December 6, 2010
Reflecting on the weekend with Mark Morrison-Reed the word that comes readily to mind is moving. He stirred our emotions, challenged our thinking and encouraged us in our work.
The weekend, sponsored by our Social Justice Committee, began on Friday evening with a film on the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, produced forty years ago by Bill Buckley, long time friend of our congregation, with illustrations from Westport’s artist-in-residence, and social justice advocate, Tracy Sugarman.
Fannie Lou Hamer’s inspiring and passionate voice, whether breaking out in song or a soul-deep demand for justice for the disenfranchised, reached down into the deepest recesses where mere words are neither adequate nor necessary. Moving.
Following the film Bill, Tracy and Mark engaged one another in meaningful, searching conversation, engaging those of us who sat in rapt attention as each of them touched on parts of their personal story that connected with Fannie Lou Hamer’s inspiring life.
We reassembled on Saturday morning for a full-day exploration into what Mark titled Torn Between Fuzzy Aspirations and Hard Realities: The Perversity of Embracing Diversity.
One aspect of perversity is ‘that which arises from stubbornness’– to embrace the goal of racial diversity in our mostly-white, middle-class Unitarian Universalist congregations requires us to be stubborn: to be persistent and hopeful, in spite of the seemingly unattainable or un-realistic goal.
At the workshop Mark had us break into triads asking us to reflect on the question, “Why is diversity so difficult for us?” He had the groups report on the long lists of responses – lists which will be reported to us soon, to remind those of us who were there and to inform and engage those who weren’t able to attend, but are interested.
One of the aspects of Mark’s presentation and his personal sharing that we appreciated most was the lack of accusation or blame…the absence of any attempt to have us feel ashamed of ourselves, our congregation or our association of congregations. Mark knows full well that shaming simply doesn’t work, it doesn’t do any good; on the contrary, it is counter-productive, creating a climate of defensiveness that results in divisiveness.
Our nation’s long, history of racial prejudice and injustice is a shame in the sense that it is so unfortunate, so regrettable, so shameful. The word shame comes from an older word meaning to cover, or to cover up, literally or figuratively. In the absence of shaming we are more likely to remove the cover, to look at our own faults and failures and in consequence to be more willing to find ways to do better. We can do better, in spite of the hard realities.
Mark’s sermon on Sunday,which he titled ‘Dragged Kicking and Screaming into Heaven’ was a personal reflection on what he referred to as his conversion experience, moving him to embrace the traditional Universalist theological affirmation: ‘God is Love.’ We were moved. He left us wanting more, and, to be sure, there’s more to come.