Unitarian Universalism

Meditation on Food

Kat Liu

We all need to eat, but how many of us think about where our food comes from, before it was placed on our plate or in our hands?  How often do we think about all that went into the food in front of us?  For this exercise, you will need some food to contemplate.

In fall
it is mushrooms
gathered in dampness
under the pines;
in spring
I have known the taste of the lamb
full of milk
and spring grass;
it is beans green and yellow
and lettuce and basil
from my friend’s garden -
how calmly,
as though it were an ordinary thing,
we eat the blessed earth.

- Mary Oliver


Look at the food in front of you.  The entire world is in this food (as it is in you). 

If it is plant-based - fruit, vegetable, and/or grain - it started as a seed in soil.  Imagine the seed sprouting, sending a tender shoot up towards the sun.  While it's doing this, the tiny new plant draws energy stored in the seed by its parent. And its parent came from its parent, and so on, and so on. 

Once the shoot reaches sunlight, it receives energy from our sun and CO2 from our air to make more plant cells and grow.  It sends roots into the soil, drawing up water, nitrogen, and other essential nutrients.  The water ultimately came from rain or snowmelt, from clouds in the sky.  

So all four elements are in the plant(s) that became your food.  The fire of sun, air, water, and earth.  

If your food contains meat, egg, dairy, and/or honey, it was produced by an animal who grew by eating plants fed by the sun, air, water, and earth, as well as drinking water and breathing air itself.  We animals cannot store the sun's energy ourselves, but when we eat plants (or when we eat animals that ate plants) we are extracting the energy that the plants stored in their bodies.  We are extracting the energy of the sun.  Also, the nutrients they drew from the earth.

So all four elements are in any meat, egg, dairy, and/or honey that became your food.  The fire of sun, air, water, and earth.  

But let's go back to the growing of the plants (and/or animals) that became your food. Likely, they did not grow in the wild but were instead farmed.  That means people planted the seeds that became the plants that either directly or indirectly became your food.  People pulled away the weeds so that the plants could get enough nutrients and air, and made sure there was enough water.  When the time was right, people harvested your food.  So their work is in your food.  They are part of your food.

And the people did not get there by themselves.  They had parents who birthed and nurtured them.  And the parents had parents.  Imagine them, going back generations. So all the ancestors of the farmers who grew your food are part of your food as well. 

And the farmers had teachers and other people who influenced them.  Siblings.  Lovers.  Friends (both human and other animals).  They are all part of the farmer(s) and thus part of the food.

So all the people who grew your food and their ancestors and anyone who influenced thhem are in your food.  Imagine it.  

You may have purchased the food directly from the farmer who grew it, but more likely it was transported over long distances by ships, trains, and trucks.  Imagine your food traveling to get to you. The people who did their part to bring the food closer to you are part of this food as well.  As are their ancestors and all the beings who influenced them.  

As is the fossil fuel that was likely expended to power the ships, trains, and trucks.  Imagine the oil deep underground, and the people who worked to bring it to the surface and to refine it so that it can be burned to power the vehicles that carried your food to you.  Even if you bought your food directly from the farmer who grew it, very likely you both used fossil fuels to reach each other.  

So the plants and animals that lived millions of years ago and whose bodies then became oil, coal, or gas are also in your food. As well as all the people who worked to make the fuel available and the people who drove the vehicles and everyone who influenced them... all in your food.  

Unless you grind your own flour and process your own sugar and salt, etc, there are other people - likely working in factories - who processed some part of your food for you.  And someone - likely working in factories - put the pocessed food in packaging.  And someone else - likely working in factories - made the materials that were used to package the food that was processed.  Can you see it?  How the whole world is part of your food, and of you?

Once the food was packaged, it was shipped to the stores, where more humans stock shelves and ring cash registers and mop floors.  All of them created by their parents, ancestors, loved ones... All of them contibuting to your food.

And finally, someone cooked your food.  It might have been you.  It might not.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose labor created the simple occasion of your food at this moment. Imagine them. Imagine them as part of you.  

And all of them too were nourished and grew from food that they have eaten, both plants and animals.  Just like the plants (and possibly animals) on your plate.  These once living beings who became your food, their energy stored within their bodies will become your energy and body.  Every plant and animal you ever ate, and every plant and animal ever eaten by the people who helped create you are part of you.

And ultimately, we are all made up of the same sun fire, rain water, air, and earth.  All of us inter-connected.  All of us part of Mother Earth.

Air Appreciation

Kat Liu


These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.  



When I breathe in,
I breathe in peace.
When I breathe out,
I breathe out love.

- Sarah Dan Jones



Find a comfortable position, whether seated lotus or on a chair, standing up or lying down.  Find a position that you can comfortably hold for a while.

The first thing we do after we are born is to take a breath.  And we keep doing it - in, out - every moment while we're alive.  Of all the elements, air is the one with which we interact most freely.  Every inhalation, we hold air within ourselves; every exhalation, we set it free - in, out.  It is so natural and close to us that it is easy to forget.  Yet every breath is a reaffirmation of life.  Breathing meditation is used for many things.  This is a meditation in appreciation for breathing itself.  

Take a deep breath, slowly.  Feel your diaphram expanding.

Exhale slowly.  Feel your chest settling back.

Take a deep breath, slowly.  Feel the oxygen rushing in to feed your cells.

Exhale slowly.  Feel the carbon dioxide leaving with the air in your lungs.

Take a deep breath, slowly. Feel refreshed, new energy.

Exhale slowly.  Feel your body relaxing, tensions leaving with the air in your lungs.

Continue breathing at a rate and depth that is natural to you.  

As you breathe in, think "Breathing in is a gift."

As you breathe out, think "Breathing out my gratitude."  

As you breathe in, think "Breathing in, I am alive."

As you breathe out, think "Breathing out, I am grateful."  

Continue for as long as you feel comfortable doing so.

Clean air is a precious gift.  Clean air is life.  Give thanks for clean air if you have it (and even if you don't) and think about how to make sure everyone can breathe free.

Food Appreciation

Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.

We all need to eat, but how many of us pay attention to our food beyond the first bite or two?  How often do we appreciate how wonderful it is to have food?  For this exercise, you will need some food, whether a meal or snack, but something that requires more than two mouthfuls to consume.


The seed and root beneath the Earth,
the willful, growing shoot…
the hopeful bud then flowering blossom
turned to glowing fruit.
We thank those who grew this food
from little bursting seeds,
We thank our Mother Earth,
whose gifts fulfill our needs.

- Adapted from Anonymous


First, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you actually have food to eat.  Think back to a time when you were really hungry.  Remember how good it felt when you finally got to eat.  (If doing this with a family or group, encourage participants to briefly share their memories.)


If using your hands, notice the texture as you pick it up, the temperature, and perhaps the color(s). If you're eating from a plate with a knife and fork, notice instead the texture and temperature of the cutlery as you move it toward the food, but still take the time to notice the colors on the plate.

As you move the food toward your mouth, shift the focus away from the hands and more toward the eyes, nose and mouth. How does the food smell? What does it look like up close? And, as you put it in your mouth, what is the taste, the texture, the temperature?  If you wish, try rolling the food around with your tongue to get a better sense.

Do not start chewing until you have put your fork/spoon or the food back down. Give all of your attention to each step of eating one step at a time.  Take the time to chew the food fully. Twenty, thirty chews if you can.  Not only is this a healthier way of eating, but it will allow you the time to taste and appreciate all the different flavors. Notice if the flavor changes while you chew.  Some foods become more complex with more chews; some just disappear.

While chewing, know that you are chewing.  Finally, when ready to swallow, know that you are swallowing.  Notice the sensation of the lump moving to the back of your mouth, and then down.  The feeling of your tongue against the roof of your mouth.  See how far down your esophagus you can still feel the food travel.

Imagine the nourishment filling your stomach, and from there moving to every other part of your body.  Into your limbs.  Seeping into every cell.

Only after you have swallowed, move your hand(s) to pick up your food again.  Take another mouthful, mindfully.  Again, do not start chewing until you've placed your hand(s) back down.  When taking a bite, know that you are taking a bite.  When chewing, know that you are chewing.  When swallowing, know that you are swallowing.  See how long you can do this without your mind wandering to other things.



Energy Appreciation

Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.  (This exersize is best performed after dark.)


May the light we now kindle
Inspire us to use our powers
To heal and not to harm
To help and not to hinder
To bless and not to curse
To serve you, Spirit of Life

- Adapted from Singing the Living Tradition, #453


Light a candle.  

Hold your hands towards the flame and feel its warmth.  Feel the energy radiating from the candle to your palms and up your arms. 

The flame of the candle is being fed by the wax or oil.  No matter what your candle is made of, the fire is fed by breaking down long chains of carbon into CO2.  Those chains of carbon stored the energy of the sun, which is released when broken.  So the candle flame in front of you, radiating warmth, is sunlight stored away to be released at another time. It was this stored energy that allowed our ancestors to see even after the sun set for the evening, releasing the sun's rays at night.  It is this stored energy that allows us to live our "modern" lives.  Give thanks to the sun.  

Now we are going to take a brief tour around the house.  (You can extinguish your candle.)

Turn on a light.

Think about what a difference it makes in the room, how much easier it is to see.  Give thanks for the light.

Open the refrigerator door.  See the little light turn on, allowing you to easily view its contents.  Feel the cool air.  (Close it.)

Open the freezer door.  Hear the hum of the compressor.  Feel the even cooler air.  (Close it.)

Think about what life would be like if you had no refrigeration.  What foods do you enjoy that would be hard to keep?  Give thanks for the refrigeration.

Turn on the stove.  Hold your hand a safe distance from the burner.  Feel the heat.  (Turn it off.)

Think about what life would be like if you had no way to cook your food.  What foods do you enjoy that would no longer exist without cooking?  Give thanks for the fire of the stove.
(If doing this with kids, ask them to name their favorite foods that they wouldn't be able to eat any more without energy to cook food.)

Turn on your favorite form of viewing entertainment (tv, internet, etc).  Notice the hum of the tv or computer, or witness the light blinking on.  We take for granted that these sights and sounds will happen when we flip a switch.  Imagine how you would feel if the electricty did not flow?

What are other things in your home that require electricity to operate? 

If you have a car, or even if you don't but take the bus, give thanks for the energy that it takes to transport you from one place to another.  

Almost every convenience that we have in life requres energy.  Give thanks for the energy you have and think about how to make sure everyone has enough.


Water Appreciation

Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.


Water flows from high in the mountains.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Miraculously, water comes to us,
and sustains us all.

- Thich Nhat Hanh


Pour yourself a glass of water.
(If doing this with a family or group, use a pitcher to pour each person a glass of water.)

Look at the glass of water.  Hold it up to the light.  See its clarity.

Sip a mouthful but do not swallow.  Feel the coolness roll over your tongue, the roof of your mouth, through your teeth.

Swallow.  Feel it moisten your throat as it goes down. 

Imagine the water trickling into your stomach, and from there moving to every other part of your body.  Into your limbs.  Seeping into every cell.  Bathing each cell with life.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Think back to a time when you were really hot and thirsty.  Remember how good it felt when you finally got to drink.
(If doing this with a family or group, encourage participants to briefly share their memories.)

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Where did your water come from?  Did it come out of the tap?  Did you buy it in the store?  Did you get it out of a well?  Imagine what it would be like if you could not easily get water. 

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

As our climate changes, it becomes harder to get clean, drinkable water.  Some places have drought, which means there isn't enough water.  Other places have floods, which makes clean water dirty.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Despite the increasing scarcity of clean water, some companies still gather up water in order to make money from it - they may bottle the water to sell, or use it to grow water-intensive crops to sell, or use it to force oil out of the ground to sell - and do not let the people who live nearby have clean water to drink.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Water is a precious gift.  Water is life.  Give thanks for the water you have and think about how to make sure everyone has enough.

Climate Justice Month 2015

March 22nd, World Water Day, to April 22nd, Earth Day

Climate Justice Month 2015 was organized around the (Western) Four Elements.  We started with water (World Water Day), then fire, then air, and finished with earth (Earth Day).  Resources were provided for Appreciation, Education, Reflection, Interconnection, Action, and Celebration of each Element.  


Water - Celebration and Revelling  

Sunday, March 22nd - World Water Day

Worship: Resources from UU Service Committee

Monday, March 23rd - Saturday, March 28th

Mon: Appreciation - Water
Tues: Education - Learn Where Your Water Comes From
Wed: Reflection - Calculate Your Water Footprint
Thurs: Interconnection - Water
Fri: Action - Join UUSC'S Blue Bucket Campaign
Sat: Celebration -

Fire - Grief and Reckoning  

Sunday, March 29th

Worship: Resources from UU EJ Collaboratory

Monday, March 30th - Saturday, April 4th

Mon: Appreciation - Energy
Tues: Education - Learn Where Your Electicity Comes From
Wed: Reflection -   
Thurs: Connection - Meditation on Energy
Fri: Action - Switch to Clean Energy
Sat: Celebration -

Air - Reconnecting  

Sunday April 5th

Worship: Resources from UU EJ Collaboratory

Monday, April 6th - Saturday, April 11th

Mon: Appreciation - Air
Tues: Education - Calculate Your Carbon Footprint
Wed: Reflection -   
Thurs: Connection - Meditation on Air
Fri: Action - Urge Your Senators to Support Clean Air
Sat: Celebration -

Earth - Committing  

Sunday, April 12th

Worship: Resources from UU EJ Collaboratory

Monday, April 13th - Saturday, April 18th

Mon: Appreciation - Food
Tues: Education - Learn Where Your Food Comes From
Wed: Reflection -   
Thurs: Connection - Meditation on Food
Fri: Action - Pledge to Eat Locally
Sat: Celebration -

Sunday, April 19th, Earth Sunday

Worship:  Resources from UU Ministry for Earth

Monday, April 20th -Wednesday, April 22nd

Mon: Appreciation -
Tues: Education - Watch "The Story of Stuff" (20 minutes)
Wed: Reflection -   

The Imperfectionist

Forrest Church

The reason I’ve been able to produce
so much is that I’m not a perfectionist
– I’m an imperfectionist.

I’m confident that everything I say
can be improved upon by others,
and that’s my great strength,
because I know that it won’t been improved upon by others
unless I take the first step.

When we only do things which please us,
or don’t frighten us,
after a while fewer and fewer things please us.

Over time, our circle of options diminishes
until we are prisoners in gardens of our own making.

The more decisions you make in your life,
the more times you act,
the more certain it is that you will be wrong.

To be fulfilled we need to recognize,
all of us,
that the world doesn’t owe us a living
– rather we owe the world a living.

And in the brief time that is given us,
we must somehow learn to give ourselves away.

A Winter Solstice Ritual for 2014

Calling the Directions Spirit of the East Spirit of air: wind and sky, the breath of life. Spirit of possibilities with each morning sunrise. Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Spirit of the South Spirit of fire: heat and sunlight, electricity energizing life. Spirit of passion as we seek justice Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Spirit of the West Spirit of water: quenching, drenching, and dew, the fundamental molecule of life. Spirit of perseverance in the face of difficulties. Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Spirit of the North Spirit of Earth: dust and mountains, in which life teams, and from which life springs Spirit of becoming, that each moment we may start again Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Introduction On this eve of Winter Solstice, this longest night, let us acknowledge that the time has come for the Earth to rest. Just as the earth needs to rest, fields lay fallow, and seeds need the richness of the earth to seep in giving sustenance in preparation for germination, so we need a time to rest and restore. Just as our body needs sleep to rejuvenate us in daily cycles, the earth gets the rest it needs in the yearly revolution around the sun. The earth is furthest from the sun in our hemisphere, and low in the sky. Although Northern European winter is not evident in Southern California with it's nearly perpetual sun, vegetable gardens lie fallow, or freshly seeded in anticipation of the coming spring. Thus the nights have grown longer and longer until tonight, the longest night, and then the days will instead begin to lengthen.

We acknowledge pain and suffering in the world, especially the killing of innocent black men as a result of systematic racism, and the two policemen of color murdered yesterday. In this world these and other tragedies are traditionally associated with darkness. Instead of perpetuating the false association, we pray that the darkness bring healing and restoration to our broken world. May the new sun illuminate the interconnected web of life that more and more are beginning to realize.

StoryThe Rebirth of the Sun" by Starhawk

Giving Thanks Let us give thanks for that and whom we are grateful.

Prayers Let us pray for those in need.

Making Merry Feasting and Pagan Carols from Moon Path CUUPS

Dismissing the Directions Spirit of the East Spirit of air: wind and sky, the breath of life. Spirit of possibilities with each morning sunrise. Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless each of us as we part from one another.

Spirit of the South Spirit of fire: heat and sunlight, electricity energizing life. Spirit of passion as we seek justice Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless each of us as we part from one another.

Spirit of the West Spirit of water: quenching, drenching, and dew, the fundamental molecule of life. Spirit of perseverance in the face of difficulties. Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless each of us as we part from one another.

Spirit of the North Spirit of Earth: dust and mountains, in which life teams, and from which life springs Spirit of becoming, that each moment we may start again Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless us as we part from one another.

Our ritual is ended. Merry meet and merry part until we meet again. Image: Victor Hanacek Directions and Introduction: Kathleen McGregor

The Interdependent Imperative

Rev. Fred Small

Delivered on October 26, 2014

at First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist


As a boy, I was a prince of independence.

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

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

I thought I was pretty cool.

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

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

So I did.

And then the dish would disappear!

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

That was her job, right?

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

Never gave it a second thought.

Until I was 18. 

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

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

And no Mom.

I was flabbergasted.

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

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

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

It was not always so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Mitchell describes Indra’s vast net this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he remembered “The Mary Ellen Carter.”

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

Or life about to end.

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

Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

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

Rise again, rise again 

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

Like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again

Over and over and over.

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

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

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

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

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

A song. 

A life saved when others died. 

A life lost when others survived. 

Lessons learned to save other lives.

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

We never know the impact we have.

Because we’re all connected.

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

Each of us in every one of us.

Unity in diversity.  Diversity in unity.

Todos juntos para siempre.

One people.  One spirit.  One love.

Amen, Aché, and Blessed Be.

UUism and Social Justice: Don't Make Me Choose

This morning UU World announced that the sale of mineral rights, donated over two decades ago by a generous Texas couple, will net the UUA close to a million dollars, and that money will allow the UUA to close its large budget deficit without borrowing from the Endowment.  I read the news with ambivalence. On the one hand, there is the generosity of the Carpenters, which shines through in the article.  And it is a great relief to not have to dip into the Endowment.  Otoh, selling mineral rights that allow companies to drill for oil means more carbon that is taken out of the ground and burned into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. Moreover, such drilling always comes with other ecological damage - pollution of the land and water.  These things directly contradict our values and numerous social witness statements that we've passed in recent years about moving away from the use of fossil fuels, combatting global warming/climate change, and care for the interdependent web of all existence.  The UUA supported civil disobedience at the White House to stop approval of the Keystone XL pipeline in 2011 and more recently supported the People's Climate March in NYC this past Septemeber.  What's most puzzling is that this obvious conflict wasn't even mentioned in the article.

(Perhaps it should not be surprising since previous decisions such as the sale of 25 Beacon and the redesign of the UUA logo were announced similarly - with onesided positivity and no acknowledgement that some folks might find the decision troubling.)

I could go further into how the sale of mineral rights allowing oil companies to drill is so problematic and at odds with our stated values, and perhaps if necessary I will at a later time, but the thing that motivated me to write today is this: Every time the UUA does something controversial the same general pattern of conversation occurs.  Party A points out that that there is something wrong with the action.  Party B criticizes party A for being critical, suggesting that party A is (pick one or all of the following) judgemental, ungrateful, lacking joy, unwelcoming, making a mountain out of a molehill, and "no wonder we can't grow." 

It doesn't matter what the issue is, whether it's a moral/justice issue or something to do with internal organization, this pattern happens within our UU community.  And I've already seen this pattern emerge within the conversation/comments following the UU World post. 

There is some truth to the claim that we make mountains out of molehills.  For example, the mini firestorms that erupted when someone created "Standing on the Side of Love" stoles and clergy shirts.  And I totally recognize that it's hurtful to start one's objections off by attacking fellow UUs who are trying to do something for the community, no matter how vehemently we may disagree with their actions.  Assumption of good faith needs to be the foundation of our conversations with each other.  There are ways to point out how an action is problematic while still honoring the inherent worth of all parties involved, and as people in religious community we should always remember that.

That said, it is irksome to read statements suggesting that any kind of disagreement is unwelcome and/or that such criticisms are the reason why our congregations are lacking joy and no one wants to join us.  The implication being that we should never offer critique, no matter how tactfully stated, no matter how important the issue, if we want Unitarian Universalsim to be vibrant and growing, even if the criticism is that we are violating our stated values, as is the case here.  First of all, let me say that I don't believe that's true - I don't believe we have to choose between critique and healthy, happy congregations.  That is a false choice.  Secondly, even if it were true (which it's not) that one has to choose between pointing out how an action does not align with our values and growing Unitarian Universalism, I will choose the values.  Every time.  If we don't live by our values, then I don't care if we don't grow.

That last sentence should not even be considered a controversial statement.  It really shouldn't. So finally the reason for this post: Growth for its own sake is not inherently good.  Unitarian Universalism for its own sake is not inherently good.  These things are good only in so far as they promote the greater good, for humankind, for our sibling sentient beings, for our Mother Earth. 

There are so many admonitions within Buddhist traditions about confusing the vehicle for the destination.  Zen warns us to not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.  The Buddha warned us not to hold tightly to rafts that might have safely carried us across waters but then become burdensome to carry on dry land.  The point is that we need to always be aware of what the true goal is and what are just vehicles that can carry us to that goal.  For me, the goal is the Beloved Community, or as my family's Buddhist tradition would put it, the Pure Land.  The Land where systemic oppression does not exist, exploitation of the Earth and her children (both human and otherwise) does not exist, where beings are unencumbered by the suffering caused by injustice and thus can reach their fullest potentials, whatever those potentials might be.  That is the goal (for me).  Unitarian Universalism is a vehicle to help us reach that goal.  A worthy vehicle that I love, filled with people whom I love, but still just a vehicle.  (The Buddha said the same thing of Buddhism, urging us to even let go of his teachings if they get in the way.)  I believe that Unitarian Universalism can help us reach the Pure Land, which is why I am a UU. And despite occassional missteps, I have faith that we will eventually always do the right thing.  But if it comes down to having to choose between UUism and a just, sustainable world where our Earth and her inhabitants are not exploited for profit, then yes, I choose the latter.  I would hope that after careful consideration, no UU would ever really demand such a choice.


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