Do not think we are finished.
Oh no, we will never be finished, never just done
until the light of justice is lit behind every eye.
I was thinking of those words from my colleague the Rev. Audrey Fulbright this past week as I read coverage in the Asheville Citizen-Times of the assault of Johnnie Jermaine Rush last August by a City of Asheville police officer. Even though the city reported Rush’s injuries as resulting of an arrest, videotape from the officer’s body camera make clear that it was nothing less than an assault of a black man by a white officer.
That’s not an especially new story. In fact, it’s a very old story arising from the legacy of white supremacy in this country, this city that is visited upon people with black or brown bodies. Day by day more details emerge about that encounter – what Mr. Rush is said to have done, what various officers are said to have done, how the chief, district attorney, and various city officials responded. The details matter, in the sense that they help people investigating this incident figure out how to respond. But in important ways, the details don’t really matter. They are just variations on a theme: how the pervasive poison of racism continues to tear at the fabric of civil society.
And each time we see it we are forced to confront again the racism that resides in our own hearts, in the interstices of our daily lives, in the institutions we take part in, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and, yes, our churches, too. As people of faith who affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we disavow any way of thinking or feeling that diminishes any person or people. And yet, as people living in a deeply racist country it’s hard to avoid having it color our perspective. That means that if we are to be true to our values we need to be vigilant about examining our own thinking and about organizing our lives in such a way that contradicts what racism teaches.
A couple of years ago we as a congregation affirmed where we stand on this by adopting a resolution declaring “Black Lives Matter” and committing ourselves to “educating ourselves about and deepening our understanding of white privilege and oppressive systems” and to partner with local organizations “to harness the power of love to combat racism and oppression at all levels within our communities.”
We have made some headway in these goals. Members of our congregation have become active in groups advancing this work – including NAACP, ASURJ, Building Bridges and trainings by the Racial Equity Institute. But attending a meeting or training is only the start. The harder part comes with putting ourselves in places where we can take part in the concrete work of dismantling racism.
Some of us joined in the Hillcrest Motheread Program, where they meet weekly with women in Hillcrest Apartments to talk over stressors in their lives and offer support. Others are taking part in tutoring in public schools. If that sounds interesting, you might look into a new program called the Marvelous Math Club. Here’s a YouTube video about it.
At a recent Wednesday Thing, we heard about a program with the Asheville Housing Authority inviting people to own rental property to make apartments available for Section 8 housing. Here’s a link about that.
And that’s just a start. Others are at work elsewhere, and there’s more to do. Where will you find your work? Because, friends, we’re not finished!
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about family. Right before the New Year, my nuclear family welcomed our third child, Lyra, to the world. We were thankful to receive tremendous help from our extended family, but Josh and I had no idea we’d feel so much love and support from another family, UUCA. In mid-December, one of my covenant group members offered to start a meal train. I imagined it would consist mainly of our closest friends, which itself would have been an incredible help. Josh and I never dreamed our fellow congregants would provide an entire month’s worth of meals! And yes, many people who signed up were our good friends, but some we’d only met a few times, and a couple incredibly generous souls Josh and I had never even met previously. (I’m so glad that changed when they dropped off their meals!)
I cannot over-emphasize what a blessing it was—not just the food itself, but the stress it spared me of trying to throw something together while my kindergartener and preschooler sparred for attention and I tried to nurse the baby. Indeed, each day as the meals came, I became more overwhelmed by gratitude and the generousness of fellow congregants. Our hearts were nourished as much as our stomachs.
Whenever someone asks me why I first came to UUCA and why I stay, I invariably answer “community.” This past month, however, as we felt so deeply supported and cared for while adjusting to life as a family of five, I realized that UUCA has become more than a community for us. It’s another family, of which we’re honored to be a part.
One of our congregation’s new ends statements reads, “we create a community where people of all ages and backgrounds experience belonging, and feel loved and needed.” My family certainly felt this over the past month, not just because of the meal train, but also from much smaller acts of kindness: people reaching out via email or Facebook to check on us; Lyra’s birth announced in church; cards of congratulation. It’s gotten us thinking more than ever about how we can pay it forward.
In this trying political climate, many in our church family are in need of daily heart/soul nourishment. Many in our collective human family as well. We sometimes forget that the simplest, smallest acknowledgment can make a huge difference to another person, making them feel like a truly loved and needed member of a larger family.
