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April 11, 2021 | Online Worship

Recording of our April 11, 2021 online worship service

Worship manuscript:


Welcome and Announcements

Brianna Zamborsky


Good morning, and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am Brianna Zamborsky, your Worship Associate this morning, assisting our guest in the pulpit, the Reverend Bethany Russell-Lowe with this morning’s service. We are joined by our Music Directors, Steven and Abha Dearing with technical support from Sara Constantankis and Zoom greeter Drieka De Graff.


BUC is a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Even in our virtual format, we are a thriving community with a place for everyone. Social justice is an essential component of our church life.


We are a “capital W” Welcoming Congregation and a Green Sanctuary Congregation. Our social justice work this year is focused on civic engagement, racial inequality, economic inequality, and environmental justice.


Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on Facebook. After the service, we invite you to stay for a virtual coffee hour.

If you are worshiping with us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you.


Before we begin our worship together, we have two announcements:


The monthly meeting of the Humanists of BUC is tonight at 7:00 pm. This evening’s speaker is Professor Mike Whitty of Citizens for Tolerance and Decency, speaking on "Humanists Finding Their Voice in the Face of Right Wing Religious Extremism." Professor Whitty’s talk will be followed by a discussion period. Everyone is welcome. Zoom access info is on the calendar.


After more than a year of physical separation from our church home and each other, we decided to check in with BUCers to see how you are doing. Twenty volunteers recently made phone calls to the BUC households for which we have phone numbers--about 280 in total. We were happy to connect with you, and we had some great conversations. Many thanks to all the volunteers who made phone calls. We did our best to connect with everyone for whom we had a phone number, but if we didn't reach you and you would like to be contacted, please contact Drieka DeGraff.


And now, our service will begin.


Chalice Lighting

Brianna Zamborsky


How often we seek refuge in this sacred flame

From the world’s trouble and pain.

Today, may our lamp light the way

For whose who know no refuge,

That we may open our minds

Our arms

Our hearts

Our mouths to sing

“Come, whoever you are.”


Opening Words

“And Then” by Judy Chicago

read by Rev. Bethany Russell-Lowe


And then all that has divided us will merge

And then compassion will be wedded to power

And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind

And then both men and women will be gentle

And then both women and men will be strong

And then no person will be subject to another's will

And then all will be rich and free and varied

And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many

And then all will share equally in the Earth's abundance

And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old

And then all will nourish the young

And then will cherish life's creatures

And then all will live in harmony with one another and the Earth

And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.


Offering

Brianna Zamborsky


It it time now for our weekly offering. The mission of Birmingham Unitarian Church is to create a free and welcoming religious community that encourages lives of integrity, learning, service, and joy. The weekly offering serves as an ongoing reminder of this mission and strengthens the bonds between congregants and our high purpose. It also gives us the opportunity to engage in the rewarding spiritual practice of generosity. So let there be an offering in support of this Beloved Community and our good works. Contributions can be made through our website, with Venmo (user name @BUCMI), or with a check in the mail. However you choose to give, please do so with a heart of gratitude and for each other.


Pastoral Prayer

Brianna Zamborsky


Spirit of Life, we feel so much. Hold us, like a chalice does a flame, as we burn with what seems like all consuming pain and anger and awe and joy. Hold us as we feel them for all that they are before they pass, because they will pass. The happiness we want to stay and the sadness we want to leave, they’ll all pass. And more will come. Hold us, Spirit of Life, through all of this human radiance.


Reading

by Rev. Bethany Russell-Lowe


As we gathered outside the courthouse at the first trial of Dr. Scott Warren in February 2019, I have had on my hearts all those who are walking through our desert as we gathered in downtown Tucson. As I looked around at humanitarian aid volunteers -- usually dressed in rugged clothing with dust on their boots and determination in their eyes -- now dressed in suits...still with dust on their boots, but now with worry in their eyes, I thought of all the water not being dropped that week, because humanitarian aid was being put on trial. It broke my heart. And made me pretty angry.


The difference between the under-worn suits, and the dusty boots. Between the looks of worry, and the looks of determination, reminded me of the opposites and inconsistencies that surround that moment.


And so, this is my prayer about the world as it is, and the world as I believe it should be. There will be pictures shown to depict the world as it is. And then blank slides for you to imagine the world as it should be.


In this place,

Migrants traverse miles of mountainous, desolate deserts,

In another place,

Safe welcome for all in all places.


In this place,

Walls, fences, and drones, divide.

And in another place,

No borders, only open horizons.

In this place,

Offerings of water, food, medical supplies, clothing…

In another place

All have what they need.


In this place,

Migrants are chased down, scattered, and abandoned…

In another place,

No human being is a target.


In this place,

Human lives lost daily to dehydration, starvation, and overexposure…

In another place,

All lives are sustained and valued for their inherent worthiness.


In this place,

Human kindness is criminalized,

In another place,

Care and compassion are laws of the land.


In this place,

Under-worn suits and dusty boots flood courtrooms in defense of kindness,

In another place,

Justice -- the full restoration of relationship -- dwells within and among all beings.


In this place,

Our hearts are broken open by the pain of our world

In another place,

Our hearts beat in unison, their strength multiplied.


In this place,

We know another world is possible

And we know there is no other place but here.

So another place is possible, right here, in this place.


Homily

by Rev. Bethany Russell-Lowe


A courtroom in downtown Tucson was filled to the brim for two weeks in November 2019. Filled with humanitarian aid workers, desert dwellers, clergy, press, and law students. Dr. Scott Warren, a volunteer with No More Deaths, a ministry partner of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, where I serve, was being put on trial. His charges? Harboring. What did he do? He offered water, food, shelter, clothing, directions.


And so we went to court. All of us. With Dr. Warren. Collectively, we spent hundreds of hours in court. Listening as kindness was ripped to shreds. Listening as the impulse to compassion was openly questioned. We sat in silence. On hard benches. Taking in the deception and the lies. The arguments and counter arguments.


We listened to all the pain. We took breaks when it was too much for us. Others listened when we couldn’t anymore. We sent some out to drop water in the desert. We asked one another to care for themselves. We listened for the truth. We amplified the truth. We did not let our hearts break.


We let our hearts break open. So when the hour came, right after the flurries of texts and emails about a verdict just two hours after the trial had ended. As we power walked back to the courthouse, we could feel hope begin to fill in the places where our hearts had broken open to the pains of the trial.


Hope began to fill in the cracks. Began to stitch up the gaps too big to fill.


I was filled with hope before I heard the verdict because I’ve been in church my whole life. I know that a group of twelve strangers does not come to a big decision unanimously in two short hours. Not unless they are choosing to Side with Love.


In the courtroom, we held our breaths together. And as the judge read the verdict, “Not guilty,” we gasped. The gasp that comes before shouting for joy. And then, again, “Not guilty,” another gasp, and the press ran out of the courtroom.


In that moment, our hearts, which had just that morning broken open to the pains of corruption, aggression, and xenophobia -- were welded back together by joy.


It was because we let our hearts break open, not break to pieces, that we were able to have such joy that afternoon. That we were able to laugh. And sing. And feel the fullness of joy in that moment.


As we gathered, some jury members of Latinx descent came and joined us. Some Latinx members of the jury joined us, and, with tears in their eyes, they thanked every person who had packed the courtroom that week.


Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, President and CEO of the UU Service Committee, wrote in an op-ed in the AZ Star the next weekend: “It may not be possible to prevent all of those deaths, but it's well within our power to reduce them...Warren and the other volunteers with No More Deaths believe it is not only possible, it is what must be done.”


Humanitarian aid is never a crime. Kindness won. Love wins, in the end.


And the next day, RAICES paid our $2.1 million to bond out 200 migrants from the deadliest detention centers in the United States.


More joy to propel us forward. Into a world where we know there is more suffering ahead.


English poet William Blake once wrote,


Joy and woe are woven fine,

A clothing for the soul divine.

Under every grief and pine,

Runs a joy with silken twine.


And Pueblo author Martín Prechtel wrote, “Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.”


Joy and sorrow, grief and praise, are all connected. Inseparable. Two sides of one coin. We cannot experience the fullness of one without the depth of the other. We need to feel it all, in order to feel the fullness of any of it.


UU theologian and professor Rev. Dr. Rebecca Ann Parker once wrote, “Evil’s accomplice is anesthetization.”


Anesthetization means not feeling.


So to not feel is to allow space for evil to enter our bodies and actions. To feel is to resist the temptation to go against love. To feel is to discern where love resides, and where we find ourselves.


How can we feel it all?


Feeling everything is impossible. Take it from this empath learning how to set limits on how long I hold on to feelings I pick up from others.


We can’t feel it all. We shouldn’t try.


But we should always make sure that we are still capable of feeling.


“Evil’s accomplice is anesthetization…”


In order to feel so much pain, and still be able to feel the joys, we must learn to let our hearts break open, without breaking to pieces. We must break our hearts open to the pain, and the joy. To the grief, and the praise.


A heart broken into pieces by grief cannot fully feel joy. A heart broken open is ready to receive whatever may come.


On that Wednesday afternoon, as we gathered outside the courthouse, it was because we had let our hearts break open to the pain of these previous 22 months since Dr. Warren was arrested that we were able to feel the full joy of that not guilty moment. Our broken open hearts were what allowed the fullness of that joy to reside in us. It is what carried that joy into Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday, and today.


It was feeling the fullness of that moment that allowed us to imagine where we go with all this joy. Back to the desert. Back to the long hikes with heavy gallons of water. Back to the side of love, wherever love is.


Because just that next day, it was announced that the Tucson sector would begin implementing a “remain in Mexico” program, which essentially gutted the legal asylum-seeking process.


We must let our hearts break open, to all this pain. Break open, not apart.


Those of us who were listening, heard another important announcement that afternoon in the courtroom. Judge Raner Collins ruled that it was Dr. Scott Warren’s sincerely held religious beliefs which compelled him to leave water in the desert, something our government felt falls within the category of “abandonment of property.”


The Judge ruled that, while Dr. Warren admitted to this action, his action was permissible under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. RFRA is the same law which allows some bakers to not make wedding cakes for same-gender loving couples. RFRA is usually upheld to keep a person’s freedom to discriminate or not do something. In this case, RFRA was upheld to allow a person to show more dignity than our government and laws enable. In this case, liberal religious values, which promote the dignity of all people, were upheld. This was the first time in many years that at RFRA claim was upheld by a federal judge.


What is incredibly distinctive, for me, is that Dr. Warren is not affiliated with a formal religious institution. He has deeply held values which guide his work, and Judge Collins ruled in favor of the RFRA claim because, as he said in his judgement, “I take him at his word.”


We have an opportunity now, to reflect on what our own values call us to do. What does our faith compel us to do? Whether or not we agreed with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, what does this time we are living in call us, as people of faith, to do? What freedom do we have to create the world we dream about?


During Dr. Warren’s trial, we in Tucson asked ourselves, am I now allowed to give water to my neighbor, now? Do I have to ask permission first?


As a Unitarian Universalist, I can unequivocally and legally say that I must give my neighbor water. It is my conviction that life is sacred. And water sustains life. So it is my religious freedom to give water to all.


I’ll take this moment to note that there is legislation passed and pending in multiple states that would limit which voters standing in long lines can receive water…


What does our faith compel us to do, in this moment?