Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Prayer to Mend Broken Hearts

--by Mike Adams

Craig and Cindy are two of the most amiable and kind people I can remember having ever met. They are humble, they know how to listen, Craig said that he has a spiritual life but is not involved in a religion. Cindy has the warmest smile and the kindest eyes; both Cindy and Craig are approachable, easy to talk to and easy to listen to. I feel blessed to have met them both and I hope to maintain a correspondence with them well into the future.

In the spring of 2003, Craig and Cindy’s lives were suddenly, drastically and irrevocably changed when their 23 year old daughter was crushed by a piece of heavy construction equipment. She died before medical help arrived and she left behind a family in heart break. You have probably heard of her, she was an idealist who died in service of her values.

On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, daughter of Cindy and Craig Corrie, a sister with two siblings, a graduate of college, a writer, a volunteer for community health and an activist for the international solidarity movement was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in the Palestinian town of Rafah. Rachel Corrie was obstructing the path of the bulldozer as it’s driver attempted to demolish Palestinian homes.

In the weeks prior to her death, Rachel had sent emails to her friends, supporters and her parents describing what she saw. In one email she wrote, “Just want to write to my Mom and tell her that I'm witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I'm really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don't think it's an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my coworkers. But I also want this to stop. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world and that we, in fact, participate in it.”

Try if you will to imagine the heart ache that Cindy and Craig Corrie must have experienced at losing their vibrant, talented, passionate and loving daughter half way around the world without warning.

In 2003 after reading a news article about Rachel Corrie, I wrote the following in a letter to the editor, which was never published, “On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie age 23 gave her life in Rafah while standing nonviolently for her convictions. She was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer which was aimed at demolishing Palestinian homes. Rachel Corrie is a war hero! The US Government should commemorate Rachel Corrie she exemplified the words of John F. Kennedy: ‘War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.’”

Everyday, the tragedy and heart break that is Rachel’s story plays out somewhere in the world. Everyday, people are killed without regard. Everyday, life is treated as cheap…and quite often, those whose hearts are broken do not react with anything like the peace and compassion that Craig and Cindy Corrie did after losing their daughter.

That heart break, which is inflicted on people the world over, might be viewed as a virus, which infects humanity and keeps perpetuating it’s self at our expense, causing some to react with love and compassion and justice, but often they react, instead, with vengeance and with violence thereby infecting others.

Whether one agrees with the political motivation of Rachel Corrie or not, we must all admit that she perceived injustice, that Rachel Corrie saw actions being perpetrated on a group of people, which caused her heart to break. Rachel was compelled to take a stand, compelled to action in an effort to ease pain and to create beauty from violence. Rachel wanted to make the world a more loving and a more livable place for all people.

Since Rachel’s death, her parents have carried on her work…they have not only worked tirelessly for a governmental investigation into the events of March 16, 2003; But they have also worked for peace between Isreal and Palestine, they have met families who Rachel lived with in Rafa, have spoken with Israeli peace activists.

Craig and Cindy endured the loss of a daughter, the loss of a part of their future…they have suffered heart break and have let their wounds motivate them towards peace and love and justice.

Upon learning of the events of March 16, 2003, my heart broke…our hearts broke…OUR HEART BROKE! We lost a courageous warrior for peace. But that’s not all…on September 11, 2001 our heart broke. Rwanda broke our heart, Bosnia broke our heart and Darfur breaks our heart every day.

Why haven’t we learned from the Holocaust? Why haven’t we learned from the genocide of Native Americans on this continent, from Slavery, from South American Death Squads, from Nagasaki…an so forth? Will humanity ever stop treating each other with such gross disregard? Will we ever stop infecting each other with hatred?

Sadly, a quick look at history and current events indicates that we will never stop…We are doomed to repeat the horror over and over again. Living in our society virtually requires that an individual participate in unspeakable cruelty. The clothes we wear are usually produced in sweatshops by people who are economically enslaved, our transportation and life styles are subsidized at the cost of our environment and our children’s future, our taxes provide military support to dictators around the world, the list goes on.

As a Unitarian Universalist, how can I possibly hold in one hand the knowledge of human cruelty while holding in the other hand a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people? Can’t we exclude from that list certain people like Slobodan Milosevic, like Joseph Stalin, like Adolph Hitler?

Are we as Unitarian Universalists being silly and naive in believing that it is possible to create a world of justice? Is there actually room for our values in real life? If I am honest, my answer to those questions is only, “I don’t know!” I don’t know if another world is actually possible…I don’t know if people can actually live in peace. My heart has been broken so many times and I don’t know if I can take it even one more time.

My problem is that I am unable to stop believing in the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice and compassion towards all; acceptance of each other and encouragement of spiritual growth; a free and responsible search for truth; democratic governance; The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; And respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. I can’t turn off my faith, my hope for the realization of those values…and neither can you! As Unitarian Universalists, most of us are stuck believing in our seven principles, they inspire us, they give us hope and they fan the flames in our hearts.

Our challenge is to see if we can find the courage and strength to grow our broken heart even bigger, to fill our broken heart with even more compassion to give our broken heart to the world as a gift of love and service. Perhaps…there is the faintest chance that if we can unite in this effort and give more than we have in us…our love can crash upon the world as a great wave…washing away hatred and leaving compassion for all of humanity. Perhaps the world can mend our broken hearts and fill us with joy. Perhaps we can change the world if only we are childish enough to believe it possible and adult enough to do the necessary growth to be ready for that work. Perhaps all we have to do is listen to others as we have never listened before, welcome strangers not only into our congregations, but into our lives and into our hearts. Perhaps all we have to do is have our hearts broken again, but next time, lets cry together, lets hold each other, lets care, lets give the gifts of compassion, support and love. Lets go into the world ready for pain, ready to confront hatred with understanding and love, ready to confront suffering with compassion and ready to confront accusations with listening.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Is Unitarian Universalism Relevant? - by Mike Adams with Tara Adams

--by Mike Adams

Fear, Anger, Hopelessness...we succumb to the pull of this maelstrom with slumped heads, broken hearts and forgotten dreams. Our resources seemingly drained, we feebly accept our impotence and hide in episodes of American Idol. Like small children afraid of the night, we cower, having forgotten our power, having misplaced our souls, having turned our backs on creativity.

In a single moment we are stirred by a word, a song or a memory, which reminds us that we chose this…we created our predicament. With resolute passion we burst into life looking for those who will join us calling for those who will love us and hoping that together, we will change all we see.

Originally, I wrote this sermon in February…it was inspired by my outrage over conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Since that time, things have changed…we’ve already forgotten the Alberto Gonzales scandal, there are ever increasing deaths in Iraq, Democrats surrendered to GW signing a blank check for the supplemental war funding bill and Cindy Sheehan has dropped out of public life. I am left feeling morally impotent and embarrassed of my country, my government and my community.

I feel helpless in today’s world of globalized economics. Ours is a strange new world where any country’s autonomy, her laws, her government, her democratic processes, her very citizens can be forced to buy and sell genetically altered foods, without the right even to label those products. I feel stunned that despite an overwhelming Democratic revolt in our last election, our Democracy’s machinery can’t check the war ambitions of its executive branch. I’m revolted that around the world, basic, vital resources like water are being co-opted by corporations and controlled for profit, despite the thousands who are dying from lack of clean water. In this climate, I feel that I can make no difference. There seems to be no group I can join which is powerful or organized enough to influence our course. There seems to be no petition that I could sign or letter I could write that finds its home in the hands of those powerful or brave enough to act decisively. News of political headway made by those who share my values is like the quiet plink of a tiny pebble landing in a deep and murky well. I feel violated, on a personal, psychic and empathetic level by the acts of callousness and aggression committed by my own society against its members. I have developed something like an ethical Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It seems there is no scream, no genuine outburst of anguish or cry of “Stop!” which is loud enough to be heard. There is no where to flee, no way to make a stand and I am left in a state of paralyzed apprehension…waiting for the next act of violation. Sometimes, I long to have no conscience and no empathy…that I might escape the emotional anguish brought on by these conditions.

I grew up as a patriot of this country. I marveled that we would struggle to live by principles expressed in our Declaration of Independence. I studied our constitution, memorizing her preamble and loving the ideals which we had made law. I knew our sins could be converted to wisdom and strength as I memorized Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I felt pride about our sacrifices to subdue the Nazis and then rebuild a tattered world. I was inspired by the courage of those who struggled and prevailed against bitter racism only a generation before mine.

As a young adult starting college, I knew we faced a long road of work, spiritual growth and great struggle. Nonetheless, I brimmed with pride and awe when confronted with the progress made in generations before mine. I lived in a world of ideas ruled by notions of equality, democracy, compassion and justice. These sentiments swelled my pride and I was grateful to be part owner of a country, which strove constantly toward those ideals.

Today I stand before you nearly two decades older, a little bit wiser and much more cynical. I struggle with the fear that I am destined for unremitting apathy. I am repulsed by the fleeting yet incessant notion that I am a broken man, who must ignore the world, and take solace in assuring my children that I love them and would leave them a better world if I could. I have recently plodded through a depression, the likes of which I had thought impossible after giving up Alcohol in 1995 in favor of a practical spiritual path. Ironically, during one of my periods of outrage, I found an inspiration, which I now think worthy of sharing with you.

While doing internet research on my wife’s grandmother, noted UU Muriel A. Davies, I discovered a sermon she wrote in 1998 for the 90th Anniversary of the Summit, New Jersey Congregation.

Davies wrote: “I think we Unitarian Universalists have a great opportunity today, if we cease putting obstacles in our path -- obstacles of vocabulary, of narrow identification. In a conversation with a friend who had attended the most recent General Assembly, I was saddened to hear that there is still apparently controversy between humanists and theists and anxiety about splinter groups such as Unitarian Pagans. These conflicts can even split congregations.

We have a message which supersedes these differences. I submit that our message, as stated in our seven principles, is one to which we can all subscribe, whatever our religious preferences in expression are. Surely, whether one chooses to use the word God or adheres to a humanist or scientific approach, we can unite in covenanting to affirm and promote the inherent worth of every person; justice and compassion for all; acceptance of one another; the search for truth and meaning; the right of conscience; the goal of world community, and respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

In a culture which is becoming increasingly global, there is need for a religion which is relevant to an expanding world. If we can focus on our basic message, I believe we can make a significant contribution to this new world. Our religion looks to the future. In a world of intolerance, where religious, ethnic and cultural differences are tearing people apart, we offer a religion which is inclusive, from which no one is excluded except, as William Ellery Channing once said, "by the death of goodness in his or her own soul." In a world of rigid sectarianism, we offer a religion which finds wisdom and insight from many sources, past and present, thus linking us to the whole human experience. We affirm our belief in world community with peace and justice and liberty for all.”

We are all experiencing a difficult and divisive period. We can’t agree on how to proceed. Splinter groups are attempting to force the whole in one direction or another. I assert that we are making ourselves irrelevant. Davies sermon describes a historical UU turning point; decisions were made resulting in explosive growth for Unitarianism. The first half of last century saw many lawmakers and people of import listening to Unitarian ministers. Our influence was important and our values made a real difference in the world.

Today, many people even in our congregations don’t know what it means to be Unitarian Universalist. Unitarianism has a marginal influence in our laws. Our values, while worthy are easily found in other groups that one might join. It’s not difficult to imagine gaining more spiritual fulfillment and a deeper experience of fellowship from volunteering to help Habitat for Humanity.

If we want a place at tomorrow’s table, if we want our values to help guide society, if we as a congregation, want to make a positive difference in the world, we must set aside our internal grievances and allow ourselves to serve a greater cause. We must allow ourselves to grow individually and collectively. We must practice personal reflection, accurate self appraisal and practical self criticism. We must not shrink from searching out our own flaws. If we are honest, we can easily identify our own racism, stubbornness, arrogance, and deceit. Where have we undermined others who deserved our support? When did we spread divisive gossip either for our own amusement or to bolster our own egos? Can we really admit when we are wrong? What cost is there in believing ourselves to be always or at least usually right? Consider the words of philosopher Edward de Bono, “The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar to new ideas.” These questions can provide fertile ground for each of us to start looking at our own faults.

Only if we are willing to fearlessly examine ourselves and grow beyond our current limitations, will we become a denomination and possibly a great movement of influence and moral excellence. We can effectively champion our seven principles in the world. We can extend our hands to those who suffer and “ease the world’s pain.” We can collectively be “moved by compassion to service and to justice.” We have the people, we have the organization and right now…in today’s world…more than ever…we have the opportunity.

To be relevant, Unitarian Universalism must stand for something that people want, understand and embrace. Our intellect and heady conversations mean nothing if we as an organization allow society to ignore 8.4 million children who have no health coverage. Our seven principles are ignored and forgotten if we don’t stand up for Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. We must demand they receive care. And We must demand they receive compassion.

It is natural to hear entreaties to reflect on one’s shortcomings as being directed toward, the person sitting next to us or several rows away. Make no mistake, I am talking to you…I am addressing each and every member of this congregation. I challenge any UU anywhere. I assert that we have allowed these transgressions. We have fallen asleep and we have slipped into ambivalence. We have focused on ourselves and our comfort at the expense of others. Is there anyone here who really couldn’t have done more to influence the last two elections? Is there anyone present who really couldn’t do more today in service of our seven principles?

Like many of you, I have complained that our leaders and our ministry haven’t suggested a solid and unifying course of action which will make a difference…Today, I assert that such complaints are shallow and cheap! We design those complaints in order to avoid personal responsibility.

In fact, we Unitarians are the wealthiest, most educated and perhaps the brightest which our society has. Why aren’t we generating plans? Why do we act like it’s “not my job.” Each of us can meditate on our values, and honestly criticize ourselves in light of those values. Any of us could generate plans and produce action. We are responsible for tomorrow’s world. We create our future.

Our Seven principles are the result of centuries of human effort. We have stripped away unreasoning superstitions, we have rejected dogmatisms and we have created a foundation where humanity might embrace the interconnected web of life. Through knowledge and spirit, we are linked to our past and to our future; we author the fulfillment of our dreams…or we author our complete failure. We hold the reins and we must decide. Don’t let this moment slip, each person must chose whether they will stand together and take action to create this dream or whether they will let petty resentment and disagreement impede collective progress towards a humanity which proclaims that “all life is our concern and love is our way.” In the words of Congregationalist minister Reverend Dale E. Turner, “In all the work we do, our most valuable asset can be the attitude of self-examination. It is forgivable to make mistakes, but to stand fast behind a wall of self-righteousness and make the same mistake twice is not forgivable.”

Thank you, Amen, Blessed Be