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?

 

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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.

 

The Last Words…..Holy Weekend Thoughts

One day, hopefully not too far in the future, some nice church is going to let me do a “Last Words” Maundy Thursday/Good Friday service.

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.  [Mark 15: 40-41]

It’s Holy Saturday. And I’m thinking about Stephon Clark’s grandmother, Sequita Thompson. I’m thinking about all the Black women who organized the protests in Sacramento. I’m thinking about those who are left behind when the state summarily executes a member of a minority group.

I’m thinking of the women.

Because, most often, it is the women who are left behind to pick up the pieces after the slaughter.

I’m thinking of the women.

Because, most often, it is the women who are providing for those who the state takes away and have to keep providing for the community once the state has taken someone away.

I’m thinking of the women.

It’s Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday is all about waiting.

Waiting for new life out of death and destruction.

Waiting for light out of darkness.

Waiting for hope out of despair.

Waiting.

And so I think of Miz Sequita today. And all the other women who, like the women that followed and provided for Jesus, have to look on from a distance. Knowing that there really is no distance between the death of their loved one and them.

Please Stop Telling Me the Parkland Students “Get It” pt. 2

Some Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School students held a press conference today. I’m guessing you didn’t hear about it. That’s because it was Black MSD students holding the press conference.

The Black MSD students were holding the press conference because they have some concerns that the students who are getting all the media attention don’t seem to have.

Mainly, a number of these students are concerned about the talk of more school resource officers in their school.

And they are right to be concerned. Schools where school resource officers are present have a higher number of disciplinary actions against children of color. Schools where school resource officers are present refer more children of color to the criminal justice system.

So…I am glad that the white and white-presenting MSD students acknowledge that gun violence is about more than school- or mass-shootings. And I am glad that most of them seem to understand that the reason they are getting so much attention is because of white privilege.

What concerns me is that they seem to not be listening to their fellow MSD students who have real concerns about the proposals they are forwarding.

While the white and white-presenting MSD students “get it” on some things, they don’t on others. If they are truly listening to their fellow students, maybe that will change.

For the Love of God, Please Stop Telling Me the Parkland Students “Get It”

The officers who murdered Alton Sterling will never be charged with taking his life. The Louisiana Attorney General announced this just a little while ago.

Stephon Clark was killed by officers who did not identify themselves, IN HIS OWN BACKYARD.

Decynthia Clements was killed by police on the side of I-90 not far outside of Chicago on March 12th.

Danny Ray Thomas was killed by Houston police March 22nd.

Police violence is gun violence.

That was not talked about at any march on Saturday (that I know of).

Yes, those Parkland students who have been getting airtime seem to understand that gun violence is not just about school shootings. Yes, those Parkland students “shared the stage” with youth of color on Saturday. (as if this was some magnanimous gesture. if I had it in me I would write a post about how the presence of youth of color at the marches has been described)  Yes, you good white people are falling all over yourselves about Naomi Wadler and Yolanda Renee King saying how inspiring they were.

But will you be at the march to protest the next police killing of a person of color?

Whether the Parkland kids get it or not, the real question is why you good white people didn’t get it before now. And whether you will get it tomorrow when the people who are killed don’t look like you.

Y’all are exhausting.

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?