Sunday April 3, 2016: In the Body of This World

Prelude: Lauryn Hill “Mystery of Iniquity”



 Chalice Lighting: Chalice Lighting for Challenging Times By Lisa Doege

“Why a flaming chalice?” the question comes.
It’s the cup of life, we answer.
A cup of blessings overflowing.
A cup of water to quench our spirits’ thirst.
A cup of wine for celebration and dedication.
The flame of truth.
The fire of purification.
Oil for anointing, healing.
Out of chaos, fear, and horror,
thus was the symbol crafted, a generation ago.
So may it be for us,
in these days of uncertainty, sorrow, and rage.
And a light to warm our souls and guide us home.

Song: Gathered Here

Gathered here in the mystery of this hour.
Gathered here in one strong body.
Gathered here in the struggle and the power.
Spirit draw near.

The Seven Promises:

Let us create a dynamic community that celebrates life and searches for truths,
for we honor minds that question, hearts that love and hands that serve.
Let us live lightly on the Earth, beginning with our church community,
for we respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Let us embrace others both near and far in hope and compassion,
for we lift up the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.
Let us remember that everyone bears responsibility for the health of our congregation,
for we affirm the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process.
Let us remain open to new ideas, knowing that we need not be afraid of change,
for we trust in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
Let us respect individual religious paths, even those we do not understand,
for we aspire to accept one another and to encourage spiritual growth.
Let us treat others as we would like to be treated,
for we desire justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
Let us listen actively and speak and act respectfully to others,
for we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Story for All Ages: The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss

Song: We Shall Overcome By Pete Seegar

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.

We’ll walk hand in hand,
We’ll walk hand in hand,
We’ll walk hand in hand, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.

We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.

We are not afraid,
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid, TODAY
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.

Offering and Response  (Unison)

For the gifts which we have received—and the gifts which we, ourselves, are—may we be truly grateful. Yet more than that, may we be committed to using these gifts to make a difference in the world: to increase love and justice; to decrease hatred and oppression; to expand beloved community; to share, and to keep sharing, as long as ever we can. Amen.

Reading: On Being Asked to Change “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter” By Daniel S. Schatz

As a Unitarian Universalist minister, it is sometimes my role to answer correspondence that comes to our congregation from members of the community.  Last night, I received this brief note in my inbox:

Good Evening:

I am very upset at the signage that is outside of your church stating that “Black Lives Matter.” Since when has God chosen to see us by the color of our skin. The sign should be taken down and replaced with ALL LIVES MATTER. How will this nation of ours ever join together if we are constantly looking at everyone by their race. Unless you were actually there in Ferguson or in New York or Cleveland, you do not have all the facts.

A Bucks County Resident

It’s a sentiment I’d heard before, and I gave a great deal of thought before sending the following response:

Dear [name],
Thank you for writing with your concern. Of course all lives matter. Central to Unitarian Universalism is the affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Sadly, our society has a long history of treating some people as less valuable than others. Study after study has confirmed that in equivalent situations, African Americans and Latinos are treated with deadly force far more often than White people, and authorities held less accountable. Unfortunately, racial bias continues to exist even when it is no longer conscious—this too is confirmed by multiple studies. A lack of accountability in the use of force combined with unconscious bias is too often a deadly combination – and one that could place police officers, as well as the public, in great danger.

To say that Black lives matter is not to say that other lives do not; indeed, it is quite the reverse—it is to recognize that all lives do matter, and to acknowledge that African Americans are often targeted unfairly (witness the number of African Americans accosted daily for no reason other than walking through a White neighborhood—including some, like young Trayvon Martin, who lost their lives) and that our society is not yet so advanced as to have become truly color blind. This means that many people of goodwill face the hard task of recognizing that these societal ills continue to exist, and that White privilege continues to exist, even though we wish it didn’t and would not have asked for it. I certainly agree that no loving God would judge anyone by skin color.

As a White man, I have never been followed by security in a department store, or been stopped by police for driving through a neighborhood in which I didn’t live. My African American friends have, almost to a person, had these experiences. Some have been through incidents that were far worse. I owe it to the ideal that we share, the ideal that all lives matter, to take their experiences seriously and listen to what they are saying. To deny the truth of these experiences because they make me uncomfortable would be to place my comfort above the safety of others, and I cannot do that.

I very much appreciate you writing to me, and am glad that we share the goal of coming to a day when people will not be judged, consciously or unconsciously, on the basis of their race. I believe that day is possible, too, but that it will take a great deal of work to get there. That work begins by listening to one another, and listening especially to the voices of those who have the least power in society. If nothing else is clear from the past few weeks, it is painfully evident that a great many people do not believe that they are treated fairly. Healing begins by listening to those voices and stories.

