Posted in Faith, Identity

The Fallacies of the UU World

This piece is a guest post written by Kio and edited by Imani McPhaden

Recently the UU World published an article where the author rather deliberately outlines some of her critical learning moments and lessons with transgender folks. The article seemed to focus on specific nuances around language and the new language transgender folks have been sharing with one another and the world. As I read it, I was struck by the techniques used. Alternating some of the newer language and knowledge about gender with personal stories to highlight how that language looks in practice. It featured examples of gender faux pas and showed how those experiences could be opportunities for growth rather than an end of a relationship.

Continue reading “The Fallacies of the UU World”

Posted in Faith, Identity

What It Takes to De-Center Privilege: The Failure of this Week’s UU World Article

A version of this piece was originally posted on Facebook on March 5, 2019

Yesterday morning I started hearing from fellow trans Unitarian Universalists because I was quoted in a feature article in the spring issue of the UU World, the UU magazine that is published out of the denomination’s national office, the print version of which is just landing in people’s mailboxes.

I need to name publicly that being quoted sends the impression that I condone this article. I don’t. I’m deeply disappointed in the UU World, in senior editor Chris Walton, and in author Kimberly French for publishing this piece. In a political environment in which trans people are being actively targeted for violence by the state, in a context in which trans UUs are increasingly voicing the fact that Unitarian Universalism’s approach to LGBTQ welcome has failed trans people, an article written by a cis person, that centers cis people and cis perspectives, about trans people, is not incremental progress—it’s harm. Continue reading “What It Takes to De-Center Privilege: The Failure of this Week’s UU World Article”

Posted in Faith, Identity, Social justice

Welcome as a Spiritual Practice

This sermon was delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard on April 23, 2017. You can listen to an audio recording here.

My name is Alex and I’m in the business of Welcome.

I’m particularly excited to be here because I’ve heard that you all are engaging with some renewal work around being a Welcoming Congregation—the UU program that congregations can go through to intentionally increase their welcome and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. This congregation was first recognized in 2004. Raise your hands if you were around for that!

So I’m here today, thirteen years after your recognition as a Welcoming Congregation, to ask you to revisit—and possible reimagine—what welcome means to you.

I want to start by telling you about the most welcoming experience I’ve ever had. It happened four years ago when I joined the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. Continue reading “Welcome as a Spiritual Practice”

Posted in Faith, Identity

Transgender Faith

This sermon was delivered at First Unitarian Society in Newton, MA, on February 21, 2016. 

I want to start by telling you a story. This story comes from one of my spiritual mentors, the fabulous Kate Bornstein, and it is her version—a queer and transgender version—of the story of Adam and Eve. Here’s how it goes:

Once upon a time, God was bored. God needed a project. So God created a world! And God created Lilith, but she was a little too much to handle so God sent her on her way and created Adam and Eve. And God made them a garden and told them, “Everything you need is here. Go anywhere you please, do anything you want, be happy and fulfilled.”

“Oh—there’s just one little thing,” God said. “All I ask is that you not eat the pretty looking apples on that gnarly looking tree over there. Okay?”

Well before you know it a serpent showed up and seduced Eve into eating an apple. And Eve in turn convinced Adam to take a bite. And as the story goes, they were instantly aware of their nakedness and were ashamed.

God realized what had happened and came to see them. But God wasn’t mad. God was profoundly sad. And I’ll tell you why. The reason God had wanted Eve and Adam to not eat from that tree was because it was the tree of good and evil. As soon as they ate from it, they were aware of the binary of good and evil, and they were seduced by it. Continue reading “Transgender Faith”

Posted in Compassion, Faith

The Spiritual Practice of an Open Heart

This joint sermon was delivered at Arlington Street Church in Boston, MA, on August 3, 2014.

You can listen to an audio recording here (in my opinion, the audio recording is much better than the written word—I swear! We’re more charming in person).

Teo

We aren’t taught in this culture to be openhearted. There’s no lesson. And I came to openheartedness as central to my spiritual practice the hard way. Whether it was the violence I was growing up with, the shame and the struggle around being queer and being gender nonconforming, whether it was being 28 years old and being diagnosed with AIDS at a time before medication was available.

Every turn I came to in life there was a reason for me to armor up. There was a reason for me to not let anyone near me. Because the outside world was telling me that if I wanted to stay protected I needed to curl in a ball. The last thing I ever needed to do was leave myself vulnerable. But at the same time that the world was telling me that, there was always this soft, loving voice of the beloved telling me that that was not for me. That I was meant to be openhearted regardless of the information I was getting from the outside world. Continue reading “The Spiritual Practice of an Open Heart”

Posted in Faith, Identity

Dear Liberal Religious White People: Stop Using #AllLivesMatter

I have seen and heard a lot of white liberal religious people saying All Lives Matter as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and it causes my heart and my soul pain.

