“Complications in the Search for Truth” 7/3/2022

Prelude: “America the Beautiful” (Ward and Bates)”

*Opening Hymn: “One Hundred Years Hence”   

Reading: SLT #464  “And Then” by Judy Chicago

Reading:   “Unclouded Vision” by Jacqueline Jules

Her lenses, implanted

to uncloud aging eyes,

sparkle now like a bit

of glitter on a card,

rhinestones on a T-shirt.

Twinkle in her eye. An old cliché.

Common long before

surgery was routine, suggesting

joy or affection – intangibles

that lift heels off concrete,

make us notice yellow petals 

pushing through sidewalk cracks.

My grandmother

now visits museums again,

marvels at details, stops to read

each acrylic label on the wall.


Interlude:  “Freedom” (Jim Brickman)”


Sermon: “Complications in the Search for Truth”

Look again with new lenses, and things might look different. Even truth might look different, as we take in the details. Stop to read the world anew, and simple truths we learned as children unveil the complications they are made of. 

Two hundred and forty-six years ago, independence for England’s North American colonies was a doubtful prospect. The British Empire was growing: after the Seven Years’ War – known in North America as the French and Indian War – the 1763 Treaty of Paris gave Britain new territories: what is now the eastern United States up to the Mississippi, including Florida; areas of Lower Canada; India; and Senegal, in Africa. Plenty of North American colonists wanted to be part of that growth, but Parliament drew a line that year to exclude them. Then Parliament shifted onto them the tax burden of maintaining British troops in the colonies. They responded by agitating for lower imperial taxes and a greater role for local government. Almost no one thought of separating from Britain. But year by year their relationship with Britain grew more tense.

Then in 1775, to prevent violent conflict, British troops tried to occupy an arms depot in Concord, Massachusetts. They were confronted by defending colonists. Somebody’s gun went off, we don’t know whose. It turned into a battle. The colonists won. A year later, their representatives in the Continental Congress were debating a resolution on independence. During their debate, British troops – expelled from Boston, now regrouped, and still formidable – were preparing a major offensive to capture New York. Few expected the colonies to withstand it. Nevertheless, Congress declared independence.

From the Declaration to the final treaty came another seven years of war. In the end, Britain was forced not only to recognize the colonies’ independence, but to cede back Florida to Spain, and Senegal to France. But the Empire retained control of the West Indies and Canada, and as it continued to grow, it managed to deal the United States its first military catastrophe in 1814. The Battle of New Orleans and “The Star- Spangled Banner” notwithstanding, we lost that war. But not our independence.

Look again with new lenses. Take in the details. Read them anew, and complications challenge all cherished simplicity.

On Independence Day, do we celebrate freedom? If so, we are mistaken. Freedom was no more won in 1776 than the war was. Nor was it secured by the peace. The history of our country from its independence until now is an elaborate epic of our unfolding discovery of freedom, and equality, and their implications. Within a framework of liberal principles – like representative government and the rule of law – the founders of our newly independent country built institutions in the shape of their own narrow interests, unexamined biases, and uninformed beliefs. Mind you, collectively they were as informed as they could have been. The Constitution they eventually adopted, however, encoded racism in a fraction of 3/5, and protected the power of wealthy elites through an unrepresentative Senate and Electoral College. 

Besides hierarchies of race and class, those of gender and citizenship were maintained by a cultural institution – the household – and by customs preserved in English common law. English custom conceived citizenship and political representation in terms of households, not individuals. Marriages, which create households, were recognized and recorded by a Justice of the Peace, the official who oversaw political jurisdictions. Ordered liberty was a matter between households. That’s as fine as the grain of English freedom got. Order within a household was shaped differently: by a biblically-inspired master/servant paradigm. A husband was master to his wife; parents were masters to their children; a household’s servants were subject to its master; and the craftsman was master to his apprentice, whose status was that of a child in his household. 

The household was both an economic unit and a political unit, represented politically by its citizen-master. In this paradigm are the roots of every inequality and oppression we have labored to remedy over the last two and a half centuries, a labor complicated since the industrial revolution as capitalist business organizations increasingly replaced households as the basic economic units. Legal concepts of corporate citizenship and personhood flow from that dislocation.

Look with new lenses, and read the details anew. Complications roll down over generations.

Our opening hymn was written in 1852. Some say that the level of social division and discord that we are living through today, was last seen in our country around that time. Yet people sang of the end of cheating and fraud, slavery and voter restrictions, selfishness and substance abuse, oppression and war. And they forecast an end to the need for law-enforcement, the conversion of prisons to schools, full gender equality (at least within the binary), and freedom “to think for oneself,” which I take to mean individual self-determination and autonomy.

We might laugh at all this as a naive faith in the power of education, but take another look. Haven’t both sides of our polarized society today characterized each other as in need of a proper education? Don’t people on both sides of the divide say to themselves, “how can those people be so stupid?” Facing a seemingly hopeless state of affairs, the reformers who sang that song – Universalists among them – sang of such wild hopes, such an audacious vision, to assert their values and hold true to them in contentious and increasingly violent times. We laugh to sing those verses. I guarantee you, nobody was laughing then who sang that song. “One Hundred Years Hence” was a way of keeping eyes on the prize as conflict escalated. They sang to hold fast to good values, even as it seemed everything was falling apart.

The latest science supports their impulse to sing their values audaciously. In his book, Humankind, Rutger Bregman presents an impressive array of studies in a range of scientific disciplines that show the power of belief and commitment to shape human behavior. He interprets them through a familiar lens: the classical philosophical debate between the ideas of Thomas Hobbes and those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Hobbes believed that people are basically wicked, and that civilization is a veneer that hides and helps restrain our wickedness. Rousseau believed that people are basically good, and that civilization is what makes us wicked. Which of these we choose to believe, the studies show, determines how we treat each other. 

Bregman describes these alternatives of belief about human nature using the familiar concept of a placebo – if you believe people are good, you feel better about them, are willing to trust, and so on – and a new concept he calls a nocebo – if you believe people are wicked, you will feel uneasy about them, be reluctant to trust, and so on. A placebo is something that, if we believe it, will make us feel better, because we believe in it; a nocebo is something that, if we believe it, will make us feel worse, because we believe in it. Bregman says, “Some things are true whether you believe in them or not. … Other things have the potential to be true, if we believe in them.” 

As for the difference of opinion between Hobbes and Rousseau about civilization, Bregman shows that science favors Rousseau’s position. He cites a study in Russia, in which wild silver foxes were selectively bred for friendliness. The result: the friendly foxes evolved to have adult characteristics less far-removed from the juvenile characteristics of the original wild foxes. They behaved more like domesticated dogs, even wagging their tails, which wild foxes do not do.. 

As it happens, that is exactly the pattern of developmental difference between humans and other primates. Humans evolved so that, as adults, we more closely resemble other primates’ children. This suggests that as we developed some 50,000 years ago into a species forming wandering hunter-gatherer societies whose survival depended on collective action, we domesticated ourselves: in some way we selectively bred for friendliness, to hold our wandering societies together. This is the deep root of human nature. The veneer of civilization – applied only about 5000 years ago – covers this friendly, communal, trust-building human nature. We still struggle to adjust to settled life. Staying in one place, we find more occasions for conflict, and find it harder to escape conflict.

Look again with new lenses. Things look different. Even truth looks different. Read this complicated world anew and wisdom we have learned in life must deepen.

My colleague Margaret Keip wrote: “Whenever an idea reigns unchallenged by another point of view, there is no freedom because there is no choice. Thus, conflict is the cost of freedom. If we treasure choice, we may also learn to honor conflict, and discover it may grant us peace and strength and stature. In devotion to the cause of freedom, disagreement may indeed unite us.” As conflict has steadily risen over the last several decades, the wisdom of those words has been harder and harder to accept.

As conflict rises, so one model has it, it changes character. The lowest level of conflict is simply a problem that we try to solve together. The next level is when we agree to disagree. These two levels of conflict might not even feel like conflict. The third level this model calls a contest: it’s peaceful, competitive, there are rules, it can feel fair. It has winners and losers, but we accept the result, win or lose. Elections are conflict at this level. At the model’s fourth level – war – and its fifth – crusade – violence comes into it. In war, the losers must be defeated and the winners dominate. In a crusade, the object is not to defeat, but to destroy the opponent. What peace and strength and stature can come of that?

My colleague’s words seem to assume conflict no worse than a contest, where there are rules, and outcomes are accepted. Ordered liberty, and thus ordered conflict. How, then, do we de-escalate when violence intrudes and threatens that ordered conflict?

Bregman argues for a “new realism” where we believe in human goodness and friendliness. He offers this advice: “Be courageous. Be true to your nature and offer your trust. Do good in broad daylight, and don’t be ashamed of your generosity. You may be dismissed as gullible and naive at first. But remember, what’s naive today may be common sense tomorrow.”

In our country, we talk about rights enumerated (or not) in the Constitution. Internationally, a discourse on fundamental human rights has progressed far beyond that limited horizon. New lenses exist through which we might view and interpret our Constitution. It’s long past time we looked again.

Look again with new lenses, and things look different. Truth looks different, as we take in the details. Stop to read the world anew, with joy and affection for it as it is, and complicated truths reveal simple values that may guide us through suffering, stress, and setbacks

May we have the courage to be true to the goodness of our nature, living into our highest values, as we look again. 

So may it be. Amen.


