Circle Round for Freedom

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The opposite of liberal religion is not conservative religion. It is fundamentalism – the deep certainty that there is only one truth and only one way of knowing that truth. As a liberal religion, Unitarian Universalism acknowledges a plurality of possibilities; lifts up that the Dominant Culture may dominate – but that it is dominating other cultures, other truths, other experiences of the world. The work of our faith is deeply grounded in this vision of a multiplicity of stories being seen, heard, and respected.

I did not know when I drafted these words, an early Sunday morning handwritten addition to the printed text, that they would be radically embodied that day by events in a congregation I serve as a community minister. In the midst of our prayer and meditation, fundamentalist disruptors began spewing hate and vitriol into our holy, sacred space.  http://uptownmessenger.com/2014/07/mayors-office-issues-certificate-recognizing-abortion-protest-group-for-service-to-city/

Beloveds, I have never been prouder of my faith community. The youth led the way in circling the congregation together, forming a ring around the sanctuary and singing sustaining songs. Soon it became clear who was choosing to be beloved community and who was trying to destroy it. Even in this distinction, all were notified that they were welcome to remain in worship if they could do so respectfully. If not, they were respectfully invited out the front door, to protest outside.

The congregation met the challenge of religious terrorism with courage and a commitment to the values of our faith, standing on the side of love without surrendering to hate.

Now is the time to stand together, beloveds.  Now is the time to remember that we are not alone and that we are called forward to live lives of radical hospitality grounded in courage and compassion.

Whatever your faith tradition, I invite you to stand with Unitarian Universalists and other liberal religions besieged by hate-filled rhetoric that can trip so easily from violent words to violent deeds. Stand with us against those who would destroy the concept of religious freedom, those who invade and desecrate sacred worship space, who terrorize children and adults with their malice.

Stand with us on the side of love.

Keep the Faith

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This morning I tended to my garden and that of an elder neighbor. Walking back into my home for a second cup of coffee, I realized that I felt more like a grounded, alive human being than I have in a while. In the past few weeks, the phone has rung repeatedly, bearing news of grief and sorrow or rage at yet another systemic injustice personally harming a beloved. So many people and so many places suffering all at once… And so I have remembered to return to the garden, to keep faith with the source of life, as I continue to live and minister in this beautiful, wounded world.

I hold this sustaining wisdom from Rebecca Parker (Blessing the World: What Can Save Us Now) in my heart and I share it with you today.

To keep faith with the source of life, knowing that we are not our own and that Earth made us; to keep faith with the community of resistance, never forgetting that life can be saved from that which threatens it by even small bands of people choosing to put into practice an alternative way of life; and to seek and even deeper awareness of that which springs up inwardly in us. Even when are our hearts are broken by our own failure or the failure of others, even when we have done all we can and life is still broken, there is a universal love that has never broken faith with us and never will.

 

Love is the Boss of Me

Recently an organizer asked for a meeting and I went to pull out my phone to check my calendar. “My calendar is the boss of me,” I joked. She looked at me oddly, but said nothing. And in that nothing I heard the strangeness, the madness of what I had just said.

I am not sure what she was thinking, but here is what I have been thinking since that awkward moment. A calendar serves as the representation of and reminder about the commitments I have made for and with my life energy, with my love. Just as a glance at your checkbook or credit card statement can give you insight into where you commit your financial energy, a calendar can be a window of insight into life values.

What a calendar probably should not be, and should not be thought of as, is the boss. Just as my checkbook and my credit card – while requiring true mindfulness – should not be the boss of me. I do not serve as a minister in the name of a calendar or a bank account. Those are important tools for sustaining my ministry, no doubt. They cannot be the source of my call.

I serve in the name of love. Love for the world that is and the world that can be. Love for the wonder of creation and respect of destruction. Love for a faith community that meets us where we are and doesn’t leave us there. Love for you. Love for me.

It is easy in the days of overloaded calendars and underloaded bank accounts to forget. And it absolutely matters that we remember.

In 1951, Universalist mister Albert Ziegler wrote: “It may be that we have lost sight of our mission. Primarily, the church is not for social or political pronouncements, nor for the fashioning and dissemination of erudite philosophical doctrines. It is for the generation of love. The church is the only institution in society so purposed. We strike at the heart of our very purpose for existence when we neglect that major aim.”

Clearly, it is time for me to remember that love, not a calendar, is the boss of me.

Our Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations will be gathering in Providence, Rhode Island beginning June 25th for General Assembly, the annual meeting of UUs from around the world, with the theme “Love Reaches Out,” inviting congregations to reach out beyond their walls and to engage in new ways of sharing faith.

In the free church tradition of Unitarian Universalism, “we do not just go to church, we are the church.” Beloved, this faith is called to live in the name of love. Let us commit ourselves anew to this call. In the immortal words of poet Maya Angelou, “I know for sure that love saves me and that it is here to save us all.”

