Monday, February 05, 2018

The Promise & The Practice of Our Faith

Yesterday, Sunday February 4th, the congregation I serve engaged in an Association-wide project titled, "The Promise & The Practice of Our Faith."  It was designed to give our overwhelmingly white congregations an unfortunately rare -- if not entirely unique -- experience of centering the voices of People of Color.  A packet of resources was created from which congregations could craft their service.  Undoubtedly no two services were entirely alike, and yet the experience of white Unitarian Universalists hearing, unfiltered, the experiences of UUs of color was shared by all the congregations that participated.  The members of the congregation I serve spoke to me about how powerfully painfully -- and painfully powerful -- it was.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to the black UU religious professionals who contributed their time and talent in creating the materials which made this service possible.  I especially appreciate their willingness to share their stories in such honest, direct, and vulnerable ways, and to give those who create and facilitate worship in our congregations permission to share them.   So ... thank you:
Viola Abbitt, Rev. Carol Thomas Cissel, DeReau Farrar, Adrian Graham, Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson, Rayla Mattson, Rev. Rebekah Montgomery, Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout, Jae Pema-la Scott, Erica Shadowsong, Connie Simon, and Thomas.  (Thanks, too, to Rev. Erika Hewitt, the Minister of Worship Arts at the UUA, who does a fabulous job of curating the creative contributions which enrich our movement's worship.)
Even more so than usual this service embodied my belief that when we do this thing called "worship" correctly, the sermon consists of the entire service, and not just the words of the preacher.  With that in mind, these are all of the words that were heard in our sanctuary yesterday morning.

Good morning, and welcome to this convivial community.  This is a Unitarian Universalist congregation that strives to welcome all who would see this be a world in which all are welcome.  That welcome is not just generic, but personal – you, specifically and particularly, are welcome, whether you have been coming for decades or just walked through the door this morning.  It takes all of us, and each of us, to create this community, so thank you for being part of this moment.
That welcome includes inviting you to do what it is that you need to do to feel authentically present – close your eyes, take notes, knit.  Yet do be mindful that the people around you have their own needs which might differ from yours.  One thing we all need is to make sure that ours is not the cell phone that goes off during the service, so please take yours out and make sure that it is set to “silent.”  You don’t need to turn it off – some people need to be able to text or tweet to really be here – but do check that it is set to “silent.”
This is a lively congregation, and what happens here in the sanctuary, and next door in Children’s Worship and in our Religious Education programs, are just one part of what we’re about.  I encourage you to peruse the insert in your Order of Service to see what else is happening that you might want to be a part of.  (You can also go to our website – – to find out even more.)  There are a few things I would like to lift up for added attention:
<various announcements>
One last thing – some words about this morning’s service.  Congregations across the country are engaging in worship services this morning which draw on the resources created by a number of UU Religious Professionals of Color.  The effort is being called “The Promise & The Practice of our Faith, and asks the question, “What would it be like if our congregations – which are all predominantly white – were to experience worship through the voices and the perspectives of UUs of Color?  What would those of us who identify as white hear that we hadn’t before?  What would those of us who identify as People of Color hear lifted up that had never been lifted up in our usual white culture centric worship?”  The creators of the packet of resources we are using this morning described it this way:
“Our worship service this morning is uniquely prophetic: it calls to us who identify as white to listen, humbly and perhaps with some discomfort, to the lived reality of black Unitarian Universalists in our midst. This discomfort is both a gesture of hospitality to voices that have not been heard enough, and a sign that we’re growing in the right direction.
If you’re joining us today as a guest, know that you are witnessing this Unitarian Universalist congregation doing sacred work: collectively, we will wrestle with what it means to be a majority-white faith whose anti-racist intentions have not always been borne out. We invite you to witness this moment of transparency and vision, and to join us on future Sundays for a more traditional worship service.
When we are at our best, we who are Unitarian Universalists choose to make ourselves uncomfortable in the service of our meaning-making. We recognize our discomfort as evidence that we’re growing. Today, if you feel discomfort arise within you – especially if you’re white – we invite you to practice being curious, and to allow your discomfort to lead you to new learning.”
With these words of “official” welcome, these announcements, and that preparation offered, our worship can begin.  I’ll say again, it is good that you are here; it is good that we can be together.
May we join together in saying the words we say each week through which we try to express the depth of our welcome:   
Whoever you are, Whomever you love,
However you express your identity;
Whatever your situation in life,
Whatever your experience of the holy,
Your presence here is a gift.
Whether you are filled with sadness,
Overflowing with joy,
Needing to be alone with yourself,
Or eager to engage with others,
You have a place here. 
We all have a place here.
We all are welcome here.                                      
The words of our chalice lighting were written by the Rev. Rebekah Savage, who serves full time as the Associate Minister at the UU Congregation of Rockville, MD, and serves in the US Army Reserve.  She is completing a Doctorate in Ministry at Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC.  The words in your Order of Service are the last stanza. 
We light our flaming chalice as a beloved people
united in love
and thirsting for restorative justice.
May it melt away the tethers that uphold whiteness in our midst.
May it spark in us a spirit of humility.
May it ignite in us radical love that transforms our energy into purposeful action.
This a chalice of audacious hope.
This chalice shines a light on our shared past,
signaling our intention to listen deeply, reflect wisely,
and move boldly toward our highest ideals

