What do We Do Now?

We're far away from Ferguson, MO, and while I had a brief moment of temptation last night, I am not going to get in my car and go there, to put my boots on the ground.

You know all the adjectives: enraged, sickened, shocked, dismayed, saddened etc.

So what do we do now?

I have to tell my UU ministerial colleagues that I do not particularly feel like to going to the darkened UU church, to sit in silence and stare thoughtfully at a burning candle. I do not feel like having a round-robin discussion (no cross-talk please) of my feelings about this. I've been at those events; I'd even presided over them. They seem like exercises in mass mood management, carefully designed to prevent a loud and passionate political argument from breaking out to disturb the good order of the church. Let's keep things "spiritual" which often means, let's struggle to have benign thoughts about everybody at all times.

So what do we do now?

The police killing of Michael Brown, and the police repression of the community that has demanded accountability, should push people like us (who are more unfamiliar and misinformed about the conditions of life of African Americans than we think we are.) into an extended campaign of learning, re-thinking, and teaching. 

Learning, Re-Thinking, and Teaching are political acts of great significance and power.

We should be talking to African American young men to learn first hand what it is like. We should be learning about the patterns of housing segregation in our communities. Where are the suburbs where the population and the power structure are so different? How do the opaque political structures of most suburbs prevent democratic participation, and who are the insiders who benefit? Do you know your local police chief? How much firepower does your police force have? What political power does your police union have?

We should be re-thinking all of our big thoughts about the state of our political order. I am always amazed at the number of well-educated people who have quite radical analyses of particular issues -- sophisticated anti-racist understanding, or pacifist analyses of foreign policy, or penetrating thoughts on food and agriculture and yet don't actually apply to those to their political being. Overall, they are about as radical as Jon Stewart. I struggle with this myself. What does this situation actually mean? What will I have to rethink if I take it seriously? What would I have to re-think if I went from #notallcops to #yesallblackmen?

And finally, we need to take this opportunity to teach: to challenge our friends, our neighbors and our family members who are "more concerned about order than about justice" to use Jake Morrill's phrase. The level of political and social knowledge in this country, even among the educated, is very low.

Learn, Re-Think, Teach.


  1. Tom,

    I always value your commentary and agree that there is much that needs doing. I wonder why you felt that you had to set up your commentary by publicly disparaging your ministerial colleagues for planning services and vigils? You assumed that you already knew what the content of every one would be, and that it would not be helpful. There is lots of room for lots of different responses; I would love to see us all respecting and supporting each other.

    Roberta Finkelstein

  2. Loren Robert Jones7:26 PM

    Its low and they want it even lower. Republicans right now are decrying how "biased" history courses are. We need to fight back at the school board level. We need meaningful texts in our classrooms tat accurately portray the struggle we already won and are now losing.

  3. Well said. Powerful and compelling.

    One minor note that Jake's quote is quoting MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
    "I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

  4. It's fundamentally about privilege and the unwillingness to own it and to use it up on behalf of those who don't have it. When you're clinging to privilege, order will always seem more important than justice.

  5. Anonymous11:46 AM


    I've thought long and hard about whether to post this or not but I think it needs to be said. This post is a thoroughly level headed critique. I would hope that our institution could survive such a thoroughly mild moment of self reflection which the author even included himself in. If it can't done so in the relatively private world of niche blogs(anyone can find it but most people don't care enough to) we have larger problems at hand than Tom's critique. This is a timely institutional critique about a highly relevant issue. Careful that you not try to silence people speaking truth for the sake of good order yourself. We are not made safer by failing to critique ourselves. In fact history would tell us the opposite story. It is also interesting that you chose to publicly critique Tom about publicly critiquing others.

    Furthermore in my opinion making this issue about our UUMA colleagues feeling respected and supported while people are being shot and black neighborhoods are being invaded by police officers with heavy weapons and military grade equipment is the height of centering racial justice on our pain and discomfort over the horrific current experiences of people in Ferguson. There are lots of responses to racial justice issues but if we are to be an institution accountable to the experience of those affected by racial injustice it is your response not Tom's that does our covenant damage.
    A few closing thoughts. This negative peace I hear people(not just you) regularly applaud as part of our covenant very much sounds like the white ministers MLK wrote to from his jail cell. Rather than arguing for our comfort I hope and pray that we may all be indited in our complicity with racial inequality like this.

    Sin that is not put out into the light only festers.

    Jerrod Oltmann


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