Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Suddenly, I feel surrounded by many who don't see the forest for the trees, both locally and globally. And by locally, I mean my church.

Case in point: my church, as I briefly mentioned, is in danger of dying. Money, baby. We may not last the year. We're having to go into our savings, our hopeful, "someday we'll have a church of our own" money. We are having strategic meetings, trying to figure out how to get more money. Saving money isn't an issue -- the only way we could save money at this point is to move out of our building. (Which may be an issue.)

So what happens at the last program council meeting? A member tells us that we NEED to make a third bathroom. Technically, it would actually be a fourth bathroom, since we have a large ladies' room, large men's room, (really large -- this used to be a gym), and a bathroom in the nursery. We need this bathroom, you see, for any transgendered folks who don't feel like going to the men's or ladies'. On top of that, we need to purchase the $75 sign from Meadville-Lombard, that proclaims it to be a transgendered bathroom. When it was pointed out that, gee, if we got that far, we could make our own sign, he said no, because their sign has braille on it.


We, a church that may, after more than a decade, be about to close our doors, need to make a $5000 bathroom for any blind transgendered people who might, possibly, one day, come into our suburban strip-mall church???

I think the bathroom is a fine idea, though I would simply make it a big unisex bathroom so that it could be used for families/transgendered/etc. And handicapped accessible, which we don't currently have.

But the bigger fact remains ... we don't have enough money to pay our bills!

(Lizard Eater dissolves in a mouth-frothing, squeeking, head-spinning, puddle.)

Okay. I'm back.

I am comparing that with the news today that the doomsday clock has been moved closer to midnight, due in part to our climate change, which Stephen Hawking described as a greater threat to our planet than terrorism.

Meanwhile, motions are put before Congress and before the voters to define marriage as only between opposite sexes. Bush is sending more troops to Iraq.

And the beat goes on.


Elizabeth said...

It is this kind of stuff (blind transgender bathroom for a financially struggling church) that gives Unitarian Universalism a bad name. Ugg. But it is sort of a funny story.

Nancy said...

You have GOT to be kidding. Please tell me you are kidding.

I have absolutely nothing else to say on this subject except congratulations on not strangling anyone (yet).

Hang in there.

Anne said...

Are there any transgenders going there now? Any blind ones? I say until there are and there is an immediate need for that bathroom I think that it can be put on the backburner.

People kill me.

Earthbound Spirit said...

Hmm... I wonder what percentage of trans-folk are blind? And, why is M/L selling the signs for their bathrooms?

Oy... Any sense of Priorities? How about designating the bathroom in the nursery as the gender neutral one? It probably already is, eh? Sigh - been there, done something like this. A strategic plan is wonderful - it tells everyone what the immediate goal is.

How big is your church? My home congregation is also about 10 yrs. old, moved into our first building just this year. I could tell you stories... (lgh AT uuism DOT net)Gotta laugh - or you will explode, Lizard Eater. (btw - Rev. Justin Tanis recommends the family bathroom route in his fine book on ministry and transgendered folk. It's a multi-win solution.)

uuMomma said...

Okay, I work at Meadville and I was surprised to read here that ML is selling bathroom plaques. Hmmmm. Not exactly in the mission statement.

But as a UU churchgoer and not as a ML staffer, I have to say the answer seems pretty clear: make both bathrooms gender neutral. (in other words, people will have to wait online longer because only one person can go at a time)

A similar issue reared its head for me recently. Unfortunately, I couldn't hold my tongue fast enough and I let slip "sometimes it sucks to be UU." I said it to someone I consider to be a mover and shaker in the movement and when I later apologized for being so crass, this person nodded and said, "it's true."

Still, having said this, I'm also glad there are people out there challenging us to think outside our comfort zone (or comfort station, as here). While it makes no sense whatsoever to require such an expensive fix in a small and troubled congregation (in rented space, no less), the offering of a family-style bathroom would definitely give lots of populations a welcome they might not get elsewhere. (and, quite frankly, if I had not read just today a sermon by one of our current students on the issue of being welcoming to persons with disabilities, I probably would never have considered this issue from any other side.)

And still ... sometimes it sucks to be UU.

Thanks for the site. Thanks for the honest look.

uumomma said...

