Still here

September 7, 2010

Even though my blogging has slowed from a trickle to little, rare droplets, I still write posts in my head and long to reenter blogging both to have a place to work out my own thoughts and to rejoin the rich conversations of the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere. I am at South Station preparing to take the commuter train home after my first full day of teaching where I rambled rambled rambled. I so much prefer working all of my thoughts out in written form, reorganizing, editing, and proof reading again, sending out in a careful and safe email where at least my attempts at humor fall flat later, where I do not have to see the lack of laughter.

I am several months into being the president of our congregation, a role that I treasure and, at the same time, wonder what exactly I was thinking in terms of time management. Such is life though, ehh? We follow our callings and our passions and try to fit as much into  life as we can. I am lucky in that our congregation is gracious and supportive, and amazing in that there is minimal bickering, so I am learning a lot, and loving church life even if it was not the wisest choice in terms of being careful not to over-commit.

And, painfully, my general exams for my doctorate are coming up in October. It is my hope, at this point, that I am prepared enough not to fail or at least almost prepared enough not to fail. But I wish I felt solid about them rather than sickly and worried.

And our boy. He is a little person now, not a bundle of baby. He has is own baby doll which we have creatively named Baby. He loves his frog boots and insists on listening to Fat Boy Slim all. the. time. Which was cute, but now I am tired of Rockafeller Skank and Not From Brighton. When I try to put on Natalie Merchant he says no no no nonononono. It is such a joy, though, that he can say what he wants. Cracker. Baby. Mama. Dada and so on. He is at a daycare with goats and chickens, several bunnies, cats and a dog, and he loves loves loves the animals. And there are five other children that love him and rub his head and say Eli Eli Eli Eli. Which still scares him, but it is sweet none-the-less.

My parents, who are now, primarily, The Grand Parents, visited and doted on our boy and cuddled him and read him endless books and put the rocks in the bowl and out of the bowl and in the bowl with him 201,883 times. He ran to the guest room this morning and said, “Where go?” So we miss them.

I have more thoughts. I think about vegetarianism and animals and our recently rescued cat that I don’t really want, and how to handle/think about our fish tank at church and our mouse problem at church, and then more generally, about the 1001 moth larvae I recently killed in my pantry and the ants I kill that crawl around our living room and the spiders that live in our house that I want to move out but I feel really bad smooshing yet I do not have the time to lovingly transport each one of them outside. How to love the earth’s creatures, even little tiny ones that seem gross to me, and still have a house and church that does not crawl with such creatures. How to balance the beautiful look of a fish tank and swimming little magic animals, with the fact that I think they really don’t like it in there and would be happier in the ocean or a lake. I think about the exceptions I make when I eat eggs and the little chickens that suffer quite the life of misery for my breakfast sandwich. I want to do less harm in the world. But it is hard.

I think about how sad I am about all the fear and unkindness and hurt and harm and injustice expressed around the Muslim Community Center near the site of 9/11… How naive I was about the public’s understanding of Islam. And how easy it is to express outrage at such things from my comfortable little life – how little it costs to feel bad about such things and how I somehow probably think that Feeling Bad and Knowing Better somehow at least a little bit absolves me from my complicity with the injustice in our world. It is so easy to write blog posts of lament, preach to the choir, sign petitions and repost things to facebook…. Yet, my middle class, pretty-easy-relative-to-most-lives is contingent on cheap oil, using too much of my share of the world’s resources, and accessing my white, class, pass-as-heterosexual, have-a-Christian-heritage privilege which is all wrapped up in the U.S.’s history and present that produces/reinforces the sort of hysteria we see around Islam, immigration, and race politics around the presidency. I don’t write this to be all dramatic – oh what shall we ever do – but simply to put it out there. I struggle with it. It seems to easy to let me off by just saying we can’t solve everything and do everything, even though I know we can’t, I guess I still feel called to be with the impossibility of living a life of comfort that I want while it does violence, albeit pretty indirectly. My partner and I talk about this all the time – if you are somehow more removed from the harm you cause, are you better than those closer? Or just more easily able to distance yourself from seeing and doing with your own hands the harm that is done for you, from a distance, for a price. I’m not sure there is a terribly good answer. I was touched by someone in one of my classes who is writing a paper and he wrote that he would like to explore thinking about humanity “in ways the depend less on ‘agency,’ ‘autonomy,’…and more on malleability and incomprehensibility – a wounded soul that is also the site where God works.” Maybe I just want to make sense of my profound sense of woundedness and all the woundedness I see, but somehow it feels like a relief to me to give in to the incomprehensibility of it all and hope that God can work there.

