Posts Tagged Selma

Dare Not Linger

This homily was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington on 2/25/18 as part of a service for Black History month. This kid-friendly homily talks about the complexity of the stories of Selma in the US and Apartheid in South Africa.

 

Today, I’m going to talk about some short personal stories. Some of you might remember parts of them, because I’ve talked about them before in various ways. But I haven’t shared them when our children and youth were present. As part of Black History month, as a nation, we have to do a better job of telling the wholeness of our stories – including the uncomfortable parts. There’s a lot in our history that I didn’t learn till I was an adult, and that didn’t serve me well – that doesn’t serve us all well. I think, in part, it leads us to where we are today – where so much of our nation is divided because we didn’t learn the same histories. It’s one of the reasons why having good schoolteachers, is so important. They nurture good citizens. And these days, our teachers need all the extra love and support we can give them.

Three years ago, I was in Selma for the 50th anniversary of the march that inspired the Voting Rights Act. I got to hear the stories from the people that were there. (We have one Selma veteran in our congregation as well.)  I’ve heard Selma Veterans speak before and they always open up parts of history that weren’t really taught in schools. History tends to look at the biggest moments and the rest often blur in memory.

One such time I heard a Selma Veteran speak was about 6 or 7 years ago, when I attended one of the ministers’ gatherings at our denomination’s General Assembly. In this particular worship service, there were two sermons delivered. One from a minister in their 25th year of ministry, and the second was a minister in their 50th year of ministry. The 50 year minister happened to be the Rev. Clark Olsen. Rev. Olsen was the minister of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarians at the time of the Selma civil rights march in 1965, when he survived an attack that fatally injured another white minister, the Rev. James J. Reeb; this happening not a month after the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a black civil rights activist – the reason for the march. I found his talk incredibly moving and remarkably humble. I always imagined the folks who marched on Selma in this otherworldly light for being the folks that stood up for their convictions, who stood up for basic humanity in each of us – and certainly they were the ones that were far ahead of the common view of the times – with some giving their lives.

I marveled though at how everyday the decision was for this minister. He spoke about how he almost didn’t even go. He wanted to, but the money wasn’t there to make the travel across the country. Then one of his congregants donated the money for Rev. Clark Olsen to travel and represent his congregation. It gave him the opportunity to stand witness, and to be there for the last moments of his colleague and friend’s life. But I don’t even know the name of the congregant that made that possible.

Hearing this part of the story, the part that’s not shared in the history books, helped me to see the broader and deeper connections all our actions make in the work of justice in our world. It transformed it from a history lesson about certain heroes and martyrs, to one about the everyday work of building community. It certainly takes both kinds of justice work, but it reminded me that we each have a part to play. It made the impossible seem a little more probable to my mind and my heart. It’s not about a handful of people. Justice is the turning toward committed action with a concerted effort. It’s the spirit of what we often call Right Relations applied to neighborhoods, and to schools, and to court systems. And it takes all of us, in small ways and in large ways, to bring that about. None of us are too young, or too small, to make a difference. It’s not reserved for a handful of heroes, but reliant upon our very everyday strivings. You are part of that, too.

Unitarian Universalism often sees itself as on the right side of history when it comes to social justice, but we’re still human, and we’re far from perfect. When I was in Selma for the anniversary, we heard more stories like this. Some congregations’ Board’s would require their minister to attend. And sadly, some congregations would not approve of their minister going. To paraphrase the thinking of the time – ‘Why would the congregation risk its standing in the community by getting involved in other people’s business, or by challenging the perfection of government or the police force in Selma.’ We think of the issue being so clear cut these days (at least most of u do), but in the midst of tragedy we can often forget right and wrong.

We can all imagine stories alive and happening today where people of good conscious come down on different sides of a crisis for various reasons. I wonder when we come down on differing sides of a situation that folks on both sides may think is crystal clear today, will we see it differently in another 50 years?

———-

Earlier, we heard a quote from Nelson Mandela. A shorter part of it went, “But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” I hold that with me when I get exhausted from all the work we need to continue to do to make the world a more loving, just place. Because there is more to do, does not mean that we are failing – there are many more hills to climb – and there probably always will be on the path to the promised land.

