Finding a “New” Peace (Pagoda)

New England Peace Pagoda

New England Peace Pagoda

We live within driving distance of Leverett, Massachusetts, which is home to what I thought was the Peace Pagoda.   When my kids were younger, it was a place we would visit often enough that they have many memories of our time there together.  Even once they outgrew it, I have continued to go several times a year; it has become a kind of pilgrimage for me.  Sometimes on my own, sometimes with a companion. Sometimes just to be quiet.  Sometimes to enact ritual.  I have written here about the walking meditation I do there.

I recently learned that the same order of Buddhist monks who built the New England Peace Pagoda built another one, making the one in Leverett not the Peace Pagoda, but a Peace Pagoda.  The second one is not all that far away: in Grafton, New York.  (They are, apparently, working on a third in North America, in the Smoky Mountains.)  My daughter and I recently took a road trip that included visiting this other Peace Pagoda.  The temple exudes warmth and welcome; the shrine room is resplendent with statues and figures, reminiscent of some Tibetan Buddhist shrine rooms I have visited.


Peace Pagoda in Grafton, NY

The looming, white, half-egg dome that is the stupa echoes the one in Leverett, but is its own self.  The Leverett Peace Pagoda has four statues that depicts the Buddha’s life, each a quarter way around the dome. This one in Grafton has one primary statue of Buddha at the opening of the stairs, then, when walking clockwise, many more depictions of the Buddha’s life flow.  I was smitten with these.  They remind me of my reading of Osamu Tezuka’s eponymous graphic novel of the life of the Buddha.  Slightly different stories depicted between those two, or even the story with which my Tibetan Buddhist husband is familiar.  I offer them here, until you can visit it yourself.

Buddha's Conception PP GraftonBuddha's Conception caption

Buddha's Birth PP GraftonBuddha's Birth caption

Buddha's First Steps PP Grafton Buddha's First Steps caption

Four Sufferings PP Grafton Four Sufferings caption

Buddha Leaves the Palace PP Grafton Buddha Leaves the Palace

 Buddha Cuts His Hair PP GraftonBuddha Cuts His Hair caption

Buddhal Sits Under Boddhi Tree:Mara PP GraftonBuddha Sits Under the Boddhi Tree caption


Buddha at Deer Park PP Grafton Buddha at Deer Park caption

Buddha & Unity PP Grafton Buddha & Unity caption

Buddha's Dying  PP GraftonBuddha's Dying caption

Buddha's Relics PP GraftonBuddha's Relics caption


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The Ferguson Challenge: Talking Across Race

21I just returned from business travel that required flying in and out of Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) airport. I had to take a taxi from the airport to where I was scheduled to work. Though I tend to be rather non-conversational in social situations like this (my inner introvert rises to the occasion), I decided that I did not want to miss out on a possible opportunity. I wanted to take what my mind termed, “the Ferguson challenge.”

Not the “test” of Ferguson that the governor of Missouri has intoned, with more emphasis on order than justice for my liking.

But the challenge I heard when I read UU minister Tom Schade’s blogpost, calling us to learn, re-think, and teach. He wrote,

Learning, Re-Thinking, and Teaching are political acts of great significance and power.

He continued, making a list of many things we can be learning and doing, including the challenge:

We should be talking to African American young men to learn first hand what it is like.

The driver of my taxi was a Black man. I knew that it was risk (of more than just awkward) to enter into such a conversation with a stranger, with a stranger across race, what with the world on fire, what with Ferguson continuing in its unrest and protest, its arrests and rubber bullets. I worried a bit about what it would be like for this man of color to be approached by a white person, particularly a paying customer, asking, “So, what do you think of what’s going on in Ferguson?” Lots of intersections of power dynamics that could easily make the conversation at best, token, and at worst, with shades of fear.

(Still, it felt less risky asking a Black man about this than I would have in engaging with a white person on the subject.  Which is revealing of deeper trouble that I will explore some other time.)

