Governor Barbour’s Hospital Tax Unethical

Governor Barbour is pushing a tax on hospitals to raise the $90 Million needed to offset a Medicaid deficit. Legislators have urged that instead of placing the tax on hospitals to instead place the tax on cigarettes.  Mississippi currently has the lowest taxes on tabacco in the country.  Barbour has stated that he would veto any tax on cigarettes.

Governor Barbour seems to be out of touch with the current health care crisis.  Nineteen percent of Mississippians are without any health insurance.  Another nineteen percent are on medicaid.  This accounts for more than 1,000,000 people in Mississippi.  Mississippians average income is $27,028 in 2006, the lowest in the country.   My health care insurance costs $5,000.  Fortunately for me, my employer pays my insurance premiums but this figure represents eighteen percent of the average income in the state.  People who can afford health insurance either by paying for it themselves or through employment plans are still socked with incredible large bills after the insurance has paid their percentage.  Meanwhile, cigarette smoke and second hand smoke are known to cause cancer, increase risks of heart disease, and a host of other ailments that people cannot afford to get adequately treated.  Barbour is denying the reality of the health care crisis and encouraging its continuation by refusing to increase the sin tax on cigarettes. 

Where are the hospitals going to turn to help them pay their $155 a day tax?  To the patients receiving care.  For a family that is struggling already to make ends meet and making decisions between purchasing gasoline and food, facing an increased cost in a hospital stay is an unethical move for the Governor to make.  

Unethical because it places the burden of medicaid squarely on the people who cannot afford an increase in their medical costs. Unethical because it is biased in exempting government run and university hospitals, allowing them to charge less for services than other hospitals.  Unethical because 20% of the Hospitals who do not serve a higher ratio of medicaid patients will lose funds. 

Barbour contends that for every hospital that pays $1 will receive $6 back in Medicaid payments.  This is not an ethical proposal.  The proposal amounts to bribery and the citizens of Mississippi once again suffers by such tactics.   Governor Barbour, Mississippi deserves a better solution.  Increased taxation on cigarettes is a better solution since many of its consumers will end up needing medical care as a result.  

Published in: on May 31, 2008 at 6:03 pm  Comments Off on Governor Barbour’s Hospital Tax Unethical  
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Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase that means to repair the world.  It has also been translated to mean to heal the world.  It is a responsibility that every Jew is to participate in as part of living their faith.   Unitarian Universalists also call upon its members to do their part to repair the world.  We sometimes call our activities social action or social justice, or social outreach.  There may be other names that we call this when a congregation decides to do something together as a congregation to help better the world in which we live.  

What I see as necessary for the church when doing social justice work is to be fully engaged.  It is to be offering opportunities where members can engage the work fully with their whole beings.  I see lots of congregations where their main outreach effort is to knit hats and gloves for the homeless.  This is a very good thing to do, but it is only one piece of doing social justice work. Providing knit hats does not do much to change the status of the homeless.  They remain homeless.  A tad warmer perhaps on those blustery winter days but they remain without shelter. Knitting hats is step one. There is more that a congregation can do to make a difference in the lives of the homeless.  There are other ways in which to engage the congregation.

But what if the real purpose for being involved in social justice work is to have the lives of the members of the congregation transformed through the living of their values on behalf of helping someone else achieve justice.  I recently read an article from the good folks at The Alban Institute.  The article is “What is the Mission of “Missions” by Dan Hotchkiss.   He writes that many churches and synagogues “have found it fruitful to reframe their social mission from ‘We serve the needy,’ to ‘We transform our members into Christian disciples who live lives of service.’ It is a small but important shift. Some existing outreach ministries continue without change. But the criteria for initiating, evaluating, staffing, and funding social ministry change quite a bit. For instance, if our main goal is to change our members’ lives, we will not be satisfied to write a check from the church treasury. We would prefer to send some of our people along with it so they can engage in the kind of service that may change their lives.”

