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Welcoming Congregations
Common Elements of Oppression
Welcoming Congregation Task Force
Sunday, October 7, 2007

This is the day we have been given.
Let us live well into it.
Let us feel what we need to feel,
Say what we need to say,
Do what we need to do.
Let us hold on and let go as we need to,
So that at the end we can say,
This has been a day well-lived.

*OPENING HYMN # 34 Though I May Speak With Bravest Fire

To pronounce a name is to say that we have an identity.
To have an identity is to invite recognition.
To invite recognition is to announce that we have something to offer each other and the larger world.
To announce that we have something to offer is to live into a vision, a hope, a dream.
To live into a dream is to make a difference.
Rev. Helen Zidowecki

RESPONSIVE READING #584 “A Network of Mutuality”

From all who dwell below the skies,
Let Faith and Hope with Love arise,
Let Beauty, Truth and Good be sung
Through every land, by every tongue.

CHOIR “Think on Me”

One Sunday a month we listen to the call of the chime and sit in silence.

From Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism by Suzanne Pharr
Beginning at fourteen, …identity within a world that hated and feared lesbians led me to live a life of invisibility where I showed the world only a small portion of who I was, and even that portion was a lie, an alienated piece of self that indicated to the world that I did not live with intimate, social connections. Out of fear of loss, I chose a double life, a fragmented self for sixteen years. Not only was I alienated from the world but my internal alienation was extreme and dangerous to my mental health.

Why did I choose such a difficult and painful path? My answer is a variation on a theme of many lesbians' stories. I enjoyed a very healthy childhood on a small dirt farm in Georgia, the youngest of eight children of parents who believed in the value and dignity of hard work, in cleanliness and good food, in regular committed church attendance, and in…..”the old verities of sympathy, compassion, sacrifice, honesty, and truth”. And my sexual identity was outside what was known in this poor farming community. I kept it hidden while I pushed for a place of honor and worth, working my way through college and graduate school to become a university teacher, a profession of respect in my family.

But all along the way, there was the question of who I was, how little or how much of a life I chose to live. Like everyone else, I was a complex human being, and part of this complexity was that in my humanness I was a sexual being. So I chose as much fullness of life as I could attain without losing those things I cherished so highly: my family, my friends and community, my university job. That is, I acted out of my sexual identity and had a social life that was woman-centered but I lived externally in and lied to a man-centered world. The image I presented to the world was of a woman who was slightly odd and eccentric, mostly a loner, detached from close relationships, asexual, often mysteriously serious about work.

To keep my identity safe meant that I had to be constantly vigilant and lie, primarily through omission but sometimes through commission, virtually every minute of every day. I had to put one large part of myself in exile. The cost was enormous. I could not have authentic friends because I could not talk about my life. My life could not be shared with my family which in turn necessitated superficial relationships. The stress of maintaining vigilance over the lies I had to create for safety made me never able to relax. Perhaps worst of all was the damage to my sense of self, my sense of integrity. As a woman who had grown up deeply rooted in the church, albeit in tormented debate with it, and as a Southerner with deeply held and mostly unexamined values of courage and honesty, I had to view myself as a woman who lied because of fear.
[She recalls the freedom that came for her within the women’s liberation movement and concludes her story with……]
From that moment began the long, careful process of coming out to those I love and those I do not love, of learning to choose the time and place, of learning there are still physical safety issues, of learning-in the end-that there is no substitute for freedom, no matter how hard it is won. There also began the slow understanding of the connection between sexism and homophobia and the beginning of a life commitment to work for freedom for myself, for women-all women--everywhere.
SERMON “Voices of Oppression”
[Have a number of people to read the numbered parts. These can be planned or spontaneously selected. The readers do not need to match the description of the speaker – and probably it is more effective if they do not.]

LEADER: The very word oppression makes us uncomfortable. It is like being on a see-saw that balances precariously for just a few seconds before going one way or another. We are either oppressors or oppressed. There is no place in the middle to stand for long.

Now oppression has various levels. There is the explicit, like the legal definition of marriage as a heterosexual institution, or the military “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, or exclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation from civil rights statements.

And there is the implicit, the things that are below the surface, like
-finding various reasons given for being firing someone from a job when gender identity or sexual affiliation becomes known,
-bathrooms marked clearly as male and female, and -different standards for PDA (the common expression of “public display of affection”).
These oppressions are harder to identify, but they are even more powerful than the explicit. These come from our values and our understandings, the things that are part of our very being and to some degree unconscious. It is like when I make a comment and realize later how it must have sounded or felt to the other person, and how embarrassed I feel for having made it.

And then there is the null, or the things that we do not want to think about and, even more, do not want to talk about. It is the “let sleeping dogs lay” approach – do not even let it into our thoughts or we will have to deal with it.

Oppression is all around us. Part of our spiritual journey is awakening the null, becoming aware of the implicit, naming the explicit so that we can deal with oppression from within ourselves and in society around us. We need to take this journey here, in a place where the inherent worth and dignity of every person is the expressed norm.

This is not easy. Even the language fails us. I came to a realization of political correctness one day when I could not figure out how to order a cup of coffee. If I ordered it ‘black’ who was I offending? Or if I ordered it “straight’? I did not want anything in it, but wasn’t sure that they would understand “naked”.

But language is a tool that we have, a tool that requires us to listen to one another and to express ourselves as we work on this. To start, I invite you to listen to some voices of oppression this morning. The first one……..”

1.(INTERUPTS) May I speak? I in a 74 year old woman; I lived with Betsy for forty years. When she died last winter, her nephew came in our house, and claimed it as his, and took it away from me, because the house was in Betsy’s name, even though I had helped pay for it all our years together. He claimed I have no right to it. I'm so unhappy and depressed, because I lost the dearest person in my life, and our precious home.

LEADER: Thank you for speaking. I have a number of voices in my notes, but maybe there are other voices right here this morning, waiting to be heard. Raise your hand if you would like to speak and I will bring the microphone to you.

2. I'm 14 years old; I'm attracted to boys - and girls. I worry what’s wrong with me. I don't want to be a homo.

3. My sister’s son, my god-child - who I’ve loved all his life, now, at age 36, says he's a woman now. He dresses like a woman, wears make-up, and has changed his name from Glenn to Gloria. I still always send him a birthday card every year. How should I address him? What should I call him?

4. I'm a 20 year old guy; a Junior at Colby, and it scares me, what I feel in my body, when coach hugs me.

5. I'm a homosexual, 75 year old man. In my day, homosexual men couldn't have kids, unless they stayed in the closet and married a woman. I never did that, and now I'm old, and I have no kids, or grandkids to buy Christmas presents for, or to have them visit. I'm lonely. I used to be a handsome guy.

6. I still feel guilty about getting married and then, after 14 years, running off with a woman. My husband felt so inadequate to compete with her. And he already had such a low opinion of himself. I get afraid that he could kill himself. He would still have me back, but it's too late for me now…… even though I still love him.

7. My birth mother is a Lesbian; my biological father was a gay friend of hers. I call her `Mom,' and I call her partner `Ma.' I call my father "Dad" and I call his partner "Pops.' I haven't made my mind up yet, what I am. After all, I'm only 11. But, whatever way I go, I know they'll still love me. My mom says to me, "Don t worry, Honey; being straight ain' t all bad." My friend Zack teases ma, saying that I have a screwed up family. I just tell him, `Well, at least my parents aren't divorced, and all pissed-off at each other all the time like yours."

8. My 44 year old daughter is probably a lesbian type. She's never told me so, thank God, and I would never ask her. But, what I really hate, is when my girl friends look at me in “that way" when they comment “Isn't Cindy ever going to get married?”

