Sunday Service, June 21, 2021
Is Dismantling Racism Possible?
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton
Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River
Spirit of Life
Call to Worship
Welcome to our service this morning. Welcome member, friend, and visitors. It is good to be together. I am Rev. Sue Browning and I serve as minister for the Unitarian Universalist congregations in Easton, MD and Chestertown, MD.
You’ll notice I am offering the service today from the sanctuary in Easton. While we continue with virtual service, and will for a while, we have felt enough shift in the realities of the virus to venture into this sacred space for this morning. Of course, I am still missing you all being physically here, and yet it does not seem a fit for either congregation to re-start services.
We come together on the longest day of the year – summer solstice – a moment of turning in the cycles of the earth and sun. We come to ask if this will also be a time of turning in society – a time of new order?
Unitarian Universalists lift equity as a core principle, on this day of light, what do we see as our path? What is our role. We come to ask questions, as we renew our commitments to one another – to our neighbor.
If you have questions about our eastern shore congregations, or about the Unitarian Universalist faith, please ask! Check our websites, email or call. Even while we are not meeting in-person we hope you’ll get to know us better.
Breathe deep, and come, let us worship together.
The Struggle For Freedom
Chalice Lighting, by Adrian L. H. Graham
We kindle a flame of power, illuminating the Holy in each of our faces.
We recognize in the flame a passionate commitment to our shared faith.
We are held and carried from day to day, week to week, in the shining of the light.
This flame is mine, as well as yours.
We are brought together on this day, called to growth, to expansion, within its glow.
What does your heart know while beholding this holy fire?
Hymn – “For All that Is Our Life”
What We Do Matters
by Rev Laura Horton – Ludwig
Spirit of Life and Love,
we are here because we believe what we do matters.
We are here because we believe how we live our life matters.
That with every act of kindness or meanness,
courage or fear,
love or hate,
we are weaving the fabric of the universe that holds us all.
We are here because we need encouragement.
Because we need strength.
Because so often, we get distracted.
We get in a rush,
we don’t think,
we choose the easy way
when the harder path is what our spirits truly long for.
We are here
because none of us is perfect,
but together we inspire one another.
To try again.
To take another step.
We are here because we have felt the stirrings of love and grace
in our hearts and hands and we crave more of that,
for ourselves and not only for ourselves: for everyone!
We are here because how we live matters.
Joys and Sorrows
We move now to a time of reflection and joys and sorrows. One of the ways be build community is by sharing our joys and sorrows with one another. In these times of virtual services please email any joys and sorrows to me by noon on Friday.
I will light one candle for all of the joys and sorrows and then will read what was sent in.
We light a candle is for all who have died, and are ill, and who have recovered from the covid virus, and all who care for our sick and our communities in this time. While we wish the virus would disappear, it has not, and our candle holds the challenges we all face in following practices of safety for all.
We light this candle is for Barbara and Dick who celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary on Friday June 12th.
We light a candle for Larry who is dealing with a difficult diagnosis. Larry is an amazing leader in the Chestertown community and we know continues to pour his heart into his many roles. We hold Larry, his wife Peggy and sister Caren in our love.
We light this candle for Kay who died this past week. Kay a family member of congregants Linda, Emily, Todd and Lindan, and died after a long struggle with the covid virus.
I light a candle of gratitude for our educators teachers, and administrators, and counselors. As you end this school year, please know that your above and beyond efforts these past months have made a difference for our children and youth.
I light a candle today is for musicians, especially those whose spiritual practices, and community connections include making music as a part of a choir. Thank you for the service last week. This is a candle of sadness for what you are missing in choral singing, and for the creative ways you are adapting.
For all spoken and in our hearts, we are grateful.
A reading today by Nelson Mandela
Long Road to Freedom
I have walked that long road to freedom.
I have tried not to falter;
I have made missteps along the way.
But I have discovered the secret that
after climbing a great hill, one only finds
that there are many more hills to climb.
I have taken a moment here to rest,
To steal a view of the glorious vista
that surrounds me, to look back
on the distance I have come.
But I can only rest for a moment,
for with freedom come responsibilities,
and I dare not linger, for my long walk
is not ended.
Sermon, Rev. Sue Browning
Is Dismantling Racism Possible?
