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Know Our Sacredness

Grateful to bring you our next installment in our bi-weekly messages with a prayer, an ancestor and a song speaking to our spirits. This week Megan Selby, who is supporting some of our work while Nora Rasman is on leave with Gente4Abrams, curates our offering. One ancestor to lean on, one prayer for our messy lives, and one song to strengthen and soothe.

ANCESTOR

“Her devotion to liberty made her an anarchist; her hostility to patriarchy made her a feminist. She was too much the former to join the organized women’s movements of her day, and too much the latter to ally with mainline political anarchists- most of them men- whose devotion to liberty often stopped short of women’s liberation.” 

Kate Cooper Austin (1864–1902) was an American journalist, feminist, and anarchist. She was born into a Universalist and spiritualist family of strong women (1). Her politic and work would more likely be a comfortable fit in a modern UU church than it was in her time. Her association with free thought and free love movements were not acceptable to many of her contemporaries which may be way she isn’t represented among Universalist histories and perhaps why she never affiliated with a Universalist church after childhood. Such histories tend to do their best to quickly move past the admission that some Universalists of the time were devoted to spiritualism and free love. Her social location as poor, rural, anarchist, feminist woman must play some role in her relative obscurity in modern times, in spite of her being a member of the American Press Writers' Association (2). She wrote for many working-class and radical newspapers, publishing almost 200 articles advocating for more expansive, inclusive movements for gender and social justice. 

Like Kate Cooper Austin may we speak our truths, live our values, know our sacredness even when our work goes unseen in our lifetimes. May we shine even when we feel alone.

PRAYER

We are part of this universe; we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts, is that the universe is in us.

- Neil Degrasse Tyson

SONG

I knew from the start I don’t belong in these parts
There's too much hate, there's too much hurt for this heart
Lord knows this planet feels like a hopeless place
Thank God I'm going back home to outer space

from "Spaceship" by Kesha (written by Kesha/Pebe Sebert/Drew Pearson)

The hard way

We’ll be back in two weeks with bi-weekly messages with a prayer, an ancestor and a song speaking to our spirits. This week we bring you a longer reflection on sacrifice in honor of Passover and Holy Week. 

I went to an herbalism clinic this month for the first time to explore what plants could offer me and to learn more about the ways of healing we didn’t really talk about in my house growing up. There was a beautiful wooden plaque in the middle of the tinctures and bottles and plants. It read, "There is only the hard way." 

The friendly herbalist assured me that it wasn’t that they wanted things to be hard – no - it was just that we are often seduced by the idea in our heads that there is an easy way. And if we could just find that one, easy way, all would be well. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifice these days. This Holy Week, as the Christian season of Lent turns into Good Friday and we look out over Pesach, the Jewish holiday of Passover, it is a potent time to go deep. Many of us have been harmed by theology that told us that suffering was a sacrifice that would bring us closer to god. Many of us were told that our suffering would redeem us. Even when we knew that actual redemption would have been to be free from the suffering to begin with. And many of us are only here because of the sacrifices of others. And so much of what is possible to carve out in this world requires some giving up, some letting go, some sacrifice. 

And that is the truth of the little wooden sign in the herbalism clinic: there is no easy way. There is only the hard way. And in particular, the work of justice often asks us to do impossible, hard, terrifying things. There is no easier way. There is only this one, hard way. Folks with more privilege sometimes get caught up here. "If it’s hard, maybe we are doing it wrong," we tell ourselves. We are lulled by our experiences of choosing between a hard choice and an easier one. Folks with less privilege know that many of our choices are between a horrific choice and a horrific choice. And we learn to live with that and keep going. 

I’ve so wanted to do the right thing, the just thing, the generous thing and also not have to give anything at all. I’ve wanted to share my opinions but not actually donate my evenings, my weekends, my doing-dishes-while-on-the-conference-call to get to understand the work enough to be able to offer meaningful thoughts. I’ve wanted people to trust me and let me shape the vision but not actually risk inviting folks out to tea, dinner, beers, church to build a relationship that endures and carries us forward. I’ve wanted to post the cute meme without actually making the phone call to my city councilor or state representative. I’ve wanted to be part of the badass direct action without the long past midnight planning meetings, the messy decision-making, the frayed relationships, and the constant wondering if this is even worth it. I’ve wanted to preach about being bound together in interdependence, but not actually wanted to give over my guest room to a stranger, give over a paycheck to someone I’ve never met, turn my schedule inside out to do what needs to be done. And these prices are so much less than those facing so many Black women leaders and immigrant organizers today.

The word ‘sacrifice’ is maybe too much a mess for some of us, too tainted by oppression and coercion. What matters is less the word but that we are willing to live our lives in the shape of what is being asked. Not hope that what is being asked of us will fit the shape of our lives. Nobody needs martyrs or saviors. Repeat that with me: nobody needs martyrs or saviors. And when our understanding is that the work of justice should fit our lives, instead of us being willing to let our lives move to fit it, we cede so much of our power. 

