Good morning everyone. Welcome to the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church in Racine, WI. I’m the Rev. Eric Meter, the congregation’s interim minister. I’m thrilled to be with all of you on this early October morning. We gather together this morning so that our courage may be renewed, our convictions restored and deepened. We are more when we are together: stronger, wiser, more resilient and more able. Because of this OBUUC, as the congregation is known, is a vibrant congregation.
Prelude: Sicilliano – by John Allock performed by Anna Kojovic-Frodl
Chalice Lighting: We light our chalice this morning to these words by Erik Walker Wikstrom.
Here, today, in this place and with these people,
May we listen so that we can hear;
May we hear so that we can feel;
May we feel so that we can know; and
May we know so that we can change ourselves and this world.
May this chalice we light,
Light our Way.
Musical Reflection: This is My Song, performed by Diana Pavao & Vern Peterson
Message For All Ages:
Centering Words: by Rebecca C. Coppola
Spirit of life –
We know there are as many perspectives
and experiences of living
here in this room as there are people.
Spirit of love –
Please guide us gently into appreciating and listening,
Assist us to honor that in conversation
we can see the gift of a collective,
Show us how we can find understanding
by learning to speak one another’s languages,
So that we may hand in hand go deeper into our beliefs
through a personal, communal, and perpetual evolution.
Breath of life –
Give us the patience to live into this faith of community,
The curiosity to ask loving questions of each other,
And allow us to be always deepening
our spiritual awareness of the worlds within and without.
Inspiration that is this life –
Please feel our profound gratitude
for the comings and goings,
beginnings and endings,
through which we have been granted
the opportunity to reflect with openness
both upon what is within our experience
and that which is outside it.
Reading: The Trouble with Empathy by Molly Worthen
Ms Worthen is an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The following is an excerpt from a much longer essay published in the NY Times early last month.
When my daughter started remote kindergarten last month, the schedule sent to parents included more than reading, math, art and other traditional subjects. She’ll also have sessions devoted to “social and emotional learning.” Themes range from listening skills and reading nonverbal cues to how to spot and defuse bullying.
As millions of students start the school year at home, staring at glowing tablets, families worry that they will miss out on the intangible lessons in mutual understanding that come with spending hours a day with kids and adults outside their own household. We want children to grasp perspectives of people different from themselves. Yet in recent years, empathy — whether we can achieve it; whether it does the good we think — has become a vexed topic.
Few would quarrel with a kindergarten teacher’s noble efforts to teach listening skills to 5-year-olds. But as my daughter and her classmates get older, they will run into thornier dilemmas [such as the question]: Are some divides too great for common humanity to bridge? When we attempt to step into the shoes of those very different from us, do we do more harm than good?
It’s impossible to perfectly inhabit another person’s experience. The important question is the value of the effort, and whether it leaves us separated by an asymptote or a chasm. Can a straight TV writer create an authentic gay sitcom character? If an author of European descent writes a novel from the perspective of Indigenous people, is it an empathic journey, or an imperialist incursion? “I don’t want to throw out what empathy is trying to do,” Alisha Gaines, a professor of African-American literature at Florida State University, told me. “I’m very critical of it though. Empathy has to be considered in the context of institutions and power.”
Yet, as a literature professor, she wants students to see books as passageways to experiences unlike their own. “I love books because I’m learning something about people I didn’t understand. I’m connecting.”
College students I interviewed stressed the role of empathy in firing up their curiosity, critical thinking and self- interrogation. “People often dismiss emotion as a weakness,” Andie Horowitz, a political science major, told me. “But a certain level of emotion makes you interested in something, wanting to find the truth.”
She explained how her professor in a course on gender and the law led students in a deep dive into the lives of the individuals in cases they studied. “When you understand the people behind the movement, it becomes so much more personal,” she said. “That’s where empathy comes into critical thinking and being motivated to learn more.”
This fall, the sight of students of all ages squirming in front of iPads — struggling to learn about themselves and each other through apps and spotty Wi-Fi — drives home the urgency of social and emotional learning. But empathetic education was under attack long before Covid-19 hit. The desiccation of great books in the hands of testing bureaucrats and the politicization of literature in university classrooms is not a neatly left-wing or right-wing assault. It is a collective failure of confidence in our teachers and students. “When we think our students can’t do something, we’re done. Pack it up,” Ms. Gaines told me. “Given the opportunity, and the space to be vulnerable and space to say they don’t understand and don’t know, lots of growth can happen.”
Reflection: Bridging the Divide, Rev. Eric Meter
The Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church is a community of generosity and abundance.
Especially now, in this challenging and anxious time, your generosity is what keeps this community as vital as it is.
Our Offertory Outreach partner for October is the United Way of Racine County’s Covid Relief Fund. The fund was established earlier this year to meet the unexpected and immediate needs of those nearby effected by this global pandemic.
Here is Jessica Safransky Schacht, from the United Way to tell us more about the program:
For more information on how to donate to OBUUC and support the United Way’s Covid Relief Fund, please visit our church website.
Offertory: Autumn Glow by Mier, performed by Anna Kojovic-Frodl
Hymn: Spirit of Life, OBUUC Choir
Benediction: words by Jean Rowe
We have a calling in this world:
We are called to honor diversity,
to respect differences with dignity,
and to challenge those who would forbid it.
We are people of a wide path.
Let us be wide in affection
and go our way in peace.
Postlude: Back to Before from Ragtime, music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, performed by Colleen Wilkinson