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Reflections

I saw a sign in someone’s yard recently that said “All Lives Matter.”

It reminded me of a situation, intended to be a love-based initiative, that turned fairly contentious at the church I served in Louisville.

[You know how these things can go in churches sometimes, right?]

In this case it was the question surrounding the 8th Principle.

As I have shared with you before, there are 7 guiding Principles in the Unitarian Universalist tradition.  And currently an 8th Principle is being considered, one that specifically addresses racial justice.

Each UU church is invited to discern and vote on its adoption for that congregation.

So our church discerned, talked, debated, considered, and then voted.

It passed.  But barely.

The primarily sticking point for the opposers that we already had Principles that addressed this…such as the first one that calls for the recognition of the worth and dignity of all persons …

thus reflecting All Lives Matter thinking, which is, of course, correct.

But what we fail to appreciate with this mindset is the need for elevation of this issue of racial justice in order to meet the level of racial oppression,

which is and has been elevated in this country for over 400 years. [I speak the obvious.]

This congregational vote happened in August, after George Floyd’s murder in May, and Breonna Taylor’s (which happened blocks from the church) in March.

So it’s not like the issues were not in plain sight during that time.

Nonetheless, several people left the congregation after the vote to adopt.

This story is but a grain of sand in our nation’s historical narrative about racial oppression in our country’s history.

Strides have been made of course.   One could say (and people have),

“We elected a black man to the highest position in the land, arguably the most powerful position in the world.   Wouldn’t you agree that we’ve resolved this worn-out, yester-year issue of black people getting their due?”

I’m not going to spend a lot of time answering that question here today with you, everyone gathered here knows the unfortunate answer that we are still very much in the middle of the fight for racial justice.

And thinking about being in the middle conjured in my head an image of a pyramid….very wide at the bottom, and becoming progressively less until you arrive at the top point where it ceases to exist.

The bottom, widest point of this racial pyramid was broad enough to support the arrival of the first enslaved African people onto our shores at a place called Point Comfort, Virginia, in a ship called the White Lion.

The irony is chilling…the beginnings of the White Lion’s comfort in the new world, being accommodated by the bringing of innocent others.

For many years the racial injustice pyramid’s base was exceedingly broad.  With the passage of time, it has become progressively less, as pyramids do.

But we have by no means reached the apex where we have risen enough that…racism no longer exists.

Yes, we’re somewhere in the middle of the base and the tip.

Which means we’re still in the weeds, in the thick of things…we are history-makers in this fight that people decades from now will be looking back upon.

As the front of your bulletin says, the elevation of black history due to black oppression was then, IS NOW, and will continue to be until there’s nothing left to accomplish, when Martin’s dream comes to fruition.

I want to share a few tidbits of wisdom shared by Black individuals who define this celebration, and apply their nuggets of inspiration to the here and now,                                     to the you and me in this here and now.

The rest of what you’ll hear has everything to do with us, NCC…and how we move in the world and take our place in this ongoing history-making narrative.

We’ll start with none other than that black person who held the highest office in all the land….President Obama, who said:

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

To build on that, his spouse Michelle said:

There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.

In order for there to be such change, there must be visions, dreams that are the seedlings for what’s to come.

Langston Hughes got that when he said:

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.

Fair enough, and it will take flight to reach the top of the pyramid.  But it will also take fight and that’s where Shonda Rhimes’ words of wisdom come in:

Dreams are lovely but they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen and creates change.      

Our Steering Committee is going to be meeting this coming Saturday to talk about visions/dreams, in what directions we want to mindfully go now that some  basics -settling in a new minister and establishing Action Groups- are done.

We’ll talk about growth, and marketing strategies to accommodate growth.

But underneath all of that administrative stuff, it’s about love…

Love for God and spiritual wholeness, love for ourselves within our Community, and love for the world…its people, our planet.

When we’re engaged in the admin retreat stuff, it’s only to support the bottom-line love and connection stuff.

Considering our upcoming dreamy retreat brings me to another quote or two that made me think of us.

Booker T. Washington once said:

 Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.

Using that as a measuring stick, we are one of the most successful congregations in the city.

Not so long ago there was discernment if we were even going to continue to exist … such was the level of obstacles to overcome.

Have you ever heard the quote:

If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair?

