“Widening the Circle”
Walk the maze within your heart: guide your steps into its questioning curves. The 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 dialogue lies peace.
Words/Chalice Lighting – from the Rev. Leslie Takahashi
Meditation - from the Rev. Marta Valentin Spirit of Compassion - Isn’t it amazing how we crave to know an outcome before its time - even as we accept that we cannot know how anything will go? We do not know if the mounds of obstacles will become - dirt cleared away or - earth made into mountain. We do not know if fresh air will - degenerate into a stagnant suffocation - or be sucked out of lives longing to breathe freely and easily… if the deserts will spring a true oasis - or continue to offer a false vision of survival… if the shores will be flowing invitations into unfathomable freedoms - or a fearfully ebbed withdrawal of even the tiniest hospitality… We who walk on ground taken for granted - we who speak of an Earth that has no borders - ask for guidance as we aid those in need - as well as those who would obstruct our care. Spirit of Compassion, strengthen our resolve to carry forth this ministry - regardless of the reality of - the decisions made to - seemingly thwart our efforts. Let us, in one grounded body - strong in our Unitarian Universalist faith - in solidarity with those whose lives are most at stake, resolve never to give up this fight - for them nor for our country. Let ours be the voices - that demand a true accounting of these legal human beings. Let ours be the hearts that resolve - whether through light or dark times to stay the course - no matter what - no matter how long. Let our love - be the kind they have been waiting for. Reading – from the Rev. Dr. Natalie Maxwell Fenimore We seek to be a home for all who desire our company. We seek to make a welcome for all those in search of our good news. Come, come, little children, teens, young adults, adults and elders. Come families in great diversity. Come to this loving home and safe harbor - but not to find a place to escape the world. This is a community of engagement – and of creativity. We come together to create boldly – dangerously. We must create the Beloved Community with an awareness of how difficult it is – because it is deep ministry. It is ministry that challenges us to bring our whole selves and engage deeply and for the long haul. Our faith, our tradition, must call us into community. Our task is to create spaces where we might know and value each other. Let us listen to our stories. Sermon – “Widening the Circle” – Rev. Tracy Johnson and members of the Widening the Circle of Concern Book Study I had to look back in my emails to find the first time the Widening the Circle of Concern Book Study met. It was December 6th! It seems so long ago and at the same time just like yesterday. We gathered, initially a group of fifteen UUMH members and friends, to begin our study of this report of the Unitarian Universalist Commission on Institutional Change which was published just over a year ago. It was the culmination of several year’s work – research, interviews, storytelling, hard truths encountered. It was written to give our larger association a clearer perspective on their anti-racist, ant-oppressive, multicultural work. ARAOMC is the easier to remember acronym! It often, not so gently, pointed to practices and relationships that have fallen well short of the goal over these many years. It spoke from the heart of Black, Indigenous and People of Color in our own faith tradition – honest, raw at times, and it laid out recommended action steps for the Association that might serve to heal and make whole. It covered everything from theology and governance to religious education and congregations, risk taking and inclusivity and restoration and reparations. We met twice monthly through May. Woven into this report are stories from and suggestions for congregations as well. Sometimes it was hard to tease these out, but our group didn’t give up the fight! It has been a humbling endeavor to hear the truths put forth – hurtful experiences in the midst of what should have been loving, covenanted relationships; to catch a glimpse of what it might have felt like to live in a world so fraught with power over and micro-aggression, to see the fears beneath the surface of white UU’s. We became a close-knit enough study group to share our own hard truths, to be vulnerable and open for the good of the whole as it were, as we told of personal experiences and talked about our memories of UUMH and what we might have done or are doing even still that contributes to white supremacy. It is a systemic injustice that we face, and it is easiest to say then that the system needs to correct itself. We’ll wait; over here. But the real truth is that systems are made up of people like you and me and that means we have some work to do. If we believe as we say we do in congregational polity, in a ground level, grass roots ability to create positive change in our lives and the world, then that systemic change begins with each of us. Today you will hear from five of the study group members about some piece of this extensive effort that spoke most strongly to them, what was the most meaningful nugget to be taken away and presented to all of us as food for thought and, more than thought, for potential action. I present to you now, Beth Avery, Robin Hubbard, Judy Reed, Margaret Tompsett and Ed Mangiafico to share their reflections. Beth Avery
” We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and yet the report describes how the collective WE are still holding on to some old ways of relating to each other that allows the assignment of worth and dignity according to skin color, sexual orientation or indigenous heritage. This is painful and discouraging to those of us being marginalized.
How do we respond?
Remember: The UUA is our national voice. It provides a speaking platform for our UUMH. Our own UUMH members like Gene Pickett, devoted endless hours to the fight for equity for marginalized people.
So, we will not respond with a brush-off.
1) We are not going to argue with their experience of pain. That’s just another way of dismissing them, and protecting ourselves."
2) And we are not going to take ourselves off the hook by saying, “We understand.” (I give example how "understanding" is not the same as action)
What we will do.
1) Be willing and intentional about examining and changing our own behavior (Book group will present ideas.)
2) Practice humility and intentionality in our own imaginations
There are so many areas in Widening the Circle of Concern that provided opportunities for introspection. I frequently questioned myself and saw in myself possible areas of unconscious bias and micro-aggressions. Interactions that I thought as being friendly or welcoming may have been inappropriate and in ways demeaning. I wondered if the fact that I have lived so much of my life in a “white” environment makes me overcompensate?
As UUs we strive toward social justice and inclusivity as we try to live our values in the world. We make a conscious effort to reach out. However, as we have made the effort to be more involved and better citizens/neighbors/supporters, we often seem to be “tourists” in our justice work. It is important to use justice trips as “service learning experiences.” They should have an “action-reflection model” in which we have prepared to learn and assure that our actions are antiracist and anti-oppressive.
A passage that really struck home was: “One of the principles for being a more accountable community is the ability to think in inclusive ways that are also non-binary (i.e., work to make our own institutions more just and work to aid others). If we fail to address our own injustices, we are not only hypocritical, but we are probably working from an outdated, paternalistic model of “helping others” rather than acting out of the recognition that our lives are interdependent with those of our neighbors.”
It is important to understand that more than the redistribution of resources to make up for past injustices, the reality is that long term justice cannot depend on a model that assumes that people of privilege know what is needed to correct and eliminate the discrimination in housing, employment, education, medicine, government, and life. As we open our ears and our hearts and minds to what Black, Indigenous, and people of color say, we must not ask or expect one person to speak for the entire group in their community.
In living an environmentally oriented Social Justice live, we must also understand how decisions around environment can had severe impact on the lives of Black, Indigenous and people of color. They are the first people to be affected and impacted by Climate Change, rising water levels, increasing extremes of temperatures and air pollution. We need to understand that we don’t have all the answers or the solutions because we have not lived their lives. But we must put our UU values to work listening and working with the BIPOC community to reduce and remediate these impacts.
At a jolly-up at Radcliffe College in 1951, our freshman class was indulged by a slew of partners from Harvard upper classes, MIT, BU, and graduate schools in Boston. One participant called me several times in the next few days but refused to give his name unless I would remember him. I could not. But he kept teasing me, insisting that he was tall, dark, and handsome, so why couldn’t I remember him?
That week I shared the conversations with a Radcliffe friend. She laughed. “Judy! That was Cliff Alexander-that nice black guy in our class!” “Oh, dear! said I. “He must have been insulted by my apparent assumption that “tall, dark, and handsome” referred to the Hollywood image.”
Cliff went on to become the Secretary of the Army, the first African American appointed to that Cabinet position. I recall now how narrow our world can be and how enriched it can become. I feel fortunate to be associated with a real widening circle- a small chance to reduce the curse of racism.
When we first started talking about reparations, I had written it off as something impossible to assess after all these years. I knew this was part of the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa at the end of apartheid as well as in Germany following the defeat of the Nazis. On a recent visit to Germany, I was impressed by the groups of young people being taken round Buchenwald, one of the concentration camps, and the efforts in Berlin to memorialize the deaths of people in concentration camps and to show the history of Hitler’s rise to power.
But what about here in America? Slavery ended more than a century ago and there has been significant intermarriage, so the efforts to prove who the descendants are would be an impossible task resulting in much divisiveness and infighting. But is this something that we have to get our heads round and figure how to do it equitably?
As we move forward in trying to recognize our own white supremacist thinking and our fears of being swamped by colored people and learn to reach out to our neighbors who are people of color, is reparations also part of the process? I think that it is and that unless we do, the USA will never be truly the land of the free and live up to the words of its own declaration that “all men are created equal and… entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
The UUA definitely sees reparations as part of what we need to do in order to rectify wrongs within our own institution. In our study we have tried to look at our own experiences both in the church and in other areas of our lives to understand implicit racism and learn how better to reach out to those people of color in our community. I don’t think it is easy to acknowledge the bias within oneself and I have been pulled up short on occasion as I work with fellow professionals of color in the office. It is painful to hear their experiences such as being followed round a store as the owner is afraid, she may steal something or going to the ER with suicidal thoughts and having to prove by showing her license that she is indeed a lawyer as she claims.
Learning to put our feet in the shoes of people of color is vital to our true reconciliation… and reparations are the next step to full establishment of equity. We can reach out to those in our community in Chatham and in the UUA and be more ready to welcome them into our community, help financially with education or to attend a conference. I hope that the rest of our congregation who were not able to attend the study of our UUA commission will be able to join in study circles so that all of us can do some of the deeper work needed to end racism in our midst.
The experience of reading and discussing this book made It clear to me that to truly nurture an inclusive Community requires proactive efforts. The first action might be to work on understanding our own unconscious biases as well as how our interactions may unconsciously be negatively interpreted as what was referred to as microaggressions.
In this regard I Like their quote attributed to Carl Jung “until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate” This quote has particular resonance for me which I think I can best illustrate with a personal life experience I grew up in the heart of the “Jim Crow” south during the 30’s, 40’s & 50’s. I went to high school in a small middle GA town. My school was for white boys. There was another school for white girls. I later realized that I never thought to ask, “Where do the black kids go to school?” My wife went high school in southwest GA. I asked her that question much later & like me she didn’t know. We now know that they didn’t have school buildings but met in churches etc. now I frequently reflect on this. These kids were my contemporaries. They lived through the same years I have. I hope they are still alive, but with that start how must have their life opportunities differed from mine & those white boys that I went to school with.
This report recommends that our congregations organize, for those interested, what they refer to as “learning circles” to explore these issues of creating true inclusiveness. The book “widening the circle of concern” provides a wonderful framework for that discussion. In addition, these groups could interact with marginalized communities and congregations working with them. Based on my own experience during this process, I believe that this can widen our personal and congregational relationships toward an even more inclusive community.
I want to thank each of these study group members – all the members really, for sticking with this and for exploring what is much simpler to set aside as just the way things are or someone else’s work to do. I was moved so many times in our weeks together, as I am today, by the humility and insights of these, our siblings in faith. May we take some time, each of us, to ponder their ideas and suggestions. May we purpose ourselves to take up the necessary work of being an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural community here in Chatham.
So may it be and Amen.
Closing Words – “Let It Be Done” by Rev. Dr. Monica Cummings
Dear Unknown, Unknowable, Yet Known by Many Names
Keep us mindful that we are all related. That when one of us is ignored and treated with dis-ease, we all suffer. Today let each of us commit to welcome the stranger. Let us move beyond our comfort zones and connect with people labeled different and pushed to the edges of society. We can make a difference. We can transform lives. We can bring harmony and healing to the places and spaces where we live, work, and play. Let us keep our hearts and minds open and receptive to the still, small voice that calls us to stand witness for those who cannot stand, to speak the truth for justice for those without a voice, and to lead the way on the journey toward wholeness for those without sight. In the spirit of love, compassion, and community, let it be done. Blessed Be.
Benediction - by Rachel Cargle from the Canadian based “Elevate Social Justice Society.”
Anti-racism work is not self-improvement work for white people. It doesn’t end when white people feel better about what they’ve done. It ends when black people are staying alive, and they have their liberation.
UUMH Chatham – July 18, 2021 – “Widening the Circle” – Rev. Tracy Johnson With Members of the Widening the Circle of Concern Book Study