How are you? When people ask me, sometimes I just move my hand in front of me like a cartoon sea serpent that’s swimming along in heavy seas. Probably like you, I go up and down, and at the same time, I find myself laughing often amid this incredible experience we’re all having together.
Photo Credit: Rev. Jacqueline Brett
There is urgency in the air this fall about voting and democracy. There were folks in line at 7:00 am on the first day of early voting at ERUUF. By 8:00 am the line stretched from the Fellowship Hall, past the front of the CARE Building, around the side, and down into the back parking lot. Some voters brought folding chairs, books, water, and snacks. Others brought just themselves and their phones. All were masked and remained at safe, respectful distances from each other.
When we talk about voting and democracy at ERUUF, people often wonder what’s legal, what’s simply right and good, and where are the proper lines between church and state? The Constitution is written to preserve freedom of religious belief for individuals and organized religion. The first amendment essentially says that the state can’t compel citizens to support a state-sponsored religion. Nor can the government reach into congregations and dictate what can and can’t be preached or taught.
Congregations and denominations are free to take positions on issues, and speak out and advocate for them. We can host non-partisan candidate forums, and we can serve as polling places. These actions, along with the free and open debate about ideas, is essential to a healthy balance of power in our larger society. As non-profits, congregations cannot endorse particular candidates; if they do they risk losing their tax-exempt status. However, and this is important, denominations and leaders of congregations are fully free to exercise their right to free speech to support or critique elected officials, especially on moral grounds.
We are at a point in our public life when politicians have created vicious partisanship to further their own ends, and citizens who don’t think alike about politics have been manipulated into polarization that threatens our democracy’s ability to function. And because some of these issues are so critically important for our whole society, it’s fair for religious leaders to respectfully speak out about issues on moral grounds. To remain silent when speaking up would make a life or death difference, or would affect whether democratic government survives, would be an abdication of the leadership role that’s been entrusted to us.
One of my favorite calendars comes as a set of four pages that are three feet long by 12” high. At the top are pictures of the rising constellations, and it also depicts the phases of the moon and sun. On the land and underground, it depicts seasons of bird and animal migrations, hibernations, gestations, and the time for rearing the next generation. It also shows growing and harvest seasons for various plants. Everything rises and falls in its own season, its own good time.
More than once in recent months I’ve come across this beautiful calendar from 17th century Japan. It was created in 1685 by the court astronomer, Shibukawa Shunkai, who noted 24 distinct seasons based on natural phenomena ranging from Risshun (Beginning of spring) through Daikan (Greater cold) at the end of winter.
Thunder rumbles overhead and I’m trying to remember…is this a part of a normal early August afternoon? I hope so, because otherwise it’s way too easy to view it as an ominous foreshadowing of what’s still ahead with the pandemic, racial justice, hurricane season, climate change, the November elections, and more.
This summer I’m trying hard to acknowledge things that concern me without going down Disaster Lane to Apocalypse Village. I’m trying to let my fear alert me to what’s most important so that I can make informed choices. I’m trying to let my anger point out what I love and care about most so I can tend those worthy people and causes. When I do this I suddenly remember the thrill just ahead of an approaching storm--the cooling breeze just before rain sweeps in, the deep violet-blue clouds that carry more water than a small pond.
What’s your summer been like?
How are you coping with a world that’s suddenly come down to the size of a 7” screen? How are you dealing with the information that sometimes arrives like a flash flood through your mind and heart? I’m aiming for a balanced life—gardening, cooking most meals from scratch, a stack of interesting library books (what an amazing social distance check out system!), online art classes, zoom calls with family and friends, as much genuine humor and laughter as possible.
So much is a challenge when it’s 102o and 92% humidity, but this too shall pass. Meanwhile, I’ve found a good book and 25 recipes for gourmet popsicles, all made with fruit, some also with adult beverages. And it’s already August. The relief that normally comes when the heat relents is sure to come eventually.
