Monday, September 19, 2011

Sermon Sept 18th - Where Everybody Knows Your Name


When I was a young boy, my social life was encompassed largely at the local schoolyard a block away. All events good and bad happened there.  There were softball and basketball games, there were drug dealers and their customers, gamblers, a gang, the wannabbees, the hangers on,  etc. And yet everybody knew what the rules of the yard were, how to communicate with each other, what line in the sand, or in this case a line in the cement not to cross.  And then of course around dinner time I would always hear my mother calling.  We literally could see the yard from the back of my house. My mother calling for me for dinner  didn’t go over for me so well in the yard. So I learned to find out when dinner was each night beforehand.   We did live in close knit community and we knew most every neighbor on our block.  That may seem like an old fashioned story these days.   It made it very hard to get away with anything in the community I lived.  So it forced me to go outside the neighborhood if was to do anything outside the norm.  I thought about this when my son lived with me and he and his girlfriend were playing the video game Call of Duty.  For the record a very violent video game.   But my point is, he plays with people all over the world, from Korea, Germany, Even people from Switzerland who I guess for video games are not neutral.  We have Facebook, which allows me to be in contact with people all over the country and the world.  

We choose our communities, whether by church, by video game or friend invites by work choices.  In the past our choices were forced upon us.  Sometime by geography or our work or our birth religion. People didn’t change jobs, houses or religion often, we were thrust together into situations with people who in many ways might not have been like us, and we had to figure out how to live together.  But today, we truly live a global community  Today  we can hear about revolutions in Libya and famine in East Africa, and we often don’t know the people who live down the block from us and what their challenges are or what their children are up to.. 
           
Today with so much information we have, we have to make choices. Do I worry about my neighbor, or do I worry about the people in Somolia.  Do I worry about someone who is different than me, but close by, or do I worry about someone who is more like me but maybe farther away.  I would like to think we can do it all. That we can consider all people by the mere fact of our common humanity connected and cared for.  But due to limitations of time we have to choose, and one of those choices we make is about religion.  And we have chosen for our religion Unitarian Universalism.   Of course within our unique religion,  where our congregational mission calls us to embrace individual searches for meaning, leads different people to choose different theological paths, and leads to the creation of a pluralistic community.  In order to create such a community, we have to become a covenantal community.  How do we agree to walk together on this religious journey.  Today within this congregation we have people who gain wisdom from our different sources.  Humanist teachings Earth Centered Religions,  prophetic men and women, Jewish and Christian traditions,  other world religions,

Yet we all come together for Sunday Service to share this part of our lives with each other.  Why do people come to Sunday Services. I like to imagine people listen intently to the service, and try to obtain meaning and understanding from it that can add to their lives.  When I sat down to think about today’s service, I wondered what makes the worship experience different from say my listening to sermons on my IPOD, or reading the sermon online.  There is something unique about the worship experience.  I believe what makes it unique is that we are connected to the people around us with whom we worship. That is the hardest part for new members and visitors I imagine, is gaining that connection.  So the question is how can we create those connections, but more importantly how can we deepen those connections so that they become meaningful to our lives. 

