Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Are We Having an IMPACT?

Here is the tripartate sermon/exploration from this past Sunday:

Bob Gross:  Good morning!
I have some very good news to report.  The people of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church-Unitarian Universalist are special in many ways! 
One of the particular ways in which you are special is that in the Spring of 2007 many of you gathered with our neighbors from dozens of other area congregations to call for improved public bus transportation on nights and weekends.  You were listened to….  Sunday bus service was launched on two routes;  night service was begun on Route 5;  and a new route was created to reach the County office building and the Southwood neighborhood south of town.
That happened because of you!
In the Spring of 2008 you showed up in large numbers along with our sisters and brothers from other congregations –  as a result, the Free Dental Clinic was expanded.  The waiting list of over 1000 people has been reduced by over two-thirds – and more than 3500 uninsured patients have been served since late 2009.
That happened because of you!
On account of your showing up in 2007, 2008 and 2009 – the City of Charlottesville has built or preserved more than 278 units of affordable housing and is about to complete the City’s first mixed-income development.  Also, Albemarle County has built or refurbished 188 units of affordable housing and has plans for 168 more.
That happened because of you!
You insisted in the Spring of 2010 that area law enforcement and the Regional Jail provide adequate language access services for persons with limited English proficiency.  Charlottesville has trained 100 percent of its officers in the proper protocol – and Albemarle and the Regional Jail are in the process of implementing their plans regarding Limited English Proficiency.
That happened because of you!
Inadequate educational experiences for low-income children lead to low achievement and a host of personal, economic and social ills.  In 2009 and 2010 our brothers and sisters from over 30 congregations insisted on maintaining and expanding Pre-Kindergarden services in the region.  As a result, the enrolment of children from low-income families has grown.  90 to 100% of the places in 3- and 4-year old classrooms are now filled by children from low-income families - and smaller gaps in achievement have resulted.  Almost 100 percent of students who took part in 3- and 4-year old Pre-K classes are passing the standardized PALS tests in Kindergarten.
Do you know who helped make this happen?  ….  YOU did!
Last March 121 of you showed up to demonstrate your support for both the City and County continuing to fund Healthy Transitions, a psychiatric re-entry program for ex-offenders.  People leaving jail with mental illness receive a 14- to 30-day supply of medication.  No other agency is equipped to provide treatment before 60 to 90 days go by.  The result is destabilization which may result in homelessness, emergency room visits, or going back to jail.   It’s estimated that Healthy Transitions – costing $85,000 this year – is saving the community $8. for every $1 spent.
Do you know who helped make this happen?  YOU DID.
In Charlottesville and Albemarle there are too many young people who are out of work and cannot support themselves or their families.  Specifically, people under 30 have an unemployment rate THREE times higher than the rest of the community  (14% as compared with 4.2%.)
Why are they unemployed?
·         Because 2/3rds of those 16 to 29 and not in school have a high school diploma or less;

·         Because too many young adults are not prepared to enter the work force:  they have little or no job experience, no interpersonal skills for the work place, and no technical skills

·         Because too many are trained for jobs that don’t exist:  cosmetology, emergency medical technician, massage therapy, and medical transcription are saturated!

The IMPACT Research Team – which includes our own Achsah Carrier and Carol Saliba – (please stand)  is working hard to come up with ways we can have a positive impact on these complex problems.
We will learn more about those proposed actions on March 5 – at the preliminary IMPACT Rally.
And then … on Monday, March 26, at 6 pm, at the JOHN PAUL JONES Arena … up to 2000 people from over 30 congregations will ask decision-makers to take effective action.
What are we urging all of you to do?    Please SHOW UP and, once again, help make it happen. 
Come to our table in the Social Hall and let us know you’re coming … and bring people with you.
Thank you.

