I struggled with whether or not to attend this year’s General Assembly in New Orleans. I don’t do heat or humidity. I had only been there once before with a group of senior high youth and only the young man who hung out with me all day didn’t get served alcohol. Everyone was salivating about the food. My mind was not on food. It was on heat and humidity and the events within the UUA that had cascaded since March.
What was clear to me was that People of Color/Indigenous have been hurt by this faith that has become home to so many of us who are religious refugees. The stories they tell are painful to listen to, much less have experienced. I was not afraid to hear their stories or their pain even though I did not know how to alleviate it. I was also aware that many of us who are white are in different stages of understanding cultural differences and navigating them with awareness and ease. And there were those whites who were vying to prove they were “more woke” to the issues of race than other white people whom they treated with disdain. For me, this felt like a recipe for disaster: hurt and pain mixed with uppityness and confusion and racism.
What tipped the scale in favor of me going was that my dear colleague was to be recognized with others who were celebrating the 25th anniversary of their ordinations. She and I have been G.A. roommates forever. She, too, was hesitant to wade into the mix this year but I convinced her to go. I also responded to the call from the minister’s association to facilitate a small group where folks could talk about all of these issues by getting to a feeling versus an intellectualization level.
My friend’s flights were cancelled from Denver to New Orleans due to the storm. She never made it to ministry days. Because of texts I received from folks here in Washington concerned about my safety in the predicted hurricane and tornadoes, I became aware that there was a reason that the trees were bending over and staying that way. Stores had run out of ponchos, umbrella’s and rain jackets. It never occurred to me to bring my rain gear. I arrived back at the hotel so wet that people just stared at me as I stood at the counter. But the storms went elsewhere and the sun and heat settled in.
I was grateful for the speakers and sermonizers and the worship at ministry days. I was grateful to see colleagues from all over the country. I was thrilled that leadership had shifted the entire program for us to explore racism in a way that shamed no one. I am grateful to the people of color who spoke to us of their experiences in this denomination. And let me tell you, they were shocking. White Supremacy is alive and well even in our progressive, liberal denomination. But I did not leave with a heaviness or despair. I left with a sense of possibility, of beginning again, and a commitment to do the work of dismantling white supremacist culture within our denomination. It will require a lot of listening to voices that have been marginalized, and trusting that those voices will be taken seriously and that we will commit to change even when it is as uncomfortable as it gets.
Though I did not stay for General Assembly, there were many speakers and workshops that were outstanding. Many of these are available to view online. I encourage you to watch the Ware Lecture as well as many of the worships. Talk to Grace and David Simons, Dawn Blomberg, and Carol Taylor who attended G.A. Listen to what they learned and what they took away from the gathering.
I walked away from G.A. with a sense that this was not the time to despair in UUism. It is a time of foment and possibility and it will require imagination and humility. In closing, I want to share with you the words of Olympia Brown who ministered in the late 1800’s in our tradition. These words were posted on Facebook during ministry days and can be found in the back of our hymnal:
“Stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before us the loftiest ideals, which has comforted us in sorrow, strengthened us for noble duty and made the world beautiful. Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that we are worthy to be entrusted with this great message, that you are strong enough to work for a great true principle without counting the cost. Go on finding ever new applications of these truths and new enjoyments in their contemplation, always trusting in the one God which ever lives and loves.”
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,