Perhaps Love

“Perhaps love.”

“Perhaps love is like the ocean full of conflict, full of pain**.”

It is, isn’t it?  We like to think, oh, no! That is not love.  Love is happily ever after.  Love is all roses and sunshine.  Love is all that and a bag of chips.

We need to face the reality … love contains conflict.  Love contains pain.

Now before I go too much further with this line of thought, let me clarify what I am talking about when I mention conflict and pain as being within love.

Let me separate out the pain and conflict experienced as the result of emotional/mental/physical abuse.  The sort of conflict and pain that arises from abuse is not about love, that is about power—control over another human being. Love is not about power over another person.  So when I state love contains conflict, love contains pain; I am not referring to abusive relationships.

I am referring to the pain that arises when someone is hurting, physically/emotionally/mentally.  I am referring to when a loved one is sick.  I am referring to when a loved one is being harassed.  I am referring to when a loved one dies—regardless of circumstances.

On a larger scale—I am referring to when there is injustice against people.  People who seek to love one another face conflict and pain when there is injustice.  I am referring to when pain and conflict arise because of a systemic condition of the hardening heart in the collective hive.

This has been a tough summer for those who believe that Love wins. I know for me it has made me seriously reconsider my calling as a minister who longs for the day when justice runs down like a mighty stream.  What am I doing here in Alabama?  What am I doing here in the United States? If I, as a minister, am not on the forefront of justice standing on the side of love with the people who are in pain, what am I doing?  I cry for justice to reign in this land.

Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson was only the tip for me.  I listened to my relatives defend his being shot and became nauseated.  His senseless death is an abomination to all of America’s ideals and principles.  But his death is not the only one, and we don’t really know how many others because our police and government do not track violent encounters[i] between police and civilians. A law was passed by Congress in 1994 requiring the Attorney General to collect and track such events and give an annual report[ii].  No such report has ever been submitted in 20 years.

There were at least 4 other deaths of unarmed black men in the month of August—their names must not be forgotten:  Eric Garner—Staten Island, NY; John Crawford—Beaver Creek, OH; Ezell Ford—Los Angeles, CA; Dante Parker—Victorville, CA.  How many more deaths are needed before America wakes up to the evil it is perpetuating?

This is the pain that love contains. The pain is greatest at the epicenter, with their loved ones who grieve senseless deaths at the hands of a corrupt system militarized by fear and racism. But it is a pain that radiates out like an earthquake and is felt far away by those who are sensitive to it.

How does a family live with such pain?  Where is their comfort to be found?  How do we respond to such an earthquake of pain?

There are other pains that love contains.  This past week Save OurSelves hosted a daily Jericho March around the capitol regarding the pains that our current state administration is enforcing on the people of Alabama—in total disregard of the pain and grief it causes their citizens.

These daily marches focused on Immigration Rights, Education & Youth, Women’s Rights/ Equal Justice, Worker’s Rights/Living Wage, Criminal Justice/Due Process, Medicaid Expansion and Health, and Voting Rights.

These issues all intersect with one another. There is a coordinated effort in our state to hold people down from their great potential by denying the ability to organize in the workplace, by removing funding from our educational budget, by taking away a women’s right of agency to address her own needs, by creating laws that unjustly increase incarceration and slavery in our prisons, and the grief experienced by loved ones who died because of no healthcare—when healthcare could be afforded to them with Medicaid Expansion.

Love is like an ocean, full of conflict, full of pain.  What does one do with the ocean so that Love wins?

We expand the ocean.  We support one another when pain occurs. We cry out together.  We let our wails be heard like the mothers in Ramah. We place our lives on the line when others are threatened.

Many of you know that I was arrested within the capitol building on Thursday for attempting to participate in a 24 hour prayer vigil for the expansion of Medicaid.   I spoke with our board president before I made my decision to do this but it was obvious that this was where my heart was leaning.  Too many deaths have occurred that could have been avoided if our governor, a doctor by profession, had agreed to expand Medicaid.  I could no longer be silent on this sanctioned death by denial of healthcare any longer.

The pain and grief he has caused 700 families this past year alone is unconscionable, not to mention the 300,000 people who are struggling and praying that they will not need medical intervention to save their lives.  My heart this summer has broken open and I am compelled to speak out in a way I have not before.

I see his refusal to expand Medicaid to be an evil act against the people of this state, people he was elected to serve.  Many of whom he defined as his brothers and sisters in Christ, since he has made it clear he does see non-Christians as his brothers and sisters in humanity[iii].  With brothers like that, who needs enemies?

Our Governor is a victim of his own lies and deceptions.  And like Governor Wallace before him, he must be convinced of his betrayal against the people he was elected to serve.  The only way I know how to reach him and save him from his own deception is to rip the veil off on white privilege and supremacy which this administration has fought to preserve and strengthen and to fill the capitol with hundreds, even thousands of people demanding to see Medicaid expansion now.  And to insist laws put into place that expand rather than contract a person’s ability to reach their full potential.

This must be a concerted effort and a coalition of people broad and deep.  It means we must be motivated more by love than by fear of the stigma of being arrested. As the Rev. Kenneth Sharpton-Glascow said to me in the Montgomery County Jail, Jesus was arrested for his civil disobedience.  So was Gandhi, so was Martin Luther King, Jr. so was Annie Pearl Avery, who is one of the original SNICK participants in the 1960s and who joined me in being arrested on Thursday.

Ms. Avery is now 79 years old and told the police at the Montgomery jail that it was partly her actions in the 1960s that enabled them to have the jobs they have today. She enjoined them to recognize that we are fighting again for rights that are being denied Alabamans and join us in our struggle—not fight us by locking us up.

But these people I mentioned by name are all people of color.  We live in a nation where people of color are disproportionately arrested even though all people share equally in the crimes committed.  I realize that as a white person, I have been conditioned to believe that only bad people are arrested.  And in this country, bad people are conflated with being people of color because that is what White America is taught to believe.  There should be no shame in being arrested for justice.

I am also aware that in our Unitarian Universalist movement, the temptation is to make an arrest for a just cause to be some sort of an elite status symbol.  Across our denomination clergy arrests thus far have resulted in no time served, a small fine, and some court costs.  In Washington, DC, the arrests of 112 clergy and faith leaders were an orchestrated show against deportation of immigrants.  We knew in advance that we would be released with no further court cases, no threat of prison time. The risk was minimal. It gave us media publicity.  If we are serious in our quest for justice, we need to take larger risks that place our lives on the line, a few hours being arrested is not a personal risk.

While there was some media present at the rally on Thursday, the arrests that happened were no media stunt.  The Governor’s office did not want to arrest us and pleaded with us to leave. We stated we needed to pray for the governor to expand Medicaid and therefore would not leave.  We were charged with trespassing in the second degree which carries a $ 500 fine and /or up to 90 days in prison.  We could have been charged with trespassing in the third degree which carries a small fine.(In delivering this sermon, I misstated the penalties based on a website I found regarding these terms.  It is corrected here to Alabama criminal codes.)  My court date is Sept 15. I cannot predict the outcome.  Our governor does not want to become the next North Carolina with thousands swarming the capitol and over 900 arrests.  He is hoping this will deter others to follow.

We must not be deterred. Love does not stand back in the face of evil actions. It stands firm.  It holds the pain felt and assimilates it into more love.

I am committed to justice for the people of this state and therefore I must be willing to sacrifice the white privilege I am afforded.  If need be, to be arrested and bear the consequences.  The consequences I face do not even compare to the lives painfully lost because of denial of healthcare.

The evil that we face today is the same evil that Martin Luther King faced in the 1950s and 60s.  My actions are not the seeking of a status symbol, they are a call to action, to be willing to put our heart and soul into the belief that people need to be free to reach their full potential.

I realize some of you may not agree with the actions I have taken.  I understand. I have said this before and it bears repeating, I do not desire a congregation that follows their minister blindly. I do desire that this congregation will be informed of the issues.  Study them.  Read up on them.  Consider these issues a matter of faith development importance because they are indeed a serious matter of faith development. The future of our faith is dependent on how these issues play out. There are forces that seek to take away our freedom to practice our free and liberal faith.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the billboard out on University Blvd entering Cottondale.  It is a huge sign displaying the #Secede.  This group wants to recreate the confederacy in the form of a White Supremacist Christian Theocracy.  I have talked with some people who have experienced this group firsthand and they are a vicious and hateful bunch.  They are feeding off this country’s and state’s current hatred for our President. Be forewarned, there is very little difference between this group and the white elected officials in Montgomery with their declarations of a specific Christian theology that places women back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant and laws that place black and brown men into slavery through incarceration.

