Archive for December, 2011

December 26, 2011

Still a Little Broken Up

I’m really good at feeling like I’m terrible at things. Can’t find a job right now? Must be because I am completely unqualified for everything in the world. Can’t figure out how to pay for grad school? Only because I failed at getting a job and have had to defer my student loans. No girlfriend/boyfriend/partner/whatever? Clearly it’s because I suck at relationships and I’m doomed to live alone forever.

Ok, so it’s not QUITE that drastic (at least not all the time).

I applied to be the Young Adult Worship Chaplain at General Assembly this year. The position would have involved creating and leading worship services for the Young Adult caucus, helping plan the Synergy worship, and working with the Young Adult Caucus folks in general to make GA a worshipful as well as active and justice-focused time for Young Adults.

As you can probably tell from the awesome past tense of the previous paragraph… I didn’t get the position.

I got the call as I was playing a magi during the Occupy Boston nativity play (not sure which magi I was… which one carried the gift of housing, again?), so I didn’t answer. I listened to the message (a generic, “I’m calling about this position, please give me a call back”), called back with anticipation, and was told I didn’t get the position (a generic, “you were one of our top candidates but we went with somebody else, we hope to work with you in the future”).

I am proud to say that I didn’t cry until I was off the phone. How’s THAT for discipline?

“Clearly” I thought to myself, “it’s because I suck. It’s because they don’t see potential for ministry in me. I don’t even know why I applied. It was stupid to apply. I’m never applying for crap like that again.” Logically I suppose none of that is true.

One of my good friends serves on the group that picked the chaplain and I know they don’t feel those things about me. But it hurt because I wanted it so, so badly. I wanted it because I love worship and I see how much room there is to expand that and because we are going to be doing AMAZING stuff in Phoenix and I wanted to be a part of that.

I know that just being in Phoenix will make me a part of General Assembly, but I wanted to be a part of the inner workings, the “what makes it go,” and I wanted to be a part of what made it a worshipful experience as well as one where we got to live out our faith through social justice.

I love worship. I love the arts and actions and beauty of worship done well and I’m excited that I’m getting to the point where I have some of those skills and I’m even more excited to continue honing them. I love that I’m at the place where I can get up and offer a service with only days of angst, rather than weeks.

But I also love conferences. I’ve been doing conferences for years and years and years and I know what works and I know what DOESN’T. Conferences hold a special place in my heart, but I have been through so many conferences on so many topics that simply going as a participant is sometimes its own special form of angst-producing. I don’t “sit by” very well, especially when it’s something I care so deeply about.

I don’t even know if I’ll get to go to General Assembly this year since I’m unlikely to get the funding I did last year (and even attending last year still had me spending more upfront money than was really financially feasible for me). But if I do go it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be hard to not be a participant in making GA work, but rather somebody who GA happens to. I want there to be room for me, too, to do things. To engage and help and BE. I’m at a time in my life where I’m relatively unencumbered and I wanted so badly to throw myself into this. And I can’t. There just doesn’t seem to be that space for me to do that. And I’m still a little broken up about that.

December 19, 2011

Please help Occupy Ogden and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, Utah

A message from Rev. Teresa Novak, minister of UU Church of Ogden, Utah:


We are still hosting Occupy Ogden on our lawn. It has been roughly a month and a half. There have been a fair amount of changes – we are down to 3 full time campers from a max of about 21. There were issues with drugs and alcohol and the local occupy group got tired of feeding them, and so most of them were asked to leave. (not by the church but by a GA decision) The remaining 3 campers are homeless, but very dedicated to the movement. They come to worship and actually to every activity we have. One played the recorder during a service. They also help out the church with raking leaves and now with shoveling the snow. The snow is the issue now, however, and we worry about the campers when the temperature drops. They say they are fine, and that they don’t want or need to go to a shelter. I am not sure we have either the resources or the will to invite them indoors on the coldest nights. Some of our members want to do that and some just want to tell them to leave “for their own good.” We are struggling with issues of caring vs care taking, and some are getting frustrated with what was to be temporary. There is stress about the budget even though our end of year appeal went well. Occupy is taking a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources, and with only 100 church members it is getting to be more and more of a stretch to support the camp even at the level we have been. We have a donation page on our website, but as far as I can tell, no one but our membership has used it. (I will post it again below if any of you are feeling generous!) It just feels like we are out here all alone in the wilds of Utah doing something very few other churches are doing. We are in a small city, and the movement isn’t large here – less than 100 actives, about a third of whom are church members. Maybe we are crazy, maybe we should just give up, but Occupy might be the movement that saves us all, and maybe places like Ogden are where it will survive and grow. This really is religious work and in sync with every last one of our UU principles, so how can we turn them away? I hope we don’t have to do that, but I also don’t want someone freezing to death on our front lawn.

PLEASE donate now to help out the Occupy Movement in general, the AMAZING and SUSTAINING WORK that Occupy Ogden is doing, and the BEAUTIFUL EXPRESSION OF OUR FAITH that Rev. Novak andthe Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden is participating in.

Please spread the word, share the message, and donate NOW!

December 19, 2011

What Not To Wear: Public Witness Edition

(Someday I will write a blog post that doesn’t involve the word “Occupy.” Someday…)

How to be a protest chaplain, rule #1

1. Religious symbols are still amazingly powerful. If you’re clergy, wearing your gear and showing up is basically all you need to do. Some folks might think it’s a “costume.” This is both hilarious and sad: one guy told us in New York that we were the first Christians he’d ever seen at a protest – at least, on his side. Then be prepared to listen.

How to be a protest chaplain, rule #6

DO NOT PROSELYTIZE. That’s not OK. That’s not what chaplains do. The Occupy movement is about working together despite the fact we all have our single issues and existing organizational work etc. Not only is proselytizing obnoxious, it’s detrimental to the movement. (And we won’t claim ya.)

This post is fairly Christian-centric. Suck it up. It’s good for you. It’ll make you grow up big and strong and possibly more tolerant.

We had a LOT of clergy stop by Occupy Boston. Both clergy we invited, clergy that asked to come, clergy that simply showed up, clergy that led services, clergy that came to services, clergy that brought their entire congregations, clergy that brought apple pie. A lot of clergy, from a lot of different denominations. If they talked to us first, asked what we needed, we usually had one answer. “Just come. Be a visible presence. Wear a collar if you are able.”

Wear a collar. We didn’t say “bring a sign from your congregation” or “bring literature on your denomination and what it has to say about social justice” or anything like that. We didn’t say “make sure we can tell what faith tradition you come from.” We asked them to wear a collar, if they were able. The collar is a known, recognizable symbol that a person has been ordained.

Every protest chaplain, when asked, would identify what religious tradition we came from. Sometimes we each did denominationally specific work at the site. I helped lead the UU Vespers services, others helped with the Ecumenical Communion Services, the Occupy Mass, and the Occupy Judaism services. But when we were out there doing the chaplain stuff we wore our badges that said “Protest Chaplain” and when asked what that meant we had an answer.

The Protest Chaplains are people of faith here to support the spiritual and religious aspect of the occupation and the occupiers.

I would have been dismayed if “my” clergy, the UU ministers I love and respect and hope to join as a colleague someday, had shown up in this:

I know that the point of those shirts may be to wear them en masse AS UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST MINISTERS STANDING ON THE SIDE OF LOVE IN SUPPORT OF ___.  That’s in capital letters because those are capital letter shirts.

“BUT,” you may be saying, “but we aren’t protest chaplains.  We ARE UU clergy.  We want people to know we are UUs!”

The point of those shirts, or so I am hearing, is public witness. Public witness is what we, the protest chaplains, did. It’s what we are still doing. We took the super intensive crash course in public witness. This is the course that involves sleeping outside with your classmates in a tent and marching in sometimes multiple parades per week. We learned, through real-time feedback, what worked and, oh my gosh, what did NOT work.

The clergy that came? They wore solid color shirts and collars. That’s pretty much it. They showed up and the collars were enough to get people to talk to them. When UU clergy came THEY wore black or solid color shirts and collars. Because they were clergy FIRST.

When UU minister Jason Lydon was running back and forth as we were getting arrested at 2 in the morning in early October he was wearing a black shirt and collar. He was NOT identifiably Unitarian Universalist, he was identifiably clergy who was there for us, in support of us, in solidarity with us.

What is the point of these clergy shirts? Is it to be different, or edgy, or to stand out? Is that what clergy “should” be doing in acts of public witness? Is it necessary to be a UU FIRST in circumstances when we are witnessing publicly for a non-UU-specific issue? We aren’t the only people of faith fighting for immigration rights, for same sex marriage, for clean air and water, for an end to slavery, for LGBTQ rights. We aren’t the only ones by a long shot. These clergy shirts only serve to separate us from “other” clergy. It’s not what I want to see “my” ministers do and it’s not what I want to do, either now or in the future.

(also, they are freakin’ ugly)

Obviously, as this is my personal blog, this is my personal opinion.

December 11, 2011

A Whole Lot of Life

Occupy Boston has been evicted. I will, for the foreseeable future, be sleeping in my own bed. It’s not the end of the movement, at least that’s our mantra, but when I stopped by this morning to see it leveled and behind its own type of bars I had to cry. Just for a little, just because transition is hard. And then the police escorted me away.
At church we say, “our worship has ended, our service begins.”

Our physical occupation has ended, the next phase of our movement begins.

But it is so hard.

It’s been an amazing, hard, beautiful, hard, awe-inspiring, hard, flat out gorgeous experience. It’s an experience that I wish so fervently I never had to participate in but… damn. Damn.

I went to the jail where the women were being held this morning. We hugged and sang as people were released. We moved on. We marched to the jail where the men were being held. We hugged more, we sang more, and we waited. I stood by the exit, handing out food to each released protester and letting them know where to get something to drink, people with a charged phone, and a spot to be away from the media.

