Saturday, March 31, 2012

What can we say?

Everyone has something to say about the death of Trayvon Martin and the current fate of George Zimmerman. Epithets are being hurled with vigor: racist, ‘hood’lum, liberal media, gun-haters.  What can we call each other at a time like this?  A time when a young boy is dead, and we should mourn the horror of that fact.  A time when another man’s life may be sacrificed to the politics of race in America, and we should admit the horror of that fact, too.
George Zimmerman has been described as a ‘white Hispanic.’ The Huffington Post reviewed the current crisis in nomenclature which has brought that term to the fore.  Along with the phrase ‘non-white Hispanic,’ it demonstrates the ways in which the people of the United States are being fractured into smaller and smaller segments by race and ethnicity disguised as race. The phrases ‘white Hispanic’ and ‘non-white Hispanic’ are the offerings of our government census bureau. They arose in the hysteria that says we have to track ‘Hispanics’ in America, fueled by an older fear that tells us we have to know who is ‘black’ and who is ‘white.’
In this case, the phrase ‘white Hispanic’ can be used almost as a buttress against allegations that George Zimmerman is a racist.  After all, he’s ‘Hispanic’, and can be presumed to be more understanding of, or at the very least sympathetic to, the oppressions of racism in our country. As an ‘Hispanic,’ he must have suffered some of those oppressions himself.  On the other hand, if he’s ‘white’ and not ‘black’ then he can be presumed to be a racist, who pursued Trayvon Martin as any ‘white-racist’ would. George Zimmerman loses on either side of the argument...either he’s a racist or he’s a member of an ethnic group subject to racism.
Of course, everyone knows that Trayvon Martin was black, not bi-racial, nor any other term that might indicate mixed ethnicity in his heritage.  In America it doesn’t matter whether his antecedents arrived from Haiti or Ghana, France or Ethiopia...or even Brazil or Spain.  What matters is that the predominant color of his skin allows him to be categorized as ‘black.’  Perhaps that’s better than having to be described as ‘non-white.’ Perhaps not. Trayvon Martin lost his life, and his right to be ‘just a human being’ because he lived and died in America.
What can we call each other at a time like this?  Confused. Frightened. Fractured. Torn apart from one another (and our own emotions) by attitudes toward race that have wormed their way into all our lives.  And, we can call each other to account.
-- Rev. Robin Gray                      
(To learn more about the ways racism plays out in our society begin reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and join the book discussion at UUCT -- sign up this Sunday.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Network of Family

Melinda Stuart-Tilley shares how much this congregation and its people mean to her....

If the time and passion that we give is indicative of our love for something, then my family and I love this church tremendously. I’ve calculated that in the four years since we began attending UUCT we have been here an average of fifty Sunday mornings per year, spending about three to five hours at church on those days. This does not include, of course, committee meetings, board meetings, leadership trainings, social functions, classes, fundraisers, play groups, retreats, and all other kinds of events throughout the church year in which we participate. Last night I slept in a sleeping bag right there on the floor behind the piano bench, and that was not far from where my husband and I were married. 
So what does this church mean to me? Some might even wonder what a Trinitarian Christian, like me, would be doing at a Unitarian Universalist church. Perhaps I made a wrong turn when we were driving down Meridian Road one day and I just decided to stay and set up camp here! What else would compel a pregnant woman to sleep on the floor, right? What would compel any person here to give countless hours of their time, as many of you have, and then after working those hours and being here on Sunday morning...and then, after doing all that for free, turn around and to give your hard-earned money to this place? In the present world of greed, this is crazy talk.
But why come to church at all? Why come to a place that demands so much of our precious time? Why come to a place that won’t make you rich, or sexy, or even popular? We are here because this is our family. We are here because the connections we have made here nurture and sustain us. We are here because this is the beloved community talked about by Josiah Royce and because it needs all of us as members as much as we need it. We are also here because my husband and I wanted our children to grow up surrounded by this big, loving family. Last week my two-year-old daughter was in tears because we told her that we were not going to church that morning, we were taking Daddy to work. And she was bawling, “I want to go to church!” Our children walk around here as if this were their second home, because it is, and you all are their extended family. 
But like any family, we cannot live on love alone. It takes many hours of hard work, and it takes our money to make the vision happen. During the canvass we look to what the church means to each of us, how we contribute to it, and how we participate in it. What opportunities can we provide? What social justice outreach can we do? How will we compensate our dedicated, experienced, professional staff? Our pledges pay for everything from the markers in the classrooms to our mission in the world. I think Homer Simpson was right; the ‘offering basket is a place to make change.’
Ask yourselves, what does this church mean to you and your families? Church is the home of our collective family. When you walk through those doors, you are home. And we are not called to be extraordinary people to do this; but we are ordinary people called to do extraordinary things.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Do What You Are Good At

Recently, Greg DeAngelo shared his thoughts on supporting our congregation, passing along a little advice from a friend.  

