In celebration of October 24th, UN Day, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office invites congregations and individual UUs to deepen their understanding of the United Nations by devoting one service with this topic in October. This service reaffirms the connections between UU principles and vital issues dealt with at the UN. The UN Office offers the UN Sunday 2012 Resource Packet as a resource for congregations to plan a meaningful UN Sunday. This blog post will provide readings, meditations, reflections, and poems that follow our 2012 topic of Race and Immigration. Keep checking back this blog post for weekly contributions as we encourage you to utilize these resources for your UN Sunday Service and events.
Our final reading for our 2012 UN Sunday celebrity contributions was written by Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray who is the senior minister at the UU Congregation of Phoenix, Arizona. This contribution is an excerpt from one of her sermons, Love Boldly. At the conclusion of this excerpt is a poem written by Alberto Blanco (as well as the English translation).
Excerpt from Love Boldly
Compassion. Compassion was the theme of Karen Armstrong’s Ware Lecture at last year’s General Assembly. In her lecture, Armstrong showed how compassion is at the heart of the world’s religious traditions. It is embodied in expressions of the Golden Rule found in Judaism, Confucism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and more. That which is hateful to you, that which would cause you pain, refuse to do to another.
Armstrong spoke not only to the principle of compassion at the heart of religious teaching, but the practice of compassion as a goal of the religious life, the work of ongoing practice and mindfulness, the work of learning to stretch one’s heart to reach out to another. Not in pity, which she described as a false definition of compassion, but “to suffer with,” “to endure with” another their pain. This definition of compassion removes barriers. Pity maintains distance, and also protects privilege. True compassion seeks to remove that distance and break down walls of separation and division.
A. Powell Davies offers this same powerful message, calling us to be a religion that says “we will never have hearts big enough for the love of God, until we have made the big enough for the worldwide love of one another.” The love of God, this is the ultimate goal expressed by so many religions, the path to salvation some would say. Yet, what Davies says, echoing the teachings and scriptures of long ago–is that this achievement, this Love, is found only through the work of stretching our hearts to reach out in universal compassion to the whole family of humankind.
And so, we have evidence everywhere of this religious, this spiritual message. And yet, everywhere we have a reality in direct opposition to this teaching. We live in a world of enmity and cruelty, of oppression and fear. A world in need of compassion, in need of a bold expression of love and solidarity. This is especially evident in Arizona in this moment of our nation’s history.
But living here in Arizona and being in close relationship with communities under attack, the worst part is that the pain and the tragedy is not due to acts of God, or acts of nature, or even the actions of one violent offender. No, here it is an entire system of oppression, it is laws and policies, and cruelty bearing down on a people, on children, on families. It is by design meant to be overly punitive and terrifying. It is meant to make an entire group of people feel so threatened that they leave, or that they hide in the shadows instead of demanding their rights. Good people, people who we have for decades depended on for their labor, for their hard work. People who have worked hard for a better life–for a dream for their children. And it is by design a reality, that a person of privilege like myself could live everyday never seeing.
And yet, in the midst of the daily attacks–there is hope. And that hope is found in the grassroots organizing efforts of neighborhoods, of workers, of Dream Act students, refusing to hide. This hope was epitomized in the story of Katherine Figueroa (Fee gar ro ah), in the movie Two Americans, that a few of us saw last night. After this 9 year old had both her parents arrested in a raid on a local car wash–she refused to cry in the shadows. Instead she came out, working through Tonatierra and the CDB’s (in English, the Barrio or Neighborhood Defense Committees). She told her story.
She stood up to Sheriff Arpaio and to President Obama. Instead of hiding, she–this fierce and beautiful 9 year old girl–starting demanding her rights and the rights of her parents, she fought for her family and to protect other families and other kids. Just over 3 months later, her parents were released although their deportation hearing is next summer, so their future remains uncertain.
The poet Alberto Blanco writes, “I ask myself—where’s my place?” It is human to seek out our place, our tribe, to where we belong. And indeed there is a bond we feel as Unitarian Universalist, particularly as colleagues and it energizing and powerful to be with one another and to share these bonds of belonging.
And yet, one of the most powerful things we are called to do as we live out the call to Love at the heart of our faith is to move beyond those walls–and to begin to see the world the way another person sees it. But something happens when we do this–compassion changes us. Stepping out of our own tribe to walk with another, to follow the lead of another, changes us.
This is why the distance between the prophets vision and world we live it is so great, because when you step beyond the walls, when you truly seek to walk in solidarity and love with another person, you see walls you never saw before. And sometimes in that work, the walls seem even bigger, more insurmountable, because before they were so hidden. And this is humbling and even frightening. For ones you begin to step across the boundaries of your own tribe, it means it is not easy, not possible, even not desirable to go back to that one small tribe. It makes a person question even more deeply, where is my place? And then, then, to dream of a “large tribe, a strong tribe, a tribe in which no one is left out–a tribe we can’t even talk about.”
Let us be humble guests who see our role as one of solidarity and support. Who see our part, our small part, as allies in this movement, to turn the tide in this state and in this country from fear to love.
May we all learn to walk out of the confines of our small tribes to prove the
existence of a tribe “that’s always been.”
To be a part of
“A tribe that’s never been
but whose existence
we can prove right now.”
por Alberto Blanco
La tierra es la misma
el cielo es otro.
El cielo es el mismo
la tierra es otra.
De lago en lago,
de bosque en bosque:
¿cual es mi tribu?
¿cual es mi lugar?
Tal vez pertenezco a la tribu
de los que no tienen tribu;
o a la tribu de las ovejas negras;
o a una tribu cuyos ancestros vienen del futuro:
una tribu que está por llegar.
Pero si he de pertenecer a alguna tribu
que sea a una tribu grande,
que sea una tribu fuerte,
una tribu donde nadie
quede fuera de la tribu,
todo y siempre
tengan su santo lugar.
No hablo de una tribu humana.
No hablo de una tribu planetaria.
No hablo siquiera de una tribu universal.
Hablo de una tribu de la que no se puede hablar.
Una tribu que ha existido siempre
pero cuya existencia está todavía por ser comprobada.
Una tribu que no ha existido nunca
pero cuya existencia
podemos ahora mismo comprobar.
MY TRIBE (translation by James Nolan)
by Alberto Blanco
Earth is the same
Sky is the same
From lake to lake, forest to forest:
which tribe is mine?
—I ask myself—
where’s my place?
Perhaps I belong to the tribe
of those who have none;
or to the black sheep tribe;
or to a tribe whose ancestors come from the future:
a tribe on the horizon.
But if I have to belong to some tribe
—I tell myself—
make it a large tribe,
make it a strong tribe,
one in which nobody is left out,
in which everybody,
for once and for all
has a God-given place.
I’m not talking about a human tribe.
I’m not talking about a planetary tribe.
I’m not even talking about a universal one.
I’m talking about a tribe you can’t talk about.
A tribe that’s always been
but whose existence must yet be proven.
A tribe that’s never been
but whose existence
we can prove right now.
The stirring and inspirational poem below was contributed by Clyde E. Grubbs, Minister at Large, Tuckerman Creative Ministries, and Trustee at Large, Unitarian Universalist Association Board.
Touch hands, and feel the warmth of another human being.
Touch hands, and help create the physical symbol
of a caring community.
Touch hands, and know that this is a place where the deeper issues of life will be faced and shared, and strength to cope with them will be generated, where the wholeness and holiness of life will be affirmed.
So let us go, and let the peace that passes all understanding, the peace of this community, go with you. Amen.
Reflection: Riding a Bus in Alabama
I was on the #14 bus, reading a book on my way to work. The bus stopped. A young Latina, holding a few bags, stood at the stop. She asked the driver a question in Spanish. The problem was: the driver did not speak Spanish. The problem was: the driver did not understand. He was in a hurry. The route always runs late. He asked where she wanted to go. The problem was: she did not speak English. The problem was: she did not understand. She looked perplexed and distressed. He looked perplexed and distressed. He motioned for her to just get on – he had to go. She did not get on.
He closed the door. I asked him to wait. “Wait,” I said, “that lady needs to go somewhere.” He drove off.
In front of me, two ladies shook their heads. Before I could commiserate with them about the callousness of the driver, the white woman said, “See. There’s the problem.” The black woman said, “Those people – the Mexicans – come over here…most of them can’t speak English.” The problem was: I just heard my African American sister talk about “those people.” The problem was: she and I were “those people” not too long ago.
When routes and schedules are more important than the needs of the people, there is a problem. When we forget our history – a history that we even lived through ourselves – and start to repeat the worst of it, there is a problem. When some people have the freedom to ride the bus and some can only ride in the back and some cannot ride at all because we do not take the time needed to truly communicate, there is a problem in Alabama.
The problem is: sometimes we are all Alabama.
Life force that flows through all beings,
Power beyond our knowing,We ask you to help us see beyond our dependence on opposites—
To transcend our desire to know who is like us, and who is unlike us.Open us to the knowledge that in this room
there are complexities and diversities of identities
beyond black and white,
old and young,woman and man,
poor and rich,
uneducated and educated,
disabled and able-bodied,
gay and straight,
ill and healthy,
wrong and right,
broken and whole.In this room there are people who embody juxtaposition,
who can tell stories written on their bodies about both and neither,
who carry intimate pieces of the truth that there is
no such thing
as opposites.Spirit of many names and of no name at all,
Help us find release from our belief that all things must be either/or,
this belief that walls us off from one another,
ensnaring us in a battle of same versus different.Help us to open our minds,
to deeply listen,
and to truly know one another,
finally glimpsing the kaleidoscopic beauty of the divine.
People seldom forgive those whom they have wronged
In 1828, as the Cherokees were being threatened with removal from their land in the Southeastern United States, Unitarian Lydia Maria Child published The First Settlers of New-England, in which she recounted the genocidal actions of the Puritans as they took from the First Nations the lands of what is now called New England. She explores the Puritan effort to reconcile their actions with their commitments as a people of faith. Her words haunt me:
However strong were their convictions of the justice of their cause, however plausible were their arguments in defence of their usurpations, they were unable to silence the voice of conscience; and they vainly attempted to escape from the remorse, which, with all its terrors, seizes on the hearts of the guilty, by redoubling their superstitious observances. They fasted and prayed, and the austerities they imposed on themselves and others destroyed in a great degree all social enjoyment; and whilst they were systematically planning the destruction of the Indians, they were sharply engaged in discussing with each other points of faith altogether unimportant or incomprehensible.
. . .
People seldom forgive those whom they have wronged, and the first settlers appear to have fostered a mortal aversion to the Indians, whom they had barbarously destroyed.
As it was for Child, for us to read the pamphlets and sermons of early New Englanders is to witness the tortured theologizing of a people wishing to justify slavery and genocide while affirming their own goodness. Such a feat, logical or theological, requires some perverse moral gymnastics.
The destruction of the First Nations is one example; United States history is chock-full of more. In 1848, the United States drummed up a pretext for going to war with the newly independent Mexico. Despite many voices raised in moral objections to war, United States voters elected a federal government that pledged to use the chaos of that time to force the Mexican government to cede two-thirds of its territory, including most of Mexico’s ports and natural resources. The pattern of U.S. dominance has continued: For more than a century, our nation has used military power to enforce the “right” of American corporations to exploit resources and labor across Central America. More recently, trade agreements have caused massive economic dislocation for millions. To go with the long history of exploitation and immorality, our nation has an equally long history of denying and justifying immoral behavior, continuing to represent ourselves as morally good and decent. And our public debates blame those we have exploited. People seldom forgive those whom they have wronged.
To be sure, we are a nation with high ideals, Enlightenment values like “liberty and justice for all,” which we would love to believe define us as a nation. The U.S. is called the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” We tell schoolchildren that our nation reaches out to welcome outsiders, saying “Give me your tired, your poor…” At the same time, we are a nation with a stunningly violent history. Over and over again in the U.S., the dominant group usurps land, labor, and culture from other people. Our economic system rests as firmly on slavery, genocide, imperialism, and exploitation as it does on ingenuity and hard work. And many of us struggle to reconcile our high ideals with the reality of what is being done by us and in our name. The moral and spiritual gymnastics necessary to assure ourselves of our own goodness as a nation are an integral part of the legacy of our Founding Fathers enshrined in the Preambles to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The debates about immigration today showcase another iteration of these perverse moral and spiritual gymnastics. Again, tortured logic dominates our civic discourse as many seek to reconcile the reality of our nation’s deeds with our need to understand ourselves as a moral people, a good people, and an example for the world. Our national conversation regarding immigration starts with topics such as tough law enforcement and border enforcement. Shouldn’t it start with questions, such as why people want to come to the United States, what richness immigrants add to our society and culture, and what obligations a wealthy country, arguably, has to the people and lands it has exploited on its way to wealth? I think often about Lydia Maria Child’s astute observation (written when she was 26 years old!). Though her observations are not pretty, they do help explain why many in our country feel compelled to see those who come without documents as law-breakers and moochers, rather than as economic refugees, people who are seeking a way to make it economically in a world that has dealt them an impossible hand. It is necessary to engage in those perverse moral gymnastics that make “us” good and “them” bad. The debate moves to “illegal is illegal,” without any acknowledgement that the laws – and the immigration system – make “legal” access impossible for many people who are already living here. I have heard people who are comfortable financially, with more than adequate housing, education, and medical care, speak about how “they” cost “us” too much, as though those whose labor the nation cheerfully exploits are too expensive to be treated like human beings. Even the Dream Act rests on the premise that somehow the dreamers are innocent of law-breaking – unlike, presumably, their parents – and will contribute to our nation’s economy – who, presumably, do not. We work hard to deny the spiritual and moral dissonance that comes with exploiting and despising people at the same time.
I’ve believed for a long time that the spiritual and moral energy we, as a nation, must use to avoid facing both past and current national abuses keeps us also from fully realizing the power of the vision that gave birth to this nation. Our national story can be read as a long journey to reconcile the contradiction that has been with us since the beginning. For an individual, the first step to healing from a spiritual wound or a moral failure is to face the truth about actions, good and bad, and resolve to try to live more fully according to one’s values. For a community or a nation, a truth and reconciliation process, undertaken together, may help free participants, communities, and nations from the thrall of past injustices. What would happen if our immigration debates began with truth-telling, and not with the perverse spiritual and moral gymnastics that allow us to despise or de-humanize others? What would happen if people of faith and conscience, including Unitarian Universalists, decided to acknowledge and untangle what Child called “the remorse that seizes on the hearts of the guilty,” and work to be more accountable to the beautiful words of our own national vision? What spiritual, moral, cultural, political, and economic forces would be released? I, for one, would like to give it a try. Please join me.
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