Thursday, July 14, 2016

Ten thousand recollections ...

This morning while I was walking the dog, my neighbor stopped his bike ride to tell me that he appreciated my letter to the editor that the paper printed a couple of days ago.  Brian was born and raised in South Africa (he is White) and he said that since the shooting in Dallas he has been thinking of a line from Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country.  (He called it required reading in South Africa.)  As he remembers it, the old priest says something to the effect of, "I'm afraid that by the time the Whites start loving, the Blacks will have started hating."  (I looked it up.  The actual quote is, "I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating," and it is spoken by the character the Rev. Theophilus Msimangu.)  I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating.

The congregation I serve is named after the third President of the United States -- Thomas Jefferson.  We're located in Charlottesville, in the shadow of Monticello and literally up the road from the University of Virginia.  The presence of "Mr. Jefferson" is still felt in places, so it makes sense that when our congregation was formed it would be named for him.  He did, after all, write the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, was one of the so-called "Founding Fathers" of the nation, and was draftsman of the Declaration of Independence with its stirring words about liberty and freedom.  (He also said some very nice things about Unitarianism, such that for a long time he was claimed as "one of our own." We now somewhat sheepishly acknowledge that he maintained membership in the local Episcopal church throughout his life.)

He also wrote other things, though.  His Notes on the State of Virginia contains some deeply racist thoughts about "the Black race," which he considered fundamentally and irredeemably inferior.  An argument could be -- has been -- made that he was just a person of his time, his thinking conditioned by the thinking of his day just as our is now.  Yet Jefferson's views on the inherent differences he saw between Whites and Blacks was not universally held.  Even in his day he could have thought differently.

The link I make between Cry the Beloved Country and the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson is that he, too, recognized the likelihood that the treatment endured by enslaved people at the hands of their enslavers would most likely lead to an explosion of violent rage.  In explaining his position that freed Blacks should not be allowed to continue to live in Virginia he wrote:
"It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expense of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies when they leave?  Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race."
One hundred and forty-one years ago Jefferson predicted that "deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; [and] new provocations ..." could predictably lead to the development an unquenchable anger, hatred, that would no doubt end in violence.  In those one hundred and forty-one years since those "ten thousand recollections" have not dimmed, and the "new provocations" have not ceased.

Do I think that our country's ongoing history of racism will end in "extermination"?  I don't.  I have too much hope and faith in the power of Love for that.  But when folks like me who have been raised to think of ourselves as White wonder what all the anger is about ...  Well ... I think we ask because we just don't want to look at the truth before our eyes.

Pax tecum,


Note:  the image is a composite of a well-known portrait of Jefferson, with that of Isaac Granger Jefferson, one of the enslaved workers at Monticello.

Monday, July 11, 2016

You fix this shit ...

"You fix this shit ..."

This comes from an essay Anthea Butler wrote for Religious Dispatches, in which she responds to her editor's request for a piece about the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the five police offers who were shot and killed in Dallas.  She says, essentially, that she'd one writing for white people who are looking for a person of color to express the outrage, the power of the pain, that we white folks can't (or won't) express ourselves:
"I'm done saving you, good white folks.  You want Black people like me, who like you, to say the prophetic thing, and bail your ass out for not speaking up, for remaining quiet -- while you get your work, vacations, and scholarship done this summer."
I hear this.  At least, to be honest, I'm trying to hear this.  It's hard as a person who was raised to think of myself as white to really  hear this.  Still, I'm trying.  And I think to myself -- what the hell am I supposed to do?  Damn.  how do you change the collective consciousness -- even more the unconsciousness -- of a country?  How do you "turn" the folks who see Donald Trump as, as Ms. Butler put it, "a savior"?

We're told that in Biblical times a prophet could speak out with such conviction that even kings would put on sackcloth and ashes as a demonstration of their heartfelt mourning and desire to repent.  Mohandas Gandhi would stop eating, and the people of India -- Hindu and Muslim alike -- would change their behavior out of concern and respect for the Great Soul.

