Interdependency

The Interdependent Imperative

Author: 
Rev. Fred Small

Delivered on October 26, 2014

at First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist

 

As a boy, I was a prince of independence.

White, male, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, tall, raised in middle-class affluence, I was living the American dream. 

I worked hard in school, got good grades, made the football team.

I thought I was pretty cool.

Whenever I helped myself to some ice cream from our freezer, all my mother asked when I was finished was to leave the empty dish in the sink with just a little bit of water in the dish, so the thin sweet film in the bottom wouldn’t harden into an indestructible incrustation. 

If I would just leave some water in the dish, I’d be a good boy!

So I did.

And then the dish would disappear!

Not right away, but pretty soon, when my mother next swept through the kitchen, tidying and cleaning up.

That was her job, right?

My job was to eat ice cream and leave a little water in the dish.

Never gave it a second thought.

Until I was 18. 

When I was 18, I went on Outward Bound in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Ontario.

The very first time we paddled away from our base camp and pitched our tents on an island, we cooked our meal, we ate our meal, and then . . . and then there were all these dirty dishes.

And no Mom.

I was flabbergasted.

All those years I thought I was independent—I was a fool.

All those years I thought I was standing on my own two feet, I had no idea I was being lifted up by others.

The seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism affirms our “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

It was not always so.

When the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America combined in 1961, the new Unitarian Universalist Association bylaws said nothing about interdependence. 

They proclaimed “the supreme worth of every human personality” and “the dignity of man”— singling out “the Judeo-Christian heritage” of  “love to God and love to man.”

By the 1980s, led by members of the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation, the groundswell for change had become unstoppable. 

Amid growing concern about environmental degradation, the draft presented to the 1984 General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio, included a new seventh principle affirming “respect for Earth and interdependence of its living systems”—a formulation ecologically correct and spiritually arid.

Fortunately, the Rev. Paul L’Herrou rose from the floor to propose instead “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” 

With this change, the seventh principle was transformed from an environmental plank into a spiritual truth with roots in ancient wisdom traditions. 

With this change, reflects my colleague the Buddhist Unitarian Universalist minister James Ishmael Ford, “We stopped merely being concerned with a description of what we tend to think, and called ourselves to something sacred.”

Our interdependent web evokes Buddhism’s jeweled net of Indra.

Stephen Mitchell describes Indra’s vast net this way:

at each crossing point there is a jewel; each jewel is perfectly clear and reflects all the other jewels in the net, the way two mirrors placed opposite each other will reflect an image ad infinitum. The jewel in this metaphor stands for an individual being, or an individual consciousness, or a cell or an atom. Every jewel is intimately connected with all other jewels in the universe, and a change in one jewel means a change, however slight, in every other jewel.

This is a vision of radical interdependence.  Radical only because we so often forget it, and even when we remember it, we fail to live by it.

This is the interdependence taught by the Buddha, who explained that “This is like this because that is like that.  This is because that is.”

This is the interdependence divinized by the Jewish sage Martin Buber in I and Thou.  Restarting Genesis, Buber declares: “In the beginning is the relation. . . . Relation is reciprocity.  My You acts on me as I act on it.  Our students teach us, our works form us. . . . Extended, the lines of relationships intersect in the eternal You.  Every single You is a glimpse of that.”

This is the interdependence proclaimed by Dr. King when he wrote from Birmingham Jail of

the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.  [We might substitute Cambridge for Atlanta and Ferguson—or Roxbury—for Birmingham.]  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

This is the interdependence ecologist Barry Commoner articulated in his First Law of Ecology: “Everything Is Connected to Everything Else.”  (I would call this, as well, the First Law of Congregational Life and the First Law of Spiritual Life.)  The more complex the ecosystem, Commoner points out,

the more successfully it can resist a stress. . . . Most ecosystems are so complex that the cycles are not simple circular paths, but are crisscrossed with branches to form a network or a fabric of interconnections.  Like a net, in which each knot is connected to others by several strands, such a fabric can resist collapse better than a simple, unbranched circle of threads—which if cut anywhere breaks down as a whole.

This is the interdependence described by Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff  as “the infinite web of all-inclusive relations.”  “[E]verything that exists, co-exists,” Boff reminds us. “Nothing exists outside of relationships.  Ecology reaffirms the interdependence of beings . . . and repudiates the so-called right of the strongest.  All creatures manifest and possess their own relative autonomy; nothing is superfluous or marginal.  All being constitutes a link in the vast cosmic chain.”

This is the interdependence that inspires feminist theologian Carter Heyward to name God as “our power in mutual relation. . . . in which all of us, not just a few, are empowered to live more fully just and compassionate lives.  Injustice, or oppression,” she asserts, “is both source and consequence of evil—non-mutual power relations of domination and control.  We are urged in and by God to struggle for justice, peace, compassion, and liberation.”

This is the interdependence the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Minister Emeritus of Riverside Church in New York City, addressed last month at the Religions for the Earth interfaith service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine just hours after more than 300,000 demonstrators jammed the streets of Manhattan in the People’s Climate March.  "I see God as relationality itself,” this Christian preacher told us, “connectedness itself."

Interdependence means that there is no Other—no them by which to define us.  There may be opponents but not enemies. 

Interdependence means seeing opponents as teachers and potential allies.  Even Republicans—if you’re a Democrat.  Even Democrats—if you’re a Republican.  Even Republicans and Democrats—if you think party politics is a waste of time.  Because the person who opposes you on one issue may join with you on another—if you don’t write them off or alienate or demonize them first.

Interdependence means that means and ends cannot be separated, because what we do to another we do to ourselves.  When we’re all in the same boat, torpedoes become weapons of suicide.  The drone that kills one terrorist creates three more.

Interdependence means we see ourselves reflected in the eye of the oppressed and the oppressor alike.  Some of us would say we see God reflected there.

Interdependence means that each and every one of us is immortal, because the impressions we make on other people’s souls ripple outward to infinity.

Because everything is connected, we can never anticipate the impact our smallest gesture may have upon our family, our neighbors, and strangers we will never know.

A high school teacher says a kind word to a discouraged student, and instead of dropping out, she stays in school, graduates, and eventually becomes a teacher herself. 

A researcher toiling in a lab discovers that a plant extract has a unique property without any apparent benefit until another researcher on the other side of the planet realizes that that property is the missing piece in a cure for a killer disease. 

A folksinger writes a song so inspiring it saves a life. 

The songwriter was Stan Rogers, the burly Canadian baritone best known for “The Mary Ellen Carter,” a rousing ballad about a fishing boat sunk in a squall only to be raised from the sea bottom and salvaged by her determined crew.

In the winter of 1983, a ship called the Marine Electric was carrying coal from Norfolk, Virginia, to Somerset, Massachusetts, when it ran into the worst storm in forty years.  Pounded relentlessly by massive waves and shrieking winds,  the Marine Electric sank at 4 o’clock in the morning.

59-year-old Bob Cusick, the ship’s chief mate, made it clear of the wreck but found himself all alone in the frigid water, grasping a partially deflated lifeboat as waves crashed over him.  Each time he went under, he wasn’t sure he’d make it back to the surface.  As hypothermia set in, all Bob really wanted was to let go of the lifeboat and slip beneath the surface. 

But he remembered “The Mary Ellen Carter.”

Rise again, rise again—though your heart it be broken

Or life about to end.

No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,

Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Barely clinging to life in the churning Atlantic in the pitch-black night, Bob Cusick began to sing.

Rise again, rise again 

Every time a wave broke over him, he’d hold his breath.   When the wave had passed, he’d sing again.

Like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again

Over and over and over.

At seven o'clock in the morning Bob was spotted by a Coast Guard helicopter and rescued—one of only two survivors among the 33 crewmen who went into the sea.

When he’d recovered, Bob wrote a letter to Stan Rogers thanking him for writing the song that saved his life.  At the folksinger’s invitation, Bob joined Stan at his next concert.  It was the next-to-last concert Stan performed.

A few weeks later, after headlining the Kerrville Folk Festival, Stan boarded an Air Canada flight in Dallas bound for Montreal.  When fire broke out on board, the airliner made an emergency landing in Cincinnati.  As dense smoke filled the cabin, passengers were evacuated.  Stan was near the front of the plane, and some people later said he had a chance to get out but stayed behind to help others. 

Within minutes after the doors were opened, the rush of fresh oxygen triggered a flash fire that raced through the cabin, killing all 23 passengers still on board.  Stan was among them.  He was 33 years old.

The accident led to tighter aviation regulations around the world, with new requirements for smoke detectors, emergency lighting, and increased firefighting training and equipment.  Air Canada has not had another fatality since.

A song. 

A life saved when others died. 

A life lost when others survived. 

Lessons learned to save other lives.

Ripples of care.  Ripples of courage.  Ripples of love.

We never know the impact we have.

Because we’re all connected.

We are never alone.  We are part of one another.

Each of us in every one of us.

Unity in diversity.  Diversity in unity.

