The topic of communication has been very present during meetings of the Board of Trustees, the Committee on Ministry, and during the recent Adult RE class addressing congregational polity. We are constantly being challenged to reflect upon language, on the ways we communicate with each other, and on the impact of our words on the fabric of our community. Unlike other organizations, we are a community of individuals who have chosen to be in a covenantal relationship. The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never break me” does not reflect the reality of painful interactions. Words can indeed hurt and break the trust in our relationships. One way we try to remind ourselves of the impact our words can have, is to recite the chalice lighting that says: “Love is the spirit of this church and service its gift. This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace, to speak the truth in love, and to help one another.” Sometimes our egos or our own perception of an issue might get in the way of loving communication. Some of us are familiar with Nonviolent Communication (NVC) which teaches us that when no violence is present in our hearts, we can dwell in the natural state of compassion.
NVC assumes that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. The practice of NVC helps us to increase understanding and deepen our connections. In addition, the relatively new term “microaggression” makes us aware of the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. While microaggressions are generally discussed from the perspective of race and racism any marginalized group in our society may become targets: people of color, women, LGBT persons, those with disabilities, religious minorities, and so on have found greater authenticity in their communication, increased understanding, deepening connection and conflict resolution.
According to Dr. Derald Wing Sue:
“…The most detrimental forms of microaggressions are usually delivered by well-intentioned individuals who are unaware that they have engaged in harmful conduct toward a socially devalued group. These everyday occurrences may on the surface appear quite harmless, trivial, or be described as “small slights,” but research indicates they have a powerful impact upon the psychological well-being of marginalized groups and affect their standard of living by creating inequities in health care, education, and employment.
What Do Microaggressions Say About Us?
Racial, gender, and sexual orientation microaggressions are active manifestations and/or a reflection of our worldviews of inclusion/ exclusion, superiority/inferiority, normality/abnormality, and desirability/undesirability. Microaggressions reflect the active manifestation of oppressive worldviews that create, foster, and enforce marginalization. Because most of us consciously experience ourselves as good, moral and decent human beings, the realizations that we hold a biased world view is very disturbing; thus we prefer to deny, diminish or avoid looking at ourselves honestly. Yet, research suggests that none of us are immune from inheriting the racial, gender, and sexual orientation biases of our society. We have been socialized into racist, sexist and heterosexist attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Much of this is outside the level of conscious awareness, thus we engage in actions that unintentionally oppress and discriminate against others.”
So, if we are all products of our society and inherit these biases that might unintentionally hurt someone, how can we work on creating more awareness about the ways we communicate and how do we hold each other accountable as members of a covenantal community? We at Starr King UU Church strive to live into and practice our Covenant of Right Relations which states in part:
“In the covenantal tradition of Unitarian Universalism, we strive to build our religious community on a foundation of kindness, understanding and tolerance, and to be guided by our principles in all our actions and interactions… To foster a community of respect, we will speak kindly of one another and to one another, and should difficulties arise between or among us, we will speak directly to those concerned with the goal of reconciliation. We will not engage in harmful gossip and we will urge others to resolve difficulties directly with the person/s concerned…”
This weekend some of us will participate in the Beloved Conversations retreat with our sister congregation, the Mt. Diablo UU Church in Walnut Creek. Beloved Conversations: Meditations on Race and Ethnicity is now serving more than 140 UU, Jewish and Quaker congregations across the United States. Using a small-group ministry format, the curriculum creates a supportive space for congregants to talk about their own experiences, while identifying places where growth is necessary. As an instrument of faith formation, it offers participants a chance to rediscover the sacred and important presence of compassion, grace, risk-taking, vulnerability, and the healing joy when cross-racial relationships are reconciled. The initial retreat is followed by 8 sessions at our own church to continue exploring the topics offered by the curriculum. Our hope is that over time, we can engage the entire congregation in the Beloved Conversations program, a resource to help us live into our covenant of right relations and to help us practice speaking our truths with a compassionate and loving heart.
Beloveds, may we honor each other and our congregational covenant with loving words and deeds. May our words express the deep commitment we each have for building the Beloved Community. May we offer each other the gift of grace, compassion, and forgiveness when we fall short of our aspirations to abide by our covenant of good relations.
With Much Gratitude and Love,
Rev. Maria Cristina