Recording of our January 10, 2021 online worship service
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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, Abha and Steven Dearing, as well as Worship Associate Tom Raffel. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Greeter Drieka DeGraff.
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 environmental action, wealth inequality, civic engagement, and racial inequality.
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 virtual coffee hour. If you are worshiping with us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you.
We have three announcements this morning:
Before coffee hour today, we’ll have a short presentation about the Michigan UU Social Justice Network, known as moose gin. The presentation will be led by our own Mary Jo Ebert, who is on the MUUSJN board. Mary Jo will describe what MUUSJN does, BUC’s role in it, and how you can participate. After the short presentation, you will have the option to stay for a Q&A or go to virtual coffee hour.
Several of your Pastoral Care Associates and I are hosting small group listening circles tonight at 5:00pm. This is a facilitated opportunity to share your feelings and to support each other after Wednesday’s attack on the capitol. Zoom information is on the calendar.
Join the Humanists of BUC tonight at 7:00 pm for their monthly gathering. This month’s discussion topic is the “Ten Commitments” document from the American Humanist Association's Center for Education. Five speakers will present this document with time for comments and discussion. Zoom access info is on the calendar.
Thank you 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 now our service will begin.
This is a chalice of hope. It is a reminder that joy outshines despair. It is a symbol of unity through diversity. It is the promise of another day. It is an affirmation that love is stronger than hate. It is a chalice of hope.
"Do not leave your cares at the door" by Norman V. Naylor
Read by Tom Raffel
Do not leave your cares at the door.
Do not leave there your pain, your sorrow, or your joys.
Bring them with you, into this place of acceptance and forgiveness.
Place them on the common altar of life, and offer them to the possibility of your worship.
Come then, and offer yourself to potential transformation, by the creative process that flows through you and all life.
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. Sharing in this weekly practice of generosity also strengthens the bonds between congregants and our high purpose. So let there be an offering in support of this Beloved Community and our good works. Contributions can be made through our website, Venmo, or a check in the mail. However you choose to give, please do so with a heart of gratitude and for each other.
“On Joy and Sorrow,” from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Read by Tom Raffel
Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
By Rev. Mandy Beal
In this month of worship services dedicated to joy, we had already planned this day as an exploration of the practice of turning pain into joy. I was ready to talk about the ways heartbreak and loss can improve our capacity for joy, but I wasn’t ready for this. And of course, what we experienced this week was heartbreak and loss, but those words don’t really meet the moment.
What happened on Wednesday was horrifying. It was an act of betrayal that went beyond the personal, and yet we felt it personally. How could anyone lay siege to our nation’s capitol and have the audacity to call it an act of patriotism? It wasn’t. It was an act of violence against the American democracy and against the American people. It was an attack on the rule of law that is so often touted by those same people. It was vandalism and looting of federal and public property by those who condemn the destruction of private property. This wasn’t about democracy. It was about power.
This was an act of domestic terrorism committed by those who would stay in power rather than uphold the Constitution they so loudly proclaim to love. And we can’t ignore to whom that power is being ceded - a President Elect who brings with him the first Vice President who is a woman and who is a person of color. A President Elect who has nominated more people of color for Cabinet positions than any President in our nation’s history. But it must be said - the reason Joe Biden has surrounded himself with people of color is to defray the criticism he has received from the progressive wing of his party. His record, and Kamala Harris’s, has been solidly moderate. The siege of our nation’s capitol was about the changes that are assumed and implied by the new administration, but those assumptions are not based in the actual past behavior of either Biden or Harris. They, and their nominated Cabinet members for that matter, are not radical progressives. They are being perceived as such because of their social identities. This was not about political ideology. It was about white supremacy.
At this point, I invite you to notice your reaction to that analysis. When I say it was about white supremacy, what do you feel? Do you dismiss that claim without further thought? Does it make you uncomfortable or defensive? Do you want to justify the actions of the rioters because of their anger or disaffection? Have you perhaps arrived at the same conclusion I have and feel affirmed? Whatever your response to my claim, a claim that is not unique, I ask you to stay curious about it. Ask yourself why you feel that way. Maybe your gut level response is a way to protect yourself from feeling vulnerable or distance yourself from feeling complicity or complacency. Maybe it’s not.
Here’s what I know: white people are explicitly and implicitly trained to understand white culture as being the culture of our nation. White people have created this country, and all of its institutions, in our own image. From those institutions, we are continually reaffirmed in our unconscious belief that we are the baseline of thought, creative expression, and behavior. Anything that deviates from those norms is considered substandard, unless it is available for our consumption as entertainment. This is the definition of white supremacy - the unconscious, or conscious, belief that white culture is correct American culture.
Recently, there has been a push to dismantle white supremacy culture. This push stems from the public outcry against police brutality and murder of black and brown people, predominately black men. It took a critical mass of tragedy and a sweeping social organizing campaign for the discussion of white supremacy to make its way into mainstream discourse. I speak here of the Movement for Black Lives, or Black Lives Matter.
As that movement and its subsequent discourse became more public and focused, it has met resistance. It has been met with cries of All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter. Saying Black Lives Matter does not imply “only Black lives matter.” The statement “Black Lives Matter” is made in response to actions that demonstrate that Black lives do not matter. The statements All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter are responses to the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and therefore are an argument against that statement. Of course all lives matter, but until we can demonstrate that Black lives matter, we have not demonstrated that all lives matter. To claim that Black Lives Matter is to say literally that - Black lives matter, which was first uttered in protest to murder at the hands of police officers who were not held accountable.
Any analysis of the siege of our nation's capitol must include a hard look at the police and military response to the riot. The difference in the treatment between those rioters and Black Lives Matter protesters is stark. Those are not the actions of individual officers. Their actions are not an aberration, they are the product of a system that reinforces the belief that white culture is American culture and deviations are dangerous. The actions of Wednesday’s rioters were perceived as acceptable protest behavior whereas the behavior of Black Lives Matter protesters has been perceived as riotous. That perception on the part of law enforcement and military personnel is the result of their training; their official job training as well as their social training.
There is no such thing as a broken system. Systems produce predictable outcomes based on the components of the system. The components of our political and cultural systems are rooted in the belief that white culture is the correct or default culture of our nation. A system will always seek balance itself and any attempt to change the system will be met with resistance. In this case, a group of white people perceived attempts to change the system that favors them and they resisted that change through violence and destruction.
That violent reaction has been building for years. It was not the product of Trumpism. It’s the other way around. Trumpism is the product of the resistance to real or perceived cultural change that hopes to dismantle white supremacy culture. And again, let me be clear - what we saw was a vivid display of white supremacy, but that level of visibility doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Overt acts of white supremacy are supported and perpetuated by smaller, subtle, insidious actions or inactions. Actions and inactions that are commonplace and built into our culture and our cultural institutions.
Take another moment to pause and check in with yourself. Notice your body. Does it feel tense? Are you holding your breath? Are you squinting your eyes or clutching your abdominal muscles? How do you feel and why do you think you feel that way?
Maybe you’re not buying any of this. That’s OK. In our free religious tradition, you are not expected to agree with me. You are encouraged to draw your own conclusions using our Principles, our values, and our ethical commitments. When I use those foundations of our faith, and my own study of critical race theory, I can’t come to any other conclusion.
What happened this week is painful. Some of us are sitting with the pain of confronting white supremacy in ourselves and in our nation. Some of us are sitting with the pain of our nation’s most sacred halls being overrun by an angry mob incited by our own President. Some of us are sitting with both. However we come to this moment, we share in the experience of pain.
This morning, I’m supposed with talk with you about turning pain into joy. We’ll put in a pin in a longer exploration of how this is done and we’ll come back to it another day.
Here’s what I want you to know in this moment:
We can only experience pain for something we care about. The pain we have today is rooted in our longing for justice. We believe in a world where everyone has what they need and we live together in peace. What we saw this week was a reminder of how far we are from that goal. We also love the ideals of this country. We love freedom of expression and thought, and those ideals were weaponized this week in an act of betrayal to our nation’s high purpose. When we experience grief of any kind, it is an expression of love for the thing we grieve. And we are a people who love deeply so we must expect that we will grieve in equal measure.
All of life’s experiences are temporary. All of them. When we are in pain, we can be assured that we weren’t always in pain and there will be a day when we are no longer in pain. It just hurts until it doesn’t. But our faith calls us to confidence in that day.
You are not alone. You are in the sheltering arms of this Beloved Community, always and always, even when we can’t be together physically. I have grieved every day that we have not gathered in person, but none so much as this day. But this, too, is temporary. And I can see in your faces this morning the strength and love of a community that transcends a building. I hope you find that here as well.
Again, we can’t get into a full exploration of how pain turns to joy, but I’ll leave you with some brief guidance. One of the most effective ways of turning pain into joy is to ground yourself in the affirmation of the goodness of humanity through human connection. I know the social constrictions we’re under are frustrating, and that in itself is a source of pain. But, we have to find ways to connect, even if it isn’t perfect. Use Zoom, call somebody, have a porch conversation. There are many ways to plug into our church life, as well, including our Listening Circles tonight.
Beloved, the pain that weighs on us today is a manifestation of our love and commitment to our country, our values, and each other. Joy might seem a long way off, but we have to find our way through our pain and into joy. Pain and grief are seeds. Once those seeds have been planted, it is our choice to let them sit there, unchanged, or to tend those seeds. The way we tend those seeds will yield either anger or joy. We’ve seen what happens when people turn their pain and grief into anger. We can’t do that. The world doesn’t need anymore of that. Let’s find ways to tend our seeds of pain and grief into the bright blooming of joy.