Sunday, January 7, 2018: What Would It Mean

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“Every time we start thinking we’re the center of the universe, the universe turns around and says with a slightly distracted air, ‘I’m sorry. What’d you say your name was again?’”

(by Margaret Maron)

PRELUDE

WELCOMING WORDS

CALL TO WORSHIP

Walk the maze

Within your heart: guide your steps into its questioning curves.

This labyrinth is a puzzle leading you deeper into your own truths.

Listen in the twists and turns.

Listen in the openness within all searching.

Listen: a wisdom within you calls to a wisdom beyond you

And in that dialog lies peace.

Welcome then, to that dialog within and beyond.

(“Labyrinth” by Leslie Takahashi) ( * )

INTROIT

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Molly W.

We light this chalice

That all may know welcome

We light this chalice

That all might be blessed.

We light this chalice

That this might be a place

Of comfort and courage

This day and in the days to come.

(by Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN:You Are My Neighbor” (see insert)

OUR COVENANT:

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.

Amen.

CHILDREN’S TIME: Katie Camire, R.E. Professional

SINGING THE CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:

Go now in peace, go now in peace;

may the love of God surround you,

everywhere,

everywhere

you may go.

CANDLES OF JOY AND SORROW

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

MUSICAL MEDITATION

RACE, POWER AND PRIVILEGE: by Joseph R.

Good morning.

My name is Joseph R., and I have been a member of the Melrose UU Church for over 30 years. I am also an attorney who is a public defender. I represent juveniles in the Boston Juvenile Court and the Chelsea Juvenile Court. Most of my clients are black or Hispanic young people. Because of my work with my clients, I have come to make some observations pertaining to what I see as covert racism in the courts and judicial system.

The system is primarily a system of white privilege. In the juvenile court system for Suffolk County, there is only one black judge. I have seen how this white predominance can negatively affect black juveniles. If there is an issue of bail, black defendants are more apt to have bail set, even though they have not previously defaulted or have no prior record. One of my recent cases involved a black teenager charged with assault and battery. He had never been in court before and had no record. The judge set bail for my client at $500. I would have taken a bail review, which could take up to two days to be heard, but his parents, unlike most minority parents, had the means to pay the bail to release him immediately.

When there is excessive bail set, there is a speedy review appeal to the Superior Court, but the juvenile may spend one or two days incarcerated in the Division of Youth Services (DYS), a jail. This can be very scary and detrimental to a person who has never been in custody before. Sometimes judges set bail to “teach them a lesson”: the lesson learned is usually not beneficial to the juvenile.

A recent shoplifting case I had involved a black teenage boy who went into a store and was examining various clothes. He selected a few to try on in the fitting room. He left the fitting room without the clothes and then walked out of the store. This was verified by the store video camera. The store detective that was following him followed him out of the store to Dunkin’ Donuts across the street and began assaulting him. This was verified by the video camera at Dunkin’ Donuts. The boy was charged with shoplifting. The case was later dismissed based on the videos and the store detective was fired. Black teenagers entering a store are usually watched by store personnel. This is something that hardly ever happens to white people. This is an example of racism.

Another recent case that is scheduled for jury trial in April involves a black teenage boy who was in a Burger King outside of Brighton High School. He was asked to leave and he did move to the public sidewalk outside the restaurant. Later, two police officers came and shoved him against the wall of the restaurant. On the police body camera, you can hear them shouting “hold him!” and other police officers are saying “what for?” The camera was then covered by a hand for 3 minutes. When the hand was removed the video shows chaos with about 50 other students rioting. In my opinion this situation was escalated by the police and was racially-motivated.

A number of cases I have had arise out of incidents that happen at school. A student may have an emotional outburst or they may get into a fight with another student and they are charged with disturbing a school assembly or assault and battery. Many of these incidents have happened in the McKinley School in Boston. The McKinley School is a school that provides for problem students or students that have special needs. There are professional counselors to deal with the emotional problems of the students. Often the first response is to call in the Boston police officer assigned to the school. This usually escalates the situation and the student is arrested. I believe that every Boston high school has a police officer assigned to the school. Most of these schools are predominately minority.

