Archives for 2017

Emergency Preparedness #3

Emergency Preparedness #3

Fire or Smoke

Our newly authorized Emergency Operations Plan defines actions to be taken when a critical situation occurs on the property.  This “all hazards plan” identifies twelve situations that could risk personal safety or property damage.  Each emergency situation is designated as an annex with specific instructions.  Let’s look at Annex B: Fire or Smoke

DID YOU KNOW?

In addition to the pull fire alarm boxes at both front entrances, there are several others placed throughout the building.  Did you know where they are?

DO YOU KNOW WHEN THERE IS SMOKE OR FIRE?

The following procedures are to be followed:

  1. If there is a risk to personal safety or property damage, call 911 AND pull the nearest fire alarm box.
  2. If you or anyone else has their clothes on fire, Drop to the ground, and Roll a short distance to extinguish the flames. Use blankets or other clothing to smother the fire if needed.  If available, running cold water over the skin is appropriate to treat small burns.
  3. Fire extinguishers should be used by a person who is trained in their use.
  4. When the room and area near the fire or smoke has been evacuated, close all doors and windows to slow its spread.
  5. Make an announcement throughout the building to evacuate.
  6. Follow the details defined earlier (See November’s Bulletin #1) and evacuate
  7. Once you have gone to your car, stay in the parking lot. Fire trucks will use our exit driveway to get to the facility, and it must be kept clear of cars.

PARENTS – DO NOT TO GO DOWNSTAIRS TO FIND YOUR CHILDREN—THEY WON’T BE THERE!  WAIT OUT FRONT FOR THEM TO BE BROUGHT UP.

Emergency Preparedness #2

Emergency Preparedness #2
Electrical Outage

Our newly authorized Emergency Operations Plan defines actions to be taken when a critical situation occurs on the property. This “all hazards plan” identifies twelve situations that could risk personal safety or property damage. Each emergency situation is designated as a separate annex with specific instructions. Let’s first look at Annex A: Electrical Outage

DID YOU KNOW?

If the power goes out while people are in the building, it might be caused by our circuit breakers. Did you know where the two main circuit breakers are located so you can check? One is inside the storage room off the back of the sanctuary where the chairs and tables are stored. The other is in the Mechanical Room, opposite the downstairs kitchen. Before entering these areas, check first if there is smoke coming from behind the doors. An electrical fire could result from a short circuit. Check for smoke and feel the door to see if it is hot before entering

DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO IF THE ELECTRICAL POWER GOES OUT?

The following procedures are to be followed:

  1. If the building is occupied, check to see if the cause is internal and may pose a risk. Check the circuit breakers to see if there is a short circuit or an electrical fire. Reset the breakers if they have tripped.
  2. If there is an internal safety hazard, call 911.
  3. Do not run water (faucets or toilets) to maintain remaining water pressure. The water pump does not function without power. Check the plan, Annex K: Loss of Water Supply for more instructions.
  4. If an electrical fire is discovered, fire extinguishers can be used by a person trained in their use.
  5. If smoke or fire is found evacuate the building after pulling the fire alarm. See the previous Emergency Preparedness article #1 for details.
  6. Close all doors and windows.
  7. If the outage is throughout the neighborhood or community, notify the power company, and then the sexton.

Emergency Preparedness #1

Emergency Preparedness #1

Our newly created Emergency Operations Plan defines actions to be taken when a critical situation occurs on the property. This “all hazards plan” identifies twelve situations that could risk personal safety or property damage. Each emergency situation is designated as a separate annex with specific instructions.

DID YOU KNOW?

In several annexes, an evacuation of the building may be required. When an evacuation is ordered, fire and police responders will be on the way. Did you know that many fire trucks cannot come to the building using the entrance driveway? The slope at the top so too great for many trucks. For this reason, fire apparatus will come to us using the exit driveway! The exit driveway must be kept clear! Once you reach your car in the parking lot, do not drive off the property until directed by responding fire and police officials.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO WHEN DIRECTED TO EVACUATE?

The following procedures are to be followed:

  1. IF NOT during Sunday services:
  2. All occupants are to exit the building and go to their cars. Then see second paragraph (c), below
  3. IF DURING Sunday services:
  4. Children and staff on the lower level will leave the building at the nearest exit.

That group will assemble together a safe distance away from the exit.

ii,  Adult leaders will take separate small groups of children at intervals up to the front of the building.

iii. Adults upstairs will use the main exits to leave the building.

Parents of children who are in RE classes will assemble as a group a safe distance near the front exits until their children are brought to them.

  1. Then FOR BOTH SITUATIONS:
  2. Parents with children, and all adults will go to their cars in the parking lot and remain there until all the fire apparatus arrive. Many of the larger trucks will enter the property down the exit driveway and must not find cars backed up blocking their way.

 PARENTS – DO NOT TO GO DOWNSTAIRS TO FIND YOUR CHILDREN – THEY WON’T BE THERE! WAIT OUT FRONT FOR THEM TO BE BROUGHT UP.

 

You are a Visionary

“Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life”—a prayer from the early 17th-century devotional and mystical British poet, George Herbert. We also heard Mark Belletini’s meditation, “Mystical Song,” which riffs on Herbert’s prayer. Come, my way, my truth, my life. I have my own riff in mind this morning. What are the ways of this congregation? Do they serve us well? What new ways might we need to meet the challenges of the coming years? What is the truth that lies at the heart of this congregation? Is it, as Rev. Belletini says, “as exciting as fire, and as bright—as powerful as water, and as fluid—as solid as earth, but as transparent as air?”[1] Will it sustain us in the coming years? What is the life this congregation saves, nurtures and sends forth into the world? Is it a life the world needs? Hold onto whatever answers may be popping into your head and heart as you hear me ask these questions. Your answers are important because they help inform our collective vision for the future of this congregation. I’m going to come back to them. But I want to start with a few words about my upcoming sabbatical.

Today is my last day. Unless there is some extreme circumstance that demands my presence, the next time I lead worship from this pulpit will be February 4th, 2018. I’ve written a number of times about how various aspects of the congregation’s ministry will be conducted during the sabbatical, but it feels important for those of you who haven’t been part of the planning to hear directly from me about the plans.

First, believe this: UUS:E has a very strong, talented, dedicated leadership team and staff. So much that happens here happens with either very little or no direct input, guidance or oversight from me: children’s religious education, most adult religious education, sustainable living and green sanctuary programming, multigenerational events, two fifths of all Sunday morning services, concerts, art shows, Sunday morning hospitality, and most fundraising events including our annual appeal, the holiday fair, and the goods and services auction. We have outstanding leaders. Not just during my sabbatical but always: you are in great hands.

We’ve lined up eight guest preachers over the next four months, including next week Dr. Reza Mansoor, a leader of the Connecticut Muslim Coalition. Later in October, Rev. Jan Carlsson-Bull of the UU Church in Meriden will lead us in responding to the UU call for a second White Supremacy Teach-in. In November you’ll hear from Bailey Saddlemire, a youth who grew up in this congregation until her family moved to Providence a few years ago. She now serves on the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees and has many powerful stories to tell. Later in November, Revs. Carolyn Patierno of All Souls UU in New London and Heather Rion Starr of the Unitarian Society of Hartford will preach. In early December Rev. Kathleen Green, Executive Director of the Yale Humanist Community, will be here. In January Rev. Jean Wahlstrom, a UU minister and member of this congregation, and Bishop John Selders of Amistad United Church of Christ in Hartford and co-founder of Moral Monday CT will preach. As always, the Sunday Services Committee will be bringing a variety of lay-led services. Some will be multigenerational, designed in collaboration with Gina Campellone, our Director of Religious Education. It’s gonna be great!

Perhaps an even larger sabbatical question is “what happens with pastoral care?” There are three parts to this answer. Part One: I mentioned extreme circumstances. I consider death and dying an extreme circumstance, and I expect to provide the ministry I would normally provide in the event someone is actively dying or has died. Having served as your minister for fourteen years, I can’t imagine not being present under these circumstances. I’ve talked to many of you about your memorial services already. In some instances I already know members of your extended family. I know many of you theologically, many of you musically. I know your passions. I love you. There no universe in which it would be OK for me to say, if someone is dying or has died, “I’m on sabbatical, find someone else.” I want to be there. That’s my rule. Some clergy disagree, but that’s how I roll.

Part Two: We have a 10-member Pastoral Friends Committee, ably led by Patricia Wildes. While I am on sabbatical, any request for help of a pastoral nature from the congregation should go to Patricia. She and the Pastoral Friends Committee can organize much of the help people typically need—rides, meals, visits. Patricia will also manage the Minister’s Discretionary Fund for people who need financial assistance.

Part Three: For people experiencing some sort of spiritual crisis who want pastoral support from a professional minister on a short-term basis, we have a list of area clergy—all Unitarian Universalist and one from the United Church of Christ—who are willing to receive calls. Patricia Wildes can help you connect with one of those clergy if needed.

There are many other responsibilities and roles I have at UUS:E that will be on hold. Staff supervision will be on hold, though the staff know if they have any problems they can speak with our Personnel Committee or the Board President, Rob Stolzman. My work with our Emergency Preparedness Team, Mental Health Ministry, Council of Elders, Circle Groups, Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee, Membership Committee, Policy Board, and Program Council will be on hold, though all of these programs and committees will continue. You are always in good hands.

