Unitarian Sunday Reflections
(Hull and Lincoln Unitarians)
16 January 2022

“We Make the Road by Walking”
Reflections on liberation, freedom, and Martin Luther King Jr.

“The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men and women often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires.”
~ Howard Thurman


words by John Carter

We light our chalice, this candle,
as a sign of our connectedness, our community, and of our journey on this spiritual quest called life….

We take a moment to reflect on our life and living of this week… as we reflect…. explore and ask of yourself….
What was good? Healthy?
What was not good? Unhealthy?
What moments, events, conversations, time alone
that allowed me to connect to another, to life,
to that which may be called Divine.

What does the word liberation or liberation theology mean to you?
How do you experience manifestation, light, enlightenment in your life?
When you hear about the experiences of marginalised persons how do you react? Do you find yourself compelled by them?

As we end these reflections, as we move to worship, may we continue to reflect on the things that make life whole and how we may grow ourselves into them.

May the Great Spirit of the Journey walk with us today.


HYMN HFL 135 (CD HFL 1 / TK 12)
“Sing in Celebration”
words by John Andrew Storey

Sing in celebration, time to remember
Those who in past ages kept love of truth alive;
Now, in dedication, as we pay them homage,
We too would pledge for truth and love to strive.

Pioneers undaunted, upheld by courage,
Freed the mind from fetters and set the conscience free;
By the tyrant taunted, for their faith derided,
They yet stood firm in love and liberty.

We who share their vision must share their labour,
Marching to the future — a new world yet to be.
This shall be our mission — to extol compassion
Till humankind become one family.

Our readings today come from various theologians, and writers who are a part of marginalised communities in the west. Two African Americans, one Latin American, and one who is Jewish. The three theologians all are speaking of different aspects of the theme of liberation, equality, equity, and Justice. The poet gives voice and beauty to these themes.

“Religion and Humanity”
by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Little does contemporary religion ask of us (man).

It is ready to offer comfort; it has no courage to challenge.
It is ready to offer edification; it has no courage to break the idols, to shatter callousness.

The trouble is that religion has become “religion” — institution, dogma, ritual. It is no longer an event. It’s acceptance involves neither risk nor strain. Religion has achieved respectability by the grace of society, and its representatives publish as a frontispiece the nihil obstat (offical sanction that nothing harmful is contained within) signed by social scientists.

We define self-reliance and call it faith, shrewdness and call it wisdom, anthropology and call it ethics, literature and call it Bible, inner security and call it religion, conscience and call it God.

However, nothing counterfeit can endure forever.

It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.

When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendour of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless.

“Marginalisation: A Universal Phenomenon”
by Dom Holder Camara, from The Desert Is Fertile, 1974

Anyone who has stood by the road trying to hitch a ride in a hurry and watched the cars flash past them can understand what is meant by ‘marginal.’

A marginal person is someone who is left by the wayside in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of their country.

We could imagine that in an underdeveloped country the whole population would be living in the same subhuman conditions. But this is not the case. What usually happens might be called an internal colonialism. Small groups of rich people live off the poverty of their fellow citizens.

These small local rich groups help the great rich foreigners. Some call them a ‘consular bourgeoisie’ because they are like the consuls who used to be sent abroad to represent an empire or an emperor.

We could imagine that there are no marginal persons in developed countries. This is also false. Even in rich countries there are groups who remain poor. Remain marginal. They might be immigrants who have come to look for work, old-age pensioners, the unemployed.

Marginalisation does not affect only groups or individuals. There exist today marginal countries or even continents. This is what we mean by the ‘third world,’ Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The first development decade has come and gone. The rich countries have become richer and the poor countries have become poorer. Marginalisation has increased.

The problem is more complicated than that because marginalisation has at least three stages.

At the first stage the marginal do not reap the benefits of economic progress.
At the second stage they are deprived of productive power.
At the third stage they are deprived of the power of decision.

“True Freedom”
words by James Russell Lowell

Though it is our boast that we
Come of parents brave and free,
If there breathe on earth a slave;
Are we truly free and brave?
If we do not feel the chain
When it works another’s pain,
Are we not base slaves indeed,
Slaves unworthy to be freed?

