Who Are You?

Who are you? The simple answer is to respond with a name. Even that has complications – first name or last? Nickname? That name was probably given to you before you had any idea who you were, so how can it really represent your identity? Your name may have changed during your life. You may have adopted an alias or changed your name when you married or went through a personal transition.

My name has never changed. Named after my father John and grandfather Lou, I never had a middle name, which caused some consternation as I was growing up. But with a name like mine, there’s hardly a reason for a middle name.

People formed impressions of me based on my name, often erroneous impressions. One person told me, “I thought you’d be a tall black woman.” When my name came up repeatedly in a conversation many years ago that I wasn’t part of, someone interrupted and asked, “Who is this John Lu, this Chinese fellow, you keep mentioning?” Yet, I was not confused about my race, gender or height.

Our identities are a complex mix of facts, experiences, characteristics, hopes and dreams. Basic identifying information such as birthplace, family name, gender, gender identity, and race may carry richer meaning and implications than we imagine. Certainly, simply stating them doesn’t begin to disentangle what they mean.

Pieces of our identity may be in our awareness constantly, while we forget or reject other pieces entirely. Our identities may be fragmented or integrated, fully embraced or have pinches of discomfort. My name, for instance, I hated when I was growing up. I wished to be Susan or Jane or Michelle – something normal. But I grew into Jonalu, and let go of the discomfort of it. Though if waitstaff in a restaurant ask me name, I tell them “JJ” for simplicity.

Always, identity is in a context where others are reading who we are and forming their own opinions about who we are, which may or may not coincide with what we believe to be true about ourselves. Sometimes, those observations by others may change how we see our own identity. Sometimes, our identity evolves with our experiences.

Any way you look at it, “Who am I?” is one of the most basic questions we have to answer about ourselves. And the answer may never be complete.

 

    Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

On This Inauguration Day

On this Inauguration Day, my hope is in the principles laid down in our founding documents – the will of the majority, checked and balanced by the rights of the minority; the freedom to express our thoughts and feelings and to pursue our dreams; the equality of all people – wherever they come from, whomever they love, whatever their identity. The visions cast more than two centuries ago and repeatedly since then have not died.

Though at times, the American people – individually and collectively — have failed to live up to the vision. The founding itself was not a perfect era – colonialism, slavery and subjugation of women were as present then as the rhetoric of high principles. People have suffered and died because they have not been accepted as equal beings of inherent worth and dignity. Imperfect human beings have always implemented the vision in imperfect ways. I grieve those past imperfections and pray that we do not do any worse.

Yet, even the failures give me hope, in a peculiar way, because when I see the imperfections of the past, I know that the imperfections of the moment need not be fatal. No matter how much distress they create at the time, they may lead to unexpected ends.

On this Inauguration Day, my hope is in the American people, the people I know who want the best not only for themselves, but also for one another. They want – we want – a peaceful world for our children and grandchildren, equal opportunities for all people, justice tempered by mercy. They are – we are – a diverse, lively, compassionate people who are building the world we want to live in. Inconsistently, with many a stumble along the way, we are bending the arc of the universe towards justice.

On this Inauguration Day, I choose to look towards and conjure a vision of democracy as it ought be – spirited debate over how we achieve our dreams, tempered by an unwillingness to leave anyone behind or out of the dreams. We are not a country of winners and losers. We are a country where we strive for everyone to succeed in their particular goals and aims. Together, we are better than we are individually. We call ourselves and one another to a higher standard, to a deeper conversation, to a more loyal expression of our values.

On this Inauguration Day, I commit myself to work to achieve the vision I have and that I believe many share.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

 

 

    Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

On a cold December day, I stood with others, including five members of the Fellowship, at a demonstration on behalf of service and maintenance workers at K-State in their efforts to move the basic wage from $10.56 an hour up to $12 an hour, equal to wages at the University of Kansas. This exemplifies the prophetic witness in the public square, though it was not specifically a religious witness.

While our charitable work as a congregation matters — giving clothes to the FIT Closet, food to the Breadbasket, Christmas gifts to families at the Manhattan Emergency Shelter, cooking up breakfast at the Happy Kitchen — justice demands more of us. Our religious values recommend engagement with the democratic process and speaking out for justice, equity, compassion, peace and liberty. My friend and colleague Paul Rasor, director of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom and professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan University, wrote a book a few years ago, Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square. His thesis is that religious liberals (UU’s, mainline churches, Reform and Conservative Jews and many others) have ceded the public role of religion to conservatives, deserting a long historic heritage of liberal religious prophets, including abolitionists, war-resisters, and civil rights leaders. We may still be out there on the line fighting for what we believe in, but we no longer cast it in religious or moral language or tone.