Todos juntos para siempre.

One people.  One spirit.  One love.

Amen, Aché, and Blessed Be.

Emptiness and Social Policy

The last time I was in DC, my friend Michael Roehm observed to me that UUs spend a lot of time talking about interdependency, but we don't spend much time thinking about emptiness (both are concepts in Buddhism, and related to each other, kinda like infinity and zero). I have been reminded repeatedly of the truth of his words ever since then, including today. 

This afternoon I was listening to NPR about the disproportionate expulsions of Black and Latino students from schools, and the (misguided) reasoning behind it being that if you remove the "bad" kids, that will make it easier for the "good" kids to learn.  (The article used those words, "bad" and "good," so I am using them too.)  Obviously racism is the primary driving force; how else to explain why black and brown students are thought of as "bad" for committing the same kind of infractions as white students.  But in along side the racism is this belief that people are inherently something.  Inherently good.  Inherently bad... Our social policies are based on this belief.  Hence, we focus on getting rid of the "bad" people, whether by expelling students or locking up prisoners with no attempt at rehabilitation.  (And we let "good" people off the hook with no accountability even when they do decidedly bad things, because, well, they are inherently "good" so the fact that they did something bad was just a temporary glitch, an exceptional circumstance.)  If, instead of thinking of people as inherently "good" or "bad," we focused on emptiness, then we'd see that people reflect back what they experience.  In that case, our social policy would change from that of trying to separate out and eliminate the "bad" to that of trying to create the conditions and causes that lead people to behave in more beneficial ways. 

Ministering To and With Young Adults

Author: 
Alex Haider-Winnett
Members of UU Oakland Young Adults

Ministering To and With Young Adults
Sermon by Alex Haider-Winnett
Delivered at First Unitarian of Oakland May 25, 2014

Friends, it is so very good to be here with you today. It is always a pleasure to worship with you. As our dear Rev. Jacqueline would say, “There is a sweet, sweet spirit in this place” and it feeds my soul. Today’s theme is on “Ministering To and With Young Adults”. You have already heard from some of our congregation’s young adults. The love and support you give this community helps grow strong leaders who are changing the world. Present in our group are peace activists, veterans, civil rights lawyers, teachers, seminarians and ministers, artists, tech professionals, non-profit administrators, social workers and entrepreneurs. But we also have people struggling to find work. People working hard to figure out how to make ends meet or looking to find work that is meaningful. And your love supports us all.

I am familiar with the topic both as a young adult and also because I served this community as the coordinator of the Young Adult Ministries for two years. I am grateful for the opportunities this position has given me, all the friends and connections I have made and the ways it has fed my soul.

Last weekend, we bridged six youth into young adulthood. It is one of my favorite parts of the church year. The bridgers--who are usually, but not always, high school graduates-- take a moment to express their feelings about bridging to the congregation. They often share a fond memory through a short reflection, singing a song or reading a poem. Then we extend a blessing to the bridgers as they move toward the chancel where the church’s young adult community is waiting to welcome them into our circle. The bridge is an apt metaphor. Not only does it represent a transition from one stage in life to another, it also has another meaning. In recent studies, we see that churches in our faith community are doing a poor job at retaining our youth. As many as 90% of our youth will leave our churches somewhere in their late teens and twenties. Combine this with the fact that 1/3rd of people currently unaffiliated with a religious community are under the age of 35, it points to a growing population of young people whose needs are not being met by our congregations. This period of young adult non-affiliation is such a common occurrence, we have term for it: “The Gap”. The theory of The Gap states that our youth leave when they are in their late teens and come back in their 30’s, when they have some stability; when they have a job, are married or have kids. Hence the strange lifespan of UU Young Adult Ministries: 18-35 (Spanning 17 Years). And so, the Bridging Ceremony is one way that we have been working over the years to “Mind The Gap.”

When we think of our Bridging Ceremony, we usually represent it with a large, sturdy bridge. One like the Golden Gate Bridge which has lasted for decades and has thousands of cars, trucks and buses go over it each day. One that needs repairs now and again but pretty much stands the test of time. In reality, our bridge is perilous. It is a rope bridge. It sways in the wind. Some of the strands are loose. And there are crumbling and missing boards. The Bridge is difficult to cross. It takes faith to believe that every step of the way will be supported. And not everyone makes it. Try as we might, there are times when young adults need to take a step back from trying to cross The Gap and move away from UU community for a while. It is common. And I bet that if you ask any young adult here, you would find stories where they took some prolonged time away from church.

I could tell you some of my stories. Stories of making difficult choices between work, school and church. Stories of being in rural Indiana, hours away from the nearest congregation. And stories of over-committing to the point of burnout. I could tell you the things I told myself that made it easier to walk away from church: That I needed some time away for self care; it was a compromise until I got a different job; or, that things would be different if I went somewhere else. And stories of working odd hours which made it impossible to attend church during program hours. Stories of feeling pushed out or underappreciated; of having my voice and experiences silenced and ignored.

I could tell you how since I turned 18, I have lived in 10 different houses in eight different cities. That I have worked at least a dozen jobs. I have attended services at numerous UU churches and also Quaker Meeting Houses, Catholic Parishes, Jewish Temples and a whole slew of other ad hoc, multi-faith communities. My twenties were a lot of things but spiritually-stable wasn’t necessarily one of them.

And I would be happy to tell you those stories some day. But all of those stores pale in comparison to one thing: we have covenanted to be a multi-generational worship community. If we are truly to live up to that promise, that means creating authentic intergenerational relationships and being willing to be changed by the new experiences we share. Creating a multi-generational community does not merely mean taking a few minutes out of worship to have young people participate. Nor does it mean having a few token young people on committees. It means getting to know people all along the age spectrum and making honest, thoughtful and transformative relationships.

There are people out there desiring our community. There are people who are hungering for a community that is spiritual but not dogmatic. They want a community where their questions are honored and accepted. There are people who are looking for a place where they can explore new spiritual practices and find ways to commune with the divine. There are people wanting a community where we can do good works and strive for justice together. There are people who are wanting a community that will accept them for who they are; a community that will love them, cherish them and save their life. Because, if there is one thing I know about Unitarian Universalism--the one thing that helped me hang on when I was struggling with my faith--is that this church saves lives. I know that is what I want. And I think this is true for a lot of my peers my age. So, if we are going to uphold our covenantal desire to be a multi-generational community, how do we minister to young people?

There are a many ways we can do so. But it is going to take some work and new ways of how we we do church. I would like to first say, that our congregation does better than most. We have dozens of active young adults. And we are the fastest growing age demographic for the past two years. But there is still lots of room for improvement. And not everything is going to fit in the last few minutes of this sermon. So I want to look at three broad categories: Welcoming, Hospitality, and Mentoring.

First is Welcoming. In preparing for this sermon, I spoke with a lot of young adults both here and in the wider community. For young adults who tend not to go to church, they say that most congregations they have gone to were not welcoming enough. They went with the hope of finding a community that could be “their community” but in most cases, they found the welcome as well as their worship to be cold. As we know, our welcome and our worship at UU Oakland are anything but cold. But people will never experience the warmth of our community if they never come to the church in the first place. We need to have a visible and appealing welcome mat.

And in this day-in-age, that means a presence on the Internet.

Take for instance, our young adult page on facebook. Currently, we have 125 members (which is roughly half as many pledging members in this congregation) but according to a recent poll, only about 10-15% of members of the group attend church regularly. The others use it as a way to stay in touch with our larger community virtually. While virtual contact may not be the most ideal way of participating with a spiritual community, it is a valid one and, I believe, preferable to no contact at all. And while it is a start, there is much more we could be doing to be present on the Internet.

The next category is Hospitality: Churches usually seek out people who intend to be long-time members who will pledge. There is an expectation that people who come for a few months sign the membership book, pledge all they can and devote their time to the work of the church. I am an active, pledging, voting member. I am honored and pleased to be one. But this is also the first time in my adult life that I have been able to do so. As long as we continue to believe that membership means a long-term commitment, we are going to be convincing a lot of young adults that this is not a place for them. Due to fragile job and housing markets, young adults are reluctant to commit to any institution. We need to recognize that people who become members may only do so for a very short time before they have to move on. I am proud and grateful for any and all people who wish to hang their hats with us. But whenever I meet a visitor, my question is not “When can we get this person to sign the book and pledge?” it is “What does this person need and how can those needs be met?”. By focusing on hospitality over membership, we can make space for people to feel welcome for however long they may be with us.

And this, I think, is the crux of the manner. If we are to say that “All are worthy and all are welcome”, there should be no restrictions, caveats or parentheses. We don’t say “You are worthy if you have a certain net worth” nor do we say “You are welcome as long as you intend to stay.” And this is why I think young adult ministries are important, by working to make all feel safe to be vulnerable, intimate and authentic, we are working to build the Beloved Community. And young adults, who are coming with hopes of finding a supportive community will come as long as we continue to make room for them.

My third category is mentorship: When people join our congregation, we should foster a relationship of mentoring. People should be encouraged to join, learn and work for our common vision as best as each person can. New visitors and members should be able to explore and find which aspects of the church most serve their personal ministries. This may take a while. It could take months or even years. But the best way to help a young adult find their spot in the church is by building authentic interpersonal relationships by getting to know people, finding out what they are passionate about and how it overlaps with the work of the church. Doing so allows committees to pick new members based on their skills and talents rather than merely their age.

I have a story from about five years ago that I feel epitomizes how these three themes of Welcoming, Hospitality and Mentoring can either help or hinder a young adult fully participating in a church community. After the job market collapsed in 2009, I started waiting tables. It was what I was able to do to make ends meet. I would start work at 5 PM and not get off of work until 3AM. I would often be getting to bed when the sun was rising. I had been going to church down the street from my house but worship no longer fit into my schedule. I remember once running into a friend on the street. This friend said, “Alex. We miss you. Where have you been? Why haven’t you been to church?” And I told this friend honestly, “Since I got my job, church is just too early for me.” The friend said, “Too early? 11:30 is too early?” And I said, “Yup. 11:30 is too early for me. I don’t usually get out of bed until 1pm.” I told this friend, “You know what would be ideal for me? If church had a 4 AM worship service, I would be thrilled to go.” There was some nervous laughter and some awkward silence and then we both went on our way. But you know what? I wasn’t kidding. If I could have left work and gone to a 4 AM worship service, I would have gladly gone to it. But there was no late night worship. I never really expected there to be one. But it shows the way that Sunday morning programming just does not work for everyone.

I am thankful that here, our staff and clergy have created authentic relationships with young adults to understand that we desired an opportunity to worship in a different way and different time than we do on Sundays and have helped and empowered us to create worship on Tuesday evenings. It is quickly becoming an important worship space for people of all ages to come and be together in community. And we have found that people who do not come on Sundays have been coming to Tuesday evenings. By listening to the needs of our members and those who wish to join us, we have transformed the way we do worship in a way that makes it more accessible to people who had previously thought that the community was closed to them.

Our young adults are looking for a spiritual community. Despite national reports that young people are rejecting worship communities and studies that say UU youth will leave us to find another home for a while, we know otherwise. We know that our congregation can be a life-changing community for young adults. We have already seen it happen. By supporting things like Tuesday night vespers but also individuals like Kyle (note to reader: Kyle is a young adult member currently participating in humanitarian aid in Syria who skyped in during the service to give a testimonial) and our bridgers last week and every one on the chancel today, you are creating a transformative multi-generational community. But our congregations are not doing enough to help make a safe space for them to explore. We need to widen our welcome, strengthen our hospitality and deepen our mentoring relationships so that those who come through our doors know that there is a place for them no matter how new they are to our faith, how long they intend to stay, and however hurt they have been from previous experiences. By working on these things, we can create a culture where all of our young adults and all people are willing and able to fully participate to the best of their abilities and feel proud to be part of our community. And together, we will transform ourselves, each other and the world.

Embracing the Dangerous and Sacred

By Suzi Spangenberg

Delivered at Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Fremont, CA

On 6 May 2012

(Winner: Mission Peak Sermon Contest )

 

Indulge me here, as you are able, please stand up or if you can’t, you can also do this
from your seat.
Now streeeeetch as far as you can.
Feel that?
Now…hold it.
Take a breath, let it out and stretch a little bit further.
Not so much that it hurts.
Just so that you feel it.
Now,
Mark that feeling.
Really take heed of it.
Make sure your body really remembers it.
Ok…now go ahead and take your seats.

I want to tell about my name.  When my parents decided to marry, my dad was an atheist and my mom Catholic.  To get permission from the church to marry, my dad had to agree to raise any children they had in the Catholic Church.  My dad agreed, but only if he was allowed to name the kids.

Now my dad had a unique sense of humor.  It took several friends intervening rather forcefully to get my dad to agree not to name my brother Anthony Scott Spangenberg.  They convinced him that the initials would have set my brother up for a lifetime of pain.  So, my dad relented and named him Scott Russell.

10 years later I came along.  My dad, in his infinite wisdom decided to buck Catholic custom and not name me after a saint. To ensure that there was no mistaking his intention, he chose to spell my name S-U-Z-I.

Paragraph 2165 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: In Baptism, the Christian receives his name in the Church. Parents, godparents, and the pastor are to see that he be given a Christian name. The patron saint provides a model of charity and the assurance of his prayer.

So not naming me after a saint was no laughing matter.  Every year in Catholic School I was grilled about my name.  Every time I fill out a legal document, I am asked, “No, what’s your LEGAL name?”  One day I will have to calculate just how many hours I have spent saying “That IS my legal name!”  Thanks, Dad.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote:
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggling, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.  These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.  Beautiful people do not just happen.

When I read that quote to a friend, he said "Oh, I wish that were true because then we could all be Brad Pitt" and I replied "Or the Dalai Lama".  He just looked at me and then said "Honey - you go with the Dalai Lama...I'm sticking with Brad"

The thing is, my friend immediately identified with Kubler Ross's statement.  He recognized that the LGBTQ community has certainly experienced defeat, suffering, and loss.  I don't know any member who hasn't struggled on some level.  We know the defeat of trying over and over to secure the same civil rights as straight people in our society.  Not special rights.  Equal rights.  We have suffered when we have been separated from partners in hospitals or until recently, partners who served in the military.  And we know loss - oh how we know loss. Whether it is the loss of a friend when we start to figure out who we are, the loss of a family or job when we come out, or the more permanent losses that we experience as a result of violence or illness, loss is something that most of us know altogether too well.

Perhaps that is why there are so many beautiful people in the LGBTQ community.

Last year, in preparation for a Day of the Dead service, we were asked to bring in icons representing those we have lost.  Along with photographs, I also brought, a small address book.  Remember these?  For those of you who are younger, this is an address book.  Before cell phones we used to carry these in our pockets or purses and they contained the names and numbers of  important people in our lives.  This particular phone book is special - I got it when I first moved to Berkeley for college and used it for several years afterward.

When I started college, I was 16 and didn't know I was bi-sexual.  I just knew I was different from the other kids at my Catholic school.  I know that someone was looking out for me when an apartment opened up next door to Bill-my future best friend.  Bill took one look at me and saw through my punk rock facade.  He recognized the confused, naive, lost queer girl that I was even though I didn't recognize her myself.

Bill took me under his wing, brought me into the community and introduced me to his friends.  They snuck me into clubs so I could dance, helped me with my homework, nursed my first broken heart, and pretended to like the Thanksgiving turkey I cooked which was so dry, it could have been used for kindling.  We all learned to love and support each other. For the first time in my life, I got to experience what it was like to be truly accepted for who I was.  We were a family.

I didn't know a lot about politics then.  I started interning at a radio station and crewed with the news team as part of my internship.  When Dade County, Florida overturned a recently passed civil rights ordinance that made discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal, we covered the protest marches.  You may remember that the legislation was overturned as the result of the “Save Our Children” campaign by Florida Orange Juice spokesperson Anita Bryant.  Her involvement sparked a long boycott of Florida orange juice.  In fact, I still have trouble buying Orange Juice from Florida.

Shortly after that, CA State Senator John Briggs introduced the Briggs Amendment, which would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools.  At a press conference at San Francisco City Hall he called the city a "sexual garbage heap" because of “homosexuals”.  A week later, a gay man named Robert Hillsborough died from 15 stab wounds while his attackers gathered around him and chanted "Faggot!" Both San Francisco Mayor Moscone and Hillsborough's mother blamed Anita Bryant and John Briggs.

The response was immediate and strong.  Weeks later, 250,000 people attended the 1977 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, the largest attendance at any Gay Pride event to that point.  Shortly after that, Harvey Milk was sworn in as a San Francisco City Supervisor - the first openly gay man in the United States to win an election for public office.  What is important to note is that Milk, who won by a landslide, did not focus solely on gay causes.  He advocated for larger and less expensive childcare facilities, free public transportation, and the development of a board of civilians to oversee the police. He opposed the closing of an elementary school-- even though most gay people in the Castro did not have children.  He advanced important neighborhood issues at every opportunity.  He recognized that we ALL needed representing.

When Supervisor Dan White murdered Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, we covered the press conference when then supervisor Dianne Feinstein made the announcement.  I will never forget the sight of normally hardened reporters in tears.  I called my friends -- my family--, and we all took part in a candlelight vigil march through the City.  It was my first, but by no means, my last.

Harvey Milk is in my address book.

A few years later, When LaDean got sick, we were all shocked.  He was young, ran daily, and was vegetarian even before it was cool.  He went so fast we didn't have time to process it.  One day he had the flu, the next he was in the hospital with pneumonia, 3 days later he was dead.  We grieved together, never realizing that LaDean was just the beginning.

Suddenly, men in the community, my family, were dying.  My family and friends were dying and no one outside the community seemed to care.  Sue Hyde, from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said, "An entire political movement grew up around the silence of the Reagan administration. The AIDS activist movement took as its call to action 'silence equals death' because literally the silence of the Reagan administration was resulting in the deaths of thousands and thousands of gay men in our communities across the country."

Once again, it took people organizing to form a movement and demanding change before any took place.

LaDean is in my address book.
And so many more.
Every single male in this phonebook is dead.  Every single one.

The devastation of those early days of AIDS cannot be overemphasized.  Yet, as we grieved, we somehow survived.  We all found ways to do it.  Now, no one talks much about AIDS.  Medical advances have made it possible for those diagnosed with HIV to live a full life.  Yet, we can usually identify each other - those who went through this time.  It's in the eyes.  You see it in the eyes of those who have experienced loss or great struggle.

I saw those same eyes in Sonora when I spoke with a woman who months earlier had been deported with her young children and did not know where they were--ICE deported them to a separate location.  Alone.  She was afraid that they would become victims of the sex trade - the predators wait at the border for unaccompanied children.

I saw it in the eyes of Javier, a 72-year-old widower who was deported after living 71 years in the US.  He had cancer, and no means of even contacting his family to tell them where he was.  When I offered to let him use my phone he told me he didn't know their telephone numbers - they were all in his phone, which ICE had kept, along with his wallet, money, and identification.  He was afraid that stopping his medical treatment would mean that he would die without getting to see his children and grandchildren again.

And yet...they both were volunteering at a makeshift aid center --doing what they could to assist the newly deported.  They were helping others with the kind of compassion that comes from real empathy.  Their ability to practice loving kindness at a time of great loss was a profound and beautiful act.  They both expressed that they felt better when they were helping others.  By helping others, they were also helping themselves.

That interconnectedness, that is something we as UU's know well.  It is one of our principles:  As UU's we commit to affirm and promote our respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.  So when a family is torn apart because of our immigration policy, the ripples stretch out and affect us all. When a queer kid is bullied to death, when a transgendered person is brutally murdered...those ripples affect everyone too.  Not just those in the community...everyone.  Because we are all connected to each other through the good and the bad.

It's that connection that compelled white UU ministers to leave the safety of their homes and congregations and answer the call of Martin Luther King, jr. in Selma to march in the Civil Rights Movement.  It is that same connection that compel straight UU's to rally for marriage equality and an end to bullying.  It is that same connection that compels us to speak out against an Immigration policy that tears apart families and destroys lives. And that connection holds true for love as well.  For every loving act we do, the ripples spread out and affect people we may never know.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said  “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”  He also said "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

Sometimes it's so difficult to know which battles to take on.  Sometimes after years of struggle we win a battle like we did for marriage equality in Maryland and after celebrating, our inclination may be to get off the activist train and take a well-deserved break.  You should!  Recharging our batteries is important and taking the time to practice good self-care is critical to any long-term movement.

However, after those batteries are recharged, it's important to get back on that train.  As long as civil rights are denied to any of us, they are denied to all of us.

I have a favorite tree that I like to sit in.  Going there is a form of meditation for me.  I like to climb up into the trees branches and look out over the Bay.  It is one of my favorite places to sit sipping a cup of coffee while I watch the sun set.  The birds’ fly around me and my cares just melt away.  I feel like I am in a sacred and safe world.  I love it.

Sacred and safe.  There is nothing wrong about sacred and safe spaces.  We need them.  We need them to balance out the challenges and realities that we face as we work to create a more just and sustainable world.  We need sacred and safe spaces.  We all do.  And it makes sense that we would want to remain in a safe space.

But what happens when we don't leave those safe spaces?  What happens when we choose the comfort of the sacred and safe over the discomfort that often arises when we actively work to counter oppression and create a just and sustainable world?

Like our muscles that become tight and then atrophy with disuse, so do our spirits.  If we do not stretch ourselves, then we become disconnected from our humanity.  Because spirit is not about closing up - it is about breaking open our hearts and minds and embracing all that life holds not just the safe and sacred but also the dangerous and sacred.

And by danger, I don't just mean the danger that comes from risking arrest for a cause you feel is just, I am also speaking of the danger that comes from opening your mind to people, ideas, painful truths, ugly realities and your own prejudices and privilege.  Because facing these things is dangerous - and probably one of the most sacred things we can do.

Each time we stretch just a little bit, it helps make it easier for the next time...by stretching just a little bit; we can accomplish things we would not have thought possible.  We very well may begin to like that feeling – of being stretched – and especially appreciate learning that we are a lot more flexible than we ever thought.  We can begin to experience interconnectedness in ways that we could not have imagined.  Our capacity for growth is boundless.

And in learning to like that feeling, I also learned what a gift my father gave me in my name.  He helped prepare me for a lifetime of stretching.  Of learning to be comfortable saying "THIS is who I am"

So by all means find your sacred and safe space.  Go there.  Re-charge.  Delight in it.  But don't reside there.  Come out of that space.  STRETCH yourselves.  Reach out.  Remember that feeling of being stretched earlier?  Reach for that feeling.  Embrace the dangerous and sacred.  And remember...to stretch yourselves - a little bit...each and every day.

Meditation on Energy

Author: 
Kat Liu

(This guided meditation was originally written for UUs observing Earth Hour, with the intent of adding a deeper, spiritual dimension to just turning off the lights for an hour.  It has been adapted here for Climate Justice Month.  In the U.S., nearly 50% of our electricity comes from burning coal.  That is why the meditation focuses on coal.)

 

We are the generation that stands
between the fires;
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
And from the burning of the Amazon forest;
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
the flame and the smoke that consume all Earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
but the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different,
all of us bearing
One Spark.

- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

 

 

Turn on a light. 

Picture the light that you have just turned on.
Picture it connected via wiring to the other light bulbs, electrical outlets, appliances… in your home.

Follow the wiring out of your home, along the utility line, to the power lines outside.

Feel the energy that is flowing, coursing, towards your home and your light, available with the flick of a switch.
Follow the transmission lines as they run for miles.
Realize that not all of the energy traveling in those lines makes it to your home, some of it lost in friction… heat.

Follow the transmission lines…. all the way back to the power plant.

See the smoke pouring from the smokestacks.

See that the smoke consists of: carbon dioxide which causes global warming, sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain, nitrogen oxide, which causes smog, mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous metals.

See the water used to cool the power plant – thousands of gallons gushing by - heated by the burning coal and then dumped back into the water supply.

Feel how the water by the plant is warmer than water elsewhere.

Think about how that affects the plants and animals.

See the coal sludge – solid waste suspended in water to make a toxic slurry – stored precariously behind artificial dams.

Remember that these dams have broken, burying the neighboring communities in toxic sludge.

Picture people living near the power plant – who lives there? What is in their drinking water?

What is in their air? In the ground that children play on? Maybe it’s your children.

Picture the coal being delivered to the power plant. Where does it come from?

Follow the trail in your mind to Appalachia.

Picture entire mountain ranges removed in order to extract the low-grade coal below.

Picture the debris that had been mountaintops being dumped into nearby streams.

See the heavy metals and other poisons leaching out into the water supply.

See what happens when it rains and there is no top soil and vegetation to hold the water.

Hear the sound of the explosives used to blast off the mountain tops.

Picture people living here. What is in their drinking water? What is in their air? What would it be like to live there? Maybe you do live here.

Think about the coal within the mountain – how long it’s been sitting there, and how it came to be there.

Think of the plants and animals that lived 300 million years ago, their bodies first becoming peat, and then over the millennia turning to sedimentary rock… the coal that now powers your home.

Bring your mind back to where you are now.

Know that all that you have seen and more is connected to the energy that will power the lights when you flip the switch in the room where you are sitting now.

Energy extracted from what used to be the lifeblood of animals living 300 million years ago.

Energy extracted from and refined in the neighborhoods of other humans living now.

Precious energy.


Closing Reading:


I have come to terms with the future.
From this day onward I will walk easy on the earth.
Plant trees.
Live in harmony with all creatures, including my sisters and brothers.
I will restore the earth where I am.
Use no more of its resources than I need.
And listen, listen to what it is telling me.
(adapted from M.J. Slim Hooey’s prayer, p. 109 in Earth Prayers from Around the World)

Meditation on Inter-Being

Author: 
Thich Nhat Hahn

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. "Interbeing" is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix "inter" with the verb "to be", we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger's father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here - time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements,” like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.

The human race is a single being

The human race is a single being Created from one jewel If one member is struck All must feel the blow Only someone who cares for the pain of others Can truly be called human

- Saadi, circa 1200-1291

 

The American Dream

Author: 
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

...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 this 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. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I 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 involve~l in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." If we were to realize the American dream we must cultivate this world perspective.

Part of the Universe

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.

- Albert Einstein

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow -
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am the grass-snake who, approaching silently,
feeds on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear my cries and laughs all at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

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