Prelude Jim Pearce
Chiming of the Singing Bowl Rev. Misha Sanders
Words of Welcome and Announcements Brian Freeman
Good morning! My name is Brian Freeman, and I am your Worship Associate today!
Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation seeks to create loving community, inspire joy and spiritual growth, and support courageous action. All are welcome, as together we journey towards justice and equity by learning, caring, and acting together.
We especially welcome any newcomers and visitors we have today. I hope you’ll join us after worship for coffee hour… from the comfort of your own homes. The link to our Coffee Hour Zoom room will appear in the chat box toward the end of worship, and we will remind you about it again there. When you click the link to join coffee hour, please remember that the password is “coffee”. Again, you will be reminded in the chat, toward the end of our worship service.
If you haven’t already, now is a great time to grab whatever materials you’ll need to light your own chalice if you’d like that to be part of your worship experience today.
As always, kindly set your phones to worship mode; we won’t know, but I think you might enjoy the hour free from distractions. And feel free to check in on your social media of choice to let your friends and family know about this place of caring you’ve found today. Our congregation is an exciting place to be, and we love it when you share the good news.
And although we cannot be physically together to greet each other today with hugs, high-fives, smiles, and words of love, we are all together in spirit and each and every one of us is welcome.
Call to Worship Rev. Jo Von Rue
Friends, it is my great joy today to indroduce you to one of my very best friends. I met Rev. Jo Von Rue in the fall of 2014 when we both entered Meadville Lombard Theological School, and she and I have loved each other and been mistaken for each other in UU spaces ever since. Jo is the kind of friend you oughtta get yourself one of. When she is not busy talking me through my latest crisis at all ridiculous hours or laughing with me about irreverent things, Jo is the senior minister at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society in Syracuse, New York. And I promise, the decision to ask Jo to join us for Memorial Day weekend here in May was coincidental, although kind of funny. May Memorial UU is are lucky to have her as their minister, I am lucky to have her as a friend, and we are all lucky to have her here with us today to call us to worship. Good morning, Rev. Jo!
[Rev. Jo calls us to worship]
Thank you, my friend. Please join me in a moment of settling in further as we listen to music that fits the day, and will no doubt stir up feelings. Patriotic music can stir up all kinds of feelings, some of them very conflicted. I know. And I know that for each person here, that mix of feelings will be different. I invite us to pay attention to what kind of feelings come up for us, and honor them all. You may even talk about them respectfully in the chat, if you’d like to. Let us listen together.
Music Interlude 1– U.S. Army Strings play “My Country Tis of Thee” [Memorial Day Tribute video]
Lighting of the Chalice
Story Wisdom Adia Fields-Udofia
Reading Brian Freeman
Ten Thousand Baby Names, by Kathleen McTigue
When my youngest daughter was about two years old she came across a tattered paperback on our bookshelves, Ten Thousand Baby Names, and for a little while this was her favorite book. Drawn by the shining face of the baby on the cover, she brought it to me over and over and demanded that I read through the names. This was prelude to what was, at the time, her favorite story of all: How we chose her name.
What’s in a name? Always, there is a story. You were named for a beloved relative or, contrarily, named after no one because your parents wanted a clean break from family history. If you were a first son and your family went in for such things, you got to be called after your father and have “junior” tacked on. If you were a daughter, you could be named for a virtue or aspiration such as Hope, Serenity, or Faith. Recalling some sweet romantic setting, your parents might have named you for their favorite Spanish or Italian village. Perhaps you carry the name of one of their heroes or heroines, or more whimsically, some favorite musician or movie star. Maybe you’ve ended up with an affectionate nickname born of a sibling’s mispronunciation, or some jackass thing you tried as an adolescent and never lived down.
Always, there is a story.
In church on Sunday mornings we read aloud the names of the American soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan each week. Alone in my study the night before, I speak each name out loud and then wonder about the stories. I imagine these soldiers as the babies they once were, held in someone’s arms at a baptism or naming ceremony. The proud relatives gathered around as the name was formally bestowed, and everyone beamed as the baby cooed or wailed or fidgeted. There was so much gladness and pride in each moment of naming, and not once did anyone imagine that the road their baby walked would end eighteen or twenty years later in a mix of blood and dust halfway around the world.
