The Most Subversive Invitation, Rev Denis Paul and Dorothy Lemmey, with guest musician Laura Silverman

Start Date
Listen to this sermon
Audio file

Call to Worship and Chalice Lighting Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
Welcome into this circle, as we metaphorically dance in Sarah’s Circle, Siblings of all genders, from a variety of social locations to worship….to give shape to and name some of the myriad things that are important to us, individually and collectively.

We gather to nurture this community and gird our commitment to making the world better, even when it feels so difficult. Especially when it feels so difficult.

We begin this morning with the words of Reverend Hope Johnson

We are one,
A diverse group
Of proudly kindred spirits
Here, not by coincidence –
But because we choose to journey – together.

We are active and proactive
We care, deeply
We live our love, as best we can.

We ARE ne
Working, Eating, Laughing,
Playing, Singing, Storytelling, Sharing and Rejoicing.
Getting to know each other.
Taking risks
Opening up.
Questioning, Seeking, Searching….
Trying to understand….
Struggling…
Making Mistakes
Paying attention…
Asking Questions
Listening….
Lving Our Answers
Learning to love our neighbors
Learning to love ourselves.

Dorothy, I wonder if you would come up and light our chalice, the symbol of our commitment to being stewards of humanity and all the values that we hold dear, as I read the last part of Reverend Johnson’s words.

Apologizing and forgiving with humility
Being forgiven, through Grace.

Creating the Beloved Community – Together
We are ONE

Prayer
This has been a rough week for everyone in this country. Our lives and our routines have been disrupted by a Supreme court Nomination process that ha traumatized or retraumatized anyone who has paid attention, leaving the participants in the hearings exposed and violated.

Rev. Eric Cherry, minister of the first UU society of Franklin, Massachusetts, wrote a prayer which I want to share with you.

1. I believe Survivors. I will hear, witness, and companion you. I promise you my care and compassion. And, I will connect you with other skilled professionals who can also help. Please reach out to me or to someone in your pain, anger, sorrow or other emotional experience.
2. I believe Penitents. I will also hear, witness and companion you. I promise you, too, my care and compassion. And, I will connect you with other skilled professionals who can also help. Please reach out to me or to someone with your contrition. I believe in the potential transforming power of confession. But, to be crystal clear, Confession combined with Absolution does not mean it didn't happen.

Remember Our Names
On Thursday evening, East Shore partnered with Forbes House and Lakeland Community College to present the Silent Witnesses to the community of students and teachers, and to the surrounding community of residents.

The silent witnesses are life size cutouts of women, created by members and friends of East Shore, with the guidance of Dorothy Lemmey as part of a national initiative. Each cutout represents a woman who has been killed in Lake County by an intimate partner. Many such crimes aren’t reported as acts of domestic violence, so of the silhouettes represents those women. And many other women live daily with the threat of violence, and the fear that if they leave, they will be killed, so another silhouette stands testament to the commonality of their stories.

All of the Silent Witnesses were in the auditorium, and for the main part of the presentation, 22 women shared the stories of the 22 women represented by the 22 figures.

It was wonderful to see so many folks from East Shore there for this important ceremony, but it was especially heartening to see four women from our congregation embody the narratives of four very different women.

This morning, Maura McGovern, Kathy Deane, Nancy Tozer and Joan McDermitt, share the four stories they shared Lakeland.

Reader 1 Maura McGovern
My name is Angel Ormston. I am 17 years old, and I live in Mentor. I went missing on July 31st 1992 after I went to meet a friend at Great Lakes Mall. My body was found in a ditch about a week later. My boyfriend was investigated and confessed to kidnapping me, hitting me in the face, and stabbing me twice. He was sentenced to 20 years. My name was Angel Ormston. Remember my name.

Reader 2 Kathy Deane
My name is Jeannine Humphrey. I am 47 years old, and I live in Kirtland. On September 20th 2001, I came home after a night out with a friend of mine and when I got there my ex-boyfriend was waiting inside my house with a gun. My friend escaped to call 911, but before anyone could get there to help he shot me 3 times, and then killed himself. My name was Jeannine Humphrey. Remember my name.

