Armed to the Teeth and Praying for Peace

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Every January, we remember nationally, with gratitude, the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and we also remember that he did not do this work alone; that the power of Dr. King’s message was his invitation to each of us to dismantle the structures of oppression and injustice in our communities and in our nations; his invitation to radical love for each other even in the face of hostility and hate, even in the face of distrust and difference.  I pray that we, too, will find the strength and courage to stand on the side of love, to resist through nonviolent action and to link ourselves to our neighbors, to find the strength to address violence in its many forms.   

I’ve been an activist for many causes—from immigrant rights to environmental justice, tenants rights and access to affordable housing, from economic access issues like fair wages and equal pay to access to health care and quality education.  I have long held that these issues are intricately connected, and in some ways it didn’t matter which one I was working on as long as I could see the web of connections.  When I came to Kansas, I was invited to work with a group of people from faith communities on preventing and responding to gun violence.  

This was an issue near and dear to my heart as my husband and aunt lived through a school shooting in the 1980’s in Goddard, KS—an event that surely changed both of their lives in profound ways.  Gun violence takes on many forms in our culture, because we have so much more access to guns than any other society.   

It is estimated that we may currently have more guns than people in our country, with the Washington Post reporting that we have 357 million guns and 317 million people in the U.S.  http://gun-control.procon.org/

22% of Americans own one or more guns (obviously some people own a lot)

Over last 25 years, research on the effect of guns on public health has come to a near standstill, as the the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was basically forced to discontinue its work following the Dickey Amendment, which deducted $2.6 billion from the CDC’s budget, the exact amount of its gun research program, and restricted CDC (and, later, NIH) gun research.  Sadly, it’s reported that Jay Dickey (R-AR), now retired from Congress and the author of the Dickey Amendment and has since stated that he no longer supports the amendment: “I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time… I have regrets.” [144]

According to the Everytown website, guns are the number one cause of death in homicides and suicides, and are the number 12 cause of death overall every year, and the 14th cause of accidental death in the United States.  This statistic is particularly sobering as we face the proliferation of guns on college campuses.  Everytown, a national group devoted to ending gun violence, shows that women in domestic abuse situations are 5x more likely to be killed by the abuser if there is a gun in the house and 62% of firearms deaths are suicide.  Finally, black men are 14 times more likely to be killed by a gun than white men.   

http://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/?source=etno_ETHomePage&utm_source=et_n_&utm_medium=_o&utm_campaign=ETHomePage

But we’re not just armed to the teeth with guns.  We are armed to the teeth on multiple levels.  When I agreed to take 5 teenagers to the UU United Nations Office Spring Seminar this year I had no idea how many other ways we are armed to the teeth.  The Ploughshares Fund shows that while we have decreased the number of nuclear warheads we have since the cold war, the reality is that there are still nearly 15,000 known nuclear warheads—with Russia and United States holding the majority of these.  (7,000 and 6,800 respectively).  A small fraction of these, if detonated, would destroy life as we know it on this planet.  Increased tensions with Russia and North Korea are among the global irritants that have moved the Doomsday clock to 2.5 minutes to midnight in 2017–midnight being nuclear warfare has happened.  So while we have fewer of these weapons overall, we still have far too many and the tensions that could lead to these being deployed is deemed to be quite high.   

http://thebulletin.org/doomsday-dashboard

http://www.ploughshares.org/world-nuclear-stockpile-report

Drone warfare has also become a political hot button—being used with greater and greater frequency and allowing governments like ours to be disconnected from the violence they bring—lives lost are just numbers, people who are never encountered by the deliverer, allowing no deep awareness of the harm done. In-accuracy and the inability to be sure that targets do not include civilians have led to incredible loss of life and health and have raised tensions and conflicts rather than decreasing them.  

In thinking about violence in our culture, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about and talking about all of the factors that lead us to be violent.  For me, right relationship or being out of right relationship is at the core of our choices individually and culturally. Theologian and essayist James Luther Adams, in his essay on “The Changing Reputation of Human Nature” puts it this way: “As creative beings we can act to preserve or increase, destroy or pervert, mutuality…we are fatefully caught in history, both as individuals and as members of a group, and we are also able to be creative in history” (65 Essential JLA). Adams says that “we can use our freedom by expressing a will to mutuality, but we can also abuse it by exercising a will to power.” (69)  The escalation of arms—whether guns, bombs dropped by drones, or nuclear warheads–in any human community, is an exercise of power.   The use of restorative justice practices and non violent resistance strategies are  a will to mutuality. Human nature is capable of action across the wide spectrum of these.

 

My husband, John, has been very avidly following the gun violence debate over the last several years and finds it to be connected to violence as a cultural paradigm he tracks in sports, movies, and other activities.  John began by re-evaluating his love of certain movies in the face of the violence they insinuate.  About three years ago, he decided to simply let go of the movies in our collection that were most violent, despite a couple of decades of re-visiting them.  One of the movies he got rid of was the cult classic “Boon Dock Saints,” wherein a trio of Irishmen who have been involved in crime start to bring vigilante justice to their rough world of crime.  There’s a lot of gun fire, a lot death, and a lot of drinking.  

Partly, he was thinking about what our kids would eventually watch and partly he was thinking about being in right relationship with himself.  John chose not keep those movies because he felt they brought him into collusion with the consumption of violence.  Adams would say that he has chosen mutuality over the other choice to “waste freedom or abuse it by devotion to idols of the tribe, the theatre, the cave, and the marketplace” (71). This choice may seem simple, small and unimportant in the larger scheme of solving gun violence or other kinds of violence on our planet, but I think it represents an important pivot point.  Consuming violence allows us to see it differently, to become accustomed to being emotionally disengaged from the real consequences of violence.

It seems we are making choices that move us further and further away from real peace, whether it is personal, domestic or international.  We are armed to the teeth and praying for peace; but there is so much more we can do than pray.     

My partner John’s work as an educator has taken us and our community into a journey to learn more about Restorative Justice, which is a form of non-violent communication and conflict resolution that seeks to address the harm done to relationships whether between people, groups, or countries, and to seek healing; it’s relevant at multiple levels.   In schools–where we engage with kids in conflict with each other and teachers, and instead of sending them away from class or suspending them from school, we seek to repair harm and heal relationships; it is also at play in the criminal justice system and there is also a parallel use in large scale international conflict zones.   Whether we are suspending kids, incarcerating people, buying guns, dropping bombs or building nukes, we are essentially choosing to avoid dealing with the actual underlying conflicts and issues and disengaging relationships, ignoring suffering and the needs that others have tried to communicate.  This is violence, and it shows up in every level of human society.  

We can’t decide whether or how other people are in right relationship to themselves or others; simply playing a violent video game, watching a movie or listening to certain music, or even owning a gun can’t be the litmus test; the truth lies in a place much deeper than that, a place each of us must examine.  For my husband John, “right thought” was impacted by the environment he chose to create for himself,  when he was in tune with the messages of the movies he was consuming, he found himself in a place of cognitive dissonance. As an educator, John introduced the middle school he works at and later the rest of his school district, to restorative practices. These practices, which begin in a circle of trust and listening, allow kids and teachers to build deeper relationship and when in conflict, to restore relationships by addressing the harm done by each other and making commitments to make amends and try new strategies for being community. The key is whether we are engaging practices and strategies that address the harm done and look for better ways to be in community–commitments to engage with each other differently.   

Violence is the result of unexpressed and unheard needs–writer Thomas Moore created a diagnosis for this which he calls “Repression of the life force” (127)– when we become isolated and feel our needs are not being addressed.  There is a continuum of violence–from how we address ourselves internally, to the kinds of actions and words we bring into our world.  Whether someone is able to see how their words and actions “land” for those around them is essential, because not noticing our impact on others is its own form of violence.   From this perspective, not providing access to adequate health care or housing is a form of violence; not offering a living wage is a form of violence.  Not providing the kinds of learning experiences and opportunities necessary to fully and productively engage in our communities is a form of violence.  and so on.   When we use restorative practices to understand why a group has turned to violence, we always uncover a significant harm that needs to be addressed.  If we drop a bomb on them instead, the harm is increased, and usually the level of violence as well.  Having access to basic needs allows people to engage differently with the world around them.  Maslowe’s pyramid–that tells us we can’t reach self-actualization when our basic needs aren’t being met– isn’t just a way to understand individual people, it is also a way to understand groups of people and nation-states.  

