Testifying (a reading for five voices)
Frances, an African American woman:
To be African-American in this country is to face racism throughout life, however subtle. The love of one’s family is paramount in reducing the damage of racism on one’s wholeness. Unitarian Universalism is splendid as an affirming church family. Its primary commitment to justice seeking, its deep belief that every soul has irreducible value, and its belief that there is the spark of the divine in every one of us are powerful antidotes to the insistent racist voices among us. I find Unitarian Universalism not only soothing, but healing. It is a perfect medicine for the soul made sick by racism.
Claire, a White woman:
Race was something to be spoken about only in hushed tones in the nearly all white town where I grew up. What a different experience my own kids have had! Thanks to the intentional work of the Unitarian Universalist youth movement, they have engaged with issues of race, class, and privilege. I treasure the conversations about how those issues impact their lives and mine. One of my greatest joys and challenges was to serve with my then teenage daughter on a district anti-racism team. We grew side by side in understanding and commitment. For a parent, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Cathy, an African American woman:
After the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the Muslim students at my daughter's very diverse high school began to segregate themselves because of their sense of fear and isolation. My daughter, who has spent her whole life attending a Unitarian Universalist congregation, reached out to these students. She actually made the long walk across the high school cafeteria to sit with the Muslim students and talk to them about how they were feeling. When I asked her why she had done this, my daughter told me that her faith called her to do this. As a parent, I was so proud that my daughter had learned the lessons of non-discrimination and respect for all peoples within our Unitarian Universalist community. As an African American parent, I was equally proud that my daughter understood the connection between her struggles as a young black woman in America and the struggles of other often marginalized groups. This affirmed for me that Unitarian Universalism has helped me raise a wonderful young woman.
Peter, a White man:
Here and now, I don't feel affirmed living out issues of race. This is a dirty business willed to us by people who looked like me. However, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, and I can do nothing without doing some harm. I am moving from being an etherized white man ignorant of race to being a European American man discomforted everywhere; from living in the world as oyster to a world without many places to belong. My participation at a self-consciously diverse Unitarian Universalist church dismantling racism in fits and starts has offered consolation. Despite my being and my action, my brothers and sisters remain authentically engaged with me in things that I get right and things that I get wrong. Like an unreformed drunk (since my culture will not yet allow me to live one hour, much less one day at a time, privilege-free), I must lean on the good will of my fellow travelers in this religious community I have chosen to join. It's their good will and its reflection of their perception of my good will that offers affirmation.
Esha, an Arab woman:
I grew up in a family that had all the answers about God; in a fundamentalist Egyptian Muslim home in New Jersey. We followed the very letter of Islamic law. I grew up with many unanswered questions about God and life. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I never blindly accepted a fundamentalist faith. I eventually married a Jewish man. When I became a parent, I thought I could avoid raising my children any religion. I realized when my daughter was four and asking for Jesus, I could not get away with nothing. That is how I officially became a Unitarian Universalist. The most affirming aspect of being UU for me is the full acceptance of myself and my family. I continually feel affirmed as a religious educator of color when I interact with colleagues and discuss my views based on my life experiences. I am respected and seen as being able to contribute to my profession. It is truly the first time in my life that I have felt positive about being part of a faith community. Unitarian Universalists encourage the difficult discussions about racism, oppression and class. The answers aren’t always to my liking and I am at times frustrated, however, there are enough people in this faith who don’t turn a blind eye to racism, classism and oppression. It is by continuing the discussion and affirming the journey that we will grow and bring change to the world at large.