Wednesday, December 10, 2014

what seeds are we planting?

Arthur Rashap offers this brief reflection which ends in a silence that intends to be the beginning of a conversation.

Looking at and thinking about what is going on with the police killings, the travesty of grand juries, and now the report released on torture, it brings to my mind (and perhaps as a theme for one or more services/sermons where appropriate) the following:

Could it be 'we' (the part of society that is 'in control') are planting and harvesting the seeds of the evil (crime, retaliation, terror, etc) by our actions and reactions? If so, what is the course to follow to harvest a sweeter crop? Listen to and HEAR the great teachers (and the littler ones) and their messages.

Wasn't this the basis of the 'celebrations' in the Northern Hemisphere that developed in this time of year? Now look at what is being harvested: "I want (stuff); I give (stuff). 

What is going on sucks, and here is what is needed to be done about it . . . . 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Food for Thought

Lynn Heath provides our topic for conversation today ...

Several ministers back, PACEM was something that Other Churches started. I remember reading about it in the paper and thinking, “What an undertaking.” Elizabeth Breeden read about it, too, and said, “We should be involved with this.” The next winter, we were. The project was close to the heart of Leslie Takahashi-Morris, who put in countless hours coordinating it. Elizabeth stepped in when Leslie left, and has successfully brought together hundreds of volunteers from our church and our partners, Ebenezer Baptist and (formerly) the Islamic Society and St. Paul’s Memorial. Along the way, it’s given many of us new eyes on our community.

I started sleeping over with the guys years ago. It’s not an easy night’s sleep for me, but it feels important. The next morning, I get up ahead of the guys (and now the women, too) and get out a little breakfast. I chat a little, then I watch them leave in the freezing dark. Eventually, I make my way out to my (reliable, energy efficient, expensive) car, go home to my (ridiculously large for one person) house, take a shower (on my schedule in my very own bathroom), and head to work.

If that’s not enough to remind me of my very good luck, I then park my car not far from the church and walk to my office, passing the same guys I just sent on their way. I’m headed for an 8-hour stint at a computer screen, they’re hunkering down for 10 or 12 on the street. No matter what you think about the wisdom of giving to panhandlers, it’s a lot harder to avert your eyes when you’ve played cards with them, when they’ve flirted with you. When you’ve spent the night with them. Sleeping with the guys is an intimate experience of a very different sort.

Being part of TJMC has been a transformative experience. I am a “what an undertaking!” kind of person, and knowing the “we should be a part of this” people allows me to see and be part of a future of action and change. When the news is grim and I just want to pull the covers over my head, I can peek out long enough to see the lovely people of my congregation doing their little pieces (and big ones) to live our principles and transform the world. And I can get up and do my little piece, too.
PACEM has helped us blur the line between “us” and “them.” It’s helped us embrace radical hospitality. We refer to our guests, we eat together, we invite our new friends to come to our services on Sunday morning. We listen to their stories and we gain an understanding of just how fragile all our lives are. We see these men and women asking for help, and maybe it is a little easier for each of us to ask for and to receive help, too.

Recently, this came home to me in a new way. I responded to a call for help and found a need I was aware of, but largely ignoring. It seemed too great to tackle. I didn’t know where to start. And then a friend said “this should not be happening” in that determined way that plants a seed.

Last week I cooked beef stew and chili and assembled a fruit salad for our friends at PACEM, because those things were easy enough and they filled in some empty spaces. And I thought, “I can do this. I can keep someone from being hungry for one night.” Together, we keep 40 people from being hungry for one week. Yet, there are people in our congregation—friends—who are not eating enough. Will you join me this year, taking turns to keep that from happening?

Contact the church office if you want to show that food is love.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Rebirth of The Talk of TJMC

You may have noticed that The Talk of TJMC is back.  When this blog was started back in October of 2013 it had a particular mission -- to help tell the story(ies) of TJMC more effectively.  As in so many congregations there are a whole lot of people here who are unaware of a whole lot of what goes on here.  This is normal; this is understandable.  As we say each Sunday, "this is a lively congregation."

Yet while normal and understandable, this is also something that's addressable.  (Not entirely fixable, of course, but at least addressable.)  But facts aren't the way to do it -- simply getting better at announcing the who, what, where, and when of things won't really convey the flavor of this lively place.  For that you need stories.  And The Talk of TJMC was intended to be a vehicle for conveying some of the stories that make up the tapestry of this beloved community.  Look back over those initial postings and you'll see where this thing was heading.