Reader 3 Nancy Tozer:
My name is Elaine Kajfez. I am 47 years old, and I live in Eastlake. On December 29th 2006 my boyfriend shot me 10 times in my head, neck, and back at his apartment. He had been physically and emotionally abusing me for years, but I never reported it. He was sentenced to life in prison, but I was still gone. My name was Elaine Kajfez. Remember my name.

Reader 4 Joan McDermitt
My name is Diane Stroud. I am 53 and I live in Mentor. On November 27th 2011, I had been missing for 6 weeks. My husband had told my kids that I went on vacation, but one day my daughter who lived with us noticed a bad smell coming from our garage and called the police. I was found rotting in a sleeping bag with plastic wrapped around my head. My husband, an ex-cop in Mentor, was found guilty of beating my head in with a hammer. He got 16 years. My name was Diane Stroud. Remember my name.

Personal Reflection “Evolution of Thinking” Dorothy Lemmey
Growing up with an alcoholic one experiences different forms of violence. Such as: Shouting obscenities, stabbing for protection, knocking over Christmas trees, cowering under covers, emotional putdowns, sexual violence, sexual innuendos, daily pandemonium as well as hunger as a form of violence. So is alcohol the cause of violence?

In my adulthood I found most people who do not have the violence in their gut do not use it in their language, actions or relationships whether drinking or not. I did not spend time with anyone who was volatile or alcoholic. I spent time with people who knew how to verbally handle conflict, people who did not use retaliation and those that believed in the basic goodness of human beings.

Then in 1982 I discovered my sister was being violently abused by her husband and I again was faced with confusing violence and the secrets that go along with that way of life. At the time I thought the only way to protect her was to threaten my brother-in-law by stating, “If you hit her one more time I will pay someone to break both of your legs.” Now that did not help in fact probably made it worse.

So I turned to the literature to understand, I read research and books. Books such as: Susan Faluti’s “Backlash: the undeclared war on women.”

Riane Eisler’s “Chalice and the Blade” Which helped me see how our world in the past 4,000 years has been written and controlled by a patriarchal, dominant, ownership society. Because men are in control and men have gained control through violence and oppression, it ends up that masculine values are might, strength, independence, stoicism, etc. Because women are not in control, they are assigned the aspects of humanity that are opposites: love, emotional expression, affiliation, care, etc. These qualities are not inherent but are allocated by our dominant ideology.

Alice Millers books which made me see the world from a child’s view. Thou Shalt Not be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child, Miller reasons that when children suffer abuse, their feelings of pain and rage have nowhere to go in a society that esteems parental power over them as a natural right. Children have no choice but to internalize the suffering, creating a wellspring of imagined blame. This book offers a fresh take on how the unconscious retains memories of childhood and, without appropriate intervention, generates emotional ills and destructive behavior.

My dissertation was based on violence against women. I interviewed many women who had come to the Houston police department to file a complaint. I heard many stories and injuries that pained me while I took notes. What was at the core here was ownership, power and control. How many times have you heard the statement, “If I can’t have you no one will.” A woman is more at risk of death when she tries to leave. Oppression of her basic human right of her own life, thoughts, and freedom of movement were at play here.

So what I learned was living in a patriarchal, dominant culture we value masculine behaviors of oppression over feminine behaviors. This oppression is revealed in violence, exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, and cultural imperialism. I see oppression in spanking, poverty, violence against women, war, capital punishment, climate change, and judgement of gays. All the same issue all based on a patriarchal culture.

I love to watch a 2-year-old just be who they are, walking and running around, exploring their environment, displaying their curiosity and their joy. I believe the age-old rule “spoil the rod, spoil the child” is damaging. Hitting a child is damaging to their unconscious. Hearing violence between parents is damaging to a child. Allow children the freedom to be who they came here to be within safety.

We must turn our culture upside down from a hierarchal culture to a partnership culture. Equal valuing, equal opportunity and equal access. Where nurturing, caring and cooperation are valued not power over and control over others. When this happens, we will see a more peaceful world we will evolve our humanity.

In closing quote from Riane Eisler, historian, systems scientist, educator, attorney, speaker, and author. b 1937

“Overconsumption and waste by those on top is a perennial feature of dominator societies. In these societies, conspicuous consumption is a symbol of power. Control over possessions and other humans is a substitute for the emotional and spiritual fulfillment missing from a system rooted in fear and force.”  — 

Reading Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
This morning’s reading is from A Book on Celtic Wisdom, by John O’Donohue.

