Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Standing at the Gates of Hope

I have had lots of conversations and also thought long and hard about how to respond to recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island and beyond. How do we respond to a racism that is systemic? What is the role of religious education? 

I have been making sure we have programs in place in January that address racism and identity in age- appropriate ways for children and youth. Our programs with children utilize the well- respected, anti-bias work of early childhood educators Louise Derman-Sparks and Patricia G. Ramsey. The underlying intent of their anti-bias education is to, "foster the development of children and adults who have the personal strength, critical-thinking ability, and activist skills to work with others to build caring, just, diverse communities and societies for all."

What else are we called to do? Recently The Daily Good posted a piece quoting UU Rev. Victoria Stafford. Stafford calls on us to stand at the Gates of Hope.  "We stand where we will stand, on little plots of ground, where we are maybe “called” to stand (though who knows what that means?) — in our congregations, classrooms, offices, factories, in fields of lettuces and apricots, in hospitals, in prisons (on both sides, at various times, of the gates), in streets, in community groups. And it is sacred ground if we would honor it, if we would bring to it a blessing of sacrifice and risk"…

"Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see."

This is what I see. UU Rev Rebecca Parker wrote an essay, "Not Somewhere Else But Here: the Struggle for Racial Justice As A Struggle to Inhabit My Country," that has always resonated with me. Her descriptions of growing up white in this country are similar to my own. She writes of alienation and the "white mind-set" that can grow up not knowing, or ignoring, the violence and exploitation in this country's history, as well as "the resistance, creativity and multiform beauty of my country's peoples" She writes of the primordial violence that lies beneath wealth and privilege. A recent discussion with my daughter led to our researching prison population numbers and realizing that this country of  the "free" imprisons more people than any other country in the world.

Parker and others argue that we need to begin with remedial education for all of us. We need to know our country's history. And, Parker says, "theology must direct us, like Eve, to taste the fruit of knowledge and gladly bear the cost of moving beyond the confines of the garden."

Here are some specifics. Join us at UUSS for six Tuesday evenings, 1/13/15 - 2/17/15, 7 - 9 PM viewing and discussing the UU history DVD series, Long Strange Trip. Read Howard Zinn's, A People's History of the United States and Ronald Takaki's, A Different Mirror. I am exploring possibilities of doing this as a group read. To understand both the strengths and weaknesses of UU's participation in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and how it changed us,  join us Monday, February 23 at 7PM for a discussion of Mark Morrison-Reed's book, The Selma Awakening.

Readings on Race and Privilege:

Learning to Be White, by Thandeka

Soul Work: Anti-Racist Theologies in Dialogue, by Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley and Nancy             Palmer Jones
What If All the Kids Are White: Anti-Bias Multicultural Education with Young Children and              Families, by Louise Derman-Sparks and Patricia G. Ramsey
A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn
A Different Mirror, by Ronald Takaki