Monday, March 23, 2015

Real Bondage

This is the sermon I delivered to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist
on Sunday, March 22, 2015.  You can click here to
listen to the podcast.
On the page of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council website that talks about the work of Ms. Urmila Bhoola, the SpecialRapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, are these words
Slavery was the first human rights issue to arouse wide international concern yet it still continues today. […]
The majority of those who suffer are the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized social groups in society. Fear, ignorance of one’s rights and the need to survive do not encourage them to speak out.
In order to effectively eradicate slavery in all its forms, the root causes of slavery such as poverty, social exclusion and all forms of discrimination must be addressed.
By its very nature, contemporary forms of slavery operate in the shadows and, so, are hard to quantify, but researchers estimate that today in 2015 somewhere between 21 to 36 million people are enslaved worldwide – that’s more than ever before in our human (or, perhaps, it’s better to say our so-called human) history.  And slaves today are cheaper than ever. In 1850, an average slave in the American South cost the equivalent of, in today’s money, $40,000.  The worldwide average cost today is around $90.   (That’s according to Kevin Bales’ 2004 book, Disposable People:  New Slavery in the Global Economy.)
Now some of us, on hearing this kind of thing, find ourselves looking for a way out.  Oh, he can’t really be talking about slavery slavery, right?  I mean, slavery’s been outlawed for a long time, right?  Here’s a fact that might blow your mind:  the last country to abolish slavery was Mauritania … in 1981.  Yet even with that, it didn’t become illegal to own slaves there until 2007.  Let that sink it.  It was still legal in part of the world for one person to own another person less than a decade ago. 
Of course, just because it’s now illegal everywhere doesn’t mean it’s over and done with – organizations that are working on this issue say that one form or another of modern slavery, to one extent or another, exists today in every single country on the planet.  Including ours.  It’s estimated that there are some 60,000 enslaved people in the U.S. today.
Contemporary slavery takes many different forms, but the group Free the Slaves defines it this way:  “Slavery is the holding of people at a workplace through force, fraud or coercion for purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor so that the slaveholder can extract profit.”  They sum it up even more concisely:  “slavery is being forced to work without pay, under the threat of violence, and being unable to walk away.” 
Although the international sex trade gets the majority of the headlines, this actually accounts for only about 22% of contemporary slavery.  It is estimated that something like 78% of today’s enslaved people are forced to work in industries requiring plentiful, cheap, labor – farming, ranching, logging, mining, fishing, and brick making.  Others work in service industries in jobs such as dish washers, janitors, gardeners, and maids.  More women than men are enslaved, and 26% of today’s slaves are children.
There’s a website called  You answer a series of questions about your lifestyle – and you can answer generally or in great detail – and it calculates the number of people who are working in slavery to support you.  Gimmicky?  Yes.  Illustrative?  Absolutely.  Disturbing?  Without a doubt.  According to the website there my lifestyle depends on the work of some 46 enslaved people.  (And I think that had I gone into detail in my answers that figure would probably be higher still.)
So … not only does slavery continue into the present day, but I’m involved.  I’m complicit.  I’m part of the problem.  And I hate to say it, but so are you.
It seems to me that there are at least six likely responses any one of us might have to hearing all of this this morning:
  1. We might feel really bad about it for a while and, then, pretty much forget about it as we go about our daily lives.  This is a really simple response, and one which a whole lot of folks tend to make.  Out of sight; out of mind.
  2. We might feel really bad about it for a while, and then keep feeling bad about it.  We might feel guilty, and overwhelmed, and overwhelmingly guilty to the point that we get paralyzed.  The problem’s too big, and we’re too small, and we wouldn’t know what to do anyway.  This one’s a pretty popular response, too. 
  3. Of course, we might find ourselves fired up, inspired to take this on as the cause we want to engage with.  You may remember the immortal words of Edward Everett Hale, whose portrait hangs in the stairwell going down to our lower hall – “I cannot do everything.  Yet still I can do something.”  Perhaps we will respond to this sermon this morning by becoming active in the modern abolition movement.  There’s a FaceBook page for a group called (here's their website) – and some of our congregations have active anti-slavery committees.  An organization like Free The Slaves has suggestions for concrete things we can do to work for a slavery-free world.
  4. We might not be ready to dive that far into the pool.  We may know that we’re already involved with another cause that we’re committed to.  We may know that it’s all that we can do to do our jobs, or focus on our schooling, or take care of our elderly parents or our young kids (or both).  We may know all this yet still want to do something so, of course, we can learn.  We can educate ourselves.  Lots, believe me, lots of websites are just waiting your perusal, and groups like, again, Free the Slaves have suggested books and videos for people who want to learn.  Don’t underestimate the power of education.  Contemporary slavery thrives on its invisibility and the tendency toward denial that is so prevalent.  One anti-trafficking group I came across has as its mission, “Educate to Eradicate.”
    We might not want to – or feel able to – learn everything there is to learn about modern-day slavery, yet we might want to learn about how we are involved and how we might at least extricate ourselves.  I mentioned the website  There’s also, which makes it possible for us to look at the official statements on issues of human slavery that have been made, if any, by companies with which we often do business.  We can learn more about their supply chain and what might be going on in the background.  This information can help us make decisions about where we put our money and for what – choosing fair trade chocolate, for instance, instead of brands that might be cheaper but depend on slave labor for the picking of the cocoa beans.  Same with the clothing we buy – it is possible to find out who made the clothes we’re wearing.  We might have to spend a little more, but if it makes slave labor unprofitable because there is less demand for their products, isn’t it worth it? 
  5. And I know that that’s easy to say but that for some of us “spending a little more” is not a possibility.  I do recognize that, so spending more might not be the way but, instead, spending more carefully, choosing with more awareness, buying more at thrift stores so that our money doesn’t go into the slavery chain.  (With even small changes I might be able to reduce the number of enslaved people I depend on from my current 46.)
  6. We might bring this issue with us into our prayer or meditation practices, consciously holding the women, children, and men who are currently enslaved, as well as their families who may not know where their loved ones are or how might live in fear of the traffickers; we might pray for the traffickers themselves, and for the government officials who know about the practices going on in their countries yet who look the other way; we might dedicate the merit of our meditations to ordinary people like you and me who are caught in this web as well.
There are so many ways we can respond – it’s up to each of us to choose the response that makes the most sense for us.  What I don’t believe we have a choice about, though, is whether to respond.  Even if we decided to forget about all this and go on about our business, I know that I cannot un-see what I have seen or un-hear what I have now heard.  Neither can you.
I want to come back, again, to part of the reading I began with, from the UN’s Human Rights Council:In order to effectively eradicate slavery in all its forms, the root causes of slavery such as poverty, social exclusion and all forms of discrimination must be addressed. We live in a fundamentally inter-connected world – a web of existence that is not simply a metaphor or a lovely poetic image.  It’s a scientific fact.  The child forced to labor without pay in Asia is making component parts to a device that’s in my pocket right now, or maybe that pocket itself.  We are not just connected, but interconnected.  As the Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, we “inter-are.”
Those “root causes” the Human Rights Council identifies – poverty, social exclusion, discrimination – are not present only in Brazil, the Congo, or Nepal (three of the places Free the Slaves works).  Poverty, social exclusion, discrimination are here in the United States, too.  Here in Charlottesville, too.  Our Unitarian Universalist faith affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person and encourages us to do all that we can to address such conditions, wherever and however they manifest.  As for TJMC, our Mission Statement speaks our goal of having, “a lasting influence on local, national and global programs that promote equity and end oppression.”  [Sounds like this could fit with that, no?]
We live in a fundamentally inter-connected world.  And as much as our theology paints a glowing picture of human potential, we know that it’s an often cruel and painful world.  Even so, we do believe in hope; we do believe in redemption; we do believe in the power of love.  Let us renew our faith in these, and remain open to the tugging of the Spirit that can show us where to go and what to do.
Closing Words:
We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored. Today we have the opportunity, awareness, wisdom, innovation and technology

Monday, March 09, 2015

Deconstructing Bondage & Freedom

This is the text of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 8th, 2015 at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist in Charlottesville, VA.  If you'd like, you can also listen to a podcast.

Opening Words:  The Road fromSelma by June Brindel


“When a person places the proper value on freedom, there is nothing under the sun that he will not do to acquire that freedom. Whenever you hear a man saying he wants freedom, but in the next breath he is going to tell you what he won't do to get it, or what he doesn't believe in doing in order to get it, he doesn't believe in freedom. A man who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire... or preserve his freedom.”

That’s Malcolm X talking (and I kept his gender specific language in place for historicity’s sake).  “A person who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire... or preserve that freedom.”  “Whenever you hear someone saying they want freedom, but in the next breath tells you what they won't do to get it, or what they don’t believe in doing in order to get it, that person doesn't believe in freedom.”

It doesn’t take a lot to see that in this Malcolm is taking a crack at the Rev. Dr. King, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council, and the hundreds of people who fifty years ago today were in Selma nursing the wounds of “Bloody Sunday,” and the thousands of people – white and black – who were on their way there to stand in solidarity and to march, eventually, all the way to Montgomery.  The folks President Obama was talking about yesterday, the ones he described as, “ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice.”  These are the people Malcolm X is dismissing as not really believing in, not really understanding, freedom.

What we have here is a clash of ideologies or, perhaps even more accurately, of strategies.  Malcolm X said, "We declare our right on this be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary."  If Dr. King said that “We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means,” then Malcolm X was essentially saying that those seeking freedom must have the freedom to choose how they’re going to do it.

“I don't favor violence,” he said. “If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I'm also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are black people."  He also said, “"I don't mean go out and get violent; but at the same time you should never be nonviolent unless you run into some nonviolence. I'm nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me. But when you drop that violence on me, then you've made me go insane, and I'm not responsible for what I do."

Martin Luther King, on the other hand, believed that “hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that [and that] we must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.”  He said, “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the [one] who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

Malcolm X said, “Concerning nonviolence: It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself, when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks. It is legal and lawful to own a shotgun or a rifle. We believe in obeying the law.” 

What we have here is a clash of ideologies or, perhaps even more accurately, a clash of strategies.  And this clash reveals a paradox – can violence ever achieve peace?  Can limits ever lead to freedom?  It’s this later one that I really want to dig into this morning.

Miriam Webster’s Dictionary defines “freedom” as, “the quality or state of being free,” which it further defines as “liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another (in other words, independence),” and, “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.”  And by this definition it seems as though Malcolm X was on to something – if freedom is “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action,” then how can you achieve freedom if the road you’re going to take to get there is, of necessity, constrained in advance by a principle like nonviolence?

And I’ve got to tell you, the more I read about what went on in Selma 50 years ago the more respect for I have for the discipline, the restraint, the limits that those peaceful freedom fighters placed on themselves, and the strength and courage it took to remain true to them.

Last week I talked about Mark Morrison-Reed’s book, TheSelma Awakening.  This week it’s Richard Leonard’s Call to Selma:  eighteen days of witness.  Richard Leonard was the Minister of Religious Education at the Community Church of New York 50 years ago, and he was one of the hundreds of clergy and lay people who responded to Dr. King’s call and headed down to Selma to stand in solidarity.  He went expecting to be gone just a couple of days.  He stayed for eighteen.  (But don’t worry, by the seventh day he finally managed to call home and tell his wife and kids that he’d gone.)  This book, published back in 2002, is the story of his experiences during those days, as reconstructed from the notes and journal he kept at that time.  What makes Call to Selma so moving is that it is the story told from eye level.  It’s doesn’t depict the perspective of the leadership, but the rank and file.  It’s not the story of the people making the decisions, but of the ones who, in faith, acted on them.
And what a story it is.  

We know, I hope, about that first march, the one that happened 50 years ago yesterday, the one where the marchers hadn’t even gotten all the way over the Edmund Pettus bridge when they were set upon by police with billy clubs and tear gas – Bloody Sunday.  And we may know about the march two days later, on March 9th, that came to be called Turnaround Tuesday, because the marchers voluntarily turned around in order not to violate the federal court order prohibiting a march (to show their respect for the law), yet also having gotten just a little bit further than they had two days before (to demonstrate their resolve).  And then there was that third march, which started on March 21 and ended with 25,000 people marching up to the state house in Montgomery on March 25th.

In between there was the lesser known stalemate at the so-called “Berlin Wall.”  With the road to Montgomery blocked by a federal injunction, and hundreds of people wanting and needing to do something, organizers decided on March 10th, the day after Reverends Reeb, Miller, and Olsen were attacked, the organizers decided to march to the Dallas County Courthouse.  Almost immediately they were met by Mayor Smitherman and Chief Baker, and rows and rows of police officers stretching across Sylvan Street, blocking their way.  This faceoff would continue for six days – night and day, good weather or rain (and there was apparently a lot of hard rain that week).  At one point Chief Baker strung a clothesline across the street to physically demarcate what we might call now “a line in the sand.”  The story of the hours and days on that line is powerful stuff, no less powerful than the stories of the meetings between King and Johnson, for instance.

But to bring us back to that paradox, here were hundreds of women, children, and men who were fighting for their freedom, yet who were incredibly disciplined about it.  They knew that an “anything goes” kind of anarchic freedom could get them all killed and, maybe worse, hurt their cause.  Leonard tells of seeing at one point a hand, coming out of the rows further back, with a pair of scissors poised to cut Chief Baker’s “Berlin Wall,” and then, almost immediately, another hand reached out and pulled the first hand back.  There were times when folks wanted to push through that line, to break through those “stiff ranked troopers / white as a shroud / rimming the road from Selma” the way our Opening Words imagined the ghosts of Reeb and Jackson, Evers and Till, and those four little girls from Birmingham doing.  Oh they wanted to, but they didn’t.  Their actions were dictated by necessity; seriously constrained and restricted.  There were things many of them wanted to do but that they would not do.  They gave up freedom to gain freedom.

And that may be an important point to highlight.  These weren’t constraints placed upon them from the outside; these were limits voluntarily imposed on themselves.  If you choose to limit your own freedom, is your freedom truly limited? 

That’s something I think Malcolm X may have missed.  And you’d think he would have understood this.  After all, members of the Nation of Islam denied themselves the pleasures of the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs … eating meat.  Members adhered to a strict dress code and what’s been described as a military discipline.  Yet they accepted, even embraced, these limitations to their freedom because of the sense of greater freedom such discipline made possible.  (The word “Islam” itself, the Arabic word, means “submission” as in “submission to the will of Allah.”)  All of this Malcolm understood and it didn’t bother him at all.  Here he understood that an unbridled, no-limits freedom was potentially dangerous and damaging.

King understood the power of self-control, of discipline, of making the choice to limit one’s choices on behalf of a greater freedom.  His belief in the power of nonviolence came from two very different sources.  One, the Hindu Mohandas Gandhi, whom King once called “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”  Gandhi is remembered as saying about meeting violence with nonviolence, “They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then they will have my dead body, but not my obedience.”   The other inspiration, of course, would have been Jesus who exemplified devotion to love and truth even if that meant his own execution.  Jesus who was remembered as, even from the cross, asking for mercy for those who tortured him.

So why talk about all this this morning?  In part because this is the 50th anniversary of those events in Selma and we need to remember because, despite how far we’ve come as a nation there is still so much farther we have to go.

