Good morning and welcome to Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church. This morning we will be listening to music from the albums A Guide to The Birdsong of South America and A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. These albums were a non-profit collaboration between musical artists and the endangered birds living in these regions, and the profits of the albums go to habitat conservation efforts.
Prelude The Garifuna Collective – Black Catbird
Chalice Lighting – by Sharon Wylie
Let this be the place you consider what you’ve never considered;
Let this be the place you imagine for yourself something new and unthinkable.
May this hour bring dreams of new ways of being in the world. Come, let us worship together.
Hymn Abide With Me (#101 in Singing the Living Tradition; music by William Henry Monk, verses 1-2 by Henry Francis Lyre, verse 3 by Rev. Erika Hewitt). Guitar and singing by Lea Morris.
Message for All Ages The Rabbit Listened – Cori Doerrfeld
Centering Words A Summer Day – Mary Oliver Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
A Little Attention Makes All the Difference – Christina Feldman & Jack Kornfield
The secret of beginning a life of deep awareness and sensitivity lies in our willingness to pay attention. Our growth as conscious, awake human beings is marked not so much by grand gestures and visible renunciations as by extending loving attention to the minutest particulars of our lives. Every relationship, every thought, every gesture is blessed with meaning through the wholehearted attention we bring to it.
In the complexities of our minds and lives we easily forget the power of attention, yet without attention we live only on the surface of existence. It is just simple attention that allows us to truly listen to the song of a bird, to see deeply the glory of an autumn leaf, to touch the heart of another and be touched. We need to be fully present in order to love a single thing wholeheartedly. We need to be fully awake in this moment if we are to receive and respond to the learning inherent in it.
We may think of our lives as an endless stretch of time that extends beyond unthought-of horizons. We carry the memories of our past and the fantasies of our future and are easily lost in the preoccupation with them. We tell ourselves that we have to postpone opening our hearts, to defer our quest for connectedness. To remind ourselves of the unpredictability of our lives, the uncertainty of our days can bring a sense of urgency and passion to the quality of our relationship to this moment. What other place can we begin to live with love and wisdom but here, what other time can we truly open our hearts but now?
Attention is sensitivity, attention is connectedness. The attention we bring to this moment reveals to us both the joys and sorrows of our world. Wisdom inspires us not to retreat from this pain but to ask ourselves how we can participate in the healing of our earth, our communities, our world. We often discover that the greatest healing can lie within the smallest gestures, a loving touch, a caring word, the gift of a compassionate heart allows us to extend ourselves beyond the boundaries of our personal worlds.
Reflection by Jen Simpkins
I’m going to admit upfront that a lot of this reflection was rewritten in the last few days. In the version I began last Sunday, I planned to talk about the changes that we had ahead of us with a sense of excitement that honestly, feels off at this moment. As I rewrite this for you on Wednesday evening, I have no idea what may come in the days between now and when you hear this, whether the things I say now will still feel relevant by Sunday. It feels a long way off.
This is a time where change is pressing upon us, change in our nation, change in our church, perhaps change we planned for ourselves with turning of the year. This is a time where we are required to envision something anew. These past four years have laid many things bare, things that always existed but that we didn’t always see. In the last year alone, we have witnessed the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and countless others, the shooting of Jacob Blake, the complete lack of justice for any of them, we have seen the visible rise of white nationalism, the disastrous response to COVID 19 that has cost 350,000 Americans their lives, the numerous natural disasters tied to climate change, and the attempted subversion of our democracy. The way we were going was no way at all. We are going to need a new path forward.
So we have gathered this morning, like so many mornings before, to imagine a world that is fairer, kinder, more just, and to put our imagination into action. As Unitarian Universalists, we have a long history of supporting social justice movements. As it says on the UUA website, “Before their merger, Unitarians and Universalists were active in making the world a better place, through involvement in abolition, women’s suffrage, temperance, prison reform, and numerous other causes that sought to improve the human condition. After merger, activism continued in the areas of civil rights, the peace movement, the feminist movement, gay and lesbian liberation, and the ecological movement-to name a few. Many of our congregations offered sanctuary to draft resisters, provided staging areas for local civil rights marches, organized buses to demonstrations across the United States, worked for the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution, provided sanctuary to “aliens,” both in Canada and the United States, and began recycling programs in their communities. Many people came to UU congregations first and foremost because of our liberal voice in the community on these important issues.” We have a tradition of justice that we should be proud of and our principles are a profound base from which to engage in prophetic imagination.
But while we imagine our world anew, we must be cautious. As Unitarian Universalists, according to data from the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, we are predominantly a white denomination, we are predominantly from families that have lived in the United States for over three generations, most of us have at least some college education, and most of us do not live in poverty. These demographics are significant barriers to our imagining what changes will most benefit those that are non-white, those that are immigrants, and those that are impoverished.
And there is real risk to imagining solutions when you don’t have thorough and immediate knowledge of the problems communities are facing. Take for example, PlayPumps, as described in William MacAskill’s book Doing Good Better. “Instead of the typical hand pump or windmill pump found in many villages in poor countries, the Playpump doubled as a playground merry-go-round. Children would play on the merry-go-round, which, as it spun, would pump clean water from deep underground up to a storage tank.” Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it. The idea that we can fix a complex social problem with something as whimsical as children’s play is compelling. However, and again, this is from Doing Good Better. “It turned out that, despite the hype and the awards and the millions of dollars spent, no one had really considered the practicalities of the PlayPump. Most playground merry-go-rounds spin freely once they’ve gained sufficient momentum—that’s what makes them fun. But in order to pump water, PlayPumps need constant force, and children playing on them would quickly get exhausted. According to the UNICEF report, children sometimes fell off and broke limbs, and some vomited from the spinning. In one village, local children were paid to ‘play’ on the pump. Much of the time, women of the village ended up pushing the merry-go-round themselves—a task they found tiring, undignified, and demeaning.
He continues, “What’s more, no one had asked the local communities if they wanted a PlayPump in the first place. When the investigators from the Swiss Resource Centre and Consultancies for Development (SKAT) asked the community what they thought about the new PlayPump, many said they preferred the hand pumps that were previously installed. With less effort, a Zimbabwe Bush hand pump of the same cylinder size as a PlayPump provided thirteen hundred liters of water per hour—five times the amount of the PlayPump….
Even when communities welcomed the pumps, they didn’t do so for long. The pumps often broke down within months, but unlike the Zimbabwe Bush Pump, the mechanics of the pump were encased in a metal shell and could not be repaired by the community. The locals were supposed to receive a phone number to call for maintenance, but most communities never received one, and those who did never got anyone on the phone…. The PlayPump was inferior in almost every way to the unsexy but functional hand pumps it competed with. Yet, at $14,000 per unit, it cost four times as much.”
The Playpump demonstrates the risk of imagination that isn’t grounded by attention, that isn’t rooted in the community it seeks to serve. The communities got a less effective pump than the ones they had previously and money that was raised by charitable donations was wasted, which could have a chilling effect on further donations needed to solve a water crisis that has still not been effectively addressed.
Another example, perhaps a little closer to home, is the safety pins that proliferated on people’s shirts and jackets after Donald Trump was elected in 2016. These pins were meant to signal that you were an ally to people that were Black, LGBTQ, or immigrants, all of whom had reasonable fear of what the election results would mean for their lives. Community activists quickly called the movement out for being performative and without substance. April Reign, the activist behind the OscarsSoWhite hashtag said at the time, “It really is not so much about helping marginalized communities and those who may be in distress, but instead for white people, often to identify themselves to other white people as better than those who voted for Trump.” Ijeoma Oluo, author of “So You Want to Talk About Race” commented on Twitter regarding safety pins, “People don’t have to search for my blackness in order to target me. Don’t make me search for your safety pin in order to get help. Be known.”
And that is the call I am bringing forward to our congregation this Sunday as we contemplate imagination, is that we be known to the communities in which we are working, and that we know them. That we balance our prophetic imaginations with a sense of sacred attention to their needs. That we pay attention to the movements that marginalized communities are calling us to support, and that we bring our imagination to seeing the world as they see it, even if it disrupts the world as it now is. They are envisioning a society where everyone is housed. A society where everyone is fed. A society where the evils of our historical past are addressed and the victims compensated. A society where injury is met with reconciliation, not mass imprisonment. A society where all people are respected, regardless of their gender expression or who they love. A society where immigrants are welcomed. A society where people with disabilities are invited into the full fellowship of our community. A society where Black Lives Matter. A society where every vote counts. This is the world we must bring into being. Let us begin to build it today, with imagination, and attention.
Circle Round For Freedom – Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout.
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. Each month we share the generosity of our collection with a local partner. Our outreach partner for January is the Womens Resource Center of Racine, Racine County’s only provider of emergency shelter and a variety of services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. For more information on how to donate to OBUUC and the Women’s Resource Center of Racine, please visit our church website, OBUUC.org
Offertory Hymn #157 from Singing the Living Tradition: Step by Step the Longest March, Recorded for the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City for the service on October 11, 2020
Benediction Rev. Ashley Horan – Another World is Possible
Another world is possible.
We say it, again and again,
even when the proof lies somewhere beyond the horizon,
beyond our reach,
beyond our imagination.
This is our faith:
Another world is possible…
…There are many routes toward liberation;
But the abundance of options does not absolve us of
the responsibility of acting.
Another world is possible…
We extinguish the flame in our chalice, but the fire and light goes on in you. This service has ended, your service begins again.
Peace, and unrest.
Postlude Dengue Dengue Dengue – Remolinera Real