“Call of Something More”

Berry Street Conference

Wednesday June 21, 2017

Reverend Marta I. Valentín

 

When Unitarian Universalism found me one Easter morning,

I didn’t know I was looking for it.

But as soon as it appeared I recognized

a hunger I had been subconsciously trying to feed.

 

I rejoiced in realizing:

I may have stumbled into a holy place

that professed to welcome

all of me, tal como soy.

 

Months later when I found Unitarian Universalism,

I jumped for joy,

smiled a great big grin across that hunger hole,

danced in the aisle,

felt the sun’s rays come right through the ceiling,

illuminating a circular warmth just around me,

having discovered ‘a thing’ I hadn’t known existed.

 

Between us though, I did not feel: “I am home.”

I had a home filled with the treasures of my culture:

the spirited hospitality, the community comes first-ness,

the love sung to us that permeates every generation…”

Even with that initial holy reaction,

I had not run toward ‘this thing.’

 

When I finally took another peek,

I understood that I had been searching.

 

Something had been resurrected in me.

The stone had been rolled away from the dark and dank room

of spiritual isolation.

 

In time,

taking the leap of faith into community that such encounters demand,

the U and the U of it all

whispered that I was a valued human being,

said aloud that I was wanted,

bellowed that I was needed, and might eventually be loved.

 

It was believed as it was uttered to me.

I believed it as I heard it.

It seemed at the time a good fit,

but I never imagined this sacred theology  

could get so distorted.

Ultimately, to me

and those of my siblings of color,

the words came to mean

painful, spirit-crushing, lies.

 

At least that was how the U and the U

was lived out in our presence,

where we learned that not all of us were accepted,

some were ‘too much,’ and others ‘not enough,’

even as we were offered marginal platforms,

to teach the pale center.

 

As a form of survival and a strategy to belong,

we learned to perpetuate the lies.

I kept lying to myself, to you,

and most painfully to my daughter,

hoping that one glorious, sun-streaking down through the clouds day,

our live-affirming gospel would be true -

for each.and.every.one.of.us.

 

Para mi gente, the Latino and now Latinx yes,

but also for all who we say are “our people”…

our trans, genderqueer and non-conforming siblings…

our bisexual friends and those in constellations,

our siblings of African heritage and Black folk…

our not hiding in plain sight but treated as such beloved scooterati[1],

our even more invisibilized Native cousins, and Asian and Pacific Islanders,

the Roma, who spoke today…

 

This poem could be just about naming people whose names are not spoken,

and whose faces are not seen,

as the-too-often-not-intending-to-be-but-show-up-as-

immoral-majority look past or over us.

 

Beloved, if you find yourself in these words,

hay esperanza.

 

Like you, I am thoroughly exhausted.

Yet living this unity brings no salvation.

 

The center of our very being has just been too pale, beyond what is healthy.

 

This ‘thing’ we found, made so long ago, for freedom -

was not made free.

Now, to look free-er, hip and mod, questions are asked of us:

How do we add some cocoa and what kind are acceptable?

How do we add un poquito de hot salsa?

Do we say Pow Wow or Native Gathering?

Handicapped or person in a wheelchair?

Asian or Oriental? Please tell me…

Code for: can we still do their work for them?

 

I ask for us:

Do you want us here?

Do you want to be free?

Actually, the questions are no longer relevant. But we are.

 

The pale center needs us to remain relevant, whether they recognize it or not.

 

We understand

that the answers linger around the edges

and the center must face out

to see that we are no longer

trying to step carefully in.

 

It’s stomping time.

We humans of color have always reached for something more,

exercising and building up quite a resilient muscle

that is necessary against the many gatekeepers

still trying to deter us.

 

Being resilient in the face of dissenting voices is a gift we bring.

 

In the fight to be an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multi-culturally faithful religion,

we know, heart-breakingly so,

that some sitting in this room have locked the gate from the inside

and have sent some of our brightest stars away

telling us we are not worth saving.

 

Our faith challenged to our very cores, we mourn that loss every day.

 

As a Latina in this painful and momentous moment of our movement,

it is not easy to confront our faith’s flaws

especially when our Latinx history is ignored

and micro-aggressions pile up alongside tokenization.[2]

Still, many of us have chosen not to roll, walk, or limp away

despite the pain we live with to stay in[3].

Despite our pale center’s penchant for making false promises

toward real freedom,

and bleeding out what is already vital.

 

We need to change this pattern.

I fear we are re-living our past

by separating out our colors in a hierarchy of importance.

I say this today because I know others in our impacted casa

are afraid to say this out loud.

I know that for decades Latinx and other people of color

have been afraid to speak their truth.

Have been afraid to demand actions that are beyond the binary code.

Have been afraid to ask, why is it that we haven’t organized together?

I was one, and I risk saying it now because I love you. I love us.

And where you go Beloveds, is where I want to go together.

Even as I struggle with where my loyalties lie,

and the reality that I am pushed to decide which ancestral lines to lift up

in a supremacist society that survives by having us believe, 

that we have to choose and, that it is a choice.

 

When we listen to the call of something more:

 

Let us create a unity that does not lower us to the merest common denominator,

knowing that dealing with our complexity, forces everyone, of all colors

to look at ourselves deeply.

 

Let us band together as indigenous and people of color to be the shift

that knocks the U and U off the linear route it’s been engaged in, 

for in fifty years, all of the self-centeredness

has not led to a tipping point of self-awareness.

 

Let us beseech: is it really too much for our pale siblings

to acknowledge their privilege,

and do the work to dismantle every.ounce.of.supremacy.that.dominates.all.of.us?

 

We are focused on who gets to be in the center,

instead of strengthening our own centers.  

 

Our individual cores are on fire, but one chaliced flame they do not make.

 

If the pale center responds to the call for something more

they will turn and face the edges where we are,

a rainbow of faces and cultures

engaging in a Unitarian Universalism

that breaths love into its very core

from our well-worn hearts;

they will find us no longer waiting

but creating a Unitarian Universalism of our own

for everyone.

 

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[1] Reverend Sean Dennison

[2] Claudia Jimenéz

[3] Claudia Jimenéz, adapted