A Stitch in Time

We live in a relational universe.  Everything in the universe is in a fragile tension with everything else.  Pull on one thread and the whole world can unravel, perhaps without much notice at first but that thread pulled creates a larger and larger hole in the fabric.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith teaches us that we are interconnected, interdependent not only with each other of the Human species but with the entire universe. This relational aspect of our existence makes it difficult to know how to right the wrongs of injustice.

Unfortunately, what may have worked as an intervention as a child when defending a friend who is being beaten up by the schoolyard bully begins to not work as well when expanded to a neighborhood, or a community, a state, a nation, many nations.  Bernard Loomer, theologian from the mid-to late 20th century, stated that the potential for doing both good and evil expands the larger the size of the entity.  So the fight between two individuals is easily seen in the simple contrast of right and wrong but when right and wrong are extrapolated to the size of governments, the right and wrong actions become harder to discern.

They become harder to discern because the notion of what is good is harder to decipher.  What may be good for the USA might not be good for the other country, in fact, it could be downright evil.

Such was the case when Iran elected to office as Prime Minister in 1951, Mohammad Mossadegh.  Oil was discovered in Iran by the British and they developed the processing of it but paid very little of the revenue to the Iranian government.  The British also were abusive to the Iranian workers paying them sub wages and treated them horribly.  Mossadegh sought to nationalize the oil industry in Iran but Britain and the USA were opposed to this action.  Mossadegh believed that in order for a nation to be politically independent and democratically free it must first be economically independent and free from foreign exploitation of its resources.[i]

The CIA began a smear campaign against Mossadegh.  They not only stirred anti-Mossadegh sentiment in Iran, they stirred anti-Iran sentiment in the USA as well through the media. All of it fabricated and false in order to cause a coup in Iran and topple this government so that oil revenues will continue to flow into US and British coffers.  The CIA were successful in 1953 to oust Mossadegh, a democratic leader and put into power, the Shah of Iran, a ruthless monarch.

The good for the US was evil for the Iranian people. The 26 years of harsh rule by the Shah fueled the religious right’s anger.  Khomeini’s rise to power, the 1979 revolt against the Shah, the US hostage crisis, Khomeini’s calling the USA the Great Satan, the rise of terrorist groups against the USA; all of these events are consequences to the 1953 USA supported coup. The limited good, if securing oil for 26 years is considered a good, is outweighed by the evil it has spawned.

There are additional seemingly unrelated actions and events that are facets to this gleaming diamond of evil in this region brought on by the belief that such would be good for the USA.  For example, during the Iraqi-Iran war, Iraq used chemical warfare against the Iranian people. The USA supported the use of such weapons and gave Iraq satellite targets for their chemical war campaign.  The USA was still smarting from the year of stalemate with the US Hostages in Iran. The USA was terrified of the thought that Iran could win this war and shut down another source of oil and therefore sought to give Saddam Hussein the advantage and allowed this war to be punishment on Iran.  When it was advantageous to us  we used as one of the many excuses for our invasion of Iraq in 2003 Saddam’s use of chemical warfare during the Iraqi-Iranian War.  We neglected to remind the American people of our complicity in their use. We chose to support his use of chemical warfare and then we punish him for doing so years later.

The USA needs to learn the lesson from these events and soon.  We are about to step into a mess that is far more complex than the world was in 1953.  It is more complex precisely because of this history of USA’s foreign policy of only doing things that will benefit the USA and no one else.

There are no clear sides in the Syrian civil war.  The rebels are not a unified entity but made up of several factions.  Some backed by Turkey, others backed by Saudi Arabia.  Bashar Assad is backed by Iran and Russia.  Some of the rebels are backed by terrorist groups like the Moslem Brotherhood while other terrorist groups like Hezbollah are supporting the Syrian government.

While it is atrocious that Assad would use chemical warfare against his own people, a military strike by the USA will not convince him of the errors of his ways. It will only strengthen his resolve.  It will only serve to recruit more terrorists who believe we are indeed the Great Satan who gives with one hand and destroys with the other. It will only result in more deaths of innocent people living in Syria.

Given our history in this region, any good we might do will be seen with suspicion and rightfully so.  We have never done anything in this region that was not motivated by profit for corporations.  Our addiction for oil has caused us to be erratic in our foreign policy.

As others have also voiced, we must end our dependence on oil, remove that motivation from the equation.  Syria does not have oil, one might argue.  True, but Syria is roiled in internal conflict in a region where such conflict has spilled their borders before and in a region where access to foreign oil remains crucial to the USA economy makes any intervention in Syria as a potential benefit to our oil interests.  We need to be clear about our motives here, the public may be outraged in the use of chemicals, but the USA government is outraged this may prohibit access to our drug of choice, Oil.

Our oil companies must begin converting their products to alternative clean energy sources like solar and wind. The time has come not only in stopping our addiction to fossil fuels but also to stop the destruction of our planet.

We must use whatever diplomatic measures available to us to urge Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, and Iran and foreign terrorist groups like Hezbollah from supporting the civil war.  If they can be convinced to remove their support in ground troops, in arms deals, in monetary support, then the oxygen in this war will be removed and it will be snuffed out.  But such an action takes resolve and every current player and potential players need to be on board to take this bold action.

We cannot repeat the mistakes of our past.  The fragile interconnection and interdependence that we have with one another depends on our being willing to seek to strengthen relationships and not destroy them. When one strand of a spider’s web is broken and not fixed, it only takes a gust of wind to tear the web further into dysfunction.  A military strike does not fix the web; it destroys it with untold suffering and generational consequences of untold damage.

If we had not intervened with another people’s right to self-determination, then so much of today’s world would be the better for it.

Violence in America

Reading: “All this is simply to say that all life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. As long as there is poverty in the world, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people cannot expect to live more than twenty or thirty years, no man can be totally healthy, even if he just got a clean bill of health from the finest clinic in America. Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way the world is made. I didn’t make it that way, but this is the interrelated structure of reality. John Donne caught it a few centuries ago and could cry out, ‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ If we are to realize the American Dream we must cultivate this world perspective. – From The American Dream 6 June 1961

Violence in America

When I was a child in the late 1950’s early 1960’s, I remember having these emergency drills in school.   My town was roughly 90 miles from Manhattan.  If Manhattan was hit by a nuclear bomb, what would we do?  So every so often we would move all of our desks against the inside wall away from the windows and we would all get underneath them.  Poor Peter, in first grade he was too tall to fit under his desk so he had to go into the teacher’s closet.  We did this drill on regular basis knowing full well if Manhattan was indeed a target of a nuclear bomb, we might survive the initial blast but the radiation would kill us within a few days[i].