Anthem: “American Anthem” by Norah Jones, performed by David Suhor


Chalice Extinguishing

We extinguish this flame, but not the light of truth,

the warmth of community, or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.

*Ascription

May I who live, be true unto my being.

One in my thoughts, my words and every deed

I was born free… an ever-changing river

is what I am, and neighbor, so are you.

We have the power, through laughter, love, and tears

to face all fears, and live forever free.

*Benediction 

*Closing Hymn:  SLT # 170  “We are a Gentle Angry People” 

Radical Hospitality Please turn and greet your neighbors!

Postlude: “America” (from West Side Story, Bernstein and Sondheim)

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“Growing Into Your Blessings” 6/5/2022

At the famous Temple of Apollo at Delphi, say ancient writers, there was carved in the wall of the entryway three proverbs of the Greek sages: “Know Thyself,” “Nothing In Excess,” and “Surety Brings Ruin.” This last is the caution against hubris that was such an important feature of Greek drama. The second is the warning that we are prone to want too much of what we think is a good thing. And the first is that major theme of Plato’s writings, attributed to Socrates, that we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do, much less our neighbors, and that we have to work at it. Taken together, these three form a core philosophy of life, what the Benedictines would later call a “rule of life,” that advises humility, moderation, and introspection.

“Listen carefully,” Benedict’s Rule famously begins, “with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.” As Abbot, Benedict casts himself in the role of a father giving advice to a son on how to live life well. This pose relates his Rule to a popular genre in ancient literature, a sort of self-help literature in the form of a father’s letter to his son. The book of Proverbs in the Bible is similarly framed; it is written as a wisdom book for schoolboys.

Joining this tradition, Adrienne Rich begins her “Transcendental Etude” ironically, saying:

No one ever told us we had to study our lives, make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history or music, that we should begin with the simple exercises first and slowly go on trying the hard ones, practicing till strength and accuracy become one with the daring to leap into transcendence. 

In fact, that was exactly Benedict’s project. And he had strong opinions about it. In the first chapter of his Rule he judges there are four types of people who are keen to study their lives. First are the people he wrote his Rule for: those who seek to live in a monastic community and be formed by its practices and leaders. Second are those who have spent time submitting themselves to such a community, and, so formed, have “graduated” and become able to face and manage their hubris and temptations on their own, because the community’s feedback has equipped them with the necessary self-knowledge. Those, he said, are the two good kinds of students of life. The third and fourth kinds – those who, whether sharing a house or not, follow their own beliefs and choose for themselves, rejecting whatever they don’t like (sound like anyone we know?); and those who are what we might call spiritual consumers, who visit a community here or a conference there, never joining, always looking for an ideal they never find – these Benedict called the bad kinds. And he hasn’t even considered those who are not keen to study their lives, whose lives will, nevertheless, instruct them.

So it’s not true that no one ever told us we have to study our lives, or to know ourselves, one step at a time. But Adrienne Rich went on to make a point:

[I]n fact we can’t live like that: we take on everything at once before we’ve even begun to read or mark time; we’re forced to begin in the midst of the hardest movement, the one already sounding as we are born.

So maybe Benedict was too hasty in his judgments. Maybe instead of four types, there are four paths, all leading up the same mountain. Maybe instead of being molded by one community and its Rule, some people mold themselves gradually, by accumulating experience, making mistakes, learning new ways, meeting new people, discovering and discerning as they go. Maybe that’s the sort of study some folks are cut out for. Maybe absorbing one Rule in one community isn’t for everybody. 

Carl Jung had some ideas about all this. He thought that people had one of two basic “attitudes” – that we are oriented either toward life in the world around us, or toward our interior life. And he thought that we develop two ways of gaining knowledge about our exterior and interior worlds, one more strongly than the other: either through the senses, “hands on,” or through intuition, “hands off.” And, finally, we organize and make meaning of our knowledge in two ways that, again, we develop one more strongly than the other: we think it through with logic and reason, or we feel our way to it according to values we trust in. He thought that all this accounted for how different our personalities are. Some people are extraverted, some people are introverted. Some extraverts learn through their senses, others are more intuitive. Some introverts understand what they learn rationally, others, guided by their values, feel their way to understanding. Tallying up the possible combinations, Jung found eight personality types in this framework. 

Later on, Isabel Briggs Myers noticed that some people really enjoy the sense of possibility they have in discerning what their knowledge means, while other people enjoy much more having decided what it means. She thought this was important enough that it called for dividing each of Jung’s eight types in two, yielding a total of sixteen distinct personality types.

David Keirsey took those sixteen types and organized them into groups of four that he called temperaments. His groupings are based on observable patterns in the ways we communicate and act. Some people prefer talking about concrete things – what is – whereas others prefer talking about ideas – what might be. Not that we don’t all talk about both, but we find one more satisfying than the other. When we take action, some of us lean toward doing what’s right, others toward doing what works. Studying personalities according to these observable patterns, Keirsey found other patterns. For example, when working together on a project: among people who do what works, those who like to talk about what might be are good at devising strategies, while those who like to talk about what is are good at developing tactics. Among those who want do what’s right, those who prefer to talk about what is are good at logistics, while those who like to talk about what might be are good at diplomacy. These four skill sets – strategy, tactics, logistics, and diplomacy – he speaks of as different kinds of intelligences, the way people like Howard Gardner and Daniel Coleman do. 

Another pattern Keirsey found has to do with what makes people feel good about themselves. Among people who prefer to do what works, those who tend to be good at strategy value having willpower, autonomy, and ingenuity, while those who tend to be good at tactics value action that is adaptive, artistic, and audacious. Among those who do what’s right, those who tend to be good at logistics value being reliable, respectable, and of service, while those who tend to be good at diplomacy value action that is  authentic, empathic, and benevolent. 

I find Keirsey’s scheme helpful, because the patterns he describes are easy to recognize, and can lead me to understanding and empathy for others. I recommend his book, Please Understand Me, which includes a tool that helps you find and learn about your own and other temperaments. 

But that’s not the only framework I find helpful for understanding human diversity. Another one I like is the Enneagram, a personality model developed in mid-20th century South America and popularized here in the 1980s and 1990s. The Enneagram model suggests nine personality types (the “ennea” part of “enneagram” is Greek for “nine.”) Unlike David Keirsey’s temperaments model, the Enneagram is derived less from observation than from intuition. Its system was developed speculatively rather than scientifically. As a result, different presenters differ in how they present and interpret it. But the range of difference has narrowed since international Enneagram conferences began in the mid-1990s, and what difference remains may be more due to marketing than anything else, as the most influential Enneagram purveyors sell books (usually with a type test included, so you can learn what your type is), as well as offer workshops and consulting services.

Keeping all that in mind – and admitting that part of why I like the Enneagram is that I can see myself in what the tests say my type is – what I especially like about it is that it offers a theory about how to lean into growth and how stress is likely to affect you. It does that by naming a core concern of each type, described as it is felt as a desire and as a fear. For example, my Enneagram type is number 4, often called “The Artist.” The core concern of this type is “becoming” – finding oneself and bringing that self into expression. “Know Thyself” is the whole show for 4’s. That is consistent with my Myers-Briggs type, INFJ, which David Keirsey includes among those who would rather talk about what might be than what is, and do the right thing rather than just whatever works. If “right makes might,” as Lincoln said, then Enneagram 4’s and INFJs want to ask, what might right make?

The Enneagram looks at growth and stress in terms of how your type is related to the other types. According to its system, my type, 4, needs to lean into the core concern of type 1, which is integrity. And stress, according to it, causes a 4 to act more like a 2, whose core concern is feeling loved. So when I’m strong and leaning into personal and spiritual growth, it’s helpful for me to think about how all the parts of me hang together with integrity: it helps me find and bring into expression that sense of self that’s so important to 4’s like me. And when I’m stressed and not feeling strong, I’m likely to feel unappreciated despite all evidence to the contrary, and knowing that helps me realize that those feelings are probably not grounded in reality. I recognize those patterns from my experience. 

Perhaps you recognize them in yourself, too, whether or not you’re a 4. Because of the kind of system it is, speculatively relating one type to another, the Enneagram has a built-in logic or narrative. Somebody whose core concern is having integrity and goodness – an Enneagram 1 – needs, in order to grow, to lean into the core concern of an Enneagram 7: feeling satisfied and content, “good enough” rather than perfect. For that person, stress brings on the nightmare feeling that, far from having integrity, they are shifting and changing and becoming – which of course they are, we all are. But while that sense of becoming makes me feel more alive, for them it is a dread and debilitating awareness. It undermines their sense of alignment with their highest value. In this way, studying the Enneagram’s narrative of the relationships between its types can help us imagine ways others might see and experience the world and themselves, that are quite different from how we see and experience things. Maybe instead of nine types, there are at least these nine ways of moving and being in the world. And maybe by walking them in our imaginations, we can come to appreciate ourselves and each other more fully and deeply.

Personality, or temperament, is just one among the many dimensions of human diversity. If we value diversity, we must treasure each healthy, growing expression of it. We must learn to regard each configuration of attitude, orientation, learning, understanding, and meaning, each style of communicating and acting, each core concern and path toward growth, as a blessing – or rather a collection of blessings – that allows each of us to body forth one particular possibility of human moving and being in the world. Easier said than done. 

