Sermon Text as Prepared (will vary slightly from the video)

It is always good to be with you – we have a connection that dates back to the fall of 2018, when I came to visit you in preparation for a sabbatical ministry. I have since supported your Wellspring program, preached for you, and in the last few weeks provided pastoral support while Rev. Lara has been on leave. You know that I often bring messages of hope, creativity, and spiritual nourishment. And physical nourishment too, as many of you remember that I preached about pie – as I wore this beautiful stole made for me by Rev. Lara for our first sabbatical service together.

But if you came today for pie, well… that’s not this.

Because while I have been a pastor to you, I haven’t always been a good prophet. I have sometimes pulled my punches; I’ve let the truth hide under beauty and metaphor.

Instead, today, I must lean into my call. This stole…

… given to me on the day of my ordination, reminds me that I must sometimes speak plainly and lean into the prophetic … to remember that being in covenant and communion with you requires me to tell you, people that I love, the unvarnished truth.

And the unvarnished truth is this: this pandemic has unmasked a problem that has long been simmering: the rugged American individualism we so highly prize is absolutely killing our congregations and our professional staff. And if we are killing ourselves from the inside, what hope do we have of making any bit of difference in the world?

You have often heard me say that we have to get it right inside our walls if we have any hope of getting it right outside our walls – but I have never really unpacked it.

So here we go.

We know that because of this global pandemic – which is still going on, by the way (thanks, omicron)– our emotional resiliency is shot. We feel, at different times and sometimes all at once, stress, fear, anger, sickness, loss, grief, shock, and trauma. We feel queasy and uncertain and unmoored, and irritated and disappointed, with so much out of control, we turn to the things we can control. We devolve into fake fights over meaningless things, acting out of our personal desires and a sense that only we know what’s right.

The dominant culture that surrounds us teaches that control is about success, comfort, getting what we need. This is what capitalism tells us control is about – whoever has the most toys wins. We get our needs met and complain when they aren’t. We who are white, especially… and middle or upper class, especially… cannot help but think this way, because we have had, and we have been taught what success looks like. Capitalism. schooling. American history as it was taught to us – white, European American history. We often say that white supremacy culture is the water we swim in, and capitalism is the air that we breathe.

And so we approach everything in our lives – from work to relationships to hobbies to yes, even our faith communities – through this lens of capitalism, this particular way of understanding success.

Now I know that you KNOW this…and you KNOW that a faith community such as ours is not meant to be about success or control or getting what you need.

But this church is acting like it.

I don’t know if it gives you comfort, but practically everyone in faith communities in every denomination is acting like it too, so I know it’s not just an isolated problem.

But that doesn’t make it any better.

This approach to your congregation is causing harm. Harm to each other, harm to your minister, harm to your staff, harm to your congregation.

You are relying on your minister instead of sharing the ministry.

You are demanding more in a time when we know everyone is only capable of doing less.

You are forgetting that your minister – and all ministers – have gone through the pandemic too, have struggled with hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths too, have worried constantly about the people we serve, our families, and our communities. All while facing the truths of our nation and our world and all that is wrong beyond our walls.

We are not holding it together very well, and you are not helping.

Look. We who are ministers KNOW we are disappointing you. As my colleague Lydia Mulkey points out, “the pandemic [for ministers has been] all about disappointing people instead of causing their deaths.”

But your disappointment cannot be translated into performance evaluations and bottom lines. Because what that does is turn ministry into a commodity.

But ministry is not a commodity, it is a CALLING. And that’s why this feels so hard – because every criticism, every fake fight, every ‘customer comment’ shakes our understanding of the call and keep ministries from thriving. That’s counter-capitalist too, by the way, this sense of call. We have to do it because we can’t not. Too many good ministers leave ministry because their faith in the call to serve this faith and the people in it has been shaken by the demands of those who want churches to run like businesses, and employees to serve the stockholders.

That’s one of the struggles of congregational polity – it sets up a model that, at its worst, looks like a corporation serving its stockholders – a professional staff there to do the bidding and offer a return on investment to the pledging members of a congregation.

And that is killing our faith, especially when a pandemic has absolutely undercut every minister’s ability to do the kind of ministry they – and you – are used to.