But there’s another reason as well.  The dominant culture in which we swim tells us in ways both subtle and overt that we should let nothing stand in the way of our “pursuit of happiness.”  The culture of conspicuous consumption and on-demand … everything … is presented as the highest ideal, and we are inculcated with the notion that our highest goal should be the freedom to do what we want when we want.  We’re told, in short, that bondage is bad and freedom is good.

Yet without its banks a flowing river becomes a swamp.  “Make channels for the streams of love where they may broadly run,” goes the hymn.  Without those channels forward movement is dissipated.  This is true of a fight for civil rights; this is true for the living of our own lives.

When I hear somebody talking about freedom – or anything of value that they seek – and then, in the same breath, hear them say what they’re not going to do to get it, or what they don’t believe in doing to get it, then I feel certain that they eventually will.

Pax tecum,


Monday, March 02, 2015


This is the sermon delivered at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church -- Unitarian Universalist, on Sunday March, 1, 2015.  If you'd like, you can listen to a podcast.

This coming Saturday, March 7th, is the 50th anniversary of the first of three marches from Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery.  This first one didn’t even make it fully over the Edmund Pettuss bridge because State troopers attacked the peaceful marchers so viciously that the event came to be called “Bloody Sunday.”  Two days later, on March 9th, a larger crowd marched again, this time turned back without violence.  And on March 21st the third and final march took place – this time with the protection ­of law enforcement, and this time making it all the way to Montgomery.  This history is the basis of the movie Selma, which didn’t win the Oscar for “best picture.”

It’s also the focus of Mark Morrison-Reed’s newest book, The Selma Awakening: how the civil rights movement tested and changed Unitarian Universalism.  For those who are unfamiliar with the Rev. Dr. Morrison-Reed’s work, he is a historian and a prophet, speaking truth to power.  He tells our Unitarian Universalist story as it is – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  His focus has largely been on our history with regards race and, as the subtitle of one of his books puts it, “black trailblazers and missed opportunities.”  His work is both profound and powerful – profoundly inspiring and powerfully depressing.

In The Selma Awakening, he takes up one of Unitarian Universalism’s proudest moments.  After “bloody Sunday” Dr. King sent telegrams to religious leaders around the country, calling on them to come to Selma and stand in solidarity.  And people did.  That first march consisted of about 600 women, children, and men.  Two days later, when the second march took place, there were 2,500 people walking together.  This number included approximately 500 Unitarian Universalists – nearly one-fifth of all UU clergy were there, as well as a large number of lay people.  The UUA Board, which was meeting in Boston at the time, suspended their meeting and reconvened in Selma.  We showed up.

That wasn’t easy.  It was a frightening, dangerous time.  One of the clergy who went – the day after his ordination, actually – remembers being advised, “Don’t go to Selma unless it is more important that you go than that you come back.”  And not everyone did come back.  After that second march three Unitarian Universalist Ministers were beaten savagely.  One, the Rev. James Reeb, died from his injuries.  His death sent shockwaves not only around the country, but around the world as well. 

Hundreds upon hundreds of African American women and men had been murdered in the south, of course.  In fact, the Selma marches were a response to the beating and shooting, on February 25th, of an unarmed man named JimmyLee Jackson – a beating and shooting at the hands of Alabama State troopers I should add.

But – as awful as it is to say this out loud – James Reeb was white, so the reaction to his death was outrage instead of indifference.  The reaction, I should hasten to clarify, of white America.  It was one of our own, if you will; his death had a galvanizing effect.  There were 25,000 people in that final march to Montgomery.

There were actually three martyrs from those marches – Jimmy Lee Jackson, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian Universalist lay woman who was also murdered in Selma 50 years ago this month.  Often only Reeb is remembered, but there is a memorial plaque with all three of their faces on it in our headquarters in Boston.

I won’t go into all of the ways that we UUs are interwoven with those events in Selma, but I will say that reading about it makes me proud.  It would make you proud.  When the call went out, we responded.

Yet reading The Selma Awakening is not entirely an uplifting experience.  For us to have “awakened” at Selma suggests that before that we’d been asleep.  And in some very disappointing and discouraging ways, we had been.  If the story of our actions in Selma would make you proud, then the stories of our inaction beforehand will make you angry. Mark does a very good job of putting our courageous involvement in Selma into the context of our much more convoluted history regarding race. 

I won’t go into all of the details here either, but there’s a passage that particularly struck me.  Mark is making a kind of summary statement of our movement and its predecessors.  He says:

“Unitarians and Universalists celebrated an exclusively Euro-American worldview that was implicitly racist, while convinced that their congregations were open and accepting.  Unable to imagine anything else, they championed assimilation while calling it integration. […]

Unitarian Universalist behavior was shaped by white discomfort:  ignorance and anxiety about people and cultures that seemed different from their own; an inability to step too far outside cultural norms; and a fear of ceding control which venturing into unfamiliar situations would have required.  In their complacence, Unitarians and Universalists unwittingly continued to support American apartheid.  The liberal’s version was just white supremacy-lite.”

What got me as I read that is the strong certainty that if you change the verbs from past to present tense, it’s still largely true:

“Unitarian Universalism celebrates an [almost] exclusively Euro-American worldview that is implicitly racist, while convinced that our congregations are open and accepting.  Unable to imagine anything else, we champion assimilation while calling it integration.”

Some of you are no doubt beginning to feel a little defensive.  (If not a lot and for a while now.)  But let me ask this:  why is it that we can’t seem to attract African Americans, Latinos and Latinas, and other people of color?  Even more importantly, I think, why is it that we can’t create an environment that is so truly welcoming that those who do come feel like staying, and inviting their friends?

Well … let’s begin to answer that question by looking at the question itself.  Put another way, what I’m asking is:  what is it about Unitarian Universalism, or the way it’s embodied in UU congregations, that gets in the way of being truly multicultural?  It’s a good question; an important question.  One well worth asking.  Yet when I ask it the way I chose to originally, the way I’ve heard it asked so many, many times before – not only here but around the country – I’m doing something besides asking the question.  

When I use the personal pronoun “we” – instead of the more impersonal noun “Unitarian Universalism” –  I’m making an implicit, if not entirely consciously intended, statement about our faith.  I’m using “we” to represent Unitarian Universalism; asserting that “we” and “Unitarian Universalism” are synonymous.  Right?  That’s what pronouns do – they stand in place of a noun. 

Okay.  So … who is this “we”?  Well … among other things, we’re overwhelmingly white.  And whether we are conscious of it or not – and by “we” here I do intentionally mean us white folk – whether we’re conscious of it or not, when we ask why we can’t attract more people of color we’re really saying that Unitarian Universalism is a white religion and we want them to join us to make it less white.  See how that works?  And see the “us and them” in there?  The very “us and them” that’s been condemned from this pulpit time and time again.  Yet there we are, perpetuating it even as we want to transform it.

So let’s be clear here – Unitarian Universalism has been, and largely still is, a majority white religious tradition.  Often our hearts have been in the right place – Mark lifts up some powerful declarations, especially from our Universalist ancestors, that if we stand for what we say we stand for then we must stand against racial discrimination.  This passage from a letter written to the Universalist Leader in 1942 will give you the flavor.  [You’ll see that I’ve chosen to retain the original language.]

“As applied to our brothers of Negro blood, this ostracism is political, economic, and social – and most deplorable.  We Universalists might well take a leading part in this reform; in fact, as exponents of brotherhood, we must take this stand or else be guilty of rank duplicity and hypocrisy.  In that case, our Church will rot and die, and it will well deserve its fate.”

After this quotation Mark comments simply, “His words were prophetic.”

