Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Words of Wikstrom for December

On Sunday, November 3rd, 2017, I spoke with the some of the children of our congregation.  Of course, the adults were welcomed to listen in, too.

I told them a story -- about getting lost on a hike and what it was that "grounded" me during that ordeal.

I also told them a "secret."  The secret was that I wasn't wearing shoes.  Even more, I wasn't going to be wearing shoes in the sanctuary from then on whenever I am facilitating worship.

This is something I used to do.  It began while I was serving our congregation in Yarmouth, Maine, and it had become such a "thing" with me that it came up during my candidating with the second congregation I served, First Parish in Brewster, Massachusetts.  (When I arrived I discovered that some folks had left in my office a rather large collection of extremely ... colorful ... socks!)

At that time I explained this odd behavior to the children by asking what Moses, Mr. Rogers, and I had in common.  Although there were some creative answers, no one was able to see the connection.

Moses, I said, is remembered in the Jewish Scriptures as having an experience in which he encountered God -- the sacred, the holy, the mysterious -- in the form of a "burning bush," a bush that burned yet which was never burned up.  The story continues that after turning aside to see this unusual sight, he heard a voice that told him to take off his shoes because he was "on holy ground."

It's too long a story to have gone into fully, but what I could tell those kids was that when I was on a silent retreat some years before I'd had a similar kind of revelation about the holiness of where I stood.  I took off my shoes right then, and remained barefoot throughout the rest of the week.

Mr. Rogers comes into the picture because in addition to being a beloved childrens' TV host, he was also an ordained Presbyterian minister.  (Not everyone knows that.)  In an interview I'd heard once he said that it was his belief that the space between the television set and the children watching his show was holy ground, and that he tried to always be mindful of that in everything he did.

I told the children that Sunday morning that I had come back from that retreat with a renewed consciousness that the sanctuary in which we worshiped together was its own kind of "holy ground," and to remind myself of that I took off my shoes.  This symbolic act helped me to be mindful of that fact, and to hold that truth (truth to me, at least) uppermost in my consciousness.

I have not taken off my shoes here.  I'm not entire sure why that is -- I joked that Sunday by saying that perhaps I'd been intimidated by everybody here! -- but I'd recently realized that I was missing this and that I really needed to bring the practice back.

To our children I told this briefly, commented on how this shoeless-ness "grounded me," and asked them what grounded them, what they held on to when times were tough.  This led us into the lovely hymn "When I am Frightened" (by the incomperable Shelley Jackson Denham) and, ultimately, to my sermon, "Oh Star."

Why am I writing all of this?  Firstly, not everyone comes to participate in worship and/or our religious education programming each week, so I know that there are some folks who didn't hear any of this and who might be a little confused when they next see me and I'm in my stocking feet.

More importantly, though, throughout the month of December our worship is using the metaphor of fire to explore the issues we've been considering all Fall, issues of identity -- who am I?  Who are we?  To whom, to what, do we belong?  And on that First Sunday of December I was lifting up both the image of Moses' burning bush, and Robert Frost's lofty star, to encourage our consideration of what it is that grounds us, what it is we can hold on to when there seems that everything is falling apart, what we can look to for hope when it feels as though hopelessness threatens to overwhelm us (or seems to have already done so).

So ... in this "holiday season," which leaves so many of us feeling hectic and harried, which can be so hard and sorrowful for so many whose grief and pain is not only not erased, but often exacerbated by Christmas Muzak, which can highlight the sickness of idol conspicuous consumption ...

in this wider season when the realities of our patriarchal misogynist white supremacist culture are become every-more starkly apparent to ever more of us (folks who identify as white and for whom this has largely been invisible) ...

in these days when so much seems to be falling apart ...

What do you hold on to?  What keeps alight in your heart when all around you seems so cold?  What lights your way, points you in the right direction, sustains beyond all expectation?

These are my thoughts this December.

