Bringing it home now — back to the image of the beach and the crab. The moment of transcendant glory is past; now the hard work of faith begins. This isn’t a time to lose faith. Quoting the UU hymn:

“Praise song for trouble, praise song for day, praise song for every hand-lettered sign…” (Sorry: the teleprompter typist is faster than I am.)

Melissa Harris-Lacewell giving the Ware Lecture

What we need now is love. “Beware the crabs in the sand, but keep your eyes on the horizon. With reason and faith, let us walk forward into that light.”


It’s easy to write off faith talk as inherently divisive — but if we do that, we cede faith, and lose the use of it as a tool for the struggle for self, community, and justice. (Amen!)

(Your blogger is loving this part: I argue it often with my progressive blogging friends, most of whom are secular and don’t believe in the power of faith to create change.)

Faith is an exercise in intellectual humility, a habit that makes us recognize our own limitations, helps us come to terms with what we don’t know and can’t do.

“We come here together to day to make the most incredible faith claim of all: that we can establish a world that recognizes the inherent dignity of every single human being — and that we can make that world using the power of love.”

(Wild cheering!!)


Theologial confessions: She was a UU on Sunday mornings, and then went to Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity church on Sunday evenings. “A Unitarian by day, a Trinitarian by night.”

She’s now at Union Theological Seminary. “I stand in awe trying to figure out why black Americans are so convinced that God loves them when there is so much evidence to the contrary.” That’s a different kind of knowing than academic life teaches you — but it’s just as important.


She’s echoing Obama here: he’s not going to fix this. It’s on us. The hard work of governing has begun.


A litany of the bleak realities in the United States today — the rights not yet held by black, brown, immigrant, gay, and poor Americans. Bill Gates has more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans combined.

What we spend every year on weapons could put every child in the world in school.

It’s delusional to think any point in the past was any different — or that a fair and equal world is possible. And that’s why we need faith. It’s what keeps us going when reason fails us.


She’s jealous of Van Jones (last year’s Ware Lecturer) getting to talk to us in an election year. It was a great year — but even then, the crabs were biting our feet.

She’s talking about Prop 8. Yes we can? Maybe only some of us can.

Now blasting Obama for picking Rick Warren to give the invocation. Not doing squat about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Backtracking on torture. Taking single-payer off the table — not even trying.

But Van Jones warned us last year: “Get prepared to govern.” We forgot to heed that. We got so used to being the outside agitators that we’re still figuring out how to govern with a friend in the White House, and we’re no longer at the margins.


Comparing the visual impact of Katrina to the visual impact of the Selma March in 1963. But there are still struggles and problems — segregation, poverty, preference for tourists over residents in city policies. The work continues, and will for a long while.

Quote of the night: “The best justice work we do comes about when we commit ourselves fully to a cause we’re likely to lose.”


Her family: her father was the descendant of slaves. Her mother’s ancestors pushed a handcart across the prairies to Salt Lake City in the great Mormon migration. (And she’s a UU — coming home in many ways today.)

The people of New Orleans came back and rebuilt “nail by nail.” They organized, filed paperwork with government agencies, worked jobs and then worked second shifts cleanup. Young people of all races streamed in, turning NO into Ground Zero for social justice movements — not just for spring break, but to settle and help with the rebuilding.

And the televised suffering of New Orleans changed the country, too: George Bush’s administraton recovered from the crisis, and the Democratic Party recovered its critical voice. “How can a government that can’t get water into an American city for three days prosecute a war overseas?” The 2006 election was a referendum on Bush’s policies, and the tide began to turn.


Her own visit to New Orleans in the days that followed bore out that history — and her conviction that New Orleans could not be rebuilt. And she wrote about it. The destruction was just too vast. So she argued for fair cash payments, insurance coverage, transition services — but also that demanding that it be rebuilt left her feeling hopeless. The crab was biting her toe.


Melissa Harris-Lacewell is telling us the story of her vacation at the beach. A perfect UU moment: standing chin-deep in the ocean, looking at a gorgeous sunrise with rays glittering on the water — and a crab biting her on the foot.

And now onto Katrina, a topic she speaks often on. Why was there so little coordinated response? It seemed clear to everybody on the ground that black Americans were being abandoned by their government — a racial gap that was reflected in the polls. Two-thirds of blacks believed that the government would have responded faster if the city had had a white majority. True or not, it was a powerful statement of the lack of trust between black America and the government.


I hadn’t meant to do this. I’m here “covering” it for a more serious article to be posted tomorrow. But I also have the full text of the speech already, so typing furiously won’t add a lot to what’s already there.

So I’ll live blog it.

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  1. Rex Styzens

    I look forward to reading the speaker’s remarks or listening when the video is available. However, except for the testimony of her own experiences, I find the context in which they are set disappointing. The best paraphrased sentence to me was, “It’s delusional to think any point in the past was any different — or that a fair and equal world is possible. And that’s why we need faith. It’s what keeps us going when reason fails ”

    One never “has faith.” One only has faith in something or someone. To have faith that a fair and equal world is possible is a worthy trust and difficult commitment. Also, if she uses references to “power” as reported here, I point out that it is strength, not power, that “keeps us going.” I leave power to the politicians and the engineers. The strength to endure remains the fruit of mature religion.

