Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Faith, Fear and Family

My oldest sister Betty Jean Holmes - Woman of God

In this posting I want to talk about faith, fear and family. I have traveled from home in Chicago, IL to Atlanta, GA where I have been for almost two weeks. My original intention was to visit my sister, Betty, who is in the hospital and then head to the Grand Canyon with relatives for a much needed weeks vacation. When I arrived I realized that Betty's condition was worse than I realized. A surgery which she led us to believe was out patient now had resulted in almost two weeks in ICU. My younger daughter, Kaleema, had arranged to come down in preparation for the surgery and spend time with her aunt to help her out. This was despite Betty's protests that she would not need help.

Kaleema has now been in Atlanta for almost a month. I opted to revise my plans as I began to weigh the circumstances in consultation with my older daughter, Libra who also lives in the area. During this same time I was informed that a very close niece of my mother's (Hazel) was terminal and she had been given 2-4 months to live. The day after I was informed of her condition she was dead. That was a Wednesday. She was buried on Saturday.

This post is about faith, fear and family. When I was first informed of my sister's surgery, while not routine it was not serious. As her circumstances became more and more dire, due to complications, I began to grow afraid. I remember a particularly fearful moment that I began to pray for the strength and faith necessary to overcome the relentless fear that threatened to overcome me. I recalled when she went into surgery several years ago and she was in prayer with the medical team. She was such a strong woman of faith. She was my shero and example of a woman of God. When we needed or desired something particular we would call her and have her pray with and for us. She was the epitome of faith and belief in God. In my moment of crisis and remembering I realized that she was not able to pray for herself and that the least I could do was to stand in faith and hold at bay all the uncertainty as she lay on her sick bed unable to pray and call on the Most High. Too much was at stake! And I refused to allow my frailties to dictate for me my faith and to interfere with my ability to harness the powers of good in the universe. I began to call on and invite all that was good in the universe. You see, I believe that we have the power to manipulate and move energy and to heal. And in that moment I did not have room for disbelief! Too much was at stake! I could not have lived with myself if I did not call on all that I had within me to beckon the healing powers in the universe - if I did not at least do my part. I also began to minister to my daughter Kaleema when she called and she needed assurance.

Seven of my siblings and family drove down from Detroit for Hazel's funeral. On the way back they stopped by to visit Betty. The nursing staff allowed her to go outside for the first time since she had arrived at the hospital. We all stood around her bed in the gorgeous Georgia sun and under the blue sky and prayed over and with Betty. I know without a doubt at that moment that our prayers were received and a healing took place. There were too many prayer warriors standing and directing healing forces. Of course the medicine and the medical team helped. We are all team players in the great game of life. Why are some prayers answered and others are not? I do not know the answer. I only know that there are times when we invite the presence of the sacred and divine (ours and others) and we direct it toward certain ends and those ends manifest as we desire. Perhaps the outcome is already decreed. I do not necessarily believe that but I do not know for certainty. I just know that a theology that allows me to have some agency as co-creator is life affirming and meets my criteria for what is sustainable.

As we stood around my sister I realized that there were as many theologies and ideologies represented as there were individuals. I realized in that moment it did not really matter what we believed but that we believed and gifted her with the power of our presence, our love and our beliefs. Our loving energies represented a healing balm as great as the doctor's medicines. We invoked the presence of good/god/ancestors and gifted her in that moment something that neither science or humans have been fully able to discern and articulate; prove or disprove.

