Archive for ‘spirituality’

July 13, 2013

The 99 – Lies, Bad Theology, and Scare Tactic Evangelism

TL;DR version – “The 99″ is basically a Hell House that happens in Not October. There’s nothing on their website, anywhere, about it being a religious thing. They convince tweens and teens to come and then scare and shame them into Jesus.

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My friend Carly and I were the tamest college students imaginable. In the course of our college careers we never drank, never tried any kind of drug, didn’t party, and liked to do things like run children’s book clubs at the local library, talk about church, and watch old episodes of Little House on the Prairie. After we graduated in 2010 she began her teaching career in Connecticut and I started seminary a couple years later in Boston. We see each other somewhat regularly and get overly excited about things like book fairs and laugh about church politics – she’s a life-long member of a United Church of Christ congregation and I’m in school to be a Unitarian Universalist minister.

When Carly texted me to ask if I wanted to hang out on Friday I said sure, and later as we were talking about what we wanted to do she asked if I could take the commuter rail out to Providence so we could to go “this thing about the common causes of death for young adults.” I figured it was just another weird thing Carly had discovered somewhere on the internet. Usually our rule with what we attend is that it either has to be good or it has to be so absurdly bad that it’s good.

We showed up to the Swansea Mall parking lot, I saw the tent, and I immediately said “Carly, this looks like a ‘Come to Jesus’ thing. While she ran into the mall to find a bathroom I tried running a few searches using my phone but wasn’t seeing anything about it being overtly religious. Searching was complicated by the fact that this production is called “The 99” and entering that phrase, in any way, into search engines brings up a lot of stuff about the occupy movement.

The other thing to know here is that I’m transgender; I was born female but now identify as male. I “pass,” meaning people see me as male, about half the time but I look very, very young. I was raised in an evangelical church and was kicked out or left (depending on who you ask) when I came out as gay years ago. Though I’m clearly fine with religion at this point and have no vendetta against Christianity I’m definitely not a fan of the brow-beating Evangelical Christianity that tries to do things like scare tweens into accepting Jesus.

We stood in line for this event, held in a giant tent, as they slowly let in groups of about twenty people. As soon as we got to the people with handheld metal detectors and started separating us into lines of men and women I got worried. I was directed to the male line, so I went, got wanded and waited for Carly. We approached a table where we had to sign a “release” which was actually a way to get out contact information. I put down my name, a fake email address, left the phone number part blank, checked adult, and got reprimanded by the woman at the table for not filling it out “correctly.”

We waited some more, and were finally allowed inside the tent. We paid our $3 admission price and were showing to a roped off area with a TV that told us the rules after showing a few PSAs about not doing meth or texting while driving. It was one of those faux-edgy productions – lots of messy handwriting, jump cuts, and a supposedly creepy voice reading them out loud. No video, no cameras, no loud conversations, no touching the actors “even if they touch you” and if you are disruptive you will be removed and required to wait for your party at the end.

The entire event is set up in a giant tent with “rooms” that you get in via people in safety vests lifting flaps of tent tarps. The first “room” has an empty chain-link cage in the middle. The lights go completely dark and when they come back on a grim-reaper like person has appeared in the cage. The grim-reaper is your “guide” and shows you through each of the rooms. Carly says she heard the guide referred to as a spiritual guide at some point but I didn’t catch that.

The 99 purports to show the 5 most common causes of death for teens and young adults. According to them these are; gang violence, drunk driving, drug overdose, suicide, and texting while driving. There were not statistics or cited studies anywhere so, sure, let’s go with that for the premise of this whole thing. It was emphasized over and over that these were bad choices, you had a choice, everything is a choice.

Our spiritual guide first showed us into the gang violence room. Two kids, a boy and a girl, are beaten up by four other teens. The acting was hilariously bad with phrases like “oh man that was so cool!” and “we really beat them up!” and lots of high fiving and fist bumping. Then a backlight comes on, highlighting a car behind a mesh screen and one of the “gang member” girls is shot and killed. Her friends unceremoniously pick up her body and walk out with it. As our guide leads us into the next room we walk past her lifeless body dumped on a fake park bench.

Our next room is a car crash. One girl is covered in blood and splayed on the hood of the car, the girl in the driver’s seat is gasping and sobbing and crying and covered in blood. There’s another lifeless body in the back seat. The other car has a man and a woman, also both seriously injured, and an audio track of a baby screaming starts up. I still have no idea if this was supposed to be drunk driving or not wearing seatbelts or just car wrecks in general.

Next up was a crack den. We were given chairs to sit in for this long and memorable scene in which Nothing Happens. A pregnant woman sits on a bed in the corner sobbing for “Steven.” There’s a filthy toilet bowl off at one side and people sit around pretending to do every form of drug you have ever heard of. There’s a bong being passed around, somebody cutting up what looks like a cup of crack cocaine on the table (seriously, it was a giant pile), someone making meth in a corner, a guy in an arm chair with a needle in his arm. This man was apparently injecting into a giant open wound. One of the women on the couch beats her daughter with a stick of some kind, and at one point “Steven” lumbers over and slaps the pregnant woman.

We walked from there into a teenagers bedroom where we were told to look up at a television screen. A jumpy, scratchy suicide note-video comes on that starts “mom, dad? By the time you watch this I’ll already be dead.” While dramatically pulling her hair she talks about how she was never the perfect daughter and was tired of being unhappy and how everyone would be happy now that she was dead. The screen goes black, a light comes on in the corner behind us, and there’s the girl laying there, dead from what appeared to be a chestburster alien but was, we were informed, a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest.

Next room! Two coffins and a large projected video that was a replay of three news stories. An 11 year old girl who hanged herself because of bullying, a college student who died in a car accident because her brother was driving drunk, and a group of people who started an anti-texting while driving campaign because a boy had died when a girl was distracted while texting.
Then things got really weird. We were led into what we dubbed pre-hell. A comparatively older woman, in her forties or so when most of the actors had been teens, was chained to a wall and wailing. She was then taken by a demon away as she struggled. Carly and I both later confirmed we’d had the same thought, that this was sex trafficking or something, but it was just showing people who made bad choices being led to hell.

And then WE, too, entered hell. A man dressed as “the devil” walked back and forth and badly lip-synced to us about how hell was a real place and he was the devil. We’d seen people making bad choices and now all those people were in hell. While this is going on caged people dressed, basically, as zombies are wailing and reaching out toward us asking us to take them out. And then a beam of light comes through and the devil screams “no, they’re mine, don’t take them!” and other such things.

The next scene takes place on mount Golgotha. I remember this mostly for the line “COME ON JESUS, MOVE!” as he’s led out, lugging his cross, covered in hilariously fake wounds. Next room is the crucifixion. There are three crosses – two of them have televisions mounted on the crosses and the third, tallest, has a ridiculously gory Jesus on it, facing away from us. The televisions come to life, showing scenes from a passion movie of Jesus being beaten, and then the middle cross begins to rotate so we see Jesus full on, heaving and bloody and wearing a pair of ripped up LL Bean shorts.

We’re led into a final room with a TV screen where we watch “The Bridge.” This is a dramatic depiction of the quandary that I thought was used to diagnose psychopaths. A man who apparently has the job of flipping a lever to move a train track so a train doesn’t derail realizes his child is playing on the mechanism. If he flips the lever his son will be crushed to death. If he doesn’t the whole train load of people will die. He flips the lever.

This version was further complicated because an attractive, perky young woman is on that train and about to shoot up the heroin she’s heating up on a spoon in the main cabin. As the train goes past the distraught man she catches sight of him and decides not to shoot up. You then see her, holding her young daughter, see the man and they smile at each other for a long time.

