“Where Do We Go From Here?” — UUS:E Virtual Service, November 15, 2020

“Love. Because….”
By Molly Vigeant

I made my daughter in the stock of my bones.
How dare I call myself anything less than a miracle

Bringer of life,
Lover,
Giver,
Sinner,
Believer in the inherent worth and dignity of Every single person.

Respect for the interconnected web of all existence,
of which, so undeniably, both You, and I, are a part.

Love.
Because…

All lives Can’t matter,
until black lives do

All lives Can’t matter,
until women control their bodies

All lives Can’t matter,
until our neighbors are set Free

All lives Will matter,
when Humanity becomes Human once more

Please, never forget that you are stardust,
You are the stew of your ancestor’s bones,
You are nothing less than miraculous,
You are rare as perfect circumstance.

You have always been lovable,
You have always been more than good enough.

Right now,
Yes,
Right now you are worthy Right Now.

Not when you get a new job,
not when you lose weight,
or gain weight,
not when you move,
not when you “do better”,
not when you have more money,
not when things change.
Now.
I promise.

You have been worthy now,
miraculous now,
interconnected now,
inherently needed to feed the souls of our planet.
Our energies are so entwined,
I’m sure you have felt the ripples in our web
when people go,
wherever they go…

The milky way has held you,
Mother earth raised you,
Womb crafted,
Big Bang Blasted,
don’t you dare
ever,
call yourself less
than Miraculous.

 

“Where Do We Go From Here”
Rev. Josh Pawelek
Unitarian Universalist Society: East
Manchester, CT
November 15, 2020

Thanks Dan and Jenn. “Where Do We Go From Here?” from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack. “Where do we go from here? / Where do we go from here? / The battle’s done, / And we kinda won. / So we sound our victory cheer. / Where do we go from here?”

Mindful that the president still refuses to accept the reality of his loss, which is infuriating and frightening, I’m going to proceed, trusting there will be a successful transition of power, and that, once in office, the Biden/Harris administration’s overarching answer to the question, where do we go from here? will be their attempt to heal our divided nation. Their themes will be reconciliation, unity, restoring trust. Though their opponents portrayed hem as monstrous, radical socialists, that’s not what they are. While there is certainly room in their vision for progressive change, they campaigned as centrists. I believe they believe their mandate is healing—medical and economic healing from the pandemic, racial healing, spiritual healing for the divided soul of our nation. Pushing a hard left, progressive policy agenda will not bring healing. They will carve out a place in the political center around which, they hope, a large majority of people can unite even if it lacks the bold solutions and fundamental transformations that those on the far left and far right would prefer. Given that this is likely how they will govern, especially in the near-future, how do we participate? Or, should we be wary? Where do we go from here?

Our ministry theme for November is healing, so it makes sense to explore these questions now. To begin, it is clear to me that our UU participation in efforts at this kind of public, communal healing is fraught. We face a dilemma. On one hand, such healing is really important to us. Reconciliation, learning to compromise, ending the bitter partisan divide, understanding people who think differently is all really important. This is theological for us: we preach interconnectedness, relatedness, neighborliness, oneness. Our seventh principle names the interdependent web of all existence. Our sixth principle sets the goal of world community. So when our nation, towns, neighborhoods and families are suffering through division an inability to even talk to each other, it hurts. It feels wrong. We want to end the demonization. We want to be part of the healing. Pat sang those familiar words from the Youngbloods, “Come on people now / Smile on your brother / Everybody get together / Try to love one another / Right now.”

On the other hand, our principles also lead us to make certain collective religious, social and political commitments that place us squarely on one side of the divided soul of the nation. To compromise on those commitments for the sake of a greater unity would require us not only to betray our principles, but to betray actual flesh and blood people who are members of our congregations.

For example, we are not going to abandon gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people for the sake of unity with an evangelical population that wants to end marriage equality and carve out a legal justification for discrimination. Ain’t gonna happen, friends. We will not abandon our GLBTQ members and friends who’ve been out and proud in our faith for a generation and whose presence has blessed our congregations in countless ways. Religious liberty means you have the right to practice your religion as your faith dictates. It does not mean you have the right to discriminate against people because of who they love or how they present themselves to the world. That’s non-negotiable for us.

We’re not going to abandon our commitments to immigrants. We’re not going to abandon our commitments to confronting white supremacy culture and the legacies of settler colonialism. We’re not going to abandon our commitment to the earth, which is grounded in a more fundamental commitment to heeding the guidance of reason and the results of science. We’re not going to abandon our commitment to women’s full equality in American society or to sustaining full reproductive rights. Molly Vigeant’s poem/prayer named some of our commitments: “Love. Because… / All lives Can’t matter, / until black lives do / All lives Can’t matter, / until women control their bodies / All lives Can’t matter, / until our neighbors are set Free / All lives Will matter, when Humanity becomes Human once more.” There’s a judgement here about what being a good human really means. We make that judgement without apology.

