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Standing OUR Ground

I was working out of town when the not guilty verdict came down in the George Zimmerman trial.  I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn’t.  As a black woman, wife and mother of two sons, I know far too few people value black life in general and black male life in particular.  More than 20 years ago, in the wake of the Bernie Goetz shooting of five unarmed black teenagers on a New York City subway, I wrote a piece for Glamour Magazine entitled: “It’s 10 o’Clock and I Wonder Where My Husband Is.”  The essay reflected the cruel reality that black men and boys–people so many of us know as beloved sons, husbands, brothers and fathers–are, in the white world, simply suspects.  The hundreds of vitriolic, racist letters Glamour received in the wake of my piece surprised them so much that I ended up writing a second article challenging  readers to wake up to the reality of white privilege and the lived experience of black people.

More than 20 years later, little has changed; the murder of Trayvon Martin is proof of that.  But that is not to say that nothing has changed.  It did my heart good to see the numbers of people in the streets, protesting after the verdict.  It did my heart good to see how many young white men and women were there, holding up signs speaking to the racism inherent in every part of this sad adventure in the Florida criminal justice system—a system replicated nearly everywhere in America.  But what buoyed my heart most was a promise from the musical genius Stevie Wonder, who has vowed not to play in Florida until its Stand Your Ground law is repealed.

Why did this cheer me so much?  Because after all these years, I am tired of worrying and tired of crying over lost black men and boys whose primary offense has been Living While Black.  Appeals to conscience have proven to be limited; racists, after all, have no conscience they feel compelled to respect.  What works, in current-day America, is currency—the money you get, or don’t get, in exchange for what you want. So I believe that in this money-hungry America, it’s time for people of conscience to advance a strategic boycott of Florida.  It’s time for us to join Stevie Wonder, and stop giving our money to Florida until they give a damn about our children.  We need to say good bye to Disney World and Universal Studios.  We need to leave Key West behind us.  There are many beautiful places in the United States where the Koch brothers have not yet seduced enough state legislators to pass Stand Your Ground laws.  We should find those places, go to them, spend our money there—and we should stay out of Florida until its legislature repeals this hunting license for people of color.

In the last few days, I’ve been thinking about Ida B. Wells, the crusading African American journalist who brought America’s penchant for lynching to the attention of the world. She got her start in Memphis in 1892, when three of her friends, who owned a grocery store that successfully competed with white businesses, were murdered and their store burned to the ground while she was out of town.  When Wells returned, she wrote an editorial in the Free Speech and Headlight, a weekly paper of which she was part owner.  Part of what she said was this:

 

“There is, therefore, only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.”

 

More than 6,000 African-Americans left Memphis in the wake of her editorial, and those that remained organized boycotts of white-owned businesses that went on for years.  We are the heirs to those men, women and children who fought and died so that black life in America would have meaning.  Today is Ida B. Wells’ birthday, and I can’t think of a better way to honor her than to starve Florida’s Stand Your Ground law into non-existence.  What we learn from a strategic boycott in Florida could be the first step in resetting America’s clock to the 21st century instead of the 19th century.  I’m tired of crying, and ready to Stand My Ground.  What about you?

Never Forget Trayvon

Never Forget Trayvon

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The Storm Before the Storm

We’ll see….

I don’t usually like storms; they cause havoc and cost lives and keep people locked up with each other for days (not always a good idea!) But I think I’m willing to make an exception in this case.  I bet I’m not the only person who’s relieved to have something else to obsess over instead of next week’s election.  The stakes are SO high for the future of the country, for the lives of our citizens--especially for women–that the stress is nearly unbearable.  Better to stand in long lines for water and cookies and batteries than to attempt insight into the minds of an electorate far outside the confines of the Country of New York City.  We really aren’t like any other part of America, and even among blue states, Manhattan is likely deep, navy blue.

It’s times like this that make me feel the tension between being pastoral and being political.  I have church stuff to do this last week before the election, people to look after and a retreat to plan.  That’s why I won’t be on a bus to Ohio to walk door to door and turn out the vote.  It helps to look people in the eye when you’re talking about what’s at stake, but I won’t be able to do that.  Instead, I’ll be working the phones, seeking out the elusive undecided voter, hoping to persuade the voice on the other end of the line that any choice other than Obama is practically unthinkable.

