Social Justice

Putting the Justice in Environmentalism

By: Kat Liu

Delivered at: Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists, in Finksburg, MD

On: March 9th, 2008

Reading:

by Wangari Maathai, from her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.

In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.

That time is now.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has challenged the world to broaden the understanding of peace: there can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space. This shift is an idea whose time has come.

Sermon:

Putting the Justice in Environmentalism

First, let me thank you all for inviting me into your congregation this Sunday to worship with the Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists. I am honored. I’m here today, first as a fellow Unitarian Universalist, and second as the Assistant Director of the Washington Office for Advocacy of the UUA. Our office exists to represent your voice on Capitol Hill, and also to provide support and resources to UU congregations and individuals in your advocacy work.

I didn’t start off thinking this is what I’d be doing now, living in Washington DC, working for a religious lobbying group. Long before I’d ever heard of Unitarian Universalism, I grew up in the San Francisco bay area wanting to be a scientist. Not that political activism was that far a stretch. I was a good, Northern California liberal, attending my first political protests in high school, many of them having to do with environmental concerns. Every Friday at noon we had a “die-in,” where everyone in the courtyard would drop to the ground to “simulate” what would happen in the event of nuclear war. College at UC Berkeley in the early 80’s meant campus protests for divestment from South Africa and also against nuclear proliferation. Those of you who came into adulthood later may find this hard to believe but for young adults at THAT time, the threat of mass extinction from thermonuclear annihilation was a pressing fear on many people’s minds.

In addition to nukes, there was save the whales. Save the rain forests. And by the time I got to graduate school at Caltech, it was save the spotted owls. By then, I had at various times been a member of Green Peace, Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund, and Union of Concerned Scientists. I recycled, fretted over paper or plastic, bought Seventh Generation cleaning products. And there was also the camping, communing with nature. From Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Anza Borego in California to the beautiful national parks in Utah – Arches, Bryce, and Zion. If you haven’t been to these places, you really should.

And in all of this, there was almost a hostility to humankind. If I was enjoying the scenic beauty, experiencing the spirituality of being one with nature, the last thing that I wanted to see was humans, other than the ones I had come with. If there were too many of them, well, we just had to move, to go some place more remote, more pristine.

Indeed, my view of “nature” was that it was pristine, virginal, having not been touched by man.

And one could have seen the same thing in my approach to environmental issues. I never went so far as to say, “If only humans weren’t around then the whole world could live in peace.” Well, ok, maybe I said that once or twice. But in general my misanthropy was more subtle. The rain forests were being destroyed. It was all the fault of those greedy people who were cutting them down for money. The spotted owls were endangered. It was all the fault of those loggers.

Sure…. I had vague misgivings when I actually thought of the loggers as people, trying to earn a living and feed their families…. But surely they should be able to see that saving a species is more important. That they would just have to find other jobs, and if that was an inconvenience for them, well, that’s unfortunate but it couldn’t be helped. Vaguely… I understood that a truly just approach to environmentalism would involve helping those affected to find new jobs – training, assistance, economic development – instead of just vilifying them. But that kind of work was for someone else to figure out. What was most pressing was to save the owls. Still, it left me feeling uncomfortable. Something was not quite right.

Social activism aside, I went on in science, earning my Ph.D. in biology and moving to New York for a postdoctoral position. It was on Long Island that I found UU. Away from the social activism structures that I knew in California, I realized that if I didn’t join a group of some kind that would help remind me of the larger community, I was in danger of just working in the lab and not caring about the rest of the world. So I joined UU. A bit later, I decided to leave science, moved to DC to study religion at Georgetown, became very involved at All Souls in DC, and then involved in the workings of our denomination as a whole.

General Assembly of 2006 was my second GA, and while I was aware that we had been working for two years on a Statement of Conscience on Global Warming/Climate Change, I hadn’t bothered to look at the text. Surely, I thought, we UUs know environmentalism and we’ll craft a worthy Statement. Pam Sparr, who is a fellow member of All Souls and a member of the UU Ministry for Earth was one of the people that I was thinking of when I figured we UUs knew what we were doing. Well, Pam and others at the UUMFE do know their stuff on the environment, but that didn’t mean that all UUs did. When she showed me the text, I was stunned. On the eve of General Assembly, when we were supposed to ratify this Statement of Conscience on Global Warming/Climate Change that was to represent us as Unitarian Universalists to the wider world, there were some serious flaws with the penultimate draft.

