The Promise and the Practice

On January 28, we participated in “The Promise and the Practice,” a UUA recommended service of reflection and commitment about the black experience of Unitarian Universalism. As part of that service, people wrote their hopes and fears. Reading them inspired me and I thought might speak to others. Maybe it will remind you of your own heart’s desires and dreads. Maybe someone else’s words will speak to you. Maybe you will see something you don’t understand or agree with. That’s OK. We move forward by sharing our experiences and feelings. I have not tried to put these in any particular order (I hope I got hopes and fears classified correctly!):


  • That we help and interact with black people and organizations that work for justice.
  • That public education continues strongly part of integration
  • Work on politics that support justice.
  • Hope that I can recognize bias and privilege with recognition we can change the world for the better.
  • I’m reaching out to be with our community.
  • Black Lives Matter: My hope is to see this phrase on our UUFM building. I saw it, a huge sign, on Rev. Sinkford’s UU church in Portland! So welcoming!
  • I hope for better understand among all people.
  • Hope I’ll be a friend of the BSU [Black Student Union on campus].
  • I hope to do my own part and more.
  • I hope everyone could just get along.
  • I hope for the words to help change lives.
  • Fairness/equality in practice/policy.
  • I hope that the 12 to 1 inequality in wealth between white and black households is eliminated in the USA.
  • I want to reach out when I see injustice – I hope I have the courage to do so.
  • Hope that we can help people be less threatened by differences.
  • I hope for racial equality and the courage to be happy when moves are made in that direction.
  • My sincere hope for love and harmony in our country.
  • I hope to open my love of all people.
  • Extend my circle of friends to include more people of color and demonstrate my commitment to inclusivity in daily action:
    • Speak to my neighbor weekly.
    • By the end of the month find info on local Black Lives Matter chapter.
    • Attend BLM meeting in Feb.
    • Leave my comfort zone and speak to people I do not know well specifically those who are of other ethnicity from me.


  • My fear is for what we are leaving for our future generations if we do not change our country’s course of hate and revenge.
  • I fear being a part of “the problem.”
  • I fear for the fate of our Democracy. We need all of us to keep her breathing.
  • Exposure.
  • Adjusting to my own and partner’s failing physical and mental abilities with grace and kindness.
  • Fear that people will feel that the success of others will threaten their own well-being.
  • Racial profiling will not change or end.
  • Good intentions are hard to carry out. I do not always follow through.
  • My fear is that I will continue to be thought of as privileged because I am white, even though I have lived a life anything but privileged. My privilege is to still be alive. My confession is that I will continue to champion underprivileged of all types.
  • I have not given wholeheartedly to this gift of life.
  • I fear that I cannot make change in my community.
  • Fear: that I stay within my comfort zone of like-minded people. I should expand the diversity of my friends and not feel like a fraud while I do it.
  • That those who hate prevail.
  • To not offend black lives anymore.

Thanks for your commitment to the work,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Jonalu’s Journal – February 2018

No one doubts that the religious scene is changing faster in this country than anyone can keep track of.  First, the mainline churches hit decline, and now, even evangelical churches are fighting to maintain their numbers.  Church is no longer central to people’s lives.  While UU congregations are holding their own in this challenging atmosphere, it’s clear that the traditional ways of gathering on Sunday mornings for a service of hymns, sermon, and ritual is the way of the past rather than the future.  (On a personal note, I hate saying this, because I have always loved this kind of church!)

Still, though, people long for community and connection and for meaning and purpose in their lives. How do we answer these needs?  How do we create ways for people to connect, join our community, and find the meaning and purpose they seek, in the 21st century and beyond?

No one has a definitive answer.  Different people and different denominations approach it in different ways.  Let me tell you about recent discussions and thoughts I have had.

In mid-January, seven of our leaders met together to discuss a webinar by our regional UU staff person Phil Lund (you can view it at  We learned about innovative efforts such as dinner churches, service organizations, on-line communities, co-living and working spaces and more.  These efforts have components like openness, authenticity, service, participation, and more.  The UUFM members who gathered felt we do well at UUFM on some counts; we are welcoming, open, experiential and unashamedly liberal.  As we got to the question of how we serve the community we live in, we struggled a bit more.  Our OWL program received enthusiastic endorsement, though.  Not only do we serve the children of our congregation, but we always have a few others from other congregations involved.  How might we better showcase OWL and what it accomplishes?

We do give money to nonprofit groups and have built relationships with them.  Could we build on that through a monthly social action/service project and literally be Helping Hands?