There’s a very obvious opportunity for me in taking a sabbatical. It’s an opportunity to pull back from the daily tasks of ministry, to pull back from being on-call at essentially all times—even during vacations—and to work on a project that I otherwise wouldn’t have time to work on. And, as the word sabbatical implies, it’s an opportunity to rest. I cannot express to the Policy Board and to you the depth of my gratitude for this opportunity. I am aware the vast majority of people don’t get sabbaticals. This is a privilege beyond measure. It is a blessing. You are blessing me with a gift of precious, sacred time. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank.

Within this opportunity is a chance for me to discern which aspects of my ministry remain critical to fulfilling both my vision for myself as a minister and the congregation’s vision for its ministries; and which aspects of my ministry are actually not so critical, not so essential, and might even be getting in the way of fulfilling my vision and yours. Might it be time to let go of some of the ways I conduct my ministry, some of the programs I invest my time in? When I’m in the midst of it all, it can be difficult to do this discernment. Everything feels important all the time. Taking a sabbatical will allow me to recognize why I do what I do the way I do it; what I miss and don’t miss about the ministry; and what feels critical and essential vs. what doesn’t.

There’s a similar opportunity for you. During a sabbatical the congregation has the opportunity to notice, by virtue of the minister’s absence, what it does well, what it does not do so well, where it excels, where it needs improvement. It has the opportunity to discern what ministries it needs a professional minister to conduct; and what ministries lay people can conduct. The minister’s absence causes a natural ferment of thought and reflection. The absence creates space for new insights to emerge. Of course, you don’t want to make any major decisions in the minister’s absence—like voting to expand the building. Please wait until February to do anything that drastic! But my absence, and the presence of a variety of guest voices, creates a very natural opening to new ways, new truths, new life. Come, my way, my truth, my life.

This sabbatical comes at a very opportune time. This congregation is at a point where it needs to establish a new vision. It’s been seven years since we moved into this renovated, green, accessible building. During that time, the world has changed. It’s time for us to re-envision our future. Who do we want to be? What directions do we want to move in? It’s time. Therefore I challenge you—each of you individually and all of you collectively—under the leadership of the Policy Board and Program Council—to reflect on our congregational vision in the coming months. What is the vision for our ministries five or ten years from now? What do we want to achieve? What are the components of our best future congregational self? Come, my way, my truth, my life!

It’s actually your job to answer this question. In Unitarian Universalism we practice congregational  polity. This means the congregation governs itself. The congregation belongs to its people. The people envision their own future together. This doesn’t mean that the minister can’t have a vision—you certainly want a minister who is visionary—but ideally the congregation’s vision and the minister’s vision are in alignment. So please let this sabbatical time be a time of discernment for you.

It has already begun. Our leadership team held a retreat this weekend with the purpose of beginning to craft a new vision. Later this fall they’ll share their initial thoughts with you and request your feedback, which will help us collectively craft a vision statement that the congregation can approve at its annual meeting in May.

I want to tell you just a bit about this weekend. Before we engaged in our own process of visioning, we acknowledged that there are many voices and identities that aren’t present in our membership, especially not in large numbers. Mindful of this, and mindful of the movement within Unitarian Universalism today to understand and confront white supremacy, we invited a group of People of Color leaders from Manchester and Hartford to speak to us Friday night about their vision for this region and their ideas about how a congregation like ours might be able to contribute to that vision. We listened. We heard things—hard, heartfelt, honest things—we wouldn’t have heard otherwise. We were deeply grateful. Then, with their words reverberating in our hearts, we engaged in our visioning work.

Come, my way, my truth, my life. Looking towards the future, what will be our way? Building community—caring, heart-centered, thoughtful, spiritual community. Community that supports those who are vulnerable. Community that speaks for those for whom it is too dangerous to speak. Community that encourages and promotes courageous conversations about difficult, polarizing topics. Community that lets people be who they are, that encourages people be true to themselves rather than feeling they must hide part of who they are just to get by. Multigenerational community. Multicultural community. Multiracial community. Community that expands outward from a tight, robust, fun, liberally religious, deeply spiritual congregation here at 153 West Vernon St. to partners in the wider community: to liberation and social justice organizations, to interfaith and religious organizations—especially religious to minorities who face persecution in American society—to arts organizations, to service organizations—a vast network of connection, interplay, mutual support and caring. Come, my way!

Looking toward the future, what is our truth? The answer is so clear to our leaders: love. Perhaps first and foremost: learning again and again and again to love ourselves. In the midst of white supremacy, in the midst of climate catastrophe, in the midst of political polarization, in the midst of violence and hatred, in the midst of profound inequality and endless need, learn to love ourselves deeply so that we may we have great stores of love with which to bless the world; love for neighbors, love for strangers, love for children, love for elders, love for the lonely and the isolated, love for the demonized and the scapegoated; love across lines of faith, culture, ethnicity and race; love across lines of gender and sexual orientation; love across lines of city and suburb; love so vast and deep that these lines that vex us start to blur, start to disappear; so that our connectedness and our oneness shine forth not only in what we say but in what we do. Come, my truth!

Looking toward the future, what is our life? The answer that came through from our panel on Friday and our discussions on Saturday is authenticity, the life of people who don’t hide, who let their light shine, who speak their truths, who feel, who sing and dance; people who know themselves deeply, share themselves generously, who listen well to other selves, respect and honor other selves, celebrate other selves. What is our life? It is a bold life, not afraid to dream, not afraid to risk, not willing any longer to play it safe when the world’s need is overflowing. What is our life?  It is a committed life, a connected life, a powerful life. It is our energy, spirit and strength sent forth into the world to love, to be present to suffering, to comfort, to heal; to bear witness to oppression and injustice; to resist and dismantle the systems that hold oppression in place, to build a more just, loving and fair society. Come, my life!

That’s my best initial articulation of our emerging vision for this congregation’s future. What I hope is that in the space of this sabbatical time, you individually and as a congregation can continue this conversation and imagine the most compelling UUS:E future possible. Imagine what has never been imagined before. I challenge you to think big. Think boldly. Don’t worry about the technicalities of how some new ministry might come to fruition. Don’t worry about whether or not we have the resources. Take time to imagine amazing what-could-bes. Take time to imagine a spiritually alive, powerful, transformative, life-saving, life-giving, connected congregation. If the vision is compelling, the resources will come. You all have it within you. Be visionary!

“Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life.” May the ways of this congregation meet the needs of a hurting world. May the truth that lies at the heart of this congregation be “as exciting as fire, and as bright—as powerful as water, and as fluid—as solid as earth, but as transparent as air!”[2] May the life this congregation saves, nurtures and sends forth bring love and healing into the world. You each have it within you. In the coming months, be visionary.

Amen and blessed be.

 

[1] Belletini, Mark, “Mystical Song,”Sonata for Voice and Silence (Boston: Skinner House, 2008) p. 23.

[2] Belletini, Mark, “Mystical Song,”Sonata for Voice and Silence (Boston: Skinner House, 2008) p. 23.

Hurricane Relief Collection — October 1st

On Sunday morning, October 1st, UUS:E is dedicating its entire offering to hurricane relief efforts.

One half of UUS:E’s October 1st collection will be dedicated to the Connecticut-based Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Network, which was established in the wake of Hurricane Irma, and is even more critical in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation. Many of Connecticut’s nearly 300,000 Puerto Rican residents remain closely tied to their families on the island and are looking for ways to assist their loved ones. In light of this need, numerous Connecticut non-profit agencies have come together to form The Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Network with the help of the Hispanic Federation to serve as the fiduciary as the network develops. The “Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Network” is comprised of the CT Puerto Rican Agenda, The Center for Latino Progress, CICD Hartford Puerto Rican Day Parade, and The San Juan Center, working in tandem with the Hispanic Federation and the CT General Assembly’s Puerto Rican Caucus.

One half of UUS:E’s Otober 1st collection will be dedicated to the two Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) funds. The UUA’s Hurricane Irma Recovery Fund assists congregations, including in the U.S. Virgin Islands, in repairing hurricane damage, and also in responding to their members’ and their community’s efforts to recover. The Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund is a joint effort of the UUA and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Half of the money raised will go to at-risk populations served by UUSC partners in the region; the other half will support Unitarian Universalist congregations and members of those congregations most affected by the storm.

Checks can be made out to UUS:E with “Hurricane Relief” written in the memo line. 

For those who would also like to make donations of material goods to Puerto Rican recovery efforts, there are two opportunities to do so in Manchester in the coming days and weeks. 

First, for the next two weeks, downtown Manchester businessman, Carlos Ortiz, owner of Sol de Bourinquen, Jr. Bakery at 856 Main Street is helping to coordinate donations to the storm victims in his native Puerto Rico. A wide variety of items including but not limited to: water, flash lights and batteries, nonperishable food items, diapers and clean clothing in good condition are needed.  Donations may be dropped off at his bakery located at 856 Main St., Manchester, CT during normal business hours.  (Mon.– closed; Tues.- Fri. 6am -6pm; Sat. 7am-4pm; Sun. 7am-3pm. Questions? Call Carlos at 860 801-2099.

