Saturday, June 27, 2015

MINISTRY DAZE


What was the question? This week has been filled with so many opportunities for learning and contemplation. Is it different from other General Assemblies? I don't know.  It feels different, but what is most likely is that I have changed; I am taking the time to contemplate; I am actually listening at least as much as I am judging or thinking of responses; I am making a conscious effort to express and really feel gratitude for all of the people with whom I am sharing this faith. I'm not really sure how that metamorphosis came about. I had a meditation practice for years. Maybe it was the year I spent out of the parish ministry, and the conscious decision to come back to it, via Interim work, that made room for this expansion of heart and spirit. I clearly recall the time of discernment and the day that a thought came to me: There is more ministry in me yet.


Ministers know this is no small decision. Not when made for the first time, nor the last. They say every addict takes about six other lives down with him/her, and I'm guessing it's pretty much the same for clergy. Maybe it is a form of addiction. So what I was hearing and seeing this week, both during Ministry Days and beyond, was very personal. It was deeply piercing, for, having decided to finish off the called portion of my parish ministry days, and then moving out into somewhat of a void, I found myself back in active service again. I'm looking back as much or more than I'm looking forward. And, I'm thinking about others as much or more than I am about myself. I wish there were a way that we could be more helpful to one another. I'm somewhat uncertain about our collegiality, and Ministry Days/Daze hasn't reassured me.

"Culture of judgment destroys human communities" Rev. Sean Dennison Berry St. Lecture

You may have noticed that these are not pictures of Ministry Days. These are my family, my three grown kids, and our ten year old adopted son who has Autism. My husband stays home and takes care of him in KY while I'm doing a 3/4 time interim in NJ. It pays $40k, and my husband lost his job right before I went back to work, so for 6 months we had no income and thank goodness, relied upon the ACA for health insurance. We maxed out all our credit cards. We don't have family from whom we can borrow. So, no, Marlin, I can't give $1000 to the UUMA endowment THIS year. But you made me feel really bad that I couldn't. It's a great idea.Some how, I am going through all of this a day late and a dollar short to benefit! I have been helped by scholarships here & there.


"We can use devastation as a seedbed for new life" Parker Palmer (quoted in Berry St. Essay)

This isn't a sob story. It's actually a huge success story. I watched Rev. Lavanhar's SLT sermon tonight, and I loved what he had to say. It was a Universalist message of hope, inclusiveness, and radical love. If it were being preached and practiced in our congregations, my kids might still be UUs. As it is, I'm not sure. My sons struggled with addiction through their teens and twenties. I sat through way too many meetings where colleagues talked about their kids' scholarships and successes, and was too ashamed to share my own grief and pain except with a few. Thanks be to to God, both of my sons are clean and sober today, through the hope and fellowship of AA, in which they have found unconditional love, acceptance, guidance, and direction. It saved their lives and gave them a community of other young adults, a place to do service for others and lead lives of meaning and purpose. This Spring, my daughter graduated from college with both of her brothers by her side, a dream she never thought she'd realize. I am talking about a miracle right now.


"One mistake we make is trying to lead with our strengths rather than our heartbreak" Rev. M. Lavanhar

I'm struggling with how little the UU church has been able to offer my boy with Autism. He wasn't included in an OWL class that was offered for his age cohort. So many people made insensitive remarks that we just stopped bringing him. And I was the Minister! So, all of this goes to say that for my family (I fully acknowledge that this is not true for all families) ministry is not something that includes  them. It's my job. It doesn't include them any more than if I were a Wall Street stock broker. (and then I'd at least make more money!) I don't even know if they are proud of me any more.

So, when I hear sermons like the Berry Street Essay, and the responses, I am moved. When I hear: You give your life to ministry....  part of me feels touched and part of me just dies. Why did I do that?

I gave it to people, some of whom took it for granted, when my children needed me. I  couldn't not do it; I don't regret it, but there are days when the math doesn't quite work.



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I Fell Out of a Nightmare & Into a Dream....



The Sunday morning after the massacre at AME Emmanuel in Charleston


How much more surreal can it be than to spend Saturday morning talking with the minister of our local AME church in NJ,  sharing grief over the killings in Charleston, making sure she would be there when the flowers our congregation sent were delivered, and then to board a plane that evening and end up in Portland, Oregon? All I saw upon deplaning  were people with beards, sandals, flannel shirts, backpacks... you get the picture. Portland(ia). I only watched part of the show, once, and I'll admit, it annoyed me a bit. And I've only been here once before, a good 8 or 9 years ago, and I will tell you, the city is doing it's best to live up to the stereotype the show has created. I did not see a person of color until the following day, and even then, they were few. And no one mentioned the Charleston shootings. No one.

The view of Mt. Hood. We saw almost this view from the University.

I got lucky, and the host of the Airbnb I'm staying in is a tour guide as well; she was taking folks on a bike tour and she invited me along. I was not sure I'd be able to keep up. I do ride a bike, but not fast, not far, and not in a city.


I needn't have worried. The others on the tour were about my age, and the bikes were electric.  So, anytime I got tired of peddling, I just turned the throttle and the bike sped ahead beneath me. The city closes off streets on Sundays in various sections of town, so that families can ride freely, and we did most of the tour of the North East, stopping for lunch, and to talk with people. What we had been told would be a two hour ride turned out to be six. I was fine with that. I felt that I had a very thorough experience of what it might be like to be a person about my age, educated, progressive, living in Portland. My host even told me that I got an insider experience, because the other folks were friends or acquaintances, and evidently every one was comfortable enough to stop at intervals and vape some of Mother nature's finest. I declined, because it has been decades, and because I was riding a very expensive electric bike that did not belong to me.


I saw a LOT of these kind of people. Some were on unicycles.

All of this gave me a great deal of material to muse upon, and muse I did: while riding the bus to and from downtown for Ministry Days, while people watching and listening to folks chat as I sat alone at this or that cafe. People, I think it is safe to assume, come to Portland (those who aren't already here) to be a part of something that they see as really unique and counter cultural and maybe even revolutionary. And, in some ways, it is. They seems to be doing good things, with a LEED certified convention center, lots of public transportation, and probably tons more that I don't even pretend to know about.  But the uniqueness thing is out the window. They ALL LOOK THE SAME! Or, perhaps to sound a bit less like an old fart, I will say that they are all variations on a theme, which is fine!

I saw this video:  Click here
  And THIS one:  Click here

So I began to understand that this whole thing is about a dream, and it's an escape in some ways, like a dream is, but it's also a dream in the sense that people feel that they are making a dream come true. As in "I have a dream...."

Or, "Dream big...."

or, "Dream makers...."

And the only problem is that, evidently, what I picked up from my one day day of observations as an "insider" in Portland was pretty accurate. People of color, especially brown and black people, are still getting misplaced by gentrification, still not getting a fair shake in lots of ways, both in Portland and in Oregon, and no one IS really talking about it (including, I guess, we ministers here at GA). Oregon has a hideous racist past, and was FULL of sundown towns. 

Yet, while talking at lunch, a woman who was sitting next to me, a woman who is from Texas but moved to Portland, that people are nice here, and then she said, well, the white people.

But I did something different than I might have done in the past. Instead of thinking that I would never have to see her again or that I would pretend I didn't hear it, I asked her to repeat herself, and then I went on to talk about what I saw around me, and to disagree with some of her judgments. We didn't have an argument, (it's PORTLAND!) and she was still smiling and happy, but I felt a sea change in me.

I'm finished with ever, ever, letting another remark go by unanswered. The real nightmare for me is the world in which people smile on the outside while they hate on the inside. My dream is a world of honesty and a world where we finally strip away the masks of racism that people have been hiding behind. It starts now.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Afflicted



I last wrote on Monday evening.

On Tuesday, our anti-racism Task Force had its second meeting, and agreed to order our Black Lives Matter banner, post it by the road, and have a ceremonial event when we do so, on September 6th.

Wednesday, I finished my office hours, and had some time before the Board meeting, so I drove over to Mizpah. It was different than I'd expected, a much larger community, and very wooded. Clearly it sits far away from the Mays Landing town proper, and has its own Fire Company, a few churches, and perhaps a building that had been a school at one time. I didn't see a lot of people, and as I drove around, I wondered: how do you go about asking questions of folks about the history of racism in their town? Do you just jump in, or get someone to introduce you? Is it just taking advantage of people, using them to satisfy my curiosity, unless I do something with it?

That night, we were leaving the Board meeting around nine o'clock and talking about Mizpah, and how it had been a Jewish settlement, and then had been sold to Blacks, and then I got into my car, and started the drive home, thinking about the place, and wondering.... and while I was musing, a white man was murdering nine Black church members in their church in South Carolina.

I didn't know until the morning. I checked facebook before I left for Atlantic City to volunteer at the Food Pantry. There I saw the horror. I listened to NPR en route, so by the time I arrived, I knew the worst: these were AME church members. Including the pastor. I know these people, and I can easily imagine how warmly and kindly they embraced and welcomed the tyrant who then murdered them. I have never entered a Black church where I have not felt this genuine heartfelt love and kindness. So it is compounded. I can barely let my mind go to the events as they must have occurred. Because I know that almost nothing in this world since the day of the bombings in Birmingham could have been so horrific as this.

This is going to take some time.

I've had nothing to say for many days now. The usual proclamations and exhortations sound weak and empty.

I just preached last Sunday on Sundown Towns. I opened with a poem called Bikini Care Instructions by Parneshia Jones, written in response to the McKinney pool incident. I then said, "Does this make you feel uncomfortable? I hope so. Because we are here to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." We say that, a lot. But it has weighed on me this week.

I've read all the passionate, brilliant, morally grounded pronouncements from the pundits and proclaimers... we must, we must never, we shall, we have to, and I have nothing of that sort to offer.

I dedicated my ministry to anti-racism almost 20 years ago, during ministry days, when we were asked to stand up by our presenter, Lee Mun Wah. I then, that year, went to Alabama to help rebuild a church burned by racists with the UUSC. The next year, I went to Dillon, South Carolina. I've taken part in every committee, workshop, Board, protest, rally, you-name-it, and tried, and mostly failed, to bring my congregation(s) along. I have preached on racial justice so often that people complain about it. I would say some people are glad to be rid of me and my racial justice preaching.

And when I was faced with what happened this week, I cried. Walking into the Food Pantry, the folks waiting in line (most of them are POC) always  greet me. This morning, after Charleston, they looked away from me. I didn't imagine it. I worked on registrations with an African American woman about my age, and we got acquainted. She told me about her work as a dealer in the casinos (she's retired) and we finally got around to the shootings when I saw on my phone that the killer was captured. We talked about it all. I told her that sometimes I feel so ashamed of some white people that I just hate my own race. She said she felt the same way sometimes because sometimes she feels that Black people are their own worst enemy and she gets mad at those who do dumb things too. We both cried. We hugged. We bonded, talking about our grown kids and their troubles.

But when I heard the voices of the families speak to the murderer and forgive him, pray for him, I could not stop my tears. That is the heart of righteousness. That right there is why I am afflicted.

I will remain afflicted until I can rise above my own fear of looking foolish, sounding silly, being awkward, and just start doing everything that occurs to me.

Thursday, I had the urge (or you might say the call) to go to an AME congregation, so I looked up the nearest one.  The pastor wasn't there but a kind young lady gave me her card, so I called and left a message to tell her that I knew how we felt when there was a shooting in one of our congregations, and I just wanted to reach out, and ask if we might send flowers. She called me back the next morning. We've agreed to meet for lunch.

The flowers were delivered today. "From the Unitarian Universalist Congreagtion of the South Jersey Shore. In Love & Faith." I hope they were pretty.