Friday, June 26, 2009

UU University; Multicultural Track

Yesterday afternoon for 5 hours, and again this morning for an additional 4 hours, all of the GA attendees were divided into 5 "tracks" for intensive education on a particular subject. I choose the Multicultural track. We then spent the entire program time in one group engaged with one set of presenters. I like the idea of focused education, but the format also requires that the program be excellent because there's no option to bail out and attend a different workshop.

Unfortunately I did not think the program I attended was excellent. There were many good things. And the material was worthwhile. But my criticism was that the material was too basic, and also presented at too slow a pace. I was bored. It would have helped if the presenters had recognized that in a group that large there would have been some people to whom this was brand new and others who were well-experienced and maybe divided us into sub-categories who could work at different levels.

The Thursday afternoon session began with a worship service that included multi-cultural elements. Nicely done by the San Jose ministry team. Then the presentation was turned over to an outside consulting group out of Boston called Visions, Inc. Here is where I really felt bogged down. We spent way too long going over basic definitions and guidelines for discussion (try on opposing points of view, see if this can be a both/and situation rather than either/or). These were basic concepts that I suspect were not new to most people in the room. Instead of giving us a quick reminder and moving forward we went through every point in detail, and then broke into small groups to discuss them further. It took forever, and after 3 hours, when I left at a break, I still felt we hadn't gotten to anything substantive.

This morning's program was much better. The full group split into three subgroups and each experienced a panel program on one of three related issues. I attended the panel on sacred conversations around multi-culturalism, mostly due to the high quality of the panel presenters (Bill Sinkford, Gretchen Woods, Sean Parker Dennisen, Sharon Welch, and a young woman named Alice who I didn't know). The panel was co-facilitated by Leslie Takahashi Morris and a young woman named India (I didn't catch her last name). The panel responded to questions from the facilitator with stories from their own experience that illustrated issues we face in our churches around multicultural concerns and attempts to address them.

I realized as I listened that one of the problems I have around this issue is that I keep approaching it in a framework of problem/solution. It's both my culture (white, male) and my personality, to try to quickly discern the problem and then fix it. This isn't that kind of situation, which is why we've been working on it in UU circles for 20 years and are still in the midst of it. It's about a continual process of cross-cultural sharing and personal growth, leading only to deeper growth. It frustrates that there is no end point where we can announce the work finished and move on, but that's the reality I need to accept.

A second frustration I have with this work is that it doesn't match my bias of independent powerful individuals learning the necessary skills and then helping others to do the same. In my experience (again my cultural bias) I'm used to seeing what needs to be done, gathering the skills required, and then addressing the problem and leading other people through the same process. But in this case it isn't possible for any one person to master the situation. My own biases are too deep and too culturally re-inforced for me to overcome. And other people's experiences are too diverse for me to completely understand. This isn't a situation where I, or anyone else, can become enlightened and then move out of the problem. We're always in it. Which means both this isn't a problem that can be solved, only eased incrementally, and also that even to work on the problem requires constantly reaching out to others in community and relying on their skills and insight rather than working on it by myself. That requires me to move out of my own comfort zone, but that's also movement in the direction of more healthy spirituality, so it's a challenge I'm eager to take on.

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