Welcome Progressive Piedmonters and Unitarian Universalists

Welcome Progressive Piedmonters and Unitarian Universalists. Please enjoy the posts below for reflection and thought. Share your insights. May this be a place where our spirits are deepened and minds challenged. Thanks for visiting!

Friday, May 2, 2014

On the Road Again for Equality By Reverend Robin Tanner, Rabbi Judy Schindler, and Reverend Nancy Ellett Allison

We’re back on the road again journeying for full equality.

It seems like it was just yesterday on April 1, 2011, that we brought seven couples to Washington, D.C. to be legally and religiously wed. We made this eight-hour journey baffled that equality could be defined by passing through the borders of just two states. Three years later we return with six couples who have collectively been together for 100 years.

·         It’s Leslie and Marni’s 10th anniversary of when they sanctified their union in Beth El’s sanctuary.
·         Pauline and Barbara celebrate 14 years since that first spark flew at an ACC game.
·         Elaine and Elaine rejoice in their 16 years together of building a home, family and life.
·         Shelley and Dianne honor their 16 years as partners and best friends.
·         Larry and David, who were a bit apprehensive about being the only male couple on the trip, celebrate 23 years of a soulful journey as one.
·         Lastly, Sally and Alice, our resident wisdom keepers, rejoice in 31 years of togetherness, dancing, and light.

This weekend celebrates their collective…
one-hundred years of commitment
one-hundred years of love
one-hundred years of faith, patience, honesty, joy, humor, respect, and trust

With tears of joy, we just picked up each of their marriage licenses as the courthouse.

Even after one hundred years, it was difficult for most of them to imagine a day such as this. 
Today we’ve experienced full equality in our nation’s capital.

Tomorrow we will bless and seal their unions in their respective traditions in the sanctuary of All Souls.

May the day soon come when we do not need to leave our home of North Carolina
to legally recognize and bless what is clearly already so sacred.

Mazel tov to the couples...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Prayer for the Earth

I recently attended a Moral Monday interfaith prayer service and offered a prayer for the environment.  We certainly need more than prayers to turn climate change around, but on this snowy North Carolina day (what?!) it seemed appropriate.

Spirit of Life,
Known by many names,
We give thanks this night for the air we breathe,
For the water which flows to quench our thirst, and
For the earth upon which we tread.
We walk humbly within a creation we did not create.
We gather with lives made possible by gifts we’ve been given.
But we, who love the earth, are called to more than gratitude in this moment.
More than thanks for what has been given
More than words to protect what is now under attack.

Spirit of Our Lives
May we who gather listen to the call for courage, coming from our children’s lips.
To protect the air
To protect each breath from those who seek pride and power from the profits of pollution
Protect each drop of precious water from those who would dare preach the waters are owned by anyone.
To stand in witness to the unnatural rumblings of the mountain and to resist
all short term gain for generational pain.

For we, who love this earth, are called to step forward now.
For our children’s children
To stand up now.
We who believe in the dream
Are called to gather together now
Beyond the paralysis of politeness
The narrowness of politics
The identities that have divided us
Into the confidence to build the beloved world we hope for,

With assurance from the cloud of witnesses for the world not yet seen.
Apart from the color of our skin, the dialect of our tongues or the particularity of our God
We are called by faith

Faith, trust, in the human breath, the human thirst for justice, the human path of righteousness
Faith, trust, in the love and unity which will be
Our very survival.
So it is we must go..
Forward together
Not one step back.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why We Actually Want It to Work

Religion that is.  I believe at some level even my generation-who has been disproportionately disenchanted and disinterested in religion-want it to work.

Consider the case of Pope Francis.  Whether he turns out to be the saint sought after or not, the public interest in a compassionate pope shows some desire by people to see even the worst cases redeemed.  I mean this is the church of the crusades, inquisition, no women priests, gays are horrible and the sex abuse of children.


it's also the church of Dorothy Day, the Catholic Social Worker movement, a living wage, liberation theology, Mother Theresa and the badass Joan of Arc.  Oh and Catholic Charities- one of the single largest social services provider in the United States.

Now, I am still a Unitarian Universalist not interested in converting back. Reconversion?  Hmm.

But the point remains that for all our distance from religion, there is this something in it.

We long for the good story again, the religion that goes back to the essence of it all.  Not superstition or oppression but the religion that enlightened and lifted.  The one that even made some saints, that brought individuals into the insight we are still uncovering.  It's more than the spiritual experiences we have alone.  Spirituality is defined by the experience of a person in relationship with another (God, Buddha, nature...) but religion is distinctly about the community (from religare binding).  It is about being bond together for something greater than our individual selves.

But Pope Francis isn't the answer.  If and when he disappoints us, let's use it as a moment for something greater.

