Saturday, May 16, 2015

I have to share this blog post from my friends at Who better to school white folks than James Baldwin. And Meck Groot does a brilliant job in  interpreting his words for today.

Monday, May 11, 2015

“The house does not rest upon the ground, but upon a woman.” -- Mexican Proverb

I don't normally post the manuscripts of my sermons; the audio ultimately gets posted to the All Souls website-- and it's more accurate, with all my witty asides-- but I felt it was important for this sermon to reach a broader audience than might think to check the website to listen to a sermon, so, here it is. I apologize for any stream of thought writing or lack of punctuation but hey-- this is how I write a sermon. :) Watch the above video first; it was the "sacred text" for my sermon.

Mother's Day Sermon
May 10, 2015
My social media has been awash
This weekend
With people scorning Mother’s Day.
Anne Lamott,
An author whom I love deeply,
Wrote an essay saying
it’s the holiday she hates the most.
A couple of my esteemed colleagues
Have written blogs
On why they’re not preaching about
And last night,
At a dinner with three of my nieces
And one of their friends
The friend said her husband wanted
To go to church
And she did not
Because it’s Mother’s Day
And she hated how the service
Would be all about mothers.
And I understand these sentiments;
I do.
Mother’s Day
Can seem like a cruel celebration
To those who have not been able
To have a child
Either by adoption or birth
Or to those who have lost a child
Or have lost a mother.
For some struggling with their children
Or with their moms
Where the Leave it to Beaver family mold
Was not available
This day may not be
A favorite holiday.
Even though we will spend 14.7 billion dollars on it
this is the holiday—
(that’s $127 per mom!)
With the biggest card sales
And second only to valentine’s day
For flowers,
Yet still
Hallmark has NOT come up
With cards that fit all families.
How can there be rows upon rows
Of Mother’s Day cards at the store
And there still isn’t one for all?
Where is the card that says
Thanks Mom
for not harming me more than you did?
And what about those
who have chosen not to have children
At all?
Ironically, Margaret Wise Brown
The author of the Runaway Bunny story
Laurie read for the Story for All Ages—
And author of countless beloved children’s books—
Was a lesbian who never had children.
For women who are married today
Who choose not to have children,
They still constantly face a barrage of questions
About why?
With implications of how selfish that is
To want a child-free adult life.
They might get a little tired of Mother’s Day
Frankly, I think we SHOULD have a day
That honors those who choose to not have children.
We need their energy.
Regardless of whether you’re a mom
Or a dad
Or a dad who used to be mom
Or a mom who used to be dad
I think it’s important
That we celebrate Mother’s Day
It’s important to remember
Why we have Mother’s Day.
See, we’ve gotten Mothers Day wrong.
Mothers Day was begun in 1870
after a lot of lobbying
by women
(who, by the way,
didn’t have the right to vote yet
but they still made their political presence
And it wasn’t created because mothers
felt overwhelmed
with the task of raising children,
running the household
and still finding time to
foment rebellion.
It wasn’t begun as an
economic stimulus program
in hopes that all those flowers
and candy boxes
and presents
would boost retail sales.
It was created by mothers
so tired of having their sons
(at the time)
sent home in boxes
from one war zone or another
that they gathered today
women from every socio-economic status
some women who weren’t mothers at all
and they gathered together to say enough!
We are tired of losing our children to war!

Julia Ward Howe
a Unitarian rabble-rouser
and leader of the movement
to create Mothers Day
wrote in her Mothers Day Proclamation
in 1870:
“As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel
.Let them meet first,
as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other
as to the means
Whereby the great human family
can live in peace...
Each bearing after our own time the sacred impress,
not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity,
I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women
without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace
deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.”
So, according to Julia
this was never meant to be a day to honor mothers
it was a day to honor our children.
And to recognize the inherent worth and dignity
Of all mother’s children
And to seek peace.
Perhaps Julia Ward Howe
got the idea for this from
Ann Reeves Jarvis
who instituted
Mother’s Work Day
in her West Virginia town
as a rallying cry to improve sanitation.
who better than a mother
concerned with the health and safety
of children
to establish this?
After the Civil War ended
Ann Reeves Jarvis
used this day as a means of reconciliation
between the two sides
and it was her daughter
Anna Jarvis who spent nearly 10 years
seeking to have Mother’s Day
officially recognized.
But even in her lifetime
the sentiment had changed.
People sought to soften the holiday
and turn it into what we know it as today.
A time for sending cards and flowers
and letting our moms know
they were appreciated.
By the time Mother’s Day
was officially enacted
it had already lost the meaning
for which Anna Jarvis and her mother
and Julia Ward Howe
sought to have it recognized.
But today
Is the Mother’s Day
I want us to celebrate.
I want to honor women
And girls
Who have made a difference
I want to say Happy Mother’s Day
To Malala Yousafzi
The young Pakistani woman
who was shot in the head
because she dared to continue
to seek an education
in a Taliban ruled country
that forbids girls to learn.
Not because she is a mother
But because already
In her young life
she understands the importance
of Mother’s Day.
In her young life
She Is changing the world.
Winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Price,
Then 17 years old,
She said
“Pens and books
are the weapons that defeat terrorism.”
Even though she nearly lost her life
She has never stopped fighting
The ignorance of terrorism
With the wisdom of education.
Another Pakistani woman
And human rights activist
40 year old Sabeen Mahmud
Was not so lucky
On April 24th this year-
Just a couple of weeks ago--
she had just held a meeting
about the”silenced” activists and students
in Baluchistan,
Pakistan’s most neglected and separatist province;
Hundreds of activists and students had been abducted,
probably killed.
And she held a meeting in a café she had created
For just that purpose
In 2006.
For years, progressives in Pakistan
Would meet there
To discuss issues of the day.
And this was no different
Though it was risky.
“There would probably be blowback”,
she told a friend; “I just don’t know what that blowback entails.”
That blow back was being shot to death
I want to wish her a posthumous Mother’s Day
Even though she was not a mother.
And I want to wish A Happy Mother’s Day
To her own mom
Who was with her and was also shot twice.
She is expected to recover.
These women
Won’t be getting a card today
Or breakfast in bed
But they heard Julia Ward Howe’s call
Through the ages
And they answered.
Today I want to call out the names
Of the 234 Nigerian girls
Kidnapped while they studied
For a chemistry exam
April 14, 2014.
Finally rescued
From Boko Haram terrorists
After a year in captivity.
234 girls finally returned to their villages,
214 of whom are pregnant
As a result of rape.
I wish I could hear and learn
Each of their names
I wish I could tell them
They will not
Or at least should not
Be known as the mother
Of the rape baby
The victim of terrorists
That they are wonderful girls
And young women,
That their life has meaning.
I want to learn the names
Of all women
Who have been erased
By whatever patriarchal society
In which they live.
To say you are more
Than somebody’s mother
Or daughter or sister
To say you have a name
Even here in our own nation
I want to say Happy Mother’s Day
To those whose presence
Is being erased by laws;
To the women in Wisconsin
Where there’s a new bill
Wending its way through legislature
That would give in-laws
The right to stop their daughter-in-law
From getting an abortion.
Here in our own state
And in many states
There is a constant push
To render invisible
The rights of women
Seeking to make decisions
About their bodies.
I want to say
Happy Mother’s Day
To the members of group
Moms Demand Action
For Gun Sense in America
-a group that was definitely founded
In the spirit of Julia Ward Howe’s
Mother’s Day proclamation
Founded in the aftermath of the Sandyhook shootings
To say Enough!
A group of which I’m a proud member.
A group who was the target
Of a TV ad
By a Florida Gun instructor,
Who shot six carefully placed bullets
In a target that we then see
Is one of the posters
For Moms Demand Action.
He ends this ad
By turning to the camera
And then saying
“Not a bad grouping.
Happy Mother’s Day.”
I want to say Happy Mother’s Day
To all the activists
Mothers or no
Women and men
Who day by day
Have it in their heart to work for peace.
Rather than declaim Mother’s Day
As a exclusive party for those who change diapers
We need to reclaim Mother’s Day
As a day
Where we meet first,
as women AND men,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.
And then to
solemnly take counsel with each other
as to the means
Whereby the great human family
can live in peace...
if we who are mothers
can receive our cards and flowers
with joy and gratitude
also determine
to take back the original sense
of Mother’s Day
the desire to end injustice
and if we are joined by
the fathers and uncles and aunts
and brothers and sisters
and lovers
we can create a movement
of justice
we can reclaim Julia Ward Howes’
and Anna Jarvis’ vision.
We can realize it’s not just about
keeping our sons and daughters
safe from the perils of war
or providing clean water for our families
but about making sure our sons and daughters
live full and healthy lives
and that mothers everywhere
have the opportunity
to live long enough
to see their grandchildren
not just in our families
in our country
but globally.
You know,
Julia Ward Howe felt her voice
was not heard,
but maybe
just maybe
we can show her that it was.
May it be so.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. [We] experience [ourselves], [our] thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of [our] consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. --Albert Einstein

I woke up this morning thinking of personal responsibility vs. institutional culpability and what it means to act with a depraved heart. The first two thoughts were because a friend of mine and I had argued the finer points of the murder of Michael Brown  by police officer Darren Wilson. She (my friend) insisted that the findings of the Department of Justice exonerated Darren Wilson, saying his claim that he felt threatened was valid. I said that, regardless of the report from the DOJ, Wilson’s claims that he felt threatened were based on the color of Brown’s skin, not any overt action on his part.

Brown allegedly stole some cigarillos from a local store and that was the reason for Wilson’s interest in him. If true, then yes, Brown needed to take personal responsibility for that petty theft; that theft did not warrant his death (an unwarranted plight, my friend also agreed.) Frankly I can’t imagine any young black man acting so menacingly toward a white police officer as Wilson alleged (and whose claim the DOJ upheld.) It makes no sense for a black man in today’s climate to act in a manner that is sure to bring down the hammer of retribution swift and strong, despite the fact that white people can act in threatening manners—and even actually be waving real guns around unlike 12 year old  Tamir Rice  and yet still, somehow the police managed to subdue them just fine without finding it necessary to kill them.

It is important to note that even while exonerating Wilson, the DOJ gave a stunning indictment against the government of Ferguson, including its police department.  In thisWashington Post article  that my friend sent me to bolster her claims, reporter Jonathan Capehart also gives a little ink to the report about the police department. He writes, “The report on the Ferguson police department detailed abuse and blatant trampling of the constitutional rights of people, mostly African Americans, in Ferguson. Years of mistreatment by the police, the courts and the municipal government, including evidence that all three balanced their books on the backs of the people of Ferguson, were laid bare in 102 damning pages. The overwhelming data from DOJ provided background and much-needed context for why a small St. Louis suburb most had never heard of exploded the moment Brown was killed. His death gave voice to many who suffered in silence.

 So even if I can accept that the DOJ was equally diligent in getting to the facts as best they could in both of these two investigations, Wilson’s claim to have felt threatened cannot be sussed out from the climate of racist perceptions that were daily reinforced by the police department; indeed this shows a relentless and vicious cycle of cops stopping blacks more frequently and denying them their constitutional rights based on their racist beliefs that blacks were more criminally inclined, even when their own records prove otherwise. In other words, even if Darren Wilson says he felt threatened, it doesn’t matter to me, because I don’t trust him and I don’t trust the system that trained him. If he felt threatened, it was because he was raised in a culture and took a job in a police department that gave him the erroneous message that he should feel threatened by a black man.There must be at least an equal amount of institutional accountability in such egregious acts. If Brown's personal responsibility for lifting some cigarillos ended in his death, there must be institutional accountability in the way the system fatally failed this young man that August day.
Even so, as Capehart says, “Yet this does not diminish the importance of the real issues unearthed in Ferguson by Brown’s death. Nor does it discredit what has become the larger “Black Lives Matter.” In fact, the false Ferguson narrative stuck because of concern over a distressing pattern of other police killings of unarmed African American men and boys around the time of Brown’s death. Eric Garner was killed on a Staten Island street on July 17. John Crawford III was killed in a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio, on Aug. 5, four days before Brown. Levar Jones survived being shot by a South Carolina state trooper on Sept. 4. Tamir Rice, 12 years old, was killed in a Cleveland park on Nov. 23, the day before the Ferguson grand jury opted not to indict Wilson. Sadly, the list has grown longer.

And this brings me to my early morning musings of what does an indictment of depraved heart murder mean? This was one of the charges levied against six police officers  in the recent death of 25 year old Freddie Gray who suffered essentially a severed spine while in police custody in Baltimore, MD. In this case, it was unclear why Gray was arrested; first reports of an illegal knife were unfounded; he did have a knife that was legal to carry. Still he was thrown in the “paddy wagon” in hand cuffs and shackled without being secured to the bench with a seat-belt- a safety measure that is mandated by the Baltimore police.

In the midst of hundreds of people protesting -- in Baltimore and across the nation-- the State’s Attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, brought charges of murder and manslaughter against six Baltimore police officers--- three black and three white. The most damaging charge was brought against the driver of the van, officer Ceasar Goodson, Jr,; he was charged with Depraved Heart Murder.

According to the statutes of Baltimore: Second-degree depraved heart murder is the killing of another person while acting with an extreme disregard for human life. In order to convict the defendant of second-degree murder, the State must prove:
(1) that the defendant caused the death of (name);
(2) that the defendant's conduct created a very high risk to the life of (name); and
(3) that the defendant, conscious of such risk, acted with extreme disregard of the life-endangering consequences.

According to a New York Times article, this  grave charge takes into account the lack of care shown Gray while he was in custody. "'Following transport from Baker Street, Mr. Gray suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained inside the B.P.D. wagon,’ she [Mosby] said." It takes a person with a depraved heart to knowingly create a very high risk of life to another—regardless of whether or not that person has committed a crime. Baltimore, too, has made a name for itself as a place where black men interact with the police at their own peril.

It takes a nation of people with depraved hearts to protest the protesters—calling them thugs and criminals and accusing them of destroying their own communities rather than daring to pull away the veil of blissful ignorance that keeps us from trying to understand such rage and anger. As a facebook friend of mine, Elizabeth Cuckrow Thorson put it, "Have you ever been so angry that you punched a wall? Smashed your favorite teapot? Taken a hammer to something just to hear it break? Now multiply that anger by 100 or 1000, because the cause of your anger is that much bigger, more pervasive and life-threatening. Then multiply that anger by the thousands of other people around you whose anger, like yours, has been ignored, dismissed, turned on you, for years and years. You might be burning buildings too." Of course, this public anger towards the protesters (not to mention the appalling conditions the arrested protesters faced at Baltimore Central Booking) also completely ignores the number of times white folks have gone on equally damaging rampages--- following the victory or loss of one of their favorite teams such as this story illustrates and yet no one ever has accused them of being thugs or acting out of the white criminal instinct. Instead, they’re described as fans letting off steam, who got out of control.
As author and social justice activist Tim Wise, wrote in response to the DOJ reports on both Wilson and the city of Ferguson, “So long as most white folks turn a blind eye towards even those cases where the injustice is apparent, even proven (as in the case of the exonerations), it will be hard for folks of color, or for some whites among us who are committed to fighting racism, to view the concerns about Darren Wilson as anything but white racial bonding and smug supremacy. Especially when at least some among us are not only insufficiently upset about such incidents, but even giddily express admiration for police who kill blacks in such cases, as happened at a rally last year in Beavercreek, Ohio (where John Crawford was killed at Walmart).” DOJ reports aside, we cannot separate the "worthy" from the "unworthy" victim of police brutality, we dare not, at the risk of further hardening our own hearts into deeper depravity, think we can sit in our armchairs of white, middle-class privilege and arrogantly decry the violence done by people who are protesting a system that has worked against them from the dawn of our bloody history as a nation. I know too well the tendency of my own heart to slip into a depraved indifference for-- or judgment of --folks who don’t fit into my carefully constructed matrix of what constitutes “decent” humanity. I applaud this first step toward justice in the case of the murder of Freddie Gray. I am grateful that his death will not go unexamined, that his family and friends might have some level of closure with the arrest and trial of the police officers. But the depraved heart charge doesn’t end there. It is a charge we each must examine in our own lives, in our responses to ongoing police brutality, and in our own desire to indifferently pass judgment in the hopes that we can comfort ourselves that nothing like that would ever happen to us. Or, as Tim Wise closes his essay:
In short, to be black in America is to have a highly-sensitive racism detector, not because one is irrational but because one’s life so often depends on it. It is to have little choice but to see the patterns in the incidents that white America would so prefer to see as isolated, no matter how often they occur. It is to have little choice but to consume the red pill (to borrow imagery from The Matrix), so as to see what’s going on behind the curtain of the larger society, even as their white compatriots have the luxury of walking around, firmly and indelibly attached to a blue pill IV drip, the reliance on which renders us equally unable to see what’s happening. And just because every now and then that red pill shows its consumers an image that isn’t quite accurate, doesn’t change the fact that in general it provides insights far deeper than those afforded the rest of us. Rather than bashing black people for seeing the connections and presuming them present, perhaps we would do well to remove the blue pill IV and substitute the red for a while. Maybe then we could begin to see what folks of color see. Perhaps then we could understand their rage. Most of all, perhaps then we could be a little less smug about the exoneration of an officer who, whatever his crime or lack thereof, still took a young man’s life. As a nation, the eyes of our whites are misleading us. Time for some new lenses. 

 You know, I often get called names by people unwilling to surrender their own narrow interpretation of what racism looks like in America-- or unwilling to make room at the table for my opinion. One of the names flung at me in disdain has been that of "bleeding heart liberal." Though, as a Unitarian Universalist I don't think name-calling is a useful tool in discussing differences and serves only to give the name-caller the ability to dismiss everything I say, I will say this: I'd rather be known as someone with a bleeding heart than someone with a depraved heart. Indeed, it is time for all of us to get our eyes –and our hearts—examined, to free ourselves from this prison of separateness and widen our circles of compassion to embrace all.