Since then, I've gotten more offers for committees than I can keep track of--I've been serving as the young adult liason to the Membership Committee, I've been active on the Worship Committee, putting several Sunday worship services together myself (if you would have told me two years ago that one of my favorite hobbies in two years would be putting together UU worship services, I'd have thought you were high off your ass), and I'm now even co-chairing the Social Justice Committee. I've never felt so empowered in my life and I want to pass that feeling on to the rest of my generation. So without further adieu...my first "Meditations" entry in THE VUNDABLOG...a double feature retrospective...
"Unitarian Universalism"/"When We Move, It's a Movement"
by Derrick Mustelier
(This first entry was written on August 19th, 2010, just over a month after the first time--well, not the first time, technically, but whatever--I attended a UU Sunday service and had the revelation that I wanted to start coming every Sunday and getting more involved)
A little over a month ago my mom coerced me into going to a service at my grandfather's church because the theme of the service was "poetry" and my grandpa was planning to read a couple poems to the congregation--also because it was the day after his birthday and they were gonna do a cake for him. I had not been raised without a certain degree of familiarity with this congregation up to this point in my life. Indeed, I've been dragged there many a Christmas Eve for one of a very small handful of family traditions--the attending of the special Christmas Eve service at the Unitarian Universalist church followed by the yearly family picture on the steps of the stage. As I grew older, my mom had to try desperately to keep this tradition alive as my dad and I grew restless with the idea of having to sit through this thing every year. A couple years we even got our wish but eventually my mom lassoed us back in, saying "it's one of the only traditions we have as a family and I want to keep it alive as long as I can." So we went to make her and my grandparents happy. I can also remember having discussions with my grandparents (well, mostly my grandpa) in my rebellious, anti-religion high school years about how Unitarian Universalism is all about acceptance and that everyone is welcome including atheists and agnostics. I remember appreciating the concept but also thinking that the idea of going to church to be an atheist or an agnostic was counterintuitive.
So there I am listening to Raquel, a member of the UU congregation who was temporarily filling in during a transitional period between interim ministers tout the spiritual and emotional values of poetry. At one point, different members of the congregation (my grandpa included) went up to read different poems of different poets with Unitarian background (many of them are documented as being members of the Unitarian church but some weren't but were, I suppose, "close enough"...these include Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sylvia Plath, Beatrix Potter, Carl Sandburg, May Sarton, and even e.e. cummings, who was one of the poets my grandpa chose...yeah, my grandpa's awesome) and it was really moving to me. I can't think of another "church" or "religion" (and UU is hardly either of those things so I use the terms loosely and in quotations) that would dedicate and entire service to poetry. The lovely and warm Raquel closed out the service with a call to all in attendance to try to make poetry a part of their lives, whether through writing or reading, because poetry is the purest, most honest form of personal expression and is good for the soul. I think it was somewhere around that part of the service where I decided I was going to start coming to service every Sunday and becoming more involved in the congregation.
When I first made the decision it seemed a bit odd and somewhat reactionary. I had just gone through a pretty rough period and I was in sort of a period of...not really mourning but certainly depression and anxiety. However, the more I rationalized it the more rational it became (imagine that). For one thing, I'm always complaining that there's nowhere to meet new people (especially girls) that I can relate to or who share my vision for what I'd like the world to be. And Unitarians are indisputably some of the most beautiful, warm, good-hearted, open-minded people you will ever come across on this planet. There aren't a whole ton of them that are my age--most are my grandpa's age--but they are certainly a joy to interact with and unite with. I also appealed to my recently-discovered meaning behind my name--from thinkbabynames.com: "The boy's name Derrick \d(e)-rri-ck\ is a variant of Derek (English, Old German) and Theodoric (Old German), and the meaning of Derrick is 'power of the tribe'"--in my rationalization of the decision. In my quest to make the world what I want it to be ("True progress means matching the world to the vision in our heads; we always change the vision instead." -Thrice - Circles), I feel it's important to find strength--of voice AND action--in numbers--or "tribes." Those reasons would likely have been enough but what really pushed it over the edge was the great joy this decision brought to my grandpa as well as the opportunities it would afford me to get better acquainted and closer with one of the most fascinating, smartest, wisest, funniest, most open-minded, and most passionate people I'll ever know. God knows I have precious few years left with him--and ONLY god knows how many--and it would be in my best interest to make the most of them. So, it was settled.
