This season, we’ll be alternating between interviews – where I talk to folks thinking deeply about worship – and salons, where previous guests join for roundtable discussion. The conversations will feature various folks in various combination, but will always be lively and interesting.
This week’s salon features the Reverends Gretchen Haley and Madelyn Campbell. We talked about ministerial authority in our sermons, who’s worship for, and how we make space for everyone; we begin with a conversation about how our services begin.
My guests this week are Laura Weiss and Sarah Jebian, music directors, performers, and amazing co-conspirators. Their album, “Not Your Mama’s Hymns” is taking the UU world by storm. We talk about worship, collaboration, hymnody, and big versus small worship.
Their project – notyourmamashymns.com
Sarah Jebian is the Director of Music at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Rockville and is a proud member of the Association for Unitarian Universalist Music Ministries (AUUMM), where she serves on the Conference Planning Committee and as Secretary of the Board of Trustees. In addition to her performing career, Sarah is a recording artist, theater director, producer, choreographer, and voice teacher. Her debut album, Love Songs & Lullabies was released in April of 2012. Sarah is a soloist at many DC Metro area churches and is the lead singer of Keltish (Irish band).
Laura Weiss is the Director of Music and Arts and Worship Coordinator for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax and the Band Director for the 2019 UU General Assembly in Spokane, Washington. She has served as Music Minister for South Church, UCC in Andover, MA, was the Interim Director of Music & the Organist at St. Albans on the campus of the Washington D.C. National Cathedral, served as Director of Music for St. Cyprian’s Episcopal in Boston, MA, and she holds a Masters Degree in Education from the Center for Creative Teaching and a Bachelors in Music. She is a former K-12 faculty member of the Andover Public Schools and Lynn Public Schools where she served as instructor for The Boston Music Center, The Kittredge School of North Andover, Musical Theater Director for the SMARTS Collaborative on the South Shore and piano instructor for Bennington College.
This summer, some of my favorite Unitarian Universalists answer one of the Five Questions for your enjoyment! This week, my guest is the Rev. Sofia Betancourt, who – among many other amazing things – is the Assistant Professor of Unitarian Universalist Theologies and Ethics at Starr King School for the Ministry.
Bridging the gaps from generation to
generation in our congregations is a challenge we constantly face, and just
when we think we get a handle on it all, a new generation shows us we need to
First, we will examine the interplay of the three core elements of generational theory as defined by William Strauss and Neil Howe: generational types, life stages, and historical cycles. We will hold for each other the question of where we are generationally as a denomination that is being called to respond to the cycle we are in now.
Then we will explore our own generational perspectives on ministry and congregational life, and through breakout groups and case studies explore changing generational dynamics affect our pastoral care, religious education, leadership, and stewardship.
This summer, some of my favorite Unitarian Universalists answer one of the Five Questions for your enjoyment! This week, my guest is the Rev. Eric Posa, who serves as the interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, CO.
This summer, some of my favorite Unitarian Universalists answer one of the Five Questions for your enjoyment! This week, my guest is Rev. Jessica Clay, minister at First Parish UU Church in Brewster, MA.
This summer, some of my favorite Unitarian Universalists answer one of the Five Questions for your enjoyment! This week, Rev. Misha Sanders, newly called to Northwest UU Congregation in Sandy Springs, GA.
Winner, 2019 Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation Sermon Award
years ago at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York – long before I
heard my call to ministry – a woman named Elizabeth Schell read a difficult
story in the Old Testament. As Elizabeth describes it, this story from the Book
of Judges is “the horrific tale of the unnamed woman who is raped and
dismembered into twelve pieces, and whose violation then leads to the violation
of countless other women and children as the tribes take revenge upon one
another. A text not included in lectionaries; a text to be avoided in worship.”
was consumed by the story, but more, was compelled to make something of it. And
so, she created this twelve-foot-long doll, in twelve pieces. When first
presented at Union in 1999, her parts were strewn around the chapel, and during
the service, people gathered her and put her back together.
the ensuing years, Elizabeth has occasionally used her in workshops, retreats,
and worship services along the eastern seaboard, leaning into messages of
healing. She is covered not only in her original art, but with the names of
those seeking their own healing, written as prayers and affirmations.