This is not meant to be a “downer” post. My life is so wonderful and so rich in so many ways. But I sit with these questions a lot. Especially as I lead in my congregation and in teaching and in raising our little cuddle bug, I am even more aware that my responses to these struggles aren’t just for me, but that they will influence others. I want my life to match my desires for love and justice. It is so much harder than it seems.

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Glad about the president-elect. But let’s get something straight…

November 6, 2008

Or really two things.

First, racism is not dead. Or over. We are not living in a post-race America, for God’s sake. If I hear one more person saying we are now a united country, or that racism is over, or that Americans are no longer racist, I am going to puke. I thought it especially interesting that the Boston Globe said,

As they woke yesterday morning, settling into the news that voters had elected an African-American to be the next president, schoolchildren and professors, chief executives and bus drivers, black people, white people, and others were asking themselves a simple question. Is racism in America dead?

Really? Black people are asking that? Do they live in the U.S.? And, like, ever watch T.V. or leave the house? What about all these other people (including the media who seem to be asking this the most, may God have mercy on their souls)? Did they not not follow any of the election coverage? Like where the guys said that Obama was going to pull up the rose garden and plant a watermelon patch? Did they not receive the emails about him being a Arab Muslim terrorist or the other very racist emails that parts of my very extended family felt inspired to share with me? Did they not hear people say it isn’t that they don’t like Michelle Obama, it is just that she seems angry? Have they not read the incarceration statistics for the United States?

It is progress people, but it ain’t over.

Second, Barak Obama is not Jesus. Or the Buddha. Or a magic worker. He is a politician. And last time I checked, you don’t get to be the president of the United States without being far from perfect. Without having to answer to corporate interests. Without exaggerating, stretching the truth, and balancing a lot of competing interests. I think he is a decent guy, but I’m afraid people are going to be in for a shock if they think that THIS IS IT. I loved it how he said that this isn’t the change we seek – this is the opportunity for change. And how he asked for sacrifice. And hard work and service. Let’s see how that flies. I hope it does because we need it. I hope he can do something different. But I think we should keep our expectations reasonable and not project this savior thing on him. He is cleaning up a huge mess. It will be hard. And I don’t think even the greatest politician ever could do it in one term. I hope America will be patient. And that Obama will be able to live up to, at least to some extent, what I do believe he wants. It is just that if uniting and bipartisian work were very easy, my guess is that someone would have done it by now.

We shall see.


We can’t take off the white goggles, people.

July 18, 2008

I used to watch The View long ago when I was probably in high school or college. It isn’t so much my style these days. And Ms. E. Hasselbeck has always rubbed in the wrong way (I know, big surprise there). But I was so cheering Whoopi Goldberg on so much when I read about this. They were talking about the presidential election and E.H. was pretty much saying that black people should think a little bit before they just vote for the black candidate because he is black. (Which, of course, my reply is, hey probably they did, genius. But that is not the point here.) And W.G. is pointing out to E.H that there is really just no way she can understand where black folks are coming from.

SHEPHERD: But you’ve seen, you know, your entire lifetime you’ve seen people in positions of power that look like you. I, I am- the first time in my life, I am seeing a man that’s running who looks like me.

HASSELBECK: I’ve never seen a president that looks like me.

SHEPHERD: They look like you. They are white and they look like you. I want to be able- it shows young black men that they can have a voice in politics. It shows my son Jeffrey that he can do the same thing too.

HASSELBECK: I’m not against the idea. I just- I’m against the idea of not just looking beyond the things which have prevented them from being in office. We need to step away from that a little bit and look at the entire picture. That’s all I’m saying.

GOLDBERG: It’s a very- and I say this with a huge amount of love. It’s a very white way to look at it.

HASSELBECK: What do you mean?

GOLDBERG: And I, I’m saying this with love, so I understand, because it’s never.

HASSELBECK: Let me take off my “white” goggles.

SHEPHERD: You can’t. I wish you could. You can’t.

GOLDBERG: But you can’t. That’s what I’m trying to explain. This, for us, is totally- it’s not an experience I can explain to you. I can’t explain why black folks are saying “oh my God.”

