The Third Summer

On Saturday, July 9, Rev. Kim posted the following on the UUCWC Community Building Facebook page:

Hi folks, tomorrow’s sermon will obviously not match the blurb or title of what was originally planned. If there are folks in the community who you think would like to, or would prefer to, know, and who are not on Facebook, please let them know. It’s too late to have gotten anything out by email. Tomorrow we will grieve, cry, lament, hope, learn, lean on one another and lean into the hard places. I hope to see you there.

Listen to this sermon:

Years ago an article was passed along to me – from where, from who, I can’t remember – but passed along to me because, as many of you know, I am really afraid of heights. And this article, it had a cartoon picture of a man leaning over the edge of a highway road that dropped down a mountain cliff – sweating, glaring, and you couldn’t tell – was he stepping over the guardrail for his final fate or stepping back in a desperate attempt to save himself?

The article was not like any other I had seen about fear of heights. It discussed how an individual’s fear is often actually a fear of pushing oneself over the edge; of rashly opening a plane window; of driving off a bridge only to make true their deepest fear.

Media pundits, professors, activists, writers, they all keep saying the same thing this week – as a country we are living on the edge. We are all living on the edge. I’ve been saying cusp. I am certain I am not the only who has been feeling this. There is unrest in our country and in our communities and in our families and therefore in our bodies and spirits, too. This is not a stagnant unrest; a discontent. This is a movement, growing, deepening, festering unrest and I have been thinking of it only as a cusp – as if something will magically change it once we reach the height of its ugliness, the depth of its despair, the impossibility of its power.
But edge, I think, is the better, the right word.

Because if you are also afraid of heights, or have a fear of whatever kind, you know that in that edge moment the brain starts to feel a little woozy. Vision gets blurred. Your heart has either stopped or it’s pounding so fast, the beats have blurred from even gentle pulses into a blur of single tightening.

We don’t know, if we’re throwing ourselves off the mountain top or pulling ourselves back to safety. The edge is the fear. The edge creates the fear. But it is actually us – our own selves – who, standing on that edge, leg over guardrail – it is we who we fear the most.

This past week, once again, two black men were killed by police officers during what should have been by the book stops for traffic or street tickets. And there has been a lot of the same talk as there always is – a justification of death (which I will tell you, I have no stomach for): prior arrests, he should have had his hands up, then don’t sell CDs on the street, we don’t know all the facts. As if anyone would choose the street over a suit and desk; as if anyone’s life is allowed to be claimed by another of us – us who are so clean and without history.

But that, remarkably, is not the only reason why there is pain and hurt and despair and feelings of helplessness and rage this weekend – not for this alone (which some would argue is enough to feel hurt and despair and feelings of helplessness and rage). But also because in the midst of peaceful protests in Dallas, came terrorism, taking our breath away– a sniper, shooting twelve police officers; five killed; seven injured; two civilians shot, also. Vigilante justice in a time of an untouchable Second Amendment.

It all starts to feel a little woozy. Your body starts to anticipate the discrediting of black anger before you even turn on the news or open your computer. The vision gets blurred. You can hear the retorts of blame before you even come to discover and celebrate the Dallas Police and the Black Lives Matters leaders coming together in their shared fear and grief. Has the heart stopped or is it beating so fast the pulses have blurred into the others?

Three summers of this since Ferguson – my first months with you as your minister – three hot summers for white people to live in a world where the violence has not changed for people of color, not for decades, not for generations, but the access to cameras, recording and personal devices has changed the way in which we can turn away.

And I want to be really clear: Being anti-police brutality is not the same, it is not even in the same conversation, as being anti-police.

Affirming worth and dignity to all humans, does not take us out of the conversation for critiquing or acting against both systemic and individual behaviors.

Universal salvation does not let us off the hook in this life; we must remember that the essence, the grounding, the foundation of our religious tradition is the emphasis on this life, self-agency that reveals divinity, and holy healing that is limitless through our powers of life and love.

“As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm a plurality like no other religious tradition or community in present day or historic America. We believe one of our greatest strengths is how our shared path leads us toward having compassion and understanding for those across another theological spectrum than our own; a different life experience than our own; different goals, wishes, hopes, dreams, histories, faults and failures, than our own. On our best days we meet the challenge of worshiping in the same space with such difference with integrity, creativity and for connection.

“But on our worst days, we’ve got the Believe Anything, “theological fuzziness” as my colleague Rev. Ashely Horan says. And this theological fuzziness has enabled Unitarian Universalists (and I’d argue progressive religious traditions since the 1980s in fear of not wanting to offend away our congregations while religion was in decline) it has enabled Unitarian Universalists to be fuzzy on a whole host of other social, moral, political divides.

*Sentiment comes from larger conversation with and writing of the Rev. Ashley Horan in a private version of a now public statement found here.

And let me just pause here for a moment. There is no such thing as separation of church and state. Not in the church at least. Moses, Jesus, Dr. King were prophets and religious leaders because they took on the government. Jesus was referred to as the Son of God – but so was Caesar; so was the Emperor. It was a threat to their dynasty, to their politics, to say, “You’re not the son of God. I’m the son of God. These are my people. They are led by something greater and different than you.”

The political is the social. The social is personal. The personal is the spiritual. You will never hear me talk about a candidate from this pulpit but we cannot do this church thing together if we do not share that essential need to talk about LIFE and how it is being lived out, or taken away, from this place we call Sanctuary.

There is nothing in our current climate that is soft, that doesn’t demand risk-taking, that doesn’t call for us to be fiercely not fuzzy when it comes to this. And maybe if you had told me when I was a green and naïve seminarian that this was the climate in which I’d minister, I probably would have run for the hills. But there are no hills right now. And this place needs us. This time deserves us.

Us, Unitarian Universalists. Us, UUCWC. Us, the scared and hopeful and singing and holding; the figuring it out and humbled by how little we know; the being changed and being the change; the wanting to do better, and be better, and stumbling all the same. Us.

On Thursday afternoon an email went out announcing Pam Shadzik’s new position as our interim Vice President and, in the wake of Kathy’s ongoing health crisis, our interim acting President. Within this I also made a statement of solidarity for the families and communities of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling, the men killed in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. I’m guessing, many of you saw, I ended that statement with a simple but clear affirmation, Black Lives Matter.

And I tell you the sweat that came out of my palms as I hit send. Why? Because I know that some among us will be up in arms seeing that phrase. Because I and we are then faced with having to defend that truth; to remind us of our history; to insist that this phrasing isn’t for the folks of color in our midst but us white people who hit send with concern for backlash rather than with hearts on fire that know how to state the obvious.

And then on the Community Building Facebook Page – did you see this? One of our members calls my spirit to task – while The Church is figuring out if we want to put up a sign with those three words, who wants to go in on lawn signs?

Right. We’ve just moved to this great new neighborhood. Not another gay person in sight but so far we’re doing just fine. The house down the street has four pickup trucks and each has two American flags waving out the backs. Which may not mean anything other than love for country, but my stuff, my stereotypes, my fears of personal and emotional safety make me wonder – am I even bold enough to put out a lawn sign?

Preachers preach the sermons they need to hear the most. Some of you wrote to me this weekend saying how heartbroken you are. Others enraged. Others feeling helpless, lost, scared – others with all of these feelings at once – and worst of all, there’s nothing to do.

So let me first say – me too. And I don’t know. But what I keep coming back to is the last time those who participated in the Racial Justice reflection groups from this past year met. It was almost all of us together who had been on this journey for the year, for worship and reflection and just togetherness. And two things I think I’ll never forget from that hour and a half together:

The first is how bound together we all felt. In the darkened sanctuary, thinking back from where we started and where we are now. Striving for a next step and knowing there had to be a next step. It felt like we were honoring something very fragile and bold and bigger than us. It felt like worship.

And the second was after the evening was done and I was meeting with a few members and one woman said to me, thinking back to the first sermon I preached after Ferguson – you were so mad, she remembered. And I nodded and listened, readying myself to be embarrassed by my inability to hide just how mad – just how broken – I’ve been these three summers and the seasons in between. But she said, and I didn’t get it – but I thought, I need to understand why she’s so mad – and why I’m not.

So that’s something to do. For all of us. To wonder why we are mad – or wonder why we aren’t. To wonder what boldness looks like and to whom we are accountable, and of what we are afraid.

Something for all of us to do is listen without judgement or interrogation: to minority voices, to a plurality that we (perhaps have not yet) prepared our spirits to be in a sanctuary with.

To be in a sanctuary with — this cannot be a sanctuary from. But always a wider and ever widening sanctuary with.

May it be so.