Sunday Service. July 26, 2020
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton
Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River
Rev. Sue Browning
Spirit of Life (Eamon)
Welcome. I am Rev. Sue Browning, the minister serving the Unitarian Universalist congregations in Easton MD and in Chestertown MD. It’s been a few weeks since the congregations have been together for a shared service. I’ve been on vacation these last few weeks and it’s been good to hear about the variety of lay led services, and the forms of connection. Thank you for the time off, and it’s good to be together.
We gather to pay attention to what is around us. We gather with intent to learn, to comfort, and to challenge one another. Like so many rituals in our lives our Sunday gathering is about making space for heart. It’s about renewal; it’s about discovering fresh energy for our collective and personal journeys.
Annually Unitarian Universalist congregation from across the globe gather at our General Assembly (also called ‘GA’) to learn, and comfort and challenge one another. Today you’ll hear reflections from those of us who attended the first all virtual GA. We’ll pass on how we were inspired, stretched, reassured and changed.
A reminder, especially to visitors who have found us online, if you have questions about anything – Unitarian Universalism, or our congregations, or our rituals, please be in touch. If you’d like to receive our newsletters please contact us using details on the website.
words from Bruce Southworth
For the gift of this day and for our community of spiritual nurture and compassion, we give thanks.
We light this chalice as a symbol of our faith.
May our many sparks meet and merge in communion of heart and soul.
Hymn. Morning Has Broken
A part of GA is learning about the local history, culture and current challenges occurring at assembly location. For this GA, which would have been in Rhode Island, we were offered this learning virtually through a focus on the local the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in RI and Massachusetts.
Opening worship included Native Americans rituals and a call for connection with our ancestors. I heard this as a call to reach deep, and to imagine before a cloud of witnesses, what might be. To draw strength from roots, and to trust shared vision.
Today, take a moment, calling forth the ancestors. Breathe deep. Take a moment – find your center. I invite us now into a time of reflection, a time of meditation.
Words from Black Elk
I was standing on the highest mountain of them all,
and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world.
And while I stood there
I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw;
for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.
And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle,
wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree
to shelter all children of all parents.
And I saw that it was holy.
Spirit of Life, Spirit of Love, Bring our hearts together in this time, in this summer of unique challenge. Let us sense the many ways we are interconnected; let us sense the many hoops making one circle. We offer gratitude for all around us that we did not create; we offer gratitude for moments of kindness and care. We come too knowing a world facing challenges. We come too with our own frustrations and fears.
In it all – in the joy, and in the sorrow, and in the uncertainty, may we be called to see in the sacred manner; to feel in the sacred manner.
As we feel this breadth of connection – hoops in one circle, may we know we are not alone.
Joys and Sorrows
A ritual of our community is to share joys and sorrows by lighting a candle. In this time of virtual summer services, please send joys and sorrows to me by noon on Thursday (we’re going to move it up a day). If you are a part of the UUCR community most weeks there is a summer Zoom service and joys and sorrows may be shared there.
First – the candle for all impacted by virus…
The candle in honor of the life and legacy of US Representative John Lewis. A committed and loving soul who led with courage, who led by example. May we carry on in his wake. We honor too Charles Evers and Rev. C. T. Vivian, civil rights leaders who also died this week.
The candle for a joy shared by Dick and Barbara from Easton share, “Our first great grandchild, Elliot Sxxxx, was born on Thursday, July 23rd in Cincinnati, Ohio. Mother and son are doing well!”
John in Chestertown shares, “Last weekend, Marcy and I visited my cousin in Erie PA. My cousin is fighting melanoma. It had metastasized throughout her body, but thankfully not in her organs. She has started an experimental immunology treatment in Pittsburg. It seems to be working. …We were so happy to see her looking hale and hearty, even from a social distance.
For the many joys and sorrows spoken and unspoken, we share in a moment if silence.
We will begin our reflections on GA. Carl, Ann and Dick with offer their thoughts, we’ll have music, and then I’ll offer the sermon.
