Laura Park, Beloved Community Staff Team
On November 30, Angela Wilcox and I presented the last of four programs on the Double Helix Model of Faith Formation and Antiracist Multiculturalism. This Wellspring Wednesday program focused on the characteristics of white dominant culture and the practice of the antidotes to those characteristics as a way of making the antiracist multicultural practices side of the Double Helix more concrete. We briefly described these four characteristics:
Angela noted that how you react to not understanding the double helix is a wonderful opportunity for practicing the antidotes to white supremacy culture. There was a collective moment of recognition when Angela said that the problem isn’t that you don’t understand, the problem is that you’re uncomfortable with not understanding. “So what will you do about your discomfort?” she asked.
Angela also shared the research about how learning to speak a second language requires developing a tolerance for ambiguity. She suggested that exploring and practicing the Double Helix is actually learning a new language.
We provided each table with a handout of the antidotes to the four characteristics as well as a list of possible spiritual practices. These spiritual practices included:
We asked each table group to pick one of the characteristics and discuss three questions:
Right to comfort was chosen by the most groups, but the one perfectionism group ended up being the largest. When the groups reported back on their discussion, the perfectionism group shared that they struggled with understanding perfectionism as problematic, rather than something to be proud of, until they could see how it limited them or affected their work/relationships.
Many people recognized the importance of repetition to build skill to counter these dominant culture characteristics. As an invitation to build those skills we invited people to complete this sentence, printed on a slip of paper:
“I commit to practicing the Double Helix by using _____________________ as my daily spiritual practice to live the antidote _________________. “
People chose a range of spiritual practices to help them live into the desired antidote, including using deep breathing to live the antidote of welcoming discomfort; journaling to develop a culture of appreciation; maintaining a gratitude journal to counter perfectionism; mindful walking to notice urgency; and worship and meditation to go beyond either/or thinking.
Hopefully, people left the series—even just one of the sessions in the series—with a deeper appreciation for how the two sides of the Double Helix talk to one another in a life of faith. And, people were in community with others who are also grappling to understand this metaphor and model, so they know they're not alone in trying to understand.
Ray Wiedmeyer, Beloved Community Communications Team
The third part of the series on four practices of the Double Helix Model of Faith Formation and Antiracism Multiculturalism took place at Wellspring Wednesday on November 17, 2022. While the previous two parts of the series were set up to help participants like myself better understand the use of the double helix model in our personal lives, this session moved beyond ourselves to the use of the metaphor in our work among and beyond us—the work we do with each other and in the world outside Unity. To do this, participants sat in a large circle around a smaller circle in the center called “the fishbowl” made up Unity members willing to share their perspective on the “State of the Church.”
Over the course of the evening, two groups occupied the center ring, and each took a turn sharing the ways they personally found connection to the church such as being involved in the choir, an outreach team, religious education, chalice circle participant, being a trustee, etc. In each case they were asked to reflect on the current state of the church, how things have changed or not changed over the past weeks, months, and years, and how we were doing as a congregation now in relation to their points of church connection. I found it fascinating and informative how many ways members found connection to the place we call Unity Church.
The reflections of each group were then followed by reflections by KP Hong, Unity’s Minister of Faith Formation, and Alfonso Wenker of Team Dynamics, the organization helping us in our work to become more multiculturally competent. Their goal was to share how the double helix metaphor can be used to explore the connection between our faith and the antiracist multicultural work we claim as our goal.
KP shared that our goal requires change and often change can be uncomfortable, even painful. Predictability is not necessarily what we should long for, and that if we forgo the same way of doing what we have always done, we may open the way for the positive change. What we know for sure is that real change does not come with some of the old ways of seeing and doing things. He also shared that this takes time. Unity can be the perfect place to do the work which often requires community, but not just any kind of community. It requires a covenantal community in which we do the work together thru hard times as well as, easy times; in which we stay in the room and do the work even when things get really difficult.
Alfonso shared that what he was hearing in the individual responses was a sense of ambiguity felt by the congregation, which is a positive sign of a congregation moving along the multicultural continuum. To move out of our place of minimization, of our white privilege, we must be open to change. Being in and getting comfortable with change, with ambiguity, is helpful in this work.
For me, this is where I began to see the value of the double helix metaphor. Our progressive, liberal faith holds the keys to becoming multiculturally competent if we embrace our ability to change. Our competency work and our work to see white privilege disappear is the work of creating Beloved Community that we often talk about in our Unitarian Universalist faith. If we are blind to the connection, we may end up shortchanging ourselves and the change we wish to see.
Erika Sanders, Beloved Community Staff Team
As Unity’s antiracist multicultural work has grown and become more complex, opportunities for congregants to be involved have sprouted in nearly every part of church life. Individually and in community, congregation members are engaging with the Double Helix Model of Faith Formation and Antiracist Multiculturalism and becoming deeply intentional about their spiritual practices.
To discuss this further, I interviewed Mike Funck who recently completed a three-year term as a Teaching Associate. I wanted to know how Mike had experienced antiracist multiculturalism as an embedded part of his church life.
Erika: Tell me about what you learned as a Teaching Associate, and how it shaped your understanding of the relationships between religion and multiculturalism.
Mike: We began with a deep dive into the history of liberal theology, which was both fascinating and challenging. I had a profound “a-ha” moment, a realization about the vast interconnectedness of things we do at Unity Church, and how all our work can be connected to the process of faith formation and antiracist multicultural work. Monthly worship themes, Chalice Circles, Open Page Writing Sessions, everything I had been a part of, all began to feel like a spiritually connected whole.
Erika: As a Teaching Associate, did you work with the Double Helix Model?
Mike: Yes, I did. People say the Double Helix is a good example of why we have a bumper sticker at Unity that reads, “It’s Complicated!” And I understand that — it’s not simple. But at the same time, it makes sense to me. The Double Helix Model helps me pull disparate ideas together and I use the model as a road map. Grappling with the model was a good way for me to understand both what had existed in my life before, and what I can do differently in the future. The graphic elements of the model and the mural-like graphic that was created at a Team Dynamics event help me look at the whole, but also to enter into the work one piece at a time. The videos created for the Team Dynamics event were very helpful to me, too.
Erika: Have you changed your ways of interacting with the world as a result? Or have you developed new practices?
Mike: The process has reinforced two key things: the importance of listening, and of speaking for myself alone. These practices resonate across everything I do and have helped me be more intentional about interacting across differences that may be cultural. On the surface, many interactions and differences may not seem to be about race or culture but in fact are, and present opportunities to learn and become better. As part of the Teaching Associate experience, we write up “case studies,” which are concise descriptions of a situation we experienced or observed in which cultural or racial differences were handled less than ideally, and how deeply that affected peoples’ lives. In each case study, we talked about what happened and explored what could have happened instead.
The process opened my eyes to the multiplicity of ways we could respond to cross-cultural situations. This not only helped me to develop skills related to intercultural competency, but also enriched my spiritual practices and understanding of faith. This is something we do continually because we experience life and change continually. It’s a lifetime learning project.
Erika: How has this changed your world outside of Unity Church?
Mike: In our sometimes-contentious society, it’s not unusual to run across people with perspectives that I find offensive or wrong. It’s difficult to know what to do when someone says something objectionable. That’s when I re-engage in the power of listening. If I then share my own views, it’s not in the spirit of telling someone else what to say or think, it’s simply sharing my perspective which may be different than their perspective. Even with that intellectualization, it’s still hard to do. That’s why it’s a practice.
Erika: What has led you to be a spiritually curious person?
Mike: I’ve always been curious and loved to learn. In my profession as a technical writer, I loved to approach projects with the goal of understanding their complexity and connectedness, asking “how does this all fit together?” It’s similar to the way I’ve learned about antiracism and multiculturalism as part of my journey at Unity. It’s one thing to be generally aware and curious about things, but another to crack the book open a bit more, learn more about ourselves and understand that race is a component of our lives, even when we don’t see it. It requires understanding the systemic racism that is baked in and, for many white people, not apparent at the surface level. It’s necessary to pull it apart. Dismantling anything like systemic racism generates pushback. Thankfully, my experience with groups at Unity is one of growing with fellow pilgrims. We may or may not think and feel the same, but we have a commonality of spirit. When we share trust and vulnerability in a group or “go deep fast,” our capacity to grow is profound.
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, Rev. Lara Cowtan, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Lia Rivamonte and Angela Wilcox.