Sunday, January 22, 2012

If you have come to help, you are wasting your time

Second in a series of posts about the January 2012 UUA Board meeting

The Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal, a program of the three Greater New Orleans congregations, is located on the second floor of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans. It is a big building for a small congregation, yet the dreams it houses are proof that Margaret Mead was right. It started its work a few days after Katrina.

Ten women trustees from the UUA Board shared the "girls dorm" for three nights, 3' by 6' bunk beds packed in a small room, our gentle snoring making me glad I brought ear plugs. (I understand the "boys dorm room", with seven of the board's men, was substantially louder.) Each group shared one indoor shower (the women also shared with a group of volunteers from Wellesley), and three outside. We were more than aware that such accommodations would be a privilege in many parts of the world.

From this base we split up and worked with a partner organization, sometimes two, in some part of the city each day: pulling weeds in the garden of the African American museum or North Shore Unitarian, chopping switch grass in a nature preserve, serving meals in homeless shelters, cleaning out food pantry (walk in) refrigerators, packing oranges, painting, and "power washing" the exterior of houses. We quickly discovered the "power" for the latter was supplied by our hands firmly grasping scrub brushes.

What struck me was that the organizations we came to spent so much time showing us the history, the operations, and their vision. For most of the groups I joined, there was as much education as work.

Education. For us. So that we are changed and understand our own role in creating a better future. The last line of the quotation in the title (sometimes attributed to Lilla Watson , sometimes to a "tribal elder") is on the wall of the center:

If you have come to help, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

Next post: Raw emotion in sacred space

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