One of our local hospitals is inviting public comment on whether or not one of their surgeons should be allowed to offer gender confirmation surgery.  Seriously?

Here is a link to the article:

http://dnews.com/local/hospital-seeks-comment-on-gender-reassignment-surgery-services/article_c07a64a1-50b8-5688-a449-130968db4337.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=user-share

Here is the letter I sent in response: 

Dear President Grantham,
I am writing in support of Dr. Geoff Stiller and his decision to get trained in gender reassignment surgery, though, to be honest, I am a little puzzled as to why you are inviting public comment. It seems to me that the decision to have any surgery is between the patient and their doctor, and that any treatment available locally would benefit both the hospital and any patients needing that procedure. Regardless, you have asked for input, and I am happy to offer some.

As a pastor, there is a question I use to guide my decision making. I ask myself, ‘What is the most loving and compassionate thing to do in this situation?’ When it comes to this surgery, the answer is clear.

Studies show that over 40% of transgender people will attempt suicide at some point in their lives. Studies also show that well over 80% of transgender people who have surgery are significantly happier and more satisfied with their lives, while less than 4% had regrets. So to say that his surgery saves lives is no exaggeration.  

Given that transgender people also are more likely to struggle with unemployment and unfair compensation, I can testify that for many people, the need to travel to Seattle or another major city for gender confirmation surgery creates serious hardship. I am quite certain that having this surgery available locally will dramatically improve lives here on the Palouse. It may even save the life of a neighbor, a friend, a student, a child. Without a doubt, the most loving and compassionate response to this controversy is to move ahead with providing this essential service.

Physicians (and a hospitals) ought to be dedicated to promoting the wellbeing, physical and mental, of their patients. A person’s religious beliefs can rightly influence their personal ethical choices, but ought not interfere with professional, competent performance. It would be inappropriate and cruel to block this surgery based on a few dissenting voices.  

Thank you for taking the time to read through the public comments. I pray you will decide to make the right choice- the loving and compassionate choice.

Sincerely,

Rev. Elizabeth Stevens

Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palouse

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Note:  The parts in regular font are from UUCP members and/or friends.  The parts in italics are my answers/points of clarification.

I think the biggest problem many white people have in trying to treat black people fairly is their lack of exposure to them.  People form relationships with others when they feel a connection, a sense of something in common.  How can one feel that when neighborhoods, schools, work places, churches are segregated?

This is one place where the internet offers us real treasures.  I have learned so much from reading blog posts, watching YouTube videos, and following Twitter.  Also, one thing I wonder:  shouldn’t the burden to integrate be on those of us who are white?  Rather than expecting everyone to come to us (and conform to our cultural norms) perhaps we should expect ourselves to go outside our comfort zone to develop those relationships, which, I agree, are all-important.

What are some important ways that we as white people can benefit from African wisdom and culture?

First I want to acknowledge that we already benefit from African and African-American culture in a ton of important ways.  From music to fashion to mathematics and science, many contributions have been made by people of color, who, by necessity, are informed by their culture.  So a first step would be to focus on identifying those contributions and expressing gratitude and appreciation…that said, I think we as a church would benefit from hearing more diverse sources.  One church I know has a commitment to include at least one reading and at least one piece of music by a people of color or indigenous people.  That might be a good goal to work toward.

How can we help people of color(s), different cultures feel included?  What may I change in myself to embrace people of color, different cultures, help them feel safe?  What I see in “color”:  beauty, loving, power, courage, steadfastness.  Can I learn of courage, beauty and possibilities in myself?  Allowing differences, often so obvious, and some differences, subtle but important, also allows space for me to ask for correction and express apology.  I often feel like a guest in the presence of another culture.  I have been asked many times to share my culture and language.  Sharing humor, universal and idiomatic, has lightened ambiance.  We are universal seekers.

There’s a process of learning and growth that happens when we are willing to do the work…we accept correction with an open heart and without shame, we apologize as appropriate, and we try not to make the same mistake twice.  And yes- humor helps.  

Does my skin entitle me to something?  It is a mark of me.  But underneath there is a strand of the continuum that is one in our ongoing evolutionary journey.  The only entitlement that counts is the knowing that we all have a shared need to support one another and join hands and hearts.  Differences may in some way define us but all threads must be gathered and woven into the fabric of life.

And how boring would the tapestry be if all threads were exactly the same?  The fabric doesn’t hold if all the strands go in the same direction.  We need difference, and tension, just as we need points of intersection and overlap.

White privileged men in my life- several- are kicking against the whole idea of “white privilege, especially male,” “Black Lives Matter,” paternalism, affirmative action, etc., etc., etc.  One white male in my birth family even said that it was a shame that a white person had to be afraid to walk down the street in some neighborhoods.  (I immediately thought of our history of lynching– I was appalled at his statements.)

But I see that white people- conservative men especially- are hostile, and I think that fear is at the root of this.  Promulgated by Fox News!  I don’t really understand that fear.  But it’s important that I embrace empathy for them as well as for marginalized people.

I am uncomfortable, not knowing how to interact with POC’s without saying or doing something insensitive- not wanting to but screwing up anyway.  I am afraid of, threatened by, and hostile toward big typically urban tattooed men (black, white/Latino or Asian.)  I intensely dislike hip hop/rap because it’s profane and violent in my experience.  Is this racism?

I don’t like our congregation being criticized for not being diverse, when our community is not diverse.  How do we become welcoming when so few “different” people ever approach us?  Why would Arabs approach us, since most are Muslim and they want to worship with fellow Muslims?  Fellow Christians, etc., etc.  How can we be welcoming to political conservatives and still speak our own beliefs- how can they possibly want to be here?  Is that because we aren’t welcoming?  We’re accused of that.

There are so many good questions in these paragraphs.  I don’t have good answers, though.  I think we just have to hold the questions, and be as kind with ourselves and others as we can.  I will say- I don’t think our congregation has been criticized for not being diverse.  Rather, I think we would benefit from engaging and embracing different cultures.  Does that make sense?

The sermon today made me wonder what our UUA organization does to attract or welcome Native Americans to our faith.  In Portland we certainly recognized the Lummis, mainly as a result of the Bellingham Fellowship and the work of Beth Brownfield, resulting in the Indigenous Workshop sponsored by the UU College for Social Justice which I was able to attend.  In our own NW district we voted to recognize the native people in our district.  Nathan Foster wrote our resolution in support which our church adopted unanimously.  In Columbus, we voted to recognize Indigenous People’s Day- or at least examine it.  My question is, do we have any UUA staff working on including Native Americans into our faith?

Good question.  I don’t think we have anyone specifically focused on working with Indigenous tribes.  I wish we did!  

Misappropriate of another culture?

1)  We wouldn’t criticize adopting Thai food, the chanting of Buddhism, blessing/thanking a deer for giving its life to feed us, living more simply to some degree like the Amish, making soul music that comes from Black culture, or routinely playing a sport from another nationality.

Doing so doesn’t make you a master at being another culture, but we adopt things from other cultures. How does this become “misappropriating” vs. “sharing culture?

It’s easier to take an example like wearing a Mohawk & whooping it up at a football game to see it in a negative light. Where’s the line?

You might admire the mindfulness of the tea ceremony but have only limited knowledge about it. You might create some ritual around having tea yourself to capture something of the tea ceremony.  Or you might be seeking spiritual guidance and think in terms of a spiritual quest…nature will reveal some insights to you; perhaps as a modified vision quest.

No, you most likely are not spending years under a mentor learning the precision of an actual tea ceremony, nor spending days fasting with a shaman, but I see these adoptions as respectful and adding dimension to what do or seek. Don’t claim to know it all because you read about it or add some nuances to your personal rituals. I can see someone from another culture might object to a lack of depth and heritage, but we can learn and enhance our existence through other cultures. How could that be wrong?

To me, something qualifies as misappropriation if it is done without permission and/or if it reinforces stereotypes or oversimplifies or in some other way distorts another culture.  The line isn’t always clear; mostly, I think we have to trust our instincts.  If something feels off, don’t do it!  But then, we also have to listen- if someone from that culture tells us something is off, then we have a responsibility to listen.  For example, “Spirit Animal.”  I’ve heard from multiple Native Americans that it’s inappropriate for us to ‘adopt’ a spirit animal outside of their cultural tradition.  

If you move away from American capitalism toward more modest choices you’ve picked up from other cultures, is that a “critical orientation” toward your culture and an “uncritical view” of another you emulate? Reverse Polarity is harder for me to grasp.

I think this is more along the lines of rejecting all of one’s own culture as ‘bad’ while idealizing all of another culture as ‘good.’  The truth is always more complex.  One’s own culture has good and bad aspects; all other cultures have good and bad aspects.  Polarization is about making automatic judgments rather than engaging in an authentic way.

To disallow cross-over is to entrench exclusivity.

I’m not sure I understand what you mean here.  Cross-culture interactions are always a good thing!

A couple things this brought up for me was a book I read in the late 80’s that transformed my thoughts on society and racism, and my frustrations of both sides building walls.
I will try and keep this short, but the book I read  is titled ‘Speaker for the Dead’, a sequel to the book Enders Game (I enjoyed reading science fiction as a teenager, but do not read it much anymore).  The story takes place on the planet Lusitania where at the moment, the Starways congress has demanded a wall built but between human colony and all other species.  There are two reasons.  One, the species called “Piggies”have eviscerated one of the scientist bodies (they did this to the scientists father too), but with no tree in the body (earlier the scientist find a piggy body eviscerated with a sapling growing from the body).  The other reason is a virus called Descolada virus, which, while lethal to humans, appears to serve a beneficial purpose to native lifeforms.  Before the scientist were eviscerated, they had made an important discovery about the virus they confirmed with the Piggies but never had a chance to share with the humans. Ender, the Speaker for the Dead, is summoned and discovers that the “piggies” native connections is to trees.  When an elder Piggie is ready, they are eviscerated and a tree grows from the body.  Ender finds out the Piggies were giving the human counterparts the highest honor. The Humans thought they were murdered.  Ender’s discoveries has both species (piggies and humans) learn, discover and begin communicating.  They both repent and forgive and even though Starways congress demands no contact.  The humans forgave, the piggies repented, and they learn to coexist even with the virus present.  (there is a lot of other cool stuff Ender finds out about the piggies I find fascinating, like how the piggies communicate with the father and mother trees and how piggies are born)
 
A bit of a long story to make the point of how I feel about racism.  While we comprehend a physical wall between Mexico and the U.S., it is our emotional walls that keep us apart. Walls built internally by both sides. When I am walking and say ‘hi’ to someone, which I do a lot, an African American person most of the time says nothing, and sometimes may not even look my way. I feel I have no walls, but I feel they do.  This came up in the short writing of the person who talked about fears in their entire day, but his fear doesn’t mean all Caucasian people have a wall built and should be feared.  Sometimes I feel that this wall is as strong as ever, sometimes there have been a window or doors that have opened.  My main thought is that while there is a lot of history of racism and oppression, I would like to see the the walls come down from within in a lower lever. For I, not to be seen as something other that I am. I do not think of a person of color as anything but who they are. As individuals, maybe we can be like the people on Lusitania and not listen to the Starwary Congress (our Past) and live and share together without fear in the present.  I would hope people who are kind and accepting are the majority and not the minority, but our fears make it look like the other way around.
This makes some good points.  The most effective work I have seen in building bridges across difference has all been individual relational work…people listening and connecting heart to heart.   
That said, I do think it’s incumbent upon those of us with privilege to do our homework, which is to say- to read and learn and think things through so that we can minimize the number of accidental micro-agressions we commit.
I loved that book- the whole series, really- and one of the other lessons for me was the way people do harm unintentionally when they don’t take the time to listen and connect with those they don’t understand.  So we need to ‘seek more to understand than to be understood.’

To be continued as other responses come in…

East City Park, Feb. 4, 2017

Hello, friends!  It’s good to see familiar faces, and even better to see some new ones!  The people of the Palouse rise to resist hate and bigotry.  The people of the Palouse rise for justice, kindness, human rights, and each other.

When I was a little girl, my very favorite classroom job was the “Flag Leader.”  This job consisted of leading the pledge of allegiance and choosing which patriotic song we would sing together.  My little heart beat strong with love for my country.  I was and am deeply patriotic.  Seeing veterans march in their uniforms still brings me to tears.

As I’ve grown and matured, I’ve had to face the dark side of this country’s history- slavery, the genocide of indigenous peoples, Japanese internment camps.  I understand these important stories to be part of an epic battle between our highest ideals on one side, and fear and greed on the other.  For most of my life, I have hoped- and believed- that our ideals were winning.

And so this executive order that restricts travel and blocks the immigration of refugees hurts my patriotic heart.  I feel deeply, deeply ashamed.  This is not who we are as Americans.

We are a country that values fairness, and it just isn’t fair to block travel, keep families apart, and put children in handcuffs just because of where they come from…the color of their skin and their religion.

We are a country that is good, and it is evil to turn our backs on people trying to flee the war in Syria.  This is perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of our times, and by virtue of our foreign policy, we are complicit in it.

We are a country that is brave, and we should not and cannot let fear drive us to act in ways that violate our deepest principles and drive us apart.

The people who are impacted by this horrible executive order are innocent.  They are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children, students, teachers, doctors…and they HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG.

After 9/11, we were asked to take our shoes off in the airport…we were willing to have our things x-rayed and picked through, willing to throw out drinks and toiletries, willing to wait in longer lines.  These are inconveniences.  But we are here today to say we ARE NOT WILLING to allow racial profiling and unjust treatment of immigrants.

I am also deeply troubled by the rise of Islamophobia and hate crimes in our nation.  The burning of the mosque in Bellevue…the shooting in the mosque in Quebec…these were tragic events, and they were the terrorist attacks we need to be working to prevent.

So I want my Muslim neighbors to hear and see and feel…here on the Palouse, you are welcome, and you are loved, and you are appreciated.  And if ever you feel endangered or need our help, just ask.  As a leader in the faith community, I promise you, we will be there for you.

As salaam alaikum…peace be upon you, today and all days.

 

Dearest dear ones,

Last night was a hard night.  Today is a confusing day.  The rhetoric in this election became so very intense that for many of us, the election felt like a referendum on basic human rights.  People of color, LGBTQ folks, differently abled folks, non-Christians and economically disadvantaged individuals are literally afraid for their lives.  I’m hearing that some people feel as traumatized as they did post 9/11.

First of all, take a deep breath.  Our nation does not belong to one person.  Our community is strong and resilient.  Love will bat last, to paraphrase Annie Lamott.  Your neighbors are still your neighbors.  Regardless of who they voted for, if you get sick, they will bring you soup.  That’s who we are.

The temptation to catastrophize is strong.  However, we don’t know for sure what happens next.  What we do know is that we will have work to do, regardless.  Let’s not waste precious energy worrying about things that are still uncertain.  Let’s marshal our spirits and fortify our hearts, so that when we ARE called into action to defend our values, we have the resources to do so with grace and generosity.

It has helped me to remember that the vast majority of people who voted for Donald Trump did so IN SPITE of the things that terrify me about his candidacy, not BECAUSE of them.  We must try not to demonize, blame, shame or further divide our country.

Perhaps not today, but eventually, we will need to acknowledge the pain and fear behind the pro-isolationist, anti-establishment votes.  We will need to listen, and let go of whatever arrogant assumptions we might hold.  Trump voters are not universally stupid, uneducated, bigoted, or unkind.  I have to believe that most of them are fundamentally good people with different perspectives and priorities than I have.  They have a variety of reasons for voting the way they did, and if we can’t hear those reasons, then our country won’t be able to heal.

Today, though, if you need to grieve, grieve.  If you need to process, I am here.  The Sanctuary will be open all afternoon, with prayer flags to decorate, candles to write, and someone to talk to. Reach out, and keep reaching out, especially to people who you know are feeling more vulnerable because of their identities.  Ask for what you need.  Go for walks.  Drink in the beauty of this beautiful place we call home.  Read things that are uplifting.  Sing.  Cook.  Eat.  Love, and love some more.

There will be a vigil at the church this evening at 5:30 pm.  Come be together; bring your friends, even the ones who aren’t ‘churchy.’  We need to be together right now…need to see how much love there is surrounding us.  Love trumps hate…even today…and ever more.

Yours in faith,

Elizabeth

 

  • The woman that Brock Turner raped behind a dumpster in Palo Alto courageously published her story, and ignited a fire.  Woman after woman, sharing stories of sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment.  The ‘statistics’ say that one in four of us are survivors of assault.  My personal experience indicates that the true numbers are much higher than that.

There are a number of reasons that the statistics aren’t remotely accurate.  Sometimes, our brain shuts down and we don’t remember what happened.  Sometimes, we don’t realize that what happened to us was rape until long after the fact.  Sometimes, we know right away, but don’t tell anyone because we feel ashamed or embarrassed.  Sometimes, we tell people, but they don’t believe us, or urge us not to report.  Sometimes we tell people, they urge us to report, and the police decline to pursue the matter.  Sometimes, the police build a case, which feels like another violation, and it settles out of court.  Sometimes, we go to court, put up with our morals, clothing choices, and character being ripped to shreds, and the rapist gets off.  Sometimes, the rapist is found guilty, but is only given a slap on the wrist.  (I’m talking about you, Brock Turner.)

There are so few stories that have fair and just endings to them.  Sharing them would seem to only cause us more pain.  But this week, we’ve been shown, quite remarkably, that there is a point to speaking up.   While the two Swedish students are heroes, so is the woman who, without flinching, told her story from start to finish and shared it with the world. In the face of that kind of bravery, others of us are inspired to speak, and a feeling of solidarity starts to spread.  A righteous rage builds in the hearts of survivors, all women, and male allies.  We find the courage to rise up, to speak truth to patriarchy, to claim our power to DEMAND change.

We are not faceless, nameless statistics, we whose bodies have been violated.  We are human beings, facing irreversible consequences, and our lives and our stories matter.  I have read every account I’ve come across, opening my heart to the pain, the shame, the fury that results.  And I offer my story in solidarity.

I was raped at the age of 15 at a Unitarian Universalist youth conference.  I didn’t call it rape at first, because when I refused to have intercourse because he didn’t have birth control, he ‘allowed’ me (i.e. forced me) to perform oral sex instead.  When it was over, I wanted to die.  This was my introduction to sexuality, and it’s colored and limited every relationship I’ve had since.

Typically, when I tell people what happened to me, they tell their stories in return.  These stories, though buried deep, are often festering.  They burst out when it becomes clear that I am a survivor, too- and so won’t minimize, shame, or further harm the person I am listening to. Yet I’ve also been censured, admonished that it’s not appropriate to force people to face the ugliness of what I endured.  So many of us are so very attached to the illusion that the world is a safe place for women, who will be romanced and revered and respected.  I get it.  I want that world, too.

But the only way to create that world is to  let go of the illusion and forge the reality, with our rage and our tears and our deep, desperate hope that our daughters might not have to live through what we did.  We must teach our children about consent.  We must teach our children how to accept responsibility for their actions.  We must expose the rape culture to the light of day.

I’ve come to believe that Patriarchy rests at the core of many of the world’s most difficult challenges.  Patriarchy drives war.  Patriarchy enables environmental degradation, because it places ‘man’ above ‘nature.’  Patriarchy trains some human beings to see themselves as ‘better’ than other human beings, making them vulnerable to racism and heterosexism and trans-phobia and other forms of oppression.

