Monday, November 22, 2021

Regret, Repentance, Redemption, Reconciliation, and Reparations

 Regret, Repentance, Redemption, Reconciliation and Reparations

One of the first classes I took at Meadville Lombard was Religious Education.  

In some ways, I thought I shouldn’t even have to take any kind of education class.  

I was a professor of education and a Department Chair 

of Curriculum, Foundations, and Research at Georgia Southern.  

I had helped to facilitate a great new program in Curriculum Studies 

and worked with some top-notch Curriculum scholars. 

But I knew that I still had did not know the specific field of Religious Education well, 

so I was open to seeing what I could learn.  

And I did learn a whole lot in that class – 

but not really so much about curriculum and religious education.  


 I learned about how my own education and scholarly endeavors were steeped 

in so much systemic racism and white supremacy 

that I did not even recognize my own handicaps.  

Here’s the story of what was perhaps the biggest lesson I learned in seminary.

Our class met in a classroom with one large table – 

or perhaps two tables pushed together, and we all sat around it.  

Our teacher sat with us but would sometimes stand and write on the chalk board.  

Yes, we still used chalkboards at Meadville Lombard in that beautiful old building 

in Hyde Park on the southside of Chicago.  

Other than some manuscripts and religious education curricula written by 

the legendary Unitarian religious educator, Sophia Fahs, 

we did not have a lot of texts from our own tradition, 

so we studied other religious educators and their texts, 

like the writings of the fabulous Parker Palmer, 

who I follow on Facebook now – and who says he will never write another text, 

but shares some wisdom via Facebook almost daily.  

For most of our classes in seminary, we had to purchase six or seven required books 

and read them all.  

In this religious education class, we discussed them one by one, and, of course, 

wrote essays on each of them.  And so it went.  

Unitarian Universalist seminarians are a rather scholarly bunch, 

and I was in my element as an academic person, enjoying it thoroughly.  

I liked some of the books better than others, 

and had to translate a lot because they often were written within a particular – 

more narrow – religious tradition, unlike Palmer’s books, 

which were awesome for any tradition.  

On this particular cold January morning, 

we were digging into a different book co-authored by two authors 

who “happened to be” African American.  

And that was the way I thought of it – they just “happened to be” African American.  

At that point in my development, I thought that looking past someone’s race 

and ethnicity was a better way to be more welcoming.  

After all, we are all human.  

So we began to discuss some of the points in the book, 

and I went on my merry way to share with the class a very negative critique 

of some of the methods and ideas they proposed.  

The other students seem to follow my lead one by one and so did the teacher.  

Then Archene spoke up.

Archene Turner and I had been attracted to one another immediately – 

both in our writing back and forth before we came to Chicago on our listserv – 

or whatever we were using back then, and when we met in person.  

You know – there are some folks where a friendship has to develop gradually – 

and some folks where you just “hit it off.”  Archene and I connected.   

Archene put her hands on the table and said, 

“Stop – Do you not realize that I’m sitting at this table.”

The classroom grew silent.  

I looked at my friend and could see that she was hurt and upset.  

What had we done?  

Archene shared how she had all these texts to read in all these classes – 

and none from folks that looked like her, 

till this ONE text in this religious education class.  

And now this is what she was sitting through as if we weren’t even aware 

of how this may affect her.  

And my heart sank – especially since I was the one 

who started us down that very negative, critical path. 

Our teacher said it was time for a break.

Oh, how I regretted what I had done.  

I didn’t fully understand it all – but I had hurt my friend.  


I immediately went to her and expressed my sorrow with tears in my eyes, 

-      Yeah – those white lady tears - and hugged her. 

-      Then I said something that probably may or may not have helped.  

-      I said, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.  That was not my intention.  

-      I wasn’t thinking, and I’m so, so sorry.”  

-      But I knew I messed up – and I was trying to repent.  

-      I’m glad that I made that immediate effort.  

-      I have regrets in life that were not always followed by repentance.

Regret has been defined as a feeling of remorse that is a negative emotion as it leads one to think continuously about a past action or behavior and causes more shame, guilt, anger, disappointment etc.

It’s not a good place to stay in.

Repentance is a positive emotion as it makes one learn about the mistake, and the person vows not to repeat it in the future.

And though I began my repentance at that moment – it takes more than a moment. 

 How could I ever Redeem my actions?

