Posts Tagged ‘Unitarian Universalist Association’

Like so many, my thoughts are turning to the tenth anniversary of the attacks on our country which forever changed my sense of safety, my assumptions around what it meant to live in the U.S., and my appreciation for life itself.  Ten years ago, serving as the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Director of Electronic Communication, I found out that something was wrong when Alison Miller, now a minister and then, an intern in our stewardship office, ran through the hall saying that New York was under attack.  Alison was a native of New York, so this was personal for her.  I tried to bring up CNN on my browser.  Nothing.  The New York Times – wouldn’t load.  NBC news – same story.  I knew that we were experiencing a major crisis, just because of that.

As the horrible events of the day unfolded, we all watched the grainy television in the staff lounge in horror.  For a while, we thought that one of our staff members was on one of the planes that went down.  With huge relief, we found out that – at the last minute – she had taken an earlier flight to the west coast.  Our President, Bill Sinkford, was in Washington, DC.  We learned that he would speak at All Souls Church that night, and that, along with a beautiful reflection from Meg Riley on how we talk with our children about such tragedies, became the beginning of UUA.org’s extensive coverage of the tragic events.

Our building, next to the Massachusetts State House, was closed due to security concerns.  I went home, and with the one other staff person in our office, began outlining what our web coverage of this unspeakable disaster would be.  My routine was to work till I could not do so any longer, stop for food or to watch something on the news or to kiss my daughter (we were very careful not to watch television, listen to the radio, or have the papers out while Abby was around:  this is not the news you want to share with small children, we decided), and then work again.  I would fall into bed, exhausted, and rise three hours later, going back to work again.  My colleague, the parent of an infant, did the same.

Saddest of all, we decided to profile the Unitarian Universalists we could identify who had died on that horrible day.  I tracked down their survivors, and each phone call was the same.  I would introduce myself, offer them my deepest condolences on behalf of the Association, and then ask them to tell me about their loved one(s) who had died.  I asked for a photo, asked about memorial services.  I promised them we would not forget and vowed that I’d try to hold to my word on that one — offer the story of those people, their work, their lives, so that others might know them and also remember.  Then, I would hang up the phone, sob, and write the profile of each person.

The work went on for weeks this way, as more features went up on the web, worship resources, commentary, and more.  We were gratified when the Library of Congress notified us that its Minerva Project had decided to archive our September 11, 2001 website to preserve our work.  Today, as we approach the anniversary, I look back on that archived UUA site and wonder how it was we managed all that coverage with two staff people and no other resources to speak of.

And now, I know that there is at least one other name that should be added to the list of those who died as a result of the attacks:  Drew Stein, a member of the congregation I attend (First Parish in Lexington, MA), died this summer.  Drew lived in Manhattan in 2001, and his death, from sarcoidosis, was a result of the asbestos and other toxins he inhaled after the attacks.  Drew will be remembered formally in a service at First Parish in the coming months, but I want to mention his name now, so that we all will remember him when we think back on 9/11.

In my head, I keep hearing the words to the best-known song from the musical, “Rent,” which asks, “How do you measure a year in the life? …In day light, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter in strife…how about love?”  The people we lost — all those people who the New York Times remembered, and those, like Drew, who have died since that day — had lives we could measure in different ways.  Gone now, I believe they mattered, that they were loved, loved others, and that we will continue to remember them.

On Sunday, I’ll be standing on the Battle Green in Lexington at 6 PM with members of many faith communities to mark the tenth anniversary.  I will think about those good people, what possibilities life yet holds for all of us who call the United States home, and I will remember.

I, like most of the people I know, am forever changed by what happened ten years ago.  I do not take things for granted; I try to look for the gifts each day holds.  And I know that the value of my life is always best measured in love.

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A little more than a year ago, I wrote a piece called “Sound Stew” about the amazing week on Star Island, coordinated by Carl and Cheryl-Anne Sturken, which focused on music and sound, in many, many forms.  I’ve decided that a follow-up is in order, given that I recently returned from another conference which celebrated music in many forms.

I refer to the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network (UUMN), an organization dear to me for its mission and work serving professional musicians and those offering music ministry within Unitarian Universalism.  For years I served as the liaison from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to this organization, trying to help the group focus on mission and goals, strengthen their programmatic offerings, and develop a strong relationship with the UUA.  They succeeded and – while I wasn’t looking for it – they captured my heart.  This organization became my organization, and when my time to serve as liaison ended, they honored me with a lifetime membership.