As part of a witness for peace on Memorial Day, a cairn of stones was built at a busy downtown intersection in Hartford, each stone bearing the name of a fallen American soldier, or one of the tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have died in these wars. How do you choose one name from thousands, to symbolize so much carnage and loss? I finally brought three stones to the cairn, one for each of my own three children. Each stone bore the name of a child who had died on the birthday of one of mine. As I placed the stones, I wondered about their names.
Always, there is a story.
Music Interlude 2 – “America, the Beautiful”, Sally Mitchell, piano
Joys and Sorrows Rev. Joan Armstrong
Prayer and Meditation Rev. Joan Armstrong
Music: Hymn #360 Here We Have Gathered Dr. Philip Rogers
Sermon Remembering Well Rev. Misha Sanders
I have an old friend back in Illinois who was not a veteran of any foreign war. He served as a private in the United States army in a time of peace, from 1954 through 1958, just after Korea, and just before Vietnam. And so, it might seem odd that I am going to lead with a story that is his memory, his story to tell, but I am going to do just that,with some identifying details changed, because some of our fallen soldiers are not remembered well, and today, I cannot think of a more appropriate place than right here to remember my friend’s brother in arms, Private Sitman.
The history of the name Private Sitman being thrown round in my friend’s family has been legendary. Every Memorial Day, every Veteran’s Day, at some point, his family all knew that my friend, let’s call him Frank, would pop open a can of Dr. Pepper, raise it in the air and say, “To Private Sitman. You are not forgotten.” And then, someone would laugh a little and ask the same question that had been asked every other time before. “Who is Private Sitman?” And Frank would respond with silence, a shake of his head, and sometimes nothing more. Sometimes, quietly, he would say, “A man that deserves to be remembered.” And that was that.
When I say that it became legendary in Frank’s family, I do not mean that as a high honor. It had become something of an ongoing joke. They all knew that Frank had never seen combat, and that his years of being stationed in Toul, France seemed to have been filled with revelry and youthful indiscretions that he would never, ever in a million years expound upon to his kids who knew of him as the pious teetotaling good Christian man that he had become. Drinking Frank’s signature Dr. Pepper became an occasion to lift high our glasses or cans and toast Private Sitman. And Frank didn’t mind that.
So his family, some of them my age and my close friends, made up stories about Private Sitman. Was he a created composite of some kinds? We searched the military records associated with Frank and the men with whom he served, and none of us ever found a Sitman. When people asked Frank about that, he would only say, “That’s why I speak his name. You won’t find record of it anywhere but in the memories of those who remember.” And then he would change the subject, and they would always let him.
In 2013, I let my son skip school for a day to go to Springfield, Illinois’ capital, with me to march in support of full marriage equality for all. After our bus returned to the UU church in Rockford, Kyle and I got some dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, and we ran into dear old Frank . He invited us to sit with him. I told him where we had just come from, which he had guessed from our rainbow regalia.
During that late evening dinner, Frank said this to me. “I’m not sure about this marriage thing, but I sure was glad to see the military change on gay soldiers. I knew one once. And there is no way what they did to him is okay, no matter what I believe the Bible says about homosexuality.”
And then, we sat in silence while tears began to roll down the face of my nearly-octegenarian Pentecostal life-long friend, while he told a story aloud that not many ever got to hear.
It wasn’t a long story, because there just wasn’t enough to make it any more dramatic than it was. Very soon after arriving at his station in France, Frank got to know a fellow soldier in his troop just a little bit, they weren’t destined to become good friends, and they knew it. Frank wasn’t sure he liked this guy much, and besides, as Frank said, “We all thought he acted a little funny.” He made an offensive arm gesture along with the word funny. I stayed silent, because this was clearly not a time when he intended humor… he was simply working with the framework he knew, however hard for my son and me to witness. He struggled to continue, and I wondered if he was regretting even starting this story.
Rumors had began to generate about where the guy went when they all went into town on R&R. There was talk that some of the other soldiers had invited him to visit brothels with them, and he declined. There were rumors that he split off from the rest of the guys to go somewhere else and wouldn’t tell them where or why. Then someone said that he was seen coming out of a bar known to be frequented by gay men. There was talk that he was One of Those Kind, and that he couldn’t be trusted.