Nelson Mandela lived a life that we should celebrate, even through all the pain and loss. Going from serving 27 years of a life sentence for speaking out against a racist, genocidal South African regime to serving as that country’s president – is a story that will be a bastion for human perseverance for the ages. We never know where we will go, or what changes we can affect.

I once got to see Nelson Mandela. It was just a few years after he was elected President. I was an undergraduate studying abroad at Oxford University, and he was speaking at the University about peaceful struggles, about apartheid, about reconciliation. I didn’t get to hear him talk. I just got to wait in the streets as he passed by triumphantly. He was coming to talk at one of our world’s greatest institutions for learning, and he was received by streets packed with people as if it were the Thanksgiving Day parade in NYC.

People wanted to witness his presence. We knew that the world was a different place because of this soul. We knew that peace was just that much more possible because of President Mandela. I think deep down in our souls, we also knew, that this human saw extreme suffering and saw extreme joy. And he brought extreme joy, and extreme relief, to so many people living in bondage. Whether it be the bondage of the oppressed, or the bondage of the oppressor. He showed us a way forward that involved peace and reconciliation.

His methods involved truth-telling. Stories of those abused, and stories of those who did the abusing. His Truth and Reconciliation Commission involved brave moments of authenticity – and those brave moments allowed a nation to move through the pain through extreme acts of attentiveness. (When we hear people say it’s too soon to talk about some tragedy in the world, I remember Mandela and how the only way that nation could move forward, was to talk openly and honestly.)

… And at some small corner of a street, in a country that was a world away from South Africa, all of us were there celebrating alongside. We’re human. There is something more to this life than empty stirrings. We’re witnessing a life that reminds us how to live. All I can say that happened was that he smiled, and waved. But that would be painting the most surface of pictures. It’s in moments like this that we remember our connections, our actions, and our strivings – have impact, have meaning, and have relevance – to the people around us, to the generations that follow us – and sometimes to the world beyond our quiet streets.

Not to romanticize our public honoring of President Mandela, our own nation was not always a supporter of him. Though no evidence ever directly tied violence to his actions, the NY Times does write that, “in 1961, with the patience of the liberation movement stretched to the snapping point by the police killing of 69 peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville township the previous year, Mr. Mandela led the African National Congress onto a new road of armed insurrection.” We can decry acts of violence, but as a nation it’s hard to critique another country’s revolutionaries when our own patriotism is rooted in similar actions. Mr. Mandela served a life sentence though for something else. What began with being “charged with inciting a strike and leaving the country without a passport” according to the NY Times, ended with “sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the state.” Mr. Mandela’s appeal to this was “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination,” he told the court. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

His life was a life of substance and dream, hope and rigor.  Or in Mr. Mandela’s own words, “There is no passion to be found playing small in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” And a life that our own nation had extreme conflict and varied responses to. Although our President Carter put pressure on the South African government to release Mr. Mandela, the next presidency reversed that policy. In 1986, President Reagan said, “In defending their society and people, the South African government has a right and a responsibility to maintain order in the face of terrorists.” Far from a terrorist, Mr. Mandela would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. What a difference. I wonder when we come down on differing sides of a situation that folks on both sides may think is crystal clear today, will we see it differently in another 50 years?

—–

These stories are important. When we hear folks say that racism is over, or people are playing the race card, or all the bad things are ancient history – they’ve forgotten our history – the good and the bad. Ruby Bridges, who we heard about earlier, is only 63 years old. Now to some of us that sounds young, and to some of us that sounds old. But her story is one that happened in many of our lifetimes – right here. Many of use lived in a world that was segregated. That’s not ancient history. And the story of Nelson Mandela happened in my childhood. I was a kid, when our then President called this future Nobel Peace Prize winner a terrorist. That’s not ancient history. And every one of these stories of hardship is also a story of hope. In everyday people, doing their part, to make the world a better place.

 

 let folks know to stay for the the Equal Exchange short video.  #1018       Come and Go with Me

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Selma Today

This sermon was preached on Sunday, March 29th at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington. It reflects on the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma.

A few weeks back, while I was in Selma for the 50th anniversary of the march that inspired the Voting Rights Act, we had a Sunday service here reflecting back on the justice work of 50 years ago. Our member, Joyce Williams, reflected on her own memories of that time and being there. Her words should be on-line already or will be shortly and I encourage those who missed her talk, to read it when you have a moment.

I’ve heard other Selma Veterans speak before and they always open up parts of history that weren’t really taught in schools. History tends to look at the biggest moments and the rest often blur in memory. One such time I heard a Selma Veteran speak was a story I’ve briefly shared with our Fellowship before, but it takes on new qualities for me in light of my own trip to Selma earlier this month, so I want to share it with you again, and fill in some spots that are less blurry now.

A few years back I attended one of the ministers’ gatherings at our denomination’s General Assembly. In this particular worship service, there were two sermons delivered. One from a minister in their 25th year of ministry, and the second was a minister in their 50th year of ministry. The 50 year minister happened to be the Rev. Clark Olsen. Earlier this month, Joyce spoke at length about him and a few others. But briefly, Rev. Olsen was the minister of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarians at the time of the Selma civil rights march in 1965, when he survived an attack that fatally injured another white minister, the Rev. James J. Reeb; this happening not a month after the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a black civil rights activist – the reason for the march. I found his talk incredibly moving and remarkably humble. I always imagined the folks who marched on Selma in this otherworldly light for being the folks that stood up for their convictions, who stood up for basic humanity in each of us – and certainly they were the ones that were far ahead of the common view of the times – with some giving their lives.

I marveled though at how everyday the decision was for this minister. He spoke about how he almost didn’t even go. He wanted to, but the money wasn’t there to make the travel across the country. Then one of his congregants donated the money for Clark Olsen to travel and stand for their congregation. It gave him the opportunity to stand witness, and to be there for the last moments of his colleague and friend’s life. But I don’t even know the name of the congregant that made that possible.

Hearing this part of the story, the part that’s not shared in the history books, helped me to see the broader and deeper connections all our actions make in the work of justice in our world. It transformed it from a history lesson about certain heroes and martyrs, to one about the everyday work of building community. It certainly takes both kinds of justice work, but it reminded me that we each have a part to play. It made the impossible seem a little more probable to my mind and my heart. It’s not about a handful of people. Justice is the turning toward committed action with a concerted effort. It’s the spirit of what we often call Right Relations applied to neighborhoods, and to schools, and to court systems. And it takes all of us, in small ways and in large ways, to bring that about. It’s not reserved for a handful of heroes, but reliant upon our very everyday strivings.

Ok, that’s the recap part I felt was important to lay the groundwork for today’s sermon. While in Selma this month, we heard more stories like this. Some congregations’ Board’s would require their minister to attend. And sadly, some congregations would not approve of their minister going. Why would the church risk its standing in the community by getting involved in other people’s business, or by challenging the perfection of government or the police force in Selma. We think of the issue being so clear cut, but in the midst of tragedy we can often forget right and wrong.

We can all imagine stories alive and happening today where people of good conscious come down on different sides of a crisis for various reasons. I think of Ferguson, and Staten Island most recently centered in the media’s view. I wonder when we come down on differing sides of a situation that folks on both sides may think is crystal clear today, will we see it differently in another 50 years? I wonder how soon we can forget the role institutions and authority had in the violent deaths around Selma of Jimmy Lee Jackson, Rev. James Reeb, those 4 young girls in the church, and Viola Liuzzo. I recall Rev. Dick Leonard, one of the final 300 marchers who finished the 4 day march in Selma across the bridge tell his story of the National Guard being present to protect the marchers. But he relates that for several days the National Guard were facing the marchers as if they were protecting Alabama from the peaceful protestors. They would eventually be convinced to turn around and face the trees with their Spanish Moss and Ivy – where snipers would easily be concealed, but that’s not what they were inclined to do at first.

And those roads were dangerous. Viola Liuzzo, the young Unitarian white woman from Detroit, was chased down – car to car and shot dead. This happened after the march, after she had dropped some protestors off, when everything was already over. She was just helping out, and was chased down, and gunned down, on our roadways.