Pax tecum,


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Healing 4 Charlottesville

There is an event this Saturday called “Healing4Charlottesville.” It's being organized by several area clergy, and is intended to be a time for prayerful, humble recognition of the need for healing in our community.  Organizers say, “This is not a march against anything or anyone. It is us taking responsibility before God for our city.”  And they add, “No signs are permitted.

The Senior Staff have been asked, individually and collectively, for our feelings about this effort.  While we acknowledge that it may certainly be meaningful for some participants, we do not see it as something in which we, as a congregation, need to participate.  This is not because of its clearly theistic – and specifically Christian – orientation.  Rather, we question how the time and energy spent organizing and coordinating something like this will have any real impact on the real need in our community for truth telling (and hearing) about what is actually hurt and broken, what truly needs healing, and how all of us – truly all of us together – can do that work of healing in honest and accountable ways.  We think that the potential for this to be a “feel good” opportunity that obscures the real hard, discomforting, and painful work that is needed is great.

As Unitarian Universalists, no one (or three) voices speak for us all, and anyone who feels moved to participate should do so.  Yet to be in covenant with one another and our commitment to the mutual liberation of all, we should do so with conscious awareness of the potential pitfalls, and intentional about what work needs to be done. 

If you have questions, or want to discuss any of this further, please feel free to contact RevWik, Leia, or Christina.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Mindful Stewardship

by Adam Slate, President of the Board

Within the TJMC community, we honor the unique gifts that we each bring to the congregation. Some of us are gifted musicians, others are skilled at committee work. Some have ample financial means to support the work of the church, and others a surplus of time to devote to program activities. We attend meetings, volunteer from home, sing in the choir, cook for church events, and help weave worship. We find our unique place within the congregation, and use that as the starting point for transforming ourselves, the Unitarian Universalist faith, and the world.

And yet, as church members, we are asked to be present in our church community in all sorts of ways, beyond the ones that are most obvious for us. We are expected to be present at church on Sundays as often as we can, as this is the day when we gather most fully as one community. We have a responsibility to give our time and money as generously as we can. And we are asked to engage in congregational work that allows TJMC to thrive and be a strong presence and voice in the community.

At first blush, these seem incongruous. On the one hand we acknowledge that we occupy a unique place in our church family, and on the other, we are asked to be part of the full spectrum of church life. But this is how our church family, and indeed all families, work. This is what it means to be good stewards of TJMC’s future. This is what it means to be generous.

Those of us who are not versed in the language of stewardship might be tempted to horse-trade our church responsibilities, perhaps not feeling the need to make a financial contribution because we are active volunteers, or electing not to participate in church activities because we are able to make a particularly large pledge. However good stewardship sets the expectation that we be as generous as we can in both these areas, not one or the other. It is NOT required that we devote a certain amount of time or money to the church, but it IS expected that each of us makes decisions about our volunteer commitment and our church pledge independent of the other, and generously based on what the church means to us.

So make time at least once a year to evaluate what you are giving to the church in terms of your time and your financial support. Reviewing the latter is even more important now that we have enacted automatic renewal of our annual pledges, so the church knows as soon as possible if you are adjusting your pledge amount. This work is part of our role as good stewards of the congregation, so I’ll say it again; At least once a year, evaluate the amount of time and money that you are giving to support the church and make changes as necessary to accurately reflect what is generous for you this year. It's essential to our health as a community.

Please feel welcome to get in touch with me as you make this decision. Email me or call me (president@uucharlottesville.org; 434-760-1346) if you have questions about your financial pledge level or how to make/adjust your annual pledge. Or if you want to volunteer but aren’t sure what kinds of opportunities fit your schedule or interests. Even if you have found it straightforward to establish the levels at which you are giving, I’d love for you to drop me a line to let me know what motivates you, and to share your stories about how our community touches the lives of its members, and lives beyond our walls.

