In high school, I learned a powerful song in my youth group that I have experienced in worship many times since. One section of the lyrics went, “Rising up like a phoenix from the fire, brothers and sisters spread your wings and fly higher.” Last week, I was thinking about this song and what meaning it has and continues to bring to my life as a Unitarian Universalist, a social activist, and as a human being. The song enlivens something deep within me and compels me to rise up as a Phoenix does from fire and through hardship to sing and fight another day.
The 14th was national hallmark card day or, in the more common vernacular, Valentine’s Day. A day that is both anticipated and dreaded, a day of reminder for what love is or what it could be or perhaps what it never will be, Valentine’s Day has become a day with a lot of political and justice undertones. This year, a global campaign named One Billion Rising was unleashed throughout the world. The campaign focuses on raising awareness about and ending sexual and domestic violence worldwide. In Chicago, like in most of the cities that participated, a public event was held to speak out against these issues and also celebrate through dance and song and solidarity this rising up.
As I stood in a sea of women and men dressed in red, I recognized the undercover nature of my religious leadership in attendance. That I was not there merely as a heterosexual male ally against sexual and domestic violence, but as a person of faith committed to principles of nonviolence, the sacredness of all life, and the interconnectedness of our lives, struggles, and liberations.
I wondered whether there were others in the crowd who were there because of religious moral reasons. Perhaps it was the older women standing near me, or the balding man across the way. It could have been the young college student who was there representing a feminist group on her campus. The beauty was that we all could have been. We were all rising up from our own place and life journey to spread our wings and fly higher towards justice and the creation of a world where women’s safety was a right.
In my current state of formation, I believe this rising up, showing up, speaking out, acting out, is integral to what it means to be a religious leader in a world where injustice is a reality. To sink down, stay away, zip a lip, or avoid resistance is to abdicate the responsibilities of religious leadership. Yes, there are complex situations where participation is not always possible or an easy option, but ultimately I believe the work of religious leadership is to be as the phoenix and rise up.
When have you risen up like a phoenix from the fire?