I believe connection circles is one way that can help create that deeply meaningful experience. Connection Circles give us the opportunity to explore with a group of people, the deep questions of life, in an environment that is trusting and nonjudgmental.  So just what are Connection Circles.  They are a group of 6-10 people who commit to getting together once or twice a month for approx. nine months. Each group has a leader called a facilitator.  I look at connection circles almost as a personalized worship service. There is a chalice lighting. There is a check in with each other to find out how our lives have been in the past month.  This as much as anything is what makes connections circles special.  We often share the joys and sorrows of each member over the trajectory of a period of time.  It is the beginning of forming connections. It is more than just a quick hello how are you that we give after service.  We have a reading, and then we have a sharing of ideas and thoughts on a topic chosen by the facilitator.  The discussion topics encourage us to think deeply about our  lives and the world. These are not groups to debate a topic, but to share our ideas and experiences, and hear others ideas and experiences.  All of these discussions deepen the meaningful connection we create with others in the group
The groups meet in peoples homes or at the congregation, n different nights of the week.  We also during the year we will have  8 week connection circle sessions.   After the service today John Dunsheath and I will stay in front to answer any questions and you will be able to sign up for a group if you are interested.  What I have found is truly unique about connection circles is that the connections that are created with people you might not otherwise have had the opportunity to create a connection with without the connection circle.  When I first started in this religion, my children were young and religious education, so I tended to volunteer and hang out with the other parents and teachers.  But there was this older women who always sat in the front of the congregation who wore a hat.  I always wondered about that, but at that time in my life, I was not the type of person who would go up and ask a stranger why are you wearing a hat. But as it turns out we ended up in the connection circle and although there was a large difference in our ages, we became close friends and my life was enriched by knowing her.   I liken this concept of meeting people that might be different from you in someway,  somewhat to my having moved to Greenwich Village in Manhattan after growing up in the Bronx. In the Bronx, there was a certain homogenous cultural way of being. There was that line in the sand that was not crossed  But in Greenwich Village, there were no lines in the sand…and walking side by side down the street were Business people, punk rockers, young, old, Gay, Straight, Starving artists, and people with trust funds.  This diversity of life walked side by side, accepting of each other. It taught me that it was OK to be and think differently and that diverse people can live together peacefully.  What connection circles create is a means to allow all people, not just to walk side by side together but to meet, connect and develop relationships with each other.  It is a way to build the foundation, and expand our beloved community so that we can create and spread true peace and harmony throughout the world.

The choices I have made throughout my life had kept me going at full speed 100% of the time, whether it was an demanding job,  graduate school, congregational activities, or just staying home and playing video games with my children, which along time ago, I have given up any hope of ever winning again.  In fact I was commenting to a friend the other day how it was almost two years before I realized that my son was letting me win at video games, so I would keep playing. But my point is, we are often always so busy doing.  There is never time to just stop and think about those big issue questions.  Therefore it requires intentionality to show up to do this work.  There is a causal effect to our actions.  If we are not intentional about anything in our lives the wind will take us where it may.  There is sometimes uncertainty in the outcomes of actions, but if we are intentional in showing up we can be ready when the opportunity avails itself.

I was reminded of this when I had the privilege to hear Rev Clark Olsen speak at a Allies for Racial Equity conference  a couple of years ago – he is the minister emeritus in Asheville NC. He as many other UU ministers did, joined the call by Martin Luther King Jr. to March in Selma in 1965. So just to give a little context  for those who may not know about Selma.  In 1965 during the height of the civil rights movement there was a march in Selma Alabama to support voting rights for African Americans.  During the first march, the marchers were attacked and brutally beaten by police.   Martin Luther King Jr. put out a call for all people of faith to come and join him in a second march in Selma.  I have read that Approximatly 20% of Unitarian Universalist Ministers  attended this second march.  The Rev. James Reeb a UU minister went to Selma. The evening after the second march, Rev. Reeb, Rev Olsen and another UU minister were beaten by white supremacists and James Reeb died from his injuries.  Rev. Olsen was the person standing next to the Rev. James Reeb when they were attacked and he retold the story of that night.    James Reeb died on March 11th 1965.  On March 17th President Johnson sent the voting rights bill to Congress naming the murder of Rev. James Reeb as a justification for the bill. Rev. Reeb’s death and the beating of  Olsen and the other UU minister seemed to galvanize the nation more than all the injustice to and murder of African Americans…but  something that Rev. Olsen said that night really stuck with me.  He said When he decided to attend this march, he was not thinking of being involved in something monumental

He did not think he would be involved in something transformational, both personally and societal.  He just showed up.  He showed up to give his support for what he believed in.  How often is that the case in our lives.  We just happen to be somewhere and events conspire to change the trajectory of our lives.  We often like to believe we can plan and choose the manner and fate of our destiny, but we never really know when the opportunity to do so will take place.  So I encourage you to show up.    Show up at congregation for services every Sunday, Show up at service projects, show up city council meetings.  show up at  one of the many adult religious education classes offered,  show up to help clean dishes at coffee hour, show up at connection circles, show up at whatever it is that you are passionate about here and want to support.  Show up and amazing things can happen.  Show up and you will find connections that can last a lifetime.  Show up and your life can be transformed

So as the song that was sung as our opening hymn says “Come, Come whoever you are”.  Such a simple song, Only 20 words, but so much depth.  (yes I actually counted the words) Come, Come whoever you are – we welcome all, just as is said at the beginning of the service, we welcome all of whatever age, race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or religious background, it doesn’t matter.  Connection Circles can provide that true sense of universalism.

Wanderer – We are wanderers.  There is an old saying “that all who wander are not lost.”  No we are well grounded, but searching.   Maybe for better answers, maybe for higher spiritual ground, but we are not satisfied with the status quo. And we will go to the ends of the earth, or deep inside ourselves to search for answers to life’s questions.

“Worshipper” – Everything we do we should do with a worshipful attitude.  An attitude of love and compassion. 

“Lover of leaving” – We must be willing to discard some of long held preconceived notions.  We must be willing to leave our distrust of others behind us, we must leave behind the cynicism that is endemic in this world, so that we can move forward to achieving our dreams.

“Ours is no caravan of despair” – We are hopeful, and believe that we can create a peaceful, sustainable world for all people. But we are not na├»ve.  We know it will be a journey, and we know we cannot do it individually, that it will take a caravan of people.  This is why we come together.

“Come yet again come” – yes we must continually renew ourselves, to continually fill our souls with the nourishment of what we believe in. How do we as Unitarian Universalist renew ourselves?  How do we as Unitarian Universalists fill our souls up to do the Good work that needs to be done? 

I believe one answer is connection circles.  If we are going to build a compassionate life,   If we are going to build a just community, If we are to build a world of peace and harmony, it has to start here, with that caravan of people that will stand beside us as we journey down that path, with the people that will support us as we press forward with our search, with the people that will catch us if we fall, with the people that will walk with us in the darkness so we are not alone, with the people that will help lift us up as we climb to the top of the mountain.  Now you may saying to yourself, how does all that happen just from connection circles.  Well I suggest you join one and find out.   May it be so.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sermon Sept 11th - Loss of Innocence/Innocents

Do you remember where you were ten years ago today when America was attacked by terrorists. There are only a few dates in history that I think have that same type of capacity for instant recognition. I am told by those older than me, that the assassination of President Kennedy had a similar affect on them. For me a similar event was the assassination of Martin Luther King, which occurred when I was 8 years old. What I was doing at that time was seared into my memory even until this day. And so I imagine it was for many of you ten years ago when the Trade Towers and the Pentagon was attacked and an aborted attack ended with a plane crash in Pennsylvania. I remember I was sitting at my desk at work.

Someone came in and told me a plane had flown into the Trade Towers. My immediate response was “Oh a terrorist attack” the person who walked in was dumbfounded, what makes you say that what do you mean they said, maybe it was an accident with a plane that was flying off course. I hated being correct about this. And for hours as I am sure we all did, everyone in my office stood riveted watching the television as the day progressed. That day jarred this country out of our innocence. We somehow thought we were untouchable, and we realized just how vulnerable we were. But why now, why this event. Terrorist bombings had been happening throughout the world for years.

