Social Justice

Embracing the Dangerous and Sacred

By Suzi Spangenberg

Delivered at Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Fremont, CA

On 6 May 2012

(Winner: Mission Peak Sermon Contest )

 

Indulge me here, as you are able, please stand up or if you can’t, you can also do this
from your seat.
Now streeeeetch as far as you can.
Feel that?
Now…hold it.
Take a breath, let it out and stretch a little bit further.
Not so much that it hurts.
Just so that you feel it.
Now,
Mark that feeling.
Really take heed of it.
Make sure your body really remembers it.
Ok…now go ahead and take your seats.

I want to tell about my name.  When my parents decided to marry, my dad was an atheist and my mom Catholic.  To get permission from the church to marry, my dad had to agree to raise any children they had in the Catholic Church.  My dad agreed, but only if he was allowed to name the kids.

Now my dad had a unique sense of humor.  It took several friends intervening rather forcefully to get my dad to agree not to name my brother Anthony Scott Spangenberg.  They convinced him that the initials would have set my brother up for a lifetime of pain.  So, my dad relented and named him Scott Russell.

10 years later I came along.  My dad, in his infinite wisdom decided to buck Catholic custom and not name me after a saint. To ensure that there was no mistaking his intention, he chose to spell my name S-U-Z-I.

Paragraph 2165 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: In Baptism, the Christian receives his name in the Church. Parents, godparents, and the pastor are to see that he be given a Christian name. The patron saint provides a model of charity and the assurance of his prayer.

So not naming me after a saint was no laughing matter.  Every year in Catholic School I was grilled about my name.  Every time I fill out a legal document, I am asked, “No, what’s your LEGAL name?”  One day I will have to calculate just how many hours I have spent saying “That IS my legal name!”  Thanks, Dad.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote:
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggling, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.  These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.  Beautiful people do not just happen.

When I read that quote to a friend, he said "Oh, I wish that were true because then we could all be Brad Pitt" and I replied "Or the Dalai Lama".  He just looked at me and then said "Honey - you go with the Dalai Lama...I'm sticking with Brad"

The thing is, my friend immediately identified with Kubler Ross's statement.  He recognized that the LGBTQ community has certainly experienced defeat, suffering, and loss.  I don't know any member who hasn't struggled on some level.  We know the defeat of trying over and over to secure the same civil rights as straight people in our society.  Not special rights.  Equal rights.  We have suffered when we have been separated from partners in hospitals or until recently, partners who served in the military.  And we know loss - oh how we know loss. Whether it is the loss of a friend when we start to figure out who we are, the loss of a family or job when we come out, or the more permanent losses that we experience as a result of violence or illness, loss is something that most of us know altogether too well.

Perhaps that is why there are so many beautiful people in the LGBTQ community.

Last year, in preparation for a Day of the Dead service, we were asked to bring in icons representing those we have lost.  Along with photographs, I also brought, a small address book.  Remember these?  For those of you who are younger, this is an address book.  Before cell phones we used to carry these in our pockets or purses and they contained the names and numbers of  important people in our lives.  This particular phone book is special - I got it when I first moved to Berkeley for college and used it for several years afterward.

When I started college, I was 16 and didn't know I was bi-sexual.  I just knew I was different from the other kids at my Catholic school.  I know that someone was looking out for me when an apartment opened up next door to Bill-my future best friend.  Bill took one look at me and saw through my punk rock facade.  He recognized the confused, naive, lost queer girl that I was even though I didn't recognize her myself.

Bill took me under his wing, brought me into the community and introduced me to his friends.  They snuck me into clubs so I could dance, helped me with my homework, nursed my first broken heart, and pretended to like the Thanksgiving turkey I cooked which was so dry, it could have been used for kindling.  We all learned to love and support each other. For the first time in my life, I got to experience what it was like to be truly accepted for who I was.  We were a family.

I didn't know a lot about politics then.  I started interning at a radio station and crewed with the news team as part of my internship.  When Dade County, Florida overturned a recently passed civil rights ordinance that made discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal, we covered the protest marches.  You may remember that the legislation was overturned as the result of the “Save Our Children” campaign by Florida Orange Juice spokesperson Anita Bryant.  Her involvement sparked a long boycott of Florida orange juice.  In fact, I still have trouble buying Orange Juice from Florida.

Shortly after that, CA State Senator John Briggs introduced the Briggs Amendment, which would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools.  At a press conference at San Francisco City Hall he called the city a "sexual garbage heap" because of “homosexuals”.  A week later, a gay man named Robert Hillsborough died from 15 stab wounds while his attackers gathered around him and chanted "Faggot!" Both San Francisco Mayor Moscone and Hillsborough's mother blamed Anita Bryant and John Briggs.

The response was immediate and strong.  Weeks later, 250,000 people attended the 1977 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, the largest attendance at any Gay Pride event to that point.  Shortly after that, Harvey Milk was sworn in as a San Francisco City Supervisor - the first openly gay man in the United States to win an election for public office.  What is important to note is that Milk, who won by a landslide, did not focus solely on gay causes.  He advocated for larger and less expensive childcare facilities, free public transportation, and the development of a board of civilians to oversee the police. He opposed the closing of an elementary school-- even though most gay people in the Castro did not have children.  He advanced important neighborhood issues at every opportunity.  He recognized that we ALL needed representing.

When Supervisor Dan White murdered Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, we covered the press conference when then supervisor Dianne Feinstein made the announcement.  I will never forget the sight of normally hardened reporters in tears.  I called my friends -- my family--, and we all took part in a candlelight vigil march through the City.  It was my first, but by no means, my last.

Harvey Milk is in my address book.

A few years later, When LaDean got sick, we were all shocked.  He was young, ran daily, and was vegetarian even before it was cool.  He went so fast we didn't have time to process it.  One day he had the flu, the next he was in the hospital with pneumonia, 3 days later he was dead.  We grieved together, never realizing that LaDean was just the beginning.

Suddenly, men in the community, my family, were dying.  My family and friends were dying and no one outside the community seemed to care.  Sue Hyde, from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said, "An entire political movement grew up around the silence of the Reagan administration. The AIDS activist movement took as its call to action 'silence equals death' because literally the silence of the Reagan administration was resulting in the deaths of thousands and thousands of gay men in our communities across the country."

Once again, it took people organizing to form a movement and demanding change before any took place.

LaDean is in my address book.
And so many more.
Every single male in this phonebook is dead.  Every single one.

The devastation of those early days of AIDS cannot be overemphasized.  Yet, as we grieved, we somehow survived.  We all found ways to do it.  Now, no one talks much about AIDS.  Medical advances have made it possible for those diagnosed with HIV to live a full life.  Yet, we can usually identify each other - those who went through this time.  It's in the eyes.  You see it in the eyes of those who have experienced loss or great struggle.

I saw those same eyes in Sonora when I spoke with a woman who months earlier had been deported with her young children and did not know where they were--ICE deported them to a separate location.  Alone.  She was afraid that they would become victims of the sex trade - the predators wait at the border for unaccompanied children.

I saw it in the eyes of Javier, a 72-year-old widower who was deported after living 71 years in the US.  He had cancer, and no means of even contacting his family to tell them where he was.  When I offered to let him use my phone he told me he didn't know their telephone numbers - they were all in his phone, which ICE had kept, along with his wallet, money, and identification.  He was afraid that stopping his medical treatment would mean that he would die without getting to see his children and grandchildren again.

And yet...they both were volunteering at a makeshift aid center --doing what they could to assist the newly deported.  They were helping others with the kind of compassion that comes from real empathy.  Their ability to practice loving kindness at a time of great loss was a profound and beautiful act.  They both expressed that they felt better when they were helping others.  By helping others, they were also helping themselves.

That interconnectedness, that is something we as UU's know well.  It is one of our principles:  As UU's we commit to affirm and promote our respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.  So when a family is torn apart because of our immigration policy, the ripples stretch out and affect us all. When a queer kid is bullied to death, when a transgendered person is brutally murdered...those ripples affect everyone too.  Not just those in the community...everyone.  Because we are all connected to each other through the good and the bad.

It's that connection that compelled white UU ministers to leave the safety of their homes and congregations and answer the call of Martin Luther King, jr. in Selma to march in the Civil Rights Movement.  It is that same connection that compel straight UU's to rally for marriage equality and an end to bullying.  It is that same connection that compels us to speak out against an Immigration policy that tears apart families and destroys lives. And that connection holds true for love as well.  For every loving act we do, the ripples spread out and affect people we may never know.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said  “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”  He also said "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

Sometimes it's so difficult to know which battles to take on.  Sometimes after years of struggle we win a battle like we did for marriage equality in Maryland and after celebrating, our inclination may be to get off the activist train and take a well-deserved break.  You should!  Recharging our batteries is important and taking the time to practice good self-care is critical to any long-term movement.

However, after those batteries are recharged, it's important to get back on that train.  As long as civil rights are denied to any of us, they are denied to all of us.

I have a favorite tree that I like to sit in.  Going there is a form of meditation for me.  I like to climb up into the trees branches and look out over the Bay.  It is one of my favorite places to sit sipping a cup of coffee while I watch the sun set.  The birds’ fly around me and my cares just melt away.  I feel like I am in a sacred and safe world.  I love it.

Sacred and safe.  There is nothing wrong about sacred and safe spaces.  We need them.  We need them to balance out the challenges and realities that we face as we work to create a more just and sustainable world.  We need sacred and safe spaces.  We all do.  And it makes sense that we would want to remain in a safe space.

But what happens when we don't leave those safe spaces?  What happens when we choose the comfort of the sacred and safe over the discomfort that often arises when we actively work to counter oppression and create a just and sustainable world?

Like our muscles that become tight and then atrophy with disuse, so do our spirits.  If we do not stretch ourselves, then we become disconnected from our humanity.  Because spirit is not about closing up - it is about breaking open our hearts and minds and embracing all that life holds not just the safe and sacred but also the dangerous and sacred.

And by danger, I don't just mean the danger that comes from risking arrest for a cause you feel is just, I am also speaking of the danger that comes from opening your mind to people, ideas, painful truths, ugly realities and your own prejudices and privilege.  Because facing these things is dangerous - and probably one of the most sacred things we can do.

Each time we stretch just a little bit, it helps make it easier for the next time...by stretching just a little bit; we can accomplish things we would not have thought possible.  We very well may begin to like that feeling – of being stretched – and especially appreciate learning that we are a lot more flexible than we ever thought.  We can begin to experience interconnectedness in ways that we could not have imagined.  Our capacity for growth is boundless.

And in learning to like that feeling, I also learned what a gift my father gave me in my name.  He helped prepare me for a lifetime of stretching.  Of learning to be comfortable saying "THIS is who I am"

So by all means find your sacred and safe space.  Go there.  Re-charge.  Delight in it.  But don't reside there.  Come out of that space.  STRETCH yourselves.  Reach out.  Remember that feeling of being stretched earlier?  Reach for that feeling.  Embrace the dangerous and sacred.  And remember...to stretch yourselves - a little bit...each and every day.

Meditation on Energy

Author: 
Kat Liu

(This guided meditation was originally written for UUs observing Earth Hour, with the intent of adding a deeper, spiritual dimension to just turning off the lights for an hour.  It has been adapted here for Climate Justice Month.  In the U.S., nearly 50% of our electricity comes from burning coal.  That is why the meditation focuses on coal.)

 

We are the generation that stands
between the fires;
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
And from the burning of the Amazon forest;
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
the flame and the smoke that consume all Earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
but the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different,
all of us bearing
One Spark.

- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

 

 

Turn on a light. 

Picture the light that you have just turned on.
Picture it connected via wiring to the other light bulbs, electrical outlets, appliances… in your home.

Follow the wiring out of your home, along the utility line, to the power lines outside.

Feel the energy that is flowing, coursing, towards your home and your light, available with the flick of a switch.
Follow the transmission lines as they run for miles.
Realize that not all of the energy traveling in those lines makes it to your home, some of it lost in friction… heat.

Follow the transmission lines…. all the way back to the power plant.

See the smoke pouring from the smokestacks.

See that the smoke consists of: carbon dioxide which causes global warming, sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain, nitrogen oxide, which causes smog, mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous metals.

See the water used to cool the power plant – thousands of gallons gushing by - heated by the burning coal and then dumped back into the water supply.

Feel how the water by the plant is warmer than water elsewhere.

Think about how that affects the plants and animals.

See the coal sludge – solid waste suspended in water to make a toxic slurry – stored precariously behind artificial dams.

Remember that these dams have broken, burying the neighboring communities in toxic sludge.

Picture people living near the power plant – who lives there? What is in their drinking water?

What is in their air? In the ground that children play on? Maybe it’s your children.

Picture the coal being delivered to the power plant. Where does it come from?

Follow the trail in your mind to Appalachia.

Picture entire mountain ranges removed in order to extract the low-grade coal below.

Picture the debris that had been mountaintops being dumped into nearby streams.

See the heavy metals and other poisons leaching out into the water supply.

See what happens when it rains and there is no top soil and vegetation to hold the water.

Hear the sound of the explosives used to blast off the mountain tops.

Picture people living here. What is in their drinking water? What is in their air? What would it be like to live there? Maybe you do live here.

Think about the coal within the mountain – how long it’s been sitting there, and how it came to be there.

Think of the plants and animals that lived 300 million years ago, their bodies first becoming peat, and then over the millennia turning to sedimentary rock… the coal that now powers your home.

Bring your mind back to where you are now.

Know that all that you have seen and more is connected to the energy that will power the lights when you flip the switch in the room where you are sitting now.

Energy extracted from what used to be the lifeblood of animals living 300 million years ago.

Energy extracted from and refined in the neighborhoods of other humans living now.

Precious energy.


Closing Reading:


I have come to terms with the future.
From this day onward I will walk easy on the earth.
Plant trees.
Live in harmony with all creatures, including my sisters and brothers.
I will restore the earth where I am.
Use no more of its resources than I need.
And listen, listen to what it is telling me.
(adapted from M.J. Slim Hooey’s prayer, p. 109 in Earth Prayers from Around the World)

GA 2013 Public Witness

Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 04:30

My Coming Out Story (2012)

I am coming out to love again. As most of us in the LGBTQ community know, coming out is a continual process. I first came out at the end of a short marriage to a man. I could no longer live the straight life. I was almost thirty and was deep in the abyss of depression.

The minister of the UU church and the gay and lesbian group at church were enormously supportive. With the church group I worked on the No on 22 campaign. Unfortunately, California voted to pass proposition 22, to define marriage between a man and a woman.

After a couple of years I met my beloved. We were classmates then friends and our relationship evolved into an abiding love. We entered into a domestic partnership and had a commitment ceremony in 2002. Her mother and sister attended. Mine did not, not wanting to condone my lifestyle. At the time, I was not out to my father.

In 2007, I decided to heed the call to ministry. While waiting for the following fall semester, marriage equality resurfaced. Prop 22 was struck down, allowing a window of time to legally marry. My beloved and I worked for marriage equality, I with the faith community and she with the Asian and Pacific Islander community.

The week marriage became legal, my beloved and I were in line the first day licenses were available. We were mentioned in UU World, pictured on the front page of the local paper, interviewed for another paper, and filmed for a documentary show in the Philippines. We joyously married that Saturday with our UU congregation in attendance. My mother and sister, once again, did not attend. My father, however, was happily in attendance.

The passage of proposition 8 did not nullify our marriage. The significance of that became real when my beloved had an aneurism in January of 2010. The weeks of surgery, coma, recriminations, familial homophobia, friends’ internalized homophobia, and need for blame landed squarely on me, especially when I made the impossibly difficult decision to take her off life support after hesitating in fear of her family. Three major strokes after an aneurism had to be enough. The loss was devastating.

***

This past month I have started a ministry for LGBTQ folks in Los Angeles, starting small with a twitter feed and a meet-up, to honor her, and the relationship we had. There needs to be a safe place for people to go when something so devastating happens and other LGBTQ people will understand as the regular church may not be able to. Conversely, the LGBTQ community can come together with the regular church community in celebration.

So I am coming out to love again. I have begun to trust that love is possible with a wonderful woman I began dating this summer. I am honoring my beloved with a ministry to bring together the LGBTQ folks in LA to get to know one another, and build community.

The Wisconsin Tragedy

My first meeting with a Sikh profoundly changed my life for the better. I was new to the city, and he was the first person that I had met wearing a turban and an elaborate curved dagger. We were both volunteering at an event for the homeless and struck up a conversation.

I admired his knife, or kirpan, but also thought it strange that he could carry a sheathed dagger on his person, in full view. I had moved from Arizona, where guns were the norm, but knives were unseen. He then told me of its significance. 

He told me that he would fight to the death for my religious freedom. Mine. He would fight for the religious freedom of every person at that carwash. I learned later that a person carrying that dagger will fight to the death on behalf of any oppressed person. The caveat caught me up short. The dagger is used only after every peaceful means has been exhausted. The pacifist in me was honored to have met him. 

I left that carwash with the determination that I, too, would fight for freedom of religious expression, if only through peaceful means. It was not until reading Frantz Fanon more than a decade later, in seminary no less, that I could understand that sometimes, in some cases, violence is justified. 

I mourned in the days following 9/11 for the Sikh man, Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was shot to death in Arizona because the turban he wore. There is no doubt in my mind that it was a hate crime. The European American male killer mistook him for a Muslim. 

I mourn, too, for the members of the Wisconsin temple who were shot, and their friends and loved ones. Again, a dominant culture, European American, male has used an indiscriminate high-powered weapon manufactured for maximum lethality against fellow human beings. 

A kirpan is no match for an automatic weapon. Would it have made a difference if the killer knew that Sikhs value religious freedom as much, if not more, than other human beings living here in these United States? I think not. Intolerance has become more blatant, and normalized, as evidenced by the incendiary voices given airtime in the mainstream media. A culture of intolerance that has been allowed to flourish makes the deaths in Wisconsin all the more tragic.

Mother's Day Proclamation

Author: 
Julia Ward Howe

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Feeling Battered

battered heart

Tweets of the day by @TPEquality (Think Progress)

MT @thinkprogress: BREAKING: Following Obama's lead, Sen. Reed announces his support for same-sex marriage http://t.co/7D87eBqk 

RT @NancyPelosi: A great day in our fight for civil rights-President Obama adds his support for marriage #equality. #BeautifulDay

@LogCabinGOP: Obama Announcing Support For Marriage Equality Is 'Offensive And Callous' - http://t.co/pnTb4lc8

OBAMA: "I think same sex couples should be able to get married" http://t.co/K5zVupEL

I feel battered. I do not say this lightly, having been in a marriage with domestic violence, a straight marriage. I should be grateful that Obama has finally come around to support marriage equality. Yet, I understand where the Log Cabin Republicans come from. Marriage equality continues to be a wedge issue in electoral politics. The collective holding of breaths in anticipation of Obama's announcement came from the straight mainstream media and straight folk who have nothing to lose in this fight.

