my story, my history.

23 Feb

I’m archiving this blog.

I started it in 2010, soon after my family and I moved to Louisville so that I could be the minister at First Unitarian Church, a position I left quite a few years ago now. Maybe I should have done this back then, but I had no idea what the future would hold. And there are still a few gems on here from post-2016. 

I suppose I could just remove the blog entirely, but I think it is a pretty decent resource. It still gets a few hits a day, usually, so I think someone else out there might agree.

I’m proud of much of the writing that’s on here. So many sermons.  So much thinking! Going back through these posts, I see my own evolution into the person that I am today. And that is pretty amazing to be able to see.

I’d like to write again, someday. Maybe finish that book about Roller Derby that I started. Or another paper for a study group that allows me to immerse myself in a topic. Or maybe have a job that requires me to write again. And when that happens, maybe I’ll start it back up.  

If you are here looking for something, I recommend the search bar at the top. I was also pretty good about tagging posts according to topic and category, so you might find those useful.

For those of you who subscribed, thank you for reading all these years. And for all of you who stumble across this blog after a web search, I hope you find what you are looking for.

With deep gratitude,


ethical consumption.

20 Jun

It is well past time that my digital footprint reflect my values. I already boycott Chick-Fil-a and Walmart, why has it taken so long for my internet shopping to get in line? One word: convenience. 

I’ve known for a while that this is something I needed to do. Really, I have. Facebook emerged out of misogyny, afterall. And Amazon’s mistreatment of workers is well documented. But, but, but…I am enculturated to be a consumer who values convenience and ease, who is afraid of missing something.

The final straws have come the past few weeks, with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo’s net-worth continuing to rise even as Amazon underpays and exploits its essential workers and with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s bromance with the Liar/White Supremacist in Chief.  I can’t keep doing this. 

I have shifted my shopping online – that actually wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be since nearly everyone has delivery and/or pickup these days.  And there are so many streaming services, I don’t really need Amazon for much of anything anymore.  A mix of online retailers and local companies and my bills are only slightly higher (and I have the privilege of being able to handle that increase) and my conscience is clear. 

Facebook is proving more difficult. So much is linked to my facebook account, and so much history. And actions/events in the community. And yes, I definitely have FOMO (fear of missing out).  But I am not a commodity, and I don’t want to be facebook’s product anymore. I don’t want my images used by them for facial recognition. I don’t want videos I post of protests and rallies to be used to bring criminal charges against the protestors. I don’t want to be a part of a “community” where lying is okay and shrugged off. 

So goodbye Amazon. And Facebook, listen to your employees and get your act together or I’ll be dumping you, too.  I’m done with the cognitive dissonance it takes to maintain our relationship.

I know it is pretty much impossible to be an ethical consumer, but even though I can’t do everything, I can do this.

#BoycottAmazon  #DeleteFacebook

knowing how to work the system.

9 Sep

Short version: People don’t all start from the same starting line. Knowing how a system works is a privilege that gets passed down generationally, giving those who come later an inheritance that helps them to succeed.

Longer version: We took our eldest to college for the first time a few weeks ago. Not surprisingly, this has caused me to reflect quite a bit on my college experience. The differences between her experience and mine have caused me to think about how difficult it is to navigate a system that no one in your family knows much about.

College is not a common experience in my family history. My dad and his brother were the first generation in their families to go on to higher education. My mother’s father got his degree, but it was when he was an adult. Neither of my parents’ experience with higher ed was a “typical” university experience – my father went to the Naval Academy and my mother went to nursing school.

The issue that stands out to me as the most illustrative is around housing. I was a very vulnerable 18 year old. I was still on antidepressant medications. I was still prone to self-harming. When I went to college, the school over-enrolled my class and so a number of us ended up in a motel off campus, 3 people to a room. I had no say in picking my roommates, we were just assigned at random. I ended up with two young women who went out the first night and brought back a bunch of fraternity guys, waking me up with their partying. This happened several nights in a row. To make matters worse, I had a M-F 8am calculus class that was off campus on the other side of campus from the motel. It took forever to get there. Needless to say, I missed a lot of calculus and did a lot of couch-surfing until the mandatory 6 week waiting period before asking for dorm changes.

This is the privilege part: If my kid had been in a similar vulnerable place and had had similar issues to what I had, as her parent I would have made an enormous ruckus. The school administration would have heard from me every day until I felt she was in a safe situation that would allow her to succeed. I am generally not one of those pesty parents, but in this case, I surely would have been.

