December 2013



December 2013
The Union Voice
Union Theological Seminary’s Student Newspaper
December 2013
The Union Voice is Back!
2. Your respect—speaking up is a risky
business, we owe it to each other to
respect what one another has to say. As a
If you have had a conversation with matter of respect for you, untruths and inme lately, you have heard me say it—the tolerance will not be published.
Union Voice is coming back! Well good 3. Your ideas—each of us has somenews folks; it’s here, in your hands, right thing to offer the community for mutual
benefit and edification; as we strive to make
What does this mean?
Union a better place, I trust we’ll make the
Well, it means that you have a say. world a better place in turn.
You have an outlet. There is a place to put Foster and I will make mistakes along
into the Union community the things that the way. Be gracious. And if you like what
you care about. When you are proud, we you see, let us know! Maybe even get inare here to show your work off. When you volved. There are many ways to contribute:
are concerned, we are here to listen. When write an article, create an advertisement for
you are in need, we will publish your call your caucus, cover an event, interview a
for help. When you are celebrating, we professor, take some pictures, share your
will join in. And when you are pissed, we editing expertise, or help us in developing
will print your anger.
the website. We are a full-inclusion news
This, we hope, is for the benefit of the paper staff; however you would like to get
entire Union community. The Union Voice involved, we are willing to give it a go.
will only be as good as you make it; this Finally, a word of gratitude is necescommunity is a product of what we are sary. The Union Voice would not be back
each willing to contribute.
without the help of the Student Senate,
We promise to do our best to publish Dean Yvette Wilson, Nina Kalandadze,
what matters most to you, Union’s stu- Matthew Vaughan, Marcus Mortise, Dondents, we hope you’ll offer a few things in ald Joshua, and the talented crew who conreturn:
tributed to this first edition, and our incred 1. Your passion—you came to Union ibly supportive classmates. Foster and I
for a reason; the passion you follow is are truly grateful for all of your support!
important and it benefits this community. Without further ado, Ladies and GenTrust it and share it.
tlepersons, we give you the Union Voice:
The Union Voice is Back
A Call to
Responsible Action
The Necessity2
of Walking Away
Union’s Next “Big Thing”
Religion & Governance
Launch ofClimate Justice at
Union Theological Seminary
“Oh What a Beautiful City”
Protesting for7
Peace in Georgia
Kristen’s Voice7
Taboo Topics:8
Is Union Disabled?
Welcome to our Havana Schtel!
A Call to Responsible Action
It is easy to be seduced into the belief
that attending to the study of theology and
engaging in religious dialogue are enough
to be counted among the righteous. The
great Zen master Seung Sahn puts forward
the ancient Buddhist teaching that says,
“One action is better than ten thousand
thoughts.” And we often forget the lesson
in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says
to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom
of heaven, but only the one who does the
will of my Father in heaven.” My first semester at Union Theological Seminary has
shown me that kind thoughts and words
are not enough; only actions can bring
about lasting and positive change. Where
are we failing our community as semi-
narians? How are we following the call
to right action and courage implicit in an
ethical approach to life? What lessons can
we learn from Union’s past and from the
people already at work in this area? What
do we mean when we say “social justice”?
The Union community can no longer ignore the people who sleep in our
December 2013
from front page
doorways. We cannot begin the journey
towards a more conscientious life by first
stepping over the marginalized bodies of
our neighbors. On November 6, Union
held the first in what it hopes will be a series of talks concerning an active response
to the pervasive homelessness in our community. The panel included:
●Willie Baptist, Poverty Initiative Scholar-in-Residence and Coordinator of the
Poverty Scholars Program
●Susan Dan, Project Renewal
●Marc Greenburg, Executive Director,
Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness
and Housing
●Jean Rice, a leader of Picture the Homeless
The conversation was facilitated by Union
PhD candidate and Coordinator of the
Poverty Initiative, Liz Theoharis.
Stories and experiences were shared
in the hopes of forming an approach to
homelessness that keeps with the spirit of
Union’s motto: Unity, Truth, and Charity.
