Elizabeth Dickinson offered the sermon excerpted here at Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Seattle, March 13, 2022.

I’m so delighted to be with you today to formally welcome you into the community of critical connections we call the Faith Action Network. We need your energy and courage, and I hope you need ours.

The Faith Action Network, or FAN as we informally call it, is a web of communities from different religious traditions around the state. Westside UU Congregation is now one of 163 communities in this “network of mutuality,” to use Martin Luther King, Jr’s words.

As Unitarians, you may not need to be convinced that paying attention to systems and structures is part of our calling to be good neighbors. But I have found it helpful to remember this statistic from the national organization Bread for the World: food banks and community meals financed by charitable organizations like churches and other nonprofits provide only 1/10 of food assistance to hungry people in this country. Our local, state and federal governments provide the rest.

Policies matter. How our taxes are spent, what rights we embrace, what government programs we create, and whom our nation, our governments and corporations deem worthy—all these have consequences for who thrives and who does not. Adding our voices and social capital to those who experience suffering is a powerful way to come alongside others.

One of the blessings of being in collaboration is how much we learn from each other.
Echoing Dr. King, one value we aspire to is MUTUALITY. Valuing mutuality means focusing on creating a relationship of trust before a project is developed or an issue addressed. As a proverb goes in South America, “The way is made by walking.”

Mutuality means recognizing the gifts each of us has to offer. These may include financial resources, time, access, technical expertise, cultural understanding, and more.

Mutuality requires us to be curious about each other. To listen to each other’s stories with our hearts. Some of FAN’s policy priorities in Olympia have been guided by the Coalition for Police Accountability, comprised of families who have lost a loved one to police violence. Their stories are heart-breaking, as you might guess.

I think mutuality is best described in that famous line from Indigenous activist groups in Queensland, Australia: If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

If our liberation is bound together, then part of true mutuality, of solidarity is that we become attentive to dynamics of power at our decision-making tables, in our faith communities, and in our culture. While we all have voice and imagination, conviction and courage, we don’t all have the space or opportunity to use these qualities. We need to re-shape culture, re-imagine structures, and often relinquish the power of financial control or visible leadership for the good of a relationship, an outcome, the community.

For me, this means asking myself repeatedly how I might be open to new understandings of leadership, to make room for the ideas and energies of youth and young adults, or for those of our elders with much lived experience. For FAN, this means partly staying committed to collaboration for the long haul. I appreciate the words of educator and activist bell hooks: “Solidarity is not the same as support. To experience solidarity, we must have a community of interests, shared beliefs and goals around which to unite… Support can be occasional. It can be given and just as easily withdrawn. Solidarity requires sustained, ongoing commitment.”

The moment now calls for mutuality and solidarity. We could all name other values to which we aspire as well: sustainability, equity, accountability, vulnerability, sharing. May we all continue to grow in being able to live them.

I close with an excerpt from the poem by teacher and organizational consultant Margaret Wheatley, “Turning to One Another,” 2002:

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
Ask “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.
Notice what you care about.
Assume that many others share your dreams.
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to…
Expect to be surprised.
Treasure curiosity more than certainty.
Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.
Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.
Know that creative solutions come from new connections…