From a spiritual place, All Lives Matter says that we need to emphasize our same-ness instead of our difference. In the context of a political moment that seeks to call attention to and rectify state violence against black people, All Lives Matter is a colorblind approach and stance. Among other things, All Lives Matter says that deep down we are all the same, so differences shouldn’t matter. It says that calling attention to difference is wrong. This is a problem. Continue reading “Dear Liberal Religious White People: Stop Using #AllLivesMatter”

Posted in Activism, Faith, Identity

Liberation: Why “Equality” Isn’t Enough

This sermon was delivered at First Church Unitarian in Littleton, MA, on April 13, 2014.

I want to come out to you about something, and that’s this: I am not an advocate for equality.

That might sound a bit odd, and it is a bit odd, because it’s not that I don’t think all beings are equally divine and have equal worth and dignity. And I can assure you that I don’t think there should be undercastes and overclasses of people in this culture and in this world.

But I am not an advocate for equality. I am not an advocate for the way that we have come to talk about equality, the way that the United States mainstream culture has started to define equality.

On June 26, 2013, a sea of red equal signs took over social media like a tide. Do you remember that? Those equal signs, the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, this country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender political lobbying organization, have become strategically synonymous with the concept of LGBT equality. And on June 26, as the Supreme Court was ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, the message was clear: marriage equality equals LGBT equality.

But what is this equality? Continue reading “Liberation: Why “Equality” Isn’t Enough”

Posted in Faith, Identity

From a Friend of Bat

Alex

The UUWorld’s Family Pages section is always a delightful and beautifully crafted magazine insert that offers stories and resources appropriate for children and people of all ages along a common theme. I’ve always enjoyed reading it, except on one memorable occasion. The Fall 2012 Family Pages section offered a story based on an Aesop’s Fable, entitled “Why Bat Has No Friends.”

In the story, Bat kept switching sides in a war between mammals and birds, and his lack of allegiance resulted in the other animals banishing him to the night, telling him: “Because you could not choose your friends during war, you will not have them during peace. From this day forward, you will only fly at night when everyone else sleeps. You will have no friends among the mammals or the birds.”

I’m here as a friend of Bat to set the record right. Continue reading “From a Friend of Bat”

Posted in Faith

Invitation to a Multi-faith Playground

Teo

So many of us bristle at the language from someone else’s religious, spiritual or humanist tradition. Perhaps we bristle because we believe that our path is the True Path. Perhaps we bristle because we have been hurt in religious spaces—those words a trigger of past trauma.

I had the blessing and the challenge of participating in a multi-faith service this morning. I was asked to bring some of my tradition forward, as were others. I knew that some of what I was to hear would not be language I have always experienced as friendly just as I knew that what I would say would feel the same for someone else.

As I meditated and breathed into the experience, an image came to me. A playground filled with children. Not the playground of my childhood where some belonged and others were alone or worse bullied. This was a playground where I could see and imagine the sounds of childlike joy. The giggling. The singing. The squeals of glee. Some children were in large groups. Some in pairs. Some on their own. All with the same joy.

What if this was a religious/ spiritual/ humanist/ atheist playground? What if another’s joy was infectious? Continue reading “Invitation to a Multi-faith Playground”

Posted in Activism, Compassion, Faith

“An Experiment in Love”: An MLK Day Sermon

Alex

I was invited to deliver a service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, and it was remarkable to be asked not only because it’s an honor to receive such an invitation but also because for the last two weeks I’d been completely ensconced in King’s writing. Once upon a time I worked for Beacon Press, and I still do the odd freelance job for them. A few years ago Beacon became the exclusive publisher of King’s books and future collections of his work, and for a couple of these new collections, I’ve proofed and checked the manuscripts against previous versions to ensure accuracy. It’s pretty incredible to do this—sometimes I’m using the original transcriptions of his sermons, and once in a while I encounter King’s own handwriting in the margins.

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on Beacon’s latest King project—an anthology of King’s words for high school students. “I Have a Dream” is in there, and “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and a careful selection of other pieces that really show the breadth and depth of his vision. So here I am ensconced in his work, and reading bits out loud to Teo every night, and hearing King’s words resounding all around me, and I get invited to deliver a chapel service in honor of MLK Day and share some of this magic with others. I couldn’t say no to that.

Whenever I am blessed with the opportunity to read or listen to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I never fail to reflect on what a tiny sliver of his vision has been handed down through popular culture in this country—how little of him lives on through mass media, textbooks, and bank holidays. And what is resonating with me right now more than anything else is his vision and grounding and message of nonviolence, which was so central to everything he did and everything he preached. It was central because it was tied to his theology and his faith. King’s full vision of nonviolence as a spiritual way of life is one of the biggest things that is pretty much missing from the way we talk about him and learn about the civil rights movement and honor his legacy in this country. Continue reading ““An Experiment in Love”: An MLK Day Sermon”