During this same time period, there were momentous changes happening in America.  The civil rights movement was occurring and from my living room in rural New York State I watched in horror as German shepherds was set to attack black Americans in the south.  I saw on my television churches and synagogues being firebombed through out the country.

And across the oceans I watched Walter Cronkite report the news in Viet Nam and saw again in black and white horror children running in the streets while Napalm flames consumed their bodies. These are the images of my childhood that are seared in my brain of life in America, home of the brave and land of the free.

And so I grew up understanding that America was under a threat. There was the threat of nuclear war the Cuban Missile crisis, the fear of race riots, and the fear of the Domino effect of communism that would cause Southeast Asia to fall.  And the only way to combat these threats was with violence or the threat of violence.

And now within the last few months in the aftermath of some of the most horrid massacres, the number one threat that is perceived is that the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, might be curtailed or worse denied.  The fact that there are people having access to assault weapons that have one purpose and one purpose only was not the fear but that we might have guns pried out of our hands.  Here is where America is drawing the line.

In Northport, AL, this past week, hundreds of people showed up at a meeting with State Legislators demanding that gun legislation already in place be repealed. They were demanding that they have the constitutional right to carry guns where ever they pleased.

Now, there really shouldn’t be any surprise at this reaction from “gun enthusiasts” as the local paper called them. After all, this nation has been at war 216 years of its 237 year existence.  There has not been one full decade where America was not in some armed battle somewhere in the world.   The longest period of peace this nation experienced is for 5 years during the Great Depression.

From our earliest days we have been at battle.  The largest and longest campaign of ethnic cleansing in humanity’s history was here in this nation.  More than half of our existence as a nation has been in the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans.  We don’t like to talk about it in such terms but what the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny policies were about in practice was the systemic elimination of the native peoples. How can this multi-generational genocidal act not shape the American ethos?

Our nation is founded on the justification of violence.   Howard Zinn in his book, A People’s History of the United States writes, “To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important—it should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.”

Our history books are written from the standpoint that violence committed was a justifiable means to get what we thought we deserved. While we deplore the violence in an elementary school and in a movie theater and what happens daily in the ghettos of America we shrug our shoulders and say, “yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important.”—but what is important is my right, my constitutional right to have multiple guns to defend my self from the possibility of a government takeover by socialists.

This is not what makes a society free. This is what makes a society enslaved—to fear—to hatred of the other—to a survival mentality of get-them-before-they-get-us culture.

So how do we change a society where violence is as much a part of living as breathing?  A recent op-ed piece by Faith Leaders for Peace, a San Diego based coalition that I helped form 8 years ago, “issue[d] this moral call for persons to reconsider gun possession and to fully appreciate the spiritual peril that ensues from the decision to kill another human being.”

The spiritual peril was never quite spelled out but I imagine such peril might have been described by Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.[ii]

My first career was working as a clinical specialist with developmentally disabled adults, many of whom had maladjusted coping behaviors.  So in my day to day work, I would be called in by staff who were having difficulties with client behavior.  They would want me to change the behavior of the client that very often had taken a lifetime to form.  No one has the ability to change another’s behavior.  But I promised to observe the environment in which the person lived or worked. I would try to figure out what happened that would result in the client behaving in such a negative manner.  Then I would suggest the staff member to change their behavior in how they interacted with the client and if they followed my suggestions, low and behold the client responded differently and their behavior changed. We cannot force someone to change their behavior but we can and we must change out own.  This means we need to begin being proactive and not reactive in our own behaviors regarding violence.

It is nearly impossible to legislate the kind of change needed to curb violence in America.  We can make some legislation changes like requiring all gun owners to become licensed in gun safety much like a driver needs to become licensed in car driving.  Or allowing doctors access to know if their patients own guns when they consider them to be a mental health risk and just as doctors can have drivers licenses revoked and keys taken away have gun licenses revoked and removed. This access by doctors is currently against the law in the State of Florida.

But opponents are quick to tell us that if we outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns. It is true legislation will not stop gun violence 100%.  But even if the reduction was as low as 25% of annual gun deaths by legislation, this is still roughly 7,500 lives saved.  Aren’t these lives saved worth legislation to increase gun safety?

Given the conservative hold on the house, such legislation will only occur with major concessions to the gun lobby who fears their business will be adversely affected by it.  Such legislation is a start but it is not the entire answer to creating a nation that seeks to turn its weapons into plowshares.

We have an opportunity as a religious body to change our own behaviors towards violence. We must begin with ourselves. It will do no good to tell our politicians to pass legislation and consider the issue fixed.  It also will do no good to scape goat the mentally ill or criminals for the violence we experience in society.  As long as we point our fingers elsewhere we are all perpetrators of violence.

As I stated violence in American culture has its roots dating back to the 1600’s with the first colony massacring the native peoples and the first boat of Africans to serve as slaves.  Violence in America is not just physical; it is also emotional, psychological, and spiritual.

As a religious community we need to be teaching ourselves how to implement the principles we profess to covenant to uphold.  Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations are not just nice words on the page but a command to teach the skills in how to develop this in our relations, not only with one another but with the world at large.

How do we handle domestic disputes within our families?  We must teach our sons and daughters that violence against women is never appropriate in any form.  Violent speech must be taught to be as inappropriate as violent behavior.  But simply stating it is inappropriate is not good enough.  We must teach our children and our adults how to choose a different way of speaking when in conflict.

There are many curricula out there that teach non-violent communication.  A good non-violent communication curriculum would also teach how to de-escalate a potentially violent scenario.  It does work; I have used this many times when I worked with clients who were volatile.  A recent shooting in a school was kept from getting worse by a teacher who had the skills to talk a student down.  Yes, it is risky, and yes it could have ended with more lives lost.  But non-violent communication is the way to go.  How much better would it have gone if this was already an integrated method to handle conflicts in that school?  Would the student have chosen to use a gun to address his pain?  Or would he have had another skill in his tool bag to use to have addressed the issue.  I would bet on the latter.