Finally, what kind of gathering might invite people looking for both meaning and connection?  We talked about “Religion with a Twist,” holding a non-service kind of service where we relate to our theme, maybe even include a particular reflection–but use it as a springboard for discussion and interaction.  The Two Services Task Force will follow up on this idea.

Other things loom.  Interfaith relations and cooperation.  Social media presence.  Worship with stronger threads of creativity.  There was also a sense among those gathered that we need to more clearly and succinctly define ourselves–maybe as a community that helps people grow or a community that challenges by posing questions.  Or … ?

I’d love to hear your input.  I look forward to more discussion.  And making a difference in how we do church together.

In faith and freedom,    Jonalu

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Jonalu’s Journal – January 2018

By now, you have probably heard some of the feedback from the Developmental Ministry evaluation, in preparation for the congregational vote on January 7 about continuation of Developmental Ministry. The most heartening tidbit from the evaluation for me was the extent to which people are involved in the community. Over half the members of the fellowship answered surveys and of them, 61% had attended local rallies for social causes, 30% had attended City Commission meetings, and 27% had attended statewide rallies.

These numbers tell me that we have a congregation committed to making a difference in the world. I regularly see letters to the editor and social networking posts from many of you, addressing issues of concern. Members of the congregation also volunteer in a wide variety of charitable community causes–Happy Kitchen feeding people in need; CASA advocating for at risk children; Shepherd’s Crossing, Fairy Godmothers and Guardian Angels helping people access financial resources, Peggy Bowman to help women needing abortions, and so many more. UUFM folks care and work to bring their values into the world.

There are multiple reasons this matters. First, our world desperately needs our values, including respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person, commitment to justice, equality, and democracy, respect for the interdependent web of all existence. These need to be championed at every opportunity. Second, our congregation needs the outward focus. We do not want to be an inward-focused group, because that leads to atrophy. Finally, the way we grow into being the best individual people we can be is through engagement with the world. Working to transform the world changes us. So, applying ourselves to the work of the world is good for the world, good UUFM and good for us individually.

In keeping with these commitments, I invite you to consider two upcoming opportunities for participation. First, I encourage anyone who can to join the Kansas People’s Agenda, Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice, and Kansas Interfaith Alliance at the People’s State of the State 2018–Wednesday, January 10, at the capitol in Topeka [more on page 6 of January newsletter]. The rally is scheduled for 11:30 to 1, with opportunities beforehand for training in citizen lobbying and afterward, time to meet with your legislators. See for more information or to sign up. If you want to ride along with others, you can sign up at

The second opportunity to consider is making a commitment to dismantling racism by joining our Beloved Conversations team, which will be engaged first in learning through a retreat and classes.  More information is available about that elsewhere in this newsletter [more on page 5 of January newsletter].  I am happy to talk with you about it if you have questions.

However you are engaged in changing the world, I invite you this month to consider it intentionally. All of us are called in different ways. What’s yours?

In faith and freedom,       Jonalu

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

A Holiday Message

Robert Fulghum, a UU minister best-known for “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” speaks about that “funny feeling you get when you know that once again Christmas has come to you.” It comes in different ways. One year, I got it from Dr. Seuss’ Grinch. Other years, I’ve had it when George Bailey realizes what a Wonderful Life he has. I’ve had it surrounded by candles piercing the darkness while the strains of “Silent Night” drift around me. I’ve had that feeling driving home after 10 from a long day, greeted by a city light display that used to blink near the apartment where I used to live. I’ve had it as snow started to fall as I left midnight mass with a friend, snow blunting everything, softening it. I’ve had it sitting in my living room, watching colored lights shine on my Christmas tree and soaking in the quiet of darkness and December. I can’t be sure I’ll get that special feeling every year, but I put myself in situations where it could happen. Because though I could live without it, I do like when I get it.

But why? We UU’s can get confused about the season. What are we celebrating? What do we do with the theology, with the meaning of Christmas? Do we celebrate the birth of a divine Savior, as all the songs say, or of a human teacher Jesus? Do we mush Christmas together with Hanukkah and Solstice and Kwanzaa, celebrating hope and joy and the return of the light? Do we reject the religious meanings altogether and simply celebrate “the season,” sticking to “Deck the Hall” and ornamenting the tree with plain balls or commemorative Hallmark ornaments — from Star Trek or Harry Potter — anything as long as we avoid stars and angels and mangers?

We have choices. We can get in touch with the miracle of birth, or the persistence of the human spirit through the harshness of winter. We can celebrate love — love for one another, love for newborn babies, love we show through gifts and card, even love for Jesus. We can seek peace. Christmas has plenty to offer, even if Jesus is not a full-blown divine Savior. And so does Solstice.

