UUCA Blog

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps

Right now, this very second, UUCA has three recent graduates of Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Training.  Wink Zachritz, Ed Prestemon, and I will be receiving our Green Ring pins in the mail soon to indicate our accomplishments.  We join Sally Beth Shore who completed her training in 2015!

In this time of “everything virtual” we have the bad news of being sick and tired of staring at computer screens (funny how I don’t mind watching TV after I get done with zooming—why is that?) countered by the good news of the many, many opportunities that are being offered for free as online experiences.

This particular training was global and free, with the cost paid in screen time.  It ran over 9 days and included 14 hours of zoom and video watching along with several written assignments.  About 10,000 people from all over the world participated, nearly doubling the number of active Climate Leaders.  We are all committed to taking action on climate change in a variety of ways.  We have access to the infamous Al Gore slide deck, so any trained Climate Reality Leader can give presentations. To anyone. That means that if you’re looking for a climate speaker, you can contact Wink, Ed, Sally Beth, or me! Other Acts of Leadership include contacting elected officials; leading climate events; writing blogs, social media posts, or op-ed pieces; or partnering with other local groups for climate actions.

One fun outcome is that I now have a Climate Accountability Partner in New Delhi, India named Gitanjali Sreedhar.  We’ll check in with each other periodically to make sure we’re on track to perform the 10 Acts of Climate Leadership we committed to do in the next year.  Turns out that my writing this blog gets me one act closer to my goal.  (As in any group, there are super-performers.  I don’t think I’ll end up in the big leagues where Climate Leaders are accomplishing many 100s of Acts of Leadership a year.)

But I digress in a major way.  I wanted you to know about the Climate Reality Leadership Training (another virtual training is being planned for August 28-September 3) but I HAVE to tell you about Climate Change!!!!

The whole point of the Climate Reality Project is to continue to get the word out that the need for DOING SOMETHING is urgent.  The tide seems to have turned in people “believing” that climate change is happening.  Mother Nature has a very convincing repertoire of actions.  However, it is not at all a commonly held belief that a 2-degree rise is a big deal and that changes have to happen now.

Here’s a graph that shows the urgent nature of the situation.

 

 

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Annual Assessment Report, 2014

The thermometer on the left shows the rise in Celsius degrees using a slightly different baseline than the thermometer on the right.  Each bar shows how risks increase as the global mean temperature rises.  It’s probably important to point out that in 2019 the mean global average temperature was 1.15C degrees on the right-hand thermometer.  Note that the highest risks are to unique and threatened ecosystems.  One of these ecosystems is the southern Appalachian Mountains.  Just sayin’.

The basic questions, to which the Climate Reality Project answers yes, are:

Must we change? (the science is clear, although the weather effects are getting pretty clear, too)
Can we change? (there turns out to be a LOT of good news on this front—just not quite enough yet)
Will we change? (This part is our job. And when I say “our,” I mean all of us!)

Linda Topp
Director of Administration

Finding Hope: What Is Your Call?

Minister ClaudiaOur seemingly endless physical distancing, the dilemma of how to provide safe schooling, federal interference with peaceful protests, political intransigence on all fronts – there are moments when hope eludes me. But I’m reminded daily that we live in a world of ambiguity where hate, violence and inequity coexist with love, generosity and compassion. Many have suffered, many still suffer AND many are working to alleviate suffering. In recent months, we have witnessed nationwide protests speaking out against racism and police brutality even as we mourn the losses of so many lives to COVID19 and racism. There seems to be an awakening to the reality of the brokenness of our nation, a society that has ignored how white supremacy and racism leave so many black and brown people vulnerable and under-resourced during this pandemic. That awakening calls to mind the words of UU minister Victoria Safford who in the essay, “The Small Work in the Great Work” wrote:

          “Once you have glimpsed the world as it might be, as it ought to be, as it’s going to be, (however that vision appears to you),            it is impossible to live compliant and complacent anymore in the world as it is….and so you come out and march, the way a              flower comes out and blooms, because it has no other calling. It has no other work.”

It is impossible to live compliant and complacent!  What are each of us called to do in this moment when police brutality and injustice can no longer be ignored?

With elections almost three months away, what are we each able to do to make sure all votes are counted and that our UU values are represented in the public square?

Our denomination and congregations have a history of advocacy. Hope is grounded in memory and it is important to know what we have done, successful or not. Changing hearts and attitudes takes time. We are in this for the long haul. And that gives me hope. I return to Safford’s essay, which offers a thoughtful reflection on what our mission is during these anxious times, 

“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope —
not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower;
nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through);
nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.”
But a very different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling….
And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
telling people what we are seeing,
asking people what they see.”

      What do you see?

     Who are you asking?

     What is your call?

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Living At the Speed of Change

So, welcome to our 2020-’21 church year!

If you thought last year was crazy and disruptive, get ready for the one ahead, what with an escalating COVID pandemic, an epochal election season, extraordinary economic turmoil, and social upheaval as Americans begin to come to terms with the consequences of our longstanding national sin of racism.