Like any other part of the human spiritual journey, it calls for humility, moderation, and introspection. It calls for listening with the ear of the heart. It calls for making mistakes, learning new ways, meeting new people, discovering and discerning as we go. It calls for taking on everything at once before we’re ready, beginning in the midst of sometimes bewildering, overwhelming, unpleasant or unwanted diversity – somewhere in the whirlwind, to begin. Sometimes methodically, more often haphazardly, we commence to study our lives. You might find that prospect no more appealing than Benedict did. Or maybe it makes you feel more alive.

May we lean into our blessings, that we might become blessings to one another. May we treasure human diversity in all its forms. Amen.

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“Beautiful Freedom” 5/15/2022

Well, we’ve had quite a ride, these last two weeks, haven’t we, since Justice Alito’s draft opinion was leaked to the press? 

I read the draft closely. He danced away from the popular consensus that women should control decisions about what happens to their bodies, which is supported in other court decisions and legislation about healthcare and patients’ rights; and he focused instead on the idea that the Roe and Casey decisions crossed the line from judicial into legislative activity. The overall tone of the draft is unfortunate, and some of the assertions and reasoning in it are debatable, but most disappointing is Alito’s glib assurance that returning “the issue of abortion to [state] legislative bodies … allows women on both sides of the abortion issue to seek to affect the legislative process by influencing public opinion, lobbying legislators, voting, and running for office. Women,” he adds, “are not without electoral or political power.” I guess he really believes that imposing an undue burden is OK.

He puts forward “rational-basis review” as the new judicial standard for deciding cases when a state abortion law is challenged. “A law regulating abortion,” he says, “like other health and welfare laws, is entitled to a ‘strong presumption of validity.’ … It must be sustained if there is a rational basis on which the legislature could have thought that it would serve legitimate state interests. … These legitimate interests include respect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development … ; the protection of maternal health and safety; the elimination of particularly gruesome or barbaric medical procedures; the preservation of the integrity of the medical profession; the mitigation of fetal pain; and the prevention of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or disability.” And whatever way a state chooses to balance those interests is, apparently, OK with him.

Alito argues that abortion should be treated like any other health and welfare law, but also that it is unique because it involves the moral problem of taking a life. Hard to see how he can have it both ways. He also cites abortion’s unique moral dilemma to protest that overturning Roe and Casey does not overturn any of the other cases – relating to contraception, sexual behavior, or marriage equality – that, like Roe, rely on the right to privacy. Nevertheless, his argument sets a precedent for finding a unique moral problem in a given case to carve out exceptions to that right. And he completely ignores the precedents in healthcare regulation – such as patients’ rights legislation – that might provide models for letting women make their own decisions according to their own moral judgment and conscience. Such precedents might inform a more generous and nuanced ground for the “rational-basis review” he proposes.

As is common in Supreme Court decisions, Justice Alito reviews at length the history of common, statute, and constitutional law concerning the question before the court – in this case, regarding abortion. He includes two appendices listing every historical state constitutional provision concerning abortion, and discusses attitudes taken toward abortion in court decisions from the 17th century onward. He also lists, in a footnote, every case in which the Supreme Court has overturned one of its previous decisions, as sources for knowing what grounds the Court has used to overturn its previous decisions. He particularly lifts up the 1937 decision which ended a 40-year pattern of Court decisions that privileged the rights of employers over those of workers; I think he does that because there is broad scholarly consensus that the Court’s prejudice during that time did real damage to public health and welfare. He appears to see a parallel between that era and now. 

I see a different parallel. It didn’t come up in Alito’s review of precedents, because it concerns a bad decision that was not remedied by the Court, but by Constitutional Amendment. In 1857, when passions around the moral issue of slavery were at a fever pitch because a federal Fugitive Slave Law had imposed the protection of slavery on the free states, and Congress was leaving it to citizens in U.S. Territories to decide whether or not they would legalize slavery (this was called “popular sovereignty”), the Court – relying on attitudes that nearly fifty years before were universal, but no longer – stated that persons of color were not citizens, nor did crossing state lines free a slave. That, of course, was the infamous Dred Scott decision. Four years later, a President widely perceived as anti-slavery was elected, and the Civil War broke out. After another four years, as the war raged, the 13th Amendment overturned the Dred Scott decision.

The lesson of this history is that popular sovereignty – what Alito is prescribing for abortion law – doesn’t resolve moral questions. Indeed, if we can’t agree to respect our differences of conscience and moral judgment, it inflames them. New York has said to the anti-abortion faction, “You don’t want to mess with us.” Meanwhile, Texas has taken popular sovereignty to its logical extreme, absolving itself of responsibility to enforce its abortion ban, leaving that to lawsuit vigilantes. And these actions come afternot prior to – a post-election insurrection. I’d prefer we didn’t make a tradition of that.

This month’s Soul Matters theme is Nurturing Beauty. And I want to talk about how we might nurture a beautiful freedom. Popular sovereignty, polarization, insurrection? That’s ugly freedom. I think we can do better.

I recently listened to Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s expanded audiobook edition of his book, On Tyranny, originally published early in 2017. It takes him an hour and 45 minutes to read the original book; the expansion is another 8 hours of insights into Russia’s war in Ukraine. Ukrainian history is his specialization. I would summarize his thesis this way: Democracy is under armed attack abroad, and is being recklessly endangered here in the United States.

Snyder offers an interesting analysis of European and Western political thought over the last century or so. He says that since the French Revolution, politics has been all about visions of the future. In some countries, especially in democracies, politics has often been guided by a sense of inevitability. Because of economic development, or economic integration, democracy will follow. The success of democracy is a product of forces larger than we are, in which we participate as agents. In other countries, especially the more autocratic ones, politics has often been guided by a sense of eternity. There was a golden age in the past, and time is a cycle of devolution and restoration of that ideal, innocent time. Both of these frameworks are traps. 

The “politics of eternity” denies change, and grows to deny truth, because anything that challenges the myth of the golden age, the narrative of shared identity that unites the people, must be denied. Alito’s long review of attitudes toward abortion in the common law, constitutions, and legislation has the flavor of this. He seems less to be saying “this is how it was” than “this is who we are.” That’s one thing I have in mind when I say that his tone is unfortunate. Snyder says that in Russia, after the Revolution, politics took on a tone of inevitability, because Marxism has that tone. But by the 1970s, when all economies were stagnating, Brezhnev set a tone of “there is no bright future, this is as good as it gets,” and Marxist hopes were replaced by the Cult of the Great Patriotic War (that is, the feeling of unity people remembered from the days of defending the country during World War II). Putin was formed during that era, and he is now replacing the Great Patriotic War myth with an older myth of Russian origins in the neighborhood of Kiev. 

The “politics of inevitability,” in which we have been caught up, blinds us to institutional problems and failures. We think our institutions will survive anything, because “forces” of history or economics or something else are driving them forward. Americans commonly believe that democracy will flow from the establishment of capitalism, but the current regime of oligarchs in Russia demonstrates there’s nothing inevitable about that, so did the Trump presidency. 

According to Snyder, the way out of these traps – whether of eternity or of inevitability – is the politics of responsibility: personal and social. And that means all the things we have been talking about since the 2016 election: truth, transparency, accountability, democratic participation, community organizing, and so on.

Snyder offers “20 lessons from the 20th century” for preserving and defending democracy. Among them are:

  • defend the rule of law
  • defend institutions – they are vulnerable
  • defend elections
  • remove symbols of hate or tyranny from public spaces
  • remember and practice professional ethics
  • be wary of paramilitaries (including militarized police) – they create lawless zones
  • be your best self – don’t be an agent of tyranny
  • defend diversity – stand out
  • be kind to our language – don’t repeat or reinforce its abuse 
  • believe in truth
  • beware of spectacle
  • make eye contact and small talk with folks you disagree with
  • have a public life – participate in the community
  • have a private life – resolve legal matters, have no hooks, be online less
  • contribute to good causes
  • keep up contacts abroad – have a valid passport
  • listen for dangerous words – like “extremism,” “terrorism,” “emergency,” or “exception”
  • be calm when the unthinkable arrives
  • help your country live up to its ideals
  • be as courageous as you can 

I would say, if you’re doing even a handful of those things, you’re helping make our freedom more beautiful. 

But above all, at this point, breathe, and prepare yourself to calmly – by word and deed – by how you move and are in the world – as courageously as you can – defend and practice democracy.

Amen? Amen.

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“An Early Unitarian View of Jesus” 4/10/2022 (Palm Sunday)

Prayer

Spirit of Life and Love, Justice and Peace,

Today is the 46th day since the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine began, part of an 8-year campaign of aggression and occupation. Ukraine still controls its air space, its besieged cities, though devastated, have not fallen, and its government is still in place.

Amnesty International reports that Russian troops executed Ukrainian civilians. Russian civilians still protest this war. Some Ukrainian refugees are returning from Poland and Romania. And we still pray for the war to end and for Ukraine to be free.

Come what may, O Spirit of Life,

May our government and allies keep their resolve. May that of Ukraine survive. And may the voices of people of all nations be heard.

In the Spirit, by the Spirit, with the Spirit giving power, so may it be. Amen.


