Making a Case for Darwin Day as a Recognized UU Holiday

I recently attended the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford, Mississippi.  The theme of their service was Darwin Day. Charles Darwin, Unitarian, is credited for developing what is now known as the theory of evolution.  He wrote the book On the Origin of Species in 1859 which revolutionized our understanding of creation.  During this service, I came to the realization that Unitarian Universalists could embrace the idea for a recognized holiday in honor of Charles Darwin, if not in the secular world, then certainly in our faith tradition. Just as Unitarian Universalists celebrate Christmas to honor our Christian heritage, Darwin Day would celebrate our Humanist heritage.

Since 2006, Michael Zimmerman has been the proponent of the Clergy Letter Project which seeks to have congregations hold  a service that would highlight that science and religion are not opposed to one another.  And more emphatically that the theory of evolution can be embraced by people of faith.  Michael Zimmerman recently wrote an article for the UU Humanist Association urging Unitarian Universalist clergy to sign on to the UU Clergy Letter; which is parallel to the Christian Clergy Letter.  I am a proud signatory of this letter. There is also a Christian Clergy Letter, Rabbi Letter, and Buddhist  letter.

The Unitarian Universalist version of this letter begins by stating:  As Unitarian Universalists, we draw from many sources, including “Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life,” and “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.” While most Unitarian Universalists believe that many sacred scriptures convey timeless truths about humans and our relationship to the sacred, we stand in solidarity with our Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters who do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. We believe that religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

I am in full agreement of this letter and I urge my colleagues to consider adding their signatures in support of Michael Zimmerman’s efforts to demonstrate that religion and evolutionary biology are compatible.

But the reasons given in this letter are not the reasons that dawned on me as I listened to the speaker at the Oxford congregation on Sunday that we need to create a UU holiday honoring Charles Darwin’s work.  The reasons given above are certainly  a part of my reasoning. But what began circulating around in my brain as I listened on Sunday was how important and relevant a holy day such as Darwin Day would be for Unitarian Universalists given our nation’s shift towards religious fundamentalism. Such a declaration would sharpen the contrast of where we stand on matters of faith and science in a culture that is increasingly anti-science.  And to be clear, being anti-science is not just reserved to conservative religious fundamentalists, the recent outbreak of measles at Disney Land is the responsibility of anti-science liberals.

In addition to the sources and the principles of our covenanted association, Unitarian Universalists have proclaimed that truth and revelation is forever unfolding. Along with Ralph Waldo Emerson we propose that not one book can contain the whole of wisdom and revelation for all time.  Here in the works of Darwin is evidence of that unfolding revelation.

For Unitarian Universalists to embrace Darwin Day as a holiday not only honors the compatibility of science and religion as the Clergy Letter Project seeks to do but also highlights one of the unique distinctions of our faith–the belief that  revelation is unending and is revealed through a variety of sources–including scientific study. Our faith is based on a heritage of revelation from its earliest days to the current day. From their earliest beginnings, Unitarians and Universalists have evolved in their understandings of truth.  Today we have a statement of principles and sources for our faith which we have amended and changed as new revelations have become known.

As a people of faith, we have often been at the vanguard of liberal thought and social change–even while the majority of our members may have resisted these very changes. But individuals began with an idea, a revelation if you will, that grew into a movement that not only transformed our faith but the society in which we live.  Whether it was abolition of slavery (Theodore Parker), women’s equality (Judith Sargent Murray), Transcendentalism (Ralph Waldo Emerson),  women’s suffrage (Susan B. Anthony), or ending racism (Mary White Ovington); Unitarian Universalists have been at the vanguard of these transformational movements.  Given that Charles Darwin was a Unitarian, places Unitarian Universalists at the vanguard of the revelation that all life on this planet has a common ancestry and origin. Our faith has added to wisdom of the ages.

The movement to have Darwin Day recognized as a holiday is also an international one. International Darwin Day will inspire people throughout the globe to reflect and act on the principles of intellectual bravery, perpetual curiosity, scientific thinking, and hunger for truth as embodied in Charles Darwin.  This mission is spearheaded by the American Humanist Association.  Darwin Day is celebrated on every continent with various events.  This year’s observance of Darwin Day during the week of February 12th, the 206th birthday of Charles Darwin, has 151 events registered at their website. The mission statement of International Darwin Day is a statement that succinctly reflects Unitarian Universalist principles.

