An Open Letter to UUA President Morales

Dear President Morales,

I too, am deeply saddened.  This is the season of Lent, a time when we are called to look inward and examine ourselves, to prepare for Easter, a time of rebirth. So let us turn inward and examine ourselves individually and in the UUA, shall we?

I think it’s important in this work to be open and honest.  I am a cis-gendered, straight white woman. I am a fellowshipped minister serving a parish, and I serve on a District board, so I am quite familiar with governance and regionalization. The opinions here are my own.  Our current system privileges me over ministers of color, and often over LGBTQ ministers.  If I don’t recognize that and face it, I will never be in a place to change it.

My womb is not wandering, and my response to this crisis (and I do believe it is a crisis) regarding UUA hiring practices is not related in any way to the condition of my uterus. I therefore resent your characterization of peoples’ responses as “hysterical.”  Those of us who identify as women are far too familiar with this type of dismissive language.

According to your own biography on the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) website, you served on the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) Executive Committee “as the first person to carry its anti-racism, anti-oppression, multiculturalism portfolio.”  Given this credential, I would expect a more culturally sensitive response.

In fact, when looking outward, you have often given thoughtful and sensitive responses.  In February of 2010 you wrote a moving letter to the Unitarian Universalists of Uganda, praising them for their, “…courageous stand on behalf of gay and lesbian citizens…”.  In November of 2015, you urged us as Unitarian Universalists to learn to follow rather than insisting on taking the lead,  and to learn to respond, as we worked as allies with Black Lives matter (read here). In December, 2014, following the horrible decision in the Eric Garner case, you said, “…Eric Garner is dead. Michael Brown is dead. And we must raise our voices, again and again, to proclaim that black lives matter.” (read the whole statement here). You made a similar statement in August of 2014 following the Michael Brown decision.

Even when talking about the UUA, at least in general terms, and when talking about the state of ministry in congregations, you have been aware of the numbers for some time.  In the summer 2010 issue of the UU World, you wrote in “The New America“:

Yet during this time the number of minority ministers has changed hardly at all. What is even more troubling, ministers from historic minorities have had great difficulty finding and keeping positions. Why is it that in a generation the situation of women and lesbians and gays in our ministry has changed dramatically while the situation of ethnic and racial minorities has changed hardly at all?

I know that the hardest work is the work we have to do in ourselves.  The time is overdue for the UUA to do this work.  It is not enough to rest on the laurels of the 2016 Ends Monitoring Report.  It is a monitoring report.  It doesn’t say “mission accomplished.”  It will not do to “whitesplain” or “mansplain” anymore.  When those among us who have been historically marginalized are telling us that they are once again being marginalized, we cannot simply tell them they are being “hysterical.”  We must pay attention.  A good starting place will be the statement from Black Lives of UUs here and The Reflection on White Supremacy in Our UUA from the staff of Youth and Young Adult Ministries here.

The UUA, and in particular, the American Unitarian Association, has a long and ugly history of racism.  We must face it, own it, and repair it.  In 1903, the AUA published The Blood of The Nation, a horrid treatise promoting eugenics and warning against the dangers of defiling the pure white blood of Americans with inferior races.  One hundred and fourteen years on, it’s time that we stop assuming that white is default or superior.  It’s time to examine our excuses.  It’s time to do the real work.

That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.

Update:  30 March, 2017

Dear President Morales,

I have just read your letter to the UUA Board of Trustees in which you announced your intention to step down as President effective 1 April.  I commend you for this difficult decision. Your letter is eloquent and thoughtful, and an example of the best of ministry.  In doing this difficult thing you are setting an example for all of us in that you are putting the needs of the UUA before your own.  I share your prayer that we will come together, listen deeply to one another, and reaffirm our commitment to one another.  After all, we are a covenantal faith — what have we got if we don’t have our covenant?

Yours in faith,

The Mite-y Widow

The Power of Art

Art speaks. Art loud and quiet, in your face and under the radar, beautiful and ugly, obvious and enigmatic, and art is subversive.  Art is powerful. Art can support, art can bring down, art can evoke and provoke, and it is dangerous.  And if our So-Called President doesn’t understand art and its power, their are people in his administration who do.

The Administration is proposing cutting the funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the 2018 budget.  They are proposing this as a cost-saving measure, but at $148M, this represents a mere 0.003% of the federal budget.  To put that in perspective, the cost to U.S. taxpayers for the S0-Called President to travel to his personal Florida retreat for nearly every weekend since his inauguration has been $10M so far. For one month (CBS News).  It’s not about money.  It’s about an attempt to silence artists.