My point of this is not to say anything about the presidential candidates or who should vote for who or why, but to point out this widespread notion that white people don’t really have white goggles (which Hasselbeck said sarcastically). I just wanted to appreciate W.G.’s point (which you don’t hear much on network television that much) that people need to be more aware that there are just some things that white people cannot grasp about what it means to be black. It shows so much when E.H. said, “There has never been a president that looks like me,” of course completely missing the point so much. I understand the difficulty of being white and wanting to be a good white person and not racist and to be neutral. Yet, it is only when we understand that we benefit from being white whether we want to or not, and that white is not neutral, that we can begin to get at the heart of the structural racism that hurts so so many people. We can’t take off the white goggles. The point is not to take them off and be all neutral and good, but rather to notice them, see what they do, and take the often hard steps to break down the racist structures that so fundamentally shape our society.


Checking In: Congregations, Cats, Anti-Racism Class, etc.

February 28, 2008

Ah, school and work are setting in. I’m dying to jump into the conversation on Unitarian Universalist-identified people who are not part of congregations, the limits of Unitarian Univeralist congregationalism, the exciting possibilities for broadening our vision of what it means to be Unitarian Universalist, and the ways that this could expand our reach and ministry. Ms. Theologian links to the various posts here and also eloquently writes about why she is Unitarian Universalist but does not go to church. But, alas, I just don’t have the time to craft something worth putting out there – a lot of important things have already been said. (Come to think of it, I will refer readers to a 2006 post – A Congregationally Based Movement? On Community Ministry and the Work of Our Faith in the World – about my call to community ministry and how I struggle with how that fits into a congregationally-based movement. Slightly longer. Written in third person – why? I do not know. Maybe just how I was feeling that day….)

In other news, our cat Murray is hanging in there. He changes all the time. But seems to not be getting worse (as of the past two days – but who knows).

I am teaching OWL (a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum – Our Whole Lives) and loving it. I was never a huge fan of working with teens. Not so much that I was against it, but I just never understood how people could think it was so awesome. Not that I am clamoring to be a youth minister now, but I “get” it much better how one could consider that as a career option or long-term volunteer option. I’m sure all people who work with young people and really like it think that they are working with especially impressive teens, but I actually think it is true in my case. And my co-facilitator is great too.

I have started five posts relating to the sexual purity movement, a NYTimes article on meat, “the hard work of being a peaceful presence”, and the GA brou-ha-ha (as Philocrities put it) but none have gotten done enough that I want to put them out there. I guess I will just have to resign myself to things being slower while classes are going on and chiming in on discussions a little late in the game.

Speaking of classes, I am taking one called Racializing Whiteness with an excellent instructor who presents ideas, but does a great job of not making everyone feel guilty and horrible (which was my fear of what it would look like) and leaves room for the exploration of issues rather than preaching some sort of party line about the only and right way to be anti-racist (again, this was a fear of mine). I am learning a lot. And now fear less nervous of saying something “wrong” about anti-racism work, since it can be (lest we all forget the brown bag controversy last year) a sensitive subject in our denomination. I think it will help me be more anti-racist (or, framed more positively, more just) in my own life and inform (in a positive way) my ministry and scholarship. Somehow it is a huge relief to me that it is a really helpful and meaningful class and that we have room to learn and grow and grapple with hard questions.

That’s all for now.

p.s. I just read Chalice Chick’s reasons she does go to church. It is super-good. A great compliment to Ms. Theologian’s post about why she does not go to church.


The End of Brown v. Board

June 28, 2007

This is so absurd and awful I can’t think of anything to say right now.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/28/us/28cnd-scotus.html?hp


What does it take for mentoring “at risk” kids to “work”?

June 25, 2007

So I have “mentored” three young men for the past twelve years. They rank in the top five joys and blessings of my life. I love them so much and think they are just so amazing beyond words. That said, it has been hard. Very very hard. For them. For me. These are my thoughts on that process and on the “afterschool tutoring”/”mentoring disadvantaged kids” trend that is quite popular these days. This is a tad long, but I think worth it, as it is one of the areas I am most passionate about and actually know a little about.

