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 Childnett.tv 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 pandora.com 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.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Being a Professional Religous Professional in difficult economic times

A very wise colleague recently told me that she thought that at the core of what we do, is that we educate people on how to "do church." My work is not the same thing as my job description and commensurate task list.

I really like that as a hook upon which to hang my hat. Our work is that we provide leadership in how to live in a certain kind of community that doesn't exist elsewhere. We provide opportunities for people -- adults, youth, children -- to practice the skills necessary to be able to be in right relationship. It's relatively easy with people who think like us and laugh at the same jokes, but our religious community, when done right, includes people we don't particularly enjoy being with, people we don't understand, people we find challenging, angry, or obstructionist, and "doing church" with them takes a lot of work.

When we ask ourselves, "What is a congregation uniquely positioned to provide it's members," we come to that answer. We are a religous movement that affirms the worth and dignity of our most challenging people. We are a faith tradition that expects that people will be oriented toward right relationship, toward health and wholeness; toward, dare I say, liberation from that which limits and challenges us. We are a faith tradition where people covenant to stay at the table together and work things out, to practice and practice and practice again the skills to be able to work things out.

Religious Professionals whose work is in congregations are in a unique position relative to the members and congregations in which we serve. We spend 20 or 40 or 60 hours a week "working" on the doing of church. By the time we've been doing this work for several years, we have engaged in myriad collegial conversations and spent intense time in educational development opportunities at 15 and 25 and 40 hours a pop, learning from our colleagues and foreparents, from those who specialize in understanding particular aspects of our work. We may have spent 1 or 3 or 4 or 10 years in advanced studies in preparation for the work we do, learning how the early Christian church, liberationists in Latin America, marginalized populations and mainstream congregations in the US all have "done church." We've learned about congregational systems theory, and the impact of congregational size on the necessary administrative and program structures; we've worked to be a non-anxious presence.

And the people we serve, for the most part have not spent years and years in this endeavor. They attend worship once a week. They serve on a committee, or teach a class, maybe both. Some few immerse themselves in "being" Unitarian Universalist in an active, core sense. Maybe, after a number of years, they serve on the Board or on committees and boards of the larger association. Or they blog regularly about our Association and our lives together.

But church time is slow time.

C h u r c h T i m e i s S l o w Tiiiiiiiimmmmmmmmmmeeeeeeee.

I came out of Seminary great guns, intending to change the world, to start adult education programs that mimicked the kind of intense bonding and exploration I experienced in Seminary. I was going to start outreach ministries that met the felt needs of the poorest in the community from church basements, empowering the members of any congregation I served to imagine wildly the kinds of needs they, banded together as a congregation, could meet.

And here I am two decades later on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, talking with people, not about the next outreach activity, not about deep intense theological questions about the meaning of life, but about the importance of the Safe Congregation Policies. We explore why it isn't a good idea for a person who doesn't actually believe that the rules are necessary to be the actual person who teaches them to newcomers. Sometimes I practice, teach, and engage in right relationship with my community by saying "No."

Here I am, again, trying to find language for why the word Faith doesn't mean belief in what isn't provable. Or in a conversation about why, just because the word Covenant is printed on the side of big rigs and is claimed by reconstructionist Christians we still get to use it. That, in fact, we must use this language, for it is our language. The very deepest innermost truth of our faith is in our covenant one with another.

Here I am, again, asking a group of incredibly passionate and talented RE Volunteers to remember that they are working with a group that exists in the context of a larger RE Program, which is in the context of the larger congregation, which is uniquely qualified to offer it's membership a certain kind of being-in-relationship.

Here I am, again, (trying to be careful) asking questions about why a congregant who buys fair trade coffee and won't shop at Walmart would entertain the idea that when staff hours are cut, that staff member should just offer up volunteer time to fulfill their job description.

Here I am, not engaged in a deep discussion about multinational economic oppression, but explaining why I think that all staff will support another staff person's raise to the local Living Wage even though none of us are going to get a COLA this year; why it's a justice issue; why we are also bound together in right relation.

Under economic pressure, congregations need their religous professionals to be professional -- that is, to continue to help them learn how to "do church." If my hours or program budget were to be cut further, what would that mean to me as a professional? What would it mean to my family? These are my questions to answer, and they belong in conversation with my family and colleagues.

But, how would the congregation "own" the consequences of choices to cut? This, ultimately is my role as a religious professional under economic pressure -- how might I help the congregation understand that those consequences have to do with how they live their lives together, how they support their children and youth, how they walk together in justice and peace and right relation. Changes in my job description would mean modifications in how they support their own religious community, but it ought not be about whether or not I am hurt or angry. Their reaction to any cuts that are made ought not be to personally apologize to me. Because it's not about me.

My family life is about me, my economic realities are about me, and my solutions will be about me. But the congregation must learn through this as through everything else, how to "do church," how to be in right relation, how to make hard choices and then follow up with right action.

What I do as a religous educator is far more complicated, rich, and meaningful than the exciting work I'd once dreamed. Starting up community education programs to teach basic car repair to single mothers would have been much simpler.

PS. Late breaking news people, Literary License. It's a lovely thing. Remember, I never talk about my congregation on this blog, and so there are no exact literal conversations with exact identifiable congregants; just as I hope you understand that it could not possibly be true, in that literal factual sense, that I had all of the above conversations, literally, this Wednesday afternoon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Moses is Departing Egypt: A Facebook Haggadah

Since I'm on the subject of Facebook, here's a very funny page. But it's a Fake Facebook page, so don't try to click the link to see who God's friends are. It won't work.

Below is a screenshot of the beginning.

Here's the link to the whole thing.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Facebook as the new Scanners

My grandfather had a scanner.

My dad has a scanner.

I have a scanner.

My uncle and brother are technogeeks, so they graduated to ham radios and shortwave and I don't understand a word they say so they don't get to be in my blog today.

If this is new to you, let me explain that a scanner is a radio device one can set to certain frequencies to listen to police, fire, ambulance (and for the truly compulsive, the two-way radio broadcasts between the base and, say, the Heating Oil delivery truck, or the local college security officers.). Scanners are the explanation of how local tv news sometimes get so quickly to the scene of the accident. It provides, not long narratives of reality, but little bits of information that provide a mental image of reality, a little fuzzy in the manner of television when it went out magically over the air the way television is supposed to be transmitted. Yet it is still a little specific at the same time...like when that fuzzy tv had great audio.

A scanner is how my dad kept up with the local situation for weeks while there was no electricity after the ice storm of 1998 in the Northern Adirondacks (and Vt, and Quebec). Battery back up, very hard core.

My grandfather's scanner usually brought out opinions from my grandmother,
"I told you there was no good letting kids play in that park down there," or
"He was probably drunk," or "As fat as that, it's no wonder she had a heart attack."

I have used mine in times of electrical outage, or when I hear lots of sirens, or, sometimes, if there's nothing on tv and I wonder what's going on in my town[s].
I get to find out that the electricity is out because someone crashed into the pole at the end of the road, so I know it won't be long. I can tell if any neighbors already called in a noise complaint...

My partner pointed out the other day that I haven't turned it on since I joined Facebook.

Is Facebook the new Scanner? Have all my bits of technology and hobbies been replaced?