#EqualityMichigan

This morning, the first thing I did when I woke up, was roll over and reach for my phone, check the time, and then immediately check Facebook. I was looking for one thing: news about LGBT folks getting married. Because last night, the judge determined that the ban against gay marriage was unconstitutional – !! Fantastic news. Of course, things are still unsettled – the Attorney General are calling for a stay on the ruling, which would otherwise go into effect on Monday. However, certain county clerks around the state decided to open their offices today (lovely, heroic folks) and grant as many licenses as they physically could in the time they were open.

So this morning, I was glued to Facebook and Twitter, watching photos and announcements pop up of friends getting married and others officiating and witnessing. Happy day!

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Follow-up to my post on classism

I have been stunned and astonished (and admittedly made rather nervous) by the response that I got to my last post. The attention, the comments, the discussions that were started – how incredibly unexpected. A large part of the attention is no doubt due to Rev. Gail’s support for my post, for which I am beyond grateful.

What I did not anticipate at all was the large number of stories that were shared by others who have also experienced pain from class-related social dynamics. The comments following the post feature a large selection of these stories, often told anonymously. I shared the link to the post on my Facebook and got wonderful feedback from friends there. A few people bravely engaged publicly in discussion on Facebook, revealing their own stories and struggles. A few others messaged me privately to talk about what I had shared and to share in their own turn.

What I take from the volume of responses is how much we need to talk about this issue. People are hurting from class issues, sometimes hurting for the whole length of their lives, and the more we stay silent on this subject, the longer this pain continues to be unresolved. And then it turns into anger and frustration, and our communities are divided by these invisible chasms.

I’m starting to think about next steps, for my own personal growth and also how I might participate in my UU community (there was the unresolved question at the end of my last post, about whether I would continue to engage on this issue; the responses and support prove that I must continue to engage). Some conversations have been scheduled with folks, and I think there are other folks I need to talk to, as well. There’s a Facebook group for UUs for Class Awareness which might have some interesting conversations. I’m starting to create a reading list (and any suggestions would be much appreciated) and to note similar websites and online resources. It’s just a beginning.

………..

Two final notes/thoughts:

I’d like to clarify that the kind of discomfort that lead me to write my post does not occur frequently. On the whole, UUs are a great group of folks (that’s why I like to hang out with them). And the discussion session on classism was overall thought-provoking and respectful. There were just a few comments that made me uncomfortable and got me thinking about why I was uncomfortable, and the more I thought about them, the more I drew on previous experiences of feeling shamed and guilted for where I came from. It was a post written from years of suppressed anger.

And lastly, I don’t know how to respond when people come up to me and tell me that they read my post. It was such an intensely personal post, written without reservations and with full on honesty. And like all such things, it puts one in an incredibly vulnerable position. So if you run into me and comment on this post, don’t be surprised if I suddenly start behaving with all the awkwardness of Robinson Crusoe fresh off the island. :)

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Classism; or, I am Fucking Proud of Where I Come From

For the past year or so, the Challenging Racism program at our UU church has been hosting events designed to begin a conversation on classism. My schedule finally allowed me to go to a discussion session today.

………..

Before reading on, it might help to know my personal story/identities, in order to understand where the following statements and reflections originate. I come from a blue collar, immigrant family. I am a first generation college student. My parents were a welder and a social worker and officially below the poverty threshold for much of my childhood (partially because we had such a large family). I was solidly lower class for my entire childhood. BUT I went to one of the Seven Sisters schools for my undergraduate degree and to one of the Big 10 Research universities to get my masters. I’m a white, cis-gendered female who does not flaunt her sexual proclivities. My first full-time job after I got my masters, I am making more than my parents have made at most points in their lives. And now, I suddenly belong to the professional middle-class, and there’s this dissonance….

………..

As I sort of expected when I went into the discussion today, I was the “token” person representing lower class groups. Well, this isn’t strictly true – folks told stories of coming from myriad backgrounds. But I still had the sense of being that outsider who “got it” and who actively engaged in the struggle today. There were moments in the conversation when someone expressed something that was just so….not right, and others nodded in agreement, and there’s only so much that I can try to say.

So often, in groups of people like the UUs at my church and in groups I encounter at work or socially, people make these broad statements that assume we all come from the same background and all have the same experiences and the same values. I get it. I get why it happens at the church: the UU faith tradition tends to attract “thoughtful rebels” who are largely white, upper to middle class with high levels of education and liberal values. But just because we tend to look and dress and act and speak the same way, it does not mean that we come from the same place. Every time I’m in a situation where someone makes a statement about “us” v. “them,” where “them” refers to the lower-classes, I get uncomfortable, and I get angry.

Because these statements erase my history and my identity. I am fucking proud of where I come from. My parents worked so hard to feed and clothe and educate six kids, and send us all off to really great schools, and also manage to pay off the mortgages of two houses in twenty years and pay down half of another mortgage in just seven years. They are rock stars. And they taught me to work hard, to work 20-30 hours a week at part-time jobs while going to school full-time. I struggled financially, because the safety net that others take for granted was almost non-existent in my case, and I am so proud of myself for getting out of my tough financial messes and for getting to where I am today. I am proud of that history, of the values my parents taught me, of the struggles that we were dealt and that we did not succumb to. And conversations that assume that I am from a solidly middle-class family where poverty was never an issue – these conversations erase a huge part of who I am.

There’s also this stigma that exists around being lower class. People tiptoe around it, they tiptoe around discussions of poverty, they are uncomfortable admitting that their parents struggled or that they personally cannot afford to go on this trip or pay for that dinner. It’s such bullshit. How much you earn should not reflect on who you are (and yet, it does, and here we are having discussions about classism). At several moments in the discussion today, people talked about striving to raise social statuses, about going to “visit the poor” in order to “improve them” (ok, that exact phrasing wasn’t used, but the meaning was the same). At several points, people touched on how, in order to belong to a higher social class, people need to assimilate, to dress and act and talk the way of the upper class.

Discussions about classism that focus on improving the plight of the lower class, that basically say “poor people shouldn’t be poor,” continue to reinforce the prejudices that brought us together today. 

Society as a whole is so oriented towards celebrating wealth and upper class power, that we have forgotten to celebrate the values of the lower class. My parents taught me the value of hard work, of family and community, of independence and self-reliance. In a world where helicopter parents call professors when their children get bad grades and where “affluenza” allows a killer to walk free, the upper and middle classes could stand to take a good, long look at the values of the supposed “lower” class.

Jane Addams got it. That’s why her Hull Houses were meant to be “mutually beneficial” to both upper and lower class folks (I say this with a grain of salt, understanding that the application of her theory left something to be desired). She understood that each class had different things to offer the other. When our conversations about class turn to going out into the community and helping the lower class, then we start to step into that uncomfortable “white savior” role. When our conversations about class begin with the assumption that everyone wants to be upper class, no reservations, then we ignore the identities that are not welcomed in an upper class world, identities which people must often leave behind in order to become part of that world.

Class affects us in huge ways, ways that we aren’t even aware of, ways that can be incomprehensible to someone from a different class. I didn’t even realize some of the ways in which I’ve been affected until today. I feel dissonance within because I come from a lower class background with which I still relate intensely and yet I have been thrust suddenly into a middle-class, professional world with which I don’t always identify. It’s why I refuse to listen to classical music or read Literature-with-a-capital-L (even though I majored in the more esoteric of Literary studies) – because I associate both things with the hauteur of a middle/upper class that looks down on the hoi polloi and their interests. And it’s why I struggled and continue to struggle to relate to a boyfriend and to friends who haven’t experienced these same things that come from being lower class and/or immigrant.

………..