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Disappear or Die: Southern Black Trans-Experience

Today we bless Tela La’Raine Love as she prepares for her gender reassignment surgery.  Every day, Tela blesses this world with her courage, her determination, and her clear vision of a world where transwomen of color live safe, fulfilling, and long lives. Only in her 30’s, Tela serves as an elder, a mother, and a mentor to many young transwomen of color, struggling to survive in a culture that tells them to disappear or die.

Although we hope that “it gets better,” 2012 saw the 4th highest murder rate of LGBTQ and HIV-affected people (LGBTQH) in recorded history, according to the Hate Violence Report released annually by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP-http://www.avp.org/about-avp/coalitions-a-collaborations/82-national-coalition-of-anti-violence-programs ).

People of color, transgender people, and gender non-conforming people continue to experience disproportionately higher rates of homicide. Black and African-American people “were particularly overrepresented in the homicide rates: over half of reported hate murders had Black or African-American victims, even though Black and African American people made up only 15% of total survivors and victims of hate crimes overall.” In 2012, LGBTQH people of color represented 53% of total reported survivors and victims of all hate crimes, but 73.1% of homicide victims.  Living at the intersections of racial, gender, economic, and sexual oppression, trans-women of color are told to disappear or die.

In the midst of a dominant cultural narrative of oppression and repression, Tela Love is living into her journey towards wholeness with a spirit fully grounded in her inherent worth and dignity.  She is the co-founder of New Legacy Ministries (http://www.newlegacystartstoday.com/), a grassroots organization striving to raise the voices of marginalized communities, especially transgender women of color, and create a spiritually welcoming and sustaining community.

Disappear or Die: A Southern Black Trans-Experience, will be a documentary of her experience as a openly HIV Positive trans-women of color in the south undergoing gender reassignment surgery June 18,2014.  In sharing this personal window into her life, she understands that she is taking a risk. Traditionally trans-women have disappeared into the constructs of a patriarchal society after their surgery, rather than remain targets for hate and fear.  

Tela realizes that she is allowing herself to be a target for greater judgment and persecution than that of which she already endures.  However, inspired by the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail that “silence is betrayal,” she has determined that she can be silent no more.  She cannot be silent when waking from her nightmares of another young transgender woman being murdered or dying because she’s too ashamed to follow through with her HIV treatment after being diagnosed out of fear of being further alienated.  Tela cannot be silent while there are little or no job opportunities for trans-women, while there are little or no housing opportunities (unless HIV infected), while black trans-women walk the streets in order to survive. 

And neither, beloveds, can we.  Our silence, too, is betrayal.  Let us speak into the space of fear and hatred, ignorance and oppression.  Let us bless Tela and every one of her sisters with the welcoming arms of beloved community. (https://www.facebook.com/Blacktranswomenarepowerful)

Please support the creation, production, and distribution of the documentary Disappear or Die: A Southern Black Trans-Experience.  Together, let’s re-write the narrative of oppression into thriving, joyful beloved community.

Donations to support the creation of this documentary can be made via PayPal or sent to the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal marked “Designated Donation: New Legacy Ministries” 2903 Jefferson Ave, 2nd FL, New Orleans, LA  70115.)

 

We’ve Come This Far…

with Granny  by the Mississippi River

 

 

 

 

 

For her 75th birthday, my Granny talked my dad, her 4th born son, into driving her and my Great Aunt Dot out the see the Grand Canyon “before I die.”

Once they had made the long journey from North Georgia to the Grand Canyon, Granny turned to my dad and said “you know what else I want to see before I die? The giant redwood trees! We’ve come this far. We might as well go.” What else could my dad do but get everyone back into the car and go see those amazing trees. What’s another 2000 miles roundtrip with the trickster Granny in your car and in your heart?

Granny was a born again Christian who would speak of her salvation from cigarettes as a miracle worked in her life by Jesus Christ. When she died in 2007, two ministers preached her funeral and they began the service by saying “Granny wanted us to preach a full service today, complete with alter call, because she knew this was the last time she could make y’all all come to church.” I sat in that pew laughing through my tears of grief…and prayed that one day, I would have her courage, her ability to live faithfully into the mystery, even unto death.

My granny taught me to trust the mystery of the world, to delight in the many colorful stories that sustain our days, to ask for what I need to survive, to figure out how to thrive. She taught me to believe that I am loved and can love, no matter what. To believe that you are loved and can love, no matter what.

No matter what.

How Granny learned to live so bravely and unapologetically may always be a mystery to me. But I am ever so grateful for the lessons of her life, of her faithfulness, of her creativity.

Whenever we start to flag, to judge, to doubt, to tire, may we remember and be encouraged by the trickster energy of Granny.

We’ve come this far. We might as well go see the giant redwoods – host General Assembly in New Orleans in 2017, grow our faith in the Deep South, bend the arc of the universe toward justice – whatever faithful longing we carry in our hearts.

Let’s be brave, beloveds, and live into the mystery together.

Give the Heart

 

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            I have spent the past few days saturated in extraordinary music, delicious food, dear friends – and almost completely off of the grid, just checking in from time to time with the office and the work phone to keep disasters to a minimum.

Today I return to the world of administration and e-mail, deadlines and accountability, pastoral care and organizing.

