Million White Man March

Obama_WhiteHouseConfederateFlagAs I watch the current state of the US Government, it is difficult to regard it without also taking in the national climate surrounding what is going on.  Mass shootings, chronic homelessness, rabid religiosity and total religious apathy, education in decline, greater wealth gap, gender and gender identity wars, the complete meltdown of information systems and above all the total and absolute disintegration of cultural trust.  Houston we have a problem.

To me, this whole thing reminds me, sadly, of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.  I’ve referenced this movie before.  In it, the director portrays a world that is thrown into chaos when black people are liberated, particularly when a black man is in leadership (at least that’s how this black man sees the movie.)  That was 1915.  What is happening right now in 2013 is exactly the same thing; we have a black man in leadership and the cornerstone of everything American is falling to pieces.  Simple, right?

No, not so simple. This is what I believe, our dear conservative tea party Bible beating white male friends would like to have us believe: that because a black man is in the white house, mayhem ensues.  He (Obama) doesn’t have the capacity to lead; he is polarizing; he is inept; he has no authority.  This story line is exactly what D.W. Griffith was preaching.  But my dears, that was a movie, made by one white man 98 years ago. This is real life.  Or is it?  Could it be that our Tea Party friends aren’t quite as simple and bumpkinish as some of us high flying, over educated Liberals want to believe?  Remember, the Tea Party created Sarah Palin.  She is a complete and ignorant nobody, yet she is in our NATIONAL media and consciousness.  She is the ultimate creation of the “gotcha media” that she so scorns.  Like the bride of Frankenstein, SHE LIVES…and it would seem that she is carrying the torch for a completely fabricated movement to make President Obama the scapegoat and to reaffirm the bedrock of what American culture was originally built upon: oppressive white male colonial power.

Now why would someone do this?  Why would anyone wish to play out the storyline of a movie like Birth of a Nation?  Well, if you are attached to the security you felt when your world wasn’t challenged by someone else’s culture, or gender expression or wealth priorities or look or smell, you might just want things to go back to 1861.  But in this modern era, we live in an increasingly unstable and erratic world.  Most specifically, from November, 22 1963, as a nation, the United States was suddenly living in a world where “if it could happen…it would.”  The President of the United States was shot and killed and unlike the Lincoln murder that took not only days but sometimes weeks for people to become aware of, the entire nation experienced the loss of John F. Kennedy in real time.  The unthinkable of losing someone who’s image we had seen repeatedly and who’s voice we had known, happened and was transferred globally within minutes.

And that was just the beginning.  Footage of race riot brutality, Viet Nam, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy.  We spent the 1960’s being emotionally raped by a serial sickness of “if it can happen…it will.”  We emerged assuming that if a public figure was out in the open, they would be shot; if world finance was on the rise, sooner or later it would come crashing down; if there was a conflict between nations somewhere in the world, it would escalate into a convoluted political quagmire with unthinkable loss of human life.  And then, just as we were starting to show a few signs of emotional healing…September 11, 2001.  The attack on the World Trade Center in New York, more than the 50, 100, 200 years of tragedy leading up to it, sent us nationally over the edge.  Regardless of the political motivations of the attackers, or their connections to international networks or global terrorism, 9/11 meant that we were locked in the cycle of abuse once again.  If it could happen it would.

Suddenly we have Homeland Security, border control, language like “Islamist Extremism,” “freedom fries,” and cries of U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A! We entered an age of chronic national post traumatic stress disorder.  Our first thought is fear.  Our world is shaped by laws that, despite the language of law (innocent until proven guilty) assumes the worst.  We put people in prison for assumption; we have insurance we don’t need nor could ever use; metaphorically, we are shuttered away in our minds and our attitudes so that even if it is good for us to be in the sun, we don’t want any part of it because we might develop cancer.  Our reaction to learning of the abuses in the Catholic church is a classic example.  We assume now that everyone who interacts with children is predatory and thus we’ve created boundaries and walls and assumed guilt and an environment of suspicion. There now little Johnny, you’ll be safe!  Of course you won’t know what to do with yourself when you need comfort and you won’t think you could ever trust an adult, and you will develop attitudes that present no sense of community or interdependence on your peers or cultural identity and you will develop into someone who is more likely to perpetrate a mass shooting because of your disconnectedness and mistrust of others…but you’ll be safe! 

