Enough of this F*%kery, Already, White UUs

CW: White supremacist fu*&ery, wrapped in gaslighting claims of feeling “unsafe” as a white male in UUism.

Context: If you can stomach some abhorrent BS, read this first, and then watch the brilliant Leslie Mac’s video response for the context of my response.  I’m responding here specifically at the request of friends of color for white folks to publicly address this asshattery.  Let me be clear: I AM NOT SAYING ANYTHING THAT FOLKS OF COLOR HAVEN’T ALREADY SAID, PROBABLY MUCH BETTER.  But it matters that white people say it, too, so here we go.

Alright, in no particular order, let’s get some things straight, my white UU kin:

1.) People of color and indigenous folks (POCI) have never been “safe” in Unitarian Universalism, period. (I was gonna link some stuff here, but I’m actually not going to play the game of giving white people statistics and data to prove that the realities of POCI are, in fact, real).  The current “crisis” in Unitarian Universalism is nothing new, but it is loud and undeniable right now because brilliant POCI within our faith–who have stuck around despite the white supremacist culture that is in the marrow of the bones of our tradition and its structures–HAVE BEEN ORGANIZING. It is absolutely no coincidence that the “hiring controversy,” which so many folks have come forward and talked about as a generations-old pattern in our UUA and our congregations, came to light in the time right after the Black Lives of UU convening in NOLA, and during Finding Our Way Home, the national gathering of POCI Religious Professionals. These gatherings–and the massive organizing power behind them that made them possible, including the organizing that led to the commitment of the UUA Board of Trustees to give BLUU $5.2 million–is both what allowed the voices of folks of color to be amplified and heard on a national scale, AND what is making the white power structure (and all of those who benefit from it, directly and indirectly) so uncomfortable and skittish and fragile.

2.) Let’s talk about violence, and the language that Mel Pine uses here. He uses words like “coup” and “attack” and “threatened” several times in this post, and I while I don’t know Mr. Pine or his life story, my interpretation here is that he is not receiving death threats, or being physically attacked, or being cut off from opportunities for employment, or being spit on, or being told he has no place in Unitarian Universalism. His definition of what it means to be “safe” is to be allowed to say whatever he wants, however he wants, with no repercussions or accountability. Let me say what so many people of color have said a zillion times, just in case you hear me say it because I am melanin deficient and that’s how this stuff works: WHITE FOLKS, JUST BECAUSE WE DO NOT FEEL COMFORTABLE AND UNCHALLENGED DOES NOT MAKE US UNSAFE. It is not the responsibility of people of color to frame their anger, sadness, grief, outrage, or any other feeling in a way that feels palatable to us.

3.) Safety has a whole hell of a lot to do with power. Mr. Pine states that the reasons he personally now feels unsafe within Unitarian Universalism are that “The demands of one UU faction have led to the resignation of the denomination’s democratically elected president,” and then, “But the faction now in control is determined to get what it wants before then, so the Board of Trustees has appointed three interim co-presidents and charged them to give the faction what it wants before the new president is elected at the regularly scheduled General Assembly.”

This, in combination with the use of the word “coup,” is a thinly veiled cry that the colored folks are getting uppity and need to be put back in their place. Let’s not mince words: this is the rhetoric of slave owners, of White Citizens Councils, of the US government as it attacked the Dakota people at Wounded Knee, of Stand Your Ground laws, of police officers who use deadly force against unarmed people of color because they feel threatened.

I will concede that Mr. Pine’s INTENT may not be to invoke these images, this history, and that he may well genuinely feel unsafe. But, when taken to its fullest extent, and in combination with the power of institutions, the IMPACT of this rhetoric is the LITERAL KILLING OF PEOPLE OF COLOR AND INDIGENOUS FOLKS. It is redlining and forced sterilization and Tuskeegee and the prison industrial complex.

In this case, we have one blowhard, garbage blog post from one sadly misguided individual who thinks he is “speaking truth to power.” But the cumulative impact, when you have hundreds or thousands of people who share these feelings, who run our congregations, who hold the power to make hiring decisions, who decide what is and isn’t acceptable behavior and demand that people assimilate to their version of what “safety” feels like is that we have a WHITE SUPREMACIST INSTITUTION that will do anything it can to keep the uprising from happening, even when the INDIVIDUAL INTENTIONS OF ITS ACTORS are not necessarily malignant.