If we want the world we are longing for, we have to shatter the patriarchy.  We women need to claim our stories and our power.  We need to claim our righteous rage and our deepest dreams.  We need to rise, together, hands joined, to say, “no more.”  Whether it’s ‘one in four’ or I am right and it’s far, far more, even one in four million would be one too many.

 

Dad’s Final Lessons

May 20, 2016

For the last month, my primary focus has been my Dad’s death.  He went onto Hospice at the end of April.  He died on May 14th.  I was his caregiver and next-of-kin, held his power of attorney, and had the responsibility for packing up his things.  Though I have supported many people- congregants, family members and friends- through this process, it was my first time moving through it personally.  I predicted that I would learn a great deal, and I have.  I understand that every person’s experience is unique, yet share some of the things I learned, hoping that there might be points of connection or possibilities for conversation.

The first and most lovely lesson I received revolves around the outpouring of love and support, from the congregation I serve and from my wider community.  There were the congregational leaders who looked at me as if I were nuts when I suggested I might need to negotiate some unpaid leave, saying simply, “Do what you need to do, and let us know how to support you.” There were the folks who stepped up and stepped in, giving me the time I needed to be with Dad.  There were the cards and the emails and the calls and the Facebook messages and the thoughts and the prayers.  There were the caregivers at the assisted living facility who took such gentle care of Dad.  There were the amazing hospice workers and volunteers who responded to every phone call with kindness and competence.  Words can’t adequately express my gratitude for all of it. I felt held, ever so tenderly, by a great and broad network woven of love and generosity.  I am so very blessed.

Another lesson I learned centers on forgiveness.  It’s no secret that my Dad struggled in his life and in his relationships.  Alcoholism eroded him over time, carving away his physical, emotional and spiritual health little by little.   His inner core of self-loathing led him to lash out at the people who loved him most.  All of his children bear emotional scars from his abuse, and some of us carry physical scars as well.  One path to forgiveness involves the one who caused harm accepting responsibility for their actions.  That path wasn’t open to us with Dad.  He never admitted he was an alcoholic.  He never apologized.  However, in recent months, I discovered a different path to forgiveness.  It might not have worked if I hadn’t spent a fair amount of time in therapy, but somehow, seeing him vulnerable and afraid as he neared the end of his life woke up a deep compassion that allowed me to forgive him unconditionally.  I understood that the pain he caused grew out of his own scars.  I came to believe that he did the best he could.  My heart broke for him, enabling deep healing.

Just a few days before Dad went on hospice, I remember saying as part of a conversation about end-of-life issues that when my own death approached, I would take matters into my own hands and either swim out into the ocean and not turn around or lie down and go to sleep in the snow.  I was afraid of being helpless and undignified.  I agreed with those who said, “I’m not afraid of death, but I AM afraid of dying.”  The third lesson came as a true gift, then.  Watching Dad die, I realized that dying is an important and holy part of the human experience, one I want for myself.  Meanwhile, caring for him was just as important and holy, an experience I want to offer my children (or whoever winds up caring for me at the end.)  My fear of dying melted away.  Whatever fate waits for me at the end of my own life, I think I will be able to meet it with acceptance and curiosity, all because Dad trusted me to be with him at the end of his.

I loved my Dad.  I love him still.  I am profoundly grateful for these final lessons.  I am profoundly grateful for the love and the lessons he’s offered me over the course of my entire life.  I know I am still near the beginning of the grief process, and I believe more lessons may be forthcoming.  May I remain ever open and willing to learn.  May I remain ever open and willing to love.

What We Owe Our Veterans

November 9, 2015

Reading:  Used by permission

A message to my children’s teachers on Veteran’s Day
Will Hopkins, US Army Infantry, Iraq 2004-2005

When I am thanked for my “service” I cringe
I asked my stepdaughter
What she wanted to be when she grew up, she said
“An animal rescuer, or a veteran.”

She would choose those images, and the guilt

I was a tool of evil men
A foreign invader killing men defending their homeland
For oil, territory, politics, whatever

I was a murderer-am a murderer
A killer

“An animal rescuer, or a veteran.”

I don’t want to be recognized, as the hero you are tasked to paint me
I don’t want to be recognized, as the monster I allowed myself to become

I want you to teach my children peace
That the men defending their homeland from me, were as real and human as me
And that their children, starving, barefoot, now parentless
Are as real as they are
As human as they are
As worthy of living safe from war,
and going to school,
and playing on the playground

That that woman who stepped out in front of our humvee was as real as you
As real as your student’s own mothers

I won’t be attending your ceremony

And I have a request, as a parent on this Veterans Day, as a veteran on this Armistice Day
Please, please, please
Teach my children peace.

In a couple of years, my other daughter will come through your doors
Let her tell me
“An animal rescuer, or a doctor.”
“An animal rescuer, or a teacher.”
“An animal rescuer, or a firewoman.”
“An animal rescuer, or anything.”

I am no hero, and the world has had enough war
If we can teach our children peace can the world not see its last veteran?

Sermon

On Wednesday, Veteran’s Day, people will wear flag pins.  Fox news will take swipes at President Obama for not being at the right cemetery to observe the holiday or not saying the right words or looking at the camera funny.  There will be a lot of talk about ‘heroes’ and ‘sacrifice,’ patriotic music, parades and the like.

And all of that is well and good.  (Well, maybe not the swipes at our President.  But the rest of it is all well and good.)  But if this Veteran’s Day is anything like most of the other Veteran’s Days I’ve lived through, what there won’t be is serious conversation about what our Veterans need from us, what they deserve.

No one will point out that the transition to an all-volunteer military means that enlisted men and women who are low-income or come from marginalized communities are more over-represented than ever.  No one will talk about the fact that multiple deployments, which are becoming ever more common, lead to exponentially higher rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

In some places, folks might read the names of the men and women who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan this year.  But I doubt anyone will point out that we’ve likely crossed the ‘grim milestone’ of one million non-fatal injuries.  The Department of Veterans Affairs has stopped releasing those numbers.

And I especially doubt that anyone will mention that Veterans’ organizations suspect that the rate of suicide among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is something like 5-7 times the rate of combat casualties.

No one will talk about the far higher than average rates of drug abuse, divorce, and domestic violence.  No one will mention the high percentage of Veterans who are unable to find stable employment after leaving the military.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average unemployment rate for veterans has risen to more than 12.1 percent in the past year. For the youngest veterans, aged 18 to 24, the jobless rate was 30.4 percent in October of this year and a striking 48.0 percent for young black veterans. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/01/05/1051926/-What-Do-We-Owe-Our-Returning-Vets)

I would venture a guess that some folks will talk about how important it is to defend ourselves against ISIS.  But I suspect that no one will be brave enough to say what one Veteran of the Iraq war said in an article on the Daily Kos:

The U.S. media has relentlessly driven home the point that our soldiers protect our freedoms but the truth is the War was a misguided attempt to stabilize oil prices. Bin Laden and other “Islamo-terrorists” never broadly threatened U.S. shores.  They were surprised as much as we were that jets could bring down large skyscrapers.

As my brother put it after returning from Iraq, “I knew when I signed up that I was putting my life on the line.  I just thought I would be fighting to defend civilians, not to maximize Halliburton’s profits.”

So.  I’m saying it all now.  I know that it’s hard to hear.  It’s easy to get all goopy and patriotic.  It’s a lot harder to pay attention to the actual experience of today’s veterans.

Today, though, I’d challenge us to do just that, and to ask ourselves, what do we really owe our Veterans?  Let’s start with one of our own.  Donal?

I was an 18 year old senior in high school with a low G.P.A. and with no connection with how more academics were going to make my life better.  My father made it clear that I would be paying rent to live at home after graduating high school in the tiny town I lived in.  I wanted out.  After a brief failing attempt to get into the Merchant Marine Academy (I wanted to captain a tug boat) I went to the recruiter’s office. He took one look at my ASVAB score, 94 out of 99, and I could almost see him salivating.

(Your ASVAB scores determine what jobs you will qualify for in the military.  It’s very comprehensive, testing language, math, reasoning and scientific thinking skills.)

The recruiter went right to work selling me electronics for the nuclear program.  Five months later I graduated and was ready to be care free for the next few months of my life before being shipped off to boot camp.  Not once did I think about the moral issues or political repercussions of joining the military.  Reagan had not started a nuclear war with the Soviet Union yet, and there was no other “war” going on.  After all, I was a Deadhead. 

I went into the navy conservative by birth, even though I was a Deadhead.  Over the course of the four years I spent in the Middle East and North Africa spying on Russians, training the Taliban in their war with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, bombing Libyans, and manipulating geopolitics worldwide I became liberal.  It didn’t happen overnight, but rather a result to what I saw we were doing to people, for oil companies, and in the name of the citizens of the United States.

I re-entered the “real” world on October 26, 1989, with 4.0 evaluations, and assurance from the navy that I would fail and re-enlist within a month.  They offered me a $60,000 re-enlistment bonus because of my 4,000 hours of school and $300,000 security clearance that was three levels above top secret – higher than our president. But I was done.  I was done with my government, done with electronics, but not done with world politics.  The navy made me an activist for world peace.  “No one prays for peace more than the soldier, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”  General Douglas MacArthur

I became a full time peace activist during the first gulf war.  I volunteered to help conscientious objectors file their paperwork to avoid military service.  It wasn’t long before the folks at the San Jose Peace Center and the Bay Area Peace Center in San Francisco figured out they had a gold mine in this passionate former navy spy who they could use as their media spokesperson.  I spent the next year doing assemblies at high schools, T.V. and newspaper interviews, and speaking at many large protests.  I researched who we recruited, who fought our wars, and at what cost. 

Immigrants and the poor fight our wars, and they have in every war since the American Revolution.  You won’t find many senators or representatives children in the military.  Our politicians send the most desperate patriots into battle for the benefit of large corporations; oil, and companies who fuel the military industrial complex, and then businesses like Halliburton and Bechtel to go in a rebuild what we destroy.

I am a veteran.  My heart was in the right place.  I wanted to defend my country for my family and friends.  I wanted to honor the blood, sweat and tears of my ancestors all the way back to the Mayflower.  I didn’t get to do that.  I was on the offense. I was a spear point for big American corporations to increase their profits for more wealthy Tories who were stockholders.  I feel like it is important to honor people who had the best of intentions to serve those that they love to protect their freedom.  That should not be tainted by the motivations of the politicians who send our young men and women to war.

Thank you.

I want to acknowledge that every veteran’s experience is different.  Many never see combat directly.  Some who do are able to heal and go on to live productive and happy lives.  I know a lot of veterans who are proud of their service, satisfied that they did the right thing, and delighted to be remembered and honored.

But I agree with the authors of our first reading when they say:

We owe it to (our veterans) and to ourselves to do our best to support their recovery…we must be willing to engage the same intense moral questions that veterans undertake about our own responsibility as a society for having sent them to war. 

If we are really to take responsibility for having sent young people, precious men and women with inherent worth and dignity, to war, we can’t yield to the limitations of our political system.  I wonder sometime if the fact that enlisted people are overwhelmingly people of color or poor people makes it easier for our leaders to forget?  Easier to discount their loss?

I will say this for the draft- when the draft was in place, everyone knew someone who was away at the war.  Everyone knew someone, personally who had died or who had lost a child, a spouse, a sibling, a friend.  These days, it’s rarer.  But not as rare as we might think.  How many of you know and love someone who is a veteran?

When my brother says he doesn’t want to be honored for his service or recognized at school assemblies, I listen.  When he says that what he does want is for all of us to teach peace, I listen to that, too.

But teaching peace- it doesn’t feel like quite enough.  Teaching peace doesn’t help the Veterans who have come back broken.  It doesn’t help their families who are forced to live with their absence or their anger.  I’m haunted by the memory of one former congregant who, on his way to his FIFTH deployment, said to me, simply, “I’m not fit for anything else anymore.” Sure, we taught his daughter peace in her Sunday School class, but what I really wanted to do was to somehow get her Dad back for her.

We owe our service members more than our efforts to teach peace to our children, our society, and our government.  We owe them love and support, healing, and companionship on their road back to wholeness.

I am so grateful to and proud of our UU military chaplains.  They are really cool.  I have two close friends and a number of acquaintances who answered the call to serve in the armed services.  I want to share with you something my friend, Susan Maginn, a chaplain for the Marines wrote as she prepared to lead worship for her 3000 ‘congregants.’

Tomorrow’s lectionary themes are about how to keep yourself undefiled and unstained by the world. Which is lovely, but I’m preaching to warriors-in-training who are preparing to get pretty dirty in the world, preparing like those sheepdogs who are bred and trained to protect the herd.

