Social Justice

Is Unitarian Universalism a Prophetic Church?

Any Facebook friends who’ve paid attention to my “status” will know that the recent Convocation on Theology of Justice and Ministries has been on my mind for the last two weeks. Last week, my status worried that I might not make it to a session due to winter ice. This week, I’ve spent more time pondering what came out of the discussions, such as wondering “whether Unitarian Universalism can preach to both the comfortable and the afflicted in the same congregation(s).” From talking with others who attended, I know that I am not alone in being deeply impacted by the experience. Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, the president of Starr King School for Ministry and a presenter at the Convocation, even mentions the Convocation (and our blog) in her e-newsletter to the seminary.

At a meeting of the First UU Church of Second Life last night, I asked fellow UUs there whether they consider Unitarian Universalism to be a “prophetic church.” This question, of course, raised other questions: what does it mean to be a prophetic church? After making clear that I did not mean a church that predicts the future, but rather a church that speaks the truth of justice to unjust power structures, we moved on to other questions. Have we been a prophetic church in the past? Are we now? Will we be in the future?

Due to logistics, the Convocation was not open to everyone, but these discussions are not meant to be limited to attendees. Essays were submitted, presentations were filmed, and a book and a DVD will come out of this for others to have the same chance for reflection. In addition, this will be taken up at the social justice track of UU University at General Assembly in Salt Lake City.

But in the mean time, I am asking our readers what I asked the UUs of Second Life: Is Unitarian Universalism a prophetic church? Do you want it to be, and if so in what way?

Reflections on Pluralism and Theologies of Justice

Like Adam, I am lucky enough to be able to attend the Convocation on Theology of Justice and Ministry currently being held just outside of Baltimore. It is late Wednesday night, almost Thursday morning, but I am just posting about Tuesday because it’s taking me that long to digest the rich diet of ideas being offered.

We started the Convocation by devoting the first session to our UU theological and historical background in social justice – our religious grounding. We heard from three provocative panelists – Rebbecca Parker, Dan McKannan, and Jill Schwendemn. One theme that emerged was to recognize the rich history that we have coming out of two liberal Christian traditions – the Unitarians and the Universalists, and the importance to ritual to reaffirm our values. This being a UU convocation, those of us in the audience were asked to engage in these questions for ourselves – to think about how our own faith impacts our social justice work. I thought about how both the Christian tradition of the culture in which I grew up and the Buddhist tradition of my ancestral culture were equally important to me. The Judeo-Christian stories are so familiar and emotionally powerful. Yet at the same time, I do not want those traditions to be privileged over others such as Buddhism and Hinduism. The need to recognize the religious pluralism within our UU congregations mirrors the need to recognize and celebrate diversity in all its forms in our society.

The second session took up the problem of suffering, brokenness, and evil in the world, and our appropriate response. If the earlier session celebrated our UU and American heritage, then the evening’s panelists – Taquiena Boston, Victoria Safford, and Sharon Welch – all gave beautiful, painful testimonies as to where we have been unable to fully address the challenges that arise in an imperfect world. The room struggled with the concept of evil and wondered whether it was necessary to confess complicity by making the statement “I am evil.” Dr. Welch stressed a non-dualistic approach, recognizing and addressing acts of oppression while at the same time not labeling others as “evil” in a way that evokes animosity towards them and thus perpetuates the cycle. And Rev. Safford talked about how the choices that we make to no longer do harm are not one-time events. The choice must be made over and over again. What I understood from her was that we have been conditioned to be inclined to make the choices that we make. That doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for our choices but it recognizes that simply choosing once would not be enough.

As I listened to the conversations from both the afternoon and evening – discussions of “sin” and the means to “reconciliation” – I felt that it would be helpful if we UUs became conversant in other faith traditions – if we truly understood the concept of karma.

I do not mean the Westernized understanding of karma as a punishment and reward system. That comes from imposing the concepts of “good” and “evil” and a “divine judge” on an Eastern concept. Karma is not based on judgment. It is merely the consequences of one’s actions. Harmful acts have harmful consequences. Understanding this allows us to name and admit to oppressive acts without the debilitating judgment of “evil doer.” It tells us that the need to choose to end oppression is urgent for every moment that we allow it to continue (which is a choice), we generate more bad karma, the consequences of our actions (or inaction). What’s more karma reminds us that even when we choose the loving act, our work is not done. We will have to choose over and over again because the consequences of past harmful choices are still with us. It reminds us that there are no easy fixes to repair the world and build Beloved Community. But it also follows that if we act in love, steadily, that reconciliation and wholeness are inevitable.