This is important: we who are ministers and other professional staff suddenly had to learn skills we never had to learn before. We needed to become tech gurus almost immediately. We had to learn quickly how to hold a congregation over wifi. We had to worry about our projects and our building and your welfare. We spent countless hours holding you together, holding your fears and anxieties, helping you learn too, and then as vaccinations started rolling out, we had to become experts on epidemic safety and protocols and make tough decisions for congregations made up of babies, and children, and adults, and elders, and the immunocompromised and the suddenly unemployed and the neuro-atypical and the lonely and the angry.

And we were scared and lonely and angry too. We still are.

We know you, the congregation – and all of our congregations, have been disappointed. We have been disappointed too.

But when your anxiety and disappointment becomes a call to judgment, control and criticism, we all have a problem.

It isn’t how our faith works.

And it certainly isn’t loving.

You simply cannot say love is all we need when you don’t act in love.

This matters.

This matters so much, the apostle Paul wrote perhaps one of the most famous biblical passages about it. And we are even proud of how we repeat the words from I Corinthians 13, “If I have not love, I am nothing.”

But that’s just part of it. You see, the whole point of writing about this is because the congregation he was writing to in the first century was behaving badly. They were thinking of themselves, showing their faithfulness through their success and their control, bragging about their gifts and copping a holier than thou attitude. They were measuring themselves against each other. They were seeking to control each other.

So Paul lays it out for them.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

I Corinthians 13:1-6 (NRSV)

It is not irritable or resentful. IT DOES NOT INSIST ON ITS OWN WAY.

Love in itself is not enough.

And that’s hard, in a faith that sides with love, answers the call of love, answers yes to love, draws the circle of love wide.

We Unitarian Universalists are so convinced that all we need to do is HAVE love and we can continue to behave the way we want to. We are so convinced that all we need to do is write and occasionally repeat some affirming words in a covenant and we can continue to behave the way we want to. We are utterly convinced that it is enough to say we love and then are constantly baffled why our shared ministry isn’t thriving.

How many relationships have we seen or experienced that imploded despite one of the partners insisting ‘but you know I love you’ but having never actually committed to showing and expressing that love in real, tangible ways?

There’s a reason Paul uses the metaphor of marriage with another congregation, this time in Ephesus. Yes, it’s that troublesome “wives, be subject to your husbands” passage in his letter to the Ephesians – and god knows how many bad takes there are on that. But really, what Paul is saying to them – and us – is that to truly be a faith community, this counter-cultural thing, we must work on it and treat it with honor, the way we do our romantic and familial relationships.

We absolutely HAVE to be aware when we’re being selfish, or controlling, or bullying, or withholding.

We have to be willing and ready to do the hard work of reconciliation – of mending and nurturing.

We cannot just apologize and expect that to be the end of it.

We cannot assume good intentions if we don’t back it up with our behavior.

We cannot properly care for each other if we are constantly wondering when we’ll get ours in return.

We cannot grow and change as a community if we continue to prioritize individualism over the communal good.

We cannot in good faith witness the struggles and be good allies if we are measuring a return on investment.

We cannot buddy up to love and say we have love.

Love alone is not enough.

Love must be embodied.

Look. This is hard. You know this faith is hard – it asks much of you. It doesn’t tell you what to believe or how to follow your spiritual path. It encourages you to direct experience and a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. It challenges you to actually affirm and promote dignity, and worth, even to those who cause harm. It calls you to affirm and promote equity and compassion – to all.

And this work – this work I am calling you to today – is hard. It is full of challenges to the very air you breathe. It calls into question how you have been behaving – demanding the impossible, demeaning and criticizing instead of lifting up and helping. It calls into question how you have been thinking about this congregation as services you purchase instead of a way of being together. It calls into question the hurtful and harmful things you say to one another out of your own stress and trauma. It calls into question how you are in relationship to those who are in service to you, who are called to minister to you, and those who form this community.

I have no easy answers.

I cannot wrap this up in a tidy bow for you, sing a joyful song with you, affirm you and lift you up.

We rush too quickly to hope, to solutions, to answers. I know this is true of me too – I often preach in ways that leave you motivated, affirmed, comforted. I want you to be able to leave worship ready to face the world.

