THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:
“I choose to identify with the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry. I choose to give my life for those who have been left out…This is the way I am going.” ( * )
(the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
WELCOMING WORDS: Mary Beth G.
CALL TO WORSHIP:
As we move through life
Always wise and newly foolish,
We ask that our mistakes be small
And not hurtful.
We ask that as we gain experience,
We do not forget our innocence,
For they are both part of the whole.
(by Orlanda Brugnola)
LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Maya and Christopher K.
May this light be a call to freedom.
May it light us on our way
May it call us to remember those came before.
And may it ever call us onward,
To live with courage and with love.
(by Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)
OPENING HYMN: “Come, Come, Whoever You Are” (#188)
Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest for truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve humankind in fellowship,
To the end that all souls
Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.
This is our great covenant,
One with another, and with our God.
SONG OF ASPIRATION:
From all that dwell below the skies,
Let songs of hope and faith arise,
Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,
Through every land, by every tongue.
CHILDREN’S TIME: Rev. Anita
(Showing different ways of connecting dots; Recognizing when things are connected.)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who was able to connect the dots.
He saw that poor people who were white and poor people of color had more in common than they recognized. He thought they’d be better off if they worked together.
He saw that wars that oppressed small countries where people of color lived were not in our country’s best interest, and they were morally wrong. He understood that bullying is wrong, whether it’s a person or a country doing it.
He understood that whenever we live in a society where some people are not free, or some people are not treated fairly everybody suffers, because in an open and fair society everybody can contribute, and everybody benefits.
If everyone can contribute, someone might come up with an even better way to connect the dots!
Someone like Dr. King. Maybe even you.
SINGING CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:
Go now in peace, go now in peace;
may the love of God surround you,
you may go.
CANDLES OF JOY AND SORROW
MEDITATION AND PRAYER
DIVERSITY TOPIC: Race, Power and Privilege “Why It is Important to Me” Mary D.
My name is Mary D., and I’ve been a member of this church for about 25 years. Like many other people in the congregation, I wear several different hats. This morning, I’d like to share with you why this diversity topic: Race Power and Privilege is important to me.
A little background first.
I grew up in a virtually all-white rural community about 10 miles outside of Ithaca, New York. There were no students of color in my grade school or in my high school either. To the best of my knowledge there were no families of color living in the town. It might help to know that it was a really small town. There were only about 3,000 people living in the town, which included the village and the rural area surrounding it. There were many family farms in the area and a few retail businesses in the village. Other than that, people either worked at home or drove to Ithaca, or another nearby city for their job.
Growing up, my family rarely watched or discussed the news, so my life was fairly sheltered from the outside world. Debby Irving and I have this is common: we are both white and neither of us knew how much our lives were made easier because of the color of our skin. Other than that, we were more different than alike.
I remember exactly where I was when JFK was assassinated. I was in sixth grade, sitting in a classroom that went deadly silent when it was announced. I heard less about Martin Luther King Jr or the Civil Rights Movement. I knew about the Vietnam War protests. Because they upset my father, who served in the army in WWII. The race riots in the 60’s upset him. Anything that he perceived as a threat to the “American Way” incurred his wrath. The Riots were bad people acting badly. There was no glimmer of understanding of what lead up to them.
Fast Forward the 1970’s.
I was living in Boston with a young family when the Court-ordered desegregation of the Boston Schools happened in 1974. I was appalled by pictures of white people throwing rocks at school buses carrying black children to the schools in Southie.
It felt horrible to be associated with this image of Boston and with the racism that was so evident in pictures in the news. About this time, I learned that the version of American history that I had learned in school neglected to mention that slavery existed in the North, in fact in Boston as well as in the South.
Even with all this trauma, I didn’t understand why racism was such an embedded part of our culture. I thought that it didn’t have anything to do with me. I’m not a racist, I’d think, how can I do anything to fix it.
I have to confess, I continued to think that way for a long time.
I remembered being so proud of this country when Barack Obama was elected president. And then I watched with horror when his opponents pledged to do absolutely everything they could to block Obama’s initiatives.
There was no doubt in my mind that I lived in a racist country.
So, What Changed?
In May 2017, I attended a Black Lives Matter talk at the Methodist Church in Melrose. Two women of color from Black Lives Matter, Cambridge spoke to a large gathering of white Melrosians on the question of what we could do to support Black Lives Matters.
One of the first things they instructed us to do was to say in Unison: “I am White”
The group complied, and you could see people wondering… Why are they telling me to say that? What does that have to do with why we’re here?
They asked us to repeat it again a couple more times.
Their point was that if you want to understand racism, you must look at yourself first. You have to understand that as a person with white skin, the world is organized in such a way that you, with your white skin…. because of your white skin… benefit from all sorts of advantages that are not available to People of Color.
