Archive for ‘conferences’

March 1, 2012

General Assembly Headaches

So we’re still about 4 months out from General Assembly and it feels like I’m banging my head into a wall.  Not just for me but for a lot of the young adults I’ve talked to about this.

Warning!  You’ll probably find this post whiny if you’re somebody who has monetary resources at their disposal.

There are so many assumptions made with regards to money it’s ridiculous.  The dorm housing is an amazing value but they change your card, in full, six weeks prior to GA.  I know that a lot of folks my age have family who can and will front the money, or just pay for it all together, or have awesome jobs that allow them to head off and do whatever around the country.  I also know there are folks my age who have “jobs” at GA who are getting everything paid for.  And there are folks going in big groups, with lots of friends, or with folks from their congregations to help reduce costs.

But none of those are me.

I know that you’re all going to scream THERE ARE SCHOLARSHIPS! at me.

Yeah, there are.  And those are not accessible, either.  Scholarships work as reimbursements meaning if you don’t have the money then all the scholarship in the world won’t help – because you still don’t have the money up front to get there, to buy a plane ticket, or to even know if you’ll have enough to get pay for the room you reserved.  Additionally the only YAs who get to go multiple years in a row are the YAs who can afford it.  You cannot get a youth/young adult scholarship two years in a row (or it’s “very unusual”) so you’re pretty much out of luck unless your financial situation changes dramatically from one year to the next.  Or you get to attend when you can get a scholarship while people who have money get to attend every year, making more of the decisions, and having a bigger influence on the direction our association is going.  Even in the YA realm we vote on one of our caucus co-mods each year and if you’re not there you don’t have the chance to be one.  People who get to attend each year have a much higher chance of getting appointed, elected or asked to be on something because they GET to be there.

And really, saving up for GA isn’t an option for me.  I don’t have enough money to get by on a monthly basis as it is.  Putting any into savings for something as extravagant as “something I might enjoy” is just not really an option.  I can’t afford to buy new clothes, much less save up a few hundred bucks for plane tickets and hotel rooms.

The folks who get to attend GA year after year are the people who can afford it.  The people who get to consistently vote each year on things that are important to them are the people who have the money to go each year.  If we were serious about wanting to bring and KEEP more young people in this faith it seems like there would be a way to let them see what is arguably the best that UUism has to offer.

Even if I find a way to attend this year it doesn’t end here.  Because the same issues will come up year after year.  We’re so far behind on financial accessibility.  And every time something comes up it’s like a big slap in the face.

June 28, 2011

Hold my hands and pray with me.

Charlotte, North Carolina is not what one would call a comfortable city in late June. Sticky and hot. Not perfect for somebody who doesn’t wear shorts and really feels that the bathing suits of the 1920s had a lot of promise.

So, yes, I suppose I was thinking about the weather when I was “supposed” to be praying. Prayer is emotional; it is, at its best, intense giving and receiving, release and retention. The weather is none of those things. The weather is not immediately affected by us. The weather is there. And, as Kate Braestrup says, “I’m a UU. We don’t do weather.” In that we (in general) do not pray for some deity to please make the weather work for our events and purposes.

I sat with the young adult chaplain, outside, thinking about the weather in hopes I could stop crying and look a little more human before the next workshop I was slated to attend. But it turns out that it isn’t that easy to block out a prayer being said for you, especially when you really need to hear that prayer. That is when your heart takes over because your mind is being too unwilling to grow or change. I gave in, I listened, I cried, and it helped.

It helped. And it was needed.

I was sitting outside with a chaplain in the middle of the North Carolina heat during General Assembly because we, as Unitarian Universalists, are amazing.

Amazing and affirming and beautiful. We are all of those things, but we aren’t perfect. And one of those imperfections had come up during a workshop session that morning.

The workshop was about welcoming transgender people and I attended hoping to watch how two facilitators, both of whom I knew and trusted, would handle a discussion with a larger group of UUs about trans issues, especially considering what is going on in my congregation right now. During the workshop we split into small groups and were given scenarios to discuss. Our scenario was the following (paraphrased from memory):

A member of your congregation has made it known that they are going to transition. You overhear comments about the person, calling them, “he/she,” “it,” and using statements like, “He will always be Dave to me!” What would your response be as a member of a right relations team? As a board president? As a newcomer?