Time for All Ages

Wangari’s Trees of Peace” by Jeanette Winter



Reading: “Dandelion” by Ted Kooser



Sermon: “An Early Unitarian View of Jesus”

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Christian Holy Week. You know the Holy Week story. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt, saluted by crowds of people with great expectations for what his arrival meant. They wanted to hear him teach in the Temple, and got their chance. They were also treated to the spectacle of this teacher chasing the merchants and moneychangers out of the Temple. The city’s religious leaders tried to challenge his authority to teach and to criticize, but had little effect, the crowds were so enamored of him. As Jesus and his disciples prepared to share a Passover dinner, those leaders plotted against him. As he prayed, fearing the worst, he was arrested, then brought before both religious and civil authorities, convicted of claiming to be the King of the Jews though he neither confessed nor defended himself, and was sentenced to death by the standard Roman method of execution for treason. His disciples all but abandoned him through all this. He suffered abuse, and then the agony of a slow death. A friend claimed his body and put it in a tomb. Later everyone was surprised the body was gone. A series of sightings and conversations followed, and the world was never the same.

Wangari’s story is similar, isn’t it? She saw that all was not well with the trees. She started to do something about it, and recruited friends to help. She challenged the tree cutters, and suffered abuse. She wasn’t killed, but the world was never the same as her project spread far and wide in Africa.

Faustus Socinus saw this kind of story as a human story. A person sees that something must be done, and acts, but some people aren’t ready for change, because they have a stake in the way things are. They harass, resist, get violent. We know some stories like that, have lived them recently – in the name of George Floyd, for example. Socinus lived that kind of story, too.

He was born Fausto Paolo Sozzini in Siena, Italy, into times that would become more and more dangerous for religious dissenters. His father, who died when Fausto was a toddler, was the eldest of eleven brothers, and as his only son, Fausto inherited a quarter of the family estates at age 17 or so, when his grandfather died, and so became financially independent. Three of his uncles were suspected of “Lutheranism” – as all Protestant ideas were then called – and suspicion also fell on him. About this time, family business took him to Lyons, France, a center of the publishing industry, where his first published work appeared, an interpretation of the opening chapter of John’s Gospel (you’ve heard that biblical text: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”); his interpretation justified the suspicion. At age 23 or so, however, he found protection in Florence in the household of Cosimo de Medici, as a servant of Cosimo’s daughter, Isabella. This allowed him to remain in Italy another twelve years.

He departed for Switzerland at about age 35, and in the nick of time. His patroness, Isabella, was strangled by her husband the next year.  But her brother, now the Grand Duke, guaranteed him the income from his property so long as he published nothing in his own name. He spent about three years in Basel, translating Psalms into Italian verse and engaging in theological debates. He wrote a theological treatise that, though unpublished, circulated in manuscript as far afield as Transylvania, where it inspired Georgio Biandrata to invite him to come help him restrain Ferencz Dávid’s leanings toward dangerously radical religious ideas. He stayed those famous four and a half months in Dávid’s house – to no avail – soon after relocating from Switzerland to Poland, then a land of similar religious tolerance, where he remained for the rest of his life. He found a religious home among the Polish Brethren, or Minor Reformed Church, married, and had a daughter. Forced by a mob to leave the capital city of Krakow, he settled near the Polish Brethren’s academy at Rakow, where – mercifully – he died peacefully in his bed.

Socinus studied law before he studied theology – it is said he preferred writing sonnets while in law school – but he must have achieved some depth of legal understanding, because it shows in his theological writing. A crucial part of how he understood Jesus and his ministry was his absolute rejection of the idea that Jesus had to die as a kind of legal remedy for the injury that humanity’s collective sins have done to God. He wrote that this argument – known as the Satisfaction theory of Atonement – is a greater insult to God than any sin. It makes God a tyrant rather than a parent. It makes God small. Instead, he offered an interpretation of Jesus and his ministry and his death that honored the dignity of humanity, of Jesus, and of God.

Socinus interpreted Jesus as fully human, his distinction from other people being not that he was also divine, but that he was without sin. In the virgin birth, Socinus held, Jesus inherited sinlessness from his mother, but did not inherit divinity from God. What he got from God was an assignment, a mission. He had to live a fully human life, experiencing the joys and the sufferings of the human condition without contributing to his own suffering. This would prepare him for the Office he was to hold – acting on God’s behalf, from Heaven – as the chief priest of the Church. Divine power did not come to Jesus by his birth, as a kind of genetic inheritance, but rather was conferred upon him freely by God when he was resurrected from the dead. He wouldn’t know what to do with such power without training in the full human experience, including death. Once his training was complete, he could assume his divine Office and, as scripture says, “come to judge the quick and the dead” on God’s behalf. (Acts 10:42) His Office is that of Mediator between God and humankind.

I can’t help but see a parallel between Socinus’s dispute with the Satisfaction theory of Atonement and the current debate between punitive and restorative justice. The idea that an insult or injury to God had to be remedied by the death of Jesus is repugnant beyond the mere detail that Jesus died instead of the sinners responsible for the injury. It is not the substitution, but the retribution in kind that is the fundamental problem with the Satisfaction theory. That is exactly the argument we are having with our criminal justice system and its supporters. There has to be a better, less soul-crushing and life-destroying, more humane and growth-fostering way to handle the event of a crime. Similarly, Socinus was saying, there has to be a better way to understand Jesus, his ministry, and his death, than that the whole thing played out to satisfy a kind of divine lawsuit.

Another virtue of Socinus’s interpretation is that it points toward an understanding of faith as something learned from experience and lived into. In his interpretation of the first chapter of John’s Gospel, Socinus makes a point of saying that where the text has been translated as “the Word became [or was made] flesh,” the Greek verb being rendered “became” or “was made” can equally be translated simply as “was” – “the Word was flesh” – meaning that, as Socinus put it, “as the will of a man is made known through words, so the will of God is made known through Jesus.” That is, it is Jesus’s example, his life, how he moved in the world, as much as what he said, that is the divine message.

So, as our neighbors start this week carrying the palm branches that will be made into next year’s ashes, let us remember that Jesus that day walked into a perfect storm of conflicting expectations, hopes, motives, and interests. And the week that followed was full of conflict and violence, ending in what sure looks and feels like the state execution of an innocent man. Justice was not done that week. And we’ve been seeking after justice ever since. Our record of finding it, down the ages, is decidedly spotty.

May our faith, learned from experience and ever something we live into more than have, be a source of wisdom and hope realized in love we share and a greater love we strive for. So may it be. Amen.


Benediction 

Go out into the world in peace; have courage; hold on to what is good; return to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak, and help the suffering; honor all people; 

and may we live into ever greater love.

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“Renewing Our Faith: Honoring Milestones of Membership” 3/20/2022

This morning we will be recognizing new members – including all those who, due to the pandemic, have joined the church but have not yet signed the membership book – and we will also recognize some milestones of membership: honoring those who have been church members for 10+, 25+, and 35+ years. 

It is fitting that we do these two recognitions together. After all, the first milestone of church membership is becoming a member. Without that, the other milestones of membership never come. That initial commitment is, usually, a weighty and deliberate one. It feels serious. Most folks take their time over it. Being a member for 10, 25, or 35 years is a milestone that can sneak up on you. Not so, the decision to join in the first place. And we recognize new members, of course, to welcome them, but also to honor and return in kind their commitment to us.

When we honor the milestones of long-time members, we do so in gratitude for their enduring commitment, of course, and ought probably to feel equally grateful for their forgiveness. After all – and thank goodness – we do not covenant to be perfect. Every long-time member likely carries a memory of having strongly disagreed with a decision or action taken by the congregation or its leaders. No doubt, at some time or other, someone among us has hurt their feelings, or even done them harm. And yet here they are. Something makes that possible. I’d like to think it’s our faithfulness to one another, and to our covenant to be our best selves together. 

Even as we honor those of long tenure among us, we recognize that a tally of years is not the same as our stories. I am aware of three members whose time with us was interrupted by time away from us. Their time away is part of the story of their membership. The how and why of their leaving and returning is not captured in a tally of years, and even complicates that tally. Do those years away count? Simple arithmetic can’t answer the question. Feelings enter into it. With their permission, I’ll tell you who they are and a little about when they left and rejoined. …

I share these stories to underscore that it is our stories – each other’s stories – rather than a tally of years, that is most meaningful to us. 

Now let me place these milestones into a larger context known to church consultants as “the path of membership.” This path begins when one becomes aware that the church even exists, and if you take the path and stay on it, it leads to something that in our tradition we call “eldership” – and that has nothing to do with your age, or even necessarily with how long you’ve been on the path. Here’s what “the path of membership” looks like:

When you become aware that there’s this place called First Unitarian Universalist Church, it’s because something has called the church to your attention. Maybe you pass by the building a lot, and one day really noticed it. Maybe you heard tell of the church from someone: an event was held here that you were interested in, or you read in the press about something that happened here or something the church was doing, or someone you know spoke well of what the church stands for or took a stand on. 

The next step on the path is contact: you decide to attend an event here, maybe it’s a church-sponsored event, or maybe it’s an event by someone renting our  space. Maybe you’re renting our space, or otherwise doing business with us. Maybe you came to a service on Sunday. Or maybe we showed up in our church  t-shirts at an event somewhere else in town that was important to you. In one of these ways you actually met some of us.

Then the next step: you started hanging out with us. Maybe you attended regularly on Sundays, or maybe it was some other regular church event. You dropped a few dollars into the offering plate, or donated some other way. You began to feel associated with us.

All of that led up to the first milestone: affiliating with us, formally becoming a member.

The other milestones happened as you became more engaged as a member. You developed your faith and spiritual practice life. You fulfilled the expectations of members to volunteer and to give financial support. More than just hanging out with us, you committed some of your time as a helper or a leader in the church organization. You do all that, and sooner or later you become an elder among us – that is, you become someone whom other church members trust and seek counsel from. As I say, that has nothing to do necessarily with your age or how long you’ve been among us, but rather with the depth and breadth of your spiritual growth here – how you’ve grown into your best and most fully realized you, and how you’ve grown to have life and have it more abundantly.

In the end, that’s what church membership is about. That’s what we offer one another as we walk in covenant together. That new members join, and that some members stay a very long time, is a testament to our tradition – our way of doing and being church – and to our collective faithfulness to it and to our collective best self. When we pay attention to and recognize the milestones of membership, it is an opportunity also to take stock of ourselves and our faithfulness. How and how well do we make ourselves known in the community so that others may find and share this path with us? How and how well do we mark the path for those who do, so that they may engage fruitfully for their spiritual growth into elderhood among us?

What are our stories about that? I’ve invited five members of various lengths of membership to briefly tell about specific stand-out experiences that illustrate why and how belonging to this church has been and remains meaningful to them. May this sharing inspire us to be curious and to ask each other more often about our stories. …

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“Everyday Salvation” 2/20/2022

TIME FOR ALL AGES

Video

SERMON

Wasn’t that Heineken ad something? Congressman John Lewis used to talk about getting into good trouble; I want to say Heineken got up to some good mischief. They set a few folks up in a situation that brought out their better selves – making friends with a stranger – then surprised them and their new friend by making them confront their not-so-good sides together. And then they opened a space for them to move further toward their best selves together. All the while, they managed to keep a focus on the inherent goodness that exists between and among us all.

Of course, it also put me in mind of the famous “beer summit” at the White House, when then-President Obama invited Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates and Sergeant James Crowley, the police officer who had recently arrested Gates in his own home, to come talk about what had happened between them. 

In 2020, Gates was asked about that “summit” in a New York Times interview. What he described was quite different from the situation Heineken created. Gates said he didn’t at all get a racist vibe from Sergeant Crowley, and that the two quickly agreed that the best thing was to put it behind them and get out of the spotlight. When he was arrested, Gates had just returned from a trip; when he opened the door, Crowley saw a black man surrounded by suitcases. A pattern of burglary at the time involved burglars entering homes with empty suitcases to fill. Crowley had received a call about two black men robbing a house. As Gates told it, when they met at the White House, before they went out on the lawn for a beer, he asked Crowley, “‘Why did you arrest me?’ [Crowley] said, ‘I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to go home to my wife, because I was convinced that your partner was upstairs and he was going to come down and blow me away.’ … So the officer saw a black face, he saw the suitcases: that’s part of a profile,” Gates said. “I was … ‘an already-read text.’ He couldn’t hear me, couldn’t see me. Well, that might be related to police excesses and abuses, but it’s a far end of the scale, and I was able to reverse what happened to me, unlike an Eric Garner. So my whole reaction to my arrest was determined by two things: The attacks on President Obama [who had made public comments calling the arrest ‘stupid’] and my own determination not to claim too much for my own victimization.” 

Gates also shared some comical details about the White House’s concern about the “optics” of the event. He said: “I was at Martha’s Vineyard, and I had been getting instructions from the White House through [my friend] Glenn Hutchins. They told me not to wear a [custom-made] suit. ‘We don’t want it to be about class.’ All of a sudden I was the upper-class black person against the working class. I go, ‘I’m the victim!’ They go, ‘No, don’t wear one of those suits.’ I go: ‘These are the only suits I have. I’m not going out to Sears and Roebuck and buying a suit.’ Then they go, ‘Do not fly down in a private plane.’ Glenn Hutchins owns a private plane. Glenn’s a billionaire. He’s one of my best friends. The only way we could get to Washington was on Glenn’s plane, because there was fog.” Yeah, class was in there, too. It’s always about multiple intersecting identities and multiple intersecting oppressions, isn’t it? I’ll come back to that.

Just before the pandemic changed our everyday lives, the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change published its 2020 report, “Widening the Circle of Concern,” following up on our collective commitment to dismantle systems of oppression embedded in Unitarian Universalist institutions. “Widening the Circle of Concern” is also this month’s Soul Matters theme. So I went back to that report as I prepared for this morning. There’s a lot of food for thought in it, lots to reflect on, lots that evokes feelings that it’s profitable to sound the depths of and work through privately and with others. It’s worth a look, and some feels, I recommend it. “Widening the Circle of Concern.” The UUA bookstore has it. 

You know what the poet Audre Lorde told a class of Oberlin College graduates some 30 years ago? She said, “Learn to use what you feel to move you toward action. … It is our day-to-day decisions, the way … we testify with our lives to those things … we say we believe, that empower us. … There are so many different parts to each of us. And there are so many of us. If we can envision the future we desire, we can work to bring it into being.” 

Sofia Betancourt – the Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt, Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics at Starr King School for the Ministry, a woman of color with past experience as a religious educator and parish minister, she who called our faith a weary, ragged miracle – is Interim Co-President for the Commission for Institutional Change. She cited Lorde’s advice to those graduates when she preached at the 2018 UUA General Assembly’s Service of the Living Tradition.

Her message in that sermon: “A collective wholeness. An unassailable good. That is the kind of [universal] salvation I am here to fight for in the small moments of every single day.” She said: “It is our very Universalism that is at stake when we turn away from the impact that our institutions have on [those] that society encourages us to dehumanize and make small. … We are the inheritors of the legacies of white supremacy, but also of … certainty [about] the possibility of redemption, … [that we are all] called to be the richest expression of humanity’s sacredness. We believe in human capacity great enough, a god loving enough, values strong enough, communities dedicated enough, and leaders humble enough to move us toward redemption. … We are called, collectively, to this great experiment in communal salvation. Whether we arrived in this faith by birth or by choice, our everyday expression of our values in the world matters.” 

“The good news,” she said, “is that we are in control of what we do with our daily living.” 

She talked about integrity: “The work of dismantling oppression,” she said, “… must rest on our faithfulness if it is ever to succeed. … [W]e can never be the bearers of love and justice that the world so desperately needs if [our own institutions and habits are] still perpetuating the very problems we long to solve. … We are called, collectively, to this great experiment in communal salvation. … [O]ur everyday expression of our values in the world matters.”

She talked about walking the talk, being the change we want to see: “Moving in that direction means trying, even when we don’t know how it can ever come to pass. Trying because the struggle itself is holy. It means celebrating the successes that do in fact exist among us, elevating them, and putting them to the service of creating even greater success. At the same time … [showing] that the reality of our failings is not more powerful than the inherent goodness that we teach.”

And indeed, dismantling systemic and habitual patterns of oppression is not something that elite leaders like Henry Louis Gates or Glenn Hutchins or the President or Congress can do for us. Indeed, as the “beer summit” demonstrated, they’re poorly positioned – with all their private-plane privilege – to even set an example. Heineken’s experiment is more like what we need. We need the courage of ordinary good neighbors to cultivate positive relationships across our differences. 

That’s something Together New Orleans is striving toward. All of us who are on its Leadership Council have committed to getting together, one-on-one, with two others in the group every month, for a get- acquainted conversation to learn something about each other’s personal story. The idea is that by laying that kind of foundation – of knowing each other’s stories and where we’re coming from – that part is like building the bar and bar stools in the Heineken video. Then we’ll be ready to confront differences together when they arise – and surprise us – while we’re working together later on. 

Talking to us about the importance of laying this foundation of trust, Together New Orleans’s lead organizer, Brod Bagert, asserted: “Most people don’t see themselves as active agents in the realm of social power and decision-making. They don’t.” But, he argued, with this foundation of mutual trust – based on knowing each other’s stories, passions, and commitments – folks begin to see and to feel their way to becoming active agents together, and to having real, collective influence to bring about change. 

And really, that kind of foundation of trust is also the foundation of church life. The time we spend together getting to know each other, being curious about each other, whether it’s social time or time spent working together on a church project or ministry, learning to appreciate each other, not just paying respect but feeling it deeply even when we irritate one another: that’s the basis for that mutual support for spiritual growth that we speak of and believe is possible – perhaps uniquely possible – in a gathered faith community whose bond is not to a creed, but to one another, in a covenant to walk together in the spirit of mutual love toward the ideal of beloved community

That’s what Sofia Betancourt called “the weary, ragged miracle that is our living tradition,” and she’s right, it can feel that way sometimes. But I think the trick is that, when we feel all ragged and weary, to picture ourselves on a camping trip. We’re not striving to be ragged and weary, we’re just having a ragged and weary experience together that puts us in touch with precious things, things analogous to nature and our own bodies and the silence of evening – or rather the absence of noise that drowns out the sounds of nature and the night. Taking time to connect, to be curious, to understand and appreciate one another is, like a camping trip, an opportunity to set aside distractions and attend to being, and being with, and to meaning and our ultimate value commitments. “A collective wholeness. An unassailable good.” The kind of salvation we can work toward and fight for in the small moments of every single day.

Thirty years ago, Audre Lorde also said this to those Oberlin graduates: “Change did not begin with you, and it will not end with you, but what you do with your life is an absolutely vital piece of [the] chain. The testimony of your daily living is the missing remnant in the fabric of our future.”

May we lean into our curiosity and appreciation of one another, and so lean into trust. May we have the kind of trust and relationships that make us feel safe enough to confront and accept our less-good sides together, and so support and encourage one another toward spiritual growth and our best selves. 