The Clergy Letter Project–Evolution Weekend has 459 congregations registered as participating in their event.  Sixty eight of these congregations were Unitarian Universalist offering an impressive 15% of the congregations listed. Impressive because we are such a small association in comparison to other faiths listed.  But if my experience at the Oxford, Mississippi congregation is any indication, there are many more UU congregations celebrating Charles Darwin’s ideas than are registered on this site.

Attend a Darwin Day event, honor our Unitarian Universalist faith by declaring that revelation is unending and new truths are being made known about the universe in which we live and new truths are being revealed as to how we might live justly with our neighbors on this planet.

Unitarian Christianity: Relevance for the 21st Century?

Whenever people ask me if Unitarian Universalism is a Christian faith, I usually respond by saying we have Christian roots but we are not Christian.  This is much like asking if Christianity is a Hebrew faith, Christianity has Hebrew roots but Christians are not Jewish.

It begs the question, what of our Christian roots did we inherit and still hold claim upon?  In Christianity, Christians still hold claim to the creation myths, the necessity of a blood sacrifice for the redemption of sins, and the prophetic vision of a messiah to establish a just world.  These are just a few of the Hebrew sentiments that Christianity brought into its theology with some adaptation but with clear Hebrew origins.

Early in the formation of this nation, the puritans who settled in New England formed covenants on how they were to live together. They sought to create the Free Church where its members would be able to explore their most important loyalties; their most important and deepest loves.   They created covenants such as the following:

We pledge to walk together in the ways of truth and affection as best we understand them now or may learn them in days to come that we and our children might be fulfilled and that we might speak to the world in words and actions of peace and good will[i].

These congregations were not creedal in their formation.  There was an assumption that people were going to be Christian in their creeds and therefore it was not necessary to determine who believed what doctrine.   In time however, it was noted that not everyone was walking together in the same light.  With the First Great Awakening in 1734, there was a backlash by some ministers who believed that such excesses of emotion and hysteria did not result in living a life of good works.  These ministers turned their focus on the potential of humanity to become moral creatures and began to discard the notion of original sin, depravity, and predestination; rejecting the essence of the Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

These ministers also formulated an understanding of God not being a Trinity, three beings in one, but rather God as a unified whole, Unitarian.  Congregations began to not walk together with other congregations based on doctrinal differences.  These differences came to a heated debate in the early 1800s now known as the Unitarian Controversy.

In 1819, the Rev. William Ellery Channing gave the ordination sermon for Rev. Jared Sparks in Baltimore, MD.  In this sermon he lays out the foundation for what Channing called Unitarian Christianity.  Up until that time, liberal religious in New England had resisted the term Unitarian when it was lodged against them by the conservative Christians of the day.  They had up until that time, simply defined themselves as Christians in the Protestant tradition. The Trinitarian Christians had declared these individuals and congregations no longer Christian in their theology, they were considered heretics.  William Channing’s sermon was the first time that liberal religious claimed the nomenclature Unitarian and declared such as being Christian.

In this sermon, Channing laid out the argument for Unitarian Christianity as being based on two things; the principles behind their interpretation of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and the doctrines this interpretation seemed to express clearly.

Channing writes:  Our leading principle in interpreting Scripture is this, that the Bible is a book written for men, in the language of men, and that its meaning is to be sought in the same manner as that of other books. We believe that God, when he speaks to the human race, conforms, if we may so say, to the established rules of speaking and writing. How else would the Scriptures avail us more, than if communicated in an unknown tongue?

Now all books, and all conversation, require in the reader or hearer the constant exercise of reason; or their true import is only to be obtained by continual comparison and inference.[ii]

In reading the scriptures, one must consider the times in which the writer wrote the passages. What was the society like when the author wrote the text? What were the controversies the early church was facing not only within their community but also within the context of the society in which they found themselves? Channing suggests that such questions must be considered in reading the Hebrew and Christian texts or be found to falsely apply the culture of an ancient time to today’s circumstances.   And one must also consider the personality of the writer that comes through the words chosen to express the scriptures. What influences were present when writing these words?

He writes:  With these views of the Bible, we feel it our bounden duty to exercise our reason upon it perpetually, to compare, to infer, to look beyond the letter to the spirit, to seek in the nature of the subject, and the aim of the writer, his true meaning; and, in general, to make use of what is known, for explaining what is difficult, and for discovering new truths[iii].

From this system of studying the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, Unitarian Christians came to certain conclusions or doctrines for their faith.  Channing definitively detailed what distinguished Unitarian Christians from the other Christians of the day.

He stated their belief of the unity of God, God is one and only one.  In this way, Unitarian Christianity is aligned with the Jews and the Muslims in declaring that God is One.

Channing writes: We object to the doctrine of the Trinity, that, whilst acknowledging in words, it subverts in effect, the unity of God. According to this doctrine, there are three infinite and equal persons, possessing supreme divinity, called the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Each of these persons, as described by theologians, has his own particular consciousness, will, and perceptions. They love each other, converse with each other, and delight in each other’s society. They perform different parts in man’s redemption, each having his appropriate office, and neither doing the work of the other. The Son is mediator and not the Father. The Father sends the Son, and is not himself sent; nor is he conscious, like the Son, of taking flesh. Here, then, we have three intelligent agents, possessed of different consciousness, different wills, and different perceptions, performing different acts, and sustaining different relations; and if these things do not imply and constitute three minds or beings, we are utterly at a loss to know how three minds or beings are to be formed[i].

Channing declares that Jesus was fully human and therefore inferior to God.  The Trinitarian theology creates a Jesus that is of two minds, one divine, one human; of two wills, one divine, one human.  This two beings within one body, diminishes for Channing the act of sacrifice on the cross.  Channing argues that Trinitarians raise up the suffering Christ on the cross for the salvation of the world but what sort of suffering does this Christ bear if he is also God, full of joy that his death would be the salvation of the world?  The suffering Christ is not suffering at all. He argues this discrepancy in their theology weakens their intent to show the fulfillment of John 3:16.

Channing writes: According to their doctrine, Christ was comparatively no sufferer at all. It is true, his human mind suffered; but this, they tell us, was an infinitely small part of Jesus, bearing no more proportion to his whole nature, than a single hair of our heads to the whole body, or than a drop to the ocean. The divine mind of Christ, that which was most properly himself, was infinitely happy, at the very moment of the suffering of his humanity. Whilst hanging on the cross, he was the happiest being in the universe, as happy as the infinite Father; so that his pains, compared with his felicity, were nothing. This Trinitarians do, and must, acknowledge. It follows necessarily from the immutableness of the divine nature, which they ascribe to Christ; so that their system, justly viewed, robs his death of interest, weakens our sympathy with his sufferings, and is, of all others, most unfavorable to a love of Christ, founded on a sense of his sacrifices for mankind[iv].

Channing also lays out a doctrine that Jesus was not crucified to pluck humanity from the eternal flames of hell but rather crucified to remove the sin that keeps us from living a moral and upright life.

He states such erroneous thinking leads humanity to think, that Christ came to change God’s mind rather than their own; that the highest object of his mission was to avert punishment, rather than to communicate holiness; and that a large part of religion consists in disparaging good works and human virtue, for the purpose of magnifying the value of Christ’s vicarious sufferings. In this way, a sense of the infinite importance and indispensable necessity of personal improvement is weakened, and high-sounding praises of Christ’s cross seem often to be substituted for obedience to his precepts. For ourselves, we have not so learned Jesus. Whilst we gratefully acknowledge, that he came to rescue us from punishment, we believe, that he was sent on a still nobler errand, namely, to deliver us from sin itself, and to form us to a sublime and heavenly virtue.

He adds:  No influence in the universe seems to us so glorious, as that over the character; and no redemption so worthy of thankfulness, as the restoration of the soul to purity. Without this, pardon, were it possible, would be of little value. Why pluck the sinner from hell, if a hell be left to burn in his own breast? Why raise him to heaven, if he remain a stranger to its sanctity and love[v]?

In other words Channing argues that salvation is not a matter of grace which he equates as a kind of get out of hell card but rather through the transformation of the human heart towards moral character and charitable living in this life.  He states:  We regard the spirit of love, charity, meekness, forgiveness, liberality, and beneficence, as the badge and distinction of Christians, as the brightest image we can bear of God, as the best proof of piety[vi].

Now almost two hundred years later, Channing’s words might seem strange to our ears because as I stated, Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian faith.

I began with a question.  What of our Christian roots have we still claimed in our faith today?  We continue in the tradition of a covenantal faith.  We state strongly that we need not think alike to love alike.

It is this loyalty to love one another that we hold dear in our congregations that keeps us from our detractor’s claim that Unitarian Universalists can believe whatever they want. We cannot.  Our loyalty to the value of love for others places us in check should we convey racist, homophobic, transphobic, or any other mean spirited action towards another.  We seek to be accountable in our relationships with one another. We seek to protect and honor each person’s inherent worth and dignity.

We hold dear this claim from our Unitarian Christian roots that development of our moral character is vital to our living a happy and fulfilled life. To adapt Channing’s words, We regard the spirit of love, charity, meekness, forgiveness, liberality, and beneficence, as the badge and distinction of Unitarian Universalists, as the brightest image we can bear of our Species, as the best proof of piety.

We value today the teachings of Jesus’ life as offering profound wisdom of how we might live with one another.  We also value the profound wisdom found in the writings of the Bhagavad Gita, the Dao de Jing, the Qur’an and the various teachers and mystics that have arisen following these texts.    We sift through all of these texts and teachings looking for our revered values and how we might better embody them in our lives.  Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, we believe that one book could never hold the fullness of revelation’s truth.

Channing faced many detractors of Unitarian Christianity that increasingly became Universalist in theology as well.  We face detractors who state without a unifying doctrine how do we hold together as a community. The conservative Christians today, like the conservative Christians of two hundred years ago have a theology whose glue is avoiding hell and damnation after death. They draw people in to avoid eternal damnation, they tithe to avoid damnation, and they abstain from immoral behavior— as they define immorality— to avoid damnation.

We have no such theology in our faith.  Our seeking to live a moral life is not predicated by the possibility of facing the wrath of god on judgment day. Those of us who may subscribe to theism do not imagine that god would create us in a state of depravity worthy for destruction.  If there is a unifying theology in Unitarian Universalism, it is that we were created in a state of goodness and that we will return to a state of goodness.  And in between we are to do good[vii]. We do good because we have self-agency to choose to do good, there is no overhanging threat of damnation to coerce us to do good.

We seek to live a moral and ethical life like our Unitarian Christian ancestors, because we have come to understand that living a moral and ethical life benefits the uplift of the community as a whole. Not only are we as individuals benefactors of our embodying our values but the whole of the community benefits as well. We come together to support one another in our endeavors to create a better world not only for ourselves but also for our children’s children.  We have maintained the claim from Unitarian Christianity that we not only have the choice but the responsibility to emulate good into the world.

More than at any other time of our Human history, we recognize the systems of oppression and privilege that prevent people from being presented with the choices to do good.  So our faith calls us to intervene with creating justice so that more people will be free to be able to make choices of doing good in the world.  Our faith therefore is a salvific faith geared towards increasing the power to create an abundance of justice and goodness in the world not only for this present generation but for the generations to come.

There is an indigenous saying that when making decisions we need to consider the wellbeing of the lives to the 7th generation that follows us.  Consider this for a moment.  Seven generations.  In my family seven generations back from me is the era of the revolutionary war. The decisions made then by that generation are still being felt by us today either for ill or good.  The systems of oppression that were instituted then are still in operation today in a variety of ways.

The decisions that we make today will have an impact far into the future. I heard Matthew Fox speak this past week and he said we are the first species that can choose whether or not we go extinct.  He added we still have not chosen.

Unitarian Universalists have claimed from Unitarian Christianity the need to make reasoned responses to the needs that surround us in the world.  We look to not only right the social injustices as we discern them but also for the environmental injustices that we have created through our advancing technology. We sift through the ethics of our actions, individually and societally, to determine a reasoned response that may move us towards making a decision for survival—not just for our species but all other species in which only now are we beginning to realize our intricate linkage with on this planet.

The covenantal faith that Channing and others in the early 19th century sought to embody with reason is still very much a living legacy for our 21st century life. This may be the most important aspect of our Unitarian heritage that we can offer a world gone mad with hyper-individualism and narcissistic self-importance.

Connie Goodbread once stated that we are the people of the promise and the struggle. Our promise is our covenant with how we are to be together, our struggle is ensuring that our covenant continues to be ever more inclusive of all people who seek another way of being. This faith calls us to be more than we currently are through our promised intentions and through our struggles to embody those intentions.  May we choose to be the good we wish to see in the world.