Is true freedom but to break
Fetters for our own dear sake,
And with leather hearts forget
That we owe the world a debt?
No, true freedom is to share
All the chains our comrades wear,
And with heart and hand to be
Earnest to make others free.

They are slaves who fear to speak
For the fallen and the weak;
They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred, scoffing, and abuse.
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think;
They are slave who dare not be
In the right with two or three.

“I Know Where I’ve Been”
from the musical Hairspray;
writers: Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
sung by Queen Latifah

There’s a light in the darkness
Though the night is black as my skin
There’s a light burning bright
Showing me the way but I know where I’ve been

There’s a cry in the distance
It’s a voice that comes from deep within
There’s a cry asking why
I pray the answer’s up ahead ’cause I know where I’ve been

There’s a road, we’ve been travelin’
Lost so many on the way
But the riches will be plenty
Worth the price we had to pay

There’s a dream in the future
There’s a struggle, we have yet to win
And there’s pride in my heart
‘Cause I know where I’m going and I know where I’ve been

There’s a road, we must travel
There’s a promise, we must make
‘Cause the riches will be plenty
Worth the risk and chances that we take
There’s a dream in the future, there’s a struggle

We have yet to win
Use that pride in our hearts
To lift us up, to tomorrow
‘Cause just to sit still would be a sin

I know it, I know it
I know where I’m going
And Lord knows I know
Where I’ve been

Oh, when we win
I’ll give thanks to my God
‘Cause I know where I’ve been

“Why we can’t wait”
by Martin Luther King Jr.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few year ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies.

Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anaesthetising security of stained-glass windows.

In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church…

Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise?….

Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists…

There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed.

In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society…

Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’…

Things are different now.

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent — and often even vocal — sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Is organised religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.

But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organised religion have broken loose from the paralysing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom.

They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us…

Yes, they have gone to gaol with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers….

Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times.

Caged Bird
by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

HYMN SYF 191 (CD SYF 4/TK 20)
“We Have A Dream”
words by Michael Forster, based on speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

We have a dream: this nation will arise,
and truly live according to its creed,
that all are equal in their maker’s eyes,
And none shall suffer through another’s greed.

We have a dream that one day we shall see
a world of justice, truth and equity,
where sons of slaves and daughters of the free
Will share the banquet of community.

We have a dream of deserts brought to flower,
once made infertile by oppression’s heat,
when love and truth shall end oppressive power
And streams of righteousness and justice meet.

We have a dream: our children shall be free
from judgements based on colour or on race;
free to become whatever they may be,
Of their own choosing in the light of grace.

We have a dream that truth will overcome
the fear and anger of our present day;
that black and white will share a common home,
And hand in hand will walk the pilgrim way.

We have a dream: each valley will be raised,
and every mountain, every hill, brought down;
then shall creation echo perfect praise,
And share God’s glory under freedom’s crown!

Which of the readings spoke to you?
Which hymn?
Do you understand the critique of religion, and the of the churches by our writers? How would you sum up these critiques? How are they similar to your personal critique? How are they different?

“We make the road by walking”

I first came across liberation theology in the mid 70s into the early 80s. Through the work of various radical young Christian evangelical communal communities and their periodicals. The best known was and still is the periodical called Sojourners. Their community is located in Washington DC, the other well known one was The Other Side, who were located in Philadelphia, then there was Radix, located in San Francisco…..and there were many others. Much of what connected these communities and why many of us were attracted to them at that time was simply the conversations they evoked.

They were radical in their following of Jesus, ecumenical in how they worked, some more to interfaith, others like the Jesus People USA in Chicago were in fact rabid Fundamentalists in much of their theological outlook and behaviour. Regardless of the theological outlook and formation all of these communities focused on the care of the marginal, and powerless in society. Some were more liberal progressive and as mentioned some were more fundamentalists. Even today the divide has grown wider between these groups, equal in that is the alining of group with national political parties.

But it was Sojourners and the Other Side that gave me my first taste, reading of Liberation Theology. Which was mixed heavily with Anabaptist theology as well, and what I was learning in my studies at University continued then into my time of working as a youth director, then service with Brethren Volunteer Service, then onto Seminary and further studies.