Perhaps love. Perhaps love is like the ocean full of conflict, full of pain.  The ocean is wide and deep. There are many ways to hold that conflict and pain. Some will grieve and wail uncontrollably.  And that witness of love is essential.  Some will share their stories of injustice committed against them. And that witness of love is essential. Some may do so by supporting those who stand on the vanguard. And that witness of love is essential.  Others may march, wave banners, and shout slogans.  And that witness of love is essential.  Others may stand with hands raised in silent protest in front of the guns and tanks pointed at them. And that witness of love is essential.  And others may choose to engage the pain with civil disobedience, risking their livelihoods, their freedom to enable others to be free.  And that witness of love is essential.

Peace is not the absence of violence.  Peace is the ability to remain centered and grounded while the world is raging threatening storms.  It is the ability to move forward in love because of the inner conviction that justice is the victor already. Love ultimately wins.

Love is large enough to contain the conflict and the pain on the journey towards justice.

Blessed Be.

This sermon was delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on August 31, 2014 (c) by Rev. Fred L Hammond.

** This quote is from John Denver’s song “Perhaps Love.”

[i] http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-ferguson-police-killing-african-americans-20140819-story.html

[ii] http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/08/12/dispatches-tracking-us-police-brutality

[iii] http://www.towleroad.com/2011/01/alabama-gov-elect-bentley-tells-non-christians-hes-not-with-them.html

Arrest is a Minor Inconvenience

In the state of Alabama, over 700 people die each year because they lack the resources to afford medical care.  They fall into the gap between eligibility for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.  Venus Colley-Mims was one such person.  Unemployed in 2007, she didn’t have medical insurance and she discovered a lump in her breast.  She went to the Emergency Room, which is where many without medical insurance go to receive treatment.  It is often the only place that will see a patient who does not have insurance. There she was told don’t worry about it.  Six months later the lump had grown and had become painful.  She again went to the Emergency Room and was given medication for the pain. This went on for two years, when finally a doctor took one look at her breast and sent her to oncology.  She had stage four cancer. Treatment came too late for Ms Colley-Mims.  She died in 2013.

 

Venus Colley-Mims life could have been saved if she had access to health insurance.

Venus Colley-Mims life could have been saved if she had access to health insurance.

This past week, Save OurSelves: A Movement for Justice and Democracy held a Jericho March and rally at the capitol of Montgomery in solidarity with the Moral Monday Movement of events in five southern states.  The seven day event focused on a different area where justice has been thwarted by the current State Legislature and Governor Bentley. The areas covered were Immigration reform, Women’s Rights, Education and Youth, Prison reform, Voting rights, Medicaid Expansion, and Worker’s Rights/Living Wage.

Governor Bentley, a doctor by profession, has refused to expand Medicaid because he opposes President Obama. In a state where the unemployment rate has risen in sharp contrast to the national trend, Medicaid expansion would have brought in 30,000 living wage jobs into Alabama in addition to saving lives and heartbreaking grief. This callousness towards the welfare of the people of Alabama for the sake of political posturing is evil, plain and simple.

On Thursday in an attempt to get Governor Bentley’s attention to the plight of the citizens he is elected to serve, I joined six other attendees of the final Jericho March and entered the capitol, before closing to hold a 24 hour prayer vigil for the state.  Within ten minutes after closing, we were asked to leave.  We thanked them but stated we needed to remain and pray for the governor to change his heart on the matter of Medicaid expansion. He is killing people with his refusal.

Faya Touro (aka Rose Sanders) Leading us in song: "There's a River Flowin' in My Soul" in the Capitol Building of Montgomery.

Faya Toure (aka Rose Sanders) Leading us in song: “There’s a River Flowin’ in My Soul” in the Capitol Building of Montgomery.

The Secretary of the Governor eventually came down to speak with us and pleaded with us to leave the building.  We stated we would not leave unless Governor Bentley expanded Medicaid and saved people’s lives.

We were arrested.  And in what appears to be an act from the Governor’s office, instead of receiving a trespassing charge in the third degree ** which is unlawful presence and carries a small fine, we received a trespassing charge in the second degree which carried a $500 bond.  Court date is set for September 15.

When the stake is the potential of saving 700 lives annually by demanding Medicaid Expansion to cover the 300,000 people in the state who fall in between the current eligibility and the parameters of the Affordable Health Care Act, a little inconvenience of being arrested is nothing in comparison. I will choose to stand on the side of love, every time.

 

**Corrected from an earlier post.  Second Degree Trespassing is a Class C Misdemeanor which if sentenced in full is a $500 fine and/or up to 90 days in prison.  Third degree Trespassing is a violation and up to a $200 fine.

 

From left to right:  Alecha Irby, John Zippert, Faya Touro (aka Rose Sanders) Rev. Fred l Hammond, Annie Pearl Avery, Rev. Kenneth Sharpton-Glascow, Augustus Townes

From left to right: Alecha Irby, John Zippert, Faya Toure (aka Rose Sanders), Rev. Fred L Hammond, Annie Pearl Avery, Rev. Kenneth Sharpton-Glascow, Augustus Townes

Prayer for the End of White Privilege

Our hearts this evening are heavy.  They are heavy from crying out in grief and pain for yet another unarmed young man is shot and killed by those who are called to protect and serve.  How long shall this continue in our neighborhoods?  How long will people’s grief remain unabated?  How long will this injustice across our nation remain unseen, uncomprehended by White America? For too long, White Privilege has separated the people of this nation. For too long White privilege has covered the eyes and ears of White America so these actions by our police are not seen for what they are.

Transform our grief to righteous anger.  Let us have anger that rips off the scales of blindness so the eyes will see with understanding.  Let us have anger that like a skillful surgeon’s knife cuts out the gangrene of white privilege and racism to enable people to heal into wholeness.  Empower with a Mother’s love that will protect her children fiercely. Empower us with a Compassion that will reach out to intervene when we see abuse and injustice in our communities.

May our actions be a comfort to those who weep for their children. May our actions be our prayer to change our land into a land of freedom and justice for all its people.

In the name of the author of love, justice, and mercy, we pray.   Amen.

 

This prayer was offered by me, Rev. Fred L Hammond,  at a Memorial Service for Michael Brown at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, held in solidarity with Brown Family in Ferguson, Missouri. (c) 2014

Feel free to use with credit of author. 

Michael Brown

On Monday, August 25th, I conducted a memorial service as an act of solidarity with the Brown family in Ferguson, Missouri. Here are the words I shared with my congregation:

I speak as a white man who, while I believe I am fairly well educated regarding racism and white privilege in America, I confess I am not heart educated.  I could tell you logically and calmly the whats and wherefores of racism and white privilege in this nation.  But I could not tell you emotionally the detrimental effects of white privilege, because I am so well enveloped in it. Sometimes, I do not even know I have received it until much, much later. And only if, I am lucky enough to even reflect upon it.  White privilege is like an anti-body that automatically removes any social discomfort that might exist around me.  I don’t pay attention to the anti-bodies in my immune system until they no longer work.  And then, and only then, do I notice that I had anti-bodies working to keep me isolated from dis-ease.

White privilege is the anti-body for White people in this nation.   This is something that white liberals can talk about but don’t have the heart knowledge to develop the conviction to act against it.  And it is something that white conservatives deny for the same reasons.  When whites are held in the embrace of White Privilege anything that goes against that experience seems like a contrived falsehood.  Events like this are not in white people’s experience.

It is therefore vital for whites like me to listen to the stories and experiences of my neighbors who are people of color. To hear their first-hand accounts of not receiving the privilege that I am so very accustomed to. That is a struggle because human nature says; if it is not in our experience then it must therefore be false. This explains why people, white people in particular, were so quick to look for evidence, even made up evidence, to discredit the story of Michael Brown’s death.  The experiences of the people of Ferguson are not generally the experience of white people anywhere in the country—exceptions aside. It must be false, white’s state emphatically, because that is not our experience.

Michael Brown’s death is not an isolated event. As some would have us believe.  It is not a localized event as if there is some quirk in Ferguson that gave rise to his death. It is not a justified event as the Ferguson Police have tried to indicate by smearing Michael Brown’s character.

This is a frequent event. So frequent that children of Black parents are taught differently in how to respond to police than children of White parents.

