Forging Destiny

Forging Destiny
16 October 2011 © Rev. Fred L Hammond
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

OPENING WORDS : “The movement of the spirit of god in the hearts of men often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In the moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires.”—Howard Thurman

 
READING FROM On the Waterfront:
Charlie: Look, kid, I – how much you weigh, son? When you weighed one hundred and sixty-eight pounds you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.

Terry: It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.

Charlie: Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.

Terry: You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.

 

The film On the Waterfront is about Terry Malloy, the gifted boxer who coulda been a contender had he followed his heart’s voice instead of that of his brothers is a message of what could happen when you allow someone else to forge your destiny. Now to be clear rarely are destinies created outside the context of other people.

Fulfilling our destiny is not something that is done in a vacuum. It is done in the context of our relationship with others. There are many engagements with our destiny that would be essentially impossible if it were not for the positive relationship with at least one other person. An example of this is Helen Keller. At a young age before she fully began to talk, she suffered the ill effects of scarlet fever that left her deaf and blind. Her family and physicians thought she was also dumb as a result of this illness. The family’s hope was for Helen to be well behaved and so they brought in Anne Sullivan to work with her on her behaviors. Anne Sullivan sensed there was intelligence in Helen’s behaviors and began trying to break through in communication with her. And she did. Helen realized that things have names. Anne Sullivan became a mentor for Helen, teaching her how to communicate with the larger world. Helen eventually went on to be the first deaf blind person to receive a Bachelors degree and to write several books. There is a balance that is needed between the individual and the relationships we are accountable to in this life.

But what happened in Terry Malloy’s life is that he lost that balance between what his goals in life were and the goals of his brother. His brother wanted to get rich. His brother wanted to rise in the mob world of power. And Terry Malloy, out of his devotion to his brother agreed that his brother’s happiness, his brother’s dreams, his brother’s life were more important than his own. And when Terry Malloy did that he forfeited his own destiny in the pursuit of fulfilling his brother’s. And as we see in the unfolding story his journey back to forging his own destiny was difficult and painful but one that eventually would be regarded with respect and dignity.

In the first part of this sermon series, I talked about the different aspects of destiny as defined by Rollo May. There was the cosmic aspect of destiny such as birth, death, and acts of god like tornadoes and earthquakes. The genetic aspect of destiny includes the physical characteristics and limitations of our bodies and minds. The cultural aspects of destiny includes whether we were born into a family of wealth or poverty, the location where we spent our childhood, and the time in history in which we live. And there is circumstantial destiny; those events that happen around us that cannot be taken back or redone such as the loss of a sibling or parent at an early age or a nation declaring war or going into economic recession.

So Terry Malloy in our story was born with some athletic talents that enabled him to be a good boxer, potentially a great boxer. This is a genetic aspect of destiny. He was born into a working class family with an older brother who was smart and ambitious at a time when mobs ruled the way things went down. It is a family that taught values of sticking together. This is the cultural aspects of destiny. He becomes involved in the mob that abuses workers with intolerable working conditions and poor wages. Those who speak up about these issues are either replaced or removed by killing them. This is the circumstantial destiny he is surrounded by and he cannot redo what has already happened.

In order for Terry Malloy to redefine himself as a person of integrity and worth, he must choose to engage his destiny. He must begin to self-differentiate himself from his surroundings and relationships and not have his identity be fused with them. Self-differentiation is a term that Murry Bowen, founder of family systems theory, developed to describe the ability of being able to separate out ones emotional and intellectual awareness from that of the family or group. This comes from the person developing and considering thoughtfully their principles and values that they will seek to follow rather than simply adopting the views and values of others. This means when conflicts occur, the person is able to assess the situation from a clear perspective and not clouded with the emotional entanglements such as fears of criticism or rejection. This enables the person to hear the opinions of others, respect them, without feeling the need to either adopt those opinions or try to get others to conform to their opinions and values. Self- differentiation includes both a separation from the emotional entanglements and a connection to the person or group through listening to what is happening.

No one is 100% self-differentiated but it is a goal that individuals and groups can strive towards in forging destinies for themselves and for the groups where they have aligned themselves. This is not easy work. It is not something that happens over night and suddenly a person is self-differentiated. It is a process.