Just last week, I visited the Women Now exhibit at the Lorton Workhouse in Lorton, VA.  Lorton was a workhouse and a prison, and is now an arts center.  This exhibit highlights the struggle of women one hundred years on from the suffragists who were imprisoned at the workhouse.  This exhibit is political.  It speaks to the workhouse that exhibits it. It speaks to the struggle of women. It speaks to persistence.  It speaks.

There are interactive elements of the exhibit that invite us to be participants, not only in the moment, but in the creation of the art from a deep place. Interaction invites us to consider our own struggle, our own commitment, our own persistence, or perhaps our own  complicity.

Art is like water. It can seep in where more direct communication often cannot.  And we can understand.  When Sen. Joseph McCarthy was engaging in metaphorical communist witch hunts through the Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations, the playwrite Arthur Miller wrote the play “The Crucible,” which appeared to be about a literal witch-hunt, based on the transcripts of the Salem witch trials of 1692-93.  The play was produced in 1953, at the height of McCarthyism, and Miller’s statement was clear.  Except that it was about something that happened in Massachusetts in the 17th century.  So Sen. McCarthy couldn’t come out and say that it was about him, without acknowledging that he was, indeed, conducting a witch hunt.  Art is ingenious.

Artist Shephard Fairey created a series of posters called “We The People” in response to the inauguration and dramatic increase in hate crimes since the election.  The posters depict all sorts of Americans who are diverse in all sorts of ways.  They are powerful statements.  Recently, the Carroll County Schools in Maryland insisted that teachers remove these posters from classrooms, because some people perceive the posters as “anti-Trump.” (read more here).  The posters say things such as “We the people protect each other” or “We the people are greater than fear” or “We the people defend dignity.”  Think about that for a moment.  This is what is perceived as being “anti-Trump.”  Art is provocative.  This means that the So-Called President and his supporters are claiming that it is against him to be greater than fear, or to defend dignity.  Art is important.  You can see  the posters and download them for free here, by the way.

Since the time that the prophet Nathan told King David a story about a rich man who stole a sheep from a poor man to provoke David to do the right thing, people have been using art as tool for justice.  Use art. Go and see art. Support it. Make art.

Art is dangerous. It’s subversive. And it’s important.  What will you subvert today?

That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.

 

Marching With Women on 7 Continents

I’m back! I haven’t written in ages. I haven’t written in ages because, pretty much since November 9, I’ve been, well, despondent.  I really haven’t had the energy to write much.  But I’m writing now. I’m writing now because there was the Women’s March on Saturday. And it was important.

A dear friend and colleague has been telling me lately that marches aren’t what get things accomplished anymore.  I understand what he means. This isn’t 1964, and we aren’t going to bend the will of politicians these days by marching. No, these days, politicians are putting party politics well above their actual jobs and what’s best for the nation, and they aren’t going to be moved by millions of marchers. But that’s not why we marched.

This is what the march did.  It energized us for the work. Official estimates for Washington DC were 500,000. I’ve seen marches of half a million people before. This was more. WAY more.  There were so many people that the official march never actually got started. The march was the non-stop walking to and from the rally points, and walking to the metro to leave.  Swarms and swarms of people filling the streets all around downtown.

Now, I’ve been attending marches since 1968, when I picketed Gracie Mansion in New York City with my parents and their colleagues during the New York City teachers’ strike.  I’ve had non-violence training, and I’ve been a marshall at a few marches, too.  This march was remarkable.

This was the most respectful march I’ve ever been to. Sure, there were outside agitators who were attempting to make trouble. But the folks who came to the march just refused to engage them. At all. They were left to their bizarre ranting on the sidelines while people from all over engaged with each other.

This was the first time that I really noticed the intersectionality at a march. It was intentional and it was important.  There were signs in multiple languages.  Marchers engaged with one another – and not just the people they came with.  People were talking to people they didn’t know and helping each other out. And people were listening to one another.

Chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “We want a leader/Not a creepy tweeter,” and many others didn’t so much compete with one another as they did flow into one another.

I ran into people who said they felt ashamed at how much they’d taken for granted before the election.  People who said that they’d felt despondent but now were feeling energized and ready to get to work.  People who were committing to calling their elected officials regularly.  People who were ready to dig in.

And this was just the march in Washington, D.C. There were marches all across the U.S. and on all seven continents (yes, there was even a march on Antarctica).  People are mobilized.  It would have been good to have this energy before November 8, but we do have it now.

The point of this was not that it’s one and done.  The point is that the beast has awakened.  This was just our grand entrance.  We’re coming. And we who believe in freedom will not rest.

That’s my mite. That’s all I’ve got.

