Sorrow and Hope
Presented on-line May 31st, 2020 Rev. Fiona Heath
This is not the reflection I planned to write for this week. But this is one of those times where news of the world demands our attention.
My heart breaks from the overt acts of racism that are killing people of colour.
My heart breaks seeing journalists arrested for being black.
My heart breaks watching a white woman call the police knowing full well the danger for the black man asking her politely to leash her dog.
My heart breaks because I have watched a countless number of videos of black men being killed for going to the grocery store, for jogging, for driving a car, dead for the crime of being black in America.
And the pain of my breaking heart is a rain drop in the ocean of pain being experienced by people of colour. I can’t imagine the suffering and rage and despair and frustration felt by those who know this could happen to them or their loved ones whenever they leave the house.
It’s too much. It’s been too much for far too long.
The rebellion in the streets, the torching of buildings, that is the recourse of the unheard and dis-empowered.
People tired of saying I can’t breathe before they die because a police officer is calmly kneeling on their neck. Tired of murder being acceptable. When did society become some extreme – so us and them – that police forces are trained to treat citizens like rats to be exterminated?
When it become normal to watch people die on camera?
How can we begin to seek justice, equity and compassion in human relations when the wound is as deep as a mountain chasm?
For us, mostly white, mostly privileged, it begins with acknowledging that deep, deep wound exists. It begins with turning towards the wound, a willingness to see the damage, to hear the pain. It begins with tending to the hurt. To suspend our judgements and care for the wounded.
We can start by listening to black men like Canadian ETalk host Tyrone Edwards express his truth – his anger and his grief. I encourage you to look for his powerful conversation with the women on the tv talk show The Social. It’s on youtube and on my facebook feed.
Because this is not just a United States problem – white privilege, racial bias is just as embedded in our social systems. This is our work too.
Edwards reminds us that change happens when we take it upon ourselves as a collective obligation. Whatever you do, whatever role you have, you don’t have to become a full on activist, but in your own life, you have the choice to create the change you want.
As Edwards says we don’t have to get it right, or be note perfect in how we speak, we just have to care enough to do something, anything. No one single person can fix this, no white person is going to be the saviour – even Jesus was a person of colour.
But each of us can re-commit to our work in nurturing inclusivity, to examining our own bias and prejudice, to commit to learning and becoming an ally. Read a book about racism. Watch a video. Follow people of colour on twitter and Instagram. Check out the UUA website for racial justice materials.
Learn. Listen. Speak out.
The rift of pain experienced by people of colour has been carved out by centuries of enslavement and disenfranchisement and ignorance and indifference. It will take time and intention to be healed.
We – the people of the chalice – can and should be part of the healing.
As Unitarian Universalists, we are committed to justice, equity and compassion for all.
All means all.
Learn. Listen. Speak out.
“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”
German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote this in a book of poems he published in 1939, poems written as he experienced the rise of Nazism.
In the dark times, there will also be singing.
We need art and music and poetry to help us be human. Especially I think in times of crisis and confusion.
Art can hold the essential tension of humanity – that life can be so wonderful and so awful all at the same time – joy and sorrow forever entwined.
I encourage all of you to turn to whatever art calls to you – seek out poems or paintings or films or music that speaks to something deep inside you – that helps you feel seen and understood.
Art reminds us that part of being human is to feel deeply and gives us ways to express those feelings, to be vulnerable. So I also encourage you to seek out the works of people of colour expressing their experiences. Be present to their stories, to their struggles.
Our minds are often not changed by a litany of statistics – racism is well documented – but by an experience of feeling, that energetic connection between beings. Where vulnerability meets vulnerability.
The compassion that rises when we witness someone’s pain and choose to stand with them instead of walking away.
We are all vulnerable beings, in this life together.
We should act like it.
This poem comes from my colleague the Rev. Lynn Ungar, written six years ago when there was another upsurge in black deaths at the hands of the police.
Breathe, said the wind
How can I breathe at a time like this,
when the air is full of the smoke
of burning tires, burning lives?
Just breathe, the wind insisted.
Easy for you to say, if the weight of
injustice is not wrapped around your throat,
cutting off all air.
I need you to breathe.
I need you to breathe.
Don’t tell me to be calm
when there are so many reasons
to be angry, so much cause for despair!
I didn’t say to be calm, said the wind,
I said to breathe.
We’re going to need a lot of air
to make this hurricane together.
A hurricane is rising.
It’s time – it’s past time – to honour the anger and grief of people of colour, to take their anguish seriously, and act to dismantle systemic oppressions.
The hurricane is gathering force, it’s a mighty wind of justice, equity and compassion for all. It needs our breath, our intention, our action.
As people of the chalice our commitment is to love and justice. It is our work to learn, to listen, to speak out, and to act, to join the collective to dismantle racism. It begins with examining our own bias, with learning how to recognize and overcome the prejudices that we inherited from the system.
Anti racism work is a life long process. And it’s part of all the other issues – the climate crisis, poverty, refugees – all of these problems are tied up in treating some group of people as having less value, less worth.
We are all in this together.
It will take effort. We will need active hope. This hope does not rest on optimism, or on achieving a particular goal, active hope rests in intention. The intention to be anti-racist, to choose justice and compassion for all.
We will stumble and fall and have to rest at times, but as long as we keep to our intentions, we will get there, to a society that is defined less by racism and more by love.
If we hold onto active hope, if we listen and learn, if we work together, we will become the change we seek.
I ask that each of us listen to the pain and tend to the wounds of racism.
Be an ally.
Nourish yourself with art and music and steel yourself with active hope.
Be part of the mighty hurricane.
So Say We All.