Indian Independence Day for Khasi Unitarians

This guest post on our blog is by Dranwell Barishisha “Barri” Mukhim. Barri is a member of the Unitarian Union of North East India; here, she writes about what Indian Independence Day (August 15) means to her as a Khasi Unitarian.


India was freed from about 300 years of British Rule on the 15th August 1947. It is marked each year with a national festival celebrated with great splendour and joy in every nook and corner of India. On this day, we have different cultural programmes dedicated to all those freedom fighters who gave us this auspicious golden day: a free India. This tradition is patriotically celebrated all over the country regardless of religions, tribes, classes, cultures or geographical distinction. Together, we all love to show our respect to the great Indian nation.

Independence Day 3Indian Independence Day is coming. My heart longs to be there at the ground watching the parade mostly by the armed and paramilitary forces with music of various kinds to wake us all from our slumbering daily chores to the beating of the patriotic songs and drums. As we watch, the various performances from different government departments showcase their achievements and successes.  It is a heart-warming sight.

As a child growing up in a village, we used to participate in the Independence Day celebrations in our respective schools where the Indian flag was hoisted. We took part in the parade among the students within the school followed by our solemn singing of the national anthem. We also sang and danced and sometimes we even enjoyed watching a movie about the independence struggle.

Barri and other Khasi Unitarians live in Meghalaya, a state in Northeast India.
Barri and other Khasi Unitarians live in Meghalaya, a state in Northeast India.

Many citizens are passionate about Mother India, but there are some who have secessionist tendency. Some of us, as tribal people in Northeast India, are struggling with the idea of being neglected by the mainland in many ways. Patriotism is dying gradually from our hearts, especially with the rise of insurgency militants claiming that they fight for our rights and also trying to spread the ideology that we are not Indian by blood. For the last many years we were not allowed to participate in the Independence Day parade because certain insurgent groups imposed a Bandh (public curfew) on the people. Many years have passed with people staying indoors for fear of being targeted. This gradually has become a habit so that people do not have the same kind of enthusiasm anymore. But life has started to rejuvenate again after the Court banned the Bandhs and no newspapers are allowed to publish or write on Bandhs. So, Meghalaya is now officially a Bandh-free state. Patriotic people are seen again at the parade ground.

Unitarians do not celebrate Independence Day separately as a religious community, but the holiday means a lot to us as citizens. We know that we are all Indians in an Indian soil, irrespective of regions or religions. India is a secular country; we celebrate Independence Day as one people. No rituals but only festivities are to be seen on this national day.

Politically, Indian Independence Day means a lot to Khasi Unitarians.  Khasis are a microscopic tribe in the great Indian sea of over 1.3 billion people.  Moreover, Khasi Unitarians are still a tiny minority among the whole Khasi tribe (of about two million people in the whole world).  Under current circumstances, I think as a tribe we cannot survive politically if we stand alone when we are sandwiched between the growing Indian and Bangladeshi populations. Our niche is much better with the Indian side than with any other country. Genetic studies have shown that we migrated in pre-historic times to these hills from mainland India, carrying with us many traits typical of Indians.  Moreover, Hinduism is a major religion in India and I consider Khasi Unitarianism as an offshoot of Hinduism. Hindus are generally religious and tolerant people that inherently allow a tribal culture to grow. Hence, I am proud to be Indian and willingly honour and celebrate the Indian Independence Day.

Barri, on the left in the front row, marches in a 4th of July parade with UUs in Seattle.
Barri, on the left in the front row, marches in a 4th of July parade with Unitarians in Seattle.

I was in the US on July 4th recently. It was overwhelming for me to be part of the American Independence Day celebration along with Unitarian friends in and around Seattle. I joined the parade with the East Shore Unitarian group; it was a joy to be there. For the first time in my life, I read the American Declaration of Independence which part of it I would like to quote here:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Independence Day 1I have a reason to borrow these lines. Being a Khasi Unitarian, I can see the spirit of the people all over the world is still overflowing with passion and love endowed by the Creator. Our inner self (conscience) is full of that love that can be shown in many different ways, such as being patriotic, even if our religion does not specifically teach us to be patriotic. On this Independence Day, I will be running with my children and the people of Shillong for peace and goodwill not only as a Unitarian but as a faithful citizen of India. We will be there at the parade ground to celebrate our Indian Independence Day and to instill in my young children, how to be passionate and patriotic about their country; this too means a lot to them. Jai Hind! (Long Live India!)

Unitarian Day 2015

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September 18th marks the 128th anniversary of the birth of Khasi Unitarianism. On this day in1887, Hajjom Kissor Singh started the journey of organized Unitarianism in North East India.

According to The Shillong Times, this year’s celebration was marked with a day-long program which included morning prayers at 9 am, a worship service at 2 pm, sports for children at 4 pm and a torch procession at 5.30 pm. Religious heads of different denominations attended a candle lighting. The theme of the celebration is ‘Religious Tolerance and Liberalism – the Need of the Hour’.

From The Times of India:

Unitarianism is a unique movement in the realms of spiritualism which draws its theology largely from the indigenous Khasi religion.

 

Meghalaya perhaps is the only state in the country where there is a state holiday on this day.

 

As with traditional Khasi faith, the major emphasis of Khasi unitarianism is to carry out one’s duty towards God and fellow humans. Unitarians stress on the unity of God as opposed to trinity…

 

In the Khasi-Jaintia Hills, the movement was founded by Babu Hajom Kissor Singh (June 15, 1865-November 13, 1923). He came from a Christian family, but was dissatisfied with the orthodox Christian doctrine of his time.

 

With the help of Khasi Brahmos and American Unitarians, in 1887 he began the Unitarian movement at Jowai with three companions. He called his faith “Ka Niam Untarian’ (The Unitarian Religion.) On September 18, 1887, an anniversary date Khasi Unitarians celebrate, Singh led the first real church service at his home in Jowai.

 

A bright student, Singh became a “questioning member” of the Methodist Church, doubting orthodox Christianity. Singh observed that the Welsh missionaries had done away with the fear of demons only to replace it with fear of hell. He concluded from his studies that he would have to leave their church to seek “the true religion of Jesus, the love of God.”

 

Adapting some of the traditional values of Khasi culture, Singh defined Khasi unitarianism in terms of duty to God, to fellow humans and to oneself.

A warm congratulations to our Khasi Brothers & Sisters on this year’s anniversary! TO NANGROI 128!

Enjoy the following videos, which commemorate past Unitarian Day celebrations:

From East Shore Unitarian & their partner churches in Smit & Kharang:

From the 125th celebration:

Standing on the Side of Love in Australia

Rev. Rob MacPherson, minister of the Unitarian Church of South Australia (UCSA), and his congregation are advocating on behalf of the rights of Australia’s asylum-seekers.

At a recent street protest outside the Adelaide offices of the federal Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, UCSA members witnessed on the side of love in demand of human rights. He writes:

Recent Australian governments (of both major parties) have orchestrated and conducted a cruel and illegal policy of mandatory offshore detention of vulnerable people fleeing persecution in the region.

 

Those detained are often held for years in squalid camps in nearby countries who are themselves unable to resist the coercion of this larger more powerful nation.
The conditions in these camps have been confirmed as squalid and dehumanizing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and many other international bodies.

 

There have been deaths, riots, hunger strikes, and physical violence visited upon asylum-seekers by locally hired agents of private security firms. Children in these camps (yes, children are incarcerated too) are suffering from acute anxiety and depression and other psychological developmental issues.

 

Cognizant of our UU first principle, many in our church find we cannot be silent about this. Hence, our fund-raising and sponsoring of the Refugee Portrait Exhibition, which has traveled the state. Hence also, our on-going direct action at rallies, such as the one depicted (in the photos above).

Last April, Rev. MacPherson gave a talk at the congregation related to this ongoing issue, which you can hear below:

UCSApodcast

 

“Our lamps may be different, but light is the same”

robmacphersonIn the wake of the horrific school shooting in Pakistan earlier this week, community leaders in Adelaide, Australia, organized a peace vigil to honor the innocent lives lost. Drawing a multicultural, interfaith crowd of over 300, all who attended came together to mourn and to heal. Minister of the Unitarian Church of South Australia, Rev. Rob MacPherson, offered the following words at the vigil, printed here with permission.

