The service was held by Zoom on January 17.
A recording will be available online here,
Words from our service
Sunday, January 17, 2021
“Preparing for a Big Week”
Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton
Prelude “Only Love” (Virtual Choir)
Welcome to Members, visitors and friends. I am Rev. Sue Browning, the minister serving the UU congregations in Easton and Chestertown.
We come together in this week of milestones. We have the inauguration of a new president every four years, and this is the week. We celebration Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s life annually, and this is the week. While not milestones, we are on the cusp of a more widely distributed vaccines, with some securing appointments. We start the week with the President impeached again and wait for the next steps. And we wait to hear plans for prosecutions of those part of the Jan. 6 recent attack.
How might we get ready for a week like this? How might we prepare our heads and hearts? My hope is we use our time together to center these questions today.
Each week we bring all of who we are into this circle of connection. We work to keep the circle wide, knowing that the deep work of full inclusion comes not just in proclaiming it so. Our actions matter but is not enough alone. The circle is widens when our hearts can see our neighbor as ourselves. The circle widens when we love beyond where we thought we could.
We come together to stretch our vision and to imagine what is to be.
Oh light of life
Be kindled again in our hearts
As we meet together
To celebrate joy of human community
Seeking wholeness that extends beyond us.
Music is a big part of today’s service. As we prepare for this week of milestones, we lift up the music from the African American tradition this morning. We are grateful for our members and guests who have contributed to our music today. May we hear the music and lyrics of struggle and hope imagining the many ways these words have taken on meaning over the years.
Opening Hymn. “We Shall Overcome”
(recorded by Patty Rubin, Ellen Barry Grunden and Dave Moore
Thoughts for All Ages Intro
– Our Thoughts for All Ages today was created by songwriter Lea Morris. She lifts up the monthly theme – our Soul Matters theme – of imagination. It’s a lesson for all ages as we enter this week. Show video…
Lea Morris – connecting with the youngest asks, ‘Who could be free?’
Outreach Collection – Intro by Amy Warner, Video from Rev. David Ryan
Meditation/Joys and Sorrows/Acknowledgments of the Heart
Anthem – “I Too Sing America” Terron Quailes, Soloist
Reading (Read by Todd)
Our reading today from Martin Luther King Jr. This is an excerpt from his acceptance speech, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1964.
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.
I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!
This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.”
Sermon – Rev. Sue Browning
“Preparing for a Big Week”
Rev. Dr. King made this speech in 1964. It was a time of deep challenge in our nation and in the world. Negroes (the term he often used) were not only restricted, but lived in continual danger, in fear. Segregation, voting restrictions, housing restrictions were the practice, in many cases allowed by law. The Viet Nam war was heating up. President Kennedy had been assassinated.
MLK names these as times of “creative turmoil.” He could see the times presented the possibility for a new day.
We are living in a time of turmoil, including the raw aftermath of the assault on the Capitol. We enter the week with dire security concerns. We enter with limitations on vaccines. As we come together this week, I can’t just yet find the ‘creative’ aspects of our turmoil. Not yet, but I imagine it might come in time. We yearn to imagine such possibility. We want to feel a national turning; to authentically sense it is happening. As much as we want this, we come today in waiting mode – waiting to exhale.
My hope is we can prepare to witness this historic week ready to listen well; to pay attention.
As we hear the speeches this MLK weekend, and as we watch the rituals of transition (albeit in non traditional form) what are the signals we are looking for? Years from now how will we be quoted? Will we been seen as setting a clear vision, choosing wise priorities, and using resources effectively.
What will we watch for? What values will guide our witness? I have a few and hope you are framing your list.
First, what will we hear on the role of government?
I can’t imagine we will all have the same answer. I hope there is difference among us. We know government can function more efficiently. In part it’s a hope of returning to function, but I’ll be looking for more than solid mechanics.
Many adopt a narrative that the price of a functioning government – a government that tackles tough challenges and follows through on tough issues – requires we sacrifice freedom; that an active government can only come with a loss of liberty.
Heather Cox Richardson, historian and journalist, reminds us (her column Jan. 16) that since the 1800s any time there has been an inking to redistribute of wealth – say to build highways or hospitals – the proposed redistribution was characterized as “ a leftist assault on American freedom.” Cox describes how a government role providing investment, service and regulation was called out as an ‘annihilation of liberty”
There is a false narrative here.
I stand wary of those seeing a forced choice between freedom and equity. For some, the freedom at issue is what I’ve heard called ‘freedom to’ matters – on guns and speech. Too, we need to consider the “freedom from” aspects of liberty. (Article, BU School of Public Health, March 19, 2017) The proposition that making equity a high national priority, and having government as a partner in the creating a more just world, means we must sacrifice freedoms cannot go unchecked. The assumptions need be challenged.
