Spirituality: what is it?

There has been over the last few days an interesting conversation on spirituality on the minister’s chat list.  What is it?  How do we define it?  How do Unitarian Universalists who have, for the most part, shied away from the other worldly forms of spirituality of the 19th century re-engage the topic without returning to the spiritualist’s ruminations?   Can we find a common definition of the word that all would agree on it’s meaning?

Here is a bit of what I wrote to my colleagues:  ‘I have a sermon that I have given a few times now, entitled
“Spiritual being having a Human Experience”  It is from a quote by Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, the 20th century theologian / priest / mystic who stated:   
       “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”    

‘I have taken this to mean that there is something transcendent about life.  And something very spiritual about our human experiences so enjoy them– all of them, in what ever shape or form they come to us; even those that cause us great pain.  I do not mean enjoy the pain in a sado/masochistic manner but enjoy as in embrace all of life as it comes to us.  Feel it deeply.  Reflect on it deeply.  Suck the marrow out of it all… ‘    

For me, a healthy spirituality is one where our humanity is embraced, that we are able to live through the events of our lives as whole and present as possible.  Yes, there may be events that happen in our lives that are difficult to face and the defense mechanisms of denial and repression are valuable responses in the moment to get us through these moments.  But at some point in time, to be able to reflect on these moments, to embrace them as events that have happened and then to let them go so those events lose their power over the living of our current moments. 

To be able to reflect upon and embrace the wonderful events as well and then to let them go because I don’t want that  event to be the standard bearer / the pedestal of all other events like it.  I want the next wonderful moment to stand on its own merit and to be enjoyed fully for what it brings. 

A healthy spirituality for me is one where we are able to transcend our aloneness to know that we are connected and part of the interdependent web of the universe.  It is a means where we bask in the awareness of all that is; marvel at its beauty; wonder at its complexity and simplicity.    For me, spirituality is to live as authentically as I can and fully in touch with all I bring to the moment.  It is about living to the fullest of my human potential. 

I have not even come close to answering the questions at the beginning of this post.  This is a conversation that is answered when there is relational dialogue.  So I open the floor and invite your comments.  What is spirituality to you?  How do you define it?  How do you experience your sense of the spiritual?  Blessings,

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Published in: on June 27, 2008 at 1:35 pm  Comments Off on Spirituality: what is it?  
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Are Unitarian Universalists leaven for America?

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Matthew 13:33 

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has reported its findings yesterday regarding religious tolerance in the New York Times.   The story stated, ” … 70 percent of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination said they agreed that ‘many religions can lead to eternal life,’ including majorities among Protestants and Catholics.  Among Evangelical Christians, 57 percent agreed with the statement, and among Catholics, 79 percent did.  Among minority faiths, more than 80 percent of Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists, agreed with the statement, and more than half of Muslims did.”

God and Diplomacy

The findings as reported does not indicate if this tolerance in other’s religious beliefs is a shift from intolerance or if Americans were always more tolerant of religious beliefs?   The question for me, is what role, if any,  did Unitarian Universalist’s play in this attitude?  As a faith, Unitarian Universalists acceptance in right of conscience, in the personal quest for truth and meaning, has meant that we recognize that all faith journeys are valid for salvation, regardless of how we might define the word salvation. 

While it may be presumptuous to think that our minority faith has had any impact on the larger whole towards tolerance, does presumption mean it is therefore beyond consideration?  Long before I became an official Unitarian Universalist, I was always impressed with the Unitarian Universalists that I knew with their openness and acceptance of other point of views.  Unitarian Universalists seemed to role model this concept for me in ways that my conservative charismatic Christian faith did not. 

And not that my charismatic Christian friends were not tolerant of others, they were but it was done in the arrogant tolerance sort of way.  I mean there was always this ‘I will tolerate your position because you simply don’t know better yet’ attitude.  Once you knew better and you decided to reject their message, all tolerance bets were off.    While Unitarian Universalists are not immune to this sort of arrogance, we tend to be aware of its tendency and confront it because deep down we also know that humanly we only have a piece of the universal truth.  And not a very big piece at that. 

We tend to embrace the wisdom of Buddha, where he tells the story of four blind men trying to describe what an elephant [metaphor for Truth] looks like.  An elephant is like a trunk of a tree…  no no an elephant is like a huge wall… no no an elephant is like a whip…  NO! You are all wrong, an elephant is like a serpentining serpent…  All were correct in their experiences of the elephant; legs, body, tail, and trunk.  We each may have a piece of the Truth but our limited experiences and senses fail to see the whole picture.  This is one important reason why we need to be in community with each other so we can hear others experiences of Truth in the hopes of enlarging our conception of our elephant. 

Even if, American’s have generally had a broad tolerance for other faiths, in what ways can Unitarian Universalists be the leaven that leavens the whole of America?  Jesus stated this is what the Kingdom of Heaven was like; placing leaven (yeast) in flour and soon it was all leavened with yeast.  We can live our lives like that.  Our values, our principles that we seek to uphold, can be leaven for the society in which we live.  Blessings,  

 

Looking for a Fulfilling Life

The Director of Religious Education at one of the congregations I serve, led the Adult Forum discussion on Sunday.  She was using the curriculum of Spirit in Practice, a UU curriculum that explores a variety of ways people express their spirituality.  It has been a wonderful study for this congregation. 

She shared a story entitled “The Wise Fool”   I will paraphrase the story here. 

There was a great Sufi holy man Nasreddin Hodja who was approached by a group of women one day.  They were quite upset and cried out, “Help us, Hodja! Help us!”   Hodja replied, “What is the trouble?” 

“Our husbands!” The women cried.  “They have all decided that they must go into the desert and dedicate themselves to finding Allah.  They have abandoned us and the children!”

“This is wrong!”  Hodja declared and he set out on his donkey to find the men.  When he found them he began to shout, “Help me! Help me!” 

“What is the trouble, Hodja?” the men replied.  

“My donkey!  I have lost my donkey and cannot find him anywhere.  I must find my donkey.”  He said.

“But he is right there,” the men laughed.  “Can’t you see that you are sitting on him?  You do not have to try to look for him.”

“And why do you,” Hodja replied, ” believe you must go into the desert to look for Allah?  Go back to your wives and your lives.”   And that is what the men did.

There is a belief that in order for us to have a fulfilling life, that we must have that life over there–where ever over there may be.  And so, people are disatisfied because they feel trapped in their present condition.  They go through their daily routine as a grind, muttering through out their very being that they wished they could be someplace else and really live.  Of course, there is nothing wrong in wanting to be someplace else and seeing different things and living different experiences that various locations offer.

But finding a fulfilling life someplace else is just like going into the desert to find Allah.  Allah is already here in the fabric of our lives and routines.  The Sufi holy man knew that Allah was to be found in the faces of the wives and children.  So too a fulfilling life is to be found in the daily routines we awaken ourselves to experience.  

Being awake, being fully alert to all that is going on around us can and will reveal to us what we must do  or be in this moment.  That response will shape our next moment and the next, and in reflection we will discover that our being here in the day to day routine made a difference in our having a fulfilling life.  We will discover that the opportunities for fulfillment were already here all the time. 

I hear from my friends in other parts of the country, who comment and state that living in Mississippi must be really hard.  It must be a culture shock to live there.  They of course are referring to the stereotype and biases that have developed against Mississippi.   But people are people where ever one lives.  The Human condition is the same that I experienced in Connecticut as I experienced in Illinois and in California and now in Mississippi.  The location of the people encountered does not matter.  We tend to run into the same people no matter where we live. 

The difference, I believe, is in how we decide to respond to our daily encounters with others and how we respond to the daily routines we find ourselves in.  It is a matter of being at peace with ourselves and in our present living.   If we believe that nothing good ever comes out of Nazareth  (John 1:46) then we will miss the opportunity to meet Jesus or the Buddha or the Mahatma.  And believing that something good does come out of your location in time and space, is a step towards finding Allah in the midst of the desert of our lives.  Blessings, Fred

Published in: on June 24, 2008 at 2:30 pm  Comments Off on Looking for a Fulfilling Life  
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Inherent or Bestowed Worth and Dignity?