The congratulations, and requests that we thank Obama for "evolving" on this "issue" do not feel right on a day after 61% of North Carolina voters enshrined bigotry in their constitution for the second time. There will be no legally recognized same-sex relationships. The congratulations and requests do not feel right in a calendar week when Methodists voted to uphold same-sex relationships as incompatible with their dogma. Nor do they feel right in a week where Colorado Republicans filibustered so as not to address same-sex marriage in their legislature.

I think that I am supposed to be happy that democrats will start coming out in favor of marriage equality. Well, pardon me if it feels like too little, too late. The GLBT folks in North Carolina will not see marriage equality unless there is a drastic turn of events.I met a wonderful couple there. The female half of the couple is in a ecclesiastical limbo, having been a Methodist clergy person who supported marriage equality.

Yesterday a video went viral about a young gay man who was devastated by the death of his partner and the homophobia of the partner's family. It hit a bit too close too home having lived that just two years ago. Fortunately, I was legally married because it could have been a whole lot worse, hard as it is to imagine. Just months after my beloved and I were married, California voters were able to vote on marriage equality. We continued to be married, but I was devastated for those who had that chance snatched away. I feel sad for LGBT folks, especially UU's, for whom the democratic process was not used for right of conscience, or liberty and justice for all; for whom justice, equity and compassion are mere words; for whom wedding cake is used to celebrate taking away the inherent worth, dignity, and humanity of a single group of people. Our UU principles and hearts have been battered.

Having no need to be politically savvy in this moment, I will acknowledge the hurt, and the broken hearts. I wish I could wrap each and every one of you in the softest cotton batting with rainbows and sparkle, and lift you up to the universe and declare that you are loved beyond measure. I may not be able to wrap and lift you up, but I do declare, you are loved beyond measure.  We'll move forward, and our battered hearts will heal again.

What is a Hymn to Vatos?

Tweet of the Day: @Urrealism: Hey! RT @Aunt_Feather: "Hymn to Vatos Who Will Never Be in a Poem" by @Urrealism for #PoetryMonth http://t.co/wnuhjm3c via @Latinopia

This YouTube video, retweeted by the author of the poem, Luis Urrea is particularly relevant because Arizona is attempting to erase the history of Mexicans and the indigenous, by banning a Mexican American studies program in Tucson. "Hymn to Vatos Who Will Never Be in a Poem" is one of the "texts" that have been banned, and the video shows the poem being read to students last month. This is not "new" news, but this past week has been especially inane in Arizona. I have been living in California for a good number of years, yet I am still capable of being shocked by the irrationality and hysteria of the power brokers in the state. I am refraining from using the words insane or insanity in deference to real mental illness, rather the current political climate is simply a continuation of a inextricable history of racism from before the beginning of the state.

Last week, the teacher who is the director of the Mexican American studies program in Tucson was fired by the school district. Next, the republican instigator is planning to go after college level education. One of the most memorable aspects of my 4th-7th grades in Tucson was learning the history of the different native American tribes in Arizona. Having started school, Head Start and first grade, with children from the White Mountain Apache reservation, I was interested in the whitewashed, Arizona dry histories. I did learn something, if not just respect for the people who originally settled in the state. The Mexican American studies program had yet to be designed.

I chose to learn much more in adulthood. One would think that banning books would be a bad idea, looking at the history of banning books. When I learned that not only books by Latino authors banned, but Native American books, as well, I was alarmed. Shortly thereafter, my mom called me concerned that her Dad came here illegally. "Mom, he came here before Arizona was even a state." My grandmother was also born before Arizona became a state. The fear fostered by the political climate had come home.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the mineral riches in the territory were exploited, and the political process was used to define who was in the in group and the out group, whether Chinese, Mexican or Native American. Those with brown skin have been in the out group since the beginning. An early example is the a group of Irish American "white" orphans adopted to Mexican American families by the Catholic Church, which resulted in an orchestrated kidnapping by vigilantes on Morenci and Clifton, Arizona.  My grandmother was born in Morenci just seven years later.