Death and near death experiences have a way of stripping away everything but what is most real to us. I know family is real. If you come from a large family like mine you probably have dysfunctional and functional aspects present in your family. No doubt you have some pettiness and bickering. And you have moments like we experienced when everyone came together. The family members that live in Atlanta have been visiting Betty. We have pulled together despite our differences; despite personality conflicts and differences of opinion. Adversity has a way of bringing out the best and worst and setting aside the rest. Our vision becomes crystal clear about what is and is not important. My moment of crisis when I was afraid that I could not find the power and presence within me to call forth the blessing and healing that Betty needed; the moments when Kaleema and I were bickering over small and insignificant things; the moments when I wanted to strangle the faculty back home. I realize that when I do not constantly claim and know my truth then I act out my sense of despair. My initial paralysis was brought on by the unconscious realization that my journey as a minister had not here-to-fore required me to really stand in my power and know my truth - to stand on it as if my life depended on it. To stand on it and know that I know that I know! I was scared! What if I am not up to it! What if I am just playing! What if! What if! My bickering with my daughter is my fear - fear that I do not see or cannot hold faith that her good is manifesting and that the next step in her journey is being worked out even though I cannot see it. I have to also know when to let go and let God and all the powers in the universe take over and take control.

Fear is a powerful emotion. It does not serve us except in a very primitive manner. It alerts us to danger. But we cannot let fear dictate our actions. We have to hold fear back and say like Jesus, "Get thee behind me."

The entire ordeal has given me insights into myself and the need to continue my spiritual practices of prayer and meditation. In those spiritual practices I want to focus energy toward letting go of my fears. I realize how much they hold me back and how much I am a prisoner to my fears. I cannot even imagine my life without fear and what I might be doing if I did not allow my fears to hold sway over me.

But the fear and the faith are intimately entangled. If I have faith then I could release the fear. If I could release the fear I could have faith. whew! I am knowing and claiming for myself a release from these fears: fear of failure; success; happiness; intimacy; and loving relationships. These are just a few that I have let rule my life. Fear of being out of control; of loosing control!

Finally, I have grown to really appreciate family and family connections. I say that I understand the bonds of family. But it has taken Betty's illness and Hazel's death to really appreciate it. Sitting in the little church in South Georgia swatting the pesky little gnats in the midst of all the family and friends gathered to see Hazel off was a testimony of her legacy. And while we do not want to wait until death I did think I want my friends and loved ones to gather and say good bye to me, to tell stories that represent our connections and the legacy that I lived.

All of us want that to some degree or another. Not the send off! One of my sisters does not want any kind of ceremony at all. She wants all of her stories and flowers shared in life and not death. No, what I am talking about is that we all want a legacy. We want to know that our life mattered and that we did something that registered that we existed and that somehow no matter how small that we made a difference.

Question: What difference are you making with your life? What fears prevent you from living fully and making that difference? What family members have you failed to reach out to and to tell them that you love them? What will you be remembered for in your death?

Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Revisiting the Shirley Sherrod Incident

First Tiger Woods and now Shirley Sherrod. What is the deal you might ask! A day short and a dollar late. Yes, I realize that I am addressing the issue of Shirley Sherrod well after the fact. Yet, these issues are so complex that I am finding I must seek out reasoned voices and analyses and that is not always my own.lol So from time to time I will bring what I think are some helpful viewpoints on complex issues.

The ‘Christianization’ of Shirley Sherrod
Christianization by Any Other Name (or Color) Smells the Same
By Rosetta E. Ross
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Andrew Breitbart, American.

Rosetta Ross is Dean of Academic Affairs at Howard University. She is author of Witnessing and Testifying: Black Women, Religion, and Civil Rights (Fortress Press, 2003).

Blogger Andrew Breitbart’s recent attack on Shirley Sherrod reflects the American legacy of “Christianization”—the measure of black acceptability in white civil society. Sherrod (a former Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee activist, and longterm farm advocate) lost her job as the USDA Director of Rural Development in Georgia after Breitbart manufactured an image of her that was out of compliance with his standard of appropriate black behavior toward white persons. The reality of Breitbart’s deception has been made painstakingly clear through full presentation of the context from which the excerpted sound bite was clipped.

The sound bite came from Sherrod’s March speech during which she encouraged a black audience toward sensible racial collaboration to help “poor” people and not just “black” people. Sherrod told the story of helping a working class white farmer save his farm. Memories of her father’s still-unsolved racial murder and legacies of racial injustice against African Americans, she said, initially made her hesitant to put full efforts behind white farmers Roger and Eloise Spooner when they approached her for help.

However, when the white attorney to whom Sherrod referred the Spooners failed to take their predicament seriously, she realized the challenges they faced were the same as those faced by the black farmers she helped everyday. “[W]orking with him,” Sherrod said, “made me see that it’s really about those who have versus those who don’t, you know, and they could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic.”

While Sherrod told the story to demonstrate and encourage transformation (a transformation she identified as divinely inspired), Breitbart intentionally sought to discredit her by posting an edited clip showing only Sherrod’s discussion of her initial hesitancy. Breitbart’s construction of a mechanism to “get” Sherrod and her black audience is not significantly different from the narrow and arbitrary policies drawn to confine African Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries (e.g., convoluted literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and behavioral policies required for black enfranchisement and interaction with whites). Such practices are rooted in colonial uses of Christianity to circumscribe black life.

Colonial use of Christianity—or “Christianization”—is the employment of “Christian” rhetoric and identification to construct meaning in social and political life. This has included establishing specific conceptions of citizenship, structures of education, social roles and behaviors that simultaneously develop and inscribe hetero-patriarchy, white supremacy, and racial subjugation in policies, practices, and the imagination.

Examining Christianization during the US antebellum era, religious historian Albert Raboteau says Christianity initially had a slow start among enslaved Africans in the United States because, among other reasons, enslavers feared a common baptism would signal social equality. To resolve the dilemma Christian missionaries declared that Christianity would help better fit black persons to enslavement.

Crafting a “Christian” argument that enabled the participation of enslaved Africans continued even after Emancipation as some black racial uplift workers, and white evangelical home missionaries, argued that Christianizing formerly enslaved persons was necessary in order to make them acceptable and respectable participants in civil society. Christianity (rather, Christianization) functioned in both instances as a mechanism to define or justify black humanity and participation within white civil society.

To add injury to Breitbart’s insult, the NAACP and Obama Administration hastily misjudged Sherrod, condemning and firing her, respectively. Notwithstanding recent apologies and retractions, more disappointing than the administration and NAACP’s failure to investigate Breitbart’s claims is their rush to show they are not guilty of supporting so-called “black racism” (i.e., that they do not condone black “misbehavior”). Similar to some racial uplift advocates of the Reconstruction era the Obama administration and NAACP officers apparently seek to broker acceptable black participation in civil society. Also similar to that era is the cross-racial patriarchal collaboration against a black woman.

The current cultural offensive launched through poisonous sound bites and blogs includes a subtext advocating a constricted, “Christianized” social morality that excludes racial, sexual, class, language, and even certain gender diversity. In the face of so much knee-jerk speaking and thinking, the time is ripe for critically thoughtful governing officials, civic leaders, compassionate conservatives and liberation theologians to celebrate and follow Sherrod’s longterm lead of overcoming direct racial injury and speaking the truth while encouraging thoughtful collaboration to build a diverse society for everyone

Friday, August 6, 2010

Phoenix Heats Up

Below is information covering the immigration issues that have become the focus of the nations attention since Phoenix, Arizona passed legislation Senate Bill 1070 that encourages racial profiling. Unitarian Universalists along with a number of other faith communities have gotten involved. This article is taken from the website of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA):

Twenty-nine Unitarian Universalists, including eight ministers, were arrested in Phoenix, Ariz., for acts of civil disobedience protesting Arizona's strict anti-illegal immigration law.

Among those arrested were Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales and the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix. They were among 150 UUs, many from out of state, who came to Phoenix for actions in support of immigrant families on Thursday, July 29, the day Senate Bill 1070 went into effect. Opponents of SB1070 say it encourages racial profiling by police, although a federal judge issued an injunction July 28 that blocked several controversial provisions of the law.

UUs were among hundreds of people who swarmed into downtown streets, blocking traffic at midday in the vicinity of the Fourth Avenue Jail and the offices of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio, who calls himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” is a strong supporter of anti-immigrant legislation, launching workplace raids and authorizing the arrest and deportation of thousands of undocumented people.