 

One of researchers I have been learning from recently is a professor named Erica Chenoweth who did research on and compared the effective outcomes of violent resistance and non violent resistance;  her research was groundbreaking and changed even her mind.  She found two very startling things.  One was that from 1900 to 2006, non-violent  campaigns worldwide were twice as likely to succeed as violent ones.   

 

In addition, the trend over the last 50 years has been that non-violent campaigns are increasingly more successful and violent campaigns decreasingly successful (3:51-4:22).  She then also shares that her research has uncovered that the percentage of people participating necessary to have a non-violent campaign be successful is just….[Take some guesses?]

3.5%, sometimes less.   She says:

The point here is that nonviolent campaigns can solicit more diverse and active participation from ambivalent people. And once those people get involved, it’s almost guaranteed that the movement will then have some links to security forces, the state media, business or educational elites, religious authorities, and civilian bureaucrats who start to question their allegiances. No regime loyalists in any country live entirely isolated from the population itself. They have friends, they have family, and they have existing relationships that they have to live with in the long term, regardless of whether the leader stays or goes.”

 

Non violent resistance begins with our ability to speak out against harm we see.  Learning to find and use our collective prophetic voices is vital to our sense of ourselves within community.  With this prophetic voice, we may choose to:

 

speak against hate crimes and racial injustices  in our justice system and communities, in our economic system and in the fabric of American life; we may proclaim that BLACK LIVES MATTER

speak out against the availability of weapons that have no use in any setting except perhaps war, and perhaps even against war itself and international violence

 

speak up for the rights and access of marginalized communities that have already sustained wounds from our prejudice and imbalanced systems of power;

 

speak up for access to basic needs for all of us–all human beings– and define these to include our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being so that we may have housing and food, safety and health, love and connection.  

 

When we speak up, we are in right relationship with ourselves and our community, we are addressing the harm and attempting to begin healing. As Thomas Moore reminds us, “Like an animal, the soul feeds on whatever life grows in its immediate environment.” (Care of the Soul 203).  I am advocating that we connect ourselves with what  Moore calls “soul power” both individually and communally.  In this way we may find ourselves, as Moore describes, at the “fulcrum of action and intelligence that feels the weight both of the soul and the intellect” (120).  Or, as Adams says, we may “be possessed by a love that will not let us go” (78).  When we act from these places, we may be able to let go of self-righteousness that is often ego-based and narcissistic.  Adams warns against action that is taken purely from a place of intellect; we must instead act with “raised affections” and “a vitality that can break through old forms of behavior and create new patterns of community”(78).  Soulwork is part of being in right relationship, and Moore says that “when we allow ourselves to exist fully, we sting the world with our vision and challenge it with our own ways of being.”  

I invite you into this work, to sting with world with your vision and challenge it with your collective voice, standing with Unitarian Universalists and other communities of faith, standing with communities that need allies and organizations we collaborate with.   The cure is acting together, creatively and compassionately.  

In New York City this spring I watched our high school youth as they learned about drone warfare and nuclear bombs and the many different kinds of bombs we have.  They were asked to consider what we could do for our communities that would answer our prayers for peace.  They didn’t respond by giving up, walking away, or getting angry.  They responded with compassion, and creativity, with intellectual depth and spiritual curiosity.  Our kids came up with songs, and ad campaigns, artwork and screenplay ideas, policy and program ideas.  They intuitively understood why violence cannot be met with violence, and that people’s needs come first.  If we are concerned that the refugee crisis is a violent situation waiting to happen, we should be.  But not because the refugees were violent to begin with–rather, because if the needs for food, shelter, jobs, and safety aren’t met, people will turn to violence because they have not been heard or helped.

Moore says “There is nothing neutral about the soul.  It is the seat and source of life…if we do not claim the soul’s power on our own behalf, we become its victims” (129…135). When this happens, he says, we “suffer our emotions…hold our thoughts and passions inward…making us feel profoundly unsettled.”  (135). Moore tells us that if “violence is the repressed life force showing itself symptomatically, then the cure for violence is care of the soul’s power” (135).   

How can we care for the soul’s power?  By restoring relationship and listening to people–responding to their needs and offering an opportunity for healing.  We can do this in our everyday relationships, and we can do it in international policy.  Like Veteran Scott Cooper, we need to see that advocating for meeting the needs of refugees escaping war-torn areas like Syria is connected to our own security.  A former America fighter pilot, Cooper came home and said this: “When you get out of the military you think, ‘What’s the next mission?’ Seeing those affected by war, protecting human rights and national security led me to start Veterans for American Ideals last year to advocate for military interpreters and Syrian refugees.” http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/5926f8934

Peace is not something we receive passively.  Peace is the result of addressing harm being done, developing enough relationship for healing to take place, and resisting the urge to retaliate and instead responding with compassion and a desire to understand.  We cannot hope to have peace when we are armed to the teeth; we must dismantle our weapons and rethink our strategies.  Both our interpersonal commitments and our international agreements can be held to the same core values.  Like the two warriors, we must be willing to listen to each other’s stories and acknowledge the needs being expressed, find the humanity in each other and ask ourselves–if each soul is sacred and worthy, how can we take the life of another?  Let us make this commitment then, to each other and to all that is part of this interdependent web, as we will sing together in a moment:  “May our hands and hearts and spirits be guided by a faith free of fear; ablaze with our commitment, where our hunger and passion meet to call us on our way; may our promises to one another find fulfillment that our future may be revealed as a place of peace and possibility, for all humankind–a deeper justice built by each courageous choice!”   May it ever be so, Amen.  (Jason Shelton, “Fire of Commitment” (Jason Shelton, “Fire of Commitment” Singing the Journey, #1028)

(Jason Shelton, “Fire of Commitment” Singing the Journey, #1028)

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1/21/17 in Topeka, KS: Women’s March Prayer

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at-protest Photo Credit: Colin MacMillan

“She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes” [Starhawk Kore Chant]

 This is a prayer to the feminine Divine, to that Spirit of Life that moves us, guides us, connects us:

This prayer is for all the women of this planet, for each of you and all of us:

I am Sarah, Daughter of Barbara, Daughter of Marjorie, Daughter of Francis, Daughter of Barbara…

May you march today with the blessings of the generations of women who preceded you, whose struggles and successes are too often untold stories

I offer you a prayer today knowing that prayer is not just words but also actions, knowing that God is not just Presence but also a Possibility and an embodiment of all that is;

It is a prayer of gratitude:

The women in my life have been a sacred circle;

They are weavers of a web of history and love,

Committed to change, committed to justice, committed to the journey.

(We are sisters, on a journey, singing out as one)

Their threads have led me to books and music and protests.

Their threads have held me suspended and safe, saved me from

An abyss of self loathing.

Their threads have mended me when I was frayed and

Pieced together disparate cloths, fabric from the different pieces

Of my soul.

 

Thank you mothers, thank you women of strength.

 

It is a prayer of lament, for women’s lives have been full of struggle:

Their voices have sung for freedom.

Their bodies and minds have met injustice and suffering.

Their bodies and minds have delivered miracles,

The soft flesh of newborn

Ideas.

 

It is a prayer for change, for change within us and change around us:

 

The women who have guided me

have given me a labyrinth for contemplation

And songs to sing outside the capitol

Or the detention center

Or in my classroom

Or in my daughter’s room, at night as she sleeps.

They have given me the bright colors of patchwork quilts

and beautiful skirts

and I wear them in my hair

and on my toes

and emblazoned in tattoos.