Note: I’ll be on vacation August 10-31. If you need anything urgently please reach out to Rev. Jacqueline, Rev. Stacy or Daniel. I’ll look forward to “seeing you” in September.
This week we wrapped up a 30 Day Racial Equity Challenge at ERUUF. The purpose was to create a compassionate and supportive learning space where White people could lean into our sometimes deep discomfort as we begin to recognize and dismantle racism within ourselves and our institutions.
Over 100 participants and facilitators engaged in one daily learning activity every day for 30 days in July. We also met together on five Wednesday evenings for large group sharing and learning, and then in smaller breakout groups for more in-depth conversation.
We practiced what we’d been taught by our trainers and coaches from dRWorks—that we can’t just think racism away. Racism is woven into every law, every policy, and upholds every disparity in our culture. But to really get at this, first, we have to be able to recognize our emotions and the sensations within our body. As we listen to our bodies we begin to experience and understand how racism is actually part of everything that holds our culture together.
This 30 Day REI Challenge was intended as an introduction, and of course, racism isn’t “solved” or “fixed” even by taking even an advanced course. But we don’t have to wait, because racism is dismantled every time we acknowledge information from our whole self, and use it to make choices to break the silent, invisible (to White people) rules of our culture. And instead, choose to act in ways that are equitable and inclusive.
It sounds simple, and it is. It’s also exhausting, and at times it can be terrifying to “dismantle” the reality that holds up your whole world. There are good reasons why Indigenous cultures have shamans to guide people as they do exactly this. But we do this because we’re called by Life itself, by the power of love, by the force some call God, by the future our grandchildren will inherit, by ongoing force of history—by something bigger than we are that is inescapable.
The good news is that as we do this there’s no need to escape or flee. There’s no shame, no canceling, and no one has to get off the island. Instead, we just need to fully inhabit our whole life, our whole self, and acknowledge the full, whole selves and human rights of all the people around us.
My husband had this interesting conversation with our (at the time) six-year-old grandson. Husband: “Are you going fishing?” Grandson: “There are no fish in that lake.” My husband, puzzled, looking at the boats full of people fishing just offshore: “Why do you think there are no fish in the lake? Grandson, full of logic and self-assurance: “Well, I’m going swimming. And if there are fish they might come and poop on my leg, and I don’t want that. So there are no fish in that lake.” (Cue the sound of laughter being inhaled, so as not to insult a very certain six-year-old.)
What’s charming in a six-year-old is not so charming in an elected official: “I want our economy to thrive again, right now, so the pandemic will be over very soon…we’re making great progress…it’s going to be beautiful.” We can go ahead and laugh, but in fact, the consequences from ignoring the truth about the coronavirus will be quite dire for everyone from schoolchildren, teachers, and staff, to businesses who are truly struggling to keep their doors open, to front line workers…and everyone else in our interconnected world. Wishful thinking doesn’t magically change this reality. The virus doesn’t care how much power one person craves, or how bored and antsy the rest of us are at home (or how afraid we are out at work).
Unitarian Universalists place a high value on “the search for truth,” whether it’s the scientific gathering of data or the noticed and named reality of our own spiritual experience. We also understand that we actually aren’t able to find a whole, accurate truth totally on our own. Science is peer-reviewed because it’s way too easy to miss something crucial. This is also true when we’re in the middle of our own personal experience, and this is one reason we gather in spiritual community. We need each other’s honest perspectives at the times our own view is not wide enough to be accurate.
Some truth is really hard, such as the truth that it’s going to be a long time before we’re able to safely gather together in person. I had a really hard time as I began to admit to myself that I would not see family and friends in person this summer…or anytime soon after that. I had to acknowledge my sadness, lack of control, and fear of the unknown. It really helped that friends were there to hear me out and offer support.
The quest for truth requires maturity of us, which might begin with the ability to face and endure hard things and to be there for others as they do the same. Wishful thinking doesn’t ask much of us at all, and doesn’t produce much of lasting value either.
