Lay Sunday—Tomorrow!

Saturday, 26 January 2013 04:14 by Victor

Along with my distinguished colleagues, I will be joining in leading the Board of Trustees church services at All Souls tomorrow (Times: 10am & 11:15am). It will be memorable. Come one, come all!

Tags:   ,
Categories:   events
Actions:   E-mail | Permalink | Comments (0) | Comment RSSRSS comment feed

Lecture on the All Souls/Red Cross Connection

Thursday, 10 January 2013 17:03 by Victor

I have the honor of co-hosting the following event this weekend - come one, come all (there will be refreshments)!!!

Sunday, January 13, at 1p.m. in the Chapel of All Souls:
Lecture on the All Souls/Red Cross Connection
Mary-Ella Holst, President of the All Souls Historical Society and a fount of knowledge about our church and its myriad activities over the course of our nearly 200 year history will present an account of the historical connections between All Souls Church and The Red Cross. This year’s recipient of the Forrest Church Award for Humanitarian Service is Gail McGovern, President and CEO of The American Red Cross. If you aren’t already proud about being part of this institution and its activities, when you hear this story you will be! This fascinating program will be hosted by Heart & Soul board members Miles Chapin and Victor Fidel, author of The Quest for Religious & Community Identity: The Story Behind the Architecture and Evolution of All Souls Church, New York City.

Triple Couple: An homage to Reverend Cheryl M. Walker

Tuesday, 15 May 2012 17:49 by Victor

The Great Reverend Cheryl M. Walker.

Put on your best foot forward is a saying my mother told me. No one does it better than Rev. Cheryl M. Walker. She performed our ceremony. By the same token, we have been fortunate to be friends with couples whom she has married. In her honor, I write this little bit of words to express how grateful we are for her ceremony and for being a part of our friends’ nuptials. Our dear friends, Eric & Diana in the picture below, invited us to their wedding in Chicago just a few weeks ago. And we were so fortunate that Lauren & Sean invited us to their wedding just 2 years ago. Our Unitarian Universalist-ness is something we have in common, surely, but we are bonded by Cheryl. It’s her “Words to the Couple” that bring a plentiful of tears to those unsentimental types like myself that make this ceremony so unforgettable. Granted our picture below doesn’t have black nor white bow-ties, no gala dresses; it’s the only one I have of us three couples after a lovely brunch at the W-Hotel close to the Chicago Union Station, ah, but she has been at the altars granting the wisdom that a couple needs to hear…”Don’t make the same mistakes…make new ones…” “Remember to thank each other for the little things that annoy you because they make you who you are” “Take these first 10 years as the first 10 stories of a skyscraper…and build on the tallest masterpiece…” “You’ve planned for a wedding, but marriage is uncharted territory without maps…” “Work hard at your relationship, but remember, you are worth doing the serious work of rest…honor and celebrate the mystery of your existence…” et cetera… There’s something really celestial when she talks to those 2 people up there, who are locked in step, holding on to hands and sweating, lots of sweet sweat, of nervousness, and comfort, and gladness and passion, and impatience for a drink and a kiss, in front of in-laws and in-loves, and it’s all going so fast, you wish you could capture the seconds of a wedding when you’re the one up there in the chancel, the one in-front of your partner, you’ve held that person and now you are being held, it’s nuts, it’s crazy, and it’s happening so fast, you really wish you could say, hold on, can you talk slower, forget everything and remember it all, can this last longer, can you possibly contain it…you can’t. You can only live it for that second, for that moment, the toast will come so much later, but this moment, when it’s just you and your partner and the person marrying you, that person officiating better be on point, you’re not listening or are you, you are if it’s…Cheryl, with her stable voice, really stations you; there’s something about her poise, her way of saying with a language that’s hard-core energy: “it’s all right, just listen to me and you’ll be all right”. I’m a Jesus fan, in about the same fashion that I’m a Cheryl fan-atic. I know it may seem controversial, but what else do you think Unitarian Universalists are…but that!
The world would be a better place if Cheryl married every couple, but that’s just my humble opinion. After all, we did suggest that she should let people know that she has 100% retention rates among those exchanging vows before her…

Here is to you Cheryl: Cheers & Blessed Be!

IMG_7181

Award Winning All Souls!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012 00:43 by Victor

I want to deeply thank the Congregation of All Souls for offering me the 2012 Presidents Award at the All Souls Annual Meeting yesterday (Sun, February 5th, 2012). It was surreal, especially since I was sitting up front and when our former board president, Nancy Northup was introducing the award, she was describing someone familiar, and then I realized, “she’s talking about me!” The congregation really surprised me. It was a special moment. A complete surprise! The text of the award reads, “All Souls Church Presidents Award presented to Victor Fidel for Scholarship that inspires the congregation to cherish its history, February 5, 2012.” I also want to thank my wife, Heather, for being my strength in completing book that defined this award, The Quest for Religious & Community Identity: The Story Behind the Architecture and Evolution of All Souls Church, NYC.

2012-02-05VictorAcceptsAwardFromNancy 
Nancy presents the award to me – she has such a lovely, elegant smile.

Award02
The Award. The text reads: “All Souls Church Presidents Award presented to
Victor Fidel
for Scholarship that inspires the congregation to cherish its history,
February 5, 2012.”

Unitarian Universalist General Assembly 2011: Reflections

Saturday, 16 July 2011 18:14 by victor

I. What GA and governance mean to me

II. Sharing my book with the wider UU world

III. Outside the Charlotte Convention Center


I: What GA and governance mean to me

I participated in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) General Assembly (GA) in Charlotte, North Carolina, for three days, from Friday to Sunday (June 24-26), but in such a small timeframe, I felt the power of transformation and experienced the promise of our faith. This is my second GA. Prior to going to the 2009 GA at the Salt Lake City, I was innocent. I did not really appreciate what it meant to be a Unitarian Universalist. It was there that I learned that our faith demands our full participation – it reaffirmed that we UUs believe and that our denomination keeps us mindful that we are part of something bigger than just All Souls, NYC. This time in Charlotte, I was reminded by our fellow UU friends that as I am a trustee at one of our congregations, I carry serious responsibility. I am a lay leader. As such, my job for the time being on the board of All Souls is to facilitate the ministry of the laity, but it will not end in 2012 when my term expires, for we Unitarian Universalists (UUs) are about Congregational Polity, so my responsibility is to be shared by all our congregants, board members and ministers.

As our Moderator, Gini Courter, explained, there are 3 basic ways religion is organized:

1) Episcopalian – the clergy is vested with authority for ruling everything. It is a top-down approach, whereby the church-goers receive the religious vision of the clergy.

2) Presbyterian – the clergy select clergy-approved laity and they both make the decision. By clergy-approved laity, we mean that the clergy has selected the laity with which to make decisions.

3) Congregational Polity – “There is no higher up. There is only deeper down.” The religious vision comes from the people. This is the model of Unitarian Universalism and what sets us apart from most of the religious movements around the world.

Gini reminded us who makes the vision of where Unitarian Universalim goes, whether at our churches or as a whole UUA. It is us. The authority does not come from the senior minister, nor from the board, but congregational polity is a right that is shared by all of us who attend our churches.

This becomes a tricky issue when we, congregants, church-goers, forget that we have this responsibility, but we let our leaders decide everything without questioning the reasons for their actions by either not going to the annual or budget meetings or throwing up our arms saying “forget about this church.” We must take ownership, all of us. And, congregants not taking ownership do not excuse the leaders for making unilateral decisions, for they must remember that acting without the consent of the governed is not following congregational polity. The best interests of the church cannot be pushed by one leader without the full participation and support of the congregation. In the ideal, the means cannot justify the ends, specifically if the means alienate the congregants. Don’t misunderstand: it’s not so much about pleasing others as much as it is about including everybody on the discussion table, so that our process affirms our fourth principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. 

Everybody should read the by-laws at their congregations. Everybody needs to be involved. There is no special privilege. We are not a corporation. We are a church and not one with a Pope or a Salt Lake City passing down the Way. One leader’s voice, however perfect and seemingly valid it may be, is not the accurate representation of our people. We are individuals, but we are in a community. Let us remember we do religion together, not alone. We are all in the Mothership.

We yearn for diversity, but we will never fully achieve it, if do not drop our heady rhetoric and get down and speak religion with our hearts. A great friend told me that the problem with Unitarian Universalism is that it is up in our heads. She is right. Religion, like UUA President Peter Morales said, is about what we give our hearts to. That being the case, let us embrace the concept fully: Don’t knock down God, but don’t let God be the only One, for we are Many. And let us sing and praise That Mystery in all the forms. I wish we had the ‘Teal’ supplemental hymnal at All Souls (smaller congregations, I envy you). The heady rhetoric doesn’t just stop with music – it also means accepting the one different. Do we really believe we accept diversity or do we prefer to have someone who agrees with us? We forget that diversity goes beyond ethnicity. We will not have rich diversity of ethnicity if we cannot accept differences of perspective, style, class or politics.

Even with all the challenges we face as a religion, GA is the event that re-charges my UU-batteries, and I am grateful to take part.

II. Sharing my book with the wider UU worldIMG_4308

During GA, the UUA Bookstore sold my book about the architectural history of All Souls, NYC! The head of the bookstore offered a book signing table for me. I was happy to accept. I had a successful day, selling over 50% of my inventory – this helped greatly when it came time to pack our suitcases on our way from Charlotte! It is rewarding to know your book is appreciated and is being read by folks even outside of All Souls! Yay!

III. Outside the Charlotte Convention Center

Being at GA is very time-consuming. It’s a day that starts at 7am with a loaded schedule that ends around 10pm, and after that you have your choice to go partying with your UU buddies at the local bars and restaurants. For any first-timers, my advice is you have to manage your time and be judicious about which workshops you attend because you will not be able to do everything, so you have to pace yourself.

In addition, a trip outside the convention center is most warranted: You gotta see the surroundings, or at least try. One event that invites your participation to engage with the world outside the convention center is the action Public Witness. This time, in Charlotte, our event was the rally Standing on the Side of Love with LGBT People Everywhere! 

IMG_4144RallyVHWe marched from the Convention Center to Marshall Park, on East Third Street. There we joined together to profess our support for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people, not just for heterosexuals (if happiness can mean marriage, as one quirky reverend reminded me). We were protesting the current state of affairs in North Carolina. The state’s legislature has introduced proposals to ban marriage equality—as well as civil unions or any legal relationship between same-sex couples—and could reach the ballot in November. In addition, we bore witness to members of the UU Church of Kampala, Uganda, who are leading efforts to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from violence. IMG_4147

We were so full of energy as we gathered and marched on with our gold shirts and banners, Standing on the Side of Love. We made the cover of The Charlotte Observer, as the headline read “Liberal denomination stands up for its causes.” It was a success.

That was on Saturday afternoon (June 25, 2011, a great date for New York).

On our way to Marshal Park, as we marched on East 3rd Street, we passed the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The next day, I went. It was one of the best things I did, while in Charlotte. NASCAR stands for The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.

The NASCAR story is authentic American. In the olden days of prohibition, alcohol was a hot underground commodity. Did you ever wonder how the Appalachian bootleggers got IMG_4182their moonshine across the United States? Drivers would take their whiskey in small, fast cars. The cars had to be light and fast to outrun the police that were behind their trail. After Prohibition, what else to do with all these fast cars…in American reuse fashion…let’s race them… The story of NASCAR is embedded in the roots of the evolving story of America...

I took plenty of pictures. Here’s the 1939 Ford Coupe as driven by Red Byron - this '39 coupe won NASCAR's first
race on February 15, 1948. It has a flathead V-8 engine. Prewar Fords were
popular with early NASCAR drivers.

The Hall of Fame was impressive. It’s got plenty exhibits that are interactive. It culminates with a simulated drive, which I took part in, and even if I didn’t win, it sure was fun!

To conclude, here are a few photographs:

IMG_4156Celebrating with our All Souls Friends! The dinner & drinks!
IMG_4155

IMG_4332
Chillin’ inside “Cat” by Niki De Saint Phalle, 1999,
at the plaza in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

IMG_5331
In front of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wilmington, NC

Reflections On My First General Assembly, 2009

Friday, 3 July 2009 15:51 by Victor

Believe it or not, it was the appeal of going to Salt Lake City, Utah, that made me desire to attend my very first General Assembly (G.A.). I get to shoot two birds with one stone I SandyTracks said to folks who asked me “Why Salt Lake City?”, “Why G.A?”. In obscene shorthand, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations General Assembly is the big Pow Wow of all Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations – I would not call it our Mecca trip, though I almost think it ought to be. Most UU churches send members, called delegates, who gather together each year at different locations throughout the United States for a four day meeting (by the way, this trip is not paid for by the churches, though some assist somewhat, for instance by paying for the registration fees—mostly, though, the members pay for their stay and travel). They usually hold these gatherings in cities that have ample convention centers and where the rent is affordable; such a place was Salt Lake City, hosting G.A. from June 24th to 28th this year, and such a place will be Minneapolis in June 2010.

V&H-SLCSP

I admit Salt Lake City was an attraction for its Mormon history, but it was also a place I had not been to. The wise say you ought to visit a new place you’ve never been to each year to enrich yourself, for travel is a better education than any Ph.D. any day, and I don’t really admit any apologies for my overly educated Brahman. 

In any case, I found Salt Lake City to be rich. It is a booming town. You can tell because of all its construction cranes. Investors put money in building because they know it’s a good investment. Though, our taxi driver from India, on our way to the airport did tell us that the hotels were empty – blame the economy. The truth is Salt Lake is happening. And I don’t say that just because it has ample nightlife, though don’t go try to go out to a restaurant on a Sunday night – most restaurants close by 7pm that day and 10pm all other days, with some exceptions, but hey, mass transit is free in the very center of the city and the cable cars are very clean as are the sidewalks. The LDS Church will build a business school too. The Mormon complex is something you have to see. It is something to admire. I admire the Mormons. Their evangelical tenacity. Their love for architecture and beautiful things. Their nice-ness. Heather and I took a tour of their grounds at Temple Square. I simply adore their open-ness to show you their way, their system of belief and thought. I felt like they were Unitarian Universalists, with a different theology and dress, more money and much more evangelism.

So…the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations General Assembly (UUA G.A.), what I started writing about:

I had no idea how big we are. I had no practical idea how small we are. It didn’t occur to me how spread we were; we are really all over this mosaic called the United States and Africa too (!). Hearing numbers at your local congregation, ratios, percentages is not the same as seeing them live, as hearing them talk and speak their minds and cause controversy, shake up your upper middle class status.

Our denomination is small and diverse. It is also large and not diverse. It is complex and at a critical time it is the most powerful answer to the changing world we live in. We have great opportunity and we are finding it hard to grasp it. Perhaps we are focusing on the lack. Perhaps this is a good thing, for how boring to find we were on top – a challenge is more welcome.

Our “movement,” which is not a good term, by the way, for movements come and go, but the truth is Unitarian Universalism is here to stay and develop however we want it to be. It is a religion – a lot of us better get used to that if we are to make it big or at all.

I perhaps digress, but the truth is we focused on those issues more than you can imagine. Although I had felt that at All Souls in New York City, which is an anomaly by the way, the congregation I attend religiously, I was not aware of the urgency, to put it mildly.

I guess when you hear the numbers and when you see the evidence, then you might get it too. Here are three interesting statistics I learned at G.A.:
* No more than point three percent of the United States population (0.3%) declares itself as Unitarian Universalist.
* Our congregations have less than 9% of people who consider themselves as people of color. 
* Across the board, our percentage of monetary giving is about one to two percent (1-2%) a person. Monetary giving, what is sometimes called “stewardship” – one percent (!). Sad.

Clearly we are missing a ton of vibrancy.

Let me step back a bit on the great things that we have done, for we are a quintessential American faith, and let me be humble as I say truths:

The Universalists, as early as the 1800s, were some of the first supporters of non-sectarian schools, and they also worked on social issues including the separation of church and state, prison reform, capital punishment, the abolition of slavery, and women's rights – this was before it was the acceptable norm to follow. In 1863 the Universalists became the first group in the United States to ordain a woman with full denominational authority.

But let us not forget our Unitarian brethren too: They spoke out on issues such as peace, education reform, prison reform, orphanages, capital punishment, moderation in temperance, ministry to the poor, and the abolition of slavery (also in the 1800s). When both the Unitarians and the Universalists merged, they continued to strive forth in the direction of social justice. We are Jesus embodied. Why do you think I, a former Catholic, feel closer to Jesus of Nazareth now as a UU than when I was being confirmed by a priest – the parallels of UU and Jesus are really striking, when you think that Jesus wasn’t trying to conform people to a religion and how UUs don’t want to convert you and just do the right thing. Well, my friends, the times have changed and I believe the message needs be spreading:

IMG_7661

Our newest campaign is Standing on the Side of Love. We do that for immigrants who search for a better life, for gay and lesbians who desire marriage, for atheists who are unaccepted, for Catholics who do not believe in hell, for Jews who also believe in the Goddess, for our Earth plagued with our pollution, for all oppressed people... But we are not some foolish people. We are a religion. Until we realize that, we might always be a margin of .3%.

While at G.A., we stood on the side of Love on Friday, June 26, 2009, as we organized an interfaith rally in support of immigrant families – the Salt Lake City Tribune was happy to report it. In fact, we were supporting the immigrant wife of a US citizen, member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. At our rally of over 1000, he told the crowd of the ploy the police used to get into his house and forcefully arrest her. The police agents used a trick of wanting his wife to identify a woman in a picture, but they arrested her instead, handcuffed and shackled, treated inhumanely. See, there is a law in Utah that authorizes police agents to become Ice agents, which means that the police can arrest and detain people based on suspicion of immigration violations, and the treatment they inflict on these people is sadistic and unkind. To show you that we UUs are really changing our ways, we held this as an interfaith rally, having had speakers from the Catholic and Episcopalian denominations and let us not forget that it was a Mormon family we were supporting. This was UUs in action. This is what we do.

Had I not gone to G.A., I would not have learned about the Standing on the Side of LoveLove campaign. It was proposed by our very own Bill Sinkford, who just ended his term as president of the UUA. I would not have learned about it because our church of All Souls is, I’m afraid, isolated in some ways from the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, the UUA. In my cynical view, I wondered why we were there, for what is it that we really bring back to a congregation who is not as involved in denominational affairs as it should be.

Had I not gone to G.A., I would not have felt a certain power of Love. It definitely is affirming to be with so many UUs and from all over the country. We are not alone. If I were to move outside of New York City, I could easily find a church; granted, I would miss All Souls, but life would go on at another UU church, and for that I am not only proud, but relieved.

Victor-BannerI tell you what indeed gave me a rock star feeling: When I held the banner. I know it can be classified as rather cheesy, but I was a rock star! Let me explain. Aside from orientation, the first main event is the Banner Parade. This is the event where each congregation is represented by a banner at the main hall where all the three thousand G.A. attendees have gathered. Of the two members of a church walking together, one carries the congregation’s banner. It is the notorious nature of delegates to assign this job to the newbie. Since this was my first time at G.A., I was the one holding the thing, which is really not heavy at all. It used to be a job not many loved because you would miss most of the service entailing the parade, but the way it’s handled now, as far as I hear and experienced, is that any speeches are held until all banners have marched and there is time for them to sit back down and enjoy the service that comes about when the last of the banner marchers has marched. There’s a certain evangelism that goes along with displaying one’s congregation.

Bill Sinkford was the first minister who taught me about true-evangelism. He said we need to spread our message because it will help people. We cannot be too egotistical in thinking this is a good thing only for us. We need to help others; we cannot simply see this as a quest of numbers.

And Rev. Sinkford was munificent once again as he gave his words on Compassionate Witness titled “Truth and Reconciliation”, but it was the homily of Angela Herrara, a ministerial candidate and student at Harvard Divinity School, whose ministerial poetry remain in my mind. She started with the words from the poet Antonio Machado, “Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar.” “Traveler, there is no road. One makes the path by walking.” She made a metaphor of her early life, having been raised as UU child, thinking that “what set her faith apart was that you could believe in whatever you want…that you don’t have to believe anything.” And as she grew up, so did her faith. When it came time to fend for her own and “other’s inherent worth and dignity let me to realize it’s not true that you don’t have to believe anything.” She said, “We’re not preaching the gospel of disbelief. We are a community of believers. And what we ask you to believe is that you are already holy.” But it’s not that easy, as she affirms:

[For] to believe you are already holy takes courage. It raises the bar. To be holy no matter who you are is to subvert traditional expectations—low expectations—and it calls you to something higher, better. This kind of faith wants not just to soothe the troubled spirit; it seeks to restore wholeness to what is continually broken. Relationships—the interdependent web. They are broken by human brokenness. By alienation, fear and systems of oppression so pervasive they can only be called evil. This is hard work. It’s big work for an imperfect, holy people.

She really spoke right on to what I have felt each time some of our members (myself included) say as we invite others to our faith. How dare we tell newcomers that they don’t have to believe in anything should they join our faith? Can we possibly look ourselves in the mirror and say we don’t have to believe anything as UUs? There is no excuse. You bet we accept the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and for the fourth principle to be achieved as we know it, we must believe. I thank Ms. Herrara for preaching these words.

Let us step into some other magick moments:

G.A. was not just about worship services. There were also official business to take place. Issues of Governance are important. Our faith is most democratic, perhaps the most democratic procedural of all. We govern our congregations pluralistically. And so, to agree on what is to bind us together requires dialogue with ourselves. We conduct these exercises in the Plenaries. I had to look at what plenary meant in the online versions of several dictionaries. The crux of the word means “full” “complete” “what is required” “important” “attended by all qualified members” “pertinent for all to attend”. And it was important to attend and just being UUs is qualified, but you need to be a delegate in order for you to vote and churches are assigned numbers of delegates based on their membership numbers. How pertinent is it to attend these Plenaries? Very! For we decided whether we should change Article II of our bylaws, what language to use, even changing a word in the 7 principles, the stuff that we all UUs stand by. How could it not be pertinent to attend and cast your vote? This faith gives you a firm responsibility: The search and responsible quest of truth and meaning. This is live democracy in your religious faith. Why wasn’t I told about this at All Souls…my pet peeve, as you may have guessed, why aren’t we as a congregation informed enough; my voice repeats, why are we not involved in denominational affairs as we should, for this really impacts us all UUs (?!?).

GiniArm Ok, but who makes this process fun? The Moderator. And her name is Gini Courter. She is the Lady of the Hour who makes Plenary happen. She stands at the microphone on the center stage of this conference room where at least two thousand people fit. She is there recognizing people at the Pro, the Con, the Procedure microphones. She is there to communicate which item is next to be voted on and debated. And to top it off, she’s entertaining. UUs make the democratic process really fun. T’is no wonder Gini’s a public figure with her own Facebook fan page. Naturally, I invite you to become her fan, and then you can friend me, or friend me first!

G.A. is also a place where music is felt under your skin. One thing we UUs do well is creating music. Because our faith is cosmopolitan, our tunes are so versatile. Yes, I do love Walter Krauss’ classical repertoire at All Souls, but I wholeheartedly say it was refreshing to hear world rhythms from Africa, Spanish songs—that is songs sung in Spanish, Hungarian cantatas, New-World, Folk, Gospel, Rock, you name it music. We need that diversity. I thought, gee, why don’t we have the Teal Hymnal Supplement at All Souls again??? I must speak to Wally. And Galen. But, as Jim Moskin said, firstly to Ann Gorycki, for she knows where the money’s to be found, if that’s the real issue…or is it…? I wonder. I think Music is really the language of diversity and of the soul. Love is its embodiment, no doubt, but if there’s a life after this, Music has got to be in there. I’m thanking John Hubert & Matt Meyer, who introduced such an eclectic and comforting repertoire of musical innovation to our souls at G.A.

InTheMoralesBus

Speaking of Diversity, that is G.A.! A diverse-full of folks! They come from all walks of life. But, as you may have heard in the earlier paragraphs of this reflection, our denomination is tiny when it comes to diversity of folks who are not Middle-Class Euro-American Caucasians. That is true. Being in this group, I am an anomaly, but not so at the same time: I, a Latino who passes as White without even trying, because of his seemingly fair and fawn skin, his Master’s Degree, his Caucasian wife, his white collar job, his former immigrant status, now being a privileged citizen of the United States…ah, but I still got an accent, and yet, no one can tell where it’s from, so I’m an exotic and so, there goes me being a representative of what is deemed “people of color”; I’m just a delicacy... I guess I’m a poor example of this. Or am I? I am still Latin American. Some call me Latino or Hispanic. That isn’t terrible; Latino sounds better, later 90s terminology. Hispanic sounds early 90s. But: Don’t you dare call me “Spanish”! O te mato con palabras…

Still, people perceive my diversity and that is good and because the good also has the bad, there are the awkward moments. In fact that is the problem, and I don’t say that for UU circles, but for all the sake of being welcoming in any situation or place; the real issue is awkwardness, not racism, for me, not that I’m denying there is ethnocentrism, racism, culturalism, classism, accentism, many-other-isms, but that with respect to our world (and faith), we are so awkward when it comes to communicating to a person of color. I yearn for a time when I won’t be assumed to be voting for a candidate called Morales because I am Latino (yes, this incident did happen at G.A.). I don’t think people are really racist in the way of wanting to do harm to the “other” at our denomination; we are just awkward and behave that way. In fact, I want to get rid of the anti-oppression jargon that exists in the Multicultural speak. It’s awkwardness that defeats the majority and the minority. Instead of respectfully asking questions that spark our interest for the sake of us understanding differences, we end up making asses of ourselves with assumptive language and our intent is not malicious, but the person of color ends up perceiving it as an awkward mess because it is dumb and awkward. Without blame and with reason, the person of color will think “why go to such a church if they can’t handle that I’m different…” It’s not at all that the upper middle class white UU is really racist or means harm; it’s that some of our brethren act as assumptive, and not all I remind you, it’s some. In this regard, I say to those who have fallen into the awkward trap: It is far better to ask, “What did you think of the candidates?” instead of saying to a Latino/Hispanic/Latin-American, “I assume you voted for Morales, I cannot see you vote for Laurel” Imagine how it would sound had I said that to an African American or White American at the time of the US presidential elections last year – between McCain and Obama, to a White, “oh of course you’re voting for McCain” because he’s white? Think about this. – this is what I’m talking about. Controversy. But it’s 2009 and it happened to me. And why cannot it happen anywhere else in your local congregation or city?

Well, on the second day of G.A. the Reverend Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed gave us most impressive lessons to be learned about how to deal with our diversity problem. His powerful conclusion can be summed up in four parts:

1) “Lecturing and controlling is not the way. Guilt deals cruelly with vision. Trepidation encourages timidity.” Speaks to my awkward reference; don’t blame the majority, but don’t tell people what to do either (from either perspective).
2) Be honest about who we are. “We are an ethnic faith.”
3) "Appreciate the diversity we have achieved.” Women and LGBT people are well represented in our ministry.
4) Accept that we are caught in a conundrum. “We don’t really want to change.” We yearn for stability, so we find comfort. We don’t want too much change. We yearn to be whole, but change equals discomfort. We need to see change as an open and adventuresome undertaking. We need to recapture the excitement of our forebears. And, accept that change is going to come, whether we like it or not. 

And change has come to the UUA again:

MoralesV&H I alluded to Morales and I was not making him up. His name is Peter Morales and he won the election, becoming the first Latino president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (why not say it fully; must we always use acronyms? UUA? Be proud of who you are. Great names are supposed to be challenging, mine is Victor Fidel. The name of our faith is Unitarian Universalist; though many a times I could go for Universalist Unitarian…). We voted at G.A. in this historic election. 

For this presidential contest, we had two formidable individuals. Laurel Hallman and Peter Morales. For me, it was not hard to choose after hearing their speeches and debates. But I can understand how it was for others. These were fantastic speakers and had visions, and their intent was not different. I mean this was not like McCain versus Obama, nor was it Obama versus Hillary. Both candidates had positions comparable to the values of all us UUs. It had to do with whose vision you supported. Morales was instrumental in communicating clarity and urgency. Laurel had passion of eloquence. Both were fantastic. Morales’ sense of urgency for our faith won. His clarity of aspirations will take us to where our desires exist, if we all work for it so. One thing I appreciate about him is the way he presents himself. At the Candidates Forum, he was not reading a script he wrote: He was reciting it. Yes, I am sure he memorized it and that feels better than somebody reading to you (not that I don’t appreciate the sermons that all my ministers preach to us – they also read them and in ways we don’t think we’re reading them, and as I said, Morales had to have memorized his speech and he was natural at it). He was looking at us as he spoke. But that isn’t everything; it’s pin-pointing the four areas that UUs need to work on that made it most palpable for me to vote for him, and this is my blog, so I can come out and say who I voted for. He said we need to work on:

1) Our low numbers. We must be the moral equivalent of feeding the religious and spiritual hungry.
2) Disciplined management of the UUA. We need to do more with less. Our numbers being low, so is our budget; therefore we need more efficiency.
3) Build on Sinkford’s Public Witness. We need to lift Unitarian Universalism into the public square. Standing on the Side of Love is the start. UU must be a major player on the public stage, a major moral voice.
4) Unitarian Universalism must speak to the new America we face, which is multicultural, multigenerational and complex. This is serious work for us, lacking in diversity. 

He really got me convinced that he will work so that Unitarian Universalist will be the religion for our time. He affirmed that religion is more about what we love than think. This may strike some UUs because we are used to being haute thought. We have broad appeal religiously but our relational ties need honing. I welcome his challenge and charge. In addition, I would like to propose what Reverend Abhi Janamanchi told us in the Sunday morning worship, that “we are boldly going where no faith has gone before.”

I think, in order to do those things, we need to look to ourselves and understand our past and present, reconcile our differences. We need to value the past we’ve had. Most of us come from other religions. We need to deal with that before we can engage the in any community outside our own. I got to hear ways on how to do that at G.A.: One of our distinguished members who is deeply involved in the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, Marilyn Mehr, led a moving address titled “Lessons of a Mormon Childhood – LDS to UU-UNO.” She was raised Mormon in Utah and later in life became a Unitarian Universalist. While she is happy to have found a religious and spiritual home in our faith, she learned many important lessons from her childhood. She said three of them are:

1) “Value being different” – having been Mormon, she had to deal with prejudices from other religions. We UUs should value our differences and be proud to defend them, but love our community in the process.  
2) “Importance of Community. We must have commitment to each others existence.” Let us wholly support our interdependent web that binds us together. 
3) “Importance of Families.” We ought to not forget our brothers and sisters from other religions and interchange in more dialogue.

I will add my personal 4th lesson to all you UUs: We need Tithing! As I stated earlier, we UUs give about 1 to 2% of our income to church. That is obscenely piddly and simply unacceptable. If we want our faith to grow in different ways and do the justice work we aim to fulfill, we cannot do it on pennies. Maybe 10% is too much: Don’t worry, then you can do 5%. That’ll at least more than double our resources. Don’t tell me that you are young and cannot afford it. Yes you can! Yes we can! The youth, especially, must feed the church, for they shall inherit this great faith. What would they like to see in the future? The future is now. It will be far wiser for us young adults to skip on that occasional Sunday brunch and give that money to the place that nourishes our soul and feeds our spirit, for our churches are of this Earth and have bills to pay – I not only speak for an expensive lot on the most expensive zip code in the world, the Upper East Side of New York City, where All Souls is, but also all over the regional spectrum.

Ah, what else can I say, General Assembly shook me, but it also comforted me. G.A. affirmed my spirituality and religion with inspiration. I am proud to be a Unitarian Universalist, and I am grateful for what it means to be of this faith.

JackMormon

Tags:  
Categories:   reflections
Actions:   E-mail | Permalink | Comments (3) | Comment RSSRSS comment feed

Wedding Planning Tales

Friday, 20 February 2009 20:54 by Victor

ACTION-PLANATHON DAY TWO

As opposed to Day One, which happened yesterday, but I’ll write that one later.

The day started by me calling in sick. Important, stuff. The wedding industrial complex hasn’t yet figured out that a lot of people are working during “working” hours.

It’s 9:30AM, Heather and I had to get up finally. She had a strawberry pop tart. I had chocolate cereal with banana slices.

At 10:15AM, we boarded the 6 Subway Train to go all the way to Brooklyn Bridge station, the end of the line, that’s 18 stops in 29 minutes from 116th Street.

10:49AM  We walked to the Office of the City Clerk building to get our marriage license. Location: 141 Worth Street, short walking distance from one of a handful of treasure troves, the Brooklyn Bridge. As we walk we see people spruced up. It’s a building of marriage. The attendant at the desk is smiling and asks us how we can be “assisted.”

“We’re here to pick our marriage license.” I show him the application paper with the confirmation you get when you apply online.

“Ah lovely. Wonderful, and I see that you applied online. Good for you. It’s much quicker that way. Ok, I just need your ID. Ok, two states I see, Pee-Ay and N-Y. Ok, here’s your number. You may have a seat over there. Watch for the screen in the waiting room and just go to the desk that corresponds your number.” As this is not the Divorce Hall, he must love his job, everybody’s smiling and mostly everybody’s dressed up. Women in their wedding dresses, men in their suits, the invited guests in cocktail attire and their coats in their arms—it was cold outside. More women in designer high-heels, great sexy stockings showing. Men in their spiffy cufflinks, handsome as hell. And we were in our sneakers and jeans!

“Thank you.”

We had A053. The screen had A046 on.

The seats were comfy, nicely padded, but not many were sitting. Some couples were getting their pictures taken in front of the City Hall wall picture, it’s a picture of…City Hall. The gorgeous French inspired, built-in-1803 New York City Hall is blocked to traffic and so what the City Clerk Office has done is put in a huge wall picture inside the building. So you can get a picture with your spouse-to-be right in front of said building inside the comfort of warm and the guarantee of a sunny day as the picture was taken on a crisp early summer day; though I must say that New York is famed for blue skies; it’s those skyscrapers keeping the clouds away is what I was told as a little one.

11:15AM  A053 shows up on the board. “Go to Gate 7” it says. We go to gate 7. The seating in front of the counter is comfortable as well. They really want to make it a pleasant experience. The lady behind the counter has a smile. She says, “Hi. May I have your ID’s and code please.” Our application arises before our eyes on a screen facing us, the same stuff I put on two days ago in the comforts of home, parent’s names and country of birth, Heather’s side has California & Pennsylvania. I’ve got El Salvador & Nicaragua. We got Central & North America covered.

“How will you be paying?” She asks.

“Credit Card, Visa.” I give it to her. Hey, I get points on my New World Points card, no I didn’t use the Chase one as I’m keeping track on a separate card, courtesy of BOA, and yes, no annual fee on that too.

“$35”

I sign the receipt. We sign the proxy document that they keep. Then she gives us the marriage license document that our minister Cheryl M Walker will help us fill out at All Souls with our signatures and our chosen witnesses, Sharon (Maid of Honour) & Alex (Best Man).

11:30AM  Time to leave. As we part the building, the magic of happiness does not cease to amaze me. Like I said, it’s not the Divorce court. The building has a nifty chapel too. I tried to peek in but Heather said I shouldn’t because I’d be interrupting someone’s wedding and I didn’t want Karma to get mad back at me, so I listened to her, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the chapel was elegant and refined, secular but with more than just a hint of civil service – this was the nicest bureaucratic building I’ve ever been into in my life. The windows had linen curtains. The upholstery of the waiting sofas was clean and was cushy. How about the bouquets for sale? They had the flower arrangements in state-of-the-art glass encasings for show. Did I mention the gift store too? Yes, they have NYC things, but not tacky; in fact, they have a super-classy, Art-Deco set of salt-n-pepper shakers, with The Empire State as salt and The Chrysler as pepper, I thought of someone to give this as a gift to, and of course if you preferred pepper for your Empire State, you would not have made a faux pas, for whose to say it isn’t spicy.

The process was fast and efficient, but it was also pleasant and more than decent, definitely fancy would be a word to use here. No wonder Las Vegas is losing to Gotham in the destination-wedding department…

11:35AM  After calculating the best route to our next destinations, we decide to take the 6 Train back up. Our quandary of decisions is which to go for first, the Florist, located on 17th Street & 6th Avenue or the Village Paper Party Store on 18 Greenwich Ave, which is also close to 6th Avenue and 9th Street. We figure it’s better to work our way uptown (north), but we’ve the florist appointment at Noon and the train is taking some time to move, for it’s the Brooklyn Bridge station, the end of the line of the 6 train. We decide to take action once we reach Astor Place, the station closest to the Paper Party store.

11:40AM  The train’s at Astor Place. We decide to get off to go to the Village Paper Party store. A bus would get us there in 5 minutes. No bus though. Cold. No one twisting the Village Cube, that’s how cold it was. We walk on 8th. The traffic’s going the wrong way, of course no bus. So we walk on 9th. No bus. Forget the bus. Just walk. Walk just ‘till the Village squiggly streets mess us up.

11:49AM We reach the Village Paper Party Store. I call the Ariston Florist to tell them we were running late, “but I’ll be there soon.” No problem, they say.

11:53AM  The owner of the store helps us find the magenta cocktail napkins we were looking for. Easy. And, I choose a sympathy card for our neighbor. Her husband, the famous Joe Cuba, who invented the New York Boogaloo has passed away. Yes, a music legend lived in our building, how about that! We get the card; we get the napkins; we pay with Visa; we stimulate the economy. We walk past Patchin Place, where Marlon Brando used to live. Yes, the Godfather, Guys and Dolls, The Wild One. Whaddya got? You got it. And across the street: the Jefferson Market Courthouse (built 1874 by Vaux & Withers), a gorgeous High Victorian Gothic building that used to house a market, most certainly a victory for architecture, and it’s now a library, open everyday but Sunday.

11:57AM  Time to run up Sixth Ave, otherwise known as “The Avenue of The Americas,” until you reach Central Park. But we only manage to run across the street for this time there’s a bus that’ll take us to 17th Street, the M6 respectively. Traffic tried to make us miss the bus by not stopping, we trying to catch that bus and “those annoying cars,” as Heather calls them trying to discourage us, as cars have the ability to be the way they are…

11:59AM  We get off the bus.

12:00PM  On time at Ariston’s. Location: 110th W 17th Street, at 6th Ave. Just in time. The appointment is with John Z. Great guy. We gave him our concepts. He said no problem. We gave him a budget. He gave us a bargain. We chose him. We gave him a deposit. I ran to get it a block away. Thank Goodness Chase is on every corner – we’re using Benjamins on this one to get a kool discount. Amen. The guests will love the flowers. I’ll love my masculine flower, as I requested. Heather and Sharon will adore their bouquets. Heather will get her Stargazer Lilies! Amen.

1:10PM  Time to go to our next appointment: Ribbon & Cord. Location: M & J Trimmings, 1008 Sixth Avenue between 37th & 38th Streets, a few blocks off the New MetLife building.

We decide to take the F or V trains, which conveniently run up (or should I say, below) Sixth Avenue. It’s only two stops as we get off at 34th Street, Herald Square, where Macy’s is.

1:25PM  M & J Trimmings is interesting. It is all about the ribbon and cords. Yes, a ribbon and cord store. In Manhattan? Where else?! The ceilings are high enough to accommodate about 6 thousand ribbons and cords. After about enough searching, we find the ribbon(s). Yes, we’re going with two for the cake, double colour too. You’ll like it. I promise. We also get the cord for the Hand-fasting Ceremony. A magick 54 inches. What is 5 plus 4? There you go. What is 3 divided by 3? There you go. What is 6 times 9? There you go. All using the 3 & 9. Magick all over. Learn numbers – they are good to you. “If you just believe…”

1:37PM  Time to run uptown again. Time for me to meet Jessica the Cake Baker personally, the one who gave the yummiest samples. We chose her best on the taste of the filling and cream. And the price.

Price has been good. More than two vendors have already told us, “You are getting married in March, which is not high wedding season, so prices are lower. And you also chose a Thursday, ‘cause we’re mostly booked for weekends...”

Well, we didn’t choose Thursday, we chose our anniversary date and that’s what Thursday did for the Fifth Day of the Third Month in 2009, in celebration of our First Decade together. Got that? But we are glad the way timing has helped prices as we stimulate the economy and are rewarded for doing so.

1:45PM  So we wait for five minutes on Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street, just across from the Bank of America Tower, the 2nd Tallest skyscraper in New York City. Can you guess what beauty is the First?

1:50PM  It’s still cold on Sixth Avenue. Our California relatives have much heart to come to New York in less than 2 weeks, but so do I, for my birth climate doesn’t include things like “wind chill”, “snow” or anything “freezing.”

The M7 Bus shows up finally. We take a seat and relax. Heather calls the cake place and asks for Jessica to “hold on for we are coming; we’re only 30 blocks away.” See Jessica had to leave by 2:30PM and we needed her to start&finish the business, well, the part about saying yes and accepting the terms, etc.

2:15PM  We arrive at Bakery Soutine, Location: 104 West 70th Street, at Columbus Avenue. Truly, Jessica of Bakery Soutine is sweet. She offered us Mocca Butter Cream filled Hazelnut Meringues that one patron said, “Do not eat those; you’ll be addicted for life.” Yes, well, Jessica was happy we chose her cake and like the clean money market moves, we got a discount as we chose to pay cash on this one – she was grateful we chose her. Heather gave her the ribbons and the master baker said, “Not a problem, we can do it.” We like to hear those words.

2:25PM  I was still enjoying the Mocca Butter Cream—see Jessica said, “Have some coffee while I type you an invoice.” I said, “How about a pastry?!” Her enthusiastic affirmative moved us right along in pleasantry. We agreed I’d give the rest of the payment next week, possibly Saturday, whichever was best and that a credit card may be used for final payment, which I found neat for I love getting my rewards, as you’ve blah blah blah heard.

2:35PM  Our stomachs have been growling but we have been ignoring them just so we finish this wedding-planner marathon day.

We step into the wild yonders of the Upper West Side, Columbus Avenue & 70th Street to be precise, a haven of restaurants; which to choose… I told Heather I needed my meat. She wanted meat. Meat is good. We love veggies too. We are proud omnivores.

2:43PM We only looked at the 5 restaurants on the Columbus Ave block between 70th & 71st Streets and choose the one on the corner, Lansky’s, Location: 235 Columbus Ave. Labeled itself, “Old World Deli,” it has a welcome ambiance, yes it’s a deli but it’s a restaurant with intimate tables; the seating is close, but it’s pleasant. They had burgers and that sold me, believe it or not! I wanted a meat I could hold with my hands and the buns provide great holding material. Heather had her favourite: Hot dog with Sweet Relish and 2 Potato Latkes with Apple Sauce. I had Mike’s Monster Burger with Sautéed Onions, Crispy Pastrami, Mushrooms, Vermont Cheddar, Lettuce & Tomato, and the thing also had meat too! It was a power burger. I was glad I did not order fries. My water got a bit cloudy as an onion fell into the glass as I was giving Heather a bite of my monster. I still finished the water. The busboy came to refill the glass, but he stopped and looked at the soiled glass and asked, “You’re having water?”

Yes, Onions fell into it; don’t worry, just give me another glass please. And he did. The place is great for locals and tourists. Steelers' Nation take note that this fine find has a specialty sandwich called, “The Pittsburgh Steeler,” which of course, has corned beef! Oh and there’s the Central Park Picnic Basket for $32 which includes 2 overstuffed sandwiches (looks like it can feed 4 people), a choice of 2 (of tomato salad, Cole slaw, German Potato Salad, Normal Potato Salad), plus 2 fresh fruit pies, 2 bottles of Dr. Brown’s Soda, with Pickles, Condiments, Napkins, Plates and Utensils – good enough to feed a Nation.

We were full with our burger & hot dog. The check came and Heather took the bill. I’m a lucky guy. Also a cheap date, no alcohol, but also no room in this belly. But who needs it when you’ve drank a lot the day before at a charity auction where Bill Clinton spoke, that’s another story I’ll tell later; he was great, a hero, for sure, and he talked our minister Forrest Church and his book “Love and Death”, and he talked about politics and why he supported Obama’s stimulus and many other things and he flattered; it’s…Clinton, end of story.

We were still full. Of Joy. Of accomplishment. Of fatigue. How many wedding-planning-birdies did we shoot on one day, in 5 hours? Who needs a wedding planner…

3:30PM  Time to go home. We decided now to take the 2 or 3 Subway uptown from 72nd Street, from where you can see several French Second Empire inspired apartment buildings, ah the voluptuousness of those Mansard roofs and plenty of peculiar cartouches, if you know what I mean…

3:40PM  Back in Harlem, Central that is, at 116th Street & Lenox Ave, otherwise known as Malcolm X Boulevard (or, even Sixth Ave, still!). As we get out a lady asks us, “Excuse me, where is Broadway?”

I point west, that way. But that’s a long walk in this cold. I’m assuming you’re looking for Columbia—unfortunately you took the wrong train; you needed the 1.

She says, “Great! I was at 96th Street and I was on the 1 and it stopped because of repairs they said so I saw the 2 and took it thinking it was faster and now here I am. So what can I do?”

Well, you can take that bus over there, the M116, it’ll take you to Broadway but only as fast as 106th Street, from there you’ll have to walk another 10 blocks. The easiest thing to do is go back on the 2 or 3 downtown and at 96th Street take the 1 going uptown, this time exiting at Columbia’s 116th.

She listened to the wisest option.

As we turn, we notice that our bus came just in time to take us home. That’s Instant Karma for you. “We all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun, yeah we all...” Yes, we usually end up walking those 3 long Avenue blocks because a bus doesn’t come at the time we want it to or just because we’re on the move that why wait for only three long avenue blocks, well, if it’s cold it’s not a bad idea, but who wants to wait in the cold, which is why we were so grateful for Karma. One hand washes the other. That lady went to her conference at Columbia. We got on our M102 bus and dropped us off virtually in front of home. Location: Lexington & 116th Street, Spanish Harlem, East Harlem, El Barrio, Spa-Ha, those are some of the names of our ‘hood.

Nearing 4:00ish. Ah, what a day.

4:01PM  Siesta time. In the bed. Yes. Lovely. It was less than a half hour though.

4:27PM  Heather had to prepare for her dear fashion-decorator-on-the-side-for-fun best friend Tanika, read below:

5:45PM  The saga continued as Heather went to meet Tanika in the Upper East Side to give her the details of our wedding as she has been selected Decorateur-in-Chief of our Reception Hall. From what I hear, she already has plans and she’s good with making short bills last a long way. The last bit of the budget.

Planning for a wedding is…planning for a big complicated complex expensive party... Or a good reason to run all over the city? Tiring, but lots of fun. And this is before the actual wedding. Now the suspense kills you. The ride is joyful, despite the running, maybe the running around is exciting, the choosing, the tasting, the wearing, the trying, the signing, the hearing, the listening, the drawing, the planning, the typing, the mailing, the writing, the following-up, the looking, the smelling, the feeling, the…feeling.