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We Who Believe In Freedom Cannot Rest

Unitarian Universalists have a long history of advocacy and action in pursuit of a more just world. Growing up, I was taught about this, and about the great figures from our past who struggled for change. Susan B. Anthony fighting for women’s suffrage, casting a ballot and then demanding to be arrested for it. Theodore Parker, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, writing his sermons with a gun close at hand to defend the refugee former slaves he was protecting in his house. Henry David Thoreau accepting a jail cell rather than pay a tax to fund a war he considered immoral, and the classic exchange with Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Henry, why are you here?”/”Waldo, why are you not?”.

I had an understanding from early in life that the world was not as it should be. There was still much work to be done

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to make sure that human beings treated other human beings humanely. So I came into my adult self with a justice-consciousness already in place and with a sense of my responsibility to act in the face of what I knew to be wrong. Cultivating those qualities is a basic goal of a Unitarian Universalist religious education – a critical part of forming a Unitarian Universalist of any age. But even once you’ve established an attention to what is right and what is wrong, what is harmful and what is helpful, and once you’ve begun to feel that pull that won’t let you hide yourself from the problem and makes you want to be a part of the solution; even then, there’s much more growing to do.

In my case, I came to a point where I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the evils afflicting my society. I felt like I basically knew what was wrong; the work could then be reserved for trying to help lesson or correct those wrongs. All that it took to prove me wrong, though, was one person to tell me (bravely) that I had injured them without knowing it. That I was a part, without having imagined or understood it, of some force, some structure that was harmful to people who shared their identity.

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest,” sing Sweet Honey In The Rock (and you can listen to them sing it here), and that not resting is not just about how much work there is to do. It’s about our responsibility to keep growing in our understanding; to keep feeding our justice-consciousness. Because even when we think we know injustice and oppression, we still have more to learn, and that learning is what will make it possible for us to confront evil with justice and love.

As part of my own learning in this area, I’ve been reading The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. The author lays out how the American prison system, in partnership with the war on drugs, has counteracted many of the civil rights gains of the 1960s through the massive incarceration rate of African American men, and the numerous barriers to working and living in society after spending time in prison. This book has been named by our association of congregations as this year’s ‘congregational read’: a book we are all invited to read, reflect on, and discuss amongst ourselves. I encourage you to read and consider it – the book is in print, and you can also find it at the library. Beginning on Thursday, February 7th, I will be leading a short, three-session course at the church exploring and expanding on The New Jim Crow and its subject (see the notice later in this issue). I hope to see some of you there.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson

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