4.) Then let’s talk about Democracy for a second, since Mr. Pine clearly has the view that so many UUs do that Democracy is the be-all-and-end-all of enlightenment and equality. I’m not even going to address the ridiculousness of insisting that the POCI “faction” (can you say offensive, much?!?!?) forced resignations, because that is so patently untrue it doesn’t deserve any more of my words. But let’s consider this assertion that leaders who haven’t been democratically elected are going to push through an agenda that they don’t have a mandate from the voting public to enact, and that this is inherently wrong.

Democracy, as it is usually practiced in our congregations and in our Association, is the concept that each person should have an equal vote in decision making, and that the majority opinion will dictate the outcome. Now, even if we assume that we practice true democracy in Unitarian Universalism (and we could certainly have a good debate about that), we have to acknowledge that true democracy means that whatever group is in the numerical minority will never have the numbers to win a popular vote. When it comes to elections, and the policies those elected will put in place, “democracy” creates a circle: in a white supremacist institution (and again, shorthand here is that white supremacist = any structure that privileges the comfort, culture, power, and importance of white people over all other racial groups), white people are in the majority, and if the one person = one vote structure is the only way decisions are made, guess what? WHITE SUPREMACY PERSISTS. Equality is not the same as equity, and unless you redistribute power and shift the dynamics to center the voices and experiences and vision of those who can’t actually attain a numerical majority, nothing will change. It’s as simple as that. This is why we need redistribution and reparations.

5.) On a kind of related note, and before you tell me that this is all really mean to say out loud, let me say: there are a whole bunch of “calls for unity” swirling around among white UUs right now. Folks saying, “Using the term ‘white supremacy’ is language that shames people, and so it’s not strategic to use that term because it shuts down the conversation.” Or, “We shouldn’t all be forced to believe the ‘politically correct’ party line on racism.” Or, “Can’t we all agree that racism is bad, but we should be glad that we’ve made so much progress and we’re so much more enlightened than Those Other People?”

Lemme just stop you there. Our faith calls us to love, not niceness; to transformation and salvation, not comfort. And that means confronting the ways in which we who benefit from privilege have also been both complicit with, and colonized and dehumanized by, oppressive systems, even when it evokes Lots Of Big Feels. It also means acknowledging that calls for unity in the face of injustice are siding with the status quo, and we white folks have to figure out how to support the liberation of our POCI kin because it is also our own liberation that is at stake. But to do that, we have to be ready to weather some storms. At the risk of being the white person to quote Frederick Douglass, I’m still gonna do it because it’s so on point (this from his 1857 West India Emancipation speech): “Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform […]. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

6.) Last thing, speaking of turmoil and discomfort: UUs have a long history of packing up our bags and bailing on our covenants with our congregations when we feel uncomfortable, when we get into fights with each other, when we don’t get our way. We have a tendency to distrust authority, and to be hyper-individualistic and self-centered. We love the idea of “free,” and we have trouble living into the idea of “responsible” in our fourth principle. Sometimes the things we leave over are legit; many, many times they’re just about how hard it is to lean into covenant with each other in the messiness of human relationships and institutions.

POCI grow up in, or arrive in, our congregations and they know what they’re signing on for from the moment they walk in the door. There are spiritual, physical, emotional, psychological costs to being POCI in white-majority spaces, no matter how good-hearted and well-intended the whtie folks in those spaces might be. Lots of POCI find those costs too high to make it worth staying for (what I truly, deeply believe is) our liberating theology, and they leave.

But there are so many who stay. And we white folks have an INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY right now to sit back and listen to the POCI who are here, ACTUALLY speaking truth to power because they believe our faith is worth fighting for. They’ve said loud and clear that they’re not going anywhere, this faith is theirs as much as anyone’s, and they are not going to tolerate being dehumanized and ignored and aggressed and silenced any more. This very statement–that there is something inherently redeemable and even salvific about Unitarian Universalism IN SPITE of all the brokenness in our incarnation–is a GODDAMN GIFT TO OUR FAITH. My beloved POCI UU people are saying, as Jacob said to the Angel, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

God, in your mercy, please help as many of us white folks cheer our POCI kin on in that struggle, and do whatever we can to help them wrest that blessing, because I guarantee it will be salvation to us, too.

Personal Discomfort and Collective Solidarity

Frequently, part of my job is to amplify calls for solidarity from groups, organizations, and collectives that are leading in various arenas of social justice struggle.  Come to this rally, get trained for this direct action, call this representative, etc.  This morning, I sent out another call to action to offer physical, financial, material and spiritual support to the Water Protectors on the front lines at Standing Rock; specifically, mobilizing people to travel to Oceti Sakowin for the December 4th Interfaith Day of Prayer, as called by Chief Arvol Looking Horse.

Now, although my emails go out to 600+ members of our network, I know that a.) people get a lot of email and very few folks actually read my messages, let alone right away, and so b.) when I get an immediate response from someone to a mass email, I can bet that it’s someone who has a bone to pick with me.

Which is why, when I received a reply about 4 minutes and 37 seconds after I sent the email out, I was not surprised that it was this:

Can’t we come up with a better name than a “Day of Prayer”? Pray to what? Or is this just say [sic] that those who don’t believe in a deity are not welcome?
J——

This was the full content of the email. No greeting, no “I support the Water Protectors and I’m so glad we’re mobilizing to support them,” no “hmmmm, I have a curious question about why you’re using that language…” just this.

The sender, by the way, is a person I don’t know and have maybe only met in person one or two times in a large group context.  He is (I believe) a white, middle-aged, cisgender male who is a member of one of the UU churches here in Minnesota.  I believe he’s been active in several social justice causes, and has done some really excellent work in solidarity with various groups of people in the community. But, the second I read this email, my antennae shot up.  I read in it, as I bet some of you will, a combination of spiritual woundedness and exceptionalism, toxic masculinity, and white fragility.

(Note: For those of you who aren’t Unitarian Universalists, it would be helpful to know that UUs are made up of about 90% people who were raised in some (or no) other religious tradition.  Our folks often come into our congregations yearning for Beloved Community, but nursing spiritual wounds left by the oppressive dogma, exclusionary practice, and harmful theology that is present in too many religious traditions.  As a result, some of our folks are sometimes a bit like trauma survivors — they are easily triggered by even the semblance of things that have caused them injury (like clergypeople, or language like “God” and “prayer” and “worship” and “spirit”), and they have work to do in order to redefine what healthy religious life might look like for them.  And unfortunately, I think we religious professionals and congregations too often do a crap job of helping these folks, but that’s a conversation for another time…)

Anyway. I don’t love spiritual woundedness and white fragility and toxic masculinity.  They are happy bedfellows to one another, but they cause me both rage and distress. So, upon receipt of this email, my immediate reactions were, in order:

1.) F*%k you, dude, and the horse you rode in on.

2.) [Nasty ranting about white fragility and toxic masculinity and UUs thinking we are all unique and delicate snowflakes who deserve to be catered to in every single context]

3.) Can’t I just delete this?

4.) Aw, hell. These are my people. Better get to writing.

I believe that my job as a white person and a clergy person and a person with all kinds of privilege is to collect my people and invite us all to get better together.  I would have much rather ignored it, but I recognize that I have to exercise these muscles of calling in without skirting around the real issues, because I’m going to be asked to use those muscles more and more frequently in the coming times.

I’m posting my response here because it feels important to acknowledge both how much energy this takes, and how absolutely essential it is for those of us who are less directly targeted by injustice to take the time to move each other toward being better and more accountable footsoldiers in the struggle for collective liberation.

I’m also posting it because I rarely see other people — in particular white folks — posting concrete examples of how we’re calling each other in.  Not theoretical musings or self-promotional pats on the back about how we spoke up, but like, actual things we have said to other people in real-life contexts that sometimes work and sometimes don’t.  I don’t know about you, but I wish I had more examples from people I know and trust about what “calling in” really looks like.  Maybe it’s because we’re afraid of being critiqued, maybe it’s because we’re afraid of being seen as fishing for compliments, maybe it’s because we’re not really doing it frequently enough, maybe it’s because white supremacy culture still lives deep within us and tells us that if we’re really good anti-racist allies, we should just know how to do this by ourselves without literally practicing and workshopping this stuff together.