Is there -- could there be -- such a prophet today?  Who do the American people love so deeply that they would pause in mid-battle for?  I'm not holding my breath for this kind of a solution.

But what can be done?  What can I do?  I know that "show up" matters.  I believe -- deeply -- that it makes a difference, when white folks help white folks to recognize -- to really see -- the racism that is embedded in our culture in which we move unconscious as a fish glides through water.  These things make a difference.  As does working to ensure the enfranchisement of people within historically marginalized groups.  As does writing letters to politicians, and signing petitions, and attending rallies, and getting arrested, and ...

And how do you change the collective consciousness of a country?  Because it's just not enough to change laws.  The ratification of the 14th amendment changed the status of African Americans ... except that it didn't.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensured that people of color would have the same access to participation in the democratic process as anyone else ... except that it didn't.  (And to further drive home the point, this issue had already supposedly been taken care of back in 1870 with the ratification of the 15th amendment!) 

Yes, we can do anti-bias training for police officers, and it's important work.  Will it really address the implicit bias that is at work in every interaction?  There are so many things that we can do, yet I keep coming back to what seems to me to be a fundamental questions -- how do you change the collective consciousness of a country? 

"You fix this shit ..."  Who are better positioned to change an inherently unjust system than the people who benefit most from that system?  And yet ... how does a fish change the water in the tank?

I truly wish I knew ....

Pax tecum,


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Where is my outrage?

I need to confess something ... something that I'm ashamed of.  Shame is, I know, a word that's out of vogue these days, yet I can't think of anything more appropriate.  "Guilt" is something different, and "embarrassed" doesn't come close.

Yesterday on my Facebook feed I saw a piece that had been posted three months ago on imgur.  It consisted of two things -- a letter purported to be from a first-year law student, written anonymously, complaining about a professor having worn a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on campus.  "We are here to learn the law," the letter says.  "We do not spend three years of our lives and tens of thousands of dollars to subjected to indoctrination or personal opinions of our professors."

The second half of the post is claimed to be the professor's response.  (I'm describing it this way because it is, after all, the internet where I came across this and it's so hard to know if things are, indeed, what they appear to be.)  "I am accepting the invitation in your memo, and the opportunity created by its content, to teach you."  The professor goes on to say that he will present his response into two parts:  "Part 1 addresses the substantive and analytical lessons that can be learned from the memo.  Part 2 addresses the lessons about writing that can be learned from the memo."

It is brilliant.  The tone is brilliant.   The content is brilliant.  He articulates answers to the challenges made by so many folks who have been raised to think of themselves as white to the Black Lives Matter movement.  One example:  his first section is a series of naming the unspoken premises behind statements in the student's letter and, then, his critique of them.
Premise:  History doesn't matter.  Therefore sequences of cause and effect can be ignored (or inverted).

Critique:  To assert that the Black Lives Matter movement is about violence against the police is to ignore (and invert) the causal reality that the movement arose as an effect of police violence.  Yes, the movement is about violence, in that it is about the subject of violence, but it is not about violent retaliation against the violence it is about.  It is a tragic fact that rage as a consequence of racial injustice sometimes gets enacted as violence (although not nearly as often as we might expect, given the long-standing causes of that rage).  We can all lament the fact that violence begets violence.  But we can't even do that if we ignore that violence that has done, and is doing, the begetting.
Brilliant, right?  Clear.  Cogent.  I was so impressed that I immediately knew I would be re-posting the link, and referring to professor's arguments often.

So what am I ashamed of?  That I was enjoying it.  That I was reveling in this professor's ability to take apart the student's arguments -- which echo the arguments so many of us hear far too often, even from well-meaning people we know.  He said, more clearly that I ever will, what needs to be said.  And I was loving it.