Living our values in the volunteer work that we do is an important aspect of being Unitarian Universalist.  Some may only be able to knit hats, but others can add to the provision of hats with making relationships with the homeless by volunteering at the soup kitchen or assisting to staff the shelter.  Still others can add their talents to building Habitat for Humanity homes or building interfaith coalitions to work on developing transitional housing opportunities or affordable housing complexes.  Together, each of these aspects of social justice work begin to change the landscape of the community in which we live for the better.  Together the stories of doing all these actions can and should be shared with one another to weave awareness of the tapestry of efforts being done that the whole congregation can point to and reflect on together when discussing their congregational values.

Gandhi is oft quoted for saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Tikkun Olam begins with our being the healing we want to see in the world.  Blessings.

Published in: on May 28, 2008 at 2:32 pm  Comments Off on Tikkun Olam  
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Obama in Oregon

I am continually moved to tears as I listen to this man tap into my hopes and dreams for a more just, a more equitable America. This brief video of Obama in Oregon did it to me again. Perhaps a refreshing wind is blowing.

Published in: on May 20, 2008 at 3:36 pm  Comments Off on Obama in Oregon  
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Reframing our Unitarian Universalist Narrative

I gave a sermon today examining Brian D. McLaren’s book,  Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope.  In this book Mr. McLaren presents two narratives that are running underneath the Christian message.   The first what he calls the Conventional view and the second he calls the Emerging view.    I will quote the conventional view so you will have a clearer sense of how Mr. McLaren interprets this view. 

The Human Situation: What is the story we find ourselves in?
“Conventional View: God created the world as perfect, but because our primal ancestors, Adam and Eve, did not maintain the absolute perfection demanded by God, God has irrevocably determined that the entire universe and all its contains will be destroyed, and the souls of all human beings—except for those specifically exempted—will be forever punished for their imperfection in hell.

“What question did Jesus come to answer?
“Conventional view: Since everyone is doomed to hell, Jesus seeks to answer one or both of these questions: How can individuals be saved from eternal punishment in hell and instead go to heaven after they die? How can God help individuals be happy and successful until then?

“How did Jesus respond to the crisis?

“Conventional View: Jesus says, in essence, If you want to be among those specifically qualified to escape being forever punished for your sins in hell, you must repent of your individual sins and believe that my Father punished me on the cross so he won’t have to punish you in hell. Only if you believe this will you go to heaven when the earth is destroyed and everyone else is banished to hell. This is the good news. ”

The Emerging view is a bit more hopeful but still contains orthodox Christology where people rebelled against God and now God is seeking to redeem humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  A commitment to Jesus will allow God to do his transformative work through us and heal the world and establish the reign of God here on Earth.   This is a social gospel of working to transform society’s injustices on all levels–political / economic / social.   McLaren comes up short to saying that this emerging view includes a universal salvation message, though that seems to be a subtext of his book. 

In reading this book, I wondered about our Unitarian Universalist narrative.  Our current narrative seems to be what we are not. We are in opposition to the conservative religious voice. We are not Christian yet we have those who claim Christianity among us. We are not Jewish yet we have those who claim Judaism among us. We are not Buddhist yet we have those who claim Buddhism among us. We are not dogmatic yet we are opinionated in our individual views. We tell our story by telling what we are not, not by what we are. We even do our best social justice work in the negative; we do anti-racist, anti-oppression work instead of racial equity and justice work. Is it just me, or does anyone else see a problem in this anti-narrative?

In considering McLaren’s book, I considered what a re-framed Unitarian Universalist narrative using McLaren’s format might look like:

The Human situation: What is the story we find ourselves in?

Through a variety of convergences of mysterious events a series of evolutionary events occur causing simplex molecules to create with ever more complexity life on earth. Eventually, humanity evolved as the most complex creature on earth with an ability to control the environment, to develop complex societal clusters, and to self-determine its own destiny and evolution. Humanity is still very much in its infancy in its development as a species. Yet, humanity’s evolution as a species has not kept pace in its emotive, rational, and spiritual development in contrast with its explosive growth of technological adaptations. This has resulted in clashes within humanity and with its environment often with grave consequences. Humanity, therefore, needs to further develop its emotive, rational, and spiritual abilities to allow for the most freedom, the most justice, and the most equitable way for all of humanity and all of life to continue thriving on this planet. Humanity is currently the only creature on this planet capable of achieving this harmonic existence for humanity and for all of life.

What questions did Jesus come to answer?

Jesus, along with other great teachers, dead and alive, answers these questions: How are we to live our lives with justice, equity, and compassion for all people? How are we to honor the interconnected web that binds us all as one? With the emphasis on technological advancements, people are focusing on getting theirs first with the fear there won’t be any left if they do not compete aggressively. This has created a gap between the haves and the have nots in the world. It has led to exploitive practices against others and against the environment.

How did Jesus respond to the crisis?

Jesus and these teachers taught us that life is permeated with an inherent worth and dignity simply by its existence. Through their teachings and diligent adherence to a variety of spiritual practices humanity can evolve to a higher moral code of living and being with one another reaching towards our potential as a people. Jesus, and others, modeled for us how we could live at this higher moral code of equity, justice, and compassion in human relations. Practicing this higher moral code is transformative work; it frees humanity to live justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly upon the earth. This is the good news. 

Is this a narrative that would work for Unitarian Universalists?  As I suggested in today’s sermon, we need to become aware of the narratives that are around us in our daily lives. What questions and concerns are people looking to have answered or what relief are they seeking to experience?  That is where Unitarian Universalists need to be focused in their community’s justice work.  It may be slightly different depending on where one lives.  In Mississippi it seems to be surrounding the economic injustices and how these injustices are interwoven within the fabric of our school systems and criminal justice systems.  If Unitarian Universalism is to survive as a viable faith in the 21st century it needs to seriously consider what its narrative is that will make life better for the living.  It must be a faith that is relevant by offering solutions and ways of being that our individual narratives encounter in our daily lives. It must offer good news.  Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond 

Published in: on May 19, 2008 at 12:04 am  Comments Off on Reframing our Unitarian Universalist Narrative  
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HIV Felony law is based on fear and sexual taboos

Well, I learn something new every day here in Mississippi.  On Friday, May 16, 2008, the Clarion-Ledger broke a story of a wife who did not disclose her HIV status to her husband is now facing felony charges for knowingly exposing her husband and four year old son to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.   The statute regulating HIV exposure went into effect in 2004.  This year is significant and I will return to it momentarily.  The law states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly expose another person to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B or hepatitis C.  Prior knowledge and willing consent to the exposure is a defense to a charge brought under this paragraph. A violation of this subsection shall be a felony.” Mississippi code 97-27-14 (1)  She faces up to ten years in prison. 

If this law had been passed prior to 1987, it would have been unfortunate but understandable.  At that time HIV, hepatitis B and C were diseases that were relatively untreatable.  A person who discovered he or she was HIV+ was looking at a life expectancy of under 10 years.  If the person did not know their status until an AIDS diagnosis was made, was looking at a life expectancy of under 2 years.  There were no viable treatments.  In 2004 however, not only are there viable treatments, the life expectancy in this country has exceeded the 20 year plus mark making HIV infection at best a chronically managable disease.  It is quite possible that a person diagnosed today with HIV for them to live to the average life expectancy in the US.   This however, does not excuse a person’s responsibility in not telling their prospective partner of their status.  It only places the law into a different context for when it was passed.  We allegedly were better informed about this disease in 2004 than in 1987. 