One white mother wrote a blog about her white privilege as a mother of her three male sons.  If you are white, imagine if these statements were not true for you and what would you do about it as she describes her experience of white privilege?

“I will not worry that the police will shoot [my sons].

If their car breaks down, I will not worry that people they ask for help will call the police, who will shoot them.

I will not worry that people will mistake a toy pistol for a real one and gun them down in the local Wal-Mart.

In fact, if my sons so desire, they will be able to carry firearms openly. Perhaps in Chipotle or Target.

They will walk together, all three, through our suburban neighborhood. People will think, Look at those kids out for a walk. They will not think, Look at those punks casing the joint.

People will assume they are intelligent. No one will say they are “well-spoken” when they break out SAT words. Women will not cross the street when they see them. Nor will they clutch their purses tighter.  

My sons will never be mistaken for stealing their own cars, or [breaking and] entering their own houses.” [i]

This is the world that Michael Brown grew up in and it is the world that killed him.  This is our world, too.  The whiteness of your skin does not excuse you from responsibility in this world.  Being White is no excuse for not knowing that this is the reality our neighbors of color experience daily. And not just in faraway communities like Ferguson.  These experiences are happening in Tuscaloosa and across the state of Alabama as well.

When the Valedictorian of Central High cannot pass the entrance exam to enter the University of Alabama, we have a problem that screams injustice. When whites enroll their children into private academies instead of Tuscaloosa public schools, we have a problem that screams injustice. When police follow a group of black teens for no apparent reason in the West End we have a problem that screams injustice.  When a black student states that he dropped out of school at 16 because that was normal and expected of him, we have a problem that screams injustice.

It is up to us to determine what will be the legacy of Michael Brown’s disrupted life.  We can mourn his passing, say it’s a shame, and continue on, hardening our hearts to the reality that is demanding redress or we can get angry like the people of Ferguson have gotten angry.  We need some anger about his death.  We need some anger over the fact that he will not be the last unarmed person to be shot in 2014.  There will be others unless we stand up, Black and White, Latino and Asian, together to say no more.

Black lives matter.

Every faith group in Tuscaloosa should be screaming this from their pulpits as a conviction of their faith principles. We can no longer abide with white privilege and racism in this community, in this state, and in this nation.  Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for non-violent action, he did not advocate for calm as the clergy did in Ferguson.  There is a major difference.  One is an act of moral courage to evoke a response and change in the system of oppression and the other is a numbing drug administered by order of the system of oppression.

Which tact shall we take in honoring Michael Brown’s memory?  May we come together as a community to strategize how we are going to address these issues before another unarmed shooting happens and it is here in Tuscaloosa County.  Blessed Be.

[i] http://manicpixiedreammama.com/a-mothers-white-privilege/

Assumptions

Like many across our nation and the world, I am grieving the tragic events that have once again beset our country. The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager by Ferguson, MO police is troubling regardless of one’s position.  I have been trying to make sense of it all–and I admit these shootings in our nation against our own people is increasingly hard for me to understand. I was chatting with a relative of mine who is in law enforcement and they said something that I found interesting. They stated that assumptions are being made before the investigation has played out and now the investigation is tainted.

Assumptions.  They are like the operating system behind this computer program.  They are running always in the background, informing the actions of the person, mostly unaware, until one takes a long hard look at them.  My relative and I are operating from a different set of assumptions. People have experiences and they try to make sense of those experiences. They develop assumptions about those experiences and then use those assumptions to predict / plan how to respond to future events. Sometimes those assumptions are spot on, and sometimes, more times than we would like to admit, those assumptions are wrong.

But it is through assumptions that we act and have our being.  My relative has explained to me countless times that police have to make a decision in a split second regarding their safety.  Is the person a threat or not?  They have to assess what is going on, observe accurately all that is going on and make a decision in a split second.  That split second may be all they have between surviving a violent assault. It is not an easy job being a police officer. How aware the officer is about their own assumptions seems to me to be an important necessary skill that they need in order to do their jobs professionally and ethically.

There have been studies that have shown repeatedly that we see what we want to see.  I haven’t shared those studies with my relative but it is true.  We will see things that weren’t there and we will not see things that were there.  Have you seen the video with the man in the gorilla outfit? We are given instructions to count how many times a basketball is passed.  During the ball passing a gorilla walks their way through the crowd.  Up to 40% of people failed to see the gorilla.  We were not assuming that something strange was about to occur so we didn’t see it.  Or when a traumatic event happens how very disparate the stories are in relating what happened.  Police officers are supposed to be trained to be excellent observers of their surroundings and one would hope of behaviors in order to make those split second decisions.  But even with such training, assumptions are running beneath the surface.

I tell the story of my first time in Georgia.  It is not a story that I am proud of but it clearly indicates how assumptions play in our actions.  This was back in the mid 1980s, I was heading up towards Dahlonega, GA with my friend Glenn.  As we were driving. I am seeing these gorgeous plantation buildings with these shacks next to them.  You could see through the walls better than you could through the windows.  I was in total amazement.  I had no idea that people lived in such poverty in the United States.  I lived in CT at the time, one of the richest states in the nation. I told my friend that I needed to have a picture of these shacks because no one in CT would believe me it I told them.  It was simply beyond my experience.  We find a shack that had stuff strewn all over the yard and hanging from the rafters of the shack porch were these brightly colored dresses.  We stop so I could take a photo.   I get out of the car and I realize that this is a yard sale and on the porch was a woman with a shotgun in her lap. I hesitate and then ask if I could take a picture of her house.  And she gave permission.  I told this story of the woman with the shotgun numerous times but I didn’t have the photo in hand.  Then one day I am going through some photos and there was the photo– the woman on the porch surrounded by these hanging brightly colored dresses.  But where was the gun? It wasn’t in her lap as I recalled it.  The gun was not on the floor of the porch either. It simply was not there. I had an assumption in my mind about folks who lived in the hills of Georgia so firmly planted, that I placed a shotgun into her lap.  Now she may have owned a shot gun but it was not with her outside.

Assumptions change how we see the world and then we shape that world to fit those assumptions.

It is hard to fight those assumptions as well because even when we have the facts that contradict the assumptions, those assumptions are being proved true in our heart of hearts.  Re-read the paragraph above about my first trip to Georgia.  The assumption that I had still plays out in the very last sentence.  I apparently accommodated it to fit the facts but the assumption is still being played out.  I am embarrassed about it as it is not how I want to live my life. We are taught assumptions from an early age by our families, friends, and church.

These assumptions may or may not be true, that is the thing about assumptions. Just because you have one deeply ingrained does not mean it is correct.  Some assumptions some people may have:

1. There is only one true religion. (Funny thing about this assumption is it is always the person’s personal religion that is the one true religion.)

2. There is not enough to go around, so get yours before anyone else.

3. Those people are destroying America.  (those people is whatever the group du jour is. For Westboro Baptists they are Gays, for Tea Party folks they are the undocumented and Obama, for anti-abortionists it is Planned Parenthood, For Democrats it’s the Republicans and the reverse is true.)

4. Racism is a thing of the past.  (If only those Socialist Liberals wouldn’t keep bringing it up.)

There are assumptions being played out in Ferguson.  These assumptions didn’t start with the shooting of Michael Brown.  And that is another assumption that is being made by some people, that this shooting is an isolated event that has no contextual environment in which it grew into being.  My relative wants me to keep this event separate from the hundreds of unarmed young black men who were shot by police across this nation.  There are reasons for attempting to separating out each individual event.  Some of these reasons are good ones.  One good reason is that there may be some unique aspect of this case that would be lost when forced into the conglomerate of all the others.  Some are not so good.

There are also reasons to look at this horrific event in the context of what is happening in the United States. As another blogger wrote:  “There are reasons why white gun’s [sic] rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children’s toys.”  There are assumptions of who is dangerous and who is not.  Whether we want to agree or not, being white in the United States in 2014 still carries privileges.  One of these privileges is carrying an automatic rifle into a Chipotle or a Target and not being seen as a threat despite the fact that all of the mass shootings in recent history have been committed by white men. That is some powerful assumption we are carrying and they are tilted towards perceived race.

