Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Multi Cultural UU: Removing Dissatisfaction

What might we do to make our UU Congregations more multi-cultural?

1. It is crucial to remove dissatisfaction factors as much as possible. I believe we have two major areas of dissatisfaction in the multi-cultural area. The first is the irritation to persons of color of clueless white privilege. That's an ongoing issue. The good news about it is that the school, corporate and governmental world has huge resources that are deployed here, and many of our folks get much better multi-cultural training at work and school than we will ever be able to provide.

2. Because of this, all attempts to be a multi-cultural congregation should be matched by attempts to be a younger congregation. With all due respect to the over 60 generation who got us started with integration in this nation, the future in this matter, as in so many, is with the young who have lived their lives in a multi-cultural world. My own experience in churches is that a concerted focus on bringing in young people will go a long way, all by itself, to bringing in persons of diverse ethnicity and race.

3. If there are incidents and issues, they need to be addressed, of course. People being people, there will always be issues and incidents. Discussion is necessary. Does the congregation want to put on "South Pacific?" Are there parts of that lovely show which are racist? Is there a difficult person whose conversation about social subjects like population or imigration boarders on racisit? How will we address that? Etc.

4. The second issue of baseline social comfort for those persons whose presence would signify multi-culturalism is that they need to see others like them. This is the critical mass problem, and it's a real catch 22. The only way for a church to be attractive to diverse persons is to already be a diverse congregation. But how to start? You start with signals. The UUA has done this part of multi-cultural development much better, in my opinion, than it has done the anti-racism training, but, oddly, it's never talked about. Still, go to the website of this denomination which sports a population of persons of color in the range of 5%, and you'll see a vastly disproportinate set of photos of persons of color. That's one way to help new persons of color feel legitimized and welcomed. The respectful, inclusive use of multi-cultural music and authors sends that same welcome message. Leadership of color is even more powerful. We have to give ourselves considerable credit here.

All of these strategies can be overdone, can even be a form of false advertising. But subtle use helps us to substitute for our critical mass of multi-culturalism, until we have it.

All that work, remember, only creates a baseline of lack of dissatisfaction. Now, on to Satisfaction. There enlies the transformative work.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Demographic Diversity in UU Churches II

Kim's comment (here) sparks a couple of thoughts about this issue. Firstly, I think that Kim is correct, that, like almost all of the rest of American society, especially in persons under age 60, who grew up and have worked their whole lives with this consciousness, we have mostly gotten beyond the easy-to-spot, easy-to-agree-upon racism and xenophobia of, say, 50 years ago. No small achievement, either. Yeah, us!

There is a fair amount of lingering subtle white privilege, however, and it's important to stay aware of it. White privilege is that assumption that "our way is the only way and others are different, odd, and ought to change." There is no necessary problem in the kind of human diversity of which Kim speaks...how close we stand, whether we interrupt, who looks whom in the eye, how much space is left between speakers, what time is "on time", and so on, the problems happen when some people (white people) don't realize that they need recognize those differences as legitimate and work around them when they are in mixed company.

Which brings us to church and what would motivate persons of color or other difference, to come to church and have to continue, even there, their dreary daily battle with the irritating obliviousness of white privilege, when they have every reason to prefer to go to church and relax with a community of people with whom they don't have to struggle. That is, what is the answer to the question, "Why don't UU churches, whose people think of themselves as open and welcoming, have more persons of color, and what would help us be more multi-cultural?

We have attacked this problem as a denomination from one direction; the direction of trying to educate white people to be less oblivious and irritating to persons of color. A lot of that education, unfortunately, has been ham handed, but we've done it. Has it helped? No doubt it has helped some, but not enough. And why? Because that kind of openness does not create satisfaction, it only relieves dissatisfaction.

This is a huge and important distinction in the "customer satisfaction" business, and it applies to many areas in church life, so let me digress.

There are factors in church life which create satisfaction; great sermons, exciting RE programs, warm community, opportunities for spiritual deepening. The more you have of these satisfaction factors, the greater satisfaction people will have, and they sky is the limit with how happy and enthusiastic they can be. But only if they are not dissatisfied.

Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction are two very different things, caused by completely different factors. A happy church-goer is both satisfied and not dissatisfied.

Dissatisfaction factors are basic things like enough parking, clean restrooms, safe children's programs and basic social comfort. (the sort a person of color might find in a diverse congregation not flaunting it's white privelege)

You gotta have enough parking, dirty restrooms a huge turn-off, and if parents think their kids are not safe, they're outta here. If a person of color encounters the assumptions of white privelege every time they turn around, they'll be dissatisfied. It is crucial to improve dissatisfaction factors, but...here's the key....an improvement of dissatisfaction factors doesn't make people satisfied, it only makes it possible for people to be satisfied. One too few parking spaces? That's a problem. Twice as many as you need? Ho Hum. Dirty bathrooms? disgusting. Palatial, sparkling bathrooms? I'm happy for you...but it's no more likely that I'll return to your church. Social comfort? It's vital, but if that's all you've got here, I could stay home.