Finally, United for a Safe and Inclusive Community — Manchester is collecting donations at the Lutz Children’s Museum until Saturday, September 30th. Please bring your donations to the Lutz this Wednesday to Friday between 9am – 5 pm, or Saturday from 12 noon – 4:30 pm. They are asking for the following items:

Water
Portable water purifiers 
Water filtration devices 
Batteries, all sizes 
Rice 
Beans (canned)
Tomato sauce (canned) 
Sanitary products MaxiPads
Mosquito /bug repellent 
Rubbing alcohol 
Diapers/wipes 
Formula
Gloves (disposable) 
Flashlights/headlamps 
LED lanterns 
Hand wipes / sanitizer
Sleeping bags

 

 

 

 

for the

This is Not a Drill

Over the last week of August our family rented a cottage on Cape Cod. One day we came home from the beach and discovered a gas leak in the basement. For a few minutes the best word to describe my response was confusion. OK, it’s only in the basement, except I can smell it a little bit upstairs. We have to do something. Let’s call the owner – or should we call the gas company, or the plumber, or 911? It’s dinner time; the boys are getting cranky from hunger; I’m getting cranky from hunger; is it ok to light the grill, which is near the house, but not that near? Can the pilot light on the water heater ignite the gas in the basement? Is it OK to take a shower? Stephany reached the owner on the phone, who thought it was best to call the plumber who had been working on the house earlier that day. That’s when the fire alarm went off. Yikes. For a moment I experienced full-blown panic. Then, for the first time since smelling the gas I took a breath. Just one breath with that loud beeping and that jarring, mechanical voice announcing the presence of a fire, and I somehow gained clarity, calm, and a sense of resolve. I yelled at Stephany to have the owner call the gas company to come turn off the gas. I ordered the boys out of the house to the front yard. I grabbed my phone and some corn chips and salsa. We camped out on the front lawn, away from the house, until the gas company arrived, turned off the gas, vented the house, and fixed the leak. The whole ordeal lasted about 90 minutes.

This was not a drill. If it had been, I would not have given myself high marks for my initial response. Confusion and panic are understandable, but if there’s a gas leak, evacuate first, then be confused. And in hindsight, we should have called 911 immediately. The gas company treated the situation as an emergency and arrived quickly, but I suspect the fire department would have arrived more quickly. 

This experience raises two related questions, both with spiritual ramifications. First, in the midst of a crisis or a disaster—a fire, a flood, a long-term power outage, an earthquake, a medical emergency, a shooting—here or, for that matter, anywhere you happen to be—how do or would you respond emotionally? In such situations it’s rarely our rational mind that responds first. There’s a moment of surprise. Our ancient, limbic, fight-flee-or-freeze instinct kicks in. Fear, anger, panic, confusion kick in. It’s a survival response. It floods the body with adrenalin, quickens the pulse, quickens breathing. It often makes decisions for us. We fight before thinking, “I need to fight.” We flee before thinking, “I need to flee.” We push a child out of the way of an oncoming car before thinking, “I’ve got to save that child.” We say, “Oh my God,” before thinking, “I need to pray.” So, how—and how quickly—do we get to that place of clear, calm resolve? How do we get to thoughtfulness?

That initial gut response is virtually unavoidable. It’s in our nature, our wiring. Hopefully it does what our ancient ancestors needed it to do, which is save our lives or the lives of others.  But once we’ve been surprised, once we’ve been confused, once we’ve reacted emotionally to the threat—our ancient, limbic response becomes increasingly unhelpful. We need calm. We need clarity. How do we move from fight-flee-freeze auto-pilot to calm, clear rationality? How do we move from hot to cool in the midst of a disaster? My sense is that the quality of our day-to-day spiritual lives matters immensely in moments like this. If we don’t have a daily practice of any sort, if we aren’t used to intentionally sinking into a relaxed, focused state of being for at least a few minutes every day, then we have very little to reach for in the midst of a crisis. But if we are accustomed to setting aside time each day to breathe, to pray, to meditate, to settle in, to sink in, to focus our attention, to study and contemplate, to stretch, to engage in ritual, to connect intentionally with a reality larger than ourselves—if it is part of our regular living—then we can use it in the midst of a crisis. Over time our spiritual practices become instinctual too. There’s smoke coming from the kitchen. Your pulse is racing. Take a breath. There’s a foot of water on the basement floor. You’re panicking. Quiet your mind. Someone has fainted in front of you. Imagine that calm state you attain when you exercise or stretch. You hear screams and you know something is wrong. You’re highly agitated. Say that short comforting prayer that’s always been meaningful to you, even if you don’t believe in the power of prayer. Say it with intention. It is a spiritual resource for bringing calm and clarity in the midst of a crisis.

A few years ago a group of us studied spiritual writer Thomas Moore’s A Religion of One’s Own. One of his central ideas is that regular spiritual practice cultivates an alert mind. He means a mind alert to insights, intuitions and synchronicities that come to us as if out of nowhere. Often we don’t notice them, let alone realize the directions in which they are pointing us. Often we ignore them because we aren’t ready for them. Regular spiritual practice—anything that focuses or unclutters the mind—opens us up to receive revelations, says Moore.[1] It strikes me that having a regular spiritual practice contributes to our alertness and readiness to manage ourselves and others in the midst of a crisis.

Last week at the 9:00 service I shared some words from a blog post by the Rev. Dawn Cooley, a staff member in the office of the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Her post was called “Beyond Disaster Relief.” She talks about the way so many people respond to disasters like hurricanes with not only love and compassion but courage and heroism. Without in any way belittling these loving, heroic testaments to the human spirit, Rev. Cooley points out that “Our tendency is to latch onto these stories and think about how great it is that we help each other out when we must. But … why must it take a disaster, such as a hurricane, to get us to treat one another with care and concern?” She quotes a friend who asks: well before the storm, “have I been my brother’s keeper? [Have I cared] about his livelihood before his actual, physical life was at stake…. That’s a question worth sitting with.”[2]

It’s true: the regular, daily quality of our community, of our relationships, of our concern for one another and for strangers, impacts the quality of our response in times of crisis. The more we care about each other and strangers in good times, the better able we’ll be to care for each other and strangers in hard times. Rev. Cooley says “Send love, and care, and financial support to those in Texas and Louisiana [and now Florida], but don’t stop there. Let us work to find ways to implement these actions and attitudes into our daily lives. Urge your representatives and elected officials to create crisis plans, knowing more events like this will happen. Work to create legislation that treats people with dignity at all times. Demand justice for those in need—not just in a natural disaster but at all times…. For better and for worse, we will have many opportunities to practice.”[3] The more we do the work—the spiritual work, the service work, the social justice work—in good times, the better able we’ll be to respond to crises, the more quickly we’ll move from fight-flee-or-freeze to calm, clear rationality when disaster strikes.

Second question. In the response to any crisis, do we actually know the right things to do and in what order they need to be done? This question also has spiritual ramifications. A simple example: imagine that during worship on a Sunday morning, a fire breaks out in the kitchen. We’re here in the sanctuary. We become aware of the fire, and although it isn’t huge, it also doesn’t appear to be under control. Whoever is leading worship calmly invites you to evacuate. People on the left move slowly to the walls and down the aisle to the doors. People on the right move slowly to the walls and down the aisle to the lobby and out the doors. Somebody hit the fire alarm on your way out. Four or five of you have already called 911 (Note: in an emergency it’s best to call 911 from a landline which routes more quickly to local dispatchers. The closest landline to this room is in the kitchen which, in this scenario, is on fire, so call 911 on your cell.) Be mindful of elders, people in wheelchairs, people with babies. Move at their pace. This will not take long. Somebody near the right-hand door, please go downstairs and alert the adults that we’re evacuating due to fire and they must do the same with the children. By the way, conduct a garden level fire drill with the kids every year. We don’t conduct a main level fire drill, but we will start doing them periodically. Here’s why: We’ve successfully evacuated the building, which includes establishing a location for teachers to bring children to their parents, but then what happens? The safest, most helpful place to be now is in a car; and that car is to remain parked. Nobody attempts to leave. The hill at the entrance to our lot is too steep for some of the firetrucks to use. They will use the exit ramp. If anyone tries to leave, they risk blocking emergency responders or, worse, colliding with them. Do we actually know the right things to do and in what order they need to be done so that we do them as effectively as possible?            

Unless we plan and train for crises, we won’t know. One of my jobs as the head of staff, and one of the Policy Board’s jobs in its fiduciary role on behalf of the congregation, is to ensure that we and our building are as safe as possible. One dimension of safety is knowing what to do in a crisis. To that end, the Policy Board charged an Emergency Preparedness Team with the task of creating an Emergency Preparedness Plan. The team includes at large members Cressy Goodwin and Peter Marroto, Bill Graver from the Buildings and Grounds Committee, Sue McMillen from the Pastoral Care Committee, Jane Osborn, our sexton, Annie Gentile, our Office Administrator, Gina Campellone, our Director of Religious Education, and myself. Thanks to all of you who’ve been part of this effort. Under Cressy’s leadership we created the plan earlier this year. It is consistent with guidelines for the town of Manchester and our region, which are consistent with guidelines established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The plan offers concise directions in the event of smoke or fire, a power outage, a medical emergency, an armed and dangerous person entering the building, an unarmed but dangerous person entering the building, storm damage, flooding, septic system failure, hazardous materials spill, loss of water supply, breakdown of our heating and cooling system, and how and when to provide temporary shelter to members and friends. We’ve begun training the staff in using the plan. We’re offering a workshop today at 1:00 for anyone who would like to begin their own training. We’re still figuring out the best ways to provide training to all of you. Knowledge is definitely power in an emergency. An actual fire drill is coming.     

One of my anxieties in talking about this is that it will raise doubts in your minds about how safe we truly are here. In naming the potential for fire, might some of you look around and wonder, Hmmm, if there were a fire in the kitchen, could we really evacuate in time? If there were a shooter in the lobby? What chemical do we have that could spill? But that anxiety comes from me anticipating your fight-flee-or-freeze response. Not talking about it is pure denial. Doing the planning and the training on a regular basis, making it part of the life of the congregation, will enable all of us to respond with calm, clear resolve if a crisis should befall us here. It makes us safer. Doing the planning and the training—that’s the work of being our siblings’ keepers before the crisis comes. That’s caring for each other before the crisis comes. This making ourselves ready, this preparing ourselves, is not just a fiduciary responsibility. It is love in action.

I read to you earlier from my late colleague, the Rev. Robbie Walsh two meditations, “Fault Line” and “Fire at the Parsonage.” He isn’t writing about emergency preparedness, but he it reminding us that disasters happen, that our lives, “already spilling over the brim, could be invaded, sent off in a new direction, turned aside by forces [we] were warned about but not prepared for.”[4] He reminds us that “The world is going to end, and we don’t know when. My world, or yours, may end tomorrow in some unexpected way.”[5] He warns us about the fragility of life, the potential for everything to come crashing down in an instant. “Have we done what we need to do?” he asks. “Have we said the words we should say before the opportunity is gone?”[6]

That is perhaps the greatest spiritual benefit to come to us from emergency planning. In naming the crises that could happen, we accept our fragility, and ultimately our mortality. In doing so we are inevitably reminded of the things that matter most, of the people and pets and places and experiences we love most deeply, of the bonds that hold us close, of the passions that set us free. We are reminded, in Walsh’s words, that “the shifting plates, the restive earth, your room, your precious life, they all proceed from love, the ground on which we [move] together.”[7]

Life is not a drill. May we plan well, because it will make a difference, even if disaster never strikes.

Life is not a drill. May we respond well, because our lives depend on it.

Life is not a drill. May we love deeply before the storm, because our lives can change dramatically in an instant, and we may not get the chance again.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own (New York: Avery, 2014) p. 184.

[2] Rev. Dawn Skjei Cooley “Beyond Disaster Relief, September 5, 2017, http://www.uua.org/southern/blog/beyond-disaster-relief.

[3] Rev. Dawn Skjei Cooley “Beyond Disaster Relief, September 5, 2017, http://www.uua.org/southern/blog/beyond-disaster-relief.

[4] Walsh, Robert, “Fault Line,” Noisy Stones: A Meditation Manual (Boston: Skinner House, 1992) p. 15.

[5] Walsh, Robert, “Fire at the Parsonage,” Noisy Stones: A Meditation Manual (Boston: Skinner House, 1992) p. 14.

[6] Walsh, “Fire at the Parsonage,” p. 14.

[7] Walsh, “Fault Line,” p. 15.

The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Woman

Quotes About Women’s Equality, various

Reading: Sexism is Hard to Explain, Kel Campbell

The Call for Gender Equality, Carol Marion

How Do We Get There? Marsha Howland


Quotes About Women’s Equality

First Reading Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017

First Reader

A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.
            Gloria Steinem

Second Reader

Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.
            Kofi Annan     

First Reader

I raise my voice – not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard

. . . . We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.
            Malala Yousafzai

Second Reader       

In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.
            Nicholas D. Kristof    

First Reader

Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.
            Susan B. Anthony

Second Reader

I know of no industrial society where women are the economic equals of men. Of everything that economics measures, women get less.
            Ivan Illich       

First Reader

I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.
            Mary Shelley

Second Reader       

Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, boys and girls. It is everyone’s responsibility.
            Ban Ki-moon

First Reader

As women, we must stand up for ourselves. As women, we must stand up for each other. As women, we must stand up for justice for all.
            Michelle Obama

Second Reader       

Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.
            Gloria Steinem

First Reader

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.
            Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Second Reader

It’s time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are.
            Emma Watson

First Reader

We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons . . . but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.
            Gloria Steinem

Second Reader

Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.

            Hillary Clinton

First Reader

In order to gain gender equality, women and men must work together, equally, to teach our daughters and sons to embrace our differences, respect each others’ opinions, and remove stereotypes to what a girl or boy should aspire.
            Basia Christ

Second Reader

We must raise both the ceiling and the floor.
            Sheryl Sandberg

First Reader

Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women! There is so much left to be done.
            Susan B. Anthony

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Second Reading:

Sexism is Hard to Explain, by Kel Campbell
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The Call for Gender Equality

by Carol Marion

I am a child of the 50’s. Forced to wear scratchy crinolines under poufy skirts to school, not allowed to use the slide on the playground because someone might see our undies. Taught to be nice and ladylike and to never open a door for myself unless I had to. I am also a child of the 60’s and 70’s. Free love and bellbottoms and feminism. We were equal! We would rule the world! I entered the workforce with a belief that I could accomplish anything. And still men insisted on opening doors for me. Interrupted me in meetings, presented my ideas as their own and basked in the praise. Men got paid more, got more promotions, and called me honey, whistled at me in the streets. I took self-defense classes to protect myself at night. They told me to smile. Praised my work and then told me I wasn’t ready for that raise.

Yes, sexism is hard to explain. As Kel Campbell writes, “The door isn’t the thing. For me, the incident this morning was a bang-on metaphor for my experiences as a woman. The millions of small ways that I’ve been forced to surrender to men, who made me move or change or come to them because they felt like it. The ways that I’ve had to change my path in magnitudes great and small”.

Every woman lives with daily experiences of sexism. It’s such a common thing that many of us don’t even bother to consciously acknowledge it anymore. Or we swallow and carry on. Sexism is often described as gender-based prejudice. But sexism is much more.

Gender-based prejudice is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender. Both women and men can experience gender-based prejudice. And it is not just men perpetuating this prejudice. Women perpetuate gender norms and discriminate against women too. When I was Training Manager at New Horizons in Oregon, Valerie, the president of the company, treated men and women quite differently. She was known to belittle, yell, and brow beat women employees. I never once witnessed that behavior towards a man. Studies have shown that women, as well as men, interrupt women 2-3 times more often than they interrupt men[i]. A 2013 study of hiring practices in STEM industries found that: “…when the hiring manager (both men and women) had no other information other than a candidate’s gender, they were twice as likely to hire a man than a woman, because they incorrectly believed that men are more talented in science and math…” [ii]

And yes, men do experience gender-based prejudice as well, but men don’t experience it quite the same way that women do.

That difference is privilege (or power). Men have a whole system of history, traditions, and assumptions giving their words a weight that women don’t have access to. And with that power, gender-based prejudice becomes sexism.

Sexism is ingrained into institutions like the education system, religious bodies, the legal system, the media, governments, and corporations. These institutions have power, and often – intentionally or not –uphold male privilege while oppressing women.[iii]

But we can say, “women now go to space, women run companies, go to war, men are stay-at-home dads. Women and men share family responsibilities like child care, cleaning, and bringing “home the bacon”.” Women today buy their own homes, spend their own money, determine their own careers.

So why do we still need to talk about sexism?

Because just like racism, sexism still permeates every social interaction we have and even influences our inner dialog. And it affects women’s earning power, physical health, and mental well-being.

I realized how oppressive this constant noise was when I first stepped on to “the land”. A fond term for the amazing space created by thousands of women coming together every August in Michigan for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which sadly ended in 2015 after a 40-year run. There were no men. Anywhere. Women built three huge stages, laid pipes for water and electrified all the meeting tents. They chopped wood and tended huge cooking fires to help feed 5-8 thousand women. Women provided spaces and services to support mothers, differently-abled and aging women. The first time I attended, it took me several days to notice the blessed mental quiet and the relief from having to constantly check my surroundings for safety. It was a freedom I have never experienced anywhere else; a sense of safety I have never experienced anywhere else. Women helped women, women supported women. Women built and ran the whole thing with a ferocious competence. And there was a blessed silent space in my head to be myself.

But stepping off the land after a week of living that freedom meant re-integrating into a world permeated with a constant loud barrage of sexist microaggressions. It was always a shock.

What are microaggressions? Microaggressions are defined as “small, subtle, often unconscious actions that marginalize people in oppressed groups”. It was coined in the ‘70s to discuss the subtle acts of racism that were prominent in society. Since then, it has been used to describe the unconscious ways we further marginalize people. They are the little things you do or say every day that are harmful, and oppressive, to women. That hurt. That make us feel less valued. That put us in our place.

They are the jokes “I was just trying to be funny”; the backhanded compliments “You are so strong for a woman”; the unwanted chivalry “let me wrestle this armload of stuff out of your arms and carry it for you”; the unwanted advice about everything, i.e.: mansplaining; the constant interruptions or not even being allowed to speak at a meeting; the co-opting of a meeting by the one man present; the constant coercion to say yes after I’ve said no, and NO; being asked to smile because “you are so much prettier when you smile”.

It’s also the defensiveness and dismissiveness, and sometimes anger, we are faced with when trying to confront a man on his sexist remarks or behaviors.

And we are not immune to these microaggressions here at UUS:E. I witnessed this interaction between an older boy and a younger girl downstairs after RE. “Ah, come on, join in. I know you want to do it.” The girl shakes her head no. “What, are you scared? It will be fun. Come on.” The girl shakes her head and she is now looking down, cowering out of the way. Another girl defends her and says, “she doesn’t want to, leave her alone”. But, the boy keeps pressing, badgering the child for a “yes”. I stopped it with a “That’s enough, she said no”.

