07 4 / 2014
06 4 / 2014
I didn’t expect the film to remain in lockstep with the biblical text; a blockbuster that wouldn’t make. If I have only one critique of the film it is about a thread in the larger Noah narrative that would have made the story a little more human and a little less strange.
The one thing I would have liked to see in the film (not to be confused with the dozens I could have done without—Tubalcain eating a live lizard.) Only eight people ended up on the ark, but Noah preached about the coming flood for 120 years.
The film has Noah basically brushing people off, and telling them that there was no place for them in the ark. Wasn’t there? There is some support in the biblical narrative for the idea that Noah warned people about the coming destruction and they decided to ignore him. (2 Peter 2:5)
In the film, from the time his daughter-in-law discovered her pregnancy, Noah was, instead of a devoted follower of God, a homicidal, unthinking cultist. Part of what the story says is that God liked what he saw in Noah. (Genesis 6:8, The Message). There was nothing likeable about this Noah, not anything at all. I’m up for action and adventure, but I feel like the mercy that was missing made the film too cartoonish.
23 2 / 2014
TW: war rape, murder, suicide, moral injury
Steven D. Green served in the US Army in Iraq. While he was in Yusufiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, he raped a fourteen year-old girl and then killed her, her parents and her six year-old sister. And Green was arrested for these crimes in the middle of taking his grandmother to dinner and a movie. In late February 2014, Green hung himself in the cell of a federal prison. He died two days later. One of the things he is on record as saying is to the FBI agents who transported him: “You probably think I’m a monster.”
Green definitely did some monstrous things. He also saw some monstrous things and suffered some monstrous things. These are not placed together because they are cause and effect. Rather, one of the things we can do in response to Green’s crimes, his punishment, and his self-inflicted death is to ask ourselves some questions. What is our part in the world’s monstrous acts? What is a right response to monstrous acts?
Clearly, we must condemn acts against the humanity of others, including acts that may not be as violent as what Green did, but may harm someone just as much. Being in a war is one of the things that allowed Green to justify his actions. He is not alone. In almost any war zone, rape happens with some regularity, used as a weapon of genocide and psychological warfare. Steven Green acted in that environment, not just to end human life, but to desecrate it.
The United Nations has taken steps to identify and refute rape in war conditions as a war crime. But, a person reading the CNN article about Steven Green might tend to think that the issue is one that is personal to him, a problem that he had, psychopathy or immorality. These official positions against war rape came around 1990, so very recently, considering the history of war as the United States has participated in it.
While many soldiers do their jobs in war without breaking law as it is codified, they will struggle with the moral injury of war.
Moral injury can be described this way:
Veterans who have been a part of something that betrays their sense of right and wrong often find themselves grappling with what researchers are only now beginning to understand – something that PTSD doesn’t quite capture. They call it “moral injury.” It’s not a diagnosis, but an explanation for many veterans’ emotional responses to their experiences of war.
It requires both/and thinking, or the recognition that conflicting ideas can both be true at the same time, to hear how Green is on record describing moral injury as he experienced it (though not in those words) and to know how he inflicted injury on others, while holding that all of that is part of Green’s experience of being human.
One of our responsibilities is to prevent this from happening in the future in whatever way we are able. We are able to support diplomacy. We are able to support supervision and resources for troops. We are able to support peace. And when there is war, we can support efforts to prevent war rape, such as the work of the United Nations, the Red Cross, and Physicians Without Borders.
More is possible, in terms of preventing the loss of human life. More is possible in allowing each person to fulfill the potential of their humanity.
23 1 / 2014
People of Color who choose multi-racial congregations are asked to set aside their own faith development in service to the “education of whites” as to the workings of privilege. -Mark Hicks, 2011
Even their soul work.
What important things are we dealing with? Typology.
The way we are together matters. We begin with our Universalist message. All people are welcome and sacred.
We must interrupt systems of oppression that divide the human family.
We must create focused programs that encourage faith formation that heals targets of oppression that heals targets of oppression from their bruises and wounds (e.g., stereotype threats, spirit murder, etc.)
Georgetown Law professor Patricia Williams defines spirit murder as, “disregard for others whose lives qualitatively depend on our regard. While one form of spirit murder is racism, other forms include cultural obliteration, prostitution, abandonment of the elderly and homeless, and genocide.”
And yet, there is more than critique. What is my role as a minister?
Think of the following:
- Teens of color who are beginning to learn how to drive and are stopped by police.
- The transracially adopted child with hair different from that of her peers.
- Teens who begin to date across racial lines.
What I do will depend on who I am doing it for. The relationships I am in will inform my actions. I want soul-nourishing, soul-enriching space for everyone, but it will take intentionality to make a way in a white-dominated space.
Triggers of change:
People socialized into a dominant frame of reference change when they have a “disconfirming” experience.
People who are targets of oppression begin to change when they have an “affirming” experience.
Auditing our educational programs:
Historical visibility—Capturing the story of a group, challenges and successes of ancestors, stories of woe, joy, and transformation.
(A third to three-fourths of ministers of color are queer people.)
How am I speaking to the healing of people of color?
Challenge assumptions inherent in experience in order to ask, “What skills and insights do I need?
Affirm the learner; promote confidence, trust, and hope.
22 1 / 2014
what it is to carry
the label that you
paste on me.
it is the giant foam costume
of a disney character. you
no longer see my face. no longer
say my name. i am the dog that talks.
i am the mouse that drives a car.
when i come to your church, i am
not a spirit to be fed. i am
an inconvenience. a category.
you handle me as though
the label gives directions.
for you, individuality at any
and all costs. for me, a cartoon
mouse eating cartoon cheese.
you never lift the giant mask,
and when i try to lift it, you
press it back down. over and over,
you hide what i carry that would call
you forward, to be more, to do more
and to be justice for yourself.
and for me.
what is your mask?
what are you hiding?
behind the foam suit, i believe
that you must be afraid.
it gives me compassion for
the false drama you write
and the fear
that must make you sweat
you are more than your mask.
i am too.
20 1 / 2014
A Nobel laureate with a fancy mustache and a pipe, William Faulkner, called Will by his friends, gave some writing advice that is such a strong metaphor that it reaches from the past to startle us a bit. Will said this:
"Kill your darlings."
What does it mean? It means that authors tend to hold favorite metaphors close, to rely on them and reuse them. These can be techniques, like overly flowery prose, or specific images. In The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, he talks about people checking out their dandruff three times. Different characters, different dandruff, it’s clearly a favorite image of the author’s. I’m pretty sure it’s a darling he could kill.
Unitarian Universalism has a darling in the Standing on the Side of Love campaign name.
When Standing on the Side of Love was conceived, it was the embodiment of a commitment to LGBTQ rights. Our macaroni and cheese orange shirts, assembled as a sea, were the symbol of joining the voices of individuals in the Movement. All good.
The problem is that the language, the name of the campaign excludes people who are in and who are beloved of the Unitarian Universalist movement. Standing on the Side of Love is great, unless you don’t stand, unless you use a wheelchair, or a scooter or other varying mobility device as a way of getting around and being in the world.
It is a handy phrase, but for Unitarian Universalism to default to this language is a way of shutting Love out. The way we include others in our speaking is a way that we express their belonging with us and our caring for them. Failing to think or talk about the way language can render other people invisible and silence their stories means that we leave Love out of our interactions. Is exclusive language our only and best idea? Is leaving Love out the best welcome we can extend? No, it’s not.
It is time to kill our darling. In a time when our Movement is faithfully calling for justice in areas of immigration and LGBTQ rights, people with disabilities must not be left behind. Our congregations are more than just a place to talk about the work of justice. They are a place where we can be justice, but more than just doing hard work of justice. Acting justly is a way that we show Love to siblings and friends in community. There will be work to do to create inclusion. Our reason to do that is Love.
It’s for Love that we can kill our darling, to give space for something new to arise. For example, Living on the Side of Love is alliterative and would allow for a plant or vine to be added to the current logo. I’m not suggesting that I have the solution for replacing the ableist language. Rather, I mean that it is time for us as a movement to have that conversation:
What is possible if we give up the Standing on the Side of Love campaign in favor of what else may come if we consider seeking an inclusive expression of Love?