Well, I emailed the Reverend of the UU church. Here are the copy and pasted conversations thus far. Feedback about how I am handling the situation is always welcomed.
On Wednesday, May 7, 2014 at 9:03 AM I sent this email to the UU Ministry Email:
Dear Reverend Frank,Same day at 11:33 AM, the Reverend emailed me back:I want to first apologize that this has to be my first correspondence with you. I did intend to become more active in the First Unitarian Church of Omaha but moving forty-minutes away made that goal difficult until I am closer again to the city. (I did manage to see one of your sermons before I had to move, though! I enjoyed your interpretation of the New Testament.)However, while I have not been part of the main church, I have been involved with one of its subgroups: the Spirit Circle. In the past few months, there has been internal conflict between social and cultural issues I have been discussing and the members of the group. Ryan Cook, the current organizer of the Spirit Circle, asked me to bring these issues to you.Luckily, I have been documenting my experiences talking with the Spirit Circle. These conversations have taken place on Facebook, so you can see the discussions verbatim.It began during the February meeting when Ryan Cook threw out some suggestions for the meetings this upcoming year. He mentioned "shamanism", which is unfortunately a very racist-based religion. I emailed him on Facebook to discuss with him why "shamanism" is racist and to not have a Spirit Circle dedicated to the practice of it. However, he declined. The discussion is documented on this link. Ryan is the green-blocks with an "R" in front and I am the lilac blocks (I block out names of pagans because of religious discrimination that can happen today because of it. While rare, I rather not take the chance of someone losing their job because they are part of a pagan group.) Also on the link is a group member who commented on my public remarks on shamanism. I blocked out his name, but his name is Kevin EarthSoul.Later on, I posted a link from Jezebel (a fantastic women-ran online news source) about Cultural Appropriation. EarthSoul then posted another link about cultural appropriation. I documented the first part of that conversation on this link, as well as provided the links to both the Jezebel article, EarthSoul's link, and a few other links that came up during the discussion. Again I blocked out names: I am the purple blocks and EarthSoul is the green blocks. The conversation then continued the next day, as well as started a new topic by the moderator of the Facebook group on the UU 7 Principals. That can be found here. I do want to apologize (as I do later in the discussions) for my crude language in one of the responses to EarthSoul. I was angry at the comments he made towards Christianity, European Religions, as well as continuing to support racism. However, I should not have used curse words.On the topic of the UU 7 Principals, no one ever got around to answering my question about if the UU 7 Principals supports respecting religions based in racism, sexism, or any other form of oppression. Specific religions I know that do this include Dianic Wicca, who's founder Z Budapest denies that trans women are "real" women (therefore is transmisogynistic and sexist.) Another religion is that of The Frosts' School of Wicca (not Gardner Wicca, which is what you may be familiar with), which in fact teaches pedophilia, rape, and incest (I kid you not.) Or Westboro Baptists who are notorious for insulting families of veterans, send death threats to LGBTAQ+ members, and so forth. Unfortunately, this question wasn't properly answered in the discussion (at least I do not think so) and I am wondering what your opinion on the matter might be. Or if there is someone else in the UU Church who has written about such problems? I do not disagree with coexisting with religions, but I do not agree with tolerating racism, sexism, ableism, and/or any other type of oppression which, unfortunately, can be masked by religious beliefs.Anyway, back to the issue at hand: I am being told by Ryan Cook that saying that someone who partakes in a racist religion is a racist is not allowed in Spirit Circle. They had a meeting last Sunday about me and these conversations--without me being present. This is that recent conversation from yesterday and today, where Ryan Cook asks me to message you if I do think that Kevin EarthSoul is a racist (I blocked out your name as well, but you are the lime green blocks.) And, I do agree that Kevin EarthSoul is partaking in racism and racist actions. I do not think so because I am experiencing racism, but because Native activists have spoken by and large that shamanism is harmful to their culture, spirituality, and community. As an ally against racism and supporter of CAORANN, I do not want to be part of a group that allows harmful oppression to go unchecked.I'm sorry that this email ended up being very long, but I wanted to make sure you had the full background of what has been going on so that you can have an informed opinion on the matter. Please let me know if you have any questions and I look forward to your response.
I had to take some days to figure out how to respond to a message like this, and so I returned the email on Friday, May 9, 2014 at 12:47 PM:Allec--Thanks for writing. You are dealing with deep beliefs on both sides.The first thing to do is to gather those involved and decide how you can actually listen to one another and try to work this out. This will help the Spirit Circle not only deal with this conflict, but with future ones.If this doesn't work, I can help the group identify a mediator to help the two groups hear each other and reach some kind of resolution.Whatever we do, each perspective needs to be heard and respected. Then the group will find a way to negotiate the differences.
