Wednesday, February 17, 2016

History in the Making

by Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith
When I was a child, I thought that the real history-makers had all finished their work. Thanks to leaders like my parents, the barriers that would have kept me in legally segregated schools had come down. Because of those who went before me, I was able to eat in any affordable restaurant, stay in any hotel, and ride any bus, train, or plane I chose. Because of Ella Baker and Dr. King and James Meredith and Shirley Chisholm and Rosa Parks and many others, my peers and I could dream much bigger dreams for ourselves than our forebears could have imagined.

In spite of the many ways Dad and Mom shielded me and my brothers from the terrors they had grown up knowing about as Negro children in rural Tennessee and small-town Mississippi, my brothers and I were well-acquainted with our status as second-class citizens that informed significant aspect of our lives. Who we went to school with, where we lived, what we learned, and what we didn't learn all had to do with the remnants of slavery, de facto segregation and Jim Crow -- sharp and brutal cuts even when invisible to or denied by many.

We're in the waning days of Black History Month now and on the back side of Valentines Day. Similar to Dr. Howard Thurman in his reading about the work of Christmas in our hymnal (SLT #615), we are right to say that the work of Valentines Day -- the work of love -- begins after all the chocolates have been eaten, the flowers wilted, the heart-shaped balloons deflated and the greeting cards tucked away. I venture to say that the work of love is the same as the work of Christmas in Thurman's poem, that is, to "find the lost / to heal the broken / to feed the hungry / to release the prisoner / to rebuild the nation / to bring peace among the brothers / to make music in the heart."

We can see, too, that black people are constantly making Black History. Though the modes and styles continue to evolve, black people within our Association and beyond are creating beauty, meaning and justice through the power of courageous love. 

The tasks before us are daunting. Some of us are calling for prison reform while others are calling for the complete dismantling of the prison industrial complex. Some are making the case for reparations to be given to the descendants of enslaved Africans, while others want to abolish affirmative action measures. Some are calling for more stringent policing of our national borders, while others are calling for amnesty for undocumented residents. And we are all over the map on these and many other pressing issues. Finding a way to move forward together is a constant challenge, but we embrace the chaos, knowing that our ancestors help guide our way with their examples of resistance, agitation, commitment and self-care.

Our UUA General Assembly will have an historic quality this year, as our engagement around Black Lives Matter moves from the margins of our religious movement toward the center. You can learn more about what we have planned here:

We are never not making history. With every day-to-day choice, with our shouts for justice as well as our treacherous silences, we are giving shape to the futures coming generations will inhabit. I dream of a day when our collective history is not color-blind but color-full, and every day of every month is a chance to celebrate the depth and breadth of our shared humanity.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Stand By This Faith

by Kathy McGowan, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff

Olympia Brown was the first woman officially ordained by the Universalists. Reading number 569 in our grey hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, begins, “Stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it.”

I love this reading as it says so much about what congregational life is all about. The reasons we come into one of our congregations are varied but are often during times of tension or transition. We often come in because we have a need or desire. We may be hurting or broken in some way. We might feel that we are lacking in some of what life is demanding of us. So we take that courageous step and we come. We receive love, connection, friendship, care for ourselves and our family. This feels wonderful. 

When talking about membership, Michael Piazza, a United Church of Christ minister, said to a group of us last year, that there comes a time when we must “take off the bib and put on the apron.” This is a critical time for us; we move from guest to host. One can only be a host once they consider the congregation to be their home. The language moves from talking about “y’all” and “them” to “we” and “us”.

Olympia goes on to say “Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that we are worthy to be entrusted with this great message that you are strong enough to work for a great principle without counting the cost.” 

WE are entrusted; all of us. This is where we put on the apron. The congregation is the curriculum by which we teach. We can best teach our children, those new to our tradition, and those outside looking in by being good stewards of our faith. We cherish our congregations not because they are perfect or meeting our every need but because we are mindful of others' needs. We aspire to create a community for all.

Our relationship with the congregation, and thereby the faith, can begin to sour if we leave the bib on too long. If we fail to move from the language of “me”  to “we,” we can wander into “what have they done done for me lately?” territory.

Others learn about us by what we do and how we treat each other. This is the way to teach our true values. We live in community not because it is easy, but because we choose to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We believe that living in community is worth the work and the sacrifice. Our individual and family needs may not all be met, but we stay. We stay so that others can find a place when they need love, connection, friendship and care. We put on the apron.