 

They have given each of us gardening tools and seeds,

And a little plot of ground to green

That we might call this place

OURS

This is prayer of intercession, that we might find hope and love:

We are struggling, each of us in our own place on the path

To the center.

Some of these predecessors are waiting for us now,

Already here,

Maybe you can hear their voices, too

She changes everything she touches, And everything she touches changes.

May the Spirit of Life and Love be with you today and everyday; may our marching together be its own prayer, a prayer for justice and strength that carries us forward together, into a movement, not a moment. 

 

 

 

From a Moment to a Movement: The Kansas Peoples Agenda

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From a Moment to a Movement: The Kansas Peoples Agenda

What does it mean to be a community of prophecy/prophetic community?

Back when I lived in Denver, CO, I experienced a worship service that was a blend of Unitarian Uuniversalist (UU) worship–preaching, singing, lighting the chalice–and protest.  It was simultaneously a glorious moment of proclaiming UU witness for a moral cause.  We met on the steps of the capitol in support of same sex marriage and in protest of Colorado’s determination that marriage should be for heterosexuals only.  For several years we met, a growing community that started at about 200 and became more like 600–UU’s and other faith communities in sympathy with our cause.  We had multiple congregations represented with multiple ministers, a huge choir, and media.  I felt proud to be a UU on those Sundays, once a year, as we proclaimed that we were standing on the side of love.  This gathering took on an even deeper importance as that work moved from a focus on marriage equality to a focus on immigration and on Black Lives Matter.  The gathering deepened relationships and created a grounding energy that was needed for other work to be done.  It moved from being a moment to building some of the heart and soul for a movement, one that has gathered stamina to engage some of those participants in the work of the sanctuary movement, one that has supported activism in many different forms for more than one cause.  

Coming to Kansas, I held that experience in my heart.  I have spent some time in our capitol and around our state, and I started to imagine what it would take to create more collaboration, deeper relationships, and broader capacity for the many people who were alarmed by the challenges our state is facing because of the policies and leadership of the current administration.  I started to imagine what our version of s Standing on the Side of Love service would look like.  Gathering at the capitol before the supreme court decision changed the law of the land, I saw the possibility of how we might better organize and strategize.  So often I would go to events in the capitol and see 50-100 people who cared passionately about one issue.  It’s not that they didn’t care about other issues.  There were a few of us that showed up for multiple things and this is how I got to know some folks better.  For example, Dan Brennan seemed to be just about everywhere.  And Davis Hammet.  And Mary Akerstrom.  And Sonja Willem. Rev. Schlingensiepen.  Rev. Longbottom.  And many more!

A couple of years ago I signed up to do a leadership training with the Kansas Leadership Center.  It was three days long and I went because someone else, another minister, had recommended it.  It was interesting because it had attracted all kinds of people from all over the state whose interests were also all over the map.  I was definitely the furthest left field, if you know what I mean.  But I spoke my intention, which was to develop a statewide collaboration of people working on a progressive agenda.  I wanted to build our capacity to work together and to dream together.  I didn’t even know who “we” would be.  

Then earlier this year I read Rev. Barber’s book, “The Third Reconstruction.”  His book gave me hope and it gave me some ideas.  He spoke at our general assembly this last June and although he is a registered Independent, he also spoke at the DNC.  His cry for a moral response to the policies being pushed by corporate elites is moving and inspiring; and his analysis of why certain policies are being pursued in tandem was eye opening and chilling.  He draws connections between the attacks on voting rights, especially for people of color, and attacks on access to quality public education, access to affordable health care, attacks on our courts and on progressive revenue policy, legislating hate through anti LGBTQ laws and policies, and undermining women’s access to reproductive rights and health care, undermining labor unions and wages and environmental sustainability efforts,  while increasing access (for some) to guns.  He shows the way in which the groups affected by these attacks have been encouraged to see their battles as separate.  Our organizations are built to advocate for particular pieces of these attacks but not to respond together.  We more often are fighting each other–for funding, for publicity, for the “moral high ground.”  

But when I took a step back I saw what Barber was seeing–that the architects of these attacks are the same entities, not just in one state but in nearly 23 states.  The same people who want to undermine public education are the same people who want to undermine women’s reproductive rights and check your birth certificate at the door to the bathroom.  Why?  Barber shows how some of these issues have been deliberately constructed as a way to distract our attention.  In getting some people riled up about same gender marriage or trans people doing normal human activities, they have managed to take away attention from things like economic disaster and the dismantling of public goods.  

I was so moved by Rev. Barber’s writing and by the public speeches I had seen that I went with several others to Kansas City to him lead a Moral Revival event in September.  Larry and Cheryl Nussbaum and Nancy Heitzig and Mary Akerstrom and I all met up there.  It was an incredible evening–Sister Simone from the nuns on the bus, Rabbi Mark H. Levin from KC, Reverend Traci Blackmon from St. Louis area, Rev. Dr. James Forbes, and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber gave rousing sermonettes and they featured fast food workers who were fighting for a $15 hour wage and folks looking for the expansion of medicaid and so many of the same issues we are facing here.  We sang together and we promised each other a vision of a different kind of community.  I was reminded that my call to ministry was both a call to serve congregations and a call to serve the communities I live and serve in. Repairers of the Breach

I joined the Kansas Interfaith Action Board  as they were making the shift from working on environmental issues only to working on a broader base of issues based roughly on MLK’s triple threat–racism, poverty, and violence.  With environment still on the table, we set out to work on getting rid of campus carry, supporting Muslims in KS, working with others to expand medicaid, and fighting against poorly designed welfare policies in addition to advocating for efficiency in our energy use.  The idea of connecting a moral lens to the vision for Kansas was moving to me and helped me connect issues and ideas to my Unitarian Universalist values and commitments.  

Then, this fall, as we were all waiting to see what would happen with the presidential election, I met someone else who was inspired by Rev. Barber.  She is a Quaker who met Barber at a conference last spring where he was giving a workshop on Moral Mondays style organizing.  Her name is Laura Dungan, and like me she has been an organizer and has been thinking about what we could be doing to energize Kansans. So we started thinking about planning a large scale rally in the capitol and getting Rev. Barber to Kansas.  We started inviting friends and colleagues to join us and pretty soon we had 50 people in Salina from around the state thinking about what was important in KS and what we wanted to say to our elected leaders.   Eventually we had two meetings and over 100 people reaching out to others across the state.  

Let me pause to describe those two Saturdays in Salina.  The first was the first weekend after the national election.  While we hadn’t known what the outcome of the election was to be when made the plan to meet that weekend, most of us were pretty glad to have something else to work on and think about that felt important and life giving after the election.  There were a lot of hugs, a few tears, some laughter, and a lot of commitment.  We had people from Hutchison, Salina, Wichita, Hays, Lyons, Emporia, Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City…and a couple small towns I can’t remember.  We had guitars and a piano and songs and poets.  We spent time listening to each other and getting to know each other–and we learned about issues and ideas we didn’t each already know about.  We started to develop a list of concerns and some ideas for a rally.  We started to think about who we would invite and how we could get people to come.  While we originally had planned to have Rev. Barber come speak at our rally, his own state has faced some very challenging political situations since the election, and his presence is required in NC on Jan 11.  

Several of us got to talk to Dr. Barber about our event over the phone with several others. He reminded us that we needed to build a movement, not just a moment, and that the voices of people experiencing challenges are the voices we need to hear.  He was excited by our work, our vision, and made a commitment to come to KS to lead a training and moral revival event and also to record a greeting for our rally.  I was moved just to be mentored by someone so…prophetic, someone who seemed to have endless energy and enthusiasm.  I was grateful to know that there were others across this country doing just we were doing–gathering people, deepening relationships, and building bridges.

