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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.”

22 comments:

  1. A very moving post. Yes I too believe that we are all interconnected in ways we do not understand

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    1. Thanks! I appreciate your comment and I really enjoyed your story about the ouiju board. It reminded me of things we did as kids. My sister and I got ourselves all worked up about all sorts of things. What fun memories. Thanks Again.

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  2. This is another thought provoking talk...I remember working with migrant workers and criticizing the farmers for the poor conditions they worked in. But every day I was buying inexpensive produce that was the results of their very low pay. Such a tangled (interdependent) web we live in.

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    1. Thanks Susan for stopping by and reading my sermon. I appreciate your thoughts on the topic too.

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  3. This is very interesting and thought provoking reading, Mike. I must say that it's something I have spent time contemplating. Suffering of one means the existence of another is a fact and one I believe the sufferer would never wish to remove. The result would be devastating.
    The quote you ended with means much to me because I believe God is in all of me, you and everyone else and that connects us, like it or not. We are all his children and therefore, brothers and sisters. The universe is many branches of the same tree.

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    1. Thanks Jo, it sounds like you enjoyed this one, I'm glad. I always appreciate your comments! I really like your concept of the universe being many branches of the same tree.

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  4. Very interesting and really makes one think! Well done.

    Kathy
    http://gigglingtruckerswife.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks Kathy! So glad you dropped by to read and even more glad that it caused you to think...my job is done here if that is what people get out of it! BTW, very compelling idea of going to San Antonio after reading your post.

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  5. A great post. I also believe that we are all connected, not just in our earthly existence, but Universally. Your post brings to mind these word's from an Elton John song - "there's a time for everyone if they only learn, that the twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn, there's a rhyme and reason to the great outdoors .."
    A wonderful tribute to your mother. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for your comments Suzy and especially for including that great quote from Elton John. He's great and I haven't heard (either that,m or paid attention to) that quote from him before.

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  6. it does make you ponder.......as you throw your intimate thoughts here..and shine ((hugs)) is your mom still alive?

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    1. oh yes, my Mom is alive and well. She heard me deliver this sermon in Rio Rancho the other week. Thanks for the compliments!

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  7. This is just fantastic, Mike. It is such a large and important concept that you have made so personal and touching.
    Also, you have free coffee at your church?! No fair!

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    1. Thanks TL! I like the coffee! We don't offer free lunch, because, I suppose, there is no such thing. However, for those who attend, the coffee can be had! :-)

      My mom was in the room when I delivered this sermon. I cried through the whole portion that related to her and she cried too. I know that she has been angry about being kept from her native family by the Govt. I know also, that she loves me and my sister very much.

      I never expected a Sunday morning sermon in Boston to have such a profound affect on my view of existence. I love life so much, it is so interesting to keep breathing every day!

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  8. You have a way of making me stop and think. I've always felt there is a connection between some, not always, the greater universe, but then again there are those random connections we can't explain.

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    1. My little son became interested in creation a few years ago and my wife ordered a book, "Born With a Bang" - http://infinityfoundation.com/univ.htm. I read that to my then four year old and went online to do a little research. We ended up making an "Evolution Rosary", where he picked a bead for each "mile stone" event in evolution since the big bang. One bead for the big bang, one for the formation of galaxies, one for the synthesis of elements, one for the creation of our star and then our planet, etc...

      He loved it and was very excited to go outside and look at stars, talk about evolution and that we're all made of star dust. It was sort of a profound evening for me. What shocked me was how our human experiences ended up tying to that evening when I listed to Rev. Morison-Reed's sermon in Boston, when I imagined myself walking into the museum in Hiroshima and having the experiences he described.

      I had this overwhelming sense of connection with all of life and suffering. That was when it all came into focus for me about our success and other people's sacrifices and how we're all so interwoven, that we can't even comprehend the connections that thread out from us.

      Thanks for your comments!

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  9. Though our views of the world's creation differ, I completely agree that we are connected to each other as well as the earth.

    This made me think of the day that my memories of my childhood were all thrown in the air and shattered to pieces. The day I learned that my youngest brother was abused for 8 years by a family member. After I found out about the abuse, I kept rethinking my memories and mentally figuring how old he would have been and if the abuse would have been going on at that time. I dipped a bit into depression feeling so guilty that I had such a happy childhood while his was filled with fear and pain and confusion.

    I don't think his tragedy affected my 'success' in life, but I do see how his trials have led him to the difficult life he leads. I've struggled with how to make it better, but all I can do is love him. I like the idea that we must remember them and their unwilling contribution.

    I do believe in justice. That someday, if not in this life, then in the next, those who injured others will have to pay a price for that. And, those who suffered or were denied blessings will be given all that they missed and more. This is one thing that brings me peace.

    My brother is an atheist, so I wonder if there is any peace to be found about the injustices in life when you don't believe in an afterlife? Is this where it's found, in trying to find the balance between good and bad? Like your mom missing a childhood, but influencing so many people?

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    1. Jewels, thanks for chiming in. I always appreciate your comments and having the opportunity to digest your thoughts.

      I've had similar experiences with finding out about people I'm close to having been abused and it is always deeply troubling. The vast majority of child abuse is perpetrated by someone the family knows and trusts. It is always unsettling, because I like to think the best of people.

      I don't really have a recipe for finding peace, except to accept that what has happened has happened and move forward. Some things I have a hard time with. I can't watch footage of Nazi concentration camps being liberated. It is too upsetting for me.

      I think the way I find peace is to choose this life as best as I can (either we can choose this life or we can fight it. I try to choose it). I make sure my kids know how much I love them, I try to laugh as often as I can and I try to create beauty in the world. I try never to forget the human capacity for committing acts of terrible evil and I try to remember that I too could potentially participate in something vile.

      I don't know if you've ever read my sermon: Morality and Spiritual Atheism - http://reasonable-thought.blogspot.com/2011/01/morality-spiritual-atheism.html

      It pokes at my source of peace. Though I'm an atheist, I continue to practice spiritual principles. I believe that gives me peace and direction.

      Thanks Again Jewels for dropping by!

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  10. Thanks for posting all this Mike! I'm grateful to be in the loop. You rule. Keep it up.

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    1. Hey Dan,
      I'm always so glad to see you have dropped by and I look forward to your comments and thoughts. Thanks for reading and leaving a few words. I hope Mexico is a tolerable temperature for you right now.

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  11. You were right, Mike, I did really like this! I'm sorry it took me a full year to find your own comment to my blog. Cheers!

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    1. Thanks for dropping in. It's always great to get a comment well after I published a piece.

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