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A Charge to Keep

Introduction

On September 8, 2019, I extended a charge to Abundant LUUV in Atlanta, Georgia as I prepared to return to my home in St. Croix, VI. Recently, I was thinking about that charge. I want to extend a charge to you, our Sister Souurce, Inc. supporters.

Using the charge, I want to demonstrate some of the Bible’s wisdom and remind you that it is a collection of stories about the life and times of the people back then. Walking you through sixteen of the sixty-six books of the Bible I will do some translating for contemporary times.

A charge is a pronouncement of wisdom and reflections that is shared with a minister and congregation when a new minister is ordained or called. Here, I am using it in a much larger and more general context to share some of the wisdom of the Bible, something many Unitarian Universalists do not utilize often. So, as we continue through mid-year of a difficult and challenging year, I extend some wisdom and reflections that might inspire you through these troubled times.

Genesis

  • I begin my charge in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
  • In the book of Genesis God creates the heavens and the earth and names the beasts, fowls and plants. He hangs the stars in the sky and places the constellations in orbit. But on the seventh day he rested.
  • I charge you to take a lesson from God and practice self-care and rest – pace yourself. And remember, the race is given not to the swift nor the strong but to those that endureth to the end.

Exodus 14:15

  • We come now to Exodus. It begins with the birth of Moses who is the main character and author of Exodus.
  • We follow him from birth when his Hebrew mother places him in the bushes and he is found by the Pharaoh’s daughter and is subsequently raised as royalty and an Egyptian.
  • The midwives were instructed to kill all the male Hebrew children and to save the females. Because Moses’ mother and the midwives rejected the Pharoah’s commandment, Moses grew up to be the liberator of the Israelites and he claimed his purpose and destiny to bring the Israelites out of slavery.
  • I charge us, in the face of opposition like the midwives, to remember their courage and hold fast to your dreams, and in the face of the haters and challenges, to act on your sense of good and justice.

Numbers 27 1-11

  • In the book of Numbers we encounter the five daughters of Zelophehad. They petitioned Moses because their father died and left no sons.
  • In those days women inherited nothing. But, through their appeals to Jesus, this tradition was changed, and God commanded “If a man dies and leaves no son, turn his inheritance over to his daughter. If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers…”
  • Like the daughters of Zelophehad, I charge you to use your voices, your gifts and talents to speak truth to power and be a voice in the wilderness for the marginalized and disadvantaged.

Deuteronomy

  • In Deuteronomy we are introduced to Methuselah, the son of Enoch, and the oldest living man in biblical history.
  • None of us may live to be 969 years as he was reported to, and you may not want to, but…
  • I charge you to live a life of purpose and legacy so that regardless of when your time comes you may know that your life and what you did made a positive difference.

Nehemiah

  • In Nehemiah we learn that he is a man of prayer and a compassionate man.
  • And he wept when he heard of the broken walls of Jerusalem.
  • When your walls of life break and loved ones shatter your heart, I charge you to remember what you have learned: that is to call on community and to build community so that we do not have to be alone in life’s breakups, in life’s valleys.

Joshua

  • In Joshua we are told that God caused the sun to stand still.
  • I charge you to look for and perform small miracles in your life.
  • Don’t wait for the big ones.
  • Take on that thing that you believe you cannot do.
  • Take a risk and do it or find others to collaborate with.
  • Look for the miracles in life and live your life as a miracle!

Judges

  • We come now to Judges where the people turned away from God.
  • And so, we are reminded of how fickle and confused people can be at times.
  • I charge you not to take it personally when friends do not show up and loved ones turn away or momentarily neglect you or disappoint you or whatever nonsense they might indulge.
  • And remember, it ain’t always about you.

Ruth

  • In the book of Ruth, we are introduced to the devotion, love and bonds of friendship in the ageless story of Ruth and Naomi.
  • When their husbands died, daughter-in-law Ruth and mother-in-law Naomi clung to each other and proceeded to carve out the next chapter in their lives.
  • I charge you to find the courage to open the door to the next chapter in your lives.
  • Support someone who is standing at the door trying to find the courage to step inside.
  • Be a Ruth. Be a Naomi.
  • And look for some Ruths and Naomis in your life. You deserve their devotion, love and loyalty.