But this is hard work that can’t be finished at the end of the postlude.

Yes… hope will come… but we must carefully assess how we treat one another, our expectations, our choices. This is meant to be a shared ministry – utterly counter-cultural, utterly counter-capitalist. The work requires not forgiveness but repentance. It requires us to make a different choice.

It is time to make different choices. All of us. You… me…we… all of us must dwell in the hard places, those places from where the hurt comes. It is time to have hard conversations, and actually, deeply, carefully listen. Hear the struggles of your minister. Hear the pain of your leadership. Hear the trauma that infuses you, and your family, and this congregation and this community. How has your behavior or beliefs perpetuated the harm? Acknowledge it. Accept it. Make a different choice.

And then, IN love, act. Do what is needed. Lean into the challenge. Let go of control, Let go of measures of success, Let go of perfectionism and your need to be right, Let go of your selfishness and navel-gazing. Let go of bottom lines and returns on investment. Remember what church is actually for.

If you are going to be serious about our faith and our covenant, then don’t just float on a raft; put on the scuba gear and dive into the depths of relationships.

Do what is needed.

Remember, we must…we MUST get it right inside our walls if we have any hope of getting it right outside our walls.

This… THIS.. is truly the work of justice. It starts here, and now, amongst you.

I know you can do it. I have seen you do remarkable things. I know you don’t want to be harming one another and forgetting how life-saving this faith can be.

Hope does come.

A casual conversation with UU World editor Kenny Wiley led to my saying “I need to write about this” and Kenny saying “do it and I’ll see if we can publish it.”

So I did, and he did, and now it’s been published online and in print.

Read it here.

If you read yesterday’s blog post, you might think I am too much of a pessimist, that I can’t celebrate victories without bringing everyone down.  I guess that is what I did; I have been long cognizant of the “middle class white” nature of the marriage equality fight, and I let the bigger picture take over.

Thankfully, I am friends with Rev. Jude Geiger, who said this on Facebook today (photo because I can’t copy text from FB on my phone, where I am writing this):

  
What I realized is this:

1. We need to and CAN celebrate – without guilt. This was a major victory, with elegant words from Justice Kennedy to prove it. 

2. These victories – yesterday’s ruling, the strike down of DOMA, the strike down of anti-sodomy laws – these victories make each successive one EASIER. Justice Kennedy’s words will be quoted over and over again in legal cases because they make the case and pave the way for more justice. 

Yeah – as I said yesterday, and as Jude said on facebook, there’s still a lot to do. But let me be clear: 

This was a VICTORY for love, justice, and the inherent worth and dignity of every person. 
Love wins. 

Four years ago, when the New York State Legislature voted for marriage equality, I received the news with a mix of joy and sadness, relief and regret. I was so excited that justice, equality, and love won that day – but I missed my partner Tricia terribly; when she died in 1998, marriage was a pipe dream.

And now, it’s here. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that marriage equality is the law of the land. As Kevin Russell at SCOTUSblog writes,

The majority bases its conclusion that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right on “four principles and traditions”: (1) right to person choice in marriage is “inherent in the concept of individual autonomy”; (2) “two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals”; (3) marriage safeguards children and families; (4) marriage is a keystone to our social order.

It is a relief – more so now than in 2011 – less tears of sadness, more tears of relief. I am so thrilled that the hard work of so many people has paid off, that we have swayed not just hearts and minds but the law, and that we ALL can move from state to state and have the same legal rights, statewide and federally.

But this isn’t the end of the road for LGBTQ equality.

Just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was just one important step toward equality, the Obergefell decision is just one important step toward equality. There’s still so much to do; for example:

  • fair housing for LGBTQ people – because some people can be kicked out of their homes.
  • anti-discrimination laws in the workplace – because people can still be fired for being gay, even if they are legally married
  • acceptance and legal recognition of trans and non-binary gendered people – because the T isn’t there for its good looks
  • the court of public opinion – perhaps the hardest battle of all, especially when you consider that not only was the decision 5-4, but that each of the dissenters wrote their own dissenting opinion. There’s a lot of anger and distress here, and that’s just the court.

We know that significant laws and court cases have not stopped racism from thriving. We know that a landmark decision has not stopped the war against women and reproductive rights. So we must brace ourselves for continued homophobia and transphobia – along with the continued racism, bigotry, and misogyny we already work to fight. We must remember the stirring words of Joyce Poley’s song*:

One more step, we will take one more step,
‘til there is peace for us and everyone, we’ll take one more step.

One more word, we will say one more word,
‘til every word is heard by everyone, we’ll say one more word.

One more prayer, we will say one more prayer,
‘til every prayer is shared by everyone, we’ll say one more prayer.

One more song, we will sing one more song,
‘til every song is sung by everyone, we’ll sing one more song.

Let’s take those steps together. In faith, in love, in our call for justice, equality, and the inherent worth and dignity of EVERY SINGLE PERSON.

 

 

*Hymn 168 in Singing the Living Tradition

A colleague of mine – a strong, brilliant, creative woman – recently took to Facebook to note the amazing experience of putting good energy out to get good energy back. In her post, she warned those inclined to mansplain the experience not to try to convince her she was wrong, because she believed in this energetic relationship to the universe.

mansplainingAlmost instantly, a man attempted to explain what was really going on, that it was just coincidence, and oh by the way, here’s a book to explain it in case my authority as a male-presenting, male-identified human wasn’t authority enough. My colleague called him out, noting that his response felt, to her, like mansplaining, and that over time these kinds of comments from men resemble micro-aggressions.

I noted a comment or two later that this reminded me of when an ex-boyfriend tried to mansplain “mansplaining” to me on a Facebook thread, which completely ended any connection we had.

I also went to private messages to tell my colleague that I was proud of her being willing to call out the behavior in a firm but gentle way, which often helps people see their places of privilege. She thanked me, and told me that a number of women had said the same thing to her privately, but I was the only one who spoke out about it in public as well.

I returned to the thread, to discover that another woman passive-aggressively called out…my colleague. I sure hope no one ever singles me out unfairly, she wrote to my colleague.

SIGH.

Women are supposed to defer. And if they’re not, they are still supposed to let men explain things to them. And when they react to that mansplaining, they are encouraged to be quiet and not do anything about it. And women are not supposed to pile on, but rather provide quiet, behind the scenes support.

At least that’s what we’re taught.

But how can we change the behavior if we don’t name the behavior? Neither the person who mansplained nor the person who subtly told my colleague to be quiet are inherently bad or unaware people. They are justice-seeking, open-minded folks who stand on the side of love. Yet in a matter of hours, both displayed behavior that is meant (even unconsciously) to silence, scold, or shame.

As Unitarian Universalists, we regularly put our faith into action – preaching, writing letters, marching, protesting, confronting, and sometimes committing acts of civil disobedience.

Outside our walls.

But time and time again, we let injustice remain inside our walls, for the good of covenant, to keep peace in our beloved community.

So when female-bodied ministers are judged by their clothes and not their message… when LGB but not T is welcome… when words from people of color are regularly omitted or misappropriated or silenced … when those who call out our own class inequality and fair pay issues are told they don’t understand the system… when a colleague is mansplained to and then shamed into silence… we are failing our community, our covenant, and our faith.

affirm light of truthI am proud of my colleague. Her words surprised the man, who – to his credit – not only realized what he had done but apologized. And they are still friends. His being called out on this expression of male privilege helped him see that privilege, and I suspect he won’t do it again; or if he does, he might realize what he’s typed and hit Delete instead of Send.

We need to do more of this. We are bound by covenant to speak truth to each other, to seek justice amongst each other. None of us is perfect, and none of us is guiltless. But if we are willing to be prophetic witnesses to each other, we will be better prophetic witnesses to our communities and our world.

Ever since the shootings in Santa Barbara, California that sparked the powerful hashtag #YesAllWomen, I’ve been paying more attention to the so-called men’s rights movement; men who follow this perspective believe we are actually in a matriarchal society, that women have significant control over men, and that women should abdicate authority – particularly when it comes to who they date. We have seen this movement become violent, not only in Santa Barbara, but in the threats some female game designers, critics, and players have experienced in #Gamergate.