Again, that is really paraphrased but it is the general idea. In the small group I said, “I have been doing trans activism for over eight years and I came to this workshop to gain a better understanding of the UU response to trans people, so I’d prefer to listen rather than participate.”

So I listened to my group and, well, yeah. They had ideas. But those ideas were all about group education; sermons, workshops, bulletin boards, etc. Nobody mentioned actually calling the person out, in a way that was compassionate and preserved community, but made it known that language that disrespected dignity and identity was not OK. At least, that’s what I scribbled down in my notebook.

I was chosen from my group to report back to the rest of the workshop and when I did I read off the notes that I had taken, and then I added my own piece about calling out offensive or oppressive language. I gave a strategy, I made suggestions, and I sat down. After the workshop a woman came up to me with a friend and said that calling people out on language was offensive. That, “Acceptance is a two way street,” and that I have to “accept other views on gender identity” if I am going to ask others to accept mine. A few minutes later a man came up to me and told me that, while these issues may seem really important to young people, there are a lot of bigger problems facing the world.

I responded to both in the best manner I could. I told the woman that if she could look at it as a sign of trust and love that a person felt strongly enough that she would react well and lovingly if they called her out on language that it may help. She blew that off entirely. To the man I said that we all can, and should, care about more than one issue of society but that trans discrimination was present in every demographic. In other words I drew on every nonviolent communication strategy I’ve learned in the past 10+ years.

I then promptly walked outside, got on the phone with my best friend, and cried at him for awhile. And then I furiously started texting other friends. People who would get my frustration and let me be in my anger. At least, I thought they would just let me be. Then a friend responded with, “why don’t you talk to somebody there? Somebody for some spiritual response to this?” “No!” I replied, “it’s fine. I’m just mad.”

“Andy, you are going into ministry with these people. These people will eventually be your colleagues and your congregants and your life. You can ask them for what you need.”

I’m fairly sure that that is one of those statements you aren’t actually allowed to argue with.

So I texted the young adult chaplain, asked if we could talk, and set up a time.  Admittedly I had assumed some things about their identity before deciding they’d “get” it if I wanted to angst about trans stuff.

We talked. We kicked off our shoes and talked while sitting on an uncomfortable metal bench outside the convention center. We talked about gender identity and acceptance and church and the intersection of the three.  And then the chaplain held out their hands and asked if I wanted to pray. And I said OK. And we held hands, and prayed about navigating the tight ropes and muddy roads and already paved streets of Unitarian Universalism as a trans person.

I did not intend for that to be essentially the defining moment of my General Assembly.

But in a lot of ways it was.

Anybody who regularly reads this blog knows I blog about two things: Queer issues and UUism. And you also know that there have been some issues with the intersection the two for me in the past few months. We, as Unitarian Universalists, are accepting of queer people in every official way, but because we are humans and we err and we do not change as a cohesive group there are issues and there is lag time and there is inevitable hurt, and I’m living through a lot of those issues, as are many of my queer and trans siblings.

I did not want to let that one workshop taint my whole conference but I didn’t really want to “let it go” either. I talked about it with a few other trusted friends at GA, but my mind kept drifting back to that uncomfortable metal bench, and that prayer. All through the rest of General Assembly that is where my mind kept going.

GA was not just a big conference for me, and that is something I did know was the case going into it. I went in hoping to gain clarity on my call, in one way or the other, and looking to figure out where I am and where I want to be within the larger community.

Any of my friends will tell you that I can be emphatically awful at asking for help. With at least two friends I am not allowed to say, “I’m fine,” when they ask how I am doing. They, of course, often answer in the same way, which is not a contradiction in their minds. What matters it that I not respond, “I’m fine.” Even when I actually am.

I’m learning, though. I’m learning that I am allowed to ask for help and, moreover, people want to help. There are people who devote their lives to that helping; to being that prayer. I’m considering devoting my life to being that prayer.

Prayer is what, if not just asking for good in the world? The “who” varies, the “what” varies, the when and the where and the why and the how all vary. But prayer is said to seek more good or to say thanks for the good that is present.