It's coming up on the sixth consecutive Sunday I will have been attending UU services regularly and I can honestly say it's been quite some time since I've been so thoroughly satisfied with any single significant decision I've made in my life. All of the services I've been to so far have been lovely and several have been absolutely wonderful and moving. I've also become privy to a certain degree of friction and negative energy existing within the congregation--this invokes in me a sense that I've recently started getting (mostly in relation to the women I become heavily attracted to but also in friendships and other aspects of my life) that the universe often tends to take me to places where I'm needed. I've also become involved in a couple of groups within the church that meet regularly: the Buddhist Reflections group (a weekly group discussion of Buddhist ideas and concepts bookended by an opening and closing fifteen minute meditation) as well as the Young Adults group (basically a monthly social gathering of the few people in the congregation who are in their 20s or 30s, usually in the form of a movie night or a game night), which have both been very fruitful in terms of meeting new people and feeding and nurturing my spirituality. I'm very interested in getting more involved with the Young Adult group and trying to get us more proactive and diverse in our activities. I've also been mulling over the idea of starting a new group dedicated to any and all of the artists within the congregation--basically just a weekly or monthly group where any and all who enjoy the act of creation come together to share their art (whatever form that art may take, be it painting, drawing, sculpting, writing, dancing, acting, film-making, playing/writing music, singing, doing stand-up comedy or anything else that squeezes into the amorphous realm of what is art). I really need to talk to my grandpa and/or Rev. Drew about that.
Ah, yes. Drew.
Drew is the new interim minister at the church. Drew is transgender (imporant note: "transgender" is an adjective--not a noun--and reducing someone to just one aspect of who they are is deleterious). He hasn't had surgery or anything like that. He was born a man but he takes hormones because he didn't feel that he necessarily fit in with the constraints of the binary model of gender. Recently, the congregation held a potluck at the church to welcome him. After everyone ate, he gave a short address followed by a Q&A session. The first question asked was which gender pronoun he prefers. His response was very interesting to me. He said it's not really that big of a deal to him but that he does appreciate it when people pepper in the female pronoun from time to time because it makes her feel "more visible." It got me thinking a lot about the spectrum-based nature of our gender--as well as our sexual orientation. But that's another issue for another entry. The main point here is that A. I was incredibly moved by all the things Drew had to say and B. I think it's phenomenal to see a congregation embracing diversity with such a staunch commitment as to have a transgender person as their minister.
In conclusion, I feel very much at home now...
(This one requires a bit more explanation: You see the Unitarian Universalist Association has a yearly meeting of all the congregations in the association called "General Assembly." This is where UUs from all around the country go once a year to attend spiritually and intellectually stimulating workshops, vote on important association policy decisions on behalf of their congregations, network with each other and worship together [one of these days I need to talk about the definition of "worship" in this blog, but I digress]. It's truly an incredible learning experience and the people that you meet are worth the trip alone. In 2011, my congregation decided that I would be their delegate that they would be sending to GA [as it's commonly referred to] in Charlotte, NC and the Board of Trustees even approved a $500 stipend to help with the costs of the trip. This trip was pretty much the climax--well, I don't like to say climax because that kind of implies that it's all downhill from here...more of a jumping off point really--of my journey in Unitarian Universalism and it definitely changed my life and injected me with an incredible amount of energy and passion for Unitarian Universalism that I've been trying to infect the Miami congregation with ever since.
This entry is the text of the "sermon" [or "message" as we UUs usually call it] I gave at the first service I put together and coordinated myself entitled "The YA-YAs Go GA-GA" because it was not only a "wrap-up" of my experience at General Assembly but it was also a Young-Adult-led service as well as presenting the wrap-up of GA from a distinctly Young Adult point of view. Enjoy...)