What truths are you facing this summer? Where do you find support and solace as you do hard things? Whatever is happening for you, I hope you know that you’re not alone. In this community, there is love and care, support and solace. It’s as close as a group or class, as near as a phone call, as we face hard truths and do hard things together.
I hope you were able to attend the online June 28 UUA General Assembly Sunday service, because it was deeply moving. And did anything look familiar? In addition to a great sermon and music, the Rev. Mykal Slack, who lives in Durham, was one of the preachers and Mykal recorded his parts of the service in the ERUUF sanctuary.
The programing at GA is decided months in advance, and many of this year’s programs focused on Native American rights and issues, and racial equity and inclusion outside and within our own Association. This year’s Ware Lecturer, Naomi Klein, spoke about the Green New Deal and how it’s designed to address intersecting contemporary crises, including climate change and the need in a COVID-19 world for a whole new world economy. UUs don’t always get it right, for sure. In fact, many of this year’s programs addressed some of the ways we’ve been spectacularly wrong. But taken as a whole I was struck by how GA managed to shine a bright light at the heart of great world crises long before COVID-19 and the current uprisings for racial justice. And that this is true because this is how UUs put our love and commitment into action.
At ERUUF we’re shining our light brightly this summer in the form of some terrific programs that I hope you’ll check out: Odyssey at 9:00 am on Sunday morning; Children’s Chapel 9:30-10:15 am on Sunday; and the worship service is at 10:30. The Multicultural Team (MCT) is hosting a film and discussion series; there’s a 30- Day Racial Equity Challenge (now closed at over 100 participants); and in August the MCT has plans for a multiracial dialogue program. And there’s more—check e-news and the weekly calendar as our groups continue to add new programs.
At ERUUF we’ve let our light and love shine through our programs and care for each other over the past several months. The staff, in particular, have been doing this pretty intensely, and in July and August will take some much-needed vacation at staggered times. So this summer we’re going to have simplified Sunday worship that won’t ask so much of our tech team. We’ll also draw from the terrific “library” of homemade videos that our musicians have developed, so stay tuned for repeats of some of the very special creations from this past spring.
I’ve been thinking of you and hope you are well. I hope that you are keeping your mind and heart open as the pandemic of racism has been laid bare on our screens these past couple weeks. Some among us have long known the real story about race in our country; some of us are just now waking up to it.
If you are a Person of Color, I’m holding you in my heart. And if you are African American, or identify as Black, I want to make sure you’ve seen this Pastoral Letter to Black Unitarian Universalists by Rev. Lauren Smith.
Everyone, if like me you’ve been reading, watching, and listening, at times past the point of outrage to the point of nausea, you might welcome a connection to a larger network of Unitarian Universalists. Here are pages created by the Unitarian Universalist Association in support of action for love and justice.
- The latest message from Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray urges all UUs not to turn away from what’s been exposed in the past months, and especially the past couple weeks.
- From the Love Resists campaign a guide to figuring out your involvement in the midst of chaos: Risk, Courage and Discernment.
- A call to moral action from the UUA: Stop Calling the Police and Start Eradicating Anti-Blackness.
“It’s a huge danger to pretend that awful things do not happen. But you need enough hope to keep going. I am trying to make hope. Flowers grow out of darkness.” (Corita Kent)
I do not know how this happened, but really, a full moon, Friday the 13th, spring forward into Daylight Saving Time, and the impact of COVID-19 all in one week? Seriously?
How are you doing? I’ve had some rough patches this week, moments when the “too muchness” of it all hit me with zing that a couple times has left me feeling a little numb. What’s this week been like for you?
We all have different responses to stress. Some of us get aggressive and push forward to make sure we and the ones we love get what we need. Some of us take off for the hills, tossing obstacles into the path behind us as we flee. And then, there are some of us who just temporarily shut down. When I’m overwhelmed sometimes that’s what happens, hence the sense of numbness. Fight, flight, or freeze. A full trinity of very human responses, and each has their usefulness in the right time and place.
But sometimes each of these things gets loose in us and takes over for too long, overstaying its welcome, causing us later to shake our heads and wonder, “why did I do such a thing?”
Social scientists say that resilience is our ability to bounce back. While this seems quite true, I have a hunch that spiritual resilience is about an even deeper connection that can help us survive a killing season. Like a tree bent by prevailing winds, how might resilience help us stay vitality alive in body, mind, and spirit even after terrible adversity has shaped our life? Where does this power reside in individuals? And what’s the role of community in recognizing and sustaining this essential force?
The Acoma Indian poet, Simon Ortiz, writes: “The future will not be mad with the loss and waste /though the memory will/be there/: eyes will become kind and deep, and the bones of this nation/ will mend after the revolution.” I understand that he’s saying that though terrible things have happened, we will not go mad when we remember them. And there is the possibility that the force of our resilience will help us find compassion, and with it kindness and pliability. And when we flex and bend we’ll survive. We will heal into a new wholeness after this great inner revolution of the spirit, this great transformation, no matter what else is happening around us.
This makes me believe that there’s a relationship between resilience and reverence, and I want to explore it in my own life. How might we each recognize and honor resilience in our self? And how do we respond when we encounter the shape that resilience has taken in another? How do we support resilience in community?
It finally feels like winter around here, and for this short season I welcome it. The chance to slow down and eat dinner in front of a fire, flip through a seed catalog, doodle and splash some color onto a clean page, make a call to a longtime friend for an overdue chat, all beckon with promise.
Outside by day bare winter branches reach for the clear blue sky. Around six in the evening Venus has been blazing just above the horizon, while bright diamond stars twinkle against the black velvet of the night.
All these things, all this love and beauty fills me up when I take time to listen, to look, to really hear and see. And when I do, these simple, eternal things sustain me through the bitter freezing of this season when so much is at stake for our country and beloved planet.
What do you love about January? What sustains you when cold winds blow?
In the midst of uncertainty of many varieties, this fall I’ve been looking for renewal everywhere I can find it. A great source has been a new garden that Chris and I designed and helped install in our backyard in October.
After heavy rain that caused our basement to flood with “compost tea” (solid compost that was originally intended for the garden) we decided that we needed help. So we hired a landscape crew to install new pathways and a patio, and put in fruit and nut trees and shrubs: fig, persimmon, blueberry, kiwi, hazelnut, a tea camellia. Also serviceberry, stewartia, oakleaf hydrangea, carpet roses, red twig dogwood, and a few spring bulbs. We’ll see what survives this winter, and we’ll plant a bit more in the spring. Even with all the heavy rain and sudden cold, it seems to be holding together; I’m grateful we had such good help from professionals.
Where are you finding renewal as we head into the growing winter darkness? Is it with family? Friends? Books? Movies? At the gym? Over shared meals? With meaningful volunteer work? And how’s your spiritual life? I’ve been snacking on spirituality books like they’re popcorn—so good! I haven’t been able to walk as much as I’d like, but I’ve been stringing beads and drawing Zentangles, and I joined a prayer writing group. And I put a Contemplative Prayer app on my phone so that I can practice every day for 15 minutes. I don’t normally “do” this much, but I’ve found that keeping busy has been good for me. And any regular practice always puts me back in touch with my center. And when I’m grounded I feel ok no matter how much the world seems to spin all around me.
Do you have a regular practice that supports your inner life in the midst of stressful times? What is that for you?
What a frantic week of preparation for a terrifying storm, and what a relief that Hurricane Florence weakened and turned away from our area. And yet, how shocking to watch reports of rising flood waters turning eastern North Carolina cities into islands and major interstates into scenic rivers.
On Sunday, September 16 we raised over $3,800 for relief for storm victims. ERUUF’s donation will go to the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund, which gives 100% of funds to victims. The next day I also received a notice from Democracy North Carolina. You might like to give to this effort that is reaching out to minority communities that are usually overlooked and underserved. Check out this link for more information about needs and where your donations will mean the most.
