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Give Us Justice, Give Us Peace

Dona Nobis Pacem Round, Public Domain Work
text from BLM
new music by Emily McKinney
performed by the Virtual First UU Choir

“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.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Letters from a Birmingham Jail

This quote is what inspired me to create this new arrangement of the old, familiar, and (usually) beloved anonymous round, “Dona Nobis Pacem,” which translates as “Give us peace.”

As lovely as the original music is, a plea for peace without a fight for justice is incomplete. It struck me how often society wrings its collective hands and says, “We just want things to be peaceful!” I borrowed the powerful phrase “No justice, no peace!’ from decades of protests for the safety of Black lives in this country to emphasize that peace without justice is nothing more than a sweet little wish. Peace has power only when we have justice. I tried to reflect this in the music: the justice descant part is never the exact same as it comes around, even as it plays against the identical three “peace” parts, symbolizing that as we work for a just society, we will constantly have to change to meet the needs of that struggle. The justice line enters suddenly and with more volume than the backdrop of peace lines, because justice work is often viewed as disruptive to peace. It grows stronger and more prominent all the way through, leading us to a representation of this positive peace, this presence of justice that MLK spoke of.

We begin our musical exploration of Compassion with this music because standing in solidarity, seeking justice for marginalized peoples, is one of the most compassionate things we can do with our lives. It takes a certain depth of compassion to use our privilege to elevate someone society has cast down. May we go and do it!

  • Emily, Music Director

Our opening words this morning are “Come Into This Circle,” by Rev. Scott Tayler

Come into this circle of compassion and care.
Bring your worry and wounds,
your longings and hope.
With word and song,
we rekindle the connection
that soothes our tender hearts.
With stillness and space to pause,
we restore our strength
for the work that must be done.
The work of love.
The work of waiting
The work of repair.
The work of remembering we are not alone.
Let us begin.

Our chalice lighting words are “Out of the Flames,” by Sara Eileen LaWall.

Out of the flames of fear
We rise with courage of our deepest convictions
to stand for justice, inclusion and peace
Out of the flames of scrutiny
We rise to proclaim our faith
With hope to heal a fractured and hurting world
Out of the flames of doubt
We rise to embrace the mystery, wonder and awe
of all there is and all that is yet to be
Out of the flames of hate
We rise with the force of love
Love that celebrates our shared humanity
Out of the flames we rise

Greater Love

written by Mark and Emily McKinney
performed by Mark McKinney

One of my favorite things about being a UU is that my religion “allows” me to appreciate good and beautiful spiritual truths, no matter where they come from. This comes in handy for Mark and me, because we’re an interfaith marriage and household. Mark is a progressive/liberal Christian, and I’m…something without a very clear label but happy at the UU church.

Time and time again, Mark is the one who reminds me to practice our first principle. He hears this call to “greater love” in stories like the Good Samaritan or the Golden Rule and regularly helps me live up to it. This is not an easy call to answer, but if I profess to value the inherent worth and dignity of everyone, I’m also called to greater love.
This song came about after someone royally betrayed our trust and made off with a good sum of money, prepaid for work that was never delivered. Mark wrote a great, fiery revenge song first, but then came around to this. We worked together on the lyrics, and I am thrilled to offer this as a lens through which to explore our theme of Compassion.

  • Emily, Music Director

The Little Things

written and performed by Mark McKinney

Mark says that this song started with watching my morning self-care rituals and appreciating things like the way I “visit” each of my flowering plants and appreciating all the little things in my morning, like a sunrise or a hot cup of coffee. And truly, there is so much beauty in these little things. It’s easy to look around at our own overwhelming comfort and privilege in our lives and think, “Well, what more could we possibly ask for?”

It turns out that compassion calls us to answer that question with, “So much more.”

I’ll let this one speak for itself and thank Mark for being willing to share his original music with us this Sunday.

  • Emily, Music Director

Our closing words are “Go Forth in Simplicity,” by Samuel A Trumbore

Go forth in simplicity.
Find and walk the path
that leads to compassion and wisdom,
that leads to happiness, peace and ease.
Welcome the stranger and
open your heart to a world in need of healing.
Be courageous before the forces of hate.
Hold and embody a vision of the common good that
serves the needs of all people.

How Could Anyone

Words and music by Libby Roderick
Performed by the First UU Virtual Choir, accompanied by Eva Riebold
Used with Permission

In the composer’s own words: “How Could Anyone has been used for every conceivable purpose to bring inspiration and affirmation to people struggling with every imaginable challenge and to celebrate the beauty of human beings everywhere: AIDS orphans in Zambia keeping their spirits high, Latina mothers initiating their daughters into adulthood, gay activists affirming their inherent worth, children with disabilities at summer camp honoring their wholeness, Japanese women and girls recovering from eating disorders, men in prison making peace with their pasts – these groups and thousands more have made the song their own and used it to inspire powerful action on behalf of our shared humanity. It has been featured in every format and venue, from videos, films and slide shows to hospitals, prisons, kindergartens, marches, peace gatherings, weddings, funerals and shelters. Princess Diana even wore a t-shirt with How Could Anyone’s lyrics printed on the front to work out at the gym.”

This song just embodies compassion to me and it seems fitting to share this one for this planned service about the work Victoria has been doing to protect Missouri tenants and to expand Medicaid access during this pandemic. So many people have been hurt or are hurting, or are, as yet, still in harm’s way. This song is open arms and gentle affirmation of everyone’s worth, no matter what we are going through. Read more about this beautiful song here:

  • Emily, Music Director
Categories: Sermon