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a living faith

September 18, 2011 4 comments

I have felt a gulf widening between myself and the Unitarian Universalist faith over the last year. I had expected activism to change me in profound ways; I just didn’t expect part of what drew me to this faith to eventually push me away. More and more often I ask myself, “What am I doing here? What am I representing? What represents me?”

We are a faith that is very proud of our commitment to social justice. We collect donations for charitable organizations and donate the proceeds of our collection plate once a month. We participate in legislative campaigns. We buy free trade goods in our sanctuaries or from artisans we invite into our space. We attend social action luncheons and serve in soup kitchens. We show up to march in parades in decent numbers, slightly less for vigils and protests, unless there is an opportunity for us to sing or some form of “alter call” from congregational leadership. But I rarely see UU’s  when our partner groups request volunteers or hold fundraisers. We’ll invite people into our space, meet them in neutral spaces, but rarely will we meet them in theirs.

I recognize that there are exceptions… but the fact that these two communities have such a small percentage of overlap is one of my biggest frustrations. I wonder if listing an organization as a partner on our website and showing up at the occasional demonstration or community event in our matching t-shirts is all we’re capable of. Displays of solidarity, participating in visible resistance efforts is a big, and important, part of justice work. But investing enough of ourselves to build the personal relationships necessary for an allied partnership seems to be beyond us more often than not. There is a reluctance to put ourselves in spaces where we would be the minority in the room, and resistant to sacrificing any of our time or investing our emotional energy. We’re all so proud of the justice work being done, but so few of us want to do it.

I’ve spoken with other allied activists & organizers and many have experienced the same frustrations. I was talking with friend and UU seminarian and commented that I was committed to my congregation thru the end of this RE year. After that, I don’t know. Unless there is a substantial shift in culture, I just don’t know. Which was followed by a discussion of whether I thought this culture was unique to my congregation or the entire faith, and how change is slow but we’re making progress. She’s not the first person to give me some version of the “arc of the moral universe” talk. As much as I love the quote, as much comfort as I find in it when applied to the folks across the aisle, hearing it applied to my faith both frustrates and outrages me.

Rage and fury and impotence aren’t really the emotions I was searching and yearning for when I went looking for a religious home. And as much as I love many, many members of my church family, as inspiring as I find my minister in and out of the pulpit, there are just far too many times that I feel like I’m in an abusive relationship. “We’re making progress.” “Change is slow.” “They’re trying… they mean well.” It sounds just like that girl, we all know her (hell, I was her), “He really loves me. He didn’t mean it. He’ll change.”

And maybe if my family looked different, if my closest friends and the vast majority of my support system looked different… if my neighborhood looked different, I might be a little more inclined to be patient. But my daughter told me last night that a classmate said to her, “You’re a black girl. Why don’t you just smack so and so?”… and it’s not the first time that kind of comment has been made. Women I love have reached out after having being hurt by someone’s unintended slur or stereotype, their colorblind ignorance… hands and voices trembling with hurt and anger. They speak of fear that speaking out will be interpreted as or strengthen certain stereotypes… or that they are most angry with themselves for having let down the wall they usually maintain with white people and being hurt because they hadn’t been on guard, hadn’t seen it coming. I have friends who have been harassed by police because of their skin color and/or accents, who get the full force of the law for minor traffic violations while we get passes for more serious infractions.

If this wasn’t my world, maybe I’d be less cynical and more magnanimous. I don’t want to be the only radical in my congregation (and that I’m considered a radical by fellow UU’s still perplexes me). But maybe I’d be willing to stick it out and be part of the catalyst for change my friends talk about. Maybe the stagnant pace of progress wouldn’t feel corrosive to my soul.

But this is my world, so forgive me, but I don’t care about your (our) good intentions anymore. I care about the impact of our individual and collective inability to live our faith and principles in meaningful and intentional allied relationships and how that effects people struggling for human dignity. I care about the people we hurt, directly or indirectly, with our good intentions.

This wasn’t easy to write. and I know that it may hurt or offend fellow UU’s, particularly those I have a personal relationship with.  But someone I love and respect asked me specifically to blog about this, and maybe she was right in that this is something that needs to be said, and heard.

Where are you on the Oppression Action Continuum? It’s not enough to educate yourself about an issue. If you are aware of an oppression and haven’t gotten involved, you are enabling that oppression. We can’t all do everything… but if we all did whatever we could instead of nothing at all, how amazing could we be? There is no small part of a justice movement; we all have our unique gifts, skills, and talents to offer even when our time or financial resources are limited.

I have found more personal fulfillment, been more deeply inspired, experienced more joy, felt more love, and seen more of God in the year I’ve been working with the activist community than I have in any church I’ve attended in all my thirty seven years.

If you haven’t invested of your self, what are you waiting for?

Oppression Action Continuum from Heeding the Call Justice Makers Curriculum

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The Land of the Free

July 4, 2011 Leave a comment

prison flagI remembering the 4th of July’s of my childhood and yearning for the myth I grew up on, much like I once yearned for Santa Claus.

The fairy tales I was told, about how my country was the leader of the free world, but my country spends more money on incarceration than education, and has incarcerated more of it’s citizens than China. It has a for profit prison system, where companies that profit from the incarceration of human beings donate to the campaigns of lawmakers who create laws. After someone has served their sentence, supposedly paid their debt to society, they have few options for employment or housing… and with little opportunity to make a legal living wage, the recidivism rate should surprise no one.

We’d rather buy a pound of “cure” than pay for an ounce of prevention.

Happy Anniversary, America. I hope someday I’ll be able to wish you a Happy Independence Day.

Arizona Goddamn

January 9, 2011 2 comments

photo courtesy of Sun Principe

By now most of you have heard about the shooting in Tucson that appeared to have targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. If you’re not familiar with the news, a young man by the name of Jared Loughner was arrested on the scene after he shot Rep. Giffords in the head at point blank range before opening fire on the crowd, sending Giffords and eleven others to the hospital and six, among them a federal judge and a nine year old girl.    

Can’t you see it
Can’t you feel it
It’s all in the air
I can’t stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer

Many of us have expressed concern about the tone of the political discourse here in Arizona and across the nation. The domestic terrorism that occurred in Tucson is our worst fears come to life. As we wait for details that we know will never help us understand WHY this young man committed this horrific act, we can only pray that our calls for a return to civil discourse will be heard.

This is a show tune
But the show hasn’t been written for it, yet
Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail

I’ve been listening to Nina Simone‘s Protest Anthology  album. One of the songs, Mississippi Goddamn, is in part about the four little girls who died in the 1963 bombing of the 16th St Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL.

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong there
I’ve even stopped believing in prayer

As I ponder the latest headlines in the local news & trending topics in my facebook & twitter feeds, I wonder again what Ms. Nina Simone would say about Arizona…

The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddamn
And I mean every word of it
Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddamn

This is what a rising poverty rate looks like

October 7, 2010 2 comments

walmartnight

 NPR has a podcast called Story of the Day, and Saturday’s story,
Midnight Shopping On The Brink Of Poverty, was both heartbreaking and terrifying. It was the story of hundreds of families who are part of a growing trend of midnight shoppers.

I’ve been to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night a time or two, usually shopping for someone’s birthday. I’ve seen people pushing overflowing carts, sometimes with young children half asleep, and I’ve wondered. I mean, I could see needing to run to the store with your child in the middle of the night for medicine, a missing ingredient, personal hygiene items… but why would anyone do their full blown grocery shopping in the middle of the night?

Bill Simon, the head of Wal-Mart’s U.S. operations, answered this question in a talk last week.

And if you really think about it, the only reason somebody gets out in the middle of the night and buys baby formula is that they need it, and they’ve been waiting for it. Otherwise, we are open 24 hours — come at 5 a.m., come at 7 a.m., come at 10 a.m. But if you are there at midnight, you are there for a reason.

The story featured Tracy & Martin Young, who were at Wal-Mart in the final hours of the last day of the month food shopping for their five children. They waited for the clock to strike midnight before going to the checkout, so that there will be funds on their EBT cards to pay for the two carts full of groceries.

Tracy says their children know when the end of the month is approaching, because what they like to eat is gone and the kitchen shelves have emptied.

I grew up in a welfare home after my parents divorced. Living in a small rural town, shopping locally wasn’t economical. The bulk of the shopping for the month was done in one trip to the nearest discount grocery store about thirty miles away. I remember that last week of the month well… a week where there was little food in the house and what there was wasn’t anything anyone liked to eat. A week where you went to bed a little hungry.

For any child to live this way, is heartbreaking.

So often when we hear people railing about those who receive public assistance, we have an image of a single welfare mom or the image of a slovenly dad who is willfully unemployed… sometimes we have the image of noble parents who are actively seeking work but just can’t get hired.

Tracy & Martin don’t fit any of those categories. Not only are they both employed, Martin works TWO jobs. And despite having three jobs between them, they still qualify for food stamps. Despite three jobs and government assistance, they are still struggling to make ends meet.

That, my friends, is terrifying.

via Midnight Shopping On The Brink Of Poverty & Child Hunger, As Seen At Wal-Mart : Planet Money : NPR

The full transcript of Bill Simon, President, CEO of Wal-Mart US speaking at Goldman Sachs Retail Conference: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. at Goldman Sachs Retail Conference

Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009

Black Women Like Their Books Trashy

October 4, 2010 4 comments

Sometimes people say some shit that’s so stupid, you actually catch a case of stupidity yourself. It’s like the stupidity flowing out of their mouth infects you. There you are, in a state of shock, trying to figure out what the FUCK you can say to cure them, except you’re mouth is hanging open and you can’t speak. It’s like you’ve been hit upside the head with a stupid stick.

white privilege cardSo here I am, with a pen in my hand, dumbly signing my charge slip, thinking that I just spent an awful fucking lot of money but I don’t remember asking the proprietress if she had a racist stereotype that she wouldn’t mind bagging up with my books. I checked my receipt after I left, but it wasn’t listed so I guess it must have been a perk that comes free with my white privilege card.