As often happens, however, actually doing the many things made it difficult to find the time to talk about them and, so, The Talk of TJMC went on hiatus.

Recently, Adam Slate wrote a response to the article in Rolling Stone magazine about the culture of rape on the UVa campus.  It was posted here as a guest blog.  Laura Wallace then offered a piece that put the subject of sexual abuse of women into the wider context of sexism writ large.  And with this, The Talk of TJMC came back to life, with a new mission.

I get to share my thoughts through my own blog and in sermons most Sunday mornings.  Those people who serve the congregation as Worship Weavers often have an opportunity to share their thoughts on things that matter.  And people who are a part of a covenant group can talk with each other,  Yet there is no good way for most of us to share our thoughts, opinions, musings, and meditations with the wider congregation.  (It's also worth noting that although there's a lively cyber community on our congregation's FaceBook page, not everyone's connected to FaceBook ... or wants to be.)

So here's an invitation ...  if you have something to say, write it up and send it to me (  It can be an essay, a poem, a homily, or something else.  We do not, at present, have established guidelines and standards governing this blog, but they're coming.  Until then -- and probably after then, too -- I reserve the right to make editorial suggestions for space, style, and -- in the rarest of occasions -- content.  There are no promises -- stated or implied -- about immediate publication.  (Did that sound like a lawyerly disclaimer?)

This will continue to be a place to tell the stories of our community, but now it will also be a vehicle for us to talk with one another.

Pax tecum,


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What To Do?

In response to today's Grand Jury decision in NYC I wrote this on our FaceBook page. Knowing that not everybody uses FaceBook, I thought I'd post it here as well.  (I know that not everyone reads blogs either ...). 

The decisions in Ferguson and, now, New York led Baratunde Thurston to Tweet "it looks the founding fathers had it right. In the eyes of the law we're not fully human."  The recent article in Rolling Stone reminded anyone who'd thought otherwise that women aren't treated that way, either. 

As a white, heterosexual, middle class, well educated male I need to remember that my outrage, my disbelief, and my despair are products of my experiences AS a white, heterosexual, middle class, well educated male. Women, people of color, homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, poor, and differently abled people are often not as surprised ... these things serve more as confirmation than shock. 

And though I've also recently written about my feeling that we need "a new Malcolm," I also know that the end of oppression depends more on changes in the oppressor (and those who intentionally or unintentionally benefit) rather than the efforts of the oppressed. As Chris Rick said in a recent interview, the "advances" made by people of color show that white people have been changing. We need more good white people, he said. (I'm paraphrasing.)

So ... what should we do?  How should TJMC-UU  respond?  We say in our Mission Statement that, "We seek to have a lasting influence on local, national and global programs that promote equity and end oppression."  How shall we do that?  Open to ideas ...

Pax Tecum,


PS-- I'll cross post comments so that the conversation can include as many of us as possible

Letter from a Daughter of UVa

Another guest blogger from our congregation, Laura Wallace, shares a personal and autobiographical response to the recent Rolling Stone article about UVa and sexism writ large.  

My gentle father co-founded a department at UVa. I adored my Dad, and by extension, the place where he worked. It had a radiance, an importance, and it was a space that I perceived as mysteriously dignified (as my Dad was).

And it was so beautiful. As a little girl, I played on the Lawn as though it were “my” Lawn. It felt like my place. My own limitless yard, where I could run and dance, expressing every childhood dream. It was magical to me. From the louvered doors of the residences where special students lived (to my child self, they were gods), to the monuments and glorious Rotunda. I grew up with reverence for this place.

We were a one-car family, so I’d ride along with my mother in the evenings to Cabell Hall to pick up my Dad -- who by this point was a busy chairman (and later a dean). He was always late. My mother let me go in ahead, and I loved getting into the elevator and hitting the “4” all by myself. I’d run down the long empty halls, breathing in the sweet smell of the fluffy stuff the (invariably African-American) janitors strewed ahead of their brooms as they polished the floors. That suspended hour at Cabell Hall was heaven -- I was a beloved child playing in a realm where my beloved father stayed when he was not at the house.

I felt cherished and utterly at home. I’d go into his classroom and shove a chair over to the blackboard where I’d create an extravagant display for him of stick figures with big smiles and clumsily printed messages like: “Hi, Daddy!” or “My Daddy works here!” or “I love you, Daddy.” The next evening, he’d pull me onto his knee and tell me how his students laughed as they gathered for class while he hurried to erase the board. I knew he wasn’t upset with me.