I know that, above, I am just touching on some of the conversations ongoing in this topic. I haven’t really delved into classism much, partially because I feel so strongly about it and know that I have the potential to get so angry about it, and I worry about alienating people that are my friends and are my community. I don’t know if I will continue to attend classism events at the UU, even though my ears are sharply tuned to catch statements that accidentally display the privilege that comes of being born and made middle/upper class. But then again, I am uniquely positioned, by grace of my background and my education, to bridge a divide here and to speak about some of these things in a way that an audience with a similar education might finally understand. So….I don’t know.

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Unitarian Universalism made me an angry activist

I was leaving a UU meeting this evening, and one of the ladies turned to me and asked me what made me so active with regards to reproductive justice. This is something I’ve been reflecting on lately, so it was a funny confluence of things. I turned to my fellow advocate and said thoughtfully, “well, honestly, becoming a Unitarian Universalist is what made me into an activist.”

I’ve been a feminist since I was a preteen and started to recognize the injustices of the conservative Pentecostal church of my parents. I’ve cared about LGBT rights since I was 15 or 16 and started to wonder if I was bisexual. I’ve been angry since I went to one of the Seven Sisters colleges and learned about how institutionalized and pervasive sexism, racism, classism, and other bigotries were. But I never really acted on my righteous anger, other than to act as a conduit of stories on my social network. I have traditionally been a classic Hamlet, who reflects and analyzes but does not act (until too late, but hopefully that part does not apply here).

Since I joined my local congregation and started honestly reflecting on what my part can be in improving the world, I have found it increasingly easy to step into that role of active advocate. Partially, this is the result of the urgent sense that something must be done, which the UU faith promulgates so well, and the sense of obligation to my community. But in addition, my involvement in the congregation, as a facilitator for Chalice Circles, an organizer for the 20s & 30s group, an usher, and most recently, a co-chair of the reproductive justice group, has gradually prepared me to become increasingly active – and increasingly angry.

It’s a funny effect. The more active I become, specifically with regards to reproductive justice, the more outraged I become. I think it’s because, for the first time in my life, I feel like I finally have the tools to fight the injustices I learn about every day. And for once, I’m not sitting back in my armchair and just watching things happen. I’m acting on my outrage. And it’s wonderful.

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Thanksgiving flashbacks

Checking back in after being gone for almost a year…

Last night, our congregation hosted the area’s Interfaith Thanksgiving. We’ve apparently been hosting this for 19 years, but it was my first time attending. A lot of fluffy feelings going on last night – it was very PC. My favorite parts may have been the meditation and the pagan drum chant (….and that’s why I’m a UU).

Following the service, we had nibbles in the Social Hall, and then I helped out with clean up. During the clean up, I felt this weird sense of deja vu, and I realized that this was taking me back to my childhood when I would do the same thing at my parent’s church. It was a small church, no more than 80 members, and most of the time, when I think of it, I think of the vicious backstabbing, the nasty politics and the hypocrisy – I was the pastor’s kid, so I got a first row seat to all of the pleasantness – well, okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it looms large in my memory. But every once in a while, there were moments when the community would come together and collaborate in the best way. Some of my favorite memories are of preparations for festivals and weddings. In old school Russian style, the women would prepare giant vats of food in the kitchen, while the men set up tables and the space (yeah, talk about enforcing traditional gender roles). I remember helping out in the kitchen, shredding carrot after carrot after carrot or peeling a huge mountain of potatoes, while another 10-15 women chopped veggies, braised beef, mashed potatoes, and created a feast for 150 people. And accompanying all this tireless work was the talk that makes any community: about who is doing what, the shaming and the praising of various individuals, the passing on of tips these women had learned from their foremothers, and all the other chatter that you’ll find in a close-knit, small community where everyone knows everyone’s business. I think that was what really kept me there hard at work. I learned some fascinating stories, and as long as I stayed quietly at work in the corner, they would forget about me and speak honestly. My sisters didn’t understand why I was happy to help out in the kitchen at these events, but I loved partaking in this communal conversation.