One of the most important aspects of building a moment and not just a movement is in building relationships.  This is part of my answer also to what does it mean to be a community of prophecy?  It means we start to look beyond the folks we usually work with and talk to and ask ourselves who else might want to be part of this work, and what do they care about?  Instead of a flashmob at the capital, spending time to know new organizations and faces and issues means you can reach back out to people for follow up actions and to review what went well and what didn’t.  We asked people to give us contact information, we invited people to help plan, and we kept including the voices that spoke up.  When we were deciding if we were going to come up with a short list of issues we cared about or a long list of legislative concerns, we decided to create a platform instead.  We know we won’t have legislative strategies for all of these this year or even next.  But we wanted everybody in, nobody out.  We wanted people to have the experience of being in the capital with a bunch of people who actually care about us, who actually see us and want us to succeed, want real change for all people.  I hope that when folks show up later in the legislative season with fewer people, they will remember that there are allies who stand with us even when we can’t be in the capitol.  We wanted people to hear voices they don’t normally hear–voices of ordinary people and voices of the faith community speaking up because we know that when we look at what has happened in Ks,  we KNOW that this aint right.  Hasn’t been right.  

I guess I got tired of waiting for someone else to connect all the dots.  I could see them.  Lots of other people could too, and it seemed like they were just waiting for someone to proclaim a vision for this state that would reclaim some of its history.  I can’t tell you how many people have told me in the last month that they were losing hope and this movement is changing their minds.  I can’t tell you how many people admitted that we have built too many competing organizations and not enough relationship between them.  Part of how I personally have approached this problem is to show up as much as I can to the conversations and work being done by different organizations so that I can know the people doing the work and understand their core values and visions.  It’s been worth the time invested–building trust and relationship is a game changer when we you want to plan an event, develop a vision, and jumpstart a movement.  

There is so much more to do, of course.  And some of the work that needs to be done will be more grueling and more risky–it will involve showing up in places and in ways that require courage and creativity.  But always the core task will be to develop trust and connection with people who ultimately share our vision and values.

This week I invite you to come to a rally like no other rally; I invite you to stand boldly with other Kansans and proclaim a different vision of what living here could look like and the values that are foundational to your worldview.  This is just one of many invitations that are developing out of this movement.  Next month we will convene our second annual Building Beloved Community Conference for UU Activists and their partners in Lawrence.  This year a small advisory group representing all of our UU congregations in KS has worked to build some workshops and a guest speaker into our gathering.  I hope you will consider coming to this event and deepening our capacity to do social justice work across KS as a group of sister congregations.  And later in February we will host a special workshop for our community I first encountered in Colorado that helps us understand the lived history of America’s First People.  

Changing a moment into a movement means committing to your own development, from books to training and workshops, to conferences, to meetings with groups you want to learn more about, to retreats and spiritual practices and caring for one another.   There will be many opportunities to engage with each other and with others in our community, whether we are planting gardens or planning direct actions or sharing a meal; whether we are engaging in spiritual practices or part of a faith community; whether we are writing letters or visiting friends in the hospital or taking meals to someone; whether we are marching with women in D.C, or right here in Topeka; whether we are raising funds or raising hell–I hope you are expanding the circle you work with and expanding the capacity you have to bring to any of these tasks.  And sometimes expanding comes after you have had time to reflect and renew, to sit down and let go.  Whatever your path this winter and spring, may you walk with companions who will share the load and sing the songs and do the work that needs to be done.   We change a moment into a movement by walking together.  

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

Neil Gaiman

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been”

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

 

 

The New Story We Will Tell Together

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 I don’t know about you all, but I’m a little rougher for the wear this week…it’s been the kind of week  where each of my family members came down with a God awful flu, one after the other, so that each day became just a blur of snot, kleenex, and cough drops, punctuated by nebulizer treatments for one, doctor appointments for all, and an election night that felt simultaneously like a sucker punch and a bomb going off in my soul. I’ve been thinking about making up some bracelets that say WWMOD?  

You know, what would Michelle Obama do?  

I mean, I feel like I can apply those possible answers to both my sleep deprived parenting quandaries and my political activism.  Except, I’m pretty sure the First Lady has a much cleaner house than I do, with fewer baskets of laundry (oops, I mean, piles) and her dishes don’t pile up.  Of course, she’s got a staff and I’ve got two exhausted, depressed adults, a teenager discovering a social life, and a seven year old who can’t reach the knobs on the dryer.  Without a stool.

Just when I thought we had hit rock bottom as a culture, we had election 2016.  It’s made me wonder if perhaps there isn’t a version of the 12 step program for an entire country. You know?  Because I think it might be good for us.  

“Hello.  I’m The United States of America.  (Welcome, America).  I have been really struggling this week.  Half of me has been wildly celebrating, intoxicated by sudden change and a sense of entitlement to things I have been trying to let go of.  Half of me is in deep mourning, as I have lost my connection to my authentic core and deeply held values.  My actions have caused a split, an internal rift so deep that even the smaller systems in my body–systems like families and communities and neighborhoods and schools and places of work–have all been affected.  The split is so deep and so wide that the people within me have lost a sense of trust and connection with one another.   The most vulnerable parts of me are caught in this split and they are screaming in pain.  I can barely move.  I can barely look in the mirror.  I mean, I’ve fallen off the wagon before.  You remember me telling you about it, every election cycle I have indulged a bit too much, and I have had these terrible episodes of hangover.  And there have been some doozies–market crashes and race riots and, recessions, depressions, wars.  But I always felt like I could pull it back together, find a way to feeling more whole, less divided, and I could live into my dreams and aspirations.  But now, I am just not sure.  

 So, I’ve come back to work the 12 steps again, and I hope you all can support me.  I don’t know where else to go.   And so my fellow Americans, here they are; I had to leave the word God out because so many parts of me have become addicted to an idea of God that isn’t healthy and can often be abusive, but I know that there is something greater than the sum of all my parts, an energy that moves through me and over the whole planet to affirm life and to cause celebration of life.

 

  • We must admit we have become powerless over (consumerism, capitalism; two party system; the electoral college; reality TV; patriarchy; systemic racism and bigotry; war and the proliferation of hand guns…) – that our lives have become unmanageable.
  • We have come to believe that a Power greater than each of us alone could restore us to sanity–that we must organize and galvanize and connect…  
  • We’ve made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of each other, the greater good, communal welfare, to Love and to co-creating a reality with life-affirming actions absent of self destructiveness and shaming
  • We commit to a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves as a nation divided, as people privileged by white supremacy and patriarchy, as an empire that promotes the systemic oppression of other people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, country of origin, religion….(this is so much work!  But I know I have to do it!)  
  • We have admitted to the Universe/Ultimate Reality, to ourselves and all other human beings the exact nature of our wrongs. (At least, we promise to start working on this)
  • We are ready to remove all these defects of character and cultural demonization. (only, please help us figure out how!)
  • We humbly asked  God/the Universe/Loving Reality to help us address and remove our shortcomings (and, perhaps, people who have no business serving in public office)
  • We have made a list of all social groups, nations, the planet and all categories of people we have harmed and have become willing to make amends to them all in every way possible
  • We have made/will make direct amends to such groups of people wherever possible, (except when to do so would injure them or others), including reparations for things like slavery
  • We commit to continue to take universal inventory and when we are wrong to promptly admit it
  • We have sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with Ultimate Reality as we understood it, praying only for knowledge of our gifts and callings and the capacity for transformation and the power to carry these out.
  • Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to other Westernized countries and nations operating as capitalist empires that subjugate people and the environment and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

 

So, this week, even though it felt like a bomb was set off in my soul, I have been trying to assess my grief, my sense of direction and to find some moorings in what feels like a dense cultural fog.  Thursday I received a message from an education leader in our school district that our schools are facing increased bullying in imitation of things they’d heard said during our election cycle.  I got together with some fellow clergy and we wrote an Op-Ed piece that basically says…just because your president elect says mean and discriminatory things to people of color, to LGBTQ people to, to people who look like  they might be from another country or who openly display their religious beliefs by wearing a hijab, doesn’t mean you can.  We even have a state law against it.  It’s called bullying. (http://cjonline.com/opinion/2016-11-12/jim-mccullough-we-must-remind-children-bullying-unacceptable)  It felt good to reach out to my clergy friends, like being a first responder in a crisis and feeling like you have some kind of skill to offer.  It was a flash in the pan, of course.  The emergency feels like it is all around us, inside of us, and even caused by us.  Friday night I came here, to our UU Fellowship, and watched the LGBTQIA Beacon youth group and their sponsors, family members, and other UU folks make protests buttons and enjoy a sense of sanctuary and safety, a place to escape the fear of being singled out and place to safely express their dismay and discouragement.  I heard some of you talk about the deep divisions that not only exist around us, but the chasms in your families, the sudden loss of trust and connection.  

