Did you know that to date in 2018 we have raised $6,800 for organizations that support people of color here in Asheville or within Unitarian Universalism?
The Community Plate Team has dedicated 2018 Community Plate collections to organizations that are led by or directly serve people of color in our community and beyond.
In January, we collected $1,554 for the Mel Hetland Scholarship, which is funded entirely by our congregation and offers grants to students of color from Asheville going to college.
In February, we collected $1,693 for Building Bridges to support their work of education around dismantling of systemic racism in Asheville.
In March we collected $1,296 for the Mountain Retreat & Learning Center “Camperships” to go to kids of color attending Mountain Camps this summer.
In April we collected $1,407 to help the YWCA expand their Early Learning program, PLUS over $800 in a one time special collection to support undocumented immigrants detained in the recent ICE raids here in WNC.
For this initiative, the team looked for nominations of organizations that directly empower people of color or work to dismantle systemic racism rather than organizations that seek to mitigate secondary “symptoms” of systemic racism like poverty and hunger. While those are important things to fund, the Community Plate committee saw an opportunity to give more direct support and empowerment to children, youth, and adults of color.
In the months to come, we’ll be collecting funds for more such organizations, including CoThinkk, a giving circle that brings together community leaders who care about the economic and social well-being of communities of color in Asheville & Western NC, and My Sistah Taught Me That, an organization designed for the development, encouragement, inspiration, and education of young girls with a special focus on girls growing up in single parent homes without their father.
If you’d like to add your personal impact to this congregational commitment by patronizing business owners of color, the Color of Asheville has a directory of African American owned businesses, professionals, service providers and clubs in Asheville, NC.
As the year goes on, the Community Plate Committee’s initiative will continue to honor the commitments to racial justice made by our denomination and congregation:
In 2015, UU General Assembly passed an Action of Immediate Witness, “Support the Black Lives Matter Movement,”
In 2016, our congregation committed to Black Lives Matter. (I couldn’t find the exact words of this congregational vote—I believe it was in 2016)
In June of 2016, this congregation passed a resolution affirming our commitment to working for racial justice in our congregation, community, denomination, and world.
The committee believes that leveraging our own resources to support leadership and empowerment of people of color is an effective way to live into the promise of the racial justice resolution. The percentage of Black owned businesses in Asheville is particularly low, and we know that part of the work of dismantling systemic racism is increasing opportunities and access to leadership roles for people of color.
FMI contact a member of the Community Plate Team (Linda Kooiker, Emilie White, Eleanor Lane, Brenda Robinson, and Donna Robinson).
Creating a worship service (YRUU this Sunday) or credo (May 13 services) doesn’t emerge out of nowhere! Our now-teens have been building up to these services in all of their years of religious education.
Our Religious Education (RE) Program depends on more than 70 volunteers each year to implement this foundational work for our congregation. It takes many volunteer teachers every year to provide that consistent and compassionate presence; mentors to foster the growth of our Coming of Age youth; a dedicated RE Council; and people enacting the behind-the-scenes work (like cleaning closets and rooms, prepping materials, etc.). We are grateful for this year’s and past volunteers for what they have given to our RE kids. We also hear that the volunteers are appreciative of what RE has given them.
Here is what some of our teachers and parents have said about RE:
“I am happy that my children get to form relationships with a variety of adults in this intergenerational community — not only with the parents of their peers but with the elders in our community as well.” — RE Parent
“t is as much a learning experience for the teachers as the kids–and it’s fun! And the kids are awesome. ” — 6th-8th Grade Neighboring Faiths Teacher
“As an older person, I enjoyed getting to know this age group. I was impressed by how bright, thoughtful and articulate they can be. Visiting the different faith communities and learning about them was a great learning experience for me.” — 6th-8th Grade Neighboring Faiths Teacher
“Without RE volunteers and without RE classes, our children would be lacking in meaningful faith development. We owe them this investment as the future leaders of this world!” — Parent and RE Teacher
“Working on an RE team with other congregation members allows you to form new relationships in this large community.…” — RE teacher
“This year has been special. Asked to teach RE, we said yes and I’m so glad we did. We’ve been blessed with an intelligent, thoughtful, curious group of youth to learn from. We’ve also worked with three amazing co-teachers who have become new friends we look forward to seeing at coffee hour.” — RE teacher
(I have volunteered for years…)”During most of that time, I thought I was volunteering as an expression of my spiritual journey. Well, yes, it was that, but I began to realize that more importantly, I was discovering my spiritual community, and to my surprise it included 15-year-olds…. Are you ready to receive the gifts that our young people have to give you? But be prepared to have it be a life-changing experience, both for you and for them.” — Coming of Age teacher
“I have seen children connect faith ideas to their everyday lives; ask the big questions in a safe space; be silly and have fun together; form new friendships and connections in a large community; learn from other perspectives;, and enjoy lots of food together! There is value in taking time to slow down; to learn, reflect, and question together.” — 4th grade RE Teacher
Now it’s your turn. We want YOU to be involved in RE! What will YOU say after volunteering? How will it transform you? We are asking each of you to join us for Religious Education in 2018-19. You may ask, “But how? What will I do? How much of a commitment is it?” Let us fill you in, becausewe know there are some myths and questions about volunteering in RE.
