Season of Light

Solstice Android Jones

My Unitarian Universalist congregation rang in seven new members at an exuberant ritual following our annual Joy Service last weekend. This gives us one more reason to celebrate in a season already packed with celebration. It also gives me a chance reflect on our congregation’s many members and friends, and the variety of ways we experience our faith journeys this time of year.

The days grow shorter still. All around, twinkling lights frame homes and shops, even our own glittering sanctuary. Yes, December radiates holiday cheer, but not all of us feel warmed by the light. Some of us may instead feel the chill of absent loved ones, uncertain finances, national political turmoil and minute-by-minute news of mounting global crises. The festive glow surrounding us can make things even gloomier as it illuminates the distance between ourselves and the holiday spirit. And because our hearts already feel two sizes too small, we may just keep these troubles to ourselves.

Continue reading “Season of Light”

Advertisements

The Question of Courage

typewriter if not now

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

– Audre Lorde

What keeps me from writing about racial justice? What stands in the way of articulating both the inequities in higher education and a vision for building structures of inclusion? While the fear of getting it wrong looms large, looking foolish worries me far less than doing harm. What I write could galvanize those who prefer white campuses and the insidious myths of individualism and meritocracy.

Back in November, an Admissions officer at the university where I work shared his reactions to the election on his personal Facebook page. His harsh post went viral, prompting conservatives across the blogosphere to point to his words as evidence of “liberal intolerance” propped up by the higher education system. This one employee’s private views became fodder for efforts across the country to gut inclusion initiatives. This is not hyperbole. Remember when the Tennessee legislature voted in April to cut all funds for the university’s diversity office?

At my Unitarian Universalist church, we’ve been grappling with a similar constellation of concerns. A polarized national climate has illuminated the deep and widening fractures in our communities. The choices we make matter. Each time we come together, we have a new opportunity to understand and undo the structures of white supremacy in our traditions and in our congregation.

Indeed, every setting in which we find ourselves offers up avenues for taking steps on racial justice.

Continue reading “The Question of Courage”

Welcoming September

The Sun will rise and set regardless. What we choose to do with the light while it’s here is up to us.

Alexandra Elle

peg green flaming chalice

Barely a month has passed since the Board of Directors at my UU church welcomed me into my new role as the Lay Minister for Membership and Outreach. I could just as easily say they approved or endorsed or just plain voted. Yet none of those words capture the experience of stepping into this world of Unitarian Universalist leadership as much as “welcome.”

My family only began attending the local church in July 2015. Many of my fellow congregants carry much more history and knowledge about the workings of the community. I have to admit, when the Reverend suggested I consider lay ministry, I laughed out loud. Little old me? Newcomer? Someone who should rightfully still use a green mug during coffee hour?

Continue reading “Welcoming September”

Beyond Belief: #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn

BlackLivesUU

We believe that hundreds of UU churches signaling to their own members and to the larger community that “our faith takes racism seriously, especially within our own walls” will push our faith toward the beloved community we all seek.

Black Lives of UU

On Sunday, my Unitarian Universalist congregation participated in the first #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn. This began as a call to action by Black Lives of UU for congregations around the country the dedicate one day of services to teaching about racism and white supremacy. Our worship team took the charge seriously, shifting not only the content of the service but the very structure of how we gather together. A new seating arrangement brought everyone face-to-face. Without the familiar printed order of service to guide us, we watched videos of anti-racist leaders like Tricia Rose, and worshiped in the company of art and music by people of color. Most notably, our pastors made unflinching use of the term “white supremacy.”

Continue reading “Beyond Belief: #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn”

Testimonial: Reimagining the Possible

unity papalini

The minister of my Unitarian congregation invited me to share the story of why I joined our church. The Sunday I’m scheduled to speak happens to coincide with a moment of extraordinary upheaval in the national Unitarian Universalist Association. A senior-level hiring decision unearthed patterns of white supremacy and bias that many people of my faith believed didn’t exist, not here, not among us. We see yet again that privileges, blinders, and oppressive structures exist everywhere — even within people of goodwill who speak of inclusion and equity. Even those of us whose deepest value is radical love.

