Rising Tide

I’ve spent the last few days in quite a bubble of privilege.  I have had the opportunity to move across country (3000+ miles) with an animal, in comfort and ease only being required to do the last 419 miles of actual driving myself; and even that was a sentimental choice based on wanting to see my father before I start my ministerial journey.  I have been able to rent and outfit an apartment in one of the most prime locations in the world for someone with my career and personal goals and I am now within 10 – 25 miles of some of my most cherished family and longtime friends.  I am healthy, I have a personal vehicle, total and easy personal mobility and an entire community of people eager to meet me.  If this is not privilege, I don’t know what is.

At the same time, I know some people think of moving as an incredible burden.  They get frustrated by the idea of packing and things maybe getting lost or broken.  They get angry at airplane schedules or deliveries that don’t happen on time.  They are confused by cable vs internet or bundle, cel phone carriers, utilities and how to register to vote.  In the end, they stand there looking at all of their belongings once they are unloaded and think “it will never happen.”

Here in Cambridge, MA I am surrounded by a mix of these different energies.  August and September are times in the United States when people move and transition.  It is the beginning of school for many people.  I have several friends who are with their children as they begin college in other parts of the country.  I have others who are experiencing that very first and sometimes tearful day of school as the small being who was only a couple of years ago too young to use the bathroom themselves, waves goodbye for the first time.  But all of these, the ability to move, to change jobs, to begin new learning…the actual day to day manifestations of freedom…these are the principle privileges in which we live in the United States.  This is why some people still risk everything to get here from abroad and why others risk everything to stay here despite a history that continues to leave them behind or erase them altogether.

Right now in Texas, people are suffering.  Rising water (the very element we need to survive) is threatening life and property and will change people’s lives for years to come.  What is more, too many of these people survived the horrors of Hurricane Katrina as well.  But the real disaster is not just in the rising water.  The real disaster is that it took Mother Nature to wake the rest of us up (again) to those people who don’t have insurance, or ways to escape, or healthcare to heal the injuries and illnesses and their every day suffering.  Why do we only justify providing help to people in need when the help meter reaches our distress threshold?  Why aren’t we listening to these communities in the first place?

I’m sick of rehashing the election, but Trump didn’t win Harris County, Texas for a reason.  The city is 67% non-white with a median household income of $56k.  If he was really interested in making a difference in this “disaster”, he wouldn’t have done what amounted to a campaign stop before the worst of the impact was known or had even hit. Instead, he would wait until the water recedes and then go to the places where people who had the most to lose by having the least to begin with actually are.  In the meantime, he’s much better off making sure his government is functional enough and listening closely enough to people on the ground to actually mobilize useful rescue and medical teams to make a difference.  No tragedy is about baseball caps and stilettos, it is about real life and real death.

As I sit here enjoying a last few days of my privilege bubble giving deep gratitude before embarking on the most difficult and rewarding career of my already wonderful and blessed life, I’m making a list of strategies and priorities that I hope to publicly hold our elected officials to.  Top of the list is demanding that government be aware and accountable to the most vulnerable before that vulnerability has a chance to be fatal.  The number is not yet as high as Katrina, but even one life lost due to the bare vulnerability of poverty in the path of increasingly extreme weather, is too many.  It is our great shame to dishonor any of the people who die from neglect or politicized agendas by simply showing up for a photo op and then turning away once the sun comes out.  We need to address the problems of poverty and housing as the disasters that they are before a hurricane or earthquake makes them catastrophes.  We have the tools in our legislative process and we must use them.

The closing words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address seem a fitting reminder for the principles we as a nation are called to defend:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” – Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

Jefferson’s Democracy

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Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s greatest deed
Sealed in the American creed that
“All men are created equal”
Too often holds these truths to be self-evident:
That “men” exclusively means “male”
And “equal” is only painted from the palette of white skin
And being “created” is synonymous with
an individual right to material wealth.

Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s “gradual abolition”
Evolved into the prolapse of civil rights
Where what is most basic became most rare
A moral inversion secured in place by law
An ethical hesitation justified by greed
An excuse later celebrated under the blazing lynching tree
Where assumptions of dominance
Were seared into the genetic memories
Of both the “dis” and the “en” franchised class.

Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s assumptions are
Captured today in words that
Dribble off the lips of those
Who see “both sides” of racial hatred
And try to “defend” free speech and First Amendment rights
To maintain the same status quo that birthed the horrors of
Slavery, genocide, colonial sexual servitude
And the posture that denies its paternity to the progeny called
Holocaust.

Democracy before decency,
Pride before dignity,
Profit before prophetic,
“We” before “all”,
Process before people…
This is history repeating
And failing over and over
and over.

There is no democracy
If the truth of decency makes a mockery of humanity;
There is no democracy
When civil rights are based on moral wrongs;
There is no democracy
In free speech that secures the end of a noose;
There is no democracy that un-sees, un-hears…
That too easily forgets.
There is no democracy in rape.

Mr. Jefferson,
We have learned the hard way
That there can be no democracy
Without truly common human decency first.

– ALD

Presidents and Pulpits

SFG-Coral-Ghost-Eye-2-main-image-cropA response to the election of Susan Frederick-Gray as the next president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

I am excited that the Unitarian Universalist Association has elected Susan Frederick-Gray as our next president and I wish her many blessings.  I will support her work enthusiastically.  At the same time, within this celebration of breaking one more glass ceiling, I feel compelled to continue looking forward in order to understand how Unitarian Universalists can truly live the lofty values we put forward.  This election is only one step in a series of many that must happen for us to accomplish that goal.  I will not rehash the troubled journey within the UUA over the last three or four months, nor will I debate the history of racial and gender bias in the denominational leadership.  Instead, as a new minister about to assume the great responsibility and privilege of leadership at the pleasure of a long standing and dedicated congregation, my question is much more basic: why must the President of the UUA be a minister?

On a simple level, it is very easy to see the structure of governance and the balance between “professional” and “lay” leadership that is attempted in our association.  Yet it is that same balance, that says to me having a minister at the helm of the entire Association seems an arrangement we should question in today’s world.  What is more, considering the specificity of how our ministerial leadership is developed in terms of educational pedigree, demographics, economics, age and ability it seems like we are perpetuating the very systems of exclusivity that we are asking our spiritual community to commit to unraveling.  Above everything else, the challenges of the world in which Unitarian Universalism as an organization is being asked to navigate are not challenges that our ministers are being explicitly prepared to meet as organizational leaders.

I’m well aware of some of the incredible professional histories that our past and new president bring to the table.  They are remarkable and multi-skilled people with passion and dedication.  They are immensely qualified leaders.  What is more, a minister leading a religious/faith organization just seems appropriate; one wouldn’t ask Elon Musk to lead the Episcopal Church.  But then again why not?  The assumption that a minister will lead a spiritual organization is status quo thinking and I’m sure that the progress we want to see over the next 10 – 20 years is not status quo progress.  When I look at the list and background of our history of Association leadership we have been blessed to draw the cream of the crop; but it is only a ministerial crop.  What are we missing by not looking across all of the crops within our vast acreage of talent?

I have had the pleasure to meet many incredible people in our congregations and the bulk of them are not ministers.  I have met lay leaders and professionals including Religious Educators, Musicians and Administrators.  They are former and current corporate and non-profit executives, they are lifelong organizers and activists, they are teachers and professors and they are deemed as somehow not qualified to lead this organization because they lack the title “The Reverend.” As a denomination, we place a lot of weight on the three-letter abbreviation (Rev.) But the title doesn’t make the person.  One of the greatest lessons I have learned through my own ministerial formation takes its cue from something Michelle Obama once said about her husband and the Presidency of the United States: “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”  Becoming a ministerial leader is the same way, it is a process of constantly peeling away layers until you are your most forthright and present self.  Even then you continue to evolve and change and discover new layers of truth and strength.  It tests you in ways that until now, I’ve only seen from the outside.  But coming to ministry from a very different background of management, it is also very easy for me to see that the crucible that is ministerial formation does not guarantee that one will always be an effective organizational leader or that they will peel away the most restricting layers. It also doesn’t guarantee that one will be the right leader at the right time.  Again, leadership, any leadership is something that is revealed.

