Social Justice and Spirituality 

Many UUFE congregants prioritize their commitment to social justice and live out this commitment through volunteer efforts, advocacy to change, and financial contributions. At this service several UUFE members will reflect on the question, ‘How does social justice fulfill you spiritually?’ The service will be led by Carol Meredith and Rev. Sue Browning.
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Script of Service from August 29, 2021

Rev. Sue Browning, Carol Meredith, Mary Lou Malone, Patty Hamsher, and Jim Richardson

Ring Chime

Welcome (Sue)

Good morning. I’ve Rev. Sue Browning and I am leading the service today with Carol Meredith.

Today Carol invites us to think about social justice and the fit of social justice in our lives as UUs. Carol will challenge us to think about places we are passionate in our lives, especially where our energies lead us to service and connection. It is a service about our values, and the ways we live into our values.

We offer our gratitude to all who keep UUFE grounded in challenging times. If you need some energy today, check out the little ones running around outside our windows – a beautiful sight as we wind down our summer services.

If you are new, or newish, welcome. If you have questions about our UU faith, or this congregation, please ask me or anyone here. We’d love to get to know you better and hear your questions and learn of your interests.

And a note that after our service, we’ll head outside for a time of fellowship. Welcome all!

Chalice Lighting (Carol)

Words from Cynthia Landum

We light this chalice, the beacon that calls us:
To love
To justice
To a deepening of the spirit.

Covenant of Our Fellowship (Carol)

I invite us now to share in saying the covenant of our fellowship

“At the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton, we seek to nurture spiritual and intellectual growth for all ages, and to be actively involved in community outreach and service. Cherishing diversity, and celebrating our oneness with all humanity, we covenant to support each other in the spirit of compassion, respect, and love.”

Joys and Sorrows (Sue)

Each week we build community by sharing our joys and sorrows. We continue this morning with a chance to briefly share personal joys and sorrows and milestones in our lives.

Sharing around the room.  

Today’s Message  –  “How does social justice feed you spiritually?”

Carol:

Just like most of you, I want to help make the world a better place. And I like to think that I do my part. For 30 years, I was a La Leche League Leader (LLL), I helped women breastfeed their babies. I led meetings and met with them in their homes. I was a volunteer, but it was almost a full-time job.

When I retired as an active LLL Leader, I was looking for something to replace that. I was curious about why I was so passionate about this cause for so long. What is it about causes that bring people to the point of being truly passionate about something? Well, for me, I was able to do something worthwhile and keep my children with me. I helped make sure others didn’t get the same misinformation that I had received, and I really think that breastfeeding helps babies grow up to be healthy physically and emotionally – and that’s good for all of society. That gave me meaning to my life. I felt fulfilled as a woman and as a mother. But I wasn’t just helping individual mothers and babies, I feel that breastfeeding actually helps the environment. That’s why I am still so passionate.

But I’m not someone who’s interested in debating and analysing the problems of the day. That isn’t for me! I need to be doing something. So, one of the reasons I’m here is to find out what that might be.

Some people come to our congregation because they’ve heard UUs are committed to action in the community. UUs have a reputation as people who want justice and take deliberate steps to make the world a fairer place.

I was curious to hear more about this connection of faith and social justice. Today we’ve invited three members to reflect on this question:

“How does social justice feed you spiritually?”

First Speaker

(Carol) Introduction:

  • Mary Lou Malone: is the mother of 2, grandmother of 5, and has a great grandson who is 4 days old! She’s a Colorado native now living in Trappe with husband, Tom, and two mutts. She’s a retired college professor in computer science and she loves to travel, hike and ski.

Mary Lou

Good morning. I’m Mary Lou Malone. Tom and I are relatively new to UUFE. Our first service was the last Sunday of Jan 2020, just before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

What is Social Justice?  To me, three things come to mind:  Fairness, Equality, and, simply stated, doing the RIGHT thing for portions of our community who are undervalued or discriminated against.  Is it fair that hundreds of thousands of children in this country go to bed hungry? NO!  Is there equality in how people of different ethnic groups, races, and genders are discriminated against?  NO!  Is it right that a monument to white supremacy sits on our courthouse lawn?  NO!

And what of spirituality?  It is a broad concept, but it is a very personal one for each of us.  For me, it includes a sense of being alive; having an interconnection to something bigger than myself; and a search for deeper meaning in my life.  It gives me a sense of balance among all aspects of my life.

Social Justice & Spirituality: The connection?  A famous writer once said, “It is one of the beautiful compensations in this life that none of us can sincerely try to help another without helping ourselves.”

