Still, there is part of those questions that didn't get addressed at all: Why hang a "Black Lives Matter" banner in the sanctuary? Especially, perhaps, right up there in the front.
Before offering a response I'd like to have us step back for a moment and remember something we say each week at the beginning of our Sunday morning worship. "TJMC strives to be an intentionally inclusive community ..." We are committed to ever widening the circle of our welcome, yet that means that increasingly things will be said and done that some of us won't feel all that comfortable with. In fact, there may be some things going on that we downright disagree with.
Yup. That's the way it works when a fairly homogeneous group invites diversity. (At least if that invitation is sincere.) If we mean what we say about wanting to be a diverse and inclusive community, then those of us who have for so long been the dominant group in the congregation -- the group who largely determined the behavior and "feel" of the place -- will need to give up the privilege of calling all the shots. This doesn't mean that we still don't have a say. Not at all. It does mean, however, that we need to learn that our "say" isn't final.
So ... back to the question of why we should hang such a political statement right up there in the front of the sanctuary. After all, many of us come to our Sunday worship to find a bit of peace, an oasis of calm, in which we can find rest from the tumult of the day. We look for -- long for -- a sanctuary, and anything that reminds us too much of the outside world feels inappropriately intrusive. Especially if it's something that brings up a whole lot of (White) guilt.
I do not doubt that this is true. In fact, I know that this is true ... for some of us. Some of you have already talked to me about your distress with this banner in that place -- even though it's been up for only a little more than a week at this point -- or have done so over other things at other times. Your voice, your feelings do matter.
Yet there have been other people who have talked with me over the past year or so about the disturbing and distressing absence of any such sign that we recognize that the things going on in the outside world are, indeed going on. Some of us look for -- long for -- a direct, clear, an unambiguous statement that we who claim to be committed to racial justice will not allow ourselves the privilege of turning our eyes from racial injustice ... even in our sacred sanctuary and our one holy hour.
The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh -- Vietnamese poet, peace activist, and Buddhist monk -- has developed a statement of Fourteen Precepts for the Order of Interbeing which he founded. When I first read them, one in particular struck me deeply and it continues to reverberate in my heart:
Do not avoide suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.One of the most insidious forms of White privilege is that we have the option of choosing to"close our eyes" to the suffering of people of color in our culture. We can choose to say, "Not here. Not now. For these 60 minutes I want to be in a place of peace and an oasis of quiet so that I can forget about the drumbeat of pain, and suffering, and need." That is a privilege that we -- White we -- have that people of color really don't.
So we have that option, we can make that choice, but here's the real spiritual question: should we? It would be for some of us more comfortable, of course. No doubt about that. Yet what is it that they say about religion? "Religion is about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted." I have heard people of color say that one thing they wish more White people would recognize is that, for them, racial injustice is not something they can turn off. It is ever-present in their lives, if not in the forefront of their consciousness than incessantly buzzing around in the background. And it's decidedly not comfortable.
Can you imagine how it might feel, then, to enter the sanctuary -- the holy of holies, if you will -- of a predominantly White religious community and see that they have consciously chosen to add a little discomfort to their experience of their sacred time as a sign of their solidarity with those more afflicted by the disease of systemic racism? It's a small thing, to be sure, but small things can be powerful. Can you imagine the comfort this act on our part might offer?
Not everyone will agree with this, of course. Some will assert that this is their time each week and that this their space. Others will say that they empathize with the intention yet think that there must be another -- better -- way of achieving this goal. Those of us who feel this way are entitled to our feelings. Our Unitarian Universalist faith encourages us to refuse the desire to force others to think and feel as we do. Yet our faith also demands of us that we not settle for complacent comfort in the light of suffering and oppression. We may not like this demand, but it is there in our Principles and in our spiritual lineage.
The decision to hang this banner in the front of the sanctuary is an act that will afflict some of us while comforting others. My hope is that those who are afflicted will be mindful of meaning this has for others in our midst (and beyond our doors), and that those who find it a comfort will be grateful for the sacrifice these others are making.
We need not think alike to love alike, yet also we cannot close our eyes to suffering.