I’ll tell you about the most glaring problem. As part of our efforts to combat Global Warming/Climate Change, our Statement of Conscience called on developing countries to limit their population growth…. Some of you may be wondering what’s wrong with that. After all, over population is a serious concern, taxing our earth’s resources and keeping families in poverty. Wouldn’t we want to promote responsible family planning? Yes. Yes, we would. But not as part of our Statement on Global Warming. Here’s why. The United States constitutes 5% of the world’s population, yet it creates 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. We are 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume 25% of the world's fossil fuel resources. Per capita, we use five times more resources than the average human and we belch out five times more pollution. And yet our Statement of Conscience was saying, yeah, global climate change is a really serious problem and we want you all out there to fix it for us. You all who use less than we do, and pollute less than we do are gonna fix this problem, even though we’re the main culprits.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

That was when the concept of Environmental Justice really hit home. Our Statement of Conscience had the right goal in mind. Yes, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that global warming/climate change is a pressing reality, and we really need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But environmental justice says that how we get to that goal is as important as getting there. Who is being most affected? Who is most responsible for the problem? Who bears the brunt of the “solution”? And who gets to decide what happens? These were the questions that were missing from our Statement of Conscience. Missing from our general awareness. As a result, despite the best intentions of the environmentalist communities, more often than not it is the poor and communities of color who are made to suffer the most from both the environmental problems and their solutions, even though they have less access to the benefits and little control over how resources are used. This is true both internationally and within our country.

Some other examples of environmental injustice:
In relatively affluent and thus shielded, middle America, people are still debating whether global climate change is even real. It’s discussed on a theoretical level, like whether life on Mars could have existed at some time. Meanwhile, within our own borders in Alaska, the Inupiak and Yup’ik peoples are losing their land and way of life due to the melting permafrost. Over 180 villages are expected to slip into the sea within the next ten years.[1] In the South Pacific, low-lying island nations are going under the waves as well, creating a tidal wave of climate refugees. Tens of thousands of islanders have applied for residence in New Zealand.[2] Entire cultures will have to be transplanted. The irony is that these people contribute the least to global warming, and yet they are the first to suffer.

Even more than loss of land, loss of fresh drinkable water is the greatest concern. All over South and Southeast Asia, sources of fresh drinking water are drying up or being contaminated by rising salt waters, ruining agriculture, creating refugees and conflict. Global climate change is a peace and security issue.

And speaking of the coal-burning power plants that are responsible for much of the change, where are they located in this country? Where do our garbage dumps go? Usually, power plants and garbage dumps are near the poorer neighborhoods or communities of color, people who don’t have the power to say, “Not in my back yard.” This is where the highest levels of lead and other toxins are located, and not surprisingly the highest incidences of children’s asthma.

To be honest, in all my years of trying to conserve and reduce, reuse, recycle, I never used to wonder where my electricity and clean water came from or where my waste went. I had wanted to reduce landfill waste for the sake of the “environment,” so that my beloved wildernesses would not one day be turned into garbage dumps. But I did not think of who already had to live down-wind of the land-fills we have right now.

To look at environmentalism through a social justice lens means to look at the picture as a whole, not just focusing on the immediate causes and effects. If people living near rain forests are clear cutting them to graze cows, we have to look at why a they doing this. And when we do, we see people being pressured into plundering their own natural resources in order to supply us with the cheap goods that drive our consumer-based economy. Given that we too depend on healthy rain forests as much as they do, to keep carbon gas levels lower and maintain biodiversity, perhaps we too need to take responsibility for their preservation. Perhaps we need to help them find ways to preserve the forests and feed their families, in partnership with them. To look at environmentalism through a social justice lens means that everyone involved has a voice in the decisions, at every level. It is a holistic and democratic approach to the environment.

My studies in biology taught me well that we humans are no better than other species. We share our DNA and a common origin, and from the standpoint of evolutionary theory are no “better” than the cockroach. But if I had really been paying attention, I would have understood this meant we humans are no worse than other species. Indeed, we are natural. Not separate from nature. And our Seventh Principle says the same thing. It calls us to affirm and promote the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. We cannot think in terms of either or. It cannot be either the spotted owls or the loggers; it must be both/and. Thus, any truly comprehensive view of environmentalism must incorporate the needs of our fellow humans into the picture. Our Seventh Principle calls us to come into right relationship with our mother Earth, with our fellow humans, and with other species.

