Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

January 15, 2017: “From Banquets to Battle”

Call to Worship – Rev Denis Letourneau Paul

Let us settle into our seats for a moment
To take a deep breath and look around at each other.
See each other in this circle..
…welcome the newcomer
the newcomer who may be here in order to seek company and perhaps even guidance through a difficult time in life
the newcomer who may be here to share a joy to wonderful to savor alone
the newcomer who may be here because of a child who has asked too many questions to answer without some company
the newcomer who may be seeking solid ground 
Remember that time you were the newcomer
Remember whatever it was that drew you into this company of these people
Remember your emotions and the way they manifested themselves in your body
The shaking hands, the butterflies in your stomach
The lump in your throat
And the hope that you would be welcomed.

Today, look around this circle
And feel the welcome that we celebrate
The welcome that we worship under the light of this beacon.

Personal Reflection Steve Hairston

Generally, I’ll tell you that I enjoy learning. But, over the past six weeks, I’ve received some lessons that I would have been happier to remain in the dark about. I can tell you that a hot shower feels really good. And I hope soon to take this luxury for granted once again. I’ve endured some burdens recently that have really slowed me down, and it’s been exhausting. But the happy news is these are temporary for me.

I had an opportunity to travel overseas a few years back. Upon completion of my return flight, I was tired, happy that our long flight was done, and that soon I’d be back home to get some rest. Of course, I had to pass customs and make the final connection, but things were looking positive.

While waiting at the baggage carousel, some jarring sights came to me. Among the crowd of people appeared the customs agents, armed with dogs and automatic rifles. I don’t like to be reminded that such measures are useful.

Standing a few feet away from me was a man, dressed casually in polo shirt and khakis. He looked like a corporate guy returning from a business trip. A customs agent came toward me, but walked past me and then stopped to ask the man some questions. It was a surprise when a second agent, who also passed by me about three minutes later and approached the same man.

There were two apparent differences between the man and me. He was maybe 10 years older, and he had a dark complexion.

This bothered me a bit. So, I asked someone that I know who works for the customs service. He replied, “We don’t profile, we ‘target’. The arrest records show that black people are more likely to be smuggling.” I wonder how many generations will pass before all will be free to go about their lives, free of suspicion based upon complexion.

I’m grateful that, at least so far, the hardships that have been handed to me will fade away.

Sermon “From Banquets to Battle” Rev Denis Letourneau Paul
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at Western Michigan University in 1963. I would like to share a small portion of that speech with you this morning:

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the to world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence…

In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment–men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos. Who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Creative Maladjustment. Great Phrase. What does it mean? I’d read Rev. King’s speech in seminary, but couldn’t really describe it until I experienced something that woke me up to the common experiences of others.

In 2007 I moved to Long Beach
1990 Geo Tracker…bouncy
“Weaving slightly,” 
“What does that mean?” I asked/argued
As I was pulled out of the car
Interrogated….identified as minister…drinking at the board meeting?
I told him I was worried that congregants
Subjected to not one but three sobriety tests….alphabet backward

I found out later that congregants had seen me 
They saw it as normal. Somebody driving a junky 17 year old car in that area should expect to be stopped. It didn’t seem unreasonable to them that the police would find the presence of lone man in a cheap car suspicious, or that a minister might be driving.

My good UU congregants had adjusted themselves to the reality of police profiling. They’d also adjusted themselves to the police department’s regular practice of dispatching helicopters to the scene of any disturbance, where they would shine bright lights onto the people below. So, if someboy called to complain that a neighbor was making too much noise on a Saturday night, a helicopter would appear. Smokers outside of bars, no matter how quiet they tried to be, would be harassed regularly.

The next morning, going out for my regular run, a man was stopped, cuffed, curbed, released.
I watched…practice I learned was called “being curbed.”
Became a regular practice….ally…but as much for me
Prevent myself from becoming adjusted
Saw myself in those men curbed

I got discomforted into action. My experience forced me to tap into Creative Maladjustment I hadn’t know existed within me, and that Creative Maladjustment proved to be at the root of the love that would cast out fear, not just for me, but I hope also for the men being curbed.