Others have written eloquently about the foundational ideas behind this movement, the personalities who are stirring up the movement, and the day-to-day anger and violence against women that this movement seems to encourage. With every article and news report, I get angrier and more frustrated. I have shaken my head in disgust so much I have a permanent crick in my neck. I have dropped my jaw in shock so much I have TMJ.

But one day, after reading profiles of Warren Farrell and Paul Elam, I began to feel something like pity and compassion. I began to wonder how we have failed these men. What did we miss in our care for them that they turned to petulant anger? What messages have we mistakenly sent to suggest that they are victims? Is it because we haven’t sufficiently addressed the issues Susan Faludi wrote about in Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Male – the standards by which we measure men? How did we blow it? Were we not supportive enough in our classrooms and churches and extracurricular activities and home life? How did we fail them?

I have no answers; I watch what were decent, everyday men get sucked into a spiraling frustration that is fed by others. Their reasoning is circular, their reactions to women are baffling, their compulsion toward violence even more so. I know there’s some sense of a loss of privilege – but I can’t help but wonder if somewhere in our work toward equality, inclusion, and justice, we forgot to teach those with privilege how to both recognize and use their privilege to help everyone up.

In a perfect world, everyone sees the fullness of their identities, and recognizes that others’ identities do not threaten but rather enrich their own. But we’re not there. I pray every day that one more man who’s sucked into this destructive movement gets what he needs to see his own inherent worth – and everyone else’s. And I pray we are there to help them, not give them reasons to stay in a cycle of anger.

I have never been comfortable with the word “bisexual.” As a young queer woman in Durham, North Carolina, in the 80s and 90s, our community was very clear that we would use the acronym LGBT, but we would struggle with the T (a subject for another day), and we would not believe the B. I grew to understood the B as meaning “not really gay” or “can’t make up their minds” or “horndog.” So in fact, “bisexual” was a wishy-washy term, attractive to couples looking for threesomes, useful as a category to put questioning folks in.

After my partner Tricia died in 1998, I found comfort not from my gay and lesbian friends, but from my straight male friends. They seemed to hear the pain in my heart – especially one friend, Mark. Mark’s comfort was inviting, and my relationship with him did turn romantic for a while. And that was fine. My mistake was telling my lesbian friends, who branded me a traitor to the sisterhood, who called me a “hasbian,” and then proceeded to ostracize me from the community I had loved and served in for years.

Over the next 15 years, I stopped dating women altogether and focused on men. I decided that my “lesbian days were over” but I didn’t quite step into the term “straight” (despite two boyfriends’ attempts). I also didn’t see myself as bisexual, because at that point, I was not sexually attracted to women, and I knew all the problems the B word brought with it.

That was fine for me personally – I didn’t really need labels. However, I knew that many would not understand my personal history, and I worried that they would think my years as an out, proud, activist lesbian were “just a phase” or that I was embarrassed by those relationships and activities – something that couldn’t be further from the truth. But I also carried the old, tired definitions of bisexual with me – and I honestly did not feel attracted to women at that point. How could I be bisexual if I don’t feel attracted to more than one gender? I wasn’t trying to play the field. I knew the truths of my romantic history and sexual orientations. But I couldn’t explain it well. Throughout seminary, I used the word “queer” and said simply “I exist in the queer cloud” as a way to show my general solidarity but not identify as anything I didn’t think I was.

So fast forward to this week.

Bisexual Visibility Week.

I started reading articles, blog posts, and Facebook statuses from and about bisexuals. Someone shared the video of actress Anna Paquin trying to explain to Larry King that her sexual orientation is not defined by the person she is in a relationship with. Someone else talked about the misconceptions about being confused and still sorting their identity out. And then I read this quote from Robin Ochs in an article called Bisexuality 101:

“Bisexuals are people who acknowledge in themselves the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

Not necessarily at the same time.

Oh.

Oh!

Oh. I AM bisexual… and it is my definitions that are too narrow.

As open and knowledgeable as I am about gender identity and sexual orientation, I was remarkably closed-minded about bisexuality. Mine, particularly. While I was open and affirming about others’ bisexuality, I used the old, outdated, incredibly short-sighted definitions for myself, thus cutting me off from embracing the fullness of who I am.