Thank you again for writing me.

Sermon: In the Body of the World (Part 1) Cricket 

This service was billed as a service about Ta-Nehisi Coates and his book Between the World and Me, which was written for his son in response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO in 2014, specifically in response to his son’s response to the fact that the officers would not be charged. I read this book for a class and decided to run with it. I was excited that Ta-Nehisi was from Baltimore and only six years my senior. His Baltimore was very different from my Baltimore. Very different. However, in the process things have changed. While I agree with Toni Morrison that Between the World and Me is required reading, I think the topic at hand is broader and needs to be addressed in a different way.

When I was working at Pressley Ridge, we had a few black kids. Now, I don’t know if our boys did it often, they never said it to me, but our girls complained all the time about how racist the staff was. Every shift they would tell us we were favoring the white girls. This rubbed many of the staff the wrong way, including myself. Several staff members would balk at this and repeat ways in which they were not racist. It was difficult for me because I tried to see the girls for who they were. Some of them had major chips on their shoulders. Their personality affected what I thought of them, but that idea didn’t fly with our young black ladies. Through reading Ta-Nehisi’s book, as well as other reading and research, I have begun to understand those ladies better.

Racism Quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates

This hit me hard because I had to come face to face with the idea of both race and racism as social constructs. One of the struggles that people of white have with dealing with racism is that we hear the word and we instantly start defending ourselves. “I’m not racist, I have no problems with black people”, “I’m not racist, I have black friends”, “I’m not racist, I believe in equality for all”. The problem is that racism is not just a personal thing.

In 1959, a white writer named John Howard Griffin looked at the world around him and asked “What do negroes really have to deal with on a daily basis?” He wanted to know because he felt that racism was something that was going away, but knew that in the deep south it would be different. He traveled to New Orleans, sought treatment from a dermatologist to make his skin darker so that he could see first-hand what black people at the time had to deal with. He did this by taking anti-vitiglio medication, sitting in a sun lamp for most of the day, and at the end using a stain. The moment he saw himself as a black man for the first time is truly telling.

James Griffin Quote

His initial thoughts are so striking. He calls the man in the mirror, fierce and says he glared, even though they are his own eyes and Griffin knew roughly what he was going to look like. Griffin still thought the man in the mirror was hard and he felt imprisoned in his body. Even though he was not a racist and did not practice racism on a daily basis, Griffin had internalized ideas.

This is difficult because there a multiple types of racism. I am going to play something for you which can describe it in a better way than I ever could.

We live in a world where we try to defend ourselves against the title of racist, but we do not look at the world around us and see what is going on. Often in both the media and in social media we see black people referred to as lazy or not wanting to go to school or improve themselves, but what we don’t look at is why. Coates describes the streets in Baltimore and then talks about school. He says that they were both shackles on his legs. If you were not careful in the streets that you could lose your body, but if you did not do well in school you were sacrificing your body because you would not rise above and what’s worse, then they could blame you for losing your body in the streets. One of the things that bothered Coates growing up was Black History Month. Here is what he said about it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates quote

I bring this up here because we often claim that Black History Month makes it better but we focus on non-violence and token accomplishments instead of the wealth of history and people there is to choose from. I think I learned maybe 10 different names during Februaries of my public education. We always studied Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and George Washington Carver. Then there were different ones like one year I learned about Benjamin Banneker and one year in high school we learned about Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. But for the most part it was the same lessons every year and it was delivered in a very “These are the black people you need to know” kind of way. It is a technique of pacification. It allows people of white to feel that they are doing their part. It shows people of color we are trying, but it is nothing more than that.