There’s this song, Sanctuary, that I have always loved though I insist it doesn’t really match my theology.

Lord prepare me / to be a sanctuary / pure and holy / tried and true. / In thanksgiving / I’ll be a living / sanctuary for you.

But if we redefine God as “the good in the world,” which I choose to do, then we are asking to be a sanctuary for good. We are asking to be that living prayer, that incarnation of asking and receiving and acknowledging good in the world.

One of the other big moments of my GA was the workshop called “Meet the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.” Thought FAR less emotionally charged it really got me thinking – when the MFC looks at me what are they going to want to ask? What will they be concerned about? How much of the interview will be focused on my gender identity, my relationship to the often painfully slow and frequently superficial-seeming growth work that would have to happen in almost any congregation before they call a young, genderqueer minister?

But combining those two things I do know that I definitely don’t have to, indeed I can’t, go through this alone. I have my queer UUs who have gone before me, and who will go with me, on this journey. My queer family who supports me because they have been there. And I know that these people will pray with me when I need it, listen to me when I want it, and hold me up when I inevitably stumble, as I do for them and for others. We are there for each other, as queer family has always, always been there for each other, even when none of us has a clearer view of what is next.

We are going, heaven knows where we are going, but we know within.

We will get there, heaven knows how we will get there, but we know we will.

It will be hard we know and the road will be muddy and rough,

But we’ll get there, heaven knows how we will get there, but we know we will.

April 12, 2011

Are we willing to be changed by what we’ve started? – Minns Lectures – Post 1 of ???

As was mentioned time and again this weekend, Unitarian Universalism, as a denomination, is turning fifty this year. Anybody who was active in the denomination when the merger happened is now, at least, approaching retirement age. Our membership, which had been slightly but steadily growing has begun to decline.

This weekend was focused on three questions. “Where are we now? What’s possible? What’s next?” We had a pretty easy time with “where are we now” because, let’s face it, criticism is easy. We can see what has to be changed. We had a lot to say about where are we now. Harder, though no less important, was naming the strengths of where we are now. We have set lofty goals for who we are as a denomination and now we get to deal with that. We have passed some crucial markers, recognized and dealt with a lot of flaws, and now it’s time to work past that surface layer of what being a religious denomination means and really dig in.

Reverend Rob Hardies, the minister of All Souls in DC had us stand up and sing the first and fifth verses of “Bring Many Names.” The fifth verse starts“Young, growing God, eager still to learn, willing to be changed by what you’ve started.”

We have started something big and amazing and powerful and transformative and now we have to live with that. We are unique in many ways, but we are far from the only liberal religion, far from perfect, and far from meeting the needs of everyone who we could be providing a religious and spiritual home for.

Get out of our own way today
see where we are needed
know where we are planted
and go there
and go there and go there
deep into the heart of the bramble and thicket
into the unknown and uncharted
may our passions take us where no one has gone before
because somebody has to
-Rev L. Sinha

Are we willing to be changed by what we have started? Are we willing to get out of our own way, and go there, for any number of definitions of “there”? Are we willing to look at what we have built, recognize it for all that it is AND all that it isn’t, and take the steps to change what has to be changed so that we really CAN be the face of liberal religion for a new generation?

Our voices are needed by so many, and could be relevant to so many, and there are ways to spread our message. A lot of wonderful ideas were shared this weekend about what various churches are doing and we had an amazing opportunity to sit down with one another at tables and chat about what we want to see happen, what we had heard, and what we were hoping to hear more of.

My big question right now, though, is “are we willing?” Above anything else that’s what is important.

Over the next week or so I’ll be blogging more about stuff that came out of the Minns Lectures. If there’s anything You’d like to hear about let me know!

April 11, 2011

Ecumenical =/= Interfaith

I have about 200,001 observations to post about the Minns Lectures I attended this weekend. I’ll start posting those soon. Really. But right now I want to post just a quick hit on the second of the conferences I attended this weekend; the Boston New Sanctuary Movement conference.

I considered writing up a summary of the Sanctuary Movement from the 80s, but why think when I can have Wikipedia think for me?