When I encounter deep fissures in the story I am telling or trying to tell, I find often that I turn to Charles Eisenstein as a voice that reminds me of the story I want to help tell, the story that will move me, move us forward.  In his writing this week, he says: (you really should just go read the whole thing)

http://charleseisenstein.net/hategriefandanewstory/  “We are entering a time of great uncertainty. Institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve. It may seem that the world is falling apart. For many, that process started on election night, when Trump’s victory provoked incredulity, shock, even vertigo. “I can’t believe this is happening!”

Racism and misogyny are devastatingly real in this country, but to blame bigotry and sexism for voters’ repudiation of the Establishment is to deny the validity of their deep sense of betrayal and alienation. The vast majority of Trump voters were expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the system in the way most readily available to them. Millions of Obama voters voted for Trump (six states who went for Obama twice switched to Trump). Did they suddenly become racists in the last four years? The blame-the-racists (the fools, the yokels…) narrative generates a clear demarcation between good (us) and evil (them), but it does violence to the truth. It also obscures an important root of racism – anger displaced away from an oppressive system and its elites and onto other victims of that system. Finally, it employs the same dehumanization of the other that is the essence of racism and the precondition for war. Such is the cost of preserving a dying story. That is one reason why paroxysms of violence so often accompany a culture-defining story’s demise.”

Eisenstein tells us we need to begin to see that we are all in this together and we need to access our sense of connection, love, empathy, open-heartedness.  We need to be willing to build coalitions and to deepen relationships, to resist dehumanizing others.  When I think about the USA engaging in a 12 steps program, it is all of us who must change, all of us who are hurting, one system affects them all. Your pulmonary and coronary systems are imbedded in one another; when one system is in distress all systems are at risk.

More from Eisenstein: 

“We as a society are entering a space between stories, in which everything that had seemed so real, true, right, and permanent comes into doubt. For a while, segments of society have remained insulated from this breakdown (whether by fortune, talent, or privilege), living in a bubble as the containing economic and ecological systems deteriorate. But not for much longer. Not even the elites are immune to this doubt.

We are entering a space between stories. After various retrograde versions of a new story rise and fall and we enter a period of true unknowing, an authentic next story will emerge. What would it take for it to embody love, compassion, and interbeing? I see its lineaments in those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative, and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: What is it like to be you?

This does not mean to withdraw from political conversation, but to rewrite its vocabulary. It is to speak hard truths with love. It is to offer acute political analysis that doesn’t carry the implicit message of “Aren’t those people horrible?” Such analysis is rare. Usually, those evangelizing compassion do not write about politics, and sometimes they veer into passivity. We need to confront an unjust, ecocidal system. Each time we do we will receive an invitation to give in to the dark side and hate “the deplorables.” We must not shy away from those confrontations. Instead, we can engage them empowered by the inner mantra that my friend Pancho Ramos-Stierle uses in confrontations with his jailers: “Brother, your soul is too beautiful to be doing this work.” If we can stare hate in the face and never waver from that knowledge, we will access inexhaustible tools of creative engagement, and hold a compelling invitation to the haters to fulfill their beauty.”

I feel like it’s not quite an accident that the documentary about the The Sharps came out when it did– it tells the story of who we can be and who we might be called to be again. Their work to defy the Nazi’s and to save lives, to protect others from harm, their willingness to engage civil disobedience based on a deeper alignment with their values of love and community, the sanctity of human lives and civil liberty, civil society…this is a story that helps me consider what I might do to find my way through this time and place, that is simultaneously uncomfortable, chaotic and unpredictable.   (http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/defying-the-nazis-the-sharps-war/home/)

I admit that when I am stuck I often also look to the words of Rev. Dr. William J. Barber. He galvanizes me to consider how I can bring people together, how I can refute systems of oppression and deconstruct the cultural devolution that seems to be taking place.  

So in honor of William J. Barber, I have spent the last month planning a meeting in Salina, KS with about 50 other people from around the state to build a coalition made up of wide ranging, interconnected interests that might fuse together and arrive in our capital with a message and a demand for a new agenda in our state, a new direction.  We are practicing becoming a new story, and while that new story is still developing, it is not a story of blame but a story of creating anew.  We practiced singing together and listening together and planning.  We learned from each other and built the beginnings of Kansas People’s Agenda for 2017.  It was exhausting.  There were moments I wanted to go home and crawl back into bed and give up.  But more than that, it was also exhilarating–to move from feeling like a victim of a horrible tragedy to feeling like I was being to called to create some new, beautiful, possibility.  It felt like I was re-learning how to be an active member of a community.

I know that many of you here in Topeka face workplaces and family dynamics that actively resist and resent this conversation–and you may be feeling just the grief, a sense of loss and a sense of being lost.  When we mourn,  we need to be totally honest about where we are at and how it feels.  Grieving the old story  is necessary so that we live into a new possibility.  But perhaps you feel deep down, that on the other side of the seeming tragedy is a new story calling us, a new story calling us to be brave like the Sharps and to practice non-violence as Eisenstein invites us, to engage as Barber invokes us into action, and to allow ourselves to wake up a little bit more.    

Friends, the work was always there for us to be doing, it’s just that now the consequences for not doing the work might very well be on the scale of WWII–all of us are dehumanized when any of us are dehumanized.  Go read Elie Wiesel again.  We get to co-write this story, with the rest of humanity and with the divinity that represents that which is greater than the sum of all of us. Let’s write a different story this time, one we can re-read to our grandkids and feel good about.

Being Human: The Journey Ahead

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From sermon on 8-7-16

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kloVSqaGtkU Mosaic Man (A video we watched beforehand)

You might find it surprising to learn that leading memorial services is actually one of my favorite tasks of ministry.  In fact, leading a memorial service was one of the first glimpses I had into ministry, years ago when my friend Ann asked me to help her plan and lead a memorial service for her mom, MaryJo,  who had died of lung cancer.  This was a couple of years before I decided to go to seminary.  Here’s what I love about memorial services:  you almost always get to learn about how a person made the best of their life and what brought them happiness, as well as how they shared themselves and brought happiness to others.  When our loved ones die, we don’t talk about all the stuff they owned or what TV shows they watched (unless it was KU basketball or Dr. Who, maybe?); we talk about what they were passionate about and how they made a difference in our lives.  Now, I can think of one exception, one single memorial service I led for a family of a woman who made all of the members of her family miserable, and about whom no one had a good memory or warm thought.  Her daughter, herself now a grandmother, wanted to do a service as a way of exorcising the pain and and suffering her mother both experienced and created.  She hoped her mother was finally at peace.  So, even though that service didn’t celebrate a life well lived, it did celebrate the daughter’s commitment to create a different life for her kids and grandkids–one of family connection and love, one of warmth and consistent presence.  Twelve people gathered to say goodbye to a woman whose life had been bereft of these.  I learned from that family that we always have a choice of how we will respond to the cards life has dealt us.  They chose to feel sympathy and to wish for final peace rather than bring bitterness and a desire for retribution and suffering.  

 

Essentially I am interested in learning about what others have said “yes” to in their lives and how that “yes” brought them into deeper engagement with the people and places of their lives.  What did they give their time, attention, and passion to?  How did that change them and how did it change the world–people and places–they interacted with?

