Moving from Charity to Solidarity

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.

Last Tuesday night, the Community Course on Racism group reflected together on the book Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, by Imani Perry. Nearly everyone present shared how overwhelmingly painful the book was to read. I believe the members of that group are committed to the work of anti-racism, to de-centering whiteness in our society. I believe that anti-racist work has been a cornerstone of Unitarian Universalism for a long time, from the abolitionists to the civil rights martyrs in the 60s. And even though our association of congregations, the Unitarian Universalist Association, has had struggles and setbacks in this work, many of us have been and continue to be committed to de-centering whiteness.

Yet, here we are together… in a predominantly white space. Maybe this is only how we appear on this platform, and not what we might imagine in our heads, or in our hearts.

I see you, committed on many fronts at once in your justice work as a congregation; promoting voting rights, doing what needs to be done to address a global environmental crisis which has been and will affect Black and Indigenous People of Color disproportionately. I see how you help with legislative lobbying efforts, how you educate yourselves and show up for protests and actions.

And I see your impressive charitable contributions, a commitment to a 100% Share the Plate for the last year and a half, well before and into this awful pandemic. You recognized that you have resources that others don’t. You have contributed financially, sharing the plate at a rate that equals about 6% of the congregation’s annual budget. That’s amazing and generous, and I hope it feels good. It should.

I know that it is important to you that the Share the Plate funds go to organizations that do more than simply offer charity. It seems to me that nearly all the benevolent organizations that have attracted our attention and receive our contributions are working to not only meet immediate needs, but to address systemic injustices. Offering meals or warm clothing is important, as is doing what needs to be one to eliminate hunger and poverty. 

I hear the eagerness among you to keep the Share the Plate at 100%, even after the pandemic subsides. I hear the eagerness to get back together in person and get out there in person to make a difference in people’s lives.

You are a generous people, committed to doing what needs to be done. The Giving Network is proof of that. The children’s Sandwich Brigade is proof. We are all working in one way or another to eliminate injustices so that historically marginalized people have what they need.     

Yet it is clear that charity and even advocacy are not enough. When we write a check, it feels good. When we show up at a march or a protest, it feels good. Nothing wrong with that. 

But it is time for us to go further on this journey to be a people of courageous compassion. It is time to be in relationship, to make friends, to be a friend. That won’t always feel good. 

Breathe, as I shared with you last week, was hard to read. I had to put it down over and over again. Last Tuesday night at the Community Course on Racism gathering, many of the folks there agreed that reading this book was difficult, painful.  

I want to invite all of us into a broader spectrum of feelings.

I want us to realize that solidarity with those who suffer historic injustices means that you become familiar with and feel another person’s pain. You know their predicament, their experiences, you can be and are WITH them. To listen, to hear. To act in solidarity, to be with another person who is suffering, means that you may have the opportunity to speak for them. And as you come to truly respect that person, you will learn how to never speak over the person whom you know is directly impacted by injustice.

We need to step out on this journey to be more courageously compassionate in the ways that we can. Perhaps we can think of it as joining the effort to repair the generations of stolen labor and stolen lives, how to have respect for those who still suffer generational harms.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to learn Black and Native history; to read last year’s UU Common Read, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz; to learn about colonization and systemic racism, to examine the ideas you have consumed and what you have been taught; and how you have integrated what you have been taught into who you are. You may learn, painfully, that some of what you do every day manifests anti-Blackness.

Let’s do more than read. Let’s commit to change. “Commit to the movement, not the moment,” as they say. “Speak up, but not over.”

Support Black and Native-owned businesses, efforts, and organizations. 

Engage in sharing resources. 

We have not only our money to give. We have a building. Once we are back in this building for worship and meetings and fellowship, most of the week it will still sit empty. 

I am issuing a challenge to you and to myself to make use of the two greatest resources we have: ourselves and our building. I would like to hear us make it known that Black and Indigenous POC organizations, organizations led by and for historically marginalized groups, can use our building at no charge. That we will offer our hospitality, our ability to hear needs, make connections, act in solidarity with others as if we care about them as friends; as if there is no us and them, only us.

We can make a difference—not take over—but listen and offer space, and learn to befriend and respect people who suffer from injustices.

Charity implies an unequal relationship. You are poor and weak, and I am not. You need me and I feel good about myself when I help you. There is the “us” and the “you.”

Solidarity requires the belief in a common interest. We are in this together, and your welfare affects mine and everyone else’s. If you are empowered, we are all empowered. There is only us.

We say that all the time as Unitarian Universalists. Let’s mean it, put it into practice. 

Advocacy does not require relationships. Solidarity cannot exist without them.

I’ll end with this reading.

Finding Salvation

Throughout time, our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition has held a thread of clarity: how we relate to each other creates the conditions of hell or heaven here on earth.

We may not know or agree about what lies beyond this life, but it’s our conviction that that our actions—and our inactions—have consequences for the web of all existence. While fascinating and mysterious, we do not place our hopes for salvation in what happens after death. We find our salvation here on earth: showing up for each other with mercy, respect, and compassion. How are we relating to our neighbors, friends?

As a people of faith, we are called to a love that is bold, to love beyond our skill and through our fear with courage and compassion.

As a faithful collective, we are called to offer sanctuary, refuge, and comfort to everyone afflicted by the systems of oppression in this world.

As faithful individuals, we are called to relationships of care and accountability.

It makes a difference in the quality of this world when people with access to privilege and power give voice to a vision of collective liberation and name the obstacles, within and without, that limit us.

Can we choose to live courageously, a people of faith, a people so bold? Can we faithfully challenge evil in the world and the sins of society that have become internalized within our beings?

Our faith does not require that we be unafraid—only that we do not lead with fear, or make our decisions from a place of fear.

Our presence matters. How we relate to each other creates the conditions of hell or heaven here on earth. May we remember and affirm that we are all in this together, friends: we are all in this together.

Rev. Deanna Vandiver

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