Leader Letter

Subscribing congregations should share this letter with congregational leaders.  Being oriented to the month’s theme, and equipped to help others in the congregation get aligned with it, builds the whole congregation’s engagement with the theme.  Which, of course, means unity and energy for the community.

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Dear Leaders,

One of my favorite writers in the last year or so has been Adrienne Maree Brown, who integrates systems thinking, science fiction, and justice work into a powerful vision for not only social justice, but a new chapter of life itself. In something she wrote recently, she mentioned that she was a woman "with a little bit of boy." One of the things I admire about Brown is her freedom to create new categories and frameworks.  Here, almost off-handedly, she does it with gender, as if gender was not a binary choice, nor a continuum, but an ingredient--with a dash of this, and a sprinkle of that. I believe the relative level of freedom in writers and leaders allows and invites and the freedom of readers and others. When you think about how you'd like to be known, how you would identify yourself, how free do you feel?  Do you have the language to capture your selfhood in some social sense?

In years past, one's identity was often handed down by the state. I lived in post-Apartheid South Africa for a year, where people still found identity according to the old Apartheid-era categories, which had straitjacketed people's choices and avenues of expression and connection. In the United States, we've done much the same. In the late 1970s, in elementary school in Knoxville, Tennessee, I remember a gym teacher pairing up people by race for a square-dancing lesson. And I remember thinking that there might be other ways to pair people up--even though I didn't have much language for it beyond that.

Now, in the twenty-first century, we still contend with suffocating racism and patriarchy.  And yet, the language we have to make choices has evolved. Our understanding of identity has become more nuanced and textured than we had access to, years ago.  Barack Obama and Kamala Harris are only two political figures with multiple identities, who can't be placed in a box. And the concept of intersectionality helps us contend with holding a multiplicity of identities in relationship with each other, aware of the varying power valences of each.

How do you identify?  What is foremost in how you want to be seen?  Or how others tend to see you?  How can you play with that, in the spirit of Adrienne Maree Brown, to claim an identity that makes sense to you, that captures you as you are?  What does your identity say about your community, and your history, and the resources--or lack of them--you have to draw on?

This month, we'll explore "identity" as our theme.  And, the more we look into it, the more complexity and beauty it will yield.

Faithfully,

Jake

Rev. Jake Morrill
Lead Minister ORUUC
Executive Director UUCF
Launchpad Partner