A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste (Third Question for the UUA Presidential Candidates)

Susan. Alison. Jeanne.

I’ll start this post with two quotes from Mary McLeod Bethune. (we’re good with me assuming you know who she is, right?)

MMB said, “Studying goes deeper than mere reading. There are surface nuggets to be gathered but the best of the gold is underneath, and it takes time and labor to secure it.”  She also said, “Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough.”

As you know, I have a friend who is a seminary president. So we talk about the state of theological education quite a bit. The past few weeks have seen those conversations go in creative directions.

With the White Supremacy Teach-Ins starting today, and having a co-President who is focused on looking at institutional change, it seems to be a good time to look at those who lead our congregations.

Educating to counter oppressions takes more than a teach-in. It takes sustained investment in those who lead our congregations. First two questions…..

What do you see as the role of our UU seminaries in helping shape religious leadership that can go into congregations and help those congregations on the journey to dismantle white supremacy and counter oppression?

What do you see as the UUA’s role in helping the seminaries in doing this work?

Next question needs a different set-up.

In his Minns Lecture, Mark Morrison-Reed details the efforts of the Joseph Jordans to raise funds (somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000) from the Unitarians and the Universalists in order to establish a seminary that would train Black ministers who would then go out and establish churches in Black communities. That effort did not go well, to put it nicely. If I am remembering correctly, the amount that the Jordans received was somewhere around $1,000. All of this was happening while the U-s and U-s were spending around $10,000 A YEAR on misadventures in Japan.

Now…I am not asking for us to consider opening a new seminary. (although I do think we need to reckon with what might have been in the light of what did happen) Here’s the question…..

What do you see as the UUA’s role in establishing (or re-establishing, as the case may be) relationships with seminaries that serve traditionally marginalized communites; seminaries such as Howard, Interdenominational Theological, Samuel DeWitt Proctor, Payne Theological, Hood Theological,  or Shaw?

There are so many more questions I have, but these three were the biggest in my mind. And yes, I know, I actually asked more than three questions.

I’m happy to talk to you about any of these questions anytime.

 

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Why I’m Not At the MidAmerica Region Annual Assembly

I love Chicago.  I have family there that I’m normally always looking for a way to be with. And I have friends that I don’t see nearly enough. So when I first saw that Regional Assembly was going to be in Chicagoland, my first thought was how I could work my schedule out so that I would be in Chicago this weekend. Then I started to really think about it.

Regional Assembly is in Oak Brook, a higher brow suburb. Got a great mall, but I never feel comfortable there. So I was less inclined to change my schedule around.

Then the last seven weeks happened. And I’ve learned that my patience is mostly gone. The reason this is a problem is I’m well-known enough in the region that I would have been ambushed by well-meaning white people. It would have been unintentional, but it still would have been an ambush. And it’s been a really hard seven weeks for UUs of color. Hence, I made the decision to not go to the Regional Assembly.

And it seems as if this was the right decision. A dear friend sends me a message from the UU Multiracial Unity Caucus saying that things were going well until somebody called BLUU “separatists” and another person said that DRUUMM was causing harm. It would not have been good for anybody for me to be in that room when those words were said.

In a couple hours, I will be back in my bed in St. Louis. It will be good to be back there. Maybe after a nice sleep I’ll write about the separatist remark, but then again, maybe I won’t. Everything does not deserve a response

The Hagar-Sarah Conundrum (Yet Another Question for the UUA Presidential Candidates)

Susan. Alison. Jeanne.

I’ve been trying to find a way to ask this question and not sound like an angry black woman. I have figured out in the process that I can’t. But my set-up is going to be fabulous.

The story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac is the story that I go to the most when trying to understand America. It just fits.

As we all know, Sarah “gives” Hagar to Abraham so that Abraham may have offspring. Once Hagar is with child, scripture says that Sarah treated Hagar “harshly” and that Hagar runs away. When the angel finds Hagar, it tells her to go back to Sarah and to “put up with” Sarah’s harsh treatment and that God had seen her plight. [ah, the exegesis I can do on this story, but won’t]  So Hagar goes back and puts up with Sarah’s harsh treatment and gives birth to Ishmael.