What’s truly mind boggling about this is that I had actually been attempting to compliment the woman on the diversity of reading materials I’d found at the annual book fair was at. In addition to the standard book fair items you expect to see (cookbooks, you’re the best kid/parent/teacher ever, box sets of all occasion greeting cards) and the racy looking novels with black women I’d noticed the year before, there were several books for teens with African American protagonists; of the three I selected as potential gifts, two were teenage boys. I’d have to read all three first to screen for content that may be too mature or stereotypes I’d want to discuss, but considering how rarely I see books with diverse characters (protagonist or otherwise) for children over the age of eight and/or that aren’t a self esteem message on steroids, not to mention how hard it can be to find books that will interest a young man, I was thrilled to see these and three others for tween/teen readers.

So it was as I was trying to tell the woman how pleased I’d been to see books with diverse racial and religious characters, she interrupts me to warn me that some of “those” books can be a little risqué. I responded that I planned to pre-read them, and again tried to express that it’s not easy to find diverse literature for my kids so it was nice that they had a selection, limited as it was… but once again I was interrupted.

Black women like their books trashy,

she tells me, voice lowered. She doesn’t want to be overheard… but because I’m white, she assumes I’ll welcome being taken into her confidence.

BCwhitegirl0804

I struggled for a minute. I wanted so badly to insult this woman the way she had just insulted and offended me. I wanted to scream at her,

WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE TALKING TO? I’m not in your fucking club. THOSE ARE MY DAUGHTERS you’re talking about. MY BEST FRIEND. MY OTHER BEST FRIEND. MY EX FUTURE MOTHER-IN-LAW (ok, so she’s Tyler’s grandmamma but I loved her first). My son’s second grade teacher, who was also my older daughter’s first Big. Her kindergarten teacher. My baby girl’s “Nani.” Three of my kids’ best friend’s mothers. Two moms I met thru volleyball that I consider good friends and among the few people of any color that I’d trust my children with.

But alienating her wasn’t going change her thinking. I didn’t know what, if anything, that I could say in that moment that would. I still don’t know the answer to that question, so all I could do was my best to tell the truth.

“I’d have to say that’s a pretty broad stereotype. I know that several of the black women I know wouldn’t consider reading those,” as I gestured to the handful of racy novels with Jezebels on the cover.

She started to backpedal with, “Well, ours beg us to get these books… they just love them.”

Ours? Really? OURS? They BEG you to sell them books they identify with, for whatever reason? ARE YOU SHITTING ME? I was about to lose my job for slugging a vendor in the cafeteria at work.

I took a big breath, and as I gathered my purchases, I said that I didn’t know if she’d noticed, but it isn’t always easy to find books with Black characters in stores, and that I know this because I am always on the lookout for books that will appeal to my own multiracial children who don’t always want to read about little white heroes & heroines, but most of the books that we have were bought online, thru Scholastic Book orders, or out of state. I pointed out that if her Black customers were excited to see the few books she carried on the bottom shelf, it might have more to do with the overall lack of availability than the taste of the individual reader.

And I walked away. I don’t know how well received my final comments were, but at least I knew that I’d made it crystal clear that she if she wanted someone to support the BS she was spewing, she was talking to the wrong one.

Hindsight is always 20/20… and looking back, I wish I had pointed out specifically how asinine it is to assume that ALL Black women like their books trashy based on the requests of a few… even if ALL the Black women in the Phoenix Metro area loved these books, simple demographics should tell you that number is not representative of ALL Black women. I also wish I had pointed out that just because SOME Black women enjoy racy novels or that particular line of books, that doesn’t mean that is the ONLY genre that they enjoy. I still wonder if I should have told her to reverse the charge and shove the books up her… never mind.

The only thing I know is that we are so not post racial. Not even close.

     

Just Like Me?

September 28, 2010 3 comments

So there are some things I don’t understand. A lot of things, actually. And I won’t deny that things I hear people on the conservative side of the political spectrum say to reporters are often high on the list. I’ve heard this one for ten years now. I heard it said of George W. Bush. I heard it said of Sarah Palin, and the other night I heard it said of Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party Candidate who won the Delaware Primary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It makes me feel, once again, just like she’s just like me and just like a lot of the other Delawareans that have had problems paying their mortgage, have, you know, taken years to pay off their school loans. I just feel like she’s one of us.

I just gotta say… I don’t get that. I can’t even wrap my head around it. When I hear something like this I start to wonder if we are seriously a culture of mediocrity.

Frankly, I’d rather have someone smarter, or more experienced, or more organized, or any combination, making decisions about the laws that are going to be affecting us. If I can barely handle my own business, I got no business trying to handle yours.

And if I want to feel a kinship with people who are “just like me” I’ll go find a support group to bond with.

O’Donnell and the Truth; Paladino on the Record; Home Invasion Horror

Saturday Share from Cyndi’s Google Reader

September 11, 2010 Leave a comment

A couple months ago my cousin tickled me pink by saying she wished she could subscribe to my FB links feed or something like that. I’m pondering a couple blogs in process and a conversation I had with the tween last night and didn’t get anything written, so I took inspiration from Jessica & decided to just share a few blogs and articles I really enjoyed this week. Read more…

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