We face a dilemma: our commitments to oppressed and marginalized people, our judgement about what it means to be good, our criteria for healthy, safe communities, our process for determining what is true—all of it makes it hard to move toward a center where what we care most deeply about is up for debate. We’re not going to debate the value of black lives. We’re not going to negotiate a definition of religious liberty that allows for discrimination. We’re not going to support public health or environmental policies that aren’t grounded in the scientific data.  

It often feels like we have to choose between social healing, which inevitably involves compromise, or holding fast to our commitments which are part of our identity as people of faith. I wonder how this dilemma plays out in your lives. Do you have family members, neighbors or co-workers who live across the divided soul of the nation from you? Do you feel this dilemma I’m describing? I have felt it acutely throughout my ministry.

Somehow the dynamics of US political, social and religious life and the ongoing culture war create in us and, I suspect, in people who live across the divide from us, the very real feeling that we must choose. But in fact it’s a false choice and we don’t have to make it. We can do both. I may be criticized for even raising this question, but why can’t we pursue unity and maintain our commitments at the same time? More to the point, if our commitments are worth anything, how can we not do both?

I’m thinking back to an experience we had about fifteen years ago when UUS:E was a member of the Greater Hartford Interfaith Coalition for Equity and Justice (ICEJ). We were working with ICEJ on immigration, education, health care and tax reform at the same time we were working with Love Makes a Family on marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. It turned out, some of the congregations in ICEJ were working in opposition to marriage equality. One night 80 of us showed up at one of those congregations for a big public meeting, and encountered a series of anti-gay posters on the wall. It hurt so much. For some of our gay and lesbian members it was traumatic. We thought we were on safe ground. We weren’t. And there was the dilemma: we had unity among fifty diverse congregations; but the price of that unity, it seemed, was the safety and well-being of our gay and lesbian members.  Perhaps we needed to leave ICEJ.

In the end, we didn’t have to choose. First, in no way was UUS:E ever going to abandon its gay and lesbian members or mute its commitment to equality and justice for GLBTQ people. Second, there is high value for us in being in coalition with other congregations across lines of race, class and culture. Third, we knew that in a coalition of 40 or 50 congregations there are bound to be differences, disagreements, conflicts. So, what kind of unity do we have? Does it demand that we avoid our conflicts, or does it allow us to have them? It turned out to be the latter. We were able to say to the rest of the coalition that encountering those posters on the wall was painful to our members. We were able to assert our commitment and ask that other coalition members be sensitive to who we are as a faith community. Did everyone change their minds? No. But everyone grew from that encounter. We recognized that being in coalition with people who held radically different commitments was in fact the only way to impact their thinking over time. Leaving the coalition would have no such impact. Moving forward, we were mindful of the possibility of future pain and heart-ache. We had to guard against that. But we also knew that when the meetings happened at UUS:E the rainbow flags and the pro-GBLTQ fliers and pamphlets were also highly visible. It wasn’t ‘everybody get together, try to love one another right now.’ But we learned we could stay unified despite our differences, and our commitments could be spoken, heard and respected.

We can do both.

Many years ago a community organizing whose name I’ve long since forgotten, taught me there are essentially three ways of being a self in community. This goes for people and for congregations. You can selfish, meaning you bring your needs and commitments to the community and expect that it will do what you want it to do. You can be selfless, meaning you bring nothing of yourself to the community and try always to meet others’ needs. Or you can be self-interested, meaning that you bring your commitments, your values, your concerns—your self—to the community, always mindful that others bring their selves as well.

When we get caught in the dilemma and feel like we have to choose between unity and our commitments, we tend to retreat either to selfishness—where we pummel the other side with our commitments (often on social media where the other side isn’t even listening)—or to selflessness, where we reach out to understand the other side and silence our commitments so that we don’t make them uncomfortable. But neither of those options leads to real unity. And neither leads to genuine healing. We can’t heal if we’re trying to dominate the other side; and we can’t heal if we fail to share what’s deeply important to us. But bringing our full selves—to use Molly’s words, “our stardust,” “our ancestors’ bones,” our “Womb crafted / Big Bang Blasted … Miraculous” selves, coupled with a recognition that the other has such a self as well, that’s where healing starts. And right now, we have to get to the starting place.

We can do both. And if our commitments are to have any power in the wider world, we must do both.

Amen and blessed be.

“Relief, Ambivalence, Fear and Resolve – UUS:E Virtual Worship, November 8, 2020

View our November 8, 2020 service on our YouTube channel;

Relief, Ambivalence, Fear and Resolve
Rev. Josh Pawelek
Unitarian Universalist Society: East
Manchester, CT
November 8, 2020

News outlets across the country have declared Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. and Kamala Devi Harris president and vice president of the United States. I want to talk about feelings. Mindful that we as a congregation, we as residents of the greater Manchester and Hartford communities, we as Americans were already on edge, already emotionally raw, already feeling depleted and drained from the pandemic, from the sputtering economy, from the nationwide racial reckoning, from the bitter campaign season, it seems really important to me to name the various emotional responses that have crystallized since election day. I want to get my feelings out. I want you to get your feelings out if you aren’t doing so already. I don’t want unnamed and unexpressed feelings to weigh us down, mute us, make us sick, as they can and often do. I want us to have our feelings, not to be had by them. I want our feelings to be of service to us as we enter into the next chapter of life in the United States.