And all that has consequences for us as a people of faith. Kept from meeting at our beautiful campus, we are turning to technology to continue the transformative work of connecting hearts, challenging minds, nurturing spirits as we seek to serve and transform our community and the world. We’re still in the middle of figuring out what that looks like, even as we do it: as they say, building the plane as we fly it.

It is in many ways frightening, stressful, and disorienting to be caught in the middle of this. But in truth, it is also an amazing time to be alive, to be present to all of this. We remember that it is at times of turmoil that transformational change, long-overdue change is possible, and we hope to be part of that change. To do that, though, each of us needs to find a way to name and affirm what gives us hope and brings us wholeness and to be in its service.

A couple of weeks ago in worship, I invited you to consider these words of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I worked – and behold, duty was joy.” What is the duty that brings you joy? And how can you enlist yourself in its service?

I can see different ways that these words apply to my life, but lately I’ve found a way that it applies to how I engage in the challenging work of coming to terms with race. Like many of you, my heart aches at all the ways that I see racism tearing at the lives of Black people, those I know and those I don’t. The outpouring of support in recent months for the Black Lives Matter movement encourages me. And yet, given what I know of America’s intransigence at ever confronting the legacy of racism, the path to meaningful change feels awfully steep. Other than simply stewing over this, what do I do?

I recognize the fraught place in which I stand: an older, cis-gendered white male heaped with privilege. I could comfortably turn aside from this challenge: many do. But it is plain to me that I could never be at peace with that choice. My heart won’t let me. So, again, what do I do?

We know that many white people, awakened to this injustice are quick to waltz in and offer a solution. It’s what we do, infused as we are with a culture of white supremacy. We’re the ones in charge, right? We can fix this. Actually, no. We are, in fact, clueless: too preoccupied with ourselves to be of much use to anyone. Until we’re ready to listen.

And it’s here that Tagore’s words come back to me: It comes to understanding our duty. To be of service, to be of use to the movement of Black Lives Matter, we need to be present to receive, then to accept what we receive and let it work on us, let it change us. This is a duty that no one imposed on me; it is a duty that my heart declares, that is core to my identity. And a way I can frame it is with our first principle: I affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

If I hold to that principle, I need to learn to get over myself and attend to the other, listen to those under the knee of oppression, and commit myself to helping to undo that oppression. As Mohandas Gandhi put it, we must be, we must embody the change we want to see in the world.

In recent weeks, I’ve been working at listening, receiving so that when I act it will be from a place of greater understanding. And it does give me hope, and not only hope but joy, joy in the conviction that I am living aligned with my values, living fully, authentically. I have no expectation that change will come tomorrow, but I do trust that I am walking the path to real change, and in the company of those committed to this change. Each step takes me a little further. I look forward to walking with you.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

A View On Change

Cecil BoardThe definition of change is: Make or become different; The act or instance of making or becoming different.

Has change affected you and how you are doing things today compared to a month, six months, or even a year ago? Throughout our lives we have been faced with changes almost constantly; celebrating various events–birthdays, births, deaths, meeting new people, or losing old friends. These are some of the changes brought into our lives. The challenge of learning new things also changes us–learning and succeeding to ride a bike or to skate or starting a new hobby or skill. As we let our memory float to the past, we can remember so many changes we have faced in our lives. Some of these changes brought us joy, some great sorrow, and others led to different lifestyles. We try to accept these changes as they occurred.

Our church has seen many changes as it has grown from its inception in the 1950s. It moved from a small group of similarly focused people meeting in small groups in a house in West Asheville that was converted into a meeting house for the UU fellowship. Later they moved from there to its current location at 1 Edwin Street. Over a period of time, the church was able to purchase the two houses at 21 and 23 Edwin as well as change the church building to its present configuration. (If you are wanting more history, look on UUCA’s website where you can find additional information.)

Last year we learned that Rev. Mark planned to retire at the end of June 2020 so we needed to start the process of finding a replacement. After 16 years of serving as minister to this congregation, we would be undergoing a big change. Unknown to all was that another change was coming down the pike. COVID-19 occurred and has affected us in so many ways. When Rev. Mark realized the severity of this, he made the decision to postpone his retirement until June 2021. This was a big change for him and his family and was a welcome change for the congregation.

In March the decision was made to stop having face-to-face services and meetings. The staff and Board made the decision to go virtual. Wow! Talk about change! One change was how to conduct Sunday services, meetings, and other church business. The decision was made to use a restricted YouTube link to broadcast the Sunday services to lessen the church’s exposure to copyright violations. Many meetings, including the church service and coffee hour, have shifted to using Zoom. One potential problem was how to conduct the annual meeting. The decision was made to allow mail-in ballots or email votes. The congregation voted on new board members, last year’s minutes, a bylaw change, LDC members, and the proposed budget. The congregation accepted this change and it went very well.

Social media has become our way of life whether it is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Zoom, or one of the many others. I am sure that many of our seniors, myself included, have had a learning curve to try to learn and understand how to work the systems. Most of us have conquered the basics so we can keep up with most UUCA events. (Some of us are lucky to find a teenager or another person we can ask for help.)

Yes, not only have we had to change our UUCA ways, but our personal lives have drastically changed also. We cannot go to theaters, concerts, gatherings, parties, and the list goes on. So, we have been and still are faced with more changes. Most of us have adapted to the new standards. With extra time at home, we have rekindled old hobbies we had put aside some time ago. Perhaps we are painting, reading, gardening, doing jobs around the house, or contacting people we haven’t been in touch with via phone, email, or social media. We might even start something new.

Let us not forget the many changes made by the health care workers, store employees, truck drivers, farmers etc. They, too, have made changes in their lives. We need to tell them just how much they are appreciated.

Most of us are aware of the many changes I have mentioned. I have only touched the surface for the many changes people are experiencing during this time. We all have undergone some drastic changes. I am sure we will have more changes to face in the future. Sometimes we cannot do anything about these changes but must just accept them. Other times we can work to make the changes easier.

A Greek philosopher ( Heraclitus) was given credit for saying “THE ONLY CONSTANT IN LIFE IS CHANGE.” Everything is changing constantly whether it’s the weather or the flowing water of a river. Change is all around us. During this change, the church staff has had to modify how to do the daily work of the church. They have done a wonderful job and deserve our thanks and appreciation.

Cecil Bennett, Board of Trustees

Living At the Speed of Change

So, welcome to our 2020-’21 church year!

If you thought last year was crazy and disruptive, get ready for the one ahead, what with an escalating COVID pandemic, an epochal election season, extraordinary economic turmoil, and social upheaval as Americans begin to come to terms with the consequences of our longstanding national sin of racism.

And all that has consequences for us as a people of faith. Kept from meeting at our beautiful campus, we are turning to technology to continue the transformative work of connecting hearts, challenging minds, nurturing spirits as we seek to serve and transform our community and the world. We’re still in the middle of figuring out what that looks like, even as we do it: as they say, building the plane as we fly it.

It is in many ways frightening, stressful, and disorienting to be caught in the middle of this. But in truth, it is also an amazing time to be alive, to be present to all of this. We remember that it is at times of turmoil that transformational change, long-overdue change is possible, and we hope to be part of that change. To do that, though, each of us needs to find a way to name and affirm what gives us hope and brings us wholeness and to be in its service.

A couple of weeks ago in worship, I invited you to consider these words of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I worked – and behold, duty was joy.” What is the duty that brings you joy? And how can you enlist yourself in its service?

I can see different ways that these words apply to my life, but lately I’ve found a way that it applies to how I engage in the challenging work of coming to terms with race. Like many of you, my heart aches at all the ways that I see racism tearing at the lives of Black people, those I know and those I don’t. The outpouring of support in recent months for the Black Lives Matter movement encourages me. And yet, given what I know of America’s intransigence at ever confronting the legacy of racism, the path to meaningful change feels awfully steep. Other than simply stewing over this, what do I do?

I recognize the fraught place in which I stand: an older, cis-gendered white male heaped with privilege. I could comfortably turn aside from this challenge: many do. But it is plain to me that I could never be at peace with that choice. My heart won’t let me. So, again, what do I do?

We know that many white people, awakened to this injustice are quick to waltz in and offer a solution. It’s what we do, infused as we are with a culture of white supremacy. We’re the ones in charge, right? We can fix this. Actually, no. We are, in fact, clueless: too preoccupied with ourselves to be of much use to anyone. Until we’re ready to listen.

And it’s here that Tagore’s words come back to me: It comes to understanding our duty. To be of service, to be of use to the movement of Black Lives Matter, we need to be present to receive, then to accept what we receive and let it work on us, let it change us. This is a duty that no one imposed on me; it is a duty that my heart declares, that is core to my identity. And a way I can frame it is with our first principle: I affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

If I hold to that principle, I need to learn to get over myself and attend to the other, listen to those under the knee of oppression, and commit myself to helping to undo that oppression. As Mohandas Gandhi put it, we must be, we must embody the change we want to see in the world.

In recent weeks, I’ve been working at listening, receiving so that when I act it will be from a place of greater understanding. And it does give me hope, and not only hope but joy, joy in the conviction that I am living aligned with my values, living fully, authentically. I have no expectation that change will come tomorrow, but I do trust that I am walking the path to real change, and in the company of those committed to this change. Each step takes me a little further. I look forward to walking with you.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Rooted, Inspired, and Ready

Sunday, June 28, 2020 – a LIVE service at 10am
–A program of the UUA General Assembly

We join thousands of UUs across the country in online worship prepared by leaders of the Unitarian Universalist Association and presented live at 10am. Click here to watch.

Greetings From General Assembly

Minister ClaudiaI had been looking forward to being in Providence, Rhode Island, this week to reconnect with UU friends and colleagues at the UU General Assembly (GA) and explore Providence. Instead, I have a full week of online sessions queued up for viewing from my home office. This is not at all what I expected, and like so many of us, after three months of hand-washing, mask-wearing, and physical distancing, online platforms are what keep me connected. As do e-mails and phone calls. The irony is that I was trying to reduce my screen time with the help of the app on my phone that tracks use in categories such as social networking, productivity, entertainment, and creativity. My screen time has gone up tremendously these last three months–just a reality that I have to accept. Not only am I online more for work, but I spend time connecting with family and friends via Zoom or FaceTime because I want to (need to!) see their faces. My GA experience will be defined by how much time I am able to sit or stand in front of a computer.

GA is about to begin as I write. I have participated in the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) pre-GA workshop, “Threading the Needle: Practices for Centering Love and Liberation in Faith Formation.” As I listened and discussed this topic with colleagues in breakout sessions, I identified a few key takeaways:

1. The work of liberation is done in relationship. It isn’t just an intellectual exercise, although studying history, especially the history that has been ignored, is necessary but insufficient to affect meaningful progress. Relationships allow us to engage in the deeper conversations that establish pathways for working together for change. In America, that requires disrupting the culture of rugged individualism. What if we prioritized relationship over ego? What if, when covenants are broken, we were able to choose ways to re-covenant instead of allowing the relationship to disintegrate? What if we were willing to work collaboratively to disrupt repressive hierarchical structures that promote power-over rather than power-within our relationships? This work begins in the predominantly white spaces many of us inhabit and prepares us to establish relationships beyond our comfort zones.

2. The work of liberation requires accountability. It is not merely performative. How can it be transformational? We have experienced much sorrow, anger, and frustration in the face of police brutality in America and continuing anti-black racism. Many have protested and marched for justice. That is only the beginning. How will we show our marginalized siblings that we are in this together? How will we each be transformed by working for liberation for all? Are we willing to do the work for structural change that moves us closer to an equitable society? How do we hold ourselves accountable to the work of disrupting oppressive systems in our midst? What if accountability wasn’t scary?

3. Practicing liberation requires moral imagination. We cannot achieve what we cannot imagine. As we imagine an equitable world, the Beloved Community we often talk about, the question for each of us becomes what will we do with our time, talent, and treasure to make it happen? What is our commitment to justice-centered love?

Those are my takeaways and questions after 5-1/2 hours of Zoom sessions. I will be reflecting on them as I work with staff and volunteers to plan Faith Development and Justice Ministry for the 2020-21 congregational year. I wonder what these thoughts bring to mind for you? Let me know!

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

 

UUCA Needs YOU!

Thanks for all the kudos you’ve been sending to us as we on staff have completely and totally changed almost everything we do for UUCA and where we do it!  Your appreciation means a lot.

Now that we can see that this state of affairs will continue for quite some time, we need YOUR help!  We know that many of our groups are still functioning, be they spiritual deepening groups, covenant groups, social groups, or committees (Board, Leadership Development, Auction, Finance Advisory Committee, RE Council, Justice Ministry Council and more!).  But there is a need for more, and the UUCA staff is unable to attend to it.

Just a little aside here, quoting someone recently (and if it was you, tell me!), “Staff supplies support and the congregation owns the programs.”  It’s true!

Our highest priority need is to identify more covenant group leaders.  What is a church if it is not a locus of relationships?  And where is that locus when there is no there there?  It’s in small group ministries!  We want everyone to be in a small group this coming year, but there’s no way to offer that without more leaders.  If you can spend about 2 hours a week reviewing materials and   Contact Rev. Claudia to learn more.

Our second-most (desperate) need is for more participants for our worship services.  Both Wednesday Vespers and our Sunday service would benefit from more, different voices.  You will get lots of help and advice from the ministers and you will show your fellow congregants that you are still alive(!).  (OK, maybe not the best selling point.)  Contact Rev. Mark for Sundays, and Rev. Claudia for Wednesdays.

And finally, our third most important need (only because it’s not immediate) is for RE program facilitators.  We’ll be doing RE differently this year, with fewer classes adapted to online interactions, but we’re not doing any of it without volunteers.  Really.  So, if you can volunteer on a teaching team with three other congregants to learn with a small group of youngsters, contact Kim Collins or Jen Johnson.  (And you can’t use, “But I don’t want to miss the service,” as an excuse, can you?)

Thanks for your help.

Dr. Linda Topp
Director of Administration

UNFRIEND ME NOW!!! (Just kidding. I meant to say, “Can we still be friends?”)

photo of Ryan WilliamsIf you are like me and you have spent any time on Facebook in the last few weeks (years!), you have probably seen quite a range of thoughts and feelings being shared by various people in your life regarding issues of race, police brutality, protests, white privilege, and of course, the President. Often, much of what I see and read is information that I connect with, can learn from, and be inspired by. However, there are also obviously times when I read or see something that someone has posted and my jaw drops in disgust or anger.  After all, as a liberal white guy from conservative Eastern NC, my Facebook social circle also includes quite a number of individuals, both family and friends, whose paradigm seems to be from another planet from mine all together. A bad planet. Planet Cringe. Planet Denial. Planet Disregard. Planet Disrespect. A planet that I don’t want to visit. 

