Fear Not


“The one most frequently repeated command in the Bible is not “love your neighbor,” but “fear not.” And if there is one thing that we need in our world, if there’s one thing that we should write on our mirror and see every morning when we look into the mirror, it’s “fear not.” If we went into the day with that command deeply tattooed on our heart, “fear not,” we’d be completely different people and create a completely different world—a world of faith.” (Brother David Steindel-Rast, OSB)

Fear not.

On Friday evening, after an Undoing Racism™ training with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, I went home to do some gardening while processing and integrating the experience.  I heard an elder neighbor calling my name and I walked down the street to check in with her. For fifteen minutes I stood there as she filled me in on all the evil happenings in the neighborhood – a man two blocks up who had been robbed getting out of his car at night, the neighbor who they called the cops on for indecent exposure, the alley way by my backyard that she had seen young men ducking into. “You gotta be careful, baby. You gotta pay attention and be careful. Things have gotten bad out here. You can’t even sit out on your porch anymore without fear.”

Shortly before this conversation, Louisiana’s Governor issued an Executive Order to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the State of Louisiana. The United States House of Representatives passed a bill to halt the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. until “they undergo a more stringent vetting process — the strictest ever required for people fleeing a war-torn nation.”

Many people are making clear parallels between the Syrian refugee predicament and the thousands of Jewish refugees seeking asylum in America in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s who were denied admittance to this nation. Historian Deborah Lipstadtsays that the State Department’s attitude in the 30’s and 40’s was shaped by wartime paranoia and downright bigotry. “All those things, they feed into this fear of the foreigner,” she says. By the time the US belatedly accepted tens of thousands Jewish refugees, millions of Jews had already died in Europe.

In the midst of processing this boatload of local and state and global fear, I had a flash back to a long ago winter, my first year at college.

As a Southern born and raised who ran away from the farm to go to college in Minnesota, I vividly remember that first morning, after months and months (and months and months) of dark and cold and snow and ice, when I stumbled on a tiny purple flower pushing its way up through the snow.

I all but knelt down in worship – only my self-consciousness about what others might think about the weird southerner and the thought of cold wet pants kept me on my feet. I may have wept. I had so much gratitude for that beautiful promise of life restored and winter ending that I was flooded with joy. Yes, it did snow again before the winter ended and I lost sight of that beautiful crocus blossom. But I did not lose the gratitude, the grateful, joyful heart that carried me through until spring.

We are in a winter season of fear in this nation and in our congregations. We worry that we are not safe, that we do not have enough – enough money, enough energy, enough resources. In the United States, white people worry about terrorist attacks and about being robbed, black people worry about their children being killed by the police and their churches being burned to the ground, Muslims worry about being attacked by vigilantes and their mosques being targeted for violence, transgender people fear for their lives every single day.

And so we need each other. We need to notice and give thanks for the crocus through the snow, for the creative resistance alive on our streets today in the Black Lives Matter movement, for the promise of collective liberation.

In Own our history. Change the story., Brené Brown concludes:

Until we find a way to own our collective stories around racism in this country, our history and the stories of pain will own us…We will not get away from the violence and heartbreak. Fear and scarcity will continue to run roughshod over our country.

And here is the joyful promise buried in that conclusion:  if we face our history and our fears with courage, we can practice gratitude for reclaiming the wholeness of our own humanity. And gratitude practice really does shape us into joyful people. And joyful people are not afraid of not having enough. Joyful people can share power and resources and fear not. We can trust that we are enough, worthy of love and worthy to share love.

We are called, as a people of faith, to spiritual practices of courage and gratitude that encourage us to work through our own fears and expand our own hearts until we are enough –together. In this season of giving thanks, may we choose to fear not and to live with courage and gratitude into the promise of collective liberation.


People Who Have Come ALIVE!










What makes you come alive my friend?

This week I grateful to bear witness to people coming alive in the world:

The Swarm, our affectionate nickname for the group of Unitarian Universalists from two congregations in Massachusetts who have been coming to New Orleans for service every November since Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood of 2005, are back in town and have spent days working with a couple trying to get back into their water damaged home. The volunteers have already filled 2 dumpsters with damaged sheetrock and unsalvageable goods.  They have endured rats and fire ants and the grief of the homeowners parting with beloved stuff.  When I saw them at breakfast this morning, they were bustling with purpose and a sense of joyful clarity about their service in the world.

At the same time that the Swarm was preparing for another day of physical labor to restore a family to their home, the brave souls with #Fightfor15 were gathering just down the road at the McD’s on Claiborne Avenue, chanting for a living wage, for enough hours to live with dignity and respect, for the ability to be able to afford to come alive with creativity and joy instead of moving with the exhausted haze of the underpaid and overemployed with three low-paid jobs none of which provide enough hours to even make bills. Across the nation and here in New Orleans, we are fighting for $15 and hour and a union.  We are fighting for human dignity and respect.  We are fighting for creative souls, for musicians and students, mothers and grandfathers, for caregivers and food makers.  We are calling for a corporate recognition that the status quo of mass exploitation must change.  We are calling for the quality of lives we all deserve and that are absolutely possible.

And we celebrate the systems change that is coming alive through the dedicated work of Concerned Student 1950. When systemic racism continues to silence and harm a community for decades and that community organizes powerfully to demand an end to the harm, we are called to celebrate the win!  It is life-affirming to uplift the work, to name the life-giving power of such movement.  To those who have dared greatly and continue to do so, I offer gratitude and respect and prayers for your life, that you may live to see the fruits of the seeds of change you have planted with your courage.

To everyone who has asked “What makes me come alive?” and listened closely for the answer – thank you for shining your life-affirming light in the world. Theologian Howard Thurman’s insight into the true needs of the world are priceless.  Sometimes asking the right question can carry us further than any list of answers to questions that miss the mark.

My prayer for all of us today: that we discover what makes us come alive and go do or be that. For what this world needs is people who have come alive.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. -Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman


Things that get in the way

I often tell the story of the time my Chaplain Supervisor told me,

“Deanna, I wish you would stop being so hard on yourself”

(She paused here and I had a moment to think sweetly “Oh, she really cares about me.” This tenderness quickly faded as she continued)

– “because then you would stop being so damn hard on the rest of us.”


I tell this story often because I need to hear it – to hear how my own internal expectations get in the way of my courage and love and compassion.

Shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown tells us:

 “We can talk about courage and love and compassion until we sound like a greeting card store, but unless we are willing to have an honest conversation about what gets in the way of putting these into practice in our daily lives, we will never change. Never, never.

Courage sounds great, but we need to talk about how it requires us to let go of what other people think, and for most of us, that’s scary. Compassion is something we all want, but are we willing to look at why boundary-setting and saying no is a critical component of compassion? Are we willing to say no, even if we’re disappointing someone? Belonging is an essential component of Wholehearted living, but first we have to cultivate self-acceptance—why is this such a struggle? (The Gifts of Imperfection, 5).

Later she concludes:

“If we really want to live a joyful, connected, and meaningful life, we must talk about things that get in the way” (The Gifts of Imperfection, 35).

If we really want to live a joyful, connected, and meaningful life, we must talk about things that get in the way.

Raised in a culture of perfectionism and competition, my humbling chaplain training story helps me to explicitly address what blocks my ability to embrace the life that is. It helps me minister with hope for the now and not yet beloved community, when no one will be denied compassion or deny compassion to others, a courageous time of joyful, connected, meaningful life.

And the only way I know to get there is to work together to unblock the road between now and what is possible.

May we find the courage, as individuals and communities, to talk about what is getting in the way – internalized oppression, systemic oppression, a failure of imagination – and struggle together to clear the path on our journey toward wholeness.
Journey toward wholeness

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.  http://www.thecommunitybreakfast.org/

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:  www.pisab.org   www.crossroadsantiracism.org www.collectiveliberation.org www.highlandercenter.org  www.celsjr.org