Transient and Permanent’s blog asks the question whether or not the principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations define us a liberal religion?  I find the question interesting on a number of fronts. 

I wrote this as an answer to the question at the blog site: “The principles could be a manner in which we define liberal religion. I know that I refer to the principles when I am confronted with an issue that makes me uncomfortable. For example, today I preached on torture. I needed to wrestle with the principle of inherent worth and dignity when the torturers of Abu Ghraib and Gitmo are displaying themselves as monsters of intense evil rather than as humans with inherent worth let alone dignity. I don’t know how successful I am with this question. But if the principle is true regardless of what I see expressed, then how do I reach that essence that reveals it to be true when everything shouts the opposite? I could not gloss over the principle as some rote phrase of rhetoric. If my faith has any chutzpah, any substance to it, then it has to be able to answer this question. Does/Can a person steeped in providing torture have inherent worth and dignity? Does/Can our principles help us in answering these more critical questions of our 21st century reality? I believe they can but on the way, it means that we are going to fumble and sometimes err in our living out the question, but if we are able to maintain our openness to the question, then we can have a fairly exciting journey along the way.”

But I want to explore this a bit further.  In the last decade or so of my being a Unitarian Universalist I have taken the seven principles to define for me, a prescriptive yardstick that I will measure the questions that arise in my journey. 

I will use what is perhaps our most beloved principle, the Inherent worth and dignity of every person.  In the face of evil emanating from a human, does this person have inherent worth and dignity?  It’s a tough question.  It is one that some of my esteemed colleagues have responded with an emphatic no.  

Rev. Bill Schulz, former UUA president and former executive director of Amnesty International, has come to the position that inherent worth and dignity is something that needs to be assigned.  That it really isn’t inherent at all but rather is bestowed upon others.  [For more in-depth on his opinion read Bill Schulz’s 2006 Berry Street Lecture  What Torture Taught Me]  There is documented proof of the power of bestowing worth and dignity.  It is the power behind successful programs like Big Brothers and Big Sisters and other similar mentoring programs.  For a child to have at least one adult person in their life who is in a positive relationship with them is a powerful influence on how that child will approach and experience adulthood. 

The successes that Psychotherapists such as Carl Rogers, Bruno Bettelheim, Victor Frankl have had with their clients also stem from the establishment of authentic relationships in which the psychotherapist has bestowed worth and dignity on the client.   Many years ago, I worked with a developmentally disabled adult who was formerly a client of Bruno Bettelheim’s as a child.  This relationship was so very potent in her life, that to mention his name, she would simply gush with adoration.  Understand this was a person who usually spent most of her day in deadpan expression to any and all activities she engaged in.   So this notion of bestowing worth and dignity is a powerful one and necessary one for all sorts of healing of woundedness in our lives. 

My experiences in working with people with developmental disabilities and with people living with AIDS reinforce this notion that worth and dignity can be bestowed upon another and have remarkable impact on the person’s life and well-being.  I have used in sermons a story about a young man living with HIV/AIDS who was homeless, heavily addicted to heroin and cocaine, considered violent by the police and convicted of many serious crimes.  I worked with this young man and his significant other for several years.  When I first met him, in conversation on the phone, I called him Sir.  A title he was taken aback by.  He told me he was never called Sir ever, he had been called lots of worse things and given the description stated above you can imagine what those things might have been; none of which very affirming.  In my working with him and his common law wife,  he began to soften in his attitudes towards life.  He reconciled with his family.  After he died, his family told me that his relationship with me had reached him in ways that his family never was able to and they were grateful for my assistance of their son.   Bestowing worth and dignity on another can be a very powerful and transformative event in a person’s life. 

But is worth and dignity already inherent?  Unlike my esteemed colleague Rev. Bill Schulz, I still claim that it is inherent. When a child is born, before that child has developed, the child has inherent worth and dignity.  That worth and dignity is the potential of a life well lived.  It is the seed longing to sprout and become a mighty oak.   Life circumstances and experiences might crush that potential. Choices may be made in response to those events that lead the developing child down a path of destructive behavior, much like Sir, described above.  But that seed, remains waiting for any opportunity to break forth.   I call that seed, the spirit of life that pulses through all of creation.  There is such potential.   Even when a person has made choices, even if they are coerced choices, that lead to behaviors that we find detestable, it does not mean that worth and dignity is no longer inherent in the person.  It means that the person is in need of someone who is able, willing, capable, of bestowing worth and dignity upon them in an authentic relationship calling forth the inherent seed of worth and dignity to break through.  In other words, redemption is still possible. 

Finding such a person willing to do this for another is hard.  This is why the iconic Jesus is so palpable for many people today because when a person imagines themselves being in the presence of this Jesus, all forgiving and all merciful, they are bestowed worth and dignity in a world where few people will do this act.  These individuals then find within themselves the ability to turn their lives around, find the strength for recovery from drugs and alcohol, find the will power to hold steady employment.  They then credit this iconic Jesus with the miraculous.  What usually really happens is that after their initial event with the iconic Jesus, someone then takes them under their wing and bestows this worth and dignity upon them.  It is this person who in relationship with them, aids them along.  Christians call this discipleship.  Business men call this mentorship.

Our Inherent worth and dignity comes to fruition through authentic relationships with one another.  This is why coming together in community is so vitally important.  We have an opportunity to be redemptive for one another.  It is a wonderful gift that we can offer others.  We cannot offer it, however, by walking up to someone and say, “Hi, I am here to offer you redemption.”  This is where evangelical Christians quest to save the world misunderstand Jesus’s message.  In bestowing worth and dignity, redemption comes from the day to day relationship with that person.  It comes from doing the mundane things of daily living with that person.  It is in the daily routine of seeking to make choices that will harm none.  It comes from the spiritual quest to be mindful in our thoughts and actions.   Redemption is not a commodity that can be offered.  It is a transformation process that develops within the daily life of community.

For me, our principles offer a touch stone where I can wrestle with the issues of the world.  They are more than just words for an association of congregations.  The principles do define my liberal religious life.  I believe that engaging these principles can be a spiritual practice for many people.  Blessings,  

 

Published in: on June 16, 2008 at 5:45 pm  Comments Off on Inherent or Bestowed Worth and Dignity?  
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Governor Barbour serving as tobacco lobbyist not as Governor

I had written a blog regarding the current Medicaid shortfall crisis and Governor Barbour’s solution as being unethical.   Well that seems to be an under statement.  Governor Barbour is being down right mean-spirited to get his hospital tax which is going to increase the medical crisis in this state.  According to the Jackson Free Press (JFP) story entitled “Medicaid Ultimatums”, Governor Barbour has threatened to cut $375 Million dollars in state funds to hospitals if he does not get his hospital tax to offset the $90 million shortfall.  House Democrats want to instead pass an increase on the sin tax on cigarettes, ideally to a dollar a pack which would bring in “$162.8 million in new annual tax revenue” and “almost a $1 billion in long term savings from tobacco related health issues.”    

Governor Barbour is not serving the best interests of Mississippi.  Instead he is serving the interests of the tobacco industry for whom he once served as a lobbyist.  When Barbour was sworn in as governor he swore to serve the state of Mississippi not the tobacco industry.  Barbour is revealing himself as a person who holds no integrity for the office of Governor.  

In October 2007, Governor Barbour addressed the campus of Wesley College.  During the chapel service ” The Governor’s message was clear – Your personal faith shapes your values, and Judeo/Christian values were the foundational values that shaped our country. Governor Barbour expressed to the students that Christians today should be involved in the political process.”  

