May 21–Open the Window: Dangerous Things 7

With the last of our seven Principles we make this powerful observation: that when Unitarian Universalists covenant ourselves to our seven Principles, we are covenanting ourselves to dangerous things.  Standing together for our Principles has meant throughout our history individuals giving their lives for what they mean.

We covenant.  What does that mean?  To covenant means to come together, to gather ourselves around something, to form community and relationships around and because of something (from Latin, convenire = to come together).

We come together and create community around respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

This principle my be my most often “go to” principle.  It speaks to me of communion and vision larger than myself.  The fact is that each of these principles do that in some way, and in another sense, the very first principle–the inherent dignity and worth of all people–is fleshed out in the remaining six.  Respecting the interdependent web of all existence is another way of saying that we see an inherent worth and dignity not only in all people, but in all beings and things.

What is so dangerous about this expansive idea of communion with all beings and things?  Metaphorically, it means no more locked doors, nor more private clubs, no more “us and them,” no more walls.  Perhaps more than I realize, I prop myself up and give myself comfort with almost unspoken judgments that amount to my separateness from others. This principle acknowledges that such a separateness really does not exist–anywhere–except in our minds. It is the same truth that we are only waking up to.  There is no such thing as race.  Race is a social construct. It really only exists in our minds and imaginations.

This last principle threatens to remove any appeal to how anyone or thing is ultimately of no concern to me.  While that might feel heavy and burdensome (having to care about everything all the time), it might just also be some wonderful to open to.  Open the windows and let our belonging to all things and all people come in.  This morning we wake to more of the horrible aftermath of a bombing in Manchester, England.  It’s so easy to console ourselves with the horror of terrorism and terrorists “of which we are not a part.”But, if we open the windows, this is the truth:  this horror is our family story, and we have much work to do.

Bob Patrick

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May 23–Open the Window: Dangerous Things 6

Rev. Charlotte Arsenault recently made this powerful observation: that when Unitarian Universalists covenant ourselves to our seven Principles, we are covenanting ourselves to dangerous things.  Standing together for our Principles has meant throughout our history individuals giving their lives for what they mean.

We covenant.  What does that mean?  To covenant means to come together, to gather ourselves around something, to form community and relationships around and because of something (from Latin, convenire = to come together).

We come together and create community around the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

These words almost sing like a child’s song: world community, with peace,  liberty and justice for all.  But for this idea perhaps more people have given their lives and more people feel threatened than any other.

I think that perhaps because these words or those similar “with liberty and justice for all” have a certain history in this country that the mere sound of them create in our minds almost the opposite of what they mean.  On their face, peace, liberty and justice for all describe the most radical vision of human community that could be stated!  Just think about the radical shifts in business as usual if there really were a world at peace for all, with freedom for all and justice for all.

Those words sound very much like the end of the pledge of allegiance to the American flag–a public ritual and mantra that rose out of fear itself–of communism and of “others.”  It arose from white people in leadership for white citizens to say at their gatherings (for when it was written black and brown citizens were totally disenfranchised from the American way of life that pledged “liberty and justice for all.”  It was further edited by a Judeo-Christian world view (one nation, under God) which omits anyone who does not hold that world view.  Those, mostly white, people who grew up saying it, are taken back into their all white community mindsets every time they say it, and they have little awareness of the magic it works on their minds, of how those worlds, liberty and justice for all, likely keep them in a frame of reference that specifically insures liberty and justice for very few.

If we are going to open the window, it means peering into some sacred closets that we have been living in and shining the light there.  It means pondering sacred words and asking what they really mean when we say them.  It means scrutinizing sacred acts and asking what effect they have on us.  It means redefining our mental and social and political spaces so that words like peace, liberty and justice for all are no longer in service to their very opposites.  These are dangerous words if we want things “the way they used to be.”

Bob Patrick

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May 22–Open the Window: Dangerous Things 5

Rev. Charlotte Arsenault recently made this powerful observation: that when Unitarian Universalists covenant ourselves to our seven Principles, we are covenanting ourselves to dangerous things.  Standing together for our Principles has meant throughout our history individuals giving their lives for what they mean.

We covenant.  What does that mean?  To covenant means to come together, to gather ourselves around something, to form community and relationships around and because of something (from Latin, convenire = to come together).

We come together and create community around the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

In my experience, this may be one of the more difficult of our principles to live and work with.  I find that difficulty to be rooted in two other religious and social realities:

  1. that western religious tradition is built on the notion that religious teachings are more important than people and their experiences.
  2. that the common notion of democracy is that the majority rules, and majority rules means that the minority has no voice in public decisions.