Dear Rev. Frank Rivas,Again, I got a response the same day at 1:23 PM from the Reverend:Thank you for responding!I would agree to this proposition if this was about a difference of opinion. However, it isn't. This is about how Native Elders have stated they do not want their spiritual practices being used by outsiders. How do I know this? Because they wrote an entire Declaration of War about it (also written about here), addressed it in theResolution of the 5th Annual Meeting, and formed an activist group to combat this form of oppression at New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans. They have spoken about how it is harmful to their communities: this is how it hurts the cultures on a whole, here is how it hurts Native women, and here is how it hurts the individuals.This isn’t a difference of opinion. This isn’t even my opinion. This is the opinion of elders and activists from Native communities as seen linked above. Tolerating EarthSoul's occupation of exploiting the Native communities' ceremonies, beliefs, and traditions supports oppression and continuing harm to the Native people. And as outsiders, we have no place to tell the Native community they are not oppressed by these activities. Just as women know what misogyny is better than men, just as a black people know what black racism is better than white people, and just as trans people know what transphobia and transmisogyny is better than cis people... Native people know when activities done "in honor of" them are actually offensive, rude, and hurtful. Being an ally to any oppressed group is first and foremost is listening to the voices of the oppressed. And here, the Natives have been very, very clear about how they feel about someone like Kevin EarthSoul practicing their ceremonies, traditions, and beliefs.As an ally to the Native communities, I do not tolerate any type of racism towards them. Even this type of racism--especially this type of racism. Because people like Ryan Cook will excuse it because it isn't "hateful" and ignore how it is still damaging, oppressing, and tangibly harmful to the communities.I hope this is all making sense. I do encourage you to read these links written by various Native communities' elders and activists:
Thank you again for your time and I hope these links help clarify the actual issue.
- "Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality" passed by the Lakota Summit V, an international gathering of US and Canadian Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Nations
- "Article On The 'Lakota Declaration of War' " by Valerie Taliman, originally published in News From Indian Country
- "Resolution of the 5th Annual Meeting of the Tradition Elders Circle" signed by various elders
- New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans, an activist group of Native people and our supporters
- "Indian Wannabes", quotes from magazines about "Indian Wannabes"
- Quote by Andrea Smith on how abused Native women are harmed by shamans like EarthSoul
- An art piece on words that dehumanize a Native artist
- Letter from Chief Arvol Looking Horse on Protection of Ceremonies
- and much more resources on CAORANNSincerely,Marcella
And sigh. I managed to write back the same day at 7:07PM:I'm cautious about any kind of appropriation, but I also recognize that the multiple points of view. Your links express one point of view well. There are others. Dealing with conflict requires not only stating your case but being willing to listen to others.
I have difficulty listening to any opinions regarding the cultural appropriation of the Native culture other than the Natives themselves who are being very, very vocal (I linked eight separate declarations written by over fifty community leaders, and I can find you more if you that doesn't suffice) in saying that activities that EarthSoul are hurtful and damaging to their Native communities. I am unable to see how any outsider's opinion can come close to matching that importance to the issue. Especially when that outsider is profiting from the oppression of the Native communities.The next day Saturday May 10, 2014 at 7:42 AM, I got an email back:"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." - Desmond Tutu
Ours is a liberal church. Our mission statement begins with the statement that we "strive to be a diverse, liberal religious community with a tradition of open-mindedness and tolerance." Your emails sound as though you are not open-minded and respectful toward other points of view, at least on this particular issue; so this may not be your religious community. I would come to the same hypothesis if you were quoting Scripture and insisting that your interpretation was the only correct one.
If, on the other hand, you are willing to enter into respectful dialogue, if you are open to broadening your own perspective, then this may indeed be your community.
You may need to discern what you want from a spiritual community and choose accordingly.Again, I sat on this for a while before finally responding today, Monday May 12, 2014 at 1:10 PM:
Reverend Frank--I have not heard a response back, and I'm not sure I will.It is true that I am not respectful towards points of view that are racist and/or harm others. I have listened to the other point of view, and I don't see how a single white man saying "This isn't racist" can trump several committees of Natives who say it is. This isn't about spiritual views of another person. This is about how another person is harming Native communities.I am open to my perspective being changed, but so far no one has addressed the Lakota Declaration of War when discussing this matter. This isn't about my opinion, but the Native communities' opinions and their consistent statements about how this furthers their oppression.What I want from a spiritual community is a place that is safe. Safe from racists and racism, safe from sexist and sexism, safe from rape culture and rapists, safe from all types of oppression and oppressors. I want a spiritual community that isn't neutral when an injustice is presented. I want a community that isn't so open-minded it allows in harmful behavior that makes it a safe haven for abusers and unsafe for victims.If this community is not capable of being a safe place for victims and those who are oppressed, then no. I do not want part of this community.Sincerely,Marcella