Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What is "Love with Courage"?

Love with Courage is a call to discover and experience our personal and collective power, an invitation to develop intentional public relationships with a wide range of people for the sake of discovering what calling and passion we share and then creating opportunities to embody and live out our shared calling. 

Sound exciting? 

I believe that the seeds of wisdom to address the greatest challenges of our time are stored in the human heart, but these seeds don’t sprout or flower unless we as human beings cultivate the practice of sharing with one another what really matters to us and discerning where we are personally called, whether we experience this call as by love, by God, or by principle. 

As a matrix of relationships emerges based on sharing what we love—our passions, hopes and dreams, gifts, broken-heartedness—a community grows the capacity to embody compassion and justice. 

The forces of the status quo that keep us separate and isolated are fierce. Love with Courage intentionally cultivates the creativity and connections to navigate through and against the currents of rabid individualism, materialism, and the helplessness that comes with cultural isolation. 

Love with Courage is a revolutionary call to wake up not only to the great challenges of our communities but how ordinary people--you and I--can discover thoughtful, fun, and inspiring ways of making a real difference in our own lives and the lives of others.

We need one another. Alone, we cannot live fulfilled or make a difference. But more than that, alone we cannot clarify for ourselves how we want to be in relationship with others so that we can stand for and walk with others for meaningful change. We need one another to discern our calling and deeper longings, to know where others are called, and to act on the calling we share.

There is a strain in American culture that prioritizes the individual over community--and even pits the individual against community. But we need a broader view: Community exists to serve the dreams of the individual. It really starts of each one of us individually and emerges and serves our matrix of relationships. 

This transcends the small-minded view of independence that says, “Well, I’m not as free when I am part of a group.” No, we are ironically freed up to become who we are called to be only in action and in honest relationship with others. This is where we find our fulfillment--acting in alignment with what we love. 

So this is my “theological” answer to what is Love with Courage. Now it is time to live it, embody it, continue the adventure of developing relationships, discovering common passions and commitments and creating opportunities to live out our shared calling!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

In Praise of Rest

I’ve come to believe that when life gets crazy busy, a great thing to do is ... the hokey pokey. That’s it. That’s what I’ve concluded watching just how much I relax, how my brain lets go of a multitude of demands, how my spirit is refreshed when I accompany my little girl to her music class, where we sing, we dance, we play. For 55 minutes, I breathe a little more deeply, my brain waves are altered, and I usually feel reconnected to the source of my joy. I smile, and I smile with someone I love. 

But here’s what I don’t want to admit, I don’t always take Erica to her music class. I convince myself that I don’t have time; I work on my day off. And when I give up my day of rest, I do myself and everyone I serve and love a disservice. 

"There is a contemporary form of pervasive violence,” says Thomas Merton “and that is activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence." Merton continues, "To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes our work for peace. It  destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

This month, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to take a path of resilience. Setting aside time for rest and renewal is a critical foundation for a path of resilience. Creating what I’d call sacred time or what religious people would call observing the Sabbath. Practicing Jews know this. Jesus embodied it. So many live it today.

This intentional, counter-cultural practice of setting aside a day for rest makes space for us to be active in the world. If we want to change the world, we can’t be working at it seven days a week; we need to regularly let go, literally to refresh. Unlike computers that can refresh in an instant, we human beings require time, what some would call idle time, but I would call sacred time.

But it’s hard. And it’s ironic: it takes discipline to set aside undisciplined time. There’s a cultural force that’s hard to resist. The call to be more, to have more, to do more. Because if you do, so it promises, you’ll have more money, more recognition, more satisfaction, more love, more influence, more technology, more security. And this siren song that you can be and have and do more, this comes to people in all segments of society, including in the name of serving others. 

I agree with Wayne Muller who wrote Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest. “The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know the sun has set at all), to whiz though our obligations without time for a single mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life. Our lack of rest and reflection is not just a personal affliction. It colors the way we build and sustain community.” It also blunts our capacity to respond to suffering and injustice, and it stunts the ways in which we seek peace and healing in the world. 

How has our culture come to this? We have forgotten the Sabbath. And this is an age old problem. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet Isaiah rails against the abuse of the sabbath to gain competitive advantage, which undermines the ability of anyone to enjoy rest. The call to rest is not for the sake of rest itself but for the sake of wholeness, both individual and collective wholeness.