First and foremost, in response to the Biden-Harris victory, I feel immense relief. The Trump presidency has been divisive, chaotic, and destructive. It has destroyed—or attempted to destroy—cherished American values, critical environmental and business regulations, and public trust in essential institutions and journalism.  It has destroyed or attempted to destroy our longstanding international relationships. It has destroyed, or attempted to destroy, our faith in each other. It has been heart-breaking, painful and, for many, traumatic. More than relief, knowing this divisive, chaotic, destructive person will be leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a source of excitement, enthusiasm and joy.

This election easily could have gone the other way. The margins were incredibly close. I’m mindful that the Unitarian Universalist Association’s nonpartisan voter turnout campaign, UU the Vote, reached over 2 million voters in battleground states. Members of our congregation participated and reached over 5,000 of those voters. Thank you to everyone who participated in that effort. I am proud of you. I am proud of our denomination. Those efforts are a testament to the power of our fifth principle, “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” I am proud.

I feel relieved, joyful, proud. I also feel ambivalent. Frankly, I feel ambivalent about what Biden and Harris can actually accomplish. I’ve been struggling to put into words what the Biden / Harris victory means. I am grateful to UUS:E member Jeannette LeSure who sent me a message yesterday to remind me what it means. I have her permission to adapt her words and share them with you. She said this victory brings a president

  • who has translated life-threatening illness and overwhelming loss into tremendous compassion and a genuine desire to help people;
  • who knows how to listen;
  • who understands unifying our fragmented, divided country is a top priority;
  • who will rebuild longstanding international alliances;
  • who will bring knowledgeable, committed people back into government;
  • who will work to find bipartisan solutions to our most pressing problems;
  • who will put addressing the horrors of the pandemic front and center.
  • Who knows how to apologize when he makes a mistake.

This victory also brings a vice president

  • who gives ALL daughters the knowledge that every woman—white, Black, Asian, Indigenous, Latinx—daughters of immigrants, daughters from poverty—can imagine themselves at the height of power in United States society;
  • who has tremendous legal and government experience;
  • who joins her compassion with strength;
  • who is the daughter of immigrants;
  • who is healthy and young and ready to lead if circumstance require it;
  • who has a sense of humor.

Jeannette concludes: they will be a true team. And we will not have to feel shame and fear about their behavior all the time, all day long, hour upon hour.

Nevertheless, I cannot escape ambivalence. For example, I trust Biden is committed to the flourishing of a multiracial, multicultural, pluralistic United States, but I don’t experience him as the leader who can fully, effectively cultivate that flourishing. I hope I am wrong. I trust he’s committed to worker rights, to rebuilding the middle class, to limiting corporate excess and rising income inequality, to strengthening the Affordable Care Act, to protecting women’s full reproductive rights, to rebalancing the tax code, but I don’t see him in a position to overcome the challenges of a painfully, polarized nation. I hope he can meet those challenges—I hope, I yearn, I pray—but I remain ambivalent.

 

All these feelings so far are on the surface. When I peer beneath the surface, I realize I am grieving. The Biden / Harris victory doesn’t erase a profound sense of loss: loss of civility in public life; loss of relationships across political and ideological lines; loss of trust that our leaders can accomplish bold, people-centered, earth-centered initiatives; loss of agreement about what is true; loss of confidence in the future nation and planet we bequeath to coming generations. The pandemic is still raging across the country, bringing a tidal wave of loss – loss of our regular ways of being and relating and interacting in the world; loss of in-person family connections; loss of life; loss of Sunday morning; loss of the choir and the song circle singing together; loss of in-person religious education for our kids; loss of touch and hugs and looking into each other’s eyes, supporting, loving each other in person.

 

At our post-election vigil on Thursday I read from the writer, organizer and progressive, antiracist American thought leader Adrienne Maree Brown’s book Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.  I’ve been clinging to her words in order to engage with my own grief. She says “You are water. Of course you leave salt trails. Of course you are crying…. If there happens to be a multitude of griefs upon you, individual and collective … or small and large, add equal parts of these considerations: that the broken heart can cover more territory. that perhaps love can only be as large as grief demands. that grief is the growing up of the heart that bursts boundaries like an old skin or a finished life. that grief is gratitude…. that even your tears seek the recognition of community. that the heart is a front line and the fight is to feel in a world of distraction…. that your grief is a worthwhile use of your time. that your body will feel only as much as it is able to. that the ones you grieve may be grieving you.” There is no quick-fix answer to our grief. There is only the grieving process. In the very least, let’s grieve our losses together, openly and honestly, trusting that “the heart is a front line and the fight is to feel in a world of distraction.”

