Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I am resisting the call to "Unity."

In articles and Facebook posts, I have read a plea for "unity." They reference the Black Lives Matter movement and recent shootings of police officers and say, "Enough is enough. We are one country. All lives matter. We need unity."

I am not wholly cynical. I believe that in amongst the crass political attempts to spin the narrative, there are individuals who seek a vision of peace in which all people get along in tranquility.

But as I have read before, many people will sacrifice integrity for tranquility.

This call to "Unity" seems to me to be a siren call to abandon the difficult work that must be done, to stop exposing the truth, so that the privileged may sleep better at night, and so that the monster that is white supremacy can reign unfettered, fat with destroyed lives and broken dreams, happy with keeping things the way they have always been.

As a mentor reminded me recently, we hate discomfort. We will do almost anything to avoid it.

Because of the internet, smartphones, and people being woke, the wallpaper of the American Dream is being stripped away, long curling piece by piece.

The call to "Unity" is seductive and pernicious. Fake correlations are put up: If you support "Black Lives Matter," then you do not support police officers. Of course this is ridiculous, but this is what we do as a culture. They said that if you were against the Vietnam war, you were against soldiers; if you were for equal rights for women, you hated men. This pattern keeps repeating for the simple reason of: IT WORKS. Who among us right now doesn't feel the need to say "I Support Black Lives Matter, But I Also Love Honorable Police Officers!"

I do love honorable police officers, some personally. I'm a minister, and so I feel a kinship with anyone who is called to live a life of service for others. I do not hold them to perfection - I am deeply aware of my own faults, and know that all of us are fallible humans, destined to make mistakes, and hopefully be held accountable, and try again, older and wiser from the last bump.

Because I love police officers, I want systemic change that will strengthen accountability, will get them the best training, the best mental-health resources, will remove those who do not uphold the honor of the office, and will support those noble whistle-blowers who work to make their profession better.

Law enforcement is just one part of the work to be done. As we strip away the wallpaper, we discover more and more the effects of white supremacy on the lives of black people and the rot in all of our souls. It is painful, and the more we learn, the more painful it may get. It's not about feeling guilt, it's about acknowledging reality. And being courageous enough to go further in, to sit with discomfort without "solving" it, without some deep catharsis, without absolution, without the hollywood ending. And yes, without "Unity."

When people call for "Unity," what they really mean is, "Behave. Be like us." It has made my skin crawl and my heart crack to see the calls for "Unity" right now, because what they're really saying is "Stop posting those links to stories about racism. Stop posting videos of police officers killing unarmed citizens." Some of these calls for "Unity" have even referenced love, that we all just need to love one another.

I know of no better way to love than to acknowledge reality and accept that I am a part of it. By my silence, by my inaction, I have agreed and accepted the reality of white supremacy. I am waking. But that is merely a beginning. It is my job to listen, to follow. To resist calls back to the pleasant dream.

From the Abrahamic religions to modern day sci-fi, there are stories about a charming, seductive, individual who will bring promises of paradise, but is instead serving evil.

This current call to "Unity"? It is a false messiah.

Ezekiel 13:10-12 Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”

Friday, May 1, 2015

Feral Unitarian Universalists

It is an old joke, in many organizations, and certainly over(used) in Unitarian Universalist churches, that working with a designated group of people is "like herding cats."

So ... what if we didn't? What if we encouraged congregation members to run free and wild, like the creative people they are, bent on loving the hell out of the world?

I've written before about a collective disdain for members with "pet projects." There are those feral cats again. Running in a hundred directions, each one on fire for something different.

How awesome.

I don't want to corral that energy, I want to stoke it.

They say if you feed them, you'll never get rid of them. That sounds pretty good, too. Let's figure out how to feed them, so they keep coming back for the sustenance that will keep them going.

And let's, all of us, find our own wild side. We can still be good upstanding responsible citizens, paying our taxes, bringing a casserole to the potluck. But we prick up our ears at a certain conversation, or a certain issue that makes us say, "Something MUST be done." Well-nourished, we do that thing that must be done, roaming the streets til we find the others who are headed in the same direction. We work together with these others, different from us, but united in purpose.

And then we head home. We know there will be a light left on, a bowl of kibble, some fresh water. Sometimes, we may even bring with us some of those whom we have met out in the night of united purpose. They haven't eaten lately, and are looking a little gaunt.

Let's feed the cats, not herd them.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Halfway around the world from right next door

We had just lifted up his mother's 95th birthday in church. I didn't know if he had heard the news, so I just sent a vague-ish email: Where in Nepal did his mother live?

Kathmandu, he replied. But before the news broke worldwide, breaking the phone system, he had heard from his brother. The immediate family was okay. His mother was okay. They were sleeping in a car out in an open field to avoid aftershocks. It is devastating. All rubble. They don't know about other family members.

My son is safe at college, just three hours away from me. But another young man, exactly his age, is also at college. We have sponsored his education since he was 12, exchanging letters and photos twice a year. He is studying engineering and is growing into a fine man. In Nepal.

We are following the status updates that Answer-Nepal is putting out, scanning the list for Alish's name, multiple times a day. I have sent an email to the last email address I had for him.

I just checked again.

The silence is loud.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Real News, Real People

There is real news today
The Supreme Court of the land hearing arguments
About whether all who love, may legally marry
And a real couple watch: can they make plans?
Set a date?

There is real news today
Baltimore is burning
With rage, with despair, with anguish
And 2 real persons watch from their respective windows
Is it safe to go to work today?
Will his blue security uniform mean attack?
Will his black skin mean death?

There is real news today
Nepali people dig in the rubble for loved ones
Landslides, avalanche, no way to get supplies
And 2 real family members, a world away, listen
Hoping for a phone call that mama is okay
The ping of an email that the student has been located.

Turn off the analysis
The posturing
The replaying over and over
To elicit the emotional reaction
That means you'll keep watching
And paying for them to do it all again

There is real news today
With real people.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Holding the Days, Loosely

Monday is my Sabbath and this past Monday was an exceptionally beautiful day. Like an eager puppy, my soul nipped around my heels, clamoring to go for a walk. “Okay, okay,” I said, pulling on comfortable walking shoes, some sunblock, and my hat. I went down to the water, as I like to do, and walked along the bank.

It was such a beautiful day – in just one week, the brown and brittle cold had given way to warm, lush green bursting forth. I walked along through all the greenness, peering into the water here and there, pausing to savor a delicious breeze, to look up at the trees which were shedding their winter brown as young, bratty green leaves nagged for their time to hang out over the water.

I found myself wanting to clutch the day fiercely, to hoard it, because I know that what is coming means heat and bugs. Summer in Texas is often like the photo negative of a Boston winter – they hibernate from the snow and frigid cold; we move sluggishly from air-conditioned home to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned workplace.

I have this instinct for hoarding, I have to admit, not only with beautiful days, but with happy times in general. My father says, “I don’t trust happiness,” and I suppose I have some of that attitude in me. Life teaches us that. We can one day be thrilled with how wonderful things are; we blink and we’re in an ambulance with a loved one, or getting a serious phone call.

I think it’s understandable, this desire to hoard the good days, this fear that even while enjoying the day, makes us look around suspiciously – “What is going to try to steal my happy?”

I walked farther on, finding more and more treasures. A mockingbird landed close to me and began singing loudly, protecting a nest I could see in the branches. 

I walked to the end of the trail and turned around to head back, the way that I came. I took a few steps and saw something small, amongst all the greenery I had walked past. A tiny spot of blue.

I looked closer. It was the first bluebonnet of the season. Suddenly, my eyes opened with recognition that the waves and waves of green I had been walking through were the familiar star-shaped leaf clusters of the bluebonnet. I had been walking through fields of bluebonnets the entire time. They’re not in bloom yet, but they’re there, they’re ready to go, the late freezes didn’t kill them.

This entire walk, I had been walking not through fields of green that are beautiful now but will turn brown at some point, I was walking through fields of potential. In just a couple of weeks, it will be even more amazing, more beautiful.

I realized that “Things are so great … when are they going to go bad?” can be traded in for, “Things are so great … and they may get even better.”

And so I was reminded to hold my good days with gratitude, but to hold them loosely, knowing that I may need to open my hands to hold even more happiness. My hands runneth over …

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Nurturing and Feeding the “Pet Projects”

First Published on The Lively Tradition, http://www.tomschade.com/2014/09/go-forth-and-serve.html Sept. 11, 2014

When did “pet project” become an insult in UU churches?

A person has a charity or a cause that they’re passionate about. They devote time and money to it. They talk about it at their church or – horrors! – ask for support. 

“Oh, that’s just their pet project,” says someone.

We don’t want pet projects. We want Church Programs. We’re fine with making the world a better place, but it needs to be done here, through the proper channels, something we all feel the same amount of passion for. Which may be virtually nil, but at least we all feel nil about it. We’re not spending the church’s energy on someone’s pet project.

I used to buy into that. But not anymore.

I knew someone who had a passion for a particular issue. At her workplace, she mobilized others. She wound up with 200 people helping her “pet project.”  Her church did something similar and wound up with a not insubstantial 40 participants – good for their size. 

But let’s just think about that.

What if, rather than trying to get 40 participants for one program, we instead equipped and empowered 40 members to go out and each one follow their own passion? Maybe we gave them meeting space or maybe even a little seed money. Maybe all we did was cheer them on, and offer them the shared wisdom of all the other church members who were changing the world in their own particular calls.

40 x 200? Heck, 40 x 10 would still be pretty impressive, wouldn’t it?

The balance to this is an understanding that the church is not going to adopt anyone’s pet project. Because instead, there’s an expectation that every member is called to find what lights their soul on fire. And as a church, we’re going to find the ways that we can support all these different “burning coals” within. 

Pets need to be fed, given love, have people they can trust.

So do their owners. Let’s work on that.