2018-12-01

Peace on Earth -- and Justice

Meredith Garmon

During this holiday season, we will frequently see, hear, and perhaps say the words, "Peace on Earth." Unitarians have been noticing that the words do not match the reality at least since Unitarian poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" in 1863: "For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men," wrote Longfellow. The challenge to us is to take the words, "Peace on Earth," to heart, reflect on what we've done in the past year to build peace, and what we will commit to do in 2019.

Let us attend, as well, to Justice on Earth, for peace and justice are intricately interconnected. There will be no peace without justice (for human beings systemically denied justice will agitate for it, including turning to violence when there is no other recourse) -- and, too, no justice without peace (for human beings under attack focus on defending themselves, not fairness to others). I take this not as a chicken-and-egg insoluble dilemma, but as indicating the need to gradually build both at the same time. On the "Justice on Earth" side, I recommend a book of that title.

Our Unitarian Universalist Association selects a Common Read every year, which all UUs are urged to read. The Common Read for 2018-19 is: Manish Mishra-Marzetti and Jennifer Nordstrom, Eds., Justice on Earth: People of Faith Working at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Environment (Skinner House Books, 2018). Here's what UUA says about it:
"At a time when racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice are seen as issues competing for time, attention, and resources, Justice on Earth explores the ways in which the three are intertwined. Those on the margins are invariably those most affected by climate disaster and environmental toxins. The book asks us to recognize that our faith calls us to long-haul work for justice for our human kin, for the Earth and for all life. It invites us to look at our current challenges through a variety of different perspectives, offers tools to equip us for sustained engagement, and proposes multiple pathways for follow-up action."
The book is available from the UUA bookstore (HERE), or Amazon (HERE). Let's read it, talk about it, engage with these ideas, and learn how we can more skillfully contribute to the building of a world of justice and peace.

2018-10-16

From Capture to Criminal -- Juneteenth 2018

Petra Thombs

June 19th was the 153rd commemoration of Juneteenth, an acknowledgement of the end of slavery in the US for African Americans. June 18, was the 566th, anniversary of the signing of the papal bull from 1452, Dum Diversas, which began the process of the enslavement of Africans by Europeans. The effects of these edicts have been far reaching. Consider now that in two days, we will acknowledge the four-year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner. This is in memorial to him:

In a matter of minutes, he was on the ground, the officers arm wrapped around his neck in a choke-hold. He had just said, “please don’t touch me.” And all for supposedly selling loose cigarettes. (Did he actually have any product on him?) Officers had crowded around him, and as he was a large man, it took several of them to force him to the ground. As he lay there, the one who choked him had his hand pressed on Mr. Garner's head. He whispers, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. The coroner’s report labeled Eric Garner's death a murder by asphyxiation. The officer was not indicted, yet the one who claimed Eric Garner was a criminal, was himself one. He was guilty of over policing, invading Mr. Garner’s space, capturing him, subduing him by use of an illegal choke-hold and vanquishing him on the sidewalk of a Staten Island street. What gave him the right to create such harm, such destruction to a Black body? Trayvon Martin was pursued by a neighborhood watch man who was off duty and was told by the police in his 911 call, not to pursue the teen. Sandra Bland was stopped for not signaling while making a turn, Freddie Grey was pursued for not making eye contact, Tamir Rice was killed in one minute of police arriving for holding a toy gun in a public park, something white children do every day without fear. Orlando Castile was shot and bled to death for identifying that he had a weapon and a carry permit, during a traffic stop. Most recently, Antwon Rose II, an unarmed seventeen-year-old, was shot three times in the back by a rookie officer, who was only sworn in that same morning. Those who protest this unjust treatment are also demonized, such as Collin Kaepernick, football players who take a knee and the Black Lives Matter movement. To invade, capture, subdue and vanquish, these are the directives of the papal bulls of the fifteenth century, living prominently in our modern day, causing terror in communities of color.

We see this terrorizing at our southern borders as well, with children, babies, being captured and subdued as their parents are vanquished for the supposed crime of seeking asylum. This is only taking place with Black and Brown families. The use of scripture, specifically Romans 13, is a favorite for those looking to enforce enslavement, or subjugation of any kind. The completed verse is as follows:
“Be in debt to no one -- the only debt you should have is to love one another…all of the commandments are summed up into one command, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' To love, then, is to obey the whole law.” (Romans 13:8-10)
When the Japanese were captured during WWII, and placed in internment camps, their property was seized. Many owned businesses such as retail shops. Many owned farms which were thriving and were strong competition for American farmers, particularly in California. Their farm lands were seized by the government and auctioned off. When the detention period was over, they never regained their property. The very late reparations given to them would not come close to compensating for their losses.

Former Federal prosecutor, Paul Butler clearly articulates the facts in his book Chokehold stating,
“Cops routinely hurt and humiliate Black people because that is what they are paid to do. Virtually every objective investigation of a U. S. law enforcement agency finds that the police treat African Americans with contempt...the official practices of police departments include violating the(ir) rights...The police kill, wound, pepper spray, beat up, detain, frisk, handcuff, and use dogs against blacks in circumstances in which they do not do the same to white people.”
So, indeed, Mr. Garner’s cop assailant, engaged in a criminal act against him. Our moral obligation to these horrendous situations is to ask why? Why does this happen (Butler, 2-3)?

