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

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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.

Keeping Police Safe

When I was a senior in high school, I got to participate in police training. As far as I know, our high school drama students were the only high school group anywhere doing this — it was usually done by professional actors — but our drama teacher had clout and we got to do this as high school students. I don’t mean that we trained to be police. I mean that we helped to train new police officers.

We went to the police academy and we staged some improvisational scenes, and the police cadets had to respond.  I remember my scene very well. I had set my roommate up on a date, and he had raped her.  When the police responded, I was to be over-protective of her. That’s exactly what I did.  There were no women police.  I didn’t want to leave her alone with a man.  I was on edge. The job of the police was to de-escalate. But this was training. They weren’t perfect yet.  Eventually, the cadet had me up against the wall in a half-nelson.  Even though I’d never raised a hand against him.

But you know, the cadets in this class, they had the opportunity, in a controlled setting, to evaluate what they were doing.  Sure, this guy had me up against the wall. But this wasn’t out on the street. He wasn’t really going to arrest me. He didn’t have any real weapons on him.  Perhaps he learned something. I hope so.

Last year, we learned that the city of Miami was using mugshots of black men for target practice (Miami police used mugshots of black men for target practice).  In case you were wondering what the police might have been learning from this type of training, this week, a Miami police officer shot Charles Kinsey, a caretaker (who happens to be a black ma) at a group home who was working with an autistic man who had wandered away and into the street. Kinsey was lying on his back with his hands in the air (as ordered by the police) at the time that he was shot. When asked why he shot at Kinsey, the officer responded, “I don’t know.” I don’t know? That’s not good enough. Perhaps it had something to do with all that target practice shooting at the faces of black men. I’m just hypothesizing.

And just this week at the RNC Circus, another Sheriff Clark (and seriously, what is it about Sheriffs named Clark?) went off about how Black Lives Matter is all about being anti-police and how we should all be worried about Blue Lives Matter.  Um….yeah. Black Lives Matter is not anti-police.  It doesn’t have to be either or. In fact, if we want to make it even safer for police, we’re going to have to recognize that Black Lives Matter. How can I explain this better?

Do you know anyone who thinks the police DON’T have a difficult job? OK. I think we can pretty much all agree on that. It’s a hard job, and it’s potentially dangerous.  But it’s MORE dangerous if people fear the police. If we learn to fear the police, then, just as Yoda said, fear will lead to hate.

We can keep escalating. It’s an option. More and more people will learn to fear and distrust the police. But as I write this, 599 people have been killed by the police in the U.S. so far this year.  Five hundred ninety-nine.  And Native Americans are nearly 3.6 times as likely to be killed by police (per capita) than whites, and blacks are nearly 2.5 times as likely to be killed.

Perhaps it’s time, instead of escalating, that we teach de-escalation. Perhaps everyone, including the police, would be safer, if police shed all the military armor and weaponry and instead got back into the communities.  Because just maybe, if we started to see each other as actual people, then maybe we would be less inclined to shoot 12-year-olds with bb-guns, or men lying on their backs with their hands in the air. And then maybe, if the police weren’t shooting people all the time, then people wouldn’t be so hyper vigilant around the police. And then everyone would be safer.

That’s my mite. That’s all I’ve got.

 

My Confession

When I was maybe six years old, I was already being programmed by society. My babysitter, one of my mother’s students, (we’ll call her E.), was putting me to bed. I remember looking at her and telling her, “You’re beautiful, even though your skin isn’t this color” (I said this pointing to the skin on my own arm).  You see, I had already been instructed by countless images on t.v. and in all manner of advertising, that beautiful women were white. WhiteWhiteWhiteWhiteWhite. Preferably with blonde hair and blue eyes. But most definitely – White.

I was already learning that I had privilege, and that I was entitled to it. Even growing up in New York City, going to school with kids from all different cultures and ethnicities. I looked like the teachers. My parents were teachers. White people were teachers. I learned that white people knew what was best.