When William Barber moved to North Carolina, he was changing career paths. He went from being a lawyer, to being a minister. The son of a black preacher who was active in the civil rights movement in the south, where justice-seeking people had worked together across lines of individual identity, he expected ministers and unions would work together. He learned that was not the case, and he struggled.

One morning, Rev Barber awoke to find he was nearly completely paralyzed. He couldn’t move in his bed. He was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with a rare form of arthritis so severe it fuses bones in place. He was told that he may never walk on his own again. Three months later, he returned to work using a walker, which he used every day until he began his position as chapter president of the NAACP, where he encouraged people to move from banquets to battle, moving forward in still very incomplete fight for civil rights. What he knew, what he was trying to get the good elders of the NAACP to understand, was that civil rights were still not guaranteed for other minorities, including poor and urban folks, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, even LGBT people.

Yes, a southern preacher who describes himself as theologically conservative is fighting for the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. Because it’s the right thing to do, and his Creative Maladjustment is at the root of the love that would cast out fear.

Rev Barber knew his history. He knew that the “power of the abolitionist movement through the nineteenth century, the fusionist movement in the post-reconstruction era, and the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century was always the same: a diverse coalition of people with shared moral concerns, refusing to be divided by fear or intimidation.” (1)

Every year, on the Sunday of MLK weekend, I’ve tried to respectfully acknowledge the holiday the way I acknowledge Yom Kippur or Ramadan.
Not my holiday
Lift it up
Embrace the themes

I’ve felt like it’s better to include readings, hymns, prayers
Lanston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Cornell West, …
All year long.

I’ve wanted to avoid the pitfall…

But this year, as I look back over the racial tension and unrest of the last two years, unrest that began to mushroom with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, just a week after I arrived here in Kirtland, I know that I need to do more to reconnect myself to the creative maladjustment that forced me into action and witness in southern California ten years ago. I know that I need to be more of a part of a diverse coalition of people with shared moral concerns, refusing to be divided by fear and intimidation.

And if I’m honest, I believe that we as a congregation need to be more of a part of that diverse coalition of poor and urban folks, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, even LGBT people. And women. And elders. And the temporarily and permanently disabled.

Because let’s face it. Everyone here is either in one of those categories or will be someday. We need to join our power together with other organizations who are using their love of humanity to cast out fear.

In less than a week, we are inaugurating a new president, who brings with him a whole new administration to activate an agenda that unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

If you support the administration, you have to face some of the realities that are in the headlines every day: 
More than 20 million people – many of whom you love and respect – are likely to suddenly find themselves without healthcare insurance, and tens of millions more may not be able to find insurance at all if the ban on excluding people with pre-existing conditions is lifted
Women feel unsafe, as they face losing reproductive rights while more men feel emboldened, even encouraged, to treat them with disrespect
Disabled people feel mocked
People of color feel excluded
Immigrants and Muslims are facing increased hostility

And if you do not support the administration, you have to face the experience of those who have felt silenced by a government that doesn’t see or acknowledge them as the world changes faster and faster. You’re learning that people who have been right in front of you through the last administration – many of whom you love and respect – have felt unprotected. Like they don’t matter because they don’t fit into a protected class.

But here’s something we all need to think about in this age of undeniable diversity: All of us, as evidenced by the experience of Steve Hairston and William Barber, at some point become part of a protected class. We all – if we’re blessed – get old. We all suffer debility or disability, whether it is temporary or permanent. We all get profiled, dumped into a pool with other people who look like us, where we run the risk of drowning in unreasonable expectations to act or react a certain way.

The humanity of each of us is bound up with that of everyone else, so we need to be more of a part of a diverse coalition of people with shared moral concerns. We need to show the strength of our humanity by refusing to be divided by fear and intimidation. We need to tap into our reserves of Creative Maladjustment and let it be the root of the Love that casts out fear.

That’s why I would like to read this year’s Common Read of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev Barber’s book The Third Reconstruction.

This week, I’m going to get it on the calendar. Now, I know that a couple of the small groups here are reading it, or have already completed it. And I know people have different schedules. So, I’m going to put it on the calendar for a couple different times…a day and an evening. And I’d like to encourage everyone interested to take part, even if you’ve already finished the book. Your voice adds to the conversation.

Your voice is one that will help us all find and deepen our diverse interconnections and drive out fear.

(1) Barber, p. 53.