Is Justice Defined by the Victor?

It is the end of October.  I am getting up to ten political emails a day now all asking me to support their campaigns.  There is usually also a spin of fear in these emails.  The most horrible thing will happen if the other person wins the election. Doesn’t matter the political party, the fear expressed is the same.  If the other party wins, our way of life, our values, our freedom will be compromised or worse stripped away.

Is this really what our democracy is about?  Is it really a warring game where the other is characterized as some evil entity prowling to destroy our values?  If you listen to the commentaries this certainly seems to be the case.

I want to believe that the arc of history is bent towards justice.  So I try not to despair when I see racism rearing its ugly head in our proposed legislation or when I see laws curtailing the rights of people.  I say to myself eventually the arc of history will bend towards justice.  Maybe it is not a smooth arc but the arc is there and justice will win out.  But then, I have to ponder on who defines this justice?

I have a definition of what justice is and isn’t.  But so do the people who are proposing legislation that I feel attacks my definition of justice.  Come November 7th, barring a repeat of the 2000 elections, we will have either elected or re-elected a President.  Regardless of the winner, some will rejoice that the arc of history has moved towards justice.  And so I wonder is justice objective or subjective?

History it is said is written by the victors.  Is justice also defined by the victors?  Just as God can be created in our image and therefore love the people we love and hate the people we hate.  So too, is justice defined.  For 236 years, this nation has defined justice according to the words of white men.  There have been horrible atrocities in our nation’s history justified by white men in power. There has been genocide and slavery of entire races of people and these actions were justified by white men. The history books declare the actions were just or unjust depending on the victors.

Had the native peoples been able to prevent the white men from stealing their lands or the South had been able to defeat the North, the history of this nation would have justified the outcome differently. Here in the South, there is still a belief that the South was treated unjustly regarding the ending of slavery.  There is still a belief that state’s rights should have prevailed.

Today, there is a fear expressed by white people  that American history will soon be written by people of color; by people who do not share our religious doctrines; by people who have a different idea of how power should be distributed.  It is these fears that are the subtext in the political campaigns this year. The fear is that everything we thought we knew to be true will be considered false and rewritten. I would like to calm those fears and state that truth is never fully told by one side or the other. Truth is always a compilation of sides. It is by understanding the subjective angles of truth that we can begin to embrace our humanity and grow in compassion and love towards the other.

It seems to me that our freedom to vote for our leaders is even more crucial than ever before. For me, our leaders need to be the ones who will embrace the multiple sides of the truth as expressed by the people of our nation and begin to create justice with this recognition of the whole.  I want to believe that the arc of history bends forever towards Justice.  I want to believe that the positions I have taken are the correct positions. But perhaps the correct position is to have some humility and recognize that Justice as it develops may not be what I had in mind.  Blessed Be.

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The Sirens are Sounding: Will we Heed Them?

I am not sure when we as a world community will wake up. Two devastating tornado outbreaks within a month’s time in our nation with the allegedly rare EF5 tornadoes packing winds of over 200 miles per hour seem to be as good as an alarm bell as any I have heard.

Climate change is a reality.  It is not just a made up myth to scare little children before bedtime or to make block buster movies like The Day After Tomorrow.  We are facing massive climate change.  The floods in Pakistan, Australia, and Midwest; the uncontrollable fires currently in Texas, Russia, and Africa, record breaking temperatures, record breaking snowfalls; these are all pointing to dramatic climate change.

Firemap 11 May 2011 — 20 May 2011  Source: http://www.fire.uni-freiburg.de/current/globalfire.htm

I know we all laughed about global warming when we had record low temperatures and snow in the Deep South this passed year.  But with an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes an increase in temperatures and an increased ability for the air to hold more moisture. So it makes sense that precipitation will be more than usual.  And it makes sense that parts of the earth will be scorched of what little moisture is left preparing the land for fire which releases more CO2 into the air—a vicious cycle.

So what will it take for humanity to wake up and take steps to drastically reduce CO2 and other emission gases?

Bolivia took a bold step in that direction when it passed laws that reflected their indigenous people’s values.  This small South American country passed legislation that equated mother earth to have equal rights as humans. These rights include: “the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.”

