On July 2, 2017 I spoke on Sunday service, I wanted to share the talk I gave on finding your truth and embracing your identity.
"My name is Ayla Halberstadt, I am a white cisgendered heterosexual female ,west coast transplant, a Unitarian universalist, millennial, religious professional and my pronouns are she/her/hers. We all have identities we claim, we show the world what we want them to see. My identities have changed and will more than likely change as I grow older. This may be surprising to some of you but I went through a phase where I actively denied my Unitarian Universalist identity, or I thought I did as a third grader. I grew up where farm met suburb in Northern Illinois and most of my classmates went to Christian churches so I decided I wanted to be a Christian, I asked my mom for a cross, hoping I would get a small dainty cross to hang from my neck…but instead she got me a large cross with Jesus crucified, face in pain, etched into it…it was a cross so I did get what I asked for…as she gave it to me, I said “Mom, I think I was a christian in another life, and I am now just realizing this is who I am meant to be”…I didn’t realize at the time that Christians don’t really believe in reincarnation and how my UU upbringing was showing as I refused to acknowledge it. I eventually gave up on being a reincarnated Christian, I realized after sitting in a service that I didn’t believe in what the pastor was saying and realized that the Unitarian Universalist faith I had known since I was born was my community and just like in our story for all ages, when I embraced who I was, I began to flourish in the world.
Our identities, both claimed and unclaimed shape how we interact with the world, how we see the world, and what we come to expect from the world. Our different views make society rich and it is our work as a people of faith to make sure that each person with their unique identity is respected, because like our first principle reminds us, each person has inherent worth and dignity.
Our first principle might be one of the hardest to truly live into on a daily basis, I know I am guilty of watching or reading the news and thinking some pretty awful things about people, forgetting that even though I might not agree with their views or actions, the person who holds those views is still worthy, they still have a unique identity. When I was at a candlelight vigil in Arizona, protesting the way law enforcement and police were treating people in the county jail I had one of the most intense wake up calls with this, because even though we were protesting the way the justice system was treating immigrants, we had police officers sitting on their big horses protecting us, making sure everything stayed safe. As we passed them, we thanked them. This is a privilege that I have…not because I earned it but because of my identity, to be able to thank police for keeping me safe and not think I will be seen as a perceived threat to their safety.
Living into the first principle is much easier said than done, because no one is perfect, we can all strive to work harder at understanding our own prejudices and where they come from, what in our life has made us feel that way. In to kill a mockingbird harper lee writes “I think there’s just one kind of folks, folks.” I want to agree with that, because we are all humans, born from love and inherently worthy, but we are all different…even on the inside. That’s what makes our world work, the fact that we aren’t all one kind, we all don’t think, look, or act the same.
When I first agreed to talk today, I was originally going to dive into gender identity, about how we can as beloved community welcome all into our religious home, how those on or off the gender binary can come into our space and feel welcomed, but as I mentioned before, we aren’t perfect and we all have growing to do. I realized that I couldn’t come up and give some lifechanging talk and then suddenly we all wear our pronouns on our nametags and neutralize gender in our songs and talks. I do know that I can start conversation about how we can position ourselves as a welcoming community to be welcoming to more people. We will make mistakes on the way, but being a covenantal faith we have the opportunity to apologize and try to get back into covenant with the person we hurt.
In the Our Whole Lives sexuality education curriculum the topic of identity is addressed throughout the entire class, it starts with the first day. Having each person say their name and pronoun, because nothing is assumed and we want everyone to feel that they are being seen for who they truly are and not just what gender they present as. The first time I taught Our Whole Lives (or OWL for short) was a 4-6th grade group and we were talking about our identities and what we claim. I had a girl, bright blond hair, blue eyes, and very pale skin in the group raise her hand and say that she was an African American, I paused for a second and looked at her, asked why she claimed that as her identity “Well I was born in South Africa and moved here when I was 4, I am African and now I am an American…so I am African american.” I never would have expected that from her by looking at her, but its her claimed, unique, and true identity.
As a liberal faith we have the opportunity to better this world, to make it more welcoming for those who’s identities are on the margins, those fray identities who are just as important as the more mainstream identities. We need to act on the side of love, not just stand….because when action is taken and we get involved, change can happen. We need to stay in the struggle and use the identities we have elevate justice for all. We need to continue to act and show up to remind everyone that people should have the right to use the bathroom based on their gender idenitity, that love is love, that black lives matter, that our immigrant neighbors are welcome and appreciated, that our earth is precious and should be taken care of, that corporations are not people, and instead of saying all men are created equal, all people are created equal. We have a lot of work to do, and we can’t all do it by ourselves, but all of us together, all unique and important, we can all work in beloved community to start and stir change to make the world a place where all identities belong and are treated with inherent worth and dignity.
Amen blessed be and may it be so."
In faith and love,
Ayla Halberstadt, DRE