In addition to non-violent communication skills we need to ensure that we teach our congregations about the various isms in society that are also rooted in violence.  Racism, Classism, Heterosexism, sexism, ageism, able-ism all have roots in violence.  Not only do they contribute to physical violence, but also emotional and spiritual violence are pervasive in these institutionalized isms in our society.  It is important that our congregations are places where these isms are not enforced and supported.

We need to teach our congregations about micro-aggressions.  “Micro-aggressions are the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.[iii]”  This is a relatively new way of looking at the effects of isms in our daily communications with one another and how they accumulate and harm a person’s life experience over time.

As a covenantal faith, we can in the words of Rev. Alice Blair Wesley,“ pledge to walk together in the ways of truth and affection as best we know them now or may learn them in days to come That we and our children may be fulfilled and that we may speak to the world with words and actions of peace and goodwill.”

It is true that our faith is a relatively small percentage of the population of America.  But that should not discourage us from beginning this work.   There is an old adage that states a little yeast leavens the whole dough.  And so it could be for us.  We could be the yeast that leavens the society to change and transform into a nation of peace loving people.  Blessed be.

Violence in America

Rev. Fred L Hammond

Oxford Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

January 27 2013 ©

[i] http://www.nationalterroralert.com/nuclear/   This is based on the results of a 1 megaton bomb fallout at  a Distance: 90 miles A lethal dose of radiation. Death occurs from two to fourteen days.  Todays .

[ii] –Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies,” in Strength to Love 

[iii] Derald Wing Sue, Microaggressions in Daily Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation.

Published in: on February 6, 2013 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on Violence in America  
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The Cry For Freedom

I received the following quote via twitter this week.  The quote by Ana Levy-Lyons is from an essay she wrote for the recent edition of the UU World, our denomination’s magazine.  She states:  “It seems clear that there should be tension—enormous tension. Until the world is as it should be, until war and hunger are abolished, until power is shared and all voices are heard, we should not be able to fit comfortably into this culture.[i]

She is talking about religious communities being counter-cultural, as being a model of a way of life that prophetically calls society to be different than the way society is currently manifested.  She then calls upon James Luther Adams, our Unitarian Universalist theologian of the 20th century and quotes his words[ii]:

The element of commitment, of change of hearts, of decision so much emphasized in the Gospels, has been neglected by religious liberalism, and that is the prime source of its enfeeblement. We liberals are largely an uncommitted and therefore self-frustrating people. Our first task, then, is to restore to liberalism its own dynamic and its own prophetic genius . . . A holy community must be a militant community with its own explicit faith; and this explicit faith cannot be engendered without disciplines that shape the ethos of the group and that issue in the criticism of the society and of the “religious” community itself.

Harsh words to hear.  First the question of not being counter-cultural and then not committed to restoring liberalism, religious liberalism to its own prophetic genius that critiques society and our religious living within it.  Harsh words indeed.  But are there examples of this happening?

In 2005 I had the privilege of visiting Chiapas, a state in southern Mexico.  Chiapas is much like Alabama in some ways.  It too is among the poorest of its nation.  They too made international news for the ways the government oppresses people there. When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed by the US, Canada, and Mexico, the indigenous people of Chiapas realized that NAFTA was not for their benefit but would actually do them great harm.   All of the resources of this wonderful state, Let me repeat that,  all of the resources are owned not by the indigenous people.  The coffee, the beef cattle, the bananas, the honey, the oil, the electricity, and many other exportable resources; all of it is controlled by the Mexican government and American corporations. The people of Chiapas do not see any of the money produced by these resources.

The people who live here are living in dire poverty and they are exploited not only by their own government but also by the corporations from America and Europe.  But how are their needs presented to us?

In a piece that I wrote for the Chiapas Peace House Newsletter, The Children of El Pacayel[iii], I described the charitable organizations portrayal of such children.  I said I had been taken in by “the international charitable organizations that seek to raise funds by showing third world children.  You know the video clip.  The image of Sally Struthers walking down dirt trodden roads with children cast aside along the way unable to move from hunger or disease is meant to pull at our heart strings to donate money.   The closing clip shows her holding a young girl all gussied up and smiling.  See what your money can do?”

This form of charity, as well meaning as the donors are for those who are destitute does not answer the root causes of the poverty.  Leonardo and Clodovis Boff in their text, Introducing Liberation Theology, state this approach as “a strategy for helping the poor, but treating them as (collective) objects of charity, not as subjects of their own liberation…. There is a failure to see that the poor are oppressed and made poor by others; and what they do possess—strength to resist, capacity to understand their rights, to organize themselves and transform a subhuman situation—tends to be left out of account. Aid increases the dependence of the poor; tying them to help from others, to decisions made by others; again, not enabling them to become their own liberators.”

If some of this argument sounds familiar, it is because this is the argument of conservatives in this nation regarding welfare. Conservative voices might add the belief that poverty is caused by some sort of vice such as “laziness, ignorance, or simply human wickedness.”  Many liberals tend to see this argument as heartless towards those who are poor, not only in third world countries, but right here in America, right here in Alabama.   Liberals response to this argument is to maintain programs of aid to the poor as a form of compassion band aid or as Boff coins it, “objects of pity.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I am one of those liberals who want to keep those welfare programs in tact.  But perhaps, it is time for me to recognize that it is at best a temporary safety net measure and not meant to be a permanent fixture in any one’s life.

And that might be why there is the reform argument which is the response from liberals who believe that with minor restructuring within existing systems the situation of the poor will be improved.  Alas, Boff writes, “Reformism can lead to great feats of development in the poorer nations, but this development is nearly always at the expense of the oppressed poor and very rarely in their favor.”
This is also the belief that third world countries and even poor states like Alabama and Mississippi are poor as a function of backwardness.  In the process of time, if stimulus loans for economic development in Alabama or foreign aid for third world countries were given, then the result would be prosperity and progress.

The problem with reformism is that it is generated not from within the community affected but from outside of the community. Those who are to benefit from reform are “passive objects of action taken by others.”

