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.

…literally, when the wind blows.

Kelly Wallace wrote a great piece for CNN that highlights the way that school dress codes body shame girls and how this complicates parenting (Tues, May 30, 2017). I think it is important for more parents (mothers and fathers) to address how girls in particular are shamed in the school setting. As someone who studies masculinity however, I couldn’t miss one quote in the article that really spoke volumes about how male fragility damages everyone.

In the article, Wallace quotes Dr. Catherine Pearlman’s experience with her daughter being told to change her clothes as an example (community Today blog). Dr. Pearlman is the founder of The Family Coach and author of Ignore It!. She advises parents on all matters of child rearing:

“Pearlman said her daughter, now 13, had been told in the fall by a teacher that she couldn’t wear yoga pants because the boys would get turned on and then be embarrassed.”

So in this situation, a 13 year old girl is being told that she needs to feel responsible for adolescent boys’ sexual arousal. What is more, it is assumed that the boy will be embarrassed by his physical response so the message is that his erection is shameful and the 13 year old girl who causes that erection is to blame.

Wow.

As a male bodied person who grew up with a penis, I seem to recall that being 13 years old and being aroused were basically one in the same. Being asked to read in front of the class…‘schwingg’; singing in chorus…‘sproingg’; eating lunch…‘attention!!’. Anyone who would tell a 13 year old girl that her wearing yoga pants is a more likely cause for a 13 year old boy to have an erection than his getting an A on his math test is someone who is at best ill informed about adolescent sexuality and at worst someone with a serious agenda to indoctrinate gender based shame into the lives of young women.

I just wanted to point to this article as a great place to start a conversation among parents and also between parents and children; and not just parents of girls. Parents should share this article with their teenage boys.  This needs to be a conversation between mothers and their sons or any parent of boys and male identified children. Male privilege is not just present in what men are allowed to do or be. Male privilege is present in the blame and responsibility it places on those who are not male identified. It begins by saying to the 13 year old girl that your yoga pants turned him on and ends with a rapist walking free because the defense was able to place blame on the victim’s choice of clothing or appearance.

This is a great article as a starting point for a much deeper conversation.  It is a reminder that men and boys can end sexual violence, but only if we are held responsible for our bodies.

Love your body.

– ALD

Link to original article on CNN.com: Do School Dress Codes End Up Body-Shaming Girls?

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Tomorrow, 5 years of seminary and many more years of discernment will come to fruition for me as I find out where I will begin my journey as a Unitarian Universalist minister.  For all of us who have been in search this winter, this has been a time fraught with anxiety and punctuated by incredible affirmation of our abilities as well as painful reminders that we cannot be everything to everyone.  I am grateful to everyone who has been with me on this journey and particularly to the incredible congregations who were generous enough to explore the potential for building ministry together.  I am overwhelmed with their love.

And in the midst of this, Unitarian Universalism is in pain (Critics decry ‘white supremacy’/UU World – March 27, 2017).  Once again, we are being asked to look deeply at the self perpetuating patterns of white supremacy that continue to dog our efforts to be “multi-cultural”.  Even as I launch my nascent ministry, I cannot be silent on this issue; particularly as a black gay man.  We have stepped into a new time of consciousness in the United States and I believe the world, where we are being asked to show what we are truly made of.  I am proud to soon count myslef among dynamic and diverse Unitarian Universalist religious leaders and I believe in Unitarian Universalism, but not with an eye that only looks back.  Fixation with the past is the same crime of our government that speaks of “founding fathers” and “original framers” to fix the ongoing terrorism of black and brown bodies and the epidemic of violence against women and the catastrophic marginalization of human sexuality, differing abilities and mental perceptions.  I must see Unitarian Universalism looking forward.  We cannot be sentimentally bound to the tools and structures that have reinforced patriarchy and subtle (and not so subtle) racism.  We must listen, we must learn, we must be humble, we must do better. We can be more.

More

“Inherent worth and dignity” is not enough,
when “worth” is code for “white”
and dignity is spelled “m-a-l-e.”
This slippery intention
to name us all the same,
too often strides
into assumptions about perspective,
privilege, agency and pride.