Finally, as Rev. William Barber reminds us in this opinion piece, "storms like Florence do more than destroy; they also expose the inequities in our society that are perpetuated by extreme policies." There are lots of ways to respond to this disaster. You can give money, donate supplies, or help displaced people register to vote. You can also hold our friends and neighbors who have been >so hard hit in your heart, with love. That’s a really good way to remember that we’re all truly connected, and feel comforted as you do.
What was the most fun you’ve had recently? This past July my husband and I went to work on our backyard. For three weeks, he took a saw, pickax and finally a shovel to privet clumps. One large stump was so entwined and heavy that it took three people to carry it away. It looked awfully hard, and Chris would come into the house soaked with sweat, covered in mud, yet grinning like a kid having the bestest day ever. “Did you ever see the movie Shane?” he asked. “It’s like that giant tree stump the two guys hack away at…this is GREAT!”
He was removing the privet because we designed and built a fence. The lot next to us is covered in bamboo and we have an appreciative but vigilant relationship with it. We admire its graceful arcs but cut it back and dig it out when it starts creeping too near our house. We’ve been saving the poles though and this summer hired a strong, younger friend to dig post holes and drainage ditches. Then we built frames out of 2x4 and 1x6 cedar, cut the bamboo to fit and attached the cedar and bamboo screens to the posts.
This is phase one of our DIY landscape plan. And it was about the most fun I’ve had since I was a kid building forts in the backyard out of scrap wood and other junk. We don’t know if the fence will last or if we’ll have to figure out another way to create a sense of enclosure for the new garden. But for now we’re still amazed by a sense of “Wow! We did that?! How fun!”
Have you ever played with a weird idea and come up with something wonderfully unexpected? I highly recommend it.
Ten years ago this week I began what I thought would be a one year interim ministry at ERUUF. Wow….life is what happens while you’re making other plans, yes? When I visited that June to sign a contract and find an apartment, the moment my feet touched the earth here on campus a strange thought resonated through my whole body as if I were a bell: “I’m home.” To which my rational self immediately responded, “Ok, yes, but just for one year.”
Life had other plans and the past ten years has brought enormous change. And through it we’ve figured out how to work, learn, contemplate, cooperate, demonstrate, play, and resist together.
One of my favorite theological questions is, “What wants to happen next?” A great way to begin to discern possible answers is to simply pay attention to what comes up from deep within as you ask yourself this question, and then also as you listen to what’s compelling to other people when they do the same. As you do this you begin to sense not just what worked ten, twenty, thirty years ago here or somewhere else. You begin to sense new possibilities that want to emerge here and now.
I’m looking forward to the next exciting chapter in this vital community, in this vibrant region, where good things will happen as we pay attention, open our hearts, listen and make room for who and what wants to happen next.
“It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
These past few weeks, no matter how politically active and spiritually healthy we are, we wake and find ourselves in a land that increasingly feels like a nightmare:
We incarcerate children just like Anne Frank in dog kennels, with only mylar “blankets.” We separate them from their families, and don’t know how or when they’ll be reunited.
We send children just like Anne Frank back to Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, where they'll become the property of gang members, or be murdered if they refuse (gangs that US policy inadvertently helped create when we trained foreign leaders at the School of the Americas).
Some in this country are in thrall to illusions around our president. And with their loyal devotion he’s able to subvert democracy, threaten our economy, and radically reshape our political relationships with world allies. It will not last. His supporters will wake up at some point. And then they and all the rest of us will have to pick up the pieces and begin again.
You might have heard that one of Rev. Barber’s latest endeavors is to pick up the civil rights agenda that has lain dormant since Dr. King’s assassination. Rev. Barber has partnered with Rev. Liz Theoharris, a long time anti-poverty advocate from New York. Together they’re leading this spring’s Poor People’s Campaign in 30 states, including North Carolina.
Read more about the campaign: https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/
And yet this movement is about so much more than two powerful leaders. On June 4 I heard stories from people who are ill and have no health care; others shared the work they’re doing to keep our water clean and free from chemicals and coal ash. This past week I sat with a Latino pastor who cried as he shared stories about corporate wage theft from migrant farmworkers who come to him for support. With real grief he proclaimed, “God’s people are hurting!”
And yet…through it all there are the strong, loving, determined voices of people working for justice, jobs, health care, respect, and dignity. “Love is here; power is here; we are here” one banner proclaimed. Change begins when we listen to each other’s stories.
I’m grateful to ERUUFians Joan Tilghman, Emily Cox and Ann Ringland who’ve organized and served as peacekeepers for six weekly rallys where these stories have been told. Amid the swirling chaos and heartbreak of national politics, the clear voices of people who speak the truth clearly, plainly and with love have grounded me, steadied me, and brought me back to my senses this spring. Love is here; power is here; we are here! And ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around!
It’s been an amazing year at ERUUF. A generous member challenged us last December; they would match what members could raise dollar for dollar up to $250,000. Members stepped up and we more than met the match. As a result ERUUF has been able to pay off its $104,000 mortgage and put the rest into a reserve fund for scheduled maintenance (the big stuff that needs replacing and repair—and we will still cover our normal “wear and tear expenses” out of the funds we each contribute annually—as we should). Alleluia!!
And yet all this comes in a time when the Durham Herald Sun has been running a series on our local economic boom, the building downtown, and how all this affects our low income neighbors. In some neighborhoods developers snatch up homes for pennies on the dollar that residents can’t afford to maintain, then renovate and sell the properties at huge profit. Since long-time home owners, most of whom are People of Color, don’t realize the greatest profits, the remnant of wealth remaining in Durham’s historically Black communities is flowing out at stunning rates.
In the midst of such significant changes, I’m inspired by long time fellowship members who have a strong commitment to all of Durham. ERUUF was recently recognized as the group that contributes the most annual volunteer hours at Urban Ministries. And for the past several years Durham CAN, our local community organizing group that works on jobs, affordable housing, and community policing has had an office here on our campus, and we’ve become increasingly active members with them. Our commitment to dismantling systemic racism is significant in all this, because it helps us become partners who better understand the issues and increase our skill at following the lead of local People of Color who are fighting for their rights.
In a time when the winds of change are blowing fiercely, Unitarian Universalists have a great moral compass in the form of our principles and liberal religious values—justice, equity, and compassion just to name a few. At ERUUF we’re using these important tools as guidance to find meaningful, impactful ways to transform life for ourselves and our neighbors.
The Black Lives Matter banner at the UU congregation in Winston-Salem has been stolen several times now. So often, in fact, that my intrepid colleague, Rev. Lisa Schwartz, bought a spare the last time she re-ordered.
Which was great, because on Sunday April 22, when someone not only stole their banner for the 3rd time, but also spray painted "WHITE" across their front doors in huge, skinny letters, she and the congregation were ready. The new banner was up by 12:15pm as the congregation sung their commitment:
"Ain't gonna let no spray paint turn me around..."
Even better, at a press conference just days later, not only did the local Black Clergy Caucus turn out with their strong support, but so did many White ministers from mainline churches from across the city. Also joining them were a county commissioner, members of the city council and school board, and one lone, sweet member of the local Socialist party.
Rev. Schwartz says that every leader spoke in support of the congregation, and that in particular it was heartening that two prominent White mainline clergy publicly emphatically stated that the question was not why a White church would display a BLM banner, but why ALL White churches aren't displaying the banner. And they committed to lifting up banners on their churches.
After the press conference, Rev. Schwartz says that all the leaders who gathered agreed that “the vandalism was SO minor compared to the oppression that people of color have endured for centuries. We’ve pledged to lift not only the banner, but the issue, clearly and consistently.” Together they’ve vowed that they will continue the conversation about race and the work of Black Lives Matter in Winston-Salem.