2016-02-29

UUs and BlackLivesMatter

BLM & UU, part 1

Prayer
“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers. But to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain. But for the heart to conquer it. Let me not look for allies in life’s battle-field. But to my own strength. Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved. But hope for the patience to win my freedom. Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone. But let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.” --Rabindranath Tagore (SLT #519)
A Nationwide Movement Among Unitarian Universalists

What I’m really going to talk about is Unitarian Universalism. In two weeks (on Sun Mar 13), we’ll have a guest speaker here, King Downing, who will preach during our service and offer a forum after the service. Mr. Downing will provide a more insider’s perspective on the driving forces of the Black Lives Matter movement itself. Today, I’m going to talk about Unitarian Universalists.

Who are we? What is this thing that we do here, this thing called Unitarian Universalism?

And why are Unitarian Universalists across the country drawn to support the Black Lives Matter movement? We really are so drawn. Black Lives Matter is sweeping Unitarian Universalism like same-sex marriage did starting about 15 years ago, only this time, it’s taking a little more courage. At our denominational website, uua.org, there’s map showing the more than 130 congregations across the country who have put up Black Lives Matter banners for public display. (See it HERE.) We have reason to believe a lot more congregations are doing this but haven’t gotten on the map yet.

Right here in the New York Metro district, which extends as far north as Kingston, and as far south as about 2/3rds of New Jersey, the latest report from our district executive, Andrea Lerner Perry, is that the following congregations are displaying Black Lives Matter banners:

Plainfield, NJ
Fourth Universalist in Manhattan
Community Church, Manhattan
Princeton, NJ
Lincroft, NJ
Montclair, NJ
On Long Island, our Huntington, NY congregation reports “our board voted yes, . . . the banner is ordered and going up soon.”
Our Staten Island, NY also reports: voted yes, not yet hung.
In Garden City, NY there’s a wayside pulpit sign saying “Black lives matter because all lives matter”

Right here in Westchester County, banners are up at our congregations in:
Hastings-on-Hudson,
Mt. Kisco, and
Mohegan Lake.

Congregations in the Metro New York District where putting up a banner is under consideration include:

Paramus, NJ
Ridgewood, NJ – they’re voting in April
Summit, NJ – also voting in April.
Brooklyn, NY
Danbury, CT
Here in Westchester: Croton-on-Hudson. They’re voting in June.
Westport, CT says they plan to focus on racial justice next year, and this year they’ve been focusing on immigration.
The Somerset Hills, NJ congregation sent in this report:
“not at a point of either board or congregational vote. Energies and leadership are focused on launching and executing a successful Beloved Conversations series this spring -- out of which we hope enthusiasm for BLM activism will emerge more organically. There are black lives matter, black lives matter to unitarian universalists, bracelets available for people to pick up and wear, as well as black lives matters stickers for church name tags.”
And also in the “under consideration” column for the Metro New York Unitarian Universalist District is:
White Plains, NY.

Why is this movement taking hold in our churches, fellowships, societies, congregations? Because it’s an important movement that really is advancing the cause of equality and justice, because equality and justice are Unitarian Universalist values and we believe in living our values, and because Unitarian Universalism has a chance here to make a meaningful contribution.

There is endemic and invidious discrimination against African Americans. Over and over, in a multitude of ways small and large, policy and practice in this country presupposes that black lives don’t matter – from the way we segregate our schools, to the way we segregate our housing, to the way we segregate water quality – from the different treatment by police to the different treatment by bankers, salesmen, legislators, and many media.

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "BLM & UU"
See also
Part 2: White Supremacy is a Spiritual Wound
Part 3: Afflicted or Comfortable? Yes.

2016-02-21

What If You Owned Everything

Desire, part 3

You could live at Downton Abbey!
The previous post presented one thought experiment. Here's a second thought experiment:

Suppose you awoke tomorrow morning to find yourself the only human on Earth. Space aliens have spirited everyone else away, leaving only you. There’s enough food in cans and deep freezes to ensure you a lifetime of plenty to eat -- and the orchards will continue to bear fruit in season, and let’s say that electricity and plumbing somehow continue to work without people maintaining them. At the gas pump, you can swipe your credit card to dispense gasoline, but of course you never get the bill.

You now, essentially, own everything. You can take any car, live in any house. You can stroll into the most expensive fashion boutiques and pick out any clothes. You can drive down to Washington, DC if you want to, get the Hope diamond out of the Smithsonian, and wear it around.

At first, perhaps, you might do some of these things: live in a palace, wear the most expensive clothing, a Rolex watch, sip the most expensive wines, drive around in an Italian sportscar or a Rolls Royce picking up the greatest art works from museums to hang in your palace.

I think you’d fairly quickly tire of all this, though, don’t you? Before long you’d be back in a smaller house: cozier, easier to keep clean. You’d wear any old comfortable thing, or stroll around in pajamas all day. If that.

What this shows us, again, is how much impact other people have on our desires. We dress, choose a house, a car, a wristwatch with other people in mind. We spend large percentages of whatever we have to project an image calculated to gain the admiration of other people – or, better yet, their envy. To finance all this, we might spend our adult life in a job we hate – pretending to love it, because, after all, it’s not very admirable to be stuck in a job you hate. Status and social position are very powerful desires.

Arthur Schopenhauer, a 19th-century German philosopher, wrote that
“almost all our sufferings spring from having to do with other people....The [Greek philosophers known as the] Cynics renounced all private property in order to attain the bliss of having nothing to trouble them; and to renounce society with the same object is the wisest thing [one] can do.”
Our desires are like an headstrong five-year-old inside our psyche: a child who “never tires of whining, whose whining can’t be avoided” (Irvine).

We are like the parents who give-in, who find that the only way life will be tolerable is to give the child what it wants most of the time. Good parenting, though, we know, while it does mean saying ‘yes,’ a lot, also means standing fast on ‘no,’ sometimes – for the sake of the child’s and the family’s long-term good. And, often, it involves skillful negotiated substitution:
"No, you can’t have that candy bar now. You’ve already had one today. I want to respect that you are hungry. I hear that, and I share your concern about that. We do have fruit available. And, you may have another candy bar tomorrow.”
Or we bargain:
“Tell you what, if you’ll clean up your room and empty all the trashcans in the house, you can have the candy bar.”
Learning to wisely live with our desires is a lot like learning to wisely parent a child. To get good at it means getting good at recognizing when indulging is unwise, and, in those cases, getting good at using substitution and bargaining with ourselves.

For many adults, that whining inner child is whining for more success – which means recognition by others of accomplishment.
“Success is very much like a drug: it makes you feel good; you don’t know what you’re are missing until you experience it; once you experience it, you want more; and in your attempts to recapture that first high, you will have to resort to ever bigger ‘doses.’ And if success is like a drug, some drugs are like success: a cocaine high, [as I understand], very much resembles the rush of success.” (Irvine)
We are built to crave that drug of success: we are born to be addicted to it. Yet, it is a never-ending treadmill – and it never allows us to be satisfied, content with our life. We are hijacked by desires many of which will not improve our lives. Denying and repressing them just makes them stronger. Noticing and looking at them, though, weakens them. Many times, in the light of conscious attention, they simply vanish.

Some years ago a friend of mine discovered one day that she thought it would be really cool to own a hummer – one of those tank-like vehicles that were unaccountably popular for a while. I was appalled, but tried not to show it -- tried to be nonjudgmental -- as she told me about it. After a week of dragging her friends around to showrooms to gaze lovingly at these beasts, some of those friends were able, gently, to muse with her about where that desire was coming from. When she carefully examined it – with an open curiosity about where it might have come from -- it just vanished. Not all our desires will do that, and we wouldn’t want them to. But some of them will.

Gaining liberation from the desires that don’t make our life better takes some time, some effort, some work. In the end, though, it will take less time, effort, and work, than pouring our lives into the desire treadmill that never satisfies. As the philosopher William Irvine argues:
“If we like what the Zen Buddhists have to say about mastering desire, we might want to spend hours in silent meditation. If we like what the Amish say, we might want to join an Amish community (if they will have us). If we like what the Stoic philosophers say, we might want to spend time studying their writings. But having said this, I should add that the time and effort we spend trying to master desire are probably considerably less than the time and effort we will expend if we instead capitulate to our desires and spend our days, as so many people do, working incessantly to fulfill whatever desires float into our head.” (On Desire 8).
There’s another desire in there – so often buried under the constant scream of various other day-to-day desire – and that’s why, I think, we come to worship on Sunday morning, whether we quite consciously know it or not.

We probably understand, cognitively, that the path to happiness, well-being, contentment is not to have what we want but to want what we have. To really do that, though -- to want all and only what one has -- is a rare thing. To perceive sacred mystery in what we have right here, to catch a whiff of the holiness of life, helps us get to that place of wanting just what we have.

Maybe you’re a single parent who had a particularly frazzled week. Your child had a sore throat this week, which made you late for work, where the boss scolded you, and you were so grumpy you started an argument with a co-worker. Now it’s Sunday morning, and, rather against the odds, you have managed to make it to worship – hoping that it will somehow help you hold together the competing demands on your life. Your minister has given you some things to think about: some of it mildly disturbing (Maybe my coworkers are making more than me. Am I only three spontaneous desires away from a Trappist monastery?); some of it mildly amusing (imagining wearing the Hope diamond around -- in my pajamas); some of it potentially helpful (I can negotiate and bargain with my own desires the way a parent does with a child. I can stop and investigate the nature of my desires and where they might be coming from.)

And at the end he reminds you of what you know:

Life is shot through with sacred mystery. Your frazzled days of rush and frustration are holy, even at the moments of highest stress.

The best thing about desire is that it energizes us to engage with this wonderful, wonderful world. The worst thing about desire is that its constant screaming obscures from us the wonder of what we have.

Standing in the place of wonder, of love for just what is, a new and peaceful strength comes to us. Desires arise, then, and do not so instantly seize control, but await our assessment: Is that really going to make my life better? If so, OK. If not, is there another way to address the deeper need that desire came from?

To open to the presence of holiness all around us is our quietest, greatest, most important yet most easily ignored, desire. May we not ignore it.

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Desire"
See also:
Part 1: Streetcars Named Desire
Part 2: Desire, Hope, Status

2016-02-20

This Week's Prayer

Dear Spirit of Life and Love:

We know we crave understanding, affection and recognition. Let us, then, be not stingy in extending these gifts to others. Let us not neglect to offer kind words, take time to listen, to hear and empathize.

And let our compassion extend also to those suffering out of our sight.

We remember those who suffer because to forget them is to die inside. Our hearts go out to those bowed down by modern slavery. In Brazil, 340 companies have been fined for using slave labor, in sweatshops, on farms, ranches, and timber, construction, and charcoal production. In Uganda, children are trafficked and forced to work in cattle herding, stone quarrying and brick making, lured into prostitution, and abducted to fight in rebel armies.

We remember those who suffer because to forget them is to die inside. Our hearts go out to those in limbo as they travel far from home, seeking for safety: 900 migrants were rescued near the Greek island of Lesbos. This week Austria imposed a limit of 80 asylum applications a day, and a maximum of 3,200 people will be allowed to travel through the nation.

We remember those who suffer because to forget them is to die inside. Our hearts go out to those who hunger and thirst. As many as 49 million people in southern Africa could be affected by a drought. One million African children are already severely malnourished.

Our hearts go out to pregnant parents fearing for the life chances of their future children as the Zika virus spreads across Latin America, and the number of children born with microcephaly continues to rise.

And our hearts also go out, in gratitude and joy, for all the aid workers and medical staff and social activists dedicating their lives to ameliorating these conditions.

Our hearts go out also to all those who are carrying hope and adventure in their hearts – for example, the more than 18,000 young men and women who in the last two months applied to NASA to be astronauts. May we, too, boldly go where our hearts call us.

Spirit of life and of love, these be our ardent wishes:
To give more generously of ourselves,
To see ourselves with humility and others with understanding.
To be courageous in risking love.
And that the work of our hands will follow the compassion of our hearts.

2016-02-18

Desire, Hope, Status

Desire, part 2

Desire.

What do you want?

The question reminds me of the scene in the 1989 film, “Field of Dreams,” where Kevin Costner asks James Earl Jones, "what do you want?"

Costner has gone to see the reclusive writer played by Jones. Jones tries to chase him away, but Costner prevails upon him to go to a baseball game. They’re at the game, standing in front of the concession stand when:
Costner: “So what do you want?”
Jones: “I want them to stop looking to me for answers, begging me to speak again, write again, be a leader. I want them to start thinking for themselves. I want my privacy.”
Costner (pointing to the concession stand menu): “No, I mean, what do you WANT?”
Jones: “Oh. Dog and a beer.”
It’s wonderful to see Jones’ character relax into the present. There he was getting into his familiar wind-up about people, with the unreasonable things they do and want – these people this and those people that. What a relief it always is to set that aside -- to come back to: what’s right here. Why, it’s a baseball game, with concessions in the offing. There is nothing to want more complicated than, “dog and a beer.”

Desire seems to take us down the tracks that it wants, without our choosing. Can we ever get off of the streetcar named "desire" -- or do we only switch from one line to another? Desires pop into our heads, seemingly out of nowhere. We don’t choose our desires, we discover them.

Through our long evolutionary history, desires that enhance reproductive success spread and grew -- and those are the desires we inherit, built into us. Thus we desire, for instance, status – because status gives access to healthier mates, more food, more protection, more assurance of healthy children to carry on our genes. Here's our problem: restless, unsatisfied anxiety to always get more, to never be satisfied, facilitates reproduction better than being happy, content, and satisfied does. What a predicament! Where’s the hope for us?

Oddly, hope might lie in the fact that desires are usually competing with each other. Does the organism go looking for food, or seek safety from some danger, or seek a mate? Once there are multiple options, then there are desires. Something has to determine whether the organism will seek food, safety, or a mate, and we name that something “desire.” Desires are there to compete with each other to determine what you will do. So if the food desire is shouting louder than the safety desire – because it’s been a while since the animal ate, and there are no signs of danger – then the animal will usually go about trying to rustle up some grub. Your desire for another piece of pie competes with your desire to be trim and svelte. Your desire for job success – and the things that go with that – competes with your desire to sleep in on Monday morning.

Because desires compete, there’s hope for us for a kind of liberation. It’s true we don’t choose our desires, we discover them. But with those desires in competition, we can choose which one to follow. The desire that happens to be yelling the loudest doesn’t have to win. We can, if we work on it, bring thoughtful intentionality to our desires, and thereby reduce the attraction of the desire that happens to be loudest at a particular moment, and increase the influence of quieter desires.

Let's say a desire intrudes itself on me. "Pizza!" I can ask myself, "Where did that come from?" Or, somewhat more expensively, suppose I discover this desire: “I think I’d like to own an original Van Gogh.” I can turn the light of attention on the desire. I can explore where it might have come from.

The young Thomas Merton was, in his college years, a hard drinker who ran with a fast crowd and fathered a child out of wedlock. He was, in his own words,
“an extremely unpleasant sort of person – vain, self-centered, dissolute, weak, irresolute, undisciplined, sensual, obscene, and proud. I was a mess.”
Then, out of the blue, he felt a desire to convert to Catholicism. He took instruction, got baptized, and became a Catholic. Shortly thereafter, he got another spontaneous desire: to become a priest. He tried the Franciscans for a while. And then a third desire: to be a Trappist monk. He didn’t know where the desire came from, but there it was: powerful, irresistible, clear.

As William Irvine suggests, there is something very disturbing about Thomas Merton’s story.
“It raises the possibility that we are all just three spontaneous desires away from life in a Trappist Monastery.”
This could be you. When it comes to making our peace with ourselves, making our peace with being creatures filled with desires imposed upon us and out of our control, the first step is noticing. Just step back and say: "Ah, there’s that desire."

And bring a curiosity to it: "Where did you come from, desire? You are legitimate. I will not deny your presence or try to repress you. But maybe you need not be indulged, either."

Let me talk about one particularly significant desire – one which we aren’t generally proud of, but which is very powerful: social position, status. In order to move toward bringing more consciousness and awareness to our own desires, we’ll need to confront just how much our social position is a big part of what we want.

To illustrate the power of our concern over social position, let me ask you to imagine this scenario:

You work in an office, and one day you
“receive an anonymous letter listing the salaries of the people in the office in which you work. Your salary listing is correct, but you notice that you are way down on the pay scale. In fact, people who have been there a shorter time and have less experience than you nevertheless draw a bigger salary. You are angry and depressed. You consider quitting. Then you notice that your co-workers are massed around a memo your boss has posted on the office bulletin board. According to the memo, someone, in order to stir up resentment at the workplace, has been sending people false salary listings. The person in question has apparently obtained the actual list of salaries to work from, since he always correctly gives the salary of the letter’s recipient, thereby adding an element of authenticity to his letter. To restore office harmony, the boss adds, he is posting this one time only a listing of everyone’s salaries. Your eyes turn to the listing in question. You find your own salary. And when you look at the salaries of your co-workers, you realize that compared to them, you are very highly paid. Your self-esteem soars. In fact, you take on a mildly condescending attitude toward your co-workers.” (William Irvine, On Desire)
It’s the same salary either way – but that same salary that was first made unsatisfying was then made very satisfying.

When we shine the light of consciousness on this desire for social rank, only then can we, maybe, begin to see through it. We have to notice how much we cared about it in order to begin moving toward, maybe, caring about it a little less.

That little thought experiment might help you say to yourself, "Hey, it’s silly for me to care as much about my relative position in the office as I have. I will still care about it some, but not as much. I think I’ll pay more attention to just being glad I have enough."

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "Desire"
See also:
Part 1: Streetcars Named Desire
Part 3: What If You Owned Everything

2016-02-16

Streetcars Named Desire

Desire, part 1

Tennessee Williams' 1947 play became a 1951 film.

The title, A Streetcar Named Desire, was inspired by an actual New Orleans streetcar line. From 1920 to 1948, the Desire Line ran down Bourbon, through the French Quarter, to Desire Street and back up to Canal. In the play, Blanche Dubois, after losing to creditors her family home in a small Mississippi town, travels to New Orleans to live with her younger sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski. After arriving, she describes how she got to the Kowalski home:
"They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at — Elysian Fields!"
The route Blanche describes is fictional, though, as the play progresses, we see all the characters carried by their desires toward various forms of spiritual death – to Cemeteries and Elysian Fields (the land of the dead in Greek mythology). Our desires can constrict and narrow our lives. They can kill the possibility of a full life.

Our desires are also necessary. We need them. Desire, after all, is another word for caring about something. Desirelessness would be deep, paralyzing depression – an inability to move because not able to want what moving could get.

The thing is, we don't choose our desires. Desires just appear on their own. They show up at the door, like Blanche Dubois with a big suitcase, ready to move in and start asking us to do their bidding.

But if we can’t help but step onto that streetcar (and wouldn’t want to miss it), and if we can't control which streetcar will show up when, we can have a say in where we get off. We don’t have to let desire carry us to places that will not be joyful, places that we will later regret going.

The way to be able to step off a given streetcar of desire is to be aware of what streetcar you’re on. What is the desire at work in you? Where is it headed? Do you really want to go there? Spiritual practices help cultivate the habits of paying attention to these questions every time a desire appears. These spiritual habits give us the freedom to get off – or keep riding for a few more blocks.

Many of the desires at work in A Streetcar Named Desire are legitimate and healthy desires for connection and respect, yet oppressive social prejudices, and an absence of tools for better managing desires, render those desires tragic. We can continue to work toward a more accepting society with better opportunities for all, and, in the meantime, can also work on the tools of attention which help us manage desires we do not choose.

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Desire"
See also:
Part 2: Desire, Hope, Status
Part 3: What If You Owned Everything

2016-02-09

It Must Be Said

Black lives matter. It must be said.

Look, there’s lead in the water in Flint, Michigan. Various people, including at least one of the leading candidates for President of the US, have observed that the Flint water crisis would have been handled differently if it had happened in a white suburb outside of Detroit. Flint is a very poor community and it is 57 percent black. It’s called environmental racism: protecting the environments of predominantly white communities much more than we do predominantly black communities.

For example – close to home: Last September, Bedford, NY officials obtained water sample results with very slightly elevated lead levels. They took 20 samples and 4 samples had lead above the recommended allowable of 15 parts per billion. The highest sample had 19 parts per billion. The city sent out a mailer explaining how that happened, and that they would be dealing with this by very slightly increasing their water treatment dosages. Summary: a few samples exceeded health standards; the worst was 19 parts per billion, 1.27 times the safe level.

Meanwhile: Flint, Michigan. The US Public Health Service announced that 26 water samples – out of 4,000 samples -- had lead levels above 150 parts per billion: 10 times the safe level.Volunteer teams have found that at least a quarter of Flint households have levels of lead above the federal level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) and that in some homes, lead levels were at 13,200 ppb: more than 800 times the safe level.

We treat black lives as not mattering. Black lives do matter, and it must be said.

The Flint story is partly a class issue, but not all racial disparities collapse to class. As Ta-Nehisi Coates explains:
“We now know that for every dollar of wealth white families have, black families have a nickel. We know that being middle class does not immunize black families from exploitation in the way that it immunizes white families. We know that black families making $100,000 a year tend to live in the same kind of neighborhoods as white families making $30,000 a year. We know that in a city like Chicago, the wealthiest black neighborhood has an incarceration rate many times worse than the poorest white neighborhood. This is not a class divide, but a racist divide.”
And in this country, black lives are treated as mattering less than white lives.

As best we can tell (many police departments do not report) blacks are less than 13% of the U.S. population, and yet they are 31% of all fatal police shooting victims, and 39% of those killed by police even though they weren't attacking. Between 2005 and 2008, 80% of NYPD stops were of blacks and Latinos. Only 10% of stops were of whites. 85% of those frisked were black; only 8% were white. Only 2.6% of all stops (1.6 million stops over 3.5 years) resulted in the discovery of contraband or a weapon. Whites were more likely to be found with contraband or a weapon.

A black college student has the same chances of getting a job as a white high school dropout. Voter ID laws are do not prevent voter fraud, but do disenfranchise millions of young people, minorities, and elderly, who disproportionately lack the necessary government IDs. African American children comprise 33.2% of missing children cases, but only 19.5% of cases reported in the media. Why is that? Why is it that a missing black child is much more likely to be deemed not worth reporting?

In 2009, bailed-out banks such as Wells Fargo and others were found to have pushed minority borrowers who qualified for prime loans into subprime loans, which can add as more than $100,000 in interest payments to a mortgage over the life of the loan. Among high-income borrowers in 2006, African Americans were three times as likely as whites to pay higher prices for mortgages: 32.1% compared to 10.5%. This kind of disparity has been going on for some time.

History presents us with windows of opportunity when a mass movement arises that can make change happen. The Civil Rights movements of the 50s and 60s was just such a window. And we are seeing that window again. Since Michael Brown died in Ferguson a year and a half ago, there’s a new awakening to the ways this country treats black lives as not mattering. We have a chance now to be a part of bringing about meaningful change.

Unitarian Universalists were there during the Civil Rights movement, standing up voting rights and civil rights. Five hundred Unitarian Universalists marched with with Dr. King in Selma to Montgomery, including over 140 Unitarian Universalist clergy -- 20 percent of all UU ministers in final fellowship at that time. We had a important role to play then, and we have an important role to play now.

We are a people of conscience. We are a people who stand for something other than our own comfortable complacency.

Many Unitarian Universalist congregations are actively making their neighbors uncomfortable. They are putting up banners that say “Black Lives Matter” on their property displayed to public view. They are doing this because if the idea that black lives matter makes a neighborhood uncomfortable, then making it uncomfortable is what we need to be doing. Many of the banners have been subject to vandalism, and theft. I listed a bunch of those incidents in my column a couple months ago. Just two days ago, Friday’s news included the story of our congregation in Reno, Nevada. They are now on their 9th Black Lives Matters banner, as each of the previous 8 has been stolen or vandalized.

Rev. Dan Schatz serves our Unitarian congregation in Warrington, Pennsylvania. One day he got a note from a neighbor:
“Good Evening: I am very upset at the signage that is outside of your church stating that “Black Lives Matter.” Since when has God chosen to see us by the color of our skin. The sign should be taken down and replaced with ALL LIVES MATTER. How will this nation of ours ever join together if we are constantly looking at everyone by their race. Unless you were actually there in Ferguson or in New York or Cleveland, you do not have all the facts. [signed:] A Bucks County Resident”
No, we don’t have all the facts. Even if we were actually there, we never have all the facts. But we have ample facts illustrating that this country treats black lives as mattering less than white lives.

And of course all lives matter. But you don’t show up at a fundraiser for breast cancer patients and start objecting that all cancer patients matter. You address the problem that you can.

When I imagine a loving presence that pervades the universe, I do not imagine that presence would say: “since skin color doesn’t matter, I want you to ignore all the evidence of ways that your fellow humans use skin color to discriminate.”

This nation will not join together in justice by pretending that everything is fair and equal when it isn’t. This nation will not join together in justice unless real wrongs are acknowledged and addressed.

All lives do matter, and in order to live in a world that better recognizes that, we need to attend to where lives are most treated as not mattering. That black lives do matter is what needs affirming in the current social context. "Black lives matter" challenges current presumptions that they don't. "All lives matter" is not nearly as challenging. It could be. But in the current social climate, "all lives matter" functions primarily to assert that the disregard of black lives requires no particular attention. The current disregard of black lives should just be left alone to continue.

Last summer, at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly 2015, the delegates adopted an Action of Immediate Witness that proclaimed:
WHEREAS, Unitarian Universalists strive for justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

WHEREAS, Unitarian Universalists have a goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

WHEREAS, allowing injustice to go unchallenged violates our principles;

WHEREAS, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained powerful traction in conjunction with recent tragic events involving, in particular, police brutality and institutionalized racism that target the black community;

WHEREAS, Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, Shelly Frey, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Kayla Moore, Tamir Rice, and Tony Robinson are just a few names of people who were recently killed by the racism that exists in the United States today;

WHEREAS, people of all ages and races are killed by law enforcement, yet black people ages 20-24 are seven times more likely to be killed by law enforcement;
WHEREAS, mass incarceration fueled by for-profit prisons and racially biased police practices drive the disproportionate imprisonment of black and brown Americans;

WHEREAS, the school-to-prison pipeline is an urgent concern because 40% of students expelled from U.S. public schools are black and one out of three black men is incarcerated during his lifetime; and

WHEREAS, we must continue to support the Black Lives Matter movement and Black-led racial justice organizations;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association calls member congregations to action, to become closer to a just world community, and to prevent future incidents of this nature;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly urges member congregations to engage in intentional learning spaces to organize for racial justice with recognition of the interconnected nature of racism coupled with systems of oppression that impact people based on class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and language;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly encourages member congregations and all Unitarian Universalists to work toward police reform and prison abolition (which seeks to replace the current prison system with a system that is more just and equitable); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly recognizes that the fight for civil rights and equality is as real today as it was decades ago and urges member congregations to take initiative in collaboration with local and national organizations fighting for racial justice against the harsh racist practices to which many black people are exposed.
Black lives matter. It must be said.

Finally, let me add that Community Unitarian Church (now Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation) has a long history of annoying our neighbors. My predecessor, the Rev. Clifford Vessey, who served our congregation from 1942 to 1964 prepared an address called "The Story of the White Plains Community Church, Unitarian (A Profile of its Early Years, 1909-1942)" (1963). Rev. Vesey reports:
"There was one occasion when the very announcement of an invited speaker incurred the wrath of McCarthyites in White Plains and Scarsdale in 1921. John Haynes Holmes was to speak on 'The Religious Training of Children.' Dr. Holmes was known to have had a few kind things to say about the Russian people and their revolution. He was also a pacifist, a conscientious objector to war. This was enough to make him guilty by association and the very announcement of his forthcoming visit to White Plains brought forth a protest meeting in the White Plains High School, sponsored by the American Legion, which was attended, according to the paper, by over 800 people. The banner headline of the Daily Reporter read: 'Crowded meeting greets Dr. Holmes' name with derision.' The front page editorial included this statement: 'Dr. Holmes will find the atmosphere in White Plains decidedly chilly if he carries out his idea of speaking at Community Church. No man should be invited to this community to speak unless he is known to be 100% true American.'"
Rev. Vessey then quotes from what he calls "one of the most cherished documents of our Church": the reply of our Board of Trustees, written by Albert Whitney, chair. Whitney's letter declares:
"Our speakers are men and women who are thinking and doing worth-while things in the life of the world. In inviting them to speak to us we hope that they will give us the spiritual aspects of those things that they have most at heart and unto which they have set their hands...You may say that the men and women that we get to speak to us on Sundays are not speaking the truth. Very well; let us say that they are right only half the time; but even fifty percent of truth from a man or woman who is doing and thinking things that are worth while is worth having. And as to the untruth -- we have no fear of that as long as it is in the open....Now, Mr. Editor, in your opposition to the activities of our organization I venture to say that you have done your full duty by the community in warning them not to attend our meetings. That is within your right. When you go beyond this point, however, and incite the community to deprive our speakers of their right to be heard, you are venturing on exceedingly dangerous ground. The right of free speech is sacred; it is guaranteed by the Constitution. When you tamper with that right you have undertaken something more serious than a fight with our Church; you have stepped into a larger arena. We have no right either to the credit or the distinction of being the defenders of the right of free speech, and I beg that you will not force us into accepting this too honorable position...We should prefer a more normal and slower development of our Church to a development under religious persecution. But whatever happens we shall stand unalterably upon our right to seek the truth wherever it may be found, for it is the truth that shall set us all free."
We stood by our principles, even when 800 of our neighbors gathered to protest against us, and the local paper castigated us. We stood ready to face what persecution might come.

I am but newly a White Plains Unitarian Universalist, but I am proud to be part of a people made of such stern and good stuff -- a people who stand for what needs to be stood for, who will say what must be said, whether it irks the neighbors or not.