At times the conversation became heated
as personal frustrations where aired. The
thirst to help in the immediacy of the situation can lead to harsh words. Everyone
agreed, however, that systemic change on
the local and national levels is necessary
to reduce the numbers of people without
shelter. The divide in the room seemed to
come from taking a more individual approach or a more structured or political
approach. It seems to me that both sides of
this argument, at times, fail to see individ-
uals experiencing homelessness as complete persons. The marginalized are neither
inherently dangerous people to be kept at
arm’s length, nor are they objects for our
personal journeys towards salvation. It is
not beyond Union to find creative ways
to help our friends on the streets while
respecting the boundaries of our fellow
students. Our purpose as seminarians is to
give people space to experience hope and
to live into the fullness of their creation.
Kevin Worthy put forth the idea of a
community lunch where neighbors in need
are welcomed into Union to share conversation and ideas. I would like to expand on
this suggestion. In addition to welcoming
those marginalized in for monthly discussions, we could also use the opportunity
to invite local organizations already structured to assist in matters of health, work,
and housing into our community. We can
use Union as a space to provide meaningful contacts leading to concrete solutions.
During the panel, Greenberg reminded us
that this problem need not be tackled, initially, in an expansive way; beginning with
eight to ten persons in need of support and
contacts is enough to begin the process of
Page 2
positive and lasting change. And Rice reminded us that it is only through listening
and responding to the needs expressed by
those experiencing homelessness that we
can be truly effective in our actions.
I find the lines expressed in Acts 1:11
to be haunting when it comes to how we
view the marginalized in this society:
“…why do you stand looking up toward
heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken
up from you into heaven, will come in the
same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Jesus always works from the ground up.
The radical nature of the Christian message is that revelation comes from impoverished places. We will find our spiritual
awakening in the faces of the oppressed.
We must look towards the suffering to find
Christ, not upwards into unrealistic ideology and big ideas. Do not look for hope to
descend, look for hope to ascend.
Look for more from a Tuesday, Dec. 10th
(12PM - 2PM) follow up conversation,
hosted by the Office of the President, the
Office of Housing and Campus Services,
the Office of Student Affairs, the Student
Senate and the Poverty Initiative.
ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS ‌| Dean Wilson Introduces Panelists
The Necessity of Walking Away
There is nothing more noble than becoming the catalyst for making a difference
in the lives of others. Many people aspire
to this end. I must admit that I am no different, and all roads led to Union Theological Seminary. My journey to Union was
truly driven by the desire make a difference
in the lives of others. I wanted to become
better equipped to touch the lives of people
in the Christian community, specifically the
black church, living with HIV/AIDS and
those charged to provide spiritual care in
a more meaningful manner. It is no secret
that, in many circles, this promises to be an
area of contention.
Before enrolling at Union, I spent the
majority of my time assisting individuals
who were non-adherent to medication and
needed an intervention to save their lives.
My caseload was dominated by gay males
who loved the Lord and church, but never
felt free to be their authentic selves. Instead,
most were desperately trying to maneuver
and pour themselves into a mold that simply did not fit and was never designed for
them. Sadly, they found themselves acting
out storylines of dangerous behaviors that
denied the loving and honest experience
they so desperately wanted. Reduced to listening to sermons laced with hate and derogatory rhetoric, my patients experienced
messages which dug deeper into already
prevalent wounds.
I kept telling myself, “John, you have
to do something.” I finally came to the realization that I have to be the catalyst for
change. Hence, entrance into Union. I understood that in order to challenge this well
December 2013
Page 3
Union’s Next “Big Thing”
The year 2014 is fast approaching
Union Theological Seminary is faced with
an important question: What is the next
“big thing” for Union?
Paradoxically, Union is committed to
its progressive identity and social engagement, yet Union continues to allow fulltime white faculty and students to outnumber those of color. Given Union’s legacy of
social justice, it is alarming that white supremacy pervades in such a strategic way.
This strategy is often creative; many are
able to discuss liberation theologies, but
rarely are its aims reached. Though Union
insists that there be diverse voices of color
in order to attract a somewhat progressive
pool of students, they still fall short of their
vision, from as far back as 1972, to have at
least a one-third Black faculty.
