What We’re Learning (UUS:E Virtual Worship, June 21, 2020)

Dear Ones: The recording of our June 21st virtual Sunday service is on YouTube here. Rev. Josh and Gina Campellone discuss what they have been learning about themselves and about UUS:E over the past year. They suggest that each of us take time to reflect on these questions: especially during these past few months of global pandemic, what have you been learning about yourself? What have you been learning about your UUS:E congregation?

A Celebration of Religious Education — Virtual Sunday Service, June 14, 2020

Friends:

Please view our June 14th “RE Sunday” service here.

In This Moment, the Call Is Clear

Friends: You can watch the entire June 7th Zoom service on YouTube here.

Read the text to Rev. Josh’s service and his suggestions for study and action here:

First I want to thank Gina for her powerful words. When I suggested to her earlier in the week that you the congregation want and need to hear from her – as our Director of Religious Education – on this painful, enraging, and defining moment in our nation’s history, she already knew it. She was already thinking about what she would say. I am proud of her for moving out of her comfort zone. I admire her for seeking the truth and speaking the truth. I am grateful to her for ministering to all of us.

I want to say this to the children and young people who are with us, mindful that any message to children and young people is always a message to the entire congregation:

I am sorry we have to talk about this, but we have to talk about this. In the middle of a global pandemic that has disrupted every aspect of your lives, suddenly human violence, human cruelty, human racism is on full display. White Supremacy—the evil lie that White people are better than and more deserving than people of every other race—is suddenly on full display. Your parents and me and Gina and all the adults at UUS:E don’t want you to have to think about this, especially at a very young age. We talk to you so often about a different kind of world – a world of fairness, justice, equity, compassion, and love – a world where there is no White Supremacy. We want that to be the world we live in. But over these past two weeks this other world—this painful, hurtful world—has been hard to miss. It’s all over the news, all over the internet, all over social media—everywhere. And the response to it—most of which has been peaceful and nonviolent, but some of which has been violent—has been everywhere too. Gina and I know that in this moment, it would be unfair to all of you if we just tried to protect you from it. In fact it would be irresponsible for us—it would be spiritual negligence—to not fully condemn in your hearing the White Supremacy that killed George Floyd on May 25th in Minneapolis, and Ahmed Arbery in Georgia on February 23rd, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY on March 13th, and Jose “Jay” Soto right here in Manchester on April 2nd. We condemn it with every fiber of our being. Our church condemns it. Our faith condemns it.

We’re naming it. I’m sorry if naming it hurts. It’s hurts me too. I’m sorry if it’s frightening. It frightens me too. I’m sorry if makes you angry. It makes me angry too. But we are a church with seven principles. White Supremacy violates every one of those principles. The spirit at the heart of our principles—the spirit of love and compassion, the spirit of equality and justice, the spirit that honors the inherent worth and dignity of all, the spirit of life and liberation—that spirit calls us to be honest about the reality of White Supremacy, and to do everything in our power to uproot it and end it. As Gina promised, I want the children to know we adults will do everything we can to uproot it and end it. We don’t want to let you down.

*****

A few weeks ago, as I was reflecting on what we were witnessing as a result of the pandemic. I said, as so many have said, that the pandemic has made our nation’s inequities and injustices and white supremacy crystal clear. The most hardened hearts will continue denying this truth, but thoughtful, reasonable people everywhere are accepting it. You know what killed George Floyd, Jay Soto, Breonna Taylor and Ahmed Arbery? The old normal killed them. We cannot, we must not, we will not go back to that.

The protests are powerful. Can you imagine people of all walks of life, of all racial identities coming out to protest White Supremacy all over the country in massive numbers? All over the world? Can you imagine over 1,000 people marching in Manchester yesterday? The nation is waking up, friends.

But let’s be clear: the protests we’ve been witnessing and participating in so far aren’t sufficient to end White Supremacy. These protests are just the prelude. They till the ground. They make the soil ready. Our friends at Moral Monday CT call protest  turn-up. They say turn-up creates the political space in which social transformation can occur. That’s a direct quote from Bishop Selders and his good friend Rev. Sekou. There’s been turn-up all over the country, and indeed all over the world, for two weeks now. The political space for transformation has been created. Now it’s time for people who want to see white supremacy ended in our nation to take control of that political space.