But, lo and behold, a few years later, Sarah gives birth to Isaac. oh happy day. This poses a problem; Ishmael is first-born and, because of how he was conceived, should be granted the greater portion of Abraham’s estate. This cannot happen in Sarah’s mind. So she goes to Abraham and tells him to banish Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham, coward that he is, doesn’t stand up to Sarah. But God comes into the story again, this time to  tell Abraham to do what Sarah wants, because his descendants will be traced through Isaac. [oh, how I so want to ask God about this] So Abraham does what Sarah asked him to do, and he puts out Hagar and Ishmael.     [I know there’s more to the story, but this is the part that matters]

well…there really is no easy/polite way to say this…..white women have been using and betraying people of color (especially women of color) and then asking for us to be cast out into the desert/wilderness for time immemorial.

All three of you have said that you are down for the cause and that you, if President, won’t see the promised 5 million to BLUU as a threat to general Annual Program Fund fundraising. So…here’s the question…..

Why should people of color in the UUA trust you?

There Has To Be More Than Emerson (The Canons We Have and What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day pt.2)

I knew it would happen as soon as the title for my last post came to mind.

I knew that some well-intentioned white people would send me private messages telling me I was wrong to use the word “crazy” because it is maligning those who have mental illnesses.

Before I get into the main point of this post, I want to talk a bit about words and word choice.
I try to be deliberate and precise when I write. I do this so people can get to my meaning without having to do mental contortions. Yet, most words have multiple meanings. For this reason I refuse to stop using words that have multiple meaning just because one of those meanings is problematic/troubling. Sometimes, it’s the right word because it has that problematic/troubling meaning. To step into it even more, I don’t think every word in every song needs to be changed because of a problematic/troubling word.
Now…I am not saying to be insensitive. I am saying that we need to extend some latitude when it comes to the words we have and understand the complexities of language. To repeat, sometimes the word is right because it is complex.

anyway…on to the main…
These last few weeks have brought into sharp relief how differently POCI and white people move around in the UU-universe, especially when it comes to the canons we have. And, subconsciously, the title of my last post was a test. A test that those who wrote me private messages failed. Spectacularly.

“What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day” is the title of a book written by Pearl Cleage, a black writer.

Off-and-on I have written about how limiting and limited the UU canon is (I last wrote about it a week ago). The messages I received today are just the latest example of that limitation.

In Unitarian Universalism, it’s ok to reference people of color occasionally. Just don’t do it too often or it will be assumed that your canon is limited. So you better not stray too far from Emerson and Thoreau or you’ll be in trouble.

It’s all connected, my friends; white supremacy in UU hiring practices to white supremacy in the canons one is allow to reference. The only way UUism can grow into the religious movement it’s supposed to be is by dismantling the white supremacy that pervades it.

There has to be more than Emerson. Because, sometimes, things really do look like crazy on an ordinary day.

What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day (A Question for the UUA Presidential Candidates)

(this is the first of three questions that I will pose to the candidates. if you aren’t interested in UUA politics, check back in about a week-and-a-half.)

Susan. Alison. Jeanne.

As always, it was good to see you this weekend at both the Board meeting and the New England Region forum.

So I have three questions for you. Each of them will be their own post. And I never do a question without set-up. This first question is probably going to be the longest.

 

Dr. King once said that 11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Let’s lean in to that for a few moments, instead of bristling.
 
Instead of trying to make already existing UU congregations into mini-Rainbow Coalitions (and hurting POCI in the process while white ppl do their work), is the UUA capable of encouraging the creation of congregations in “nontraditional” UU areas and not being stumbling blocks to them (i.e.-Ethelred Brown and the Harlem Unitarian Church)?
 
Questions related to the above
1. What do you see as the UUA’s role in helping entrepreneural ministries in underserved UU areas?
2. Given the very mixed history of ministers of color in the UUA and its parent organizations, what do you see as the UUA’s role in helping achieve successful ministries when ministers of color are called to already existing UU congregations?
There’s more I could ask on this subject, but these questions/ideas seem big enough.

Thinking About A #BlackLivesMatter Mother’s Day Worship Service

In these waning minutes on Sunday, I’m going to take a few of those minutes to write out something that has come to me in the last week or so.

Mother’s Day is a hard Sunday for many preachers (UU or otherwise). Now a lot of that is because many people don’t understand the origins of the day, but also because one never knows the minefields one might be stepping into.

So…how about, instead of either avoiding the day or turning oneself inside-out to hit every possibility, may I suggest that you consider doing a Black Lives Matter Mother’s Day worship service.

The readings could be words from women like Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mother) or Lezley McSpadden (Michael Brown’s mother); both of whom have books you can read.
Or you could use the poem like “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks.
I’m sure there are some words from Alice Walker or Audre Lorde or Jacqueline Woodson or Claudia Rankine or Toni Morrison or Sonia Sanchez that might speak to those sitting in your pews.

Or you could use this poem that I came across just today:
Black mothers
don’t
raise their children
to be murderers,
nor
to be murdered.
-from a young poet in New Orleans (I’m trying to find out who)

For those of you who are comfortable with Scripture, there are many stories of mothers losing their children (or living under the threat of lost their child). I seem to remember that Jesus had a mother. And of course there’s Hagar (or maybe that’s just me. I can make Hagar work for just about anything). Moses had a mother last I looked.

If you wanted to go a little further with it, read “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children.” Here’s a summary of what the paper says:

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. The study was published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers tested 176 police officers, mostly white males, average age 37, in large urban areas, to determine their levels of two distinct types of bias—prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes. To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.” To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes. Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock, or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks—conscious or not—was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody, according to the study.

The authors noted that police officers’ unconscious dehumanization of black could have been the result of negative interactions with black children, rather than the cause of using force with black children. “We found evidence that overestimating age and culpability based on racial difference was a link to dehumanizing stereotypes, but future research should try to clarify the relationship between dehumanization and racial disparities in police use of force,” Goff said.

The study also involved 264 mostly white, female undergraduate students from large public U.S. Universities. In one experiment, students rated the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25-year-olds who were black, white or an unidentified race. The students judged children up to 9-years-old as equally innocent regardless of race, but considered black children significantly less innocent than other children in every age group beginning at age 10, the researchers found.

The students were also shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black, or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students overestimated the age of blacks by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes, the study found. Researchers used questionnaires to assess the participants’ prejudice and dehumanization of blacks. They found that participants who implicitly associated black with apes thought the black children were older and less innocent.

In another experiment, students first viewed either a photo of an ape or a large cat and then rated black and white youngsters in terms of perceived innocence and need for protection as children. Those who looked at the ape photo gave black children lower ratings and estimated that black children were significantly older than their actual ages, particularly if the child had been accused of a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

Trust me when I tell you “that’ll preach”.

So…there you have it…my suggestion for those of you who may be struggling with how to preach Mother’s Day. You don’t have to do the sappy, Hallmark holiday. And, for those of you UU preachers out there, it is a good way to tie-in what your congregation talked about during the White Supremacy Teach-In.

Someday We’ll All Be Free…But That Day Ain’t Today (Ferguson, Unitarian Universalism, and Me)

I. Can’t. Even.

I was going to respond directly to Rev. Don Southworth, but after a good night’s sleep I decided that I have already talked enough about Unitarian Universalist cluelessness and tone-deafness; why keep pointing out examples? They just make me mad. So I’m going to tell a story.

The one thing you need to know as I start is that my mother is not a worrier. I am the worrier. anyway…..

It was November, 2014. And all of St. Louis was waiting for the Grand Jury’s decision as to whether or not Darren Wilson is going to be charged with anything in relation to killing Michael Brown.