The current state of affairs is not just about the assumption of privilege by white men.  It is about the assumption of privilege being played out in a culture of trauma.  The million white man march of the tea party is reactionary; it is a symptom, it is not the problem.  Certainly, we need to fix the symptoms: racism, homophobia, classism, sexism, ageism, etc., but we need to go to the root of a national consciousness that is in deep and excruciating pain.

I am frequently asked about God and religion.  This is a constant for anyone who is in seminary.  I always reply with “I” statements, because I deeply believe that faith is entirely personal and that although we can unite as people who experience faith, the expression of that faith is as variable as the people involved, even within faith traditions.  For me, I believe that that breaking the cycle of trauma is dependent upon faith, for the sake of a better word.  My “faith” is rooted in my interpretation of Christian teachings and Unitarian Universalist principles. For others, it may be in Islam, or Judaism, or Humanism or Hinduism.  It may be a “faith” that is not god centered at all.  But trauma, any trauma, can only be healed by the distinct belief that one is unconditionally safe and loved, where the cycle of anticipating harm or loss is broken and put to rest.

The Tea Party and the Million White Man March are not the enemy. Instead, it is very clear that in a changing world on shifting ground they do not believe that they will be safe and cared for as they had been in the mythical pre-Birth of a Nation past.  As a result, they are trying to create this safety just as they created Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz by elaborately and deliberately fabricating a world where Obama will ultimately be a scapegoat and everything will magically return to the “way things were.”

And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. (Matthew 8:26 – NRSV)

I see you Tea Party; I see who you are and I will not let your fear bring us all down.  I will acknowledge your pain, for we all share in the trauma; but I will call you out on your crap.  Just remember that ultimately I will love you all the same, as I ask you to love me, because ultimately that is the only way this cycle will end.

We Are Here

Chalice FlameWe are here.  We are here as friends, as strangers, as teachers and students.  We are here, united in one word…seminarian.  A word that speaks of the “seed” of life.  We are the seeds of life of our united Unitarian Universalist movement.  We come from all over the country, all over the map theologically, culturally, economically.  Yes, we are here.

But remember, we won’t always be here.  There will come a time when we will no longer be able to call ourselves “seedlings” but rather we will bud as flowers, trees, shrubs, forests…our ideas and our efforts will have taken root, even in small ways and we will carry the direction of our shared faith as leaders, ministers, chaplains, counselors, activists.  We will not always be here.

So for as long as this lasts, as long as we are germinating and stewing in the process of formation, and as long as we are together in this shared space over these few days, let us give thanks and presence to the fact that we ARE here and able to grow side by side in the rich soil of community, that holds the nutrients of mentors, and educators, funders, family and friends…a seedbed embrace that drinks deeply of the fountain of love. 
– Call to worship for CGUUS 2013

“What was that?” I find myself asking. The first Continental Gathering of Unitarian Universalist Seminarians (CGUUS) over the weekend of October 11 – 13 was a group of about 50 people ranging in ages, races, orientations and social locations that descended like a tsunami on Harvard Divinity School and First Church Boston where we shared and learned and taught and explored many of the various sides of where we are headed as future Unitarian Universalist ministers.  Then just as quickly, we all left…headed back to our individual and unique paths.  I am writing this on a crack of dawn flight back to San Francisco where I will spend the rest of my day at work and then attempt to make my 7:30pm pastoral care class, because that’s what we do.  We left in our wake a trail of upended archetypes, broken barriers and the fragments of the ‘old school.‘  If this tiny but mighty storm of energy is truly representative of the body of nationwide Unitarian Universalist seminarians, it is clear that we see ourselves and our faith evolving into something completely unlike its past and different from how it looks even today.  In fact, a vision for change may be one of the strongest uniting factors we have.  For unlike other faiths where tradition and the ‘institution’ may require that one must be ‘called’ by the diocese or display encyclopedic amounts of Biblical reference knowledge or practice extreme self sacrificing piety or possess a family pedigree in the church, the only thing that Unitarian Universalism seems to ask of its future clergy is that we be completely different from one another and have thoroughly contrasting needs and goals.  That, and a bottomless pit of love in our hearts for people, the world everywhere and the work of ministry.