It wasn’t warm today in Boston, and even though I’m now starting my fifth winter in New England I wasn’t dressed appropriately. I left the house in that marginally frantic “I have somewhere so much more important to be” mode. I also forgot to eat for a good portion of today and I didn’t drink any water from the time I left the house until I got home.

(Self-care is on my to-do list, I promise.)

I was one of the point people for organizing a multireligious solidarity service prior to our first post-raid General Assembly. We wanted to call folks together, let them air some of their pain, let them be heard prior to entering a very procedural meeting. We wanted to continue the faithful, religious, spiritual voice that had been part of the Occupy Boston movement since before Dewey Square was even occupied. We weren’t leaving now.

I can only hope the service provided something of that space. I was so cold, so tired, so dead on my feet by that point that I don’t remember almost anything of what I said. I know we sang a lot. Snippets stand out; taking a minute to breathe while one of our wonderful and involved priests took the service in her way-more-capable hands for a few minutes, encouraging people to keep singing as somebody was screaming behind us, and making eye contact with friends who I didn’t know were coming and feeling reassured.

But it still felt so final.

The movement meant so much to so many people, but to me it meant that I’m in the right place in my life. I’m doing what I need to be doing. I feel good about who I am, where I am, what I am doing and where I am going. I’m proud of the decisions I’m making and I’m thrilled to be with the people I spend my time with.

I’m not always happy with the decisions that Occupy Boston folks made, autonomous action or not, but I’m thrilled with the role that I, and the Protest Chaplains, have played. I’m thrilled with what we’ve done with what we’ve had. I can’t wait to see what we do next.

After, of course, we sleep.

December 5, 2011

Consent Done Well.

Sometimes it smacks me in the face that I’ve immersed myself in queer/radical sex/culture for a long while. It will come as a shock to me that not everyone practices radical and explicit consent in their relationships. Somebody, even a close friend, will touch my leg or go in for a hug without asking and I’ll recoil. The reaction isn’t even necessarily because I don’t want that person touch me but because they didn’t ask; they assumed that I wanted that kind of touch at that moment. People assume that because I’ve agreed to touch them in the past in a certain way that I’m in the same space the next time I see them.

Consent is important for every person of every identity, regardless of age or ability or any other defining factor. But for trans folks it becomes something we end up guarding near and dear to us because the world already thinks it has access to our bodies. People will ask, shortly upon meeting me, whether I plan to have top surgery, if I’m going to start hormones (or, more often, when I am going to start hormones), they will make comments about my voice, my height, or my apparent age. People assume they have the right to dissect and analyze the bodies of trans folks they know just because we are trans. We remind ourselves that we have the right, as all people have the right, to consent and to desire and to utilize our bodies as we want to, regardless of the opinions of the world AND we have the right to NOT discuss that with anybody we don’t want to.

When you move into the world of intimate relationships and sexuality it gets even more complicated. Unless you want to have sex within a really, really small group of people it’s almost like you have to lead a consent workshop before any and all sexual encounters. Trans people experience violence, sexual and otherwise, at higher rates than the rest of society. Talking to my trans friends about sexual history and experience with sexual violence is a testament to how prevalent and painful rape and molestation are in society, and I’m no exception to that rule. Whether it happened before or after we were out violence is yet another way of saying “you don’t get to control your body.” It’s taking away that right to say “no” and the right to say “yes.” It’s taking away the right to ask for what you want and to set limits and to explore new things safely.

And this consent stuff doesn’t just apply to touch. You, as my friends and allies, do not get to question which bathroom I walk into when I’m out with you. You don’t get to question how I answer my phone when it rings if I suddenly change up my pronouns (“This is she.”). You don’t get to question it when I choose to not interrupt somebody to correct them on my name or pronouns and you don’t get to correct them for me unless you’ve asked if that is what I want in public situations. These things are not your things to question or analyze. When I use the women’s bathroom it’s because I don’t feel safe in the men’s bathroom. When I choose to not correct somebody on my name or pronouns it’s because I don’t feel safe enough with that person to do so, or it’s because I am sick of derailing the conversation for somebody who doesn’t seem to want to respect my identity, or it’s simply because I’m tired and don’t feel like explaining my identity to every third person I speak with on any given day.

It can sometimes seem like way more work than it could possibly be worth, but when an interaction goes right, goes how I intend it to, or when a bad situation is rectified in a way that celebrates trans identity rather than shuttering it off to the side it’s beautiful. When I get to spend time with other folks who practice the true essence of radical consent those moments are beautiful. When a friend asked if I wanted to cuddle down at Occupy once and I realized that, yeah, I did! Because I felt safe with him and knew that he’d asked because he really wanted an answer. When I lay in bed with a partner, or multiple partners, and in those lazy morning minutes one will mumble, “is it ok if I __?” with the full expectation that the answer could be yes or no and that that’s okay. When I ask a kid for consent before I give them a hug, or teach them that there are alternatives to physical contact if they want that (“Do you want a hug, a high five, or a wave?”).

There is so much beauty in respecting our bodies, and in respecting each other. There’s a certain amazingness to owning what we have and in other people radically acknowledging that.