Don’t Call Her a Saint! The Legacy of Dorothy Day

Prelude: Jim Pearce

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: Rev. Misha Sanders

Words of Welcome and Announcements:  Lil Woolf 

Good morning! I am Lil Woolf, a Worship Associate here at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sandy Springs, Georgia. 

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.  You can just stay right here when the service ends. There is no need to leave this zoom call, we will begin coffee hour as soon as the postlude is over. 

The RE Program is excited to announce a new curriculum that will be offered to students in grades 2-5. Lego® UU Sources will be offered twice a month via Zoom. Our first class will be on Sunday, September 13th at 11:15 a.m. You are invited to join us as we explore our UU Sources and have fun building with Lego® bricks. The link to join the class will be in this week’s newsletter and parents will also receive an invitation via email. Log into Zoom, pull up a chair, and pour out your Lego® bricks as we go on this adventure together!

We hope you will continue to send photos of yourselves, your family and pets to us to be used during our services.  It was great to see everyone’s smiling faces, covid hair cuts and your various activities  in the photo collage last week– so please find and upload your photographs  so we  can share our collective joy.  If you haven’t sent any yet, please do so we can see everyone eventually.

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.  

And now let us prepare for worship with this music

Music: There’s A River Flowing

Call to Worship: Rev. Misha Sanders

We enter this sanctuary for kindness and comfort.

May rough-worn hands and aching backs be healed.

We enter this sanctuary of hope for equality.

May those who labor to survive live to know justice.

We enter this sanctuary of love and vocation.

May our bonds of solidarity be strengthened.

We enter this sanctuary of courage and friendship.

May we proceed hand-in-hand toward freedom.

Megan Visser

And now, Emma Davis will light our chalice.

Lighting of the Chalice: The Davis Family

Across the distance, the light from within me shines, sending love to all

Across the distance, your light is fuel that warms me

and helps to keep my own light burning

Together, we keep the flame of community burning bright

Laura Thompson

Story Wisdom: Adia Fields-Udofia

Reading: Lil Woolf

Woman Work

I’ve got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I’ve got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.
Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.
Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
‘Til I can rest again.
Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.
Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You’re all that I can call my own.

Woman Work,Maya Angelou, And Still I Rise. Random House in 1978

Ella, in a square apron, along Highway 80

She’s a copperheaded waitress,
tired and sharp-worded, she hides
her bad brown tooth behind a wicked
smile, and flicks her ass
out of habit, to fend off the pass
that passes for affection.
She keeps her mind the way men
keep a knife—keen to strip the game
down to her size. She has a thin spine,
swallows her eggs cold, and tells lies.
She slaps a wet rag at the truck driver
if they should complain. She understands
the necessity for pain, turns away
the smaller tips, out of pride, and
keeps a flask under the counter. Once,
she shot a lover who misused her child.
Before she got out of jail, the courts had pounced
and given the child away. Like some isolated lake,
her flat blue eyes take care of their own stark
bottoms. Her hands are nervous, curled, ready
to scrape.
The common woman is as common
as a rattlesnake.

The Common Women Poems, II. Ella, in a square apron, along Highway 80 Judy Grahn (New & Selected Poems (1966-2006). Red Hen Press, 2008)

Joys and Sorrows: Rev. Joan Armstong-Davis

Good Morning. I’m the Rev. Joan Davis, Northwest’s Affiliated Community Minister, and I am here to bring you the Joys and Sorrows this morning. And I invite you all now, those of you with Joys and Sorrows to share with our congregation here gathered virtually, to open the chat box at the bottom of your screen and enter your Joys and Sorrows.

Joys and Sorrows is our time in this space to honor these sacred moments and milestones. For our Ritual, we have water and we have river stones. Smooth and heavy in our hands, these river stones symbolize life’s pleasures and times of ease and life’s burdens and times of heaviness. The water in our bowl is a precious natural resource. We use it sparingly, reminding us of the preciousness of each life and its unique journey.

JOY Maria Drinkard reports that her husband, Jim, is doing much better following his procedure last week. We wish him continued recovery.

JOY Marti Wilson sent an update on her nephew, Ryan Wilson who has been hospitalized at the Wellstar Kennestone Hospital since last April. He was moved to a physical therapy unit last week and now is stable enough to be scheduled for gall bladder surgery. It’s been a long haul for Ryan, but this is good news. If you’d like to send a note or a card, please go to the chat box at the bottom of your screen and you’ll find Ryan’s address.

And now, I will add this final stone for those joys and concerns that may be held in silence among us.

Prayer and Meditation: Rev. Joan Davis

In recognition of Labor Day, let us give thanks for all who work. We honor those who work with their hands and those who work with their backs. We’re in gratitude to all those who labor to support our world, and for all those who boldly continue the work of justice, equity, and peace.

Amen and may it be so.

Be well, stay safe and keep in touch.