My efforts for social justice enhance my spirituality and that leads me to want to do more for social justice. Thus, it’s a wonderful little feedback loop.

Let me share my journey toward social justice, leading a spiritual life, and the connection between them…

For the first 24 years of my life, which were pre-Internet years, I lived in a bubble.  As a child, I attended church because I had to.  Was I a spiritual person? Not really. Was I aware of social injustices?  Not so much… I led a Leave-It-to-Beaver existence.. Mine was a white world K-12 and even in college.  Did I read a newspaper or watch news on TV? No. Did my family discuss social and political issues around the dinner table?  No. In college, I was focused on differential equations, experiencing college life, and falling in love with a guy named Tom.

By the time Tom and I moved to Hawaii for his master’s in oceanography, we had a baby and I was working full time to put Tom through school and put food on the table.  I remained in my happy, little bubble…

In the late 60s, we moved to Northern California, and, boy, did my bubble burst!  Haight Ashbury, the Vietnam War (to which I previously paid little attention), the AIDs epidemic, the occupation of Alcatraz by Native Americans, the Kent State massacre, & Richard Nixon. I was surrounded by new friends who were engaged with social and political issues. The colorful muu-muus which served me well in Hawaii soon turned into tie-dyes, bell bottoms, and hair down to (here).  However, what was important was my AWAKENING to social injustice. My changes were here (heart) and here (head).  I began to develop connections to something much larger than myself.

In years since, I’ve marched many a mile for social justice (Gun Control; Black Lives Matter; Voting Rights; Women’s Rights; and more) and I’ve volunteered for many organizations working to better our community and the world (teaching adults to read; volunteering at TIS; tutoring young people for their GED; raising $$ for local food pantries; and so on). 

Back to the connection… Working for social justice connects me to the world around me… It expands my spirituality and makes me want to work harder for social justice.  It motivates me to be a better person and it makes my life more meaningful, thus allowing me to embrace my spirituality in a more profound way. My commitment to FAIRNESS, EQUALITY, & what is RIGHT deepens my desire for purpose and meaning in my life. I am reminded daily of the good life that I live compared with the lives of those who are under-valued, discriminated against, or suffer in other ways.

Social justice requires qualities that are developed by spiritual practice: empathy, compassion, patience, & self-awareness. When we share common aspirations for social justice and become aware of the struggles of others, we are transformed.  It’s that wonderful little feedback loop that I mentioned earlier.

I leave you with a quote from Hopi Chief White Eagle, who recently commented on global crises:

“This moment (we are) …living through can be considered a door or a hole. The decision to fall into the hole or go through the door is yours.… If you … look at yourself, …(and) take care of yourself and others, you will go through the door…When you take care of yourself, you take care of others at the same time. Do not underestimate the spiritual dimension of this …. There is a social demand… but also a spiritual demand. The two go hand in hand.”

Second Speaker

(Carol) Introduction

  • Patty Hamsher: is a teacher and a lover of the outdoors. She has 2 teen daughters and coaches girls soccer at Easton High. She loves to read, write, travel & hike.

Patty

How does social justice feed you spiritually? 

When Carol first invited me to answer this question–in a public service!–I was flattered but scared. I am an English as a second language teacher and have spent the last 7 years working with immigrant families and non-native English speaking students.

Does one’s work count as social justice?! Maybe? But I realize that my work extends beyond the paid hours. I love the immigrant communities that I have become part of here on the Eastern Shore. There are the evenings when my former high school students reach out for homework help; the weekends when I go to a quinceanera or graduation party to meet my students’ families; or the summer time texts with students and parents about food drive-ups and free camps.

So then I thought about the why–why do I do this work, and does it FEED me?

And, though it’s not a fancy answer– I do it because I feel driven to give back. It feels good to DO for people that I know appreciate, need, and want the support.

Noam Chomsky, an American linguist and political activist, says: “The more privilege you have, the more opportunity you have. The more opportunity you have, the more responsibility you have.”

See, I am adopted. Once upon a time, I was an unattached newborn. A series of decisions (that I had nothing to do with) placed me with the parents and brother that I grew up with–a good, solid family who took (and still takes!) extremely good care of me. But the people who made these decisions, who chose to place me with my parents, who chose to seek me out…all kinds of different decisions could have been made to put me on an entirely different life path. As I’ve gotten older and really gotten to know myself, I realize that there is a deep hunger–maybe even a calling–to help other people, specifically people who are not as secure or successful where they are. Because isn’t life a lot about decisions, ones we can make and ones we are merely the victims of?