This fall I signed up for a 5-part workshop given by the group White People Challenging Racism. The workshop helped me deepen my understanding of the institutionalization of racism and helped me know that there are things that I can do. One thing is to name racism for what it is when I see it, and begin to talk about it.
There will be another WPCR class starting in the spring. There will also be a panel discussion lead by members of the WPCR group this Monday, as part of the Martin Luther King Day of service. Perhaps I’ll see you there.
ANITPHONAL READING: from “White Privilege:Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy Macintosh, adapted by Mary D.
If I was born with white skin, I can usually find a grocery store near my home where I can buy a wide selection of healthy food.
If I was born a Person of Color, I am more likely to live in a food desert, where fresh fruit and vegetables are not available.
If I was born with white skin, I can go into a drug store and find bandages that match my skin color.
If I was born a Person of Color, where can I find a bandage that matches my skin color?
If I was born with white skin, I can go into most hairdresser’s shops and find someone who will cut my hair.
If I was born a Person of Color, I can’t walk into any hair dresser’s shop and know that I will find someone who will cut my hair.
If I was born with white skin, I can find picture books, greeting cards, dolls and toys featuring people of my race.
If I was born a Person of Color, it’s hard to find picture books, greeting cards, dolls and toys featuring people of my race.
READING: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ( * )
In May, 1967, just a year before his assassination, speaking at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff retreat, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said:
“I think it is necessary for us to realize that we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights….(W)hen we see that there must be a radical redistribution of economic and political power, then we see that for the last twelve years we have been in a reform movement….That after Selma and the Voting Rights Bill, we moved into a new era, which must be an era of revolution….In short, we have moved into an era when we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society.”
READING: from “Ten Things to Remember: Anti-Racist Strategies for White Student Radicals, SOA Watch”, read by Mary Delahanty
We simply cannot limit our anti-oppression work to the struggle against white supremacy. Systems of oppression and privilege intertwine and operate in extremely complex ways throughout our society. Racism, patriarchy, classism, heterosexism, able-ism, ageism, and others compound and extend into all spheres of our lives. Our activism often takes the form of focusing on one outgrowth at a time–combating prison construction, opposing corporate exploitation of low-wage workers, challenging devastating US foreign policies. Yet we have to continually integrate a holistic understanding of oppression and how it operates–in these instances, how state repression, capitalism, and imperialism rest on oppression and privilege. Otherwise, despite all of our so-called radicalism, we risk becoming dangerously myopic single-issue activists. “Watch these mono-issue people,” warns veteran activist Bernice Johnson Reagon. “They ain’t gonna do you no good.” Whatever our chosen focuses as activists, we must work both to recognize diverse forms of oppression and to challenge them–in our society, our organizations, and ourselves.
HYMN: “Can I See Another’s Woe?” (#127)
From Preaching to Meddling
The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson (copyright)
One of the learnings from exploring these challenging topics of diversity, is how important are the testimonies. Without examples, analysis remains theoretical. It doesn’t help us change our behavior, until we can really recognize and internalize what it means on the ground in real time. Insights are made accessible when we listen to others describe their own awakenings. And so it is that we have embraced a practice that began as a trial, of including personal testimonies from members of the congregation each week.
It has also proven to be true for preaching. To explore the process of awakening to the importance of each topic I too have turned to personal testimony. It is what is most accessible. I hope it is helping us recognize that all of us are learners, no one knows it all, and everyone makes mistakes. And so, my dear ones, you are probably learning more about me as we explore together, than have most congregations I have served.
When I was growing up we were in the midst of the Red scare, McCarthyism and the terror of nuclear holocaust. There were fallout shelter signs affixed to the entrances of the apartment buildings, so we would know where to go and hide in the event of a nuclear attack. ‘If we could only figure out a way to get along with the Russians, if we would sit down and work with them instead of casting them as the enemy,’ I thought, with my elementary school heart and mind, the world would be safe and we’d be fine.
In High School I became aware of the terrible racial injustice in our country, not only in the south where there was segregation, but in the north, in New York City, where I lived, where it had become obvious, the schools in the neighborhoods of people of color were less maintained, less adequately supplied, less attended to, revealing a covert and unarticulated undervaluing of children of color. The more I understood the discrimination against people of color, and African Americans in particular, the more outraged I became. When I was in the tenth grade, I volunteered every Saturday for CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) in Harlem, and became one of the organizers of a student group called Students Against Social Injustice (SASI) made up of kids from three high schools, dedicated to freedom, peace, and equality. We held concerts to raise money for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, went to rallies, and participated in vigils.
I was passionate. I thought if we could get this racism problem addressed, America would become the country of which it dreamed.