The weekend blew by.  We delighted in a spirited world cafe kickoff, workshops with UU theologian Rev. Thandeka and newly installed minister of First Parish in Malden, MA,  Rev. Christian Schmidt, discussions about the purpose, shape and direction of the Unitarian Universalist movement and the next CGUUS gathering.  This was all woven together with exquisite and moving worship and carefully and lovingly planned meals which meant that Friday evening until Sunday morning was very full and fast paced.  Maybe too full.  This was a first for all of us where we had the opportunity to intentionally meet and exchange face to face with people from other schools and other parts of the country and experience our differences first hand specifically as seminarians.  I have lived on the West Coast and in the South for much of my adult life but I grew up in the Boston area surrounded by Unitarian churches.  Yet, I was still unprepared for how different from “Bay Area UU-ism” “Boston Unitarianism” looks and sounds from the student perspective.  There were lifelong UUs, recent converts, ‘Evangelical’ UUs, Pagan UUs, Christian UUs…I heard conversation about the depth of the commitment to Humanism that permeates some of the midwest and learned that Canadian UUs regardless of their school affiliations are proudly united as Canadians above all, which was a great lesson in American-centric UU regionalism.  There was so much to experience with each other and we all wanted more time together to learn and explore.

But there was also specific work to be done.  Originally, the Reverend Thandeka had been invited to lead a weekend workshop at Harvard Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Students (HUUMS.)  The focus of the event grew and evolved into a broader vision that ultimately became CGUUS, but Thandeka was always intended to be a crucial part of the experience.  She brought a grounding and a connection to those who are already established leaders in our field and a sense of mentorship that gave the weekend an important context as it looked to the future of our faith.  Her work and perspective, which can be deeply inspiring for some and challenging for others, was a reminder that we come from an expansive history of exploration and deep thought around liberal and/or progressive religion.  She was the perfect reminder that although we have innovation and change on the brain we must take time to pause…for many reasons, if not to actively engage the powerful visionaries who have come before us.  You can’t really go anywhere if you don’t know where you’ve been.

This was just a beginning.  There have been other UU seminarian led efforts in the past (Zero, Aspire) and we come from a tradition of placing importance on the education of seminarians.  It was fitting that we started this at Harvard where some of the luminaries of our tradition began their journeys.  Still, the transitory nature of our status as seminarians presents challenges.  But today, we are uniquely positioned through the combination of how our faith looks in the modern era and our access to many, many modes of communication and interaction to build on what we’ve begun.  The best example is how the planning committee for CGUUS 2013 was spread across the continent including Canada the West Coast, East Coast and Mid-West (and yes we looked to include the South, Southwest and even the Caribbean to no avail…next time!)  Yet, we managed to communicate through Google Hangouts and email and telephone calls.  We coordinated logistics, website registration, financial arrangements and even some pastoral care for one another, without ever being face to face as a group.  Truly, when we did realize that we were all in the room together for the first time, it was more like a reunion than anything else.  This thing has both living and digital legs.

So here we are now, looking at next steps.  All of the participants are on fire with the potential that has been unleashed.  Whether this continues as just a stand alone event, or whether it blossoms into regional gatherings; whether we emphasize education or networking or if we simply become a foundation for support and collegiality; or if we become all of the above, the Continental Gathering of Unitarian Universalist Seminarians is now a reality.  We are here.

Black Male Achievement…Coming Out

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes – Author

The work around black men in America is very much in the news these days.  The Obama administration has made a bold statement of acknowledging the unique challenges faced by this population and making a commitment to promoting advancement and achievement among black men.  My home state of California has led the way with groundbreaking legislation including a unique House Resolution (HR 23), committing to changing the outcomes for black men and boys as well as all men of color.  PolicyLink, where I currently work on the program team, has been intimately involved in black male achievement work and will launch a new website and blog devoted to these efforts later this month.

The Leadership and Sustainability Institute for Black Male Achievement has declared the month of October to be Black Male Achievement Month (#bmaoct.)  At the same time, October is also recognized nationwide as LGBT History Month and includes National “Coming Out” Day on October 11.  Far from being at odds, this coincidence is a terrific reminder that while we seek to promote and support efforts to create better outcomes for black men and boys in general, we cannot forget to have the conversations within the black community about gender justice, sexuality, orientation and what it really means to be male identified and black in our world today.

LGBT communities celebrated earlier this year with great gains in terms of marriage equality; but the excitement was tempered for black LGBT people with the decision coming down in the wake of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act.  This juxtaposition of political concerns exemplifies how black LGBT people often sit at a difficult crossroads of race and social orientation in America.  Similarly, it is well established that black men find themselves in the most vulnerable positions in American society at large and the same holds true for black GBTQ men.  But the broader injustices of racial profiling, barriers to employment and advancement, health concerns and being targeted for violence, are only made more bitter when black GBTQ men are demonized within black communities and are  seen as a “weak link” in the strength of the black family or somehow buying into a white centered and therefore counterproductive view of black male identity.

