Thursday, January 22, 2015

My American Dream: Reflections on MLK Day

On MLK Day I'm reflecting on the work that we all have yet to do to become a nation where all people are free.

A nation where every voice is given space to be truly heard.

A nation where no one's life matters more or less through the systemic lens of justice;

and where our nation's heart beats as one with empathy and compassion at the center of public life.

A nation where people are not used for the production of profit to benefit the few, but where the profits being produced are created for the good of the people generating the wealth.

A nation where a poor, brown, transgender teenager's life is as highly valued in the eyes of government as the life of an economically advanced white man on Wall Street.

A nation where black men are not shot down in the streets for doing nothing more than being alive within a darkly pigmented body.

A nation where no child is tried as an adult in the court of law and sentenced to life in an adult prison without the possibility of parole.

A nation whose veterans are given the mental, physical, and material help they need in order to live in safety and security upon returning home from war.

A nation where women solely are in charge of their own bodies and are supported by their government to make whatever choice they think and feel to be best for them.

A nation whose women are paid as well as their male colleagues

A nation where public education exists for the purpose of learning and growing into who one is and wants to become, rather than to creating people who can regurgitate information to properly fill in a bubble on a meaningless exam, implemented for the purpose of determining the school’s budget for the year to come.

We have not come very far in 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s. The rich and the powerful still capitalize on the oppression of America black’s lives. It looks a little different on the surface than it did 50 years ago, but the reality of the legal execution of men and women living within black and brown bodies lives on. The denial of black and brown folk’s right to vote is still a reality in our time.
            I am a white woman who has benefitted from white privilege in more ways than I will ever know. I am a white woman with southern, slave owning, ancestors. I have the blood of the oppressor coursing through my very veins. I claim that not to make myself guilty, but because in doing so I can remain hopeful and work to be able to claim a better future; to be able to shape my own life in a way that bridges the divide those ancestors created between myself and my black and brown brothers and sisters. That truth of my heritage fuels my indignation in the face of continual abuses of power within white America in 2015.
            There are more people incarcerated in the United States per capita than in any other industrialized nation in the world. That fact alone is unacceptable to me. Delve a little deeper into the demographics of the incarcerated and you will discover that there are an obscene number of black and brown men behind American prison bars. According to the 2010 U.S. census African Americas account for 13.7% of the total U.S. population. Forty percent of the U.S. prison population is made up of African American males. This fact alone is staggeringly upsetting, but it gets worse. I won’t totally go down the rabbit hole that is the reality of racial disparity in America here, but I wanted to raise a couple statistics.
            As a white woman of faith, and of conscience who benefits from white privilege it is my moral and ethical imperative to work to change these realities. I start by writing these words on this page, but I know that that is not enough to change the reality of what it means to be a black or brown-bodied person living in America, today. I know I must, that white-bodied people must, do more to make America the land of freedom and liberty we dream it to be.
            What gives me hope when I am looking at history and looking at the present reality of our nation? The fact that I am looking and I refuse to look away, the fact that thousands of people are taking to the streets, once again, to affirm the worth and dignity of black and brown peoples lives. The fact that there are preachers across our country who are using their privilege of having a pulpit to speak out for those who are being murdered by law enforcement officials. All of these are truly good signs of people being willing to stand on the right side of history.
            What continues to trouble me is the many in positions of power who are sitting idly by and not having these difficult conversations with their colleagues, friends and loved ones. MLK and many others left unnamed died in pursuit of true justice and equality for all. What are you willing to die for? What are you willing to live for? Would you imagine with me what you would be willing to do if you whole-heartedly believed you have the power within you to change the world in which you live? What would you have to give up to cross the river to reach the Promised Land?
You may be thinking that you would have to give up a lot, but I ask of you one more question. Have you allowed yourself to imagine what you might gain through your sacrifices? That question is much more difficult for me to envision because the gifts that would be received through that process takes a kind of hope most of us have not witnessed in our lives. Particularly, us young people who carry around a lot of cynicism and anger toward a world we have not yet learned how to master. Maybe, if we each endeavor to step in the direction of justice, not the safest direction for ourselves we, together, could discover a world brighter and more beautiful than we have imagined.

