Love Beyond God

I am thrilled to share with you all the publication of my first collection of poetry/meditations for the Unitarian Universalist Association and Skinner House Books.  There are many people to thank for making this happen, and I will try to capture a few of them here.  Thank you Mary Benard and the Skinner House board for actually taking the chance on this work and thank you Marshall Hawkins for pushing me through the editing process. Much gratitude to readers, colleagues and mentors Jim Mitulski, Marta Valentín, Janice Marie Johnson, Jo Green, Dalila Butler, Lee Whitaker, Shaun Travers, Clyde Grubbs, Roy Whittaker, Joellynn Monahan, Kenny Wiley, Charlie Sullivan, Chip Smith and Mark Morrison-Reed (and so many more!) for egging me on and really hearing me. Thank you to First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, Mount Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church, the Pacific School of Religion and PolicyLink for continuing to support me through this project. And finally to friends Scott Nicolay, Talvin Wilks, John Hennessy, Ben Bobkoff, Benjamin Dunks, Nicola Rosewarne and Jamin Shoulet who all light creative fires under me that will never be extinguished.

And of course the biggest thank you to my entire multi-cultural, international and wildly over educated family. I love you all!

 

Excerpt from Love Beyond God

First Breath

That first breath must be delicious.

It must be more tantalizing,
more intoxicating than any drug,
fragrant like no flower will ever be
enticing like no body scent.
It must be all of this, and more
yet without words or memories, how do we know?

That first glorious rush of air
wants us to keep breathing
wants our hearts to keep beating
wants our eyes to open and see
wants our souls to open and say “yes.”

The first breath wants us to live all our life saying,
please God,
let me live
let me breathe
for just one day more

until we breathe our very last.

Order your copy from Skinner House Books Here:
Love Beyond God Thumb

UUA Bookstore Love Beyond God

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now available on Amazon for Kindle: LOVE BEYOND GOD (electronic)

Read more in the latest issue of UU World here:

UU WORLD Summer 2016UU World Summer 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Please post a review on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29823791-love-beyond-god?ac=1&from_search=true

 

Pray

I had the great opportunity to present this poem as part of the arts and culture initiative at the Equity Summit 2015 in Los Angeles this week.  What an amazing experience to be part of this gathering of people who are changing the world through policy and practice that promote equity!  This poem was the opening for a session titled Faith Leaders Delivering on the Promise of Equity.  My hope is that we are able to make a difference regardless of how we do or do not acknowledge the presence of faith in our lives.

http://www.policylink.org/

Pray

How will you pray for me?
Will you summon your God
Will you call on your symbols
Will you tell me your ritual
Is that all you can say?
How will you pray?

How will you pray for me?
When you see me in chains
Will you judge
Will you jury
Will you sentence my stay
How will you pray?

How will you pray for me?
When my head is covered and yours is bare
If my language is ancient
And yours barely there
If my day of rest
Is your hardest day of play
How will you pray?

How will you pray for me?
Will you see my skin
Will you feel my body
Will you know my mind
Will you understand my words
Or will you put them each
In a separate place
Or order or way…
How will you pray?

How will you pray for me?
If I don’t pray at all
If I am not called or calling
Deemed or damaged.
If I see myself not broken
But beautiful every day.
How will you pray?

And if you’ve never prayed
And if you don’t have the time
And if you see faith as sanctified crime
And too much of a price for your sense of self to pay
Can you still look in my eyes
Hold my joy or hear my cries.
Can you love me,
Love me,
Love me,
Love me just enough
In your own way
And pray?

Unitarian Universalists of Color Unite to support Baltimore

The world has been watching the story unfold in Baltimore.  We continue to feel the pain of this community…and all of the other communities that feel the sting of police brutality based on racial profiling.  My colleagues and I have issued a statement that sums up where we stand.  No one, let alone communities of faith, should be silent at this hour.