So may it be. Amen.

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“Best Intentions” 1/30/2022

This morning I’m taking up this month’s Soul Matters theme, “Living With Intention.” Recently I came across a prayer that expresses well how I want to approach this theme. It goes:

Dear Lord, So far I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I’m really glad about that. But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed. And from then on, I’m going to need a lot more help.

I have a neighbor at home who plays his TV too loud. It goes on about 4 in the afternoon when the news starts on WDSU. (Yes, I know what stations he watches.) It stays on, and on, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, midnight, 1 o’clock, often as late as 2 o’clock in the morning. And it’s in his bedroom, which has a common wall with mine. 

I think this was a pattern before I moved in, because in one of my first conversations with him, he mentioned that if he was too loud, I should just knock on the wall. Back then, I didn’t notice any noise from him. I think maybe his TV used to be in his living room. Anyway, later on it did arise. So I knocked on the wall. No change. Knocked again. No change. So I talked to him about it, told him knocking wasn’t working. He seemed to hear me and I felt reassured. But the pattern continued, and knocking still didn’t help.

I tried talking to him again, but it didn’t get me anywhere. My other neighbors have tried, too. We live in a small building with four apartments, two up and two down. All of us can hear his TV, even the tenant above me who has no common wall with him. All of our bedrooms are next to his. All of us have tried to talk to him about it. Nothing changes.

One of my neighbors called the landlord about him, even called the police. The landlord doesn’t want to get involved, wants us to work it out. The police don’t want to get involved. Nobody wants to get involved, and who can blame them? I sure don’t. 

As I say, this has been going on for years now, even before the pandemic, long enough for me to develop a strategy. I find that if I turn some music on next to my bed, softly, just loud enough for me to hear, it covers up his noise just enough that I can get to sleep. It usually works, especially if I stay up a while before going to bed. 

If I push myself to get up in the morning, I can have a couple of hours of quiet before he wakes up around 9:30 or so. During the day, I spend my time in my living room and usually don’t hear him from there. Getting to sleep at night has been the main challenge, and as I say, I’ve found a strategy that works most of the time. And as a fallback, I can sleep on my couch.

My loud neighbor doesn’t work, he’s on disability. He hardly ever leaves his apartment. His days are unstructured, except by that TV. His interpersonal skills are low. Possibly he struggles with depression, I wouldn’t be surprised. Or it could be something else. I tried to make friends with him early on, but generally I found that our conversations didn’t connect, or were hard to follow, he seemed to take some things for granted that I wouldn’t, and to make judgments that I would tend to reserve. Also, I experienced him as manipulative. 

Some time back he offered to call and let me know if there was a package by my door, so it wouldn’t get stolen. I appreciated that, until he started scolding me for not taking my packages inside fast enough. It seems his kind gesture was rooted in a lot more anxiety about those packages than I had, though I knew that can be a problem. So I had to let that go. 

I have found that interacting with him in any way often stirs him up in unpleasant ways, which I think is as unpleasant for him as for me. So in the end, I’ve come to look on my self-serving sleep strategy as also a form of kindness to him, a kindness to both of us. I’m picking up a burden I can bear, rather than asking him to regulate his habits in ways he clearly can’t.

So what does all this have to do with living with intention?

In a Facebook group I joined called “Theology Thursdays,” somebody shared a quotation of Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin – she is a dance scholar whose research focuses on 20th-century American concert dance, African diaspora dance performance and aesthetics, and dance education; she said this: 

“In every moment, life is giving us an invitation. I really believe that;” she said, “I really believe that in every moment, life is giving us an invitation to do the things that are the most loving and life-affirming; and that doing the loving and life affirming thing is always the answer when you don’t know what to do, or if you’re feeling unsure.” 

I think that living with intention is like taking up that kind of invitation. It’s not like living with a concrete goal. It’s living with a way of moving and being, whether or not there’s a concrete goal in the picture. Or rather, it’s living into a way of moving and being. It’s forming habits of heart and mind that incline you toward the loving and life-affirming things to do.  

I was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition a while back, when Steve Inskeep did an interview with the singer John Mellencamp. At 70, Mellencamp has released a new album, and Inskeep took the occasion to review Mellencamp’s career. The effect was, it sounded like he was leading Mellencamp in a life-review exercise, in the course of which Mellencamp said a striking thing:

“What I’ve discovered at my ancient age is that we are all in solitary confinement inside our own skins, and we don’t really get to know anybody. … During those moments of crisis in a relationship, the person that you’re involved with, who you thought you knew, always surprises you. And then,” he said, “I started thinking: you know, it’s been that way with everything that I’ve done. The people at the record company would always surprise me. The audience would always surprise me. I was always surprised. I thought I knew what was going on, but as I got older I found out that I don’t have a clue what … is going on. And I think that none of us do. We try to protect ourselves from people, at least I do, and people I know will try to protect their friends, or people, from the worst side of themselves. … [Y]ou’ve been lied to your whole life, just like me,” he said. “They lied to us at the churches, they lied to us in schools, the government is always lying to us, … Once you make that discovery … I don’t even hold people to their word any more. It’s not even fair to them. … We don’t get to know anybody in this world except ourselves, we don’t even know ourselves. I don’t see [that] as dark. … I just see it as looking for the truth of life.”

I have to say, I hope he keeps looking. If he leaves it there, I’m not sure what he’s got that he can live into. I mean, maybe if we keep getting surprised by people, it’s because they’re alive, vital, and growing. That, or we just haven’t been paying attention. And if we don’t talk about the worst sides of ourselves, maybe it’s because that’s not how we want to be known. Maybe it’s because we’re working on that, and trying to be our best selves. It’s a mighty harsh judgment to call that a lie. 

His most striking statement was: “I don’t even hold people to their word any more. It’s not even fair to them.” Most folks I know want to take others at their word, and also want to hold people accountable, and know that those are two different things. You can take someone at their word – especially if it’s about what they intend – without holding them to it, with a realistic awareness that circumstances change, or else things sometimes don’t come together the way we hope. With that awareness, he’s right to say it isn’t fair to hold someone to their word. But it’s always fair to hold someone accountable, because what that means is that you can expect and trust them to give an honest account of themselves, to be transparent, to communicate, to move and be in the world in ways that inspire trust in the midst of ever-present change.

I mean, didn’t Mellencamp see that Brady Bunch episode where Greg tries to hold his parents to their word in a manipulatively rigid way? This is something we generally learn about as adolescents, I would have thought. But then, I do agree with him that people can always surprise you.

And I agree with Dr. Amin that doing the loving and life affirming thing is always the answer when you don’t know what to do, or if you’re feeling unsure. 

Living with intention means, to me, forming habits of heart and mind that incline you toward more loving and life-affirming things. It means having a spiritual practice, and people in your life who help you to be your best, most loving and life-affirming self. And it doesn’t hurt if God helps, too.

Amen? Amen.

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“Reproduction and the Rule of Law” 10/3/2021

The new session of the United States Supreme Court begins tomorrow. On the docket will be a request, made by the Attorney General of the state of Mississippi, for clarification of a ruling by Judge Carlton Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. Judge Reeves’ ruling, upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals, concerned two abortion ban laws passed by the Mississippi state legislature. The first one, passed in 2018, banned most abortions 15 weeks after conception; the second one, passed just a year later, reduced that to 6 weeks. 

You might remember Mississippi’s 15-week ban, because our state legislature passed a similar law the same year, written so that it would go into effect contingent on Mississippi’s law surviving a court challenge. Judge Reeves’ 2018 ruling in Mississippi also struck down that Louisiana law. But then the Mississippi legislature turned right around and passed the stricter 6-week ban. 

Reeves’ order halting this second attempt read: 

“Here we go again. Mississippi has passed another law banning abortions prior to viability. … The parties have been here before. Last spring, plaintiffs successfully challenged Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks. The Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional and permanently enjoined its enforcement. The State responded by passing an even more restrictive bill.”

During the hearing, Judge Reeves remarked: “It sure smacks of defiance to this court.”

Judge Reeves is only the second African American to serve in the federal judiciary in Mississippi. He clerked for the first African American to serve on the Mississippi state Supreme Court. And as a teenager, he cleaned the offices of the white man he succeeded in his present position. He was appointed by President Obama in 2010. His predecessor had been appointed by Ronald Reagan.

He has been a thorn in the side of the Mississippi legislature for years. In 2014 he ruled against the state’s same-sex marriage ban. In 2015 he sentenced three white power activists to up to 50 years in prison for their brutal murder of a black man, his decision a widely publicized speech arguing that the integrated, race-neutral operation of Mississippi’s justice system would be the strongest possible rejection of past racism. In 2016 he halted Mississippi’s Religious Liberty Accommodations Act; this was reversed by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court who ruled that the plaintiffs in the case lacked standing. 

Then, in August of 2020, after these two abortion ban cases, and during the height of feeling and protests after George Floyd’s death, he upheld “qualified immunity” for a white police officer who detained a black man for two hours because he was driving a Mercedes. But as he did so, he criticized the notion of “qualified immunity” for police, calling it an invention of judges (take that, you originalists!), and saying: “The Supreme Court has answered the call of history … most famously when it issued its unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education and resigned the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine to the dustbin of history. The question of today is whether the Supreme Court will rise to the occasion and do the same with qualified immunity.” Perhaps the Court’s conservatives feel compelled to answer, to put this uppity black judge in his place?

Just two months before, the Supreme Court declined to hear 9 cases that sought to re-examine the qualified immunity doctrine. I imagine the Court will ignore “qualified immunity” this term also, but as it “clarifies” Judge Reeves’ rulings, it sits poised to take a side in Mississippi’s political battle. Mississippi’s Attorney General has asked the Court: “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.” The question is scheduled to be taken up on December 1st of this 151st year of the Reconstruction of Mississippi.

I suspect that the Court’s commitment to rule in the Mississippi case was one source of its dithering about the new Texas law. It wants to treat them separately. Its reticence to address “qualified immunity” was likely another: I imagine that even its conservative majority was shocked that this law grants absolute immunity to state officials by taking enforcement of the abortion ban out of their hands altogether. Texas put them in such an awkward place that they did not even put their names to the cowardly, rambling paragraph that announced their evasion of responsibility. Their order to do nothing about the Texas law is indeed, as Justice Sotomayor said, stunning. It is clearly not in the public interest to declare an open season for civil lawsuits – brought by anyone at all, Texan or not – against anyone even marginally helping to facilitate an abortion, anyone minimally trying to love their neighbor by giving them a ride to a clinic. The Court should have enjoined this law, as Chief Justice Roberts said in his dissent. 

Some have likened the Texas law to nullification, the theory that states can enjoin federal laws they deem unconstitutional. But by shifting enforcement from state officials to civil courts, Texas is not so much nullifying as evading federal law. I think it is more akin to the theory of “popular sovereignty” that drew Kansas in the 1850s into a dress rehearsal for the Civil War. “Let the people decide,” says Texas, washing its hands of abortion just as the antebellum Congress did of slavery. That road leads only to lawlessness, fear,  and violence. Eric Berne, in his classic book Games People Play, called that one “Let’s You and Him Fight.” It’s a game, judging by their unowned paragraph, that the Court’s conservatives appear willing to play. 

Carved over the Broad Street entrance to the Orleans Parish Criminal Court building is a quotation from John Adams: “This is a government of law not of men.” Often interpreted to mean that laws should apply to everyone equally – and that interpretation is not wrong – more fundamentally it represents the law’s ideally deliberative character. There are good laws and bad laws, and a good law is a product of listening, reflection, debate, deliberation, and careful consideration of all possible cases and circumstances; it aims to preserve peace and good will as well as justice in the community. It aims to serve the public interest. A good law is wise. 

The Texas law is manifestly unwise. The Mississippi law unwisely intrudes on healthcare and reproductive freedom. The circumstances and timelines of our lives are diverse, and not everyone has been in the position to control their own reproductive choices. For all who have found themselves unable to exercise their own reproductive freedom, and for all who are at the threshold, who have agency and choices still to make about their reproductive lives, a wise law would consider the questions of power and conscience and heartache involved in reproductive choices, and support us all in holding all our neighbors in unconditional love and acceptance. 

May wisdom guide the Court, and each of us. Amen.

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“In A Mellow Tone” 8/1/2021

In a mellow tone / Feeling fancy free

I am not alone / I’ve got company

Everything’s OK / The live long day

With this mellow song / I can’t go wrong

In a mellow tone / That’s the way to live

If you mope and groan / Something’s gotta give

Just go your way / Laugh and play

There’s joy unknown / In a mellow tone

I’ve always liked that song, it’s one of Duke Ellington’s most appealing numbers. Early on I had an intuition that there is wisdom in it, that it was more than just a feel-good song, but it wasn’t until a few years back, when I sat down and read the lyrics closely, that I understood what that wisdom was. And that’s what I want to share with you this morning.

The song has a couple of words in it with more than one meaning, and in each case the more common meaning overshadows the wisdom meaning that gives heft to these lyrics. 

We have to start by looking at the word “mellow.” Its common meaning is just “pleasant,” “smooth” or “soft,” or anyway “not harsh.” This song we’re talking about is a mellow song, within that meaning. But there’s a particular meaning used when we speak of people: we might say of someone that they “mellowed with age.” It means that, with age and experience, they have matured, smoothed their rough edges, learned to keep calmer under stress, get along better with others, that sort of thing. That’s the meaning I think Ellington had in mind.

The other term in this song that can go by us is “fancy-free.” Commonly, we think of (or are influenced by) the idiom, “footloose and fancy-free” when we hear “fancy-free” by itself. Both “footloose” and “fancy-free” came into use in the 1600s, but separately. “Footloose” originally meant, simply, “free to move one’s feet.” In the 19th century it took on a metaphorical meaning, of “being able to make one’s own choices without considering any responsibilities.” “Fancy-free” originally meant “lacking any romantic attachments,” and by the 1800s its sense had broadened to mean “lacking any kind of attachments.” By the 1880s in the United States, these two words had been joined together into one idiom, meaning “free from emotional involvement or commitment to anyone, free to do as one pleases.”

Hiding behind that idiom, though, is another meaning of “fancy.” It’s worth noting that Ellington says nothing in this song that suggests being footloose. On the contrary, he wrote: “I am not alone, I have company.” In company with others, the door is open to commitment. And, unless you’re a little committed, a little bit attached and involved, you don’t have many experiences of things not being OK, of days being long, of having things to mope and groan about, of having times when something’s got to give. Everything the song alludes to pushes against that “footloose” idiom.

An older meaning of “fancy,” used to speak of a work of art – a drawing, painting, or sculpture, usually – referred to something that was “created from the imagination rather than from life.” I think this is what Ellington, the artist, had in mind: “In a mellow tone / Feeling fancy free” – it’s a feeling: feeling free of imagined things that you made up in your own head, instead of drawing from life. In that first line, he’s defining what “a mellow tone” is, what it’s made of, and he goes on to describe what you see when you draw from life: “I am not alone / I’ve got company

And the rest of the song is about how your perception of life is colored in the light of wisdom and maturity gained with age or experience:

Everything’s OK / The live long day

With this mellow song / I can’t go wrong

In a mellow tone / That’s the way to live

If you mope and groan / Something’s gotta give

Just go your way / Laugh and play

There’s joy unknown / In a mellow tone

Amen.

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“Showing Up: Reflections on Four Years of Restorative Justice Ministry” 7/18/2021

Reflections by Rev. Paul Beedle, Janaé McCoy (Transitioning Age Youth Coordinator at CASA New Orleans), and Jodie Manale

Rev. Paul:

It seems like a lifetime ago that the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly was held in New Orleans, so much has happened since then. Yet it was only four years ago that we began a journey of learning, organizing, public witness and direct service, to move our criminal justice system toward restorative justice, rather than merely continue on its established methods of punitive vengeance

At that General Assembly, defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, author of the book Just Mercy, gave the Ware Lecture, the keynote speech of the annual Assembly. That same night, James Curran and Tim Byrne, members of the UUA’s Information Technology staff, were robbed and beaten on Bienville Street. James suffered a broken nose. Tim suffered brain injury and was hospitalized here. 

The next morning, at the beginning of the GA Sunday Worship, UUA President the Rev. Susan Frederick- Gray, told us what had happened. “Throughout the General Assembly,” she said, “we reflected on the narratives and wider systems of oppression that perpetuate both systemic and personal violence. This week, those reflections became personal and proximate.” She recalled Bryan Stevenson’s remarks the night before that “simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.” Susan invited us to hold the attackers “with the universal love” we also hold for our injured friends.

Members of all three New Orleans congregations answered her call. Over the next eleven months, some 30 of us – 5 ministers and 25 laypeople – showed up at court for each stage of the trial process for the four young black men who attacked James and Tim: 21-year-old DeJuan Paul, 18-year-olds Nicholas Pogozelski and Joshua Simmons, and 20-year-old Rashaad Piper. At bond hearings, competency hearings, and other court appearances, we made ourselves respectfully visible and communicated nondisruptively to the prosecuting and defending attorneys who we were and why we were there, giving them copies of Susan Frederick-Gray’s pastoral message about the attack. 

At the same time, we stayed in touch with those in Boston who were helping James and Tim, standing by to help them pursue a restorative approach if they decided they wanted to pursue that. Though they did not want to come back to New Orleans to testify, they did decide that they wanted us to advocate on their behalf for a restorative justice approach for themselves their attackers. And they sent letters to the court to put that on record.

We also got acquainted with Troi Bechet, founder of the Center for Restorative Approaches here in New Orleans, and together we met with then-District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro – a group of about a dozen of us, with Troi and also DeJuan’s mother – to advocate for a restorative instead of punitive approach to the case. But punitive approaches are so ingrained in our justice system that what Cannizzaro heard us asking for was more lenient sentences for them. Indeed, even the UU World, reporting on our work in August of 2018, misrepresented us as seeking lenient sentences. That’s not what restorative justice is about. 

Restorative justice aims not to lock up offenders for a shorter period of time, but to rehabilitate them through reconciliation with their victims and the community at large.  It emphasizes accountability, making amends, and transforming lives by repairing the harm caused by crime, where possible through face to face meetings called “healing circles.” Instead of separating, isolating, and then dumping offenders out of prison, restorative justice allows those most impacted by conflict or wrongdoing to come to understand what happened from each others’ perspectives, and to develop solutions together for justice and well-being, with offenders committing to not ever again inflict such harm on another. They have an opportunity to admit guilt, say why they did what they did, and have a chance to express remorse.  And the victims have a chance to tell them what harm was done to them and the effect it had on them and their families.  If the offendors do all of this and agree to what the victims want, a restitution agreement is drawn up and presented to the court; instead of imposing prison sentences beyond what has already been served, the court orders that the agreement be carried out.

