PRELUDE We Will Build a Land B. Zanitti/C. McDade
David Chapman, pianist and music director
WELCOME & ANNOUNCEMENTS Jim Flaherty, worship associate
CALL TO WORSHIP Jaco B. & Barbara W. ten Hove, co-ministers
HYMN #389 Gathered Here
Children may leave for Religious Education/Exploration activities.
MOMENT OF MINDFULNESS
INTONATION De Colores D. Arkin/Spanish folksong
FLAMING CHALICE DEDICATION Leo Jones, worship associate
SPECIAL MUSIC Minstrel Man L. Hughes/M. Bonds
Muriel Morisey, vocalist
READING O Young and Fearless Prophet S. R. Harlow,
SERMON Wrestling Less With Angels Than With Prophets
Jaco B. ten Hove
HYMN #170 We Are a Gentle, Angry People
SHARING OF JOYS AND SORROWS
SILENCE, REFLECTION OR PRAYER
OFFERTORY Allerseelen (All Soul's Day) R. Strauss
RESPONSE #123 Spirit of Life C. McDade
EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE
POSTLUDE March of the Dwarfs E. Grieg
FLAMING CHALICE DEDICATION SOCIAL JUSTICE AT PBUUC
- LEO JONES
Many years before the members of our denomination covenanted
to "affirm and promote . . . justice, equity, and compassion
in human relations," which is the second principle of our
faith, the liberal religious community that would later become
the Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church included members
who committed much of their time and energy to the support of
social justice issues.
In 1957, members of the congregation set out to desegregate
the maternity wards at the Prince George's Hospital. African-American
mothers were kept so far from the nursery in which their newborns
were housed that they could not breast feed. Led by the church's
first minister, the late Dave Osborn, several members of
the congregation and its partner the NAACP protested, were arrested,
and spent nights in jail. They planned their strategy in the Riverdale
photography studio of church member Roy Hart, who later
was elected to the Maryland General Assembly.
From the 1950s to the present, Paint Branchers individually
and as a congregation have continued a tradition of social activism.
In the early 1960s restaurants in the Washington area continued
to discriminate against black patrons despite several federal
court desegregation orders. Janet Osborne and Marge
Owens convinced editors at the Washington Post to run a story
that featured a brochure created by Roy Hart. The brochure
quoted business owners who argued that they had not lost business
when they desegregated, and, in fact, their businesses had become
easier to run once they stopped discriminating against black customers.
Once the Post story ran, Marge and Janet distributed copies to
all Maryland legislators. The Maryland General Assembly soon passed
the state's public accommodations law.
In the years since, the Paint Branch congregation has continued
its social justice activities. As members of a welcoming congregation
for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons, Paint Branchers
work actively as part of Capital Area Interweave, the Interfaith
Fairness Coalition of Maryland, and Unitarian Universalists for
Free State Justice to support equity and fairness.
As a part of the Community Ministry of Prince George's County,
the Paint Branch congregation participates with other religious
organizations in the Warm Nights Shelter Program, an initiative
to provide shelter, hospitality and services to the homeless during
the coldest nights of the year.
Our congregation also supports the good work of Beacon House,
a halfway house for single mothers with children on public assistance.
Members like Nate Rummel volunteer at Beacon House, and
the congregation contributes funds and time to support its mission.
A few years ago, Paint Branch began a partnership with Suitland
High School here in Prince George's County. Our church contributes
money and materials to support the school's Visual and Performing
Arts Program. We also have had the pleasure of welcoming Suitland
students who have participated in our worship services. Sylvia
Lagerquist has been instrumental in this effort.
The list of Paint Branchers active in social justice is too
long to recite in full here, and I am certain to omit the names
of many who deserve to be recognized. Dick Bienasz has
worked actively and steadily as a leader of the American Civil
Liberties Union, and Marj Donn works tirelessly to urge
us to contact our representatives in Annapolis in support of a
variety of progressive causes. If I have mentioned your name,
or you have participated in any of the social justice activities
I have mentioned, would you please stand so that we can acknowledge
your good work?
It is already too late to make a long story short, but the
list continues: Paint Branchers Doyle Niemann and Abby
Crowley are past and present members, respectively, of the
Prince George's County School Board. Doyle is now a member of
the Maryland House of Delegates. Bob McCrory is Mayor of
Bladensburg. Both are following in the footsteps of Roy Hart
and Cora Rice, a Paint Branch member who served as president
of the Prince George's NAACP.
Other members of our congregation have made social action their
life's work. They are teachers, counselors, psychologists, social
workers, ministers, attorneys, medical professionals, public servants,
and consultants who work every day to put into action our covenant
to promote and affirm "justice, equity, and compassion"
in our local, state, and national communities. If your work falls
into one of the categories I have just mentioned, please stand
and be recognized.
In so many ways during the past fifty years Paint Branchers
heeded the biblical injunction to feed the hungry, give drink
to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and give
hope to the downtrodden. Individually and as a congregation, Paint
Branchers have worked to make ours "a faith with a spiritual
center and civic circumference," in the words of Bill Sinkford,
current president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
So it is my honor this morning to dedicate our Flaming Chalice
to the memory of those who began the tradition of social activism
at Paint Branch, to those who have contributed their time and
energy to advancing the common good, and to those who will continue
this work during the next fifty years. For in "giving life
the shape of justice," they have advanced the goal of creating
a world ruled by love and reason.
HYMN #276 O Young and Fearless Prophet -by
Samuel Ralph Harlow.
O young and fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee:
Your life is still a summons to serve humanity,
To make our thoughts and actions less prone to please the crowd,
To stand with humble courage for truth with hearts unbowed.
0 help us stand unswerving against war's bloody way,
Where hate and lust and falsehood hold back your holy sway;
Forbid false love of country, that turns us from your call
Who lifts above the nation the neighborhood of all.
Create in us the splendor that dawns when hearts are kind,
That knows not race nor station as boundaries of the mind;
That learns to value beauty, in heart, or mind, or soul,
And longs to see God's children as sacred, perfect, whole.
Stir up in us a protest against unneeded wealth;
For some go starved and hungry who plead for work and health.
Once more give us your challenge above our noisy day,
And come to lead us forward along your holy way.
I suspect that some Christians might struggle with this hymn's
portrayal of effect of the "young and fearless prophet of
Galilee"-"Stir up in us a protest against unneeded wealth,
(as) some go starved and hungry who plead for work and health."
But then such recognition of stark inequity certainly inspires
others, including non-Christians, to dedicate their lives to helping
the less fortunate, taking their lead from this very formative
prophetic exemplar, whose "life is still a summons to serve
Author Cornel West reminds us (in quote above) that the origin
of the prophetic tradition is to be "in solidarity with
the poor." More expansively, the prophetic tradition
calls out for justice, and a prophet usually ventures beyond service,
per se, to fiercely challenge the status quo on behalf of the
voiceless, the most vulnerable. As a non-Christian, I am humbled
by the prophets, especially Jesus, whose memory launched a whole
movement named after him that indeed wandered in some directions
rather far afield from his essential teachings. This does not,
however, negate the power of the teachings.
Jesus was a different sort of prophet from most of the Hebrew
Scripture prophetic figures, in at least one way: he actually
developed a following. Many of the earlier prophets were rather
lonely figures, although they felt true to the name prophet, which
in Hebrew means one called or sent as a messenger [found in Understanding
the Bible by John Buehrens, pg. 79]. They railed against what
they saw as the corruption of their day, and about how to restore
right relationship with their God and each another.
The so-called Literary Prophets had their concerns noted in
the Scriptures, perhaps because their claims held up over time.
But there were many other prophets who not only went unheeded,
but also unrecorded, including plenty of false prophets.
In our day, there are no fewer voices claiming to be prophets
than in any other era, most either on behalf of the poor or for
some manifestation of justice. One of the most renowned, prolific
and popular Unitarian Universalist theologians of the 20th century,
James Luther Adams, once suggested that "the ratio of false
prophets to true probably has not changed much since the time
of Elijah: 450 false prophets to every single true one" [Ibidem].
If this is the case, then the rest of us are in the same position
as our forebears, trying to sort through and judge lots of emotional
claims on our conscience about the sad state of society all around
us. And today we have regular election cycles to accentuate the
negatives for us.
Even what we call "justices" seem to not always be
on the side of justice. Shortly we shall see how our modern court
system treats the latest voices decrying election improprieties.
Can you believe the accusations flying about potential voting
booth fraud and party operatives that either register multitudes
of voters illegally or connive to disenfranchise folks they would
prefer not be counted? I find it hard not to believe some of it,
given what unfolded in Florida four years ago.
In fact, I'd go so far as to portray the undermining of our
election system as a good example of our collective neglect of
internal security in favor of all the expensive external
security efforts aimed at our borders. And while our eyes are
focused out there, a giant time bomb of national debt, the exporting
of jobs, global warming, our emasculated public education and
vanishing civil rights, etc.-everything else gets short shrift
before the dynamic specter of the terrorist threat.
But who can blame us for this neglect? We've been so frightened
by credible threats from the outside-which are easy for corporations
to profit from-that we pay little or no attention to the erosion
of our inner security, which is a much harder item to demonize-or
market. It's the triumph of mass manipulation over meaning and
we are its willing victims!
Do I sound like a prophet yet? Or am I just paranoid, or overly
inclined toward conspiracy theories, or maybe even getting ready
to run for office myself? Who's to say? Who, indeed.
Perhaps tonight you'll try to go to bed but instead spend hours
mulling over your fears about security-or any impending situation
you face, maybe even how to vote on Tuesday. You might agonize
over the complications of it all. Perhaps your conscience will
nag at you, and you'll rationalize prior behavior. Finally, you
might arrive at a plan or some approach to the next day that offers
a path you can feel okay about.
If so, you might also find comfort in the Hebrew Scriptures
Book of Genesis, Chapter 32, which tells the story of Jacob wrestling
all night with an angel. It happens as Jacob is camped outside
his brother Esau's home, awaiting a potentially dangerous reunion
with his sibling, whom Jacob had cheated out of an inheritance
many years earlier.
The verses are vague about details and the angel remains a
nameless "face of God," but it's clear that Jacob spends
a restless night dealing severely with his issues, alone with
is conscience for this metaphorical tussle with an angel. Come
the morning, Jacob is so grateful to even still be alive that
he takes on a new, empowering name: Israel, which literally means,
in Hebrew, "contender with God." And oh, by the way,
his reunion with a forgiving Esau goes well.
We all wrestle with various inner voices at significant moments
in our lives, and this is important work that helps us find authentic
equilibrium so that we may step forward and live life with gusto
and ethical resolve. But we also must wrestle with outer voices,
especially ones that might call us to account for our complicity
with injustice and urge us to stand up for what is right. I know
I need reminders and reality checks.
One of the six "Sources" of our Unitarian Universalist
"living tradition," shown near the back of your Bulletin
each week, says we UUs draw strength from "Words & deeds
of prophetic women and men, which challenge us to confront powers
and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming
power of love."
This is one of our most demanding values. For in order to "confront
powers and structures of evil," we have to be able to judge
what is evil. Complex post-modern culture, loaded as it is with
relativity and tolerance, has inspired a considerable backlash
from absolutists, which we generally reject. But how do
we know what is evil? And how do we decide to contribute
our precious life energy to what causes? This alone might be worth
a restless night or two, wrestling with our conscience, stirred
by loud prophetic voices all around us.
To at least improve the odds for better sleep, let me offer
three yardsticks by which I measure and grapple with various calls
for my attention. (And I, too, honor the folks from this congregation
who have, over five decades now, done their own grappling with
and acting on important social action issues of each generation.)
What I offer are three fundamental guides that help me prioritize
almost all other concerns. They are: the gap between rich and
poor; the environment; and evolution. (If it helps, there's a
handy acronym here: Gap, Environment and Evolution...GEE.)
For me, the necessary criteria for assessing true prophetic
voices starts with Jesus and his teaching about the importance
of standing with the poor. Continuously relevant from his day
to ours, this can be a very telling gauge of competing claims,
prophetic or otherwise. When I hear a righteous voice demanding
change-or objecting to change, I look to see who might
profit, and if it's the folks who already have a lot, I judge
accordingly. In more crass terms, I take the advice of perhaps
less noble but equally savvy voices: follow the money.
Were the "young and fearless prophet" among us today,
I believe that's what he'd want us to do. (So if I encounter that
curious Christian query "WWJD?"-What Would Jesus Do?-I
can suggest that he would Follow the Money, as he did so famously
in the temple when he challenged the money-changers.) In particular,
I try to assess the contribution any particular action or inaction
makes toward the huge divide between poor and rich. This hideous
gap is a very pivotal point, through which many other assessments
must pass, I believe.
Now, I do not think that we need to completely equalize or
flatten the economic status of all people, but in our lifetimes
we have watched the steadily increasing separation between "haves"
and "have nots" turn into a rout, both nationally and
globally. We should reverse the curse of this extreme gap. It
is wrong-evil, even-and one doesn't have to be a prophetic Christian
to feel that way. I say that if we apply this measuring stick
to any issue, the ethical implications become clear. "Stir
up in us a protest against unneeded wealth."
For instance, I believe true prophets of our time are railing
against the incredible differential between what top American
executives are paid and what lower level workers take home I believe
true prophets of our time are railing against 10,000 sq. ft. single-family
homes and their wastefully luxurious ilk And, yes, I believe true
prophets of our time over in the District of Columbia are railing
against how readily that government can find millions of dollars
to build a new baseball stadium for private owners, while its
decimated public school and public protection systems go to pieces,
begging for any morsels of additional funding, year after year.
According to the well-respected goad, Cornel West, one percent
of the population is now holding 48 percent (almost half!) of
the country's net financial wealth, while 20 percent of our precious
children of all colors are living in utter poverty in the richest
nation in the history of the world. His conclusion: "It's
a moral disgrace"[found in "Matters of Justice,"
by Terrence McNally, AlterNet, 9/29/04, www.alternet.org/story/20017].
And it provides us with a filter through which to examine many
demanding issues. If something or someone isn't helping to reduce
the looming divide between rich and poor, chances are it's more
a part of the problem than the solution, a false prophet.
Our extremely polarized economic climate is not only a structure
of evil, it's outstandingly near-sighted, which leads me to a
second yardstick by which to measure prophetic claims: the actual
climate and health of the Earth-our home, the very ground of our
being. Because of the profligate wastefulness of its current caretakers,
the Earth may humble us all into poverty very soon, as the planetary
systems we depend on become so imbalanced and polluted that they
We have been hearing environmental prophets for some years,
almost to the point that we are numb to their warnings. Extremists
on both ends seem to have the debate at a logjam, as conditions
worsen. A very hopeful criterion I want to explore is put forth
by one of the longtime prophetic voices in this arena, the prolific
global activist Lester Brown. His periodic studies on "The
State of the Earth" have been models of depth, clarity and
force, even as they catalogue the ways we are fouling our own
One of Lester Brown's recent books [Eco-Economy: Building and
Economy for the Earth, 2001] addressed how we might create better
ways to integrate our capitalist system with the eco-system. He
suggested a deceptively simple, yet literally Earth-shaking attitude
"The environment,' he explained, "is not part of
the economy," as many in the corporate world believe. It's
the other way around: "the economy is part of the environment
The economy must be designed so that it is compatible with the
ecosystem of which it is a part" [found in Timeline,
July/Aug. 2004, "Real Security; Taking Care of Our EcoSystems,"
a book review by Mac Lawrence].
In other words: put some "eco" into "economy."
So I believe we can and should judge any proposal at any level
of organization-from home owners to multi-nationals-by assessing
how well it fits in with whatever environment it affects. Lester
Brown and I recognize the demands of this condition, but really,
what are our options here?
His latest book is called "Plan B: Rescuing a Planet under
Stress and a Civilization in Trouble." It explains precisely
what is going wrong and what can be done to reverse the
combined disastrous effects of our population overload and near-sighted
mismanagement. Essentially, his message is that our global economy
must be redesigned, post haste. This is pretty prophetic stuff-and
it's optimistic. He describes how many of the necessary Plan
B solutions are already being demonstrated all over the
world; they just need greater advocacy and more widespread application.
(I noticed that he includes "geo-thermal as an under-used
"Plan A," in case you were wondering, is what we
are currently doing: "continuing to overconsume the Earth's
natural capital," which is clearly no longer a viable or
ethical option. How much more negative evidence do we need to
give up on this damaging approach, and intentionally move toward
a more feasible and more mature "Plan B"? So many other
issues are either subsumed or dwarfed by this one that it becomes
a pivotal yardstick.
And speaking of maturing, my third guide for how we might assess
prophetic claims is an even bigger picture item: evolution. This
may not be as visible in specific issues, but it provides important
perspective that helps us both judge what really matters and
find hope amid so much distress.
Consider the evolution of the Earth, a long story in which
our species is a significant but very recent player. Nonetheless,
the collective energy of our rapidly expanding presence has become
so huge that we have pushed right up against the limits of what
is realistically sustainable, especially as we fail to really
know ourselves as interconnected and interdependent with all planetary
With this dilemma in mind, futurist author Barbara Marx Hubbard
suggests that "Homo sapiens, in our current phase,
is a transitional species. We are not viable in this state of
separated consciousness with so much power. We will either evolve
or become extinct" [Hubbard, Conscious Evolution,
pgs. 15, 60].
The good news, she points out, is that "it is the nature
of nature to transform, especially when life hits a growth limit"
[Ibid., pg. 61], and she proposes that our next destination be
a new form of the species, called Homo universalis. But
to get there, we have to be able to learn deeply from our journey
so far. We must increasingly engage in "Conscious Evolution,"
which is the name of her very stimulating 1998 book, subtitled,
"Awakening the Power of Our Social Potential."
Not only is it "the nature of nature to transform,"
but another of the lessons of evolution is that "crises precede
transformation" [Ibid., pg. 48]. Looking ahead, for instance,
the painfully demonstrated threat of nuclear weapons will hopefully
force us to move beyond war. And perhaps the ugly deterioration
of the environment will force us to truly internalize the interdependence
of all life. Both of those developments, stirred by crises, would
count as transformations in my book.
The yardstick of conscious evolution, by which I think we can
measure prophetic claims, helps us realize that Nature historically
and continually creates from parts in the interest of wholeness,
which actually inspires great diversity as we all grow increasingly
complex. Nothing brought this home more deeply for me and many
others than what has been called our planetary baby picture, the
image of the earth as seen from space-such a powerful icon of
the wholeness of our planetary organism.
It's a baby picture because we are still maturing as
a species. Until recently, we were much like other animals, unaware
and uncaring that there might be limits to our growth. We were
conditioned to concentrate on two primary drives: self-preservation
and reproduction. Now, we are called, prophetically, to evolve
beyond being merely instinctual procreators, to become
conscious co-creators on our very finite planetary home
[Ibid., pg. 74].
Each leap we make in complexity expands our capacities, although
we are really just learning to how to balance the interwoven skills
of consciousness and freedom, and of course we make mistakes.
For instance, we know we are "free" to drop a nuclear
bomb on an "enemy" or preemptively start a war, but
more and more we realize how we ourselves can be hurt by fallout
from our own violent acts.
Those lessons can be painful ones and we must grow wiser from
them, not increasingly rigid and even more nearsighted. We have
to learn to manage the fears of our time and not let them stunt
our spiritual growth. We must deepen our awareness of what "right
relationship" really looks like. I'm listening for prophetic
voices that help me do all that.
Barbara Marx Hubbard, Lester Brown, and Cornel West, are three
contemporary prophetic voices that echo the "young and fearless
prophet of Galilee." They provide essential context for how
I might effectively wrestle with important matters-and survive.
This improves the odds that I can at least sleep better at night,
understanding where I fit in and what really matters. To my mind
and heart, reduction of the gap between rich and poor, creative
and realistic protection of our precious environment, and increasingly
conscious evolution matter a lot.
There have been and continue to be other courageous, "prophetic
women and men" among us, whose "words and deedschallenge
us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion,
and the transforming power of love." You can probably name
some of your mentors, and I encourage you to do so.
I also urge you to identify and articulate the abiding values,
worldview perspectives, and religious philosophies that guide
your choices, that provide you with meaning, hope and stamina.
They will help you distinguish between true and false prophets;
they will accompany you into voting booths; they will be passed
on to younger generations who are always watching and learning.
May your inimitable contributions be blessings to the communities
you help animate, such as this one, so that together we might
lift up "the neighborhood of all," and be about the
glorious business of "singing for our lives," aided
by #170 in your hymnbooks.
Composer Holly Near, a renowned folksinger and activist, who
spoke and sang inspirationally at last June's UUA General Assembly,
wrote this song in 1978, in response to the assassination of.
gay San Francisco City Council member Harvey Milk. A very upset
and volatile crowd had gathered at the steps of City Hall, so
she brilliantly crafted a powerful song that acknowledged their
anger but led them into loving action. Notice, as you sing, the
emotional movement from first to last verse...
In "singing for our lives" of oneness, by evolving
and learning how,
We "stand with humble courage for truth with hearts unbowed."
We're a justice-seeking people, gathered here for 50 years.
We're prophetic-angry and loving, rising well above our fears.
May your yardsticks be effective and your choices for the good.
May the stirrings of compassion sustain all our neighborhoods.
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