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.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

This Just Doesn't Seem Like Charlottesville

Text of Sunday sermon August 13, 2017 by Alex McGee for TJMC Unitarian Universalist in Charlottesville Virginia

(I have been asked for a text of the words I spoke this morning. Because I had prepared with handwritten notes, what you find below is a restatement of what I said this morning but might be worded differently. Please forgive lack of punctuation and typos – my computer is in the shop and so I am dictating this. An audio recording of the worship service will probably be posted on the church website. Rev.  Susan Frederick-Gray and Rev.  Carlton Elliott Smith also spoke in the service.)

"I've been hearing some people say "this just doesn't seem like Charlottesville".  Or, "our town has been lost." Indeed, for many of us, our beliefs about the world are challenged. And as Susan just said, the system of white privilege is designed such that many people of color and other disenfranchised people already know about hatred and violence in their daily lives. And yet for all of us :whites or not, I believe that what happened here this weekend was an invasion on a new level. 

And so, many of us are in shock. Along with the rage at injustice there is also a shock and a numbness.

The nature of shock is that each person feels it differently in their own way and time. Some people react by wanting to be alone, others by clinging to company.  Some people lose their appetite. Some experience foggy thinking, others of sharpness of focus. Some may be unable to sleep even though you are exhausted.  You may find your mind racing with images from the media or what you yourself experience, and feel unable to stop your racing thoughts.  Or perhaps your body experience something yesterday and those sensations are still with with you and you can't figure out how to shake them off?

All of these are normal reactions to an abnormal situation.

And each of us copes in unique ways.

Each of us is a whole person with whole lives although at this moment, our lives may feel fragmented, and all our attention turns towards mourning and outrage right here in our hometown.

I would like to pause and say something about this word hometown. As I crafted this sermon  I found myself using the word hometown again and again. And yet when I stood back and asked myself whether that serves the group gathered here today, I realized I needed to make a distinction.  The issue that we are up against that was made so clear this weekend is both a national and local issue.  I have heard friends and family say and I have seen on Facebook: people around this country are out raged and fearful about the Nazi rhetoric that was spoken this weekend in Charlottesville. And yet, those of us who live here face another layer of challenge: first, our self image as a town has changed. Second, we are still dealing with daily mundane tasks along with the cleanup and crisis.  Third, having one's town in national media can be an upset in and of itself. Am I the only one here who is tired of seeing our hometown in the national news?  And so I find myself living with the distance: this is both a national story and a local story – and a global story.

And so it is important to respond to these horrific acts. And yet as we do, it is also important to acknowledge that we are in shock, and to tend to our own personal well-being. In the treatment of shock, a common recommendation is to drink water. The body needs to rehydrate. This may not be the time for coffee, or Soda pop, or alcohol.  The body just needs a basic replenishment of one of its own elements, water, which is in our cellular structure.

Drinking plenty of water can also be a metaphor for other ways we care for ourselves right now: spiritual and emotional replenishment — coming to the watering hole for the soul. For example yesterday in this building people offered a sort of spiritual and emotional water, a chance to be together and share and spiritual practices: walking the labyrinth, doing art together, sharing food.

You may know what gives you your personal emotional and spiritual hydration: what the basics are for you –. Perhaps it is hugs, naps, playing with the kids, a good book, or fresh air. Or perhaps it is something that I cannot even imagine that you find nourishing. I commend to you right now these healthy replenishing basics to help your whole system rebalance after the shock. In contrast, watching more media and Facebook and talking about it more may not be what you need right now. To be clear, I am not suggesting  being self-obsessed. I'm talking about self-care, because each of us is part of Creation and we need to steward ourselves as well as all of Creation.

Congregations another part of the country have been reaching out to us on the ministry team to offer help. They have asked: "what can we do?" Here's what I have said: one, double down on your congregational efforts to understand systemic racism. Two, educate your congregation about the alt right and take it seriously to halt its spread. Three, re-devote yourself to volunteering in the religious education programs. The next generation needs intelligent information about how to be involved politically, threats to our democratic system, and how to speak up with love and courage.  The children need us to be there for them.  The UUA  has outstanding curricula for children. 

And so, as we here make it through this first stage of shock, as we literally drink water and also allow ourselves to be replenished with spiritual and emotional waters, we will then find ourselves in a next stage – going forward after the shock wears off.

And so as we look ahead, I offer you a quote from an artist. This quote is on a piece of art that I keep on the wall in the office that I share with Erik. The quote says: "she built her cathedral from the splinters of her shattering." Indeed, the image does look like it could be bits of destruction, but it could also look like a cathedral stainglass window.  My friends, history is made up of people whose hearts were broken, towns were broken, who picked up the pieces and moved on. In our own way, and time, we will do that.