In the past few years, starting with the shooting of young Trayvon Martin in 2012, the deaths of young black men have been noticed. This is not to say that they haven’t happened all along. This is not to say that people haven’t been shot for being “black and walking” before now. But it has been receiving more attention. During the aftermath of Trayvon, many people I know just sat silently. When Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, the media focused on and showed the riots, but did not show the prayers and peaceful marches. Many of the people I knew complained about the riots. With the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore erupted. More people I knew were angry. There was an over posting of the meme that has Rosa Park’s face and it says “Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, she didn’t destroy the whole bus,” which made me angry and heart broken. People I knew were so mad at the people rioting and protesting that they weren’t thinking about why they were doing it. Black Live Matter became a movement and then people tried to quiet it with All Lives Matter. Then the shooting at Mother Emmanuel happened. There were no riots. There were peaceful walks and candlelight vigils. There were a lot of memes about Charleston getting it right. 1) let me tell you that there were a lot of candles, peaceful walk, and praying in Ferguson and Baltimore. 2) let me explain why Charleston did not erupt the way the other two did. The white southern people I know explained it away as a form of southern gentility, “We just know better.” However, the best explanation came from a friend and mentor of mine, Donetta. She said (and this is a paraphrase because the actual quote has been lost in the archives of the internet) “Charleston is my home. I grew up there, was formed there, became a woman there. In the south, racism is out in the open. It’s just there. It is a part of the way of life and the way things are done. But in the North, it’s hidden. They try to make you think it’s not there. It was a difficult adjustment.” These words are simple, but true. When the racism is harder to find it is easier to blame individuals for their downfalls instead of blaming the system that helped get them there. At this time, I would like to take a break from talking and share a moment and a responsive reading with you all. It was written about the death of Michael Brown, but I would like us to think about all of the black lives lost in the last few years that we have been witness to. Please join me in this reading.

Reading: To the Death of Michael Brown: We Bear Witness By Theresa Soto

Turn and look at your neighbor. Not only can you probably see them. You can experience being in the same space with them today. If you were called as a court witness, you could speak to the truth that they exist.

Today, we will bear witness to the death of Michael Brown. I will offer a part of the story of Michael Brown. When I extend my hand to you, please respond with, We bear witness.
Let’s try it now.
With reverence and sorrow, we remember the death of Michael Brown. We know black lives matter.
We bear witness.
On Saturday, August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was shot by an officer of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Missouri. We know black lives matter.
We bear witness.
The media gives us conflicting stories. We know black lives matter.
We bear witness.
We are not distracted by misinformation. We know black lives matter.
We bear witness.
Misinformation encourages us to put our frustration and sadness somewhere outside of ourselves, outside of these walls. On the police, on the dead young man, on the system. We know black lives matter.
We bear witness.
As a community, we reflect on the thread that connects the actions of an armed police officer with our own. We examine our snap judgments. We challenge the times we have remained silent while another suffered. We know black lives matter.
We bear witness.
We recognize that in order to challenge a system that is built to maintain racism, we must contemplate the effects of our everyday actions. We know black lives matter.
We bear witness.
We do not look away from the things that are hard to see. We know black lives matter.
We bear witness.
When justice eludes us,
We bear witness.
We take courage.
We bear witness.
We extend love.
We bear witness.

Sermon: In the Body of the World (Part 2)

Thank you. I have been worried about this service. I have been anxious. I know there are people in the world that think the Black Lives Matter movement is divisive. I can even see where that idea comes from. To some it seems like a glorification of racism. I am here to tell you that it is not. The first part of this sermon was highlighting some of the ways that racism is still embedded in our country. This second part is going to be about things we can do to help. At our 2015 General Assembly the UUA decided to support Black Lives Matter. It was a big vote. Here is the resolution.

2015 Action of Immediate Witness

WHEREAS, Unitarian Universalists strive for justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

WHEREAS, Unitarian Universalists have a goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

WHEREAS, allowing injustice to go unchallenged violates our principles;

WHEREAS, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained powerful traction in conjunction with recent tragic events involving, in particular, police brutality and institutionalized racism that target the black community;

WHEREAS, Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, Shelly Frey, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Kayla Moore, Tamir Rice, and Tony Robinson are just a few names of people who were recently killed by the racism that exists in the United States today;

WHEREAS, people of all ages and races are killed by law enforcement, yet black people ages 20-24 are seven times more likely to be killed by law enforcement;

WHEREAS, mass incarceration fueled by for-profit prisons and racially biased police practices drive the disproportionate imprisonment of black and brown Americans;

WHEREAS, the school-to-prison pipeline is an urgent concern because 40% of students expelled from U.S. public schools are black and one out of three black men is incarcerated during his lifetime; and[1]

WHEREAS, we must continue to support the Black Lives Matter movement and Black-led racial justice organizations;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association calls member congregations to action, to become closer to a just world community, and to prevent future incidents of this nature;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly urges member congregations to engage in intentional learning spaces to organize for racial justice with recognition of the interconnected nature of racism coupled with systems of oppression that impact people based on class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and language;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly encourages member congregations and all Unitarian Universalists to work toward police reform and prison abolition (which seeks to replace the current prison system with a system that is more just and equitable); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly recognizes that the fight for civil rights and equality is as real today as it was decades ago and urges member congregations to take initiative in collaboration with local and national organizations fighting for racial justice against the harsh racist practices to which many black people are exposed.

No matter who you are, black lives matter, and a system of fair, transformative, and restorative justice that is accountable to communities is something to which each of us has a right.  Unitarian Universalists and our greater society have the power to make this happen.  Let’s do it!

I love the enthusiasm at the end of the resolution. For me the Black Lives Matter movement is about upholding our principles, but also our humanity. I look back at those girls I worked with at Pressley Ridge and I think, how could I have served them better? The first answer is to realize that the chip on their shoulder wasn’t just an attitude, but a defense mechanism. It was a way to survive. You have to be tough to protect your body. We need to educate ourselves as much as we can. In his book, Coates talks about the loss of his friend Prince Jones, who was killed in 2000 by a Prince George’s county police officer. Coates went to visit Jones’ mother and they talked. She talked about how she did not want her son to go to Howard University. Coates explains eloquently both why Jones went to Howard and why we need to educate ourselves.

(Ta-Nehisi Prince Jones Quote) 

We need to acknowledge out privilege. This doesn’t mean we cower in corners and cry about how awful we feel that we have it. This means three things. 1) we realize that yes there is privilege and we have it. 2) realize that not everyone has the same privilege 3) use our privilege to help others. Recently I posted something on Facebook about grammar. It basically states that judging people based on their use of the English language is buying into the system of racism and classism. A friend commented and said grammar is available to all. I said it’s really hard to learn grammar when you don’t have a pencil or a piece of paper. It’s really hard to focus on grammar when you are looking at the clock and counting the minutes until lunch because you haven’t eaten since yesterday. I pointed out that is really isn’t available to a kid whose school doesn’t have the best equipment and is a poorer area. I also pointed out that usually the poorest areas are in the inner city areas which means they are for people of color. This is small, but it is something we can do. Pointing out places where people are blind to what is going on is an important part of helping.

Another thing we can do is work with other community groups. I think one of our first steps here is to contact our local black churches and see what they need. We have to be able to put ourselves out there and extend hands. We cannot wait for others to come to us asking for help.

Sometimes this work is uncomfortable. Sometimes this work hard. Sometimes this work makes us question our abilities. But it is important work. It is part of who we are. It is part of who we want to be. There are many versions of the principles written in language that is easier to understand. My favorite rewrite is one of the 6th principle it says “Build a fair and peaceful world”. In order to do that we have to meet challenges head on. We have to say, I know that in the grand scheme of things all lives matter, but right now there are people whose bodies, whose lives, whose spirits are in danger and so we have to stand up for them and say that they matter. Right now black people are being shown by society that their lives do not matter. It is time for us to stand up and say Black Lives Matter, because our voices can help to build a fairer and more peaceful world.

And now, each in your own way, will you join me in prayer.

A Prayer for Hard Times By Christian Schmidt

Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us in this time, as people suffer, as parents grieve, as violence rages. Be with us who feel the pain of loss, who feel anger at injustice.

Stand with the oppressed and change the heart of the oppressor, for we know that both are joined in their humanity, no matter how often we forget it.

Help us remember the hope we had, the hope we have, and the hope we will have; help us remember joy in the midst of sadness, success in the midst of challenge, and good things in the midst of bad.

Help us to be better people, to work for better things, and to create a better world.


Song: This Little Light of Mine

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Ev’rywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine,
Ev’rywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine,
Ev’rywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Building up a world, I’m gonna let it shine,
Building up a world, I’m gonna let it shine,
Building up a world, I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Everything I do, I’m gonna let it shine,
Everything I do, I’m gonna let it shine,
Everything I do, I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Joys and Sorrows
If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it;
or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.
For the joys and sorrows that haven’t been spoken, but which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts.
These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.

Silent Meditation

Closing:  The Purpose of This Community is to Help Its People Grow
By Erik Walker Wikstrom

If you are who you were,
and if the person next to you is who he or she was,
if none of us has changed
since the day we came in here—
we have failed.

The purpose of this community—
of any church, temple, zendo, mosque—
is to help its people grow.

We do this through encounters with the unknown—in ourselves,
in one another,
in “The Other”—whoever that might be for us,
however hard that might be—
because these encounters have many gifts to offer.

So may you go forth from here this morning
not who you were,
but who you could be.

So may we all.

Song: Go Now In Peace (3 times)
Go now in peace, go now in peace
May our love and care surround you
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go


Postlude: We Gotta Pray by Alicia Keys

Websites Used: