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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Clarity

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Unitarian Universalist Association‘s First Year Ministers Seminar in Boston. That’s how I happened to be at 24 Farnsworth St. (which I blogged about previously). During the seminar, I had the opportunity to be the focus person in a clearness committee, and I’ve been chewing that over ever since. I think I’m finally ready to tell you about it.

What is a clearness committee, you ask? Good question. First, relax. It’s got nothing to do with Scientology and getting cleared. It also has nothing to do with security clearances (if you’re not in the D.C. metro area that might not be a thing for you – but around here, security clearances are a big thing). No — a clearness committee is a Quaker invention – a tool for discernment. The Quakers have been doing this for about 200 years – it’s a tried and true method.

We were doing a lot of work that was leading up to this, and eventually, we broke up into six clearness committees. Our facilitator had asked for volunteers to be the focus people in each committee – the person who would have the questions for discernment. Since this has been an interesting time for me – with uncertainties and opportunities on the horizon, I volunteered.

We focus people met with the facilitator first to get some instruction on how the committees would go. We also had an opportunity to choose specific people (or to exclude, if we wished) to be on our committees. I didn’t feel the need to control the whole process, but I felt that I would be more comfortable if I had one person whom I knew on my committee. So I did request one person. I requested someone I knew reasonably well but not super-closely, and someone whom I thought would be a good team person. As it happens, the facilitator made this person my clerk.

Each committee has a clerk. The clerk is responsible for keeping time and in general facilitating the meeting. The person I chose did an excellent job of being the clerk – keeping us on time, and organizing us. I was glad to have him there.

We began by entering in silence. Well, mostly silence. As the focus person, I chose my seat first, and then everyone else sat down. The clerk lit the candle in the middle of the table, and when I was ready, I began to talk about the history of what I was wanting to discern. I had up to 15 minutes for this – but I don’t think I took the whole 15 minutes. It didn’t feel like 15 minutes – but I wasn’t the time keeper.

When I said I was ready, the committee (there were six people on the committee) began to ask me open and honest questions. No judging, no fixing – just questions designed to help me get at the heart of my question. There was a lot of silence. The silence was helpful. The questions were helpful.

Because there was no judgement, because no one was making any suggestions about what I should or shouldn’t do, I felt very safe and comfortable – it was easy to be open and honest with myself. Things were becoming clear. Oh – yeah – well – I guess that’s in the name, isn’t it? Clearness committee!

When the questioning was done (and this was a long time – we were cautioned that we would feel like we were done, but at that point to keep going because then we would go deeper – and we did) – it was time for mirroring. The mirroring was truly astounding.

The committee members had been taking notes the whole time. When the questioning was done, they had an opportunity to tell me what they’d noticed – when you said this, your voice was louder – when you said that, you put your hands in the air. You said this thing three times. You looked down when you said that thing. Still no judgements – no assuming what I was feeling – no “you were sad,” or “you were happy,” just – “you were weepy” or “you laughed.”  That was SO helpful. I was able to see myself in a way that I normally am unable to.

Finally, we had affirmations – the committee’s affirmations, and then mine. We ended as I chose (I chose to offer a prayer), they gave me their notes, and then I left first, and then they left.

There is double-confidentiality. I know that the committee members will not bring this up among themselves even, or with me – although, as I was the focus person, I may initiate a conversation about it with them if I wish. So it remains a very safe space. The helpfulness of that cannot be overstated. For my current issue, I wouldn’t mind talking about it, but I can see where it could be so helpful to be able to discern certain issues without the specter of having to hear about it again.

The whole thing took two hours. That’s a good commitment for a bunch of folks to get together and help one person figure something out. But oh so helpful. I’m grateful to my committee members. I’m grateful for the process.

The thing about real discernment is that it takes time and work. It’s so helpful to have trusted people who will walk with us in the process. And now I have some clarity! It really works.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

Why The Selma Oscar Snub Matters

I went to see “Selma” this weekend. I went to see it because it’s an important movie,and because it’s MLK weekend, so I will be preaching on Rev. King, and it seemed important to see this movie that’s out now before preaching about this tomorrow. And as it happens, just this week the Academy Award nominations have been released. And while Selma has been nominated for best picture, the only other nomination it received was for best original song. No nods to any of the actors. No nod to the director, Ava DuVernay, a black woman. This is unusual for a film that’s nominated for best picture, and many see it as a snub. And I agree. But why is this important?

I generally don’t pay much attention to the over-produced, over-hyped mutual admiration society award shows. In 1971 “Love Story” was nominated for best picture, and it was hard to take them seriously after that. So why would I care now? I care because Hollywood reflects and refracts what is happening in the rest of society.

