December – From the Minister

Courageous Conversations about Racism

In this turbulent time, we are called as Unitarian Universalists, and as human beings, to speak of our own experience of race, and to speak out about injustice, oppression and racism.  Thus do we build beloved community.

For us, the hardest speaking may be the most intimate: courageous conversations with loved ones, friends, and neighbors, all the people we see daily, about what we believe, what we hope for, the work on anti-racism and anti-oppression to which we are now committed.

Here in Minnesota, we have seen firsthand what courageous conversations can accomplish.  Speaking one by one with family, friends and even strangers, each of us helped make marriage equality the law of the land.

And so we begin.  Here follow a prayer for the journey, and a few suggestions, for starting the conversation with those you love right now.   Also below: the meditation which began the Sunday sermon on December 14, framing the context of this urgent, holy work.

A Prayer for Difficult Conversations by the Rev. Meg Riley, Unitarian Universalist

May our shared values be our compass,
Helping us to remember why we are on this spinning planet,
Helping us to navigate here in this dense thicket.
I know we are both struggling,

so may we have compassion for one another.

May our shared memories be our sustenance,
Nurturing us along as we are weary and wary on this rocky road,
Providing strength to go on.
I know we are kindred, so may we overcome this obstacle to kinship.

May our shared commitments point to our destination,
Imagining a place big enough to hold us all,
Desiring to live where love casts out fear.
I know we both want to be there, so may we touch it now.

May every word I speak be filtered through my heart.
May every word I hear be filtered through my heart.
May my inner judge sit this one out.
May I breathe into lovingkindness, for myself and for you.

And may I accept that we will both do this imperfectly.


Beginnings for beloved conversations about race

  • I’m thinking of the news from Cleveland, Staten Island, Ferguson.

My heart is broken over this because…

  • This year my church will mark the 50th anniversary of the Selma march. Do you remember those days?

What was that like for you then?

  • When did we stop talking about race?
  • What must those parents be feeling? What would it be like to be afraid whenever children go out?
  • How did you feel, when you saw all those people in the streets?
  • In the coming year I hope…
  • In the coming year, I pray…
  • I am committed to…


Advent Meditation in a Troubled Time

We come now into the season of silences and stillnesses:

winter starlight
winter moon
winter snowfall
winter dark,
even in the day-time, falling all around us in the early afternoon like a shawl of thickly-woven woolen quiet.

Our days, our lives, our heads, our phones and screens are very noisy.
We long for silence,
we strain to hear it, listen for it in the midst of
shopping and planning,
careening from this event to that celebration,
from school concert to holiday spectacular:
busy things we love each year
and others that we really don’t;
the deafening bells
and soul-deadening seasonal music at the grocery store,
the sugared-energy of normally nice children who somehow got the memo
that to be human in December in America is to want more stuff;
the pulsing, incessant anxiety of not-enough-money-not-enough-time;
the general crabbiness of grown-ups;
the frantic commute on slick roads made treacherous by ice and short tempers –

We long for the silence:
winter starlight
winter moon
winter snowfall
winter darkness gentled just enough by quiet candles on the table,
Advent wreath, menorah,
just enough soft light to coax memories back in,
of winters past and loved ones gone,
all present in the heart.

We come now into the season of stillness and silence,
weary and ready for old stories and old music
promising us peace on earth, to all good will,
all the old carols of comfort and joy…

When suddenly, what to our wondering eyes and ears should appear?

Suddenly, and inconveniently,
we are reminded again,
and we are surprised to be reminded
(in the middle of Thanksgiving and now it’s almost Christmas, almost Hanukkah, almost the lovely silent winter solstice),

we are reminded, again,
and should not be surprised,
that this year there can be no silence,
because everywhere around us people are screaming and shouting
and praying
speak up, stand up, hands up…
without justice there can be no silence.
There can be no peace –
and weary as we think we are,
we know our weariness is privilege,
and so we rise up singing other sacred songs,
songs insisting that we cannot rest,
we who believe in freedom,
we cannot rest until it comes
And we quietly know,
despite what we might rather believe,
we do quietly know in this season of waiting, this season of darkness and light,
that unlike messiahs in mangers
and lamps that keep burning for eight nights with oil only sufficient for one,
we know that unlike these ancient miracles,
the miracle of freedom, of justice, of true peace on earth
will not just come, like a star in the sky or sent by God’s hand,
but we have to make it ourselves,
this miracle of freedom and justice and peace,
with human hands and human hope and human will and courage.

We come now into the season of holy stillness, deep silent nights,
and the stillness is shattered
by the stony, tone-deaf, loud and clear silence of two grand juries in rapid succession.
And that ominous silence,
those failures to indict,
that silence is shattered in turn by the voices of thousands and thousands,
hundreds of thousands and millions of people on Staten Island and in Ferguson,
St. Louis and New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, Detroit, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Berkeley, Boston, St. Paul, LA – cities, small towns and campuses – London, Paris, Tokyo, Palestine:
young voices at the forefront,
very raw and crystal clear,
and older voices also,
black voices at the forefront,
also crystal clear,
and other voices also.

What does it sound like when millions of human beings whisper all at once, “I can’t breathe?”

At this time of year,
it sounds like the singing of angels,
a heavenly host sounding glad tidings which shall be for all people:
for unto us our children are born,
the light of the world,
and they shall not be shot dead, unarmed;
they shall not be extra-judiciously executed by a massively militarized policing policy that has spread from city to city and state to state like a virus of paranoid power,
a new slaughter of the innocents for a new and fearful age;
they shall not be stopped and frisked,
guilty until proven white;
they shall not be profiled in their own streets, in their homes, their cars,
or on the way to their own weddings,
or while playing in the park,
or while buying Skittles in their sweatshirts in the afternoon in Florida,

and it will not matter if they are so-called “good”  kids, college bound, never any trouble, or normal kids who are not picture perfect, or if they’re big or small, or grown men selling single cigarettes (which is not a capital offense) or what they’re wearing, or whether they are simply twelve years old –

none of this will matter
because they will each be known and recognized by their given name,
which is child of God,
same as your name, same as mine,
however you translate it theologically.

They shall not be shot because they are black,
nor sent by the millions upon millions to ruin in jails for stupid crimes in the tidal wave of mass incarceration known now as the new Jim Crow.

They shall not be killed and we shall not be moved.

That is what that whisper sounds like,
out of the deep silence,
the frozen, almost impenetrable silence of institutionalized and incorporated racism:

that is what democracy sounds like.

A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping: Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

So said the prophet Jeremiah.

In this cold climate of indifference,
we can’t breathe.