Monday, September 25, 2006

Comforting the afflicted, etc

Riddle me this:

If we send around a few meaningless petitions and perhaps have a candlelight vigil, and then go home, smug that we have done our religious duty and that as proud UUs who are saving the world, we're a lot better than those Vanilla protestants who are just building Habitat for Humanity treehouses...

Who are the comfortable?


Ps. I owe a big apology to Kim, who has told me about the impressive amount of charity work her church does, I'd forgotten. As Joel notes, this does give them a certain amount of street cred on social justice issues, street cred that UU churches that follow the "Have thirty committes where we talk at each other and MAYBE raise a little money, but never get our nails dirty" model do not.

Linguist Friend has told me (and written on this blog) about housing homeless people after an earthquake in his old church in California.

Apparently there are some California UU churches who are really doing it right.

If I weren't so proud, I'd go back and work at the soup kitchen my parents' presby church runs. During the winter, they drive around to the steam grates in the city and bring hot food to the people people who gather there to get warm.

Meanwhile, I found a homeless shelter I could cook for since the once a year my church supplies a homeless shelter wasn't enough for me.

It really makes me cynical to think about how my parents live out their religion, but people live out mine mostly by talking. And feeling proud of themselves.


Robin Edgar said...

Thanks for saying something that I have been saying for years CC. My protest slogan that says -


has a much broader application that their refusal to institute genuine justice, equity and compassion in my ongoing conflict with them.

Anonymous said...

I'm in love with this point. Well said!!

Anonymous said...

A lot of UUs walk what they talk. Sure, you have the older folk that would rather stand around and talk about raising money...but a lot of the younger UUs do a lot of social justice work. Sometimes though, you need to know what you are doing work for. Are you enabling or making a difference? Does making a bunch of PB&Js and handing them out to homeless folk make a difference, or is it just a band-aid? If you don't know, or can't argue that it's making a need to either not do it, or learn why. And that goes for every issue

Chalicechick said...

I can appreciate the need to think out the consequences of what you do charity-wise though neither the

"I'm just enabling him, if I wasn't giving him free sandwiches, he'd go get a job."

argument nor the

"I can't end poverty by feeding that hungry guy over there, but if I write up a petition and get my friends to sign it, then I'm 'working for systemic change' Won't the hungry guy be pleased with me?"

arguments have ever made much sense to me.

To be honest, if UUs applied that much critical thinking to picking their boycotts, I'd be pleased.

I'm glad that the young adult group where you are does some hands-on stuff. I've never been in a church that did that. Our youth raise a truly impressive amount of money and tend to give it really good places.

My personal favorite project is to build a Habitat home together with your local Southern Baptist church. (This has been done, but as I'm sure you can imagine, it's pretty rare.) That plays so well to my sympathies its not funny.


Cindy said...

Frankly, we are the comfortable, and it is we who should be afflicted. It is we who are responsible to make the world better in whatever manner we are able.

Perhaps some of this radical difference in perspective is due to our inherently limited views as bloggers, talking (inter)nationally in the faux community of cyberspace, about the specific experiences in congregations from all over the country.

I've never met someone who said that signing a petition was the be all and end all of systemic change. I don't know who those people are you refer to. There are likely people who don't have time, energy, or impetetus to do much more; i know there are people who don't give a rat's ass about changing the system... but do you really know people who want the sytem to change and who think that signing a petition is all that is required?

Petitions, imho, can be incredibly powerful -- in my state they got an anti-gay marriage amendment to the state constitution on the ballot. I do not dismiss them.

That said, my congregation does petitions. One recent one was on the environment, and it went hand in hand with changing our own water and electricity use in our building, becoming intentional about efficiency, heat, recycling, etc.

My congregation started the "seasonal" (read: winter) InterFaith Cot Shelter in our town with the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish congregations here. It started in our Social Room, where my RE classes are held, and the social rooms/basements of other religious institutions. Cots were stored in our attic and carried down every night. It was soley supported by religious institutions, until it grew, as local homelessness grew, and is now run out of a permanent home downtown, administered by a social service agency, with volunteer support from the aforementioned religious groups. Last year 236 people stayed there, one third of them for over 2 weeks. Last year 25+ of our members cooked and/or staffed it all night.

This work, begun over a decade ago, went hand in hand with RE curricula on hunger, and youth group and adult political action about homelessness. Because housing isn't charity, it's justice, and a shelter is supposed to be a temoporary fix while we work on the systemic issues.

Today, our high school youth group cooks and serves at the Interfaith Cot Shelter monthly. Our congregation cooks dinner every Tuesday for the other shelter which houses homeless families.

Hand in hand with this ongoing work they do, our high school youth group has decided that this year their educational focus is going to be to do meaningful social justice work around situations of genocide around the world.

We work on a Habitat for Humanity House with local evangelicals, a house that is, in fact, being built with and for one of our members.

There is a nonprofit agency that is building the Treehouse Community -- a planned neighborhood for foster and adoptive families and retired "grandparents," to live intentionally in community, creating a safe environment for kids who have not experienced their world as safe. One of our social action statments was that we would partner with them, raise awareness, work with the local town around issues of NIMBY, and help fundraise. A couple of our membership are moving there. If I still had foster children, or if I were 55 yet, I'd live there in a split second.

Our recent social justice action statement, to promote a living wage across our city and state, includes an examination of not only local wages and cost of living, but the wages we pay our own employees.

And may I say to you Bart, for all of the younger, sturdier UUs who are doing work, someone has to be raising funds to pay for the food, lumber, and the administration of the programs that younger people have the strong backs to be able to work in. And to the person who is getting the sandwich? It's not a bandaid, it's a meal and it makes a huge difference.

My congregation is not perfect by any means (by any means). But we choose to walk together, toward justice, toward a rightness of being in community, of being responsible with what we have.

So, I must say, if people are determining the rightness or wrongness of UUA-writ-large social action depending on what their own congregation does, I think there's a problem of perspective -- and although I just laid out my congregation as example, the perspective problem won't be solved by dualing examples.

Chalicechick said...

Then I say that the UUA should be encouraging us to become congregations more like yours and Kim's and LinguistFriend's old one and doing more to coordinate making that happen.

(Rather than encouraging political rallies and petitions and doing lots to make that happen.)

In the interests of full disclosure, I remembered this morning that my very first UU congregation had a tutoring program run by the old ladies of the church for the neighborhood kids.

Other than that, my congregations have very much been of the "talk endlessly about problems and how other people should fix them" school, with the occaisional donation of money or canned food drive.

Petitions for referendums are a slightly different deal and an admittedly more useful sort. But those are usually not administered in churches and really shouldn't be if we want to keep our tax exemption.

As for other petitions that are simply sent to members of congress, anyone who has ever worked in a congressional office will tell you that they are mostly ignored. Individual emails are slightly better, calls slightly better than that. Letter-writing campaigns with different letters are the most effective.

Maybe I've had bad luck in picking churches from a charity-work perspective and your model is more typical. If so, the problem is that we are prouder of our political work than our charity work, which is all kinds of wrong in my opinion.

If we send our press releases about making lives better, we will start to build the credibility and yes, the membership that means someone might someday care what we think.

One of the things I love about the stories about the late Martha and the Rev. Waitstill Sharp is that Unitarians are finally making news for DOING things rather than for COMPLAINING about things.

Somebody left comment on one of Peacebang's threads that said something to the effect of "I wasn't sure you guys were a church from"

Call it hooey if you like, but I think there are enough organizations staunchly on the liberal and conservative sides, and not enough people providing safe spaces where people of all different views can come together and talk about values and try to come up with creative solutions.


Steven Rowe said...

My wife's old UU Church in Georgia, helped with the Meals on Wheels program (They probaby did more, it's just that I helped them when I was visiting).
i talked to other UU Churches that are doing hands-on work as well. My tiny fellowship tried to get with the local HforH, but they said we were too small - (we were willing to work with others).
As an association, the UUA isnt susposed to tell us what to do (although they do) - if your church isnt doing enough hands-on work, then you need to tell them.

Chalicechick said...

The national organization's involvement in charity work need not be more than their current involvement in politics.

who at a minister's request did once try to organize a trip to work on restoring a house for new low income tenants. After months of emailing, calling and cheerleading on my and the minister's part most of the crowd was still my (non-church member) friends whom I'd talked in to coming out because I was afriad no one would show up and we'd look stupid.

Anonymous said...

Our church works periodically with Habitat for Humanity too. I can't do that myself because of my wrists and hands being worn out. (too many years of doing dental hygiene).
We also have the "endless talk and write petitions" type in our church -- they seem to us to be mostly the Green Party members....
But we also have a lot of people who do stuff -- some of it with our church, and much of it with other organizations: Many of our members are very active in The Sierra Club, The ACLU, Network of Spiritual Progressives, local charities and projects, etc.
We also have a lot of "Great idea -- you do it" types.
I am often frustrated by the talk and the "you do it", and then I start to list what we are doing, and then I feel better. It never seems like enough, there's always more to do -- that's why it's good to write lists of what we are doing every now and then to remind ourselves what we do do. ChaliceChick -- your church may well be doing more than you know or realize. Try asking someone official there to list them for you just to see if there's more than you realized.