"When I committed to regular attendance at UUCT, a little over nine years ago, it was important to me to be a supporting friend, rather than a member. I had been unsatisfied with the religious answers and dogmatic positions of my former church for some time. While I felt very much at home at UUCT, I did not feel like being a "member" of this church or any other.
Even in those years, however, when I placed great value on my "independent" status, I felt it was important to provide financial support to the church. I believed in its mission. I found a set of principles that I could get behind. I marveled at a church that promised to question my answers. And above all, I valued that there was a structure here for accomplishing good, for promoting justice, for alleviating hunger, and pain, and isolation, and that structure was available to all.
I became a member for the same reasons that I continue to pledge every year—a desire to make my investments more socially responsible, and a need to follow the advice of our painter Pepper, who said, "Do what you're good at." Let me explain…
I had been a dutiful saver for most of my professional life. But pinning my future retirement on the success of tobacco companies and firearms manufacturers just seemed wrong. Switching to socially responsible investments and green funds let me go about my business without that little nagging prod in the back of my head.
I view giving to UUCT in much the same way. Giving to UUCT is one of my socially responsible investments. Giving to the church provides me with much the same sense of relief that I get when I know my money is going to support causes I believe in.
Now, about Pepper the painter. We had hired him to put some color on our interior walls, and we marveled at how he was effortlessly applying paint without masking tape, drips, or smudges. I remember he got a bit upset after getting one dollop of paint on his otherwise spotless white coveralls. We were discussing hiring him for our simpler rooms versus doing the painting ourselves, and he remarked, "Do what you're good at." Paraphrasing, he told us to focus our time and effort and money on things we know how to do and enjoy. We're not painters, we don't like painting, we're not very good at it, so why would we consider doing something else?
Now, not everyone is comfortable being a greeter. Not everyone has the physical abilities to move furniture or cut grass. Not everyone is good at or enjoys committee meetings, local politics, cooking meals, singing, advocacy, writing editorials, giving sermons, teaching kids, writing newsletters, or any of the dozens of activities that go on here to support our shared mission.
"Doing what you're good at" implies "doing what you can." And part of that, yes, includes giving money.
Not everyone can give a lot, but everyone can give some. Pledging is the most concrete way possible to show our mutual support for each other.  When you give, you aren't giving to some nebulous other, some entity called "the church." You are investing in yourself, and in your friends, and in these buildings where we meet and live and learn and grow. You are investing in this community, which can accomplish together what none of us could accomplish on our own."

Friday, March 16, 2012

A New Home and A Moral Center

Christy Shannon offered these thoughts to kick off our canvass:
Only one year ago Mark and I were happily living in Rockville.  I was teaching math at a local high school.  Mark had worked for eight years at the Germantown office.  We both had family nearby and were active in our local UU church.  
In late February of last year, Mark was offered a chance to open a new office in Tallahassee.  One of my first questions was “Is there a UU church there?”  During Mark’s first visit, he drove by this church and took a picture for me.  When Mark and I came up together a month later to make our final decision, we came here for a Sunday service.  We immediately felt the warmth of this community.   As some of you know, we literally moved in next door.  
Once we actually moved here and started getting involved in the church, I mentioned to several folks that I had been involved in the Canvass in my previous church.  Three different folks said the same thing, “Shhhhh, if you aren’t careful, you’ll get dragged into helping with the canvass here!”  I appreciated their concern, but I WANT to be involved in the canvass.  I know that lots of folks shy away from talking about money.  I must admit that I don’t enjoy it, but I appreciate this church and this staff too much to let a little discomfort get in the way of doing something as important as ensuring that this church is here.  
However, this church is more than just my new community.  This church is also the moral center of many of our lives.  My Unitarian Universalist faith is important me and I consider it my religion.  Coming to church regularly, reminds me of my better self and helps me be a better person.  I meet people here that are doing so much good and it always inspires me to try to do better.  
As an UU,  I believe people are good and this helps me to be a better high school teacher. I love teaching and particularly reaching out to my students to teach math, but also to model how to treat each other.  The vast majority of these students treat me with respect every day.  However, there are some students will be impressively rude to me on occasion.  Some students are consistently rude.  My UU faith reminds me that since I know they are good people, then I also know that they are rude for one of two reasons.  Either they are scared they aren’t smart enough to do what I’m asking, or they are hurting from something in their home lives or social lives.  
My faith helps me to reach out instead of lash out.  It helps me to stay open even when I’m hurt and want to close off.  My faith has helped me reach some students who are really struggling and I continue to be humbled when they are share with me their fears and dreams.
I hope that you can see that I’m happy to be here.  I am so grateful that you were here waiting for us.    Thank you.  Please help me ensure this church has a strong budget so this church can continue to reach out to folks that need some more blessings in their lives, too. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

An Opportunity Missed

In the middle a recent rainstorm, I answered my door to find two young men, neatly dressed in black and wearing name tags identifying them as members of a Christian church.  I didn't notice what church; I just registered the words “Jesus Christ” on the tags.
My personal-sized lunch pizza was awaiting me in the oven and these two young guys were standing under one umbrella in a rainstorm.  With a smile on my face, I quickly gave my standard spiel.  Something like: “I respect your religion, but you don't want to talk to me.  I'm a Unitarian Universalist.  I don't believe Christ was the son of God, but a revolutionary rabbi.  And I think God just might be a woman.” This latter usually sends them scurrying.
The two earnest young men were not deterred. They continued to smile, and the oldest asked if I had time to talk to them because he really would like to hear more from me.  I told them I really didn't have time.  "Could I come back another more convenient time?" he asked.  For a moment, I wavered, but by then could smell my pizza charring at the edges.  "Sorry," I said.  "You two need to get out of the rain."  Then, I closed the door.
It was not too many minutes later that I came to regret my decision.  If I had possessed the missionary zeal of my visitors, I would have asked them in, invited them to share my charred pizza, and talked to them about what I believe and why.   I would have engaged them in a dialogue about their beliefs.  And, I would have just possibly dispelled some negatives beliefs of theirs about non-Christians.  
And, then, I had another thought. Would I be willing to go out on a stormy day and knock on strangers' doors to talk to them about my beliefs?  Yes, of course, we Unitarian-Universalists don't proselytize. But, do I have the same dedication to my beliefs as those two young men?  Do I share their zeal?
I'm not sure I know the answer to those questions. But, I wish I hadn't passed up the opportunity to reach out beyond our church walls to communicate with those two rain-soaked strangers. I bet it would have been an interesting conversation.
                                                                                                                  submitted by Pat Curtis

Saturday, March 3, 2012

To the Tallahassee Democrat

The Rev. Robin Gray

Join clergy in asking Publix to aid workers

More than 12 Tallahassee clergy from diverse faith traditions are working in concert to raise community awareness about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which is asking Publix to join the growing list of markets supporting Fair Food.

During a noon news conference on Tuesday, these clergy will present Publix representatives in Tallahassee with an open letter recounting Publix’s historical stand as a fair employer and inviting the company to take a stand as purveyors of fair food.

In this instance, the cost of treating tomato pickers fairly amounts to a penny a pound of tomatoes. One pound in the thousands and thousands of pounds of tomatoes picked by hand, moved from field to truck by human labor, and eventually delivered to shoppers who enjoy, along with their neighbors, some of the healthiest produce the world has known.

The ad hoc coalition of clergy came together because we share a commitment to helping create a more just world, a world where each person’s labor is appreciated with the simple reward of a living wage.

As clergy, although our beliefs differ, we share a common compassion for people we know as well as those we may never meet. We see ourselves connected to all by humanity, faith and hope.

We extend ourselves in compassion to the leaders at Publix, the workers in Publix markets and the laborers in the fields. We cannot see any of the people in that chain deserving less fair treatment than others. We cannot see any corner of humanity where justice might not reach.

We join with thousands of others in asking Publix to extend the scope of compassion and to bring justice more fully to our supermarkets, our tables and our meals with support of the Fair Food agreement.”

— published in the Tallahassee Democrat, 3/03/2012

Friday, March 2, 2012

Prayer in Schools?

03/02/12 8:17 AM

To the Honorable Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda;

Thank you so much for speaking against and voting against the 'inspirational message' bill.  I believe that by your actions you are helping to promote religious freedom in Florida.  The Tallahassee Democrat said it all in a headline entitled "Florida House Debates Prayer." In the article the Democrat noted that legislators soon dropped the facade of the 'inspirational message' and began talking about prayer.  'Prayer' is an activity common to Islam, Judaism and Christianity; but neither it, nor it's thinly disguised neighbor - the inspirational message, are common to all the faith traditions represented in Florida.  In that regard alone your opposition supports expanding religious freedom.  In addition, there are a growing number of people in Florida and all of the United States, who identify with no religious tradition at all;  some identify themselves humanists, some atheists.  I believe that our public schools should protect each child's right to belief or unbelief by avoiding all attempts to fit prayer into schools, even when it is called an 'inspirational message.' Thank you again for speaking against Bill 8827  and in favor of the constitutional protections afforded all Americans.  Rev. Robin Gray

Thursday, March 1, 2012

UU Legislative Ministry

UUCT also hosted the statewide UU Legislative Ministry this month with both dinner and program.   A big THANK YOU to Barbara Sterling who organized it and to  Mimi Jones who was key presenter.    UUCT members Brian Lee, Carl Sherrod, and Tom Moore also spoke and provided critical information to the attendees.   It was great that the expertise needed for prepping the UU Legislative Visits was available through members at our own church.

A million thanks to Len Adams for assisting with clean up and to those visiting UUs for jumping in to put tables away and set up chairs. -- Carolyn Pardue

Appreciation for Volunteers

Thank you so much to Elinor Elfner, Susan Snyder, Kate Blizzard, Ron & Eileen Patrick, Patty Badlands, and Michele Hope and Jerry Lawrence  for all their work to bring UUCT a coffee and social hour following both services.

Thanks to virtual sanctuary attendees Nancy Harvey and Jim Stangel for making sure coffee got to the virtual sanctuary and pots were returned.

Thanks to Carl Sherrod for getting coffee up to Community Forum group and pots returned. 
- Carolyn Pardue