First a note on terminology: I put “at risk” and “work” in quotes because I’m not sure if either of those are the greatest terms to describe what I am talking about, but I can’t think of others that work better. I think we label inner-city and/or minority kids “at risk” and it turns them into Those At Risk Kids rather than just people trying to make their way in the world. That said, kids whose families are poor, kids who grow up in the inner-city, and/or kids who are part of a minority ethnicity/race, face a whole host of factors that stack the cards against them, and it is important to acknowledge that they are up against a lot that has really nothing to do with who they are and everything to do with the way our society is structured. I say “what does it take to make mentoring “work”?” because the whole idea of what is a “success” that has really “worked” makes it seem like mentoring is meant to churn our “good” members of society. This is a problem. I wanted the boys I mentored to be happy, safe, and feel loved, like most people want for people/children who they care about. Part of this is the hope that their criminal record would be non-existent or minor, that they wouldn’t have children earlier than they were ready, that they wouldn’t be involved in drug sales (one of the only lucrative jobs available to them with the sort of sucky inner-city education they got), that they could have a job that make them happy and feel secure, that they would find a partner they loved, etc. This is different than the grappling, desperate hope of preventing “those kids” from becoming criminals, which is the underlying message/goal of lots of inner-city mentoring/after school programs.

So, enough with terminology. I think you get the point.

The main thing I wanted to raise in this post is that afterschool tutoring programs and mentoring programs mostly serve the purpose of exposing privileged teenagers to social injustices. The best result of this is that they are more aware of these social injustices and aware that they are structural issues (and not because poor/minority folks are lazy or bad parents, etc.). This is actually important because I can’t think of any other way to get privileged people to understand their privilege, and to understand social injustice other than getting to know people different from them. Volunteer programs help with this and the good ones help volunteers reflect on this, and integrate it into their world view. The idea would be to produce volunteers who will be moved enough by their experiences to want to change the world.

What these programs usually don’t do is actually help the kids have any more stability in their lives, get better grades or be less “at risk.” I know that there are exceptions, but by and large, these programs do not actually help the kids. The best programs realize this, and instead do the programs with the knowledge that it is mostly about volunteers learning from communities, with a sometimes side-benefit of actually supporting those communities in the struggle for the justice that they deserve.

The programs mostly don’t work because, first, the schools that poor and minority kids go to are so bad that a little tutoring here and there by high school students cannot even begin to compensate for the inadequate education that kids from inner-city schools get. (How do I know this? The book Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol deals with this extensively, and I did the research for the book so I’ve poured over these stats and narrative accounts, and studies, um, a lot.)

Another reason they don’t work is because, there is a lot of talk about “loving the kids” and “building relationships” in these programs, but this doesn’t work if you volunteer for one semester, or even a year or two. As cute as the kids may be, “loving them” involves more than showing up once a week to tutor them. And they know it. Many kids from the inner-city have seen hundreds of people come and go, bearing gifts of bicycles, candy, fun games, parties, tutoring books (and often the message of Jesus). They are onto the game. They live it up. Play along. Hug you and smile, but they know that when it gets hard, the tutoring people aren’t around. Not when Dad goes to jail. Not when Mom looses her job, when the phone gets cut off, when the shots ring out.

Someone said something like this to me early in my conversion to Christianity when I was still trying hard to do everything everyone at my church told me to. They said, “Lots of people come and go in these kids lives. You need to be there for them.” So, when I got my first group of tutoring kids I decided, “Okay, these are my kids.” This is not to say, “Oh what a hero I am” but to say that mentoring can’t work unless it is for the long haul. Late night calls. Money transfers. Going out to Chucky Cheese even when you are so tired and just want to rest. Answering the hard questions and confused tears about why we are always stopped by the police – black kids with a white girl. Explaining to the people at ice cream store that we will not leave and you can’t just ban people from your store just because. Knowing when to be the tough big sister or when to just listen. Not having any idea what you are doing and needing to just keep going anyway. And explaining for the five millionth time why you cannot call each other gay even if you “don’t mean anything” by it.

Is mentoring some sort of answer? I would say absolutely not. It is great if you can do it. If you stick with it, love unconditionally, are willing to help financially, emotionally, even on those days when you are tired, and even when the mentorees make the ten thousandth bad decision (as most kids will do), it can “work.” It is the most rewarding thing in my life – the young men bring me more joy than I can put into words. I LOVE to laugh with them, and I am not a huge laugh-er. I think my presence and never-ending-even-when-it-seems-stupid belief in them has made a difference. But they still struggle SO MUCH because being poor in the United States is hard. Being black is hard. It’s like no matter how hard they try, there is often something else that just knocks them down. And there is only so much I can do, they can do, their moms can do. And my love and commitment to them hasn’t done much or even almost anything to change the system. And it has taken a whole lotta energy. I do it because I love them and they love me, but it is so so so frustrating to see that EVERY OTHER KID they know and I know from the tutoring program where I met them is not doing well. Pregnant very young. Shot. Jail. Abused. No decent educations. We sometimes go over the kids that we all knew, and we can’t come up with anyone doing well. It is depressing.

