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    There is this one room at my seminary that is just awful. 14 hours into one class a student wrote on the whiteboard posted just outside the door “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.” The sign is not inaccurate.

       The room is on the 7th floor of the school. Meadville Lombard rents two floors from a Jewish seminary in downtown Chicago. Most of the rooms are along the giant glass wall that provides a gorgeous view of Lake Michigan.

          But this room does not. It has no windows. It has white ceiling tiles. The walls are immaculately white. And the carpet is just off-white enough to make the room feel even whiter. The white board has no discernable border and takes up one whole wall. There is no art on the wall, no variation in color anywhere. It is the most dizzying room I’ve ever been in. It was so bad that I would intentionally avoid taking classes if I knew they could be in that room.

            It was only a couple of weeks ago that something occurred to me – why don’t we hang art in that room? Because there was no art in the room to begin with, I always assumed that we weren’t allowed to hang art in there. Because it’s a building for a Jewish seminary, I assumed that maybe there was some religious reason it was so bare.

      Basically it went like this: I had a bad experience, and instead of changing it or talking with the people in charge to make a change, or building a relationship to enable that change, I invented, or twisted and turned until I found a reason why things were the way they were.

      I think a lot of people don’t move towards justice because they assume there is a reason why things are the way they are. When I look around Baton Rouge I see hundreds of examples of this. Just a few include the lack of adequate sidewalks, the intentional closing of the hospitals in the northern half of our city, and the dramatic racial disparity in property values and access to food.

      Because I feel overwhelmed my brain shuts off. It can’t feel sad every time I see someone walking through mud on the way to the bus stop. Instead I create some story or reason why they don’t have a sidewalk because otherwise I’d have to admit our city decided they don’t deserve a safe way to walk. I invent ways to not feel sad so often. But that isn’t good for me, and it doesn’t make our city any better.

     If I am going to do the work to hang art in that terrible room, I have to start with me. I need to identify what assumptions and stories I’ve created to explain away my feelings of sadness, anger and shame. Then I have to start looking at what are the cultural differences and prejudices in our society that subtly (and sometimes blatantly) value one culture over another.

     We have an excellent opportunity to do this in our church. A professor at Meadville will lead a Beloved Conversations retreat in our church April 24-25. After this retreat, participants will meet in small groups for 8 2-hour sessions. These Beloved Conversations are an opportunity to discover our own assumptions on race and ethnicity.

      They will allow us the opportunity to explore how racial identity impacts Unitarian Universalism and, ultimately, how to build the church our city deserves. I hope you will join me at this retreat. We do ask a $20 suggested donation to help defray the costs. I am excited about what these conversations can mean for our congregation and, ultimately, the world.