But let’s look a bit closer into that responsibility to discuss ones sexual health with a partner.  We have major taboos about sex.  So to criminalize the not revealing of ones status does not make sense when we as a society cannot even talk openly about healthy sexual relationships with our teenagers.  The school systems in this state insist on abstinence only education even though the state would allow comprehensive sexual education if the school boards supported it.  Even though research repeatedly finds that abstinence based only education does not prevent or slow down the onset of teenage sexual behavior.   Fear based education never works.  It is opposite to where teens are developmentally which is the age of risk taking.  Developmentally it is better to arm teens with the information and skills in how to make informed decisions.  All other countries who are on par with the US in standards of living have comprehensive sexual education AND the lowest rates of teen pregnancies, teen STI’s, and teen abortions.  Why?  Because sex is not a taboo subject but a recognized healthy part of being human. 

If we taught that it was okay to talk about sexual relationships with one another, and taught how to bring up the subject of sexual behaviors and health in a relationship; then the wife might have been taught the skills in how to bring up this sensitive subject with her husband; who by the way has tested negative for the virus and so has their 4 year old son.  He also would have been taught the skills in how to handle a difficult subject matter.    Sigh… instead we criminalize the not telling instead of teaching the skills in how to discuss sensitive relationship topics.   How barbaric are we? 

Fortunately for Unitarian Universalists and members of the United Church of Christ, we have jointly developed a curriculum called Our Whole Lives (OWL) which is a comprehensive sexual education program for our young people.  It teaches the skills needed to have healthy sexual relations including how to discuss the sensitive topics in relationships.    The facilitators of this curriculum are trained in how to teach this course.  The parents are required to attend an orientation class prior to their children’s participation to learn exactly what is being discussed and encouraged to further the discussion with their children at home. 

One more thing…  Does this law set the precedent for passing a law making it a felony for knowingly exposing second hand smoke to minors and others?  We know that smoke and second hand smoke causes cancer and heart disease both potentially terminal diseases?  With the children, smoking would become a form of child abuse, permitting the state to remove the child from an unsafe environment.   I didn’t think so.

Azariah Southworth of Remix Comes Out

Azariah Southworth is the host and producer of Remix, a popular Christian youth show on cable and has come out as a gay man after watching the award winning film, For the Bible Tells Me So. The movie is a powerful film and needs to be seen by more people.  An interview with Azariah can be found here and here.  His coming out cost him his livelihood, the show has been cancelled after his announcement.  It is important that gay Christians come out of the closet and allow their faith to shine bright.   Doing so will help increase all of our understanding of what it means to be gay in America.  Thank you Azariah.  Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond

Published in: on May 16, 2008 at 4:55 pm  Comments Off on Azariah Southworth of Remix Comes Out  
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Death Penalty: Execution by Red Tape

Mississippi will be executing Earl Wesley Berry on May 21, 2008 for the murder of Mary Bounds.   This will be the first execution in Mississippi after the US Supreme Court ruled in the Baze lethal injection case.   Earl Wesley Berry is Mentally Retarded.   The US Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that people with mental retardation could not be executed.  And Mississippi’s court ruled that any inmate with an IQ under 75 could receive an evidentiary hearing.  Unfortunately for Mr. Berry, his lawyers did not file the avidavit on time and he was denied such a hearing.   Execution by red tape.

It is commonly believed that an execution for crimes such involved in the death of Ms. Bounds will bring closure and justice to the victim’s family.  There could be no statement further from the truth.   The Bounds’ family has suffered undue grief and pain since the murder of Mary Bounds in 1987.  She was brutally and fatally beatened and there is no doubt that Mr. Berry committed the crime.  Yet, the pain and suffering waiting for the court system to carry out its sentence is excruciating.   In the case of Mary Bounds even more so because the execution was to take place the end of October 2007.   The Bounds family gathered to witness the execution, a horrible soul wrenching process to put anyone through, and then 18 minutes before the event the governor ordered a stay of execution because of the pending US Supreme court case on lethal injections.    In a story to the Clarion-Ledger, daughter Jena Bounds Watson states, “It’s very stressful. More than I ever imagined it would be. It hit us like a brick in October. We didn’t expect it to hit us so hard. It was like she’d died all over again.” 

This is not justice.  This is not closure.  This is not healing.  This is perpetuating a living hell. 

Mr. Berry should never have been released from the institution he was in.  He is also diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.  He had attempted suicide multiple times.  Our system has failed both Mr. Berry and the Bounds family.  Life imprisonment as a sentence would have allowed the Bounds family to move on in their lives.  Instead they have been waiting, emotively waiting for the sentence of death to be meted out.  They have been waiting to witness the execution to put this finally behind them and have been forced to painfully endure our system’s barbarism. 

I know there are many who believe that Mr. Berry should suffer painfully for his heinous crime. Given his diagnosis of mental retardation and paranoid schizophrenia, I would say his life experience has been one filled with suffering.  Even the Bounds family may have thought revenge would have been sufficient for relieving their loss. It is a natural reaction of our base emotions.  But many victim’s families, once they have had time to reflect, are able to shift to see that an eye for an eye response is not the answer. Taking revenge wounds the spirit of the family far more than the crime.   The death penalty should be repealed if only because to carry such a sentence out places more pain and suffering upon the victim’s families preventing them to begin the healing needed. 

Amnesty International has two blogs on this case in Mississippi.  The page linked also gives a link to sign a petition to commute the sentence of Mr. Berry to life imprisonment. 

There will be an interfaith vigil at Smith Park in Jackson, MS at 5:30 PM on Wednesday, May 21st.  I will be there.  I hope you will join me in prayer for Mr. Berry, for the Bounds family, and for our justice system that allows red tape to execute the mentally challenged.  May healing finally begin!  Blessings,  Rev. Fred L Hammond




When Mississippi– Equal Marriage Rights?

Today, the California Supreme Court ruled in a decision 4 to 3 that California’s same sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.  They wrote: “As past cases establish, the substantive right of two adults who share a loving relationship to join together to establish an officially recognized family of their own – and, if the couple chooses, to raise children within that family – constitutes a vitally important attribute of the fundamental interest in liberty and personal autonomy that the California Constitution secures to all persons for the benefit of both the individual and society.”   (The full summary of the ruling can be found here. All quotes in this blog are from this summary. The complete Supreme Court Opinion is found here.)

A rose by any other name–NOT:  Domestic partnership is not the same as marriage. 

“One of the core elements of the right to establish an officially recognized family that is embodied in the California constitutional right to marry is a couple’s right to have their family relationship accorded dignity and respect equal to that accorded other officially recognized families, and assigning a different designation for the family relationship of same-sex couples while reserving the historic designation of “marriage” exclusively for opposite-sex couples poses at least a serious risk of denying the family relationship of same-sex couples such equal dignity and respect. We therefore conclude that although the provisions of the current domestic partnership legislation afford same-sex couples most of the substantive elements embodied in the constitutional right to marry, the current California statutes nonetheless must be viewed as potentially impinging upon a same-sex couple’s constitutional right to marry under the California Constitution.”

The institution of marriage is not undermined by same sex marriage.

“A number of factors lead us to this conclusion. First, [bold italics mine]  the exclusion of same-sex couples from the designation of marriage clearly is not necessary in order to afford full protection to all of the rights and benefits that currently are enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples; permitting same-sex couples access to the designation of marriage will not deprive opposite-sex couples of any rights and will not alter the legal framework of the institution of marriage, because same-sex couples who choose to marry will be subject to the same obligations and duties that currently are imposed on married opposite-sex couples. Second, retaining the traditional definition of marriage and affording same-sex couples only a separate and differently named family relationship will, as a realistic matter, impose appreciable harm on same-sex couples and their children, because denying such couples access to the familiar and highly favored designation of marriage is likely to cast doubt on whether the official family relationship of same-sex couples enjoys dignity equal to that of opposite-sex couples. Third, because of the widespread disparagement that gay individuals historically have faced, it is all the more probable that excluding same-sex couples from the legal institution of marriage is likely to be viewed as reflecting an official view that their committed relationships are of lesser stature than the comparable relationships of opposite-sex couples. Finally, retaining the designation of marriage exclusively for opposite-sex couples and providing only a separate and distinct designation for same-sex couples may well have the effect of perpetuating a more general premise – now emphatically rejected by this state – that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects “second-class citizens” who may, under the law, be treated differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals or opposite-sex couples. Under these circumstances, we cannot find that retention of the traditional definition of marriage constitutes a compelling state interest. Accordingly, we conclude that to the extent the current California statutory provisions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, these statutes are unconstitutional.”

Unitarian Universalists across this country will perform religious ceremonies celebrating the marriage of same sex couples even though the state will not recognize its civil legality.  Yet, heterosexual religious marriages, even those performed by Unitarian Universalists, are recognized for its civil legality.  I believe to not have these religious ceremonies recognized by the civil government is a violation of our religious freedoms. To deny recognition is a restriction and impingement of our religious principles that seeks compassion, justice, and equity in all human relations.  It amounts to an unequal religious authority to the majority in a country that claims separation of church and state. 

Mississippi equal marriage rights are coming to this state just as inter-racial marriage rights came to this state.  It is no nolonger a matter of if, it is only a matter of when.  May justice and equality be truly for all in this land.  Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond

Swimming in the River

I ended yesterday’s post with a metaphor of needing to swim daily in the river in order to be able to swim around the flotsam and jetsam that are also in the river.  Of course, I was writing about spiritual practices and not actual swimming, although some will tell me that swimming is part of their spiritual practice. 

What  spiritual practice do you use in your daily life to help you remain centered and aligned with your core self?  What spiritual practice do you attend to daily to keep you alert and aware to the stream of well-being that I suggest is the undercurrent of all things?  How do we connect to that mystery that is unfolding and leading us forward on this journey? 

The Buddhists practice zazen.  A form of sitting meditation where they clear their minds of the rampant thoughts and seek to become aware of their present moment.  To be fully present to the now is a powerful experience.  It is a means to then be more fully alert to the events of the day.   There is also the walking meditation where the person consciously and deliberately attends to each breath and each movement of the body as they walk.  This again is a means to become more fully alert and aware of the present moment.  There are two blogs that I have linked to that are Buddhist centered; Monkey Mind by my dear friend and colleague Zen Master Rev. James Ishmael Ford and Wildfoxzen by Zen Master Dosho Port.

Christians practice prayer.  There are many forms of prayer.  There are supplication prayers where a person asks for help and guidance.  There is intercessory prayer where a person seeks on behalf of another.  There are prayers of praise where the person expresses their gratefulness and thanksgiving to the wonders and love of life.  There is also centering prayer which is probably the closest to zazen where the person quiets the mind while using a pre-chosen phrase to focus on.   There are also prescribed prayers such as the Jesus Prayer or the prayer of Jabez  or praying the rosary.  These prayers assist the person to focus beyond themselves and their current strife.  The act of repeating over and over again the same words enables the person to transcend their present state and connect to their core self. 

Muslims have designated times, five times a day, where they pause and pray to Allah. This is an act of worship and is most central to the life of a Muslim. There are prescribed prayers that they recite. The act of designated times connects all of the Muslims together.  It enables them to see themselves as connected to a larger whole, to a larger purpose than just their individual lives.  This prayer is also an embodied prayer in that there are different postures with different prayers that one does while praying. 

Pagans use rituals to maintain their connections to spirit.  They  symbolically see the elements of nature as having characteristics that they would want to be balanced in their lives. So they may focus on the four directions; north, east,south, west;  and the four elements; air, fire, earth, water to help remind them of these characteristics.

There are other practices that one may take.  I also incorporate nature hikes where I consciously take note of the beauty of the world around me.  I notice the blooms, the song of the  birds, the evidence of an abundant life around me.  And give appreciation to the universe for all these wonderful creations around me.   Others journal, write poetry, sing, dance as ways of reflecting, connecting, and being in this world.   Blessings abound, Rev. Fred L Hammond

Published in: on May 13, 2008 at 4:27 pm  Comments Off on Swimming in the River  
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Flotsam and Jetsam

On Sunday I gave a sermon about the life of Rev. John Murray and why I am a Universalist. I wrote the following paragraph and decided to unpack it a bit further.

“I am a Universalist because I believe in this love–this stream of well-being that flows through the universe as an undercurrent to all else that happens. This love is constant. All else is transient flotsam and jetsam on the surface. It will pass and even if we become entangled in the flotsam for awhile, the love that surges through the universe is ever present to see us clear.”

In my best moments, I can say with about as much surety as I know that the earth’s gravity will keep me within its power of influence, that all is truly well. I observe the birds chirping their morning songs in the pecan trees outside my Ellisville house. I note the figs developing in the shade of the fig leaves along side the old red barn. I watch the red tail hawk swoop down to catch the unsuspecting or perhaps very suspecting but paralyzed in fear rodent in the fields. Life is good. It flows on in its cycle and the human animal is part and parcel to this unending cycle.  And I rejoice in being witness to it all and even excited about my role in its unfolding.

I enjoy, really enjoy, the animal planet show, Meerkat Manor. The writers of the show have given human characteristics, motives and emotions, to the actions and behaviors of these animals living in social groupings. They are afraid and wary of the others who are not members of their small village. They will war on their neighbors if they encroach too close to their marked territory. They will have jealousies and fights between themselves.  They will exclude and expel members who do not behave or threaten to disrupt the order of things.  And they will come together and fight in unison against an outside threat such as a cobra slithering nearby in the hope for a fledgling meerkat for a meal. 

meerkat photographer

Now maybe all this anthropomorphism is a bit over done.  But it does serve its purpose at least in my watching this show and reflecting on human behavior.  We do the same, don’t we?   For all our increased intelligence, we do the same.   We have our bitter jealousies and rivals within our communities.  We tend to be wary of the stranger who moves into our neighborhood; especially if they have a different culture to our own.  Culture here being defined as different religion, different political affiliation, and different understanding of our common values; not excluding those who come from foreign countries but our wariness is acutely attuned to the subtleties as well as the obvious.   And we war against perceived threats from within as well as without our country. 

Yet, what we see as cute and even adorable in the meerkat family we see as atrocious in our human family. This is the flotsam and jetsam in our lives.  It is the allowing our focus to be turned to the animal behaviors we do and responding from this animal base.   Some people have called it the reptile mind; that core almost instinctual place in our brains.  If activitated no amount of reason or logic can break through it until the person does what the person is driven to do, and then if we are fortunate, we laugh about the action and forgive each other for stooping so low later.

The question that remains for me in my observing all of this is what is the role of religion if it is not to help our spiritualities to relax into the stream of well-being that is constant in our lives?  It does not negate that the flotsam and jetsam of human animal behaviors and actions exist but it could help mitigate the intensity in which we respond to those events that switch on the reptilian brain.  

From where I sit in my current understandings, Unitarian Universalism is one of the faiths that could aid in this process.  We have our own flotsam and jetsam that we get hung up on but our current principles that we seek to uphold are bent along that arc of love towards justice.  Our faith includes the willingness to examine the wisdom of the world religions to find aquaducts to that universal current of love that interconnects us all.  This seems to me, to be a noble start. 

The proclaiming of one true faith only is trajecting us into the nets of the flotsam and jetsam in our lives.  It causes an increased tension between us.  It triggers the reptilian mind.  Many faiths proclaim being the one true faith, so I am not only referring to Christianity, though this phrase is most commonly associated to it.  The notion of universalism as I understand it in the 21st century, is one that recognizes the spirit of love that is flowing for all of us.  We all have access to it.  But for us to fully enjoy this river of love, we must be willing to practice our swimming daily.  And swimming will help us swim around the flotsam and jetsam of our base behaviors.  Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond           

Published in: on May 12, 2008 at 4:15 pm  Comments Off on Flotsam and Jetsam  
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