November 2016: After the Election

 

Some of us are grieving. Some of us are raging. Some of us are listening and reflecting. Some of us are getting busy. Some of us are doing all of these and more.

 

At times like these, we need to dig deep and ground ourselves in our deepest values and spiritual practices, reach out to each other—especially those in pain around us—and keep our eyes on the prize. As we are ready.

 

I’m fortunate to live in a place where there are multiple opportunities for expressing grief, anger, and hope, including the repetitive, rhythmic, communal physical movements—marching and chanting, dancing and playing, singing and praying—which trauma therapists say are essential to healing and empowerment. I hope you are finding or creating such opportunities where you live.

 

This election was not just about ordinary politics—mobilizing those who share our political positions, seeking to persuade those who do not—though we need to recommit ourselves to these efforts. Nor was it just about educating people about the facts, though there continues to be a need for that as well.

 

This election was also about other, deeper things. Some of it was—and continues to be—just plain bullying, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, willful ignorance. We need to challenge these as powerfully, as creatively, and as effectively as we can. We need to fight like hell, and love the literal hell out of each other. The future of the planet and marginalized people everywhere is at stake.

 

Some of it was about fears—some founded, some not: fear of being made less than and dominated by others, fear of being abandoned by society, fear of losing a world in which your deepest values and strongest convictions make sense—the kind of existential fears that can make people do desperate things. We need to listen and love each other out of our fears, and call each other to be our best selves.

 

And as I’ve begun to encounter some of the people “on the other side,” I’m seeing that at a deep level this election was also about fundamentally different understandings of basic values: what constitutes hate or disrespect, what constitutes love or faith, what fairness looks like, what safety looks like, what freedom means, and how important they all are.

 

At this level, I don’t see any way to move forward except to engage each other around these values, hearing each other’s deepest convictions and why we believe in them, listening to each other’s stories of how we got to where we are, and building relationships in the process.

 

Two things can happen out of such engagement. One is that we can begin to stop fearing each other; as Meg Wheatley says, “You don’t fear people whose story you know.” The other is that we can start to understand each other, which I believe is the only way to move towards the kind of inclusive society we seek. Not that we will always or even often agree with each other. But understanding is the only basis on which we can create a society in which each person is valued, everyone’s voice is heard, and we are all in this together.

 

What would such engagement look like? I’ve seen and heard glimpses of it in recent days. My brother, a Lutheran pastor, asked an elderly parishioner why she voted for Trump; she said she’d heard Clinton would outlaw Christianity. But because they were in relationship, she believed my brother when he said she’d been lied to… At a protest downtown, an earnest young man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat engaged a small group of protestors, repeatedly affirming his respect for them and patiently answering questions about why he believed what he believed, hour after hour… People have shared deeply on Facebook—not just their opinions, but their stories and their experiences, their commitments and their hopes…

 

This, too, is what democracy looks like.

October 2016: #ReviveLove Tour - Rev. Krista Taves, Unitarian Church of Quincy

The chorus of “Neighbor”, by the band Rev. Sekou and the Holy Ghost, which formed after the Ferguson Uprising, goes like this:

I can hear my neighbor crying, saying ‘I can’t breathe.”

And now I’m in the struggle, saying, “I can’t leave.”

We’re calling out the violence of the racist police.

And we ain’t gonna stop until the people are free.”

When I first heard the words, I choked on the third line.  I thought to myself, “Are they saying that all police are racist? Isn’t that a bit radical?  I don’t know if I can sign on for this.”

 

White fragility is a term coined by Robin De Angelo to name the conditioned response to shut down any authentic conversations about race.  Whites have been programmed to be deeply uncomfortable when confronted with the reality of white supremacy.  They are taught to see the discomfort as something to be avoided and that comfort is our right.  So when we hear uncomfortable things about race, we shut it down, either by literally leaving the conversation or by trying to stop those who make us uncomfortable, often through the use of shame.  In my case, I was uncomfortable with the lyrics of the song and saw my discomfort as a sign that something was wrong with the song, something was wrong with the black voices singing it, not that something was wrong with me, or that something was really wrong with the system in which policing happens.  Given that I’m pretty shy, if I had given in to my white fragility I probably wouldn’t have literally challenged them.  I probably would have just gone home, withdrawing my support, my time, and my heart from the work at hand.  That’s what white fragility looks like. 

 

On October 15 the #ReviveLove Tour came to St. Louis.  Sponsored by Standing on the Side of Love UUA and Black Lives of Unitarian Universalists, the intent of the tour is to offer love back to Unitarian Universalist activists who have been the heart of the Unitarian Universalist response, engagement and commitment to Black Lives Matter. 

 

Leslie and Drew MacFayden, two Unitarian Universalist activists, offered a challenging workshop focused on the many manifestations of white supremacy, how to recognize when we are looking through its life-denying lens, and how to combat the fear and shame that sustain it. 

 

They encouraged us to stay present to the truth that all of us have been indoctrinated into the cult of white supremacy, a cult that shames, shuns and kills those who disagree with its tenets.  All of us, regardless of the race we are assigned, are indoctrinated into this cult. It is reinforced by anti-blackness, which identifies white as the norm and anything else as other, less than human, even less than animal.  Among liberals, it is reinforced by simplistic understandings of racism - racism looks like the KKK and the confederate flag, not like us.  Leslie and Drew asked us to see the gradations of racism so that we could see it in our own hearts.  They encouraged us to resist the white fragility that blinds us to our place in the system.  They invited us to treat white supremacy like a cult from which one must be deprogrammed.  It begins by learning the basic rules of anti-racism, deepens into a respect for otherness, and culminates into a lived understanding that we are part of a larger liberation. 

 

They offered some basic rules, to help us start:

 

1.     If you are in a privileged group, do not engage in intracommunity dialogue when you are not a member.  You are there to listen and to support.

2.     If you are in a privileged group, do not question the tactics oppressed people use to get free.

3.     If you are in an oppressed group, realize that you too have internalized the very beliefs and systems that oppress you. 

4.     If you are faced with your own racism, resist the urge to become defensive.  Listen, consider what you are hearing, and integrate what you have learned in your thoughts and actions.

5.     Know that we will all make mistakes.  Be aware that when you experience discomfort and want to run, that is fragility interpreting discomfort as bad.  Stay with the discomfort.  It is the path to liberation.

 

We spent time exploring how the expression of our 21st century Unitarian Universalist theology with its devotion to diversity has often reinforced white supremacy rather than dismantle it.  We have misused the first principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, to justify ideas which are harmful, seeing them as personal expressions of freedom.  With a power and privilege analysis, we instead condition our first principle with the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.  A commitment to diversity does not mean that all ideas are equally true.  When a person of color speaks of racism, this carries more weight than a white person speaking of racism.  When we give all perspectives the same value, a white person speaking of racism could contribute to the silencing of the person of color’s experience of racism, thus reinforcing white supremacy and anti-blackness.  This often indicates that white fragility is shutting down the conversation. 

 

So I’m not going to run from the words of those at the heart of the resistance:

 

I can hear my neighbor crying, saying ‘I can’t breathe.”

And now I’m in the struggle, saying, “I can’t leave.”

We’re calling out the violence of the racist police.

And we ain’t gonna stop until the people are free.”

 

Will you join us?  When the killings stop, when white supremacy is unwound from its core of hatred, fear and shame, we will be free.

UUANI BOARD
October 2016: Heart Problems - Rev. Sarah Richards, Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship

What does it mean to be a community of healing during a political election season that seems to find new depths of divisiveness, disrespect, fear and loathing every day? How can we live into our principles of inclusive love and interdependence in a time of distrust and enmity? Speaking for myself, I am sorely tempted by escapist fantasies (O, Canada!) and avoidance behavior. But looking away to avoid the ugly political discourse is one thing, giving up on the whole political system and the realities of injustice and inequity obscured by the ugly discourse is quite another. Giving up does not result in healing, giving away our voice as people of love, reason, and respect is not healing, and it’s not right. We Unitarian Universalists are not alone in our despair and anger and we are not alone in taking action. This morning we will explore how a community of healing means joining with other communities who share our vision of inclusion, compassion, and liberation for all people.

Before we go further, though, I want to address a fear that I’ve heard expressed here in the fellowship that we cannot be political or express political views. That is a misconception. We should not advocate for particular candidates, because that would risk our tax exempt status. We must not be partisan for a deeper reason: we are welcoming to people with a range of political views, just as with theological perspectives and differences in income, race, sexuality, gender, we strive for inclusivity…but what unites all of this wonderful diversity is our shared values and principles. Our fifth principle in Unitarian Universalism is to affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large… and in society at large. UU minister Parisa Parsa explains:

“In our religious lives, the democratic process requires trust in the development of each individual conscience—a belief that such development is possible for each of us, as well as a commitment to cultivate our own conscience. We could call it a commitment to the value of each person. In the words of Theodore Parker, ‘Democracy means not “I am as good as you are,” but “You are as good as I am.”’ My connection with the sacred is only as precious as my willingness to acknowledge the same connection in others.[i]

So which comes first, the moral or the political – or is this a false separation to begin with? Reverend Dr. William Barber II writes,

“As much as the human being is a political animal, I know that each of us is also a spiritual being. We have learned in our work… that, whatever our religious traditions, we cannot come together to work for the common good by ignoring our deepest values. Rather, we grow stronger in our work together as we embrace those things we most deeply believe, standing together where our values unite us and learning to respect one another where our traditions differ. We cannot let narrow religious forces highjack our moral vocabulary, forces who speak loudly about things God says little about while saying so little about issues that are at the heart of all our religious traditions: truth, justice, love, and mercy. The movement we have witnessed—the movement we most need—is a moral movement.[ii]

That quote is from his book, The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear. And that’s what I mean by saying we’ve got to be unafraid to express our political views as Unitarian Universalists – ours is not the politics of division and fear, but of inclusion, diversity, and love, and if we don’t speak up, if we don’t take action to express our values and principles, what good are we?

I first heard Rev. Dr. William Barber II speak at the UU General Assembly in Columbus Ohio last June. Rev. Barber is the North Carolina NAACP director, and the architect for the Moral Monday Movement for voting rights there. Maybe you saw him on tv, speak at the Democratic National Convention in July issuing a call to “revive the heart of our democracy” and push elected leaders to advance morally just policies.

To form the Moral Movement, he has joined with other faith leaders, including Sr. Simone Campbell, of Nuns on the Bus fame, national social justice organizations (The UU Social Justice movement, “Standing on the Side of Love” is one of them) now collaborating and connecting with local organizations and organizers in 30 states and DC to first make the Moral Declaration to elected officials and candidates—I made a few copies of the declaration and put them on tables in the commons–and then to launch a Moral Revival tour that quote “centers five key issues areas: the economic liberation of all people; access to quality education for every child; healthcare access for all; criminal justice reform; and ensuring historically marginalized communities have equal protection under the law.

Last month, Rev. Bill Sasso and I participated in the Moral Declaration Day of Action in Springfield, and Jess Jobe and I attended the Moral Revival tour stop in Ferguson, Missouri. At both events, we heard testimonies from people directly impacted by policies that are opposed to our UU principles.

Testimony from Springfield Moral Declaration Day of Action, September 12:

I am Gladys Sanchez. To my proud African American 7 year old son, i am a strong Filipino woman who served as both his mother and father. To many rich middle aged white guys with fortune 500 companies: I am an undocumented, low income single mother that should accept cheap labor or be deported back to the country I haven’t seen since 7 years old.
To my colleagues, my sister and brother and my church friends. I am a graduate student working towards a Masters degree in public administration, balancing 3 jobs, and serving as a Director of Religious Education for my home church. The democracy that I envision should simply identify me as a heart beating human being.
How is it that with a college degree, I still have to juggle three jobs? Is it a democracy to put me in a category in which I run the risk of going back to my home country where I know no one?
Is it fair, equal, or just to have single minority women like myself make 79 cents for every dollar earned by men when I am the head of the household?
My dear friends in order for us to work towards a democratic society. We must reframe, reform, and recreate our definition of a fair, Just, democratic society.[iii]

Ms. Sanchez is the DRE at the UU Fellowship of Dekalb, IL

Hearing testimonies from folks like Ms. Sanchez, folks in our communities, in our congregations, in our families help us to remember we are part of the interdependent web, and that what touches one touches all. Including these testimonies is a hallmark of all of the Moral Movement events. They say “Our goal is to support state-based fusion movements to combat extremism in state and national politics, and to be a catalyst for a resurgence of political activism in order to end poverty, racial inequalities, and the most pressing issues in our country. Too much of our national political discourse has been poisoned by the dominance of attacks on the poor, people who are ill, children, immigrants, communities of color, and religious minorities.[iv]