When “Selma” came out, a few white people started complaining that it made President Johnson look bad – that it turned him into a bad guy in all of this. Well, we see a film through the lenses we’re wearing, so if in the eyes of some people not being the primary hero is the same as being the bad guy, I guess that’s how they see it. But this is the problem with privilege. We expect the white men to be the heroes. We like it when the great white hero swoops in and rescues the poor black folks who surely can’t do it themselves.  We really do like it. Perhaps that’s why Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for best actress in 2010 for her performance as the white woman who rescues the poor homeless black teenager in “The Blind Side.”

“Selma” is not, in my opinion, the greatest movie ever made. I don’t even know if it’s going to be one of my favorites. It’s not “Schindler’s List.” It’s not The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “Hamlet.” That’s not the point. It’s an important film, and the actors delivered outstanding performances – and even performances, by the way. It was very well cast. But the heroes of this movie are black.

Yes, white people went to Selma answering Rev. Dr. King’s call. As a Unitarian Universalist, I am very much aware that two of our own – Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo – paid the ultimate price in Selma. And I’m also very much aware that Rev. Reeb is lauded far more often than Mrs. Liuzzo. Mrs. Liuzzo was, after all, just an uppity housewife from Michigan who had no business leaving her family to go down to Alabama where she didn’t belong. Oh, but I digress (just long enough to marginalize a woman – see how we do that?).

White people did go to Selma. But this isn’t a story about marginalized white people who rarely if ever have a voice. This story – the story of Selma – is about black people standing up for black people. And this film tells the story from that point of view. And that’s making some white people of privilege very uncomfortable. So how do we handle that? We ignore it. The Academy only nominates white actors and directors (and no women directors, by the way).

It’s not about the Academy Awards. The Academy Awards are just a sign. I care about how we continue to marginalize and dismiss the voices of the oppressed. I care about how we only want to listen to history from the point of view of the dominant culture.

Go see this movie. It’s important. But that’s not enough. Remember the lessons from the film. Remember that this work is not complete. Fifty years on, the voting rights act that these very people worked so hard for has been gutted. We are still finding excuses as to why it’s ok for law enforcement to kill unarmed black people. We still need to get across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  Apathy is a bigger enemy than hate. We need to keep on walking.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

Why Church Needs To Be Like A TARDIS

Hello blogoshpere, I’ve missed you. This ministry thing – it keeps me very busy. I keep thinking that I need a TARDIS to keep up. That if I could travel through space and time, maybe I’d be able to keep up with everything I need to do. But then, since I’m not actually a Time Lord, I’d probably just age faster than I’m already aging, so that wouldn’t accomplish as much as I’d like in the long run. So as much as The Doctor doesn’t like it, I probably need to progress as time usually passes — slowly and in the right order.

And then today a colleague posted a picture of someone’s absolutely FAN-TAB-U-LOUS cosplay TARDIS gown that’s bigger on the inside. That is, there’s a wrap portion that opens to the inside of the TARDIS. And then it hit me — I don’t need a TARDIS (though that WOULD be super-cool) – churches need to be like a TARDIS. Churches need to be bigger on the inside.

Now, you might think that I mean churches need to be literally bigger on the inside. You might think that I mean churches need more storage space. Or more meeting space. More offices. A bigger social hall (or any social hall). Well, yes. Many churches could use these things. There is often not enough space. But that isn’t what I mean.

I mean we need to be making room. Room in our minds. Room in our communities. We need to be bigger on our own insides. In Unitarian Universalist churches, in particular, we embrace many different paths. We are a covenantal rather than a creedal faith. That alone doesn’t make us unique. However, we embrace many paths to what is true.

Sometimes, we have trouble remembering that we need to make room for all the different paths that people are on in our congregations. Sometimes, we think that someone else’s theology might somehow threaten our own. Perhaps it might remind us of where we came from. Perhaps it no longer speaks to us directly, or perhaps it never did. But sometimes we forget that it doesn’t need to speak to us all the time.

It’s like being the oldest child in a family. It’s all great when you’re the only child. And then a baby comes along, and the baby’s all cute for a minute, but then we start to worry that the baby is going to take all of that attention — all of MY attention!! There can’t be enough room for me AND the baby!  But then we learn that not only is there enough room for both (and possibly more) – in some ways, it’s even BETTER!

Church can be like that, too. If we treated church like a TARDIS – if we knew that we could be bigger on the inside, we would be able to welcome so many more people into our doors. We would have room for people who have tattoos and piercings as well as people who sit on corporate boards. We would have room for Christians and pagans, atheists and Buddhists, seekers and the faithful. We would have room for children and grandparents in worship.

We don’t have to travel through time and space to be the church we can be. We just have to recognize that we can open ourselves up to so much more.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite. Allons-y!

Today I Didn’t Get Arrested

Colleagues and laity, including immigrants in civil disobedience in front of the White House today preparing for arrest.

Colleagues and laity, including immigrants in civil disobedience in front of the White House today preparing for arrest.

Today I didn’t get arrested. To be fair, I didn’t get arrested yesterday, either. Or any other day in my 52 years and almost four months of life. But today I had the opportunity. I made a choice not to get arrested today, while several of my colleagues and also many of the laity did choose arrest. Perhaps I should back up a bit.

Today was a day of prayer and action. Prayer For Relief. Relief from the deportations. Children are coming across our borders on their own, risking their lives, and there are some in this country who want to turn them around and send them back to the dangerous places that they left. Families are being torn apart as some members are being deported while others, who have adequate documentation, are allowed to remain. More immigrants have been deported under President Obama (a President I personally support, by the way), than under any other President.  For so many reasons – so many reasons – it is time to end the madness, to have some compassion, and to take care of the children. So today, I participated.  

I made the choice not to participate in the civil disobedience. I wasn’t sure how it would affect my military benefits if I was arrested (I really need to check that out), so I decided that this time, anyway, I couldn’t do that. I could support those who were going to be arrested, though. I volunteered to be a driver. More on that in a bit. 

We started out at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. A bonus for me — one of the organizers was a classmate of mine from seminary! Good to see her again. There was training there this morning. I missed that (oops), but got there in time to park my car (I’d need it later), meet up with folks, get some logistics, and head to the metro.  The organizers had made plans for the arrestees to leave their belongings at the headquarters (the volunteers and drivers would bring them to the detention center for when they were released), and also made plans for snacks and water at the release site. 

We got on the metro, and then we headed to Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. Many of us wore clerical attire (I wore a collar today, and my bright pink running shoes), and others wore clearly identifiable t-shirts, so we were fairly obvious, and it was good to get some affirmations on the walk over. Once we got to the park, we had a brief interfaith rally. United Methodists. Unitarian Universalists. Jews. I know there were Baptists and Catholics there, and many others. And then it was time to move toward the edge of the park, and for the arrestees to move to the White House fence.

We who stood in support stayed behind barricades in Lafayette Park. The arrestees proceeded to the White House gate and sat or stood on the sidewalk facing us in the park. We continued to sing and chant. The U.S. Park Police were nothing but polite. They were ready for us. There were some police vans and then a school bus for transporting the arrestees. Did I mention how nice the police were? Because they were. They were in no way adversarial in this. The police were not the enemy. They were doing their job. And the arrestees were doing what they (and we) believed they must. 

The police gave the arrestees three warnings, and then they began to arrest people. It was all very polite. Our people cooperated completely. The police were not rough.  We cheered as each person was arrested. Once the first van was filled up, I headed toward the United Methodist Church (UMC) van with several volunteers and another driver. I got to drive the UMC van back to the UMC building. 

Back at the UMC building, we packed up the cars with the belongings and the snacks and water, and also the volunteers, and then we headed to the detention center.  I’d run into some traffic and a lot of long red lights, so it took me a while to get back to the headquarters, so there was no need to load up my car on the way there, which turned out to be good, because I got a tad lost on the first trip. 

By the time I got to the detention center, some of the arrestees had already been released. Our volunteers were sitting or standing out on the grass nearby, and we cheered again as each person walked out. I filled up my car with three arrestees, and drove them back to the headquarters. 

I did try to make their trip back as pleasant as possible. “Hello, my name is Madelyn, and I’ll be your driver this afternoon.”  After all, they’d just been arrested. No matter how much traffic I’d faced, I’d spent the whole day with my hands not twist-tied behind my back. Many of the folks were from out-of-town. So I tried to play tour guide a little bit, too. It was really the least I could do, I think. 

One more trip to the detention center, and one more carload of arrestees, and that was it for me! That’s because there were plenty of volunteers and everything ran very smoothly. And because the U.S. Park Police were efficient in processing and releasing the protesters. 

Many of those arrested were themselves immigrants. This started out as an interfaith action, and then an immigrant organization asked to join with us, and, understanding the role of ally, the organizers of course said yes! When we were singing today, and I couldn’t sing along with many of the songs in Spanish, I was reminded that I was there as an ally. I was there to support. This wasn’t about me. At all. 

