1. What is The Black UU Survival Guide about, and why did you write it?
My book offers a roadmap and a set of strategies for Black parishioners who belong to mostly-White churches. It also speaks to non-BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) church members who strive to be good allies. I call being a good ally “keeping it 100.”
After serving as a minister for several White churches, I realized that Black people in those churches faced invisible roadblocks. My book makes those roadblocks visible and offers them guidance to get through.
There are 10 survival steps. Each step deals with a part of church life, such as creating your values, working through conflict at church, and dealing with race and racism.
The book helps allies see the differences between Black church life and majority-White churches. I wrote the book as a UU, but it applies to all similar church settings.
2. You are also a minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church (UU). How did you get interested in UUism, and what attracts you to it?
The UU Church is progressive. We welcome all people. We open our doors to people who practice Buddhism, Christianity, Paganism, humanism, and any other faith tradition. We welcome LGBTQ folx with open arms.
A key difference between UUs and other Protestants is our non-doctrinal teaching. We have seven Principles that define how UUs build community, live, and practice their faith in the world. In addition, we encourage members and friends to create their own spiritual beliefs and convictions.
We emphasize orthopraxy, or right action; not orthodoxy, which insists upon correct belief.
UU called me because it is inclusive and encourages free-thinking spiritual practice. UU ministers preach from a “free pulpit” and from many sources; not just the Bible.
3. What spiritual practices do you use that help you develop your faith and relationship with God?
My first book is titled Get a Hold of Yourself. It focuses on spiritual practices. The book covers a wide variety of spiritual disciplines. For example, it has a section on mysticism, the art of being in relationship with God, or the divine. I am a big fan of Howard Thurman. I practice deep listening, meditation, mindfulness, reading and writing, and being outdoors in nature.
I am a spiritual humanist. That means I experience transcendence in my life, honor human wisdom, trust science and the “truth” found in great literature, poetry, and sacred writings. I believe revelation is ongoing. I trust the Spirit of Life.
4. In the book, you write about “how Black UUs can find their people and navigate race and racism in UU churches.” Talk a little more about that or share your personal examples?
“Finding your people” is about showing up and building relationships with folks in your church who look like you, share your beliefs and values, and will live in covenant with you. People who look like you might be those from the same race or ethnic group, sexual or gender orientation, or however you choose to define the phrase.
We discover who shares our beliefs and values by talking openly and honestly with each other, working through differences, and keeping our promises (or covenants) with each other. In addition, we are better human beings when we treat one another with compassion and love.
Covenants ask people to stay in a relationship because of promises they made to stand by one another, journey together through good and challenging times, and hold each other in care.
As a Black pastor of a white church, I realize many people don’t know how to deal with me as their leader. Many have no problems, and we get along beautifully. However, racism is real and often means people’s intent doesn’t match their impact. My book helps both Black and White people figure out how to work through and respect differences.
In the book, I tell the story of a church member who mistook me for the janitor even though I was her pastor and she had met with me in my office just a few days prior. I believe my race prompted her to think of me as a cleaning person, not a man with a Ph.D. who offered her pastoral care and estate planning advice.
Sometimes people challenge me about how I do my job though they have no training in ministry. White people say things to my wife and me that Black church members would never say. For example, Black parishioners rarely refer to their pastor by first name. They address their pastor as “Reverend So and So” out of respect for the office, their minister’s position in the community, and stature as a spiritual leader.
5. The book also coaches non-Black allies on how to “keep it 100.” Can you share any of those suggestions?
Keep it 100 is the new way of saying “keep it real.” The book defines keeping it 100 as allies being responsible for their actions, values, privilege, and willingness to share power with Black church members. White people struggle to understand white privilege is a thing. Many say there is no white supremacy culture.
What is white supremacy culture? It is the system of advantages, privilege, preferences, and power derived from being White in America. I’m not calling White people racists or saying they belong to hate groups. I’m saying our churches center whiteness, the notion that living in a White body grants people privileges those in BIPOC bodies do not have.
White supremacy culture prevents BIPOCs from enjoying the freedoms and opportunities White people experience in church life and culture.
The UU Church seeks to dismantle white supremacy culture within its organizational structures and local churches. That effort is a part of its mission. This has resulted in BIPOCs serving in many UUA senior leadership positions. My book discusses this.
I believe UUs lean forward in this vital work facing American churches, government, and society. The Southern Baptist Convention recently elected a new president. I hope he ushers in a new era of multiculturalism and bridge-building with BIPOC Baptists and communities within the SBC. This gives me hope. Maybe, the SBC is moving toward keeping it 100!
6. Our country appears to be so divided right now. Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Why or why not? And, what advice would you have for helping to bring our country closer together?
As a minister whose personal slogan is “Convey love in all you do!” I deal in hope. I am an eternal optimist and believe in the goodness of people. That said, Americans must listen deeply to one another, especially to those who are different from themselves.
I continue to hope the U.S. Congress will return to bipartisanship. I would like to see Congresspeople create policies that serve all Americans, not just those with power and influence. But, most of all, I yearn for the day when our politicians resume governing and policy-making based on facts.
My book shares how my love for UUism is grounded in our free-thinking spirituality. UUs practice their faith based on personal convictions and pursue justice in their local churches and beyond those walls.
We encourage people to step beyond what they learned as youth or what was passed down through tradition. That freedom enables me to sit down with a person who cherishes the Confederate Battle Flag, break bread with them, and find common ground.
7. You also serve as a chaplain in the New Mexico Air National Guard in Albuquerque, NM, and began your military career with the Texas Air National Guard in Ft. Worth, TX. How has your experience with the military affected your faith over the years?
People who serve in the armed forces are among the most extraordinary human beings in our country. They defend the U.S. Constitution and believe sincerely in its ideals. Serving next to great Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines sustains my belief in people’s goodness and selflessness.
I’ve served at U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, downrange in Iraq, and during the Hurricane Katrina mission. I’ve seen people die and live through significant injuries. Yet, I know the human spirit is resilient beyond belief.
These experiences also sustain my trust in the divine or Spirit of Love and Life.
8. Have you experienced any synchronicity in your life? If so, what happened?
My ability to share my life with you and this great audience is a mark of synchronicity. An infinite string of events had to align and come together for me to be here and positioned to live this life. I could have died by lynching as a Black man or be in prison. I could be dead.
I believe the universe has worked graciously throughout my life. I thank God for my parents and all my ancestors, friends, mentors, teachers, and leaders who guided me, cared for me, and who kept it 100.
During the pandemic, my mother and one of my dearest friends died. Still, I have nothing but gratitude for their lives, the love we shared between us, and how we blessed one another.
Even with such losses, my life is filled with love and hope. I’m living the dream. I believe my book will help other people do the same.
9. Anything else.
Every day, I strive to keep it 100. I’m in a spectacular marriage with my wife, Tamara, and we live the dream together.
Currently, I’m working on a novel. It’s a female revenge thriller. I hope to have it out next year.
People can reach me on all social media platforms. I’d love to hear from the audience!
Keep it 100, Matthew! Keep up the excellent work at Spiritual Media.
Amen, ashe, and may it be so.
You can reach Rev. Xolani Kacela at email@example.com and all social media platforms. His book, The Black UU Survival Guide: How to Survive as a Black Unitarian Universalist and How Allies Can Keep it 100, is available at all major booksellers. His website is https://revdrxk.com. Kacela’s weekly radio program, Take On Faith, airs on Saturdays at 10 am MT on lccommunityradio.org.