Archive for August, 2014

Aug 29 2014

September: Oneness/The Unity in Unitarian

Published by under Minister's Musings

“We ALL Belong!”
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
The Press Conference
On a sunny day in late August, a diverse group of clergy and congregational leaders gathers in front of Most Holy Trinity Church in east San José. We stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, by a police officer the week before.
All the Bay Area’s major news outlets are there. The podium bristles with microphones like a porcupine. There is no place to put a script, so we faith leaders speak from the heart.
            “We cannot and must not pretend that we are not all connected to and impacted by the lingering legacy of racism and white supremacy,” Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews offers. “Our communities, too, experience the brokenness and alienation that is rooted in our failure to recognize one another’s full humanity. Racism still lives like an unseen spiritual force—in the atmosphere and in our psyches—impacting our thoughts, assumptions, and behaviors, the quality of our relationships, the policies and practices of our institutions, and our culture’s sense of what is right, what is true, what is beautiful, and who belongs. In ways both explicit and implicit, we communicate to one another whether we really ‘belong’ in our communities, institutions, and public spaces.
            “What the young people, families, and clergy in Ferguson are fighting for is ‘Belonging,’” Rev. Michael-Ray goes on. “Hands up!” he then cries. And the small crowd of witnesses around him respond, “We ALL belong!”
Through days and nights of protests, people have repeated Michael Brown’s final reported gestures and words: “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” At this press conference, we transform that desperate shout into a mighty affirmation of our common humanity.
            “I hear the news of Michael Brown’s death, and my heart breaks,” I say when it’s my turn. “But I want my heart to break openWhen our hearts break open, our actions become more compassionate, more just, more humble, more inclusive, and more powerful. As a white woman, when I respond from a broken-open heart, from an open mind and active hands and feet, it means I am accountable to those most harmed by the ongoing systems of oppression in this country. It means I will step out of my comfort zone to name how the presence of racism and white supremacy cuts off my full humanity too. It means not just to stand in solidarity, but to act in solidarity to take down the systems of oppression that benefit white-skinned people like me and disadvantage peoples of color.
            “White supremacy,” I go on—and friends, I step out of my comfort zone to use that phrase. “White supremacy is the false construction that one group of people is ‘better’ than another based on the color of our skin, based on the idea of ‘race,’ which both faith and science tell us is merely a social construct. How many races are there?”
“ONE race!” the witnesses shout. “The HUMAN race!”
“And we all belong!” we chorus.
The Unity in Unitarian
In the old days, the concept of “unity” in Unitarian referred to our ancestors’ sense that there was just one God, rather than a Trinity. One unifying source and spirit infusing everyone and everything—this heretical thought set our ancestors apart from their own religious ancestors.
            Ours is still an evolving faith—always has been, always will be. We honor the wisdom and meaning we make of our own experiences in the language of our times. In the 21st century, the “unity” in Unitarian calls us to undo the deadly divisions caused by systemic racism and white supremacy, along with all other forms of oppression.
Come, join the beloved and courageous conversations that will show us the way. For today our unity surely means “we ALL belong.”
With great love and anticipation,
Rev. Nancy

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Aug 04 2014

For the Love of Our Children

Published by under Minister's Musings

For the Love of Our Children

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

 The joyful squeals of children splashing in the creek at Uvas Canyon reach me as I park my car on Saturday, July 19, for my second visit that week to the church campout. Soon children and youth of all ages, races, ethnicities, and personalities are bounding around me. “No running in camp!” we adults remind them (and each other). The kids chase and wrestle, bead necklaces and play cards, laugh at magic tricks, swing at the birthday piñata, feast on the food, find lizards on the bank and crawdads in the creek, roast marshmallows for S’mores, take a tumble, pick each other back up, and revel in the warm dappled air and cool water.

Adults and children go on a creek walk, led by Lawrence Ashley, whose family has owned part of this property for generations and has generously hosted the campout for more than ten years. As we step into the creek, we form safety buddies across generations, making new friends in an instant. The youngest ones leap from one mossy rock to another, tugging at our hands as we adults seek stable footholds in our water shoes. Lawrence points out how the rocks change colors when wet. Much splashing ensues. He explains tree burls and sedimentation and shows us how high the creek used to be. The water level has never been as low as it is in this summer of drought and climate disruption; even in our joy, we notice and touch the world’s pain.

Finally, the pièce de resistance, the end point of our trip upstream: Lawrence shows us a rusting car embedded in the creek bank, with its top in the mud and its wheels, tires long gone, jutting out. “LOOK! A RACE CAR FELL INTO THE WATER!” shouts Eric Schmall with wonder and delight. An old jalopy transforms into a race car in a child’s imagination and ignites a series of stories about how it came to be there.

Meanwhile, other adults, younger and older intermingled, sit on camp chairs with their feet in the stream, talking or reading through the long afternoon. Folks who didn’t know they would enjoy camp come for a few hours and vow to return again. One couple, recent first-time visitors to FUCSJ’s Sunday morning worship, jump right into this community and bring their young son for his birthday. A group from our Small-Group Ministry program commutes down and gathers around the fire circle, quiet in the morning air. They share worship as always and reflect, this month, on the theme of “diversity.”

Looking around, I see how such open-ended time together builds a foundation of knowing and caring for one another in community. The campout is just one of many such foundation-builders, crafted of simple pleasures, which we create together every month of the year. Sitting in that shady circle, I sense how crucial is this foundation for the hard work of living out our demanding faith, our Unitarian Universalism, every single day. We can’t do our justice work without it.

The two gestures—love reaching in and love reaching out—belong together; they need each other. So it doesn’t surprise me when the campout conversation turns to the crisis of unaccompanied, undocumented immigrant children fleeing Central America and landing in U.S. detention centers, where they sleep on cold floors and are fed little. Their cases will drag through immigration court and may result in their return to the life-threatening situations from which they fled. What a contrast to the leaping, squealing, joyful freedom of our children at camp. “What can we do?” congregants at camp ask, heartbroken. These young immigrants are “our children,” too.

For starters, the Pacific Southwest District of Unitarian Universalist congregations has set up a relief fund: The Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministries, California, will offer more resources, and we are already working with local faith groups, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, to support the San José mayor, city council, and county board of supervisors in their efforts to house some of these children locally. Please pay special attention to all-church emails and in-church announcements in the weeks to come, as opportunities may arise quickly. Then join us for worship on Sunday, August 17, when we will share all we know on this humanitarian crisis happening right here and now. For the love of our children—for love that reaches in and reaches out—let us gather in the wide-open circle of FUCSJ!

With much love and affection,

Rev. Nancy

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