Archives for May 2017

Black Lives Matter Sign(s)!

Black Lives MatterAt the 2016 Unitarian Universalist Society: East annual meeting, the congregation agreed to put up a Black Lives Matter sign on the roadside in front of our meeting house. Well, we’re now on sign number 5. You may have noticed that it’s no longer on the ground but up in a tree. The previous signs have all been removed by passersby who, we suspect, disagree with the message. Luckily, we bought a few backups and were prepared for this disagreement. We’ll see if they feel strongly enough to bring a ladder, climb up, take out nails and make off with this last sign. If that should happen, be assured we’ll order more signs and maybe find a more permanent way to display them. In cement?

We’re moving into a climate where intolerance is coming much more out into the open. As UUs, it’s important that we be just as open about our support for Black Lives Matter. It matters to those targeted by racism, but it’s also just as important for our own spiritual well-being for us to take a courageous stand.

White Supremacy at Unitarian Universalist Society: East?

A reflection from the Social Justice / Anti- Oppression Committee

With all we do to foster positive relations and support for people of the global majority, how can Rev. Josh (in his May 7 sermon) possibly say we are susceptible to white supremacy? We are not trying to squelch the right to vote or defending the police when another young black man is shot for a minor offense or sometimes for no reason at all.

What makes the unconscious sense of supremacy so difficult to perceive is its quietness. What we do actively as a congregation is very much trying to support people of color in achieving equality in education, in treatment by police, and in many other areas. But because the vast majority of us have grown up in an essentially racist society, we have become used to the many ways that people of color remain at the edges rather than at the center of life in the United States.

Much of this is unspoken and difficult to notice if one is not paying close attention. A young child of color might be punished more severely in school while a white child might just get a call to a parent or a reminder from the teacher for the exact same behavior. And it might even be more subtle than that, an omission rather than a commission. As Rev. Josh pointed out in his May 7th sermon, UUS:E has not set a formal goal of hiring a racially diverse staff. No one deliberately set out to exclude anyone—it just doesn’t occur to us in the normal course of events to encourage people of color to apply for jobs at UUS:E.

In the same way that women can recognize sexism in operation when men see themselves acting as they’ve always acted—what’s the problem?—people of the global majority can pick up on the minor, quiet, ways that white people and institutions reveal an unexamined sense of superiority. “This is how we do things.” And some of it is not even spoken—just a quiet assumption that whiteness is the standard by which everything else should be judged.

Here is a link to an online test that measures our automatic (as opposed to stated) preference for one race or another. Try it out—it’s pretty interesting. http://www.understandingprejudice.org/iat/racfram e.htm

We have much work to do in this area, personally and collectively. Watch for more on this topic.

June Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

The following meditation, entitled “Cooling Down,” is adapted from our new publication, Hear the Earth Call.

Summer approaches in earnest. May’s cool, dry, sunny days give way to June’s drenching, muggy heat. We melt. We wither. We stick. We shrink. We welcome any rain, any breeze. We welcome an ice-cold drink of anything on these hot, humid June afternoons. Whatever cools us down we welcome: lemonade, ice cream, popsicles, freeze pops, Italian ice, gelato, sherbet, sorbet, swimming pools, fountains, sprinklers, shade, shadows, clouds, dusk, sunset, evening, vespers, twilight, night,

A life of the spirit is like this. So often our greatest spiritual insights, our greatest truths, those elements of human experience that link us to the sacred and the transcendent—love, beauty, sorrow, joy, suffering, death—so often they too inhabit the cool places, the dark places. So often we encounter them in the life- giving shade, the cooling rain, the gentle breeze, the roaring thunder, the darkening night, the deepening dream, the widening ocean, the quenching of our thirst. So often we encounter them not in the glaring light and blazing heat but in the cool, dark places where we perceive less with our minds and more with our hearts.

As summer approaches, as the temperature and humidity continue to rise, along with our anxieties about what things cost, about war, about violence, about the earth; as we welcome that which cools our bodies, may we also welcome that which soothes our spirits. In our moments of spiritual melting, withering, sticking and shrinking may we welcome, too, those insights, those truths, those sacred and transcendent experiences that provide respite from whatever wears us down and dries out our souls. May we welcome and drink in the deepest truths of our lives, like the sip of a cold glass of lemonade, out on the porch, as a cool evening breeze begins to whisper on a hot June night.

Hear the Earth Call is a collection of my nature writing, accompanied by the photography of Duffy Schade, and designed by Sharon Gresk. The first printing will be arriving soon. If you have not yet purchased a copy and would like to, please contact the Unitarian Universalist Society: East office. All proceeds from book sales go to Unitarian Universalist Society: East.