For those of you who don’t know how things turned out with our 2006 Statement of Conscience on Global Warming, I am very proud to report that when the injustice of the population control provision was pointed out to them, the UUs at General Assembly of 2006 were reasonable and fair enough to take it out. In the end, after much debate, which is de rigueur with UUs, we ratified a Statement of which UUs can be proud. It was another positive step in our prophetic tradition of witnessing for social justice. I believe that we UUs, with our long histories in the racial and economic justice movements and the environmentalist movement and the peace movement, (and the feminist movement for that matter,) can make the connections. To see the interdependency of all these things and realize they must be approached as one unified, organic movement. Now is the time.

Now is the time, as Wangari Maathai said in our opening reading, making the connections between all these things for us. She said, “There can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space.” We are called to heal the earth and in the process heal ourselves, for as long as we see ourselves as separate from the earth and from each other, we cannot be whole. Now is the time for us to “shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground.”

Amen.

La Premisa y la Promesa

Construyendo el Mundo que Hemos Soñado

Por Roberto Padilla

First Unitarian Church of San Jose, CA

24 de febrero, 2008

Permítanme empezar citando al Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“… Hoy tengo el sueño que todos los hijos de Dios, hombres blancos y hombres negros, judíos y gentiles, protestantes y católicos, serán capaces de juntar las manos y cantar con las palabras del viejo espiritual negro: “¡Al fin libres!”
Este era el sueño del Rev. King y también es nuestro sueño. Esta es la premisa que tenemos, ser unas comunidades UUs multirraciales y multiculturales.

¿Pero como vamos a lograrlo? La respuesta sería aplicando los principios Unitarios Universalistas.
Nosotros, convenimos en afirmar y fomentar:
El valor y la dignidad propia de cada persona; la justicia, equidad y compasión en las relaciones humanas y la aceptación del uno al otro y el estimulo al crecimiento espiritual en nuestras congregaciones. Estas son las bases de la premisa para Construir el Mundo que Hemos Soñado.

Hace muchos años, la entonces Rev. Decana Lindi Ramsden, inicio el experimento de crear aquí en San José, una comunidad multicultural, multirracial y bilingüe. La idea sonaba bien y se ajustaba perfectamente con nuestros principios UUs. Ella hablaba acerca de que la comunidad donde nos encontramos es una comunidad de VMWs y carritos de supermercado; en otras palabras, en el Valle del Silicón, vive gente de clase media alta que pertenece al mundo de la tecnología y en la calle de atrás viven los marginados.

La idea era trabajar juntos los dos grupos, ¿pero por donde empezar? Había que sortear algunos obstáculos. A algunas personas no les gusto esa idea y se retiraron de la iglesia. Algunas de las que se quedaron, también tuvieron miedo de entrar en contacto con otra cultura; ¿Si invitamos a los latinos a nuestros hogares que podremos decirnos? ¿Como nos vamos a entender en dos idiomas, dos formas diferentes de ser y actuar?

El principio era integrar a nuestra comunidad con este grupo no privilegiado, pero había la barrera del idioma. Comenzamos por traducir al español, sermones, oraciones, cantos, poemas, folletos, etc., para todos aquellos que no hablaban inglés. Y luego, después de algunas negociaciones, la UUA autorizó la traducción del libro “La Fe Que Hemos Escogido” el cual fue traducido por Ervin Barrios y la Rev. Ramsden tomo varios cursos de español.

También existía la barrera socioeconómica, el nivel económico de los latinos era muy bajo y ellos también necesitaban integrarse al mudo productivo, entonces se crearon las clases de inglés y computación, además se les regalaron computadoras; detrás de todo estaba la idea de crear relaciones personales, porque así sería más fácil integrar a los dos grupos.

