Dear Members and Friends,
Thank you for the gracious and positive response to this past Sunday’s worship service. It was the first time I participated remotely with a gathered congregation. I loved being able to see the gathered congregation (thank you Tech Team)! Here in Oak Park, I had my sermon notes up alongside the ZOOM picture! Many of you have asked specifically about the readings from Audre Lorde and David Whyte. I share them below.
During the sermon, I mentioned that I will attend the mid-day prayer service at the Islamic Community Center of Bridgeport on Friday at 1:00 PM. When I reached out to them, their response was warm and gracious. They welcome visitors on Fridays at their 1:00 PM prayer service and are grateful for people of neighboring faiths to show their support, especially during this horrific time in the middle east with war claiming so many civilian lives.
Some of you have asked about FORA, the organization I mentioned. It was founded by my friends Michael and Kathleen O’Connor. FORA stands for Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America. They provide high dosage tutoring to refugee children who have had many years of their education taken away from them while living in refugee camps. Most of the refugees they take never learned to read or write. The vast majority of their students are Muslim and just over half, Rohingya, with the others coming from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Iran, Bhutan.
FORA evolved out of a ministry at Unity Temple. During the Syrian refugee crisis, Michael and Kathleen suggested that the congregation might host a family. A local refugee resettlement organization said that we needed to raise $8,000 for their housing for a year, furnish their flat, and be available to accompany the family through at least their first year—and this would be at least 50 minutes away in northern Chicago! We did so. Instead of a Syrian family, we received a Rohingya family. It was the first time I learned about the Rohingya. The United Nations identified the Rohingya in 2019 as the most persecuted people on the planet. They are a Muslim minority in the predominantly Muslim nation of Myanmar (formerly Burma). The Rohingya aren’t allowed to go to school or work, and thus the men have less than a 10% literacy rate. Genocide has sent the Rohingya into Malaysia and Bangladesh. The refuge camp, Cox’s Bazaar, on the Bangladesh border is the largest in the world with over 800,000 Rohingya, the vast majority of them illiterate.
When we received three more Rohingya families and a family from the Ivory Coast, it became clear that what these families needed more than anything was to learn how to read and write English, but they had never learned how to read or write in any of the languages they speak. FORA has had many success stories. During the pandemic, they recruited over 200 online tutors from all over the country. They have many college students doing internships and a number of younger tutors—my family, including my kids, spends at least two weeks of our summers tutoring.
One child from Afghanistan managed to graduate from high school and get a full ride scholarship to the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana five years after arriving to Chicago without being able to speak a word of English, read, or write. She grew up in refugee camps in Iran and Turkey. Now this extraordinary girl wants to learn how to advocate on behalf of other refugees. I have tutored this girl’s younger brother and sister. They have similar potential! If you want to learn more about FORA, they are at www.refugeefora.org.
I look forward to seeing you at worship this Sunday. I will be addressing my current plan for Transitional Ministry following the service. I hope you can attend.
From Audre Lorde in Sister Outsider and The Cancer Journals:
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
“What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.”
From David Whyte in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words:
ANGER is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt. Stripped of physical imprisonment and violent reaction, anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for. What we usually call anger is only what is left of its essence when we are overwhelmed by its accompanying vulnerability, when it reaches the lost surface of our mind or our body’s incapacity to hold it, or when it touches the limits of our understanding. What we name as anger is actually only the incoherent physical incapacity to sustain this deep form of care in our outer daily life; the unwillingness to be large enough and generous enough to hold what we love helplessly in our bodies or our mind with the clarity and breadth of our whole being.
What we have named as anger on the surface is the violent outer response to our own inner powerlessness, a powerlessness connected to such a profound sense of rawness and care that it can find no proper outer body or identity or voice, or way of life to hold it. What we call anger is often simply the unwillingness to live the full measure of our fears or of our not knowing, in the face of our love for a wife, in the depth of our caring for a son, in our wanting the best, in the face of simply being alive and loving those with whom we live.
Our anger breaks to the surface most often through our feeling there is something profoundly wrong with this powerlessness and vulnerability… Anger in its pure state is the measure of the way we are implicated in the world and made vulnerable through love in all its specifics. Anger truly felt at its center is the essential living flame of being fully alive and fully here; it is a quality to be followed to its source, to be prized, to be tended, and an invitation to finding a way to bring that source fully into the world through making the mind clearer and more generous, the heart more compassionate and the body larger and strong enough to hold it. What we call anger on the surface only serves to define its true underlying quality by being a complete but absolute mirror-opposite of its true internal essence.