Bless the Animals

“Bless the Animals” service was presented by Rev. Fred L Hammond to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, Alabama on 18 July 2010  ©

Chalice Lighting written by Rev. Fred L Hammond: In the beginning there was a great fire that exploded in the heavens. From this fire all the universe was born; including the sun, the moon, and the earth.  And as the fire of the earth cooled, there came forth all sorts of life:  plants, birds, fish, and all sorts of animals.  Among them were dogs, cats, horses, and even people arose from the ashes of that great heavenly fire of long ago. We light this chalice this morning in honor of that great fire which declares us all part of the one.

Opening Words Lion of Judah written by Rev. Fred L Hammond

She sits on her haunches

surveying her terrain

The phoebe to her left

The phoebe to her right

The hawk that flies above

The rabbit that crosses

unaware.

She sees all

She is aware of all

Even me on the bench

Watching her watching me

****

“Bless the Animals”

Watching the bits and pieces of news regarding the impact of the oil blowout in the gulf has made me realize how very fragile and at the same time how very resilient life is on planet Earth.  The horrifying photos of oil drenched sea turtles, pelicans, gulls, and beaches have broken the hearts of many Americans and the international community as well.

As much as our sophisticated minds would like to separate us from this fact, we are very much connected to all of life that is found on this planet we call home.  In many ways we humans are very much like the invasive species that uproots, squeezes out the native species that lived in a specific region.  We are like the kudzu that has intertwined itself around and in between the natural landscape of trees and shrubs.  We are like the rabbit in Australia, with no known natural predator, reproducing at uncontrolled rates and destroying the resources for the native species of that sub-continent.

The lesson of the sea otter and its relationship with the sea urchin and the kelp forest is a relatively new awareness for humanity. However, we have not fully integrated it or to use a word borrowed from science fiction, we have not fully grokked this lesson into our way of being.  Grok is from Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land and a quote from the novel defines the word:  “Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.”

Humanity needs to grok its experience with the rest of the world’s creatures and vegetation, instead of seeing itself as separate from it.  We are not separate from nature; we are one and the same with nature. Just as birds build nests from the materials of nature, we too have built cities from the materials of nature.  The difference is that our nests impact and change forever the environment in which they are made.

The lack of awareness of the lesson of the sea otter has never been more vivid than in the Gulf of Mexico these past three months. Our disappearance as a species on this planet might not happen through a nuclear winter or through climate change, but rather through our arrogance to continue to believe that we can do whatever we want to the environment and suffer no impact from that damage.  In our arrogance we think, if it provides short term benefit then it must be good to do.  Nothing could be further from the truth as there are long term consequences that will impact the survival of humanity.

Our very being on this planet is supported by the myriad of species that live on this planet.  From the smallest microscopic virus and amoeba to the largest animal, the Blue Whale in the ocean, all creatures are linked together.  And the myriad of species of plants also supports life, not only for other plants but also for other creatures.  The Rain Forests of the Amazon have developed a complex interweaving of support for life there.  There are plants, insects, animals we have not even yet discovered because their homes are located in the high canopy of these trees.

And like the tapestry woven by the sea otter, kelp, and sea urchin, if we pull to remove one these threads, the whole of the tapestry will come undone.  And not only the tapestry but everything that uses the tapestry for its own support and survival will vanish.

This tapestry of life is interwoven into sustaining the life of this one planet.  We do not yet know fully what the long term impact of the oil blowout in the gulf will be.  We have speculations and those are not favorable.  Areas that teemed with shrimp, fish, dolphins, and whales may indeed become dead zones where nothing can live.  Will the disappearance of these areas result in the loss of the seabirds and sea turtles that rely on them for food?  Will the disappearance of sea birds result in the loss of mammals and reptiles who feed on their nesting sites?  The links in the chain may have been broken beyond repair in the gulf.  From today’s perspective we do not know what will be the full cost of life lost in the gulf.

So it becomes an important act for us to acknowledge the animals in our lives.  To honor the gifts they offer us.  From the songbirds that sing outside our windows regardless of the weather to the comfort we receive from our dogs and cats.  We are more connected to the life on this planet than we may consciously acknowledge.

The sea otters taught us that when we are in harmony with our environment, the sea of life is teeming with diversity.  Let us offer our thanks to the animals that help sustain the harmony of this planet.  Let us learn well the lessons that animals teach us, those animals we share our homes with and those who live afar.

I have spoken previously that to bless another is not simply to say a few words but rather it is an act of affirmation towards the betterment of the other. To bless another means to lift up and honor the value and worth of the other in such a way that all of our actions are towards insuring justice for the other. Therefore to bless the animals means to live life with integrity for all of our neighbors on this planet.  It means to make decisions with an awareness of how those decisions might impact the environment around us—not just in the short term during our life time but the long term. Our blessing the animals and the earth in which we all live is to make those decisions with the impact on the lives of those living seven generations from now in full awareness.

There is an old Mohawk a.k.a. Onkwehonwe legend that talks about a prophecy of the seventh generation. “According to the prophecy, after seven generations of living in close contact with the Europeans, the Onkwehonwe would see the day when the elm trees would die. The prophecy said that animals would be born strange and deformed, their limbs twisted out of shape. Huge stone monsters would tear open the face of the earth. The rivers would burn aflame. The air would burn the eyes of man. According to the prophecy of the Seventh Generation the Onkwehonwe would see the day when birds would fall from the sky, the fish would die in the water, and man would grow ashamed of the way that he had treated his mother and provider, the Earth.[1]”  The Onkwehonwe believe we are that seventh generation.  May we learn to bless the animals and the earth with our actions so seven generations from now; life on this planet will once again be whole and in harmony.  Blessed Be.

Extinguishing chalice words by Rev. Fred L Hammond: This chalice flame is extinguished but the light of love and compassion for all beings is just beginning to burn brighter within our hearts.


[1] As found at http://www.indianlegend.com/mohawk/mohawk_001.htm

Advertisements

MPB and Fresh Air Closure

I did not realize my blog with fewer than 50 readers a day would suddenly go viral on this story with over 3900 hits in one day–and the day is not over.  Nor did I realize that Rachel Maddow would pick up on this story.  I speculated on what possibly could have been “recurring inappropriate content”  as MPB Director Kevin Farrell wrote in an email to a listener as the explanation for dropping the popular show.  I looked at one weeks worth of programs, reviews, political commentary because if this was indeed a recurring event than it would have to be,  well–recurring.

I raised the question of positive images of gays and lesbians as the recurring theme in that weeks show as a possible suspect.  Here in the south, homosexuality is still very much an inappropriate topic.  Especially when it comes to gay rights.  I asked the question was this the recurring theme that was deemed inappropriate?

I asked this question because homophobia comes in all shapes and sizes.  Some of it can be internalized and hidden from view and therefore denied. It is insidious in our society, tucked here and there allowing institutionalized policies to rationalize homophobia  as being something else entirely.  I have never heard anything on Fresh Air that I thought as inappropriate content, let alone recurring.  But maybe because as a gay man, I long for positive gay messages on our airways that when ever I hear them, I leap for joy.

One of the comments that I received stated “It was dropped because someone called the IHL building and was placed on hold. the hold music is MPN/NPR and (they claim) Gross was talking about sex in an interview. So, someone who doesn’t even listen to NPR got it pulled off the air.” I held off on publishing this comment because I wanted to verify its information in some manner.  The verification came earlier today via email, the source was an insider at MPB.  And it was  confirmed by another edition of the Rachel Maddow Show.

But this is not a topic that Terry Gross has on a recurring basis. So that leads me to continue to wonder what else is considered “recurring inappropriate content?”

I received a comment from Unity Mississippi stating  my post has damaged both the image of Mississippi and MPB where many are allies to the cause of gay rights.

I do not regret in the least of my speaking out and raising the question.  In a state where homophobia and sex-phobia run hand in hand enabling high rates of sexual transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, the question needed to be raised.   Homophobia is a powerful oppressor which debilitates peoples lives.  To allow one caller, obviously not comfortable with their own sexuality–straight, gay or bi– who  does not even listen to NPR is a sure indication of how much power is given to those who are fearful of the other.

Homophobia comes in all shapes and sizes and if those who claim to be allies of the GLBT community cave in to the demands  of one caller, then I suspect that internalized homophobia  or in this case sex-phobia is also at work.  I can not and will not allow my life to be shaped by homophobia in any form, from any source, from my gay friends who claim I have damaged the image of Mississippi ( by reinforcing stereotypes)  and gay friendly MPB to those who stridently and publicly work  against my procuring civil rights. Nor will I bend towards the tugs of homophobia that society has still lodged within my own heart.

My fervent hope is that after the Board at MPB meets today that they will  reconsider their positions and return to the airways of Mississippi one of the best shows on NPR, Fresh Air with Host Terry Gross.  That they will not allow themselves to be held hostage by one caller or many callers from offering the best in programming that is available.  Shows like Fresh Air offer a life line in Mississippi for so many people who want to be exposed to the vast market place of ideas.  It does so respecting the inherent worth and dignity of the person being interviewed. The program shows respect of others regardless of their life stories and that is so needed today.

