Archive for ‘General Assembly’

March 1, 2012

General Assembly Headaches

So we’re still about 4 months out from General Assembly and it feels like I’m banging my head into a wall.  Not just for me but for a lot of the young adults I’ve talked to about this.

Warning!  You’ll probably find this post whiny if you’re somebody who has monetary resources at their disposal.

There are so many assumptions made with regards to money it’s ridiculous.  The dorm housing is an amazing value but they change your card, in full, six weeks prior to GA.  I know that a lot of folks my age have family who can and will front the money, or just pay for it all together, or have awesome jobs that allow them to head off and do whatever around the country.  I also know there are folks my age who have “jobs” at GA who are getting everything paid for.  And there are folks going in big groups, with lots of friends, or with folks from their congregations to help reduce costs.

But none of those are me.

I know that you’re all going to scream THERE ARE SCHOLARSHIPS! at me.

Yeah, there are.  And those are not accessible, either.  Scholarships work as reimbursements meaning if you don’t have the money then all the scholarship in the world won’t help – because you still don’t have the money up front to get there, to buy a plane ticket, or to even know if you’ll have enough to get pay for the room you reserved.  Additionally the only YAs who get to go multiple years in a row are the YAs who can afford it.  You cannot get a youth/young adult scholarship two years in a row (or it’s “very unusual”) so you’re pretty much out of luck unless your financial situation changes dramatically from one year to the next.  Or you get to attend when you can get a scholarship while people who have money get to attend every year, making more of the decisions, and having a bigger influence on the direction our association is going.  Even in the YA realm we vote on one of our caucus co-mods each year and if you’re not there you don’t have the chance to be one.  People who get to attend each year have a much higher chance of getting appointed, elected or asked to be on something because they GET to be there.

And really, saving up for GA isn’t an option for me.  I don’t have enough money to get by on a monthly basis as it is.  Putting any into savings for something as extravagant as “something I might enjoy” is just not really an option.  I can’t afford to buy new clothes, much less save up a few hundred bucks for plane tickets and hotel rooms.

The folks who get to attend GA year after year are the people who can afford it.  The people who get to consistently vote each year on things that are important to them are the people who have the money to go each year.  If we were serious about wanting to bring and KEEP more young people in this faith it seems like there would be a way to let them see what is arguably the best that UUism has to offer.

Even if I find a way to attend this year it doesn’t end here.  Because the same issues will come up year after year.  We’re so far behind on financial accessibility.  And every time something comes up it’s like a big slap in the face.

December 26, 2011

Still a Little Broken Up

I’m really good at feeling like I’m terrible at things. Can’t find a job right now? Must be because I am completely unqualified for everything in the world. Can’t figure out how to pay for grad school? Only because I failed at getting a job and have had to defer my student loans. No girlfriend/boyfriend/partner/whatever? Clearly it’s because I suck at relationships and I’m doomed to live alone forever.

Ok, so it’s not QUITE that drastic (at least not all the time).

I applied to be the Young Adult Worship Chaplain at General Assembly this year. The position would have involved creating and leading worship services for the Young Adult caucus, helping plan the Synergy worship, and working with the Young Adult Caucus folks in general to make GA a worshipful as well as active and justice-focused time for Young Adults.

As you can probably tell from the awesome past tense of the previous paragraph… I didn’t get the position.

I got the call as I was playing a magi during the Occupy Boston nativity play (not sure which magi I was… which one carried the gift of housing, again?), so I didn’t answer. I listened to the message (a generic, “I’m calling about this position, please give me a call back”), called back with anticipation, and was told I didn’t get the position (a generic, “you were one of our top candidates but we went with somebody else, we hope to work with you in the future”).

I am proud to say that I didn’t cry until I was off the phone. How’s THAT for discipline?

“Clearly” I thought to myself, “it’s because I suck. It’s because they don’t see potential for ministry in me. I don’t even know why I applied. It was stupid to apply. I’m never applying for crap like that again.” Logically I suppose none of that is true.

One of my good friends serves on the group that picked the chaplain and I know they don’t feel those things about me. But it hurt because I wanted it so, so badly. I wanted it because I love worship and I see how much room there is to expand that and because we are going to be doing AMAZING stuff in Phoenix and I wanted to be a part of that.

I know that just being in Phoenix will make me a part of General Assembly, but I wanted to be a part of the inner workings, the “what makes it go,” and I wanted to be a part of what made it a worshipful experience as well as one where we got to live out our faith through social justice.

I love worship. I love the arts and actions and beauty of worship done well and I’m excited that I’m getting to the point where I have some of those skills and I’m even more excited to continue honing them. I love that I’m at the place where I can get up and offer a service with only days of angst, rather than weeks.

But I also love conferences. I’ve been doing conferences for years and years and years and I know what works and I know what DOESN’T. Conferences hold a special place in my heart, but I have been through so many conferences on so many topics that simply going as a participant is sometimes its own special form of angst-producing. I don’t “sit by” very well, especially when it’s something I care so deeply about.

I don’t even know if I’ll get to go to General Assembly this year since I’m unlikely to get the funding I did last year (and even attending last year still had me spending more upfront money than was really financially feasible for me). But if I do go it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be hard to not be a participant in making GA work, but rather somebody who GA happens to. I want there to be room for me, too, to do things. To engage and help and BE. I’m at a time in my life where I’m relatively unencumbered and I wanted so badly to throw myself into this. And I can’t. There just doesn’t seem to be that space for me to do that. And I’m still a little broken up about that.

December 19, 2011

What Not To Wear: Public Witness Edition

(Someday I will write a blog post that doesn’t involve the word “Occupy.” Someday…)

How to be a protest chaplain, rule #1

1. Religious symbols are still amazingly powerful. If you’re clergy, wearing your gear and showing up is basically all you need to do. Some folks might think it’s a “costume.” This is both hilarious and sad: one guy told us in New York that we were the first Christians he’d ever seen at a protest – at least, on his side. Then be prepared to listen.

How to be a protest chaplain, rule #6

DO NOT PROSELYTIZE. That’s not OK. That’s not what chaplains do. The Occupy movement is about working together despite the fact we all have our single issues and existing organizational work etc. Not only is proselytizing obnoxious, it’s detrimental to the movement. (And we won’t claim ya.)

This post is fairly Christian-centric. Suck it up. It’s good for you. It’ll make you grow up big and strong and possibly more tolerant.

We had a LOT of clergy stop by Occupy Boston. Both clergy we invited, clergy that asked to come, clergy that simply showed up, clergy that led services, clergy that came to services, clergy that brought their entire congregations, clergy that brought apple pie. A lot of clergy, from a lot of different denominations. If they talked to us first, asked what we needed, we usually had one answer. “Just come. Be a visible presence. Wear a collar if you are able.”

Wear a collar. We didn’t say “bring a sign from your congregation” or “bring literature on your denomination and what it has to say about social justice” or anything like that. We didn’t say “make sure we can tell what faith tradition you come from.” We asked them to wear a collar, if they were able. The collar is a known, recognizable symbol that a person has been ordained.

Every protest chaplain, when asked, would identify what religious tradition we came from. Sometimes we each did denominationally specific work at the site. I helped lead the UU Vespers services, others helped with the Ecumenical Communion Services, the Occupy Mass, and the Occupy Judaism services. But when we were out there doing the chaplain stuff we wore our badges that said “Protest Chaplain” and when asked what that meant we had an answer.

The Protest Chaplains are people of faith here to support the spiritual and religious aspect of the occupation and the occupiers.

I would have been dismayed if “my” clergy, the UU ministers I love and respect and hope to join as a colleague someday, had shown up in this:

I know that the point of those shirts may be to wear them en masse AS UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST MINISTERS STANDING ON THE SIDE OF LOVE IN SUPPORT OF ___.  That’s in capital letters because those are capital letter shirts.

“BUT,” you may be saying, “but we aren’t protest chaplains.  We ARE UU clergy.  We want people to know we are UUs!”

The point of those shirts, or so I am hearing, is public witness. Public witness is what we, the protest chaplains, did. It’s what we are still doing. We took the super intensive crash course in public witness. This is the course that involves sleeping outside with your classmates in a tent and marching in sometimes multiple parades per week. We learned, through real-time feedback, what worked and, oh my gosh, what did NOT work.