So now I am confessing. I’m confessing to the assumptions that I’ve bought into in the past. To the privileges that I’ve freely benefitted from. Because friends, this isn’t an academic exercise. People are dying. Black people. It’s been open season on white people killing black people in this country with impunity, and the only way we’re going to end this for us to admit to our privilege. White people have to dismantle this. White people have to stop killing black people. And while I’ve never pulled a trigger, I’ve never owned a slave, (my own family was effectively enslaved by the Tsar while slavery was legal in the U.S.), I have absolutely benefitted from the legacy of slavery in this country because I’m white.

I confess that I’d bought into the lie that “this is an isolated incident.” Oh sure, in the case of Rodney King there was a video, so we knew about that. But in the few other instances (because surely this wasn’t a frequent occurrence!), there must be explanations and we should wait to hear all the facts. I bought into that lie.  But now we all have smartphones with cameras.  Now I can’t ignore it. Now I know better. So forgive me, Holy One, and forgive me, brothers and sisters, for I have sinned. I have refused to see what was right in front of me. But I know better now. These are not isolated incidents. These are daily occurrences.  Five hundred sixty-six people have been killed by police so far this year in the United States, and the year is barely half over. Five hundred sixty-six.  Three more people have been killed since Philando Castile was killed yesterday.  The Guardian newspaper keeps a running tally. Oh, and in case you were wondering, 136 of the people killed by police so far this year were black.

I confess that I bought into the “we’re all the same” lie. I think that, back in the ’70’s and ’80’s, we genuinely believed that “we’re all the same” was really the way to go. I didn’t understand that it meant erasing someone else’s culture and asking people to assimilate to the dominant culture. It’s probably better than “othering” – but asking someone else to change to accommodate me isn’t truly recognizing that person as an equal. Just as I love my own cultural heritage, everyone must have this privilege.

I confess that I’d bought into the default setting for human as white. It probably wasn’t a conscious decision, but that’s the thing about privilege – I have the privilege of not thinking about a lot of things. I’ve never been pulled over for driving while white. I’ve never been followed around a store for shopping while white (even though, by the way, the most common shoplifter in America is a middle-aged white woman). I’ve had to consciously train myself to not think of the default setting as white. I can’t say for sure how much I still do it, because, well, it’s a subconscious thing.  But I can say that where I have trained myself, my eyes have been opened WIDE.

And speaking of having my eyes opened wide – I confess to having bought into the lie of the white savior. You know the white savior, don’t you? I refer you to the second paragraph above – white people know best, after all.  I bought into that lie about wonderful liberal white people going into those poor countries and communities to save those poor unfortunates.  So we end up with movies like “The Blind Side” where the wonderful rich white woman saves the poor black teenager who surely wouldn’t have been able to do anything himself.  I confess I had savior fantasies. I would go and save the world. Because I was so smart and wonderful.  And I should be the one to speak and lead because I KNOW WHAT’S BEST.  Or, maybe not. It took me a while to figure out that maybe my voice isn’t the one that needs to be heard. That maybe I could help best by asking people how I might be able to help rather than coming in like a bulldozer and telling them what they need.

This is my confession. I didn’t grow up in lily-white America. I grew up in multicultural New York City. And I still had a lot to learn, and I probably still have plenty more to learn. I don’t have all the answers.  I know this. It is us – the white folks, who are going to have to fess up to our privilege and then leverage it. We’re going to have to admit to all the ways we’ve been benefiting and all the assumptions we’ve bought into. And we — people WE are going to have to stop the unbounded killing of black people.

#PhilandoCastile #AltonSterling Say Their Names #BlackLivesMatter

That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.

Killing Black Teens for Fun and Profit: George Zimmerman Auctions His Murder Weapon

George Zimmerman is planning to auction off the gun he used to murder Trayvon Martin. I will say that again:  George Zimmerman is planning to auction off the gun he used to murder Trayvon Martin. When you’ve finished puking, do please come back here. I have a few things to say about this.

Between 1877 and 1950, 3,959 black people were killed in what the “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” report called “racial terror lynchings” in 12 southern states (read more about the report here and here).  But lynchings didn’t end in 1950. Oh, perhaps we pretend now that we’ve moved beyond this time in our history, but on February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin with impugnity in Sanford, FL (one of the 12 southern states listed in the report).

