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Pastoral Letter on the Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando, FL – 6/17/2016

There are no words, in any language I know, that can capture sufficiently the wrongness of death. It’s loss is infinite, for every human life is woven together into the vast and sacred tapestry of being. When even one of our lights goes out from the earth, the planet, the cosmos, the very Divine itself is made less. As both the Talmud and the Qur’an affirm: when one life is stolen from the world, it is the same as if the whole of the world had been destroyed.

For 49 sacred and beautiful lives taken this past weekend, there are no words. There are not enough tears in the ocean to cry, there is not enough breath in the sky to fill our lungs full enough to wail and to grieve. In this country and many other places, the gay club is a sanctuary. It has been so for generations: a place where people disowned and denigrated – by their family, by their religion, by their society, or all three – come together to celebrate the sacraments of being loudly and irrepressibly alive together. To experience the communion of each others’ company and the simcha of laughing and dancing and being exactly who they know themselves to be – sometimes for the first or the only time. That such a sanctuary should be shattered, and by a man who seems to have been trapped in a prison of his own self-hatred…there are no words.

There are not enough tears in the ocean, and yet we must cry. There is not enough breath in the sky, and yet we must wail. There are no words, and yet we must speak. Speak because this horror had its roots in hatred and injustice, and our grief, and our anger are energy for work. The hard work of confronting such hatred, of dismantling such injustice, of shouting and singing and laughing and dancing again and again the truth our faith affirms: that humankind’s diversity is not the cause of its failure, but the source of its beauty. That the luminous mystery of our wide variety as a species – from how we look and speak and dress, to what we believe and how we worship, to how we love, how we have sex, and how we express and transgress the great multitude of our genders – that this is Holy, that this is Truth, that this is the very manifestation of God themselves.

May the Source of Peace send peace to those who mourn, especially to those of us who are Transgender, Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, and/or Queer, and most especially to those who are also people of color – to all those most deeply harmed and targeted by this attack. All of us have a duty to speak and to act against this terrible act and the long-standing evils that laid the groundwork for it; but let us also remember that those of us who are straight and/or white have a profound duty to listen. May peace come in its time, but may it be a peace which is struggled for, built by the hard work of human hands to make the world more whole.

There are no words, friends, and yet we must speak. And in that unfailing human determination to do the impossible – to name the unnameable, to bind up what has been broken, to heal what has been torn asunder – in that Divine imperative, lies our hope.

Amain. Amen. Amin.

Yours in Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson

What To Do On Your Summer Vacation

As a congregation, we meet for worship every Sunday. We come together seeking meaning and solace and wisdom and the renewal of singing and praying and talking with each other. And we also come together as a discipline, living out the commitment that there should be some shared, public expression of liberal religion at least once a week, in the parish we serve. Once, when each of us needed it on some Sunday morning in the past, there was church. So there should be for the next person who needs it, too.

So there will be services, all this summer long. By the end of June will be outside rather than in for a few months, to make the most of the warm sea air, and avoid most of the hottest days of the year for our beloved (and well-insulated) sanctuary. Our summer services at Dane Street Beach have become a beloved tradition for us, and I very much hope I’ll see all of you there. But I know that work and travel and the varied pace of summer life will mean that I’ll see at least a little less of some of you. So this seems like a good time to remind you of something that is true the whole year round: we are Unitarian Universalists whether it is Sunday or not. Whether we make it to the church (or the beach) or we don’t, the fact of our religion persists. And while joining together in worship is a great way to express our faith, there are many, many others besides. Here, then, I will offer you seven other practices and actions we can take on any day we aren’t (or are) in worship:

  1. Turn towards the holy in someone you would otherwise quarrel with, quietly despise, or ignore. This doesn’t mean ignoring a conflict of the necessary kind, or forgiving a wrong when no amends have been made; it is simply and humbly to acknowledge that the fiery furnaces that forged the atoms of your body forged those in theirs as well. Each life we encounter matters to an infinite degree – no matter what. Sit with that truth; turn it over in your heart for a little while. Find something to do, or say, or think which affirms the value in that other person’s being alive.
  2. Make amends for a wrong you have done someone else. Apologize, if you haven’t. Offer restitution, if you can. When all else is impossible, show a special kindness to someone new, in honor of the mistake you can’t take back.
  3. Provoke your spiritual palate. Find something that touches the realm of deep meaning and clashes with the first language of your soul – a quote from the Bible, a theological claim from a family member or friend, or some moment of comedy or drama from a modern novel or television show. Find that something, and take it seriously enough to grapple with it. You may find you only dislike it more, but work for more clarity about why you disagree with it, and determine what your answer is to counter it with.
  4. Go looking to learn something that you didn’t know before. Do a little research. Ask people questions (‘yourself’ and ‘Siri’ both count as people for the purposes of this exercise, but try to go beyond both). Don’t just accept everything you are told, but value the direct experiences of others, and yourself.
  5. Challenge someone in authority to use their power in the service of love. Write a letter, send an email, make a phone call, carry a picket sign. Contact your senator, or your city clerk, or your boss, if you are feeling especially courageous. Somewhere in the world there is a change you know is needed, but is not yours to make. Find where the power to make that change is, and speak your truth to that power.
  6. Support your community. By some act or gift, large or small, help to make a group of which you are a part stronger.
  7. Mend your corner of the web. Take stock of the network of mutuality in your life, and try to pinpoint a relationship that is weak, or broken, or bent away from something nourishing into something harmful. Reach out to someone who needs you – or to someone you need, so that you both can know you are not alone.

Any one of these, done well, could be very difficult. But all of them are entirely possible. On a good day, (such as a single morning at church) a person could do all seven. I’m going to challenge you to find one to do each day this summer. Between our Flower Communion in June and our Water Communion in September, there are 11 weeks. That’s 77 opportunities. Put this list on the fridge, or carry it around in your pocket. Ask yourself, each day, “What is it that I have done today, because I am a Unitarian Universalist?”


In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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