09 December 2005

Let’s talk about Social Justice and QUUF

The following is a piece I wrote to give to people with whom I have set an appointment to discuss the topic of Social Justice and QUUF:

Here are some thoughts that might help give us a common starting point for our discussion. I took the liberty of asking myself a couple questions just to give every one I talk with a similar foundation for building our conversation:

What’s the push for change in the Social Justice Committee (SJC)?

I suspect that when most people think of serving on the SJC they imagine they would be subjected to a constant barrage of bad news and then feel compelled to respond by making endless demands for money, time, and energy. At least, that is what I imagined when I first thought about it. And I was right. Every time I get another story of unjust persecution or heroic efforts to save people from pain and suffering in the SJC mail box my immediate reactions are a series of compassionate feelings backed by a moral logic to make every sacrifice to help. This creates an ever present temptation to either shut down my feelings to protect myself from being overwhelmed (which is not a viable option) or to demand more money, time and energy from the congregation.

The problem with giving in to the temptation of making demands is that if SJC becomes a constant harbinger of bad news accompanied by persistent requests for attention, then the congregation will eventually cease to give the SJC full consideration. Good UU’s will all listen to the words out of dutiful respect, but in our hearts and minds we will already be shielded against the expected assault. If the committee is one of the key ways that the church can accomplish the goal of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, then the first responsibility of the SJC is to cultivate and maintain a trusting relationship with the congregation in which the congregation can count on the SJC to wield the scalpel of affliction and the salve of comfort in ways that will heal, not just make random stabs into the open wound of our conscientious awareness of flaws in the world.

If the job is so personally demanding then what could possess me to accept it? What pulls me, personally, to champion a change in the SJC?

I stand convicted of the possibility of creating a world that works for all. I am sentenced to work on manifesting that possibility and I suspect it may be a life sentence. The prison I occupy to serve out this sentence is a life of affluence and material freedom. Being a healthy, educated, white, middle-class, heterosexual, male, citizen of the United States of America at the dawn of the 21st century at least partly defines the inescapable walls that I am condemned to work within. The prison that I inhabit is one in which every one of those characteristics is supposed to be accompanied by a wealth of privileges and benefits, the world described by those labels is supposed to be one that works, but it doesn’t. Of course, those who say they would kill to have the freedom of my position in the world cannot conceive of it as a prison, but what kind of freedom is it when I have to shield myself from the realities of the world? I may have physical and mental freedom, but if I cannot deal with the world as it truly is then I do not have emotional freedom, and certainly not true spiritual freedom.

Taking on the SJC is the forefront of my quest for true freedom, a freedom that transcends the accidents of my circumstances. I have put myself in a place in which I have the responsibility to see the world for what it truly is. And I have also accepted the responsibility to assist the congregation to formulate a practical strategic response to that world. By accepting these responsibilities I expect to have many opportunities to face whatever it is that binds me and prevents me from truly seeing and accepting reality. Facing those bonds will give me the opportunity to become a powerful creator of the possible, specifically, the possibility of creating a world that works for all.

But, I don’t know exactly what to do, so I am asking for help. First, I have to work out how the SJC can become a better vehicle for QUUF to embody it’s mission of service beyond the church. Once I’ve got a handle on that, then the rest might be clearer.

Questions to consider in preparation for our meeting. I do not expect you to answer every question, they are just food for thought and give you a good idea of where I am coming from:

What is Social Justice to you?

Someone suggested that a Social Justice Committee is a way for the congregation and the church to look outward towards the rest of the world, whereas most of the other committees are primarily concerned with looking inward at the needs of the congregation and the church itself. The converse of this metaphor is that Social Justice is also partly responsible for the face that the church presents to the wider world because we will be known by our deeds (or unknown due to the lack of them) in our local community. Why do you think the Social Justice Committee is important to QUUF?

Our resources are limited, how can we say “no” to a worthy cause?

How do you define an “unworthy cause”?

Is there a way that we can say “yes” to every worthy cause even when we have neither money nor volunteers to offer?

How can we help cultivate enthusiastic responses to SJC news and recruiting messages?

How do we find and follow the passionate energy that inspires service? How can we become trustworthy stewards of a congregational conscience that goads the church into action when it’s the right thing to do and dampens the fires of enthusiasm when they threaten to burn us?

Finally, what can we do to lead the way towards joyfully healing the horrors of the world? (By joyfully, I mean in a way that fully engages an individual’s attention, not merely in a way that amuses them. Full engagement of attention is one of the symptoms of deep learning, it leads to increasingly complex understanding, is always challenging and sometimes involves pain and discomfort.)
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