Convocation on Theology of Justice and Ministry

We’ve got snow, ice, slush, sleet… but amazingly, weather didn’t interfere with the arrivals of any of the 35 assembled prophets who are tucked into the Maritime Center, near Baltimore Washington Airport, to wrestle with the deeper questions related to social justice: What is it about Unitarian Universalist history, theology, and practice that calls us to justice? How do we hold brokenness, suffering, oppression? How do we find prophetic voice? How do we build prophetic congregations?

It is a huge treat to gather for reflection. I find myself sucking up bits of what might seem abstract or distant theory, just the way my dry Minnesota skin sucks moisturizing lotions in winter. There’s a deficit here and what a treat to spend some time filling it!

In seminary, my psychology and theology professor used to tell us over and over, we should always have at least two theories to pick from as we made any decision in a counseling session. Absent such good grounding, she warned us, we could damage our clients deeply.

And yet, as the saying goes, “I used to have six theories about childraising and no children. Now I have six children and no theories about childraising.” We get busy. We find ourselves suddenly swimming in deep waters where our only thought is survival. We learn that the plane we boarded for Florida was really heading to North Dakota. And we do the best we can.

So, as I say, this is a huge delight. We are here to create a book and a DVD for others to have the same chance for reflection, and it’s fantastic to be here. The UUA is partnering with All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, DC to do this, and received a grant from the UU Funding Panel as well as All Souls’ Beckner Fund. Look for us at the social justice track of UU University at General Assembly in Salt Lake City!

Hold On to This Feeling

The first time that I visited Washington, DC, it was as a tourist. As I stood in awe of monuments and grand buildings, shuffled past the Declaration of Independence, and tried to take in all that the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian had to offer, I could not imagine that anyone actually lived in this city. To me as a tourist, Washington was like a marble theme park where presidents and Congress members made history of one kind or another.

A couple of months after I had moved to the neighborhood of Columbia Heights, I caught sight of the far off Washington monument down Meridian Hill and remembered how I once could not fathom being what I had become, a DC resident. I, like other staff members of the UUA’s Washington Office for Advocacy, live in DC. We go to work, go home, buy groceries, go to church, go out… and know a city that is not evident from vacation visits and media coverage. The Washington that tourists see is disproportionately white with a smattering of foreigners, and an emphasis on lawyers and the military, lobbyists and diplomats. The DC that I know as a resident is a mixture of ethnicities – Euro Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans, and others – living in neighborhoods of varying degrees of integration… policemen and nurses, shop keeps and community organizers. There are neighborhoods of extreme poverty and despair in the same city with the marble facades and luxury hotels. I live in the capital of what is still the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth and yet our school system fails its children, some neighborhoods are plagued with violence, our residents do not have true Congressional representation, and everywhere the divides created by both racism and classism are evident.

I do not mean to give the impression that everyone walks around distrusting each other. Far from it. But just like other large cities in the U.S., there are barriers in our daily lives that are perhaps more visible in DC because of the stark contrasts. But this week we watched those barriers tumble down. On Sunday, I attended the “We Are One” concert with Taquiena Boston and her sister Mishan. We met in the neighborhood of Adams Morgan for brunch and then walked down to the National Mall, an over two mile walk. Along the way, we joined hundreds of others walking there as well. And we smiled at each other and shared stories. At the concert itself, the crowd was even more diverse than the performers on stage. The spirit of unity continued through the weekend, culminating when two million people – from all over the nation including DC, from all walks of life – converged again on the National Mall. When Barack Hussein Obama completed the oath of office, people everywhere hugged the nearest person they could find, regardless of race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation…. We truly were one. This spirit of good will has continued long past that one moment. People greet each other with smiles at metro stops and chat while waiting in lines.

We live in an age where self-sufficiency is valued over cooperation. Where people intentionally avoid eye-contact when passing each other on busy city streets. Only twice in my life have I experienced the loving good will that is still embracing DC right now. The other time was in New York City after September 11th, 2001. While a lot of anger was unfairly directed at Muslims following the attack, there was also an encompassing feeling of intimcacy amongst usually gruff New Yorkers. People held doors open for each other, used their car horns less, and were generally more patient and kind. In our moment of collective grief, as a nation searched for meaning out of tragedy, we could have listened to the better angels of our nature, instead of the demons of fear and self-centeredness. People were ready to serve a higher purpose, if only we had had the leader to inspire us in that direction. Instead, our president at the time told us to “go shopping” and then took us into two wars.

The inauguration of President Obama cannot erase the harm we have done in the last seven years (and for hundreds of years before that). But at least now we have a chance. May we hold on to this feeling of unity in the trying times to come.

UUA’s Advocacy & Witness is now on facebook.

While all UUA staff (and most UUs) are committed to helping to build a more just and equitable world, it is the express purpose of the Advocacy & Witness staff group to take Unitarian Universalist values out into the broader world – to advocate for issues that are important to UUs, to represent Unitarian Universalist values, and to empower UU congregations and individuals to do the same. This staff blog, Inspired Faith, Effective Action, is part of our efforts to communicate information to you in more timely and diverse ways. (We’ve been going for over a year now!) In addition, we maintain the social justice pages of uua.org, where you can find important dates, resources, and suggested actions, as well as several email lists. However, even though we ask for feedback, most of this communication is one-way.

This week, we are pleased to announce that the Advocacy & Witness staff group is now on facebook. Find us under Advocacy & Witness Initiatives of the Unitarian Universalist Association. From this page, you can read our blog, see other announcements including events, and view photos and videos. But more than that, facebook allows you to communicate with Advocacy & Witness and with other UUs engaged in social justice by leaving messages on the “Wall,” starting “Discussions,” and sharing photos of your social justice actions. Please join us on facebook, become a “fan,” invite other UUs engaged in social justice work to become fans, and share your work with Unitarian Universalists across the continent (and world).

Bipartisan Interfaith Prayer Service: Praying with Pelosi

This morning, I joined Shelley Moskowitz of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) in attending the 111th Congress Bipartisan Interfaith Prayer Service at the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church. For many members of Congress, the prayer service is time of reflection and centering before taking the oath of office.

Prior to the service Shelley introduced me to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, whom she has known for twenty years when they were both working towards peace and justice in Central America. It was a great honor.

The service appropriately began with the hymn My Country ‘Tis of Thee, followed by Republican and Democratic Members of Congress reading from the Qur’an, Hebrew Bible, and New Testament. Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) offered the first reflection on the story of the Good Samaritan. He called upon his colleagues to put aside their differences, get off their high horses, as did the Samaritan, and remember their obligations to their constituents, especially the least among them.

Rep. John Boehner, the House Minority Leader, offered a Litany of Intercessions, which included a call for peace on earth and an end to violence, words that had deep meaning for me as I thought of the violence in Israel and Gaza. The Lord’s Prayer was then recited in Spanish by Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX).

Rep. Nancy Pelosi offered the final reflection on the story of the loaves and the fishes. She affirmed the miraculous nature of Jesus the Shepherd feeding 5,000 people, not counting women and children, with five loaves and two fish. But she added a belief that the miracle alone did not feed all gathered; the miracle itself was multiplied as it inspired others within the crowd to produce and share what little they had as well. Her interpretation was poignant in this time of economic turmoil.

It was a poignant service, moving many to the verge of tears. In the middle of the service, a soprano, Andrea Trusty, sang a soulful version of Let There Be Peace on Earth. When she finished, Shelley leaned toward me and said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if they opened each day with that song?”

With the Representatives gathered facing an economic crisis, war in the Middle East, and global climate change, I got the sense that they wouldn’t mind that at all. The 111th Congress has huge challenges to face; inspiration and prayer is needed. Let us remember that in the months ahead.

Resolve to make a difference this New Year, or, "Hey, that’s my elbow!"

Many of us are excited about changes to come in the New Year, including new opportunities presented by the incoming administration and Congress.

In anticipation, the Unitarian Universalist Association is asking individual Unitarian Universalists to choose one of fourteen Legislative Objectives and pledge their support to take action on that issue.

Click here to see the list of Legislative Objectives for 2009 – 20010 and pledge your support for the upcoming year. When you do, note the photograph on the right-hand side of the page, which is captioned, “Before you get buried in new year’s activities, resolve to make a difference.” That’s my elbow sticking out as I’m slowly crushed by the weight of hundreds of balloons. (Remember when we welcomed Adam as Acting Director by filling his office with balloons?)

Please, don’t be like me: Resolve to support a Legislative Objective now.

UU Republicans

This is from a sermon I preached on Sunday, November 9, 2008, to the UUs in River Falls, Wisconsin. I was preaching about how we include and exclude people in our congregations, in a sermon called “Invisible Fences.”

I want to take a moment to welcome a specific group who, if this congregation resembles every other UU congregation I have visited, are always present but usually silent about their existence. They feel that if they share who they are, they will be judged as immoral, or stupid, or perhaps—though we don’t use the word much—evil. I am talking, of course, of UU Republicans.

We laugh. And yet I am completely serious. Within this congregation, within every one of our congregations, are Republicans, who weekly brave the sight of bumper stickers such as the ones I saw in the parking lot today, “Save the world. Vote democrat.”

I want to say two things to those of you who are here. First of all, thank you. Thanks for being here. Especially this week, you embody courage by showing up, and I hope that this service holds healing for you. Second, I want to tell you that we need you here, now more than ever. Your faith needs you. Unitarian Universalism needs you. Our congregations need to include smart, kind, thoughtful, respectful people from both political parties, who are willing to engage in civil discourse with one another about how to move our country forward. We can’t buy into the media traps that have been laid out to cause us to stop thinking and questioning and learning from everyone around us. We need both parties in order to have hope.

As I preached, I saw one man with tears running down his face. He did not speak with me after the service. As I drove home, I thought about something Jim Wallis, from Sojourners, said after the 2004 election. He said that the media kept calling him and asking something to the effect of, “How does it feel that you lost the election?” His response was, “Prophetic religion was not on the ballot.”

I feel the same way about this election. Many of us were elated with the change in American values symbolized by Obama’s election and broken-hearted by the dehumanization emanating from ballot initiatives designed to deny the worth and dignity of gay and lesbian relationships. But it’s important to remember that Unitarian Universalism was not on the ballot. Unitarian Universalism will never be embodied in any candidate, initiative, or political party. Unitarian Universalism, rather, will always be that deep calling which causes us to align ourselves with the life and love within people of all political parties, and to repudiate the smugness, self-righteousness, and certainty which exists within people of all political parties.

Rev. Meg Riley

Share your vision for change with President-Elect Obama

Raise your voice for justice! Obama’s transition team is preparing for the new administration in January, and they want you to share your vision with them.

On the official transition team website, you can submit your ideas about issues the Obama-Biden administration should tackle and how to solve them. You can even upload a photo or a video.

Click here to tell Obama what changes you’d like to see in the upcoming administration. Consider mentioning that you’re a Unitarian Universalist, a person of faith.

Need ideas? Check out the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy’s Legislative Objectives for the 111th Congress: 2009 – 2010.

Need an example? Here’s my first comment to Obama:

I am thrilled about the upcoming Obama-Biden administration, but I am deeply disappointed to see no mention of BGLT rights in the transition team webpages. Especially after the devastating blows dealt to the BGLT community by ballot measures in California, Florida, Arkansas, and Arizona, it is more important than ever to express firm support for the rights of same-sex couples to marry and to adopt children. I urge you to make supporting the rights of BGLT people a prominent feature of your agenda and your administration. Thank you, and congratulations!

I’m planning to submit more comments asking for support of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, increased visibility of American Indian justice issues, green jobs, a compassionate path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, and an expansion of visas that allow unskilled workers to legally immigrate to the United Stated permanently.

We may not get everything we propose–but it can’t hurt to ask. And now, more than ever, is the moment to dream big.

Inspired Faith, Effective Action invites your comments

Hello all,

The Advocacy and Witness staff group is pleased to announce that our blog, Inspired Faith, Effective Action, is now accepting comments. We hope this will faciliate more conversation, where we can hear and learn from each other.

Toward that end, we’re imposing just a few common sense rules:

  1. Commenters must use a valid email address that is their own. In other words, no anonymous commenting.
  2. Comments should respond to the post, or to a comment to the post. In other words, no spam, soapbox preaching, or personal attacks.

Comments will be moderated to ensure the above rules are followed. Other than that, please feel welcome to give us feedback. And have fun.

Planning for Justice in 2009: UUA advocacy dates and campaigns

Yesterday, we shared social justice-oriented organizers and calendars to help plan the upcoming year. Today, we’re reminding you about the UUA Advocacy & Witness staff group’s schedule for social justice campaigns in 2009.

UUA Social Justice Calendar 2008 – 2009

The 2008-2009 UUA social justice calendar is available at http://uua.org/documents/aw/08-09_calendar.pdf. This calendar includes holidays and observances, as well as the schedule for upcoming Actions of the Month through August 2009.

See http://uua.org/socialjustice/calendar/index.shtml for worship resources, advocacy campaigns, and educational materials related to specific holidays. These resources will be updated throughout the year.

Sexuality Education Advocacy Training
March 21 – 24th, 2009

If you are interested in participating in this year’s Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT), in Washington, DC, mark your calendars for March 21 – 24th. SEAT brings together Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, and Reform Judaism youth, young adults and adult allies to discuss sex-ed as a religious issue, its impact on young people, queer people and people of color. The three and a half day training includes advocacy skill-building and lobby visits with Congressional staff. Click here for more information.

Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office Intergenerational Spring Seminar
April 16 – 18th, 2009
Youth program will begin on the 15th of April.

The theme of this year’s seminar is All in the Name of Faith: Rights, Religion, and Responsibility. The seminar will be held in New York City, and registration will begin in November, 2008. Click here for more information.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days
March 13 – 16, 2009

For Christians (and Christian-identified UUs?), the Ecumenical Advocacy Days are a powerful opportunity to witness to politicians in power. Held in Washington, DC, Ecumenical Advocacy Days will include advocacy training and lobby visits. This year’s theme is Enough for All Creation. Click here for more information.


Those are all the dates we have for now, but keep your eye on our calendars (the static version for posting and dynamic version with links and activities ) and this blog for updates about advocacy campaigns and events.


Unitarian Universalists Running for Office

A recent story was posted on uuworld.org about Unitarian Universalists (UUs) across the country running for political office. These candidates, in Kentucky, Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, and Maine, offer interesting insights into the intersection of faith, politics, and the campaign trail.

At a critical juncture in our country’s history, UUs across the country are finding many ways to have a positive impact on our future. While most UUs will not run for office, there are other ways UUs and UU congregations can engage in this election. Your congregation can help get out the vote, support or oppose ballot measures, and register voters. The UUA has many resources that can help your congregation engage in those actions in ways that do not violate IRS guidelines.

Happy election season!