The point is that Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church-Unitarian Universalist only thrives if all of us see ourselves as stewards of the church’s well-being and engage, engage, engage in church life. I’m all in, and I hope you join me in this commitment.



Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Statement from the Leadership of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church-Unitarian Universalist:

If Nikuyah Walker were a white man, rather than a woman of color, the article that appeared in The Daily Progress on Saturday, November 4, 2017 would have been quite different. We would have read about his passionate engagement with city officials. There might have been an acknowledgment that he could be a hothead at times, but his no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is-in-no-uncertain-terms approach would be seen by many as refreshing.
But Nikuyah Walker is not a white man. She’s a brown-skinned woman, and she’s both angry about racial injustices and willing to express that anger directly and bluntly. Since the days when slave owners feared that their “property” would rise up to reclaim their right to be recognized as human, the image of the angry black man (or woman) has been seared into the American consciousness. From Nat Turner to Malcolm X, whites have always preferred it when people of color fought for justice politely.

Most of the time, white supremacy does not announce itself with Klan robes and torches. It perniciously acts in ways that most of us who identify as white are not even aware of, yet which support and sustain the systems and structures that elevate to a higher level people and institutions that conform to white cultural norms. Whatever the conscious intent of the Progress, the language used to describe Ms. Walker is just as effective as anything Jason Kessler might say to emphasize the place that people of color are afforded in our society.  That it ran as the major headline, just a few days before the election, amounts to editorializing against her candidacy.

We are not writing to take a position one way or the other regarding Nikuyah Walker’s candidacy, but we are committed—as Unitarian Universalists—to naming and fighting white supremacy wherever it shows itself, especially where it might otherwise seem invisible.

~ The Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom, the Board of Trustees, and Racial Justice Committee of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church-Unitarian Universalist on behalf of the congregation

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Three Fifths Compromise

This piece was written by Peter Walpole for worship on Sunday, October 22nd, 2017.  This was the day we took part in the second UU White Supremacy Teach-In.

In order to preserve the unity of the infant nation
the Constitutional Convention agreed upon “the three fifths compromise.”
Three fifths.

The number of Congressional representatives allotted each state
would be determined by population. White men (and only they could vote)
each counted as one person; White women and children
were counted as fully human; Native Americans did not count at all;
and slaves were counted as three fifths of a person.
This compromise gave Southern states a disproportionate weight in Congress.
The slaves had no political voice whatsoever; slaveholders, however,
profited by the work of the slaves’ minds and bodies, and the weight of their very being,
in raw cold numbers, to expand the South’s political power.
Congress selected the President, back then. Did you know
Of the first twelve American Presidents, only John Adams, and his son John Quincy,
did not own slaves? The power of the three fifths compromise was not that subtle
and it’s influence on law and policy was extensive.

The three fifths compromise and the Electoral College were the price the South demanded
for maintaining the unity of the nation.  The Electoral College:
what harm could that do, down the road? Three fifths, three fifths.

Three fifths. Would you like three fifths of a cookie?— that might help my diet, actually.
Better than no cookie at all! Three fifths. Three fifths of your dinner, then—
Ah! Actually, I was kind of hungry -- or three fifths of making love —
Oh baby that’s — whoops, we’re done. (Sorry, friends, if that hits
close to home for anyone.) I want to hit close to home.

Three fifths. Three fifths. Are we not there yet?
Three fifths of your income -- tell me about it! Taxes!
No, no, three fifths of your take home pay, in fact.
Not far off racial pay inequalities, but let’s not go there, no,
Let’s get right down to it: three fifths of your life. Good news!
Your medical history and DNA tests suggest you will live to 90!
So, at three fifths, we’ll make that 54, shall we?
Wait . . . three fifths, three fifths -- how many in your family, dear?
Five? Splendid -- makes the math come out neatly.
We’ll send a truck round for two of you in the morning. Say good bye.
Wait! I never agreed to this! Who agreed to this?
Oh, George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin,
lots of others; some winced, some fulminated, but
In order to seal the deal — agreed. Three fifths.
It was the price they had to pay, however steep, for unity:
that it should be encoded into the DNA of the American nation
That a great sea of human souls would be valued as three fifths human.
Kick the can down the road, to Harper’s Ferry,
to Antietam, to Selma, to Charlottesville.

Three fifths of Heather Heyer did not die.
She died entire, five fifths, the full measure of devotion.
And in dying lost her voice to say what she died for.
The obligation falls to the living to consider among us:
did she die for unity? I prefer to think, my solitary, angry voice,
that she died for integrity, risking all, her life and memory,

her loves and joys, standing up against a non-negotiable wrong.

© 2017 Peter Walpole

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

In Recognition of 25 years of ministry

On Sunday, September 10th I began our formal recognition and celebration of the 25th anniversary of our Director of Faith Development, Leia Durland-Jones, beginning her ministry to and with this congregation.  Here are the words I said:

The people we’ve just honored are among the many ministers of this congregation.  When people ask me what I do I often say that I’m one of the ministers who serves here.  “How many ministers are there?” they’ll ask.  I tell them, “About 450.”  I love what the Quaker author and theologian Parker Palmer has said about his tradition’s lack of any ordained clergy.  “We didn’t abolish the clergy,” he has said, “we abolished the laity.”

The professional ministers, the ordained ministers, who have served this congregation have come and gone over the years.  In my field it’s said that long ministry is about 8 years.  Well … this congregation has had one minister who has served it for a quarter of a century.  Let that sink in for a minute:  a quarter of a century of committed, continuous, consensus, creative, challenging, and consistent ministry.

25 years ago this month – this week, I believe – this minister came to serve this congregation, and we have been blessed ever since by her gifts, her skills, her tenacity, her courage, her compassion, her imagination, her mischievousness, her ability to see and bring out the best in people, and perhaps most of all, her spirit and her heart

I would ask that we now recognize, honor and celebrate the ministry, and the person, of our Director of Faith Development – Leia Durland-Jones.

Leia – We will be celebrating your ministry to and with this community in a variety of ways for the rest of this month, and next month as well.  I get to kick things off this week, because I understand that Balloon Sunday was one of the first, if not the first, Sunday you spent here.  I have for you two small tokens of our appreciation, gifts to you for the gifts you have given to us

I don’t really have them to give you, though.  One is still on its way, but it’s a wall plaque of the Goddess Hecate.  Among other things, Hecate is the guardian of crossroads, the places in the world, and in our lives, from which any path is possible

The other gift I have … almost.  It is this book – blank now, yet soon to be filled with the thoughts, memories, appreciations, blessings, and love of this congregation.  It will be in the Social Hall following this service, and every service for the rest of this month and into October, and it will be in the Office on the days in between Sundays.  I encourage you to sit down with it and to take your time.  Write as much as you want; say all that you have to say.  (And if you want, you can write something at home, print it out, and we’ll tape it into the book.

Leia, I have had the great good fortune of knowing and working with some very fine ordained ministers over the years.  I know of none who are more fully and truly a minister as you are (and many who don’t come anywhere close).  To be your friend is a pleasure; to be your colleague is an honor and a privilege.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Changeless Values in Changing Times

Photo:  James Smith (modified by Rev. Wik)
On Sunday, August 27, 2017, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. delivered the sermon.   Nearly 500 people filled our sanctuary, social hall, and overflow seating outdoors.  NBC29, The Daily Progess, and UU World all reported on the occasion.

During the service we passed out envelopes for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.  We ran out.  If you did not receive one on Sunday, or weren't there to receive one, you can join the organization online.

This is the text of his prepared remarks.  A video will be added when it is ready to be posted because, as you might well imagine, Rev. Jackson was not limited by his prepared text.

Changing Values in Changing Times
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.

We fall down and sometimes we are born down.  In the history of life’s leaders, life’s transformers is to get up and see beyond the predicament.  On the isle of Patmos, left to die, John saw a new heaven , a new earth beyond his predicament. 
Jefferson saw a way out.  There was a duality of consciousness in his soul.  Born in the system that prospered him and pained him.  He once said when I think about slavery on the one hand and think God is just on the other I shudder for my country.  Three great questions:
  • Vanity asks the question is it popular
  • Politics asks the question will it win?
  • Conscience and morality asks the question is it right?
Ultimately America has to decide the rightness or wrongness of slavery.  Wrong was prosperous but was not right.  We search for the authentic ultimately, changeless values. 
It is said everything that goes up must come down.  That’s the law of gravity and weighty objects.  Character and ethical laws must rise higher and eternal truths. 
While Jesus hung on the cross he was taunted, yet he hung onto the eternal truths of God.
For example, the balloonists of France gave us the replica of the Statue of Liberty congratulating us on ending the war and ending slavery.  For winning the war for unity cherishing freedom is a changeless value.   Emma Lazarus remarks, “Give me your tired and huddled masses who yearned to breathe free….
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These values must never change.
Give me your most able and most literate English speaking only, and leave the rest behind, are values that should not be embraced.  That’s opposite of the Jesus standard.
We must fight fire with water and fight hate and hurt with hope and healing.  These must be changeless walls teeth for teeth, will leave us blind and disfigured.
Erecting walls that keep us unhealthy and separate us emotionally, politically and leave us economically unequal.  Because behind the walls are ignorance, fear, hatred and violence.  Building walls between the races, or on the basis of religion or ethnicity, whether in Germany, the United States or Mexico must come down and never go up again.    We must build a pathway to citizenship and wholesome relationships, not build walls that degrade and limit.  We must adopt changeless values: 
  • Walls separating thieves,
  • One side gets sunshine, one gets shadows
  • We must build bridges and share the sunlight of love and hope. 
  • We must have health care for all based on needs. 
  • We must have health care for the least able, not the well cared for and the most able. 
  • Maximum profits and minimum wages is not a value to be cherished.
When a war is over, whenever it occurs, Isaiah says beat your swords into plowshares and your spears into pruning hooks and study war no more.  It further suggests that we should not turn our tools of warfare or our leaders in battles past into objects of idolatry to be praised and celebrated.  We must build a peace budget bottom up not a war budget top down.  We must not have guided missiles and misguided leaders.
When the war is over there must be a healing, which means taking the glass out of the wound.  For complete healing to occur one must remove even the keloid scars that remain.  General Robert E. Lee said after the Civil War “Don’t bury me in a confederate uniform or build statues of me.  It is an affront to the victors and it interferes with the healing process.”
Lincoln pardoned those who would be traitors to the Union cause or engaged in acts of treason, acts of secession, slavery and sedition, and by extension the human degradation that slavery was and the initiation of Jim Crow laws.  Rather than imprison them or subject them to some violent punishment, he chose to pardon them in order to heal and reconcile the nation.  Forgiveness and redemption should be changeless values.
We should remove the statutes, the flags, states’ rights agenda and the Electoral College – all are relics from the Confederate formula of slavery.  In 2000 Gore won, but lost because of state’s rights controlling a national election.  In 2016, Hillary won but lost – electoral college.  We must fight for a democracy built one set of rules, one person, one vote, not one billion one candidate. 
We should end the vestiges of a war that has long since ended, as they did in Germany.  In Germany there are no symbols erected to recognize Nazi leaders of the Third Reich.  We survived slavery and the civil war.  Those who survived the war in generations to come must get on with the healing process.  Last week there were those who disagreed.
The President’s inability to call out white supremacists, KKK and neo-Nazis caused many to be embarrassed!  Members of Congress, republicans and pundits were embarrassed by the moral equivalency test. 
 The question is, are they willing to move past their feelings of embarrassment and sympathy to vote for a new direction and new priorities.  They must go from embarrassment to enlightenment.  The fight against voter suppression and fake news and voter fraud is the fight of our day.  Those who sought to deny the right to vote, now seek to suppress the right.
The real news is:
In 1963 there were those who were embarrassed by the dogs biting marchers in Birmingham, but would not vote for the Public Accommodations Bill.  In Selma there were those who were embarrassed by the scene of horses kicking marchers, but these same people would not vote for the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  In the Civil War there were those who fought against secession, but would not vote for the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.
Today we are driven, not by the threat of the mean, the violent and the sick, but by innocent blood of Heather Heyer. We must go from embarrassment to enlightenment.   We need to go in a new direction.
The fight against voter suppression and the end of fake news of voter fraud is the fight of our day.  We must face the real news of:
  • Evidence of consumer fraud by banks, automotive companies and other industries exploiting the least able to pay.
  • Student loan debt is greater than credit card debt.
  • The banks and auto dealers were bailed out with a fine, but the fines did not repair the damage done to the victims.
  • Jim Crow resisted any plan to repair damages done by slavery or to alter the bonds left as a vestige of slavery.
  • Workers’ rights
We must act to:
  • Erect a monument of affordable and accessible education for all students.
  • End the scam of temporary workers who work without benefits and are recycled into poverty.
  • Eradicate the notion that more guns make us more secure and more war leads to peace.
  • We must not merely globalize capital and technology; but we must globalize human rights and even the playing field for the world’s workers.
  • We must globalize women’s rights, worker’s rights, children’s rights, student’s rights and environmental security.
We must not be merely embarrassed in the face of division and hate.  We must change the conditions.  We have unfinished business in the New South.  Yet we have made remarkable progress:
We are not driven to change today.  We are not driven by those who open and carry guns.  We are not driven by their tiki lamps.  We are driven rather by non-violence, and the power of the innocent blood of Heaather Heyer.  Honor and suffering are redemptive.  Rainwater will not wash away the power of blood, nor will bullets erase away her memory.  She is now in the lineage of Rosa Parks., the 4 little girls in Birmingham, Schwerner Goodman and Chaney.  The jail cell of Mandela, the innocent blood of Dr. King.  Heather is in that lineage.  That lineage has led to remarkable progress.
  • When we changed Virginia, we elected an African American governor, Doug Wilder
  • The U.S. elected an African American president, Barack Obama
  • And without voter suppression and manipulation we would have a female president.  In the New South, when walls are down, you can host the Olympics in Atlanta.  You can have economic development along I-85 from Raleigh to Atlanta.  Virginia can play North Carolina with multi-racial teams. Virginia can recruit Ralph Sampson and North Carolina recruited Michael Jordon.
When the walls came down South Carolina became the number one producer of tires; and Nissan, Honda, BMW and Toyota moved south.  When walls come down, Alabama and Clemson can play each other in the championship games.  Uniform colors take prescience over skin color and direction takes priority over complexion.
Those who are embarrassed by presidential resistance to denouncing hatred and bigotry must choose a new direction where hatred, bigotry, and fear are less likely.
We must choose a new direction were hatred, fear, and bigotry are less likely.  The good news is when we replace walls with bridges we win.  The innocent blood of one woman shook the White House, shoo the Congress, it made business leaders dissolve boards, it made world leaders join in and speak out.    We have a light that can dispel darkness. 
  • We can pray together. 
  • We can build multi-racial coalitions together.
  • We can vote together. 
  • We can remember in November together. 
  • Heather cannot vote, but we can vote for her. 
  • We can choose the right side of history together.
The Scripture has a clear formula for healing in II Chronicles 7:14. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, pray, seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then they will hear from heaven and heal the land.”
The key is humility, not pride and arrogance.  It’s humility and a new direction that will heal the land.  We reluctantly support freedom, but are slow to support equality or a commitment to repair the damage done the result of the bonds of oppression.