Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How do you explain "Unitarian Universalist spirituality"?

The Membership Committee of the congregation I serve is wrestling with the question of how to explain Unitarian Universalist spirituality to newcomers (and old-timers).  Since I'm unable to attend their retreat this Saturday (since I'll be at our Board's retreat!), I wrote something up for them to consider.  Here's what I said:

I’d start by saying that we are not as unique as we sometimes think and say we are – progressive Christians too, for instance, encourage people to think and explore and search their own lives in coming to understand God.  We are, however, generally more expansive in our encouragement of that search.  Using a video game analogy, ours is more of an “open world” model rather than one that restrictively directs your movement.  I would also note that I do not believe that “spirituality” is about what someone passively “believes” but, instead, how a person actively engages their inner and outer world.

That said, there is a line in the hymn, “We Laugh, We Cry” (#355) which says that we believe, “even to question, truly is an answer.”   An important part of the spiritual grounding of our faith tradition, as I understand it at least, is precisely this encouragement to seek for truth and meaning.  This is not the same as saying, “UUs can believe anything we want.”  That’s way too simplistic.  It is to say, however, that our faith encourages us to challenge ourselves to look into our own lived experience (equally with the insights of religion, science, and the arts) as a source of understanding “the twin realities of being born and having to die” (as the Rev. Forrest Church put it).  This is no small thing.  Ours is, at its best, an active faith that calls on us to examine, to re-examine, and to keep on examining our understanding of the universe and our place in it.  One way to describe the spirituality of Unitarian Universalism is that it calls on us to become comfortable in the discomforting place of not-knowing.

So no, you can’t “believe anything you want.”  In the first place, “belief” is not, for UUs, the core of “spirituality.”  In the second, we are encouraged to actively engage ourselves and the world in a free search for meaning; to then engage with others in open, inquisitive dialog about what they’re discovering in their searching; and to then arrive at our own tentative beliefs.  Unitarian Universalist spirituality truly understand and engaged, ought to lead us to the place so many of our youth model for us during their Coming of Age service – “this is what I believe now, but I know my beliefs will change over time.”

One other aspect of our faith tradition’s spiritual core – it is not enough to engage in this search for truth and meaning.  We then must strive to apply our discoveries to the way we live our lives in the world.

One final, general, observation – this is not, in my experience, the way a lot of UUs understand and experience our faith.  Far too many, it seems to me, come to UUism having already decided on the “answers to life’s big questions,” and have no real interest in looking any further.  We come, many of us and maybe even the majority of us, to have our understandings affirmed rather than challenged; we want our already established biases reinforced instead of re-examined.  In this we are absolutely no different than the majority of other religious traditions we humans have ever create.

So here’re three "elevator speeches" about the spiritual core of Unitarian Universalism:

·    Unitarian Universalism challenges us to hold our beliefs lightly, always ready to let go as we discover new and deeper truths.

·    Unitarian Universalist spirituality is found in the free and ongoing search for truth and meaning, within the context of a community of open-minded seekers.

·     Unitarian Universalist spirituality is an active search for meaning in life as we experience it, which we then strive to put into practice in life as we live it.

I hope it need not be said, but this is, of course, a provisional answer ...

Pax tecum,


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

It's all connected ...

Anyone who's read these musings for any length of time knows my passion for addressing the systems of oppression that have created and which perpetuate the brutal dehumanizations of institutional, systemic racism.  This is work that I feel passionately about.

Yesterday I saw a link on a friend's Facebook page to an article by Mary Karr in The New Yorker magazine, "The Crotchgrabber: on a shockingly casual case of sexual assault."  Ms. Karr writes about an incident in which a stranger approached her on the street and grabbed her crotch.  The "casual" in her title refers to the manner in which he did this.  "[A]n approaching guy chatting equably with a tall friend dodged at me to grab my crotch ... he grabbed between my legs with a meaty claw, big as a waffle iron.  He also called me the C-word ... then he passed on into a sandwich shop with his buddy."

Earlier in the day I'd read another piece, a post on the blog of a woman named Erin Bailey, in which she asks, "What Do We Deserve?"  She details some of the ways she has been mistreated -- dehumanized, really -- because of her gender and her appearance:  "What do I deserve?" she asks:
I deserve to be treated like a human, not just a woman, because that means something different these days. 
And us women, what do we deserve? 
We deserve not to feel silenced by your yells. 
We deserve to feel empowered for bettering ourselves. 
We deserve to feel sexy in our own skin without feeling like we're hear to bait you. 
We deserve to speak out without the threat of you lingering on our minds. 
We deserve to run outside. 
We deserve to be judged on our merits, not our outfits. 
We deserve more.  A whole lot more.
According to feminist.com, one-out-of-every-five American women has been the victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, and 44% are under age 18; 80%.  [See the rest of their statistics if you want to be deeply disturbed.]

While I was away on vacation a congregant left on my desk another article from The New Yorker -- "White Plight:  is whiteness a privilege or a plight?",  written by Huan Hsu.  Reading it I couldn't help but think of the anonymous comment that was left following my recent post, "Where is my Outrage?" expressing the view that the real evil we face as a nation is the economic (and, I would add, cultural) caste system that disadvantages, disenfranchises, and dehumanizes poor whites.  There is a truth to this view, a reality that many liberal whites would like to ignore because it makes the fighting of oppression even more difficult.  This poor white anger often expresses itself in racial categories -- racist words and actions -- yet to simply write it off as racism is to miss the point of the intersectionality of oppressions.  [In my response I noted that in Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow:  mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness, Ms. Alexander demonstrates pretty conclusively that there has been an intentional effort by the wealth, white, elite to pit poor whites and people of color against one another so that there would be little likelihood that they would recognize the common source of their oppressions and work in solidarity to overthrow the system that keeps boots on both of their necks.)

About a year ago a friend -- my first college roommate -- embraced her identity as a transgender woman.  She came out publicly on Facebook and in her daily life.  Today she posted what seemed to me essentially a "thank you" note to all of her friends who had been supportive.  In other words, she was thanking people for not rejecting her because of her gender identity.

from Mary Crawford’s Transformations: Women, Gender, and Psychology
It would be nice -- not quite the word to use, I know -- if the problem we face as a nation was racism.  Or sexism.  Or homophobia.  Transphobia.  Ablelism.  Classism.  Ageism.  Human-ism (by which I mean the elevation of humans above the rest of the natural world that has led to such degradation of our planet, not the philosophical/religious stance).  The inhuman treatment of undocumented immigrants.  I could go on.  The website Interrupting Oppression has a list of 20 different "isms," certainly is incomplete.  The Anti-Oppression Network identifies nearly 30, yet it also no doubt is not exhaustive.

It would be "nice" because it's easier to get your head around trying to tackle one of these issues, and if they're truly interconnected it becomes a knot that seems impossible to untangle.  I'll confess -- as I seem to be doing more and more lately (a sign of maturity, maybe?) -- that I don't know what to do with this.  I am seriously overwhelmed.  In just the past two days I have been confronted with seemingly different examples of "man's inhumanity to man" (sic), yet I know that they are really different manifestations of a single evil.  (And yes, I know that folks of my ilk rarely use the word "evil," but is there any other?)

This post really is a musing.  I'm not sure where to take it; I'm not even sure that I'm saying much of anything that's worth saying.  To add to the confusion, while looking up something for this post I came across the article,  #JeNeSuisPasLiberal:  entering the quagmire of online leftism, by David Auerbach.  It's a long and academic work -- and one I'm still trying to work my way through -- yet I think it's really important for those of us who see ourselves as "liberal" or "progressive" (or, at least, as people working for social change) to consider what he's saying.  One thing that my musing this morning makes very clear to me:  nothing will change if we insist on trying to simplify this incredibly complex puzzle, especially if we also insist on judging/condemning anyone who calls attention to any of the myriad of complicating factors.  Nothing.  You cannot affect change without understanding the problem.  This is particularly difficult when the world you live in is the problem.

Pax tecum,


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Ten thousand recollections ...

This morning while I was walking the dog, my neighbor stopped his bike ride to tell me that he appreciated my letter to the editor that the paper printed a couple of days ago.  Brian was born and raised in South Africa (he is White) and he said that since the shooting in Dallas he has been thinking of a line from Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country.  (He called it required reading in South Africa.)  As he remembers it, the old priest says something to the effect of, "I'm afraid that by the time the Whites start loving, the Blacks will have started hating."  (I looked it up.  The actual quote is, "I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating," and it is spoken by the character the Rev. Theophilus Msimangu.)  I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating.

The congregation I serve is named after the third President of the United States -- Thomas Jefferson.  We're located in Charlottesville, in the shadow of Monticello and literally up the road from the University of Virginia.  The presence of "Mr. Jefferson" is still felt in places, so it makes sense that when our congregation was formed it would be named for him.  He did, after all, write the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, was one of the so-called "Founding Fathers" of the nation, and was draftsman of the Declaration of Independence with its stirring words about liberty and freedom.  (He also said some very nice things about Unitarianism, such that for a long time he was claimed as "one of our own." We now somewhat sheepishly acknowledge that he maintained membership in the local Episcopal church throughout his life.)

He also wrote other things, though.  His Notes on the State of Virginia contains some deeply racist thoughts about "the Black race," which he considered fundamentally and irredeemably inferior.  An argument could be -- has been -- made that he was just a person of his time, his thinking conditioned by the thinking of his day just as our is now.  Yet Jefferson's views on the inherent differences he saw between Whites and Blacks was not universally held.  Even in his day he could have thought differently.

The link I make between Cry the Beloved Country and the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson is that he, too, recognized the likelihood that the treatment endured by enslaved people at the hands of their enslavers would most likely lead to an explosion of violent rage.  In explaining his position that freed Blacks should not be allowed to continue to live in Virginia he wrote:
"It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expense of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies when they leave?  Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race."
One hundred and forty-one years ago Jefferson predicted that "deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; [and] new provocations ..." could predictably lead to the development an unquenchable anger, hatred, that would no doubt end in violence.  In those one hundred and forty-one years since those "ten thousand recollections" have not dimmed, and the "new provocations" have not ceased.

Do I think that our country's ongoing history of racism will end in "extermination"?  I don't.  I have too much hope and faith in the power of Love for that.  But when folks like me who have been raised to think of ourselves as White wonder what all the anger is about ...  Well ... I think we ask because we just don't want to look at the truth before our eyes.

Pax tecum,


Note:  the image is a composite of a well-known portrait of Jefferson, with that of Isaac Granger Jefferson, one of the enslaved workers at Monticello.

Monday, July 11, 2016

You fix this shit ...

"You fix this shit ..."

This comes from an essay Anthea Butler wrote for Religious Dispatches, in which she responds to her editor's request for a piece about the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the five police offers who were shot and killed in Dallas.  She says, essentially, that she'd one writing for white people who are looking for a person of color to express the outrage, the power of the pain, that we white folks can't (or won't) express ourselves:
"I'm done saving you, good white folks.  You want Black people like me, who like you, to say the prophetic thing, and bail your ass out for not speaking up, for remaining quiet -- while you get your work, vacations, and scholarship done this summer."
I hear this.  At least, to be honest, I'm trying to hear this.  It's hard as a person who was raised to think of myself as white to really  hear this.  Still, I'm trying.  And I think to myself -- what the hell am I supposed to do?  Damn.  how do you change the collective consciousness -- even more the unconsciousness -- of a country?  How do you "turn" the folks who see Donald Trump as, as Ms. Butler put it, "a savior"?

We're told that in Biblical times a prophet could speak out with such conviction that even kings would put on sackcloth and ashes as a demonstration of their heartfelt mourning and desire to repent.  Mohandas Gandhi would stop eating, and the people of India -- Hindu and Muslim alike -- would change their behavior out of concern and respect for the Great Soul.

Is there -- could there be -- such a prophet today?  Who do the American people love so deeply that they would pause in mid-battle for?  I'm not holding my breath for this kind of a solution.

But what can be done?  What can I do?  I know that "show up" matters.  I believe -- deeply -- that it makes a difference, when white folks help white folks to recognize -- to really see -- the racism that is embedded in our culture in which we move unconscious as a fish glides through water.  These things make a difference.  As does working to ensure the enfranchisement of people within historically marginalized groups.  As does writing letters to politicians, and signing petitions, and attending rallies, and getting arrested, and ...

And how do you change the collective consciousness of a country?  Because it's just not enough to change laws.  The ratification of the 14th amendment changed the status of African Americans ... except that it didn't.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensured that people of color would have the same access to participation in the democratic process as anyone else ... except that it didn't.  (And to further drive home the point, this issue had already supposedly been taken care of back in 1870 with the ratification of the 15th amendment!) 

Yes, we can do anti-bias training for police officers, and it's important work.  Will it really address the implicit bias that is at work in every interaction?  There are so many things that we can do, yet I keep coming back to what seems to me to be a fundamental questions -- how do you change the collective consciousness of a country? 

"You fix this shit ..."  Who are better positioned to change an inherently unjust system than the people who benefit most from that system?  And yet ... how does a fish change the water in the tank?

I truly wish I knew ....

Pax tecum,


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Where is my outrage?

I need to confess something ... something that I'm ashamed of.  Shame is, I know, a word that's out of vogue these days, yet I can't think of anything more appropriate.  "Guilt" is something different, and "embarrassed" doesn't come close.

Yesterday on my Facebook feed I saw a piece that had been posted three months ago on imgur.  It consisted of two things -- a letter purported to be from a first-year law student, written anonymously, complaining about a professor having worn a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on campus.  "We are here to learn the law," the letter says.  "We do not spend three years of our lives and tens of thousands of dollars to subjected to indoctrination or personal opinions of our professors."

The second half of the post is claimed to be the professor's response.  (I'm describing it this way because it is, after all, the internet where I came across this and it's so hard to know if things are, indeed, what they appear to be.)  "I am accepting the invitation in your memo, and the opportunity created by its content, to teach you."  The professor goes on to say that he will present his response into two parts:  "Part 1 addresses the substantive and analytical lessons that can be learned from the memo.  Part 2 addresses the lessons about writing that can be learned from the memo."

It is brilliant.  The tone is brilliant.   The content is brilliant.  He articulates answers to the challenges made by so many folks who have been raised to think of themselves as white to the Black Lives Matter movement.  One example:  his first section is a series of naming the unspoken premises behind statements in the student's letter and, then, his critique of them.
Premise:  History doesn't matter.  Therefore sequences of cause and effect can be ignored (or inverted).

Critique:  To assert that the Black Lives Matter movement is about violence against the police is to ignore (and invert) the causal reality that the movement arose as an effect of police violence.  Yes, the movement is about violence, in that it is about the subject of violence, but it is not about violent retaliation against the violence it is about.  It is a tragic fact that rage as a consequence of racial injustice sometimes gets enacted as violence (although not nearly as often as we might expect, given the long-standing causes of that rage).  We can all lament the fact that violence begets violence.  But we can't even do that if we ignore that violence that has done, and is doing, the begetting.
Brilliant, right?  Clear.  Cogent.  I was so impressed that I immediately knew I would be re-posting the link, and referring to professor's arguments often.

So what am I ashamed of?  That I was enjoying it.  That I was reveling in this professor's ability to take apart the student's arguments -- which echo the arguments so many of us hear far too often, even from well-meaning people we know.  He said, more clearly that I ever will, what needs to be said.  And I was loving it.

But where is my outrage?  Where is my anger that these things need to be said at all?  How can I be enjoying something that was born out of such a painful, literally life-and-death reality?  There are real people lying dead on real streets ... and real mourning of real families and friends ... and real fear in the hearts of real people.  This is not a rhetorical exercise.  And the only reason I can sit back and enjoy with clarity (and, let's face it, the cleverness) of this professor's response is because I can sit back, because as a person who has been raised to think of myself as white I am removed from the reality that gives birth to the need for a movement such as Black Lives Matter.

I am the adoptive father of two sons of color.  The brown skin of one will no doubt at some point bring him into direct contact with this reality; the white skin of the other will no doubt shield him.  Yet however close to home this comes to me, what I realized this morning as I reflected on my response to the exchange between this professor and student is that I can sit back.  That I am sitting back more than I was aware of.

Of that, I am ashamed.

Pax tecum,


Monday, June 20, 2016

Junteenth: a sermon

This is the sermon I delivered on Sunday, June 19, 2016 at the congregation I serve in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist.  You listen to it if you'd prefer.

I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of “Juneteenth” until relatively recently.  I keep discovering just how much American history I never learned and, perhaps even more disturbingly, that no one ever thought important enough to try to teach me – all that history that gets lifted up each February, for instance, as though Black history and American history are not the same thing.  We don’t have a White history month, or a Straight, Cisgender Male history month, because as far as the wider society goes, that is American history.  Everything else is relegated to appendices and footnotes.
So:  “Juneteenth” is a fusing of “June” and “Nineteenth,” because it was on June 19, 1865 that Union General Gordon Granger stood on the balcony of a prominent building in Galveston, Texas and read aloud “General Order No. 3,” which said, in part:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
Can you imagine what that would have felt like for the, now, formerly enslaved population of Galveston?  They hadn’t yet heard about President Lincoln’s Proclamation of their freedom some three and a half years earlier, so this was a day that would cry out to be memorialized.  Juneteenth celebrations became annual events throughout Texas and, eventually, throughout the United States.  By 2008, nearly half of US states observed the holiday.  As of May of last year, 45 of the 50 states (and the District of Columbia) have formally and officially recognized the observance of Juneteenth, even here in Virginia.
Juneteenth is a really big thing, and I had never even heard of it.  Maybe this is new to some of you, too.  I would ask how that is possible, but we all know the answer, don’t we?  The dominant culture in which we live, the dominant narrative that defines us as a country, does not have time, or energy, or focus, or interest, really, in anything other than itself.  That’s why we have Black History Month in February, and Women’s History Month in March, and LGBT History Month in October, and Transgender Awareness Month in November (just to name a few).  This is one way that our culture – and by “our culture” I am referring to the dominant culture made by, for, and about people who look more or less like me – can recognize the undeniable fact that ours is not a homogeneous society while simultaneously reinforcing the “otherness” of everybody who … doesn’t look more or less like me.
One dimension of this dominant culture’s narrative is a mindset of what I’ll call “been there, done that, cross it off the list.”  Here are two examples of I mean by that:
·       Slavery was terrible, awful, heinous, but we fought and won the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation put an end to slavery.  Been there, done that, cross it off the list.
·       The Jim Crow era was terrible, awful, heinous, but the Civil Rights battles of the 50s and 60s won equality for all.  I mean look, today we even have a Black President!  Been there, done that, cross it off the list.
But that’s not how it works, of course.  The truth is that there is a river of pain that runs through our nation’s history, a river of torment and torture, a river of separation and segregation and dehumanization and demonization, a river that has never stopped flowing.  Ever.  We – and right now I’m really talking to people, like me, who’ve been raised to think of ourselves as White – we would like to think that at least it has gone underground, or slowed to a trickle, but it hasn’t, except, perhaps, in our own mind’s eye.  But we need to think this, we need to believe this, because if we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to go to sleep at night, so wet would our sheets be from all our tears.  Yet we – and here I do mean “we,” inclusively and collectively, meaning “we” as in “all of us” – we need to see together the truth of things as they really are.  We need to see those things that some of us try so hard not to see and some of us are so continually forced to see.  Here’s one such thing that seems appropriate to see on Juneteenth 2016:
The slaves weren’t freed when Lincoln declared their emancipation, nor when General Granger stood on that balcony, nor when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, nor when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the same United States in which his wife’s ancestors had been enslaved.  Certain freedoms, yes, have been grudgingly conceded, but real freedom?  The freedom to be and be seen as whole, as the individual you are and as part of the human family?  The freedom to have your value and worth affirmed and celebrated?  That has not yet been won, not yet wrested from the slaver’s fist. Not been there, not done that yet, nothing to cross off the list.
The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray is one of the largely unknown and unsung heroes of the struggles for African American rights, and LGBT rights, and women’s rights.  She was the first female African American Episcopal priest, the first African American to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Yale Law School, a civil rights activist (fighting against both Jim Crow and what she called “Jane Crow”), a poet of profundity and power, and a friend of my mom’s.  She referred to herself as, “America’s problem child.”  (“I have never been able to accept what I believe to be an injustice,” she wrote. “Perhaps it is because of this I am America’s problem child, and will continue to be.”)  In many of her poems Pauli gave voice to the experience of what another great African American poet, Langston Hughes called, “a dream deferred,” this experience of the ongoing denial of the fundamental right to be seen as more than three-fifths of a person.  In the face of that, how can you keep on hoping for things to change?  What can hope mean when time and time again you have seen your hope whipped, and lynched, and set upon by dogs and firehoses, and denigrated and sneered at by what passes for politicians these days?  Here’s one of Pauli’s poems:
Hope is a crushed stalk
Between clenched fingers.
Hope is a bird’s wing
Broken by a stone.
Hope is a word in a tuneless ditty —
A word whispered with the wind,
A dream of forty acres and a mule,
A cabin of one’s own and a moment to rest,
A name and place for one’s children
And children’s children at last . . .
Hope is a song in a weary throat.

Give me a song of hope
And a world where I can sing it.
Give me a song of faith
And a people to believe in it.
Give me a song of kindliness
And a country where I can live it.
Give me a song of hope and love
And a brown girl’s heart to hear it.

This is the still unfulfilled promise of Junteenth – a song of hope, and a world in which it can be sung by everyone; a song of faith, and a people who will truly believe it; a song of kindliness and a country in which it can be lived out; and a song of hope and love without having to give up who and what we are.  Hope is a song in a weary throat.  [This, by the way, was the original title of Pauli's autobiography, Song in a Weary ThroatSomeone at the publishing house, no doubt, decided that for the second printing the title should be changed to Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest, and Poet.  It might be more descriptive for people who'd never heard of her, but oh what poetry was lost!]                               

One year ago this past week Dylan Roof walked into a Bible Study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered 9 people, at least in part because he did not see African Americans as fully human, at least not in the way he saw himself.  He apparently had not heard about the “absolute equality” affirmed by General Granger in Galveston one hundred and fifty-one years ago today, or he’d heard but didn’t believe it, and so he could believe that murdering these people was a justified and acceptable act.

This past week Omar Mateen walked into the nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida and murdered 49 people (wounding an additional 53), at least in part because he did not see people in the LGBTQ community, or the Latino community as fully human, at least not in the way he saw himself.  And whether it was this blind and blinding hatred, or the distortions and perversions of a twisted religious ideology, Mateen was able to believe that his murdering these people was a justified and acceptable act.

When you can deny the fundamental humanity of someone, you can justify doing just about anything to them.  It doesn’t count if they don’t count.  Fifty-three years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that “all […] are created equal” to be a “promissory note” that had not yet been made good on.  It still hasn’t.  And so the weary throat must keep singing.

Someone else who knew and beautifully expressed that song was the poet-queen Maya Angelou.  She speaks of it in one of her most well-known and oft-quoted poems, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,”

The free bird leaps
On the back of the wind
And floats downstream
And dips his wings
In the orange sun rays
And dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
Down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through
His bars of rage
His wings are clipped
And his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
With a fearful trill
Of the things unknown
But longed for still
And his tune is heard
On the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
And the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
And he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
With a fearful trill
Of the things unknown
But longed for still
And his tune is heard
On the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.

Oh the throats that sing this song may indeed by weary, yet the song remains strong.  This song has many variations, yet still it is one song – the song of freedom and a long-ago made promise fulfilled.  But here’s some good news:  Dylan Roof didn’t silence it; Omar Pateen didn’t stop its steady beat; Donald Trump and his crowds can’t drown it out. 

But there’s work to be done.  We – those of us who have been taught that we are White – need to take it up, add our voices to those who have been singing so long that their throats are weary – oh so weary – of singing this song that should never have had to be sung.

the song of hope, and a world in which it can be sung by everyone; the song of faith, and a people who will truly believe it; the song of kindliness and a country in which it can be lived out; the song of hope and love without having to give up who and what we are to sing it. 

May it be so.

Pax tecum,


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Love Always Wins

I wrote this as a Letter to the Editor for Charlottesville' paper, the Daily Progress after attending a candle light vigil on our downtown mall in response to the shootings in Orlando.

I had just finished leading worship in the congregation I serve when I learned of the atrocity that had taken place in Orlando just a relatively few hours before.  The topic of my sermon was love – that no matter how simple it might sound, wise teachers from every religious tradition have stressed that “doing unto others,” that “loving our neighbor,” is the only needed guide for how to live in this world.  Rabbi Hillel the Elder famously said that everything else in the Torah, the Law, and the Prophets was simply commentary and explanation of this central teaching, and Jesus (a near contemporary of Hillel’s) said much the same, as did the Prophet Muhammad.  Every religious tradition we humans have ever created has its own version of the “Golden Rule.”  And yet, in the aftermath of the mass murder of 49 people, the serious wounding of 53 others, and the devastation to  countless lives of families and friends and all those touched by this tragedy, this message of love seemed not just simple, but simplistic.

What a gift, then, to gather on Monday night with hundreds of others at the Free Speech Wall to mourn, express our shock, give vent to our outrage, and recommit ourselves to one another and to the vision of Beloved Community.  And we were a beautiful representation of that Beloved Community – we were gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, cisgender, Latino/a, African American, Asian American, White, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Atheist, Unitarian Universalist, old, young, radical, reticent, and virtually every other description of person you could think of.  We were what the United States looks like at its best – a beautiful, swirling rainbow of differences that came together to reveal an even more beautiful unity.  The acts of hate-filled violence, and the violence-tinged hate speech that is all too prevalent in our political discourse lately, may cause us to question our faith in humanity.  The vision of community made real on Monday night restored my faith, and renews my hope. 

Pax tecum,


While at the Freedom of Speech Wall we were told that following each of the annual C'ville Pride Festivals
there have been reports of someone being fired from their job because their boss or employer had seen their photograph
in the next day's paper.  This, then, is a photo (from the back) of a small portion of the hundreds who attended the vigil
and then walked with lighted candles to the Federal Courthouse building.