Three Things To Stop Saying (A Sermon)

ThreeThingsLike so many churches these days, mine’s been on Zoom and Facebook Live for months.  The VIDEO below shows a sermon I preached, online, in mid-June, focusing on three phrases to stop saying as we attempt to fight back against racism in the U.S.  The three are in the text box to the left.  As I have said over and over, Americans would rather talk about anything but race—anything—and these are perhaps the big three avoidance phrases of the many we use.  Some are hostile, and profane, and ultra racist, but these three sound “noble.”  I based most of this sermon on comments I made at the Laity Convocation of the United Methodist Church (Northern Illinois Conference) on February 8, 2020, weeks before the pandemic shut us down (or in), weeks before the murder of George Floyd.  I’ve detailed them in “Unpacking Racism: “Noble” Sentiments That Keep Us From Talking About Race.”

The scripture for this sermon is Luke 6:32-33, Jesus’ conclusion to his announcing the “Golden Rule” and issuing three of his hardest challenges, which he links to that Rule:  Love your enemies; Be kind to those who mistreat you; Turn the other cheek.  One of these days I’ll explore that linkage, but this morning—though I said this was no time for sound bites—all I had time for were sound bites!  So I focused on what Luke 6:32-33 implied about embracing our differences.  We love to talk about “embracing our common humanity,” but that’s one of those feel-good things to say that usually doesn’t lead anywhere, largely because it’s practically impossible to do without first accepting our differences.

???????????My 9-year-old grand daughter Grace makes a quick appearance.  I’ve been saying a lot lately that IF we work hard to fight racism, we may see a less racist U.S. in 40 to 100 years.  Afterwards, several people stayed on line to talk about what I had said.  Gene Paquette, husband of the woman who read the scripture (she goes by “Muffy”) said that it was hard to hear that timeline:  40 to 100 years.  I always capitalize and bold that IF.  In “Walmart, Pence, and Politics As Usual” I commented on what so far is not a lot to show, policy-wise, for all the protests we’ve had.  Even IF we manage to start seeing a significant turnaround in the shortest time I’ve envisioned, 40 years, Grace will be nearly 50.  I won’t see it, but hoping she and other young grand kids do, that should keep all of us working hard.

  OTHER SERMONS (most with VIDEO):  “Pentecost Means No ‘Supremacies,’” “Sacred Doing,” “Elijah: The Growth of a Prophet,” “Searching for Prophets.”  “Who Do You Stand With?,” “It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know: A Baccalaureate Sermon.”

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Walmart, Pence, and Politics As Usual

Walmart2Say what you will against Walmart—and there’s lots of negative—but on June 29, 2020, USA Today’s Charisse Jones reported:  “Walmart will stop the sale of ‘All Lives Matter’ merchandise on its website, noting that it is putting its emphasis on Black people and other people of color whose lives are being ‘impacted by ongoing racial injustice.’

“The nation’s largest retailer is removing the items which are sold by third-party sellers ‘indefinitely,’ after hearing from some employees and customers who were concerned about the meaning behind the merchandise.

“ ‘We fundamentally believe all lives do matter and every individual deserves respect,’ Walmart said in a statement. ‘However, as we listened, we came to understand that the way some, but not all, people are using the phrase “All Lives Matter” in the current environment intentionally minimized the focus on the painful reality of racial inequity.’”

In a recent sermon titled “Three Things to Stop Saying,” the first phrase I focused on was this notorious “All Lives Matter” mantra, a favorite of Americans who would rather talk about anything—anything—but race.

EmptyHanded2Walmart’s move is in stark contrast to Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to say “Black Lives Matter,” instead opting for…“All Lives Matter.”  Of course. He’s done this over and over in the days preceding Walmart’s decision, committing a classic trifecta of old, backward moves: 1) saying BLM is a Marxist plot, 2) bringing up abortion, and 3) citing Martin Luther King, Jr. incorrectly.  In other words, BLM isn’t pointing out a fundamental flaw in our democracy—racism—but working for an outside agitator.  In other words, let’s talk about abortion instead of race.  Not that abortion isn’t an important topic, but once again, let’s talk about anything—anything—but race.  In other words, MLK Jr. would agree with me.  He wouldn’t.  We Americans easily embrace the warm-fuzzy MLK Jr.—the “I-Have-a-Dream” MLK Jr.—but not the person who was really tough on racism, injustice, and exploitation, the person who would have been one of Black Live Matter’s loudest, clearest advocates.  (See “Why I Oppose the War” on this site.)

And inevitably there’s the political establishment, of which Pence is only one cog.  It’s perhaps the biggest obstacle to true reform.  In a June 28, 2020, analysis titled “After weeks of protest, meaningful police reform seems unlikely,” CNN’s Josh Campbell reports that even in Minnesota, the epicenter of our recent racial crisis, a special legislative session has come up empty-handed. “Partisan entrenchment ruled the day,” writes Campbell, “as the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-led House clashed over nearly two-dozen policing reform measures,” including banning choke holds.  This isn’t fake news.  Even one of the more “radical” proposals, disbanding the police, will endure weeks more input and have to pass a ballot proposal in November, if it even gets on the ballot.

I’ve been writing a lot on this site recently that IF we work really hard on anti-racism it will still take 40 to 100 years to see a less racist U.S.  After my “Three Things to Stop Saying” sermon, where I again said this, several people said that was really hard to hear.  When I said this the first time most recently, on a panel at an “Unpacking Racism” convocation, another panelist said that while he respected me, he thought I was being too optimistic.  I was.  But even if the current protests seem to have come up empty-handed because of our political leaders and the politics of division, maybe all isn’t lost.  For now, and probably for at least a couple of decades, we’ll just have to go around our leaders and our politics.  Walmart’s made a move, as have many other companies, like those pulling ads from Facebook.  And our younger generations seem to want to face racism more squarely than any of the generations before, even during the Civil Rights era.  As always, our hope lies with our youth.

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Climbing Bryan’s Mountain, 2020

RRC-6-20a2

This isn’t a picture on Bryan’s Mountain (Bell Rock), but another place in Sedona: Red Rock Crossing, what some have said is the most photographed spot in Arizona.  You can see why.  That’s my son Aaron looking up at Cathedral Rock, and grand daughter Grace looking my way as I snapped the picture.

A few days earlier, on June 14th, she was the second grand child to climb Bryan’s Mountain and visit his tree.  I’m so looking forward to having the other five do that soon, though for Adderly, the youngest at almost two, that might be a few years off.  And just like last summer, it was a while before I climbed the mountain myself—though for far different reasons than last year’s.  We arrived on May 6th, but it was over a month before I went to the mountain for the first time on June 8th.  Because of the Covid-19 crisis, the Bell Rock trail was closed until May 15th anyway, and then on May 11th, the day after Mothers’ Day, my Linda fractured her ankle, falling on a new trail we were hiking, the Transept Trail, one of the ones that remained open because it was new and still not crowded with people.  We were almost finished coming down when she slipped on loose earth, bending her right ankle behind her as she fell.  At first we thought it was just a bad sprain, but when we went to the Sedona Medical Center the doctor on duty said right away, before any x-rays, “Oh, it’s broken.”  Linda got called a real bad ass for hiking out the last quarter mile.  Two days after surgery she also found she had lost her job at the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, one she dearly loved and was so great at. That put the fractured ankle in perspective.  As the pandemic has put many things in perspective, upending the worlds of so many.

As did the killing of George Floyd.

In early February, I spoke at the Laity Convocation of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church.  The theme was Unpacking Racism, and I said that IF we worked diligently on anti-racism we might see a less racist U.S. in 40 to 100 years.  One other panelist said that though he respected me, he thought I was being too optimistic.  I was.  But the protests have given me some heart.  Though very little new has been said that hasn’t been said for many, many decades—even for nearly 200 years—at least people seem to be listening, finally. White people talk more about white privilege and systemic racism than they ever have, so I feel more confident.  Yes.  Forty to 100 years.  It takes that long to dismantle systems of oppression and really turn peoples’ souls around—IF we work at it hard.

BryTree2The pandemic, racism, my Linda’s fractured ankle and job loss—all were swirling round in my head when I climbed Bryan’s Mountain for the first time this year.  Naturally, so was the family foundation Rick and Desiree Guzman started as a living memorial to our family’s youngest son, Bryan Emmanuel Guzman.  It started with just one building named Bryan House, serving five refugee families.  When it grew to become Emmanuel House, it grew to serving 25 families. When it merged with the Joseph Corporation to become The Neighbor Project, we lost the names tying it to Bryan, but it jumped from serving 25 families to over 100, with 200 now clearly in sight.  That’s been nearly 14 years of hard work getting families into their own homes.  Though all its clients aren’t Black, many are people of color, and home ownership is one of the most efficient ways possible to close the racial wealth gap, a gap contributing immensely to the reason racism persists….

These thoughts stopped suddenly when I reached the top of my climb and turned right. About 40 yards ahead was Bryan’s tree, a small pine we put some of his ashes under a month after his death.  As I approached, I saw it was brimming with pine cones, more than I had ever seen on it.  Nothing lasts forever, and sometimes pines produce more cones when they’re under stress, perhaps even as a sign they’re dying.  But a “stress crop” preceding death is often accompanied by other signs:  yellowed or dried out needles, for example.  I didn’t see any of these.  In fact, the tree looked healthier than ever, and a bumper crop of cones on a healthy-looking tree could just as easily mean it had a great year.  Too early to tell—which makes the tree’s status a fitting metaphor for these times—but let’s hope it’s the latter.  Let’s hope I get to lead all the grand kids up to a vibrant tree.  With everything so topsy-turvy, hope is what we cling to.  And the memory of Bryan’s life, too, with or without the tree.

When Aaron came up there with Grace this year (he’d been there before), he took the most beautiful pictures of the tree ever.  They made the tree immortal in the way art can.  Here’s one of them:

BrysTree2020a

  This post is part of a series called “Climbing Bryan’s Mountain.” Go to its Lead PostIn 2016 Bryan’s living memorial, Emmanuel House, was named one of the “Top 100 Most Innovative” social change organizations in the world.

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