I agree that personal faith shapes our values, however, I am afraid that Governor Barbour’s values are not based in any understanding I have of Christianity.   If they were, then he would see without a doubt that saving lives is more important than tobacco profits.  He would see that supporting a medical system that is able to serve all of Mississippi is of greater value than his loyalty to his former employers, the tobacco industry.  Instead, his values and his threat if played out may result, as JFP reports, in “medical facilities to… cut staff, raise fees or even close doors in some cases” at a time when the economy continues to reel under the threat of recession with skyrocketing gas and food prices, unprecedented mortgage foreclosures, and unemployment rates at 5.9 %  making Mississippi’s rates one of the five highest in the country.  If he makes good on his threat, then a medical system already struggling to close the gap in services will only increase the already deepening medical hardships the underserved and under insured face.  Jesus said, one cannot serve God and mammon (money).  It seems by Governor Barbour’s behaviors that his values are based on personal monetary gain.  Something we saw in the aftermath of Katrina when his family received multi-million dollar contracts in the clean up efforts.

Ironically, Barbour is an ordained Deacon in his Yazoo City Presbyterian Church.  I say ironically, because having been ordained a Deacon in the Presbyterian Church myself, I know the role of Deacon in the Presbyterian denomination is to assist in the pastoral needs of the church, tend to the sick, and aid the impoverished.   A role he obviously feels he can sloth off as Governor.  Sorry, Governor, ordination is life long and a calling from the most high; it is to be integrated into one’s entire life and cannot be taken off like a winter coat when it gets too hot to wear.  

It seems to me that Governor Barbour had a choice when he became governor, to use his ordination as Deacon and the life long calling that ordination demands to help shape his policies to create a more compassionate, a more just Mississippi for all its citizens OR to use  his connections as former tobacco lobbyist to promote and protect an industry whose product has resulted in the loss of millions of lives and economic hardship on the survivors.   The Governor still has a chance to choose according to “[his] personal faith values.”  Choose wisely. 

Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond

 

Published in: on June 12, 2008 at 8:40 pm  Comments Off on Governor Barbour serving as tobacco lobbyist not as Governor  
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Banners Across America

I am very proud of Mississippi Unitarian Universalist Congregations.  While we were the last state to give representation to this important issue, 5/6 Unitarian Universalist congregations in the state signed on to participate in National Religious Coalition Against Torture’s (NCRAT) observance of this critical issue by displaying banners.  This is the highest percentage of UU congregations in any one state to participate.  In fact, to date MS is the only state to have five Unitarian Universalist congregations participating.  California comes in second with four Unitarian Universalist congregations participating.  To see the banner at the Hattiesburg Unitarian Universalist Fellowship click here. (I wasn’t able to post the picture directly.  I will add more pictures as they become available.)

 Here is what NCRAT released to the press about this month long event:
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) launched its Banners Across America initiative in a telephone press conference describing the nationwide anti-torture banner campaign taking place during the month of June. Hundreds of congregations across the United States have joined this campaign in an effort to mobilize the American faith community in opposition to U.S.-sponsored torture. The “Banners Across America” initiative, organized by NRCAT, is timed to allow local congregations to participate in a nationwide, interfaith public witness during Torture Awareness Month.

To date, 298 congregations, located in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, are participating in this effort by displaying anti-torture banners during the month of June. Most of the large, vinyl banners are black-and-white and have anti-torture messages: “Torture is Wrong” and “Torture is a Moral Issue.”

Rev. Richard Killmer, NRCAT’s Executive Director, opened the press conference. “We are thrilled that almost 300 congregations have made a significant and courageous witness in their community by displaying an anti-torture banner on the exterior of their building. In a public way these congregations are stating clearly that torture is always wrong – without any exceptions.  These powerful witnesses may hasten the day when we see the end of U.S.-sponsored torture,” he said.

Linda Gustitus, NRCAT’s President highlighted the following organizational goals:

**Stop the use of torture techniques by the CIA
**Close secret prisons
**Stop rendition for torture
**Hold our government accountable for what we have done. NRCAT has called for a Select Committee of Congress to investigate all aspects of U.S. sponsored torture post 9/11.