And I was doing a serious disservice to the people I want to minister to. A recent study shows that bisexual youth face particularly specific challenges. Others may not know what to do or say to be a good bisexual ally, whether they themselves are gay or straight. And others may just need to see the richer, more colorful texture of sexual orientation, even as we speak more fully about the richer, more colorful texture of gender identity. I need to be out, not just as queer, but out as who I am, in order to best serve others.

So…big breath…. here goes:

bisexuality-flag-heartI am bisexual.

I wish to be visible… to my friends, to my congregation, to my community, to my denomination…. and most of all, to my self.

I am bisexual.

I am a sexually healthy, emotionally healthy, spiritually healthy human being that has loved and been attracted to people across the gender spectrum, to different degrees, at different times, in different ways.

I am bisexual.

I am called to ministry, to be everything I am and want to be, including who and how I choose to love.

I am bisexual.

 

Some people start their ministerial internships writing learning agreements, figuring out the copier and the coffee maker, and meeting absolutely everyone.

Others start their ministerial internships writing generic wedding ceremonies in case the courts allow same-sex couples to marry and speaking to the press at a rally on the courthouse steps.

marriage equality rally 7-22That mine began with an act of social witness seems appropriate. I mean, I know much of my ministry is about the power of art to heal and inspire. Yet I also know that my ministry demands I respond to my neighbor’s needs, to stand on the side of love, to speak as a person of faith for what is right and true. And so today, I got to do that. I got to speak to the media, I got to be present as a minister and show support for people who simply want to be treated with dignity. If all had gone well, there would have been marriage licenses issued by the Monroe County clerk and I might have been able to conduct weddings. But there is a stay pending an appeal, so all we could do was call on the Attorney General to drop the appeal and show our support. The long moral arc of the universe DOES bend toward justice; it just takes longer sometimes than we want. But it is bending here in Florida… and I am glad the congregation let me begin my internship a few weeks early so I could be present.

I can’t think of a better way to start my ministry in Key West.

 

Update: Click here for the story from CBS-Miami.

I don’t understand it.

I am an extrovert and love to process ideas, emotions, and experiences with people. I hold strong opinions about equality, justice, compassion, and ethics. I am willing to be in a crowd of people rallying for causes, to sign a petition, to write letters, to even blog a bit about things I believe.

But I am scared to death of stepping out on my own.

I want more than anything to be brave, to have the courage of my convictions, to not worry about what others think of me, to go boldly in the direction of my dreams and vision. I want to be an example. I want to be Me with a capital M. I want to affect change. I want to take risks and make a difference.

Instead, I worry about what others will think. I step out gingerly. I couch my comments in wiggle words. I make excuses to stay among the crowd, not stand out. I dress conservatively.

Some of my caution comes from knowing there are others who have to approve of me in order to reach my goals – including ordination. I surely don’t want to freak out the Ministerial Fellowship Committee any more than I have already freaked out the Regional Subcommittee on Candidacy (who thought I was too theatrical and garrulous). And I will always need the approval of someone who will hire me to be their minister/consultant/artist/director.

Some of my caution comes from living in a family with beloved members who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum, who are older and have the power to put me on the defensive with just a look, whose questions hit like accusations.

But most of my caution comes from being a middle aged woman in America.

I’ve been called pushy, overwhelming, aggressive, too much. I’ve been told I “scare the boys in engineering.” I’ve been told to not go too far, do too much. Even in my years as an LGBT activist in the 1990s, I experienced urges for temperance and caution.

I’ve been taught to not do too much, not to color outside the lines, not to breathe into the fullness of who I am.

Who I am, of course, is a beautiful, loving, passionate, creative, compassionate, brilliant, sexy, queer, full-figured femme woman with a deep and unshakeable call to ministry. I am a powerhouse who wants more than anything to unleash my femministry on the world. I am a guide and a muse who wants more than anything to help others unleash their awesomeness on the world. I am a missional mother who wants more than anything to love the hell out of this world.

It is a fact that I am surrounded by bold, creative, beautiful, brilliant people who are much less fearful – who step out, who make waves, who are not afraid to be who they are. One of them even got honored on this impressive list of incredibly bold femmes.