[NOTE: The quotations in this sermon reflect the times in which they were written. They reflect the understandings of early 19th century thinking and therefore are not inclusive in their reference to humanity. I felt it was important to honor the integrity of the times in which this understanding was held as it also holds an important truth for us today; namely that revelation is ongoing even until the present day.  This sermon was delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on November 17 2013 (c) by Rev. Fred L Hammond.]


[i] Alice Blair Wesley, Our Covenant: the 2000-01 Minns Lecture; Meadville Lombard Theological School Press Chicago 2002.

[ii http://www.transcendentalists.com/unitarian_christianity.htm

[iii] IBID

[iv] IBID

[v] IBID

[vi] IBID

[vii]This concept comes from a sermon that Rev. Tandi Rogers gave at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on October 13 2013

Published in: on November 18, 2013 at 12:17 pm  Comments Off on Unitarian Christianity: Relevance for the 21st Century?  
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But It’s a Dry Hate

“But it’s a Dry Hate” presented to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on August 15, 2010 © Rev. Fred L Hammond

A few months ago, I am sitting in the annual business meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Association.  On the dais were two people not to debate the question of our denomination holding General Assembly in Phoenix in 2012 but to simply state their positions, pro and con.  Rev. Susan Frederick –Gray, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix gave an emotional appeal for us to not only host a Phoenix based General Assembly in 2012 but to come to Arizona on July 29th to  prevent one more child, one more mother, one more father from being ripped away from their families.  I listened to her call and I felt my heart affirming yes, I will go to Phoenix.

The call as I heard it was not simply to protest an unjust law because the law only codified what was already happening in Maricopa County and elsewhere in Arizona.  A population of indigenous and immigrant people were being systematically targeted as no longer welcome in a region that for thousands of years was their homeland.  The call was to return to our core values of honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

On the grounds of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix is a sculpture by John Henry Waddell entitled “That Which Might Have Been: Birmingham 1963.” It is a reflection on what might have been offered to society, to the world at large had four young girls not died in a racist motivated firebombing of a church in Birmingham, AL in 1963.

That Which Might Have Been: Birmingham 1963 by John Henry Waddell

The gifts of these potential women are depicted in this sculpture, each facing outward to the four corners of the world.  The ‘what if’s’ surrounding these four young girls of what could have been is powerfully emoted.

Coming to Arizona from Alabama and being greeted by this image, this connection to another time and place when America was gripped in fear of a different other is a stark reminder that these two moments in our history, the civil rights movement and the immigration rights movement are linked together in profound ways.  As I pondered on this statue and its now ironic juxtaposition with the beginning of ethnic cleansing of Arizona, I wondered what the ‘what if’s’ might have been if SB 1070 and the other laws were not passed.  What would the lives of the families torn apart have been like had their mother or father not been deported? What gifts these families would have presented Arizona and the United States in the years that followed had a different scenario filled with love and welcome been played out?

What was hailed as a post-racist America when the first African American President was elected has certainly in the recent past months proved to be instead a new incarnation of racism in America.  And just as Arizonans like to exclaim to their out of state friends, “But it’s a dry heat,” this new incarnation of racism in America is a dry hate. There are no Jim Crow laws banning Latinos and Hispanics from white only drinking fountains or sitting at white only lunch counters.  There are no laws segregating schools into white and brown.  But as my friends on Facebook reminded me when I asked if there would be a marked difference between Alabama’s 104 temps with humidity vs Arizona’s 104 temps without humidity, hot is still hot.   And so it is with hate.

And while Arizona is insisting that racial profiling is not to be tolerated in the enforcement of this new law, it is evident in the actions of the Maricopa County sheriff who treats rescued abused dogs better than he treats Latinos, Hispanics, and indigenous people in his county.  It is evident in the actions of State Senator Pearce and Governor Brewer who have declared all undocumented persons from south of the border as criminals and parasites on the state.  Such dehumanizing behavior is racist and is a necessary component to begin ethnic cleansing or as Arizona prefers to call it, “enforcement through attrition.”  It is indeed a dry hate that is drying out the very heart of America as its fear spreads across the country into other states.

To begin to understand where this hatred originates, a history lesson is needed that is no longer allowed to be legally taught in Arizona because it places whites in a different social location, that of oppressor.  My colleague Rev. Jose Ballester of the Bell Street Chapel in Providence RI, informed me of this history, he writes “In a letter dated June 30, 1828 General Manuel Mier Y Teran warns Mexican president Guadalupe Victoria that the growing numbers of immigrants from the United States of America would soon disrupt the territory of Tejas (Texas), ‘It would cause you the same chagrin that it has caused me to see the opinion that is held of our nation by these foreign colonists, since, with the exception of some few who have journeyed to our capital, they know no other Mexicans than the inhabitants here. . . Thus, I tell myself that it could not be otherwise than that from such a state of affairs should arise an antagonism between the Mexicans and foreigners, which is not the least of the smoldering fires which I have discovered.  Therefore, I am warning you to take timely measures.’ Of particular concern was the immigrant’s ignoring the Mexican law prohibiting slavery.”[1] Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, parts of Nevada and Utah were ceded to the United States as a result of a war guised as defending the white American immigrants of Texas but intending to have the result of additional territory for this country.  When I was in Arizona, I saw many signs that declared, “I did not cross the border; the border crossed me.”

The United States has a long history of coercion and aggression to obtain territorial control.  When Spain ceded the Louisiana territory to France it contained the caveat that it not sell or surrender the land to the United States.  Florida became a territory after the invasion of the Spanish colony of La Florida by General Andrew Jackson.   What does this repeated action of conquest do the heart of a people?

On my first night in Arizona, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix showed the film, 9500 Liberty documenting the effects of a similar law passed in Prince William County, VA in 2007.  Producers, Eric Byler and Anabel Park were present to comment on the film and to answer questions. The film revealed the destruction of the economic base of the county and in increase of taxes by 25% as a result of the resolution targeting Hispanic citizens. But more poignantly the film chronicled the devolution of a community’s soul from harmony and tolerance to suspicion and fear of the other.

The following day, we gathered to begin our preparations for civil disobedience and how we would support those risking arrests. At this point in time, I am sure that I will participate in the acts of civil disobedience.  We knew that we would be involved in two actions; one will be the blocking of the intersection at the Wells Fargo Building where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has his offices.

On Wednesday night, the other action is still a question mark and therefore is not being discussed except among the leaders of Puente and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).  Puente is the human rights organization that we, the Unitarian Universalist congregations in Phoenix and the UUA, have aligned ourselves with in this process.

On Thursday morning at 4:30 AM some Unitarian Universalists gather at the federal court to join those who have been in vigil for the past 104 days since the law passed.  This was their last vigil as many were undocumented.  Being dependent on coordinated transportation I joined the vigilers at a 6:30AM Interfaith service at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.  As we approach the cathedral there is an early morning rainbow against the pink sky that seems to arc from the cathedral’s steeple to the Maricopa County Jail. My companions in the car wonder if it is a sign of good omen.

It is standing room only in the sanctuary, I am aware that because I am wearing a clerical collar I am ushered to one of the few remaining seats instead of being sent to the overflow rooms.  This was indeed an interfaith service with rabbis, imams, bishops from the Roman, Anglican, and Methodist traditions, pentecostal and protestant ministers participating, and Unitarian Universalist minister, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray offering one of the three homilies.  The vigilers are also introduced and speak.  Their stories are poignant and personal.  The energy and spirit in the room is electric.

We walk from the cathedral to the Wells Fargo building, we are singing songs.  We are a sea of “Standing on the Side of Love” yellow shirts as far as one’s eyes can fathom.  I am greeted several times by locals, Latinos and whites alike, with “Thank you for coming.”

It is time to make our final preparations for one of the two actions we agreed to be involved in that day.  We are going to block the intersection.  Our organizer is giving excellent details as to what is going to happen.  Then she announces there are people wearing florescent green hats who can connect us with lawyers if there are questions about after the arrest.   I paused.

In my work with Soulforce many years ago, I knew that this journey I was embarking on was a spiritual journey and not simply a political one.  The way of justice is always aligned with the spirit.  Where was my spirit in this work?  Was I truly prepared to what might occur at the hands of what I have come to believe to be a sadistic sheriff?

In speaking with the lawyers I was told that because I was from out of state, because I chose not to have any verifying documentation on my person that would identify me as a citizen, that I might be required to post bond in order to be released.   One of my last conversations with our board president was that my benefit compensation package did not include bond money.  I laughed then, but the question of who would post bond for me was now no laughing matter.  I knew I did not have enough money in my account for such a bond.  And I suddenly realized that I did not know if I could trust the process to move forward with civil action.  I did not know who had my back should I be arrested.  And because I could not answer this question with any full assurance, I stepped away from the civil action and assumed a supportive role.

