Sunday, February 7, 2021

Welcome: Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Cricket and I feel blessed to serve this congregation as a lay leader. I’m glad to see all of you here today.

Thank you for joining us.

 [If guests] I’d like to welcome our guests. Thank you for taking a chance and taking the time to walk through our doors and join us for worship.

 Let us use the prelude for centering. We are about to enter sacred time. We are about to make this time and this place sacred by our presence and intention.

Please silence your phones… and as you do so, I invite us also to turn down the volume on our fears; to remove our masks; and to loosen the armor around our hearts.

 Breathe.

 Let go of the expectations placed on you by others—and those they taught you to place on yourself.

Drop the guilt and the shame, not to shirk accountability, but in honest expectation of the possibility of forgiveness.

Let go of the thing you said the other day. Let go of the thing you dread next week. Be here, in this moment. Breathe, here.

Prelude:

Opening Words: A Place of Belonging and Caring by Kimberlee Anne Tomczak Carlson

Welcome Song: # 501 We Are performed by Dr. Ysaÿe Barnwell and the UUA General Assembly 2020 virtual choir

Chalice Lighting: The Promise and the Practice: Chalice Lighting #1 by Rebekah Savage

Principles

Proposed 8th Principle – first brought to GA in 2017 and has currently been adopted by 25 congregations with many more working on it currently.

Story for All Ages:  Fire, Water, Truth and Falsehood an Ethiopian tale

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: To All Get Free Together by Chris Crass

Lesson:  Groundhog Daying Our Way Into Beloved Community

When we were choosing the Sundays, we were going to do services I very excitedly grabbed this one. I was so excited to dive deep on UU History and Beloved Community. Then I realized two very important things. 1) I had done a similar service just last year. 2) The entirety of Unitarian Universalist history has been moving toward building Beloved Community. There has been from the beginning been a tension between the world we were living in and the world that we saw as a possible future.

Going all the way back to Origen, I bring you this quote, “When a house is being built which is to be made as strong as possible, the building takes place in fine weather and in calm, so that nothing may hinger the structure from acquiring the needed solidity.” I’m not sure there has ever been enough calm for us to really build our strong house. The Edict of Torda was a huge step in the right direction, offering religious freedom – the first of its kind – major history happening – going as far as it could for its time.

We have UU heroes who we hold up, but then we have to look at them and go “ooh, maybe there were some problems there.” Thomas Jefferson, for instance, famously wrote that all men were created equal while owning slaves. Susan B. Anthony switched her support for the rights of blacks because sexism was a more important cause to her than racism. She even asked black suffragettes like Ida B. Wells not to march or to march in the back so that they would not upset or offend southern white suffragettes.

And when it comes to the combining of Unitarian and Universalists, I think the difference between the two was best put into words by Thomas Starr King, “The one thinks God is too good to damn them forever, the other thinks they are too good to be damned forever.” The Unitarians and the Universalists have this idea of goodness even when there are bad things happening in the world, even when the world doesn’t look right or look the way we think it should or look the way we want it to.

I am going to read a quote for you from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his address, “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma” he said, “Our ultimate end must be reconciliation; the end must be redemption; the end must be the creation of the beloved community. We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people…It begins by loving others for their sakes and makes no distinction between a friend and enemy; it is directed toward both. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is love seeking to preserve and create community.  It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.” These words are extremely powerful. These words are extremely necessary when we are talking about building beloved community. We sometimes look at look at the famous ones, at the firsts and that’s all. “Oh now that we have this, we are good.” It’s sort of like Pokemon, we’ve collected our little monster, put it in our pocket, and now that we have it in our Pokedex we’re good to go.

The first black Universalist minister was Joseph Jordan; he was ordained in 1889. In 1969, just 8 years after the merger, John Frazier and about a dozen others became the first African American UU ministers to be ordained. But the first African American Woman minister was not ordained until 1981, that was Rev. Yvonne Seon. But, again, it isn’t just firsts that matter. The Rev. Dr. Kristin Harper talked about this during the Unitarian Universalist Minister Association’s (UUMA) Ministry Days at GA in New Orleans on June 21, 2017. She said, “When I arrived at Meadville/Lombard Theological School in the fall of 1995, I was not prepared for the racism I would experience from my fellow classmates.  I was not prepared for the blatant hostility and mistrust of me by a group of people who were training to lead our faith and would eventually be colleagues. I was told by people in their third or sixth year journey into Unitarian Universalism, that I didn’t belong in this faith that had been a part of my family for generations. I was called a quota filler—a nigger.  I had classmates that would get up and move when I sat down next to them in chapel. I was told that it would be easier if I weren’t there. I was maced by a white student who saw me walking behind her as threatening. It is no surprise to me that we have come to this point in our association’s History.

