July 24–All Is Welcome Here: Even the Troubles

I’ve spent a long time now observing what happens to many of us when a life event takes us to some edge of human experience that is too troubling to allow into our lives.

When I was a very young minister serving a congregation in which two babies died within one year of each other (and while our firstborn was only a toddler), I watched and listened as people in the community, were driven to one of those edges (the edge call death, and bad things happening to babies). They panicked and began trying with words to make the trouble go away–the trouble of making sense of babies that die. And so they spoke.
“God chooses the prettiest flower in the garden to pick.” “It’s all going to work out for the best.” “This was God’s will.”

Words no parent who just lost a baby would find consoling.

There are others examples. Right now, on any issue of racial injustice, white people are apt to say something like “well, I just don’t see color.” Or, “all people are the same to me.” Or, “I don’t care what color you are, black, white, purple or striped . . . “
No one suffering racial injustice finds these things consoling or helpful, and they don’t make racial injustice or white supremacy, go away.
With some recent suicides of famous people in the news lately, it has happened in a more public way what happens in smaller pockets of human relations every day. Suicide is very troubling to anyone that comes close to it, even from a bit of a distance. And the comments begin. “Suicide is so selfish.” “If he/she had just waited one more day.” “How could she/he do that to their children?” “He/she may have had troubles, but now they are in hell.”

No one who has ever lost a love to suicide finds any of that consoling or helpful. Those saying them are trying to make the trouble go away.

It’s easy to dismiss these kinds of comments as coming from heartless individuals, from ignorant people, from the misguided or the misdirected.  Any one of those determinations might be true, but it seems to me that at the heart of it all are the truly scary, dark places that life can take us for which we have nothing but our own heart’s terror–unless we try and say something to avoid that terror with almost anything that feels familiar.

When we start talking to avoid our own terror, two harmful things happen simultaneously: 1) we add excruciating pain to the lives of those who are already suffering; and 2) we lose our next opportunity to transform in our own lives.

The transformation can come as simply as this: STOP.  SAY NOTHING. And welcome the terrorizing thing in.  Let it in.  Talk to it.  “Tragic death, I don’t understand you.  White supremacy, I am at a loss to know what to say to you.  Suicide, you leave me with no meaning.  Really horrible, scary thing, I see you.  I allow you into the room.  You are welcome here–as much as you trouble me–because maybe you are the messenger.”

Since we say those other really awful things for our own benefit, these words of acceptance and openness need only be said to ourselves, maybe while standing in front of a mirror.  “I don’t like you, Trouble.  I want you to leave me alone, but here you are at my door.  Come in.  All is welcome here.”

Bob Patrick

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July 13–All Is Welcome Here: The Real You

His name was Clyde.  He stood a good head and a half taller than me, an African American man probably about the same age as me. We had agreed to be conversation partners at a meeting held by the ACLU for the Gwinnett community and the Gwinnett County Police Department.  This, we would learn, was the first of many meetings that the ACLU had agreed to facilitate for building better relations between the communities of Gwinnett county and its police department.

We were asked to spend 1 minute describing to our conversation partner something about which we are passionate.  Clyde said that he was passionate about being seen. He then told me about a cultural competency meeting he had gone to at an Atlanta area university.  He went into the building and entered the elevator. Before the door closed, a white woman approached the elevator and saw him. She became very dramatic about not wanting to get on the elevator.  He was disturbed by that, but not nearly so much as when he walked into the conference room and saw that the same woman was there to attend the meeting on cultural competency as well.  At one of the breaks, he approached the woman and said that it was nice to see her again.  She was polite and asked if they knew each other.  He said: well, I was the man on the elevator this morning that you didn’t want to get into.  He said that she became embarrassed and apologized to him.

He wants to be seen.  For who he is.  As a real person.

Later in the meeting at the ACLU conference room, Clyde and I talked some more.  He said that he felt like I did see him.  That was good to know.  I hoped that was true about me, but the other truth about me is that at times in my life I have acted like the woman at the elevator, dodging People of Color out of some fear that had been instilled in me about “those people.”

Clyde told me that when he encounters people, he finds that they either show up as their true selves or as “the representative.”  I asked him about that.  The “representative” is what we put forward as the proxy for our true selves–masks, fronts, pretend or even “best” faces–almost always out of some fear or attempt to be what we think others want us to be. These are not our true selves.  These are our “representatives.”

This was a deeply helpful insight.  As I enter into any situation or conversation with other human beings, am I being my true self or am I showing up as my representative?  Clyde taught me another lesson.  He said that when he encounters a representative, he just thinks in his head:  Okay, this is your representative.  Maybe in a day or a week or a month you will show me who you really are.  A very good guide for me, this man, Clyde.

Bob Patrick

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July 12–All Is Welcome Here: Doing Our Work

Jennifer Garrison, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett, and I had a conversation after the service this past Sunday, and then she followed up sharing her reflections.  These are the kinds of interior journeys that become our work in a welcoming community.  Jennifer writes about the impact that words like “white supremacy” have on her:

When I think of “white supremacy,” I think of klansmen in their white robes terrorizing the South. I think of neo-nazis raising their arms, saluting a person and ideals that shake me at the core of my being. The voices of those in my family (past and present) who engage in racial rhetoric are not as extreme as those examples, but the idea of “white people” being somehow better in the way we live versus “others” is equally as stunning and disturbing to me. I still hear their voices whenever I am in social settings. I have no need to judge: the jury is already in my head.

To find the struggle created by the white supremacy system in one’s own soul is disturbing. Jennifer describes that struggle and some of the ways it was delivered to her:

I wonder how many people have this judge and jury in their head, from people in their life who do not share the open-mindedness that Unitarian Universalists work toward every day. I try so hard to differentiate my voice and soul from those voices of loved ones who have been so hateful and misinformed about people outside our “white” circle. I share half my DNA with a man who talks down my neighbor, who is Asian, because he owns a landscaping business and kindly cuts my grass for free. “He’s joined the Mexicans, eh?” Wow, you can’t get any closer to direct racism than that. Dad moved out of Atlanta because of the traffic, and the Mexicans. I call it like I see it. The most painful part if this is that I still love him. I have the same quirky sense of humor as he does, but I don’t add race into it.

Many of us have and continue to struggle with the very words that we use around these issues, words needed to communicate but often which come with a double edged-sword. Jennifer shares a powerful moment of realization that she had:

I have had additional thoughts about what “white privilege” means in contrast to “affluence.” I have never related to the idea of “white privilege” because I did not think that I had experienced that myself. I have never known money. After church, I started thinking that the “privilege” I was referring to is actually “affluence.” Affluence by definition has a lot to do with economic power, flexibility and influence. This can be seen in all races, as well as the lack of it. That’s closer to the idea I had in my head with “white privilege.” I realize now that the “white privilege” I do enjoy is that to look at me, most people would see me as friendly, someone not to be afraid of. I have seen folks afraid of the “opposite” race. I have also seen people of all colors come together for the greater good. Let’s keep the conversation going, so that one day we will all get there.

Doing our own work, on our individual selves as well as a community is very much a part of what it means to welcome it all into our community.

Bob Patrick

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July 11–All Is Welcome Here: Changing our Stories

When Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, says that changing the narratives that support inequity and racial injustice is one of the major requirements for changing the world we live in, he is tapping into something very powerful in human beings.

Story.

Human beings have been telling stories for longer than we have had language.  Amazing, isn’t that?  For more like 150,000 years those beings who were evolving into modern human beings–who had not developed speech yet–were telling stories with paint, dance and ritual.  Speech is a very new skill for us, evolutionarily speaking, and reading is even newer.  Reading and writing have only come into common human experience in the last 5000 years.  It is no surprise, then, that learning difficulties often manifest around speech and reading.

Recent brain research has helped us understand that story, however, has a much more ancient role in our brains.  Rather than a peripheral role, it appears now that the entire human brain organizes itself around the very process of story telling (cf. Kendall Haven, Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story).

We organize our entire way of thinking and being in the world around stories and story telling.  Haven demonstrates how even non-story-like human thinking (e.g. scientific investigations) are organized for understanding and communication as story.

The stories are not just a side interest that human beings have or fun skill sets that human beings engage in.  Stories are everything we do. In light of this, I am coming to see that asking ourselves about the stories we tell ourselves about human relations in this country, namely, between light skinned people (aka white people) and darker skinned people (aka black, brown, yellow, and red people) goes to the very root of our existence as a nation. These stories affect everything that we do, all day, everywhere.

I wonder how willing we are to examine the stories that we and our predecessors have been telling ourselves about race in this country.  Dr. Carol Anderson, in her book White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide, can help us with this.  Having begun the book, I can tell you that this is not easy.  In coming days, I want to share a few of the stories that I have walked around with all my life that I now know are not even close to the truth.  But, for today, I leave this.

Through different functions, eating food and telling ourselves stories are what keep us alive. In both instances, we can be made aware that what we we are taking in is not good for us.  We can come to see that choosing to take in something else is much healthier for us. Eating food that is bad for me will ultimately kill me.  Telling myself destructive stories will not only kill me, but ultimately it aids the destruction of entire communities.

Bob Patrick

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July 10–All Is Welcome Here: Doing the Work

I had the privilege of listening to the Ware Lecture from General Assembly this year just a couple of weeks ago, live streamed from New Orleans.  

Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, AL, offers that there are four things we have to do if we want to change the world we live in to a world of equity and justice: 1) get proximate to the neglected, 2) change the narratives that sustain inequality, 3) stay hopeful because hopelessness is the enemy of justice, and 4) be willing to do uncomfortable things.

Can we work on some uncomfortable questions today so that we can begin to change the narratives that sustain inequality?  If we are among the white people in this congregation, one of those narratives might be that we think of our community here as a white community.  Not that we would ever say that.  Not that we would ever want our doors to be closed to people of Color (colors other than white–because we are all People of Color, aren’t we?) But when we find ourselves semi-consciously thinking of UUCG, does that semi-conscious image of this place look and feel white to us?  And, aren’t we all People of Color?  If that question causes some uneasiness in you, then there’s a great place to start. Why am I made uneasy by the suggestion that we are all people of Color?  And if I allow myself to walk around with even a semi-conscious image of this community as a white community, won’t I be more inclined to behave, semi-consciously, in ways that keep it a white community?  We live in the most multi-cultural county in the US right now. Couldn’t this be the most multi-cultural religious community in the county?

I am collecting resources and practices that will help me do this work.  I want to share with you what I have so far and let you know that when you find resources and practices that help you work on your role in the white supremacy system of this country, I want to learn from you, too.  You will find at the top of a page a tab labeled “Resources.”  Click on it and you will find this collection of blogs, websites, books, videos, podcasts and radio shows that you can access and begin to use in your work on the white supremacy system in this country.  If you find a resource that you think would be helpful to others, send it to me or Christiana, and we will add them to the resources list.

Bob Patrick

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July 7–All Is Welcome Here: Yearning to Belong

In psychological terms, thanks to Carl Jung and others, we sometimes speak of introverts and extroverts. I understand extroverts to be those who are energized by being around large groups of people and introverts those who are energized by being alone or with only one or two people.  It remains, though, that we all benefit from some quiet, alone time. And, we all need community.

What I observe about myself and others, is that there seems to be a naturally occurring and innate yearning in each of us to belong.  I think that this yearning to belong is as much a part of being human as hunger for food, as the necessity of oxygen, as important to growing, living and loving and making sense of life as the five senses which allow us to take in information for navigating our lives.

This yearning to belong is elusive to describe.  I cannot point to some part of my body and say–this is where my yearning to belong comes from, but when I feel accepted into a group, there is something in my chest and stomach that relaxes, and it feels like my body temperature goes up.  I don’t have a body action associated with the yearning to belong, but if belonging to a group is important to me, it feels like my eyes and heart are on alert–for some sign.  When I am accepted by a group, I often feel like I am smiling even if only on the inside.

I have compared the yearning to belong to hunger, breathing and the five senses.  I am convinced that without belonging, human beings do not thrive and we likely don’t live as long, all other things being equal. Do you know how uncomfortable you become, very quickly, if you hold your breath or for some reason cannot get a good breath?  I think we have that kind of sensitive sense of belonging and not belonging, and not belonging is deeply painful.  Just as the five senses allow us to take in information that helps us think better and navigate the world better, so does belonging to community.  When we belong, we immediately benefit from the collective wisdom of the community.

I think we can be assured of this.  When the new person (new to us) appears, anywhere in our lives, they do hold within them this yearning to belong.  They hunger for it.  They cannot live without it.  The quality of their living and loving depends on it.  We who see the new person (new to us) hold a very real power–the power to welcome that person into our community and the power to invite that person to create new community with us. That is a bright and life changing power.

There is a dark side to this power, however.  We each have received subtle messages from our communities about who we should and who we should not welcome into community. The quality, then, of our human loving depends on examining those messages and deciding what we are going to do with them because you and I have never met another person who does not yearn to belong.

Bob Patrick

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July 6–All Is Welcome Here: One Race?

My first teaching post at a Catholic high school in Alabama was in the theology department.  Among other things, I taught a course in social justice.  I owe a debt of gratitude for my colleagues at the time who helped me get up to speed on Catholic Social teaching (one of the best written collections of social justice to this day).  Very quickly, I found myself immersed in issues that had been important to me from my early years, especially the issue of racial justice.

Enter Jane Elliott.  Jane Elliott was the third grade teacher who, on the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, devised what is now called the Blue-eyed Brown-eyed Project.  In short order, she found a way to help white people experience what they were doing to People of Color every day.  I recently listened to an interview with her.  Clips from her work might make you wince.  She is unwilling to coddle white fragility as she does this work. Now in her old age, she is still speaking, still offering interviews, and still conducting the Project for audiences of white people.  She is still thoroughly convinced that if we WANTED to, we could eradicate white supremacy in two generations.  She knows that those who experience her Project leave change.

Jane Elliott has always been a hero for me as a teacher and as a human being. One of the messages that I hear her convey repeatedly is this:  race is a social construct.  We are all People of Color.  There is no white race, black race, yellow race, red race.  There is one race, the human race.

I agree with her.  I also know that almost no one that I talk to today of whatever skin tone buys into that.  I know that what she says is true, based in what we know about human genetics, and that most people dismiss it as idealism.

So, I find myself wondering: how do we move toward a place where all peoples are welcome into the one human race?  How do we begin to hold ourselves, with all the variety of skin tones and hair types and colors of eyes–as one human race?

Bob Patrick

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July 5–All Is Welcome Here: Grammar and Chanting

Don’t worry. I am not about to suggest that anyone begin chanting grammar!

Our song of the month is the only one in this 12 month series that does not appear in our Unitarian Universalist hymnals.  It originates within the work of the modern chant movement often referred to as Kirtan.  The song was written by a couple known as Miten and Premal.  About them we read on their website:

Flame carriers of a 5,000 year old tradition, Deva Premal and Miten are at the forefront of the burgeoning world-wide chant phenomenon.

They are one of the major contributors to the soundtrack of just about every 21st century alternative healing modality, from rehab/detox/stress management clinics to yoga studios, spas and meditation centres, shamanic gatherings and ceremonies in the depths of the Amazon, and throughout the world.

Merging ancient mantras of India and Tibet with contemporary musical settings, their debut album The Essence introduced a unique musical genre. The album rocked to the top of World and New Age charts where it still remains. (Deva Premal: The Essence – 1999).

In the worship committee’s selection of song themes, Daniel and Sherree Bailey suggested this one.  Daniel did follow up work and secured for us permission to use the
song in our services. In turn, because of that, Michael Parker, our choir director, has been able to write it for us so that we have the music in front of us in a form for congregational singing.

Which leads to a pesky little grammar question.  Shouldn’t it be “all are welcome here?” We actually talked about this a year ago.  As soon as you read and/or sing the words of the song, you begin to understand.  If the title meant “all people” then it should be “are” and not “is”, but we understand that the song is after something even larger.  Not only are “all people” welcome here, but “all manner of human experience on the journey of life” is welcome here.

Not convinced?  Go to a grammar reference.  There you will find that the English word “all” is a distributive adjective which can be used to describe any number of unnamed and uncounted items.  In those circumstances, it is used with a singular verb.  That’s how it is being used in the song.  “All” can also be used to describe any number of named and numbered nouns and is then used with a plural verb.  Ironically, while we don’t want to post bad grammar on our sign out front or on our Order of Service, I think we would agree that we also welcome users of bad grammar, and that can be all of us at one time or another! The bottom line is that “all is welcome here” is good and correct usage. Here is the first verse of the song, and below that, a youtube version.  Enjoy!

Bob Patrick

Broken hearts and broken wings
Bring it all and everything
And bring the song you fear to sing
All is welcome here
Even if you broke your vow a thousand times
Come anyhow
We’re stepping into the power of now
And all is welcome here

 

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July 2 – All is Welcome Here: Bring it On!

What brings you here today?  Are you lost and seeking familiarity – something recognizable to help you find your way back to your comfort zone, or to a new path entirely?  Are you “found” and desiring to rejoice and share your sense of wholeness?  Are you cold or anxious and in need of warmth or comfort?   Are you overwhelmed and seeking a place to rest your spirit?

Did you wake up to this new day with dread or with delight?  Or are you somewhere in between, perhaps cautiously optimistic – or even slightly uneasy – about what today has in store…?

Bring it.

Bring all of your fears and dreams and anxieties and gifts, your joys and your sorrows, your concerns and your hopes.  Not a drop of it will be turned away.

Though you may be broken, even your brokenness is welcome here.

Perhaps you have come to be reminded that your particular brand of difference is shared by others.  Come in!  We are all “different”, and that fact comforts us as we seek community together.  Look around you – we are all here in search of growth and healing, inclusion and understanding.  We are screamers and listeners and sleepers and insomniacs.  We are imperfect and discontent, and we are present.  We are wise, and we are foolish.  And all of it is welcome.

“So bring your laughter and bring your tears,
Your busy lives and your careers;
And bring the pain you carried for years.
All is welcome here.”*

Know that whatever you bring to this space at this moment is welcome.  We invite you in with all that you carry, all that you are.  If you cannot lay your burdens down just now, if you carry your baggage with you across the threshold, rest assured – all is welcome here.

~ Christiana

 

*Lyrics by Miten, ©2002-2017

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Summer Break until July 1, 2017

Maybe you are old enough to know the context.  Just a humorous way to say–oh yes, by the way, we are taking a break for the month of June.  The Words will be back July 1.

In the meantime, our theme for the month of June is Blue Boat Home.  Find many ways to love and celebrate our Mother Earth.  (Some of our own thoughts on this can be found here.)

And relax (Earth meditations can be found here).  We are on a break.

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