It takes us so long to see where we are. It takes us even longer to see who we are. This is why the greatest gift you could ever dream is a gift that you can only receive from one person. And that person is you yourself.

Therefore, the most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed. Plato said in The Symposium that one of the greatest privileges of a human life is to become midwife to the birth of the soul in another. When your soul awakens, you begin to truly inherit your life. You leave the kingdom of fake surfaces, repetitive talk and weary roles and slip deeper into the true adventure of who you are and who you are called to become. The greatest friend of the soul is the unknown. Yet we are afraid of the unknown because it lies outside our vision and our control. We avoid it or quell it by filtering it through our protective barriers of domestication and control. The normal way never leads home.

Once you start to awaken, no one can ever claim you again for the old patterns. Now you realize how precious your time here is. You are no longer willing to squander your essence on undertakings that do not nourish your true self; your patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. You see through the rosters of expectation which promise you safety and the confirmation of your outer identity. Now you are impatient for growth, willing to put yourself in the way of change.

Sermon “The Most Subversive Invitation” Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
On Thursday, at the Silent Witness event at Lakeland, I was asked to share a reflection how violence against women is a men’s issue, which I interpreted as an invitation to men to be agents of change.

I began by sharing how I grew up in a culture of violence, a culture where hypermasculinity reigned, directing behavior, defining norms, and perpetuating itself.

I shared how my father and brother and I made choices to step outside of the norms, and make the effort to adopt a new way of being. But in doing so, I realized that I was probably preaching to the choir. I realized that the men I was addressing, the men who took time out from their schedules to be present for the ceremony were the kind of men who already know that violence against women is wrong, and the extent to which physical, social and political violence is perpetrated against women by men who wield power over them.

They got it. It’s why they were there.

So I had to appeal to their sense of decency, of shared values and invite them to listen to the stories of the women killed by intimate partners and think about the men and boys in their lives and who are at risk of being perpetrators of violence. I asked them to think about specific men and boys, and ask themselves what they could do to help break the cycle of violence, and imagine positive ways to deal with anger and stress, positive ways to de-escalate conflict before it turns into rage and ruin.

As I was doing so, I found myself incredibly glad that I am a Unitarian Universalist.

Not because we have it all figured out and have perfect harmony among men and women and all the other genders we are constantly learning more about. Not because we are models of right relationship and always handle conflict with grace and aplomb.

Because we don’t. We get it wrong frequently, and yet, we stick together.

That’s why I’m so glad to be a UU.

We have these seven principles that put at one end the worth and dignity of every individual person in the first; and at the other end respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are only a small part in the seventh. Our principles put the primacy of the mind and individual experience in one hand and responsibility to all creation in the other hand, hold them in tension, and give us all these tools for making the most of that tension in principles 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Those principles form not a creed that we all must adhere to in order to belong, but the basis for our shared identity.

I’m glad to be a UU because when I talk about men’s responsibility to end violence against women, I can refer to the values we strive to uphold in community with one another. I can refer specifically to the second principle: justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

Our second principle calls on us to have a concern for justice, grounded in a love of peace and a genuine respect for all people and their own autonomy. Because of that concern, we can’t turn a blind eye to miscarriages of justices. We must name abuses of power and shirking of the law, and demand that they be held accountable for their actions.

Our second principle calls on us to be fair and impartial, holding one another accountable to the equity that is the highest goal of our laws and our democracy. We must join with those whose rights are denied, those whose voices have been silenced, to restore them to wholeness and amplify their influence in the midst of those who have more wealth and power.

Our second principle calls on us to exhibit something that often seems to be the most fragile and elusive of all characteristics of our collective consciousness: compassion, sympathy for the suffering of others and empathy to understand their feelings.

Our commitment to justice equity and compassion requires us to accept the most subversive invitation to awaken to who we are and and where we have landed.

Our commitment to justice, quity and compassion requires us leave the kingdom of fake surfaces, repetitive talk and weary roles and slip deeper into the true adventure of who you are and who you are called to become. For men, that means leaving behing the old patterns of domination upheld through force, and realizing how precious our time here is.