These Papal Bulls operate in our culture today, because we are historically tied to our past, we are tied to the mindset, culture and actions of criminalizing the Other. The world view of ancient Greece and Rome lived on through the church over the ages. Nativism leeched into the policies of the papal bulls after the defeat of the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula, bringing about the inquisition and the horrors of that period. Good Christian people tortured fleeing Moors and Jews, in order to cleanse their land of these so-called infidels. This justification is revenge and a sense of righteousness. What created this historical mindset begins at an even earlier age, in 98 CE, with Tacitus, a Roman historian, who authored the influential writing known as Germania. This was considered to be one of the most dangerous books ever written -- perhaps not for what he said but for how it was perceived. Author Kelly Brown Douglass explains this theory in her book Stand Your Ground; superiority has precedence to take on a righteous cause.
“In the brief space of thirty pages, Tacitus offered an ethnological perspective that would play a significant role in the Nazi’s monstrous program of racial purity. Subsequently, it became the racial specter behind the stand-your-ground culture that robbed Trayvon Martin of his life.”
Tacitus’ writings created a construct for white supremacy, insisting that only a certain people of ancient German ancestry possessed superior attributes in character, intellect, in their systems of governance, in their religious institutions and in their society as a whole. The myth further evolved to focus on the blood of the people, emphasizing its purity and the belief in a characterization of white Anglo-Saxon superiority. Its chauvinism made its way across the Atlantic with our founding fathers, to be instilled into our culture. This is the justification of enslavement that Thomas Jefferson wrote of in his Notes on the State of Virginia, that Benjamin Franklin promoted and that George Washington enforced. The Anglo-Saxon language deified by the English has created a belief in our national language -- our mandate for English only, which serves as our country’s internal border wall against any other language, especially those spoken by people of color.

In these two writings, these subjugating entities, that of Tacitus and the papal bulls, specifically the right of superiority and the right to use it to subjugate non-European Christian peoples, our western culture is armed and fueled with the fire of patriarchy to go forth and conquer the world.

And so, it began. Columbus, by all standards, was lost, but he knew his rights as a European Christian when he encountered the Indigenous people on the island he named San Salvador. According to his diary, “They would make fine servants...with fifty men, we could subjugate them and make them do whatever we want.”

Although the church at the time and the nobility as well, professed that these people were to be converted to the faith, they would none the less remain Barbarians. They could never be equal to Christians, even if they were baptized, they were no more than “baptized beasts” (Doctrine of Discovery, Stephen Newcomb). The edicts allow for righteous Christians to do the work of the church and handle these difficulties for God. These individuals are deemed to be enemies of Christ. Over time, the identity of white becomes synonymous with Christians. This is no longer the work of the church, this is the work of the imperial state. Often times, it’s hard to tell difference. These newly baptized beasts are not equal, but they have a place in this society. They are to do the work. They will do the work that we won’t do. This justifies placing them into perpetual slavery.

The Emancipation Proclamation creates a dilemma for this nation: if these “beasts” are not here to do the work for us, then we have a problem. If they are claiming to be equal to us, that defies what we have believed about them for all the ages. The Thirteenth Amendment provides the answer. They are free, unless they commit a felony, at which time we can then re-enslave them, bring them back into balance with our beliefs with the “laws of humanity” (Doctrine of Discovery). Michelle Alexander points out in The New Jim Crow, that the Thirteenth Amendment was finalized during Southern Redemption, and leaves the estate of the felon (and the felon himself) to essentially be “that of a dead man” (Alexander, 31).

Given that, Eric Garner, a large, heavy set, dark-skinned Black man, had to be put down. He did not appear subdued and dared to speak up in his own defense and assert his rights. He had to be taught a lesson. (“Professor Luban describes) the torturer’s work is inflicting ‘pain one-on-one, deliberately, up close and personal, in order to break the spirit of the victim’- in other words, to tyrannize and dominate the victim” (Butler, 113). “Stop and frisk demonstrates who is in charge, and the consequences of dissent” (113). Apparently, Mr. Garner, paid a high price for his statement of protest. He did not have the right to say, “do not touch me.”

(In the case known as Terry, sets the scene and) Our legal system empowers law enforcement to do whatever they need to do to invade. Author Andrea Richie, describes the indignities of being searched by police. When she objected to him searching through her purse and taking out her identification photo, he said, “I can do whatever I want, because you are my prisoner” (Invisible No More, Richie, 86-7). Butler states,} this makes “law abiding citizens outsiders to democracy.” This happens because certain court cases have set the precedent. Statistics presented in McCleskey v. Kemp indicate that Blacks are far more likely to receive the death penalty for killing whites, than white people convicted of killing Blacks would ever get for the same crime. A Black person killing a white person was twenty-two times more likely to get the death penalty. Despite this data, the court ruling was actually worse than in Plessey v, Ferguson. This case was allowed, in what Butler calls a, “good enough for black people, kind of justice” (122-3).

I had said that this was an act of state, but the church has it way of staying involved in these matters. On July 14, 2015, an Interfaith Prayer service took place at Mount Sinai United Christian Church on Staten Island, blocks away from where Eric Garner was killed. The service marked the one-year anniversary, although an article in The Catholic paper, did not indicate that a crime had taken place in regard to his death. Cardinal Dolan presided over the service and inquired about healing and reconciliation.
“Could the grief that began a year ago just down the street from here and seemed to ooze like a toxic oil spill to places like Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, and Brooklyn and beyond…be an occasion of repentance and renewal?”
Cardinal Dolan asked. Could this year-long trial transform us? From death to life? From winter to spring? He then suggested it could, “but that we must first acknowledge the supremacy of God.”

I find the use of the word supremacy, rather triggering in any context in which Blacks have been made to suffer. Mrs. Garner’s husband was killed and yet there is no word of sympathy or effort to console. Is she not worthy of receiving compassion as a grieving widow? I understand that His Eminence is looking to contain and socially control the outrage of the community through the widow of Eric Garner. But how can that be, since he refuses to name the issue at heart, which is the dehumanizing treatment and criminalization of Black people? How can we heal if the sin is not named and the actions associated with it are not addressed? How can we reconcile if the society perpetuates an unequal and unjust dynamic, authorizing the continual subjugation of its citizenry? Why does this widow need repentance? When will the police be held accountable? Scripture demands justice for widows and orphans, the poor and disenfranchised. What actions have been taken to address this situation? Dr. King spoke of the appalling silence of the good people, particularly of his fellow clergy. The late James Cone, father of Black Liberation theology, railed against mainstream theologians for refusing to address race and racism. He was particularly critical of Reinhold Niebuhr. In his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cone wrote,
“During Niebuhr’s lifetime, lynching was the most brutal manifestation of white supremacy. He said and did very little about it. Should we be surprised that other white theologians, ministers and churches followed suit?"
Our Unitarian Universalist principles are based on a covenant -- to love and to serve, acknowledging the inherent dignity and worth of all. We know that standing with disenfranchised communities means taking on political, even alienating positions. We cannot risk supporting the deception of the state, creating an illusion of justice knowing full well justice is not in the offing. So many churches are orchestrating a criminal enterprise in order to maintain a seat of power aligned to the state. What reconciliation can be made, when the only connection that is sought is not the “supremacy of God” but the supremacy of the empire, whose ultimate goal is the vanquishing of a people? It’s clear that the cardinal refused to acknowledge the issue at hand. The human connection that was needed in this moment was not given; the disconnect and absence of respect was palpable. It is not only sometimes that we experience this, it is day to day, and moment to moment. This is one of many aspects of the legacy of the Papal Bulls -- continually leaking into our current reality, wreaking havoc in communities of color; we must be mindful of its existence.

In our Unitarian Universalist racial justice circles we continually ask ourselves why are we not making more progress? In order to be able to combat these entities which prevent us from creating the beloved community, we need to know the history; that these entities operate continually, claiming to be on our behalf, in order to preserve this society's structure and power dynamic. Know that it keeps all of us hostage, it is social control, hampering our humanity, making it difficult for any of us to breathe.

Bibliography

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (New York, NY: The New Press, 2012)

Paul Butler, Chokehold: Policing Black Men (New York, NY: The New Press, 2017)

Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015)

Andrea Ritchie, Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2011)

2018-10-10

Cruelty: The Worst Thing We Do

Rev. Meredith Garmon

Dear Unitarian Universalists,

I just want to say: thanks! Thank you for siding with love. And against cruelty.

Isn't everyone against cruelty? As someone raised UU, I grew up assuming that was the case.

In January 2007, LoraKim and I were living in Gainesville, Florida, so of course we watched the NCAA football championship game that month, and of course we rooted for the home team Florida Gators against the Ohio State Buckeyes. When Florida, slight underdogs going into the game, won 41-14, I was glad. All around me the town was celebrating.

I was in a celebratory mood myself, and left the TV on for post-game reporting. Post-game shows seem to like to include fan reaction segments -- don't ask me why. They cut to a scene in Columbus, Ohio and showed a woman bedecked in OSU red and white. She was dejected, of course. In fact, she was crying. The broadcast cut back to a Gainesville bar, and two young men who had been watching the bar TV and had just seen the shot of the Ohio woman crying. The young men gleefully jeered and mocked her.

That was the moment I lost interest in college football. I'd been a football fan all my life, and I understood that jeering and mocking the opposition before the game -- and a certain amount of gloating afterward from partisans of the victor -- were to be expected. Yet I was unprepared for the delight I saw being taken in another's pain: the evident pleasure in cruelty for its own sake. The brief shot of those celebrating Gator fans haunted me. As I processed my horror, a more extreme example of the same phenomenon rose to mind: the photos I'd seen from the 1920s of smiling, celebratory white faces at the lynching of a black person.

All of this came back to me this week as I read Adam Serwer's article, "The Cruelty is the Point," and Lili Loofbourow's "Brett Kavanaugh and the Cruelty of Male Bonding." Cruelty, directed toward women, apparently functions as a bonding mechanism for some men, a means "for intimacy through contempt." Oh, dear God.

Political theorist Judith Shklar is credited with saying "liberals are the people who think cruelty is the worst thing we do." I am quick to distinguish a religious liberal and a political liberal, recognizing that many people are religiously liberal and politically conservative. I don't know if viewing cruelty as "the worst thing we do" is actually any less prominent among political conservatives than political liberals, but Shklar's point resonates with me as a characterization of religious liberals. Moreover, I have always appreciated that Shklar's way of putting it avoids claiming that liberals actually are less cruel -- just that, when we are, or discover that we have been, we think of it as "being at our worst."

My life as a Unitarian Universalist has kept me in the company of people with an intuitive revulsion to cruelty -- people who see cruelty as, indeed, worse than, say, betrayal, dishonor, subversion, cowardice, or desecration -- which, of course, can also be devastating human failings. I'm so grateful to all of you who keep UU congregations going, who give your lives to sustaining liberal religious communities, who see cruelty as the worst thing we do and therefore see care and kindness as the best, and who keep lit the flame of care and kindness as the supreme value. During these times when the celebration of cruelty -- seems to be ascendant, the only hope I see is . . . you -- the people who side with love. Thank you. You're lifesavers!

Gratefully, so gratefully yours,
Meredith

2018-01-20

Centering for Freedom

Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM

I was born into a racist culture and family – specifically in Atlanta, Georgia. We moved to Northern Virginia in 1968, only a few months before Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. My parents enrolled me in Louise Archer Elementary School an all African American school, founded in a black neighborhood mostly fenced off from white suburbs. I started only a few months after the school had been desegregated and I was in the first batch of white children to attend.

I found myself making friends quickly Thea, who I invited home so that we could practice a school play. She lived nearby, but on that the other side of that fence, which we climbed to get to my house. My mother came home from work and saw us playing in the living room and told me to get Thea to leave. As soon as she left my mother slapped my face and said, "Don’t you ever bring another _______ into this house again.

My family has a lot of work to do and so do I to combat that training of seeing more worth in some than others, undoing the fear that I would be loved less if I thought any differently. Though my example is more extreme than many, none of us escape this enculturation.

My family is not just my biologic nuclear family, but it is my cultural family anchored here in the USA. I didn't know how that family had trained me into a dominating colonizing culture until I started to work in Latin America. I consulted with the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery project. Once a million of these lived on the island precolonization, but by 1973, only 14 remained

The indigenous people were long gone due to European colonization, and the parrot nearly went extinct due to the large deforestation of the island after the USA invasion and colonization in 1898. The USA collapsed the Puerto Rican economy and put sugar cane all over the island. Due to extreme efforts the parrot numbers somewhat rebounded. But the recent hurricanes this late summer, Irma and Maria, devastated the people and the parrots there, vulnerable due to past and ongoing extraction economies, and instutionalized racist business, taxation, and aid practices.

My human, USA family has a lot of work to do, and so do I because I benefited and continue to do so at the cost of the many. None of us escapes the work to stop this extraction and domination economy that marginalizes and colonizes.

I responded to the work my human family and I had to do by taking up the call to UU Ministry. My sense of family grew to incorporate Unitarian Universalism. While preparing for the ministry I learned the long, hard, and painful history of how Unitarian Universalists had made many mistakes in how people of color were treated in our movement, as evidenced by this book, multiple painful episodes since, and ongoing ones as evidences in this book.

My UU family has a lot of work to do. I know this because I am at the forefront of a UU movement to understand how what harms animals, also harms humans. We ask how extending our sense of the inherent worth and dignity to individuals of all species helps humans too. This work brings up the pain and loss of how deficient UUs have been with people, as well as other species. This is uncomfortable, painful, and stressful, and it seems that none of us can say or do the right thing. Sound like fun? It is hard, but there is a tang of freedom in the air. You are invited to join us as various possible denominational change, votes, and study groups are coming in the future, including reading this book. My family is doing the work, and we need to do more, for we have not won freedom yet

Our work for freedom means addressing intersectionality. Intersectionality means that oppression is experienced differently based on our various identities. Women experience oppression differently than men, and blacks different from whites, and hence black women experience oppression from being both black and female. The corollary is also true - we benefit from a system that oppressed others based on our identities and locations of privilege. I am white human North American from the lower middle class -this gives me privileges that others have, and oppressions that others don’t have.

Intersectionality also means that there are core oppressions that intersect all identities. Some call this core oppression patriarchy, which isn't really about men, so relax guys. It is a culture based on seeing different others as less than, which is tied to dominance, power over, white supremacy, and inequality, all of which catch each of us in a sticky web of harm and benefit.

What does the work of intersectionality look like?

First off, it is not shame or blame or pointing fingers at who oppresses more or is oppressed more. We all are enculturated to be oppressors and oppressed. We are not to blame, but we are responsible. All of us.

The world has lived with 500 years of modernity and colonization to hide the reality that we are inextricably tied to one another and all life in beauty, tragedy, and death. "Wishing for life at any price continuously calls forth death - the death of other people, other beings, the extinguishing of languages, ideas cultures, and worst of all, possibilities and degrees of freedom" (Andrea Weber). We all are trapped. Our work for freedom is undoing the core oppression for our co-liberation. For this liberation we must learn to live without fear and to die courageously.