Now my experience, qualities, and desires are particular to me, but the truth is, most of us are scared of something. Something holds us back from living into our fullness. Something keeps us ineffective, uncreative, and fearful. It could be money, or family, or a job, or – and this is more likely – messages from someone who told us we should scale down our dreams and desires, to be realistic, to be responsible rather than radical.

So how do we stop the cycle? How do we stop letting others’ expectations keep us from our fullness? How do we  – how do I – stop being afraid?

dragshow2014Over this past year, I’ve been observing my Year of Jubilee – it is my 50th on earth, and I have been consciously noting life lessons, the thoughts and habits I want to discard, and those I want to express. I’ve been unearthing my true self. It’s been incredible – I’ve made frequent posts on Facebook, run a Tumblr of ideas, slogans, and images that speak to my true self, and have done a fair bit of private journaling. I know that by the time I complete this year-long spiritual practice, I will be stronger, freer, more creative, bolder. I am daily rejecting messages that keep me cowed and timid.

But it’s a process.

And maybe that’s my real message today. If you’ve spent a lifetime being timid, boldness can’t necessarily come rushing in all at once.

But I am ready for more boldness. I’ve been preparing for it, and when I look back, I can see many places where I am much bolder than I have been as recently as last fall.

I am still scared. I am still hesitant. And I don’t want to be.

But step by step, I’m making progress.

And that’s something.

 

 

The look on Kevin’s face said it all.

Kevin (not his real name) and his girlfriend Joann (not her real name either) had joined me for lunch, and the discussion found its way to the shooting in California, #NotAllMen, #YesAllWomen, and the subsequent conversations that have erupted this week.

Kevin, one of the most gentle and progressive men I know, was struggling to understand why the two of us, who had never experienced sexual violence, were so adamant that #YesAllWomen spoke a broader truth. How could it be that every woman could say they lived under fear and frustration due to systematic misogyny?

That’s when I asked Joann to pull out her keys as though she was going to her car alone – while I did the same. Together, we held our keys like weapons, each key sticking out between our fingers like a strange set of brass knuckles.

Kevin was surprised. A bit taken aback.

I then reminded him that while not all men act on impulses, women don’t know which ones will or won’t. And Kevin let out a quiet “oh” as he finally got it. Our conversation then veered toward recognition of privilege and how moments like this help us be more sensitive and better allies.

Unfortunately, not every conversation in the last week has been so positive. For every good post about how men can push back against systematic misogyny, there was an equal and opposite post by men, and even some women, pushing back hard against #YesAllWomen – arguments full of false equivalencies and accusations of emotionalism (can we say “gaslighting?”).  (No, I’m not linking to them.) Yes, even some of the “helpful” posts on how men can be better allies for women were still somewhat difficult in places. And – not surprisingly, men who said positive things tended to get more attention than women. My friend Scott Bateman illustrated this:

yesflow

The irony almost writes itself.

So what’s to do? Last week, I brought up my concern over women in ministry, and a call for our denomination to act. Others within our denomination did the same (see  UUWorld’s Interconnected Web roundup for more links).  I can report some steps are being taken:

First, the UU Women’s Federation is calling for us to examine our study action around reproductive justice to see where we need to push into issues of discrimination, harassment, and hate crimes.

Standing on the Side of Love posted an amazing story and call to action; I can report I will be meeting with some of the staff members of SSL at General Assembly to see what we can do next.

Mostly, I can tell you that I am not staying silent. I will keep talking about this; Rev. Sean Dennison suggested we should create space for ‘hearings’ – for people to tell their stories. (Sean also suggested we examine what we mean by ‘women’ and ‘misogyny’ as relates to people elsewhere on the gender identity/expression spectrum. I fully concur, knowing that I too need to learn more.) It’s vital that we tell our stories – they humanize us; they reveal, in their particularities, universal truths; they make it harder to discriminate and harm others. And for those who have suffered, it helps the healing to know we’re not alone.

I also know that something artistic will come out of this… I don’t know what it is yet, but women’s stories must be told. Maybe it’s the next step in my nameless project. Stay tuned.

But mostly, we just can’t keep quiet. My call this week is to keep on telling the stories. Keep on talking about this. I reached Kevin last week – imagine who I can reach this week, if I just keep talking?

Let’s keep talking.