The 7th UU principle talks about “the respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” I often think about the icebreaker event where you toss a ball of yarn from person to person in a group, each keeping hold of a strand to illustrate our connections literally and figuratively. There is always a series of decisions (mostly out of my control) that connect me with students and their families, and I don’t take that for granted. Layers of decisions have brought us together and it feels like my job to use the privileges of my upbringing to support their journeys. Oftentimes their experiences teach me things that support my life’s journey as well.

In addition, this work with the immigrant community builds connectedness. Researcher and storyteller Brene Brown defines connection as “…the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Human connectedness feeds me!!

Beyond supporting my students in their English language learning, I make it my job to teach them and their families that their voices belong not only in our schools but also in our churches, our parades, our restaurants, our town council meetings, our sports leagues, etc. I test out my toddler-like Spanish skills with parents and students, not to show off but to show that I am trying and willing to connect with them; that it’s important to me for us to try and even fail at this; to put us at ease collectively that there aren’t’ differences that make us less worthy of any other person.  Often times, they then feel confident to try out their emerging English skills. Empowering others helps empower me. That is part of the connected web. …Stronger together and all that jazz.

The 2nd UU principle talks about justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Rev. Emily Gage explains: “It points us to the larger community. It gets at collective responsibility. It reminds us that treating people as human beings is not simply something we do one-on-one, but something that has systemic implications…” When I boast about the people I work with, it’s to humanize the faceless conversations that our country has about refugees, immigration laws, and our borders.

One of my 9 year old students lives with several aunts and 8 cousins in a two bedroom house here in Easton. (I learned this over several games of Uno where I successfully taught him to smack talk and eventually beat me with confidence.) He often FaceTimes with his parents and little sister in Guatemala. He had never been to school before. He’s 9, learning a new language, a new household, a new school, a new everything. He is without his parents. He stole my heart.

I reached out to his aunt several times so we could find the best way to support him, and she very honestly told me that she could only do as much as she is already doing. She didn’t tell me this right away; at first she was defensive and frustrated at the school for calling her the way schools do. Our school norm was to reach out, build a school-home support structure. She needed school to be something she didn’t have to think about, a safe place where my student and her other children and nieces and nephews could be safe, warm, and fed. Our school norms were alienating her.

So I became my student’s advocate and the mediary between his teachers and his guardian. We helped him get the learning support he deserved and needed.  I can’t do this with all of the families I work with, and that’s ok, because not all of them need that.

As Christmas approached and we all went back to virtual learning, I struggled to maintain an academic connection with this student, but each day at lunchtime, he and 4 or 5 of his cousins would join my lunch Zoom and we would play silly games, make goofy faces, and give each other house tours. They had a Christmas tree and a small, beautiful altar in their house dedicated to the virgin Mary. The kids were so proud of it. I wanted to give them more; I knew my student’s aunt could only do as much as she was already doing.

After several emails and some shopping, this community gave each child in that family (and a second family with 7 kids who heard about our outreach!) a full outfit of clothes, a game or toy, and a grocery gift card.

Work like this indeed feeds me. It fills me up with human connections–my student, his family, me, our church community, the clerk at Marshalls who asked about the huge pile of clothes we bought–and hope. It helps me live into the UU principles. It is the positive action connected to the helplessness and the heaviness of watching decisions play out differently than people imagined. Social justice work grounds me in the idea that we are all only a few decisions away from needing the support, the advocacy, the allyship, or the guidance of others.

Third Speaker

Carol (introduction)

  • Jim Richardson: is a community activist and member of the Social Justice Committee for over thirty years. He spent his life as a sign maker, artist, illustrator, grocer, and amateur carpenter. Now retired, he enjoys drawing and writing stories and poetry. He lives with his wife, Martha, in Claiborne and presently commutes with her to Asheville, NC to visit their new grandson.

Jim

Allow me to take a few moments to talk about the word, “woke” – not the verb, the adjective. It is a term, originating in the United States, that means to be alert to injustice in society, especially racism, as in “we need to stay angry, and stay woke.” Although it’s first usage was about being aware about racial prejudice and discrimination, it soon came to encompass an awareness of other issues of social inequality such as gender and sexual orientation. As a white person with white privilege, I’m still working on trying to it become “woke”. I’ve since discovered it is a very long journey indeed.

Like Mary Lou, I wasn’t interested in social justice issues as a young person, although I was curious about the world and couldn’t wait for the mail to be delivered to our house so that I could read, cover to cover, Look and Newsweek magazines and of course, National Geographic.