And in the three years prior to 2001 there were three attacks against US embassies and military. Those didn’t affect us we thought….well that is the risk of living overseas….that cant happen here, that is the risk of being in the military we conjecture. We were still innocent. And yet why, because this was not the first terrorist attack on United States Soil. Actually in 1920s there was a bomb set by anarchist in Wall Street and again in 1970 a bomb at a Wall St. Restaurant by a Puerto Rican Nationalists group. Both of these were smaller in scale. There had been a previously unsuccessful attempt on the world trade center. Were we lulled thinking that either we were capable of stopping it or the enemy was incapable of success.

I don’t know why though. Was it innocence, Was it our mind set of exceptionalism, and manifest destiny that we thought we could remain free from terrorist attacks. The bombing in Oklahoma City by anti-government Americans I think made us take pause and reflect on extremism within our own country. But 9-11 came as an attack from outside America by religious extremists. 9-11 became a reality tv terrorist show for everyone. It struck at a symbol of America and we saw that symbol live on television crumble before our eyes. And with it our innocence crumbled. Again, we often don’t hear or talk about the Pentagon being hit. I do want to raise that up as well. I think we as a country take the view that being part of the armed services, there is the risk. But innocent civil servants died. But there before our eyes, the trade towers, the symbol of America was destroyed. That symbol was not just capitalism. It was the symbol of what we viewed human potential to be, the dream of human progress, and as well the dream of a diverse, inclusive, pluralistic America now being separated by a narrow minded extremist view of the world. We had lost our innocence. The innocence that we could be untouched by violence, the innocence that we could march forward in a linear path to evolve into what we believed to be the potential for humanity. Maybe we need to redefine just what we mean by progress and the evolution of human potential.

We have spent the last 10 years not only trying to prevent future attacks but trying to recapture that innocence that we once had. But that is impossible. Once you lose your innocence it is gone. A couple of weeks ago one of our members talked about the story of Adam and Eve and eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. and having to leave the Garden of Eden. To me that biblical story is one of losing ones innocence; It is the bridge into a new state of awareness. It is about having to live in a difficult world and make difficult choices and thus we need to lose our innocence and have knowledge of good and evil to help us make better choices in our lives.

So I ask you have we become more aware, I would like you to reflect on how have these events changed the way you have come to view the world, and has it changed how you have interacted with others in the community. Have we retreated in fear or have we engaged with curiosity to discern how we can build a better more loving community, a world where this could not happen. Are we looking for ways to work for peace in our community. Are we going home today to watch football or are we going to the inter-faith commemorative service in town. These are the choices that we make with our lives every day. I do not judge your choices, I just ask that you consciously think about your choices.

For me, I would say the one positive aspect of the aftermath of 9-11 is that we have learned more about Islamic faith, and the many multi-faceted layers of it. We cannot put our head in the sand, we have to work for peace. It is not enough to love our neighbor. We have to know our neighbors. And we can not just know our neighbors, we have help our neighbors when they need help. We cannot regain our innocence, but with new eyes, new vision, new awareness we can work for a world in which there is no violence.

Now I have read much leading up to 9-11 that indicates that we should be more forgiving of our enemies, and that it was our own excess’ that led to this tragedy. But I cannot accept that. As Edmund Burke, the an 18th Century member of the British House of Commons said, "When bad people combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." I did know one of the victims personally, the wife of someone I worked with. I had a cousin, who worked in the trade towers who luckily had a doctors appointment that day. Seemingly random fate. My sister has a neighbor who was attending a corporate meeting at the towers that at the last minute was moved from the 90th floor to the 63rd floor, and because of that, the people in that meeting lived. Maybe it is because I walked by those buildings every day for years on my way to classes at a nearby university. There but for the grace of the universe go I, I think.

I can intellectually understand how our foreign policy would lead others to want to attack us. But it is the death of innocent lives that I do not accept. But the reality is those 3,000 Americans that died on 9-11, were just living. They were a diverse group of people just trying to survive in the environment in which they lived. The victims who died were nationals of 115 different countries, of multiple different religious backgrounds of which 31 victims are Muslims who died in the attacks. The victims ranged in occupation from dishwasher to CEO to visitor to the firefighter who knew walking in, they was probably not coming out alive. This was truly the diversity of American Life compressed into one building.

I don’t accept the killing of innocents as a way of being.. So having said that, I don’t accept our governments killing of innocent people as a way of being either. I want to take this time to remember all innocent victims that have died in war. The Iraq War Logs released by WikiLeaks contain records compiled by the United States military through December 2009, which indicate that there have been over 66,081 Iraqi Civilian deaths. And let us not forget our armed services members serving our country in combat since 9-11 – Over 6,000 dead (more than twice the number of people who died at the trade towers) and 45,000 wounded. And this is not even counting the mercenaries we have hired to fight for us who have died. I also want to raise up that there are over 15,000 murder victims a year every year in the United States.

Let this day be a remembrance of all innocent victims, but particularly of the people in the towers and on the planes, of the firefighters who heroically tried to rescue them. For innocent victims all over the world due to all wars. Let this day be a day we can rally for peace. A peace our principles call us to work towards. Principle #6 – The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Let this day be a day we can rally for love. A love that is a core value of our religion. A day we can remember a time before we all lost our innocence that yet may be once again for future children. A day not calling for retribution but a day of remembrance, A day not calling for division but rather a day of healing.

For I would hope that one day, we could prevent the need for such human sacrifice and we can find our way to a peaceful coexistence in the world. Now I am certainly not naive, and I understand that it is not going to happen overnight, but if we don’t take steps in the direction of peace, if we don’t even start down that path, we will never get there. So we must start. Peace does not mean we surrender to our enemy. But neither does it mean we have to kill all people who think differently than us. As Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War”, to win without fighting is best. But who is to say what winning is. Is keeping gas prices low winning. Is insisting the world follow our form of government winning. Or is fighting for individual rights of all humans winning. There are no easy answers, but I think we must consciously ask the question of ourselves – what does winning constitute for us and the world, and what is its cost. I have thought and often said that if we develop alternative fuel sources we can free ourselves from the middle east entanglements, and thus end this conflict.

Now I think alternative fuel sources are an important thing if for nothing else than for the long term environmental sustainability of the planet. But in truth, in this day and age, we shall always be interconnected and interdependent with each other. Whether the resource is oil, or water, or food, or medical care, or knowledge, the distribution or lack thereof has for millennium and will continue to lead to conflict. And we have found that the larger one country tries to spread their influence, the larger they are, the harder it is for the country to impose its will. Whether this was the Greeks under Alexander, or the Roman Empire or the British Empire or Germany, the Soviet Union, and now the United States it will not be done unilaterally or merely by brute strength.

For people come to resent being forced into submission. Trust me, I think back to that bully in third grade….It took many years, but I never forgot and eventually when the time was right years later I got him back…Looking back on it, as an older, more mature, more reasoned person I now see there could have been other ways to deal with it and I have learned to over the years to be forgiving. I have learned that violence begets violence. ..I have learned that the overall good is sometimes more important than what is good just for me. There are times, I did not want to go to work, or work overtime, but I did for my family needed the money. There were times, I did not want to come to church for a meeting, but I did, because I have made a commitment to my community..

So I ask you, what type of commitment are you going to make. I have been watching the “I will” – advertisement campaign. It is mostly celebrities or sports stars, I hate it when they show celebrities nad I have no idea who they are. Can someone be a celebrity if I don’t know who they are? The campaign shows these people saying I will do this or I will do that in memory of those who died on 9-11. The “I Will” campaign encourages people to do good deeds in remembrance of those who died on 9-11. The man who started the campaign said ” “After 9/11, there was a sense of unity across the country that was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The 9/11 Tribute Movement attempts to recapture that spirit by inspiring selfless action, bringing the country together for the common good.”

So what will you do. I encourage you to reach out to the larger community. Perhaps find someone who Muslim and learn more about how they view their religion. If you don’t know someone who is Muslim, ask me and I can arrange a meeting.

So many people have and continue to die, for a dream of a better tomorrow, for a better world for everyone. I dream of a time when people do not have to sacrifice their lives for such a dream to come true. I dream of a time when peace will be a way of life instead of us trying to find a way to peace. Imagine if, instead of sending people to other countries to fight, we could send people there to share and learn about each other’s culture, and to share and learn about each others religions, and to share and learn about each others medical practices, and to share and learn about each others hopes and dreams. To share a meal, to share a smile, to share our peace with each other. Just to share and celebrate life. For I believe deep down, we all are peaceful people…Maybe we just need to evolve and mature a little more as a species….maybe we just want to feel safe, and it is fear of things that are different that makes us not feel safe….

So we must break down the barriers that limit knowledge, we must open ourselves up to new ideas and new possibilities, which means like the water in story for all ages, we must be willing to change to get to where we want to go. If we are willing risk all this, then maybe just maybe if more and more people live in such a way, then as it says in the Book of Isaiah

They shall beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks

and Nation shall not take up sword against nation

and they shall never again know war.

May it be so

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sermon Sept 4th 2011 - We are all Immigrants

We are all immigrants. I look at this in a both analogous and literal sense. As a progressive religion we use new knowledge as it becomes available and we use it to better understand our existence, and what it means to be human. We not only use new knowledge but we search for new knowledge and understanding. This is part of the core of our mission statement here, embracing searches for meaning. It is also one of the principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association. The free and responsible search for truth and meaning. We search not only in the far off places of the world, but also in the far off places within ourselves to find truth and meaning.
But from a literal sense, unless there is someone here who is 100% Native American, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. I would like you to reflect on that when we think about the question of immigration and labor. A few weeks back I told you of my story of my Great Grandfathers’ journey to this country. For many immigrants coming to this country It was often a push pull. Most were voluntary immigrants, being pushed out, escaping an existence of persecution, persecution from oppression, often due to religion and class. They were escaping the persecutions of poverty and hunger and war, and they were pulled here with hopes and dreams of a better life, hopes and dreams to own land, the hopes and dreams for a better future for their descendants.
These immigrants worked hard, did have opportunities, and often did create better futures for their descendants, of who many of us today are the beneficiaries. We tend to hold up the success stories, which is good, but we should not forget that there were also many immigrants who came to this country and were abused by employers, or conscripted into our army and never had that opportunity. Let us also not forget that there were also many involuntary immigrants, African Americans, brought to America to work in slavery for the benefit of other more powerful immigrants. And let us not forget that discrimination in hiring which still continues today, did not provide the same opportunities for people of color throughout most of our country’s history.
When I mention to people that we are all immigrants, when I am speaking of allowing more immigrants into the country, people often say, that, well we came legally. So I wonder what the Native Americans feel about that. They didn’t have any written laws preventing Europeans from coming here. There are of course many stories of the indigenous peoples of this country trading with and welcoming Europeans. There was plenty of land to share. But as more and more Europeans came, well we know the well documented history of deception and deportation and violence toward of Native Americans. In reading the autobiography of BlackHawk, the war leader of the Sauk tribe in this area, in the early 19th century, he is portrayed as often bewildered by the clash of cultures, merely trying to preserve his people’s way of life.
I often like to wonder what our world would be like today if we as a country worked cooperatively with Native Americans instead of destroying their way of life. And so I wonder if some of our own fear about immigrants in this country is our projecting of our own history onto the future of people we don’t know, cultures we do not know. Fearful, trying to protect our way of life. We assume maybe because we did not act cooperatively that others who come to our shores will not act cooperatively with us. Ralph Waldo Emerson said and I think quite poignantly, "People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character." So over time we created laws to keep people out. But not all people.
