All Houses Matter By Walter Ellis, Cedar Lane UU Church of Bethesda, MD


Walter Ellis received a 2015 UUSJ Emerging Leader Award at the UUSJ Social Justice Awards Gala last fall. His full remarks are below:

Since I only have a few minutes, I figured I’d share an image with you I’ve cribbed from the internet. It’s a sketch that I’ve grown quite fond of. It shows two houses, one of them on fire, with a person in the foreground holding a fire hose blissfully (or ignorantly) watering the house that’s not on fire, under the caption “all houses matter.”

I love how it doesn’t take much to see what the illustrator, Chris Straub, is trying to get across. I mean, “Hello! It’s right there people!” Sometimes I wish I had this with me when I’ve talked with people who clearly just don’t get it, as evidenced by their arguments against the very purposes of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Will this picture and a well thought out comment help everyone “see the light?” Sadly, no. But, I think it can help.
However, while initially I saw this as great for helping “us” show “them”?see what “they”?are missing, it dawned on
me that, really, I think there’s a bit more in here. I got to thinking, aren’t there times when I’m the one diligently watering the house that’s not ?on fire? If we just pause for a second and think about it, don’t we all do this from time to time? Both as individuals and as a community? Further, isn’t it our perceived sense of being on the right side of justice, that causes us to be blind of when and where we’re ignorantly acting just like this character here?

I think social justice work does ?involve a lot of helping other people “get it” and working to make sure that more of us are helping more than we’re hurting. But, equally important…. No, actually of greater importance, working for social justice requires we spend as much time?or more looking at when we,?because of our good intentions, are blind to the flames right next us engulfing our neighbors. At times like these we need to devote ourselves to redoubling our efforts to see through the smoke…but often from our vantage point, that’s a very difficult task to do, especially when we believe we have the best view.

The crisis that our General Assembly faced while working to pass a resolution of support of the Black Lives Matter movement didn’t come as a surprise to many. Many of us have long learned to expect that dealing with matters of race are some of the hardest things we as a movement can do. The process, despite its ultimate success, left many of us scarred, again.

I thank you for the recognition of the importance of the work we are doing, and the work we have yet to do. But if there’s anything that comes from the immense sense of relief that we dodged a bullet at GA, I hope it is that we let others know that we have a lot of work to do in our own house before we can truly become effective and honest allies for justice.

Our movement, full of passionate, dedicated people like those who share the honor of recognition with me today,
has done a lot of work fighting for justice. But?we must not let that blind us to the breadth and depth of the flames
raging all around us. Let’s all ?redouble our efforts to make sure we’re effectively putting the hose where it can do the most good. In many cases that requires more listening than leading. More humility than assuredness. To be true
allies in working for justice we need to see more often when we slip into our “all houses matter” state of mind, doing what we believe is best rather than listening to the wisdom of others.

Our heart is in the right place, but we all ?need help. And so I ask only that we continue to help ourselves ?in this task as we help each other. And together, we will all emerge as better leaders, and followers, for justice.