Hablando de relaciones personales, privilegios y no privilegiados, me recuerda que yo nací privilegiado en el seno de una familia de estrato socioeconómico medio de la Ciudad de México, con diferentes Universidades, diferentes opciones, mis padres aunque de clase no muy acomodada, les permitía que nosotros sus hijos asintiéramos a la escuela, teníamos el privilegio de estudiar sin preocuparnos de donde venia el dinero para nuestro alimento o nuestros libros. Yo tenía el privilegio de los niños de la ciudad. Este privilegio me dio la oportunidad de ir a la escuela, educarme y perseguir el sueño de ser doctor, porque quería ayudar a los necesitados. El día que me gradué jure que me iba a dedicar a los necesitados, para eso iba a usar mis conocimientos, el privilegio que yo tenia. Esa era mi promesa.

Privilegio se puede definir como la ventaja que se tiene por la cual no se ha trabajado. Yo no pedí nacer en la Ciudad de México, yo no pedí tener la familia que tengo, para mi fue un privilegio, pero también tenía una responsabilidad, la de usar ese privilegio que yo tenia. Fui a la universidad y en mi afán de ayudar a los necesitados, elegí ir a trabajar a un pequeño poblado de la sierra de Veracruz, México. Mi privilegio de hombre de ciudad, de clase media y estudiado lo lleve con migo, iba a cumplir mi premisa y mi promesa. En el camino a ese pueblo, me perdí y, ahí estaba yo, en la mitad de la nada, solamente con mi privilegio de haber ido a la Universidad, con mis conocimientos, pero con eso no se quita ni el frió, ni el hambre, ni el miedo a estar en un lugar desconocido.

Cuando por fin llegue al pueblo, llegue a una modesta oficina médica con mis conocimientos, con mi sueño de ayudar. Llegue a una sociedad donde nunca habían tenido un médico, donde hablaban español (Ahí no existía la barrera del lenguaje) y mi primer paciente me dijo, “Doctor me siento feo”. ¿Feo?, estábamos hablando el mismo idioma pero yo no podía entender a mi paciente; yo que había pasado los exámenes de bioquímica más difíciles y no podía entender lo que este señor quería decirme con que se sentía feo, yo que había escrito ensayos muy largos con una ortografía perfecta, no podía entender a lo que se refería con sentirse feo. Tuve que solicitar la ayuda de alguien del pueblo para poder entender lo que él me estaba diciendo. (El se sentía enfermo)

En este pueblo aparte de los problemas de salud, había problemas de educación; la única escuela que había solo llegaba al tercer grado. Si querían seguir estudiando, tenían que trasladarse a otro pueblo que quedaba a dos horas de distancia. Entonces ¿como iba yo a lograr cumplir con mi sueño, con mi premisa y mi promesa de ayudárnoslos? Empecé a hablar con ellos, a entrar en sus casas, a entender su lenguaje, su cultura, sus costumbres y tradiciones. Me quite la bata de médico y me fui al campo con ellos, también me fui con ellos a ordeñar la leche que después yo me iba a tomar, además era muy divertido; aparte de aprender cosas nuevas, empecé a hacer relaciones, a ser parte de su comunidad. En lugar de esperar a que alguien me llevara la comida, decidí ir yo directamente con quien me hacia de comer y esperar pacientemente a que la comida estuviera lista, teniendo la oportunidad de hablar con la gente, de sus propios sueños, de sus propios anhelos, pero en el terreno en donde ellos se sentían más confortables, en el seno de sus hogares. Y la gente lo empezó a apreciar.

Primero había que hacer relaciones a nivel humano, a nivel sensible, para poder usar la responsabilidad que me daba el privilegio que tenia para ayudarlos. Yo tenía el poder de poder hablar mejor que ellos para comunicarme a niveles gubernamentales más altos cuando se requería. Esa era parte de mi responsabilidad dado el privilegio que tenía. Así logramos crear un Kindergarden, ampliar la escuela hasta sexto grado, crear una tele-secundaria e introducir el teléfono al pueblo,

Cuando requería de ellos para algún proyecto sanitario que mi trabajo me exigía, ellos gustosos me ayudaban, porque no estaban trabajando con el doctor, estaban trabajando con el amigo, con uno de ellos. Cuando llegue a ese pueblo, por supuesto que tenía mucho miedo, al salir de mi casa pensé ¿estaré a salvo?, ¿de que podré hablar con ellos si no tenemos nada en común? Después entendí que entre el señor que ordeñaba la vaca y yo no había gran diferencia, los dos tomábamos la misma leche, los dos teníamos los mismos sueños de crecer y ver crecer a nuestras propias familias, ellos trabajaban en el campo y yo trabajaba en el campo de mi conocimiento; en realidad no había mucha diferencia. La ropa que yo usaba y la que ellos usaban no hacían la diferencia, la diferencia fue la forma en como nos relacionábamos.

El Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. fue un doctor, tuvo el privilegio de haber tenido un padre que lo impulso a estudiar, tuvo el privilegio de nacer con el don de la palabra, pero el regreso a la iglesia donde se daba el conflicto, empezó a hacer relaciones. En la época del boicot de los autobuses, el camino como los demás, camino con sus amigos. También sabemos que Cesar Chávez organizo a todos los trabajadores, pero primero hizo relaciones personales con ellos para poder lograr un fin común. Aquí vemos dos diferentes cualidades de liderazgo. Esta comunidad de San José es una comunidad líder y ustedes que asisten a la conferencia “Ahora es el tiempo”, también son líderes, lideres de sus propias comunidades.

Multiculturalismo no es aprender un idioma o traducir unos folletos, esto va más allá, es sentarse a la mesa de los otros, es ir a ordeñar la vaca y disfrutar juntos el proceso, sin el miedo al que dirán, sin el miedo a no poder entendernos, sin el temor de si saldré bien de este encuentro intercultural. Permítanme preguntarles, ¿Cuantos de ustedes han visitado las casas de personas de diferente color, raza o cultura?, ¿cuantos de ustedes han tenido sentado en sus mesas a alguien de una cultura, raza o color diferente a la de ustedes?

La gran mayoría de los Unitarios Universalistas de este país tienen el privilegio de haber nacido blancos, ellos no pidieron nacer blancos, pero tienen la responsabilidad que viene junto con ese privilegio, que es como usar el privilegio que se tiene, de como se puede usar ese privilegio para el bien común. Los que tenemos esos privilegios, no tenemos que preocuparnos por problemas de migración, por cuestiones de lenguaje, conocemos el sistema, conocemos nuestras leyes. Nosotros podemos ser la voz de aquellos que no tienen esos privilegios, empezando por reconocer el valor y la dignidad de cada persona.

Esta es la premisa y al mismo tiempo es la promesa; afirmar y fomentar el valor y la dignidad de cada persona; la justicia, equidad y compasión en las relaciones humanas y la aceptación del uno al otro. Con la promesa de una comunidad mundial con paz libertad y justicia para todos, respetando el tejido interdependiente de todo lo existente, del cual somos una parte.

Ustedes que vienen de muchas partes del país y nosotros aquí en San José, tenemos un sueño. Hoy, tenemos el sueño de que en un tiempo no muy lejano, podamos ver a nuestras comunidades UUs convertidas en comunidades donde blancos y negros, asiáticos y latinos, católicos, musulmanes y judíos nos demos la mano como hermanos, unidos todos por una sola fe.

El libro de Éxodo nos dice que Yahvé le prometió a su pueblo llevarlo a la tierra prometida, a la tierra donde ellos pudieran ser libres. Ellos lo siguieron a pesar de que al iniciar su peregrinar no les dijeron a donde estaba dicha tierra, ni cuando tiempo les iba a tomar para llegar a ella, ellos solamente sabían que con fe lo iban a lograr. Nosotros, los UU que estamos reunidos bajo este bello domo, sabemos que el camino es difícil, que habrá jornadas muy arduas adentro y afuera de nuestras propias comunidades para poder alcanzar nuestra tierra prometida, el de ser unas comunidades intencionalmente multirraciales, multiculturales, multiétnicas y porque no, multilingües.

Ven, ven cual eres ven, dice el himno con que iniciamos este servicio, este nos impulsa a invitar a todos a pertenecer a esta caravana de amor, sin importar raza, color, lengua, preferencia sexual, religión o condición socioeconómica, en otras palabras, los estamos invitando a formar parte de esta comunidad multicultural, multirracial, Hoy es el tiempo de empezar a despojarnos de nuestros miedos, nuestras arrogancias personales, nuestros malos entendidos. Hoy es el tiempo para trabajar juntos para logra nuestro sueño.

