Sunday, January 29, 2017

We need Faith now, more than ever

I'm rushing to write this so I can get to church on time. 'Cause I NEED my congregation right now, more than I ever have. And so do you, I bet.

The Sunday after the 2016 election, our service was standing room only. We ran out of orders of service (programs), and we ran out of pew space. Nobody seemed to mind. Nobody minded when the service went long either. Many people cried openly. Everyone seemed to want to stay all day. I joked to our minister, can we have church tomorrow too?

We need faith right now, more than ever.  We need liberal, free thinking, life affirming faiths. We need synagogues that have potlucks with mosques and Christian congregations that host refugees and temples that affirm gay rights and sacred spaces that welcome all.  We need, in this turbulent, scary and constantly shifting world, safe spaces to sit and cry openly. The ground is moving under our feet. We need someplace firm to stand.

My congregation is a liberal leaning, gay affirming, diversity seeking, science loving Unitarian-Universalist church. I was very lucky to have been raised a UU, but many if not most of our congregants come to us after being rejected or shut out from their faith of origin.  How their former temples or churches didn't want these beautiful people I cannot understand. Unfortunately, the story of conservative faith in our country is written with exclusion; a long list of can'ts and don'ts.  Unfortunately many leaders in our government belong to a Christian faith that seems to have gone astray from the teachings of Jesus as I understand them. They are leaving far too many lovely people behind.

Do you need a place to sit and cry openly? Do you need opportunities to have your lifestyle, your love, your dreams and your identity affirmed and loved without question? Do you need to find people to march with and pray with and sing with and write postcards to your representatives with?

Find your church. Find a sacred place to call home. They want you, and you need them.

Here are some tips on finding a spiritual home in this time of crisis: Go on Facebook and look for congregations in your area that have photos from the Women's March. Walk past the synagogue, see if they have a rainbow flag somewhere. Look at the upcoming sermon titles: do they invite you to join with your brothers and sisters in faith?

If you can't find a local place to worship, look online! Our congregation, and many others, livestream their services on Facebook or on other platforms. Get a couple of friends together, light a candle, and join in!

If your sacred space is a under a tree in the forest, awesome. Trying bringing a couple of friends with you and reading aloud from something that moves you. Sing a song together. See how you feel afterwards.  If you feel like your feet are more firmly planted and your breath is deeper, then invite a few more friends next time.

We need Faith now, more than ever. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A tale from the resistance.

South Africa 1997.

At the tender age of 20 I had the extraordinary privilege of studying in Durban, South Africa for 4 months. Each day of that study abroad created a memory that is still shaping my life. South Africa is an amazing, beautiful, challenging country with a fascinating history.  In 1997, 20 years ago, it was just emerging from its brutal apartheid era. The yellow tanks that had previously terrorized black and brown citizens were still parked in government lots, weeds growing around their giant metal frames.

I've been thinking a lot about my time in South Africa, now that we are beginning our own terrifying racist and isolationist government era.  One moment in particular keeps coming to mind, and perhaps it will offer you a portion of the solace and hope that it is giving to me.

Early in our stay we (the 15 other young college students I was traveling with)  visited a women's help center to learn about the challenges facing families in South Africa.  The center was located in a beautiful (formally all-white) sunny suburb, with lush tall trees and small houses set back from wide avenues.  We sat in a small gray conference room and listened to statistics about the HIV/AIDS epidemic (at its height in the 90's), maternal health, rape, child neglect and homelessness, and violence in families. There was no good news. There was bad news, and there was worse news.

Much like the news this week.

After hours of hearing all of this heartbreaking information, our group stumbled back into the sunshine for our lunch break. The glare of the blue sky hurt our eyes, so newly red from crying over numbers of women raped each year.  We stood on the sidewalk, hardly able to walk in one direction, let alone decide something so meaningless as what to have for lunch.  What should we do? Go home? Barricade ourselves into our dorm rooms?  We thought that coming to South Africa was the stupidest thing we had ever done. We were terrified and horrified, and astonished that the sun could still be shining.

Then from across the street a group of Black women greeted us. From their uniforms (everyone in South Africa wore a uniform), we guessed they were maids, on their own lunch break or running an errand together. They guessed from our sloppy jeans and sneakers and bewildered expressions that we were American students. The women came up to us, smiling wide as the sun and holding their arms out to us, laughing joyfully.

"Welcome to South Africa! Welcome to South Africa! The beautiful country!"

They seemed to think that coming to South Africa was the smartest, best thing we could do. They embraced us with their smiles and then moved on down the street. 

I remember staring after then, wondering... How? How could they love their country so? I'm sure they also knew the rape statistics and the rate of AIDS all too well. They had just voted for the first time just a few years before.  How are they smiling?

It took me many more weeks to understand what I had glimpsed that day. These women loved their country. They knew its flaws and its hardships very well, and they CHOOSE to smile in the face of them.

You can join the terror and succumb to the horror, or you can shine the sun out of your face and say, I LOVE my country.

I love my country, and all the people in it. I will smile like the sun in the face of the terrible things our government is doing to us, because we are worth fighting for.

Welcome to America! A beautiful, complicated country.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A New Year, full of uncertainty

Uncertainty is the worst. I firmly believe that not knowing what will happen is far, far worse than knowing - even if the knowledge is terrible. Perhaps you are more comfortable with uncertainty that I... (Perhaps you even LIKE surprise parties! For the record: NO.)

I've had this non-knowing is worse than being sure confirmed for me many times, mostly notably during our journey to becoming parents.

Should I take the pregnancy test now, or should I wait? Waiting lengthens the amount of time "pregnant" is still a possibility...

It was never positive. Which was, strangely, sometimes a relief, because at least I was sure.

Facts, even when they are the cold hard sharp steel of a negative pregnancy test, are at least something to lean on. They are solid, they hold you.

Thankfully those anxious months are behind me. Thankfully our adoption process, although it certainly had its ups and downs, ended up with a certain outcome. Our children know where they come from, we know their first family and we can communicate with them, see them.  We have the truth of their history to lean on.

So here we are, about to inaugurate a new President.  And there are so many unknowns swirling around us I'm dizzy. My news feed reads "Bad" "Worse", "Unbelievable".  Reports are unsubstantiated, truth is fought over, facts are hidden under layers of excuses or opinions.

What do we hold on to?

This past year, this election, has been so unprecedented, so unpredictable that it's hard to imagine how it will continue... where is the end of this crazy story? The plot is so convoluted and the characters are such cartoons. Our reality would be a failing first draft of a would-be crime novelist.

The uncertainty of this moment is driving me to distraction. I can see others reveling in it: "What will happen next!?!"

But I don't like surprise parties.

So here we are. 2017. A year that could bring... anything. The possibilities are endless, but they all seem to be scary. I am enough of an optimist that there is still a part of me that believes this has a happy ending. (Elizabeth Warren is declared President!)

I'm trying to hold on to something. I'm trying to find some slim hard truths to grasp, even if they are sharp and cold.

I know that next Saturday I'm traveling with a group of amazing women from my congregation to Washington DC.

I know we are not alone. Far from it.

And that, for now, will have to be enough.