This was still sort of niggling at my angry heart this a.m. So I wrote more at my site.

Anonymous said...

This strikes a chord as our UU church is having a meltdown over replacing the carpet in our sanctuary. Some folks just want to replace horrible dirty stained,rippled carpet with new better carpet that can be cleaned and isn't a trip hazard. Others are saying they won't pledge to the small capital campaign unless their favorite choice (tile, cork, wood...) is chosen. Others are having a cow if we don't choose environmentally friendly carpet at 4 times the cost.

I appreciate all these strong feelings, but can't imagine all this energy going into this instead of work parties to spruce up the church, find ways to raise money, and help the organization grow and thrive.

We built a new sanctuary and office/nursery area about 10 years ago, and it would have never gotten done if we had taken this kind of time to debate every little feature. We made the best choices with the money we had, and moved on.

I think people vote with their pocketbooks. If environmentally friendly carpet is more important than starving people in Darfur or conscientious recycling/composting/conservative use of petroleum resources- I am flabbergasted.

Your story about transgendered bathrooms made my day.

In our church we also had the time the Social Action group blasted the congregation in church because the turnout for the GLBT film series didn't show the proper "commitment" to the cause. For folks just trying to make it through the week with kids and a full time job, do a little volunteer work for school and church, stay in touch with friends and family, and then prepare to teach RE each Sunday, the film series was probably a great thing, but not feasible that week. Let us give each other a break.

Earthbound Spirit said...

What strikes me here is that we UUs really care about stuff. We care about being accessible, we care about the environment, we care about each other. We need to remember to strive for balance and walk a middle path.

The carpet story spoke to me - environmentally friendly carpet that will cost a mint vs. basic, nice looking carpeting that will make the sanctuary more welcoming? Is there a way to compromise? Is there another choice that is friendlier to the environment, yet still within the budget?

Isn't a major point of religion to learn how to look beyond oneself and one's personal needs? Forest or Trees? Provocative thread...

Lizard Eater said...

Clarification: Not ML. Starr King.

Earthbound Spirit said...

I'm sure everyone has moved on from this by now, but it's been nagging at the back of my mind. Time for a little penance for me...

I apologize for trivializing the concerns of transgendered people in my first comment. I screwed up and made a thoughtless remark.

That said, this really is an issue for churches that consciously intend to be welcoming to GLBT persons. I mentioned Justin Tanis' book, and recommend it to people whose congregations are exploring the idea of being welcoming congregations. He writes from a Christian perspective, but has some good advice for all of us.

The time is coming when gender neutral bathrooms will be the norm, not the exception. (I remember debating an Eagle Forum lady back in the 1970's when this was one of the "horrors" she threw out that would be enacted if the ERA was ratified, along with women in combat!) Shared facilities just make sense in many cases.

I do still advocate a middle path, though. As Anonymous commented, sometimes you do the best you can with the money you have, and that just has to suffice. It doesn't mean you don't still have the same high aspirations, just that your means haven't caught up to them yet.

Best of luck on sorting out the church finances. I hope your congregation finds a way to survive, and then thrive.

Anonymous said...

As someone who is married to a person who used to be transgendered (she is now fully female -- transgender is something one passes through, generally,) I want to add some informed opinions here. The extra bathroom is not for the transgender person in question -- they are male or female as they know themselves to be -- the extra bathroom is for the person who is so uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with someone who doesn't fit their preconceptions of gender, that they need it.
Feeling uncomfortable with a person whose body doesn't match their brain is usually based on one's own gender confusion, and the belief that the body takes precedence over the brain -- which is not a very UU attitude if you think about it.
Beyond that, most public bathrooms have little booths around their toilets, which actually provide quite a bit of privacy.
That said, there are a few individuals who are stuck between genders; who really aren't one or the other. They are a minority, albeit a visible minority, among transgender persons. I have no suggestions about what to do for them, except to repeat my first paragraph -- the extra bathrooms are for the people made uncomfortable by them, not for the transgender persons. Maybe a series of workshops to help people get over being uncomfortable about gender would be a less expensive and more enlightening solution to your problem of bathrooms. Then we can all just pee without investigating each other's oddities.