Category Archives: Justice Ministry

Love: Don’t let me go!

Love: Don’t let me go!

My son is in prison. Held in an 8×8 cell. A container perpetuating trauma and dehumanization. A container interrupting his alcohol us, his drug use, his access to a needle, a spoon, and the possibility of an overdose. A container. I know where he is. I know he is not using. I know he is alive. A container, nonetheless. For that I am grateful and for that I am sad.  

My son is in prison. Held in an 8×8 cell. Life interrupted. Family interrupted. Parenting interrupted. Plumber at work interrupted. Sure, there was a crime. There is also an illness, a health issue for sure. Society says, punishment. I say, compassionate care. Society says, he must pay. I say, restorative justice. He says, “This may be the thing that saves my life Mom.”  For that I am confused and for that I am angry. 

My son is in prison. Held in an 8×8 cell. Prison gates, bullet proof vests, stun guns, loaded guns, locked doors, buzzers, steel, steel and more steel, and plexiglass barriers greeting each visit.  Safety, they say! Cold, hard defenses necessary to subdue the criminal, they say! Stoic, curt guards, holding power, heroes protecting society, they say! The crime: adverse childhood experiences. The crime: substance use disorder. The crime: a hardened society incarcerating the ‘junkie’. The crime: a privileged society casting out the wounded. The crime: a justice system exploding for profit. The crime: a people locking their doors and their hearts and their soul. Protecting themselves, they say! For that I am angry and for that I rise up. 

My son is in prison. Held in an 8×8 cell. The visit: one hour. A container for the heartbreaking beauty of love. We speak with our eyes. I imagine the hug. We speak of regrets. We speak of the love that will not let us go. We remember the years shared. The years to come. We tell the stories. We laugh. We cry. I imagine the hug. His head tucked neatly on my shoulder. My arms wrapped around his pain, his tears, his sorrow, his despair. His reflection on bad choices. His life on overwhelm. We speak of the fear. He worries of release. He’s apprehensive of the pressures of life. We speak of the hardship. Parenting from behind bars. We speak of dreams and getting a second chance. We love with our eyes. I imagine the hug. His head on my shoulder. My arms around his tears. For that I am hopeful and for that I am heartbroken. 

Rev. Carie Johnsen is minister at Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Augusta, ME. Speaking as a mother and serving as co-chair of the Public Policy Committee for the Maine Council of Churches, Rev. Carie works to influence drug policy and criminal justice reform in Maine

Preparing Hearts and Minds (Maine Wabanaki REACH Invocation)

Maine-Wabanaki REACH
First Annual Convening of Allies
July 24, 2016


Creator of all things, great mystery, ever present, known by so many names but never truly know. We stand before thee. Humble and open seeking a more just and equitable nation.

O’ Creator, of all that was, is, and will be, prepare our hearts and minds and spirits for a day of joy and wonder, heartache and struggle. Breathe life, love and hope into this gathering that we may be fortified for the possibility of what today offers.

O’ Creator, we have arrived here, native and non-native, colonized and colonizer, indigenous and settler, oppressed and privileged.

Each of us, regardless of the identities we carry into this room, arrived with anticipation and an eagerness to speak truth to the actions of our ancestors and to take responsibility for the ways our own lives continue to cause harm.

Each of us, regardless of the identities we carry into the room, arrived ready to answer the call to change the narrative.

We arrived with compassion in our hearts and justice on our mind, ready to engage in acts of decolonization and to be a part of building up Wabanaki sovereignty.

O’ Creator, merciful and kind, forgive us, we who arrive with the audacity to claim this work of reconciliation and healing, as we benefit from the very systems of oppression we seek to dismantle.

May we listen more than we talk. May we quiet the defensive mind, the critical mind, the judging mind that we may hold space for silence: for the light of truth to be heard and the soothing balm of grace to heal.

May we lean in curiously. May our questions make room for learning, spark insight, inspire wisdom, and lead us out of complacency into intentional acts of resistance.

May we find the courage to speak truth to our experiences, shedding tears of awareness, sifting through and struggling with guilt. May we find the courage to be vulnerable, to be real, as we rebuild relationships our of destructive paths of a colonized nation.

In speaking truth to the full realities of our lives, the lives of our ancestors, may we shatter the distorted histories, the purposeful illusions, and the lies shaping our nation and holding the human heart and mind hostage.

May we, the bearers of truth revealed, find the tenacity and humility to face the hard realities with accountability and, when appropriate, apologies. May we turn these hard earned truths into effective action.

In these acts of listening, leaning in curiously, holding silence, and speaking truth, may we build a worthy foundation to stand as allies.

From the fragmented and shattered, from the spoken truth, from the righting of wrongs and the healing of souls, may we learn to walk as allies: aware, humble, and ready to step up, when asked, by the native people: the Penobscot, the Passamaquoddy, the Micmac, The Maliseet and the Abenaqi.