Bolivia’s Vice-President Alvaro García Linera stated. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”

We need to follow Bolivia’s lead.  Our seventh principle states, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”  This principle is in harmony with the actions that Bolivia has taken.  We, as Unitarian Universalists can no longer afford to have nicely worded principles that we can simply point to. We need our actions and our behaviors to reflect these principles not only in our daily lives but also in our activism to change our society towards one that is also in harmony with Mother Earth. In short, we need to be radically progressive in embodying our principles if we want a planet that is conducive to sustaining not just life, but human life.  Blessings,

Donald S. Marsh: composer, mentor, friend

A dear friend and mentor of mine, Donald Stuart Marsh, died this past month.  I have been thinking about his legacy, his impact on my life and on the life of the community he called home for forty years.  Don was the director of arts of the First Presbyterian Church in Port Jervis, NY.   A ministry he shared with his life partner, the Rev. Richard K. Avery, who served as minister of this congregation. Don had a unique gift of being able to see the gifts that a person carried within them.  He saw the spark of who they were and intuitively was able to fan that spark so that it would be a fire of vitality.

I first met Don when I was about 12 years old. My junior high experience was fairly traumatic with bullying by my class mates. So when my older sister invited me to attend an actor’s workshop of the Presby Players, I felt my life was shifting towards something remarkable.

Presby Players was the acting troupe that Don founded and directed for forty years, bringing quality theatre to a country town with discussion of contemporary issues to the fore. He is considered to be the longest running director of a church arts program of its kind in the country.  I was privileged to have been able to work behind the scenes as well as on stage in several productions.  I had parts in “The Trojan Women,” “The House of Blue Leaves,” and “The Devil’s Disciple.”

Don outside his home in Santa Fe in 2006

These opportunities were a life saver for me.  I also participated in the church’s choir where we sang a variety of anthems and full choral pieces with orchestration like Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Hodie. For a number of years, the church would put on a version of the passion play on Good Friday.  I enjoyed participating in all of these events as they would sustain me through my week.

But Don and Dick were music composers in their own right, collaborating on more than 150 compositions that have been enjoyed in congregations across the country as well as several being translated into several languages including Swahili.   I was often invited to participate in worship workshops where they introduced creative ways to not only perform traditional music but also their own songs.  When I turned 14, Dick and Don offered me a position to assist in their publishing house, Proclamation Productions.  All of these activities were like a safe haven for me from the day to day school life of being bullied for being gay.  He offered me and so many others like me a life line and then taught us how to offer that life line to others.

I am not the only person whose life was forever transformed and enriched by the life of Don Marsh. There are hundreds of people, not only in the city of Port Jervis, NY but across the country that were moved by the light that was Don.  The comments that are left in the online guest book are filled with similar stories.  I shall be forever grateful for his life being such an integral part of my story.

After I came out of the closet, I was fortunate to have an opportunity to tell Don how important his life intersecting mine was and how vital a role he played in my growing up. I hope that my life will be at least half as important to those around me. If there are people in your life that have intersected with your life making you the better for their presence, tell them.

To quote one of Dick and Don’s songs, “Love them now. Don’t wait till they’re gone away.  Love them now, while they’re around. Touch them, hold them, laugh and cry with them. Show them, tell them, don’t deny with them.  Honor them, give birth and die with them now.  Love them now before they’re just a guilty mem’ry.  Love them now.  Love them now.” (Love Them Now © 1970 by Richard K. Avery and Donald S. Marsh)  Blessings abound, Fred

The process of life

(This first appeared as the message for Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church Newsletter for April.  I thought it might be of interest.)

I have been enjoying American Idol this season.  All of the contestants are really, really good.   It has been years, O alright decades, since I had voice lessons but I am impressed with the maturity of the voices I am hearing.   Simon Cowell made a comment tonight that was really quite profound.  He told one of the contestants, one of my personal favorites, to not allow the process of the competition lead her away from who she is.  She tried something new. It was a risk.  It was a good risk.  I thought it worked for her.  But Simon’s comments were important not only for the contestants but for all of us as well.

There are a few singers who have learned early on that if they do a certain thing, the audience is going to love them for it.  It is great to know that the singers have those skills but when those skills become the standard to the performance it not only grows stale, it becomes false to who they are.

If Simon were to offer his advice as a piece of spiritual wisdom, he might have said, “Do not let the process of living lead you away from who you are.” These are important words and hard to follow because we are always in relationship with our environment.  Peer pressure is the best example I can come up with that exemplifies what I mean.  We want to be liked by others.  We want their approval.  Nothing wrong in these two desires but the way peer pressure works; we sometimes surrender who we are in order to be liked by the in-crowd or to win approval from that in-crowd.  And it is in the doing of things that we know in our heart of hearts is not true to our center that we find ourselves being led away from authenticity.

But it is not only peer pressure that is part and parcel to the process of living.  It could be disappointments that we faced.  It could be emotional woundedness that we never quite were able to resolve to satisfaction.  The process of living can result in residual habitual behaviors that tamp down the joy that life has to offer.

The first Sunday of April is Easter; a day where Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Taken just from its metaphorical meanings, it signals that even the most insurmountable defeats do not need to be so.  New life, new possibilities, new opportunities to be our authentic selves abound even in the face of insurmountable defeats.  And so it is with Simon’s advice to the young performer. To follow the leadings of the process that the institution of the performing arts demands can be a process that leads to the tomb or if kept true to her integrity can be one of exhilarating resurrection.  The process of living does not need to wear us down.  If we remain true to who we are, maintain our integrity of self, we might find our very souls being lifted up.

Published in: on April 16, 2010 at 12:33 pm  Comments Off on The process of life  
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Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward Men

Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward Men was originally published in the Our Home Universalist Unitarian monthly newsletter for December 2009.   

Another year is coming to a close and our thoughts begin to drift to the holidays of gift giving, parties, and celebrating each other’s company.  These are all good things to do; especially as our economy still struggles to rise from the ashes of mortgage and banking schemes of greed that backfired on millions of people. So what does this season of joy mean to us in the face of such struggle?  Is there true hope that shines over a manger in Bethlehem?    I believe there is. 

Conservative Christians see the birth of Jesus as a fulfillment of the promise of God to redeem the world from sin. To participate in this redemption a person has to confess with their mouth that they have asked for forgiveness of their sins and accept Jesus into their hearts. To quote Joel Osteen; to say this prayer transforms one into a Christian.  

Unitarian Universalists tend not to believe that a simple confession of the mouth will save or transform anyone.  It is not words alone that save us.  If there is a contention between liberal and conservative religion, perhaps it is whether repeating a prayer will save a person from anything let alone from judgment day.  This is not the hope that shines bright each December.  

No, the hope that shines bright is the belief that we can indeed fulfill the promise of “Peace on earth, Good will toward men.”  The purpose of Christmas is not eternal salvation as Rick Warren’s popular book of the same name claims but rather to instill the hope that humanity can evolve to the point where violence—physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual violence—towards one another no longer needs to be the norm.  This sort of transformation does not happen over night, it takes diligence.  It takes discipline, rigorous discipline of the every day kind for that sort of transformation.  

I spent over 20 years of my life as a Charismatic Christian. I have seen many things that I cannot explain.  But the one thing I can explain is why individuals who claimed to be instantaneously freed from addictions (defined as broadly as possible) did not remain in their sobriety of that addiction.  It did not last when the holy chills of the moment wore off unless they committed themselves to the work of one day at a time.   Jesus’ command to “go and sin no more” was not just an idle saying.  As anyone in alcoholics anonymous can tell you it takes a recommitment every day and sometimes every hour, every minute to fulfill Jesus’ word of “go and sin no more.” 

It is the same for all of us.  The spiritual journey is not a blanket that is wrapped around us on a cool evening but a diligent stoking of the fires of warmth and generosity.  It is not a check off list— complete laundry; buy groceries; accept Jesus into my heart—that’s now done, where’s the party? The teaching of Jesus’ to love our neighbor as our self takes the kind of discipline that a person in AA takes to remain sober. Unitarian Universalists believe this is the way towards the Christmas promise.   Whether you claim to be a Christian, a Unitarian Universalist, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Mormon; by whatever stripe you are healed, work out your salvation not just in words but in your commitment to actions that bring peace on earth, good will towards all.  Blessings,

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm  Comments Off on Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward Men  
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The Good News of Unitarian Universalism

There is a commercial airing these past few weeks on local TV that starts off with all the scary things happening in the world—Halloween, war, teen age pregnancies, divorce are some of the examples given. Yes, Halloween is in the commercial with these others as being scary.  They proclaim the solution to this fear is in placing trust in Jesus Christ.  It is a concrete, one size fits all answer.  For some people this may indeed be the answer they desire. 

 How would Unitarian Universalists answer these frightful and painful events?   Unitarian Universalists tend not to think that a belief in a creed or a doctrine can heal our hearts.  We may believe in the power of prayer or meditation.  We may even believe in the teachings of a spiritual leader such as Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha or contemporary spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hahn or Maryanne Williamson. But it is not the teachings or the prayers themselves that heal painful events but rather how we integrate those teachings and prayers in our active responses to the event that heals. 

We covenant to be together and to support one another in each of our spiritual journeys, which are as unique as our fingerprints.  We covenant to listen to one other.  We covenant to be present to one another; to be present with a full heart of compassion and empathy.  We choose not to see each other as broken and fallen but rather as having inherent worth and dignity. It is that inherent worth and dignity that we call forth with our actions when we see another in pain and in suffering.  We recognize the ambiguity, the murkiness, and the messiness of the situations that afflict us in our day-to-day. And we declare that ambiguity to be okay even as we seek to have clearer answers for our lives. 

We seek to live our lives with justice, equity, and compassion in all of our relations.  To live our lives in such a manner is a spiritual quest that demands our daily attention.  Sometimes that will mean that we march and protest against those forces that oppress and inflict injustice and sometimes it will mean that we will be silent witnesses holding the other close to our hearts.  Sometimes it may mean that we seek forgiveness from others when we fall short of our desired intention.  But we believe that to seek to live our lives in such a manner can and will have a profound impact on the world around us. 

In looking at our history either just back to our merger of Unitarians and Universalists in 1961 or further back to the American formation of these religious expressions; Unitarian Universalists have had a profound impact on society.  It was these principles being lived out that influenced the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the formation of our democratic government.  It was these principles that encouraged abolitionists and suffragists to seek freedom and the right to vote.  It is these principles that are being lived out in the seeking of equality for sexual minorities today.  This is our good news.  Blessings,

Published in: on October 20, 2009 at 5:32 pm  Comments Off on The Good News of Unitarian Universalism  
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Critical Incident Stress Management

The recent tornadoes that swept through Magee, MS were a gruesome reminder of our vulnerability to the ravages of weather related tragedies. There has been talk in our congregation and across the Mid-south district about what we can do to be prepared should tragedy strike our communities.

I went to Knoxville, TN to receive certification in Critical Incident Stress Management enabling me to respond to the psychological aftermath of such tragedies. It was an important training in many ways. While no one wants to experience the destruction of a home or church to tornado, flood, hurricane, or fire; these things do happen and do take their toll. And last August we became painfully aware of the human element of destruction when a gunman opened fire at the TVUUC in Knoxville. This certification will assist in preventing the long term effects of post traumatic stress and aid in the healing process of those witnesses of such events.  

The training received is a bit more comprehensive than the American Red Cross’ Psychological First AID only because the ARC program is geared more towards natural disasters rather than specific human made events.  This certification program offered through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. can be used after any stressful event, including but not exclusively, suicide, violence, natural disaster, medical emergency.   While there were other clergy at the training I attended, the participants came from all walks of life; professional therapists to sextons.   It seems wise to have as many people as can be trained to be able to assist in such an event.

But are there things we could do to help minimize the impact of tragedy on our lives?

I believe there is a pre-response. The congregation I serve in Mississippi participated in surveying our neighbors for pre-disaster assessment for the Red Cross. This was an important task that we did. This information will aid firefighters and rescue workers in knowing where to begin sending medical aid immediately.   For instance, some medical conditions require refrigeration of medications.   Knowing who in the community needs sort of aid in advance will get them the help they need sooner.

But I now realize that we did not do the same pre-assessment for our members. Should disaster strike our community, how would we get in touch with our members to ensure their safety? I began to wonder how many of us are certified in CPR and First Aid. Would we know exactly what to do if someone had a medical incident at church? Do we have relevant medical histories on our members in case of a medical incident? Do we have next of kin contact information on file? Not only in a computer database but also in hard-copy in case of power outage.  Who would call 911? What is the location of the first aid kit and is it up-to-date in its supplies? Who knows what to do in case of choking? Do we have emergency supplies? What would we do in case of fire or tornado while we were at church?

