Recording of our August 9, 2020 online worship service
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (email@example.com), unless otherwise attributed.
Good morning, and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am the Reverend Mandy Beal, this congregation’s Senior Minister. I am joined in worship leadership by our Co-Directors of Music Ministry and Worship Associate this morning is Brianna Zamborsky. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Bouncer Drieka DeGraff.
BUC is a spiritual home for all people of good will. We believe in justice and hospitality and have earned such designations from the Unitarian Universalist Association. We are a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which means that we have educated ourselves and taken action to protect our environment. We are also a Welcoming Congregation, a term that means we are intentionally inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. Our commitment to both of these programs was renewed in this year. And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to that work, as well.
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. You will be randomly sorted into breakout groups and we hope that you’ll participate in this opportunity to connect with others. If you are worshiping us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you. We hope that you’ll stay after the service and get to know us.
In today’s service, we celebrate unapologetic feminism. Lucy Stone is a lesser-known, but deeply important pioneer of women’s rights. She is, quite possibly, the original nasty woman of American politics. We are proud to count her among our Unitarian Universalist ranks.
Thank you, again, for joining us this morning, or whenever you’re watching this. Although we are not together physically, we are together in spirit, and it is good to be together again.
And with that, our service will begin.
We worship from our separate homes, but we are joined by a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice:
This is the flame of justice sparked by outrage. Holy is our outrage and holy is our work for a world made fair.
“We Have Come into This Room of Hope" by Libbie D Stoddard
We have come into this room of hope
where our hearts and minds are opened to the future.
We have come into this room of justice
where we set aside our fear to name freely every oppression.
We have come into this room of love
where we know that no lives are insignificant.
We have come into this room of song
where we unite our voices
in the somber and the beautiful melodies of life.
During our time of physical distance, we have found ways to grow wider and also closer. We’re connecting with people at a distance and those who have been kept away by illness or disability. We have found here a support system and a touchstone in a world unsettled.
The care and stewardship of this community is in your hands. Unitarian Universalism is a free faith without a centralized authority. That is a privilege and it is also a responsibility. So let there be an offering for support of this Beloved Community and our good works.
Joys and Sorrows
From Doug Wendell: Carey just went through bone spur and Achilles' tendon surgery on Thursday. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.
The Zamborsky family who are grieving the loss of Trevor's dad, Val, who passed away on July 31 after complications from a bone marrow transplant. Please keep all of Val's family, especially his beloved wife, Barb, in your hearts at this painful time.
“The Grass Is Like Me" by Kishwar Naheed (translated from Urdu)
You know, the grass is like me
It’s true nature revealed
When trodden under foot
But when drenched
Does it bear witness
To burning disgrace
Or blazing fury?
Yes, the grass is like me
It lifts its head
Only to be continually sheared
Into flat velvet by the frenzied machine
How many ways do you have to flatten a woman?
But the earth
And women continue to rise up
If you ask me, you had the right idea
A footpath was spot on
Those who can’t endure
Are patched down into the scorched earth
A path for the oppressors
You know, grass like me.
by the Reverend Mandy Beal
Today, we're exploring an aspect of our Unitarian Universalist social justice inheritance. We have much to be proud of in this realm, especially when it comes to women breaking through the barriers of patriarchy. Our lens for this work is the life of Lucy Stone, who was born August 15, 1818. Lucy Stone is an outstanding role model of resistance, perseverance, and tenacity.
She was born to a farming family of modest means in rural Massachusetts. Growing up, she observed the financial control that men had over their wives. For example, her mother sold eggs and cheese from the family farm, but then had no access to the money she earned from the sales. In fact, her mother was regularly denied money to make purchases that her husband considered frivolous. Despite having never seen or heard of another model of family finances, Lucy Stone found this completely unacceptable.
Because this was just the way it was in the 19th century, Stone concluded that she would never marry. Instead, she intended to pursue an education and a career. And of course, there were no colleges in the United States that admitted women at that time. There were “female seminaries,” but that wasn’t what she wanted. She found a college in Brazil that accepted women, so she became a schoolteacher and saved money for travel and enrollment. Before she gathered her finances, though, Oberlin College began accepting women.
Oberlin may have accepted women students, but it made no pretense of treating them equally. Women who worked as teachers were paid a lower wage than men. In order to make up the difference, Stone worked extra hours doing two jobs; menial labor and teaching. This drove her to the brink of physical exhaustion. She petitioned the school to be paid the same amount for her teaching as men earned doing unskilled labor. Her request was denied, so she resigned her teaching position and planned to leave school. However, her students protested, saying they would pay her that rate if Oberlin College wouldn’t. The school eventually relented and she stayed.
A few years after graduation, Lucy Stone met abolitionist James Browne Blackwell. Despite her vow to never marry, they began a courtship that was essentially a negotiation. They corresponded through a series of letters discussing their views of marriage as an institution and what they thought the ideal marriage would be like. Blackwell agreed that a married woman should be able to maintain financial independence. He had a rather ingenious solution for the problem - he suggested placing her assets under the control of an independent trustee. Eventually, Stone and Blackwell came to terms and were married.
As a symbol of her continued independence, Stone decided not to take Blackwell’s name. This is widely believed to be the first time a woman did not take her husband’s last name upon marriage. It was scandalous, to say the least. She received criticism from friends, rivals, and perfect strangers. And it caused complications for the legal protections she and Blackwell had taken for her assets. Over her strident objections, she was sometimes forced to sign her name as Lucy Stone Blackwell. There is documented evidence, though, that she occasionally signed “Lucy Stone Only,” and in she spelled only with a capital O.
Around the same time as her courtship and marriage, Lucy Stone’s life reached another important turning point. She began a career as an abolitionist orator, traveling the lecture circuit and speaking out against slavery. Pretty soon after, she was expelled from her Congregationalist church. It was actually rather common for abolitionists to be expelled from their churches. There were churches that supported abolition. But, but the majority of churches either misused Christianity to support slavery or they were indirectly financially dependent upon slave labor. In her native Massachusetts, for example, many wealthy Unitarians were owners of cotton mills or cotton exporting companies. However, Stone found one of the Unitarian churches that did support abolition and that was her religious affiliation for the rest of her life.
Stone was by all accounts a brilliant and passionate orator. She and her husband toured the country lecturing on abolition and women’s rights. These were the cutting edge social issues of the day. The people who supported one often supported the other, and yet there was competition for the public’s attention and division about how both causes should move forward. This put people who mostly agreed with each other at odds. There were disagreements about which rights should be prioritized and it all got boiled down to who should get the right to vote first – black men or white women.
Lucy Stone’s priority became women’s suffrage and she pursued that goal at the expense of abolition. When we look back on that decision, we might feel a twinge of pain, disappointment, or perhaps even guilt by proxy. We might feel it would have been better if the two issues had advanced together, but they did not. When we consider the work of those who came before us, we need to be honest about what happened, but let’s also acknowledge the complexities and cultural context of their lives. And may future generations give us the same grace when they look back on our work. Stone felt she was faced with a choice, and she chose women’s suffrage.
Her most famous speech was delivered at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. During the convention, a man heckled the proceedings, calling the convention and the movement for women’s rights the work of a few “disappointed women.” Stone rose and began she speech in direct response as follows: “From the first years to which my memory stretches, I have been a disappointed woman. In marriage, in religion, in everything, disappointment is the lot of woman. It shall be the business of my life to deepen this disappointment in every woman’s heart until she bows down to it no longer.” I like to imagine that guy bursting into a cloud of dust at that moment.
Every institution that Lucy Stone encountered was designed to bar her entrance. As she said: marriage, religion, everything. And yet she found a way through practically every barrier placed in front of her. Financial control of married women. Exclusion from higher education. Public legibility of women only as an auxiliary of her father or husband. Disenfranchisement from the political system. She was disappointed and that disappointment drove her to action and, eventually, victory. Lucy Stone knew what she wanted in life and she wasn’t going to let a silly thing like no way to get it stand in her way. She fought for it with everything she had.
Since the founding of this country, Americans of all genders have fought for the rights of women; some have even laid down their lives. The founders of our country created a nation in their own image. They were white, male, presumably straight, landowners and so they codified their own interests. We must always be on watch for the rights of people with any identity that falls outside of theirs.
We can never assume that the rights of women have been secured and will always remain so. We find ourselves in a time that feels very scary to a lot of women. Many of us worry the rights won by Lucy Stone and her compatriots are at risk. We worry about being trodden into straw, no matter how tough and resilient we might be.
And we are exhausted, are we not? Some of the oldest tools of oppression are exhaustion and isolation. If we believe we can’t win, if we believe we are alone in this struggle, we are taken by despair and it’s easier to flatten us into a footpath. We can’t do that. We can’t afford to lose hope or to flag in our vigilance. We’re just too disappointed to do that.
In times like these, full of fear and strife, it’s helpful to reach back into our Unitarian Universalist history for exemplars to guide our way; those stories of the ones who came before and fought their way through. The ones who kept raising their heads only to be continually sheared. Lucy Stone was not a footpath; she made a footpath. By definition, that’s what a trailblazer is.
She was disappointed. And so are we. When I say we, I mean women. I mean people without class privilege who have dreams of education and a career. I mean anyone outside of the white cishet patriarchy. I mean the Americans who weren’t at the table when the promises of our nation were written, but who know we belong here, too. I mean Unitarian Universalists who believe in the unity of diversity. We are disappointed, aren’t we? And we should be.
Let’s stay disappointed. Let’s feel that disappointment deepen until we bow down to it no longer. In the face of insurmountable oppression, Lucy Stone wasn’t satisfied with less and she didn’t turn to straw. And neither should we.