“We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
We are ever bound in community."

Rev. Peter Raible (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Monday, November 24, 2014

What Comes Next?

My heart is full and I'm holding so many in prayer right now, as I take in the news from Ferguson.
I'm not surprised by the Grand Jury's decision, but I am heartbroken. I am angry. And I'm clearer than I've ever been about how my faith calls me (as a white man) to truly work for racial justice: to deeply understand race, racism, and whiteness, the way it works and moves in the world, and to work for justice.
I also am clear that Ferguson is not about Ferguson. Ferguson is a tipping point, a moment where the question is called, and the question is, "Will white America finally awake up? Will white America finally stand with and follow the lead and leadership of people of color? Will white America truly listen to the stories and experiences of people of color? Will good intentioned white Americans refuse to be silent any longer and reach out to their other white friends and work for change?"
Ferguson is not about Ferguson. Ferguson is about New York City, Cleveland, Sanford, Minneapolis, and countless other cities. Ferguson is about people of color being targeted and killed by police on a regular basis.
For me, as a white man, a husband, a father, and a minister, Ferguson is about the soul of our country. It is a question about which way the arc of the universe will bend. It is about whether we will deepen the racial nightmare we've been living in for the past 400 years or find a way to create a world is which all might flourish.
I go to sleep tonight with prayers reaching across time and space to all those who mourn and grieve, to all those who ache and are weary, and to all those who will rise tomorrow, grounded in righteous love and anger, working to build a new world and a new way.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

#Pointergate and How We Might Respond as Unitarian Universalists

After the past few worship services at First Universalist, many of you have asked, “What’s the call to action? We’re ready to act for racial justice in our community.”
            Today, we have an opportunity to take a small step. Several days ago, KSTP ran a story about Mayor Betsy Hodges “flashing a gang sign” with a "known felon." Of course, the story behind the story is that Betsy Hodges was out door knocking with residents from the North Side of Minneapolis, in a get out the vote effort. Additionally, the Chief of Police, Janee Harteau, was with Mayor Hodges and other North Side residents during the time this photo was taken.  Chief Harteau expressed no concern about Mayor Hodges’ behavior, because it was simply a friendly gesture with a Minneapolis citizen. (For further context: check out the article, “Dear White People: Mayor Betsy Hodges is Not in a Gang,” by Nekima Levy-Pounds.)
              Unfortunately, the story that ran played to some of the worst racial stereotypes out there: the false narrative that young black men are dangerous, are in gangs, and are unsafe.
              As Unitarian Universalists, we believe in the inherent dignity and worth of all people; we believe in welcoming, affirming, and protecting the light in each human heart; we believe that we are called to be Love’s people in this world. The kind of “reporting” that KSTP did is irresponsible, unaccountable, and deeply damaging. Spreading lies and misinformation does not help build the beloved community we dream of. We must demand better from KSTP.  You can call them 651-642-4421 to leave your feedback or Tweet them @kstp. It’s a small step, but our silence does nothing to build the community we dream of.  Our next steps are larger ones, and they are holding our city leaders and the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis accountable to a racial justice vision.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Joining a Circle: Letting Your Soul Catch Up With Your Body

In his book, Sabbath, Wayne Muller writes, "The story is told of a South American tribe that went on a long march, day after day, when all of a sudden they would stop walking, sit down to rest for a while, and then make camp for a couple of days before going any further. They explained that they needed the time of rest so that their souls could catch up with them."

What a powerful image: stopping to rest, so that your soul can catch up with you. Resting, so that your head, heart, and soul can arrive in the same place, at the same time, in some kind of alignment.

Whether or not you believe in a “soul,” surely we all yearn for moments when we can slow down enough to tenderly and gently welcome home all of who we are, all of what we’re carrying. Surely we yearn for those moments of stillness, where our deepest wisdom and knowing emerge, where we can discern the movement of Love in our lives.  

At First Universalist, through our Circles,” we have created dozens and dozens of such spaces to slow down and listen deeply.

Circles are groups of 8-10 committed participants who come together with a trained leader. These groups are grounded in the spiritual practices of deep listening and open-hearted reflection. Each gathering offers an opportunity for deeper connection: connecting with our own inner truth, connecting with other people, and connecting with something greater than ourselves.
We offer Circles for NewcomersCircles for Spiritual Deepening (including 12 Step Spirituality for Unitarian Universalists, Mostly Silence Meditation, and Spiritual Practices and Support for Those Living With Depression and Other Mental Health Concerns),and Community Circles, which offer a space to dive deeper into the message from Sunday morning.