Today I pray to the universe “give me the heart.” Give me the heart to love, the heart of compassion and commitment. Give me the heart of return, the heart of restoration.

And I will give. I will give thanks for the gift of life, for the gift of love and compassion bestowed with grace. In my gratitude, I will serve with heart.

I will live from a place of gratitude.

I will say thank you.

Thank you, universe.

Rest Easy

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The high April winds blowing damage across the US this week also blew something into town that my lungs are treating as poison.  This morning I face the day with more empathy and exhaustion than I have known in a while. 

To everyone who struggles with their own health through the quiet hours, may you feel the love and support of your community. 

To everyone who serves babies, elders, or the ill through the night, may you know that your efforts matter.  

To everyone who sleeps through the night, may you remember to have compassion for those who do not.

Be well, beloveds.  Rest easy when you can and know, when you cannot, that you are not alone.

 

Earth: Our Deep Home Place

The Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalist cluster gathered in an oak-filled park on Sunday to celebrate Earth: Our Deep Home Place. As Earth Day approaches, I share with you a meditation, my invitation to celebrate our beloved planet:

Cosmologian Thomas Berry wrote “Nothing is completely itself without everything else. This relatedness is both spatial and temporal. However distant in space or time, the bond of unity is functionally there. The universe is a communion and a community. We ourselves are that communion become conscious of itself.”

We who are of the earth, children of the everything seed (http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/children/loveguide/session1/sessionplan/stories/168158.shtml),

we are intimately and ultimately connected to all creation. Through mystery and mutation, we have risen from the fertile mud to look around and celebrate the miracle of earth. As humans evolved, so too evolved rituals to celebrate and interpret the wonder of this place.

When Lao Tzu, the great Daoist philosopher asked, “Can you hold the door of your tent wide to the firmament?” poet Mark Nepo believes he was “challenging us not to define the world by whatever shelter we create but to let in the stars, to throw our tent of mind and heart wide open in order receive and listen to the flow of life.”

Part of my own deep sense of home place in south Louisiana comes from the insistent presence of earth here. There is no day I can travel through town without noticing the majesty and intelligence of the plied live oaks, the whip-like flexibility of the pomegranate trees, the persistent resurrection of the bananas and the gingers. Summer days hum with the life cry of the cicadas, seagulls and crows caw throughout the year, mosquitos whining past your ear, and if you listen closely, I swear you can hear termites chewing away on darned near everything.

This place takes us deep, past language, to a pre-verbal space of knowing, to a place before naming, categorizing and limiting.

When we are still, when we breathe in and breathe out, when we trust that there is space for us and everything else that emerged from the everything seed, then beloveds, we can let go of our fears and submerge ourselves into the deep sense of collective belonging, the vast compassionate love that saturates creation.

Daily we make a thousand choices that shape the earth. May we throw our tent of mind and heart wide open in order to be shaped by the earth, our deep home place.

How You Makin’ It?

Food for thought on a very busy week:

Living Wage Calculation for New Orleans city, Orleans Parish, Louisiana 

Living-wage-orleans-parish-2014

(http://livingwage.mit.edu/: “The living wage shown is the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family, if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2080 hours per year). The state minimum wage is the same for all individuals, regardless of how many dependents they may have. The poverty rate is typically quoted as gross annual income. We have converted it to an hourly wage for the sake of comparison. Wages that are less than the living wage are shown in red.”)

There’s a lot of red on that grid…some perspective as states and Congress debate a minimum wage adjustment to $10.10 an hour…

 

Women with a Vision – and a Voice!

Women with a Vision

 

 

 

 

 

Lately I’ve been struggling with the language of the non-profit world: “giving people a voice” and “empowering people”…

Beloveds, people have a voice. The dominant culture ignores it, drowns it out, disregards it…but people have a voice.  People are speaking.

Empowering is defined as “giving someone the authority or power to do something.” The idea that the dominant culture can or will empower the oppressed is an unlikely one at best, a well-funded lie in truth.

Many of you may remember learning abolitionist Fredrick Douglass’s insight:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

In a recent conversation with a community member serving a large foundation I was told, “if philanthropy had been involved in the Civil Rights movement, their answer would have been to air-condition the back of the buses.”

So I have been looking for leaders and models of social change that have stepped away from the institutionally protective illusions of voiceless people waiting to be given power.

Recently I had the honor of sharing WBOK radio time with Deon Haywood, Executive Director of Women With a Vision* (http://wwav-no.org/). She did not waste any precious air time dealing with the smoke and mirrors of dominant culture. She spoke with a voice (hers), from a place of power claimed (not given).  Did you hear her?

Beloveds, let’s stop using the white lies of philanthropy to air-condition the damage this country’s white supremacist culture has created. It is time to hear the voices speaking clearly in the world, working to claim power that has yet to be freely shared.  People are speaking.  Listen.

*The mission of Women With A Vision is to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and communities by addressing the social conditions that hinder their health and well-being. We accomplish this through relentless advocacy, health education, supportive services, and community-based participatory research.