To start to really dive in.  Get off Facebook and into the trenches together.

None of us can do it all alone.  That's sort of the point.

The question in this new year, I suppose, is not only what we will decide to do for our lives, but perhaps more importantly what we might do for all of our lives- together.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Living Out Love

A week ago Monday, on May 20th, I was arrested after engaging in civil disobedience.  What happened?  I will tell that story this coming Sunday June 2nd at 6:30 pm during a commissioning service for Moral Mondays to be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte.

But in this moment, if you happen to be one considering joining us for a Moral Monday then it might help to know the why I went.

There are many reasons...

For the past several months, I've been deeply concerned with the North Carolina legislature.  In particular, it seems to me there is a concerted effort to suppress the voice of the people while simultaneously placing the burden of balancing the budget disproportionately on the backs of the most vulnerable in our state.  From school vouchers to refusing federal funds to expand Medicaid to 500,000 North Carolinians, legislators have continued to tear down the protection and necessary systems of healthcare, education and unemployment.

For the last couple of months, I've felt powerless in the face of this situation.  What could I do?  It began to feel like an inevitable wave about to overtake us all.

But then I received a note, an invitation from the NAACP to join the forward together movement.  I watched their videos-they were doing something!  And it was growing.

I've never considered engaging in civil disobedience, but this felt different.  It was moral obedience.

We Unitarian Universalists believe we are all connected.  What is done to one among us, affects all of us.  We Unitarian Universalists believe in the power and presence of love.  It is love that saves us from loneliness, heartache, self-judgement and fear.

But living out that love is challenging.  How could I make my awareness of love within visible to the outside world?  How will love save us now?

There are many reasons to join Moral Mondays.  I went out of a moral obedience to love: a love for all people.  A love that calls me to step forward and speak up for the most vulnerable in our state.  To send a message to our legislators: all people in the state of North Carolina are worthy to have their voice heard, their children educated, their health cared for, and their basic needs met.  This is not a partisan issue.  It is a people issue.

At the end of the day, when the pundits are quieted and the sun has set, as we settle into bed there is one final question of the day: did I live out love today?

I believe if we can answer yes it will make a difference, for our own hearts as well as for the world.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cultural Incompetency: Beyond Guilt to the Sanctity of Humility

Last week, I went to see "Lincoln" with my family.  I walked out of the theatre a little tired (it's over 2 hours long), mostly entertained and glad to have some time with the family.  I didn't think much about the movie beyond this.

A couple friends asked me what I thought and I simply replied, "it was pretty good. I guess it's worth seeing."

My week went on until I came across this movie review.  In a quick flash, everything became apparent to me.  The only black characters in the entire movie with speaking parts consist of two soldiers at the beginning begging Lincoln for equal treatment, Mary Lincoln's dressmaker (Elizabeth Keckley) and Thaddeus Stevens' common law wife (Lydia Hamilton Smith).  What do all these characters have in common?  They rely on Lincoln or another virtuous white character to protect them.


Where is Frederick Douglass?  Not in this movie....

Where are the black soldiers who secured their own freedom?  Not in this movie...

And the countless African American abolition leaders, writers, thinkers, or politicians who lived in the mid-19th century and met Lincoln?  Not in this movie...

What disappoints me more than Spielberg's choices to not include these characters, or give names to the important African American characters he does depict (such as Lydia Hamilton Smith) is that it took a week for this to hit me.  I've just come back from a week-long conversation with colleagues about racism and multiculturalism.  I've taken numerous trainings on white people challenging racism and the like.  I've read books, written sermons and careful reflections on anti-racism, anti-opppresion and multiculturalism.

And in the last week I overlooked racism in a movie, made an exclusive statement in a small group and when considering AIDS Day forgot to mention the significant impact on the African American community, especially black Americans ages 19-44.

What's my point?

I don't desire a wave of white guilt.  And I fully expect some people reading this may become defensive or try to assuage me that I am not a racist.  I am not seeking assurance or trying to inflict guilt.

My point is that racism is still a painful conversation, even for someone like me and my cultural competency does not seem to be improving at the rate of my desire for it to improve.  However, I can say that now after these years of uncomfortable conversations, I am more aware of my privilege to avoid them entirely.  I am better able to take responsibility without swooning with guilt.  And I have no delusions of ever being competent, but great aspirations for humility and learning.

My bigger point is we need to keep having these conversations. We need to create circles of accountability that keep those with privilege engaged and accountable to do so.  I consider myself included in this group.  I still feel angry when someone speaks truth to me.  But now I am accountable to engage in a conversation that has truth for me to hear.  I think this is improvement.

I know I am going to mess up with my words, make mistakes and even hurt people.  I don't desire this-it seems to be human.  But I also know that if I avoid trying to look outside my own narrow vision, I will cut myself off from a measure of love and healing this human heart needs.

So let's keep talking, and hopefully listening too, even if it hurts.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

More than a snooze button....

When I was in college, there were a steady six months I didn't go to the church I loved.

The ministers hadn't ceased inspiring me, the community was still warm and compassionate, and I had access to the means to get there.  There was nothing wrong with the church.  Although I frequently came late after hitting the snooze button one too many times, it wasn't even the snooze button that kept me from coming or the late night sorority gatherings.  It was something more...

Somehow in my college budget and with tuition adjustments that semester, I couldn't pay my pledge.  Sure I could drop a few dollars in the bucket, but if I wanted to pay rent, tuition, bills and buy food, then my pledge would have to be reduced.

In my 1,000 member Unitarian Universalist congregation, I felt like everyone knew that I wasn't paying my pledge.  This was, of course, ridiculous in hindsight.  But I felt guilty even walking through the doors without a monthly check.

Why?  This place and people had taught me kindness and compassion.  They had never lobbied for guilt and fear to guide me.  But somewhere long ago, in places I could now identify, I had learned the force of shame.  And all these years later, even in a new place of wonder, love and compassion, I was still driven by those old feelings.

It finally took a friend of mine sharing that I was in fact a lot more fun to be around when I went to church that sent me back.  I walked through the doors a little worried that somehow still I'd be in trouble.  Those old memories of having to stand up in class in my religious school for the whole first period if you didn't go to church came back to me.

I placed one foot over the threshold.

Instead, one of the ministers came forward and gave me a hug.  "It's so good to see you!  How have you been? Come on in!"

I could have cried but the shock that sent me to my seat where I received more warm handshakes and smiles kept me from tears and in amazement.

The power of shame and guilt can be astounding, even years later in a new place that doesn't profess these from pulpit to pew.  This time of year, when so much stress mounts for many, expectations are high, and finances pinched, I hope wherever you may be, whoever you may be, you know that those reasons "more than the snooze button" needn't keep you from church.

When we give, it isn't out of guilt.  And when we can't give financially, we affirm that stewardship is more than money--sometimes it's simply presence.

It is when you are at your most imperfect or challenged, that you are also often at your most human and beautiful.  In these times, though we may wish to hide beneath blanket because we don't look like what we look like, or have enough money, or seem to be able to get our act together to be presentable, in these times we need each other the most.  Sometimes, our presence is the gift we give in this season.

May you know a church that welcomes you home again and again.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ending Poverty

"It looks like a jail," I mutter underneath my breath to my traveling companions as we enter the school. We walk into a concrete courtyard surrounded by classroom windows, bars on the windows and fortified doors.  The doors have locks on them, the concrete is dirtied and waters seems to dribble from an unknown source.  As we go upstairs, it's more of the same.  On the third level, the classrooms open to a vista.  We look out across the rusted tin roofs and on into the lake, the city of Atilan Santiago crammed up in front of us.

Downstairs, we begin in the first class.  19 year old Juanita leads the class.  I walk into the dreary room filled letters and numbers.

Perhaps through commercials for the Feed the Children or U2 music videos, I am trained to see poverty.  I look at the dirtied clothes, the small box of crayons and the worn shoes.  I glance over the rusted, shaky chairs that form desks.  My eyes dart back and forth from Juanita to the barred windows.  I start feeling depressed sitting in this elementary chair with the fortified door closed.

But then Juanita starts teaching.  The children are entranced as she discusses the forest.  Asks them, "What do you find in the forest?"  Then, she asks us for our help in passing out brilliantly colored green paper, leaves for tracing and scissors for cutting.  Soon, from a focus on the dirt I see their smiles.

It's hard to believe we are even learning Spanish, but Juanita has a clever plan.

One girl asks if I can help her cut.  Little does she know, I won best tracer and leaf cutter in third grade!  I am ready for this task.

We help the children cut the leaves the best we can.  Use of gesture and broken Spanglish (they speak a dialect of Mayan, and I speak English) seems to somehow get us to understanding.  We meet in the middle with smiles, gestures and lots of "muy bien-s!"

The children pile around, glueing leaves to the trees and hug my legs.  We sing songs together in a circle.  "Adios," shouts Senorita Juanita in a sing-song voice.  We follow her lead and on into the next classroom.

A little tear hits my eyes as I realize I don't want to leave these kids I've just met.  My eyes were trained to see poverty, but my heart has been trained to find wealth.  I look at the beauty of the little paper tree in the corner, the smiles on their faces, and my own smile now.

Juanita has taught two lessons today.  I've learned "trunco" means trunk of a tree and that justice grows from a heart that first knows the wealth worth saving.