As we embrace the new direction of leadership that will be revealed in Susan Frederick-Gray’s tenure, I say hallelujah let’s celebrate!  But I would also say that it is not the time for us to sit back with relief and sigh “whew…at last, we did it!”  We’ve only rolled on to the tarmac, we haven’t taken flight yet.  Rather, it is the time to embrace Susan’s forward thinking and the forward thinking of all the candidates and say “what a great FIRST step toward wholeness!”  We have a long way to go my friends.  We are preparing for a long flight.  Let’s continue to challenge the structures that cultivate complacency, dominant culture oppression and mono-cultural vision.  At last we’ve proven that our leadership can rock a pair of heels (if she wants to…thank you Sofia Betancourt, Susan Frederick-Gray, Alison Miller and Jeanne Pupke).  Now, let’s keep proving that both our leadership and our lived faith can reflect the economic, racial, social, cultural, ability and educational diversity that we talk so much about.

#Solidarity

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LGBTQ Support for Migrant Rights…NOW!

The LGBTQ machine must mobilize as an active agent of resistance to mass deportations and abuses by the current administration. In the midst of our own personal struggle, we cannot let go of our connection to the broader struggle against oppression.  #Solidarity makes us all stronger.

3.8 percent of the US population identifies as LGBTQ[1]. Imagine if the government decided that LGBTQ people posed such a threat to the financial security and personal safety of “traditional” families that they needed to be removed and were routinely “rounded up” and transported out of the country? This is what is starting to happen at this moment to the 3.5 percent of the US population that is undocumented[2]. Through a new wave of aggressive raids and mass deportations, the government has begun the next great humanitarian crisis. It is quite simply a crime against humanity that, if we allow it to play out, will be a stain as permanent on American history as slavery and the ongoing refusal to end rape.

US Presidents have been brought up on charges of crimes against humanity before, largely for their support of foreign governments who created unsustainable or lethal situations in their own countries. But we are currently walking blindly into a situation where our own government is creating the lethal situation in our own territory. American exceptionalism and American isolationism do little to keep us safe; they merely keep us exceptionally isolated. The sheer volume of undocumented people in this country cannot be treated like a small influx of evil or lazy vagabonds. Our undocumented residents represent an entire nation within a nation (nearly 12 million people); a nation that our government has not effectively grown to understand or recognize in the cloud of racist immigration policies[3]. This population is by and large a hard working, honest nation that is eager to succeed and is essential to our way of life. It is a nation whose only crime is having the audacity to want to be included in the possibility of prosperity and life without persecution. This is the exact same story that faces LGBTQ people and the precedent that is being established in the treatment of migrants is one that could easily be turned on LGBTQ people, on disabled people or anyone who doesn’t represent what one narrow slice of the ruling elite deems as worthy of including in the American Dream. The resistance against mass deportations is an LGBTQ issue; it is an African American issue; it is a Jewish issue; it is a Muslim issue; it is a white issue.

The great lesson that will go down in history will be based on how the United States responds in this moment.  How we are able to see humanity before looking at bank accounts and ethnic bloodlines. We cannot afford to see America through only one racial perspective, one gender perspective, one religious perspective or one economic perspective. The bottom line is that our nation and our government created the opportunity vacuum that brings countless people, documented and undocumented to this country. This should be a point of pride, and not a strategy of war and persecution. There is no crime in being not-white, or not-rich, or not-straight. The only true crime is turning your back on another human being out of selfish bigotry and fear.

#LGBTQ4MigrantRights, #Solidarity, #Resistance

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[1] http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBT-Apr-2011.pdf

[2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/03/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/

[3] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_and_Nationality_Act_of_1952

Slogan to the Right

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Lincoln Inauguration (incomplete Capitol) 1861

Four words that are
Not for all
Cast a pall
Build a wall
Straight and tall
Where only one side is right.

Four words that
Conjure an era
Make nostalgia dearer
Allay misplaced fear
Make it clear
There is only one way to be right.

These same four words
Erase black authority
Deny brown integrity
Evade gender autonomy
Remove migrant empathy
Define only one kind of right.

Four words,
one man,
300 million dreams,
An unending struggle to be “right”
That in the end will leave us all
Alone and afraid in a dark and starless night.

– ALD

Afraid of the Dark

Hold on to this moment
this darkness, this grief
this new uncharted place
this reflection where there is no light.

Is this the loss of a parent?
the death of a child,
a suicide,
a life with AIDS?
Is it cancer?
No, and it could never compare.
Those moments are the anchors reminding us
that to do more than just survive
we must thrive.
This is new darkness for some…
and all too familiar shadow for many.
But for everyone in this moment
it is a windowless room,
stifling, close.

There is no way out.
Do not pin your hopes to a symbol.
If you have to broadcast to the world
“I am safe space”,
you are not.
Live the symbol.

There is no way out.
Do not think you can outsmart the system.
If you are working with the rules
to win “the game”,
you are the system.
Learn a new way to play.

There is no way out.
Do not ask which action you can take.
If you are questioning what to do
and looking for direction,
you are doing nothing.
and really “we must do everything…”

Hold on to this moment
this darkness, this grief.
It is a new uncharted place,
it is a reflection where there is no light.
You must hold on
because the goal is not to be outside
but instead to finally face your fears inside.
Learn how to love the beauty, the richness, the power
of what is nurtured in this dark.

-ALD

This poem is inspired by the relentlessly prophetic words and work of Rev. Elena Rose and the army of Trans* Activists teaching us all what it means to live truth.

#DearAmerica

Thanks for reminding me who your really are. I had forgotten the degree to which you value white skin and a penis over pretty much everything else. It had somehow slipped my mind that words are not in the least bit important to you and that deeds and actions mean even less. I guess I had ignored how tightly you were still clinging to ideologies and mythologies about brash, unflinching men in golden palaces full of silent, submissive women under the eye of a vengeful God who would only reward an obedient and privileged few. Yes, I had forgotten who you really are.

And now that you have reminded me, I don’t think I will ever rest again. You see, you claim that your government was “broken” and that you needed to take back your country. But what you saw as broken was not the mistrust, the inaction, the intentional blockade of government or the sickness of capitalism run amok. What you saw as broken was the presence and the power of too many  women, Jews, Muslims, Indians, chinks, japs, niggers, spicks, trannies, faggots and aliens…folks who didn’t look like you, talk like you or worship like you. Too much control in too many hands that didn’t look like yours. You were having to wait in line for folks to pay attention to your needs and no one was listening to your tantrum. So instead of playing nice with the rest of us,  you have shattered the system into a million pieces. Despite your claims of defending the “founding fathers”, you have now ended 240 years of U.S. government solely to justify a narrow world order that you saw was in danger of being outshone by the very words “all men (people) are created equal”. You believe that by smashing the system to bits, you will remain safe and empowered without ever having to look in a mirror or see yourself as one equal among many in this human race.

Well, America, you are wrong.

What you have actually done is given the rest of us justification to play completely outside of the box, and to create a game that you don’t understand and that you will never be a part of. You will try to go it alone, but you will fail.  You have salted your fields and they will now lie fallow for years to come; and because you are alone, you will have no one to help plow it when (and if ) the land is ever healed again. Your crops will rot and fester in the sun as a reflection of your soul.  You’ve signed your own death certificate. So thank you America, for reminding me who you really are and most of all for reminding me that I am not you.

Love and good luck,

Adam