But where is my outrage?  Where is my anger that these things need to be said at all?  How can I be enjoying something that was born out of such a painful, literally life-and-death reality?  There are real people lying dead on real streets ... and real mourning of real families and friends ... and real fear in the hearts of real people.  This is not a rhetorical exercise.  And the only reason I can sit back and enjoy with clarity (and, let's face it, the cleverness) of this professor's response is because I can sit back, because as a person who has been raised to think of myself as white I am removed from the reality that gives birth to the need for a movement such as Black Lives Matter.

I am the adoptive father of two sons of color.  The brown skin of one will no doubt at some point bring him into direct contact with this reality; the white skin of the other will no doubt shield him.  Yet however close to home this comes to me, what I realized this morning as I reflected on my response to the exchange between this professor and student is that I can sit back.  That I am sitting back more than I was aware of.

Of that, I am ashamed.

Pax tecum,


Monday, June 20, 2016

Junteenth: a sermon

This is the sermon I delivered on Sunday, June 19, 2016 at the congregation I serve in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist.  You listen to it if you'd prefer.

I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of “Juneteenth” until relatively recently.  I keep discovering just how much American history I never learned and, perhaps even more disturbingly, that no one ever thought important enough to try to teach me – all that history that gets lifted up each February, for instance, as though Black history and American history are not the same thing.  We don’t have a White history month, or a Straight, Cisgender Male history month, because as far as the wider society goes, that is American history.  Everything else is relegated to appendices and footnotes.
So:  “Juneteenth” is a fusing of “June” and “Nineteenth,” because it was on June 19, 1865 that Union General Gordon Granger stood on the balcony of a prominent building in Galveston, Texas and read aloud “General Order No. 3,” which said, in part:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
Can you imagine what that would have felt like for the, now, formerly enslaved population of Galveston?  They hadn’t yet heard about President Lincoln’s Proclamation of their freedom some three and a half years earlier, so this was a day that would cry out to be memorialized.  Juneteenth celebrations became annual events throughout Texas and, eventually, throughout the United States.  By 2008, nearly half of US states observed the holiday.  As of May of last year, 45 of the 50 states (and the District of Columbia) have formally and officially recognized the observance of Juneteenth, even here in Virginia.
Juneteenth is a really big thing, and I had never even heard of it.  Maybe this is new to some of you, too.  I would ask how that is possible, but we all know the answer, don’t we?  The dominant culture in which we live, the dominant narrative that defines us as a country, does not have time, or energy, or focus, or interest, really, in anything other than itself.  That’s why we have Black History Month in February, and Women’s History Month in March, and LGBT History Month in October, and Transgender Awareness Month in November (just to name a few).  This is one way that our culture – and by “our culture” I am referring to the dominant culture made by, for, and about people who look more or less like me – can recognize the undeniable fact that ours is not a homogeneous society while simultaneously reinforcing the “otherness” of everybody who … doesn’t look more or less like me.
One dimension of this dominant culture’s narrative is a mindset of what I’ll call “been there, done that, cross it off the list.”  Here are two examples of I mean by that:
·       Slavery was terrible, awful, heinous, but we fought and won the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation put an end to slavery.  Been there, done that, cross it off the list.
·       The Jim Crow era was terrible, awful, heinous, but the Civil Rights battles of the 50s and 60s won equality for all.  I mean look, today we even have a Black President!  Been there, done that, cross it off the list.
But that’s not how it works, of course.  The truth is that there is a river of pain that runs through our nation’s history, a river of torment and torture, a river of separation and segregation and dehumanization and demonization, a river that has never stopped flowing.  Ever.  We – and right now I’m really talking to people, like me, who’ve been raised to think of ourselves as White – we would like to think that at least it has gone underground, or slowed to a trickle, but it hasn’t, except, perhaps, in our own mind’s eye.  But we need to think this, we need to believe this, because if we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to go to sleep at night, so wet would our sheets be from all our tears.  Yet we – and here I do mean “we,” inclusively and collectively, meaning “we” as in “all of us” – we need to see together the truth of things as they really are.  We need to see those things that some of us try so hard not to see and some of us are so continually forced to see.  Here’s one such thing that seems appropriate to see on Juneteenth 2016:
The slaves weren’t freed when Lincoln declared their emancipation, nor when General Granger stood on that balcony, nor when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, nor when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the same United States in which his wife’s ancestors had been enslaved.  Certain freedoms, yes, have been grudgingly conceded, but real freedom?  The freedom to be and be seen as whole, as the individual you are and as part of the human family?  The freedom to have your value and worth affirmed and celebrated?  That has not yet been won, not yet wrested from the slaver’s fist. Not been there, not done that yet, nothing to cross off the list.
The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray is one of the largely unknown and unsung heroes of the struggles for African American rights, and LGBT rights, and women’s rights.  She was the first female African American Episcopal priest, the first African American to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Yale Law School, a civil rights activist (fighting against both Jim Crow and what she called “Jane Crow”), a poet of profundity and power, and a friend of my mom’s.  She referred to herself as, “America’s problem child.”  (“I have never been able to accept what I believe to be an injustice,” she wrote. “Perhaps it is because of this I am America’s problem child, and will continue to be.”)  In many of her poems Pauli gave voice to the experience of what another great African American poet, Langston Hughes called, “a dream deferred,” this experience of the ongoing denial of the fundamental right to be seen as more than three-fifths of a person.  In the face of that, how can you keep on hoping for things to change?  What can hope mean when time and time again you have seen your hope whipped, and lynched, and set upon by dogs and firehoses, and denigrated and sneered at by what passes for politicians these days?  Here’s one of Pauli’s poems:
Hope is a crushed stalk
Between clenched fingers.
Hope is a bird’s wing
Broken by a stone.
Hope is a word in a tuneless ditty —
A word whispered with the wind,
A dream of forty acres and a mule,
A cabin of one’s own and a moment to rest,
A name and place for one’s children
And children’s children at last . . .
Hope is a song in a weary throat.

