Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Imprisoned Lightning

Service celebrated at the First Unitarian Church of Hobart, Indiana, on 05 February 2012
Rev. Chip Roush

One of my favorite poets, Wislawa Szymborska, died last Wednesday, of lung cancer. These are excerpts of her poem, Psalm:

“How leaky are all the borders
we draw around our separate nations!
How many clouds cross those boundaries
daily without even paying the toll!
How much desert sand
simply sifts from country to country,
or how many mountain pebbles
hop down slopes onto foreign turf just like that!
Need I remind you of each and every bird
as it flies over, and now sits,
on a closed border-gate?
Even if it’s small as a sparrow, its tail is abroad
while its beak is still at home.
And if that weren’t enough, it keeps fidgeting!
Out of countless insects, I will single out the ant,
who, right between the guard’s left boot
and his right, pays no attention to any questions of origin or destination.

How can we speak
of any semblance of order around here
when we can’t even rearrange the stars
to show which one shines for whom?”

Of course, stars don’t shine for particular people. Stars shine because they are stars. Living creatures create borders and otherwise mark their territory because that’s what living beings do. And, wise creatures begin to question such borders. They challenge the necessity of such rigid distinctions. The wise among us point out that we are all much more alike than we are different—-because that’s what wise beings do.

Today and every day, may we notice, and honor, the same Spirit of Life that moves in all of us.
So may we be.

Meanwhile, as sands and stars and ants and birds continue to defy our borders, we know that people in every nation have hopes and dreams as true and high as ours. Please rise, in body or spirit, for our opening hymn, and our affirmation of faith. If you are with or near a child, you might remain seated, to help them. Our opening hymn is #159, This Is My Song

Mark Belletini was born in Detroit, in 1949. He serves the First UU congregation in Columbus, Ohio, as its Senior Minister. After his poem, we’ll enter a moment of silence.

Communion Circle

The earth.
One planet.
Round, global,
so that when you trace its shape
with your finger,
you end up where you started. It’s one. It’s whole.
All the dotted lines we draw on our maps
of this globe are just that, dotted lines.
They smear easily.
Oceans can be crossed.
Mountains can be crossed.
Even the desert can be crossed.
The grain that grows on one side of the border
tastes just as good as the grain on the other side.
Moreover, bread made from rice is just as nourishing
to body and spirit as bread made from corn,
or spelt […] or wheat or barley.
There is no superior land, no chosen site,
no divine destiny falling on any one nation
who draws those dotted lines just so.
There is only one earth we all share,
we, the living, with all else that lives
and does not live. Virus, granite, wave,
city, cornfield, prophet, beggar, child,
slum, tower, [quarry], robin, eel, grandfather,
rose, olive branch, bayonet and this poem
and moment are all within the circle,
undivided by dotted lines or final certainties.

everything, for good or ill,
is part of the shared whole:
sky, earth, song, words and now, this silence.

Earth and sky, bayonet and olive branch—as we open our awareness to the full reality of human experience; we call upon Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers, and Yachimata-hime, Shinto Goddess of Innumerable Roads;

we call to mind the human ideal of hospitality, welcome offered in virtually every age and culture;

and we honor Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, first feminist of the Americas, who challenged stereotypes over 300 years ago; and whose followers have questioned supposed certainties, ever since;

we open to the Spirit of Life, evolving through and among us, and we name our gratitude to be alive this day; we are grateful to be as well as we are; and we are thankful to be among these good people;

we lift up those joys & sorrows recently mentioned, and those which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts;

we welcome home our troops; and we desire sufficient support for them and for their family members;

we lift up the massacre in Homs, Syria, and the other atrocities of the Syrian government; we desire accountability among those responsible, and courage and compassion in all our world’s leaders;

we are aware of the Super Bowl this evening; we desire that no player be too seriously injured, and we desire that the violence on the field does not inspire violence in real life;

we hear the cries of those emigrating into this country, in search of better lives for themselves and their families; and we acknowledge the concerns of those who feel threatened by that influx; we desire creative solutions such that, instead of all sides being punished, all of us gain in wisdom, in community, in economic stability and in overall freedom and justice;

We desire enough food, and shelter, and peace of mind for all beings this day; we pledge ourselves in pursuit of this goal.
Praise for living.
So may we be.

Emma Lazarus was born in New York City, in 1849. She wrote this sonnet in 1883:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

{Joe Jencks performs his Lady of the Harbour}

How many of you, at some point in your youth, performed chores or otherwise worked hard to earn some money, only to be forced to share it with a sibling, or cousin, or neighbor? How many ever worked diligently on a group project at school, only to receive the same grade as the person who did no work, or even made the project more difficult? How many of you have accomplished something really well done, then had another person take the credit for it?

All of these situations seem unfair—and it goes deeper than that. As our religious and cultural ancestors struggled with the doctrine of predestination, when they admitted their terror that they would probably be condemned to hell, their pastors told them something like, “if you’re having success here on earth, then that is likely a sign that you will have success in the afterlife, too.”

This is the source of the so-called Protestant Work Ethic, wherein we work hard on earth, not necessarily to *earn* our way into heaven, but still to somehow demonstrate our worthiness, to show why we may be destined for that eventual paradise.

Alas, eventually, this well-meaning pastoral approach got warped into blaming the victim, and viewing any lack of material success as evidence of some moral failing. From that perspective, being asked to share our wealth with others can be seen as not only a bit unfair, but actually against God’s will.

Let me be clear: I do not agree with this opinion, but I know a lot of people who do. My Facebook friends list includes a surprising number of people who accept that their wealth is a sign of God’s favor, and that those who are poor are sinful, and deserve their fate.