In the halls of power, rest and renewal is too often viewed as idleness, idleness isn’t worth anything to people who view value only through the lens of economic productivity and consumption. But there is a heartbreaking cost to making public policy according to this view. 

We hear a lot about the shortage of full time jobs at adequate wages, but we should also become aware of the cruel shortage of rest forced on those who have to work multiple jobs. There is a war on rest and leisure. I so appreciate "The War Against Rest" by Benjamin Duehelm in The Christian Century that brings attention to the public cost. 

He notes that the current debate over the minimum wage is ultimately about whether workers ought to have time for anything but work. Working 40 hours at minimum wage doesn’t provide enough income for the basic necessities of life, especially for a family. 

Raul Meza a school custodian who makes minimum wage says that when he thinks about eventually making $15 an hour, he thinks about the time that would buy to spend with his son. I pray that he can make this before his son is grown up. 

Maria Fernandes was 32 years old when she held down three part time jobs. Between shifts at two different Dunkin Donuts, she stopped in a parking lot to sleep in her car after a Sunday graveyard shift. This was just a few months ago. Fumes from a spilled fuel container and fumes from her running car killed her. 

Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons wrote a provocative, revolutionary perspective, "Sabbath Practice as Political Resistance" about the Sabbath, exploring what Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Karl Marx have in common. They had more similarities, she notes, than being eastern European Jews with spectacular beards. Although Marx was doing economics and politics and Heschel spirituality, they dramatically converge with a shared insight that “time is the ultimate form of human wealth on this earth. Without time, all other forms of wealth are meaningless. It is this insight about time – completely obvious but frequently forgotten – that makes keeping a Sabbath day both spiritually profound and politically radical.”

As she notes, “The goal of a Sabbath practice is not to patch us up and send us back out to the rat race, but to represent in the now what redemption looks like, what justice looks like, what a compassionate social order looks like. It reconstructs the rest of the week from the viewpoint of the Sabbath as unjust and untenable. The Sabbath lifts up a holy vision of the world and performs deeply political work: it builds an ‘outside’ to society. The self that emerges from such a Sabbath and re-enters the week is a changed self – a newly radicalized self who can no longer tolerate injustice.”

I agree with Levy-Lyons that “When we create breathing space in our week, all kinds of unwelcome feelings and thoughts can arise – feelings of despair or dissatisfaction with the world that we would rather leave buried under a mountain of tasks and momentary pleasures. And it’s hard because the whispered voices of fear are loud in our ears warning of the social costs we will pay, our world spinning out of control, the threat of failures. As sweet and gentle as the Sabbath may be, its arrival collides violently with the secular world. It is truly challenging to take a Sabbath day. Yet this is where the personal gets political. It forces us to confront the question: to whom or to what do I ultimately belong?"

To whom or what do you ultimately belong? Do you belong to your possessions? To your boss? To your addictions? To your accomplishments? To your  insecurities? To your fears about the future? To whom or to what do you ultimately belong? 

I invite you to join me in claiming a Sabbath practice and a day of rest. From sundown to sundown, either Friday to Saturday with our Jewish sisters and brothers or Saturday to Sunday with our Christian sisters and brothers or Sunday to Monday with me! 

If you take Sunday as your sabbath, come to worship leisurely. Schedule only time with friends or family. Have face-to-face conversations about where love’s beckoning you. Take a nap. Pray. Listen to music that fills your soul. And put one hand in, put one hand out, put one hand in and shake it all about. Do the hokey-pokey and turn yourself around, and know that this is, in some strange extraordinary, what it’s all about!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Remembering Selma & the Role of the Church

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the second march from Selma to Montgomery. Black people in Alabama, fifty years ago, were systematically denied the right to vote. And so they organized peaceful marches and demonstrations to protest this injustice. Many people were beaten by law enforcement officers at these events. 

In Marion, Alabama, Jimmie Lee Jackson helped organize one of these nonviolent actions in his own town of Marian, Alabama. He was a deacon in his church, and most of the people participating in the protests were organized through churches. Following the entirely peaceful demonstration, Jackson was not only beaten but shot by a state trooper and died in the hospital. 