    And to nit-pick just a bit, “The Selma to Montgomery marches were three marches in 1965,” (Wiki) not 1963.

  2. Sara Robinson

    Live blogging is not like regular blogging. There’s no time to consult Google. If you mishear something because you’re typing something else, there’s no way to go back and check it. (And even if you could, the distraction would mean you’d miss the next thing, and before you know it, you’ve lost the thread entirely.)

    So, y’no — stuff happens. Immediacy gets traded for accuracy. For the person at the keyboard, the whole thing is a 45-minute exercise in high-intensity caffeinated reporting jazz anyway.

    What you’re getting is, almost literally, my reporter’s notes with cleaned-up spelling. When I write the straight story tomorrow, I’ll have access to videos and transcripts, and can make the quotes perfect. I expect we’ll find that my paraphrasing on the “power” stuff was a lamer version of what she actually said.

  3. Rex Styzens

    I got to watch the video of the Ware Lecture. While I enjoy a cheer leader and the speaker did that job as well as any I have ever heard, and while the significance of “all are created equal” deserves every opportunity to be celebrated, I should like to be able to anticipate hearing Ms. Harris-Lacewell address the topic of faith versus reason when her studies at Union Seminary are completed.

    The equal worth of individuals is less a traditional Christian message than it is a social covenant that grew out of the Enlightenment. In fact, affirmation that God loves us all is heretical. Look at what his fellow early church fathers did with Origen’s approximation of universal salvation; they burned his books.

    So then is the faith behind our self-evident truths sacred or secular? The speaker’s ascription of it to her religious roots can be deemed wishful thinking.

    I spend time online defending religion to the current generation of “cultured despisers.” The evidence they see is that organized religion has a history of disposing of “others.” I attempt to distinguish between mature religion and simple-minded religion. So long as Ms. Harris-Lacewell preaches to the choir, all may seem well. In our nihilistic world, something more may be required.

  4. Dan Harper

    Hi Rex Styzens — You write: “I spend time online defending religion to the current generation of ‘cultured despisers.'”

    I have done the same, and generally speaking that has been the principle growth strategy for Unitarian Universalism (and Unitarianism before that, as well as, to a certain extent, Universalism). Recently, though, it has occurred to me that this strategy is not working for us — we are shrinking as a percentage of total population.

    I’m not sure that Harris-Lacewell has any answers, but I’m coming to think that we need another strategy besides preaching to cultured despisers of religion. In any case, I found Harris-Lacewell to be thought-provoking — and I, like you, look forward to hearing from her when she completes her studies at Union.

  5. Rex Styzens

    Dan, Thanks for your coverage of the GA, and thanks to the elaborate team of video producers who made available the online access to some of the major presentations this year.

    In my dotage, I have gained a new respect for institutions. After having drifted away for a time, I am indebted to those who keep the wheels turning. My best realization is that each new generation must be taught the lessons of our civilization’s history. So we need institutions to do it over and over again. And the job gets harder, as there are more of us to teach and more to teach us.

    In his comments after his presentation, Gustav Niehbur shared the remark that even the Southern Baptists are shrinking in membership. That is also my impression of the mainline Protestant congregations in my community. The support of institutions by a declining membership in hard times makes for problems, to be sure, but these are the best of times for intellectually informed inquirers.

    We are in the midst of the greatest explosion of global scholarly investigation in the history of our civilization. Currently the volume of information is almost overwhelming. To my ancient ears, however, it is full of confirmation of what I learned as a near-birthright UU. So we need to hang in there.

    Yes, the Dawkins and Hitchens types are persuading many that religion is the problem, in the same way Reagan convinced many that government is the problem. What keeps me involved in the discussion is to see if what I have learned and come to believe can hold up against their skepticism. To my satisfaction, so far, so good.

    So we need to keep our eyes on the prize. And I am looking foward to my own, now middle-aged parenting kids, drifting back to the institution also. Theirs will not be easy times. So long as our leaders keep getting better in doing their job, we will be up to the times.

  6. Rex Styzens

    Dan, one final comment–

    This may seem like just a tease, because the current condition of the resource I will mention is that it has been recently hacked and trashed by a vandal. But it is on the way to restoration, and the live blogging conversation there continues.

    Prof Carl Raschke and others have an online journal called Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory. It is the most sophisticaled interfaith exchange I know of, even better than that at the celebrated universities with theological schools. So far as I know, its appeal remains limited to those who respect the cutting edge work currently underway in the classic European traditions.

    I am convinced that it will only take another generation or maybe two before such scholarship provides or provokes a shared foundation for serious religious inquiry. Philosophers are willing to talk to theologians, now that philosophy has realized the hollowness in reverence for science. Analytic philosophers are willing to listen to Continental philosophers and vice versa. It is tough to popularize such conversations, but they have been underway now for at least 50 years. I first discovered Raschke in 1979. I’m still trying to catch up. Now, all we need is to keep ourselves from blowing us all up or burning us all up.


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