To those of you (if there are any of you) who are saying to yourselves, “I want to be involved, but I don’t know how.” or, “I’m white, but I’m poor” and especially if you are saying this, “I’m white, but I am not responsible for this” I want you to take this away from what I’ve written: You do not have to say a word to be apart of progress because showing up and being silent with open ears and an open heart heals the world and it might even heal you too, of brokenness you never even knew you had if you don’t. Please, be a healer, be a peace-maker, be a listener, be a lover whenever and where ever you can. You may just find a gift you never knew you wanted.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Follow up on My Last Post

It has been a few days now and I am thinking about what I wrote in my last post. I acknowledge that I am taking a risk by writing this blog and that what I have written, and will continue to write could have some consequences as being vulnerable often does. I don't have the answers for UUCC or for the wider world, but I feel like I cannot ignore my feeling and that I should not. Nor can I ignore that of others. I am laying my uncertainty before you as an act of trust… an act of love, even. 
I am scared, but I also do not think there is much of a point in pretending and I hope that you elected me to lead you not out of the desire to look like you care what I have to say, but because you truly do care what I have to say and about how I feel. 
I said in my last post "I am still hurting from the traumas I have survived. I do get longer reprieves from my pain little by little, but that is not enough and it is not enough to put band-aids over the pain of our neighbors either." In writing this blog I am attempting to not simply cover up my feelings, but to bleed openly and allow for others to be open about their feelings as well. 
I have lived a lot of my life in cultures that value reason and intellect above all else and that makes being raw and writing from my heart that much more uncomfortable and since I have not been trained to do so it also makes it that much more likely that I will make mistakes. The internal process I am giving you space to witness will be (is already) a messy one. 
I desire to make a real difference in the world and I want you all to be a part of making that difference with me. I am writing this blog for a couple reasons. One reason is to make my feelings and thoughts known so that I do not feel like a phony as a leader. Two, to communicate my desire to see real change and to express what that would have to address in order for me to be satisfied that there is any real progress being made. For us to do so, I want to hear what burdens your heart? I want to hear what prevents you from feeling able to make the changes in your own life to enable you to create the change you wish to see in the world. I am asking from a place of love for each of you.
I am terrified to go spend the next 7+ years of my life in school and have to acquire tens of thousands of dollars of debt in order to be able to do the work that I want to do to make real change in this world for those like me and for those who are much worse off than I am. I am scared to view that debt as an investment in what I see as an increasingly tyrannical economic and political environment. The amount of debt most millennials have to acquire in order to access quality educational opportunities (not just attend mediocre credentialing institutions where the emphasis is on paper pushing, not on creating enriching learning environments) is ludicrous and the fear of debt-slavery is real. Tapping young people in this system is not only detrimental to us, but is detrimental to the entire world economy and human progress toward further collective liberation. I am inspired by women like Elizabeth Warren who are fighting the just fight(though not perfectly as she too is human) at the tables with some of the most greedy (cruel) people in this nation. She gives me more hope than just about anyone else at this point in my life. The only way we can take back our communities and take my our America is if we band together like never before and demand, not ask, demand that America be governed in the spirit of it's founding. 
I want to acknowledge that I know the UU church of Columbia is not responsible for fixing all the world's problems and that we can only chew one piece of the elephant at a time. I do, however, want to cut the crap to a minimum. Cut the crap that we are some wonderful organization that is doing all in its power to combat the problems of the world. We're not. We more closely resemble a country club that has an intellectual focus on the elusive ideals of justice. Due to this, we primarily engage in working toward justice in the hypothetic realm of our intellects and imaginations. I am not going to say that I am exempt from this, because I certainly am not, but I do recognize this fact. In my striving to learn how I can actually put my body into motion for the causes that my heart compels me to I have been attending as many inter-faith meetings as I can to hear and learn of the struggles of those outside our walls, but still very much apart of our community. Last week I went to three of them. One meeting was at the second Baptist church downtown that was the Missouri Faith Voices monthly meeting. The second meeting was at the Wilks BLVD UMC listening to people who are homeless and addicted that receive services from the Wilks congregation and working to become more effective in their service. The third meeting I attended was held at the International Church on McBaine. Each of these meetings could potentially warrant it’s own post, so I will not attempt to give all of my thoughts on those at this time. I do, however, want to make one comment, that at all of these meetings (to varying degrees) there was some tension as to who owned and had most claim over the work that we are all trying to accomplish, and therefore a lack of ability for vulnerability and authentic presence to be had in those spaces. When we own our own feelings the act of doing so, openly, enables us to be present to the hurt of others, but if we are not able to own our own doubt, unknowing, hopes and our own fears then we cannot move forward together in a way that is healing for all of us. I say all of this knowing that simply doing that by itself is not enough either, but is a real place to start, and in my heart I know it is the only place worth starting from.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Writing From My Heart (I need to get this out in the open for better or for worse and it is not nuanced or sugarcoated)

