Recording of our May 31, 2020 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’m joined today by our Co-Directors of Music Ministry, Abha and Steven Dearing, and Worship Associate Tony Kubien, with 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.
The lay leaders of this congregation have worked hard over many years to make BUC a place committed to justice and hospitality. Through their efforts, we have received special designations from the Unitarian Universalist Association. In 1995, we were designated a Welcoming Congregation, a term that means we are committed to being intentionally inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. Our Welcoming Congregation Status was renewed this program year. We’re 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 that work, as well. In short, we’re a home for all people of good will.
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.
We have one announcement this week:
This Tuesday, June 2 at 7:00 p.m., Rev. Julie Brock (CUUB) and I are hosting a vigil to End White Silence. We will honor the pain and grief many of us are feeling in the wake of recent police brutality towards people of color. This vigil will use ritual, sacred silence, and spoken word to explore the role white people can play in dismantling white supremacy. Information about how to join the vigil was sent by email yesterday and will be on our website. Everyone is invited.
Also, a note about Pastoral Care and Support. We have many opportunities for connection and support, and there is a button on the homepage of our website where you can learn more about that. I also encourage you to build informal relationships within our congregation. Pick up the phone and call someone. You’ll both be glad you did.
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.
Today, we worship in our separate homes, but we are joined with a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice:
We kindle this day the fire of justice. Let this fire cast light on the truth and urge us on to action.
“Let There Be A Quiet Among Us” by Barbara Hamilton-Holway
Let there be a quiet time among us.
Spirit of life, in us and around us, here is our chance—once again—to live like we wish the world would live. May we find within ourselves the courage to be who we are. May we know when it is time to listen and when it is time to speak. May we trust ourselves to be the ones to find the words that need to be said or to do what needs to be done. May we trust one another and know there are many ways to go through life. May we know that though we cannot change some of what life gives to us, we can choose how we deal with what we are given.
We are coming into our power, and together we can make possible justice and love. We are all connected; we depend upon one another more than we know. We are one body.
So be it. Blessed be. Amen.
Joys and Sorrows
Joy - Ann Braid: "She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Season 5," is now available on Netflix. Ann Braid's daughter Julia was part of the storyboard team on this project, which has been hailed by The Guardian newspaper as "a gripping not-just-for-kids cartoon that openly centers queer love."
Joy - Sookie Darlington: I am going to be discharged from Chelsea Saint Joe Mercy Hospital this morning. This small clean, new, hospital does not have Covid so it’s safe that way, and this hospital is only about half full. My surgery was successful and things went as well as I could be! Once again I am reminded of the kindness in our world who are strangers jovial and taking temperatures of people, driving to the hospital, all these people working through the night, kind patient careful knowledgeable shepherding me to safety. It leaves me uplifted, also my goodness friends and family wishing me well, and driving all the way out to Chelsea to drop me off or pick me up. I find myself humming to myself thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you
Joy - Dan Kosuth and Colleen Cavanagh: We are filled with joy and pride to announce that our son Charlie is engaged to Maggie McDonough. Maggie has recently graduated from Albany Medical College. She and Charlie have just moved to Asheville NC where she will begin a three-year intern/residency program for Family Practice, and Charlie will continue his work with GE Renewables. No wedding date has been set. We are thrilled to welcome Maggie into our family!
Sorrow - Kathy DuHame: My Mother, Mary Vermiglio, fell on Wednesday and fractured her hip and shoulder. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.
Sorrow - Steve Lorey: please keep me in your thoughts for the next few weeks. I am beginning a stem-cell transplant & chemotherapy regimen this week. (Frequent listeners of the program will recall that I have a blood cancer, and the first transplant that I had was back in 2011). Peace!
Sorrow - Today marks the 99th anniversary of the Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa, OK. It’s unclear how many people died in that event, but the number range between 75-300. An area particularly targeted during the riots was the wealthiest black community in the country, which was nicknamed “Black Wall Street.” The three day race riot was sparked after a young black man was accused of assaulting a white girl. We reflect on this history while also grappling with the riots currently underway across our country.
“Visitors in the Struggle for Racial Justice” by Rev. Aisha Ansano
No matter what tactics and methods racial justice activists use, the general response of society will be a collective head-shaking and tsk-tsk-ing — because what people are actually complaining about are not the specific tactics that are being used in the struggle for racial justice, but that the struggle for racial justice exists at all.
I imagine that for most people, the immediate reaction to that statement is defensiveness. “I really don’t think that the struggle for racial justice shouldn’t exist,” some might respond. “I just think there are better ways to go about it than blocking traffic and making me late for work. I get annoyed and frustrated and it really doesn’t convince me to join your fight.”
What, exactly, is going to convince that person to join the fight? Picket signs on the side of the road? Then they’ll just think, “Look at those troublemakers disturbing the peace over there,” as they drive on their way to work. Then they'll promptly forget about it.
It’s not the specific methods that are making people uncomfortable. It’s the fact that the struggle for racial justice is seeping into their awareness in ways that they can’t ignore.
Think about it in terms of this metaphor: You're visiting a foreign country where the customs are very different from what you are used to, and the language is different, and some of the things they do are not only different but make you feel deeply uncomfortable. As a guest in that country, it is not for you to say that the things that people who live there are doing are wrong. Instead, your role is to learn, to pay attention and try to understand how things work, and to adapt. But if you do something that goes against their norms, it's also your role as a guest to not insist that they let you do things however you want to do them. It is your role as a guest to pause and consider what you’re doing.
White people tend to be visitors to the struggle for racial justice, ones that aren’t forced to be there but can choose to come in and leave whenever they like. People of color reside in the struggle for racial justice by virtue of their race. As people who are constantly in the struggle, people of color have the right to make claims on what they find okay and not okay, what they see as helpful and not helpful.
I come to you this morning with a heavy heart, a heart that grieves for the deaths of black and brown Americans, a heart that cries out for justice. A heart that is angry and ashamed. Over the past several months, high profile cases of police brutality have put a spotlight on this continuing, egregious problem. Racial tensions are incredibly high and riots rage across the nation.
Since February, the following black Americans have died during interactions with law enforcement officers:
Ahmaud Arbery, age 25, was shot in the street in Brunswick, GA on February 23. He was killed by a former police officer whose colleagues tried to shut down the investigation.
Breonna Taylor, age 26; murdered while she slept in her home in Louisville, KY on March 13
George Floyd, age 46; murdered in the street in Minneapolis, MN on May 27
Tony McDade, age 38; murdered in his apartment complex in Tallahassee, FL on May 27
I also need to mention Christian Cooper, who was harassed and threatened in Central Park on May 26 by Amy Cooper, a white woman. Amy Cooper first threatened to call the police and falsely report that a black man was threatening her, and then she did just that. There is a reason that Amy Cooper made that specific threat. After years of our nation reckoning with the deadly outcomes of police interactions with black people, she knows, we all know, that white women can weaponize police officers against black men. She chose that lie because she hoped that police would respond with brutality, or at least the threat of brutality would be enough to cause Christian Cooper to leave the scene.
I have said before that white supremacy culture will continue until we decide we are done with it. I worry that I’ve been unclear. I worry that some of you think when I say we can decide we are done with white supremacy culture, I mean that we can wish it away. I do not. I mean that we can decide to take on the serious and continuing work of educating ourselves and actively joining in the struggle to dismantle white supremacy culture.
I also worry that when I say “white supremacy culture,” some of you think I mean Neo-Nazis and the KKK, and you immediately reject any personal connection to the phrase. Those extreme actions are an expression of white supremacy, but that type of extreme action doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is supported and continued through a million other insidious and widely accepted acts that communicate white superiority. Those actions may be subconscious, but all white people are complicit, nonetheless.
White supremacy is the belief that white culture is the correct or default culture of America. White people are not taught that the way we do things is a culture, so it occurs to us as just the way things are, or should be. Therefore, we assume that the culture in which we were raised is American culture and all other ways of doing things are wrong, substandard, and/or threatening.
Furthermore, white people are typically raised without explicit discussions of race, especially our own race. In fact, many white people make it well into their adulthood without thinking about their race or culture. In my experience facilitating workshops about racism, I’ve encountered several adults that say “I don’t have a race” or “my culture is American.” These people were not being obtuse, they have been taught that race and culture is not about them. It’s about people of color, not white people.
Meanwhile, black people grow up with very explicit conversations about race from a young age. They are taught how to navigate white culture, a system that views them as an outlier at best and a threat at worst. When black people do not fit into the system of white supremacy culture, they are considered a problem that needs to be solved. They know from a young age that the odds are stacked against them.
When our nation sees horrifying images of black people dying in the street, white people rush to find a way to justify it. We’ll grab onto any reason why the murder was justified due to some minor offense of the law. Poor excuses like “Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes,” or “Michael Brown might have stolen cigarellos,” or most recently “George Floyd might have used counterfeit money.” Finding some flimsy excuse to demonstrate how that black man was a problem assures us that the system of white supremacy culture is not the problem.
This cognitive dissonance allows white people to distance themselves from the brutality, to somehow make it seem OK. There is nothing OK about being executed in the street for a potential minor legal infraction. Let’s be clear, in this country, there is no offense for which the legal ramification is immediate, public execution by an officer of the law. More importantly, our legal and judicial systems are separate branches of government. They are separated as a means to ensure a fair trial of potential criminal activity. Police officers do not decide someone’s guilt or innocence. AND our legal system presumes a person is innocent until they are proven guilty. But public discourse that excuses these events says otherwise.
These events and the way that they are portrayed put the discussion of race at the forefront for black people while white people center the discussion on crime and the deteriorating moral character of America. And white people do that because it absolves us from having to talk about race. Many of us are either unwilling or incapable of approaching the subject of police brutality with race at the forefront, so we deflect to “yeah, but what did he do?”
I have to believe most of us avoid talking about race because we don’t know how. White people usually don’t talk about race in our homes, so we grow up thinking our race is neutral and not part of the problem. And we never learn the tools, or even the language, to broach such a complicated and emotionally charged subject. We lack the resilience to have uncomfortable conversations about race. And if we cannot speak of it or see ourselves as part of it, how can we do anything about it? Even if we know that racism is a problem that we should do something about, we are woefully ill-prepared for that work.
Lacking the language and critical analysis skills to engage in anti-racism work, we stay stuck in the idea that racism is an individual, interpersonal matter, rather than a systemic issue. The victim is villainized while the officer is portrayed as a “good person who made a bad call” or who felt threatened. We’ll hear about the officer’s church, family, and volunteerism and see multiple images of them engaged in all of those activities. Conversely, the victim is portrayed in terms of past legal infractions, and usually, only a single image is used, typically one that implies poor moral character, like a mugshot.
This makes it easy for white people to distance themselves from the discussion. It makes the situation clear cut - well the officer is a good person and the victim was a bad person. It’s a shame it happened that way, but it’s the natural result of a bad person doing a bad thing. Or in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, he should have stopped running. Simplified to the level of interpersonal actions, we think of these murders as a tragedy that could have been avoided if only the victim had done the right thing. Or, sometimes, if that one bad cop had been reigned in by their peers. If our understanding of racism stays at a personal level, we can continue to think that way.
But that’s not really it. Interpersonal racism is typically the only way white people can understand racism. But again, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is the result of a larger problem. Our culture, founded on whiteness, tells white people they are doing everything right and that’s why these things don’t happen to them. And if people of color would also just do everything right, then these things wouldn’t happen to them, either. That is white supremacy culture.
White supremacy culture is not rooted in actively harboring thoughts that white people are superior to other races. It is more subtle than that. It is woven into the very fabric of our nation. It undergirds all of our institutions, not as an intentional act of malice, but because those institutions were founded by white people within the context of white culture. White culture is the assumed culture of every American institution from education, to corporate life, the legal system, the military, the nonprofit industrial complex, religion, and so on. These institutions were created by white people and therefore tip the scales in favor of white culture. These invisible forces ensure the continued dominance of white people.
A white person who does not engage in overt, purposeful racist actions still benefits from the system of white supremacy culture. We tend to get it backward, where we see acts of racism as being individual, but the work of dismantling racism as a societal issue that belongs to someone else. But it’s actually the other way around - racism is part of a broader system and we are individually responsible for dismantling that system. Racial discourse belongs to all American people, but most especially to white people who consistently cannot locate themselves within that discourse.
White supremacy culture is not about white people doing racist things, or thinking themselves to be better, it’s about white people not realizing that every one of our systems and institutions are rigged in our favor. Even if we find racial inequality deplorable, even if we consider ourselves “woke” or an ally, we still benefit from systems that reward us for being white. We are more likely to be successful navigating these systems because they were set up by people like us, for people like us. They reinforce the idea that white culture is the right culture and any other way of being an American, or a human for that matter, is inherently wrong. White people aren’t taught to see these systems and our discomfort talking about race further ensures that we never will.
Sometimes white people really struggle with the idea that whites benefit from American institutions. Typical responses might include: “I don’t benefit from any system,” or “I grew up poor,” or “but I didn’t ask for any of that.” These are just defense mechanisms that allow white people to avoid the subject and they further perpetuate the problem. The longer we spend denying the idea of white supremacy culture and refusing to participate in a conversation about how we benefit from it, the longer it’s going to take to do anything about it.
The work of dismantling white supremacy culture must be done by white people. If white people shift the burden of racial justice work onto the people who suffer under its burden, it implies we consider race to be the problem of the people who are on the losing side of racial inequality. White people are responsible for dismantling white supremacy. And I don’t mean “social justice warriors,” or college students or someone, anyone else, I mean all white people. I mean you. And me. All white people benefit from white supremacy culture and all white people are responsible for dismantling it.
It is an overwhelming task for which we are ill-equipped. That does not matter. We still have to do it. None of us living are responsible for creating white supremacy culture, yet we are all responsible for understanding how we benefit from it, and then doing something about it. We are responsible for educating ourselves on this subject and taking action. We can’t do either of those things if we’re so busy avoiding discomfort and shame that we can’t engage in the conversation. We have to tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.
Telling the truth is an act of love. To ignore the problem doesn’t make it go away; it makes it worse. Refusing to engage in difficult conversations is not “being polite,” it’s coddling our insecurity. And we don’t need to be coddled, we need to be loved. Love is telling someone the truth and respecting them enough to believe they can handle a tough subject. Love is staying in that conversation through the deflection and defense mechanisms until you can get to the real work. Love is being willing to get it wrong because you’re trying to get it right. Love is being able to learn and grow and consider new perspectives without shutting down an uncomfortable conversation.
My people, my Beloveds, the time has come. Let us put down the defenses against our discomfort. We can no longer afford to ignore this problem or to throw our hands up in helpless despair. Our black and brown siblings are dying, and it is not because they did something wrong, and it is not because of some tragic misunderstanding or the work of one bad cop who was having a bad day and felt scared. That is not what it is about. Our black and brown siblings are dying of racism. They are dying from a racism that is so deeply ingrained in us that white people cannot even see it or deal with it. And until we decide that we are done with that, that work will continue on, the work of destroying black and brown people will happen. It will happen, it will happen, until we do something about it, until we educate ourselves and then we act about it.
The impulse to get out and do something is especially complicated in this moment. White people already feel confused and disempowered in the face of racial inequality. The added complication of COVID makes it absolutely baffling. Many of us who might otherwise participate in a demonstration don’t even feel comfortable leaving our house right now. So what can we do?
One of the most important things white people can do right now is provide bail money for protestors. Overcrowded jails are hotspots for COVID transmission. You can pay the bail for a protestor through the Bail Project of the Detroit Justice Center or the Minnesota Freedom Fund. It should be noted that donations to either of those organizations might be used for other purposes, like supplies or bailing out someone else in the program.
Additionally, as you heard earlier, Rev. Julie Brock and I are co-leading a Vigil to Break White Silence this Tuesday at 7pm. We’ll also post an antiracism reading list on BUC’s Facebook page on Wednesday.
Whatever it is that you can do - do it. In the immortal words of WEB DuBois: “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow.”
And for those of you who are not able to hear this message and find yourselves upset and argumentative, I extend an open invitation to you. I am your minister. It is my duty and my privilege to lead you, to challenge you, and to love you. When you’re ready, I want to talk to you and find ways to encourage you into deeper consideration of what I’ve said today. We don’t all show up to the conversation in the same way, but do all have to show up. This road is long and it is difficult, but we travel together; in love and in hope.
The Bail Project through the Detroit Justice Center: https://www.detroitjustice.org/the-bail-project
Minnesota Freedom Fund: https://minnesotafreedomfund.org/#