There are many ways to do that. I want you to know how I am going to do it. Moral Monday CT is calling for a public fast and occupation at the state capital, from sunrise to sunset, beginning tomorrow, Monday June 8th, and lasting until the Governor calls the legislature back into session for the purpose of passing laws that will end police violence against people of color in Connecticut once and for all. I have been preparing myself spiritually and emotionally for the better part of a week to take this action. I am anxious. Frankly, I am frightened. I don’t know yet what capacity I have to do this. But the movement’s moment is here. In the words of W.E.B. DuBois, “now is the appointed time.” The political space has been created. We need to take that space now. This will be hard for me. My participation will be disruptive for my family. My participation will be disruptive to my work at UUS:E. But it will not be disruptive to my calling, because the power of love and life to which I bow my head in prayer calls me to this capital fast in this appointed time. It will not be disruptive to my ministry, because this is what ministry to a broken, hurting state and nation must be in this appointed time.

That’s what I am going to do next. I am curious what you plan to do. Whether you recognize it or not, for years our congregation has been preparing for this moment. I urge all of you, in any and every way you can, as residents of this state, as people of faith, as Unitarian Universalists, as decent, loving, compassionate human beings, to notice the political space that has opened up these past few weeks. Notice it and exercise whatever power you have to end White Supremacy. In the text to this sermon, which will be posted on our UUS:E website, I’m going to list a series of organizations that are naming the kinds of structural changes and legislation that have to happen. Specifically, I am looking at the Movement for Black Lives, the Connecticut chapter of the ACLU, The Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance, and the Collaborative Center for Justice. I urge you to study their demands. Study their campaigns. Study their proposals. Study, and then engage. Make sure your representatives hear from you: these are the changes we must make now. Now is the appointed time.

And I know that when some of us look at the kinds of changes being proposed—reparations for slavery, defunding police, abolishing the prison system—there’s inevitably a little voice in the back of our heads that says these things will never happen. It’s too much. It’s too difficult. The systems are too entrenched. The racist culture is too entrenched. I urge you not to listen to that voice. That is actually the voice of white supremacy. And it is lying to you. Don’t accept the lie. These changes can happen. And we can play our part. Turn-up has political space created the political space in which social transformation can happen. For everyone who believes Black Lives Matter, for everyone who wants to White Supremacy in all its forms to end, now is the appointed time.

Amen and blessed be.

*****

The Movement for Black Lives identifies six ongoing Policy Platforms, and two Pandemic-related rapid response platforms, each with multiple concrete steps we can take to reduce hold of White Supremacy Culture on American society. Study these platforms and their related proposals here. Share them with friends, family and neighbors. Begin advocating for them in this appointed time.

The Connecticut Chapter of the ACLU is a critical leader on the issues of criminal justice reform, police accountability and immigration. They, too, are demanding that the governor reconvene the legislature this summer to pass laws that support Black and Latinx lives. Learn about their campaigns here. Take action on their call to the governor here:

The Collaborative Center for Justice is a faith-based, Catholic organization advocating for systemic change. They educate individuals about social justice in order to act with a prophetic voice for and with marginalized persons to challenge injustice and move the moral compass of our society toward peace and justice. CCJ is sponsored by six Religious Congregations of Women in Connecticut (Daughters of the Holy Spirit, Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery, Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Northeast Community, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur of the United States East – West Providence, Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame.) In response to the killing of George Floyd, CCJ is calling for four critical changes to our criminal justice system:

  1. Significantly defund the criminal legal system.
  2. Demilitarize the police.
  3. Ban no-knock warrants.
  4. No cops in schools.

Read the full proposals at here. Reach out to your state and federal legislators now to ask for their support in making these changes happen.

The Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance (GHIAA)  is faith-based community organization composed of approximately 35 congregations from across the Hartford region. UUS:E has been organizing with GHIAA since its beginning a few years ago. GHIAA’s various campaigns confront some of the structural roots of White Supremacy Culture. Familiarize yourself with their campaigns here.

The Language of Your Life

Watch our May 31st virtual Sunday Service, “The Language of Your Life,” here. 