Since 9/11 there has been a steady increase of militarizing our police force.  There is also an assumption at work here–what is it?  My hunch is that the assumption is that United States is now a battlefield.  Many cities are applying for federal grants to purchase military grade equipment in preparation of possible terrorist attacks on our soil even in small rural communities where the biggest threat is the pumpkin festival being rained out.  They are using this equipment in SWAT offenses for drug raids, storming houses with a no-knock search warrant in full military garb.  They have used it in ICE raids of factories where suspected undocumented personnel may work.  When the police are militarized it is small leap of thought to begin seeing towns as battlefields to be conquered rather than homes to be protected.  Ferguson is one such community that has militarized their police force and the pictures show they have turned their town into such a battlefield.  But they already saw their town as one long before the shooting of Michael Brown, long before the riots after the police responded with nonchalance and disregard of this event. Is it any surprise that increased militarization of police increases the anxiety level of the citizens.

When you treat people like they are enemy combatants, you are going to get enemy combatants. People do not respond well when their personal safety is threatened.  When peaceful demonstrations are met by militarized police, what is the assumption the police are operating on? The assumption is not that demonstrators are going to remain peaceful.  It is an agitation towards violence.  When police tell demonstrators, like they did last night (8/18/2014)  that they had to return home,  and the demonstrators attempt to do so only to find the way home is blocked by different police, and so they dutiful turn around as told and go back, to be met again by the first group of police telling them to turn around, this is an invitation to escalate. And it did.  The assumption is that the demonstrators are the enemy and not the police officer’s fellow citizens, an assumption that the trapped citizens couldn’t refute by their failed attempts of compliance. And the police would not listen to them when they asked how can they get home when roads are blocked. Such a response was considered non-compliance and arrests ensued.

I realize that I am operating on a set of assumptions as I write this piece. My assumptions tell me that our government is moving towards a police state unless someone speaks up and stops it.  My assumptions tell me that there is fear of the other in this country against one’s documented status, race,  class, sexual orientation and gender identification, and religion.   Prove me wrong.

Set aside fear of the other and begin listening to one another, without judgement, without critique, just listen to the very real pain people have experienced here.  We all share that pain.  Set it aside to listen to someone else fully attending to them.  America, prove me wrong and rise up to your ideals of Liberty and Justice for all.

Walking Toward Trouble

Almost four years ago on July 29 2010, I was in Arizona to protest and prevent the implementation of the nation’s harshest anti-immigration law.  I was asked to be there by colleague Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix.  She made a passionate plea to her colleagues in June of that year to help protect families that were being torn apart.  I went and while I ultimately did not choose to be one of those arrested, I fully committed myself to prevent what I believe with all my heart to be an inhumane treatment of immigrants in a nation that ironically gained its greatest strengths and gifts from immigrants during its 238 year history.

Within a year, Alabama, the state I currently call home, passed its omnibus bill HB 56 into law.  A law, that if the Supreme Court had not intervened would have prevented churches from providing services to immigrants as any support, including worship, that enabled immigrants to stay in the state would be illegal. I personally was told by the sponsor of this bill, that if I had undocumented worshipers in my congregation, I would be arrested along with them. I spoke out against that bill.  I helped organize interfaith rallies, supported the formation of a local Latino advocacy group, and was ultimately arrested at the State House in civil disobedience of this law. Most of the law was struck down in federal court as unconstitutional.  Alabama appealed but was denied a hearing, the decision was final.

In my community of Tuscaloosa, I am witnessing the undocumented becoming laissez-faire in their concerns about immigration rights.  Because HB 56 was gutted of its most heinous provisions, they no longer feel an immediate threat.  Life has returned pretty much to where it was before passage. Still precarious, but if they keep their heads down, keep their businesses on the down-low, they are able to continue unseen, and live their life relatively undisturbed.  The law is not rounding people up in random searches as feared, even ICE’s Secure Communities (S-COMM) which Tuscaloosa is a participant, is not seen as a threat to their families’ safety.  Yes, they hear of other communities in Alabama where families are being torn apart through deportation, but it isn’t happening to them or so they think, and therefore they have relaxed their own concerns about immigration rights.   Yes, they hear of neighbors being deported but it is an accepted, albeit defeated, reality of that’s just the way it is.

In the course of the last four years, Tuscaloosa has been the host to NDLON’s Undocubus, Nun’s on a Bus, and Fast4Families.  All trying to strengthen the base community to the realities that our immigration policy remains shattered and ineffective and is personally aimed at the Latino community that needs to be organized and strong.  Meanwhile our borders are increasingly militarized.  Life along the border is not the same experience  one has in the interior of the country. I remember the first time I came across a border patrol stop on the I-10 in Arizona entering California in 2005.  I thought I had left my country.  These were heavily armed officers who were simply standing in the highway stopping every car. Other check points are more sophisticated with pull offs that at a glance look like weigh stations but are border patrol stops.  But on this day, there was no official station, they were simply standing in the road with their guns, stopping every vehicle.  They were intimidating.  Their presence made my heart race with fear.  When I was in Nogales, a city divided by a 30 foot wall, the militarization was even more intense.  I heard stories of drones flying overhead spying on the residents below and I saw first hand what it must feel like in a war zone, not knowing if the next minute will bring ICE breaking down the door.  I do not know how to convince my undocumented friends here in Tuscaloosa that this is not the time for complacency but to re-new their efforts to organize.  How can I convince them that what is happening at the border is going to have consequences that affect their lives in deeply personal and profound ways–when these groups that they welcomed here have not been able to convince them? I suppose this is a rhetorical question.

I remain as committed as ever to help ensure that our country does the right thing regarding immigration. I take seriously the command  “You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Elsewhere it states, “you must love the foreigner” and “treat the foreigner as a native-born.”  It is core to my faith of loving our neighbor as ourselves.   At this point, immigration reform can only come after a full and complete repentance of our cold indifference to the plight of others.  We have a congress that has been wasting our tax dollars on their hatred of President Obama instead of working to find solutions to the very real problems that keep our nation from moving forward.  We need a new congress and a new re-working of how we are going to handle immigration without turning our nation into a militarized zone.

At our annual Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in June, we passed an action of immediate witness which, like Rev. Frederick-Gray’s call above, invited Unitarian Universalists to come to Washington, DC, and participate in a faith summit that might include civil disobedience, July 30-August 2.   During the debate, Rev. Wendy Von Zirpolo, stated: [A]t the Ware Lecture, Sister Simone Campbell called upon us to walk toward trouble. When minor children are being warehoused and talked about as if they were things or animals, trouble. When people who are black and brown, citizen or not, are routinely detained at our borders for hours, the borders of their lives, communications, and bodies violated, trouble. When children live in fear of a knock on the door or the door being torn entirely from its hinges, meaning another parent taken, trouble.

I am going to DC.  I am going to walk toward trouble.  While my undocumented friends here in Tuscaloosa may not be able to walk toward trouble, I am using my privilege to do so on their behalf.  It is a form of intercessory prayer to walk toward trouble in order to prevent more trouble, more pain, more grief, more unbearable anguish of separation. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it redemptive suffering. I believe another word for it is love.  This is what abiding universal love calls us to do for one another.

I do not want my friends to live a life  resigned to living in the shadows in order to give their families a better opportunity.  I do not want the children refugees that are streaming across the border because their home countries are no longer safe for them to be met with fear and hatred.  Their arrival, by the way,  is the result of 50 years of US foreign policy decisions that trained their militias to commit violence against their own people. Policies that opened the door for US corporations to rape their land’s resources and force farmers off their lands.   We are the ones who are culpable for their arriving at our borders. We created this crisis with our own exceptionalist manner of interacting with our neighbors on the global scene.  So I will walk toward trouble to let my country know that this wrong needs to stop.  We can begin by stopping the deportations.

The president said he has a pen and a phone to intervene on immigration.  It is past time that he uses them.

 

Gun Violence: Rebutting Arguments Against Gun Control

News yesterday about yet another shooting at a Highschool, this one in Troutdale Oregon outside of Portland.  But this is just the latest one that we have heard about.  I began checking to see how many shootings have occurred since the Santa Barbara shooting on May 23rd, only a few weeks ago.  What I found was frightening.  The Hartford Currant in CT in the last few days alone report on six shootings.  Another six shootings in Columbus, Ohio.  111 gunshot victims in Philadelphia for the month of May, down from the total in May a year ago. And the New York Times devoted 43 paragraphs detailing shootings from around the country for the weekend of May 30- June 1st.  Each paragraph mentioning three or four incidents  of gun violence from just one weekend.  This article closes with this quote:  According to the Gun Violence Archive7,816 people have been injured by gun violence in America and 4,460 have been killed since Jan. 1, 2014. That number includes 16 police officers killed, 496 children injured or killed and 368 instances of defensive gun use. This is only through June 1st.

I am writing this on June 11th and so many senseless deaths have occurred within the first two weeks of June.  Gun Violence Archive as of June 9th, list an additional 312 deaths from the date of the New York Times story.     Gun violence archive

The question that this butcher sheet asks is how many deaths by gun violence is going to be considered enough that will cause our people to act to reduce these senseless killings. There are multiple arguments that I have heard and frankly they do not make sense to me.  Here are a few of these arguments, do they make sense to you?  The site Listverse attempts to list ten arguments against gun control. I am using another site which takes the listverse arguments and words them in a way to make some simple sense. Here they are with my rebuttal:

10.  There’s still murder in countries where handguns are banned.  This argument attempts to say that because other countries have banned guns and still have murders that we should not ban guns in the USA.  In 2013 the homicide rate in the UK for the entire year was 653.  These deaths are tragic, I won’t deny it.  But we are going to have over 5,000 deaths by gun violence before the end of June this year alone.  Should we not attempt to cut down the number of senseless deaths even if we won’t be able to reduce it to zero?  What this argument is stating is that a life is not worth saving unless we are able to save all lives.  So we shouldn’t even try.  This is not a rational argument.

9. Limiting assault rifles limits your Second Amendment rights. This argument attempts to say if we limit the type of guns that can be owned or limit  the number of rounds an automatic rifle can hold that this is a step towards taking away all of our amendment rights.  It is a slippery slope argument. Slippery slope arguments use the extreme hypothetical scenario to divert attention away from the argument to the hypothetical which cannot be proved to be true.

8.The Second Amendment is not intended for just ordinary home defense.  This argument is a more extreme example of the slippery slope argument. Should the USA military be defeated say by nuclear holocaust and the US overrun by a foreign power, the citizens of the US would be able to rise up and save the day.  It is nonsensical because our fear has already made sure that our military is the superior military in the world, outspending the next eight largest foreign militaries combined; six of whom are considered strong allies. If nuclear holocaust defeats the US, the time we have left will be against each other not some foreign power.  Humans are instinctual animals when frightened to death.  I find that this argument forgets that the opening phrase of the second amendment is about “a well regulated militia being necessary;” individuals having automatic rifles does not a well regulated militia make.

7. Armed civilians help take out the bad guys.  This argument seizes upon one incident of a mass shooting in Austin, TX in 1966 where students grabbed their rifles and were shooting at the sniper along side of the police force. Allegedly the police thanked the students for their assistance.  Vigilantes are not generally helpful to the police force.  The Aurora Colorado Movie Theater shooting would have been far far worse if a civilian in the theater carrying a gun was to begin shooting at the sniper.  More lives would have been lost.  Civilians are not trained in dealing with the full range of issues that a shooting of this magnitude creates.  The police in Austin in 1966 were lucky that innocent lives were not lost because of civilians taking up firearms.  This is not an acceptable solution as it increases the risk of harm to all involved.

6. Shooters will get access to a gun, even with strict gun laws in place. This argument follows the same illogical argument as number 10 above.  The example is that of a highschool student in Germany, where there are strict gun laws, he stole his father’s gun which was not locked away as required by law and used it to kill 15 people.  Yes, tragic case. But the argument is looking at a specific case and extrapolating it to an entire country.  Making gun access harder does in deed reduce gun deaths.  This is fact.  Does it reduce to zero?  No.  But again, should we not limit access because there will be the possibility of a parent not locking their guns away and their child getting it and shooting others?  Makes no sense.  What is a life worth?  How many of the 4,772 deaths that have occurred this year alone could have been avoided if easy access to guns did not exist?  Are we really needing to talk about the value of human life?

5. Gun rights will protect you from a police state.  This slippery slope argument feeds off the “most Americans” do not trust their government paranoia.  “They arm themselves for the possibility of government agents taking away their rights one by one until they live in a police state in which the government is able to do anything it wants because the civilian populace is unarmed and cannot resist. In these terms, any gun control is viewed as a threat to liberty, and though the Constitution guarantees rights, it does not enforce anything. Guns do.”   Have you been within a 100 miles of  border of the US and Mexico?  We already have a police state and the gun toting are right there behind its formation.

4. Rampage shooters like soft targets. This argument suggests that because shooters target places where the probability of there being armed people is low that we should increase the likelihood of people carrying guns being present. They state that shooters are not targeting banks to have their rampage because banks are well armed, but they seem to forget that gun violence at banks happen.  They mention a school in Amarillo, TX where every employee is carrying a gun.  It does not mean that a shooting will never happen there, it does increase the likelihood of turning Amarillo into the OK Corral with a blaze of shots being fired from all sides should a shooting occur.  The deterrence argument is false.  It does not prevent–armed bank robberies are the proof of that.

3. Prohibition didn’t stop alcohol… gun control won’t stop guns. uhm this is silly.  First off,  no one in the US is talking prohibition of guns.  There is no movement to repeal the 2nd amendment or any portion thereof. So this is not a parallel argument. This is a better argument for legalizing marijuana and other street drugs because prohibition of these substances have not stopped the use of recreational drugs. Gun control is not out to stop the existence of guns but to reduce gun violence.  This again is the all or nothing argument that is simply fallacious.

2. Laws don’t apply to criminals.  This is a restatement of number 6 and number 10.  This is the refrain if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns is nonsense.  Unless you consider our Police and State Troopers, our National Guard, the FBI/CIA/ NSA and our Military to be among the outlaws that will have guns.  It also claims that if someone wanted to find a gun to kill people, they will find one. Okay.  So why should we make it easy for them to find a gun?  The Newtown shooter had easy access to guns, multiple guns.  The example of the German teen above had easy access to guns.  The recent shooting in California, he had easy access to guns.  There seems to be a constant refrain that if we cannot eliminate to absolute zero all gun deaths then we should do nothing.  This is simply irrational thinking of the anti-gun control lobbyists.

1. The world isn’t perfect…   There are already too many guns in the US and therefore we cannot ever, ever control their use?  This is the creme de la creme argument against gun control and is the most nonsensical.  The world  isn’t perfect. Society will never be perfect.  There will always be injustices against people.  There will always be laws that seem unfair.  Should I then surrender to the fates and forego creating a better world for those who come after me?  Is this the way we are to live?  In despair, in fear because we in the US have not been able to figure out how to reduce gun violence to the levels of other civilized industrialized nations in the world?  Really?  This is your bottom line argument, the world isn’t perfect.  So let’s just have everything continue on as it is?

These are headlined as the ten most powerful arguments against gun control. They have to do better than that to convince me that gun control measures are a bad idea.

There is one argument that wasn’t mentioned above. Perhaps because the writers knew it was too silly of an argument but it is one I hear constantly in the south.   The refrain is guns do not kill people, people kill people. A gun lying on a table has no self agency to do much of anything so to make this statement assumes that guns are sentient and self-directed entities. So of course, A gun  is not going to kill someone without someone picking it up and firing it.  But if the gun was not there, that someone would not have access.

I grew up with guns.  My father was a hunter and he had a permit to carry which he did.  He was a life member of the NRA.  He made his own bullets.  I am not opposed to gun ownership.  I simply do not believe that they are necessary for living a quality life in the 21st century.

And I certainly do not believe there is any reason to own an automatic or semi-automatic rifle.  The only purpose these guns have is mass shootings of people–warfare.  And perhaps useful in a zombie apocalypse–which last I knew was complete fantasy of fiction.  Those who insist to carry them are committing themselves to a premeditation to kill people. I cannot find myself around that thought.  And it saddens me that people are that afraid of their neighbors that they have to have a gun in their possession.

The issue of gun violence is a multilayered and complex issue.  We cannot simply point a finger at any one layer and say this is what needs to be done.  Yes, there are mental health issues of the shooters.  Yes, there are gun access issues.  Yes, there are misogyny issues rampant in society. All of these need to be examined and addressed.

To add one more layer we need to address the issue; we also need to learn how to communicate with one another.  We need to learn non-violent communication skills which includes skills on how to deescalate situations even those that have not yet progressed to being physically combative.  This is an emotional maturity that I find increasingly lacking in our culture today.  Emotional maturity was once taught in our congregations as part of faith development and spiritual maturity.  We need to begin offering ways to help people mature so they can reach towards their full potential.  We tend to reach for the quick and dirty solutions which unfortunately result in  horrendous consequences. The real solution will require a cultural change that is mature in its dealing with relational issues.  May we be willing to begin this work.

Suckled by Mother Earth

Show of hands:  How many of you would say that you feel a deep connection—I will let you define what that phrase means—with nature and with the earth?   You are not alone; according to Pew Research some 85% of Americans[i] claim that they feel a deep connection with nature and with the earth.  85%.

As of November 2013, 23% of Americans[ii] deny that Climate Change is real.   This by the way is the highest percentage of Americans since Gallup began measuring this opinion. Despite the 9,000 scientists who have published findings affirming climate change in the past two years, of which only one article, count them, only one article in 9,000 refuted that climate change was man-made.  If anyone tells you there is no consensus in the scientific community on climate change being real and man-made—tell them they don’t know the meaning of the word.  99.99% of scientists publishing in the past two years declare that climate change is real and man-made.  That is not only consensus; that is considered a unanimous vote in many Unitarian Universalist congregations.

Everything that is alive on this planet from the smallest microbe in the primordial ooze to the largest animals owes their very existence to Mother Earth.  To date, unless one subscribes to what Ancient Astronaut Theorists believe, we have been the only species on this planet that has the ability to cause its own extinction.  We are currently on the verge of the sixth mass extinction event on earth.  A report found in Newsweek[iii] recently stated that because of acceleration of climate change we are facing the loss of habitats for half of the amphibians in the USA alone in the next few decades. The increased warming and acidification of the oceans may mean the loss of coral reefs and saltwater fish by the end of this century.

Mass extinction is defined by a rapid significant loss of species within a relatively short period of time due to a global event or events that occur too rapidly for species to adapt.  Now mother earth will most assuredly survive this mass extinction.  It has survived the other five mass extinction events by creatively circumventing the environment but we may not.  She will spawn new children and perhaps those children will understand the gift of life she has offered them.

Part of our total disregard for Gaia, the greek mythological name for our mother earth, is based in the theology of western civilization.  It is a theology that has been integrated into the DNA of American culture, regardless of which religion one subscribes.  The theology comes from a literal reading of a passage in the book of Genesis but it is a theology that has shaped the American persona of privilege these past 240 years.

In the King James Version of the book of Genesis we find this passage:  And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. … And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Pay attention to this phrase:  Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over… Other translations read:  Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it! Be masters over (International Standard Version);   Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over (New English Translation); Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over (New Living Translation)

Here is one scholar’s commentary on this passage:  And replenish the earth. … This clause may be described as the colonist’s charter. And subdue it. The commission thus received was to utilize for his necessities the vast resources of the earth, by agricultural and mining operations, by geographical research, scientific discovery, and mechanical invention[iv].

And so it has.  When colonists landed on these shores, they saw the vastness of space, the resources to be subdued, and the opportunities for power over others.  They saw themselves as having supremacy over all other races and beings. They did not see the people who already lived here, they only saw another resource—another object of their quest for dominion over the earth.

In James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the most profound lines in the movie is when the Na’vi use the phrase, “I see you.” It is the acknowledgement of the Thou in Martin Buber’s description of the I/Thou versus I/It.   It is the Indian culture’s use of the word Namaste meaning the divine in me acknowledges the divine with in you.  It is recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of our first principle.  The colonists and dare I say most of Americans today do not ‘see’ the other standing before them and especially the other standing at a distance.  To Americans the other is only a resource to be exploited to satisfy the quest to rule over others.

The colonists thought they were doing God’s will in fulfilling Genesis 1:26 & 28.  And it is this self-centered self-important supremacist mindset that continues in the American culture to this day in our false belief in Exceptionalism that places the USA as the superior and therefore the recipient of not only of the world’s resources but also that of the world’s labor force.

This mandate to subdue and rule over is the cornerstone of a theology known as Dominion. Dominionists[v] have applied these verses not only to the earth’s resources but also to the governing of nations and the world.  They represent a small but growing segment of the radical extremists of the far Christian right.  Dominionists believe that the events of ecological disaster described in the book of Revelation are the end result of the Genesis mandate to subdue and rule over the earth. Therefore these disasters are necessary in order to usher in the rapture and Christ’s return to establish a world theocracy.

But one does not need to adhere to such extreme beliefs to embody human privilege.   What is human privilege?  There has been much discussion about white privilege, about male privilege, and about hetero privilege in the tabloids and social media but we have not spoken of human privilege, at least not naming it as such.  So what could be considered human privilege?

Think for a moment on how the concept of privilege works.  There is an underlying assumption believed to be fact that is so well integrated into the person’s world view that it is no longer a conscience thought yet all other thoughts and actions emanate from this assumption.  For example, “I can stand behind another person at an ATM machine without being feared as a potential mugger.[vi]” I can also walk down the street without having people who are walking towards me cross the street.  These people have automatically afforded me the benefit of the doubt simply because of my having white privilege, and they did so without so much of a thought.

Living with privilege operates in the background.  It is like a sub routine in a computer program, running its course and affecting every other program I run but I do not have to focus on that sub-routine before beginning any other program.  I assume that the sub-routine is already operating and therefore I do not think about it. Until the sub-routine no longer works or until it prevents me from doing something else.

The assumption that is operating is not based on an immutable fact but is an assumption that is at its heart false and can be revoked.  Human privilege is based on as false an assumption as white privilege, male privilege, and American privilege. While I may benefit from the privilege bestowed on me for being white, for being male, and being American—these privileges are not inherent rights but accidents of birth or citizenship of a specific social construct.  Privilege carries with it a false sense of supremacy and entitlement.

So what is human privilege?  It is the worldview that whatever needs that humans have trump the needs and wellbeing of all other species on the planet. The Dominionists have taken human privilege to its extreme with the belief that humanity is the superior on earth placed here to do whatever it will to the earth with no consequences.  And if there are consequences, Jesus will return in the nick of time to make everything right as rain for the chosen few.

Therefore, it is okay to plunder the earth for its resources of coal, gas, and oil because they are ours to plunder in the first place.  It is okay to cut down the rain forests for its wood because they are ours to cut down.  Forget about the fact there are indigenous people who have lived there for tens of thousands of years. They have what we sophisticated humans want.  Forget about the fact that there are species of plants and animals that are unique to that region.  They are inconsequential to the wood that is mine by birthright of being human. It is okay to dump our trash along the roads, it is just a little cigarette butt after all—what could it possibly do—cause a fire that destroys thousands of acres of land?  Eh, so what, the earth’s land mass is huge. And fire is a natural force of nature, lightening causes forest fires all the time.  Human privilege can rationalize any action no matter how destructive to the environment based on the assumption that we are heads and shoulders above all others and therefore have the right to act as we please toward the earth.

There is a map that can be found on Google that shows all the fires, natural and man-made on the globe at any given time.  It is horrifying the number of fires that occur and the amount of carbon monoxide that is spewed into the air as a result.  Another map shows the amount of carbon monoxide and it is heaviest over regions of fires and industrial nations like the US and China[vii].

Human privilege thinks nothing about the effects of pollution.  There is no thinking of what will be the fate of future generations because of our actions; privilege is only concerned with the immediate benefits for this current generation.   Human privilege assumes it will always be able to suckle unabated at Mother Earth’s teat.  Human privilege is arrogant in its behavior towards other species and towards earth.

The realities that oil, gas, and coal are finite resources are unheeded.  As long as there is technology to extract, humans continue to suckle.  Fracking is known to contaminate water aquifers[viii] as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency but the practice is being expanded not curtailed or abandoned. There comes a point when in order to survive, the infant needs to wean itself off milk and feed on other nutrients.  For humanity to continue to develop and survive, it needs to wean itself off completely of fossil fuels and turn its attention to harvesting solar and wind.

What amazes me is that the big oil companies are not transitioning to solar and wind themselves.  It seems to be a natural evolution for their viability to do so.  They can transition their work force towards cleaner energy.  In my studying genealogy, I found one family of wheelwrights who transitioned from fixing horse drawn carriages to fixing automobiles.  Evolve or become extinct.

But the real transition that needs to happen for humanity to survive on this planet and not be part of the coming mass extinction is to begin living as co-inhabitants and co-partners with life on this planet.  This means relinquishing our privileged post and recognizing that we are but one of many species of animals on this planet.   We were not created a little lower than the angels but rather we evolved alongside the rest of life.  A humbling truth that is heretical to many.

It would require that we change our policies in business practice.  Instead of asking how does this policy increase our shareholders profits, we need to ask, like our indigenous cultures, how does this policy affect the 7th generation to come?   For many of our policies, the question becomes WHAT  7th generation as our actions makes our future existence questionable.  But this question is not just for human’s 7th generation, which might be 150 years hence but also 7th generation for other species—which can span much fewer years.

Had we asked this question about the 7th generation of honey bees that pollenate our flowers we might not be pondering their extinction today or the extinction of Monarch Butterflies who within my life time went from billions to only a few million.  But human privilege says this is okay because the shareholders of Monsanto’s are happy with their dividends.  Monsanto’s operates under the theology of subdue and be master over life on earth. This is not a healthy world view.

We certainly did not consider the 7th generation of passenger pigeons who also numbered in the billions in the mid 1800’s and were extinct from hunting by 1914. The passenger pigeon were seen as an impediment to the expansion of the new telegraph wires—their sheer volume collapsed the wires and poles.  Nor did we consider the 7th generation of the Western Black Rhino which officially became extinct in 2011 also a result of hunting.  The other sub-species of Rhino’s are facing similar fates.  The Northern White Rhino only has 7 non-breeding adults remaining.

It appears we have a limited time period in which to shift our mindset.  Scientists are saying we have already passed the tipping point and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse[ix] is now inevitable.  What other catastrophic events are now inevitable because of our refusal to act on scientific knowledge?  What events are reversible if we humble ourselves off our platform of superiority and privilege and embrace our rightful place as partners with this planet’s inhabitants?   Mother Earth has nurtured our species over the last 200,000 years, but it is up to us if our species will survive to see the next thousand let alone the next 200,000 years.

Usually, when I feel a deep connection with another it makes me loyal to them.  I want to defend them, protect them; in other words love them with all my heart.  85% of Americans express a deep connection with Mother Earth—may we show that love with our actions.

Blessed be.

 

“Suckled By Mother Earth”  delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa by Rev. Fred L Hammond on 8 June 2014 (c)

[i] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/10/23/5-facts-about-atheists/

[ii] http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/american-climate-change-denial-is-at-an-all-time-high

[iii] http://www.newsweek.com/earth-heading-another-mass-extinction-scientists-warn-252835

[iv] http://biblehub.com/commentaries/pulpit/genesis/1.htm

[v] http://www.alternet.org/story/152271/inside_the_christian_right_dominionist_movement_that%27s_

undermining_democracy?paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

[vi] http://www.cpt.org/files/Undoing%20Racism%20-%20White%20Privilege%20-%20McIntosh.pdf

[vii] http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/GlobalMaps/view.php?d1=MOD14A1_M_FIRE&d2=MOP_CO_M

[viii] http://priceofoil.org/2013/07/31/fracking-causes-significant-damage-to-aquifers/

[ix] http://oceana.org/en/blog/2014/05/west-antarctic-ice-sheet-collapse-calls-for-revised-sea-level-rise-predictions

A Transgender Naming Ceremony

The following is a Transgender Naming Ceremony that I developed with a member of my congregation.  There does not seem to be many Transgender naming ceremonies out there in the Unitarian Universalist sphere so we both agreed it would be important to put this one out there for others to use and adapt.

 

A TRANSGENDER NAMING CEREMONY

 

Minister:  The tradition of naming people is as varied as there are countries.  In the US it is typical that a person would be named by their parents at birth and that name would follow the person all the days of their life. But that is not the way it works in many countries around the world and it does not always happen here that way either.

For example my Grandfather was born James Millard but he was always called Millard.  His son, a junior, is called Jim.  But my Grandfather’s brother, born Frank, was called Jim. My cousin, Robert Craig changed his name to Robert Avery when he was 13 in order to be a junior and then adopted the name Avery.  [The celebrant may substitute their own family’s naming story examples.]

Some children are given new Christian names at confirmation and then will go by that name from that point on. Some have names that are only used by the family and their formal name is used only by those outside of the family. Still others adopt a nickname by which they are forever called. Names are not always cast in stone at birth. Some Native American tribes do not name their children until some attribute is discovered about the child.  And the name might change again when the child becomes an adult.

And in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures names would change as the person was transformed and embraced their true identity. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Saul became Paul all to indicate a new person in relationship with their god.  Today, we are celebrating the adoption of a new name that reflects a truth that has been hidden but is now revealed.

 

 

Poem:  “how to love a person” by AJ Tigarian[i]

just press your palm to their palm

warm and full of possibility

skip across their soul like

a flat stone flung from the river’s edge

and then sink into them

come to rest amid the silt and debris

wiggle your toes in the particles

of everything they are

you don’t have to do anything different

you don’t have to try harder

you don’t have to re-mold yourself

into something that makes you

somehow less you

and neither do they.

stand beside them

as they meet their true self

let them introduce you to their “me”

as they find it, one bit at a time

or all at once.

gather up their tears, their smiles,

their joys and their discomforts

when they can’t carry them anymore

remind them where they’re going

go along with them, whenever they ask

witness their struggles and triumphs

open your heart and your arms

press your cheek to their cheek

and love them more when the sun rises

than you did when it set on the day before

 

 

#211 / #212 We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder/ We are Dancing Sarah’s Circle

[Sing one verse from We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder then one verse from We are Dancing Sarah’s Circle using the same key. In the Unitarian Universalist  hymnal Singing the Living Tradition there is a key change between the two songs.  In We are Dancing Sarah's Circle, we substituted “sisters, brothers, all” with “We are Dancing On” for two reasons:  The first and primary reason is to be inclusive of people of  all gender and non-gender identities and second to be parallel with the call in the first song to be climbing on.]

 

 

Minister: By what name shall you be known? [ii]

Partner or Family member[s]: The name shall be ________.

______: My name shall be ______.

Minister:  May the community respond by repeating—Your name shall be ______.

Minister: Bear this name as a reflection of your true self.  Share this name as a reflection of Mercy.  Offer this name as a reflection of Justice.

 

Created and Celebrated in a service led by Rev. Fred L Hammond of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL on 9 March 2014  ©

 

[i] “how to love a person” © by AJ Tigarian. Printed here with permission.  Permission is granted by the author to use this poem in other naming ceremonies with acknowledgement of the author.

[ii] This last section is a wildly loose adaptation from a section of a naming  ceremony written by Lutheran priest Nadia Bolz-Weber http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2012/01/liturgical-naming-rite-for-a-transgendered-church-member/    While there is sufficient changes in wording of the final three sentences to stamp my name to it, the origination of the idea is unmistakably the Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber’s. And at Rev. Nadia’s site, credit is given for the naming ceremony there as being adapted from one used by Episcopal Priest Michele Morgan. There is a genealogy of adaptations going on here.

The Past, The Present, The Future

How well do you know your American History?  I am most referring to the formation of this republic that celebrates the 4th of July as its birthday.  Who were these people?  There has been a barrage of history revisions over the last few decades by people who want the founders of this nation to look more like them and less like the radical and liberal people that they were.

It is said that History is written in the view point of the victors and this is true about our history as well.  If the British had succeeded and squashed the rebellion of the colonists, we might still be called the United States of America but we would be placing Benedict Arnold on our currency and not George Washington or Benjamin Franklin.  These men would have been placed as footnotes in the pages of history as rebels, as anarchists, as terrorists because that is how they were viewed by King George.

There is a push by the religious right to claim the founding fathers as one of their own and not recognize that the founding fathers were as diverse politically and religiously as we are today.  These people have this idealized perspective that the founders were harmoniously united in not only in what strategies to take in seeking their liberty but also united in their vision for what was to become the United States of America.

Nothing can be further from the truth.  So who were the founders of this nation?  Looking at the two highest offices of this nation and who filled these posts during the first six administrations, we find that of the eleven individuals filling these positions, four were Unitarian, three were deists[i] [ii] [iii] [iv], three were Christian, and one apparently was agnostic[v].  The three who were Christian were not evangelical Christians[vi]; they were Episcopalian[vii] and Presbyterian[viii].

The four Unitarians were:  Our first Vice-president and second President, John Adams[ix]:  Our second Vice-president and Third President, Thomas Jefferson[x], Our Sixth President, John Quincy Adams[xi] and his vice-president, John C. Calhoun[xii].

Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia and during that time, if you were born in Virginia you were automatically Anglican (Episcopal).  That was the colony recognized religion, any other faith was considered reprobate. We claim Thomas Jefferson because he espoused Unitarian views.  He was mostly influenced by the writings of Rev. Joseph Priestly founder of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.  And depending on the historian you speak with, the first or second Unitarian Church in the nation.   Jefferson attended this congregation whenever he was in Philadelphia.  He believed that reason was the arbiter of faith.  During his presidency he removed all the passages in the New Testament that were supernatural or miraculous in nature. This testament is now known as the Jefferson Bible.   He also believed that someday everyone in the Americas would be Unitarian.

But even those who did claim the Christian nomenclature were not like the conservative Christians today who seek to create the kingdom of God here in the USA.  They were firm in their stance on religious liberty.  Vice President Elbridge Gerry, also one of the signers of the Constitution wanted the first amendment to read: “No religious doctrine shall be established by law [xiii].”   No, the Christians of the revolution and the birth of this nation were liberal in their theology, tolerant of other religious beliefs, who knew the dangers when religious authority blends with governmental powers.

While Thomas Jefferson is given credit for the concept of building a wall of separation between church and state in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, he is not the only founder who espoused such ideals.  James Madison said:  “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries. [xiv see footnote]”

Thomas Paine, in his book The Age of Reason, and a person who was raised Unitarian said, “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.”

In the treaty of Tripoli of 1797, then President John Adams stated in Article 11, “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.[xv]”  There is some speculation that the Arabic version of this treaty does not contain Article 11 but nevertheless, the English version does contain it and it was the English version that was ratified by the Senate.

While Unitarians and Universalists were a small minority faith during the founding of our nation, we were influential in ensuring and building upon the freedoms that we enjoy today.  Unitarians and Universalists that followed these founding parents of our republic added their voice towards freedom.   Judith Sargeant Murray pioneered women’s education.  Theodore Parker penned ideas of justice and democracy that would resound through the ages and be quoted by President Abraham Lincoln and Rev. Martin Luther King. Clara Barton established the American Red Cross.  Rev. Olympia Brown and Susan B. Anthony and others fought for the women’s right to vote.  Jane Addams founded modern day social work. Mary White Ovington was a founder of the NAACP. On these shoulders we stand today.

From the founding fathers of this nation to those who marched side by side during the civil rights era, these are our religious ancestors; some by nomenclature and others by their insistence on religious liberty from governmental control.  Our 5th principle, “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process,” has its beginnings in the hearts and actions of these revolutionaries quest for freedom and democracy.   We echo their desire for liberty and justice for all.

Today we have history revisionists, like David Barton, who claim that all of the founding fathers were not only Christian but fundamentalist Christians.  Fundamentalism developed in the early 20th century pertains to the literal reading of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures through an evangelical Christian lens.  Fundamentalist Christians were not even at the table in 1776.  Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Quakers, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists were but not Southern Baptists, not Pentecostalists, not Latter Day Saints. It is these last three groups who are seeking to revise history.  But they were not there; they did not even exist as an expression of faith. Their faith expression did not develop in this nation until later in American History.  Mormons developed in the early 19th century, Southern Baptists after the civil war, and Pentecostalists in early 20th century.

Barton takes quotes out of context from Unitarians John Adams and John Quincy Adams and quotes from Deists such as James Madison and twists them to his revisionist history.  Barton has gained influence in recent years and has been given platforms by Tea Party gurus Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee[xvi].

He has been a consultant on the Texas Board of Education Social Studies curriculum.  This is our present reality as Unitarian Universalists.    Almost 240 years after our radical and revolutionary founders declared their independence not only from monarchical tyranny but also religious tyranny, our nation is once again facing the specter of religious tyranny.

We are hearing Barton’s revisionist history being quoted by judiciaries in Alabama and in the US Supreme Court.  Judge Roy Moore recently declared that the first amendment is only to protect Christians.  When judges sworn to uphold the constitution declare a religion to be supreme, the very fabric of our nation is being torn asunder.

Here is some history to place his statements into context.  Several years ago, Chief Justice Moore was removed from his office for refusing to obey a court order to remove his stone monument of the Ten Commandments from the Rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building.  A few years later, he is voted back into office as Chief Justice.  The State legislature then seeks to pass a bill that would make a constitutional amendment allowing such displays in public buildings, including schools and court houses.  It passed the house but died in the Senate.    I guarantee it will resurface again because separation of church and state is being systematically dismantled in Alabama and in the Federal Government.  In Alabama, this is a non-partisan dismantling.

Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision, a decision divided between the Christians on the court and the non-Christians on the court, that opening prayer at a town meeting is constitutional.   The courts majority did not see Christian prayers as being coercive.  Judge Scalia “suggested that there’s no harm in a little “subtle” pressure on those who don’t choose to pray in public places at taxpayer expense.[xvii]”  Of course he would think that, he has religious or Christian privilege in this nation.  It is no coincidence that three of the four judges in dissent were Jews.  They have lived under Christian privilege in this nation their entire lives. They recognize its coercive forces upon their daily lives.

Regardless of where one lives but perhaps most especially in the south, Christian privilege holds sway over non-Christians.  Ask our students if they are excluded in school events because they are not Christian and the answer sadly is yes.  Ask them how often they are told by their peers they are going to hell because they do not accept Jesus as God and the answer is frequently.

I know many have joked that when moving here from another town or state, the first question asked after introducing yourself at work is; “Where do you go to church?”  The assumption is that you must be Christian.  If you are not, then something is not right and in their mind it wasn’t asking the question.

We see Christian privilege rearing its head in the Hobby Lobby Case which the Supreme Court may soon rule on.  If corporations are given the right to ignore federal laws based on religious beliefs, then this is another form of coercion on their employees to conform to their employers’ religious beliefs.  This court case extends further than a sincerely held belief albeit erroneous that contraceptives are abortifacients and therefore violates ones religious practice.  A company could publicly state that it is against their religious beliefs to hire gay or transgender people[xviii].  It is already legal in Alabama simply by its absence in law to fire an employee for their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.  If this court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby, it would give legal teeth to enable other religious beliefs to be acted upon such as the refusal of hiring members of the LGBTQI community.  We are already seeing conservative Christians demanding a right to discriminate against sexual minorities in communities throughout the south.

This is our present reality in this country. And Unitarian Universalists across the country are involved in these issues as part of our campaign to Stand on the Side of Love.

In 21st century America to protect our ability to the right of conscience and the use of democratic process we are called to become advocates and be active in the community arena.  We are still a rather small faith in this country.  We may never reach Jefferson’s vision of all of America being Unitarian.  But the followers of our faith from this nation’s infancy until now have proven to be consistently on the forefront on issues of justice.

From the earliest days of this republic, Unitarians have spoken up and influenced the direction this nation needs to go. We have consistently sought to bend the arc of history towards justice.

Not everyone of us is able to take the initiative to speak up especially when we are alone in whatever setting we find ourselves.  But we can match our behaviors to our values.  We can listen before we speak.  We can emphasize in our presence the honoring of others inherent worth and dignity. We can seek to say the kind word of encouragement instead of the criticizing word.  And when others notice that our behaviors match our words, and they ask us about our lives.  Then we can state, I am a Unitarian Universalist and we believe to be gentle with one another.  Or we believe that loving our neighbor as ourselves is not just a suggestion.  Or we believe that everyone has worth and dignity.

In our own small way we will be joining those who have gone before us and paving the way for those who come after us to live in a community of peace, liberty and justice.  May it be so. Blessed Be.

Sermon delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on May 25 2014 (c) by Rev. Fred L Hammond.

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_and_religion

[ii] http://www.vqronline.org/essay/religion-james-monroe

[iii] http://www.adherents.com/people/pm/James_Monroe.html.

[iv] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Madison

[v] http://www.adherents.com/people/pb/Aaron_Burr.html

[vi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_D._Tompkins

[vii] http://www.god-and-country.info/EGerry.html

[viii] http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/VP_George_Clinton.htm

[ix] http://uudb.org/articles/johnadams.html

[x] http://uudb.org/articles/thomasjefferson.html

[xi] http://uudb.org/articles/johnquincyadams.html

[xii] http://www.famousuus.com/bios/john_calhoun.htm

[xiii] http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions53.html

[xiv] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/James_Madison   In preparing for this sermon to be posted on this blog, I realized I had not posted my source for this quote from James Madison. In searching for a source, discovered that while this quote has been attributed to James Madison, no credible source has been found. This site lists the quote as misappropriated.

[xv] http://candst.tripod.com/tripoli1.htm

[xvi] http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/barton-s-bunk-religious-right-historian-hits-the-big-time-tea-party-america

[xvii] http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2014/05/supreme-court-misguided-if-it-thinks-public-prayer-isnt-coercive.html/

[xviii] http://mediamatters.org/research/2014/05/23/9-right-wing-media-myths-about-the-hobby-lobby/199439

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