Our commitment to justice, equity and compassion requires us to be no longer willing to squander our essence on undertakings that do not nourish our true selves, as our patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. We want to move past the old expectations of what it means to be a man, and form new identities grounded in the

Our commitment to justice, equity and compassion makes us impatient for growth, willing to put ourselves in the way of change.

This is who we are, these are the values that we share as Unitarian Universalists, and this is how I know that we are committed to ending violence against women, and holding other men accountable to their actions.

Offering of Gifts (Rev Denis, last week for BLUU)
All month, we have been collecting money to support the ministry of Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism to increase diversity in our association of congregations by supporting our members of color, sharing their stories, and broadening understanding of the difficulties of making a home in a church whose history is long and sometimes…..well, static.

Today, congregations committed to this work have been asked to share the reflections of a few people of color who are doing the work of religious leadership, so I share with you a piece called “The Healing is Not Done,” by the Reverend Rebekah Savage:
 
I play this moment over and over again in my head: the day I heard of the Thomas Jefferson Ball, hosted by Unitarian Universalists in 1993. As a person of color, raised in a UU congregation, I felt a shiver down my spine as I learned something new and unsettling about the faith that I call home.

You may be wondering why this gathering of UUs in 1993 struck me as a profoundly memorable and painful moment. Beloveds, this is why: attendees were encouraged to wear period clothes to the Ball to celebrate Thomas Jefferson, who attended Unitarian churches. In the spirit of welcome, those who conceived of this social gathering did not take into account the centering of whiteness by asking people to attend in period dress. The organizers forgot or ignored the fact that in Jefferson’s time, we black and brown UUs would have been slaves: property to be traded and sold, brutalized and subjected.
 
The matter was taken up at General Assembly when delegates challenged the appropriateness of holding this event. During a plenary session, delegates voiced their concerns by reading a statement of protest. In response, the organizers and other leaders gathered to consider how to proceed and came to a decision: the Thomas Jefferson Ball would proceed ahead as planned.
 
I ask myself: What would I wear? Would I be a house slave, favored for my lighter skin and “good hair”? My skin is a light brown that my daughter refers to as cinnamon, a product of a beautiful multi-racial family history. Would I catch the eye of a white man who could leverage any opportunity to take my body as his property?
 
What would I wear? Would I have had shoes on my work worn feet? Would I have stretch marks across my belly from babies that were taken from me to sell to other plantations? Would I sing to myself faithful, mournful songs of liberation, dreaming for the day when I can taste freedom for myself and my family?
 
What would I wear? Would I be allowed to come through the front entrance or directed to the back, to enter through the kitchen with the other slaves and servants? Would I be allowed to drink from the same punch bowl, eat from the same platters? Would I sit with the other people of color, in a separate room or at the back of the gathering? Would I be permitted to look a white person in the eye or even speak their name?
 
What would I wear, dear beloved UU’s? Tell me what I would have worn to attend this ball? What period clothes would represent who I would have been in Thomas Jefferson’s time?
 
OUCH.
When we feel something deeply and are still finding the words: OUCH.
Seriously, OUCH.
 
Why do I raise this deeply wounding moment in our shared UU history?
Because this isn’t just a reflection about my lived experience as a person of color in a majority-white denomination. This is also part of the story of how people of color experience sharing worship and community within our faith. It’s a chapter in the story of who we are as a people, living in this country, swimming in the waters of white supremacy and centering whiteness, supported by centuries of indoctrinations and institutional structures.

I grieve for the hurts that this time in our history caused. I grieve for those who left our communities because of how this event was handled, which broke their trust in finding spacious rest in our congregations from the pervasive, violent racism in our country. I grieve for those who, at the time, were unable to traverse the gaps in their spiritual understanding of justice and belonging. I grieve that it has taken this long to have this level of conversation about centering people of color.  
 
This Ball was conceived by well-meaning people, beloved kin of mine and yours, who were able to identify welcome only through the eyes of white privilege. That is the insidious nature of centering whiteness: it denies personhood and the God given right for all to be fully accounted.

To put primacy on whiteness as the default setting in how we see and experience our world means that we are being theologically inconsistent. We covenant to affirm and promote the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, and yet we have devalued the full inclusion of too many.
 
