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July 25, 2021 | Online Worship

Recording of our July 25, 2021 online worship service

Worship manuscript:


Welcome

Abby Schreck


Good morning and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I’m Abby Schreck, today’s Worship Associate and will be leading today’s service with fellow Worship Associate, Donna Larkin Mohr as well as musicians Kathy DuHame [and Mike Kendra]. Our Zoom host is Jane O’Neil and our greeter is Keith Ensroth.


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, economic equality, civic engagement, and racial equality.


Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on our website and our Facebook page. 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 one announcement this morning:


Remember in June 2020 when BUC voted 96 percent to endorse the Energy Innovation Act? Here is a chance to do more to help this important goal move forward. This is our first chance for meaningful climate action that can't be blocked by the filibuster. The budget reconciliation package being drafted now in the Senate is the best pathway we’ve had in a decade to enact a carbon price. Citizens Climate Lobby is asking all supporters across the country to contact your US Senators by email and/or phone call to urge them to include putting a price on carbon in the package. They’ve made a link to make it so easy to reach our Senators Stabenow and Peters. You can find that link in the weekly update email and on the BUC Community Facebook page, and you can contact Karen Stankye for more information.


And 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.


Now our service will begin.


Chalice Lighting

"Blessed is the Fire That Burns Deep in the Soul" by Eric A. Heller-Wagner

read by Abby Schreck


Blessed is the fire that burns deep in the soul. It is the flame of the human spirit touched into being by the mystery of life. It is the fire of reason; the fire of compassion; the fire of community; the fire of justice; the fire of faith. It is the fire of love burning deep in the human heart; the divine glow in every life.

Opening Words

Donna Larkin Mohr


On any given day there are almost 2. 5 million people in our country's jails, prisons, and military prisons, as well as in jails on Native American reservations and immigrant detention centers. As a percentage of our population, we exceed all other nations.

It is a daily census, so it doesn't reflect the numbers of people who go through the system every week or every month or every year.

The majority are people of color. The fastest-growing sector consists of women—women of color. Many are queer or trans. As a matter of fact, trans people of color constitute the group most likely to be arrested and imprisoned.

Racism provides the fuel for maintenance, reproduction and expansion of the prison-industrial complex. This is not an easy subject, and I admire Abby for tackling such a challenging topic for today’s service.


Offering

Donna Larkin Mohr


We know 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. For the benefit of any newcomers, contributions can be made through our website, Venmo (username @BUCmi), or put a check in the mail.

Today, I want to focus on VNP (Voters, Not Politicians) because we are sharing our plate collection with this special organization. This is not about being a Democrat, a Greenie, Independent, Libertarian, or Republican. VNP is focused on securing the right of every eligible voter to be able to cast a ballot. Decades ago Thurgood Marshall, United States Supreme Court associate justice 1967–1991, said: “It’s a democracy if you can keep it. And in order to keep it, you can’t stand still. You must move. And if you don’t move, they will run over you.” VNP is working diligently to ensure no one runs over our right to vote—the right of every citizen over the age of 18. Giving to VNP is supporting our democracy and our fifth Principle.

So, let there be an offering in support of this Beloved Community, our good works, and the good works of Voters, Not Politicians. However you choose to give, please do so with a heart of gratitude and for each other. Thank you.


Joys and Sorrows

Abby Schreck


We have come to the part in our service set aside for spiritual practices. One of the ways that UUs live our faith is through the sharing of Joys and Sorrows. Though we have no shared joys or sorrows this morning, let us hold all those unspoken ones in our heart.


Pastoral Prayer

"A Web of Holy Relationships" by Lyn Cox

read by Abby Schreck


Spirit of Life,

Who draws us together in a web of holy relationships,

Make your presence known with us and in us and among us.

Remind us that we are not alone in history,

Ignite us with the courage of the living tradition.

Remind us that we are not alone in entering the future,

Anchor us with patience and perseverance.

Remind us that we are not alone in our times of grief and pain,

Comfort us with your spirit, manifest in human hands and voices.

Remind us that we are not alone in joy and wonder,

Inspire us to honor and extend the beauty we find in this world.

Divine music of the universe,

Let our hearts beat in diverse and harmonious rhythms,

Cooperating with an everlasting dance of love.

May we move with the rhythms of peace.

May we move with the rhythms of compassion.

May we move with the rhythms of justice.

Source of stars and planets and water and land

Open our hearts to all of our neighbors

Open our souls to a renewal of faith

Open our hands to join together in the work ahead.


Reading

Donna Larkin Mohr


Put simply, according to Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality, which refers to how different forms of discrimination (such as sexism and racism) can overlap and compound each other, critical race theory is a way to talk openly about how America’s history has had an effect on our society and institutions today.

“We need to pay attention to what has happened in this country and how what has happened is continuing to create differential outcomes, so that we can become the democratic republic we say we are. We believe in the promises of equality, and we know we can get there if we confront and talk honestly about inequality.”

Critical race theory essentially forces legal scholars to ask questions.... For instance, why does possession of less expensive drugs carry higher jail sentences than more expensive drugs? Could this have anything to do with the fact that more people of color are in prison?

“It is a way of looking at law’s role platforming, facilitating, producing, and even insulating racial inequality in our country, ranging from health to wealth to segregation to policing….”

For those, like Senator Cruz, who say that critical race theory assigns blame to white people, that’s wrong, said Thomas, who is the Nash Professor of Law and a member of the faculty at Columbia Law School since 1984.

"Critical race theory views race law and policy as tools of power….Its focus on the politics of race has helped break the stranglehold of 'racial moralism' by challenging the egocentric belief that racism is always only about personal fault, private prejudice, and invidious individual intent. Critical race theory tells a story about institutionalized racial disadvantage and systemic racial inequality. It highlights the structural harms of the ‘colorblind racism’ we see at work in laws that don’t mention race per se.”

For parents or educators who, according to G.O.P. lawmakers, say that white children are being made to feel guilty and being taught that white people are oppressors, Thomas replied, that this “is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an idea or tenet behind critical race theory. To the contrary, critical race theory recognizes that racial inequity and exclusion hurt all Americans, whatever our race or color. In the famous Brown decision, the Supreme Court emphasized that education is the 'very foundation of good citizenship.' The families and teachers who oppose the attacks on critical race theory know that we can't censor classroom discussions about the meaning of race if we want to prepare young Americans for the responsibilities of democratic citizenship in our increasingly diverse multicultural society.”


Furthermore, said Thomas, “the people behind this legislation are trying to prevent the emergence of a broad movement for multiracial democracy to address the interconnected economic, social, and political inequality that is devastating poor and working-class communities of all races in this country.”

For Crenshaw, the legislative efforts are scapegoating. “The idea that anti-racism is racism against white people has got to be the oldest talking point in their playbook. There is not a thing happening today that we have not seen before, including the ascendance of racial demagoguery on the anti-democratic, authoritarian, and nationalist impulses of a population mobilized through the discourse of aggrievement….”

“We saw this in the backlash against emancipation. We saw it in the successful effort to disenfranchise African Americans and purge them entirely from public life, and we saw aggressive and even violent actions justified as self-defense…."

What is going on today is about racial justice. “This hysteria is just that. It has nothing to do with a legal theory that has been around for decades, and that you may never have heard of until now,” Crenshaw said. “If you marched last year in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, if you have a Black Lives Matter sign on your lawn or a bumper sticker on your car, if you had diversity training at your job and now you understand how you can do better, then you support racial justice.”


Homily

by Abby Schreck


If the phrase “prison industrial complex” sounds familiar, it may be from the better known concept of the “military industrial complex” coined by President Eisenhower. He issued it as a warning against how economically advantageous war had become for the defense industry - meaning that war was a way to make lots of money. Angela Davis coined the term “prison industrial complex” to highlight the similar issues of imprisonment in America.


This term is necessary as since the 1970s as politicians began capitalizing on suburban voters’ fear of crime. The incarcerated population in the US has grown by 700% since then while crime has decreased. This push, along with the war on drugs and tough on crime policies created a population of inmates that was overwhelmingly made up of black people. These politicians could say that they were “tough on crime” or just wanted “law and order” as a means of justification when in reality, this attitude was a reason to populate newly constructed prisons. These policies, though, truly had the targeted intention of putting lots of Black folks in jail. As Angela Davis put it “prison construction and the attendant drive to fill these new structures with human bodies have been driven by ideologies of racism and the pursuit of profit”.


Growing up, I remember police officers coming to my school starting in kindergarten. I understood all people in prison to be people who broke a law, that everyone had equal opportunity to abide by that law, that all laws were just and enforced justly. That so-called law-abiding citizens were right in saying “rules are rules”. Mentalities I now know to uphold standards of white supremacy. In the assumption that we all start on an equal playing field we fail to recognize that these systems were not built for equality. Prisons make money, but in order to make money, they need bodies.


Really, targeted systems to oppress Black Americans have taken new forms, and gone by different names but are just as bad now as they were a decade ago, 50 years ago, one, two, three centuries ago. Prison ultimately serves the same purpose as the institution of slavery did. It provides a labor force, it disenfranchises a massive demographic of Black people and creates and upholds a system of white supremacy. You can add it to the list along with sharecropping, black codes, redlining…


There are infinite institutions of which we are apart. Some are chosen (like our church) and some are institutions within our society that we have inherited (like our government or the prison system). This is not to say that all societal institutions are bad - but I think more of an abstract look at the way we organize ourselves in a society. When we hear the term “institutionalized racism” it means it is sewn into the fabric of these inherited systems. These institutions are numerous and complex and we may not be aware of the ways that they affect ourselves, those around us, and how we view the world and our place in it. The proposed 8th principle actually addresses this.


If you haven’t read the principle it calls on us to “journey toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” and I don’t know if you are all aware, but BUC’s high school group, GUUSH, of which I am also a part, has recently ratified this principle. If you are interested in hearing more about this I would recommend looking at the July newsletter. We of course had many discussions in lead up to that vote, but one we had was discussing why we felt it was necessary. We have seven other principles that should already compel us in theory to not be racist. But the difference is the 8th principle’s specificity. As members of GUUSH, we felt the principle was important in its call to interrogate the systems that surround us and understand our place in them. How do we as individuals actively work to create beloved community that is mindful of a multitude of different identities and the ways in which white supremacy culture hinders this?


Hymn Acknowledgment

Our closing hymn, "Come and Go With Me," has roots in the religious traditions and acts of resistance by enslaved Africans in the Americas.


Benediction

"Into the World Singing" by Dawn Skjei Cooley

read by Abby Schreck


Let us go out into the world singing.

Let us go out into the world singing songs that proclaim liberty.

Songs that turn ashes into garlands

Songs that bind up the afflicted and those who mourn.

Songs that, like oaks, have roots that go deep and stand strong.

Let us go out into the world singing.

We know these songs. They vibrate through time, in our very souls.

They are the songs that give us life.

They are the songs that give us meaning.

They are the songs that give us purpose.

Now it is our turn, to take these life-giving songs out into the world.

Let us go now—singing these songs with voices deep and strong.

And may the world join us in praise and in celebration and in love.

Amen.


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