Again and Again

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Never Again. This is carved in stone in seven languages on the monument at the Treblinka death camp. I wonder if we ever meant this. It says never again, but we do this again and again. We annihilate each other time and time again, and God weeps.

Aleppo has been devastated (view before and after photos here).  Misinformation from Russia has interfered with the evacuation of civilians from the city.

But this is just the most recent atrocity we have committed against each other.  Cambodia. Bosnia. Rwanda. Darfur.  All of these genocides occurred since the words were carved on this stone in Treblinka. And what for?

Bashir al-Assad wants to remain in power in Syria even if there are no people left to rule over. Russia and Iran are happy to back Assad at any cost. Human life is cheap. It’s about maintaining power for them, too.

Until we begin to see each other as God’s creation, as equals each carrying the face of God, we will continue to treat each other as commodities. We will continue to do this. Again and again.  We can carve whatever we like into stone.  God already tried that with us, giving Moses the tablets containing the big 10.  We aren’t doing to well.  Just to recap here:

From Exodus 20:1-17

Then God spoke all these words:

 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;  you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We’re screwing it all up. It’s time to pay attention to the words on the stones.

That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.

An Open Letter To President-Elect Trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

The election is over, and, because the founders of our nation were fearful of direct democratic power in the hands of the populace, despite a majority of voters having voted for Secretary Clinton, you will be the next President of the United States. A job you never even wanted.  Ironic.

But Mr. President-elect, this is a job. A real job. With real responsibilities. And now you will have real work to do.

Most of the people in this nation didn’t want you to be our President. So you area already starting out in a nation deeply divided. People are scared. You could, as fascists before you have done, play on that fear, and continue to divide and cower the nation for the next four years. You could destroy the economy, entangle us in wars, and make this country, and the world a more dangerous place.  But I don’t think that would be of any benefit to you. You would go down in history as the worst President ever, if not the last President ever, in the history of the United States.

Alternatively, you could rise to the occasion and the office. You could recognize that you now have responsibility to everyone in this country. We do not serve you — you now will serve us. All of us. Not just the rich, but the poor. Not just whites, but blacks, latinos, Asians, and everyone else.  Not just Christians, but Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, and those of every other faith.  Not just straight married people, but lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, married or single. Not just cis-gendered people, but transgendered people.  All of us. Everyone.

Your wife has said she wants to campaign against cyber-bullying.  You have been the biggest cyber-bully of them all.  You will have to lead by example.  The name-calling will have to stop.

Mr. President-elect, people are scared.  If that’s what you wanted, well, you’ve got it.  But how much more would we be able to accomplish if we weren’t frightened of each other and instead worked together?  The ball is in your court.

That’s my mite.  It’s all I’ve got.

Sincerely,

The Mite-y Widow

God is Good, God is Better…

If I believed that we were born in total depravity, then I would have to believe that I am more mature than God. That is a horrific thought. No — I believe — I must believe that God is greater than I am, that God is more mature, wiser, kinder, gentler, more patient, and better in every way than I am. After all, I do believe that I am made, that we are all made, in God’s image. No, I don’t believe in a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation stories, but I do believe that we are made in God’s image, that we carry God’s Divine spark, the ruach – the Divine wind, within us.

But being made in God’s image does not make us God. We are not the original. We are the copies. We are not as good. We are striving to be.

So I do not believe that we are born in total depravity. I am a Universalist. A capital U Universalist and a lower-case U universalist.  I believe that God never gives up on us. Never. Not ever. Which already makes God better than me.

Because right now – and a lot lately, I find that I am just this close to giving up on humanity.  It’s not just this election, or any election. It’s the general level of nastiness that we are showing one another.  The rape culture that is being condoned and excused. Rush Limbaugh, the poster boy for the total depravity argument, on 12 October, 2016, allowed as how those on the left would call any sexual contact that didn’t include consent as rape. Um…yes. By definition! That’s exactly what rape is! You can read his statement here if you haven’t just eaten.

A man thought it would be appropriate to dress his son in blackface as a Black Lives Matter activist for Halloween. Because his son wanted to go as something stupid. And then he posted the photo proudly on Facebook. I weep for this child – for the way he is being brought up.

A seven-year-old was beaten up by other children on his school bus in North Carolina. Because he is Muslim. On his school bus. Where an adult is present, driving the bus. The family is now moving back to Pakistan, because they don’t feel safe in the U.S. Let that sink in for a moment. They are moving back to Pakistan, where they feel safer.