Responsibility

By Eric Burch

Delivered at First UU Congregation of Second Life

On Nov 13, 2008

 >> Chalice Lighting.

Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veteran's Day:
National holidays to recall the cease-fire that started on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918;
the end of the Great War, the World War, the War to End All Wars.
In the USA, it is a remembrance of those who died and those who lived serving our country.

For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag.
 -- Zell Miller

>> Reading

Two readings, from new, young Democrats:

The first, from John Kennedy's inaugural address in January 1961:

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.
I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it.
I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.
The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country
and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world,
ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.
With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds,
let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help,
but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

 ----

The second reading, from Barrack Obama's victory speech, last Tuesday night:

I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me.
You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead.
For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest
of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.
Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq
and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us.
There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage,
or pay their doctors bills, or save enough for college.
There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created;
new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long.
Our climb will be steep.
We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.
I promise you - we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts.
There are many who wont agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government cant solve every problem.
But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face.
I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.
And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way its been done in America
for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night.
This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change.
And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.
It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where
each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.
Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything,
its that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.
Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party
to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity.
Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination
to heal the divides that have held back our progress.
As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours,
We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.
And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote,
but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores,
from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular,
but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.
To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you.
To those who seek peace and security - we support you.
And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once
more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth,
but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.


>> Homily "Responsibility"

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
 -- John F. Kennedy

In 1960, John Kennedy was a young, idealistic man running for President.
The nation thought that a Catholic could not be elected president, after all, conventional wisdom said he would be beholden to the pope.
We see that during his inagural address in 1961 he call for Americans, indeed the entire world, to work to improve our world.
During these years we saw the nation wake up from the lull of the 1950's. 

Our country, and our world, has gone through nearly 30 years of "supply side" economics, or "trickle down", or whatever
the theory was called; where we send money to the better off and they will send economic activity to those less better off.
"Noblesse oblige" was the model the conservatives reached for, but applying this model to the indivdually-oriented "me first" tradition
in the USA only practially resulted in "the rich getting richer."

Over this time, and especially in the last few years, our government's moral standing in the world and among its citizens has fallen.
My nation has become cynical or fearful.

Obama won the election last week, and what a difference that has made.
My facebook page has a lot of pro-Obama notes on the wall, and about half of my non-USA facebook friends have sent me email
saying how happy they are to see that my candidate has won.
Obama ran with a vision:

  It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican,
  black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight,
  disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been
  a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
    -- Barack Obama

We are all in this together.
In Wednesday's Washington Post, a business commentary column was titled "Pressure is on for Obama,
but this rescue relies on all of us."
All of us have something to do. 
We've known this before, but now is the time to act upon what we know we must do.

Now, more than ever in recent history, we have an opportunity to individually make a difference.
This last election showed that individual, one-on-one interactions were especially effective in bringing about
a change in the direction of our government; not only on a national level, but also at the local and state level.
And these same efforts can bring about other changes, making our government even more accountable for the
conditions that individuals or small groups find themselves in.
We have also discovered that some of our problems are larger than the government or any organization can handle,
and collectively we must all help to move our society to a more perfect union.

It doesn't have to be a lot of effort; even a little bit is more than many of us have done in the past.
Many churches have service projects that they run all year, and can always use a few more hands to help.
There are people in this little virtual UU community who are working with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans helping
build housing--and there is still a lot of work to go in Louisiana.
If you have a week or two where you can get away, there are a dozens of places you can go and help on a large project to improve
someone's life.

National service, which we remember with our veterans this week, is another option.
It is more of a commitment than most are able to give, but it is invariably an experience that will last a lifetime.
Our military is not the only national service corps; one well known option is the Peace Corp, and
my next-door neighbor is a uniformed officer in the Public Health Service, led by the Surgeon General of the United States.
President Kennedy made working for the government "cool" and many people came to Washington to work on federal programs.
There is talk around the National Capital area, my home, where people are thinking Obama might make it cool again; indeed many
people who once worked as government contractors are now making the leap to full government service, especially since the
administration is changing.

With the economy slowing down, a lot of us are cutting back on the frivolous things in life, freeing up time.
You don't always have to give money; every charity can also use hands to help, or even someone to just answer the phone.
My church has a program where we tutor at-risk children, and several people in my church help out.
One project I used to work with still goes to the National Capital Food Bank to sort contributions a few times a year.
Time can be just as precious.