We came back to class to try to look at what had happened. 

Archene explained how Meadville Lombard was so totally lacking at that time in drawing from any African American traditions or scholarship 

and how she was glad to see that at least there was a book in one class.  

She did not try to defend the book all that much, she was discussing our whole system.  

The teacher, in her efforts to perhaps defend her book choice, 

made everything worse by saying,

Well I think some of the ideas are good the authors just did not communicate them well. 

 I think they needed a good editor.”  

She also explained that she made a special effort to include something

 by African American authors.  

Well, I have to admit – 

that’s how many folks were approaching “multicultural education,” in those days.  


Let’s just add something to the readings without thoroughly examining it ourselves 

so we can appear to be diverse.  

But the rest of that day – and the rest of that intensive class week 

had a heavy cloud over it.

What had happened in that class, of course, quickly was revealed to the entire seminary 

as we began to examine all of our class curricula closely 

as well as how we conducted our class discussions 

and we realized that the faculty, students, administrators, and board 

had lots of work to do.

The next year the seminary invited just about every person of color of note 

in the UU world to join us for our preconference before classes 

as well as other consultants to help us attempt efforts of both reconciliation and healing.  Former students of color were invited in and shared many painful experiences 

that were not addressed at the time they were there.  

It was a very, difficult few days.  

But we continued to work from that point on making many changes.  

One of them was that we have a class covenant and 

that we all agree to it before we began each class, 

with ways that we can signal in a discussion if there are things come up that cause pain.  

Most of us didn’t even know the word “micro-aggressions” at that time.  

We also began to really look at our own curriculum, faculty, and more.  

We were waking up to the fact that Meadville Lombard 

was steeped in systemic racism and white supremacy – 

even though WE thought we were not.  

And Meadville Lombard has continued this necessary journey.  

It’s not something you repair easily.

I share this story with you because I think we as UUs think we are SO good.  


 And we are SO much better than some other narrow traditions 

which are obviously unwelcoming and patriarchal and downright racist, 

that we sometimes feel satisfied.  Yet, we mess up.  

We mess up as an association, as a congregation, and as people.  

We just do.

And we mess up in our personal lives with folks we love the most!  

But we don’t have to dwell in regret.  

We can move through those other R words and make a difference 

in our own lives and those of others.

One of the most difficult of these R words to address is reconciliation 

because we are working on relationships with others in that process – 

and that’s not always easy.

Paula Cole Jones shared in UU World about adopting reconciliation 

as a personal spiritual discipline.  She writes:

“As a management consultant, I know a lot about helping people work through their differences, but until I embraced reconciliation as a spiritual practice, I didn't realize just how transformative reconciliation can be.

 Practicing reconciliation means I commit to being in right relationship with people in my life and, when I'm not, caring enough to face unresolved issues and improve the relationship. 

(She continues) I keep two lists: 

One has the names of people with whom I need to reconcile. 

The other has names of people with whom I have begun reconciliation efforts. 

The lists keep my commitment in front of me. 

Each time I am able to move forward with another person, 

I draw a line through their name on the list of people 

with whom reconciliation is needed—

and the list of people with whom I have begun reconciliation grows longer.”


The ability to “make amends” or reconcile is one of the major practices 

of folks who are successful with 12 step recovery programs.  It’s not easy.  

And sometimes connecting with some folks is more harmful than helpful – 

so it’s not always something you need to do directly.  

But we have to do it in our hearts, for sure – and with others if at all possible.

Sometimes the folks that are hardest to reconcile with are our own family members 

and loved ones.  

We have so much of our emotional stuff wrapped up in these relationships. 

Thank goodness for therapists!

Sometimes, we can’t just forgive and move on. 

I find this especially true with what I’ve been going through 

with the trial of these three men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. 

As a member of the Glynn County Clergy Equity Group, 



I’ve been working with others to be supportive 

of the Ahmaud Arbery family 

and seek justice.  

But in one of our zoom meetings before the trial, one of the clergy indicated 

that they had been told that none of the local clergy 

had been to the jail to pray with the defendants.  

Those of us in the meeting were asked if we thought we could do this – 

and there was discussion of how we are “all God’s children.”

I shared with the clergy that while I admired those who may be able to do that, 

I could not. 

 I had heard no remorse from these men or any admission of guilt.  

