I found myself in a Unitarian Universalist church service for the first time a few Sundays ago. There was no mistaking the church parking lot on Kingston Pike for any mainstream church parking lot in Knoxville because, in this parking lot, every car seemed to be sporting a bumper sticker. Half of them said Obama/Biden. The other half said COEXIST spelled out with those funny symbols. I smiled. I’m generally up for a new experience.
Once inside, I picked up a flyer with the order of the service on it and smiled again. The song to be sung during the collection (called the “offertory” at my church) was to be “Imagine” by John Lennon. I love John Lennon. And whereas, in my church, we have a reading from the Old Testament, a reading from the New Testament and then the Gospel, which also is from the New Testament, at the Unitarian church, the reading was called ‘An Honorable Profession: A Tribute to Robert F. Kennedy” and it was written by his daughter.
After an opening prayer that appealed to “the Eternal Being,” I was thinking that this probably wouldn’t “count” as church for me on this particular Sunday. But, of course, in my church, nothing “counts” unless you are at another Catholic church.
But, in the end, the service was a delight. Mostly because of my reason for being there — to hear Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles deliver the sermon, titled “Politics, UU Style.”
“I like to compare a Knox County Commission meeting to the television anthology, ‘Love, American Style,’” she said. “Each episode was a series of vignettes, tied together with a common theme — love — and usually including a comedic or dramatic twist. A Commission meeting is sort of like that. It’s a series of stand alone stories, tied together with a common theme — politics — and usually includes a comedic or dramatic twist!” Ha. This was going to be good.
For the next few minutes, Commissioner Broyles discussed how she tries, even through her Commission work, to live her faith, the first tenant of which is “believing in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” Along the way she shared some insights and chuckles. Here are a few of them:
- “That first year was like a roller coaster. I was told, ‘You can like the mayor, or the sheriff, but not both.’ And, ‘Don’t give the sheriff anything, he has too much already! Watch out for Scooby. Don’t be friends with Lumpy. Play nice with the Democrats. Don’t believe anything the Republicans say.’ It was very much like the playground at my daughter’s preschool — except that the children were better behaved.”
- “Sometimes I think we are the ‘Not Ready for Prime Time Politicians.’ Even with Roberts’ Rules of Order, a law director and deputy law director, a chairman and a vice chairman, we still sometimes manage to get ourselves so twisted up in procedure that we don’t really know which end is up anymore. It’s at those times that one has to either laugh or bang one’s head against the table. I’ve done both.”
- “That first year, I decided to approach each issue on its own merits, regardless of anyone else’s — or any political party’s — position. I would have faith in the people I worked with. I would take what they said at face value, and I would be open and honest about my own positions. I would make an effort to get to know my colleagues and honor their individuality. I would like to say that everything has worked out wonderfully well, but that wouldn’t be true. However, I have made enough connections and had enough successes to feel it has been worthwhile.”
- “What I have found most interesting is that those with whom I rarely agree — on anything — have become my closest friends. We may not have changed each other’s minds, but at least we understand each other better, and that counts for something.”
- “Of course that doesn’t mean I excuse them from what I consider to be their right-wing, irresponsible, pig-headed positions on various issues. And they don’t excuse me from what they consider to be my left-wing, irresponsible, crazy liberal positions. But it does mean that we see each other as people, rather than adversaries.”
- “Commissioner Briggs and I are strange buddies. We can spend hours hashing out any number of topics in a very animated and determined manner. Once we were having coffee at the Time Warp Tea Room and we got so heavy into our debate that Sandra Clark, editor of the Shopper News, got up and left because she was so uncomfortable. However, if I ever needed help or honest advice, there is no one I’d rather go to than Rick.”
- Larry Smith and I have the same birthday and each year we try to find a way to celebrate together. If I don’t show up where I’m expected, Larry comes by my house to check on me. Once or twice I have even convinced Larry to come over to the ‘dark side’ on a vote!” “Commissioner
- “Commissioner Ed Shouse sits like a skinny little Buddha right there across the dais from me, which is a good thing because his presence reminds me to dial it back. Ed never loses his temper, raises his voice or says an unkind word about anyone. Whenever I get too worked up, I try to remember to channel Ed.”
- “Our most recent chairman, Mike Hammond, is always willing to meet with me and answer my many questions on everything from parenting to politics. He and his wife, Viv, are two of the most caring and generous people I have ever met.”
- “For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of sitting between Tony Norman and Sam McKenzie, two men who epitomize thoughtful consideration, but often come up with different answers to the same issue. When meetings get too tense, Tony will sometimes slip off into the small room next door and indulge in some stretching.”
- “It never fails to amaze me how some people think that because you are a public figure, they are free to verbally abuse you or defame your character in public. I also seems that most people are ready — even eager — to believe the worst about you.”
- “The amount of hate mail I received during last year’s budget cycle was truly impressive. One gentleman was incensed that the school board and Commission had met at Calhoun’s for an open discussion followed by a friendly dinner together. He accused me of eating out with the school board on the taxpayers’ dime — and I had probably had alcoholic beverages, too, and charged that to the taxpayers, as well! I sent him back an email in which I explained that everyone who had stayed for dinner had paid for their own meal. I also mentioned that I rarely drink, but that I had had a substantial shot of Jack before responding to his email!”
- “The biggest struggle I’ve encountered has been with Mayor Tim Burchett. There are few people with whose politics I disagree more. (Pastor) Chris Buice told me recently that he remembered me saying when Tim was elected that I guessed I was going to have to love him enough for the both of us because Tim was no fan of mine, either. And, although I still disagree with his politics — both his positions and his practice — I have come to know him as an individual and to love him, even enough for the both of us.”
- “When I was elected to my second term on County Commission, I bought myself this bracelet. It was engraved, ‘Love is patient, love is kind, it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.’ I always wear this bracelet to Commission meetings, sort of as a talisman. I often glance down at it, and sometimes I grip it so tightly, my fingers go numb!”
I enjoyed my virgin experience at the Unitarian church service. It not only taught me a little about Unitarians, but it will change my perspective on how I observe County Commission meetings. I’ll be watching to see if Commissioner Broyles is gripping her bracelet.