Sunday, June 25, 2017

An Endorsement

Water, as you know, freezes at 32F degrees. 

But if you look at a cup of water which measures 36F, it is liquid. 

At 35F, it is still liquid. 

At 34F, it is still liquid, and if you want an ice cube, you are getting impatient about now, wondering why nothing is happening. 

At 33F, you think there must be something wrong somewhere. It’s getting colder, nothing is changing, it seems. 

But, at 32F, there is rapid and dramatic change. Liquid becomes a solid. The water has been transformed. A long series of incremental, quantitative changes has brought about a qualitative transformation. 

Change is gradual and continuous, but often imperceptible. However, long periods of small changes finally culminate in a transformative moment, when something long submerged reveals itself, in what seems like a wink of an eye. 
It feels like Unitarian Universalism is in the midst of one of the transformative moments of its history. 

Unitarian Universalism has always been a combination of competing impulses and aspirations. On the one hand, it is rooted in the New England elite establishment, whose customs and methods of stoic noblesse oblige suffuse it. It likes to think that Unitarian Universalism is disinterested, tolerant, above the pettiness and passions of the moment. Its self-image is respectable and even, noble. And when it acts with cruelty, or for exclusion, it does not see it, because it sees only its high motives of institutional integrity.

On the other hand, Unitarian Universalists themselves, have far outrun their establishment origins. Its most widely felt aspiration of the last century, individual religious freedom, became over time a commitment to self-determination for all, and then, a vision of the beloved community, and now the realization that the beloved community is thwarted by the systems of oppression that rule our world. If one was not looking carefully, these transitions seemed like insignificant rhetorical intensifications which changed nothing, like the difference between water at 34 degrees and 33 degrees. 

Unitarian Universalism has become radicalized in contradiction to its establishment DNA. That push and pull of its own opposing energies broke open this year over the UUA’s hiring practices, which rapidly spread into a crisis exposing the anti-blackness and institutionalized white supremacy of our systems. 

The crisis has taken its toll on Unitarian Universalists emotionally and spiritually, but a new question and possibility has come from it: what could Unitarian Universalism be if it no longer centered white people?  

What if the present generation of white Unitarian Universalists loosened their grip on the institutions of Unitarian Universalism, freeing them to become agents for, and a foretaste of, a deep global Universalism?

What is happening in Unitarian Universalism is not just happening to us, but is happening to the whole world. New leadership is emerging on a global scale. 

So I come to the task of endorsing a candidate for the Presidency of the UUA for the next six years, a period filled with the possibility of transformative, qualitative change, a time when we might be able to make an historic breakthrough to new way of being.

I don’t believe that the ways that we have evaluated candidates in the past will work in this moment in time. Experience, knowledge of the UUA systems, good proposals, even interpersonal skills will not be enough. 

What we need in the next President of the UUA is (1) the ability to see into the future and grasp what is possible now — to see what is being born as well as what is dying away and (2) the ability to lead in those breakthrough moments when water freezes, or the dams burst, or the butterfly emerges, the unpredictable and unrepeatable moments of genuine change, and (3) the ability to offer the people of world an experience of the Spirit that can hold us all steady in the struggle. 

After careful consideration, I am going to support Susan Frederick Gray. 

I think I see in Susan that ability to be present, to lead, in the unpredictable moments of real change. I see in the way that her talk seems to always return to “mission” a clarity about how we can shape the future. I think that she is brave, and faithful, and accomplished.

No UUA President can lead all of us where we don’t really want to go. But if UU’s are ready “to trust a dawning future more”, I believe that Susan Frederick Gray can lead us there.  







4 comments:

Pete M said...

Tom, I watched your online discussion with the candidates, and was impressed with all of them, but also realize I don't follow the process closely enough to have a fully-informed preference. That said, I'd be curious to know what you think would be a visible sign of the temperature going to 32 degrees or perhaps 25. A meaningful change in the demographics of our leadership and membership? A social justice profile that is noticed by, and influences, the world outside of UUdom? Or maybe it's like Supreme Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography -- you can't define it but "know when you see it."

Tom Schade said...

How would we know we are succeeding? What's success?
The 3 Presidents have set forward a metric for hiring -- 30% overall and 40% of top leadership being People of Color or Indigenous people. But that's only staff hires.
I think we need to pay close attention to the success of the ministers of color who serve mostly white congregations. Are they thriving and able to fully be themselves in their ministry? (We will have diversity in our ministry and leadership before we have a lot of diversity in the pews.)
Is UUism growing abroad? If it is, then it is because it is becoming less culture-bound. We should study that.
Are we planting new churches and congregations in different cultural settings than we have up to now. Are they succeeding?

Edmund Robinson said...

Tom I am not yet ready to agree with your endorsement of Susan for President, but I think your words show significant insight into where we are now and what is needed. Thank you.

Tom Schade said...

How would we know we are succeeding? What's success?
The 3 Presidents have set forward a metric for hiring -- 30% overall and 40% of top leadership being People of Color or Indigenous people. But that's only staff hires.
I think we need to pay close attention to the success of the ministers of color who serve mostly white congregations. Are they thriving and able to fully be themselves in their ministry? (We will have diversity in our ministry and leadership before we have a lot of diversity in the pews.)
Is UUism growing abroad? If it is, then it is because it is becoming less culture-bound. We should study that.
Are we planting new churches and congregations in different cultural settings than we have up to now. Are they succeeding?