In Dr. King’s Nobel prize speech he talks in the same sentence of dignity, equality and freedom of spirit. In one sentence.
Can we imagine freedom and equality and equity all intertwined, and see with more freedom from limitations comes equity; and with greater equity comes greater freedom?
The role of government should deserves to be debated. I hope we can hear the essence of the debate.
Second, what will we hear this week on dismantling systemic racism?
We had a time of attention on matters of race and racism this past summer. The protests happened. I hope we are listening for dismantling racism to be at the core of the country’s priorities– action by action, policy by policy. The work can’t be addressed when convenient.
In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Dr. King noted,
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
While the letter is from 1963, it feels predictive.
We know in our own Unitarian Universalist history, there have been dangerous fits and starts on our anti-racism efforts. The UUA and congregations have not consistently put in the kind of effort one puts in when one is serious. You heard about the challenges from Bob Clegg in his sermon on ‘Widening the Circle’ report. We know of the actions this summer – the protests, the letters. Will we stay the course?
Nationally we need to address pervasive challenges at the core of our nation’s fabric – our history of white supremacy – with the attention, strength and focus needed.
As we consider what we hear this week, consider that Unitarian Universalists have been asking about the changes we need to make with fresh vigor. There is a conversation about modifying our principles to make it clear our focus as UUs needs to include a priority “to build a multicultural Beloved Community and by our actions work to dismantle racism in ourselves and our institutions.” (proposed 8th Principle) Will we hear of similar focus in the national conversation.
I want to hear honesty and humility in the conversations about race, racism, and other oppressions from this new administration. Critical initiatives for change will take time and diligence. And there will be mistakes. I want to hear from every leader consistent, honest answers. Non sugar-coated answers. Not campaign answers.
In an interview I heard this week, a Biden appointee was asked about climate change and the likely direction of the administration. She responded you will see the climate change issues addressed in everything we do. I liked that answer. She was calling for a culture that solves all critical issues with the climate in mind. Whether healthcare, or transportation, or education, or specific climate actions, there needs to be intent to address existential risks of climate change. For the biggest, most pervasive challenges – and racism is in this category – there needs to be just such a comprehensive outlook.
Finally I’ll be listening for a relationship of the new administration to truth. What will their actions do to rebuild trust? The other day I heard a journalist wanted to fact check a Biden speech. His staff members response was, “Sure, how can I assist?” If the sense of integrity is modeled by the senior leaders that may be the most important role of these early days. Our hearts want to trust – to commit, and our warning systems are on alert. We need straight answers, especially on the deepest challenges.
In it all it will matter how we will listen, and how we will speak. As we prepare for this week, the words we use – out loud and ‘in our heads’ matter. I hope we pay attention to times we find ourselves in ’we’ and ‘they’ patterns of thought. Times it is tempting to set our “our” group in contrast to “them.”
On the specifics, there is a need to press for accountability and discipline. Each of us need to name issues of concern. Each of us need to identify persons and organizations and institutions of concern and have the difficult conversations. It matters that each of us write letters to elected leaders and to papers. The work means challenging inequity and pressing for priorities around justice. It is the work of being clear, and being brave.
And, as we prepare for this week, let us avoid generalizations, labels and stereotypes. No one can know what I think or believe or what you think of believe. No one knows another’s motivations. If we can ever imagine change taking hold, we need to make space to be surprised. There may be unexpected points of understanding.
No one knows what each of us thinks, and why, without asking. Let’s offer the same grace to others.
As we choose where to focus this week, we do so in the absence of many of the traditional inauguration rituals. It is sad. It is hard to look at the fortress the Capitol has become. And it is where we are this week. Hold the feelings honestly.
And yes! be aware of the excitement and possibility that comes with the week. There is hope of greater civility; there is hope of lives less limited by Covid; there is hope of greater equity and greater freedom.
As we walk together, we’re invited to imagine what Dr. King called back in 1964 ‘creative turmoil’; to trust an authentic turning will come.
It will take time. It will take imagination. My prayer is we take the time to prepare heart and mind for the week to come.
May It Be So
We offer gratitude for the permission granted by the Talisman Choir from Stanford University for allowing us to share their version of ‘Life Ev’ry Voice and Sing’ this morning. We note they don’t charge for use of the recording, and they invite us each to make a contribution to a local organization doing racial justice work.
“Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” (Talisman Virtual Choir (Stanford)
Announcements –Offering/Pledge Reminder/Other Announcements Sue and Others
Closing Words and Extinguishing the Chalice