You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Two of my absolute biggest fears in life are public speaking and heights.
Next week, I’m confronting them both, and I’m doing it in the name of love.
You’ve probably heard that public speaking is people’s number one fear, ahead of even death. I totally get that; I have felt that fear myself personally and deeply. In college and grad school, I would break out in hives all over my face and neck right before giving a class presentation. Despite this fear, the work that I’ve been called to do for social justice often requires me to speak in public settings, at rallies, in front of Members of Congress, and even in church pulpits. Though it still scares me to my core, I push through it because I know that using our own voices for positive change can be really powerful.
Next week, at the 2014 UUA General Assembly, I will be speaking in front of many groups of people, both large and small. Public speaking has gotten a little bit easier for me over the years, but I still feel waves of anxiety beforehand. I believe so much in the work of this campaign that I’m willing to suffer through the hives and work with others to find their voices too. One of the places I’ll have the honor of speaking is at this year’s public witness at WaterFire, a community gathering in Providence that Standing on the Side of Love is helping to sponsor on Saturday, June 28. I’d love for you to join us there, where we will be practicing what it means to be a Love Evangelist. If you can’t be there in person, consider sharing a love note or image with us on some of your favorite highlights of the campaign over the past five years, and maybe your love note will be chosen to get read from the stage!
My other biggest fear is heights. When I was asked to join the Brave Souls Over The Edge event to rappel off the side of the convention center at GA, my first reaction was feeling my heart drop. Getting over my fear of public speaking seems do-able, but rappelling off the side of a building?!? In front of hundreds of people?!? Though I may have a profound fear of heights, I quickly realized the event was an important opportunity to move past my fear and get to talk about our campaign in person to lots of new folks. So, I’m taking the plunge, and I’d love for you to be there to cheer me on if you can. My jump will be around 2:00pm but you can join us all day!
My biggest motivations are the many people this campaign touches who face much greater fears on a daily basis, real life fears that remind me of the urgency of our work, like how they will keep their family together when faced with a deportation order.
Are there any fears you are facing in life that you want to push through? You can also share those with the campaign here along with any words of encouragement on how you reach out in love.
Maybe you’ll feel inspired to donate to the campaign, as I will be doing as part of the Brave Souls initiative. I’m committing to donating $100 back to the campaign when I make it back to solid ground after that rappel. I’m donating back because I know the money will go to help support people who are doing amazing things on the side of love all over the country, and I want to continue to help make this happen, both with my time and my financial support.
This year’s theme at GA is Love Reaches Out. Before we get there, let’s do some internal love reaching in work. Are you ready to be an Evangelist for Love, whether you will be at GA in body or spirit? Want to know more what that actually means? Check out these great pieces by my friends and colleagues Alex and Taquiena.
Five years ago, my predecessors launched a bold new campaign at GA in Salt Lake City. Next week, we will celebrate all that we have done together over those past years. All the love and joy I’m feeling reminiscing about these memories are much bigger than any lingering fears I might have.
Let’s make the next five years together even better than the first five!
Campaign Manager, Standing on the Side of Love
This post originally ran in the Huffington Post. Click here to see it there.
Time magazine’s latest cover, starring “Orange Is The New Black” actress Laverne Cox, breaks another barrier for LGBT civil rights — one of positive visibility in the mainstream. Many of us will breathe out the word “finally,” while others will lament the rapid changes in popular culture, as if gender expression were a static thing in the past century. Gender and gender expression have always been fluid. We just pretended it wasn’t.
If we were to take a school trip back to the 1950′s, our boys would likely show up in loose jeans and baggy t-shirts, and our girls might be in tight jeans and even tighter t-shirts. Some girls would have baseball caps, and some boys might have satchels. The (heterosexual) guys might want to keep their clothes as loose as possible because tight clothes on a guy is often code for being gay. And the teen girls might be socialized to make sure they would be well noticed. The boys and girls, the men and women of 1950, would flip that image. The men would be in slacks — or jeans if they were doing manual labor. The women would be in long skirts. At 50 feet away you could easily tell which sex you were looking at by the cut of the fabric. Our modern school trip would be alien, confusing and gender-bending radical. Yet we often pretend that how boys and girls express themselves and their gender today is constant throughout our history. In fact, we train our kids how to express their gender. We teach it.
Struggles around gender roles and gender identity are more than issues around clothing, but clothing is often the easiest marker for people’s reactions against those who push the boundaries. For many people it’s a life matter that’s rooted as deep in their bodies and DNA.
As religious people, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. There’s not a qualifier to that command. Love one another. That is the basis of community, religious or otherwise. With so many young LGBT teens killing themselves because we are quiet in the face of societal pressure, it’s for us to be more open, so that people may remain alive. With so many of our homeless youth in NYC — over 40 percent identifying as LGBT — it’s for us to let down our tight sense of how people must look so that our kids may have a home again.
Transgender New Yorkers have little protection in the law when it comes to employment, hospital treatment, or housing. The Empire State Pride Agenda’s research shows that “one out of every three transgender New Yorkers [have] been homeless at one time, two out of every three [experience] discrimination at work, and nearly 30 percent [have] faced a serious physical or sexual assault.”
For those who follow the teachings of Jesus, or other progressive religious voices centered in compassion, we are called to care for those who are homeless, who are poor, or who are ill. I believe that also means to help ensure those conditions do not come about, and to avoid contributing to those forms of pain and suffering. Where society treats someone differently because of their identity or genuine self-expression, we as a society are called to repent for our complicity. This is why I support GENDA, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act.
Rev. Jude GeigerMore >
As a UU minister in southern Arizona, I often must call upon my faith and my belief in love as a powerful and positive force of change. Living in ground-zero of border militarization and anti-immigrant policies I believe we are called to help open up the hearts of policy-makers in this state and in this country to stand on the side of love and justice with all members of our community regardless of whether we have papers, speak the same language, or pray to the same god.
That is why on May 13, I joined with clergy from multiple faiths to deliver Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, his wife Karla, and son Carlos into public sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona. Daniel is set to be deported after police called the Border Patrol during a traffic stop in 2011. In an effort to keep his family together and to ensure that his 13-year-old son would grow to adulthood with his father active in his life, Daniel courageously took sanctuary with his family.
While Daniel is exemplary of the types of individuals the administration has said they do not wish to deport, we must act together to open the hearts of those capable of stopping his deportation in Washington, D.C. I urge you to join the many voices urging the administration and the Secretary of Homeland Security to stop his deportation.
No More Deaths, a social ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Tucson where I serve, has launched a campaign to support Daniel and his family. You may join the call here and help keep Daniel at home with his family and the community that they love so dearly.
As we continue to seek positive changes for the millions of other undocumented members of communities who like Daniel, too often face the fear of deportation and separation from their families and communities, I ask that you lift Daniel and his family up into the loving embrace of justice and equity.
Rev. Diane Dowgiert
Minister, UU Church of Tuscon
P.S. To read a letter from Daniel’s son Carlos to President Obama, click here.More >
Imagine thousands of Unitarian Universalists (UUs) joining tens of thousands of people in witness, celebration, and love. Imagine a community transformed, with each person reaching out to one another in unconditional love. Imagine one evening when all are united across differences of belief and background, and where all present are inspired to be a force for love in the world, each in their own way.
What if I told you that such an event is possible? And that you’re invited?
On June 28, during General Assembly, UUs from across the country will witness for the power of love to change the world. We are teaming up with WaterFire Providence, a local community arts nonprofit, to infuse a riverfront festival with love.
This evening festival, with its central feature of fires lit on the river, is designed to creatively transform the city and celebrate community, the arts, and the natural world. As sponsors and participants on June 28, we will offer myriad ways for all participants to put love into action: a community sing-along to songs about love; sites for reflection, meditation, or prayer; live music performances about love and justice; even “love bingo,” which will foster loving actions throughout the evening.
We need our community to show up for love. You can help tens of thousands of people experience the power of love by signing up to volunteer at WaterFire. You don’t have to be registered for General Assembly to attend.
No matter where you are, you are invited to witness for love on June 28, share the power of love to transform the world, and celebrate Standing on the Side of Love’s fifth anniversary. Reflect on what “love reaching out” looks like for you. Consider how your faith or spirituality is related to love. Be an evangelist for love in some way—small or large.
In the words of Dr. Cornel West, “justice is what love looks like in public.” Join me in witnessing for this truth on June 28.
Director, Multicultural Growth & Witness
Unitarian Universalist Association
June 4th Call-In Day
For most of my life I have witnessed the denigration of African American men through images projected in the media. I remember decades ago once feeling fearful for no reason when an African American man was walking toward me in the street. I caught myself and wondered: are people reacting to my father and brothers this way? Even I, as an educated woman of color, had not escaped the messages that train us to assume and accept the stigmatization, the criminalization, and the elimination of black men from society.
The problem of racism in this country has been a focus of my personal and professional life. One of my Unitarian Universalist (U.U.) friends introduced me to the work of Michelle Alexander, the notable author, researcher and social rights advocate who wrote The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Her work caused me to look at how the system that is supposed to protect us is growing a racial caste system in our country.
More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their thirties, one in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on drugs,” in which two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. -The Sentencing Project
In the US, African Americans are over six times as likely to be incarcerated as whites; Latinos over twice as likely. If the US enacted the reforms necessary to reduce its disproportionate minority confinement by just 50%, the incarceration rate would drop…and put the U.S. fifth in the world instead of first.
-Fact Sheet on U.S. Rates of Incarceration: A Global Perspective by Chris Hartney, National Council on Crime and Deliquency, November 2006
Are these statistics a reflection of policy-makers’ that have lost faith in humanity? Are these statistics reflective of the policy-makers true values?
Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 4th is a call-in day for people of faith to urge the Senate to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act. Please join me and call the Capitol Switchboard TWICE by dialing 1-888-427-0484 and ask to speak to your state’s Senators. You can use this simple script and talking points when you make your Senate calls.
The Faith in Action Criminal Justice Working Group, which is part of a larger civil and human rights coalition, is working to get the Smarter Sentencing Act passed–a bipartisan bill that would deal a blow to mass incarceration and is a step towards addressing racial injustice. The bill has successfully passed the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and is now poised for a vote by the full Senate this month.
The Smarter Sentencing Act will cut mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses in half. It also will enable judicial review of cases sentenced under the old 100-to-1 crack cocaine disparity for possible resentencing. Overly punitive mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses have disproportionately incarcerated people of color for low-level and nonviolent offenses for decades, leading to the crisis today. The federal prison population has increased 800% since 1980 and if incarceration trends continue, one in three African American men born today will be incarcerated at some point in their lives. Congress has ignored the consequences of these harsh sentencing policies for too long.
And so have we. One of the ways that I am putting my faith into action is by helping to grow the movement to end mass incarceration in the United States. I am working with U.U. congregations to get educated about this crisis and to partner with community organizations and other faith traditions who are leading the way in addressing it.
Since I’ve been organizing in congregations, people, mostly women, have been pulling me aside to tell me about their children and their brothers who have been incarcerated. They have thanked me for breaking the silence around incarceration. These families need a voice.
It’s time that we break the silence and act. Please make those calls tomorrow. If you believe that mass incarceration is a gross injustice in our nation, make the calls. If you believe we must oppose the racial caste system that has been created through mass incarceration, make the calls. Passing this bill will not only change people’s lives, it will be a signal to this country that we are no longer standing by silently, we are standing on the side of love.
Please stand of the side of love tomorrow and call your Senators.
Paula Cole Jones
Paula Cole Jones is the Racial & Social Justice Director for the Unitarian Universalist Association Joseph Priestley District. She is a lifelong U.U. and member of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC.
P.S. To get connected with the U.U. movement join the Facebook Group UUs Resisting New Jim Crow & Mass Incarceration. We will be meeting at General Assembly — See G.A. Organizing Meeting for U.U.s Resisting the New Jim Crow and Mass Incarceration for more information and to R.S.V.P.