Woman, as she came to be called, became famous at Union for the depth of
creativity and healing she represented. A year ago, I met her in person at the
Southeast UU Summer Institute, and Elizabeth loaned her to me, so I might
continue her journey.
she is – today – sitting among us, her pieces together, wearing names like
scars, representing the hundreds of battles fought against harassment, abuse,
story, though, isn’t just the story of women. It’s the story of all of us,
battle worn, scarred, broken, exhausted. And today, she is here – to hold our
brokenness, and call us to healing.
want to clarify some terminology that I’ll be using. It would be easy to rely
on “men” and “women” as my terms, as we are in a culture that’s comfortable
with the gender binary. But the truth is, many of the things experienced by
cisgender women in this culture of misogyny are also experienced by non-binary
folx and transfolk. Thus, I am leaning into the delineation as used by the site
AreMenTalkingTooMuch.com – “dude” – meaning cismen and some trans men, and “not-a-dude”
– meaning everyone else. I won’t alter quotations that use the terms men and
women, but if it’s me – it’s “dude,” and “not-a-dude.”
would be easy to get and stay angry – and entirely reasonable, too – given the
sheer volume of explicit misogyny and sexual violence we see, and the
overwhelming statistics about reported and unreported rapes, harassment in the
workplace and online, and the almost belligerent show of ‘manhood’ from
celebrities and heads of state. And I doubt there’s a dude here who isn’t as
angry about these things as the not-a-dudes are. We should be angry. But what
happens when we turn our attention from the statistics and look at the systems
that feed those statistics?
system that’s millenias, old, by the way, which I could offer a few thousand
words on but won’t. But if I did, I would take us to the Code of Hammurabi,
include an examination of Old and New Testament texts. It would examine the
early Church and the shift to a male-dominated hierarchy that would permeate
even the most egalitarian of Celtic cultures. It would explore dude-dominated
cultures that commit female genital mutilation and footbinding. It would trace
the history of bridal dowries and arranged marriages. It would include the
commodification of black bodies – particularly black women’s bodies. It would
lift up the struggle over the first English queen, and the rights of women to
own property, get the vote, get a credit card, get equal pay.
know from the good, hard work we have been doing around anti-racism and black
lives matter that an important step for allies is to acknowledge that we swim
in a culture of white supremacy, a culture that says if you’re white, the color
of your skin is not complicating your life. This ancient way of understanding
not dudes as a “suspect class” means that we all swim in this culture that says
if you’re a dude, your gender is not complicating your life. Yes, other things
may be – of course. Class, sexual identity, age, ability, health. Of course.
But for we who are not dudes, our gender makes us a minority.
This spring, economist and feminist activist Caroline Criado Perez, OBE, released her new book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. In this book, she examines the ways in which everything in our culture is designed for men – from life jackets and military armor, to chemical testing, to pharmaceuticals, to workplace environments, to snow removal, to bathrooms, to public transportation, to academics, to Hollywood scripts, to iPhones.
argues that by setting standards for the average human based on a model called
Reference Man – Caucasian, aged 25-30, weighing 154.3 pounds – we ignore
crucial differences in endocrine and immune systems, pain, physical stature,
breasts and genitals, body strength, pelvis size – and thus, body armor doesn’t
protect everyone, not-dudes’ bodies are more easily injured, medications don’t
work, and the unpaid labor of child care and household chores take their toll.
the exclusions are purposeful – as Perez notes over and over, data on women is
often tossed out as “complicating factors.” But often, designers of systems and
product safety and medicines and equipment just don’t think about anyone who
isn’t Reference Man; “they just don’t think to consider if women’s needs might
are hundreds of examples – backed up by research – in her book, but the thing
that struck me most, and made me realize how deeply imbedded this culture of
male-unless-otherwise-indicated is, were the studies Perez highlighted showing
that while the word “man” is used to include all people – what is called the
generic masculine – is in fact NOT read generically. It is read overwhelmingly
live in a culture that assumes ‘dude’ is normal, and not-a-dude is a notable
exception. This is hard, because for millennia – maybe since Esther – not-dudes
have doing everything they can to measure up. As Congresswoman Alexandria
Ocasio-Cortez noted, “when you’re only seeing white dudes just like, running
the world, you think you need to act like a white dude to run the world. The
problem is that mold wasn’t made for you. And so even if you try the hardest at
being that, you will not be as good as someone who is just that already.”