The clergy that came? They wore solid color shirts and collars. That’s pretty much it. They showed up and the collars were enough to get people to talk to them. When UU clergy came THEY wore black or solid color shirts and collars. Because they were clergy FIRST.

When UU minister Jason Lydon was running back and forth as we were getting arrested at 2 in the morning in early October he was wearing a black shirt and collar. He was NOT identifiably Unitarian Universalist, he was identifiably clergy who was there for us, in support of us, in solidarity with us.

What is the point of these clergy shirts? Is it to be different, or edgy, or to stand out? Is that what clergy “should” be doing in acts of public witness? Is it necessary to be a UU FIRST in circumstances when we are witnessing publicly for a non-UU-specific issue? We aren’t the only people of faith fighting for immigration rights, for same sex marriage, for clean air and water, for an end to slavery, for LGBTQ rights. We aren’t the only ones by a long shot. These clergy shirts only serve to separate us from “other” clergy. It’s not what I want to see “my” ministers do and it’s not what I want to do, either now or in the future.

(also, they are freakin’ ugly)

Obviously, as this is my personal blog, this is my personal opinion.

September 25, 2011

Circle-ness and Clarity of Call

I like circles.  I’ve been in a lot of circles in my life.  Prayer circles and introduction circles and meeting circles and massage circles and classroom circles and once in a circle of kayaks in Frenchman Bay.

We sat in a lot of circles at General Assembly.  And stood.  And sang and discussed and prayed and… pretty much anything you can do in a circle we did.  Circles of a couple hundred people, excited and engaged and inspired, and circles of just two, hands held in prayer or silence or just space.

For the opening young adult worship we did a spiral dance into the space, holding hands and circling in tighter and tighter and then spiraling back out before sitting, the whole time singing.

Spiraling into the center
The center of our soul
Spiraling into the center
The center of our soul
We are the weavers, we are the woven ones
We are the dreamers, we are the dream
We are the weavers, we are the woven ones
We are the dreamers, we are the dream

At the closing youth and young adult worship at General Assembly we sat in a circle; in a lot of concentric circles, actually, some folks on chairs, most on the floor.  The mood was less excited and expectant, at least for me, and more somber with the realization it was already almost over.  I was sad to be leaving, I knew reentry would suck, and I knew that fact would be hard to explain to friends.  As part of worship we were supposed to take one of these poorly-quartered pieces of paper from the floor and write down what we were going to bring back from General Assembly.  I actually thought it was kind of dumb when it was announced.  It seemed to break the spirit of worship but, figuring it was meaningful for some, I went ahead and jotted something down.  I didn’t put a huge amount of thought into it, though it was not without intention or meaning.  I put the paper in the middle of the room with the rest.

At the end of the service we were to pick up one of the papers in the middle and bring that home with us.  I grabbed one, started making evening plans, and then opened it as I walked out of the room.  Scrawled in messy all caps were seven statements.

Vision. 

Clarity of Call.

More Compassion. 

Sense of Place. 

Grief Shared. 

Grief Held.

Understanding.

 

In that whole “interdependent web” sense we recognize that every actions has an effect on every other action which has an effect on every other action and so-on to infinity.  But there’s the idea of knowing that in theory, or in past practice, and then there’s what happens when it walks up and slaps you in the face with how oblivious you are.

Vision.  My ability to see and interpret and acknowledge and express.

Clarity of Call.  I will go into ministry.  The form that will take remains unknown, but I will.

More compassion.  For people and their spiritual journeys and for  what I cannot comprehend.

Sense of place.  I belong here.

Grief shared.  Though prayer and song and meetings and worship and that love of community.

Grief held.  The pain of others taken on that I may lessen and help or simply be with another.

Understanding.  Just a bit more comprehension than I used to have, and the understanding that there’s always so much more out there to learn, see, do, change, love, worship, hold, be.

Thank you to whoever wrote those words.  On the off chance that you happened to read this post AND you want to reveal yourself, I’d love to know who it was.  But know I appreciate you, and your ability to articulate my mind better than I was, and your willingness to open yourself to a small piece of paper, and for the simplistic beauty of your words.

June 28, 2011

Hold my hands and pray with me.

