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On Disrespect to the Transgender Community

This week, our association was involved in the conversation about our transgender kin and the harm done to them by an article in the latest issue of The UU World. (I invite you to delve into the links below and see more of the discussion first-hand.)

I wanted to use this blog to call attention to the ways in which we can cause harm without intending to, and also to call attention to the fact that we can also claim responsibility when we have done harm. Most of all, though, I want to name and bear witness to this exchange which makes some among us less certain that they are welcome or truly seen.

These conversations around difference are not so much about exactly correct (note the irony of the cover story in this issue) as they are about being hospitable. In the same way that we chafe against men telling the stories of women, or white people telling the stories of people of color, we need to hear how those who identify as transgender, genderqueer or gender nonconforming felt erased by having someone outside of their community become a spokesperson for their experience. That the article was printed at all, shows the intention of the World to give us resources to better address these issues. That the people from the community who were asked to give input were not heeded is testimony to remember that we all have learning to do.

This is not about shaming people (though we will be talking about shame at tomorrow’s Breath and Spirit). It is about understanding how to be in right relations with one another.

At a meeting yesterday, I was asked how people who wish to learn more about marginalized groups can do so if they are not supposed to continue to go to the same people to tell their stories. The concern around this World article is now a public story and so we should all take the time to learn from it and grow our own hearts.

The point is not about shame, it is about our continued work to hear one another’s truth and to be willing to be learners and to remain curious to what we can learn.   I invite you to consider these links:

Here are two snapshots from this week

The first occurred on Wednesday when our Elder Journey group had their meeting. Rain was predicted for that day. A tree had knocked out power and snarled traffic in Walnut Creek and I feared that we would not have many people. Yet this intrepid group of those most chronologically gifted among us kept coming in, one by one, until all the chairs were full and we had to add a couple of extras. What ensued was a rich conversation about the Cohen hearings which had begun that morning, McCarthyism, conformity, the distressing vote within the Methodist faith and how these times were similar to and different from other times of crisis and challenge.

The second picture I invite you into is from Thursday night when approximately 30 people gathered for a conversation about “microaggressions,” those small, needling, often unintentional acts which lead people to feel unwelcomed, unvalued and unseen. Those who had organized and invited people to come were ecstatic to see every chair filled for this event as well–albeit a very different event from the one on Wednesday and yet also similar.

What was similar was that in both gatherings, a wide range of views were represented. In both gatherings, people brought very different life experiences. And in both gatherings, people listened with open hearts and open minds so that they might learn from one another and grow.

This, to me, is the miracle of our religious community. Here I use the word in the sense in which Frederick Buechner uses it….”A miracle is when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Our community can bring together differing truths and hold them in relationship with one another.

May we continue to do so.

Friday, February 22, 2019

On Monday, a segment on NPR caught my attention. Though its focus was on the continuing Brexit debate, what caught my attention was a sentence in which the commentator noted that what was at issue was that some in leadership were opposed to supporting the United States, seen as a growing source of evil in the world.

Our nation is now perceived by more within and beyond it as a source of evil, even by those who have been our closest allies and friends. And though we are all soul-weary, we need to pay attention.

All around us, we grieve as we see institutions precious to us derided or even destroyed. We watch the very institution of our democracy chipped away at its foundation in a manner that has already endangered it. The damage already done will take many years to repair. The declaration of a national emergency is not just another flashy parlor trick, it is a deep threat to the essence of how we are governed and we must speak out.

The damage that has been done in these last years has not only been to people and to relationships and commitments — damage has been done to the very structure of democracy itself. As we make the debates and the revelations more and more unsavory, we encourage more cynicism and more disengagement.

Entire generations now no longer see the value of public engagement and as more and more exit, we are allowing a toxic hyper-capitalism to take over. We become addicted to buying and possessing, and we are commodifying what cannot be given a value, including human life.

Yes, we are weary and yes, we need nurture and sanctuary and relief. And history tells us that when we look away and are indifferent, hatred and the division of evil are allowed to grow. Though engagement may seem beyond our means, it is our only choice. We must continue to say no to the continued erosion of the values, which imperfect, we cherish and upon which we depend. This is our only chance.

Let It Rain

“I like rain,” one member said, “But this is a lot of rain.”  No “but”s for me.  I like rain though I worry about beloved people driving through it and the who might slip and who might slip in a wet parking lot or on one of those blasted handicap-place-making curbs.  I like the quieter days, the sound of the rain, even the way that it reflected in the streets and yet it has felt as my fellow members said as if it were just a little bit too much of a good thing. Today is I was driving to Rossmoor to meet someone for lunch, I realize that it was sleeting and I thought to myself, “Hmmm, this might be a precipitation too far” and yet even then I was invigorated by the bouncing orbs of ice.

Since the drought, rain has been an occasional luxury. These last weeks are more old school, really giving us that introspection and inward-space. I literally found myself chasing rainbows this week—one which was the most vivid rainbow I had ever seen and another which settled to form a solid color-hued horizon. For me who have never, seen the sight of such significant snow on the top of Mount Diablo in such abundance ever before; who was able to read to wear some very flashy boots on a couple of the rainiest days; and who finally bought those long-coveted chain gutters, the rain has brought much to celebrate.

The rain gives us quieter and more introspective time when we can hear more clearly the rhythms of our own hearts. We can celebrate with the redwood trees who are appreciating this change from the parsimonious rain patterns a climate change.  The world will keep on fussing and arguing, creating uproars and outrage, perhaps we can find some solace in watching the downward journey of single raindrop down the landscape of our windshield or the glisten of the collected drops on the daffodil. This rain will pass –let us savor it today.

What a Great and Engaging Conversation

What a great and engaging conversation we had at the Counterweight Values class last Wednesday.  I am so grateful to those who were there and so enlivened by the conversation that I wanted to write about it this week for this blog.

The conversation we had was about covenant and we spoke about the different agreements that hold us together as a community. These include our mission statement, our Make It So goals, our Covenant of Right Relationship, our Safe Congregations practices, to name a few.

Because we are not a creedal faith – i.e. you don’t have to recite or believe a statement of belief to be among us—our covenants, or agreements about HOW we are together become, as one UUA posting puts it, “the silk” which binds us together. We had such a rich conversation about how this can be scary and remind people of religious dogma in other traditions. Yet two differences remain—dogma is about what you believe and while our beliefs are framed within the Unitarian and Universalist legacies, they are not a dogma or a creed.  And rules handed down by a centralized religious authority rather than developed through our democratic process are not the same thing.  A covenant implies a mutual development and that is why a covenantal tradition is so precious.

(This does not take away the difficulty of engaging when we are not all on the same page.  We will be talking about the difficulties of a prophetic tradition at the next class on February 20.  Please come and join us!)

For some all these ways of thinking about how we continue as a community while understanding and bridging our differences might seem odious. For me they are so important because we live in a time in which people are so divided and are avoiding conflict through trial by social media, by disengagement from anyone who thinks differently from them and by villainizing others. To have to step into the deep space of healthy conflict and mutual engagement is very important and I am grateful to all of you who have chosen to do so and have been part of this mutual exploration.

Engagement together is how we grow together in religious community.

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