Oremos a cualquiera que sea el dios que adoremos, recordando que Cristo no era Cristiano, ni Mahoma era Musulmán, ni Buda era Budista, ni Krisna era Hindi, ni Yahvé era Judío, recordemos que Dios es multicultural, multiétnico, multirracial y políglota.
¡Hoy es el tiempo!

Amen.

 (Read this sermon in English.)

The Premise and the Promise

Building the World We Dream About

By Roberto Padilla

Delivered at First Unitarian Church of San Jose, CA

On February 24, 2008

Please allow me to start by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Today I have a dream that all children of God, white men and black men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestant and Catholics, will be able to join hands together and sing with the words of the old black spiritual: “Free at last!” This was Rev. King’s dream and it is also our dream. It is the premise that we have, to become multiracial and multicultural UU communities.

¿But how are we going to achieve that? The answer is, applying the UU principles.

We, covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Acceptance of one another, and encouragement to mutual spiritual growth in our congregations. These are the basis of the premise for ‘Building The World We Have Been Dreaming of’.

Many years ago, our then senior minister, Rev. Lindi Ramsden, started the experiment to build here in San Jose, a multicultural, multiethnic, and bilingual community. The idea seemed good. And it did fit perfectly well with our UU principles. She was talking about the fact that our community where our church sits is a community where the BMW’s meet the supermarket shopping carts. In other words, in the Silicon Valley, there are the upper middle class people that belong to the High Tech world and those on the fringe who live in the back streets.

The idea was to work with both groups together but, How and where to start? There were a few obstacles to overcome. Some members of the church did not like the idea and left. Some of the people that remained also had fears of mixing with another culture. If we invite Latin people to our homes what can we talk about? How are we going to understand each other in two different languages, two different ways of being and acting?

Initially, the idea was to integrate our community with the unprivileged group, but we had the language barrier. We started by translating into Spanish, sermons, prayers, songs, poems, brochures etc, for all those who did not speak English. And then, after some negotiations, the UUA authorized the translation of the book “Our Chosen Faith” which was translated by Ervin Barrios. Also, Rev. Ramsden took several Spanish courses.

We also had the social and economic barriers. The income level of the Latino people was very low and they also had to be integrated into the productive world. Then we created the ESL and Computer courses. Behind it all was the idea of creating personal relationships, because that way it would be easier to integrate both groups.

Talking about personal relationships, privileged and unprivileged, it reminds me that I was privileged enough to be born in Mexico City, surrounded by different universities, different options. My parents, although not from a wealthy class, allowed their children to attend school, we had the privilege of studying without worrying about where the money for our food and for our books came from. I had the privilege of all city children. This privilege gave me the opportunity to go to school, to get an education and to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor, because I wanted to help the people in need. The day I graduated I swore that I would dedicate myself to those in need. I was going to use my knowledge for that purpose, the privilege that I had. That was my promise.

Privilege can be defined as an advantage that one has, one which one has not had to earn. I did not ask to be born in Mexico City, I did not ask to have the family I have, for me it was a privilege, but I also had the responsibility, of using that privilege I had. After I went to the university and in my quest for helping those in need I chose to go and work at a small village in the Sierra of the state of Veracruz. My privilege of being an urban, middle class, and well educated person, I took that with me. I was going to follow thru with my premise and my promise. On my way to that village I got lost in the middle of nowhere because I with nothing but my privilege of having studied at the university, with my knowledge, but that would not take away my hunger or my being cold, nor the fear of being at an unknown place.

When I finally reached that village, I came to a modest medical office with my knowledge and my dream to help. I came into a society that had never had a medical doctor, they all spoke Spanish (supposedly there was no language barrier) and my first patient said to me, “doctor, I feel ugly”. Ugly?, we were talking the same language but I could not understand my patient; I who had passed all my biochemistry tests, and I just could not understand what this man wanted to tell me when he said, ‘I feel ugly’, I who had written long essays with perfect spelling, could not understand what he meant by ‘ugly’. I had to ask someone from the village to help me in order to understand what he was saying to me. (he was feeling sick)

In this village, besides the health issues, they had some education issues; the only school they had was 1st to 3rd grade only. If they wanted to continue studying, they had to go to another village that was two hours away. Then, how was I going to achieve my goal of making my dream come true, with my premise and my promise of helping them? I started to talk to them, to come into their homes, to understand their language, their culture, their costumes and traditions. I took my doctor’s robe off and went to the field with them, I also went with them to milk the cows and get the milk that I would later drink. Besides being fun, I learned new things, started to build new relationships, to be part of their community. Instead of waiting for them to bring the food to me, I decided to go directly to the person who was cooking for me and wait patiently until the food was ready, having the opportunity to talk with the people about their own dreams, their own longings, but in their own terrain, where they felt more comfortable, in the heart of their homes. And people started to appreciate it.

First I had to build relationships at a human level, at a sensible level, in order to use the responsibility that my privilege gave me to help them. I had the ability to speak better than they did, to communicate with higher government levels when ever it was needed. That was part of my responsibility given the privilege that I had. That is how we managed to create a kindergarten, we made the elementary school go up to 6th grade, we created a distance learning junior high school, and introduced the telephone service into their village.

Whenever I needed their help for any public health related project that my job required, they helped me very gladly, because they were no longer working with the doctor, they were working with a friend, with one of them. When I first arrived in that village, I was, of course, afraid. When I left my home, I thought to myself, will I be safe? What will I talk to them about if we have nothing in common? Later, I understood that there was not a great difference between the man that milked the cow and myself. We both were drinking the same milk, we both had the same dreams of growing and seeing our own families grow, they were working in the field and I was working in my own field of knowledge. In reality there was not much difference. The cloths that I was wearing and the ones they were wearing did not make any difference, the difference was in the way we related to each other.

Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. was a doctor who had the privilege of having a father who encouraged him to study, he had the privilege of being born with the gift of being a great speaker, but he went back to the church where the conflict was happening, and he started building relationships. During the time of the boicott against the buses, he walked with the rest of the people, he walked with his friends. We also know that César Chávez, organized all the field workers, but first he created personal relationships with them in order to achieve a common goal. Here we see two different qualities of leadership. This community of San Jose, is a leading community, and all of you who are attending the “Now is The Time“ Conference, are also leaders, leaders in your own communities.

Multiculturalism is not about learning a language or translating some brochures. This goes even further, It means to sit down together at the table of the other people. It means to go and milk the cow and enjoy that process together, without the fear of what people might say. Without the fear of not understanding each other, without the fear of not doing well in this intercultural encounter. Let me ask you now, How many of you have visited the homes of people of different color, race or culture? How many of you have invited someone whose culture, race and color are different from yours to your table?

Most of the Unitarian Universalists in this country have the privilege of being born white. They did not ask to be white, but they have the responsibility that comes with that privilege, which means, figuring out how to use the privilege that one has. How to use that privilege for the common good. Those of us who have that kind of privilege do not have to worry about immigration issues, about language barriers, we know the system, we know our laws. We can become the voice of those who don’t have that privilege, and we can start by recognizing the worth and dignity of every person.

This is the premise and at the same time the promise: to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations and acceptance of one another. With the promise of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all, respecting the interdependent web of all that exists, of which we are a part.

All of you who come from many different places in the country, and us here in San José, we all have a dream. Today we have the dream that in a not so far future, we might be able to see our UU communities converted into communities where blacks and whites, Asians and Latinos, Catholic and Muslims, and Jews, will hold hands like brothers, united by one single faith.

The book of Exodus tells us that Jahve promised to his people to take them to the promised land, to the land where they could be free. They followed him in spite of not being told where that land was from the beginning of their journey, nor they were told how long it would take for them to get there. They only knew that with faith they would be able to make it. We the UUs who are gathered here under this beautiful dome, we know that the road is hard, that there will be some very hard journeys within and outside our own communities, in order to reach our promised land, which is that of becoming intentional multiracial, multicultural, multiethnic communities, and why not multilingual communities too….

Come, come, whoever you are, says the song we sang at the beginning of this service. This song is inviting us all to belong to the caravan of love, no matter what race, color, language, sexual preference, religion or socioeconomic level. In other words we are inviting everyone to become part of this multicultural, multiracial community. Now is the time to start getting rid of our own fears, our personal arrogance, our misunderstandings. Now is the time to work together to make this dream come true.

Let’s pray to whomever might be the God that we worship, keeping in mind that Christ was not a Christian, that Mohamed was not a Muslim, nor Buddah was a Buddhist, nor Krishna was a Hindi, nor Jahve was a Jewish. Lets remember that God is multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial and multilingual.
Now is the time!

Amen.

(Read this sermon in Spanish.)

Inspired Faith, Effective Action

Just a quick note to let yall know that the UUA's Washington Office for Advocacy has relaunched it's blog, "Inspired Faith, Effective Action." It's been expanded to include contributions from the other offices within the Advocacy and Witness staff group. In addition to the Washington Office, look for posts from the Office of International Resources, Congregational Advocacy and Witness, and Holdeen India Program, as well as our director, Rev. Meg Riley.

Our first content post is already up, about the UUA's observance of World AIDS Day. Written by Adam with video taken by Alex, it's a multi-media team effort and I couldn't be more proud.

Check it out!

UU and Social Justice

The UUSJ is the social justice group of the Greater Washington, DC area, encompassing Baltimore and Northern Virginia. They put on a workshop today, co-sponsored by the Washington Office, on how to more effectively mobilize congregations towards social justice ministry. It was an extended version of the Washington Office's "Inspired Faith, Effective Action" workshop. The task was given to me to talk about religious grounding - lifting up that when we do social justice work we do it as religious people, and how that is different from doing it as secular advocates.

That shouldn't be a difficult task for me, since much my time is spent ruminating on how social justice is an expression of our faith. However, I was in the unfortunate position of following Rev. Sinkford, president of the UUA, who gave the opening address. And really, he said everything that I would have said, only better. He reminds me how blessed we are to have him and of the anxiety that I am feeling about his pending departure.

There are some in our congregations who say that they are tired of all this social justice stuff - that they come to church in order to worship and to be spiritually nourished, not to be bombarded with petitions to sign and actions to take. And there are some who say that faith without works is dead. That spirituality without social action is just navel gazing. I think I tend to fall into the latter category but it's because my innate tendency is to navel gaze - to ponder - and I'm (over)compensating for that.

What Rev. Sinkford reminded us today was that the two really go hand-in-hand. Our social justice work IS an expression of our faith, and if it is done right, it should be spiritually uplifting, not draining.

I hate our new chalice logo compared with the old, but I love our new slogan. Whoever is responsible, kudos. We finally got it right. A message that is not a reaction against Christianity, as was "The Uncommon Denomination" and "UUs have a different trinity." Instead, our new slogan captures what we are about. Come nurture your spirit; help heal our world. Receiving and giving, together at the same time. Relational. Mutual.

Today, even as I lament that we will soon lose Rev. Sinkford's steady guidance, I feel confident in our future. Come nurture your spirit; help heal our world. This is what it means to be a UU.

Witness for Peace!

I haven't (until now) plugged what happens at the UUA's Washington Office.  I feel the need to keep some semblance of separation between my personal opinions as a UU in this blog and my status as an employee of the UUA.  But this is just too exciting to not mention.  While I was away on vacation in Alaska, the UUA took on it's biggest online advocacy campaign ever.  We are attempting to collect 25,000 signatures witnessing for Peace.

The United Church of Christ (our religious cousins, the UCC) has been collecting signatures against the war in Iraq and they've invited us to join them.  On October 10th, both Rev. John Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, and our UUA President, the Rev. Sinkford, will be visiting Congress to deliver a stack of petitions.  The petitions we have signed.  

Given that Congress is demonstrating an appalling lack of  moral backbone with respect to funding this war, our liberal religious voice calling for peace is more important than ever.  Together, we are not just a lone voice crying out in the wilderness.  Together, we have power.  Let Congress know what you think of this war.  Sign the petition today!

 

 

If the concept of God

If the concept of God has any validity or use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.

- James Baldwin

Prayer of U. S. Catholic Bishops

God of justice, open our eyes to see you in the face of the poor. Open our ears to hear you in the cries of the exploited. Open our mouths to defend you in the public squares as well as in private deeds. Remind us that what we do to the least ones, we do to you. Amen.

Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort,

At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,

So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger,

At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,

So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears,

To shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,

So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness,

To believe that you can make a difference in this world,

So that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.

Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila

Lord Christ, You have no body on earth but ours, No hands but ours, No feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which your compassion must look out on the world. Ours are the feet by which you may still go about doing good. Ours are the hands with which you bless people now. Bless our minds and bodies, That we may be a blessing to others. Amen.

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