“Don’t tell me what’s possible. Tell me the truth.”…One Thing Wakanda Has To Tell Unitarian Universalism

There are so many things that Wakanda could tell Unitarian Universalism. This post will talk about one.

For those of you who’ve seen “Black Panther”, you will know that the title of this post comes from a conversation between T’Challa and Zuri. “Don’t tell me what’s possible. Tell me the truth.”

I’ve been thinking about denial in Unitarian Universalism lately; both active denial and passive denial.

Since the latest iteration of the racial justice problems in Unitarian Universalism became public almost a year ago, many UUs of color have been telling their stories of how white supremacy shows itself in UU congregations and other UU institutions. Yet, when presented with these stories, many white UUs have flatly denied or tried to rationalize what UUs of color experience.

UU religious professionals of color are STILL being pushed out of jobs and white parishioners are covering their eyes and saying that they “need to speak with one voice”.

UUs of color are getting told they are “too confrontational” when reading a piece of a work written by a person of color during a worship service.
******

White UUs want badly to believe certain things about their congregations. They want to believe in the “what’s possible.”

UUs of color are telling the truth of what is actually going on in UU congregations.

When the Commission on Institutional Change issues a more detailed report, how are white UUs going to handle it? Are they going to keep being in denial (the “what’s possible”)? Or will they listen to the truth?

I may write more on what I think Wakanda has to tell Unitarian Universalism, but I need to see it again before I make up my mind.

#WakandaForever

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It’s February. Does Your UU Congregation Know What That Means?

I could make this post about the time, during my ministerial internship, when I was asked “When did February become Black History Month?” I could, but I won’t.

Yet it does seem right, on this first day of Black History Month, to ask how prepared UU congregations are to honor the month.

What’s your UU congregation doing to acknowledge the month? Is it doing anything?

The Time of Jubilee

Last night, for some reason, the idea of Jubilee came to mind. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Jubilee, it is a command given to the Hebrew people for when they entered the Promised Land. Here is the command (from Leviticus 25):

8 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years.
9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land.
10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.
11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines.
12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.

13 In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property.

Now, technically, Jubilee year is about property and slavery. [it’s complicated, but this slavery was different than U.S. chattel slavery] But let’s use our imaginations.

2018 is the 50th anniversary of vote to fund BAC (Black Affairs Council). With all that happened in the years that followed, I’m not calling for a traditional celebration. But I do think that there needs to be some honoring of that decision. And, inviting those who got wounded/hurt/burned in the ensuing aftermath to “Come Home”, because Unitarian Universalism was their home.

To go even further, what would it look like if we took the idea of Jubilee seriously next year; not just with those who left because of the “Controversy”, but all people of color who have come the way of Unitarian Universalism over the years only to be cast aside at the altar of whiteness.

Maybe something could be done in conjunction with the Commission on Institutional Change to gather groups together with the central question asked of them being based on the concept of Jubilee, “What would Unitarian Universalism looked like if there was true liberty–if people were free enough to bring their entire selves in and make Unitarian Universalism home?”

There is joy to be had in the toiling that we are going through right now. This next year, we should talk about that.

This Is Just A Little Peyton Place And You’re All Harper Valley Hypocrites

So…UU social media is all aflutter over the NAACP-issued Travel Advisory for the state of Missouri. And, in the way of faux-wokeness with UUs, some are saying that they are thinking about maybe not coming to GA next year in K.C.

[I do find it funny that these faux-woke UUs are talking about avoiding a state that they have been avoiding since Ferguson when we were begging for people to come. But I have come to expect nothing less from UUs.]

ok, let’s start with one fact. The NAACP is NOT (I repeat, NOT) calling for a boycott of the state of Missouri. If they were calling for a boycott, this would be a different issue. This is a travel advisory. And, if you are white, it ain’t about you. It’s about Black people and other people of color.

another fact….the law that the NAACP issued the advisory over is also law in 38 other states. I wish, as a native Missourian, that the NAACP had issued the advisory over the traffic-stop information released by the Attorney General’s office. But that’s neither here nor there.

anyway…back to the faux-woke UUs. Here’s my question:

Did you have any qualms about going to GA in Portland? Or Columbus?

If you didn’t, you are a Harper Valley hypocrite.

UUs of color ALWAYS have to wonder about how we are going to move around in whatever city GA is in. Hell, we have to wonder how FELLOW UUs are going to treat us at GA. This is nothing new for us. And your faux-woke concern over the Travel Advisory is not helpful.

Here’s the next question:

Have you talked to any K.C. organizers (or anybody in Missouri, really)?

If you haven’t, you are a Harper Valley hypocrite.

To express your faux-concern about the Travel Advisory but not have had a conversation with anybody connected to the organizing efforts in K.C. or other places in Missouri shows that your concern is just to make yourself feel better.

So look…if you don’t want to come to GA in K.C., fine. Nobody’s making you come.

But if you are using the NAACP Travel Advisory as your excuse to not come to K.C. but had no problems going to Portland or Columbus, you are nothing but a faux-woke Harper Valley UU Hypocrite.

 

Pharaoh’s Army Drowned In The Red Sea…or More Unitarian Universalist Nonsense

Somedays the only thing that keeps me half-way in Unitarian Universalism is Aretha Franklin singing gospel.  anyway……

News came out yesterday that UUA officials who RESIGNED from their positions were given healthy (to say the least) severance packages.

WATCH WHITENESS WORK

Let’s be clear about this…if you quit an position/job (elected or appointed) before your term is over and on your own volition, you FORFEIT any benefits you were set to receive. But that’s obviously not true in the UUA.

For this to be done at a time of increasing budget stress for the UUA shows just how much whiteness works for the protection of its own.

I can’t think about this anymore. The verdict in the Philando Castile case just came down. As I expected, Officer Yanez was found “not guilty”. As usual, black life is shown to have no value in the U.S.

So while the UUA is giving out money to people who walked away from the controversy they created, black people are dying on videotape and nobody is held accountable.

WATCH WHITENESS WORK

Since I brought up Aretha Franklin, here she is singing “Mary, Don’t You Weep”

If You Just Change The Key, It’s Still The Same Old Song

If you’ve listened to Mark Morrison-Reed’s Minns Lecture, or read “Black Pioneers in a White Denomination”, then you know about the survey (questions were asked about various aspects of worship and spiritual life) that was done in 1989 for the Commission on Appraisal. There are some striking differences in the responses.

When asked what they saw as the very important aspects of worship, white UUs chose “intellectual stimulation” and “fellowship” as their top two (at 74% and 65%, respectively). African American UUs, however, chose “celebrating common values” and “hope” as their top 2 (at 69% and 60%, respectively). Now, “fellowship”  is the third highest aspect for African American survey respondents (at 56%), and “celebrating common values” is the third highest for white survey respondents (at 60%), but if one looks at the entirety of the results, there is a noticeable difference.

The rest of the top five very important aspects for white UUs were “personal reflection” (53%) and “group experience of participation” (44%). The rest of the top five very important aspects for African American UUs were “music” (50%) and “intellectual stimulation” (47%).

When I was first thinking about this post, I thought it would be another one in my maybe-series about worship. While I will probably write about worship specifically later (the ten percentage point differences in the “music” and “personal reflection” answers deserves a post of their own), the survey  answers to the worship question point to a much larger thought.

We go to church for different reasons.

Let’s sit with that for a moment.

If white UUs are looking for intellectual stimulation and fellowship primarily when looking for a congregation, yet African Americans are looking for a celebration of common values and a place that gives hope when looking for a congregation; what does that mean when creating a space/place that is inviting to all?

So here are the questions…..

Why do you go to church? [and, by extension, why did you choose the congregation you chose]

What does the “beloved community” look like when what we are seeking are different things when we gather?

 

*the survey in 1989 only broke the answers down by white and black respondents. if the survey were being done now, I’m certain that the racial/ethnic breakdown would be more expansive.

Mercy Mercy Me, Things Ain’t What They Used To Be

Marcus Garvey said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

After a number of conversations I’ve had over the past week, here’s my conclusion…..

Unitarian Universalism is a rootless tree.

Too many Unitarian Universalists are running around having no clue; not just of Unitarian/Universalist/Unitarian Universalist history, but of American history in general. And in doing the work of dismantling white supremacy, historical ignorance is definitely not bliss. It is dangerous. And wounding.

I cannot tell you about the number of blank stares and utter confusion that is expressed when, either in my writing or in a sermon, I drop some bit of black history. [ask me about the word “nadir” sometime]

But, as Bro. Jimmy tells us:
History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of references, our identities, and our aspirations. And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this. In great pain and terror one begins to assess the history which has placed one where one is, and formed one’s point of view. In great pain and terror because, thereafter, one enters into battle with that historical creation, oneself, and attempts to recreate oneself according to a principle more human and more liberating: one begins the attempt to achieve a level of personal maturity and freedom which robs history of its tyrannical power, and also changes history.

What I have come to conclude is that most white Unitarian Universalists don’t want to confront our history because, if they do, they can no longer go around acting as if what they do–no matter how well they intended it–doesn’t have a disparate impact.

I used to give white UUs the benefit of the doubt when it came to their historical ignorance. I don’t do that anymore. The future of Unitarian Universalism is at stake. And, after spending these past weeks trying to comfort UUs of color who have been spiritually wounded by their congregations, I can’t stress enough how dangerous this ignorance is. And it impedes our justice work.

A rootless tree will not survive for long. The question, for me, is, how long will Unitarian Universalism survive disconnected from its roots.

I’m With Her…As Long As “Her” Is Susan Frederick-Gray

Susan and I both grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis. This is the shallowest reason that I think Susan should be the next UUA President. And while there are times where I can be both shallow and provincial, this is not one of them.

In a lot of ways, the UUA is like St. Louis. White supremacy is ever-present, seldom talked about or acknowledged, vociferously denied or rationalized when brought up, and has a tendency to historical amnesia or willful ignorance. And it is highly provincial.

St. Louis will never be the same after the killing of Michael Brown and the aftermath of the events in Ferguson, although there are plenty of forces that would love to see it return to the way it was. (just look at the fight and vote over an MLS stadium that happened last month as an example)

Hopefully, the UUA will never be the same after this current crisis. Although, given UUA history, we must fight hard against the forces of inertia.

What does this have to do with me believing that Susan is the President the UUA needs in this time?

In one word: trust. I trust Susan.

Susan gets it in a way that only somebody who grew up in provincial waters can get it. Susan understands the power dynamics of provincialism better than most. (just listen to her talk about her power analysis of UUism in any of the Presidential forums that are online)  There is one place that can rival St. Louis in its provincial-ness, and that place is Boston and the UUA.
Susan knows what it’s like to be in an area that is in the midst of a major upheaval.
Susan knows churches and believes in them.
Susan is not afraid to say the word “theology”. She also understands that liberal theology needs to speak to the world in need of liberation theology through partnership.
Susan has a “make a way out of no way” kind of spirit.

I know all three candidates for President. I respect and like all three. But I believe we have one chance to not repeat the mistakes of the past. For that reason I believe the best person for the job is the one who has the “make a way out of no way” spirit.

I’m with her…as long as “her” is Susan Frederick-Gray.

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.

 

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.