Laurie Coltri has been a member of UUCC since 2003, and is the current 2nd Vice President. She is a retired mediator. Editorial assistance for this post was provided by fellow UUCC member John Harris.
UUCC’s new candidate mission statement begins with the phrase “UUCC Embodies Love in Action.” Love is, of course, also a noun — a feeling — but love is useless unless people act on their loving feelings. I learned this through 42 years of marriage, raising two daughters, and being a member of UUCC for 20 years. It took a long time!! When I start to become lazy or disconnected, I try to remind myself that love is a verb, and then roll up my sleeves.
I will also confess to, like everyone, acting racist at times. By this I mean that I can be, unwittingly, a contributor to the climate of hostility that members of our UUCC community who are from marginalized groups report experiencing. And frequently I am — unwittingly or because the alternative sometimes seems overwhelmingly difficult — complicit in the preservation of our oppressive culture. But I also take anti-racist actions — working toward a congregation in which marginalized persons will be able to find respite and sanctuary, and a toward a society in which White Supremacy Culture will, at last, be swept away. (Yes, people can act, at turns, both racist and antiracist.)
This brings me to trust being a mountain. I used to unconsciously assume that trust was simply a matter of making a reciprocal mental commitment: I will agree to trust you, and you agree to trust me. But over the last ten years, as I learned about systemic oppression and its consequences, I have discovered that trust is pretty easy for me but, for good reasons, much harder for others. Those from marginalized communities live with multiple and frequent microaggressions,* perpetrated by people who look like me, that gradually wear down and weather them. Some, especially those with enslavement ancestries, also live with numerous and egregious multi-generational forces that have prevented them from accumulating resources. Some of the systemic structures that hold people back are as powerfully destructive today as they ever were. These disparities prevent such marginalized persons from moving through the world with the ease that people like me — cisgender and white — do.
It is obvious that racism hurts marginalized people, but it also hurts people like me. People of color who come to UUCC may have suffered a lifetime in which people who look like me have been harming them. They may well interpret my actions in a manner consistent with their past experience. I also can’t be trusted never to microaggress, because White Supremacy Culture is the invisible water I swim in. Our congregation is dynamic, and even if I build trust with people I know, it will not extend to newcomers. In short, when building an antiracist, multicultural Beloved Community, trust-building is asymmetrical and never-ending, with people like me needing to carry more of the load and carrying it over the long haul.
Mostly, I did not create this situation. It feels unfair. But it’s the reality of the situation, and my wanting it to be “fair” does not change this fundamental reality: if I want to act in love, I have the lion’s share of the responsibility of proving, through my actions that extend through time, that I am trustworthy.
For example, I have the responsibility of seeking knowledge of the kinds of common words and actions that hurt. (Here’s one online list of microaggressions — there are many more.) I have the responsibility of learning about White Supremacy Culture. I have the responsibility to help rebalance congregational power where I see an imbalance, and to help repair damage.
And (I see this as of central importance), I have the responsibility of being willing to be called out, publicly in UUCC social circles, when I microaggress. I have the responsibility of receiving criticism openly and nondefensively, and if I can’t do that, I need to develop a toolbox of responses that buy me time until I can work through my feelings and be present with my best self. I have the responsibility to seek information about how my actions might have been hurtful, so I can learn from my mistakes and improve.** I have the responsibility to offer, authentically and with real commitment, to make the victim whole. And I have the responsibility of displaying, through my actions that show that I take in and learn the lessons of each encounter, that I am accountable. This is the sacred work of trustbuilding.
There is nothing more powerful in moving a culture than when its members walk the talk about trust, and others observe it. In fact, if we can model our willingness to accept our responsibility in creating hurt, and can show we are not defensive but, instead, can learn and change, it will send a powerful message that we take Beloved Community seriously. Thus, in a sense, allowing ourselves to become vulnerable to screwing up is integral to overall healing in our community. It offers teachable moments and an opportunity to demonstrate that we are different, and more trustworthy, than the general world outside our walls. Making mistakes and learning from them in the sight of our community is central to making progress. Perfectionism, on the other hand, is isolating and counterproductive.
I know this is not easy, or even easy to hear, and I know my perspective will be anathema in some circles. Some of my friends and acquaintances believe, I think, that the reciprocal obligation to our willingness to work on our microaggressions is privacy. I would argue the contrary: that our visible, public commitment to risk showing our unconscious biases, to accepting others’ comments when we may have acted harmfully out of that bias, and to showing we’ve learned from these encounters, are the accountability key to a community where all feel safe and find respite, a community that is, gradually, becoming Beloved. Be brave in this: It is love in action: love as a verb.
How we act together in community is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg — we must act for justice in the larger community, the nation and the world. But how we treat our own congregational family lies at the sacred center.
Trust is a mountain, and we must climb it, in courage, humility, openness, curiosity and compassion. Strap on your backpack and lace up your hiking shoes — let’s climb together!
* Microaggressions are everyday words or conduct that send a message of inferiority or “othering” to the person to whom they are directed. Typically microaggressions are invisible to the perpetrator.
** This information typically needs to come from bystanders, because most victims are exhausted from, on a daily basis, trying over and over again to explain what has hurt them. Microaggressions, being subtle, are often hard for victims to explain, which makes the process even more difficult. Part of trust-building is learning to be an effective bystander.