As W. H. Auden wrote, “Let us allow Christmas to overtake us in all our haste and unpreparedness and renew the miracle of love once again in our lives.”

So may it be.

Happy Holidays,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Jonalu’s Journal – December 2017

We’re in the midst of what has come to be known as “the holiday season,” sometime between Thanksgiving and New Years.  Perhaps no time of year brings higher expectations and anxiety. Some of the expectations come from outside ourselves–the in-laws who want to include you on “the” day, the children with their list of presents, the work place parties that feel required, whether they are or not.  Other expectations are internal–the need for an outdoor light display, special cookies, or standards around the wrapping of gifts.

Then, there are the layers of discomfort around religion.  Even as we set aside the ridiculous notion of a war against Christmas, we can’t help but notice that Christmas is a religious holiday, and as UUs, we can chafe against some of the theology around it.  We may be able to accept it as a celebration of the birth of Jesus, particularly as he represents the birth of the divine in every child, but we may not accept him as Lord and King, or God.  Those Christmas carols, then, even when we love them, can irritate or trouble us.

Extended family, too, can create conundrums.  Scheduling who to be with when, dodging the religious fervor of people we love, compromising on ideas of the right foods and activities–all add stress to a time that is supposed to “merry and bright.”

Acknowledging the challenges is the first step.  Then, we have to make plans according to our immediate family’s needs and wants. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Talk with family members about what each person thinks is the most important holiday tradition. Maybe walking through the Festival of Lights, frying potato latkes, or singing carols around the piano.  Be sure this season to do what each family member thinks is most important, but let go of traditions that no longer hold excitement for anyone.
  2. Find weekend day or weeknight evening during the holidays to just be together as a family at home.  Play games, bake cookies, or take a walk.  Keep the TV and computers off, and let the voicemail get the phones.
  3. Think of something to do for someone else.  Pick a child to shop for who might not get gifts otherwise, visit a relative you don’t normally see, take some food to the Food Bank, or decide as a family to forgo one gift each to make a donation to a good cause that matches your values.
  4. Reflect together on your year.  What were your favorite times?  What do you wish had been different? Consider setting goals for the coming year.

The holiday season can be full of expectations.  If we consciously decide how we choose to spend those holidays rather than being at the mercy of internal and external expectations, we may find the holidays a reward rather than a hassle.

Happy Holidays,     Jonalu

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Lament on the Mass Shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX

I hate that I’m writing this. I hate that I feel like I have to.

The unthinkable has become routine. Mass shootings occur so frequently that we hardly even let them into our consciousness. Which is tragic. We have witnessed too many family members and friends crying at the site of deadly mayhem. We have lit too many candles. Spoken of thoughts and prayers too often. Ranted about the need for gun control too many times. It’s as if we’ve gone numb. Or maybe that’s just me.

This particular time I’m seeing concerns from my colleagues about how we implement safety plans in our congregations. We don’t want to do this. None of us does. We don’t want to change an attitude of hospitality and openness into an attitude of suspicion. We don’t want to wonder if an unknown guest is going to shoot the place up. We don’t want to feel responsible for our members’ lives.

In this particular instance, the red flags around the shooter couldn’t have been much clearer. History of domestic violence. History of violent threats and attempts to carry out such threats. History of psychiatric danger to self and others. Yet, he could buy guns, no problem.

Clearly, we have a problem with our background check system. It’s not taken seriously by people who are required to report, and what does it matter, because if you really want a gun, you can always find a way to get one without a background check – gun shows, private sales, plenty of ways to get around it.

And what do we do with someone so violent they crack the skull of their stepchild, not to mention assault their spouse? Clearly, time spent imprisoned and a bad conduct discharge from the military did nothing to improve the shooter’s state of mind.

Gun proponents are encouraged that a bystander with a gun helped to bring this incident to an end. The NRA’s insistence that guns are the answer to gun violence has grown louder and more commonly accepted. That only increases the pressure to tell a different story, a story that maybe we can change the American worship of guns and the myth of self-protection that goes with the myth of self-sufficiency.

I wish I had a word of comfort in this, but I don’t. It’s time for lament, not comfort. I did contact my federal legislators with the message to fix the background check system and outlaw bump stocks. I will continue to push to change values and worldviews that extol guns and self-sufficiency at the cost of lives. I wish I could do more. But maybe lament is the only option left.