I also acknowledged that my problem may be related to my own personal situation 

in that these men represented my background – 

the kinds of folks I grew up with – family members and others – 

and that I still carried a lot of shame related to that to work through.  

I could not be authentic if I went in to pray with them, 

but I would honor those who could.  

One of the African American clergy women spoke up 

and said she thought she could do it – and I said, “Bless you.”

I recently heard a young man share how he was assaulted as a teenager for being gay – 

and how folks now asked him if he was able to forgive those who assaulted him. 

He said that he had not been able to forgive them.  

But he was able to recognize their inherent worth and dignity 

and understand that they had probably had things done to them 

that would lead them to become a person like that.  

And maybe for some – that’s as far as we can go.

But when we are the ones who have hurt someone, 

we should try our best to move to reconciliation.  

Sometimes that may be through an apology.  

But often the “I’m sorry’s” are empty words.

We need to make reparations.  

In the educational component of the minister’s gathering that I was in at the Mountain, 

the facilitator said that she agreed with the idea that everything we need to know 

we learn in preschool or kindergarten.  She had a toddler in preschool – 

and when they were at an orientation, one parent asked how they disciplined the children; 

did they use a “time out” or what?  

And the teacher said, “We teach them to ask the question – 

“What can I do to make it better.”

As adults who are participants in systems of systemic racism and other oppressions, 

we need to do the same.  We need to ask how we can repair the systems.  

Often, it’s a very hard thing to do.

The judge in the trial in Brunswick said that the jury that was selected 

was not a fair distribution regarding race.  

There was only one black member selected.  


He said, however, that because of the way the law was written, 

if the defense could show other valid reasons than race for striking a juror, 

that was acceptable.  The whole system’s messed up.

And here we are – trying to do what little we can – to turn this ship around. 

I emailed my friend Archene last week to ask if I could use her real name 

in sharing the story I shared at the beginning of the sermon.  

She gave me permission – but went on to share with me

 that she had stepped away from the UU congregation she was attending 

as a community minister.  

She said it was just too hard to get privileged white folks who were willing 

to turn the ship around. 

 I shared with her my understanding and hopes for the future.

What can we do?  


As a congregation, we can do things like vote for the resolution 

we have proposed related to the 8th Principle at our Annual Meeting. 

 You will find out more about this in an upcoming email.   

And as individuals, perhaps we can follow the suggestion 

Paula Cole Jones provided about making a list of folks we need to reconcile with – 

and start working on it.  

I have some regrets that I’ll never be able to remedy – 

for those folks are dead, and I’ll just have to let those things go.  

But there are others who are still breathing.  I need to make my list.  

Who will be on yours?

Perhaps this season of Thanksgiving can be one 

where we can all begin to reach out more, 

connect with those we’ve wronged 

or those who have somehow separated from us, and we are not sure what happened. 

It’s not too late for some.  We can do this.

And, of course, we can try to make amends, fix what we can, 

reconnect and reconcile if possible.  

We are all going to mess up – just like I did in the class at Meadville Lombard 

when my actions and words hurt my friend, Archene.  

But you know – Archene knew my heart.  

When I apologized to her, she knew my heart was in a holy place.  

And just like the song says, she blessed me with her love and amazing grace.

And when it’s impossible to reconcile, 

well, we just have to forgive ourselves and try to do better --- 

as we forgive others as well.

Jesus prayed, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

I’ll give us a head start by leading you all in the Litany of Atonement 

by Rev. Rob Eller Isaacs that we sometimes recite from the back of the hymnal. 

Your part is simply these words which you will repeat after each entry. 

 “We forgive ourselves and each other.  We begin again in Love.”

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference.

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.

For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible.

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.

For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.

For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.

For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.

For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.

For losing sight of our unity

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.

For those and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fueled the illusion of separateness

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.


May it be so!



Thursday, October 7, 2021

Responsibilities and Rewards: A Stewardship Sermon

Because this is our stewardship sermon AND is part of my series entitled, “We R UUs,” challenging myself to preach on themes starting with the letter R- I chose the title for this message to be “Responsibilities and Rewards,” for certainly we think of those things when we think of giving to our congregation. And I remembered that Jesus shared a parable about Responsibilities and Rewards – the parable of the Talents - and I thought I could use that. But I never really liked that Parable. Shhh –Don’t tell Jesus.  So, I thought – maybe if I retold it in a modern-day story, it would be better. To do that I had to rely on google to determine what a “talent” in Jesus’ day was worth – then get out my calculator to see the approximate equivalent today. So, with that in mind, I share with you the Jane Page adaptation of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents.


