Doing the Hard Work of Love and Justice: Where is energy best spent?

June 24, 2007

I wrote meditations and prayers for my internship congregation each week when I was the intern minister there.  One theme that came up over and over, for me, was to remind us what was involved and pray for what we needed to “do the hard work of love and justice.” The idea that it is important for us to remember that if we are going to talk about love and justice, as most UUs like to do, it is important to remember that it is about hard work and not just righteous talk or token actions. As I think about what it means to do this in my own life, I often wonder where my energy is best spent to bring about the most good. I know for me, it is often easy to convince myself that what I want to do, or what appeals to me the most, is the best use of my time, especially if what is appealing can seem righteous or really worthy.

All the hub-a-bub about General Assembly, and the not too distant brown bag controversy as had me thinking about what it means to be part of a faith, part of an association, and just what I want my life to look like and where I want to put my attention – how to live out my own call to do the hard work of love and justice.

I think it would be really easy for me to get involved in UUA politics (by this I mean both the important, good work of our Association, and also the somewhat jaded, gossipy politics). I could very easily be a snarky blogger making fun of all the unique and maybe less than common-sense seeming things that happen at GA and in UUism in general. In fact, I do this in my head more than I want, but I try to stop myself.  I think I could have written a scathing post on the whole brown bag thing. But I’m trying not to do this, and put my frustration, anger, and energy into those parts of my life and my faith that seem like they will make the biggest difference.* The question of course is what the best allocation of my time and energy is.
Not that General Assembly or language issues (how we talk about things, for instance, lunches where people need to bring their own lunch) aren’t important, but I am feeling more and more like there are a lot symbolic politics that I could really make a lot out of and that would be sort of fun and feel really important, but I’m not sure if that is where my time and energy should be spent.  And of course, there is the important question of being able to discern symbolic politics from actual important stuff that makes a difference in people’s lives (and makes a difference big enough to be justified, relative to the time and energy spent on it, since time and energy, institutionally and individually, is limited).

All that said, it also seems like one needs to keep one foot in institutional worlds, and bigger questions. I can be a bit leery of the potential for political correctness to run amok. But, then again, some people might tell me that using only male language for God is one of those areas, and what is all the fuss about? And of course, I would argue that it is an important area to be attentive to. Maybe all that happens at UUA headquarters in Boston is not earth-shattering, but certainly some things that happen there and some of what happens at our General Assembly is really important.  The question is how to manage my energy and time – how much can I/should I/must I give to these things that are sort of scarily appealing to jump into, yet at the same time, softly whisper to me that this is not where my energy should go? I think it is so easy to criticize what is not going right or well. It is so much harder to do something different that wouldn’t be make-fun-of-worthy.

Just some reflections on this. No conclusions yet.

*When I talk about making the biggest difference, I don’t mean to imply that UUism is some sort of big social service agency or something that is meant to change the world via our Social Action Committees. For me, I feel like my connection with the divine is, in many ways, through bringing about the kingdom of love/god here on earth. I feel a call to unconditional love, which in some way, I feel emanates from the divine to the world’s beings. This is not meant to be Elizabeth’s Spiritual Treatise on Divine love, but just to clarify that unconditional love is a guiding force in my spiritual journey, which, for me, translates to reducing the suffering of others in both spiritual and material ways, thus the whole thing about “hard work of love and justice.”

**Side note II: This is not to be some sort of broad criticism of snarky criticism or critique of things in general. I think sometimes it is good and needed and constructive. Sometimes it can just be too much, too frequent, and mean. This is mostly about my approach to things.

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Snoop Gives His Take on Imus

April 12, 2007

This quote (see below) is particularly interesting to me given my twelve-year journey with some young men whom I’ve been lucky enough to mentor, two of whom are African-American and listen to Snoop Doggy-Dog and other such folks. I feel like twelve years later we are still have the same conversations. They go something like this:

One of the young men: Lizabeth, can we change the station?

Me: Yes, but if offensive songs come on we have to change it.

One of the young men: Okay.

(Offensive song comes on the radio)

Me: Please change.

One of the young men: They are bleeping out the words. Why do we have to change it?

Me: I can’t hear that kind of stuff being said about women even if it is being bleeped out. We all know what they are saying.

One of the young men: But we don’t really think that. Either do they.

Me: Don’t you think some people believe it and then these songs seem to make it okay? Do you think it is okay to call women bitches or hoes?

One of the young men: Well only if it is accurate. They aren’t talking about all women.

Me: Well I still don’t like it. We listened to your station enough. Let’s listen to NPR.

And so it goes. The young men are WONDERFUL people and I love and admire them all with the depth of my heart. I think, by and large, they are kind and loving and generally respectful of women, at least more so than most men. They have stopped calling women/girls “chickenheads” which I thought was a good step. :) Yet. I hate that sort of music and I hate that they listen to it and I know it influences them. And thanks to Mr. Snoop D.D. talking about Don Imus, we can see maybe where they get some of their ideas.

If you are offended by rough language, read no further. Here are Snoop’s comments on Imus in response to a comparison between Imus and rap lyrics that ROUTINELY degrade women, including SDD’s lyrics. Oh the outrage Mr. SDD must feel. Bless his little heart. (cough)

It’s a completely different scenario. (Rappers) are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We’re talking about hoes that’s in the ‘hood that ain’t doing shit, that’s trying to get a nigga for his money. These are two separate things. First of all, we ain’t no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them muthafuckas say we are in the same league as him. Kick him off the air forever.

Except, my dear SDD, guess what? All women suffer from your attitudes towards women and lyrics about women not just those in the “hood” that you assess “ain’t doing shit.” I think Imus is stupid and should be fired (how did he even stay on the air this long anyway?), but I want to see more outrage toward any sort of degrading talk about women and/or people/women of color. I don’t care of your sexism comes from your soul, Snoop. It hurts women, and it hurts the women and boys and men and girls that hear your music and know ALL THE WORDS and sing along and think it is just fine. And most of them are not thinking you are talking about particular women out to get money – such a cop out – because you aren’t and that is clear from your songs. You use women and bitches interchangeably.

Anyway. I thought that quote was important to share. I’m glad to see the outrage about Imus. But stuff like that should get you fired in a blink of an eye. I suppose at least it is helpful that they did it sooner than later.

p.s. I know some of my posts are getting a tad more snarky than usual. I’m not sure what that is about. Maybe a phase? I go through thinking I need to make this an ultra-professional blog, and a more casual approach that allows sarcasm and snarkiness where it is called for. I suppose it is all about balance. Biting commentary can somehow sometimes get a point across in a way that journalistic or academic sort of writing can’t. Yet, it is overdone in the blog world and I don’t want to contribute to that over-done-ness.