Thankfully, Union is more affirming
of people of color, LGBTQ, and international students than the typical white institution. However, there is still something in
the atmosphere that implicitly says Union
does not embrace perspectives that fall too
far outside the white liberal agenda. What
does Union have to lose by relentlessly
recruiting faculty and students that challenge and dismantle predominantly white
academic institutions? Perhaps, if Union
decided to live up to this feat it would create an environment more reflective of the
surrounding urban area, and the United
States at large.
Union’s five year strategic plan, published in October 2011, states: “If we are
going to pursue new forms of theological
education that engage our changing global religious context, we must not only
change our programs, we must cultivate a
student body that reflects the needs of our
world…Racial, ethnic, and global diversity, with particular focus on African-American, African, Asian, Asian-American, and
Latino/a students.” As Stop and Frisk
targets Black/Latino men, contributing to
the growing prison industrial complex, it
should be a priority for Union to recruit
more people who are dedicated to fighting the system. Blacks represent about 12
percent of the population and account for
an estimated 44 percent of new HIV infections (as of 2010). The numbers are overwhelming, and still those who are most
affected by these types of disparities are
underrepresented in this institution. Students of Union are confronted with these
mortalities in their communities every day.
Because Union is the home of both Black
liberation and Womanist theologies, and
is situated in the Harlem community, it is
disheartening to see a lack of people here
who can be effective resources in the fight
against these systematized issues.
This semester, the Black Caucus,
Black Women Caucus, and the Latino/a
Religion and Governance
“The churches have not done anything
significant for 50 years. I do not see why
we should put pressure upon them now
to do something significant in response to
the ecological crisis. I’m not critiquing the
churches; I’m just saying we should look to
another institution to take this on. Is it different in India? Could one ask the temples
to organize around ecological crises?” This
question was posed in the midst of a tutorial on ecology and Hinduism during the
First Years’ Religion in the Cities Course.
None of us in the class really had
enough experience of Hinduism in India to
offer a good answer to her direct question.
I made some comment about how different the institutional organization of Hinduism is India compared with Christianity in
America, and how even the notion of “organizing temples” in India seemed an impossible task for such a decentralized and
often disconnected system.
But her question has stayed with me,
demanding a further response. Part of the
disturbance results from some of the assumptions within the question: that it is
not the Church’s responsibility to lead the
way in these ecological and social issues.
Perhaps she was right. The ecological and
economic crises are not alive in the churches in the same way the Civil Rights Movement was. Perhaps God has a different plan
Caucus have created inclusive and life-enriching events that encourage the Union
community to live up to its commitment to
social justice. Many students were graced
by the scholarship of Dr. Yolanda Pierce,
a visiting Womanist professor from Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Pierce’s
class, In My Mother’s House: A Literary
Womanist Theology, offered its students
the invaluable opportunity to celebrate
Black womanhood through literature by
examining its intersection with patriarchy,
racism, and classism. The popularity of
and her course shows the urgency needed
in hiring new womanist professors in the
birthplace of Womanist scholarship.
It is not enough to merely name the
injustices of this world. Audre Lorde told
us boldly, “It is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we
believe and know beyond understanding…
And it is never without fear—of visibility, of the harsh light of scrutiny and perhaps judgment, of pain, of death.” Union
Theological Seminary’s next “big thing” is
to live up to the challenge of becoming a
beacon of grassroots love and justice. This
love and justice must be for those who
continue to be underrepresented in America’s shattered communities.
Union’s Strategic Plan can be found here:
h t t p : / / w w w. u t s n y c . e d u / d o c u m e n t .
for our generation than to create another
movement led by churches.
Or perhaps the needs of the “ecological,” which is code for the dominant way
white institutions have organized the production process in society, crises that are
driving people out of their homes across
storm-ravaged parts of the world, are different from the needs of the Civil Rights
Later, I recalled the image held out by
a man named Ram Subramanian whose
work with rural economies has garnered
deep respect within India. He tells a story about how the older temples in India,
page 5
December 2013
Page 4
Launch of Climate Justice at Union Theological Seminary
We are faced with the most serious
challenge to the preservation of all life on
Earth: the rapidly accelerating warming
of our planet. By burning fossil fuels in
just 150 years of industrialization, out
of 200,000 years of human existence,
we have stocked greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere with disastrous results: melting
glaciers and polar ice caps, prolonged
droughts followed by massive floods,
uncontrollable wild fires, tornadoes where
they were never seen before, hurricanes
of unprecedented size, blizzards dumping
3 feet of snow in a day, sea levels rising,
acidic oceans killing marine life, and
once under-control diseases flourishing
among us. Some 25 percent to 30 percent
of all species, both animal and plant, have
already disappeared. Not only will no one
escape, but the most vulnerable among
us, those who had nothing to do with this
explosion of consumption, are bearing the
brunt of our actions. From Honduras to
Bangladesh to the Philippines, from New
Orleans to Alaska, those least responsible
are being ravished by climate change.
