Tag Archives: Current Events

safety, comfort, law and order.

22 Apr

As conversations around racial justice and white supremacy (both covert and overt) dominate our culture and my faith tradition, I have found myself thinking about the difference between safety and comfort.

In the past few months, I have been approached by numerous white people who want to share with me their discomfort over something a black or brown person has shared, usually (but not only) on the topic of police violence. “Is this a safe place for ME?” the white people are usually asking, even if there are only a few people of color in the room.

When white people do this, we put our own comfort ahead of the safety of people of color.

A while ago, Reading While White had a great blog post about this:

let’s stop worrying so much about creating comfortable spaces and worry more about whether our spaces are truly safe for all….creating a space that is truly safe for people of color and First/Native Nations people often necessitates making that space uncomfortable for White people.

Read the whole post. It’s a quick, powerful read.

What I really want to share with you today, however, is a connection to safety and comfort that I made while reading Chris Hayes’ new book A Colony in a Nation. Hayes uses his experience in Ferguson to discuss the concept of the second part of the phrase “Law and Order.” In Ferguson, Hayes experienced no law breaking, but the people in the street, backing up traffic, making a lot of noise, created a lot of disorder. Disorder that white people found uncomfortable. Worthy of having a police presence. Even though there was nothing unlawful happening where he was.

Hayes writes that over the 50 years since Nixon referred to black Americans as “a colony in a nation,” we have built just that. We have created “a territory that isn’t actually free. A place controlled from outside rather than within. A place where the mechanisms of representation don’t work enough to give citizens a sense of ownership over their own government. A place where law is a tool of control rather than than a foundation for prosperity. A political regime like the one our Founders inherited and rejected. An order they spilled their blood to defeat.

He says that in the Nation, which is made up of white people, “there is law; in the Colony there is only a concern with order. In the Nation you have rights; in the Colony you have commands. In the Nation, you are innocent until proven guilty; in the Colony, you are born guilty.”

Law and order are not the same thing.

Safety and comfort are not the same thing.

May our desire for order not outweigh our need for justice for people of color.

May our desire for comfort not outweigh the need for safety for people of color.

As we confront systems of oppression, I encourage those of us who are white to step into the discomfort, step into the disorderliness. Because it is there that we will begin to make progress.

when compassion seems like a stretch.

19 Jun

The Opposite of Compassion
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on June 19, 2016


Back in April, when we sat around the table at our Worship Planning meeting for this month’s services, there was a lot we knew, and a lot we didn’t know. We knew the theme for the month was compassion. We knew we wanted to integrate that theme into the service each week: we had Linette kick off the month by connecting our flower communion to the Flower Sutra in Buddhism, which links compassion and mindfulness. Last week, we had a sort of primer on compassion that got us thinking and reflecting about it in our own lives. For today, we planned on presenting a service on the opposite of compassion. And then we decided to round out June next week by having the chance to practice embodying compassion for youth across the sexual orientation and gender identity spectrums.

We had no idea that there would be an immediate example of the opposite of compassion that I could utilize today. And no idea how urgently our service next week for young people would be needed.

947a732ac5e8f78f057f5328d70b50baacb1f551But now we know. Last Sunday, in the early morning hours, a male, American-born citizen – raised in our country, claiming allegiance to ISIS, choose a holy time of day, in the holy month of Ramadan, to go to gay bar that was celebrating Latinx night – a gay bar which the shooter had frequented many times and at which he was known. He went in with an assault weapon and pistol – and he proceeded to kill 49 innocent people and injure more than 50 others before he was finally brought down and killed by police.

And so we add another chapter to our country’s stories of sanctuary being defiled by gun violence: the sanctuary that the GLBT community finds in these few, rare spaces, that are theirs, where they can dance, hold, and enjoy their loved ones without fear of reprisal.

The cynical side of me supposes that was to be expected. There really is no safe place – senseless violence occurs anywhere these day – schools, churches, movie theaters; and now gay bars. What’s next? Hospitals? Plays? Concerts? Sporting events? Probably.

