Monday, May 18, 2009

Alice Walker -- We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness

Video from C-SPAN Book TV. Can't embed, external link here. The first 8 minutes are street interviews.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Self Advocacy - Autism Awareness Month is almost over.

Click the picture to see it full size on it's original site at Asperger Square 8.

Autism Awareness month is almost over. Have you asked an Autistic person about it yet?

"Three generations of morons is sufficient"

The above quote is from a Supreme Court Opinion, 88 years ago, regarding the involuntary sterilization of people with developmental disabilities. How much better are things today? "Autism Steals." "Autism Leaves an Empty Shell." "Autism is No Hope, No Future."

This video was put together by Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Dan Marino Foundation, and Kent Creative. It was written and performed by individuals on the autism spectrum.

Have a few more minutes? Wonder what situation is behind this that would make these people think that a PSA is needed to advocate for basic human rights? aka: the inherent worth and dignity of all persons?

Ari Ne'eman is the President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. He refers to himself as an Asperger's Autistic, is the narrator of the above PSA, and speaks to this question in a Keynote address to ASAN in this video. It is housed at the Dan Marino's and outlines the challenges and dangers that face people on the autism spectrum by well-meaning people under the names of "education" and "treatment."

If you choose not to watch the above video, let me simply tell you that the quotes above were taken from real live "autism advocates" --- that is, people who are not autistic who want to cure autism because "This is the special curse of autism. You have your child, and yet you don’t have him. You have a shell, a ghost of all the dreams and hopes you ever had." (from Autism Research: A Legacy of Neglect, an Opportunity for New Discovery by Jonathan Shestack, co-founder and president of Cure Autism Now.)

While there are no easy answers, and human life is infinitely complicated, I cannot help but think that people with autism ought be in the middle of the discussion, not the periphery. It seems that the philosophical difference between autism as illness and autism as natural neurological diversity is a pretty great distance. It seems that the difference between "curing" something and helping them live the best life they can, maximizing their skills and learning to live with the challenges is pretty great distance.

After all, we don't still try to cure glbt folk, do we?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Read it like there's gonna be a quiz.

The Mosaic Project recommendations are out.
This is one of the most clear, vibrant, passionate, intellectually and developmentally sound documents that has come out of the UUA. And I'm the kind of geek who reads these documents on a fairly regular basis. Laura Spencer's report clearly articulates the challenges youth and young adults of color, multicultural youth and young adults, trans-racially adopted youth and young adults face within our movement, locates this experienced reality soundly within the best literature and theory known, and it's recommendations are unmistakable.

If you care about our youth, and/or our ability to be a relevant multicultural religous movement, and/or AR/AO work, and/or being a person who takes Right Action, and/or just being a better person next week than you are today, then this document is for you.

Read it. Like there's going to be a quiz.
Don't whip through it online like it's a blog, and toss off an opinion.

Print it out, put it in a binder, write in the margins, look up the references. Ponder and think and grow and be an active reader, engaging the material; a reflective Unitarian Universalist who listens deeply when people articulate their reality. Be a UU who pushes themselves to think outside even their own box.

Unitarian Universalists have poured their lives out as the text upon which this exegesis is written. We should respect and honor that by seeing, hearing, and responding.

The Question

What are the ministry needs of African, Caribbean, Native/American Indian, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latina/Latino and Hispanic, Middle Eastern/Arab, Multiracial and Multiethnic and trans-racially adopted Unitarian Universalist (UU) youth and young adults?

* How does our Unitarian Universalist faith need to change in order to meet these needs?
* What structures need to be strengthened or established to support families, congregations, campus groups, districts, and continental bodies in their ministries to these youth and young adults?

The Mosaic Project Report offers recommendations to help congregations, districts, and Association create an environment that is an effective part of the scaffolding that supports Youth and Young Adults of Color both in their development of a healthy identity and through the transition from childhood to adulthood. The positive impact of creating such an environment can reach beyond the Youth and Young Adults of Color community into all ministry areas. By creating congregations, communities, and institutions that embody the seven Principles, Unitarian Universalists can indeed move closer to building the world we dream about.

It's all about systems and structures, and ultimately, what those of us with access to decision-making do to make those systems and structures more appropriate, supportive and embracing, and empowering for all of our youth and young adults.

And there will be a quiz. Whether by your higher power, your conscience, or by the youth of today and tomorrow who will judge our actions in the future, there will, by god, be a quiz.

I pray we pass.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Non-Anxious Presence vs. Actual Calmness

Chalice Spark posted a great post about being a non-anxious presence in our work. In the comments, Anna Banana raises a good question about the difference between maintaining a "non-anxious presence" and being calm. As I understand it, the former is a behavior, not necessarily a feeling state.

We may or may not feel calm, anxious, stressed, fearful; but our behavior relative to the congregation can be a grounded one that avoids overreacting, taking "bait," or permitting changes of the subject and the like. Our non-anxious presence can be to keep the eye on the ball, so to speak, to hold up the core values and specific issue at hand, slowly, carefully, with humor even, regardless of our internal feelings about it.

If we act stressed, people around us will feel stressed, even if they'd not needed to in the first place. It's why Opening of the church year is so challenging for me, because I am stressed! I'm working 70 hours a week dealing with things like 17 families that didn't register their kids on time so I need to reconfigure classes the day before teacher training. But the members are there with excitement, looking forward to a new year, anticipating new things.
If my stress/anxiety shows in my behavior then their feelings may change and become MY feelings, and the subject (opening excitement and joy) will change to be about me (and my frustration, anger, anxiety.)

Conversely, when the congregation is under stress, (say because of finances,) I am of course also under stress, and most definitely am not "feeling calm." My behavior in terms of being a non-anxious presence for them helps them keep the focus on their challenges, their feelings, and their tasks and roles.

Many of my colleagues, (particularly among the ordained ministry and those other religous professionals I consider foreparents or mentors,) seem to be able to maintain an actual inner sense of calm while behaving in a non-anxious manner.

I aspire to this, but I have a limbic system that goes from zero to 70 in .1 seconds. So the distinction between feeling and behavior is a really important one for me. Behaviors are something that can be practiced.

These include behaviors that are
a) behaviors of welcome, listening, focusing, acknowledging feelings and elephants in rooms, visioning, constancy, and perhaps above all, predictability,
b) behaviors that access my higher cognitive functioning despite the fight or flight or cry response my emotional self is looking for
and c) back my limbic system down to 55.
(I am told that meditation can be used for helping the limbic system chill out, but cannot attest to that personally. I find nature radio on helps as a limbic system governor, and once the gas has been hit, jumping jacks in the office w/ the shades drawn to discharge adrenaline is useful. Jumping jacks in public would likely be counter productive. I'm just saying.)

The most challenging, as someone for whom inner calm does not come easily, isn't finance committee meetings, or congregational meetings about the latest issue; these can be prepared for. The greatest challenge is keeping space in my brain prepared to the inevitable subject out of left field while I'm full of 79 things to juggle on Sunday Morning. When I'm juggling balls, and someone tosses me a grindstone. When a member starts talking about about something they've been keeping pent up, or something they feel is exceptionally timely and must be addressed on the spot, it can be very difficult to implement the mantra, "this isn't a good time, please call me and we'll find a time to have tea."

"This isn't a good time, please call me and we'll find a time to have tea."
"This isn't a good time, please call me and we'll find a time to have tea."
"This isn't a good time, please call me and we'll find a time to have tea."

As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to start practicing it like an actual mantra. I'll let you know how that works.

(grounded...eye on the ball... left field. Must be spring, Go Red Sox.)