Tomorrow’s take away:

In ancient cultures, warriors wore masks into battle to scare their enemies and to keep their souls ‘undefiled and unstained’ by war. So right now, while you are training, right here in boot camp, build a spiritual mask for yourself. Make it fierce and intimidating. Make it your most precious piece of gear. Take it with you. Wear it as you run into combat, and do exactly as you are trained to do. When the fight is over, remember you are wearing that mask. Weeks, months or even years may pass, but remember you are the one who built that mask and you are the one who knows exactly how to take it off. And when you do, God’s love rushes in.

We can be the ones who help Veterans take their mask off.  Or, to use a more fitting metaphor on this Quilt Sunday, we can wrap these beautiful, lovingly crafted quilts around them, like a blanket fort.  We can help them stitch their experiences together into a coherent whole- even the parts that are still ragged or stuffed in a pocket or left behind on a battlefield.

I’m reminded of the little cartoon- I think it was the Oatmeal- where someone walks up to a person in obvious distress and says, “What’s wrong?”  He answers, “I don’t know.”

“How can I help?”  “I don’t know.”

Then the first person goes off and makes a blanket fort, comes back and says, “I made you a nest.  Do you want to come?”  “Ok.”

“Does that help?”  “Yes.”  “Are you ever coming out?”  “No.”  “Okay.”  And he crawls into the blanket fort with his friend and holds his hand.

We who may or may not believe in God can nevertheless embody what Susan calls “God’s love”- that unconditional, healing love that accepts and doesn’t judge, that meets people where they are and wraps them up in as many quilts as they need.  We can SEE our veterans.  We can LOVE our veterans.  Above all else, that’s what we owe them.

There is a class by the UUA that looks at how we can make our congregations more welcoming and supportive of service members.  It’s called the “Military Ministry Toolkit.”  It’s comprised of six two-hour sessions, and it would lead us through a process of reflecting and then planning, sort of like the Green Sanctuary program, except with a lot less work and no need for certification.  Would anyone like to work on this with me?

One more quote from Susan:

Last Sunday. Me leading worship with 2000 Marine Corps recruits. The final praise song, wherein they are all yelling and dancing in the aisles, has just finished. Benediction time.

Me: Eyeballs!

The 2000: Yes, ma’am. (They snap their heads toward me)

Me: Ears!

The 2000: Yes, ma’am. (They are silent)

Me: I’m going to bless you now!

The 2000: Yes, ma’am. (They close their eyes)

God help me if I ever lead civilian worship again.

(Such a powerful image.  You know, if it weren’t for her also writing about hilly, thirteen-mile pre-dawn runs, I might be tempted to follow her into military chaplaincy.)

This Veteran’s Day, in addition to respect and thanks, I believe we owe our service members a commitment to remain active in the political process and informed about our country’s military strategies.  Until every one of their lives is seen as precious, we need to be advocates for their well-being.  We need to do everything in our power to make sure that our government doesn’t go to war lightly.  We need to do everything in our power to make sure that when they come back, our Veterans have access to the health care and support they need.

Above all, we owe them welcome and love and blessing.  My heartfelt prayer is that we wrap every Veteran who comes through our doors in our strong, beautiful, integrated, unconditional love.

My faith teaches me that God speaks in every human heart.  No one person has a monopoly on truth; rather, each of us has the responsibility to listen for the still, small voice, within.

And so when an individual or a couple comes to me for counselling around an unwanted or unsafe pregnancy, my role is not to judge or condemn, but to support them in discerning what to do.  Let’s be honest:  often, all three options are tragic and difficult.  People need to be held in love and encouraged to make the decision that is right for them.

I am so grateful for Planned Parenthood.  Firstly, the health care they provide means that these difficult situations are rarer.  Secondly, they walk with people regardless of which of the three paths they choose. Thirdly, they support the long term health of all women with cancer screenings and reproductive health care.

The current campaign to discredit Planned Parenthood is riddled with factual mistakes and inconsistencies.  Abortion accounts for less than 4% of the work Planned Parenthood does, and not a single tax dollar goes to paying for it.  Nor is donating fetal tissue for research purposes “selling body parts.”

I support the right of other religious leaders to have their own opinions, beliefs and perspectives.  However, it’s wrong to impose those beliefs on the entire population.  Closing Planned Parenthood would do a great deal of harm and very limited good.  Abortion would not go away; women’s access to a safe and survivable abortion would be severely compromised.

This is a difficult and complicated issue. Regardless of where people stand, I pray for civil discourse and mutual respect.  As for me,

I Stand with Planned Parenthood.

Love for the Long Haul

February 16, 2015

Last Sunday, I shared part of what, for me, has been a rich conversation about long term relationships.  I asked several couples in my congregation to share their thoughts on what enabled them to maintain long and happy marriages.  I asked several colleagues what helped them sustain long term ministries.  And then I asked the entire congregation to share their answers to two questions:  What are some of your richest and most long-standing relationships?  And what have these relationships taught you about love, life, and being human?

Here are their answers.  And below those answers are the answers from the folks I asked ahead of time, with some ‘bonus material.’  Enjoy!

Our richest and most long-standing relationships are with…

Griff…geo…cats…Jane…books…nature…art…crows…night skies and bright dawns…an inclusive community…my amazing, strong, resilient and inspiring mother…my beloved partner in life and love…my husband, our children and grandchildren, to whom I am bound in a unique way…my sister, who has known me all my life…my second marriage in which I am loved always, unconditionally, and the always evolving relationships with our grown children…my dear younger brother Xavier…John, my husband…Janet, my friend…my mother…my children…friends near and far…my spouse…Nagars (serpents, snake-beings, magical dragons)…my most important relationship is that with my wife….siblings..nieces and nephews…my children…ongoing friendships…former romantic partners…my husband…my friend Nell…my sister Rosia…Yoga…my sister who was given up for adoption by my parents, at birth (I met her when I was 37)…myself.

These relationships have taught us…

Fragility and strength, hope and dreams, kindness and beauty.  In the black wings of crow there is iridescent light, graceful flight, and trust.  The importance of selflessness and of giving to others.  To be fully, unashamedly, authentically myself.  That we only get this one life, and to live it with joy and gratitude every day. How very reciprocal these relationships are and have to be.  Over decades, we support and are supported, give and receive, annoy and are annoyed by, amuse and are amused by.  Whatever happened, our love prevailed.  I discovered that the power of our love can overcome most of our weaknesses.  Our love is power and helps give us the strength to keep on going, battling our inner demons.  Love brings us relief where we thought there was no more.  Faithfulness.  Caring.  Acceptance.  Love can disappoint, because it never is what you hope it to be.  Love can surprise, too, because it doesn’t leave you even if those you love most may die or become distant.  Nagars are challengers and supporters for being human.  They often help, sometimes challenge.  In many ways, they are humanity’s loyal opposition party.  Loving because they’re loyal.  Challenging because they’re in opposition.  Everyone has someone they know who is a nagar or nagi (female nagar), although they might not see it.  Love needs work.  I have learned that I don’t respond well to conflict,and so always must strive to reach out.  With every encounter (even when there’s friction, we share insights, encouragement, warmth and hope.  Humor and optimism, tenderness, eternality, humility, growth.  Love can happen immediately on meeting so you feel like you’ve always known and always loved.  My sister makes it OK to be me when I’m with her.  She validates me and introduces me to new ways of thinking, new perspectives.  Mary has always made me feel that because she is, I’m not so weird after all.  I’ve learned that even when I’m alone, I don’t need to be lonely, because I’m supported and surrounded by love.

Couples:

#1:  Married 48 ½ years:

We think our relationship has lasted because:

 We laugh a lot. You don’t notice the bumps much if you are laughing.

 We are compatible: We enjoy many of the same things and both like having adventures and variety.

  We agree on financial decisions and try to live within our means.

  We leave each other space but go in the same direction. We have always nurtured our own identities but do things together too.

 We try to overlook lapses in judgment, realizing that we are all imperfect.

 We celebrate each other’s accomplishments.

 We honor our marriage commitment and work out problems when they arise, realizing that there is no perfect relationship.

 We share work and make decisions together. It helps that we share core values. We continue to share parenting tasks (and yes, they continue even with adult children).

 We get through sorrows and focus on the many joys of our life together.

 Attitude is probably the greatest tool for sustaining relationships—and life in general. Focusing on what’s working and the good things makes for a more contented life. No relationship is perfect, and no life is perfect but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t always things to celebrate.

#2:  Married 49 years

Is there a magic formula for a successful long term relationship?  We don’t have one and different couples probably find different paths.  Of course loving each other is vital, but it also takes respect, support and being best friends. We were lucky in that we have the same values on the important concerns like religion, money, raising children etc., issues which are often causes of conflict in a relationship.  We even have similar tastes, so that designing and building a house together was one of our most satisfying experiences, not a cause for disagreements. But we don’t sweat the small stuff.  It’s really easy to go along happily with what your partner wants on most things.  The only problem is when you are both trying to defer to the other’s wishes.  We do share many interests like travel and dancing, but still maintain our separate activities.

 #3:  Married 49 years 

For a Long and Happy Marriage 

 We began with and continue to share many attitudes and perspectives.

  •  We both came from mainstream protestant families, have evolved together toward a tolerant humanist atheism. 
  • Doing the right thing is very important to both of us. 
  • We both believe that political involvement and especially voting are a civic obligation. We discuss politics freely.  We have voted in almost every election that we have been eligible for, and we probably voted the same way in almost all cases.
  • We share an appreciation for the local community.  That means don’t complain – get involved and help preserve what is good and change what needs changing.  We take seriously the adage to think globally, but act locally.
  • We have always been comfortable with joint accounts and joint financial decision making.  We’ve always had enough money, partly because we spend conservatively. We have always saved for the future, and we’re lousy shoppers.  We are willing to use our money support good causes, especially local ones.
  • We had the advantage of seven years of marriage to get to know each other before the children arrived.  While children can certainly dominate a family, those seven years as a couple helped us avoid total domination by the kids. 
  • Food and family meals. We share a passion for good food. We also believe that families should sit down together for around a table preferably several times a day for good food and conversation.

 

We could both have probably made more money and achieved more career distinction if we had made other career choices along the way.  However we have both loved our professional careers and neither of us is much prone to regret over what might have been.  The choices we did make have turned out well for both us as a couple and us as a family.

  • We are each our own persons. We both have hobbies and activities we do alone or with friends, but we also share many hobbies and interests that we like to do together. We are interested in each other’s projects but don’t need to participate in all of them.
  • We are true partners in our life together. Sure, there is a division of labor in the tasks of everyday living, but we can pinch hit for the other if it is necessary.
  • We both love travel. We can and do travel on our own on occasion, but are happiest traveling together.
  • Neither of us were particularly focused on having kids, but now can’t imagine not having them in our lives. We are very proud of our sons and their own families, and happy to see evidence of their lives growing up with us in the way they are making their own family lives.
  • We both have an appreciation of nature and outdoor activities – gardening, hiking, walking, snowshoeing, mushroom hunting, time on the river – and really feel lucky to live in such a beautiful place.
  • We both like to learn new skills and are always willing to try something new. This has resulted in a lot of clutter in our house, but it’s OK because it’s our clutter.

 Take the long view, live and let live, pick your fights, consider the alternatives – in nearly 50 years, there is bound to be something that irritates you once in a while. Life may not be perfect, but it’s pretty darn good. I think every day I feel lucky that we found each other and have had the good fortune to create such a happy and interesting life together.

The Long Haul: A Marriage Trip with Rebecca and Theresa – February 13, 2015

 Some of you may have heard the joke already – “What does a Lesbian bring along on the second date? – a U-haul.”  This is of course a reference to the stereotype that Lesbians –  being the mathematical equivalent of Women times 2 – have an intense “urge to merge” and so they begin a lived life together ASAP!!! 

 For Theresa and me, the desire to merge was pretty much like that, but we both had good rental situations at the time we met, so it wasn’t until about 6 months later when Theresa jumped on an opportunity to buy a small house that I ended up moving in with her, merging our stuff, as well as our lives.

 Now it has been over 23 years.  We have pulled that proverbial U-haul around to a few different physical locations in Moscow over that period of time, settling for the last 12+ years in our big house on the east edge of town as our longest-time, likely life-time, living destination, being quite happy here.  But don’t think the metaphorical U-haul of our relationship hasn’t had its share of wibble-wobbles along the way, hitting a few ruts here and there, and even careening off the road for a short spell some years back. 

 Yet we know we are in it for the Long Haul, and here are a few things (spiritual practices!) we have figured out along the way that have helped us stay together and grow stronger:

 First, the usual – humor, openness, honesty, appreciation, respect, conversation, listening, faithfulness…

 Things we like to do – have fun times together, respect each other’s interests & growth, do nice things for each other, say thank you (often), appreciate our independence from each other…

 Things we try to do/not do –  never go to bed angry, don’t take each other for granted, “rescue” each other when needed,  keep talking when we want to run, listen, listen, listen, be the first one to reach out instead of waiting for the other, do not diminish or embarrass each other in public even in joking…

 What’s kept us strong through the years? – Loving friends, family, and being part of a larger, loving, stable, embracing community (UUCP).  Having this kind of supportive safety net where people believe in you and your relationship makes a big difference.

 And so, the journey continues. We are thankful to have found each other, and for everyone that has been, and will be, a part of it.

40-year friendship

We had different childhoods- her parents were wild and mine were rigid. So I know I liked her house for the lax rules where she liked mine for the structure. We have always communicated our likes and dislikes about each others lives and choices. We shared many fun childhood adventures, sleepovers, sledding in the sump, hanging out in the local game room. Shared our first boy experiences. Having different lives that change over time to share some of the same pains and troubles. Our paths have been separated by distance but when it truly counts we are there for each other. She lives in Montana but came to NY when mom passed. We choose to stay in touch. We ask for guidance and help from each others strengths. Every long term relationship has ebb and flows but it is a choice to keep it going…the become a part of you a new family.

Clergy

Rick Davis, Salem, OR, 22 years:

Until I came to Salem over 22 years ago, I had moved around a great deal in my life.  Likewise, the congregation in Salem had had ministers come and go, none settling in for long.  The longest ministry before mine was that of William Ellery Copeland (named after William Ellery Channing) who served about seven years at the end of the 19th century before ill health forced him to retire to a utopian socialist commune up in the Olympic Peninsula.

 So, we (the congregation and I) were both primed to try something radically different – to see how a long term commitment might play out.  There’s plenty enough coming and going in our world, and, yes, it is true that everything changes, but finding some stability and a deep sense of loyalty still has its place.  This relatively long time we’ve been together has given our affections a chance to deepen and grow.  I’ve officiated at the weddings of those I once knew as little children, and I’ve often wept as we’ve said goodbye to so many beloved, sometimes quirky, wonderful members at memorial services.

 We all understood from the beginning that change would be a constant part of the equation.  At the moment we’re trying to get used to two Sunday services again.  There has been some conflict and misunderstanding, but we have been always been willing to sit down and work through that and get to the other side with no lingering residue of bitterness or misunderstanding. 

  They say that you should never enter into a relationship with an eye toward changing the other – that you accept what you get or you shouldn’t get in at all.  We accepted one another as we were.  Paradoxically, it is such acceptance that has created opportunities for growth.

 As long as this has lasted, we know that it won’t last forever, although we don’t really talk much about that.  I’m still learning and growing and still feel called to stick to my post.  We have some ways to go before we hand the torch to those who will come after.  It’s good that we have gotten to bear it together this good length of time.

Dennis Hamilton, 27 years, Carrollton, TX

I retired after 27 wonderful years serving the Horizon UU Church in Carrollton, Texas.  I say the ministry has made me a better person than I really want to be.  It has called me to be more patient, more loving, more understanding than I would have been if I were not called to be a minister.  It helped me to think about the fact that I was serving as a representative of all the ministers who came before me, who bore the same burdens and experienced the same joys.  It called me to a deeper understanding of people, to a generosity of spirit and heart that is its own reward.  We grew together.  The congregation forgave me many mistakes, slights, incompetence and bloopers.  But I was faithful to them.  I never betrayed them or took them for granted.  It was a privilege to serve them, to love them and to live a life in the ministry.  It was worth the effort. 

Roger Berchausen, 25 years, Fox Valley UU Fellowship, Appleton, WI

For me one of the keys has been keeping it fresh and interesting. Growth in numbers has helped that happen: I’ve been able to serve in a small, mid-sized and large congregation all in the same place. This has forced me to reinvent my ministry on the fly. But more than anything I feel like I’ve been really blessed that my congregation mostly lives by their covenant to provide their ministers and lay leaders with steadfast love. Not always like (though mostly). But love. I hope I’ve been able to give that gift back.

Elizabeth Greene, 25 years, Boise, ID

A genuine test of love:  commitment, as often as possible, putting the relationship above (or at least equal to) the individual needs; spiritual practice, with a deep respect for each other’s theological/spiritual positions; lots of laughter and tears; from my 12-step practice, a life of rigorous honesty, taking inventory of the self(ves) constantly; for the minister, a certain amount of humility, saying you’re sorry every time you’re even remotely in the wrong—immediately, without reservation;  for the congregation, realizing we are all humans in this together, ready to walk in each other’s shoes, to forgive and be forgiven, over and over and over; sharing ministry, which means that the professional minister needs to step aside frequently and act as a catalyst and/or observer, while the laity understands its profound responsibility to keep the place running in an open, loving, as-organized-as-possible way.

Following up on the Forum

December 16, 2014

Last Thursday, I participated on a forum called ‘Lessons from Ferguson.’  My co-panelists included Moscow Police Chief David Duke, U of I journalism professor Steve Smith, and Vivi Gonzales, director of diversity at the ASUI.  Over a hundred people attended and the Daily News wrote an extended article that appeared on the front page the next day.  I shared the story of my trip to Ferguson.  Professor Smith talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly in media coverage of the events in Ferguson and beyond.  Chief Duke talked about the problems in policing that are generating so much heat across the country, and shared the ways he tries to keep those problems out of the Moscow police force by focusing on ethics and diversity.  Ms. Gonzales spoke of the bad reputation that Northern Idaho has due to the white supremacist organization that used to be in Coeur d’Alene.  She also shared a heartbreaking story of her own brother being subjected to racial epithets at a soccer game.  We can do better, Idahoans!

Three of the panelists and most of the people who asked questions were white.  That’s not going to work going forward.  We need to step back and make (safe) space for people with stories of discrimination and oppression to share them.  If my I can use my privilege as a white clergyperson to help establish and enforce ground rules that make the space safer, I’m happy to do so.  Otherwise, I’ll just sit and listen and support the effort in whatever way I am asked.

There was a ‘teachable moment’ that we missed.  A woman named Sharlese (sp??) shared that she doesn’t like people asking her where she’s from.  She’s like people to get to know who she is rather than trying to fit her into a category.  A little while later, an older, white male with an accent stood up and claimed he ought to be able to ask people where they’re from; the group laughed it off and asked him where he was from.  But truthfully, his question was defensive.  We’ve got to be willing to listen WITHOUT getting defensive.  We need to be teachable, and I wish I had been quicker on the uptake and able to say so in a way that he could hear.

The most important thing about the forum was that it showed that there is considerable energy around unraveling racism here in the Palouse.  Here is my prayer:  May that energy be converted into truth-telling, and transformation, and healing. And my promise:  I’ll do whatever I can to help!