I’m too partisan to believe in trashing the President for all the mistakes I believe he’s made (and he’s made plenty–indefinite detention of American citizens, anyone?)  I’m too practical to believe in protest votes and third party candidates.  For all his imperfections, Barack Obama has earned the right to finish what he has begun, and a Romney presidency raises the spectre of a theocratic state that ought to scare every thinking human being.  Yes, I am a woman of faith; yes, I believe that the Presence of God abides with us in all things, even when those things are possible election results that are frightening and backward and regressive; yes, I even believe that, as Julian of Norwich wrote, “all shall be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  It’s just that the lag time between what is frightening and what is finally well can be very, very, very, very, long. Plus, I resent God being used as a weapon of mass destruction against our lives as free people.

So in these stormy days before the storm that is Nov. 6, just as I often split my committed heart, I’ll be splitting most of my waking moments.  I’ll be doing lots of praying with and for people, and I’ll be working the phones from my local phone banks.  I’ll run the retreat, and I’ll run down to the Board of Elections as soon as it’s open to cast my absentee ballot for President Obama.  I’ll be at church on Sunday, and likely in Pennsylvania on Monday if I can swing it, doing my part for voter turnout in Philadelphia.  On Tuesday, I’ll be back to working and praying and hoping the change we worked so hard to begin four years ago will move a little closer to fruition. I have to confess–I think a hurricane might feel easier to bear.

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Haters Gonna Hate!

Haters Gonna Hate 9-23-12 final

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Homecoming

 It’s back to church week, and I am blissfully busy. I immersed myself yesterday in pre-Homecoming Sunday activities–worship meetings, RE curriculum meetings, website tweaks, liturgy changes.  It’s almost like starting a new semester at school.  I got new notebooks to keep track of random ideas and quotes that I like; I got myself a new fountain pen, because I love to write with them.  I got myself a Moleskine monthly datebook that lets me lay out the whole year before me, month by month.  Found a new printer because my old one wouldn’t scan and I’m trying to be as paperless as I can be about some things. Once a nerd, always a nerd, I guess–though I can’t yet bring myself to preach from my iPad.

Doesn’t each new year start out like this, all bright and shiny, filled with plans and good intentions,  even if it’s September instead of January? Our refrigerator is filled with healthy food for breakfast.  My bookshelves aspire to organization, though they aren’t getting a lot of help from me–I’m taking down more books than I’m putting away, seeking out that quote I need that I can’t remember.  The new table to hold our congregation’s  Book of Life came yesterday, but we haven’t yet replaced all the votives in the candle stand.  The sexton is beginning to wax and buff the terrazzo floors of our sanctuary. Tomorrow, I’ll drop off my robe at the cleaners and point out the spot where I couldn’t quite get the wax off.  Thursday, I’ll start outlining the sermon I’ve been thinking about for weeks. Friday, I’ll get my hair cut and look for something decent to wear under my robe.

But Saturday still consists of what my husband calls “sermon frenzy,” during which I have been known to invoke “the blood and fire” rule of family communication: unless you are bleeding or on fire, stop talking to me! (This is why the children of ministers ideally should have at least two parents–there should always be someone who will talk to children even if they aren’t ablaze.) What used to evoke pouts and tantrums, however, now evokes eye rolling and laughter between my sons, and my husband’s imitation of me looking for a lost reference book on Saturday night is cruelly accurate.

It’s all worth it, though, for Sunday morning, especially Homecoming Sunday morning.  Some years, the clouds hang over us as gray as our limestone tower; other years, the sun blinds me as I stand in the doorway, looking across at Central Park, waving to the tour buses that pass us on their way uptown. Rain or shine, I stand in the doorway, greeting my people as they arrive, welcoming the guests who’ve never come before. A few minutes later, I’ll check my watch, and close the doors. The other participants and I will process. One of us will ring the solitary chime, and our liturgy–the work of the people–will begin. On Sunday morning, everyone and everything is new again.

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Fourth U Homecoming Sunday: “Born to Be Brave!”

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What I Want for My Birthday

It was my birthday on May 4, and though I am not old by any stretch of the imagination, I am no longer a young woman. Finally, I understand what congregants and friends have told me all these years when they say “but I don’t feel (whatever age they are)! I still feel like me!”

