in moving beyond fear and feelings towards the guiding principles of our free religion; compassion, trust and hope.
Courage is not the absence of fear, courage is reason over fear. That is what was happening in that church when our youth led the way. They took seriously what we teach them. They stood on the side of love.By calming our fears of what will happen to us, and trusting a little more in the good will of people, we are able to open ourselves up to the Spirit of Life and Love.
We are not alone. We are not alone here. Not alone in our families. Not alone in our faith. Rev. Deanna had a congregation, a youth group was there. Courage rests in not being alone. Either in the face of injustice or in the face of uncertainty and change.
With Grace and Grit, John