I was going to a meeting that was movement-related. Before my parents left out earlier that day I had told my mother that by the time they got back to the house, I would be gone. I wasn’t out a particularly long time, but it was long dark by the time I came back to the house. And my mother picked. And picked. And picked. Until she went to bed. I couldn’t figure out why she was picking. It finally came to me as I went to bed; my mother was worried about me being out in St. Louis after dark.

When I’m in St. Louis, I live 8.5 miles from Ferguson.

During the first month, I could tell you what time of day it was because the police helicopters flew over the house at particular times of the day.

Some mornings, we could smell the remnants of the tear gas that was released in the overnight hours.

My mother was worried because we live close to Clayton, which is county seat and where the announcement of the Grand Jury’s decision would be announced. If the decision came down that night, there’s a strong possibility that I wouldn’t have been able to make it home.

That is what St. Louis was like in those months. But I’m not finished.

Did you know there was a UU minister on the streets in Ferguson, EVERY DAY?

Did you know that there was a UU minister of color who had just moved to Ferguson mere days before Mike Brown was killed? And this minister was starting an interim position at the congregation that is closest to Ferguson? That some members of said congregation live in or around Ferguson?

Wanna know what we, the St. Louis area UU ministers, heard from institutional UUism (Board or Administration)? Not a damn thing.

Wanna know how many people from Administration came to St. Louis during Ferguson October? One, and that was because of a personal friendship. And that one was NOT the President of the UUA.

Wanna know how many members of the UUA Board of Trustees came to St. Louis during Ferguson October? NONE.

Do you know that we in the St. Louis area begged for an “all hands on deck” call for Ferguson October like the call that was given out for UUs to go to North Carolina for the Moral Mondays protest? Betcha didn’t.

So when I read letters like the one Rev. Don Southworth wrote, I have two reactions. One is to cry. The other is to do like Jesus and flip over some temple tables.

I’m not going to do either in this case. But I will make a comment on one paragraph in Rev. Southworth’s tragically conceived and executed letter.

“It seems clear that the board believes the most important issue and priority in our faith today is empowering our black siblings to have a more active and effective leadership role.  I also believe it’s important.  And I also believe it’s important to lower the debt for our religious professionals, and especially ministers, who sacrifice their financial well being to serve our faith; it’s important that all religious professional organizations and formerly affiliated groups such as DRUUM to have enough to do their important work; it’s important that our most innovative ministers and ministries – many of whom are people of color –  have enough money and resources so they can a) have enough money to live on and b) have the resources to give their ministries a chance; it’s important our seminaries, congregations and UUA staff have enough resources to be strong and healthy in the future; it’s important that we find funding for more community organizing, more speaking out against environmental devastation and immigration justice – especially given the insanity we have seen since the election; and it’s important that we deepen, strengthen and articulate our theology more powerfully in the world, so we can find new ways to connect with those spiritually hungry people in our communities who don’t know about us or don’t think we have something to offer them.”

It always fascinates me when white people don’t get that all these things are direct descendants of white supremacy. Environmental devastation? Ever heard of Flint? (they still don’t have clean water) Immigration justice? Shall we talk about how they are rounding up people who are darker skinned and leaving the undocumented Irish immigrants here in the Northeast alone? The “insanity we have seen since the election”? Let’s talk about voting rights and voter suppression, which is all about keeping people of color from voting. Community organizing? Let’s talk about how white organizers get paid but organizers of color are expected to organize for free. And that when they try to get paid, they are called everything but a child of God.

I’m done with white fragility today. More later, I think.

*–if you don’t know what I mean when I say my mother picked, email me. I’ll tell you.

The Canons We Have (yes…more Unitarian Universalism)

(I think this is the start of a series on worship, but I don’t know)

I’m on a Du Bois kick right now.

I cannot tell you how STUNNED I was when I finally noticed how many educated white people had never HEARD of Du Bois, much less read him.

What does my being stunned have to do with Unitarian Universalism?

A couple of questions before my answer…..

-When I say “Zora”, who am I talking about?

-Have you read anything by Toni Morrison?

Every time I preach, one of my readings is from a writer of color. (another is from the Bible) And every time, without fail, somebody asks me who the writer of color is (unless it’s Baldwin, Alice Walker, Bro. Langston, or Howard Thurman) This never happened when one of my readings was from a white writer.

As a person of color, I have at least two canons in my life; the one white people consider makes a person well educated, and the other one which is black. There is little–if any–crossover between those canons. So white people can go their entire lives and not encounter Du Bois (or Zora, or Toni Morrison, or Ralph Ellison, etc.) and still be considered well educated. Let a person of color not encounter Emerson.

Unitarian Universalism has one canon. It is heavy on the Emerson side. Howard Thurman is the token.

Is Unitarian Universalism capable of expanding the canon or even creating a new one?

I May Put You Down…But I’ll Never Let You Down (Safety/Security and Things UU)

I have to own a couple of things before I start.

I am a native St. Louisian (and still spend part of the year there). I was in St. Louis when Michael Brown was killed. So when the words safety or security come up in UU conversations, I get defensive; because there has been an actual threat of physical violence against one of the metro-area UU congregations. I have spent the past almost-2 years wishing/hoping/praying this threat never comes to fruition. That doesn’t even go into all the vandalism that has happened to the “Black Lives Matter” banners that have been hung at St. Louis congregations (UU or not).

Until you are in a situation in which the threat of physical violence is ever-present, I am going to ask that you be very deliberate in your use of the words “safety” or “security”. In fact, I’m begging you to.

This does not mean I don’t recognize that there are emotional/psychic/spiritual safety issues. I know there are. But I need you to understand that while physical safety is under threat, it is hard for me to make the jump; partially because if a person’s physical safety is under threat, their emotional/psychic/spiritual safety is under threat too (if not already completely gone).               [end issue #1]

next…..

I was in the room in Baltimore when Rev. Peter Morales was asked the question about UUA hiring practices. I was sitting next to the person who asked the question. As far as I can tell, nobody who was in that room, even if they were disturbed by Rev. Morales’ answer, ever called for Rev. Morales to resign. Yet it seems as there is a “poor Peter” narrative that has emerged. I’m not here for that. Rev. Morales made a choice. So for the narrative to turn this into a “faction” essentially going all French Revolution on the UUA and calling for people’s heads makes no sense to me. Everybody in this situation is an adult who made their own choices.               [end issue #2]

ok…to the main…..

Mel Pine writes:

“Mobil at the time was the largest U.S.-based employer in South Africa, so eventually the building where I worked was picketed by the members of my own church. I’d say hello to the pickets and cross the picket line. It made no sense to me that forcing Mobil to withdraw from South Africa would do anyone any good. We were much more progressive in our working conditions and promotion practices than whatever South African company we’d be forced to sell our assets to.”

Remember a couple of days ago when I said cluelessness was nothing new in Unitarian Universalism? Exhibit A.

Saying that Mobil was “much more progressive in our working conditions and promotion practices than whatever South African company we’d be forced to sell our assets to,” is akin to saying that you were a better slave overseer than the overseer at the plantation down the road. You were still an overseer! You were complicit in a system of degradation. How can you not see that?

Mel Pine goes on to say:

“I know that the way I have described the crisis will upset some of my UU friends, but I am in the position of no longer feeling that my religion, at least at the national level, is a safe place. I don’t disagree with much of what the faction in control stands for, but I abhor its tactics. So this time I have decided not to withdraw but to go to this year’s General Assembly and work toward a possible future elected role.”

oh, white liberals. you never fail to continue to disappoint me. you always find evermore creative ways for me to wonder if any of y’all have ever read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.

And since you never fail to continue to disappoint me, I’m just going to reprint the most striking parts to rebut Mel.

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

“In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause, and with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances would get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed. I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, “follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “those are social issues with which the gospel has no real concern.”, and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which made a strange distinction between body and soul, the sacred and the secular.

So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.”

I’m done for the moment. I cannot give Mel Pine anymore space in my brain. It’s Maundy Thursday and I have things to prepare for.