Give me a song of hope
And a world where I can sing it.
Give me a song of faith
And a people to believe in it.
Give me a song of kindliness
And a country where I can live it.
Give me a song of hope and love
And a brown girl’s heart to hear it.

This is the still unfulfilled promise of Junteenth – a song of hope, and a world in which it can be sung by everyone; a song of faith, and a people who will truly believe it; a song of kindliness and a country in which it can be lived out; and a song of hope and love without having to give up who and what we are.  Hope is a song in a weary throat.  [This, by the way, was the original title of Pauli's autobiography, Song in a Weary ThroatSomeone at the publishing house, no doubt, decided that for the second printing the title should be changed to Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest, and Poet.  It might be more descriptive for people who'd never heard of her, but oh what poetry was lost!]                               

One year ago this past week Dylan Roof walked into a Bible Study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered 9 people, at least in part because he did not see African Americans as fully human, at least not in the way he saw himself.  He apparently had not heard about the “absolute equality” affirmed by General Granger in Galveston one hundred and fifty-one years ago today, or he’d heard but didn’t believe it, and so he could believe that murdering these people was a justified and acceptable act.

This past week Omar Mateen walked into the nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida and murdered 49 people (wounding an additional 53), at least in part because he did not see people in the LGBTQ community, or the Latino community as fully human, at least not in the way he saw himself.  And whether it was this blind and blinding hatred, or the distortions and perversions of a twisted religious ideology, Mateen was able to believe that his murdering these people was a justified and acceptable act.

When you can deny the fundamental humanity of someone, you can justify doing just about anything to them.  It doesn’t count if they don’t count.  Fifty-three years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that “all […] are created equal” to be a “promissory note” that had not yet been made good on.  It still hasn’t.  And so the weary throat must keep singing.

Someone else who knew and beautifully expressed that song was the poet-queen Maya Angelou.  She speaks of it in one of her most well-known and oft-quoted poems, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,”

The free bird leaps
On the back of the wind
And floats downstream
And dips his wings
In the orange sun rays
And dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
Down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through
His bars of rage
His wings are clipped
And his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
With a fearful trill
Of the things unknown
But longed for still
And his tune is heard
On the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
And the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
And he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
With a fearful trill
Of the things unknown
But longed for still
And his tune is heard
On the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.