“Inherent worth and dignity”
refuses religiosity, and will not bow in unison
or hold a single vision of the divine.
Yet while it mutters a refrain that tries to contain
the vast complexities of every human being
it seems to sound just like the same Western God.

Because “Inherent worth and dignity”
is the language of the colony
that doesn’t know the pain of slavery in its genes,
that ignores its culpability for Holocaust,
that continues to bastardize native people in ritual and song,
that strains against translation,
and always leaves women one step behind.

“Inherent worth and dignity”
Is carved from the dissonant language of white supremacy.
It resonates with paternal principles grown from privilege,
and rises as an onanistic declaration,
excited most by promises of self-righteous satisfaction.

Inherent for you
But abhorrent to her;
Worthy to me
But valueless to them;
Dignity to him
That erases xyr …

“Inherent worth and dignity” is not enough
In a language where the word nigger still sours every tongue.

We must have more.
We must have freedom
Unchained.
We must be seen
Unfiltered.
We must be heard
Un-silenced in a full-throated and triumphant cry.
We must have more than the language of the oppressor
for this dream of freedom to grow living wings
and finally take to the sky.

#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

Goodbye Pussy Bow Blouse

tr-and-taft-bow

Teddy Roosevelt (Bo Peep) and William Howard Taft (her sheep)

I started this post with the intention of writing about Teddy Roosevelt and the word/phrase “bully!” I figured that would be a creative way to address some of the double standards in this disgusting election process.

Then the final debate happened.

Clinton, who is far from perfect (but remember Obama opposed same-sex marriage and had ties to the Chicago “machine” when he was elected) delivered one of the most gorgeous pieces of pro-choice rhetoric in a flawless manner that brimmed with the exquisite balance of an international politician’s skill and raw gut feeling. Her words were history…and neither of the men in her immediate sphere heard a word she said. But sure as hell when Clinton mocked Trump’s penchant for avoiding taxes he countered with the meme ready phrase “such a nasty woman” which everyone seems to have heard just fine. The other big thing everyone heard was Trump challenging the democratic process by avoiding an answer as to whether he would respect the decision of the American people if the election went against him.

The problem with us only focusing on these moments (Trump’s resistance to concession and his childish insult) instead of focusing on Clinton’s wisdom and insight is the basic problem we are facing in this election: maleness refuses to give up the spotlight. Calling Clinton a “nasty woman” isn’t about Clinton, it is about Trump. It is about every substitute word one could use in place of woman. Saying he won’t respect the outcome of the election, as well, isn’t about Clinton, it is about a democratic process that has been entirely male and is based on European male honor codes up until this point. Therefore, of course the election can’t be legitimate…she’s a woman. Of course a 40+ year political and legal career can be reduced to petty nastiness and namecalling…she’s a woman. This shit is messed up. What’s more messed up to me are the many women who are still supporting Trump. Messed up…but not surprising. One look at the history of women’s suffrage or the women’s rights movement and it is plain to see that sadly almost as many women who have been for progress have been against it.

Melania Trump, wife of Donald Trump, arrives before the second presidential debate between Republi can presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Melania Trump, wife of Donald Trump, arrives before the second presidential debate between Republi can presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

I am not an anthropologist, I am a minister. My study of history and data always comes back to asking the question, “where do people find peace?” As such, I spend a lot of time thinking about what motivates people in general and I’ve come to the conclusion that above all, it is the promise or premise of safety that drives people most. Whether it is seeking a better job or pulling the trigger of a gun, ultimately someone is making a statement about how they do or don’t feel safe in the moment. I have to believe that the women supporting Trump, much like the anti-suffragists are motivated by feeling the need to defend the way they see and experience safety and order in world. I would say that Clinton may even pose a greater threat to them than an Obama, simply because some of these women may have certain negative assumptions about Clinton that reflect the negativity that is projected about women in general. If you have been taught by male focused society to never trust yourself or as I believe is the case here, never feel safe with yourself, why would you ever vote for someone who mirrors your experience? That is not to say that Trump’s women supporters are ignorant or under the thumb of men or only capable of an emotional decision…they are grown people who can dig their own graves.  Rather, I am naming this cultural challenge to call out the toxic role of patriarchy that pervades all of our concepts of what we think a “President” should look like, sound like or how they should prioritize the value of life and the world.  We’ve learned that President = male identified embodiment and affectation.  One look at the criticisms of Clinton’s voice, demeanor and clothing over the last year proves this point and treating her position on women’s unique healthcare as a footnote in this last debate underlines the dominance of male privilege even more.