We remember the images of our own institutions turning water hoses on peaceful protestors, and local State authorities ignoring Federal rules. And I think of Ferguson, MO, where a court recently had to intervene and tell local police officers that, no, in fact they could not reasonably use tear gas on people who were standing in their own yard. Apparently the courts had to intervene because peaceful protests, including prayer rallies, were being interrupted with no warning and dispersed with tear gas. And the worse part of it, there were cases where there were no points of egress, and they were still gassed. Whatever your feelings may be about the initial case regarding the death of Michael Brown, and the officer who was found to have done no wrong-doing, I think we can safely say that our American institutions should not be using tear gas on prayer rallies or people’s front lawns. But I hear those stories, and I see those images, and I remember the water hoses, and wonder where do we find Selma today? How often do we look back at the civil rights movement and become guilty of thinking it ended 50 years ago, of doubting it’s still a current crisis?

I find that challenge with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In Selma, we heard from Opal Tometi, one of the co-founders of that movement. We hear folks around us, and sometimes it’s ourselves, confuse the message of #BlackLivesMatter to mean other lives aren’t as important, or it’s an indictment against all police. But in light of the reality of Selma then, we know that all of us aren’t treated equally. It’s message is to remind us that our nation isn’t acting as if Black lives matter. It’s message is to remind us that Selma wasn’t only 50 years ago. We still see disparity between the wealth and freedom of many people of color and whites. We still see concerted efforts to restrict the rights of minorities to vote, as evidenced by the rapid response in some states of restricting voter access the very day the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. One recent statistic pointed out that we currently have more black citizens in prison than were enslaved prior to the Civil War, often over non-violent crimes. Something is morally broken, and we need to stop pretending that it’s not a blazing crisis today. We can look at any one incident the media makes a flashpoint of and say, well it’s not really that cut and dry, and I think often the critic may be right. But those incidents where polarizations distort fact, don’t change the reality of the broader picture of our prisons, and our jobs and our access to voting, and the deaths on the street.

Our model of journalism has shifted over at least my lifetime to fixate on opposing views, while watching them duke it out as if there was no room for nuance or complexity. And then we try to change our world from the perspective that there are only two positions – one being right and the other wrong. That hasn’t worked for us. Whatever our opinions of the judicial rulings concerning the tragic deaths of so many men and women of color every week and every month in our country – yes every week and every month – a fact that should shock us into action – they are one tragic side of the civil rights crisis. Even if we doubt blame in these rulings, we still have voter suppression, we still have a system of imprisonment, we still have unequal access to education, and jobs, and services. These were all tied to the Selma struggle, and I see Selma still today.

It is with this lens that I challenge us to engage, reengage or renergize our work toward justice. Following the service, Diana Weaving will host a visioning meeting for our Journey Toward Wholeness group here in the Main Hall at 12:15pm. Please come, and lend your vision, and your commitment. At the end of this month, I’ll be attending a talk at Stony Brook to hear once more Rev. William Barber speak about the pressing present needs in the on-going civil rights movement. He is a founding force for the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, and several of my colleagues hope this will be inspire the start of the Moral Mondays movement here in Long Island.

I heard Rev. Barber speak in Selma and he’s a powerful speaker. If you’re available to attend on April 28th at 7pm at Stony Brook University, I would love for you to join me. He eloquently reminds us that our movement for social justice isn’t a political movement. It’s not republicans or democrats. It’s a moral movement.

The platform of this new wave of the ongoing civil rights movement is as follows:

1. EQUAL JUSTICE: Equal Protection Under the Law — Justice Without Regard to Race, Religious Beliefs, Class, Gender, Sexual Orientation,  Immigration Status or Physical Disability.

2. ECONOMIC JUSTICE: Policies that support our labor force, including a living wage, access to healthcare, the right of all workers to organize and bargain collectively for pay, benefits and workplace rights.

3. EDUCATION EQUALITY: Provide a well-funded quality public education for all.

4. HEALTHCARE FOR ALL: Safeguard the health and quality of life for all.

5. VOTING RIGHTS: Protect and expand voting rights and ensure equal access for all voters to improve voter participation.

6. ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE & SUSTAINABILITY: Policies that provide clean water, air and food and ensure green spaces, and promote sustainability for all communities.