O Creator, may we be powerful allies in the call to restore indigenous culture, identity, spirituality and sovereignty in the land of the Wabanaki people.

O’ Creator of all things, we know this is our work to do, and we know we are part of something much bigger than we can ever fully understand.

Hold us and guide us in this endeavor.
Shine light on what is right and good.

Keep us on a path of humility.

Give us strength and courage

to face the challenges that lie ahead.

O’ Creator of all things, breath life, love and hope into this gathering that we may be fortified for the possibility of what today offers.

So may it be, May it be so


Answering the Call

Rev. Carie Johnsen engaged in a three-month cultural immersion experience in Wales, United Kingdom. During this time she lived in the village of her ancestors, engaged in a partnership building ministry with the Welsh Unitarians and attended a Welsh language program. In this article she describes how her commitment to racial justice ministries became grounded in her journey to discover and integrate her ancestral story.

Hearing the call for white allies to engage in responsible advocacy and action, I began to discern sabbatical goals to inform my justice ministries. Recognizing the fundamental value of grounding one’s commitment toward multicultural anti-racists and anti-oppression ministry in ancestral heritage, the call to the land of my ancestors –Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Wales – could not have been clearer.

Discernment on where was just as clear: all roads led to Wales. The path to the land of the red dragon, daffodils and sheep, as it turned out, was the most developed part of my family tree. In Wales, the names of farms have been conveniently handed down through the centuries, therefore easy to locate on any map. Finding my way to the small rural village and farms of my ancestors was part geography 101 and part magical unfolding. With twenty-two Unitarian congregations, thirteen of them Welsh speaking, the second of my two prerequisites for a spiritual and ancestral pilgrimage emerged with exciting opportunities to be in community.

In Wales, much to my surprise, I quickly discovered parallel religious histories. My familial story and the Unitarian story merged in the history of the faithful dissenters of the Church of Wales. These early Protestant Christians did not conform to the governance and practices of the established church of Wales. As nonconformists they risked life and livelihood to worship as they believed. While my Trinitarian forefathers and foremothers were given legal right to worship in 1688, our Unitarian cousins would have to wait an additional 125 years until the signing of the Unitarian Relief Act of 1813.


In Gwynfe, Llangadog, Wales, I stood in the graveyard of Jerusalem (Independent) Chapel and gazed upon the ancient barn of Pantmawr farm in the foreground. (Picture above) Both religious sites connected to my ancestors. My Great Great Great Grandmother Margaret (Morgans) Howells was born and raised on Pantmawr. Villagers tell the stories of 16th Century nonconformists worshipping in the barn, hiding under the cover of darkness with only moonlight to guide their way. My Great Great Great Great Grandfather Samuel John Howells served this rapidly growing nonconformist congregation as a lay minister. Generations of Howells filled the pews and children ran playing through the adjacent fields that also served as footpaths to their farms. In the graveyard lay their children who would be left behind when three generations emigrated to the United States in search of farming opportunities in the westward expansion.

Gellionnen Unitarian Chapel
Gellionnen Unitarian Chapel

At Gellionnen Unitarian Chapel in Pantardawe, I found, as promised, a wood fire and a warm welcome. This small chapel located on a secluded mountaintop is a stark reminder of a time when worshippers were safest in remote settings. At Hen Dý Cwrrd, Cefn Coed, I took service and sat in the ancient rostrum once carried in and out of the illegal barn services held across the valley. At Yr Gen LLwynrhydowen I attended the historic reopening of the mother church of Unitarianism in Wales. This chapel closed in 1876 when the congregation and minister were evicted for their radical non Tory Unitarian ideologies.

I had come to Wales to connect, grow and live out our Unitarian Universalist principles and values beyond our borders. What I found was a story of dissension that linked my familial ancestry with my present day convictions as a Unitarian Universalist. At the heart of both stories, I found people of faith committed to religious liberty. Dissenters who centuries later made possible a free faith, something I all too often take for granted.

I had come to Wales to the villages of Llangadog and Gwynfe to be still, to walk in the footsteps of my ancestors, and to listen to their stories. What I found was a sense of coming home to place where I never knew I belonged. In doing so, I caught a precious glimpse of why people, tribes and nations are deeply connected and spiritually rooted to the land of their ancestors. Through this experience I learned it is more than a story of belonging to the land; it is a sacred story of being of the land.

Gellionnen Unitarian Chapel

I stood on the Black Mountains gazing upon Gwynfe trying to imagine the adversity and hardship generations of my ancestors endured as tenant farmers. Like immigrants arriving today, they wanted more for their children. Leaving behind their homes, their culture and their families to start anew in unknown territories was the price they were willing to pay.

Informed by the faith and journey of my ancestors, I stand in my story: granddaughter of immigrant dissenters and Dakota homesteaders. They risked life and livelihood for religious freedom and economic opportunity. Their willingness to risk it all for their children and their children’s children is reason enough for me to stand with the immigrants of today seeking the same.

