We Light This Chalice…

Jul 19, 2020

BulletinChildren’s Story

Please join members Mike Radow, Ron Douglas and others in an interactive service to strengthen community. What do those words we say each week mean to you? How have they inspired our participation in the church and in the world?

Chalice Lighting & Response

We light this chalice to remind ourselves to treat all people kindly because they are our siblings in spirit;
To take good care of the earth because it is our home;
And to try to live lives filled with goodness and love because that is how we will become the best people we can be.

Treat All People Kindly

Because they are our siblings in spirit

Three years ago, Eric Lane Barnes invited Ron and me to attend a service here at East Shore Unitarian. We attended a service, and we instantly loved what we were hearing. The message was clear and straightforward.

  • Practicing stewardship of the land.
  • Be the best people that we can be.
  • Treat all people kindly because they are our siblings in spirit.

Everyone that we met that day and at a few follow-up services – were genuinely kind, inviting, and personable. And not to stack too much on top of that – but there was also the music of Eric Lane Barnes, which I had experienced firsthand through the Seattle Men’s Chorus. I knew that this church had no idea what they had on their hands. But you know now, don’t you?

When I stop to think about the words that we say every Sunday – “Treat All People Kindly because they are our siblings in spirit.” It often takes me on a thought process that makes me wonder – “Do we? Do we really treat all people kindly?”

When it comes to a species, I don’t think we do. Because if we did, we wouldn’t be experiencing – nor talking – about most of today’s current events. Naturally, being the person that I am – a black gay man living in a city that’s ranked 5th among the nation’s 50 largest cities with the most white (non-Hispanic) residents – I likely see things a bit differently than most of you when I stand among you every week, as we recite the words treat all people kindly.  Please grant me just a couple more minutes to explain how today’s current events tie in with the importance of this essential statement.

Every day we face the realities of racial injustice in this country and how systemic racism is built into every facet of life due to more than 400 years of oppression. Black people are speaking up and out. And this time, white people are listening. This nation is at a precipice—a moment of realization. Suddenly, overnight, people are learning that this is not the land of the free, nor has it ever been.

Black people are worn out and tired. Tired of living in a country that doesn’t value us. Tired of only getting piecemeal portions of the American Dream. Tired of seeing our people mistreated. Tired of watching our people be killed. What you are witnessing is 400 years of oppression imploding in America. The pain, trauma, and rage of injustice is spilling into the streets, and we are drowning in it. White supremacy has drowned us. When we say we can’t breathe, we don’t mean right now. We mean every minute of every day for the last 400 years.

The question that remains is, “So, what are you going to do about it?” Well, this ties back into why I love my new village here at East Shore Unitarian Church and why I knew this had to be my new church home.

East Shore has an existing Racial Justice Ministry! We have our own racial justice superheroes with a mission to seek to dismantle prejudice, unfair privilege, and injustice in ourselves, our church, and our community. This church actually ATTEMPTS to practice what they preach. The racial justice ministry wasn’t created in the shadow of the recent Black Lives Matter movement. It was already here. Ron and I chose to make this church our home because we believed that the members here truly strive to treat all people kindly. We were welcomed, and what we saw made us want to be a part of this family. Last September, we were married at East Shore. That’s what you all mean to us.

I understand that last Sunday, there was some feedback regarding our willingness to improve our attitudes toward racial injustice and some concern about not making any real commitment to attacking systemic racism. My advice to you is to start simple. Start with mindfully preparing yourself to treat all people kindly.

The key phrase is ALL PEOPLE. And allow me to digress once again for a quick second. Please refrain from the seemingly politically correct comeback of “All Lives Matter.” Yes, everyone knows that all lives matter. But the narrative today is Black Lives Matter because it is black people who are in danger. And it is Black people and people of color who are screaming for change because we are being killed and mistreated daily and have been for the last 400 years.

So what can you do?

What Black people need from you is to show up and put in the work. Start with anti-racism and bias training resources found on our very own church website.

Next, learn about the oppressive history in this country. Read books by black authors and deep dive into true American History. By the way, Black people have had to learn from those same authors outside of our educational system because America doesn’t want to give the full story if its disgusting reality.

Black people have been listening, learning, and acting for 400 years. We have never been complacent in our oppression. We learned to read and write when we weren’t supposed to. We organized and rebelled against slavery and Jim Crow.

We were the first to fight back at Stonewall. And now we’ve started a movement across the world.

Black people are brilliant, amazing, strong, and resilient. But we are also tired. We will always show up, but we can’t dismantle systemic racism and oppression alone. White people, it’s your turn now. Listen, learn, and act. And heed this warning – you will get tired of it. It’s not a fun subject to deal with. You will get frustrated and want to give up. A few times. You’re fighting against 400 years of systemic racism, and this won’t be solved in our lifetime. But if you’re like me, I absolutely want and NEED to be a part of the solution? Personally, I don’t really have a choice. If you give up and walk away – I’ll be standing right here waiting for you to come back to the table because I don’t have that luxury.

East Shore Unitarian has always understood the core goodness that comes from reciting our core values as we stand in fellowship. Today, more than ever, as we look around and wonder how we can live together in a world that we can ALL be proud of. It’s actually pretty simple. Start your day with a meaningful effort to Treat ALL People Kindly because they are our siblings in spirit. If we can start there, the battle is that much closer to being won.

Because It Is Our Home

There is a photo in the ESUC Archives of the congregation picnicking on the grounds, around 1954.  Much of the land was orchard or forest.  Once a site was selected for the sanctuary and a wall behind the podium imagined, folks cleared some trees and discovered a lovely view to the east. So the wall became our window wall. The view is now the lovely view of forest that we enjoy. .

There were many ‘gardeners’ in the group of original members.  So a Grounds Committee was quickly formed. A lot of work had to be done.

At the beginning, clearing , clearing, clearing.  Then planting then weeding, weeding, weeding and Soon there was need for a Memorial Garden.  The land has also provided space for a playground, a vegetable garden, and a cutting garden. named after Cora Gardiner who supplied the church with flowers from her own garden for many years. Most recently this land provided space for the garden bed Eagle Scout projects of Nick Langrock and Kyle Velasco.

I started coming to ESUC about 1998 and was drawn into the Grounds Committee because of my love of the out-of-doors and native plants.  I met a lovely group of folks who welcomed new people to help  tend this large parcel of land.  I have seen the Team move away from the use of any pesticides and toward encouraging more and more native plants to enhance the remaining forest. 

There are several challenges to the land at this time.  Ivy, planted years ago as the perfect ground cover.  It was so perfect that it chokes out all other ground covers, can kill a tree if allowed to climb up it long enough and creates lovely homes for rats.  The Grounds Team relentlessly pushes it back. Big trees pruned or paid to remove,.  Leaves swept or blown and bundled. Weeding, in addition to ivy consists of removing  blackberries, bindweed, wild geranium, stinky bob, morning glory, small native trees in the wrong place, etc. etc.  

Despite the feeling of never finishing the grounds work, team members enjoy the camaraderie of stewarding mother nature.  Even spending an hour or so removing ivy from trees can make the rest of my day.

How fortunate the founders of ESUC were able to choose a large parcel of land and trust that future members would be able to “take care of the grounds because it is our home.”

Best People We Can Be

We didn’t always say  the words we now do. we said  brothers and sisters,  now we say siblings in spirit,  we used to say the best men and  Women we can be.  Now we say the best people we can be.  These changes were made to include all people,  not just those who fit into the dominant gender identities.  Members of the Youth group pushed for these new words and now we embrace them. And as so often is the case, Youth teaches age —  helping unstick those rusty places.

For years, the only part of the chalice response I really got was the take good care of the earth part,  I stayed away from the last part  “lives filled with goodness and love” to “become the best person I can  be”  It is hard enough being my middling sort of person.  I was busy with the hustle bustle of raising a family and pursuing a career.  I didn’t leave any space or time for shedding my comforts,  and it seemed I didn’t I even want to get rid of my bad habits.  Couldn’t I just sing in the choir, and  let myself off the hook?  Maybe I’d try to  be the best person I can be next month,  or next year, But eventually,  on and off I gave it more thought. What were the virtues that I most desired. Among the many, the moral courage of Nelson Mandela, the generosity of Mother Teresa, the humility and self control of My dad.  How could I become better in those areas.  Well,  This week, looking for appropriate readings, immersed me in uplifting thoughts. OK< I could be inspired by others who have taken this journey.   BUT How would I  know if I had become more kind or less grumpy?   And if so,  how could I make those changes last.  And who would be the judge.

In true unitarian fashion I overthink it. It says right there “live lives filled with goodness and love.  This is why we want community.  Why I need you. When I show up as less than my best self, I get feedback,  a turning away, a wrinkled nose, or even words, thank you.   You  give me a chance to imagine a  better way –a better me.

Wait  I should have said this first,  more joy, more awe, more wonder.

And now let me return to seriousness.

All this self improvement sounds so nice from my ease and leisure.  My best self should treat ALL people well ,  as Ron said earlier. And that goes way beyond being equally polite to everyone.  My best self must be far off if I sit  while  great democracies teeter toward tyranny,  and the drum of systemic racism beats insistently on.  My better self will not be sheltered and protective of privilege. To become that person I’ll have to branch out, and get way more uncomfortable.

So these words remain a challenge.  I tell myself  come to  attention,  set an intention,  (lives filled with goodness and  love)   practice,  reflect on how I did, and do it again, over and over for others this all comes more easily . Nicole told me  a  story  about a  family that visited for several weeks last year. When she  checked in with the mom to see how she was enjoying East Shore the mom confided that it was her son who was the one who wanted to keep coming. And when she asked her son “WHY” he said “Because I want to learn how to be the best person I can be.”

Me too,   so obvious, so uncomplicated.  So may it be.