Visit our RE Council table on Sundays in Sandburg Hall to find out more, or emailKimorJen.
Kim Collins and Jen Johnson, Lifespan Religious Education Coordinators
uncivilized as those spider monkeys loose in the trees overhead.
They leap, and cling with their strong
tails, they steal food from the cages—little bandits.
If Chaucer could see them,
he would change “lecherous as a sparrow”
to “lecherous as a monkey.”
And sometimes my body disgusts me.
filling and emptying it disgusts me.
And when I feel that way
I treat it like a goose with its
legs tied together, stuffing it
until the liver is fat enough
to make a tin of pate.
Then I have to agree that the body
is a cloud before the soul’s eye.
This long struggle to be at home
in the body, this difficult friendship.
GITANJALI 69 by Rabindranath Tagore
The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean cradle of birth and death,
in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
and my pride is from the life-throb of ages
dancing in my blood this moment.
BODY WORK – I
I had just started work as a ministerial intern at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wisconsin, and my supervisor, the lead minister, the Rev. Michael Schuler announced that he intended to lead a class in the ancient Chinese practice of Qi Gong.
I had some experience with moves of Tai Chi from a UU summer camp our family attended, but I had never taken a class. And in the context of internship, where I expected I would be putting my seminary book learning, head stuff into practice, it seemed like a good focus for me.
Now, I’ve always had the sense of myself as a big guy. I shot up to nearly my current height in my early teens. And while I never participated much in athletics I had an image of myself as a strong person, capable. You know, the guy you ask to open the tight jar lid or to reach that box on the top shelf. I always liked that. It gave me a sense of confidence.
But let me tell you, there’s nothing like advancing years to chip away at that confidence. It began with a hip resurfacing six years ago, and now odd aches and pains, some so intense as to be disabling for a brief time. Suddenly, I’m not exactly sure what I can expect of this body.
It makes me think of the “difficult friendship” Jane Kenyon speaks of And from what I learn of other baby boomers in my age cohort I’m not alone in that kind of experience. The impact of all this, I’m coming to see, is not just physical, or emotional, but spiritual, too.
I’ve come to experience how the sense of my body contributes to my overall feeling of well being and the possibility of peace and contentment. It’s something that comes not of physical achievement – winning the tennis match, hiking at breakneck speed – but from learning to be in touch with and compassionate to this body.
The form of Qi Gong that Michael taught us in Madison is called the Japanese crane. It’s a beautiful form whose graceful gestures do evoke the sense of the crane with its poise and broad wings. But as with all Qi Gong forms its purpose is to point us not to the bird, but to ourselves.
Qi Gong literally translates from the Chinese as “cultivating life energy.” The exercises are intended to acquaint us with that energy, the Qi, and to move in such a way that we can access it. The Taoist notion is that this energy fuels our thoughts, our emotions, and our spiritual energy, too: that which helps us find understanding, enlightenment, a place of peace and of balance.
After coming to Asheville, I was grateful that Michael agreed to give the charge to the minister at my ordination. And I was delighted that in his remarks he couched his advice in the context of Qi Gong and Tai Chi. He argued that the subtle wisdom of these practices offers four lessons for our spiritual life:
First, never make a move without locating your center of gravity. In Qi Gong, if you move too quickly you can put yourself off balance. Similarly, when we are confronted with a need to change instead of rushing to reduce our sense of anxiety we need to get clear on our rootedness, where we find our health and grounding, and move from that.
Second, in Qi Gong moving from pose to pose is seamless, just as energy flows through our bodies. Similarly, our lives are most satisfying and effective when the different parts are connected and serve each other. This is what integrity looks like, and it feeds a sense of joy and purpose.
Third, while learning the basic forms may be easy, it takes time and practice to master them. This reminds us of the value of patience in our lives. We are all of us in this, these lives, for the long haul. No matter where we are on our journeys, there is so much more to learn, so much more to do. We simply need to open ourselves to them.
And fourth, don’t be grim about it. There is a basic ease in all of these forms that is essential to mastering them, room for the darkness of the yin, and lightness of the yang. Similarly, as our bodies, our lives evolve we move through changes, changes that invite us to take stock, but also to open new doors, learn new ways, and give ourselves more deeply to who we are.
