Rev. Yvette Flunder emphasizes need to keep fighting

The Rev. Yvette Flunder, during the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23 worship service in the Amphitheater, relayed her experience with a cicada to the congregation.

A native of San Francisco, Flunder did not have experience with cicadas. When she was walking down the street one day in Washington, a cicada attached itself to her pant leg, and try as she might to shake the creature off, the cicada held fast.

Flunder learned that cicadas live underground for 17 years and emerge once every cycle to eat, mate and find something to which to attach themselves to in order to shed their outer shells. 

She compared the life cycle of a cicada to the cycle of social progress and the inexorable backlash to that progress. When marginalized people gain freedoms, politicians and the powers that be, work behind the scenes to find new ways to restrict those freedoms.

“You see, a lot of what we’re experiencing now has been in the making for many years,” Flunder said. “Many, many years, many plans, many intentions, many, many meetings, many backroom, dark room meetings, to prepare for the time that we are experiencing now. There are times when, in celebration of freedom, we forget the inevitable intention of injustice, the determination of injustice, and the planning and the patience and the incredible amount of money that is spent to make sure that certain rights are taken and destroyed.”

Flunder, the Week Nine chaplain-in-residence, based her sermon around Romans 8:31, in which Paul asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Her sermon was titled “Who Can Be Against Us? Us.”

Shirley Miller, Flunder’s partner of 38 years and her wife since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, was in the front row of the Amp. Flunder invited Miller to stand up and give the congregation a wave.

The couple joyously celebrated Pride Month and Juneteenth two months ago. 

“Pride Month: where the LGBTQ community declared that closets are for brooms,” Flunder said. “They are not for the many who have contributed their lives, their skills, their support and their gifts to literally make a better world. Juneteenth is now a national holiday. Clap your hands with me for a moment. That makes this Brown woman awful, awful, awful glad, I have to say.”

And yet even in the midst of these celebrations of progress and freedom, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Legislatures are chipping away at voting rights around the country, and books that detail the realities of slavery and feature LGBTQ perspectives are being banned in schools.

“When we don’t respect and plan for the inevitability of justice backlash, we’ll run into the underbelly of injustice that plans carefully and strategically to defeat justice,” Flunder said. “It is well-funded, and it is patient and determined.”

Flunder said that amid the celebrations of Juneteenth, her people did not anticipate the brewing plans, the cicadas working underground, to orchestrate new forms of oppression against Black people — Jim Crow, the prison-industrial complex, racist gerrymandering and voter suppression. 

When the Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, and same-sex couples finally had the legal right to marry their partners, they did not anticipate the “cicadan” machinations which would work tirelessly to roll back their rights.

“So much of this history is fueled by religion,” Flunder said. “I hate saying that, but it really is the truth. It is concretized by religion, and it begs Paul’s question to the church in Rome: ‘If God is for us, who is against us?’ And my response, woefully, is: us is against us, at times in our history.”

Flunder said that we are against ourselves with our silence, our complacency, our illusions that justice is fixed and stable. Like Martin Luther King Jr. and his marchers after their first attempt to cross Edmund Pettus Bridge, if we don’t succeed, we must go home, tend to our wounds, regroup, and try again. 

“There is nothing that can be done to stop the cicada on its mission,” Flunder said. “I pray to God that there is nothing that can be done that will stop justice warriors on our mission.”

We may dance and celebrate, but do so with our armor on, Flunder said. We must always remember that justice and freedom need protection and are worth protection. Flunder asked the congregation not to fall prey to the assumption that someone else will do the work.

“Who are you leaving it to?” Flunder asked. “… Well, let me deputize you today. Let me deputize you today when we leave this beautiful environment, and if even this beautiful environment is where you live in, stay, get prepared.”

Flunder told the congregation to contribute in any way they could, from phone banking to having difficult conversations with stubborn family members. She emphasized that we all have our part to play, and we will only succeed in protecting justice and freedom if we all unite for a common cause.

Flunder closed her sermon by singing the spiritual “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.” Her voice rose in passion, and she invited the congregation to sing with her. “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ‘round / turn me ‘round, turn me ‘round / Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ‘round / I’m gonna keep on a walkin’, keep on a-talkin’ / Marching up to freedom land.”

The Rev. Natalie Hanson, interim senior pastor for Chautauqua Institution, and co-host of the United Methodist Missionary Guest House, presided. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, sang the opening hymn, “What Wondrous Love is This,” and “God is Here” by Glenn Wonacott. Cathy Nowolsielski, a longtime member of the Chautauqua Catholic Community and a team member for the service of blessing and healing ministry, read from Romans 8:31. The sermon concluded with the choir singing the African American spiritual “I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me.” Support of this week’s services is provided by the Daney-Holden Chaplaincy Fund and the Marie Reid-Edward Spencer Babcox Memorial Fund. 

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The author Ellen E. Mintzer

Ellen E. Mintzer is the theater beat reporter for The Chautauquan Daily this summer. She recently earned her Master of Arts in arts journalism and communications from Syracuse University. As a freelance arts and culture journalist, she’s written reviews and features about theater, opera, dance, film and more. Ellen loves weird niche comedy, psychological horror and provocative contemporary theater. (A Strange Loop is the best work of art she saw this year.) She is absolutely thrilled to be spending her summer in Chautauqua and covering its theatrical offerings and beyond.