Beyond Anti-Racism 101?…or, Black Theology for Religious Liberals

Between being utterly stupefied with the enduring white fascination with blackface and adjusting to having a 2-month-old around*, I’ve been thinking about the end of the Whose Faith Is It Anyway conversation where we were asked about books/authors or artists we would recommend to people.

So often in doing this work liberal religious groups get stuck. Stuck in Anti-Racism 101; introducing basic concepts of critical race theory and U.S. racial history to those who don’t have a clue. Don’t get me wrong, that is noble work. But it is exhausting and soul depleting. And I think that part of the reason it is soul depleting is because the things we read are about things outside the congregation; the powers and principalities (including denominations). What liberal religious folk don’t do enough is talk about spiritual liberation; the theologies and practices from marginalized communities that helped sustained them. Liberal religious congregations might talk about the Black church vaguely when they mangle King, and they might pull out Howard Thurman’s “The Work of Christmas”, but a sustained engagement with Black theology (much less any other liberation theology)….yeah no.

What would it take for liberal religious communities to take liberation theology seriously? Engage with it? Is that even possible?

Can liberal religious communities move beyond Anti-Racism 101?

 

(*–I have not had a baby. It’s my newest cousin.)

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Don’t Preach King On King Sunday

King Sunday is rapidly approaching, hence I need to ask white ministers to do something that would seem counterintuitive.

Don’t preach about Martin Luther King Jr.

Instead of preaching ABOUT King, preach about the things King would have preached about; the American Empire. Preach about the multi-headed hydra of materialism, racism, and militarism.

Or you could preach about Jazmine Barnes, the 7-yr-old who was killed while sitting in her mother’s car by a white man in a truck. and connect her to the 16th St Baptist Church bombing victims or Emmett Till.  (you can find info about Jazmine’s murder here, or here) There is even news that this may not be the first time this murderer has struck.

Or you could preach about Cyntoia Brown and how she is still in prison.

Preach about the children who have died at the hands of Homeland Security in the last month.

Preach about the U.S. government’s support of Brazil’s new President; who has promised to strip away the rights of Indigenous Brazilians and other marginalized groups there.

If the shutdown is still going on, you could preach about that.

If you’re determined to preach about a person, pick somebody that most in your congregation have never heard of. It could be one of the many women who sustained the Civil Rights movements. It could be one of the men from the generation that King learned from.

You could preach on the fact that 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in a British colony in North America.  Or you could preach about the 100th anniversary of the Red Summer of 1919. [if you’ve never heard of the Red Summer, you can start here at the Wikipedia page.] Talking about Red Summer would also allow you to talk about the fact that anti-lynching legislation JUST passed in the Senate LAST MONTH.

And if you are just determined to preach King (because I know some of you are just hard-headed), here again are some rules you should follow:

1. Before doing anything else, read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (you can find it here)

2. Do NOT use the “I Have a Dream” speech. I repeat, do NOT use “I Have a Dream”.

3. If you are going to use a King speech, it must be post-1965.

4. Understand that King understood that there is both personal sin and collective/systemic sin. If you are not comfortable saying the word “sin”, do NOT use King. King believed in sin.

5. Read “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” and “Why We Can’t Wait”

These are serious times. If you are going to preach King, please preach him responsibly.

Trauma and Change

Some of you may remember that before Black Panther consumed my life, I was doing research on the concept of continuing trauma.

Science has shown us that trauma changes the genetic makeup of people. Let’s apply this to the UUA and its antecedents.

We have a moderately documented history of causing trauma to those people of color who have the audacity to strive for leadership at any level. This trauma is generational and continuing.

So…if trauma changes the genetic makeup of people, how does trauma change the UUA?

And how does the change differ if the previous traumas go unacknowledged?

 

Of Our Spiritual Strivings

I’ve been re-reading UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray’s letter which was published on her Facebook page Saturday night. (Actually I’ve read it a few times, because I read a paragraph and stop then read the next paragraph and stop)  I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole situation. But it got me thinking about something that happened a couple of weeks ago.