When We Move, It's a Movement
“When we move, it’s a movement.” Those are the words of a guy named Will Killingsworth from a band called Orchid and of no group are these words truer than of young adults. Whether the young adults of this congregation, of this faith, of this country, and of this planet--whether they like it or not, every move we make is a movement because we are the ones who are next in line to lead. I really wish so badly that you all could have been with me in Charlotte to see the irrepressible energy, the innovative ideas, and the incredible sense of focus, purpose, and overwhelming forward momentum oozing out of the UU Young Adults. You guys would have seriously fallen out of your chairs. I was overcome by a tsunami of optimism and hope for the future of not just that faith but of our country and our world. These kids are already leaders, now, today, and they’re going to take us places, ladies and gentlemen. You can either be along for the ride or get left behind.
Right now, we’re getting left behind. We talk so much about wanting to bring in young adults but we haven’t been asking ourselves the right questions about how to make that happen...mostly because most of us don’t really know what those questions are. Questions like: How are young adults being mentored into leadership? Are young adults asked to serve on the basis of their individual gifts and strengths, and not just their age? Are young adults involved in all issues, and not just those affecting young adults directly? Do we offer a variety of worship styles and options (such as Soulful Sundowns)? Do we ask young adults in the congregation what they need, recognizing that “young adult” is a wide age-range with a variety of pastoral needs?
It’s not enough for young adults to hear about us. It’s not enough for them to come to us. It’s not enough for them to like us. They must feel included. They must feel wanted. Most importantly, they must feel they are being ministered to. They want to be asked to be involved. They need to know that their money, their time, their energy, their input, no matter how little it may be, is highly important and highly valued. An important part of this is not only having adult leaders that work with Young Adults on their ministry but also growing and developing Young Adult leaders in the congregation.
UUA President Peter Morales actually spoke at one point specifically about the need to develop and mentor young leaders as well as the need to trust our current leaders. Some of his words really struck a chord with me, especially as it relates to this congregation. He said: “WE COME FROM AN ANTI-AUTHORITARIAN TRADITION. AND WE ARE NOTHING IF NOT SKEPTICAL ABOUT AUTHORITY AND POWER. BUT THIS IS NOT ULTIMATELY ORGANIZATIONAL. ULTIMATELY, IT IS SPIRITUAL. MY FRIENDS, WE NEED TO LEARN HOW TO TRUST ONE ANOTHER. HOW TO IDENTIFY POTENTIAL LEADERS, TRAIN THEM, MENTOR THEM, NURTURE THEM, EMPOWER THEM, YES, HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE, BUT LET OUR LEADERS LEAD. OTHERWISE, WE BECOME PARALYZED AND OUR MOST IMPORTANT PRODUCT BECOMES PROCESS. OUR MOST IMPORTANT PRODUCT MUST BE ACTS OF LOVE.”
Acts of love. Remember those? Acts of love are why we’re here. Our faith cries: “Deeds, not creeds!” This is the very essence of our social justice work. A point was raised at GA that young adults are, in fact, interested in social justice...but what they’re more interested in is social service.
Standing On the Side of Love, for instance, is easily the UUA’s most effective social justice campaign right now. Standing on the Side of Love (SSL) for those who don’t know is an interfaith public advocacy campaign, sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association, promoting respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person. They do a tremendous amount of work advocating for LGBTQ rights as well as Anti-Racism / Anti-Oppression / Multiculturalism and yet it’s something I barely ever hear anybody talk about here, in Miami, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. I attended a Standing On the Side of Love rally in Marshall Park in Charlotte and it was easily one of the highlights of GA for me personally.
I also happened to pick up a flier for something called the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. “What is this all about?” I wondered to myself. This organization apparently has an actual presence at the United Nations and UUs can apply to be envoys (which is kind of a fancy way of saying representatives) for their congregations in UU-UNO, which I have already begun the process of doing.
So, you see? Social service inspires social justice.
And actually if you’re smart about it, social justice can, in fact, inspire many other vibrant growth opportunities, including campus ministry.
Now, maybe the most important reason why I personally came to the UU was in order to find allies both spiritual and secular in the battles over some of the crucial issues facing our country and our world today. As such, I feel strongly that there are so many other young adults out there looking for the exact same thing. However, I also feel just as strongly that there are many more young adults looking for something entirely different than that...but something which this community can provide equally well. Because if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about UUs, it’s that everyone came here for a different reason, everyone gets something different out of it and one of our biggest problems is our ability--and, frankly, at times, our willingness--to minister to ALL of these groups, rather than merely the ones who make up the majority or even just the ones who make the most noise.
