Black in White Spaces

Yesterday, I offered a message at First Parish in Cambridge based on my thoughts around being black in white spaces.  In January, I consciously chose not to mention Black History Month until the very last Sunday of February.  I wanted to see how people responded to my not naming it.  We still brought plenty of black history through the month, but I wanted to “normalize” the inclusion of black history into our basic worship experience.

Black and other clergy of color serving largely white churches have a particular set of challenges. Among those challenges is being able to invite direct communication and even criticism from our congregants and staff.  It is a challenge because too often I have heard of these communications not happening because white congregants and colleagues believe they will be perceived as being racist.  Being criticized for our work as ministers or being called into covenant is not racist.  Being lied to, worked around or having information witheld from us is racist.  It is an expression of mistrust based in seeing someone as the “other”.  If you are being racist (or sexist, or abelist) we will tell you and we deserve the right to do so, just as you must tell us when we are doing the same…which we do.  We are human.

After a brief discussion about Black History Month yesterday, I offered a poem: BLACK IN WHITE SPACES. The following is the final stanza of the piece and the poem in its entirety is available here: Black in White Spaces – Poem.

Black in white spaces
Has for me been a painful blessing
A journey of understanding
Of self and surroundings.
I’m sure this equation is shifting
My observations will soon be obsolete
But in the meantime, I am happy to be a guide.
And isn’t it ironic that the “black power” child
May be the one holding the candle in the darkness of white spaces.


We Are Jazz

(Cambridge, MA) A month ago, I wrote a post that gave some reflection on the issues of race and diversity within the Unitarian Universalist Association (HERE). Since that time, UU Religious Educators have called on our churches to spend this week and next engaged in a UU White Supremacy Teach In.  This is an opportunity for us to deeply explore the real problems of race in our congregations, our denomination and hopefully in our nation.  On a day when the Trump administration has signed an executive order that masquerades as “liberty” but will allow religious entities to flagrantly discriminate against LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, women in general and anyone else they choose to class as “other”, I am reminded that marriage between white and non-white people was only made legal in my lifetime and some of the biggest defenders of that restriction were religious entities.  I am also in that same breath extremely proud of Unitarian Universalists stepping forward to fully own the painful complexity of race and ethnicity in this nation.

Last Sunday, April 30, I preached a sermon that I didn’t know I could preach.  It is blunt in its language about race and racism in the United States. It is not religious language per-se, but it is the language of passion and deeply spiritual belief that we cannot “fix” racism, until we actually and honestly recognize its horror.  May we find the strength as more and more horror is heaped on us, to continue to look at what we are faced with, continue to find strength in one another and continue to fight with every bone in our bodies to eradicate any force that attempts to play true liberty and justice for fools.  We are beings that are created of love and innovation.  We are jazz.


PDF of We Are Jazz, Sermon delivered at First Parish of Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist, April 30, 2017

(Please note: this printed version is a direct preaching manuscript and not a fully edited and corrected version fo publishing.  There are most likely a couple of typos and highlights that are for delivery purposes more than reading purposes, but there has been a great demand from people interested in reading this.)