Our way of moving on may be entirely different from any way we have ever done it before. We see with new eyes now, hear with new ears, feel with new hearts. These complicated times we live in require new responses, and we do have the tools, even if we don't recognize them yet.

One of our greatest gifts and greatest challenges right now is to be in touch with all parts of ourselves. And I speak here about our individual selves, and about our communal selves.  Right now, Fear would like to pull all of our attention. This fight or flight reaction is only part of who we are. Inside each of our beings, and woven through our community, is also a creativity and light and tenderness.

My friends, we are called to this wholeness. The spirit of love that pervades this universe longs for each of us to be our whole selves.

Let our creativity serve the world.

(c) 2017, Rev. Alexandra McGee

Friday, August 11, 2017

How to Make "No Response" a Helpful Response ...

Before the arrival of the Klan in July, and again in leading up to tomorrow's alt-right rally, I have said that staying away from the center of things is a perfectly reasonable response.  "Don't give them any attention," many of you have said, and there are lots of others who are recommending the same thing.  

I have also said, though, that deciding to "stay out of it" is, in and of itself, a completely faithful response.  Our Unitarian Universalist faith -- and our ancestors the Unitarians and Universalists as well -- call on us to respond.  And while "not responding" is a response, in order for it to truly be a response we need to be conscious and intentional about our decision and what we choose to do instead.  Simply putting it out of one's mind, acting as if nothing is happening, is not a response.  Something is happening downtown tomorrow, and it is important, and it affects every single one of us.  Each and every single one of us is called by our faith to do something to respond to the arrival of this embodiment of evil that is coming to our city.  (And I do not use those words lightly.)

Here is one of the ways you can consciously and intentionally respond to tomorrow's events without going anywhere near them -- wake up to the realities of the systems and structures of white supremacist culture.  I am directing this suggestion particularly at people who identify, or are identified, as white -- learn something new; deepen your understanding of what it is we are striving to dismantle and, even more of a challenge, how we, ourselves, participate and perpetuate in it.

Congregate Charlottesville has created a page of resources for learning more:

Learn More about the LOCAL CONTEXT


No, I Wont Stop Saying "White Supremacy"
UCC White Privilege Curriculum
Dismantling Racism: A Resource Book
Anti-Racism Resource Packet
Invisible Knapsack
Theological Curriculum on Race and Economics
White Supremacy Defined
White Supremacy, Overt & Covert


Over the years I have preached many sermons, and written many "musings" regarding racism in the United States, white supremacy, the call of our faith to address racial injustices, and more.  You can go to my blog -- A Minister's Musings -- and search for words like "racial justice," "racism," or "Black Lives Matter."  The search term "White Supremacy" brings up some posts that might be particularly helpful at this time.

If you want to be aware of what's happening in our city, without being directly involved in it, a livestream page has been set up, and will be live throughout the day. Both and now redirect to the livestream page.

There are, of course, many other ways of responding while not putting yourself in the middle of it all. What I believe to be essential, though, is that we all recognize that simply acting as if nothing is happening will absolutely ensure that nothing really changes. We don't want the hateful, hurtful, speech and actions of the alt-right in our city. Even more, though, we should want to see the culture of white supremacy that they espouse thoroughly repudiated and erased. That will only happen if we all act -- in whatever way(s) we can -- to make sure things change.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Let Us Pray ...

“Let us enter into that inner place of peace, that mood of meditation, that some call ‘prayer.’” 

I say this most Sundays as part of my introduction to the time of our service called Going Deeper.  This is when we take time for silence, light Candles of Hope and Remembrance and write in the Sands of Forgiveness and Atonement, share our deepest Joys and Sorrows, I try to find words to express, “all that we have heard and all that we have felt; all that we have found here and all that we have brought with us,” and our musician of the day offers a musical meditation to pull all of this together.  I call this time “the heart of the service,” and it is intentionally positioned in the place most often reserved for the sermon.  There is more time devoted to this portion of the service than to any other.

Yet I know that there are Unitarian Universalists who are uncomfortable with the word “prayer.”  “Prayer” is one of the things that they left behind, along with an interventionist God who condemns “sinners” and “non-believers” to an eternity of hell fire and damnation.  Call this time anything you want, they might say, except “prayer.”

I'd like to take a moment to remind us all that the word "prayer" is just that – a word.  “Prayer” is simply a word used to describe something that all religions recognize as ultimately indescribable.  It is, to borrow a phrase from the Zen Buddhist tradition, a finger pointing at the moon; it is not the moon itself.

So what is this word “prayer” pointing toward?  It just so happens that I’ve written an entire book on the subject. [Simply Pray:a modern spiritual practice to deepen your life, published by Skinner House Books, available both in print and as an e-book!  (Yes.  Shameless plug.)]  Simply put, though, I’d say that there’s a reason we call that “prayer” section of the service, “Going Deeper.”