The term “fusion” as in fusion movement and fusion politics is new to me, but it really makes sense to me as a UU, fusion with diversity – working to advance different issues and including people across difference, recognition and valuation of interdependence are all linked in our principles and thus our attitudes and actions. This is beautifully described by UU minister Rev. Forrest Gilmore, Executive Director of Shalom Community Center, Bloomington, IN:

“Our seventh Principle, respect for the interdependent web of all existence, is a glorious statement. Yet we make a profound mistake when we limit it to merely an environmental idea. It is so much more. It is our response to the great dangers of both individualism and oppression. It is our solution to the seeming conflict between the individual and the group.

Our seventh Principle may be our Unitarian Universalist way of coming to fully embrace something greater than ourselves. The interdependent web—expressed as the spirit of life, the ground of all being, the oneness of all existence, the community-forming power, the process of life, the creative force, even God—can help us develop that social understanding of ourselves that we and our culture so desperately need. It is a source of meaning to which we can dedicate our lives.[v]

At the Revival that Jess and I attended in Ferguson, Missouri, we heard a powerful sermon by Rev. Dr. Barber, and I remember at the end, he repeated “we have a heart problem in this country” and gave examples like those from our litany: “we have a heart problem in this country” when 45 million are poor in the richest country in history, we have a heart problem in this country when 1 in 3 black men will spend time in prison, when people are denied access to health insurance and are forced into poverty from medical bills, and on and on. I might add that this state has a heart problem when our top elected officials can’t put aside their own egos and lust for power for the needs—and rights–of their constituents. People, we DO have a heart problem, when so many people are suffering, but their suffering is not what spurs our elected leaders to act. We UUs have a heart – and a head problem–when we do not work to change that injustice, when we do not call on ourselves and our elected leaders to act in accord with principles of interdependence—based in recognition of humanity rather than divisiveness based in fear of the other.

We have a legacy of healing those heart problems. Unitarians Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp dedicated – and risked — their lives to that interdependent web/source of meaning in 1939. Those of us who watched the recent documentary on PBS, Defying the Nazis learned that at a time when few Americans – including Unitarians – were willing or able to see and act on the truth of our connection with “the other,” the Sharps left their young children for Czechoslovakia just before the Nazi occupation, to help Jewish refugees escape. They were named Righteous Among the Nations by the nation of Israel for all of the lives they saved. But they wouldn’t have achieved anything acting apart from individuals and organizations of diverse nationality, religious and political affiliation.

More commonly known is the participation of Unitarians in the Civil Rights movement, among them martyrs Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo—and some of our own members played roles in the movement. Obviously that movement’s great majority of leaders and participants were African American Christians, but it united people and groups across race, income, education, faith and age difference on a variety of civil rights issues. It was an example of a fusion movement, to be sure.

We are again at a moment, what Rev. Dr. Barber calls, The Third Reconstruction, where we UUs are called to raise our voices and dedicate ourselves to our principles, to that source of meaning that is the interdependent web of all existence. And we are answering the call, here and across the country. This morning we witnessed how our CUF youth have made that connection with “the other” spending a night outside in cardboard city, learning about the realities of homelessness in Carbondale, and then raising their voices to raise our consciousness–and money–for this moral cause.

Just this week, the UUA Congregational Advocacy and Witness Director, Susan Leslie, sent an email:

“We are hearing from UUs around the country who are raising a moral message during this electoral season, working for voting rights, registering people to vote, phone banking, and making plans to get out the vote. UUs in Arizona and from the Southwest are travelling to Phoenix to stand for immigrant rights and engage in door-knocking with unlikely voters, All Souls Unitarian Church James Reeb Voting Rights Project in DC travelled to Pennsylvania and are phone banking to North Carolina, UUSJ is registering formerly incarcerated people in Virginia, and North Carolina UUs are working with the NAACP Souls to the Polls Project. All over the country UUs are participating in the Moral Revivals and Revive Love tours to speak out and organize for justice. Congregations across the country are working with the PICO National Network Together We Vote and the WeSayEnough! campaigns.