And then, one night, as Frank was lying in his bunk not quite sleeping, several officers came quietly into the barracks, put something over the face of Private Sitman so that he wouldn’t make any noise, and carried him away. As he recalled, they had come in a number indicating they thought there might be struggle, but Private Sitman seemed to offer none. They simply carried him away. Minutes later, others arrived who swiftly and quietly removed the empty bunk and all the belongings of the soldier. And while this was happening, Frank remembered the stirring and breathing of every man in the barracks indicating that they too were all awake, pretending to sleep. He recalls hearing silence, then one gunshot, then silence.
In the morning, no one said a word. No one shared knowing glances. No one mentioned the empty space where a bunk had been, nor asked about their missing brother. Private Sitman’s name never again appeared on any roll, his absence was never addressed, and by the end of their four years together, Frank wondered whether some of the soldiers had completely forgotten that Private Sitman existed, which seemed to have been the design all along.
But Frank never forgot. He lifted his nearly empty glass of Dr. Pepper and said quietly, “Here’s to you, Private Sitman. You are not forgotten.”
I believe that Frank shared that story with me because he trusted that I would remember well. And I have his permission to share it with you, with his name not shared. He wonders who will remember things that should be remembered, after he is gone.
And, so, although it as not my story to tell, I knew for sure that in this place, on this day, Private Sitman’s name would be raised, because he is not forgotten. I wish I knew more. I wish Frank had ever known the man’s first name. He never heard it spoken. And the records I can find of the men who served in that place and time with Frank do not include anyone by the last name of Sitman. Frank was right… they wanted him erased. I am here today to bear witness to the fact that it did not work. Private Sitman existed. Private Sitman mattered. Private Sitman changed my friend and made him a better man.
Remembering well isn’t about having all the details, or having a really compelling story to pass along. Some of our fallen soldiers are now only remembered through the decades by aging family who might not remember dates, and even parts of names sometimes, or how their beloved sibling, or child, or partner sounded when they laughed. Some things fade in the human mind, but that does not mean we do not remember well.
We remember well when the sacrifice they made changes us for good.
We remembered well on this week in 2016 as we listened to President Obama in his historic visit to Hiroshima when he said, “That is why we come to this place. We stand here, in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow. Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering, but we have a shared responsibility to look into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”
Elie Wiesel survived the Jewish Holocaust in which all the rest of his family perished, and he said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.”
We remember well when we reject despair. We remember well when we reject a political rhetoric that sounds all too chillingly familiar. When the words that are being said by some people in high places that sound chillingly like we have revived old speeches and old documents and simply replaced a few words. Add to the word ‘Jewish’ the word ‘Muslim’ or ‘immigrant’. Add to the word ‘Japanese’ ‘immigrant detention center’. Add to the word ‘black’ the word ‘transgender’.
We remember well when we reject the notion that this is somehow different and better time and we refuse to be deceived.
And so, because it is right and fitting to do so, today, I say aloud the name of Private Sitman.
I wonder if there are names of fallen soldiers that you would like to share in this space right now. We will all be a little better for having read their names, although we cannot be together to read them aloud. If you would grace us by sharing their names in the chat box, we will do our best to remember well with you.
Let us do nothing but sit with these names in silence for the next minute.
Thank you for remembering well with us today.
Here’s to you, Private Sitman. We remember you well.
Dr. Phillip, please lead us in singing, my friend.
Music Hymn #100 I’ve Got Peace Like A River
Offering Rev. Misha Sanders ,new video with Anthony Kahn composition
The offering that we take each Sunday isn’t just a stale habit:
it’s an opportunity to recommit to this place, and to this people.
Our offering is an affirmation—a “yes.”
When we give, we say yes to something we value.
With our gifts, freely given, may we say yes to the values of our faith.
May our text-to-give offering help us practice Unitarian Universalism within and beyond our congregation, as tools to empower our mission.
Our offering will now be given and gratefully received.
To the work of this congregation, which is weaving a tapestry of love and action, we dedicate our offerings and the best of who we are.
And such a great big thank you again to our guest, the Rev. Jo Von Rue, who will share this morning’s benediction.
Benediction Rev. Jo Von Rue
Postlude Jim Pearce