On Giving Honor — UUS:E Virtual Worship, May 24, 2020

Watch our May 24th virtual Sunday Service here. 

Bridging / Thoughts on Reopening — UUS:E Virtual Worship, May 17, 2020

Friends: You can watch the video of our May 17th service, including our bridging ceremony,  on the UUS:E Youtube channel.

The test to Rev. Josh Pawelek’s homily is here:

I want to share a few thoughts on what it means for us to get back to normal. By “us” I mean not only those of us in this service – but us as the wider communities of Manchester and Greater Hartford, us as the people of Connecticut, us as a nation.

Earlier we conducted our bridging ceremony. I want to offer congratulations again to John, Sarah, Nate and Mason. And I want to affirm that it’s a very strange and unnerving time to be bridging into young adulthood. The University of California announced this week that it would only be offering online learning for the coming academic year. I suspect each of you will be encountering similar decisions by the schools you are planning to attend this fall. There are many unknowns, and yet one thing we do know is that you will not be launching into young adulthood the way high school graduates always have. Please know that whatever happens, we are here for you. We are committed to supporting you, along with all the other UUS:E young adults who are experiencing disruption at this formative time in their lives.

What about the rest of us? What kind of future are we bridging into?

On Thursday the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Safe Congregation Team released guidance on how to safely return to in-person congregational gatherings. While that guidance is not definitive for us, we need to take it seriously. And the bottom line is sobering. They recommend not returning to regular in-person gatherings until May of 2021. In making this recommendation they are asking us to account for the most vulnerable people among us – not only in our congregation, but also in the wider community. That is, if our UUS:E community were to gather too soon and become instrumental in the spread of a new outbreak, it would not only negatively impact our people, which for me is unacceptable; it would negatively impact people in the wider community. That is also unacceptable. The UUA’s guidance is grounded first and foremost in “our abiding care and concern for the most vulnerable, inside and outside our congregations” and the “recognition that we are part of an interdependent web and, as such, our risk-taking and our protective actions affect far more than just ourselves.”[1]

We won’t be re-opening any time soon, which means we’re going to have to be innovative and creative in all the ways we offering programming, and especially in how we keep our congregational community connected. And when we finally do re-open, we will not be the same community. This social distancing time is going to change us. We are not bridging back to our old ‘normal.’ Something new awaits. We will discover this ‘something new’ as a congregation over the coming year.

The UUA’s guidance flies in the face of the widespread impulse to re-open the country. Connecticut begins re-opening on Wednesday. Other states have already begun re-opening, even states where the infection rate is still on the rise. Here’s my question: Are those in charge of re-opening taking the most vulnerable people into account? Are those in charge of re-opening acting out of an “abiding care and concern for the most vulnerable?” Do those pushing the hardest for re-opening recognize “that we are part of an interdependent web and, as such, our risk-taking and our protective actions affect far more than just ourselves?”

Ten days ago I was in a meeting with clergy from the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance. It was so striking to hear urban and suburban faith leaders compare notes on their experience of the pandemic. Case in point: the membership of our largely white, suburban congregation has had very little exposure to the coronavirus, and only a few positive tests. We have had no deaths. Yet my colleagues serving largely black, urban congregations report widespread infection and multiple deaths. One highly community-oriented pastor said he was getting at least a phone call a day to conduct a memorial service for someone who had died of Covid-19. Other pastors reported widespread food insecurity and economic hardship. The pandemic has exposed beyond a shadow of a doubt the many race-based economic, social and health disparities in our nation. The high infection and death rates among people of color aren’t a novelty. They are a clear-as-day symptom of the old normal. On the GHIAA call this pastor, speaking through quiet tears, said “we cannot go back to that.”

Friends: I don’t know what the future holds. None of us does. But as a society we cannot bridge back to the old normal. We cannot go back to being the wealthiest nation in the world without understanding that for that wealth to exist the way it does, tens of millions of low-wage workers, immigrants, undocumented people, Black and Latinx people must live with intolerable insecurity, just a breath away from economic ruin or personal health crisis or both.

We’ve been trying to help, raising money to address food insecurity, to support undocumented people facing ICE proceedings, to support domestic workers who’ve gotten sick, and now to support non-union rest stop workers who’ve lost their jobs. These efforts matter because they help vulnerable people survive the pandemic. But let’s be clear: they don’t change the old normal. Are we ready to be in the fight for a new society?

I hope we are. The old normal was a moral failing on the part of our nation. Now, with the coronavirus, it’s a moral catastrophe unfolding before our eyes. We cannot go back to where we were. In all your conversations about re-opening, and in every interaction you may have with officials who have a role to play in the re-opening, demand two things:

All re-opening decisions must be grounded in a demonstrable and “abiding care and concern for the most vulnerable.”

All re-opening decisions must start from a “recognition that we are part of an interdependent web and, as such, our risk-taking and our protective actions affect far more than just ourselves.”

If these values can be brought to bear in the re-opening phase, we will be on our way to a better future for everyone. In my view, fighting for this future now is a moral imperative. May we find our way into this fight.

Amen and blessed be.

 

Flower Communion, UUS:E Virtual Worship, May 10, 2020

Virtual Flower Communion at UUS:E, Sunday May 10, 2020.

Watch the recording of this service on YouTube here.

Watch the flower communion slide show created by Joe Madar here.

Watch Gina Campellone’s telling of “The Flower Ceremony, a Plain and Simple Beauty” (adapted from a story by Janeen K. Grohsmeyer in her book Lamp in Every Corner: Our UU Storybook) complete with beautiful drawings from the Gonzalez family here.

Epidemics, Violence and Healing: Women in Indigenous Communities

Virtual Worship at UUS:E, Sunday, May 3rd, 2020, with special guest speaker, endawnis Spears of the Akomawt Educational Initiative.

Watch the service on YouTube here.

This morning’s opening words are “Poem 31” from Lifting Hearts Off The Ground: Declaring Indigenous Rights in Poetry by Lyla June Johnston (Diné/Tsétséhéstáhese/ European lineages).

This morning’s story is Jingle Dancer (by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu).

In Search of Compassion in Challenging Times — UUS:E Virtual Worship — April 26, 2020

You can watch UUS:E virtual Sunday Service from April 26, 2020 on YouTube here.

Read the text to Penny Field’s homily on compassion:

In Search of Compassion in Challenging Times         

I want to begin by sharing a personal story: Paul and I began sheltering in place on March 12. I had a lot of fear of getting the virus and having complications so I didn’t want to need to grocery shop for several months. I did a big grocery shop on the 11th and the house was well stocked but very soon after I noticed that I was thinking about food all of the time. I noticed how worried I felt about how I would keep getting fresh greens without going to the store or what we do if we ran out of this or that. Or what if the food supplies dried up? I could not stop thinking about food. I intellectually knew that we had plenty and I didn’t need to worry but some part of me was thinking about it constantly. And then I would feel a huge wave of shame about the fact that I have so much privilege, I have plenty of food, I have an extra freezer filled with great things and I’m still feeling this anxiety. What’s wrong with me?

I’ve been thinking a lot about compassion in these days of the coronavirus. What exactly is compassion and how can we all experience more of it? Compassion is a bit of a tricky word. It’s one that we think we understand the meaning of but often, when asked to define it’s hard to articulate what we understand compassion to be. Usually, people use words like “sympathy” or “empathy” or talk about the feeling of wanting to help those less fortunate. But I think it’s more than that.

Sympathy, and even empathy, place the person feeling that as separate from those receiving it. Aww I feel sorry for you!  Let me help you with that! Of course, wanting to help is never a bad thing but true compassion is something different. Something more. Kristen Neff, one of the first researchers in the field of self-compassion, has developed a definition that I think does a very good job capturing the true meaning of the word. She defines compassion as the ability to hold suffering with loving kindness

This sounds simple but it’s harder than you might think. To hold suffering with kindness we first have to really notice and acknowledge the suffering. Opening up to the awareness of someone else’s pain can feel quite uncomfortable. It’s why so many people walk by the homeless, the mentally ill, the panhandlers, and completely ignore them or have a judgement like: I’m not giving them money, they’ll just buy drugs. To be mindful of the suffering is to really see the human being and to acknowledge their pain: That must be so hard! Something terrible must have happened to that person that they are in this situation now. Truly being mindful of suffering can be very challenging.