Our ministry theme for June is “journeys.” As summer approaches, as the heat and humidity rise, it is my hope and prayer that each of you, in the midst of whatever journey you are on, has the opportunity to pause and to find rest, respite, insight and wisdom in the cool places, in the afternoon shadows, the evening breeze, the silver night, the morning dew. May the coolness refresh you and make you ready to continue on your way

With Love, Rev. Josh

UUS:E Partners with Artist Joe Young for “Imagine Main St.”

UUS:E is partnering with award-winning cartoonist, filmaker, producer, writer and educatior Joe Young at our Imagine Main St. booth, this coming Thursday evening, June 1, from 5:30 to 8:00. Mr. Young will teach kids (and adults) basic animation techniques using flip-books and pre-drawn comic strips. UUS:E members are also taking this opportunity to speak to Manchester residents about our support for the Black Lives Matter movement.  (Our booth will be located at 801 Main St., former site of the Great Harvest Bread Co.)

Info on Joe Young: 

Joe Young, is a Connecticut native, is a cartoonist, filmmaker, producer, writer, and educator. He is the creator of the socially engaged Scruples comic characters and the writer and executive producer of Hartford’s first major home grown book-to-film project, Diamond Ruff. In early 2015, Cinedigm Entertainment, the largest independent content provider in the United States, nationally distributed Diamond Ruff. Young is currently the President of Maurice Starr Entertainment/Joe Young! Studios headquartered in Hartford, CT, where he oversees many projects including the visual development of new boy band NK5. The company currently has multiple Billboard achievements. He currently sits as a board director of the non-profit organization The Foster Buddies Network. Young is founder and President of Joe Young Studios which, amongst other things, provides film and animation programming for youth in various Connecticut schools. He is also the Founder & Executive Director of the youth arts non-profit agency The Joe, Picture This Show/Hartford Animation and Film Institute. He is a former Guinness World Record Holder for creating the World’s Longest Comic Strip, which included the participation of thousands of Greater Hartford-based youth. In 1999 he received the prestigious Daily Point of Light Award from the White House for volunteering his time in bringing the arts to otherwise access-less youth. He has also received recognition from the Connecticut branch of N.A.A.C.P. as one of the 100 Most Influential Blacks in Connecticut, special community honor from Senator Christopher S. Murphy, the 100 Men of Color Award, and the Dr. Ivor Echols Community Service Award. He and his work have appeared in People, Ebony, GQ and Jet Magazine, the Boston Globe, New York Times, C-Span, CNN, the Black Family Channel and other national media outlets (www.joeyoung.org). 

Info on Imagine Main Street:

Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act in the Time of Trump

Adult Religious Education Program Announces

Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act in the Time of Trump
Monday, May 22, 2017, 7 PM

Attorney Judith Stein, founder and executive director of the non-profit Center for Medicare Advocacy, will discuss “Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act in the Time of Trump”, on Monday, May 22, 2017, 7 PM at Unitarian Universalist Society: East.  Free and open to the public.

Contact us at 860-646-5151 or uuse153@sbcglobal.net.

White Supremacy Teach-In

Rev. Josh Pawelek

During last year’s presidential campaign there was an almost constant outcry from white conservative and working class voters who were tired of being called racist. They were especially tired of progressive white people on the coasts and in large cities calling them racist. ‘Just because we want to end illegal immigration doesn’t mean we’re racist.’ ‘Just because we support law and order doesn’t mean we’re racist.’ ‘Just because we support a temporary Muslim ban doesn’t mean we’re racist.’ Even traditional white supremacists started asking, ‘if it’s ok to say black lives matter, why is it racist to say white lives matter?

As you may expect, I have responses to each of these arguments. Each of them, if enacted in real life, have racist outcomes, regardless of the intent of the people who promote them. But this White Supremacy Teach-In is not about other peoples’ racism. It is about how white supremacy continues to operate in our beloved Unitarian Universalist faith. I remember hearing that outcry during the campaign. I remember wondering for a moment: have I become a coastal elite, looking down my hypocritical nose at heartland, rust-belt and southern white people who support a candidate who expresses racist views? Some of you asked that same question: ‘Are we those coastal elites at whom conservative white voters are so angry?’ And to some degree, at least for me, the answer is ‘yes.’ I was—and continue to be—angry at not only the racism, but the misogyny, homophobia, religious bigotry and classism driving major policy proposals and executive orders in Washington, DC, and having a negative social, economic and political impact not only on people of color, indigenous people, women, GLBTQ people, Muslims, but on many of those angry white voters as well.

But if that is the extent of my analysis, then shame on me. If the problem, as I assess it, lies only with those people out there and not with me too, then not only have I become that stereotype of the liberal, coastal elite, but I don’t really understand how white supremacy works. If all I really do is point fingers at other people, am I not excusing myself from taking any responsibility for the problem? Whenever I heard that outcry—stop calling us racist!—I wondered if there might be some legitimacy to the request, but only for a moment. It’s not a legitimate request. But the reason I feel confident saying that is because I know the problem does not lie simply with Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Jeff sessions, Breitbart and Fox News, or police over-reaching, ICE deporting, and big energy companies building pipelines across lands sacred to indigenous people. It lies with white liberals too. It lies with me too. As much as our nation was founded on egalitarian ideals, it was also founded on an unexamined assumption and vision of white supremacy. Despite centuries of resistance, that foundation has yet to be sufficiently eroded, and thus white supremacy continues to move through virtually all aspects of our lives, including our religious lives. I don’t give those other white people a pass, because I don’t give a pass to myself, my family, my community or to this faith I love deeply.

Our Unitarian Universalist principles name the inherent worth and dignity of every person and the imperative of justice, equity and compassion in human relations. As such they call us to be constantly vigilant about confronting white supremacy and other forms of oppression in ourselves and in the world, and I could and should be preaching this sermon at any time. But why today? And, for that matter, why are more than 600 Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country doing the same thing today?

It’s been a rough few months for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association. As many of you know, in early April, the Rev. Peter Morales resigned as President of the UUA in the midst of allegations of racism in hiring practices. For background, I want to read a section of a March 27th UU World magazine article entitled, “Critics Decry ‘White Supremacy’ in Hiring Practices.

“The hiring in March of a white male minister to a regional leadership position within the [UUA], an organization in which almost all the top staff positions are held by white people, has sparked controversy over whether the UUA is living its stated racial justice values.” News of this hiring “emerged as UU religious professionals of color were gathered in Baltimore for [an] annual … retreat on March 17. One of those religious professionals [who identifies racially as Chicana-Latina] … told colleagues at the retreat that she had been a finalist for the job but had been told she was not “the right fit for the team….”

Over the next week, charges spread on social media that the UUA had hired another white person over [a] woman of color who was a qualified finalist for the Southern Region job. Critics pointed out that the five regional leads, who supervise the fifty members of the UUA’s Congregational Life staff … were all white ministers….

UUA Moderator Jim Key said the Board of Trustees has received a dozen emails and letters expressing unhappiness over the lack of diversity in UUA staffing…. One of those emails—a letter signed by 121 UU ministers and other religious professionals—said that ‘the practice of hiring white people nearly to the exclusion of hiring people of color is alarming….’ Noting that people of color make up no more than 11 percent of any rank of UUA employees except service workers, where they are 84 percent …, the letter called for a change in hiring practices and a public conversation about monitoring the Association’s success in creating a multicultural staff.”[1]

Over the next few weeks the controversy grew. On April 1st Rev. Morales resign, saying he had lost the trust of too many people to effectively lead the UUA at this time.[2]  Eventually more senior staff announced resignations.

As soon as the controversy erupted, many Unitarian Universalists religious professionals of color and their white allies began using the term white supremacy to describe it. (Actually, many of us have been using this term for decades, but this is the first time in my memory that Unitarian Universalists are engaging deeply with it.) The organization Black Lives UU and some of its partners called for congregations to dedicate their worship services on April 30th or May 7th to a “white supremacy teach-in.” That’s the reason for today’s service.

Wait. What? White supremacy? In Unitarian Universalism? How can white supremacy apply to our justice-seeking, Black-Lives-Matter supporting, refugee resettling, criminal-justice reforming, GBLTQ-welcoming, earth-saving, answering-the-call-of-love, liberal faith? There must be some mistake. White supremacy applies to those other white people—the Alt Right, the people who want border walls and Muslims bans, who desecrate Jewish cemeteries, who commit hate crimes. Well, yes, but in pointing my finger at someone else, I am likely excusing myself from taking responsibility for the problem. Let’s explore this.    