Zimmerman has never offered any sort of remorse, continuing to stand by his ridiculous claim that he killed Martin in self-defense. After stalking him around the neighborhood. After he was advised by police to leave the matter alone.  And now, Zimmerman has decided that it would be a good idea to auction off the murder weapon. Because it’s a piece of history.

This is the part where I point out that the Shoah, also known as the Holocaust, is also historical, and that the lampshades and such that Ilse Koch had made out of the skin of Jews murdered in the camps are also pieces of history.

Much to the credit of the gun auction site GunBroker, they have refused to list Zimmerman’s gun, stating, “We want no part in the listing on our web site or in any of the publicity it is receiving.”  However, there was another sleazy purveyor waiting in line, and Zimmerman has found a marketplace, according to CNN.

That Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin is horrible. That the Florida courts allowed him to get away with this lynching would be a miscarriage of justice if we were prone to give justice to black people in the U.S. in the first place. That Zimmerman continues to flaunt this lynching, and is now planning to profit from it is an indictment against us all.

It is NOT acceptable to go around killing black people as sport. Black lives matter. Let me say that again. Black. Lives. Matter. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

That’s my mite. That’s all I’ve got.

The Students Are Hungry

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This is a cardboard coffee cup. From Starbucks. It’s the new holiday cup for 2015, and there are people who have chosen to get all up into a lather over it. Because it doesn’t have reindeer or snowflakes or angels on it, and somehow these folks are interpreting this lack of winter-themed designs on a cardboard coffee cup as a War On Christmas. This is not a War On Christmas. It is a red cardboard coffee cup. However, there are wars raging. And if we really want to consider everything that Jesus stood for – everything that Christmas represents, we could consider that there is a real War On Christmas. And it has nothing to do with decorations, or how people wish each other well during the holidays. In fact, the War On Christmas is being perpetrated in part by those who are distracting us from the real issues by making a big fuss about red coffee cups.

Two weeks ago, Ben Fields, a problem cop in Columbia, S.C. who had been assigned as resource officer to a public school brutally body-slammed an African-American girl in a classroom because she wouldn’t get up out of her chair. It seems he was called to the classroom because the girl refused to comply with the teacher’s request and an administrator’s request to leave the classroom. She was requested to leave, it seems, because she wouldn’t put down her cell phone.

Eventually we learned that this student’s mother and grandmother had recently died and that she’s living now in foster care. But even if she didn’t have these extenuating circumstances – even if she were just an obnoxious kid – since when has it been illegal — ILLEGAL — to be obnoxious in school?

When 22-Year-Old was 11 and just starting middle school, it was only months after our son Sean had died. She was having a rough time, and early in the school year, she hit another student. In many schools, because of zero-tolerance policies, she would have been suspended. But we were fortunate. The principal (the African-American principal, as it happens) of her school was a wonderful and understanding man. While there were consequences, she wasn’t suspended. And the faculty and staff took special care to look out for her. The school cared for her and nurtured her. As they should.

In Columbia, S.C. the student was shown that she wasn’t important. She was treated like a unit of product in the school-to-prison pipeline. The resource officer wasn’t being used as a resource – to help the children get to know and trust the police, but rather as a weapon to keep the children down. And if the children in that school are learning anything at all, they are learning that they don’t count. And all the while they are starving.

Last week Jonathan Butler, an African-American graduate student at the University of Missouri in Columbia (seriously – is it something about places named Columbia?) went on a hunger strike to call for the resignation of university President Tim Wolfe over Wolfe’s lack of action over several racist incidents at the university. It wasn’t until the football team got behind Butler (and then the coach and faculty got behind the football team) by saying that they would refuse to play, that the President and the Chancellor stepped down today.

Butler was hungry before he went on his hunger strike. And he wasn’t the only one. The students are hungry. They’re starving. The students are hungry for respect and safety in their schools. They’re hungry to be taught – to be really taught.