I feel like I am fighting for my life. Fighting for my soul. I want to live in this world and feel called to live in this world in a way that validates my experience and gives space for all to have their experiences heard and embraced as well. I am struggling to be present to my feelings of not belonging within a community that claims to embrace me, yet through their action, or more truthfully, their lack of action does not authenticate their purported values of inclusion and willingness to witness to all their neighbors.
I am struggling because I feel like I am not trusted and that my leadership is not taken seriously because I cannot present it in a manor that validates the current system. I am struggling to find my voice within the noise that I am surrounded by when I am within these walls of privilege speaking from a place, and out of a theology that they no nothing about.
I am giving everything I have to this community and I do not feel heard, let alone embraced.
At every miss step I take I feel trapped by the privilege that you enjoy, while I silently suffer, while working to find the place within me to love myself and love you all at the same time.
I do not have fancy words, but I fight like hell some days to get myself out of bed to love the world that has been placed under my feet.
I ask myself, why? Why have I been asked to lead you all? Why have I been called to witness in this way to those who do not appear to want to listen to what I have to say…

 What purpose do I serve in this world?

I know that I am incredibly imperfect and that, no, I do not have it figured out, but I know that y’all don’t either, yet because of your privilege and the fact that you do not have to ask the questions I have to ask myself everyday and your actions tell me that you don’t want to, it gives me pause and begs me to ask God what am I supposed to do? Even when I do ask the questions they’re only left partially answered, and only answered in a manor that is consistent with maintaining the comfort and lived apathy I perceive.
I am still hurting from the traumas I have survived. I do get longer reprieves from my pain little by little, but that is not enough and it is not enough to put band-aids over the pain of our neighbors either.
I am scared, everyday that I will fail you all and scared everyday that I will not be able to find the strength to show up for myself, and for all of you.  When you do not show up for me and my much worse off brothers and sisters how else am I supposed to feel but undervalued, unwanted, tokenized for my youth, and unseen as whole.

Last Saturday night there was a woman on the streets downtown I spoke with who has two young children, and that did not have a place to sleep for the next two nights. She only needed 22 more dollars on top of the 20 I have already given her to put a roof over their heads for the night. I had to talk to between 55 and 65 people to get $22 dollars. I was terrified, but I called several of my other outside of the church and got no answer. The one friend who did answer has been broken by the world in many of the same ways I have been. She was unable to help, but at least she answered my call and I knew that she would listen. I am scared that no one is listening and I am very saddened by the fact that no one seems to want to listen either.  I am heartbroken that I am giving you all at UUCC everything I have, yet I still do not feel heard or wanted or even met with a fraction of the energy I put forth. I do not sleep at night because of my love and desire to see this church transformed, but my vision goes beyond UUCC. My vision includes the homeless mothers, the broke and struggling college students that are having to hope against all the odds that they will be able to find employment that speaks to their talents AND will provide them with the resources to pay back the debt they must incur to have a chance at getting a job that utilizes their potential.
I am not lazy, I feel stuck between the desire to not only be of service to you, but to do so in a manor that also serves our neighbors and does not deny the vast privileges that we here at UUCC enjoy every moment of every day of our lives. Please stop telling me “no”. Stop telling me we cannot change this community for the better. It is bullshit. We can and if you will not join me, I will leave and invest my energy and passion somewhere it is appreciated.