That is, it’s about my duty to others, but the struggle isn’t mine. Leviticus 19:34 tells us  “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”  (NRSV).  This is why I was part of this at all today. This is why I stood with all the others in Lafayette Park. This is why I shuttled people from the detention center back to the headquarters on Capitol Hill.  This is why I won’t stop. 

If I choose at a future date to get arrested, who will stand by me? Who among you will be there to welcome me when I’m released, and to drive me back? I hope the day will come soon when we need not sit down in front of the White House to demand that our elected officials protect all children. Until that day, we stand together. (And that’s why the picture up top isn’t of me – it’s the folks waiting to be arrested). 

That’s all I’ve got – that’s my mite. 

 

 

 

Connections

The 2014 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Providence, RI has ended. This was, for me, the best GA ever (of the seven I’ve attended). It seems to have been good for a lot of folks.
For me, this GA was all about connections – and reconnections. This was my second year at ministry days. Last year I knew a few people – mostly from my own chapter. This year, I found I was looking forward to reconnecting with ministers I hadn’t seen in the last year.
Most of the GA’s I’ve attended have been as a layperson and therefore have involved using vacation time from my job. For the last several years I’ve been attending nearly every year, and it find that I also look forward to reconnecting with other religious professionals as well as the laity who attend year after year.
Don’t get me wrong – I get plenty out of the workshops (although there have been years when I’ve barely gone to any), but this year especially, it’s been about connections. The theme of GA this year was Love Reaches Out, which, for me, is all about connection. The worship services were about connection, too.
I felt connected to God and to the assembled congregation as I listened to the stories, sang the hymns, and watched all that was going on. As I prepare to return home, these connections linger.
I know I won’t see some of these people again until next year. It’s possible that I won’t see some of these people ever again. We never really know what’s coming next, do we? But I am, for now, sustained by the hugs and smiles, the prayers and good wishes, the awesome power of being in community.
As we return home, I will keep this community in my prayers. I’ve made some new connections, too, and that only makes the whole community stronger. At the opening ceremonies, we sang Leaning On The Everlasting Arms – and I wept. At the closing ceremonies, we sang, in Spanish, Nearer My God To Thee, and I wept again. I am so connected. These are my people, and I love them. And there is still more room in the circle.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

Pentecost and Ordination

Today is Pentecost. Fifty days after Easter. The day, according to Acts chapter 2, when the Holy Spirit came down upon all the people gathered for the feast in Jerusalem (because Pentecost, or Shavout – the Festival of Weeks – was already a Jewish holiday celebrated 50 days after the beginning of Passover). The Holy Spirit came down upon the people, and they began to speak in tongues so that everyone could understand, each in his or her own language. It is considered by many Christians to be the birthday of the church. The color for Pentecost is red, because it is the color that represents the Holy Spirit.

Today was also the annual meeting of my home congregation. Now, the congregation didn’t plan for the meeting to fall on Pentecost. To be fair, most Unitarian Universalists I think don’t pay that much attention to liturgical calendars. Some do, but many don’t. It’s just the time of year when we have our annual meeting, and it just happens that today is Pentecost.

We UU’s are congregational in our polity. That means that the power rests in the congregations. We elect our officers – our church officers and our denominational leadership (which is, if you really want to get down to it, an association of congregations). And it also means that the power of ordination rests in the hands of the congregations. I was granted preliminary fellowship by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association, but before I can claim the title “Reverend,” I must be ordained, and only a congregation can do that.

Today, my home congregation voted unanimously to ordain me.  The congregation I serve as intern minister also voted to ordain me at their annual meeting in May. So sometime in what I hope is the not-too-distant future, there will be a service, and the two congregations  will jointly ordain me as a minister.

But today, Pentecost, as churches around the world remember the founding of the church and the call to spread the word, my home congregation voted. They voted yes. This is the congregation that just a few years ago voted to sponsor me for the ministry, enabling me to move along on this path. This is the congregation that helped form me – where I discovered Christianity. The congregation where I learned how to be a lay leader. The congregation that cared for me when my son died and when my husband died. These are my people.

In many Christian churches, the color for ordination is red. Ordained ministers who attend are often invited to wear red stoles, and the ordinand’s first stole at ordination is often red. This is a bow to the Holy Spirit and Pentecost.

That the vote occurred today is, therefore, not lost on me. I heard this call to ministry years ago.  I’ve felt the Holy Spirit moving in my life many times. Today, when we remember the Holy Spirit coming down and touching us with tongues of fire, I am ignited by the call from God and the affirmation of two congregations.

I am so grateful for the love and support. I don’t take this on lightly. May I be worthy of the faith these congregations have placed in me.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.