“Torture is not a political issue,” emphasized Ms. Gustitus. “Whether you’re for or against torture shouldn’t depend upon whether you’re for or against the President, the war or a particular party. Torture is a moral issue. It is immoral to use torture, and it is immoral to condone it — affirmatively or silently. Torture destroys the very soul of our nation and it must be stopped.”  

Rev. Chris Grapentine, Pastor of Northside Community Church in Ann Arbor, MI, described the successful efforts in that city to engage a diverse group of congregations in this public witness. The 13 participating groups include churches of several denominations, a Jewish group, and a Buddhist temple.

“The banner will show our neighbors that we stand against the inhumane treatment of all people, even our enemies, because Jesus calls us to love our enemies,” said Rev, Grapentine, whose congregation is an American Baptist Church.

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of Rabbis for Human Rights noted that 27 Jewish congregations across the country are participating in the banner project, displaying a special banner that features the message “Honor the Image of God: Stop Torture Now.”

“The strong response of the Jewish community to the banner project demonstrates that we believe that stopping torture is a Jewish religious imperative,” stated Rabbi Kahn-Troster. “As a community who has historically been a victim of torture and oppression, we are compelled by our values to identify with the plight of the stranger and work to ensure k’vod habriot, the dignity of every human being. Torture denies that every person is created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God. The synagogues hanging the banner are sending a message to our government that Jews regard torture as an affront to their Jewish values.”

Unitarian Universalists seek to uphold their first two principles that all people are endowed with inherent worth and dignity and the desire to seek justice, equity, and compassion within all human relations.   Torture dehumanizes everyone involved, not just the recipient but also the deliverer of the torture. The deliverer of torture is spiritually wounded by the act to  an equally extreme degree.  It is easy to identify the wounds- physically, emotionally, psychically, and spiritually to the tortured. The trauma caused to the deliverer of the torture is equally extreme because it is hidden in a ruse of being sanctioned by authorities; by being wrapped in patriotism. One cannot in clear conscience claim to be a person of faith and honor their spirituality and allow / observe / participate in torture; to do so is to deny one’s spiritual foundation and humanity. 

I close with this quote:
“A time comes when silence is betrayal. People do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness so close around us. We are called upon to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers and sisters. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond
 

William T. Johnson 1809-1851

I have been taking some vacation time and exploring Mississippi.  My journeys took me to Natchez, MS on the Mississippi River.  I was keen in visiting the William T. Johnson home on State Street because he is an interesting person of history.  Mr. Johnson was born into slavery in 1809.  He was freed by Captain William Johnson, presumably his white father in 1820, when he was eleven by petition to the state.  The petition* included this quote justifying emanicipating a child, “that disposition of this property [would be] most agreeable to his feelings and consonant to humanity… [giving] liberty to a human which all are entitled as a birthright, and extend the hand of humanity to a rational creature.”  

Mr. Johnson learned the trade of being a barber and soon had three barber shops in Natchez.  He was held in high esteem by the citizenry of the city and became quite wealthy.  But this is not the reason, Mr. Johnson is to be remembered.  He is to be remembered because he kept a diary for 16 years that reveals what life was like for the freed people of color living in Mississippi in the first half of the 19th century.  Natchez had the largest community of freed people of color in Mississippi at that time.  He also owned 15 slaves when he died.   This adds curiousity to his life as well.   Why would a former slave own slaves?  Part of the answer thats been suggested might be in the desire to elevate oneself in a society that measures success by slave ownership. 

His diary does not reveal his personal opinions about slavery.  To talk or to write openly about the abolition movement in the north or to express an opinion about slavery as a person of color was a very dangerous act.  Mr. Johnson must have known this.  The closest he comes to revealing an opinion is his writing about what he calls “the inquisition” where freed people of color were rounded up for working with abolitionists.   He writes that some of the people rounded up proved to be of Indian decent and were cleared and released.  A law was passed requiring all free people of color to leave Mississippi unless a petition was made on their behalf by respectable white freeholders.   Mr. Johnson had that respect from the white community and was allowed to remain.

