My friend and colleague, the Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen, has a saying. “For some people, it’s a news story. For others, it’s our families.” This is true about all the news stories that involve people, whether about tornadoes, immigration raids, or transgender rights. Or, this week in Minneapolis and across the country, about police violence and systemic racism.
For the troika, for Rev. Lisa, about to arrive to be with you, and for Paul Winchester, the events of these past weeks have been about our families, our neighborhoods, the air we breathe, whether we sleep at night or keep patrol of our neighborhoods, the helicopters circling overhead and the choices we make about how and where to take positive action. The burnt out hull of South Minneapolis that some watch on the news represents the places I shop, eat, fill prescriptions, feel most at home. For Paul in North Minneapolis, Terri, and Arif in St. Paul, there are similar stories of loss and disorientation. Lisa’s kids go to school with George Floyd’s fiancé’s kids and his fiancé is her barista at the coffee shop she frequents. For some, it’s the news. For others, it’s our families.
Because of the need to tend to my own block, my closest people, my own psyche, I’ll admit I wasn’t able to be much of a minister to UUCM last week. I was relieved that I was not leading worship. With almost no sleep and adrenaline that wouldn’t calm down, I wasn’t sure I could string words together that would have meaning. I knew you would be in the good hands of Laurie Moser and Lisa Myers, their last service led together after many that they offered during another time of crisis.
So it took Jennifer Swick to get my attention and demand that we hold a listening session to hear how this is affecting members of the church. I am so grateful to Jennifer for insisting. Last Sunday, Jennifer, Rev. Lisa, and Allison Laura and I sat with church members who shared deeply, from your hearts, about how this impacts you. People related to people of color talked about all of the unwarranted police stops their loved ones had suffered in Minnetonka and Wayzata. People related to police officers talked about their wish that their loved ones would be respected, not assumed to be racist and violent.
A number of people said something about feeling a weird distance from it all, so near and so far in the suburbs of Minneapolis. One person said, we might as well be in a different state. As someone who commutes to UUCM from Minneapolis, this statement reflects how it has felt for me for the past two years. White supremacy culture is evident in different ways than it is in the city.
The UUCM Council will meet this week and begin conversations about how the church as a whole wants to show up at this time. Jennifer is organizing a book group. Others, I see from our Facebook group, are urging that the church put up a Black Lives Matter banner. Many of you have already engaged in Beloved Conversations. Relationships have begun with Black activists around shared priorities for social justice. These conversations will go on as Rev. Lisa arrives and settles into life with you.
Despite rumors to the contrary, the troika has never been opposed to putting up a Black Lives Matter banner. Our concern has simply been that the banner accurately reflect the commitment of the congregation. While we have heard people firmly committed to racial justice, and we deeply value the presence of the people of color who are in the congregation, we have also engaged with church members asserting that Black Lives Matter is anti-police, and suggesting that white men are the ones who truly suffer when Unitarian Universalism addresses racism. We have heard many people express fear of vandalism. We hope that the discussion about taking this step will move from private to public conversations, and the church as a body will make grounded decisions about steps to take. Our deepest desire is that people of every race and ethnicity could feel a sense of belonging at UUCM.
Whatever the church does, I hope that each person will make fighting racism about their family, not about the news. For instance: if you want the church to put up a BLM banner, do you have a sign in your own yard or window asserting that Black Lives Matter? Even if you live in a place where it is physically impossible to do so, I encourage you to imagine how it would feel in your neighborhood to make your values visible in this way. And to think of ways that you can be public about your commitment to racial justice, not simply feel that a good heart is sufficient to change things. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Unitarian Universalists don’t believe in ‘vicarious atonement’—we don’t believe Jesus died for our sins and we don’t believe that anyone else, including our congregation, can do the soul-saving work of creating more love and justice for us. Wherever you live, whoever you are, I encourage you to prioritize ending white supremacy culture. It’s going to take all of us.
This weekly pastoral message by the Interim Ministry Team comes out on Wednesdays. Rev. Meg, Rev. Terri and Arif will take turns writing or recording a video.