Praxis: Learning through Action

“For all that is our life” by Rev. Andrew

They say that life is what happens to us while we’re making other plans. I had planned to continue the series of articles about my sabbatical — and I still hope to complete that before I go on sabbatical! — but this week I need to write about recent events and what to do about them. (Of course, there’s so much to say, that I can only address a piece of it here. I’ll also address pieces of it in my two remaining sermons this month.)

Last Sunday evening, I took part in a gathering of about a hundred people at Port Warwick in Newport News. This was just one of a large number of vigils, protests and other witness events that have happened all over the country since last Saturday’s display of humanity at its worst in Charlottesville. Now we also saw examples of humanity at its best, in the people who resisted white supremacy, who met hatred with unyielding love, who took care of those who were hurt in body or in soul. So the gatherings in Newport News and other places were both deploring the evil we had witnessed and also lifting up the good.

This was hardly a teary-eyed indulgence of hand-wringing, though, of impotently bewailing the state of the world. Rather, as people stepped forward from the group to speak, we heard resolve and a recommitment to action. Yes, there was sadness, but determination was stronger. Yes, there was fear, but courage was louder. Yes, there was uncertainty, but faith was greater.

We heard from people of color and white people alike, speaking from experience of their own challenges to keep their children safe, of their awareness of their own prejudice, of their struggles to do the right thing in a system that punishes the bodies of some and damages the souls of others simply because that’s what it was designed to do. From everyone who spoke, we heard an honest, earnest desire to be part of the movement to dismantle white supremacy and anti-semitism, to build the society that this nation has always claimed but repeatedly failed to be. There were no expressions of shock, of suddenly realizing that this was the sorry state of our world, as if such hatred and violence was only now on display. Rather, there was faith and courage and determination that we do much more to fight it.

Barely a week ago, I wrote here in the e-Flame about “Continuing the Conversation” following May’s White Supremacy Teach-In and our display of Black Lives Matter banners since February. Even as I was writing that article, though, I was struck by the insufficiency of merely talking about the issues. Yes, we need to learn. If we’re white, we need to educate ourselves and one another, to overcome the privilege of our own skin color to understand what it is like to live in our society without that privilege, but conversation is not enough. It is past time to take a much more active role, to become demonstrably anti-racist as a congregation, to dismantle bigotry and oppression both beyond our walls and within them, and to actually move toward the Beloved Community about which we love to talk.

We do not need to figure out how to do this all by ourselves, of course. Following Charlottesville, and the resulting demand for accountability, there are new and renewed calls from across the demographic spectrum to act at a national level. We can work to support the existing goals of Black Lives Matter and similar reform movements. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we can join with those who have already been doing a lot of this work.

There is, for example, the March for Racial Justice in Washington DC on Saturday September 30th. (I’m sure there will be “sister” marches in other locations, as well as on other dates given that September 30th is Yom Kippur.) As we did for the Women’s March and the Climate March, the Social Justice Committee has chartered a bus from Newport News that morning, so please contact Carey or Pam about reserving your seat.

Another example is Safety Pin Box. Run by black women to benefit projects led by black women, this is a subscription program intended for white would-be allies “who want to consistently contribute to Black liberation financially while doing measurable support work for the movement and learning what it takes to dismantle white supremacy.” I recently subscribed as one small way in which I can put my money where my mouth is.

In liberation theology, there is an essential tool known as praxis. Rather than learning from any book) in isolation from the real world and then attempting to apply what has been learned, the liberation theologian learns by acting in the world first, by experiencing the needs of the people directly and then reflecting upon that experience. As Unitarian Universalists, we know that faith is only meaningful if it is put into action, if it is making a difference not only in the world but also in ourselves. Let’s join the growing movement that is asking us to do just that.

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