In small ways, this trend emerges when music and readings for worship draw primarily from Anglo-European composers and writers and the paintings that hang in our congregations disproportionately represent our white foremothers and forefathers. We see this trend when congregational leadership is cultivated without honoring the diversity in our midst as a rich source of inspiration and prophetic messaging. We see this in considering that people of color have been a part of our living tradition for centuries — but our voices have been overlooked, silenced, or outright rejected with hostility.
 
I ignite my flame of justice and shine a light on this scar because the healing is not done. The healing is not done because we are still called to do the work of dismantling white supremacy culture and decentering whiteness from our bones: from our congregations, from the ways in which we interact and support each other. We are called to fulfill the promises once made in the name of faith and proclaiming Beloved Community. We are called to match our words with our actions, to bring the holy into our midst by truly and without fear honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
 
This is a beautiful time of opportunity, Beloveds, born of truly listening to people of color and beginning to repair the fabric of community that has been torn. Ripped asunder by years of broken and empty promises: words of good intention, unmatched by purposeful action.
 
I love being a Unitarian Universalist. I was birthed into this world with the calling of service on my heart; I was shaped and molded in our congregations. I also know that, as Dr. Cornell West shared with us in his 2015 Ware Lecture at General Assembly, if I have white supremacy in my heart because I was raised in this country, so do we all.
 
While I grieve, I also have much reason to claim hope. I celebrate where we are as a people of faith because we are bravely facing the devastation and illness of “othering” people. We are looking at ourselves in the mirror and seeking a new way. I celebrate that we have the moral and spiritual courage to listen deeply to voices that have been marginalized. I celebrate that beloveds are choosing to move back humbly, to make space for an evolution in leadership and consciousness. The spark of working towards the greatest good is seen in every moment of insight as so many are waking up to our participation in centering whiteness.
 
Beloveds, now is our time to lead with love and make right the ways our denomination has fallen short of our shared principles. We are a powerful, aspirational covenanted people and we are being called to account for our historic moral and spiritual failings, in order to move into authentic Beloved Community.
 
Now is our time to harness our ability to reflect inward in order to reemerge with a power greater than ourselves that gives rise to a new day. Beloveds, with love and peace in our hearts, may it be so.

May it be so. Indeed.
I have a confession to make. When I found out earlier this week that we homilists were being asked to put aside our planned sermons in order to share the words of other preachers and leaders for a topic that didn’t necessarily relate to the services we had planned, I felt a little annoyed. Disrupted. Like I couldn’t do the work I wanted to do, lifting up the subject I had committed to lifting up: the work of the Silent Witness Initiative to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

But then I read Reverend Savage’s words and had a humbling realization. In 1993, all of the black and brown people who arrived at General Assembly were disrupted by the Jefferson Ball. They were disrupted because they arrived believing they would be welcomed, but being stopped by the realization that their hurts weren’t heard. I know. It was 25 years ago that that happened. But every week, somewhere in our association of congregations people of color face the reality that they are a small minority in an organization that is way whiter than the general population.

Imagine how disrupting that would feel in your life, if you were in that position. If you are a person of color, you don’t have to imagine it, you live it, and still you come, seeking welcome, even when it isn’t obvious.

More than 50 years ago, the Reverend Dr. King said that the most segregated hour in America each week is 11 o’colock Sunday morning.

It still is. We need to change that. We can start by disrupting our worship a bit, shaking up our plans and making space for a new way of being, making time “to harness our ability to reflect inward in order to reemerge with a power greater than ourselves that gives rise to a new day.”

We have been asked to give $1,570 to Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism this month, as a reflection of our intention to reflect inward, to experience an evolution of thinking. So far, we have raised just about $1,000, so I am asking you to give as generously as you can, to cover your share of this initiative, as well as that of another who can’t afford to.

As I’ve said, this month, in addition to my usual pledge of 5% of my gross salary, I am giving $10 per week dedicated to Black Lives of UU. If you would like to give specifically to the cause, please put your cash into a giving envelope and write BLUU on the outside, or make your check to East Shore and write BLUU in the memo line.

This morning’s offering will now be accepted.

Event type
Worship Service
Add to Calendar 2019-03-18 10:19:37 2019-03-18 10:19:37 Title Description Location East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church laura@laurasolomon.net America/New_York public