- Fifth Sundays are “Social Action Sundays” with special outside speakers
- The Social Action Committee meets on the 4th Monday of the month at 5:30 in the TRUU Room in the Third Street Center. All are welcome.
- Recently, we screened “Defying the Nazis” to raise awareness of how fear and bigotry lead to war – and what that means for our current political climate. We raised funds for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and are ardent supporters of the Thompson Divide Coalition. Join us!
This is an excerpt of a sermon given by Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker at General Assembly in 1998. You can read the whole thing here: http://www.uua.org/ga/past/1998/123808.shtml
What We Have Been Given: A Community of Resistance
… What we are given, most of all, is membership in a community of resistance to oppression. Let us wake up into the dream they dreamed of abundant life for all, and, in our time, put into practice the way of life that will embody the realization of that dream.
The words of English Puritan Richard Overton, 1647:
“It is a firm…and radical principle in nature, engraved in the tables of the heart by the finger of God in creation, for every living, moving thing, wherein there is the breath of life, to defend, preserve, guard, and deliver itself from all things hurtful, destructive and obnoxious thereto, to the utmost of its power…..By all rational and just ways and means possible.. to save, defend, and deliver [life] …. from all oppression, violence and cruelty …”
—Quoted in Woodhouse
The Free Church tradition emerged in the 16th century as part of a reforming movement that resisted the corrupt hierarchical power of the church and the economic alliance between the feudal aristocracy and the church. The making of church covenants asserted the power of people to determine their own lives, and to choose who would govern them. It was a grassroots empowerment movement that became a decisive factor in the rise of modern democracy and the emergence of a post-feudal economic system.
In the presence of injustice and oppression, our forbears embraced freedom. They advocated for free speech, dissent, open debate, tolerance of different opinions in a disciplined search for truth. This free speech was important, not only as an end in itself, but as a means to social change. They challenged economic systems that neglected the poor, justice systems that were unfair, prison systems that were cruel, and economic practices that concentrated wealth in the hands of a few.
The covenant of which we are a part is a tradition that resists oppression by directly challenging the authority of oppressors, acting to remove them from power, and establishing new structures or alternative communities that put what is hoped for into practice. Most importantly, in this covenant, oppression is resisted finally not by argument, not by protest marches, not by passing resolutions, but by the practices of covenanted church life.
Betty Reid Soskin, a contemporary Unitarian Universalist community activist, articulates this radical principle this way: “The way to change the world is to be what we want to see.”
Quaker Jim Corbett, the leader of the Sanctuary movement, speaks of this as civil initiative. Civil initiative, in contrast to civil disobedience (as important as civil disobedience can be) brings about change by proposing and manifesting, more than by dismantling and opposing.
Our Puritan forbears resisted oppression by putting into practice a way of life that manifested an alternative to the structures of oppression that dominated their lives. This was the heart of their covenant: to be what they wanted to see, to live as if the day of justice had arrived. They organized their church life to include the free conscience of each individual in a mutual commitment to the common good. They manifested an alternative to the oppressive use of power by a small elite, uninterested in the welfare of all, exercising economic and religious power without consent or accountability.
As matters evolved, what the Puritans first practiced in their congregations transformed nations. Puritan scholar, A.S.P. Woodhouse, remarks,
“the congregation was the school of democracy. There the humblest member might hear, and join in the debate, might witness the discovery of the natural leader, and participate in that curious process by which there emerges from the clash of many minds a vision clearer and a determination wiser than any single mind could achieve. … If the Leveller [radical Puritan] emphasizes the contract on which the authority of just government depends, and insists on the principle of consent, he has had, in his church, experience of a community organized on these very principles.”
—Woodhouse, Puritans and Liberty, p. 76
The Fulfilling the Promise Survey asked, “What are your dreams for the UU movement?” A strong majority of us said our highest hope is to “become a visible and influential force for good in the world.”
The history of covenant-making shows that the means for tremendous influence for the common good are in our hands. We do not need more money, though it always helps when we are as liberal regarding money as we are in other matters. We do not need more people, though it would be good to have them, and many in our society need what congregational life can give. To be an influential force for good, what we need to do is establish more strongly in our congregational life the practices that embody loving, just, and sustainable community. We need to be what we want to see, and make visible an alternative to the forms of oppression, alienation and injustice alive in our time.
Doing so will be a form of keeping faith with the covenant we are already in—the covenant of resistance to oppression. To not do so, will be to break covenant with those who came before us, who built…
the house we gratefully inhabit.
Though the path be hard and long,
Still we strive in expectation;
Join we now their ageless song
One with them in aspiration.
One in name, in honor one,
Guard we well the crown they won:
What they dreamed be ours to do,
Hope their hopes and seal them true.
It is exciting to contemplate what might be asked of us, and what promise we might fulfill, if we took this task with seriousness, and gave our lives to it.
But it will take courage to do this. It will take spiritual stamina and strength. To find it, we will have to go by a path that we may not want to follow. We will have to look at the complicity of our religious tradition in the failure of our society to be just and sustainable.
The question should not be – have you heard of James Baldwin – but really, have you met James Baldwin? His writing style is so personal it gives readers gooseflesh. Of course, this documentary authored by him has the same quality. While I know, intellectually, it is Samuel L. Jackson’s resonant voice speaking Baldwin’s words, I feel the deep questions he poses to me as if he were sitting right next to me. Questions like, since there is no such thing as the “n-word” in reality, why was it invented? Why do white people need this word?
The quest, Baldwin tells us, is to journey through the deaths of three famous civil rights icons: Medger Evers, Malcolm X, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Often times when we look back at history and these peoples lives are confined to paper. They are flattened; their connections severed. With the richness film offers we can see the connections all four of these men had in reshaping a nation towards its highest ideals. There’s James Baldwin, grinning his deeply wrinkled smile behind the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s back, as if they were ready to enjoy a fabulous night of hi-jinx. Here’s Malcom X, intently listening to James Baldwin’s lecture, and there are three of them, Baldwin, King, and Malcolm all sharing their lofty visions on how to get the United States to a better place. You see the faces of Medger Ever’s children at their father’s funeral, after James Baldwin shares how they witnessed his murder in the carport of their family home. These icons never stood alone, but were always together in a bond of friendship that changed a nation.
A day after seeing the film Baldwin’s words float over images from the movie in my mind. White is not an actual race, but a symbol of power, I hear, over the images of black families holding their white-colored children with their straight hair. I am, James Baldwin says with an old fashioned tape recorder looped around his neck, flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone. I am white and black, he says of his family’s genealogy. But because of the color of his skin, he is never accepted in white spaces.
There are times when the jarring imagery of the film doesn’t work for me. It feels like the clips of Native Americans shown in the film far outnumber the times their genocide is actually mentioned; as if the film director wanted the deaths of native americans whites commited on our minds as much as we are listening to when whites enslaved and brutalized African-Americans. There is a point where the floating heads of politicians apologize but I feel that their apologies are out of context. It rapidly flashes between the clashes of the Black Lives Matter movement with the police to the actions of African-Americans in the 60’s – whether it was school children trying to go to class or folks trying to eat in the ‘whites-only’ section part of restaurants.
This suggests that today is just as bad as it was yesterday. Since I am not black I can’t comment if that is true, but I can comment on the actions of white people back then and how they are acting today. I feel that while the president dog-whistles at white supremacists, and there is a white supremacist as a National Security Advisor, that is not as bad as it was in the 50’s, when it was respectable to belong to the KKK. White supremacy has yet to regain this respectability in my time, and it is because of the successes of the black leaders of the civil rights movement that this is so. I hope that the strong outcry from all people of all ethnicities will continue to resonate so loudly it cannot be ignored; we will not go back to a time in which school children where explicitly told which drinking fountain to drink from, which playground to play in, which careers they were allowed to take.
If you are scared, upset, strongly disagree, if you are uncomfortable by the questions Baldwin poses, or the the things he shares then you are on the right track towards growth and I encourage you to meet him too by watching this film or reading his books. This film showed to me a man who did not make the case for civil rights on a christian or muslim or classist basis, but out of a deep love for all of humanity. My only regret is that the documentary did not include my favorite words of James Baldwin:
“The role of the artist is exactly the same role, I think, as the role of the lover. If you love somebody, you honor at least two necessities at once. One of them is to recognize something very dangerous, or very difficult. Many people cannot recognize it at all, that you may also be loved; love is like a mirror. In any case, if you do love somebody, you honor the necessity endlessly, and being at the mercy of that love, you try to correct the person whom you love. Now, that’s a two-way street. You’ve also got to be corrected. As I said, the people produce the artist, and it’s true. The artist also produces the people. And that’s a very violent and terrifying act of love. The role of the artist and the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see. Insofar as that is true, in that effort, I become conscious of the things that I don’t see. And I will not see without you, and vice versa, you will not see without me. No one wants to see more than he sees. You have to be driven to see what you see. The only way you can get through it is to accept that two-way street which I call love. You can call it a poem, you can call it whatever you like. That’s how people grow up. An artist is here not to give you answers but to ask you questions.”
— James Baldwin, “The Black Scholar Interviews James Baldwin,” Conversations with James Baldwin (edited by Fred L. Standley and Louis H. Pratt)
Check out this article in the Sopris Sun detailing the ways our community will continue to support the fight at Standing Rock: http://www.soprissun.com/news-general/170126_standingrock
The Syria Campaign is building an open, global movement working for a peaceful future for Syria. We are people from all over the world who are coming together to tackle what the UN has described as “the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our time”.
On November 21st, I arrived in Standing Rock with donations from many people from the Carbondale community. I brought my brother who is an expert in heating and cooling, my two kids Rose and Rex, the Rev. Pallas Standford, and … Continue reading →
Roaring Fork Valley school district, non-profits, and houses of worship have sprung into action following the election of a president who promises to be tough on immigration. Rev. Shawna Foster gives a faith-based response in the Colorado Post Independent – … Continue reading →
Social action has been pretty busy helping Standing Rock! After convening a community meeting with over 50 people, we were able to raise over $450 which was immediately sent to the Oceti Sakowin camp. We also collected donations at the … Continue reading →
[If you want to know some history about this struggle at Standing Rock, read what our social action team pulled together and presented to the congregation: http://tworiversuu.org/this-is-how-you-ghost-dance-in-2016/] Ministers and religious leaders close to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe land have called … Continue reading →
Supporting the resolution of Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist, Rev. Shawna Foster wrote a letter to the editor of the Aspen Times, which you can check out here: http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/letter-preserve-thompson-divide-for-the-long-term/ Here’s the full letter accompanied by photos from the fly-over: From a … Continue reading →
Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist Social Action Committee held an awareness and fundraising event for the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who are fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline. It is not a protest; the native peoples are protectors; the … Continue reading →