woman-accepting-a-charge

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!

Black Women in Chicago

On May 23, 2019 I met via telephone from Detroit, MI with thirteen Black women from First Unitarian Church in Chicago, IL. They had been meeting for a number of years. At one point we counted thirty (30) active Black UU women in that one congregation. In this particular gathering there were thirteen (13). In their check-ins and over food, they talked about what was going on in their lives and sometimes some of the things they were doing to cope.

Since that time, several have died, several have moved away. At one point in their history they were informed that they could not meet at the church as an exclusively Black women’s group and that it had to be open to all women. There was a men’s group and a “women over fifty group” but Black women for some reason could not meet exclusively. Instead of creating a scene they merely moved their meetings outside of the Church.

Noam Chomsky stated, “The future of humanity is at stake…We have to get rid of this malignancy and therefore, everything else pales in the face of it.” The “it” that he was referring to was racism – white supremacy – systemic racism, the kind we witnessed on January 6, 2021 and the kind that kidnapped Africans, crossed the Atlantic with them; stopped off in the West Indies, leaving some to work in the sugar plantations and the remaining enslaved peoples were carried to the Colonies where many toiled for generations before freedom was declared.

This work of centering Black UU Women and Girls is about decentering whiteness. It is about breaking down old paradigms and building up a new world. Not only are we targeting Black UU women and girls but those 26% in 2017 who the Pew Research Center identified in their survey as spiritual and not religious. In 2012 19% identified as spiritual. Some of those individuals are UUs that have not yet discovered they are UUs. Among that number that identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) it is important that we clean up our act so that UUism is more embracing to BIPOC. I wonder what it will take to get us there!

Answering the Question

Hi Joseph, Mark, Mark, Takiya and Michelle:

I trust each of you is well and safe. I have chosen each of you very carefully because of who you are and because I admire how you show up in the world.

I would like to pick your brains about an idea that I have had for some time. It is a website devoted to Black UU women’s artistic and scholarly pursuits. It would be a “gathering” place for their/our voices and works. I see it as the premier location that would draw UUs and others that want to contribute to the small but growing body of works by/for/about Black UU women and girls. It would become a place that would include: research and funding sources, interviews, advice column, music, art, a roving camera, blogs, and different genres of Black women and girls’ expressive works that provide a glimpse into our lives.

My question is, at this point and time in UU history, should I restrict it to Black UU women and girls or should I create a website for UUs of Color and Latinx women and girls?

I need to pose this question before I get ready to hit the go button. I am actually “interviewing” freelancers to build the website. But I decided to pause because I realize this is bigger than me and I do not want to look back years from now and regret having claimed too small or too large a vision. It never occurred to me to do a personal website because that is too small and I want to gather Black UU women’s and girls’ voices.

It is time. It is past time. I cannot tell you what it felt like to research white women’s entry into UU ministry and to find so much history they have documented and books they have produced about their journey. The envy I felt as a writer and researcher, knowing how I had to scrape to find the smallest bit of info about Black clergy women. And not even having benefit of basic information like how many of us there are. And finally realizing that we would have to create what I was looking for because it did not exist.

Even as I am writing and reflecting I am getting clearer that I must devote this website strictly to Black UU women (femme, transgender, womxn, non-binary) otherwise, the tendency is to go broad and compromise the depth and richness. And that is not what I want. I want deep, deep, rich, rich conversations and research and thoughtful analyses. Going broad will not produce that.

When I say this is my legacy work I am not just saying some words. This is what I am creating and leaving as a representation of my life. Besides my three children, the work I am doing as a writer, griot and researcher is my next most important contribution. Just as I am reading and poring over others’ works I know one day others will discover my words and read, reflect and form an opinion of who I was and what I attempted to do. I want to know I left something of quality. I want others to feel what I feel when I discover information that broadens my understanding and awareness about Black UUs and their presence. I want them to feel that pride and connection that I feel when I read about the champions and superstars and everyday individuals that came before me.

Another practical reason to restrict and narrow the focus on Black UU women and girls is the data base in my brain and on my laptop is becoming so extensive that I cannot stay on top of it. I cannot manage it. I must organize all this information while the neurons are still firing. I was going to share the basic “proposal” I had put together but I cannot find it. None of the possibilities that come to mind have caused it to surface. Right now this is a matter of having too much info in my head and needing to empty some of it out. The website allows for that. But I have been around long enough to speak to elders that I interviewed in the early 2000s who now have some memory loss due to the natural aging process or are suffering from dementia. I do not want to leave it to chance that my efforts will be catalogued.

I should probably delete this email because I have answered the question for myself that I originally posed to each of you. But sharing my thoughts helps me stay connected to each of you in ways that this pandemic seeks to sever.

Blessings!
Qiyamah A. Rahman