For years there has been a joke in my husband’s family which involves a linotype, a now-outdated machine used for setting type on printing presses and at newspapers. Not a lot of people knew what linotypes were, and the name was such that it was easy to distract someone by shouting out that phrase to catch attention for a moment. And so yelling “Look, a linotype” sometimes meant that someone would look away from an object long enough for another person to assume power, to yank it away (or steal the chocolate cookie off their plate).
Why am I writing about linotypes? Because these days it is easy to get distracted from what is really important, because some attractive but trivial ‘bait’ gets dangled in front of us – sometimes by powerful leaders. Take the current debate over whether members of sports teams stand or take a knee when the National Anthem is played before a game…and whether this is about patriotism or something much deeper that goes back centuries. Some people might want us to attack the athletes who decide that they need to be public in expressing their concerns about how people are treated in our society. Some people might suggest that, if we see an athlete making a statement about how this country has not been ‘the land of the free’ for all of us by taking a knee, we should reject our favorite sports team and exit the stadium.
And some people might say that this is a distraction to pull us away from a much bigger topic that is really what taking a knee is about: racism and the deep roots of white supremicist behavior in our country. No pun intended, these are not black and white issues: they have lots of grey and other tones and dimensions in them, as well. It’s not true that you’re either for something or against it, when exercising one’s constitutional right to express one’s point of view: these matters reside in the heart, and they are informed, sometimes, by examining the long arc of history and of misery, inequity and oppression that are a sad but huge part of the fabric of the United States.
This week in religious education, our classes will be participating in the White Supremacy Teach-In that hundreds of other Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country are also involved in. Our children and youth will be exploring – through age-appropriate lessons – what the equity and power distribution in our country has been, what white supremacy is and how it hurts all of us, and what our country might become if we lived into the change we like to talk about. My hope is that our children and youth – and those of us who teach them and who parent them – will learn from each other (as Rev. Claire will be preaching on these topics in worship as well) and that we will all then join together on the lawn of the church to bless and install Follen’s first Black Lives Matter banner.
These are challenging days for religious liberals and for all who call the US home. Through the work of the Follen Responds to Racism task force, through the dedication of people who have shown commitment helping to promote deeper understanding and a change in the power structure in our society, the work goes on. We cannot afford to be distracted and miss the opportunity we have in front of us to build the world we dream of. Come and join in the struggle and the possibilities.
Deborah Weiner, Interim Director of Religious Education