Accompanying my grief is fear. I tread cautiously into my own fear. As a person with significant race, class and gender privilege I question whether it is reasonable to feel fear. Yet I feel it. President Trump has created space for the flourishing of very specific vision of the United States and, more fundamentally, a very specific vision of what makes for a good person. His vision is racist. His vision is patriarchal. His vision is grounded in White Christian Nationalism which is anti-woman, anti-queer, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and which—it must be said—is not the same thing as Christianity. His governing preference is for autocracy rather than democracy. His idea of a good person is one who wins at all costs, one who believes respect for the opposition is weakness. His good person is arrogant and selfish, suspicious and paranoid, demanding loyalty rather than healthy, constructive criticism. His good person uses chaos, lies and personal insults. His good person is super-wealthy. His good person amasses power in order to punish enemies. 70 million people voted for him. Even if those voters reject Trump’s behavior, those 70 million votes, in the very least, signal a high level of American comfort with his vision and his conception of what a good person is. So yes, I feel fear. I am fearful because white supremacists are “standing by.” I am fearful because the Supreme Court now has a hard right conservative majority with the power to eviscerate a host of health care, voting, reproductive, labor, and civil rights, along with environmental protections that have been the norm for 50 years. I am fearful because there are United States citizens who felt moved this week to gather at polling sites and demand that the vote counters stop counting. How is that not a demand for an end to our democracy? I feel fear.

But please know this: deeper by far than grief and fear are feelings of resolve and hope.

The choir sang: “What does the world require of you? To seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly in the world.” I come back to these words, adapted from Micah 6:8, again and again in the wake of national tragedies—those large events, those collective experiences that breed anxiety and fear, that unnerve us, unground us, disorient and disrupt us. In response to all of it I come back to justice, kindness, humility. I add love to the list. Love heals. Love saves. Love endures. Love prevails. Love wins.

Whatever may come, I know we have a solid moral compass grounded in justice, kindness, humility, and love. Whatever may come, I have faith in you, as human beings, as Unitarian Universalists, as citizens and residents of the United States. I know you are patriots who understand the union is not perfect but that it can be made more perfect, more inclusive, more fair, more just through our collective, liberatory actions. In the midst of grief and fear, this knowledge fills me with resolve to continue as your spiritual leader, to continue proclaiming our values from the pulpit and in the public square, to continue organizing, to continue nurturing relationships and connections, to continue building the beloved community.

After coming through this week, through these pandemic months with many more to come, through these last four years, I am grieving and fearful, but I am not trapped in those feelings. I have them. But they serve me. Not the other way around. And because they serve me, I feel a sense of resolve. And with resolve comes hope.

My prayer for each of us is that we can have all our feelings, and in doing so, arrive at resolve and hope.

May we be resolved. May we be hopeful.

Amen and blessed be.

 

 

 

Post Election Vigil

Friends:

Please view our post-election vigil on our YouTube channel.

“Love of the Light in Each Other” – UUS:E Virtual Worship, November 1, 2020

View our November 1, 2020 service on our YouTube channel;

Ancestor Day — Virtual Worship, October 25th, 2020

Please view our October 25th Ancestor Day service on our YouTube channel:

Listening in New Ways — Virtual Sunday Service, October 18, 2020

Dear Ones: You can view our virtual Sunday service from October 18th, “Listening in New Ways,” on the UUS:E YouTube Channel:

This Land — Virtual UUS:E Worship, October 11, 2020

Dear Ones:

Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, there is no recording of our October 11th service. Rev. Josh’s reflections on the land surrounding our meeting house at 153 West Vernon St. in Manchester are below, along with the slideshow he had hoped to share during the service.

This Land
Rev. Josh Pawelek
Unitarian Universalist Society: East
Manchester, CT
October 11, 2020

Our congregation purchased our current four acres on West Vernon St. from the Cox family in 1978. We’ve been worshipping, meeting, dancing, singing, eating, burying our dead,  gardening, landscaping, stretching, meditating, praying and playing on this land ever since. It is truly our spiritual home. We take care of this land. We prune, rake leaves, remove debris. We plant native or naturalized species: mountain laurel, rhododendrons, dogwoods, blueberry shrubs for birds, milkweed for bees and butterflies. We remove invasive species like bittersweet. We shape this land and, surely, it shapes us.

I want to begin my reflections this morning with a brief slideshow of images from this land. Thanks to Joe Madar and Jane Osborn for supplying some of these photos. I grabbed a few of them off of our Facebook page, and I am not sure who the original photographers are.