Mr. Johnson was killed over a dispute of land boundaries by a Baylor Winn  on June 16, 1851.  Mr. Johnson was shot on his way home with free black apprentice Edward Hoggart,  his son William and a slave.  His dying words named Mr. Winn as the person who shot him.   The community of Natchez was in such an uproar over the murder of Mr. Johnson that Winn’s trial had to be in a neighboring county.   The issue at stake however, was not Winn’s innocence or guilt but rather on Winn’s ethnic background.   Everyone in Natchez knew that Winn was of African decent.  But Winn successfully convinced the court that his ancestry was not interracial betwen white and black but rather Native American and therefore was White.  Mississippi law stated that black witnesses could not testify against a White man.  Winn was therefore never convicted and allowed to walk free.  However, several years later, it was proved by the Virginia census records where Winn’s family originated, that his ancestry did indeed include African lineage.  Mississippi did not acknowledge the documentation. 

Mr. Johnson’s diary has been published  and is available.  His daughter’s diary has also been published and gives a picture of Mississippi after the civil war.  These are important documents that capture a slice of what life was like for free people of color in the antebellum south.   Do go and visit his homestead and learn more about our history from a potentially different perspective.   Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond

* Information taken from “Between Two Worlds: The Life of Free Black Diarist William T. Johnson”  published by the Natchez National Historic Park.

Published in: on June 7, 2008 at 4:46 am  Comments Off on William T. Johnson 1809-1851  
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A Unitarian Universalist Affirmation

AAron Sawyer, founder of DiscoverUU, a web based blog aggregate, has written a wonderful affirmation that deserves to be passed around…  You can read it at this link which will send you to his blog and to links to other UU’s blogging and you can read it here.

UU AFFIRMATION

I believe in my right to search for the good, to choose it for myself, and hold it in my heart.

I affirm this right in you as well.

Together we share in the joy of community, the power of reverence, and the challenge of freedom.

This is the promise of my heart extended to you, as we walk on separate paths, together.

Blessings,

Published in: on June 6, 2008 at 12:09 am  Comments Off on A Unitarian Universalist Affirmation  

Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge

I have been on vacation and decided to do some day trips to explore Mississippi a bit more.  Yesterday I went to the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge in Brooksville, MS.  I drove up from Ellisville taking the scenic route of route 29 to 15 to 25.  This enabled me to see the rural landscape of MS which was just beautiful with rolling hills, fields, and pine forests.  What I was not anticipating was the gravel roads leading into the refuge from 25.  It did however, increase my anticipation of a wonderful early afternoon in nature. 

I walked the Scattertown trail, a 1.75 mile roundtrip trail in the woods.  The wonders of this trail that I saw included swallowtail and mourning cloak butterflies and deer.  black swallowtail butterflyThose of you who know me, have heard me speak of my childhood rampages through the woods of my grandparents property, where my grandmother introduced me to the wonders of the flora and fauna that grew there.  So to walk through these woods yesterday brought back memories of these walks with my grandmother pointing out to me the great diversity of life that exists around us.

From here I drove to the visitors center and looked over Bluff Lake.  This man-made lake has taken on a beauty that no person could have foreseen.  There are cypress and water-lilies growing with heron, cattle egrets, white wood storks and other birds gracing the lakes edge. 

male red-cockaded woodpeckerI walked the woodpeckers trail in the hopes of catching sight of the now rare red-cockaded woodpecker.  It was the wrong time of day as they tend to be seen at sunrise or sunset when they come out of their nesting spots.  I did see the entrances to their nests in the pines but they are way smarter than I for resting during the hottest time of day. 

There were more trails that I hope one day to explore.  If you decide to go and explore our interconnectness with the web of all life, do perform a body check afterwards as ticks are also plentiful.  I found three of the little buggers on me, two of which had begun to burrow their heads into me so I am now on doxycycline as a preventive measure.  But don’t let ticks deter you from this beauty there is much to appreciate. 

Here is a short video on this wonderful national treasure

BLessings,