I don’t blame my parents – they had no idea that they even could make a ruckus! They just accepted that it was the (bad) luck of the draw. They did not have any expectations that the college they were paying might provide some resources to their daughter because they had not had that experience themselves.  Comparatively, I had it easier than most. Imagine how much more difficult it is for children who are the first generation in their families to seek higher education! 

This is one way privilege gets perpetuated and passed on down the generations. Because I had a college experience myself, I have higher expectations for what that experience will be for her, and I know how to work the system for her benefit.  Imagine how much more difficult it is for children who are the first generation in their families to seek higher education!

I sometimes hear people claim that “we all start off at the same starting line” in life. But that isn’t true. In any way. Some of us get a leg up thanks to the experiences of our parents, or their parents, or even generations of ancestors who passed things down to us: finances, expectations, or even just knowing how to work the system for our benefit. And these are all priceless inheritances that one not everyone starts off with.

the right hand of fellowship?

10 Jun

These words were given during the Ordination of Christe Lunsford at First Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY on June 9, 2019.

Rev. Lunsford (!!!), over the years I have watched you grow in your ministry. From those early days of being the music director at First Unitarian, to working with you on the ministry team, through your discernment to enroll in seminary and all that it entailed.

And so I am thrilled to be with you today. THRILLED!

The offering of the right hand of fellowship is one of our oldest traditions, which comes from the Christian Scriptures. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes that during his commission as an apostle, he received the right hand of fellowship from the other apostles. It was a symbol of their mutual relation, their equal authority, and their common affection. It was a pledge that they recognized each others gifts and that they were colleagues on a greater mission. Though they knew they might never meet again, they pledged fidelity to each other and were, in effect, bound by the ties of faith and suffering and hope.

It was the right hand, as opposed to the left, in part because offering the right hand was a show of peace, demonstrating that one had no weapon.

So this ritual is one that is grounded in our history. Offering you the right hand of fellowship today suggests a covenant among colleagues. We are fortunate to be part of a living tradition that has inspired our lives and has been passed down for generations. Fortunate to be a part of a vocation and a role that is much bigger than us as individuals.


Let’s get real. Most of those who have participated in this ritual through the ages have been cis-white men. They haven’t looked like me until relatively recently. And they haven’t looked like you until really recently. And sometimes, we fail in our collegiality with each other. We fail to recognize one another’s call and gifts for ministry. As our colleague the Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen recently reminded us at the ordination of Sara Green, professional associations are fallible, and even collegiality and the collegial covenants we create can be weaponized to serve white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism and capitalism.

I can offer you my right hand and still stab you in the back with my left.

And so, I have the temerity to suggest an adaptation of this ritual as a part of our living tradition – an update to better fit the times we find ourselves in – times when it is no longer only cis-white men welcoming one another into collegiality, times when our ministers represent a much broader array of genders, orientations, cultures, races, ability levels and more.

Instead of the right hand of fellowship, I would like to offer you the hug of collegiality. With your consent, of course.

Unlike a handshake, a hug demonstrates true care and concern. With a hug, I make myself vulnerable to you, and you do to me. We welcome each other into our personal spaces. We use both hands (no side hugs!) so no hand is free to backstab. And a hug says: I have your back, and I know you have mine as well.

I offer you this hug of collegiality, knowing that it has not and it will not be easy for you. That you will have to continue to demand your right to exist, even within our faith tradition, even, sometimes, among your colleagues. But you are not alone. Many of us already have your back, and will support you, and challenge you. We will move with you in the world, in whatever ways we can, knowing that your very presence as our colleague makes us all better. Knowing, too, that we need each other.  Because the mantle of ministry is impossible to bear alone.

So in offering you this ritual today, I say for myself, and for our trusted, faithful colleagues: We are here for you. In the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. And we expect you to be there for us, too. May this ritual be a symbol of our mutual relation, our equal authority, and our common affection. Know that we recognize your gifts and that we are colleagues on a greater mission. We exhort you to be faithful to this sacred trust. I have no doubt that you will be – indeed you have already proven your faithfulness.

And so, Rev. Lunsford, in an update of the custom of our congregations, as a part of the living, changing, growing tradition we share, on behalf of myself and our trusted colleagues, may I give you the hug of collegiality?

eulogy at #StopTheBans

21 May

The eulogy I gave over those who “died” during the die-in at the Louisville Stop the Bans rally today.

Me, with my daughters dressed as handmaids, picture taken by my mom. Three generations of pissed off women, united around the right for all people to have bodily autonomy.

