Rev. Wright: United Church of Christ Response

I thought the response by United Church of Christ’s denomination President Rev. John Thomas to be one that wonderfully illustrates the history of the free pulpit and the role of prophets in the church.  I have linked his response here:  http://www.ucc.org/news/responding-to-wright.html

The comments that Rev. Thomas received appears to prove that old adage that a prophet is never welcomed in his own home.  It seems that once again that only when our prophets are dead– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcom X– do we then begin to honor their legacy and words to us. 

We also seem to be in an era in this country where patriotism is only thought to be a true character of a person when they only wave the flag or wear a lapel pin or speak lofty praise of governmental actions.  We seem to be living in an era where any voice of dissent is seen as a mark of treason.   Dangerous times when the land of the free is so afraid of a voice of dissent that it must squelch it. 

Rev. Wright’s legacy with Trinity Church in Chicago goes far beyond the soundbytes that a conservative news media chose to focus on and then the rest of the media followed like hungry dogs.  The church has been a beacon of hope to thousands of families living on the south side of Chicago.  Rev. Thomas in his remarks recognizes the whole picture of who this man is.  He is more than a selected soundbyte.   

I offer my thoughts and prayers that Rev. Wright and Rev. Thomas will be able to continue to stand with integrity in their convictions with the freedom of the pulpit to express these. 

Blessings,
Rev. Fred L Hammond

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Published in: on March 26, 2008 at 3:25 pm  Comments Off on Rev. Wright: United Church of Christ Response  

A return to Old Fashion Mississippi values ??

I don’t know if any of you have seen or heard the political ad where the candidate running for congress states several things:  Has conservative values (OK); nation founded on Faith, Family, and Freedom (OK); will not waver on his views of traditional marriage (OK, I happen to be pro equal marriage rights); will continue to stand up for the unborn (OK, I happen to be pro choice);  and Washington needs a good dose of “Old Fashion Mississippi Values.”  (er… WHAT?!).

I understand the conservative values statement but I tend to be progressive in my values.  I am not totally convinced that Faith, Family, and Freedom were the three things America was founded on but I have heard this rhetoric from conservatives before.   I understand how someone could be against equal marriage rights and even against a women’s right to choose.  But to end the ad with wanting to bring to Washington “Old fashion Mississippi values”?  

Uhm… I don’t know about you but here is what popped into my mind when he said this…  White supremacy…  White Privilege… Re-instituting the Sovereignty Commission which spied on civil rights activists and colluded (or if that word is too strong … conveniently turned a blind eye) with the terrorist organization known as the KKK… segregation of schools…  lynchings…  Burning churches…  The free use of degrading terms to demonize groups of people (such as the n word)…  These were the values of Mississippi 40-50 years ago.  These are the old fashioned values of yesteryear and he wants to bring these back?  To do what?  …  (My ability to be facetious won’t really work here.) 

 

How about some new values or better yet a return to values that a very wise teacher taught on the shores of Galilee…  Love your neighbor as your self… Do unto others as you would have others do unto you…  How about being like the good Samaritan–that reviled demonized race of ancient times–who sought to relieve the suffering of another…   How about seeking to emulate those values… 

How about wanting to keep jobs in Mississippi instead of having them leave for cheaper wages in other countries.  How about wanting to ensure equal educational opportunities in our schools so that all students regardless of the school district they live in have the same chance to excel.  How about insisting on a living wage in Mississippi?  How about wanting equality for all the citizens of Mississippi.     How about ensuring affordable housing for low-income families?  How about ensuring that couples who are looking to adopt and raise children in loving homes can, regardless if they are common-law wed or same gendered (This is a bill before the state legislators).  How about not creating felons of undocumented employees and their employers for hiring them (This was just signed into law by Governor Barbour).   How about fixing our judiciary system so that the punishment is the same for a person of color as for a white person who commits the same type of crime. 

These actions are based in values that I could get behind.  They represent the values that my faith teaches…  inherent worth and dignity of all persons;  Justice, compassion, and equity in human relationships.  

May our hearts embrace the desire for a different kind of Mississippi,  not one from the past, but one that seeks to uplift all of its citizens towards a better future. 

Blessings,
Rev. Fred L Hammond

Published in: on March 26, 2008 at 3:31 am  Comments (1)  

Iraqi War 4,000 US casualities

I am in a conundrum when I think of the US military occupation of Iraq.  Yes, I believe we are an occupation force.   We now know definitively that all of President Bush’s advisers, the Pentagon, the CIA told him in advance that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, that he had no Al Qaida terrorist links, and there was no direct link to the events of 9/11.  We now know definitively that Iraq was not a threat to our national security.  We now know that President Bush lied to the American people to promote some other agenda.  (What that other agenda might have been is open for speculation.) These are now historic facts and we have not held President Bush accountable for lying to the American people. 

And while Bush is now saying that it was right to remove Saddam Hussein because he was an evil heinous dictator; these reasons after the bold face lies do not hold water for me.   The cost to America as a result of Bush’s stampede of the American public into a war on false pretenses is our loss of the moral high ground in the world; the trillions of dollars of debt after having record surpluses; a looming recession; and not the least of these the increased suffering of the innocent people of Iraq. 

Al Qaida now has a presence in Iraq where one did not exist before.  Terrorism is a daily living nightmare in Iraq.  Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died since our occupation began.  Where is the morality in our going in to free a people from a dictator? 

My conundrum is this… will leaving Iraq result in a better Iraq?  Or will it create and allow more terror and horror to proliferate?  Will our leaving open the doors for a Taliban type government to form which would be worse than the government we toppled five years ago?  Will leaving improve the lives of the Iraqi people; reduce their suffering?  Is our presence there at this time keeping the nation from experiencing out and out civil war? 

Some have said, that we should leave and allow the Iraqi’s to determine the fate of their own country.   That is what we should have done five years ago.  We should never have interfered with the evolution of another people. Freedom will come to a country from within its people.  It is not something that can be bestowed to another by an outside force.  We have evidence that this is so when we look at every communist regime in the world.  Some have now embraced democracy.  And even though China remains a communist state and there are uprisings in Tibet, the Chinese people have experienced through a form of capitalism some increased freedoms.  The desire for freedom may result in violence but it must be from the people who are not free.  Not from an outside force, who will rightly be seen as an occupying force determined to dictate their will over another people.  Have we learned nothing from Korea and Vietnam?  Evidently not… because here we are caught in the maelstrom of Iraq with either choice being less than desirable.   Either choice ensures the suffering of an innocent people. 

I don’t have an answer.  Imagine that. 

I only know that I want our troops safe. If our troops must be sent into the battlefield then I want them to be used in ways that preserve the integrity of this country.  I feel our president has  degraded our nation’s integrity and the office he holds.   The scars of this current presidency will be difficult to heal.  We have to reflect on these past eight years and learn the lessons that they teach us, including I believe to always hold our president accountable for the atrocities and the benevolence he or she commits in our name.   May our hearts be open to humbly accept the responsibility each of us have played in creating this war and to find the wisdom to empower us to correct the errors of our ways.  Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond

Published in: on March 24, 2008 at 3:38 pm  Comments Off on Iraqi War 4,000 US casualities  

Easter 2008

I am often asked by others what do Unitarians Universalists do for Easter.  Do you even believe in Jesus?  If not, then how exactly do you celebrate Easter?   These questions usually refer to the question of whether Unitarian Universalists believe in the doctrines that many Christians have about Jesus–born of the virgin Mary, ability to perform miracles,  his descent into hell, and his physical resurrection from the tomb, and then ascension to heaven where he sits on the right hand of the father.   These are doctrinal questions that have been debated for 2000 years.

Unitarian Universalists have no doctrinal test or creed that a person has to subscribe in order to be a member of a Unitarian Universalist Congregation.   What they are asked to ascribe to is a covenant with the members to seek to uphold a set of principles, seven to be exact.  These set of principles if upheld would be evident in hopefully ever increasing measure through our behaviors and deeds as Unitarian Universalists.   Like all covenants, some principles are harder to adhere to than others and so create opportunities for us to apply our spiritual disciplines that inform us.   These disciplines come from our living traditions and include direct experience of the trancedent mystery, the words and deeds of prophets, our Abrahamic faith heritage from which Unitarian and Universalism emerge, the humanist teachings using reason and science, wisdom from world religions, and the earth-centered spiritualities.   

A Unitarian Universalist does not need to subscribe to the doctrinal beliefs about Jesus in order to celebrate the resurrection of life.  There is enough evidence around us to tell us that resurrection is a living reality.  Many Unitarian Universalists celebrate Easter as a re-birth in the cycle of life itself; the return of spring, birds and animals are giving birth to new life, there is an abundance of life all around us this time of year.  Unitarian Universalists tend to emphasize the life of Jesus, his teachings of compassion, his willingness to confront the institutional evils of his day rather than focus on whether or not Jesus physically raised himself from the dead.  These teachings are resurrected in us daily, every time we show compassion to the least of these, or confront the institutional evils of our day, or insist on the equality of all people. 

So for me, do I even believe in Jesus?  Yes, I believe that Jesus is a historical figure.  I trust teachings of Jesus.  I seek to emulate them daily in my life.  Do I believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus?  I do not need to. Everytime I see a person express compassion, confront institutional evils such as racism, or seek to reduce suffering in the world; there Jesus is incarnated.  His message is resurrected in our deeds.   Therefore as a Unitarian Universalist, I join Christians from around the world to celebrate Easter. 

Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond

Published in: on March 24, 2008 at 2:33 pm  Comments Off on Easter 2008  

Truth Commission in Mississippi

A few weeks back, I attended an exploratory conversation regarding the potential development of a Truth Commission in Mississippi.  The purpose the organizers (Susan Glisson, among others, from the Winter Institute at Ole Miss) stated is to “provide an historic forum for the people of the state to understand a divisive and violent history.  From this beginning, we can create effective organizing strategies and public policy initiatives to confront structural racism.”

This opportunity to explore and understand our past is important for this state to be able to move beyond the racism that is incidiously intertwined in our governmental policies from the state level to the most benign local level.  Many people were impacted by Mississippi’s Sovereignty Commission created by State Legislature in 1956. This was a spy organization created to spy and squelch civil rights activities in the state.  This state mandated commission supported the violent efforts of the white supremacist groups.   It is time for us to look at the full scope of its reach.  It is time to hear the stories of the lives impacted and destroyed by this arm of the law in Mississippi. 

The potential of mandating a Truth Commission to look at our painful past is also vital to Unitarian Universalists in this state.  Many Unitarians and Universalists were active in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.   We suffered for our stance.  Here in Jackson Mississippi our minister received death threats and were critically wounded.   The current building of Jackson’s congregation was built to reduce the risk of firebombing and sniper shooting. It was built in the early 1970’s when the Synagogue in Jackson was firebombed and leveled by that event.   At Our Home in Ellisville, trucks would pull up during Sunday services and yell out threatening words to the worshippers within.  African American Churches across Mississippi burned in those days.  Fear was part of waking up in the morning. 

Healing can only begin when we allow ourselves to look at the wounds that continue to define us and understand how those wounds impact our decisions and actions today.  Understanding how our past has shaped our present can empower us to make different choices.  Choices where justice, compassion, and equity can be enhanced in our state.

I look forward to the conversation, understanding that such a conversation will be painful to hear but also understanding that hearing it 30, 40, 50 years after its occurance is not as painful as it was for those individuals living it the first time.   May our hearts be ready to embrace the truth and may that truth truly set us free to reach our full potential as people of faith.

 Blessings,
Rev. Fred L Hammond 

Published in: on March 22, 2008 at 2:54 pm  Comments (2)  

Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Freedom of the Pulpit

There has been quite the uproar over comments Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, made in regard to racism in America and whether or not presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama agrees with these sentiments.

My paths have crossed Jeremiah Wright’s several times over the last 20  years. I first met him when the majority of African Americans were refusing to acknowledge the impact of the AIDS pandemic in their  communities.  His words were challenging to his community.  He confronted  Homophobia and he advocated for Black churches to respond to the pandemic when  White America was not addressing the unique issues African Americans  were facing with AIDS.  I remember the congregation hearing him in New  Haven, CT being ruffled by his message and this was a congregation  active in AIDS ministry to African Americans.  His challenge helped change  the way supports were given to African American families living with  HIV/AIDS many of them orphaned HIV+ children living with grandmothers.  I  was grateful for his words, wisdom, and insights then and I continue to  be  grateful for his words, wisdom, and insights today.   He is, in my  not so humble opinion, one of the great religious leaders of our day.   He lives up to the qualities of the prophet of the same name.

I think it  is unfortunate that his message will be lost on White America because his style of preaching is contextual to his community and not to White  American culture. I think if we read his sermon rather than heard out of context quotes from it, we would read and understand the logic and reasoning he sets forth.  

Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ come from the same roots in the development of religious freedom in this country.  We are distant cousins with the Puritans as our direct ancestors.  The Puritans valued the right of the minister to be able to preach a message unhindered by the congregation or community.  This enabled the minister to speak out on moral issues of their day that may go against the current thinking or acceptable customs.  It empowered the minister to be able to challenge the congregation in its moral and spiritual development. 

Rev. Jeremiah Wright has done exactly that.  In an age where it is considered to be unpatriotic to speak hard truths about America, he has spoken from a critical eye on what he sees in America.  In an age where people are flocking to the soothing words of Rev. Joel Osteen, he speaks a word of prophetic justice.  

His words have been taken out of context.  He is being maligned in the press. Such is the fate of prophets from age eternal. 

The minister’s role in the pulpit is not to be agreed with what he or she says.  That response simply becomes a self-congratulatory clap on the back.  No, the role of the minister in the pulpit, in the free pulpit,  is to offer words that may challenge our perspectives, cause us to think and ponder, and reconsider our positions.   The role of the minister in the free pulpit is to enable the congregation to stretch its wings to being more of who we are called to be as a people of faith.  A people that seeks to have justice flow to water the fields, where compassion blossoms across the land, and equality is the fruit of our harvest. 

Rev. Jeremiah Wright is fulfilling his call as minister.  We should all be so blessed to be able to hear what his message really is to America.  It is a prophetic message.  A message that challenges our world view in the larger context of faith. 

Blessings,

Rev. Fred L Hammond 

Published in: on March 20, 2008 at 7:10 pm  Comments (2)  

Welcome and Introductions

I have debated and debated about starting a blog offering my Unitarian Universalist perspective as a minister in Mississippi.  There have been many things that have been happening in Mississippi that when they occurred, I thought, I have some thoughts about that.  

First things first, I suppose, my username serenityhome is a loose translation of my birth name,  Fred L Hammond.  Fred is my full first name and means peace.  L, well that is another story but it is my full middle name and therefore does not have a period after it since it is not an abbreviation.   Hammond means home on a hill.  Hence my username. 

There are currently six Unitarian Universalist congregations in Mississippi.  I currently serve two of them.  I am half time in Jackson and half time in Ellisville.  The other congregations in the state are located in Oxford, Tupelo, Hattiesburg, and Gulfport.   The congregation in Ellisville is the oldest at 102 years. 

Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church in Ellisville was founded in 1906 by Orange Herrington and family.  It was a Universalist congregation.   When Orange heard about Universalism he said that he would form a congregation in Ellisville even if it had to be in “our home” and thus the congregation began.   

Gulfport and Jackson rival each other for being the next oldest.  I am not sure which congregation has that claim.  Both were started during what is called the Fellowship era in the late 1940’s /1950’s of the Unitarian Church, then known as the Association of Unitarian Church of America (AUA).

The Gulfport congregation is the only other congregation that currently has at least half-time professional ministry.  They have been rebuilding themselves after Hurricane Katrina. They lost many of their members to other states after this ill-fated historic event. They are a hardy bunch and I am confident that they will continue to rebound to surpass their pre-Katrina state.  Their story in the aftermath of Katrina is one way too familiar in Mississippi and Louisiana. 

The Jackson congregation, which I am more familiar with its story, began in 1951 when the AUA contacted some faculty at Milsaps College about setting up a liberal religious presence in response and in support of the civil rights movement taking form throughout the south.  The congregation was among the first in Jackson to be integrated.  Its first minister was Rev. Donald Thompson who served the congregation in the mid-1960’s.  He was active in the civil rights movement and was critically wounded by sniper fire by members of the KKK in August of 1965.  This was just several months after Unitarian Rev. James Reeb was killed in Selma for his participation in the voting registration protests there.   Rev. Thompson survived and returned to serve the congregation, only to have renewed death threats aimed not just at him but against other people as well because of his presence in Jackson.  He left the state in December of 1965. 

I know very little about the congregations in Hattiesburg, Oxford and Tupelo.  Hattiesburg celebrated their tenth anniversary this year.  Oxford is a few years older than Hattiesburg. Tupelo is the newest affiliated congregation with the UUA.  You may find more information about the Unitarian Universalist congregations in Mississippi by going to www. uums.org

In future posts, I will write more about my reflections on Unitarian Universalism and Mississippi.

Blessings

Rev. Fred L Hammond

Published in: on March 20, 2008 at 4:27 pm  Comments Off on Welcome and Introductions