Blessings,

Mississippi Public Broadcast drops “inappropriate” Fresh Airi

Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB) dropped the very popular Fresh Air hosted by Terri Gross.  The drop came at Christmas time in 2009.  It then returned for a brief period and now is again off the MPB’s airways.   An email dated July 12 2010 from Kevin Farrell, director of MPB radio, states “MPB no longer airs this program [Fresh Air]  due to recurring inappropriate content.”

Just what was this inappropriate content?  Mr. Farrell did not elaborate.   A look at the programs that aired recently on Fresh Air  reveals these interviews:  July 13th, “A Psychiatrist’s Prescription for his Profession; ”  July 12th, “Missing ‘Priceless’ Artwork? Call Robert Wittman; ”  July 9th, “Colin Firth: A Leading Man in ‘A Single Man’; ” and July 8th, “Generating Changes In The Electrical Power Grid.”  Anything inappropriate in these stories?

Recent reviews included these: July 13th, “Robert Randolph: A Gospel Guitarist’s Secular ‘Road’;” July 12th, “A Star Named Marilyn (But Not The One You Think; ” and July 9th, “Cholodenko’s ‘Kids’ Flick: More Than Just All Right.”  Anything that stands out as recurring and inappropriate here?

Recent political topics included “CPAC, The Tea Party And The Remaking Of The Right,” “Connecting The Dots Between PhRMA And Congress,” and “‘Clinton Vs. Starr’: A ‘Definitive’ Account.” Anything inappropriate that the average American could not handle in these topics?

Now what could possibly be inappropriate about the content of these shows?  Couldn’t possibly be the interview with Colin Firth regarding his role in “A Single Man.”  He plays the part of a gay man grieving the loss of his partner.  The story line of grieving the death of a loved one is as old as the story of David and Jonathan in First Samuel of the Hebrew Scriptures.   And it certainly could not be the movie review of Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are Alright.”  That story line of parents dealing with their rebellious teens goes all the way back to Adam and Eve.  Oh wait, the parents are both lesbians.   Nah, it couldn’t be that.

Unless what is inappropriate is that these story lines reveal homosexuals as being just as affected by universal themes as everyone else. Now that we can’t have because that would mean gays, lesbians, bi’s, and transgender folks live just as mundane a life as everyone else.  It would mean that they are not the evil incarnate bent on destroying the American dream, baseball and apple pie, too. They are just trying to reach the American dream like everyone else.  Now that is inappropriate!!!

One of the beauties of public radio is that it will air shows that commercial radio is too scared to air.  It will offer a point of view that challenges us to think about life in new and unique ways.  Thinking is something that Americans seem afraid to do these days.  Based on the rise of the Tea Party with its hate and fear based jargon and the slanderous distortions coming from Fox News, people in America have forgotten how to think for themselves and seem willing to surrender their minds to the emotion of fear.

MPB seems to be following suit in reducing its programming to the amusement and entertainment shows like “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” and “Only a Game. ”  Not that there is anything wrong with these fine shows but public radio is meant to be something more than just idle amusement.  It is supposed to be an alternative to network radio and television not more of the same.  And in Mississippi where a girl cannot even take her girlfriend to a school prom because it might be distracting, there is a definite need for a forum where an alternative to homophobia can be heard.

No, this certainly cannot be the inappropriate content that Mr. Farrell is referring to because free speech is a constitutional right of the first amendment.  He clearly knows that to censor any programming on public radio simply because it does not match someone’s political or religious views is against the first amendment.  Right Mr. Farrell?

Blessings,

Independence Day

“Independence Day” was delivered on 4 July 2010 © by Rev. Fred L Hammond to the congregation of Our Home Universalist Church, Ellisville, MS

I wonder if the founding parents of our nation 234 years ago were to visit today, would they be pleased with what they have wrought into being or dismayed.   It has often been a spurious argument to attempt to state the intentions of the founders of this nation regarding this or that argument.  Yet, we try to do so regardless.

And while the temptation to speak as to the intentions of our founders is fraught with false renderings, incomplete records, and gaps in understanding, I will endeavor to attempt to sift through the chaff of time to reveal the kernels of truth that have endured as central to our democracy and American dream.

Three of our most sacred national documents reveal a mind-set of the responsibility of government that all people should enjoy.  The Declaration of Independence from Great Britain decreed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.[1]

The preamble to our Constitution states, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.[2]

And during the most trying of time in our union, the Gettysburg Address declares “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.[3]

I wonder if our forebears who wrote these words would recognize our government today as seeking to fulfill these ideals or would they weep and gnash their teeth in despair?  I fear the latter yet I am filled with hope.

These words from these sacred texts of our government have been subjected to a wide variance of interpretation.  On the extreme right we have a libertarian interpretation where the basics of our constitution would be fulfilled with the bare minimal government action.  General Welfare would only be defined as keeping our borders safe from invasion and therefore provisions for social security, Medicaid, welfare, aid in times of disaster and the controversial and still yet to be realized universal healthcare is not part of this definition. The libertarian viewpoint would be that the people out of their charitable and religious convictions would themselves provide these services either through their religious affiliation or through the founding of non-profit entities which would also be funded by people.  What wasn’t provided through these means would then be sought through private enterprise at a cost to those who could afford it.

We have examples of these already throughout our nation.  We have non-profit and for-profit hospitals and clinics.  We have public and private education from pre-school through the post-doctorate level. We have non-profit and for-profit social services for the mentally and physically challenged.

On the left extreme we have a socialist interpretation where the government is the provider of the common good.  We have examples of these as well in our nation.  We have social security and Medicare for our retired seniors.  We have railroads and interstate highways that are maintained by the government for ease in transportation. We have Welfare assistance for the disabled.  We have state police to protect and serve.  We have firefighters and public libraries. Our public education ensures a standard of education for all citizens.

There is a wide spectrum that falls in between these two poles of political thought and a few more poles from different angles criss-crossing these poles including economic overlays of how business is conducted and what roles government has in regulating business enterprises.  How does the government “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” in regards to economic theories of capitalism and free market enterprises versus nationalized industries?   Who is included in these “blessings of liberty” when corporation business practices are involved?

When corporations are able to influence elections with unrestrained financial contributions who benefits from such a practice?  When banks are given free reign to extort funds from the average consumer, knowing that consumer does not have the ability to pay the mortgage, how does this promote the blessings of liberty?  When stock markets are given carte blanche to gamble their clients finances through hedge funds and default credit swaps and then when it all collapses to bail the markets with taxpayers funds, how is this promoting the general welfare of a nation?  Independence is a rare commodity in today’s corporate economic climate.

It is the question of how a country can fulfill the pledge of the declaration of Independence, the preamble of the constitution and a government by, of, and for the people that continue to be at the heart of the debate that is raging in our nation today.  These questions of independence were never quite answered by our founders.   It is a question that needs to be answered by every generation anew.  How to fulfill this ideal is our most pressing question for this generation.

Into this mix comes the resurgence of dogmatism, specifically religious dogmatism but there is a secular dogmatism as well that is on the rise.   In the last few years, people have been asking what role should government have in allowing people to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Does government have a vested interest in the definition of marriage?  This long and honored institution certainly falls into the pursuit of happiness that our founding documents state is an unalienable right granted to us not by governments but by the spirit of life itself.  This question is being debated currently in the courts in California where Prop 8 is being contested as being unconstitutional in banning same sex marriage. If the answer is yes, does government have the right to limit its definition to a particular religion’s definition placing preference above other religions’ definition of marriage, such as Unitarian Universalist’s definition of marriage?  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

I came across a response on Facebook to a stranger who took exception of a photograph of a father and son who had temporarily tattooed “No H8” on their faces.  The stranger wrote:  “How sad you have your child pose for something he has no idea what it stands for, this country is a disgrace if you think that same sex marriage is normal you need to seek the truth and the truth will set you free.”  The person in the spirit of independence answered with this response:

“First, as responsible parents, we have an obligation to guide our children down a moral path that we feel is best for them until they reach a level of maturity to choose such a path for themselves. For example, I would guess that you made your children attend church services before they truly understood what Christianity stood for, before they understood that there are hundreds of other religious beliefs to choose from or that there is a mountain of scientific evidence that stands in opposition to religious belief altogether.

“Further, wouldn’t you agree we can’t give our children complete free will to choose what they wish to do? My son doesn’t understand the importance of eating his vegetables, but I make him do it anyway.

“These arguments aside, however, the truth is that my son DOES understand what this picture stands for. Nearly all children from an incredibly early age understand the importance of fairness, that people should be treated equally. What’s unfortunate is that, for most, these intrinsic values are eventually torn away and replaced by religious indoctrination. [4]

To raise our children in the spirit of independence is to assist them in being able to live in a world of diversity. If each person has the right to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then it is vital that we teach our children tolerance and acceptance of differences.  It is important that they are equipped with being able to answer the question posed by our founding parents for their generation.

It is clear that our founders did not even consider the possibility of same sex marriage in the late 18th century. But they did consider the problems of one religion having authority over another.  Further they saw the problems of government enforcing a particular religious doctrine or creed onto a populous that is diverse in religious expression.  To do so increases the possibility of oppression and restricting the ability of people to choose their own path towards life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The states are claiming state rights in the decision of same sex marriage but this argument did not hold when interracial marriage was debated in the late 1960’s.  At some point in the not so distant future, state rights in defining marriage according to one religious doctrine, regardless if it is the majority doctrine held by people, will not hold either.

Should we allow history and science to be taught that contradicts my religious faith or political beliefs?   Remember I mentioned this polar extreme between libertarianism and socialism that our country operates in politically and religiously.  So we have the Texas state school board insisting that certain scientific facts such as evolution or certain historical debates such as separation of church and state should not be taught.  Why?  Because these topics go against their religious beliefs.

Some fundamentalist Christian groups believe that the ideal government is best achieved when Jesus returns to set up his kingdom on earth.  Religious kingdoms are not democracies but rather theocracies, benevolent ones according to these beliefs but theocracies nonetheless.  The only examples we have of modern day theocracies are oppressive regimes so it is hard to imagine that one led by a fundamentalist Jesus would be any different.  These particular fundamentalist groups want to pave the way for the second coming of their king by creating laws and scenarios that reflect their beliefs.

There is nothing in our constitution that prohibits a state to mandate what is an acceptable educational curriculum. The federal government has stated that government shall make no laws regarding the establishment of a religion or the free exercise of that religion.   And therefore this question of what can or cannot be taught in our schools is left open to interpretation.  However, consider that there is no independence of thought when a particular religion can hold sway over what is taught in a state education system.

Should we allow undocumented immigrants who have children born here to become citizens?   There is proposed legislation in Arizona that would prohibit children born here to undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens.  The so called anchor babies’ legislation is an attempt to prevent their parents from finding a means towards naturalization and citizenship.  This proposal which is gaining momentum not only in Arizona but in Congress violates the 14th amendment of the constitution which states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

Arizona is claiming that they have state rights to create laws to protect their citizens as defined in the Bill of Rights amendment 10.  State rights are an issue that was never fully answered by our founding forebears.  In fact they decidedly side stepped the question in creating the declaration of Independence and in creating the constitution.   The declaration of independence in the initial draft by Thomas Jefferson deplored the existence of slavery supported by King George III. Hypocritical perhaps since Jefferson himself had several slaves but the paragraph was removed in concession to state rights to govern as they saw fit.

State rights were used again in defining slaves owned as 3/5ths of a person in giving representation to congress.  The newly formed congress gave in to the states ability to govern as they deemed fit in order for the more populated white north to retain a majority in the federal government legislative branch.  The question of whether states had the right to oppress others when the newly formed federal government declared equality of all men was again not answered.

To define what state rights means in the bill of rights continued to be argued throughout the 1800’s.  And while some southern historians argue that the civil war was fought over state rights[5], this question was never settled.  The southern states exercised their opposition to ending slavery by seceding from the union, an ultimate test of state sovereignty but the question of state rights was not answered only the question of slavery.

The residual effects of slavery remain as a blood stain on this country 145 years after slavery ended.  Independence as declared in our country’s documents for our citizens of color still eludes them in many ways.  And the unanswered question of state rights is still part of the system that holds them down.

I do not know what the answer will be for our nation in the question of state rights to self-determine their fate.  But if we are to be true to words in our declaration of independence and our preamble to our constitution then the line must be drawn by the federal government in terms of what is permissible and what is not.  In regards to ensuring human rights, this seems to be primarily a function of the federal government when states do not abide to the spirit of our nations most sacred texts.

As Unitarian Universalists, we need to be ready to stand on the side of love in regard to these questions.  If we seek to answer these questions with what is the most loving, what is the most freedom affirming, what is the most liberating action that can be done, then we cannot veer too far off the path of what our founding parents meant when they wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  May we celebrate these values this Independence Day.  Blessed Be.


[1] As found at  http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/freedom/doi/text.html

[2] As found at http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Preamble

[3] As found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_Address

[4] Used by permission of author As found at http://www.facebook.com/miguel.santana?v=wall&story_fbid=135201343170964#!/note.php?note_id=128947497141157&id=100000322926383

[5] I contend that the argument that the Civil War was fought over state rights is an attempt by those who wish to hide the shame of our racist past.  It seems nobler to say our ancestors fought the Civil War for the cause of state sovereignty than to admit our ancestors were racists and wanted to continue the heinous act of slavery.