Community-Developed Knowledge

At the end of an article* in the fall issue of the journal n+1, sex worker Lorelei Lee notes:

“This essay could not have been written without community-developed knowledge. Any mistakes are my own, and anything I got right is the result of living, working, and thinking in coalition with hundreds of brilliant people in the sex trades.”

(*that outstanding article, Cash/Consent, is preceded immediately by another insightful piece entitled The Evangelical Mind by non-practicing evangelical Adam Kotsko – and the mere juxtaposition of these two pieces, let alone their thought-provoking content, is a sharp move)

I’ve been reflecting on the notion of community-developed knowledge since I read the piece several days ago.

I’ve always had a thing for epistemology (the mechanisms of knowledge production) – and this concept is right at the edge of what is wise and what is problematic in our world today.

For the most part, we have ceased to grant collective authority of knowledge to central figures – whether those be individuals or institutions.

Diffusing power in this way can be a good thing.

However, in our knowledge processes, we have fallen prey to (a) the market-driven cult of celebrity and (b) an overly uncritical willingness to accept sources that simply reframe what we already believe, regardless of whether they are rigorous or merely speculatively profit- or attention-driven.

I don’t know exactly how Lee defines community-developed knowledge, but I hear the potential for a useful corrective to these problems.

Community-developed knowledge is meaningful when it centers the experiences and expertise of perspectives often excluded from discussions of ‘what is known.’

Community-developed knowledge is generated not by a single human savior source, but by collectively sharing in work, commitment, and respect.

Community-developed knowledge can be geared to reject shallow trade in convenient sound bytes that erase nuance, instead weaving insights gathered over time through living and learning (both formal and informal).

Obviously, it can also go wrong, so that homogenous communities of relative power simply reinforce problematic ‘knowledge’ about others and the world – but that’s an ongoing risk no matter what.

We work with and within the world as it is.

Go Fourth

I cannot celebrate a
country so relentlessly
rich in willful
oblivion concerning the
suffering upon which
it was built
back then

Back then
meaning centuries
decades
yesterday

Back then
meaning
an hour
ago

Today I celebrate instead –

the open hearts of so many
genuine kindness found in passing
radical solidarity with exiles from domination’s favor

the art of rejoicing at beauty
those who give in to the weighty gifts of mutuality
good books

days spent in honest work
the courage of witness in the face of power
friends who think with me

this one ripe peach

In the Shadow of Honky Tonk Central

Half a crowded block
away I heard him

Tourists seeking
downtown drinks
and country covers
no match for his
volume:

“WHORE!”

That much
I caught
before sight
of the pair

Her head down,
with what?
fear, shame,
or the sure
certainty that hope
has no place in
hell here

His body vibrating
with noisy rage

Yet together
they walked,
breaking stride only

beside me,
ignored with effort
by every single soul
especially the sidewalk cop
bouncer taking no note of my
desperate wish that he would
fix things
send this man
on his way 

as he keeps
smashing words
walking away
          coming back for more

smashing words
walking away
          coming back for more

smashing words
walking away
          coming back for more

Rage in a torn green t-shirt

They are dirty, lean, distant
even in the crowd

A world within some
private
compelling
hell

I have nothing to offer
No answers
protection
dollar bills
wisdom
magic
not a useful thing
except to stop and stand
praying that
he will not turn again
she will cross the
street and
go
away

Knowing the feel of fists
I can’t leave and
can’t do a thing
but choke on
dry words of fervent
pleading

Go
away

Either one of
you

East
North
or
an angled move
with the light
and the crush of
people
oblivious by intent

There I stand
feet leaden
muttering silent
prayers as –
finally –
gravity tugs him
toward the river and
she turns
swallowed in neon
and vanishes
into the night.

Rep. Ilhan Omar and the Same Old Questions

I’ve been pondering what to say about the recent/ongoing controversies around the president and Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The problem is that there’s really nothing new to say. These are the same old questions of power and ethics.

However, the lessons remain important – and never more so than during Holy Week, so:

The critically important voices of women of color are massively underrepresented in public discourse in our culture. May we listen and learn from them, recognizing and respecting that those voices are particular rather than monolithic.

White imperial capitalist patriarchy perpetually reacts with violence to challenges to its ill-gotten hegemonic power. The intensity of reaction generally mirrors the intensity of the perceived threat. This power is unambiguously harmful to people and the planet.

Cultural pluralism is one of the greatest gifts of life in the contemporary United States. In that context, religious differences ought to be a site of blessing and respect. May we who are not Muslim hold Muslims in our hearts as our friends and neighbors.

Our lives are suffused with holiness — of time, place, and being. We must actively, daily choose to grasp that reality, to live that way rather than drowning in the transactionalism of contemporary society, that system of dominance that reduces all worth to that of economic production and consumption.

Let those of us who claim an ethical principle of living, rooted in religious faith or not, do our best to embody compassion, justice, respect, and love in ways that reject exploitation, dehumanization, and commodification of all living beings and the whole of Creation.

That is the work of living in this age.

We do this work and walk this path together.

Amen

On the UMC and the Real Way Forward

Well, let’s give up on the illusion that I’ve been able to maintain any significant degree of professional (or personal) distance from the whole UMC situation.

The things I have said that have been meaningful to people have not come from that place anyway, so I’m just going to talk about pain and promise as I understand it. I have written elsewhere of the depth of my lifelong personal connection to the UMC, so I won’t rehash it here. 

Like so many issues, this battle is situated in a particular setting, but reflects a much larger cultural struggle between those who seek to widen the circle of care and belonging and those who seek to preserve their own power for their own benefit.

So . . . as it turned out, yesterday as the global body of the UMC gathered for its final day of General Conference, I had agreed to be a part of a 5-hour community conversation hosted – of all places – at East Lake UMC, a congregation to which I belonged at the time God called me to seminary.

The folks at East Lake and their brilliant pastor have never been anything less than 110% supportive of me and my calling – and the group gathered yesterday were community-engaged folks from all over the city, BUT STILL. . .

I drove over there mumbling about how it was the absolute LAST F—ING PLACE I wanted to be on that day.  And that was the God’s honest truth.

I walked in doing my feeble best at a game face and after registration turned and ran into my friend and brother, Ali. He innocently said “Hey! How are you?”

I promptly started crying and mumbling uttering incoherent things. Ali, baffled but enduringly kind, just hugged me, a perfect gift of peace in a wrenching moment.

It was a shaky few hours, but I was lifted up – as I always am – by the kinship of good people, some of whom knew it was a hard morning and others who didn’t have a clue.

meandli.jpg Me, hanging in there, and Ali

I took a couple of breathing moments in East Lake’s sanctuary, which I consider the most beautiful traditional sacred space in the city (go ahead, fight me).

The smaller stained glass windows that feature the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Talents are my favorites. They sit in what used to be my line of sight when I sang in the choir there and I would often go at other times and just perch in front of them.

stainedglass

The lessons of those parables remain as important as they always have been – perhaps all the more so. And the shattered shards of East Lake’s beautiful current altar setting felt especially fitting.

meandaltar

After East Lake, I moved on elsewhere to  a difficult but restorative conversation with someone with whom I’d had a conflict – and then on to drinks with good, hurting UMC people, followed by conversation with good, kick-ass queer clergy friends.

It was the people who made the difference. Therein lies both the pain and the promise.

For many of us, church is family.

Yes, you can worship God anywhere because God is everywhere.

Yet worship in isolation nearly always tends toward our cultural narrative of self-preoccupation, this noxious attachment to ego gratification and capitalist manipulation of desire.  

Following Jesus – as with other religious traditions – is (blessedly) a communal endeavor.

No wonder the rejection hurts so much for so many people, including me.

It cuts to the deepest parts of the safety we find (or ought to be able to find) in family and community.

It is a devastating refusal of the God-given gifts we offer into family and community.

We are formed in faith and then violently ejected from its circle of care.

It is a sinful, human-driven, patriarchal-power-rooted, grievous misinterpretation of holy Scripture.

(okay, now please DO NOT oversimplify any of what follows. Hear it through before you decide what you think I’m trying to say)

I was given this UCC emblem when I was installed as pastor at Beloved Community Church. I’m not a big accessories person, so it mostly stays in a drawer. I took it out yesterday and slipped it in my shirt pocket before I went to East Lake.

uccpendant

Its weight there served as a tangible reminder of where I have landed – and how I have found a place to use my gifts and honor my calling.

I was trying to say something last night in a text reply about my adopted church and accidentally wrote that the UCC had adopted me.

And once I wrote it I knew that phrase got to the heart of the matter.

The UCC adopted me and loved me. (ain’t nothing perfect, but hopefully you can grasp the grace extended there – that’s the point).  I have learned that one does not have to be a United Methodist to be a Wesleyan. 

To those outside of such a relationship of love and care –

LGBTQIAP CLERGY AND LAY PEOPLE OF THE UMC –  I completely get why you would choose to stay – especially if you feel a particular calling to do so.

I also fully understand why you would leave (that’s what I did  – and it was utterly necessary and second only to coming out as a liberating action in my life). If you need help figuring out where to go, I’d be glad to help. I’m partial to Beloved of course, but not at the expense of wanting people to find places that truly resonate with their spirit – that is my primary commitment.

If you stay, please send out those who leave with your blessing as they seek to follow God’s call on their lives.

If you stay, please understand that you are in an abusive relationship. No matter how good your congregation is (and there are some fantastic UMC congregations locally and globally), as long as it remains in the UMC connection, it is not autonomous.

The relationship of the UMC to LGBTQIAP people is abusive.

So stay if you need to, but protect yourself.

Protect yourself.

Please.

Because you are loved fully by God and God wants your wholeness and your well-being so that you may walk in your calling, so that you may be God’s hands and feet in the world.

If you ever need safe space to talk, pray, grieve, or just be, let me know.

STRAIGHT, CISGENDER UMC CLERGY – I begrudge no one the necessity of making a living.

I am heartened by the solidarity and care I have seen expressed over the last couple of days not just by the usual bold souls, but by people whose positions make it harder to make those affirmations publicly. I dearly hope that you have glimpsed God as you have pushed the boundaries of your own courage.

Please remember that there is no neutral here. If you do not side with the marginalized, then you are siding with the oppressor. And when you compromise for the sake of unity, you are compromising the lives of LGBTQ+ people within your congregations (and there are more than you know) and far beyond those walls.

Please remember that in the days ahead and let that knowledge be reflected in your actions.

And if anybody is looking for an exit strategy for themselves or their churches, I’d be glad to connect you with good people not only in my denomination, but in other affirming denominations and with good non-denominational folks who can talk about their experiences.

STRAIGHT, CISGENDER UMC LAY PEOPLE – Many of you are dedicated allies in the struggle for justice – and many of you are hurt and angered by what has happened.