We – we Unitarian Universalists – we predominantly white Unitarian Universalists – have been struggling for decades – for more than half a century – with how to bring to fruition our vision of “one human family, on one fragile planet, in one miraculous universe, bound by love.”  Yet with virtually every effort we make we undercut ourselves by consciously or unconsciously framing it as trying to bring “them” to join “us.”  And that simply doesn’t work.

So what’s the solution?  Is there a solution? 

First, let’s be honest with ourselves … our Unitarian Universalist faith is as infected by systemic racism as is any other predominantly white institution.  We are, to bring us to our theme for the month and this sermon’s title, we are bound by it and in bondage to it.  That’s a hard thing to admit.  Especially for folks so proud of their liberal identity, it’s a hard thing to admit.  First step though, no matter how hard it is – we need to acknowledge that when we are comfortably complacent we align ourselves with those systems that oppress and marginalize. 

We can’t help it.  It’s like it’s in the air we breathe and the water we drink.  We can’t help it, but we can become aware of it.  We can acknowledge it.  And the more we keep it in our consciousness the more we move out of our comfortable complacency and away from the cultural norms that support racism.  The more we tell the truth to ourselves, the more choice we can have about where and how we want to live in this world.

Next, we need to recognize the limitations of our “openness.”  Despite our assertions to the contrary our actions show that what we’re really after is more of a homogenized soup than a hearty gumbo.  We – again, majority we, white we – want to bring people of different racial, ethnic, and economic groups into our circles, yet it’s obvious to those folks that we also want to keep those circles ours.  As Mark put it, “we champion assimilation while calling it integration.”  People of color have enough places that demand that they assimilate; why would they want to do it at church, too?

So we need to reconsider what it means to invite to the table those who are not there now.  I can tell you some of what it means:  It means that our carefully planned seating chart will be all messed up, and the silverware and plates won’t match anymore, and there’ll be food there that we’ve never seen and aren’t all that sure that we like … and it’ll be this way not as an experiment or as an interesting experience but because this is the way it is now.  We won’t be going back to how it was.  Put simply: we are not a multicultural community right now.  If we become one we will have changed from what we are right now.  To become one we will have to change.

Do we want that?  Do we really want that? 

Sometimes I despair.  Newsweek magazine once described Unitarian Universalism as “the quintessential baby boomer church.”  (I don’t think it was meant entirely a compliment.)  In my time I’ve seen more than a bit of “I want us to do more of what I want and wish we’d do less of the things I don’t” even if we know that there are other people who want to do those other things. We can be a little self-centered.  We’ll have to give that up.

And that feeling we have of walking into the sanctuary and feeling at home?  Yeah … we’ll have to give that up, too.  At least for a while.  Because the homes most of us live in are in neighborhoods that are largely homogenous racially and economically.  If we’re going to make other people comfortable we’re going to have to be at least a little uncomfortable … at least for a while … until we come to experience for ourselves how the Beloved Community is so much more awesome than a gated one.

Freedom from bondage does not come cheap.  On the contrary, it’s costly.  Are we – and let’s say what we mean – are we predominantly white folk who are used to having things the way we have always had them – are we willing to pay those costs?  Are we willing to face the even greater costs if we don’t?  It was true in '42 and it's still true now -- " In that case, our Church will rot and die, and it will well deserve its fate."

I’m going to conclude this sermon with the words the Rev. Phillip Hewett used to conclude a sermon he preached a couple of months after the marches in Selma.  When he speaks of “this tragedy of our time” he was talking about Selma.  We might be think, instead, of Fergusson, or Staten Island, but his challenge is the same.

“Intellectually, we may be ready for the new age into which we are called upon to enter.  But at heart we still have some fundamental adjustments to make.  Some Unitarians made that adjustment overnight in Selma.  All of them came away saying they would never be the same persons again. And somehow or other we have to let this tragedy of our time enter into our hearts until we can say that too.”

Pax tecum,