Selma is today. Most of these 6 talking points were part of the movement led by Martin Luther King 50 years ago. It’s not new. It may be even more inclusive, but it’s beyond political; it’s ethical. The language Rev. Barber would use is the language of sin. Although as UU’s we don’t believe in the concept of original sin, we certainly recognize humanity has imagined countless ways to act from greed, hatred, and indifference. Whether the word sin speaks to you, or not, what it points to is very important. There are things in life that are right and wrong. That’s not just politics. Those six talking points around justice: broader equality, economic, educational, health, democracy and environmental – are issues that neither of our country’s two big parties gets right all the time or maybe at all. We can pretend that it’s just an intellectual game of politics or we can recognize that there are ways in which we as a people are complicit in harm on each other and on our planet. And we can respond with faith, conscience and integrity.

Each succession of the civil rights struggle has echoes of its predecessors. But each turn toward justice is developed upon the efforts of countless unnamed individuals. Look for your place in the history and future of this work, because it truly takes all of us to make this possible. Some of us will be called to travel our country to stand witness, and others will need to stay behind to do the work in the corners of the world in which we choose to dwell – everyday. What corner can you inhabit?

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Prayer for Black History Month 2015

Spirit of Stillness, God of Many Names, Source of Love,

Help us to find the lessons among our village filled with snow and ice.

The greens are hidden, the tree branches are burdened hanging low,

and for a time – the roads – are not passable.

But this is true for but a time;

the snows will melt,

the earth will green,

and color after color will spring into newness soon.

Life was always there, beneath the earth, waiting to be seen.

May we come to find it once more with new eyes,

after a long cold season.

Mother of Hope, we know that rightly, some of us find joy in the play time,

sleds, and snowmen, and winter hikes.

May their joy inspire us; reminding us to play and not always toil.

Others among us are worn down by the season,

from illness or sadness, missing the long days of sun and warmth.

May we honor this difficulty, while grounded in the truth that although hidden, life surrounds us all the time.

At the close of Black History month, may the winter months draw us to the truth,

that in all things, the world bends toward justice.

Though we may find ourselves returning to the month of Winter in the march toward wider freedom, again and again,

Spring always follows the ice.

Life will triumph over the weight covering it,

one story at a time.

May we remember that the challenges before us today,

are not entirely the same as those we struggled with generations past.

Much work must be done,

and we are the hands to do it,

but the work of the generations before,

brought us forward along the rough road.

May we keep going forward.

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A Theology of Social Justice Ministry

This presentation was given at Ministry Days in Phoenix, AZ, preceding the 2012 Justice General Assembly of the UUA. It was on a panel looking at the theologies of justice work of the newest generation of clergy. On the panel facilitated by the Rev. Colin Bossen, were Rev. Allison Farnum (FL), Rev. Rob Keithan (DC) and myself.

 

I was sitting by the poolside at the Hyatt yesterday afternoon, wanting to be outside but not wanting to be too far from the inside with all the heat. I saw a small brown bird land a few feet from me. He had his beak open for a while. Waiting. As if someone were going to put a little morsel in his mouth for him. It brought to mind two kinds of social justice praxis I often see in the ministry. One is where we the clergy see our congregations as that bird. Members are anxiously waiting for our leadership, our assistance, our nourishment. With it, they’ll go out and change the world from our ideas. It’s a bit egoistic, but let’s be honest. It’s a typical mode for many of our sermons. “I had this insight, this experience. Let me share it with you. Fly now, and do something with it.” It also, often, works. People do get inspired. Their lives sometimes change. And sometimes the world changes with it. If it didn’t work, we would hear much less of it. I mean no derision toward it. We see it in lone clergy on the forefront of a movement, inspiring those behind them. We see it in bloggers who rarely interact with other bloggers. We know it’s happening, for example, when you’re the only person from your congregation at an interfaith gathering.

There is a second social justice praxis this bird evokes for me. When we look at the bird whose beak is eagerly open, we see ourselves. It’s those clergy who follow the lead of the spirit of a congregation. I don’t mean to suggest that they always wait for someone else to tell them what is of value. That would be a tepid prophetic ministry at best. I mean that they feel out where the breath of the congregation is moving; where God is active in the life of the community; where the fit of their house of hope meets the needs of the world. From a place of humility, it may sound like I’m suggesting this is preferable to the more egoistic mode. In some ways it may be, and in some ways it’s more slow. It’s less daring. It might even be less visible.