You too have the choice of staying or leaving. If you are leaving and you need a place to land, I’ll be happy to talk to you about progressive churches in the area, including but not limited to my own.

If you stay, please take care of your hurting queer church folk – and please understand that your hurt and anger are a fraction of what they are feeling. Be there for them, but don’t make it about you.

The heavy lifting of change in the days ahead remains with you. If you don’t change the UMC, it will not change.

That must be an active process. You all will have to organize and act to match and surpass the organizing and action strategies of the WCA-types.

Otherwise it will get worse and not better. It may get worse anyway. We do not control the outcome, but we do control our own efforts.

It’s up to you.

PEOPLE IN CHURCHES MORE CONSERVATIVE THAN THE UMC – please just go sit down. If you (or not you personally, but your church) are satisfied by the triumph of homophobia and transphobia in the UMC, I don’t care to hear about it. I think you’re wrong and causing great harm to vulnerable people (which is a sin), but you probably already know that and there’s no point in our discussing it.

PEOPLE IN CHURCHES MORE PROGRESSIVE THAN THE UMC – yes, we are more progressive. Some of us are handling our solidarity and shared pain on behalf of our UMC friends and neighbors with grace and skill. Others of us are being rather heavy-handed in our too-blatant efforts at recruitment or expressions of superiority. The first is good. The second, not so much. If you’re struggling with the difference in your efforts to reach out, give me a holler and maybe together we can figure out a way to word it that sounds loving not sheep-stealing or smug.

I have been writing throughout this experience from my own pain of exclusion from the church of my deep roots, so I have an odd insider/outsider dynamic that informs what I say – and that gives me some legitimacy to speak into the conversation (I argue – not all agree). When in doubt, try love and leave it at that.

Concluding lessons as I see them –

The pain is real.

The situation is heartbreaking.

The call to solidarity can take many forms. We are one body in Christ – and there are many ways we can be one body and in solidarity with one another. Those relationships can be – and I’d argue should be – more creative than those we’ve devised in the past.

Justice for the oppressed matters more than unity.

Oppressors are very skillful with the gathering, hoarding, exercise, and manipulation of power. Those who would dismantle oppression need to be equally sophisticated – though more ethical – in their relationship with power.

People make all the difference.

None of us is free until all of us are free.

The work to enact God’s transformative justice and God’s abiding mercy in the world goes on.

Amen

 

Ash Wednesday

With Lent approaching, memories of a different year –

I sat with a
suddenly dead man
for three hours
beside his partner of
28 years who
doubled over
like the doctor
had just
punched him
instead of
offering apologies and
soft words.

‘I had someone to die’
I had to
tell the
homeless man
I couldn’t
drive to get
his phone
though I said
I would.

Texted the lost child
gone home
to her
hateful parents
because
she still
craves their love
so bad she’s been
snorting heroin
as a substitute.
Don’t worry,
she said, I didn’t
inject it.

One man had a stroke
and didn’t tell me
but he’s home I hear.
Another I went to visit
but couldn’t see
past the swarm of nurses
torturing him
to re-place the
feeding tube
his wandering
hands found.

Ashes and dust
water and spirit.

Another school shooting.

No poetry there.

Only blood that
drowns us in our sins.

Create in me a clean heart,
O God

So I can do it all again
tomorrow.

Amen

On Identity and Wholeness and the Gifts We Bring to the World

I haven’t been posting much on here lately, but I’m aiming to do a better job of at least including here some of the longer format things I write for other spaces (from sermons to Facebook posts).  On that note  . . .

During last week’s concert at Beloved, Gaelynn Lea took some time to talk about disability, artistry, and identity.

She spoke of not wanting the label of ‘disabled musician’ in that the qualifier somehow sets her apart (generally meant in a diminished way) from being a ‘musician.’ And yet at the same time, she explained how her disability is also a defining gift of her humanity and of how she engages with her music and with the world.

Her points echo with a post I shared yesterday about women pastors (worth a read if you missed it – great piece). Women pastors are simply pastors. Yet for nearly all whom I know, their gender is a part of what makes them so very good at walking in their calling.

I definitely see it my own experience. As an out lesbian, to the extent that I am skilled at being a human being and a pastor, it is because of who I am – and my embrace of who I am – not in spite of it. Ideally, there is a dual, entwined respect for me for my own particular (queer) expression of humanity and yet also for the universality of me as (among other things) simply a pastor.

It’s simultaneously an appeal to universality and to particularity. Neither alone captures the whole of the experience – and it’s a reductionist (even violent) move to try to make it do so.

The problem is with the norm – we talk about a man and a black man – or a pastor and a woman pastor – or an musician and a disabled musician – or a writer and a trans writer – or . . .

With such a move, we posit a norm around gender, race, (dis)ability status, sexual orientation, gender identity and so on. Reinforcing norms of whiteness, patriarchy, heteronormativity, biological essentialism, ableism, and so on is the daily practice of the dominant discourse, in which we all often participate.

At the same time, tropes of color-blindness, erasure of LGBTQ+ identity, glossing over disability status, and other refusals to acknowledge difference reinscribe that same norm. So – ‘ah you black people are really just like us white people’. Or ‘you queer people are really just like us cis-het people’.

Umm . . . no. It’s not true and it’s not a kindness to assert it – because it disregards the gifts born of diverse experience (and of course it does – because the dominant discourse does not see those gifts as gifts, but as threats).

Undoing this is hard. The tendency to frame a universal goes back as far in Western thought at least to Plato. And we are constantly soaked in our culture’s intentional racism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia, sexism, and so on – because that’s how the culture makes money and preserves power. Assimilationism is the same move in a different guise.

Let us do better.

Let us recognize the universal humanity of each person, while at the same time understanding the markers of identity that form their own particular being.

Let us interrogate the norms rather than accepting them as a given (let alone a natural or God-inspired given – because they are neither).

It will make us better people and grant us a better world. And it is work that we can do daily, both in decolonizing our own thinking and in creating a more genuinely inclusive practice in the world.

Amen

An Invocation for a Liquor Store

A friend had put extraordinary heart and energy into creating a lovingly curated liquor store in her home neighborhood in Birmingham – years after she had been forced out of a similar community endeavor by rising rents in Brooklyn.

Community ministry involves showing up, so when she invited me to bless the store at its public opening, I offered the following:*

Creator and Creation,

We come to this place in a spirit of blessing.

Bless it from roof to floor,
from wall to wall,
from its foundation to the sky.

May all harm be banished,
all disturbance cease.
May the spirit of joy and kindness and protection
and abundance and well-being
dwell within these walls.

May love be shared here.
May peace be shared here.
May all who work here be grounded in goodness.
May all who come here find friend, haven, and resilience.

We pray for wisdom and clarity for
all who are in business – and especially for LeNell –
that their talents may be used for prosperity
not only for themselves,
but for the world.

May blessings abound in this place.

In the name of all that is sacred,

Amen

*this blessing takes an initial cue from a house blessing in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and riffs from there.

Finding the Sacred in the Everyday: Part II – Justice and the Other

We’ll begin today with a quote from Father Daniel Berrigan, who passed from this world into the next yesterday after a long life of faithful work for justice-

“Obviously there will be no genuine peace while such an inherently violent scheme of things continues. America will in time extricate herself from the bloody swamps, the ruined villages, the mutilated dead of Vietnam. But nothing will be settled there, nothing mitigated at home. Nothing changed, that is, until a change of heart leads us to a change of social structures in every area of our lives.”

Justice for the Other is a sacred task.

It’s a humbling thing to be talking about justice here today because I know this is a congregation for whom a desire for justice is woven into the fabric of your faith – we can see how it says so right there in your bulletin.

We talked last week about connecting with the sacred in ourselves – and I suspect for many here that’s a more challenging concept than the notion that we would find the sacred among others and especially among the Other – those whom our society marginalizes for one reason or another.

Today we are talking about how people in the spring of 2016 living in Birmingham Alabama, participating in the life of this congregation – how can you encounter the sacred in the lives of others and live out a path of justice?

First of all, I know that many of you already are doing so. Let us take a moment to celebrate the consistent witness of this congregation and you among it on so many vital issues. Let us be grateful that you create and hold a progressive, inclusive faith space in an environment where those can be difficult to find.

Do you do this perfectly? I suspect not. I’ve never known any congregation who did. But from what I know you strive to make the connections between how we ought to live and how we do live – and how we treat one another, both individually and systemically.

Thank you for that. That is a calling and it is a gift to you and through you to the broader community.

That ought to be said.

And because I know you take this commitment seriously, today I’m going to offer to you a few further reflections rooted in my own years of social justice engagement and in my sense of your community – each of you on your individual journeys and along your path together.

I am going to make 4 points (and don’t worry, I’ll make them briefly) –

1)  let us realize that we are not all called to do the same sort of work. This was the message I offered the young people – and let me reassert it now. Any work for justice is built on a variety of tasks. Some people are good at critique. Others create. Some people are the logistics folks. Vision and practicality. It takes all of us. Often we devalue our own roles. Or we criticize others because they are not just like us.

Don’t get me wrong – accountability is important and we need to examine critical words to figure out if we can learn something from them. Or to offer some critical words – from a place of love, not ego. But we’re in this together – and we do the work best when we do what we are called to do and support others in what they are called to do.

That acknowledges the sacred in ourselves and in the others whom we struggle alongside.

So that’s first. In the struggle for justice, let us keep building one another up.

2)  we know there is a constant struggle for justice and against oppression across difference.

We can name forms of oppression –

Systemic racism
Sexism and patriarchy
Homophobia and heterosexism
Ableism
Ageism
Colonialism
Militarism
Materialism

Systemic discrimination because of economic status or class, national origin, religion (or lack thereof). There are others.

And today we especially honor International Workers Day. We remember the long history of labor demands and the ongoing needs for wage justice across the globe. The obstacles to minimum wage legislation locally are just one example in the ongoing demand for dignity and a fair wage for all working people, for all who want and need to work.

Today is also International Family Equality Day, a world-wide celebration of the LGBTQ parenting and family community and a time of recognition that many parents and their children continue to face discrimination and the threat of violence. In a week that has seen Oxford threaten to jail transgender people based on bathroom use and Chief Justice Roy Moore publically reiterating his claim that same-sex marriage violates state law, we must celebrate loving and caring family in all of its formations.

Each of the causes, each of these demands for justice and experience of injustice bring their own specific conditions.

We can acknowledge that no paths are the same while we at once recognize that the forces of oppression have something in common.

Our culture continues to set forth a particular norm. And with that norm goes power in society. And across that norm – on the other side, you find less power, less value.