 

An old stone wall extends southward from the southeast corner of our memorial garden. It’s low to the ground, covered in leaves:

We affectionately refer to this structure as “the spring:”

It sits in the woods about thirty yards north of the memorial garden. I sent this photo to Robert Thorson, chair of the Geosciences Department at UCONN, and a long-time friend of our congregation. He suspects it’s “the stone casing for an old dug well, likely early 19th century [which would make it approximately 200 years old]. The original structure might have extended a bit above the ground and had a cover of some sort, through which a bucket could be dipped or a hand pump inserted…. I’m guessing that it looks shallow because it might have been filled, which was often the case when wells were abandoned…. I don’t think it’s a livestock watering tank because it’s too small and too carefully built.  All speculation, of course.”  Thanks, Professor Thorson.

By the early 1800s the vast majority of forests and woodlands in New England had been cut down for home-building, firewood, charcoal production, fence-making, furniture-manufacturing, ship-building, and perhaps most significantly, farming and animal grazing. It’s hard to know what this 153 West Vernon St. land was used for 200 years ago. Someone built a stone wall. Someone dug a well. And, eventually, it appears, someone closed off the well and, if they didn’t abandon this land, they clearly left it alone, and the woods grew back.

There’s a larger, tragic historical context for this story. Throughout the early 1800s, New Englanders—that is, the descendants of the first European colonists—began leaving. They headed west for the promise of more fertile, less rocky farmland in the Ohio valley—present day Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and southwestern Pennsylvania. During the 1790s that land had been taken, after brutal warfare, from the indigenous people living there—the Shawnees, Miamis and many others. The New England immigrants may or may not have been aware of how the Ohio Valley came into the possession of the United States. They also may or may not have been aware of how the land they left behind came into the possession of their settler ancestors. It’s a complicated, violent history of war, broken treaties, manipulative trading practices, deceptive land deals, cultural and religious imperialism, Indian removal and, later, a whitewashing of the history such that the truth of the violence could be forgotten our ignored by later settler generations.

What’s even more tragic is that the dynamics of this complicated, violent history continue across the United States to this day. Earlier, Gina shared Carole Lindstrom’s (Anishinabe/Metis and Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) story We Are Water Protectors about the movement to block the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline runs beneath the Missouri River, as well as a portion of Lake Oahe, very close to the Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Indian reservations. An oil spill would be catastrophic to the local water resources, the land, and local cultural heritage sites. The indigenous people regard the water and the land as sacred. As Carole Lindstrom wrote, “We come from water. It nourished us inside our mother’s body. And it nourishes us here on Mother Earth. Water is sacred.” But a conglomerate of corporate and governmental entities don’t care. They’ve built the black snake. They’ve prioritized profits over the health and integrity of indigenous people, water and land. This is just one, glaring example in our time of how this complicated, violent history continues, how this settler colonialist world-view remains pervasive.

But what about us? What about the land of our spiritual home? It’s important to me that we as a spiritual community take time to discern how this complicated, violent history and this settler colonialist worldview live on in us and on this land. And then it’s important to me that we learn to conduct our spiritual life together in ways that repair the brokenness at the heart of this history. This is what it means to “decolonize our faith.”

How do we do that? One way we can begin decolonizing our faith is through the writing and speaking of a land acknowledgement—a formal statement that recognizes the indigenous people whose land we now own, and highlights the enduring relationship between indigenous peoples and their lands. If we were to create a land acknowledgment, I envision us saying it together at the beginning of worship and other gatherings as part of the way we center and ground ourselves.

The University of Connecticut started using a land acknowledgment in April of 2019. It says: 

We would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the territory of the Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke (ska-teh-COKE), Golden Hill Paugussett (paw-GUS-it) and Nipmuc Peoples, who have stewarded this land throughout the generations. We thank them for their strength and resilience in protecting this land, and aspire to uphold our responsibilities according to their example.

This is a good example for us to contemplate. Two weeks ago, a few of us spoke with endawnis spears from Akomawt, an indigenous-led organization that consults with schools and museums on how to accurately teach Indigenous history and culture. Akomawt consulted with UCONN on its land acknowledgment. Ms. spears is very supportive of us moving forward with this process. She urges us to go slowly. She suggests we reach out to all established tribes in Connecticut, just as UCONN did. Tell them what we’re hoping to do and listen to their response. Further, learn their concerns. Support them in addressing the issues that matter to them. Building relationships in this way is as important as finding the right words for the land acknowledgment.

But there’s also another challenge for us. And to illustrate this challenge, I want to show you an interactive map from the Indigenous-led, Canadian non-profit Native Land Digital. The map shows, to the best of their knowledge, the traditional lands of thousands of indigenous nations at the time of European colonization. Explore Native Land Digital’s interactive map. When we zoom into the land on which our meeting house sits, we learn that the indigenous people who lived here at the time of colonization were the Podunks and the Wangunks. The challenge is that neither of these nations has an organized political entity today. What we know, however, is that there are people of Podunk and Wangunk heritage living in Connecticut and elsewhere. If we’re going to prepare a truly meaningful land acknowledgement, we’ll want to talk to them as well. Perhaps they won’t be interested. Or, perhaps they’ll appreciate that we’re contemplating our role in repairing damage that occurred centuries ago.