Sexism is everywhere and it is learned early.

We as a society, as a community, as people, need to work towards Gender Equality. In education, business, media, simple personal interactions. We must strive daily towards the goal of “The inherent worth and dignity of every person”.

Gender equality was defined by the United Nations in 2001 this way:

“Equality between women and men (gender equality): refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female (and I will add here – or “other”). Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration – recognizing the diversity of different groups of women and men. Gender equality is not a ‘women’s issue’ but should concern and fully engage men as well as women. Equality between women and men is seen both as a human rights issue and as a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centered development.”[iv]

Just as with racism, ageism or any other ism, we need to examine our own day-to-day interactions. We need to listen to ourselves, notice our responses. Call ourselves on our own stuff.

So, where do we start?[v]

  1. Educate yourself about systemic sexism and microaggressions in society today. Examine policies, practices and procedures for hidden discriminatory language and actions. Examine your own automatic beliefs and responses. Advocate for change.
  2. Speak out when you witness a remark or action that is inherently sexist. Apologize when you make the same mistake. Defend a friend.
  3. Don’t interrupt. Listen more; talk less. Refrain from offering unwanted or off topic advice.

This one is one of my biggest irritations…

  1. Accept that no, means no. Quit badgering me.
  2. Stop pretending you aren’t sexist.

In the works of Kel Campbell, “I cannot tell a man about the endless parade of minor indecencies, artful put-downs, implicit shushes, subtle dismissals, or friendly coercions under the cover of niceness. Without the experiences to go with it, he simply cannot understand what it’s like to be a woman.”

Thank you,

[i] http://www.thedebrief.co.uk/news/real-life/women-are-more-likely-to-be-interrupted-than-men-says-new-study-20140511293

[ii] http://www.bizcoachinfo.com/archives/18618 and http://www.pnas.org/content/111/12/4403.abstract

[iii] http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/sexism-vs-prejudice/

[iv] Gender Mainstreaming: Strategy for Promoting Gender Equality, Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women rev. August 2001. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/factsheet1.pdf, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/conceptsandefinitions.htm

[v] Adapted from https://sojo.net/articles/our-white-friends-desiring-be-allies


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How Do We Get There?

by Marsha Howland

A week ago Saturday, August 26, was Women’s Equality Day in the United States, as established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1971. Show of hands – How many of you knew that before I mentioned it?

I’m not surprised. This is hardly a Hallmark holiday.

August 26 wasn’t chosen at random to be Women’s Equality Day. On that day in 1920, the Constitutional amendment that granted women the right to vote went into effect, having been ratified by the states just eight days earlier. (By the way, women of color didn’t have the right to vote until legislation was passed in the 1960s. A topic, perhaps, for another day.)

August 26 was also International Dog Day. I received a handful of emails and Facebook posts about Women’s Equality Day and dozens about Dog Day – and I’m a feminist cat person. Maybe that says something about our priorities.

Priorities – when I was growing up in the 1950s, my priority was having as much fun as possible with my two older brothers and the other kids in the neighborhood, most of whom were boys. I turned into what was called a tomboy. Oh, like Carol I wore dresses and skirts to school and had to behave like a “little lady.” But I was more comfortable in my corduroys, a jersey and my red Keds. I climbed trees, did somersaults jumping off the garage roof, and played sports. My father taught me to swing a bat and throw a baseball, and I got pretty good at the game. My mother taught me to manipulate the boys into fighting over me when they were bucking up for sides.

My parents encouraged me to do anything I wanted to do, and my brothers were with the program, too. In junior high I decided I wanted to be the first female governor of Massachusetts; then I decided that wasn’t good enough, and I wanted to be the first woman president. (Clearly, I got sidetracked.)

In high school I decided I’d had enough of boys running and dominating everything. My varsity basketball team had to fight for practice time; the boys’ varsity and junior varsity teams had the gym all the time. When we threatened not to play unless we got the same practice time, we were bused to a tiny elementary school gym after classes. We won a statewide invitational tournament that year, my senior year; the boys did so badly their won-loss record wasn’t included in the yearbook sports roundup.

And a male classmate of mine – a member of the boys’ basketball team – was adamant that girls shouldn’t play sports.

Boys also ran student government, dominated class offices (and classrooms) and headed most extracurricular activities.

I had had enough. I applied to only one college, Wellesley, which was and still is a college for women only. Women ran every student organization. Everywhere I looked, women were in charge. It was exhilarating.

I took advantage of the education and experiences Wellesley had to offer, and then went out into the world. My first real job was as a sports reporter. A rarity in 1974. You imagine the responses I often – but not always – received. More than once men came to my defense. I wish they hadn’t had to.

In my other jobs I encountered all the sexist stuff you’re familiar with. Men taking credit for my ideas or my work. Sexual harassment. Pay inequality. Being laughed at or sneered at in meetings.

Many would say our society is very different, now. They would be wrong. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris can tell you about being interrupted or denied the right to speak. Women at all levels can attest to pay inequality; according to Business Insider, in this country, white women are paid 75 cents on the dollar compared to men; black women are paid 60 cents on the dollar; Hispanic women, 55.

What do we do about all of this, and the many micro aggressions Carol talked about?

We change hearts. And we begin that by changing minds.

Yes, women must call out the men who tell sexist jokes, commit sexual harassment – or worse – and demand that it stop.

This won’t be easy. Women will get the usual responses like “boys will be boys” and “it’s just locker room talk.” They’ll be subjected to workplace retribution. They will face worse in courtrooms, where they will be bullied and blamed for the assaults that are on trial. Women need to have the strength to stand up to these things, stand up for themselves. We will not always be successful, but more and more successes will happen, making it better for the next generations of women and girls.

Our male allies will have to stand up, too. Women and men will have to work together. We are, after all, seeking equality – not the dominance of one gender over the other.

The most important thing we can do to reach hearts, by reaching minds first, is to raise our children in ways that encourage equality. So far, this effort has mostly focused on girls, many of whom are now told they can do and be anything they want to. Girls are encouraged to play sports, run for – and win – school leadership positions. Real progress is being made.

But what about boys? How do we raise feminist sons?

In a June 1st story of a similar title in The New York Times – one that I recommend ­– Claire Cain Miller argues, rightly I believe, that “boys’ worlds are still confined.” The advice she gleaned from a wide range of experts, she writes, “applied broadly: to anyone who wants to raise children who are kind, confident and free to pursue their dreams.”

In several nutshells, this is what she advises:

Let him cry

(And express all of his emotions, even, and perhaps especially, the “girlie” ones.)

Give him role models

(Strong male AND female role models. Do the same for girls.)

Let him be himself

(Children aren’t born with preferences for dolls or trucks, pink or blue. Until the mid-20th century, pink was the color for boys; blue was the color for girls. So go ahead – put pink parkas on your toddler sons. One of my nephews and his wife did exactly that with their son.)

Teach him to take care of himself

(The author quotes Anne-Marie Slaughter, chief executive of the think tank New America: “Teach our sons to cook, clean and look after themselves – to be equally competent in the home as we would expect our daughters to be in the office.”)

Teach him to take care of others

(The author also writes, “Enlist boys’ help making soup for a sick friend or visiting a relative in the hospital. Give them responsibilities caring for pets and younger siblings.”)

Share the work

(Probably a no-brainer. Men can cook; women can mow the lawn.)

Encourage friendships with girls

Teach ‘no means no’

Speak up when others are intolerant

(Miller writes: “ ‘Boys will be boys’ is not an excuse for bad behavior” – at any age, I would add.)

Never use ‘girl’ as an insult

Read a lot, including about girls and women

(As Miller says, “Read about a wide variety of people, and stories that break the mold, not just those about boys saving the world and girls needing to be saved.”

Celebrate boyhood

The author writes: “Teach boys to show strength ­– the strength to acknowledge their emotions. Teach them to provide for their families – by caring for them. Show them how to be tough – tough enough to stand up to intolerance. Give them confidence – to pursue whatever they’re passionate about.”)

Good advice all around.

I believe that we, as Unitarian Universalists, are uniquely prepared to do all of these things. Our first principle, “To affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” is a very deeply held belief. The word “affirm” conveys that belief; the word “promote” requires us to take action on it.

Other Unitarian Universalist principles support this principle. “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations” and “The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all” are also deeply held beliefs that we bring to life with our actions.

There are many feminists in this room, both female and male. We are more than strong allies; we are sister and brother believers – and we are committed to living our beliefs, to bringing them into the wider world, to modeling what our beliefs can accomplish.

When it comes to women’s equality, we still have a long way go. Let us lead the way.

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September Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

As summer begins to wind down, I begin my 15th year as the Unitarian Universalist Society: East’s minister. If I have my facts correct, I am now the congregation’s longest-serving minister in its 48-year history!

This congregational year will be different than usual in that I will be taking a long overdue sabbatical from October 2nd to February 3rd. During my sabbatical, I will be working on a novel that I started on my first sabbatical in 2007. My goal is to complete this novel, though writing fiction is so different from writing sermons, that I have no idea whether achieving this goal will actually be possible. I am very much looking forward to this project, and I cannot express enough my gratitude to the Policy Board and to the congregation for granting me this time.