This is a death of individualism so that all are centered. In the circle of life, the suffering of another is also ours. In the countries I work in Latin America there is constant evidence of the devastation of colonialism and USA foreign policy. The people I work with, descendants of disappeared indigenous cultures and slaves, and the dearth of wildlife, do not let me forget it. But I am so alive there for it takes everything I’ve got to show up and be vulnerable. What began as a wound ends in a caressing touch. I’m undone and then made whole.

The work for freedom means we center the marginalized voices. Our individualism dies every time we allow another to speak. And we are born again.

We must center what we marginalize within ourselves. Miki Kashton, a leader in Nonviolent Communication, told me a few weeks ago to not believe a thing you grew up thinking or doing, for it was all based on core oppressions. We need to lay aside the armor that doesn't protect us, but fetters us. Let us lay that burden down.

We must center ourselves in history, ecology, and biology. We must look at past societal practices and how we have been harmed and benefited. Thanks goodness for our neuroplastic brains which are ready to believe that power over is the only way to meet our needs, but can also learn that cooperation and co-liberation brings flourishing to many lives. We must accept that we will die and no level of control will stop that. We must embrace t reality - to accept all that is now and also, paradoxically, do everything in our power to change it. We are so powerful in freedoms return embrace.

I am glad that this month's theme for our journey groups is resilience because we tread a fragile path of feeling shame, separation, and oppression, but there is joy lurking in that journey. We can take a beginning step by sharing our social location when we meet with others, without shame or blame, being honest of our privilege and oppression. We confess. Here is an example.

My name is LoraKim Joyner. I identify as a white human heterosexual female of European descent raised in the southern USA in the lower middle class, 2 generations from Alabama sharecroppers, currently living outside of NY City. My childhood was full of experiences and hard lessons taught from family, friends, the surrounding society, and a dominant oppressive culture that acculturated within me the trappings of privilege, white domination, human domination, as well as victimhood. I am also a mother and grandmother of people who identify as of European/indigenous descent from Honduras. My work in the world is as conservationist throughout Latin America, wildlife veterinarian, Unitarian Universalist minister, and a Compassionate Communication trainer and practitioner.

All of this history and categories of oppression and oppressor cannot be unwoven from my relationships. They form me but they do not bind me. We can help each other loose these chains of bondage by sharing how my message and this congregation intersect with your identities, experiences, and locations of oppression and privilege.

I am held rapt by the power and hope of freedom won together, for none are free until all are free. My father in his older years nearly died of heart failure, but miraculously a heart match was found for him quickly. He was a small man so the heart of an African descent girl who had died in a car accident became his. My parents were grateful, and softened.

Let us not let death, or the fear of death, keep us from giving our hearts to one another.

2018-01-06

Centering 1: Darrick Jackson, "Othering and Belonging"

Rev. Meredith Garmon

A reflection on Darrick Jackson's "Othering and Belonging." Jackson's essay appears in Mitra Rahnema, editor, Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry (Skinner House, 2017).

The Stress of Being Black

Shortly before I began reading Centering, I heard a story on NPR's Morning Edition that brought home in a particularly poignant way one of the myriad effects of US racial prejudice. The Center for Disease Control has reported on the infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births in 2015. For white nonhispanic Americans, the rate was 4.8%. For Hispanics, it was 5.2%. For black nonhispanic Americans, it was 11.7% -- more than twice the rate for whites. OK, that's appalling. But why is it happening? Is it poverty? Is it genetics? NPR's Rhitu Chaterjee and Rebecca Davis reported:
"Scientists and doctors have spent decades trying to understand what makes African-American women so vulnerable to losing their babies. Now, there is growing consensus that racial discrimination experienced by black mothers during their lifetime makes them less likely to carry their babies to full term." ("How Racism May Cause Black Mothers To Suffer The Death Of Their Infants," Morning Edition, 2017 Dec 20)
The essence of the matter is stress on the mother. Stress causes early labor, thus premature births, thus higher infant mortality. This gives us a very concrete manifestation of the stress of being black in America.
"Even educated, middle-class African-American women were at a higher risk of having smaller, premature babies with a lower chance of survival....Black and white teenage mothers growing up in poor neighborhoods both have a higher risk of having smaller, premature babies. 'They both have something like a 13 percent chance of having a low birth weight baby.'...But in higher-income neighborhoods where women are likely to be slightly older and more educated, 'among white women, the risk of low birth weight drops dramatically to about half of that, whereas for African-American women, it only drops a little bit.' In fact, today, a college-educated black woman is more likely to give birth prematurely than a white woman with a high school degree....Some people suggested that the root cause may be genetics. But if genes are at play, then women from Africa would also have the same risks...[But] babies of immigrant women from West Africa...were more like white babies — they were bigger and more likely to be full term. So, it clearly isn't genetics....[Moreover,] the grandchildren of African immigrant women were born smaller than their mothers had been at birth. In other words, the grandchildren were more likely to be premature, like African-American babies....Meanwhile, the grandchildren of white European immigrant women were bigger than their mothers when they were born....'So, there was something about growing up black in the United States and then bearing a child that was associated with lower birth weight.'...What is different about growing up black in America is discrimination....'It's hard to find any aspect of life that's not impacted by racial discrimination, whether you're talking about applying for a job, or purchasing a new car, finding housing, getting education....' Higher education and income did not necessarily mean people experienced less discrimination....In 2004, David and Collins published a study...in which they reported the connection between a mother's experience of racism and preterm birth. They asked women about their housing, income, health habits and discrimination. 'It turned out that as a predictor of a very low birth weight outcome, these racial discrimination questions were more powerful than asking a woman whether or not she smoked cigarettes.'...Other studies have shown the same results. ("How Racism May Cause Black Mothers To Suffer The Death Of Their Infants," Morning Edition, 2017 Dec 20)
In what does this extra race-based stress consist? For some details, I looked at J.B.W. Tucker's "The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics and Data Post"." A few lowlights:

The stress of being black in America comes from the fact that Blacks are less than 13% of the populations, yet, as best we can tell since many police departments do not report, blacks are 31% of all fatal police shooting victims, and 39% of those killed by police when not attacking. Yes, it's worth remembering that 61% of the "killed by police when not attacking" category are not blacks. Still, the number that are is disproportionate.

The stress of being black in America comes from the fact that young black males, ages 15-19, are 21 times more likely to be to be shot and killed by the police than young white males. Between 2005 and 2008, 80% of NYPD stop-and-frisks were of blacks and Latinos. Only 10% of stops were of whites. 85% of those frisked were black; only 8% were white. Only 2.6% of all stops (1.6 million stops over 3.5 years) resulted in the discovery of contraband or a weapon. Whites were more likely to be found with contraband or a weapon.

The stress of being black in America comes from the fact that blacks (remember, 13% of the U.S. population) are 14% of regular drug users, but are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 56% of those in state prisons for drug offenses.

The stress of being black in America comes from the fact that one in every 15 black men are currently incarcerated, while for white men the statistic is 1 in 106. Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years.

The stress of being black in America comes from the fact that whites are 78% more likely to be accepted to the same university as equally qualified people of color -- and that a black college student has the same chances of getting a job as a white high school dropout. For every dollar a white man makes, white women make 78¢, black men make 72¢, black women make 64¢.

The stress of being black in America comes from Voter ID laws, which do not prevent voter fraud, but do disenfranchise millions of young people, minorities, and elderly, who disproportionately lack the necessary government IDs.

The stress of being black in America comes from news reporting that regards black lives as less significant. African American children comprise 33.2% of missing children cases, but only 19.5% of cases reported in the media.

The stress of being black in America comes from knowing that financial institutions expect to be able to exploit you and take advantage of you. In 2009, bailed-out banks such as Wells Fargo and others were found to have pushed minority borrowers who qualified for prime loans into subprime loans, which can add more than $100,000 in interest payments to a mortgage over the life of the loan. Among high-income borrowers in 2006, African Americans were three times as likely as whites to pay higher prices for mortgages: 32.1% compared to 10.5%. Black car buyers are charged $700 more on average than white car buyers of the same car.

The stress of being black in America comes from consciously or unconsciously racist real estate agents. When looking for a home, black clients looking to buy are shown 17.7% fewer houses for sale, and black renters learn about 11 percent fewer rental units.

The stress of being black in America comes from facing hiring discrimination. In one study thousands of identical resumes were mailed to prospective employers -- identical except only for the name. A black sounding name – say, Daunte Williams instead of David Williams – was 50% less likely to be called back. Fifty percent.

The stress of being black in America comes from a medical establishment and a political establishment that doesn't care about you as much as it does for white folks. Doctors did not inform black patients as often as white ones about the option of an important heart catheterization procedure. White legislators – in both political parties -- did not respond as frequently to constituents with black sounding names.

"The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics and Data Post" has a lot more data . If you don't know it, take a look.

Darrick's Dilemma

It's a good idea to have this reality clearly in mind as one begins reading Centering. Were it not for this reality, then Rev. Derrick Jackson's essay, "Othering and Belonging," which opens the book might seem to be merely Rev. Jackson's statement that his preferences in worship style differ from most other UUs.

Rev. Jackson was raised in the AME Church. When he says, "I often ache for the music that makes my heart soar," he means the kind of music he was used to growing up. Whether Jackson also thinks that this music is objectively better, more heart-soaring, regardless of one's upbringing, isn't entirely clear. That is, is typical UU worship music different from AME worship music because UUs find a different style of music makes their hearts soar, or because UUs prefer not to have their hearts soar in worship? I don't know what Jackson would say, but sometimes he seems to imply the latter:
"Music can evoke a deep spiritual strength in me that helps me transcend the issues and concerns in my life. In worship, it can help me connect with the theme for the service in a visceral way. But most UU hymns feel like vehicles for the words, not for an experience of the holy." (4-5)
The point seems to be more than just that Jackson personally doesn't experience the holy in UU hymns, but that UUs have opted for hymns in which human beings generally will not experience the holy.

The same goes for sermons. UUs "look for sermons that make them think and find sermons that stir the heart lacking" (5). Again: is it that other UUs find their hearts stirred by a different kind of sermon from the kind that stirs Jackson's heart? Or do UUs prefer sermons that don't stir their hearts? Jackson's implication seems to be the latter. When he says "I want to touch the heart, to nurture the soul," he implies that "the intellectual sermon" typical of UUs doesn't do those things.