In the movie On the Waterfront self-differentiation resulted in push back from the system. When Terry began to self-differentiate his brother and the mob bosses began to get nervous because Terry was always a submissive person. Terry was the person who wanted above all else to please his brother and that even meant being silent when he witnessed a murder. So Charley, Terry’s brother, tries to get Terry to conform to the mob bosses wishes and desires or risk being killed. Self-differentiation can carry with it risks but in the long run it is a healthier way of being.

The prayer that Alcoholics Anonymous uses is a prayer for self-differentiation. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. It is also a prayer to engage one’s destiny. To have serenity over the things that cannot be changed does not mean surrender or helplessness; it simply means to accept them and then use them as the boundaries to redefine one’s path.

In the story of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Pip meets Miss Haversham. Now Miss Haversham is an aged spinster who continues to wear her wedding dress and has stopped all the clocks in the house at 20 minutes of nine. She was jilted before the wedding and now she waits eternally for her betrothed to come and marry her. Miss Haversham has tried to stop time and has tried to preserve the anticipation of her wedding that will never happen. This is not an act of engaging her destiny of circumstances. She has in the process of trying to control time become bitter and cruel.

Nor is this an act of accepting things that cannot be changed. True, Miss Haversham cannot change the fact that she was jilted by her betrothed but it does her no good to pretend that it is forever 20 minutes of nine, frozen in time. While we might chuckle at Miss Haversham’s absurd and possibly insane behavior, I dare say that this happens more times than not, perhaps not to the same degree of insanity.

Miss Haversham blames the way her life turned out on this man who jilted her decades before. She then allows her life to be defined by this tragedy instead of grieving the loss and then using her wealth and privilege to create a different life for herself. Miss Haversham did not engage in destiny instead she allowed events to define who she is and in the process became less of a person for it. Life is meant to be lived to the fullest potential and we each have a responsibility towards that endeavor.

So let’s bring this idea of forging destiny closer to home. There are many things happening in our little part of the world. We each have our own unique genetic destiny. None of us know when our bodies will give out so our time of active engagement is limited, for some that limitation will be here sooner than later. And that statement has nothing to do with age because we all have known people whose lives came to an end far ahead of season. So there is that part of engaging our destiny.

I have been engaging my genetic destiny by seeing to my health. I am losing weight, I am now walking three miles a day and I am on top of my medical stats of cholesterol, triglycerides, thyroid, and blood pressure. The question still remains to whether I will follow my father’s family or my mother’s in terms of years ahead of me. There is a sense of urgency for me if my father’s genes are dominant. My hope through my health actions is that I will tip the scales towards following my mother’s ancestry. How are you all doing in engaging your genetic destiny?

There is my cultural destiny. I was born in rural New York State to a working class family. The community I lived in was relatively homogenous. Being born white and male gave me privileges that I came to understand early in life through a friendship in junior high school with a person of color. We challenged each other to read about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. And we would discuss these books. Since she moved to the country from Harlem, her experiences were vastly different than mine. This gave me a desire to have different experiences than I could have in this rural community. I engaged my cultural destiny by moving to a city where there was exposure to other cultures. And I took risks to live in parts of the country that I never experienced before away from family and friends. All of this has given me a broader understanding of the human condition. And I continue to engage my cultural destiny by confronting racism and fear of multiculturalism.

Then there is the cultural destiny that results from living in the first quarter of the 21st century in Alabama and America. Some of this is also circumstantial such as the recent laws against immigrants and the banks too big to fail economic crash. How do we engage this destiny?

When I first moved to Mississippi and discussed where to begin addressing social justice issues, the response I received was point your arm in any direction and you will be pointing at an issue that needs addressing. It seems to be true here in Alabama as well. How do we engage this destiny? Can we have a say when history writes the final chapter on this era in American life?

The past two weeks my heart has been heavy as I hear from immigrants the fear they are now living, regardless of their status, with the enactment of portions of this law. Even though additional portions were blocked from enforcement this past week by the 11th circuit appeals court, there still remains much that is heinous. The nullification of contracts that will result in the shutting off of water to suspected undocumented immigrants is a flagrant violation of human rights. Water is essential to life. The potential for a public health crisis looming as families begin living without access to water is enormous.