I cannot show up for you all in ways that you will not show up for me.

I am so disenchanted that I can barely force myself to get out of bed many days.

I should not have to question the legitimacy of my feelings to make you comfortable living in your privileged denial and feel justified in doing so. It is not my job to make you feel good about yourselves, which may be Molly’s job to some degree, but I would argue that it isn’t even her job, but it certainly is not mine.
Believe it or not, but I did not agree to be the president because I had an agenda, in fact, I had and I still only have a vague idea as to why I agreed to be your president, but I felt and feel even stronger now the call to serve, but that is not limited to serving you, I feel called to serve our homeless brothers and sisters, our young adult and youth brothers and sisters, but I cannot do that without your support, your trust, your commitment, and most importantly your faith that we can together, be transformed by love to bring unity in a divided town and an ever increasingly divided world.
I am asking you to show up. To give your community your best, not your convenient charity, but give me, give us, give this beautiful and broken world your heart, for only your heart will unleash the power that it will take to become the solution.

How do we at UUCC go about serving the poor in Columbia and Mid-Missouri? How do we work to halt the powerful forces that continually threaten the well being of those who do not have a place to voice their concerns among the decision makers of Columbia? How do we want to work to engage the college student community in developing and creating wholeness in our town and in the larger world?
How do we create a culture that works to recognize our belonging to those who we might rather ignore? Own our responsibility for being the hands and the feet of Jesus, here and now. We need to do the work to fix the structures that oppress, yes, but if we do that without engaging with those who struggle against those systems our efforts will not only be in vain, but quite possibly could make the problems worse.

We are better together.

Friday, October 17, 2014

'Even Peanut Butter is a Privilege' by Mary Denson

Last Tuesday, as I walked back to my car from Lakota Coffee Co. a woman of color stopped me. She proceeded to tell me that all of the homeless shelters in Columbia Missouri were full, that she went to church, didn't drink -I smelled her breath and she was telling the truth- and asked me if I had any money I could give her.

She had two young children, seven and nine years old who were with her, but several feet away.  She continued telling me that the hotel where she had been staying kicked her out and that she had no place for her or her kids to go tonight. I asked her how much she needed. She told me the cheapest hotel room available was $42 dollars and she didn't even have a dollar.

I had $90 in my purse. I looked in her tired, tear-glossed eyes and I could not in good conscience say no even though I was unsure of what I would do if my money ran out later in the week. I told her I would give her and her children a room to sleep in if I had it, but that I live in a small apartment and I share a room with my apartment mate. I gave her $50.

I told her that I think it's absolutely atrocious that anybody, especially any child in the United States is not sure whether they will be sleeping with a roof over their head from one night to the next.

She thanked me with a relieved smile on her face and walked away after her kids.

As I walked back to my car I thought of my privilege in that moment. I, a young caucasian woman who earns around 12k a year with a place to call my own --even though the kitchen floor is wet nearly every time it rains, and not nearly enough light for a person who struggles with depression, and often eats peanut butter for days on end-- and how blessed I am to have been given the opportunity and have the ablity to help three people have a place to sleep that night... if only for that night.

I wondered whether they would be able to find a room at a shelter the next night. I wondered, even if they did have a place to stay for a few nights or even a week or two what would become of those children and their mother.

Where will those children find a place to learn, be nurtured, and grow into confident and active citizens when we, as one of the most highly developed countries in the world, will not ensure that our children have their basic needs met?

What does that say about our priorities as a country when billions can be spent on wars over oil and we can't even feed and make room for our own children?

How did our priorities get so screwed up? There can be no liberty for the hungry. Have you ever been hungry and cold with nothing to rely on, but yourself and God if you believe in her? If you haven't consider yourself among the rich.

I do not know what to do to fix our broken and blinded systems of greed and oppression, but I will keep giving my money to mothers and fathers who ask and eating my peanut butter because I am very blessed to have it.