So our first learning was about just how far we have to go to reach that restorative ideal: a long, long way.

All of this public witness and organizing activity happened in the first of three stages on our journey of learning. In the second and third stages, we shifted, from organizing and public witness activity, to service.

Let me digress just a moment to say a little more about approaches to social justice work. The UUA’s Social Justice Empowerment Program Handbook* describes five different approaches to social justice work: Service, where we work to meet the needs of persons in distress; Education, where we work to educate people about the importance of a social issue; Witness, where we endeavor to make public by word or deed our convictions regarding a particular issue; Advocacy, where we work through the legislative process to impact public policy; and Organizing, where we participate in the process by which decisions are made in places of power. The UUA Handbook suggests that a balanced congregational social justice ministry offers “a variety of ways to be involved,” and suggests these five approaches as a gauge for creating and measuring a successful balance. It also suggests that all of these approaches “should include an orientation [toward] healing divisions, dismantling institutional oppression, and acting with accountability.” 

So that’s my frame of reference for saying we shifted from public witness and organizing – making our convictions about restorative justice known publicly by word and deed, and participating in the decision processes in places of power – to service, trying to meet the needs of these four young men when they were sent to prison.

We quickly lost contact with three of the four. Though in the beginning we donated to each of their commissary accounts (prisoners have to buy personal hygiene products and other necessities while in prison, and their families, or others outside the prison, provide the funds by donating to their account), and we ordered them all reading material (prisons allow prisoners packages sent by mail-order businesses), Rashaad Piper was the only one of the four we were able to maintain consistent contact with and to visit in prison. Reflecting on this work early last year, we observed that this was the loneliest work we had done.

If the second stage was the loneliest, the third stage of our journey of learning was the most chaotic: assisting Rashaad with the difficult process of re-entry to society after being in prison – a process further complicated by the pandemic. As we did in the first stage, we sought out community partners to help us with this work, and I think the MVP of our team giving direct help to Rashaad has been Janaé McCoy, Transitioning Age Youth Coordinator at CASA New Orleans (CASA stands for “Court Appointed Special Advocates,” a nonprofit agency that primarily assists children in foster care, including helping those who age out of that system with their transition to adult life). And at this point I’ll turn it over to Janaé to talk about her work and how it is spiritually meaningful to her, and what has come to the fore for her while working with Rashaad. And after Janaé has spoken, Jodie Manale, who has taken the lead role in organizing our Restorative Justice ministry, will offer some reflections.

Janaé McCoy:

[Janaé expressed gratitude for our steadfast support of her work with Rashaad, which has been over and above her average case load of about 21 cases at any given time. She said the spiritual rewards of her work lie in the opportunities to make a difference in young people’s lives.]

Jodie Manale:

What I Have Learned Over This Long, 4-year Journey

First, Janae’ McCoy, you are my friend and Shero!  You and I have commiserated over the phone so many times after being the targets of Rashaad’s rageathons.  Janae’ has gone way above and beyond the call of duty to help Rashaad.  Thank you so much!

I am very grateful to everyone on “Rashaad’s Support Team” for hanging in through this chaotic last several months with Rashaad, which is not over but likely on pause.  It has been hard, messy, and non-linear, but we continue to show up and hope for healing.

We did some amazingly effective community organizing in the early days, and I want to lift up Jolanda Walter, Leslie Runnels, former member Laurence Roberts, Rev. Deanna Vandiver when she was at CELSJR, Rev. Darcy Roake at CCUU, Rev. Melanie Morel-Ensminger, Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen at UUA, and UUA President Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray for their early leadership.  Rev. Paul and Caitlin Shroyer- Ladeira have gone the distance with me, for which I am very grateful. 

My biggest takeaway from this last 4 years is that restorative justice is hard, messy, and non-linear, but we keep “showing up” and hope for healing.

It was impossible to implement in a criminal justice system like the one in Orleans Parish under the former DA that rejected it as a viable alternative to incarceration.  But I will always remember the DA admitting that, “We all have failed these young men!” 

·       Troi Bechet, Jen Pagan and trained volunteers with the Center for Restorative Approaches have been facilitating restorative circles to resolve conflict in the schools for years now.  Their work is slowing down the school to prison pipeline and producing long lasting, positive results.  Troi and Jen have been incredibly generous to educate us and work with us pro-bono to facilitate the restorative process in this case.  I have learned a lot from them, and their work gives us hope.

At this point, I’d like to acknowledge that the concept and process of restorative justice came from the native American practice of “healing circles.”

It takes more than 2 to tango!  For it to be a real healing circle, it needs the participation of the victim and the offender as well as community members who have been impacted and/or who have the resources to help the offender live up to his/her/their responsibility to make amends. I have great respect and admiration for Tim and James for coming to support all of us advocating for the use of restorative justice in their case, and Tim becoming willing to participate in a healing circle by video. Tim stays in touch with me and has continued to send financial support to Rashaad and DeJuan, which I think is amazing! Tim wanted to come down and meet with the 4 young men last year, but the pandemic squashed that.  And 2 of the guys had been released and we didn’t know how to find them.

DeJuan Paul would have highly likely agreed to participate in restorative justice if it had become an option as his public defender was the only one who told his client about it because he had the most serious charges against him and was facing the longest prison sentence. Rashaad learned about it from us little by little over time while at Elayn Hunt Correctional Institute and agreed to participate in a restorative process while at Hunt and again recently. 

Rashaad and “Rashaad’s Support Team” including Rev. Paul, Caitlin Shroyer-Ladeira, and me; Quin Bates – Rashaad’s former CASA advocate; and Joy Bruce and Janaé McCoy with CASA New Orleans participated in our first restorative circle a few weeks ago, facilitated by Jen Pagan. Tim was not involved, and Rashaad is not on good terms with any family members, so it was just us.  It was great to all be together in person for the first time. We had been Zooming, texting and talking by phone. We did some heartfelt sharing, Rashaad identified some needs and goals, and we set some boundaries in both directions. But Tim and James’s voices were missing, and in a few short weeks it all fell apart, again. 

I have come to feel affection for Rashaad, after writing to him, visiting him, and talking to him by phone for so long.  I believed he had promise for learning a trade and becoming a stable adult. He seemed to have some spiritual moorings but I’m not so sure now.  I am sadly at the point where I think we need to detach with love because he doesn’t want to be helped and/or he is not willing or able to help himself.  His “support team” has worked tirelessly this past year, and I think we are all feeling discouraged. 

Some current reasons for hope are:

·       The wide-open DA’s race last Fall resulted in the emergence of a group of partners in the city who focused on much-needed improvements to our criminal justice system including the use of RJ.  Partners included retired Chief Judge Calvin Johnson, the Center for Restorative Approaches, St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church’s Center for Faith + Action, the Carrollton Avenue Network, and a local branch of the Vera Institute for Justice who are committed to holding the new DA’s feet to the fire to expand diversion programs for the convicted including use of the RJ process.  I think Rev. Paul went to some of the meetings, but we just haven’t had the bandwidth to go beyond direct service to Rashaad this past year.  And RJ is being successfully implemented in New York City and some other jurisdictions around the country.  These things give us hope.

Rev. Paul:

Thank you, Jodie and Janaé. 

In closing, I would lift up how important partnerships have been in this ministry. You have heard us mention many individuals and organizations without whom we would not have learned as much as we have or achieved as much. With the help of partners, we made a significant impression on people working in our local criminal justice system just by showing up and reaching out. And we made a difference by showing up consistently to provide material and moral support to Rashaad, and connecting him to people and resources that could help him get back on his feet. 

Relationships are everything in social justice ministry. Among the learnings from our 15-year experience with the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal, a ministry founded jointly and supported by the three New Orleans UU congregations, was that the glowing coal that kept its light shining was our consistency and accountability in showing up for each other and for its more than 30 community partner organizations. The Center’s staff, and many of us, got to know those partners and their stories and their work, and we learned how to show up when our presence would help them achieve their goals. Sometimes showing up involved helping with tasks, but more often it was just about showing up – making white support and common interest visible – as we did in court during the first stage of our work on behalf of restorative justice. 

And that showing up rested in relationships of trust and commitment. It was because we were directly affected, and because we were already a community of trust and accountability, that Unitarian Universalists were able to organize and show up as effectively as we did in 2017. And it was because we reached out and cultivated new relationships of trust and accountability that we have been able to take this ministry as far as we have. 

Now, as we pause to reflect, we would do well to join with our neighbors who are working on restorative justice within a wider framework of criminal justice reform. There are two organizations in particular that are working in different ways in this area that I think would be good partners for us as we discern our next steps. The St. Charles Center for Faith and Action** has developed a network of partners in criminal justice reform, and has had an excellent issue education ministry about it during the pandemic. And Together New Orleans*** has done excellent issue education events as well as effective organizing for a more engaged democracy. Both of these organizations form communities of trust and accountability with whom we would benefit from having closer, more committed ties.

So I encourage you to check those organizations out, if you haven’t already, and consider making friends with some of the folks who are involved with them. As we pause to reflect, let us continue to reach out and to learn. Amen.

* UUA Social Justice Empowerment Handbook

** St. Charles Center for Faith + Action

*** Together New Orleans

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