 

 

I'm concerned about the consequences of cutting off links to Mexican and Native American  history in Arizona. Only since the 1970s has the program to send Native American children off to boarding schools to "kill the Indian and save the man" discontinued. Many of those affected are are still living. I hope that the youth of today are not doomed to repeat history on the ordinary brown skinned men, the Vatos, as well as the women and children of the state who deserve respect because of their inherent worth.

Note: The Unitarian Universalist General Assembly will be held in Phoenix in June. While I agree with the spirit in which it will be held, I have a great deal of ambivalence in anticipation of attending in my home state.

How Will Social Media Impact LGBTQI Muslims?

I found the article, "How Will Facebook and Twitter Impact Islam?" of interest because it was highly critical of social media in the Muslim context. Dr. Guessom referenced an article, "Twenty five reasons why Twitter is Spiritual," that was a list of spiritual practices from different faith traditions. As a Unitarian Universalist(UU), I appreciated the breadth, and what amounted to a vision of twitter's potential. Guessom dismissed the list entirely. I will acknowledge that the list does not fit within the aims of Islam. 

Still, just in the past several days I have been witness to, and peripherally involved in one such transformative experience that the author Frederic A. Brussat wrote of in the "Twenty Five Reasons..." article. The conversations, facilitated by Twitter and a blog were poignant and beautiful.

A young Muslim is opening dialogue about different aspects of Islam on her blog. She posted interviews with a number of  LGBT Muslims. The comments section includes the usual comparisons of LGBT people with pedophiles, practicers of bestiality, rapists and serial killers. These arguments were not original by any stretch. What I did find original was an interview with a UU that I've met on Twitter. He wants to convert to Islam. 

After at least a year of reading his tweets, I have observed that he truly loves Allah. He loves Arabic music. He loves to  give thanks and praise. It's genuine, not forced or fake. I remember when he was utterly heartbroken several months ago, after he was rejected by yet another imam for being gay.

There was such an outpouring of love from the blogger and numerous other Muslims who signed on to the love letter she wrote. A
n imam in his area would like to meet with him. My Twitter acquaintance was brought to tears. In a side conversation, the blogger told the imam she wished she were local to study under him, and the imam responded that they teach each other. I watched this unfold over the past couple of days with awe. A gay man finally found an online community, and has a real possibility of finding an embodied community with which he can worship in the way he desires. A brave young woman was affirmed for her own contributions to her religion.

The Internet has been revolutionary for LGBTQI folks since the advent of the World Wide Web in  the 1990's, because people who were isolated and alone have been able to find others like themselves. Whereas moving to a city had been the main strategy in the past, LGBTQI folks could find one another and become a part of online communities. The explosion of the social media onto the scene should enable more folks to find their voices and find each other. 

I suspect that there are individuals who have been isolated and by social pressure forced to work within the dominant culture of Islam. LGBTQI Muslims may be just such a group. Social media may prove to be a Godsend to LGBTQI Muslims.

Ethical Eating: Produce

On Friday, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating. I had been practicing the principles, imperfectly, since it's inception. What I've learned is to remember that it is just that, a practice.

I live in a predominantly Latino and Black neighborhood in a medium sized city in Southern California. I just completed ny second seminary year which included field education. Before I took the internship (not UU), I did have a part-time office job. I was earning the same hourly wage that I did 15 years before, but with full benefits back then. To be clear, the last year and a half, I've been living on my spouse's death benefit, taking a full load in seminary, and only doing the internship once it became clear that I could not keep my grades up and work, as well.

As money becomes tighter and tighter, I anticipate the ethical eating part of my life to become more difficult. I do wonder if the resolution on ethical eating, coming from place of privilege, is irrelevant and elitist to a country in the grip of economic hardship and a class war that has a grossly unequal income distribution.