A successful businesswoman was taking a government position. which would require her to release the management of all of her business operations to others.

To her most talented executive, she assigned holdings equivalent to two million five hundred thousand dollars 

To another executive, she assigned holdings equivalent to one million dollars, and to a third holdings equivalent to a half a million dollars.

When her term of office with the government agency ended, she returned to her business and asked for their reports. The top executive shared data indicating the investments and risks took with their holdings doubling in value – now worth 5 million dollars.  The businesswoman said, “Well-done.  You’ve proven you can handle these holdings, and you are worthy of a promotion.”

The second executive was also successful in doubling the value of holdings which now were valued at one million. The businesswoman said, “Good for you!  You’ve shown you’ve got what it takes and I’m rewarding you with a promotion.” 

The third executive shared with the business owner. “Pardon me, but I knew of your tough businesses dealings – and that you would be hard on anyone who did not take care of your possessions. So, I dared not take any risks that might devalue your holdings. But they are still here at approximately the same value as before.” 

The businesswoman said, “Well, I’m ashamed to have you and your laziness as part of this company.  You’re fired.”


Well, translating it into a modern-day parable doesn’t make it feel any better, does it.  I mean, she entrusted them according to their capabilities, so she perhaps should have been more lenient with her expectations of the third employee.


Why did Jesus tell the parable of the talents? And why am I repeating it? Well, because there are some lessons here.


First – whatever we possess in terms of time, talents, and treasure doesn’t really belong to us.  Regardless of your theology – you know that you can’t take any of it with you.  What you have been given or earned or won in the lottery is like those talents given to the servants, or those holdings given to those business executives. They really belong to something bigger. Some may say God, others may say humanity, and still others may say the Universe. We are STEWARDS of these possessions. How we share or invest our time, talents, and treasure should be something that can make a positive difference in not only our own lives, but the lives of others, and this world we live in.


Folks – that’s why we call it stewardship!


And today is when we kick-off our stewardship drive with me giving what some call “the Sermon on the Amount.”  Now, of course – not all our members use zoom, and they are not all here to HEAR this. But -it’s like the two guys who were in an airline crash and ended up marooned on a deserted island.  One man paced back and forth worried and scared while the other man sat back and was sunning himself. The first man said to the second man, “Aren’t you afraid we are about to die.” “No,” said the second man, “I make $10,000 a week and tithe faithfully to my church every week. It’s Stewardship Month at my church. They will find me.”  And, indeed, we will find a way to get this word to all our members and friends, because we don’t want any to miss out on the opportunity.


SO – back to our theme- What IS our responsibility to this congregation and Unitarian Universalism? And what is our reward?  Because we are Unitarian Universalists, the responses to these questions aren’t as clear cut for UU ministers as they are for some others. 

The idea of tithing – or giving one tenth of your income –  is an ancient one, showing up in not only ancient Hebrew scripture but as a practice of other near Eastern Ancient cultures as well.  Some say Jesus opposed tithing since he criticized some who did.  But his criticism was that they did this very publicly but then lived unrighteous lives.  In fact, he lifted up those who gave all their possessions away.  


In the year 567, there was a council of Bishops at Tours, France that reinforced tithing as “in accord with divine law since they were instituted by God Himself.  Constantine and others made supporting the church part of the tax structure.  And some other churches tied in with the governments began to collect mandatory tithes through taxation (and some still do.)  Our spiritual ancestors in the New England Churches did the same until laws were established separating church and state.  The idea of Tithing then became voluntary.  Some religious organizations, however, withhold certain privileges of the church (like entering a Mormon temple) until you “settle up” with the Bishop – and they use your income tax records to determine that.  But I’m not here to lift up or condemn any particular practices, just to say that we certainly have a lot more freedom in determining what we will share to be members of this congregation, and I applaud that.


At the same time, I think many are missing out by not giving as a spiritual practice – and giving to this faith tradition in the “first fruits” tradition.  Not what’s left at the end of the month.  I, and many others who follow this “first fruits” practice – have checks that come automatically to this congregation.  I set up my check to be sent shortly after my biggest check (which is my pension check) comes into my account. 


