I Caught the Holiday Spirit in the Traffic Circle

I caught the Holiday Spirit at the Clearwater Beach traffic circle on December 13th.

Twenty of us – mostly but not all Unitarian Universalists – stood at the circle for more than an hour with the simple message: Black Lives Matter Here. Like the marchers in Washington and men and women in other cities that day, we were protesting the killing of unarmed black men and children by police officers and the failure of a grand jury to indict an officer even when the entire incident was video recorded. What we’ve been seeing it looks like lynching.


I caught the Holiday Spirit because people of all ages and all races had come together  across the country that day to protest this ongoing injustice and stand in solidarity with the victims of those police (a minority of officers) who have violated the law. I caught the Holiday Spirit because a diverse group had come together in Clearwater with the same message. We stood in solidarity not just with the dead victims – there is little we can do for them – but also with their families, who will be missing a father this Christmas, or a brother or a son. We were declaring that Clearwater, Florida may not be at center of the issue, but people here care about this injustice. We stand with those who have suffered and we will stand against it happening here. Some of our signs read “Black Lives Matter Here in Clearwater.”

There were some negative shouts from drivers around the circle. But there were many more affirmations: waves, thumbs up, and peace signs by people of all ages and races. There were so many young whites expressing their support that my hope level got a serious boost. And then there were the many black men and women who shouted “Thank you” as they drove by. The driver of a commercial passenger van headed toward the beach hotels made eye contact and nodded ever so slightly. Later he came back – this time with no passengers – and flashed a highly visible thumbs up. The middle aged driver of a truck towing a trailer of landscaping equipment slowed down enough to speak a few words directly without stopping traffic. When I got back to my apartment complex in Largo that evening, one of my neighbors, a young man named Jonah, walked up to me and said, “Thank you for being out there today.” He was sitting next to his uncle, who is his employer, when the landscaper slowed down his truck on the circle. Jonah and I had a good long talk before we both went inside.

The Holiday Spirit is not defined by gifts, nor by miracles, nor by the music we so much enjoy. It is not defined even by the gathering of family from a distance.

It is defined by the manifestation of love in solidarity with those who are disenfranchised, those who might be enemies the day before and after, those who have not a place to lay their heads.

More than the commemoration of past events, Hanukkah and Christmas are about the possibilities ahead of us and within us. They are about the people around us – whether family or stranger – and how we can live together in solidarity and justice.

I’ve caught the Holiday Spirit and I am celebrating!

Rev Dr TJ


I have tried to resist commenting on 9-11. But I've read so much in social media that I must say something.

I cannot refrain from stating two thoughts:

My first thought on the morning of the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 was, This is payback for September 11, 1973, when a US-backed coup deposed the elected government of President Salvador Allende of Chile. Whether the highjackers in 2001 had that in mind is not known. But I think of this on every anniversary and I am ashamed of the alleged democracy of which I am a citizen.

My second thought: The attack on New York was personal. I was born in a now-defunct hospital on West 76th Street and my first home was an apartment on East 52nd Street. My parents met when they worked in the same factory in the East 20s. We later lived on East 223rd in the Bronx, before moving to Danbury, CT. I loved most of the places I've lived. However, although I've resided elsewhere most of my life, New York City is home. Always has been, always will be.

I do not believe that the United States deserved the attack in 2001. One evil action does not legitimate another. For me, September 11th is the anniversary of two days of infamy, one perpetrated by my nation, one perpetrated against it. I am proud of my nephew, Sebastián Abel Chamorro Johansson, for noting the connection on his Facebook page.

Solidarity can be complicated.

Boston & West

I spent Monday, April 15th through Friday, April 19th at the Unitarian Universalist Interim Ministers Seminar outside of San Antonio, Texas.

Beginning late in the day on Monday, my colleagues and I watched the events in Boston. Unitarian Universalists have a special attachment to Boston. Our Association has its headquarters in Boston.  I lived in the city for ten years, half of them within walking distance of the site of the explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I have spoken by phone with a friend who lives a couple of blocks from the blasts. Lucretia had gone home from cheering at the finish line just a few minutes before the bombs exploded.

Thursday evening, after our day’s work ended, my long-time friend and colleague Steve Furrer and I were asked by Rebecca, the bartender, to pray for her aunt and uncle, who lived near the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, which had exploded the day before. Their home was damaged.

Here are two tragedies – one created intentionally, the other likely accidental. Both are painful. Painful not just to those directly touched, but to all of us. Empathy is part of what it means to be human. We feel for those who are touched by both tragedies.

The Boston Marathon bombing and the events that continue in its wake challenge our sense of safety in the world. An act of terrorism does that in a way that an accident does not. Intentional violence makes us wonder about our fellow human beings and about ourselves, whether it is one-to-one violence or mass murder. We wonder about our faith in humanity.

Watching the TV news late at night, I saw and heard of acts of generosity and courage. In Boston, not just police but runners ran toward the explosion to help. In Texas, a woman told a reporter that her house had been destroyed and her husband, a volunteer firefighter, was fighting the fire at the fertilizer plant.

My faith in humanity is chastened and not for the first time. It is also confirmed. It hurts me to know that individuals kill and that industrial and natural disasters come without warning. But empathy turns to solidarity and we share each other’s losses, burdens, and pain.