This week we marked two somber anniversaries: the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a police officer; and the one hundred-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Both are reminders of the ongoing history of violence against African Americans in this country. Today my focus is on Tulsa.
I didn’t learn about this event until a few years ago, and the silencing of this history is part of the story. In 1921 the thriving “Black Wall Street” community of Greenwood in Tulsa was burned to the ground by a white mob, aided by the white government. Dozens of churches, businesses, restaurants, theatres and homes were burned; Black people were shot in the street while airplanes dropped bombs; and hundreds died. Those who survived lost their wealth and their homes, and were traumatized for the rest of their lives. The story was either not told or was twisted so as to somehow blame the Black residents for the white mob who massacred them.
An article in the New York Times this week told some of this history with virtual maps and models of the neighborhood that was destroyed. Here is the link:
I learned about this event in some depth in a class I took as a seminary student, spending a week in Tulsa and visiting the UU churches there, including All Souls, one of the largest UU congregations in the country. Last night my class had a reunion with our professor and other Tulsa students from other years. The professor asked us – most of us ordained ministers now – what we are doing in our anti-racist work and what strategies we have found to be effective in countering white supremacy culture.
What strategies have you found, what actions have you taken, to counter white supremacy culture in yourself, in your life, in your congregation?
This is a hard question and one that I continue to sit with. I don’t have a quick answer. The problem of racism is so deep in our culture that it is hard to feel any success against it. My small successes are internal: doing the work within myself (imperfectly, haltingly, but with perseverance) to recognize and root our racism. We have small successes in our congregation as well: participating in the New Day Rising workshop; studying the book White Fragility; having a conversation about micro-aggressions.
What about you? What work are you doing in yourself, in your circle of loved ones, in this congregation?
The anniversary of this horrific event in American history is a chance to name the violent anti-Black racism that is part of our heritage. It is a chance to ask ourselves and each other what we are doing to make a more just and peaceful society. And we are not doing it alone – I’m doing it, the 25 ministers and seminarians in my reunion last night are doing it, and you’re doing it. Let’s keep doing the vital work of anti-racism together.
Spirit of Life and Love, Spirit of Justice and Remembrance, be here now. Divine spirit, be with me as I sit with the feelings of guilt and anger and sadness remembering the Tulsa massacre. May anger lead to action; may guilt give way to healthy introspection; may sadness remind me that every life is precious.
May all who endeavor to work for a more racially just society be strengthened and encouraged in their work. May all know that we do this work together, not alone.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
May 27, 2021
As I follow the news of the world, I’m aware of a shift – in the news and in myself. It seems like the worst news is not in the United States any more, and I have complicated feelings about it. The pandemic is taking a definite turn for the better in this country, while on the news we hear of how bad it is getting in India. The violence in this country—mass shootings, the January 6th capitol attack, police violence against people of color—is suddenly overshadowed by a war between Israel and Hamas.
There is a natural human tendency to compare ourselves to others, and to feel good if the comparison is in our favor. If my neighbor gets sick and I am healthy, I may feel lucky in that comparison. When another country is worse off with violence or the pandemic than my country, some part of me feels better—maybe relieved, maybe even superior. “I’m doing OK, because I’m not as bad off as that other person (or nation).”
This is a natural human tendency, but it is one that I want to discourage.
The other natural human tendency is for compassion and mutuality, and it comes from a different place within us. Not the shallow ego part of ourselves, but the loving heart, the spirit, the divine within. This part says that I am not better than anyone else…just different. This part says that I cannot fully enjoy my health while so many are sick and dying in India. This part says that I am not fully safe when missiles are destroying homes and lives in Gaza.
The Unitarian Universalist principle that we affirm is that we are interconnected. Martin Luther King called it a “network of mutuality.” In anti-racist work, we name this collective liberation—that none of us are free until all of us are free. It’s true everywhere. I am better off when my family and my neighbors are doing well in mind, body, and spirit. White people are better off in a society where Black, Indigenous, People of Color enjoy equality and dignity. The United States is healthier, safer, more prosperous when the pandemic is contained in India and when the fighting stops in Gaza.
When we engage our natural human tendency for empathy and connection, and discourage our tendency for feeling better when others are doing worse, we are in harmony with the divine.
Spirit of Life and Love within me, beyond me, between you and me, be here now.
Remind me that all are worthy. That suffering of others is always my concern. Remind me that we are all connected.
May love and compassion prevail. My selfishness recede.
In the name and faith of all who hear these words, may it be so.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
May 20, 2021
“The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavor in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us on indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.” - Albert Einstein
I love this quote by Einstein because it forces us to hold two things that we normally think of as opposite – science and religion – and see them instead as connected and overlapping. This came to my attention during the “Building Your Own Theology” class that recently concluded. For eight weeks, about 20 of us met for an hour and a half to talk about our beliefs. Jim Dealing and myself led the class and we followed a workbook written by Richard S. Gilbert. The class was wonderful for the discussions it sparked and for the thoughts we shared. This Einstein quote came out of one of those discussions.
As Unitarian Universalists, we have a particular obligation to figure out our own theology. One of our religious principles is “the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” As UU’s we have decided that we don’t want the kind of religion where someone else tells us the answers—not authority figures like ministers, priests and bishops; also not a single sacred text. Instead, UU’s claim the freedom to figure out what we believe about god, about life and death, about right and wrong, about human nature. With this freedom comes the responsibility to do the intellectual and spiritual/emotional work to figure out what we believe. It is a life-long process, and it is one that is better done in community than individually.
Albert Einstein shows us that mystery and wonder are not incompatible with science, but are essential to it. He offers this as a defining characteristic of religiousness. Unitarian Universalists are constantly searching for truth and meaning in the world. We find it by ourselves and we find it with each other.
Powers of the mind, be here now. Bring the ability to understand and compare ideas, to judge and decide. Wisdom of the spirit and the body, be here now. Open us to what our bodies know and what our emotions tell us.
Spirit of mystery and wonder, be with me and allow me to feel and to know. It is a joy to understand and it is a joy to acknowledge that some things are forever beyond my understanding.
Amen. Blessed be.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
May 13, 2021
Last week I took my first trip back to Ohio in a year. This is where my son lives, where my dad and sister live, where I have friends from being part of that community for 17 years. I have waited and waited, and now that we are fully vaccinated, my wife and I felt safe in taking the trip. Everyone we were visiting was also vaccinated—except for one family, and for them we arranged to meet at the zoo and spend the day outside.
The highlight of my weekend was a simple pleasure that I haven’t had for a year. Our friends had us over for dinner in their house and the four of us spent the evening without our masks on. It wasn’t the pork roast or the home made peach pie, or the Kentucky Derby on the television in the kitchen, or even the conversation with old friends that made the evening so special. It was the sense of a return to normalcy. A glimpse that we can have this again: contact with loved ones. Shared space. Sharing one another’s lives in person. When Mary and I got married last summer, this couple did a reading for us, and at that time they were faces on a computer screen.
It is a simple human pleasure, sharing a meal together at a table—and it is a profound one. Eating together, we are giving life to our bodies. Being together, we give life to our souls.
May we all enjoy reunions with friends and loved ones – cautiously, reasonably – as more of us get vaccinated and as we feel safe doing so. The virus is not going away, and if anything we are entering a new phase of learning to live with it. If that includes dinners with beloved friends, I’ll take it.
Spirit of life and love, be with me now. Love emanates from deep within me when I allow it; love surrounds and permeates me from the natural world when I am receptive to it; and love grows between us when we open our hearts to it.
May all of us be open to love. May we embrace the opportunities we have to connect with one another. Yes, on Zoom. Yes, by phone. And also, when we can, in person. May we make safe choices that include seeing loved ones; may we remember the joy of being together; may we hold one another both virtually and physically.
Shalom. Amen. Blessed be.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
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