I was fascinated, growing up, by the young men on Rugby Road, and the fraternities. I admired their ties, their loafers-with-no-socks, and their masculine beauty. (My father believed that the no-socks development betrayed the civilized universe.) But for some reason, I never quite put it all together. I saw some women on Grounds, but never grasped that they were only in the Education or Nursing schools. I lived in a safe cloud of belonging, and just didn’t catch on...until too late. So I admired the fraternity boys, even snuck into a few parties with brave friends as a teen, and remained oblivious.

Until one day when, with a spurt of sentiment, I asked my parents to sit with me, and announced: “I’ve decided I’m not going away to college! I’m going to stay here and go to UVa so I can be closer to you.” (For real. This is exactly what I said.) And they got a funny look. And they asked me to go for a ride. And they drove me down the road to look at another college, which was lovely but even from the car window, clearly a smaller, drabber, lesser institution, and then my Dad said, “This is where the girls go, dear.”

My heart broke in that moment. That was the first time I understood, viscerally, that I was a lesser, and unwelcome, being. My place didn’t want me. I was just...born wrong. So I applied to a college north of here. An all-female college. Got in, went in 1968, and loved it.

The wound from UVa has never fully healed.

One college summer, a young UVa professor my Dad mentored hired me to do some hourly research. It was not a challenge...I was smart and capable and did exactly what the male grad student at the next table did, all day long.

One day, the professor came in with a Special Guest. He introduced him to the graduate student at length, standing right in front of me, and while they chatted, I sat there thinking, “What am I? Chopped liver?” (All my new best friends at college were Jewish.) And it felt really awkward. So I just looked at him. On the way out the door with his visitor, he pointed back and said, “And that’s Laura. She does all right, for a GIRL.” He snickered, and left.

He didn’t know I’d spent the last year in Baltimore having my consciousness raised. And I guess it really got to me. The next morning I went into his office and said, “I need to let you know that I quit. And if you don’t like women, don’t hire them!” And walked out.

I waitressed until it was time to head back to school.

After graduate school, I met my husband in Louisville. Missing the Blue Ridge, I asked if he’d move to Virginia with me. We agreed that if one of us could find a job at a certain salary, we’d do it. And I did. I got a PR job at UVa.

My male officemate and I did the exact same writing job and had the exact same title. One day, we innocently compared salaries. And sure enough, my pay was thousands less. I went straight to the director and asked about this. How things had the next paycheck I had a raise.

I still noticed how, if they hadn’t been called on it, they would have continued to pay me less for equal work….

Years later, but within this decade, I worked at UVa again. Same old. Some changes, with more diversity in some upper ranks. But overall, mostly female staffers, and the majority of professors and deans were still male (and white). I wrote a pretty good poem about it. It even references Jefferson. 

Because of the persistence of unequal pay, my retirement will be much later, and my old age more perilous -- because of sexism. It lives.

I was chatting to a young man in my office one day just a few years ago, when he spent some time working with us before going to graduate school. For some reason we were talking about Oprah. I think she’s a narcissist so I find it creepy that her influence is so huge. I said, “So wow, she has her own network now!” My blood re-chilled in a familiar way when he replied, straight-faced, “I know. It’s really scary when any woman gets that kind of power.”

I was never raped. I was in all sorts of situations where it might have happened, and like many women, was moderately molested a few times. So I know I was just lucky.

I had a great conversation last year with a new UU minister, who told me he was shocked by the personal stories of white-on-black racism that he was hearing in Charlottesville. He’d grown up in a Pacific enclave where tales from the south hadn’t seemed completely real. One day he told me, “I’ve just realized that racism is the worst thing in the world.”

I said, “No, it’s not.” He looked surprised. I said, “Sexism is. It’s global and it trumps everything.”

Later he said, “I think you’re right.” He got it.  He understood that competing “isms” wasn’t the point, but seeing half the world.

Friends like him are one reason I am a UU.

Within UUism, I feel safe in loving outside my comfort zone, and saying what is deepest. But in any part of any culture, power and privilege can shield abuse. Sometimes the power isn’t physical; sometimes it’s cloaked in the holy. My maternal grandfather was a minister who raped his daughters. I found out from a cousin in the late ‘80s (my mother never told me). My aunt, his primary target, was later institutionalized for depression.

Like every woman, I know from sexism. And sexism in institutions. And inequality. And male privilege. It has permeated my life and the life of every human being I know.

I don’t know what the answer is for beautiful, broken UVa, but I know that when we fix this, we fix the world.