Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Widening the Lanes on Relationship Highway

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.
-- Rabindranath Tagore

This is one of my favorite quotes. It’s not because it is fun to say Rabindranath Tagore’s name (though it is fun to say!), it is because it is one of the truest statements I hold dear in my life and in my ministry. I know many of you have a fondness for this particular quote, and I also am aware that many of you find joy in serving your communities and congregations, just as I do.

We are on our way! Meaning we, as the Southern Region, have set sail, and are now seeing the horizon unfold before us, as the familiar territory of what was slowly fades into memory. We come to the never before navigated, uncharted territory of what it means to be in deep interdependent, covenantal relationship with our neighboring congregations, our Region, and our Association. We have embarked on a long term experiment of sorts, one that will challenge us, move us to the edges of our comfort zone, provoke us to boldly go where no Region has gone before! Sounds exciting, right?! What does it really mean though? For you and your home congregation? What does the dissolution of the SED, FLD, MSD and SWUUC governing boards and covenanting as a region mean in your back yard?

It means we have swung open the doors to building relationships with our neighboring UU congregations and Interfaith partners- we no longer have hard boundaries keeping us siloed, but nice dash lines (like those on the highway) to move in and out of the areas we are called to. It means we have to be intentional about our relationships and stepping up and in to new roles and saying “yes” when asked, or, better yet, seeing the need and pitching in without being asked sometimes. It means being open to and available to your neighbors when they are in need, as you hope they are for you when you are in need. It means asking how someone is and really listening to their response.  It means we must honor the feelings of loss some might have after being a part of their District structure for a long time, and reminding ourselves that our regional family has grown and we have many new friends we just haven’t met yet. It means looking outside of our own congregations and seeing how we can influence our whole Association and change the world, not just our own congregations. It means the change you have been asking for is here! YOU ARE IT, and this is your opportunity to help shape the next phase of our Faith movement!

There is great need for communication and relationship in our modern world - that is why many found our religious homes in Unitarian Universalism in the first place. I wish to inspire you to express your passion, and find others throughout the Region who share the same. The Regional staff is here to help support the founding of new ‘affinity’ clusters with tools, resources, and coaching. What are you most passionate about? What would you like to start or be a part of? Who knows what good things this could lead to? For example, maybe a passion of yours is knitting. I know we have many great knitters out there! Getting together with others in your area sounds like a grand idea, but what if you knew of several other groups around the Region with the same interests? And then, what if you were to have a Skype session or two to get to know one another and a plan is hatched. Your group decides to make hats and scarves for a shelter in each city in the new cluster. Tada - the Southern Region Knitters for a Warm Winter affinity cluster is born! It could really be that simple: meet new people, learn about them as they learn about you, and do good works for our communities and our Faith. That sounds like a potential brick in the wall of Beloved Community to me.

Please know all your efforts in faithful service to Unitarian Universalism are appreciated and needed even more as we carve our new pathways! My colleagues on your Southern Region staff team and I are so proud and blessed to serve the congregations of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas!  You can find your congregations’ Primary Contact by clicking the link here-

And remember: We are Better Together!

With Faith and Hope for a Bright Future,

Maggie Lovins
UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Just Lucky, I Guess

by Connie Goodbread, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff

Grace. I love the word grace. It has a deep meaning. Grace, an elegant and fluid way of being responsible, taking it all in stride. Grace, to bring beauty into our lives and the lives of others. Grace, having a trusting clarity about your heart’s desire and actually listening to and acting on it. Grace, the ability to forgive, learn, and move on. Grace, advantages I have, but did not earn. 