Continue reading “Testimonial: Reimagining the Possible”

King and Queen

Mahalia

The trick is to tell him the dog can stay in bed with us for the first book. We settle down in the nest of pillows and blankets. Poor, long-suffering Noodle is crammed into my boy’s insistent grasp.

We begin with Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens. The illustrations are rich and the story simple enough.

Simple does not always mean comfortable.

Bug listens and the dog drifts into a warm stupor.

Ms. Jackson left school in 4th grade to take care of her baby cousins and only returned when she was 16 and living in Chicago. She soon had to quit yet again to work as a maid and a laundress. Through all this, she sang in churches, she lifted congregants to their feet. People joined because her voice called to them.

When we finish the book, Bug asks, “What is gospel?”

I give him the barest definition then search up a video on my phone. There she is, young and vivid, her voice weaving in and over a gathered crowd’s soulful noise. She vibrates, filled with light and bright as the sun. The hall is an unnamed church. It is crammed with people, white and black both. At the lectern on the other side of the room, Martin Luther King, Jr. waits with a patient smile.

Bug knows that face, of course. From his first years, King’s image and his words have           stood with those of the founding fathers and the flag to which he pledges allegiance.  They are basic building blocks in the canon of his education. For him, “I Have Dream” is a prayer both fixed and abstract existing in another time and context. King is prophet from first introduction, forever commanding an elevated position above a faceless crowd.

Now, on my tiny screen, the man, real and revenant, young again. The camera pans from Ms. Jackson’s crackling energy to Dr. King’s measured calm. Heads bop in and out of the frame. My son is transfixed. On the jumpy, amateur film, King steadies himself and seems almost uncertain where to fix his gaze. The force drawing people into jubilation is not him but this woman who opens her voice, this surge of power in song.

Bug is up on his elbows, staring with wide eyes into the screen. “Who is that?” he asks.

“That’s her,” I say. “That’s Mahalia Jackson. This is during the civil rights movement.”

Usually when we do what Bug calls “learny things,” he is more than willing to roll his eyes and tell me how boring it all is. He endures until we can get back to the fun stuff, to Rick Riordan and teen demigods doing battle with gorgons.

For this moment, Poseidon waits. Bug watches, immersed. The camera turns to the room as the song quiets. Young folks and old, black folks and white, faces alive on the long-ago film. They are crammed in together, expectant, ready to step through the door one voice has throw open.


Image from Reed Magazine

 

 

Everything is Music

 
He points to Sting and Bob Marley,
his eyes hopscotching sideways
over walls of worn bright album covers
all the way to the ceiling, lighting
up for the first time
as salsa music and hissing milk
steam the room and warp
corners that squeeze
us into the proximity
of firsts
and nexts. Shots
in hot mugs clank against laughing teeth.
He slides forward in his seat
back again. When India Arie
escorted Stevie Wonder to the stage
he tells me, she kissed him on the cheek.

The next morning beach balls
soar through the sanctuary,
the whole congregation plays
Beethoven’s 9th
on kazoos but only after the Jewish
minister of this Unitarian church
wishes everyone a happy Hanukkah
as he juggles.
Joy to the fishies
in the deep blue sea, brass
horns blow fat bubbles of light
across a swaying crowd, on feet,
on chairs,
Joy to you and me.

This is morning’s prelude
to dusk as it rides in on fiddle and flute.
Clapping stomp dancing feet
chase a reel as it vaults off the skin
of an Irish drum then ricochets around the belly
of a bouzouki swollen with Miss Fogarty’s
Christmas cake and strung
with cinnamon berry and gold.

Cresting and crashing
our lustrous flesh resounds
with chords carried by tides of vinyl,
voice, reed, steel. Air, all of it,
curving through the space between cells
and what they create,
our eyes half closed awake
to colors that do not exist in our language,
fingers tracing hieroglyphs
of that ancient tongue
across the sky.