I now know where my personal work lies in order for me to continue to stand on the side of love.  This week has been truly a gift to me if only because of this one realization.  But I ask you, where does your inner soul work lie enabling you to continue to stand on the side of love?   Because as this work continues, it will grow harder for some of us and it will demand a strong spiritual commitment to this work.

There are many stories of grace being witnessed as the protests continue.  One of my colleagues overheard an African American child ask her mother what they were doing.  Her response, “Do you remember what I told you about Dr. Martin Luther King, that is what they are doing.”[2] I see our people in yellow shirts, go up to police who are standing on the frying hot pavement and offer them water, which is gratefully received.

Mar Cardenas from First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego is the first to be arrested. In the county jail, Sheriff Arpaio, wants to see just who these yellow shirts are that disrupted his plans for his biggest raid to date.  She sees him and makes the sign of a heart with her hands and says, “I love you Sheriff Joe.”  He looks at her and says who me?  “Yes, you.” she replies.  He shakes his head in bafflement at her gesture. Mar Cardenas later states that she recognizes that Sheriff Joe Arpaio despite his cruel and sometimes sadistic actions against the Hispanic community, he still has dignity and worth as a human being.  It is simply a matter of reaching that core of him that still recognizes others as human.

I hear about the arrest of Unitarian Universalist Audrey Williams who is in physical pain and suffering from heat exhaustion.  She is asked by the police if she still wants to be arrested after they have escorted her out of the hot sun and into the shade. The police tell her once she is in the county jail, her experience will not be easy.  She sees the Latinos in the crowd and lifts her fist and says to the Latinos, “I love each of you.”  The police then arrest her.   Because of her medical condition she is placed into an icy cold isolation cell with no blanket and no communication with the others.

Meanwhile, our organizers discover that the Maricopa County Jail has no police officers outside the building.  So the second action is given the go ahead.  Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray and members of Puente create a barricade in front of the receiving door.  They have linked their arms inside of pvc pipes, with metal bars where jellybean clips to hold their wrists in place.  The pipes are wrapped in paper with “no 1070” and “no 287(g)” written on them. This human chain is then chained to the poles on either side of the entrance.  A banner proclaiming “Not one more” in English and in Spanish is hoisted above them.   The Maricopa County Police are taken by surprise.  They have never seen anything like this before in Phoenix.  And Sheriff Joe Arpaio calls back his police from the raids he planned to figure out how to deal with this action.  The demonstrators from the Wells Fargo intersection are held in the vans because they cannot be received at the county jail.

I am asked to go to the county jail to support this action.  I walk over with Salvador Reza and I have a moment to get to know this man who has inspired and led his people to resist the heat wave of hate that has moved across Arizona.  When I arrive there is only a handful of supporters there within the hour, our numbers grow into the hundreds.  Rev. Peter Morales, president of our association and Salvador Reza join the human chain by standing behind them.  Another group of clergy link arms in front of the chain.  We are chanting, we are singing.  And we wait for Arpaio to make his move.  At one point police officers come out in regular uniforms and assess the situation up close.  Then they go back inside.

We wait.  We know that something will happen. The doors behind the human chain open, Rev. Peter Morales and Salvador Reza are arrested first.   Then police in full riot gear and weapons come out, cut the chain links on either side and dragged the human chain inside.  The clergy who are sitting in front of them are also picked up and dragged inside.  A legal observer and a reporter are swept up in the arrests; they tried to get out of the way and had no place to go.  A barricade of officers with riot gear and clear plastic shields march out and push the crowds away from the entrance.  They stand there for what seemed like 15 minutes or so and then back up and enter the jail, closing the doors.  In total 83 people were arrested, 29 of them were Unitarian Universalists.

Later that night, I join in a vigil outside of the county jail. We are singing songs in English and in Spanish and banging drums.  We hope our friends in the jail can hear that there are people outside in support.  I later hear that some of them were able to hear us and spread the word that we were there.

