The reference to dotted lines in the earlier reading reminded me of when I was a young child, I loved to play the game connect the dots. There was something satisfying to completing something that is uncompleted. Often it was easy to see what the outline of the dots created (PPT) (although to be honest when we lived in Florida, my children would not have known what this was) but sometimes they are more like a Rorschach test where only after making the connections does it become apparent what the picture is. Life is a lot like that.
Trying to connect the dots to figure out how to make things work out. To make things whole, to complete the vision within our minds. We sometimes know generally what our hoped for outcome is, but it doesn’t really come to fruition until we connect with others and the world and make it happen. I think of our Social Justice Team’s Restorative Justice project trying to create a mental health court in Scott County. (story of how our Mass Incarceration Social Justice Project got here – education – connecting with the community and finding out their needs) Members of our Congregation connected with Quad Cities Interfaith, multiple congregations, judges, prosecutors, providers of mental health care, and other mental health advocates among others on our path towards trying to make it a reality. A lot of hard work, but something that we could never do alone.
I always look for these connections and pay attention to when and where they happen. I recently felt these sense of connection when I preparing for this service. Each year the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee sends us these boxes called Guest at your table. (We hope you will utilize them – I always empty my pockets of change every night before dinner as a reminder to be thankful that I have food to eat – or you can just write a check to UUSC or go online at uusc.org to donate) The boxes come with something called stories of hope.
What I like about these stories of hope is that they focus on something that has already come to fruition. Stories that give hope to others that what we are working towards is possible. Stories that show in the midst of tragedy, hope is possible, if people of courage step forward. There are two stories I want to focus on. The first one is of Catherine Chvany and Alexander Strasser (PPT). This one is particularly touches my heart, and is connected in a small way to this Congregation. Catherine and Alexander were Jewish children who escaped Nazi Europe during WWII with the help of the Unitarian Service Committee.
I’ve mentioned it before, one of this Congregation’s previous ministers, Waitstill Sharp, left his position as a parish minister and he and his wife went to Europe during WWII acting clandestinely to save these and many other children as part of the work of the Unitarian Service Committee. This is how UUSC was started. Saving children in crisis. I want you to think about that. How many of us would go today to Syria, let alone the Mexican American Border to help refugees trying to escape certain death in their home countries.
I was re-connected to this story during my mentoring and tutoring as part of the The Social Justice Teams At Risk Youth program. It is a program for youth in a lock up facility at the Annie Whittenmeyer Complex. Many of these youth are very smart and perceptive but often come from an unstable family situations. One of the books assigned to them to read was Sarah’s Key. It is the story based in 1941 France when French police rounded up 13,000 Jews including 4,000 children as young as the age of 4 to be sent to Auschwitz to die. It told the story of how neighbors turned in neighbors, and how Jewish homes were looted and taken over by their fellow country people once they were sent away. Also not to be forgotten is the story of a family who takes in the protagonist of the book and shelters her at risk to their own lives. In a letter Sarah writes Zakhor, Al Tichkah – Remember, Never forget.
Yet to be honest, this story of the French rounding up their neighbors was one that is not taught in French Schools let alone American Schools. It is easy to forget what we do not know. So we must become informed. And although we may say well that is Europe we would not do that here. I want to remind you of two things. First, we could have saved many more Jews from the Nazi’s ovens but we refused to take them in.
And second, it did and does happen here in America. It came to light recently that certain schoolbooks called Africans who were enslaved workers, not slaves. It is very easy to forget the long history of what we have done to our neighbors. People we identified as others just as many French considered the Jews others. Indigenous People whose land we conquered, African lives stolen into Slavery that propelled wealth to many in this country. Child labor which was common in this country until labor abuses became so widespread that the people connected with each other and worked and sacrificed to create change.
So just like the French, in our history, right in front of our eyes, people living amongst us, sent away, killed, enslaved. And we could say well that was a long time ago. But I will tell you that for the last 30 years, we have been arresting and imprisoning a disproportionately large number of young adults of color for minor non violent offenses. Just as Jews were forced to live in ghettos, this mass incarceration has led to ghettos where the cycle of poverty are continuing due to the breaking up of the family and economic distress caused by incarceration, and the cutting back of resources and opportunities for poor people of color.
And just like the Jews, when they are arrested for drugs, we loot them by taking away their assets and their homes. That actually is the law in this country, just as it was the law in 1942 France. Just as slavery was the law, just as segregation and discrimination was the law prior to the 1960s. Today, we are locking up parents and children, our neighbors, people who have lived in this country for years, we are taking them out of their homes and placing them in detention centers. Merely because the parent was not born in this country. It’s the law. Its legal. Locking up innocent children is legal in this country.
These people came here just as my grandparents came to America fleeing persecution, hoping for a better life, but then we changed the law to make it illegal and by so doing we are condemning people to prison and death. We sit here and allow this to happen. Which is why I want to focus on the second story of hope. (PPT) Lilian (the same name as my immigrant grandmother) and her 8 year old son Jose who were trying to escape the violence in Honduras and were arrested and put in a private detention center for ten months.
(quoting from the brochure)
“Ten months of inadequate medical care and malnutrition.
Ten months of abuse and the ever-present threat of solitary confinement in the “cold room.
” Ten months of living with the fear of sexual assault by the guards.
Ten months of treatment so unconscionable it provoked at least one suicide attempt by a
fellow prisoner and drove Lilian and other women to go on a hunger strike.
Ten months of wondering whether she’d lost all hope for her son’s future.”
There was a sense of hopelessness. But UUSC entered the picture and partnered with a non profit legal organization that helps refugees and now Lilian and her son are living with family members in New York. With knowledge, with courage, we can act to help people change the course of their lives and that is what the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee does. They provide active and sustainable help to people in crisis. And by so doing we create through actions hope to the seemingly hopeless.
And such hope builds upon itself. For once we and others see it happening, it gives us hope that we can do something to help. Hope is not some blind optimism where we close our eyes to the world’s problem and wish upon a star. No Hope is a theological premise based on our inner sense of compassion for other human beings, our awareness of our capacity to heal others, and our faith that even knowing our history, we can learn from it and not turn away the next time they come for our neighbors.
And when we ask who is our neighbor, it is the youth at Whittenmeyer, it is the single parent from south Chicago, it is the family in Hondurus, it is the Syrian refugees.
They are all our neighbors, we are all one, we just need to connect the dots. Let us not close our eyes to suffering. Although the journey may be hard Let us take one more step on the way to creating hope in our lives and in the lives of others. Though our own lives may be troubled, let us connect with and walk one more step in another’s shoes. Though the heart may be fearful, let us take one more step and be harbingers of a new better day for all humanity. May it be so.