Memorial Day

Rev. Meredith Garmon

It is the Memorial Day weekend. So let us remember.

I know that many of us are conflicted about glorifying war, violence, and nationalism.

Many of us are cognizant that courage and heroism and sacrifice are found in all vocations. And that, for example, teachers, nurses, social workers, and employees of nonprofits serve and protect our nation’s thriving as much as soldiers do.

I know that many of us believe that US war-fighting has had less to do with preserving freedom than with preserving corporate profits, and that anyone volunteering for armed service must know that, or should. Whatever your beliefs about that, let us remember our fallen warriors.

Let us remember our loss -- the young lives, jewels of their families and their communities, that were taken from us. Let us remember, and discern what meaning we can from of our loss, for, as Archibald MacLeish says:
The young dead soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:
who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night
and when the clock counts.
They say: We were young. We have died.
Remember us.
They say: We have done what we could
but until it is finished it is not done.
They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished
no one can know what our lives gave.
They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours,
they will mean what you make them.
They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,
it is you who must say this.
We leave you our deaths.
Give them their meaning.
We were young, they say.
We have died; remember us.
Remembering, then, let us re-commit to building and strengthening institutions of peace, that none of our children’s children will be remembered by the generations following them for having died in war.


Privileges of Being an American Civilian: The Systemic Issues of American Veterans and Wars

Emily DeTar, Traces of Privilege, 6
Flag, Board, Memory, Pride, Retro, SignsAs I reflect on this upcoming Memorial Day, I've been thinking about what it means for me to be an American civilian.  When people talk about privileges of being American, they start with our freedoms. It is very important to notice the privileges of democracy, civil liberties, and certain freedoms by being an American. However, it's also important to note systemic and cultural privileges of being a civilian in our American culture.

I have systemic privileges because I am an American civilian.

As Americans we have a lot of honor and pride for our veterans, especially around Memorial Day we give incredible respect and honor to our servicemen and service women in the military. We have ceremonies, and we salute them in the streets. But while we have a cultural sense of honor around our veterans,  Veterans  do not get treated systemically with the same respect or regard that American civilians do. 

Homeless Man, Homeless, AdviceThere are around 21.8 million veterans in the U.S. One any given night nationwide, around 47,725 veterans are homeless. While financial aid for education is a benefit of voluntarily joining military service, veterans overall have a hard time of applying for civilian jobs, due to lack of work experience, education, or training. While many veterans gain support and benefits from the government, their are multiple cases of mistakes with forms and information, and the support never seems to reach enough veterans or be enough those they help.

The systemic issues become clearer when we look at health needs. A significant number of Veterans from every conflict suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, between 11 to 30 percent per conflict. This affects the ability to re-accumulate to civilian life. If left untreated, veterans with PTSD have an increased likelihood of addiction or suicide. Around 2013, the statistic around that around 22 veterans committed suicide per day. These are only mental health issues, there are of course several physical disabilities and diseases that are caused by active duty. The V.A. has health insurance, hospitals, and care for all veterans. But recent news shows how unreliable VA care is. The care often takes months or years, is often filled with frustrating hurdles, and routinely filling with clerical mistakes. Several veterans die just waiting for treatment, especially if the VA health benefits are the only ones they can receive.

As a civilian and not a veteran, I have a more likely chance of seeing medical attention as soon as I need it, getting a job and requisite training, and much less likely to encounter situations that cause PTSD. There are plenty of civilians that have any or all three situations, but it is a less likely chance than those who have served in the military.

Secondly, I earn privileges by being an American civilian, then a civilian anywhere else in the world. I have felt like my home town or places of residence were  put in the position of war. Since 1945, there have been no conflicts on American soil or the soil of American commonwealth nations. While we continue to be in worldwide war, our nation and it's nation states have not had direct conflict in over fifty years.

Children Of War, Hungry, Sadness, Waiting LineThere has never been a drone aimed for my town, or village, or home. I have never had to worry if soldiers would barge in to take refuge or seize my property. I have never had to imagine bombs going off day and night. I have never had to have bomb drill for an active war. There are countries  still in direct combat with our nation, that have civilians that face this on a daily basis. I have never been a refugee. While we joke about running away to Canada if a particular president is elected, we have never been caught in the middle of a civil or world wide war that forces us to be displaced, continuously harmed, and without a home.

Being an American civilian, I have much to be thankful for. I keep in mind the sacrifices that service men and women worldwide make on a regular basis.The people in our military are the ones doing noble work. But what is our nation doing with the noble work they give? I hear the phrase they are "protecting us", but I wonder what privileges of mine are they protecting and why? There is no threat of direct warfare, at least not in the ways that so many other countries face threats. Why are we still endangering and harming the lives of civilians and service men and women across the world? 