As context, this was one of the largest GAs ever with 4900 registered. And it was the most generous GA ever as measured by financial contributions to collections taken. Much, much lower costs made participation possible.
GA has a myriad of workshops, lectures and worship opportunities, in additional to the business of the denomination – looking at changes in policies and voting on priorities. Where I have most often gone to GA without any members from congregations I was serving, this year I was honored to have 3 virtual companions – Carl, Ann and Dick. A wider lens for the experiences, and learning. Even with four of us we could only sample a small part of the whole.
Now our reflections.
- Most profound thing I learned at GA: A predominant message expressed throughout the GA was, “We are living in unique times, and Now is the time for change.” This is the result of three key factors: – COVID 19 pandemic, Massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and Global climate change.
Quotes for consideration
Naomi Klein (Ware Lecture) – “As Unitarian Universalists, I would say that this is your moment – your principles are visionary, and the world is catching up… We are in a really special moment in history. And we need to make the most of it.”
Dina Gilio-Whitaker – “As Long As Grass Grows” “Coronavirus shows we must change how we live or face self-destruction”
The spread of the virus has been a massive wake-up call for humankind, and not just in a scientific, logistical or even personal sense. We should think of COVID-19 as a warning.
We must change the way we inhabit the planet, or otherwise face self-destruction caused by our own negligence, if not by the pandemic then by environmental destruction (or both).
- Idea(s) for the congregation that we might like to introduce: I was impressed by the importance given to indigenous people’s issues and concerns during GA, plus the presentations and discussions of these issues by three eloquent indigenous “featured speakers”:
Natalie Martinez, Dina Gilio-Whitaker – “As Long As Grass Grows” and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz – “An Indigenous People’s History of the U.S. plus “An Indigenous People’s History of the U.S. for Young People”
The “Doctrine of Discovery” – signed into law by Chief Justice John Marshall, 1823 – This became the legal rationale for the continued violent appropriation of Indian lands and the engine powering federal Indian law in place today. After the court’s articulation of the discovery doctrine, President Jackson would sign the Indian Removal Act in 1830, expelling the Cherokee and the other four so-called Five Civilized Tribes from their homelands in Georgia and the broader south, setting the stage for removal as federal Indian policy.
AND the three legal actions taken recently to address the injustices resulting from the “Doctrine of Discovery”:
– Supreme Court decision to honor the treaties that established the reservations
in Oklahoma for the Five Civilized Tribes (Choctaws, Muskogees, Seminoles,
Choctaws, and Chickasaws);
– The Dakota Access Pipeline declared illegal because of EIS violations;
– Renaming of the Washington Redskins football team
- Ways the pandemic opens doors to something new:
Ware Lecture by Naomi Klein – “On Fire. The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal” – The book is made up of long-form essays reporting the climate crisis not only as a profound political challenge but as a spiritual and imaginative one as well. Klein makes the case that we will rise to the existential challenge of climatic change only if we are willing to transform the systems that produce this crisis. “On Fire” captures the burning urgency of the climate crisis, as well as the fiery energy of a rising political movement demanding a catalytic Green New Deal. The truth is, we cannot lower emissions as steeply and as rapidly as required to swerve off our perilous trajectory without sweeping industrial and infrastructure overhaul. The good news is that the Green New Deal isn’t nearly as impractical and unrealistic as many critics claim. Klein lists nine reasons the Green New Deal has a fighting chance: A seven minute video (shown during Ware lection) by Klein with artist Molly Crabapple entitled “A Message from the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez”.
UUA General Assembly Report
This was the fourth Unitarian Universalist General Assembly I have attended over my 31 years as a declared Unitarian Universalist. Even though I have adapted to Zooming over recent months, a digital experience is different from being with 4000 other UUs in one location.
I missed walking around the exhibits, the sales booths, and conversing with representatives of UU affiliated groups such as BLUU, Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, Small Group Ministry.org, LGBT representatives. People-watching is particularly rich at General Assembly. Experiencing the diversity of appearance, causes, and spiritual leanings is truly educational. Often, UUs wish for greater diversity in our denomination. In my experience at GA, the participants provide a kaleidoscope of identities. I missed these aspects.
