My Passion…Illustrated

Yet Another Unitarian Universalist reports his experience of a presentation by and for “White Allies” at General Assembly:

Went to a workshop presented by “white allies,” white people who are supportive of anti-racism efforts and who are willing to work closely with people of color. Important work. Work that I fully support.

But I noticed a phenomenon that may partner Carol first pointed out to me in the world of environmental activism. Carol refers to it as “shaking a finger at you.” That involves making you, the listener, feel terrible about how you are contributing to ecological problems. Yes, we should all feel terrible about being dependent on fossil fuels and over consumption and so on, but what Carol points out is that that kind of feeling cause many people to give up on trying solve ecological problems. Much of Carol’s work has been to help people to enjoy solving ecological problems, because that way, they might actually do the work. You might call this approach “social marketing.”

This came to mind in this white allies presentation. Everything they said was true, and everything they said made me feel terrible about racism, overwhelmed by racism, shamed by racism. I’m enough of a Puritan to believe that it is wholesome for white people to feel terrible, overwhelmed, and shamed by consciousness of the sin of racism; but I’m also honest enough with myself to admit that feeling that way makes me less likely to engage in anti-racist work.

Speaking as a former salesman, we religious liberals could stand to do a little more in the way of social marketing. We might get more done.

This is something I feel passionate about. Very very passionate. As some of you know, I’ve been serving on the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee (JTWTC) for the past two years or so. During that time, we’ve talked with a whole lot of people about the anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multicultural efforts of the association. We’ve talked to individual members of congregations, ministers, board members, UUA staff, seminary students and faculty, members of stakeholder groups…the list is a long one. The majority of the stories we heard had a common theme. Each one begins with passion–usually the passion of one person or a small group. Those people get the efforts started and for awhile, there is energy and excitement. Often, real progress is made. People have experiences that change them and those changes are real and significant. But then, in almost every story, people begin to drift away. Energy wanes and the group shrinks until only one or two “die-hards” remain. Progress slows and sometimes stops, leading to frustration and even despair.

As a committee, we began to notice this pattern of “stuckness.” Work would get started and then stall. Feelings would be hurt and people disapointed. And worst, good-hearted people would turn away from work they knew was important. We began to lay blame, either by blaming ourselves (guilt, guilt, guilt) or blaming particular models or materials. We knew the “Journey Toward Wholeness” was an important journey and we started out with such hope and excitement, but somewhere on the way we lost our energy and our nerve.

(From here on, the analysis is mine, and does not necessarily represent the views of the JTWTC or anyone else related or unrelated to UU anti-racism, anti-oppression or multiculturalism work.)

Here is what I think happened. UUs see that The Journey Toward Wholeness is a good journey–a worthy journey that mirrors our deepest longing for a world of justice and fairness. We jumped on a “bandwagon” and hoped it would take us to that place. But we didn’t really know exactly where we were going. We didn’t articulate a compelling, genuinely Unitarian Universalist vision of wholeness. We didn’t ground ourselves in our history or explore the imperatives for justice, wholeness, and a multicultural vision of our future that spring from our unique theology. We have wagged our fingers a lot, I think, and that has not served us well. People feel like they should be on this journey, but they don’t know why or where they are going.

My hope for my sabbatical is to gather and perhaps create a collection of resources that begin to articulate a vision of wholeness that I hope will compel us to reignite our passion for justice, acceptance, welcome, and a true celebration of the gifts and challenges of becoming the diverse association that I know so many of us long to be. I want to help make clear the historical roots of our commitment to anti-racism, anti-oppression and multiculturalism and how this work is central to our larger vision of beloved community. I want Unitarian Universalists to understand a distinctively Unitarian Universalist theology of wholeness and I believe that when we are able to communicate that vision, people will begin not only to return to the table in order to do their personal work, but will commit themselves to be builders of communities of wholeness, justice, and love.