I have begun exploring what I might possibly do to engage this aspect of our mutual destiny. I explored with the ACLU about the possibility of my standing in as contract holder for families whose water was shut off. This would be an act of civil disobedience. The consequence of this action could result in a Class C felony under HB 56 with fines up to $15,000 and ten years in prison. This new law has not been tested yet in the courts. Am I willing to do this? The idea of sacrificing my career which is what would happen because after ten years in prison, I would no longer be a good candidate for a long term ministry. I am not opposed to prison ministry but I would prefer to do it from this side of the bars. I am not sure that I am as brave as the Berrigan brothers were in the 1960’s and 70’s when they protested the Vietnam war by burning draft cards and then spent six years in prison. But I also do not want to be only an observer of this obscenity occurring in our state.

I recognize that any act of civil disobedience that I might engage in Alabama needs to be done in relationship with you as the congregation I serve. Any action that I take will impact this congregation and if I continue to pursue this path of engagement, that day will come when I will choose to be arrested in civil disobedience. For me, civil disobedience has to be more than just blocking traffic. It has to be geared towards either breaking the law itself or preventing the law from being enforced in some manner, other wise the point is somehow lost to the masses. I am telling you this because this is where my mind is these days. The pain and suffering this law is causing our neighbors is real and unjust. This law is not about their entry into this country with out papers. This is about how we as a nation have time and time again treated immigrants as less than human. Every immigrant group that has come to this country has been vilified by the dominant culture. And our despicable treatment of people from Mexico and further south is not a new phenomenon; it is over 200 years old. It is time we put aside our hatred and bigotry once and for all.

How do we engage this destiny in a manner that reflects our Unitarian Universalist values and principles? How do we forge a destiny that is more representative of a just and noble nation?

I also recognize that my engaging my destiny may not be the same as your engagement with yours or even the congregation’s. We have members here who are engaging their circumstantial destiny in ways that is every bit as important to repealing HB 56 or any other unjust law in our society. The reason why it is important is because in their doing so they are finding ways to be the most alive they can be.

In addition to the personal engagements to forge our destiny there are the engagements that are needed in order to forge our destiny forward as a congregation. And just as it is important for individual self-differentiation in engaging personal destinies there is the need for self-differentiation within the congregational setting as well. Leaders need to be self-differentiated because there are many opinions of what we should or should not be doing for our congregation. We need to be able to hear the words, hear the anxiety, without becoming anxious ourselves. Congregations are not about any one person, they are about the health of the group. How we handle conflict is important to this process.

As a congregation we have circumstantial events that we need to engage.. We as a congregation can also choose to allow our ship to drift on the sea of destiny or we can engage with our ship and determine its course. The choice is ours to make. We have some challenges that we need to engage in soon if we do not like the direction in which we are drifting. We currently have no director of religious education. We currently only have a half time minister. This is a down ward drift from last year. We currently have no one to chair our stewardship campaign for the second year in a row. What will be the result of our stewardship this next year if we have no one to help direct this particular aspect of our boat? It will do us no good to bemoan our misfortunes. It will do us no good to bemoan the lack of volunteers. These bemoaning behaviors only keep us drifting away from our goal instead of moving towards it.

We have the people here to do what needs to be done. If you have not done anything recently beyond attending Sunday morning, this is your invitation to get involved to help forge our future.

It will take all of us looking out for each other to steer this boat into the future we want. All of us together to create the destiny we desire. Our congregation can be a contender in making a difference in the lives of our larger community. May it be so and blessed be.

CLOSING WORDS: “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”—Howard Thurman

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A Sense of Destiny

A Sense of Destiny
Rev. Fred L Hammond
2 October 2011 ©
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

[This sermon is part one of a two part series on destiny.]

There are age old questions that humanity asks and one of them is ‘do we have a destiny to fulfill?  Is there something written in the stars that determines my fate?’  In every culture there is a methodology for telling the future.  Whether it is astrology, runes, I Ching, tea leaves, palm reading, or tarot cards; humanity in every culture attempted a variety of ways to discover its fate. And even if we do not use such external means to learn what lies ahead for us, we will do other things to help steer the course of this ship we call life.

These other things might be manipulating others, saving money for retirement, developing elaborate plans in the attempt of placing controls and securities on what our future may be. But even all of these strategies sometimes do not bring the success or the life that we desire so we are left with an even more crucial and perhaps more basic question:  ‘Does my life have a purpose that I am to fulfill?’