Samuel 1st and 2nd

  • In Samuel 1st and 2nd, we encounter the wisdom of Solomon and the rape and pain of Tamar. May you be as wise as serpents when needed, gentle as doves when you are called to be and yet, able to sit with and discern the pain and brokenness of not only your lives but others.
  • I charge you to stand in solidarity with those who experience violence while calling for justice, transformation and redemption for those who have caused harm to others.

Chronicles

  • In first Chronicles God promised David that the Savior would come from his lineage.
  • I charge you to keep your promises and only promise what you can keep.
  • Remember, your word is your bond.

Esther

  • In the book of Esther, she is willing to risk her life for the welfare of her people.
  • I charge you to discover what you are willing to risk everything for. What is your passion?
  • The world will be a better place and you will be happier and fulfilled, knowing you are making a difference in the world.

Job

  • In the book of Job, Job is a rich man who loses everything.
  • Yet he never loses his trust and faith in his God.
  • I charge you never to lose faith in whatever is sacred and holy in your life.
  • And never, ever lose faith in yourself.

Psalms

  • Come with me to Psalms, which likens a righteous individual to a tree planted by the water that yields fruit and whose leaves never wither.
  • May you know peace like a tree planted by the water, and may you continue to be bearers of peace.
  • And I charge you to be a comfort to those in distress.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

  • Ecclesiastes reminds us there is a time for everything; a time to be born; and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to harvest.
  • This is your time to reap the harvest of all that you have planted. This is your time to continue to plant!
  • I charge you to go forth, along the highways and byways of life and share your good news.

New Testament

Matthew 14:22 – Jesus Walks on Water

  • In Matthew 14:22 Jesus leaves his disciples to go off to pray.
  • They meanwhile board a small boat to travel across the Sea of Galilee. At the time of departure, the water was calm and peaceful.
  • I have been on the Sea of Galilee, and it can look almost like a sea of glass. But in this instance the wind began to rage, and the waters roared like an angry animal. And the disciples became afraid.
  • Jesus saw them from a distance and decided to lend a helping hand. Ignoring all the laws of science Jesus walked to them across the water.
  • Never lose your sense of imagination and miracle making.
  • This may be that time; this may be that day that you walk on water!

Luke 10:29-37 – Parable of the Good Samaritan

My final charge is taken from the book of Luke.

  • A lawyer asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
  • “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength and with all thy mind and thy neighbor as thyself.”
  • And he turned to Jesus and asked, “And who is my neighbor?”
  • Instead of answering forthright Jesus decided to drop one of his parables on him.
  • A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho;
  • On the road to Jericho, predators (criminals) assaulted him and took his clothes, and left him ‘half dead’;
  • A priest and a Levite saw him and passed on the other side;
  • A certain Samaritan saw him and took compassion on him, went to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bound him up. He sat him on his own beast and brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he paid the inn keeper two pence to take care of him. “If it is over two pence, when I come back, I will take care of the bill,” stated the Samaritan.
  • Jesus said, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
  • The lawyer said, “He that showed mercy on him.”
  • Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
  • I implore each of you during these troubled times to do likewise, first showing each other mercy and then extending mercy and compassion to others. Continue to be a beacon of hope, love and justice. Let your light shine brightly.
  • Know that you are the tree planted by the water. And you are the water.
  • You are the hands that tenderly carry the everlasting water of life.
  • Know that you have made a difference in your life and can continue to do so in the lives of others.

So go forth, having been charged on this blessed day henceforth and forever more!

Amen and Blessed Be!

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Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Breaking the Silence about Ministerial Misconduct

A 1992 UU Women’s Federation survey revealed that policies on clergy sexual misconduct among the majority of religious organizations do not exist. Ministerial misconduct is so egregious in that it takes advantage of the trusted relationships between clergy as authority figures and congregants who are predisposed to being open and vulnerable. It is a violation of all that is sacred and holy in the faith community. If one cannot be safe within the folds of one’s faith community, then where can safety be found? Great harm is done to the offended party that can result in self-blame, shame, loss of community and friends, spiritual crisis, loss of faith, family crisis, and divorce. Psychological distress such as depression and even suicide are real risks that these victims face.