So the thing that I hate is that I feel like whether I want to or not, I have to sometimes travel there anyway….

Will and I were talking recently about commonplace Facebook posts that include words like  “Unfriend me if you think ______” or “I will unfriend you if you believe _____”. The positions that often fill in the blanks of these ultimatums aren’t normally cut and dry like “if you think it’s okay to steal from the mouths of babes!” or “if you believe it’s okay to throw kittens in the river” but instead often seemed to be a bit more nuanced with current examples like, “I will unfriend you if you call a protest a riot!” or “Unfriend me if you think property is more important than people!”

I can’t help but cringe every time I see them. Though I understand the feeling and the frustration that often comes with these righteous declarations, I also struggle, particularly as a white person in the current moment, with what it says about how we choose to engage and to what purpose. What is the balance between sharing our own positions and standing by our values while also taking the time to hear someone else’s? 

When I think about my own social circles, I notice that I don’t often see these same declarations being made by my black friends. After all, be it Facebook, social settings, work environments, or schools, it is highly unlikely that black or brown individuals have the privilege of simply cutting out the comments and the commenters that don’t align with their own experience. It’s just part of being black in a white-centric society, of hearing white people say things with sharp edges, of navigating whiteness.

So when progressive whites stand firm to their either-or declarations, it can unfortunately read a little too much to me as a form of white isolationist privilege. In other words, in the last few weeks, I have seen a number of ALL CAPS posts where white people, upon hearing other white people say things they found disagreeable, declare that they would no longer engage and were simply going to “block” the offender. Although I am sure those pronouncements are on some occasions necessary, can help calm white nerves, and boost one’s sense of nobility, I wonder what purpose they serve beyond that. 

With these thoughts already in my head, I was intrigued by words I found posted this morning on Facebook (go figure…)

Michael Soldati writes:

“I see a lot of fellow white folks, particularly left-leaning liberals and progressives, struggle to connect and communicate effectively with their conservative/Republican friends and families on Facebook. I want to encourage people NOT to block them, unfriend them, or to cease communicating with these people. Now is the time to speak up, to communicate with them. Like it or not, the unchecked opinions and beliefs of these people are what hurt our communities and put black lives at risk. You are not to blame for their views, but you are responsible. White folks need to police white folks, that’s our problem that only we can fix.”

He goes on to offer a number of suggestions including:

  1. Ask yourself if it’s more important that you deliver the message or that they receive it. Expressing your feelings is important, but sometimes what’s more important is that they hear what it is that you are saying and that they are able to receive that information and understand it. Knowing one from the other can go a long way to help you understand how you need to interact. Word choice, tone, and understanding where their mind/heart is at are absolutely vital so that you can shape the conversation without losing them.
  2. Hold their hand while you hold their feet to the fire. Confrontation and being called out can feel very uncomfortable, it can feel very personal, and it can be easy to act defensively or shut down. Unfortunately this can lead to outcomes that are counter to what we’re trying to achieve. Therefore it’s incumbent upon us as white folks who have gone through this process ourselves to coach them through it like we might have wanted someone else to coach us through it. This can be a difficult balance, we are creating a safe space for people, not their views. The tone is firm and direct but compassionate, you’re not letting them off the hook, they still have to be held accountable but we can also recognize their humanity at the same time. If things boil over and they disengage, this is a good sign, they are feeling the fire. Stay on them or make plans to re-engage at a later time when you’ve both had time to think and cool down.
  3. Identify. It’s important to identify people’s struggles and their values and to differentiate them from their ideology, mass media, or other belief structures. In a way you need to isolate them from the powers that might be influencing them negatively. “Ok that’s what Fox News said but what do you think?” etc. Also identifying logical fallacies, holes in their argument, or flat out lies, regardless of where they are coming from. However it is important when identifying these things, to not raise alarms, or to come off as superior or like you’re always right. Overall we want to sneak behind their wall, point it out to them and recommend tearing it down.

His words spoke to me as someone who is simultaneously hot-headed and non-confrontational. As someone who knows too many people in my life who see things in ways that are hard for me to understand.  As someone who believes deeply that if things are to get better, we are going to have to be willing to (re)visit uncomfortable planets and positions rather than bypass them. Let’s be willing to make this journey…together.

 

Ryan Williams
President, Board of Trustees

A Dream Deferred-Still!

“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a rain in the sun?
Or fester like a sore – and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over – like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?”

It has been almost 70 years since Langston Hughes wrote that iconic poem, which he entitled “Harlem.” And still we in America – or more specifically we whites in America – have yet to learn its lesson. The poem has a specific reference from Hughes lifetime – the Harlem conflicts of the 1930s – but it has echoed many times in the years since, through the Civil Rights disruptions of the 1960s to any of the more recent “explosions” that we have known in response to unjust police actions against black men and women.

Year after year the roll call grows. Some of the more famous cases more recently involve people like Rodney King, Malice Wayne Green, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando CastileAhmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now George Floyd. And even that roll call omits the thousands of others who die year after year in racist killings or are injured in racist incidents. Add to that the legacy of centuries of racism that has caused black hopes and aspirations to dry up like the raisins in Langston Hughes poem: side-tracked into inadequate housing, first to be laid off or evicted in a shattered economy, deprived of a decent education, suffering and dying early in a failed healthcare system. Is it any wonder that black Americans are most likely to be killed by the COVID pandemic, losing out on unemployment benefits and now murdered in the streets by public safety officers?

Explode? Yes, explode! Isn’t it time that we paid heed to the tragedy African-Americans have endured and which we whites are complicit in creating by prospering to their detriment? So, while we hate to see the damage done downtown and are discomfited by the angry protests, we should not pretend that we don’t understand why it has come. It has been building like a magma chamber of a volcano, and an explosion was to be expected. Our greatest hope now is that the white majority in this country and the power structure that serves them will finally listen and take concrete action to address generations of inequality and oppression.

And please note the sequence of what I argue is required of us: listen first, then take action. We whites, even when we’re sympathetic to the oppression that our African-American neighbors experience, have the unfortunate habit of rushing off with some half-cocked idea of a solution without ever asking them.

We remember that when Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative spoke at UNC-A last year he told us that the first step in being of service to others is, in his words, “to get proximate.” For our justice work to be effective, we need to know and understand the people we are working with. And that doesn’t happen right away. It takes time to build relationships and come to know communities.

So while we need to be advocates for political change and systemic restructuring, we also need to be about the hard work of listening, of putting ourselves in places where we can hear the stories of people’s lives and learn to lament and grieve with them the losses so many have suffered. And sooner or later we will need to acknowledge our own complicity in the system of white supremacy, the ways in which the racism marbled throughout our culture offers us gains which come on the backs of others.

Then, once we understand at least a little better we will be in a position to act, to use our wealth, our connections, our privilege to bring about real change, to access the levers of power to bring about true equity and justice.

The protests underway around the country, and here in Asheville, can feel impressive, consequential, but they are no more than flashes in the pan if they do nothing to change the way that systems work, whether they be policing, schools, employment and more. Let us be among the allies and partners who help make that happen.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

 

Are We All Zoomed Out Yet?

Minister Claudia

Last night thirty UUCA members gathered via Zoom for an Animal Blessing Vespers. We met pets, remembered past pets, introduced stuffed pet avatars and even took time to consider animals endangered by human greed and carelessness. We listened to music, with Les, our music director, playing piano. Vespers leader MaryAnn Somervill shared poetry and inspiring words. We lit chalices and shared joys and sorrow via “chat.” I found it to be a meaningful way to connect when analog gatherings pose a risk of contagion.

Our UUCA family continues to thrive in virtual gatherings of covenant groups and other spiritual deepening groups. Whether lay-led or minister-led, we are all seeking ways to ground ourselves spiritually in these unprecedented times and to stay connected to each other. I hope we are providing substance that meets, however incompletely, some part of your need to feel connected to our community. Daily, I wonder, worry, debate, and puzzle about how this can best be done by taking advantage of the opportunities inherent in communication technology while recognizing its deficiencies. A major concern is how we can best reach those who are not comfortable with technology or do not have access or just plain don’t like video-conferencing. I certainly get tired of seeing myself on the screen! Phone calls and old-fashioned snail mail are an option.

I have heard people say that observing social distancing and wearing a mask express our care and respect for others. That care also includes deciding if and when to gather. It is complicated. Public institutions, businesses, churches, and other organizations are threatened by closures. Last Sunday, as I delivered roses to two of our bridging seniors wearing a mask and keeping adequate physical distance, I realized how much I miss seeing each of you in person. How much I miss our being together. More than anything, I miss giving and receiving your hugs. I wonder how long Zoom or other platforms are going to be our main vehicle for connection. I am trying to be mindful of how many video meetings I attend each day. There are many opportunities for connecting with family, friends, and other professionals. It can be overwhelming! How are you dealing with this sudden technology overload?

It is particularly challenging for families juggling work and parenting. Screen time for children has inevitably increased during this time. That is to be expected with school online and parents working from home (if they have that privilege). What to do? How can families realistically regulate online and offline experiences? While planning for our parent check-in group, I came across what pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky calls the “Three C’s Framework.” Parents can approach media use considering their child: who they are; content: what they are watching, and context: how you are interacting with them. My own children are young adults and I can’t imagine having to write this blog while also having to keep track of them while my partner is upstairs preparing breakfast, or he might be trying to get them to help out. What if I were on my own? Whatever permutation, it is complicated. Technology is part of our lives now, and this pandemic has deepened our dependency on it.

So, am I Zoomed out? Not quite yet. The computer has become an essential tool for many, including ministers. To compensate, I try to engage in more offline experiences. More walks, phone calls, letter-writing, and the occasional outdoor, properly distanced gathering with 2 or maybe 4 friends from deck chairs or driveways. What is helping you avoid Zoom-out?

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

EVERYONE Can Come to General Assembly This Year

You don’t have many excuses now.  The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly will be online, making it accessible and affordable to all.  Dates are June 24-28.  UUCA has funds, so we will definitely pay the full registration ($150) for all 12 of our delegates, and we’ll keep paying registrations (or partial registrations if you don’t need the full $150) for non-delegates until the money runs out.  First come, first serve.  Contact Ryan Williams, Board President, to be a delegate.  Contact Linda Topp to get in line for registrations without delegate status.

Why do this?  Because it’s interesting!  It’s educational!  It’s exciting!  It’s a convenient way to take workshops from other UUs who are doing what you’re doing!  It’s encouraging/heartwarming/amazing to discover all those UUs from all over the world! There is special programming for youth and young adults! You can time-delay the workshops as they will be accessible to registrants later!  You can sing in the choir! (Sign up fast—the choir will fill up quickly.) Hear amazing, inspirational speakers! (Naomi Klein, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Dina Gilia-Whitaker, Jean Mendoza, Natalie Martinez, Howard Bryant, Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Rosemary Bray McNatt, Elías Ortega, John Buehrens)

Don’t have the time?  How about sampling the free stuff?  Without registration, you can attend:

  • General Sessions – in which the business of the Association is conducted.
  • Synergy Bridging Worship – a celebration of treasured worship elements, rites of passage, and brilliant contemporary musical performances.​
  • Service of the Living Tradition – a worship service that honors fellowshipped and credentialed religious leaders; remembering those who have died, recognizing those who have completed active service, and welcoming those who have received fellowship or credentialed status in the past year.
  • Sunday Morning Worship – the largest annual gathering of UUs joining in worship

By the way, that Sunday Morning Worship service will be UUCA’s worship service on Sunday, June 28 at 10:00am.  It’s the perfect win-win—give our worship service team a break and join thousands for a UU worship service!

All the information there is can be found on the UUA’s website.  Go for it!

Linda Topp
Director of Administration

I’m a Planner

I am a planning addict. I have my desk calendar, the fridge calendar, the calendar app on my phone, the weekly calendar sheet that I carry in my bag. And then there is the “bible.” The giant, hardback, yearly planner that goes with me EVERYWHERE. “If it isn’t in the bible, then it isn’t happening.”

Mariah Board

This planner lists our entire lives. Birthdays, vacations, meetings, doctor’s appointments, bills that are due, chores that need doing, and meal plans. Everyone in the family has a different color assigned to them and everything is color-coded. I have spent hours of my life filling these planners with things to remember, places to go, activities to do. I can comb over my old planners and recollect everything we were doing. They are like windows into our past years.

But now….

These days, the white-out is getting used more than the fancy-colored pens. Now the blank pages of the calendar are glaringly white. Every day I get another email that requires me to get out the white-out and flip further and further through the book. All that organizing, budgeting and dreaming–crossed out. My plans deleted.

The erasing breaks my heart. The eighth-grade trip. Two proms. Mountain CON. Teaching in RE. Church auction events. A cruise. LEAF festival. The eighth-grade dance. OWL class. Graduations. A trip to New York City. Each time I scratch out these words, I realize how important these things were to us. Sometimes it seemed like we were too busy and had too much going on. But they were GOOD things. They were valuable to us, so we gave our time and money towards them. And now they are just gone….

But there is something valuable about these blank pages, too. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, we are connecting more as a family. Instead of running around all over town on the weekends, we watch documentaries and play board games. My teens are home with me and there are no arguments about curfews or friends coming over or me dragging them to do things they don’t feel like doing. Life has become simple.  My meditation practice exists again. My husband is working on a project in the yard. I’ve baked desserts and read whole books. The boys play basketball together every evening.

We have been given a chance to live in the present instead of planning out the future. I know I will be scribbling away in my planner again one day, filling up all these calendars with a million places to go. For now, I’ll hang out with my kids, do some jigsaw puzzles, and deep-clean my house. I will try to see the gift in the grief. There are spiritual lessons everywhere. It’s nice to have a chance to slow down enough to find them.

Mariah Wright, Board of Trustees

How Are We A Congregation When We Don’t Congregate?

It’s something like a koan that we have been living for almost two months. Ever since it became clear back in March that the novel coronavirus made it unsafe for us to gather as a community, we have distanced ourselves from our campus at Edwin Place on Asheville’s north side.

Worship, religious education, covenant groups, committees, spiritual groups, staff meetings – everything we do we are learning to do while peering at small screens, bathed in blue light, navigating unfamiliar software. For some of us this was a pretty quick transition. After all, we were already spending a lot of our lives online, and so shifting more of what we do onto our devices was not a big deal. Others of us have been wading into a not-so-brave new world that is disorienting and frustrating.

We’re far enough into this new world that it’s starting to lose its novelty. Sure, it was fun for a while catching up the Berlin Philharmonic for free or binge-watching Friends, but we miss good old face-to-face conversations, not to speak of hugs and handshakes. What if we are weeks, months . . . who know how long? . . . from being in each other’s company again?

In such stressful times, we need more than ever the support of a community that affirms us for who we are, that points us toward higher values, that demands justice for all – for the oppressed and marginalized, but also the vast number of people who have seen their lives tipped into chaos.

Whether we congregate or not, the work remains: the drive to find inspiration, to facilitate connection, to build community, to uphold the common good. So, all of us – staff, lay leaders, facilitators – are keeping at it: mostly at home, often on Zoom calls or by telephone. We are learning new skills but also sticking with the tried and true – check-in calls, meal trains, singing, laughing, talking over whatever medium we have available to us.

Worship, my chief responsibility, has changed radically. Everything we do is much more a “production” than it ever was. The writing is different, and we’re more conscious of how we integrate images into all that we do. We’re still reaching some 250 to 300 people a week, but video is a more intimate medium than presenting to a sanctuary full of people. What’s nice is that it’s enabled us to invite lots of different people into worship. For example, we’re involving families and children more than we have before.

As we look ahead to the summer, we want to do more of this. Claudia and I will be asking around, but don’t wait for our call. If you have something to offer or if you just are willing to be a video worship participant, please let us know. As disorienting as this time is, it also presents us with all kinds of opportunities to try new things. We have continued to follow something like what had been our regular order of worship. It is, after all, a tested container that we’re familiar with. But I envision us exploring some other options as this medium evolves. We still want music, meditation, stories and inspiring words, but what form they take may shift. Come help us figure out what this might look like.

And the same applies to our Wednesday Vespers, offered weekly at 6:30 p.m. It is the part of what had been our Wednesday Thing that still continues, and we would like to stick with it, if we can. We see Vespers as a moment to pause midweek for a kind of spiritual tune-up. Unlike the weekly worship service, it is presented live on Zoom, which gives us a chance to see each other. Presenters offer a story, reflection, meditation for 15 minutes. Then, we take another 15 minutes to share, either together or in Zoom break-out rooms if the gathering is more than 10 to 15 people. Please check in with Rev. Claudia if this sounds interesting, or even better: join her planning team. We could use some more help right now.

The biggest lift of all has been learning to interface with the daunting array of technology to produce all of this. It is bright and shiny, but also often a real puzzle to sort through. The technologies we’re using are new to many of us and often take enormous amounts of time to figure out. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. We’re learning.

One decision we made around Sunday worship early on to was record the elements of the service in advance, then combine them into a package that can be viewed on Sunday. That way we can present a relatively finished presentation. But, of course, what’s missing from all this is you. So, we’re beginning to talk about what it would look like to offer a live, rather than recorded Sunday service. The downside is it would take away the flexibility that you have to watch the service whenever you want, but it would also enable us to truly “congregate” and more easily welcome visitors into our services.

There has been lots of speculation on when people will feel comfortable gathering again. We staff are operating on the assumption that we will be worshipping online at least until early September, and, depending on how well we navigate the COVID pandemic in North Carolina, it could be much longer. One thing I feel confident in saying is that the way we “do church” is changing. But if we do this thoughtfully, compassionately and with an eye to our values and mission in the world, it can be for the good. And throughout all this it will be good to have you along for the ride.

Be well. Stay in touch. Hold onto hope.

Lead Minister Rev. Mark Ward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Going to Happen Next at UUCA and How You Can Help Determine That

Photo of Linda Topp, author

Now that things have somewhat normalized to the current “normal,” we’ve been able to take a minute to think further than one week ahead. We now know that North Carolina has a three-phase plan to re-open and that the timer for Phase 1 won’t even start until illnesses, positive lab tests, and hospitalizations are all decreasing across the state. As always, we don’t really have any idea when this might happen, but let’s say Phase 1 starts on May 15.  At Phase 2, gatherings at “reduced capacity” will be allowed. Assume Phase 2 can start three weeks after Phase 1.  That would be June 5.

Now I don’t know about you (although I think I can guess), but just because you CAN go out doesn’t mean you will.  And you sure won’t go into a space where a good-sized group is gathering.  So, with that in mind, the Executive (Lead Minister) and senior staff members have chosen to keep UUCA closed until September 13, our first two-service Sunday (or, more accurately, the day we traditionally resumed two services).  This is not to say that we will definitely open then, but that September 13 is the first possible moment we will consider doing so.  Even then, procedures for gatherings will be VERY different.  But that’s a discussion for a different day.

In the meantime, here’s how you can help. When there is no way for staff members to “ask around” and “chat up” folks to get feedback, we suffer from a lack of information about our congregants. I normally don’t think surveys are all that helpful, but right now, in abnormal times, maybe a survey is just the thing. We do need to know how the UUCA staff (and volunteers) can best serve our religious community.

So please take 2 minutes to complete this eight-question survey (and one question just asks for your name so you can see it’s not going to be time-consuming).

And as a thank you, here’s a lovely quote from David Brubaker, a well-known church consultant:

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from our current virtual reality is that we were never meant primarily to attend a congregation, but to be a congregation. In this crisis time, we can explore more deeply what it means to be a congregation. After all, what is a “congregation” but a group of human beings who “congregate” periodically, to connect with and encourage one another—and then to scatter once again…to love and to serve. 

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

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