Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My General Assembly Testimony

Introduction: A couple of days before I was to arrived in Charlotte for some ministerial training, I received a special “late request” from Annette Marquis, our district executive. She and other district executives in the Southland Region were scheduled to do a program on Friday afternoon entitled, “Turn the World Around -- the South can Lead Us!” And she said that since they need to “liven it up some” they were asking a few others to share a song or story or something. I told her I would share my “testimony” – with a humorous bend to it. If you came to my sermon on laughter, you’ll recognize some of this.

I was born in Statesboro, Georgia in 1950. (Go ahead – do the math.) And like many of you – I was born with a questioning mind. Now that could sometimes be problematic for a girl back then in the South – but question I did. I remember when I was 5 or 6, standing in the line at the Dairy Queen with my dad, waiting to get a cone. I asked (in the language of the day),“Daddy, why are all of the white people in our line and all of the colored people in the other line?”

Daddy explained it this way, “Well, Jane – we are white – so we stand in this line to get vanilla ice cream. And the colored folks stand in the other line to get chocolate ice cream.” Of course, I immediately told him that I wanted chocolate. And he said, “No, you are white, so you get vanilla. That’s just the way it is and you have to accept it." Well, I didn’t realize that vanilla was the only flavor served at Dairy Queen. (That was even in the days before dipped cones.) But his unusual answer stuck with me. And it has served as a metaphor for what happened in my life. Indeed, I TRIED to just accept some things that didn’t make sense to me – because that was “the way it is.”

But I still couldn’t help questioning some things. When I was 11 0r 12, I became dissatisfied with the responses to my questions given by my Baptist Sunday School teachers. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and read the whole Bible for myself. (Okay – I skimmed over the “begats.”) And a lot of what I had been taught about the Bible just didn’t jive with what all I was reading. Plus – while the Bible has some really good stories – there’s some strange stuff in there! And that idea of liberal interpretation and biblical authority just didn’t fit into my heretical brain.

However, I closeted my doubts and disbeliefs enough to get along okay then -- and later—when in my 20’s and 30’s—enough so I wasn’t too far out of line as a deacon’s wife. But I kept reading (all kinds of materials) and had this alternative religious life that was going on in the “holy of holies” in our home –behind the locked bathroom door. There I kept my contraband reading materials in that most sacred of places – hidden in the drawer under the feminine sanitary supplies. I did not hear about Unitarian Universalism till I was in my 40’s – and I heard about you folks from a TV program on a cable channel and thought, “WOW – there are others out there!” So I ordered some UU materials –hoping they would come in a plain brown wrapper. In any case, I kept those with my other contraband reading materials, in the holy of holies – glad to have that study time alone, but longing to be with others.

Long story short though --- through a series of fortunate events in my late 40’s; I finally had the freedom to be me. And I became a Unitarian Universalist!! Hallelujah!

Of course, some of my relatives were worried about me – and one asked, "But are UU's saved? To which I responded, "We are not LOST - we're exploring." Of course, that’s a UU joke – and I’ve found that there can be a lot of truth found in these jokes. And in fact, they may be a good way of evangelizing .

We could put an ad in the paper to help folks find out if they are UUs…kind of like the guy – Jeff Foxworthy, who helped folks understand whether or not they were red-necks. For example,
If you are unsure about the gender of God,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If you begin your prayers with "To whom it may concern,"
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If you gave up pot in the 70's because no one could guarantee it was organic,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If your teens rebel by becoming more conservative,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If you get Newt Gingrich confused with the Grinch who Stole Christmas,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If you've ever been in an argument
over whether or not breast milk is vegan,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
AND -If your children think the holy trinity is "Reduce, reuse, and recycle."
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.

Yes, our children get a different view of things than those in more conservative religions. An older neighbor, trying to be helpful, said to a little UU girl, "I know you're sad, but right now your kitty cat is with Jesus."

To which the child replied, "What would Jesus want with a dead cat?"

Well, I don’t know what Jesus might want with a dead cat – but I do know that my friend Jesus said that we should not hide our lights under a bush, we should let them shine.

And for UUs in the South – (and you Yankees too) – that means we need to come on out – and reach out to others who are perhaps hiding behind locked bathroom doors – they are there folks – and invite them into our circle of loving light – and together we will SHINE!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day / Juneteenth

Today, instead of one 15 to 20 minute sermon – I have two shorter selections for you. The first is a Father’s Day Reflection entitled, “JG Perfect.”

JG Perfect

I remember well “report card days” when I was in elementary school. My brother Johnny and I would bring our report cards home and come through the front door at our house on Woodrow Avenue – and there my daddy would be in his recliner --- and he would raise up in it and say, “Let me see them.” And my heart would beat faster – regardless of what my report card had on it. My dad, J.G. Altman, was a large man – and though I only got one whippin’ from him my entire life, I always had a kind of fear of him – perhaps a respectful fear – but a fear nonetheless.

I thought it strange that daddy would always be at HOME on the day we got our report cards…. Then eventually I realized that we always got our report cards on Wednesdays! And back then, in Statesboro – all the businesses closed at NOON on Wednesdays. And so did my dad’s car dealership. And unlike many of the other businessmen who would head to the golf course or the river fishing – my dad would usually head home for that big recliner.

We would hold out our report cards in those brown folders and he would look them over. I knew before he looked that even if I had a good report card, it would not be quite good enough. It would not be “JG Perfect.” Usually he would nod his head and tell me that I “done good” – before he would ask why I had not done even better. I was not necessarily a straight A student in those days (I didn’t develop that need for perfection till I was in graduate school). But even the few times back then that I brought home straight A’s, he would ask if I couldn’t do better and make them A +’s. Now it’s interesting that my dad would have such high expectations of us when he himself was not a good student. (I didn’t find that out till later on though.)