Jimmy Lee Jackson’s death inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., to organize 600 black people to march peacefully from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. As they crossed the Edmond Pettis bridge, many of them were savagely beaten and gassed by the state troopers and county posse members who then chased them back into Selma and continued the assault. Amelia Boynton, a women who helped organize that first Selma march, was beaten unconscious. Her photograph and other images shocked the world. 

Early the next morning Martin Luther King, Jr., dispatched a telegram that read: 

In the vicious maltreatment of defenseless citizens of Selma, where old women and young children were gassed and clubbed at random, we have witnessed an eruption of the disease of racism which seeks to destroy all of America. No American is without responsibility. All are involved in the sorrow that rises from Selma to contaminate every crevice of our national life. The people of Selma will struggle on for the soul of the nation, but it is fitting that all America help to bear the burden. I call therefore, on clergy of all faiths representative of every part of the country, to join me for a ministers’ march to Montgomery on Tuesday morning, March 9th. In this way all America will testify to the fact that the struggle in Selma is for the survival of democracy everywhere in our land.... 

Hundreds of white clergy, joined the now thousands of black clergy and protesters. When the marchers got to the end of the bridge, state troopers made way for them to pass. But King led the marchers back to the church for he did not have a state or federal order of protection. 

Unitarian Universalist ministers Clark Olsen, Orloff Miller, and James Reeb were among the marchers. They had just eaten dinner at an integrated restaurant with other colleagues who headed by car to the church service where King would speak. But the three of them headed to the church by foot. As they walked back, they were attacked by four men with bats. James Reeb never saw the first blow coming. He was taken to a hospital where he died two days later. 

He wasn’t the only Unitarian Universalist to lose his life following this march. Viola Liuzzo, a white activist from Detroit saw on television the horrific images and informed her husband and two teenage sons that she had to go. She drove down to participate. She was ferrying a black protester from Selma back to his home when she and the black teenager in her car were shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. There is a reason why two of the people killed right after the second Selma march were Unitarian Universalist. Because many Unitarian Universalists showed up. Many people of our faith tradition had the courage to love and live out their values.  

At the memorial service for James Reeb, Martin Luther King, Jr., preached,  

So in his death, James Reeb says something to each of us, black and white alike—says that we must substitute courage for caution, says to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered him, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy that produced the murder. His death says to us that we must work passionately, unrelentingly, to make the American dream a reality, so he did not die in vain.”

This month I am exploring with my congregation what it means to take a path of resilience. The role of a healthy and vibrant congregation is to provide a nest, a nest where we all can grow in resilience. A nest where we cultivate lives of courage and commitment, where we grow warriors of love who gladly head to the front-lines of justice-making. A nest where we are nourished and receive solace when we are weary. A nest where we grow our souls and recommit ourselves time and again to live with courage to bring forth in our world justice, compassion, and equity in human relations. This, I believe, is the core work of the church. 

I had a conversation with a new member a couple years ago. She told me, “I’m not here to get involved in justice work. I am exhausted. I am hurting and grieving. I need to get my life back in order. And what I feel called to do is join the choir.” That’s great. We need people in the choir, because the choir nourishes us, supports us, it contributes significantly to our nest where we all can grow in resilience, our nest where we can support one another in lives of courage, compassion, and commitment." In time this person may want to become a warrior for love and participate on the front-lines. But that’s not where we all are, and that’s okay. What matters is that we all find our place in supporting this nest and contribute to nourishing people to attend to our core mission.

My point is that both the Christian and the Unitarian Universalist  faith traditions are ones where the church, our congregations, are here to not only call us to be good people but to nourish and challenge us all to live into the vision of the beloved community where justice, compassion and equity are realized in all human relationships. 

May this be our promise and our prayer.

To find a Unitarian Universalist congregation near you, go to


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Greatest Revolution Is A Simple Change of Heart

Carrie Newcomer wrote a poignant song entitled “A Simple Change of Heart.” I get goosebumps when she gets to the line, “The greatest revolution is a simple change of heart.” So true. The lyrics are below.

Compassion and love sometimes well up within us as a simple change of heart at unexpected moments, turning us to look differently at a situation where we hadn’t previously recognized a piece of truth. The work of social change calls for these moments, invites them, makes space for them. As one heart after another is touched by the suffering or needless struggle of others, then social change movements emerge.

It is awe-inspiring how marriage equality is sweeping through this country, all because there has been a critical yet simple change of heart in enough people. Personal stories, empathic stories, and honest sharing has won the day. When you know a couple who is truly committed and create so much love--and the state doesn’t provide the same protections as heterosexual couples--situations come up time and again that break our hearts. Now that enough honest sharing has broken through the veil of resistance that seeks to keep the status quo, we are seeing significant changes in our lifetime. 

Here in the Chicago area, there is a specific situation that breaks my heart. 

People who get arrested and can’t post bail must stay in Cook County jail for an average of 25 days before they are charged with a crime at their pre-trial hearing. Whether they’re innocent or not, people wait for nearly four weeks, many of whom have their cases dismissed. That’s a lot of taxpayer money needlessly wasted. But far worse, many of these people--a number of them innocent--lose jobs, lose housing, have families that become ever more strained, all because we have a criminal justice system here in the Chicago area that keeps people who can’t afford bail locked up for so long. When 42% of those arrested for drugs have their cases thrown out at the pre-trial hearing, that’s a lot of people who were locked up for nothing.

According to Illinois law, the county can keep someone locked up for a maximum of 30 days before a pre-trial hearing. This is the longest wait to be charged with a crime in the country. In New York, the maximum number of days someone can be held before a pre-trial hearing is 5. If New York can reform itself to respect due process, then we can in Illinois.

Over a year ago, I showed up with several hundred people to an action where we brought this gross injustice to the attention of several legislators. We requested that a law be developed and passed that reduces the number of days people can be held before pre-trial hearings--from 30 to 10. Illinois will still have among the highest maximums in the country, but it will be not only a meaningful change for a number of people but also it will free up huge amounts of taxpayers dollars.

Why did this draconian practice not get changed over the past year, even though many of us have protested and contacted our legislators? Why didn’t a law get introduced and passed for this state? There’s a lot of resistance to changing the system. There is one person who, if she had a simple change of heart, would make it possible to make such a law reality: Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. 

What is really upsetting to me is that on November 10, as part of the Reclaim Campaign to reduce violence and seek justice for some of the most vulnerable in our region, I joined dozens of other clergy and over a hundred laypeople at Anita Alvarez’s office to make specific requests, but she has repeatedly rebuffed meetings and not shown up. 

There are multiple ways that Anita Alvarez has refused to act to reduce violence. It’s “deadly inaction.” Check out the Reclaim Campaign’s list of requests of Anita Alvarez in a clear and well articulated report entitled Deadly Inaction: How Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez Can Act to Prevent Violence--it is at

So what can we do? There are two things. First, send prayerful but firm statements to Anita Alvarez that she recognize the draconian practice of locking up people who can’t post bail for four weeks before they are even charged with a crime. Why waste money and lives to keep a broken system going?

Second, show up with me and hundreds of others on March 19 at 4:30pm at 69 Washington. This won’t be the first demonstration in front of the office of the State’s Attorney to bring attention to this effort. But when we bring a wider coalition of people to express our deep concern how some of the most vulnerable people are being treated in our midst, then our concerns shall be heard. 

When Anita Alvarez has a change of heart, a huge number of people will not have to wait so long for their pre-trial hearing. Taxpayer money will be saved and can be used for violence reduction efforts in Cook County!

Here are the lyrics of A Simple Change of Heart by Carrie Newcomer:

There's never been a day
When the world wasn't new
When the sun did not rise
Or the light break on through

Things might get a little worse
Before they get a little better
But there's always clearer skies
Stretching out beyond bad weather

And the world holds its breath
Just to see where we'll incline this time

I feel somethin' has shifted
I know the story's changed
In the window of a crisis
We can build a better frame

Come on and look inside you
It's the best place to start
And the greatest revolution
Is a simple change of heart

I can't put the sacred in such a little box
Because it's not

There's no shame in learnin' somethin'
When there's somethin' that must be learned
But there's danger when we will not see
What our actions earn

Courage doesn't always shout
But whispers and reminds
When we get up one long mornin'
And we try another time