At the end of the first day of the Commission on Institutional Change convening, we were asked to think about what kind of Unitarian Universalism we wanted. I still stand by my original answer (those who were there hopefully remember what I said), but I feel the need to expand it some. And, in order to do that, I need to quote Du Bois.

The first essay in Souls of Black Folk is titled “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” and begins with:

BETWEEN me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

So…to expand on my answer at the convening…I want a Unitarian Universalism that doesn’t see people of color as a problem. Because that is what the person who wrote the hate-filled letter sees us as.

What would it mean for Unitarian Universalism for people of color to be able to bring their full selves into this?

What would it mean for Unitarian Universalism to actually lean into a liberatory theology?

Unitarian Universalists have a choice to make. Choose wisely.

Crowns and Church Fans (#ArethaHomegoing Reflection 1)

Multiple streams of the Black church flow through me.

I grew up in the evangelical/conservative wing of the Disciples tradition.

My mother, her sister, and her brother grew up Methodist. And while none of the three of them are Methodists anymore, I still have Methodist relatives in my extended family (mostly on my father’s side).

The bulk of my family, on both sides, are Baptists. National Baptist. Progressive National Baptist. A few American Baptist. All of my preacher relatives are Baptist.

I have Black Catholic relatives.

I have Lutheran relatives.

I probably have some Pentecostal relatives if I sit and really go through the family tree.

So every part of my religious heritage was on display at Aretha Franklin’s homegoing on Friday. The great. The good. The bad.

Which brings me to the title of this post. What was on display, even more than the gospel music, even more than the horrific theology of the eulogy, were the things that cross denominations.

There is a pageantry that comes with the Black church. A pageantry that I miss more and more the longer I am in UU circles. There is a feeling in the Black church that church is different. Not ordinary. That it is a place where we put our best forward and display it.
This pageantry is why so many of us are in LOVE with Queen Mother Cicely Tyson’s hat. Why we’re talking about how great Pastor Shirley Caesar looked in that glittering gown. How clean the men looked in their suits.
Aretha’s homegoing was CHURCH. Church on a grand scale.

And church fans. I don’t know if anybody outside of Black church knows about the meaning of church fans, but they were a staple of my youth. No matter which church I was at, there was always the church fan from one of the local Black funeral homes in the hymnal rack. It did not matter which season it was, there were always church fans. And you could be certain that the Church Mothers would be fanning themselves or using them as extensions of their arms.
Some even had their own fans, like Chaka Khan had on Friday (did you notice she had the words to the song taped to the fan?). Whether paper or fabric, quite often they would match the outfit the person wore that day.
Again…pageantry.

Where’s the pageantry in UUism? Has there ever been pageantry in UUism?

Anti-Intellectualism In Unitarian Universalist Life

Some years ago now, I did a mini-rant post on the dearth of Unitarian Universalist scholarly writing on religion available in the marketplace of ideas. I’m here to do it again.

I’m working on a book project and have started the research and reading phase. Now, for some of what I’m interested in, I do not–and did not–expect there to be much written about it from Unitarian Universalists. So on this hand, I am not disappointed. But it is so frustrating to not have Unitarian Universalist scholarly work on scripture (not just the Bible, all of the major religions’ holy works).

Why doesn’t Beacon Press have something akin to the Abingdon New/Old Testament Commentaries? Why aren’t we publishing a Qur’anic commentary series by noted Muslim scholars? Or a series about the Vedas by Hindu scholars? and so on and so on and so on.

Why is it, for all of our supposed intellectualism on a wide range of subjects, most Unitarian Universalist show absolutely no curiosity regarding religion itself?

Part of the reason UU social justice work can be so haphazard is because most UUs don’t understand that the only way to sustain oneself in the work of social justice is to have a firm religious grounding.

I know I just turned off a lot of you by saying that, but truth is truth. I am not saying that one has to be Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu. I am saying that in order to be effective ecumenically and interfaith-ly, one actually has to have a grounding in something. This means moving beyond Building Your Own Theology/Religion 101.

James Luther Adams talked a lot about examining faith. How many UUs, outside of those who go to seminary (ministers, religious educators, pastoral counselors and the like), actually examine their faith? Or even more basically, how many UUs know what their faith is?

oh well.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Memorial Congregation

(keep the following number in mind; 86)

I think I have to start this post with a question: do you know who Frances Ellen Watkins Harper is?

anyway…..

Last month I got to spend a weekend in Kansas City at the BLUU Revival with approximately 115 African American Unitarian Universalists (and a couple of Unitarian Universalist adjacent folk). Even more, I got to be part of the team that set the frame for the weekend. What’s more, I was part of the group that planned out the worships.

It was a wonderful weekend. And it has got me thinking.

Part of the reason Revival was so freeing was none of the people in the room had to hold back in bringing their full selves into the room. We all knew the white gaze was not going to be there. Those of us who got to plan the worships knew that we could play music and have readings and rituals from the African diaspora and not have to explain why we were using them or having to do a 10-minute education session about them. That is freeing too.

So to the 86.

86% of churches in this country are mono-racial/cultural, even after all these years since King remarked that 11:00 a.m. on Sunday was the most segregated hour of the week.

This leads to a question: why are we trying to integrate UU congregations? Let’s be more honest than is comfortable; we can count the number of truly integrated UU congregations on one hand. What most UU congregations have is a token integration; people of color are seen as an exotic occurrence, a way of showing just how open and accepting white liberal religion is/can be. And, until recently, the way diversity/inclusion was talked about in UU circles was that this was for white people and that people of color were “allowed” to be a part of it; that white people were magnanimously gifting to people of color liberal religion.   (trust me when I say that some of the words you good white liberals use/have used when talking about people of color and religion and why UU churches are so white would turn your stomach if I repeated them back to you)

Which brings to mind another question: is it time for a separate but equal Unitarian Universalism?

Since we know that 86% of congregations in this country are mono-racial/cultural and we also know that the only set of churches that have stayed stable or have grown in the religious world in the last 20-or-so years (at least if one looks at longitudinal studies) are ethnic churches, shouldn’t we be putting our energies into growing churches in the places where they are most likely to grow? In other words, isn’t it time for UUism to go to the ‘hood or the barrio instead of the the exurb or non-inner-ring suburb?

The history of Unitarianism/Universalism/Unitarian Universalism in communities of color has been mostly sabotage (the only majority minority UU congregation I know of survives because it has kept an arms-length distance from other UU congregations), yet when people of color find their way to UU congregations the welcome they receive is FAR from welcoming.

What would the reception be for Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Memorial Congregation–an explicitly majority minority congregation–be today?

 

Black Theology Saved The World Once, And It Can Do It Again pt.2

There was a wedding over the weekend. This post is about the sermon.

Back in January I wrote a post saying that if the resistance paid attention, Black theology could save the world. I think Bishop Curry’s sermon shows how it is possible.

Not only did Bishop Curry use MLK Jr. correctly, he was able to tie King, Song of Songs, Teilhard de Chardin, and spirituals together in a way that was prophetic, pastoral, and playful. And all in 13 minutes.

If liberal ministers want to spiritually sustain/edify/fortify those who are in the resistance fight everyday, Bishop Curry’s sermon shows a way to do it.

And, since Bishop Curry did use King, I know you good UU ministers and lay preachers are going to want to use him too. So, here are a few rules that will make it easy:

1. Before doing anything else, read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (you can find it here)

2. Do NOT use the “I Have a Dream” speech. I repeat, do NOT use “I Have a Dream”.

3. If you are going to use a King speech, it must be post-1965.

4. Understand that King understood that there is both personal sin and collective/systemic sin. If you are not comfortable saying the word “sin”, do NOT use King. King believed in sin.

5. Read “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” and “Why We Can’t Wait”

 

more later. maybe.

 

When You Become Homeless…Church Homeless, That Is

(for those of you who know my religious situation, I am not talking about my other denominational affiliations/connections. this post is only about Unitarian Universalism)

It happened so slowly I didn’t even recognize it.

First….the special Sundays–Blues Sunday and Gospel Sunday–went away. (Jazz Sunday is still around, but it moves around on the calendar so I never know when it’s going to happen)

Then….the voices/readings from the pulpit became whiter and whiter.

Then….when I did go, I was constantly mistaken for a long-time member of the staff. (I happen to love that staff member, but all Black women don’t look alike)

I went off to seminary. And things really changed; I’ve been in the pulpit there twice since 2010.

But because I was doing things on the national level, I didn’t notice how much distance there was between me and my “home” congregation. And since one of the other congregations in town invites me to preach, I didn’t notice how much my “home” congregation doesn’t.

Until I got an email…..

Kim, I hope this is the right address for you!! I have been thinking about you a lot in recent weeks, partly because I have benefited from your writings in “The Wednesday Word.” Additionally, in the otherwise well-planned and meaningful Maundy Thursday service that [x1] developed last year, there were no Words of Institution in the service. Although [x1] developed the service, [x2] led the communion service last year. When I asked them about the omission of the words of institution, neither was certain they knew what they were. I said I’d like to be responsible for that part of the service this year, and they agreed, although they may want to change what I wrote. I used a stripped-down quotation, leaving out (in the First Corinthians version) references to the Lord Jesus (just “Jesus”), and Paul’s words about proclaiming the Lord’s presence until he comes. In preparing what I thought should be included, I referred back to the lay-led service you and I did, together with others, in 2002.

The experiences (both of doing the service with you and preparing the communion portion of the Maundy Thursday service) were very meaningful for me. Other people from [congregation] have told me they thought you had given up on UUism, which wouldn’t surprise me, given all your wrestling with where you might serve as a minister after seminary that you and I discussed before you went to seminary……

I’ve been sitting with that since I received the email in March. All that I have done on the national level, and people from my “home” congregation think I have given up on UUism.

I’m homeless.

Thank God for BLUU and the UUCF. And Starr King (they let me claim them). These three have made my homelessness so much softer than it could have been. In that, I am extremely lucky.

But I do not like forsaking the assembly. And so I am in a bind.

Some of you have heard me say that I am an ecclesiology girl. I believe in the church. I love the church, notwithstanding all its flaws. And many days, I believe in Unitarian Universalism. Some days, I love it.  Yet, I am homeless.

I am reconciling myself to that within Unitarian Universalism. We’ll see how it goes.

The Wheels On The Bus…..(Black Church Memories)

Three weeks ago, after I got off the Red Line at Porter Square, I saw something that I haven’t seen in this area but something which is a Black church staple.

A church bus.

The church I grew up in had 2. My cousins’ church had 1. Most of my friends’ churches had at least 1.

This got me to thinking…..does any UU congregation have a church bus?**   How many UUs have any idea what what a church bus is?

I’ve been wrestling with what I was going to say in this post since that Sunday. Am I going through a fit a nostalgia? Am I asking for too much from UU congregations to wonder why UU congregations don’t provide this really simple form of hospitality and welcoming?

What does it mean that no UU congregation I can think of offers a transportation ministry?

What avenues would be opened if UU congregations did have a church bus? Who would get to be included?

of course, these thoughts bring up other issues like where UU congregations are in relation to both population centers and where their members/friends live, etc.

I’m still wrestling with this Black church memory and what it could mean for Unitarian Universalism.  Maybe we can wrestle with it together.

 

**–my friend Patty tells me that First Church Roxbury has one. Fits the profile.