I suspect Jackson is mostly right about that, but that that's not the whole story. Suppose we grant that  typical UU sermons touch UU worshipers' hearts less than AME sermons touch AME worshipers' hearts. Even so, those UU sermons do touch the hearts and nurture the souls of many listeners more than they do Jackson's -- and a more AME-styled sermon would touch their hearts less than it would  Jackson's.

It's possible, I think, to be both intellectual and heart-stirring. A. Powell Davies' sermons made worshipers think and also quickened their pulses, fortified their spirits, and expanded their souls. Granted, even Davies wasn't universally appealing -- even in his time, and even among worshipers theologically aligned with Davies, some worshipers found the thinking getting in the way of the feeling and would have preferred more feeling. For the great bulk of preachers less gifted than Rev. Davies, the either/or of mind OR emotion/body/spirit is transcended less far and less often. The practical reality is that one side or the other will be emphasized. Sunday after Sunday, the average UU minister leans more to the intellectual than the average AME minister, and the average UU worshiper is less heart-stirred and more mind-stimulated than the average AME worshiper. Is that a bad thing? Or are both groups pretty much getting what they want and what feeds them?

Here's why it's a problem. At the first level, people want both their theological preferences and their worship-style preferences satisfied. If worship-style preferences were the only dividing line among US congregations then having different congregations with different worship styles would be all we needed. But Americans also fall into different theological groupings. People who, like Jackson, have a theology that is liberal but a worship-style preference that is body-experiential and emotive currently have no very satisfactory home. I do believe that Unitarian Universalism must make itself into a more satisfactory home for people like Jackson -- or Unitarian Universalism will (and will deserve to) whither and die.

At the second and deeper level, my phrase "worship-style preference" must now be exposed as misleading. There are worship needs at stake that are not mere preferences. And Jackson's experience cannot be reduced (as, so far, I have been doing -- in order to now expose its reductiveness) to the experience of finding UU worship different from the worship to which he happened to have grown up accustomed. What's at issue isn't just (as it might initially appear) a fond nostalgia for childhood church experiences.

Race is fundamental to all our experience (though whites find this easier to ignore -- that's part of our privilege), and Jackson's experience as a black American is fundamental to his. This is why I began this post with an extended account of the stresses of being black in America. The music and preaching of AME worship is not accidental. Such worship emerged and was sustained because it responded to the needs (not "preferences") of a community under tremendous stress.

Nor is the music and preaching of historically-typical UU worship accidental. It is a response to the needs of people whose bodies are not at risk, who have sufficient physical security to indulge the luxury of philosophical exploration. They -- let me say, we -- may, indeed, find our hearts stirred and souls cultivated (interestingly distinct from "nurtured," isn't it?) by these explorations because we can take for granted a certain basic belongingness. Our experience of alienation and partiality (i.e., not feeling whole) is based more in ideas than in direct threats to our bodies, so our path of healing depends more on engaging with ideas. It's not that the ideas we explore in worship don't touch our hearts and lift our spirits -- for our predominantly white, middle-class congregations, they often do. But (a) they don't do much to touch Darrick Jackson's heart or lift his spirit, and (b) folks like Jackson won't find their hearts much touched or spirits much lifted in worship unless that worship addresses the fundamental stresses to which their lives are subjected.

How Can This Change?

If belongingness is the, or at least a, fundamental psychospiritual need of corporate worship, the belongingness that UU worship has tended to provide for its predominantly white, well-educated congregations is reassurance of a place within the structures of white privilege. Our community-building provides networking for mostly whites. Our pastoral sermons have often assured congregants "you're OK" within a system of unjust privilege.  Our social action has flowed at least partly from an attempt to conscientiously deploy our privileges to "do good" -- and thereby make ourselves feel that we deserve to have these privileges, and are "at home" with them. In short, the belongingness our worship and our congregations have offered is belongingness within white power. (Yes, we have occasionally been able to extend that belongingness to a few people of color -- but this is because the structures of white power themselves admit a few exceptional people of color.)

The challenge is to proffer a different kind of belongingness. At first, we would offer it mostly to white people because those are currently most of the people in our congregations. The new ground of belongingness that I have in mind depends on identifying with -- not just sympathizing or even empathizing with -- the sufferings and stresses of all people. Their suffering is apprehended as my suffering; their stress is understood as my stress.
"All the pains, the joys, the sufferings, the cries of everyone in the universe are as such my own pain, my joy, my suffering, my cry....A straightforward look at our present world as it is will manifest the state of suffering of countless living beings, those suffering in the midst of dehumanizing poverty, where malnourished babies die every minute, and where many continue to die victims of violence both individual and structural. All this is my very own suffering, and my body is racked with pain from all sides. And I cannot remain complacent and unconcerned; I am literally inspired by an inner dynamism to be involved in the alleviation of this pain and suffering, in whatever capacity I am able." (Ruben Habito)
Darrick Jackson observes that UUs tend to find "sermons that stir the heart lacking." Even if we are allowed the qualification that we love sermons that stir our hearts, it's true that we haven't much cared for the kind of worship that is healing for people who live under much greater social stresses than middle-class whites. If we are to become a people who appreciate, who yearn for, who need the kind of worship that theologically liberal American blacks like Rev. Jackson appreciate, yearn for, and need, then we need a theology that takes on the stresses blacks face as our very own. Care, of course, must be taken not to do this appropriatively, and not to claim any of the moral high ground that comes from being a voice of the oppressed. We can't speak or act or judge as, for, or on behalf of the oppressed. We can simply take in the pain and grasp it as our own.