We did end up talking about Africa (where he grew up and where I once studied, though thousands of miles apart in different regions of that vast continent). We talked about political activism and faith, our views of god’s and human power in the world. We talked about the immigration system of this country, with stories from within his community filling the air with discouragement, and some hope.  It was a particularly awesome conversation.

(It was the second time this week I have found myself saying aloud to an immigrant that “I am mad at my government.” Earlier in the week, I said it to a gathering of mostly Muslim friends and acquaintances at the good-bye party of a friend who has been told by my government to leave this country.)

So even though I took “the Ferguson challenge” to, as a white person, learn more about what life is really like in this country from the lived experience of a person of color, and even though we didn’t end up talking about Ferguson, or about what it is like specifically to be a young Black in this country, we were able to talk: across differences in race, in immigration status, and in faith outlook.

When I started chatting (“Do you live around here?”), I did not know where the conversation would go.  As it turned out, my taxi driver friend, J.— and I, we didn’t find world peace or solve the myriad problems plaguing the globe. For my part, I heard from yet another immigrant of the impact of the U.S. immigration system on his life and the lives of people dear to him. I experienced open curiosity about the god he affirmed as present and more knowing than any limited human being.

I don’t want to speak for him and say what he got out of our exchange. How could I? It is my hope, however, he experienced that there are (some? a few? more than the traditional media gives voice?) white people out there who care and are committed ~ who care about Ferguson; who are outraged about racism, not just historical but current; who seek out the voices of and listen to people of color; who care about fixing the broken immigration system.  Who want to engage rather than turn away, and are attempting, hopefully skillfully, but sometimes not so, in how to have these conversations.  That there is a faith, called Unitarian Universalism, that understands part of its religious presence in the world is to engage theologically and spiritually about events like Ferguson, like immigration justice.

I’m really glad that I initiated the conversation. I hope to take this positive experience with me to next opportunities. I share it with you so that you might, too.  I encourage you to share your similar stories of in the comments below.  Let us speak up for possibility and potential. 


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Notice Who Matters: The Sermon (Part 2 of 2)

August 17, 2014

Unitarian Society of Northampton & Florence 

 By Langston Hughes:

* Portrait of Langston Hughes, 1930. Photographer unknown. Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

* Portrait of Langston Hughes, 1930. Photographer unknown. Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

This poem keeps repeating itself in my head and heart these days. Of course, I know why. And so do you.

Our nation has just experienced a huge explosion. Let me take that back: are experiencing, present tense. The violence visited upon Michael Brown is far too common, far too familiar, for anyone to think of this as beyond the pale or highly unusual.

Maybe you have heard and were shocked, or maybe you already knew and are cynical or afraid, but since 2006, on average, in this nation, in this so-called home of the free, twice every week, a white police officer has killed a Black person.

 We mourn for Michael Brown.  We stand with his family. We mourn all these dead.

We can’t be surprised at this explosion, its force or intensity. It comes as the latest in a much-too long litany of young African American men, men of color and some women, too, who are killed “extra judicially” which is a big, official, obfuscating word for outside the due process of law, otherwise known as murder. Eric Garner last month in Staten Island. Ezell Ford in Los Angeles two days after Michael Brown was killed. The numbers grow: mostly-young, people of color killed, by police officers or citizenry emboldened by cruel laws purporting to be about self-defense, but too often are instruments of racialized fear and violence.

Originally this morning I was going to talk about my experience interning as a hospital chaplain, where I saw more than enough death and violence. Instead, I choose to preach the headlines. We are choosing to preach the headlines. And still I want to preach prayer, too.

UU minister and author Kate Braestrup writes this about prayer:

I can’t pretend to be unconditionally in favor of the practice of prayer. No, I’ve got plenty of conditions. I’ll pray only as long as prayer helps me to be more present, more aware and attentive, and as long as prayer helps me to see the suffering of others. As long as prayer reminds me to deploy both my resources and my generosity, I’ll pray, and I will keep on praying so long as prayer serves as a uniquely potent means of giving and receiving love….