I not only studied, but I was able to examine and experience some of the basic ways of being a part of the liberation communities. In Brethren Volunteer Service, we had speakers in our orientation units, who were engaged with various US styles of liberation theology. We participated in work camps in Appalachia, New York City, Kansas. Worshipping with more radical churches, one Catholic Church in Chicago where the Priest, who was Black, adopted a black teenage lad, it sparked a major conversation around care of inner city youth, as well as the issues of being a Priest. This was late 1970s early 1980s. Or the Episcopal Church on the lower east side of manhattan in NYC, where the liturgy was spoken by the congregation, save the parts that must be said by the priest. They worshiped in a half circle around the altar.

During seminary I spent time as a short term volunteer with Witness for Peace, the organisation that was the precursor for the Christian Peacemakers Teams. My term of service was in Nicaragua, in the village of Jalapa, where we worshipped with the community, and yes the use of congregational voice for much of the liturgy, but the address was a conversation lead by the attending priest with members speaking their understanding of the texts read during that service. Everyone was invited to speak.

Universal in all of this is that faith, religion, is less about belief and rules, and more about compassion and action, action with a focus on just relationships, on non violent ways of solving conflict, life lived with concern for all of creation.

One of the writers I read when writing my degree thesis, was Paulo Freire, an educator and liberationist. The title of this address is a translation of his ideals… We make the road by walking.

Liberation is about acting to make things better.

This sense of making by walking resonates with the spiritual ideal of pilgrimage, the social ideal of protest, and educational experience of journey and travel.

Healthy religion calls us to do good for all, not just for ourselves. Spiritual discipline opens us to ways of centring, formation, and wonder.

The Unitarian minister David Usher warns that if our spirituality does not focus us onto the other, the outer, the world around then it is simply narcissistic and worthless.

It is to this goal of opening ourselves to the other, especially the other whose life experience is different from ours, that the overall focus of liberation theology, and in fact all decent theologies can form us.

This is the power of religious and spiritual formation and exploration.

This is the calling to follow a spiritual path, that doesn’t lead us to simply gaze at our navels, but evokes the wonder of the universe and the courage of action for helping our planet, all life, and especially those who are quickly forgotten and shoved to the margins of society.


“Let It Be Done”
words by Monica Cummings

Dear Unknown, Unknowable, Yet Known by Many Names

Keep us mindful that we are all related. That when one of us is ignored and treated with dis-ease, we all suffer.

Today may each of us commit to welcome the stranger.

May we move beyond our comfort zones and connect with people labeled different and pushed to the edges of society.

We can make a difference.

We can transform lives.

We can bring harmony and healing to the places and spaces where we live, work and play.

May we keep our hearts and minds open and receptive to the still, small voice that calls us
to stand witness for those who cannot stand,
to speak the truth for justice for those without a voice and
to lead the way on the journey toward wholeness for those without sight.

In the spirit of love, compassion and community, let it be done.

Blessed be.

HYMN SYF 208 (CD SYF 2 / TK 25)
“When our heart is in a holy place”
words by Joyce Poley

When our heart is in a holy place,
when our heart is in a holy place,
we are blessed with love and amazing grace,
when our heart is in a holy place.

When we trust the wisdom in each of us,
ev’-ry colour ev’-ry creed and kind,
and we see our faces in each other’s eyes,
then our heart is in a holy place.

When our heart is in a holy place,
when our heart is in a holy place,
we are blessed with love and amazing grace,
when our heart is in a holy place.

When we tell our story from deep inside,
and we listen with a loving mind,
and we hear our voices in each other’s words,
then our heart is in a holy place.

When our heart is in a holy place,
when our heart is in a holy place,
we are blessed with love and amazing grace,
when our heart is in a holy place.

When we share the silence of sacred space,
and the God of our heart stirs within,
and we feel the power of each other’s faith,
then our heart is in a holy place.

When our heart is in a holy place,
when our heart is in a holy place,
we are blessed with love and amazing grace,
when our heart is in a holy place.
When our heart is in a holy place.

In the third year of pandemic
A blessing…
by Rev John Carter

May we embrace all that life offers us,
May we look to each other and and see all the great gifts of life,
May we open our arms to all we meet…

May we go in peace, and be the peace that is needed in this time of uncertainty.


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