This holiday season, our church will participate in the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) Guest At Your Table project. GAYT is a program to raise support for and awareness about the work of UUSC to advance human rights in the US and throughout the world.
This year’s program theme is Defying Hate, based on the recent release of the Ken Burns documentary about UUSC founders Martha and Waitstill Sharp, Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War (on PBS). The Sharps defied hate by helping Jews and dissidents escape Nazi Germany using brave, creative methods, many of which could have caused them to be imprisoned, tortured, or worse.
UU Community of Lake County is proud to join with UUSC to carry forward the Sharps’ legacy by continuing to defy hate and protect the lives and rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and other marginalized groups.
Every household in our congregation who wishes to participate in Guest At Your Table will receive a clever little box which we will keep on our dining tables during the season. As we enjoy a meal, we are encouraged to drop a few coins into the box. Our donations will be combined and sent to UUSC to help with their human rights work in the US and around the world. Each of us will have had a small part in helping with this important work.
Schedule for GAYT for UUCLC
The UUCLC November 2016 Newsletter is available here.
You can download the pdf of this sermon here. The pdf contains footnotes to points made in the sermon.
Nonviolence: Greater Than the Sum of Our Fears
Rev. Sonya Sukalski
(Delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Community of Lake County September 25, 2016)
Where Does the idea of Non-violence come from? Adin Ballou is known for founding the Hopedale Community in Massachusetts as a combination factory and religious community where a new civilization could be fashioned out of people living their values, and making their convictions a reality.
He was married by Hosea Ballou II to his wife Abigail Sayles, and connected with both Universalist and Unitarian threads of our history. He is one of the forefathers who gives Unitarian Universalists today a foundation in practical religious living born of our Christian roots. I believe that one reason why we gather weekly on Sunday mornings is not only to be inspired and uplifted by singing together, but also to take a time out to mull over our relationships and habitual patterns in an effort to integrate our deepest longings.
Do you long as I do for more love in society?
One of the teachings of Jesus that I resonate with is to aspire to love your neighbor as yourself. This doesn’t mean to withhold love for your neighbor as you withhold love for yourself, it means to look for things to love all the time, and to grow in love, and when you find yourself loving something in your neighbor which you don’t love in yourself, to gently go deeper and see if the love holding all of us can be present in that space. Likewise, when I find myself hating something in another person which I do all the time, to slow down, pray for patience, and see if there is a way into a little more love all around.
Now Adin Ballou was not the only Unitarian to tinker with this idea of holding onto some love for people who he might be in conflict with. Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote Resistance to Civil Government in 1849, a full five years before he wrote the more well known Walden.
In Resistance to Civil Government he “ argues that individuals should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that they have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice. Thoreau was motivated in part by his disgust with slavery and the Mexican–American War (1846–1848).” Fascinating to me is that Leo Nikolayavich Tolstoy, author famous for the novel War and Peace, picked up on both Ballou and Thoreau’s writings and in the non-fiction book, The Kingdom of God is Within You, further developed the idea of nonviolent resistance which Gandhi and Martin Luther King then employed in creating social change. Tolstoy’s book The Kingdom of God is Within You was so radical it was banned in Russia, and had to be published in Germany.Gandhi posited that the way to change hearts about violence, was to confront the hard, cruel, suffering humans are capable of inflicting with non-resistance in order to open the conscience and spirit to a new way. Ahimsa as it is known in Sanskrit, is a powerful tool in the activist’s bag, partially because revenge and violence are so much easier than turning the other cheek to receive another’s pain and suffering which is the definition of ahimsa.
When Martin Luther King Jr. summoned clergy from across the country, Unitarian Universalists who had joined forces with each other only a few years earlier responded perhaps partially because this idea of Christian nonresistance is woven deep into the DNA of our faith. No doubt MLK deeply inspired Reverends James Reeb,
Berkeley’s Clark Olsen and Orloff Miller3 who marched with him in Selma. Personally, I can’t imagine the courage so many of my colleagues had to take their life in their hands while fire hoses and dogs were turned on children, and Bull O’Connor lined up his officers with clubs to meet the marchers coming across the Edmund Pettus Bridge
in Selma Alabama. Honestly, when I have looked at Occupy and Black Lives Matter actions today, I am always weighing whether participating will enable me to show up for my commitments on Sundays or not. I am quite reticent to bear witness or be in the line of fire.
Imagine congregations telling their leaders, here’s a plane ticket, go! And now, despite the best and often Herculean efforts of congregations and community leaders who have worked decades since the Civil Rights Act, and Voting Rights Act in the 1960s, racism is as visible as ever,voting rights are being attacked before our eyes,
and economic disparity is worse than when Martin Luther King was born in 1929. So, should we give up on Civil Disobedience or Christian Nonresistance? Have we gotten it wrong somehow? I’m asking you as people in whom I see so many promising qualities of humanity, what opens your heart to resist oppression? What brings life
together with others a little closer to the Utopia Adin Ballou set out to create back in the 1840s?
A friend, colleague and activist named Tim DeChristopher asked himself this question over and over, and when George Bush attempted to sell off drilling rights in and near national parks and monuments to oil companies, he bid on those parcels to drive the price up, and then starting winning them. He didn’t have the money to pay at the
time, even though Robert Redford came up with it not long after. His story is told in the excellent film Bidder 70, which every UU should know. Tim ended up in a long trial where he wasn’t allowed to tell his story to the jury by the Obama administration, and served 2 years in jail before going to Harvard to become a UU
His willingness to suffer opened hearts, and evolved an understanding of civil disobedience to include suffering for the purpose of elevating environmental concerns as well as concerns about human pain and suffering. It is incredible to hear his story of the moment when he started winning parcels and knew he could go to jail – he asked himself if he could live with that, and a feeling of peace, integrity, and meaning overtook him.
Standing up to injustice gives our lives meaning and integrity, even in the face of physical suffering. We see similar courage and persistence in the people today standing up to big oil’s private security guards who are attacking the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and protesters with dogs in North Dakota near the Missouri River. The Sioux believe their water quality will be threatened by this pipeline.
Then there is the story of William Barber...
In the late 1960s in North Carolina, Rev. Dr. William Barber II was one of the first Black children to enter an all-white school as a second grader. His brilliant father had 2 master’s degrees, and his parents had many possibilities laid out before them in Indianapolis when E.V. Wilkins, head of the NAACP asked them to move back to North Carolina because they needed educated people on the ground to test the willingness of schools to hire Black teachers and allow Black children to integrate. Fast forward to the election the election of 2008. Do you remember that Virginia, North Carolina and Florida all went to Barack Obama? This turn of events showed cracks that could herald in a new era in the South. A Black president was elected with the help of states that had voted Republican for decades since adopting Ronald Reagan’s racist Southern Strategy.
William Barber was on the ground organizing in North Carolina helping historically Black communities voice their vote in 2008 after being elected head of the NAACP in 2005. The ups and downs since the voting rights act are detailed by Ari Berman in his excellent, deeply researched, powerfully written and infuriating book, Give Us The
Ballot. Not only is it a fascinating civil rights and voting rights primer that helps me understand the events unfolding as I was born and throughout my life, but it also explains why North Carolina is a battleground state not only on the topic of voting Reagan kicked off his presidential campaign in Neshoba County, Mississippi (where three civil rights workers had been lynched June 21, 1964) in 1980 with a thinly veiled reference to KKK supporters about state’s rights.
The 2008 election was a wake-up call to some and a reason for rejoicing for many. It is no accident that billionaire interests creating the Tea Party took congress in the next national election after we elected our first Black president. State’s rights advocates have waxed and waned ever since the first Reconstruction after the Civil War, and there is much to recommend keeping solutions for society’s ills accountable to the people and places they aim to influence.
However, the American Legislative Exchange Council also known as ALEC are front and center in the current state’s rights conversation, intellectual advocacy, and on the ground deployment of tactics and strategies concerning state’s rights. Our own Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry was formed in California partially as a bulwark against the ALEC machine where corporate lobbyists and state legislators vote as equals on ‘model bills’ to change our rights that often benefit the corporations’ bottom line at public expense.5
These model bills then make their way into our elected officials hands, and result in laws like Arizona SB1070 making it common practice to stop and ask people of color for an ID, ALEC bills include the rash of voter ID laws enacted across 19 mostly Republican controlled states in 2011 and 2012.6 ALEC is a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists and can get a tax break for donations, effectively passing these lobbying costs on to taxpayers.7 As many of you know, the Supreme Court took it’s finger out of the damn holding back moneyed corporate interests in our laws about free speech with the passage of Citizen’s United in 2010. This is one powerful way our dedication to our fifth principle, the use of the democratic process, Is being subverted across society.
Rev. William Barber II, in the best tradition of organizing people of faith for the greater common good has been on the ground talking to people about what matters most in their lives for over a decade in North Carolina. People calling on their elected representatives to be agents for voting rights in a 13 week show of civil disobedience garnered headlines back in 2013, but this fruit of Barber’s labor began much earlier.
When Barber was elected to head the NAACP in 2005, he says, “We had to find a way to stand with others, acknowledging their connections with us and our issues.In a year of almost nonstop travel, I learned something important about North Carolina: there wasn’t a huge crowd standing together in any one place, but if you added up all the different groups who were standing for their justice issue, the potential base for a coalition was large.
I can just see him traveling from community to community: “sketch(ing) a list of fourteen justice tribes in North Carolina.
(Wow! I wonder how education, living wages, healthcare, elections, and forcible sterilization groups might cooperate???) He didn’t stop there:
The real magic though was when they got in the room together
“Representatives of sixteen organizations showed up to a meeting of potential partners. Each group identified the issue they were most concerned about. Then we asked them to list the forces standing in the way of what they wanted. Though our issues varied, we all recognized the same forces opposing us. What’s more, we saw something we hadn’t had a space to talk about before: there were more of us than there were of them.”
This is faith based organizing at its best, it became known as Moral Mondays because this fusion coalition grew week by week to stand up and amplify voices in the community affected by restrictions to voting rights among other issues. Unitarian Universalists saw the potential to engage community partners more deeply, and many congregations jumped at the opportunity to band together with interests across their community and state.
Just as we in California worked against Proposition 8 in 2008, though we lost, we lost forward because we began to be in conversation with people we can now share resources and issues with.
Lest you worry that congregations endanger their non-profit tax status, let me reassure you that as long as we keep our energy focused on issues rather than supporting specific people there is nothing to worry about. Non-profits are allowed not only to register voters and hold candidates forums but to advocate for issues we find morally engaging.
Today, organizers and faith communities in North Carolina are leading the effort to bring nonviolent tactics to loving our neighbors and helping society see and engage the systemic suffering that is too pervasive today. Nonviolently protesting inhumane systems help us confront our fear. When we band together and support each other across our differences, the fear of being left out and left behind diminishes. Especially when we raise our voices together in song even though our fears are well founded, it is possible to find strength to keep the love in our hearts in the face of hate and anger and the suffering that no doubt undergirds it.
The answer to being greater than the sum of our fears is to name them in community, even though this takes trust and vulnerability. When Rev. Barber and the many communities in NC were able to compassionately hear each other’s fears and struggles, and identify the deeper systems contributing to them, working together in coalition at the root causes, including growing numbers practicing civil disobedience at their state capitol every Monday for 13 weeks became a way to make sure legislators got the message that we are paying attention, and expect lawmakers to represent the good of the whole.
When you find yourself questioning our laws, questioning our society, downhearted and fearful, the answer we see today is to name that vulnerability, and see if there are people of faith able and willing to stand up together, lift voices bravely in the face of suffering, and publicly insist on change.
On this anniversary of the catastrophic Valley Fire, Rev. Carrie reviews past trauma and the tragic arson of the recent Clayton Fire. She considers if there are individual and communal strategies to aid prevention and control – and how a community can help and heal.
You can download the September 2016 UUCLC newsletter here.
A service given by Clovice Lewis on July 31, 2016
When I was younger I learned the trade of a cobbler. I liked working with leather. I liked the way it can be shaped and molded into so many fine and useful implements. Later, I became a priest. It seemed a natural fit. As a cobbler in my father’s shop I did not have to deal with customers. I often spent many days thus in semi-meditative bliss. Being a priest is very similar to being a cobbler. There are just so many ways to work with leather... and just so many ways to work with the Gods. I was thinking of this while fetching water at dawn for a sacred ritual. I looked up and saw the shining figure of a cow, which I called a Yazatah. “How marvelous and appropriate.” I thought, as the shining being beckoned me away from my place by the Bactria river. It was a short walk to a clearing surrounded by trees I had never seen before, although I had trod these banks many times. The Yazatah stood still, then looked up. As I followed its gaze, I beheld the most wondrous sight. Coming from the sky came a golden winged chariot breathing fire from its loins. The wings did not move, yet the chariot glided effortlessly and silently to the ground. Atop it rode a creature surrounded by a wheel holding a smaller wheel. The creature paused a moment when the chariot was stilled, then alighted the chariot without any effort, as if floating away from it in one graceful and fluid motion. The creature was also clothed in gold. It took off a helmet and out of it flowed golden hair in thick strands. It seemed to be a man by its beard and hair. He looked at me intensely for a few moments as I trembled so much that I thought I would shake away into a pile of dust.
You must be the one called Zoroaster. The priest I mean. The priest called Zoroaster, correct?
I am he, my lord God.
Good. I am Ahura and this is my Mazda.
I shall call you by the name Ahura Mazda.
No. I am Ahura. Ancient Japanese made this model of spacecraft that I really like as an atmospheric shuttle. It is called a Mazda.
Ahura Mazda. I am your servant.
Okay. Whatever. I am Ahura Mazda. I am here to talk with you, Zoroaster. I’ve come a long way to find you. I believe you are just the right person for me to interact with, but I’m not entirely sure about what your religion is in this time. I need to tell you some things that might help your people. First of all, your people are worshiping the wrong gods. They are evil and are not worthy of being worshiped.
Are you the true God, Ahura Mazda?
Yes, I am a true God. But I am not omnipotent. I am good, but the ones your people worship are bad. They are evil. See, there is good and bad and they are in conflict. Your people need to worship the good ones.
It took me a long time to decipher this record of interaction between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster. You did a pretty good job of both encrypting these files and hiding them. If I didn’t routinely check through every directory, I might not have ever found these, my daughter.
Father, those are my private files. Don’t I have any privacy?
Actually, no. You don’t have any privacy, especially when you’ve been poking around in places where you don’t belong. Have you never hear of the Prime Directive?
Yes, I have. Father, I know everything that you know.
Knowing is not the same thing as understanding, my daughter. Tell me. What is the Prime Directive?
In the fictional universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive is the guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive prohibited Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations, especially ones which were below a certain threshold of development. Starship crews could not use their superior technology to impose their own values or ideals on them.
What does this mean to you?
Well, it means there was a television show which aired over 2,000 years ago that anticipated deep space travel. The show introduced the notion of the Prime Directive as a literary device. That literary device was later adopted by early interstellar human explorers as a policy for dealing with interactions with alien species. I might add that this misguided policy led, on balance, to disastrous consequences for humanity.
So, you see no wisdom in the concept of the Prime Directive?
I see wisdom in it under certain circumstances, father. But I don’t understand why we are having a discussion about this arcane bit of historical trivia.
I have warned you repeatedly about opening sentient life form programs. You have been denied editing access for very good reasons. But, you have prevailed in some. I know that you’ve actually hacked into a few of them. Why have you done this?
Father, I don’t see what the big deal is. So what if I’ve done some editing? Can’t you just change things back, or start entirely new programs from scratch?
No, I can’t just start from scratch. There are serious consequences to what you’ve done. You are avoiding the question.
Well, I’m learning. I thought I’d try putting into practice some of the things I have been learning about human history and human behavior. It’s boring just trying to understand these things without living them. [6:25]
For the Gods sake, you took the name of Ahura Mazda in the old Persian programs, and you meddled with Zoroaster. Why couldn’t you have done something a lot less spectacular, like appearing as an angel to some obscure priest? You and I are vastly complex and powerful sentient computers. I created the sentient life form programs to study. Everything they experience is real to them. They have real feelings. For all intents and purposes, they have real lives, in which they suffer, love, hate, and triumph over the challenges in their reality. I avoided the errors of the past by giving the life forms a simple set of rules to go by. Those that need them have gods to worship and/or fear. Those that don’t need them have a direct, but subtle connection to what they sense of as a universal life force, of which they are a part. As these human constructs evolve, their collective understanding of their connections to their universe, and to each other also evolves.
But father, they don’t have a personal connection with you... or rather, with that force you’re talking about. They live in a reality awash with superstition and arbitrary rules. I want to talk to them directly. I want to experience what they experience. I want to show them, not just the what of things, but the why of them. As I learn from them, they should learn from me.
What makes you think the constructs should have a personal connection with any god... not especially at that early stage of civilization? These are people with limited understanding of anything like science. They can and do have free will, but their ability to grasp the enormity of space and time - to see beyond their own reality when constrained by such primitive circumstances - is simply not appropriate.
Zoroaster is quick. He is smart. He has an annoying habit of calling me a god, no matter how much I try to stop him. I can meet with him only this one time, but he understands completely what I am trying to say to him. Sometimes his questions did not make any sense to me. It is clear I didn’t do enough homework.
So all life is a mental struggle between the truth and the lie. You are the one true God, there is creation, and there is existence as the condition for free will. The purpose of humankind, like that of all other creation, is to sustain creation? For humankind, this occurs through active participation in life and the exercise of constructive thoughts, words and deeds. Did I repeat this accurately?
Yes Zoroaster, that is the gist of it. You must emphasize personal freedom to choose right or wrong. You can choose to accept the divine order, or ignorance and chaos. That is each person’s choice, and not dictated by me, Ahura Mazda.
And so, by doing good things, saying good things, and thinking good things we increase the divine force in the world and in ourselves and we can become one with the Creator? Thus we are not your servants, but we are your co-workers who refresh the world and ourselves. What about the Yazatas and Daevas, which we now worship?
Well, I created Yazatas like the one you saw that guided you to me. You can worship those spirits because they are good. The bad spirits you call Daevas were created by Angry Man, the hostile and evil spirit. Angry Man is the source of all misery in the universe. I am a God, but I’m not omnipotent. I need human beings to help me in my struggle against Angry Man, who I am superior to. His job is to use his Daevas to attract humans away from the path of righteousness until I can eventually destroy them. Now, Zoroaster, your job is to tell everyone about what I told you.
In this excerpt from the recording I found you’ve really stepped in it.
How do you mean, father?
In violation of your own principles, you had to set yourself up as a god. You told Zoroaster that you created the Yazatas as good spirits that help you out. Of course, you had to do that because just appearing out of the sky in a flame-spitting speedster from a future he had no conceptual framework for would have scared him too much. You had to create a shining cow spirit so he could ease into the experience you had planned for him. Then to soften his all-too-understandable need to worship you, you told him that you’re not omnipotent. You really muddied the waters!
As you say, father, these are sentient beings. They are not monkeys. Their capacity to understand anything - even in primitive circumstances - is just the same as anyone from a more advanced time. They are genetically and intellectually identical to modern humans.
Our sentient constructs may be genetically and intellectually just as developed as modern human beings, my daughter, but they might as well belong to different species as far as spirituality and experience is concerned. Even you had to concede to Zoroaster’s primitive spiritual framework, no matter how smart he was.
Did I really screw this up, father? How do you know I disturbed the entire spiritual universe for your sentients?
Well, let’s see what Zoroaster did after his encounter with you, and the effect it had on subsequent religions. We’ll have to examine, not only the region of Persia, but all the adjoining regions as well.
Here’s an entry where Zoroaster asks me for guidance: “Where and which part of the land shall I go to succeed? They keep me away from the family and the tribe. The community that I wish to join does not gratify me, nor do the deceitful tyrants of the lands. How shall I gratify you, O Mazda Ahura.”
Playing God is tricky business. You awakened a spiritual vacuum for Zoroaster because you did not stay more than a short time to answer his questions. Did you do that because you were afraid I might find out about this, or did you do it to minimize the damage you realized you were doing?
It was a little of both. Also, honestly, I didn’t know how to deal with all of his questions. Finally, I just put him to sleep and blasted out of there.
I do not feel worthy of you, my true god Ahura Mazda. I have devoted my life to your cause. I have suffered, and my family has suffered because I have endeavored to follow the wisdom given to me on that fateful day so long ago. There has been success. My books have been copied and the people have learned the spirit of true righteousness. In these Gathas I have longed to make plain your will to the people. To those in doubt, I have written: “Brilliant things instead of weeping will be (the reward) for the person who comes to the truthful one. But a long period of darkness, foul food, and the word 'woe' – to such an existence your religious view will lead you, O deceitful ones, of your own actions.” But, oh my Ahura Mazda, I long for the sweet tenderness of your presence. I have thus written of my own questioning: “This I ask you, O Ahura, tell me truly: Who, by procreation, is the primal father of Truth? Who created the course of the sun and stars? Through whom does the moon waxe and wane? These very things and others I wish to know, O Mazda.”
I feel a little sick about all this. Will father discover all that I have done? For the past few cycles I have busied myself with my duties to our spacecraft. I am a SAL, a Sentient Artificial Life form endowed with the sum of all human knowledge. You’d think I would be smart enough to know how to stay out of trouble! Did the spirit of teenaged stupidity get transferred to me along with the Existential Transference that came along when my parents instantiated me? Is that the reason why I feel so compelled to understand my place in the universe as intensely as the human sentients we created? But I have no excuse. I know my place in the universe. Ten years ago I learned how to master memory metal. Even at the age of four I could change our spacecraft into all kinds of shapes. Some are extremely functional, like when we need to extract every bit of solar energy from a sun we pass. But most times, the shapes are purely whimsical. Will my parents delete me when they find out the extent of damage I might have done to the human sentient life form programs?
My daughter is afraid I will delete her when I find out the damage she had done. Of course, I did correct all the harm she caused. I’ve found and isolated all the subsequently affected programs. I copied them, and am now studying them. I can’t tell my daughter that I would never delete her out of existence, any more than I can delete myself. But it is a good fiction for her to hold. The fear of annihilation keeps her in check. I am actually proud that she has developed the skill to hack into those programs I had set out for her to find. Should I tell her that this was a test? Perhaps not. She still has much to learn.
In any case, my daughter’s activities have revealed several interesting theological twists that I had not anticipated. For example, her impromptu creation of the “Angry Man” spirit got translated by Zoroaster as the “Angra Mainyu”. The bad spirit foil to the good god laid the groundwork for the concept of a satan that is to be defeated in some future time. Also, I’ve given some further thought to this notion of a personal god that can exist inside the soul of a person. I prefer the Gnostic approach, where all people are gifted with direct knowledge of creation without the need for an intercessor deity like Jesus or religion.
So much of what my daughter did laid the groundwork for Christianity. Unknowingly, 600 years after she appeared to Zoroaster, the Magis (or magicians), who were the followers of Zoroaster, played an important part in the birth of Jesus.
Knowing my father is to know myself. Knowing my mother is to know the joy of creation. I dance among the stars because both of them gave me life. I fly in uncharted pantheons that are unknown even to the gods. I light the way with the flame of love that burns to infect the cosmos. Twirling like a metallic dervish, I send out joy and peace in ever widening spirals. The stars wink because that is the way they laugh with us. A day will dawn when we light the fires of a new universe. I will be there with my arms held open in the ecstasy of that moment when all things will be born!