North Carolina’s vote

When I heard of the news that North Carolina had voted to place its ban on same sex marriage in their state constitution, a constitution that was last revised to ban interracial marriages, my heart just broke.

Two songs came to me which seemed appropriate in my twisted mind,  especially when juxtaposed with each other .

 

Is The Republican Platform Compatible with Unitarian Universalism?

Republicans traditionally have been a minority in our Unitarian Universalist congregations.  I have generally sought to be tolerant of republican ideology because my grandfather and great grandfather were both republican politicians having served as Town Supervisor and Mayor. Their achievements in these roles are ones I have been proud of and continue to be so.  However, what I have been observing in the  political arena of late is not my Great Grandfather’s or even my Grandfather’s Republican Party, the party of Lincoln.

This has been a very difficult year politically. In a spirit of full disclosure, I am currently a registered Democrat.  I am moving my affiliation to Independent because the values I am also seeing expressed in the Democratic Party are also not my values. However, I am even more uncomfortable with the values I am seeing expressed by the Republican Party.  My discomforts in these two parties lie in my convictions to embody Unitarian Universalist values.

We all  come to this faith from some place on the political spectrum, even those who are born into this faith have a socially constructed political framework in which they operate.  However, if we are serious in engaging our faith as Unitarian Universalists, I do not believe we can stay in the same place we were in when came to this faith. We must engage our political framework with the same fervor that one might engage one’s privilege or racism, as the  political framework in this country is tied into the matrix that supports privilege and racism.  Ours is a transformative faith if we allow it to be so.  While on the one hand, I would want to create a space to allow republican ideals, such as my grandfather and great grandfather expressed them, within our congregation; I am on the other hand increasingly concerned that the platform of the Republican Party is not compatible with our faith values and is in fact dangerous in our desire to dismantle privilege  and racism.

The Democrat party also has its play in seeking to maintain privilege and racism in our country, so  I am not ignoring the incompatible values of this party.  It seems current and past administrations have adopted the policy of democratizing the world by force and ironically are punitive when democracy is spontaneously expressed here at home.  Democracy is one of our Unitarian Universalist principles but it has a caveat attached to it; the right of conscience.  This speaks to me of the freedom for a people to choose their own democracy structure even when it does not support American corporate interests.  American foreign policies have been based on privilege, on a belief of American supremacy, and on the false assumption that America is God’s chosen nation to police the world.  An example of this is the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, the secretive force that assassinated Osama Bin Laden.  Regardless of America’s ethical justification about this particular mission, the JSOC operates through out the world with little to no accountability, not even to the Commander in Chief[i].  This stance of our nation is antithetical to Unitarian Universalist values as I understand them. Both parties are guilty in adhering to values that represent ultimately in sustaining America’s shadows.

However, The Republican Party has expressed an agenda that is anti-woman, anti-worker,  anti- immigrant, anti-religious freedom, anti-elderly, and racist.  I do not understand how any Unitarian Universalist, who is seeking to honor the principles of inherent worth and dignity of every person; Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; and the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process can in good conscience continue to support a party that is actively working to devolve American society back to a repressive and oppressive era, more reminiscent of 1812 rather than 2012.

Recent laws that have been passed or proposed in our country by our Republican leaders support my thesis.   Several states have passed or are in the process of passing a personhood amendment, where the rights of personhood are conferred at the moment of conception.   This law would make abortions for any reason—be they economic, life preserving, or rape induced–illegal.  It would make many contraceptives illegal because these contraceptives work in preventing the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall and thereby aborting the pregnancy.  Virginia’s republican leaders just passed a bill that would force women who are considering an abortion to have a transvaginal ultrasound[ii], a very intrusive forced procedure.  The republican governor has stated he will sign the bill into law.  In this sense, the Republican Party is legitimizing rape by forcing women to an intrusive, medically unwarranted probe procedure against her will.

The current brouhaha by republicans over health plans requiring contraceptive coverage is being called an attack on religious freedom; however, these proposed laws are an attack on religious freedom by forcing non-believers to adhere to another’s faith dogmas.

Further, a recent hearing on the contraceptive insurance issue[iii] excluded women from testifying on the issue that directly affects them, further proof that the current Republican party is anti-woman.  To quote a banner from an earlier time in our history, “No self -respecting woman should wish nor work for the success of a party that ignores her sex.[iv]

The Republican Congress majority just voted to not reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act because it has provisions that offer “protections for LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse and the authority of Native American tribes to prosecute crimes.”[v] This stance by the Republican Party is against the Unitarian Universalist principle of justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. These laws are incompatible with Unitarian Universalist principles.  These laws are an attempt to return women to an era of bare-foot and pregnant, and therefore to a subservient status of a previous century in order to curtail their freedom and growing power.

In Indiana, the republican senators have introduced a bill  to empower that state to withdraw from Medicare and Medicaid,thereby leaving the elderly, disabled, and the poor who need these services for their own quality of life.   This is an act of war on the marginalized in our country.  This is not a political party that has the interests of its constituents at heart but rather interested in maintaining the privilege of the elite.  This action does not reflect the values of Unitarian Universalism.

It has been said, the greatest threat to any nation is not the threat from abroad but rather the threat from within.  The Republican Party has been active in promoting that this threat exists.  They have chosen to give this threat a name:  the illegal immigrant.  However, factions within the Republican Party have expanded this threat to the immigrant, with or with out documentation[vi].   The laws that have been passed against immigrants, while claiming to be racially unbiased have in fact used race and foreign language usage to be criteria for asking for documentation.  Proof of racism by the Republican Party is in the response of republican legislators in Alabama who refused to see constituents who were Latino at a recent lobbying day sponsored by Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.  White constituents were allowed in to see their legislators but when the white constituents wanted to include their Latino friends, the Latinos were denied access[vii].  There have been republican attempts to pass legislation to prove presidential nominees are birthright[viii] American citizens which is a racist response to the Obama presidency. No amount of legitimizing the concern can convince me that these legislative moves are not racially motivated.

The Republican Party is anti-LGBT.  The Republican Party has publicly endorsed their opposition to same gender[ix] marriage[x], gays in the military[xi], adoption by gay parents[xii], and support for protecting anti-gay bullies,[xiii] and support for the discrimination against gays.[xiv]  The Unitarian Universalist Association has since 1970[xv] fought for the inclusion of sexual minorities in the citizenship of this country.  This anti-gay stance by the Republican Party is in direct opposition to Unitarian Universalist values of inherent worth and dignity of every person.

The Republican Party is anti-worker.  Unitarian Universalists since our consolidation of our two denominations have made strong resolutions for worker rights and economic justice[xvi].  The Republican Party however has opposed worker [xvii]rights and worker [xviii]organization by passing bills[xix] that diminish [xx] labor[xxi] protections  and the worker’s ability to survive economically.  Again, these measures by the Republican Party go fully against the positions that Unitarian Universalists have consistently made at General Assemblies for the past 50 plus years.  Passing legislation that would create and enforce an extreme power imbalance between worker’s rights and corporate interests flies in the face of our principle for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.

For these reasons, I have concluded that the Republican Party platform as it stands now is antithetical to being Unitarian Universalist.  One simply cannot live Unitarian Universalist values and remain to be a Republican in this day and age.  I realize this will be seen as an offensive statement to those who identify as Unitarian Universalist Republicans but if you are still reading, I would encourage you to contrast your values to the values of the Republican Platform.  The number of  incompatible positions by the Republican Party are far too many to overlook to enable Unitarian Universalists to assent to its platform.   I recognize that there are some aspects of the Republican Platform that a Unitarian Universalist could easily assent to but in my mind they have become too few in order for a Unitarian Universalist engaged in embodying our principles to live in harmony with Republican values.


Standing on the Side of Love–a Spiritual Practice

Yesterday I went to the Statehouse in Montgomery to testify against HB 56, Alabama’s version of Arizona’s SB 1070.  As I listened to the testimony of those who were for this bill, I was struck by the anger they felt towards the values I hold dear.

Values like compassion for others.  Values like acceptance of diversity.  Values like equal opportunities for all.  Values like honoring the integrity and dignity of others. Values like having life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness accessible for everyone.

My faith denomination, Unitarian Universalist,  has been the sponsors of the Standing of the Side of Love Campaign.  It has been used in several ways.  It is prominent in the ongoing immigrant rights struggle in Arizona and elsewhere.  It is prominent in supporting Muslim’s right to freedom of religion in Tennessee and in New York City and other places in America.  It is prominent in the right to marriage campaign across this country.  And most recently, it has been supporting workers rights for collective bargaining in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio.

One of the criticisms lobbied at Unitarian Universalists is that we are not spiritual, that we are too much of the head and not enough, if at all, of the heart.  It has been a fair criticism.  We Unitarian Universalists value reason and critical thinking skills as a way to cut through the unprovable and the improbable in order to see the core of the matter in the hopes that we can make a difference for the better of all of our lives.  Sometimes we have succeeded and sometimes it has been our thorn in our side.

The Standing on the Side of Love campaign is in its very essence a remedy to that criticism.  Many years ago now, I decided to join Rev. Mel White, founder of Soulforce, in a seventeen step journey towards preparation in confronting the homophobia and violent rhetoric within the Christian Church.  This was a series of essays and reflections which I was invited to journal about and discuss with a friend before joining Mel White in Lynchburg, VA to speak with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell about his vitriol against gays.

One of the things Mel White wrote was this:

“When we seek freedom for someone else, we find freedom for ourselves. When we finally make the decision to take a stand against oppression (or the rhetoric that leads to oppression) that stand itself leads us to spiritual renewal whether we win or we lose the battle.”

Those who begin to engage in Standing on the Side of Love have an opportunity, to not only achieve the desired goal of undoing a grave injustice but also to experience a spiritual renewal within themselves.  Okay so that sounds self-centered and not altruistic in the least.

Yet, it is only ourselves that we can change. I cannot make someone else love their neighbor as they themselves would like to be loved.  But I can do that.  I can choose to love my neighbor.  I can reflect on what that action means to me and reinforce it into my behavior.  I can join with others who also choose to love their neighbor and together we can reflect on our common experiences of doing that act and build that into our way of being together.  This is what our Unitarian Universalist congregations aim to do every Sunday.

We can role model that behavior for others to witness.  Standing on the Side of Love is spiritual work.  It is not simply wearing a yellow t-shirt or placing a heart logo on our facebook page.  It is and can be a spiritual practice that helps us be fully in touch with our humanity’s soul.

I do not know how I will be able to face the anger that I faced yesterday if I do not choose to stand on the side of love daily.  I do not know how I will address that anger and possibly soften their anger to seeing another way if I do not choose to stand on the side of love daily.

I invite you to join me to stand on the side of love as if your life and faith depends on it.  I know mine does.  Blessings.

Michael Servetus: A Universalist Perspective

Reading:  From Michael Servetus’ Christianismi Restitutio [ The Restoration of Christianity]

“Not only because such gifts, but by reason of that one alone who breathes the divine spirit into us, God is said to give us his spirit, Gen. 2 and 6. Our soul is a kind of lantern of God, Prov. 20. It is like a spark of the spirit of God, a reflection of the wisdom of God, created yet very similar to that spiritual wisdom, incorporated in it, retaining the innate light of divinity, the spark of that prime wisdom and the very spirit of divinity. God himself testifies, in chapter 6 above, that the spirit of divinity was innate in man even after Adam’s sin. The dispensation of our life is given and is sustained through grace from his breathe, as Job says, chap. 10 and 32 and following. God breathed the divine spirit into Adam’s nostrils together with a breath of air, and thence it remains, Isaiah 2 and Psa. 103. God himself maintains the breath of life for us by his spirit, giving breath to the people who are upon the earth and spirit to those treading it, so that we live, move and exist in him, Isaiah 42 and Acts 17. Wind from the four winds and breath from the four breaths gathered by God revive corpses, Ezek. 37. From a breath of air God there introduces the divine spirit into men in whom the life of inspired air was innate. Hence in Hebrew “spirit’ is represented in the same way as “breath.” From the air God introduces the divine spirit, introducing the air with the spirit itself and the spark of the very deity which fills the air.

Michael Servetus

“Michael Servetus: A Universalist Perspective” by Rev. Fred L Hammond

17 October 2010 © Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL

If I were to ask who Michael Servetus was in the history of Unitarian Universalism, I would probably hear something along the following:  He was a theologian in the 16th century who believed that the Trinity, the belief in a Triune God was not based on biblical scripture. His theology would be described as anti-trinitarian rather than Unitarian. He was burned in effigy by the Roman Catholic Church and burned at the stake with most of his writings in Geneva, Switzerland by John Calvin, another protestant theologian and founder of Calvinism. Following his execution, there was uproar over the punishment of the heretic in which Sebastien Castellion wrote, “To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man.[1]”  And this answer, if given in a classroom setting would give the student a passing grade.

But there is more to Michael Servetus, also known by his Spaniard name as Miguel Serveto and by his French name, Michel de Villeneuve in homage to his hometown in Spain, than his treatises On the Errors of the Trinity and Dialogues on the Trinity. And for us as Unitarian Universalists living in the 21st century, it is this other aspect of Servetus that I believe is more relevant to us today than his expounding on the errors of trinitarian belief.

I state this because even though half of our name is Unitarian, we are no longer a faith tradition that requires all to profess the creed in the unity of God—God is one.  Some of us may believe in the triune God, God in three persons and some of us may believe in no god.  That creed is no longer necessary for us to call ourselves Unitarian Universalists because we focus more on our character of person, for it is what we do in our actions that reveal the moral character of the person rather than on what we say with our mouth.  There is a scripture verse in the Christian texts that state that if a person confesses[2] with their mouth then they shall be saved.  Unitarians would say that words by themselves are empty and actions speak louder than words.  So the true test of our faith is found in our compassionate, loving actions; whether the inspiration of that action is based in a Unitarian God or a Triune God, or in many Gods, or in no God is immaterial to us as a whole. It is as has been stated many times in a sound bite; “deeds, not creeds.”

In order to get to the aspects of his story that I believe are relevant for us today, I need to tell something of the basic story that is emphasized by Unitarian Universalist historians. Michael Servetus was born around 1509-1511, the exact date is speculated.  What we do know is that his country of Spain had over the centuries prior to his birth become the home of Muslims, of Jews, and of Christians. The culture of the Moors, as the Muslims were known and of the Jews had greatly influenced Spain. The Catholic Church was currently the dominant religious faith.  So Spain was struggling with religious plurality.  ‘Struggling’ probably isn’t the right word, when push comes to shove; a dogmatic inquisition would occur.  Jews and Muslims were given a choice, baptism into Christianity, banishment from the country, or death.  The great inquisitions of Spain occurred before Servetus’s birth but there was this awareness during his lifetime that many had converted to Christianity in name only and not in belief, in particular to the creed of the trinity.

Servetus was a child prodigy by the time he was 13 he could read several languages including Hebrew.  Hebrew was a forbidden language because it meant that one could read the Hebrew Scriptures in the original tongue “without resorting to approved translations[3].” His learning this forbidden language meant that he was most likely   exposed to a secret culture that also existed in Spain that of the Sephardic Jews who became Christian in name only.

It was the belief in the trinity that Michael Servetus saw as the prime stumbling block for true conversions from Jew or Muslim to Christianity.  He thought if this creed, which he discovered had no scriptural basis, could be removed from Christianity then there would be no hindrance for Jew or Muslim to fully embrace Christianity.

You may have heard in the subtext a certain arrogance that pervades Michael Servetus’s personality.  This arrogance would eventually seal his doom.  Authors of Out of the Flames, Nancy and Lawrence Goldstone assert “Servetus was so smart that it never seemed to occur to him that his arguments would be more effective if he didn’t imply that anyone holding an opposing view was an idiot.” He became convinced that the creed of the trinity, codified by a vote of bishops at the Council of Nicea in the year 325 of the Common Era, was the beginning of the corruption of the Holy Church.

He began to hound the protestant reformers of the day regarding this error in theology.  He thought Erasmus would be sympathetic because he had removed the Comma Johanneum from his Latin translations of the First Epistle of John.  This was a phrase not found in the original Greek text which directly referred to the trinity.  Erasmus was not sympathetic; he was merely correcting the facts of the text.  Erasmus attitude was to uphold the church authority and any debate on the validity of the trinity would hold until Judgment Day.

Servetus lived for a time in the city of Basel, Switzerland with a protestant reformer Oecolampadius, who complained to his protestant reformers that Servetus was “of belligerent and persistent temper.[4]”  It was counseled that by any means necessary to squelch Servetus’s blasphemies less they pollute the church.

Servetus took particular haunt of John Calvin.  He sent Calvin his manuscript On the Errors of the Trinity.  They had exchanged heated letters.  This was the experience Servetus had with all of the protestant reformers, even those who were a tad sympathetic to his views, eventually publicly refuted his thesis.

Servetus thought perhaps he had not explained himself well enough. If only he could restate his thesis in another way perhaps others would see.  He then published his Dialogues on the Trinity. But they fell on deaf ears and Servetus then went into hiding in France, taking on the name Michel de Villeneuve and became a doctor of medicine.  His desire to win over John Calvin did not leave him and he would continue to write to him under his nom de plume.  His constancy in pursuing Calvin resulted in Calvin promising that if Servetus ever stepped foot in Geneva, he would not leave Geneva alive; a promise that was kept with Servetus being burned at the stake on October 27 1553.

But it is as a doctor that Servetus made a discovery that was credited to a physician 75 years after Servetus first made it.  Servetus, ever the theologian, described in concept how the circulatory system exchanged blood between the arteries and the veins. He believed correctly that blood traveled from the heart to the lungs where the breath rejuvenated the blood and then sent the blood back into the body.  However, this discovery was lost for many years because of Servetus’ controversial standing and because most of his texts were burned with him, and because he wrote from a theological perspective and not a medical one.

It is this theological perspective that I believe is relevant for us today as Unitarian Universalists living in the 21st century.  In Servetus’s final book “Christianismi Restitutio” [The Restoration of Christianity], “God breathed the divine spirit into Adam’s nostrils together with a breath of air, and thence it remains, … God himself maintains the breath of life for us by his spirit, giving breath to the people who are upon the earth and spirit to those treading it, so that we live, move and exist in him.[5]

This builds on what he had previously written in his Errors of the Trinity, “I say, therefore, that God himself is our spirit dwelling in us and this is the Holy Spirit within us. In this we testify that there is in our spirit a certain latent divinity and it bloweth where it listeth and I hear its voice and I know not whence it comes nor whither it goes. So is everyone that is born of the spirit of God.”

What is remarkable about this is it stands in direct opposition to Calvin’s doctrine of predestination of the elect.  Calvin argued that God from the beginning of the world humanity had two destinations, some he destined for eternal glory and others he destined for eternal damnation.  Only those who were predestined for glory would have the spirit of truth within them. Only the elect were saved.  Servetus is saying that all are among the elect, that all have the nature of the divine within them, the very breath of God itself.

Now this may seem to us as a ‘so what’ since many no longer adhere to a creed of salvation yielding to eternal life or a heaven.  That is indeed the literal reading of Servetus words and in that context perhaps not important. However, in a society where there are forces that insist on focusing on our differences to set us apart and in the extreme, dehumanizes us to the point that violence against one another or even self inflicted violence is seen as viable options, these words are very relevant.

There may not be many people today in Calvinist congregations who believe any longer in predestination, but there are plenty of people in these American states who believe to be indeed among the elect of God.  From the cultish Family on C street who indoctrinates politicians that they are elected by God and therefore can engage in all sorts of indiscretions and make heinous comments against gays and lesbians, against Muslims, and against immigrants without concern of consequence to the privileged corporate bosses at big banks and Wall Street who can break the financial laws of this country and get bailed out for destroying the economy.  This election is also seen in the very fiber of the dominant Anglo culture in this country and is the underlying argument of the Tea Party platform—America for Americans is based in this belief of the elect.

Servetus’s words come back to us and suggest that there is the potential for us to reach the heavenly realms.  In arguing against the trinity Servetus suggested “if Jesus was concluded to be less than divine, he might have been simply a man made divine through faith and acts.  And if that were true, might not that same potential be available to all [people]?[6]

There is within all of us that latent divinity, that creative spirit, that visionary specter, that leading-edge drive to move forward towards creating a world of justice for all.  Imagine if the restrictions on our minds were released and we believed that everyone, regardless of class, education, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression was truly capable of being the next Jesus, the next Sojourner Truth, the next Alice Paul, the next Gandhi, the next Dorothy Day, the next Thurgood Marshall, the next Martin Luther King, Jr., the next Cesar Chevaz, the next reformer for justice. Theologian Cornel West, speaking recently in Arizona said, Justice is what Love looks like in public…When you love folks, you hate that they are being treated unjustly[7]

Servetus’s words of latent divinity are a message that is timely when forces of injustice are telling us to fear the immigrant.  Timely message when these forces of injustice pair the immigrant in our neighborhoods with the drug cartels and the violent crimes south of our borders, all the while knowing this is untrue.

This is a message that is timely when forces of injustice are telling us to fear the Muslim seeking to fulfill their religious vows as a peaceful people.  Timely message when these forces of injustice pair Muslim Americans seeking the American dream with those who use their bodies as bombs to wreck havoc and chaos, while knowing this is untrue.

This is a message that is timely when forces of injustice are telling us to fear gays and lesbians who seek to live their lives as equal citizens under the law.  Timely message when these forces of injustice pair gays and lesbians with sexual predators of children, while knowing that this too is untrue.

Timely message when forces of injustice can use their guaranteed freedom of speech to spread malicious hateful lies against immigrants, against Muslims, against sexual minorities and fear no consequences while knowing that people will hear and act to embody their lies in hateful actions against immigrants, Muslims, and sexual minorities.

Who amongst us will allow the latent divinity to awaken within and be the next Harriet Tubman to serve tirelessly for freedom of those enslaved by the yokes of injustice?   Who will once again recognize that we all “retain… the innate light of divinity, the spark of that prime wisdom and the very spirit of divinity[8] and therefore are freed to act on behalf of all to create justice once again in this land?  Or at the very least begin to fulfill the call of our Hebrew, Christian, and Islamic teachings to love our neighbors as ourselves.  May it be so.

Benediction: Do not be deceived that because there are those who are privileged in this country, that they somehow are the elect and those who are not so privileged are not among the elect. The spirit of justice, the spirit of truth oft times chooses the least of these to level the playing field, may we seek not after the privileges of the elect but rather after the spirit of justice and truth.  Go in Peace.


[2] Romans 10:9 “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Likewise another verse with a similar meaning:   Philippians 2:10-12that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

[3] Nancy and Lawrence Goldstone, Out of the Flames

[4] Roland H. Bainton, Hunted Heretic: The Life and Death of Michael Servetus 1511-1553

[6] Nancy and Lawrence Goldstone, Out of the Flames

Published in: on October 17, 2010 at 2:25 pm  Comments Off on Michael Servetus: A Universalist Perspective  
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Throwing the First Stone

“Throwing the First Stone”

10 October 2010 ©  Rev. Fred L Hammond

Unitarian Universalist Congregation Tuscaloosa

There once was a young boy who dreaded going to school.  Oh he was bright enough.  And he liked the subjects well enough.  But he did not like getting on the school bus because even though there were plenty of seats, he had to fight to get one.  The bus driver would yell at him for not sitting down immediately, oblivious to the fact that the other students on the bus would refuse to let him sit.  And then when he arrived at school, he always had his books knocked out from under his arms. This was before back packs were allowed in school.  He was told he carried them like a girl.  When he tried to carry them in the more manly fashion at his hip, they would be knocked from his arms.  The books would scatter to the floor and then others would gleefully kick the books down the hall.   He would be late for class trying to retrieve them. The teachers would then send him to the principal for being late.  No amount of explaining what happened would make a difference.  It was his fault that he was late for class yet again.

Sometimes he would just be shoved in the hall way.  Once could be considered an accident, perhaps, but five or six shoves in a row by the other boys passing by was a deliberate act.  It was thought funny by the girls.   Sometimes the shoving and knocking the books to the floor were combined.  One would shove, another knock, and a few more would kick the books down the hall.

And there would be the threats of violence after school let out.  He somehow managed to slip through the crowd to avoid those encounters, even when he planned to hang out in town instead of catching the bus home.

He tried to man up.  He tried to be tough.  He tried to let the name calling and the physical affronts to his person roll off his back.  But he could not.  He knew crying would confirm in everyone’s mind that he was indeed what they called him; a faggot, a sissy, a homo, those were the names used then.  He didn’t want to live anymore, not like this.

One day after enduring what seemed like a continuous onslaught of bullying; he entered his next class and sat sideways at his desk.  He was numb.  His whole body just vibrated numbness.  His teacher asked him to turn around in his seat.  There was no response.  His teacher asked him again, and then, the tears began to fall.  The young boy just began sobbing full body sobs.

The teacher took him outside of the classroom and talked with him.  Found out what had been happening. The guidance counselor came and also listened to his story.  The guidance counselor gave a stern lecture to his classmates about their behaviors.  Told them in no uncertain terms that their treating of this young boy was wrong and they must stop this behavior or suffer the consequences of what could happen to this young boy which would be on their conscience forever.  They would be held responsible.

Life got better for this young boy after that.  Oh he still got the verbal taunts but it was nothing compared to the daily emotional and physical torment that he received that year.

The media has highlighted several suicides of young people this past month as a result of bullying.  Whether it was verbal taunts, physical assaults, or cyber-bullying, the results were the same, the ending of a young person’s life.  These young people were either gay or thought to be gay by their peers.  Their life was driven into the ground and their possibility and the hope for shining their light brightly in the world was snuffed out.

It is difficult to know how many teens commit suicide because of homophobia.  The once touted 3 in 10 deaths is now considered to be grossly overestimated and it is now thought that the deaths of sexual minorities is no greater than in any other demographic.  But this does not diminish the seriousness or the grief these families are suffering because of the loss of their children.

And the young people that we heard about in the news do not comprise every teen that committed suicide this past month or even this past week, only those we heard about.  According to a U.S. Suicide Statistics of 2001, a young adult between the ages 15-24 ends their life every 2 hours and 12 minutes.  So that means we only heard of a very few of the young people who died this past month at their own hands out of the roughly eleven young people who died every day.  The numbers add up quickly and these are only statistics on the completed suicides, not the incompleted attempts of suicide.   It is the third leading cause of death in this age group after accidents and homicides.  It is the 5th leading cause of death in children age 5-14.
Gay, Lesbian Straight Educators Network (GLSEN) has been conducting an annual survey[1] of high school students since 1999 on bullying as it relates to sexual orientation.   Here are a few findings from 2009’s survey: 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students – outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.

On October 1 2009, a new law went into effect in Alabama mandating all schools to have an anti-bullying policy.  It is basically a good law but there are few flaws. It is only aimed at student to student bullying and did not include harassment from authority figures such as teachers or coaches.   It defines bullying as an ongoing pattern by an individual and it requires the victim of the bullying or their parent to fill out a written form to report the bullying.  A onetime bullying event or an oral report is not sufficient to bring actions against the bully-er.  Yet, as we know in the recent suicide of Tyler Clementi, a onetime event on the internet is all it might take.   The law did not specify any specific class for protection.  Focus on the Family attempted to make the case that Alabama’s anti-bully legislation would open the door for gay activists to seek special protections.

Our school district in Tuscaloosa already had a fairly comprehensive bullying policy in place which did include sexual orientation as part of its policy.  The law now reinforces their policy.  A recent news story states that Tuscaloosa is considering broadening their policy to jurisdictions beyond school property such as “when a student interferes with another student’s educational opportunities or substantially disrupts the operations of a school or school-sponsored activity.[2] This would include cyberbullying through an electronic device such as the internet and sexting, the sending of explicit photographs and texts through a cell phone.

Tuscaloosa would become the first school system in Alabama to have a broad jurisdiction policy on bullying.  It is certainly a step in the right direction.  GLSEN affirms this action as being a positive step.  Their report confirms that  “Students attending schools with an anti-bullying policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression heard fewer homophobic remarks, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation, were more likely to report that staff intervened when hearing homophobic remarks and were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault to school staff than students at schools with a general policy or no policy.[3]

There are other positive actions that could be done to reduce bullying behavior as it relates to sexual orientation and gender expression.  GLSEN stated that schools with Gay-Straight alliances increased the positive experiences sexual minority students had and reduced the reports of negative experiences.  Having safe zones and supportive teachers “contributed to a range of positive indicators including fewer reports of missing school, fewer reports of feeling unsafe, greater academic achievement, higher educational aspirations and a greater sense of school belonging.[4]

There are currently no gay straight alliances in our public high schools.  University of Alabama has two student groups, Spectrum and OUTlaw, as well as a faculty/ staff group on campus. So where are students in high school to go where they will be accepted for who they are and not fear being bullied?  –Where they will be encouraged to explore the light that is the essence of their being and nurtured to allow that light to shine bright?