And for some of us, we may be able to be present with other people’s suffering and even able to offer help but can’t seem muster much compassion for ourselves and don’t even think to try. How many of us are harshly critical of our own pain and have trouble being kind to ourselves? We might confuse self-compassion with feeling sorry for ourselves or we have a loud inner critic that thinks we can somehow “should” ourselves into better behavior. There I was in my anxiety about if there would be enough food for me during this pandemic and what did I say to myself? I said, “What’s wrong with me?” instead of “Wow. This feels really scary and it’s hard to be this afraid.”

To hold suffering, others’ or your own, with kindness not only requires really noticing the pain but it also calls us to pay attention to how we all suffer and how your suffering is or easily could be mine. This is our opportunity to reach for connection inside of the suffering. The Latin root for the word compassion is PATI, which means to suffer, and the pre-fix COM means with. COMPATI literally means to suffer with. Compassion brings people together in the suffering.

This, too, can be really hard. It’s so human to want to be separate from others’ suffering. It feels safer to think: That could never happen to me or If so and so would just stop doing that they wouldn’t be in that trouble. It’s a survival instinct to protect me and mine from perceived danger and often, other people’s suffering is perceived as a danger so we don’t habitually look for how that trouble could so easily also be ours. But if we can notice suffering and look for how we know that pain too, or how it’s so human to suffer in that way, then we are reaching for the invisible string that ties us all together.  We are choosing love as our religion.

This truth that we are all connected, what UUs name as the interconnected web of life; that we all suffer in strikingly similar ways, has never been so apparent as now, during this global pandemic. We are suffering the shared trauma of a completely unknown future. So many of the feelings associated with this time are shared by everyone, even if the actual day to day realities are radically different.

If you are someone who has a home and is able to shelter in place that does not mean you don’t have fear about the future. If you are able to work from home, that does not mean you don’t have fear of financial insecurity. If you are sheltering with family or friends, that does not mean you are not lonely or missing connecting in person with people. If you are fortunate enough to have a well-stocked pantry, that does not mean you don’t suffer from food insecurity.

And if you have feelings of guilt about your privilege you are not alone. It’s human and so many of us share those feelings and we can begin to practice compassion for ourselves. Can we notice our fears, our grief, our anger and can we acknowledge how human those feelings are? Can we then hold those feelings with an attitude of kindness as opposed to guilt or self-criticism?

Because I have a regular compassion practice, eventually I was able to make space for and truly notice and sit with my anxiety about having enough food. When I did that, I realized that my fear was deeply connected to childhood and ancestral issues. My mother was a depression baby and she raised me with all kinds of deprivations around food. Everything I wanted to eat was either too expensive or too fattening. This had a huge impact on my relationship with food and so the ability to be generous with food and have access to a wide array of delicious things for myself and to share with others became a big part of my identity. Of course I would have fears around food access.

And as I sat with that, I remembered that my mother’s mother escaped the pogroms to travel alone to the US, and that her mother lived in poverty in a shtetl somewhere in Eastern Europe. I began to understand that as a Jew, there was likely true food insecurity back to times of my earliest ancestors. That recognition allowed me to release the shame about my own fears and opened the door to a deep feeling of connection to all of the people who are suffering from actual food insecurity during this time of the pandemic. From a place of true compassion for myself and others, I could make donations to several local food banks and participate in a local initiative to bring food to the homeless. I could hold the suffering with kindness and feel my common humanity.

Whatever you are experiencing during this time, I wish for you the ability to practice true compassion for yourself and others. Whatever you are feeling, whatever you are struggling with, it’s human and we all have those feelings. If we can be mindful, pay attention to pain, to fear, to grief, to boredom, and remember our common humanity, we can truly feel that invisible string that connects us all and with kindness we can, be gentle with ourselves and from that place, reach out to those in need as if they were our own loved ones. As the Brandy Carlile song says:

we can be each other’s wheels and road

for each other’s heavy load,

see us through thick and thin,

for love and loss until the end.

Amen and blessed be

 

 

For the Earth Forever Turning — UUS:E Virtual Earth Day Service

Click here to watch the video of UUS:E’s April 19th Earth Day Service.