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How Can We Deepen and Broaden Our Work?

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The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Tuesday, January 10, 2012. You can sign-up for these emails here.


This past fall marked the third year for the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign and my twentieth year serving the Unitarian Universalist Association. In all my time of providing faith-based social justice programming and resources to our congregations, I have never seen anything ‘catch fire’ like our ‘Love’ campaign.

Over 80% of our congregations report some kind of participation with Standing on the Side of Love, from gracing our buildings with banners to solidarity actions with immigrant, Muslim, and LGBTQ communities. That’s exciting and firm ground for us to inhabit together as we contemplate the moment we find ourselves in.

In the past year we’ve seen new space open up to dream about what kind of world we want to live in as the Occupy movement seized the streets and our imaginations. Around the country, faith communities and Occupy groups are meeting together to engage in collective visioning for what comes next, and channel the energy of the movement.

In light of this, I believe now is the time for us to deepen and broaden our campaign. While many clergy and individual leaders in our congregations have mobilized a faithful response to identity-based oppression, this is an ideal moment for reflection, and for engaging in congregational conversations about what this moment is calling on us all to do.

Click here to find the resources to help your congregation take part in 30 Days of Love.

Recently, I had the privilege to participate in guided reflection with Campaign Manager Dan Furmansky and several UU ministers who have been deeply engaged with faith support for the ‘occupiers,’ asking ourselves questions about how we think about this moment in time, and recognizing that within the 99%, those who are historically marginalized are suffering the most. This past Sunday, leaders from the UU Arizona Immigration Ministry joined with the Phoenix Barrio Defense Committees for a community visioning session with over 100 hundred people. Out of these and other reflections comes 30 Days of Love, this year’s National Standing on the Side of Love Month, a moment to provide your own congregation with the opportunity to reflect and to build a Story of Us and Story of Now.

In order to help your congregation “think and work together to interpret the signs of the times in light of our faith,” as UU theologian the Rev. James Luther Adams put it, we have created a number of resources, including a 30 Days of Love Theological Reflection Guide.

Click here to find the resources for your congregation for 30 Days of Love.

It’s through sharing our stories, identifying common values, and lifting up our most compelling concerns that we create a public narrative of who we are, where we stand, and where we are heading. Community organizers, the Dreamers (immigrant students advocating for the Dream Act), and most famously, perhaps, President Obama have all used the organizing method known as Story of Self, Story of Us, Story of Now, to define their own leadership and inspire others to action. We’ve adapted that process for a two-hour session that can be used at community potlucks, house meetings, covenant groups, or even over the course of two worship services.

This past Sunday, my own congregation, First Parish Cambridge UU, where I serve on the Social Justice Council, launched our ‘kick-off’ for Thirty Days of Love by inviting the congregation to attend the Cambridge Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Commemoration together, wearing our ‘Love’ shirts and pins. Members of our Coming of Age group will be participating in the event. On Sunday, Jan. 15th, Senior Minister Rev. Fred Small will be preaching on racism and building the Beloved Community in a sermon called “Colorwise.” Later in the month we will be hosting a common read on Immigration Stories: The Death of Josseline. In February we are holding a workshop offered by the UUA on transgender inclusion and welcome. And on Feb. 12th we will hold what has become our annual Standing on the Side of Love service, where we will present a community Courageous Love Award.

In addition, our Social Justice Council is planning a potluck for our members to share our stories and identify and create our congregational story of us and now. Through these activities we believe we will develop a collective spirit of what we are being called to do next. Will we become a church host of Occupy Boston General Assembly? Will we strengthen our solidarity efforts with our immigrant partners? Will our understanding and acceptance of transgender people grow? Will our faith be enlivened and our mission of creating Beloved Community become more of a reality? We look forward to finding out through 30 Days of Love what comes next for our congregation.

What are the stories of the people in your congregation and in your community?

These resources are all offered to you with love and the hope that your congregation will join us for these 30 Days of Love that offer congregational and individual opportunities for action and reflection.

Dr. King knew that our dreams are what keeps our stories developing and our collective story improving. May these 30 Days of Love help you lift up your dreams.

In faith,

Susan Leslie
Standing on the Side of Love Lead Organizer
UUA Witness Ministries

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What Dr. King Taught Me in Mississippi

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The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Thursday, January 5, 2012. You can sign-up for these emails here.


Just weeks before I met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the first time, I said goodbye to New York City and thumbed my way to All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington D.C., where they were recruiting for the Freedom Rides — buses headed into the segregated South to test racial segregation policies.  The first wave of freedom rides made national news when a bus in Alabama was firebombed by a mob that held its doors shut as it burned and later viciously beat the riders when they were able to escape.  The next wave of Riders, they told us, had to send a message that the bombing would not deter the protests. So, I hopped on board.

In Jackson, our group used the whites-only facilities at the train station.  It wasn’t a pretty scene – hatred surrounded us.  I had no idea how respond.  Stokely Carmichael, a fellow rider, had been down South before and was well-versed.  He asked me if I had ever heard of non-violence, offering a brief description.  “Hell no,” I said, one of the few uneducated young people in a group full of mostly college students. “Whoever heard of such a thing?”

Following others’ lead, I held my ground that day without responding to the aggression, and I gave a straight razor I always kept on me to another Rider to dispose of.  Eventually officers herded us all onto paddy wagons with billy clubs, spitting on us along the way.  I would later spend 40 days in Parchman Penitentiary for my act of civil disobedience, but for the next few days, the other Riders and I were confined in Hinds County jail, where we met Dr. King.

I remember first seeing him in person, larger than life.  Dr. King had a group of students gathered around him, and he was teaching the art of non-violent action.  He told us, it’s the most powerful weapon we have, because if we try to fight or use weapons to overcome our situation, the repercussions would be much worse than if we project love.

As I watched, it appeared to me like he was a modern-day Jesus mentoring to his disciples. This was a particularly funny feeling for me, since growing up, I was used to worshipping a blue-eyed, blond-haired, six-foot-tall Jesus.

Indeed, Dr. King wasn’t just an ordinary man; he was an extraordinary leader.  And the principles of non-violence he espoused helped save my life.

This year, communities across this country will remember the work of Dr. King on  January 16th, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Dr. King was all about love.  In our effort to continue the work that he started, can you join me in honoring the spirit of this holiday by bringing this fantastic campaign of love into your community’s commemoration of MLK, Jr. Day?

Click here to learn how you can commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with love, and receive several Standing on the Side of Love placards your congregation can bring with you to community events.

Many months later, the words of Dr. King followed me as I traveled with SNCC to embark on a voter registration project in Liberty, Mississippi, where my efforts, with Mr. Bob Moses, to escort four local blacks to the courthouse to register to vote were met by a racist, violent mob.  A crowd of a dozen whites shouted hostile questions to us about why “niggers from New York” were stirring up trouble. A thin old man named Bryant Jones was in a shaking, uncontrollable rage, talking about how black men were raping white women up North.  He began to pummel me.  Mr. Moses pulled me around the waist, trying to maneuver me out of the beating and the crowd of 15 or so people surrounding us.  The old man kept swinging, possessed of a hatred so intense that it seemed to consume what strength he had.  He was holding me so tight around the collar, I put my hands on my collar to ease the choking.  He just kept hitting and shouting, “Why don’t you hit me, nigger?”

Bryant Jones, was trying to get me to abandon the non-violent code that Martin Luther King, Jr. had taught us.  But I heeded Dr. King’s teachings.  After a while, tired, Bryant yelled to his crowd, ‘Why don’t we lynch this nigger?’  The crowd had various reactions, but made no efforts to get involved further.  When Bryant mentioned lynching and the crowd did not respond, it was the first time I realized that all white people were not evil.  Fifty plus years ago.

I told Mr. Bryant, ‘If you’re through beating me, I’d like to go now.’  One of the men who had been attempting to register then drove me away from the scene after Bryant released me.

Had I fought back, I might not be here today to share this story with you.

Thank you, Dr. King, for teaching me that non-violence and love is always the answer.  For that, and so much more, I honor you.

Please join me in honoring Dr. King’s spirit this year. Click here to get more information:

http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1272/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=6436

As a man in my 70s looking back on my life, including my time as a Freedom Rider in the 1960s, and thinking about what difference I can still make, I am inspired by the very notion of a Story of Us, and a Story of Now, and excited about the THIRTY DAYS OF LOVE that we are about to embark upon as a community.  I plan to participate in as many of the calls to action as possible, and to reflect on the importance of this moment in time to our country.  Please join me in signing up for THIRTY DAYS OF LOVE.

With liberty and justice for all,

Travis O. Britt, Sr.
Landover, Md.
Travis Britt, Sr.’s involvement with the Freedom Rides to end segregation in the 1960s are chronicled in books like the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Parting the Waters.”  After his time in the South, Mr. Britt lectured extensively in the northeast to enlist a new generation of activists in the civil rights movement. Years later, Mr. Britt organized a 1000-mile walk to generate support in the African American community for the Carter Presidency, which led to a personal audience in the Oval Office with the new President. At the age of 68, Mr. Britt achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Bowie State University.  Today, Mr. Britt carries on the legacy of his late wife, Maryland State Sen. Gwendolyn Britt, advocating for her signatures issues, including equal marriage rights for same-sex couples and voting rights for convicted felons.

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Video: Washington Gov. Gregoire Announces Sponsorship of Marriage Equality Legislation

2 Comments | Share On Facebook| Video: Washington Gov. Gregoire Announces Sponsorship of Marriage Equality Legislation Share/Save/Bookmark Jan 04, 2012

Washington Governor Christine Gregoire announced today that she will sponsor a bill to extend the ability to marry to same-gender couples in her state.

“Our gay and lesbian families face the same hurdles as heterosexual families — making ends meet, choosing what school to send their kids to, finding someone to grow old with, standing in front of friends and family and making a lifetime commitment,” Gregoire said.

You can view her remarks at the press conference here:

Thank you, Gov. Gregoire!

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The Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong: Celebrating in Paradise

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The fireworks went off at midnight.  But as soon as the clock struck 12:01 on January 1, 2012, four couples and three ministers (I was proud to be the first officially registered officiant) were busy typing away to register for the first time using the Hawaii Department of Health’s new online system to obtain Civil Union licenses. The system worked perfectly, thanks to a member of First Unitarian Church, Russell Castagnaro, who happens to be the President/CEO of eHawaii.gov.

An hour later, these couples were standing in front of the ministers, exchanging vows and rings with one another, professing their love before each other, their families and the world.  In unison, the three ministers proclaimed, “We now pronounce that you are legally partners in life.”  The fireworks never stopped, celebrating the joyous joining of people in love.

The Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong, First Unitarian Church of Hawaii (pictured right)

The Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong, First Unitarian Church of Hawaii (pictured right)

This was a culmination of several years of lobbying, court and legislative battles, constitutional amendments, and heartaches and tears.  But the LGBT community and their allies were unrelenting in their quest for justice and equality in the “Aloha state.”  This includes Unitarian Universalists like Bill and Judy Hepfer, who testified before the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, explaining why equality matters for them as people of faith.  It included former minister Rev. Mike Young, who wrote op-ed pieces for local newspapers, demanding the state recognize the families of same-gender loving people.

I was proud to have been on the forefront of this debate as well, testifying before the legislature and the governor, and hearing and telling the gut-wrenching stories of couples in love who lacked the protection that other families received.  Countless other activists and lawmakers were brave enough to similarly stand on the side of love with us to harness the power of love to counter fear, discrimination, and misconceptions about the LGBT community.

While civil unions is a giant step forward for LGBT families, it still falls short of marriage, so our work is not yet done in Hawaii.  But for now, we pop open the champagne and toast to a new day — when love’s many faces and genders can be celebrated in paradise.

The Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong, is an ordained minister with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC).  He is currently the Settled Minister of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu and is an active member of the UUA’s Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee.

Jonipher currently resides in Honolulu, Hawai’i and has been with his partner for over 13 years. He enjoys watching cheesy movies, snorkeling Hanauma Bay and composting as a spiritual practice.

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Tell Congress: Use Your Power to Help Our Indonesian Christian Neighbors

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The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Thursday, December 22, 2011. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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My name is Seth Kaper-Dale.  I have co-pastored a church in Highland Park, NJ with wife wife since 2001.  For the past 10 years I have witnessed the tremendous suffering of Indonesian nationals in my congregation and in 7 Indonesian-speaking congregations in our area. Due to our country’s convoluted immigration system, dozens of asylum seekers are being torn from their families and sent back to dangerous circumstances in Indonesia.

Click here to ask your Representative to end this suffering by cosponsoring HR 3590, the Indonesian Family Refugee Protection Act.

In the late 1990s, large numbers of Indonesian Christians came to the United States on tourist visas to escape religious persecution by some extremists in their majority-Muslim home country. Nearly 500 Christian churches were burned between 1998 and 2004 alone. For over a decade, these asylum seekers have been living, working, and paying taxes in the United States and many have American citizen children.

Now, dozens of these refugees in New Jersey and New Hampshire have received deportation orders. Though all have legally filed for asylum, their cases were closed simply because they missed the one-year filing deadline due to a lack of understanding of the complex process. Massive deportation has already broken up over 100 Indonesian Christian refugee families and now immigration officials will separate more parents from their children and send these individuals back into harm’s way in Indonesia.

Fortunately, Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) have submitted a bill, the Indonesian Family Refugee Protection Act, which would allow the Indonesian Christians to reopen their asylum claims and grant them the opportunity to remain legally in the United States as refugees. As Rep. Maloney said, “The United States has long sought to protect refugees fleeing persecution and provide a process to fairly consider their claims. These individuals came to this country, seeking relief from extreme violence and persecution for their religious beliefs, and deserve a chance at asylum. This bill does not, in itself, grant asylum, but merely removes a procedural barrier, keeping these families from being ripped apart.”

Please click here to ask your Representative to cosponsor HR HR 3590, the Indonesian Family Refugee Protection Act. Dozens of lives are at stake.

Please keep these families together and safe by asking your representative to cosponsor HR 3590. If we are a country that values families and religious freedom, it is our duty to help this community of Indonesian Christian asylum seekers. My church cares about lots of issues–affordable housing, interfaith work, food security, green projects, LGBT initiatives…but right now there is nothing more important to us than the work of keeping these Indonesian families together in safety.

Peace,

sethkaperdale

Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale
Reformed Church of Highland Park, NJ

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