wizdUUm Blogs on Social Justice

March for Women’s Lives Remembered

Four years ago, when I was still relatively new to DC and All Souls Church Unitarian, an amazing thing happened. UUs from all over the country converged on Washington DC to participate in the March for Women’s Lives, a demonstration in support of women’s rights. I mean literally – almost every state was represented. Many important events have happened in DC and at All Souls since then, but still nothing like that. After a Sunday worship service with Dr. Rebecca Parker giving the sermon, we spilled out on to the streets and made our way to the National Mall to join other demonstrators. Estimates vary but anywhere between 800,000 and 1.15 million people participated. I can’t count that high. All I know is that I have been in many protests in my life but had never experienced anything like that peaceful, joyous, yet determined sea of humanity. A multitude of women, men, and children all together.

The other thing that I remember quite vividly about that march is that it was the first time I had ever protested as an identifiable part of a faith tradition. I had been a UU. I had gone to protests. I had never protested as a UU, as a person of faith. And it was extremely empowering.

Don't Forget to Save the World

I used to have in my email signature:

P.S. Don't forget to save the world.

followed by a link to some form of online activism. For example, the Hunger Site, where the click of a mouse can donate a cup of grain.

Occasionally I would get comments from people about my signature. Perhaps they thought it was too glib. Or they thought that donating a cup of rice was not going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps they thought the challenge of "saving the world" was just too daunting a task to ponder, let alone as an afterthought in an email.

I added that signature to remind myself as much as remind anyone else.  Busy with my own life activities, it becomes easy to forget about helping others. In fact, the reason why I joined a UU congregation in the first place was because of our strong commitment to social justice.  I realized that just left up to myself, I would put things off "until I had more time," which would be never. So I know for myself that I need little reminders.

As to the smallness of the action - a click of a mouse, a small donation here and there, volunteering in a soup kitchen, cleaning up a park, writing a letter to the editor or your congressperson... - I never meant to imply they were enough to solve all the world's problems. Just that it's a start. And if it's all one can do at this moment then it is good enough for this moment. Anything other than inaction.

Whoever saves a life, saves the world.
- Jewish proverb

Also from Judaism, "Tikkun Olam" - to repair the world.

I don't remember why I thought of my old email sig this morning as I waited on the metro platform, but I do remember what I wanted to say:

P.S. Don't forget to save the world.

Ching Ming and King - part II

continued from Ching Ming and King - part I.

Today was Ching Ming, or Grave-Sweeping Day - the day one pays homage to one's ancestors by tending to their graves (hence the sweeping) and making offerings. Today is also the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I occurred to me today, because of the coincidence, that ancestors can be more than just those who shared the same blood. Certainly, as an American, Dr. King is one of my ancestors. I have been to King's grave in Atlanta, GA to pay homage. But since I can't be there today, consider this blog post my offering:

Some people think that a prophet predicts the future, like some carnival fortune teller.  Others think that a prophet is chosen by God in some dramatic fashion like a talking burning bush.  As Unitarian Universalists we agree with the poet Carl Dennis, who said a prophet doesn't predict the future; he (or she) redeems it. Unitarian Universalism stands in the prophetic tradition, where prophets bear witness to injustice and call society to its better self.  We know that what makes a person a prophet isn't that he or she is called by God in some dramatic fashion. Everyone is called by God to do good every day. But not everyone responds. For UUs, the making of a prophet begins with the fact that he or she responds to the call of justice.

But that's not all.  Many a person has dedicated her or his life to a social cause, and made a meaningful difference. Yet while they have our respect, maybe even admiration, they do have not our reverence. That is reserved for the prophet.  For the person who seems to see more than others see. Who can make connections between things that others view as separate.  A prophet sees the whole picture instead of in parts. A prophet sees interdependency.