Our perceptions about a phenomenon are often reflected in our language. Erroneously referring to abuses of power as “affairs” rather than ministerial misconduct is an example of misnaming a behavior. This is particularly important in educating congregants, as even the offended party may mistakenly refer to the abuse as an affair. Equally important are professionals such as therapists who work with individuals that were offended/abused by a clergy person. A congregant once informed me that she did not feel like a victim because she was a fully consenting adult. Yet, she did not understand the power imbalance between herself and the pastor, and how this negatively impacted her ability to function as a fully consenting adult. Diana Garland, Dean of Baylor University School of Social Work asserts, “It is not an affair. It is an abuse of power. Regardless of who intended what, the religious leader is the one in the position of responsibility.”

We also cannot allow offenders to rush to reconcile with the appearance of contrite behavior and remorseful behaviors. We cannot confuse restorative justice with honoring victim survivors and women fighting for autonomy over their bodies. We cannot allow the apologies to drown out the voices of victim survivors. In some cases, the abused congregant was viewed as having brought “a good man down.” The offended individual plaintively stated, “We should be getting this right,” referring to the disparity in how offenders and the offended are viewed and treated; the rush to forgive the offender and the push back against the offended. It was as if they were telling her, “He said he was sorry. What more do you want?” To which the resounding reply is “Justice!” And what does that look like? That is a subject needing a future post on its own!

As UUs, we extoll individualism and rail against authority. We do not like to be told what to do, so the idea of boundaries is sometimes met with mixed feelings. Yet, boundaries exist in almost every aspect of our lives, whether they are ground rules, covenants, or simple guidelines. The belief that we are “all adults” without need for boundaries makes us particularly vulnerable to boundary violations. The power that ministers hold is real, and we do ourselves a disservice when we disown it or minimize it. Congregants and boards hold power, but we cannot deny the power of our organizational and institutional backing—along with our training and credentials that confer authority—especially when navigating the relationships that we develop with our congregants.

Warmest regards, Rev. Qiyamah

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Reflections on Transparency and Vulnerability 

The following is taken from a 2000 issue of the Thomas Jefferson District Connections, a publication of the TJD of the UUA. Qiyamah Rahman was serving as district executive at the time of publication:

I am aware that a number of UUs of European descent in the TJ District are very upset about the use of the term “racist.” I cannot know what it feels like to be called a “racist,” but I do know what it feels like to struggle to name parts of myself that were almost too hideous for me and others to identify, name and embrace.

I grew up in an abusive family. My mother was a battered woman and my siblings and I were battered by my parents. When I first became a parent, I beat my children when they misbehaved. I deliberately do not use the word “spank” here, although that is how it was referred to by everyone, including those from whom I sought help to change. The language allowed me and others to justify this behavior and normalized the behavior. We have learned to sterilize our acts of violence through such neutral language. The act of naming the behavior for what it was, was part of my self-education and my decision to step outside the conspiracy of silence. In seeking to change I had to remove myself beyond the reach of those who would seek to aid and abet my behavior.

My name is Qiyamah A. Rahman and I am a child abuser. Those words allowed me to move toward healing and to non-violent parenting. To call myself a child abuser seemed extreme to some, but in the face of a society that sought to accommodate my behavior I needed to rename my use of corporeal punishment as violence. It was painful to name myself a child abuser. But one cannot begin to heal until one speaks the truth, as painful as it may seem.”

You can find the above text on pages 336-337 in the book, The Arc of the Universe is Long: Unitarian Universalists, Anti-Racism and the Journey from Calgary. This massive six-hundred-and-fifty-one-page book represents one of the most extensive resources on Unitarian Universalists’ journey and reflections on anti-racism efforts beginning with the 1992 General Assembly in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This carefully researched book “recounts events and reactions through the middle years of the first decade of this century.”

How did it happen that in a book of this size with so many quotes and references from numerous individuals that mine portrays me in such a negative impression? And more importantly, why did I choose to say yes to including my experience? In retrospect I am not sure that I fully internalized my decision in the moment. In the end I had to live with my decision to be transparent, to be vulnerable and speak a truth that was so hideous and ugly. I have had some moments of regret having said yes to Leslie Takahashi when she called me one evening and requested permission to include the quote in the book. I did not instantly say yes but as I thought through my reason for my transparency and my efforts to work on vulnerability issues, I said yes moments later. What I did not fully realize is that there would be some challenges once I granted permission. I did not realize that in a book that numbered six-hundred-and fifty-one pages long that the index containing my name takes the reader to pages 336-337 where my confession is visible to any and every reader. My ego, my pride would have wanted folks to also be able to see the person and parent I evolved into and that we sometimes stumble as we plod along life’s journey.

