When I was young, I remember going to the synagogue with my dad in Skokie, IL, where after services sometimes we would have lox and bagels and chocolate milk. It was a wonderful ritual. Skokie was a white Jewish enclave where my temple was located but I lived in the Evanston school district and grew up and went to high school with people from many faiths, many cultures and many racial and ethnic backgrounds. We didn’t use words like “white privilege” or “white supremacy” but we did work on concepts like race relations, diversity and equality.
After the end of the baby boom and with the changing face of demographics in Skokie, at some point my congregation dwindled and moved out and at least for a while was replaced by the Assyrian National Council, something I think we never could have possibly predicted the day I got bar mitzvahed. I also don’t know how they are teaching issues of race in my old high school, but I am sure it has evolved since I attended. (Nor could I have predicted that someday I would find this lifesaving faith and become a minister and learn so much more about issues of race than I ever did in high school.)
We as Unitarian Universalists are now going through a period of realignment in a variety of ways – ways that challenge our beloved understanding of congregational life and that in some ways challenge what we have come to know as the culture and practice of Unitarian Universalism. It isn’t just this one hiring event at the UUA. There has been an intentional, growing movement of people of color in our association as well as generational changes that are part of a natural life cycle of an organization like ours.
This month we are talking about transformation, and sometimes transformation comes to things that we don’t want to see transform and can’t always control. In many ways that is what I am observing now. Change is hard to control, especially if the change is meant to get us to reflect on our understanding of how concepts and words are used in ways that challenge our current understanding and comfort. We don’t have to like it, we don’t have to agree, and we can push back, yet also, we are being asked the following questions:
- How am I reacting to the words or the concepts and why?
- What am I being asked to actually do in relation to the use of the words or concepts?
- How can I not make this about me and think about those whose pain is giving birth to the use of these concepts?
- What can we do to not blame those bringing forth this need for change?
- What should I do as an individual or what should we do as a community to deal with the issues at the core of the use of the words?
I know that this has been an unbelievable and uncomfortable period in many of our lives. The change in cultural direction we have seen in the past year from the last presidential administration to the current administration is astounding. When our safe space for our spiritual nourishment also seems to be in the midst of change, it can challenge our equilibrium. I ask you to consider that we are being asked not to be just a safe space but to be a brave space as described below.
An Invitation to Brave Space
Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know,
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
It will be our brave space together,
We will work in it side by side …
– by Micky ScottBey Jones, inspired by an unknown author’s poem