 

The passions of people I have memorialized are many and varied:  singing broadway musicals, sponsoring new members of an AA group, teaching children, caring for family, hiking and camping, canoeing, advocating for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights; running for office, history, hospitality, travel, friendship, church, the metaphysical, animals, watching basketball and other sports, painting, dancing, …the list is endless.  The list is unimportant, except that each of us has a list and the list represents those activities that allow us to experience what some psychologists call “flow.” Some of us spend our lives engaged in activities that bring us joy and happiness but many human lives are obscured in situations that prevent them from experiencing what it means to “thrive” instead of simply surviving.  Some of these are situations of our own choosing but many are situations beyond our control.  One researcher describes flow as happening when we optimize challenge and skill–we are doing things that are challenging but for which we also have skill;  on the other side of flow we find that with diminished skills and challenge we experience apathy or anxiety, boredom or worry, control or arousal.  When flow is happening, we are able to simultaneously deepen our challenges and develop our skills–we are growing, and it feels effortless but also feels expansive.  If you are bored, you probably have more skills and less challenge and if you are anxious, you are probably experiencing challenges for which your skills are currently inadequate.  

 

As a parent I’ve definitely had both experiences of flow and experiences of worry and anxiety.  I don’t think I’ve ever been bored.  Usually, the challenge has exceeded my skills.  Occasionally I find that sweet spot.  I never get there alone.  My other experience of flow is that I discover that place where everything is working and I am growing because I have support from others who have been similarly challenged and whose skills served as an example of what I might try or whose mistakes gave me a sense of hope that I could make mistakes and keep growing.  As a teacher and a minister I have also had moments of flow and moments where I was challenged beyond my current skills or where I noticed I needed to increase the challenges to push myself to deepen and grow.  

 

All of the moments in my life where I have experienced growth and flow came from both a personal passion and a community of support and shared engagement–friends I could talk to, people I could look up to, new learners I could share with and guide, and a body of knowledge or skills that others mastered before me that I could access and contribute to.  

 

There are plenty of things I will never experience flow with, that will always be either too challenging or not challenging enough, and some of them are things that I simply have to do or things I have tried until I knew they  weren’t activities I would ever get better at or enjoy.  I have found flow when I am writing, playing music, reading, running, helping others, singing, parenting.  I have struggled to find flow in each of these but also in some I have never experienced flow in.  I struggle to find flow when I cook, garden, organize spaces, doing math or reading science, doing home repairs and bowling.  This is the short list.

 

Also: flow is about who we are being and what we are doing, and not what we have.  Our enjoyment of life has been proven to be separate from our material goods–that although lack of material goods can cause suffering, having stuff is not the source of our happiness or ability to access flow.  Over a lifetime, we will seek many new ways to engage life and will have many moments of trying something new and finding out we need to develop better skills in order to move from anxiety to flow.  I can remember the first two weeks of being home with Ally as a baby and trying to nurse her.  I have never been so far from flow, literally. And then…my skills grew, and I relaxed, and soon it was so easy it was boring and I needed a book to read while she nursed.  When it’s your kid, they keep growing and changing so the challenges change, usually just as you’ve discovered flow things shift and you are back to frustration and anxiety for a time.  But if it’s something like meditation or a sport or a skill like writing, you may need to shift something yourself to increase your challenge level as your skills grow–how or where you engage the activity, with whom or for how long, or what you are expecting from it.  

 

So as we begin a new program year here at the Fellowship, I invite you to consider how you will engage more deeply your passions and interests to find flow and experience thriving.  It might be something you do on your own, like painting or quilting or reading but you may find that the way to increase the challenge and avoid being stuck in boredom, apathy, or “being in control” is to find some others who share your passion.  From book groups to meditation to yoga or chalice circles, from committees and classes, to gardening or caring for others, there are many ways to engage with each other and experience building your own capacity to live a life worth living.  There are opportunities in our community and opportunities in your house and even in the very body your occupy to try new skills, hone skills you already have, and challenge yourself in ways that are life giving.  

 

John (my partner) has been deepening his passion for being outdoors via bike riding and his passion for right relationship through restorative justice.  He tends to find a new passion and read everything he can about it while he grows his skills and meets the new challenges.  Luckily, we share these interests and know other people who do, too!  I even have a new bike on layaway and Aine just learned to ride, too. (Hopefully Ally will have a new bike soon too).   We hope to blend our family time with outdoor time on bikes, camping, or walking.  I have been deepening my passion for justice and advocacy through involvement with Kansas Interfaith Action and other opportunities to learn and act with others.  I also have a passion for writing and reading poetry, singing, and connecting with nature.  This year I plan to seek more flow in my life through daily walks, writing more and sharing my writing with other poets, finding a group to sing with, and spending more time exploring the natural environments of Kansas.  I also hope to build enough skills as a new homeowner to do some work on my house and yard.  These represent areas of anxiety right now!  

 

What will you say yes to this year?  Where will you seek deeper engagement and a community of support?  What will you try that is new and challenging, and what will get you past the anxiety of not being very good at it until you get closer to experiencing a bit of “flow?” As human beings, we are meant to keep growing in every way–mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually.  Like Bubba and Trixie in Vicki’s story, I hope that you will find that right here in this room are people who may share your passions and your interests, who may be able to walk with you, teach you or learn from you, or perhaps simply listen and celebrate with you when you experience those moments of flow and commiserate when you experience challenges or struggle with boredom and apathy.  May we be each other’s catalyst for change and reflection, hope and opportunity.  Underneath it all, we sometimes need a bit of courage to keep on working our way to flow and to that sweet spot of being human–to those moments where we think, “I was made for this!  This is who I am” (I’m not just a caterpillar!  I can fly now!) from the moments where we are thinking “this is so damn hard and I will never be good at this or find fulfillment in this.”  

 

I remember watching Aine learn to ride her bike at the beginning of the summer.  It was excruciating.  She would get on and it would be smooth sailing for 30 seconds and then…crash.  Actually, she never really crashed but she would gracefully slip off as the bike fell, unscathed but also no longer on the bike!  Over and over.  Her frustration was palpable.  She would get mad.  She would kick the bike.  She would yell at me.  And then, moments later she’d get back on.  She saw a little boy one day happily riding around the block and then she dug in a little deeper–she wanted to ride like that!  I quit watching her, and then one day she ran in and said “I am doing it!  I am doing it!  I rode my bike!”  I went out to watch, and sure enough, she could ride.  Now, at the end of the summer, she has ridden as much as 8 miles with us on a ride and really loves the wind in her face.  She found flow, for now.  Eventually she will get a little bored and she’ll want a bike with gears, or a longer ride, or more hills, or a new activity.  But now that she knows that feeling–that feeling of moving from challenge to flow–she will be able to follow that energy again and again.  May you also remember that feeling and re-create it in your life, over and over again.  

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Learn more about the concept of “flow” at:

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

2. http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi _on_flow.html

Black Lives Matter and the Violence That Surrounds Us

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from my July 31, 2016 sermon:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/16/melissa-harris-perry-black-men-killed-by-police_n_5684588.html

Reading:  Jesus Calls His First Disciples (Luke 5:1-11)

5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

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Two years ago when I first moved here I was trying to figure out what the Topeka community response to Ferguson was.  I heard Pastor Gordon Glenn ask Interfaith Topeka whether other communities of faith were talking about it.  The conversation began and then faltered, partially caught in people’s desire to see themselves and their community as blameless and just; and I have seen this dynamic over and over again.  We did plan a vigil that fall.  But we did not figure out how to stay organized.  I felt too new and too white to lead the conversation so I just kept listening for the questions, the anger, the demand for racial injustice to be addressed.  I tried to listen for the narrative of Topeka and understand where race and discrimination were as pieces of this puzzle.  