>> Discussion.



>> Closing Words.

Go in peace. Live simply, at home in yourself.
Be just in your word, just in deed.
Remember the depth of your own compassion.
Do not forget your power in the days of your powerlessness.
Do not desire with desire to be wealthier than your peers, and never stint your hand of charity.
Practice forbearance in all you do. Speak the truth or speak not.
Take care of your body, be good to it, it is a good gift.
Crave peace for all peoples in this world, beginning with yourselves, and go as you go with the dream of that peace set firm in your heart.
Amen.
 -- Mark Belletini

May every sunrise hold more promise, every moonrise hold more peace.

Be well, the service is over.

When we got into office, the thing that surprised me most was to find that things were just as bad as we'd been saying they were.
-- John F. Kennedy

<< douse chalice >>

Let justice roll down like waters

 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream

 Amos 5:24

 

What does the Lord require of you?

 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

 Micah 6:8

 

Gulf Coast Anniversary

Three years ago, on August 24th, a tropical depression became a storm in the Atlantic ocean. Meteorologists named it Katrina. It would become the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. When it made landfall for a second time in Louisiana on August 29th (after pummeling Florida), it was the third-strongest recorded hurricane to reach the United States, and became one of our five deadliest. It laid waste to large swaths of both Louisiana and Mississippi.

Natural disasters cause wide-spread misery by definition, but the tragedy following hurricanes Katrina and Rita was largely human-caused, and revealed the devastating impact of systemic racism and classism. The levees protecting New Orleans had already been flagged as dangerously unsafe, yet these warnings were ignored. The flooding from broken levees caused more deaths than the storm itself.

Before Katrina’s arrival, evacuation plans relied on individuals to make their own way out of the hurricane’s path, ignoring the fact that many did not have access to private transportation. Fleets of buses lay unused, and then submerged. And in the hours and days following Katrina, our government failed to respond to the disaster. The lack of clean water, food, and shelter, and the violence that ensued from this chaos, claimed many more lives.

The media showed us images of white Americans and told us they were “searching for food.” The same media showed us images of black Americans doing the same thing and told us they were “looting.” We saw members of communities that were less hard hit forcibly preventing desperate people from entering their towns. For almost two days, American citizens were referred to as “refugees” in their own country. And in the analysis afterwards, it was starkly clear that the areas most affected corresponded to neighborhoods that were predominantly poor and of color.

Three years later, the misery wreaked by Katrina and Rita continues, as government bureaucracy and apathy slow the rebuilding process. Casinos and luxury hotels were rebuilt relatively quickly, but much of the old neighborhoods where the tourists seldom venture are still waiting. The Gulf Coast disaster is at least as much human-created as it was “natural.”

March for Women’s Lives Remembered

Four years ago, when I was still relatively new to DC and All Souls Church Unitarian, an amazing thing happened. UUs from all over the country converged on Washington DC to participate in the March for Women’s Lives, a demonstration in support of women’s rights. I mean literally – almost every state was represented. Many important events have happened in DC and at All Souls since then, but still nothing like that. After a Sunday worship service with Dr. Rebecca Parker giving the sermon, we spilled out on to the streets and made our way to the National Mall to join other demonstrators. Estimates vary but anywhere between 800,000 and 1.15 million people participated. I can’t count that high. All I know is that I have been in many protests in my life but had never experienced anything like that peaceful, joyous, yet determined sea of humanity. A multitude of women, men, and children all together.

The other thing that I remember quite vividly about that march is that it was the first time I had ever protested as an identifiable part of a faith tradition. I had been a UU. I had gone to protests. I had never protested as a UU, as a person of faith. And it was extremely empowering.

Don't Forget to Save the World

I used to have in my email signature:

P.S. Don't forget to save the world.

followed by a link to some form of online activism. For example, the Hunger Site, where the click of a mouse can donate a cup of grain.

Occasionally I would get comments from people about my signature. Perhaps they thought it was too glib. Or they thought that donating a cup of rice was not going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps they thought the challenge of "saving the world" was just too daunting a task to ponder, let alone as an afterthought in an email.

I added that signature to remind myself as much as remind anyone else.  Busy with my own life activities, it becomes easy to forget about helping others. In fact, the reason why I joined a UU congregation in the first place was because of our strong commitment to social justice.  I realized that just left up to myself, I would put things off "until I had more time," which would be never. So I know for myself that I need little reminders.