Yet, there are religious and moral motivations behind our positions. Bigotry and discrimination are wrong because they undermine the worth and dignity we ascribe to all human beings. Destruction of our climate is wrong because it disrupts the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Aggressive militarism works against the goal of peace for the world community. When we take our UU principles seriously, they have real implications for policy and politics. They also help us sift through the difference between liberal religion and liberal politics, which remain distinct, though overlapping. The test is how do our religious values guide us?

In North Carolina, thousands of people have been involved with a movement called Moral Mondays (http://moralmonday.org), where a broad coalition of progressives, including religious leaders, have called on their legislature and governor to support voting rights, public education, social programs, and fair taxation because it’s the right thing to do. Rev. William Barber, a key leader of Moral Mondays, praises fusion politics, bringing a diversity of people together to support an agenda that is not shy about saying what is right and wrong.

There’s a movement in Kansas to do the same thing — the Kansas People’s Agenda will gather at the Capitol on January 11. We are helping to support the Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice in providing a bus to go. You can make reservations here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdtoxaqeCq5NU0JnpuzJ3nlqioFmvBPk6A0s_xK-PE-FhVTbw/viewform.

Another opportunity to be involved in UU prophetic witness will happen Saturday, February 4, when UU’s from around the state gather to engage together about our prophetic work. Facebook event is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/278701435865969/

Paul Rasor says it well:

As religious liberals, we know that we are united in a single interdependent world, that human beings have the ability to create good as well as evil, that our diversity is something to celebrate rather than fear, and that we can build just and liberating human communities. This is the message of healing and hope our prophetic social justice practice brings to the world.

Hope to see you somewhere soon working for justice,

Jonalu

    Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Peace on Earth?

My favorite Christmas song is an obscure one – “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the words. The narrator tells of hearing the bells ringing on Christmas Day, repeating the refrain of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All” (yes, yes, the original says “men,” so I update the language). The narrator gets upset, seeing how the world makes a mockery of such wishes “for hate is strong.”

Many of us identify with that narrator to this day. Hate continues to be strong. Even as Confederate flags disappear from official places, racism has reasserted itself on-line and sneaked out of private places into the public realm. A two-tiered system of criminal justice allows black men to die and be incarcerated at stunning rates. Despite increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage, BGLTQ people – especially those who are transgender – encounter open hostility. At least 21 transgender people, many of them people of color, have been killed violently so far this year, according the Human Rights Campaign. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports 892 hate groups across the country, an uptick last year for the first time since 2011, near double the number of groups as they counted in 1999. In the wake of the election, haters seem emboldened. Swastikas have reappeared as graffiti, and hijab-wearing women confronted with threats. Yes, the words “Peace on Earth” are being mocked.

Longfellow, in the song, hears the bell peel again, louder and deeper, asserting that God is not dead, so “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail.” While that speaks to me, I recognize that those who dismiss or struggle with the idea of such a God may not be encouraged. However, one need not embrace theism to trust a moral arc of the universe that bends towards justice. When Longfellow wrote the song in 1863, slavery had not yet been vanquished from this continent. Women were subservient to men legally and in practice in their daily lives. People who did not conform to expected roles of gender and sexual orientation were invisible. A Civil War raged, taking hundreds of thousands of lives, about 2 percent of the population. As bleak as it looks today in the battle of love versus hate, 1863 was far worse. Steven Pinker, whose book The Angels of Our Better Nature explores the incidence of violence through history, asserts that despite blips like the Syrian war and IS terrorism, we are far more safe than we have been in the past, and that that trend holds true across the world – less homicide, less war, less genocide. If we look at the large scale, we are more peaceful.

The world keeps turning. You may or may not feel a presence that reassures you, but I hope in this season of striving towards peace and goodwill, you find encouragement and inspiration.

 

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

 

    Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Post-Election Thoughts

We are now two weeks past the election. Some of the intensity of feelings has faded. The dust may be settling, though the nation is still divided. That would be true no matter what the election results had been. One party dominates every branch of government, though the vote was pretty evenly split between parties. The tendency is to pull into two disparate groups, with two diametrically opposed stories. While there may be some truth to that picture, it’s also an oversimplification that distorts reality. We have great challenges before us, no matter which side of the divide we sit on. Times are difficult.

UU Church of the Larger Fellowship minister Meg Riley says:

Difficult times can be clarifying.  Clarifying about our purpose here on the earth and how we want to spend our days.  We hear it all the time from people who have been dealt a significant blow-illness, or job loss, or divorce, or sudden death of a loved one.

So, what has been clarified?

As I consider what I am called to as a Unitarian Universalist, as a minister, as a citizen, as a human being, I’ve come up with a short list:

  1. I need to pay attention. Not to media dust-ups, but to what is really happening. I need to read and listen to thoughtful people who have real information and ideas, rather than following clickbait. When intense controversies arise over minor matters, I need to ask what I am being distracted from.
  2. I need to be prepared. I can’t be sure what I need to be prepared for. What is predicted rarely happens. Instead, we are surprised. So, if anything could happen, I need to be spiritually grounded and ready to respond ethically, honestly and strategically to whatever happens.
  3. I need to nurture my connections with others. What I know about community organizing is that it relies on relationship. I need to stay in relationship with others who can help me in responding to whatever happens.
  4. I need to continue my work for justice and compassion, calmly and rationally, thoughtfully and strategically, rather than reactively and chaotically. For me, this likely means continued work on the local and state levels where our voices can be more readily heard.

Everything has changed, and nothing has changed. The world remains a sometimes dangerous, sometimes wonderful place. My hope is that you, too, will find difficult times clarifying, and that you will find your way to pursue your purpose.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

    Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Fellowship Stories

When a group of us gathered for the Strategic Planning Workshop in late September, Katie Kingery-Page led us in a story-telling exercise. Small groups were invited to come up with and share with the whole group stories of the fellowship building that had stuck with people. The most popular story came up a few times – the story of the wedding of Michael Nelson and Charles Dedmon. Michael was my immediate predecessor, serving as part-time minister of this fellowship for ten years. Their wedding was a long awaited joyous occasion. Apparently, every space was filled with happy celebrants – family, friends, and fellowship members. The food excelled, the dancing swept people up. Generations mixed easily inside and outdoors. The building played a character in a jubilant drama, shaping and being shaped by the experience.

I’ve heard a lot of the stories of this congregation in the last year or so. One that struck me particularly deeply is the story of how the fellowship came to reside on Zeandale Road. Some of you reading this know the story much better than I do, and I may get some of the details wrong, but it’s a significant passage to reflect on as we look towards the future in our planning. In the 1980’s only a few committed members were left in the fellowship, meeting then in a house on Bluemont. All the children had grown up, and members wondered if the fellowship would survive.

So they took a great risk. They bought a small building owned by the school district out on Zeandale Road. It needed work if it was to be usable by fall, so members spent the summer with renovations. They planned for including children and took out ads saying they had religious education. By the time fall came and services started, there were still ladders up and the work was almost, but not quite, done. The feeling of excitement raised everyone’s spirit and rubbed off on the new people who came with their children.

At that time, the Alsop Room served as the sanctuary, and the group didn’t yet have so much of the lovely space we enjoy now. That handful of families, though, made possible what we have today. Their vision led them to take risks and to leave a legacy of the safe haven and visible beacon that we still strive to grow into. It’s a story to provide inspiration as we go forward with our strategic planning.

Today’s leadership made a key decision to assess our current site to determine potential for future growth. You’ll hear more about the process and results over the next few months.

In the meantime, in keeping with this month’s theme, I invite you to recognize how our stories play into our understanding of our past, present and future.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

    Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

As the High Holy Days Approach

The Jewish High Holy Days arrive this month (Rosh Hashanah October 3-4 and Yom Kippur October 12). Each year, these holidays call Jews to consider where they have fallen short and to release those shortcomings to start again with a fresh slate. In the ritual of Tashlich, Jews cast breadcrumbs in a lake or stream, a symbol of releasing the sins they have committed over the past year.

The practice inspires me. A year, though, seems to me a long time for remembering and reflecting on shortcomings. My own list would be much too long! But the practice of regular self-evaluation seems tremendously valuable and fits with this month’s theme of healing. Such self-examination helps heal the wounds that exist and keeps us from inflicting additional injuries on ourselves and others.

I try to do a daily examen, where I reflect on the events of the day to see where I feel the presence of the holy, how I respond, and where I have turned away. Even though I don’t make it every day, the several times a week check-in is helpful in reminding me where I want to focus my attention and how I want to live in the world.

For me, it’s easy to get sidetracked. I can get drawn into wherever excitement pops up today. I can lose track of my own priorities and get sucked into stuff that has nothing to do with me. I can forget how much I have to be grateful for and instead, become resentful of the ways that my life disappoints me. I can overreact to my emotions, or stifle them, and find myself whittling away time at screens instead of savoring reality. Especially when I’m tired, stressed, or hungry, I can forget my best self and act in ways I later regret. I can hurt people I have no intention of harming.