It wasn’t until I returned from Vietnam did I become actively involved in social justice issues. Since then, I have been championing various causes for most of my life. In fact, it is the reason, I believe, I am standing before you today. Back in January, 1991, I joined up with three members of UUFE, all veterans of WWII and the Korean War, to speak publicly against our country’s decision to go to war with Iraq. They were Harry Shaw, Bob Woodall, and Rev. Dan Higgins. Together, we stood on the back of a pick-up truck in an Easton parking lot on a very cold Saturday morning to register our concerns. At that time, the Fellowship, not having a home of its own, was meeting at the Temple B’nai Israel located behind the hospital.

The following morning, we were invited to each say our piece at the UUFE Sunday service. Not yet a member, I was surprised that we drew far more support from our audience than criticism. Although anxious about speaking in public, I was able to find my voice. I must admit, it was a good feeling.

In the years that followed, Martha and I participated in many marches in Washington, including our country’s decision to invade Afghanistan immediately following 9-11, the second Gulf War, and the Women’s March the day after Trump took office. Recently, we helped organize Easton’s successful Juneteenth Rally in support of moving the Confederate monument. An estimated 600 – 800 people took part in the demonstration.

My involvement with the Confederate statue began sitting on a sailboat last summer with our friends, Sarah and Phil Sayre, members of Third Haven. They had invited my wife and I up to Maine to spend a couple of weeks exploring the tiny islands off the coast during the beginnings of COVID. Near the end of our idyllic stay, Sarah was able to connect us on her laptop with a Talbot County Council meeting while sitting in the cockpit. We had learned earlier that the council was planning a second vote on whether to move the controversial statue or not. The first vote taken a year or two before, had been 3-2 in favor of keeping the statue in place. We were hoping, and quite frankly expecting, a different outcome. Instead, to our amazement and disappointment, the second vote was the same. At that instant, all four of us pledged to work for a different outcome once we returned home.

Which leads me to the present and my involvement with the Move the Monument cause, and specifically to this morning’s question, “How does social justice fulfill me spiritually?” Let me address the question first. It really is quite simple. Our first principle advises us as Unitarian Universalists to value the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Our second principle says we should also value justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Keeping these two principles in mind, how do they relate to the Confederate monument in our community – the last Confederate monument located on public land in the state of Maryland?

For me, the Talbot Boys statue, along with its Confederate battle flag, that still occupies a place of honor on the Talbot County Courthouse lawn, is in serious conflict with our Fellowship’s principles by being a symbol of hatred, inequality and injustice. The Move the Monument coalition, of which I am a member, is dedicated to the shameful statue’s removal, and will continue to protest until it is gone. As we like to say in our favorite chant, “We are not going away!”

Hopefully, each of us can find a social justice cause we can be most passionate about. Let’s try to leave this world a better place for future generations. Let’s all stay “woke”! 

Carol:  Our new Vision Statement says we are “one of the…social justice leaders for the Mid Shore of Maryland“. Here, at UUFE, we have a Social Justice Pod. I’ve joined this group and I’m discovering again how social justice work fits in with my spiritual journey. We’re working with local organizations such as: Talbot Interfaith Shelter, Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center, CarePacks, Move the Monument and For All Seasons

As a fellowship, we partner with these organizations with volunteer resources and financial support. But we, as individuals, support many different organisations on our own, too. So I’d like to open it up to you:

What sort of social justice work have you done, are doing, or would like to do that fits in with your spiritual journey?

(This isn’t a competition to see who does the most but some of us may be looking for inspiration. Are you reading to pre-schoolers at the local elementary school? Would you be interested in helping people register to vote? How about working with the local RiverKeeper in keeping our waterways clean? You may be new to this area or recently retired and are looking for activities that inspire you. Now’s the time to share what you do.)

Sue went around with mike to hear responses.

Carol:

We’ve heard many perspectives today. We know the range of social justice definition and understanding is wide. We know spirituality is experienced differently. We’ve heard how members found a fit for their interests, and how they connect work in the community to our faith.

I hope we’ve heard that it seems important to feel the integration of our actions with our faith. If our spiritual activity is about feeling whole – of connecting the dots in a meaningful way, how do our actions – our partnerships – our community relationships make us feel this sense of fulfillment?

But my big question (your take home questions are:

What do you feel inspired to do in your life?

What do you feel passionate about?

Closing Words and Extinguishing the Chalice (Sue)

Words from Rebeca Edmiston-Lange

Mindful of our highest aspirations,
Bound by common faith and purpose,
And, yet, beginning with ourselves as we are,
Let us take one more step, together,
in our unending quest for dignity, justice and love. Amen.

Go in peace, go in love, go knowing love surrounds you wherever you may go.

(Extinguish chalice.)

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