But I’m over all of those versions of the mess, at least today, so here we go:

Dear J——,

I hear in your response a discomfort with the use of the word “prayer,” and your feeling left out or marginalized by that terminology as someone who doesn’t pray, or identify as a theist.

While I fully honor the fact that this language might not work for you personally, and celebrate with you that many of our UU communities are spaces in which we can grapple with the implications of these religious concepts, I want to invite you to think more deeply about what your reaction–and similar reactions from other UUs–might do to prevent us from being culturally competent, spiritually humble, and showing up powerfully in solidarity with indigenous people.

Some context: the “interfaith day of prayer” language comes directly from the indigenous leaders who are on the frontlines of this struggle, who have asked people like me to amplify their call for presence and solidarity. As a white, non-native person, with an understanding the erasure/oppression/cultural genocide perpetrated against indigenous peoples now and in the past, I don’t believe it is my place to alter the language that they use when asking for solidarity from non-native peoples.

Your email said nothing about the content of the Standing Rock leaders’ call for presence and solidarity from a broad and diverse movement of supportive people. Instead, you immediately and without context offered a critique of native leadership’s language choices, and centered your own need to feel comfortable and welcomed. I think this reflects a spiritual woundedness and a centering of self and whiteness that will not help the broader movement for justice and liberation.

I am spending my time writing you back now, instead of organizing people to actually show up at Standing Rock this weekend, because your response is not an uncommon one, and you are a part of my beloved community as a UU. I want Unitarian Universalists to be resilient, culturally competent, spiritually humble people who are able to put our own individual needs aside when necessary to be credible partners with other cultures and religious traditions in building a just and loving world. In order to do that, I believe we need to call one another in to greater spiritual maturity, and deeper analysis of how white supremacy wants to distract us from what really matters and divide us from one another.

So, I am asking you to reflect on your response again. Rather than critiquing the language because it doesn’t work for you, why might that language be important to the Lakota spiritual leaders who are asking for our support? What are they asking for, in a language that might make sense and feel inclusive to you? How might you be supportive of their struggle, even when it is framed in a way that makes you uncomfortable or asks you to translate?

I am here for further reflection and dialogue if that’s helpful. While I don’t know you well, if at all, I assume that we share common core values and commitments as Unitarian Universalists, and as social justice activists. I hope you can hear this feedback, then, with an open heart — we need one another more desperately than ever in these times, and we need to be better together.

Blessings and love,
Ashley

So. What do you think?  What else could/should I have done?  What have YOU done in similar contexts, and what has worked and what hasn’t?

Let’s share our stories, folks, and try to train each other up and develop a deep toolbelt of strategies and tactics to build more resilient, more powerful people who are all working in healthy ways toward a more just and loving world.

More about #NeighborhoodLoveNotes

The following post is intended particularly for white people who’ve been participating in the #NeighborhoodLoveNotes project.

Screen Shot 2016-11-15 at 11.46.20 PM.pngSo, this thing happened: I chalked some love messages to my queer and trans and Black and brown and undocumented neighbors in front of my house. Then, I posted about it on Facebook. Post started going mini-viral, my brilliant friend Rev. Ashley Harness dreamed up a plan to do a reverse chalk offering at her church, a person I had never met asked if they could create a Facebook event for it, and now–20k event shares and thousands of photo posts and hashtag mentions and hundreds of participating churches later–#NeighborhoodLoveNotes has become a nationwide thing that is garnering lots of attention and participation from people all over the country.

Unsurprisingly, the media has picked up on this phenomenon, too.  I gave an interview to a reporter from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and the folks from Al Jazeera’s AJ+ (video forthcoming next week, I think).  Several other news outlets have picked it up here in the Twin Cities, and I hear there’s been media coverage of #NeighborhoodLoveNotes in other communities around the country.

Equally unsurprisingly, the reporter I talked to gave a very watered-down version of what I actually said about the project.  She wrote:

“The day after the election I was feeling very upset,” Horan said Monday. “I knew how afraid and hurting everybody was in my community, which is full of queer folks and black and brown folks and immigrants. I needed to do something.”

She believes Donald Trump’s win has “emboldened and empowered” people to speak negatively about Muslims and immigrants, make racist slurs, and put down women and members of the LGBTQ community. So on her sidewalk she wrote things like “Black lives will always matter” and “Ninguna persona es ilegal” (“No one is illegal”).