None of this is worth beating myself up over, and I certainly don’t dwell on any of it. It’s more about living with awareness. The more I can become aware of what I am up to, the more I can be deliberate and mindful about it. And, one of the uses of having a regular check-in is to know that if I think about my failings at other times, I can let go, knowing that I have a designated time to reflect and now is not it. That daily examen reminds me of what I’m thankful for, and releases the negative stuff, like dropping the breadcrumbs into the water.

The world presents us with much uncertainty, from inside our own homes and workplaces to the places we know only on maps, like Syria. Most of it is entirely beyond our control, no matter what we tell ourselves. Yet, we get caught up in struggles with it. Why not devote just a little while to being more aware and in touch with our lives and what we do have control over, to try to improve the quality of what we have and what we are? That might well bring healing.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

 

    Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Theme-based Ministry

Welcome to theme-based ministry!

Each month we’ll focus on a broad theme that has resonance for Unitarian Universalists in our personal and spiritual lives. You can read about the theme in the newsletter, hear about it during Sunday services, and experience it in religious education. What’s more, we’ll be starting small groups called Chalice Circles to explore the themes at a deeper level.

Why make this change in our programming? The main goal is to deepen our experience together. We’ve been very good at breadth – many different activities for different interests. We have been so good at breadth that depth may have suffered. While choice is good and variety the spice of life, transformation requires focused attention. Our religion is not a hodgepodge of liberal feel-goodism, but a tool to enrich our lives so we become better people, prepared to create real change in our larger world.

How do we come to understand the values and ideals championed by our religious tradition of Unitarian Universalism? How do we live into these values and ideals to become the people we wish to be?

Other UU’s have been exploring these questions and have come up with the Soul Matters program, from which we will be drawing. It doesn’t dictate how we look at the themes or what we do on Sunday mornings, but provides resources to support our explorations. Plus, we’re engaging with these themes along with about 200 other UU congregations, including a few here in Kansas.

Our first theme (September) considers what it means to be a community of covenant. I remind you that our members have developed a covenant, which you can find at [http://uufm.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Covenant-right-relations.pdf].

    Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Celebrating the Non-Discrimination Ordinance

The pace of life can be so fast and the deluge of bad news so overwhelming that I forget to take the time to celebrate real victories.

Last week was such a win. As you probably know by now, the Manhattan City Commission approved the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance and created a structure for enforcement. That makes Manhattan the third city in Kansas with these significant protections for LGBTQ people. A year ago, such a move couldn’t have been predicted.

What made it happen?

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” The change came because a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens made it happen. Specifically, members of the Flint Hills Human Rights Project organized and strategized, lobbied and negotiated, and motivated others to show up and argue for change. I worked with area pastors to make clear to the Commission that many religious people believe that religion is no excuse for discrimination.

I’m proud that many members of UUFM showed up at one of the many meetings where the issue was discussed. Several spoke or wrote to the City Commission movingly and strongly on the issue.

At UUFM, we are a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens. It’s not only this particular issue. Last Tuesday, I went from the City Commission to a Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice-sponsored forum on the effects of Medicaid cuts. Again, thoughtful, committed members of UUFM were scattered through the audience.

It’s the same wherever I go in Manhattan. I always find UU’s engaged in the work of social justice. Sometimes, we don’t realize what a difference we are making as a group.

We care about the issues. We work to make bring change and to support existing efforts that are doing good. And sometimes, we get a real win. Like last Tuesday.

Let’s take the time to celebrate it.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

    Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Why Religion?

With all the opportunities for action in the world, all the ways you can learn new things, and all the organizations you could join or work with, why bother with religion? A variety of answers can be given.

Some people say religion provides a framework of beliefs to help understand and structure the world. Scriptures as diverse as the Vedas and the Christian and Hebrew Bible describe how the world works, how it began, and how it will end. In oral traditions, stories serve much the same function. People find meaning through the way they fit into the structures their religion posits.

Others say that religion dictates rituals, rites and practices to structure and regulate society. Often, hierarchies are created, order is affirmed, and gods are kept happy.

Others suggest that religion offers values and rules to follow in order to live an ethical and moral life. From Buddhism’s Five Precepts to Islamic Shari’ah to the Christian Sermon on the Mount, standards have been set that call people to ethical living.

And some claim religion allows like-minded people to gather in community to support one another.

There’s something to each of these views. The bottom line, for me, is that religion helps us cope with life. It gives us strength and perspective when we’re struggling to go on. It helps us navigate life’s confusion. It challenges us to grow into a better person every day. It provides companions along the way.

As more and more people identify as “nones,” no religion, I wonder where they do turn for comfort, challenge, meaning and community. I hope they find someplace as rich as Unitarian Universalism has been for me.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

    Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email