We can revise one of our hymns -- Sarah Dan Jones' "Meditation on Breathing," which goes:
When I breathe in, I breathe in peace.
When I breathe out, I breathe out love
We can replace this with something more like tonglen practice, in which we take in the suffering of ourselves and others on the in-breath, and on the out-breath send back compassion to ourselves and all who suffer. A single word change yields:
When I breathe in, I breathe in pain.
When I breath out, I breathe out love.
After about 10 minutes of chanting that, even white UUs with PhDs might be ready and eager for the most joyful, emotive, embodied, lively, shouting and dancing worship that Darrick Jackson could imagine.

And if not, well, it would still be a start.

2017-10-19

Steadfast in the Craziness

Rev. Meredith Garmon, Oct 3

Hurricane Maria brought suffering to millions in Puerto Rico. Water is in short supply, the power is out on much of the island, communications are down, and temperatures are hitting 44 degrees C -- which is 112 F. It's a deadly dangerous situation for critically ill hospital patients. The San Juan airport is packed with people there to get a one-way ticket off the island.

In Las Vegas, Steven Paddock fired from a hotel into a concert crowd, killing 59 and injuring about 500 more.

Our distress at these two disasters is compounded by our country's tepid response. In the one case, thankfully, aid is arriving in Puerto Rico. Getting it distributed to the places it is most needed remains a huge challenge which we could do more to help address. In the other case, the most needed response is reasonable gun control legislation -- which our legislature is incapable of passing.

Other calamities of recent months include the Transgender Military Ban, the rescinding of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), violence and white supremacy in Charlottesville.

The world may seem to be getting crazier, harsher, crueler. Our task remains what it always is: to love, to connect in empathy and kindness, to seek understanding, to give help where we can, to keep doing the work of peace and justice. There are many so committed. We are not alone. As the poet Adrienne Rich put it:
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power
reconstitute the world.

2017-10-11

On Statues and Statutes, Part 3

Cindy Davidson

As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We are called to bear witness to those whose worth, dignity and rights are denied. We are called to answer the call to love and defend those rights. Knowing this, delegates of the 2012 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Associations, our annual large gathering, passed a responsive resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. Delegates called it “a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases having no place in the modern-day treatment of indigenous peoples.” (See https://www.uua.org/action/statements/doctrine-discovery)


The resolution called “upon our Association to invite indigenous peoples into a process of Honor and Healing (often called Truth and Reconciliation) and to consider Unitarian, Universalist and Unitarian Universalist complicity in the structures and policies that oppress indigenous peoples and the earth.”

The work of truth and reconciliation, the work of justice-making and being good allies to Indigenous Peoples today rests not solely with our Association’s leaders. We, too, play an important role.

We can cultivate relationships with the Indigenous Peoples in our own area and learn more how they would like us to follow their lead in addressing their current challenges. For us, that would be the Ramapough Tribe in Mahwah, New Jersey which maintains the SplitRock Sweetwater Prayer Camp, working to educate citizens and protect sacred lands and waters from the environmental threats of proposed pipelines. The Westch­­­ester Indigenous Collaboration is in development in a neighboring UU congregation to offer support and partnership to the prayer camp. Stay tuned for ways to become involved.

UU minister Colin Bossen, in his award-winning sermon, “This Land is Your Land?” picks up on how the Doctrine of Discovery, which he describes as a “product of human imagination,” “is one of those hidden sources of human suffering that needs to be revealed [not only because of the atrocities][but also because] it remains present ….. within the way most European Americans think about our relationship to the land.”

He urges those of us who are primarily of European descent “to enter into right relationship with the land and her original inhabitants, our indigenous” kin, that is “to reconcile ourselves to our mother earth and all of her peoples who our ancestors harmed, and who we continue to harm, through the ongoing process of colonialism.” (http://colinbossen.com/the-latest-form-of-infidelity/13604898)
           
Neither we, nor any peoples, are owners of the land, of this earth, though we may “own” a sense of discovery as we encounter new lands, landscapes and people on our life journeys or legally own a title or rights to specified land.       
           
Rather, we are of this earth… waters, fire, atmosphere, sun, moon, the stars.
“Earth forms us,” we sang earlier. “Then, let us with justice, willing and aware, give to earth, and all things – [all peoples] – ­­­­living liturgies of care.” (“We are Not Our Own.” Singing the Living Tradition Hymnal, #317. UUA, 1992)

Let us “create a new inheritance for the future, … recognize and abandon the familiar attitudes and practices that do not serve the whole, … and assist in dismantling paradigms of oppression and suffering.” (Spoken Invocation: “Being Human Means We Are of This Earth” by Sweethome Teacup: https://www.uua.org/worship/words/invocation/being-human-means-we-are-earth)

Let us build the way to a future that “honors the gifts of the people who were here before … that heals wounds, makes amends, and honors the holiness of all humanity.” (Reading: “Call to Worship for Indigenous People’s Day” by Rev. Jason Cook. Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Fullerton, CA. October 5, 2017.)

Let us lift up, honor and celebrate Indigenous Peoples this day and every day.