But my point is that we need to do outreach in a variety of ways and highlight a variety of different aspects of who we are Which brings me to Campus Ministry. I know this is an important issue in this congregation and one that is certainly very important to me as a 26-year-old college student, so I made sure to make Campus Ministry a special focus of my time at General Assembly.
One important point of emphasis was that it has to be done on a personal level--that it can’t just be a booth in the student union or fliers on a bulletin board. Personal relationships are extremely important for everyone, really, but especially for young people. Often times young people only come to church to see someone they know and if that person isn’t there, they won’t be there either so it’s definitely always important to engage young adults on a personal level. It’s also important in campus ministry to start with those who self-identify as UU. There was also a lot of talk about sponsoring events on campus that are not directly UU related such as movie nights or open mics or really anything in between. Another thing we talked about was forming campus groups around social issues or if some already exist, maybe sponsoring their meetings. And, of course, the most important thing you must do in campus ministry: SERVE FOOD. Preferably free food. College students will go ANYWHERE if there’s free food.
One overwhelming feeling I came away from GA with was the feeling that this congregation is not nearly as connected to the UUA as we could be. You’d be amazed at the amount of resources and inspiration you can find just by browsing the UUA website. Often times I find myself bookmarking five, six, seven things at a time sometimes. One exciting program I found out about that I’d really love to see us begin working on is to become what’s called an “Anchor Congregation.” The Anchor Congregation Program, according to the UUA: “recognizes congregations that have made a significant commitment to young adult and/or campus ministry.” Notice the word “commitment” in there? That’s what it’s going to take. It’s going to take commitment from you as well as from us. It’s going to take participation. You know I love to bring up that word, “participation.” Participation is everything, my friends.
Gini Courter made an excellent point in her Moderator’s Report relating to the participatory nature of Unitarian Universalism. Gini, for those who don’t know, is the most excellent moderator of the Plenary sessions (where all the business gets done during General Assembly) as well as the Chair of the Board of Trustees. What she said was this. She said: “The vision for our religion comes from the people.” She went on: “The purpose of the elected leadership...is...to facilitate the ministry of the laity. TO EMPOWER AND EQUIP LAY FOLKS LIKE YOU, LIKE ME, TO BUILD MARVELOUS NEW TOMORROWS AND TO MAKE REAL THEIR ASPIRATIONS. IT IS THE VOICE OF THE LAITY, YOUR VOICE...THAT CREATES AND DIRECTS UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM.” I don’t think I’d ever said “Amen!” to anything in my life before I heard that.
Which brings me back around to Justice GA.
For those who don’t know, next year’s Justice General Assembly in Phoenix is going to be unlike any General Assembly ever held. The idea is to minimize the amount of “business as usual” at this GA in order to focus on doing work on the ground, in the surrounding communities. There is going to be a huge, HUGE focus on Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression/Multiculturalism work (or AR/AO/MC) which presents a wonderful opportunity for our congregation to do the multiculturalism work we so desperately want to do and have made such a serious commitment to doing. In fact, I have already submitted a request to the Board to create a “Justice GA fund” so I can begin fundraising as soon as possible to send as many delegates from this congregation to Phoenix in 2012 as we possibly can--and of course, that fund will be accepting any and all donations as soon as it’s established. I urge as many of you as are willing and able to help me with this. Again I say to you: participation is everything.
You know, a lot of people come up here talking about a lot of beautiful emotions and wonderful ideas and it’s very spiritually fulfilling, don’t get me wrong, but what do you take outside with you? Personally, that’s just not my style. I have a vision for this congregation. I have a vision for Unitarian Universalism. I have a vision for this city, this state, this country, and this world. Help me make real my aspirations and I’ll help you do the same. Help me build marvelous new tomorrows and I’ll help you do the same. Help me build a vibrant, viable, sustainable, active, and, dare I say, influential young adult group in this congregation and I promise you I and the rest of the YAs will help you do the same. Thank You.