(My chalking actually says “Nadie es ilegal,” but you get the picture.)

Another local outlet, who basically used the original reporter’s story as their source instead of me, started their article this way:

Upset at seeing the division and anger following last week’s election result, Twin Cities pastor Ashley Horan was resolved to spread harmony to America.

The Unitarian Universalist clergywoman from Minneapolis was inspired to start the Twitter hashtag #NeighborhoodLoveNotes, writing messages of love and peace in chalk on city paving and posting photos of them online.

Friends, I completely understand that reporters write the stories that they understand and want to tell, so I’m not gonna throw any shade at these folks.  But I do want to take a moment to say a few things that I said in the original interview that I think bear repeating:

1.) In the midst of a national controversy about safety pins, I am completely aware that #NeighborhoodLoveNotes has the same potential to be a feel-good, not-really-acting-action that disappointed and disillusioned liberal white folks can participate in without any real risk to or accountability from themselves.  I’ve seen lots of “Love Trumps Hate” and “Everyone is Loved” messages among the thousands of photos, which I think are basically the chalk equivalents of #AllLivesMatter.  As the brilliant Amina Pugh wrote on Black Girl Dangerous:

Perhaps this is why seeing another white person holding a “Love Trumps Hate” sign makes me cringe and nearly ready to go home. It is not hate people of color are facing, its violence, deportation, seizure of land, denied resources, and murder. People of color have always dealt with hatred, that is the reality of our existence under white supremacy. Reducing it to hate is a mischaracterization of our grievances. We are not protesting against hate because hate is a feeling. We are protesting against oppression and domination. We are protesting against the predictably of whiteness–that it will always win, which inevitably means we have lost.

The solution to our president-elect is not love, it is accountability. Love is a Band-Aid solution that allows white folks to continue to evade accountability. To continue to avoid the reality that the overwhelming majority of white folks elected Trump and those who didn’t were at the very least complacent. Accountability is essential to creating these loving and supportive communities that are wrongfully imagined as solutions. Love is only effective alongside working to dismantle white supremacy, it is not a solution in itself. Hushing white supremacy into corners with idealist solutions of love are ineffective, because white supremacy, as evident in the 2016 presidential election, will inevitably re-emerge.

Cosign, agree, close the book on this one. I completely agree. To the extent to which #NeighborhoodLoveNotes has deviated into this territory, I regret it.

2.) My motivations for writing the chalk messages on my sidewalk on November 9 were about responding to the calls I was hearing from friends who embody far more marginalized identities than I do as a white, citizen, able bodied, owning-class, college-educated, queer cisgender woman.  I heard them say that what happened in the election was simply an affirmation of what they had always known to be true about America’s feelings about people of color, immigrants, disabled folks, Muslims, women, and the LGBTQIA community.  I also heard them say that while they weren’t surprised that the kyriarchy had won the day, they still felt alone, betrayed, fearful, and hated… perhaps even more than they had before.

I am blessed in my life to spend a great deal of time working with activists and community organizers, many of whom have modeled for me again and again what it looks like to embody a spirit of resistance while simultaneously casting a prophetic vision for a world that our souls yearn for, even though it has never yet existed.  They–and the movements they have been building–have offered me salvation more times than I can count.  And many, many of these people I’ve been so incredibly lucky to learn from and follow and co-conspire with were exactly the folks who were feeling knocked flat and deeply betrayed by our country last Tuesday.

These mentors and prophets have been in the work of collective liberation for years and generations.  We desperately need them to survive, and to have the spiritual and emotional reserves that will allow them to continue building for the next four years and beyond.  And, we desperately need more and more and more people to join their ranks, moving from cynicism and fear into politicized action and mobilization against all the oppressive forces that make our society unsafe and violent against all but the privileged few.

So I wanted to offer the folks who are already leading the work, and those who are poised to be recruited into it, an affirmation that they are loved.  That their work, their lives, their experiences, their families matter.  That there are so many people who have their backs, and that are willing to throw down to excise the poison of white supremacy and misogyny and xenophobia and trans/homophobia.  And I wanted to write specific messages to the folks whose feet would literally pass over the chalk drawings on their way to work or school or the corner store as they passed our house.