In faith and freedom,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Jonalu’s Journal – November 2017

The deaths of armed service members in Niger brought to light the military presence of our nation in an unexpected place. When I noted to a group of local people, “We don’t even know–our Senate Armed Services Committee doesn’t even know–where we are militarily involved,” the response from one person was, “The question may be where we are not militarily involved.”

The prophet Jeremiah, when his people were exiled in Babylon, wrote about the priests and prophets, “They offer healing offhand for the wounds of my people, saying, ‘All is well, all is well,’ when nothing is well.” At least, that’s the Jewish Publication Society (JPS)’s translation. You may be more familiar with the words, “They say, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.”

Though the words were written millennia ago, they apply today. We hear from our leaders, essentially, “All is well. We’re doing what we have to do.” But nothing is well. Niger, Korea, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia–immersed in or threatening conflict. So many places in the world, some where we are closely involved, others where we watch and wonder–and maybe are involved without knowing it. The world is not looking good for the peaceniks.

The “all is well” refrain used by the JPS reminds me of one of my favorite spiritually grounding sayings, from the medieval mystic hermit Julian of Norwich: “All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” Julian lived in a time of plagues and warfare, a desperate time. The peaceful mantra, she claimed, came not from her but from God, assuring her of ultimate security. A tough teaching to embrace and believe.

In times of anxiety, it’s very hard for me not to soak it up and sink into it. I want to run and hide, or strike out and hurt someone–anyone. The larger anxieties of the world magnify the smaller but much more immediate anxieties of the fellowship or of my own life–disagreements, slights, omissions, fears of scarcity. When I stop myself, though, center, meditate, and remember the gratitude of this particular moment, the sense of “all will be well” can return to me.

What I realize, though, is that others may hear that hard fought for spiritual assurance as a dismissal of their real concerns. They hear me acting like the priests and prophets Jeremiah referred to, saying “’All is well, all is well,’ when nothing is well.” “All is well” may sound like a mother’s “there, there,” dismissive and urging an artificial calm, a denial of emotional realities. The problem is particularly acute if there are differences between me and the person hearing my reassurances. Especially if we are different in race or class, for example, they may think, “Sure it’s fine for you. I’m dying here.” And they may be right.

As we approach Veterans Day, when we honor those who have taken on the military fight, in the midst of controversy and confusion around how the military carries out its mission of security, we have to acknowledge the lack of peace, even as we continue lives of relative security and comfort. I plan to join the Mennonites on November 10 in their witness for peace [see page 6 of this newsletter] and would welcome others who feel uneasy about war and peace.

In faith and freedom,    Jonalu

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Law Board Testimony

Here is what I said to the Riley County Law Board (the group that oversees the Riley County Police Department) as a part of the testimony by the Coalition for Equal Justice on Monday, October 16:

On behalf of the Coalition for Equal Justice, I want to thank the Law Board for your patience and willingness to hear what we have to say.

I want to be clear that we do not view Riley County as a Ferguson, Missouri, where police deliberately misused power and the racial imbalance was blatant. What we recognize, though, is that there are patterns deeply woven into American society that increase the probability of arrest and prosecution for people who are black, over that for people who are white. Whatever the source of these patterns, they are wrong and we have a social and moral obligation to raise questions and work to end the biases sown into the fabric of our culture. Racial bias is not entirely the fault of police, but police practices, policies and procedures can either reinforce the pervasive problem or help to remove it.

We don’t believe that racial bias in Riley County is any worse than in the rest of the country; but we cannot assume that it is any better. In fact, the evidence is clear that racial bias in certain drug-related arrests in Riley County is comparable to other states and regions of the country, and cities in Kansas. The problem in America is that if you are black, you are more likely to be arrested. The result is a cycle of unfair assumptions about who is guilty of crimes.

We cannot be satisfied with the national norm in biased policing. Justice, not widespread practice, should be the goal. And what we want is for Riley County to be less discriminatory, less biased and more equal than elsewhere in the country.

We appreciate the acknowledgement by the RCPD that racial bias needs to be addressed. The training on implicit bias that all police receive is a good start. I had the opportunity to attend the training last winter and felt it was helpful. Police officers are trained to treat all people respectfully and to be even-handed in their responses, essentially to follow policy. However, the focus in the training is as much on the implicit bias officers may find against police as it is on examining their own internal – perhaps unrecognized, implicit biases. More is needed to help police officers understand that bias happens here, that there is evidence for that, and to help them address their own, often unconscious, biases to compensate for them. There also need to be procedural measure to help prevent biases from affecting policing. The role of power dynamics in policing situations also needs to be more clearly acknowledged and implicit bias may play out with that. Most people are hesitant in any situation to challenge police judgment, or even to report anything they think may have been unfair.