I don’t mean this to be some sort of authoritative article on mentoring or that I am some sort of guru. It is just that I don’t hear a lot of people sticking with the mentoring thing through elementary school all the way to college. It makes me upset to see mentoring programs that are all self-congratulatory and then don’t even have a long-term way to maintain contact with the kids. That is FINE if you don’t want to be in it for the long-haul, but if you want to make a difference, the long-haul is what it will take. I guess I am looking for more honesty about what these sorts of mentoring/tutoring programs can and can’t do for communities and their children. And honesty about what it really takes to make a dent in the numbing barrage of injustices that far too many children face every single day.

May we continue to do the hard work of love and justice wherever and however we can.

2000

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2007

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A Collection of all the Brown Bag Posts (and a side note)

June 6, 2007

Like many in the UU blogosphere, I’ve been following the conversation about racism, UUism, and brown bag lunches. I will write a post responding to all of this, or more reflecting on it, but I have really learned a lot from all the discussion.

While I hear Trivum and Ellis’s concerns (see links below) that this isn’t the most ideal thing to spend so much energy on, I’d like to suggest that the issue is not really about brown bag lunches, but bigger issues of semantics, language, justice, love, race, oppression, and how to handle these issues as congregations, as an association, as a faith, as individuals, and so on. The whole “to say brown bag or not” issue is just the narrow, clearly minor, topic that happens to be the ground on which these larger issues and tensions are being discussed. For me, the question is how can we live out the love and justice that is so important to us? In community and as individuals?

Also, for seminarians, no matter what you think about the anti-racism/anti-oppression work in Unitarian Universalism and how we should grapple with racism, this is an important conversation given the importance of anti-racism in the ordination/MFC process.

In case you don’t have time or energy to track down all the responses and various discussions on this topic, I’ve tried to gather together all the various posts. Let me know if I missed anything.

(As I was proofing this post, I realize that it could seem like I am coming down on one side or the other about this whole thing, which I am not. For now, my point is only that the discussion is helpful to learn about the work that some are doing, the work others are doing, and to take a pulse on how this issue is playing out in the association.)

Original post where Peacebang comments on an article in the Quest Magazine: http://www.peacebang.com/2007/05/28/brown-bag-lunch/ Also note that the comments in this post and many of them are important parts of the conversation as well.

Here is the article in Quest Magazine that Peacebang is responding to: http://clf.uua.org/quest/2007/06/#mummert

Responses and related posts (in no particular order):

Here is short response (in Peacebang’s comments) by Melissa Mummert who wrote the article that appeared in Quest: www.peacebang.com/2007/05/28/brown-bag-lunch/#comment-4301

Ministrare Blog (Rev. Sean Parker)

Why is this so Hard?

A discussion between Chalice Chick and Rev. Sean on some of the broader questions related to racism and UUism (and Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression)

Of Black Sheep and Brown Bags

Jess’s Journal

Censoring

A Story to Tell

Left Coast Unitarian: Smells Like School Spirit or Be True To Your School Part II?

Surviving the Workday (Ms. Theologian)

This sort of Sucks (On Issues of Language)

This is not about Starr King

Pass the Scholarship Please

Barry’s Mom’s Blog: Education at Starr King

The Hunan Scooter Blog: Be True to Your School Now!

The Socinian

Toward a Theology of Anti-Oppression — or not

Truth to Power

The Chalice Blog

Someone totally unqualified to discuss the brown bag lunch issue, who has no clear opinion, weighs in anyway

CC and Sparker say a quick hello

So are we saying here at anti-racism and critical thinking are mutually exclusive?

The Lively Tradition

Brown Bags

Henry Louis Gates Bag Party

Philocrities: Brown bag landmines, culling the affiliates, and more

Trivium: Brown Bag – Shmown Bag

Post Office Mission: I’m putting a brown bag over my head

Peacebang: Original post and this one So is this about anti-oppression or is this about school spirit?

Boy in the Bands: Why Starr King?

Making Chutney: My two cents on the Brown Bag Controversy

Paul Wilczynski’s Observations

(very short post) Brown Bag Racism

Brown Bag Racism II

iMinister: The Brown Bag of Pain

A Perfect World: Beware Evildoer!