I think in the short term, the minister as sparrow, is a less inspiring mode that may reach less people. But in the long run it’s far more enduring and likely more effective. I also think that it’s the mode that more and more of our clergy are growing up in. I wonder if it may lead to less burnout as well. It’s a generational shift in the ministry that’s not so much about age as about when; when were we trained in seminary. I have clergy friends who are only a few years older than me who were in seminary earlier than I who thrive with the first model. And I have friends who are 25 years my senior who were concurrently trained half-way across the country who share my same preference for the collaborative second model.

Brooklyn just completed a very successful search for her new senior minister. If you look at the surveys, folks largely wanted a minister who will inspire them to prophetic works. They want this on paper. In practice however, its been the messages that bubble up in tandem with the congregation that have actually been successful. Occupy Wall Street is one example of this.

With First UU of Brooklyn being the closest UU congregation to Zuccotti Park, OWS made a lot of contextual sense for us. But how to inspire the congregation was another matter. Our membership ranges from teachers and social workers to financiers at Goldman Sachs. So this topic is complicated for us. Our membership is progressive across the range, but the politics of finance is a matter that we don’t have one voice on. I was involved in a quiet way as a chaplain at Zuccotti Park early on in September when it started, but couldn’t seem to bring others along with me. The shift happened when I learned (through social media) that one of our congregants was “that one” that was doing weekly large clothing drives for the Park, and another was doing regular large food collections for the Park. When the next sermon included the stories of our own people doing their own ministries, the congregation was able to find ways to be involved in a sustained manner that had meaning and sustenance for them. I could preach a prophetic message with effect, that made some uncomfortable, because it was clear to the community that it reflected the center of the spirit of the community – and not just my opinion. Then our members were processing with Judson and the Wall Street Golden Calf. More joined the clothing drive. More joined the food drive. Our youth group spent a learning/serving day at Zuccotti. Then I got interviewed by the Wall Street Journal for our work. UU’s who were occupying full-time started coming to our congregation – until they were evicted at least.

With the eviction of the park, our connection to the movement has become much more tentative. It was part of our neighborhood for a while. And now it’s not. We’re adapting – making connections with other faith based groups working to end racial profiling. Others show up on days of action with Occupy Faith. I continue to blog about various angles of the Occupy movement for Huffington. And of course we continue all the food and clothing work, the housing work, the homelessness work, the education work we’ve always done. But without there being a “there” there any longer, it’s much harder.

My theology of social justice is that my voice as a minister is grounded in my call. My call is grounded in the action of the Spirit in the community in and around me. Whether your faith is grounded in God, as is mine, or in the highest ideal of community, as is mine as well – I believe our prophetic voice must speak to the subtle experience of the broadest swath of humanity it can. And it must do so not as an expression of our wisdom first, but as a reflection of the conscience we speak for. A social justice theology that lifts up our ego in the process, can not solve the problems of the world that were caused by other human egos. With this sense of theology, we can’t go it alone; we can’t solve the problems of the world ourselves; we can’t be the shiny hero ahead of the crowd.

More succinctly, my central theology of social justice, my central UU theology for that matter is this: There is a path worth living and walking; there is ever a potential for hope in the unfolding of the human spirit; we are loved and maintain the possibility to love; perfections and products are pale compensations for the forgetting of our connectedness in this awe-inspiring living world.

Of course, individuals will always interpret this in varied ways. I feel that my community as a whole agrees with this theology. But we have at least two schools of thought on how to apply it. Much like the sparrow metaphor of social justice ministry for our clergy, it applies to our lay leadership as well. For Brooklyn, we have a large generational gap in view and praxis. We have a huge young adult population for a congregation of our size. With 200 adult members, over 100 friends, and about 100 children and youth – we have a young adult community of about 130. About half are members and the rest are split between friends, newcomers, and repeating visitors. So when I speak of the young adult view, I speak of a large portion of our community.