Bob Kiefer:  This morning I stand before you to confess that I am tired and frustrated and disillusioned with justice work right now.  Erik mentioned it last Sunday.  Justice work is hard work!  
In my 68 years, I have had some experience in justice work.  As a college youth I had the privilege to march into Montgomery with Dr Martin Luther King.  And yet racism still exists in this country—just not so overtly.  At least one state tried to require the purchase of a State issued ID in order to be able to vote.  Some Hispanic families are being torn apart, because of someone’s “illegal” status. Like most victims of racism, they just want for themselves and their children the same chances for a decent standard of living that you and I have.
Since joining this church 8 years ago I have learned much about Marriage rights.  I have written letters and signed petitions and joined many of you to march on Washington.  Yet our own state has one of the worst reputations when it comes to basic rights based on sexual orientation.
During the Vietnam War, I endured the Selective Service process to receive recognition as a Conscientious Objector and participated in anti-war protests.  And yet as a nation we still engage in questionable wars.  I can even now hear the beginnings of the drum beat which will become the justification for invading the next country in the name of “democracy”.
My malaise has been hanging over me for over a week now.  And to be perfectly honest I am not in the mood to be encouraged, and rah-rahed into picking up the banner and walking on toward the goal of justice for all. 
Here’s what brought me down.  Women’s rights to their own bodies are being assaulted once again.  So much so that the Virginia House has passed a bill that would mandate, for a woman who is considering a perfectly legal abortion, an invasive medical procedure without her consent.  A sonogram to help her make an “informed decision”.  As if a woman cannot make an informed decision on her own without outside interference!   Also, in Virginia a bill got introduced that would legally define a 2 cell entity as a person, an individual, with all the rights and privileges of you and me.  I can only imagine with horror what unforeseen consequences this would have had in the area of reproductive justice.  It now appears that neither of these bills will pass into law.  But the fact remains that they were introduced and were initially deemed worthwhile for consideration for the code of Virginia law.  And individuals who would propose such laws are deemed qualified to govern in our name.   
And don’t get me started about the recent debacle around access to contraceptives as an issue of religious freedom!….My wife a few days ago asked me in frustration, “Why can’t there at least be a rational discussion of reproductive rights, instead of these sound bites repeated for political gain?”  “Well that’s obvious.” I said.  “There are no women invited to the table! It isn’t rational because men are so arrogant they believe they know what is best for women.”
All this makes me question how much progress, if any, we have made in the last 50+ years.  Things seem to be getting worse, not better.
You probably know the story of the Greek guy who kept pushing the boulder up the hill only to have it, just as he was reaching the top, roll back down to the bottom.  His name was Sisyphus.  Right now my emotional and psychological connection to Justice Work is where I imagine Sisyphus was each time his boulder rolled down the hill.  Angry, frustrated, tired, and wondering why he keeps at it.  This morning I am the guy, standing near the top of the hill, looking down at the rock of justice which, it seems, has just rolled backwards about 30 or 40 years.
Individuals are being denied basic rights in the name of religion and in the name of security.  Here I stand.   And down there is the Rock of Justice. Despite all my work and effort of the past 50 years, the world seems to be no better off—maybe even worse off.  I am frustrated.  I am angry.  I am tired.  And I am disillusioned, demoralized.  So forgive me if, right now, I need some time to pull back and to grieve and mourn.  I need some time to digest this.  Maybe later I will slowly walk back down the hill to that rock and begin anew.  But this morning, I’m just not yet ready to start moving in that direction.  Justice work is hard work!

