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

We Are Jazz

(Cambridge, MA) A month ago, I wrote a post that gave some reflection on the issues of race and diversity within the Unitarian Universalist Association (HERE). Since that time, UU Religious Educators have called on our churches to spend this week and next engaged in a UU White Supremacy Teach In.  This is an opportunity for us to deeply explore the real problems of race in our congregations, our denomination and hopefully in our nation.  On a day when the Trump administration has signed an executive order that masquerades as “liberty” but will allow religious entities to flagrantly discriminate against LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, women in general and anyone else they choose to class as “other”, I am reminded that marriage between white and non-white people was only made legal in my lifetime and some of the biggest defenders of that restriction were religious entities.  I am also in that same breath extremely proud of Unitarian Universalists stepping forward to fully own the painful complexity of race and ethnicity in this nation.

Last Sunday, April 30, I preached a sermon that I didn’t know I could preach.  It is blunt in its language about race and racism in the United States. It is not religious language per-se, but it is the language of passion and deeply spiritual belief that we cannot “fix” racism, until we actually and honestly recognize its horror.  May we find the strength as more and more horror is heaped on us, to continue to look at what we are faced with, continue to find strength in one another and continue to fight with every bone in our bodies to eradicate any force that attempts to play true liberty and justice for fools.  We are beings that are created of love and innovation.  We are jazz.

RECORDING AVAILABLE HERE

PDF of We Are Jazz, Sermon delivered at First Parish of Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist, April 30, 2017

(Please note: this printed version is a direct preaching manuscript and not a fully edited and corrected version fo publishing.  There are most likely a couple of typos and highlights that are for delivery purposes more than reading purposes, but there has been a great demand from people interested in reading this.)

– ALD

More

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.

God Hates?

Ellen DeGeneres Kicks Off Duracell/Toys For Tots Initiative

Ellen DeGeneres…media titan…not God.

“To every person who is dealing with the homosexual spirit, that has it, I love you and God loves you but God hates the sin in you and me. Anything that is against the nature of God.” – Kim Burrell, singer banned from appearing on Ellen Degeneres’ show.

“God hates…”

“God hates…”

God hates?

No wonder God loses so many fans.
I do not personally know the “nature of God”
And therefore, I cannot know what is
“Against the nature of God”
How do you know?
Why did God whisper in your ear,
That he “hates the sin in you and me”
And forget to whisper in mine?
I don’t think God is the one who hates,
Only people hate…
“God hates fags”
Says the Westboro Baptist Church.
“God hates Jews”
Say the Nazis.
“God hates Western education”
Says Boko Haram.
No, God does not hate,
People hate.
People make God a scapegoat,
An excuse for their fear and ignorance
A crutch to feel alive
In places that are dying from human denial of life
Where they seek a real solution to their pain.
This is what drives people to put
Vicious human words in the mouth of God
And fatal action in his hands
None of which are as deadly as saying “but”
After the words “I love you”.
Do not tell me that “God hates the sin in you and me”
Because regardless of what you call God or sin,
I will always be the embodiment of unbridled, unstoppable,
Totally unconditional love.

god

Morgan Freeman…awesome actor…also not God.

Family Wall

I keep hearing the story, mostly from my non-POC friends, about family members or people they are close to who voted for the incoming administration. These friends are all struggling to navigate feeling as if the world has been swept from under them, while having to face the people who did the sweeping on Facebook, on weekends home, and over the coming holidays. They are asking tough questions: when do you argue; when do you sit silent at the table or “just not talk about politics because…well…family”; when do your actions or inactions enable the violence that is steadily marching back into the norm of life in the US? Christina Sharpe wrestles with this question in her article for THE NEW INQUIRY titled “Lose Your Kin”…check it out!

When I consider this situation, I can’t help but think about the many people I know who were thrown out of their “families” because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I think of families divided and ripped apart by war or extremism. These are people who have had no choice. They had to pick a side, just to survive. And they chose “family” that will always unabashedly have their back. We are taught in our Western democratic world that life should not be about choosing sides but about compromise. But the current “compromise” trades on the basic ability to survive for too many of us. It is not just that we are being asked to wait for another election cycle, we are being told to watch our communities get torn apart; we are being told that our lives matter even less than when we have been shot in the street; we are being handed an aggressively paternalistic message that says inequality is entirely justified by skin color and chromosomes. As a result, for those of us in the crosshairs, family cannot first be about blood. It must be about who we see in the mirror standing next to us. Liberals are woefully unprepared for the painful decisions that are needed to make the “beloved community” we so loftily talk about. “We did this to ourselves” is a tepid, inadequate and inaccurate response in light of the fact that so many seem to know someone they may call brother, or father or spouse who did this and did it proudly. We must be more.

There can be no easy answer to the question “what is family” but we must ask this question boldly and with a new sense of urgency. How has the desire to justify and make excuses for “kin” fed the growth of fear and hatred on the other side of family walls of denial?

Your family sits in the other room.
They have been there for a very long time.
It used to be easier to see them
…for them to see you.
There used to be an open space
where your room ended and theirs began.
It contained the support
that held the house together.
There you saw pictures and mementos
of the many lives before yours
that added up to who you are
…your birthright, your heritage.
Then someone thought
“French doors would be nice”
still letting light in from either side
but something to keep the sound out,
some privacy
while you learned to dance to music they didn’t enjoy.
Then you woke up one day
to the glass painted over
(did they do that…or did you do it in your sleep?)
You could still hear,
but couldn’t see them any more.
The doors still swung both ways
occasionally
until over time the hinges grew rusty
in one direction from lack of use
and the door was no longer safe to open.
The door was as good as a wall.
That’s when the lock came
…and the lost key.
Then you forgot altogether there was a door
let alone that it had ever been open
behind the shelves and the couch.
Occasionally, you heard them
your “family”, in the other room
claiming more mementos and taking pictures
of all that had come after you
…the noises of life.
They heard your sounds as well.
What a peculiar price to pay
when no one seems to care enough
or have the courage or the lack of pride
to shift the furniture and find the key
or just pack up all the memories and finally move away?

 

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