So, basically, screw “spreading harmony to America:” I wanted to contribute even a drop into the well of resilience that the folks from frontline communities, whose lives are undeniably even more at risk now than they have been in living memory, will need to survive and lead us forward in resistance and repair of our broken world.

3.) Given all of that, it seems like I should write some explicit best practices for anyone who wants to join in the #NeighborhoodLoveNotes project.  Here we go:

  • Chalking is not enough, and love is not–it turns out–all we need. For those of you for whom this kind of public act already feels risky, sit with that discomfort and let it propel you to do something else that feels risky, but that also fosters systemic change.  Get involved in the city council and mayoral races in your city; attend a protest or a march organized by people most directly impacted by the issues; make significant financial contributions to grassroots organizations that can’t get big donor funding because they’re led by queer folks and people of color; engage your the family you want to unfriend on Facebook in conversations about racism and Islamophobia and sexism and homo/transphobia even when it feels uncomfortable.  Develop spiritual practices and community relationships that make it possible for you to withstand the discomfort and anxiety that will inevitably come, and that fill you up when the world breaks your heart and everything spills out.
  • Invite people to go with you. Use this as an opportunity to deepen relationships with your neighbors and friends, and spend your time while chalking giving each other courage to make a plan for the NEXT thing you’ll do together to dismantle oppression and halt violence against targeted communities.
  • When you choose a location to chalk, think about it carefully.  DO NOT chalk without permission in front of the houses or businesses or religious institutions of groups that are already being targeted for harassment and violence.  If you want to write messages to those groups and you’re not a part of them, ask permission, and be ready to respect a “no” if you get it.  Try to choose a spot where lots of folks will see it–a bus stop, a public school, a park, a hospital, a busy street corner.
  • Some places, it’s illegal to chalk on public sidewalks, so find out what the laws are in your community, and then assess whether it’s strategic for you to act within or outside of those laws.  If you want to not risk any illegal activity, ask permission from sympathetic business owners or other powers-that-be if you can write messages in front of their buildings.  If you’re willing to risk breaking the law, do it strategically: which businesses are funding the Dakota Access Pipeline, making campaign contributions to candidates that support deportation and increased militarized policing, failing to support and protect women and LGBTQIA people, etc.?  They would be great sites for pointed, specific signs of affirmation that would serve the dual purpose of messing with the business owners’ minds AND loving up the communities they’re targeting!
  • Be as specific as you can with your messaging.  Instead of aspirational “love will win out someday” or “we’re all one, let’s get united” messages, which might ring hollow or erase the specific and painful experiences of particular groups, try for things that positively affirm and embrace people right here, right now, in this world as it is, with all its violence and hatred.  Or messages that reflect a commitment from you to show up and do your best to build relationships and protect the people in your community.  Samples might include:
    • Nobody is illegal/nadie es ilegal
    • None of us are free until all of us are free
    • Black Lives will ALWAYS matter
    • Solidarity with Standing Rock
    • Muslim neighbors, YOU make America great!
    • No matter what they say, remember: you are loved beyond belief
    • We support our LGBTQ neighbors

So there it is. If #NeighborhoodLoveNotes provides a pathway to deeper commitment and more emboldened action for justice for some people, I’m thrilled.  And if it provides some affirmation and reassurance to folks who desperately need to hear that they are loved and valued, I’m so glad.

I think this is a critical moment for moving mass numbers of people–in particular, white liberals–from commentary toward collaboration, from silent assent into strategic action. This project cannot do that on its own, and it’s not enough.  But I hope it can be a powerful “and,” rather than an “or”–that it can be a thing that people do in addition to the thousand other tactics and strategies we must employ, and that it contributes to fortifying the spirits of those who will embody the resistance that will get us free.

Screen Shot 2016-11-15 at 11.50.28 PM.png

#NeighborhoodLoveNotes

A testimonial, and an invitation:

I was terribly unproductive today. I realized I needed to make something, rather than think about anything. Thinking about my queer and trans and Muslim and undocumented and poor neighbors, I realized that I needed to tell them – before doing anything else – that I see them and I love them. So I bought sidewalk chalk, and wrote love notes to my neighborhood.

As I was working, at least seven or eight kids in my neighborhood–none of them ones that I had known before –stopped and talked with me on their way home from school. They told me about their fears, their hopes, their dreams. One of them took the time to stop and create a square of his own.