And yet we try to fit the mold. We try to put ourselves together in the ways our culture says we should. We who are not dudes even learn to judge other not dudes the way dudes are supposed to. It so permeates our culture, it’s almost comic – as we see in parodies from Amy Schumer, Key and Peele, That Mitchell and Webb Look, and Saturday Night Live.
is deadly serious, especially when you factor in sexual harassment, abuse, and
assault. Those who are not dudes are taught from the time they are
kindergartners how to protect themselves, how to avoid the male gaze, how to
dress, how to behave not too assertively but not too coyly, how to temper their
behavior and speech so as not to break the system.
We put ourselves together in ways that, well, just don’t work. And dudes wonder what’s wrong with those who are not dudes – why are they sick, why are they complaining, why are they not seeing the world as it really is, why does everything have to be about feminism, why do they take up so much space now, why did they have to try to invade our superheroes and our computer games and our military and our legislatures and our White House?
those who are not dudes begin to see how they are broken and begin to do
something about it, the truth becomes even clearer: This isn’t just about those
who are not dudes. This breaks all of us.
Actor Robert Webb talks about this in his book, How Not to Be a Boy. While the book is on one hand a celebrity memoir, it goes deeper than that, as Webb explores how the rules for how to be a boy were taught by his father and older brothers, as well as in school and university – rules that teach boys to play sports, be rough, dominate, become king of the hill, and for gods sake, don’t be emotional. As Webb describes, “We tell them to man up, get up, don’t cry, be tough, don’t acknowledge your own emotions; and if you keep being told to not express these emotions, it eventually starts sounding like ‘don’t have these feelings – don’t feel these feelings.’”
Without emotional validation,
dudes wind up turning only to their romantic partners for emotional support.
Dudes aren’t taught to bond emotionally, they’re taught to bond over sports or
games or work, free of emotional support – and romantic partners are the only
ones where feelings can happen. Thus, when a not-dude says to a dude, I just
want to be friends, that can be interpreted as “there goes my one emotional
support person” – and the not-dudes are upset because someone they thought of
as a friend really just wanted to have sex with them. At its worst, it causes
deep emotional trauma for dudes, who sometimes turn to substance abuse and
depression, and rage – which leads to the kind of toxic masculinity that looks
like mass shootings and rape.
Now this isn’t to say
masculinity itself is toxic – no, dudes. It’s perfectly okay, and in fact
appropriate, for dudes to be strong, as long as you’re using that strength in a
positive, non-abusive manner. We want you to be strong, as portrayed in a
recent commercial from Gillette. The ad used research from surveys asking about
qualities of good masculinity – and yet it received a backlash – from dudes – saying
it was just feminist propaganda.
healthy masculinity is attacked is a sign that we are all being tricked into us into thinking that it is the way it is supposed to be.
Webb calls it The Trick with his family, to name “the incoming tide of gender
BS that [his] daughters and their friends (including the boys) will spend their
lives wading through.” He points it out to his children, and to his readers,
“because it is difficult to resist, because it hides in plain sight. It’s
everywhere: a system of thought and a set of invented and discriminatory
practices in our laws, culture and economy that feminists call the patriarchy.
Feminists aren’t out to get men,” he writes, “they’re out to get the
patriarchy. They don’t hate men, the hate The Man…. This thing, The Trick, is
dangerous for girls. And it’s dangerous for boys, too. Feminism is not about
men versus women,’ he concludes, “it’s about men and women versus the Trick.”
The Trick gaslights us. It fools us. It not only hurts
those who aren’t dudes, it hurts dudes too.
Webb notes, “there are probably lots of men who haven’t had their lives marred
or pointlessly complicated by the expectations of gender, but I’ve yet to meet
one. You had to bury your pain; you had to conform to the tribe; you had to
grow up faster than you wanted; you had to have sex as early as possible and
with as many people as possible, even if that made you a liar; you weren’t
romantic enough and you felt bad you failed to do manly tasks with competence
and you felt bad; you made promises you couldn’t keep.”
history never told you the system is the problem. This system broke us long
before we ever had a chance.
broken. All of us, broken by this. #MeToo, and before that, #TimesUp and
#NotAllWomen, are pulling back the curtain and revealing our brokenness,
revealing how hard it is to be a human being in a culture that tricks us all.
there’s nothing we can do about what has been done. But there is healing.
of you are familiar with the Japanese practice of Kinsugi, the art of repairing
broken pottery with veins of gold, copper, and silver. In this art form, the
bowl is never not broken, and is even more beautiful in its brokenness.
There’s a Hindu goddess – named Akhilandashvari – her name means the Always Broken goddess. She is a goddess of destruction, but of carefully curated destruction; as writer Julie Peters notes, “Akhilanda derives her power from being broken: in flux, pulling herself apart, living in different, constant selves at the same time, from never becoming a whole that has limitations.”
some ways, Big Woman is Akhilanda – never not broken. She invites us to make a
choice in how to go forward. We always have the incredible opportunity to
decide how we want to put the pieces back together. Despite the messages our
culture sends, no matter how hard it can be to be our whole selves in a culture
that isn’t made for us to be whole, we are whole anyway, and we can put
ourselves aright, wearing the scars and the cracks as evidence of our broken
this is our theology: Universalism teaches us that our very humanness means we
have inherent worth and dignity, and that there is always a place for us, even
in our brokenness. In other words, we’re always whole, always loved, always
fully human. Like a cracked pot, lovingly repaired. Like a goddess, daring to
put herself together in new ways. Like a young child, noticing the trick. Like
a congresswoman, daring to lead authentically. Like all of us, full of holes,
yet whole, and holy.
that we’ve seen The Trick, we can’t unsee it. And we cannot keep quiet – to
ourselves, our family, our friends, our communities.
hear the stories old and new, and we acknowledge the pain of generations.
can’t keep quiet.
our own stories of brokenness, deep pain, and we acknowledge the complexity of
can’t keep quiet.
wholeness and healing, being willing to unbecome what we have been told to be
and become anew that which we are.
can’t keep quiet.
to reaching out in compassion and kindness, to be a haven of welcome and
acceptance, to believe the survivors and work for their protection.
can’t keep quiet.
to speaking out when we notice harm is being done, whether through words, or
assumptions, or attitudes, or erasure, or actual physical harm.
can’t keep quiet.
to celebrating healthy and inclusive ways of being and model these for our
can’t keep quiet.
and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, of every gender,
and welcome each other on this journey to wholeness.
We turn the tables with Michael Tino interviewing me for the final episode of this podcast season! We talked about my ministry, the influence of theater on my theology of worship, and trust. We began by noting that Michael and I spent many years actively avoiding meeting each other for years in North Carolina.
Rev. Kimberley Debus is a community minister based in New York’s Capital Region, where she works to inspire Unitarian Universalists throughout the denomination to be more artful and art-filled in their worship, congregational life, leadership, stewardship, and public witness.
Ordained in May 2017, Kimberley has served One Island Family UU Congregation in Key West, Florida, and the First Universalist Church of Southold, New York. She also serves as chair of the board of directors for the UU Wellspring Spiritual Deepening Program. Kimberley was raised by Unitarian parents and returned Unitarian Universalism in the 1990s during her years as an activist in North Carolina’s LGBTQ community. As both lay leader and minister, she has presented workshops on generational theory, the worship arts, and stewardship. She has been known to burst out in song (particularly show tunes and standards); will wax poetic about British panel shows, mysteries, and The West Wing; and is staff to two tabby cats named Huck and Molly (they didn’t come with hats).
At the heart of Kimberley’s ministry is a call to foster creative, collaborative, and spiritually grounded approaches to the challenges and blessings of our faith, which inspire all of us draw the circle of love ever wider.