Monday, February 11, 2013

Building the Beloved Community in Statesboro

Building the Beloved Community in Statesboro, GA

Rev. Jane Page
January 20, 2013

This sermon was preached at a joint worship service at the Magnolia Missionary Baptist Church.  The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro celebrated the Beloved Community with their congregation on MLK Sunday 2013.  Their pastor, Rev. Francys Johnson invited me to share a message on "Building the Beloved Community in Statesboro."

Click HERE for audio.  (Much better "heard" than read.)

Text for sermon:

When I was completing my doctorate in the late 70's, some of my professors were puzzled that my husband and I were returning to Statesboro and Georgia Southern College.  "Don't you want to teach at a University?" they asked.

We replied, "Well,  maybe we'll just go back help others to make Georgia Southern a University."  And, you know - we did!

Similarly, when I was completing my time in seminary, some folks asked, "Are you sure you want to go back to that town in southeast Georgia?  Don't you want to pastor a church in a more progressive community?"  And I thought
 - here we go again, and replied,

"Well --- hopefully I can go back and help others in encouraging Statesboro to be a more progressive community?"  And here we all are together today - trying to do just that!

Besides - I couldn't go anywhere else.  I'm a very Place-Centered person - and Statesboro is my home.

Like some of you, I was born here --- back in 1950.  I'll give you a few moments to do the math.

So -- I grew up with Jim Crow laws.  But of course, I was among those privileged by those laws.  Nevertheless, I noticed.  I've shared with my congregation last week about my experience at the Dairy Queen in line with my dad when I questioned the need for two lines.  He told me the colored people were in one line and got chocolate ice cream and that we were white and got vanilla ice cream in our line.

Of course, I told him I wanted chocolate.  He told me that I was white and I got vanilla and would just have to accept that - because that's the way things were.

And I didn't question him much about the differences after that.  Jim Crow laws were not just about separating folks, though.  I can also recall our old worn out textbooks being boxed up at Mattie Lively - my childhood elementary school.  And I asked the folks doing the boxing what they were going to do with them.  And they said  -- why, they were taking them over to the colored elementary school for those children to use.  Separate but equal was never true in Statesboro, GA - nor anywhere else.  These old Jim Crow laws and practices were designed to oppress and keep folks in their place by denying all kinds of privileges.  Then in the 60's and 70's, with the help of the Civil Rights Movement and the courts - those laws were thrown out - and Jim Crow was no more - at least not officially and legally.

But you know --- change is not that easy for some folks, and we still have lots of prejudices and discrimination here in Statesboro. 

Rev. Johnson asked me to speak on Building a Beloved Community in Statesboro.  And I thought - that building is going to take some hard word based on some of the hateful comments I've heard in this town recently.  And especially if we are thinking about Dr. King's vision of the Beloved Community.  According to the King Center website, Dr. King's vision of a beloved community is one in which "poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because. standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries. And love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred."
That's the ideal --- but is it possible?  I don't know that we can ever be there 100% -- but we can move toward it.  Just because something is going to be hard, doesn't mean it's not worth doing.

So - how are we to do this?  Well --- perhaps we begin right here, with us.

For indeed, if we are honest and open about it, probably everyone sitting here today is has to work through some of the things - that perhaps their head knows isn't a right way to be --- but it gets deeply ingrained in us, and we have to work and pray and gain greater understanding to move toward redemption.   Yes, the isms and the phobias are still present in Statesboro - though hopefully to a lesser degree in this room.    It's hard to KNOW that we are privileged in certain ways when we are swimming in that privilege.  I never thought much about being white when I was growing up ---- I didn't have to.  So our prejudices sometimes don't seem wrong; they may even seem natural - if we are in the group doing the oppressing.

It's only after our awareness is raised, and we try to walk in another's shoes, either through hearing their stories or sharing in their lives, that we begin to understand.  So the more Hispanic people and people from other parts of the world that I get to know - really know - helps to diminish my xenophobia and prejudices.  And the more gay folks that are OUT and that I come to know and love diminishes my homophobia.   The more I get to know people of other faiths or of no particular faith at all -- and work with them to help heal and nurture our world, the more tolerant and accepting I become.  As that little children's song says - "The more we get together, the happier we'll be."

And that is exactly what our two congregations are doing.  Here we are - Unitarian Universalists - people with many varying beliefs, theologies, and world views - worshiping today with the Baptists.  And perhaps more importantly working with you to help our community.  Our members and your members came together this past Tuesday and served a good meal to over 120 folks at the Luetta Moore Park, and had a good time doing so ---- AND getting to know those folks we served.  We also are trying to tackle problems like mass incarceration together with our study group focusing on Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow.  And together we can work with other groups focusing on other matters of importance to our community.  Yes, we have our differences --- and you know, we celebrate our diversity.  But we come together in LOVE.  We are all children of the same family - and together, and with the help of others, we can build that beloved community here in Statesboro.
The late Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley wrote a piece that is in the back of our Unitarian Universalist hymnal which is a favorite of mine.  She was one of our wonderful African American Unitarian Universalist ministers who had a way of bringing different folks together.  This piece was written as a responsive reading --- and the congregational response - your response is "It will not matter."  Say that with me.  "It will not matter."

Here are her words:
If, recognizing the interdependence of all life, we strive to build community, the strength we gather will be our salvation.

If you are black and I am white,
 it will not matter.
If you are female and I am male,
it will not matter.
If you are older and I am younger,
 it will not matter.
If you are progressive and I am conservative,
 it will not matter.
If you are straight and I am gay,
it will not matter.
If you are Christian and I am Jewish,
it will not matter.
For-- If we join spirits as brothers and sisters, the pain of our aloneness will be lessened, and that does matter.
In this spirit, we build community and move toward restoration.

And in the spirit that is here in this room, perhaps we can build the beloved community in Statesboro.

Oh, may it be so!

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