As I work through my own development and becoming, I find myself thinking of several ideas and concepts that, for me, have been a struggle. Of course there are the religious concepts - what does God or Holy mean to me?  How do I hold covenant in my heart every day? How do I live in covenant with the world as a practicing Unitarian Universalist? What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of my life? What happens when I die? Unitarian Universalism has been my lifeboat as I struggle with finding my answers to these questions and the meanings of these concepts.  
As I face issues involving racial justice, I also have struggles. I witness others struggling, too. One of the struggles is with "White Privilege." What does it mean? When I see others wrestle with this term, I wonder if the struggle isn't exacerbated by the way we talk about it or present it. I have heard the following discussion several times. How can it be a privilege to not be raped or beaten? How can the basic human rights of fair treatment and justice be a privilege? Isn’t that the norm, the way it should be - where the bar should be set?  Yes, it is the way it should be but, in reality basic human rights can be and are denied to individual human beings everyday. So how do we talk about the power that our culture offers some and not all? I wonder if there isn’t a way to talk about “White Privilege” in a way that helps us to see the difference between our personal struggle as opposed to the cultural homeostasis that is the water in which we swim. Systems thinking is my lifeboat in this struggle.

I want to testify, and so, I feel exposed and vulnerable in what I am about to write. I thank you ahead of time, gentle reader, for your compassion and understanding. Here is my thinking - there are different meanings for the word privilege. One way to look at it is that, because of some of my attributes, I have cultural advantages that translate into privileges. Some of my advantages are that I appear to be white, I have the genetic advantages of being healthy, being tall but not too tall, being thin but not too thin, fairly smart, and female. All of these things are examples of grace - I did nothing to earn these attributes. Just the luck of the draw. I can’t give them away. Our dominant culture reacts to me in certain ways because of these attributes. The only thing I can do is to be aware of the fact that our culture gives me privileges in the form of a head start, the benefit of the doubt, I am listened to and treated with respect all because of the way I look. I never expect to be pulled over by the police, yanked out of my car, thrown on the hood, handcuffed, frisked, body probed and arrested.

The other way that I think about privilege is that there are also privileges that are earned. When our children want the right to do something we often say, “If you want that privilege you must earn it.” We earn privileges by having integrity, being disciplined, working hard, overcoming obstacles, being responsible for our own actions, learning valuable lessons, being kind, honest and/or trustworthy. 

Through hard work and dedication I have earned the privilege of serving Unitarian Universalism as a member of the Congregational Life Staff. I am not a minister. I am a credentialed religious educator. I studied Systems Thinking with leaders in the field for many years, served two congregations and have had many different roles as Field Staff with our Association. I have worked to become well versed in conflict transformation. I have struggled with my own faith development and looked deeply into Unitarian Universalist theology and history. I have honed my skills as a presenter. I try my very best to be a team player. When I have the honor of leading, I try to practice vulnerable leadership. This is the hard work that I have done to earn the privilege of serving this faith that I love.

I was also born into a working class, military family. Both of my parents grew up dirt poor.  Neither went to college. Every college course I took, I paid for myself. I have worked since I was fourteen. I am very dyslexic. My mother tried to commit suicide twice. My father was a functioning alcoholic. We moved every two years and in the second grade, when I should have been learning to read, we moved six times. I did not learn to read until the fifth grade, when I taught myself. I am a bad test taker. I was labeled stupid. I was put into classes for children who were also labeled stupid. My mother died when I was twenty after a four year bout with cancer. These are all realities and could be seen as disadvantages, although I do not see some of them that way. I have both advantages and disadvantages that make up my experience, my reality, and color the way I see the world. They make me who I am. However, another reality is that there are cultural homeostatic privileges that come into play when I struggle to overcome a disadvantage or problem. I get a break for appearing white.  If I looked more like my mother’s Native American heritage I don’t think I would have gotten the same breaks. She didn’t.

So what do I do with this? All I can do is to continue my struggle and continue to testify. I know I am unfinished. I take comfort in that. I know my reality is not the reality of others. I must do everything I do with humility. I know that in order to make a difference I must use any power and privilege I have, to empower and emprivilege (I made that word up) others. I know that I will fail but I need to remember that I will also succeed. I know I can’t do any of this by myself, I must partner with others in the work. I am grateful for my gentle, patient partners. I cling to my lifeboats as I continue my struggle in and with the deep water that surrounds me. I pray for clarity, wisdom, forgiveness, beauty in the world and the ability to take it all in stride. That is, for grace.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Why Black Lives Matter

-introduction by Natalie Briscoe, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life staff
-post by Southern Region Right Relations Specialist, Lewis Morris, and his wife, Tasha Morris

At General Assembly this past June in Portland, Oregon, the gathered delegates overwhelmingly approved an Action of Immediate Witness entitled, “Support the Black Lives Movement.” An Action of Immediate Witness allows Unitarian Universalists to respond quickly and collectively to issues deemed urgent and imperative. As our awareness and outrage grows concerning the violence perpetrated against People of Color every day, especially by those in law enforcement who would misuse and abuse their power and authority, it is clear that we cannot remain silent. 

And yet, a large part of bringing more justice into this world means examining our own hearts and lives to see if there are any actions, however small, we can do in each moment that give our lives the shape of justice. Many times this can take the form of examining our own privileges and making a real effort to give our own power and authority away to make space for voices of the oppressed and marginalized.   

I recognize that my position as a Congregational Life Staff member of the Unitarian Universalist Association comes with authority and privilege. Even writing this blog is a privilege I don't take lightly, as I know it is disseminated widely. My voice is heard. 

In this blog, therefore, I would like to give up that privilege and remain silent in order to make space for voices which are not heard. Please find below a post written by a Southern Region Right Relations Specialist, Lewis Morris, and his wife, Tasha Morris, regarding the “Support Black Lives” initiative and the Black Lives Matter movement. Lewis and Tasha are members of First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. 

Why Black Lives Matter 
A Brief History

The Black Lives Matter movement is most known for vocal protests against racial discrimination in community policing and the justice system. However, it is not only that.

It is a movement led by people of color, calling for an end of race-based oppression in its many forms and contexts. White allies of the movement are asked to take on supporting roles in order for people of color, who have lived experiences of these forms of oppression, the opportunity to be heard and given a chance to express their needs to a wider community.

The phrase “Black Lives Matter” was created following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer in 2013. It gained national attention after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Black Lives Matter has also been at the forefront of drawing attention to other incidents, such as the death of Eric Garner in New York in 2014 and the killing of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old who brandished a toy gun and was shot by police in 2014.

While the Black Lives Matter movement has gained the most attention for protests against police brutality and concerns about the justice system, it is also active in a number of other issues that disproportionally affect communities of color.

Why not say “all lives matter?”

Black Lives Matter was the rallying call of black people. To change this to say “All Lives Matter” co-opts the powerful language of the movement, while simultaneously diminishing the voices of color that have gone unheard for so long. It changes the focus in such a way that the lived experiences of people of color are negated, downplayed and readily ignored. The Black Lives Matter movement has specifically asked allies to not change this language.

Our First Principle says that we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. As Kenny Wiley, a Director of Religious Education of color from Colorado, said in an address to the 2015 UUA General Assembly, “This is an unrealized promise.”

The reality lived by people of color in our country is that their lives matter LESS. Decades after the end of the civil rights movement, inequality abounds. There are significant disparities in community policing and in the justice system. Discriminatory housing practices are the norm, and until the recent Supreme Court ruling, considered legal. There is unequal access to quality education due to disparate school funding and overcrowding – schools are more segregated today than immediately following desegregation. On top of all that, there are numerous overt and covert racist behaviors still displayed by individuals. When these issues are disproportionally affecting communities of color, it is hard to see people of color being included in “All Lives” because that is not the lived experience.

The Unitarian Universalist fit

The 2015 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly adopted an Action of Immediate Witness to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. While AIW’s are only binding to the Assembly that adopted them, it bears note.

If, as Unitarian Universalists, we believe in our first principle of each person’s inherent worth and dignity…

If, as Unitarian Universalists, we believe in our second principle, of justice, equality, and compassion in human relation….

Then we must stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement. We also must be willing to listen to those firsthand accounts of oppression. We must not co-opt language in order to make white people a bit more comfortable. Discomfort with the language is nothing compared to the injustices that are finally being discussed.

Monday, August 3, 2015

DIY Leadership Development

by the Rev. Susan M. Smith

Perhaps you are in one of those congregations in which the old “Nominating Committee” has become the new “Leadership Development Committee,” and no one quite knows how to get that started. It’s a question I’ve gotten a few times lately. It’s very like those new “Committees on Ministry” that still operate like the old “Ministerial Relations Committees.” You want to get the benefit of a new and better way of guiding your congregation rather than just put a new label on the same-old-same-old. I think you must start with the leaders you already have to build the leadership you need.

Build a culture of sincere gratitude. Make sure that everyone is being thanked for everything they do every chance you get. If you lead worship, thank the pianist, the choir, the person who arrived early to create a beautiful space. As you arrive, thank the ushers for volunteering today and the Membership Committee folks for greeting. Stick your head in the kitchen and thank whoever is there setting up coffee hour or staying after to wash up. Show appreciation to staff as well. Make sure that every volunteer receives holiday greetings and thanks for their work in the year just past. Give gifts when you can. When the occasion warrants it, give engraved plaques. Expressing gratitude contributes to our mental health, and potential leaders will see that their work will be appreciated.

Encourage your current leaders to always ask someone to help them with their work. This will create low stakes opportunities for those who are not in leadership to test the waters. Ask every current volunteer to think of at least one thing that they do – usher, set up coffee hour, oversee the kids in the playground – with which they can ask someone to help. These are usually best when they are spur of the moment things. Also, encourage current leaders to have special events and projects for which potential leaders can participate for a very limited time rather than an open-ended committee position.

Help your current leaders get to know themselves and one another better. There are many different free and reasonably priced online and remote resources for allowing people to learn more about one another. Whether it’s Myers-Briggs, enneagram, conflict style inventory or intercultural competency, develop a variety of ways that members of boards, teams and committees can share more of who they are. Work a case study. Do a free UUA curriculum for leaders like “Harvest the Power.” Have them consider how the story of the Stone Soup or the Parable of the Sower relates to your congregation at the present time. In short, develop a real appreciation for both difference and commonality. You will be moving away from thinking that any warm body can fill an opening and toward asking people to serve in a position because they are uniquely suited to it.

Help people to move from begrudging work into passionate work. In his landmark book on organizations, Good to Great, Jim Collins writes that the first step toward true greatness is to make sure that the right people are on the bus and that they are in the right seats.  I like to literally put painters tape on the floor to make a few squares and label them as ministries of the congregation (Stewardship, Worship, Justice, etc.) and ask everyone to stand in the square where their current work places them. Then I ask them to move to the square for which they have passion. Unfortunately, I’ve seen groups of committee heads and board members where no one was where they truly wanted to be. Discerning a good fit between a volunteer and a position is key to developing happy and productive new leaders.

Finally, members of the Leadership Development Committee should do just what Committees on Ministry should do, get acquainted with the work of every volunteer in the congregation. That doesn’t usually mean sitting in a committee meeting. It means pruning the hedges to watching the newsletter put together to singing in the choir. You will be asking what would make these positions more effective, more fun and easier to do. You may come back with a list of better supplies or more modern equipment that is needed. You may see a cultural change that needs to be made or a need for a position to have more autonomy. At the very least, you will know enough about what volunteers are doing to speak intelligently about it to potential leaders.

If you start with these things, you will be well on your way to creating a volunteer environment in which people want to be a part. And those volunteers will live deeper and more fulfilling lives because of the opportunities you provide to them.