The Sanctuary Movement was a religious and political campaign that began in the early 1980s to provide safe-haven for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict. It responded to restrictive federal immigration policies that made obtaining asylum difficult for Central Americans. At its peak, Sanctuary involved over 500 congregations across the country that, by declaring themselves official “sanctuaries,” committed to providing shelter, material goods and often legal advice to Central American refugees. Various denominations were involved, including the Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Jews, Unitarian Universalists, Quakers, and Mennonites. Movement members acted in open defiance of federal law, and many prominent Sanctuary figures were arrested and put on trial in the mid and late 1980s.

So there’s that.

The New Sanctuary Movement, at least here in Boston, focuses on education and advocacy work. It’s an interfaith organization that seeks to educate and activate people of faith around the immigrant rights movement.

Anyway, I went to the conference today. I thought that there was some awesome stuff to be said and I thought that it was a great introduction to some of the work of the New Sanctuary Movement.

But none of that is really what this post is about. I mean, not really.

This post is about the word ecumenical, and what it does not mean. And about the word faith, and what it does not mean. And this post is about learning that sometimes people listen to me.

We opened with some basic conference jazz about what nifty and amazing things you could find in your conference folder, directions to the bathroom, and and explanation of where the workshops would be held. While sitting there as a big group we were told to raise our hands according to faith tradition. I happened to be sitting next to one of two Catholic people n the room when UUism was called out (actually he said “Unitarians,” but I’ll fight that battle another time) and around half the room raised their hands. “I guess we’re under representing” said the woman next to me, with a laugh.

And then the BSN was introduced and the word ecumenical was used.

Ecumenical, you know? According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, “late 16c., ‘representing the entire (Christian) world,’”.

Right, THAT ecumenical.

I sent a kind of fake-annoyed Tweet/Facebook post out about it, and mostly forgot about it until I got to my first workshop. The first workshop I chose to attend was one about Faith and US Immigration History. I really thought I was signing up for a discussion of how faith traditions of played a role in immigration to the US throughout history. The workshop opened with a discussion of what our faiths had to say on immigration… except we only talked about the Bible. What Bible verses could we name that dealt with immigration? What bible stories could we think of? And that was the entirety of the faith piece. We moved on to a timeline of when various immigrant groups came to the US, and then thought for a second on the question, “Who is an American?” and it was just about time to end.

Between the first question and the last I had been doing some thinking.

Some scribbling.

Some quick mental math.

“Do you mind if I say something quickly?” I asked.

“Go ahead,” said the lovely woman leading the workshop.

I didn’t want to miss anything. Or offend anybody.

So I read from the paper I’d written on.

“The Boston New Sanctuary movement is an interfaith movement, not solely an Ecumenical movement. 21% of the people in this workshop, and 26% of the members and partners of the Boston New Sanctuary movement are Unitarian Universalist or Unitarian Universalist Affiliated, which is the perspective I speak from. As a non-creedal and non-doctrinal faith tradition we do not get our drive for immigrant justice from the Bible but rather from our principals that call us to promote respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people and justice, equity and compassion in human relationships. By restricting the “faith” part of this discussion to Biblical stories and verses it really negates a lot of the non-christian faith-based actions regarding immigration reform.”

Yes. I said that.

Ok, ok, settle down, stop laughing.

I have never, ever claimed to not be a dork.


Look, I just didn’t want to forget anything, ok?

And I like numbers!

I’m never going to live that down.

But it did work. After that workshop, which ended a minute or two later, the woman who had led the “faith” portion of the workshop came up to me and asked if I had suggestions to make it more open. I explained a little about the principles and sources we had.

And, yes, I pulled out one of the UU palm cards.

So we talked for a few minutes, and she later told me that during the second workshop she led that she included UUism in the discussion. I’m not sure if she included anything about the Jewish or Muslim organizations that are also part of the BSN. I should have said something about that. I didn’t. I’m kind of bummed.

But I did say something. I spoke up and I was taken seriously and something was changed because of that, albeit something small.

I felt bad about it afterward. I know how hard leading workshops can be sometimes and I know that I hate being criticized after workshops. Workshops become like your child. You are fiercely protective over them. But it needed to be said.