We gather today to remember and to grieve. These people, these women, these human beings who were our mothers, our children, our sisters, our partners, our friends, have died.

We gather in the shadow of death because the spirit of justice demands to be heard.

We meet with sorrow in our hearts, and anger at the travesty of their deaths.

We meet to give form to our grief, to seek the comfort of one another’s presence, to loudly declare that laws banning abortion are an affront to human life and dignity.

We come together with age old questions in our minds, and on our lips and in our eyes – why her? Why them? Why now? Why did it have to be like this?

And in our hearts the deep wisdom, knowing, without answers, that even in the shadow of death, the spirit of justice cannot, will not be silenced.

We know that 65,000 women die each year world wide because they don’t have access to safe, legal abortion. And we know that here in Kentucky, we were the first to pass the bans, we lit the fire to all the bills sweeping across the country.

But those who have died are more than statistics – they have stories for why they could not complete their pregnancies, and their stories demand to be heard.

They are people for whom having a baby would dramatically interfere with their education, work or ability to care for their children.

They are women who have completed their child-bearing years.

They are people who did not feel ready to be a parent or want to be a single parent.

They are women living under domestic violence who are afraid.

They are children who have been raped.

They are women for whom pregnancy will harm their health.

They are people who were denied essential reproductive healthcare, and it cost them their lives.

They are people who should have had agency over their own bodies, their own futures, but who have, in some ways, more bodily autonomy now that they are dead than they did when they were alive.

But the brutality of their deaths started long before the injustice that killed them.

The brutality is found in the denial of comprehensive sexuality education, and in lessons that wrongly teach that abstinence is the only moral answer.

The brutality is found in the lack of access to health-care options as clinics closed around the state.

The brutality is found in the fact that poor women of color will be disproportionately harmed by these laws.

The brutality is found in the men with power who insist that ectopic pregnancies can be re-implanted (they cannot) and in the men who believe that if women just close their legs they won’t bleed during their periods (also false), and in the men who insist that the body has ways of shutting down and not getting pregnant after a rape (ridiculous).

The brutality is found in the outrageous idea that a woman should be expected to know she is pregnant before she has even missed a period.

The brutality is found in punishing healthcare providers for doing their jobs.

The brutality is found generations of white men united in their dedication to restricting our bodily autonomy, who have made political war over those of us with a uterus.

Now the work is left to us, the living, to carry forth the demands for justice even as we grieve. To demand, in the names of those who have died needlessly, that our bodies are sacred, and that we are endowed with the dignity and right to make our own healthcare decisions.

We gather today to remember and to grieve. These people, these women, these human beings who were our mothers, our children, our sisters, our partners, our friends, have died.

To grieve is to love and to love is to cry out for justice where it has been denied.

If so much that is precious can be so easily lost, let us work tirelessly to ensure that not one more follows. We won’t go back. No matter what.


the problem with proximal power

17 Oct

From a middle-class, white-collar white cis-woman to other middle-class white collar white cis-women.

When the call came from an unknown number, I answered because I was waiting for a tow-truck to come and remove a rusted-on flat tire and was hopeful it was the driver calling with an estimated time.

“Hiya, Sweetie!” I heard in a Texas twang.

My body instantly tightened and my adrenaline started running.

“Can I help you?” I asked, with obvious impatience in my voice.

“This is your tow-truck driver, sweetie! I’m just calling to let you know I’ll be there in about 15 minutes.”

“Fine, thank you.” And I hung up.

Flash back to earlier in the week, when we had needed an electrician to come do some work on the house. I work at home, so it makes sense that I am the person who handles this sort of thing. Plus, I knew what needed to be done. The guy who came was a former marine and we chatted amicably a bit. After a few minutes, though, he came over and tapped the buttons that I always wear. 

“Before I start, I have a problem with this one” he said, tapping the Black Lives Matter pin on my clavicle.

I froze. Then we engaged in a conversation around why I wear the pins. I was tense the whole time – this guy was in my house and was definitely capable of overpowering me. Thankfully, it was nothing like the story Sarah Suze told on twitter of trying to sell her dryer, but you never know when these things can turn, do you? Eventually, I left the conversation and went to try to do something else while he did his work. I was exhausted when he left.

After I hung up the phone with the tow-truck driver, I turned to my spouse. “You have to handle this,” I told him. “I just can’t.”

He looked at me gently. I am usually the one who interfaces with people. I am the outgoing and friendly one. And I just couldn’t.  I was so thankful he was around. And I was so thankful I wasn’t stuck on the side of the road somewhere by myself, with this my only option.