9. In my head, I'm okay with transvestites and cross dressers, and drag queens, and transexuals......I don't even know what the differences are. It's in my guts, where the problem is. I only heard about the workshop here, on transexuals, when it had already happened. But to be honest, though, I'm not sure I would have gone anyway, if I had known. It's too strange. What if a trans person came here for a service, and had to go to the bathroom. Where would they go? Would I be able to accept a new minister here, who was transsexual? I bet I'm not the only one who wonders about that.

10. I have no problem with you being gay; I just don't like to think about what you do in bed.

11. When you talk about homophobia -- that's not me. I am not homophobic. But everyone has problems; we all have to take the good with the bad. Aren't you exaggerating the problems? There are so many worse problems in the world. There's a war in Iraq; half the people in Africa are HIV positive; we have dangerous pollution and global warming. With all that, I have enough on my plate. I don't need a gay workshop, too.

12. When I was just out of the Navy, I saw a psychiatrist. And I told him about my sexual fantasies, and all that. After a lot of questions, he said. "Look son. You're queer. Get used to that. And don't hitchhike.” I was so shook-up, and mad at him for saying "queer" that I seriously thought of suicide. I hated him for saying that, and I hated myself for being "queer."

13. We never knew that our son Louis was gay, until he got AIDS. So we found out he was gay, and that he was going to die, all at the same time. Everybody in my Greek family rejected him. Well, so I rejected them right back. All his wonderful gay and lesbian friends supported him, and us, right up until be died. I have never forgiven my family for treating him like that. Now all his gay friends are our family, and we love them like we loved Louis.

14. My mother was embarrassed, and furious, when about 30 gays showed up at my funeral. I wish I could have come out to them.

15. Why do gay people flaunt their sexuality, like holding hands, and kissing, in public? In front of everyone. Even kids.

16. I'm a 52 year old man. When I was in high school, a very highly respected teacher, that I really admired, invited me over for dinner at his house. I was really flattered. The dinner was great - even wine. We talked like adults; he told me how smart he thought I was, and that I was his favorite student. I was shocked real bad when he came on to me. I was hurt and disappointed, and I felt stupid and betrayed. I never told anyone, and I never talked to him again, ever. But I never forgot it. Took me years to stop hating gays.

17. Being bisexual is worse than being gay. You get rejected by both sides, say people think you are really gay, but trying to deny it. Straights want you to get off the fence, and make up your mind, for God's sake. Be a grown up. They just don't understand; neither do I.

18. You're my sister, and I love you, no matter what. But I don't approve of it.

SHE: I refuse to wear make-up or heels.
HE: I’d love to wear make-up and heels.
SHE: I’ve gotta wear a leather jacket and ride a motorcycle.
HE: I’ve gotta wear my tight leather pants, heels and a boa,
And strut down Main Street, on Old Hallowell day,
Right in front of the fire engine.
BOTH: I’ve got to be myself – even if it kills me.

LEADER: These voices have expressed sides and levels of oppression more clearly than I could.
It is hard to hear the oppression. We are all trying so hard to be welcoming and accepting. Yet when I hear voices like these here this morning, I realize how intentional I need to be in realizing what makes me uncomfortable and why.

To finish the “sermon”, we balance on the continuum between being the oppressor and being oppressed: sometimes we are one, sometimes the other. But we can do something. We can look deeper into ourselves, aware of the things that cause us discomfort, willing to look at the reasons why, and with courage, to move toward greater understanding. We may never truly understand the context of another’s life, but we can embrace the wholeness of each person.

This calls us to action or reaction. To react is to feel uneasy, overwhelmed –even oppressed-- ourselves as we come in contact with ideas, concepts and people who differ. The way to relieve this uneasiness is to take action. Recognition is the first action step. And from that step, may we walk together in love, patience, and understanding to increase the awareness of oppression, to create space for this oppression to be identified and discussed, and to work toward health. With that in mind, I invite you to join in our closing hymn.

*HYMN #121 “We’ll Build a Land”
CLOSING WORDS You are invited to hold the hands of those on either side of you.

I am only one
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything
But still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
Edward Everett Hale, #457

All materials copyright © 2008-2018 by Helen Zidowecki unless otherwise noted. - -

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