I recently started researching the Podunks. A 1924 history of Manchester (suggested by UUS:E member Susan Barlow) discusses Podunk interactions with Manchester’s earliest residents. While this book’s accuracy is questionable, the story it tells is sad, and it fits with what many of us have been learning about the ways European colonists treated indigenous people. The authors are clear that the colonists treated the Podunks poorly. “To say that [their] lands were bought,” they write, “and that, therefore, [the Podunks were] justly treated, is a mockery.” Regarding the late 1700s they write, “It is a sad chapter in the history of the Podunks, homeless and landless wanderers in the country that once belonged exclusively to them, dispossessed by those whom they had invited to come and live with them as neighbors and who had promised them protection and assistance.”[2]

From what I can tell, neither Podunks nor Wangunks ever lived directly on this land that today is 153 West Vernon St. Wangunk villages were generally further south in what today is Portland. Podunks tended to live along the Podunk River in what today is South Windsor and East Hartford, as well as in the vicinity of Manchester Community College and portions of West Center Street. Our land would most likely have been hunting grounds. Of course, it’s important to remember that indigenous people lived in what became New England for at least 12,500 years prior to colonization. How many indigenous peoples came and went during that time? It seems quite possible that at some point during those more than twelve millennia, someone lived on this land, used this land, loved this land, called it home.

This is my proposal: We begin decolonizing our faith by crafting a land acknowledgement. We’ll put a team together. If you’re excited about this work, please contact me.

More than putting words on paper, this is ultimately a process of building new relationships: with indigenous people in our region, with the people who used this land in ages past, and with the land itself. This is a process of deep listening to people, to the land, to the past, so that we may chart a new future. Carole Lindstrom reminds us of a core principle of indigenous wisdom: “We are all related.” As we work to decolonize our faith, may we come to know more deeply, in new ways, in life-giving ways, this truth. We are all related.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] https://native-land.ca/.

[2] From HISTORY OF MANCHESTER CONNECTICUT by MATHIAS SPIESS and PERCY W. BIDWELL, PH.D. (Manchester: CENTENNIAL COMMITTEE OF THE TOWN OF MANCHESTER, 1924).  See:  http://www.manchesterhistory.org/reprints/BookHistoryOfManchesterS&B.1924.pdf.  Another telling quote: “It seems that there was some truth in what the Podunk chief said when the Reverend John Eliot preached the gospel to the tribe. After his sermon Eliot asked the chief if he and his people were now ready to accept Christianity as their religion. “No,” said the sachem, “the Christians have taken away all our land and now they want to make us a race of slaves.”

 

 

Listen to the Voices

Friends:

You can view our October 4th, 2020 virtual Sunday service, “Listen to the Voices,” led by Martha Larson on the UUS:E YouTube channel:

From Forgiveness to Renewal — Virtual Sunday Service, September 25th, 2020

Dear Ones:

You can view our Virtual Sunday service from September 27th, “From Forgiveness to Renewal,” on the UUS:E YouTube channel.

This Land is Your Land? — UUS:E Virtual Worship, September 20, 2021

Friends: You can view the entire September 20th service on our YouTube here:

You can read Widening the Circle of Concern, the report from the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change on the UUA Website.

Read: Marsha Howland’s brief testimony on the life of the late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

A Hebrew phrase from the Book of Deuteronomy is framed and hanging in the office of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This is the English translation: “Justice, justice you shall pursue.”

And she did – with determination, scholarship and fierce devotion. Our country is so much better for what she accomplished in her entire career, not just during her 27 years as a Supreme Court Justice.

We all know well some of the key pieces of her life story: That, despite graduating at the top of her class at Columbia Law School, she couldn’t get a job at a law firm (women were excluded) or an interview for the Supreme Court clerkship for which she had been recommended.

That, when she was finally a practicing attorney, she argued six cases before the Supreme Court, winning five. Cases that advanced the cause of equality of women in this country.

That, over her career, she also was important in the expansion of rights for many marginalized groups – from people of color to the LGBTQ community.

That, despite several bouts with cancer, she returned each time to her work at the Supreme Court with extraordinary speed and determination.

That, after all this and much more, she died Friday at her home in Washington.

That she is an icon, a role model and what some might call a rockstar of justice.

And that she should forever be associated with those words: “Justice, justice you shall pursue.”

*****

“This Land is Your Land?”

Rev. Josh Pawelek

I feel like I’m tied up in a complicated knot. I feel like our Unitarian Universalist faith is tied up in a complicated knot. I feel like our country is tied up with multiple lines of rope, segments of string, various fibers, wire, yarn—loops, bights and elbows—all bound together in an exquisitely complicated knot. What makes it complicated is one strand running through all of it, tying us up in the most devious of ways: white supremacy culture. We Unitarian Universalists, we residents of the United States, we human beings are called to untie this knot. Our principles call us to untie this know. Our basic sense of right and wrong calls us to untie this know. Our human decency calls us to untie this knot. The sacred power in our lives call us to untie this knot.

I’m addressing white supremacy culture this morning because this is my first official homily of the new congregational year—the year in which the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) will begin implementing recommendations from the Commission on Institutional Change. As background, many of you will remember that in the winter of 2017, UU leaders of color raised concerns about white supremacy culture operating in hiring practices at our UUA headquarters in Boston. In response the UUA’s Board of Trustees established the Commission on Institutional Change to “conduct an audit of the power structures and analyze racism and white supremacy culture within our [denomination.]”[1] Their report, published in June, offers a comprehensive assessment of how white supremacy culture operates (often subtly and despite our best intentions) in our faith.

I would love it if every adult in our congregation would read the report with open hearts and minds. It’s called Widening the Circle of Concern. You can read it online.[2] You can purchase a hard copy, download the audiobook. The UUA is working really hard at untying the knot of white supremacy culture. If our leaders speak and we don’t pay attention, it’s our loss. I am so grateful to the members of the Commission for their love and dedication, for their faith in us. Let’s not let them down. They name hard, painful truths; they offer paths toward healing, justice, beloved community and redemption. They invite us to understand ourselves differently, and to live our faith in new ways. None of it will be easy. It will take all of us, working together, to untie this knot.

One of the underlying recommendations is centering the voices of Black people, Indigenous people and people of color. The report says we “can’t dismantle systems of oppressive behavior without leaning into the knowledge and perspective of those most affected.”[3] That’s centering: prioritizing the voices, experiences, and world-view of the people most harmed by white supremacy culture. On the surface it seems simple, but the knot is tight.

What happens when the institutional practice of centering Black, Indigenous and other People of Color comes into conflict with our favorite traditions, rituals, music? For example, I used to gift our graduating high school seniors with a copy of the Jefferson Bible. I saw it as a symbol of the liberal religious spirit both in our nation and our faith. But Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder, and as president he created conditions that led to the stealing of land from and the murder of Indigenous people along vast swaths of our young nation’s western borders. He was a towering national figure in advancing freedom of religion and conscience, and he was a towering national figure in tying and tightening the knot of white supremacy. Clearly his bible is not a good gift for our graduating seniors, but we still inherit his legacies. How do we honor his contributions to religious freedom while struggling against his contributions to white supremacy?

I call this sermon “This Land is Your Land?”  Woody Guthrie was part of a 20th-century folk music movement grounded in protest and keenly aware of racism and other forms of oppression. Many UUs, myself included, regard his music as part of our sacred canon. Earlier you heard Pat, Dan and Kate sing Guthrie’s “All You Fascists.”[4] ‘Fascist’ was the term Americans used to identify authoritarian leaders in Europe, but Guthrie understood it applied to racist US leaders. “Race hatred,” he sang, “cannot stop us, this one thing I know / Poll tax and Jim Crow and greed have got to go.”[5]

Our beloved Woody Guthrie song is “This Land is Your Land,” which he wrote in 1940 as a retort to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”[6] It has become an alternative national anthem for many Americans. UU congregations regularly sing it in worship.

Nevertheless, for a few years now I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with the words “This land was made for you and me.” I understand what Guthrie meant: everyone regardless of race, religion or culture is included in America. But the literal words don’t ring true. We know this land—this United States of America—was made by and for propertied, White European men, many of whom held slaves or benefitted financially from slavery; and virtually all of whom supported the idea that the land, from sea to shining sea, was theirs for the taking by any means necessary, that it was their manifest destiny to rule, own and exploit this land, despite the fact that tens of millions of people already lived on it and had done so for more than 10,000 years. [As an aside, this week we learned the president thinks it’s unpatriotic to speak of American history this way. Frankly, I think it’s unpatriotic to teach American history as if slavery, land theft and genocide never happened.]

Today, when police shoot unarmed Black people while jogging, sleeping, barbecuing, playing in the park, and sometimes while in the midst of mental health crises, it’s understandable that Black people may not agree that this land was made for you and me. When ICE separates children from their families at border crossings and bans Muslims from entering the country, it’s understandable that immigrants may not agree that this land was made for you and me. When the federal government attempts to take land from Native American nations to benefit energy companies, it’s understandable that Indigenous people may not agree that this land was made for you and me. Last March the Trump Administration revoked reservation status for the Mashpee Wampanoag nation on Cape Cod, stating essentially that their land—the land they were living on when the Pilgrims first arrived—is not their land.[7] It is understandable that the Mashpee Wampanoag people may not agree that this land was made for you and me.

A group of us have been reading and discussing Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’ Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Dunbar-Ortiz points out that songs like “This Land is Your Land” actually reflect “the unconscious manifest destiny we live with.”[8] As I read those words last spring, my discomfort with the song crystalized. I expressed in our discussion in June that I would like us to pause and have a community conversation about the song before we use it again in worship. At that point a Native American member of our congregation acknowledged that the song is painful.

There’s the knot. Right there. A beloved song, a hurting member of our congregation.

I don’t want to lose “This Land is Your Land.” It’s important to me. But I also don’t want to cause pain, especially to Black, Indigenous and other people of color and their allies for whom the lyrics are problematic.

How do we untie this knot? We start with communication and dialogue. Our Adult Religious Education and Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committees will host an online dialogue about the place of this song in our congregational life on Tuesday evening, October 13th. There will be advanced reading. Watch the eblast for information.

I don’t know where this conversation will lead. If we pull on one thread, what happens? Will the knot loosen? Will it tighten? And this is only one small section of the knot. There are so many others. We have to talk about Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. We have to talk about Spanish language resources, cultural misappropriation, contracting with people of color vendors, supporting antiracist organizing in the larger community. All of this is part of untying the knot of white supremacy culture as a congregation.

We have to talk about the impact of white supremacy culture on women. And here’s where I want to say a few words about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. One of the implications is that there will be an attempt to ram through a supreme court nomination and selection process before the election. I won’t repeat the litanies citing the boldfaced hypocrisy and lack of integrity and disregard for precedent. But I will say there is clearly a cadre of powerful white men in charge of this process. Certainly important decisions impacting women should not be made without women present, yet there don’t seem to be any highly visible women involved in this process. This is one of the underlying dynamics of white supremacy culture operating in our nation: powerful white men believe they have the right, believe they are entitled to make these kinds of decisions. This is a raw power grab. Power over. That’s white supremacy culture operating. There’s no talk of an open, transparent and carefully considered process. There’s no talk of cooperation. There’s no talk of letting the people decide as there was when Justice Scalia died ten months before an election.  There’s certainly no consideration given to protecting women’s reproductive health. This is all part of the knot of white supremacy culture. It is painful, heartbreaking and even terrifying to watch it unfold in real time.

We need to talk about the impact of white supremacy culture on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people. We need to talk about its impact on housing, healthcare, education, corrections, policing, mental health, and a host of other issues. The knot is exquisitely complicated. We begin by centering the voices and experiences of Black, Indigenous and people of color. In the very least, when we learn that something we’re doing is causing pain, we have to pause. We have to take it seriously. We have to believe it.

Please trust this practice of centering is not political correctness run amok or coddling snowflakes who are easily offended. This isn’t cancel culture. We’re not cancelling “This Land is Your Land.” This is us attempting to untie the knot of white supremacy.

I don’t know where it leads. But I do take heart from the story Gina read earlier, Imbram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby: “Antiracist baby is always learning, changing and growing. Antiracist baby stays curious about all people, and isn’t all-knowing.”[9] And I take heart from the words we heard earlier from Commission on Institutional Change chairperson, the Rev. Leslie Takahashi: “The day is coming when all will know / That the rainbow world is more gorgeous than monochrome, / That a river of identities can ebb and flow over the static, stubborn rocks in its course, / That the margins hold the center.”[10]

I don’t know where it leads, but I am glad to be untying this knot with all of you.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Commission on Institutional Change, Widening the Circle of Concern (Boston: UUA, 2020) p. vvii. See: https://www.uua.org/uuagovernance/committees/cic/widening/introduction.

[2] https://www.uua.org/uuagovernance/committees/cic/widening

[3] See: “A Word About Centering” in the Introduction at https://www.uua.org/uuagovernance/committees/cic/widening/introduction.

[4] As an aside, Rolling Stone Magazine recently published its list of the top 40 most significant protest songs in American history. “All You Facists” is the first song on the list.

[5] Listen to Woody Guthrie’s “All You Facists” on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwcKwGS7OSQ. For an awesome, updated version by Wilco and Billy Bragg, check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40ila3Rh9lQ.

[6] Spitzer, Nick, “The Story of ‘This Land is Your Land’” National Public Radio, February 15th, 2012. See: https://www.npr.org/2000/07/03/1076186/this-land-is-your-land.

[7] Taylor, Rory, “Trump administration revokes reservation status for Mashpee Wampanoag tribe amid coronavirus crisis” (Vox, April 2, 2020) see: https://www.vox.com/identities/2020/4/2/21204113/mashpee-wampanoag-tribe-trump-reservation-native-land.

[8] Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014) pp. 2-3.

[9] Kendi, Imbram X, Antiracist Baby (Kokila, 2020). See: https://www.amazon.com/AntiRacist-Baby-Ibram-X-Kendi/dp/0593110412.

[10] For the full text of Rev. Takahashi’s meditation, “Marginal Wisdom,” see: https://www.uua.org/worship/words/meditation/marginal-wisdom.