Add to this ideology the fact that, for millions of years, life has been trained with the simple axiom that creatures who look very similar to us are safe, or good; and those who look different are dangerous, and we see how difficult it is for ourselves and our fellow human cousins to get past our own prejudices and truly welcome the “huddled masses…of wretched refuse” “yearning to breathe free.”

Immigration into our United States has slowed way down, recently, but at its height, in the mid-1990’s, 2,000 people per *day* crossed from Mexico into Arizona looking for work.

So it’s little wonder that so many of us citizens are falling into our fears, and turning our backs against the lady of the harbor, and against the tempest-tossed unfortunates whom she is supposed to be welcoming.

As a religiously liberal minister, I continue to advocate and work toward situations where we humans overcome our fears and work together, across boundaries and divisions, to create justice and peace for people of all backgrounds.

Unfortunately, a lot of other people continue to work to strengthen those divisions, and punish the people who challenge them. About two years ago, the Arizona legislature passed the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”—also known as Senate Bill 1070-—which *requires* law officers to ask people for their identification papers, not merely when they are being arrested for an actual crime, but anytime there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an illegal immigrant.

Officers must also ask for identification if they believe a citizen is “harboring” an undocumented person (like giving them a ride to a doctor’s appointment). The bill also makes it illegal to stop and pick up workers on a street—which is the way that many undocumented people find work as day laborers to support themselves and their families.

Some of SB1070’s worst provisions have been struck down by the courts, but most of the law remains in force.

Since then, five other states have passed copycat legislation. Last May, Indiana Senate Bill 590 went even further than the Arizona bill. It included several “English-only” provisions intended to punish and drive out of the state people whose primary language was Spanish, or some other non-English tongue. Again, the courts threw out the parts of the bill that gave local law enforcement the same rights and responsibilities as federal immigration officials, but most of the laws remain.

The Indiana law, in particular, was passed in spite of significant opposition from a variety of sources. In fact, some police were against it, because it creates much more work for them, and it makes it less likely that people of color will ever trust them, or help the authorities to investigate crimes in their neighborhoods.

Some religious people, from many traditions, resisted this demonization of our fellow human beings.

Even a fair number of business people believed that the Indiana bill was an over-reaction. They knew that the new laws requiring them to verify the citizenship of every employee would be costly and time-consuming; and they worried that such harsh laws would drive away potential business partners.

The non-ideological business owners recognize that undocumented people still buy many products and still work to make such products, and attend schools and participate in our local communities in many beneficial ways.

The business owners’ concerns have been borne out, in Alabama. The harsh anti-immigrant laws there were so draconian that they drove out virtually all of the undocumented farm workers. Many farmers could not find U.S. citizens to do the difficult work of bringing in their crops, so their produce rotted in their fields, costing the farmers—-and ultimately, us consumers—-many millions of dollars.

Also, Alabama has twice been embarrassed as top executives of foreign automobile companies have been arrested for not having the “right” identification papers.

There are other consequences of our nation falling into its fears over immigration.

How many of you believe that you are currently protected by the 4th amendment of the bill of rights, against unreasonable search and seizure? I did too. Unfortunately, we are currently within 100 miles of a national border, so the 4th amendment does *not* apply to us. The Department of Homeland Security has the authority to stop, search and detain anyone, resident or traveler, for any reason within 100 miles of the border.

One of my more cynical friends calls this the “Constitution Free Zone.” In addition to all border lands, all airports are defined as within the “Constitution Free Zone.” According to 2007 data, about 197 million people—-or two thirds of our U.S. citizens—-live within this zone, and therefore are *not* protected against unreasonable search and seizure (including all the information on your computer) by Homeland Security.

For me, it comes down to Lloyd Stone’s words, which we sang earlier: “other hearts…are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.” We’re talking about other human beings. It does not matter to me where they were born, or what language they speak. They have inherent worth and dignity, just as I do, and just as every one of you do.

We are so very good at creating boundaries and divisions; some of us never even realize how much we are harming ourselves and our fellow beings as we make our legal definitions.

Look: I know that I’ve talked a lot about immigration justice, this year. At least twice, already, I have shared stories about families torn apart by immigration officials. Spouses, not just deported but deported in such a way that they will likely never find each other again; children taken from their beds and given to foster parents. All because one of the parents was not born inside the right dotted lines on a globe.

It makes me very sad—-and, I do have hope. As we have in many other causes, we Unitarian Universalists are one of the leading forces for immigrant justice.

Working in partnership with such groups as Puente! and NDLON—the National Day Laborer’s Organizing Network—-we have rallied and demonstrated and some of us even gotten arrested in the ongoing justice efforts in Arizona.

This June, several thousand UUs will attend General Assembly in Phoenix and witness for justice, again. And around the country, our UUA and NDLON are co-presenting a National Day of Witness and Service, so that hundreds of groups in every state of our nation will demonstrate for human rights on Saturday, June 23rd. I will definitely be in Phoenix; I hope that some of us from this congregation will be involved in local events for the National Day of Witness.

Over the last 13.7 billion years, raw energy coalesced into matter, which folded and intertwined into proteins, and eventually into life; and that life has developed self-awareness and a conscience. After millions of years believing that “same equals good, and different equals danger,” some of us are riding the evolutionary impulse to get beyond such distinctions. We are noticing that we are all more alike than we are different. We are celebrating our differences and building on our commonalities so that we will someday be “undivided by dotted lines.”

So may we be.

Let us indeed smile on each other. Let us not turn our backs on our immigrant neighbors, but let us find ways for us all to thrive, together.
So may we be.

(original post, with links, at So May We Be)


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At 9:44 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

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