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The (Not Always So) Great State of Mississippi

24 Nov

I think I’ve said before how I love living in the South. I’m not, however, uncritical of my home state, as I believe holding Mississippi to a higher standard than it is accustomed to meeting is an essential step toward bringing her into the 21st century.

I don’t mind holding someone’s hand and gently walking the road of progress with them, but uuuugh, how I loathe having to drag someone out of the ’50s kicking and screaming. The 1950’s, y’all. Seriously.

When Bill Maher aired a little episode of his show last season in which a Real Time correspondent visited this state, I was so disgusted by their coverage that I promptly canceled my subscription to HBO. (Subsequently I have hooked up my computer to the tv and obtained permission to use a friend’s Dish username and password to access HBO Go, because come on, I’m not gonna miss The Newsroom.) It’s not that I am angry at Maher for exposing the poverty, ignorance, and racism that is so prevalent in this state (as it is in many others as well). What I mind is his bone-headed assertion that those were the people his correspondent met the moment she stepped off the plane. Reeeaaaallly…. because I have lived here my entire life, and I have never once ran into someone with “white power” patches sewn into their shirt. That’s the kind of thing you have to go looking for, even in Mississippi.

But you don’t have to poke around much before you run into something or someone who is just mind-numbingly, astoundingly, brazenly racist. I know there are people and ideas like that in every single state in this nation, and in every country on the planet. Does Mississippi have more than its fair share? I don’t know. This is the only place I’ve ever lived for this long. I am not comparing it to any other place, because I don’t care how hateful people here are in comparison to somewhere else – I care that there is hatred here at all. I do believe in the power of love to conquer hate, just as lightness can drive out the dark … but you have to shine the light first. If people are not ashamed to say things in public, should we be hesitant to repeat them? Is that not being an enabler to a hate-monger?

I want to be clear that I’m not trying to expose this young man simply for others to enjoy an opportunity to belittle or ridicule him and his friends. I just want to have a conversation. I was floored to find this on Facebook. I was floored that people will teach their kids to hate! These are younger people. High school, maybe college. They weren’t born racist. They were taught this. It just blows my mind.

I’m not a fan of Barack Obama. I did not vote for him. (I also did not vote for Mitt Romney.) There are legitimate reasons to withhold one’s support from President Obama. However, to deny that race plays a significant role in the Southern animosity toward our President is willfully ignorant.

How can a person get away with saying something like this and no one even blinks an eye? This has been on this guy’s Facebook page ever since November 7th. I’m not friends with this person. I stumbled onto his profile after he popped up in my “people you may know” section due to our mutual friends. The comments on his status were numerous, but I just wanted to provide a quick synopsis of the conversation:

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Thoughts?

The Perfect Sunday

24 Jan

Church service was beautiful yesterday, as usual. I don’t normally video anything during church, only when we have special events, but I thought y’all might enjoy seeing what a normal service is like at Liberty Universalist.

It’s a very small rural church where the most beautiful people you’ll ever meet come to fellowship and support each other on their spiritual journey. Music is always a big part of that.

Because we’re so small, we have a lay minister that only comes once every other month, on the 4th Sunday. On the 4th Sundays of the other months, when she doesn’t come, a member of the congregation conducts the service. Barbara conducted the service yesterday, and it was so lovely. I hope to do half as good of a job when it is my turn (which will be this March – eek!! I’m terribly nervous). We also meet every 2nd Sunday for planning, but next month our 2nd Sundays will turn into an Adult Forum, where we learn about a different topic each month, starting with the history and merger of the Unitarian and Universalist churches.

I will take you through the service blow-by-blow. I taped some of the conversation so I could transcribe it for you, but wouldn’t upload it to youtube because everyone should be able to share in church without worrying that a video of them will be plastered all over the internet. I did, however, upload the music. I hope this gives you a feel for what service is like at my church. I will be working on our church website this week and will update you when I need feedback.

Church opened with song:

We said the Affirmation of Covenant in unison, which is: “Love is the doctrine of this church; the quest for truth is its sacrament, and service is its prayer. To dwell together in peace; to seek knowledge in freedom; to serve humankind, to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine – thus do we covenant with each other and with God.”

We share joys and concerns by lighting candles. Then Barbara read the Story for All Ages, which was a Mark Twain excerpt, a story of a little girl who was asking her mother why God allows, or causes, suffering. Then she talked some about love, agape love, Divine love. It was a beautiful sermon. Some things Barbara said that hit home with me were:

We’re born to love. We need to love. This human need never ends. … Our purpose in live is to embody love, to live love… But don’t be upset with someone who can’t seem to love; we’re born to love, but taught not to. … “Love your neighbor as yourself” – this means you first have to love yourself. Sometimes this can be as hard as staring at the back of your own head.

She spoke of standing on the side of love, which has become a UU movement (see the Standing on the Side of Love site for more information), a movement to harness love’s power to stop oppression.

And Jeannie played an audio clip of one of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s last sermons for us, followed by a Lucinda Williams song. I began crying early in MLK’s sermon and cried throughout the entire thing. I tried not to as that instinctual “Oh God, Brandi, please don’t cry” feeling hit me, but as I was trying to hide my tears I noticed that Jeannie was crying too. I looked out the window the entire time and allowed myself to be emotional. I felt so cleansed afterward. Here’s the clip:

I love that our church is informal enough that if one feels moved to speak or has something to offer, he or she can just speak up and start the discussion. At the end of the sermon a member of the congregation mentioned a transportation commissioner’s political ad in which he stated we need to “take back America”, and then several people expressed sadness and disgust with Alabama Governor Bentley’s statement that only Christians are his brothers and sisters. We talked about how divisive and dangerous that is, and how that is the same rhetoric our country is sharing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We discussed the language of this country, about how we have been steadily moving toward a war rhetoric, and we use conflict-based language with ease now. We talked about how some of our children (my son Nate, for instance) or grandchildren have lived in a world where their country has been at war their entire lives. And how our national discourse has morphed into an incessant war rhetoric – as one person said, “It’s not an initiative to end drug use, it’s a war on drugs. It’s not a campaign to help people out of  poverty, it’s a war on poverty; there’s a war on illiteracy… it’s all conflict-based,” and we briefly mentioned the war, and how contradictory it is to the teachings of Christ, though the main perpetrators of the war talk about ours being a “Christian Nation”.

Then we discussed what to do about it… Danny said that he thought there were more people in this part of the world that feel the way we do about that, but it’s not culturally appropriate to say so. We all expressed our frustration with the fact that it is completely okay for people to insult our beliefs, but not okay to say anything contradictory to theirs because we are the minority. Basically the discussion made each of us feel less alone in our frustration, and that’s one thing our church is always good for – making me feel less alone in this world.

We ended with this song:

I had already written most of this blog when my Plinky prompt for the day came through my email. The prompt was, “Describe your perfect Sunday.” So here it is – every Sunday that I spend with people who love and respect each other, who support each other and each other’s individual spirituality, who try to teach one another and learn from one another – that’s a perfect Sunday. And the amazing music doesn’t hurt!

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