BODY WORK – II
A little experience with practices like Qi Gong, Tai Chi, or Yoga serves as a reminder of how profoundly most Western religions are separated from the body. It begins with the way we frame religion as a set of beliefs and how we distinguish among them as competing intellectual propositions. Are we theists, atheists, agnostics, polytheists, mystics, pantheists, panentheists, and so on? And what is “right thinking,” or orthodoxy, about such things as scriptures and theology?
All this is the heritage of our Western culture that treats our brains as the pinnacle of our evolution and our bodies as these messy, unreliable vehicles that exist to haul them around. The more we learn about our bodies, though, the more we see how much that perspective misses.
When we say we have a “gut feeling” about something, it’s no metaphor. There is a network of neurons associated with our gastrointestinal system that is so extensive that some researchers refer to it as our “second brain.” We have no conscious awareness of what it communicates, but our central nervous system is paying attention. And we attend to it also, but not as thought: as feelings.
Our feelings embody all the ways that our bodies perceive and process things outside of what we take to be our primary senses, like sight and hearing. And not only that, there is evidence of a constant dialog between our mind and body, each informing and shaping the other. So that what we think of as consciousness is centered not just in the brain.It is an amalgamation of thoughts and feelings.
Our brains may be our pilots. But our bodies are navigating its path and guiding its decisions. And it may have a direct bearing on religion. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio argues that we can see the influence of feelings in the core principles of some major religions. Look at the Buddha’s concern for the impact of suffering or Jesus’ emphasis on compassion and love.
Each are ways of being in the world that are centered not in our minds, but in our bodies. Suffering and love are not concepts of the mind. They are experiences of the body.
Several years ago religion professor S. Brent Plate wrote about all the ways that our spiritual lives are linked to our sensual ones. He explored how experience with physical objects like stones, drums, incense, crosses and bread shapes spiritual understanding in most of the world’s religions. What all this shows us, he said, is that “religion is rooted in the body.”
“There is no thinking without first sensing,” he said, “no minds without their entanglement in bodies, no intellectual religion without felt religion as it is lived in streets and homes, temples and theaters.”
At different times various folks have speculated about whether in time religion will fade away as a phenomenon of human culture. In our time, we certainly find many faiths losing ground. Yet, at the same time, we hear of people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” as well as the emergence of informal house churches and other groups. Clearly, something in us yearns for deeper connection. Perhaps the challenge is to find meaningful ways to explore that with our bodies as well as our minds.
BODY WORK III
Let’s enter the closing portion of this service with a confession: we are a pretty darned heady faith. That’s not altogether a bad thing. We need our capable brains to help us investigate the world and sort out true and false. But the insights of our bodies deserve affirmation as well. How we do we do that, though? What would it look like?
I decided to play with the idea of how it would be if we took the 7 principles that join us as Unitarian Universalists – beautiful words that nonetheless center us in the mind – and considered how we might apply them to the body as well.
What if in saying that we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person we explicitly included each body as well: large and small, able and not, every color, every gender, every manifestation of the human being, beautiful in itself, worthy in itself, needing no excuse, no explanation. How would it change us as a faith to say that?
Each body deserving justice, equity and compassion, equal treatment and equal consideration.
Acceptance of one another as we are and encouragement to come to terms with all the ways we may struggle with our physical beings and to invite each other into wholeness and health.
A free and responsible investigation of all the ways that we touch the world and the world touches us, and how it informs our lives.
The right to have our bodies treated with respect, where abuse of all kinds is anathema, so that never again will anyone have to say, “Me, too.”
The goal of world community that affirms, values and nurtures the broad diversity of humankind and upholds physical protection as a right.
Respect for all the ways that we are linked to life on this planet, human and otherwise, to which we owe the duty of care.
This is, I’ll grant you, a mere thought experiment – There I go again!
But I think it brings us little closer to the spirit that Rabindranath Tagore invites us to experience, the movement of our bodies “dancing in rhythmic measure” with all life,
all of us rocked in the ocean cradle of birth and death, of ebb and flow, such that we might come to know the life-throb of ages, the flow of life energy that moves through these bodies this and every moment.
I have been thinking of our April theme of Emergence. Emergence surely implies hope. Without hope, how would emergence be possible? At our April meeting, board member Diane Martin opened with some words from the Christian “theologian of hope,” Jurgen Moltmann, who says that hope is a fine thing, an antidote against despair, but that hope without some action is ultimately a pretty sad thing, that hope grounded in faith “causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience” with the status quo, that hope is “the goad of the promised future” which “stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.” As Unitarian Universalists, we are aware of so many things around us that cry out for change, and we certainly have high hopes. As we emerge from our winter burrows into the glory and warmth of spring, may we all bloom exuberantly with high hopes born of our faith, and may we have the energy and the will to continue our efforts to bring those hopes to fruition, in ourselves, in our communities, in our nation and in our world.