Tse: ‘Do the one thing you can do’
Hundreds of people gathered in a large hall at the Phoenix Convention Center for the Service of the Living Tradition, the annual worship service that recognizes milestones for Unitarian Universalist ministers and other religious professionals. The Rev. Sarah Lammert, director of ministries for the Unitarian Universalist Association, welcomed the congregation. A video recording and a script of the service are online.
“Ministers are called forth from the lay people they serve,” said Lammert. She added that as those being honored went up onto the stage, the congregation was invited to “raise a glad noise.” Each group—ministers achieving preliminary fellowship, ministers in final fellowship, credentialed religious educators, credentialed musicians, and ministers retiring from full-time ministry—was introduced with the words, “I call forth from among you these persons. . . .” The symbolism was clear: Religious professionals gain their power and authority from the people they serve.
The actual service began with the invocation, followed by the usual first hymn for this service, “Rank by Rank Again We Stand.” After chalice lighting words in Spanish and English, the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the UUA, led a ceremony to remember those ministers who had died in the past year.
The sermon at this year’s Service of the Living Tradition was delivered by the Rev. Karen Tse, an international human rights attorney and Unitarian Universalist minister.
Tse said that when we do social justice work, we do it not just to transform the world. We do social justice work to transform our selves. “Ultimately the transformation of others is our transformation,” she said. She told a story about a man she met in Vietnam who had been a herion addict. But he and some of his friends saw street children who needed a place of safety, and they created a “safe house” for these children. He thought he was just going to transform those children, but in the process he transformed himself: “‘You see,’ he said, ‘I’m no longer a heroin addict.’”
We can feel overwhelmed by the need to do so much to transform the world, Tse said, but sometimes our mere presence is enough. She said she brought her nine year old son on a recent trip to Cambodia. He went with her on a visit to the Minister of Justice, and before long the minister began talking with her son. Soon the minister said, “I think we should get all the kids out of prison, what do you think?”
The congregation applauded to hear the impact her nine year old son had had on this powerful Minister of Justice. “While he hadn’t done anything specific,” Tse said, “my son’s presence mattered.”
“Your presence matters” she said. “And we must also take action.”
She closed her sermon with the story of a four year old boy who lived in a prison, because he had been born in the prison. Everyone loved this boy, even the guards loved him. This boy liked to visit all the prisoners, and the prisoners said he was their greatest joy. “He was born in prison without much power, but like all of us, he was born into his heroic journey.” This reminded Tse of the famous words of Unitarian minister the Rev. Edward Everett Hale. She said, “I am one, I cannot do everything. But I can do something. I’ll do the one thing I can do.”
“So please,” Tse said, “do the one thing you can do.”
See “Spirited Defender: Karen Tse’s human rights ministry is helping to eradicate torture” (Michelle Bates Deakin, UU World, Winter 2007)