Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The UCC, Rev. Dr John C. Dorhauer, and White Privilege

Last Friday, UCC President and General Minister Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer posted a compelling article in the Huffington Post, "An Open Letter to White Men in America." 

Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
President and General Minister, UCC
Dorhauer, who has a doctorate in the subject of white privilege, offers an invitation to all white men of America: 
I invite the white men of America with me on this journey of discovery. Ask those who don't share your privilege to tell you what they see.
I suspect that, when straight white American males (spoiler alert: like me) are confronted with the reality of our white privilege, our first instinct is guilt. Some may even get defensive; they may feel chastised for being white (which is a wonderfully rare occurrence for a white person). 

But, I believe this reaction misses the point. There's no need to feel guilty or defensive. Rather, we are charged with action, namely: recognizing the advantages that white privilege affords us. 

When I think about recognizing my own privilege and what it means, I try to think of it in analogies. It's not perfect, but it's a start. Perhaps the most helpful analogy (for me, anyway) is to think about it in terms of class. 

Let's say you were born to a wealthy (or even middle-class family). You didn't ask for it, you didn't earn it, it's just how it is. You didn't do anything wrong, but you immediately have resources at your disposal that most people in this world don't have. 

Furthermore, you might not even realize that you have a leg up on anyone else, at least at first. And why would you? To you, having enough money to go on vacation, attend college, study abroad, etc. is the norm. Most of your friends are in the same boat, and you haven't come into contact with many who aren't. 

Maybe it's even hard for you to understand why other families struggle with money. Your parents worked hard to earn their money, and you plan on doing the same. Why do other families choose to suffer?

This last line of thinking is flawed, of course; the issues of class and race are too complex and nuanced. However, I don't believe acknowledging your own white privilege should involve guilt or penance. What it does demand, I think, is that we admit something to ourselves. We need to admit that, because we are white, our lives are easier than they would be if we weren't. 

We are treated better. It's not hard to see this. "I'm less likely to go to jail. I'm less likely to be pulled over. I'm more likely to get hired. People will give me the benefit of the doubt. People will smile and greet me. People will know how to act around me." 

So how do we move forward? Dorhauer states: 
Don't worry about carrying the burden of solving this pervasive injustice: for good reason, you and I won't be entrusted with that work. But only when we see what others are more than happy to show us about ourselves will we be open then to hearing what they have to teach us about what will be required for true equality to emerge.
Here, I believe Dorhauer is positing that, as we acknowledge our privilege and listen to those who do not share the same privilege, we will begin to dismantle the thought-processes and institutions that give us this unearned privilege in the first place.  

Monday, July 20, 2015

How La Foret Changed My Life

Right now, there is a gaggle of rowdy, smart, funny, and creative youths having incredible conversations and forging amazing friendships among the trees of Black Forest, Colorado. 

Not Pictured: Kids Having the Time of their LIVES.
I must disclaim that I have a very strong personal affinity for RMC UCC outdoor ministry at La Foret. It changed my life when I was a teenager, and to this day, it continues to have a positive impact on my life. La Foret gave me some of the best friends I will ever have. It led me to Doane College in Crete, NE, a UCC-affiliated school where I also met my wife. It led to this very job. And, in returning to counsel at La Foret from 2005-2014, I have reconnected with old friends and have made several more. Hopefully, I've had some of the same impact on youth that my counselors had on me. 

A Startling Dramatization of a Trust Fall
The biggest impact La Foret had on me is hard to explain. The closest I can get is something like "How to Be a Good Person" training. But even that doesn't really describe it very well. Along with my church and youth group, experiences at La Foret taught me things I am not sure I would have gained elsewhere, including the courage to ask tricky questions without fear of being judged. 

When I think about the fact that some kids never experience this type of community, I feel simultaneously totally bummed and really grateful. Had my life gone a slightly different way and I missed out on camp, I can say with 100% certainty that I'd be a much different person. 

Maybe I would be better at slam-dunking?
Don't get me wrong: I don't think RMC UCC outdoor ministry is the only place one can get experiences like this. La Foret just happened to be the place where I had the "A-ha!" moment; that moment when I realized that each of us has a unique story, we're all doing our best, and we need to cut each other as much slack as possible. 

I still constantly mess this up. I get cranky with those who don't immediately gun it when the turn-arrow turns green (we only have like five seconds to make this happen, people!). I get mopey and anxious when I think about my imperfections and "to-do" list. I am crabby like an eight-year-old when my blood sugar is low because I forgot to eat because I'm a man-child who forgets to prepare his own meals. I make snap-judgments. 

But, because of the things I initially learned from my counselors and peers at La Foret, I do my very best to take a step back and think about where others are coming from. It's really hard; most of the time I fail at being open-minded, and I continue belly-aching about whatever I'm annoyed about. But sometimes, if I cram it and listen, I learn something new. 

So, I am grateful to folks like our volunteer (!!!) summer-camp directors and staff, Larry McCulloch and the La Foret staff, and our own Rev. Tamara Boynton. Because of them, the kids at camp this summer will share life-affirming experiences together. Which is amazing, as long as they don't grow up and try to steal my job. 

Nice try, Baby.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Give Yourself the Freedom to Fail

Failure is important to me. Not just because it's how I learn, or because it's unrealistic to expect perfection from myself, but because it gives me the freedom to take risks. 

People usually fail in training.
Some risks are small. For example, I will often put a fried egg on top of whatever I am eating. This pays off roughly 98% of the time, and when it doesn't work, it's not a big deal. But, some risks are REALLY scary. Selling your house, moving to a new state, starting a new job, and buying a new house, for example. 

I have no ragrets about moving to Colorado. OK, maybe one.
Since I've been working for the Rocky Mountain Conference, two thoughts have constantly crossed my mind: 
  1. "This is amazing; I can't believe I get to do what I love for an organization I care so much about! I am so lucky to have my dream job!" and; 
  2. "Oh my God, I'm going to **** this  up. I hope I don't **** this up. I will probably **** this up." 
In some ways, my fear of failure is a good thing. It means I care (a LOT) about what I'm doing, and because I care so much, I don't want to let the Conference down. But I have to keep this fear in check. I have to force myself to think a third thing. It's almost impossible to remember to think this third thing, but I think it as much as I can. And that thing is: 
"Cory, you will fail. You are supposed to fail. If you don't fail, it means you're not trying. And failure in itself is not a negative thing. It's only bad if you don't learn from those failures." 
This is easier said than done. Luckily for me, working for the Rocky Mountain Conference offers a lot more grace than other employers. That's not to say I'm not accountable for my actions, or that the bar is set lower. It just means that, when I do fail, I receive help in the form of constructive criticism, guidance, and forgiveness. 

That's AMAZING. I didn't get that same level of grace when I worked at Montgomery Ward in 1997. But then again, I was a different man, and it was a different time. 

The biggest reason why I try and give myself the freedom to fail is that, while I often crash and burn, sometimes I discover something amazing. Five-hundred bad ideas will lead to one OK idea, and with a bit of luck and lots of feedback, that OK idea might evolve into a good (or great) idea. 

I guess my action item is this: 

You know that silly idea you never shared or acted on because you thought it would never work? Give it a shot. Run it by someone. It can be big (a new volunteer project) or small (a new Twitter account). It may not work out well (or at all), and that's OK. Worse case scenario: You took a risk today and learned something new about yourself. 

If all else fails, just put a fried egg on it. Guaranteed success. 

Mission Accomplished! I knew you could do it.

Monday, July 6, 2015

General Synod 2015... What Does It Do?

*All photos courtesy of the national UCC. 

Unless you have attended General Synod before, this year's General Synod held in Cleveland (June 26-30) may have seemed a little nebulous. What is Synod all about? Who attends? What happens there? How does it affect conferences and churches? 

Delegates at General Synod 2015 Use Clicky Things to Vote

From the General Synod website

Together, we will discern resolutions of witness, church structure, and function. We will stand up for issues that demand a faithful witness. And we will join together in worship each day to lift up the Stillspeaking God.
By visiting the Synod site, speaking to some of this year's attendees, and watching this video, I've gathered that it primarily serves as a way for UCC leaders (clergy and laity alike) all over the country to gather and reaffirm the UCC's identity and mission in the name of the Spirit. 

There are mandatory pieces of Synod like the business meeting, elections, and discussions on UCC-wide resolutions. There are also plenty of chances for attendees to workshop, network, socialize, dance poorly, and get weird

A Novelty Twitter Account's Somber Take on Business Meetings

Synod has some pretty powerful outcomes each year. Often, one or two of our resolutions will make the news. Aside from getting press, this adds the UCC's voice to national conversations in an effort to reach a critical mass and turn the tide. 

The UCC's resolutions have ramifications at both the Conference- and home-church levels, too. Church members at the local level might not have a stake in whether a voting procedure is amended within the national bylaws, but they are very likely to commend (or strongly disagree with) the UCC's resolution regarding Washington's NFL team. 

Personally, the work done at Synod helps me get a feel for what the UCC stands for. I may not follow every resolution to a "T" (My SodaStream is very important to me), but resolutions and elections that take place at Synod give me, as a lay-person, a good place to start when I consider how my actions affect my church. 

Make Your Voice Heard

My main takeaway from General Synod 2015 is that I'd very much like to attend General Synod 2017—and not because it's being held in Baltimore and I have a weakness for crabs, or because our own Sue Artt will be Moderator and she might be able to secure those crabs for FREE—but because I am the UCC, and you are too

I want my voice to be heard. I want to speak passionately at a podium until a buzzer tells me it's time to be quiet. I want to represent those who have the same interests as me. I wish to consume a lobster roll. I want to make things happen on behalf of the Rocky Mountain Conference. And if I can't go as a voting delegate, I'd like to attend to make sure that I am represented.