None-the-less virtual GA was a good experience.
Two sessions I attended were closely related though they were about two different ethnic groups: African Americans and Native Americans. The Doctrine of Discovery, colonialism, subjugation, cultural obliteration, persecution, scourging, enslavement, loss of personhood, white European Supremacy were common elements in the history of both groups of people.
Reparations was the focus of one of the sessions, as applies to African Americans. In my opinion what was suggested could apply to both groups. I am not proud to reveal that for many years I opposed the notion of reparations. My poor grasp of what was meant by reparations was that African Americans would be given money via some system of payment as compensation for what they have endured. My stance was that people in the past were the perpetrators of the atrocities exacted on the Enslaved People of Africa. How can giving them money, now, compensate for centuries of oppression? Was this “hush money”?
I learned in a session presented by five African Americans that what they believed should be part of reparations is financial compensation, but so much more. Some elements of reparations the presenters suggested include:
- Institute specific curriculum in the schools about African culture prior to enslavement, as well as, about African Americans who have contributed to the United States history. Black history should have more than one month. It should be a topic integrated into all grade levels of education throughout the academic year.
- Teach about White Power so that all students will understand it.
- Overturn the miseducation of all children, but especially African American children. Empower all children equally.
- Change the training of law enforcement .
- Decriminalize some law infractions that over populate the criminal justice system with an over representation of black people, such as minor drug offenses.
- Attend to the physical and mental health of African Americans. Because of the genetic expression of generational trauma, they are placed in medical jeopardy at a much higher rate than white people.
- All institutions need to make efforts to change their policies and behaviors toward African Americans. These include: schools, criminal justice, units of government, and churches.
- It was suggested that all UU churches have a Reparations Committee.
I am humbled and appreciative for this greater understanding. I am so glad that I chose to attend this seminar.
As a first-time attendee at the UUA General Assembly, I was pleased with the wealth of knowledge and experiences available to attendees.
The virtual worship services were rich and diverse, and many interesting workshops were presented. Having a virtual GA has some advantages like reduced cost for attendees, but reduced personal contact was a downside. As a delegate, I attended the General Session where business was conducted and voted for proposed changes in the bylaws, including embodying human rights in UUA business decisions regarding investments. Overall, I found the virtual GA to be a worthwhile and enriching experience and would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in deepening your understanding of our faith and how the UUA is leading the way into the future.
I attended a workshop reporting on the successful process used to update the Mission & Vision of the UU church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their process was inclusive and allowed the members of the congregation to engage fully throughout the process. I recommended to the UUFE Co-Presidents that we engage more fully with our members as we complete the updating of our Mission & Vision.
I was most impressed with the final report of the UUA Commission on Institutional Change, a highlight of this year’s virtual GA. The Commission’s report and presentation was a culmination of a three-year process initiated in 2017. The published report, Widening the Circle of Concern, lays out ten areas of recommendations for us to become a truly anti-oppressive faith community. It is essential reading for every Unitarian Universalist, with recommendations for the UUA, UU organizations and seminaries, and all our congregations.
The report is voluminous, 228 pages, and will take significant time to digest and determine what action steps might be appropriate at the congregational level.
I would like to suggest that a team be formed to carefully consider the many important recommendations in the final report, Widening the Circle of Concern; and then to recommend possible action steps to the respective boards for their consideration. The objective should be to focus on improving equity, diversity and inclusion in our congregations.
In conclusion, I would like to highlight several important distinctions made in the report that will be of interest to members:
Antiracism is not equal to Racial Justice – While antiracism is an appropriate and needed response to racial inequality, it is not enough to be against something. Racial justice is a proactive assertion of what we are for — justice/equity/fairness for all.
Racial Justice is not equal to Equality – Things can be equal but still not fair. The goal of racial justice is not to make everything and everyone the same but rather to make things fair. “Equality” can be an effective concept (e.g. “equal opportunity”) to use, but equitable outcomes are the goal.
Racial Justice is not equal to Diversity – There can be diversity (variety) without equity (fairness). Integration of and variety of different races can be beneficial, but it is not sufficient to produce fairness (equity). Diversity can be a tool for advancing equity, but equity is the goal.
Racial Equity is not equal to Multiculturalism – Multiculturalism is the belief that different cultures within a society should all be given importance; racism is a system of social hierarchy based on the belief that white people have more value than non-whites. If we ignore the power dynamics embedded in social construction of race and attend only to its cultural manifestations, racism will persist, even if things appear to be multicultural on the surface.
Intentions are not equal to Impact – In pursuing racial justice, focus on equity and fairness in opportunities, outcomes, and impacts. Assess policies and actions based on whether they help or hurt communities of color, regardless of intentions.
Music –Ysaye Barnwell’s ‘We Are’
Sermon, Rev. Sue Browning
“Always Learning, Always Challenged”
Clearly GA was rich with learning opportunities. Our UU denomination is ‘making do’ with technology and tweaked formats. Virtual GA accessible to more participants – it was way less expensive, and travel wasn’t needed.
As Ann and Dick mentioned, virtual GA came with limits. There was no informal bumping into colleagues and friends in hallways, or shared meals where we could together digest new learning and fresh questions – right as they happened. Truth be told, I felt a bit more an observer than engaged learner. I’m letting that reality sink in.
Life generally feels limited with so much being virtual, and GA was no exception.
Part of finding myself as a distanced observer was on me. I like to feel a place – whether my favorite coffee shop for writing, or a preaching in a sanctuary with the congregation present, or sharing a drink with friends over shared cheese and crackers. I like live connection. I miss live connection.
For virtual GA, ‘showing up’ meant getting the right passwords, and clicking into the right links. Once connected, I often took advantage of the flexibility. I listened to some workshops with laptop on the counter as a unloaded the dishwasher. I monitored a business meeting while on a walk – phone in my pocket, ear phones in; I’d pause and dutifully vote on the many procedural and policy matters before the assembly. Distant observer fits.
For Naomi Klein’s Ware lecture – a keynote lecture – Bill pushed enough of the right buttons to project the lecture on our TV in the living room. As he and I watched together, I had a sense of a shared experience with all of GA. I could recall hearing Bryan Stevenson offer the Ware lecture a few years ago. On the full TV, GA felt more connect-full (if that is a word). Right afterwards we ate dinner and shared our reactions and fresh questions.
When we attend a virtual event, what helps us to feel spiritual connection? What helps us to engage?
An oddly mundane take away, and yet it feels an important question for the coming year. Virtual life is here for a while. How might these observations help remind us of the challenges students and teachers who faced months of virtual learning last spring? Where do we place virtual church on our schedules? For other virtual events what helps them feel intentional?
As I worked my way through GA, I heard many speakers and programs reminding me about intentionality. Maybe that was what I needed to hear in this atypical year.
In some ways we have ‘all the time in the world’ – appointments cancelled, travel cancelled, stores closed. Yet tasks of day-to-day living tasks are at times more complex as we work to stay safe. We’re dealing with losses of school, church, family connections, and travel. And we’re called in new ways to address the inequities in the of the world – centuries of challenge. With all of the above, we have personal challenges for self, family and friends who facing health, and employment challenges. We balance as we can. We can’t do everything with the same focus. We make choices.
Spiritual guide Deepak Chopra offers … “Whatever you put your attention on will grow stronger in your life. Whatever you take your attention away from will wither, disintegrate and disappear.”
At GA I find myself looking for principles which simplify my outlook; that remind me not to overthink, or over study. To guide my intention and attention. To be more ‘ok’ with what will in turn fade away.
One session I attend each year at GA is sponsored by a group called EqUUal Access. It’s the group who advocates for full inclusion for everyone living with disabilities. This year the workshop was on ‘Dismantling Ableism.’