Meanwhile, President Obama gave another anti-gun-violence speech. Trevor Noah, host of the Daily Show, pointed out that Obama has hosted 12 state dinners but has had to give 16 mass shooting addresses during his tenure.

Meanwhile, after sending thoughts and prayers to Orlando, the GOP House Chair blocked an LGBT protections bill. And even after a filibuster, there’s still no deal for either gun control proposal on the table right now – one that keeps people who are on terror watch lists from obtaining guns, and another that requires background checks for sales at gun shows and online.

Meanwhile, much of the media ignores that the victims were mostly people of color. This tragedy is a poster-child for intersectionality, a concept used to describe ways in which social constructs like -isms & -phobias are interconnected and not magically separate issues. The reality is that queer people of color still have the highest fatality rates for transgender murder, HIV/AIDS, and youth homelessness. They are often rejected by both communities.

The blaming has been intense, if not surprising. Blame guns, religion, sexual orientation. But there are some things we don’t want to look at – like the fact that the shooter was raised in this country. He was one of ours, a byproduct of our culture, our educational systems. The reality is that it’s very difficult, and complicated, to have conversations that look at all the intersecting factors in this tragedy. But as Chris Hedges points out, “A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, and fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.”

Have we reached the point where our civilization is condemned to die? My colleague, The Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, summed it up beautifully on her facebook page: “Let’s be clear: In our current national climate, Islamophobia, Xenophobia, White Supremacy, Misogyny, Homophobia, and Transphobia are at a loud, fever pitch. One of our presidential candidates explicitly spouts all of them and STILL BECAME A MAJOR PARTY NOMINEE.”

And not only has hatred personified become a major party nominee, but there are tens of millions of people in this country willing to vote for him. Tens of millions of people to whom his message of hate appeals.

Mr. Rogers, in the moment for all ages, said that in scary times, to look for the helpers. There we will find hope, and comfort.

And I love Mr. Rogers – I really do. I was shaped by his theology as a young child and continue to be inspired by him today.

But looking for the helpers is not cutting it for me right now. I don’t think it is enough for any of us. Fred, I want to ask him, that is great, but what about after the urgency of a crisis? Then what? Where do we find hope in the ongoing struggle? And, more importantly, how can we fight this rising tide of hate, of dehumanization, of oppression?

Now, here is the point where you might expect me to get all ministerly and say that we need to be more compassionate, that we are called to love even our enemies. Yadda yadda yadda. But frankly, right now, that type of response feels trite. Insufficient. Unrealistic.

The reality is that there is no one single answer, no one theological exercise, no one piece of legislation, no one solution that will bring all this pain and suffering towards healing. As Rev. Gordon points out, “We cannot, cannot, cannot decry one [of these forms of oppression] without actively and passionately resisting all of them. They are inextricably linked and rooted in a basic failure to recognize both our common humanity and the beauty of our unique differences.”

But for many of us right now, the idea of passionately resisting all of them, heck maybe even passionately resisting one of them – well, it makes us want to crawl into a cave. But there is something we can do that is not as overwhelming as compassion or passionately resisting, and not as insufficient as crawling into a cave. And that is this: we must not allow ourselves succumb to the hate and dehumanization of those who brought us to this point.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, and I know many of you know this quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We often focus on the last part – that we need love to drive out hate. But if we are not in a place of love, then, perhaps we can be in a place of not hating.

I am not talking about hate in the way I would say, I hate beets, or I hate predictable movies. No, I am talking about hate that dehumanizes. Hate that is born of judgmentalism. Judgmentalism that is, at its root, the opposite of compassion.

Judgmentalism tells me that I am better than someone else. That I am more worthy. It leads to a belief that my rights are more important than your rights.

Terry D. Cooper, in his fabulous book “Making Judgments without being Judgmental” lists a number of characteristics of judgmentalism.

When we are judgmental, he says, we are not concerned for others. We presume to know people’s motives without reasonable evidence rather than trusting someone else’s motives unless we have reason to do otherwise.