When my people of color, indigenous people and white antiracist colleagues—people who I know and love and have worked with for many years—use the term white supremacy to describe Unitarian Universalism, I’ve learned to listen. I’ve learned to open my heart, approach the conversation with curiosity, and try to understand why the term makes sense. I’ve learned people don’t use this term merely to be provocative. They don’t use it to be mean. They don’t use it to make white people feel guilty. They use it to make sense of their own painful experiences within Unitarian Universalism. They use it to help themselves and others understand why decent, compassionate, loving, justice-seeking white people can nevertheless do and say things that are hurtful, often with no awareness. They use it to help themselves and others understand why spiritually open, love-centered, justice-seeking institutions can fail to practice stated commitments to diversity, multiculturalism and antiracism. In using this term, no one is calling anyone else a white supremacist. No one is likening the UUA or our congregations to the KKK or the Alt Right. But they are pointing out how our institutions center white people, white identity, experience, culture, ministers, history and spirituality; and how it makes them feel excluded, ‘less than,’ and invisible. When a hiring pattern favoring white people for high level positions becomes apparent, it is evidence that a deep-seeded white supremacy is operating. Not a hateful, violent white supremacy, but one that nevertheless has a painful impact on the lives of people of color in our denomination.

Remember that the Unitarian and Universalist denominations were founded by white people to serve the spiritual needs of white people in the decades following the founding of the United States, which was by law a country for white people.[3] People of color were present among our spiritual forebears, but they were highly marginalized, in part because they had a less-than-human legal status in the larger society. White identity, values, culture, spirituality, music, food and concerns were at the center of early Unitarian and Universalist institutional life. That’s the white supremacy we’re talking about—that unexamined assumption that the center is always white. Today much has changed about our faith. And much has changed about America.  But if our institutions have never made a serious commitment to decentering whiteness, then it is always possible for white supremacy to operate. Even in the midst of our support for Black Lives Matter, refugee resettlement, former inmates, domestic workers and undocumented people—all of it essential work expressing our commitment to confronting racism—we can still perpetuate white supremacy.

Does it operate here? Yes. It’s not easy to say that, but yes. We were talking about this at the Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee meeting this past Tuesday. The UUA has a stated goal of hiring a diverse, multicultural staff. They failed to reach that goal, but at least they have such a goal. We can’t say the same thing. Over the past five years, as we’ve done hiring for two major positions, we never specified that a racially diverse staff should be an outcome of our hiring efforts. One could argue ‘that’s not white supremacy—we just want to hire the best person for the job regardless of race,’ or, ‘it’s impractical to set racial quotas with such a small staff.’ There are hundreds of arguments like these. But if we never affirm that we want racial and cultural diversity in our staff, in our leadership team, in our membership, in the artists whose work adorns our walls, in our Sunday speakers, or in our partners in the wider community, then we’ll never give ourselves the opportunity to think through how these goals might be achievable; whiteness will continue to be our unexamined institutional center; and the risk of white supremacy operating here will remain.

What can we do? If white supremacy operates because whiteness occupies the center of our institutions, then our task is to learn the art of decentering whiteness and centering the experiences of people of color and indigenous people. This is not a punishment or a demotion for white people. It does not mean white people are bad or any less deserving of love, care and support, or that we somehow have less inherent worth and dignity. But it does ask white people to intentionally make room for, to listen to, to follow, to be accountable to, to act in solidarity with people of color and indigenous people.

In my conversations with people of color here and in other UU congregations, people say it can be exhausting to be among white people who never seem to fully acknowledge the profound differences in life experience. One person says, “I would like someone to recognize that to be Black in America is to have lived an entire life perceived as inferior and illegitimate, directly and indirectly, daily from early childhood to adulthood compounded over a lifetime and that it is a significantly different way of existing and experiencing America than [for] those [who] benefit from white privilege. These differences need to be acknowledged.” And it’s not just the experience of oppression that people of color can bring to institutional center; they also bring traditions of resistance to oppression, as well as different experiences of culture, family, spirituality, language, history, creativity, vision. It strikes me that if these different experiences were regularly spoken aloud and fully embraced at the center of our congregational life, it would be much more difficult for white supremacy to operate in that unexamined, often unconscious way. It would be more visible, easier to confront; and our congregation would start to change in beautiful and compelling ways.

I’m describing a huge shift in the way Unitarian Universalism approaches its institutional life. I have no illusions that making this shift will be easy, or that we will not consciously and unconsciously seek ways to avoid it—old habits do indeed die hard. But I am convinced our principles call us to embrace this shift.

I leave you with words adapted from white UU antiracism activist, Chris Crass, who says: “White supremacy, you cannot have me. You cannot have my family; you cannot have my faith; you cannot have my congregation. I will not bow to the … fear you put on me. For today, I choose to rise?—?to rise for racial justice, to rise and show up for my siblings of color and indigenous siblings…. They have courageously led us into a fight to make ourselves the faith that these times call us to be: the faith of salvation from the death culture, the faith of [rituals, ceremonies, theologies, and sacred actions] that nourish and grow beloved community. I might be scared. I might be out of my comfort zone. I might not know what I’m supposed to do. I might even disagree…. Yet, I’m going to show up … with my community, with my faith … and say ‘yes’ to racial justice, ‘yes’ to being on the journey, ‘yes’ to building a new way, ‘yes’ to shattering that which does not serve this goal. I’m going to find sources of strength, hope and courage I didn’t even realize existed. Today I say ‘yes’ to getting free from supremacy systems and ‘yes’ to a Unitarian Universalist faith that is alive for racial justice, on a path to be a spiritual home for more and more people hungry for beloved community working for collective liberation.”[4]

[1] McArdle, Elaine, “Critics See White Supremacy in UUA Hiring Practices,” UU World, March 27, 2017. See: http://www.uuworld.org/articles/critics-challenge-uua-hiring-practices.

[2] Walton, Chris, “UUA President Resigns Amid Controversy Over Hiring Practices,” UU World, March 30, 2017. See: http://www.uuworld.org/articles/peter-morales-resigns.

[3] The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person” who had been in the U.S. for two years. In effect, it left out indentured servants, slaves, and most women. See: http://rs6.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=001/llsl001.db&recNum=226.

[4] Crass, Chris, “Let’s Move Beyond Fear of the words ‘White Supremacy’ and say Yes to Racial Justice!” April 28, 2017. See: https://medium.com/@chriscrass/im-scared-too-and-together-let-s-say-yes-917dd4317786.

 

May Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

It’s been a rough few months for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA). As many of you know, in early April, the Rev. Peter Morales resigned as President of the UUA in the midst of allegations of racism in hiring practices. More resignations followed. What many of you may not know is that, in the wake of these resignations, there has been a great deal of conflict, much of it playing out on social media among clergy and other religious professionals. While some of the conflict is productive, some isn’t. People aren’t treating each other well. At times it feels like our faith is being torn apart. This is heart-breaking.

White supremacy is at the heart of this conflict. It feels really, really important for me to name that and for all of us to stay focused on it. When it became apparent that hiring decisions at the UUA were consistently favoring qualified white candidates over qualified candidates of color, something had to be said. Because the UUA has a stated commitment to hiring a diverse staff and a long-held commitment to conducting itself in antiracist ways, something had to be said.

Unitarian Universalist religious professionals of color were the first to say it publically in early March. Very soon after that, many religious professionals of color and their white allies starting referring to “white supremacy” at the UUA. The organization Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism and some of its partners called for congregations to dedicate their worship services on April 30th or May 7th to a “white supremacy teach-in.” (We will be participating!)

Much of the current conflict has spun out around the use of the term “white supremacy.”

This should not be hard to understand. We typically think of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neo-Nazis and other hate groups as white supremacists. During last year’s presidential campaign, so many of us were upset that Donald Trump’s team intentionally courted voters of the “Alt-Right,” a code-word for white supremacist agitators. But Unitarian Universalists? How could anyone in their right mind use that term to describe us? How could “white supremacy” apply to our justice-seeking, Black-

Lives-Matter supporting, refugee resettling, criminal-justice reforming, earth-saving, GBLTQ- welcoming, answering-the-call-of-love, liberal faith?

Well, unfortunately, it can apply, and, all too often, it does. But I want to be crystal clear that attaching this term to Unitarian Universalism is in no way an attempt to equate our beloved faith with the KKK and other hate groups. To speak of white supremacist outcomes inside an organization (e.g., only hiring white people) does not mean that the people in that organization are white supremacists. But it does mean that the culture of the organization may harm people of color despite the good intentions of white leaders. That is what happened at the UUA.

I also want to be crystal clear that Unitarian Universalism isn’t somehow alone in this. Virtually every historically white institution in the United States has embedded within it some degree of white supremacy. This goes back to the founding of the United States and its legacies of genocide, colonization and slavery.

The question is, are we willing and able to recognize it? If religious professionals of color say it, can those of us who are white refrain from reacting negatively to the use of the term “white supremacy,” and instead open our hearts, approach the conversation with curiosity, and try to learn—really learn—why the term is being used? I hope and trust that we can. See you on May 7th!

Amen and blessed be.

Rev. Josh