Skin in the Game

In the service last Sunday, I said our theology of social justice requires that we ask ourselves: what are we willing to risk, and what’s our skin in the game? In the coming weeks, our congregation has the chance to really wrestle with these questions.
It’s been four months since our Sanctuary Team lit the chalice and invited us to start considering the question of becoming a  Sanctuary Congregation. Since then they’ve held forums and informational sessions, reached out to the interfaith and immigrant community, and met extensively with First Unitarian in Denver where they’ve hosted two people in sanctuary.
From this work, and with my full support and appreciation, they brought forward the invitation to the Board to set a special congregational meeting for us to vote on becoming a Sanctuary Congregation.  After two in-depth conversations with the Board, they whole-heartedly agreed.
Which means, it’s finally time to get serious in our conversations with our whole community.  We want to help us all consider what sanctuary means, and if and how we are called to be a Sanctuary Congregation. We want to review what we’ve learned about the risks and the ways to mitigate these risks, even as we recognize that part of what we are called to do – as I said before – is to take risks on behalf of justice, and on behalf of our faith.
With all that in mind, I invite you all to the following opportunities to learn more, to share and discuss together, and for us to decide together, where and how we are called as a congregation in this important path of caring, justice, and courageous love.
  • Sunday, August 13th 8:30 and 10:00 service, “Just Home,” led by the Rev. Mike Morran, First Unitarian Society of Denver, leaders in the Sanctuary movement in the Denver metro area
  • Sunday, August 13th at 11:30 am, following the second service, Informational Workshop on Sanctuary, led by the Sanctuary Team and Foothills staff team – answering all the questions anyone can come up with, talking practical details, sharing in group discernment.  Register to attend this workshop here.
  • Wednesday, August 23rd at 6:30 pm, a 2nd opportunity for the same information provided at the 8/13 Informational Workshop for those who weren’t able to attend, or who want additional info
  • Sunday, August 27th, Special Congregational Meeting at 11:30 am, following the second service, called for the sole purpose of voting on the question “Will Foothills Unitarian Church be designated as a Sanctuary Congregation?” All those who have been members for 30 days or more by 8/27 are welcome to vote.
If you were there on Sunday, you heard the story of Juan, a father of five in the Greeley area who was recently and suddenly deported. While we don’t know for sure, Juan is someone who seems like would’ve been a great candidate for sanctuary – but we weren’t ready.  The need is increasingly urgent to take up this question, and I am grateful for your willingness and partnership as we consider it together.
*This post was originally sent out as a part of the 8/2 Weekly Extra

We won the Bennett Award – the annual UUA Congregational Award for Justice!

If you were at the annual meeting, you already heard this great news that this year, our congregation was selected as the 2017 recipient for the UUA Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action.  This award recognizes congregations that has done exemplary social justice ministry.

In the letter from the Bennett Award Panel, they wrote:

“From your congregational vision to ‘Unleash Courageous Love’ to your approach of accompaniment of the most vulnerable in your community, positioning ‘real life, on-the-ground presence’ and service as part of systemic social change, your justice ministry truly deserves this recognition.  It’s inspiring to learn about how your work for justice is driving by your mission and faith, and sustained by spiritual practices from breaking bread and vigiling to storytelling and companioning.”

Read the whole letter here.

This award recognizes the work of all of the many people who make our Faith Family Hospitality, One Village One Family, Food Bank, Immigration Coalition, and Climate Justice ministries happen – and have such a huge and consistent impact on our community.  Thank you to all those who have stepped up in big and small ways, over and over – I hope you take this award as a recognition of just how much these efforts mean.

A special thank you to Kay Williams, Anne Fisher and Sue Ferguson who compiled the application and the ministry leads who each helped tell the story of their areas of our total ministry for justice.

IMG_0905

The power of presence

brene-brown-courage-show-up.jpgWhat can I do? When things feel off track in our lives or in our world, most of us ask ourselves this question.  We want to help, to act – do something! Yet so often, there isn’t anything really obvious to do, which makes us feel helpless, confused, and even more distraught.

One thing that is often overlooked is also one of the most powerful ways to have a big impact – which is to simply show up.  Show up for your friends with a phone call, email, or text asking simply, “how are you?” Show up for your children or grandchildren with your full attention sans phone or other distraction.  Show up for your friends or for others in the church with coffee, or a meal.  Show up on Sunday with a friendly smile and a “welcome!” Show up for your neighbors by cleaning off their walk as well as yours.  Show up for your own life, fully present.