Still, if someone is starving, for God’s sake, don’t sit around praying: Give him food. (The same goes for water, warmth, rest and the Heimlich maneuver.) To assert that prayer is always, under all circumstances, the first thing love should do, or even the best that love can do, is irresponsible at best and a self-serving lie at worst. (Beginner’s Grace, Kate Braestrup)

Still, if someone is being shot dead in the middle of the street, unarmed as they are, with their hands in the air, by police officer, for God’s sake: don’t let it happen (again).

So with that in mind, with all these stories and commentaries about Ferguson, about racial inequality, gun violence in the hands of police, tear gas and rubber bullets, I want to share a story with you about prayer. The power of prayer. Prayer and Ferguson.

Reverend Willis Johnson is a pastor at the Wellspring Church in Ferguson. Apparently there is a photo of him out there in social media land, one I hadn’t been able to locate til recently, of him hugging a young man, Joshua Wilson, one of the protestors, a young African American man he had never met before, in the midst of the protests in Ferguson. When interviewed by NPR, here is what Rev. Johnson said about this embrace:

I just embraced him. Because he was so angry. You could feel it in his body. You could feel it in his speech. And I have a newly turned teenager. I’ve been Joshua before. Something just said grab him, hold him, maybe initially to keep him back, but ultimately to become what is really symbolic of the situation at hand. People who are hurting need to be affirmed in their hurt. People who are angry need to be affirmed in their anger. Let me say it like that. I needed that as much as he needed that. We kept each other from harm’s way and from doing something that we need not to do.

 Rev. Johnson continues,

Well, one of the things I shared with him is that I understand and I know you want to – I know you want – you got to channel this in another way. Not to discourage protest. Not to discourage his expression. That was never the case. If anything, it was to affirm him. And to affirm both of us. Because in that moment, we were being disaffirmed. We were being told and suggested that what we were doing was wrong and it was not wrong. People are feeling, I believe, empowered by the fact that there are others who feel passionate like them. And it’s hard for people who are not there in it to maybe understand or understand why someone would choose or channel that mean or mode to express themselves. I don’t understand it fully.   But what I do understand is what it means to be that angry, so I’d rather if you are going to fuss and cuss and be mad, I want you to do it with me, do it in my ear,…

And then comes the prayer part:

…and at the same time, I just began to pray with him, “Give him the strength. Give us the strength, to be courageous enough not do what they expect us to do.”

What does courage look like? I couldn’t hug young Joshua, but Rev. Johnson could. I am so thankful he did.

Let me be clear, though Rev. Johnson suggests, as one Black man talking to another, that courage in that moment is resisting the strategy of violent protest, I do not think this is the only courageous choice at all times and in all places. Sometimes courage is renunciation of violence. More often than not. And sometimes, given imperialism, fascism, given oppression in many of its forms, courage is the intentional and skillful use of it. I say this with what I hope is an appropriately uneasy sense that it is likely right, though not especially desirable.

Either way, as someone who lives a racially privileged life all the hours of my days, it’s not really up to me to measure or judge, and certainly not to dictate. I have entered only recently, and the story line of current violence started long ago in our nation’s racial history, as Ta’nehisi Coates was quoted earlier:

“Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, ‘Never again.’ But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.”

So if (as one of our readings says) safety, and respect, and equality look different depending on race privilege, upon gender identity, upon class affiliation, then what does courage look like for you, at this moment, in your life here, in your life in the context of our nation on fire?

In an interview just a few weeks before she died, the great sage Maya Angelou said that “courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can’t be consistently fair or kind or generous or forgiving any of those without courage.”