The movie ends and a man stands up and talks about how God also chose to let his son die so we could have life. He goes on for a bit and then asks us to bow our heads and close our eyes for a prayer “just out of respect” and raise our hands if we want to accept Jesus. Then he says “I see those hands.” and we’re led into the final room which has maybe around 100 small tables set up with people at each. The person says “gentlemen to the left ladies to the right” and Carly and I ended up separated. As I walked toward the men’s side with no exit visible anywhere one of the security people points and me and says “what is that?” trying to figure out if I’m male or female. I caught sight of the exit and got the hell out of there.

Carly sat down with one of the counselor people and had a conversation in which she was told she wasn’t a real Christian because she’d been baptized as an infant, not as an adult, and that being confirmed in the church was not salvation. While that was going on I made a pissed off Facebook post and left a ranting message on a friends answering machine. Finally Carly came out and we left kind of angry about the really terrible theology and how they had duped people into this.

If you look at their website there is nothing about religion anywhere to be found unless you already know what you’re looking for. Is that the only way they think they’ll be able to save people? By lying to them about what they’re going to and scaring, pressuring and forcing them into hearing a poorly translated message of salvation? It’s some seriously flawed theology they’re working from.

http://www.whatisthe99.com/

May 21, 2013

Praying With Johnny and Other Thoughts from Trans Day of Celebration

I’ll admit to kind of rolling my eyes when the idea of the Transgender Day of Celebration was brought up. I agreed to take part in the service and did my bit to invite folks but I kind of figured it would be a bit of a letdown. “Who was even going to come to this?” was my primary thought. Secondary thoughts included, “I have nothing of value to say” and “why does my voice squeak so much when I’m nervous?” Tertiary to those was, “crap, I have to iron a shirt.”

I procrastinated on writing. I angsted to friends online, I convinced myself anything I had to say was crap, and finally on Saturday night I erased everything and started from the beginning. It was only 5 minutes of talking, it wasn’t like I trashed a novel I’d was almost done with.

I walked into the narthex of the church and dutifully found who I needed to. We did all the run through stuff and scribbled down some cues and just went for it. There was surprisingly little direction; mostly I think we all just assumed that we’d done enough church in our respective lives that we could pull off this service with all the advance planning Jamez had done. Which was totally true; the main folks in the service have done a LOT of church between us.

My reflection went well I guess. You can tell it’s a queer service when people give you snaps to affirm what you’re saying.

So much of my time preparing for this service had been put into trying to figure out how to encapsulate my trans experience, in relation to Psalm 139, into under 5 minutes that I had completely ignored that I’d agreed to offer personal blessings during the service.

I walked up to the front and the first two people who came up to me were people I, at the very least, knew somewhat well. I knew their names, I knew their pronouns, and I knew enough of who they were and what they were doing with their lives that I could somewhat tailor the prayer to them.

And then Johnny Blazes walks up and I’m like, “crap. Really?” Not because I don’t’ like Johnny. I think Johnny is awesome. I’m basically in awe of Johnny. I don’t, however, know Johnny very well. We travel in a lot of the same circles but, being an antisocial grad student who leaves the house only under extreme circumstances like “I’m out of coffee,” I’m not sure we’d ever had an actual conversation. I may have complimented their hair once at Trannywreck.

So Johnny comes up, we hold hands, I ask their pronouns and just kinda went for it.

I prayed. I probably said the word community like 20 times, asking that they be upheld by the community that they do so much to uphold, and it was all over pretty quickly. I mean, it’s a prayer, not a dying declaration. Shortness is okay.

Nobody else came up to me. I was fine with that.

I keep realizing how much personal prayer means to me. I’ve posted about it at least twice before here and here. It wasn’t something that spoke to me for a long time but I keep realizing time and again how important it is to me to be able to sit with somebody and be prayed for or to pray for them.

It’s another fucking growth opportunity, okay? I’ll work on it in seminary.