Testifying before Congress in 1988,
James Hansen, NASA’s leading climate
scientist, alerted the world that global
warming was here. He was 99 percent
certain that it was due to human activity.
Since then, scientists have been predicting
exactly the kind of extreme weather that we
have been witnessing lately.
In the first conference of its kind, the
United Nations convened the historic Río
Earth Summit in 1992, bringing together
from page 2
constructed mindset, I needed to know the
foundation on which much of the mindset
is built. A clear understanding of the Bible
had to be a major plank in my preparation.
Since I continued to encounter many
of the same behavioral patterns with many
of my patients (i.e., depression, health apathy, self-loathing, high risk sex, etc.), I
realized that many of my patient’s also required mental health advocacy to deal with
the various personal traumas that kept them
trapped in self-destructive patterns of be-
172 governments to find a way to assure
the continuance of life on this planet. The
cry from the Río Conference and every
subsequent UN Climate Summit has been
the same: immediate, drastic reductions in
greenhouse gas emissions are the urgent
task. Nothing short of a transformation
of our attitudes and behavior would bring
about the necessary changes.
All over the world, individuals and
organizations sprung up in valiant David
& Goliath efforts, determined to bring
the issues before policymakers and the
public, to reverse the suicidal course
of our environmental practices. While
constituting less than 5 percent of the
world’s population, the United States
represents one quarter of global energy use
and 25 percent of all carbon emissions. Just
90 companies have produced two-thirds
of greenhouse gases since the dawn of
the industrial age, with the vast majority
from companies in the oil, gas, or coal
business. Among the top offenders we can
find Chevron, Exxon, BP, Saudi Arabia’s
Aramco and Russia’s Gazprom (Climate
Accountability Institute, Climate Change,
Nov. 2013).
Recognizing that developed countries
are principally responsible for the high
levels of greenhouse gases, the 1997 Kyoto
Protocol set out to achieve a collective
reduction of emissions to 18 percent
below 1990 levels but on a proportional
basis – those who polluted more had to cut
more. The United States signed the treaty
but never ratified it. The world’s biggest
polluter refused to be reigned in! Today it
speaks of pledging a 17 percent reduction
– but below 2005 levels! These numbers
are deceptive because they represent the
equivalent of only 6 percent of the original
1990 standard being employed by the rest
of the world.
Copenhagen was slotted to be a turning
point. Delegates to the 2009 UN Climate
Summit were optimistic that a binding
agreement could be reached; member
states were ready to commit to substantial
emissions reductions. But hopes were
dashed when, at the 11th hour, the United
States scuttled the deal. Since then, each
successive summit has seen a further
watering-down of obligations, with last
month’s Warsaw conference only resulting
in agreements to “meet again” next year
to “present plans for targets” instead of
decisive action.
The Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body which
brings together some 800 of the world’s
leading scientists, went from being 90
percent certain in 2007 to 95 percent certain
today (Sept 2013) that global warming was
human created. They recently warned that
we must keep the planet from warming
more than 2ºC (3.6º F) in order to avoid
runaway climate change. James Hansen
calculated that would mean having no
more than 350 ppm of carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere. The latest figures show
that we are already at 400 ppm (May 2013)
and climbing, on track for a possible 4ºC
rise (perhaps by 2060). In forty years we
could see widespread desertification, food
supply and ecosystems collapsing, with
havior. Although I had success addressing
these issues, I knew that I needed in-depth
clinical training to provide the kind of services that would be beneficial both to my
God loving clients and to church leadership.
Enrolling at Union is the best first step
to achieving this end. Having already experienced success with helping and educating individuals with HIV/AIDS, which has
been rewarding, I can do more. Admittedly,
the transition back to school has not been
a “best friend” experience, but the results
will be well worth the effort. My passion
for the underserved HIV/AIDS communi-
ty runs deep. Lives are at stake, and I can
help. To the point, I made the right decision. The future as a HIV/AIDS advocate
shows promise and many challenges. With
creativity and innovative means, I will
touch many in the black church. I am sure
that the discussions around these issues
will be difficult and intensely engaging. I
am confident that many shrouds of ignorance, cultural indifference, and shame will
be undone in loving and meaningful ways
that will make for authentic relationships
between the black gay community and
the church. A challenge, yes, but I WILL
NOT/CANNOT turn back now.
December 2013
from page 4
especially the ones in villages, are often
designed to have many small nooks and
crannies. A local historian informed him
that those nooks and crannies were places
for conversation.
In this vision, the temple was not just
a place for worship. Or rather, worship was
not only observed during formal ceremonies. Temples were designed as places for
the life of the people to be debated and
discussed; solutions and meaning-making
were found in those spaces. In a situation
with no or minimal national government,
the temple held political, economic, social, and religious value. Community life
– what some today would call public life
– was recognized as an inherently collective spiritual journey. Governance of water
resources, potential impacts of pollution,
discrimination, domestic violence, community conflict, food distribution, and issues of inheritance; no issue was too small
for God’s notice, and nothing lay outside
of the realm of the collective spiritual life.
I emphasize the word “vision.” Village
life in India, as in other parts of the world,
is often romanticized, especially by Americans such as myself who have just enough
knowledge to occasionally fool others into
thinking we might actually know something. Local village life, historically and
today, is beset with entrenched inequalities,
not least of caste and gender, and traditions
that can be as demeaning as they are revitalizing. But even if this vision is only a
story, it is a story that may offer something
for our current condition.
Climate change and ecological crises
require a re-working of our social and economic systems. We need livelihoods that
don’t put the poorest in our communities
at risk for their health as they engage in
jobs, from mining to working in oil refineries, which pillage the earth’s dwindling
resources. We need livelihoods that don’t
put refined intellects into the hands of corporations who use their brain power to fuel
economic growth. We need spaces where
we can heal from the brokenness of cycles
of domination. We need spaces of power
from page 4
| Creative Commons photo via flickr
user Nove foto da Firenze
hundreds of millions desperately seeking
refuge because human adaptation would be
extremely unlikely. Burning the Canadian
tar sands projected to flow through the
Keystone XL Pipeline would be “game
over” for the planet, according to Hansen.
Just two years back, (November 2011),
the International Energy Agency (IEA)
concluded that we only had a window of
five years to reduce carbon emissions. If
current trends continue, by 2017 we will
reach a tipping point where climate change
will become irreversible and weather
systems will spin out of control.
In the decades since the watershed
Río Conference, we have squandered
the time that should have been dedicated
to transitioning to clean energy and
weaning ourselves off petroleum. Vested
interests thwarted all attempts at change.
The fossil fuel industry wields its power
over Washington and the media to keep
governments from acting and people from
learning the truth. Myopic and fratricidal
in their refusal to relinquish the source of
staggering profits: is this not the greatest
criminal act ever perpetrated against all
Page 5
where the knowledge and experience of
previously excluded voices can be incorporated into the process of building life-affirming solutions. Life-affirming solutions
will be those which grow beautiful, locally-aware, bio-culturally diverse communities. Re-balancing the world toward dignity
is a collective spiritual process. Those who
facilitate it will be using their spiritual gifts
and moral power to do so, calling forth the
best in all of us.
Is this the work of churches and temples? I sometimes share some of my colleague’s skepticism about the role of the
Church in modern society. But I do not
doubt that that Mysterious Being we often
refer to as God can, will, and is helping us.
Perhaps historians will call the space
where these engaged communities who
rewrite our laws, replant our land, and renew our health in right relationship with
our Creator as the foundation of a “new”
church-sangha. Today, however, the question remains unanswered. Where do we
find these praxis spaces? In chapels?
Farms? Offices? Prisons? Seminary?
living beings? What is at stake is the very
survival of the planet – and its relentless
destruction is the greatest sacrilege against
our Creator.
We have a theological question before
us: How can we love God with all our
heart, mind, and soul, while trashing the
earth and all its creatures? How can we
love our neighbor as ourselves when the
least of our brothers and sisters are being
washed away by the waters and starved to
death by drought?
We have a moral and practical
obligation to act, and to act now. Larry
Rasmussen recently asked, “What time is
It’s time for the boldest possible
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December 2013
Page 6
“Oh What a Beautiful City”: A Summary
On November 1, 2013, Union Theological Seminary hosted its first homiletics
workshop in many years. It was led by Rev.
Dr. James Forbes and its theme was “‘Oh
What a Beautiful City’: Preaching a Just
and Compassionate Christian Vision for
New York City.” The event was sponsored
by Union Forum and the Office of the Rev.
Dr. Forbes. Its goal was simply to engage
ministers, students, and activists in a sustained reflection on how NYC might become a more just and compassionate place
during the new mayor’s term.
Forbes began the day by presenting a
Christian vision for NYC that blended spiritual maturity (prayer), civic engagement
(voting issues), and humanitarian service
(food reallocation) into a coherent and
hopeful narrative. It was spontaneous, reflective, and engaging. Not only did Forbes
present a valuable vision but Kali Wilder,
who works in administration here at Union,
delivered a powerful vocal performance of
the song “Oh, What a Beautiful City.” A
panel responded to Forbes’s vision after his
presentation, and the conversation was an
important conglomeration of diverse voices about the realities facing NYC. Panelists
• Rev. Fred Davie, from Union
• Rev. Heidi Neumark, from Trinity
Lutheran of Manhattan
• Dr. Mindi Fullilove, from the
Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University
Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad joined
Forbes for a preaching workshop during
the follow-up afternoon sessions – incorporating Forbes’ vision into congregational
life and practice for the participants.
The event was a success by all accounts. Over 50 people registered for the
event from at least four of the five boroughs, New Jersey, and Long Island.
Roughly half of the registrants were students at Union and other seminaries. There
was a feeling among the participants that
this was the type of event we need to have
more often. As the conversations kept going throughout the day, we got the sense
that a consensus was brewing among the
participants: the new mayor will need to
hear from the religious communities in
this city. There was even talk of forming
a group of concerned citizens who would
draft a letter to the new mayor, enumerating some of the things we talked about.
Karenna Gore, from the Union Forum, will
be drafting a letter in the coming weeks, so
see her for more information.
The homiletics workshop raised several key questions for the Union Community:
1. (How) Might events such as this
homiletics workshop open the doors for
continuing education around the issue of
2. How might we more effectively
utilize the skills and expertise of our professors, students, and professors emeriti in
extra-curricular programming?
3. Other than homiletics, what are
some other areas/disciplines in which we
might offer more extra-curricular programming?
Rev. Dr. Forbes’s introductory remarks
are available for free download on the new
Union Theological Seminary in the City of
New York “iTunes U” page.
Union Theological Seminary Celebrates Union’s Black Alumni/ae
‘Claiming our Roots, Charting the Future: Sankofa’
Rev. Dr. Henry H. Mitchell
Black Alumni/ae Preaching Series
Thursdays, February 6, 13, 20, & 27
7:00 p.m.
James Memorial Chapel
(n.) “go back to fetch it”; symbol of the wisdom in learning
from the past in building the future
December 2013
Protesting for Peace in Georgia
chopping down any more trees and presented the crowd with alternative visions
of the world. It was such a beautiful performance and it concluded with my favorite chant, “The people united will never be
The puppet performance ended the
rally at Fort Benning. So we headed to
the conference center and attended workshops, listened to speakers, and engaged
with booth vendors. A few of us attended John Dear’s workshop, which had a
wonderful and wholesome message on
nonviolence. How one can practice nonviolence personally, interpersonally, and
globally? Other Union students, including
Alejandro Escantle and Emily Hamilton,
were involved in serving communion at
the Inclusive Catholic service. We, Union
students, were deeply involved in the activities of School of the Americas (SOA)
protest and enjoyed every minute of it.
My time there was transformative. It
was a wake up call for me to find a community of activists in NYC. I have lacked
in my once aggressive fight for social justice and know I need to return to my roots.
Although the SOA protest had fewer participants than it had in previous years,
the 1,750 persons gathered created an
energetic spirit of hope and love that transcends numbers. The challenge of justice
is that it never rests until it is fulfilled. I
pray that I may seek justice more intensely
while at Union and beyond.
Page 7
Kristen’s Voice
To My Fellow Seminarians, Faculty,
Staff and Friends, I am excited to be writing
this article for the Union community. This semester there has been so much activity. Next
semester will be just as busy and exciting!
I want to start with the fact that I am very
to announce my SpiritTalk surroundI sat on a median of dried yellow
health challenges, and healing
grass as a choir of folk singers belted out
Road to Healing: Suffering
these lyrics on stage. The surrounding
It will be held
crowd was full of the bright-eyed college
5:00 pm and
students, older peace and justice activists,
nuns and priests, peace-loving hippies,
in Toand every leftie in-between. I sat there
Spiritgrateful; indeed, keeping in mind those
Talks are ways for the Union community to
activists that have paved the way for us to
get together for about an hour to talk about
spirituality and faith as it relates to pressing
We participated in the rally on Saturissues in our community and world today.
day at Fort Benning. The purpose of the
It helps with creating an inclusive and inrally was to shed light on troubling acformed Union institution and body. Spiritutions taken by School of the Americas (or
ally, Union looks to help students and faculty
WHINSEC: Western Hemisphere Instigrow in their personal missions as theolotute for Security Cooperation). We shared
gians, ministers, and scholars. My SpiritTalk
stories with other activists about foreign
should be a great way to talk about suffering
policy, drones, activism and hip-hop, as
and all the ways that spirituality relates to
well as immigration policy, liberation thethis and healing.
ology, and the Catholic Worker. We arA new coalition has also been created
rived onsite at noon and walking onto the
hope it will soon become a caucus. Dispremises, we were invited by puppeteers
support and justice is always needed,
to join their play that would take place
on a campus that is not always
both days. More than half of our group
The Disability Justice Coatook up their offer. The play comprised
this and more! I hope all
of trees, cornstalks, the four elements of
the Earth, and chainsaws representative
team member, I
of the military, Congress, the NSA, and
we have some
money. The four elements—water, wind, For more perspectives from Timothy, visit
fire, earth—stopped the chainsaws from his blog at
my own chapel on Wednesday, April 2, 2014.
Please do what you can to come by at 12:30
pm for a half-hour of great community fellowship.
Our community continues to grow and
thrive with love for each other and cooperation. But, there are questions I would like
to encourage Union to think about: What can
we do as a community to support and care for
the homeless in our own neighborhood and
even beyond? What could we do to prevent
this issue from getting out of hand or happening to us? How are we working to progress Union’s mission, which is hopefully in
line with our own? Are we spreading peace,
PROTESTING FOR PEACE ‌| UTS Students Samantha Gonzalez-Block, Elizabeth
hope, and love throughout our community?
Assenza, and Emily Brewer Protest in Georgia
I am open and I am willing
For to be hopeless would seem so strange
It dishonors those who go before us
So lift me up to the light of change
– from George Mann’s “I am willing”
December 2013
Arts & Culture
Page 8
Taboo Topics: Is Union Disabled?
The Office of Institutional Diversity and Community Engagement (IDCE)
headed by Dr. Tanya Williams, along with
the Disability Justice Coalition recently
sponsored an evening of community dialogue around disability at Union called, “Is
Union Disabled?” IDCE has initiated several conversations about “taboo” subjects,
including interfaith relations at Union.
“Taboo” gatherings offer an opportunity to
name an “elephant in the room” and discuss
topics we often think are too hot to touch.
The Disability Justice Coalition decided to co-sponsor “Is Union Disabled?”
because we are concerned about the lack of
dialogue around disability at Union, both
personally and theologically. We are also
concerned about the limited physical access
to many spaces at Union for those who are
physically disabled. While Union rightly
emphasizes social justice issues around
race, gender, sexuality and poverty, among
others, it is our observation that disability
continues to be an invisible social, political
and theological concern for many of us. It
is our belief that sharing our stories is the
first step to dismantling shame and making
disability visible.
The students and faculty at our “Taboo” conversation raised insightful concerns and told beautiful stories of their own
experiences with disability. Many students
shared a sense of shame with identifying as
having a disability, particularly those that
may require academic accommodations because they fear being labeled unintelligent.
Labeling induces shame and prevents some
students from seeking the accommodations
that they need to reach their full academic
potential. This fear is not unfounded either; a little reflection often illuminates our
own complicity in the ill-founded connection between disability and sub-standard
intelligence, or more broadly, disability
and deficiency.
We also discussed the problem of
language around disability. The word
“dis-ability” necessarily implies a lack
of ability and tends to foster a mode of
thinking in which disabled people live in
contrast to a normative standard of ability. The reality of course, is that the one
marker of humanity is variation: sexually,
ethnically and bodily. Instead of viewing
disability as a deviation from “ability,” we
might all be better served by acknowledging the vast differences in human capacities. Attempts to change the language of
disability have not fared much better than
“Welcome to our Havana Shtetl!”
“Welcome to our Havana Shtetl!” we
gleefully announce to a room buzzing with
the sounds of laughter, chatting, and big
slurps of kosher and non-kosher sangria.
On Thursday Nov. 7th, 2013 from 9pm until
midnight, Union Theological Seminary’s
[email protected] Caucus teamed up with Jewish
Theological Seminary’s Davidson Student
Organization and Union’s pub-tenders to
host Inter-Seminary Salsa Pub. Nearly
one hundred UTS, JTS, and Columbia
University students were in attendance.
James Chapel was decorated like
a late-night Caribbean backyard party.
“Freshly washed” clothing hung on lines
to dry, and an image of an iconic old
Havana street was projected onto a sheet.
Popular Latin games like dominos, and
native instruments sat atop each table. JTS
student Debra Fricano, one of the event
organizers, brought kosher snacks to share.
Emily Brewer and other Union students
took turns serving as bartenders, and
countless others played invaluable roles in
helping to make the night a joyous success.
Inter-Seminary Salsa Pub held
particular significance for me. The product
of a Jewish/Christian home, I am always
especially eager to spearhead exciting
ways to build bridges across faiths. I have
found that Latin dancing can help to do
just that. In my eyes, the core purpose of
teaching social dance is not necessarily
to mold future “Dancing with the Stars”
contenders. Rather, the purpose is to
create an inviting space where a diverse
group of people can deeply connect with
one another while simultaneously learning
stylish new moves.
I have come to realize that social
dancing can also be a spiritual experience.
attempts to eliminate shame. Words like
“other-abled” or “challenged” also have
their share of pejorative intimations. Yet
there is still a need to identify those whose
lives are made “unlivable” due in large part
to a lack of physical, social, spiritual and
political resources because of normative
conceptions of ability.
Students also raised concerns about the
difficulty and, in some cases, impossibility of accessing spaces at Union for those
who are wheelchair-bound or have a disability that otherwise restricts their mobility. While significant changes to Union’s
physical architecture to increase accessibility would require large sums of money, we
discussed smaller changes that might make
a big difference, such as automatic opening
doors at the main entrances. The issue of
physical access however, will undoubtedly
require creative alternatives to costly measures as well as pressure from the student
body to see that changes are made.
We were inspired by the stories shared
by students and faculty and the open hearts
of all who attended. We hope to continue
the conversation about disability at Union
into the New Year as we seek to subvert
shame and increase visibility and empowerment for students with disabilities.
When we dance with one another, we are, in
a sense, praying together with our bodies.
Each of us makes conversation with our
partners, other dancing couples, and also
with the Divine. Our shared mantra with
our partner is forward and back, side to
side, and a spin or two in between. When
we have a missed step or knotted up turn,
we laugh together at our imperfectly perfect
humanity—and help one another find the
rhythm again. The adrenalin lifts us high,
and our celebration for our community, our
Creator, and our individuality culminates
in one final dip. Glorious.
When Inter-Seminary Salsa Pub night
came to a close, a fellow seminarian asked
if we could do this again soon. That was
of course (Salsa) music to my ears. I know
that dancing is not the cure-all for breaking
down barriers, but at the very least, it is a
promising paso adelante—a step forward.