May I repeat? "Social comfort? It's vital, but if that's all you've got here, I could stay home."

Given the fact that people come to church for more than baseline satisfaction, all our anti-racism/white privelege trainings, even if they were excellent, would only bring us up to baseline. And about that, it can only be said, "I don't get no satisfaction."

What should we do to become multi-cultural UU congregations? More Tomorrow.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Demographic Diversity in UU Churches I

Kim left this perceptive comment buried in a past post that I thought I'd bring forward here. Thanks, Kim!

I am working on an idea I have about "diversity". My idea is that, having gotten beyond the most obvious outer layers of racism and other prejudices, we are working on the more subtle parts. And, of course,the subtle parts are difficult to pin down because of their subtlety. My impression is that where we are stuck is that the real things that keep people of different back grounds from being comfortable with each other are the unconscious cultural differences in how we speak to each other and our world view. Those unthinking things like how far apart we stand when we talk to each other, how long we pause when we want to communicate that the other person can speak now, Whether we communicate directly or indirectly, whether we negotiate from specific to general or vice versa, how often we touch the other person while speaking. All these things are unconscious, "self-evident", and really annoying when someone does them differently because we interpret difference in custom as intended rudeness, or just strangeness. We get along with people who are more like us, we have communication problems with people who are less like us.
I think this level is where a lot of UU problems with diversity resides now. when I talk to people about this, many of them say things like, "I thought we were all the same." Or they don't say that and just imply it, if they are more indirect. It seems it's a hard concept to "get". That would seem to validate it being a problem.
I think we could work on this level of "diversity" to our advantage. Maybe it would help us achieve some more diversity in our congregations.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Sophie and Susie, age 1 month

They're starting to get feathers and are about double their 1 week size....takes two hands to catch them, now!

Giving Thanks for Max Coots

Twenty or so years ago, the Rev. Max Coots, whose passion was gardening wrote this beloved and much used meditation. Max died last week at the age of 81. We remember and give thanks!


Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:
For children who are our second planting, and though they grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away, may they forgve us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are.

Let us give thanks:
For generous friends with hearts as big as hubbards
and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers,
keep reminding us that we've had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants
and as elegant as a row of corn, and the
others, as plain as potatoes and so good for you;
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts
and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends,
as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash,
as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;
For old friends nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;
And, finally, for those friends now gone, who like gardens past that have been harvested, but who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.

Let Us Give Thanks
from View from a Tree
--Max Coots
Rest in Peace, Max. You fed us well...

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Death of a Minister

Web Kitchell's memorial service was this afternoon, at the Santa Fe church which he served as settled minister for 17 years and as Emeritus minister for another 10. The church did itself proud. Stephen Furrer, the current minister, told us that Web had left a list of the music and hymns, didn't want any god-talk, and did want "droll stories" shared. So, that's what we heard. In lieu of god talk, I read these quotations from Camus.

I shall tell you a great secret, my friend. Do not wait for the last judgment, it takes place every day.

You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.

there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.

When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

My colleague Jim Zacharias got to read from one of Web's coyote books, and there were, indeed, several droll stories. The best of them? The church administrator said that before Web arrived, the church had signed up for call waiting, but Web hated hearing the little beep of an incoming call while he was on the phone. He called it "telephonicus interruptus". They got rid of it.

The second best story? The Santa Fe church was a Fellowship when Web arrived, and they didn't like it when Web, still the New Englander, wore his robe. So it was suggested to his wife that she suggest to him that he might preach in a suit. (That's how things were done in those days) Web obliged, but in his own quirky way. Turns out that old New Englander didn't know how to put an outfit together. So there was the Sunday...judging by the laughter, some people remembered it...when he wore a green suit with a blue checkered shirt. The members suggested to his wife that she take him shopping. This she declined to do. "I married him as he is," she said. Web went back to wearing a robe and the congregation accepted it.

It was a lovely service. Rest in Peace, Web...good colleague, good minister, good man.

P.S. Was Coyote there? Well, I didn't exactly see him. But after the service, on the table of photographs Web's family had arranged, some thoughtless person had left a bag from Dunkin Donuts...

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Aftermath of Imagineering

It surely is great fun to have a big article in the UU World! (Imagineering Soul, in this month's issue) I've had emails and letters from members of my internship church, my first church, people at whose weddings I officiated, former members of this church, seminary buddies and even someone who thought he remembered me from Methodist Youth Group. (mistakenly...iMinister grew up UU and was way too shy for youth groups of any kind.)

Also a bunch of emails and even a phone call from people who liked the article and felt we were kindred spirits. Also, it goes without saying, a couple of people who hated it and needed me to know. One even went so far as to express the opinion that the real reason that the denomination is declining is that there are too many women ministers and women ministers just don't think or preach powerfully. It's been a long time since I heard that sort of thing. A professor from and Episcopalian seminary wrote to ask permission to reprint it for her students, someone wrote to remind me of another author's ideas about faith and shame, and her own, and someone sent me excepts from his book which he felt were relevant.

Great Fun!