Let me say a word about our requested remedy. We believe that pretextual traffic and pedestrian stops need to end. These stops for minor traffic violations as pretext when for searching for some other violation, usually drug related, were ruled legal by the 1996 Whren decision by the Supreme Court. Anyone can be stopped in such stops, but they open up the possibility of bias far more than more traditional enforcement does. Research has shown that pretextual stops create greater racial discrepancies in arrests for illegal drug possession. What’s more pretextual stops create distrust of the police, a breeding ground for cynicism and reluctance to cooperate. Those are powerful arguments for eliminating such stops.

There are many other steps that can be taken, including increased training and data-collection, but the single most powerful way to decrease racial bias is through an end to pretextual stops.

That’s why we’re here, to request that change – an end to pretextual traffic and pedestrian stops, as a sign of continued commitment to unbiased law enforcement.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Jonalu’s Journal – October 2017

In these times of political uproar and justifiable anger and fear, we don’t want to lose track of the need for connection and centering, what I would call a spiritual connection. Why? Because without that, we too easily become lost in drives, emotions, and ego, marooned from our authentic selves and disconnected from the larger world around us.

Often I’ve heard reservations and questions raised about the spiritual. “What does spiritual even mean?” “Spirituality is an escape from the real challenges of life.” “Spirituality is only about afterlife and god, and other concepts I reject.” Those may not be the exact words I’ve heard, but they are the sentiments.

We are working to bring more spirituality into our Sunday morning services and our everyday lives through the Soul Matters themes that we have been using for the last year.

If you belong to one of our Chalice Circles, you know that the materials we use include “Spiritual Exercises” each month. These exercises are unlike what you may associate with as “spiritual.” They don’t involve conventional practices of prayer or meditation. Instead, they invite each of us to consider how the theme plays out in our own lives. They are not intellectual exercises–they include our emotional lives. More than that, they prompt us to make meaning out of our experiences and challenge us to live according to the values we proclaim. That may be the essence of spirituality for Unitarian Universalists.

We each need to make meaning for ourselves because our religion does not spell out the meaning of life. It takes no position on whether or not a god or gods have any influence, or what happens before we are born or after we die. Our religion is a profoundly this-worldly one that says that what happens here and now and is what most matters. And that each person has a responsibility to engage in their present in a thoughtful and ethical way.

Fulfilling those responsibilities requires making meaning and striving to live according to our professed values. So, Unitarian Universalism is an open faith. In some ways we have few requirements–no creeds to recite or endorse, no specific set of spiritual practice. Instead, we have the much harder task of figuring out why we are here and what is the best use of our precious lives.

The best part is we don’t have to do it alone. We have each other to help us sort through the spiritual demand. Let me know if there’s a way I can be helpful in your spiritual journey.

In faith and freedom,    Jonalu

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email

Support for the Dreamers

This is the letter I sent to The Mercury, on behalf of Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice (MAPJ) on September 8. It remains relevant.

To the Editor:

I went to the Wednesday protest at Bosco Plaza of President Trump’s rescission of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. We heard so many dreams in that circle of college students, dreams that could be easily dashed. Under DACA, they were allowed to work and study here, moving with relative ease, assured they would not be deported. Now, with the rescission, anyone under DACA can stay here only until their current permit expires, sometime in the next two years. They cannot leave the country for fear they will not be readmitted. And no one else can apply DACA.

The university has acted quickly and honorably to assure students they will do all they can to support them personally and to work for their safety. However, the university cannot fully protect them. Nor can our city, though as individuals or public officials we can assure them that they are accepted as welcome members of our community. We must continue to offer those assurances.

Nothing can make a real difference, though, unless Congress acts promptly to pass legislation to guarantee that young people brought here by their parents without papers are allowed to continue to work, go to school and serve in the military. We hope that Congress will also offer a path to citizenship for those who were covered by DACA before the rescission and others like them brought to the country as children.

This is not a partisan issue, but an issue of what we are called to be as Americans. Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice (MAPJ) feels we are called as Americans to make a commitment to young immigrants. Our political values depict this nation as one of equal opportunity. Our social values of care and concern call us to appreciate the work, the family ties and promise of these dreamers. Our moral values call us to radical hospitality in the wake of discrimination and hostility.

Your editorial of September 6 commended Representative Marshall for his statement of support to the dreamers. Statements, though, are easy. We need to insist that Congress follow up the feel-good statements with real legislation that will secure the protection of the dreamers from fears of deportation and offer them the hope of citizenship.


Jonalu Johnstone

MAPJ Board member


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email