Recording of our July 19, 2020 online worship service
Good morning, and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church, where we welcome people of all races, ages, abilities, and all people of goodwill. I am Tony Kubien. Donna Larkin Mohr and I will be your Worship Associates this morning. Our music today will be provided by Christina Dragone. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis. Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on Facebook.
BUC is a Welcoming Congregation, a designation that means we are committed to being intentionally inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families.
BUC is also a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which is a similar program for environmental justice work in a congregation.
And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to addressing racism within ourselves and in our world. At BUC we believe that Black Lives Matter!
We celebrate our theological differences and encourage people of a variety of beliefs and philosophies to participate fully in the life of our congregation.
Before the service begins, there are a few announcements highlighting events in the life of this church. For additional information about the opportunities for involvement here, you can check our website at bucmi.org.
We extend a special welcome to those who may be visiting us for the first time. We invite you to learn more about our church by joining us for a virtual coffee hour following this service. If you would like to participate, please stay with us after the service ends, and you will be randomly assigned to a small group.
Join us tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m. to have some challenging fun while learning about climate change, as we play an interactive learning game based on Project Drawdown. You MAY have played this game before, but we added some new questions and we'll have some new twists, so join us again! A few of our BUC youth and members of the Climate Change Task Force will be your team captains, and Anne Calomeni is providing yummy prize cookies for the winners! Need I say more?? Zoom access info is on our website.
As our communities come to terms with the stark reality of systemic violence and discrimination toward Black and Brown people, many of us are asking how we can fully engage in the work needed to dismantle oppressive systems and create loving community for all. The BUC Confronting Racism program invites you to join us this Tuesday, July 21, at 7:00 p.m. Have a voice in establishing the learning and actions we will take up as a congregation and personally. This work needs all of us. Zoom access info is on our website.
Today, our service will be justice oriented and address racism.
Thank you again for joining us this morning, or whenever you are watching. Although we are not physically together, we are together in spirit, and it is good to be together again.
And with that, our service will begin.
Picture the flame;
what does it mean?
Breathing in, breathing out
Does the flame illuminate something
for me, for you?
The sun—the flame
Breathing in, breathing out
I hear the music playing
Breathing in, breathing out
I am interested in a flame that will inspire people to work to reform
systems that oppress—that will inspire us to not just spout equality for all,
but work to enable it.
Breathing in, breathing out
I hear the music playing
Now, we draw together;
we are one community—
one loving, caring community.
#418, "Singing the Living Tradition"
Come into the circle of love and justice.
Come into the community of mercy, holiness, and health.
Come and you shall know peace and joy.
(Adapted from Israel Zangwill)
BUC is a community of love and justice. Let there be an offering to support this beloved community.
Your contributions can be sent using Venmo, username@BUCMI, or through our website. Giving through either platform is easy and free. You can also make a check out to BUC and mail it to us. I ask you to consider how much you have relied on BUC in the past several months and do what you can to support our good work. Please give generously as you are able.
by Titus Kaphar
The June 15, 2020 Time Magazine cover features a painting called “Analogous Colors” by Titus Kaphar. It depicts an African-American mother holding her child. He also wrote a poem to accompany this painting called “I Cannot Sell You This Painting, 2020.” The painting caught my eye and the poem touched my heart. I hope that it does the same for you.
I... cannot... sell... you... this... painting.
In her expression, I see the Black mothers who are unseen, and rendered helpless in this fury against their babies.
As I listlessly wade through another cycle of violence against Black people,
I paint a Black mother… eyes closed, furrowed brow, holding the contour of her loss.
Is this what it means for us? Are black and loss analogous colors in America?
If Malcolm could not fix it, if Martin could not fix it,
If Michael, Sandra, Trayvon, Tamir, Breonna, and Now George Floyd...can be murdered and nothing changes…
Wouldn’t it be foolish to remain hopeful? Must I accept that this is what it means to be Black in America?
I have given up trying to describe the feeling of knowing that I can not be safe in the country of my birth…
How do I explain to my children that the very system set up to protect others could be a threat to our existence?
How do I shield them from the psychological impact of knowing that for the rest of our lives we will likely be seen as a threat, and for that...We may die?
A MacArthur won’t protect you.
A Yale degree won’t protect you.
Your well-spoke plea will not change hundreds of years of institutionalized hate.
You will never be as eloquent as Baldwin, you will never be as kind as King…
So, isn’t it only reasonable to believe that there will be no change soon?
And so those without hope...Burn.
This Black mother understands the fire. Black mothers understand the despair. I can change NOTHING in this world, but in paint, I can realize her… This brings me solace...not hope, but solace.
She walks me through the flames of rage. My Black mother rescues me yet again. I want to be sure that she is seen. I want to be certain that her story is told.
And so, this time, America must believe her.
This time I will not let her go.
by Donna Larkin Mohr
Back in April, I took a few moments to write my thoughts, and this is what I wrote:
I - Coronavirus - April 2020
maple trees budding
need a pole;
catch a fish
staying home this spring
wondering how long coronavirus
will be around
it is like we are a caterpillar
inside our chrysalis
will we have opportunity to
will we fly away?
will we become a butterfly?