Another moment that I experienced some regrets about saying yes was at a UUA General Assembly after the book was published. A white female minister shouted across the room in an excited voice, “Qiyamah, didn’t you say you were a child abuser?” I could see her husband nudging her and trying to quiet her. Knowing this particular person, I knew she was not being mean-spirited but she tended not to have much of a filter and she apparently wanted to confirm to her husband what she had evidently read. I could see the embarrassment on his face from across the room. In that moment my mind was racing. I knew others had heard her. She clearly did not have a discreet bone in her body. I did not and could not lie. But I felt like I wanted to disappear. I was not prepared to stand in the midst of all these white ministers and declare what I had so easily written and shared in a book. But neither silence nor a lie were options. So in that moment I decided to speak the truth and to hell with the consequences. “Yes, I said that.” And I mumbled something else trying to explain the context as they moved closer. But I had won! In the face of shame, embarrassment, and possible ostracism I had not acquiesced. Life hands us small victories sometimes. When I said yes to Leslie those many years ago, when I look at my tattered and worn copy of the book and when I reflect on my journey towards transparency and vulnerability, I know I have miles and miles more to go. But I am so proud of who I am becoming as I approach 74 years of age. It has taken a lifetime and I am still not there.

When I recently opened the book for a reference it fell open to page 588. The page includes a quote from Rev. Patricia Jimenez, then chaplain in Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She states, “There was an acknowledgment of the indigenous ancestors who were there. There was something about white people who came later. There was absolutely no mention, anywhere, that Texas was part of Mexico, that there are probably more people in that city who were Mexican or other Latinos, before then or even now. So—I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Where are we?’ This is Fort Worth, 2005. What have we really done?”

Rev. Patricia recently died and transitioned to the ancestars. May she rest in power. She reminds us that we have so much more work to do on ourselves, in our congregations, in our homes and in our beloved faith of Unitarian Universalism.

Below her quote were the words of another ancestar, Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson. Her words bring me comfort and are a reminder to keep on keeping on in my state of imperfection and flaws. She states, “You have to get over not making mistakes—we don’t accept the fact that we can make mistakes. Perhaps it is our individual roots. We are still learning to be in right relation one with one another, so that we can honestly say ‘I love you. I made a mistake, let’s fix it.’ Sometimes we just need to understand that we screwed up and yes, it is hard. For me it is wonderful for all of us to be able to stay at the table of Unitarian Universalism.”

Thank you, Rev. Patricia, thank you Rev. Hope, for your courage and legacy that inspire me to continue to strip away the layers of oppression. It will continue to feel uncomfortable, embarrassing and even painful. But in retrospect, I do not regret saying yes to Leslie. I hope I continue to say yes to the Universe every time it provides me an opportunity to grow and stretch and to stay at the table of humanity.

Warmest regards, Rev. Qiyamah

P.S. We are working on rolling out (in time for 2022 UUA General Assembly) the newest feature on our website, where we will introduce many more ancestars we want you to know about.

Our 2022 Resident Guest Blogger

Sister Souurce, Inc. is pleased to announce our 2022 Resident Guest Blogger, Rev. Karen Hutt. (Please find below a short bio on Rev. Karen). Rev. Karen will be posting monthly blogs covering a wide variety of topics and drawing on her long history as a UU minister, chaplain, social change agent and parent.

Rev. Karen introduces herself by sharing a special worship service from her home congregation, First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, where she serves as Adjunct Minister. The service, held on February 22, 2022, concluded Black History Month. Her homily was titled, Humanism is Black. While Rev. Jen Crow, the Senior Minister at First Universalist Church was away supporting her father in his journey with cancer, the worship team did an outstanding job with Sunday worship as you will witness from the video. They were able to offer a hybrid service with some members participating virtually and others in attendance while practicing social distancing and masking. Glen Thomas Rideout, Director of Worship Arts Ministries, did a fabulous job weaving Baptist hymns into his warm welcome. Rev. Arif Mandani, Associate Minister, offered a beautiful prayer/meditation using the “prophet” Marvin Gaye’s words from his hit song, “What’s Going On.” The pianist, Franco Holder and Rideout fit together like hand in glove, delivering soothing, yet powerfully inspiring music and lyrics. All the elements of worship were coordinated so beautifully and creatively. Rev. Karen’s preaching is inviting, stimulating and thought provoking—as you will witness. I learned so much about Black humanism that I did not know.

