There and Back Again

UU Chalice
From UU Falmouth Mass.

In 2000, my first foray back into the organizations vaguely known as “church,” 20 years after leaving Christian fundamentalism behind, was the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. It was enough of the familiar “churchy” stuff, but lacked the stuff that made me uncomfortable. I was a member for several years, and, interestingly enough, it was my membership and involvement in that community that stirred my call to ministry. Those years were deeply influential to me, and as I traveled my way across country to go to seminary at PSR in 2005, I fully expected to join the ranks of UU ministers.

Although ordained ministry in any denomination was not my path, I left the UU before I left the ministry path. Two different threads caused this. First, I re-discovered my attachment to Christianity, in particular, the teachings of Jesus, and I also discovered this enormous queer-friendly, progressive Christian community I had no idea existed. As well, during the summer of 2005, I spent several sessions on the phone with a great group of UU seminarians of color. And I heard their struggles and the realities facing prospective UU ministers of color. At one point, we had some number of folks on the phone – I don’t remember how many – all UU seminarians of color. And I learned that there were more of us on the phone at that moment as there had ever been ordained UU ministers of color. I saw the writing on the wall. Black, queer, Jesus-following, Buddha-professing theist wasn’t likely to get a job (actually, the Budda-professing theist wouldn’t have been a problem.) So I switched teams, and decided on the United Church of Christ (UCC.)

Interestingly enough, I have really always been a unitarian theologically, although while in seminary I didn’t want to answer that question definitively, but I have since. That is, I believe Jesus was a great, wise, compassionate and conscious teacher, inspired by the divine, but just a guy born out of wedlock, who died being a revolutionary. It was his followers that created a new religion, something he probably didn’t intend. That said, I felt a kinship to the Christian mystics, and I grew up Presbyterian, so Christianity had formative authority for me. So I decided to call myself a Christian, even though I could not recite the Nicene Creed with a straight face. There was, it seemed, room in the UCC for folks of this ilk, and I slipped in. I left seminary early, and the ministry track for varied reasons, my unitarianism among them.

I’ve belonged to two UCC congregations. New Spirit Community Church, which no longer exists, and was an interesting experiment in multi-denominational congregation (UCC/MCC/DOC,) and First Congregational Church of Oakland, which has been my home church since 2009 (I served as Moderator for a year.)  I spent a wonderful year at Haydenville Congregational Church in Haydenville, MA, when I went back to the East Coast for a bit in 2007-8.

Given that history, when I moved up here to Sonoma County, I church-shopped, expecting to land at the UCC church in Santa Rosa. I checked out the Quakers, the Episcopals, and went to the UCC church twice. But, in fact, the UU church in Santa Rosa is a much better fit. The minister of the UCC, to his credit, is a serious Buddhist (as is the minister of the UU, interestingly enough.) But the UCC church is small, extremely homogeneous, and, well, just not right for me. The UU church is large, vibrant, growing, and has more diversity (particularly age diversity, but there are a few people of color, and plenty of queer folk.) And, interestingly enough (and to my great relief) the congregation doesn’t seem to have the same allergy to language of reverence that the UU congregation in Northampton did when I was there.

Of course, living in Sonoma County, I will never find a community like my still-beloved First Congo. But the worship style at First Congo was always a big stretch for me, and when I returned for a visit last week, I was reminded of that stretch. I’ve always been one for quiet contemplation, for slow, easy, apophatic worship. Exuberant, expressive and loud worship is fun, but generally doesn’t feel like it brings me closer to God. Times of quiet, or low-key singing or music, especially in community, does that better for me.

I still don’t know if it’s right enough for me to get involved, and become a member. Time will only tell. But it’s kinda fun to be back again. I do rather like UUs–always have.

 

 

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Reflections on the New Year

I was going to write one of those more personal blog entries about my year, and what I was looking forward to next year. But this morning, I have some different things on my mind.

I fully realized sometime early in 2014 that I didn’t identify as an activist anymore. It was sort of a rude awakening, as I have thought of myself as an activist since 1972, when I was 12. I’ve been involved in anti-war, reproductive justice, anti-apartheid, anti-death penalty, and environmental causes since I was young. There is a shaping of my life that activism made, a way of thinking about the world, and how the world can be changed.

But in the last few years, perhaps part of it is getting older, part just simply accepting what is, I’ve stopped all but the most trivial activist activities (I still sign a petition now and again, and I like/share/retweet things – those don’t really count.) What has struck me so forcefully lately is the juxtaposition of changes that have happened, steps that have been made forward, along with an incredible slide backwards. MLK did say the arc of history is long, and perhaps it does bend toward justice, but it can also be forceably shaped.

police-state-1We are, frankly, running headlong into two inexorable, and in my opinion, virtually unstoppable trends: 1) Police state oligarchy/fascism. 2) Environmental and economic collapse.

I was reading an article recently (worth watching the video – militarized police in action) where this random gamer dude (white) got “swatted” (which means some person maliciously called the police to suggest something horrible, like a hostage situation, was happening.) There are other instances when this has turned fatal. Then there’s the dude who got horribly harassed for simply dancing in the street.  And then there is what’s happening with the NYPD. I have fully realized that no one is safe. Black men are, by far, the least safe.  That said, I have no real assurance for myself, or for anyone I know, that any situation with the police will necessarily end well. And don’t get me started on the issue of asset seizures. And worse, police increasingly seem to act as if they are above the law, and the law has seemed to agree.  This is not to say that all police are bad – I know there are people who have chosen this profession with good intentions, and behave well, and in the real interest of the people. But the institution is the problem.

It’s already been proven that we are no longer a democracy. And for the most part, the mainstream press does the oligarchy’s bidding (because they are part of it.)  And one of the things the mainstream press does a terrible job of covering is what’s coming with climate change.

There are a lot of differing opinions about how fast changes will happen, and how bad the effects of climate change will be. But it is true that have been on track for the worst-case scenarios that more mainstream climate scientists have predicted. And renewable energy is not likely to be our savior.

The California drought, which I am witnessing first hand, is still dire, and there is no forecasts that suggest that it’s going to not stay that way. California produces an insane amount of food for US consumption. If things keep going the way they do, food is going to get more expensive. Getting good, healthy food is already a struggle for so many people. This will only make it worse.

So what does one do given all of this? The only answer to both of these trends is to radically change how we live our lives. But that is impossible to do alone, or even as couples or families. We are embedded in a system which requires our participation, and not participating is extremely difficult.

What am I doing in the face of it? I don’t have a good answer for myself. I do my best to remember that love is the most important thing, and that I need to keep treating everyone I meet with compassion and respect. I’m thinking about community a lot, and thinking about what it might be like to live in community again, somehow, somewhere. A community that is interested in grappling with how we live in the face of all of this.

For your nostalgia – “For What it’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, written in 1966. That’s right, 1966, when I was six years old. It’s just as salient now as it was then.

There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking’ their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, “hooray for our side”

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away

We better stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

We better stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

We better stop
Now, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

We better stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

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