UU Sermons on Social Justice

Economic Justice and Moral Injury

Author: 
Suzi Spangenberg

By Suzi Spangenberg

Delivered at The Church of the Fellowship for All Peoples (Fellowship Church), San Francisco, CA

On May 26th, 2013

 

The screaming. 
That's what shook me. 
The fear and terror held in those screams. 
And then the images. 
People panicking...Running...Trampling each other. 

Children separated from parents,
being pushed down...as adults,
stepping on whoever was in the way,
stretched out their arms and flung themselves forward...
not to help their children, but in an attempt to grab hold of what they believed would bring them some happiness.

As I recently re-watched the many videos which depicted the  violence that happened inside Walmart stores across the nation during last November's Black Friday sales, I was stunned that so many people were willing to camp out overnight and then get violent, trading their souls for cheap material goods. 

People who chose to ignore the Walmart workers - bravely standing outside the stores protesting for a fair living wage -  workers they had to pass in order to get inside to begin their feeding frenzy.

Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the United States outside of the Federal
 government, yet the majority of its employees with children live below the poverty line.

"Buy American" banners are prominently placed throughout its stores; however, the majority of its goods are made outside the U.S. and often in sweatshops such as the one that recently collapsed in Bangladesh that resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people.

Walmart has the largest percentage of workers on food stamps and medicaid of any other company in the United States. Workers cannot survive on the wages they are paid and so must rely on government aid to survive.

And while it's easy to point a finger at Walmart, the fact is, their business model is emulated and held up as a success by Wall Street. 

When did we begin to care more about stuff and less about people? 
When did greed become not only acceptable, but celebrated? 
Is this really who we are? 
What are the root causes of that emptiness? 



Theologian Howard Thurman states: "The need for love is so related to the structure of the personality that when this need is not met,
the personality is stunted
and pushed or twisted out of shape."  

I believe many of us have forgotten our interconnectedness and that the absence of love, of deep relationship, creates a void that a person instinctively tries to fill.  

As we feel less and less connected to one another, we feel more and more alone.  That emptiness, that aloneness, that need for love is what we are trying to eliminate with material things, which we hope will mask the pain of feeling this deepest kind of loneliness.  

Something is acquired, a person has feelings of momentary happiness, and then, like a drug, when those feelings wear off, there is a need to go out and get more to feel the same way again. 

People, other people,
are mere obstacles in the way of temporarily easing this empty, yet very deep need.  Unfortunately, the one thing that can fill the hole,
love,
which illuminates our interconnection,
is not something that can be bought. 

I've been thinking about other people who have struggled with feelings of being disconnected. 

Specifically, I've especially been thinking about my dad... a lot.  He was a member of the 10th Mountain Division ski troops during WWII.
He was one of the very few in his regiment to come home alive.
He returned highly decorated with a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a broken soul. He became a life long advocate for peace.

He also never spoke about his experiences during the war.

He'd tell funny stories about training at Camp Hale, located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. 
How the men, already elite skiers,
were taught mountain climbing and snow survival skills.
How they burned so many calories during training that they were each given half a pie for dessert.
They were also given free cigarettes and since my father didn't smoke, he'd trade his for more pie.

He said one night he ate 3 whole pies and he was still hungry. I believe it.

One of the few photographs I have of him from that time shows a very handsome, lean man standing on the side of a snow covered mountain with his wooden skis slung over one shoulder. He was smiling widely and looked relaxed and carefree. The photograph was made at Camp Hale before he shipped out.

Once these men arrived in Northern Italy, they did things I have difficulty imagining.
Scaling the 2,000 foot tall vertical sides of Riva Ridge in the Apennines mountains in the darkest part of night with no light to guide them,
all while carrying 85 pound packs, skis, and guns with only strap on metal crampons attached to their boots.

I learned that from an old 10th Mountain Division newsletter. I didn't learn it from my dad because my dad couldn't talk about the war.

Once, when I told him I was going to an anti-war protest in 2003 prior to the beginning of the Iraq War, he quietly said - "that's a really good thing you all are doing. If only everyone understood that war is the hardest on women and children..." his voice trailed off and when I asked what he meant - he quickly changed the subject.

The men of WWII were in a tough place when they came home. They were heroes of "the Good War" and culturally conditioned not to talk about feelings.
So they kept them inside.
They didn't talk about PTSD then. There wasn't a lot of information available about coping with the horrors of war when they returned home.

So they stayed silent and in my father's case, busy. He threw himself into his work and his hobbies. He didn't allow himself time to reflect or remember.  By the time he met my mom, he had gotten pretty good at doing the things that society said a man must do. He had a good job. He drove a nice car. He even got his pilot's license.

He also came home from the war with a temper and you never knew what would set it off.

He was obsessive about security when we were home alone without him. He installed many locks and would get very upset if he came home and discovered we had missed one. I remember one time I overheard him yell at my mom "You don't have any idea what they could do to you and Suzi do you?!?"

I didn't really know what he meant, but it scared me - I could tell whatever it was, it was very bad.

I knew something was wrong with my dad, I just never really knew what it was.

Now I do.

My dad was suffering from moral injury.

What is moral injury? Dr. Gabriella Lettini and Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, authors of the recently released book "Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War" define moral injury as "a negative self-judgment based on having transgressed core moral beliefs and values or on feeling betrayed by authorities. It is reflected in the destruction of a moral identity and loss of meaning. Its symptoms may include shame, survivor guilt, depression, despair, addiction, distrust, anger, a need to make amends and the loss of a desire to live."

My father, like many men who came home from WWII, didn't talk to anyone. His unrecognized injury destroyed my parent's marriage.
They divorced when I was 4.

When I was 6, my father married my beloved step-mom Cynthia. For the first time in my life, I saw glimpses of the man my dad must have been before the war. They were never apart from the time they got married until her death many years later. Even so, with the exception of Cynthia, he was still emotionally distant and even though we would do things together, I always felt like there was a barrier between my dad and the rest of the world.

Decades later, when Cynthia was in hospice, we were able to share many deep conversations.

One day I finally got up the courage to ask her about my dad- why he was distant. She grew quiet and then said "First, you need to know your dad loves you very much. When we met, we were both carrying heavy burdens. We were able to share them with each other. He knows I love and see ALL of him. I know he loves and sees ALL of me." She then told me that the war had come close to completely breaking my dad and before they met, only his incredible strength of will kept him together.

After Cynthia died, my dad and I spent a lot of time together. He still didn't talk about the war.

When he was 90 I went to visit him and he suddenly started to cry. I had only seen my dad cry once before-- when Cynthia died. I just held him and he finally cried out "I'm so glad you do what you do. I wish I'd had the courage to go throw my medals in Bush's face!"
That was all he said. But it was in that moment that I realized just how much the war had cost him.

We all can count the number of people who have died as the result of war. We can also count the injured. We can calculate the many MANY dollars spent.

But I wonder if we have ever calculated all that has been lost among the living?

How many men (and now women) return with parts of them missing - invisible parts that they cannot file a claim for?

How many people like my father lose their connection with those they love and the rest of society?

How many families never get to welcome home the person that left?

Never get to see their parent care free and smiling?

These are some of the costs of moral injury. A deeper and more final cost is that many of those suffering from moral injury ultimately commit suicide.

In thinking about my dad, and the cost of moral injury of war, I have found myself returning again and again to the definition: "a negative self-judgment based on having transgressed core moral beliefs and values or on feeling betrayed by authorities." 

Is it possible that this widespread emptiness exhibited by our out of control materialism is a form of national moral injury?

We are taught that to succeed, we must put ourselves first.   Instead of helping each other so we all can do well, of coming from a place of love in our interactions with others,
we instead are taught that we must compete to be first,
to have the most,
and if we have to step over, or on, people to get there, so be it. 

We want better cars, better homes, better schools for our kids...even when we know there are people living on the street, and schools in poor neighborhoods, such as those in Chicago and Oakland, are being permanently closed.

And the more selfishly we behave, the more disconnected we become.
Deep down, we can sense this is wrong but we push those feelings aside.

We turn away from things that remind us of how far we have strayed from honoring our interconnectedness.

and as people become obstacles to "winning" or obtaining more stuff
we step right over them...or on them...
and see them as nothing more than collateral damage as we do what we need to do to fill that internal hole.

We may feel a moments triumph as we score a "great deal" at Walmart, but soon after, that internal "hole" becomes larger and we need to keep seeking more and more to fill it, causing us to become even further disconnected.

It's a horribly cycle and one that exacts a heavy price.

Vets commit suicide, and as a society, some may argue that we do as well - whether actively or passively as the stress of living in such a disconnected way takes it's toll on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I am grateful that my dad did not choose this path.
I am grateful he had moments free from anguish thanks to Cynthia's wisdom and love.

And most especially on this Memorial Day weekend,
I recognize that many do not have those anguish free moments and my heart aches for them...
and my heart aches for all the families of veterans who will never again know their loved ones without injured souls...
and for all the families who grasp for things over people,
and everyone who suffers as a result. 

So, what can we do to address this issue?  is it possible for us to even reach those in the 1%, like the CEO's of Walmart, whose decisions are negatively affecting the lives of so many? 

Is it possible to come from a place of love when experiencing people as callous and unfeeling?

I would answer, "Do we have any other choice?" 

Tich Nhat Hanh, in his book "Reconciliation" talks about the need to look deeply at those we perceive as being the cause of our suffering. 

He explains that we are interconnected, so if we hate them, we hate ourselves. 
The only solution is to expand our heart.

He also offers a healing practice that I have found, after some initial resistance and struggle, to be extraordinarily helpful.  
I recognize that this may be a challenging exercise  for some of you, so do what you can--it's a starting place.

I invite you to place yourselves in a comfortable position and as you are able, allow yourself to really focus and contemplate on his words:

<<RING BELL>>

"In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me suffer. 

I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me suffer,

to those who have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love. 

I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and their hearts are overloaded with pain, anger and hatred. 

I pray that they are transformed to experience the joy of living, so that they will not continue to make themselves and others suffer. 

I see their suffering and do not want to hold any feelings of hatred and anger in myself toward them. 

I channel my energy of love and understanding to them and ask all my ancestors to help them." 

<<LONG PAUSE>>  <<RING BELL>>




My deepest hope is that we can all learn to recognize our interconnectedness...

and as we channel that love, we are able to inspire others to do the same...

that we fill that emptiness more fully and perfectly than any material thing ever could. 

May it be so.
Namaste. 
Blessed be.

Embracing the Dangerous and Sacred

By Suzi Spangenberg

Delivered at Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Fremont, CA

On 6 May 2012

(Winner: Mission Peak Sermon Contest )

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvey Milk is in my address book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 >>

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.

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Acknowledgments

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