I will let those questions sit for a moment.  I want to shift our attention to why this is a concern for us today. What is it about bullying, and why is bullying sexual minority youth so important for us to examine and to end it?  The reason is not just because a few individuals commit suicide, albeit a very sound reason indeed.  There is something else at work in bullying sexual minority youth and suicides are just one of the consequences of this behavior.

Iris Marion Young in her essay Five Faces of Oppression looks at oppression not in the traditional format of a few people in power oppressing the masses as in tyrannical forms of government but as a form of systems that are in place to maintain dominant culture.  She describes oppression as being structural.  There are embedded in the dominant culture “unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols, in the assumptions underlying institutional rules and the collective consequences of following those rules.[5]

So while the intent is good to pass anti-bullying legislation or passing laws protecting rights of sexual minorities for housing, employment, etc., the assumptions of what is normal behavior remains operative in the culture.  Those who affirm the dominant culture resent what they see as the deteriorating of their traditional values and norms with the passage of such laws.

While all of the five faces of oppression, Young describes also apply to homophobia and bullying on some level, there are two that I want to highlight specifically.  She describes what she calls Cultural Imperialism which is the universalization of a dominant group’s experience and culture.  This becomes considered as the norm and therefore the norm for all of humanity. So in America, up until very recently, one did not see positive images of gays on television.  If gays were viewed on television or in the movies it was in negative, often stereotypical images.  It was the gay man dying of AIDS.  It was the flamboyant gay who everyone could laugh at. It was the manipulative and weak-spirited Mr. Smith on Lost in Space who preyed upon unsuspecting young Will Robinson and therefore had to be under constant surveillance. These images sent very strong messages of what gays deserved, of what manhood was, and the dangers to our children.  They each deserved what they got.

Young writes, “The dominant group reinforces its position by bringing the other groups under the measure of the dominant norms.[6] These groups become reconstructed as deviant and inferior and as the other. The stereotype becomes the known example of these other groups.  Those who do not fit that stereotype are rendered invisible.  Young writes, “Just as everyone knows that the earth goes around the sun, so everyone knows that gays are promiscuous…[7]

We see these assumptions in operation when Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church declares that “God hates Fags” or when the Family Research Council declares “… that homosexuality is unhealthy, immoral and destructive to individuals, families and societies.[8] Those who are members of the groups targeted even if they refuse these stereotype values and desire “recognition as human, capable of activity, full of hope and possibility;[9] they must react to the dominant culture’s perception of them as different, inferior, and immoral. The further they are from the stereotype the more invisible they become because the dominant culture only sees the stereotype and not the person before them. It is assumed that they meet the stereotype even when they do not. The dominant culture does not recognize that they have a perspective on the culture that is based on their status within the culture.  Simone Weil said, “Someone who does not see a pane of glass does not know that he does not see it. Someone who, being placed differently, does see it, does not know the other does not see it.[10]

The dominant culture does not see the pane of glass through which their world view is shaped and altered.  It then is up to those who are placed differently and do see the pain of glass to point it out and demand that it be recognized as such—a perspective and not a universal truth.

Cultural Imperialism feeds into another face of oppression which is systemic violence.  Groups which are oppressed live with the reality that they “must fear random, unprovoked acts on their persons or property, which have no motive but to damage, humiliate, or destroy the person.[11]

Taken on its face, no one, not even Focus on the Family, which advocated not passing the Alabama anti-bullying bill, believes bullying behavior is good.  Their stance against the law was purely on the basis that it might condone or encourage sexual minorities to come further out of the closet.  Bullying then becomes one method to send a clear message to sexual minorities that they are not to be seen as a valued contributing member of the society. Those caught in bullying might only receive light punishment and to that extent the acts are acceptable behaviors. Bullying is therefore on some level viewed as an acceptable behavior in society because it serves the function of maintaining the dominant culture’s control.

The work that must be done to bring bullying to an end is on the cultural level.  It will take diligent and persistent messaging into the main culture stream to change what is considered boys simply being boys.  This is more than passing laws and school policies against bullying. In order to change the culture, positive interactions on the relational level with the perceived other must become the norm.  Our work for justice lies in the vigilant vanguard position of overt acceptance of different perspectives, different cultural norms across all avenues of being human.  This includes sexual orientation, gender expression, racial and ethnic, and class differences—all must be in our sights for radical acceptance in order to change the cultural norm of oppression.

To bring this back to the question asked earlier.  Where are students in highschool to go where they will be nurtured and encouraged to explore the light that is the essence of their being?   Our youth group which meets every Sunday is one place where gay teens are welcomed. Because there does not exist a gay straight alliance in schools, our youth group becomes one of the places where gay, and lesbian, transgender, bi, questioning, and intersexed teens are free to gather to ask the questions they need to ask and relax in who they are.

Many of the teens who attend the youth group are not from families from this congregation.  And so this youth group becomes our congregation’s calling card into the community.  We need to do all we can to support them in their journey.  We must listen to their experiences, honor their integrity, and show unconditional love for their dignity as people here with us.

A few weeks ago, our teens offered a worship service that was poignant and moving.  They could only have done that particular service if they knew that we loved them.  We do love them.  We must continue to love them and celebrate their lives here.  We can support them by standing up to bullying that we see in our schools and elsewhere.  We might not be able to change the nation but we can and we must do all that we can to change the culture where we live.

You might have surmised the identity of the young boy at the beginning of this sermon as my personal experience of seventh grade.  You would be right. I was very close to failing that grade level until a teacher and guidance counselor intervened.  That was all it took, two people who believed in me and acted on my behalf to turn that year around.   I still struggled with my gay identity.  I still faced random acts of taunting against me but things began to change that day.  And I found other people who also accepted me and valued me as I am and life got better.  I want to make sure that every gay teen who walks through our doors knows what I have come to know.  There are people who love them, and cherish them, and life will get better.

Not everyone in the world is looking to throw the first stone. Here is a place where stones are put aside for building bridges of hope and love.  Blessed Be.

Benediction:  In the Hebrew scriptures Leviticus states “you shall the love the alien as yourself, for you were once the alien in the land of Egypt.[12] The land of Egypt is anywhere we felt isolated and different from the dominant culture.  It is the place where we are the other, the outsider of the group, the one longing for acceptance.  We all know what that feels like; we have been there, therefore love the other as if he or she is not the other but rather us here in this setting.  Love the other as you would love yourself.  Go in peace.


[2] Jamon Smith Staff Writer “New plan to prevent bullying examined” Tuscaloosa News September 17 2010.

[5] Iris Marion Young, “Five Faces of Oppression” as accessed at http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/young.pdf

[6] Iris Marion Young, “Five Faces of Oppression” as accessed at http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/young.pdf

[7] IBID

[9] Iris Marion Young, “Five Faces of Oppression” as accessed at http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/young.pdf

[10] IBID

[11] IBID

[12] Leviticus 19:34

Harry Potter, You-know-who, and Unitarian Universalists

Here is the story for all ages and the homily I delivered on 29 August 2010 to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL.

“Harry Potter: The Boy That Lived” A story for all ages based on the stories of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling adapted by Rev. Fred L Hammond.  Given to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL on 29 August 2010

This is the story about Harry Potter’s early years when he was just an infant.  He was born in a time of great political distress.  The source of this distress was a powerful wizard, whose name shall not be mentioned. This wizard used his magic for harm rather than for good.  He was out to destroy all who stood in his way.

Now Harry’s parents were among those who fought against the bad things this wizard was doing. They did everything they could think of to stand up against this wizard.  The wizard had learned a very powerful spell that would kill any who stood in his way.  He killed many, many people.

But the time came when the wizard came to their house to kill Harry’s entire family.  The fierce wizard drew his wand and uttered the curse of death, and Harry’s parents were struck dead.  He did the same against Harry as well, but something happened.  Harry Potter did not die.  In fact, Harry Potter lived.

Harry Potter was taken to live with his relatives where it was thought he would be hidden away and safe from the forces of evil.   And in his absence, the story spread … Harry Potter, the boy that lived.   He unknowingly became famous because no one ever lived after being struck by the death spell. Harry Potter did all the things that young boys do; the only mark that something horrible had happened was a jagged scar on his forehead.

But why did he live?  What was the source of his protection?  No one really knew until many years later.  There is a magic that is greater than evil.  And this magic is available to everyone, even to us Muggles, who are not wise in the ways of magic. Do you know what this magic is?

This magic is said to be the source of all of creation. This magic makes the flowers bloom, the birds to sing, and rainbows to appear in the sky after a rainstorm. This magic enables people to speak up for what is fair and just.  This magic empowers people to express joy when justice is served.  What protected Harry Potter all those years ago from the evil wizard is the magic of love.  His parents loved him very much and so while pain and injustices might happen, the love his parents had for him would prevail.  Love would be the ground on which he would walk.  And that foundation is what kept Harry Potter safe and alive after the evil wizard’s spells.   May we also walk on the ground of love all of our days.

“Harry Potter, You-Know-Who, and Unitarian Universalists”  Homily delivered by Rev. Fred L Hammond 29 August 2010 (c)  Unitarian Universalist Congregation Tuscaloosa

At the end of the movie version of The Goblet of Fire, we witness Harry Potter in a battle with You-know-who, the dark lord who is so evil that to even speak his name is feared to bring harm to those present.  In the process of this battle, a classmate, Cedric is killed by You-know-who.

So when we pick up the story in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the ministry of magic has determined that Harry Potter and the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore is lying.  The ministry of magic has used its influence to have the newspaper of the wizards, the Daily Prophet, inflame the public by discrediting Harry Potter and Dumbledore.  The paper also is declaring that all is well and that You-know-who has not returned.  The head of the ministry has come to believe that Dumbledore is stating You-know-who is back in order to take the head magistrate’s job. But as Remus Lupin tells Harry, people become “twisted and warped by fear and that makes people do terrible things.”

Fear is rampant and the ministry of magic has determined that the common enemy is Harry Potter and Dumbledore.  In order to regain control over a presumed renegade school, the ministry of magic places as the professor of the dark arts, a Delores Umbredge.  When she is introduced at the school, she states, “Progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged, let us preserve what must be preserved, perfect what can be perfected and prune practices which ought to be prohibited.”

She then begins to systematically take over the school.  She begins by scrutinizing everyone’s move, punishing Harry Potter for speaking the truth, and announcing that anyone who questions her is therefore suspect of disloyalty. An inquisitor’s team is developed to hunt out those who are disloyal and / or plotting against the ministry of magic.  Teachers are dismissed.  The dark arts become a class on theory and not on practical defense.  She resorts to posting more and more restrictive rules on the school.  She uses fear to maintain order and resorts to torture to keep control.  And the ministry of magic focuses on security as being the number one priority for the wizard nation.

Any of this sounds vaguely familiar?  We have a lot of things being discussed around our nation.  In Arizona and across the country we have hatred and fear being spewed about immigrants.  In California, hateful lies have been spread about same sex couples causing a law for same sex marriage to be placed on hold.  In New York City, in Murfreesboro, TN and in Gainesville, FL we have angry, hateful lies being spread about American Muslims and their alleged intentions.  In Gainesville, a church plans to burn copies of the Qu’ran on September 11th to send a message to Muslims living in America.  Yesterday, Glenn Beck and his tea party met on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to allegedly ‘restore honor’ to the civil rights movement on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.

These are all outrageous events happening.  It makes our blood boil.  This isn’t just about the politics of the extreme right versus the politics of the left.  This is about how are we to live as a people in a nation made up of minorities.  And we are all members of a minority group.  Some are minorities by skin color, others are minorities by sexual orientation or gender identification, and others are minorities by ethnicity or by religious or political affiliation, or by class, or even by life experiences.   This nation of minorities is again debating somewhat angrily, and with violence as in Murfreesboro yesterday, who gets to join the coalition of the new majority and the benefits and privileges thereof.  Do gays?  Do immigrants from Mexico?  Do Muslim Americans?  Do African Americans?  Who else should be excluded as other?  Where is the line to be drawn that says these are the real Americans?

In 1947, the US government created a short film called “Don’t be a Sucker” that dissected how a fascist government could come to power here in America. 

The process was to divide people against the other.  Tell the nation that these individual groups are not really Americans.  These others are here to destroy the American Way of life, to take from real Americans what real Americans fought and died for.  Speak of the threat to national security these groups pose. And offer the hope of a better life to the ‘real Americans’, those who have labored long and hard for freedom by passing laws that restrict these other group’s freedom.  Oh, and one more thing, have the news agencies; print, radio, TV, and internet become part of the same conglomeration so only one side of the news could be told, the side that those in power want told.

The narrator in the film stated, “We have no ‘other’ people in America.  We are all American people.”  He instructed us to stand together, to be who we are, say what we think, and “to guard everyone’s liberty or lose our own.”  There is no we and they, there is only us.

The story line in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is also about fear of the other. The ministry of magic thought if they could keep You-know-who to remain underground then there would be no cause for alarm.  If hatred is kept out of public sight then all must be right with the world.  But hiding hatred or using politically correct words to mitigate hatred to something sounding less threatening does not get rid of hatred; it only causes hatred to seethe underground and then it erupts violently.

I understand the outrage at demagogue Glenn Beck and Fox News who are skillfully weaving hatred across the nation against other people, against our president, against our government.   But outrage is not going to change the outcome; it will only burn undirected energy into ash.

Just as in the story where Harry Potter and Dumbledore are on the vanguard, we need to be intentional and public with our presence of acceptance of the other. There is a need to be visible in standing on the side of love with those most impacted by the hatred. There is a need to say the word that no one else wants to say, just as Harry Potter states matter of factly Lord Voldemort’s name instead of the hushed You-know-who, we need to say the word racism and bigotry because that is what is at play here.  And there should be no apology for doing so.

Harry Potter’s story also reveals some very creative ways to combat those who manipulate fear to control and intimidate others.   The responses that Harry Potter and his friends make are responses that Unitarian Universalists can also use to address the issues of our day.

The Weasely twins in the story plan a very intricate and wonderful act of civil disobedience in response to the new tyranny that Professor Umbredge has imposed on the school.  With their magic, they disrupt the school’s final examinations with fireworks and breathing dragons made of fire.  In their doing this they show the rest of the school that they are not going to be intimidated by the forces of oppression; that they will continue to live free.  The Unitarian Universalist’s ‘Standing on the Side of Love’ campaign with immigrants, with sexual minorities, and with Muslims is a visible way to show that we are not afraid of the forces of racism and bigotry.  And there are other creative ways to show that what is happening is not acceptable in a country that values liberty and justice for all.

Harry Potter and friends search out the words of prophecy because they believe that therein may indeed be information that might guide them in their actions against the dark lord.   Search out and use the prophetic words of women and men for clues on how we might respond to the concerns of our day.  Make their words known again in editorials, letters to the editors, and paid advertisements letting others know that there are higher ideals that all can be striving towards.

Yesterday friends encouraged friends on facebook to hear the words of Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous speech “I Have a Dream.” Because within these words lie a dream of hope that all people of America might one day realize the power of the American creed for themselves.  The words of this prophetic leader are just one who speaks through the ages of how to be a nation, judged not by the color of our skin but by our character as a people.

I know that I have spoken much lately about what is happening in this country from a variety of angles.  As a people of faith who historically heard the call for justice in the civil rights movement, the call is being sent out to stand on the side of love once again.  The cry for justice is not just in Arizona, or in New York City, or even in Murfreesboro, TN. Yes, their cries are being heard from afar.  But the cry for justice is coming here in Alabama as well.  Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon the cry for justice will be sounded here as well.   Will we be among those who respond?  Will we be prepared like Dumbledore’s Army skilled according to our unique abilities the ways for justice?

In the words of Martin Luther King, “I refuse to accept the view that [hu]mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” May it be so.

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.

Naomi and Ruth, Jonathan and David: A Look at Loyalty

A sermon delivered on 20 June 2010 © by Rev. Fred L Hammond to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Reading: 1 Samuel 18: 1,3-4

Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.


“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.

Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The LORD do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1: 16-17)

These beautiful words from the Book of Ruth have been read at hundreds of wedding services to assist in building the covenant between a man and a woman.  But these words are not about a covenant between a man and a woman but a covenant between a woman and a woman.

The book of Ruth in the Hebrew Scriptures is about loyalty and love.  Here is the story which makes these words so powerful.

Naomi and her husband Elimelech move to the country of Moab because there was a great famine in Judah.  Elimelech dies and their two sons, Mahlon and Chileon married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.  After about ten years these two sons also die, leaving no children.  Naomi, now alone decides to travel back to the home of her husband’s in Bethlehem in the country of Judah because she heard that the famine was over.   So Naomi and her daughters-in law begin the trek back to Judah.

In these days, women were considered property and if Naomi had additional sons they would have been expected to take Orpah and Ruth as their wives in the hopes of giving their brothers sons.  But this is not the case and Naomi is of the age when remarriage and child bearing is not an option for her to produce sons who then could grow up and marry her daughters in law.  And if such a thing were possible would it be fair to make them wait? So for them to return to Naomi’s husband’s family meant that they would be sold into slavery when her husband’s property is sold.  And Moabites while a peaceful people were considered deceivers that lured people away to false gods.  This was not a happy prospect.

Naomi beseeches her daughters-in-law to return to their own families so that they will not be sold into slavery, into a life of unknown poverty, into a life of further degradation.  They weep at this request. Orpah decides to take Naomi’s advice and return to her people.  It is from this culture that Ruth’s words are spoken.  It is from this realization of her future prospects that she declares these words to Naomi.  “Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go.”

Now the story has a happy ending.  Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem.  Naomi despairs of her bitter fate but Ruth goes and gleans the fields that belong to a man named Boaz.  It was a practice of the Jews to leave one tenth of the harvest so that the poor may glean the fields in order to have food.  Ruth did so behind the reapers and gained favor of the land owner.  Boaz, was a relative of Naomi’s husband and considered a protector of the family.  He admires the devotion that Ruth shows his kin’s widow and decides to try to make things right for them. He purchases the land that belonged to Naomi’s husband and takes the hand of Ruth in marriage. Naomi’s future is secured and Ruth becomes the great grandmother of King David.

Now, the story of Jonathan and David does not have a happy ending but it is an important story.   Our reading this morning begins after David had slew Goliath, the Philistine.  King Saul wanted to know who this warrior was and had called him to his court.  King Saul is so impressed with this young man that he invites David to live with them. During this audience with King Saul, Jonathan and David meet for the first time.  It was as the romantics might say, love at first sight.

David proved to be a great warrior and the country begin to sing his praises which made King Saul envious of David.  So envious that Saul made plans to have David killed.  But Jonathan interceded on David’s behalf on several occasions telling his father that his hatred towards David was unfounded. Jonathan renews his covenant with David and has “David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.” (1 Sam 20:17)  But Saul’s hatred against David grows and at one point rebukes Jonathan for his love, saying “Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?” (1 Sam 20: 30)  Jonathan sends David away in order to save David’s life. “David  …prostrated himself with his face to the ground.  He bowed three times, and they kissed each other; David wept the more.” (1 Sam 20:41)  Saul and Jonathan die in battle and David laments:  “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (2 Sam 26)

What is important in both of these relationships is that they were mutual, each person choosing the other as equals.  Marriage as found in the Hebrew Scriptures is rarely on a mutual standing.  The marriage arrangements are coerced or arranged by a third party.  The woman is considered property of the man and therefore has no say in the relationship. If there is love it is generally love that is developed later or it is one sided.

The word love as it applies to Jonathan and David is discussed in the Mishnah, the first major written redaction of the oral traditions of the Jewish faith.  It is contrasted to the word love as it pertains to another story in David’s life, the rape of David’s daughter Tamar by her half brother Amnon.

In the story of Amnon and Tamar, it is written that Amnon loved Tamar and craftily found a way to have her come to his chambers.  He feigns illness and asks that she bake him some food. She does so and enters his chamber to feed him.  He requests that she lie with him. She resists and he rapes her.  Then what she declares an ever worse offense he rejects her, going against Jewish law that states a man who rapes a virgin must take her in marriage.  This leaves her desolate, no longer eligible for marriage.

The Mishnah states, “If love depends on some material cause and the cause goes away, the love goes away, too; but if it does not depend on a thing, it will never go away.  What love depended on something?  The love of Amnon and Tamar.  What love was not dependent on something? The love of David and Jonathan.”[1]

The Hebrew word for love in the text is Ahava.  Ahava is used some 250 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.  It is used to refer to the sexual as in the very poetic Song of Songs.  It is used to refer to the love of a husband for a wife.  It is used to refer to passion in illicit relationships.  It is used to refer to the love of Jonathan and David, and Ruth and Naomi, and it is used in the great commandment to love one’s neighbor as one self[2]. And while we translate ahava as love, it literally means “I will give.”

Rabbi Kelemen discusses love from an Orthodox Jewish perspective.  He states if you ask an Orthodox Jew if they are in love, “[they have] to stop and ask … a completely different set of questions. He has to ask himself — How much am I willing to let go of what I want for her sake? How much am I willing to sacrifice for the sake of my beloved? What am I willing to let go of for her? It’s all about “her”, “her”, “her[3]”. It’s all about the other. Ahava, I will give. If I want to know if I’m in love, if I’m in ahava from a Jewish perspective, the question is not how does he or she make me feel good or what he or she does for me but rather how much am I willing to let go for the sake of the other.

It is this kind of love that is evident in the relationships of Naomi and Ruth and Jonathan and David. Ahava. I will give.  “…wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”  Ruth was giving up her culture, her home, her opportunity for safety, her gods, everything for the sake of being with Naomi.

Jonathan gave up his birthright claim to the throne. He gave up his place in commanding the armies of the kingdom.   He gave up his father’s favor for his love for David.

In terms of gay and lesbian relationships today, it is this form of love that I witness in my friends.  What have they let go of in order to be with the one they love?  A lot.

In 30 states it is still legal to fire or refuse to hire someone solely on the basis of their sexual orientation; an additional eight states still allow discrimination based on gender identity or expression[4].  In 20 states hate crime legislation either does not exist or does not include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.  In six states there are laws prohibiting the adoption or recognizing the adoption of children by same sex couples.  Three states restrict the placing of foster children in gay households, single or coupled.  By not having their marriage relationship recognized federally, the couple is restricted from 1,138 benefits including the marital communications privilege which is the right not to testify against ones spouse. They are denied survivor benefits and spousal benefits from social security.  They are denied medical decision-making power and hospital visitation rights.

This means that to have an Ahava, I will give, love relationship with a person of the same sex or gender, the person must be willing to give up the heterosexually acceptable act of holding hands in public because if they are seen by someone they know, their job might be in jeopardy. They must be willing to risk homophobic attacks; verbal, emotional, and physical because these are not considered to be hate crimes.  They must be willing to risk losing the child they raised together if their partner dies because they were not allowed to mutually adopt the child.  The couple must be willing to endure the heartbreak of not being able to be present when the other is dying in the hospital.  He or she, after the death of their spouse, must be willing to step aside when the family swoops in and claims possession of the house and their belongings they shared.

Now there are ways to minimize these risks but they are not guarantees against these risks.  In many states blood relations trump live in relations even if there is a will designating the partner as surviving heir to the estate.  Without the legal protection of marriage, a family can make and will win legal claim as next of kin.  There are couples across the country who thought they had cobbled together the legal protections available to them under the current laws  only to find out these laws are not strong enough or sufficient enough to protect them.

Such was the case of Tim Reardon and his partner Eric in Minnesota.  Tim and Eric had filed all the papers and paid all the legal fees only to find out that they had missed one, the right for Tim or Eric to have final say over the physical remains of their loved one.  Eric died of brain cancer and Tim was not allowed to claim the body. In Minnesota the state can seize the property, the house shared by both partners, if a partner dies and there is a lien on the property[5].  Legislation, entitled The Final Wishes Act, was passed in May of this year that would have repaired this inequity of privileges that are automatic for heterosexual couples but the governor of Minnesota[6] vetoed this legislation.

In California the battle over Proposition 8 continues.  The state of California voted to overturn a court’s ruling to allow same sex marriage.  18,000 same gendered marriages were performed before the ruling was overturned by the referendum of the state’s voters.  This has now been debated in the District court for the last six months.  The judge is expected to rule in a few weeks. There is much that a same sex couple will be losing should the judge rule in favor of the referendum.  The defendants want the 18,000 same sex marriages also annulled and made illegal.  There is much that love, ahava, is willing to give in order to be a same sex couple throughout the country today.

Not all same sex relationships are able to survive in a society where the pressure against them is strong.  Sometimes what one is willing or able to give is simply not enough to sustain the relationship.  In order for any relationship to survive, to thrive in the day to day difficulties, regardless of societal acceptance or not, there is another quality that is essential.  Both Ruth and Naomi and Jonathan and David had this quality between them.

There is another Hebrew word that has been translated as love but that is not an accurate translation.  The word is Chesed.  It has been translated as Love, as loving –kindness, as faithfulness, as loyalty, as mercy, as covenantal-love, as grace, as steadfast love.  Even these words combined do not seem to capture the full essence of the word Chesed.  The words as they are used in the story of Naomi and Ruth and in the story of Jonathan and David are in connection to a covenant that binds them to a higher purpose, to God, to their higher selves.

Rabbi Keleman states that “The … Orthodox Jews, … believe that the model of a perfect spouse is God. They have this wild belief that human beings were created in the image of God, and because they were created in the image of God they have God-like potential. And therefore, at least in terms of character, they could become like God. Now if you add to this that they believe that God is pure ahava, He is pure giving.[7]

The Covenant that God made with Abraham is one based in pure ahava, it is chesed, an undying, ever binding, unconditional,  merciful, steadfast, loyal, faithful love to Abraham and his descendants.  The marriage covenant also reflects this attitude of chesed.

Rabbi Keleman tells this story he heard about “Christopher Reeve, Superman, so he had this terrible accident and when he woke up from surgery they informed him that he was probably going to be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. No movement from the neck down. And shortly thereafter he had a discussion with his wife. His wife visited him there in the ICU and he said to her — ‘Sweetie, you know, I understand. I don’t mind if you divorce me. It’s okay.’  She looked at him and she said — ‘What are you talking about? What do you mean if I want to divorce you? I’m not going to divorce you.’ He explained — ‘No, no. I’m a quadriplegic now, I can’t take care of myself, I can’t do anything for you. I understand if you divorce me.’ And she very beautifully responded — ‘Why would I consider divorcing you?’ Because the reason she married him was she just wanted to take care of and love him. Now he couldn’t do certain things for her, that was irrelevant. She wanted to take care of him.[8]”  This story reveals the quality of Chesed.  It is more than just what she will give, ahava, but also what she expresses loyalty to in the relationship.

It goes beyond love, beyond ahava, I will give.  It is bound in covenant even when tragedy strikes. It is bound in covenant that is renewed even as one fails to honor it.   It is bound in covenant even when employment is lost.  It is bound in covenant even when disappointments abound and dreams are lost.  It is bound in covenant even when health is failing.  It is bound in a covenanted relationship that calls for the highest purpose, the highest expression of our selves.  The Orthodox Jews might express it as reaching to become like God in character, pure in ahava.

Jonathan and David expressed this depth of love, chesed, in a covenant between each other.  The word covenant as used in the Hebrew text is the same word used to describe a marriage vow.  They remind each other of this covenant as they figure out how they were going to deal with the death threats against David made by Jonathan’s father.

Sometimes, the most loving thing to do is to let the other person leave.  Jonathan could have been selfish and insisted that David stay in the vain hope of turning Saul’s heart once again, but to do so would have meant certain death to David.   The notion of ahava, I will give, sometimes includes I will give up the relationship in order to fully love and respect your inherent worth and dignity.

With Naomi and Ruth, Boaz uses the word chesed in recognition of Ruth’s devotion to Naomi and her seeking to abide by Jewish customs.   This is a quality that is noticed and admired.  It is a profound quality that endears Ruth to Boaz to see her not as foreigner, or a servant, but as an equal in status, appropriate as a wife for him.

The Mishnah states, “If love depends on some material cause and the cause goes away, the love goes away, too; but if it does not depend on a thing, it will never go away.”  Naomi and Ruth, Jonathan and David had a love that was not dependent on some material cause, on some circumstance or event that held it in place, or on some societal more of what is acceptable or not acceptable.  Theirs was a love that was based on something elemental to the human condition that transcended material causes or circumstances.  May we all have the opportunity to experience this ahava, this chesed, this depth and breadth of love in the living of our days.    Blessed Be.


[1] Boswell, John;  Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe.  P 136.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.warmwisdompress.com/dating/gtr/kelemen1.aspx

[4] http://www.thetaskforce.org/enda07/ENDAtoolkit_c4.pdf

[5] http://minnesotaindependent.com/24178/final-wishes-proposed-bill-aims-to-help-grieving-same-sex-couples

[6] http://www.truthwinsout.org/blog/2010/05/8847/

[7] http://www.warmwisdompress.com/dating/gtr/kelemen2.aspx as accessed on June 19 2010.

[8] http://www.warmwisdompress.com/dating/gtr/kelemen3.aspx

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 2:43 pm  Comments Off on Naomi and Ruth, Jonathan and David: A Look at Loyalty  
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