It was quite intentional.
The sermon was on White Supremacy. Which is why I went.
I mean, can you imagine such a sermon topic in an Episcopal Church?
Well, I can. But, I can't imagine too many rectors who would be brave enough to step up to the plate and take on a topic like this on a Sunday morning.
Maybe in the parish hall in an adult forum. But, never from the pulpit.
Okay, I can think of one or two but they are rare as hen's teeth in this beloved church of ours.
The Minister there is presently an interim position. (The final candidate comes at the end of this month for a long weekend where she will preach and teach and mix and mingle and then 90% of the congregation has to approve her before she is presented with the 'offer'. Not 90% of the search committee. 90% of the congregation. Pay attention, Episcopal Church.)
However, the entire Unitarian Universalist Association is participating in these sermons on White Supremacy over the next few weeks. This is due to a serious shake up at the national level during which the President of the Association resigned over controversy about problems with - you're not going to believe this - diversity in the staffing practices at the national level.
Yes, I'm still talking about the Unitarian Universalist Association, one of the most overtly and obviously affirming and inclusive of diversity of all the religious denominations or movements.
A white male was chosen to lead the group’s Southern region, replacing another white man who was retiring. Christina Rivera, a Latina laywoman who has served on the UUA’s board of trustees since 2014, revealed that she was a finalist for the position.
On being a good fit for the UUA" Rivera wrote:
I do not reveal this lightly…in fact it is with real fear that I am jeopardizing any future career within UU communities. But as I consider what has happened, I keep coming back to the thought that if they weren’t willing to hire me for this position then what makes me think that will change for any theoretical future? And ultimately how do we hold the UUA accountable for racial discrimination and upholding white supremacy if no one stands up in the public square and says “me, it was me, you did this to me and it is not ok, I demand you make this right!”Yes, she said, "racial discrimination".
And yes, she said, "upholding white supremacy".
About the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Which begs the question, if it's possible for a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association to be a White Supremacist, could I be a White Supremacist?
Could YOU be a White Supremacist?
The UUA minister handled the sermon / reflection time brilliantly. She began by framing the issue in terms of what had happened at the the national level and then invited four people to share the reflections they had at their "Tuesday evening UUA Seven Principles Reflection Group."
I so want to hit the pause button here and imagine what it would be like if The Episcopal Church could articulate Seven Principles and then had reflection groups around them but in most places we can barely gather 3-4 people of a Sunday morning - much less mid-week - to a Bible Study or to reflect on the lectionary for the coming Sunday so I'll just stop right here.
The topic that evening was the Fourth Principle:
"A free and responsible search for truth and meaning."
This had been preceded by a reading from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." It was followed by the UU Interim Minister giving her reflection - which was intelligent and eloquent, honest and passionate and deeply moving.
She reminded us that, at the end of the service, the congregation would meet in the Library for refreshments during which there would be a "Twitter Storm" to support groups/individuals seeking to promote environmental awareness.
Following that, there would be "Circles in the Sanctuary" were people would be encouraged to share their reactions to the day's service.
I just have to press pause again here and note: Twitter Storms and Circles in the Sanctuary. Not to mention moving Shells of Joy and Concern and Lighting the Chalice. I've always said that no one can beat an Episcopal Priest at ringing at least 3 sermons from one symbol or metaphor but, ya know, ya just gotta love the UUAs.
And, we would have been able to easily spot them with their skin heads and tattoos, right? Or, the white sheets over their head? Or, surely from the red baseball cap with "Make America Great Again."
In academic usage, particularly in usage drawing on critical race theory the term "white supremacy" can also refer to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy a structural advantage (privilege) over other ethnic groups, both at a collective and an individual level.
I believe Ms. Rivera, in making her charge of "White Supremacy" was talking about the assumed, unexamined privilege of being white. And, who, indeed, will be held accountable if someone - if she, herself - didn't stand up and say, loudly and clearly, "OUCH!"?
If we don't - if she didn't - put a face on an ism or an ideology and say, "ME! It's ME! Look at ME! The Chicana, Latina. See ME! The same woman that has been serving on the national board for the last three years. The same woman you carefully considered for the position. The same person you said was equally qualified for the position. It was ME. You did this to ME and it is NOT okay. I demand you make this right." - then how will it ever have a chance of being made right?
It was a personal, political decision and she was personalizing the political.
She was also using the same technique the early feminist movement used to wake people up from their complacency. No, not every man is a male chauvinist pig but making that charge caused a few men to wake up and pay attention.
It's like that old analogy from the early days of the feminist movement: Fish don't know they're in water.
If you tried to explain it to a fish it would say, "Water? What's water?" They're so surrounded by it that it's impossible to see. They can't see it until they get outside of it. And then they are also able to see how polluted some parts of the pond have gotten.
That's what happens when you charge UUAs - or any nice, polite, white person - with "White Supremacy". It's like taking a fish out of water and saying, "Look! Look what you've been surrounding yourself with! Look what you've been living in! Look what it's doing to some of the other fish."
Add maleness to the white supremacy model and you get the culture of Fox News and most of the culture of corporate America.
And now, the Oval Office of the White House.
Like most pyramid or ice bergs, the tip of it is just the obvious, presenting problem. It's what's below the tip, the bottom of the pyramid, where the covert, socially acceptable behavior exists - and becomes more dangerous the more attention is paid to the tip and the less is paid to the base.
I don't know about you, but from time to time in my journey I have wandered around the base of that pyramid. I confess that I've been an ardent subscriber of the "But We're Just One Human Family" perspective.
It's a lovely thought.
It's a marvelous goal.
It's not our reality.
Not unless you don't know that you're swimming in water. And, it's polluted.
I have come to believe this: Western Christianity is built on a frame which assumes the supremacy of Caucasians. It begins with the blond, blue-eyed Jesus and works its way through various manifestations like pew rents and tithes, and continues to ascribe higher value to literacy, social and educational status and social location than the content of human character.
You can find it in more subtle manifestations of spiritual disciplines which ask people who may not be able to afford food to "fast" and asks people who are are suffering the indignities of the oppressed to subscribe to Lenten disciplines which "sacrifice" something in order to better understand the "sufferings" of Jesus.
We've got an awful lot of work to do in order to dismantle the framework of an institution which is so immersed in the waters of prejudice and discrimination that it doesn't even know that there is a different environment in which we can all swim freely.
Please hear me clearly: Wealth and educational and social status are not inherently evil. It's the arrogance and greed that prevent the wider distribution of wealth and opportunity that is evil. It is the valuing of individual wealth and social status over human ability and potential based on race, ethnicity, gender, etc., that is evil.
Especially in the church or any religious community.
If you need a recent history lesson in this, just watch the movie Hidden Figures based on the book by Margo Lee Shetterly.
We extinguish the flame in this chalice, but not the one in our hearts.I came away from that service with a hunger that was nourished with a renewed committed to the work of justice.
This is the light of our soul that shines forth when the world seems too dark;
it is the spark that ignites hope when that seems lost.
Your light is precious; carry it with you.... always.
And that work begins, once again and as it always does, with me. With "this little light of mine".
My light is precious. And, so is yours.
Could YOU be a White Supremacist?
That's a question I encourage you to explore for yourself.
Start by tending to your own light.
Then, take a look around at the water in which you swim.