And so I continue to be part of UUMN, serving now as their Director of Communications, and as a Good Officer as well. I know the UUA is a small denomination.  But if that fact leads one to believe that its musicians will be small, second-rate, or less than other faith communities (or artist communities, for that matter) might offer, the assumption would be wrong. I continually marvel at the talent that makes each gathering of the UUMN bubble and pop with energy.

Here are composers who write moving contemporary music for worship and the spirit (bless you, Clif Hardin) who I would match up with anyone. Here are fabulous jazz performers, singers who might as well be appearing on Broadway, conductors who are absolutely first-rate, and those who come equipped with toy pianos and some gizmo I’d never seen (and which I am probably mis-spelling) called a binocular that emits amazing sounds. And here are worship leaders who are as skilled as any I’ve seen – fine preachers, superb liturgists, people who really get what good worship is and know how to bring it.

More than that, they are fabulous to be with — warm, inspiring, talented as all get-out, and dedicated to enriching our Unitarian Universalist faith through their good works and artistry.  Many of them — way too many — are dramatically underpaid, working without benefit of health care or church-supported pension plans.  Far too many could tell stories about the ordained clergy in their congregations treating them like “the music people” rather than like colleagues.  Some have been working at their churches for more than fifty years (here’s to you, Alfa Radford) and soon will retire; others have come from or moved to ordained parish ministry (David Glasgow and Jason Shelton, among others), some oversee music programs in their churches that keep them employed full-time and bring them to Eastern Europe to conduct their choirs (Beth Norton, for instance).

And a growing number are seeking credentialing from the UUA to acknowledge the effort and study they have devoted to becoming highly skilled and excellent music leaders, just as we so honor our religious educators and ministers.

All of these people contribute their own unique pulse and rhythm to the annual UUMN gathering, all of them help to weave a fabric that is diverse and rich and inspiring.  Through some amazing piece of good fortune, years ago, I got thrown into the same room with them, and it’s been pretty much a love fest ever since. Long may it continue, for (as the beloved hymn says, this sound ragout helps to move us “to a more profound  ‘Alleluia!'”

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In May, I posted on this topic with thoughts on why the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) should not to action to pull its General Assembly (GA) out of Phoenix (2012) in protest of the repressive Arizona law, SB1070.  In June, the General Assembly did vote to gather in 2012 in Phoenix for a GA that will be different from others and acutely focused on social justice issues and partnership-building with organizations including Puente.

But 2012’s a long way off, and it would be easy for an organization, or individuals, to lose focus around these issues.  Fortunately the enactment of SB1070, and the commitment to witness for justice shown by Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix, and others, has not allowed this to happen.

On July 29, responding to a call put out by Frederick-Gray, Sal Reza of Puente, and others, more than 200 UU leaders and lay people committed to social justice went to Phoenix and other cities to put their money, and in many cases, their bodies, where their mouths were.  29 UUs were arrested in Phoenix, dragged off to the jail of the repressive Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and given a taste of the Sheriff’s form of justice.

UUA Moderator Gini Courter and others had helped to prepare those who would be arrested by writing the phone number of a lawyer on their arms in black marker, so that when all possessions were taken away, the phone number would remain.  From what I could observe, everyone present was prepared for a long seige.  UUA President Peter Morales was one of those arrested, and during the night, while he and other protestors sat in jail awaiting arraignment, those who remained free stood outside the jail, holding vigil through the night.

All this is a far cry from the kind of public witness the UUA used to engage in.  Although a successful “Back Alley March” was held in Milwaukee, WI in 1990 as part of the GA to lend support to the efforts of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other groups to ensure the right to safe and accessible abortion services, the next year (1991) brought a paltry gathering down to the beaches of Hollywood, FL where a few placards were raised and waived — with no press in evidence — in support of ecological protections.  By 1993 an event to oppose North Carolina sodomy laws and support the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people had been organized, with a great deal of UU support — but the timing of the event was so late that the daily news cycle had ended before the demonstration began and mostly, those demonstrating were talking to themselves.