We take these largely socialized ideas with us everywhere we go, even into our Unitarian Universalist communities.  When, for instance, a person’s experiences allow for mysticism or complete rationalism and one of those kinds of experiences predominates in a congregation, the other is often looked at and treated as alien.  I hear of UU congregations where the mention of “God” is met with open hostility.  That’s an example of religious ideas (rationalism in this case) being more important than people.

I’ve been in churches all my life where a vote of a particular board or committee was reduced to majority rule and the silencing of the minority voice.  That approach matches the notion that most people have of democracy (including those who lost the vote) and sets up and deepens hostilities between peoples.  The ideal of American democracy, however, was that the minority voice would always be protected in checks and balances–even in the electoral college.  Because the idea of protecting the minority voice has never been fully lived out, we have few people who really experience it.

And the primary danger?  We risk losing control OVER others who think and experience life differently than we do.  It strikes me that we have developed in our community a way of working with these misunderstandings:  Compassion, Trust and Inquiry.  Compassion opens us to the “alien” in our midst.  Inquiry invites us to engage, to learn, and to create community.  Trust reminds us that the spiritual path is always a movement and never a bunker.  We need each other to keep moving on the path.

Bob Patrick

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May 19–Open the Window: Dangerous Things 4

In her sermon Sunday, Rev. Charlotte Arsenault made this powerful observation: that when Unitarian Universalists covenant ourselves to our seven Principles, we are covenanting ourselves to dangerous things.  Standing together for our Principles has meant throughout our history individuals giving their lives for what they mean.

We covenant.  What does that mean?  To covenant means to come together, to gather ourselves around something, to form community and relationships around and because of something (from Latin, convenire = to come together).

We come together and create community around a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

I was in conversation recently with several people in our community, and several named this as the principle that they felt the most drawn to and the most dangerous.  The young people involved spoke of those occasions in which teachers at school injected their own religious beliefs (in each case, unbending Christian beliefs) into the public classroom. They described how unsafe that made them feel especially since they felt like they could not remain silent and were put in the position of confronting the teacher (who has a lot of power in a classroom) with their own  and different perception of things.

Adults in that conversation also spoke of how dangerous it feels even in our own community when they feel that there is an accepted and “orthodox” view of things that they know does not reflect or allow their own different view.

In the United States where we love to tell a story of escape from a repressive Europe to this new land in order to practice and enjoy religious liberty, the truer story is that those who came here simply transplanted one form of religious oppression for another.  Nothing has more potential for freeing the human being for his or her full potential than the freedom and responsibility to search for truth and meaning, and nothing feels more dangerous than being rejected, shamed and silenced in that search.

There is a concomitant fear, however, that fuels this almost perpetual problem: the fear that I will not ever belong to a group of people who understand me.  Out of that fear, I may jump at the opportunity to define and protect a tribe that feels like it might just be my group.  Even while nothing is more dangerous than the rejection, shame and silence of religious repression, nothing is more fragile than a community built on religious conformity.  That just might mean that to forge the strength of belonging comes in affirming, again and again, each person’s freedom and responsibility to search for truth and meaning.

Bob Patrick

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May 18–Open the Window: Dangerous Things 3

In her sermon on Sunday, Rev. Charlotte Arsenault made this powerful observation: that when Unitarian Universalists covenant ourselves to our seven Principles, we are covenanting ourselves to dangerous things.  Standing together for our Principles has meant throughout our history individuals giving their lives for what they mean.

We covenant.  What does that mean?  To covenant means to come together, to gather ourselves around something, to form community and relationships around and because of something (from Latin, convenire = to come together).

We come together and create community around the acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.

Surely there is no danger here–no risk–no potential of threat of loss.  After all, isn’t that the basic constitution of danger–that I or you or anyone feels a threat of loss.  We don’t even have to lose something to feel danger.  We simply have to feel the possibility of losing something.

Think that this principle of ours poses no potential danger?  Just suggest to someone that your sense of spirituality or spiritual growth (or even that there is some human quality called spiritual) is different from theirs.  The almost universal reaction is to pull back, label and separate.

I am coming to see that the most fundamental form of loss or threat of loss is rejection from belonging to community.

So, the most powerful part of this principle is not necessarily the “encouragement to spiritual growth” but the “acceptance of one another.”

I think this sounds very easy.  I think in reality practicing full on acceptance of those who have a fundamentally different way of seeing life is very difficult.