When the truck pulled up, my spouse went out to to talk to them. First, an older Black man hopped out of the passenger side. And then a very friendly Latinx man exited the driver side. He was obviously the one with the Texas twang who had called me “sweetie.”

And all my fear disappeared.

I went outside, told them what was going on, and they removed the rusted on tire. They went on their way, I went mine, and I have been thinking about this encounter ever since.

Why did my fear disappear as soon as I saw who the men were? As soon as I saw they weren’t white.

The answer, which it took me a while to come to because I am a bit slow sometimes, is power. As a middle-class , white-collar white cis-woman, I have more power than those guys. In this way, I am a beneficiary of the systems of white supremacy ingrained in this country.

But the power that I have isn’t absolute, as I was reminded with the electrician. It is proximal power – power that comes from being white, being in proximity to those with the most power: white men.  

Sometimes, we white women mistake this proximal power for our own inherent power. We align ourselves with the white men, with the oppressors, rather than with others who are oppressed.  As Rebecca Traister aptly points out “White women, who enjoy proximal power from their association with white men, have often served as the white patriarchy’s most eager foot soldiers.” So true.  

In Right-Wing Women, Andrea Dworkin observed that “From father’s house to husband’s house to a grave that still might not be her own, a woman acquiesces to male authority in order to gain some protection from male violence. She conforms, in order to be as safe as she can be.”

But when white men choose, they can take white women’s proximal power away. We see this most starkly with rape culture, where they protect their own and put the onus on a woman not to be raped rather than on a man not to rape, but this is not the only way it manifests. Mansplaining, interrupting, gaslighting, sea-lioning – all these bullying techniques, techniques designed to “keep women in their place”  are ways that white men strip away the proximal power of white women.

White women having proximal power that can be taken away puts us in a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance, which is exploited by white men’s divide and conquer tactics.  When we choose the illusion of safety and proximal power of our whiteness over the liberation of others, when we align ourselves with those in power, we forget that our proximal power is only that which is allowed. We forget that when we try to claim our power it is easily “written off as loudmouthed hysteria, or the dubious ravings of pussy-hatted suburbanites with itchy Etsy trigger fingers” (Traister). We are labeled nasty, impolite arrogant women who persist despite being told to be silent.

Our proximal power, which we think will protect us, often does the exact opposite. In the hierarchy of women, Dr. Christine Ford is at the top: white, cis, hetero, professional, well-educated. And white men ripped the carpet out from under her, didn’t they?  We white women benefit from systems like capitalism, colonization, and white supremacy but these systems were not made to give us our own power and so we are easily ignored, dismissed as hysterical.

And yet, look at what Dr. Ford’s courage has inspired! Men like Trump and McConnell have no idea the beast that they have unleashed, gliby commenting that it will all blow over. They have no idea that white women are waking to the illusion of proximal power and instead claiming our real power, which is a power-with instead of a power-over.

Some of us are a bit late to this party. Women of color have been telling us this for a long time, but we haven’t listened. Many of us haven’t felt as though we needed to listen because we thought the white men would protect us. We were wrong.

Our real power comes when align ourselves with others, like women of color, who are fighting for liberation. It comes when we stop seeking or expecting protection, much less permission, of white men. When we stop apologizing. Stop being polite, stop trying to keep the peace. Stop all the things that keep us in our place. We gain real power, power-with, when we resist the divide and conquer tactics and align ourselves with the liberation of others.

So what do we do? Once we realize our proximal power is so easily taken away, how do we begin to claim a more true, whole power-with?

It begins with listening to those who’ve been in this fight longer than us. Women of color, particularly Black women, know the landscape – they know how to sustain themselves over the long haul that is ahead. Listen to women of color, immigrants, and those from other marginalized communities.

It means standing up for ourselves. When that electrician tapped my pins, rather than trying to engage him in a conversation I should have loudly said that his touching me was unacceptable and asked him to leave. Scary stuff, I know, but how many times do we just accept it when we are cat-called, groped on the bus, mansplained on social media? We need to stop just saying “Oh, that will happen” and start enforcing our boundaries loudly and unignorably.

It means becoming a tribe with other women, no matter their age, race, creed, socio-economic status, etc. When we see another women being harassed or belittled, we must clearly, strongly and publicly align ourselves with her, whether that is in real life or online.  It means that, should we decide to #WomensStrike, we support those of us who are unable to rather than belittling them and further alienating them.