In this patriarchal society where the vast majority of women are pressured to present themselves in a way that is entirely about the male gaze and male based criteria of desire, the idea of a woman who is self possessed and who cannot be diminished by an irresponsible male partner and who is impenetrable to personal assaults on her accomplishments or her gender is not just anathema but may actually be mortally terrifying to some. It upsets the order that has been ordained by certain faith (1 Corinthians 14:34) and codified over the years by law (the eras pre-19th amendment and pre-Roe v. Wade, etc.) It flies in the face of how we have learned to navigate gender. It doesn’t let some people feel or aspire to what they know as safe. What does make some people feel safe? Melania Trump made up like a prize show kitten surrounded by expressionless hyper blond women who show no greater joy than promoting the “strong” “successful” man in their life who is someone who “tells it like it is” even if he’s not capable of telling the truth…least of all about himself. Seeing women as props for the male ego…that’s what makes some people feel safe.

I have two hopes for election night. The first is that Hillary Clinton is elected as the 45th President of the United States. The second wish is that she publicly and openly weeps with joy at the accomplishment. Not because she is a woman, but because it is a long over due achievement in erasing the ridiculous gender norms of politics that have been killing us all and for which the nation and our ancestors regardless of gender identity all deserve a good deep cry. Yes, Barack Obama opened the door to non-white men filling the office of President, but Clinton will actually take the door entirely off its hinges.

And you can be sure she won’t be wearing any (f**king) pussy bow blouse as she steps across the threshold.

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(c) Vogue Magazine

D-bate

img_0873Never before in the history of our country has male sexual privilege and priority been so nakedly on display.  The second presidential debate will not be about the close listening that Clinton has done to those who supported her Deomcratic rivals, nor will it be about Clinton’s sponge-like absorption of the real issues facing black and brown communities around policing in this country and how her own connection to that past makes them struggle to see her as a solution.  Tonight will not showcase her insight, or years of experience on the international stage, nor will it display her failings of private greed and ambition.  Tonight will be entirely about how two cis-gender men define their sexuality in relationship to other women. The debate will begin under the cloud of one candidate having made public what is probably his usual private foul mouthed way of talking about anyone or anything he objectifies (which is most of the world); it will then play out with the reminder of another man’s dismissive, careless and usurious way of treating women (and also the world) as a weapon.  Hillary Clinton could actually stay home tonight, and if this were the 1950’s, that’s actually what would be expected of her.

But in some crucial ways, we are still living in the 1950’s.  Donald Trump should have been disqualified from running for office based solely upon his financial record…if not for that then when he started making blanket statements about ethnic groups.  The level of outrage being expressed NOW seems WAY too little WAY too late.  But then when I hear a Mike Pence, (who is the worst thing to happen to women’s rights on their own bodies since chastity belts) or any other male in this situation speaking about how having a wife and daughters is the main reason they are so offended, I am reminded what’s really going on.  Whether it is Donald Trump’s ability to grab it because he’s famous or Bill Clinton’s ability to hide it at the dry cleaners or Mike Pence’s ability to legislate it because of his narrow view of God, this is all about the male gaze and male power over women.  We don’t need the statue that’s been traveling around the country, Donald Trump and all ther rest of the men who can’t see women beyond their own pleasure are standing right in front of us, stark naked. Even for this gay man, the sight isn’t pretty.

I do not believe that all men are pigs.  But Donald Trump is a pig. Bill Clinton is also a pig.  Hopefully, Hillary Clinton will thoroughly char the barbecue at tonight’s debate.  Then she should seize the opportunity to change the game by pushing that dish aside and diving into a substantive meal of policy, solutions and actually focusing on the business of governing…leaving the boys to be boys.

Thank you gentlemen…you’ve reduced our democratic process to a game of “I bet mine is bigger than yours.”

-ALD