We can practice this principle by noticing how we pull back from those whose particular spiritual practice we do not share.

Bob Patrick

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May 16–Open the Window: Dangerous Things 2

In her sermon on Sunday, Rev. Charlotte Arsenault made this powerful observation: that when Unitarian Universalists covenant ourselves to our seven Principles, we are covenanting ourselves to dangerous things.  Standing together for our Principles has meant throughout our history individuals giving their lives for what they mean.

We covenant.  What does that mean?  To covenant means to come together, to gather ourselves around something, to form community and relationships around and because of something (from Latin, convenire = to come together).

We come together and create community around justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

I just listened to an interview with Sen. Ben Sasse (R) from Nebraska.  He’s written a book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. While he is currently standing out among his colleagues for his refusal to support President Trump, he also seems to suffer from a certain ability to see only what he wants to see.  He complained in the interview that our young people today do not know the pain of real work, and that they are stuck in perpetual adolescence where they never learn the resilience that they have.

I am pleased that he believes that there is an inherent resilience in every person.  That’s a step toward the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  But I am also aware of young people who go to school all day and then work jobs until 11 PM each night.  They put in 20 or 30 or 40 hours of work each week and come to school barely able to keep their eyes open.  A young man told me recently of how he fell asleep at the wheel driving home at midnight and how badly that frightened him.  These are most often young people who are helping pay the bills in their family’s lives.  I’m pretty sure that these young people understand the pain of work AND that they are in touch with their resilience, that they have dreams, that they want something more from their lives.

The real danger of this principle of ours is that it calls us to see more than we want to see, and when we begin to really see people, all people we risk losing the view of the world that we could control.  We risk having to stand with people suffering through things we don’t have answers for.  We feel the imperative to engage new kinds of work that will make a better way for all kinds of people.  I write this on the day after the Supreme Court refused to consider the voter repression laws of North Carolina.  Lower courts have already ruled that they are unconstitutional, and I am feeling grateful for those in North Carolina who felt the imperative to work for the reversal of those laws aimed, as the court said, with laser precision at African Americans and keeping them out of the voting booth.

Our second principle calls us to the burden of full vision, real seeing and the danger of having our self-made worlds turned upside down.

Bob Patrick

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May 15–Open the Window: Dangerous Things 1

In her sermon yesterday, Rev. Charlotte Arsenault made this powerful observation: that when Unitarian Universalists covenant ourselves to our seven Principles, we are covenanting ourselves to dangerous things.  Standing together for our Principles has meant throughout our history individuals giving their lives for what they mean.

We covenant.  What does that mean?  To covenant means to come together, to gather ourselves around something, to form community and relationships around and because of something (from Latin, convenire = to come together).

We come together and create community around the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  

There have been times–especially most recently during the Civil Rights Movement–when Unitarians and Universalists gave their lives standing for the civil rights of all Americans. Confronting White Supremacy is dangerous business because it has run the institutions of this country for all of our existence.  It still does, and while I am likely not to be put to the point of death today for standing against the white supremacy system wherever I am able to see and hear it, it does call us to stand and gather ourselves around the inherent worth and dignity of whoever is being threatened by it.

I wrote recently of what has been called that “between you and me” kind of conversation that happens among white people about people of color. I became aware, recently, that another white person had actually engaged me in a “between you and me” moment, and it caught me unawares.  I only saw what had happened after the moment passed. It was clear to me that I had failed to speak and take a stand. I was sucked into the system, and I am fairly certain that the person who so engaged me was unaware herself of what she was doing (which is not to defend it). I’ve had some time to ponder.  I think I will hear this “between you and me” the next time it shows up.  What will I do?  I will use the script and respond with something like this:  “Between you and me, this Person of Color that you are talking about deserves more respect than this. We can do better here, can’t we?”

I don’t expect to be killed for doing something like this.  I do expect to die–even if a little bit–to the naivete and ignorance in which white supremacy allows me to function.

We covenant ourselves to dangerous things.

Bob Patrick

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May 10–Open the Window: Listen, Ask

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 3-4 weeks asking myself two questions that I received from the Black Lives of UU:

How does living in a white centered world affect your humanity?

What works about the white supremacy system that is in place for you?

Here’s another reflection that has come out of that consideration.

I do better to listen than to speak, to ask questions than to make statements. The white supremacy system that is in place at all levels of our society is not an area where I feel competent, and I find that I am opened up, enabled to see and hear it more clearly when I ask questions particularly of People of Color.  Genuine questions.  Questions that I have allowed to move through my heart, first.

The political comedian, W. Kamau Bell,  tells how his daughter who has big, beautiful natural hair came home from school to say that she no longer wanted to wear her hair out because white children felt that they could just walk up and touch her hair whenever they wanted to.

Ta Nahesi Coates talks about the breaking the body and says this:
I believed, and still do, that our bodies are our selves, that my soul is the voltage conducted through neurons and nerves, and that my spirit is my flesh.
If our bodies are ourselves and others feel like they have free access to my body . . . then aren’t they saying that they own me?

I have colleagues and friends who are People of Color whom I admire and respect. I have taken my questions, turned for a while in my heart and mind, to them. They are generous with me. They are patient with my ignorance. And they are brutal with the details because what they have been through is often brutal. They do not coddle me by sanitizing their stories.

The white supremacy system is killing us–all of us and it keeps many of us ignorant, blind and deaf to what it is doing.  Over a year ago during an adult Religious Exploration session, I heard Nathalie Bigord offer this about understanding the BLM title–sometimes it helps to say “Black lives matter, too.”  That little word, too, should be unnecessary. But I’ve seen white complainers go silent when it was added.  Oh.

Perhaps we have to say to ourselves this:  white people, white supremacy is killing us, too.  White supremacy is our problem, too.  White people, this matters to us, too.  

Bob Patrick

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May 9–Open the Window: Impossible work?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 3-4 weeks asking myself two questions that I received from the Black Lives of UU:

How does living in a white centered world affect your humanity?

What works about the white supremacy system that is in place for you?  

Here’s another reflection that has come out of that consideration.

I have come to think that I am working on an almost impossible work.  There are many insidious things about the system of white supremacy.  The insidious thing for white people is that the system works for us in ways that are virtually invisible to us and silent to us.  If nothing calls my attention to it, I am most likely not to see it and not to hear it. If I am opposed to the white supremacy system then I have to work HARD to learn how to see it and to hear it.  The white supremacy system is destroying all of us, and so, I am looking for ways to see and hear the white supremacy system so that I can help dismantle it.

Recently I took notes for 30 minutes while watching an episode of Blue Bloods on television.  Within 30 minutes we were shown 28 commercials. One half of them included only white people.  One quarter included a mixture of People of Color and white people one of which only showed People of Color in subservient roles. About an eighth included no people at all, and 1 commercial of the 28 included just black people.  

Conscious or not, we are swimming in advertising. It favors white people shaping the unconscious way that we do business in the world (in other words, this is white supremacy alive and well). I have to work hard if I want to be aware of it, and as a white person, I don’t have to be aware of it at all.  

As I try and make visible and audible the system of white supremacy that has shaped me since infancy into this kind of blindness and deafness, I looking for voices of People of Color to listen to, especially through blogs, interviews and books.  If they make me react and defensive, that’s a sure sign I need to listen and learn.  

Bob Patrick

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May 8–Open the Window: Reaction Not Helpful

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 3-4 weeks asking myself two questions that I received from the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism:

A. How does living in a white centered world affect your humanity?

B. What works about the white supremacy system that is in place for you?  

Here’s what I am coming to see about myself.

On the issue of race and racial equity, I am quick to react.  My reactivity, I am learning, is a cover for defensiveness, and I am defensive because there is still far too much that I don’t understand, that I don’t know about how People of Color experience themselves in all of the contexts we live in.  

When Cristina Rivera went public with the hiring practices in the UUA, particularly over a high ranking position for the Southern Region, my first reaction was in writing on Facebook.  I wrote:  “I support racial equity in all areas of our life, and I will continue to work for it, but I will not use the term white supremacy.  It has a history that’s too inflammatory.”  Some of you, I know, have felt the same way, reacted the same way.  

No one was or is calling me or you or this church or this religion white supremacists.  What many are saying, and I now join them–that our religion is built upon a white supremacy system, and that system runs quite well all by itself without a single white supremacist in the room to make it happen.  It is a system.  It was put into place centuries ago. It not only runs our religion and our church, but it runs our schools, our police departments our communities, our county government, our State and our country.  The white supremacy system is set up to favor white people at every turn. If we refuse to acknowledge that the system is in place, we assure that it will continue to run things.

In order for me to recognize this system and how it runs us–I have had to slow down, be quiet and take note.  Reactivity has not served to open the window of my mind and heart. Reaction and defensiveness help keep that window sealed shut.

Bob Patrick

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