It means being humble when other women, particularly ones from marginalized communities, point out our growing edges. We have much to learn.

It means expanding our definition of allies: people across the gender spectrum, people across the sexual orientation spectrum, people with disabilities. This is intersectional work, and we need one another. Our liberation is all tied up together.

Finally, we need to stop making excuses for the male-identified people we love. We need to bring them along on our journeys and help them learn how to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem. This isn’t always easy – they have even more unlearning to do than we do, more privilege that is at stake. They are often fragile and emotional and may feel attacked when we stand up for ourselves. There are some great articles online on how to do this.

When we do this, when we realize who our true allies and accomplices are in this fight, when we learn to listen with humility and allow ourselves to grow, then we will recognize the sham of proximal power and embrace our true power and use it for the liberation of all.

Paying Attention

4 Apr

This is for my White friends and acquaintances who I still see talking about #JesusChristSuperstarLive but who aren’t talking about the role race played in the show.

I don’t normally watch the “Live TV” events that occasionally happen because I find them pretty awkward, but I will confess I was excited about NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar. It is a musical that I love and the cast looked fantastic. I figured we would give it a try.

The opening was amazing, but when Mary (played exquisitely by Sara Bareilles) began her iconic Everything’s Alrightmy focus shifted and I realized that I wasn’t just watching a new staging of an award-winning musical; I was watching a commentary on black/white relations in the United States: Mary, a White woman, was pleading with Judas and Jesus (played by two Black men who knew things were escalating towards disaster) to calm down and not take things so seriously. “Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to problems that upset you, oh. Don’t you know, everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine.”

White friends – Did you notice this? Did you notice that it was a White woman who was telling these Black men to calm down. How often do we White people get uncomfortable at Black rage? How often do wetone police? And here it was, starkly presented, right here before 9.4 million viewers, most of whom were probably white.

We’ve seen before how flipping the racial narrative on a cast can give new understanding to an old story. Hamilton, anyone? If we want to become allies, the first steps are to educate ourselves and to pay attention.  #JesusChristSuperstarLive can give us a lens into our own commitment level to confronting racism and white supremacy, especially in the context of systemic oppression via police brutality, militarism and the prison/torture industrial complex.  Here are eight other ways that I caught (and I know I didn’t catch it all) that race played an essential role in the production:

1) Having a Black Jesus.  I don’t know about how other white people grew up, but Jesus was never ever black in the traditions of my experience. At best, and I mean at very best, he was a bit brown. But even that was unusual.White people seem to get upset when Jesus is portrayed as anything other than White. I would link to site after site trying to argue that fact, but I don’t want to push traffic that way. Look it up yourselves: many White people can’t handle that Jesus was not White. But he wasn’t. Having a Black Jesus is an important corrective to the dominant narrative. Especially as we will see below.  Seeing someone who looks like you on tv, in books, in advertising, in the toys children play with – this sort of representation is crucially important. We know this. From the chatter I’ve seen on facebook from Black friends, having a Black Jesus was absolutely a game-changer.

2) Having a Black Judas. Now, Judas has been portrayed as black before. In fact, Judas (played by Carl Anderson) was one of only a few black characters in the 1973 movie Jesus Christ Superstar. What was new here in #JesusChristSuperstarLive was the dynamic between a Black Judas and a Black Jesus. In the song Heaven on Their Minds, Judas sings “Listen, Jesus, do you care for your race? Don’t you see we must keep in our place? We are occupied! Have you forgotten how put down we are?” These lyrics take on a totally different meaning when Judas is singing to another Black man. We are reminded of the distinction Chris Hayes introduced many of us to in his book A Colony in a Nation, which highlights many of the ways that Black communities and Black men in particular are treated as if they were unruly colonists who must be controlled and managed by those in power.

(The fact that the part of Judas was played by Brandon Victor Dixon, who gave the Hamilton cast speech when VP Mike Pence attended & who did a Wakanda salute at the end, just added to the awesomeness.)

3) Notice how both Herod and Pilate are White. The men making the decisions, the men with the power, are White. Just like 7 in 10 senior executives and just like the vast majority of our elected national representatives in the House and Senate. Yeah, Pilate may be tortured about his decision, but he also caved under pressure. How many of us white people have done something similar? Maybe we have cringed silently and not spoken up when we we were in a situation with a work colleague spouting racist ideas. Maybe we strive towards being colorblind and don’t even realize how we are unwittingly contributing to racism.

4) So now you might be saying, “But Caiaphas was black!” And that is true -Norm Lewis was amazing in the role. But Caiaphas, as a Pharisee, didn’t have the power to have Jesus arrested on his own, did he? He just made the recommendation to Pilate (a White guy), who had the actual power. Having the Pharisees all be people of color invoked classic Uncle Tom imagery of a Black man who sells out his race in order to get a little power – just like the slave drivers who would beat their own for whatever scraps the white slave master would throw his way. Dynamics of divide and conquer and starvation economics where there isn’t enough power so we grab what we can are both at work in this dynamic. I’m reading Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood right now and the passages on the creation of apartheid are stunning to me in that this was a system that was intentionally created to turn the black Africans against one another by giving different groups different sets of rights. How else do you control a population 4 times as large as your own? It is a stunningly effective strategy for mass oppression.

5) Let’s go to Mary again. This time, singing I Don’t Know How to Love Him when she asks in the chorus “Should I bring him down, should I scream and shout? Should I speak of love, let my feelings out?” – How many of us White people are in that situation? We are trying to be allies, but we don’t really know what to do. Do we join the with the anger? Do we fight back with love? What does it really mean to be a White ally to Black people in the United States in 2018? It can get complicated and confusing. But unfortunately, our confusion and our fear of making a mistake often leads us to wring our hands and offer vague comfort from afar.


Steps to Ask Yourself Before Calling the Police

6) When the police show up in Gethsemane, Judas kisses Jesus and they embrace, and the police try to pull Jesus away. Judas has suddenly realized how this is not going the way he expected, and he holds on to Jesus and tries to pull him away from the police. Judas learned the hard way: if you call the police on a Black man, prepare for it escalating. White people, in particular but not exclusively, who think the police are benevolent forces of law and order often have a difficult time realizing that a call to the police about something innocuous like vandalism might result in the murder of an innocent Black man with a cell-phone in his backyard. In case you are wondering, there are some excellent online resources for trying to determine whether you should call the police.

7) After Jesus is taken away and Peter has betrayed him, Mary comes to comfort Peter – to offer him forgiveness. Both of them are non-black. While they are both rightfully upset, they turn and walk away. They have the privilege to be able to sit with each other, comforting one another, while Judas and Jesus are both tortured (Judas internally) and die. How often do we, as White allies, return to our bubbles to lick our wounds? What would it be like if Mary and Peter had gone to Judas and included him in their circle of grief? Instead, far too often, we retreat instead of laying our lives down on the line for the beloved community that we crave. What would it look like if we didn’t let each other off the hook quite so easily?

8) This last one is about what you didn’t see rather than what you did. Rather than invoke the imagery of a slave receiving a whipping by having Black Jesus flogged, the creative choice was made (brilliantly, in my opinion) to instead have different members of the community beat Jesus. Yes, it showed up as whip-marks on his back, but in this case, it is Jesus’s own extended community that turned on him. How often and in how many ways do we turn on the Black men in our community? Eric Garner shouldn’t have been selling cigarettes. Tamir Rice shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun. Stephon Clark shouldn’t have..what? Been in his grandmother’s backyard with a cell phone? We blame the Black victim – sometimes because we are trying to make sense of a situation that makes no reasonable sense and other times to try to protect ourselves from a world of violence that feels out of our control. But the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. As White people, we have power and we need to use it to end systems of oppression like our prison industrial system, policing system, and work for solutions like felon voting rights. Can you imagine what our country might look like if 2.3 million Black men weren’t incarcerated? If 1 in 8 of them weren’t disenfranchised from voting?

So there you have it. Here are just 9 (including the first Mary example) creative decisions, brilliantly made, that expose a mainstream audience to the epidemic of violence against Black men. And I know I missed quite a few.

I had no idea when turning it on that this new production of Jesus Christ Superstar would be an allegory for what it means to be a Black man in the United States in 2018. #JesusChristSuperstarLive used an old story to offer a new challenge to those of us who wish to be White allies: Pay attention, and then go educate ourselves on how systemic racism and white supremacy culture are alive in the United States today, so that we might be a part of the solution.

long committee meetings and why few people are willing to attend them.

6 Mar

We have 200 children in RE and 8 teachers recruited.

photo credit: Joy Berry

So you are a leader in your congregation and you are having a difficult time finding volunteers for the XYZ committee. You feel like you’ve tried everything – advertising in the newsletter, asking people directly, but still, it is the same few folks who say “Yes” and they are getting burned out. You are worried about what the future might hold. You wonder: Is your congregation alone in this struggle?

