Rebecca Gonzalez-Campoy, Beloved Community Communications Team
Session three of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light’s (MNIPL) Reparations Learning Table generated discussion and reflection around how our faith community traditions or spiritual practices determine how we engage in meaningful repair work for the long haul.
Take a look at the MARCH/Multifaith Anti-Racism Change and Healing Eco Map as a visual reminder of our reparations journey.
Reparatory Eco Map credit: MARCH (multifaith anti-racism, change, and healing) Rev. Terri Burnor; Rev. Ashley Horan; Jessica Intermill, Esq.; Liz Loeb, Esq.; Rev. Dana Neuhauser; Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs (Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation, Rev. Dr. Rebecca Voekel
Learning about atrocities that our faith traditions committed against people of color may motivate us to abandon those communities. Yet, they can be the very place in which we find strength and support to engage in what Reparations Learning Table co-leader Jessica Intermill calls “the repentance/repair/return framework.”
This notion of lament, then repair and return of ill-gotten gains with penalty payment included, is a theme found in many faith traditions. The Biblical story of Zacchaeus the tax collector and Jesus (Luke 19:1-10 New International Version) is one of several examples. Aparigraha in the practice of yoga is the concept that nonpossession of things grounds you in the universe. Zen Buddhism teaches the ethics of not taking what is not given. Many Indigenous nations live by the code, “take only what you need.” It’s by no means a new concept. We’re just returning to it.
The 7th Principle of Unitarian Universalism calls us to respect “the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” The proposed 8th principle currently under consideration by the Unitarian Universalist Association — “journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions” — could be a call to lament, repair, and return land and resources to our Black and Indigenous neighbors.
What does this action look like? And why do the work as a faith community? MNIPL Reparations Table co-leader Liz Loeb lifted up these reasons:
This is intergenerational work: elders possess wisdom that, when combined with the energy and new ideas of younger people, can create a stronger faith community committed to the spiritual practice of reparations, however they are defined.
Here’s a personal example. I have an adopted, now estranged, Ojibwe brother who many in the Two Harbors, Minnesota, public education and law enforcement systems deemed lesser than the white kids, while growing up. When some believed that he could succeed, he did, but many teachers expected nothing from him. And that’s what they got. My brother wound up in juvenile detention for minor offenses. When he got out, the local sheriff typically went after him first when a crime occurred.
I’m currently pursuing a master’s in divinity in UU Social Justice and completing my Community Pastoral Education (CPE) unit with Volunteers of America High School. There I provide whatever support staff needs to help mostly students of color who’ve been bounced out of the mainstream Minneapolis Public School system. My fellow Social Justice CPE cohort meets at Stillwater State Prison because that’s where half of our group lives. We are each trying to make the lives better for those who, for whatever reason, veered off the path to a healthy life. We are trying to return what was taken from the ancestors of our clients.
I work with kids who have family members in prison, who are from immigrant families struggling to make their way in a completely foreign country, who’ve already been to juvenile detention, and/or who are members of gangs. Some will graduate. Some won’t. I could not do any of this work as an individual. Getting involved in Unity’s social justice work led me to pursue a master’s in divinity in UU Social Justice so that I may work in community to repent, repair, and return that which was ill-gotten. As Dr. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better!”
I leave you with prompts for reflection: What traditions or practices help ground you when you think about reparations as a lifelong commitment? What insight does your faith tradition or community of practice hold that feels relevant to reparations?
For more information about reparations work, please visit these online resources:
Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light
Reparation actions from around the country
Volunteers of America
The Justice Database, a project of Unity Church
SATURDAY, JANUARY 28
9:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. • In-person at Unity Church
For more and more of us taking next steps into antiracist practices and expanding intercultural capacities, the increasing complexity of this work is everywhere present about us — within, among, and beyond. There is no overlooking, evading, or simplifying this complexity as it is nothing other than the disquieting complexity of ourselves. And for those committed to this deep work, who expect to complexify this work, we invite you to register for this winter training event with Team Dynamics. We will find ways to be present to change, creatively engage conflict, and create brave space where complexity serves as fertile ground for learning and shaping change together.
As one who wrote, spoke, and wrestled incessantly with the complexity of racism in the soul of America, James Baldwin insisted, “Complexity is our only safety and love is the only key to our maturity.” A love that refuses simplistic definitions and illusions of safety promoted by our dominant culture. A love more perceptive to our battling instincts, assumptions, and beliefs that vie for position and power, even weaponizing antiracist tools like “characteristics of white supremacy culture” (Tema Okun, White Dominant Culture) to accuse, shame, blame and perpetuate disconnection. But what are the antidotes and spiritual practices that can revive complexity in a time of false simplicities? How can we complicate the narrative and keep it from collapsing into that us/them binary? How do we wade into the messiness to achieve conflicts and truer conversations worthy of our humanity? If trust precedes facts, how can we claim a deeper covenant with one another that opens an alternate way to truths, tensions, conflicts, mutual care, and possibilities into the future?
We hope you will join us as we further our collaboration with Team Dynamics in deepening intercultural capacity across our ministry areas. We will build on practices and touch the complexities at the heart of our antiracist multicultural work.
Becky Gonzalez-Campoy, Beloved Community Communications Team
“Somatic instead of semantic” is how one participant in Unity’s recent Gender + Faith Retreat described her experience. Instead of focusing on labels and words, people shared how gender defines their lives, determining what they can freely do and what they canNOT safely do.
Thirty people spanning gender identities and several decades in age came together on Saturday, March 19, 2022, to spend the day in a retreat unlike any other Unity has offered. Rather than holding a men’s, women’s, or queer gathering, this event created a safe space for non-binary, queer, and cisgendered members of Unity Church to explore together how gender and faith intersect in their lives.
Registrants completed an interest and demographic survey as well as some reading homework prior to attending to ensure that everyone arrived ready to start on the same page.
Three congregants and three staff members spent 11 weeks planning this event that invited participants to explore their own gender and share on equal footing. They blended movement exercises with conversation. “We didn’t want this to be head space,” explained Laura Park, Unity’s Director of Membership and Hospitality. “We wanted it to be heart space.”
Retreat organizers invited outside consultant Max Brumberg-Kraus from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities to lead the group in exercises to open their hearts and minds to the similarities and differences in their stories.
First, Brumberg-Kraus had participants read various verses of Song of Solomon from the Hebrew Bible. “He asked us to assign a gender to each speaker of these verses,” said Sara Ford, one of the event planners and a participant. This activity opened their eyes to how easily we assume gender without thinking.
Next, participants practiced four body movement exercises to reveal experiences of gender assignment that often interfere with someone’s true identity. “Max had us act out an activity we loved doing as a child that ran counter to others’ expectations of who we should be,” said Ford. “I mimed climbing trees.” Then the rest of the individual’s group mirrored that action to the person demonstrating their activity. Seeing one’s memory reflected turned out to be a powerful and healing tool. Ford noted how this exercise revealed an unconscious increase in physical fluidity for some when they were back in a favorite place, and this time others welcomed and accepted them for who they are.
“It felt like a gift sharing my four movements,” said finn schneider, another congregant planner and participant. “The exercises embodied memory work that accessed the complicated relationship with gender.” Everyone journaled about their experiences afterward.
Ford realized how she herself was guilty of making assumptions about herself based on appearance. “I remember auditioning for one of Unity’s choirs, certain that I was an alto or a tenor,” she said. “When Ahmed [Unity’s Director of Music Ministries] said I fit best as a soprano, at first, I was insulted. Then I realized he was focusing solely on my vocal cords, nothing else.”
The movement-based format eased queer and non-binary participants’ initial concern that they would be educating curious cisgender folks. The exercises allowed everyone to participate on equal ground.
Participants spent much of their time building a foundation of trust among the group, working toward a willingness to be vulnerable with one another. Like schneider, several of the participants were new to Unity Church. Rev. Shay McKay served as chaplain for anyone who needed pastoral care.
This was not a time for answers, rather it was an opportunity to raise questions about what it means to explore gender and faith. While some evaluations yearned for more explicit activities connecting gender with faith in the retreat, other participants described the day as an integrated faith formation experience. “Faith was implicit,” said schneider. “Faith is the entry point, communicating how we enter space together. Everyone came willing to enter and stay in a possibly difficult, uncertain community."
The day concluded with an art project that captured the essence of lessons lifted up and hope for continued growth. “People came up to me after Sunday services now wanting to talk about what’s next,” said schneider.
“The door is now open for further conversation,” said Ford. She noted that her children, who have completed the Our Whole Lives program talk freely about gender and sexuality while the adults typically do not. The Gender + Faith Retreat may play a pivotal role in changing that silence and making Unity a brave place to hold these gender and faith discussions beyond a retreat setting. As many said in their evaluations, one day was just a beginning and participants look forward to deepening their understanding of the gender and faith intersection in themselves and throughout the congregation in future conversations.
To learn more about the intention for the retreat, view the “Gender + Faith Retreat Conversation with Ray Hommeyer, Laura Park, and Shay MacKay” video on the Unity YouTube Channel. For more information about the LBGTQ+ fellowship group at Unity, contact Laura Park, firstname.lastname@example.org, 651-228-1456 x110.
Beloved Community Resources
Unity Justice Database
Team Dynamics House of Intersectionality
Anti-Racism Resources in the Unity Libraries Collection
Creative Writers of Color in Unity Libraries
The History of Race Relations and Unity Church, 1850-2005
Beloved Community Staff Team
The Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST) strengthens and coordinates Unity’s antiracism and multicultural work, and provides opportunities for congregants and the church to grow into greater intercultural competency. We help the congregation ground itself in the understanding of antiracism and multiculturalism as a core part of faith formation. We support Unity’s efforts to expand our collective capacity to imagine and build the Beloved Community. Here, we share the stories of this journey — the struggles, the questions, and the collaborations — both at Unity and in the wider world.
The current members of the Beloved Community Staff Team include Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, Rev. KP Hong, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Rev. Karen Gustafson, Angela Wilcox, Pauline Eichten, and Erika Sanders.