At the end of my first year when the students of color attempted to bring in outside help from colleagues, we were told to stop whining—we were “pioneers”, “sacrifices” for the next generation. I don’t believe in sacrificial theology so I almost didn’t finish seminary but with the help of Danielle Gladd—one of our amazing cradle Black UUs, and Rev. Abhi and Lalitha Janamanchi, I did graduate. Others were not so lucky. 

We have not reached the “promised land,” but there is hope.  I think some of you are seeing some of us for the very first time.  We aren’t all invisible anymore.  I’m witnessing some of you listen to the pain and the rage and not turn away, you’re not saying we are “misunderstanding” or that we are “overreacting” or even more common, we are “lying” (at least not most of you). Some of you are beginning to acknowledge our stories as part of the larger UU narrative.”

Rev. Dr. Harper’s story is not singular. It does not stand alone. There is even a whole book of stories from religious professionals of color outlining their experiences: Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry. But these are also not the only stories. There are everyday stories. There are tiny stories. There are microaggressions. There are moments in time. There are places where we fail to uphold our principles.

We are not perfect. We are a work in progress. One of the reasons the 8th principle was proposed is because while all of the other principles uphold aspects of it, the proposed 8th principle is the only one to specifically talk about racial disparity, to specifically talk about building the beloved community, and to specifically talk about dismantling systems of oppression. Because it’s not just personal, it’s systemic. It’s in our institutions from our churches to our government to our health care systems. The pandemic has been a reminder of the racial disparity that is still present in our country. According to the CDC,

there are 1.4 times as many black or African American people who have contracted COVID -19 than white people. So, 1.4 times the amount of white people is the amount of African American people who have contracted the virus. Their death rate is 2.8 times the amount of white people. For Hispanic and Latinx persons the case rate is 1.7 times and the death rate is also 2.8 times the number of white people. And for Alaskan natives and Native Americans is it 1.8 times the number of cases and 2.6 times the number of deaths. The pandemic has not been unilateral in who it affects. Part of that is because of the systems we have in place. Part of that has to do with who are essentials workers and who has to keep working and not loose their jobs or homes. Part of that is the way the country is. Part of that is where medical systems are and where good hospitals are.

So, there has been a post

circulating through lots of social media and it says, “Okay, I have a question. How did the movie Groundhog Day finally shift to the next day for Bill Murray? Have we tried that yet?” And this question is asked because a) the pandemic started shortly after Groundhog day last year and that’s when things started getting shut down here in the United States and b) being in lockdown feels very much like the movie where we are doing the same exact thing every day. The answer here is what gets me. “He breaks the cycle when he shifts his focus from himself to devoting himself to others. And yes: that’s EXACTLY how we get out of this. All of this.” I wanna look at that further. I found an article it’s from 2016 People Magazine. It’s by Drew Mackie. It’s called “It’s Time to Celebrate Groundhog Day: 10 Life Lessons You Can Learn from the Bill Murray Comedy: the 1993 movie is deeper than you might think.” I am not going to share all ten of them with you, but I do have a few of them that are so very important.

The first one is “Without consequences, nothing matters.” Just saying “Oh I’m sorry” or “I didn’t know” is not about accountability. Accountability is saying “oh I did this thing. I am sorry for this thing. What can I do to help fix this thing?” Without consequences, it is not accountability. Without consequences, our behavior doesn’t matter. What we’ve done doesn’t matter because we get to escape the consequences.

Number three in the article is “Don’t give up.” Sometime we look at the world and look at the justice work that needs done and we think, “oh that’s a lot!” and “it’s been so long” and “why aren’t things better?” But we have to remember things are better than they were. They are not where they should be. But things are better than they were. And we have take a cue from James Baldwin, the man who speaking at the beginning of the Janelle Monae video, in that being a pessimist means looking at life only intellectually. You have to be an optimist because you are alive. We have to not give up.

The next one I have is “And you need people in life – yes, even the Ned Ryersons.” Ned in the movie is shown as someone who really gets on the main character, Phil’s nerves. He is someone who has a brilliant beautiful day to day life and Phil is just like, “oh this is so boring, why do I even have to talk to you? Oh god please go away.” And that’s how Phil is in the beginning. And through the movie and the repetition of the day, he learns that Ned isn’t a bad guy. Ned is doing his best. Most of us are trying our best. Most of us aren’t bad guys. But we all need people. We all need all of us in this world. We all need to work together. There is no community without other people.

The last one I have from the article is “Tell people they’re important to you.” This one is crucial. Many of us have people we love very much and we neglect to tell them how much we do care about them. We neglect to tell them what we think is wonderful about them. Because it is not just about “I love you, you’re important to me.” You need to tell someone why. Part of building this beloved community isn’t just saying “your’e important to me” or saying “I need you,” but saying why. Because when someone has been pushed to the side or shown that they are not important, those words, “you’re important to me” those words “I love you,” they don’t sink in. They don’t matter. It’s about showing people. It’s about doing the work. It’s about saying “you’re important to me because” or “here’s why you are important” and it can be as simple as “because you are a person.” We cannot just say it and be done. There is work to do. There is action that goes with it. We have to show that love. We have to show how people are important to us.

Alex Kapitan and the Rev. Mykal Slack wrote this definition of Beloved Community together. They said, “Beloved Community is when we say “we,” and we mean everyone.

     Beloved Community is not homogenous. It can’t be. When commonality is presumed, when we make assumptions about who’s present and whether people are “like us,” or not, we’re not practicing Beloved Community because Beloved Community doesn’t make those assumptions. It doesn’t presume commonality or a sense of being homogeneous.

     Another thing that Beloved Community is not is Beloved Community is not like-minded. Because we’re not called to be like-minded in spiritual community. We’re called to be like- hearted.

     And, finally, Beloved Community is not devoid of conflict. And this one is also really hard. Beloved Community is not easy. There’s nothing easy about practicing Beloved Community. When we avoid conflict in order to “get along,” we’re not practicing Beloved Community, because Beloved Community exists when we trust each other, we have the relationships, the strong enough relationships to actually disagree with each other, to be in conflict, even to risk hurting each other, and we can stay in relationship through those disagreements, and conflict, and potential hurt. That’s practicing Beloved Community.”

          It is to me about being strong enough to say, “hey this is something we have to work on” or “hey this is a problem” and not going “oh! Well I don’t have that problem.” It isn’t about what we have done in the past. It isn’t about the work we did when we were younger. It is about the work that we are doing now. Because one of the things that doesn’t get said in this beautiful commentary from Alex Kapitan and Rev. Mykal Slack is that Beloved Community is ongoing. It is an every day process. In the movie, Phil realizes that he can do whatever he wants. He starts taking piano lessons and it takes him months of living through Groundhog Day to get great at one song. He starts learning about other people. It is a daily process where he keeps working. The lesson he has learned that he carries with him when the cycle is finally broken is that that process, that treating people with respect, that knowing that people matter, that not giving up, that telling people how important they are continues on. It doesn’t just end because the date changed. It doesn’t just end because we think we’ve made it. Beloved Community is a process, and it is continual.

          I listen to a lot of podcasts because my hustle has me spending a lot of time in my car and sometimes, I have to put the books down. So, I listen to a lot of podcasts. One of the ones I have started recently is the Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green. In latest episode I listened to John reviewed Tetris and the Seed Potatoes of Leningrad. The story of the seed potatoes of Leningrad is that there was a seed bank in the city of Leningrad during World War 2; they had seeds from all over the world, they had seeds from all different crops, and they had seed potatoes. The seed potatoes had to be kept safe and not only that they had to be kept warm to be kept safe because if they got frozen, they would be dead. That took energy and round the clock care from scientists. During the siege of Leningrad people were cold and hungry. People were starving. The rats were terrible. These scientists, they didn’t do anything. They could have planted things. They could have eaten the potatoes. At least a dozen of the scientists died keeping the seed potatoes and other seeds safe during the siege of Leningrad. Because his thoughts are more eloquent on the matter than mine, I’m going to share with you what John Green said about those scientists. “Humans are often criticized for being short term thinkers, unable to see past their own lives. And yes, in desperate situations we can become desperate animals. But it is also human to die for want of potatoes that you are saving for a people you do not know. Every seed contains the possibility of life yet to come. And when given the choice between themselves today or everyone else tomorrow, the seed bank workers of Leningrad chose us. Let us remember their example.” For me, that is the crux of building Beloved Community. It is the choosing of the next. It is looking forward and not saying “well, I’ve done my work, I can rest now.” It is picking up the banner again, even when we are tired, and going into the next day working towards justice and love and truth and healing.

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.

Meditation:  History’s Road by Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley and Clyde Grubbs

Silent Meditation

Chalice Extinguishing: Blessed Are We by Andrea Hawkins-Kamper

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

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