Absolutely not. Many congregations are struggling with this same issue. And there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. So let’s take a few minutes to look at why congregations are struggling, and then look at a a few possibilities to think about.

There are three primary reasons why the volunteer landscape is not as lush as it once was: time, commitment, and relevance. Once upon a time, long ago, many congregations could rely on a stable volunteer force: stay at home mothers. They ran the church – from volunteering in the church office, to religious education classrooms, to music/membership/worship committees and so on. But in these days where many families have two working parents, this is no longer a viable source of volunteers (and indeed, it hasn’t been for quite a while). Parents, in particular, are pulled in many different directions as their children’s sports, music, art, and academic enrichment programs keep them hopping each evening. When families can barely find time to eat dinner together once a week, how can we expect them to make time for a 2+ hour committee meeting? Many of our congregations are still structured in a way that depends on exactly these folks and we find that the same people who were volunteering when their children were young thirty (or so) years ago are still the go-to volunteers when it comes to operating the church today.

Combined with a lack of time, many congregants today are also struggling with making the commitment to an ongoing volunteer position. We see this in the way they pledge, as well. Many people don’t want others to rely on them in case they (or a family member) gets sick and needs care, or if their work schedule changes, or if they’ve just had a rough week and need a night off. In their minds, it is better to not make the commitment than it is to let someone down. For many years, nonprofit organizations that rely on volunteers have found that the number of people interested and available for key volunteer positions (which require an ongoing commitment) has dropped off dramatically. However, this does not mean people are not willing to volunteer in other ways – the number of people willing to volunteer episodically has risen dramatically. Episodic volunteers participate sporadically (perhaps only certain times of the year) and volunteer without an ongoing commitment.

Finally, volunteers are concerned about relevance. In those long gone halcyon days, church was often the center of a congregant’s social life, and as such featured long committee meetings with loosely structured conversation, often complemented by drinks and snacks. Today, however, volunteers are usually not looking to make the congregation the hub of their social lives. Instead, they want to know that the work they are doing is important and has meaning and is directly tied to the mission and impact of the congregation. They want the time they put in to be efficiently utilized and impactful in the community. It isn’t that they don’t want their volunteering to have a social component – far from it, but having a social component to a relevant, efficient volunteer opportunity is different than a volunteer opportunity that (intentionally or unintentionally) centers the social and puts the work as secondary.

So what might adjusting to this new(ish) volunteer landscape look like at congregations, where volunteers are often difficult to find due to time, commitment and relevance issues? Interestingly enough, I think that the three factors impacting the volunteer landscape are the same three factors congregations can use to address the issue.

First, since potential volunteers have less time than they used to have, a congregation would benefit from having flexible ways to participate. Allowing participation from teleconferencing software such as zoom enables people to stay at home and still participate. For each committee, evaluate whether the standard monthly 2-hour meeting is really necessary, or if perhaps shorter meetings, or less frequent ones, might be possible to get the work done. Because many congregations are still using the committee structure of a generation (or two) ago, and often just keep adding on new ones, it would also behoove congregations to look at what work is essential to the mission of the church and what might you stop doing, in order to do that which remains even better.

In terms of commitment, congregations would benefit from looking to see how they could better use episodic, task-oriented volunteers. For instance, is it possible to have an usher/dishwasher/greeter/fill-in-position-here checklist so that someone who shows up and wants to help on Sunday can easily follow what to do? Episodic volunteers sometimes find the work so fulfilling that they want to volunteer more, so having commitment tiers (low, moderate, high) of volunteer opportunities allows a volunteer to contribute in more meaningful ways as their commitment to the congregation grows.

Finally, to address concerns about relevance, it is essential to make the connection between the volunteer opportunity (whether it is episodic or key, low/moderate/high commitment level) and the mission of the congregation. How does this volunteer opportunity serve the congregation and/or larger community? How does it bring our values and our faith alive? What will a volunteer expect to get out of the experience? This can get done at an orientation, or during the opportunity itself, or in a volunteer appreciation event the congregation might hold.

The volunteer landscape has changed substantially in the last fifty years, and our religious communities need to adjust as well. Volunteers are an essential human resource to accomplish the mission of the congregation and to keep the doors open. Volunteerism thrives in organizations where there are multiple ways to contribute and where the expectations are clearly stated and connected to the mission of the organization. It is essential to approach this task and manage volunteers at least as carefully (if not moreso) than a congregation manages its financial resources.

the changing face of entrepreneurs.

2 Feb

I have passed this billboard more times than I can count in the past few months, traveling hither and yon across the southern U.S. And each time I do, I cringe inside. I cringe for the same reason that I cringed when, at a workshop on entrepreneurial ministry recently, it was quickly pointed out that in Unitarian Universalist ministry, we invest more innovation dollars and think of entrepreneurial ministers almost exclusively in terms of young, white, charismatic men (even with a sketchy return on investment). Why do we continue to perpetuate the myth that an entrepreneur is a young, white guy?

Some facts. In 2014, Harvard Business School reported that women are starting new businesses twice as fast as men. (1) In 2015, the Atlantic reported that “About 29 percent of America’s business owners are women, that’s up from 26 percent in 1997.”(2) Just two years later, in 2017, CNBC reported that women now make up 40 percent of new entrepreneurs in the United States – so the trend is growing, quickly. Out of the 25 promising young startups on CNBC’s 2017 UpStart List, 10 were organizations started by women in fields from from neuroscience to finance to retail. (3)

And lest you think this phenomena is the realm of white women – “The progress for minority women has been particularly swift, with business ownership skyrocketing by 265 percent since 1997…and minorities now make up one in three female-owned businesses, up from only one in six less than two decades ago.”(4)

As if this were not enough on its own, consider the Forbes report which shared that “women were more likely than men to introduce products and services that are new to customers and not generally offered by competitors (40 percent compared to 35 percent).” (5)

So really, if you want to advertise your business program, you would be better off with something like one of the advertisements below.







faith on a plane, part 2.

26 Jan

As I passed through security, something unique happened. An older man looked at me, smiled, and asked what denomination I was with. For a year now, I’ve made a practice of wearing my clerical collar when I fly. I haven’t worn it every time – but probably about 90% of the time I do. I would guess I’ve been on around 50 airplanes in that time, so we are talking about a substantial number of flights. My uniform is pretty standard: collared shirt, sweater, jeans, and, of course, the pins that I wear every day (Black Lives Matter, rainbow flag, world religious symbols and a safety pin). After all this travel, this man was the first to comment on my collar and ask my affiliation.

Instead of asking me about it, I’ve found that most of the people who catch the collar quickly look away as if they don’t want to be caught staring. Whether it is staring at a clergy member in general, or at a female clergy member in particular, I don’t know. Interestingly enough, I’ve also found that seatmates talk to me less when I am wearing a collar than they do when I am in regular clothing. I don’t know if they don’t know what to make of me, or are intimidated – but my collar provides a strange boundary that allows me more personal space since for decades I seem to have had a neon sign above my head that says “Tell Me Your Problems!”

I began wearing the collar when I fly after reading story after story about unruly, rude, oppressive behavior on planes. I was hoping that people would be on their best behavior around a clergy person. Or that I would be a calming presence. I’m not sure my presence has stymied any potential fights, but I do know that the woman who I was seated next to on one flight, who was very angry with the couple in front of us, felt she had to tone her vitriol down since she was seated next to me. So maybe that is something.

Here is what I think is going on: people still don’t know what to do with a female cleric. It makes them confused from the get-go. And if they happen to look at me long enough to see the pins, they get knocked off-balance. I should make it explicit: I don’t get any negative comments about the pins. Maybe I would if it were just a rainbow flag pin, or just a Black Lives Matter pin. But the combination of the pins makes is quite clear that I am in support of those who are oppressed and marginalized in our society. Unfortunately, this is often in direct opposition to the image the clerical collar presents. Generally, I think the intersectionality of a woman in a collar wearing these pins makes most people especially confused. When I have a chance to interact with someone for more than a couple of seconds, if that person is a person of color, they almost always comment on how awesome my pins are. The only white person who ever said anything presented as gender non-conforming.

Meanwhile, I don’t believe I’ve gotten any special treatment while wearing my collar. Due to my obliviousness of things that happen behind my back, I have no idea what sort of snickers or other comments might follow in my wake. I suspect it changes my own behavior more than anything else – I find I smile much more at people, and am unerringly polite – this behavior doesn’t feel like a burden, though. Instead, it feels more like a way to gently bless the world with my care and consideration.

It seems a small thing, this little piece of plastic tucked into my shirt, but it makes me a walking, breathing testament to what should be impossible in many people’s minds, and it makes me move in the world with just a tad more grace. I’ll continue to wear my uniform when I fly.

If you are a clergy member who wears their collar when you fly, what are your observations?

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