And Still We Rise

The poet Mark Nepo writes that when “we find ourselves in an emergency at night, in a life-changing crisis or a passage that feels quite dark, we need to lean into life, not away, and strike ourselves against the situation in order to release our soul and see by our own light. How we hold this is crucial” (The Endless Practice).

I have turned my attention to the poets in this last week as the nation has turned its attention to New Orleans and the Gulf South for what has often been a weirdly voyeuristic recapitulation of Hurricane Katrina and the recovery (or lack thereof) in the past ten years.

In Meditations of a Humanist, Jewish poet Emil Weitzner adapted Psalm 90 into a beckoning balm over 65 years ago:

“Let us then value our days, hallowing each with grace as a trust bestowed upon us, acquiring a heart full of wisdom and love for the living of earth. Through all the days we suffer and all the years though we sorrow, rejoice and be glad always, for the precious gift give thanks. Live for the good each day.”

I have needed these reminders for my own equilibrium, to release my soul and see by my own light, in this surreal time of trauma triggers and shameless exploitation of the stories of the most vulnerable – yet again, 10 years later, after Hurricane Katrina, after the Federal Flood of 2005, after the widely and deeply disrespectful, inhumane response from our governmental institutions….

At the office, where every member of the staff at the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal has a Katrina story, we have encouraged each other “to do what you can and tap out when you need to.” Supporting and being a part of the#GulfSouthRising movement and the Greater New Orleans Organizers Round Tablehave been key ways for me to live for the good each day, leaning into life while experiencing my own river of emotions.

On October 16th, 1995, almost 20 years ago, speaking to the trauma of slavery and its generational legacy on Black Lives in America, the poet Maya Angelou left theMillion Man March with this exhortation:

The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain
We are a going-on people who will rise again.

And still we rise.

To the 100,000 black New Orleanians still missing from this city 10 years after the Federal Flood of 2005 – you are not forgotten. This is still your home. We will continue to organize and fight for your right and ability to come home.

The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain
We are a going-on people who will rise again.

And still we rise.


As we re-member, a love note to NOLA and to life


This is a love note to my people, to friends and family and strangers who are loved simply because we went through the storm and the flood together. This is a love note to my people, friends and family and strangers who are loved because they bore witness and did not forget us. This is a love note to my people, friends and family and strangers who aren’t quite sure what we are talking about, but who send love and care anyways.

This is a love note to my people and to this place, which I love beyond reason, this home that welcomed a wandering, rootless Navy brat weirdo southern child and said, here, girl, you’re home. This is love note to my sisters and brothers and gender neutral sibs, organizing the movement, present to the struggle for love and life and dignity through the morass of devastation and systemic oppression. This is a love note to life – that ten years later, we who are alive grieve our dead and our loss and we dance on…we dance on.
-Rev. Deanna Vandiver

On the ten year commemoration of Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood of 2005


Black Lives Matter

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2015 General Assembly recognizes that the fight for civil rights and equality is as real today as it was decades ago and urges member congregations to take initiative in collaboration with local and national organizations fighting for racial justice against the harsh racist practices to which many black people are exposed.

No matter who you are, black lives matter, and a system of fair, transformative, and restorative justice that is accountable to communities is something to which each of us has a right. Unitarian Universalists and our greater society have the power to make this happen. Let’s do it!” – Support the Black Lives Matter Movement: 2015 Action of Immediate Witness

Beloveds, we have been called – called up and called in and called forth by the youth of our faith, by the spirit of life and love, by the grace of creation – called to bear witness to the divine spark shining in each of us and all of us. Wherever that spark is being denied the right to shine fully, especially when it is being maimed or suppressed by systems of oppression – white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, the gender binary…Together we are called to activate our hearts to care for each other and ourselves enough to insist on an ethic of love as a guiding principal in our lives. Together we are called to be the welcome table.

The United States of America has struggled with setting a welcome table since it was first colonized. This nation, built on stolen land from stolen bodies, is saturated with a narrative of dominance. This country has a Lady Liberty-sized mythology of inclusion and a powerful and brutal history of exclusion.

State sanctioned violence is going on right now at a higher rate than any in recent memory, with most people reaching back into the 1960s for examples of the last time white supremacist state violence was so explicit. Sandra Bland was pulled over for failing to properly signal a lane change? Now she’s dead? No my friends, we are called to expose the myths of inclusion, the deadly lies that limit or destroy the brilliant spark of the divine shining in each of us.

We are called here now, called to bear religious witness to the beauty and the pain of each other, of our communities, of this planet earth. Beloveds, we are the welcome table. Let us think and act accordingly. Together we are called to activate our hearts to care for each other and ourselves enough to insist on an ethic of love as a guiding principal in our lives and our world.  #BlackLivesMatter

[With gratitude to the Unitarian Universalist Youth Caucus, Kimberly Johnson, bell hooks, Wendi O’Neal, Ruth Idakula, Lucy Tucker, and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond for informing the creation of this post!!!! -Rev. Deanna]


It’s a Both/And kind of world

Both/And pic

There is a lot of either/or thinking in the common narrative today…and I think the world is a little more complex than that.

We celebrate the liberty of gay and lesbian Americans to marry – AND we continue to struggle for the rights of black, trans*, immigrants, and formerly incarcerated people to have truly just access to this country’s governmental institutions. (We also continue to work to undo the ideology of patriarchy that has successfully used marriage as a tool of gender oppression for hundreds of years).

We show up at protests – AND we work to change policies and litigate to ensure the just and equitable enforcement of laws and policies that others struggled to create.

We meet in our identity caucuses to go deep together on our particular lived experiences in this society – AND we get to know our neighbors, all of them, and organize as multi-faith, multi-racial, multi-generational, multi-gendered people.

My friends, it is a both/and kind of world. We are both called to action and to stillness, to the struggle and to peace. If we must engage in binary thinking, let it be with the inclusive transformative power of the both/and – because we know the world from our individual experience and we are all in this together, we are all in this together.

Black Churches Burning White Supremacy Burning


“The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are involved in the investigation into the incidents — though the FBI says it’s too soon to tell if they’re at all connected. The churches targeted have majority black congregations.
“They’re being investigated to determine who is responsible and what motives are behind them,” FBI spokesperson Paul Bresson told BuzzFeed News. “I’m not sure there is any reason to link them together at this point.””

I am going to point to a reason to link the burning of predominantly black churches together at this point – the ideology of white supremacy.
And it really doesn’t have to be about hate. It can easily be about fear – fear of losing the privileges and internalized racial superiority in a nation that has place white at the pinnacle of worth and achievement as it was being colonized. Fear of retaliation for centuries of systemic abuse. Fear of being dispossessed after centuries of dispossessing…It doesn’t have to be a hate crime and it doesn’t have to be a part of a master arsonist plan to be a part of the master plan of white supremacy.
As a minister who has stood in a pulpit praying for her faithful people when our congregation was invaded during worship, I can only affirm and promote the words of the Revered Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, in his public statement issued following the news of several African American churches burned last week:

“Where we choose to worship is sacred space. To violate that space is unconscionable.”

When sacred space is terrorized, when that which is sacred is desecrated by hate or fear, we must name it and organize against the power arrangement that makes it possible.
Rev. Morales concluded his public statement as follows:

“At the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in Portland, OR, delegates overwhelmingly passed an Action of Immediate Witness entitled ‘Support the Black Lives Matter Movement.’ It calls our Unitarian Universalist community to ‘take initiative in collaboration with local and national organizations fighting for racial justice against the harsh racist practices many black people are exposed to.’
We must not just proclaim black lives matter. We must also engage and act with love and compassion. It is the only way to stop the hatred from spreading. We can make a difference, and we must. It is a matter of life and death. Black lives matter.”

Be about it, dear ones. Insist on naming the clear connections and work to undo the destructive and dehumanizing ideology of white supremacy in this land and inside of us. As Dr. Cornel West pointed out in the 2015 Ware Lecture last week, if he can look inside and find the ideas of white supremacy living in him, no doubt each of us can, too.
Unitarian Universalists are a people of faith who believe in the power of love to resist the power of fear, hatred, and greed. We are a people with a gift for connecting the dots of power, terror, and oppression. Let’s be about it, beloveds.

Anti-racism is essential for social change movements

From criminal justice majors at a university in Iowa, to Unitarian Universalist youth groups from North Carolina and Maine, to high school students from an exclusive private school in New York, my colleagues and I have had a seemingly never ending dialogue about systemic racism with hundreds of dear soul lights traveling to New Orleans for service this year.  On Saturday, June 13th, we will continue the conversation locally at the Gillespie Memorial Community Breakfast, where scores of social justice advocated have gathered to “break bread and make common cause” since 1983.

In a country build on stolen land with stolen bodies, we have to talk about systemic oppression, we have to talk about how to be and become anti-racist organizers and families and workers.  We have to because almost every justice movement in this nation breaks down around unaddressed issues of white supremacy.  Tired of talking about oppression?  Take a nap.  Then wake up and come back to the conversation.

This thing that has been done to all of us dehumanizes all of us.  And all of us – especially white people – have to figure out how to undo what has been done to us.  If you want to work for justice on this planet, pick up the thread of systemic racial oppression and see how deeply it is woven in the pattern of every movement in this nation.

Please bring an anti-racist, anti-oppressive lens to your work, whether you are building community gardens or organizing against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Justice without an analysis often causes more harm than good.  Friends, lean into the learning.  We are all in this together.  We are all in this together.

