Posts Tagged Civil Rights

Prayer for Black History Month 2015

Spirit of Stillness, God of Many Names, Source of Love,

Help us to find the lessons among our village filled with snow and ice.

The greens are hidden, the tree branches are burdened hanging low,

and for a time – the roads – are not passable.

But this is true for but a time;

the snows will melt,

the earth will green,

and color after color will spring into newness soon.

Life was always there, beneath the earth, waiting to be seen.

May we come to find it once more with new eyes,

after a long cold season.

Mother of Hope, we know that rightly, some of us find joy in the play time,

sleds, and snowmen, and winter hikes.

May their joy inspire us; reminding us to play and not always toil.

Others among us are worn down by the season,

from illness or sadness, missing the long days of sun and warmth.

May we honor this difficulty, while grounded in the truth that although hidden, life surrounds us all the time.

At the close of Black History month, may the winter months draw us to the truth,

that in all things, the world bends toward justice.

Though we may find ourselves returning to the month of Winter in the march toward wider freedom, again and again,

Spring always follows the ice.

Life will triumph over the weight covering it,

one story at a time.

May we remember that the challenges before us today,

are not entirely the same as those we struggled with generations past.

Much work must be done,

and we are the hands to do it,

but the work of the generations before,

brought us forward along the rough road.

May we keep going forward.


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Prayer for the March on Washington 50 year anniversary

Spirit of Endurance, God of Many Names, and One Transforming and Abundant Love,

We pause to honor this hour the struggle of justice-seeking people throughout our land, and our world.

Fifty years since the Dream of Freedom was voiced so clearly,

We still know poverty,

we still know violence,

we still know oppression.

Help us to learn a new way;

To lift up the broken,

To care for the sick,

To feed the hungry,

To build roofs for each of our neighbors,

To love boldly.

May we brake the shackles of privilege,

That tarnish all our souls,

And harm the bodies of so many.

May we remember that in serving others,

We are saving ourselves as well;

For our collective wholeness is ever bound

In the wholeness of each of us.

God of Justice, we hold in our hearts this hour the spirit of democracy,

Knowing that whenever we silence one voice, our spirit goes quietly with it.

May our nation find a way to ensure each has a voice, and a vote;

That each may earn a living that respects the value of their work;

Teach us to extend our hands to help another up,

So that we may stand straight ourselves some day.

Open our vision to a dream that honors what is possible and what is right,

Not what is practical, or expedient, or convenient.

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This homily was originally preached at First UU in Brooklyn on June 20th, 2010.

A few years back I attended one of the ministers’ gatherings at our denomination’s General Assembly. In this particular worship service, there were two sermons delivered. One from a minister in their 25th year of ministry, and the second was a minister in their 50th year of ministry. The 50 year minister happened to be the Rev. Clark Olsen. Rev. Olsen was the minister of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarians at the time of the Selma civil rights march in 1965, when he survived an attack that fatally injured another white minister, the Rev. James J. Reeb; this happening not a month after the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a black civil rights activist – the reason for the march. I found his talk incredibly moving and remarkably humble. I always imagined the folks who marched on Selma in this otherworldly light for being the folks that stood up for their convictions, who stood up for basic humanity in each of us – and certainly they were the ones that were far ahead of the common view of the times – with some giving their lives.

I marveled though at how everyday the decision was for this minister. He spoke about how he almost didn’t even go. He wanted to, but the money wasn’t there to make the travel across the country. Then one of his congregants donated the money for Clark Olsen to travel and stand for their congregation. It gave him the opportunity to stand witness, and to be there for the last moments of his colleague and friend’s life. But I don’t even know the name of the congregant that made that possible.

Hearing this part of the story, the part that’s not shared in the history books, helped me to see the broader and deeper connections all our actions make in the work of justice in our world. It transformed it from a history lesson about certain heroes and martyrs, to one about the everyday work of building community. It certainly takes both kinds of justice work, but it reminded me that we each have a part to play. It made the impossible seem a little more probable to my mind and my heart. It’s not about a handful of people. Justice is the turning toward committed action with a concerted effort. It’s the spirit of what we often call Right Relations applied to neighborhoods, and to schools, and to court systems. And it takes all of us, in small ways and in large ways, to bring that about. It’s not reserved for a handful of heroes, but reliant upon our very everyday strivings.

It is with this lens that I challenge you to encounter our stories this morning. Each succession of the civil rights struggle has echoes of its predecessors. But each turn toward justice is developed upon the efforts of countless unnamed individuals. Look for your place in the history and future of this work, because it truly takes all of us to make this possible. Some of us will be called to travel our country to stand witness, and others will need to stay behind to do the work in the corners of the world in which we choose to dwell – everyday. As you hear Alex, and Sarah and Dawn and Sean (and Jeff), listen to your heart reflected back. What corner can you inhabit?
Each movement we talk about today grew in some ways from the movements preceding them. Inspired by what worked before and what didn’t work, they took their turn at seeing the world we dream about realized. Each movement has it’s own struggles, and uniqueness. The challenges Black citizens face, rooted in the horrifying history of a slave-state are not the same as the push for BGLT rights in the face of the police beatings and rapes of the mid-twentieth century Drag Kings and Drag Queens. But it is my personal hope that our justice movements open our eyes to the connections between us and challenge us to find compassion for one another through our differences.

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