How do we, as Unitarian Universalists, live into the bookends of our Seven Principles, the one that says each person has inherent worth and dignity and that we are all part of the interdependent web of all being? How do we find the courage to do what it takes to not just believe in those values, not just say them out loud, but to live into them, to embody them, especially if our privileges provide protections from the harm of this systematically unjust society that allows fear-turned-to-hate to fester and run, allows it to stink like rotten meat, allows it to be a heavy load on the most vulnerable among us…

So what does your courage look like? How will you notice who matters, and who does not, and change that ~ in yourself, in your neighborhood, in your nation, in this world? Whatever it is ~ and there is a handout attached to your order of meeting that gives you specific ideas, if you would like them ~ may you find yourself praying or affirming or risking your way there.

May we all find our way there sooner, much sooner, because it is already later.

source: @thoughthawk

source: @thoughthawk

Benediction (by Rev. Wayne Arnason)

Take courage friends.

The way is often hard, the path is never clear,

And the stakes are very high.

Take courage.

For deep down, there is another truth:

You are not alone.

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Notice Who Matters: The Readings from Many Voices (Part I of 2)

The following readings were the heart of worship this morning at the Unitarian Society of Northampton & Florence, reading aloud by eleven different voices.  With two exceptions, you can click on the author of each of the readings to find its longer source. 

The readings were followed by a reflection that you can find by clicking here.



From UU Rev. Victoria Weinstein

Preach the front pages.

Preach the news. Preach the fire. Preach the rage, the sadness, the lamentation. Preach it fierce. Bring your rage, your solidarity, your authority to confront: to confront ourselves, to confront our God, to confront yourself, to confront our sick, sick society. Confront what is really happening. Do not “spiritualize.” Do not offer bromides, cliches, or a load of Christian crap that everyone has heard before and that you yourself have heard too many times coming out of your own mouth because it feels easier to say that crap than to cover yourself in sackcloth and ashes and wail that you have no idea what God is doing, but that you only hope God is working in this, is in the suffering, is loving us still, will not abandon and forsake us.…

You pray this time, you pray this horror, you acquaint yourself with the news, you put on your protective headgear and you get out there and you put aside the sermon you were going to give on puppies and love and butterflies and you get in there with humanity and witness to it. Any minister who doesn’t address the pain and suffering in America right now from their pulpit this Sunday deserves all the disappointment — spoken or unspoken — that will come at them in passive-aggressive or straight up aggressive ways in months to come. It is our job to be alive, awake, attentive, thoughtful, connected and in relationship to the real world right now this moment as it is. And I’m sorry, but no matter what’s going on in your individual community or congregation this week, it can’t possibly be as spiritually enormous as the conflagration that’s burning outside all our windows. COME TO THE WINDOW. See. Witness. Pray for the Holy Spirit to assist us in saying what we are able about that fire.


posted Thursday, August 13 by Agent Provocateur and blogger, Kim Hampton

Robin Williams died sometime late Sunday night-early Monday morning. Within 24-hours of that, the public was given plenty of information regarding the preliminary autopsy.

Michael Brown died not long after 2:00 p.m. Saturday, August 9th. The public knows NOTHING about the preliminary autopsy.

Law enforcement has interviewed people around Robin Williams.

Law enforcement has still NOT interviewed people around Michael Brown; including Dorian Johnson, who was walking with Michael when things happened.

Notice who matters.


from Courtney E. Martin, in her essay, “To Be White and Reckon with the Death of Michael Brown,”

I don’t believe in evil and I don’t believe in good, at least not that kind, when it comes to race in this country. I believe we, white Americans, are still — 150 years after slavery ended — dabbling in racial courage, specializing in amnesia, flummoxed by the acts of our ancestors and our responsibility for the past, and continuously struggling to wrap our minds around the structural racism that is our present.

I’m reminded of Ta’nehisi Coates important words:

“Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, ‘Never again.’ But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.”


MLKJailLettersfrom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, published in 1963

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.


From UU Rev. Jake Morrill, minister at Oak Ridge UU Church in Tennessee

Our country promises liberty and justice for all.  But we’re failing that standard.  It’s not one person, or one event.  It’s not even one police department, or one city. 

