In Praise of my Enemies

Subtitle:  The Salvation Army, The Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalists and our Common Mission

My current ministry is with an ecumenical coalition of 12 congregations in the inner city of Fort Worth.  You can see and read more about us at our website.   I spend my days doing direct service, pastoral counseling, case management and this summer, running a lunch program providing free lunches to neighborhood children who would be receiving free or reduced lunches if school were in session.  My office is a room donated by a Church of Christ congregation, all my office equipment is used and most is in need of repair or replacement.  The time I spend with other ministers, ministers of congregational care and social service providers gives me constant opportunity for ecumenical and interfaith work because I am always the only Unitarian Universalist around.  There is one meeting I go to for service providers each month where one of the social workers who attends is a UU and is involved with a Fort Worth congregation.  I hang out and work with  Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, Baptists, Congregationalists (UCC), and Evangelicals of all stripes.  If I spent my time discussing theologies, religious differences, or even my own brand of progressive politics I wouldn’t get much done, except cause division where there is unity.  Our unity comes from wanting to transform the poverty stricken areas of our city and make them healthy and whole.

Yesterday, after feeding 28 children a free lunch, I took a walk down the street with the pastor of the Church of Christ and brought a couple of boxes of food to women living in a transitional housing home.  I love this pastor. He’s young, he’s missional, and we have major theological differences.  His church graciously gives a home to my office.  His church doesn’t believe in using instrumental religious music and there is no dancing. Yes, it’s like Footloose.  However the mission of his congregation, and you can’t miss it as it is printed on posters, bulletins, the website, and any other surface that seems appropriate is “To be the center of mission, mercy and transformation” in our neighborhood.  Whatever other arguments I might have with the pastor or the congregation (and they might include issues of salvation, LGBT rights, music and dancing among other things)  they are of little consequence compared to the mission of lifting our neighborhood out of poverty.  We need not think alike to love alike. Seems like I’ve heard that somewhere before.

I was prompted into this reflection by a couple Facebook postings this morning.  First, a friend of mine posted this:

Who are my enemies? My enemies are those I hate.

Who is it that I hate? I know who I’m told to hate: the poor who think they are entitled to what they don’t earn, the cadillacer using food stamps, all those people who come over here illegally and just take advantage of our goodness, the Wall Streeters, the K Streeters, the Occupiers, the radical Muslims, the radical Christians, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, socialists, communists, materialists, those who resort to violence, those who refuse to resort to violence, the uneducated, the highly educated, the rich, the selfish, . . .

Evidently, there is no shortage of enemies. I am overrun with them. And NOW I have a bigger challenge. How am I to love all these enemies?

Are you my enemy? How should I love you? You do realize you ARE SOMEbody’s enemy, right? How would you have them treat you? You’d best be giving it some serious thought.

And pray for me, that I might actually love those I’m taught to hate.

There is no attribution, and I haven’t found anything checking for sources,  but it’s something this person would most certainly write and think so I am assuming it is their thought and writing.

This has indeed been prayer since I began working in one of Fort Worth’s poorest neighborhoods in February, that I might love those I have been taught to hate.  I have come to understand that these differences I am taught to hate, such as religious conservatism, biblical literalism, social and political conservatism are really “How?” questions when it comes to working on the issues.  Once we get down to the “Why?”  I am deeply connected in solidarity with others who might have been my “enemies” based on theology or philosophy or any religious, political, or cultural labeling.   The “Why?” that brings us together is lifting all of us out of the grip of want, neglect, hunger, illness, deprivation, and inhumanity that comes with being poor in America.   All the other things are “How?” questions.  By working together for and out of our “Why?” we may eventually come to understand each other better, be more accepting of each other and one or the other of us might change long held opinions and convictions.  We don’t have a chance at this transformation if we start off arguing about the “How?”

I had been riding this train of thought when I saw this image posted by a UU on facebook:

This is a perfect example of what I had been thinking about. It also made me think about how Unitarian Universalists are so caught up in our “terminal uniqueness” as Peace Bang calls it, that’s very difficult to get to the foundation of why we do anything.  The “terminal uniqueness is a symptom of being stuck on the “How?”

I posted this to Facebook in response to the above photo:

This may be so, however, should those soup kitchens close, ask yourself- How many will be replaced by Unitarian Universalists? If you’re honest, the answer is 0. Where I live in Fort Worth, TX, I have a lot of respect for the Salvation Army. They run job training programs, they provide case management,food and shelter to the homeless, they provide rent and utility bill assistance. You how much of this done by Unitarian Universalists here? Very little, almost none. What is done is because a couple of congregations are part of or support ecumenical efforts. I would go so far as to say what UU’s do in these areas in FW is done in large part by 4 or 5 people. We UU’s are excellent when it comes to glbt rights, but we suck when it comes to feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and clothing the naked. We are usually too busy telling everyone how enlightened we are.

Wondering if even in this I was operating out of fear and seeing this posting as my “enemy,” I went to do some checking on what Unitarian Universalists do in Fort Worth compared to the Salvation Army.  I routinely use an online searchable database provided by 211 Texas to help clients locate what they need in the city.  You can search the database for any type of assistance (such as clothing, counseling, food, rent assistance) or you can search the database by agency name.

So I searched the assistance available in Tarrant County for a Unitarian Universalist presence.  I put Unitarian Universalist in the search engine. I searched for NTAUUS (North Texas Association of UU Societies) and I searched for each of our congregations by name.  I got the same message each and every time:

Sorry, we were unable to find an agency or program in our database that matches
Unitarian Universalist with your search restrictions.

Then I search the 2-1-1 Texas database across Texas for Unitarian Universalist:

Sorry, we currently do not have the details of any programs in your region. Please try a different search location.

If you need further assistance, please dial 2-1-1 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). A trained information specialist can answer your questions. When you dial 2-1-1, select a language, and then choose Option 1 for information on services available in your area.

Then I searched for The Salvation Army.  Here is only a sampling of what I found because the response was enormous.

Emergency Shelter – Provides 12 month Homeless Prevention services by providing weekly home visits to individuals and families identified as at-risk of being homeless within the next 30 days. Also provides follow-up for individuals and families who have completed the transitional program.

Advocacy-Description:Provides emergency financial assistance and case management to eligible individuals and families in crisis depending on availability of funding. Services include rent/mortgage assistance, utility assistance and food boxes. Other assistance includes free notary services.

 

Basic Needs Financial Assistance – Electric Service Payment Assistance, Food Pantries, Gas Service Payment Assistance, Mortgage Payment Assistance, Notary Public Services, Rent Payment Assistance, Water Service Payment Assistance

 

Community Center-Summer Day Camps – A daily day camp for children ages 12 and younger which promotes physical, intellectual, spiritual, emotional and social growth. Field trips to area tourist and educational sights are part of the summer activities.
Sunbeams: a developmental program for girls ages 6-10. The girls are taught homemaking skills and social interaction skills. Structured activities include camping, field trips, recreation and arts and crafts.
Girl Guards: a developmental program for girls ages 11-18. Homemaking and relationship skills taught. Activities include camping, arts and crafts, field trips and recreation.
After School Program: low cost after-school care providing homework tutoring, creative arts program, multimedia Literacy Center and recreational activities.
Home League: A program for women to become more effective homemakers.

 

Homeless Shelter -Transitional Housing – Structured temporary group living arrangements for unaccompanied males and females above the age of 18 who are homeless and have co-occurring disorders, whether the disorder is physical, mental or emotional in nature. Accommodations for up to 40 individuals with an average occupancy stay of six to twenty-four months. Readily accessible to public transportation and a full spectrum of health care services. On-site services include case management, life skills training and recreational activities.

 

SERVICES: This residential program is designed to give people who are shackled by a repetitive cycle of homeless a new start in life. Accommodations for up to 20 women, 20 men and 3 families with an average occupancy stay of one to eight months. Readily accessible to public transportation and a full spectrum of health care services. On-site services include case management, and life skills classes.
Case/Care Management for Homeless Mentally Ill and Physical Disabilities Transitional Housing/Shelter for Homeless Mentally Ill and Physical Disabilities

 

Substance Abuse program-Residential treatment facility for chemically dependent pregnant women and single mothers with minor children. Mothers and their children live at the facility for six months to one year receiving counseling, shelter and rehabilitation. After care services provided.

I know there are some folks out there, including some who read this blog regularly, that are wondering about all this fuss and fascination with mission.  I have learned and learned the hard way, that the type of change Unitarian Universalists want to see in the world is not very different than the type of transformation people of other faiths want.  Some may call this transformation the Kingdom of God, some may call it the Beloved Community, some may just call it basic human rights and ethics.  I believe that we can’t get there without each other.  I believe that if we start with our beliefs and our opinions and our ideologies, the world never becomes a better place and my life mission and that of my religious community continues to go unfulfilled.  After all, as my friend and colleague David Owen O’Quill says, “a mission has to be something you can fail at.” Ending the devastation poverty is certainly something we can fail at.  Transforming even one neighborhood in a more just, equitable and sustainable place is something we can fail at.

Please don’t misunderstand me,  I am not advocating letting groups or individuals off the hook for homophobia, violating people’s human rights or even be less vigilant against dehumanizing ways of thinking that all too often lead to inhumane, unjust and unethical behavior on the part of individuals or groups.  Rather, I invite us to ponder how wading into the deep water of mission with those with whom we may have disagreements might be the only way to forge the relationships necessary to get people to think about the inherent injustice of some of their beliefs and ways of viewing the world.  I also invite us to ponder the fact that others will be thinking the same and you may be considered the unenlightened one.  Perhaps all of us will realize after working together that the “other” isn’t really an enemy and that having forged relationship we can have a genuine, authentic dialog about “how” we might jointly accomplish our mission.

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3 thoughts on “In Praise of my Enemies

  1. I don’t disagree with your comments above, but you might think about how many people in UU congregations contribute their time and energy as individuals to improve this world. I am a member of a Unitarian congregation in Cape Town, South Africa. Our church (40 members) doesn’t currently have any major outreach activities, but some individual members of this congregation have always been on the front lines, active in their own ways to change society. Their work is not done in the name of our church, but the main thing is that it gets done.

  2. I live in S. Florida. I first started attending UU services years ago in Lancaster, Pa. Since here in S. Florida I have contacted 2 congregations for transportation to services and to meet people and become part of the UU family. You see I am disabled with a life threatening illness and unable to drive. I have been in crisis in an abusive marriage and challenged with depression. I reached out to help myself…and to date..I have never gotten to any UU service. I thought the congregation was about community service. I felt and still feel abandoned by the very people that I agree are all about enlightenment and not much else. I think I will call the Salvation Army. I do not advocate homophobia by any means but I can see now where the “community service” really exists. Thank you.

  3. Rev. Tony, I don’t know what your prophetic stance among UU’s has cost you, but you have my respect and admiration. If you have unappreciative critics (and I don’t know one way or another), they don’t know what a treasure they have in you.

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