Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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CELEBRATE DIVERSITY

Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 2/28/2010

at Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

This is really fun, big time!  I’ve been looking over our family to re-discover our diversity...

            Well, Nancy has a niece who is married to a Japanese... her sister’s
            daughter-in-law is Chinese...her own daughter-in-law has a sibling who
            is married to a Filipino...and another sibling has adopted two Filipino
            children -- and further among our family members we have one who majored
            in Russian, another who taught German, a mix of those who speak fluent
            Chinese, Japanese, Finnish, Filipino...two who are Lesbians...and most
            refreshing, we have one who is Jewish, several who are Buddhists, several
            more non-believers, and weirdest of all...we have a quorum of Baptists, and
            unwieldy Unitarians...and thus my bumper sticker: “Celebrate Diversity.”

I’m sure that your family make-ups are also wonderfully diverse...isn’t it fun?!

One of my most interesting and challenging roles in this celebrating diversity climate will take place in 6 weeks through the AIL program.  Art Rosen.. many of you have studied with Art or taken courses in the Bible and Judaism.  Art and I are going to exchange roles...he is going to peak from the perspective of a Christian, and I am going to represent the Jewish tradition.

Christians talk about being ‘born again’, and I understand what that means.  But I wanted you to know that I have been ‘born again’ as a Jew.  And, in the spirit of Joshua Rogg Liebman name...Moses Isaiah Weismann.

            Moses is a prototype for all the world’s leaders who have led their people
            out of slavery toward freedom yet who struggled mightily to refuse God’s
            persistent calling.

            Isaiah as the ‘Messianic’ prophet who foretold the days of coming glory
            and the future realization of the promised land for all people.

            Weismann, a name that represents a nod to my family heritage in Virginia,
           where I was named after my Grandad and the Governor..Henry A. Wise,
            thus Weismann.

So for this course, as we talk about Jewish-Christian relations, I get to hone my heritage and my faith..as a ‘born-again’ Jew, sustaining and interpreting and empowering my Christian hope.  Thus, I get to celebrate even more diversity.

Why is diversity valuable?  Why is it the sign of a hopeful future?  Why is it absolutely essential?  Three obvious responses:

          First...            celebrating diversity.. means destroying stereotypes and prejudice.

          Second...      it means exploring new collaborations and

          Third..            it means discovering community.

So, let’s see how we can begin to make it happen.

    • Destroying stereotypes and prejudice     Here are some stereotypes that I imagine some of us historically held on to...but now seem ridiculously silly, and always offensive:
    • A Black could never be an NFL Quarterback..
    • Jews are slick and maybe unscrupulous businessmen..
    • Italians eat only pasta and are connected to the Mafia..
    • Chinese are Communists or Taoists..
    • Germans are militarists and engineers..
    • Latinos are slow and lazy and consume only tacos..
    • Native Americans are tribal dancers, gamblers and/or alcoholics..
    • French are the world’s greatest lovers and wine connoisseurs..
    • Baptists are fundamentalists and preach ‘wives must be submissive to husbands’..
    • Unitarians never lash out, are so open as to be indifferent and without passion..

Have you got some more?

The problem with stereotypes, as we all know, is that there are always a few who represent the picture accurately...but stereotypes lead to pre-judgment, before the facts are in..and therefore are almost always wrong...especially for a group!

I remember living with and going to school in the 40’s with Jews in a suburb of St. Louis...and working and worshiping with ‘Negroes’ in Virginia in the 60’s...and discovering another side of Unitarians in the last 10 years.

Do you remember the first gay person or lesbian you met...often within your family, and what that did to your prejudices...and maybe how you are still struggling with your feelings.

The Scriptures of the New Testament do a terrific job of both highlighting the diversity of humankind and calling us to recognize its oneness...

Luke:            “God hath made of one blood all the nations of the earth...

Paul:            “There is neither Jew nor Greek, bound nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus...”

John:            “For God so loved the whole world...that he gave his only Son...”

The more we live and work and study and play and worship..with those of other races and religions and cultures and varied experience..the more our stereotypes disappear and our prejudices dissolve.

Vive la difference!

  • Now the second essential in diversity is...exploring new collaborations:  I was looking for banners and bumper stickers on Thursday on the Internet in New Hampshire and I came up with T-shirts produced by the UU Church of Manchester...and available most Sundays in their gift shop.  Their big seller and moneymaker for their budget, the ‘Rainbow Path T-Shirt’.

I like what it says about  possible areas of collaboration that they/we might develop with others in our communities.  In the Rainbow..

            Red         -            Respect all beings.
            Orange   -            Offer fair and kind treatment to all.
            Yellow     -            Year to learn.
            Green     -             Grow by exploring.
            Blue        -            Believe in our ideas and act on them.
            Purple     -            Insist on Peace, freedom and justice.
            Violet      -            Value our connection with nature.

and the shirts (M-L) are only $17.00.

One of the most dramatic and exciting collaborations recently has developed between mainline and evangelical-conservative churches...building a structure, raising money, and putting volunteers in the field...all in three areas: the homeless, those in poverty, and men, women and children with AIDS.  Hooray for the working together.

Another critical area of collaboration is prison reform:  On a cold January day in 1817, Elizabeth Fry, wife of a merchant and mother of ten children, made her first visit to female inmates at the infamous Newgate prison in London.  Elizabeth felt called to visit prisoners by her own prayer and by the prayerful encouragement of others, but her gentle background made her an unlikely candidate for this service.  The jailers were reluctant to admit her and explained that the women prisoners she wanted to visit often attacked and tore the clothes from those who entered their large common yard.  Elizabeth listened politely to the guards’ dire warnings, and then quietly asked to be admitted.

The dungeon was gloomy and rank, and the din of shrieks was almost deafening.  But when the crowd of rough women surged toward Elizabeth, the jailers were shocked to see that they did not attack her.  They recognized her plain Quaker dress and bonnet as religious garb, and when she calmly said that she had come as a mother, distressed for them and their children, their hearts were touched, and they refrained from violence.

Led by prayer, Elizabeth started the Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoner in Newgate, whereby women from outside the prison, from many religious traditions, volunteered to take turns comforting, feeding, clothing, and praying with the inmates.  They also taught the prisoners sewing, reading and employment skills.

Some are already collaborating in prison work in our area...and in the Food Closet...and in emergency responses through the Kearsarge Regional Ecumenical Ministries...and in issues of justice and peace, and the death penalty..and affordable housing.  None of these has to be a UU program or a Baptist program or a Democratic program...we only need to walk together and work together...beginning to buiild on our thrilling diversity...new collaboration.

1)            So we begin by destroying stereotypes and prejudices.

2)            We are then able to explore new effective collaborations.

3)            And finally, we can, through this process, discover community, maybe!           

In this narrative from WW II, Langdon Gilkey of the University of Chicago provides a frightening caricature of ‘community’.

“At one point in 1944 after eighteen months of imprisonment by the Japanese, with barely enough food to stay alive, a big Red Cross package came with fifty pounds of food, mostly luxury items like raisins, cakes, cheese, etc.   The two hundred Americans shared around and still managed to make some items last over several months.           

Then, in January, 1945, the Red Cross sent 1,550 packages, more than enough for 1,400 people who were prisoners...all were elated for everyone knew he would get at least one package.  A notice was posted saing that packages would be distributed at ten o’clock the next morning; that night like all Christmas eves rollin into one:  no one could sleep, counted the hours, long before ten o’clock, alllined up ready to receive packages...but then observed one of the Japanese guards posting another notice: “Due to protests by the American community, parcels will not be distributed as announced.”  This precipitated a near riot.

After a little time, it was discovered that seven young Americans had demanded that all parcels be given to Americans since they were from the American Red Cross...that would mean 387 pounds per american, none fo the rest of the 1,250 persons.

Since the Japanese had no instructions for situations like this, tey sent to Tokyo for guidance, 10 days.

Langdon Gilkey said that he and his friends could not beieve that these seven Americans represented the 200 Americans, so planned to call a meeting to discuss the matter but before the did, they decided to sample public opinion.  Dr. Gilkey interviewed 3 persons, first one a small gusinessman from Chicago; “What is your feeling about the packages?”

            “Well, I think that as an American these packages belong to me, and I’m
            going to get my fair share; these others:  their governments ought to take
            care of them...no foreigner is giong to get what’s coming to me.”

Next interviewed was an American lawyer:

            “It’s not the food, but there’s a legal principle involved: this is American
            property and it must be respected as such; we have an obligation to see
            a faithful distribution for American donors”.

The third interview was a kindly old American missionary:

            “I see things from a moral point of view; no virtue in being forced to share;
            I believe the Americans should be given all these packages with each left to
            distribute for himself to others as he sees fit; how many do you  think he should
            share?  Well, at least two out of seven; that would have meant 287 pounds to
            every American and 16 pounds to every non-American.”

When many other interviews produced similar responses, they decided not to hold the meeting at all.

When ten days were up, word came back from the Japanese government: “Give every American person 1 package, send theh extras back to the United States.”  and thus the problem was resolved!

The frightening aspect of this caricature is that given the same kind of setting..many of us might have had the same response as the Americans.

            Two years in a diverse prison camp didn’t make community.
            Twenty years as members of a UU church doesn’t make community.
            Ten years as husband and wife and children doesn’t make community.

“Celebrating Diversity” doesn’t automatically make community.  We have to struggle like mad...we love to engage relentlessly...we have to work like crazy fllled up with compassion!  And maybe, maybe we will forge community.

That’s our challenge!

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