Morales and Frederick-Gray were arrested as they blockaded the prisoner intake entrance at the jail with three other UUs and members of Puente, a Hispanic human rights group. One of those arrested at the jail entrance was Salvadore Reza, a Puente leader who came to the UUA General Assembly in Minneapolis in June to invite UUs to Phoenix to act in concert against SB1070. Most of the other UUs were arrested as they blocked a city street outside the sheriff’s office several blocks away. Across the downtown area similar blockades were undertaken by other groups.

UUs were acting in support of local immigrant groups, including Puente, an affiliate of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.* In all, more than 80 people were arrested Thursday.

The demonstrations went forward as planned, even though a federal judge blocked key parts of the law from going into effect, because a higher court could reverse that decision. As written, SB1070 would have authorized local police to check the immigration status of people already stopped or detained if a “reasonable suspicion” existed that they were undocumented; the law also would have made it a crime for undocumented workers to solicit or perform work. Under the new ruling, both provisions have been removed, although much of the law remains, including a part making it a misdemeanor to harbor or transport undocumented people.

Phoenix police and sheriff’s deputies allowed the blockades to go on for one to two hours before arresting those who refused to move. Arrests began around noon on Thursday; prisoners were released overnight or Friday morning. Court appearances were set for some in mid-August. Most were charged with obstructing a public roadway and with failure to obey police, both misdemeanors.

Events started early on Thursday. Some UUs were at the State Capitol in Phoenix at 4:30 a.m. to march about a mile to Trinity Episcopal Cathedral for an interfaith worship service.* UUs marched in support of a group of mostly Hispanic and Latino/a people who have held a daily vigil at the Capitol since SB1070 was approved in April. The vigil ended Thursday morning out of fear that some participants, who are undocumented, might be arrested.

The nearly two-hour service at the cathedral included Roman Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, Muslim, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, and nondenominational faith group representatives. A rainbow lit up the sky just before the service began, following a rainstorm that passed through overnight. A mariachi band participated in the service, as did a combined choir that included many UUs. During the service immigrant family members told stories of being separated from loved ones.

During the service, Frederick-Gray noted that her congregation includes families separated by deportations as well as the family of a police officer who was killed. She received strong applause when she said, “We must not be intimidated, and we must not be silent about where we stand. We must be clear that we stand on the side of love, that we stand on the side of family unity, that we stand for justice. We will not let more families be torn apart.”

From the cathedral, UUs and others marched downtown, gathering in César Chávez Plaza amid a complex of city and county government buildings, before beginning the blockade.

There were echoes of the 1960s civil rights movement in Phoenix. Tempie Taudte, from the UU Church of Tampa, Fla., says she was too busy graduating from college in the sixties to do anything. But at General Assembly this year she made a decision to come to Phoenix. “Now I have time, and I want to give back, in part because I didn’t do anything then.” On Wednesday she decided to risk arrest the following day. “It breaks my heart to know that families are being disrupted and parents taken away,” she said. “I want the rest of the country to hear us. I’m also concerned that other states, including mine, will try to adopt something like this.”

Taudte was indeed arrested Thursday when she sat down in the street and refused to move. After her release Friday afternoon she called her experience “life changing.” She said she plans to go back to Florida and challenge her congregation to get even more active than it has been on immigration issues.

The Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, minister of the UU Church of Marblehead, Mass., and president of UU Allies for Racial Equity, was arrested at the county jail with Morales and Frederick-Gray. The experience was “physically frightening,” she said. “The experience validated much of what I understand about white privilege and racism.” She said that while she experienced some roughness during the arrest and the jail experience was harsh, fellow inmates of color were treated far worse.

Held overnight in a cell with as many as 30 other women, von Zirpolo said the group bonded, even those people who had been arrested for other issues. “It was an unintended consequence of their strategy to disrupt our sleep by moving us around. Each time, we would share names and origins. We sang together, held those who needed to cry, demanded medical attention for our sisters in need, and most importantly, listened to each others stories. We made community.”

The Rev. Gregory Scott Ward, minister of the UU Church of the Monterey Peninsula in Carmel, Calif., said being in jail changed him. “I no longer think I’m different from other people. I was surprised by how quickly one’s humanity can be diminished when wearing prison stripes and the pink socks and pink underwear they make you wear. And how that humanity is restored when you find out that people are waiting for you when you come out.”

UUs who had not been arrested held a late evening candlelight vigil outside the jail Thursday night, bringing a guitar and flute and singing songs in Spanish and English. A few people remained all night, to be there when fellow UUs were released from jail.

Unitarian Universalists were the most visible religious group in Phoenix. Many wore the yellow T-shirts of the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign. UUA Moderator Gini Courter said, “On the street we were clearly identifiable as religious people. We lived our faith in a very public way. People were coming up to us and thanking us for being there.”

As a consequence, Morales was in constant demand for interviews. Dea Brayden, special assistant to the president, said Morales was interviewed 15 times by local, national, and international media. After he was released from jail, Morales participated in yet another press conference. When asked by a reporter if blocking streets is the best way to address human rights issues, he said, “We want to interfere with the incredible intimidation that is going on here. We as people of faith are called upon to take action to stop that. This is what happened in Selma. This is in the greatest tradition of America. While we are law-abiding citizens there are times when the laws are so immoral they need to be changed. That’s what responsible citizens do.”

Courter said this week’s efforts build on the long-term work of UU congregations in Arizona, as well as local human rights groups like Puente and the National Day Laborer Networking Organization, in confronting racism and immigration injustices. She said, “I have seen us take our calling very seriously here. Our ministers and lay people have taken some real risks. Our work here is a substantial move toward living our UU values in a democracy. And there is so much more for us to know and learn.”

“What we need to do now is build capacity to do this work,” Courter said. “We need congregations to take seriously the fact that their delegates at General Assembly this year chose immigration reform as the next Study/Action Issue. We need congregations offering Spanish and learning hymns of other cultures and building partnerships with groups in their communities. There is such a critical role for Unitarian Universalism in this human rights struggle.”

The Rev. Kenneth Brown, district executive for the UUA’s Pacific Southwest District, which includes Arizona, said, “I have been doing this work for 45 years, and this was one of the most meaningful events I’ve been involved with. What we hope happens now is that the people who came here take this issue home and work on it there. This is the civil rights issue of our era.”

The main action happened Thursday, but that wasn’t the end of things. On Friday, members of Puente, the Ruckus Society, the Catalyst Project, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and Let's Build a U.S. for All of Us, were arrested when they tried to prevent sheriff’s deputies from conducting an immigration sweep.* Salvador Reza was arrested again while watching events from across the street. For the second night in a row, Unitarian Universalists held a vigil outside the jail until Reza and others were released.

The UU Congregation of Phoenix and the Valley UU Church in Chandler, Ariz., served as headquarters for last week’s events. Events were also held across the country, in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, in support of the protests against SB1070.

Delegates to the UUA's 2010 General Assembly voted to hold a “justice General Assembly” focused on immigration and human rights in Phoenix in 2012; they also passed a resolution condemning SB 1070 and similar legislation in other states.

Dan Furmansky, campaign director of Standing on the Side of Love, the UUA’s campaign against identity-based oppression, said that UUs made a real difference in Phoenix this week. “Media outlets across the world have images of SB1070 protests with our message of bright yellow ‘Love’ emblazoned everywhere. Our partners striving for immigrant justice know that their struggle is our struggle, and that we stand on the side of love with them for the long haul. Sheriff Joe Arpaio has met a new form of resistance that brought greater scrutiny to his actions. And those who were arrested showed that there are people of faith who feel morally compelled to put their bodies and their freedom on the line when injustice pronounces itself with an exclamation point and demands a response.”

The Rev. David Miller, minister of the UU Fellowship of San Dieguito in Solana Beach, Calif., wrote in an e-mail after last week’s events that he believed events in Phoenix marked a turning point for Unitarian Universalism. “It was phenomenal to be part of a well-coordinated effort of civil disobedience with Unitarian Universalists from every corner of this country.”

He added, “I was personally thanked many times for being there—the desk clerk and maintenance person at the hotel, someone on the mayor’s staff who I met at Starbucks, people in the street. Finally, as I stood on the street corner watching those who had volunteered to get arrested stake their claim to the street, I heard a young African-American girl turn to her mother and say, ‘What are they doing?’ Her mother replied, 'Do you remember what I told you about Dr. Martin Luther King? That is what they are doing.' I broke into tears.

“Growing up just after the Vietnam era . . . I have never truly felt a part of a great struggle for human rights that has moved my soul. Now, with the struggle for marriage equality and for basic human rights in Arizona, I feel so honored and called to do whatever I can. The desire to do this work is one of the primary reasons I felt called to the ministry. I am filled with deep gratitude for being a part of this act of love, and I have so much hope for our future.”


Corrected 8.4.10:As originally published, we did not indicate that Puente was an affiliate of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (click here to return to the corrected paragraph), mistakenly said that "many" UUs were at the State Capitol (click here to return to the corrected paragraph), and did not include the names of additional organizations who had members arrested on Friday (click here to return to the corrected paragraph).

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

How to Plant Your Garden

Some of the "flowers" from General Assembly 2010 that presented on diversity issues.

Instructions for planting your diversity garden.
First, you Come to the garden alone,
while the dew is still on the roses...


1. Peace of mind
2. Peace of heart
3. Peace of soul


1. Squash gossip
2. Squash indifference
3. Squash grumbling
4. Squash selfishness


1. Lettuce be faithful
2. Lettuce be kind
3. Lettuce be patient
4. Lettuce really love one another


1.. Turnip for meetings
2. Turnip for service
3. Turnip to help one another


1. Thyme for each other
2.. Thyme for family
3. Thyme for friends


Q. What are you planting in your garden of life? Have a blessed day!
Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

source: Thanks to Mary el for sending me this beautiful information

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Odds N Ends

Sista Chrystal Marshall may be the only individual with a Ginko tree in her front yard. If you want to know how she got the city to plant it then email me and I will pass your email on to her.

More of Chrystal's enormous hibiscus blooms. Notice the leaves are slightly different from the most common hibiscus plants one usually sees.

Did I say that the hibiscus is one of my favorite flowers?

We discovered this hibiscus plant in a yard at S. Woodlawn and 64th st.

President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal while on tour in the United States recently attended a reception in his honor at the DuSable Museum. The evening featured a brief presentation from the President and a popular Senagalese musician along with the local Muntu Dance Theatre. Muntu was so great that the President invited them to be his personal guests at a black arts festival to be held later in the year.

9 Marks of a Champion

I recently found this list in a congregational newsletter that I want to share with you:

1. Believes and visualizes themselves winning
2. Believes and is willing to go through change
3. Believes they are loved by the Most High/God/the Holy
4. Willing to forgive and be forgiven
5. Believes they can rule their thought life (that is, they know that their thoughts are energy that they can and should be in charge of and can manipulate to produce certain outcomes )
6. Believes that they can make a difference and be agents of change
7. Believes that they can accomplish great things and greater works; on the way to the next level
8. Demonstrates that they are a finisher (and can take care of business)
9. Stands in the midst of adversity

I wish to add a 10th characteristic: Knows how to ask for and invite support from others because they understand no one is an island. and that in order to achieve great things we must come together.

Q. How many of these Marks of a Champion/Winner/Self Actualized individual apply to you?

Sacred Text of the Day - James 1:22
Do not be just hearers of the word but doers of the word.

Q. Where in your life are you sitting on the sidelines expecting someone else to do something? How can you more fully take charge of your life and lead the kind of life that you dream about? Begin today! Don't put it off another day!

Radical Disciple

August 4 and August 8 the documentary, Radical Disciple debuted and featured Father Pfleger. It captured his activism, passion and charisma while "exploring issues of racism, theology, and the role of the media." There is still time to view the August 8 airing on PBS, WTTW, Channel 11.

I am so impressed with the ministry of St. Sabina where Father Michael Pfleger resides as pastor that I included the Church in our community tour for 15 students that will begin their part time integrated internships through Meadville Lombard Theological School this fall.

Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah