I will do my best not to give too many spoilers. So it was a big picture epic extravaganza with many superheroes and super-villains. There was witty banter, awesome action sequences, love and tragedy. This gives us all the trappings of a good movie if you like those things. I am just once more going to state my displeasure with time travel plots in movies. Its just always either too easy or too illogical. In general, this concept where Dr. Strange even with time travel cant change the present, leads to the age old theology that our fate is destined. I hate that theology. The best part of the movie is to see the various characters we have come to see developed over the years come together and interact. The movie also raised the question of how to live in a world that can not sustain its population with its known resources. It asks how power should be used. It asks at what point and for what will you sacrifice your personal needs for the needs of the greater whole. All good and deep questions. Lastly, and a negative consequence of this movie, is that every Marvel movie going forward will be somewhat tainted by what happened at the end of this movie.
Saturday, May 05, 2018
Wednesday, May 02, 2018
Billie Holliday in one of her songs sang
“The difficult I will do right now,
The impossible will take awhile”
The world we live in is fraught with difficulties and uncertainty and sometimes despite years of struggle it can seem that we aren’t making a difference. With every two steps forward it seems that have to take a step back.
As Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker said The moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. But he also said that “the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve, and complete the figure by the experience of sight.”
So what keeps us going what keeps us working towards justice, what keeps us seeking truth,
when it all seems uncertain. It is easy to get caught up in the challenges of today to feel despair, just sit back turn on the tv and escape from it all.
but if we look back on history,
circumstances that at the time they existed seemed impossible to change,
when it was darkest before the dawn.
During slavery, before abolition,
during child labor and worker abuse before unions,
during Apartheid in South Africa before reconciliation,
during legal racial segregation and discrimination in the United State, before civil right laws,
during oppression in eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin wall and the soviet union.
These all seemed impossible at the time. People labored years, decades, even centuries to change the system, despite setbacks, despite risks, over time through the ongoing work of dedicated committed people eventually the impossible became possible. Jim Wallis of the Christian social justice magazine Sojourners says,
“Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.”
It is important to remember that today, when we look at the multitude of our challenges, including climate change, Palestinian-Israeli conflict,
mass incarceration of people of color,
the lack of quality health care and food for all people the increasing income equality,
the ongoing gun violence in our country….
when you list them all out, it seems like a lot, and it is, but we have to do what we can, witnessing and organizing and as important sharing why our religious values call us to work for these things.
We need to constantly sustain ourselves over time or we will burn out. But never doubt that what we do affects what happens in the world. Just because we don’t see the change we want immediately sometimes we look at it as failure. We have to take the long view recognizing we will have setbacks and detours but we have to keep on going, adapt and continue to work towards our vision. Sometimes to avoid burnout, we need to step back to take a breath and allow others to lead, and then when we are rejuvenated, we add our breath and energy back into the whole. Do not equate stepping back and taking a breath with giving up.
As well don’t allow stepping back and taking a breath to become an excuse for complacency. Sometimes it takes long grinding work, just to find out the problem, then to find the solution,
and then to bring the necessary people, awareness and skills to affect change. And even with all that sometimes we don’t succeed, but we keep going, and we have to ask why?
Why continue on?
It is important to remember why.
It is the why that keeps us going.
We continue on because we value compassion and caring for our fellow human beings over a quiet safe existence just for ourselves,
we continue on because we value living with an ethic of love for others as opposed to a hatred of others,
we continue on because we value hospitality as opposed to exclusion and seclusion,
we continue on because we value living with courage as opposed to be driven by fear.
We continue on because we can,
we continue on because we must.
If not us who, if not now when.
Success is not a given
There is a time and place for everything, and now is the time to be vigilant and to persevere.
We cant just expect someone else somewhere else will do it.
Writer and activist Rebecca Solnit writes “Change comes, Not by magic, but by the incremental effect of countless acts of courage, love, and commitment, the small drops that wear away stones and carve new landscapes, and sometimes by torrents of popular will that change the world suddenly.”
And in truth we don’t know when that will happen or in what way it will happen, there will never be a perfect moment that we will know this is it. There is just the present moment, and what we choose to do in it. We must let go of our fear of how things will work out, we must let go of our illusions of a given outcome in any particular moment. We must let go of dwelling on the difficulties, and instead dwell on the possibilities and be willing to sacrifice and to take a risk for our values.
Social and political activist Paul Loeb tells the story of one person who took a risk Gaby Pacheco. Gaby was seven years old when her family brought her to the U.S. from Ecuador.
She was the highest ranked Junior ROTC student in her high school, but couldn’t join the Air Force due to being undocumented. Enrolling in Miami/Dade Community College, she became student body president, then headed the statewide student government association. In January 2010, Gaby and three other students launched a four-month walk from Miami to Washington D.C. that they called the Trail of DREAMs, putting their freedom on the line in support of a path to citizenship. What she and her friends started ended up leading to President Obama signing the Dream Act. This shows again how a small group of people can start a torrent of change.
Their legacy is now ours to join our voices and action to move it forward May their acts inspire us, and may our acts inspire others and together may we persevere until we reach our highest ideals, and reach our vision by living out our values in the world.
Rabbi David Wolf tells a story of a A boy and his father were walking along a road when they came across a large stone.
“Do you think if I use all of my strength, I can move this rock?” the child asked. His father answered, “If you use all of your strength, I am sure you can do it.” The boy began to push the rock. Exerting himself as much as he could, he pushed and pushed. The rock did not move. Discouraged, he said to his father, “You were wrong. I can’t do it.” His father put his arm around the boy’s shoulder and said, “No son. You didn’t use all your strength – you didn’t ask me to help.”
Let this story be a reminder of our commitment to each other that we make as congregants to each other to offer our time, talents and treasures to support the Congregation and each other and as our covenant of right relations says, that “Participation implies presence.” When others see our commitment that will inspire them as well to be committed.
We come together to use our combined strength and to help each other and the Congregation work to reach its vision. It is also why I am committed to interfaith work in our community because despite our differences, we are stronger together then we are separate. We can inspire and influence others only if they see our commitment to justice in the community. I have been particularly impressed with the work of our partner Quad Cities Interfaith for their work for systemic change by building relationships throughout the larger community. I invite you to investigate how to get involved in our Congregational Social Justice Work at next Sunday’s forum.
In my work with quad cities interfaith and social justice with the Congregation and in general, I have found persistence and taking the long view to be very important to maintain hope.
One example of this is our journey to become a Sanctuary Congregation to address and highlight the immigration policies of detention and deportation, although not exclusively, but particularly for families that are comprised of both citizens and non citizens. Last year, One of our members came to me after reading a message from then UUA President Rev. Peter Morales encouraging Congregations to become Sanctuaries for undocumented residents in our country. This member was moved by the call and asked how would we go about this.
The first question we discerned together was whether this was in line with the Mission and Vision of the Congregation. Our Mission calls the Congregation “to devote itself to Community Good.” Our Vision calls us to “Support social justice and social action initiatives in our congregation and the greater community” Does housing someone who is undocumented lead to Community Good? I believe it does. As I have come to know more undocumented individuals, I have found them to be upstanding members of the community who are trying to live the American Dream. They are hard working individuals with families.
Some in their families are citizens of the United States and deporting them would cause the break up of their family. In this Congregation, we value families in all their varied configurations where love is present. Our Mission asks us to create a vibrant, welcoming, diverse, church family. This diversity calls me to include both citizen and non citizen alike. In creating the beloved community, all people of good will are welcome. These undocumented individuals are part of the fabric of our community and deporting them would destroy the fabric of our community.
Becoming a Sanctuary Congregation would be a public action and would be done not only to support a particular individual or family but to raise the consciousness of the community to the plight of all undocumented individuals. There is another more personal reason I support becoming a Sanctuary Congregation. My family came to this country in the early 20th century fleeing persecution and oppression. This country allowed my family in with open arms and gave us the opportunity to reach our potential and as well to serve this country and the communities we lived in. There were no limitations on who could come to this country when my family arrived. Just because we arrived here first, does not give me the right to deny that same opportunity to others who want freedom from oppression that my family desired.
Soon after my family arrived, our Country started restricting immigration. For the longest time, our immigration laws restricting immigration were specifically race based limitations.
It is time for our Country to come to terms with our history of racism and be open to a future that is a multi-racial and multi-cultural with peace, liberty and equality for all.
It is because of these values, and our congregation’s mission and vision that I support becoming a sanctuary congregation.
As with all new programs in the Congregation, one person alone does not determine the direction of the Congregation. If you have been to any of my social justice trainings, you know we require at least 5 committed members or friends for a project to be viable. We put out publicity to determine if there was interest in this issue and many in the Congregation responded positively and committed to working on this issue. The Sanctuary task force was created and up to a dozen congregants have been meeting weekly to discern the issues around becoming a Sanctuary Congregation.
After ongoing and thorough research, the task force presented their proposal to the Board. The Board unanimously approved the Congregation becoming a Sanctuary Congregation.
The Board and the Project members all agreed that because this was such a large issue, that would need a large Congregational Commitment, that it should be brought to a vote of the Congregation before we formally declare ourselves a Sanctuary Congregation.
So I have shared why I agree with this proposal by our Sanctuary task force of the Social Justice Team’s Immigration Project. Now I want to remind you that it is ok to not agree with this. Different people have different values, and part of what we do here is share our stories learn from each other, and our covenant also states
“We agree that each of us should expect the right to participate and express our own best thoughts, and an affirmation that our thoughts and perceptions hold merit. We will accept the personal responsibility to behave toward each other with patience, respect, goodwill and honesty even when our thoughts and perceptions differ.”
We often acknowledge and accept that we do not all agree with each other theologically, Let us also acknowledge and accept that we may not all agree with each other on social justice issues.
It is why I say that our theology is a relational theology.
How we covenant to be with each other,
how we covenant to treat each other,
how we covenant to love each other despite those differences.
How we are in relationship with each other
That is my theology.
So whether you are for this or against this, I invite you to share your stories, your values, as to why you feel the way you feel. We will be having a town hall after the service in the lounge, a forum before service next week and town hall after service next week as well to hear your support, your concerns, and your questions.
I end with the words of Unitarian Minister Edward Everett Hale who said
“I am only one, But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
Let us each do what we can do, what we must do.
I ask for your help in all of our ministries.
Let us over time through the ongoing work of dedicated committed congregants do what we can to change lives, and live out our values and to make the impossible become possible. Let us reach for and grow into our best selves and let us by doing so fulfill our vision and mission and learn to love each other. May it be so.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
I was born in 1959, so I was a child at what I would call the pinnacle of the civil rights movement, and so I looked at it from a child’s perspective. It is always interesting to look back at the past and compare how we experienced something at the time and compare that to what we now know looking back with more context. At the time, I knew there was a lot of change happening, and lots of discussions about justice in the house, but I didn’t have the historical context and worldly experiences to understand the why of it all. I remember vividly the assassination of Martin Luther King, which I am shocked to remember was 50 years ago this coming April.
It seems to me like it was only yesterday, I remember watching when a special news report came on the television and interrupted whatever I was watching to announce it, I ran upstairs to announce it to the family like I was the herald of bad news to see the shocked faces of everyone tinged maybe with a little fear. Now every time I see a special news report interrupt my show, I expect it to be something as shocking, but it is often something mundane and I start into my grumpy old man routine, When I was young they would only break into regularly scheduled shows with news reports if someone was assassinated. My family thankfully tolerates me. But that is how the mind works, important events, are etched into our brains.
On the left here is a picture just moments after King was shot in the Lorraine hotel in Memphis Tenn. On the right is how it the façade looks today maintained as it looked then, to etch that moment in time in memory, but inside the hotel today is a national civil rights museum that is worth taking a trip to Memphis to see. I knew less about Malcolm X at the time, as he was assassinated when I was only 6, except for the fact that his assassination occurred in the neighborhood my grandparents lived in, so that raised a lot of tension and fear about safety.
There was been a pattern in our country in the 1960s of voices of color who spoke out against oppression being silenced, and so it is not to surprising that we do not have that one clarion voice today but rather leadership is decentralized. In the 60s the two largest voices were Martin Luther King and Malcolm X often are portrayed as in conflict with each other, but as with anything the story is much more complex. And it is important to look back at it in context to see the trajectories of their lives and their ministries and they how evolved over time and intersected and complemented each other. Both King and X were children of preachers.
King grew up in a middle class household. His father was a prominent and respected preacher, businessperson and on the board of the local NAACP. And although he did constantly run up against Jim Crow segregation laws, Martin grew up in Atlanta with strong family and community support. He was raised within an environment that stressed self help through economic, educational and moral development and that shielded him from the worst of racial violence at that time. He went to school at prestigious Morehouse College in Atlanta and then seminary in Pennsylvania and to Boston Univ. for his doctorate. He grew up immersed in the Christian Church and his liberal education led him to embrace a more universalist attitude toward humanity. All of these experiences shaped his integrational attitudes towards race relations, which I think were succinctly summarized in a 1962 speech at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon Ia.
"(People) often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they do not know each other; they do not know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated” .
Malcolm X had a very different upbringing which led him to different conclusions. He grew up in the North. His father Earl was also a preacher but never found steady employment. Earl was a follower of Marcus Garvey who promoted Black Nationalism. Due to his father’s strident Black Nationalism, his family was forced out of Omaha by the KKK and their house was burned in Michigan, and Malcom’s father was subsequently murdered, which left Malcom, his mother and siblings in dire poverty, and the family was broken up by social services. Unlike Martin, Malcolm was not protected, and lived in abject poverty.
As theologian James Cone writes about him “In the ghetto where survival was an arduous task and violence was an everyday experience, nonviolence was not a meaningful option and most even regarded the promotion of it as a sign of weakness and lack of courage.”
Here is a clip of Malcolm X speaking about Black Nationalism.
Quoting James Cone. “Unlike integrationists, nationalists do not define their significance and purpose as a people by appealing to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, or even the white man’s religion of Christianity. On the contrary, nationalists define their identity by their determination to create a society based on their own African history and culture.”
And Malcolm X after a very hard life, while in prison found a foundation for these beliefs in the Nation of Islam and its leader Elijah Muhammad. This religion provided discipline and support for the African American Community. Malcolm X rose in the ranks to its highest levels. He often proposed violence as a way for African Americans to defend themselves against White oppression, although interestingly, I can find no record of Malcolm X actually using or ordering violence, just threatening it. Now to be clear we should not confuse the Nation of Islam with traditional Islam. There are some similarities, but most mainstream Muslims did not and do not consider them Muslim. But they did instill self reliance and pride in being of African descent and were virulently anti-christian calling it the religion of their oppressors often telling his followers not to love their enemy, but rather to love themselves.
Malcolm X’s exile from the Nation started soon after his comment about President Kennedy’s assassination when he said, “the seeds that America has sown in enslavement, in many things that followed since then, all these seeds were coming up today; it was harvest time, the chickens have come home to roost.” We probably remember this line from Rev. Jerimiah Wright in regard to 9-11. With the negative publicity of this statement and uncovering improprieties by Elijah Muhammad, Malcom X was ostracized from the Nation of Islam. With his religious foundation and dogma gone, he found a new intellectual freedom that came along with a personal foundation of empowerment.
He took a pilgrimage to Mecca and his life was transformed. Learning about traditional Islam, he said he had a ""spiritual rebirth"
"What I have seen and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions…Here in this ancient holy land. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe could never exist between the white and the non-white….You may be shocked by these words coming from me…but I have always been a man who tries to face facts and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it.”
That almost sounds Unitarian Universalist to me. When Malcolm X came back to the United States he spoke often and to wider audiences then just inner city poor Blacks, including college students and labor unions and the socialist worker party saying things such as
"It is not a case of our people . . . wanting either separation or integration….The use of these words actually clouds the real picture. The 22 million Afro-Americans don't seek either separation or integration. They seek recognition and respect as human beings.”
And although he did not abdicate the use of violence, he moved closer to Martin Luther King in seeking reconciliation and justice with whites as opposed to separation and nationalism. And just 9 months after he returned from Mecca he was assassinated presumably by the Nation of Islam for speaking against them. His profound transformation shows us what is possible. Transforming hate into love. Not abandoning ones principles or even tactics but seeing a wider more inclusive world view.
Sometimes it does take getting outside our bubble and hearing other perspectives and seeing other models that can lead to success and even realizing a different definition of what success is, but most of all it requires being open to change. Martin Luther King upon hearing about Malcolm’s death sent the following cable to X’s wife.
“While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race”
We tend these days to idolize King, and in doing so, we should note that just as Malcolm X had a transformation, and moved closer to King’s position, so too did King move more towards a militancy albeit a peaceful one as he became impatient with white moderates and even African Americans allies who challenged him especially when he took a stand against the Vietnam War where he recognized in the Vietnamese’s struggle the same struggle that African Americans had in this country. And after numerous riots in 1967, he gave a famous speech At Stamford, called the other America where while not agreeing with rioting, understood their nature. .
And so to hear the unheard, we must listen and now we must be transformed knowing what we know. We thought we had been to the mountaintop, but the truth is with every mountain there is another valley beyond it to walk through to get to the next pinnacle. Karl Marx said
“People make their own history but they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstance directly encountered, given and transformed from the past.” We have seen how King and X were shaped by their upbringings, and transformed by the circumstances in their lives.
So now knowing what we know, In the circumstances we face today, with the increase of racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and anti-semitism, how will we make history. Will we be like the quiet Germans who looked away during Nazi Germany, or Will we stand up to hate and build the beloved community. Are we willing to take direct action to put forth our values into the world. Will we stand with all who are oppressed. Are we willing to speak the truth to power and put us back on the path of freedom.
This last week we saw yet another physical assault on immigrants, with a decree to deport over 100,000 Haitian and Salvadorian refugees who have been living here legally for over a decade due to extreme hardship in their home country. Last week we saw yet another in a long history of verbal and twitter racist assaults on immigrants and people of color from the leader of this country using vulgar and dehumanizing words to describe people of color from other countries and wishing more white people from Norway would emigrate here. And he is not the only world leader to try and dehumanize immigrants
Other eastern European leaders have called immigrants criminals, poison, diseased. We have seen this before in history. We have seen it in the lead up to sending Jews to the gas chambers. We have seen in our country when we considered Africans property and not people, we have seen it in every war propaganda depicting our enemy
Dehumanizing people is the first step to convincing people to harm others. 19th Century Unitarian Ralph Waldo Emerson said “People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.”
So it is up to us to shine a mirror on the leaders of this country so all can see their despicable character. So they know that we do not hold their values, that we show the community that we believe in humanizing people, that we need to recognize and respect that every human has worth and dignity, every human being deserves justice, equity and compassion.
We as a country need a spiritual rebirth. We need to combine the messages of both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to affect change. They showed us individual change is possible, and they showed us that people from all walks of life in the right place and time can rise and affect change in the world. Now is the time. Now is the place. We need to rise up and act against this morally corrupt government. As philosopher John Stuart Mills said “Bad (people) need nothing more to achieve their ends, than that good (people) should look on and do nothing” Let us keep Martin and Malcolm’s legacy alive by doing something to stop this.
I invite you to write letters to your elected officials. I invite you to join us this Friday and every Friday at noon at Senators Grassley and Ernst’s office to bear witness and to bring attention to the moral failings of this government, I invite you to work for voter turnout at the next election. I invite you gather with our social justice teams and let us be united with our partners in the community in our work to stand up to injustice. Let us listen to those who are suffering and let us follow them, not just to the mountain top, but into the streets and wherever else is necessary until justice wells up like water and righteousness like an unfailing stream.
We have past the pinnacle of civil rights and we are now in the valley of despair, so it is time to climb that mountain again, To remember the dreams of those who died in the struggle To remember that we are not in the promised land yet, it is still in the distance, and we cannot tire. The time to start climbing again is now. It will take all of us. May the spirit move us to make it so
Tuesday, April 03, 2018
Unitarians love their analogies to plants We see this going back as the 1800s with the Transcendentalists. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Every thought that arises in the mind, in its rising aims to pass out of the mind into act; just as every plant, in the moment of germination, struggles up to the light. In truth we use this analogy especially during Easter, because many don’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus. But most of us have experienced planting seeds in the ground and watching them grow. To the passerby seeing nothing from the outside, then seeing something grow out of nothing. Most of us can recognize shedding one life, one habit, one way of being for another and thus have resurrected our lives in some way. Jesus death gave his followers resurrected lives with new purpose and new ways of being. Plants give us a way to talk about that. I want you to know this is true not just of Unitarian Universalists. Throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures the imagery of a seed growing is utilized often.
In the Christian Seminary I attended, I took a discernment class and we were asked to keep a journal, and one of the items I was asked to specifically journal about was my plant. Now one small problem, I didn’t own a plant, so I went to a plant store. I had not had any experience with plants in my life up until that point, so when I went into the store, I asked the person at the counter for a plant that would be really hard to kill. I think we would all like that in life. We would like a body that is immune to disease, we would like a lifestyle that limits risk to our health, we would like a job that is not physically or emotionally dangerous. Sometimes the circumstances in our lives make it easier or harder for us to thrive. Most of us just have to work with what we have, and too often we spend a lot of time mitigating the risk of living instead of just living. If we are lucky along the way we learn how to navigate the intricacies of the world and our life and we are given a chance to thrive. Just like the plant. Given the right amount of water, nutrients and placed in a suitable environment, plants thrive. Of course different plants thrive in different environments and with different nutrients.
So I talked to the person who was an expert on plants, I did some reading to learn the basics of how plants thrive. Then I saw how my plant responded to how I treated it. With different amounts of water, playing Bruce Springsteen vs. Mozart, being outside or inside. The same thing is true with living, we need to obtain wisdom from experts, we need to learn things on our own and then we have to pay attention and discern if how we are living is allowing us to thrive under the conditions we are in. And so I encourage us to pay attention to and water our souls, out Congregation and our community to pay attention and understand what care is needed for us to grow and thrive to reach our potential. Over time my plant did grow, so first that was a sign to me, that just because I hadn’t done something, didn’t mean that I couldn’t do it. Sometimes it just takes time and attention.
Secondly, over time it outgrew the pot that it was in. I had it in the same plastic pot that it was in at the store. And although I didn’t anthropomorphize the plant, I did give it a name (vertigo) and wondered if it felt stimuli the way I did. I imagined if it would like to be planted outside in the yard, feeling the wind against its leaves, but I decided to just get a bigger ceramic pot, to give it more time to gro and build stronger roots before it had to face the harsh reality of the natural world, that included not only hurricane winds, but many different and varied creatures. One night tough when it rained, I did put the ceramic pot outside so it could feel and take in the rain water, imagining it would like it better then the tap water I usually used to feed it.
I thought about it in the same way that I imagine we think about those we care about, wanting to be protect them as long as necessary to give them time to build strong roots to be as prepared as possible before we go out into the world with all its wonder and all its harshness. Some people have that luxury, and others don’t. In truth, we are never fully ready and at some point we have to go out in the world with our uncertainties our uniqueness, with ubiquitous opportunities with unknown consequences. And just as I put my plant out in the rain sometimes we have to try new experiences so we can determine if a certain path allows us to flourish. As an example one time it tried bungee jumping. It was exhilarating, but I found, I really didn’t need that for my life to flourish.
But one day I took the leap and walked into a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and someone said hello, I took a leap and trusted others and joined a small group discussion. And I took a leap and became a worship associate and led a worship , And my life, my vision, my perceptions expanded with each new experience. I had new branches sprouting in my life and my roots grew deeper. And that was similar to my plant. As it was growing new shoots and leaves were growing and yet it also appeared to be dying at the same time as some of its purple petals were falling off. Then at one point all its petals feel off, and I thought I had done something wrong. That is how it can feel when we make a change in our life or in the congregation. It can feel like things are falling apart. I can feel empty, because the new thing is uncertain, the new thing is not yet formed, and in that uncertainty, all we focus on is what is lost.
I wondered if the plant was dead. But within a few days all the leaves sprouted again. For a short while, I left eh dead petals of the plant just lay in the pot for awhile. In fact for a while I felt I comforting to see the dead next to the living. It not only made me appreciate the living all the more, but it was a solid reminder of the inevitability and connection between death and life. It is good and right to recognize what has been lost. For better or for worse what has been lost was a part of our life, and the truth is it is not about better or worse, or good or bad, often until we gain a certain self awareness we are not even aware of how circumstances create us. But it is important to try to become self aware and when we do, to change what we can, but that which we have experienced even if we have put it behind us is always with us in some way. To repress that or ignore that fact does have consequences.
Here is the mask I had to wear last year during radiation treatments for my cancer. It somehow allowed the machine to more accurately pinpoint the laser. I still keep this in my home office (actually right on top of my pile of old sermons) Now some have found this to be maudlin. For me it is a reminder every day to value this day, and this life for I came close to not being here. And it is a reminder to act to care for my body and soul, and to live my life fully, without apology, as my true unique self, as I am today, and how that may change tomorrow.
That is something I wish for you and this Congregation as well. To treat each other well, to live fully as your true unique selves. Life, like the petals of my plant, is fragile and precious, and beautiful and tragic. In every moment we need to recognize that.
With the plant, at some point felt the dead leaves were taking away from and detracting from beauty of the living growing plant. I didn’t want the dead petals to be a distraction from the live plant. So I cleaned out the dead parts to give more room for the live plant to live and continue growing. We will all know when it is time for us to do that. To let go of the old and welcome the new. Sometimes it takes patience and resilience to see change through before we see the new leaves appear in our life. Whether it is a new relationship, a new golf swing, or new worship service or program at the Congregations, we have to constantly water the seed in our life that help us flourish and give us time to grow. You cant take anything for granted.
If something is I important to us, we need to make its care an ongoing practice. This became abundantly clear to me towards the end of the experiment. I had been coming home late from work and had been skipping watering or writing about the plant. One night as I was thinking about whether to make that long trek all the way outside my sack door to water the plant, I realized I was thinking this just as I was pouring water for my dog….and I thought…well how can I give water to the dog and not the plant…and then the connection was made…my plant this earth, is just as much a living thing as my dog and deserves my attention. I had to confront my own commitment to living in a way for caring for the earth. It cant just be a sometime thing, an every now and then thing, a when I get around to it thing. Caring for the earth has to become a new ay of being, a new way of living, every day of our lives, just as I feed my dog, and just as I feed myself.
Eventually like all living things, the plant died, but its beauty, and my experiences with it still affect me, still live within me and now after my sharing it with you its story remains alive. And I imagine that was very much how the death of Jesus of Nazareth affected his followers. Amidst the crushing occupation and oppression of a foreign government and rigid religious establishment, Jesus pointed to a new way of living, a new way of being in and with the world. His followers allowed the beauty o f Jesus’ teachings, his way of being, even his tragic death affect them and transform them. Their old way of being had to die and a new way of being had to be born.
The early Christians created communal communities, fed the hungry, cared for the sick, housed the homeless, welcomed the stranger and outcast, visited the prisoners, cloted the naked, shared their wealth, and were willing to sacrifice their lives for this new world they believed in. It was this way of living together, not a belief system, or a place in heaven that rought so many people to early Christianity. After a couple of hundered years as this new way of living attracted more and more people, the empire coopted and corrupted the religion. But a truth if it is a true thing cannot be killed.
Unitarian in the 19th century saw a need to have Christianity die and be reborn not with a dependence on the deity of Jesus, or the infallibility of scripture but rather because the teachings of Jesus were true and they led to a more compassionate life and the betterment of humankind. And as truth continue to unfold in the world we are Unitarian Universalists do not hold to rigid ways of thinking, rather we believe revelation is ongoing and we adapt to new knowledge an new understanding and we have created something new in this religion.
As Jesus said, "the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, when sown in the ground is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes a great tree and puts forth long branches so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shades.” The message of this parable, is that what we see today is not what shall be in the future. Every little good deed we do today every seed we plant for peace, every seed we plant for justice has ramifications we cannot envision today, but we must continue to sow the seeds, and see where they take.
Even when things seem dark, and you cant quite see the way clearly, do not think of yourself as buried, rather see yourself as a seed, waiting to burst forth into the air, and feel the sun on your face. Imagine what can be new in your life and in the Congregation. Rest and ready yourself in the darkness and take the actions necessary that will allow you to go forth and grown, and lead towards your flourishing and the flourishing of our Congregation. Happy Easter everyone.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Simon WiesenthalDuring World War II he was imprisoned for four years in Concentration Camps. After the War, Wiesenthal joined the American Commission for War Crimes which took depositions from survivors and identifying and locating Nazi War Criminals. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize in 1985 for his work in bringing over 1,000 Nazi’s to justice. He has written many books about his life experiences.
But the one which I want to highlight today is called Sunflower, which raises the theological question as its subtitle states about the possibilities and limits of forgiveness. In the Book Wiesenthal tells a story about his time in the Ghetto and the Lemburg Concentration Camp in Poland. He writes of the arbitrariness, cruelty and lack of humanity of the Nazis. But the main crux of the book, is an event when he is on a work detail in town. He is called into the room of a dying SS officer Karl who has asked a nurse to find him a Jew so he could confess his sins before he died. Karl tells Wiesenthal about the arc of his life. “I was not born a murderer…. Karl talks about his youth involvement in the church, joining the Hitler Youth and then the SS, the harshness of war, the indoctrination of violence, the fear of questioning authority and how the only information he knew about Jews was what he was told by his superiors. He tells Wiesenthal of one particular incident where they rounded up Jewish families into a house and threw grenades in that set the house on fire and then waited and he shot those who tried to leave the burning house.
Karl on his deathbed, seemed sincere in his repentance and asked Wiesenthal, “I have longed to talk about it to a Jew and seek forgiveness from him, Wiesenthal left the room without saying a word. After the war had ended Wiesenthal visited Karl’s mother wanting to get a better all around understanding of Karl. She could not imagine the dreadful things she heard about the war and was certain that Karl would never have done anything wrong. Wiesenthal never told her about Karl’s deeds saying “In her present circumstances, to take from her, her last possession (meaning her image of her son) would probably have also been a crime. He continues “We who suffered in those dreadful days, we who cannot obliterate the hell we endured are forever being advised to keep silent. How many bystanders kept silent as they watched Jewish Men women and children being led to the slaughterhouses of Europe?”
So I have to say a poignant part of the story was the story of Karl’s father who upon his son’s joining the Hitler Youth and the SS remained silent because he feared otherwise his son would turn him in. Or in Wiesenthal’s own inquiries after the war, finding ordinary Germans who were against the Nazis, but were afraid to say anything out of fear of being turned in by their neighbors. And as well those very neighbors they were afraid to talk to about their misgivings were also afraid to talk to them as well for the same reason. Creation of Fear, propaganda and the silencing of dissenting opinions is the framework that fascist and totalitarian governments use to gain and maintain power. These are tactics that I see our own government starting to slide into with constant firing of government officials due to a supposed lack of loyalty.
It is heartening and important especially these days to see the number of people who came out nationally and even locally with all the snow yesterday for the March for our Lives rally yesterday. But there is also fear in our country.Yet when I drive around town and I see these signs up in people’s front yards, I am heartened, thinking, there is a kind person who lives there who is unafraid to share their values with the wider world. And that encourages others not to fear but to have courage as well, to remind others that they are not alone, to remind others that there is kindness in the world. Well there is an old saying that you should practice what you preach, so I am going to put this sign up at my house, and I encourage you to do so as well. For a requested donation of $10 (which will go to the organization One Human Family which purchased them) you can pick one up downstairs. At the Sanctuary table. For we must overcome our fear, we must not be silent in the face of growing fascism.
Jewish History calls to us from the grave to tell us what silence leads to. Our religious history calls to us speak truth to power. We have not been silent and as we spoke out and continue to speak out for Women’s rights, racial justice, lgbqt advocacy, immigration reform, and mental health care. Our Unitarian Universalist principles call us not only to affirm but to promote peace liberty and justice for ALL. Our Congregational mission and vision asks us devote ourselves to community good and support social justice. So I invite you to speak up and give a voice to the voiceless, so others know they are not alone in their fear, they are not alone in their dissent, and not alone in their hope for creating a better community with loving values.
In the Sunflower, after rejecting to offer forgiveness to the Nazi Karl, Wiesenthal questioned whether that was the right decision. And he poses the question ”You who have just read this sad and tragic episode in my life, can mentally change places with me and ask yourself the crucial question, “What would I have done” The most recent publication of the book has 53 responses to that question from individuals from different religious backgrounds and time periods, from people directly involved with the holocaust, involved in other atrocities, and others leaders from a purely esoterical perspective This simple question raised the deep theological question of forgiveness.
Of the 53, many of the responses were nuanced, but there were 10 that clearly claimed they would have forgiven the Nazi. Of those who would have forgiven him, included both Buddhists who responded including The Dalai Lama. IN both cases, they saw the act of forgiveness as a way of transforming ones own suffering as well as the suffering of the perpetrator. The others who proposed forgiveness were all Christians and predominantly Roman Catholic.
Desmond Tutu a South African Anglican cleric who fought apartheid in South Africa, pointed to Nelson Mandala who forgave and even invited his jailor to his inauguration as President. Tutu goes on to say, “It is clear that if we look only to retributive justice, then we could just as well close up shop. Forgiveness is not some nebulous thing. It is practical politics.” Other Christian writers who approved of forgiveness pointed to the Christian ethic of forgiveness to the repentant, of deathbed confessions for absolution, talk of a loving and forgiving God, quoting Jesus upon the Cross, Forgive them father for they know not what they do” Martin Marty, theologian from the University of Chicago and father of our local St. Paul’s Lutheran Minister Rev. Peter Marty, after careful erudition about why Christians shouldn’t offer advice to Jews about the Holocaust and a sincere concern about cheap grace, ultimately comes down on the side of forgiveness because “If I forgive in the face of true repentance and new resolve, I am free”
The majority of responders however agreed with Wiesenthal’s decision not to forgive Karl. Many felt that one cant forgive someone for the acts they commit against others.
Others felt strongly that only God could forgive Karl and not another human being.
Some felt that certain acts were so heinous that he had no right to offer forgiveness.
Most responders who had experienced the Holocausts or been subject to other genocides were not forgiving. As well, a couple pointed out that Karl had not really grasped the concept of his antisemitism. He wanted any Jew as if they were all the same or interchangeable, as if any one of them could give atonement for harm to all the jews. Karl saw Wiesenthal just as a Jew, as opposed to seeing him as a unique individual who was himself suffering.
I was surprised to see a couple of responders talking about the need to forget in order to forgive. One actually felt that forgetting was necessary so that future generations would not seek vengeance. Most however focused on the importance of sharing the stories so that even if you do choose to forgive, the impact of the atrocities are remembered and not repeated in future generations. Remembering is the basis of two upcoming events I would like to invite you to.
This Friday Night at 6pm we will be hosting a Passover Sedar which is a family friendly service as part of dinner that tells the story of the Jewish People’s escape from slavery and the importance of freedom and justice for everyone at all times. And Sunday April 15th I will be participating in our local interfaith Yom HaShoah Service at the Tri-Cities Jewish Center in Rock Island, retelling the story of the Holocaust in hopes that with remembering it will not happen again. It is important to remember, but it is not enough to remember, as we have still allowed genocide to continue in our world.
So what do I think? Would I have forgiven that SS Officer. It is easier to think about this some 60+ years later then in the moment especially not ever having experienced that degree of hardship. The farther we get away from events in time even in our own life over time we grow, over time we have other experiences to give our suffering context and over time we look to make meaning of our suffering. But in the present moment during intense suffering, I cannot imagine forgiving that SS officer. Often being silent, and holding one’s tongue is all we can due in the present moment as we sort through our emotions and feelings
I think back in my life, I think of people who harmed me either physically, or emotionally whether personally, in business or in Ministry. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Sometimes you just have to carry your grief with you. I don’t believe I formally or consciously forgave or forgot those people. I instead learned to protect myself from harm. I think that is important. Cheap grace as we have seen in this world, can lead to ongoing abuse. Forgiveness, thoughts and prayers didn’t save those student from being slaughtered. It is not about forgiving others that mattered to me, It is not my duty to forgive others for their sins. It is my duty to be reconciled with myself, and become aware of my emotions so that I can realize what is real risk, and what is just fear of past events rising up within me.
The question is, knowing what we know, having suffered, how are we going to live in the world. Are we going to seek vengeance, or will we find compassion for others who suffer, Are we going to hold a grudge or are we going to seek restoration with the world. So I think silence was ok. Karl’s acts were between him and his conscience and his idea of God. And Wiesenthal’s were with his own conscience. After the war Wiesenthal went forth and tried to create a world filled with justice.
It is funny, I was much more comfortable with his not forgiving Karl then I was in his lying to Karl’s mother. He lied, in an act of compassion to alleviate her pain. No parent wants to imagine that their children are capable of what was done. Sometimes it is important to learn the truth. Not just our imagined truth. Because sometimes we need to realize our perspective or our supposed pain or our illusion of superiority was caused by circumstances and understanding we are not even aware of. Often on Facebook, I see people complain about things that I think, well that doesn’t seem that bad. Whenever I say that, I catch myself. I try to remember when I have been harmed and felt no one would recognize or understand it. And so I stop myself, and I listen.
And I try to learn about what I don’t know, and perspectives I have not experienced. Sometimes just listening to others can be an act of restoration.
Lastly, I also have to ask of myself. What about when my actions have whether intentionally or unintentionally cause harm to someone. If its unintentional, sometimes I recognize it immediately, and although I may ask for forgiveness, what I really want is repaired relationships. To repair relationships, changed actions, listening, understanding and are required as well. Sometimes I don’t recognize the unintentional pain, and only find out much later after much resentment has built up. I wish in those circumstances we would have been in better relationship so the people would share their pain, so at least there would have been a chance at restoration, but I understand, sometimes people need time to heal. Lastly, the hardest is when I have to take action that intentionally I know will cause someone emotional pain. It is painful to me when it happens. The truth is you cant please all the people all the time. I try to be transparent so everyone knows why I make the decisions I make, to help people understand that every decision I make is for the greater good of the whole community.
And so I ask the same of you. Whatever disagreements you have with others, or with the Congregation, I ask you not to seek vengeance, but to seek restoration, to seek relationship. It is easy to ask forgiveness when you are lying on your deathbed. It is harder to seek restoration of right relationship in the present moment. Only by making positive change in our lives and our relationships can we reach our potential invidually or as a community Let us be there for each other and this Congregation and for those not here who need our help, as we continue to build the world we dream about.
May it be so.
Saturday, March 10, 2018
From Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame “Finally he made a third appearance on the top of the tower of the great bell; from the thence he seemed to show exultingly to the whole city her whom he had saved; and his thundering voice that voice so rarely heard by any one, and never by himself, thrice repeated with frenzy that pierced the very clouds: Sanctuary, Sanctuary, Sanctuary”
With the ongoing deportation of United States residents and the movement of many places of worship to provide Sanctuary to these residents to escape deportation, including my own Congregation, I thought I would examine the history of Sanctuary.
There are some stories from ancient Egyptian and Persian cultures regarding asylum, and my research has shown that in Arab desert cultures, tents were set aside as sanctuaries for a limited period of time. The first formal documents of the conception of Sanctuary harken back to the Hebrew Scriptures – In Exodus, ch 21 v12, the book of Numbers ch 35 and then again in Deuteronomy which is believed to have been written later in the 7th century bce after Israel and Judah fell to the Assyrians. In Numbers, it is written the Lord tells Moses “You shall provide yourselves with places to serve you as cities of refuge to which a manslayer who has killed a person unintentionally may flee. The cities shall serve you as a refuge from the avenger”
The passage goes on to indicate the creation of six cities. This must be understood in the historical context that murder was personally avenged by a family member of the victim. And it was very specific as the type of murder where someone could enter sanctuary. Only accidental murders without malice would allow one to stay in sanctuary. In the later written Deuteronomy, it is clear that there is more of local judicial system set up. There is a provision that no one can be put to death by the testimony of a single witness. It also provides an appeal process. It states “if a case is too baffling for you to decide….you will appear before the Levitical priest.” So this put judicial matters under the religious authority. As we shall see later secular vs. religious authority becomes a growing tension throughout history on this issue. There were some other interesting rules in regard sanctuary in Hebrew biblical times. The avenger was allowed to kill the accused if they caught the accused before they entered sanctuary, or if the accused wandered out of sanctuary. The cities of sanctuary allowed time for cooler heads to prevail and allow for justice. The cities were considered places of atonement. Even someone who committed manslaughter has to come to terms with the results of their action. After the High Priest died, his death was considered atonement for the sins of the accused, and the accused could then return to their homes. It is said, that due to this custom, the high priest’s family kept good care of the sanctuary cities so as not to give anyone incentive to try to kill the high priest. In the Hebrew scriptures there are two notes referring to altar sanctuary in first kings, where those who opposed Kings Solomon’s rule sought refuge. In the end both were executed. So although there was a tradition of altar sanctuary within Judaism, Hebrew Sanctuary tended to be more communitarian.
Asylum, was also common in the classical Greek period These were centered around temples of various deities. Asylum seekers were asked to perform a supplication, pledged devotion to the demi-god and then could be accepted into their sanctuary. It became more about the inviolability of the holy place. In one instance Spartans in search of a person in sanctuary instead of breaking into a Greek Temple, blockaded it, until the criminal starved to death. In the Greece Sanctuary often ended up being abused by a criminal element, and when the Romans came to power they severely limited sanctuary rights throughout their empire.
With the rise of Christianity the Jewish concept of sanctuary was reflected within the Christian Churches, although it was more focused on the authority of the religious leaders. Although certainly practiced sooner, the first reference to sanctuary in Christian documents is found in the Theodosian Code of 392. Public Debtors, Jews, heretics, and apostates were excluded from sanctuaries. Sanctuary seekers could be fed and lodged in the churchyards and the surrounding church precincts.
Roman Emperor Justinian I asserting Roman legal dominance, detailed in the consolidation of roman laws, who could receive sanctuary and restricted sanctuary even further excluding certain categories of crimes and individuals, such as murderers, rapists, adulterers and tax officials.. Trying to reassert papal dominance, Pope Leo I declared that “the steward and the advocate of the church should act as an inquisitor and examine all persons seeking sanctuary.” This took the authority away from the holiness of the location and moved it towards the holiness of the church leadership and was the first of many future battles between secular and church leadership.
In the Synod of Orleans in 511 the Church passed a rule that houses of bishops and clergy, cloisters and cemeteries would be legal sanctuaries, extending the physical space beyond just the Church building. It is important to note that in early Christianity there was less conflict with secular authorities as sanctuary was often used by slaves escaping slave owners. Church leaders often negotiated with slave owners for better conditions prior to their return, arranged the sale of the slave to another owner, and in many cases purchased the slave from the slave owner. Over time people who sought sanctuary included citizens, debtors, and artisans, and tensions between church and state over sanctuary would mount. Much of the tension depended on who was in power at any given time and their religious allegiance at the time. However in the 8th and 9th centuries in the era of Charlemagne and the Carolingian emperors, required that sanctuary seekers be prosecuted in secular courts. They viewed Sanctuary as a holding place until trial was ready to proceed. Over time, as the Empire fragmented into various monarchies, such monarchs often resisted the Church’s authority.
Sanctuary existed in England under the Anglos Saxons rule, but was always more limited and more political. . In 596 the Anglo Saxon legal code did include a penalty for the violation of the Church’s peace. Alfred the Great in 887 did allow for asylum for three days for anyone accused of any crime in order to negotiate a settlement between parties without violence. Later on Alfred extended the sanctuary for 7 days but without food. Again this was done as a way to encourage both sides to negotiate. Some estimates are that as many as half the crimes in the early middle ages were settled in sanctuary as in the legal courts.
One unique aspect of English Sanctuary was chartered Sanctuaries by the Government. In these cases the royal court would grant a charter to a specific church. This was often large churches in big cities. Their Sanctuary rules had complex procedures and the sanctuary was often offered within a mile of the sanctuary location. Thus the concept of the holiness of the location was diminished even further. William the Conqueror in approximately 1070 although allowing sanctuary added provisions, first limiting the number of times someone could go into sanctuary, requiring restitution to victims and then depending on the crime or number of crimes, required the sanctuary seeker to leave the province without ever returning.
During the Plantagenet Kings rule in the 12th and 13th Centuries many chartered Sanctuaries were established. However there was also a consolidation of power over the various lords throughout the land and it limited their abilities to offer sanctuary on their own. In some instances guards were placed at sanctuaries and they were fined if the sanctuary seeker escaped. During this time the policy was created that allowed the sanctuary seeker 40 days to decide whether to surrender to trial or to be exiled from the realm. (It could be longer or indefinite if they were in a chartered sanctuary) If they chose exile they would be given safe passage to a port and would be given 40 days to find a ship out of the country. After 40 days theoretically they could return to their place of sanctuary and start the process again.
As commercial society increased and the court of law improved within secular society, sanctuary diminished. Debtors became the largest occupiers of sanctuaries. Also many chartered sanctuaries started becoming havens for criminals as a base of operations. Craftsman would use sanctuary to avoid control or regulation by craftsman guilds and to avoid paying taxes. (sort of how business’s use the Cayman Islands) Therefore the sanctuaries became a source black market counterfeit goods. The church seeing this abuse of the sanctuary privilege, and with pressure of King Henry VII, who also saw many political enemies enter sanctuary, Pope Innnocent VIII in 1486 issued a papal bull stating that sanctuaries were only to be used to save life and limb and under certain circumstance allowed the King’s army to enter sanctuary and arrest someone
Henry VIII was the King that hastened the end of sanctuary. In 1530 parliament limited exile options. This was due to Henry’s fear that his enemies would gather with a foreign country and attack him if they were exiled. After the creation of the Church of England and the renunciation of Papal authority in 1534 there was a concerted legal effort to end Sanctuary. 1536 Parliament passed a law that required those in Sanctuary to wear a badge, be branded on their thumb, and prohibited them from carrying weapons and placed them on a curfew. In 1540 Parliament ended the practice of chartered sanctuaries, and severely limited what types of crimes a local parish could hold someone in sanctuary for. However successive Kings reinstated some sanctuary privileges and it was not until 1604, under King James I that Elizabethan laws of sanctuary were repealed. Even though laws about sanctuary regulations were repealed, in 1624 Ecclesial right to Sanctuary was eliminated entirely by the this statute in the law “And be it also enacted by the authorities of this present parliament, that no sanctuary or privilege of Sanctuary shall be hereafter admitted or allowed in any case. “ It was not until 1983 that sanctuary was eliminated from Catholic Canon law.
So whereas with the Hebrews we saw more of a communitarian sense of sanctuary, and under Christianity we saw a clerical right of sanctuary which then morphed into a secular regulation of sanctuary, Sanctuary in the United States took a different perspective. In some ways we could view the early American colonies as a form of sanctuary itself from religious persecution in Europe. And although no sanctuary was claimed, many churches felt morally bound to offer sanctuary as part of their work with the Underground Railroad helping slaves escape to freedom. For the first time, Sanctuary became not something from doctrinal law, or ecclesiastical privilege, but rather from individual’s personal moral and religious convictions.
The first time that Sanctuary was publicly claimed in this country was by the Arlington St. Unitarian Church in Boston when they offered sanctuary to individuals who opposed the Vietnam War. Many other Unitarian Churches as well as Churches from many other denominations joined in. They knew they did not have a legal basis for this. Sanctuary became more of an act of conscience, for the individual and for the Church. It claimed sanctuary as an act of civil disobedience based on their theological and moral imperative. These acts of personal conscience moved rapidly to college campuses across the country. In 1971 the city of Berkeley California became the first governmental body to declare itself a sanctuary. Its council declared “to provide a facility for sanctuary for any person who is unwilling to participate in military action and banned city employees including police officers, from aiding the investigation or arrest of anyone protected by the city’s sanctuaries. The FBI did not respect sanctuary and sometimes quickly and other times after a short wait hoping for a negotiated outcome, invaded sanctuary spaces. Most people avoiding the draft were sent to military courts. Some were allowed to enlist and claim conscientious objector status. Most other civilians who provided civil disobedience by blocking authorities were often charged with misdemeanor crimes. No one was ever allowed to bring up the legal defense of religious freedom to claim sanctuary in any court case.
The next time Sanctuary was claimed in America was during the 1980s. At this time in our Country’s history, there were civil wars and conflicts throughout Central American countries. After a military coup in El Salvador, many Catholic activists there protested the new government’s oppressive tactics. Excessive violence ensued against protesters by government death squads. Many became aware of this situation due to the assassination of the Catholic Archbishop Romero in San Salvador and the murder and rape of American Catholic missionary nuns in 1980. The increasing violence in Central America led many Central Americans to flee to the United States and eventually on to Canada which had more liberal immigration policies. The American government continued to fight their status as refugees, claiming they were economic refugees, not political refugees. As we know looking back we were secretly arming and supporting anti-communist forces in central America that caused much of the violence. Arizona was the hotspot for this due to it proximity to the Mexican border where many undocumented refugees passed. Two of the leaders of the 80s sanctuary movement were Rev. John Fife of Southside United Presbyterian Church in Tuscan and Jim Corbett a retired Quaker rancher.
In 1981 the Tuscson Ecumenical Council which Fife headed created a task force to respond to the needs of the refugees, such as raising money for bond and legal fees to help with the asylum process. They soon realized that this was futile in the face of an unflinching Government and had to take further steps. They were part of group that arranged for their transport across the Mexican border started to house refugees in their Congregations and hide the refugees in their homes. This spread quickly and over time the number of congregations that offered Sanctuary were over 500 across all religions and denominations throughout the country 23 cities and 4 states passed sanctuary laws granting refugees the right to remain in their locals and forbid local authorities from cooperating with Federal Authorities.
Rev. David Cherier a United Church of Christ minister in declaring sanctuary did raise the historical basis for it by stating. “This is the time and we are the people to reinvoke the ancient law of sanctuary, to say to the government you shall go this far and no further. This is the time as we are the people fleeing the blood vengeance of the powers that be in El Salvador. We provide a safe place and cry “Basta” Enough!!. The blood stops here at our doors. This is the time to claim our sacred right to invoke the name of God in this place. To push back all the powers of violation and violence in the name of the spirit to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance. At this historic moment, we are the people to tell Caesar, No trespassing, for the ground upon which you walk is holy.”
I think it is also interesting to note that from a religious perspective at that time in our history the religious right was on the rise and Ronald Reagan used religious symbolism and religious issues a part of his campaign. Sanctuary was different in America also in part because it focused on a specific issue and not the concept of sanctuary. Sanctuary has also moved from someone being absolved for a sin, or requiring a confession of guilt for a crime, and has become a function to question our country’s morals. I do think there is some connection to overarching reach of the religious right in day to day life that encouraged those with liberal religious values to live them out in the public and political sphere as well.
In 1985, INS launched a ten-month investigation dubbed Operation Sojourner, which included placing undercover agents in the sanctuary movements. They obtained the addresses of refugees by proposing to bring them Christmas presents. Later that year based on information gathered by the informants, The US government announced 71 indictments against 16 people In the case UA vs. Agular and as well indicted two other individuals in separate cases Jack Elder and Stacy Merkt,
In the United States vs. Elder the court did agree that Elder did meet the religious test burden that his actions were motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, but also found that the government met its burden to demonstrate an overriding interest in protecting its immigration and naturalization system Even so, the jury found Elder not guilty.
All other sanctuary workers were found guilty and most were given suspended sentences or short house arrest. It is important to remember that they were indicted for transporting undocumented workers not providing sanctuary to them. One of the outcomes of these Sanctuary Trials in the 1980s was that it galvanized the public in support of the refugees and led first to them receiving temporary protected status and finally in 1997 Congress passed the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act which allowed these Central American refugees to apply for permanent residence
Much of their sanctuary workers’ defense of those centered around their first amendment rights in the Constitution which includes “ Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” This was the very first right granted by the Bill of Rights.
In the Courts this defense over time has had mixed and often contradictory results.
In 1878 the US vs. Cantwell, the United States tried to differentiate religious action from what was subversive to the public good. In this case they found against Mormon’s religious right to practice polygamy.
In 1961 the court ruled similarly in Braunfield vs. Brown when Orthodox Jews challenged the closing of stores on Sundays. The court found that a financial loss due to religious freedom was not enough to change public policy
Yet 2 years later In Sherbert vs. Verner a women who was a Seventh Day Adventist was denied unemployment insurance because she refused to seek jobs that required work on Saturday which was against her religion’s Sabbath. The Supreme Court upheld her claim for unemployment. There was a subtle difference in that she was being asked to violate her belief, whereas the business was not violating a belief by not being open on Sunday. It’s a fine legal line.
In another case where religious freedom was upheld was Wisconsin vs. Yoder where members of the Old Order of Amish objected to mandatory public school citing their religious beliefs. The Amish’s religious rights were upheld
There have been numerous cases using drugs as a religious right. One was people v woody which allowed for people to use peyote in a religious ceremonial practice. Another case Employment Division v. Smith, in which Native Americans’ unemployment was denied due to their use of Peyote. In this case their religious freedom was denied. This may have been in part because their work they were fired from was a drug rehabilitation center. There has been another case Leary v US where drug use was claimed as a religious right, but unlike the native American cases, it did not show that its use was used in a ritual way in a sacred place as part of a religious service as it was in the Woody case. So tradition helps.Congress in response to the Smith case created a Religious freedom restoration act to make it easier for people to claim religious freedom. This law was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Also in 1990 there was a case Untied states vs. Lee where the claimant refused to pay taxes due to religious beliefs and the court found against him stating the state may justify a limitation on religious liberty by showing that is its essential to accomplish an overriding governmental interest. This case is often cited by those opposing the use of sanctuary.
Another case involving religious freedom was the Bob Jones University against the United states, whereby the courts upheld the denial of the their tax exempt status due to their explicit racial discrimination policies.
More recently in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, Christian owners of a private for profit corporation were allowed to deny their employees family planning benefits due to the owners religious preference.
This combined both religious freedom and a corporations’ right to free speech as allowed under Citizens United.
So as you can see each case in nuanced and unique. There will always be the challenge of whether the use of the religious freedom test is a slippery slope that makes government laws meaningless and on the other hand the constant denial of religious freedom makes religious freedom illusory. As we see over time Separation of Church and State in harder in practice then in theory.
Some of the the legal issues we face today as to whether these undocumented individuals face risk going back to their home countries, as well as the moral issue of deporting a parent from their children who are citizens. How has the United States created the circumstances that led to their displacement from their home country, and our corporations’ invitation to hire these individuals with little risk to themselves. The issue of Sanctuary has never been answered by the court, but I imagine at some point soon this will happen.
Over 1,100 Congregations have currently declared themselves sanctuaries. Much of this is to raise awareness and to provide time for the person in sanctuary to redress their grievances before being deported. . Of the 37 people in public sanctuary in 2017, 9 were able to be released with a reprieve in their residency status. The new Sanctuary movement focuses extensively on keeping families united, especially where families have both documented and undocumented members. With the advent of the possible deportation of recipients of DACA or deferred action for childhood arrivals who came to this country as children the issue of sanctuary may become even more predominant. Another interesting aspect of the new sanctuary movement is that most churches are publicly announcing when they have someone in sanctuary as a way to provide a shield against harboring laws instituted under the Patriot Act.
Public sanctuary today is growing. I am not aware of churches having been breached. Sanctuary has been allowed under an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy that indicates that
“Enforcement actions are not to occur at or be focused on sensitive locations such as schools, places of worship, unless;
exigent circumstances exist;
other law enforcement actions have led officers to a sensitive location, or
prior approval is obtained from a designated supervisory official.
The policy is intended to guide ICE officers and agents’ actions when enforcing federal law at or focused on sensitive locations, to enhance the public understanding and trust, and to ensure that people seeking to participate in activities or utilize services provided at any sensitive location are free to do so, without fear or hesitation.
Locations treated as sensitive locations under ICE policy would include, but are not be limited to:
Schools, such as known and licensed daycares, pre-schools and other early learning programs; primary schools; secondary schools; post-secondary schools up to and including colleges and universities; as well as scholastic or education-related activities or events, and school bus stops that are marked and/or known to the officer, during periods when school children are present at the stop;
Medical treatment and health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities;
Places of worship, such as churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples;
Religious or civil ceremonies or observances, such as funerals and weddings; and
During a public demonstration, such as a march, rally, or parade.
ICE officers and agents may carry out an enforcement action at a sensitive location without prior approval from a supervisor in exigent circumstances related to national security, terrorism, or public safety, or where there is an imminent risk of destruction of evidence material to an ongoing criminal case”
So after hearing this policy there is a lot of leeway that would allow ICE to breach a sanctuary. Much of what prevents them from breaching the sanctuary is the public relations image doing so due to our cultural separation of church and state and the inviolability of Church building as sacred space. But this is only a written policy and that can change with the stroke of a pen. Victor Hugo wrote “A writer is a world trapped in a person” I wonder what type of world will we create.
Politics and Religion in the United States, By Michael Corbett, Julia Corbett-Hemeyer, J.
This Ground is Holy – Ignatius Bau
God and Ceaser at the Rio Grande
Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages.
Jewish Study Bible
Various and miscellaneous articles.