Fellowship Church: “Intimate Direct Action”

Charles JohnsonRev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson, a semi-retired Unitarian Universalist minister currently engaged in doctoral work on “The Transformation of Shame” at the Graduate Theological Union, presented the August 3 sermon at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. He opened with a quote from Vincent Van Gogh letter to his brother Theo:

…It is better to be high-spirited, even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love, is well done.

Johnson then riffed on the tension between “the one and the many” and urged the parishioners to “love many things” rather than allowing others to impose a single perspective on oneself, or trying to do the same to others.

He recounted how when Dr. Howard Thurman served as Dean of Chapel at Howard University in Washington, DC (from 1932 to 1944 before leaving to co-found Fellowship Church in San Francisco) students told him that they were expecting a “Moses” but that he seemed to be a “mystic.” Thurman replied, “Just remember. The inside and the outside are one.”

Johnson declared that our calling is to avoid “false guides” and “groupthink,” and “live a genuine life.” But, he asked, “How can you know if it is genuine? How do we seek a genuine life?” His response was to recommend “intimate direct action” by the following “Four Roads to Intimacy”:

The first road, he said, is to move away from “self-veiling,” or self-deception. Remove your masks, your social roles, and “know yourself better than anyone else.”

The second road is to aid the process of self-knowledge by utilizing “solitude” and introspection. One advantage of marriage, he said, is that it can “protect solitude.”

The third road is to establish strong “kinship,” or a sense of community. “We were made for belonging,” Johnson affirmed.

The fourth road is to experience “intimacy” or “the uncircumscribed engagement in the world,” without fear.

With this approach, he asserted, in his conclusion, we can resist the pressure from “the system” to impose “oneness.” We can “love many things,” knowing that others will say, “well done.”

I resonated strongly with Johnson’s sermon. It touched directly on what has become a major concern of mine: the need for deeper human connections. I would have welcomed more suggestions about how to achieve that goal.

On the back page, the program for the day included:

• The average attendance for July was 24 and average receipts each Sunday were $741.
• The next film to be shown in the Second Sunday Social Justice Film Series will be on Sunday August 10 after the social hour. We will be watching a chapter from Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone’s widely acclaimed, 13-part Untold History of the United States. We hope you can join us.
• The program closed with a verse from Rumi:

Search, no matter what situation you are in.
O thirsty one, search for water constantly.
Finally, the time will come when you will reach the spring.

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