Wednesday, May 31, 2017

It matters ...

This was one of the announcements I made at the beginning of the service this past Sunday.  I share it here for those who weren't in the sanctuary, both because it is a reminder that we have a Congregational Meeting coming up THIS SUNDAY following the service, and because I think it captures my perspective on why your -- yes you, in particular -- should make sure to attend.

I have often said that how a congregation chooses to structure and govern itself is a reflection, and embodiment, of its vision and its ideals.  Do you have one singular leader, or is leadership shared?  Does a good idea need to go through a lengthy process toward approval, or is innovation encouraged?  Is efficiency and effectiveness prized over relationship and connection?  The values of an institution are reflected in its bylaws and its policies, its institutional structures … and in its budget.

On Sunday, June 4, following our worship, our congregation will hold its annual Congregational Meeting.  This is where and how we, as a community, carry out our role – as a community – in governing ourselves.  No authority from on high; power in the people.  And one of the tasks at this meeting each year is to vote on the budget that’s being proposed by our Board.

This year, as many know, there is some contention about the budget.  From my perspective, we have playing out two different understandings of who we are as a congregation, and two different visions of who we are called to be.  That is what is being reflected in our deliberation, not how many reams of copy paper we can afford to buy.  So this is a strong encouragement for each and every one of us to attend this year’s congregational meeting (Sunday, June 4) following the morning’s worship.  If you are in favor of the Board’s proposal or against it, whether you are a formal member of the congregation or a “friend,” the vote on the budget next week is a vote on where this congregation goes from here and your presence matters.  Your voice matters.  This choice matters.

I do not believe it is hyperbole to say that the future of this congregation may be set in motion by this vote, and I think we each owe it to ourselves, and to each other, and to this outpost of Unitarian Universalist in Charlottesville, to take seriously our responsibility to decide … together.

These announcements made, and these official words of greeting offered, I would say that it is good that each and every one of us is here.  It would be a different morning if any of us were not here … if you were not here.  It is good to be together.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

This is the text of the letter I have submitted to the Daily Progress regarding the torch-light protest last night at Lee Park:

On Saturday evening a dozen or so people gathered in Lee Park, with torches, to chant, “You will not replace us.”  This might be the group’s desire to voice what they believe the statue is saying while its fate is being decided.  Yet it is hard not to also hear the cry of those people who identify as white bemoaning the “replacement” of their traditional understandings of the world.  And these are being replaced, as the “we” that once defined the culture expands to include all the “we” who have historically been left out.  Things are changing, and there are people who do not want “their” way of life to change, even at the cost of continued harm to “others.”

They also chanted, “blood and soil,” which could reflect what was often heard in the discussions that people’s long family ties (blood) to this place (soil) is what makes the sense that their history is being erased so painful.  It is worth noting that the phrase, “blood and soil,” was popularized by the Nazi party and became foundational to their rhetoric, especially with regards to “purification of the race.”  It seems almost impossible to imagine that its use at the demonstration was coincidental.

Many of those who have argued against the removal of the Lee Statue (and other statues, monuments, and flags) no doubt will want to distance themselves from the actions of the torch carriers.  And I would never dream of ascribing to them the same motivations or animus.  Yet I would ask them:  Can you not see in this “demonstration” a vivid expression of what many People of Color say they see embodied in that statue?  You may not agree that that’s what the statue represents (to you, at least), but how can you not also see that the presence of torch-bearing “protectors” reinforces the racial animus which others are say that they see?  And can not those torches shine light on this other perspective so that you, too, can see it?

Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom