Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Education at Starr King

There’s a flap going on over at PeaceBang about a story told by a Starr King graduate in a sermon recently published in Quest. She wrote of an all-school meeting where it was announced that the term “brown bag lunch” would no longer be used, as it was a painful reminder for some of a skin color test used by light-skinned African Americans to discriminate against African Americans who are dark-skinned.

Insert full disclosure paragraph here: I am a graduate of Starr King School. I am also the current President of the Starr King Graduates Association, a position which puts me on the school’s Board of Trustees ex officio. I am a 63-year old white woman, and a cradle Unitarian.

I read the story in Quest as a story about learning about another example of oppression, an oppression that we white people would be unlikely to know about at all, but which is another painful chapter in African American history. The point is not whether or not the term “brown bag lunch” is used at the school; the point is that the school is deeply and very seriously committed to learning about the myriad oppressions that people have suffered under and continue to suffer under. This story is one example. At Starr King, we believe that the ability to recognize and address oppressions is important in one’s preparation for ministry. Being present to suffering without turning away; crossing thresholds; encouraging speech in those who have been silenced; calling forth people’s inherent strengths — all these are significant tools in the work of building a better world.

ECO work (Educating to Counter Oppressions and Create Just Communities) runs through the entire life of the school. Of course Starr King is an academic institution whose responsibility is to teach and to grant graduate degrees to those preparing for a life in religious leadership. People study theology, world religions, sacred texts, the practical arts of ministry, and many other areas of inquiry that you would expect in a respected seminary. And woven into the matrix of life at Starr King are deeply serious commitments to be what we want to see, to shelter prophetic witness in the world, to counter white supremacy, and to work for the common good.

At Starr King, we seek to advance liberation, healing, and the establishment of a just and sustainable society by enabling people to gain the knowledge, experience, skill and religious understanding they need to address widespread and subtle (and often not so subtle) forms of oppressions, be they related to race, gender, gender expression, age, physical ability, class, or myriad other categories in which some people are diminished at the hands of others. Please believe me when I say that I am incredibly impressed with the seriousness of this work. There is nothing frivolous, “PC,” or dilettantish about it. Starr King is bending its efforts to addressing a wounded world and bringing to it the healing powers of love and understanding.

Those who wish to know more about this extraordinary and very serious educational effort are encouraged to visit the Starr King web site. (Note: that page contains links to longer documents describing the ECO work at the school.)

And to answer PeaceBang’s query: yes, our world is filled with grace. It is the grace of courage in the face of adversity; it is the grace of a love which overcomes all obstacles; it is the grace of heartfelt commitment to be a community of interdependence, connection and relationship; it is the grace of forgiveness.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing about the commitment of SKSM in the work of ECO...indeed, it's not frivolous, “PC,” or dilettantish. The work and commitments are, however, on the edge. Pushing students IN FORMATION into challenging and provocative self and societal examination. There are lots of silly things that happen to individuals "in formation" and making fun of West coast UU's has been de rigueur for generations. Yet, I would caution that there is something important happening on the Pacific Coast now. To wave one's hands and say "flaky" is to dismiss a radically important opportunity to learn about the edges of UUism. If history offers any lesson, it may well be this "silly thing" "out there" is mainline and centrist soon.

By grace and grit, one hopes...

8:47 PM  
Blogger juffie said...

Thank you for your response. The important part of all this is the learning that needed to be done! Not what we call our lunch, but what we don't know, have been blind to, needed to be told.

12:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am old enough to have been in theological school when the big concern was about "sexist language". I had come to seminary, at that time mostly a male student body with an entirely male faculty, from a community in which I was very active with feminism and feminist issues. I had never before heard much concern about sexist language and it, frankly, seemed a bit trivial put beside the fact that women in seminaries were being harrassed by male ministers, sexual misconduct was sanctioned and celebrated, women were having a hard time getting employed, the UUA used sexist criteria in evaluations, CPE was rife with sexist supervisors, you couldn't find anything about UU women's history in the library, etc. Many of the men who were the worst offenders, none the less learned politically correct speech. Hymnals were changed (sometimes in silly ways). I did become convinced that language was not unimportant, but I never did become convinced that it wasn't more "show" than real commitment. None of the guys stood up for women and most did quite the opposite. I remember meetings in which women were rather brutally harrassed in public and everyone else stood by.

A quarter century later I am in a ministry setting where there is a large population of gay and lesbian members. I find that I often second guess my word choice, song choice, etc. based on UU PC criteria and every time I check it they suggest I am being a bit overconcerned about "correctness'. In fact, the gblt folks in the congregation use expressions etc. that I would "worry" about were they straight. These folks (like I was a quarter century ago, are far more concerned about bread and butter issues like the legal status of their children rather than whether "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" is heterosexist because it says the young girls have "gone to young men every one".) I question whether any of the people I worked with in the NAACP would be concerned about "brown bag lunches" or whether we sing hymns where the night is scary. They were pretty busy seeing that kids of color got a fair shake at the local school.

This is what I got from Peace Bang and some others --- that focusing on words to a ridiculous extreme gets in the way of social justice work and even allows people to pretend we are doing something important instead of really focusing on the things that matter most. It is self parody --- not limited to SKSM --- but common to many UU institutions and circles although as much as I love the West Coast it can be a bit worse here.

6:39 PM  
Blogger Ellis said...

You sound like you have a lot of experience in the anti-oppression area, so I'm trying to wrap my head around the importance of this discussion, but it's not working. I'm pretty sad about that. I’ve commented more on the topic here.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Oh dear. . .

It looks like Rev. Diane Rollert of the alleged Unitarian Church of Montreal is quite oblivious to the Starr*k raving "brown bag lunch" controversy. ;-)

Straight from the home page of this alleged U*U "Church" -

What's New

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Unitarian Church of Montreal has a wealth of activities; you can just sample or get more involved in this community. In the month of September, you can

Join Rev. Diane Rollert for a new season of Seeking the Sacred in Stories, a brown bag lunch group meeting at noon on September 25th (copies of the story available at the UCM office).

How terribly un-PC of you Rev. Rollert. . .

10:52 PM  

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