If it were indeed true that black GBTQ men were a weak link or counterproductive, we would not have the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the writing of Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, or contemporary media voices like CNN’s Don Lemon, ESPN’s LZ Granderson or author Keith Boykin.  And of course, we would never have had the grand vision and epic social organizing skill of Bayard Rustin to bring together the 1964 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the setting for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Through black male achievement work, we have an opportunity to really grow.  Leveraging the insight and creativity of organizations like Brown Boi Project and by exploring deeper connections with broader gender justice movements including women and transgender people, black men can not only lift up what makes them uniquely valuable to our society, but also explore the depths and breadth of the masculine of center orientation.  An affiliation with these other efforts will not “de-masculinize” or “ghetto-ize” the crucial work around black men.  Rather, these movements should serve as examples to declare a fully developed and enlightened masculinity for black men that does not oppress others to achieve its place in society.  This is a male identity that takes responsibility for ending rape; it is a manhood that does not deny or shame same gender love; it is a masculinity that embraces its own femininity. It is father, protector and provider as well as being fathered, protected and provided for.  It is, in short, what it means to “come out” as a whole, healthy and complete black male.

-AD

The Kindness of Strangers

This from my friend Beth Neel…its just perfect. Enjoy!

Hold Fast to What Is Good...

kindnessSo I’m at Target, because it’s my day off and one pair of jeans evidently isn’t sufficient for our second grader.  Because I have been very, very good at Target, and bought only two pairs of size 6 pants and one package of trouser socks (as opposed to $150 worth of stuff I don’t need) I treat myself to Starbucks which, quite conveniently, is right there in the Target.

The woman ahead of me in line is chatting up quite a storm and I keep telling myself “this extra minute she’s taking will not throw off your entire day’s schedule.”  I breathe in through my nose and breathe out through my  mouth.  I imagine I am one with the universe, but I know this is a lie, because really, all I want is my skinny latte, thank you very much.  There’s only one thing standing between me and my latte…

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They Have a Way of Shutting That Whole Thing Down

I think a lot of us are reeling at the ineptitude of our Government right now.  Regardless of your party affiliation, it is a gross act of egotism to allow ones “agenda” to take precedent over ones actual job. Sojourners Magazine published a letter from faith leaders yesterday that speaks well to this issue.

This morning however, I was reminded that people have faced this kind of crisis before and faith leaders have written about it in an earlier time.  I read several tweets and comments last night on the Huffington Post that blamed “religion” for what’s going on right now; ironically, Psalm 37 was part of the Morning Office today.  Somehow, I think “religion” might have gotten this one right.  For goodness sakes, I’m a Unitarian Universalist and this Psalm even seems appropriate to me!  However you consider the Lord, God, the Spirit(s) or humanity in general, please read and take comfort…this too shall pass.

Psalm 37

Exhortation to Patience and Trust

Of David.

1 Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,

2 for they will soon fade like the grass,
and wither like the green herb.

3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.

6 He will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

7 Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.

8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.

9 For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.

11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

12 The wicked plot against the righteous,
and gnash their teeth at them;

13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that their day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to kill those who walk uprightly;

15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.

16 Better is a little that the righteous person has
than the abundance of many wicked.

17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.

18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever;

19 they are not put to shame in evil times,
in the days of famine they have abundance.

20 But the wicked perish,
and the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

21 The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
but the righteous are generous and keep giving;

22 for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

23 Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
when he delights in our way;

24 though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds us by the hand.

25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.

26 They are ever giving liberally and lending,
and their children become a blessing.

27 Depart from evil, and do good;
so you shall abide forever.

28 For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his faithful ones.
The righteous shall be kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

29 The righteous shall inherit the land,
and live in it forever.

30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak justice.

31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
their steps do not slip.

32 The wicked watch for the righteous,
and seek to kill them.

33 The Lord will not abandon them to their power,
or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.

34 Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on the destruction of the wicked.

35 I have seen the wicked oppressing,
and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.

36 Again I passed by, and they were no more;
though I sought them, they could not be found.

37 Mark the blameless, and behold the upright,
for there is posterity for the peaceable.

38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off.

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their refuge in the time of trouble.

40 The Lord helps them and rescues them;
he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.