~ Rev. Rebekah Savage

OPENING WORDS:  “Missing Voices” by Connie Simon
Our Opening Words were written by Connie Simon, who is serving as Intern Minister at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, and Contract Chaplain at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. Following graduation from Meadville Lombard Theological School in 2018, she intends to pursue parish ministry.  She has offered for her words to be used in this service, even knowing that they will most likely be read by someone who identifies as white.  Her piece is titled, “Missing Voices”:
When I started attending a UU church, I was excited by the promise of worship that would draw from the arts, science, nature, literature and a multitude of voices. Indeed, some of the voices that Unitarian Universalists hear in worship each week belong to Thoreau, Emerson, Ballou, and others. Their words are beautiful, but they come from a culture and experience that’s foreign to me. When do I get to hear voices from my culture? I quickly learned that, other than the same few quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Howard Thurman’s “The Work of Christmas,” it wasn’t gonna happen. I sit attentively and listen with my head to “their” voices while my heart longs to hear more of “our” voices.  
I am a Black Woman. When I look around on Sunday morning, I don’t see many people who look like me. In most of the congregations I visit, I don’t see anybody who looks like me. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t hear voices of people who share my experience. But it still hurts. I want to hear voices that tell the struggle of living under the weight of oppression in this culture of White Supremacy. I want to hear stories of trying to stay afloat in the water we swim in. I want to hear voices of Living While Black in America.
I don’t hear those voices in UU churches so I have to supplement my worship by reading black theologians like Anthony Pinn and Monica Coleman. I read Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and my favorite poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Though not a Unitarian or a Universalist, Dunbar chronicled the African American experience in the years following the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved Africans — a time of opportunities for blacks as we migrated north in droves seeking employment and education but also a time of continuing segregation, racism and oppression.
Dunbar acknowledged this tension in his writing. We hear him long for joy and prosperity while at the same time knowing that the system would conspire to keep true happiness just beyond his grasp. “A pint of joy to a peck of trouble and never a laugh but the moans come double; and that is life!” Still, he was a champion of social justice, believing that God has sympathy for the plight of the oppressed and that his grace will be bestowed not on those “who soar, but they who plod their rugged way, unhelped to God.”
For Dunbar, the struggle was real. One hundred years later, hearing Dunbar express his frustration and give voice to the contradictions of our existence as African Americans encourages me and nourishes my soul. His voice speaks to my heart. He knows my pain and understands my sadness, my fear and my rage. He understands the tears I cry as I pray for strength to get through another day in this world. He gives voice to my deep faith that real change is coming someday. He didn’t see it in his lifetime and I might not see it in mine, but I have to keep believing it’s possible.  
That’s the message many African Americans long to hear in church. I know that’s what I need to hear every now and then. Will it ever happen? Or will we always have to go “outside” to hear our voices? If that’s the case, maybe there’s no place for us in Unitarian Universalism. The thought of leaving is painful — but so is being in a faith that ignores our voices.  
OPENING HYMN  #1007, “There’s a River Flowing in My Soul”
FIRST REFLECTION:  “The Healing is Not Done” by Rev. Rebekah Savage.
Our first reflection is a sermon written by the Rev. Rebekah Savage, who wrote our Chalice Lighting.  Although these are not my words, nor my experience, Rev. Savage invited us to hear her words and her experience.  So let us all open our minds, and our hearts.  The sermon is titled, “The Healing Is Not Done.”
I play this moment over and over again in my head: the day I heard of the Thomas Jefferson Ball, hosted by Unitarian Universalists in 1993. As a person of color, raised in a UU congregation, I felt a shiver down my spine as I learned something new and unsettling about the faith that I call home.
You may be wondering why this gathering of UUs in 1993 struck me as a profoundly memorable and painful moment. Beloveds, this is why: attendees were encouraged to wear period clothes to the Ball to celebrate Thomas Jefferson, who attended Unitarian churches. In the spirit of welcome, those who conceived of this social gathering did not take into account the centering of whiteness by asking people to attend in period dress. The organizers forgot or ignored the fact that in Jefferson’s time, we black and brown UUs would have been slaves: property to traded and sold, brutalized and subjected.
The matter was taken up at General Assembly when delegates challenged the appropriateness of holding this event. During a plenary session, delegates voiced their concerns by reading a statement of protest. In response, the organizers and other leaders gathered to consider how to proceed and came to a decision: the Thomas Jefferson Ball would proceed ahead as planned.
I ask myself: What would I wear? Would I be a house slave, favored for my lighter skin and “good hair”? My skin is a light brown that my daughter refers to as cinnamon, a product of a beautiful multi-racial family history. Would I catch the eye of a white man who could leverage any opportunity to take my body as his property?
What would I wear? Would I have had shoes on my work worn feet? Would I have stretch marks across my belly from babies that were taken from me to sell to other plantations? Would I sing to myself faithful, mournful songs of liberation, dreaming for the day when I can taste freedom for myself and my family?
What would I wear? Would I be allowed to come through the front entrance or directed to the back, to enter through the kitchen with the other slaves and servants? Would I be allowed to drink from the same punch bowl, eat from the same platters? Would I sit with the other people of color, in a separate room or at the back of the gathering? Would I be permitted to look a white person in the eye or even speak their name?
What would I wear, dear beloved UU’s? Tell me: what I would have worn to attend this ball? What period clothes would represent who I would have been in Thomas Jefferson’s time?
When we feel something deeply and are still finding the words: OUCH.
Seriously, OUCH.
Why do I raise this deeply wounding moment in our shared UU history?
Because this isn’t just a reflection about my lived experience as a person of color in a majority-white denomination. This is also part of the story of how people of color experience sharing worship and community within our faith. It’s a chapter in the story of who we are as a people, living in this country, swimming in the waters of white supremacy and centering whiteness, supported by centuries of indoctrinations and institutional structures.
I grieve for the hurts that this time in our history caused. I grieve for those who left our communities because of how this event was handled, which broke their trust in finding spacious rest in our congregations from the pervasive, violent racism in our country. I grieve for those who, at the time, were unable to traverse the gaps in their spiritual understanding of justice and belonging. I grieve that it has taken this long to have this level of conversation about centering people of color.  
This Ball was conceived by well-meaning people, beloved kin of mine and yours, who were able to identify welcome only through the eyes of white privilege. That is the insidious nature of centering whiteness: it denies personhood and the God given right for all to be fully accounted.
To put primacy on whiteness as the default setting in how we see and experience our world means that we are being theologically inconsistent. We covenant to affirm and promote the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, and yet we have devalued the full inclusion of too many.
In small ways, this trend emerges when music and readings for worship draw primarily from Anglo-European composers and writers and the paintings that hang in our congregations disproportionately represent our white foremothers and forefathers. We see this trend when congregational leadership is cultivated without honoring the diversity in our midst as a rich source of inspiration and prophetic messaging. We see this in considering that people of color have been a part of our living tradition for centuries — but our voices have been overlooked, silenced, or outright rejected with hostility.
I ignite my flame of justice and shine a light on this scar because the healing is not done. The healing is not done because we are still called to do the work of dismantling white supremacy culture and decentering whiteness from our bones: from our congregations, from the ways in which we interact and support each other. We are called to fulfill the promises once made in the name of faith and proclaiming Beloved Community. We are called to match our words with our actions, to bring the holy into our midst by truly and without fear honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
This is a beautiful time of opportunity, Beloveds, born of truly listening to people of color and beginning to repair the fabric of community that has been torn. Ripped asunder by years of broken and empty promises: words of good intention, unmatched by purposeful action.
I love being a Unitarian Universalist. I was birthed into this world with the calling of service on my heart; I was shaped and molded in our congregations. I also know that, as Dr. Cornell West shared with us in his 2015 Ware Lecture at General Assembly, if I have white supremacy in my heart because I was raised in this country, so do we all.
While I grieve, I also have much reason to claim hope. I celebrate where we are as a people of faith because we are bravely facing the devastation and illness of “othering” people. We are looking at ourselves in the mirror and seeking a new way. I celebrate that we have the moral and spiritual courage to listen deeply to voices that have been marginalized. I celebrate that beloveds are choosing to move back humbly, to make space for an evolution in leadership and consciousness. The spark of working towards the greatest good is seen in every moment of insight as so many are waking up to our participation in centering whiteness.
Beloveds, now is our time to lead with love and make right the ways our denomination has fallen short of our shared principles. We are a powerful, aspirational covenanted people and we are being called to account for our historic moral and spiritual failings, in order to move into authentic Beloved Community.
Now is our time to harness our ability to reflect inward in order to reemerge with a power greater than ourselves that gives rise to a new day. Beloveds, with love and peace in our hearts, may it be so.
At a future service during the week of our 75th Anniversary we will be taking a special collection, and asking for even more generosity, to support the organization Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (or BLUU).  As the UUA President has said, “Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism is one of the most exciting ways our faith is answering [the call to be the whole community we strive to become]. As a national ministry for and by black-identified Unitarian Universalists, BLUU embodies a liberating community of all ages. A community that lifts up the lives, and stories and the leadership of those who have been marginalized and silenced. A community that brings hope, when hope is hard to find. And a community that calls us to wrestle with the gap between our theology and our practice in the world.
This morning the offering we collect will go to serve our work, here, to become a different kind of community working to build a different kind of world.  It will support us in further our dream of becoming, as it has been said, “a powerhouse for racial justice.”  If you believe in the promise and the practice of our Unitarian Universalist faith, and in the work of this congregation as a manifestation of that faith, then I encourage you to be particularly generous with your financial support.  The ushers will now collect the offering.
If the ushers will come forward we can, together, dedicate the offering with the words in the Order of Service:
We accept these gifts with gratitude.
May we use them wisely and for the highest good.

