Monday, October 12, 2015

The Scrapped Sermon

Here's the sermon PUUF would have heard yesterday, had it not been set aside in favor of a conversation on the events of the past eleven days since the mass murder at Umpqua CC.

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Oct. 11, 2015

            What do you already know about October 11?  Do you know why it’s important to a lot of people?  And why it might be important to Unitarian Universalists?
            Let’s start with the easy one first.  What do we commemorate on Oct. 11?   Here’s what I discovered by consulting  Google:
            In 1975, it was the first Saturday Night Live Show and its host was the late George Carlin, one of the forerunners of the comedy and politics shtick.
            It’s also Bald and Free Day, for those of you who wanted to know that.  It’s World Egg Day and National Sausage Pizza Day.  It’s also Face Your Fears Day, and here locally it’s the day of the Columbia Crossing and the last day for Astoria’s Sunday Market.  It’s also my friend Sue Ayer’s 80th birthday!  But there are a few even more important reasons to observe Oct. 11 as a special day on our calendar.
            For one thing, Oct. 11 has been designated the United Nations’ Day of the Girl Child, to raise awareness regarding gender inequality world-wide.  This special day was established in 2012 and  has a different theme every year:  in 2012, it was “ending child marriage”; in 2013, it was “innovating for girls’ education” and in 2014 it was “ending the cycle of violence”.    
This year’s theme is “the power of the adolescent girl” and was selected because teenage girls are at risk all over the world from the challenges of puberty, and their reproductive health is in danger, as they need help in protecting themselves against rape and unwanted pregnancies, STDs and gender-based violence.
            Those of us who have raised or are raising daughters and granddaughters can only imagine the difficulties of raising healthy girls under some of the world’s conditions, where kidnapping and rape in war-torn countries are commonplace and where many young women are still being held captive by the Boko Horam in Nigeria.  Can we even imagine what that must be like for them and for their families?  And we think we’ve had it tough when our girls decide their parents are old-fashioned and uncool! 
            This is one of the three October 11th commemorations that I want to think about with you this morning.  The others are similar in some ways, in that all of them share commonalities with our social justice mission as Unitarian Universalists.
            Some of you may know that Oct. 11 is also National Coming Out Day. Its purpose is to encourage lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, and questioning  people to come out of the closet to their friends and family members. 
 Over the years, so many members of the gay/lesbian/bi/trans community have bravely revealed publicly their sexual orientation or gender identity, and have told their stories and experiences, daring to take that step despite the danger, and,  that, I think, has created the possibility for the many changes in our national attitude toward sexual minorities.
            The second Monday of October which often falls on the 11th,  has commonly been known as Columbus Day, the day Christopher Columbus stumbled across the islands of the Caribbean and thought he’d found the West Indies.  That occasion, though important in the history of the Western Hemisphere, was the beginning of the demise of many indigenous peoples in the Americas. 
            Several cities in our nation have eliminated Columbus Day celebrations and instead recognize that genocidal period of history by instituting Indigenous Peoples Day instead.  Several states do not recognize Columbus Day at all any more and point to the infamous papal bull published by the Vatican in the 15th century which (and I quote):
gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they "discovered" and lay claim to those lands for their Christian Monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be "discovered", claimed, and exploited. If the "pagan" inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.
             This statement of religious arrogance and cruelty established a precedent which even the United States government enshrined  into law in the early years of our nation, and which has incited a groundswell of indignation and demands to both the church and the US government to repeal and repudiate its damning effect on the indigenous peoples of the globe.
            But I digress a bit to express my own indignation at this heinous  policy, known as the Doctrine of Discovery, which justified the treatment of native peoples in this country as Europeans considered themselves the true inheritors of the riches of this land and despised the original inhabitants as subhuman.
            Let’s look at how these three issues---the treatment of teenage girls, the struggles of sexual and gender minority persons,  and the oppression of native peoples, all of which are issues across the globe---team up with another human rights conflict which has taken center stage in the past few years here---the Black Lives Matter campaign, in which UUs have been deeply involved across the nation.
            Allison spoke to us recently about this campaign and shortly after the Sunday she spoke, I found in my own research for today a set of statements created by the group called the “Organizing Collective of Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism” which outlines pretty clearly how our Seven Principles, the philosophical statements on which our faith is founded, enable us as UUs to address the multiple threads of oppression, no matter who are the victims, and to sort out a personal and a community approach to the everyday struggle of those who are marginalized and oppressed.
            Our own denomination has had its less than heroic moments as we have struggled to live out our principles in a society where institutional racism and our own non-recognition of how our white, straight, gender privilege has often blinded us to the despair of those we perceive as “other”---be they teenage girls in sexual slavery, the torture and murder of transgender persons, the stealing of land and resources from First Nations people, or the black person killed by police policies about deadly force coupled with racism. 
            I haven’t yet figured out how to fold in the atrocities of gun violence and the difficulty of finding effective ways to reduce the misuse of guns for violent actions against the innocent.  Another day, perhaps.