We live in a time when we have millions of data points in our life, all clamoring for our attention. We are in the midst of an information overload, that taxes our bodies and spirits.  

The practice of sitting in a Circle, of intentionally slowing down, gives us time to see ourselves and our lives more clearly. Sitting in a Circle can awaken our hearts in ways we scarcely can imagine, as the non-essentials fall away, and the information that really matters, begins to emerge. 

Circles fill up fast; take a look at what we’re offering, and sign up by September 21st. If you have questions, or aren’t sure what Circle is right for you, please talk with Rev. Elaine Aron Tenbrink, our Minister of Membership and Adult Ministries, at Elaine@firstuniv.org.

This fall, let your soul catch up with you body; give yourself the gift of participating in one of our Circles.

I’ll see you in church,

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blessing of the Backpacks

        The Rev. Jacqui Lewis, a prophetic voice of our time, says this about the impact of racism on all of us, but in particular, the impact of racism on children and young men of color: “These are our children…and they are in danger. We have to fix this; we have to address the ways that racism in the United States is like a virus that mutates and continues to infect us. Children are not born to hate, nor are they born to fear. But adults who have the virus can harm them, and children can catch the virus, too. It can feel overwhelming to address racism, but we have to do it.”
As the grief, turmoil, and protests continue in Ferguson, MO, and around the country, I remember that Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot six times after some sort of encounter with the police, was supposed to have started college this past Monday, August 18th.

If you have a child (or children) in school, you are familiar (or are preparing for the first time!) for this fall time ritual, the beginning of the new school year.
Our son starts kindergarten next Wednesday; he’ll board the bus, wearing his backpack, carrying our hearts with him, as he begins his first day. This scene, in various communities, in various ways, repeats itself around the country; parents will drive a young adult to college; parents will prepare for life with a middle-schooler, or a high-schooler; and some parents will watch as their child boards the bus for the first time.
These are poignant, tender days; I am aware of those among us who have lost a child, a child who would now be in high school, college, or beginning a new job this fall. I am aware of the families, like Michael Brown’s family, who have lost young men because of the virus of racism. And I am aware of all the living children – all of our children, of all colors – who are very much in need our love, support, and blessing, so that they might thrive.  
Next Sunday, at our 10 a.m. service, we will be holding our “Blessing of the Backpacks” serviceChildren and youth are encouraged to wear their school backpacks to church, so that we can include them in the Backpack Blessing ritual. If you are able, please bring an extra backpack to donate for students at Augsburg Fairview Academy. We will bless these backpacks, too.
        As we move toward this ritual, ready to bless the backpacks and the lives of those most precious to us, let us remember those children and young adults no longer with us. Let us remember Michael Brown, and the many others like him, who have no backpack to bless.
        Let us remember the preciousness of all children, and let us continue to work for a world of equity, justice, and compassion.
        May it be so.  


Friday, August 15, 2014

Love Reaches Out

           Robin Williams and Mike Brown died two days apart.  Robin Williams was 63 and took his own life on August 11th. Michael Brown was 18 and was shot to death by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9th. Both deaths break my heart. I imagine the pain and suffering that Williams must have lived with. I know that many of us live and struggle with such pain and suffering, and despite apparent successes, or the happy faces we wear, inside we ache or are numb.

And when I see pictures of a once living, smiling Michael Brown, I can’t help but think of a once living, smiling Trayvon Martin. While all of the details are not yet clear, what is clear is that once again, a young, unarmed black man has been shot. I grieve for everyone involved, including the police office who pulled the trigger. I can only begin to imagine the grief and anger that Brown’s family and the Ferguson community feel.  Despite strides made around racial equality in this country, the fact remains that much of this country was build upon the bodies of black men, women, and children, as well as the resources and land of Native Peoples. We are still living with the aftermath of centuries of slavery and violence against people of color.  We are still living with a racial narrative that says black men are dangerous and violent, their lives worth less than white lives.

Depression and despair are real. Racism, and the daily verbal, emotional, and physical violence against people of color, is real, as well. Our broken hearts, anger, and suffering are real. So when we are suffering, let us remember that we need not suffer or struggle alone. If you are carrying a great sadness about Williams, Brown, or anything else, please reach out to me, or Rev. Jen, Rev. Elaine, or Rev. Ruth.

 At First Universalist, we have promised (covenanted) to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.  We can’t bring back Williams or Brown, but we can reach out to one another; we can strengthen our commitment to work for a racially just world; we can break the silence around depression and mental illness. Even with broken hearts, we can reach out to one another in love. 

 *The title of this post is inspired by this video: