Peace

The Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi: My Past and Present, or, Spiritual Self-care for Today

Tree and Bell at Deer Park Monastery

When I arrived at seminary, I brought two documents with me, the anonymous, Norman, Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, and Thich Nhat Hanh's Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Those two were what I modeled my life by, imperfectly, reflecting the kind of Christianity I wanted to keep, and the Buddhist precepts that best reflected my aspirations as to how I wanted to relate to the world.

My goal was to delve deeper into Buddhism, once I finished seminary. In the interim, the seminary library helped me keep my my sanity by having a large selection of Thich Nhat Hanh books. After graduating, my Unitarian Universalist tendency to question meant discerning whether Thich Nhat Hanh's tradition of Zen Buddhism was right for me. After looking at numerous other traditions, his Plum Village tradition appealed most in its profound reverence for the Earth, the primary focus on Peace, and that being queer was not a deal breaker.

Coming across a "Buddist Mantra based on the prayer of St. Francis" several weeks ago, I was inspired to craft my own Both/And prayer using phrases familiar to the Plum Village tradition. In these troubling times, I hope this might be useful to others, with the reminders for self-care.

Note: I need to add that UU Rev. Erik Wikstrom wrote a book called Simply Pray. It was a good manual on writing our own UU prayers. I rewrote the prayer of St. Francis to give it Buddhist language but keeping the structure, after I saw someone's version. I did not give Rev. Wikstrom credit, but it's where I saw it done first, or was encouraged to do it first. I had also collected various versions of the Our Father before that, trying to find something different, but had not thought to write one myself. The oldest translation of the prayer from the original French, which is out of copyright, served as the foundation.

Dear Thay, Dear Sangha, Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Taking refuge in the three jewels,

May I be an instrument of peace,

Where there is hatred, may I water the seeds of love and compassion, sowing metta.

Where there is offense, may I practice Beginning Anew.

Where there is discord, conscious breathing and walking,

Where there is error, mindfulness, to remind myself delusions and enlightenment inter-are.

Where there is doubt, return happily in the present moment.

Where there is despair, touch Mother Earth, remembering that so as seeds endure birth and death in each moment, so do I.

Where there is darkness, may I awaken to the light of my true nature.

Let me not seek so much

to be consoled, as to soothe strong emotions the way a mother soothes her child,

to be understood, as to realize the Dharma, Sangha, and Buddha are the way to understanding,

to be loved, as to cultivate a true love, a boundless love,

for I vow

to meet all sentient beings with kindness and compassion,

to meet suffering with patience and love,

to delve into the deeply into the teachings of the Buddha,

and to know in the very depth of my cells, the interconnectedness of all.

Mother's Day Proclamation

Author: 
Julia Ward Howe

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Gethsemane & the Gita

Gethsemane & the Gita

By Kat Liu

Delivered at the First UU Church of Second Life

On April 1st, 2010

Reading:

From the book of Matthew, chapter 26, verses 36-46:

Then Jesus went with [his disciples] to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to [them], ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you will not have to be tested… Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed …

Sermon:

Gethsemane and the Gita

There is a reason why I wanted to lead the service this particular week, this Thursday before Easter, Maundy Thursday. According to the story in the bible, it was on Thursday that Jesus and his disciples held what is called “The Last Supper” – when they broke bread and drank wine together for the last time. After which, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed, was apprehended, beaten and interrogated overnight, and then crucified the following day, known as Good Friday.

So the story goes.

Now, I know that it is not without risk that I preach about the Passion Story at a UU service. In fact, I would not be surprised if one or two of you have already logged off, if not physically then at least mentally. But for those of you who are still listening, please hear me out.

Of the many positive traits that Unitarian Universalists are known for, one is our tolerance for diversity, openness, willingness to learn. But that same tolerance does not always extend to Christianity. Often, one can talk about stories from Buddhism and Hinduism and many other faith traditions in a UU setting much more easily than one can about stories from the bible. If I stood up here and told you how Isis painstakingly collected the parts of Osiris after his brother Set had betrayed him and cut him into pieces, and resurrected him, few would protest “But you can’t prove that Osiris even lived!” Instead, we might talk about what the story could mean, what different events symbolize, and maybe even how we might relate to it today.

In contrast, a good number of UUs might be ok with talking about Jesus just so long as it’s only the parables and the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus as human teacher. But if I start talking telling the story about Jesus dying on the cross as part of God’s plan, my guess is that even if you are too polite to say it, a significant number will be thinking “That isn’t true.”

And I’m not asserting that it is true. What I am suggesting is that there may still be something that we can learn from the story. Often times liberals will dismiss the bible as “myth" and what we’re saying is that it didn’t really happen that way in history. But myth has a deeper meaning than just not being historical. Saying that Columbus sailed in 1972 is not historically accurate, but that doesn’t qualify it as a myth. Myths carry truths bigger than just history.

So what I would like to do tonight is suggest that we take the claim – “That story is a myth” – seriously. Meaning that we set aside the question of whether it “really happened” and look to see whether it seems “true” in some other way.

And at the same time, I’d like to juxtapose another story – one from the Hindu tradition. One that I’ll probably have no trouble convincing you to approach as myth, but with which you might not be as familiar – that of Arjuna the archer.

Jesus and Arjuna. Two men on the brink of something momentous, undergoing existential crisis, talking with their God – or, if you prefer, mulling things over with their higher self. ;)

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane pleading with his Father on the eve of what he knows will be his death, and Arjuna, the great warrior, talking with Lord Krishna, on the eve of an epic battle where he will have to kill family and friends. Whether you believe that either of these are accountings of Divine Will or just made up stories is not the point. The more interesting question is what these stories might mean for us today.

Let me start with Jesus. And many of you may be familiar with his story, as accounted in the Gospels.

Here he is. He’s been touring the country for about three years now and has developed quite a following. A group of people travel with him everywhere he goes. Just a few days ago (Palm Sunday), he entered the city of Jerusalem to adoring crowds, proclaiming him king. But he knows that he’s about to lose everything.

It doesn’t matter how he knows this. Whether it’s because he’s God, or overheard Judas talking to the Sadducees, or has a keen sense of intuition, or maybe the author just writes the story that way. The point is that Jesus knows that something very hard is coming up that he doesn’t want to do. “Father,” he says, “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” In other words “I don’t want to do this. Please don’t make me.”

He is now alone. Judas has betrayed him. Even his most loyal disciple, Peter, can’t stay awake with him in his time of need. In the version of this story according to Luke, it even says that he’s so stressed that he sweats blood! He is in anguish. He is scared. He so does not want to go through with what is facing him that he is pleading.

But…

He still says “not what I want but what you want” and “your will be done.”

Some people will hear this and focus on the interpretation that God wanted a blood sacrifice. But what captivates my attention is him saying, I don’t want to do this (whatever “this” is), but *if* I have to, I will. If the circumstances demand it.

To me, this is the true power of the Passion Story. If you see Jesus as an omnipotent God who knows he’s going to be resurrected, then what’s the big deal? Instead, Jesus in the Garden is much more like a human being under extraordinary circumstances who says “I don’t want to go through with this, but I will if I have to... If the circumstances demand it.”

Unitarian Universalists adore Martin Luther King Jr., and rightfully so. What we sometimes forget is that he was a Christian minister. I don’t know how many of you have been to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. It’s the home congregation of Dr. King, where his father had preached, and where he preached after his father retired. It is at Ebenezer Baptist Church that King first taught the doctrine of non-violence.

The congregation has since moved to a larger, modern building across the street but the original building is now part of a National Historical Site. And if you visit it, what you will see on the back wall of the sanctuary, above the pulpit, so that every person can see it, is a stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Just think of what that image and that story must have meant for Dr. King. Jesus on his knees praying, “God, please don’t make me go through with this. I’m scared. I don’t want to do it. But I will if I have to.”

Think what King might have felt as he sat in jail in Birmingham. Or the night before Selma. At any given time, he could have stayed in Atlanta, where the situation was better. Heck, he could have had the pulpit of a Unitarian church in DC (my home congregation, All Souls) and been quite comfortable. It was offered to him. Instead, he chose to lead a movement that could and did get him killed. Because he knew he had to. The situation demanded it.

But surely there were times when he was scared and tempted to pack it up and go home.
King learned non-violence from Gandhi but it was the thought of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that pulled him through.

And what can the story mean for us?

Heroes aren’t necessarily the brawny guy who knows no fear and is just itching to fight for his country. In fact, in most cases, not. Heroes and prophets are every day people who, when the circumstances call on them, say yes. It’s usually not easy. It often ain’t pretty. But you don’t need to die, most of the time. All it takes is to say yes when the situation demands it. For us it might be something as simple being willing to be late for a meeting in order to help someone out in need. Being wiling to extend oneself when there is no reward and it might even be an inconvenience.

The decision that faced Arjuna was similar in striking ways. But since Arjuna’s story is less familiar to most of us in the West, a little background is in order. The Baghavad Gita is part of the Mahabharata, an epic story in Hinduism. In a nutshell, it involves two related families – the Pandavas and their cousins the Kauravas.

Leading up to the part that is known as the Baghavad Gita, the Kauravas have treated the Pandavas HORRIBLY. Cheated them, abused them, abused their common wife Draupadi (the five brothers share one wife but that’s a whole other story)…forced them into exile, took their land, refused to give it back, insulted their Lord God, Krishna….they were just plain mean and rotten … to the point where the two parties are on the brink of war - the five Pandava brothers and their allies on one side, and the 100 Kaurava brothers and their allies on the other.

But remember, the Pandavas and the Kauravas are first cousins. So each side has close relatives and friends and mentors on the other side. On the eve of battle, which is where the Gita starts, Arjuna, one of the Pandava princes and their greatest warrior, surveys the troops on both sides lined up for war. He sees his relatives, friends, and mentors on the other side and realizes that he either has to kill them or be killed by them. And his heart fails him.

Seems reasonable, no?

He says “O Govinda, of what avail to us are a kingdom, happiness or even life itself when all those for whom we may desire them are now arrayed on this battlefield? O Madhusudana, when teachers, fathers, sons, grandfathers, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law and other relatives are ready to give up their lives and properties and are standing before me, why should I wish to kill them, even though they might otherwise kill me? O maintainer of all living entities, I am not prepared to fight with them even in exchange for the three worlds, let alone this earth. What pleasure will we derive from killing the sons of Dhritarashtra?"

Arjuna, like Jesus, doesn’t want to go through with what he believes/knows that he has to do. Arjun was the son of the great god Indra, and a master archer. While not immortal, he had no fear of dying or harm to himself. Rather he was afraid of having to live with the consequences of his actions. Afraid of hurting people in the course of pursuing justice. But through the counsel of Krishna, Arjun finally resigns himself to his destiny. What Krishna told him in a nutshell was that the situation demanded it.

Here I must make a personal aside: I am not in any way advocating for war. When I read the Gita I am still troubled by the choices facing Arjun. And many people have interpreted the war to be metaphorical, thereby side-stepping the troubling image of God/Krishna demanding and arguing in favor of slaughtering kinsmen. And they may be right. During the course of arguing in favor of war, Krishna schools Arjuna on the Dharma. It’s clear that Arjun is meant to represent “every man,” represent the best of us, and we are meant to learn from Krishna’s teachings. And how many of us are faced with really having to slaughter our cousins and other loved ones? So it’s not unreasonable to see the great, bloody war as just a metaphor.

But I also think to dismiss the war lightly is to miss a large part of the point. This was an extremely difficult choice for Arjun, with negative consequences either way. If it were easy, it would not have been much of a story, nor be very relevant spiritually. While we may never have to kill our 100 cousins, perhaps there are other times when we’ve been faced with the choice to do something that hurts a loved one or do nothing and let injustice continue. How many times have we failed to do what is right for fear of upsetting people? I’ll speak for myself. I know I have.

The discussion between Krishna and Arjun is one of the greatest existentialist treatises of all time. At issue is the balance between the wisdom to be gained from pursuing knowledge (retreating, gathering information, reflecting, meditating) and the results to be gained from actually acting. Krishna lifts both up as ideals to be pursued but ultimately favors action.

The reason why, I think, is because at times our heads can talk us out of doing what is right. Especially when the circumstances are complex. My brain can rationalize my way out of doing just about anything, and it almost always seems perfectly reasonable at the time. How much more easy can it be to not act when the consequences are hard like those facing Arjun?

I remember the first time I heard the story of Martha and Waitstill Sharp – only the second and third Americans to be honored for helping Jews and others in Nazi-occupied territories during WWII, at great risk to themselves. The Sharps were Unitarians and their work led to the start of the Unitarian Service Committee, which became the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, still working against human rights abuses today.

Waitstill and Martha left their two small children behind to go risk their lives.

When I heard that I was deeply torn. On the one hand, what they did was amazing. They saved dozens, perhaps hundreds of lives. On the other hand, they could easily have been killed and left their children as orphans. It would have been perfectly reasonable for them to have said, “No I cannot go. My children need me.” Who would have blamed either one of them for staying home?

Yet they said “yes.” And even after they made it safely back to the States, they went a second time, because the situation demanded it. And what a huge difference they made.

Now, I don’t know if you will ever have to make the choices that faced Jesus or Arjun -
to be betrayed, tortured and killed (rather than running away) or to kill your loved ones, friends, etc, in the name of justice. I most fervently hope that you never face anything like either. As I fervently hope you never have to make the choices that faced Dr. King or the Sharps. But we still do make smaller choices in our daily living, on whether to act or not, when facing something that we would rather not do. How do we say “yes” in those situations?

And it may be that Jesus and/or Arjuna can serve as inspiration.

May it be so.
Amen. Ashay. Blessed be. and Namaste.

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 >>

Pesach & Liberation from Oppression

Yesterday evening marked the first night of Passover or Pesach.  It's kind of a blessing when my UU church's annual observance of Pesach actually takes place at the right time.  (All Souls does a wonderful Seder dinner but it plays a little loose with the rules... which is very UU.)

Since this is a UU Seder, our Haggadah (the order of service for the Seder) emphasizes the social justice aspects of the Exodus story.  We talk not only of God delivering the Jews from the oppression of the Egyptians but also our recognition that others in the world are still oppressed and our hopes for their liberation too.  We link the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt with the enslavement of African Americans in the U.S.  (Indeed, the Exodus story is a key part of black liberation theology.)  To be fair, I know a lot of Jewish Seders also broaden the focus towards all people who are oppressed, and teach that their own experiences show them that they must not be complacent to injustice.

Anyway, no one mentioned it, but I was thinking it.  I was thinking about the people of Tibet.  Or course, many, many other oppressions are going on right now, but I was thinking of Tibet because in this version of the story, it's my people - the Han Chinese - who are the Egyptians.  The Han are the oppressors and as the story tells us, God is on the side of the oppressed.

I could take the easy way out and say that the Chinese people have no control over what their communist government does.  But that doesn't seem entirely truthful, knowing that so many Chinese share the government's callously paternalistic view.  Just as I could say that Americans have no control over our president deciding to invade another country, or torture prisoners. And there would be truth to that.  But  we re-elected him, and a sizable percentage of us condone Guantanamo. 

God is on the side of the oppressed and my people - both of my people - are on the wrong side of God.  What does it mean then to be sitting through a ritual that celebrates the end of oppression? 

Spirit, soften my heart, so that I may listen to the grievances of others, however angry, without getting defensive and wanting to argue back. Soften the hearts of my Chinese and American sisters and brothers so that they will see "the Other" as people deserving respect and fair treatment.  Soften the hearts of the Sudanese government, and those in power everywhere.  Next year, may we all be on God's side.

 

More on China and Tibet

A friend of mine, commenting on my "Love Letter to My Ancestors' Country," says he can't help but feel that China's claim on Tibet is still part of "political hegemony, after military take-over."  Ultimately, I agree.   My beef is when Americans decry the "invasion" by China of Tibet in 1950 and they don't know the history of the region.  There is also a part of me that feels Tibet is part of China because that is how I was raised, and part of me that thinks Tibetan independence would weaken both China and Tibet (just look at what happened to the former Soviet republics) but ultimately I believe a people cannot be ruled by force, no matter how far back it goes. Of course, this raises interesting questions about Hawaii and other indigenous peoples in the U.S., and the morality of the Civil War.

I am thinking about Tibet once again as I type on my laptop in the Denver airport, because of an argument with my parents this morning, my last morning in Cali. In response to the Olympic flame coming through San Francisco and the extraordinary measures taken to avoid the protesters, we started talking about Tibet while we sat in the McDonald's for breakfast. My parents' take on this is that China is 100% correct, even though they hate the communist government as much as anyone does. When their native country is under attack it's amazing how loyal they become to the government there. I guess that's human nature. I was careful to let my parents know that I did not agree with most American protesters. But just because the Americans are wrong that doesn't mean that the Chinese are right. When I pointed out China's human rights record and the cultural destruction in Tibet, they still accused me of being too American in my views, which is ironic given how "foreign" I've been feeling since these latest rounds of protest and violence have flared up again. But I guess I am American in my views - holding fast to the ideals I was taught to embrace.  I ultimately do believe in freedom from oppression, whether from European/American imperialist oppression or Chinese imperialist oppression.

My father makes the comparison between the Han Chinese relationship with Tibet and the American relationship with Hawaii. I think this is a fair comparison, tho it puts him at a disadvantage since Hawaii was taken over less than 50 years ago, whereas Tibet was taken by the Yuan dynasty in the 13th century. But the reason why I think it's a fair comparison is because of the attitude that my parents hold towards Tibetans. They kept saying things that are very similar to what I've heard from many whites in the U.S. with regards to Native Americans and even blacks. "The government is just trying to modernize a backwards people." "They don't know what's best for them." "They don't want to work." It's paternalistic. imperialist. The lack of respect for a people's autonomy, their right to make choices for themselves, even if the choices are different than what we would make, is the cause of the cultural genocide going on in Tibet right now. From the Han government's point of view, why would one want to preserve a "backwards" culture? They are doing the Tibetans a "favor" by forcing them to modernize. And my parents fall in line with this kind of thinking. I tried to point out the irony of this - that this is precisely the kind of thinking that justified the European carving up of China in the 19th century, something my parents still resent.

I have realized recently, that I have to come to terms with the fact that while in this country I feel marginalized, in the country of my ancestors, it's my people who are the oppressors. And it's difficult to deal with European/Euro-American moral indignance over Tibet when the vast majority of them have not owned up to the harm their own countries have caused, and continue to cause. But I have to remember what's important here, and that is freedom from oppression for everyone.

It seems the only public person I agree with here is his holiness the Dalai Lama, a voice of reason, the middle way between the extremes of the protesters and the "Chinese" stance. The Dalai Lama does not call for independence, but rather autonomy. He is saddened by the violence in Tibet, but firm in saying that Tibetan culture is being destroyed by the communist government. He supports China's right to host the games and also the protesters' right to protest.  (Tho I must add that I don't think protesters have the right to try to extinguish the flame.) Once again, I wish that followers would actually listen to the person that they claim to follow.

I do not know why the Dalai Lama does not call for independence. Whether it's because he feels such a demand would only lead to violence from the communist government and therefore he is compromising. Or whether he, like me, feels that there is greater strength in unity instead of multiple smaller countries. Of course, for there to be true unity and not oppression, the voice of the Tibetan people must be heard and represented.

Love Letter to My Ancestors' Country

China, land of my ancestors I do not pretend to know you well, but I know you better than most Americans.  Not just intellectually but in my heart.  When Hong Kong was returned to you, I felt a surprising release of anger that I did not even know was in me.  "At last!" I thought, "at last the imperialists are gone from Chinese soil!"  I am my parents' daughter.

I know that from the Chinese perspective, you were not "invading" Tibet in 1950.  Your relationship goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years, and if Tibet had appeared "independent", it's because the same British who had taken Hong Kong had loosened your control of Tibet.  I also know that cleaving Tibet away from you, as the Westerners want to do in the name of liberty, weakens you.  I can't help but feel it's convenient that many Westerners cast their most critical eye on the country whom they fear as a rival, while ignoring the human rights abuses in other countries.  And  I know that Buddhists are human beings - some peaceful and some not, and that the West's depiction of Tibet as a land full of peaceful monks is a romanticized caricature.

Lastly, I know the importance of "face" in Chinese culture.  I know how important the Olympics are for you, as an opportunity to show the world your beauty, ingenuity, and power.  I know you're angry that what was supposed to be your shining moment has been hijacked by some very PR savvy protesters.

All of this I know and feel, China, so I hope that you can see that I am on your side even if I say things you initially may not want to hear.  It is because I want what is best for the proud country of my ancestors that I endeavor to speak the truth to you. 

What you are doing in Tibet is wrong.  I know you want to keep order, but it is wrong to use lethal force against unarmed civilians, even if they are violent.  Those who have more power have the responsibility to show more restraint.  I know you want to maintain face, but it is wrong to keep the media out of Tibet.  You may not want the world to see the violence and the loss of control, but by keeping the media out, the world imagines the worst.

Lastly, and most importantly, your policy of migrating millions of Han into Tibet in order to integrate the region is wrong.

Perhaps you don't quite see why.  After all, you are developing, modernizing, and bringing in new job opportunities.  Perhaps you feel you are doing the Tibetans a favor.  But as a Han Chinese living in the U.S., I know what it's like to be a minority. I know what it's like to be told that the culture of my ancestors is inferior, and that I should assimilate for the good of everyone.   I have seen my parents' pain as they watch their culture slip away in front of their eyes.  Surely, you would not want your descendants, even those who are living over seas, to lose their Han identity?  Then perhaps you can see why the Tibetans are so upset by the threat to theirs.

China, most Americans may not know it, but I know that you are a land of many ethnicities and cultures – each one a precious gift.  Please, cherish these different gifts.  Do not destroy them for the sake of “progress.”  There will always be the opportunity for progress.  But once a culture and people are destroyed there is no way to bring them back.  Think of the collective history and culture that was lost during the “Great Leap Forward.”  Please, do not be like the Imperialists who invaded you.  Be kind to those living under you domain - Han and Tibetan and everyone else.  Show the world what it means to be civilized - what it means to be China.

Love Letter to My Country

This morning the news flashed across my web browser, U.S. death toll in the Iraq war is at 4,000.  Far surpassing the 2,975 people who died on September 11th.  And we're only counting U.S. fatalities.  

But rather than do another rant as I did on the fifth anniversary of the start of this immoral war, I will try to listen to the pastoral suggestion of Rev. Sinkford, president of the UUA.  For indeed I do love my country and that's the reason why this war upsets me so.

I love my country, the United States.  As a child I was taught that this country was founded upon the ideals of liberty, equality, and justice for all.  I was taught that never before in the history of human kind had these ideals been so clearly articulated - this great experiment in democracy.  And they captured my imagination and heart.

Later on I came to know that we did not always live up to our ideals, far from it.  I learned that liberty and equality initially meant just for white, land-owning men.  But even if our founding fathers were not perfect, the ideals that they dreamed were bigger than their own limited perceptions.  And I learned how brave women and men of different colors and creeds and orientations have struggled to expand the circle of who is included in liberty, equality, and justice for all.  We are still struggling with that.  But however difficult, in this country, our moral arc does always eventually bend towards justice.  We have expanded the circle of justice ever wider.  We do eventually live up to ourselves.

I love my country.  I take seriously its ideals.

Which is why this war so pains me.  I hear people try to defend the immorality of this war by saying that whatever wrongs we are committing, Saddam was worse.  And I think to myself, so?  Is this how low we've sunk that we compare ourselves to brutal dictators?  It's not Saddam whom I love, whom I believe in.  <b>We</b> know better.  We know that torture is wrong. We used to have one of the best records in the world against torture.  We know that sending our young adults off to kill and die in a war that does not make us safer is wrong.  4,000 dead.  The vast majority of them under 30 years of age. For a war that they had no say over, that benefits only the few who declared it yet do not risk their own lives.  We know better.  And once again we are maiming a generation of those who wished nothing but to serve.

I will always love my country.  This is not conditional love.  Even at our lowest, when we sink from fear to be the worst we can be, I am still unabashedly American.  But at our lowest, I will be reminding us of how we can be better.  Because I know we can.  We can more fully embody all the awesome potential that is within us.  As Rev. Sinkford said, "We want to become the kind of people we thought we were."

America, I grieve for us, for our loss.  

Five Years of Unjust War

In January, we passed the 5th anniversary of the creation of Guantanmo.  Today, we pass the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

There have been no weapons of mass destruction found.

No links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda found.

We say we went in to spread peace and democracy to Iraq (with bombs).  Today, Iraq is racked with violence.  The terrorists that were not there before are there now, flooding in as our presence foments resentment.

We say that Saddam was a brutal dictator who killed his own people.  He was.  But now we are a foreign occupier killing Iraqis.

Over $505 billion and counting, money that could have solved so many problems that we claim we can't afford to address.  Money taken from our children and grand-children.

Around 85,000 Iraqi civilians dead.  Very nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead.

And I've said all of these things before.  And those who care already know.  And those who don't care....

I spent most of the day in meetings in Boston.  At the end of the day, as I headed to Logan airport (where I type these words), I passed a small group of protesters in the Commons.  Perhaps the icy rain dampened turn out.  The grey sky matched my mood.  

All of it seems useless.

I notice that Alex has decided to blog about today after all.  He says it much better than I.

Vermont Awesomeness

No need for me to comment. Smile

Vermont bill would end use of National Guard in Iraq

By Louis Porter Vermont Press Bureau

MONTPELIER – Vermont lawmakers, who passed the first state resolution calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq last year, are now pushing a bill disputing federal authority to continue using Vermont National Guard soldiers in the war.

The federal use of Vermont guard soldiers in Iraq was allowed under the 2002 authorization of the use of force in Iraq. But the justification for that permission – the threat from the state of Iraq and the need to enforce United Nations resolutions – has since expired, said Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln.

"The president no longer has the authority to command the Vermont National Guard in Iraq," Fisher said.

The bill Fisher will introduce today would begin the process of ending the involvement of Vermont National Guard members in Iraq, and has nearly 30 co-sponsors in the House, he said. Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, also supports the measure and said he will do what he can to move a version of the bill in the Senate.

.... Shumlin said when Washington has failed to act it is up to states to protect the members of their militias, even if they can't end the war.

"The question was not should Vermont guard members be mediating a civil war in Iraq," Shumlin said. "We can make cases for mediating civil wars all over the world. Let's have the debate."

"Vermont has led in the past. When we lead others follow," Shumlin said.

Indeed a handful of other state Legislatures are already considering or moving on similar legislation in a national effort, Fisher said.

http://www.timesargus.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080130/NEWS01/801...

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