Ministerial sabbaticals can be anxiety-producing for members and friends who rely on the minister’s presence, especially on Sunday mornings. Please know that the Sunday Services Committee is working with me to plan compelling, life-affirming worship services during my time away. Local UU ministers will be filling the pulpit on many Sundays. The Sunday Services Committee is a talented group of people, many of whom were on the committee during my last sabbatical. They know what to do! They will provide excellent services in my absence.

For pastoral crises that require ministerial presence, we will have a list of local UU (and possibly other) clergy who are available. In the event of a pending death or an actual death, I will certainly come away from my sabbatical to provide care and to conduct a memorial service. All the other regular caring activities performed by our Pastoral Friends Committee will continue without interruption during my sabbaticals.

If you have any questions or concerns about what happens at UUS:E when the minister is on sabbatical, please do not hesitate to contact me. I like to think we are taking care of every important detail, but you may have a question or concern we have not yet thought of. And whether or not we’ve thought of everything, UUS:E has strong leaders and a strong staff who function wonderfully whether I am present or not!

Despite my absence this fall, UUS:E is brimming over with activity and there are many exciting ventures, including our Youth Group “Experilearn” project, our congregational growth initiatives, work on our new congregational vision statement, and our discernment around what it means to be a “Sanctuary Congregation.” All of this is over and above our long-standing programs such as children’s religious education, adult religious education, music, sustainable living, membership, social justice, the holiday fair and much, much more.

When I return in February, I am looking forward to teaching courses on UU Humanism and UU Paganism, updating UUS:E’s Safe Congregation policy in light of new “best practices,” finalizing UUS:E’s vision statement, and hopefully adding a part-time Membership Coordinator to our staff.

As always, there is much more that lies ahead. For now, our annual season of Homecoming is here. Though our spiritual community never officially stops, we do say “welcome home” in September. So, WELCOME HOME friends! I hope you have a wonderful year at UUS:E.

With love,

–Rev. Josh

What Do We Really Know?

First Reading.  This from former Senator, scholar, and public intellectual, Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.  The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” (March 2003)

Second Reading.

From financier, philanthropist, and statesman Bernard Baruch, writing in June 1950:

“Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”

And this from former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, at a February 2002, press conference on the lack of evidence linking Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups:

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

I know I swore at the television when I heard Donald Trump enthuse about his love for the “poorly educated” after his primary win in Nevada last year. Among the countless cringe-worthy comments made by candidate Trump, this one really got to me.  It was one more sign of the shrinking respect for learning in our society. We are witnessing in our public life, the continued, and too often deliberate, corrosion of our commitment to rational inquiry, deep learning, and the institutions that sustain them.

My fear is this: If we Surrender to Stupid, we, as a liberal democracy and religious community, will forfeit any claim we have to the values that define us. We cannot be complicit in allowing trust in the promise and ideal of learning to crumble.

At the core of this threat is a personal and collective hubris, an extreme and unjustified claim to superior knowledge, an overblown sense of self-assurance, an excess of arrogance, and an inflated sense of competence. If we talked about sin here – which we don’t— I’ve talked to Josh about it –intellectual hubris, or more properly, the hubris of ignorance, would rank right up there.  As an open invitation to bad choices, it’s not a good basis for trying to build the free, fair, just, and compassionate society to which we aspire.

I remember when my father would greet his friends, typically by a “Hey,what do you know?”, or, more accurately, “Whaddya know?”  The response was almost always, “not much”, sometimes,  “nothing”, “how about you?”

Researchers have continued to increase understanding of how we think and how we come to know things. It’s no big surprise that my Dad’s generation was not far off. In computer terms, one researcher calculated that, give or take, we each store about 1 gigabyte of information. I don’t know whether that’s a lot or a little, but I can tell you we just bought an SD card smaller than a fingernail that holds 64 gigabytes of memory.  The real issue, however, is not how much information we store, but how we use it to think, to anticipate how to act based on information and experience, make some inferences about cause and effect, and with that, hopefully, make good choices.

It’s a behavior that expects and accepts complexity and rejects simplism.  This really is a word. I looked it up. It does not have the virtuous connotation of “it’s a gift to be simple,” or the concession that a complex issue is being introduced in a simplistic manner.  Rather, it suggests a much more pervasive set of perceptions and behaviors, much like those captured in terms like sexism, ageism, or racism. The first time I heard Donald Rumsfeld’s tongue twister about the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown knowns, I thought it was just more babble from the Bush people. That reflexive reaction, grounded deeply in my distaste for President Bush, his men, and his policies, was a great example of doing what I’m criticizing here, namely, responding emotionally and mindlessly to words that made no sense to me at the time. In hindsight, it turns out to be a pretty good framework for untangling complex issues. It’s the difference between the problem-solver and the know-it-all. I probably don’t need to tell you that these are folks whose natural habitat seems to be everywhere. They speak with convincing certainty and will beat you up verbally until you agree that they’re right. These folks, I’m sure, inspired the term, “knows just enough to be dangerous.” You don’t want to talk politics or religion with them.

Cognitive researchers have confirmed what people have suspected for thousands of years, namely, that we think we know more than we do, and that individually, our smarts don’t take us very far.  It is true that we sit at the top of the food chain, and we’re smarter than all the other plants and animals. At least as far as we know.  But can you describe how a toilet works, how an ATM gives you money, how a zipper works, how the best ice cream is made? Or why the snorer can’t hear the snore? Could you fix any of them? Could you write a 10 page essay on the life of Martin Luther King based on what you know right now?

Here’s the reality. First, except for the very few things that we’re especially skilled at, we know just enough to get by. With few exceptions, our knowledge of the world around us and how things work, is shallow and superficial.  The typical analogies are “just the tip of the ice-berg”, or “a mile wide and an inch deep”.  Perhaps a better image is of a tree, which we see above ground, but know that there is a deep and complex root system that has nourished, shaped, and secured the small part we can actually see above ground. We are limited by time, energy, and memory in our ability to fully understand the complex ecological, mechanical, and technological systems that engulf us. So, we learn enough to function reasonably well in our daily lives, despite our personal limitations.

Second, what enables big things to happen in society is not any one individual, but many people with distinct, specialized skills working in some kind of collaborative fashion. Because we just can’t know everything we need to know to survive and thrive, we must trust in community to divvy up and share the mental and physical labor that keeps us going. The concept is as simple as it sounds. Different people in the community have different gifts and graces from which all may gain or lose.

Let me give a quick example.  The day after I met Judi, who is now my wife, I took her to lunch at my favorite restaurant. Once we had worked around the splinters in the picnic table bench, I asked her what she liked to do (I was a pretty smooth talker back then).  She said she liked to cook. I said I liked to eat. That sealed it.  Details continue to be refined, of course, but it began as an excellent and satisfying division of labor. Now just imagine the range of specialized knowledge and social interactions required to a build our cars, planes, cellphones, and computer networks.

Here’s where the Hubris of Ignorance gets to be dangerous. If citizens have an exaggerated and unjustified view of their intelligence, they’re not likely to do the hard work of learning about complex systems. They’re way more likely to embrace simplism than acknowledge complexity.

And we live in a society that strives to simplify complexity.  This is certainly true for our technologies.  We used to have to go to the bank, the hardware store, or the pharmacy. My grandmother told us stories of using the crank phone to call the operator. I grew up in a house where you put your finger in a dial and spun it until you had all your numbers. Now we just press, swipe and tap.  To buy, we open a keyboard, link to Amazon, search, enter, tap, and open the box one or two days later.

These efforts to simplify our lives gives us what we need to help make our way in an society disrupted by rapid social change. Just think about the term, ‘user friendly.”  The danger here is when we begin to feel that our mastery of a few basic keystrokes, or mere mention of a president’s name is the same as understanding how a smartphone, computer, or presidential administration actually works.

There’s no evidence that Americans are any less smart than they were 50 or even 100 years ago. The problem is that at least some people think they’re bright when they’re not. It’s even got a name, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, after the psychologists who described it in 1999. What they found is that the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you are not actually dumb.  Although they refer to these folks in correct terms as “unskilled” or “incompetent”, their key finding is the same: “Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.” (Death of Expertise, p. 41) We should be careful, however,  not to imagine an ‘us’ and ‘them’, when these traits are likely spread throughout the population.

That said, their vote counts the same as yours.

Now to be fair, we all overestimate what we know. Once we see that we don’t do so well on a task, however, we scale back our self-assessment. The difference is that the “unskilled” or “incompetents” do not have the ability or self-awareness to know when they’re not very good at something, by stepping back, looking at what they’re done, and recognize that they’ve done it wrong.

Moreover, there is simply no way to educate or inform these folks, who, when in doubt, will make things up. For example, in one cluster of surveys, the researchers asked if their subjects knew about certain technical concepts from physics, biology, politics, and geography.  Most said they were familiar with genuine terms like centripetal force and photon. But they also claimed they were familiar with plates of parallax, ultra-lipid, and cholarine. These are all made up terms. In another study, nearly 90 percent claimed some knowledge of at least one of the 9 fake concepts in their survey. (Death of Expertise, pp 45-46)

Let me share one more example.  In 2015, a survey asked Democrats and Republicans if they would support bombing Agrabah.  If you’ve watched survey reports, you know how dramatically these two tribes differ in their responses to policy and opinion questions. Nearly one third of the Republicans expressed support for such action; 13 percent opposed it.  Only 19 percent of Democrats supported bombing, while 36 percent opposed.