She ended her message, “It’s all out now to work towards the fulfillment of the promise of our democracy.[vi]

Friends, one of the meanings of being a community of healing is to listen underneath the bombast and salacious political discourse for the stories of suffering. It is to look for the wounds inflicted by political policies that do not recognize the worth and dignity of the poor, of racial minorities, of immigrants, of marginalized people of any kind, and seeing those wounds, give help. And it is working to change those policies that continue to wound the most vulnerable among us.

And so: May we lift up our Unitarian Universalist principles and join with those – and there are so many—who believe in the right of conscience and use of democratic process for all. May we be a community of healing the heart and head problems that come from creating divisions within our own congregation, and in our wider community. May we work towards a democracy that sees each and all as heart-beating human beings. Amen.

[i] Rev. Parisa Parsa, executive director of the Public Conversations Project https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles/5th accessed 10/13/16.

[ii] Barber, William J. II, 2016. The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear. With Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Boston: Beacon Press, xv.

[iii] Gladys Sanchez, Testimony given 9/12/16 at Moral Declaration Day of Action Rally, Springfield, IL. Provided via email by author 10/13/16.

[iv]https://static1.squarespace.com/static/571fc22260b5e9fe973121d2/t/57d614e86a49635bed56888d/1473647849038/PressKit_9.11.16.pdf accessed 10/10/16.

[v] Rev. Forrest Gilmore, Executive Director of Shalom Community Center, Bloomington, IN https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles/7th accessed 10/13/16.

[vi] http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1272/t/0/blastContent.jsp?email_blast_KEY=1353085 received 10/13/16.

UUANI BOARD
September 2016: A Moral Monday in Springfield - Bill Sasso, UUANI Board member from Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship

On Monday, September 12th, Rev. Sarah Richards and I travelled to Springfield to participate in the nationwide Moral Monday protest. It was a bright, warm day as we stood with hundreds of other demonstrators beneath the statue of Abraham Lincoln in front of the State Capitol.

Elaborating the principles of the Higher Ground Moral Declaration (see http://www.moralrevival.org/moraldeclaration), speakers – including Rev. Sarah – reminded us of the moral and constitutional bases of the rights we were there to promote, including economic justice, equality in education, healthcare for all, criminal justice reform, and protection of constitutional rights for all.

These speakers were followed by others who described how those principles had been violated in their own lives and experiences. At the end of the demonstration, we sent a delegation into the Capitol to present our statement to Governor Bruce Rauner, while the rest of us marched around the building, with our banners held high and our chants echoing through the Capitol parking lots.

In the Springfield, Illinois, Moral Monday, the UU Advocacy Network of Illinois (UUANI) played a central role as one of the coordinating groups. When our Fellowship showed up, we weren’t alone – we were there with those who travelled to Springfield from UU congregations in Evanston, Chicago, Oak Park, Hinsdale, Naperville, Rockford, DeKalb, Peoria, Quincy, Champaign, and Bloomington-Normal. It was great to see such a visible UU presence at the Capitol! And our statewide action was part of a larger national effort, encompassing at least 28 states. Across America, voices were raised in support of the values that we, as Unitarian Universalists, have covenanted to affirm and promote. When the call went out, our Fellowship was among those who answered!

UUANI BOARD
August 2016: Reviving the Heart of Democracy

The current election season has displayed stark contrasts in value systems. The upcoming elections offer an important opportunity for UUs to act for values of justice, compassion, and interdependence over narcissism, xenophobia, and exploitation.

Yet we will likely face continuing challenges to our core values after the election, including ongoing attempts to de-legitimize and undermine the democratic process itself. The times call for a deeper response than either “politics as usual” or “tear it all down.”    We need to re-build our very democracy. I would argue that we need to do it by connecting with each other through real conversations, engaging in what Parker Palmer calls “healing the heart of democracy.” And we need what Rev. William Barber calls “a movement with heart” to revive this nation and bring it back to its core values of equality, liberty, and justice for all.

This is why we base our work on one-to-one conversations between people: as we build power to act collectively, we re-build the moral and relational fabric of our communities. Deepening our conversations, broadening our connections, and mobilizing ourselves for collective action—this is what UUANI is all about. Join us in building the world we long for.