The power of our presence is also instructive when it comes to our response in our greater community.  For example, the immigration-advocacy group, Fuerza Latina has launched 9 different committees to begin work in various ways to tend to the safety, protection and care of immigrants in our community.  At the meeting of the Sanctuary City group on Monday, I was struck by the power of two dozen of us in the room together, all self-selected citizens just wanting to “do something,” and struggling to figure out once again, what to do.

There were CSU leaders, dairy farmers, teachers, social workers, and scientists – and everything in between.  Together we stumbled through the questions and task before us, the question of organizing ourselves and coordinating, and attempting to articulate what it was we hoped to accomplish.  I’m not sure what will come of it, yet the showing up together remains important.  We need to be together, learn together, question and struggle together.

Throughout the meeting it struck me how many other meetings just like this are happening not just in our city, but across the country.  Democracy and human relationships are clumsy and slow and yet also beautiful and kind and so well-intentioned. Sometimes the lessons of showing up aren’t just about what you get done, but about cultivating the patience and the perspective to remain steadfast through all the messiness of the real work.

Fuerza Latina is just now getting clear about how best to leverage the great desire to “do something” that exists in our community.  I’ll let you know as these and other more action-based opportunities become more clear.

Until then, showing up for one another and for our immediate circle remains vital, and foundational.  We have a long road ahead, and our presence for one another and in our own lives is what will make all the difference as to whether or not we can keep showing up for our neighbors – and whether we can, as I said on Sunday, keep doing so with joy, laughter, love – and dancing!

Thank you for your partnership, and for your continued presence.

 

Highlights from General Assembly from Foothills Delegates

Five Foothills members – in addition to our current and future ministerial team Rev. Gretchen Haley, Diana McLean, and Sean Neil-Barron, attended the UU General Assembly (GA) in Columbus, Ohio, the last week of June.  It was, as always a powerful and somewhat overwhelming experience of learning, encouraging and clarifying all who gathered in our faith, values, and sense of purpose.

One of our delegates, Erin Hottenstein, shared her highlights from GA in her reflection last week.  This week, we invited the other four delegates to share their one big take-away from their GA experience.  Here’s what they had to say:

  1.  The powerful Sunday Morning Worship experience.

Judy Ohs writes, “I looked forward to Sunday morning at GA, remembering the last time I attended it was a very moving service, and I was not disappointed.

Glen Thomas Rideout was in charge of the music and choir, which was awesome.  He also read a poem he had written about the anture of God, saying god is waiting to be unshrunk!

Nancy McDonald Ladd gave a sermon, ‘In All Thy Getting, Get Understanding,’ with as much energy, humor and meaningful challenge as any I have ever heard.  She admonished us to ‘STOP having FALSE FIGHTS’ in our congregations – those fights about insignificant things like ‘the color of the paint for the bathroom,’ and instead get out in the mainstream of our lives, resisting things harmful to ourselves and others, and promoting the things needed for just living for all.  She said when we don’t get our way, we are ‘lovers of leaving’ (referencing the hymn, Come, Come, who ever you are), and that we need to put our personal preferences aside, and instead have the real and hard conversations with each other.  Only this will allow us to create real change, rather than becoming thoroughly agitated, but fundamentally unchanged.  She ended by saying that we need to ‘step more fully into encounters with the holy and the world,’ and in doing so we can love more and speak more.  We can reach out to someone whose hand is near to find support and keep it real.  The service ended with us all singing ‘Reach out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.’

It is my sincere hope that each of you will take the time to watch this service (video posted above).  It will lift your spirit and challenge your soul, and perhaps help you move out into the world to help create the change we need.”

Lindsay Smith added: “I have one request of our Foothills family: please watch the Sunday service. I found it deeply moving and hope we can use it as a common point of reference going forward.”

        2.  The welcome for young adults.

NickandLindsayatGABanner

Lindsay Smith writes: “As a first-time delegate to General Assembly, I appreciated the Planning Committee’s dedication to creating a welcoming space for young adults. Not only did the UUA set aside resources to help young adults get to GA, but supported us the whole week. We had dedicated staff and seating blocked off in the large general sessions. We even had ‘General Session Bingo’ to keep things interesting.

Many times I went back to the helpful guide on young adult programming in our (jam-packed!) schedule. I attended workshops on topics from interfaith work to the role of spirituality in mental health. I was happy to see many folks of other generations participating with us, too.

I was overjoyed to represent our congregation in the banner parade alongside my partner Nick. I felt proud to represent our Foothills community and loved seeing Rev. Gretchen, our president Erin, our new minister Sean, and many others cheering for us as we sang through the aisles.

Then, it was time to get down to business. The overarching theme of this year’s GA was racial justice. Youth and young adult UUs of color inspired me by sharing their deeply personal stories. They called us to immediate action with strength, courage, and love. Workshops on anti-racism helped start some of the uncomfortable but necessary conversations that need to take place among UUs and in the wider community.

GA left me inspired to connect with UUs both inside our home church and beyond. It was great to compare notes with delegates from churches across the country.

         3. The Choir 

musicians_choir_slt.jpg

Nick Marconi writes, ‘Choir is a decision.’ These are the words with which Dr. Glen Rideout opened each rehearsal at GA, offering various reflections on the notion. Choir is a setting aside of time to come together and join in fellowship and purpose. Choir is the realization of the idea that we are stronger and more capable working in harmony—the embodiment of the mantra, “I put my hand in yours so that we may do together what we cannot do alone.” Choir is no mere blending of voices; it is a congregation, and it is deliberate.

In a week where very little else seemed deliberate, 180 of us dedicated ourselves to bringing the Sunday worship services to life. For me, it wasn’t the size of the choir or the audience that brought great meaning; 180 celebrants performing for a crowd of 3,000 is neither the largest ensemble nor audience I’ve experienced—even in Columbus itself, a city I had called home for many years. The real meaning came from the unity of purpose in a room that had lacked it over the course of several painful general sessions. The morning service brought renewed focus to disparate hearts. The afternoon service with Rev. Sekou and The Holy Ghost granted catharsis for those of us who have become all-too- frustrated not only with the prevailing tragedies of the world, but also with the perennial failures of conscience emerging from GA.

I cannot understand how we as a movement fail time and again to make meaningful solidarity with oppressed peoples. I cannot fathom the denominational cognitive dissonance it takes to be so moved by the reminder of our continual need to improve our relationships with minority communities and speak hard truths to those we call allies yet shirk away when called to take action. I pity what Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie calls our institutional addiction to dysfunctional process that truly impairs our ability to live up to our best vision of ourselves.

I have little, if any, control over the course of global events or the UUA. But just as I had in GA, I can still choose to share music in my small part of the world. Choir is a decision, and I will always make that decision.”

4.  Commitments for Social Witness

Shirley White writes, “CSWAIWCS/AI  Huh?  I put my volunteer efforts at GA here, hoping it would give me knowledge I could share back home. Indeed, it did! Wanting to support this important work of our denomination, still I had to keep refreshing myself on what all those letters mean. They mean a lot! They imply work too important to be buried in acronyms and jargon.So let me translate….

Commission on Social Witness (CSW) supports our efforts to do our social justice work focused each year by choices made at GA, to concentrate our efforts on work that we are best, perhaps uniquely, poised to do in our troubled world.

Congregational Study/Action Issues (CS/AI) are selected by UU member congregations for four years of study, reflection and action. This year, delegates picked our next four-year Congregational Study/Action Issue to beCorruption of Our Democracy.”

Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) are issues deemed too immediate and important to go through a four year process. The Commissioners narrowed 8 completed proposals to 3, which the GA delegates passed overwhelmingly.

  1. expressing solidarity with Muslims,
  2. advocating gun reform following the Pulse nightclub massacre,
  3. affirming support for transgender people.

All will be further developed and highlighted in UU World.

We, at Foothills, do a lot of very important work. We might even be a standard bearer in the denomination. We could be more fully bringing our light to UUA/GA, by defining and proclaiming our commitment, particularly by sharing our successful collaboration with other communities and organizations in Fort Collins. Among others, we excel in programs of community collaboration in Faith Family Hospitality, One Village One Family, and  our ministerial leadership in vigils and actions of solidarity with our minority communities in times of stress and trauma visited upon them in our troubled times.

We have light to offer, as well as the opportunity to bask in the healing light that our denomination shines on the world’s pain. By engaging with the UUA, we can do more, especially by learning and engaging with social witness statement process we may accomplish more, and even be prepared to bring more of Foothills light to GA in New Orleans, 2017.

Shining our light

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we were preparing for the vigil on Sunday evening, the Rev. Hal Chorpenning, Senior Minister at Plymouth UCC quipped, “I wish the news would stop giving us so many things to preach about.”

It was the 8th Night of Hanukkah, the third Sunday of Advent, a week before the Winter Solstice – all of these seasons of darkness longing for light.  We all agreed, there has been too much heartbreak, fear, violence and division – all requiring the response of the best of our religious traditions.   When the call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. started to circulate early last week – from a popular presidential candidate, no less – we knew we needed to step up and speak out as people of faith – do something, bear witness to another truth, another story of America, of humanity, of life.

As we gathered on Sunday, we remembered that the next day would be the anniversary of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  The children lost there are never far from my thoughts, and maybe even more, the children who survived, and the families left behind.  What story do they have of the world? How do they make sense of humanity, of life? How do they reclaim joy or goodness in a world where such a thing can happen? 

I can get lost in these questions and become overwhelmed by the grief, but then, something like the Vigil on Sunday night happens, and I remember hope.  I remember, like the song we ended the final Sunday of Candidating Week singing encourages – tenderness, kindness, friends – and that it’s only love that never ends.  I remember those words from Mr. Rogers to “look for the helpers,” and I remember the words attributed to Universalist John Murray, “You may possess a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of women and men.  Give them not hell, but hope and courage; preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.”

The paper reported over 200 were gathered, but I would guess more like 300-400 – and I would guess about 80 of those were from our congregation.  It was a cold night, and our plans weren’t totally clear, even to those of us doing the organizing (my summary of the first few moments of the event: the Muslims were inviting everyone inside, the Christians said we were gathering outside, the UUs were saying both ways were good, and the Jews just launched into “This Little Light of Mine.” Welcome to the real work of interfaith dialogue!), the parking was non-existent, and there weren’t enough candles for our candlelight vigil.

And yet still, the people gathered.  The people gathered to remind us all of another story of life, the story of human goodness and compassion and connection – a story of love over fear.  In turn the Islamic Center opened their space with warmth and hospitality to all who wanted to pray, offered hot drinks and treats, and took up an offering for the victims of the Shooting at San Bernardino.

Our own Christopher Watkins Lamb and Amber Lamb led the crowd in singing the Meditation on Breathing – the song UU Sarah Dan Jones wrote in response to 9/11.  Rabbis Shoshana Leis, Ben Newman and Hillel Katzir, Rev. Chorpenning, and Howell and I each offered prayers, and we closed the service by singing the song from Emma’s Revolution, “Peace Salaam Shalom.”  Later, I learned that the kids and youth were watching it all from the second floor, inside the Islamic Center – can you imagine their view as they looked out on all their neighbors coming to witness their love in the face of bigotry?  It was powerful, and holy.

Times like these ask us to get really clear about what story we are going to live out of, what story we will bear witness to, and what claims we are willing to stand out in the cold for – and then to actually step out and live out of this story and these claims – this faith.

I am so honored, and proud, and grateful, to serve with and among you, this congregation, and to live out our Unitarian Universalist bold claims of liberty and justice for all in this community – to shine our lights in the darkness together.  (When we talk about our “mission” as a congregation, this is exactly the sort of thing that we mean to be talking about – why do we exist, what does our community need from us, what does our faith ask of us?)  Sometimes I know it feels like it could never be enough, but as we each do our part, keep showing up – we make sure that the darkness will not overcome this light, this resilient story of love.

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-I-have-decided-to-stick-with-love.-Hate-is-too-great-a-burden-to-bear-600x600

 

The Ones Who Show Up

BlackLivesMatter“Imagine if….We are a visionary church, leading our greater community and forming interfaith partnerships in our unquenchable thirst for social, economic, and environmental justice.”
 
Last Wednesday evening, I caught a glimpse of this courageous dream written by our provocative proposals team becoming reality.  It was late in the prayer meeting held by the Abysinnian Christian Church.  By then, we had all shed tears, sat in silence, shaken our heads and sung out loud, all to honor the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, the churches that have been burned in the south, as well as the rage and grief we feel at the continued presence of racism and white supremacy.
I had just offered my prayer, and in the program it said we should next be singing Amazing Grace.  But before that, Pastor David said, we needed to do something else.  It might make us uncomfortable, but, he said, the Abysinnian Church, and more generally the black church, is a hugging church. Unfortunately, in that prayer meeting in Charleston, they never got around to ending their time with a hug.  But on that night, we weren’t going to leave that out.  We were going to end in a hug.  We were going to look to one another, many of us strangers, and say before we embraced: You are my sister.  You are my brother.  And then, embrace.
About 20 of us were there from Foothills.  There were other white folks in the gathering, but mostly the rest were African American.  Pastor David was right – it was a little uncomfortable at first.  But the joy, and the willingness was palpable, and it didn’t take long to get over the discomfort and move instead into a great relief, and hopefulness for us all, and for our world.

The Rev. David Williams, had called me a couple days before the gathering to invite Foothills and me to join the meeting.  I had first talked to him right after the Charleston shooting; I reached out to him as a pastor of a primarily African American church in Fort Collins, expressing my grief, fear, and solidarity in response to such a terrible act.  We talked about our roles as pastors and preachers – him in a primarily black church, me in a primarily white church – in a time like this, and how to be a voice of both comfort and challenge as we address and seek to transform the continued presence of racism and white supremacy.

I was humbled, and honored, that a few weeks later Pastor David reached back out to me to invite us to share in the Prayer meeting.  And I was humbled and honored to offer a prayer.  But it was that moment of embrace that gave me a better understanding and a clearer vision for how we as a Unitarian Universalist congregation are called to live into this vision of courageous love in our own community.

Which is to say – the provocative proposals team wrote this statement about our leadership, but in that moment, I realized our leadership simply took the form of showing up, being present, and following the lead of others.  It meant stepping outside our comfort zone, praying in a way we don’t usually pray, singing songs we don’t usually sing – but doing so with love, and willingness, and good will.  It was powerful, and as I said before, it gave me a glimpse of our potential powerful future.

One of my colleagues, the Rev. Sean Dennison, recently challenged a gathering of UU ministers to consider what it would _MG_1989mean if Unitarian Universalists were known most of all as the “ones who show up.”  The ones who show up with open hearts, and open minds, with willing hands and generous spirits.  The ones who show up gratefully, humbly.  I took a note at Sean’s question – not because this was a new idea – but because I recognized that this is something we already do pretty well that we could build on, and become known for pretty easily.  Coincidentally, when I had first talked to Pastor David I had told him, if you ever need someone to show up for you, call me – call Foothills.  We’ll be there. We’ll follow your lead.  

If you were one of those who helped make my promise come true last Wednesday, thank you.  And if you couldn’t make it – don’t worry, there will be lots more chances for us to show up and lead through partnership, humility and generosity – for us to further the reach of love all throughout our community, and in our own lives.   Isn’t it a beautiful vision? 

Foothills Youth attend “We cant’ wait” MLK summit in Denver

by Kristina Ruff – Foothills Youth Coordinator
The youth and I had an amazing experience this past weekend at the We Can’t Wait MLK Con in Denver. The event, hosted by First Universalist Society of Denver (FUSD), provided several social justice “tracks” from which the youth could choose: Racial Equality, Criminal Injustice, LGBTQ, Immigration, and Reproductive Justice. Over the course of the weekend, youth participated in eight intense hours of learning, discussion, and ultimately inspiration surrounding these topics.

The Racial Equality track challenged youth to become aware of their own white privilege and to put themselves in the shoes of someone for whom the most salient facet of their identity is often the color of their skin. Our speaker, Kenny Wiley, empowered them to be allies by teaching them ways to speak up when they hear micro-aggressions such as his personal (not) favorite, “Wow! You’re so articulate for a black man.” The Criminal Injustice track, led by anarchist Ben Turk and prisoner advocate/doctoral student Colleen Hackett, incorporated theatre games and role play to support the staggering statistics they used to inform the youth about the injustice in the system. It amazed many of them to learn that, while black people make up only 13% of the US population, they form 37% of the prison population. Colleen and Ben also led discussions around issues like private companies running prisons and therefore supporting mass incarceration, the idea that the war on drugs has radically increased the number of people in prison, the fact that each inmate costs US taxpayers $44,000 per year, or the fact that many inmates are mentally ill without recourse to proper treatment. Youth asked fantastic questions about why we don’t offer better mental health support, or invest more in education and healthcare to support people for whom this life is a reality. Most importantly, it asked them to consider what our society could be like if we as a community took responsibility for failing these people, rather than placing the blame on them and defining them by one mistake for the rest of their lives.

Since each participant could only participate in two tracks, I don’t have firsthand experience with the specifics of information supplied in the remaining three tracks. But I saw the results – youth came away righteously frustrated by the lack of respect for LGBTQ peers and equipped with tools and resources for ways to connect, raise their voice, and be an ally. They were outraged by the case of Arturo, a business owner, father, and community leader whose currently lives in FUSD’s basement because his deportation by INS began before Obama offered amnesty. They were amazed at the fact that there is actually documented racial bias in the availability of contraceptives in certain parts of the US. Woven throughout these tracks were activities and discussions on intersectionality – the idea that different forms of oppression intersect, and that if those supporting one issue came together with people supporting another issue, that perhaps progress could be achieved faster than if each group worked solely towards their own goal. After one such activity, some of our youth (somewhat jokingly) called themselves “the Swiss Army Knives of Justice,” because we need to be multifaceted in our approach to injustice everywhere.

The experience culminated with YRUU’s participation in the MLK march – what a powerful experience! I think one of the most amazing things I had the chance to witness this weekend was the spark that grew into a flame for many of our youth – the realization that we really CAN’T wait, that there are things even young people can do right now to make a difference. And I can’t wait to see where they’ll go with that epiphany.