Sunday, July 29, 2012

Interdependent Existence: Our Blessings and Our Curses

--by Mike Adams

Delivered July 29, 2012 in Rio Rancho, NM

In our seventh UU principle, we covenant to affirm and promote...”Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

What does that mean to you? Look around, everything you see or feel, the air you breath and the chair where you sit is composed of stardust. That stardust was created billions of years ago by supernovae. It was a time before life or water or planets. A time, when energy danced through the cosmos making stars and morphing into matter. A time of energetic creation, which truly is the beginning of our story. It is the root of our interdependent nature, an interdependence which exists not only on a physical and biological plane but also ontologically between our achievements or success and the suffering others have endured unjustly. I don’t necessarily mean the results of our nation’s ill deed as in legalized slavery or the genocide of Native Americans. Rather, I refer to the unseen interdependence, the byproduct of another person’s misfortune, which improves our lives. The tragedies in which we never participated, but somehow they made us who we are. According to Blaise Pascal, “The Least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble.”

I recently attended a UU service in Cambridge, MA. The result is that I have been contemplating this UU principle of interdependence ever since. Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed delivered one of the most profound and moving sermons I have ever heard. I arrived there quite by accident. The previous night, I had searched the Internet for UU services in Boston and I was drawn to this one. The topic and the guest preacher sounded intriguing. Rev. Morrison-Reed is one of the few African-American ministers in Unitarian Universalism and he has written extensively about the experience of African-American UUs. But what really drew me in, was his topic for a Sunday sermon. It was a topic, which reached across this great country, and touched my hometown of Los Alamos, NM.

Rev. Morrison-Reed's father had been one of the first African-Americans in US History to be hired as a scientist. Apparently, the US war effort during World War II, opened many doors for African-Americans and the Reverend’s father walked right through one of those doors and joined the Manhattan Project as a chemist. The result for young Mark Morrison-Reed was that opportunities became available to him as a youth, which were out of reach for most African-American kids of his day. His education and life path were possible because of his father’s profession. So when, Mark began contemplating the human tragedy that resulted from the atomic bomb. When he realized that his father’s success was tied to that creation, he was troubled. Years later, the Reverend traveled to Hiroshima, on a pilgrimage to make peace with this specter from his and his father’s past. He went to confront the horror and to offer apology to those lost souls who had suffered a nuclear storm. His story was insightful, emotive and thought provoking.

It was at least one full day before I really began processing the poignancy of Rev. Morrison-Reed's message. During his sermon, I sat transfixed, tears gently gliding down my cheeks, each word infusing itself into my emotional and intellectual life. Time evaporated and for a moment, I was transported, I had the profound privilege of sharing another person’s spiritual quest and as the Reverend described his moment of redemption, I too was set free.

Several days later, it occurred to me that in some very important ways, my life mirrors that of Rev. Morrison-Reed. I was struck by the absurd complexity and nuance of existence. I was humbled by the incredible depth and profound nature of covenanting to affirm and promote the interdependent web of all existence.

I thought of my mother, a full blooded Canadian Indian. She was kidnapped as a young child by the US Government from a Seattle hospital. She was placed into foster care, where she endured violence, neglect, and abuse. As a youth, she was adopted into a family, which provided for her physical and educational needs, but affection was a rare commodity. As a young adult, she attended college, and married a man who later became abusive. She also gave birth to me and to my sister. As I thought about her life and all that she had endured, I suddenly became acutely aware of the fact that my life is possible only because another innocent human being was forced to endure unimaginable torture and suffering.

Had my mom been allowed to grow up with her Canadian Indian family, she would have been loved and cherished. She would have been the eldest sibling in a large family, where she would have played an important role in tribal life. A talented, intelligent and loving person, she would have been an asset to our tribe.

However, she might never have gone to college. She certainly would not have grown up in Santa Fe, or become a LASER technician at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She would not have addressed a group of Native-American students about technology and inspired one to finish college and become a science teacher. Most pertinent to me, however, neither my sister nor I would ever have been born.

So my life, my sister's life, the lives of our kids, and possibly the lives of countless Navajo youth who learned science from a woman, my mom had inspired are possible only because of my mom’s sacrifice. She is a woman whom I love unconditionally, whom I admire and revere. A woman who sends care packages to our service men and women overseas, who volunteers her time in our local schools, who has taught Religious Education for more than fifteen years. She is a beautiful and kind person, whom I love completely. So it pains me to know that she had to sacrifice her childhood in order that I might live.

How does a person make peace with something like that?
"Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

It occurred to me that this interconnected relationship between success and tragedy is everywhere. The fabric of our existence, of our country's success is filled with strands of achievement that were purchased by another person’s loss. UUs are quick to applaud the courage, sacrifice, and accomplishments of civil rights heroes, of abolitionists, of those who ran the Underground Railroad or worked for women's suffrage. But we often forget to pause, to remember, and to respect the unwilling sacrifices forced upon millions of nameless victims. We forget that our lives are built not only on the courage and effort of our heroes but also on the shoulders and terror of all those anonymous victims who lost everything. We are the inheritors of their legacy too, and we owe it to them to remember their sacrifice.

During World War II, Nazis tortured and murdered between 11 and 17 million people. By 1945, two out of every three Jews from Eastern Europe had been killed in concentration camps. Additionally, there were millions of others, including homosexuals, disabled people, Pentecostal believers and political dissidents. This world was filled with survivors who had lost everyone they had ever known. They had been forced to watch as their brothers and sisters, as their parents and their children were systematically worked to death. Deprived of adequate food they labored past human capacity and were killed. For years, the survivors had daily inhaled the smoke and fumes of Nazi ovens, burning the remains of their fellow victims. They lived and slept with this horror, and when liberated, they returned to this world alone, having lost every person they had ever known or ever loved. How often, we forget that the holocaust was a major contributing factor to the conditions that allowed the US to enjoy a position of global leadership after that war. We may not have condoned or participated in that evil, but we certainly benefited from it.

Some of you may be wondering why I am talking about this on a beautiful Sunday morning. Why would I introduce such ugliness and negativity? Don’t people come to church for inspiration? Maybe, but there are some people like me, who actually come here for the free coffee...

I also come to church, because I am inspired by our seven principles. I believe that when we covenant to affirm and promote the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, we also covenant to speak those forgotten tragedies aloud. We covenant to bear witness to the horrible cruelty which humans can inflict. We covenant to acknowledge that our success is intimately tied to and dependent on the horror of someone else’s life.

Unitarian Universalism has always stood for those who lack power and who need a voice. We have always stood for those who are not the heroes or the freedom fighters, but simply the victims. Today's sermon is not so much a call to action, but rather a reminder that we have promised to remember with deep reverence, those forgotten and frightened people. We have promised to remember their unwilling contribution to the creation of this world. We have promised to respect the interconnected nature that their lives played in all of existence.

People's’ reactions to this sort of truth vary. Some may choose to dedicate their lives to peace. Others may decide life is short and unpredictable--that they need to ensure their friends and family feel loved. Some may be fidgeting and thinking, “I can't wait till this guy stops. The coffee wasn’t worth it today." Another person may simply feel moved and contemplative, there are countless valid reactions.

But I ask that you set those aside and join me now.
Take this moment to be silent and remember.
Remember the child, neglected and abused,
or the child who watched as their family was killed.
Take this moment to breathe and to mourn,
to mourn their suffering and horror and pain.
Take this time to experience life,
and give reverence to those who were sacrificed.
To honor their contributions to our lives and to all that we know...

In closing, I’ll quote D.H. Lawrence, “I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. There is not any part of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself, it is only the glitter of the sun on the surfaces of the water.”