I still feel like me, too. I still think way too much; still giggle and shriek like a teenager when someone really makes me laugh; still cry at television commercials; still talk to my television when I’m mad at the news. I still have three or four books going at the same time, so that I can read according to what mood I’m in. ( I remember how annoyed my mother used to be when finding a turned down book in every room of the house–even the bathroom. The only thing that’s changed is that I can read nearly all my books on my IPad via Kindle. ) I still love gadgets of all kinds. I still love to dance, even though I sometimes can hear my joints popping when I do. I’m still an introvert, though most people don’t believe me. I’m still a romantic; I’m still an optimist.

I don’t want to be one of those women who dreads every passing day out of fear her best days are behind her. I don’t want to be one of those old-lady Luddites who get the vapors in the face of new technology. I don’t want to be a cynic, ever. I don’t want to lose the beat. I don’t want to lose my curiosity, intellectual or otherwise; my goofy sense of humor; my capacity for tears or for appropriate rage. Somebody asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I realized what I want most: I want to feel like myself for all the days of my life.

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Sister Occupiers

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Three of the UU ministers in our OCCUPYFAITH NYC contingent today

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Mayday! May Day!

It’s good to be back among the blognoscenti. Ministers must minister; writers must write; activists must agitate. For the last several months, I’ve been feeling the call to do them all. I’ve got OccupyFaith to thank for that. An offshoot of the OccupyWallStreet movement, OccupyFaithNYC has invigorated any number of religious people who might not have known each other before, and that includes me. Operating in our separate silos of interest and influence, many of us worked on our favorite justice projects (marriage equality, immigration, homelessness, police brutality….) but far too often, overlap was minimal.

In OccupyFaithNYC, however, we are working toward a more excellent way; both/and is the order of the day for us. With economic justice as our common denominator, we find it natural to rally on behalf of justice for the 99 percent (and transformation of the 1 percent), then to cross over at a colleague’s request to support an action against housing foreclosures. Not everyone can come to every action, but with more and more frequency, more of us know about what’s next on the justice agenda, what move might create synergy, what event requires a larger presence….

Which brings us to MayDay. No one can know what the day will bring; to be certain, I’m thinking through my day in an attempt to avoid buying anything (what I’ll do for coffee is anybody’s guess!) World-class shopper that I am, however, I have come to understand more clearly the idea of retail fasting for this 24 hours. I still recall an early OccupyFaithNYC meeting when a member of OccupyWallStreet joined us to talk about next moves after the group had been evicted from Zuccotti Park. Many of us were lukewarm about the idea of physical reoccupation; wasn’t it more important to free our minds, no matter where those minds were located? But the young man who spoke to us issued a challenge I think of each day that I go about my life in Manhattan. Occupying physical space, he said, was a necessary antidote to the constant corporate occupation that has already taken place in every aspect of our lives.

I have been living with that idea ever since. Every Bank of America branch that bleeds red into my field of vision; every McDonalds that inserts itself into the urban landscape; every Duane Reade drugstore that takes the place of a mom-and-pop deli priced out of the Upper West Side–they all constitute our own insidious occupation by the market. For many of us, this awareness has been worth the price of blocked streets, long meetings and periodic arrests. But awareness is not enough, so this afternoon thousands of us will gather in Union Square. It’s only fitting for OccupyFaithNYC members to meet at the statue of Gandhi by 4 pm, so that we can join with others on the march back to Zucotti Park. It makes sense to return to the start of it all, to go back to the place where so many people slept, and where so many more of us woke up.

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OccupyFaithNYC Goes to Jail

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Oh, What a Night….

Just when you thought the country was in a state of permanent regression, there comes a night like this. All over the country tonight, ordinary people fought back at the ballot box against the outrageous overreach of the right.  From Mississippi to Ohio to Maine, ordinary people said no: no to Ohio’s attempt to end collective bargaining for public-sector workers; no to Mississippi’s proposed amendment conferring personhood onto a fertilized egg; no to Maine’s ban against same-day voter registration.  And it could get better.  The vote is not yet in on Arizona’s effort to recall the state’s attorney general Russell Pearce (Mr. Papers Please), but it doesn’t look good for him, either.

Just because people are struggling and scared doesn’t mean they’re also stupid.  They know and understand what is human and real, what the best of America entails: fairness, freedom, access, privacy.  Politicians and corporate interests may be confused, but the people are not.

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