Worship transcript for July 5, 2020

Opening music

“Yonder Come Day”

Yonder come day! Day is a-breakin’
Yonder come day, o my soul
Yonder come day! Day is a-breakin’
Sun is a-risin’ in my soul!

Welcome (Rev. Rob Keithan)

Hello, and thanks for joining us for worship with All Souls. Unlike other years, where our summer service schedule and format is different, the reality of how we’re worshipping during coronavirus means that there won’t be much change this year. Our services will continue as they have, and for many reasons we’ve selected “threshold” as our summer theme.

I’m particularly honored and excited for today’s guest preacher: the Rev Bill Sinkford, a former President of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon.

Bill was the first African American to lead any historically white denomination in this country, and his tenure as President of our Association from 2001-2009 was marked by strong public witness for social justice and support for marginalized communities. He reprised that role in 2017, serving as interim co-President following a resignation and serious conflict about the lack of racial equity in UUA hiring practices.

I worked in the Association’s Washington Office during Bill’s 8 years in office, and I can tell you that he manages to combine a fierce commitment to justice, deep spiritual grounding, compassion, and humility in ways that have and continue to inspire thousands of people to do the same.

So, I think fittingly, on this 4th of July weekend service we’ll hear about being long haul people from a leader who’s definitely been through it. Come, let us worship together.

Chalice Lighting and Pastoral Prayer (Rev. Rob Keithan)

Now is the time to light our chalice. I invite you to do so at home, saying:

…We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

In our prayers today, let us keep in mind Sandy McGregor, father to Caroline McGregor, who was recently diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer.

Prayers as well to Derek Stanfill who will soon embark on a new leg of his life’s journey as he prepares to move to Palm Springs, CA.

And prayers of celebration to Ian Harrell Faruq who graduated high school this year and was admitted to Morehouse College in Atlanta.

In the moment of silence, I invite you to speak aloud the names of those you carry on your heart this morning.

Spirit of Life, Love, and Liberty, Dear God,

The prophet and poet Langston Hughes wrote:

Let America be America again.
…Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

So, Dear God, in such a time as this, with so much at stake and so much possibility, we pray that America will be America again. Help us stay true to the unrealized dream where opportunity is real—for all people. Where life is free—for all people. And where equality is everywhere–in the water everyone drinks AND in the air that everyone—that everyone—that everyone–breathes

Amen.

Music (All Souls Virtual Choir)

“Spirit of Life” (words and music by Carolyn McDade) (sung in English and Spanish)

Fuente de amor, ven hacia mi
Y al corazon cantale tu compassion
Sopla al volar, sube en la mar
Hasta moldear la justicia de la vida
Arraigame, liberame
Fuente de amor, ven a mi, ven a mi

Spirit of life, come unto me
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice
Roots hold me close, wings set me free
Spirit of life, come to me, come to me.

Story for All Ages (Dolores Miller and the children of All Souls Church)

“The Happy Man’s Shirt” (An Italian folktale)

The All Souls theme for the summer is, “Threshold”. A threshold is part of a doorway. It’s where you cross over from one space to another.

Clara, can you point to the threshold? Eleanor, can you walk back and forth over the threshold?

A threshold can also be a crossing over from one feeling or emotion to another. In our story, the Prince is trying to cross the threshold to happiness. He is just having trouble getting to the other side.

Once there was a Prince who never smiled. Never. His parents of course desperately wanted their son to be happy. They tried everything. But the court juggler was bumbling. Parties were insufferable. The Prince spent his day staring listlessly out the window and could not say what ailed him.

His parents sent for doctors, philosophers, and sages. After conferring together for countless hours, they came up with the perfect solution. They must find a happy man and bring his shirt to the Prince. Then all the happiness will envelop and nourish their son. So off they went to find a truly happy man.

They traveled far and wide but wherever they went no one was perfectly happy. There was always something in the way.

I’m cold/I’m so hot!

I’m so tired! / We’re not tired!

I have too many children! /I wish I had more children.

They were about to give up when they heard somebody whistling off in the distance. They followed the melody to its source and found a farmer contentedly working in his garden.

The farmer saw them and beamed.

Hello! What a glorious day. One couldn’t ask for more.

They asked him, “But a bigger farm would be better, right?”.

Nope. Mine is the perfect size.

But we bet you’d rather be richer.

No, not really.

They asked him, “Is there anything you wish for?”

Nothing.

The wise ones were perplexed, and also thrilled! “You are the one we’ve been looking for!”, they exclaimed! “We need to bring the shirt of a truly happy man to the prince”.

But I don’t own a shirt!

And indeed, he did not. They realized then that the Prince could not use someone else’s happiness. He would need to make his own way across that threshold. And the way to do that is to begin by helping others!

The end.

Reading (Rev. Bill Sinkford)

“Still I Rise” (Maya Angelou)

Thank you for inviting me to join you for worship here at All Souls.

Once again, it’s been more than 10 years since i had the privilege of speaking to the All Souls Community, but I am delighted to be back. To have the chance to speak with you this morning, even at a distance.

Our reading this morning is by the poet, Maya Angelou. It will be known to many of you. “Still I Rise,” is the title.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
 
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
 
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
 
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
 
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
 
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
 
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
 
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
 
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Message (Rev. Sinkford)

“The prayer of our souls is a petition for persistence…” WEB DuBois got it right.

We need a movement, not just a moment…that’s true in our personal lifes, not just out on the streets.

We need to be long haul people.

Caring for a parent, as they age, or caring for a child as they grow through or just go through difficulties…

Supporting friends through their own tragedies, misfortunes and…sometimes bad decisions…

Working for justice when it is one move forward and two moves back…on the best of days…

And “success” …whatever that might look like…so infrequent…its…sometimes… just not enough to see us through…

Sometimes our determination is all we can know for sure…all we can trust.

Persistence. Tenacity. Stick-to-it-iveness. Here in church we might even say faithfulness.

Long haul people.

You remember Sisyphus? He is a character from Greek mythology who is condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a mountain, only to watch that rock roll back down again…and to repeat that climb…over and over… forever.

No finishing the task.

An eternity of meaningless effort.

It’s one definition of hell.

(Black Screen)

Albert Camus, the famous existential philosopher, painted a different picture of Sisyphus. It is worth pausing over for a moment.

Camus argues that, though it may fly in the face of our urge to make a difference…to finally cross that task off his “to do” list…

Camus argues that Sisyphus is happy. Yes, happy.

Perhaps the climb up that mountain becomes more comfortable over time. Perhaps the muscles that once strained under the weight of the rock now easily control it…it could happen…

My gym just open up here in Portland. I’ve joined a few hardy, masked and distanced souls trying to rebuild strength after three months…

Those weights do get lighter as the muscles strengthen.

Could Sisyphus begin to move the rock gracefully so that the act of pushing it becomes art? Not suffering?

“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a [person’s] heart,” writes Camus. “We must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

The struggle itself is a source of joy.

That idea is a real challenge for me. I don’t want an endless task. I want to get to the Promised Land. I want those confederate statues down and the militarized police state transformed.

And I get frustrated by the slow pace of change and the setbacks.

There are also times when I think walking away from that boulder is necessary. Times when perseverance…faithfulness…can be such a drain on the body and the spirit that walking away becomes necessary for survival.

Every boulder should not command unending faithfulness.

And yet, with all of that said… aren’t there times when perseverance has to be its own reward?

Our stories about overcoming obstacles…in the dominant culture… place little value on perseverance…our culture prefers stories of quick success. Stories that minimize resistance and make no mention of helping others, of collective responsibility.

The single individual is the hero.

Any obstacles, when pointed out are easily overcome and justice rolls down like waters.

Those are the stories we like.

Take Rosa Parks and her story.

President George Bush called Parks the “mother of the civil rights movement” at her funeral in 2005:

“Rose Parks showed that one candle can light the darkness…Like so many institutionalized evils, once the ugliness of [the Jim Crow] laws were held up to the light, they could not stand. … as a result, the cruelty… of [those] laws are now a thing of the past… Rosa Parks called America back to its founding promise of equality and justice for everyone.”

One candle can light the darkness…Rosa Parks as a solo actor, refusing to give up her seat…exposed the Jim Crow laws and they melted away…those injustices…are now a thing of the past…the founding promise of our nation restored…

Where to even start with that version of Rosa Parks’ story?

First, let’s assume that the President’s praise for Rosa Parks was genuine, rather than merely a way to divert attention from the enduring racial inequities that Hurricane Katrina had revealed just two months before her death.

Second, the success of the bus boycott was not just the result of Rosa Parks’ solo action…and not only the result of the leadership of Dr. King.

Parks and King were important…but the bus boycott was a model of collective resistance…for the long haul…it lasted over a year.

It was the Women’s Political Council, 25 Black women, that called for the boycott and printed the posters: “Walk on Monday. No Riding Today.”

Some people did walk…but most rode…because 300 people volunteered the use of their cars…there were 20 full time drivers travelling between 40 pick up and drop off stations, driving people to work and to the store, driving children to school, with routes organized by 15 full time dispatchers. This was a massive, long term community wide organizing effort, with national fundraising to support it.

Rosa Parks was no solo actor.

And the resistance did not just melt away.

Both Rosa and her husband lost their jobs. Death threats became a normal part of life. The Parks case in state court was delayed again and again. It took a Supreme Court decision before the city and the then insolvent bus company gave in.

The resistance did not just melt away.

Rose Parks was not some older woman who was just too tired to get up.

At 42, she had been an activist in the community for a dozen years before her refusal to move led to the boycott.

She was Youth Leader for the NAACP Chapter. She travelled the state collecting testimony from Black women who had been sexually assaulted. Just months before the boycott, she attended a training session at the Highlander School in Tennessee, a training center for organizers throughout the south.

She later wrote: “the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

And the boycott was not an impulsive act of resistance to a single humiliation.

Before Rosa Parks’ arrest in December, two other women had already been arrested for refusing to give up their seats.

The community did not rise in support of either of them, primarily because promises of reform were made…but not kept.

By the time of Parks’ arrest, the community had persevered and suffered long enough…they had reached the breaking point.

The breaking point.

Following the success off the boycott, unable to find work in Montgomery, she and her husband had to move, eventually to Detroit, where she continued to be an activist for and served on the national Board of Planned Parenthood.

Eventually, Rosa Parks was honored by three US Presidents.

In 1983, Ronald Reagan said of Mrs. Parks: “We’ve made historic strides since Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. As a democratic people, we can take pride in the knowledge that we Americans recognized a grave injustice and took action to correct it…”

“We’ve made historic strides…”

Rosa Parks was being woven into a fable about the civil rights movement. A fable that some still believe.

That fable went like this: “…there had been an injustice, [long ago…not now].

…but once courageous individuals [like Rosa Parks…not an organized community] pointed it out, that injustice was corrected,

…and proved the greatness of American democracy.”

I’m quoting Dr. Jeanne Theoharris, who has written extensively on the Parks story and legacy.

That fable, that national narrative makes no mention of the community of resistance that persevered…through decades…

And because that injustice was “back then” and “so easily” corrected…the dominant culture can be proud of the greatness of our democracy…rather than focus on the ongoing failures..

Dr. Theoharris describes the meaning that can more honestly be found in this story:

“These activists kept going when all their efforts seemed in vain. In witnessing their persevering courage, other people found their own.”

Their persevering courage…when all their efforts seemed in vain.

Long haul people…there are a lot of them listening this morning. I’m certain of it. Folks who take to the streets..some of us. Folks who pray at vigils…who welcome asylum seekers… who write letters and send emails to congresspeople, who show up for fundraisers…

Who show up and show up and show up.

Faithful people.

It is not easy being long haul people. Not easy in our personal lives. Not easy in our efforts for equity and fairness. Not when the needs are endless, when progress is slow and when the setbacks can be heartbreaking.

It helps to be centered not only on success but, as Wendell Berry wrote, on “preserving qualities in one’s own heart …that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”

It helps to be inspired by a vision for Beloved Community.

All that helps but there is something more here.

Maya Angelou had planned a big party for her 40th birthday on April 4th 1968… the day Dr. King was assassinated. She went into a deep depression which lasted weeks. It was James Baldwin who helped her dig out.

“The times were so solemn and the daily news so somber,” she wrote later, “that we snatched mirth from unlikely places and gave servings of it to one another with both hands. … Jimmy [Baldwin] said, ‘We survived slavery…you know how we survived? We put surviving into our poems and into our songs. We put it into our folk tales. We danced surviving… and put it in our pots when we cooked pinto beans. We knew, if we wanted to survive, we had better lift our own spirits. So we laughed whenever we got the chance.”

It is a very different picture from that image of Sisyphus, alone and grim, struggling to push his rock up that hill.

But I can imagine Sisyphus looking our way and …is he smiling?

We are going to need to be long haul people this year…there is no doubt…this year and longer.

I want to believe that this time is different.

I pray that this time is different.

I’m working to make this time different.

But the work of liberation will not end…we have a long way to go to get to the Promised Land.

And its not solo work, at least it is so much more difficult as solo work…

Determination helps. Commitment is required. But surviving and thriving requires finding some joy in the effort.

The joy comes from the sharing of the task…shoulders to the boulder, as it were… singing and worshipping and praying together. As we do. Supporting one another for the long haul, …lifting our spirits as we go.

Music (Rochelle Rice and Jen Hayman, vocals; Janelle Gill, piano; Romeir Mendez, bass; Dante Pope, vocals and drums)

“I Remember, I Believe” (Bernice Johnson Reagon)

I don’t know how my mother walked her trouble down
I don’t know how my father stood his ground
I don’t know how my people survived slavery
I do remember that’s why I believe

I don’t know why the rivers overflow their banks
I don’t know why the snow falls and covers the ground
I don’t know why the hurricane sweeps through the land every now and then
Standing in a rainstorm, I believe

I don’t know why the angels woke me up this morning soon
I don’t know why the blood still flows through my veins
I don’t know how I rate to run another day
I’m still here running. I believe.

My God calls to me in the morning dew
The power of the universe knows my name
Gave me a song to sing to run another day
I raise my voice for justice. I believe

Offertory/Benediction (Rev. Keithan)

As we near the end of our service, I invite you to make a donation to support the ongoing ministry of All Souls, as we continue to dream of, and work towards, a different world. You can make a one-time or recurring donation by going to our homepage, by mailing a check to the church, or by texting your gift. We are so grateful for your generosity.

And we are grateful for your presence! If you’ve joined us on Sunday morning, I hope you’ll return at 11 am for our weekly Coffee Hour of conversation and camaraderie. You’ll find the log-in information in the email sent out this morning.

And I close with the words of civil liberties lawyer Clarence Darrow:

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.

So may it be, and Amen.