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Good evening. I want to offer a thought that might kindle some light for us in this dark time.

Just last Sunday, a beautiful thing happened at our church—I wish you all could have seen it. We held a service in which Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Ba’hai, Unitarians, and Muslims came together to worship as one body–an interfaith service. This service was followed by a shared meal, during which people of these different faiths broke bread together and shared fellowship.

Guess what happened? No one died. No one made threats or was threatened. No one feared for their safety. No voices were raised, except in laughter. The peaceful fellowship we enjoyed that day was more than cordiality, more than the politeness that goes with the religious practice of welcoming the stranger at your table. It had more to do with really seeing that, as the poet Rumi said, ‘our lamps may be different, but light is the same’. And so we could let the diversity of our faiths just be, together knowing that abundant plurality is how God actually expresses itself in this infinite, expanding, and varied creation. And for a brief time, we looked at the light, and we saw that it was good. (more…)

UU Basel Joins Hands with OnePeople

Lorraine Rytz-Thériault, of the Unitarian Universalists of Basel, Switzerland, shares the following update from the fellowship’s social action program.

UU Basel’s Social Action program is still young in the making, yet strong in its conviction in supporting causes that align with our UU Principles. OnePeople, a new Swiss Verein (Association) with a global reach, is proving to be a good fit. Their global initiative of making our connection as One Human Race a tangible, lived experience – by creating human-chains spanning the world – is a celebration of a one world community that’s dear to our beliefs.

UU Basel members, aged from 7 to 70+ turned out on 20th September to participate in OnePeople-Day 2014. We joined hands & hearts, together with hundreds of people encircling the beautiful Schützenmatt park proclaiming OnePeople’s message, ‘We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin – and we all belong to ONE human race.’

It was a grand opportunity to debut our Standing on the Side of Love yellow t-shirts, and to share UU publications while speaking to people about our UU Basel fellowship as an open, inclusive and welcoming faith community. We invite you to save the date 20th September 2015, as this annual event definitely deserves a growing global following. UU Basel plans to be there!

A Lost Soul

UU-UNO LogoOn Sunday, July 6th, Ebenezer, an active HIV patient, AIDS orphan, and one of the students in the Mayne Krobo Region of Ghana whom the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office assists through the Every Child is Our Child program, passed away. He was admitted to the local hospital at around 6:20 pm and died soon after. While active and happy as usual at school on Friday and playing football, one of his favorite pastimes, on Sunday morning with friends, he complained of severe headaches and was quickly rushed to the hospital on Sunday afternoon. We have been informed that no autopsy will be administered, but that the cause of death has been officially declared as AIDS.

UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts and Ebenezer
UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts and Ebenezer

This news comes as a shock to us all, as Ebenezer had been very healthy in the past, had supportive foster parents, and was successfully taking anti-retroviral medication for several years. Ebenezer is the second child of the Every Child is Our Child program to pass on, both of whom tested positive for HIV.

The UU-UNO wishes to convey its deepest sympathies for all of Ebenezer family and friends, many of whom have shown deep admiration and love for him. The Director of the UU-UNO, Bruce Knotts, expressed that during his trips to the ECOC schools, the Queen Mothers of Ghana always put Ebenezer on the itinerary of house visits, and as a result, Mr. Knotts got to know Ebenezer and made sure to visit him. This fact makes his passing all the more painful for all of us at the UU-UNO as we mourn this dear child.

To learn more about the ECOC program and how you can donate, please visit our website here.

In Remembrance of the Manya Krobo Paramount Queen Mother

Paramount queen mother

In Remembrance of Madam Mary Rose Quist

(Nana Manye Mamle Okleyo)

Manya Krobo Paramount Queen Mother

(1920-2013)

Capture

During our February 7-14 visit to the Every Child is Our Child Project in Ghana, we were saddened to learn of the passing of the Paramount Queen Mother of the Manya Krobo People.  Over the years, many of us have met this beautiful woman who radiated love and kindness.  Everyone who met her remarked that they felt a sense of peace and tranquility while in her presence.  Our largest delegation met her in 2012 (See the photos below).  On the last day of our visit this year, we learned that the Paramount Queen Mother had passed away after a brief illness at the age of 93.  Her funeral Ceremony will take place in Odumase-Krobo, Ghana, West Africa and will commence Friday the 28th of March and will end with a church thanks giving service on Sunday the 30th.

Our program administrator, Joseph will attend the thanks giving service on Sunday and the UU-UNO has invited Marti Johnson Demos, a UU working at the American Embassy in Accra to represent us at the memorial services.

Our deepest condolences to her family, friends and community.

 

Paramunt queen mother with Peter Moralez

A traditional gift of Schnapps given to Bruce Knotts from the Queen Mothers.
A traditional gift of Schnapps given to Bruce Knotts from the Queen Mothers.

 

 

 

 

    

 

Uganda Passes the Anti Homosexuality Bill

On Friday, December 20,index 2013, the Ugandan Parliament passed the long-dreaded kill-the-gays bill otherwise known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. 

The bill, as passed, does not call for the death penalty; instead, it mandates life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” However, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has not yet signed the bill and much remains unclear about what has transpired today, and more importantly, what will happen in the days to come.

Followers of this story, which began in 2009, will remember that the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament had promised to pass the bill as a Christmas present last year; though delayed, it seems the Speaker made good on his promise, to the dismay of LGBTQ activists all around the world.

There remains much that we don’t know.  We have yet to get a copy of the bill to know exactly what it says.  There have also been questions as to whether the Ugandan Parliament actually had a quorum today, which is necessary to pass any legislation. 

President Museveni has long been against the passage of this bill, knowing the international consequences and stating that Uganda already has sufficient anti-homosexuality legislation to fully criminalize homosexuality in Uganda.  However, on his visit to Nigeria two weeks ago, Museveni’s tune began to change; he called on Nigeria to support his stand against Western governments, imploring the nation to follow his lead to “preserve African culture.” During this same visit, Museveni was quoted as wondering why the west is “not concerned about the development of my country, they are only concerned about gays.”  

Nigeria also passed an anti-same sex marriage bill this week. Both the Ugandan and Nigerian bills call for lengthy prison terms (life imprisonment in the former and 15 years in the latter). Groups combating HIV/AIDS are urging both nations not to sign into effect their respective anti-homosexual policies as doing so compromises efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in both countries.

Our partners at Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) have issued the following statement on the passage of the bill:

SMUG has learnt that the Bill as passed by Parliament maintains the prohibition of consensual same sex acts between adults and prescribes a penalty of life imprisonment for so-called repeat offenders. It also requires “persons in authority, including persons exercising religious or social authority to report offences under the Act within twenty four hours or else face imprisonment for three years or a fine.” Furthermore, the Bill maintains the offence of “Promotion of Homosexuality” against anyone who acts as an accomplice or in any way abets homosexuality and “related practices.”

 

“I’m outraged and disappointed that the Uganda parliament has acted in a very ignorant and irrational way” said Frank Mugisha the Executive Director, SMUG. “We shall fight this legislation TO THE END.” he asserts.

Read the full statement here.

A UU-UNO former intern Russell Hathaway, now a student at the University of Chicago, has prepared a detailed history of LGBTI issues in Uganda.  To read this, please click here: LGBT Rights Uganda.

The UU United Nations Office is in touch with all of our partners in Uganda, seeking to better understand what the bill says, how that will manifest, and if it has even legally passed. We’ll be following up with actions UU’s can take to stand in solidarity with the Ugandan LGBTQ community once our partners advise us on how best to support them at this difficult time.

In the meantime, your support in our ongoing efforts to combat global homophobia is needed now more than ever: Please donate to the UU-UNO today.

Polish Unitarianism, Then and Now (Plus Prague)

Image links to original source on Flickr

A Study Tour with the Rev. Dr. John A. Buehrens and the Rev. Dr. Jay Atkinson

July 1 to 13, 2014

Join two leaders and leading historians of Unitarianism on a visit to Poland and Prague. Born of Czechoslovak heritage, Dr. Buehrens as a seminarian helped to research the Eastern European history of early Unitarianism as assistant to the late Prof. Geo. Hunston Williams, author of The Radical Reformation. John visited Poland in 1985, to meet people in the Solidarity movement. Dr. Atkinson last visited Poland in 2004 and has written on the history and social ethics of early Polish Unitarians, and their Italian-born leader, Faustus Socinus.

Perhaps the first real “process theologian,” Socinus had a transformative effect not only in Poland – before being suppressed in the Counter-Reformation – but also in Western European religious thought through Milton, Locke, and others, and thence to America. Denied basic rights along with Jews, as non-believers in the Trinity, the last of the Polish Unitarians may have died at Auschwitz, which will be visited during the tour. Since 1989, Polish Unitarianism has risen from the dead. Hosts for this study tour will include leaders of today’s Polish Unitarians who are reviving our heritage there; several Transylvanian Unitarian ministers may join the study tour as well. (more…)

No Longer in My Name: A Faith-Based Response to Faith-Based Intolerance

 

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In over 76 countries, religion is used as a rationale to oppress people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Now is the time for people of faith to respond to faith-based intolerance and, on June 12, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office and other organizations joined together to do just that. Over 100 people gathered in the United Nations Church Center for a screening of the film God Loves Uganda, a new documentary by filmmaker Roger Ross Williams about the importation of Western evangelical values into Uganda.  Following the film, attendees listened to

The Esteemed Interfaith Panel
The Esteemed Interfaith Panel

testimony from a Ugandan refugee and engaged in a discussion about the film with five interfaith clergy members. The evening concluded with a message from Ugandan UU Minister Mark Kiyimba, urging everyone to support Ugandan faith leaders in their work for LGBTI equality. Click here to watch the video. The evening was greatly informative for all, and left everyone inspired to support Ugandan work for equality and to strive for change in their own countries.

God Loves UgandaThe documentary God Loves Uganda premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2013, and has won numerous awards at film festivals. It tells the story of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), an evangelical Christian organization that sends missionaries around the world to spread the word of God. IHOP’s leaders have focused many of

their missionary efforts on Uganda, a place they believe is ripe with the possibility for spiritual renewal—in part because half of the population is under 15. IHOP sends young Americans to communities throughout Uganda, to build churches and minister to people and even provide social services, but the IHOP missionaries rsz_img_4073also spread their evangelical values, including homophobia.  Widespread persecution of LGBTI people has forced many to flee the country and led to the murder of others, including gay activist David Kato, and has culminated in an American-influenced Anti-Homosexuality bill being introduced into the Ugandan parliament. The bill, often referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill, would make homosexual behavior punishable by life imprisonment or even death. God Loves Uganda seeks to raise
awareness of what is happening not just in Uganda, but around the world, and is a powerful call for international support for LGBTI rights.

rsz_img_4098 The evening opened with an introduction by Bruce Knotts, Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, who spoke about the importance of the film and of faith support for LGBTI rights. After the screening of God Loves Uganda, a refugee from Uganda gave a powerful testimony affirming the accuracy of the film and spoke about his experiences and the importance of international advocacy. A panel of clergy members—Rev. Eric Cherry from the Unitarian Universalist Association, Imam Daaiyee Abdullah from Muslims for Progressive Values, Pastor Joseph Tolton from Rehoboth Church, Rabbi Deborah Hirsch from Congregation Shaaray Tefila, and Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer from United Church of Christ—then answered questions posed by Mordechai Levovitz, event organizer and Co-Director of Jewish Orthodox Queer Youth, about the film and faith-based advocacy. Although the clergy members came from different religious traditions, their values and beliefs in equality were remarkably similar, and they all expressed the importance of supporting and getting involved in work for LGBTI equality.

rsz_img_4092After the event, many attendees expressed how much they appreciated the speakers’ testimonies, and how powerful they found the film. The evening truly brought together a community of faith and faith allies to support equality and interfaith activism, and showed that, if we join together, we can change the world. No Longer in My Name was cosponsored by the United Nations NGO Committee for Human Rights, the Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, Muslims for Progressive Values, American Jewish World Service, Union of Reform Judaism, Jewish Orthodox Queer Youth, GLAAD, Bronx LGBTQ Center, and Love Beyond Borders.

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