And today, on the 287th day of the year, as I write this, 843 people have been killed by police so far in the U.S. this year.  That’s just about three people every single day. Every. Single. Day. And yes, police do get killed in the line of duty. They aren’t all killed by people, but police do die in the line of duty. So far, in 2016, 99 police officers have died in the line of duty.  And there were 130 police deaths in 2015, and 146 in 2014, so fortunately, that number is trending down. (The average daily death toll for civilians killed by police in 2015 was about the same as it appears to be trending now).

So I see all these things, and many more things, and I get discouraged. I say “Black Lives Matter,” and someone says, “well, I think all lives matter!” And I get tired of explaining that all lives can’t matter if we’re erasing the black lives.

I take a stand against rape culture, and someone says, “can’t you take a joke?” I can take a joke. Having agency over my body isn’t a joke. And I get tired of explaining to men, and sometimes even to other women that my body isn’t here for your amusement.

I say that I want to learn about other faiths, that my way isn’t the only way it is one way, and someone says, “but they can’t be trusted, they could be terrorists.” And I get tired of pointing out that terrorists abound in every flavor, and that while we sit and cower in the corner about terrorists, the poor are still poor, the hungry are still  hungry, many people still don’t have adequate healthcare or education, and so much more.

We spend so much time looking for ways to hate each other. We spend so much time looking for the things that divide us.  If you don’t love the way I do, you must be broken. If you don’t eat, worship, think, look the way I do, you must be broken/wrong/inferior.

So I think that God must have infinite patience. I think there must be so much more that we are capable of. Because I cannot bear to believe that we are totally depraved. This is my prayer. That God grant me the strength to continue the work. That we will come to know how to be better humans. That we will continue to build the kingdom. To repair the world. It is the only way. God must be greater than all of us. Let us find our way to God.

That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.

 

Acting the Part Part 2: Sticking to the Formula

At some point in the mid-20th century, it came to the attention of demographers that the average American family had something like 2.something children. Now, most people understand that people don’t have fractions of a child. Most people get that this meant that some families had fewer than two children, and some had more. And yet. And yet, the statistics said this was the average American family, so as builders raced to build houses in suburbs following the example of Levittown, they built all these three- and four-bedroom houses. To accommodate all of those 2.something children families.  Which was great, if you had a family with two or three children.  But not really so much if you had seven children. Or five, even. Which wasn’t all that unusual in the neighborhood that I lived in as a kid.

But hey, it’s a formula. There are other things that we’ve learned from demographic statistics.  Demographics have told us for a long time (although this is changing rapidly), that about 12% of the U.S. population was black. And it would seem that people in Hollywood must have gotten hold of this. That is the most charitable assumption I can make for how Hollywood has represented minorities on screen (I can think of nothing nice to say about how women have been represented).

Once upon a time, everyone on screen was white, unless there was a specific reason for someone to be a person of color (black slave, evil Indian, stereotyped Chinese guy with buck teeth who was probably played by a white guy anyway (see Part 1)). But eventually, more enlightened producers and directors caught on, and started including people of color. For example, in “The Mod Squad” – one default guy (you know, the “regular” white guy), one woman (i.e. a white woman, because we can only handle one variable at a time), and one black guy. So, boxes ticked.  And there was “Star Trek”, which really was ahead of its time. But again, “Star Trek” had a predominantly white cast. The captain, of course, was a white human man. There was a black woman in a prominent role, which was truly fantastic. And there was a Japanese-American guy, and a Russian character (also a white man, but it was the 1960’s, so this was big – the two communist nations sitting there together). And there was a Scottish white guy, and an alien white guy. Boxes ticked.

But in the late 1980’s, when “Star Trek Next Generation” came around, things hadn’t changed all that much in terms of total diversity. This is supposed to be taking place centuries in the future. The captain is still a white guy. Of all the main characters on the series, two were black: LeVar Burton, who played a human, and Michael Dorn, who played a Klingon in heavy prosthetic make-up.  Centuries in the future, and we were still envisioning people of color in token representation.

It’s no wonder that last week Tim Burton shoved both his feet down his throat when he allowed as how he’s bought into the whole idea that white people are the default for movies unless a character is specifically called to be a person of color (read more here). His exact words were, “things either call for things or they don’t.”  Ew.

Here’s the thing — regardless of what the statistics say about the current population of the United States, we know from our lives that families don’t have 2.3 children, and we know that each school doesn’t have one black student, each office doesn’t have a single black employee, each neighborhood doesn’t have one black family.  So why do we still represent the world this way on screen?

We can imagine better. When “Doctor Who” chose to represent the British Monarch in the 29th century, they gave us Liz X, a black woman.  That’s a good start. I think we need to keep it going. And maybe Tim Burton ought to sit down and watch a few episodes.

That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.