Please check out the following link to hear our collective voice in this ongoing struggle for justice:

UU Professionals of Color Statement on Baltimore

Nothing But Fear Itself…

Slide1I woke up this morning and read Tom Schade’s blog The Lively Tradition, “Fear vs. Boldness” parts 1 & 2 and it really got me thinking.  After reading this anonymous post about the turmoil and angst being felt by many Unitarian Universalist seminarians, I started drifting through the Facebook pages of my friends, both fellowshipped ministers and those still in formation.  I then came across the following article by Frank Joyce on one of their pages: “Now is the Time for a New Abolition Movement”…again more thinking, but more importantly, a personal wake up call to do away with fear and step into boldness…

Unitarian Universalists have some really good stuff going around diversity, but at the same time we are completely missing the boat where creating real change around racism is concerned.  I have been looking at how Unitarian Universalists are planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the actions and deaths in Selma, Alabama in March 2015,and in particular I have been following the Living Legacy Project.  Yet there is little language here or on the Unitarian Universalist Association website that states plainly that this was a conflict that came out of a deeply entrenched racial divide between black and white people in the United States, and no connection drawn to the ongoing struggle that is evident in situations such as the recent #FergusonDecision.  Instead, the information is focused primarily on “voting rights.”   This is historically correct and important, but I think we lose something in the memories of Viola Liuzzo or of Rev. James Reeb when we avoid saying that they were the victims of racially motivated acts of violence as white people standing up for the broader civil rights of black people.  And although Jimmie Lee Jackson was certainly killed because of his efforts to vote, the four girls killed in the 1963 KKK bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham were unquestionably killed because they were black.  The specific fight for voting rights was only the spark that ignited the massive bomb of race based tension that had been building since Emancipation 100 years earlier.  I applaud the efforts of my friends working on the Living Legacy Project, and among them are some of the bolder voices in Unitarian Universalism; they are my inspiration. But I see the hesitance to name the events in Selma for what what they were as part of our general fear in the face of boldness and I want to use this space to call on all Unitarian Universalists to name this tragedy for what it continues to be: the legacy of deeply rooted and brutal racism in America.

Losing the ability to state this painful truth says that we are willing to let fear temper our boldness.  Is this what we are teaching/learning in seminary?  Apparently, we have an incredible amount of work to do if we are actually going to live into any kind of real spiritual calling.  Let us find a way to live our truth, feeling all of our pain, seeing all of our wounds, and tending to them with the healing salve of love as equals in humanity.

Let us live our faith.

Día de los Muertos

dia-de-los-muertosDay of the Dead…Día de los Muertos is a contradiction to many people. How can the “dead” have a day? The rational mind doesn’t want to make sense out of that contradiction. So many of us prefer to have a life with order and explanations and justifications and clear indications. We may talk about life being a “riddle and a mystery” but when it comes down to it, there is a strong tendency in all Western culture to turn away from that kind of uncertainty. And where death is concerned, many of us are happy to ignore it altogether. So how fortunate that we build our communities understanding that some of us have limitations to what we may know or understand from our personal experience or from dominant cultures. Knowing those limitations, we can be open to being guided and taught and humbled by the rituals and practices of those in our communities who do have rich traditions where some of us may have none. In Mexico, Día de los Muertos makes death  something to neither fear nor avoid.  It is a celebration and it is an expression of a relationship with the dead, death and dying that not only helps the living to mourn those they have lost and embrace grief, but also helps us to look squarely at our own mortality right in the eye without judgment.

We are all going to die. But we need not fear. Día de los Muertos teaches us that if we learn how to listen from the other side in this life, we will always be able hear those we love in the next.

Dance Between the Two

From the darkness there is light
After day there is night
So the sun chases the moon
And so we live and so we die.
But if we carry heavy hearts,
Let the spirits of our departed
Lift us up and help us fly.
Mix our tears with their laughter
Blend our joy with their memory.
Let the living dance with the dead
So that we all may rest in peace
With the beauty and wholeness of our lives.
For just as the sun chases the moon
It is the dance between the two
That brings the golden break of dawn
And exquisite purple twilight.

La danza entre los dos (traducción por Tania Marquez)

De la oscuridad surge la luz,
después del día viene la noche,
así  el sol persigue a la luna
y así vivimos y morimos.
Pero si nos pesa el corazón,
dejemos que los espíritus de quienes se han ido
nos levanten y nos ayuden a volar.
Mezclemos nuestras lágrimas con sus risas
nuestra alegría con su memoria.
Dejemos que los vivos dancen con los muertos
Para que todos podamos descansar en paz
con la belleza y la plenitud de nuestras vidas.
Porque así como el sol persigue a la luna
Es la danza entre los dos lo que
trae el dorado despuntar del alba y un
exquisito crepúsculo púrpura.

 

Is This the Place?

San Diego Temple

San Diego California Temple

This morning, I began my day by reading a Huffington Post article about the “mass resignation” of at least 500 members from the LDS church (see the Facebook page here.)  I think this caught my eye because I was speaking with a dear friend just this weekend who grew up Mormon and enlightened me to the fact that the Mormon church is shrinking drastically; that like other denominations of organized religion in the United States, the LDS church is having trouble not only keeping members, but growing new ones as a result.  I was surprised by this personal report because there is a good deal of information out there (mostly generated by the Mormons) that says quite to the contrary (here is an interesting article on the disconnect between some of the reported numbers.)  But whether or not the LDS church is growing, doesn’t concern me as much as whether or not Unitarian Universalism has a place for them if they do leave their home church.

I love engaging people who come to the UU faith from other traditions.  In fact, these have been some of my richest interactions.  Frequently, the conversations are prompted by some statement that someone who self identifies themselves as a spiritual “refugee” has made when I invite them to tell me what brought them to a UU church or to explain or dive deeper into why they carry bitterness, or dismissal or outright hatred for their birth faith.  I have encountered Mormons in our circles as well, who are challenged not so much by negative feelings about the church they left or by UU free thinking, but more by what can sometimes feel like a lack of spiritual and theological discipline and rigor in UU spaces.  It is that ever reverberating question “what do you believe?”

My friend and fellow UU blogger, Andrew Hidas, this week posted about “The Difference Between Faith and Belief” which has me thinking about this question as well.  Not everyone who comes to UU churches from other faith traditions is coming damaged, or as a “refugee.”  Some (and I would even argue most) are coming because they believe in “both/and.”  They still believe in their faith tradition (or would like to), but they also want to be in authentic community with others who may not share that faith; they also come with genuine questions about faith in general.  This is my personal predicament.  I identify as a Christian.  In fact, I’m about to embark on a deeper exploration of my Christian faith, specifically as a part of my Unitarian Universalist journey and to deepen my understanding as to how to bridge the gap between Unitarian Universalists and historically Christian communities of color.  As a seminarian, I am often asked, why then don’t I just seek ordination from the UCC or Episcopal church?  My reply is twofold: a) I believe in a religiously pluralistic community and b) am I not welcome as a Christian?  Much like the children’s hand game, I often wonder if Unitarian Universalists are distracted by the monolithic organizations (the church and the steeple) before they are able to see the individual people inside of other churches.

The larger percentage of religious people that I encounter, regard their religion as a framework.  Whether taken literally or figuratively, the texts, practices, creeds, and even dogma etc. serve as a reference point that allows them to move through their everyday life with a feeling of security that gives them perspective on what is frequently a turbulent ride (here is a Gallup poll on the numbers of people who interpret the Bible literally as one example.)  Also, I don’t believe that most people consider themselves intellectuals.  They are not primarily concerned with the more esoteric and broad societal implications of a doctrine that speaks to a greater, less tangible good. They are concerned with putting food on the table.  More plainly put, most folks just want some help, either in the form of kindness or by being told that someone once suffered more than they did and it came out okay.  On a basic level, this is what organized religion does for many “believers.”  I look at some of the Mormons I’ve known over the years and I see this.  On the most basic of levels, they are a close community that believes in family and generosity and life with a purpose.  I am not for one minute ignoring or excusing the fact that the same church organization banned blacks until the 1970s, and created Proposition 8, but I have to believe that there is a middle ground between a belief structure that inspires one toward rich relationships with humanity and political mind control and abuse of power and privilege.  Religion cannot be all or nothing.

Unitarian Universalists have a unique calling.  As we have evolved (and specifically as a non-creedal faith where “all are welcome”) we must find a way to actually support people in their various beliefs and non-beliefs.  It would do us no good to say to the Hindu, “you are welcome in our church, but leave your belief in Dharma outside.”  Just as it would be equally problematic to say to a Mormon “come on in…but don’t bring Joseph Smith.”  If we are truly “multi religious” we can’t just paste up the symbols of multiple religions in the back of the pulpit and say “we’ve got it covered”…Clarence Skinner and the Universalists who founded the Community Church of Boston discovered the challenges with multi religious community first hand, and in fact, reflecting on our Universalist history in particular might be a good starting point to get us closer to fulfilling our modern calling.  Unitarian Universalists’ greatest and most challenging task is still ahead of us: reconciling the relationship between the “non believing” and the “believing.”  Creating a space that celebrates faith, belief and non belief while offering a connection to them all through our shared, common existence.  Only then, will we be able to call ourselves truly multi-religious and be able to give a genuine shout out to everyone, including the Mormons, in the house.