There is in Christian theology, a train of thought that God is outside of history and time. So all of history past, present, and future is moving towards the culmination of events as described in the Book of Revelation as the end of time where good and evil actions of souls will be judged either for heaven or hell.  So the purpose of humanity according to this theology is to move history towards judgment day.

This is the logic behind those who say we do not need to have environmental protections because to do so would thwart the culmination of God ordained events, the end of history. Or the rationale behind continued unrest in the Middle East because this is the place where the last battle will be fought before the second coming of Christ. It is certainly the logic behind the Dominionists who seek to create an American theocracy.  So one’s destiny, according to this theological discourse is to further the will of God towards the culmination of time. And when I say the will of God, I am referring to groups of people’s belief of what that will of God might be, not that anyone has the franchise on knowing such information.  Although there are many who claim to know.

Even if one does not subscribe to this particular theology, the question remains, is there a destiny, some purpose to my existence, some role that I am to play out that I am to fulfill? Is there a way for me to know what that role is?  Do I have any say at all in determining that role?  Is there a sense of Destiny that each of us have?

Rollo May, existentialist writer of the 20th century, would say yes. But he also ties destiny with freedom and this I believe is a crucial point.  He writes, “The freedom of each of us is in proportion to the degree with which we confront and live in relation to our destiny[i]” So what is destiny?

May defines “destiny as the patterns of limits and talents that constitute the givens in life.” There are four aspects of destiny that we need to consider in these patterns. We have the cosmic level of destiny, birth and death.  These are two events that we have relatively little choice over.  We had no say in our birth and we all will die.  We might be able to have a say as to when we give birth to another or we might be able to postpone death by taking care of our health or even invite death through suicide but it is the destiny of each to die.

In this category are also the so-called acts of god; tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and the like.  We might choose to flee a hurricane or decide to take our chances in the storm but these events occur with no consideration of us. The positive side of this includes the beauty of a sunset, the rolling waves of the ocean on a silky sand beach, the breeze on a hot summer afternoon, a walk along a wooded path on a fall day.

Genetics play a role in our destiny.  We have physical characteristics that we were given in our formation in the womb even if those characteristics were falsely assigned like being born female but embodying male chromosomes.  What race we are born into, what color eyes were we given are part of this category. And May places our gifts and talents into this category as givens.

Cultural aspects play a role in determining destiny.  What family we are born into; wealthy or poverty stricken. We had no say in choosing our family or what country or in what part of the country we were born. And we did not pick the period of history in which we live.  Our lives would be vastly different if this was Alabama in the early 18th century or mid 19th century or even the mid-20th century.

And the final category that May defines is circumstantial destiny. These are events that happen in the world that we cannot reverse, avoid, ignore, or even ask for a do over.  Events like 9/11, the invasion of Iraq or the collapse of financial institutions are events that have impact on our lives circumstantially and alter our world view. We may have little to no involvement in those events but they have changed the circumstances of our lives. We only have to think about airport security to see an example of how life has changed post 9/11.

May places all of these forms of destiny on a spectrum with the extreme left hand position as being those events that humanity has no control over such as fate, determinism. In the middle he places the unconscious function of the human mind; partly determined, partly influenced by human behavior.  Nearer to the right hand, he places cultural aspects because while we cannot control the culture we were born into there is freedom in how we engage that culture. And in the extreme right position he would place talents and gifts because while these are given to us, we have considerable freedom in pursuing or not pursuing the development of these talents.

This definition of destiny is very different than the theological statement that destiny is somehow an expression towards fulfilling God’s ultimate end point of a judgment day.

It is directly tied into our concept of freedom.  Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man but if all you knew about him was the books that he wrote, you would have no idea that he suffers from Lou Gehrings disease, a debilitating condition that slowly over time removes all ability for movement.  His destiny, perhaps genetic disposition, was this disease but he decided to engage the disability in a manner that enabled him to continue using his mind in extremely creative and liberating ways.  All of our lives are richer for his engaging with the limitations of his body.

May describes the freedom this way: “Freedom is honed in the struggle with destiny.  The freedom that develops in our confronting our destiny produces the richness, the endless variety, the capacity to endure, the ecstasy, the imagination, and other capacities that characterize the world and ourselves as conscious creatures, free but destined, moving in it.  In this sense destiny is personal.”