Across that norm, we move from subject to object. And if we look around the room, there are ways in which we all cross that norm – you might be a black straight woman or a low-income white man. You might be a Latino man with dementia. Or a trans Muslim youth.

We flip across the continuum of power in all of our identities – and we owe it to the quest for justice to recognize the ways in which we are granted power, even as in other ways we are denied it.

And further to understand that the intersections of those layers of identity render people especially privileged. Or especially vulnerable.

That is the reality of our world. The question to us is what we do with it.

IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. This is not some natural order. We have constructed a society in which difference is viewed with suspicion and denied full humanity – or the full respect of creation if we look beyond human life into the health of our ecosystems and the future of the planet.

This is human-made.

Injustice is persistent and pervasive but we always have choices. We always have the capacity to assert that the system as we know it is wrong.

We are not all the same. But our differences can be viewed as a source of richness, as the vibrant texture of our full humanity, as the opportunity to come to come into relationships of mutuality.

We have that choice. To embrace and assert the value of a pluralistic world, one that celebrates rather than erases differences and yet strives for full justice and full value and the recognition of the full humanity of all people and indeed the value and meaning of all creation.

This requires us continually to educate ourselves. No matter how much we know, there is more to learn. Change is a constant. And it is not the responsibility of people at the margins or those whom we have made vulnerable in our society to educate us. We must not assume that our good intentions entitle us to relationship. When we’re in the position of privilege – we have to do our own work.

We can learn to respect people as the subjects of their own lives rather than as the objects of our derision or mockery OR our charity or aspirations for them.

When we bring our open hearts and our open minds – and when we leave our defensiveness and our egos and our need to be the good white person/straight person/ally/and so on back at home – we can find the room to do meaningful work.

We may not always be setting the agenda. Maybe we just need to show up and listen and then take what we’ve learned back to our own communities and circles.

And there, even in the most hard-hearted places of ingrained racism or sexism or homophobia, maybe we find that through our commitment, our compassion, and our ever-growing wisdom maybe we find the opportunities to chip away at oppression at its source.

That is difficult and delicate work – and if we wield our truths like an angry hammer – well, sometimes we have to do that – but most of the time, if we look, we can find ways to speak truth to power has a chance to be heard. And a lot of times, it may not even be about the person you’re speaking directly to. Even if you are just disrupting the illusion of consensus, you may be speaking a truth that someone needs to hear – and doing what’s right because it’s right.

3) Okay, so having talked about justice as own specific identities and at the intersections, let’s widen the circle a little. The way that we do community can be a radical act of justice. In a world of commodification and consumerism, creating spaces of intentional genuine community – community that has porous borders, so that it’s open to all – community where people can join in relationship – that is a justice act.

And it is from that community and from those relationships that we come to understand the visceral realities of the structures of power and privilege. These connections can be counter-cultural. They can interrupt norms.

And I know y’all know that.  This congregation is one of those places.

But I also know that – as I said earlier – no gathering of human people is perfect. And I know that times of transition are hard. And the world that we live in today encourages us to harden our edges. So as a friend to this community, I want to take this opportunity to reiterate the importance of building real, non-exclusive, mutually-accountable, open-hearted relationships among yourselves.

This takes commitment and patience. It is active and evolving. We bring the world with us – and all of our own stuff – when we walk through these doors. But in your willingness to do this work, to dedicate this effort, you create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

4) Finally, I know we could spend all day talking about layers and levels of injustice and the struggle to achieve justice, but I will close with one other matter that takes us out another level into the community.

One element of my own current work is a focus on how we regard the question of economic development in our city and in our state. There are a lot of wonderful things happening in Birmingham right now. But in some cases they are happening – as these things have ALWAYS happened here – on the backs of the poorest among us. I’m talking about what, depending on how you look at it, is described as neighborhood revitalization or as gentrification.

I’m all about cool places to eat and fixing up dilapidated housing and craft beer – seriously, we can say that in the UU church, right? Good beer is a great thing.

But once again it comes at a price – and it does not take much digging at all to realize that this is absolutely a consistent pattern over the whole of the history of this metropolitan area — we put the interests of business and of the relatively affluent above the needs of the poor.

In Birmingham, this is always a racialized narrative as well, so that we have the needs of poor black and brown people subsumed to the profit and pleasure of the affluent, who are predominantly, though not exclusively, white. Poor people of color are displaced in the name of so-called economic and neighborhood development. We see it decade after decade in the history our city and it is happening now.

Unfortunately, the sides on this argument have come to a point where everyone more or less knows what the other is going to say.

Add to that that these are complicated, nuanced issues, where the economic engines involved have become ever-more sophisticated in their presentation and the methods.

Add in the persistent pernicious ideology of globalization which is constantly soaked into our outlook. Gentrification is globalization made manifest at a local level.

If we take it out another level, we see the ways in which the economic development rhetoric in our state tends to happen at the expense of the natural environment.

Disposable people, disposable ecosystems.

Collateral damage laid on the altar of profit and productivity.

I raise these issue here today not because we can fully address it – I myself often have more questions than solutions, but because I would like to invite you as a religious community to participate in a broader religious dialogue on gentrification. This is not a centralized conversation, but instead a grassroots effort to bring our lens of faith to examine such questions as

Who benefits from economic revitalization and neighborhood (re)development and at whose expense does it take place? and

How should we as religious communities and individuals respond to the fact that current models of economic and neighborhood development do little to disrupt systems that marginalize significant groups of people – because they are rooted in neoliberal economic approaches and top-down strategies that reinforce outsider hierarchies rather than grassroots participation.

Make no mistake that they are more sophisticated than past blunt tools of legalized racial segregation and so-called urban renewal. But they are this century’s face of our continued neglect of the most vulnerable among us in the service of a cultural narrative of economic self-sufficiency and continued accumulation of wealth and power for a sliver of the populace.

In a world that does not now and will not ever IN the current economic system have enough living wage jobs for people to gainfully support themselves, I would argue that it is of great relevance on International Workers Day to question the status quo – and the violence it does to people on the economic margins.

If this question of a religious dialogue on gentrification and how you might bring a UU faith lens to examine these issues has any interest to you – either as individuals or as a community, please let me know. This is an organically evolving dialogue and I would love to discuss at some point in the days, weeks, or months ahead how we might productively generate such a conversation here and what sort of action might come out of it.

As we conclude these meditations on finding the sacred among us in everyday life, on living out a path of justice, I offer more words from Daniel Berrigan:

“For my part, I believe that the vain, glorious and the violent will not inherit the earth.  In pursuance of that faith my friends and I take the hands of the dying in our hands. And some of us travel to the Pentagon, and others live in the Bowery and serve there, and others speak unpopularly and plainly. It is all one.”

An Orlando Massacre Journal of Reflection and Action

Most of my conversation in the immediate aftermath of the massacre in Orlando took place on Facebook in communion with people in my community. This post documents those reflections as they unfolded that day and since, forming something of a journal of grief and sense-making.

Sunday, June 12 7:58 am
‘THIS IS NOT GOD’S LOVE!!!!’ screamed a protester (who shames the name of Christ by claiming it) an arm’s length from me during last night’s Pride parade. I thought ‘you got that right.’

That is among the more printable of the things that this small, loud group hurled at us as we walked past in last night’s Pride parade. They were particularly incensed by the row of churches that showed up to proclaim the (genuine) inclusive nature of God’s love.

We don’t yet know many of the details about the shooting in Orlando – a shooting that took place in a nightclub much like the one in which Phyllis and I were hanging out into the early hours the other night.

But I do know these things, which I had planned to say today anyway and which take on a particular poignant, painful significance in light of this horrible event:

When you see us LGBTQIA folks celebrating Pride, realize that we are fighting for not only for dignity and inclusion, but for life itself.

We are celebrating our integrity and our full humanity in a society that that often denies it.

We are calling for a world that embraces our diversity and that understands this example of diversity as instructive – for we can help teach the rest of our culture that difference is a source of strength and wonder instead of fear, judgment, and hatred.

Even in this day, there is no shortage of people who would deny us the right to simply live as ourselves. The play we saw Friday night included a wrenching video clip of cases of physical violence to LGBTQIA people. This is not uncommon. And countless more lives are broken by the rejection and stigma that we face daily. That is the sinful behavior here.

There is nothing wrong with us. There is nothing related to our sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity that needs to be fixed or changed. We are proud of who we are because of who we are, NOT in spite of it.

I would not choose to be other than I am.

The day that we as a global culture learn to live and let live and to treat people with dignity and respect will be a grand day indeed.

We don’t know yet what led to the slaughter of a score of people in Orlando last night and the injury of many more, but it certainly has the marks of a hate crime. We certainly do know what leads to physical violence, awful insult, and soul injury to LGBTQIA people EVERY SINGLE DAY in this culture.

Please consider this morning if your words and your attitudes and your actions contribute to that. There is no neutral ground in this matter. We are fighting for our lives.

11:47 a.m. – Further news brings us the information that this club was the heart of the scene for Orlando’s Latino LGBTQIA population. LGBTQIA people of color face the dual brutalities of society’s racism and homophobia and it would appear they have born the brunt of this senseless slaughter. There are no words to convey what I feel.

8:06 p.m. –  I wrote this as a comment earlier, but it was buried in the long thread of my first post today – and I think it’s worth foregrounding (so I quote myself):

‘Fundamentalism comes in all forms. It can be found in religious and secular settings. It is a mechanism of power – human power, which has nothing to do with the power of faith or divine power, though it often claims that. It is the opposite of pluralism and dedicates itself through a range of violent exclusionary tactics (which include sophisticated and not-so-sophisticated social discourse) to the eradication of pluralism.

I am a pluralist, though I also operate with joy and intensity from my own social location. I respect the right of fundamentalists (whether they be Muslims, Christians, atheists, political ideologues, or any flavor) to live and believe. Their rights end when they move into broader cultural space because their dearest intent is to suffocate pluralist society by sucking the air out of it with their noxious ideological commitments.

My commitment to respond to dehumanization leads me to speak and act against fundamentalism in all of its forms. I have lived long enough, however, to recognize that it comes in far more forms than we commonly name (i.e., far beyond the Islam and the Christianity that we typically associate with extremism).’

I will add to that now: peace and prayers and love to all who – in myriad meaningful ways – counter the forces of dehumanization. It is essential work.

Monday, June 13 11:59 a.m.
Dear God, today I pray especially for all of those working in LGBTQIA service and advocacy organizations and groups, for they are dealing with their own grief while also trying to love and serve the whole community. Give them strength of soul and peace of heart and wisdom of word in all that they do – and rest and well-being for themselves. We offer our gratitude to them and to you. Amen.

Tuesday, June 14 9:56 p.m.
A reminder to my LGBTQIA friends – you can turn off the news if you need to. It’s okay. You can walk away from it for a while. Take care of yourself. The struggle and the honor of memory will still be there when you get back.

Wednesday, June 15 6:42 a.m.
May we remember today that kindness and advocacy need not be mutually exclusive.

May we be filled with both compassion and a whole-hearted commitment to justice for all.

May we honor that which is holy within each person and on this earth, even as we ask for accountability and discernment.

May we be wise.

8:10 a.m. –  If you are ally or friend of LGBTQIA people and especially LGBTQIA people of color – or want to be – or just respect people period – I have a suggestion.

Our cultural space is really, really noisy right now.

The LGBTQIA community is not of one mind about where we go from here (and that’s okay), though we’re pretty universal about taking note of and condemning individual and cultural homophobia.

So while we’re not monolithic, one way you can support people is to make room for our voices. You can listen, ask respectful questions (NOT devil’s-advocate, opinions-disguised-as-questions, or argumentative questions) IF the person welcomes questions, and research and read what’s being said by LGBTQIA people about all the different issues.

This is about hearing, not about being heard yourself.

When you help to create that space where LGBTQIA people’s voices are made central, you are helping (even just a little bit) to shift the power in our cultural conversations. No one speaks for the whole community (ever – for any community), but there’s good learning in seeking out a range of perspectives.

I believe this to be good solidarity practice across the board, but today let us keep in mind the context of LGBTQIA people, Latino/Latinx folks, and the intersections of sexual orientation and gender identity, race, and ethnicity.

11:13 a.m. –  An update about tonight’s Religious Memorial Observance for the Victims of the Orlando Massacre (let me know if you have questions) –

we will gather tonight at 8:00 on the first floor of Beloved. After an opening welcome, there will be 5 separate spaces for prayer and reflection in honor of the lives lost and disrupted at Pulse in Orlando. You will be able to move among them according to your own needs. They are:

1) downstairs at Beloved – a diverse group of faith leaders from around the community will offer their prayers

2) upstairs at Beloved – a space for silent prayer, meditation, centering prayer, and silent worship. this space will also be open before the service beginning at 7:00.

3) at The Abbey – names and images of those who were killed

4) at The Abbey – a memorial creative art space

5) at The Abbey – a place to talk and pray individually with ministers and chaplains

We hope that all will feel welcome and that all can find a forum for their own grief and healing.

Thursday, June 16 7:06 a.m.
Prayer versus action – this is a false binary.

It’s not either/or. The best action is grounded in prayer*.

And the lessons of action give clarity to prayer.

These are complementary means, not opposite ones.

*as a Christian, I pray to a gracious and loving God in the name of the Incarnate Christ, but I’d certainly never say that is the only meaningful form of prayer. Translate for yourself and your own traditions or non-traditions accordingly.

Friday, June 17 7:06 a.m.
Sweet friends and family have been reaching out since the Orlando shooting to offer words of comfort, affirmation, and love. That’s meant a lot. And many of them (many of y’all 🙂 ) will also include a concern about safety. ‘Be careful.’ is the refrain.

Here’s the thing – I don’t feel any less safe after Orlando than I felt before it. That, sadly, is because I didn’t feel safe before Orlando. And I know very few LGBTQIA people who do feel wholly safe. And – with no disrespect intended at all – I think those few who do are probably not staring at the reality of things.

We construct communities of love and relationship – or at least the fortunate among us are in a place to do so – that provide for support and meaning in the rhythms of life.

But there are a lot of people that hate us, that consider us sinful, or find us disgusting. There’s an entire spectrum of dis-affirmation and down at the far end of it is a small violent group.

We are harmed by that whole spectrum – and that’s why I keep repeating that there’s no neutral ground. I want people to get off of that spectrum and locate themselves in a place that at least embraces ‘live and let live’ and eschews rhetoric about sin or anything less than the full humanity and dignity of LGBTQIA people.

But we are all – and always have been – at real risk of significant harm from genuinely dangerous people. The reality of that has been magnified by Orlando, but it was no less true before. People often remain closeted in whole or in part not because they are ashamed but because they are afraid. And they ought to be.

The awful murder of British MP Jo Cox yesterday further illustrates the vulnerability of good people to those who are willing to make their hatred manifest in the most brutal ways. That wasn’t about LGBTQIA issues, but it’s a related form of extremism that from all reports led to her death. I am 100% aware that in every public presence I claim as an out lesbian – and this is true for all of us – that it is good fortune that my path and that of some violent hater doesn’t cross. I am especially aware of that in terms of a pastoral presence. I am never not aware of it.

I want every-body to feel and be safe from needlessly inflicted harm. Queer bodies. Black bodies. Brown bodies. Disabled bodies. Poor bodies. Women’s bodies. Old bodies. And all of the intersections of those things. Every body. Every body to live knowing that their inherent worth as human beings – their right to live, to love, and to face each day with the integrity of a whole self – is fully respected by all.

That’s the world I strive for. It is not the world we have now. And I know it.

There is no neutral ground. Either you stand with love* across all our differences or you are somewhere on that spectrum that tips downward to the most horrible of places.

(* and some conservative Christians – will say “Oh, I love everybody. I just . . .” STOP RIGHT THERE. Where that sentence goes from there indicates that they really don’t get what the radical love of Jesus Christ is or means or demands of those of us who claim to be his followers. They do NOT love everybody because THAT.IS.NOT.THE.LOVE.OF.CHRIST.)

9:17 p.m. – It has been a week of horror and grief, including today the anniversary of the white-supremacy-driven killings at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston.

It has been a week of human connection that embraces and celebrates our diversity and our innate capacity for joy and relationship. We bear witness to the brutality, but all around me, people are responding with love. Real love and care and concern.

Amen and Amen.

Tonight Temple Emanu-El invited both the LGBTQIA community and the Muslim community to worship and grieve in a memorial in their Shabbat service. It was heartfelt, inclusive, and deeply resonant with the spirit (Spirit) of promise for a better world.

Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, June 18 7:54 a.m.
A word I need to say:

if anyone were ever to come for my Muslim friends, they would have to come through me.

And I’m small, but I’m mean when people mess with my peeps.

Please don’t think you know anything about Islam if you are not in personal fellowship with any Muslims.

(and yes, that’s a dramatic statement, but given the nature of our sociopolitical discourse these days, I wanted to say something equally unequivocal)

(and yes, I feel that way about my other friends too, but this is the claim that is called for in this particular moment)

Sunday, June 19 7:59 a.m.
In a week where I have been critiquing the violent culture of toxic masculinity, it’s lovely to have a day to celebrate all the good men in this world.

I know a LOT of them and I’m sure you do too. Not only in my own biological family – my father, step-father, grandfathers, and uncles – but among my friends, the fathers of my friends (and now days the sons of my friends), and countless other men who put their energy into caring for the people around them and for the world.

I critique the culture of patriarchy, but I do so in the hope of freeing us ALL from the pressures that cause some men to miss the joy of living, the capacity to care, and the pleasures of non-conforming individuality. I count a bunch of non-conforming, open-hearted men as my chosen brothers in this world and the world needs more like them (even though they are nothing alike on the surface).

Keep fathering, good men, whether you are a biological father or not. The world needs you – and I’m grateful to travel in it with you.

9:59 p.m. – I’ve been thinking about how the victim total for the Orlando shooting was reduced from 50 to 49. The 50th fatality was the shooter, Omar Mateen.

Something bothers me about that. I had the same reaction about Newtown when Adam Lanza was removed from the count.

Now if I were an injured victim or a loved one of those killed or injured, I doubt I could manage any equanimity about these men. I would not make this argument to those people.

But most of us are not those people. We are a step or many steps removed and our perspective can be different. We can carry some of the load that those closer to the tragedy cannot.

I suggest that a part of that load is grieving for the man who did the killing and whatever happened in his life to turn him into the person who committed mass murder – and analyzing with some compassion (rather than just polarized vitriol) the factors that led to it.

None of us can know what peculiar alchemy turned Omar Mateen into killer, but we can look for the causes and try to deal with them. And we can pray for his soul and for the souls of other damaged people out there.

There are no simple answers – and we won’t find answers with simple judgments. I am not in any way recommending that we excuse the behavior or fail to hold people accountable.

But hurt people hurt people. And maybe if we can figure out what about our culture and our individual lives within it harms people to the point of their doing harm to others, we might make a difference.

Tuesday, June 21 2:53 p.m.
After I prayed last week at the Central Alabama Pride/City of Birmingham vigil, I was quoted in a local NPR-affiliate interview as saying “Our responses are what teach us how to live,” *

Tragic moments remind us that we want to live lives of genuine meaning.

We want lives that matter.

It doesn’t have to be on any grand global scale.

It’s really about living with integrity and commitment in whatever context you find yourself.

This is counter-cultural. Our culture insists that we must purchase something to bring ourselves that sort of contentment and connection. The system depends on our always wanting (convincing ourselves that we need) something more.

But the horrible moments, along with the truly joyous ones, reveal that for the fiction that it is.

Everyone of us can live a life that matters. That’s a choice we make in our engagement with one another every single day.

In this contentious season, I pray that we all remember this basic truth.

*(otherwise I probably would have forgotten I said it – but I’ve been reflecting since I read them on those words, which I did indeed say)

Sunday, June 26 2:28 p.m.
Been catching up on a couple of back yard chores this blazing afternoon and thinking about a book by the noted American Buddhist Jack Kornfield. It’s called ‘After the Ecstasy, the Laundry’ and it’s a skillful reminder of how we live in the realm of the daily even after moments of enlightenment and insight.

What I’m working with this afternoon – two weeks after waking up to the news about the Orlando shootings – is more the concept of ‘After the Tragedy, the Laundry.’

For those who are personally touched by horrible events, sometimes things are never the same. Our lives are surely as shaped by our losses as by our joys and triumphs. But often from a bit more remove we bear witness to the terrible things that happen in this world and then we move on. What else are we supposed to do?

Getting stuck is never a good option. The meaningful choice, I believe, is in how we go about moving forward.

It’s easy to get caught up in the cause-of-the-moment. It becomes a lightening quick grief fad.We can move on from that to the next awful thing – or to ignoring the next awful thing or to ignoring the chronic misery of many in our world. Or we can acknowledge that in this interdependent world we are all changed by the suffering of others. Then we choose to let that embitter us or open our hearts.

That’s our fundamental choice – slide right on by, turn ugly, or keep letting our spirits grow with a heart of compassion and care.

It’s really up to us. The laundry still has to get done. The backyard still has to be mowed. It’s really all about what we bring to it and what we give back into the world around us. That comes after ecstasy and it comes after tragedy – and it’s one better measure of the meaning of our time on this earth.