Erik Wikstrom:  I have to say it – I LOVE being one of the preachers in this place!  I’ve been involved with religion in one way or another for going on fifty years now, and in all of my time out there in the pews and my time up here in the pulpit I have never heard said what Bob just said.  Oh, it’s often been given some kind of lip service; I’ve done it myself.  But in the end, when all’s said and done, the exhortations generally overwhelm the expressions of exhaustion.
Yet for many of us  . . . well . . . our exhaustion overwhelms everything else.  “Compassion fatigue” is not just a phrase but a phrase coined to describe an experience most of us know all too well.  We’ve fought the good fight and now are tired.  Or we’d like to fight the fight but there are just too many arenas to choose from, or we’re too busy being parents, or taking care of our parents, or just simply making ends meet doesn’t leave much time for marches.
Yes.  It's like this, right?  Isn’t it nice to hear this truth – this cold, hard, real truth – and know that what we’re feeling someone else is feeling too?
Now my preaching teachers told me that you should usually try to wrap up your sermon on an uplifting, inspiring note.  And as Bob, and Bob, and I bounced around drafts of our explorations we even thought for a bit that Bob Kiefer should put something positive in the end of his, but I’m glad we didn’t go that route because there is something positive there – a positive depiction of something that’s positively true for a whole lot of folks.  Nice to let it just sit there.
Of course, that leaves it up to me to look for the uplift, and to try to find a bridge between Bob Gross’ energy and Bob Kiefer’s enervation.
I think I found one.
When you leave the sanctuary today, if you use these doors over here, you’ll walk out into the Jefferson Foyer, and if you turn ever so slightly to your right you’ll see a set of stairs leading down.  At the top of those stairs there is a portrait of a wonderfully bearded fellow – we bearded fellows have to stick together, you know.  The man’s name is Edward Everett Hale.  He was a Unitarian clergy person, prolific author, and was involved in so many social reform movements that he gained the nickname “Edward Everything Hale.”
He once said, “If you have accomplished everything that you’ve planned for yourself, then you haven’t planned enough.”  (And I can’t resist telling you this one – while he was Chaplain to the U.S. Senate he was once asked if he prayed for the Senators.  “No,” he replied.  “I look at the Senators and I pray for the country.”)
But the reason I bring him up this morning is because of something else that he once said, something that’s preserved in the back of our hymnals.  “I am only one,” he said, “yet still I am one.  I cannot do everything, yet still I can do something.  And because I cannot do everything, I must not hesitate to do the something that I can.”  (I recently came across an alternative version of this maxim:  “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”)
I like them both – I am only one, but still I am one.  I cannot do everything, but I can do something.  And because I can’t do everything, I will not hesitate to do the something that I can, nor will I let what I cannot do interfere with my doing what I can.  I find this a very powerful motto to call on when I myself am feeling overwhelmed or tired.
One of the things that I love about the way that IMPACT works is that it almost seems as though the model was created with Hale’s quote in mind.  For those who don’t know this yet, IMPACT is an example of something that’s known as congregationally based community organizing.  It takes the idea that we’ve been repeating for the past couple/three weeks and exponentially expands it.  If it’s true that all of us here who make up TJMC are smarter than any one of us alone, then that’s equally true at Holy Comforter; and Ebeneezer Baptist; and Iglesia Fuente de Vida; and the Islamic Society of Central Virginia; and Congregation Beth Israel; and the Faith, Hope and Love International Healing and Deliverance Center; and the Unity Church of Charlottesville.
And if you take all of these various faith communities – and it’s 31 at last count, I believe – and join them together . . . well . . . then that über community is going to be really, really smart.  And what IMPACT does is to take the vision, and the passion, and the compassion, and the courage, and the creativity of this multi-faceted multi-faith community and bring it all to bear on making a concrete substantive difference in this place in which we live.  We heard earlier from Bob, and we have an insert in our Order of Service, listing some of the real . . . yes . . . impact the work of IMPACT has had in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.  It’s a really impressive list, and it’s a real example of doing the something that we can – year, after year, after year.
But here’s the other thing I love about the way IMPACT works.  There are some people among the various faith communities – and several sitting in this sanctuary at this very moment – who are extraordinarily dedicated to this method of ministry.  They serve on IMPACT’s Board, or have done so; they work on the research teams that look into the particular issue that’s been chosen for a given year; they organize the local, congregational networks; they make phones calls and send out e-mails . . .  These people are kind of like Edward Everything Hale, and I gotta tell you that they have my respect, my admiration, and my gratitude that they’re the ones doing all of that and not me.  (‘Cause I’m kinda tired, to tell you the truth, and I’ve more than got my hands full here and at home.)
But here’s the thing – these “everything” folks can’t do it alone.  Oh, there are enough of them to do all of that work that I’ve just listed – and all the rest of the things that you can easily imagine that they’re doing – but by themselves they’re not enough.  When going up against entrenched systems you can’t just have good ideas and lots of passion.  You need numbers.
There’s an axiom that every time a politician sees someone speak up on an issue they hear the voices of ten.  Because each of us knows an interconnected network of people who share our views on a lot of things, so if any of us speak up it can be safely assumed that there are others who agree with us.
So if twenty or thirty people show up to this Nehemia action (in 29 days), the folks on that stage will know that there are two or three hundred people who care about the issue of jobs and job training as a way of addressing issues of economic justice before they get played out in really hurtful ways.  And if two or three hundred people show up, our political leaders will know that there are a couple of thousand people who care.
But what if we can get 2,000 or 2,500 people into the John Paul Jones arena on Monday, March 29th?  That’d be like 20,000 or 25,000 and that’s a lot of people.  That’s a lot of influence.  Numbers like that can have a real impact.  Half of the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet – so if there’s this much visible here at the Nehemia Action . . . ?
None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something.  And one of the “somethings” that we can do is to show up – for a couple of hours on one night – and lend the weight of our support to ensure that this voice for justice is a mighty stream and not just a trickle.  And even if you’re tired, all that’s being asked is that you come and sit there.  That you come and be there. 
Some of you have already indicated your willingness to attend this Action, to do this something that you can.  But it’s easy to forget such good intentions, and I noticed that not everyone stood up before.  So I’m going to ask everyone who has their calendar on their phone or whatever to take out their device now.  Open up your calendar.  Go to March 26th.  And put “Nehemia Action” down at 6:00 – John Paul Jones Arena.
We can’t all do everything, but we can do something.  Let’s not let all that we cannot do interfere with our doing what we can.  I look forward to being with you next month.

[And here's the IMPACT video that we showed in the sanctuary.]

In Gassho,

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