While UU liturgy offers a familiar and comforting experience with its call to worship; chalice lighting; prayer/meditation; offertory; homily; and closing words—with hymns woven throughout the service—it is the quality of the worship experience that successfully brings it all together. And that is exactly what I experienced in this worship. But see for yourself!

Click on the link here for the worship service https://sistersouurce.org/humanism-is-black/

Thank you, Rev. Karen, for agreeing to serve as the 2022 Resident Guest Blogger and for this great introduction! We look forward to your monthly posts!

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About Rev. Karen Hutt

Rev. Karen Hutt has been a Unitarian Universalist (UU) minister for twenty-five years. She is a board-certified chaplain and Clinical Pastoral Educator (CPE). She has served UU congregations in Chicago and Minneapolis. Currently she is the VP for Student Formation, Vocation and Innovation at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. She is the editor of The Call to Care, Essays by UU Chaplains (Skinner House Books, 2016). She was a co-founder and co-pastor of Church of the Open Door, a dual-affiliated United Church of Christ/Unitarian Universalist congregation that served Chicago’s Black LGBTQ population from 1997 to 2005. Rev. Hutt went on to serve as a chaplain and Clinical Pastoral Educator in several large hospital systems in both Chicago and Minneapolis. She is widely regarded as one of the most innovative educators in the Clinical Pastoral Education field, and her work has been published in the Journal for Reflective Practice and Supervision. From 2005 to 2014, she also served as the part-time Executive Director of Companions Journeying Together, Inc., an interfaith prison ministry that worked with clients in prisons and jails around the state of Illinois.

She is married to Rev. Ashley Horan, Organizing and Strategy Director for Justice Ministries at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). They live in Minneapolis with their three children: Zi, Aspen and Eden.

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Reflections on Ageism

Looking back at 2018, it was filled with several major transitions including my 70th birthday. To mark the occasion my three children put together a weekend that included: a Friday night sweat lodge where we sweated and burned away our toxins and negative energy causing blockages and burdens in our lives, a Saturday evening reception featuring great food, family and friends and Sunday morning worship service. The worship service was held at Abundant LUU in historic SW Atlanta. I reflected on elderhood and shared some of my spoken word pieces. I was surprised with a foot washing performed by my daughters, daughter-in-love and my granddaughter. Omelika Bynum, a long time friend and founder and director of Giwayen Mata, Atlanta’s premier female percussion and dance group, called us to worship with the ancient sounds of African drumming. Another friend, Imani Williams, serenaded everyone with a beautiful gospel hymn. 

Four months earlier I had relocated stateside to Marietta, GA after residing in St. Croix, VI for six years. I had served as the minister with the small UU congregation and became heavily involved with non-profits such as the Women’s Coalition and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council’s Faith Based Committee, both addressing domestic violence and sexual assault. Another interest, interfaith dialogue, was channeled through St. Croix Interfaith Coalition. As I age I have grown more interested in issues of aging and elderhood as evidenced in my membership in the St. Croix Council of Elders. I would have been hard pressed to say which transition, turning 70 or relocating from STX was the most challenging in 2018.

Having sold or given away all my belongings except my car, clothes and a few personal and sentimental items, I was starting all over again. I had done this at least twice in my life time so this was not a big deal. However, it is always a challenge to make choices about our belongings and to make decisions about our attachments. At times it was almost overwhelming to sort through six years of possessions that I had acquired assuming at that time that I was going to be living in STX indefinitely. 

I successfully relocated from one environment to another attending to all the details to make that happen. I accomplished turning seventy with great joy and celebration. 

What has not happened and what is a source of consternation is being unprepared for the ageism I experienced in Atlanta. Since the time I relocated from St. Croix on June 1, 2018 to the time I returned on September 15, 2019 I had been unemployed. I had completed close to 100 applications for various positions that netted me only one interview. I lowered my expectations and applied for positions requiring a Bachelor’s in Social Work. I applied for several administrative assistant positions. I did not get any call backs from my efforts. Out of desperation I applied to teach ESL in Japan. When the recruiter called they informed me that the legal retirement age in Japan was 65 and that I was too old for the position.

