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?

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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.

 

Unitarian Universalism Is A Bad Spiritual Emergency Room

Before I start, I want to remind everybody that I am an Universalist. I firmly believe that there is nothing anybody can do to separate themselves from the bosom of God. (yes, it’s more nuanced than that. buy me a drink when you see me and I’ll explain it fully)

anyway…..

Most Unitarian Universalists are converts; whether it’s from some other religious practice or from no practice. Because so many in our congregations are converts, a number of them come into our congregations in the midst/middle of some spiritual trauma. Hence, too many of our congregations are acting as  informal spiritual emergency rooms, and doing it badly.

For those of you familiar with emergency rooms, you know that there are three things that can happen: 1)the patient can die; 2)the patient can be stabilized and moved to another department for specialized care; or, 3) the patient can be prepped for emergency surgery.

Why am I saying that many UU congregations are doing spiritual emergency room work badly? Mainly because, too often, we let people stay in trauma mode without doing the necessary work of either prepping them for surgery or stabilizing them and moving them on to specialized care (to be clear, moving them on to specialized care does not mean that these people have to leave the congregation).

How many UU congregations help congregants come to peace/find peace/own their religious past in a systematic way? Because this cannot be done willy-nilly. This is hard work.

So many of the problems that are manifesting themselves in Unitarian Universalism right now are occurring because we are not acknowledging the trauma (in all its forms), helping those who are traumatized come to terms with the trauma, and move forward in a trauma-informed way. Nothing will change until this changes.

p.s.- this also applies to the traumas in Unitarian Universalism’s past. when I talk about our history mattering, this is why.

 

Having to Leave Your Blackness at the Church House Door

I’m part of the planning for some upcoming worship services. And during our planning meeting today, one of the other people involved asked (rhetorically), “how Black am I allowed to be in UUism?”

I hadn’t put it in those exact words recently, but it’s a question worth considering.

UUism asks people of color to play respectability politics all the time. There’s only so much of one’s person of color-ness that one is allowed to bring in to the church house, no matter what other marginalized identity that the person of color might carry.

So the question is…how much can UU culture change so that people of color can bring their full selves through the church house door?

The Exodus Should Not Be Quiet…Whether It’s Out of White Evangelicalism or Unitarian Universalism

I will write more about this after next week, but wanted to give some initial thoughts here.

In today’s New York Times there is an in-depth article exploring the exodus of African Americans from heavily white, but integrated, evangelical churches.

Since in the subtitle of the article mentions the word exodus, it’s got me thinking about the Exodus story.

For those of you familiar with the story, you know  Moses gave Pharaoh a number of chances to change the situation. Moses warned Pharaoh about what would happen if things didn’t change. The situation did not change.

African Americans–like Moses, whether in predominately white evangelical churches or liberal/progressive churches, have been giving Pharaoh a number of chances to change how their religious institutions work. African Americans–like Moses–have been telling Pharaoh what would happen if things didn’t change in these religious institutions.

The question is will Pharaoh be any different this time than the last time?