When the Syro-Phoenecian woman came to Jesus, (Mark 7:24-30) he told her that the children had to be fed before the dogs. But the woman schooled Jesus and reminded him that even the dogs got the crumbs that fall from the table, and Jesus was humbled a bit and healed the woman’s daughter. The Syro-Phoenicians weren’t oppressed. As it happens, they might be more rightly seen as the oppressors. But if Jesus could put aside what he knew of the Syro-Phoenicians, if he could manage to stop himself and see this woman as a woman, an individual, can we not follow his example, especially when dealing with the most vulnerable among us?

If we really want to end the War On Christmas, perhaps we ought to stop distracting ourselves with nonsense about cardboard coffee cups and start feeding the people who are hungry as Jesus fed them. Perhaps we ought to follow the example of Christmas – of the one who came from lowly birth to announce hope for the hopeless.

The students are hungry. It’s time to feed them. It’s time to remember that #BlackLivesMatter. Want to talk about it some more? Sure. Let’s go have a coffee. I don’t care what color the cup is.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

Jesus Can’t Breathe

Sandra Bland failed to use a turn signal. My boyfriend routinely doesn’t use his turn signal. It’s a point of contention between us. Oh yes, but he’s white. So he’ll never be pulled over for driving while black. Sandra Bland was black. And driving in Texas. And she failed to use a turn signal. Possibly.

Jonathan Sanders wanted to help out a friend who had been stopped by a white supremacist Stonewall, Mississippi police officer.  Sanders was a horse trainer, and he was riding by in a horse-drawn buggy, when he saw Kevin Harrington who had pulled over a driver, and Sanders asked Harrington, “Why don’t you leave him alone?”  After Sanders left, Harrington was heard to have said, “I’m going to get that n****r.”

Police pulled Sandra Bland from her car and slammed her head on the ground. There’s video footage in which she can be heard to say that she cannot hear after having her head slammed. She was taken into custody – and then found dead in her cell — hanging. The police would like us to believe she killed herself. She was driving from Illinois to Texas for a new job. Things were going well for her. Seems unlikely.

Officer Harrington chased down Jonathan Sanders and then strangled him to death. He chased the man down and kept Sanders in a choke hold for 20 minutes. Well, at least Sanders’ death has been ruled a homicide. Sanders was heard pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Harrington wouldn’t stop.

These two deaths of unarmed black people – people who were just going about their lives – these two deaths at the hands of police, they both occurred within the last two weeks.

Jesus was crucified. Here’s the thing about crucifixion – it causes suffocation. Jesus couldn’t breathe. God made God’s self incarnate in human form to live among us, and allowed us to kill him upon a cross — for what? There are many atonement theologies.

The theology of atonement that resonates most for me is that of Rene Girard – that of ritual scapegoating. S. Mark Heim said,that “God, through Jesus volunteers to get into this sinful system in order to save us from our own sin.”* Jesus’ willingness to enter into the evil system of scapegoating is an effort to subvert it, according to Heim. “God was willing to be the victim of that bad thing that we had made apparently good in order to reveal its horror and stop it.”* God steps into the place of the victim who now cannot be mythologized or hidden. We cannot deny the innocence or suffering of Jesus. “God acts not to affirm the suffering of the innocent victim as the price of peace, but to reverse it.”* We are meant to be horrified at the act of crucifixion – we should draw in a collective gasp.

It is well past time for us to be drawing in a collective gasp. The crucifixion was powerful because of the resurrection. Jesus had victory over the cross. We need that resurrection now. We need to be horrified at the deaths of unarmed people at the hands of police.

Jesus was a subversive. He stood up to the powers, and he paid a heavy price. We are not all called to die on a cross like Jesus, but we are called to be horrified by the gruesome nature of his death. We are called to look upon the deaths of Sandra Bland and Jonathan Sanders — and Eric Garner — and Freddie Gray — and Tamir Rice — and so many others — with horror.

Further, we are called to action. We are called, because of our horror, to put a stop to this. The police must be held to a higher standard. I do not hate the police. Holding them to a higher standard will protect the police as well. After all, Jesus’ sacrifice was for all of us – the police included. But we must be a witness. We must react. Jesus couldn’t breathe – that was meant so the rest of us would continue to breathe. Let them breathe.

Black lives matter.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

*quotations taken from Systematic Theology 306B class notes of Feb. 14, 2012