There is the story of Esther in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Born of lowly birth to a Jewish family, there was not much promise for her status in life.  She did have one thing in her favor, she was beautiful.  The King becomes enamored by her and marries her.  But there is also an advisor to the King who has a grudge against the Jews and plots with the King to have them killed.  Esther feels distressed but also helpless in this situation, since she is not the esteemed first wife of the King.  But her uncle, Mordecai says to her, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?[ii]

For such a time as this.  Haunting words but words that were needed for Esther to engage her destiny and find a way to entice the king to give her an audience and perhaps save her people.

I think this question of having come to our royal position for such a time as this comes up to us in a variety of ways.  In what ways are we being called to engage our destiny, our talents, our gifts, our limitations, our pitfalls and rise up to address a pressing need at hand?  It might not be anything on a grand scale.  It might be something seemingly insignificant to us but means the world of difference to another.

There is a story [iii] that has been recycled through the internet several times, perhaps you have read it.  It goes something like this, a young man who became very successful and renowned in his chosen field returns home for his highschool reunion. There he runs into his best friend from high school.  He decides to tell his friend how grateful he was for having him as a friend all those years ago.  The friend is a bit puzzled by this overture of gratitude.  So the first one says to his friend, well do you remember the day we met. His friend laughs and says oh yes.  You were carrying all these books home and some jerks knocked them out of your arms and I helped you pick them up.  And we became instant and best friends.  Well, the first friend says, I never told you why I was carrying all those books.  You assumed I was just a study geek but you see, that day I decided to take my life.  I didn’t want my parents to have to bother with one more thing like empty out my school locker.  Your helping me that day when all was lost in my mind was the very thing that prevented me from choosing death.

The friend looks at him stunned, knowing all the great things his friend has done in his life since that moment.  His friend looked at him and says I was only doing what I would have wanted someone to have done for me if my books were knocked out of my arms. Exactly, and it saved my life, his friend says.

Who knows if you have come to where you are in life for such a time as this.

We do not always know how our lives impact another’s life.  A gentle word may give someone hope. A touch may be a moment of not being so isolated.  Many of these simple moments will be forgotten by you before the day is over but for the person receiving them, a world of difference.

Having a sense of destiny isn’t about some lofty achievement that revolutionizes the world as we know it.  Yes, lofty achievements can be a part of one’s destiny, one’s unfolding life as they grapple with the limitations that life has given them.  But a sense of destiny can be in taking the time to examine the issues of the day against the values you hold dear.  In doing so, you may be preparing yourself to be able to speak up against injustice in the world, whether that world refers to the culture as a whole or the classroom or the job site. A sense of destiny is found in discovering the freedom one has even with the limitations presented.  There are new opportunities that can be found in those limitations especially when we decide to take risks.

I know that I have shared with you some of my story regarding the founding of Interfaith AIDS Ministry but this is a story about my parting Interfaith AIDS Ministry.  I had been with the organization that I co-founded for just over twelve years. I knew it was time for new leadership.  I had taken the organization about as far as I could and I had accomplished my number one goal which was to develop an organization that when I left could continue on without having to revert back to ground zero.  I thought that I wanted to work with another agency that was slightly larger that would bring new challenges.  I began searching and no nibbles.  So I decided that I needed to reexamine what my goals truly were.

What did I want to accomplish in my life?   What sorts of things did I really enjoy?  Well I enjoy writing and I had ideas for some novels but some of these ideas needed different life experiences than I had had to that point in my life. I enjoyed doing the liturgies for the interfaith prayer services we offered at the agency.  I enjoyed the pastoral care aspects of the position.  I enjoyed the opportunities to give sermons.  So I took those aspects that I enjoyed and began pondering what I might need to do in order to find a position that would give me more of those experiences.

This was engaging my destiny.  I was in one place that had limitations for me and I wanted to be in another place that I perceived would open some new experiences for me.  I took my time to listen to the silence between the spaces.  I enjoyed this aspect of my life. Pause.  I enjoyed that aspect of my life. Pause. And in taking the time to listen not only in the midst of performing an activity that I enjoy like writing, but also listening in the midst of not writing, of not doing anything, I began to gain a sense of what I wanted in my life.  And perhaps more importantly, I began to get a sense of what my destiny might be unfolding for me and the willingness to take a risk and go to seminary in a different state far from anything I had ever known before. The classical pianist Artur Schnabel is quoted as saying, “I don’t think I handle the notes much differently from other pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, there is where the artistry lies!” It is in the pauses that we get a chance to find the artistry of living life.

May writes, “Pause is the prerequisite for wonder.  When we don’t pause, when we are personally hurrying from one appointment to another, from one ‘planned activity’ to another, we sacrifice the richness of wonder. And we lose communication with our destiny.”  To engage with our destiny we need to take time to pause and simply be in the stillness of that moment, to savor all the richness of that which has gone before and that which is about to be.

What is our individual sense of destiny?  And what is our collective sense of destiny?  These are very different questions and they are worth taking the time to pause, to ponder, to wonder.  Perhaps we are being prepared for just such a time as this. Blessed Be.

[i] Rollo May, Freedom and Destiny, 1981, WW Norton & Company.  All quotes by Rollo May in this sermon are from this text. Personal note:  This is my favorite book, I have read this text  many  times since it was first published in 1981.
[ii] Esther 4: 13,14
[iii] Source of this story is unknown. It is most likely a fictional story used to spread a moral message.

Published in: on October 14, 2011 at 2:55 pm  Comments Off on A Sense of Destiny  
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More Alabama examples towards the path of Genocide

I recently posted about the eight stages of genocide and made comments of how I see Alabama methodically implementing these stages.  I realize making  such a statement can be seen to be outrageous but I have come to this conclusion through observing what is happening in our state.  I did not make these comments lightly.

Since writing that post The Southern Poverty Law Center has confirmed a report that a school district in Northeast Alabama called their Latino students into the cafeteria and asked them if they knew their legal status in this country.  Those that stated they were undocumented were culled out of the group and were arrested by ICE.

Here is what the law states regarding schools:

Section 28. (a)(1) Every public elementary and secondary school in this state, at the time of enrollment in kindergarten or any grade in such school, shall determine whether the student enrolling in public school was born outside the jurisdiction of the United States or is the child of an alien not lawfully present in the United States and qualifies for assignment to an English as Second Language class or other remedial program.

Here is what Genocide Watch writes to describe stage 6:

6. PREPARATION:Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense. Otherwise, at least humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.

Which of these statements does the actions of the school district in Northeast Alabama resemble most?  Now granted stage 6 has not been fully implemented in the state of Alabama but it seems to me that the actions of this school district did not follow the law as written but instead jumped to the next logical step of where this law is headed in spirit.  The school district identified and separated out the students who were undocumented and had them arrested by ICE agents.  This is indeed the spirit behind Genocide Watch’s Stage 6.

There was another event this time in Morgan County.  Committee on Church Cooperation, a non-profit organization,  whose mission is to help the poor  has decided that immigrants are not part of its mission, especially if they are undocumented.  The Decatur Daily reports this in their newspaper:

Gayle Monk, CCC executive director, said the organization has had to take extra steps to make sure undocumented immigrants do not obtain food, clothing and other assistance, much of which is donated to the agency by Morgan County churches.
“We thoroughly check everybody out,” Monk said. “We’ve even got wind that a lot of them have illegal Social Security cards. So I’ve tried to educate my staff on what to look for.”
As a condition of receiving assistance, Monk said, applicants must present government-issued photo identification showing residence in Morgan County. They also must provide a Social Security card for every member of the household, as well as documentation of income.
“The majority of the Hispanics, No. 1, can’t speak English when they come in here and, No. 2, have a Social Security card that is fake,” Monk said. …

Monk said the extra attention paid to documentation has been effective.
“It used to be about 10 percent (Hispanics) that we served,” Monk said. “Since cracking down, I haven’t seen anybody, especially in the last month. …

Monk said CCC has no connection to the controversy over undocumented immigrants because it receives no governmental funding.
“We operate strictly off of donations given to us out of the kindness of an individual’s heart,” Monk said.

In the ruling by Judge Sharon Blackburn  she stated the churches did not have a basis on which to argue that HB 56 would impinge on their freedom to practice their faith.  Yet, here is an example of an organization deciding to implement the law using the laws criteria to single out and deny services to people in need.  This organization decided to interpret their religious mission not on spiritual principles but rather on state law.  A response by CCC to criticism of their actions on facebook  states:

“Our acting Board Chairman, Mr. Greg Ethridge, states clearly “CCC’s charter is to serve those in need in Morgan County. Our policy, since 1973, has been that each client served present their proof of residency in Morgan County and thier [sic] Social Security card. This policy is regardless of race, color, creed, religion or nationality.”  

Social Security cards do not provide proof of residency within local municipalities, therefore there is no need to have them as part of this criteria of eligibility.    In this instance it can only be used to discriminate between residents who are citizens and residents who are undocumented which implies that nationality is regarded as a criteria for service by this charitable religious organization.  Comments in the story also suggests there is a bias against those who speak a different language.

Where does this story fit into the stages towards genocide?  I suggest this falls into stage 1:

1. CLASSIFICATION:All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality: German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi. Bipolar societies that lack mixed categories, such as Rwanda and Burundi, are the most likely to have genocide. The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend ethnic or racial divisions, that actively promote tolerance and understanding, and that promote classifications that transcend the divisions. The Catholic church could have played this role in Rwanda, had it not been riven by the same ethnic cleavages as Rwandan society. Promotion of a common language in countries like Tanzania has also promoted transcendent national identity. This search for common ground is vital to early prevention of genocide.

There is the story in the Christian Scriptures where a Greek  woman is asking Jesus for a miracle for her daughter.  Jesus responds somewhat uncharacteristically that it is not right to take food from the children and cast it to the dogs.  The woman bravely responds that even the dogs get a chance to eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table.  Jesus gives the woman her miracle.

This is not a story that we should be offering the crumbs of our abundance to those who speak a different language.  Nor is it a story that suggests  different Christian and other religious  charities should discriminate between those who are like us and those who are not in offering services.  Rather it is a story that reveals that love transcends the boundaries of race and culture and what we offer to others who are different should be of the same quality and same intention as what we offer those who are similar to us.   Where better to transcend these ethnic and racial categories and boundaries than within the services of a charitable organization whose mission is to help those in need.

There is still time to stop the progression of the effects of this law.  We all must work together to prevent the dehumanization of even one child, one family, one community.  If we do not or if we cannot, we are all dehumanized in the process.

Living in a foreign land called Alabama

Alabama is no longer a part of America.  Not the America I was taught to value and love.  I do not recognize the actions that are happening around me.  I did not grow up knowing the fear that I visibly see on my friends’  faces as they worry about their children being dropped off at school.  I am seriously considering carrying my US passport because I do not recognize my country. I am,  as of September 29, 2011,  living in a foreign land.

Since the law, commonly called HB 56, went into effect on September 29th municipalities have shut off water service to residents suspected of being undocumented.  This is a tactic that totalitarian countries use before they begin the final push towards genocide.  Yes, I used that word.   There are eight stages towards genocide according to Genocide Watch  and Alabama apparently is actively pursuing them.

Stage One: Classification.   We have classified Alabamans into us and them.  Citizens vs illegals.  And the “illegals” are of a specific nationality even though the law is any immigrant who is in this country without documentation.

Stage Two:  Symbolization. “names or other symbols  are given to the classifications”  Calling immigrants illegals, criminals, parasites, and rats are all signs of stage two.  This is happening in Alabama.

Stage Three: Dehumanization.  This is happening in Alabama.  We call residents who are here without papers, illegals. We are hearing people and some politicians use the terms rats or parasites or blights on society. This is for the sole purpose to dehumanize the plights of these immigrants who according to Federal law have not committed a crime.  It is harder to feel compassion towards a parasite losing its home or water but if we insist to  humanize our neighbors regardless of nationality then we have a chance for compassion and interrupting this stage.

Stage Four:  Organization.  The state has ordered that our police force which is to protect and serve to be trained outside of their authorization under federal law to arrest and detain  individuals that they determine are not here legally. In other countries where genocide is occurring these trained militias commit mass murder and that is NOT  happening here in Alabama. But it is worrisome that police are not adequately trained and therefore are racial profiling in their arrests.  The federal government is also actively engaged in this stage with its ICE raids and brandishing weapons with the sole purpose of terrorizing a community.

This past weekend a Latino minister and a minister colleague were stopped by police in Warrior, AL  in northern Jefferson County on the road en route to fix his car that had a flat tire.  He was asked for his papers to show he was here in this country legally.  He showed the police officer his passport.  The police officer “determined” the  passport was counterfeit and asked for additional identification.  He showed him a chaplaincy association card that stated he was a member of the clergy in good standing in that organization.  His colleague, who had documentation was allowed to leave.  But he was arrested on the charge of using a counterfeit passport.

When inquiries were made as to bond and charges, the charges changed to impersonating a clergyman.  What happened to the counterfeit passport?  It was a legitimate passport indicating that he had every right to be here in this country.   He was released after the jail was flooded with phone calls inquiring why they were charging someone  with  impersonation of clergy, when in fact he was and is a minister.  Impersonating clergy is a crime?   In a state where if a group of people declare that they avail a person’s skills as their minister  thereby making that person a minister; this becomes a bogus charge and reveals the racism that he has been subjected to by the police officer.

Stage Five:  Polarization.  We are seeing the beginnings of this extreme polarization.  When Farmers complained to Sen. Beason about not being able to harvest their crops, his attitude was ‘so what.’  Conservative press is becoming more extreme in their propaganda targeting immigrants. The passage of HB 56 is also an example of this polarization.

Stage Six:  Preparation.  “Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity.” We are beginning to see this after the passage of this law.  Municipalities are shutting water services to those they suspect are undocumented.  Landlords are evicting families from homes.  Schools are requesting proof of citizenship of new enrollees and,  while the state school board has said this would not happen, teachers are asking previously enrolled  students if they are undocumented.  Students,  this is a question that does not need to be answered.  Respectfully decline.

Stage Seven:  Extermination of people. Not happening.

Stage Eight:  Denial of the genocide. The seeds of this are happening in the guises of  “What part of illegal, don’t you understand.” This is the following the law even if it is morally corrupt and unjust.   Martin Luther King, Jr. countered such statements with arresting Jews was the law in Germany during Nazi Germany but it does not mean it is the right and moral action to take.

Many of these stages are developing to fruition at a faster pace than others. We need to be active in dismantling these stages to prevent genocide from happening in our beloved country.

Now, I know many will read this and declare, Fred, you are exaggerating. This is not what is happening in Alabama.  This would never happen in America. My reply would be it already has happened in America several times in our history.

It happened when our founding parents  first settled this country and rounded up the native people of this land,  massacred them en masse, and forced them onto reservations.  It happened through out the deep south after the civil war through the 1970’s.  Lynchings were a common occurrence, bombings of  churches and synagogues  happened regularly because they were of a different race or different religion.  Several of these stages were implemented during World War Two when the US sent thousands of Japanese Americans to internment camps.  And it is happening again this time against another people who only seek what we have;  the dream for a better life.

We need to repeal this law. We need to expand our education for tolerance and diversity.  We need to begin living our highest values as taught by all of our faith traditions of  treating others as we would want to be treated.

Jericho Walk

The story of Jericho from the Hebrew Bible is about Joshua and the Israelites who defeated the city of Jericho by marching around the city seven times and then with a sound of a rams horn, the walls collapsed. The walls of Jericho in our analogy is HB 56 which seeks to divide our state, our communities, and our families between citizens and the undocumented. This wall of division, wall of hatred, wall of racism must come down in order for Alabama to transcend its history and become a state where all people are free to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

On October 2 I led such a walk around First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa. This is the congregation that Governor Bentley attends. The congregation, however, offers hospitality to the immigrant community. They offer several English as a Second Language courses to the Latino and the Chinese immigrant communities here. They provide a vibrant worship community for these immigrants which empowers the ability to live here.  They are living their faith tradition which commands its followers to offer hospitality and welcome to the stranger, the foreigner, the immigrant.

So our walk had to be respectful of this ministry and yet point out the contradiction. We decided to thank First Baptist for their hospitality and point out that HB 56, where at least one of their members is a strong proponent, seeks to violate theirs and many others’ faith traditions call to be hospitable.

As we walked around the building, some of the people within looked out the windows and waved. We showed them our signs, “Thank you First Baptist: Hearts Immigrants,” “Somos Tuskaloosa,” “Repeal HB 56,” “Tuscaloosa Welcomes all people,” and “One Family Una Familia.” The on lookers gave us a thumbs up. People in cars going to the church waved. They seemed to get it.

The walls are tumbling down. We will win this. The ram horn of justice is about to blow loud and long.

Members of Somos Tuskaloosa in front of First Baptist Church.