2014-07-05

This Week's Prayer

Dear abiding ground of belonging, security, home,

On this weekend of celebration and fireworks on behalf of our nation, let us give thanks.

We are grateful for our homeland of resources, wealth, opportunity, and relative stability.

We are grateful for our homeland that affirms that we are all created equal, that we are endowed with unalienable rights, that our government is accountable to us.

Let us also today remember the dispossessed, without a homeland in which they can be at home.

We remember in prayer 50 million refugees in the world today, driven from their homes by privation, hunger, or conflict.

We remember the 2.5 million people in Syria who have fled and the 6.5 million displaced.

We remember the 75,000 people in Pakistan who, in the last two weeks, have been forced to flee their homes because of a military offensive in the North Waziristan tribal region.

We remember those in refugee camps in Chad, whose food rations have been reduced by up to 60 percent.

We remember 338,000 refugees in Liberia, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Ghana, Mauritania and Uganda whose rations have been reduced by five to 43 percent.

We remember 10,000 people in Iraq displaced from predominantly Christian communities near Mosul.

We remember 54,000 displaced by conflict in Ukraine.

We remember the thousands displaced by fighting in Central African Republic.

We remember the 280,000 in Haiti who are still in camps after the 2010 earthquake -- over four and a half years later.

We remember all those, throughout the world seeking asylum, seeking a home of peace and opportunity.

On this weekend for celebrating the American Revolution for independence, may we commit ourselves anew to the completion of the revolution that will bring to all a home and homeland of justice and peace.

Amen.

2014-07-04

Unknown Freedom: Intercultural Sensitivity 2

It's been a few weeks now since Juneteenth, and the Fourth of July is here. I am noticing the contrast. When independence was declared, word spread quickly and everywhere. When emancipation was proclaimed, it took two and half years to reach Texas.

Imagine that it has been decreed that you are free -- yet you don’t know you are. Actually, isn't that our condition? We are inherently free – as surely as, as our first principle proclaims, our worth and dignity is inherent. Yet the message of our freedom hasn't reached into all the corners of our consciousness. So we trudge on in bondage.

This Juneteenth story is an allegory for our lives today.

A story from the Buddhist tradition tells of a father who was dying. He called in his only child, a dissolute youth whom he knew would waste away the family wealth on gambling and pleasures. He gave the son a coat, and said, "You’re about to get all my wealth. It’s yours to do with whatever you choose – no stipulations. I only ask you to promise me one thing: that you will never sell, give away, or wager this coat." The young man promises. Shortly, the old man dies, the son inherits. Just as his father had foreseen, the son begins squandering his inheritance. Within two years, he has lost everything and is homeless and penniless. He did, however, keep the one promise. He still has the coat. One night, as he’s preparing to sleep along a street, he’s rolling up the coat to make a pillow and notices a hard lump in the lining. He opens the seam and discovers a priceless jewel his father had put there.

We live impoverished, not knowing that all along we are carrying a jewel beyond price. This priceless jewel is in fact our birthright – a birthright of freedom. Yet our freedom can be obscured from us.

Freedom is relational. The master is as enslaved as the slave, even if not subject to the physical abuses, and that does matter. When the news was read in Galveston on June 19, 1865, the slaves were jubilant and the masters shocked, yet in a very real way they were both emancipated – emancipated from bondage to unhappy roles, emancipated to discover new ways of relationship of mutuality and flourishing.

We are all in this together, and what we do to another we do to ourselves. Because freedom is relational; because every interaction we have with every other person can function to restrict ourselves and them or it can help liberate us and them; because we all have some kind of power, and we can use it against itself to diminish itself, or we can use it to nourish and expand shared power, what we call power-with rather than power-over; because power-over is always at the same time powerlessness-under; because freedom is for most of us the half-won, half-discovered blessing, and we need each other to proclaim the further emancipation – we have work to do.

Because faith without works is dead; because it will not do to simply say, “go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,” go, be emancipated; because we need each other to reach the promised land; because the kingdom of god is within us, yes, but equally it is between us and among us – we have work to do.

Because otherwise identical resumes today yield a 50 percent greater chance of being invited for an interview if the applicant’s name is stereotypically white than if the name is stereotypically black; because black renters learn about 11 percent fewer rental units and black homebuyers are shown about one-fifth fewer homes; because blacks and whites use illegal drugs at the same rate, but African Americans are arrested on drug charges at a three times higher rate; because 14 percent of nonhispanic white children are growing up in poverty while 40 percent of African American children are – we have work to do.

Unitarian Universalists have been struggling with how to do the work of dismantling racism for as long as I can remember. We have been noticing that our congregations usually look a lot whiter than their surrounding communities and have been trying to figure out what to do about that for as long as I can remember. So far we haven't made a lot of progress. We still have work to do.

* * *
This is part 2 of "Intercultural Sensitivity is Hard"
Beginning: Part 1: Juneteenth

2014-07-03

The Fourth and the Thirteenth

The Fourth of July -- "Independence Day" for this land of my birth, raising, and residence. My country created me, made me what I am. When it comes to the United States of America, I am equal parts misty romantic and indignant critic.

The Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress on 1776 July 4, declared the signers' intent to
institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Those principles were radical. The Declaration said:
All...are created equal,
and all of us are
endowed...with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
And:
to secure these rights, governments are instituted..., deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
These are inspiring principles. They are at the core of my pride in being American -- and the ground of my criticism.

I'm also inspired by the words that this land of mine has on its Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Certainly no person is refuse. I understand Lady Liberty, as written by Emma Lazarus, to be saying: "Even if you have been treated as refuse, I welcome you. Even if your ethnos or class has been regarded as refuse by the prevailing prejudices of the powerful for centuries, I will take you in. Even if you have come to think of yourself as nothing but wretched refuse, I show my light for you, shine the way to the door of freedom for you, and thereby announce to the world, and to you, that you are nothing of the kind."

This land of mine has such truly great ideals. It has many good people and a system that has nurtured in some of my fellow citizens remarkable virtue and ingenuity. It is US culture that has cultivated that more modest measure of virtue and ingenuity to which I myself may lay claim. Yet my country is also built, from our very beginnings and running continuously throughout our history, on co-optation, corruption, and cynical manipulation of the very ideals that shape me, inspire me, and to which I continue to adhere. We are made possible, as the country we are, by profligate supply of resources -- the which we obtained through murder, theft, and chicanery on a grand scale.

The shame and pride go together. I came of age during the Vietnam War, when there was good cause for being ashamed of my country. At the same time, I was proud of my friends and mentors (most of whom I knew through my Unitarian Universalist church) who marched and demonstrated to end that war. I'm ashamed of our greed -- of the rapacity that brought us to the point where we, one-twentieth of the world's population, consume one-fourth of its resources, and of our unwillingness to retreat from this ravenous consumption (in fact, to say "ravenous" is rather unfair to the ravens). Yet the call within my own conscience for a simpler way of life, to walk with a lighter footprint on the earth, is but the echo of quintessentially USan thought: Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Duane Elgin, Bill McKibben, Joanna Macy -- writers whose turn of mind could not have come from Europe, or Asia, or South America, or even Canada (for all the wonderful contributions Canadians have provided to US culture). I'm so proud of them -- so proud to inherit their tradition, which is so deeply a US tradition. I'm ashamed at our ongoing belligerence, and our willingness to commit our troops to slay tens of thousands of people in order to secure access to cheap oil.

I'm proud of our independent judiciary, as secured by Marbury v. Madison (1803), our finest innovation of government, and grievously ashamed that this judiciary's highest court could have produced the Bush v. Gore (2000) decision.

I'm so proud of our Statue of Liberty, with its open-armed invitation of welcome, and I'm so ashamed that so many of my fellow country-men and -women, with willful and passionate ignorance, so approve of revoking that very invitation.

The proudest I can recall ever feeling about being USan was 19 years ago, in a movie theatre, watching "Apollo 13" (Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris). Although the film does pass the Bechdel test, it's definitely about male heroism of the mostly geeky sort.

In space, the Apollo 13 spacecraft sustains damage. As the extent of the damage becomes clear in Houston, NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) declares:
We've never lost an American in space, we're sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option.
A way to fix a broken craft 200,000 miles away must be found. Kranz again:
I don't care about what anything was DESIGNED to do, I care about what it CAN do.
Cut to several technicians dumping onto a table boxes containing equipment and tools that the astronauts have with them.
We've got to find a way to make this...
says one of the technicians, holding up a square CSM LiOH canister,
...fit into the hole for this...
he adds, holding up a round LEM canister.
...using nothing but that.
He gestures to the motley jumble of supplies on the table.

Yes, it was hubris that put us out into space. Hubris, and greedy, grasping, imperial acquisitiveness, backed by the amazing wealth we had available to us by virtue of the aforementioned murder, theft, chicanery. Yes, the Apollo missions were an extension of the arms race, designed to demonstrate to the world, particularly the Soviet Union, that the US had capabilities that could be used to precisely deliver nuclear warheads anywhere on the globe.

All that. And more. We have a capacity for awe and wonder that is the equal of our arrogance and belligerence. Our inquisitiveness is not less than our acquisitiveness. "American spunky can-do spirit" is not a lie. Neither is our history of theft, injustice, and oppression. Yes, Apollo was fundamentally a military project for asserting world dominance. That's true. And so is this:
"But a funny thing happened to us on our way to the moon. We looked homeward and discovered another world: our own. For the first time, we inhabitants of Earth could step back and see it as it really is: one world, indivisible -- and kind of small in the cosmic context. Whatever the reason we first mustered the enormous resources required for the Apollo program, however mired it was in cold war nationalism and the instruments of death, the inescapable recognition of the unity and fragility of the earth is its clear and luminous dividend, the unexpected gift of Apollo. A project conceived in deadly competition made us recognize our community." (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey)
We sent these amazingly expensive boxes up into outer space -- and when one of them broke, we fixed it well enough to get the astronauts safely home. We fixed it with duct tape, cardboard, a plastic bag, and a US-style of cleverness born out of self-confidence (which, yes, also manifests as arrogance) and loyal devotion (which, yes, also manifests as nationalism).

It made me cry. Still does.

The Fourth of July.

The Thirteenth Apollo mission.

I don't know if it will ultimately prove necessary for the survival of the earth that the culture that is distinctively US pass away. Perhaps so. Perhaps not. If so -- and in the unlikely event that I'm still around -- I will miss it, and grieve the loss of this glory -- along with, I hope, celebrating its replacement by a saner, wiser, less independent and more interdependent, sustainable culture.

2014-07-02

Juneteenth: Intercultural Sensitivity 1

It is the custom of Community Unitarian Church at White Plains, NY, on the Sunday after Father’s Day, to observe, honor, and celebrate Juneteenth. Let our hearts open to hear the story.

Juneteenth – shortened from June Nineteenth -- is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. It was on 1865 Jun 19, that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which became official 1863 January 1.

Initially, the Emancipation Proclamation had virtually no impact on Texas – a confederate state that did not regard itself as bound by Lincoln’s executive orders. Even after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, there were few Union troops in Texas, and no one with power was much inclined to enforce Emancipation – until General Granger arrived.

According to one story, a messenger had been murdered in 1863 while on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Other accounts say the enslavers did get the word of the Emancipation Proclamation, but they kept it to themselves. Some reports say the federal troops waited until June in order to allow the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest.

One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began:
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer."
Reaction to this profound news ranged from shock to immediate jubilation.

Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. Some of the newly freed headed north. Others sought out family members in Louisiana, Arkansas or Oklahoma.

Their new lives brought new challenges. Recounting and celebrating the memory of that great day in 1865 June served as motivation, and Juneteenth festivities provided a break from the pressures of their new reality. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.

Observance of Juneteenth slowly declined through the first half of the 20th century, and was revived during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Juneteenth today celebrates African American freedom and achievement and encourages continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.

* * *
This is part 1 of "Intercultural Sensitivity is Hard!"
Next: Part 2: Unknown Freedom