Any arrest is very serious for the student, because once he or she is charged and arraigned in juvenile court, they have a record, even if the case is later dismissed. While most juvenile records are not accessible to most people, they are accessible to the military, the government and colleges. This may make it difficult in later life for a person to get into the military, get a government job or attend college. All of this could have negative consequences to the juvenile. You may have heard the expression “from the school house to the jail house”. This unfortunately is the route of many black and Hispanic people in America after they have been arrested once or more.

A major part of the juvenile system is the probation department. In many cases the juvenile is put on probation with conditions like attending school, curfew, reporting to probation, stay-away orders, etc. In the Suffolk County Probation Department there are only 4 black probation officers. The rest are white. While many of them do try to help the juvenile, some feel that probation is just a step that will result in violations that could result in incarceration in DYS. In other words they do not help the teenagers to stay on track, but recommend that they be sent to DYS, maybe so that their case will be closed out.

Lately there is good news. In most cases, first offenders may get their arraignments postponed so that they can do community service, participate in a program, or enter a diversionary program. If they successfully complete these various programs, they will not be arraigned which, most importantly, they will have no record.

In talking and meeting with my clients, they have the same concerns and desires as we all do. They are also concerned with issues we never have to be worried about especially safety. They tell me that they just go to and from school and do not hang out. They caution their friends about gangs. I once met a young black man on the subway who had on a hat with pictures of three young black men on it. I thought I knew that it was a memorial hat so asked him about it and he told me that they were three friends or relatives that were killed by violence. He was very young to have suffered such loss. Something none of us in this congregation would suffer.

A question for all of us is: what can we do help reduce or end racism?

READING: “Prayer for Living in the Tension” (by Joe Cherry) ( * )

If we have any hope of transforming the world and changing ourselves,

we must be

bold enough to step into our discomfort,

Brave enough to be clumsy there,

loving enough to forgive ourselves and others.

May we, as a people of faith, be granted the strength to be

so bold,

so brave,

and so loving.

OFFERTORY

ANTIPHONAL READING: (see insert) from Peggy Mackintosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, adapted by Mary D.

READING: from the introduction to “Waking Up White”, by Debby Irving

Not so long ago, if someone had called me a racist, I would have kicked and screamed in protest. “But I’m a good person!” I would have insisted. “I don’t see color! I don’t have a racist bone in my body!” I would have felt insulted and misunderstood and stomped off to lick my wounds. That’s because I thought being a racism meant not liking people of color or being a name-calling bigot.

… I wanted close friends of color, but kept ending up with white people as friends. When I was with a person of color I felt an inexplicable tension and a fear that I might say or do something offensive or embarrassing….Most confusing were unwanted racist thoughts that made me feel like a jerk. I felt too embarrassed to admit any of this, which prevented me from going in search of answers.

It turns out, stumbling block number 1 was that I didn’t think I had a race, so I never thought to look within myself for answers. The way I understood it, race was for other people, brown-and black-skinned people. Don’t get me wrong – if you put a census form in my hand, I would know to check “white” or “Caucasian.” It’s more that I thought all those other categories, like Asian, African American, Indian and Latino were the real races. I thought white was the raceless race – just plain, normal, the one against which all others were measured.

MUSICAL REFLECTION

SERMON:

What Would It Mean?

The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson (copyright)

When I eat a meal, I always save some of the best for last. Do some of you do that? I know that there are folks who say “Life is short. Eat dessert first!” But that is not my way.

And some folks procrastinate, saving the jobs they hate for last. That is not my way either. I don’t want fear or anxiety about the hard thing waiting in the wings, to spoil my enjoyment of my other activities. I’d rather bite the bullet, do the hard thing, and have it be done.

Once the Transition Teams had decided on the five Exploring Diversity Topics for this church year, they had to choose the order in which to explore these topics, all compelling, all interesting, but not all equally confusing, or anxiety provoking. The group thought that Race, Power and Privilege would be the most demanding and unsettling of the topics to explore. And in their wisdom, decided to put it in the middle of the year. I think they were right. We have been working on other topics of import, for sure, but it is not possible to live in this country, in these times and not know that issues of race are hobbling our country.

Rev. Ranwa Hammamy ( * ), one of our ministers of color observed:

“One way that dominant-culture Unitarian Universalism does itself a disservice is in operating under the assumption that activism is meant to change “them,” not “us.”[1]

The more I study racism, the more I learn about its history, the more I learn about the intricate ways in which it controls and defines my country and my role in it, the more I understand that racism is a white problem. It was created by whites, perpetuated by whites, and it is white people who are the beneficiaries, whether we who are white wish it or not.