Then, two months later, I wrote:
II - Coronavirus - June 2020
usually there is a mention of D-Day.
this time around—
so much chaos,
so many people die each day
sometimes it is coronavirus;
sometimes it is skin color
take a knee, like C.K.
knee on neck; I can’t breathe, he says
then, one more black man is dead.
why me? why does this old,
white woman speak these words?
maybe the question should be:
why did I wait so long to speak?
how many times has my white privilege
held me back?
now is the time
no more excuses
it is still a time of racism
still coronavirus time
You probably heard the phrase: Do not let us think about returning to ‘normal’—let us think about creating a ‘new’ normal. Been pondering that phrase, that idea, along with a few other things.
When I was a college freshman, my Phys Ed class was archery. I learned how to bend my bow, where to place my arrow, how to draw it back, where to aim. It felt good when I hit the small yellow circle in the middle of the target.
I recently listened to a sermon by The Rev. Zackrie Vinczen where he mentioned “sin”—not something we UUs often hear, and this served as the genesis for what I am saying this morning. He spoke of sin in a different context—the experienced archer missing the mark and the arrow flying off into the woods.
This was a big deal because the archer had the ability to hit the target. This was, of course, presented in a metaphorical context. — Maybe the ‘mark’ is more than a target. It is…what is within our ability to do — our failure is not doing the right thing.
So much is happening right now in our world. Acknowledging that racism is predicated on the lie of white supremacy is key to creating positive change. — In Green Sanctuary Ministry we sometimes spoke of the poor and people of color suffering the most from global climate change. Again, the need to acknowledge the inequities in our world. We have to do better.
The Rev. Sharon Risher said, “Growing up, my mom and I always had to think about being Black before we thought about anything else. It was Charleston in the 60s—home to segregation, Jim Crow laws, and us. My mother Ethel Lee Lance and I got followed, questioned, and turned away from places, just like everyone else who looked like us. The racism was baked into the very bones of our city: a continuous hurt, a soul-deep weariness, that came from being told at every turn that our Black lives didn't matter.
“Five years ago today, the racism that had followed us for our whole lives caught up to my mom: a white man filled with hate and armed with a gun murdered her and eight other Black people, including two of my cousins and one childhood friend, while they prayed in Charleston's Mother Emanuel Church.”
The target is in front of us. Saying, “I am not a racist” or “that does not happen here” does not cut it. Every time we deny, we are part of the problem. Every time we deny, we help to perpetuate the system. It is within our power to do better.
If we miss the target, if the arrow goes off into the woods, that keeps us separate. We need to name our shortcomings. We need to do some internal, soul-searching work.
We need to talk about white privilege. We need to talk about building a multi-cultural world. We need to acknowledge that we are not doing okay.
Let us recognize that in the same way saying ‘slavery is a necessary evil’ (Thomas Jefferson’s words) was acceptable by many in 1820, the same way saying ‘separate but equal’ was acceptable by many in 1940, choosing to not condemn white nationalism, the fact that black people are 2.7 times as likely to be killed by police than white people, the fact that unarmed black Americans are roughly five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by a police officer.… these are acts of overt racism in 2020.
So, here’s what we can do next, according to Annie Gonzales Milliken — this is a long quote, but I think she is spot on:
“Sit with discomfort. This is such a valuable exercise for both personal spiritual development and for combating our own white fragility…. learning to name and own our own discomfort is crucial to our spiritual development and our ability to be allies. When judgment comes up, try turning to curiosity. This spiritual practice is good for all kinds of conflict and negative reactions. When I’m feeling judgment toward myself or others, I try to re-frame with curiosity….
“Stay focused on the big picture. The movement for racial justice is so much bigger than one action.…. Holding ambiguity and acting on our values even while uncomfortable are also spiritual practices. This is how we strengthen our religious muscles and build our own faithful capacity.
"And, when we find ourselves wanting to… go public with our discomfort, then it's time to practice deep listening and keep quiet….
"Determine what tactics are appropriate. Then it's time to practice radical faith…. Fortunately even if you are not personally comfortable with confrontation or disruptive action, you can still be an ally and do whatever you are comfortable with. You can also practice faith. By faith I mean sacred trust. It is hard for white liberals to put our sacred trust in radical black activists because we are socially conditioned not to do that. But it is perhaps the most important spiritual practice on this list; it is liberating soul-saving work to practice this type of faith.
"Let us practice radical faith and deep discernment…. We Unitarian Universalists know that we must turn to a new way. We know we must be part of the turning.”
What can we do to move beyond the current paralysis we feel? We can start reading. We can learn about systemic racism; we can learn what it means to be white. Keep seeking; keep learning; turn to curiosity; practice deep listening & learn to be quiet; practice sacred trust. Seek the spirit that underpins our humanity.
I do not have a lot of answers, but I will examine my own privilege. I will seek reconciliation. I will support Black Lives Matter. I will practice each day so I am who I want to be. I can do better; we can do better.
May it be so. Amen.
Donna Larkin Mohr
Tony and I hope you found something here this morning that feeds your spirit, that helps you face the uncertainty we are all facing, something that encourages you in your parenting, something that aids with your own internal doubts and biases.
I read, “There are some practices, reflections and other resources that may be of use in bringing our spiritual muscles to the challenges we face in justice work. The only way they will be of use is if we practice them under pressure. Whatever we practice we get really great at. If we practice flexibility, humility, courage—we get strong at those things. If we practice rigidness, ego, cowardice—we get strong at those things. So, let us go out into our new world and practice flexibility, humility, courage.” — Go in peace.