Thanks to the continuing work of UUA’s public witness team, the expert coaching of communication consultant Helio Fred Garcia, and the deep commitment of many people of faith, things have changed over the years.  A shout-out is due to Susan Leslie and Audra Friend of the UUA’s Advocacy and Witness staff group, who have had primary responsibility for organizing the GA public witness events of the last several years.  Leslie and Friend were in evidence in Arizona as well last week, along with the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love (SOSL) team, helping UU leaders select gathering spots, making sure that word got out to the outside world.  The SOSL bright yellow T-shirts were everywhere, ensuring that when people protested or were dragged away, the media and Unitarian Universalists would know that it was one of ours being hauled off.

Effective public witness, as Garcia frequently says, “needs to be both public, and witnessed.”  While that makes for one of those “duh” moments – how literal do we need to get here? – it’s not always easy to pull off.  Too many times, multiple agendas and good intention have served to undermine the desire to make an impact in the Public Square.  Effective witness calls for deep grounding in the fundamental principles of faith, the opportunity to make something happen that will be noticed, and a natural fit with the organization engaging in action.

This time, the UUA got it right from one end to the other.  The partnerships formed with Puente and other organizations have been intentional and healthy.  I believe that organizations on the ground in Arizona know that they can count on the Unitarian Universalists, and others of faith, to stand with them as they fight for justice.  Opinion pieces from UU leaders showed up in The Huffington Post and elsewhere prior to July 29.  Those involved in the demonstrations were tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, producing videos, taking photos that they uploaded to the web immediately.  Reporters (print, radio, internet, TV) were present.  The story got out.

This is not an end, it’s a beginning.  There will have to be much more…more relationship-building, more education, more demonstrations and almost surely, more arrests, all leading to the 2012 Phoenix GA.  But this is what witnessing the faith is about.

The UUA is preparing to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary.  Early in the UUA’s history (borne out of the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America), Rev. Dana Greeley, the first UUA President, asked ministers to respond to the call of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Selma and witness their commitment to civil rights and justice for all.  Many went and marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, arm in arm, and one died for the cause.  In 2010, ministers and lay people responded to Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray’s call and went to Phoenix to stand for the civil rights of those who come to this country in search of a better life.

From where I sit, it seems like the UUA has come full circle in its understanding of how to witness the faith.  As UU minister Kendyl Gibbons wrote, “the time is now, the place is here…[there is] no other world” but this one, calling out for effective witness in support of simple justice for all our people.


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Tomorrow many of my former colleagues, as well as friends, and those who I have never met, but whom I support in faith, will gather to raise their voices against the horribly restrictive law (SB 1070) of Arizona that is scheduled to go into effect tomorrow.  It will be sweltering hot, and they will be outside, some in clerical collars, others in “Standing on the Side of Love” T-shirts, many with buttons that show an inverted blue triangle or the statement “I could be illegal.”

I wish I could be there with them.  They have gone to say, once again, that laws that discriminate against a person because of race or ethnic origin are simply wrong.  As Sheriff Joseph Arpaio prepares his outdoor holding pen to contain those who he and his deputies plan to arrest under the new law, thousands of others will chant and pray, march and demonstrate, for the civil rights on which this country was founded.

I am grateful that a federal judge today blocked some key parts of this law from taking effect. In issuing her decision Judge Susan Bolton wrote, ““There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens.   “By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose.”

We should not think that, by virtue of Judge Bolton’s ruling, the crisis is over.  The debate over the law that was passed by the state electorate is almost surely bound for the US Supreme Court, and there are hotly-held feelings on both sides.  I can not forget, and Elie Wiesel does not want any of us to forget, that in another time individuals were hauled off the streets, incarcerated, and gassed because of how they looked, their last names, or their religious beliefs.  We are fools if we believe that such things can not happen in the United States, because this Arizona law is a perfect example of the same circumstance occurring.

As I have noted previously, I am the granddaughter of Russian Jewish immigrants.  My last name, my cultural and religious beliefs, all connect me to my Ashkenazic Eastern European relatives.  And I will not forget, and I will not go away, and I will not be silent or back down.  I applaud the stance taken by Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales and UUA Moderator Gini Courter: we must protest, whether we are in Boston, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Miami, or Podunk.  I’ll be here in Lexington, Massachusetts, but I will be wearing a blue triangle and a badge that says “I could be illegal.”  And I will be carrying my passport with me as well.  I can only hope that all over the Boston suburbs, as in other parts of the country, thousands and millions wear the same badges.  They connect us to brothers and sisters we have never met who seek a better life in the country that has held so much promise for nearly three centuries.

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