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The Story of Us & Now in Oak Ridge, TN

No Comments | Share On Facebook| The Story of Us & Now in Oak Ridge, TN Share/Save/Bookmark Jan 21, 2012

The message below went out on Saturday, January 21, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.


On January 10, this was one of the things on my “to-do” list: “Write Susan Leslie — community organizing resources.” As you probably know, Susan’s the Director of Congregational Advocacy at the UUA. The congregation I serve in Oak Ridge, Tennessee is part of a conversation getting started in our community for how things could be better for more people. I wanted Susan’s advice. I needed some help. Incredibly, on that very same day, I received a Standing on the Side of Love email from Susan, with a whole host of resources of the kind I’d been wanting. One of these was called, “The Story of Us, the Story of Now.”

To see why it so excited me, and to consider using this resource yourself, please click on this link.

Oak Ridge is a small city of 29,000 just outside of Knoxville. In recent years, what was once an enclave of mostly-white, middle-class employees of the federal facilities located here — an oasis of comfort — Oak Ridge has changed. While growing richer in diversity of class and race, Oak Ridge has steadily become a city with arising level of poverty-based suffering, without the resources or the strategies yet to meet it. For many, a sprawling, empty mall in the center of Oak Ridge, owned by an out-of-town developer, has become a symbol of decline. For congregations in town, the closing of Trinity United Methodist a few years ago, seemed to agree.

But within Oak Ridge, just like in your own community, there is also great resilience. And so, a couple of years ago, Oak Ridgers, led by another Methodist church here in town, organized a free medical clinic in the building where Trinity had once been. Soon, the clinic was serving the enormous, unmet medical needs in our community. Over at our Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church, a few members organized the “Stone Soup” ministry, which offers free meals and a pantry to the hungry among us.

The habit in my city, as it may be in yours, is for different congregations to do their own ministry. But there is also a tradition of pulling together. For years, congregations have worked together to uphold the “Ecumenical Storehouse,” a ministry that provides furniture and housewares to those who need it. And for years, congregations have upheld “Tabitha’s Table,” over at Robertsville Baptist Church. The Unitarian Universalists have been in the thick of both. Still, for the most part, as in most communities, each congregation tends to do its own thing.

But, in recent months, something new seems to be stirring. Those inspired by, and involved in, the Free Medical Clinic are wondering how else that sprawling old building that used to house Trinity could serve the community. Two small congregations–a progressive Baptist congregation of mostly white people and an Apostolic congregation of mostly Latinos–have moved into the space. Now, ORUUC’s “Stone Soup” ministry looks likely to relocate, so we serve folks up there, where they’re already showing up for free medical care; a craft-fair fundraiser in December will help prepare the Trinity kitchen for community ministry. There was an uplifting, interfaith Thanksgiving service at Trinity that brought together five congregations. And then, on New Year’s Day, more celebration and fellowship with a city-wide choir-fest at ORUUC.

As we, of different congregations, have begun to wonder together, our conversations have often widened out from the question of how we could develop ministries of service together based in the old Trinity building. Some of us have begun to wonder whether congregations could coordinate in broader ways. Could even, perhaps, challenge the norms of the city that leave so many without access to basic services like enough food. And besides working in isolation, one of the norms, of course, is for congregations to “do-for” in ministry instead of the harder work of “doing-with.”

To do things differently is never easy. But these new conversations inspire me with a sense of possibility. What’s more, the Standing on the Side of Love resource, “The Story of Us, the Story of Now”— which you can click on here — fills me with actual hope.

It fills me with hope because I serve a faith that says that what will save us — the power of love — lies waiting already within us, between us, and all around us. And I have seen how sharing stories can bring forth that love, can bring forth creative, sustainable cooperation that might not have otherwise been possible. This can happen by gathering people in the same room. But the collective visioning process I found in “The Story of Us, the Story of Now” invites people to share stories with more intention, to likely far greater effect. That’s why, in the coming weeks, leaders of congregations in Oak Ridge will gather to deepen the conversation that we have started.

On behalf of the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, I invite you to embark on a similar conversation in your community. Click here to download the Story of Us, Story of Now guide so you can schedule a time to put it to use in your congregation and community.

In the coming months, I look forward to telling a new story about things in Oak Ridge. And I look forward to hearing the new stories already welling up where you live.

Faithfully,

Jake Bohstedt Morrill

Rev. Jake Bohstedt Morrill
Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church

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Day 6: Examine Your Words

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The message below went out on Saturday, January 21, 2012 to those Standing on the Side of Love supporters who signed up for daily Thirty Days of Love emails. You can sign-up for the 30 Days of Love emails here.


Love is not concerned
with whom you pray
or where you slept
the night you ran away
from home.
Love is concerned
that the beating of your heart
should kill no one.

-Alice Walker

On occasion, I’m taken aback by the incendiary rhetoric I see posted to the Standing on the Side of Love blog or to our Facebook page comments section. The name-calling can be rabid, caustic. It’s not difficult to understand where it’s coming from. When Rick Santorum spews more homophobic rhetoric and Sherriff Joe Arpaio is accused of yet another flagrant human rights violation, we are appalled, angry, and often personally aggrieved. It’s really tough for some of us – myself included – not to lash out in kind, using our words as weapons to express our frustration.

One of the reasons I love this campaign is that it’s about more than just our public witness, and the way we show up. I believe this campaign affects us individually. It has the power to change us. And I know this, because this campaign has changed me.  Over the past 20 months, as my professional activism has moved through – and continues to move through — a new prism, a prism of love, I have developed a new mindfulness that what I say, how I feel, and what I do affects everything.  Sometimes it’s still more difficult for me to open my heart to love than to choose the angry, defensive path. But as a result of Standing on the Side of Love, I am far more mindful of my words and actions than ever before in my life. For that, I give great thanks.

Today’s active reflection is about the power of our words:

When was the last time you spoke (emailed, etc.) unlovingly to someone?

To yourself?

What about the last time you spoke or wrote cruelly about someone?

What about people in your lives vs. strangers?

In each case, what was the root of your anger?

How can you remind yourself to promote more respectful rhetoric online, in your personal and professional interactions, and with yourself?

Share your answers with our community on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SideofLove.

The two answers that inspire the most likes will win a free t-shirt, hat, or tote bag – your choice.

Today, I carry with me the 2nd Unitarian Universalist principle: “We affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations.”

Being the Change,

Dan Furmansky
Campaign Manager
Standing on the Side Love

P.S. Thinking about the importance of words in our lives also got me thinking about broader issues about language in society, for example, how the press often uses “illegal” instead of “undocumented.”  Check out this article from a few weeks back in the New York Times, “What if We Occupied Language.”  I’m curious if it speaks to you as well (pun intended). An excerpt:

What if we transformed the meaning of occupy yet again? Specifically, what if we thought of Occupy Language as more than the language of the Occupy movement, and began to think about it as a movement in and of itself? What kinds of issues would Occupy Language address? What would taking language back from its self-appointed “masters” look like?  We might start by looking at these questions from the perspective of race and discrimination, and answer with how to foster fairness and equality in that realm.

Read the full article: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/21/what-if-we-occupied-language/

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Day 5: Inspiring Others Through Our Own Stories

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Click here to read some of the beautiful coming out stories we received in response to this post.


With my dog, Joni, in 1997.

I came out of the closet in 1994, almost 18 years ago. The year I told family and friends I was gay, I also gained about 75 pounds to give myself some extra protection from the cruelty of the world, and to cradle the shame of being gay. My battle with food began when I was younger; but it wasn’t until I was also struggling with depression, drug abuse, and compulsive spending that my eating became truly out of control. After college, and a lot of personal work, I dropped the weight and adopted a much healthier lifestyle. For the most part, I have maintained a stable weight ever since. But I am, and will always be, a compulsive eater.

This term has little resonance with people. Folks understand bulimia and anorexia, but compulsive eating is a foreign concept, or something they equate with going overboard during the holidays. Trust me – it’s not. Honestly, I prefer not to talk about it, or to try to explain to people what it means to be “abstinent” from compulsive eating, or what a “trigger food” is. But there are times when I discover a shared bond with someone – a friend, an acquaintance – who also lives with food addiction and struggles, as I do, to overcome compulsive eating and remain present in their own life. So, I come out of the closet to them as a compulsive eater, and I share my experiences with them to let them know they are not alone.

Today’s action is about “Coming Out” and sharing our personal struggles:

“Coming Out” about our own struggles and challenges is an act of Courageous Love. Consider the broader definition of “coming out.” By sharing our vulnerabilities and our authentic selves—whether or not what we are disclosing is identity-based—we can help others on their own path.

Sharing something personal to help others is so brave, and receiving that story is a special gift. Today, share something that might help or inspire others.

Share your inspiration with our community on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SideofLove.

For each of the questions we pose this week, the two responses that inspire the most FB ‘likes’ will receive a free t-shirt, hat, or canvas bag.

Some of the bravest examples of “coming out” I can think of involve DREAMers – undocumented youth hoping for a brighter future and advocating for passage of the DREAM Act; or the well-publicized story of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas; or those young LGBT people who sue their school for the right to take a same-gender romantic partner to the prom.

Today, will you consider sharing a part of yourself?

Being the Change,

Dan Furmansky
Campaign Manager
Standing on the Side Love

P.S. Check out some highlights of how congregations kicked off their Thirty Days of Love by commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/blog/kicking_off_30_days_of_love_in_mlk_spirit/


The message below went out on Friday, January 20, 2012 to those Standing on the Side of Love supporters who signed up for daily Thirty Days of Love emails. You can sign-up for the 30 Days of Love emails here.

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UU’s Protest New, Anti-Gay Michigan Law

No Comments | Share On Facebook| UU’s Protest New, Anti-Gay Michigan Law Share/Save/Bookmark Jan 19, 2012

Rally3Dear Standing on the Side of Love,

Michigan UUs were part of a “Gay Families Matter” rally January 18th on the steps of Michigan’s Capital in Lansing. The Standing on the Side of Love Banner, brought by UUs from the First UU Congregation in Ann Arbor, was up front and center as part of this rally.

The rally, attended by at least 200 people, was designed to protest a new law passed by the Michigan legislature and signed by Governor Rick Snyder that took away health care and other domestic partner benefits for state employees. As important as that issue is, the rally was also a demand for respect for Michigan’s gay community and their allies. One of the leaders of the rally also emphasized how important it is that straight allies go public on behalf of LGBT rights.

This week the Michigan UU Social Justice Network published its new Interfaith LGBTQ Toolkit. To start using it, go to: www.uujustice.org. This Toolkit went to the printer today and will be mailed to 400 faith groups this month.

Best wishes,

Randy Block, Director
Michigan UU Social Justice Network

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Day 4: Ask Yourself: What Do You Struggle With?

1 Comment | Share On Facebook| Day 4: Ask Yourself: What Do You Struggle With? Share/Save/Bookmark Jan 19, 2012

The message below went out on Thursday, January 19, 2012 to those Standing on the Side of Love supporters who signed up for daily Thirty Days of Love emails. You can sign-up for the 30 Days of Love emails here.


For a number of reasons, lately, I spend a lot of time worrying about money. While I have everything I need right now, I struggle with my fears about the utter lack of a financial safety net in my life. I fear how I will ever pay down the debt, get ahead, own a home, financially support children, and see more of the world that calls to me. Throughout my adult life, depending on my bank balance, money has always made me feel either trapped or free.

I know I am not alone. Many of us hold these fears, but we are also afraid to share these fears with others. We are ashamed. We don’t want to burden others, even when our struggles may be quite serious. We certainly don’t want to seem ungrateful for the ample luxuries in our lives, which might be as simple as being well fed, day in and day out.

Today’s action involves the examination of our struggles, and casting off the shame we feel by naming them:

We are living in turbulent times; each of us is struggling in our own ways; many of us are worried about our own livelihood, our black holes of debt, our ability to care for our families, or the prospects for our children’s future.

What are your heartfelt concerns … what keeps you awake at night? What societal systems in place have helped or hindered you in your journey?

Share your thoughts with our community on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SideofLove.

For each of the questions we pose this week, the two responses that inspire the most FB ‘likes’ will receive a free Standing on the Side of Love bumper sticker or rally sign.

I hope you are enjoying National Standing on the Side of Love Month so far.  It’s amazing to see this conversation take hold at the UUA, in our online community, and in communities and congregations across the country!

Being the Change,

Dan Furmansky
Campaign Manager
Standing on the Side Love

P.S. If you would like, please invite your friends and family to join us on our journey over the next month as we investigate our Story of Self, Story of Us and Story of Now.  They can sign-up to receive the daily emails here:

http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1272/signup_page/30daysoflove

P.P.S. The prayer/meditation below seemed like a natural fit for today’s reflections:

Loving in Fear

Spirit of Life, God of Love, grant me the courage to love boldly in the face of my greatest fears. Grow me in your wisdom and let my actions speak when silence threatens justice and indifference disturbs peace. When gossip, hate, and cruelty arise among friends or in public places, help me bravely walk forward with love. When I defensively assert certainty in the presence of the unknown, grant me the courage to live comfortably in the unanswerable questions of life. Bless me with the eternal gift of not knowing and let it take root in me until it pushes forth shoots of understanding and branches of humility.

-From “Be the Change: Poems Prayers and Meditations for Peacemakers and Justice Seekers,” by Stephen Shick, Skinner House books.

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