 

As home to Brown v Board and as a state that has a history of rejecting slavery, I heard pieces of a story about a community that wanted to reject racism.  But the truth seems to be more like this–when Brown v Board happened, white families put their kids in private schools and moved to create new places to live and build schools away from the people of color.  I can remember the first time I realized that the story of so-called integration was one in which in most cases black children were in schools that had been abandoned by most of the other pupils and teachers.  And over time we see that our neighborhoods and schools are still mostly, de facto segregated. We don’t even try anymore.  So it’s no surprise that resources and opportunities are still unequally shared and available and that the punishments and rules are also unequally applied; people of color still face housing, employment, health and educational barriers in addition to higher rates of incarceration and victimization via police misconduct or brutality.  

 

But the story we want to believe doesn’t square with this.  We are comfortable with the idea of the Rosa Parks bus because we think it represents so much positive change!  This makes us feel good.  Black Lives Matter slogans remind us that racism didn’t end when Rosa Parks became a national hero whose life we could revise in order to make her seem less like the activists we see today, instead of the clear antecedent to the work being done now.  Do you imagine that Rosa would not be standing with BLM?  Because if so, you have accepted the white washed version of her work and her power.  It might not feel good to admit that instead of lynching people of color we are now allowing POC to be shot and killed with immunity.  But…this is really happening.  Has been happening.  Keeps happening.  

 

Since Ferguson I have been struggling with how I could be a meaningful ally to people of color in Topeka and KS.  Partly I have been struggling with the difference in my role as a minister of a congregation that is part of denomination struggles to attract and welcome POC, versus my previous role as an educator in an urban community college setting where the majority of my students were not white and their future success was my focus.  And partly I am out on my boat, looking for new teachers and a new way to fish.  Even if I was still working at El Centro College in downtown Dallas I would still be in this boat:  listening to people of color and looking for people to do this work with, people to follow and support.

 

Fundamentally I believe that I am diminished by the oppression of other people, as a person and as a member of a community.  

 

Many, many congregations have decided to put up banners that say Black Lives Matter, which have been vandalized and stolen over and over again.  While I support the idea of having such a banner here, I guess I hesitate to do this first.  I think there is something else that needs to come first.  I want each of you to have an answer for “why did you put that sign up?” when you get asked by friends and neighbors.  And frankly, I doubt that anyone who questions this statement is going to be so nice.  Even in KS.  So if you are white, I want you to consider first wearing a BLM pin.  

 

I want you to consider wearing it all day every day during your waking hours and no matter where you are going.  I want you to notice when you want to take it off and when people say or do rude things because you’re wearing it.  And every time you consider taking it off or obscuring it from view, I want you consider that people of color never get to choose to not be black or brown.  They don’t get to fly under the radar of a racist neighbor or check out clerk or police officer by changing their skin tone.  

 

I have been especially thinking about this with the whole “blue lives matter.”  The thing is–cops in the US have a chosen a profession where it is no secret that Americans are generally armed to the teeth.  That Americans have guns and feel like they have the right to use them is not news.  So, if you choose this profession, you know you are likely to get shot at.  I am not saying this makes it OK to be shot at, but this is different from waking up everyday as a person of color and having no way to retire, or choose something else.  Cops choose a risky profession.  Being born black or brown should not carry the same risk as choosing to be a cop.  

 

Just choosing to be a policeman alone doesn’t make a person honorable.  That distinction is earned by how you show up in the world.  But I think the truth lies even deeper than this in our struggle with the idea of “blue lives matter.”  Fundamentally what has happened is we are beginning to realize that people of color and other marginalized groups have a different experience with law enforcement.  The worst things most white folks worry about when they get pulled over is getting a ticket, and frankly most of us are worried about that because we knew we were speeding and deserve the ticket.  Most people of people of color are worried that at the very least they will be detained and harassed in a way that is humiliating and unnecessary, and worst they are scared they will be killed.  What we are afraid to see is the reality that a profession that acts honorably toward one group does not have that same track record with others; we walk in parallel universes blind to the others’ experiences.  We have yet to see a cop facing real consequences for murdering unarmed people of color.  

 

So I say, Black Lives Matter.  And if you really want to say Blue Lives Matter, you will support widespread and deep changes to our gun ownership laws.  Because cops in other countries don’t face the same level of threat from guns that U.S. cops do.  And you will ask for accountability for lives lost in circumstances where shooting to kill, or driving to kill, or choking to kill or ending the life of a person seemed like an OK option, easier than writing a ticket or de-escalating a situation.  Other countries teach cops to shoot folks in the knee; we teach cops to aim for the chest, because it’s easier to hit.  

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I felt sick to my stomach and I cried hard when I realized that someone was purposely shooting cops in Dallas (and later, other cities.)  But I felt equally sick knowing that it was happening in a college I used to work in while students and other citizens protested yet another set of cold-blooded murders of two African- American men.  I knew that we were going to struggle to remember those deaths with the same attention and intention, with a depth for empathy.  

 

If you are white, I want to invite you to consider wearing a button so you can begin to hear and see what people of color hear and see all the time–and have to come up with a response that is life-giving and transformative (if possible.)  To help people begin to wonder why they are defensive, and what it means to acknowledge our racist system.  To hopefully take some of the pressure off people of color to explain systemic racism to white people, over and over and over again.  Or trying to avoid having to have that conversation. To notice when you want to chew someone out for their insensitivity and when you want to pretend you didn’t hear what someone said.  

 

If we put a banner up, I want each of us to have the capacity to explain WHY we put it up and WHY we will replace it if it is destroyed or stolen.  Why our faith calls us to proclaim Black Lives Matter.  And I want those of you who are not white bodied to know that this place, these people, this faith community is yours; that this is your sanctuary, that we fundamentally belong with one another and you have as much claim to being here, to being UU, to being part of this work for change on the terms of your choosing.  I want you to know that I am your minister, and I see you.  I see you, and I am committed to walking with you.  I will set down my nets and whatever I thought I could catch with them and become a fisher of men and women whose lives are diminished by systemic racial injustice.  Where you lead, I will follow.  

 

I am committing to wearing a button every day.  I currently own one Black Lives Matter T-shirt.  I will wear it once a week, and if any of you are moved to help me acquire six more, I will deepen my own commitment to wearing one every day.  Maybe some of you want to try out wearing something bigger than a button, too.  

 

I also want to ask all of you to consider engaging a daily practice that brings you joy–something that will renew you in the face of the many tensions that come from living in a context where most people do not share your deepest held values.  You may want to write down the moments where you felt tongue tied or reactive–or where you said or did something that opened up new ways of understanding racism and privilege and systems of oppression.   Maybe you like having a ready set of statistics or a ready quote–something you tuck in your pocket to remind you that the button represents a reality that you want to change.  Be prepared to share with us this fall as you try out what it feels like to be an out advocate for people of color or what it feels like to know that your community stands with you.  

 

Black Lives Matter as a movement embraces all brown and black people–immigrants, american indians, and all of the other identities they may carry–gender identity and sexual orientation, religious identities or not,  differently abled and all other identities that may be marginalized by our current cultural context.  So when I say Black Lives Matter I am saying that when Black Lives Matter, we will be able to say that All Lives Matter.

 

Here in Topeka, a group is developing out of the invitation of a young adult who works at Doorstep with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.  With each new meeting we have grown in numbers and we have stayed diverse of age, color, and gender; We meet on Sundays at 4 and have moved to this building because we outgrew the first.   We don’t totally know what we’re doing yet–we are trying to develop some task forces and to get to know each other enough to trust each other.  We are planning a vigil on August 20 to grieve the police murders of African American men Alton Sterling and Philando Castile this summer, and nearly two a week every week, shot by officers throughout the year.

 

If you watched either or both of the political party conventions this summer you might be left wondering who is actually going to do anything?  I want to be clear that while I think voting is VERY important and you should exercise this right no matter how you feel about the names on the ticket, it is even more important to know your community, know your neighbors, and to build networks of mutuality.  Last Sunday, as we were finishing our business meeting, I told people they should try to meet someone they didn’t know before the next meeting.  Go to coffee, have lunch, something.  I spent about an hour this week getting to know two people from the group.  I already feel more deeply committed to this group and its work because I feel more connected to them, to their kids, to our shared future.   This is not a technical problem with clear steps to solve it. The quest to end racism and all forms of inequality calls us to question our own lives and motives and to reach out to people and situations that call up our own anxieties and fear.  In the two meetings I have attended I worked to listen, to follow, to support and to not insert myself everywhere.  I offered space for people of color to gather without white folks–to create a space for healing and open conversation without bumping up against my/our unintentional– but nevertheless real–interfering desire to control situations and people.  