Does anyone know about Agrabah?  It’s the setting for the Disney feature, Aladdin. And before you dismiss this as a gotcha’ moment, grasp the reality here: 43 percent of the Republicans and 55 percent of the Democrats took a clear position on bombing a fictional place in a cartoon.

Now, let’s give a little boost to the Hubris of Ignorance, by stirring in our natural inclination to seek opinion and information that reinforces our prejudices and preferences, and emboldens us to disparage and dismiss contradictory information. This is the now famous Confirmation Bias. We all do it.  If we don’t like what we read or hear we dismiss it and look somewhere else. That’s what Google’s for. For me, Fox is hard to watch, but for many others, it’s the information and attitude source of choice.

Consider how you feel about fossil fuels, immigration, vaccination, tax reform, gun control, opioids, white supremacists, or anything to do with the production or consumption of food.  Now think about why you feel that way and where you get your information. Finally, ask whether you could conduct a balanced three- hour workshop on one of these without doing any further research.  These are rhetorical questions, so we don’t need to have a show of hands.

This human tendency to exaggerate what we know, to be unaware of the limits of our own knowledge, and to select for reinforcement of our deeply held values, may be annoying or distracting at a personal level. Put this together with a cultural tradition of anti-intellectualism, extreme egalitarianism (“I’m as good as you and the next guy”.”); aggressive substitution of personal opinion for factual reality (“I’ve been in the real world, and I know just as much as the nerds with the white coats.”); a sense of grievance, victimhood, and unfair treatment (“They don’t work, and the government still sends them a check.”); a preference for force to resolve conflict (“I like that he doesn’t back down to anyone, he just pushes right back.”); a strong inclination toward simple rather than complex realities; and a lack of respect for expertise, and you’ve got a volatile, unstable mix. You don’t have to look any further than Charlottesville last week.

Let me give you an example of how hard people work to find information they like, and reject that which they don’t. White supremacists have been quick to adopt the easy to use genetic testing services to prove their racial identity, then discuss the results on on-line forums. Craig Cobb, described as a “gun-toting white supremacist” went on daytime TV for a reality moment that went bad when the host read results that showed he was only 86 percent European, and 14 percent Sub-Saharan African. Cobb, like many other white supremacists, found that their ancestry was not as ‘white” as they had hoped.  Their response was to urge one another to rethink the validity of the genetic test, and then, get retested by another service.

I suspect that the exaggerated sense of personal knowledge, hubris, confirmation bias, and a preference for simplism over complexity, has also inspired a new vocabulary, likely unknown to the Founding Fathers, terms like alternative facts, post-truth, post-factual, or false amplifiers. In 2004, President George Bush’s political advisor, Karl Rove invoked the phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community”, he told a reporter, “believe that [the] solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality…. That’s  not the way the world really works anymore.”

And this from Stephen Colbert, in his persona of the right wing populist pundit, introducing the Word for the night, Truthiness: “Now I’m sure some of the ’word police’, the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books.  They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true.  Or what did or didn’t happen.  Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books – they’re all fact, no heart…Face it, folks, we are a divided nation…divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart…Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.”

Colbert does what the best political satire does: focus with laser precision on a wonky corner of our politics.  This celebration of instinct (the “gut”) and rejection of reason (expertise and learning) explains much about the fractures in our society. Rove clearly recognizes the traditional expectation that policies will have some basis in “discernible reality”, but then cynically recognizes the new reality of unreality. Politicians, predominantly those on the right, have been vocal in their attacks of science, especially the environmental (they don’t like climate research) and social sciences.

You see it clearly in their budgets. One of the best examples is the congressional ban (engineered in collaboration with the National Rifle Association) on the Centers for Disease Control from spending money to research the effects of gun violence.

This mix of shallow knowledge, willful ignorance, sustained and fueled by the hubris of shamefully wealthy patrons, is a toxic recipe for undermining a representative democracy.

Why does this matter to us?  Because we are called,  in the spirit of prophetic witness, to raise our voices whenever, wherever, and in whatever ways, freedom and human dignity are under attack. To promote– with malice of forethought– the corruption of reason and knowledge in a democracy is such an assault. It is a moral affront to both our civic and religious society. If we are blind to these assaults on reason, we give up a core piece of who we are. Lest we underestimate how much we cherish these values — dignity, freedom, justice, equity, compassion, democracy, peace, and harmony with the earth–just remember how you felt after the 2016 election when it seemed that these had been stomped and crushed.

We will not reverse this slide on our own. We’re limited in time, numbers, and resources. We also have our own blinders.  There are some things we just don’t talk about. (Because we don’t talk about them I won’t say what they are.) But our most important asset for pushing back against Willful Ignorance is to support and nurture this place not just as a spiritual home, but as a place of learning.  Here, through sermons, lectures, workshops, art, literature and film, and the unique knowledge of friends and members, we can learn things that matter, and re-learn the enduring truths of love, compassion, justice, and care for the stranger. We can support one another as we write, call out deceitful politicians, and, dare I say, speak with the confidence of an educated elite — in the appropriately humble manner, of course.

Finally, we need to nurture, sustain, and protect a still, quiet place, a sanctuary that provides respite from the unsettling changes, social turbulence, and coarseness that swirls around us.  Even as we engage these challenges to freedom and equity, we still need our bridge over troubled water.  We need a place that welcomes and accepts simple mysteries on their own terms. They are just what they are. I don’t need to know about the atmospheric physics or chemistry that turns the sky pink and blue-gray at dusk to get great pleasure from it.  And I know from hearing your stories that you find great joy in such simple mysteries as well.

There is no way I could express this idea any better than Mary Oliver does in her poem,

“Nothing is Too Small To Be Wondered About”*

The cricket doesn’t wonder

            If there’s a heaven

Or, if there is, if there’s room for him.

 

It’s fall.  Romance is over. Still, he sings.

If he can, he enters a house

            through the tiniest crack under the door.

Then the house grows colder.

 

He sings slower and slower.

            Then, nothing.

 

This must mean something, I don’t know what.

            But certainly it doesn’t mean

he hasn’t been an excellent cricket

            all his life.*

So, what should we really know?

 * From Mary Oliver, Felicity – Poems, (Penguin Press, New York), 2016

 

by Lauriston King, Unitarian-Universalist Society: East, August 27, 2017 (Revised August 28, 2017)

 

Sources and Additional Reading:

Curt Anderson, “How America Lost Its Mind”, The Atlantic, September 2017.

Al Gore, The Assault on Reason, (Penguin Press, 2007)

Jerome Groopnik, How Doctor’s Think, (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007)

Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise – The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, (Oxford University Press, 2017)

Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach, The Knowledge Illusion – Why We Never Think Alone, (Riverhead Books, New York, 2017)

Reclaiming Humanism

Dr. Mtangulizi Sanyika addressing the 2017 UUA General Assembly

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Unitarian Universalism knew Dr. Mtangulizi Sanyika[1] as Hayward Henry, chair of the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus (BUUC), a Black Power organization within the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Under his leadership BUUC advocated—initially successfully—for the UUA to dedicate one million dollars to a Black Affairs Council (BAC) to organize and fund projects for Black self-determination around the United States.[2] This funding was highly controversial. Almost as soon as the 1968 Cleveland General Assembly voted on a plan to disburse the money, the UUA’s board of trustees began backtracking on the commitment.[3] The controversy continued over the next few years, only a portion of the money was disbursed, and as many as 1500 Black Unitarian Universalists left the denomination, profoundly disappointed in the UUA’s inability to fulfill its promises. I had always understood this leave-taking was due primarily to the funding controversy. However, when Dr. Sanyika spoke at the 2017 New Orleans General Assembly, he offered a different interpretation. 

(The section I’m quoting begins at 15:00) “When we were within this denomination,” he said, “ we initiated a dialogue on something called Black Humanism…. When we left in 1969, that was not a walk out. It was an exodus. It was an exodus because we no longer felt we had a home. We no longer felt the love and care. We no longer felt that Black Humanism was on the agenda to be discussed…. We’ve always said human agency is at the center of transformation, but you can’t do it without divine reconciliation. We said we can be theist and non-theist—I know some of you want to argue that point…. I don’t mind talking about it, because we were no longer talking about kindergarten theology with no spookistic white guy sittin’ up in no sky…. We were criticizing the church, across the board. Not just UUism…. there can be no Humanism without discussing Black Humanism. It can’t be. Why? Because we are a part of the human family who has contributed to the discourse on what it means to be human. So we invite that conversation with everybody who claims to have some form of Humanism in their background. But you must remember you have a history of Christian Humanism in your background too. So, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water and say there is nothing but humanity, because once you do that you reinforce White Supremacy without even knowing you’re doing it. So, the conversation about Black Humanism is really a conversation about salvation. But it’s about the salvation of all humanity…. Just like Black Lives Matter, Black Humanism matters. But so does all humanity, so does all other Humanism that seeks justice and transformation and peace.”[4]

Dr. Sanyika says the exodus happened not simply because the denomination was unwilling to fully fund BAC. Black people also left for explicitly theological reasons. The UUA, whose dominant theological identity was Humanist, would not make space for Black Humanism. At least some Black UU Humanists were theistic,[5] meaning they maintained belief in God—though clearly not God in any traditional sense—“no spookistic white guy sittin’ up in no sky.” But the dominant form of Humanism in Unitarian Universalism was atheistic. Its theological assumption was, essentially, “there is nothing but humanity.” Black Humanism—at least the strand Dr. Sanyika represents—needed more. “We’ve always said human agency is at the center of transformation, but you can’t do it without divine reconciliation.” Finding no room for such reconciliation in the UUA, they left.

I’d never heard this argument before. It shook me up—in a good way. It inspired me to take stock of my own UU Humanist identity and reclaim it. I am a Unitarian Universalist Humanist, yet it has taken me a long time to speak those words with conviction. I have been ambivalent about my Humanism. But we live in uncertain times. We live with a variety of threats to our liberal faith, to democracy, to our health, to our social cohesion, to our planet. This is no time for spiritual ambivalence. I want to tell you about my journey into ambivalence and why Dr. Sanyika’s words have drawn me out of it.

As a child in the Unitarian Society of New Haven, most adults identified theologically as Humanists. I understood that to mean a few things. First and foremost, it meant placing human beings at the center of the religious life, specifically free and autonomous human beings. Humanism prioritized free thought, free inquiry, the free and the responsible search for truth and meaning. It embraced the results of science. It allowed and encouraged people to change their beliefs in response to new evidence. Humanism said the individual arrives at authentic, personal belief through the exercise of reason.

In our church most Humanists were atheists. Our Humanism removed God from the center of religion. The gods remained available to us as objects of study; but God was no longer the object of worship on Sunday morning, no longer integral to the spiritual life of the community. At its best this atheistic UU Humanism stood for human liberation. At its best it replaced the capricious whims of inscrutable deities and oppressive religious and secular hierarchies with individual human agency and creativity. At the heart of the world’s scriptures, it found poetry and wisdom rather than rigid doctrines and forever-sealed truths. It called for social and economic justice in this life on this earth, not in some future new life on some future new earth. It invited every human being to do their own thinking and feeling on spiritual matters rather than accept without question the pronouncements of religious authorities. At its best. I am forever grateful to this atheistic UU Humanism for imparting to me a strong religious identity, for nurturing me, loving me, instilling confidence in me, and sending me forth into the world with a hopeful, committed heart.

So where did my ambivalence come from? We weren’t always at our best. Our atheistic Humanist UU congregation developed a spiritual allergy to any God-talk that approached belief. It got nervous, even angry, around any God-talk that sought to bring God back to the center. We kept our spiritual distance from theism, and although I didn’t recognize it as a child, I learned to not take theism seriously, a message which runs counter to our third UU principles, “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.” People who believed in God, especially in a traditional God, were not as enlightened as we Humanists—not as rational, thoughtful, or discriminating in their understanding of ultimate things. We believed believers had been duped, deceived, misled, manipulated. How could they not see it? Their religion was outdated, anachronistic, an opiate, a crutch, a source of ‘pie in the sky,’ but not true spiritual freedom, not liberation. Their God was that spookistic white guy. Wouldn’t they be more happy not having all the answers?

We could be smug. Not always, and not everyone, but it was there. Nor was it unique to that church. Those of you who’ve been long-time members of this congregation report dynamics similar to waht I’m describing. Atheistic Humanism was the dominant spiritual identity in the majority of Unitarian Universalist congregations in the late 60s and early 70s when my family first became involved—the same era when theistic Black Humanism was asking for a seat at the UU theological table. My understanding is that this ‘not-our-best’ dynamic was denomination-wide, and it likely had something to do with why Dr. Sanyika said “We non longer felt that Black Humanism was on the agenda to be discussed.”

Nevertheless, as a child, and even as a college student, I didn’t recognize the distance between myself and traditional theists—or any theists for that matter. It wasn’t until I entered seminary in the 1990s that I began to question my atheistic Humanism. Seminary was the first time I had to defend my religious identity in a diverse, interfaith community where people with more traditional views of God were visible, vocal, progressive and intelligent. This was the first time I encountered theists who were thinking deeply about God, reasoning, arguing, weighing evidence, not accepting without question, even contemplating atheism. And their faith was flourishing. I began to understand that theism isn’t one thing, that God isn’t only the spookistic white guy up in the sky. In fact, I never meant anyone who believed in that guy. I loved the religious identity of my childhood, but I realized that clinging to it too tightly in the seminary environment might actually prevent me from engaging in the free thought and interplay of ideas I valued so highly. Slowly, I began to suspect that, along with humanity, there might be a place for God at the center.

Through the course of my seminary training and into the early years of my ministry, I discovered truths about the human experience which hadn’t been offered to me as a child, and which ultimately made my atheistic UU Humanism feel inadequate. There were moments wherein my rational mind just didn’t cut it. There were moments of heartbreak and pain, vulnerability and fear—my own and that of others—and there were no adequate words to say, no evidence to weigh, no inquiry to conduct. In such moments all I could do was trust—without any evidence—that I or they would eventually arrive at the other side of heartbreak and pain.

There were moments of decision, moments when I could no longer stay in whatever pattern I was in; moments in which I needed to change; moments in which, no matter how much I prepared, I was not ready. I could not reason my way to an answer, could not anticipate what the full impact of my decision would be. All I could do is surrender, let go and fall into something new.

There were moments of intense joy, hope, love and there were no words! Just energy flowing, spirit animating; the recognition that I was experiencing a reality vastly larger than me.

There were moments wherein I was arrogant, prideful, smug and I needed some power beyond me to sit me down and counsel me on the virtue of humility, to demand that I stop talking and start listening.

There were moments of awe in the presence of beauty, and the only possible response from me was reverent silence.

And there were moments when I thought I was carrying myself, but suddenly realized never in my life had I ever carried myself alone. Communities carried me. Ancestors carried me. The earth carried me. Flowing energy and animating spirit carried me. I realized my life is carried, held, fed, nurtured, challenged by countless realities larger than me. Humanity, I realized, isn’t alone at the center of religion. I became comfortable using the word God to name the totality of these larger realities. I became a theist. I didn’t jettison humanity from the center—that would be folly. I simply put God back.

Our childhood spiritual lessons run deep. For me, Humanism was atheistic. I thought I had to lay it aside. That has been the source of my ambivalence. Of course, my ambivalence isn’t rational. I’ve always known you could be a Humanist and a theist. The Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association states clearly there is room for theism within Humanism.[6] I just haven’t used the Humanist label, perhaps out of respect for my atheistic Humanist UU elders. But my ambivalence hasn’t been serving me well in these uncertain times. It’s as if a part of me is missing, though I didn’t fully realize that until I heard Dr. Sanyika say “We’ve always said human agency is at the center of transformation, but you can’t do it without divine reconciliation.” At that moment I knew I wanted my Humanism back.   

Of course, I cannot claim a home in Black Humanism. That’s not my journey. I am also mindful that some Black Humanists are atheists. And I also am not suggesting that atheist UU Humanists—or any atheists—ought to become theists. I continue to support atheists in this congregation and elsewhere, and I will continue to speak out against the marginalization of atheists in American public life.

But I know this about me: While I need humanity at the center of my religion, I also need clarity about what realities larger than me are carrying me—what communities, what ground, what land, what ancestors, what beauty, what spirit, what visions of the future carry me? Coming to such clarity and letting it guide my life is a form of divine reconciliation.

I will always need humanity at the center of my religion, but when pain, heartbreak, vulnerability and fear are ascendant, I also need realities larger than myself into which I can place my trust. When life-changing decisions must be made without knowing fully the consequences of those decisions, I need realties larger than myself to catch me as I surrender, let go, fall. Learning to trust such larger realities is a form of divine reconciliation.

I will always need humanity at the center of my religion, but I also need sources of joy, hope and love larger than myself. Learning to draw on such sources is a form of divine reconciliation.

I will always need humanity at the center of my religion, but I also need realities larger than myself to quiet me, center me, ground me, surround me with silence, beseech me to listen, and keep me humble. Bowing down to such realities is a form of divine reconciliation.

I will always need humanity at the center of my religion, but I also need realities larger than myself to inspire and embolden me to take action for justice and liberation not only for my human siblings, but for the earth and all its creatures. Taking such action is a form of divine reconciliation.

I am a Unitarian Universalist Humanist. I say this with no ambivalence. Knowing that we live in uncertain times and with news of white nationalists and neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, each of us needs every piece of ourselves to remain clear about what’s happening, courageous in our actions, and spiritually whole, so that we respond at our best.

Amen and blessed be.



[1] To learn more about Dr. Sanyika, I recommend this powerful, short 2015 film by Darius Clark Monroe entitled Two Cities: A Portrait of Dr. Mtangulizi Sanyika at https://vimeo.com/137993474.

[2] One of the more well-known recipients of an early BAC grant was Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa.

[3] For a historical timeline of the controversy, see: http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/adults/river/workshop15/178882.shtml.

[4] Dr. Mtangulizi Sanyika, address to the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, June 23rd, 2017. See: http://smallscreen.uua.org/videos/ga2017-303-dr-sanyika-presentation.

[5] For a relatively recent article on Black Humanism, see Pinn, Anthony B, “Anybody There? Reflections on African American Humanism,” Journal of the HUUmanists Association, vo. 31, #3, 1997. http://huumanists.org/publications/journal/anybody-there-reflections-african-american-humanism.

[6] See the ‘frequently asked questions’ section of the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association website at http://huumanists.org/faq-page#n4639.