            Because the document of the 7 principles of Black Lives is so powerful, let me read from the statement that has been published.  In a historic gathering of Black Leadership in July, the Caucus of Black UUs codified the direct link between our 7 UU principles and the movement for black lives, in this document which underscores the principle that Black Lives Matter.  (read document)
            When the movement “Black Lives Matter” began to gather steam, its very momentum caused anxiety among many observers.  “ALL Lives Matter” as a slogan appeared in protests; some BLM banners were defaced and the word BLACK replaced by the word ALL. 
But the movement itself was in response to the many incidences of black men and women and children being cut down by police policies, some of the victims dying needlessly, dying unarmed, dying of so-called suicides, dying for being children with water guns, thrown on the ground or beaten for no apparent reason.
            So I do not want to come across as diluting  or appropriating the message of the 7 principles of Black Lives.  I want to take the wisdom hammered out by the Organizing Collective and apply it to our own social justice efforts, whether we are working with homeless people in Astoria, growing food for the food pantry, cleaning up our roads, and just being in relationship with others in our community.
            Here’s some of what I’ve found in this manifesto that applies broadly to our work as social activists and provides a framework for searching our own hearts and minds.  We don’t want to be just do-gooder liberals, the bleeding hearts who talk about a problem, throw money at it, but don’t really get involved.  That’s not me and I hope it’s not you.
            The First Principle of UUism, our guiding philosophical principle, is that we “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person”.  To me this means that all flavors of human beings, in every or any category, matter.  All are worthy of respect and dignity, even if we are scared or repelled.
            Our second principle affirms and promotes justice, equity and compassion in human relations.  To me, this means that LOVE is the driver of our social justice work, that we reach out in our efforts to heal the world with a sincere desire to offer compassion, justice, and fairness to all persons.
           Our third principle affirms and promotes acceptance and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.  To me, this means that we, in love, strive to understand and to accept those in our congregation and in the world who are different, whose path may be different from our own, and to open our hearts to them.
            Our fourth principle affirms and promotes a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.  How can we find the best ways to practice our work, evaluate our progress, and examine our own motives and efforts?
            Our fifth principle affirms and promotes our right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in our congregations and in society.  Let us not assume that we straight white liberals of either gender know what non-straight, non-white, gender-fluid people need.  They are the experts, not us.  Let their experience guide us.
            Our sixth principle affirms and promotes the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.  What is the world we want?  For ourselves, for all other humans, for all living creatures, for our environment?  We work for transformation, that all may thrive.
            Our seventh principle, which wraps it all up, affirms and promotes respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.  Let us honor the wisdom and work of our elders, as we work to build foundations.  And let us recognize the impact of our work on future generations.  It’s not just for today.
            To summarize---the words “all persons”, “compassionate love”, “equality and justice”, “leadership, “evaluation”, “transformation” and “all existence” jump out at me.
            They create a concept that could be our mission statement, our reason for being, our goal to achieve, small bit by small bit, until the world around us has been transformed in some positive way.
            Giving compassionate love to all persons in the name of equality, we seek to support the cause of justice by respecting the leadership of oppressed groups and carefully evaluating our motives and process, in the quest for transformation  for all existence.
            Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.
HYMN# 170  “We are a gentle angry people”
            Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, ready to give compassionate love to all, committed to equality and justice, respecting the leadership of those who are fighting the battle of oppression, keeping our motives honest and clean, as we bring transformation to ourselves and all existence.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Scrapping the Sermon...

is something I've never done before, but it's going to happen today.

As I was going over what I'd written for today, it just didn't feel right.  It wasn't bad, but it felt inarticulate and inadequate, considering what has gone down in the world---and in Oregon---over the past eleven days, since Oct. 1, when a student at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg opened fire on his classmates and teacher, killing nine of them before he killed himself.

This was followed a few days later by two more school shootings in the US, in which others died, and the horrible specter of Roseburg citizens protesting the arrival of President Obama in Roseburg to visit the families of the victims, angry with him and his concerns about gun violence.

I was afraid for him all day, afraid that one of these misguided souls might haul off and shoot our President because of their anger and fear, afraid of what that would mean for our nation and for Oregon, afraid of the ricochet of a metaphorical bullet as it brought down hopes and dreams in a bloody heap.

So we are going to spend the 20 minutes of sermon time in a conversation about guns and hate, two topics that have reared their ugly heads in several ways in the past eleven days.  I intended to tie together, cleverly of course, the observances of the UN's Day of the Girl Child, Indigenous People's Day, and National Coming Out Day, including the work of the Organizing Collective of Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, which penned a thoughtful document about how our 7 principles are expressed through the BLM campaign.

In the end, it just wasn't going to work.  So here we are with Plan B.