And then the Vietnam War emerged. It seemed to me and many others a war of imperialism. Illegitimate, unjustifiable. And my peers were being asked to go and fight, risk their lives, kill other people. I got involved in the peace movement. It seemed urgent and important.
I continued that peace movement activism into college. Did I notice that there were fewer people of color in the peace movement than in the civil rights movement? Yes. Did it trouble me? A little. Did I wonder if people of color were experiencing us white liberals as having run off to our new “good cause” leaving them high and dry without allies – truthfully, not that much.
Life went on. I got married, started a family, the war ended.
And the women’s movement erupted. Suddenly I realized that I also was one of the oppressed. And I was outraged. I thought of all the women who had raised women to be subservient, and who had raised their sons to be soldiers and oppressors and I thought This is it! This is the root of oppression. It starts in the family, where it is okay for some people to be more special than others. Where it is okay to value boys more than girls, men more than women. This is where we learn to rank people in value, and to accept it. I was onto it.
If only we could lick this sexism, the root of all permission to oppress, we could lick racism and classism and every other kind of oppressive hierarchy of valuing people. That had to be the lynch pin, I thought.
But it wasn’t.
I learned from this to give up my search for the “silver bullet,” the one intervention that would unlock the puzzle and free us all, free us from envy, free us from anxiety, free us from oppression, free us from hate, free us from fear, free us from dehumanizing one another. They are all interrelated. They each support the other. They each promote a world view that proposes a landscape of scarcity in which we are compelled to compete, often ruthlessly. This world view permeates our culture and is toxic.
We inhabit an intricate puzzle of interrelatedness. I might be an oppressor in one dynamic and an oppressed in another. And if I let the scales fall from my eyes, I can start to recognize the ways in which I benefit from the oppressive dynamics. That may give me pause in my determination to dismantle the system…a system that holds me captive, but also gives me benefits. It is scary to lose something I’ve always known.
So, when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went from speaking about civil rights for black folks, to speaking about peace, and the need to resist an imperialistic aggressor war, some people pulled back. When he talked about needing to stand up for all oppressed people, even if they were Asian, even if they lived half way around the world, he knew he was still addressing the same problem of systemic oppression.
And there were folks who said “Martin, you’ve gone from preaching to meddling.”
They didn’t see the connections he saw.
In the midst of his speaking about civil rights here at home, and speaking for the right to self-determination for the people of Vietnam, he started organizing his Poor People’s campaign, a campaign in which thousands of people were to descend upon the Capital and set up a tent city of poor people; poor people living there on the lawn in front of the government, for all to see what poor people looked like, to hear what poor people needed, to face them, as human beings, hear their stories, and be forced to confront the reality of income inequality in our nation, and it impact. Hunger, Illness. Despair.
Now he was really meddling!
There were those who criticized King for these “forays” into other issues, these distractions as they saw them. Some people thought he was only weakening the civil rights movement, but to King, he was strengthening it. He was building bridges across the divides that had been erected to keep people with common interests from working together for their common good. Bridges that could be dangerous to those who held the power. He understood the bigger picture and the questions it asks of us. In explaining his Poor People’s Campaign he said:
“We are called to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, “Who owns the oil?” You begin to ask the question, “Who owns the iron ore?” … These are words that must be said.”
We are asking them now. Asking them through the lenses of human rights, of environmental rights, of labor rights, indigenous people’s rights. Immigrant rights, women’s rights, children’s rights.
There is the old story of two men walking through the woods who come upon a waterfall. From the top of the falls, in addition to water rushing down, babies are flying over the edge and landing in the stream below.
The first man is aghast and rushes into the stream, pulling out the babies as fast as he can, placing them in safety on the shore. He sees the other man going back to a trail near where they had been
“What’s wrong with you?” he exclaims. ‘Why aren’t you here, helping me pull the babies out of the water?”
“I’m going up to find out who is throwing those babies out there in the first place!” the other man answers.
And that is what King and today’s articulators of intersectionality are calling out. Yes, we have to keep pulling those babies out of the water. But darn it. We have got to climb up there to the top and stop whomever it is that is throwing those babies out over the falls.
Stopping them won’t be easy – it wasn’t in King’s day and it isn’t in ours. But when each generation does its part, we come closer, closer to protecting all the babies, to whomever they were born, closer to the dream of being a righteous nation, and truly building a sustainable Beloved Community.
May it be so. Amen.
CLOSING HYMN: “There Is More Love”
EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE (read by the congregation)”
We extinguish the flame but not the light of truth,
the warmth of community,
or the fire of commitment.
These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.
May the long time sun shine upon you,
all love surround you,
and the pure light within you
guide you all the way home.
( * ) Indicates the author is a person of color