When we are judgmental, we cling tenaciously to moral and religious concepts with disrespect and intolerance for those who differ, rather than being respectful and tolerant of differences.

When we are judgmental, we denounce the personhood, the humanity, rather than the behavior of those to adhere to erroneous ideas or destructive behavior. We refuse to recognize problems or limitations with our own viewpoint and we insist on absolute certainty rather than having humility.

It is judgmentalism, in part, that leads fundamentalist Christians to focus on the passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that peripherally deal with homosexuality rather than focusing on Jesus’s call to love one another, and to judge not, lest ye be judged.

It is judgmentalism in the form of white supremacy that allows Trump to say that Mexicans are rapists, and that we are going to build a wall to keep them out.

And it would be judgmentalism to blame all Muslims, or all gun owners, for what happened in Orlando.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe my morals are superior to those of the shooter. And I absolutely believe that our liberal religious values are superior to those who preach or teach hate.

But while we can condemn behavior, if we are to condemn people, to see them as less than, or unworthy as human beings, then we are likely to fall prey to the same dehumanizing behavior that we find so troublesome. Cooper points out that “Reactivity begets reactivity. It’s hard to keep our balance when we’ve been clobbered by [someone else’s] judgmentalism.” And so, rather than calling for compassion or love, I ask that we combat the judgmentalism in ourselves that might leads us to hate. The judgmentalism that is the opposite of compassion.

Perhaps, if we are able to not succumb to judgmentalism and hate we might find a way forward that works for us all. And, one day, we might better embody the compassion of the Samaritan, who helped out a broken man on the road, simply because another human being was in pain. For there is a twist in this ancient story – one that not many people realize. Jews and Samaritans – they did not get along at ALL. For generation upon generation, over 500 years, the two cultures were at odds. And so it was absolutely relevant that Jesus, a Jew, talking to a Jew who asked who our neighbors were, told a story in which other Jews passed the injured man by, but it was a Samaritan, a despised Samaritan who not only stopped to help, but paid for the injured man’s care out of his own pocket.

If we cannot be compassionate, then at least may we not succumb to hate, to judgmentalism. For perhaps, as we heal, as we seek comfort, we might eventually get to that place of compassion after all. As Rev. Gordon writes “It is each of our job to listen to the experience AND the pain of others, and to stay open to the pain that we ourselves feel- not to harden our hearts in fear or defensiveness. It is only then that we can collectively turn our pain into resistance, solidarity, compassion, and a more just community.”

I give the final word this morning to Greg Zanis, who built 49 wooden crosses then drove 1,200 miles from Illinois to Florida to place them outside the Orlando Health Medical Center. “My message today is love your brother, love your neighbor. Don’t judge ‘em.” May it be so. May we make it so.

a new and different spiritual practice.

4 Mar

Tomorrow, I have a memorial service for a dear man who, upon leaving the sanctuary each Sunday, would put his hand on my shoulder and tell me how amazing I am and how he was my biggest fan. On Sunday, I get to teach a course on Witnessing Whiteness, do a sermon on Forgiveness, and then lead a Worship Associates Training workshop. So I have a lot to do right now. But with the news about last night’s Republican debates, the fear I have that our next president will be a hate-filled celebrity probably more interested in winning this popularity contest than in actually being president, and the prevailing disgust/pity/confusion for the portion of the population who finds this man suitable to be president, I thought I would write about something else. Something fun. And maybe even uplifting for some: Romance Novels.

For many years, the vast majority of the books I read were dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels. I loved them. In fact, I’ve loved them since I was a kid. The earliest novel I remember purchasing after I read it was Alas, Babylon. I think I was maybe 9. I still have my dog-eared copy. I am drawn to this genre because I have always felt, I think, that human civilization is a fragile, beautiful thing that needs nurturing in order to flourish. Maybe this is also why I am a Unitarian Universalist minister. Dystopian novels show the multitude of ways things can go wrong – they are the ultimate cautionary tale.

Then this autumn hit. And it was a doozy. One of my children was hospitalized and I feared for her future. Some plans that were important to me fell through. I experienced one loss after another, to the point that I felt myself flirting with depression in a way that I haven’t for a decade.

Reading has always been my drug of choice, my escape. But I couldn’t read dystopian novels. I couldn’t read science fiction, either. Young adult lit didn’t appeal. And there was no possibility of me focusing and getting more than a paragraph into something nonfiction or work-related.

So I picked up a book in a genre I had never read before. A genre that, frankly, I had felt I was above: Romance.

And I loved it. So I picked up another. And another, and another. And suddenly, my main escape was once again available to me. I was devouring romance novels.

A few weeks ago, my spiritual director asked about my spiritual practice. I wasn’t coloring, meditating or doing much else, I observed, feeling guilty because I know that this is exactly the time when a spiritual practice is so important. She then asked me how I was taking care of myself. I told her I was making sure I got enough sleep, trying to exercise regularly. And, after hemming and hawing, I told her I was really getting into these romance novels.

As a good spiritual director will do, she asked me to reflect on that with her. What was it about romance novels? And was it all romance novels?

So I reflected. At one level, romance novels offer the promise of a happy ending. This is the main difference between a romance novel and a love story: the romance novel resolves at the end with a happily-ever-after. This is in stark contrast to dystopian novels, where there is no guarantee that the heroes (of any gender) will be able to survive, much less rescue the world. I needed a guaranteed happy ending.

And it definitely wasn’t all sub-genres. In fact, I pretty quickly found one subset of the genre that I return to again and again: romantic thrillers. I am drawn to novels where the world threatened to turn into a dystopia, but where the heroes (of all genders) rescue not just the world, but in the process rescue one another. In the end, love wins. Every time. Guaranteed.

Now, I know love doesn’t usually win on its own in real life. I know that only when many of us put our hands onto the moral arc of the universe will it eventually bend toward justice. But in my grief, I needed to be reminded of how things might look, how love can save us – collectively and individually. And romance novels provided just that.

I was shocked when my spiritual director, after reflecting on this with me, observed that reading romance novels fed my spirit, and that therefore it was my spiritual practice. I was embarrassed for a moment, but quickly realized that was kinda ridiculous. Shouldn’t we celebrate all the non-harmful ways someone copes with grief? The truth is, these books have kept my spirit afloat through a very difficult time.

I am feeling better now, slowing getting back to what feels like my usual self. I picked up a non-romance novel that a friend promises is funny with a happy ending, just for something different. I laugh at how I used to feel myself above romance novels, and at how embarrassed I was when I started reading them. And I don’t see giving them up any time soon (if ever), especially in this political season. We all find hope wherever we can – I happen to find it in real, and fictional, heroes who save each other, and the world, with love.

Race and Religion.

18 Jan

Race and Religion
A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church on January 18, 2015

Those of you who have been around First Unitarian for a while know that today represents a first for me here: the first time getting to preach on Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday. Because I usually take January as a time of renewal and study leave, I have watched from afar as others fill the pulpit. But since my sabbatical ended at the beginning of January, this is the first time in my years here that I have had the pleasure of being around during this cold month, and thus the first time that I have the privilege of preaching on this auspicious day.

And what a year for it!

With the horror of the murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and countless more black boys and men demanding that we pay attention, we are reminded that we do not live in a post-racial world.

With a fox news commentator lamenting how hard it is to tell if one is a terrorist if one is wearing a face-mask that hides their skin color, we are reminded that we do not live in a post-racial world.

With the contoversy around the movie Selma centering on the portrayal of a white man, and with that controversy derailing an amazing movie from being nominated for awards, we are reminded that we do not live in a post-racial world.

When thousands chant “Je Suis Charlie” in response to the terrorist murders of17 people in France, and no such solidarity is shown for the hundreds killed by terrorists at a marketplace in Nigeria, we are reminded that we do not live in a post-racial world.

And when some people respond to the #BlackLivesMatter movement by claiming that “All Lives Matter” , which is true but misses that black lives have always counted less than white lives in this country, that it is enshrined in our founding documents, and that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is about naming the lives that have not mattered as a corrective to this historical context, we are reminded that we do not live in a post-racial world.

Nope, no we don’t. We do not live in a post-racial world. But how did it get this way? How do we live in a country, in a world, that has allowed continuing oppression based on the color of one’s skin? Why skin color? Why not something else, like height, or eye color, hair texture, or any of the other multiple random characteristics that distinguish human beings one from another?

Though the concept of race as simply a distinguishing characteristic goes back much further, our more modern view of race as a way of assigning value to a human being can be traced back to the time of Columbus, to a worldview and set of laws called the Doctrine of Discovery. Not only have these laws been used, and continue to be used to justify the conquest of land, it is in this doctrine that we find theological justification for the concept of race.

In 1493, after many an exciting adventure, Columbus returned to Europe and told people what he had found. The stories sparked visions of greed and expansion in the eyes of those in power. In order to increase the spread of the church, Pope Alexander VI declared that Catholic Kings had “natural law and right” to claim any lands not already claimed by another Christian monarch. Furthermore, the pope said that lands that were inhabited by non-Christians were to be considered as having been discovered when found by Christian explorers. This set of rules came to be called the Doctrine of Discovery.

In his paper We’ll Build a Land: The Invention of Race as a Tool of Empire, my colleague the Rev. Dr. Michael Tino shares that “The Doctrine of Discovery was used to subjugate, enslave, and slaughter non-Europeans all over the globe in the name of Christianity, claiming the authority of God for monarchs hungry for empires to mine and exploit. The legacy of this Doctrine in the United States includes not only the lingering effects of centuries of slavery and the theft of a continent from Native Americans who became subject to campaigns of mass murder. The Doctrine of Discovery also became the legal justification for European monarchs—and their sovereign heirs in the United States, Canadian and Mexican governments—to draw borders by mutual agreement through the lands of indigenous peoples, and to enforce immigration restrictions on peoples who for thousands of years had freely roamed across those borders.”

But a problem arose with the doctrine, and that was that missionary priests had begun converting indigenous peoples to Christianity. According to the Doctrine of Discovery, this meant that the lands could not then be conquered. So a new category had to be created to continue to justify the conquest, genocide and enslavement of people. And so the concept of race evolved – skin color would be the means to classify who had worth and who did not.

On the white end of the spectrum were Europeans and those considered suitable for conversion to Christianity such as the Chinese and Japanese. In the middle of the spectrum, depending on what was wanted from them at the time, fell Indians from Asia and Native Americans. On the black end of the spectrum were those who were considered to be incapable of salvation through Christ – Africans, Muslims and Jews. Now, salvation is supposed to be available to all people, so by saying that Africans, Muslims and Jews were incapable of salvation, the church denied their very humanity.

In The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, Willie James Jennings (as quoted by Tino) points out “While social or theological ‘otherness’ was not a new concept in the history of humanity…the power given to the category of ‘race,’ as defined along a black-white spectrum, was.” Before it was anything else, the concept of race “was a theological form—an inverted, distorted vision of creation that reduced theological anthropology to commodified bodies.”

And because the core of the argument was theological in nature, it stuck in a way that few other types of laws would. Tino points out that “The stubborn persistence of the category of race in our society, despite the absence of any scientific or biological rationale for it, has everything to do with the lasting power of the original, theological, concept of race—and the power inherent in defining people as inferior in the eyes of God.”

We can trace the damage of this worldview all the way through to today. In their work to bring the issues of the Doctrine of Discovery to Unitarian Universalist congregations prior to the 2012 General Assembly held in Phoenix, the Board of the Unitarian Universalist Association wrote: “For more than five centuries, the interpretive framework of the [Doctrine of Discovery] has been institutionalized and used to assert a presumed right of dominance over originally free and independent indigenous peoples. The [Doctrine of Discovery] was used by European nations to justify their conquest of Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas. It was the justification–theological and political–for the appropriation of the lands and resources of indigenous peoples and efforts to dominate native nations and undermine the sovereignty of indigenous nations and peoples. Among other things, it formed the basis for the slave trade, the partition and colonization of the Near East, the colonization of the Americas, and the genocides of the indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas.”