We have Young Adults who are very involved and inspired by the OWS movement. We also have elders who were marching in Selma. For Brooklyn, those two mindsets best describe our modes of social justice. As a caveat, know that I personally believe both modes work. Both modes are powerful. Both modes could learn something from the other. And both modes include aspects of each other. However, as a whole OWS is the classic collaborative model.  Zuccotti Park had almost daily General Assemblies. There was the “human microphone” since no electronic equipment was allowed (people repeating what was said for those behind them.) There was process for those with less privilege to get to the forefront of the mic. How can the broadest swath of humanity gain access to voice? How can we reinvigorate the public dialogue to deal with the issues we won’t deal with? How can we simply witness in a peaceful manner to name the sins of the day? Let’s do all of that without having a single public spokesperson. And the voice of the people still became clear over time. Unlike the Selma model, there are no names to record. There is no central person speaking to the cameras. There is no central there there.

I’m not sure that OWS would have worked a generation ago. There were different needs, different strategies, and different life and death situations on hand than we have today. The technology, the media, the legal system – and who was considered fully a citizen – all were different.

But 45 years later – when I hear a 60-something who marched in Selma speak with a 20-something who has spent countless hours as part of OWS I hear the same critiques the media first leveled against OWS. Who’s the voice? What are the demands? How can this last. My answer – the Spirit moved in one set of ways in the 60’s. It’s moving in another set of ways now. That doesn’t change or diminish the value of either.

Brooklyn’s adaptations to leadership, power and voice were central to allowing this conversation to even happen in our house. I know some of you are thinking – well Brooklyn’s in NYC. It’s so easy to have a lot of Young Adults. When I arrived 4 years ago we had a marginalized YA population of about 30. The catchphrase at the time was – “I wish we had more young adults. But they can’t afford to live here. That’s why they’re not here.” Even though 15% of the adult membership were under the age of 35 – the view was they weren’t there. The community has skyrocketed, largely in part, because of internal congregational system changes that have become more accountable to issues of generational power conflicts. We are taking an intentionally multigenerational approach that is helping to dissolve some of the power grabs (or clutching) we often see in our religious communities. And it all reflects back on the broader social justice work of our community.

Real quickly – our steps included: 1. Intentionally pair up interests and talents of YA’s to the committees that needed new blood. 2. Seek to have a minimum of 2 YA’s on every committee (that’s taken 4 years) 3. Nominating knows to develop YA leadership so that a new YA can be added onto the Board every year. 4. RE has intentionally reached out to campus ministry and young professionals to broaden our teacher diversity. Half our teachers are under the age of 40. 5. The language of “They’re not here. They’re not living near us. They’re just not committed enough.” have all been challenge on the spot every time it’s said in earshot of leadership. Much like AR/AO work, bias must be compassionately challenged every time. 6. We added a monthly Moment of Witness for youth and young adults in our worship service so that they can share (in 2-5 minutes) why this is there religious home. 7. Lastly, our worship has shifted to be more family friendly with our children remaining for the first half of the service, our youth present for it’s entirety, and monthly fully-multigen services. If the services are more family friendly, more young adult parents find the congregation welcoming. And YA’s without kids, especially life-long UU’s, find the services more alike the few they experienced as kids themselves. In short – doors to voice, visibility and power were opened to the generations that didn’t really have it before. And our YA ministry now thrives.

This relates directly to social justice ministry. If we can’t heal the divides in our own communities, we are weak in doing so outside our walls. We also lack the breadth of vision necessary to accomplish this. We couldn’t have the Selma/OWS conversations 5 years ago with the people we had. We couldn’t adapt to the changes in social media. We didn’t have the mentoring structures in place that allowed mentoring – in both age directions. We were less whole. And our ministry was less whole for it. If there are children in your neighborhoods under the age of 10; if there are colleges within 15 minutes of you; there are Young Adults living by you. If you’re missing Young Adults, take a look at the systems of power that we critique outside our congregations and examine which of them exist within your community. And begin the same prophetic ministry inside.

I’d like to end by showing a video my congregation crafted as an example of multigenerational social justice ministry through our religious education program. Whether you see them on screen or not – we had folks from every decade, from 5 years old to their 70’s involved in its creation. And it was filmed and edited by two 20-somethings, one of whom is on our Board of Trustees.

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