Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gettin' Grown in Amerika: Practicing a Ministry of Inclusivity

Yours Truly

Dear Readers: I give thanks to the ancestors that I have managed to survive for sixty-three years with some degree of sanity. If one manages to arrive at a state of "grown-ness" as a Black woman in Amerika then you deserve accolades for you have surely weathered adversity and the storms of life in doing so. This is particularly true if you have experienced the hardship of poverty and other adversities. If you don't know what I'm talking about then I am not talking to you and that is another post for another time. lol But if you have known some hard times and have managed to keep your head on half way straight and not let life get you down then I'm talking to you. If you have been abused/misused and excused then I'm talking to you!

You/I/we have earned the right to speak. And we ain't lettin' nobody tell us that we ain't got the right to the Tree of Life. I/we/you can do no other than to speak our Truth. So what issues claim my attention at this time in my life? But first you have to know this about me, I am a libran. I know some folks do not put much store in astrology. But astrologers look for "behavioral connections between human beings and the alignment of planets and assorted movements in the skies" influence our tendencies and personalities. Librans are the epitome of order and harmony. We demand balance and if we do not find it we will create it. We are peacemakers because we yearn for peace and so out of necessity we tend to mediate situations towards more harmonious outcomes. We do not thrive in environments where conflict prevails. It might come as a surprise that as I transition into parish ministry that I am naturally drawn to settings that need such skill sets of empathic listener and conflict transformation. Nor am I surprised that I desire to shape a ministry of diversity and inclusion. Part of the reason I am so comfortable being a Unitarian Universalist is that it resembles one of the multiple worlds I am most familiar with. One of my worlds is that shared by my ethnic community of Blacks. Another is my Unitarian Universalist culture where I am a so called minority. Yet I can hold my own in the world where I am a minority because I am not intimidated by others that are different than me. Why? Partly because I have had a lot of therapy (lol) but partly because I was raised to know that I had to be "better than whites". Better did not mean smarter, although it was important if I wanted to get ahead in a world where intellectual capital was important.  I realized and was taught at an early age that I was superior to whites because I was taught to be a superior human being, that is ,to love everyone and take the moral high ground. That did not stop with just people that looked like me. I was also taught that God loved me. So I didn't need to hate whites or anyone for that matter. I didn't feel the need to mistreat others or talk against others. Neither did I feel the need to dominant others. I was not perfect but I knew right from wrong because of the moral wisdom I was taught mainly at home which was reinforced through organized religion. I always wanted to stand in righteousness and be about doing the right things. I knew that I was better than the whites that I read about that misused and abused blacks simply because they were Black or hated them for the same reasons. My parents never told me that I was better than whites but because of the moral wisdom that was imparted to me -  "to love those that despise you and persecute you" I claimed a moral compass that put me in a different mindset. When I went through my black identity period I became militant and a Black nationalist. I thought the love your enemy rhetoric was a lot of uncle Tom bull shit and so I rejected it. But when i returned to it I realized that I was a better human being because I was taught  to believe in a God that loved me just like he loved white folks and everyone. And God didn't love me any less than whites.

Womanist theologians such as Emilie Townes might express it more poetically, "womanist spirituality is the deep kneading of humanity and divinity into one breath, one hope, one vision. Womanist spirituality is not only one way of living, it is a style of witness that seeks to cross the yawning chasms of hatreds and prejudices and oppressions into a deeper and richer love of God as we express Jesus in our lives."

White folks had their ways and black folks had their ways. Our survival strategies protected us from the hatred and oppression of racism.  Moral wisdom  emerged in the midst of oppression and affirmed our humanity and belief that god hated oppression and sided with the oppressed and honored our  ethnic heritage if others did not. Our life affirming refusal to submit to cynicism, alienation and despair carried my people through slavery, Jim Crow, share cropping and it will see our survival through internalized acts of aggression and oppression. Sharon Welch in her book, Ethic of Risk reminds us that there are no perfect people - just non-heroic individuals striving for "justice filled lives that lived for justice."

It wasn't until I relinquished those values that I began to unconsciously hate my blackness. Racisms ugly tenacles almost paralyzed me and undid all the positive foundation that Christianity had laid. It was only then that white supremacy's lies could convince me that my skin was ugly and my nose too thick and my hair too kinky. These things had nothing to do with the character of my soul, instead they were things that I had no control over. You can only imagine how overwhelming that was for me. I am so glad I made it through that stage with a minimum of scars even though I am still healing from those experiences.

So now as I come into my senior years I am claiming the wisdom of time and grounding myself in the things that I know the most about - being Black and being female. I know a little bit about resiliency. On the other hand I sometimes feel that I know absolutely nothing about love. And yet I have been the recipient of much love. I simply did not recognize it at the time nor could I really appreciate it and receive love fully and completely. Some of the things we know we take for granted. Resiliency is one of the things I know about. I can talk about being picked up after shattering in what seemed like a million pieces and in the middle of all that - be able to turn my life around. I do not take that for granted. I do not assume that everyone knows how to reach inside or to call on powers and sources greater than themselves in the midst of life's storms. I cannot tell you how to do it because you may need something else for your journey. But I know how to be present with you and to listen to you and affirm your journey. That is why I am called to ministry. My ministry is about inclusion and journeying with individuals.

So I find myself called to parish ministry and of course my ministry would be one of inclusion. What else could I talk about but the love which has carried me forward through the years? What else could I embrace but that which held me when I could not stand. What else could I know to name and but communities of support that loved me through times when I could not love myself.

Many of you know that I am transitioning into parish ministry - specifically a ministry that allows me to live my values, promote healing and love and apply a ministry of inclusion, that is, empowering people toward claiming their own power to be a positive presence in the world. I can be a bridge in our Unitarian Universalist congregations and out in the larger community and I can be a bridge within as we navigate the sometimes turbulent and confusing waters of  diversity and justice making. While I think we are a long way from a true redistribution of wealth we have other strategies that can facilitate reaching back and bringing marginalized people into a quality of life that is life affirming. Some of those strategies include being outwardly focused, including a redefinition of social roles and power relationships. That is why my people have emphasized the following, to whom much is given much is expected and that is what I strive to practice. Each one teach one! Volunteer and nonprofit organizations can have a tremendous impact on marginalized populations and our Unitarian Universalist congregations can be a part of that support. Many of our large sized congregations can participate in this critical role by forming non profits that reflect both social service and social change approaches. While it will take money, that is not the real challenge, finding the political will and leadership is the supreme challenge. It may take several generations to achieve the goal of diversity in some of our Unitarian Universalist congregations that lack racial and cultural diversity. But the work that we must do does not have to be postponed because we do not currently have racial and cultural diversity. Creating a welcoming and nurturing environment is a prerequisite to attracting and retaining people of any color.

The question is are we up to the task? Only time will tell! Let us refuse to leave this world before we make a lasting legacy for humanity. According to Robinson, the one unacceptable course of action is to do nothing, to try nothing new and to tolerate the intolerable status quo."

Question: What will be your legacy to the world? What will you risk?

God/life calls us not to sacrifice but to lives of empathy, love, responsibilitgy and accountability.

Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

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