Beans and rice are staples of the poor, and I grew up on them. I do love vegetables. When I was very young, there were pitched and protracted battles regarding vegetables vs. meat, fish and poultry. One particularly memorable battle was over having an artichoke to myself and the expense of said artichoke. That said, here are some thoughts, just on produce:

In my neighborhood there are two major grocery stores, two ethnic grocery stores, and several small ethnic markets. Before my spouse died, we wanted to buy a share in a farm. We just never had enough money to invest up front into a season or more of organic vegetables. The stores in my neighborhood are overflowing with inexpensive, plentiful produce. The first time I met a new dean at school, she asked which Pasadena neighborhood I lived in. She proceeded to enthuse over the cheap produce at one of the ethnic grocery stores.

My theory is that the produce are loss leaders, and every thing that is processed is overpriced. The people that shop there walk, ride bicycles or take the bus. The store has a shuttle to take people home. The cyclists are of the variety that ride the wrong way down the street or on sidewalks, not the pannier, helmeted set. The clientele at the particular store do not speak a lot of English. Beer and sodas are incredibly expensive, as are virtually all other brand name and processed foods. Before a ill-planned condominium complex was built across the street, small items from deodorant to razors were locked behind glass, and cost more than the big name grocery stores. This is the reality in poor neighborhoods. How would we begin to address the inequalities of access, before the pesticide laden produce?

Most of the ethnic grocery shoppers do not have the choice to buy local or sustainable, nor the education to desire or request change. I use the store when I'm not feeling flush, but I have begun to have anxiety over doing the "right" thing since so many issues come into play. When buying, my first thought is food miles. Where did most of these inexpensive vegetables come from? In this neighborhood, they come from Mexico, and further South. With the unfortunate exception of my attachment to bananas, I am intentional about buying produce from California, staying within the season. (By the way, when in the world did garlic begin to be imported from China? I thought the garlic capital is in Northern California.)

The people who bring food to the table have such appalling working conditions. They have been documented not to be given breaks, shade, decent living conditions, fresh water, subject to wage theft, exposed to herbicides and pesticides. Yet, when grocery stores charge more for "organic" produce, I wonder just how much of that extra money is passed on to the farmers and the migrant workers.

About eight years ago, there was a grocery store strike in which the workers lost badly over healthcare and wages. I refused to walk into one of the big name chains until a couple of years ago. I will only go for the very few things that can not be found in Trader Joes, or the store fondly known as Whole Paycheck. I was appalled at the price of produce when I did return. According to Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA), a strike is imminent. We UU's passed an Action of Immediate Witness, but how will that support the workers once they go on strike? Trader joes pays fairer wages, but Whole Foods is anti-organizing and their produce is ridiculously high. However, they have some organic things not found elsewhere. Reconciling these choices is difficult.

At Trader Joes, food miles and packaging come into play, as well. Not only do they sell out of season produce from Mexico and Chile, the produce comes prepackaged in plastic, in a family size. Trader Joes has begun to improve based on consumer pressure, but as soon as one item is sold individually, different prepackaged items arrive. I limited my produce to the staples, organic: carrots, celery, in season lemons, onions and tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower. Squash is plentiful, inexpensive, good and relatively safe in the grand scheme of things not organic.

This leaves the small family owned markets and the farmers markets. This is where I have to be most intentional. I will admit to being exceedingly blessed when it comes to farmers markets in the area. There are several going on each day of the week during the day, with some in the evening. It takes planning to go. There is a small health foods market that is in the next town to the North straight uphill. The farmers market that is in my neighborhood is held on Tuesday mornings, but there are numerous other in the area. As much as I want to support the mom and pop shops, knowing where the produce comes from is more important.

So, the anxiety continues. I have stopped eating quite as large of a variety of vegetables for fear of pesticide residues, perpetuating unfair unhealthy working conditions for those who pick and package produce, environmental impact and the impact on migrant workers of herbicides and pesticides, economic justice for grocery store workers, supporting small business, lack of time to shop at farmers markets being a student, and my own economic well-being. Fortunately, by putting together this post, I found a CSA that was not available before, which allows payment on a week to week basis.

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