 

Social Justice work as a ministry asks us to companion rather than lead–this means I am committed to walk with others, listen to others and support others.  Companioning means I don’t decide for someone else–I am not a problem solver or negotiator.  Sometimes I will be a partner and sometimes I will be a helper.  Being an ally to people of color is not so different from being an ally to the LGBTQ community.  It means being willing to listen to my language, to change my definitions, and to show up where and when I am asked to.  And it is also just as the grandfather in our story for all ages says it–we must pay attention to the heaven and hell we have already created, to this world, now.   One world at a time, one community at a time, one relationship at a time, starting with each of us.  

 

Discipleship, servant leadership–these models for how we might work for justice do not always square with many UU’s vision of themselves.  It takes a lot of courage to leave behind a way of being–a way of working together to do new work and answer a new calling.  In the story where Jesus sets out on a boat and commences to teach from the boat, which has yielded only empty nets, we learn that after his teaching the nets come up full, and the second boat has to help the first to pull it all in; when these fishermen are overwhelmed by this impossibility, he invites them to consider another:  to leave all of it and join him in organizing for justice work and whole communities–to do God’s work.  They are not prepared for this.  They are just fisherman!  They aren’t trained to do this work.  But in this moment they have found a leader and have shared the work of a community discovering abundance where once there was scarcity.  Many of Jesus’ teaching are about finding abundance where there is seeming scarcity and being called into work on behalf of community.  Today we have plenty of empty nets and lost hopes–the challenge is not only to consider whose words are worthy of our attention, but also when we need to reach out and help one another, when we need to be willing to drop our nets and change direction, gather our strength for new tasks.  Jesus told his disciples that now they would be fishers of men. In his teaching, before we can go into the world to be change makers, we need to work together and find abundance where once there was scarcity; and we need to be willing to heed the call of action when it comes as well, whether we feel ready or not, whether we have been prepared or not.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLDkYPGgOSg  William J. Barber speaks at UUA GA in 2016

 

Singing for Change

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Yesterday I went to a training for organizations on how to prepare for and respond to active shooter situations.  It was heavily attended by police officers and sheriff’s departments, but had a wide range of other attendees, mostly people serving large organizations in risk management, both schools and businesses and other government agencies.  I went because I live in a state that allows open carry and has few requirements or restrictions for concealed carry.  I tend to support controversial (for Kansas, anyway) causes and I am often leading or supporting events and actions that highlight my congregation’s support of human rights and civil discourse.   The training was led by the Department of Homeland Security.  It was very informative.  Something that kept occurring to me, over and over, though was this:  do other countries feel like they need to train widely on how to deal with an active shooter situation?  Or is this a uniquely US of A thing?  I have my suspicions.  

I think that we have given up on the possibility  that we can actually reduce the number of guns in private ownership, or high capacity clips.  I think, based on how much some seem to revel in a certain Presidential candidate’s rhetoric of violence and condoning of hate and fear mongering, that we have given up on civil discourse and many are scared to speak up against this (because our neighbors might disagree and decide that their guns speak more eloquently than they can.)   Also of note, there were few POC or women in this group I was learning with yesterday, and the ratio of buzz cuts (men and women) to other hairdo’s was rather astonishing.  It felt somewhat friendly though, mostly because I was with activist Stephanie Mott, whose work advocating for trans and non-gender conforming people (and all people who face systemic oppression) has made her friends with many law enforcement folks in our area, from the Sheriff’s office to the local FBI and Topeka Police department.  

I came home later to the unfolding story of an active shooter(s) situation in downtown Dallas that was unfolding right in front of a college I worked in for 11 years, watching protesters from a peaceful rally trying to find safety and being stuck in a lockdown situation, unable to leave and go home.  I felt like everyone I saw could have been a former colleague or student of mine, a friend or someone I used to see everyday.  El Centro College was an integrated institution before the public schools in Dallas, and unlike many of the schools in Dallas (and everywhere) it stayed integrated, with one of the most diverse (in every way) student populations and staff I am aware of.  (I am sure Miami Dade is similar).  We stayed up watching until late, I couldn’t walk away, caught between the terrible reality that some small group (less than 4?) were systematically shooting Dallas and DART Police Department officers and the terrible reality that we live in such a volatile environment, worried for the many ripple effects of this violence on all of those who were stuck in the middle of it for hours yesterday.  I kept choking up.  I kept praying.    

All of this on top of yet another week with two prominent stories of white officers shooting and killing African American men in situations that did not call for gunfire, and on the heels of the mass shooting in Orlando.  These realities were already heavy in my heart.

Rev. Dr. King called on us to address the triple threat of racism, poverty, and war/violence. These have become so enmeshed in our society.  By racism, I think we need to see all systems of oppression as anti-human.  When we think of poverty we need to think of all the ways in which people lack access to resources they need to live a long and fulfilling life (health care, education, jobs and benefits, fair pay, adequate housing, voting rights, an unbiased criminal justice system, protections for these regardless of your identity, etc.)  And when we think of violence and war, we need to think about the whole continuum and the way in which we have made violence into a consumer item, whether it is a gun or film or a video game or language we use against others–not just where we send our military personnel and what we authorize them to do.  

These are symptoms of a nation-wide illness, of a society that is drowning in dis-ease. I live in a state where access to guns has been more important than access to all of these other  important aspects of life, where the governor’s administration would rather see college students with guns than elementary schools students in classrooms with adequate resources and reasonable class sizes.  Where it is more important to spend state money fighting expensive lawsuits to limit access to women’s reproductive choices and care than expand medicaid/KanCare.  Where it is more important to spend money on two or three “voter fraud” situations than insure that all citizens have easy access to voting via mechanisms that do not exhibit a tendency toward unexplained statistical anomalies that favor one party.  Where it’s more important to pretend your tax policy is helping everyone when in fact it is only helping the people you aimed to help to begin with–the wealthy.  Apparently, dismantling Kansas benefits a few Kansans so much that the pain and suffering experienced by rest of us seems worth it.  Frankly, I think KS and TX have had a little too much in common in the “style” and direction of our political leadership.  

I am working through multiple levels of anger, sorrow, and dismay as I lean into my neighbors and friends and look for ways to respond that build community and conversation, heal wounds and allay fears, and ask for clear changes to how we live together and grow together.  Here is what I know for sure.  I stand for no less than widespread change in all of the areas I mention.  These issues are interrelated and need to be treated as such.  I’ll be right here singing, maybe you’ll join me:  “I will stand with you, will you stand with me?  We will be the change that hope to see; in the name of love, in the name of peace, will you stand, will you stand with me?” (Amy Carol Webb). And then, let’s talk about voting, and public witness, and what kind of leaders we really need to sort through this painful point in time.  Let’s go to meetings and read books and talk to each other, let’s look for local solutions and do what poet Marge Piercy has been urging us to do: “Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses./Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving./Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in…” (The Seven of Pentacles.)  

http://music.peacefuluprising.org/track/stand

I will stand with you – Will you stand with me
We will be the change that we hope to see
In the name of love – in the name of peace
Will you stand, will you stand with me

When injustice raises up its fist
And fights to stop us in our tracks
We will rise and as one resist
No fear nor sorrow can turn us back

Chorus
When pain and hatred churn up angry noise
And try to shout down our freedom song
We will rise in one joyful voice
Loud and clear and ever strong

Chorus
When broken hearts come knocking on our door
Lost and hungry and so alone
We will reach as we have reached before
For there is no stranger in this our home

Chorus
In the name of love – in the name of peace
Will you stand, will you stand with me…