One More Step

Sarah Richards
January 17, 2016

One More Step

A couple of little stories about staying awake through the revolution:

I was chatting with a member this week about exercise, and she spoke about the feeling of loss that comes with an aging body. I responded that one could replace physical exercise with mental activities-learn language, piano. She spoke again about feeling a loss that comes with an aging body. I responded that one could replace strenuous with gentle exercise. And she said she felt a loss that comes with an aging body. I was hearing the words but not connecting to their meaning. I was in high “Fixy Mcfixit” mode, which separates us into fixer and fixee, rather than two human beings with aging bodies. I missed making that connection.

I had a phone conversation with a community organizer in rural counties, where poverty has dethroned coal as king. She told me that people in Carbondale “live in a bubble,” they talk about how bad things are going to happen when all around them (us), it already is, people can’t afford to pay rent or mortgage, housing prices so low they can’t sell. After I was off the phone, I thought about how here in Carbondale, we say the same thing about folks in Springfield and Chicago—“they just don’t get us.” We are missing connections. We are forgetting that we are a part of the interdependent web of all existence. One might say we need to wake up to those connections—the one-on-one connections, those within our congregation as well as collaboration beyond our walls. What does this have to do with “staying woke” through a social revolution? In his lecture “Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution” to Unitarian Universalists fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“It may be that we spend too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world, and too little on bases of genuine concern and understanding. All I’m saying is this: that all life is inter-related, and somehow we are all tied together. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of all reality.[i]” So, recognizing our interdependence is one step to making change in the world.

“Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution,” Dr. King admonished. We are not sleeping like Rip Van Winkle—we hear the news, see the videos, follow the tweets about the triple evil that Dr. King fought: poverty, militarization, racism, that as ever threaten our communities and country as they did when he was alive. Not sleeping, but not getting it either, not recognizing or making the personal, human connection. Liberal theologians have defined evil as separation – the demonic turn-the evil that allows us to distance ourselves, ever so slightly, then increasingly, from “the other.” Evil is created by the separation of dehumanization, the false perception of distance between people, between people and the earth. The mental separation when we categorize, stereotype, judge other people, organizations, cultures, countries. When we can forget our seventh principle, the one about interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. It’s like we don’t hear two words, but one—we hold ourselves apart from the interdependent web.

Dr. King said, “It has always been the role of the church to broaden horizons, to challenge the status quo, and to question and break mores if necessary.[ii]” That’s the cultural resistance that we UUs have pride in maintaining. According to Tom Schade’s theory I explored last week, it even predates the Civil Rights movement—it came with the shift in identity from cultural elite to cultural outsider in opposition to post-WWII Christian nationalism. That’s the cultural resistance I talked about last Sunday, the double-edged sword of the Fellowship Movement. Our Fellowship’s identity as a center of cultural resistance in Southern Illinois attracts folks who seek liberal religious community. It also breeds exclusionary and judgmental attitudes toward “outsiders” and within the congregation, between groups I characterized as “activists,” “spiritual types” and “critics.”

Tom Schade asks, “if we understand ourselves as being resisters and rebels, why has it been so difficult for us to make alliances and enter into coalitions and expand our reach into other groups who also are outsiders in American culture? One possibility is that as much as we see ourselves as outsiders, no one else sees us that way. They see our privilege and power. And a lot of people don’t see atheists and humanists as an oppressed group. So our presumption that everybody would see us allies in whatever struggle can seem presumptuous and overbearing.[iii]

That is a valuable, if painful observation. What can motivate us to wake up to our connections with other groups fighting for change? How are we to “broaden horizons…challenge the status quo, and…question and break mores if necessary?” What are the things that Dr. King told us that the church—we —need to do to stay awake through the revolution?

First, “…instill in the people of our congregations a world perspective.… through our scientific genius we have made of this world a neighborhood, and now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make it a brotherhood. We must live together as brothers [–as family–] or we will all perish together as fools. [iv]” In our age of 24/7 news cycle, social media making communication possible across time and space, understanding of human effect on global climate, world markets, global military and terrorist alignments, King’s words are truer today than when he said them.

“Secondly, [Dr. King said] it is necessary for the church to reaffirm over and over again the essential immorality of racial segregation.[v]” We need look no further than this room, and this city to see that racial segregation remains entrenched in our lives, no matter if it is no longer legally enforced. And a related task for the church: “it is necessary to refute the idea that there are superior and inferior races.” We who are white have to wake up to our privilege—in our minds and behavior—because we have so much work do to dismantle the structures of white privilege that pervade nearly every institution in our society.

“The next thing that the church must do to remain awake through this revolution,” Dr. King said, “is to move out into the arena of social action. It is not enough for the church to work in the ideological realm, and to clear up misguided ideas. To remain awake through this social revolution, the church must engage in strong action programs to get rid of the last vestiges of segregation and discrimination…”

These “strong action programs” were rooted in a philosophy of non-violent resistance—this is commonly known. But did you know— or do you remember the grounding of that philosophy? I’m going to quote Dr. King’s speech at length here, as he describes it:

Most revolutions in the past have been based on hope and hate, with the rising expectations of the revolutionaries implemented by hate for the perpetrators of the unjust system in the old order. I think the different thing about the revolution that has taken place in our country is that it has maintained the hope element and at the same time it has added the dimension of love. Many people would disagree with me and say that love hasn’t been there. I think we have to stop and talk about what we mean in this context because I would be the first to say that it is nonsense to urge oppressed people to love their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense. And I’m certainly not talking about that when I talk above love standing at the center of our struggle. I think it is necessary to see the meaning of love in higher terms.…I’m thinking of [the Greek concept of]….agape, which is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men [people], an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. When one rises to love on this level, he loves a person who does the evil deed while hating the deed. I believe that in our best moments in this struggle we have tried to adhere to this. In some strange way we have been able to stand up in the face of our most violent opponents and say, in substance, we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with our soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.[vi]

That is powerful, powerful love—love that confronts and resists oppression, and it is being demonstrated today during the revolutions of our time: the Occupy movement, the Climate Justice movement, Black Lives Matter, Speak Her Name, and many others, including the Unitarian Universalist public advocacy campaign, Standing On the Side of Love. It has the “goal of harnessing love’s power to challenge exclusion, oppression, and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, race, religion, or any other identity.” Standing on the Side of Love is made up of the actions – protests, fundraisers, flash mobs – of congregations and coalitions across the country.

As it happens, today is the first of the 30 Days of Love campaign, from MLK day to Valentine’s day. This year, the campaign is dedicated to intersectional racial justice. Two young leaders, Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen, Leadership Development Associate for Youth and Young Adults of Color at the UUA, and Carey McDonald, Outreach Director at the UUA, introduced the 30 Days of Love in this way: “The prophetic black queer writer Audre Lorde wrote, “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Over the next 30 days, you’re [that is we’re] invited on a spiritual journey to honor what an intersectional struggle for racial justice looks like and explore how you [we] can be part of it.

This is our work to do because as UUs we value people in their wholeness. We know that real climate justice, gender justice, economic justice, LGBTQ justice requires real racial justice. None of us are free until we are all free. My liberation is bound up in your liberation… Our interdependence means we have gratitude for all the work that has brought us here, cultivate wonder and curiosity as we courageously face the racism that lives in our communities and congregations.[vii]

Interrelatedness – interdependence – intersectionality. This is the vocabulary of staying awake and staying connected through the revolution.

We need to wake up – pay attention, as the Buddhists say. We also need to resist separation that comes so very naturally. We need to practice interdependence—connect. Last week, I talked about a step we can take to collaborate with other groups within the Fellowship: replace judgment with curiosity. There are so many ways we are already taking that step within and beyond our congregation. In our monthly service at Feed My Sheep, in our Racial Justice group, reading and discussing “Waking Up White,” in the environmental and economic equity work of the UUAdvocacy Network of Illinois – UUANI. I hope to see many of you at the MLK Community Celebration this afternoon—it is a model of interconnection, a product of a collaboration between the CUF and Rock Hill Baptist congregations, the celebration now it draws community members from within many religious and civic organizations.

We can get involved with the Standing on the Side of Love 30 Days of Love activities, or with the ongoing campaigns for Immigrant Justice, LGBTQ Equity, and Racial Justice. We can engage in the Denomination-wide Congregational Study Action Issue, ‘Escalating Inequality,’ we can go to the MidAmerica Regional Assembly in Minneapolis in April to make connections and look at WHO we want to be as faith communities in the coming years. We can participate in person or online at the General Assembly in Columbus, OH in June—the theme is Heart Land: Where Faiths Connect. There it is again—connection-interrelation-intersectionality-love.

Friends, may we stay awake to our interdependence as we listen to others’ stories. May we stay awake to our intersectionality as we practice cultural resistance. May we look within ourselves and around us for the love, gratitude, wonder and curiosity necessary–even when we are overwhelmed and discouraged–to take one more step toward justice.

 

[i] http://www.uua.org/ga/past/1966/ware

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] http://www.tomschade.com/2015/11/humanism-in-context-questions-arise.html

[iv] Op. Cit., King

[v] King

[vi] King.

[vii] Thirty Days of Love 2016. http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1272/t/0/blastContent.jsp?email_blast_KEY=1337300