It is not just having a plan written down but knowing the plan well enough to execute it. Being prepared is not jinxing our future for these events to occur, but rather enables us to be able to respond in a timely manner and reduce the impact of the tragedy. Some of the steps to take in developing a preparedness strategy is located at the Mid-South District website—Msduua.org. It helps us to create resiliency so we can pass through the storms of our lives with some ability of hope for our future. No one wants to anticipate disasters but they do happen. It would be wise to know how to respond in advance. Blessings, Fred

Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 10:16 am  Comments Off on Critical Incident Stress Management  
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All I Want For Christmas

A conversation after church a few Sundays ago encouraged someone to say, “Well, add that to your Christmas wish.”    It is indeed a time of when we begin to wonder about what to offer our loved ones for Christmas.  And we begin wondering what we also want this time of year when hoping seems so magical

I remember the song, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.”  Sometimes it is the simple things that suffice our deepest cravings.  Two front teeth, to be surrounded by family and friends, to sit in front of a roaring fireplace with music gently playing in the background, these are all simple things.  Sometimes it is the more ethereal things that will comfort us.   The song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” written in 1962 by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne, was in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is a powerful plea for peace in the world and one that still echoes its call in today’s world.   What is it that you want for Christmas?

Here are a few things that I would want for Christmas this year. Perhaps these could be suggestions to offer your friends and family about gifts you would want instead of receiving another tie or knick-knack. It is a means to giving the gift of hope to others.  I want a village in Africa to have safe clean drinking water through the efforts of Ryan’s Well Foundation. Click Here   I want families to receive assistance in learning how to create a sovereign food supply through Heifer International Click Here  or through the Hunger Project Click Here.    I want the indigenous people of the Rain Forests to be able to take active participation in saving their lands from deforestation efforts through the Pachamama Alliance Click Here.  I want Native American teens to be able to be to attend college and advance their contributions to their world through The Northern Arizona Native American Foundation  Click Here .  I want research done to help those impacted by spinal cord injuries Click Here , HIV/AIDS Click Here, and Breast Cancer  Click Here 

There are other efforts being done to promote racial equity, economic justice, and civil rights. I guess I am still like that little kid who wants the toy store for Christmas but in the manner that will change lives.  Happy Holidays everyone
Blessings, Fred

Published in: on December 5, 2008 at 3:06 pm  Comments Off on All I Want For Christmas  
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Earth Day 38th anniversary

As I write this, it is almost Earth Day. I remember the first Earth Day celebration, 38 years ago. The church I attended as a teenager participated in Earth Day with an all day clean up of Orange Square, the small park across the street from the church and as I recall there were some talks held at the church on the importance of being good stewards of our planet.

Today, Earth Day is more than just cleaning up the litter that we were too lazy to place in trash receptacles. And lazy does not even acknowledge the full weight of that act; there is a strong tinge of arrogance attached to littering as well. And privilege.

Arrogance that comes from centuries of teachings that human kind was to dominate and subdue the earth to our will. Privilege in that we were the superior entities on this planet and not simply animals like the whale or the grizzly bear.

Today, we are realizing, albeit slowly, that we are not the masters of our planet. We are an interconnected, interdependent species with all of life on this planet. Our survival depends on the survival of even the smallest creature or plant. The difficulty in this realization is that our society wants instantaneous consequences. We want to see results immediately and that is not how the planet works. Slowly poisoning our eco-system takes time for it to show up in the environment. And we are even slower to realize that we had something to do with it.

Mutated frogSeveral years ago there were reports of frogs either disappearing or having increased deformities. Pictures of frogs with extra appendages or lack of appendages began to show up on the internet. Some of the frogs were sterile. It slowly dawned on people that perhaps this was the result of DDT and other pesticides and chemicals being used. The reason these effects showed up in frogs is because amphibians have a shorter life cycle than other more complex animals. They also have a skin membrane that is purposely conducive to absorption of moisture—moisture that may be contaminated with chemicals such as pesticides.

Could it possibly be that our use of chemicals are also having profound effects on our DNA as well but because our life cycle is slower it will take some time before it shows up in the human species? Or has it already appeared and we are blind to recognize it as such? Why is it that autism incidence rose 1342% since 1993? And Asperger’s Disorder has an even higher rate of incidence. It simply cannot be because we are better at diagnosing these disorders. Could our pollution habits have a connection to the rise of these and other disorders?

I am not suggesting a conspiracy theory here. I am, however, asking questions of where our arrogance to our planet has led us to. Whether we like to think so or not, we are part of the ecosystem of our planet. The only difference is we have the profound ability to impact that ecosystem and us along the way. It is time we become conscious of that impact and change our behaviors. Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond

Published in: on April 19, 2008 at 6:44 pm  Comments Off on Earth Day 38th anniversary  
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