Our second reflection is a sermon written by Rayla D. Mattson serves as the Director of Religious Education for a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Connecticut, where she has been serving for just over 5 years. She is proud that outside of congregational life, she is raising her three beautiful children as a single mom.  Her sermon is titled, “Tired of Being Silent”:
The summer of 2016 began as an exciting one for me: I was finally going to a beloved Unitarian Universalist conference and retreat center. I’d heard many wonderful stories about it, and I couldn’t wait to bring my three children with me. On the drive there, I felt excited about spending a full week in an entirely UU space. After all, it was my UU community that so lovingly embraced me after a very painful divorce and several painful years of church shopping. I needed this week. I needed this healing.  
As UUs descended on the camp and found their rooms, I began to introduce myself to others, and thought I noticed them offering me a cursory hello before making a quick getaway. Maybe, I thought, it was hard for people to speak to me because I had my one-year old in tow. Maybe they were eager to reconnect to old friends.  
There was one other black woman at the camp who I had noticed; I was thankful we both signed up for the same program. I asked her: Was it just me or did she, too, feel a distinct coldness from the others? I wanted to make sure that I was not being paranoid.
But unsettling things continued to happen. There was an issue with my daughter in childcare:  they felt she was a problem and difficult in comparison with the other children—although a very kind person noted that she couldn’t understand how my child was deemed “a problem” when she was doing the same things all the other children were doing. Then a black child the same age as my son—12 years old—came crying to me one night. He was being bullied—but he wasn’t being heard, because the adults around him insisted that they “knew that girl and she would never say those things.” The child trusted that as a black mother, I was the only person at the camp who would listen and believe him. I brought the matter out in the open. The typical excuses followed, like the boy misunderstood what she meant and he was just being too sensitive, and it was just in fun, and nothing was really meant by her comments.
I tuned those excuses out. And I spent a lot of time alone that week. When my daughter and I walked around the conference center, I saw reminders of racism everywhere, from the statues and memorials to the paintings on the walls. It was everywhere; it was clear as day: “Your kind are not welcome here.”
I would end my strolls by going to the dining hall, only to find there was no table for me—not because there weren’t empty chairs, but because I was told that there was no room at the table for me and my toddler. The empty seats were for other people, I was told, and they couldn’t make room for me. The pattern became so distressing that on most days I considered not eating—but I couldn’t let my child starve. If my new friend was there, she always made room for me. And there were the kids.
After the incident with the young black boy, the kids came to me quite a bit to mediate things going on between them. They even took turns giving me a break from my little one. Eventually one of them would see me trying to find a table and no matter how many people were at their table, they would find a way to squeeze me and my little one in. As kind as they were, they ate quickly and were off. And again, I was left alone in the silence. As all the tables around me buzzed with talk and laughter and I sat there alone staring at my one year old.
Then one evening my youngest finally settled down enough for me to attend evening worship. I was so excited; I grabbed my lantern and journeyed to the chapel. The guest speaker spoke so eloquently talking about what he called “the elephant” in the space—how the camp was rooted in racism. His words brought me to the edge of my seat. I was thrilled and excited: I hadn’t been paranoid! This white man saw what I saw. He was naming my hurt, my truth and I was elated.
As we left worship, my heart felt light. In the darkness that surrounded us, the voices started. I heard campers—who couldn’t see me, a black woman, listening—agree that it was one of the worst services they had been to at the camp. And how they couldn’t believe he dared to say those things. And how they, who come to the chapel to be uplifted, did not want to have that kind of mess thrown in their face.
I melted into the darkness that surrounded us. That night I cried myself to sleep.
When I left the camp at the end of the week, the knot that had formed in my stomach started to ease.
Once home, I shared my story—my truth—with multiple people who were connected to the camp and its programs; people who I believed might use my experience to make future conferences and retreats more welcoming. I even offered to teach, to add some diversity to future retreats. I was told by each person that they would pass on my information and have someone contact me so they could get a better idea of what happened and how I felt so it wouldn’t happen to others. That never happened. I sent several emails and responded to all the surveys and asked to be heard. But as usual when I bring up concerns about race, there is only silence in response.
Fast forward nearly a year, and the approach of another summer. My oldest two children chatted excitedly about going back to the camp. Although I had explained that it took two years of funds and planning to go, they were still hopeful that we could make it work for this summer. I felt anxious; I felt guilty; and I could feel the knot creeping back into my stomach. I wanted them to see their friends and go back to a place that they come to love—and yet, I could not see myself stepping foot in that retreat center.
I broke down one day: I shared with my oldest two children my experiences the previous summer. Their father is white and at times I choose not to tell them things that I feel would cast a negative light on white people as to not give them negative feelings towards their family or be torn about their own genetic make-up. But I could be silent no more. And as I shared with them my experiences and my time at the camp, they sat there not saying a word but staring at me with silent tears rolling down their cheeks. They asked me why I didn’t say anything during our week at the camp. Why hadn’t I shared with them sooner?  Like a lot of parents, I answered that I wanted to protect them and not give a negative light to such an enriching experience they had had.
My oldest child then asked me if I often sit in silence and hold in the pain. I answered him truthfully. I answered with a “YES.”
Many times as a black woman, I hold in my pain and my experiences to protect others. To keep and hold up the white fragility that I have been taught, or rather trained, to value more than my own feelings and my own experiences—more, even, than my own needs and self-worth. I have been trained to minimize myself, my light, my voice. To Just grin and bear it. To put up with it because I should know  that they mean well. Or I didn’t want to seem too sensitive or be the “angry” black person in the room.
But I’m tired of being silent. It’s a heavy load to carry day in and day out. Sometimes, I’d like to take off my blackness and pick it up another day; sometimes it’s just too heavy a load. But I can’t, so I press on. So, I ask this question whenever someone will listen, “Who is standing in your dining hall looking for a seat at the table? And can you make room for them too?”
A MUSICAL RESPONSE:  #1031, “Filled With Loving Kindness” 
The stories we have heard so far this morning are so radically different that the experiences many, if not most, of us here have had, they paint a picture of a Unitarian Universalism that is almost, if not entirely, unrecognizable.  They are so different as to be almost unbelievable, yet they are part of our shared, whole, Unitarian Universalist reality.  So we’re going to take a moment of silence now, so that we can take into ourselves these truths many of us would rather not have to face and, perhaps, so that they can take root in our spirits.  In this silence, I encourage you to look at any push-back you might be feeling, any resistance, any disbelieve, any pain.
LITANY:  “The Promise That Binds” by Viola Abbitt
This morning we will share a litany written by Viola Abbitt, who is a candidate for the Unitarian Universalist ministry, and a seminarian at Meadville Lombard Theological School. She is currently the ministerial intern at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield in Massachusetts, and a board member at Unirondack.  “The Promise That Binds”
Loving inclusion has been an elusive goal within our congregations.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should have been enough to bind us together in love.
Many hearts have been, and often continue to be, broken, time and again.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should have been enough to bind us together in love.
The names of many of those of us who helped to make this denomination great were erased, their existence forgotten.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should have been enough to bind us together in love.
The pulpits and pews which should have been warm and welcoming, were instead sometimes cold and unforgiving.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should have been enough to bind us together in love.
People who were considered pillars in their communities, were sometimes considered pariahs within the walls of our congregations.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should have been enough to bind us together in love.
Many of us straddle two worlds: one of filiation and one of faith.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should be enough to bind us together in love.
Our beauty is that we are all different, and yet not different from one another.  None of us should be considered exceptions, nor should we be subjected to baseless assumptions.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should be enough to bind us together in love.
The future of this faith is reliant on and belongs to all who embrace religious liberalism. Let us never forget that…
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, is enough to bind us together in love.