Martin Luther King Jr. was such a prophet. No need for burning bushes. When he saw the injustice of legalized segregation and racism, he responded to the call, organizing bus boycotts, lunch-counter sit-ins, freedom rides, marches, and rallies. And he didn't confine it to just his location.  When King was criticized in Alabama for being an "outsider" and told to mind his own business, he responded with "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in which he stated:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

King bore witness to the injustice of racism, firmly but with love, until the nation remembered its conscience and began to reform.  But King didn't stop there. As he said in Birmingham, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. So even as he continued the struggle for racial equality, he expanded his message of love to include criticism of the Vietnam war that was killing so many people. Again he was urged to stick to his own cause.  And again King responded by transcending borders. In a speech given on April 4th, 1967 - exactly a year before he was assassinated - King said:

Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood... We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

In the last year of his too brief life, recognizing that the greatest barrier to equality in the U.S. was economic disparity, King began the "Poor People's Campaign," focusing on worker justice for the poor of all races.  That's what he was working for when he was killed.

MLK was a prophet, who called his society to heed its better nature. To resist the fear of "Other" that creates boundaries and embrace the expansive power of love. Like Moses, King delivered his people - all of his people - out of the bonds of legalized, overt racism. But also like Moses, King did not live to see the promised land.  Since we lost him 40 years ago we have been wandering in the desert, delivered from legalized bondage but still struggling with systemic oppressions. But at least we are freer to wander.  It's undeniable that our lives are the better because of his.

Dr. King, I tip a glass for you. Would you prefer Chinese liquor or diet 7-Up?

Inspired Faith, Effective Action

Just a quick note to let yall know that the UUA's Washington Office for Advocacy has relaunched it's blog, "Inspired Faith, Effective Action." It's been expanded to include contributions from the other offices within the Advocacy and Witness staff group. In addition to the Washington Office, look for posts from the Office of International Resources, Congregational Advocacy and Witness, and Holdeen India Program, as well as our director, Rev. Meg Riley.

Our first content post is already up, about the UUA's observance of World AIDS Day. Written by Adam with video taken by Alex, it's a multi-media team effort and I couldn't be more proud.

Check it out!

UU and Social Justice

The UUSJ is the social justice group of the Greater Washington, DC area, encompassing Baltimore and Northern Virginia. They put on a workshop today, co-sponsored by the Washington Office, on how to more effectively mobilize congregations towards social justice ministry. It was an extended version of the Washington Office's "Inspired Faith, Effective Action" workshop. The task was given to me to talk about religious grounding - lifting up that when we do social justice work we do it as religious people, and how that is different from doing it as secular advocates.

That shouldn't be a difficult task for me, since much my time is spent ruminating on how social justice is an expression of our faith. However, I was in the unfortunate position of following Rev. Sinkford, president of the UUA, who gave the opening address. And really, he said everything that I would have said, only better. He reminds me how blessed we are to have him and of the anxiety that I am feeling about his pending departure.

There are some in our congregations who say that they are tired of all this social justice stuff - that they come to church in order to worship and to be spiritually nourished, not to be bombarded with petitions to sign and actions to take. And there are some who say that faith without works is dead. That spirituality without social action is just navel gazing. I think I tend to fall into the latter category but it's because my innate tendency is to navel gaze - to ponder - and I'm (over)compensating for that.

What Rev. Sinkford reminded us today was that the two really go hand-in-hand. Our social justice work IS an expression of our faith, and if it is done right, it should be spiritually uplifting, not draining.

I hate our new chalice logo compared with the old, but I love our new slogan. Whoever is responsible, kudos. We finally got it right. A message that is not a reaction against Christianity, as was "The Uncommon Denomination" and "UUs have a different trinity." Instead, our new slogan captures what we are about. Come nurture your spirit; help heal our world. Receiving and giving, together at the same time. Relational. Mutual.

Today, even as I lament that we will soon lose Rev. Sinkford's steady guidance, I feel confident in our future. Come nurture your spirit; help heal our world. This is what it means to be a UU.

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