I think it's important to ask why as we face Memorial Day, so that the sacrifices given by our veterans aren't just accepted as a duty, but given the thoughtful respect and meaning those actions deserve. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, "it is for us the living to rededicate to the work they have so nobly advanced". What work are we as a nation advancing world wide in our military actions through the dedication and service of our military and veterans? Is it noble? And if not, how do we make it noble? Our veterans and service personnel deserve nothing less than our nation's careful and noble discernment.

This is part 6 of an ongoing series, "Traces of Privilege," which explores privileges I possess, and what my faith as a Unitarian Universalist calls me to do about them.
See also
Traces of Privilege, 1: The UU Privileges and Purposes
Traces of Privilege, 2: Unitarian Universalism Has Class -- Meaning Economic Privilege
Traces of Privilege, 3: A Memory of Privilege and The Importance of Personhood
Traces of Privlege, 4:  The Privlege of Working for Black Lives Matter
Traces of Privlege, 5: The Privlege of Being a White Woman. 


Teaching and Learning (A Meditation for the End of the School Year)

Rev. Michael Tino
As we near the end of the school year, I offer this meditation written to celebrate the learning community that is the congregation.
We are all teachers. We are all learners.

We are, every one of us, in the process of becoming. None of us is done. None of us is perfect. None of us is alone on this journey.

We are all teachers. We are all learners.

We learn from one another. We understand that the connections we make here in this community teach every one of us something of how to be better people.

We are all teachers. We are all learners.

We learn from the boldness of others. From the inspiring figures of our history. From the prophetic voices in our midst. From those willing and able to meet injustice and evil with resistance.

We are all teachers. We are all learners.

We learn from the vulnerability of others. From those who hurt, those who cry, those who admit their brokenness. From those who dare ask that a new way be made that makes room for them at the table.

We are all teachers. We are all learners.

We learn from the experience in our midst. From elders who have reflected on their lives. From youth who claim their own power.

We are all teachers. We are all learners.

We learn from those who meet the world as if it were new and fresh in each moment. From those who wonder at the unfolding of nature. From those who ask questions.

We are all teachers. We are all learners. And we find blessings in our religious communities, where this can always be so.


The Privileges of Being a White Woman

Emily DeTar, Traces of Privilege, 5

As a woman, it can be hard for me to see what privileges I earn in society. Unlike what Donald Trump argues, there’s no magical “woman card” that earns me points in our political system. However, there is a particular benefit and series of privileges I earn because I am a white woman. I see that time and time again I am given more compassion or understanding because of the particular combination of being white and being a woman.

One conversation I had with my fiancée highlighted a main privilege of being a white woman. 
She once told me that she was afraid that anytime she was assertive or even frustrated, people would assume she was an angry black woman and therefore bad for me. She knows our conflict style, and knows that in conflicts large and small I tend to grow quiet and she tends to be assertive.

I told her that being quiet and passive was how I was taught to be conflict avoidant. As I thought about it further, I admitted to her that being quiet usually worked in my favor as a white woman, because it meant I appeared “innocent” and didn’t have to face accountability. We both admitted this was bad for our relationship and could do real damage. I now actively work against my tendency towards conflict avoidance and commit to being responsible for my actions.

The fact that I could, by being demure and passive, be given the “benefit of the doubt” and portray myself as innocent across situations, is specifically a privilege I carry as a white woman.
Throughout my life being apologetic, dismissive, and avoidant has always worked to my favor, because it fits the stereotypes of being a demure white woman. Yet, when my fiancée simply states things in her usual voice, she fears people think she is angry or mean because she is black woman. Just for asserting themselves or standing up for their needs, black women get clumped into a series of diminutive stereotypes that cast them as more violent, angry, or sassy, while white women are usually given “the benefit of the doubt”.

If you think that these stereotypes are simply cast in films or tv shows, look to the incarceration of Sandra Bland. A black woman, who was simply demanding why she was pulled over and stating her rights as a citizen, was treated like a violent threat and body slammed to the ground. Would that have happened if Sandra was white? Even if the scenario had it so that the white woman was rather assertive, I do not believe any arrest would have been made.

It is hard to unpack all of this, because sexism is a huge factor. Sexism teaches women many ways of trying to survive a male dominated society. In my life, it has taught me overly apologizing, acting over polite, and even being very smiley and upbeat will usually please people enough to have my way without ruffling feathers. Others, have learnt the need to be more assertive just to be heard, and that even if people call you “bossy”, at least you stood up for yourself and demanded something. There are several ways of dealing with sexism, and they all look different across races, cultures, and orientations.  

No matter what kind of sexism I may deal with, it doesn’t automatically erase the benefits I receive. The benefits I earn in being seen as more compassionate, sympathetic, or polite because I am white and a woman, are still privileges I carry in this society even if they are shaped by sexism. If I wanted to, I could sweet talk any police officer out of giving me a speeding ticket. If I wanted to I can plead with professor to give me one last extension, and they would probably say yes. If I wanted to, I could walk into any store and ask for help in an emergency, because I appear “safe” and “trustworthy”.  No women of color are given the “benefit of the doubt”. Instead, they are treated as threats, as untrustworthy, as angry, or as unruly.  

This is why intersectionality matters when marching and fighting for Black Lives Matters
There are particular factors of sexism and racism at play that diminish the lives of black women and other women of color that need to be fought against. The particular behaviors of my upbringing as a white woman, to try and avoid responsibility or accountability and avoid problems all together, have to outright be stopped. There is no ability to move forward in the work of racial justice, without honest and authentic accountability and ownership. 

As we continue to work for a more just world, may we dare to get specific and to look at all the threads of how all of our identities play into systemic systems of privilege and oppression. May this help us fight for a world that celebrates everyone in the fullness of who they are. 

This is part 5 of an ongoing series, "Traces of Privilege," which explores privileges I possess, and what my faith as a Unitarian Universalist calls me to do about them.
See also
Traces of Privilege, 1: The UU Privileges and Purposes
Traces of Privilege, 2: Unitarian Universalism Has Class -- Meaning Economic Privilege
Traces of Privilege, 3: A Memory of Privilege and The Importance of Personhood
Traces of Privlege, 4:  The Privlege of Working for Black Lives Matter



Rev. Meredith Garmon
“The bell is full of wind though it does not ring. The bird is full of flight though it is still. The sky is full of clouds though it is alone. The word is full of voice though no one speaks it. Everything is full of fleeing though there are no roads. Everything is fleeing toward its presence.” (Roberto Juarroz, SLT #487)
Dear Eternity that holds all things,

All things are what they will become, and what they become after that. All time is manifested right in this moment. As it was in the beginning, ever was and ever shall be, world without end, is pushing on our awareness, rushing to be present to us.

All the joy and love, all the kindness and care, all the gentleness and wise grace that ever was or ever will be is right here with us.

All the pain and loss, all the anger and violence, all the bereavement and grief that ever was or ever will be is right here with us.

Breath in.

Breath out.

We pray in order to affirm our intention to open our hearts to all of what is here, which is everywhere, which is everywhen.


And everywhere.

And everywhen.

Dear eternity, in your presence, we trust. Worry and anxiety fall away. Our concepts of how things should be fall away.

Pure readiness grows in us -- readiness to laugh, delight in beauty, of each other’s eyes and faces, and of our verdant world -- readiness to cry, to move toward hurt, wherever we find it, and bring our healing and compassionate presence.

Readiness to breathe in, breathe out -- each time for all time -- and step into a life of continuous, boundless love.


The Privilege of Working for Black Lives Matter

Emily DeTar, Traces of Privilege, 4

It was a privilege to attend the UUMA and LREDA chapter Professional Days this past Thu-Fri May 5-6. Not only was it a privilege in the sense of it being a true gift, and a training that I believe truly added to my professional and ministerial formation, it was a privilege in the fact that I had the means and ability to attend this gathering.

Colleagues from across the Metro New York district created a space to be open, experiment, and reflect on racial justice and privilege. We nuanced congregational relationships to Black Lives Matter, and discussed case studies of moments that grew complicated. We spoke with one another about how to center the racial justice work we do on the experiences of members of color, while not trying to tokenize people. Finally, we got right into the work, talking about going Beyond the Banner, and all the ways we can participate.

This was true soul work. People dedicated to justice, all sharing in the task of digging deeper. Therefore, the benefit and pleasure of the gathering were truly a privilege.

However, I was also privileged to be able to attend, because I had jobs that gave me professional expenses. For many in the center of activism, and usually those most affected, such as poor working class Black and Latino families, they do not have the positions or means to get them to organized training or to be equipped and given access to resources that they might truly need. For example, all government offices, including welfare and benefits offices are open during work hours, so all poor families have to take off work and possibly risk their jobs just to get the benefits they desperately need. Those at the center of their own activist work can’t attend large organizational meetings during the day. Even within our chapter meeting, we recognized that many chaplains and community ministers didn’t have the time or resources to attend our training. Therefore, it was a privilege of my work and the jobs I hold that I was able to.

This is why professional expenses matter in the work of ministry and activism.  These expenses make possible the ability for ministers to train even better, develop professionally, and truly move our congregations toward justice. It is my hope that while I may use the privilege of the training I have received, to fight for the racial injustice that makes this training so necessary.

Therefore, I would like to share with you a few key takeaways from my training:

Empowerment vs tokenism. We talk about how easily it is to assume that visitors of color want to jump into diversity or leadership roles, and how alienating it can be to people of color in our communities. Instead, we focused on ways we can create inviting spaces for our members of color to feel empowered to join leadership if they wish.

Beyond the Banner. While it is great that congregations are hoisting banners, and while they can create fierce conversations, they are not enough to sustain true engagement and activism. If we are to commit to real justice work, we must go “Beyond the Banner”, and find ways we can engage with racial justice across our congregation.

There is no one right way to do racial justice.  People tend to think of activism as only being protest movements. However, so much more is needed then simply marching. During a protest, there needs to be medical assistance to protesters, jail assistance to those arrested, safe houses for protesters, and money organized to bail protesters out. When people aren’t protesting, there are legal actions, canvasing, and court cases that are being addressed. There are organizing meetings for protests and political actions, food outreach to those who are in need, people who help others access healthcare and government assistance, and people who help create art and awareness. There are limitless ways to engage.

There are limitless resources you can offer.  Think about the specific resources that you can give. As unappealing as it may sound, the most effective gift you can give for change is money. Allocating money to help bail out wrongfully imprisoned persons or to help provide healthy water to those in Flint Michigan and to organizations who need it is incredibly powerful.  More than money, think about your congregation’s resources and skills. Do you have someone who is willing to donate their musical talents for a fundraising concert? Do you have a building that you’d be willing to rent out to racial justice organization for free? What about a photocopier you can let them use? There is so much we can give, if we truly assess what we have.

Follower-ship. When it comes to racial justice, we may want to barge right in and get some stuff done. But usually when institutions try to just do something around racial justice, we overshadow, interrupt, or even undo the work that racial justice movements and Black Lives Matter activists have been working on for years. Therefore, when it comes to racial justice, it’s incredibly important to ask organizations, leaders, and communities already doing the work what we can do. Most of the time people might say, “We don’t want your help right now.” That’s okay. They are not being rude by not accepting help, and we are doing something right by listening and not doing anything. By keeping in communication and simply being present to the organizations we support, we are showing our solidarity. And when our help is needed we will be all that more effective and purposeful. Being a good follower matters in the work for racial justice.

So much more came out of this conversation. I greatly look forward to the ways our fellow ministers and religious educators across Metro New York will engage in Black Lives Matter in the unfolding year. May we all learn from one another, and celebrate the privilege we have of being able to do this work in our UU communities together. 

* * *
This is part 4 of an ongoing series, "Traces of Privilege," which explores privileges I possess, and what my faith as a Unitarian Universalist calls me to do about them.
See also
Traces of Privilege, 1: The UU Privileges and Purposes
Traces of Privilege, 2: Unitarian Universalism Has Class -- Meaning Economic Privilege
Traces of Privilege, 3: A Memory of Privilege and The Importance of Personhood



Rev. Meredith Garmon

"Marvelous Truth, confront us at every turn, in every guise, iron ball, egg, dark horse, shadow, cloud of breath on the air,
Dwell in our crowded hearts, our steaming bathrooms, kitchens full of things to be done, the ordinary streets.
Thrust close your smile that we know you, terrible joy."
(Denise Levertov, SLT #500)
Dear Truth, marvelous and terrible,

We ask, giving words to our longing, that you be with us, and, what is more, that we be with you. We have opinions, viewpoints, strategies and approaches born of experience. We cannot help but have opinions, and we need them, but we pray to remember that they are never the whole truth. They are born of our particular experience, and do not hold universally. There is an element of poetry in them. At their best, our opinions are creative, insightful, helpful. But there are always infinite possible alternative poems, equally or more creative, equally or more helpful, equally or more insightful.

Dear Truth, let us not hide from the terrible. Let us open and receive all the pain, all the loss, all the grief, all the tears. Let us be present, examining our own impulse to be in denial, to push out of mind. Love and compassion are our greatest joy, our fullest living and being, and love and compassion require this attention.

May we have eyes to see the beauty amidst the pain, and hands that work to ease the suffering.

We give thanks for the many organizations and groups helping those displaced in almost every corner of your world. We remember the entire 60,000 population of the city of Fort McMurray, Canada, forced to evacuate due to wildfires. We remember also the refugees on Nauru in Micronesia and Papua New Guinea, where hundreds of people, including children, have lived for months or even years in Australian off-shore detention centers. We give thanks that United Kingdom Prime Minister has reversed his decision and is to allow unaccompanied Syrian children, already in Europe, to come to live in the UK. We give thanks too for those helping highlight and provide education for children in refugee camps. Girls are far more likely than boys to be left out of education. We pray for all children to be given the chance of education, and get the tools to find a way out of their poverty and insecurity. We give thanks for those giving them love, giving them hope, giving them truth.

May Truth bless each person, group, and organization caring for and protecting others: teachers, social workers, care-givers, parents, families, and friends: may they be channels of love, grace, and liberating truth – and may we be among them.