Most religious traditions – and psychologists, sociologists, cultural anthropologists, etc. – agree that most of us live most of our lives with a whole lot of cacophony, both external and internal.  There is so much “noise,” so much stimulation, and we are encouraged to live (and do) at such a break-neck pace, that we lose our ability to simply be.  It’s hard for us to really notice the moments of our lives, because really noticing the moments of our lives requires us to stop, or at least slow down.  This thing "some people call 'prayer'" is an intentional practice of slowing down and trying to let go of all that busy doing so that we might put ourselves into direct contact with the deep groundedness of being.

Another benefit of taking the time to slow down and quiet the noise that so easily distracts us, is an increased ability to make sense out of life – our lives and Life itself.  This, too, is hard to do when we’re running around so much.  Whether you call it “intuition,” “inner wisdom,” “deep knowing,” or even “the voice of God,” the underlying idea is the same – when we quiet our lives we can see and hear and know in ways that simply aren’t possible when we’re caught up in the cacophony of modern life. 

All of this – the slowing down, the quieting, the noticing, the listening --  is the “moon” toward which the “finger” of that word “prayer” points.

But doesn’t prayer have to do with talking with God?  Asking for things?  Confessing our sins and begging for forgiveness?  Well … maybe.  But I truly don’t believe that those things are fundamental, essential to the understanding of prayer.  After all, couldn’t you say that “talking with God” is a way of understanding “listening to our deepest wisdom”?  And when we ask for things, doesn’t that require getting clarity about what’s really important to us?  While there are certainly people who maintain that those other ways of understanding prayer are the only ways of understanding prayer, we, as Unitarian Universalists, are not required to accept the teachings of other religions exactly as they are understood in those traditions.  Yet we are called to look for the wisdom these teachings contain.  The notion that we could all use a little more silence and stillness, a little more clarity and wisdom, and little more attention to and awareness of the moments of our existence certainly seems like wisdom to me.

I’m writing all of this because among the Charlottesville Clergy Collection’s recommendations for ways to respond to the upcoming “Unite the Right” rally, is a recommendation to engage in prayer.  There is no doubt that some in that group – perhaps even many or most – understand this to mean petitioning an actively interventionist God to protect people, or open the hearts of the white nationalists, to give comfort to those who have been most directly harmed by the systems and structures of white supremacy (and those who actively and intentionally, and dare I say joyously give them life), or to open the floodgates of justice that they might roll down “like an ever flowing stream.”

Equally certainly there are Unitarian Universalists who dismiss all of that and, therefore, see no reason to engage in “[what] some people call ‘prayer.’”  There are those who find the notion of “prayer” – as traditionally taught and understood, at least – to be as truly meaningless (literally void of any meaning) as they do the notion of “God” (as traditionally taught and understood).  When we do this, though, we once again cut ourselves off from any kind of communion with other religious traditions; we once again throw up an impenetrable “wall of separation,” this time not between church and state but between our faith traditional and all others.  And who among us, today, can say we favor the building of walls?

So while others prepare for the events of August 12th with their understanding(s) of prayer, I would encourage us UUs to do so with ours.  For some, of course, those more traditional meanings ring true.  For the rest, though, let me ask three questions:

   Isn’t there a lot of “noise” surrounding the coming of the alt-right to Charlottesville?  Isn’t there a lot of confusion about what to do, how to do it, who to do it with, and when and where it should be done?  Prayer, as I’ve suggested we can think about it, offers a tool for turning down the volume on that cacophony so as to make it possible for us to listen to the wisdom we all have within ourselves (by whatever name we know it).

   And doesn’t all the media coverage, and social media commentary, and parking lot and grocery store conversations about how scary, and infuriating, and awful this is make it hard to keep track of the day-to-day beauty in our lives?  Doesn’t this overwhelming demonstration of the worst we humans are capable of threaten our ability to see the best we are capable of?  Prayer, as I’ve suggested understanding it, can help us to see the one without losing sight of the other, for this world is both brutal and beautiful, and to make a difference we must recognize both.

   And as you think about what’s happening in our city and, indeed, our country, do you feel your pulse race and your blood pressure rise?  Can you feel yourself getting worn out, exhausted, by the stress of it all?  Prayer, as I’ve tried to define it, can help us to “find a stillness, hold a stillness, [and] let the stillness carry [us],” as the hymn puts it.  It can help us to carve out a place of rest, of calm, and “inner place of peace.”  And from this place we can recharge our spiritual batteries so that we have the strength to do what must be done.

So ... not only do the faith leaders who constitute the Charlottesville Clergy Collective recommend preparing for, and engaging with, the presence of hundreds of avowed white nationalist here in our own city with prayer, so do I.  As Unitarian Universalists we are free to understand that in ways that make the most sense to us, yet we are also encouraged to see, honor, and learn from the wisdom of the traditions from which that word comes, and the moon toward which it points.

Pax tecum,