The first law to exclude immigrants was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1870, then in the early 20th Century an informal treaty to exclude Japanese. It wasn’t until after World War I that we started putting a quota limiting the number of people who could come into this country. It was not until the 1960s that we eliminated the country of origin as a determining factor as to who could enter the country. Clearly prior to the 1960s we admitted many more Europeans, than non Europeans. And if the same immigration patterns continue as they are today our country will soon (as it already is in parts of this country including where I lived in Florida) will be over 50% non white. And I think that fact as well whether consciously or subconsciously is creating a backlash against immigration in our country
But I tell you just as diversity of theology is a strength of our religion so too can diversity in our population be a strength for our country. Evolution advances when we collaborate. Going back to when we were single cell amoebas who collaborated to become multi cell amoebas. We should not fear it, we should embrace it. There is a better way, not a way of destruction, but of bridge building. There is a better way, not of exclusion, but of inclusion. There is a better way, not of indifference but of compassionate action
Sept 11th changed a lot. It made us more cautious. I am not saying we should just let anyone into this country. I look at our first principle – we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people. But inherent worth is not lived worth. It is just that inherent. That within each human being is the potential for worth and dignity. We should look for that and hold that up in each person we meet. But you can never be completely safe, you can never control all circumstances. But we should move forward with an open hand and not a clenched fist
I have always liked the analogy of controlling water. If you put it into your hand in a clenched fist, is will come out your fingers. It finds the path of least resistance and finds a way. But if you pour water into your open palm, it will stay there calmly and never move. So I believe it can be with people. If you try to control them, they will with an iron fist, they will resist you, so we need to develop a culture that will welcome people with an open hand and open heart, and developing appreciation for the differences amongst us with the understanding that it may change us as well, and by doing so hopefully all can develop that lived worth and dignity to the fullest that is inherent within each of us.
Just as we as a religion and as a congregation have certain shared values, so do we as a country have evolving shared values. One of the values that has derived from our Puritan heritage and circumstances is our work ethic. I was thinking of this recently when I read about foreign students here on a J-1 visa working at the Hershey Choclate company in Pa.who went on strike because they felt they were being overworked and underpaid. The J-1 visas is an “Exchange Visitor Program which fosters global understanding through educational and cultural exchanges”. I thought they really did get the full spectrum experience of what our culture is. Both our business culture of being overworked and our willingness to stand up against injustice.
But we do have a history of belief that hard work leads to success and often it does. Not everybody who works hard is successful, but success rarely happens without hard work and sacrifice. So remember that when someone asks you to volunteer for the congregation…..I think of my grandmother and her five sisters all living in the same apartment building in the Bronx and during the depression some in the same apartment. All of them working, sometimes 2 or 3 jobs, saving money so that my father the lone child amongst those five sisters, could go to college. I have heard stories from many of you of your parents or grandparents who worked endlessly on the farm that gave you the opportunity to go to school.
And I tell you it is no different today for immigrants. They just want a better life for themselves and their descendants. Some will be successful, some will not. The large majority of immigrants come here to work, to work hard, at low paying jobs, jobs that often no one else will take. Now I can tell you I know this to be true as I have some first hand knowledge of this. Prior to becoming a minister for 17 years I worked in what was called euphemistically the Human Capital Management Industry. I liked that title because often we think of capital only as money invested. I think it is important that business’ should value their workers as an investment in order to achieve success. Valueing workers and helping them maximize their potential and improve their abilities helps the individual, the business and society. Up until a few years ago, I can tell you without a doubt, there were so many job openings, that we could not find even find undocumented workers who would accept a minimum wage jobs. That is why there was such an influx of immigrants into our country. We invite them, whether formally or informally to work at low paying jobs. Minimum Wage working 40 hours a week still leaves people under the poverty line. We should be thinking about enacting a living wage. When Elaine Kresse and I visited the Sherriff of Scott County regarding the upcoming Immigration class he told us that border crossings in Mexico are at an all time low over the past 10 years. This is due to the lack of jobs due to our recession. The truth is the challenge we face about immigration is about jobs and wages.
The global economics of the world today are forcing us to face some very crucial decisions about how we live our lives. Decisions about consumption, economic justice, and the distribution of scarcer and scarcer resources. Perhaps now is the time we need to consider consuming less, now is the time to really act vigorously to deal with climate change, maybe now is the time to consider our impact on the planet earth so that not just we in our time, not just for our descendants, but the descendants of all people will have the hope and dream not only of existence, but of reaching their potential. And by potential, I do not mean their material potential, but spiritual potential, to reach the fulfillment of who we are as human beings.
I think our fulfillment of our humanity will be hinged on how we are in relation with others on this planet. To be in right relations with others means there has to be equal opportunity and justice for all and working cooperatively with others. Our religious prinicples call us affirm justice equity and compassion in human relations. Unitarian Universalism calls us to not sit idly by but to act to transform ourselves and our world. What does that mean to have justice for all? Is the starving child in East Africa any more or less important than the starving child here in Davenport. Without question the answer to that question is no. That is why we all rise to the occasion when we see tradgeys occur such as the drought that has plagued African Nations. And this is nothing new. I remember it must have been thirty years ago, comedian Sam Kinneson the comedian who always screamed his jokes…. in commenting about the hunger problem in Africa in the 1980s, suggested to solve the problem, that we stop sending them food and instead send them UHauls so that they could move to where the food was, you live in a desert, no food grows there. He said it in such a way that it always got a big laugh….but I actually think it was very poignant. First it brings up the issue as to the decreasing arable land in the world due to increasing industrialization, climate change, deforestation, among many other reasons. The second point is that as well know is that it is not so easy to just move to where the food is. The doors are closed. We have heard stories from our refugee friends of being in a refugee camp for 10 years before they are allowed to move. So as you can see immigration, economics, environment, life, death, are all interdependent on each other.
But there is hope, as I think of what Israel has done building desalination plants to increase the irrigation and the arable land in what was previously desert. What a gift that could be that the world could give to others. To provide them with a way to feed themselves, instead of bombing them. And yes I am descended from nomadic people, who thought nothing of wandering 40 years in the desert looking for their home. If you look at the map of the trail they took, there was a much more direct way to get to where they were going. And I was lucky that my family made it here before this country closed it doors and millions upon millions were killed in Europe during the first two world wars of the 20th century.
And within this country we think nothing of picking up our stakes, and moving to where there might be a better opportunity. But most people in poverty don’t have the ability to just pick up and move and most countries have closed their door. So I would propose that we allow more people to move here so they will have the opportunities our ancestors had, to use their energy, their hunger for opportunity to transform and improve the world. We heard last week the story of Joseph from the Jewish Scriptures who upon emigrating to Egypt helped save Egypt. Think about this country, how many of our inventions, scientific discoveries, medical advances, have been created by immigrants and descendents of immigrants.
Let us continue our policy of opening up our doors and walls, not only of our country’s borders, but of our own hearts, to take in people who can and will change and enrich us. Let us go work and make our life a model of how to live in right relation with others and the environment. Let us go out and do the work that we can do, here in our local community to bring justice to this community so this community can be a model to others. It takes work. But if we are doing what we believe in our hearts to be true, such work is effortless, so that is what I ask you to do, to step back and think about on labor day. Not just our work to earn a living, but our work to build a life, a life where everyone can live into our hopes and dreams, our work to love our neighbor, whether 1 block, 1 country, 1 continent away. Our work to open our doors and hearts to those different from us.
As I started the sermon We are all immigrants, immigrants not only with our bodies, but may we be immigrants with our hearts, searching to find meaning in and of the universe. May we emigrate to that not so distant shore where we may find peace of mind, may we emigrate to that place where we find the truth that heals you, may we emigrate to that place in our heart where we can realize love for all people. May it be so.