Thursday, March 26, 2020

Women in History - Betty Reid Soskin - Sermon for Week ending March 28, 2020


I am finishing our Women in History series with another great woman that I had never heard of. I was driving back from somewhere a few weeks ago, when I heard her tell her story on NPR’s The Moth Radio Hour, one of my favorite NPR programs, where people tell true stories, without a script or notes, to a live audience. Her story was so amazing, that I had one of those NPR driveway moments, where after I got home, I sat in my car and finished listening.  


The title of the program was Truth and Power: Global stories of Women, and the first storyteller was Betty Reid Soskin, who, at age 97, is the oldest person to tell a story on the Moth stage. When she started speaking, she sounded a little nervous. She began by saying that she was a full-time park ranger at ‘Rosie the Riveter’ National Historic Park in Richmond, California, a job she began at age 85, because she was at a point where she had outlived her sense of future, and so was making life up as she went, one day at a time. In her job as a ranger, she guided tours and trained other rangers in CPR, where she usually played the victim. 3 times a week, she packed the theatre to talk about the Rosies and other women who served the war effort on the home front, weaving in her own experience as a young black woman in a segregated America.


I’m listening to this woman talk about her work, and thinking I am going to learn all about ‘Rosie the Riveter’ National Historic Park, and perhaps about other strong women who had influenced her. But after she mentioned that her children were concerned that she still lived alone, her voiced lost the sound of nervousness, as she said,  “On June 30th, two years ago, I awoke in the night and saw a man looking through my things.” She reached for her cell phone to call the police, but her movement got his attention, and he grabbed the phone and threw it across the room. Within seconds, he leaped across the bed and wrestled her off (She is 5 ft. 3). She screamed as loud as she could. He pinned her arms. Her back was against his chest, and he put his arm over her mouth. She kicked his leg, and they both fell, she onto her back, with him straddling her, and he started to pummel her face with his fists. She realized that her hands were free, and that he was wearing some sort of pajama pants with a drawstring. She said, “And somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered this magical thing, and I reached in, and squeezed as hard as I could, and he tumbled over in a heap.”


She ran into the bathroom and barred the door. She said, “I don’t know how long I sat there, but I suddenly realized that underneath the lavatory, was my electric iron.  I plugged it in and turned it up to linen. I was going to brand him for the police.” After a while, when she was pretty sure he had gone, with the iron still in her hand,  she ran out and pounded on her neighbors’ door, and they called the police, who not only took care of her, but offered her counseling and relocation if she wanted it. 

She ended her story saying, “That night, I think I received a gift that was unintended. I realized that I had been tested, and I had not only survived, but prevailed. And I’m now 97, still living alone.”  

I learned a lot more about Betty. She is an author, composer, singer, political activist, and historian. During WWII, she worked as a file clerk for the Boilermakers union.  A Unitarian Universalist, she was an activist in and songwriter for the Civil Rights Movement. And she was a field representative for two California assembly women, where she helped make the ‘Rosie the Riveter’ park a reality. She has a page full of honors. She attended Barack Obama’s inauguration, as his guest. But she considers this incident one of the defining moments of her life.



Betty’s experience affirms what we all know, that old people are tough. She inspires us to do whatever we are able to do even in the most fearful of circumstances, and she reminds us just how resilient we humans are. You can listen to her story on The Moth Podcast. I’ll ask Debbie to include the link. As many of you have requested, today and every week going forward, we will be blessed and inspired by the music of our one and only, Jane Lindberg. Stay safe. And keep in touch.

(The link to the story referenced by Rev Kathy's sermon is https://themoth.org/radio-hour/truth-and-power-global-stories-of-women .)  



Thursday, March 19, 2020

Women in History - Lillian Wald - Sermon for week ending March 21, 2020

Our woman in history this week is Lillian Wald, an American nurse, humanitarian, activist, and author.  In 1892, she was a 25-year-old nurse in a New York hospital. While giving instructions for home care at a building on Henry Street in New York’s, lower East Side, she was approached by a little girl who asked her to come help her mother, who was bleeding to death in childbirth. Until then, Wald was unfamiliar with the poverty of the tenement dwellers there.  She wrote later in her memoir, The House on Henry Street, “All the maladjustments of our social and economic relations seemed epitomized in this brief journey and what was found at the end of it. 2 rooms for a family of 7 plus 2 boarders who literally slept on boards on the floor.”

That event so changed her that, with a friend, she moved into the neighborhood, into one of the tenements, and offered home healthcare to the other residents, who were mostly immigrants. In 1893, she expanded the practice, founding the Henry Street Settlement, the first visiting nurse service that did not rely on a religious institution or a particular doctor. In 1913 and 1914, the service treated more patient than the 3 largest hospitals in New York combined. In addition to nursing care, Henry Street provided social services, English language instruction, music, and theater. It had study rooms where children could have a quiet place to do their homework with teachers who could supplement what they were learning in school. And books for children too young to get a library card.

Wald became a fierce defender of and advocate for the immigrants who were her neighbors and her patients. She believed that immigrant’s culture should be valued, and their contributions celebrated. 

She expressed these thoughts in her memoir, which our first reading is from. She said, “When school is dismissed, out they pour, the little hyphenated Americans, thousands on a single city block, unaware that to some of us, they carry on their shoulders our hopes for a more democratic America, when the good in their traditions and culture shall be mingled with ours. Only through knowledge is one fortified to resist the onslaught of arguments of the superficial observer, who, dismayed by the sight, is conscious only of ‘hordes’ and ‘dangers to America’ in these little children. Social exclusions and prejudices separate far more effectively than distance or different language. These children open up wide vistas of the lands from which they come. They bring a hope that a better relationship is possible, and that through love and understanding, we shall come to know the shame of prejudice.”

Every day, Lillian Wald practiced what she preached. She created the first playground in New York City in the back yard of the Henry Street Settlement.  She introduced the concept of free lunches in schools, and nurses in schools, and did not stop until they became reality. She fought against child labor, which she saw every day. And she was a pioneer for special education. An early civil rights activist, she insisted that all the classes at Henry Street be racially integrated, and she established branches in neighborhoods with large African-American populations so that they could take full advantage of the services. In response to the practice of lynching, she joined with Mary McLeod Bethune,  Mary Talbert, and Jane Addams to found the NAACP, whose first meetings were held at the Henry Street settlement. There is more, if you want to research further.

The New York Times named Wald one of the greatest American women, who “devoted her life to ensure that women and children, immigrants and the poor,  and members of all ethnic and religious groups would realize America’s promise of  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What an inspiration she is to us that with commitment and dedication and love for our neighbor, we can accomplish more than we ever thought we could. 

Our gospel reading is James 2: 14-17 from The Message. It describes Lillian Wald and all of us who seek to exemplify Jesus not just in our words, but in our works. It says, Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, ‘Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!’ and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”

We have heard plenty of God-talk.  And we know that it is hollow by itself. You have probably heard this quote, attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” Now is one of the times when we can make a Real difference in the lives of our neighbors. This crisis most impacts all of us who are over 60, the medically fragile, and their caregivers. But also the poor, low-wage earners, the homeless, immigrants, refugees, and all those who don’t a support system.

May our commitment to one another grow even stronger during this time of uncertainty and fear.  And when it is over, may we join together and help in every way that we can to rebuild our communities, our nation, and our world.

Stay safe everyone. I will see you soon.

Jesus Walks on Water - Sermon for week ending May 8, 2021

Gospel Reading   John 6: 16-21 When evening came, Jesus’ disciples went down to the lake. They got into a boat and were crossing the lake to...