It wasn’t just academics – daddy expected a lot in other areas. He would show us how to do something, like polish a car – and he would show us in just one small spot and make it really shine, then say, now you should make the whole car look like that. My brother caught the brunt of those expectancies because I did most of my work in my Mama’s beauty shop.

My brother does a lot of work for my mom now – and helps me with repairs too, and when he finishes something, he usually says, “Well, it’s not “JG Perfect,” but I think it will do.

As you may know, my dad died in 2006 – the morning after this congregation ordained me and installed me as your minister. So it’s been almost five years. And I still sometimes find myself trying to please my daddy. What is that about?

I think I saw my daddy as bigger than life. And I knew that if I could please him, then I had really accomplished something. So I did try, and I still do. I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m going to accept that as a gift from my dad. I knew that he cared about me, and I wanted to please him. And isn’t that the way it is with so many of our relationships. If we care for someone and know that they care about us, then we want to please them. I realize this can be carried to extremes – and I know that sometimes I go a little overboard with my work, but I try to catch myself.

My dad had a funny saying that he used sometimes when he would do something for me – like make a home repair. He would do an excellent job – but then he would say, “Well, it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough – for who it’s for.” And we’d laugh.

I miss my dad – but not a lot, because he is everywhere around me. Reminders of him are all over the place. I look at the pond, and remember him on his bulldozer enlarging it when I was a child. And I look over at the beautiful little cabin that he built with such care and can see his work everywhere –including the dock he built. He engineered everything so that when the water level was high, it would run-off into a well on the other side of the pond just as it neared the top of that concrete dock – so that the dock would never be flooded. It is perfect – JG Perfect.

He also helped to make me. Half of my genes came from him – and he was a major influence for much of my life. I am not JG Perfect. But then I know now – neither was JG.

As I got older – and as my dad got older, I realized that he was certainly was not perfect. But that’s okay. He was good enough – for who he was for.

May we all be so!


Today is not only Father’s Day – it’s Juneteenth!

I got much of this information that I’m going to share from the website nationaljuneteenth.com which encourages the recognition of this holiday.
According to that site:
“Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance….
“One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas on June 19th, 1865, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:
‘The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.’
“The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation….
“The celebration of June 19th was coined "Juneteenth" and grew with more participation from the descendants of these freed folks. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date….
“Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to that fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing.”

Now there are 39 states that recognize and honor this celebration. And guess what? Georgia became the 37th state to do so this past February. As you folks may know, there have been several attempts in the past to get Georgia to apologize or express regrets for slavery, but it hasn’t happened. So this resolution may be as close to an apology as we will see.

I looked it up on the General Assembly website. It includes some of the history I’ve already shared with you and makes this declaration:

“WHEREAS, Americans of all colors, creeds, cultures, religions, and countries of origin share in a common love of and respect for freedom, as well as the determination to protect their right to freedom through the democratic institutions by which the tenets of freedom are guaranteed and protected; and

“WHEREAS, it is only fitting and proper that the State of Georgia appropriately recognize this glorious event marking the end of slavery and the beginning of freedom for so many who had wrongfully suffered in this state and nation.

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE that the members of this body hereby recognize “Juneteenth Celebration Day” in remembrance of those who received the exultant news of their freedom and as a memorial to all those who suffered from the cruelties of slavery, and encourage ceremonies, celebrations, and other activities to be held in their honor.”

This year – June 19th happens to fall on a Sunday, so I thought we should lift up this holiday here in our UU Fellowship. Not because Georgia has recognized it this year – (I didn’t even know this till I was writing this reflection), but because the celebration connects so deeply with our UU principles – specifically:
#1 – The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
#2 – Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
#5 – The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; and
#6 – The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

Oh, Oh, Oh – May it be so!

A Father's Day Reading

Introduction: Some of our fathers have passed away – and some are with us still. We lift them all up today. This reading was composed from emails from UUFS members and friends in response to a request that they send words or phrases describing their fathers.

Today, we remember and we honor
Papa, Daddy, our old man,
Dad, Father, leader of the band?

Whatever the name, we remember and honor these men!
And we, the members and friends of this fellowship,
Recall them all!

The father that was the good teacher; the one that was informative;

The daddy remembered with loving gratitude for the gentle lesson he taught and lived, that no matter what sadness, trial, or even tragedy comes in life, “This too, shall pass.’

That very exacting father!
The father with high expectations for his children – who kept us safe, and loved us unconditionally!

The dad that was honest and dependable – a man of integrity!
The dad that kept dreams safe, however silly or extravagant they might have been, as if he'd made a glass box to protect a precious flower that we could examine and talk about any time we liked.

The father who was generous,
And the one who was leading,
And the one who exhibited great personal courage and persistance as his illness progressed and never lost his love for the land.

The father that never said “I love you” and who did not give a lot of hugs – but shared through his deeds.

The father who a was risk-taker, but who often and emphatically exhorted us to not take any unnecessary risks.

The man with the plan – and our biggest fan.
Papa, Dad, the old man!
His love remains with us – Come what may!
So Dearest Daddy, we honor you today!

I invite you now to lift up the names of those special men in your lives – your fathers, grandfathers, fathers of your children and grandchildren, and men who have served as father figures for you or for those whom you love.

Amen and Blessed Be