Our Parting Words were written by the Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson, who serves as the ordained minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork. She notes that among her specialties are anti-racism and youth ministry.  Her piece, titled “Black Joy,” begins with a poem by Barbara A Holmes:
Joy Unspeakable
is not silent,
it moans, hums, and bends
to the rhythm of a dancing universe….
For our free African ancestors,
joy unspeakable is drum talk…
For enslaved Africans during the
Middle Passage,
joy unspeakable is the surprise
of living one more day…
For Africans in bondage
 in the Americas,
joy unspeakable is the moment of
mystical encounter
when God tiptoes into the hush arbor…
Joy unspeakable is humming
“how I got over”
After swimming safely
to the other shore of a swollen Ohio river
when you know that you can’t swim.
When theologian Barbara A. Holmes talks about “joy unspeakable,” she’s talking specifically about how the contemplative practices of the Black church have sustained Black people in America through suffering and survival. More than referring to a particular church or denomination, this experience is collective and transhistorical. It’s also a different expression of Black religion than I’m expected to exhibit, as a Black woman.
On more than one occasion, I’ve had a particular mode of black worship projected onto me: the more charismatic modes of Black worship that we’re so familiar with—the shout, the stomp, the song. That particular style of Black worship sometimes strikes me as a caricature of joy—a shallow stereotype. I see this in the expectation that more “black” worship will bring more lively singing, more rhythmic clapping, more energetic worship. I see this in the anxiety that more “black” worship will bring more lively singing, more rhythmic clapping, more energetic worship. The shout. The stomp. The song.
But this caricature—this stereotype—is a narrow sliver of the complexity and the richness of black spirituality and black worship.
The modes of black spirituality that are most powerful, nourishing and nurturing for me aren’t the stomp, shout or song. Instead, I think of the rock, the sway, the bend, the moan, the hum. And I think of these things done in community. I marvel that in the midst of sadness and sorrow, in the midst of feeling the effects of generations of trauma wrought by racism and white supremacy, we can still find joy with each other. We are finding joy in each other.
I call it Black Joy because I am Black and it is the joy that I have been familiar with my whole life. It is the joy that I have learned from Black people. It is the joy created through our collective healing — our laying down of burdens, to be picked up and shared by our people, our community. This is not joy in spite of suffering — a mask put on to hide pain, an armor put on to push through pain. This is an embrace, holding and soothing us in our suffering. This Black Joy, is joy created through our being together. This Black Joy reminds me that I am not alone, that trouble don’t last always, that I am held and carried forward by a power beyond what I can comprehend.
I call it Black Joy, but I want to offer it—to the extent that it is mine to offer—to this faith. One of my gifts to Unitarian Universalism is the suggestion that joy is ours. We are the people who commit to justice, equity, and compassion. We are the people who aspire to world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. We are the people who affirm our interdependence with each other and the universe itself. I want to challenge Unitarian Universalism and Unitarian Universalists to claim Joy.
Unitarian Universalist Joy will require a different way of imagining ourselves and a different way of being with each other. Claiming the possibility of Unitarian Universalist joy requires making space for the surprise that Holmes describes. Claiming the possibility of Unitarian Universalist joy requires slowing down to hear the talk of the drum—pausing to move to the rhythms of the drum. Unitarian Universalist joy requires opening to the possibility of the mystical encounter. Unitarian Universalist joy requires embodying this faith differently than many of us are accustomed to.
HYMN OF GOING FORTH #95, “There is More Love Somewhere”
The words of our Benediction were written by Kimberly Quinn Johnson.  The repeated, and well-known, words, “We are the ones we have been waiting for” originate with June Jordan, from her work, “Poem for South African Women,” which she presented at the United Nations on August 9, 1978:
We are the ones we have been waiting for.*
We are not perfect, but we are perfectly fitted for this day.
We are not without fault,
but we can be honest to face our past as we chart a new future.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
May we be bold and courageous to chart that new future
May we have faith in a future that is not known
We are the ones we have been waiting for.*

Pax tecum,


Monday, January 22, 2018

When There Are No Leaves Nor Fruit

There’s this odd little story in the Christian scriptures, recorded in the gospels of both Mark and Matthew.  Jesus goes over to a fig tree to get some figs to share with his friends, but there are no figs.  Only leaves.  So Jesus, perhaps in a fit of pique, says to the tree, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again.” (Dun dun dunnn)  The next day they’re all walking by that tree again, and one of Jesus’ friends notices that now there are neither leaves nor fruit.  Overnight the tree had withered and died.    

I don’t know exactly what that story is supposed to teach us, but I’m sure that there are as many ways of interpreting that story as there are people doing the interpreting.  For my purposes this morning, I want to leave the bit of magic aside and look at this as a story about a tree that had not lived up to its full potential and, so, withered and died.

There are a lot of reasons plants fail to thrive.  Most often it’s because there’s something that they need that they aren’t getting – too much (or too little) sun, too little (or too much) water, not enough nutrients in the soil.  Plants don’t just come to flower and fruit on their own.  Without the resources they need they may have all the good intentions in the world, all the heart, all the desire to be all that they can be, but they’re not going to make it.  At best they’ll become stunted versions of what they could have been.  At worst, they’ll wither and die.

We see this in our own lives, don’t we?  If our relationships don’t have the honesty, the commitment, the investment of time and heart, that they need, they don’t thrive, do they?  If we’re struggling with an addiction, yet are trying to do so on our own, without the support of family, friends, sponsors, our recovery can be … stunted.  Take just about anything in your life, anything important, anything of value – if it doesn’t get the resources it needs, it doesn’t go very far, does it?

Now … if the teaser on Facebook, or Lorie’s Opening Words didn’t telegraph it to you, I want us to look at the church — this church, our church — through the lens of this metaphor of a tree with neither leaves nor fruit, a tree withered and dead because it hadn’t had the resources to live up to its full potential.  I don’t think we’re on the verge of withering and dying.  I do think that we’re not living up to our full potential.

If this is your first visit, or if you’ve only come a few times, I hope you won’t find this to be too much “insiders talk.”  Because I am talking to you too, actually.  I believe deeply that we make of ourselves members of this community at the moment we decide to come back.  And if you keep coming back, the future of this community will rest as much in your hands as in those of the folks who’ve been part of this place for decades.  This is not their church.  If we do this thing called “community” right, it is ours.  All of ours.  It belongs to us, and, again, if we do this right, we belong to it.

Yet from where I stand — and sit and listen, and work, play, pray, cry, and laugh with you all — it is not entirely clear to me that we are “doing this right.”  All congregations have their struggles, of course.  All faith communities are, first and foremost, communities — communities of trying-our-best-yet-fallible-human-beings.  Still, there are stresses and strains in our systems which worry me. 

The basic needs of plants are often summed up as:  water, sun, and nutrient-rich soil.  Other things are involved, of course, and it’s really the interplay among them that is needed for a plant to thrive, but that shorthand makes some sense – water, sun, and nutrient-rich soil.  For a congregation to thrive there are also a whole host of things it needs, and it’s really the interplay among them that is most determinative, but I’d suggest that the needs of a congregation can also be summed in three things (which, conveniently, all begin with the letter “c”) – committed engagement, courage, and … well … cash.

Each of these could be a sermon unto itself.  Several sermons, I’m sure.  This morning, though, I’m only going to focus on one … the last of the set … cash.  You can guess where this is heading.  But before I go there, I want you all to know that I know that as soon as I, or anyone else, begins to talk explicitly about money, it gets uncomfortable for some people.  So I want to be clear as I can be that I recognize the fact that we don’t all live in the same economic reality.  I strongly believe that one of our strengths as a community is that we are not the homogeneous upper-middle class, overly educated, Prius-driving stereotype so many have of Unitarian Universalists (and which even many of us have of ourselves!).  There are people like that here, of course, yet our membership also includes people whose income is considerably less than upper-middle class, and whose educational background doesn’t include Ph.D.s and is far less formal.  I believe deeply that this diversity is a tremendous asset – if we can learn to really see and value it.  As we said at the start of the service, and say each week, “We all have a place here.  We all are welcome here.”  Admittedly, we still have a ways to go before we’re fully living the truth of that, before we even fully understand what it means, actually, but I believe it is where we’re headed.