We are not able to fully tackle the racism in this country without addressing the religious arguments in which it was founded. Religious institutions must work towards dismantling the racist systems they helped create. It is necessary to say yes, black lives do matter. As Tino puts it “In order to work to reverse the damage wrought by centuries of misguided theology, it is necessary to decolonize our theology.”

This may sound like an enormous task. And in the face of this type of overwhelming work, it might be easy to sit and say to ourselves “Well, that wasn’t us. We are more enlightened than the people were back then.” And there is some truth to that. Certainly, as I was watching Selma the other day, I took pride in knowing that both the white civil rights workers who responded to King’s call and were subsequently murdered, the Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, I took pride in knowing that they were both Unitarians. And yet, at the same time, our faith tradition has consistently not supported African American ministers – the number of ministers of color is barely above what it was 30 years ago, even as the number of women ministers and gay and lesbian ministers has skyrocketed.

This paradox is found on a smaller scale here at First Unitarian, as well. On the one hand, we are were known as a white church that supported the civil rights movement. But the minister during that time, Rev. Robert Weston, installed his wife as a greeter because the other greeters were suggesting to black people who came that they might be looking for the church down the street.

The damage from the Doctrine of Discovery is built into our very fibers – it is in how our society is constructed and we are, necessarily, a product of that society. And so religious institutions, including our own, must work towards dismantling the racist systems we helped create.

So how do we do that? Where do we begin with dismantling these old, ingrained systems? The first and most important thing white churches, and white people, can do is listen with humility. Truly listen to the experiences of those who are oppressed, even, especially, when it clashes with our own experience or sense of the world. It is not uncommon for whites to think most everything is fine based on our own experience, even while we hear people of color reporting that their lives are filled with daily prejudices and discrimination. When we dismiss the stories of people of color as untrue or exaggerated because we haven’t had those experiences or because they seem so foreign to us, we devalue the lived realities of those with whom we hope to stand in solidarity! We must listen, and accept that our experience has not painted a big enough picture to encompass the experiences of all people.

Listening might sound easy, but oftentimes it is anything but because it challenges our bedrock assumptions of who we are and how things work. If we do not have close friends who are people of color, we must actively seek out stories. And when we hear or read them, we cannot look for reasons to dismiss them, we cannot look for reasons to distance ourselves from them.

How can we hold up James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo as martyrs to the cause of civil rights, and not have our hearts also broken because Jimmie Lee Jackson was murdered by a state trooper that same month? Do the deaths of white people mean more than the deaths of 12 year old Tamir Rice, shot and killed while playing with a fake gun on a playground? Or more than John Crawford, the young man shot and killed while shopping for a BB-gun in Walmart? If we listen, with humility, we realize it does not matter whether Mike Brown stole the box of cigars as some people still try to assert. Brown’s character is irrelevant – he does not have to pass a test of worthiness for us to take issue with the brutality of his death. He does not have to pass a test of worthiness for the citizens of Ferguson and beyond to take to the streets to protest the issue of constant over-policing, racial profiling and unfair and unjust treatment. These are policies that come out of our history of devaluing black lives, a history that traces itself back through racial profiling, mass incarceration, Jim Crow laws, lynching, and slavery. Back to the Doctrine of Discovery and the invention of race to justify conquest and annihilation.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Dana McLean Greeley, and Homer Jack, director of the Unitarian Universalist Association Department of Social Concerns, at the 1966 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Hollywood, Florida. Dr. King delivered the Ware Lecture to this annual denominational assembly.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We must listen to these stories, and then we must ache for we know that we are connected to these victims, that we are connected to them just as surely as we are connected to one another in this room. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. called, in his 1966 Ware lecture, “a world perspective…This is the inter-related structure of all reality.”

Religious institutions have been part of the problem since the beginning, and we must be part of the solution. This is the best task of religion: to connect us to one another and to that which is greater than ourselves. It is religion, at its best, that makes me my brothers keeper.

Our faith tradition is bound up in this messy history, with moments of uplift intertwined with moments of degradation. But a church that stands for freedom must not be shackled by fear of losing privilege. A church that stands for justice cannot stand idly by while justice is denied to so many.

A church that stands for equity cannot be content when people are denied the tools and resources they need to achieve a basic standard of living.

A church that stands for compassion cannot be immune to those who bravely share their soul-wrenching stories of oppression.

A church that honors the inherent worth and dignity of every person cannot stand by while white lives are continuously demonstrated as having more worth and dignity than the lives of people of color.

Instead, we must work towards dismantling the racist systems religious institutions helped create.

In this work, we will break each others hearts. We will fail more times than we can count. We will stick our feet into our mouths, be chagrined, embarrassed, and ashamed. But continue to work in spite of failure is what has and what will allow us to keep growing, to keep challenging the status quo, until such time as we truly honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person, until such time as we can boldly claim that black lives do matter as a counter to years of being told otherwise. May this important work ennoble our lives, and may we not sleep through the revolution. Blessed be.

feeling impotent about Ferguson.

20 Aug

As a human being in general, and as a minister in particular, I am called to pay attention; to pay attention to what is going on in the world around me, particularly when I would rather focus on much easier topics. To bear witness to the highs and lows of human life.

I have been struggling with that this week. I don’t want to pay attention. I am on sabbatical, the kids just started school, I finally have time to myself. I want to work on the book I have in my head. I want to tackle that enormous reading list.

I open the book I am supposed to read for my study group in November, and this is what I see.

In the vicious maltreatment of defenseless citizens of Ferguson, where old women and young children were gassed and clubbed at random, we have witnessed an eruption of the disease of racism which seeks to destroy all America. No American is without responsibility. All are involved in the sorrow that rises from Ferguson to contaminate every crevice of our national life. The people of Ferguson will struggle on for the soul of the nation, but it is fitting that all America help to bear the burden. I call, therefore, on clergy of all faiths to join me in Ferguson…In this way all America will testify to the fact that the struggle in Ferguson is for the survival of democracy everywhere in our land.

The original is the telegram issued by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on March 8. 1965. I changed “Selma” to “Ferguson” because that is what my heart read. And as I read it, my throat closed and my spirit cried out.

Fifty years, and we are still viciously maltreating our citizens, and sorrow rises to contaminate every crevice of our national life.

I know so many of us feel similarly right now. So many of us are hurting, overwhelmed by the issues going on in Ferguson and elsewhere around the country.  We may want to just ignore it, but since it is not going away, we get drawn in.

Our pain is a testament to our interconnection. We hurt, seeing and hearing about these events, because we know we are connected to those who are suffering, in Ferguson and beyond. We have an innate capacity for compassion, to want to reduce suffering if we can. And right now, many of us feel impotent.  “What can I do about it?” we may ask ourselves.

I find hope in the increasing intensity of what is happening – not just in Ferguson, but around the country. The longer people are demanding justice and are showing up in Ferguson and in solidarity in our own towns, then isn’t it more likely that something must change?

This is the start of something big, something hopeful but not without pain. The best way to address that pain is to do something that has meaning. No matter how impotent those of us at a distance may feel, there are things we can do to help out. This list that the Huffington Post put out is the best I have seen.

So hang in there with me. Pay attention, but take breaks. Take care of yourself. Step away from the computer and take your dog for a walk. Hug a loved one. Call a friend. Go see a movie.

Then, when you are rejuvenated, read through that list again and do something about the next item on it. In this way, instead of going out in a blaze of existential impotence, we might keep the flame of justice and compassion burning within us for as long as it takes to see this through. May it be so.

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