In the United States they were among the successful homesteaders and it came at a high cost to the indigenous people of this land. They directly benefited from the colonization and genocidal violence against the First Nations. Subsequently, I benefit from this history of injustice; I didn’t cause it but I do share responsibility for world we live in today. As such, I am motivated to stand up, speak out and take action to restore the future of indigenous people and their cultures.

The courage of my ancestors gave me countless opportunity; in homage to them, may my life be an expression of their fortitude, strength and courage. May I follow their lead and endeavor to build the world I wish to leave for my children’s children. May that be a world where equality, diversity, justice and beloved community led the way.


Celebrating Indigenous People’s Day

On February 12, 2013, I had the honor and privilege of reading this poem at the Ceremony to seat the Commissioners of the Maine-Wabanaki Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Today, Indigenous People’s Day (2015), I am attending Ally Training with Maine-Wabanaki REACH who are tasked with insuring the recommendations are considered and implemented.  On October 24th, Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta will host the same Ally Training. I encourage you to join in the work of REACH: Reconciliation, Engagement, Action, Change and Healing.  Continue reading Celebrating Indigenous People’s Day

Speaking Truth to Our Power

IMG_0888Responding to the human cry for a more just and equitable global community, seems to me, on most days, both overwhelming  (a complicated web with the power to oppress my voice) and compulsory (an internal response that will not be assuaged). Still, or maybe always, the needs are vast and I am one. The issues are infinite and I have only one life: several days amid numbered years. I could choose to walk in the world complacent, ignoring the reality, shutting myself off from the world, or I can live inspired; boldly and courageously.

Someone I love dearly once told me, “You need to stop caring so much about the world.” On that particular day, at that particular moment, I had engaged in a fierce discussion about homelessness and I had left the room crying. This person who encouraged me to care less responded (I believe) from her own sense of compassion, care and love for me. She saw how the suffering of humanity effected me and she wanted to ease my suffering. What she failed to see was the more complicated story of suffering of others.

We live in a socio-economic-political climate of demonizing the unemployed, the poor, the black community, the worker without documents, the President. The list is endless. The blame game has become a sport, something we talk about, complain about on Facebook, tweet loudly to our followers. We pick sides, demonize the other and put up black hawk defenses to guard our positions. All a part of our frustrated response to failed systems and our inability to effect change. We create elaborate social agendas of us and them to guard our distorted ideas of success and accomplishment, and our idolization of wealth and privilege. Material acquisitions of more and bigger and better become the pastime of choice.

At the end of the day our guarded nature and our scarcity mentality serves only to keep us shut off from possibilities. Like rodents, we have been well trained to hoard away and protect our material existence at all costs including the dehumanization, servitude, slavery, persecution, and humiliation of another human being.

IMG_2063Even as a woman who “cares too much”, I struggle with the ways we have been, and continue to be, socialized into believing there is a bad person out there taking advantage of what is rightfully ours. We are socialized into believing it is the person in a hoodie with their pants sagging, the person at the counter with food stamps counting their change the person crossing the desert to support their family, the politician who voted against our positions.

Every day I have to correct the wrong thinking that plagues my mind. Left unchecked, it allows a divided system, nation, government, family to continue unchallenged. Every day I need to remind myself every person deserves dignity and I am responsible for a humane response to the suffering in the world.

For I, too, stand on the backs of generations who have persecuted and oppressed. I, too, stand on the backs of many who fought for freedom of ideas, freedom of religion, freedom of movement. I too stand on the backs of those who bring in the crop, sew the cloths, and manufacture the goods.

Truth is, it is not possible to completely disengage and get off the shoulders of those who are marginalized and exploited. This is the reality of our globalized world. This is the challenge we face as a people of the 21st Century.

Still, we must ask how will we cross the divide, break down the socially constructed barriers, lessen the impact of oppression? How will we change our way of living to reduce the destructive impact on others? How will we see, truly see, the other person with the same love, care and compassion we offer to those in our inner circle? How will we encounter a global community with a big inclusive WE?

 As a child growing up in the Christian faith, I was taught Jesus loved me. I sang the song, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” What my faith failed to teach me was “Jesus love us, this we know, for the bible tells us so.” Jesus didn’t hide the fish or reject the sick. He loved boldly, broadly, deeply. He opened his door wider and invited more in. Jesus didn’t live protecting his self-interest and guarding what was rightfully his. There was no us and them. No scarcity model to determine who would receive his bread. There was neither judgment nor practices of exclusion. Rather there was love and just living and lots of it guiding his actions and reactions to an aching community around the Sea of Galilee.

So, I ask again, how will we participate in a global community that strives for a compassionate, just, and loving embrace of all of humanity? What is one thing you can do today? What is one thing you can do next week? What is one thing you can do this year?

Might I suggest, we all begin with the regular observations of where we employ practices of exclusion that serve to divide and demonize; then consider how we might approach our judgements with new eyes, with curiosity and with openheartedness.