This week there was an article in USA Today written by Isaiah McKinnon, a retired police chief from Detroit. A retired police chief who is African American. He tells of being beaten by police as a teenager in 1957, and resolving to become a police officer to facilitate change. He became an officer in 1965, and in the late 1960s was abused by his white colleagues. He persevered. As he rose in the ranks and called out concerns, he was ostracized. In the article he shares,
“During these years, my mental salvation was education. I earned three degrees, including a master’s degree and Ph.D. When I became chief of police of Detroit in 1994, it was important for me to root out the bad officers — like those who beat me as a teenager and tried to kill me in 1967. I also worked to rebuild trust with the community, which for too long felt like it was at the mercy of a violent and indifferent police force. It was my mission as chief to make a difference in the lives of Detroiters. It was incredibly difficult, however, to eradicate implicit biases and systemic racism in the department. When I was chief [of police], a white DPD officer pulled me over one night. He approached my unmarked vehicle and without looking at me, asked for my license and registration. Wanting to see how far this would go, I said, “Yes officer.” At some point, he recognized who he had stopped and immediately apologized. My question to him was, “Why did you stop me?” He said, “I thought it was a stolen car.” The officer was reprimanded for his actions.”
This sermon is not to prove there is inequitable treatment of people based on skin color. We know this is true. In every system and institution in our society – from healthcare, to education, to employment, banking, to real estate and law enforcement and criminal justice – inequitable treatment persists based on skin color. The data is there; this reality is more than anecdotes.
This sermon is also not to tell the history of violence against people of color in this country which continue today. Our foundation includes white people owning black people as property under chattel slavery, and sustained abuse of indigenous populations. Slavery was dehumanizing and violent; physically brutal and emotionally cruel. Post slavery we had Jim Crow with thousands lynched; we had segregation and now mass incarceration.
Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, the country – and world – has focused attention on patterns of abuse and dehumanization still faced by people of color.
We are appalled. Yet we should not be shocked. This is not new. Six years ago, we watched film of Eric Gardner’s murder and calls of “I can’t breathe.” Five years ago, we witnessed the slaughter of nine at the AME church in Charleston. Three years ago viewed torches held in the name of hate were carried through Charlottesville.
This playing out of racism as inequitable and violent acts is not new.
Today we ask, What is it about this moment – about Mr. Floyd’s death? Are larger numbers of those of us who are white, understanding the risks and patterns in a new way? I hope so, but I don’t think we know, at least not yet.
It will take not only understanding, but a commitment (many commitments) to make foundational changes. Will we look back and see the death of Mr. Floyd as a pivotal moment?
In an image of a protest circulating on Facebook there a African American girl holding a chalk board which said…
Black Lives Matter
We Never Said Only Black Lives Matter
We Know All Lives Matter
Black Lives are in Danger
We need your help.
My question today: Are we hearing “Black Lives are in Danger” as a holy call? Really hearing this?
Will we, especially those of us who are white, pay attention long enough and engage to help change to these patterns? Will we use our power, energy and resources, to end danger?
This is what keeps me awake some nights. As the marches and rallies during this pandemic end, will we have the collective will to stay with the messy work of change?
The answer to this sermon question: Is Dismantling Racism Possible? I have to believe is yes. It is possible to dismantle racism – to end racism. If racism is the collective patterns of behavior which systemically push people to the bottom and to the side based on the color of their skin, I have to believe our collective soul cannot rest while this is the reality.
Racism was created by humans; it’s fixable by humans.
The harder question: Do we as a society have the will end racism?
Martin Luther King made popular the phrase: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” If justice in the case of racism would mean achieving true equity, does this arc bend toward equity? How do we know?
Rev. Mychal Denzel Smith writes in the Huffington post about this arc. On the ‘arc of the moral universe’ he shares:
“This use of the quotation…carries the risk of magical thinking. After all, if the arc of the moral universe will inevitably bend toward justice, then there is no reason for us to work toward that justice, as it’s preordained. If it is only a matter of cosmic influence, if there is no human role, then we are off the hook. This isn’t how King meant it, as evidenced by the work to which he dedicated his own life.”
Smith reminds us that the MLK had adapted this image from Rev. Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister, who used similar language in a sermon in 1853. Smith notes,“Parker said: ‘I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
Rev. Parker, a transcendentalist, asks us to imagine what should be. He pictures justice as way out there – complex enough, and imprecise enough to be out of our view.
If we hold this image of a moral universe as ultimate possibility, in 2020 in the case of racism and the goal of equity, do we see the next steps on the path toward equity? What will it take to dismantle racism? What might be the path?
Nothing will be simple. Systemic racism is layered. Systemic racism is entrenched. Picture layers of individuals each with their own history, and fears, and ignorance; each with conscious and subconscious biases. Picture a society with organizations intertwined – financial, education, healthcare, real estate and employment – each with imperfect or outright dangerous policies or rules which perpetuate inequity. Systemic racism is these layers – Individuals, institutions and organizations each with their own cultures with patterns which protect power, and with weigh holding status quo in place. Without changing these layers we should not be surprised at the next, and the next act of violence. The danger is real. Change is needed.
As people of faith engaged in ending racism, I invite you to trust two things.
First, to trust that equity is possible; it is possible to dismantle racism.
Second, to trust that collectively we – “we” in the broadest sense of we – have the will and strength to dismantle racism – to end racism.
These are holy invitations to a shared vision of equity to stay the course.
My hope is everyone listening is willing to commit something to help bend the arc. Everyone.
What commitment will you make to help end racism? What is one commitment you can make? What if the fit for you?
—As a parent or grandparent, what is your role as an educator?
—As an employee, where might you work towards equity? As a supervisor?
—As a citizen are you educated on weak spots in laws and practices? What guides your vote? Where are you speaking up and out?
—As a congregant, how might you help lead the congregation in arc-bending work?
—For our youngest learners, what are your ideas? What might you commit to doing?
—If you have financial resources to give, what are the local or national causes having on impact on racism?
Your voice matters. Your money matters. Your compassion matters.
What is the one sustained commitment that fits for you.? Write it on a notecard. Post it on your dashboard or refrigerator. My gut is one sustained commitment that you believes matters will outweigh five great intentions that evaporate in a month.
My one thing will be to host a monthly accountability check in call – for now Zoom – on racial justice. A call for members and friends on the first Wednesday of every month at 7 pm. A short check in call where together we’ll reflect on our commitments.
Why does this fit for me commitment? I see this as spiritual work as your spiritual leader. I want to encourage discernment and follow through. I believe momentum and sustained energy matter. My hope is this call will be a help us feel connections between our commitments. This is about accountability and encouragement; it will not be about guilt or shame. Don’t want to call in? Send a weekly email, write an article now or then for the newsletter.
Need help figuring out your commitment? Call me, check in with others who are involved with racial justice.
For our commitment to matter, it needs to be move us from a neutral stance. During the recent rallies a common sign was: ‘Silence is violence.’ A reminder that being on the sidelines is complicit.
In his book, “How to be an Antiracist” Ibram Kendi sees we are either racist or anti-racist. He shares,“in writing the book I’ve had one singular goal. If I could somehow shape the world, what I would hope would come out of this book is very simply we would eradicate the term “not racist” from the American vocabulary. …It would force Americans…to recognize that all policies are either racist or anti-racist.”
There is no clear path to dismantle racism. It will be incremental work. There will be mistakes, and discomfort. There will be new relationships and broken ones. We need to trust there will be tangible effects, and ripple effects even when the path is murky. There will be breakthroughs and joy.
It is not check-the-box work. And there cannot be any seats on the sidelines.
Our reading earlier quoted Nelson Mandela, he know that climbing one hill was never enough. He would see the next and the next. Racist systems were built and sustained over centuries. It is life-long work – generation to generation work to dismantle them, and that is if we all commit. If we believe the danger.
Is George Floyd’s death going to have mattered when people look back at this point in our history? Will his death have motivated sustained changes toward the goal of ending racism?
The potential is here. My hope is together – in the broadest sense of “we” – We will be able to answer, “Yes.”
May It Be So
Music “I Believe”
Affirmation by Israel Buffardi
The Struggle Continues
The road that lies ahead of us is a long one, and the pace of progress will sometimes feel glacially slow.
Never forget that glaciers over time can carve out grand canyons and great lakes.
Moving tectonic plates can rise up mountains over millennia, or they can explode awe-inspiring volcanoes in milliseconds.
Our commitment to love and justice can do the same.
Go in peace, go in love, go knowing love surrounds you wherever you may go.