It’s easy to get lost in our individual crazy-busy lives. Inspired by our incredible UUCA family, I’ve been challenging myself to increase my offerings of daily small kindnesses: more smiles at strangers, letting someone ahead of me in traffic, taking an extra minute to talk to a fellow frazzled parent and really listen. And if you’re up for it, I challenge you to do the same. It might not seem like much to you, but it just might be the thing that keeps someone else going.
Nora Carpenter, Board of Trustees
A key part of each orientation for our OWL program is asking folks to think about the sexuality education they received as a child or youth. Think about it for a minute, what were you taught? Was it through school? Did your parents talk to you about it? Did you learn from your peers? What books did you read? What feelings are associated with your own sexuality education? As a facilitator for these orientations, I can tell you that shame comes up a lot. I am here to tell you, there is no shame in our sexuality education.
From the OWL website: Honest, accurate information about sexuality changes lives. It dismantles stereotypes and assumptions, builds self-acceptance and self-esteem, fosters healthy relationships, improves decision-making, and has the potential to save lives.
The Our Whole Lives program is a comprehensive sexuality education program with levels of curricula ranging from kindergarten through adults. One of the most common questions I get when talking about the OWL program is, “What are you teaching little kids about sex?” My answer is that we’re not really teaching little kids about sex. We’re teaching them about their bodies, and how they are in control of their own bodies. We’re teaching them about families and about how families can look different than their own. We’re teaching them about healthy friendships and how to have good, respectful relationships with others. We do get into the baby stuff at that age (like “where do they come from?”), but it’s in an age-appropriate way that they can understand.
The most intense level of OWL is the 7th-9th grade class. This class is 26 sessions long and is one of the most important learning opportunities we offer. It is a formative experience for our youth and will stay with them as they navigate their way into adolescence and beyond. Sometimes the kids are not super-thrilled about it. But they come every week and they learn. They learn how to make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual health and behavior. The class provides accurate, developmentally-appropriate information about a range of topics, including relationships, gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual health, and cultural influences on sexuality. This is truly a comprehensive learning experience.
We are dedicated to offering as many OWL classes as we can here at UUCA. We are currently offering 7th/8th OWL and are about to offer 4th/5th OWL beginning in February. While this is one of our most popular programs (I frequently get phone calls from folks outside of our church wanting to get their kids into our program), it is also one of the most resource-consuming classes. Our teachers go to a special training and they commit to teaching OWL at least 3 times in the 5 years after they get trained. While the training is pretty intense and takes a whole weekend, it is so very rewarding. We are always looking for folks who want to get trained and I am always keeping an eye on upcoming trainings. If you want to get trained or find out more information, let me know!
Kim Collins, Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator
To me, snow is magical. One of my favorite things is a snow day, especially now that I work from home and don’t have to scramble for snow-day child care. While growing up in Asheville, school closed frequently, even being closed for almost the whole month in January of 1978. A pack of a dozen neighborhood kids, including my older sister and me, spent hours outside, sledding on a breathtakingly steep hill and building bonfires to stay warm. Now, as an adult, I still have my breath taken away when I ride up a ski lift, look over the beautiful mountains, and zip down the slope with the wind rushing through my helmet.
On a recent snow/work day, I was marveling at the falling snow outside my office window when a coworker called me to ask me question.
“Isn’t the snow beautiful?” I asked him.
“Ugh, I hate snow” he responded. How could anybody hate snow? “I grew up in Philadelphia, and school never closed. When I see snow, I see oily, gray crust,” he went on to explain.
This got me to thinking about how experience and perception affect how people can see the same thing in such polarized ways. One person sees a racist and alleged pedophile; another sees a good Christian man with family values.
Fortunately, my view of snow has not been sullied, but recent events have caused me to rethink whom I respect and admire. A beloved journalist from this state who knew my uncle has been revealed to be a sexual predator. A woman I looked up to at my job with the county is under federal investigation and has made front-page news on a few occasions. From now on, I will only see them as frauds, not as the pristine heroes they once were, and this breaks my heart.
Michele Gregory, UUCA Board of Trustees
Abundance was our church theme last month. We talk about our congregational themes with our Religious Education (RE) kids, too. Take a listen to what they said about what our church has an abundance of: chalices, fun, love, stories, kind people… kind people, indeed! I have been inspired this year to witness an abundance of wonderful gifts shared within our 2017-18 “under construction” Religious Education program.
We began the year strong with fully recruited teaching teams for our classes. Then, as Coming of Age mentors were needed or other jobs arose (like needing a rock star handywoman and organizational guru), people flexed and adjusted their commitments as we hoped they would to share their talents to meet the needs of our program and participants. As the year has progressed, our volunteer leaders have worked together and supported one another and their students beautifully. Our fabulous RE Council has been providing leadership as well, and is adapting to the evolving vision and work of the church.
A new kind of “call and response” emerged: when one member of the team had a need and called for help, other members always responded with compassion. And they have stepped forward with heart and thoughtfulness for parents or kids needing additional care, too. It has happened time and time again. We are living out our new mission: Our open and welcoming congregation connects hearts, challenges minds and nurtures spirits, while serving and transforming our community and the world and our core values of connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice. The support from one to another is a gift within our community.
And we see these gifts in our children and youth also. At 9:15, we have programming for all ages (kindergarten through adult – you are welcome to join us!), and that allows a special opportunity for multiage interaction and learning. During one of our stories recently, we had some participants sharing “who they are” in the story of Supriya’s Bowl. From young to old, there were thoughtful responses and patient listening to what others had to say. (We have some really cool 6th graders who were attentive to hearing a 5 year-old’s rationale for how the rice bowl got filled, and who shared their own thoughts with us, too.) When making our blessing bags, the big kids help the little kids with packaging goods and making notes or drawings for our neighbors in need. The Coming of Age youth volunteered at the church work day outside recently, raking leaves, moving stumps and rocks, etc. to beautify and winterize our campus; our Sunday worship chime ringers and chalice lighters are children and youth; when the multigenerational choir sings, our children and youth are giving to the church. You’ll soon see the pageant with (hopefully) a good amount of kid participation. All of those are special gifts to our community.
We are hearing from families that the kids are bringing their parents to church because they want to be here! And why not?
- Star Wars or Harry Potter yoga for all ages at 9:15
- YRUU revitalization for 10th-12th graders
- Neighboring Faiths curriculum, expanding horizons of 7th-8th graders
- And so much more… every class has awesome stuff happening!
- Plus, youth CONference attendance continues to grow
All of that takes volunteers – people who are sharing their time and talent – with UUCA. Presence is one of the greatest gifts a person can give or receive. We in RE have received many gifts this year, and we are grateful to all of you in the RE roles and in the many other ways our church is served by all of you. You are a gift.
And on that note, another important gift we can give and receive is affirmation. We have created a new bulletin board in Sandburg Hall to share that gift in our community. Like a little free library, we invite you to take or to leave a gift of affirmation. This is open to anyone: member, friend, regular or first-time visitors, youth, adult, or children. See more at the big GIFT bulletin board near the main office.
Jen Johnson, RE Staff
Last month, my nephew, Greg, called from Santa Barbara. “Hey, Uncle Dale,” he exclaimed, “I won the lottery!”
“No way,” I said.
“Way!” he said, “I won big time. No kidding.”
“That’s great. How much did you win?”
“A lot,” he responded… Long pause…then the punch line. “I was born White in America.”
No, Greg isn’t a White Nationalist. Far from it. Greg realized that he had hit the jackpot by being born White in America.
Greg is a skilled carpenter. Often, he needs to hire an assistant. He drives to the corner in Santa Barbara where day-hires, largely Latino, hang out looking to catch a job. He recognizes that a roll of the dice put him on the hiring end of things, rather than on the street corner hoping to be hired. Greg recognizes the White American privilege that came to him by dint of his birth.
Last year, UUCA named “compassion” and “justice” as core values, and we recently voted to put those words into action by opting in a Special Congregational meeting to become a Physical Sanctuary congregation. We recognized that there are good people in our midst who are in need of temporary protection, and we are lucky enough to have sufficient space in 23 Edwin to host a guest. We collectively announced by that vote: “We can’t turn our backs on those in need, let’s do what our good fortune allows us to do!” I am extremely proud of that congregational decision.
The wheels are rapidly moving in the direction of turning the Sanctuary vision into a reality. Rev. Lisa has recruited a Sanctuary Steering Committee, and they have begun meeting to put together a list of all that must be done to prepare for a sanctuary guest. Lisa and Linda Topp have selected the room and adjoining bath at 23 Edwin that will serve as quarters. A donated washer and dryer have been installed in the basement. Rev. Mark has begun meeting with CIMA (Companeros Immigrantes de las Montanas en Accion), a local action group on behalf of immigrants, to inform them of our Sanctuary program and to learn more about their organization. We have received our first financial contribution from another congregation.
Soon it will be your, and my, turn to help. Let’s do it. Let’s, like nephew Greg, share our collective lottery winnings by aiding someone not so lucky.
Dale Wachowiak, Board of Trustees