To the Glory of Life: About “Sanctuary”

Dear Friends,

I want to tell you about “sanctuary” – our theme of the month.

And, to do that, I invite you to listen to this song by UU singer/songwriter Peter Mayer. If you haven’t heard of him, he wrote one of the favorite hymns in our new teal hymnal, “Blue Boat Home”. But this is a different song; instead of being about someone who’s grateful to be free on the open water, it’s about chance. A roll of the dice and coming up on the short side of the odds. It’s a song that calls us to a new way of seeing, a new way of being accepting and accepted – welcomed. It’s called, “Nobody Asks.”

And it’s worth reading the lyrics as you listen…

Nobody asks to be born

They just show up one day at life’s door

They say, “here I am world, I’m a boy… I’m a girl

I am rich, I am sick, I am poor”

Nobody asks to be born


No one is given a say

They’re just thrown straight into the fray

The bell rings, it rings sire, and someone yells fire

Some just end up on the floor

Nobody asks to be born


No one’s assured of a grade on the curve

Or a friend they can trust or a house where they’re loved

And no life includes a book of “how-to’s”

Because nobody has lived it before


So to all the living be kind

Bless the saint and the sinner alike

And when babies arrive with their unholy cries

Don’t be surprised by their scorn

‘Cause nobody asks to be born. 

No, nobody asks to be born. And yet here we are. Arriving by the millions, every day. We show up and check into the room that was pre-reserved for us. If it’s in the top 1%, it can be pretty sweet – all we need is right in front of us. Even the top 10%… or 20%… is incredibly good.  Lots of perks and advantages. But truth to tell, anything above the bottom 30% is usually okay. We learn to be resilient, adaptable and creative.

But for the lower 20%, it can be pretty hard. Down in this range, everything is a crapshoot. Food… water… shelter… safety… Even basic things, like whether or not we have a parent who cares.

I grew up somewhere in the middle. And still, I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had places to turn when what I needed was suddenly nowhere to be found. The place I went most often – the place my family took me when we were running low – was church.

At church there was music and there were games played together. People who asked you how you were, and who listened no matter what you said. At church people seemed nicer than the people at my school –  friendlier than on my street or at the store. Even my family was kinder when we were at church. And sometimes there were donuts.

As a small boy, starting out, I felt overwhelmed and under-prepared. I had a lot of uncertainty about the world. Without church, I wouldn’t have found the salve for growing pains, removed the chips on my shoulder, or learned to be kind. All that came from being part of others’ lives. Being “born again” in a place where I wasn’t so all alone.

From the Latin, sanctuarium, we get the suffix “-arium”: a container for keeping something sacred or safe. And the prefix, “sancti”: something holy or cherished. When I was most unsure, with nowhere to turn, I was cherished in a safe place. Sanctuary.

But it’s different for the bottom 10%. Children born in peril. Families displaced by war.

The Sanctuary movement was a religious response to the tragedy of the early 1980s. The US provided safe respite to Central American refugees fleeing civil war. Today it has become a compassionate alternative to heartless immigration policies.

Last month the US set the lowest refugee resettlement allowance (30,000) since the paranoia following 9/11 – despite 25 million people being displaced worldwide by violence or war. Some churches choose to become “Sanctuary Congregations,” giving sanctuary – a container of beneficence – to families who would otherwise be separated and deported.

I’m not suggesting that UUSM do this, but I do believe we can recognize the pain and alienation people are feeling today – no matter what class they were born into. I do think we can welcome every single person who comes to us with kindness and compassion, no matter the color of their skin, or the language they speak and the rituals they learn soon after.

The things that divide us are so artificial and unnecessary. They create a strata of class and privilege out of race, gender, culture and class. But all of that disappears in a true sanctuary. Because in a true sanctuary, inherent worth is what guides everything.

To the Glory of Life.

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