As background, I met the leaders of this group back in 2016, shortly after UUFE member Debbie Simpers died. Debbie had preached a sermon at UUFE in 2015 a few weeks before she died with the intent to submit her sermon to the EqUUal Access group’s sermon contest. We did submit her sermon posthumously.
The session this year included history on the disability movement and practical advice for congregations on adaptations for mobility, and hearing and sight challenges, including for example including closed captioning during virtual services. We learned about mask limitations for some, for example those who can’t take their own mask on and off. Practical thoughts.
Rev. Suzanne Fast, one of the leaders, asked us to think deeper of ‘why’ our faith calls us to this inclusion of this with disabilities. Rev. Fast suggested we often think of disability is a defect rather than as an aspect of human variation. Human variation, vs. something ‘not right.’ What we consider ‘normal’ – and ‘not normal.’ If we want to do intentional work against ableism, how are we defining “we”?
Rev. Fast asked us to consider: What does it mean to be a human being? She asked, ‘Can some be more human than others?’In her presentation she defined ‘Ableism as discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities.’ It reminds us that our faith calls us to full inclusion – across the physical and mental spectrum. As we toss around terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, we need to recognize ways barriers to access are dehumanizing.
I read this year’s winning EqUUal Access sermon by Elizabeth Foster, a current seminary student. She talks of her excitement of getting into BU Theology school and then facing limited entrances – having to go way around to the back to get in – time consuming and dangerous.
A universal message from Rev. Fast, and many speakers at GA, across many matters of systemic discrimination: Pay attention to perspectives from those who have been on margin. As we bring together the diversity of lived experience we come to a more vibrant meaning of what it means to be alive; to be human. Regularly ask not only who is missing, but why?
We need to hear the stories, we need look at root causes and bad assumptions as we move toward impactful change. Dick mentioned the Commission on Institutional Change; this is the work the UUA is doing to address racism in our own UUA institution and congregations.
Intentional work makes time for ‘why’ questions. If we don’t, we circle back ineffectively when working policies and practices related to dismantling ableism, or racism, or sexism.
Work toward meaningful change to achieve equity requires engagement with others – to collaborate, and build momentum that matters. And the engagement is daunting, at least for those of us wanting to avoid conflict. Which brought me to the workshop led by Chris Crass called, “Having Anti-Racist Conversations.” It was a session about white people inviting other white people into meaningful efforts aimed at dismantling racism.
The three learnings I took from this workshop.
First, Crass invites us to be strategic about our use of energy. To be intentional. He advises not to waste time trying to engage or convince those not interested in learning, or unlikely to change. Just don’t. Don’t let them take up time and space – learnt to deflect, but engage no.
Second, when you do engage with someone who may be open, be open yourself. You don’t know it all. There is no path. Learn others stories. Listen.
Third, be clear on your own heart’s pull toward anti-racism work. What is the emotional drive undergirding your involvement? Sure, it’s the right thing to do, but what is the story that keeps you pulled you in and keeps you a committed to anti-racist actions? How do you see that racism impacts us all. While not tied to racism, this need for emotional fuel for the work – and having a story – reminded me that my focus on dismantling ableism is fueled by having known Debbie, and by hearing when she felt included, and when she felt dismissed.
What is the story that reminds you we are all worse off with racism? What makes you feel the mutual cost?
How will you intentionally tell this to others. It might start…I get angry when…Or I recall in a classroom once…Or I remember learning about…
As I’ve processed GA, and thought about guiding messages, I came across one of the many tributes to John Lewis there was this quote from him: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. (A tweet from June 2018)
We are called to do our part; to leave things better, but never finished. Where we put our attention matters – and know our attention can’t be everywhere.
In gratitude for the contributions of Dick, Ann and Carl, and for those who made virtual GA happen,
May It Be So
Watch the newsletters!
I will remind everyone that we are doing a check in call on anti-racism initiatives – your ‘one thing’ you have selected, or are considering on the first Wednesday of every month. The next call will be August 5 at 7 pm.
We extinguish the chalice with words from John Lewis
“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone – any person or any force – dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant.”
Go in peace, go in love, go knowing love surrounds you wherever you may go.