 I was a 70-year-old active woman still experiencing good health that wants to and needs to work.  I had pursued social work positions with no success. So I thought, let me turn my attention to ministry, which I was sure there were opportunities for me in the Atlanta area where some six congregations exist. While not all of them were in search I pulled out my ministerial packet and updated it and completed paperwork online with the UUA. I was called and interviewed for two congregations. I decided that I was not going to leave it to chance. I made it known on my ministerial packet that I was looking for a congregation that was already doing work around anti-racism, anti-oppression and multiculturalism. And if they were not, they would be willing to make a serious commitment. I thought the two interviews went as well as could be expected. The final decisions were not in my favor and someone else was called. I then turned to the Interim Ministers Search process. I was the first District Executive to participate in the intensive and rigorous training years ago. Other Field Staff followed my suit. My rationale was that I wanted a deeper understanding of Interim Ministry to be able to assist and support the Interims in the then District, now Region. To that end I was successful. 

During my job hunting stint in 2018-2019 I signed up for Interim Ministry and applied to a couple of congregations whose ministers had left. I was unsuccessful once again. At this point I had begun to rethink my whole reason for returning stateside. A few months later dialogue with my family made it clear that settling on our Ancestral Land as I anticipated was not an option. 

Interspersed in between my job hunting I was fortunate to be able to spend time visiting family in Atlanta, Virginia and Detroit. These memories would become even more precious when I later decided to return to St. Croix in the face of opposition from some family members.

Reflections on Aging (and Ministry)

I had never thought about aging until my job hunting experience in Atlanta when I returned stateside. Previously, I have had the luxury of aging gracefully (and still do) and I was employed in positions and situations that did not penalize me for aging. That changed when I relocated to Atlanta. Technology has changed the entire job hunting process. The ministry search is very time-sensitive and since I thought I had plenty of time I focused on social work or human service positions. While it is illegal to ask an applicant’s age, the new question is, “When did you graduate from high school?” In the course of over one hundred applications I had one interview. Ironically, it was the one position I really wanted, a counseling position at the Pulaski State Women’s Correctional Institute. I really worked hard and contorted myself to convince them to hire me and to recognize what a gift I would be. It did not happen. I had all my friends and prayer warriors praying for me and I visualized myself working with the women and living in Hawkinsville, the same town that our family’s Ancestral Land was located. But it was not to be. 

For a period of time I stopped job hunting. I recognized that the constant rejection would sooner or later take its toll on my self-esteem and confidence and I did not want to fall prey to these subtly destructive messages that I was no longer of value because of my age and that I had nothing to offer. I never believed that but it was clear that I was fighting a losing battle. At least one person said I was running when I made the decision to return to St. Croix. Others said I didn’t give it enough time. Still others insisted that I simply did not engage in the kind of networking that would have gotten my resume in front of the right folks. 

In hindsight, none of this matters now. I am back in St. Croix, VI. While I am not doing parish ministry I was employed as a Disaster Case Manager helping individuals, mostly senior homeowners, who did not access resources two years ago to repair damages to their homes. In this second cycle we are stepping into the gap along with other non-profits to help individuals and families in their recovery. There is a lot of work to be done here. I did that work for a couple of years. I am now working part time as the Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator for the Territory. As a survivor of early childhood violence and a survivor as a battered woman and sexual assault, this work has called me over the years and now I am resuming this work again. 

Once again I feel needed and am engaged in my call, to serve the needy and marginalized of society. My employers did not care about my age. My reputation preceded me and I was hired and immediately put to work. 

No matter what our age we want to feel our lives make a difference and that what we do adds value. In a capitalist society the profit margin is the bottom line. As a senior, I am not a lucrative investment. I want to live out the remainder of my years in a community where being an elder is not a deficit. I want to be valued for my competence and ability to contribute. For me, I would rather be in St. Croix among friends that see past my age, past my wrinkles, past my grey hair and take the time to review my resume and decide based on the merits of my experience and not my age. 

Pink fuzzy slippers... part of self-care!

Self-Care

Black activist and writer, Audre Lorde, reminds us, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgent; it is self-preservation….” In addition, pre-flight airline instructions recommend, “Please, put on your oxygen mask first, before assisting others.” Our personal wellness is essential for not only ourselves but the wellness of those in our families and communities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did not have to fight to put ourselves first? Jenn M. Jackson, on Facebook reminds us that the human body needs to “survive and thrive but capitalism and hyperproductivity culture have socialized us to feel guilt about the things that lengthen our lives and can’t be monetized.”

So I am giving you permission, Black UU women and girls, to prioritize your well-being, to take care of yourselves. To disconnect from the messages from the larger society that want to frame your self-care as individualism or selfishness. As Black women, we have been socialized to be super women and to put everyone else’s needs before our own. We have been tricked into believing we must take care of everyone for the survival of our race. Our strength has been lauded and promoted at the risk of our physical, mental and spiritual health. Enough! Let us take back our power to define our lives in ways that work for us and promote our well-being.

Blessings! Rev. Q

Reflections on a Spiritual Journey

It is amazing how time flies. I evidently wrote this as I was beginning to put together some reflections of my spiritual journey. Here is what I said:

My spiritual journey has been a long and circuitous one. My spirituality was nurtured early in life through my Baptist upbringing, influenced by my mother’s Southern roots. My mother was a Preacher’s Kid (PK), and so my ten siblings and I had a very religious upbringing facilitated by Greater St. Stephens Missionary Baptist Church. Shortly after I began college I went through my “God is Dead” period. I became a Marxist-Leninist and traveled to Cuba for three months. My sense of social justice as a change agent was being nurtured but I was still spiritually restless. So I continued my journey.

Soon afterward I became a practicing Muslim for ten years. First in the Nation of Islam, then the American Muslim Mission, then the Sunni community and finally, Sufism. Christianity gave me my religious foundation including Jesus, and sacraments such as prayer, worship, and giving. Islam gave me the discipline of praying five times a day, piety and sisterhood. Separation of sexes, that is, purdah, provided a strong compulsion toward the embrace of sisterhood since it was almost the sole social outlet. Sufism and Islam, in general, deepened my spirituality through spiritual practices unique to Islam. And when the prohibitions as a woman and mother became too restrictive and no longer allowed me to express fully who I was, then I moved on.

Qiyamah Rahman, MDiv 2008, Meadville Lombard Theological School (MLTS)

I had the honor of bestowing on the visiting minister from Transylvania the stole she is wearing as a gift from Meadville Lombard Theological School.

My next phase in my spiritual journey I identified as “non-denominational.” Theologically, the church I was affiliated with was non-denominational within Christianity, but not interfaith or ecumenical. So I continued my spiritual journey. Then I found UUism. I knew absolutely nothing about UUism. I had seen flyers over a period of time and they were always connected with social justice issues. As an activist, looking for a new church home I was initially attracted to the strong social justice orientation. But what has kept me UU is the theological diversity. It allows me to bring all of who I am theologically, and the best of each faith tradition I have experienced. UUism encourages me to build my own theology and allows me to reflect on who I am in the world and what kind of world I want to live in. UUism trusts us to build our own theology and to be proactive in learning and growing.
My religious upbringing, my blue-collar background, and experiences with racism, sexism and classism have informed my values and who I am. I have developed a great sensitivity for those less fortunate and I believe we as a community have an obligation to others and to creating a world of justice. So here I am, on the journey toward ministry. And it feels so right. The space and freedom to create a theology that reflects my values and resonates with me are stronger than the challenges of race and class. And so here I am!

March 16, 2013 – Arriving in St. Croix

One of the first things I did upon arriving in St. Croix was to rejoin the Writer’s Circle. Much of my writing is research based. However, I had the opportunity to use a “stream of consciousness” technique that is sometimes referred to as “automatic writing” where you put pen to paper and do not lift it until a designated time has transpired. Ours was one hour. This is what I wrote March 18, 2013 in that one hour:

I Remember the Time

I remember the time when I decided to magically love myself to paradise.

It was February, 2012 and I was two weeks into my visit as guest minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. Croix. I knew in the second week that I wanted to live and work in St. Croix. It felt so natural and I felt at home. It felt like a place that I could make a life. It took me five months, but I returned for good with my cat, my car, my clothes and some of my books.

I remember the time when I decided to magically love myself to paradise.

The plane landed and Will Franks was waiting to pick me up and help me begin my new life in his apartment in the LaGrange Community. Settling in, my black-southern-work-ethic kicked into gear and my euro-centric task-oriented get-the-job-done me was at the Labor Department that first week talking with my job counselor who I had corresponded with over the summer.

And I was job hunting and apartment hunting like there was no tomorrow.