And so, dear, dear ones of the Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church, and our friends and allies, while you may have thought that exploring race, power and privilege would be a time for learning about what people of color need and how we can help them, your topic team has wisely decided otherwise. Mostly, we will be examining whiteness, white culture, white privilege, the white world view, attempting to make the invisible visible.

Debby Irving captures our intent. She writes:

“Prior to the Wheelock course, my attempts to make sense of racism had been akin to trying to understand a game just by watching the players. I made guesses based on what I could see. In contrast, the course asked me to study the rules – centuries of law and policy – to see how players had gotten into their present day positions. Suddenly every player appeared in a new light.

The game, it turns out, offers different rules and different starting points for different people. It’s a drastically uneven contest in which I am among the more advantaged players. Advantage in the game can take several forms: male trumps female, straight trumps LGBT, able-bodied trumps disabled, Western religions trump Eastern religions, higher class trumps lower class, and so on. But nowhere, as far as I can see, is an advantage as hard-hitting and enduring as skin color. My white skin, an epidermal gold card….[2]

Maybe you have been looking at the picture on your Order of Service cover and wondering what that as about. It is about understanding the rules of the game. You can see that there is a fence and the children are trying to look over the fence to watch a ball game. The children are all different sizes.

If they were all treated equally, they would all be given boxes the same size. This is often what happens. When everyone who has started unequally is given an “equal” chance, the person who started with an advantage, still has one. It might help some, as you can see in the picture, the child with the middle height, with that same boost, can get to see the game, barely. But the child who started the most below in the first place, is still shut out.

If however, our goal is to establish equity, as in the second picture, then each would get the amount of boost they need to be able to engage equally. An important distinction.

I think it is interesting that golf, which I think of as a predominantly white people’s pastime, is a game, as I understand it that fully comprehends and incorporates the concept of equity within its rules and practice. People are given a handicap in the point system, according to how skillful they are perceived to be as players. So, if the least skillful player has their best game ever, they actually could win the game against the professional who did not have a very good game. They are given starting points that would give everyone an equal chance at the win. That is establishing equity.

What would it mean if we established equity for all in this country? If every child were given the same access to the resources for success? If white people had to compete fairly for housing, education, health care, access to goods and services, and income earning opportunities? Would we thrive? We don’t know. We have never tried it – never even considered it really.

What kind of value system would support an intention of creating equity?

Really. What kind of value system would support an intention of creating equity?

One that believed in the inherent worth and dignity of very person?

What kind of value system would support an intention of creating equity?

One that believed in justice, equity and compassion in human relations?

What kind of value system would support an intention of creating equity?

One that believed in acceptance of one another, and encouragement to spiritual growth?

What kind of value system would support an intention of creating equity?

One that believed in the free and responsible search for truth and meaning?

What kind of value system would support an intention of creating equity?

One that believed in the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process?

One that had a goal of world community with peace, justice and liberty for all?

One that respected the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part?

Oh. That kind of value system; the value system we covenant to affirm and promote. Our seven principles. Were we to do the scary thing and commit ourselves to racial justice, to an equitable system in which we who are white are not privileged, our seven principles would give us the foundation, a foundation built upon the wisdom of our elders, passed down from so many years ago.

It was the prophet Amos who thundered:

… let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

And we have understood that thunder, and embraced it – in theory.

For the next five weeks we will work on understanding what it would mean to practice it in our lives, and on understanding what has prevented us from doing so all these the many years that we have embraced this faith and the values that it proclaims.

It is time that we begin the journey ahead of us in earnest, emboldened to take the risk and answer its timeless call to justice.

Amen.

CLOSING HYMN:Come and Go With Me” (#1018)

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.

BENEDICTION

CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE:

May the long time sun shine upon you,

all love surround you,

and the pure light within you

guide you all the way home.

POSTLUDE

( * ) = indicates the author is a person of color

[1] Ranwa Hammamy, “Do You Have to be an Activist to Be a Unitarian Universalist?”, UU World, Winter, 2017

[2] Debby Irving, Waking Up White, and finding myself in the story of race