Charlotte, North Carolina is not what one would call a comfortable city in late June. Sticky and hot. Not perfect for somebody who doesn’t wear shorts and really feels that the bathing suits of the 1920s had a lot of promise.

So, yes, I suppose I was thinking about the weather when I was “supposed” to be praying. Prayer is emotional; it is, at its best, intense giving and receiving, release and retention. The weather is none of those things. The weather is not immediately affected by us. The weather is there. And, as Kate Braestrup says, “I’m a UU. We don’t do weather.” In that we (in general) do not pray for some deity to please make the weather work for our events and purposes.

I sat with the young adult chaplain, outside, thinking about the weather in hopes I could stop crying and look a little more human before the next workshop I was slated to attend. But it turns out that it isn’t that easy to block out a prayer being said for you, especially when you really need to hear that prayer. That is when your heart takes over because your mind is being too unwilling to grow or change. I gave in, I listened, I cried, and it helped.

It helped. And it was needed.

I was sitting outside with a chaplain in the middle of the North Carolina heat during General Assembly because we, as Unitarian Universalists, are amazing.

Amazing and affirming and beautiful. We are all of those things, but we aren’t perfect. And one of those imperfections had come up during a workshop session that morning.

The workshop was about welcoming transgender people and I attended hoping to watch how two facilitators, both of whom I knew and trusted, would handle a discussion with a larger group of UUs about trans issues, especially considering what is going on in my congregation right now. During the workshop we split into small groups and were given scenarios to discuss. Our scenario was the following (paraphrased from memory):

A member of your congregation has made it known that they are going to transition. You overhear comments about the person, calling them, “he/she,” “it,” and using statements like, “He will always be Dave to me!” What would your response be as a member of a right relations team? As a board president? As a newcomer?

Again, that is really paraphrased but it is the general idea. In the small group I said, “I have been doing trans activism for over eight years and I came to this workshop to gain a better understanding of the UU response to trans people, so I’d prefer to listen rather than participate.”

So I listened to my group and, well, yeah. They had ideas. But those ideas were all about group education; sermons, workshops, bulletin boards, etc. Nobody mentioned actually calling the person out, in a way that was compassionate and preserved community, but made it known that language that disrespected dignity and identity was not OK. At least, that’s what I scribbled down in my notebook.

I was chosen from my group to report back to the rest of the workshop and when I did I read off the notes that I had taken, and then I added my own piece about calling out offensive or oppressive language. I gave a strategy, I made suggestions, and I sat down. After the workshop a woman came up to me with a friend and said that calling people out on language was offensive. That, “Acceptance is a two way street,” and that I have to “accept other views on gender identity” if I am going to ask others to accept mine. A few minutes later a man came up to me and told me that, while these issues may seem really important to young people, there are a lot of bigger problems facing the world.

I responded to both in the best manner I could. I told the woman that if she could look at it as a sign of trust and love that a person felt strongly enough that she would react well and lovingly if they called her out on language that it may help. She blew that off entirely. To the man I said that we all can, and should, care about more than one issue of society but that trans discrimination was present in every demographic. In other words I drew on every nonviolent communication strategy I’ve learned in the past 10+ years.

I then promptly walked outside, got on the phone with my best friend, and cried at him for awhile. And then I furiously started texting other friends. People who would get my frustration and let me be in my anger. At least, I thought they would just let me be. Then a friend responded with, “why don’t you talk to somebody there? Somebody for some spiritual response to this?” “No!” I replied, “it’s fine. I’m just mad.”

“Andy, you are going into ministry with these people. These people will eventually be your colleagues and your congregants and your life. You can ask them for what you need.”

I’m fairly sure that that is one of those statements you aren’t actually allowed to argue with.

So I texted the young adult chaplain, asked if we could talk, and set up a time.  Admittedly I had assumed some things about their identity before deciding they’d “get” it if I wanted to angst about trans stuff.

We talked. We kicked off our shoes and talked while sitting on an uncomfortable metal bench outside the convention center. We talked about gender identity and acceptance and church and the intersection of the three.  And then the chaplain held out their hands and asked if I wanted to pray. And I said OK. And we held hands, and prayed about navigating the tight ropes and muddy roads and already paved streets of Unitarian Universalism as a trans person.

I did not intend for that to be essentially the defining moment of my General Assembly.

But in a lot of ways it was.

Anybody who regularly reads this blog knows I blog about two things: Queer issues and UUism. And you also know that there have been some issues with the intersection the two for me in the past few months. We, as Unitarian Universalists, are accepting of queer people in every official way, but because we are humans and we err and we do not change as a cohesive group there are issues and there is lag time and there is inevitable hurt, and I’m living through a lot of those issues, as are many of my queer and trans siblings.

I did not want to let that one workshop taint my whole conference but I didn’t really want to “let it go” either. I talked about it with a few other trusted friends at GA, but my mind kept drifting back to that uncomfortable metal bench, and that prayer. All through the rest of General Assembly that is where my mind kept going.

GA was not just a big conference for me, and that is something I did know was the case going into it. I went in hoping to gain clarity on my call, in one way or the other, and looking to figure out where I am and where I want to be within the larger community.

Any of my friends will tell you that I can be emphatically awful at asking for help. With at least two friends I am not allowed to say, “I’m fine,” when they ask how I am doing. They, of course, often answer in the same way, which is not a contradiction in their minds. What matters it that I not respond, “I’m fine.” Even when I actually am.

I’m learning, though. I’m learning that I am allowed to ask for help and, moreover, people want to help. There are people who devote their lives to that helping; to being that prayer. I’m considering devoting my life to being that prayer.

Prayer is what, if not just asking for good in the world? The “who” varies, the “what” varies, the when and the where and the why and the how all vary. But prayer is said to seek more good or to say thanks for the good that is present.

There’s this song, Sanctuary, that I have always loved though I insist it doesn’t really match my theology.

Lord prepare me / to be a sanctuary / pure and holy / tried and true. / In thanksgiving / I’ll be a living / sanctuary for you.

But if we redefine God as “the good in the world,” which I choose to do, then we are asking to be a sanctuary for good. We are asking to be that living prayer, that incarnation of asking and receiving and acknowledging good in the world.

One of the other big moments of my GA was the workshop called “Meet the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.” Thought FAR less emotionally charged it really got me thinking – when the MFC looks at me what are they going to want to ask? What will they be concerned about? How much of the interview will be focused on my gender identity, my relationship to the often painfully slow and frequently superficial-seeming growth work that would have to happen in almost any congregation before they call a young, genderqueer minister?

But combining those two things I do know that I definitely don’t have to, indeed I can’t, go through this alone. I have my queer UUs who have gone before me, and who will go with me, on this journey. My queer family who supports me because they have been there. And I know that these people will pray with me when I need it, listen to me when I want it, and hold me up when I inevitably stumble, as I do for them and for others. We are there for each other, as queer family has always, always been there for each other, even when none of us has a clearer view of what is next.

We are going, heaven knows where we are going, but we know within.

We will get there, heaven knows how we will get there, but we know we will.

It will be hard we know and the road will be muddy and rough,

But we’ll get there, heaven knows how we will get there, but we know we will.

June 27, 2011

wow.

I spent a considerable amount of the last week crying, trying not to cry, or trying to look like I hadn’t been crying. Based on the looks and hugs I got I did a fairly bad job of all three. They were not sad tears, or happy tears, or anything of exhausted, overwhelmed, “my life’s changing and I think I don’t have a choice” tears.

I danced with people after knowing them for mere minutes, trusted them with my aspirations and dreams and fears and struggles.

I lifted my hands and voice and prayer, laughed at bad jokes, jumped up and down when bylaw amendments passed, and talked about theology and youth empowerment and nannying while walking in the soupy heat of North Carolina.

I was hurt by things people said to me, and lifted up out of that hurt by the amazing and nurturing words of others. And a few times I had to step back and find one of the folks I had known for more than 3 days and just take some deep breaths.

I had a really amazing General Assembly.

I met up with a graduate from my college, the only one to go on to ordained Unitarian Universalist ministry, and we talked for quite awhile about ministry and process and trust.

I saw friends from Boston who were able to center me just with their presence and kind smiles.

I met young adults who were just as passionate about our religious traditions as I am.

I can’t wait to go back.

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