We’re all part of it–my prayers tonight are with and for everyone in Ferguson, Missouri.  For peace and strength in the hearts of police officers, community leaders, clergy and teachers, mothers and fathers, children and teens.  This isn’t about who’s the bad guy and who’s the good guy–I’ve talked with enough police officers to know how stressful their jobs can be, and how the stories of how they help in the neighborhoods don’t make the news.  

source: Loavesofbread

source: Loavesofbread

It’s about a statistically predictable pattern.  About a system across the country that’s been producing injustice: different outcomes for the same behavior, depending on the color of your skin.

This is hard for a white person to see.  Because, for people who look like me, things seem to work fine.  It’s my lived experience that the system is working, that things are fair, and that the difference is in individual behavior.  But we know that our individual experience of things is not the same thing as the facts of the world.  That’s why it’s important to back up and look at the patterns, the outcomes, that the system produces like clockwork.

As protests in Ferguson, Missouri go on tonight, a lot of my white brothers and sisters are focused on how, in the short-term, to restore order.  But the real question is how, in the long-term, to restore justice.


from UU Rev. Carolyn Patierno, minister at All Souls New London (used with permission)

When a white kid steals cigars from a convenience store it’s called shoplifting. Stupid adolescent behavior.

When a black kid does the same it’s robbery. And somehow it justifies being shot.

Is stealing cigars justified? No. Pushing a shopkeeper around? No.

Is shooting a young man with arms held high justified?


God help us.


Readings: Part II

From UU seminarian and blogger, Diana McLean

Of course, the rights we think we have depend largely upon our social location: our race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, etc. It’s just that those of us who are privileged tend not to listen to those who are not, and so we don’t realize that freedom doesn’t mean the same thing to every American. Nor does safety, or respect, or equality. So many of the words we cherish, words we believe represent our country, actually represent the experiences of a limited segment of our people.…

Will we, personally, take action to make a difference in even one life, today?

And will we do it again tomorrow, and next week, and next month, and for as many years as it takes for things to change? Or will we be too busy getting on with our own lives, or think there’s nothing we can do to make a difference? Will we each leave the work to someone else, failing to see that then it will never get done?

These are the questions that haunt me.


UU Rev. Krista Taves, minister at Emerson UU Chapel in West St. Louis County, near Ferguson

If you are white, your job is to be a witness to racism, even and especially when it’s risky.  Don’t be afraid to say what you see, especially to other white people. This could mean a one on one conversation, speaking up in a group, writing a letter to your elected politicians, signing petitions, and posting on social media. Because of the way race works in this country, many white people (even liberal white people) will be able to hear from you what they couldn’t hear from a person of color. This will help other white people to understand what they are seeing. And maybe, it will give them the courage to speak out as well. White silence, white denial and white ignorance gives systemic racism a lot of power.   You have to model a different way and do your part to create the critical mass needed for real change.


From UU blogger Patrick Murfin

Discouraging? You bet. But no matter how much just the news makes you suffer it is not your life or your families lives that are on the line. Hiding from it will not save you. It will make you, however unwittingly, an accomplice. None of us have the power to stop these things. All of us have the power to move the world, if only a little, along that long promised arc that bends towards justice. We are called to crawl out from under the covers and unleash our love—muscular love—applied with plenty of elbow grease. Not platitudes but action.

First, pay attention to those around us, to our families, friends, and neighbors, but also to the chance encounters of our daily lives. Listen, really listen. Look and really see. Feel the cues of cloaked despair. Then simply reach out. Not to cure—that’s not in our capacity—but to care. To offer solace and support but also gentle guidance to find the real help that is out there. That’s not so much. We can all do that. … And if you can’t do everything, do something. Love calls us to action.


from UU Rev. Meg Riley, Senior Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship

Where do you locate yourself in these stories? Who do you see as dangerous, and who is trustworthy? Where do you locate safety? What would safety look like for the people of Ferguson now, for instance? As a white person in the U.S., I am conditioned from birth to see whiteness as safety — white neighborhoods, white people, white authority figures. My lived experience, my conversations with people of color, and my study of history have shown me over and over that this is a wild and cruel perversion of the truth. But the cultural conditioning is strong. Unless I fight it every day, white superiority seeps into my brain in slow, almost undetectable ways. As a nation of diverse races striving to be one people, we are buried up to our necks no less than my neighbor, with histories that won’t quit, of violence and brutality against people of color. Where do we look for safety, for help, as we try to excavate ourselves from this sinkhole?…

I don’t know everything, but I do know this: This is a problem for our whole nation, not just for people of color. We are in this together. And riot gear, intimidation, and more brutality from police are not the way forward towards healing. They are, in fact, yet another giant step backwards. As for me, I’m looking on the local level for practical actions I can take. And I refuse to be silent or still any more.


From the UU Rev. Barbara Gadon, Lead Minister at Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, a neighboring suburb to Ferguson

We cannot afford to think that what happened in Ferguson does not affect us in Kirkwood and our surrounding towns. We are holding this service to mourn the death of this young man, to pray for his family, and to count ourselves among his friends. We also come to pray for the police officer involved in the shooting. We come to mourn the deep racial segregation of St. Louis, the stark disparities of wealth and opportunity, and the longstanding tensions that have contributed to this great tragedy. We stand on the side of love and justice for all.

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Stand (or Sit or Recline) on the Side of Love: Honoring the Life of Michael Brown, Witnessing His Murder


(Updated 9/1/14)

Don’t turn away from the news. Find a way to read some of it. Be sure that if you do, that you also find stories of the heroes, the helpers, the resisters, the fighters, to help combat the distress and guard against becoming demoralized. The world needs you to be awake, but not knocked flat by despair.

Learn through Listening. Educate yourself about the work of places like the SpiritHouse Project, founded by civil rights activist and public theologian, Ruby Sales. If you identify as part of a group that is granted cultural privilege, learn more about what that looks like and how you can use it to combat injustice. Sometimes that means stepping up. Sometimes that means stepping back.  Also, read this: The Case for Reparations by Ta’nehisi Coates.  Up for more reading?  Here’s some good stuff: from Doug Muder on not letting Ferguson fade and from Pastor Jeremy Dowsett on white privilege.

Practice Intentional (Financial) Generosity: Many people I know and trust are giving money to the Organization for Black Struggle, including through the clever Ice Bucket Hack #ferguson campaign, part of the #blacklivesmatter efforts.  The folks at Bolder Giving have verified as legitimate giving online at   For more ideas, go to, a list of confirmed/verified laudable foci for your generosity.  Thank you, Jason Franklin at Bolder Giving.

Speak Up: Advocate that municipalities require their on-duty police officers to wear video cameras on their person and their vehicles to be equipped with them as well, so that we might be able to replicate the results in Rialto, California, where in one year’s time, use of force decreased 60% and complaints decreased 88%.  Here’s one for Massachusetts (where I live).  Here’s good news of the officials in Ferguson considering this intervention.  And here’s the petition that has gotten (so far) over 100K signatures.

Join the Black Twitter-verse: If you aren’t on Twitter yet, but do engage in social media, consider joining, becoming more familiar with its use, and following sources that report on the real life experience of people of color ~ especially by people of color trying to get the word out when traditional means, even liberal-leaning public radio, don’t tell us the full story.  African American youth use Twitter 2-3x more than white youth in this country.  Go where the voice is.