I can’t un-know the sacrifices that my parents and my grandparents and my ancestors made for me. I can wish they weren’t necessary or that there had been another way, but that’s an alternate world. In this one, what others have done for me becomes fuel for figuring out how to "keep moving with your heart hurt and your body starting to tire" as Toshi Reagon sings. Movimiento Cosecha has sacrifice as one of their principles: "Our seeds come from the tree of sacrifice. We honor the hard work of all the people who bring their gifts to the movement. We believe that people’s work in Cosecha is for the collective well-being of everyone and not for personal gain or to advance individual interests." Mary Hooks in her work leading Southerners On New Ground offers this mandate: "to avenge the suffering of our ancestors, to earn the respect of future generations, and to be transformed in the service of the work." In the most recent episode of Fortification, Paulina Helm-Hernández and Caitlin Breedlove talk about how the sacrifices of our families can actually be spirit-building. 

What is your understanding of what is required of you? What you must do to earn the respect of those who come after? How has sacrifice, however complex, built your spirit? What is the hard way you are willing to go? 

For more:

Fortification Season 2 | Paulina Helm-Hernández

We are so excited to bring you the last episode from Season 2 of Fortification: Spiritual Sustenance for Movement Leadership. In December, we had an opportunity to have conversations with a number of members Auburn's Resilient Leaders Across a Fractured Country, amplifying the lessons of spiritually-resilient leaders in the South, Midwest, and Southwest.

In today's conversation Caitlin speaks Paulina Helm-Hernández. Paulina Helm-Hernández is a queer femme cha-cha girl, artist, trainer, political organizer, strategist; troublemaker-at-large from Veracrúz, Mexico. She grew up in rural North Carolina, and is currently growing roots in Atlanta, GA. She is recent past Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), having joined the staff after coordinating the Southern regional youth activism program at the Highlander Research & Education Center for over 4 years. Paulina has a background in farm worker and immigrant/refugee rights organizing, cultural work, youth organizing, anti-violence work, and liberation work that centers people most affected by violence, poverty, war and racism. Paulina is also a founding member of the national First Nations / Two Spirit Collective, a queer & trans indigenous movement-building cadre, and has served on the boards of YouthAction, Student Action with Farmworkers and The Third Wave Foundation. Paulina currently sits on the Vision and Strategies Council of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, and is always exploring ways to deepen political unity with people willing to fight and organize for collective liberation.

What We Must Do

Grateful to bring you our next installment in our bi-weekly messages with a prayer, an ancestor and a song speaking to our spirits. We hope these resources may offer what we need in order to be courageously, steadily, humbly, on the side of love. One ancestor to lean on, one prayer for our messy lives, and one song to strengthen and soothe. Today we dive into sacrifice - what we are able to offer, what we are willing to do, and who we will become. Check out a bonus recommendation below from Southern Foodways podcast, Gravy.

“But the real sacrifice was the huge danger, the risk that they undertook in putting us up…those are all sung heroes. Heroes every one of them."  - Elizabeth Holtzman in conversation with Rosalind Bentley. 

What we have to give and what sacrifice means for us can look so many different ways. Check out this podcast about Hostesses of the Movement, Black women who took leadership and risks to resource and support organizing throughout the Civil Rights Movement.

ANCESTOR

Lydia Maria Child was a white Unitarian author, editor and activist committed to abolition, women’s rights and Indigenous sovereignty. She was an outspoken critic of Unitarianism in her day, including deep concern with Unitarian leaders’ unwillingness to explicitly and fully embrace abolitionism and their “cold intellectual respectability”. In her writings, she called upon readers to address the contradiction of the institution of slavery within Christianity, the extraordinary moral and physical degradation it perpetuated, sexual violence and the responsibility of the North in maintaining the system. There is much to learn from Child’s work today. You can read more about her here.

Fortification Season 2 | Allyn Maxfield-Steele

We are so excited to bring you the next set of interviews of Fortification: Spiritual Sustenance for Movement Leadership. In December, we had an opportunity to have conversations with a number of members Auburn's Resilient Leaders Across a Fractured Country, amplifying the lessons of spiritually-resilient leaders in the South, Midwest, and Southwest.

In today's conversation Caitlin speaks with Rev. Allyn Maxfield-Steele, the current co-director of the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee. Allyn was raised in Texas, Germany and North Carolina and is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who has served congregations in Juneau, Alaska, Nashville, and Springfield, TN. Allyn’s focus and interests lie at the intersection of radical pastoral care, institutional transformation, dismantling toxic white masculinities, and liberation-driven ministry and movement building, especially in rural and small town communities. He comes to Highlander from the Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, where he has served as a member of the education team.  In the conversation, they talk about the necessity of white folks in supporting, resourcing and flanking Black women leaders, the particularities and importance of rural and small town organizing, any possibilities of the growth and transformation of faith institutions and more.