The rest of the Trans Day of Celebration was awesome. It was like all the best of my community all in one room doing awesome things. Red Durkin did some of the funniest stand up I’ve ever seen. Liam and Johnny and Bethel and Evan and so many other people sang songs that spoke to all of us and Evan’s kid stole the entire show, no questions asked, by singing part of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with, I think… trigger warnings prefacing it. Evan’s kid is 2.

So basically what I’m saying is twofold: my thoughts are totally scattered and it was awesome.

The end!
Look, we sang This Little Light of Mine!

April 16, 2013

Let Yourself Mourn

I was stuck underground on the train for a good half hour today. A minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, seeing as there were literally explosions happening around a mile from where I was, but I didn’t know that. They kept making vague announcements about police activity and I figured somebody was shot. Eventually when the train moved it went through three stations without stopping. When I was finally above ground again and out of the immediate area my phone started buzzing with text after text. People asking if I was okay over and over, my housemates and friends and exes.

I stopped somebody on the street and asked if she knew what was happening. She said she didn’t, but that she was wondering too. We stood there trying to find information on our cell phones while I gave her son a pack of stickers I had in my bag to distract him. She was the first to find something. “Oh god.” She said, “a bomb went off at the marathon.”

Boston and Cambridge and Somerville and all the places I spend my time in have tons of young adults. All around me at the coffee shop I was at people were answering their cell phones with “I’m fine, mom, I’m fine” and “don’t worry, grandma.” The coffee shop decided to close as there were still reports that things might be happening in the area. I went with a church friend back to her house while things got sorted.

And it was kind of scary and kind of nerve-wracking and yet all too familiar. I’ve been through this before. We, as a country, have been through this before. September 11th happened during my first week of high school and I’ve never known this country as anything but a culture where my shoes are a threat at the airport but an assault rifle in someone’s car is normal.

I sat with my friend Jess and we watched the coverage, saw friends update their status to say they were okay, and waited for the public transit jam to let up so I could go home. It seemed normal and almost routine to not be more freaked out.

But while it may not be extraordinary in the grand scheme of the world and it may seem like more American self-centrism that we focus so much on this when so many more die around the world daily I can’t help but get a little defensive when people minimize the damage with statements like, “Did you know that 30 were killed in Afghanistan today? Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?”

I mourn for all those lost in large, tragic displays of human violence and in smaller tragedies of cancer and car wrecks. I mourn because I am a person who values other people but it’s okay to mourn at a different level when the city you live in and love in is attacked.

My dear Bostonians, let yourself mourn if mourning is what you need to do. Let yourself mourn without guilt that your mourning is a ‘first world problem.’ Let yourself stand in community or solitude, whatever feeds your soul. Cry out to your God, or your gods, or simply into the stillness for an end to needless violence without worrying that you aren’t crying out for the ‘right’ things. Let yourself be grounded in resolve to work for peace and healing. Let yourself breathe.

April 15, 2013

A prayer after communion

A friend was preaching tonight at the local Metropolitan Community Church and since he’s somebody I have a lot of respect for and whose ministry I value, I went. I figured “it’ll be a lot of Jesus” which isn’t a bad thing but it doesn’t really mesh with my theology. I was right; it was a LOT of Jesus.

It was a really small service, maybe twenty people in the room all told, and I think I was personally greeted by at least ten of them before the service started. I finally agreed to fill out a visitor card just so they’d stop offering them to me. When reading through the order of worship before service I noticed that they were doing communion and looked around for an explanation of their communion practices.

I’m not as stringently anti-communion as I was when the school year started. I spent a good part of spring break reading about communion practices and came up with my own “guidelines” about when I would and would not participate in communion. Suffice it to say I didn’t figure that an MCC church would have any issues with my participation in communion.

Most denominations that do communion have the same general principle behind it and then mess with it just enough to be “unique” and to “confuse newcomers.” At this church it is common practice to take communion and then receive a short prayer.