The following day, after all of our people are released, we gather at Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Chandler, AZ.  We are participating in a Taize service and a ritual of gratefulness is in progress.  UUA Moderator, Gini Coulter comes up to the microphone and stands in silence.  Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray comes up and announces that Salvador Reza, the leader of the Puente organization has been arrested again for the second time.  This time falsely.  He was observing an action taking place outside of Tent City; Arpaio’s make shift jail.  We are asked to join them in vigil at Tent City until his release.

Salvador Reza was placed in a van for two hours with the outside temperatures of over 105 degrees.  The van was not running.  This amounts to torture.

We gather at Tent City to sing, to pray, to stand.  One of the songs Unitarian Universalists are singing is “Siyahamba, We are Marching.”  We are singing the English words –We are marching in the light of God–and next to me is a Latino family with a young boy.  He is looking puzzled.  We then sing the Spanish, “Caminando en la luz de Dios” and his eyes light up.  He begins singing along jumping up and down.  He continues singing after the rest of us have finished.

Some of the Puente women have brought bean burritos and carnitas sandwiches and we are all grateful for the meal.  The thankfulness that is expressed in our joining them in this struggle is huge.  There are many words thanking us for our presence.

Tupac Enrique speaks to us about Salvador’s arrest and offers a history of the oppression that has been occurring in the Southwest for centuries.  He states the borders were determined between two governments that did not consider the rights of the native nation that was there first. Because of this he declares SB 1070 an illegal law created by a government that has broken every treaty ever made with the indigenous nations.

I am reminded of the indigenous lacrosse players who were denied use of their native nation’s passports[3] to travel to England earlier this year. Lacrosse a game created by the indigenous people of this country and yet not allowed to play their game in a world competition.

Tupac offers a prayer in his people’s language.  It is a soulful emotional prayer.  I begin to understand in a deeper heartfelt manner that this struggle is not just about immigration rights but rather living and breathing the inherent worth and dignity of every people.

We receive word that Salvador has been transferred to the County Jail and we move our vigil there.  It is clear that this arrest is pure harassment and intimidation.  At the County Jail, we decide to dance in the streets to loud Mexican music to let Sheriff Arpaio know that we will not be intimidated. Even the rain that begins to fall after 1 AM does not deter us from dancing.  There is a picture of me with other Unitarian Universalists dancing a conga line. The police are watching us from the rooftops but no action is taken against us.  At his second arraignment, the judge dismisses the case because there was no probable cause for the arrest.

Prior to going to Arizona, some of my conservative friends on this issue told me that the law could only be enforced for reasonable suspicion that arose in the line of investigating another situation.  I was told that with the judge staying so many parts of the law the reason for my being in Arizona was no longer valid because everything was changed.

Talking with the people in Arizona this is not the case at all.  Employers cannot pick up day laborers along side the road. This reduces the ability for day laborers to get jobs that would enable them to have food on the table or a roof over their family’s head.   Churches could have their vans impounded and drivers arrested for human trafficking should they pick up a parishioner who is undocumented—regardless if the driver was aware of the status or not.  Police can still be sued for being perceived as not enforcing the law.  These components of the law are still in effect. The harassment of people is still occurring.

People are being stopped for minor infractions like a broken taillight and that becomes the reasonable suspicion to detain them for immigration authorities.  Even traffic court cases that were settled become the reason for detaining them.  These examples are pre-passage of SB 1070.  The harassment was going on before this law was enacted.  Once a person is handed over to immigration there is no due process.

One of the leaders of Puente was released from the jail and witnesses saw him get into a waiting van.  The police immediately surrounded the van.  The police were going to arrest him again for violating the conditions of his release because of a meter running out.   This is the sort of thing that is happening in Arizona.  And I was told by several local people that this happens daily just as this sort of thing happened in Alabama in 1963.

It is time for our nation to return to its core values of liberty, equality, and justice for all.  It is time for America to return again to being a nation worthy of its creed of all people being created equal with unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is time for America to “return again, return again, return to the home of your soul.[4]


[1] From an email written by Jose Ballester dated Saturday, August 7, 2010.  Used by permission.

[2] http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/note.php?note_id=426638593187

[3] http://www.manataka.org/page2244.html

[4] “Return Again” words and music by Shlomo Carlebach

Bless the Animals

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

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

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

She sits on her haunches

surveying her terrain

The phoebe to her left

The phoebe to her right

The hawk that flies above

The rabbit that crosses

unaware.

She sees all

She is aware of all

Even me on the bench

Watching her watching me

****

“Bless the Animals”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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