Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sunday Morning Service - Remembering 1968

Third is a series of posts from the January 2008 UUA Board of Trustees meeting

Sunday morning worship at 25 Beacon is an intimate affair - gathered on the second floor landing with William Ellery Channing peering down at us after having spent 2 or 3 intense days together is a time for reflection and gratitude. We sing familiar hymns that are listed in our order of service, and both Sunday worship services I have attended have been led by one of the lay members of the board.

This one included two talented young men, one on clarinet and one on viola - both sons of Dan Brody, Financial Advisor on the Board, who led the service. Clearly a professional level of music, but what I remember most were the photographs Dan included in the OOS that he had taken in 1968.

The first shot was in Arlington Street Church, taken from above, of two young men holding draft cards. It was April 3, 1968. The photo on the back showed the cards being destroyed on Boston Common. The third photo was of several young African American men holding a handwritten sign "We will always remember the King". It was taken on April 5. The day between the two photos was the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Dan spoke movingly of the journey that had taken him from 1968 to the room we were in, titling it "On Service".

Those of us who spent our formative years in the 60s and 70s were an idealistic generation, who knew that once we got "into power", we would leave the world a better place. We haven't. What went wrong? Were things just too complex? Did the "wrong ones" end up getting the power? Or did many of us "sell out" as life got comfortable, and the gravest injustices around gender and race appeared to be solved - or at least addressed.

One of the things that permeates the UUA Board meetings is the resolution passed by the 1997 General Assembly that says in part "the 1997 General Assembly urges Unitarian Universalists to examine carefully their own conscious and unconscious racism as participants in a racist society, and the effect that racism has on all our lives, regardless of color...the General Assembly urges the Unitarian Universalist Association, its congregations, and community organizations to develop an ongoing process for the comprehensive institutionalization of anti-racism and multi-culturalism, understanding that whether or not a group becomes multi-racial, there is always the opportunity to become anti-racist." In addition to time set aside for education and training, process observations are made with an anti-racist/anti-oppression/multicultural lens.

To what degree have we as congregations (the "real" UUA) have an "ongoing process for the comprehensive institutionalization of anti-racism and multiculturalism"? I have to admit I don't like defining myself as what I am against, but don't have a better alternative for this kind of work. I suspect many congregations don't see the need for it - if it weren't so politically incorrect they might even admit they feel that way.

In 1968 there were far too many people who had a similar observation about women's place in society - we could vote, attend schools, own property - what more could we want? The subtleties of glass ceilings and role expectations that are obvious forty years later weren't so obvious then.

Perhaps there is a lesson there.

Next post: Meeting with DRUUMM

Policy Governance as Holy Work

Second in a series of posts on the January 2008 UUA Board of Trustees meeting

I was looking forward to the two sessions with Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs and Louise Wolfgramm from Unity Church-Unitarian of Saint Paul. Unity has long been known as one of the congregations that is making policy governance work, and I had heard Rob speak on this issue some years before. I had a whole list of questions on monitoring, how to avoid a downturn in volunteerism, the fine points of limitations, and other meaty governance questions.

That's not at all what they talked about. The exercise they took us through was elegant in its simplicity - and took us to a level of discussion and way of framing our discussion that was nothing less than brilliant. Starting from our own experiences with "the Holy", we moved from that into how we brought these values into our Unitarian Universalist ministry. We were like a group lost in a thick jungle who finally got to a hill high enough to see where we were.

We will repeat the exercise in the fall with the UU District Presidents Association, and hopefully the UU Ministers Association as well. I also plan on "stealing" it for my own congregation.

It was a gift. It was also a reminder of how important it is to include elements of worship and wonder into our more mundane activities. The simple act of lighting a chalice speaks volumes about committee deliberations being "more than a meeting" - and our time as more than volunteerism.

Next post: Remembering 1968

Where are the villains?

First in a series of posts on the January Board meeting. Portions of this post were previously sent in private correspondence to a UU member.

In January the Board voted to affirm the choice of Fort Lauderdale as the site of this summer's General Assembly (GA). As a UU member said to me today "the GA Planning Committee has done the best they can with a very difficult situation".

I agree. You can find an excellent set of frequently asked questions about the conditions, precautions, and considerations about this year's GA on the UUA site.

I was part of the decision making with two different major conferences in the late 1980s after then Governor Evan Mecham rescinded Martin Luther King Day in Arizona. Though the dollar amounts were not as great, they were significant, and a stand worth taking with a clearly defined goal - and a clearly defined villain.

Quoting one of my fellow board members, there are no villains here. Four years ago the GA Planning Committee recommended the site for all the right reasons: multicultural, gay-friendly, inexpensive; and the Board agreed. The City of Fort Lauderdale and their convention bureau are not any more interested in having their facility in a security zone than we are - and could not envision that it would take 7 years to address the issue (a road by-passing security is supposed to be finished in 2011). The Bush administration? Well, yes, but I doubt they care much about UU conventions in Forth Lauderdale or would be the least bit impacted by our decisions.

So I look for the clearly defined goal. We move the site for what purpose? To put pressure on the current administration so that they no longer secure our ports? Or do what with those who have no IDs? To force the Convention Center - to do what? It appears to be a fairly internal one - that each of us can follow our conscience, rejecting white privilege by standing by delegates that could be turned away for lack of an ID, and/or asserting our right to not have to show an ID to worship. Obviously the strength of feeling on this across our membership varies. I have full respect and admiration for both positions, but my personal preference is to put my energy into battles that achieve more than that. If moving GA is the remedy, I strongly suspect we will accomplish nothing for those without ID that truly improves the situation for them. From an external perspective, it may just look like we made a mistake by holding the assembly in a place that had even the possibility of a security check. I am hoping this controversy has sensitized and energized enough people that the "teaching moments" at GA will result in real change.

From a board perspective, I do share the fiduciary responsibility for the financial health of the UUA. The nearly $1 million penalty we would incur if we attempted to move GA is 1/7 of this year's annual program fund - one seventh of all the money contributed to the UUA by the 1043 congregations that make up the UUA membership. Who would make it up? How would the members feel who do not feel as strongly about this issue feel about having to pay significantly more for registration (the estimate is that it would double because of the late date and the fact that Ft. Lauderdale is so inexpensive) or could be called on to contribute more to keep the organization viable?

I understand the dilemma of wanting to stand by those who are denied the privilege of an ID. But I also think every time I fly I am invoking a privilege - every time I cash a pension check, or take a write-off on taxes for home ownership, or collect rent money on the property I own. I could renounce all material wealth and live on the street in solidarity with the homeless - or use my privilege for a "greater good". Part of what I love about this faith is that it continues to challenge me to address the greater good.

Next post: Policy Governance as Holy Work