All that said, I don’t believe there is anyone here who can’t pledge some amount of financial support.  $1 a month.  $1 a year, even.  Sure, that may not seem like a lot of money, yet to my mind all three of these Cs are intertwined, and a pledge of $1 a month, or $1 a year from someone who is living with little, would be a much more powerful demonstration of commitment than a much larger pledge from someone who’s got a lot to spare.  Oh how I’d love to see more $10, $5, $1 pledges!  That would mean to me that we’ve reached a place where everyone can see that their contribution – no matter how seemingly small – is really valued, and that they are really valued, not matter how seemingly little they had to give. 

On the other hand, to be both honest and blunt, there are a number of us who could afford to pledge far more than we currently do.  Some no doubt think that we can’t really need them to give more – after all, things don’t seem to be going too badly here.  Well, the truth is – blunt and honest – that we do not have, and have not had for some time, the kind of financial support we need to survive, much less thrive and live both into and out of, our full potential.  It may not look like it – hopefully it doesn’t look too much like it – but if we were a fig tree, I’d be hoping that Jesus didn’t come by looking for figs.  The consultant who worked with us this summer said that he was surprised at our remarkably low percentage of congregational giving.  (And that’s from someone who works Unitarian Universalists, who have a national reputation for being among the least financially supportive of our congregations!)  Even in that context, he said he was surprised at how poorly we support ourselves.

But not for lack of trying.  The consultant also said it was clear to him that the people who have been running our pledge drives over the years have known what they were doing, and have run really good campaigns.  We’ve been doing the right things, yet for some reason our level of pledging has remained essentially static for quite some time, declining slightly, even, in the last couple of years.

I’ll name it:  there is no question that the first four or five years of our mutual ministry was … rocky.  There was fairly widespread dissatisfaction with my performance as Lead Minister, and, I would have to say, rightfully so.  Of course, there are lots of explanations, but really, no excuses.  The results of the 2015 Congregational Survey, which the Committee on the Ministry will be repeating this year, were a real wake-up call and a catalyst change, several changes, in the ways I do what I do.  In the ensuing years it seems that most folks say they’ve felt real and meaningful improvement.  Yet, while that dissatisfaction could no doubt explain some of the financial … reticence … of some members, the basic trend we’re wrestling with was here before I came, and has continued despite the improvements.

Some say that we are trying to be too big of a congregation, that our ambitions outstrip our willingness to support them.  We may want to be a larger, so-called “program-size” church, we may try to act like one, yet, these folks say, we demonstrate year after year that we’re really only interested in being a smaller, pastoral-size church, because we show ourselves year after year that that’s all we’re able (or willing) to afford.  The answer to our financial stuck-ness, then, is to stop trying to be what we’re not, find a more natural equilibrium, shift our ambitions to meet our reality, and to “live within our means.”

And we could certainly do this.  There can be great wisdom in vigorously pruning a plant that has grown too large.  Sometimes the cutting back is so severe that it can look to the untrained eye that you’ve killed the thing; yet in the next spring that plant could come back stronger than ever.  So … we could cut back here.  To do so you would have to cut back on staff; there is simply nothing else to cut in our budget that would have any substantive impact.  So you could ask me or Leia to take a 50% pay cut.  You could decide to eliminate one or more of the part-time positions we have here, like the Office Manager, the Assistant Minister, or the Director of Music, asking volunteers to take on these roles.  But make no mistake, cutting staff in one way or another is the only way to “live within our means” through cutting expenses. 

Oh, and since we're currently severely understaffed for the size we are, if you were to cut staff we’d also have to decide which hundred or so members we’d want to ask to leave.  With less staff, in order to “live within our means,” we would have to reduce the number of people who can call this their spiritual home, because we just couldn't serve them all.

There is another option, though.  The only other option as I see it, and to my mind the only really viable one.  Rather than cutting back, we could invest more.  But how we do we that in light of what I’ve been saying about how we don’t have enough as it is?  We do it with faith. With courage.

Farmers, and others, know that sometimes, when you don’t have enough, you need to invest what you don’t have in order to reap the increased harvest that you believe is possible.  Sometimes you sell off some of what you have so that you can invest it in what you need.  We did that when we sold U-House to pay for rennovations on Summit House and the creation of our beautiful Lower Hall.  But sometimes you take out a loan to pay for new seed, or new equipment, or something you don’t have yet, can’t currently afford on your own, yet know in your bones will make all the difference in the world to your future success.  It’s scary, for sure, and is rarely – if ever – a sure thing.  It is always possible to dig yourself even deeper into a hole than you were before, that’s true.  So it’s a risk.  A gamble.  Yet sometimes it is the only thing to do, and you’ll do it if you’re truly committed to a vision, and you have the courage of your conviction.

Last year the Board was courageous in asking the congregation to do just that, to take a little risk, to borrow now so that we can reap a greater harvest tomorrow, to, paraphrasing Dr. King, “take the first step even though we can’t see the whole staircase.”  There was some vocal, and very heartfelt, opposition from some long-time members — who also, it must be said, have their understanding of the best interest of the church in mind.  Even so, the majority of the congregation agreed that the promise of the future is worth a short-term risk, and is worth investing in.

My friends, we are capable of being so much more – we are so much more – than what our long-echoing narratives of scarcity and fear have told us we can be.  A few years back, during a Board retreat, someone used these words to describe their vision for our congregation:  a powerhouse for racial justice.  (I’m hoping we’ll have tee shirts with that on it as part of our celebration of our 75th anniversary!) 

Recently Sally Taylor, our unofficial church historian, shared with me a copy of a sermon that long-time member Virginia James had given to her.  It was preached here in 1983, the 40th anniversary of the congregation’s founding, and was delivered by the first settled minister to serve this community, the Rev. Malcolm Sutherland.  In describing the earliest years of this congregation, Rev. Sutherland said, “We stood unequivocally for human justice … and here that meant racial equality.”  From our earliest days we have understood this to be our mission.  He said, further, that in those early days, when there was talk of trying to become a truly integrated congregation, some of the African American leaders encouraged us in our efforts, yet added, “We would much rather see you a strong white church fighting for equal rights for all than a small interracial church too weak to have any affect.”  I see in that a charge to become the powerhouse for racial justice that we are, today, reclaiming as our vision.

And it’s not just an idle vision, this desire to live into our full potential to which we were called in the days of our founding!  The future the Board last year asked you to invest in, and that I, this morning, am asking us to invest in … we’ve seen it!  We saw it, we tasted it this summer, following the awful events of August 12th, which put the name of our city on the nation’s lips. Many know the story.  One day our Director of Administration and Finance, Christina Rivera, fielded a call asking if the Rev. Jesse Jackson could preach here that coming Sunday.  Of course, Rev. Jackson could have spoken at any of the prominent African American congregations in the city, but he wanted to speak in a predominantly white congregation as a recognition of the truth that all of us — however we identify — are in this struggle together.  Rev. Jackson said that this congregation, our congregation, had been recommended to him as a predominantly white congregation that not only talked about racial justice, but was active in trying to achieve it. 

This congregation, which worked, in its infancy, for “indiscriminate seating on buses,” the hiring of African Americans onto the city’s police force, the movement of African American patients from hospital hallways into rooms, and the use of respectful titles in newspapers. 

This congregation, the only public place where a small, informal and impromptu interracial square dance could break out in celebration of the Supreme Court’s declaration that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, because ours was the only public building in Charlottesville in which integrated gatherings were permitted (which led to a cross being burned on our property). 

This congregation, which opened the first integrated preschool in the city; this congregation, which the local chapter of Black Lives Matter has said it knows it can count on.

This congregation, in which there are individuals who whose work in preparing for August 12th can, without hyperbole, be said to have saved lives that day.

This congregation is where Rev. Jackson chose to speak. 

Those who were here experienced the buzzed, like the crackle of electricity, as our members stepped forward, hell, leapt forward to engage, to be useful, to be part of it all.  And we saw our sanctuary filled with to overflowing.  In fact, the Social Hall, which had been designated a place for that overflow, itself overflowed to seating we’d set up outside on the lawn!  And those who were there could feel it – this Unitarian Universalist congregation was living both into and out from its full potential.  It was an extraordinary day.  And Rev. Jackson underscored this vision of who we are when he came to us again and asked us to host a community leadership summit he was calling for when he returned to Charlottesville a month or so later to launch a bus tour across Virginia.

That is who we can be.  That is who we are, even if only nascently.  Yet we can be the “powerhouse for racial justice” so very many of us believe we can, and should, be only if — only if— if we believe in this vision and act on that belief.  We can only ensure that our “tree” has not just leaves, but flowers and fruit as well, and for years and years to come, if we each of us, and all of us, will have the courage to step up the level of our committed engagement and – to be blunt and honest again – to increase the amount of cash we’re

In a moment, the ushers will pass among you to collect this morning’s financial offering, and I hope you will be as generous as you can.  (This is also the time to make your gifts to support the African American Teaching Fellows.)  Following the ushers, others will have blank pledge cards.  I encourage everyone to take one and to reflect on whether you are able to increase what you have pledged for this year (and if you haven’t yet pledged for this year, to do so).  I also encourage you to consider your generous pledge for next year, for which we are already beginning to try to build a budget. 

And whether you can pledge $10 a year, or $10,000 a month, I encourage you to fill out the card today, this morning, right now, as you sit here, and then, as you leave, to put it into one of the boxes you’ll find at each of the doors, and in the Social Hall.  (On the back there is a chart that offers some guidance about what might be an appropriate level for your pledge, as a percentage of your income and as a reflection of your committed engagement.)  If you’re not able to decide on an amount right now, I’d still encourage you to fill out the card as much as you can, noting that you will make a pledge, and an estimate of the date by which you intend to do so.  (You can easily make a pledge at any time online at our website.)

It’s been said that, “the free church is not free.”  The Rev. Gordon McKeeman — Unitarian Universalist minister, and beloved member of this congregation in his retirement — would often remind us that we are responsible for supporting our community.  It is our responsibility — no one else’s — to ensure that it has the resources it needs to achieve its full potential, to ensure that there will be leaves, flowers, and fruit on its branches with which to nurture a world that is so hungry for true justice and all-embracing love.

Pax tecum,


Monday, January 08, 2018

If Trees Could Talk
This is the text of the reflection I offered on Sunday, January 7, 2018, at the congregation I serve in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"Bare Tree" (© Erik Walker Wikstrom  2012)

During that tree planting ceremony I was talking about during the Story Time, when it got to my mentor and friend Ed Lane, he talked about spending time in Sequoia National Park, out in California.  He mentioned, in particular, one tree there – the largest and oldest tree in the Park – the General Sherman Tree.  (It was named after General Sherman in 1879 by naturalist James Wolverton, who had served as a lieutenant in the 9th Indiana Cavalry under General William Tecumseh Sherman in the Civil War.)  This tree – not only the largest in Sequoia National Park, but in the world, I’ve learned – is estimated to be about 2,000 years old, and Ed mused on the stories that tree could tell, if only it could talk.

“That tree first grew around the time that Jesus was on the earth,” Ed said.  It would have been able to observe the thriving cultures of the Monachee and Potwisha peoples, the arrival, and eventual dissolution of the Kaweah Cooperative Commonwealth, a experimental socialist colony established there in 1886 (which renamed the tree the Karl Marx Tree, and which is remembered in the name of the largest and most eco-featured residence at local Twin Oaks Community).  This tree would be able to tell of Colonel Charles Young and his company of the so-called Buffalo Soldiers, who served as caretakers of the, then, 13-year old national park.  And, of course, it could talk about the visit of Ed and Helen Lane, in more modern times.  Oh, the stories that tree could tell, if only it could talk.

The oldest tree in Virginia, until it’s death in 2008, was a bald cypress dating back 1,000 years or more which lived in a remote swamp 80 miles southeast of Richmond.  (I couldn’t find anything about the tree that claimed its title as the oldest tree in the Commonwealth today.)  Oh the stories that tree could tell; the things it witnessed. 

The oldest tree in the world, until 2013, the oldest individual tree in the world was Methuselah, a 4,845-year-old Great Basin bristlecone, in the White Mountains of California.  It didn’t give up its status because it died, but because an even older tree has been discovered – another Bristle Cone Pine, in the same region, that is 5,062 years old. 

By contrast, the oldest living animal on the planet – again, until recently – was Adwaita, an Aldabra giant tortoise, estimated to have been roughly 255-years old when it died.  The member of our own species with the longest lifespan was Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997, at the age of 122 years, 164 days. (She was born in 1875.  To put that in some perspective, she met Vincent van Gogh when she was 12 or 13.)  The oldest living person today is a woman from Jamaica named Violet Brown, who is 117 years old.

The oldest living person today could tell stories of our history over the past hundred years or so, but the oldest tree, if it could talk, could tell tales of the past 5,000 years.

Besides being, I hope, at least at least a little as interesting to you as it’s been to me to learn all of this, why am I spending time on a Sunday morning giving something of a biological history lesson?  Because I believe that trees can talk, and their collective longevity gives them more than a little perspective.

What do I mean when I say that trees can talk?  A member of the congregation emailed me this week, having seen today’s topic, and told the story of a very difficult year for his wife and himself.  While he was in the hospital, he was able to see a tree outside his window, and he was moved to write a poem:
Outside my window
Is a tree
Large, imposing, yet graceful.

It's arms extending
Reaching towards Heaven.

Though last month stripped of leaves
Its fingers left intact
Provide haven for perching
Flocks of dark starlings.

Hundreds flying and landing
In perfect unison
Against fall's backdrop
Clear, blue skies.

Years later, while sharing this poem, someone suggested to him that the tree he was looking at, the tree that inspired that poem, was a living metaphor for … him.  He concluded the email, “I wonder if perhaps, that tree, at that critical point in my life, did talk to me.”

And, as I said to our children earlier, every single person in that circle during that tree planting ceremony – almost 25 years ago now – had a story about a tree – or trees! – that had touched their lives and, it’s really not much of a stretch to say, taught them something important.

We’ve begun, this year, to order our liturgical cycle not only by monthly themes – and this month it’s the image of a bare tree, but seasonally as well, taking a category of life’s Big Questions.  For the winter it’s:  why is life so full of pain and struggle, and what can we do about it?  Why do people we love die?  What do dreams shatter?  Why do our dreams so often elude us?  Simply, why is it so often so hard between the twin realities of being born and having to die?

Those are questions which, ultimately, have no answers – no definitive nor, for most of us when we’re in the midst of the struggle, fully satisfying answers.  But the “what to do about it?” piece, does.  And I think – not surprisingly given what I’ve said so far – that one of the places we can go for those answers is, not surprisingly, trees.

Trees, as the examples I’ve given, are often long lived, so they take the long view.  If those trees could talk they would tell stories of joys and sorrows, loss and gain, celebrations and consternations, hard times and good times, and they would tell us that all of these things come and go.  No one experience of reality is eternal; no one experience lasts forever.  And so it is with us.  Our lives see this same rising and falling, ebb and flow, and whatever hard time we’re going through at the moment will pass.  It is as certain as the branches of the bare tree bringing forth new leaves in the springtime.

They would also remind us that even in those hard times all is not lost.  As the poet in our midst noted from his hospital bed, even the bare branches in wintertime, “provide haven for perching / flocks of dark starlings.”  And so, for us, even in the midst of our struggles, when it might appear to us that there is nothing good, there always is something to celebrate.  I do not mean this in a pollyanna-ish way, the so often too glib idea that “every cloud has a silver lining,” as if that should make everything “okay.”  As Monday’s page of my Grumpy Cat calendar said, “Don’t forget:  every silver lining is part of a larger, darker cloud.”  Yet without denying the reality of that cloud, trees tell us that even in the times of our own winter bareness we can be on the lookout for those starlings.

Trees put down roots.  Some have very shallow roots, and those are easily knocked down during powerful storms.  The ones that have roots that go deep can withstand the hardest winds.  Remember, as the poet Marge Piercy noted in a poem (that’s at #568 in our hymnals), “More than half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.”  If we listen well to the teachings of the trees we will sink our roots, too, deep into the soil of our lives, deep into what grounds us and nourishes us.

At the same time, as Taoist sages observed centuries ago, the winds of life can break a tree that is too rigid, too stiff.  Flexibility is a lesson we so often forget – the flexibility to bend with those winds, to resist the urge to fight them, to push back, but, rather, to accept them as they blow, knowing that the time will come when the winds end and we can rise again.

Three more teachings, quickly.  (There are so many more that I can’t mention before my time, and your patience, runs out … but which, perhaps, may give you a conversation starter during the time of fellowship in the social hall following the service.  Go up to someone and say, “Hey, what have trees taught you?”  And then, after listening to their answer, you can say, “Here’s something they taught me.”). 

First, after the first service someone on their way out told me that trees grow best in a diverse environment, with different species.  A grove which has only one kind of tree in it doesn’t do as well.  I don’t think I need to elaborate on the lesson there.

Second, those Bristlecone Pines I mentioned – Methuselah and its successor?  Again, someone on their way out of the first service asked me if I knew what else it needed to live so long, besides the obvious sun, water, nourishing soil:  fire.  It needs fire to survive.  This, too, is something I don’t need to expand on.

The lesson I want to offer you of the teachings of trees comes from a fact about trees that I haven’t mentioned yet.  Those long-lived trees I talked about earlier?  They are individual trees.  There is another type of tree, a tree that grows in colonies, which, though made up of individual trunks and branches, are considered to be one living organism, because they share genetic markers and grow from one root stock.  The oldest of these is not 1,000 years old, or 5,000 years old.  The oldest living colony tree is … wait for it … 80,000 years old. 

The lesson here, too, is obvious, but I will spell it out – don’t go it alone during the hard times.  Be part of a colony.  Remember the truth that if we are like trees, then we are colony trees, connected at our roots to one another, part of one another.  This faith community can help to us to have the lived experience of being part of a larger whole and, if this community does its job well, points us to the reality of our interconnectedness with all those who ever were, all those who will be, and the entirety of the earth and the cosmos on which and in which we live.

There is no avoiding the hard times we will unavoidably experience in this life, but the world abounds with lessons about how to cope with them.  As I said to our children, I hope that in this day (this week, this month, this year, this lifetime) you keep your eyes open to trees, and to the wisdom they offer.

Pax tecum,