Tomorrow, I am going to go to other places in the city where I know people are hurting and tell them in this way that I love them, too.IMG_4703.JPG

My unsolicited advice: go buy some sidewalk chalk, and meditate about who you love – rather than who you fear – for a little while. This will certainly not change the world. There is so much other work to do. But it saved my heart today.

 

 

ADDENDUM: Those of you who are part of congregations, religious communities, or other communal spaces where you will be gathering this week, an idea: one of my colleagues had the idea to do a “reverse offering” at her church this weekend, where she will pass out chalk to the congregation and charge people to go out and write notes to folks in their communities wherever they see the need. This is brilliant.

Please, if you do this in a communal OR an individual way, will you take photos and post them with the hashtag #NeighborhoodLoveNotes? Let’s spread the love!

Also, some beautiful soul created a Facebook event page for people who are going to do this action in their community. If you go out to chalk, RSVP to the event and also share photos here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1836572559951373/

I Cast My Lot With You

An open letter to everyone in my extended network of beloved warriors for love and liberation:

cw-832_bigOn Monday evening, I wrote to the people I serve through my job as Executive Director of MUUSJA – Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance and reminded them of a truth that I desperately needed to remember myself:

“You are loved beyond belief. You are enough, you are precious, your work and your life matter, and you are not alone. You are part of a ‘we,’ a great cloud of witnesses living and dead who have insisted that this beautiful, broken world of ours is a blessing worthy of both deep gratitude and fierce protection. Whatever happens tomorrow, our ancestors and our descendants are beckoning us, compelling us to onward toward greater connection, greater compassion, greater commitment to one another and to the earth. Together, we are resilient and resourceful enough to say “yes” to that call, to make it our life’s work in a thousand different ways, knowing that we can do no other than bind ourselves more tightly together, and throw ourselves into the holy work of showing up, again and again, to be part of building that world of which we dream but which we have not yet seen.”

Beloveds, this is deepest reality I know—and these words are as true this morning as they were two days ago. This knowledge emerges from the deep, buoying hope of my faith; from the whispers of all those revolutionaries and repairers who shouldered the burden of justice-making long before us; from the generations that will follow us and inherit whatever legacy of resistance and reparation we will pass along to them.

So what’s next?

First, an affirmation to all of us that it is holy to feel. Human beings have a unique capacity for empathy and emotion, and our hearts were made to swell and break in equal measure. However you are feeling this morning, you’re right. Celebrate what is worthy of celebration, because we have a sacred obligation to gratitude and joy, and goodness does indeed abound all around us. Grieve what is worthy of mourning, because lamentation is a spiritual practice and brokenness can allow us to remember how desperately we need one another, because none of us is whole by ourselves. Sleep if you are weary, seek comfort if you are afraid, rage if you are angry. Whatever you feel today, beloveds, know that it is okay, and that you are not alone.

And second, let us remind ourselves that the work that lies ahead of us is daunting, but it is not new, and it is not impossible, and it is not ours to do alone or without precedent. For all of human history—and all around us in the world right now—brave warriors for justice have fought and are fighting for the liberation of all people and the earth. Those of us who are trans and queer, people of color, disabled people, women, immigrants, poor folks… the very fact of our existence reminds us that humans are resilient beyond measure, and our kin have been stewards of the struggle for generations. They are with us as we feel, and then organize. Those of us who hold privileged identities, we must nurture our resiliency now, and remember that those who are the most at-risk on the frontlines need us to commit to show up; to be faithful followers and bold leaders, to embody and enact the values we espouse, to put our bodies and our spirits on the line because we know deep in our bones that there is no “them” and “us,” but rather that inescapable network of mutuality into which we are all woven.

Here is what I know today:

Our congregations are more important than ever. Our social justice organizations and collectives and coalitions are more important than ever. Our faith and our commitment to one another, and the work that so inevitably springs forth from it, are more important than ever.

Poet Adrienne Rich wrote:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
So much has been destroyed.
I have to cast my lot with those who,
age after age,
perversely, with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

Beloveds, I choose to cast my lot with you. It is good to be human together, today and every day. I love you, and I look forward to being with you in body and in spirit as we continue to bend the arc of the universe toward justice for the rest of our lives.

In faith, solidarity, and hope,
Ashley

on waiting until “all the facts are in”

I am watching my Black women friends reeling at the gut punch of the murder of ‪#‎KorrynGaines‬. And I am watching white people, yet again, sit on the sidelines and wait until we get “all the facts” before deciding whether or not her death at the hands of police was justified.

I am raw and tired and heartbroken and sick of watching the way this kind of trauma–from the killing itself, to the ambivalent reaction to it from white people and men in particular–is re-enacting violence on the Black women in my life.

Here are the questions I am asking myself as I sit with this story, and the white response to it:

  • Whose story is being told here, and from whose perspective?
  • What things are considered facts, and who is the arbiter of that truth?
  • What competing standards of “violence” and “self defense” are at play here?
  • How are our minds, colonized by white supremacy, already trained to respond to this story?
  • How do misogyny and patriarchy contribute to our willingness to invisibilize or dismiss the deaths of Black women–including and particularly trans women–at the hands of police?
  • In what ways do respectability politics–who is “innocent” and “a good person” and “nonviolent”–play into our (white people’s) willingness to sit on the sidelines and withhold judgment about which Black people do and do not deserve to die at the hands of police?
  • Here is what I know:

I know better than to ever, ever, ever trust the account of police officers when it comes to the murders of Black people. I know there is every likelihood that this story of her with a shotgun is a complete and total fabrication.

Milwaukee, 2015.

Milwaukee, 2015.

I know that we live in a surveillance culture that actively controls our “freedom of speech,” and punishes all those who resist the kyriarchy.

I know that any interaction between Black people and police can be deadly, and compliance with police does not guarantee safety.

I know that activists like Korryn Gaines, like my beloveds here in the Twin Cities Movement for Black Lives, like Assata Shakur and Fred Hampton and all the Black freedom fighters who came before them have been hunted, harassed, defamed, and sometimes slaughtered by the state for their insistence that a world in which they were recognized as full human beings is possible.

I know that armed police forces can, and do, regularly exercise restraint with “armed and dangerous” people when they choose to. Squads of white militiamen engage in 40 day standoffs in Oregon, murderous white biker gangs are arrested without incident, and white mass murderers are regularly apprehended alive and unharmed after hours- or days-long standoffs and chases.

I know that if a militarized police force showed up at my door to “serve warrants” against me for a minor traffic infraction, and I had been consistently working to dismantle the police state for whom they worked and I knew they knew that about me, I would view their entry to my home as an act of war.

I know that if she chose to arm herself with a shotgun in her own home, to protect herself and her baby, in response to every reasonable fear of being killed by the police, it was self-defense–against the cops in that room, and against a 400 year history of knowing that her life was disposable in the eyes of the state.

I know that Korryn Gaines was not the one to introduce violence into this situation, whether or not she was actually armed when they entered her home.

And I know that the luxury of waiting for the facts, reserving judgment, deciding whether or not the lives of Black people murdered by police are worthy of our respect and defense and solidarity is a choice that too many of our neighbors and kin do not have.

about this blog

Sometimes I write things on the interwebz.  Mainly on Facebook, really, but sometimes those things get picked up and shared or published elsewhere, and then I lose track of them and I can’t find them and I can’t track how my own heart and thinking are developing, and how the communities with whom I’m in relationship are shaping that evolution.  So, it makes sense to try to put these musings all in one place, and the (older millennial and younger Gen Xer) kidz tell me blogs are a good way to do that.

Also, I have ALWAYS been a terrible journaler.  Maybe it has something with being an extravert whose mind does processing out loud far better than on paper; maybe it’s just that I’m not disciplined enough; maybe it’s that I’d rather be in conversation with others than with myself.  I completely recognize the power of a regular writing practice for reflection and clarity, and I admire people who are able to write–whether in journal or more public form–on the regular.  So, #lifegoals, maybe having this thing out there publicly will hold me accountable to some sort of writing discipline in community with others.

And a final note: the name of the blog is from a poem called “Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along the Way,” written by Catholic Bishop Ken Untener in 1979 for a service commemorating priests who had died.  It is sacred text to me–it was one of the readings at my ordination, and I come back to it often as a guide and an exhortation for the kind of ministry (official and unofficial) I’d like to do. The full text of the poem is:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Excited to be planting seeds, laying foundations, providing yeast with all of you.