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.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A BROKEN WINGED BIRD CANNOT FLY... A Reflection on Sundown Towns and the Collective "Forgetting" of Injustice


Mc Kinney, Texas "Best Places To Live in America"






I.               Cognitive dissonance question

When did you first become aware of race?


Sundown towns are towns like Anna, Illinois, where it is said that the name ANNA stands for “Aint’ No N-----s Allowed” and where there is a memory of the town having had signs at the corporate border that say, Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on You in _________________.  In Anna, and nearby Jonesboro, such signs existed as recently as 1970.

A famous Sundown town in Kentucky is Corbin, the home of Col. Sanders, who was never really any kind of Colonel, but who was a great salesman for a fried chicken recipe. Corbin drove out all of the black residents in 1919 after a poker game between workers on the rail line. Later the story was changed to one about a rape and a hanging. But from that time on, blacks were kept out.
Corbin KY, 1930s



Most of these Sundown Towns were started by an incident or rationalized by a story about a crime, a loss of jobs, or sometimes very absurd explanations.

In reality the towns were created deliberately, and the roots were manifold: labor strife (the earliest unions were vehemently racist); school segregation; the help of the FHA, which made home loans nigh impossible for African Americans; real estate salespersons and contracts;

Perhaps you, like I, find all of this shameful and a cause for aversion. You know, though, that it’s true. Places in the South and the Midwest have been and still are, if not blatantly, then covertly racist.

But, hold on.

In fact, there are almost no Sundown Towns in South.

Almost all Sundown Towns are in the Northeast, the Upper South, and the Midwest. Some of the most glaring examples are Darien, CT;  LaJolla, CA; and the west shore of the Great lakes near Detroit around and including Grosse Point.

The Grosse Pointe area was well-known for the
point system, in which those deemed undesirable
(non-Protestants, Eastern Europeans, etc.) had to
amass more points in order to purchase a home.
Realtors and the Grosse Pointe Property Owner's
Association would sometimes hire private
detectives, who would find answers to various
questions, including "Appearances - swarthy,
slightly swarthy, or not at all?" and "Accents -
pronounced, medium, slight, not at all?" The
maximum score for the survey was 100, with most
prospective residents needing a score of 50.

However, according to Michigan Attorney General
Paul Adams, "a Pole is expected to have five
additional points. An Italian, Yugoslav, Greek,
Syrian, Lebanese, Armenian, Maltese, Rumanian, or
other southern European is required to have 15
additional points. A Jew is required to have 35
additional points and his points are more difficult
to achieve because of penalties in a special marking
system for Jews. Orientals and Negroes are not
considered at all."   (from the SUNDOWN TOWNS website)


So.. when we think about the pool party that was held in Texas, and the out-of-control police officer who sat on a 14 year old girl, we have to place it in a context of white privilege. And while we are speaking of Sundown Towns, and neighborhoods, we can talk for a moment about pools.

Perhaps you recall the incident in 2009, when a group of children from a Daycare in Huntington Valley, PA, were taken to a private swim club and then, the following day, asked not to return? It happens that the children were all African American and Latino. “We don’t want to change the atmosphere and the complexion of the club,” the manager said.

The daycare sued. The 60 kids and the daycare were awarded over 1 million dollars.

One little boy was interviewed, a guy about six. You know what he said? He said that when they got into the pool, the white parents started getting their kids out of the pool. He heard them saying things about the black kids.

This is painful. This makes us feel uncomfortable. We don’t want to know these things.
Valley Club pool

But that is the swim club, the pool, that my Uncle Don and Aunt Julia took us to whenever we visited them in the summer. I recognized it right away when I heard the stories. Going there was such a treat. They had pretzel sticks and I used to get one and put mustard on it. I can recall so many details of the days we spent there, carefree and joyful. But, of course, I didn’t know, nor did anyone tell me, that what I enjoyed was denied, and would still be denied 50 years later, to kids of color.
I think the pool/swimming issue is particularly painful and present, is one we can all touch upon. For there is almost no one who did not go swimming someplace during the summer, and who did not realize, at some level, that a form of racism was being exercised in who could and could not swim where. By the way, The Valley Swim Club finally declared bankruptcy and is now closed. And the children, their counselors, and various community groups are receiving their portions of the settlement. But what sum of money can erase the memory of being SIX years old and having white mothers pull their children out of the pool when you jump in? In 2009? In Pennsylvania. Not Kentucky, not Alabama. the suburbs of Philadelphia.

When we think about pools, about swim clubs, and exclusion, we are talking about suburbs. And in his book and website, Sundown Towns,  Prof. James Loewen proves convincingly that virtually every suburb  that was intentionally formed was created as a sundown town.

The real issue is: Why did we never ask a question? A simple question, such as, “Why do so many Black people live in Camden?” or “Don’t African American people want to go to the shore?’ and if we asked, and the answer made no sense, why didn’t we make it our business, once we were old enough, to say something, do something, make waves, make at least some ripples?

Growing up, in the same house I’m now staying in, I was on the far edge of the small town of Hainesport, just the equivalent of a few city blocks from Mt. Laurel. And yet, I never knew that there was any reason why there were no “colored” children at all in my elementary school; nor did I ask. I only met two persons of color prior to going to the bigger High School in Mt. Holly: Emma, who cared for us and for the house after my mother died, and Mr. Cook, the Phys ed teacher.
Actually, the house I live in is very likely to have been on the Underground Railroad, as the town of Haines'Port, like all of the surrounding towns, was founded by Quakers, all of whom were very active in the Underground RR. Lately, I have been looking at some of the nooks and crannies in the basement and attic and wondering which ones were devised to hide escaping slaves. I wish they could tell.
My childhood home, Hainesport N.J.

Sadly, these Quakers were no so peaceful when it came to the Lenni-Lenape Indians, whom they displaced from the entire area. But, at least, the truth about that is told. It would be rather difficult to lie.

Mt. Laurel Friends Meeting House


My father referred to a road near us as “Jewtown.” I had no idea what that meant, nor did I meet anyone who was Jewish until much later in life. But on that road, in addition to some very dilapidated and decrepit buildings and houses, was one that intrigued me. On it was a symbol that I now realize as the Star of David. In the 1960s, almost all of the Jews of Mt. Laurel had left that intentional ghetto and had sold their homes to poor whites and African Americans.

But the story is way more complicated. “Jewtown,” also known as Springville, had been populated by freed Blacks and tenant farmers since the 17th century.  This is understandable, since we know that Mt. Laurel, like many of the surrounding towns, was founded by Quakers, who not only employed and lived peacefully with freed Blacks, but actually operated the Underground Railroad. Only after WWII, when Blacks sought an end to segregated schools, and proposed to build housing for low income families, did the Sundown policies begin. In 1970, the Mayor spoke to citizens at the AME Chapel and told them: If you can’t afford to live in our town, then you will just have to leave.”




Jacobs Chapel AME Church

(ironically, if you go to the Mt. Laurel webpage, the only photo under historic places is this chapel. Yet no mention is made of the landmark case that changed the face of public housing, albeit by fits and starts)


All of this, and lawsuits that followed, gave rise to the Mt. Laurel I and II decisions, NJ State Supreme Court Decisions, as well as the 1985 Fair Housing Act, all of which provide for an allotted number of low and moderate income housing units in every municipality. Still, many zip codes get around this, as they are able to “buy” off part of their obligations by supporting housing projects in neighboring cities or towns. But these are landmark cases, as important to race relations as Brown v. Board of Education. I am appalled that I knew nothing, and that no one told me, and that later, I didn’t pay attention.

Gradually, I learned some of these things. But not until long after I left this state. I lived there. I rode my bike past the former synagogue. I benefitted from the privilege of living in Hainesport, Moorestown (which once only allowed Blacks in the back row of its movie theatre), and at the Jersey shore, where African Americans (and Jews) were excluded both actively and passively, and in some cases still are. Did you know that there were gates at the entrance to Ocean Grove that separated it from Asbury Park? They are no longer there, but longtime residents are sure that the purpose of these gates were to keep A-A out after sundown. Of course, Ocean Grove is a wonderful Christian place, so maybe that isn’t true.


Finally, I wonder whether anyone who lives in Mays Landing or Hamilton township has heard of Mizpah? This part of your township was formed as a Jewish community for a group of cloak makers although it died out as a community. I wonder who lives there now? Are they white or African American?I am asking this because Hamilton Township is listed in Dr. Loewen’s database along with this report:



Mizpah Cloak Factory and the Jewish community



Mizpah Hotel (1930s)



Mizpah, NJ... an African American community

Hamilton Township is a mostly pinelands township
about 15 miles west of Atlantic City. A former mayor
recalled growing up in the town, and how there were
no blacks allowed after dark in the Mays Landing
village section of the township, with the exception of
the town barber. Instead, everyone of color was
required to live (and to this day many still do) live
about five miles west in the Mizpah section of the
township. They were informal restrictions, he said, but
they existed.

Here is another report from a Cape May County area resident:




I grew up in Southern New Jersey, on the Delaware bay. And I have never lived in a more overtly vicious racist area, and I have lived in both NC and VA the last 23 years. My aunt lives in Dividing Creek, NJ, a very small redneck village close to Newport and Fortescue. It has never allowed a black family to live there. Ever. Just a few years ago a very brave family did, and their HOUSE was burned down while they were away. Homes proudly fly the Battle Flag.




As Loewen shrewdly notes, “our culture teaches us to locate overt racism long ago (in the nineteenth century) or far away (in the South) or to marginalize it as the work of a few crazed deviants.”

(Dan Carter)


As I read Loewen’s book, however, it seemed to me that white Northerners chose a different path: amnesia.


It is, I suppose, the natural response of most cultures when confronted with a painful past. “Every nation,” wrote the nineteenth-century French philosopher Ernest Renan, “is a community both of shared memory and of shared forgetting,” what British statesman William Gladstone called “a blessed act of oblivion” that allows old adversaries to put aside past grievances and live together in peace.


But we are not living together in peace. We are living separately, in suspicion and distrust. Everywhere we look, we see the long shadow of our racist past in the re-segregation of our public schools and the growing isolation of the poorest African Americans in impoverished inner cities, in the continuing wealth and income gap between black and white, and in the unconscionable explosion of a “prison-industrial complex” that incarcerates millions of black men, consigning them to a lifetime in the shadows of our society.


None of us should feel personal responsibility for what our parents or grandparents did or did not do. But there will be guilt enough for our own generation if we do not confront and address the bitter consequences of the story that James Loewen has revealed so powerfully in Sundown Towns.


II.             Allies

When we learn about these things, what then can we do?

According to Loewen, there is a great deal that can be done, and should be done. Indeed, churches and civic organizations are just the groups to do it, because clearly, neither chambers of commerce, Historical Societies, or locals who benefit from and/or are uncomfortable with white privilege have done anything nor will they.



We can do the research. We can work for legal solutions, reparations, recognition, or reconciliation.



We can help to be agents of truth telling to present and future generations.



We can apologize for our inability to see what we should have seen so clearly, for being a part of the problem and accepting the benefits that came along with it.




III.           Opportunity


In w hat ways is the sky opening up now?




Residential segregation is one reason race continues to be such a problem in America. But race really isn’t the problem. Exclusion is the problem. As soon as we realize that the problem is white supremacy, rather than black existence or black inferiority, then it becomes clear that sundown towns are r racial inequality is encoded in the most basic single fact in our society—where you can live—the united states will face continuing racial tension, if not overt conflict. (Loewen, p. 17)