Meditating and visualizing and engaging my spirit so I would not get anxious and afraid.

I have friends; I have a life with a growing garden, a quirky landlord and a lovely duplex unit…

I have attended birthday parties, and reggae fests and Hanukkah celebrations and carnivals.

I have watched sunsets and a few sunrises, walked along the beach in my bare feet and played tag with ocean waves at tide.

I have sat with dying patients and comforted family members and endured endless staff meetings and created a violence-free workplace for myself.

I have watched the ocean waves roll in and laid listening to the soft and quiet sounds of the night ocean and heard gun shots and sirens.

I remember the time when I magically loved myself to paradise.

And found a Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists that appreciate me and might even love me a little bit.

A small Fellowship filled with individuals that have hopes and dreams that some share twice a month in Joys and Concerns that we say mostly in silence, but I speak aloud the name of my granddaughter, Malia, and my sister, Betty, and my soon-to-be ninety-year-old mother’s name, and my patients’ names.

The choir sings hymns, some familiar and some not so familiar, and the musician plays the preludes and postludes and offertory hymns mostly from the classical tradition and each week I pray for inspiration and the right mood and tone to guide the prevailing Spirit amongst us.

That someone who came wondering if their life was making a difference — leaves knowing it is, if to no one but them — and that’s all right.

That someone who came hoping to be inspired leaves with a growing glimmer that their life is good and their hope is renewed.

That someone finds a kind face, a gentle smile, a reassuring hug or a shoulder to lean into.

I remember the time when I magically loved myself driving down the “superhighway” that I take twice a day from Frederiksted to Christiansted and at the end of each day my cat, Ms. Lili greets me: How was your day and can you get my food — pronto!

Ms. Lili is now an outdoor cat that is mastering her environment including the visiting cat that thinks it’s alright to steal her food and drink her water. She is not her friend and she and Ms. Lili fight. The visitor is lean like most Crucian cats and Ms. Lili is fat and well-fed like most stateside pets.

I remember the time when I magically loved myself as I garden year round and tend my house and sit quietly on my porch swing and wonder at my good fortune and…

I remember the time when I magically loved myself to St. Croix!

Beginning

When I became a UU in 1992, twenty-nine years ago, I had just entered a doctoral program at Clark Atlanta University in Africana Women’s Studies, a research-focused program. I was able to direct some of my UU interest and passion to the research skills I was acquiring. I soon discovered there was little information on Black UU women. Twenty-nine years later there is still no intentional body of scholarship devoted to Black UU women. That has to change. We can do more collectively about the invisibility of UUs of color in the UU narrative than we can individually. I consider our work of research and publication as a critical part of decentering whiteness in shifting UUs of color from the margins to the center and creating a more accurate narrative.

Assembling the Myriad Bits

Lots of essays in my computer waiting to edit for the website. I welcome being able to share them on the website with others. Today began with a worship service at All Souls in DC, followed by a Re-evaluation Counseling session, a quick lunch and then another zoom call. A Come to the Table is The Anthology on Black UU clergy women and it is on the editor’s desk, Mary Benard, at Skinner House Books.

I have to blame it on Mark Morrison-Reed’s book, Black Pioneers in a White Denomination that was published in 1980. The book was released a year before the first Black woman, Rev. Yvonne Seon was ordained and fellowshipped. I am always intrigued by the fact that Black males were welcomed as clergy into Unitarians and Universalists almost one hundred years before Black women. Nevertheless, that was the motivating factor for my interest because I wondered where and who were the Black UU women? My efforts began, to initiate and assemble ideas, research and create something that would be inviting.

During the pandemic I began to think about all this and how to assemble all the myriad bits and pieces of information and how to be in conversation with other writers, researchers, academicians, etc. that were actively writing and researching UU women. I also realized very recently that if there was almost no information on Black UU women, then there was even less, if non-existent, on Black UU girls.

As the Fall, 2020 Minn’s Lecturer I presented a series of three lectures at General Assembly, First Unitarian Church in Chicago and the UU Congregation of Atlanta. In addition, I have done several homilies that allowed me to continue to hone my research. One lecture and panel discussion, titled “Racial Justice & Unitarianism from Reconstruction to WW I,” really pushed me to more deeply explore Black Unitarian women’s roles in the suffragette and temperance movements.

Aha, so much to do and so little time!