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The Program (Building the World We Dream About)

We need a place to dream together, to get into what has been kept unknown. Dreaming means flowing with the unknown river of community. — Arnold Mindell, American physicist, psychotherapist, writer, and founder of Process Oriented Psychology

Scientists have recently confirmed what progressive theologians and philosophers have known for years: "Race" is a product of the human imagination, not biological science. At the same time, however, we know that while any theory of race is a social construction, individuals and groups around the world feel the experience of racism harshly. Racism, as such, informs our psychological state, personality structure, the institutional and social values that shape our working lives, the view of how we interpret the world, and even the values we place on human life.

Building the World We Dream About is a Unitarian Universalist program that seeks to interrupt the workings of racism and transform how people from different racial/ethnic groups understand and relate to one another. It consists of 24 two-hour workshops, with Taking It Home activities, reflections, and readings to be done between workshops. The program creates opportunities for participants to practice dreaming our world otherwise, and then commit to new, intentional ways of being. As Unitarian Universalists, we hope developing antiracist, antioppressive, and multicultural habits and skills will lead us to build the multicultural world of beloved community we dream about.

Open and honest conversation about race and oppression, however, is one of the most challenging and potentially divisive experiences individuals and congregations can undertake. The experience is difficult, in part because although people believe they are willing to discuss racial issues, they often harbor unstated fears about what such a conversation will bring to the surface. And with good reason. Discussions about race often reveal the existence of systemic inequalities and injustice. For people socialized into a White ethnic/racial identity, the resulting feelings of guilt and hopelessness can become overwhelming. For People of Color and other people marginalized by race and ethnicity, race talk raises unpleasant and painful memories.

As Unitarian Universalist people of faith, we must talk about race, even in the midst of personal angst and pain. As the poet Seneca once said, "It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult." Indeed, our spiritual health and moral integrity demand that we dare to confront racism and oppression in our congregations, our faith community, and the larger world. And we must begin with honest conversation.

Building the World We Dream About extends the promise of Unitarian Universalism by creating means, structures, and spaces through which every person in your congregation—whether empowered or disenfranchised in the current structure—can find a place and work with others to acquire and deepen multicultural competence and transform understandings of self, congregation, the broader community, and our shared world.

There are many benefits of practicing multicultural skills and competence and engaging in antiracism/multicultural work. Such work provides:

  • A rare opportunity to develop firsthand knowledge about how you view and how you are viewed in the world
  • A chance to gain a better understanding of people who are different from you
  • An opportunity to become less fearful of and intimidated by differences
  • The ability to communicate more openly and clearly with those in your circle of friends and acquaintances
  • An opportunity to name, heal, and reconcile past and current racial wounds
  • A chance to reconnect spiritually with people in your congregation
  • An invitation to confirm that you are not alone in your quest to build an antiracist/multicultural Beloved Community.

In order to grasp of the approach and intent of Building the World We Dream About, think of yourself and workshop participants as photographers working with a telescopic lens. At times you will be asked to bring yourself and your own identity and personal history into sharp focus, paying particular attention to the impact of your lived experiences on the way you see and make sense of yourself and the world. Sometimes you will focus on yourself as part of a congregation that has its own identity and practices. Sometimes your focus will be on the broader community and the ways in which you and your congregation interact with that community. Many diversity programs simply name the differences and similarities between individual humans, and stop there. Building the World We Dream About goes deeper and asks you to bring the context of your life—the part of the image that typically stays blurry—into full view and focus. This back-and-forth focus, on both the personal and the social, congregational, historical, and community contexts, creates a rare opportunity for participants to come into a shared space filled with good intentions, grapple with the complexity of a multiracial world, confront ill-formed assumptions and, together with others, find new ways to undo racism and oppression in your community.

Ultimately, this program is about transformation of congregations that are serious about changing their culture to become truly welcoming of all people who yearn for a liberal religious community. As cultural critic James Baldwin said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced."

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This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, December 9, 2011.

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