So while I was cleaning up yesterday after the Interfaith Thanksgiving, this is what I was flashing back to. And it was quite different at the UU (no huge vats of food to cook, for one), but there were enough similarities.

It’s funny, how we work so hard to get away from certain things, and yet, sometimes, we cycle back to where we start from. I’m happy and surprised that I was able to dig up this memory for the first time in years and that I am able to bring a little peace to myself when thinking about that church.

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brunching lessons

Today was another big day: I signed the membership book, I got up in front of the congregation and created a covenant with them to hold their trust as a Chalice Circle facilitator, and then after church a bunch of us 20’s & 30’s somethings met to go out for brunch. Let me tell you about this last thing…

Lessons learned:

  1. If you are brunching with a large group of people in Ann Arbor on a weekend…plan ahead. We had a group of 15 gather, and our first choice restaurant couldn’t handle us quickly. Our second choice was a sub-par chain (on a day when we got a sermon about mindful eating and local food choices!!) that wasn’t exactly vegetarian-friendly.
  2. You can’t always please everyone, and sometimes you just have to address the needs that you are more familiar with. The group that came out was primarily younger, without families, especially young children. When arranging this brunch, a couple of people of the 20s & 30s group expressed a desire for having activities that included their needs. I’m not quite sure how to include this subgroup. I’m not sure how far my responsibility extends towards this subgroup. I’m not an officially acknowledged “leader” – I’m just someone who is suggesting activities in the hopes that others are interested – but then again, do my activities to date and my role as a Chalice Circle facilitator (and thus, as a person with an official role in the church) mean that I need to acknowledge responsibility towards this group?
  3. Create a Coalition of the Enthusiastic. I’m finding that there are levels of interest, and for me to stay motivated and energized, I need to find other people who are equally committed to creating a strong and vibrant community. I have targeted a few possible people – now to see if I can corral them in to join my mission. :)

 

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engagement

I have been getting seriously involved at the UUAA lately. It all stems from one action. A month ago, feeling especially lonely (you know, the usual “all my friends that I know from grad school have moved away, and I have two friends left!” feeling), I messaged the UUAA 20’s & 30’s Yahoo group to see if anyone was interested in getting drinks occasionally. Now our 20s & 30s group is not very active at all. Like most UU churches, it seems, there’s a dearth of activity for/by adults in that 20-39 (+/-) age group. A few people came out, then a few more people joined, and suddenly, I know people in the congregation. In the space of a month, I’ve gone from feeling like an outsider (albeit one who’s been going for a year) to feeling like a member of the congregation. I actually talk to people during Social Hour. :)

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bike ride for the soul

Yesterday, I got on a bike for the first time in 10 years. Well, let me begin by saying how much I love working with my hands, creating and fixing things. The bike that I used was given to me by a friend who had gotten it from another friend, and my friend didn’t use it for a year. It needed a little tune-up, and even though I hadn’t had my hands on a bike in, as I said, 10 years, I got to put it into working order. Mm, there’s just something so wonderful about tinkering with a simple machine and getting it to work for you! So very satisfactory…

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martin luther king, jr – the power of nonviolence

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word. It is the word ‘maladjusted.’ Now we all should seek to live a well adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things. I call upon you to be as maladjusted as Amos who in the midst of the injustices of his day cried out in words that echo across the generation, ‘Let judgment run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out, ‘All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who dreamed a dream of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. God grant that we will be so maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change our world and our civilization. And then we will be able to move from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

 

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just be naked

Tonight was Chalice Circle night, and lemme tell ya, it was way intense. The subject was “What Love Is.” How do you spend only two hours on that? There’s so many different kinds of love, so many different stories and experiences to remember, so many different ideas of how one should love….

We’re never so vulnerable as when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy. – Walter Anderson

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