Be on the Side of Love: There are multiple petitions of all sorts related to what has taken place in Ferguson. Some are about media coverage. Some are directed to specific municipalities. There are several out there calling for the federal Department of Justice to appoint a special investigator. Sign one. Or two. Or call: 202-353-1555. Join the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to take this seriously.

this list was compiled by the author of this blog. it was originally distributed as part of a worship service held in Northampton, MA on August 17, 2014.  please distribute widely or add ideas by commenting below

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This Is Not the Way

On Wednesday, August 6th, someone discovered that a flag on the grounds of one of the local synagogues had been set afire.  It was the flag of Israel.  It was unclear when the attempt to burn it took place.  The next day, there was an article in the local newspaper about it.  Since then, there has been little else in the newspaper about this incident, though there was a small letter to the editor today (August 15).  Last Sunday night (August10), upon my return from vacation, I submitted a version of this letter to the editor which has not yet been published (or acknowledged).  Having submitted letters to the editor in the past, I know that the wheels can turn slowly.  Given what else is happening the world, my guess is that the letter editor is very, very busy these days.  I waited to publish this online, hoping for it to come out in the newspaper first, but too long has this gone without other voices speaking out and without my voice speaking up.

speak-outThis is not the way.

There is so much going on in the world that is needful of peaceful, justice-infused resolution. There are so many questions–heavy-laden, emotionally-charged, politically-demanding– which do not lend themselves to easy, or even complex, answers.

The world is on fire.


Ferguson, MO. Ukraine. Gaza. Iraq.


This is not the way.

I do not agree with the policies and actions of the Israeli government. I do not believe that to make such a statement, in and of itself, to speak it publicly, is anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. Both Israel and the people of Gaza have chosen unskillful leaders whose current default engagement with each other is violent and militaristic, resulting in too much death.

I am deeply thankful for those who speak out on behalf of disenfranchised Palestinians; grateful to those who seek both a peaceful and a just solution. I admit to wishing for many of these folks to be more skillful in their engagement and rhetoric, as I wish of those speaking in defense of Israel’s nationhood. Speaking about it has become interpersonally contentious and geo-politically fraught; in social media, it has become full of metaphorical landmines with potential and actual damage to real life relationships. At least in my world. I’m guessing in yours as well.

As a single individual, I do not have the power to stop what is going on in Gaza. But as Unitarian Universalist and as a seminarian, as someone who believes our cross cultural and interfaith relationships matter, I can and do so here and now, speak out against the attempt to burn the flag of Israel on the property of B’nai Israel, one of our two synagogues in town.

Yes, OUR synagogue. Our community’s synagogue: whether you are Jewish or not, whether you know someone who attends worship there or not, whether you have set foot inside there or not, it is our synagogue.

The attempt to set fire to one of its flags is abhorrent. Though the intent of the arsonist may have been a political statement about Israeli violence in Gaza (at this point, it’s not known who did this and it may never be known), the impact is an anti-Semitic hate crime. This was not a random flag, neither was it an Israeli flag in a random context.

It was lit afire while on the property of a synagogue (remember: our synagogue, our friends and neighbors, regardless of agreement or disagreement on political issues). It was lit aflame while explicitly anti-Semitic actions (vandalism, defamation) are on the rise, more visibly in Europe, but here, too: here in the United States, in Massachusetts, and dreadfully, here in our hometown, in our beloved community.

This is not the way.

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Helping Young Offenders Find Hope in the EveryDay


Here is a powerful witness piece that I highly recommend.

Originally posted on Kids in the system:

Many people who work with youth locked up in prisons or in juvenile detention centers aren’t just teachers, nurses, social workers. Something else compels them to stay at a job in what can be some of the most unwelcoming places you can imagine—and are designed to be that way. Something else stirs them, inspires them to put up with harsh working conditions, and with the frustration of having their efforts often garner only poor results. As challenging as the job is, even more challenging is finding answers to the Big Questions: “Why do I do this kind of work?” “Why do I stay here?” “What’s the point of what I do?” Answers don’t come easily, if they come at all, and their comfort rarely stays around long, but it’s a process many of us in the field go through.
What I appreciate about today’s guest contributor is her willingness to…

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