Notice Who Matters: The Readings from Many Voices (Part I of 2)

The following readings were the heart of worship this morning at the Unitarian Society of Northampton & Florence, reading aloud by eleven different voices.  With two exceptions, you can click on the author of each of the readings to find its longer source. 

The readings were followed by a reflection that you can find by clicking here.

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READINGS: Part I

From UU Rev. Victoria Weinstein

Preach the front pages.

Preach the news. Preach the fire. Preach the rage, the sadness, the lamentation. Preach it fierce. Bring your rage, your solidarity, your authority to confront: to confront ourselves, to confront our God, to confront yourself, to confront our sick, sick society. Confront what is really happening. Do not “spiritualize.” Do not offer bromides, cliches, or a load of Christian crap that everyone has heard before and that you yourself have heard too many times coming out of your own mouth because it feels easier to say that crap than to cover yourself in sackcloth and ashes and wail that you have no idea what God is doing, but that you only hope God is working in this, is in the suffering, is loving us still, will not abandon and forsake us.…

You pray this time, you pray this horror, you acquaint yourself with the news, you put on your protective headgear and you get out there and you put aside the sermon you were going to give on puppies and love and butterflies and you get in there with humanity and witness to it. Any minister who doesn’t address the pain and suffering in America right now from their pulpit this Sunday deserves all the disappointment — spoken or unspoken — that will come at them in passive-aggressive or straight up aggressive ways in months to come. It is our job to be alive, awake, attentive, thoughtful, connected and in relationship to the real world right now this moment as it is. And I’m sorry, but no matter what’s going on in your individual community or congregation this week, it can’t possibly be as spiritually enormous as the conflagration that’s burning outside all our windows. COME TO THE WINDOW. See. Witness. Pray for the Holy Spirit to assist us in saying what we are able about that fire.

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posted Thursday, August 13 by Agent Provocateur and blogger, Kim Hampton

Robin Williams died sometime late Sunday night-early Monday morning. Within 24-hours of that, the public was given plenty of information regarding the preliminary autopsy.

Michael Brown died not long after 2:00 p.m. Saturday, August 9th. The public knows NOTHING about the preliminary autopsy.

Law enforcement has interviewed people around Robin Williams.

Law enforcement has still NOT interviewed people around Michael Brown; including Dorian Johnson, who was walking with Michael when things happened.

Notice who matters.

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from Courtney E. Martin, in her essay, “To Be White and Reckon with the Death of Michael Brown,”

I don’t believe in evil and I don’t believe in good, at least not that kind, when it comes to race in this country. I believe we, white Americans, are still — 150 years after slavery ended — dabbling in racial courage, specializing in amnesia, flummoxed by the acts of our ancestors and our responsibility for the past, and continuously struggling to wrap our minds around the structural racism that is our present.

I’m reminded of Ta’nehisi Coates important words:

“Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, ‘Never again.’ But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.”

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MLKJailLettersfrom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, published in 1963

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

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From UU Rev. Jake Morrill, minister at Oak Ridge UU Church in Tennessee

Our country promises liberty and justice for all.  But we’re failing that standard.  It’s not one person, or one event.  It’s not even one police department, or one city. 

We’re all part of it–my prayers tonight are with and for everyone in Ferguson, Missouri.  For peace and strength in the hearts of police officers, community leaders, clergy and teachers, mothers and fathers, children and teens.  This isn’t about who’s the bad guy and who’s the good guy–I’ve talked with enough police officers to know how stressful their jobs can be, and how the stories of how they help in the neighborhoods don’t make the news.  

source: Loavesofbread

source: Loavesofbread

It’s about a statistically predictable pattern.  About a system across the country that’s been producing injustice: different outcomes for the same behavior, depending on the color of your skin.

This is hard for a white person to see.  Because, for people who look like me, things seem to work fine.  It’s my lived experience that the system is working, that things are fair, and that the difference is in individual behavior.  But we know that our individual experience of things is not the same thing as the facts of the world.  That’s why it’s important to back up and look at the patterns, the outcomes, that the system produces like clockwork
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As protests in Ferguson, Missouri go on tonight, a lot of my white brothers and sisters are focused on how, in the short-term, to restore order.  But the real question is how, in the long-term, to restore justice.

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from UU Rev. Carolyn Patierno, minister at All Souls New London (used with permission)

When a white kid steals cigars from a convenience store it’s called shoplifting. Stupid adolescent behavior.

When a black kid does the same it’s robbery. And somehow it justifies being shot.

Is stealing cigars justified? No. Pushing a shopkeeper around? No.

Is shooting a young man with arms held high justified?

No.

God help us.

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Readings: Part II

From UU seminarian and blogger, Diana McLean

Of course, the rights we think we have depend largely upon our social location: our race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, etc. It’s just that those of us who are privileged tend not to listen to those who are not, and so we don’t realize that freedom doesn’t mean the same thing to every American. Nor does safety, or respect, or equality. So many of the words we cherish, words we believe represent our country, actually represent the experiences of a limited segment of our people.…

Will we, personally, take action to make a difference in even one life, today?

And will we do it again tomorrow, and next week, and next month, and for as many years as it takes for things to change? Or will we be too busy getting on with our own lives, or think there’s nothing we can do to make a difference? Will we each leave the work to someone else, failing to see that then it will never get done?

These are the questions that haunt me.

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UU Rev. Krista Taves, minister at Emerson UU Chapel in West St. Louis County, near Ferguson

If you are white, your job is to be a witness to racism, even and especially when it’s risky.  Don’t be afraid to say what you see, especially to other white people. This could mean a one on one conversation, speaking up in a group, writing a letter to your elected politicians, signing petitions, and posting on social media. Because of the way race works in this country, many white people (even liberal white people) will be able to hear from you what they couldn’t hear from a person of color. This will help other white people to understand what they are seeing. And maybe, it will give them the courage to speak out as well. White silence, white denial and white ignorance gives systemic racism a lot of power.   You have to model a different way and do your part to create the critical mass needed for real change.

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From UU blogger Patrick Murfin

Discouraging? You bet. But no matter how much just the news makes you suffer it is not your life or your families lives that are on the line. Hiding from it will not save you. It will make you, however unwittingly, an accomplice. None of us have the power to stop these things. All of us have the power to move the world, if only a little, along that long promised arc that bends towards justice. We are called to crawl out from under the covers and unleash our love—muscular love—applied with plenty of elbow grease. Not platitudes but action.

First, pay attention to those around us, to our families, friends, and neighbors, but also to the chance encounters of our daily lives. Listen, really listen. Look and really see. Feel the cues of cloaked despair. Then simply reach out. Not to cure—that’s not in our capacity—but to care. To offer solace and support but also gentle guidance to find the real help that is out there. That’s not so much. We can all do that. … And if you can’t do everything, do something. Love calls us to action.

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from UU Rev. Meg Riley, Senior Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship

Where do you locate yourself in these stories? Who do you see as dangerous, and who is trustworthy? Where do you locate safety? What would safety look like for the people of Ferguson now, for instance? As a white person in the U.S., I am conditioned from birth to see whiteness as safety — white neighborhoods, white people, white authority figures. My lived experience, my conversations with people of color, and my study of history have shown me over and over that this is a wild and cruel perversion of the truth. But the cultural conditioning is strong. Unless I fight it every day, white superiority seeps into my brain in slow, almost undetectable ways. As a nation of diverse races striving to be one people, we are buried up to our necks no less than my neighbor, with histories that won’t quit, of violence and brutality against people of color. Where do we look for safety, for help, as we try to excavate ourselves from this sinkhole?…

I don’t know everything, but I do know this: This is a problem for our whole nation, not just for people of color. We are in this together. And riot gear, intimidation, and more brutality from police are not the way forward towards healing. They are, in fact, yet another giant step backwards. As for me, I’m looking on the local level for practical actions I can take. And I refuse to be silent or still any more.

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From the UU Rev. Barbara Gadon, Lead Minister at Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, a neighboring suburb to Ferguson

We cannot afford to think that what happened in Ferguson does not affect us in Kirkwood and our surrounding towns. We are holding this service to mourn the death of this young man, to pray for his family, and to count ourselves among his friends. We also come to pray for the police officer involved in the shooting. We come to mourn the deep racial segregation of St. Louis, the stark disparities of wealth and opportunity, and the longstanding tensions that have contributed to this great tragedy. We stand on the side of love and justice for all.

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