Honestly I couldn’t figure out how to not participate. Everyone else was and I was confused so I just made sure to step to the side where my friend was praying with people since, hey, I trust the guy.

I’ve had some bad experiences with folks praying over/with/about/to me. Lots of praying out the demons of homosexuality, praying out the demons that cause me to be rude to my parents, the demons that make me cuss and, when I was 10, the demons that led to my owning a CD by Hanson (perhaps that prayer was justified). Two years ago I prayed with a chaplain at general assembly which sort of made me okay with the practice in theory but it really needs to be somebody I trust in order for me to really hear the prayer rather than focus on the ten kinds of awkward inherent in the situation.

Tonight I held the hands of a friend and minister and he prayed for me and, like I said, I trust him and I respect his ministry and he’s a good person. But the really touching part was that this guy knows me. He knows I don’t really do the Jesus thing much. So he fit the prayer to me. He didn’t end with “In Jesus name” he didn’t throw much (any?) God into the prayer, and there was no hierarchical “Lord.” He held my hands and he prayed for me in a way he knew I would find accessible.

I’m always collecting bits and pieces of what effective ministry looks like but I’m not some cyborg seminary student who simply collects information whilst ignoring emotional situations. I’ve had a pretty rough year and it was really touching to feel cared for and ministered to in a different way than usual.

January 12, 2013

We lost a hero this week

Did you know a hero died this week?  I suppose the argument could be made that heroes die every day of every week of every month but a hero died this week.  Jeanne Manford passed away at the age of 92 after living a life of acceptance with grace and compassion.  Manford founded PFLAG; Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.  In 1972 she marched in the New York City Pride Parade carrying a sign in support of her gay son, Morty.  Morty’s life was cut short, as so many of my queer parents and siblings lives’ were, by AIDS.  Jeanne Manford continued to fight for acceptance of LGBTQ people; she evolved with the times, moved with the movements, and was an ally and a presence for her entire life.

We lost a hero this week.  The LGBTQ community lost not only an ally but a parent and a grandparent.  Because of activism like Jeanne’s so many of us were able to go further, faster, and with less fear of not being accepted and knowing we were entering a world with greater understanding.  She didn’t solve the problem of families that don’t accept their children but she helped let those children know that other people did accept them.  She brought allies into the movement; a necessary step in bringing the oppression of LGBTQ people into the greater public knowledge.

A prayer for the heroes

Thank you, God, for giving us the heroes
The down to earth folks who speak quietly
From living rooms
And computers
And through small acts of kindness

Thank you, God, for giving us the heroes
That shout from the rooftops
And the pubs
And the street corners
Whether anybody listens or not

Thank you, God, for the grandparents
Who stand up and say
No
Oppression wasn’t okay in my time
And it’s not okay now, either

Thank you God for the younger siblings
Who never question who you are
Since you’re always the person
Who stole Halloween candy
When you were eight

And thank you, God
For the blessing of those who stand
When we cannot be our own hero
Or when we don’t want to be
Or when one voice isn’t enough

Thank you, God, for the allies
Who stand by our sides
And let us lead
And follow with gusto

Thank you, God, for the heroes
The every-day
And the extraordinary
And the old
And the young
And the visible
And the invisible
God, thank you for the heroes.

February 11, 2012

Let’s Hold a Revival

Let’s find a field in the middle of nowhere.  Preferably in a “flyover” state.  Maybe somewhere in the Midwest just to really mess with our “northerner” sensibilities.   Let’s find a field and let’s pitch a tent.  And maybe put up a little stage, but that’s totally optional.  Let’s make sure we can have bon fires, though.  Those aren’t optional.

Let’s invite the best and the most passionate of the “up and coming” folks in our denomination to come and preach.  Let’s make sure we arrange for folks to be able to carpool and let’s bring tents.  We all own tents now, after OccupyEverywhereInTheFreakingUS.  So let’s break out those tents again and let’s camp.  Let’s be alive in our faith without worrying that we look silly or ridiculous or too passionate.