Our association provides a giving guide that is helpful and is based on income and how you see yourself and the support you want to give.  It moves from supporter to sustainer to visionary to tither.  I’m hopeful that most of you would want to be at the sustainer level or above.  We’ve done a good job of stretching our funds and giving for special needs – but we need gifts that will sustain us for the future as well. 


As you may have heard, this weekend marks the 15th Anniversary of my ordination and installation as your minister.  Now sometimes when ministers have these Anniversaries that end with a 0 or a 5 – their churches give them a gift or a trip or something.  Well, I need neither a gift not a trip.  If you want to show any appreciation, I ask instead that you consider raising your pledge by 15% of what you currently give.  Do the math and see if that’s possible.  And if it’s not – see what you can do.  And what will be your REWARD? 


We are not a “prosperity gospel” church that claims your gifts to us will bring you greater financial wealth!  Your reward may be your Joy in giving.  Or perhaps you are beyond that --- and you give like that myrtle tree in the reading we heard by Gibran – who states that some give “as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.”  It’s just what we do.

Now I know you are called on to give to lots of charities.  I am too.  And I have favorites.  But though I give to other good causes, I find that my greatest blessings as a giver come when I give to that greater good that this congregation and Unitarian Universalism represents as we Side with Love in this community and in the world.  This is the place where we receive spiritual sustenance and grow those values in ourselves and in our children that make us better givers with other causes.  This congregation should be where we give our greatest gifts. 


And most Unitarian Universalists have the resources to make meaningful gifts.  But unlike other faith communities, many Unitarian Universalists treat their congregations as just another charity – like NPR or something.   Although Unitarian Universalists are near the top in average income, we are dead last in our giving.


Say what?  Yes!

Although Unitarian Universalists are near the top in average income, we are dead last in our giving among 23 major faith traditions in the United States. (From Spiritual Truths, General Assembly Providence, RI – Rev. Val Weller)


Statistics show that folks with lower incomes give a greater percentage to charity.  (See Bama Group Research) And while most faith traditions challenge folks to tithe, we have very low expectations. We tend to have a fatalistic view of what we can do.  But I’m an evangelist for the LOVE that we stand for!



So like the prophet of old—I’m going to Side with Love – and shout out that we can do better.  We can be a part of a congregation that truly can live our principles and values.



I truly believe that in a time when so many folks need a welcoming home, we truly are standing on the edge of something great.  We can be more than a little light in a tiny chalice.  We can be a lighthouse – a beacon of Love shining out in this community.  But for the light to shine, we need your gifts.


Whatever you give will be honored and appreciated.  And if you have very little money to give – that’s okay too!  Because we also need for everyone to give of their time and talents as they are able to do so.


Now we have to be careful when we ask folks to give of their time and talent.  Because some folks readily give and give and then get burned out and leave us.  We’ve seen that happen during this pandemic.  We are stretched thin with folks who feel they can step up.  But we don’t want folks to leave!



We want them to stay with us and be renewed by others.  You know – some folks say that leading Unitarian Universalists is like herding cats.  But I don’t like that analogy.  I prefer referencing a flock of geese as a metaphor for a UU congregation, because there are lots of lessons we can learn from geese.  I’ve shared this before – but it’s worth repeating these lessons (originally shared by Milton Olson. (




As each goose flaps its wings it creates an "uplift" for the birds that follow. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.



People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another



When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.



If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.



When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.



It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other's skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.



The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.



We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one's heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.



When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.



If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.



That’s the congregation we need to be and that we CAN be. But we need us some good soup to nourish us.  And I have a STONE for the soup.  This STONE is magical because this represents our vision of what we can be.  We can BE that liberal beacon shining in southeast Georgia.  We can BE a congregation that folks KNOW exists because of our visibility – both in terms of our meeting place and in terms of our good works and advocacy for justice and peace.  We can BE a people that teaches our strong values to our children and reinforces them in us as well.  We can BE a community of faith where we can nurture and heal ourselves and receive the nourishment to nurture and heal the world.  But this vision –this stone, by itself, will not make the soup.  We need for each of us to go back and look into our cupboards --- and perhaps see what we are hoarding there in terms of our time, talents, and treasure, and bring them to share in the soup pot for the greater good.  And when we do, we will know – that it is a good and joyful gift. I can just smell that wonderful soup now.  Mmmm mmm good!


May it be so!  Honk Honk