Music Interlude: “What Happens When A Woman…”

Sermon: Don’t Call Her a Saint!  Rev. Misha Sanders

Today is filled with poetry, which is art and ministry and life and it feeds me and many of you like no other art form.  So, let’s have one more, shall we. I think you will know soon, even if I didn’t say so, that this is one of mine. 

I am from a blow dryer on high power,
Aqua Net Super Hold,
and an 80’s high school year book. 
I am from the heavy, lingering air
around the old military row houses
behind the Vitner’s potato chip factory.
I am from the backyard cherry tree
that I loved even more
after it let the bad cousin fall out and break his arm,
and the fertile soil by the strawberry vines
in and under which are resting
all the dead pets I ever loved.
I am from the women who do all
the cooking and the cleaning
while the men and children play,
and from the women with all the power
who held the whole thing together
but didn’t let on,
from Nora, and Olive, and Betty Jane.
I am from the men who worked the railroad, the family store,
and at the old Quaker Oats factory
before it closed,
and who played stand-up bass
in a rock band with a few other soldiers
before finding the Lord,
from Obal, and Lester, and Willis Calvin.
I am from hearty laughers and
frequent weepers.
I am from hellfire and brimstone sermons
screamed from sweaty, spitting faces,
and from the nightly terror
of imminent rapture warnings.
From dancing in the spirit,
peaking in tongues,
and the laying on of hands to heal the sick.
I am from the Midwest and the Deep South,
the best fried chicken,
my dad’s secret chili recipe,
and my mom’s coconut cream pie.
I am from the mother who sometimes let me
go bowling or roller skating
if I promised not to tell anyone from church,
and the dad who knocked me down
and fell deliberately on my head
at the town fireworks show,
screaming, “JESUS! JESUS! JESUS!”
because he mistook the glow of my sparkler for my hair being on fire.
I am from the brother who for years could not speak to me,
look me in the eye, or respond to my, “I miss you” texts
because I am a heretic.
And the sister who stood her ground and said,
“You’ll have to get through me first”
and took my beatings
every time someone came at me with a belt.
I am from the hole I kicked in the wall by the bathroom
that day after my mom’s hysterectomy
when she told me that
she regretted having me every day of her life.
I am from the tool box in the basement
and the tools that I held in my hand
while I prayed God’s anointing into them
so that the next time my dad touched them
he would be healed of his depression.
I am from the United Pentecostals,
who are the funniest people in the world
but only insiders know it.
I am from outsiders who spill secrets,
say unmentionables out loud,
and sometimes speak ill of the dead.
I am from the box under my mother’s bed
where the pictures live;
the only thing I have requested to be mine
after she is gone.
I am from deep grudges and true forgiveness.
I am from mortal wounds, miraculous healings, and gnarly scars.
I am from we did the best we could
with what we had
and we didn’t know any better back then.
But mostly,
I am from fierce and forever love.

I advertised and promoted that today would be a sermon about Dorothy Day, icon of both the suffrage and the labor movements. And so, I’m going to at least say her name and tell you that her legacy reverberates through every progressive social movement, especially where women’s voices are present and women’s lives are at stake… which is every movement. But most of you know me well enough to know that this is not the first time nor will it be the last, that my sermon veered away from what I thought it might be when we put the word out. Sermons are like that sometimes. 

I will tell you that my delving into the life of Dorothy Day ended in a sermon that was more of a book report or academic lecture, and that is not what I am called to share in our brief time together in worship each week.   

I will tell you that Dorothy Day, original staff writer on the activist newspaper “The Catholic Worker” was a woman whose FAITH led her unapologetically right into political and social activism, just as ours often does. Day’s Catholic faith led her to a life of defending the rights of the oppressed just like many powerful Catholic women who have come behind her, like Sister Simone Campbell and the rest of The Nuns on the Bus, those fierce and faithful women who travel our nation speaking up for the rights of the downtrodden in whatever capacity the moment calls for. Or like Sister Helen Prejean, who works for the rights of death row prisoners. And Sister Joan Chittister, a great friend of our faith tradition.

Let us lift up this Labor Day weekend the truth that Dorothy Day and the countless other women of the Labor Movement paved the way for the women of all the *other* movements of our time. They made precedent on the front lines so that Gloria Steinem, and Dorothy Pittman Hughes, and Betty Friedan didn’t have to be the first women rising for the rights of women.  

The women of the Labor movement paved the road for the trans women of color, who are the very reason we have an LGBT PRIDE movement, women like Marsha P. Johnson, and Sylvia Rivera. 

The Fierce women who lead the Black Lives Matter movement, like Bree Newsome, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Didi DelGado and Unitarian Universalism’s own Leslie Mac. 

My goodness, how do we ever celebrate a Labor Day weekend without lifting up the stories of women?  

One day I will host a second hour chat about Dorothy Day, I’ve decided, but today is a day where I could well-spend my whole allotted time with you just listing the names.  

But one more thing about Dorothy…  She was spitting mad about something or other for most of her life. Anger fueled her passion for the work. She got especially mad in her later years after a lifetime of activism on behalf of workers who deserved humane working conditions, when there began some rumbling among her fellow progressive Catholics that she should someday be officially called a Saint. Dorothy was having none of that.  “Do not call me a saint,” Dorothy instructed in succinct and clear terms. She knew her strengths, she knew her weaknesses. She embraced the entire scope of her humanity, having had a lifetime of various lovers, an aborted pregnancy, and out-of-wedlock child, and countless public examples of not being a meek and submissive Christian woman. Do not call me a saint, said Dorothy, who owned every bit of the privilege her white skin afforded her and used that power to speak in places where she knew and acknowledged that black and brown skinned people would not be given a voice. She did her best to amplify them, in word and in print. Do not call me a saint, she said.  

Sometimes I fear that…yes, please and thank you,  I *would* actually like a whole batch of freshly-baked ally cookies every time I rise for black lives, or immigrant workers, or transgender school children, or our disproportionately black and brown and female force of essential workers who are keeping our nation running while risking their very lives and the lives of their families under the threat of this pandemic.  

But, Dorothy Day reminds me that speaking truth to power from a position of privilege isn’t saintly, beloveds. It is simply bare-minimum decent human-being. It is literally the least that we can do.  

And sometimes… especially right now… it is the only thing we can do. And that is hard to sit with, and it is just going to have to be okay.   

I feel helpless to know how to defend the rights of nurses. Of the housekeeping staff in our hospitals and clinics and schools. Of every educator and worker of any kind in our schools. Of the people who keep our groceries stocked and deliver our meals to our doors or hand us our order at the drive thru.   

Sometimes saying that I see you and I care and I wish we could do better is literally all we can do.  

And that is hard to wrestle with.  

So, let’s take a breath right now and assess where we are in our own intersections of class privilege and oppression. And whatever we discover when we look deeply into our own lives is never a cause for shame. We are who we are because of the people and the circumstances that created us, and that is exactly as it should be. 

I am a straight, cisgender professional white woman.   

I come from poor working class people and have only recently climbed out of poverty myself, here in this place doing this work.   

I come from a dad who was a foreman on the canning floor or a dog food factory. 

I come from a mom who lost her finger in a gear-making machine and went right back to work at the factory two days later.   

I come from grandfathers who ran a family store, and built a railroad. 

I come from grandmothers who worked in potato chip factories and farming on share-cropped land.  

I wonder what kind of labor you come from. Would you share it with each other in the chat box for the next few moments, please? 

Or tell us about your own labor.  

I have been a massage therapist. A retail worker. A care-giver for elders and for youth with disabilities. A telemarketer. And third-shift cleaning staff in the movie booths at the back of an adult video store.  

I doubt we could call any of us saints.  

But here we are, doing the best we have, with rich legacies behind us, holding us up, cheering us on, and moving us forward. 

Let us sit with where and who we came from for a minute, as you share in the chat box. 

A quote I think of often is by poet Linda Hogan, who said this: 

“I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”  

I believe that says it best, but for today’s purposes let me remind us that that love of thousands is the WORK of thousands. The LABOR of thousands. The lament, the pain, the injury, the success, the heartbreak, the death and the miraculous coming through it alive…of thousands.  

We are because they were.  

And our Labor Day weekend celebrations are in honor of them. Past, present, and future.   

May we not wish to be called saints for honoring hard work, for owning our privileges and using them for good, for owning our whole hard-scrabble stories and lifting them up as something to be proud of.

We are not saints. But we are, I believe and I pray, maybe finally awakening to the power of our interconnectedness in a way that can change the whole world for all of us of every working class, every background, and every future.  

Blessings to our essential workers. Blessings to all laborers of every kind, paid and unpaid. 

Blessings on our not-so-saintly stories of things we have done to get by. 

Blessings on our non-so-saintly stories of how we have not always seen workers clearly because of our vantage-points of privilege. 

Blessings on all of us for doing the best we can, and learning, and then doing better. 

I love you. All of you. Your whole story. I honor the work that you do in the world. 

Blessed be, Amen, Ameen, Ashe, and May it be so.

Music for Reflection: “Bread and Roses”

Offering: Introduction by Lil Woolf

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. Our offering will now be given and gratefully received.

Dedication of the Offering: 

“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.” 

Benediction: Rev. Misha Sanders

1 Corinthians 15:58 MSRV

The words of the Apostle Paul to the rabble-rousing, justice-seeking church in Corinth:

“Beloveds, stay faithful to the work of liberation, and know this: Your labour is not in vain.”

Postlude: Jim Pearce [postlude video]

Today’s service participants:

Worship leads: Rev. Misha and Lil Woolf

Chalice lighting: Emma Davis

Story Wisdom: Adia Fields-Udofia

Music: “There’s A River Flowing in My Soul” by Jane Sapp, “Bread and Roses” by Judy Collins, “What Happens When a Woman?” performed by Girls’ & Women’s Special Choir under Cynthia Young, Jim Pearce 

Producer: David Morgen

Usher: Kristan Wagner