Let’s hold a revival.

I’m thinking August 2013.

Who’s in?

January 22, 2012

We’re not all “brothers and sisters”

When I talk about gendered language I’m not only referring to calling a crowd of people “guys” or a waiter addressing a table of people as “ladies.”  Those instances hardly make a dent any longer.  What really gets to me is specifically gendered language in places where we are supposed to know better or, at least, supposed to be working on it.  Gendered language that people think is inclusive without really looking into it.

You know, like church?  Our churches.  Our Unitarian Universalist faith communities that we are so, rightfully, proud of.  The churches where so many of us have “gender identity and expression” in our mission statements and have supported transgender rights legislation from city-wide right up to the national level, and where we stress over and over that all are welcome.  We ask you to come as you are and then, if you’re somewhere outside the gender binary, you’re ignored.

Transgender identities can be complicated and confusing and often they get oversimplified in an effort to give a quick explanation to somebody.  Phrases like “born in the wrong body” and “really a boy/girl” are used to sum up all that is the trans experience.  Those phrases do work for a lot of people who identify as trans; there are some people who truly have known since they were very small children that they are definitely the “other” gender than the one they were assigned.  There are also quite a lot of folks out there for whom there is no “other” gender.  They know they aren’t male but they aren’t totally female, either.  I talked about this life in the middle-ground of gender before.

When an assembled body of people is referred to as “ladies and gentleman,” or “men and women” or anything along those lines there is a group of people you’re ignoring.  When you sing “brothers and sisters” or “oh, fathers/mothers let’s go down,” or do a reading that calls on “men” to do one thing while “women” do another you are ignoring all of the “me’s” out there.  You’re ignoring my existence.  I don’t think it’s intentional but I do think it’s something that needs to change.

Today this came up during a service that was supposed to pay homage to the Iowa Sisterhood and the Bread and Roses strike.  That’s great!  There are women out there who have made amazing contributions to our world; women who have banded together and created real, valuable change.  It is necessary that we recognize their perseverance to succeed in a world that did not want to include them.  It is necessary to see their successes as one step in a more gender-inclusive world.  But, when we celebrate these successes, can we please not do it in a way that makes those of us who are neither men nor women invisible?  We need to take the spirit of their message, or the essence of what they were seeking, and expand that beyond the binary we’ve been taught.  These women were fighting against a world that tried, and often succeeded, in making them invisible.  Trans people are doing the same thing, but with smaller numbers and a less united “what we’re fighting for” message in many cases.

In the UU world trans people are accepted on paper and, often, if they fit in enough with one of two genders they are welcomed in practice (for the most part).  There are a lot of trans people I know who would be perfectly fine standing and claiming their identity as female or male, and that’s great, and I’m thrilled those people are supported by their communities.

I am not male.  I am not female.  I use the pronouns he/him/his because they force people to recognize me as not-a-female.  If there was a more readily accepted and useable gender neutral example I’d happily adopt it.  But there’s not, so I don’t.  But just because those are the pronouns I use does not mean I’m your “brother” or a “man” or one of the “guys.”  There is no side for me to pick in these songs, or these readings, or rituals.  There’s no “middle” or “other” so I’m left out entirely.

So what do I think you should you do?  Just recognize our experience.

How?  Oh I’m SO glad you asked!

