UU Minute #15

Enter Giorgio Biandrata

Six years after Transylvania’s first edict of toleration, with conflict between Lutherans and Calvinists growing, the Transylvanian Diet, in 1563, renewed and confirmed its earlier decree, ordering:
“that each may embrace the religion that he prefers without any compulsion, and may be free to support preachers of his own faith, and in the use of the sacrament, and that neither party must do injury or violence to the other.”
This didn’t help ease the conflict much until the next year, when King John, now 24-years-old, ordered the parties to separate into two distinct churches, each with its own bishop. Transylvania now had three officially recognized religions: the Catholic, the Lutheran, and the Calvinist.

Recognition of a fourth – the Unitarian – would soon follow, for the seeds of Unitarianism had begun to grow. The writings of Miguel Serveto were being read, and his ideas had gained scattered followers. Probably not much would have come of it without the backing and leadership of some person of considerable influence. In fact, it would take two.

The first one arrived in Transylvania that year – 1563 -- in the person of Giorgio Biandrata – erstwhile court physician to the royal family of Poland – and a sharp defender of anti-trinitarian views.


UU Minute #14

Literal Body and Blood? Or Symbols?

Europe’s first proclamation of religious tolerance came out of Transylvania in 1557 – a product of the Diet led by Queen Isabella.
“In order that each might hold the faith which he wished, with the new rites as well as with the old, that this should be permitted him at his own free will.”
“The faith which he wished” meant either Catholic or Protestant – there were only two choices. By that time, the vast majority of Transylvania had become Protestant -- Catholic priests had been driven out, church property confiscated or given over to the Protestants -- so it was the Catholics who had more reason to be glad of the protections of official toleration. In fact, the greater and growing religious conflict in Transylvania was between two Protestant factions, over the Lord’s Supper.

It’s hard for us today to imagine how fierce and vicious a quarrel over something like that could be. The Lutherans held that the body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine; the Calvinists held that these are only symbols, and each side saw no worth or dignity in the people who didn’t affirm what they affirmed.

Queen Isabella died in 1559, leaving her then-19-year-old son, John Sigismund, to rule Transylvania. King John was Catholic then, but he would later convert to Lutheran for two years, and then to Calvinist for five years, before finally becoming the Unitarian King.


Make it RAIN, part 1

These are stressful times. Under stress, we are apt to be reactive. Anger, fear, and sadness all have an important role to play in our lives. We wouldn’t want to become unable to feel those things. Anger is fiery energy for insisting on justice. Fear heightens our awareness of danger which helps us stay safe. Sadness slows us down so we can adjust to a loss or disappointment.

Under conditions of stress, these feelings overfunction, and go beyond their usefulness. So today I just want to offer us some tools for approaching stressful moments -- because, I know we’re facing them.

The first tool is Yom Kippur itself. Make amends. Our relationships with family, friends, and any acquaintance you regularly interact with -- or could interact with -- are the key of a good life: our greatest pleasure in good times and our best security in hard times. Yet it’s the nature of relationships that they sometimes fray. Now we’ve got this wonderful occasion, Yom Kippur, to attend to relationships that may be frayed. Who in your life are you on the outs with? Who is on the outs with you? You could go on being estranged from each other. But maybe there are some people you have fallen out with, and that relationship could be mended.

I don’t want to deny that you may have encountered people that are so toxic that you have just had to walk away. I’m not here to urge you to make yourself available to be sucked into every dysfunction you’ve ever seen. Just take a little time this Yom Kippur -- and every Yom Kippur, and maybe from time to time throughout the year -- to reflect on what relationships are a little more distant that they need to be. And then reflect on what you might do to make the relationship closer. Call them up, or write to them to set up a zoom. Apologize for wrongs done, and offer forgiveness for wrongs done to you.

If that feels awkward, you’ve got this holiday to help get past the awkwardness. If you or the other person are Jewish, you just say, “Hey, it’s Yom Kippur, and I’d like to make amends.” If you’re not Jewish, you can still say, “It’s Yom Kippur, which is this Jewish holy day for atoning, and even though I’m not Jewish, repairing relationships seems like a really good idea, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

You can never have too many friends.

In these stressful times, our relationships are what will get us through. I also want to offer a tool you can use by yourself for dealing with tough situations. It’s an acronym that spells rain -- R-A-I-N.

Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture.

Tara Brach
If you can remember those four words, then they’ll help you remember what I’ll say about how to use them. Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. It’s an easy-to-remember formula, and an effective practice. Insight meditation teacher Michele McDonald introduced the RAIN practice about 20 years ago. Psychologist, and also insight meditation teacher, Tara Brach, modified and popularized RAIN. I’ll be sharing with you today the version from Tara Brach.
  • Recognize: what is happening;
  • Allow: the experience to be there, just as it is;
  • Investigate: with kindness;
  • Nurture: with self-compassion.
First, recognize what is happening. Maybe not as easy as it sounds. Recognize what you’re feeling in that moment.

Often we get angry without taking a moment to recognize to ourselves: I’m angry. Or: I’m having some anger about this. We get scared, but often don’t acknowledge to ourselves our fear. Bring attention to whatever thoughts, emotions, feelings or sensations you’re experiencing at that moment. If you're mad, recognize that you're mad. If your sad, recognize that you're sad. If you're nervous recognize that you're nervous.

Recognize also your body’s responses. Is there a squeezing, pressure, or tightness somewhere -- in your shoulders? Throat? Face? Gut? You might recognize anxiety right away, but not notice the bodily sensations.

Or, you might notice the body, but not notice that underlying assumption of your thinking. You might notice, for instance, a jittery nervousness of the body, but not recognize that this is being triggered by your underlying belief that you are about to fail.

To recognize what’s happening, explicitly ask yourself: “What is happening inside me right now?” Be curious about yourself. Curiosity is the antidote to judgmentalism. Whether it’s judgmentalism directed at yourself or at someone else, curiosity is the antidote. Never mind what you think you SHOULD be thinking and feeling. Trust that whatever you in fact are feeling in your body, feeling emotionally, thinking and believing is worth recognizing.

Second: Allow. Allow the experience to be there, just as it is. Allow life to be just as it is. This doesn’t mean you don’t think about what strategies for creating change will be effective. It means you’re not going to be in denial about how things in fact are right now. It means acknowledging that you and the world are OK in just this sense: you and the world have the capacity to move through this.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
-- as Martin Luther King said.

You won’t make positive change by hating what is. You make positive change by loving what is. Allow that it is exactly as it is -- even if you’re only allowing it for a moment while you calm yourself and think clearly and lovingly about how to move forward.

Whatever thoughts, emotions, sensations you discover and recognize, let them be. Whatever they are, they’re allowed. Maybe you don’t like the emotion, sensation, or thought. Maybe you wish it would go away. But your willingness to be with yourself, just as you are, is crucial.

One of my favorite Rumi poems is The Guest House, which you may know:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
What Rumi is saying is: allow. Allow the experience that has come to visit you to be your guest. Allowing is part of healing. Having a key word to say to yourself can help with allowing the experience to simply be what it is. The word might be “yes.” You recognize that fear is present, and you feel its grip, and whisper “yes.” Or, say you’ve recognized that grief has swelled up – a strong feeling of loss. Whisper, “yes.”

Maybe instead of “yes,” you use the phrase, “this too.” Anger arises, say, triggered by a co-worker’s incompetence. “This too” you whisper – recognizing that life also includes this. Or perhaps you say, “I consent” to allow yourself to be with what is.

It does tend to be true that when we recognize an unpleasant feeling and allow it to be, it will dissipate. What we don’t recognize, and try to deny, or repress, is likely to stay around. What we recognize and allow will TEND to go away. And knowing this, we might find ourselves using our word as a strategy to MAKE it go away. You may catch yourself rather mechanically saying “yes” to a feeling of shame when you aren’t really allowing it to be there, but are hoping that going through this motion will make it magically disappear.

Allowing doesn’t always make the feeling go away. It TENDS to help the feeling dissipate, but not always – and particularly if you aren’t sincerely allowing it to be just as it is. Often, we have to allow over and over. Yet even the first move toward allowing -- whispering “yes” or “this too” begins to soften the hard edges of the feeling. You have at least ratcheted down your resistance to what is – and that resistance tends to make things worse for you.

Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. In the second part, I’ll talk about how and why to Investigate and Nurture.

UU Minute #13

UU Minute #13: Isabella Returns to Transylvania

In 1551, Archduke Ferdinand’s Hapsburg forces took Transylvania, banishing Isabella and her then 11-year-old son back to Poland. After five years of exile, Isabella returned to Transylvania when Ottoman troops recaptured the region and invited her back. The Transylvanian Diet officially entrusted Isabella with a five-year regency on behalf of her now-16-year-old son.

Meanwhile, Protestantism had come to Transylvania. With religious tensions mounting, in 1557, Isabella signed an edict of religious toleration. Isabella declared, “every one might hold the faith of his choice . . . without offence to any . . . ” – provided, that is, that the “faith of his choice” was either Catholic or Lutheran. Even so,
“It was the first time since the political hegemony of Christendom had spread across the western world centuries before, that a national leader gave back to ordinary people the authority of their own consciences in matters of God and the soul” (Kendyl Gibbons).
The first time. And it came from a woman. And while that woman apparently remained Catholic herself to the end of her days, she was interested in Reformation ideas – and the values of freedom and reason by which she raised and taught her son, would lead King John Sigismund of Transylvania to become history’s only Unitarian monarch.
“Against all the odds, Isabella brought up a son who bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice, compassion, and human dignity; she saved the throne for him, and bequeathed him the concept of religious toleration that would not occur to the rest of Europe for centuries.” (Gibbons)

UU Minute #12

UU Minute #12: Isabella Banished

Unitarianism in Transylvania emerged in the turbulent politics of the time, fostered by Isabella, the dowager queen and regent who enacted Europe’s first edict of religious toleration, and her son, John Sigismund, Europe’s only Unitarian monarch ever.

As the 16th-century began, the Ottoman Empire covered Turkey, the Balkans, and Greece. In 1526, the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Suleiman crushed the Hungarian royal army in the Battle of Mohács and killed King Louis II. Hungary was then divided into three parts. The Ottoman Empire annexed one part. A second part was allowed to continue as a much-diminished Hungary. And a third part – Transylvania – was granted autonomy under the rule of John Zapolya – although paying annual tribute to the Ottomans.

Thirteen years later, in 1539, John Zapolya married Isabella, oldest child of the Polish King Sigismund. John Zapolya was 50 years old; Isabella was 20 – beautiful and very bright.

A year later, 1540, Isabella gave birth to a son, John Sigismund. Two weeks later, John Zapolya died from injuries sustained while subduing a rebellion. The young Isabella thus found herself ruler of Transylvania: regent on behalf of her infant son.

Archduke Ferdinand immediately moved to retake Transylvania for the Hapsburgs. With the military assistance of Sultan Suleiman, Isabella fended off Ferdinand for ten years – until, in 1551, Ferdinand’s forces prevailed. Isabella, with her then-11-year-old son, was banished back to Poland to live with her family.

Prospects looked very bleak for either of them to foster a new religion that endures to this day.


UU Minute #11

UU Minute #11: Transylvania, part 1

In 16th century Europe, the ideas of anti-trinitarianism and religious freedom went together – and they began to pop up in the thinking of a number of writers. We’ve mentioned the 1527 book by Martin Borrhaus’ De Operibus Dei, the first open questioning of the doctrine of the trinity in print in Europe – and the 1531 publication of Miguel Serveto’s On the Errors of the Trinity -- and Sebastian Castellio writing that “To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine. It is to kill a man.”

A smattering of other intellectuals of the time – especially after Miguel Serveto’s execution in 1553 -- were also writing to either criticize trinitarianism or advocate religious freedom – and whichever one of those two a writer might primarily emphasize, there would usually also be at least sympathy for the other one. These ideas began to find a home in two places: Transylvania and Poland.

Transylvania. It’s in what is now Romania. Here’s a map of Romania showing Transylvania as a central and western district.

And here’s a map showing how the Carpathian mountains curl around and provide a natural protection to Transylvania on three sides.

After the fall of Rome, various barbarian tribes lived and moved through there. Then the Magyars, Hungarians, conquered the region in 1003, and for 500 years it was part of Hungary. In 1526, Ottoman Turkey defeated Hungary and was content to allow the Transylvanian region be an independent country – a buffer between Hungary and Turkey.

Transylvania was an autonomous state for about a century and a half before being reabsorbed into Hungary and later Romania. During that brief time, autonomous Transylvania created and gave to Europe two amazing things: Unitarian churches and the first government edict of Religious Toleration.


UU Minute #10

UU Minute #10: Serveto's Double Legacy

The roots of Unitarianism in Europe lie in two ideas:
  • Critique of the Doctrine of the Trinity, and
  • Support of religious toleration. 
Those two ideas are the double legacy of Miguel Serveto. First, he called into question the doctrine of the trinity. He paved the way for a Unitarian theology of the Unity of God, and also advanced the Universalist notion of the universal divinity of humanity. Second, his persecution and death sparked a movement toward tolerance and religious freedom.

On October 27, 1553, Miguel Serveto was burned at the stake in Geneva, Switzerland, with a copy of his book tied to his arm. Thousands of people have been put to death as heretics in Europe. In particular, the Anabaptists were slaughtered by the hundreds, and they too, rejected the doctrine of the trinity. What made Serveto so special?

For one thing, he argued his side with such evident intelligence. If the fervid passions of the generally lower-class Anabaptists could be written off as the spell of Satan, Serveto’s detailed rational argument, combined with the fact that it came from a respected medical doctor of an upper class family, landed differently. And so it was that from the crowd that watched him die, there arose the conviction that this should not be. Before his ashes were cold, cries for religious tolerance began to be heard. Calvin fell under criticism.

Though Calvin had convinced most of Christendom of Serveto’s error, he faced a growing feeling that that error did not warrant the stake. Books arguing for the toleration of heretics began to appear.

Sebastian Castellio’s booklet, "Against Calvin," notably declared, “To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man.”

UU Minute #9

UU Minute #9: Miguel Serveto (Michael Servetus), part 3

1553. Miguel Serveto is arrested in Vienne, but manages to escape from jail. He plans to flee to Naples, Italy. Yet he shows up in Geneva, which – as you can see – is not along the route from Vienne to Naples. Why he would make this little detour remains a mystery. The Geneva of that time was essentially a theocracy ruled by Protestant Reformer John Calvin. Serveto was recognized and arrested. The trial lasted two months. John Calvin was chief prosecutor, though usually only Calvin’s proxies were present at the trial.

Serveto defended his views on the Trinity, repudiated the charges of being a pantheist and of denying immortality, and admitted without reservation his condemnation of infant baptism. From prison, during the trial stoppages, Serveto carried out in writing a theological debate with Calvin. Serveto was convinced that Calvin’s doctrines of predestination, original sin, and total depravity reduced people to mere objects like logs and stones. Calvin was convinced that Serveto’s doctrine of human divinity reduced God to the level of human sinfulness.

The written records of the trial and of this correspondence were shared with other Swiss cities, and the deliberations of their councils were sought. The responses that came back were unanimous: Serveto was guilty of grave heresies which, if left unchecked, threatened to undermine the whole Reformation. Zurich’s reply was typical:
“We judge that one should work against him with great faith and diligence, especially as our churches have an ill repute abroad as heretics and patrons of heretics.”
To protect the image of the fledgling Protestant Reform movement, Serveto must burn.

UU Minute #8

UU Minute #8: Miguel Serveto (Michael Servetus), part 2

Miguel Serveto – also known as Michael Servetus – wrote a book, On the Errors of the Trinity, published in 1531, the year he turned 22. He argued that Jesus’ human nature and Christ nature came into being at the same time – in other words, that the Son was not co-eternal with the Father.

Miguel Serveto was bright, and young, and cocky and he seems to have imagined that he would explain to his elders the errors of their thinking, and they would say “Oh, thank you. Yes, I see I was mistaken.” Instead, reaction was rather negative.

The Catholics were deeply invested in Trinitarian orthodoxy, as they had been ever since 325 and the Council of Nicaea. The Protestants weren’t AS invested in the Trinity, but what they were invested in was not having any more fights with the Catholics than they had to. Protestants were dealing with harsh backlash as it was – they didn’t want to also be tarred as anti-trinitarian – which in the minds of the authorities of the time meant, at best, being guilty of the Arian heresy, or, at worst, of abandoning Christianity and reverting to Judaism, as the case of Katarzyna Weiglowa seemed to confirm. So Protestants were actually more virulent than Catholics in denouncing Miguel Serveto and his book.

Serveto changed his name to Michel de Villaneuve, fled to Paris, then to Vienne, France, where he led a quiet life as an editor and a doctor of medicine for 22 years. Then the bug for theology got into him again, and in 1553 he published Restitution of Christianity. It was published anonymously – without identification of either the author or the publisher. But the authorities began digging, and soon deduced that the author of Restitution of Christianity, Michel de Villaneuve, Miguel Serveto, and the author of On the Errors of the Trinity, were all the same person.

UU Minute #7

UU Minute #7: Miguel Serveto (Michael Servetus), part 1

Unitarianism in Europe is rooted in two ideas. One of them was critique of the doctrine of the trinity – and that’s the idea we are named after. The other is critique of religious intolerance – and that’s the idea that’s more central to what it means to be Unitarian. Both of those ideas got a significant boost from a man that I grew up calling Michael Servetus.

He went by a lot of names, but the name he and his family probably knew him by best was Miguel Serveto. That’s what he seems to have been called most in his childhood and youth, as he was born and raised in Spain, so that’s what I’ll call him.

Miguel Serveto was born in 1509, was eight-years old when -- 2,000 kilometers away in Wittenberg, Germany -- Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation by nailing 95 theses to the church door. Serveto was a brilliant student: earned a BA at age 14, and MA at age 15. He eventually became a leading scholar of his time in a number of fields: mathematics, astronomy, meteorology, geography, human anatomy, medicine, pharmacology, jurisprudence, poetry, and Bible studies.

In Catholic Spain, Protestant books were strictly banned. Young Miguel might have first had access to forbidden Protestant writings at age 18, when he went to France to study at the University of Toulouse. What Miguel Serveto would end up meaning for Unitarianism we will see in future episodes.

UU Minute #6

UU Minute #6: Katarzyna Weiglowa

As women stand up threatening patriarchy and orthodoxy, let’s remember that our Unitarian heritage includes courageous women who have been doing that for almost 500 years.

In 1527, ten years after Martin Luther had nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, thereby launching the Protestant Reformation, another German Protestant theologian, Martin Borrhaus, published De Operibus Dei -- Work of God -- the first open questioning of the doctrine of the Trinity in print in Europe. Borrhaus went quiet on the subject thereafter and was able to live out his life.

Katarzyna Weiglowa, a Polish woman in her late 60s when Borrhaus’ book came out, was less fortunate. Influenced by that book, she began professing nontrinitarian views. The pockets of Arian Christianity in Europe had long since been suppressed, so an adherent of the God of the Hebrew Bible who did not regard Jesus as co-equal and co-eternal with that God could only turn to Judaism – which Katarzyna Weiglowa adopted, though we don’t know if she ever sought to become part of any actual Jewish community.

The Christian world regarded her as theirs, and beginning in 1529, when she was 70 years old, she appeared several times before the church court in Krakow. Pressed to abandon the “mistakes of the Jewish faith,” she refused. So she was charged with heresy and imprisoned in Kraków. She spent 10 years in prison, maintaining her profession of the unity of God, rejecting the trinity, and refusing to call Jesus the Son of God. In 1539, at the age of 80, she was burned at the stake, loudly proclaiming her faith until the end.

For both Unitarians and Jews, Katarzyna Weiglowa’s name is remembered and honored as a martyr.

UU Minute #5

UU Minute #5: Pandemics, Printing Presses, and Protestants

Pandemics are nothing new. They have been a periodic part of human life ever since we’ve had cities. The Bubonic plague in the middle-1300s killed one third of Europe’s population, creating labor shortages, which created pressure for innovation. For instance, as long as there were plenty of people to copy things by hand, it didn’t occur to anybody that a printing press sure would be handy. Even so, it was a century after the worst plague year before Gutenberg’s printing press with movable type came on line. Some sixty years after Gutenberg’s press, in 1517, Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation. Coincidence? Hardly.
  • For one thing, the Catholic Church jumped on the printing press to crank out the certificates for indulgences – confirmation of going to heaven for those willing to pay enough to the church. Increased traffic in indulgences highlighted the corruption in the Church that motivated Luther’s reforms.
  • Second, the printing press produced Bibles in the vulgar tongues. Suddenly more or less ordinary people – if they were literate – no longer had to rely on what Priests reported the Bible said.
  • Third, Luther’s complaints about the church echoed complaints that others had been making for centuries – but those others didn’t have this new printing press contraption. The 95 theses that Luther famously nailed to the church door in Wittenberg were also taken to the Wittenberg printer, where they became a pamphlet that spread through Europe* – so Luther’s theses had an influence far greater than previous church critics had. 
Unitarians emerged from the radical wing of the Protestant Reformation. Pandemic led to printing press, which led to Protestant Reformation, which led to us. I wonder: to what will our current pandemic lead?

*The 95 Theses were nailed to the church door on Oct 31, 1517. By Nov 17, broadsheet copies of Luther's document were being printed in London, over 1,000 land-kilometers, plus an English Channel, away. Luther followed-up that document with Europe's first media blitz: from 1518 to 1525, Luther’s writings accounted for a third of all books sold in Germany. His mastery of the new technology allowed him to succeed where Jan Hus (1369-1415) a century before had met with execution.

UU Minute #4

Universalism IS Biblical

The Council of Nicaea in 325 was bad news for unitarian Christians. Arius argued that the divinity of the father was greater than that of the son. Jesus was divine -- was more than human -- but was not God. This Arian Christianity lost out to the Trinitarian view that father and son were of the same substance: co-eternal, co-equal. But no matter which side had won in Nicaea, the effect of the Council was to emphasize the importance of having the right doctrine, and de-emphasize the ethics and values of living a Christian life. And that was bad news for the other side of our heritage: the universalist Christians.
Virtually from the beginning, some Christians had understood that everyone was going to heaven: universal salvation. They had Biblical support:
2 Peter 3: "The Lord [does] not [want] any to perish, but all to come to repentance."
1 Corinthians 15: "For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ."
Romans 14: "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God."
Sure sounds like salvation was to be universal. But as Christianity pivoted to a doctrinal emphasis, universalism had to be squelched -- because: if we're all going to heaven anyway, it's hard to make the case that you only get in if you have the right doctrines.


UU Minute #3

How Trinitarianism Became Orthodox

Roman Emperor Constantine's reign began in they year 306 when he was 34 years old. His reign would last 31 years, and his administrative and financial reforms strengthened the empire. Six years into his reign [at age 40], Constantine converted to Christianity, becoming the first Christian Roman Emperor after centuries of Christian persecution at the hands of the Romans. The Christianity of the time was scattered and diverse: no central authority, no commonly accepted scripture, no commonly practiced liturgy, no orthodox theology. For Constantine, devoted to bringing administrative order to his empire, this had to be fixed. So, in 325, Constantine convoked the Council of Nicaea, calling all the bishops together to hash out just what Christianity was. Jesus of Nazareth was the religion's central figure, but was he the latest in a long line of prophets calling people to righteousness and piety, or was he something more? And, if more, what? Constantine didn't care how these questions were answered just so long as there was a uniform answer. He invited all 1,800 Christian Bishops, and more than 250 of them actually went to Nicaea that summer*, representing every region of the Roman empire. Constantine himself was there for some of it. For three months they discussed and debated,* drafted and revised statements, and in the end the adopted a statement that established Trinitarianism as orthodoxy, and the more unitarian form of Christianity advocated by a priest named Arius was declared heresy. We've been the heretics ever since.

*add in each bishop's retinue of priests, deacons, subdeacons and readers, and the number approached 2,000 -- filling the inns of Nicaea to bursting with over a dozen men per room.

**The picture showing two clerics shoving each other is a 2016 painting by Giovanni Gasparro depicting Bishop (later, Saint) Nicholas slapping Arius at the Council of Nicaea. Yes, THAT Saint Nicholas. So we came out of Nicaea not only heretics, but on Santa Claus' naughty list.


UU Minute #2

Trinitarianism is NOT Biblical

We are called "Unitarian," as opposed to "Trinitarian," even though that particular theological dispute was never central to what we have been all about. The orthodox called us "Unitarian," and -- this may come as a surprise -- we couldn't come to consensus about some other name to call ourselves, so the name "Unitarian" stuck. Which raises the question: How did Trinitarianism become orthodox in the first place? It's not in the Bible. The closest thing in the Bible is that passage where Jesus tells his followers to go forth "and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit."* But that doesn't say anything about father, son, and holy spirit being, in fact, one, rather than three, which is what Trinitarianism claims. How did Trinitarianism become orthodoxy? That's the question for the next episode of the Unitarian Universalist minute..

*Matthew 28:19.


UU Minute #1

Heirs of Alternative Voices

To start at the beginning: the roots of what we now call Unitarian Universalism lie in early Christianity, which itself emerged from pre-Rabbinic Judaism in various urban centers around the Roman empire. Early Christianity had no central authority, no commonly accepted scripture, no commonly practiced liturgy, no orthodox theology. Early Christians were a scattered and diverse mosaic of different practices and beliefs. And they squabbled about that. In particular, was Jesus of Nazareth the latest in a long line of prophets calling the human community to righteousness and piety? Or was he something more? And, if more, what, exactly? There was tremendous pressure to determine what was the true faith, so orthodoxy was eventually established. But alternative voices were never entirely snuffed out. We today are the heirs of those alternative voices.



What Accountability Is


These are our times.

This week the party not currently in the White House announced its nominee for Vice-President – and the party in the White House responded with sexist and racist attacks. Said party also stepped up its voter suppression efforts, attacking the credibility of mail-in ballots, and seeking to make cuts to the postal service to reduce its capacity.

World-wide deaths from covid-19 in the last week are back up to a seven-day-average of 5800 a day. US deaths in the last week averaged over a 1,000 a day.

The households that could be at risk of eviction in the coming months are tens of millions.

We did not ask for these times. It simply falls to us to live them – to respond to them as people of compassion and wisdom, and to mine the hardship for emergent possibility.

The indigenous American poet Joy Harjo has some words for that. She suggests we take a journey – which, if we cannot do literally, we can do metaphorically – and the party she says you can have when you get back, might have to be a zoom party.

For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet
Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.
Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.
Open the door, then close it behind you.
Take a breath offered by friendly winds.
They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.
Give it back with gratitude.
If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.
Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.
Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time.
They sit before the fire that has been there without time.
Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.
Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.
Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.
The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.
Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.
Do not hold regrets.
When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.
You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.
Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.
Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.
Ask for forgiveness.
Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.
Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.
You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.
Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.
Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters.
Gather them together.
They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.
Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.
Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.
Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.
Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.


The times are changing – and what a journey. Our Journey Groups start back up in September, when our theme for the month will be journeying and wandering. “Journey” may be what you call it as you look back to see how you got where you are, and “wandering” is what it feels like when you’re in the middle of it – which, in some sense, we always are.

Oh, what a journey. Joy Harjo in that opening reading enjoined us to a journey. "Ask forgiveness," she said. Yet she also said, "Do not hold regrets," and, "Don’t worry," and, "Cut the ties you have to failure and shame." She describes a journey of cleaning ourselves, and putting our spirits back together.

As we arrive at today, this 9th Sunday of summer, our congregation’s journey through the summer so far has crystallized and articulated the important learnings of the last several years, or decades, or centuries. I want to take some time today to do something I never do: recap – because: this summer’s Community Unitarian Universalist worship services have been urgent and beautiful and wise, and I want to recognize that and not let the messages get lost, but kept at the forefront of our minds.

On this Sunday when we dedicated our chalice to our second source: "words and deeds of prophetic people that challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love," let’s review some of the words of prophetic people this summer who graced our pulpit, and who, indeed, challenged us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.

Collectively, this summer’s services tell us that a reckoning and rectifying really could happen, and is happening. Four hundred years of racial hatred is finally turning in the direction of fairness and respect – the direction of beloved community. The prospect of living in a world of substantially greater justice feels greater than I have ever felt it – and this summer we heard that from a range of different preachers.

Remember six weeks ago -- July 5? Petra Thombs shared a service commemorating Juneteenth and traditions of liberation among indigenous and African-American peoples. We learned or remembered Frederick Douglass’ stark exposure of the meaning of Independence Day.
“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him more than all other days in the year the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham, your boasted liberty an unholy license, your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass-fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery.”
Petra made vivid for us the environmental injustice of using Lanape-Ramapough land for toxic waste dumps – and the effort to save their sacred area, Split Rock. She spoke of the black lives that didn’t matter to police officers. “The over-reach of policing,” Petra said, “enables the arm of white supremacy.” Linking the crises, Petra noted that “the devastation of the covid pandemic has exposed the greater virus that has lived in our nation from its inception.”

She said: “A child who can grow up and never be confronted with how they benefit from racial violence is levels behind. A society that creates schools and culture like this has failed in its humanity.”

With this clearer understanding of our predicament, positive moves forward become possible.

Remember five weeks ago – July 12? Rev. Leslie Becknell Marx spoke to us about the power of covenant. She cited the great Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams that human beings become human beings by making promises to each other, for such covenant brings us out of our separateness and brings us into accountability. The relations of accountability – giving account of ourselves to each other -- is liberating. It brings us into our own, into a structure of belonging. This means we have to be ready to learn from each other – to hear how our words or actions have done harm – without getting defensive, and, here’s what’s often the harder part – without feeling shame. No shame.

Rev. Becknell Marx cited Brene Brown that shame is a tool of oppression, and she cited Audre Lourde that the master’s house will not be dismantled by the master’s tools. So: no shame. Shame kills empathy, and empathy is what we need most.

Yet shame may arise -- it comes unbidden (and when have we ever bidden it?). So we must learn to recognize the feeling, identify how it manifests in the body, and manage it – and not talk, text, or type while we are in its grip.

Some slogans can be helpful. For Brene Brown, the slogan she repeats to herself is “I’m here to get it right, not to be right.” Rev. Becknell Marx’s own reminder slogan, she said, is “Kind, awkward, brave.” Oriented toward kindness, brave enough to not run from what is awkward. Be kind. Be awkward. Be brave. We actually can do that.

Remember four weeks ago, July 19? Reggie Harris in song and story told us about Sankofa – the symbol of the Akan people of Ghana: a bird with its head turned backward taking an egg from its back. It expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present to make positive progress. And that’s just what Reggie’s service did: drawing on knowledge gained from experience, he limned the possibility of a future of greater racial justice.

Three weeks ago, July 26, I took a turn and spoke about Widening the Circle of Concern – and the way that efforts for racial justice have played out in Unitarian history, including particularly these last few years. Unitarian Universalists have expressed ideals of equality, but we haven’t done the work to learn what we need to learn to make our congregations truly welcoming places for Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color. The one line from that service that I’d most like us all to remember is where I cited Aisha Hauser, a Unitarian Universalist religious educator of color. Aisha said: “I feel like we [meaning: we Unitarian Universalists] are at a precipice. Either we are going to be who we say we are, or we will be a country club for white people.”

Two weeks ago, Rev. Karen Brammer called our attention to this liminal time – the threshold we are on of a new possibility. Whether you say "precipice," like Aisha, or “threshold of liminal time,” like Karen, there’s a sense that we are in a time of transition and great possibility -- both for our denomination and our world.

Rev. Brammer spoke of "catastrophic success": that our economic and political systems have been so successful – catastrophically successful -- at generating wealth for the wealthy. That "success" brought along with it our three catastrophes: the pandemic, environmental collapse, and racial injustice.

We Unitarian Universalists are well-suited, she said, to encourage just change, and understanding how liminal the present time is will help us be oriented toward making positive change happen.

Rev. Brammer cited Eric Holthaus’s point that that climate crisis is the result of centuries of injustice, that we now stand of the brink of righting the wrongs of the past and rebuilding our society. Thus, says Holthaus, “the next few decades are going to feel like falling in love.” He says it’s about “setting aside everything you thought you knew and trusting that you’ll end up in a radically different place you never could have achieved on your own.” So – yeah – that’s what falling in love does to us.

The world of justice that we now but dimly apprehend, but which powerfully lures us forward, will bring together planetary sustainability, public health, and full-scale racial and multicultural respect.

And then one week ago -- last week -- Rev. Jef Gamblee said, even if we do not engage overtly in white-biased behavior, we are inheritors of White Supremacy. He told of how echoes of his racist childhood live within him all the time, he asked us to reflect on ways we mindlessly sustain White Supremacy – and ways we sustain what Paul Scanlon called the White Compact – that we won’t call out another white person.

Guest preachers at Community Unitarian Universalist have free reign to talk about whatever they find most compelling, and yet every service this summer has been about race and justice – because that’s the compelling theme of our time. We’re all talking about it because finally it feels like we might be getting somewhere. We’re all talking about it because the prospect of living in a society that’s actually coming to grips with its white supremacist culture is the most exciting thing any of us can think of.

We are in the middle of one amazing journey – a journey that seemed impossible just a few years ago.


Holy Creation:

In the fog of our uncertainty, may we find moments of clarity. In the fatigue of our grief, may we find the strength to go on. In the social distancing of our lives, may we know that we are not alone.

Let our thoughts, our hearts, and our prayers go out to every neighborhood in the world where protests over life and death concerns continue, though the media vans have moved away. Let our thoughts, our hearts, and our prayers go out to every village and every city where people seek to safely gather in the name of peace, asking for recognition and reparations for their neighbors -- in Belarus, Hong Kong, Portland, and everywhere there are demonstrations for justice. May we learn how to speak words of solidarity that matter, how to take actions that make a difference, how to walk with each other down the long road of justice.

Our thoughts, our hearts, and our prayers go out to Beirut, Lebanon and all Lebanese people, as their communities are convulsed by the aftereffects of the ammonium nitrate explosion – to the brokenhearted, and to the rescue workers. May we support and accompany their journey towards recovery and justice.

Our thoughts, our hearts, and our prayers are with students, teachers, parents, and communities facing decisions around the start of school. Our earnest hope is that those who are making decisions on behalf of our most vulnerable will act with wisdom, discernment, and compassion.

Our thoughts, our hearts, and our prayers are with our planet as we learned that the Milne ice shelf – Canada’s last intact ice shelf – has split and collapsed into now-free-floating parts. As the ice vanishes, so do the ecosystems dependent on it, and the shelf’s break-up removes a stopper that was preventing melting glacial water from seeping to the ocean, raising sea levels.

Our thoughts, hearts, and prayers are with climate refugees all over the world. And with those affected by the mud slide in Kerala, India. And with those caught in the cross fire of violent battles in Mocimboa da Praia, Mozambique. And with those living through the emergence of deadly conflicts in Port Sudan, Sudan.

In all these things, we discover again our finitude. We ask of ourselves the mindful intention to delight in what is good, to confront what is cruel, to heal what is damaging.



We are in the middle of one amazing journey – a journey that seemed impossible just a few years ago. We are not there yet – not by a long shot – and there’s no guarantee that the inevitable backlash won’t prevail. Just that we could get there is so exciting that I – and evidently a lot of other ministers and leaders of faith congregations – can’t stop talking about it.

And when I say “we” are not there yet, I don’t just mean that the country isn’t there yet. I mean you and me. We have to keep learning. Robin DiAngelo tells this story:
‘In my workshops, I often ask people of color, “How often have you given white people feedback on our unaware yet inevitable racism? How often has that gone well for you?”
Eye-rolling, head-shaking, and outright laughter follow, along with the consensus of rarely, if ever.
I then ask, “What would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect, and work to change that behavior?”
Recently a man of color sighed and said, “It would be revolutionary.” I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. It would be revolutionary if we could receive, reflect, and work to change the behavior.’
That’s it. That’s the revolution: to be a people that can graciously learn. Not get defensive, or insist that we didn’t intend any harm – as if that made everything OK. And not succumbing to shame because we didn’t already know. Graciously learn from feedback. That’s what accountability looks like.

I know that we often hear angry voices calling for somebody – a police officer, say, who murdered an unarmed black man – to be held accountable. And what “held accountable” amounts to in that context is punished: charged with the crime they have evidently committed; and, if they are guilty, found guilty; and then sentenced according to the same formula applied to a black man or anyone else found guilty of that crime.

Punishment is our institution of last resort for holding people accountable. The call for a wrong-doer to be held accountable amounts to a call for punishment only in a context where no other means of accountability is available. When we have run out of all other ways to uphold the principle that everyone has a responsibility to other people – a responsibility, among other things, to not cause certain kinds of harm designated in law – punishment is the last resort for insisting on that principle of responsibility to one another.

Certainly there’s a legitimate question that needs serious examination whether our prison system ever does any good for anybody – for the convicted, for the victim, for public safety generally. Proposals that we should close all prisons -- and the thesis that fully developed institutions of restorative justice without imprisonment would better reduce crime, promote public safety, a healthy society, the healing of victims, and the redemption of offenders -- are worth taking seriously. In that conversation, we would also address the very difficult questions of how could we get there from here.

But if we’re going to have prisons at all, we need to use them equitably. It’s funny how in America today, the thought that prison is harsh and unnecessary, and an alternative to prison would be more appropriate, seems to enter certain heads only when the accused is white.

Punishment is our institution of last resort for insisting that we are all accountable for how we treat each other. We arrive at that last resort when all other structures of accountability have failed. When they don't fail -- that is to say, when proper accountability exists at all -- no punishment is involved.

Accountability is what we long for. I don’t mean that we long for other people to be held accountable for behaviors we don’t like. I mean we ourselves long to be held accountable, to be in relationships of accountability, to be, in other words, in community – seen for who we are – giving account for ourselves.

Accountable means answerable – liable to be called to account. To be accountable means you count – you matter. To be accountable means you belong.

It’s been ten years since I read Peter Block’s book, Community: the Structure of Belonging, and it left a permanent impress on my understanding of accountability. Accountability means community, and it means belonging.

Peter Block says:
“The essential work is to build social fabric, both for its own sake and to enable chosen accountability among [members]. When members care for each other, they become accountable to each other. Care and accountability create a healthy community." (30)
In another passage, Block says:
“Restorative community is created when we allow ourselves to use the language of healing and relatedness and belonging without embarrassment. It recognizes that taking responsibility for one’s own part in creating the present situation is the critical act of courage and engagement, which is the axis around which the future rotates. The essence of restorative community building is not economic prosperity or the political discourse or the capacity of leadership; it is members’ willingness to own up to their contribution, to be humble, to choose accountability, and to have faith in their own capacity to make authentic promises to create the alternative future. This means that the essential aspect of the restoration of community is a context in which each member chooses to be accountable rather than entitled. Accountability is the willingness to care for the whole, and it flows out of the kind of conversations we have about the new story we want to take our identity from. It means we have conversations of what we can do to create the future. Entitlement is a conversation about what others can or need to do to create the future for us. . . . (48)
"Entitlement is essentially the conversation, ‘What’s in it for me?’....Entitlement is the outcome of a patriarchal culture,...The cost of entitlement is that it is an escape from accountability and soft on commitment. It gets in the way of authentic membership. What is interesting is that the existing public conversation claims to be tough on accountability; but the language of accountability that occurs in a retributive context is code for ‘control.’ High-control systems are unbearably soft on accountability. They keep screaming for tighter controls, new laws, and bigger systems, but the scream, the expose their weakness. The weakness in the dominant view of accountability is that it thinks people can be held accountable – that we can force people to be accountable....It is an illusion to believe that retribution, incentives, legislation, new standards, and tough consequences will cause accountability. This illusion is what creates entitlement – and worse, it drives us apart;...Every colonial and autocratic regime rises to power by turning members against each other....Commitment and accountability are forever paired, for they do not exist without each other. Accountability [remember,] is the willingness to care for the well-being of the whole; commitment is the willingness to make a promise with no expectation of return....Commitment is the antithesis of entitlement and barter. Unconditional commitment with no thought to ‘What’s in it for me?’ is the emotional and relational essence of community. It is to choose a path for its own sake.” (70-72)
For 400 years the white power structure has relied on its entitlements – incentives and coercions – and has avoided accountability. This is the source of our defensiveness and shame when we are called out for something that is hurtful to a member of a less dominant culture or group. When we're called out, we are prone to respond with defensiveness, or shame, or both because we are products of a system of entitlements that uses shame as a primary coercive strategy. We’ve been conditioned to feel judged and ashamed – punishable – when in fact we are being invited into relationships of care in which we are learning from each other how to more effectively care -- how to make love real.

It's striking that three years ago when UUA President Peter Morales resigned in the face of being strongly called out, the people who had been criticizing Peter's actions felt no satisfaction. Instead, just the opposite: they felt hurt that he withdrew from the conversation, withdrew from accountability. They really were not seeking his punishment or replacement -- they were seeking accountability, and they wanted him to hang in there with them -- to graciously and thoughtfully consider the feedback and work to change. If you had been watching that conflict unfold, and concluded, "the critics won," then you were looking through the lens of the old paradigm of power. There's a new paradigm -- a new culture for understanding what it means to call someone out. In this new culture -- more in evidence among the younger folks and among activists -- what sounds like criticism in the old paradigm is a call for accountability. It's not seeking to banish you in shame, but to draw you in to a greater belonging.

When we are called out for a white supremacist assumption (which we made because white supremacy is baked into the neural pathways of everyone of whatever race – pretty much throughout the industrialized world) we are, in fact, not being judged. We are called out because this is how assumptions get unbaked: slowly, and piece by piece, and person to person.

We really aren’t being judged -- or blamed or shamed. And that’s the hardest part to grasp of what’s going on in this liminal time of emergent possibility. We aren’t being judged. We are, very differently, being called to community – a wider and richer and more beloved community than we have ever known. May it be so. Amen.


Widening the Circle of Concern



The times are changing. The Christian organization, Bread for the World, had had on its Board of Directors the congressman who accosted and levied sexist insults at Representative Ocasio-Cortez and non-apologized for it. Yesterday, though, Bread for the World asked for and received his resignation from its Board. The Christian charity said the congressman’s “recent actions and words as reported in the media are not reflective of the ethical standards expected of members of our Board of Directors.” The group’s statement spoke of “our commitment to coming alongside women and people of color, nationally and globally, as they continue to lead us to a more racially inclusive and equitable world.”

You might remember a day when you didn’t hear Christian charities talk that way. You might remember a day when you didn’t hear Unitarian Universalist organizations talk that way.

I checked the New York Times Bestseller list yesterday. For Combined Print and E-Book sales, the new book by Mary Trump has the top spot. At number two is Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility. At number three is Ibram Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist. The top 15 titles this week also includes: Eddie Glaude, Begin Again (an appraisal of the life and work of James Baldwin in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement and the current administration); Ijeoma Olua, So You Want to Talk about Race; Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law (looking at how the American government abetted racial segregation in metropolitan areas across the country); Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow; Layla Saad, Me and White Supremacy; Bryan Stephenson, Just Mercy; and Ibram Kendi’s earlier book, Stamped from the Beginning, (looking at anti-Black racist ideas through the course of American history).

That’s nine titles on the Combined print and e-book bestseller list. The Hardback bestsellers also include: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me. And the Paperback bestseller list this week also includes: Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns (about the Great Migration of 1915-70, in which six million African-Americans abandoned the South); Beverly Daniel Tatum, Why Are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria; Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime (about growing up biracial in South Africa).

That’s a lot of interest in racism. And yes, there’s been an upswing in attention to the issue since George Floyd’s murder on May 25. More than half these books were not only receiving a lot of critical attention, but were bestsellers before George Floyd.

It’s true, Americans aren’t big readers, so even bestseller nonfiction isn’t seen by most Americans. Still, the ideas filter down, and there IS a lot of reckoning going on.

The concept “colorblind racism” is beginning to be more widely recognized. Colorblind racism refers to collective practices that reinforce the contemporary racial order even without individuals intentionally discriminating on the basis of race. It refers to ignoring the ways that whiteness exists as a system of power. And to ignore that system of power is to allow it to continue – it’s to be complicit in sustaining that system.

So Ibram Kendi makes the point that we can be racist, or we can be antiracist. There is no comfortable in-between called being “not racist.” "Nonracist" is an illusion – in fact, a delusion. Either racial hierarchy is OK, or it isn’t, and if we aren’t actively dismantling it, we’re tacitly saying it’s OK.

There are differences between racial groups in poverty, unemployment, educational attainment, homelessness, low birth-weight babies, hypertension, life expectancy, risk of subjection to police brutality. So where do we think those differences come from? There are racist explanations of those differences as rooted in genetics. But if it isn’t genetics, the only alternative explanation is systems of power and policies.

Certainly there are cultural differences. Cultural differences are either irrelevant to negative quality of life outcomes, or they are the targets of power and policies, or they are responses to, and results of, systems of power and policies. So any attempt at a cultural explanation immediately requires systemic explanation.

Thus, there is no middle ground between racist and antiracist. The explanation is either genetic and racist or its systemic and antiracist. We are either confronting racial inequities or we’re allowing them continue. Ignoring them is allowing them to continue.

What does it look like to NOT allow them to continue? What do we need to change to be antiracist? As individuals, I suggest take a look at the bestseller list, pick a title and start reading. As a Unitarian Universalist congregation – and as the Unitarian Universalist Association of congregations – what are the changes we need?

What I want to do today is particularly shine the light on Unitarian Universalist institutions because that’s where we are.

Let's begin with some history about Unitarians and racial justice.

In the pre-civil war years a number of Unitarian clergy and other leaders were prominent abolitionists. We can be proud of that – yet we must also remember that the rank-and-file Unitarian was not committed to abolition. In 1836, Unitarian minister William Furness preached against slavery to his congregation, the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. Roughly half of his congregation was outraged and incensed. Many of them quit the church or withheld pledges.

That would never happen at Community Unitarian Universalist, right? No, probably not. For one thing, nobody defends literal chattel slavery anymore. For another thing, twenty-first century congregations simply don’t take their ministers as seriously as 19th-century congregations did. No matter how much you might disagree with what I say, you give it an interested listen and aren’t outraged because the pulpit isn’t as powerful and threatening as it was – which is a good thing.

But beyond that, try to get inside the heads and hearts of those 1836 Philadelphia Unitarians. They faced challenges and frustrations, and as they tried to build lives of comfort and good things for their families, they developed certain moral blind spots about what made such a life possible. In that regard, is that so different from us?

Jump forward to 1965. Five hundred Unitarian Universalists from around the country went to Alabama to participate with Dr. King in the march from Selma to Montgomery, including over 140 Unitarian Universalist clergy -- 20 percent of all UU ministers in final fellowship at that time. We can be proud of that – yet we must also remember that two years later, in 1967, 135 Unitarian Universalists came to New York for an "Emergency Conference on Unitarian Universalist Response to the Black Rebellion." What ensued became the messy and forlorn chapter in Unitarian Universalist history involving the BUUC, the BAC, and the BAWA.

Almost as soon as the meeting was called to order, 30 of the 37 African American delegates withdrew to form a Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus (BUUC). The BUUC developed a list of what they called "non-negotiable demands" to be submitted to the conference and, ultimately, the UU Association's Board of Trustees. The core demand was that the board establish a Black Affairs Council (BAC), to be appointed by the BUUC and funded for four years at $250,000 a year -- which would have then been 12 percent of the UUA's entire budget. The next General Assembly approved these demands. Then the General Assembly after that, finding that funds had grown tighter, wanted to spread the million dollars over five years at $200,000 a year instead of four years at $250,000 a year. The BUUC seemed heavy-handed to some, and another group, "Black and White Action" (BAWA), formed -- also sincerely wanting to advance the cause of civil rights.

Very hard feelings erupted on the floor of the General Assembly 1969 in Boston. Almost all of the 200-300 black delegates there got up and walked out. The BUUC folks denounced the BAWA folks. It seems the leadership of the UUA had some paternalistic civil rights attitudes. We can say the BUUC leaders might have chosen to be content with recognition and funding and not vindictively insisted on "not one penny for BAWA." And, too, the BAWA supporters might not have reacted against the BUUC as if their lives depended on it. Still, the fact remains that our denomination never recovered from the 1969 General Assembly. In the years following, African American membership in our congregations plummeted.


Source of Creation and Creativity -- and Destruction; source of birth – and of death:

Ours is a world of glory: from greens of summer, to orange sunsets, to every miraculous breath of air, from the transient sparkle of the fleeting meteor to the unexpected spectacle of Comet Neowise -- glory fills the earth from mountain height to ocean depth. Our hearts swell with grateful hallelujah.

Grounded in Thanksgiving, our spirits seek to respond in compassion, for the world’s glory properly opens our hearts to the world’s suffering as well.

We remember the war-torn, hungry and pandemic hit country of Yemen. Oh, how can this horrible situation still continue?

We remember the East Africa countries into the Horn of Africa and India and Pakistan as huge locust swarms move across the land. May our desire to act against their destructive force be planned sensibly, taking into account the needs of other wildlife so that the regions’ bio-diversity can be maintained.

We remember the areas affected by earthquake this week, notably the Aleutians East Borough, Alaska.

We remember Bangladesh, Nepal and eastern states of India hit by the worst monsoon flooding for many years. Millions have been displaced, and at least 500 human deaths have resulted, as well as loss of wildlife, including drowned rare one-horned rhinos. Aid efforts are impeded by multi-national lockdowns and closed borders.

We remember in gratitude the researchers whose work to find treatments and vaccines continues and progresses.

We remember in gratitude the life of John Lewis, the great civil rights activist and the great congressman, who died on July 17 at age 80. John Lewis would say, “It’s better to be a pilot light than a firecracker.” May we be pilot lights, shining and ever ready to fire up the engines of justice once again.

For those who have planned new jobs, or moving homes, may it go smoothly. For those forced into unplanned life changes by war, politically-caused famine, and environmental disasters, may safe, secure refuges of warmth, shelter, food, and drink be found. For all known to us overtaken by a trauma, may healing and peace come. And for ourselves. As we self-isolate, mourn, or rejoice and party, may we be safe, secure, and held in belonging. Amen.


200 to 300 African American delegates walked out of that 1969 General Assembly. We haven’t had anywhere near 300 African American delegates at any General Assembly since. Unitarian Universalists want, and I want, to build among ourselves a culture of multicultural competency that truly respects diversity, and that has the skills to know how to be properly respectful and welcoming and inclusive and supportive. But when it comes to doing the work to make that our reality, we blew it at the General Assemblies of 1968 and 69 – and we’ve blown it repeatedly since then.

There were antiracism initiatives in the 1970s, 1980s, and the 1990s. Each was discontinued too soon or inadequately funded to have much effect. I remember being a lay member of our Nashville, Tennessee congregation in the 1990s and going to some of that decade’s antiracism trainings at my church. The UUA program of that decade was called “Journey Toward Wholeness.” I remember learning some of the ways that what we now simply call white supremacy culture operated – and I remember how indignant some of my fellow UUs were at the very idea that there might be more to dismantling racism than strategies for convincing other people to be as colorblind as we thought we were.

And that brings us to spring 2017. As of early March 2017, I admit, I was unaware that racial tensions within Unitarian Universalism were at a breaking point. I was not noticing, for instance, the numbers: that all five of the Regional Leads for the five Unitarian Universalist regions were white ministers, as was their supervisor at UUA headquarters.

At that time, of 56 people with supervisory responsibilities at the UUA, 8 were people of color, just over 14 percent. I wasn’t familiar with how many of our congregation’s religious educators of color had stories of mistreatment at the hands of white leadership, or that our religious professionals of color tend to have disproportionately short tenures within congregations whose members may have never had another significant relationship with a person of color.

So I didn’t know how systemic it was when our Community UU Congregation’s religious educator of color’s tenure with us turned out to be short. I didn’t know how prevalently our religious educators of color faced questions about their qualifications, comments that they are hired as “token,” regular challenges to their authority, culturally uninformed comments, and racial slurs – or how often the cumulative effect of this leaves them in need of treatment for the traumatic impact.

Then in mid-March 2017, a hiring decision for one of the five Regional Leads was made. The position was offered to yet another white male minister, passing over qualified Religious Educators of color. For a lot of Unitarian Universalists, that was the last straw and more than they could quietly absorb.

In the criticism of UUA, white supremacy was named, often. UUA President, Peter Morales, was evidently not prepared for the point that a system can be white supremacist – can tacitly operate to sustain the centering of whiteness – even if it is explicitly opposed to Nazi Skinhead white nationalist organizations. So in his initial responses, he made things worse. Criticism grew, and Morales resigned – which felt to many like a breaking of covenant to hang in with each other, and work things out.

A number of other high-ranking UUA officers also resigned, and when it came to light what substantial severance packages had been given – not normally offered in cases of voluntary resignation – the sense of hurt and injustice deepened. Strong feelings flared across social media, which caught rank and file Unitarian Universalists by surprise. As the Commission on Institutional Change – formed to address the issues raised – observed:
“Mainstream Unitarian Universalism was not aware of the amount of pain and trauma being held by the communities of color in the Association, which erupted around these events.” (168)
A sense of urgency emerged in the spring of 2017 – an urgency that continues today through our congregations.

The commission’s report, issued last month, mentioned continuity as a necessary commitment, recognizing “that we would not be having these conversations in 2020 if we had kept them going in the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s” (138). So the urgency felt as the Commission began its work three years ago manifested as a visceral gripping imperative: “We can’t blow this again.”

We have said we are a welcoming congregation, that we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity, and compassion; acceptance of one another; respect for the interdependent web of existence. We say that we want diversity, want to be inclusive. But we haven’t lived it. Aisha Hauser, a religious educator of color, tells us: “I feel like we are at a precipice. Either we are going to be who we say we are, or we will be a country club for white people.”

As stark as that choice is that Aisha presents to us, in truth, it is starker than that. Either we are going to make more real the promise of the values we profess, or we are going to die out. The Commission’s report notes,
“the values of Unitarian Universalism cannot be realized in a system that is centered around one cultural expression. In fact, the centering of white culture and values has stymied the development of a full range of cultural expressions. . . . Younger generations expect multicultural competency, are wary of institutions that lack authenticity with their values, and expect more participatory models of shared leadership.”
Active commitment to becoming a model of antiracist community isn’t just the right thing to do – isn’t just a worthwhile and inspiring project. It’s our only tenable growth strategy.

A number of the Commission’s recommendations are focused on the UUA. Our responsibility is to be informed about what’s happening at the Associational level, and support appropriate changes. And as resources and trainings become available, to enthusiastically take advantage of them. One recommendation is for creation of a congregational certification program – like the Welcoming Congregation certification for welcoming LGBTQ folk, and the Green Sanctuary certification recognizing a congregation’s commitment to environmental preservation. To gain antiracism certification, we’d have to put some energy into learning and changing. The emphasis in all our justice work would increasingly privilege those most affected by the injustice, and follow the voices of those most at risk. There’s a recommendation that our congregational budget include funds
“to allow leaders of color, indigenous leaders, and other leaders under-represented to attend affinity groups and national meetings where they will be able to connect with others who share their identity and Unitarian Universalist faith.”
In all, the Commission on Institutional Change has 35 recommendations and articulates 119 actions it calls for to implement those recommendations.

The report, Widening the Circle of Concern, will not be an easy read for many of us – simply reading it will be, for many of us, an exercise in stretching our cultural awareness outside our comfort zone. But read it, I hope you will. The future of Unitarian Universalism, if there is a future for our faith, will look different. The commission collected hundreds of testimonials, and the report quotes from a few of them. One of them says:
“I wish more of my people looked like me. For that reason, I fear that I may always feel a little bit like an outsider. I will explain it to you in the following way. It is quite obvious to me that the UU setting is a sanctuary for gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people. It is not as obvious that it is for people of color.”
To change that – to de-center the cultural assumptions of whiteness – will change us. Some of the things that made this place comfortable for some of us will be lost. Change is hard because it involves loss. It’s appropriate to grieve.

If we can pull it off, change will also involve many gains – exciting and invigorating multicultural community – different voices, different music, different ways of thinking and doing. A healing and a new wholeness scarcely heretofore imagined will be ours. May it be so. Amen.


From Kimberly Quinn Johnson:
Hush: Somebody’s calling your name — Can you hear it? Calling you to a past not quite forgotten, calling us to a future not fully imagined? Hush, hush: Somebody’s calling our name. What shall we do?


Just Love

OUR TIMES -- See minister's column, HERE


Oh, my, y’all – as we say down South. 2020 – the year that means perfect vision – 20/20 – has seen one thing after another that we never saw before and didn’t see coming. Global pandemic. Growing recession and unemployment. Three weeks and counting of protests – world-wide protests – sparked by the George Floyd murder. This last week – well, as one headline put it – it was a bad week to be a racist statue. Confederate Civil War figures were smashed, beheaded, pulled down. In Belgium, they’re removing statues of King Leopold, the 19th-century king who was particularly cruel in colonizing Africa. In New Zealand, protestors removed a statue of John Hamilton, the 19th-century British Naval commander who was merciless in his attacks on the island’s indigenous people.

NASCAR banned the confederate flag. NASCAR! I don’t know how many of you are fans, but the confederate flag has been so common at NASCAR races as to be practically the sport’s unofficial logo.

General Petraeus has called for renaming Forts Bragg, Benning, and Lee because they were confederate traitors. And the Senate Armed Services committee, controlled by Republicans, has said the renaming must happen within three years.

The National Football League reversed its stance on players kneeling during the national anthem. HBO pulled Gone with the Wind until they could provide a historical context framing. And the TV show “Cops” – which carefully selects footage to cast police in the most heroic possible light – after 31 years on the air was cancelled.

All in barely more than a week. Wow. These are symbolic moves, but they were passionately resisted up until the last couple weeks.

With all that going on in our world, I ask us today to reflect about sex. No, not because I thought we could all use a break from pandemics like Covid-19 and racism. Reality doesn’t take breaks. And uplifting spiritual growth does not come from escapism, it comes from more deeply connecting to reality, in all of its tragedy and its beauty. (So I hope you’ll plan to be part of our next event about the 1619 Project, and will participate in demonstrations for police reform. And zoom in at 1:30 today for the conversation Tracy will be leading about talking with children and youth about racial justice. We are liable to learn some things about how to talk to ourselves, too.)

Today’s topic is not to give us a break, but to emphasize that the work of justice is one. Our private relationships and our public relationships foster each other. In both cases, it’s about treating people in ways that respect and honor them to facilitate their flourishing and our own. This requires understanding, and it requires compassion, and those are skills that Unitarian Universalist congregations exist to help develop.

Whether the issue is hate or the issue is love, the need is justice -- respecting and honoring personhood; flourishing by helping each other flourish; liberation from domination. It’s all one.

Reconceiving marriage on a less patriarchal model has been a part of the work of liberation. Marriage once was understood as a set of five tightly-linked features:
  • creation of a household of two adults;
  • sexual exclusivity to within that household;
  • production of babies;
  • raising of the children; and
  • perpetuation of the parents’ genetic lines.
That was the package deal. Being married implied all five of those things -- most of the time. If, every once in a while, an infertile man or woman got married, or a couple past child-bearing age, that was OK. As long as that was the exception to the rule, the basic model (that those five went together), remained intact.

The sexual ethic, then, was to support the package deal, to uphold the idea that any one of those five parts ought to imply all of the other four as well. Thus, the ethic included such principles as no premarital sex, and no sex outside of the sort of relationship that looked like the kind that procreates.

Over the course of my lifetime, those previously inextricable features of marriage came apart -- and with that dissolution the old sexual ethic has faded. The arrival of reliable birth control meant that otherwise fertile opposite-sex couples could, as they chose, form a household together without producing or raising babies. The rise in out-of-wedlock births and single parent families has meant producing and raising children without two adults making a household together. You can have marriage without sex, and sex without marriage (which has always been fairly common but in recent decades has lost much of the stigma it used to have). You can have sex without babies, and babies without sex – the former through the aforementioned miracles of birth control, and the latter through the miracles of surrogate motherhood, artificial insemination, and adoption. You can propagate your genes without raising the children, and raise children without propagating your genes.

The package deal has come undone. And with it, the sexual ethic that supported that package deal no longer compels. Sexuality is nonetheless a powerful force that can bring us into our wholeness -- or break us into little pieces. As much as ever, we need a way to say what’s OK and what isn’t, when it comes to romance, and sex, and coupling.

Our bodies are themselves unique vehicles of potential liberation and fulfillment. They are integral parts of our identity. When our bodies love, the first awakening of love may not be a matter of choice. It comes upon us unbidden. We “fall into” love. Yet love can be directed by choice. Even in the beginning, we can influence our loves by, as Sister Margaret Farley writes:
“choosing to pay attention to certain realities or not, putting ourselves in a position to discover lovableness..., choosing to believe (even if we do not yet 'see,'...) in the value of persons or of anything in creation.... We can identify with our loves and freely ratify them....We can also repudiate, or defer, some of our loves by choosing not to identify with them.” (Farley)
Where there is choice, there is space for ethical reflection.

Justice means equal respect. Yet the concrete meaning of respect must be tailored to cultural differences and to individual differences. Just love – love that is not unjust – is a social concern, and sometimes a highly contentious social concern, as we saw in Supreme Court nominations in 1991 and 2018. We all have a role to play in creating a favorable social context for personal integrity, freedom, flourishing – and thus for individuals to choose just and true love and commitment.


Sacred friend and guide, invaluable projection of our individual and collective imagination and moral aspiration, avatar of our better selves:
You are with us whenever we invoke you, and with others whenever we hold them in our compassion. Our vision sees you there, a companion in the streets, in police stations, on curbsides, at take-out restaurants, in hospital waiting rooms, in public health offices conducting contact tracing phone calls, in hallways of governments, standing beside the sprayers of tear gas and the shooters of rubber bullets and the wielders of billy clubs, and standing with those receiving tear gas, rubber bullets, and billy clubs.

Be with us as our minds take in the words of the times: “police reform,” “migrant worker,” “essential workers,” “health equity,” “social distancing,” “multisystem inflammatory syndrome,” “data control,” “I can’t breathe,” “spiritual bypassing,” “voter suppression,” “caught on film.” Yet let us not forget the older, enduring words: “hunger,” “poverty,” “deserted,” “overrun,” “marginalized.”

Be with the people who have taken to the streets all over the world to protest. Be with those veteran activists who have been devoting their lives to justice since long before there were cell phones and viral videos. Be with those who have committed to the Black Lives Matter movement since its inception 8 years ago. Be with the thousands of newcomers who have just now, finally, decided that Black Lives do matter. We pray for the ending of institutional racism here and in all places. Help us to lean out new windows to hear sounds in other communities.

Be with the people of Brazil and its public health care system and epidemiologic surveillance that has pushed back against the president and ministers who sought to suppress and minimize the data on COVID-19. Be with the people of Hong Kong, and help their freedoms endure: of expression, publication, information, assembly, religion, and association. Be with the Indian Samaritans organization in New Delhi, delivering food coupons to the neediest families. Be with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, dismantling white supremacy and advancing human rights around the globe.

Give us courage to do what is difficult. Make us unafraid to give tenderly, and strong enough to love mightily. Soften our touch, blend our voices, clarify our minds, fire our hearts for the task at hand, and make our juices flow for justice. When we are the healers, then will we be healed. Blessed be, and Amen.


These are the six norms that Sister Margaret Farley offers for love based in justice:
  • do no unjust harm, 
  • free consent, 
  • mutuality, 
  • equality, 
  • commitment, 
  • fruitfulness.
One: Do No Unjust Harm

Harm can take many forms:
“physical, psychological, spiritual, relational. It can also take the form of failure to support, to assist, to care for, to honor.”
In love and its sexual expression, we are uniquely tender and vulnerable -- so acute attention to the risks of harm is called for. Sexual expression is highly variable, and just because something is repulsive to you or me doesn’t make it wrong. Pain may be a part of sexual expression, and for some folks it may be particularly central. Bodily damage may part of that. Sexuality-related cosmetic surgeries also constitute bodily damage. So we can’t simply say, "Do No Harm." What we can say is do no unjust harm. That’s the overall guideline, the overall ethic, the first rule. The other points are for clarifying what "unjust" is.

Two: Free Consent

Justice requires autonomy, and without free consent, there is no autonomy. Consent seems such an obvious principle that it’s remarkable how much the emphasis on consent has grown in recent years. And it’s worth remembering that there has been resistance. It wasn’t that long ago that a fraternity group gathered outside the Women’s Center at Yale University to chant, “No means yes.”

Seduction or manipulation of persons who have limited capacity for choice because of immaturity, special dependency, or loss of ordinary power violates free consent. But seduction is complicated. It’s certainly not wrong to try to make yourself attractive to a prospective mate. It’s not wrong to lower the lights, put candles on the table, and Barry White on the stereo.

Promise-keeping and truth-telling are aspects of honoring free consent, since betrayal and deception limit the free choice of the other person. If promise-keeping and truth-telling are honored -- and neither party has "limited capacity for choice because of immaturity, special dependency, or loss of ordinary power" -- then I'd say we're in the realm of wholesome courtship rather than ethically problematic seduction.

If alcohol is going to be involved, then the consent should be clear at some point before inebriation, but whether ethics requires it to be clear before the first glass of wine starts to get a bit fuzzy. Certainly, the clearer the consent, and the more clear-minded the judgment of both parties when they consent, the better.

Moreover, we may be of partly divided mind when it comes to romance. Part of you may be ready to jump in, while part of you is not so sure. Yes, you’re the boss of your body, as Tracy’s Time for All Ages emphasized – but this boss is sometimes a divided internal parliament. So I think the "consent" requirement needs some help from the further guidelines like mutuality, equality, and commitment.

Three: Mutuality

Ethical sexual expression involves mutual participation. What we’re talking about here are the old ideas of “the male as active and the female as passive, the woman as receptacle and the man as fulfiller.” That’s a violation of the mutuality principle. True relationship entails a context recognizing each partner’s activity and each partner’s receptivity -- each partner’s giving and each partner's receiving.

Mutuality need not be perfected, but it does need to be present in some degree. “Two liberties meet, two bodies meet, two hearts come together” – and if they aren’t both putting heart and self into the encounter – if either partner is overwhelmingly passive, hardly participating, it isn’t mutual.

Four: Equality

Just love means that the partners bring roughly equal levels of power and autonomy to the relationship. Inequalities of power may come from differences in social and economic status, or differences in age and maturity. Teachers and their students have an inherent power inequality, as do counselors and their clients, ministers and their parishioners.

It’s not that all such inequalities should be wiped out. The inequality of teacher and student or counselor and client can be very helpful. But it does rule out romantic relationship.

The principle of equality also “rules out treating a partner as property, a commodity, or an element in market exchange.” There are a number of reasons one may favor legalization of prostitution. But making it legal doesn’t make it ethical.

Ethical sexuality may include all manner of role-playing, but if a partner is an actual element in a market exchange, that’s not playing a role. It’s an inherent inequality. Any overlap of the sphere of paying people for goods and services and the sphere of sexual relationship is unethical. On this point, I’m rather more categorical than Sister Farley is. I think any time those spheres blur together, our flourishing is compromised.

The ethical onus falls primarily on the party with greater power: the teacher more than the student, the counselor more than the client, the minister more than the parishioner, and the person paying for sex more than the person paid. The side with less power should also avoid such entanglements as they are able, but, having less power, they are apt to be less able.

Equality, like mutuality, is rarely perfect. The ethical concern is that the power be balanced enough “for each to appreciate the uniqueness and difference of the other, and for each to respect one another as ends in themselves” (Farley) – and not a means only.

Five: Commitment.

Brief encounters are not ruled out. It’s not that all one-night stands are necessarily unethical. The important consideration is that they be entered into with an openness to the possibility that the encounter may lead to long-term relationship. If there is zero prospect of leading to long-term committed relationship, the brief sexual encounter is ethically suspect. As Sister Margaret Farley writes:
“Sexuality is of such importance in human life that it needs to be nurtured, sustained, as well as disciplined, channeled, controlled.... Brief encounters...cannot mediate the kind of union -- of knowing and being known, loving and being loved -- for which human relationality offers the potential.” (Farley)
The rhetoric of commitment can get overblown, and it’s worth remembering that “particular forms of commitment are themselves only means, not ends.” Nevertheless, as Sister Farley reflects:
“Given all the caution learned from contemporary experience, we may still hope that our freedom is sufficiently powerful to gather up our love and give it a future; that thereby our sexual desire can be nurtured into a tenderness that has not forgotten passion. We may still believe that to try to use our freedom in this way is to be faithful to the love that arises in us or even the yearning that rises from us.”
Six, fruitfulness.

The ethical sexual relationship bears fruit. Traditionally, this has meant procreation. The procreation imperative, however, expressed a deeper underlying principle of fruitfulness.

The relationship must not close in on itself. The sexual encounter occurs behind closed doors, but not in a social vacuum. Making babies is one way to be fruitful, one way for the relationship to contribute to ongoing sustaining and building of the human community. There are other ways.
Raising adopted children is certainly fruitful, where the parents’ sexual relationship is an integral part of the loving household that makes for healthy child-rearing. Even without children in the picture at all, a romantic relationship may be fruitful.

Love brings new life to those who love, and that new life is to be brought outward to the nourishing of other relationships. A relationship of just love strengthens the partners, and encourages them in their work in the world. Thus is love fruitful and for the good of all.

Finally, we should note that sexual ethics isn’t just ethics for people in sexual relationships to follow. Sexual ethics also includes obligations that everyone in a society bears to affirm for its members as sexual beings. There are claims of respect that all of us are called to honor – respect for the many forms that human sexuality may take:
“single or married, gay or straight, bisexual or ambiguously gendered, old or young, abled or challenged in the ordinary forms of sexual expression, they have claims to respect from . . . the wider society.”
The ethic of Just Love requires not only that we bring certain principles to our own romantic and intimate relationships, but that we participate in making a society that honors and respects romantic and intimate relationships.

The principles of justice do not stop at the bedroom door. In fact, they go through that door in both directions: entering to inform the sexual encounter, and, strengthened and affirmed there, exiting to inform all our relations.

Justice, as Cornel West said, is what love looks like in public. Recognizing, however, that love can take corrupted forms – can be manipulative, domineering, and abusive -- we need to add that love must look like justice in private.

May it be so. Amen.