Oh the throats that sing this song may indeed by weary, yet the song remains strong.  This song has many variations, yet still it is one song – the song of freedom and a long-ago made promise fulfilled.  But here’s some good news:  Dylan Roof didn’t silence it; Omar Pateen didn’t stop its steady beat; Donald Trump and his crowds can’t drown it out. 

But there’s work to be done.  We – those of us who have been taught that we are White – need to take it up, add our voices to those who have been singing so long that their throats are weary – oh so weary – of singing this song that should never have had to be sung.

the song of hope, and a world in which it can be sung by everyone; the song of faith, and a people who will truly believe it; the song of kindliness and a country in which it can be lived out; the song of hope and love without having to give up who and what we are to sing it. 

May it be so.

Pax tecum,


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Love Always Wins

I wrote this as a Letter to the Editor for Charlottesville' paper, the Daily Progress after attending a candle light vigil on our downtown mall in response to the shootings in Orlando.

I had just finished leading worship in the congregation I serve when I learned of the atrocity that had taken place in Orlando just a relatively few hours before.  The topic of my sermon was love – that no matter how simple it might sound, wise teachers from every religious tradition have stressed that “doing unto others,” that “loving our neighbor,” is the only needed guide for how to live in this world.  Rabbi Hillel the Elder famously said that everything else in the Torah, the Law, and the Prophets was simply commentary and explanation of this central teaching, and Jesus (a near contemporary of Hillel’s) said much the same, as did the Prophet Muhammad.  Every religious tradition we humans have ever created has its own version of the “Golden Rule.”  And yet, in the aftermath of the mass murder of 49 people, the serious wounding of 53 others, and the devastation to  countless lives of families and friends and all those touched by this tragedy, this message of love seemed not just simple, but simplistic.

What a gift, then, to gather on Monday night with hundreds of others at the Free Speech Wall to mourn, express our shock, give vent to our outrage, and recommit ourselves to one another and to the vision of Beloved Community.  And we were a beautiful representation of that Beloved Community – we were gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, cisgender, Latino/a, African American, Asian American, White, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Atheist, Unitarian Universalist, old, young, radical, reticent, and virtually every other description of person you could think of.  We were what the United States looks like at its best – a beautiful, swirling rainbow of differences that came together to reveal an even more beautiful unity.  The acts of hate-filled violence, and the violence-tinged hate speech that is all too prevalent in our political discourse lately, may cause us to question our faith in humanity.  The vision of community made real on Monday night restored my faith, and renews my hope. 

Pax tecum,


While at the Freedom of Speech Wall we were told that following each of the annual C'ville Pride Festivals
there have been reports of someone being fired from their job because their boss or employer had seen their photograph
in the next day's paper.  This, then, is a photo (from the back) of a small portion of the hundreds who attended the vigil
and then walked with lighted candles to the Federal Courthouse building.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

You Already Know

I know what to do.

You know what to do, too.

We know what to do

     in spite of that voice

     in our head

telling us that we don't;

telling us that we have no idea

          to do;

telling us that the situation is


     and that we are


Even so ...

We know what to do.

You know what to do.

I know what to do, too.

The problem really is:

that I don't want to

or that I'm afraid to

or that I'm hesitating

because I'm not sure that I can


what I know I need

          to do.

In the biblical book of Judges,

God tells Gideon what to do.

But Gideon wants to make sure.

     Sometimes that voice in your head



So Gideon asks God for proof --

     "Do this and I'll know

          I should do

     what you've told me

          to do.

     Do this,

          and I'll know that it's you."

So God did.

But Gideon wants to make sure.

He knows about coincidence.

So he asks God to do something else --

     "Do this other thing

          and I'll know that it's you."

And God does.

But Gideon already knew.

He knew what to do,

Just like you do,

and just like I do.

He knew what to do,

     but he didn't want to.

So he kept asking for signs,

          for proof.

And so do I.

I'll bet you do, too.

But here's what we know,

     beneath and beyond the voices that tell us that we


here's what we know:

Get started.

Don't wait any longer.

Don't look for a sign to tell you when or how.

Start.  Do




And when you've done that first thing,

     do the next one.

Keep doing



Don't wait for proof.

     Look back for it

     if you must,

     but later.

     After you've been at

     it for a while.

For now,

     just do

          the thing

               you already know to do.

Pax tecum,


Monday, May 02, 2016

The Blessing of Belonging

This is the text of the reflection I offered on Sunday, May 1st, 2016 at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist.    You can listen to it here.

One of the prized possessions of our congregation in Concord, Massachusetts, is a letter from Henry David Thoreau. I thought of it this week, knowing that today we would be welcoming our newest formalize members. Thing I was thinking of is the letter Thoreau wrote to the Concord church in which he resigned his membership. This champion of the individual said, essentially, that he did not believe in belonging to groups, and that he would resign from the human race if he could.  Luckily the people we recognized today don't feel that way.

There's something I’ve said to every person who has joined any of the congregation's I've served. Two things, actually. First, I say congratulations. Congratulations because you’ve just joined a really cool community.  (I only serve really cool communities so I can always say that.)  The other thing I always say is thank you, because by formalizing your membership you've made this community cooler still.

With all due respect to Mr. Thoreau, belonging is a good thing. It's a necessary thing, actually. Carol Gilligan, the feminist psychologist who first earned notice from her challenge to the developmental theories of Lawrence Kohlberg, argued that the development of identity does not, as prevailing theories even still have it, come from the process of individuation, of separating ourselves from others. Rather, Dr. Gilligan and others asserted, we build our identity through our relationships.

My friend Takeo Fujikura has told me that this is an understanding that's built into the Japanese language. Takeo said that in Japanese there is no first person singular pronoun, no way to say I. More accurately, there's no one way to say I, there are eight. That's because we don't have just one identity -- I am in some very real ways different when I'm with my friends than when I'm with my parents, or when I'm with my child. Who I am depends on who I'm with, if you will, or with whom I'm in relationship.  There is a blessing in belonging -- an affirmational gift.  Belonging helps to make us who we are.

So when someone takes the step of formalizing their relationship with our congregation -- or any group, really -- we are saying something about who we are and who we want to be.  And as we change our relationship with that community, what we can say about who we are changes.

Last week we celebrated this beautiful planet on which, as a part of which, we live.  And we lifted up those who are committed to her health. Yesterday a number of us joined with UUs from something like five or six congregations in our area to talk about spiritual resources for doing anti-racism work. At the beginning of the service I highlighted the work of our Emotional Wellness ministry, and in a moment I'm going to steer this sermon toward the topics of addiction treatment and elder care. Ours is a congregation that's involved in working for justice in a whole lot of areas, and many of us have no doubt looked at all there is to do in this world and wished that we could resign from the human race. I know I have. Stop the world, I want to get off.

A few weeks back at IMPACT's pre-Action rally, the Rev. Brenda Brown Grooms offered the reflection. (Not to toot my own horn too loudly, but I'll be offering the opening reflection at the Nehemiah action itself in two days.). One of the things that Pastor Brenda used as part of the scaffolding of her talk was actually something said by a Unitarian. The Unitarian preacher Edward Everett Hale. I've said it here so often that some of you could no doubt say it with me:

“I am only one,
but still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
but still I can do something;
and because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
(And sometimes that last line is remembered as “I must not refuse to do something that I can.”)

So this was part of the tapestry Pastor Brenda wove that night. I can't do everything, but I can do something, and I really ought to do that something that I can do.  But then she added a nice touch. "But oh,” she said, “how much sweeter it is when we do that thing together.”  And isn't that right?  One of my heroes, and a friend of my mom’s actually, the woefully under-celebrated Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray liked to say that one person, plus one typewriter, constitutes a movement.  And there's truth I that. Dated, perhaps, but absolutely true.  No question about it. And yet ... and yet … isn't it better when we're not alone, if we're writing, and marching, and teaching, and working for justice together with others?  There is a blessing -- an affirmation all gift -- in belonging to a community working for justice together.

In two nights, on Tuesday May 3rd, the largest public gathering in the Charlottesville area of any kind, and the largest interfaith gathering in central Virginia will take place at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Performing Arts Center. (Doors open at 6:00, by the way.). Roughly 2000 people from 27 faith communities will join together to experience and to be the blessing that comes from belonging. Mennonites, Quakers, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Jews, Methodists, Muslims, Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Episcopalians, non-denominational Christians, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and …well … us -- folks who might well not come together for any other reason but for our belief in justice. And there is most definitely a blessing in our coming together – a blessing for each and all of us who create this faith community of faith communities, and through that blessing – that affirmational gift – we are able to be a blessing to the larger community.  The blessing, the gift, for us is the affirmation that together we can do great things, and that the distinctions that so often divide us are nowhere near as important as those things that unite us.  The blessing for the wider community is the affirmation that the struggles any one of us face are struggles for us all, and that no one will be left out of the Beloved Community.

This year IMPACT has been continuing the work begun last year to create a local residential treatment option for women struggling with addictions to alcohol and drugs. Last year this was an identifiable need, an aching need, yet it just didn't seem possible that the will for this solution existed among those with the power to make something like this come about. By joining ourselves one to another at last year's Nehemiah Action, there are now plans, commitments, and the cash needed to build and operate a local center that should break ground this fall and be completed in the summer of 2017, serving up to 20 women a year without the need to travel long distances and be separated from their children.  Think of all those lives that will be touched by this.

Each year a new theme is discerned through a process involving listening circles in each of the member communities, with the ideas and concerns named in each being sifted and weighed until one rises to the top. This year it is the out of control cost of long term care for elders that became our focus -- a cost that averages 1 ½ times their average annual income.   This is unconscionable. Unbelievable, though, is that none of the agencies that are working to provide help to elders can say, specifically, the extent of the need – none knows how many people are in need of services yet are also unable to afford them. 

It’s clear that there’s a problem, and it’s clear that there are some extraordinarily caring and committed people working to address this problem, yet maybe in part because they are working so hard to address the problem none of them know exactly how large the problem is.  So IMPACT – which is, after all, us and those other faith communities working together – is proposing the creation of an entity to study the depth and breadth of the unmet need.  This, it seems to us, would of tremendous benefit to those already hard at work, and would provide a first step in developing new and creative ways of ensuring that all of the elders in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area can access the assistance that they need.

Why do the folk in our congregation who are most involved with the justice ministry of IMPACT try so hard to get you to turn out for the Nehemiah Action (on Tuesday, this Tuesday, May 3rd, at the MLK Performing Arts Center with the doors opening at 6:00)?  Simply because there is a blessing in belonging to a great assembly gathered to see that The Good prevails.  It’s not much to ask – one evening of our time – yet to those women, their children, their partners, their friends, to all those whose lives will be immeasurably improved because of this treatment center, its importance can simply not be overstated.  And I could decide to stay home, thinking that my presence in one of those seats doesn’t really matter much … aren’t we hearing a lot these days how about wrong, and potentially seriously problematic, such thinking can be? 

Others have already done the heavy lifting.  Our presence – yours and mine – (this Tuesday, May 3rd, at the MLK Performing Arts Center with the doors opening at 6:00) – is our declaration that we have not resigned our membership in the human race, that we do formalize our membership with those whose voices often go unheard and whose needs are so often, all too often, unseen.  During the offering we’ll have someone passing out tickets to those who are both feeling inspired and are able to come to the Action.  If you take a ticket, please swing by the IMPACT table in the Social Hall after the service so that they can know to expect you.

My friends, I really hope that I have not guilted anyone this morning, yet I know that this is one thing I can do.  This is one thing you can do.  This is one thing we can do.  I look forward to seeing you on Tuesday night.

Pax tecum,