Resources galore: 




Closing the Faith Gap – Restoring the Voting Rights Act of 1965

“We all have two religions: the religion we talk about and the religion we live. It is our task to make the difference between the two as small as possible.” ~Elaine Gallagher Gehrmann

Unitarian Universalism is a living faith tradition which does not insist upon exactly what you believe, but which demands that the life you live reflect your faith beliefs. In this way, UUs are not, as it is sometimes casually said, free to believe anything we want. There must be congruence between our beliefs and our actions in order to be living faithfully as Unitarian Universalists.

The gap between what we believe and how we live our lives often serves as the place from which our call to live faithfully emerges. If we believe that all people have inherent worth and dignity, then we are called to act as if all people have inherent worth and dignity – not just the people who agree with us – or look like us – or like us.

Fifty years ago, Unitarians and Universalists answered the call of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to join him in Selma, AL to help close the gap between the constitutional promise of the United States of America that “all men are created equal” and the lived reality of systemic inequality for black people in America.

On Sunday, March 8th, 2015, over 500 Unitarian Universalists joined the over 80,000 people from all over the world to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate and consecrate the courage of those who crossed before on Bloody Sunday and then again on March 25th, 1965, successfully, to march to Montgomery.

The right to vote, which so many sacrificed so much for, was granted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the heels of the events in Selma. Last year, the Supreme Court of these United States eviscerated the Voting Rights Act. We who believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings must stand on the side of love and of our ancestors’ sacrifices. We must work to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and to dismantle the systemic racism that warps the moral fabric of this nation.

You can call on your Congressional Representatives to restore the Voting Rights Act here:

You can organize to undo the racism that has been dehumanizing all of us in this country here and here and here and here and here and here and here … so many of us are turning toward each other to co-create the beloved community. You, too, are needed here.

Come, friend, come help us close the gap between our words and our deeds with the gift of your life energy.  Together we can heal this world and reclaim our own humanity.


A Prayer for Wonder Restored


What does is mean to be a people of wonder?
This was the evening’s invitational question for the small group ministry covenant group I have the honor of facilitating in New Orleans.
And it has me thinking…and praying.
Almost every black person who talked with me after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson in the death of Mike Brown and of Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner said “I’m not surprised.”
“I’m [angry, grieving, outraged, sad, mad, furious, exhausted…], but not surprised.”
No wonder that the justice system in this country offers no justice for their communities, their families…
On this winter night, I pray for wonder restored:
O god of our hearts,
May the systems of oppression
that steal wonder from people of color
and oh so much more
Be torn asunder
Made unfixable
May the glory of rebalancing
Reparations, yes, reparations –
May this healing abound
And may the grace of wonder be returned
So that every injustice
Brings surprise
To everyone.

“the war against dehumanization is ceaseless”

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, “Peace, peace,”
when there is no peace.
They acted shamefully, they committed abomination;
yet they were not ashamed,
they did not know how to blush.” –Jeremiah 6:14-15

From the prophets to the present, a call for integrity. Literally – to integrate what we do with what we value. If we value humanity, then we must act in ways that support and affirm that value. Shooting children, shooting adults – these are not ways of acting that support and affirm our value of humanity.

“And true, unless one lives and loves in the trenches, it is difficult to remember that the war against dehumanization is ceaseless.” ― Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

So we must ask – what allows a white man with a gun to shoot an unarmed black youth? What has white people cautioning people of color to be peaceful in the midst of murder without consequence? Who reflexively points to a community saturated in grief and rage and says with impatience “Be still, be quiet, be good.”?

“One wonders what it will take for us to not merely listen but actually to hear the voices of black parents, fearful that the next time their child walks out the door may be the last, and all because someone—an officer or a self-appointed vigilante—sees them as dangerous, as disrespectful, as reaching for their gun? Might we be able to hear that without deftly pivoting to the much more comfortable [for Whites] topic of black crime or single-parent homes? Without deflecting the real and understandable fear of police abuse with lectures about the danger of having a victim mentality—especially ironic given that such lectures come from a people who apparently see ourselves as the always imminent victims of big black men?” -Tim Wise, Repetitive Motion Disorder: Black Reality and White Denial in America

If you can look a family in the eyes and say “your son deserved to die,” my friend, you have lost your own humanity. I invite you to begin a journey towards wholeness, a journey to reclaim what you have lost. Those who cannot value the humanity of others have no hope of integrity. And my prayer for me, for you, for all of us living in a world of a trillion points of view, is integrity in our lived lives.


This week, this year, this lifetime – show up. Show up for each other with integrity. Honor pain you cannot know, value grief for what it points to – love. We do not grieve what we do not love. I love you. And I grieve for every bit of the humanity we have sacrificed to feed the ideology of white supremacy.

May we heed the call for integrity. Show up, beloveds. It matters. Now more than ever

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” –Mark 4:9

FOR NEW ORLEANIANS: Today, 11/25, 6 PM in Lafayette Square #BlackLivesMatter #DayAfter #Ferguson #NoIndictment