  1. Look at a reading and see if you feel comfortable adapting it to make it more inclusive.  If you can’t change the words then make an   acknowledgement that it’s not entirely inclusive.  “Though the author refers to “women and men” we take this reading in the spirit of affirming all genders.”
  2. Look for hymns that affirm all people, and adapt if necessary.  One of my favorite replacements for the phrase “brothers and sisters” is “siblings in spirit.”  This, too, is a quick fix.  “In the chorus of ‘We’ll Build a Land’ we will sing “siblings in spirit” rather than “brothers and sisters” to better welcome all into our worship.”
  3. Remember trans folks on Mother’s/Father’s Day.  Many trans people have interesting and complicated relationships with parenting, whether or not they are parents themselves.  Again, you don’t have to do away with services, just an affirmation is fine.  You don’t get something pre-scripted here; I’d prefer you wrote it yourself, from your heart.
  4. It’s okay to mess up; it’s not okay to pretend you didn’t mess up.  Acknowledge and learn from criticism, complaints, hurt feelings, and difficult feedback.
  5. Don’t ask men to sing one part and women to sing another.  I don’t care if it messes with your choir director’s mind.  Find another way to classify voices.  “Higher voices, sing __, lower voices, sing __.”
  6. Lastly, stop referring to the kids as “boys and girls.”  There are miniature versions of me, too.  We get just as annoyed and we’re often less articulate when we’re smaller.  Call them children, call them kids, call them young people.

Email me if you want to hash something out privately.  Andy.Leigh.Coate-at-gmail-dot-com.

We’ll build a land where siblings in spirit united by God may then create peace… see, totally works.

Totally.

Thanks to Rev. Sean Dennison and others for help in sussing this out in my mind.

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.

December 11, 2011

A Whole Lot of Life

Occupy Boston has been evicted. I will, for the foreseeable future, be sleeping in my own bed. It’s not the end of the movement, at least that’s our mantra, but when I stopped by this morning to see it leveled and behind its own type of bars I had to cry. Just for a little, just because transition is hard. And then the police escorted me away.
At church we say, “our worship has ended, our service begins.”

Our physical occupation has ended, the next phase of our movement begins.

But it is so hard.

It’s been an amazing, hard, beautiful, hard, awe-inspiring, hard, flat out gorgeous experience. It’s an experience that I wish so fervently I never had to participate in but… damn. Damn.

I went to the jail where the women were being held this morning. We hugged and sang as people were released. We moved on. We marched to the jail where the men were being held. We hugged more, we sang more, and we waited. I stood by the exit, handing out food to each released protester and letting them know where to get something to drink, people with a charged phone, and a spot to be away from the media.

It wasn’t warm today in Boston, and even though I’m now starting my fifth winter in New England I wasn’t dressed appropriately. I left the house in that marginally frantic “I have somewhere so much more important to be” mode. I also forgot to eat for a good portion of today and I didn’t drink any water from the time I left the house until I got home.

(Self-care is on my to-do list, I promise.)

I was one of the point people for organizing a multireligious solidarity service prior to our first post-raid General Assembly. We wanted to call folks together, let them air some of their pain, let them be heard prior to entering a very procedural meeting. We wanted to continue the faithful, religious, spiritual voice that had been part of the Occupy Boston movement since before Dewey Square was even occupied. We weren’t leaving now.

I can only hope the service provided something of that space. I was so cold, so tired, so dead on my feet by that point that I don’t remember almost anything of what I said. I know we sang a lot. Snippets stand out; taking a minute to breathe while one of our wonderful and involved priests took the service in her way-more-capable hands for a few minutes, encouraging people to keep singing as somebody was screaming behind us, and making eye contact with friends who I didn’t know were coming and feeling reassured.

But it still felt so final.

The movement meant so much to so many people, but to me it meant that I’m in the right place in my life. I’m doing what I need to be doing. I feel good about who I am, where I am, what I am doing and where I am going. I’m proud of the decisions I’m making and I’m thrilled to be with the people I spend my time with.

I’m not always happy with the decisions that Occupy Boston folks made, autonomous action or not, but I’m thrilled with the role that I, and the Protest Chaplains, have played. I’m thrilled with what we’ve done with what we’ve had. I can’t wait to see what we do next.

After, of course, we sleep.

November 6, 2011

“Two or More” – My #OccupyBoston Homily

The bold lines are quotes from the Occupy Boston Reflection Journals and were read by the person I was coleading the service with.

OPENING WORDS

These opening words have, as Rev. Kit Wang says, been “floating around in the liturgical ether” for awhile. I do not know their origins but use them with respect and admiration to the wise soul or souls who penned them.

May You be blessed with discomfort at easy answers,
half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.
May You be blessed with anger at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation, so that you may work for justice,
freedom and peace.
May You be blessed with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain,
rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort and to turn pain into joy.
May You be blessed with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you may do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.

HOMILY

You are standing on holy ground.

This is holy ground.

In the beginning there was a 30 pound Buddha statue and a blue tarp.

And empty space.

Endless possibilities.

Buddha was joined by Bibles, and blankets, and electric candles and a picture of Jesus behind barbed wire and a hand lettered sign pointed toward Mecca.  And in the center of it all were two brown paper journals.  Two brown paper journals where people dated and timed their thoughts on all that is and was OccupyBoston.

Where two or more are gathered, we find the holy among them. In the beginning we gathered.

October 2nd

We are the fingers of the hands, finally working together.  I have so much love for this family.  This tribe.  I am another yourself.

October 12th

We all share this need – this mission – to be the heart of the occupation

In the beginning was community.

With community came all that comes with community.

October 7th

There is such an energy here – of dissatisfaction, of urgency, of hope, of connectedness, and of action.  Bless this all!

October 15th

I am tremendously impressed by the ability of humanity to connect itself when given the opportunity.  Too often we pixelize our existence.

All that comes with community: joy and sorrow and struggle and laughter and structures and organization…and religion.

With religion came holy ground.

This holy ground.

The one that started as Buddha, sitting on a tarp, under a second tarp, with a few bibles.

Night after night the sun set on our sacred space, on Buddha next to Jesus with those candles now with a little pumpkin and some crystals all at the center, coexisting and being used or ignored as was necessary.  And those two brown paper journals always placed reverently at the front of it all, as if acknowledging the words of the people as sacred.  Because our words are sacred.

October 21st

I can’t wait for everyone to agree.  We have waited our whole lives for this global awakening.

These journals are a narrative.

At first we had no walls, and the warm late summer wind came through carrying the sounds of vibrancy and change and excitement.  We were building a new way and we LIKED it.  And the early entries filled with hope for change and love for community and thanksgiving for the outpouring of kindness and food and gratitude.  Dozens of lines fill those first pages.

October 6th

Democracy is not only a political movement, it is also a spiritual one.  We, the people, the demos, move to hate power.  We move, not necessarily, as one, but many and the exercise of coming together in collective determination awakens in our spirit; faith, tolerance, and determination.

Later they are filled with grief and pain from the day after the arrests, anger at police brutality, and prayers for peacefulness in the light of a new day.

October 11th

How can we see the police as human when all they seek to do is dehumanize us, hurt us, hurt our movement that is fighting for THEM, too?  My heart hurts.  I pray for those in jail.

October 11th

May all beings be happy, peaceful, liberated.

Then we reach confusion, wondering what our movement is about and prayers for everyone to be able to sustain our movement.  There’s a prayer for Scott Olsen, one for the people of Oakland in general, and a mention of how we must must MUST keep our actions nonviolent, for the sake and honor of those before us, be they Ghandi or King.

October 7th

It’s good to be comfortable, it’s great to be happy, but it’s essential to be good.

The day the snow came, early and unexpected and painfully cold, numb fingers kept writing through the shock to our systems.  Reality hit: we were spending the winter in tents.  In Boston.

October 30th

It’s cold.  Last night was terrible.  How can I stay positive during this?  I’m tired.  I’m cold.  I am going to church this morning.  It’s been a long time. 

And sprinkled throughout are inspirational quotes, happy thoughts, and reminders of who we are and what we stand for.

These journals carry the hard, real truths of new communities.  These are the sacred words of the faithful.

October 27th

May everyone fighting for justice know the path of love.  If we fight power with anger and hatred NO positive gain will be realized.

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