NAFTA was supposed to be one of those reforms of the system. The thinking was if there was more ease in the production and trading of goods between nations then all would benefit from it.  However over 2 million farmers lost[iv] their ability to farm in Mexico once NAFTA was fully implemented in part because they could no longer compete with factory farms in the US and in Mexico.  In short, the old adage rings true; the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

There is a third way to approach and explain the problem of poverty.  It is a dialectical explanation: poverty as oppression.  Boff explains that “poverty [is] the product of the economic organization of society itself, which exploits some—the workers—and excludes others from the production process—the underemployed, unemployed, and all those marginalized in one way or another.”

The way out is not through charitable contributions or through reforms but by replacing the present way of doing things by offering an alternative system—a counter cultural approach.  It is the poor themselves who stand up to create this revolutionary approach to their liberation.

Liberation theology seeks to do this by seeking to first understand the historical context of the poor and oppressed and then find ways to respond in relationship to that context.  Now Liberation theology is steeped in Christology—Jesus teachings about the poor and the transformative process through the death and resurrection of Jesus as being central to Liberation Theology.  As Boff explains, “the poor are not simply poor, as we have seen; they seek life, and ‘to the full’ (John 10:10). This means that questions relevant to or urgent for the poor are bound up with the transcendental questions of conversion, grace, resurrection.”  And conversion, grace, and resurrection are evident in the evolution of the resistance movement Mexico and other Central American countries.

In Chiapas, the Zapatista’s initially rose up and declared war against the Mexican government.  And after blood shed in the early years of their declared war, they decided war was not the answer but rather a sustained resistance to exploitation. This came about after the massacre at Acteal, where some 40 innocent men, women, and children were killed by the Mexican military.  These people were not Zapatistas but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The world community stood up in protest. Marcos writes in the Sixth Declaration[v]:  “the first thing we saw was that our heart was not the same as before, when we began our struggle. It was larger, because now we had touched the hearts of many good people. And we also saw that our heart was more hurt, it was more wounded. And it was not wounded by the deceits of the bad governments, but because, when we touched the hearts of others, we also touched their sorrows. It was as if we were seeing ourselves in a mirror.”

My visit to the Zapatista community of Oventic revealed a community where a democracy by consensus was being developed.  These were a people who understood the historical context in which they lived.  Not only did they understand their ancestry as indigenous people of Mexico but also their 500 year history as a people living under the domination of the Doctrine of Discovery.  The result of this context enabled them to incorporate into their communities an understanding of their own oppression and empowered them to create something new, an alternative to the corrupt Mexican government.

Anthropologist Duncan Earle writes: [vi][The Zapatistas] had no model except [for] their own indigenous belief that there should be consensus. They have been able to create a para-state that takes care of its own education, health, transportation and economics.”  In response to an article, he stated: “[vii]Chiapas is an island of peace and security, and in the Zapatista zones, good government and no drug cartel activity. That is why tourism is on the rise there, even Zapatourism.”

This approach was recently adopted by the indigenous Purépecha community of Cherán in the Mexican state of Michoacán where the Monarch Butterflies winter.  This was a community besieged by organized crime loggers and drug cartels. Their pleas to the government for intervention and protection went unanswered.  They rose up as a community and stopped the violence.  They kicked out the crime syndicate and removed the corrupt government and set up a council that uses governing principles of their ancestors.  This includes having a series of neighborhood bonfires at night.  They talk, they cook food for one another, and they come to consensus as to how to protect their community and their forest.

A report states this about the community: [viii]Retaking old habits and customs; returning to the idea of la faena, work that’s done by all for the good of everybody. It wasn’t long ago that this tradition was still practiced. The elders will tell you: “we built this school with la faena” and remember how at a wedding or funeral, the tradition dictated that everybody helps with something: food, work, anything so that life is easier for all. This old way keeps people close.”

They have set up a counter-cultural community because the ways set up by the government were not protecting them from the violence of the crime syndicate or from the impotent and corrupt government. This community banned political parties as they see them as divisive.  They are a community under siege not only from the crime syndicate but also from the Mexican government. The community of Cherán is pulling together and creating something new because reform no longer worked.

But what about here?  How does Chiapas and Cherán relate to Tuscaloosa?  Yesterday, I met with Somos Tuskaloosa.  They are working on developing their goals for their future as the possibility of changing the system of immigration becomes feasible in an Obama second term.

Somos Tuskaloosa discussed the need to understand the historical context in which they find themselves.  They are realizing that they cannot simply allow the government to reform immigration without their ability to have a say in how that might be done. They see immigration as a piece of the racist history of the United States. They need to understand that history and the systems developed in response to that racist past.  Their desire to develop a community where all people are respected, not just as a rhetorical statement, but brazenly embraced for who they are is counter-cultural in Alabama.

And isn’t that what we want too?  To be a community that brazenly embraces the other as equal sojourners in life?  As Ana Levy-Lyons challenged us; how would we seek to abolish the war and hunger within our own hearts and in the larger community—figuratively and literally?  What would shared power look like here in this congregation?  How would we ensure that all voices are heard?

What would we need to change if we declared our community as an autonomous Human Rights zone in Alabama?  That is the definition of sanctuary—a place where people are safe and secure from the dangers of the world.   May we find the courage to participate in such a liberation—a liberation that yields to a just society. Blessed Be.

[i] “We should be more Counter-cultural” by Ana Levy-Lyons as found at http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/229846.shtml

[ii] IBID

[iii] http://www.chiapaspeacehouse.org/content/view/276/305/lang,en/ (website is no longer active, currently on hiatus)

[iv]NAFTA and the Mexican Economy, M. Angeles Villarreal, June 3 2010 Congressional Research Services as found at  http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL34733.pdf

[vii] Dr. Duncan Earle (not verified) on April 16, 2009 – 01:53  http://hir.harvard.edu/blog/jason-lakin/fifteen-years-after-the-zapatistas

[viii] Pablo Pérez, Translation by Laura Cann  as found at http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2012/07/the-fight-of-cheran-day-it-began.html


“The Cry for Freedom” delivered at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa   by Rev. Fred L Hammond 11 November 2012 ©

Amendment 4 Does not Fix Racist Constitution

Tuscaloosa News does not seem to like my letters.  None of the letters I have written in the past 3 years have been published.  The newspaper seems more interested in publishing such pieces as “President is inviting the wrath of God”  which reduces this column to an entertainment section equivalent to the National Enquirer than serious debate.  After a week of waiting for a response or for publication, I am posting my letter in response to their editorial.

To the Editor:
The recent editorial supporting Amendment 4 (October 18) to the state constitution  does not seem to understand how racism works. Amendment 4 claims it will remove racist language from our constitution which was established in 1901 with the sole purpose of creating a White Supremacist State. Removing racist language is only a cosmetic touch as it does not and cannot fix the institutionalized racism that is still embedded in the constitution. The paragraphs that will not be removed by this amendment because they are not explicit in their racism are still racist. This particular section was written in the 1950’s when it was believed by the White majority that Blacks were not educable but merely trainable and that language remains. These terms, education and training refer to the alleged abilities that Whites versus Blacks had. The belief was Whites could be educated while Blacks could only be trained. The only way to fix our 1901 constitution is not by deleting phrases but by a complete rewriting of the constitution. Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Henry Mabry is right when he states Amendment 4 removes the guaranteed right to an education. That is how institutionalized racism works. It is so embedded into our state constitution that to remove racist language actually restores racist policies. Cosmetic fixes are not enough, we need a new state constitution if we are indeed serious about undoing our racist heritage.
Fred L Hammond
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Postscript:  Since writing this letter, there have been  several conversations as to what the motivations or reasons are behind this amendment.  The author of the amendment claims it is purely to remove the stain of racism from the constitution.  Perhaps. One can never fully know what those intentions might be.

What is clear is this.  While removing racist language seems a laudable act;  this amendment REENACTS a provision that had previously been held unconstitutional that for racist reasons eliminated a right to public education. When actions to remove language is being undertaken within a document created specifically to create a white supremacist state then the whole constitution needs to be looked at to see where else racism is imbedded.  There are systemic aspects of racism  interwoven in the document that must be examined and rooted out.  For example; racism is also in the constitutional policies guiding the  actions of the governing body.  Removing racism demands not just a cosmetic touch but a full reworking from scratch in order to remove all forms of racial oppression.

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.

Examining our Unitarian Universalist Values

Last week I posted an entry that questioned whether the Republican Platform as it is currently being expressed was compatible with Unitarian Universalist values. I concluded that it was not and suggested that Unitarian Universalists could not in good conscience align themselves as Republicans and remain Unitarian Universalists.  Needless to say that I received comments asking if I was a Unitarian Universalist since my views seemed to be disparate from the value of inclusivity and welcome.I appreciated the comments and here is what I hope is an expansion of the point I was attempting to make.

Those that I heard from said they value other republican values such as small government and business entrepreneurship and not the values I stated as incompatible with Unitarian Universalist values.  Unfortunately, we are being sold a packaged deal and so it is hard to find and vote for a republican candidate in the south that is pro-small government who is also not anti-women, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-worker, and racist. I would argue the current Republican party is small government in rhetoric only, their actions over the last 25 years has proven other wise. The party has shifted so far away from anything that resembles Unitarian Universalist values that the argument of changing the party from within is a losing proposition.

How willing are we to sell out our Unitarian Universalist values for one issue that may be important? I never understood how anyone, regardless of party affiliation, could vote based on one platform issue when all the other platform issues presented are oppositional to ones beliefs. And if this is offensive, then sobeit, I place my Unitarian Universalist values above my political alliances.

We need to examine as part of our spiritual practice the values we lift up as Unitarian Universalists and whether or not we are living those values into the world. I dare say that neither Republican nor the Democratic Platform represent Unitarian Universalist values.  I lifted the Republican Platform because it is the easiest to see manifest the sharp contrast between their values and Unitarian Universalist values in the political scene today. But the Democrats are not the pinnacle of Unitarian Universalist values. Far from it.

Rev. Peter Morales, president of the UUA, is advocating for us to see us as more than congregations and begin to see us a movement that can and will transform the world. If we are serious in following his lead, then we as a faith need to be very clear about the values we hold as sacrosanct to Unitarian Universalist identity. This means to me that we need to be discerning about the actions we take into the world including the political affiliations we make as individual Unitarian Universalists.

Now we all start from somewhere.  But this faith, if it is true, cannot leave us where we are found, but must transform us into something more, into something holy, into something more aligned with the values we profess as Unitarian Universalists.  To be holy means to be set apart, to be singled out as special, as sacred.

Holy is not just reserved for holy ground, as in the Hebrew story about Moses and the burning bush; or holy as in blessed like the holy water used for Catholic baptism’s and the ritual of preparation of the Eucharist. Holy in this context is referring to the devotion of followers who have integrated the values and beliefs so fully that they and their values are one.  The Dalia Lama would be an example of this transformation into the holy.  He is a person who exemplifies Buddhism in the modern era. Mother Teresa would be an example of a person who exemplifies the servant Christ. Both have been called holy people.

Holy does not mean perfect in this context. Pointing out faults is to avoid the question being asked, how are you exemplifying Unitarian Universalist values?

So if Unitarian Universalism faith is true, if this faith is worth devotion, then it requires our examining of Unitarian Universalist values and how we live those values into the world.  It means we are also required to be transformed into the holy. This process does not happen over night but it can and should be happening within our Unitarian Universalist faith. Where are our holy people of the faith?

It begins I believe in the discussion of the values we honor and how might we operationalize those values into behaviors in the world.  It may mean that we choose to drop our political affiliations as I am doing.  I am no longer going to be a registered Democrat.  It may mean we adopt new ethical eating habits.  It may mean we seek to change our congregations from mono-cultural to multicultural, from an Anglo hegemony to a multiracial hegemony. It certainly means we allow our faith to have the transforming message to save us from our selves and thereby empower us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly in our path.


Sermon: Blessing As a Spiritual Practice

Blessing as a Spiritual Practice a sermon given by Rev. Fred L Hammond November 9 2008 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL

As I picked up my package and began turning to leave the store, I heard the sales assistant say “Have a blest day.” I looked at her and saw her face smiling brightly, she meant what she said. This was not just a polite phrase her momma taught her. I hear this phrase a lot in the south, “Have a blest day.” It is not something I heard often in other parts of the country.

There is a difference between the phrases “Have a good day” and “Have a blest day.” Having a Blest day implies something more than just good. It signifies to me a day that is filled with grace, a day where love is shared freely, where all the traffic lights are green as you approach them and you soar to your destination unhindered.

These are days when I feel confident in who I am from the very core of my being. These are days that regardless of what events occur I can rest assured that the integrity of me is in tact and cannot be undermined in any way. But where does this come from this assuredness of integrity; this self confidence of my being. It is more than just someone in a store saying “Have a Blest day.”

This morning we celebrated a Blessing ceremony for one of our youngest members. You heard from Tyler’s parents and sister their blessings, their best hopes and dreams for him. You heard from family friends offering their blessings on Tyler as well. And then we as a congregation chimed in with our blessings.

This blessing ceremony was done in a style used in pagan circles. Where the energy of the individuals and the group focus their best thoughts and wishes on the one they wish to bless. The blessing according to pagan beliefs then acts as a spiritual shield for the child. It becomes a grounding point for the parents to remember and reflect on when parenting may stretch their skills. And it becomes a touchstone for Tyler to always know that he was born into a home of love and care for his best unlimited potential.

The blessing does not originate in a vacuum but is grounded in the ongoing relationship of the person being blessed and the person or persons offering the blessing. The fruition of the blessing may not be seen in the near future but may take decades to unfold as Tyler’s life twists and turns with the wide variety of experiences to be had. There may along his path be apparent defeats that might crush a blow if it was not for the grounding his parents and this congregation offered him today to hold fast to the promise of a fulfilling life of purpose and meaning.

Matthew Fox, theologian, speaks of what he calls Original Blessing. Before there could be any fall from grace, there was first and foremost an Original Blessing. Fox tells us that blessing is found in the metaphorical creation story. After each day, God “Looked at what he had done, and it was good… all of it was very good!”

Matthew Fox states that the creative energy that created the heavens and the earth, call it god, call it source, call it by what ever name, continues to create and invites creation to participate in its creating. There is a relationship in the bestowing of the blessing. Fox further states, “Blessing involves relationship: one does not bless without investing something of oneself into the receiver of one’s blessing. And one does not receive blessing oblivious of its gracious giver. A blessing spirituality is a relating spirituality. And if it is true that all of creation flows from a single, loving source, then all of creation is blessed and is a blessing, …” (Original Blessing p 44)

In this creation story is the investment of the creator in bringing about the creator’s best wishes for creation. The story tells us that the intention of creation is to be something of worth, to be something good. And if Matthew Fox is correct in his theorem, then ongoing creation is also something of worth, something good.

According to the Abraham myth found in Genesis, God said to Abraham, “…I will bless you and make your descendants into a great nation. You will … be a blessing… Everyone on earth will be blessed because of you.”

This was done in the context of a covenant established between god and Abraham. Covenants are relational contracts between people. They convey how a people is to be in relation with one another. Covenants when followed convey how the people will be perceived by others. For the Children of Abraham, the covenant they made with God was to be a blessing to others, even if the others did not embrace their way of life.

From this covenant and from the stories of a people of faith in the Hebrew Scriptures, we have modern concepts of justice between people. It took the evolutionary journey of these ancient people to develop these notions of equitable justice but we do find them rooted in this tradition. Concepts such as those found in Leviticus, that book of law that is oft quoted by those seeking to repress others also has some of the most liberating verses on justice. Such as this one in Leviticus 19:34: “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: ….”

Elsewhere in Deuteronomy (10:18) talks about showing justice to the orphan and the widow through providing food and shelter. The prophet Micah reminds the people of his day that God had already showed them how to know what is right…It is to love mercy, to act justly, and walk humbly with your god.

These are acts of blessing bestowed on another. It is through the ongoing covenant, the ongoing relationship of these people that blessing is bestowed. This is a daily process with a promise woven into the fabric. How that fabric is later to be used may still be unknown but its cloth will be a blessing to others.

Sometimes it is in the keeping the covenant to work towards justice that future blessings are finally realized. It is in the laying down of the groundwork that future blessings are able to sprout to their fruition.

There is the story of an elderly man who decided to plant fruit trees on his property. His neighbors chided him for doing this because it was evident that he would never live long enough to be able to benefit from his labors in planting these young saplings. The elderly man responded and said that he planted the trees not for himself but for those who would come after him and be blessed by the bountiful fruit these trees would offer. He was bestowing blessings into his future. He saw a vision of what could be and wanted his life to be a blessing towards that future.

Forty-three years ago, a young African American by the name of Jimmie Lee Jackson, ordained a deacon by his church, sought for four years to register to vote. He was denied. He knew that voting was his right as a citizen and he knew that it was a right for every citizen. He was determined to work towards voting rights.

When another young man, James Orange was arrested for assisting and recruiting potential voter registrants, Jimmie Lee marched in Marion, AL with hundreds of others in protest of the arrest. The police began to beat up the protesters and chased Jimmie Lee, his mother and his 82 year old grandfather into a café. The grandfather was beaten and when his mother attempted to get the police off of him, she too was beaten. Then when Jimmie Lee came to her aid, he was shot at point blank range by a State Trooper. It was Jimmie Lee’s death that provoked the march on Selma. Jimmie Lee’s belief that all people deserve the right to vote was a blessing that laid the foundations for what was to come. His untimely death was not in vain towards that goal.

In March of that year hundreds of ministers joined Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the march on Selma to again protest not only the inequity of the voting laws that kept African Americans from voting but also the extreme measures used to enforce this injustice. One Unitarian minister by the name of James Reeb was struck down while walking on a street. He went to Selma with the conviction that all people have inherent worth and dignity and therefore should be afforded equal rights.

Forty-three years ago, a young mother from Detroit Michigan, came down to Alabama to assist in voter registration efforts of African Americans. She knew that the promise of this country was that all of its citizens were created equal and had a voice in how this nation should be governed. She came and bestowed her blessing of knowing what was right and just for America. She had covenanted to work along side those who did not have the vote.

African Americans were given complicated and sometimes inane literacy tests geared for their failure. Unitarian Viola Liuzzo offered the blessing of standing along side people of color in their quest for the vote.

Forty-three years ago she was shot by four KKK members while driving an African American home after the march in Selma. The police and the FBI conducted a smear campaign to discredit her character enabling her murderers to be acquitted. Three of KKK were later convicted on violating her civil rights. Her family was subjected to all sorts of shame by the government in order to reduce her murder to that of an unfortunate woman who associated with people who did her wrong.

It was the events of these three deaths that resulted in the swift passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If you ever get a chance to visit the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Headquarters in Boston, you will see a plaque commemorating the lives of these three people and their efforts to bestow the blessing of freedom and justice for all people.

Rev. Martin Luther King had a dream. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Martin Luther King’s dream was bestowing a blessing on this nation. Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo were also part of the planting of that orchard of which they would never benefit of its fruit. Some blessings don’t always germinate and manifest as fast as we would like them. But blessings do go forth.

This past Tuesday, this nation elected a man based on the content of his character and not on the color of his skin. Now you may not have liked his politics and you may have voted for his opponent, that’s okay. The right to vote is the right to choose what our destiny is in moving forward. This election result could not have happened if the convictions of the promise of this nation were not held fast by these men and women in the civil rights movement.

Their efforts and the blessings they offered us were not forgotten by our denomination. After the election results came in, the UUA sent bouquets of yellow roses to Marie Reeb Maher, the widow of James Reeb, and to the daughters of Viola Liuzzo. Rev. Clark Olsen, who was with James Reeb when he was fatally attacked, helped orchestrate the honoring of their lives and their sacrifice that enabled this day to be possible.

Sally Liuzzo had this to say in response to receiving the roses, (quoted with permission from Ms. Liuzzo) “We have a policy at my job not to talk politics. All that was thrown out the window yesterday. My boss encouraged me to tell anyone that asked my mom’s story, when they questioned why I received yellow roses. …

“I cannot begin to explain the sense of pride I have right now for my mother and all the civil rights activists of that time. I feel like everything they have fought for, has now been realized. Black children will no longer feel like they are ‘less than’ and they will now know….they can be ANYTHING they set their minds out to be, Here I am crying again.

Thank you from my sisters and [me], for never forgetting our mother. The three of us were totally overcome with emotion. I feel like mom’s sacrifice has now been worthwhile. Yes……she made a huge difference. I am so proud of America for getting past the limitations of race, and vote for what is best for our country.

“….Actually we feel like mom reached out…through the UU church…to send those flowers. The yellow roses told us that she had a hand in it. She has a mighty strong spirit….that is alive and well. …”

We may never know the impact our lives may have on another person nor how our actions for justice today will empower the people who come after us no matter what the immediate consequences of those actions may have been. But if we want to have blessing as a spiritual practice then I believe we must do several things.

The person offering blessings holds fast to the best possible potential for the lives of others. The person joins in a covenant which holds each other accountable towards these highest ideals. When the blessing being offered is to right an injustice, the perpetrators of injustice may not believe they are doing anything wrong, therefore the relationship needs to be one gently revealing the untruth they have bought into. It means to be willing to listen respectively and willing to state respectively where the error is found. The person stands firm in their convictions of the vision they see possible even when disappointment and failures happen.

In October 2002, I was asked to join the members of Soulforce to provide support to Lynchburg VA’s first pride celebration. We were also there to follow-up on a meeting we had with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and his congregation a few years before. I had joined Soulforce to meet with Rev. Falwell asking him to stop his anti-gay rhetoric because it was resulting in untold pain in the gay community. He promised to stop but in the days that followed 9/11 he blamed the gay community and other groups of people for the attack on our country by Al Qaeda.

On the Saturday of my time in Lynchburg, I was to be a peacekeeper, essentially a wall between the local queer community of Lynchburg and the ultra conservative Christians who were there to taunt them. The original plan placed us on one side of the road and the protestors were to be on the other side of the road, a good 25 feet away. However, the police allowed the anti-gay group to cross the road and they were standing with their chest up against my back screaming in my ear all sorts of foul things. Words my grandmother said no good Christian would even whisper let alone shout in mixed company. My task was to stand there silently ignoring their taunts and absorbing their hatred so that it would not interfere with the joy of the hundreds of young people coming out to proclaim who they were. We did not allow these taunts to rile us even though we were emotionally drained by the end of the day. The event with the exception of the loud jeering of hell fire went peacefully.

Then on Sunday morning we lined up in single file outside Thomas Road Baptist Church for a silent vigil to sadly confront the broken promise Jerry Falwell had made to us. One of the more touching moments for me was when I was standing in front of a neighbor’s house when a young father with a three week old infant came out to stand with us. He was a teacher at the local school and said he taught in his class room that all people are to be respected for who they are. He wanted the world his newborn son grew up in to be one where people would live their lives with the same inherent integrity that his son was born with. If his son were to be gay, he would want his son to be proud and able to live life as freely and fully as anyone else.

This was the contrast of the two days. I knew I was offering a blessing to those young people at the pride festival by standing there and absorbing the hate so to shield them from those blows. I knew that this young father and infant were being a blessing to me on Sunday, affirming the essence of my being, enabling me to continue to stand tall.

My vision of the blest day that is filled with grace, a day where love is shared freely, where all the traffic lights are green as you approach them and you soar to your destination unhindered is not here yet. There are still people who are seeking justice; justice in education, justice in marriage equality, justice in employment and housing, justice in racial equity, and justice in health care. There are people who are still in pain in the face of these injustices. It is my intention to be part of the blessing that enables justice to roll down like a mighty river. There is much work to be done. Let us begin our blessing work. Blessed be.

Published in: on November 9, 2008 at 2:41 pm  Comments Off on Sermon: Blessing As a Spiritual Practice  
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Voting in Alabama: A different experience

My first time experience to vote in this southern state was very different from any voting I had ever experienced in New York State, Connecticut, or in Illinois.  Voting turnout was heavy but the process used left me feeling a bit unsure of the integrity.  It took place in a small elementary school not far from home.  I entered the library which was crammed with people.  There were three tables set up to alphabetically check people in.  It seemed that everyone who lived in this community had a name that began with the letters H-Q.  There was no one checking in at the A-G or the R-Z tables.  The workers had this deer in the headlight stare as they looked at the crowd streaming in.  I got the impression they were not expecting this level of a turn out at 9:30 AM. 

Ahead of me was a young man that I had seen driving in on his motorcycle.  He was wearing a t-shirt that proudly declared his love of the confederate flag.  “Gone from our skies but still flying strong in our hearts.”  

I received my ballot and sent to sit at a table with 4 other people filling in their ballots.  So much for privacy in voting.  In all the other states I voted in, we were ushered to a private place; perhaps behind curtains, perhaps to a screened cubicle where one person and one person only pulled the levers, or punched the chads, or in the case today darkened circles to be read by an electronic machine-the type known for producing major errors. 

My table emptied and an elderly couple sat down next to me.  The gentleman looked at the ballot a little confused and his wife said, “Now mark the Republican slate here.”   

I wanted to speak up and state that no one is to tell another how to vote but I suddenly felt unsure of how I should act in this place. Was I safe here to speak up?  The elderly man looked very confused.  It was apparent to me that he was not sure of where he was or why he was there.  I did not see anyone that I could talk to about this. 

I flashed back to my days of working with developmentally disabled adults and a discussion about having the profoundly impaired adults registered to vote.  While I was a strong advocate for having these people participate as fully as possible in society, I was concerned that any voting they would do would not be from an informed position but a coerced one.   Of course there are many developmentally disabled adults who can and should be able to register to vote. These individuals who operated in the toddler range of maturation and intelligence should not register because their votes would reflect their adult care-givers opinions and not their own.  

Perhaps the elderly gentleman always and consistently voted straight Republican ticket in the years when he was able to clearly think for himself so his wife prompting him was consistent with how he had voted in the past.  But what if this year was different.  What if this year in a moment of mental clarity his opinion differed from his wife’s?  We will never know.  This year however, from my limited perception, his wife voted twice.    

I looked around and there were up against the far corner of the wall a row of screened in cubicles where people could stand and darken their oval choices in semi-privacy.  Every one of them was filled with people.  I looked at the line of people waiting to register their participation and pick up their ballots.  That line filled the small library and wound around and out the building entrance.  There were people leaning up against book cases darkening their choices.  Every table was filled with people. There was no room for a line to even be developed to wait for a screened in cubicle.  It simply did not exist.  I was not convinced that speaking up would have enabled a solution to open up that would limit the low hum of talking between voters as they filled in their choices and perhaps the choices of their neighbors.  It was too late to suggest the gymnasium as a better location for the freedom to vote one’s conscience.

Published in: on November 4, 2008 at 11:50 am  Comments Off on Voting in Alabama: A different experience  
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This Sums It Up For Me

I came across this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “The Art of Power”  that sums up pretty much how I have been feeling lately about life in these American States; from the economic crisis to Exxon-Mobil’s 2nd record breaking quarter in a row, from the divisive election campaigns to the ICE raids on undocumented immigrants.  This quote offers us an opportunity to finding a way out.  It’s not an easy way out, but definitely a way out.

“We are not elected to Congress to fight only for our ideas. Your idea may be superb, but it might still be improved by the ideas of other people.  Regardless of what party a person belongs to, if she has a real insight, we should practice deep listening to really hear her.  If she is fighting only for her own idea we will know it clearly, but if she has a real insight we must be open to it.  Listening in this way will help Congress become a community where there is mutual understanding, mutual sharing.  Our democracy will be safer.  The integrity of the individual and the integrity of our institutions will be saved; otherwise there is only the appearance of democracy, not real democracy.  When you are not yourself, when you are not operating on the ground of your insight, your compassion, your experience, when you have to speak and vote soley along party lines, you are not truly yourself, you are not offering your best to your nation and your people.  The aspiration to offer our best is there in each of us.  We should help each be our best, because only then can we truly serve our people and our nation.

Just as politicians need to collaborate with those in opposing political parties, businesspeople can learn to collaborate with and learn from other companies rather than competing with them.  Communication is important, not just within a company but between companies.  It is possible to replace competition with cooperation and collaboration. If the leaders of corporations get together and practice looking deeply into the situation of the world to develop the products that best serve society, they will be able to devise mutually beneficial policies and working conditions. If they become sensitive to the suffering of humankind and the suffering of other species, they’ll be able to come together without fighting.” 

May it be so.

Published in: on November 1, 2008 at 11:13 am  Comments Off on This Sums It Up For Me  
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The Fool as Prophetic Voice?


There has been a debate in the blogosphere among Unitarian Universalists regarding  UUA President Bill Sinkford being part of an interfaith coalition that met with Iran’s figurehead president  Mahmoud Ahmendinejad in NYC recently.  One blogger stated that simply talking does not make one a prophet, sometimes it makes you a fool.  He states that a true prophet is one who is able to organize power behind the words spoken and therefore can be held accountable to what is spoken. He argues that Bill Sinkford’s words without any power behind them, made him a fool.   He quotes Nehemiah 5 as an example of what he calls prophecy with power.  It’s a fair argument.  Through out the Hebrew Scriptures the prophetic has been paired with power, whether that was the power of an impending doom if changes were not made or the power of miraculous events. 

Yet there is a place for the fool too as prophetic voice.  The fool is one who no one takes seriously and therefore is able to speak unvarnished truth.  The fool is the one that people scoff at and deride and then realize that they were the foolish ones with their behaviors.  We see the role of the fool as prophetic voice in Shakespeare’s plays, such as portrayed in  King Lear.  We see the prophetic fool in modern days with Stephen Colbert’s presentation at the White House Press Corp dinner in 2006.   Yet the fool also has power.  It is a power that comes with inner convictions that enables the fool to speak words of truth.  It is because the person is playing a fool that sometimes the words get heard and changes can occur. 

Some of my colleagues (read through to the comments)  thought our UUA President, Rev. Bill Sinkford, played the fool by speaking with one of the heads of state of a tyranical dictatorship.  Many thought he should have sided with the protesters outside and that stance would have been the correct prophetic stance to take.  Funny thing about prophetic stances most are not realized as such until much later, sometimes years later.   

Jonah was very concerned about playing the fool with the city Nineveh.   So he ran away.  Yet, Jonah eventually after some bizarre twists and turns, does take the prophetic stance and speaks with the King of Nineveh.  The King was a tyrant.  The king and his people had done some horrible things.  And after hearing Jonah, the King and the city of Nineveh repented and Jonah’s fear of looking like the fool is realized.  It is a risk that prophets take sometimes. 

One never knows how the spirit of love is going to move and speak through us.  Nor on what ears the message of love will fall on.  The fool can be a prophetic voice.  Perhaps we should not be so quick to judge the actions of those around us as they just may be responding to a higher conviction than we can discern with our senses.  Blessings,

Published in: on October 3, 2008 at 4:53 pm  Comments (3)  
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