That was said by Shirley Chisolm, the first black woman elected to Congress.

Talk about tenacity!  And that also is us, with our chairs that don’t necessarily fold, but are hauled in and out again pretty much every Sunday.

You wouldn’t call us a group that runs with the fat cats. And that’s fine, because that’s not our style.

But you know what IS our style?   Being the church in the entire metro area that was most represented the night justice needed to be fought for down at the Government Center with the County Board support for immigrants.

That, my friends, is a ‘Lead like Harriet’ moment.

It was a defining moment for us, in my eyes.

Defining oneself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges one faces.

Familiar with that nugget of wisdom?  It comes compliments of black Illinois politician Carol Moseley-Braun.

Most would define us as Progressive Christians.   And that label is fine, it fits.  But in order for it to mean something…progressive, progress…there must be action.

It is a bit of a different lens that we look through, from some other Christian groups.

This difference was apparent to me the other day when I attended my interfaith clergy meeting, which is comprised of numerous ministers from a plethora of Christian denominations.

The current project is worship planning for an interfaith Good Friday service.

Part of the draft script for the service is several Bible readings regarding the passion of Christ,

and each reading followed by a collective response of “You suffered and died so that we could be made whole.”

Part of what defines us – NCC progressive us – is our emphasis on humanity being made whole – justice for all-and our personal role in those efforts…being the hands and feet of Jesus.

It’s central to our theology.

And calls us to focus on what we’re doing (versus pre-scripted believing) to make the changes that Barack Obama talked about when he said we’re the change we’ve been looking for.

I have another quote that reminded me of two stories of doing / putting our faith into action.

The quote is from Rosa Park, who said:

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.

This reminds me of how afraid I was when I was arrested during the protests following Breonna and George’s murders.

It was a hot August day in Louisville. Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin had just been shot in the back in front of his children.

I was full of indignation and felt like I wanted to DO something.

So I marched the city streets with other protesters. And when the police cut us off on a bridge and told us to retreat back off the bridge or be arrested, I sat down.

It was my way of saying No.  No to the hate, no to the bigotry, no the violence.

But as I sat there fear set in about being arrested.

Getting arrested wasn’t my thing…I had no reference for it and a veil of fear fell over me for several minutes while I awaited my turn to be cuffed and led to the police transport vehicle.

It only lasted a few minutes, though, becustsse the conviction hotly coursing in my veins diminished the fear. Rosa was terssssssssright about when one’s mind is made up.

This reminds me of yet another story about a clergy member making a hard decision in the face of fear.

Lisa’s father Donald was a Methodist minister.  There was a time in his then young career that a vote (another church vote!) was to occur about whether two neighboring churches would merge…one was white and one was black.

The rules of such votes were that if there is a tie among the parishioners votes, the minister votes to break the tie.

Both churches voted, and wouldn’t you know it… it was a tie, which meant that  Donald was to cast the deciding vote.

His superiors in the denomination counseled him to vote no….he’d lose half his membership, the church wasn’t ready for this, wait a little longer.

You can imagine the trepidation that he had to have experienced.  But he did his own discernment, and as his eldest now says about that, his decision landed on the right side of history.

His deciding vote, against all customary odds, was to merge the blacks and the whites into one house of worship.

When one’s mind is made up, one’s fear is diminished. Not necessarily abolished.  But diminished.

Circumstances like Donald’s position on the merging of churches, or getting arrested during protests, are situations that can’t be planned for.
They just arise circumstantially.

None of us are going to head out of here looking to get arrested this weekend because of the shootings that occurred four years ago.

But it’s about a mindset, it’s about the lens that one ongoingly looks through. In a word, it’s about readiness for when such watershed moments emerge.

And it’s about a day-to-day way of being during the in-between, seemingly mundane days.

I assure you as best I can without having personally experienced it, that being on the receiving end of racial justice is anything but mundane.

Actress and author Karyn Parsons observed something that we should all keep in mind. She said:

Black history is all of our history, it’s American history.

(And this is the take home…] It has such an impact on kids and their values and how they view black people.

We have much to do with those inflluences…WE, the current makers of history. His-story, her-story.                                 

What will our story end up being? 

How will we have impacted the way kids in our era see the world?

What will we have done to continue in our time what Jesus began in his?

I look forward to hearing some of your thoughts about that now….

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