As to the smallness of the action - a click of a mouse, a small donation here and there, volunteering in a soup kitchen, cleaning up a park, writing a letter to the editor or your congressperson... - I never meant to imply they were enough to solve all the world's problems. Just that it's a start. And if it's all one can do at this moment then it is good enough for this moment. Anything other than inaction.

Whoever saves a life, saves the world.
- Jewish proverb

Also from Judaism, "Tikkun Olam" - to repair the world.

I don't remember why I thought of my old email sig this morning as I waited on the metro platform, but I do remember what I wanted to say:

P.S. Don't forget to save the world.

Ching Ming and King - part II

continued from Ching Ming and King - part I.

Today was Ching Ming, or Grave-Sweeping Day - the day one pays homage to one's ancestors by tending to their graves (hence the sweeping) and making offerings. Today is also the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I occurred to me today, because of the coincidence, that ancestors can be more than just those who shared the same blood. Certainly, as an American, Dr. King is one of my ancestors. I have been to King's grave in Atlanta, GA to pay homage. But since I can't be there today, consider this blog post my offering:

Some people think that a prophet predicts the future, like some carnival fortune teller.  Others think that a prophet is chosen by God in some dramatic fashion like a talking burning bush.  As Unitarian Universalists we agree with the poet Carl Dennis, who said a prophet doesn't predict the future; he (or she) redeems it. Unitarian Universalism stands in the prophetic tradition, where prophets bear witness to injustice and call society to its better self.  We know that what makes a person a prophet isn't that he or she is called by God in some dramatic fashion. Everyone is called by God to do good every day. But not everyone responds. For UUs, the making of a prophet begins with the fact that he or she responds to the call of justice.

But that's not all.  Many a person has dedicated her or his life to a social cause, and made a meaningful difference. Yet while they have our respect, maybe even admiration, they do have not our reverence. That is reserved for the prophet.  For the person who seems to see more than others see. Who can make connections between things that others view as separate.  A prophet sees the whole picture instead of in parts. A prophet sees interdependency.

Martin Luther King Jr. was such a prophet. No need for burning bushes. When he saw the injustice of legalized segregation and racism, he responded to the call, organizing bus boycotts, lunch-counter sit-ins, freedom rides, marches, and rallies. And he didn't confine it to just his location.  When King was criticized in Alabama for being an "outsider" and told to mind his own business, he responded with "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in which he stated:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in 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.

King bore witness to the injustice of racism, firmly but with love, until the nation remembered its conscience and began to reform.  But King didn't stop there. As he said in Birmingham, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. So even as he continued the struggle for racial equality, he expanded his message of love to include criticism of the Vietnam war that was killing so many people. Again he was urged to stick to his own cause.  And again King responded by transcending borders. In a speech given on April 4th, 1967 - exactly a year before he was assassinated - King said:

Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood... We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

In the last year of his too brief life, recognizing that the greatest barrier to equality in the U.S. was economic disparity, King began the "Poor People's Campaign," focusing on worker justice for the poor of all races.  That's what he was working for when he was killed.

MLK was a prophet, who called his society to heed its better nature. To resist the fear of "Other" that creates boundaries and embrace the expansive power of love. Like Moses, King delivered his people - all of his people - out of the bonds of legalized, overt racism. But also like Moses, King did not live to see the promised land.  Since we lost him 40 years ago we have been wandering in the desert, delivered from legalized bondage but still struggling with systemic oppressions. But at least we are freer to wander.  It's undeniable that our lives are the better because of his.

Dr. King, I tip a glass for you. Would you prefer Chinese liquor or diet 7-Up?

Litany of Resistance

With governments that kill… …we will not comply. With the theology of empire… …we will not comply. With the business of militarism… …we will not comply. With the hoarding of riches …we will not comply. With the dissemination of fear …we will not comply. But today we pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God… …we pledge allegiance. To the peace that is not like Rome’s… …we pledge allegiance. To the Gospel of enemy love …we pledge allegiance. To the poor and the broken… …we pledge allegiance….

Pages

Subscribe to Social Justice

Latest Wizduum Blog Posts

06/08/2018 - 11:54
04/24/2018 - 11:09
02/07/2018 - 12:21

Forum Activity

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 08:11
Mon, 06/16/2014 - 07:09
Tue, 10/01/2013 - 22:01

Acknowledgments

wizdUUm.net is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative