Tuesday, April 25, 2017

First Principle Project: A Sermon by Nikki J Hunt

I gave this sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Chico on April 23, 2017. Before I spoke, we showed this video: “How Wolves Change Rivers”  

For the past several years, a group of UUs has been working to officially change our first principle from “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” to “the inherent worth and dignity of every being.” This group formed the First Principle Project and are working their way through the UUA steps for amending our bylaws. This June at General Assembly, delegates will vote on whether or not to send this proposal to a 1-2 year study commission.

What does it mean to be human in a multi-species world? In many ways, this question is at the epicenter of the First Principle Project. Changing our first principle from “every person” to “every being” is much more than a shift of one word. This simple change invites us into a deeper, more complex conversation about what it means to be human, how we understand the divine, and why we are here.

When I was five, my mother taught me how to catch butterflies. There were patches clover in the stretch of green between the apartment buildings where we lived. She said I had to be able to be very still on the outside and on the inside too. I remember the first time I caught a butterfly. I was thrilled, feeling the soft flutter of wings on my palms. I could open my fingers a crack and peek inside. Sitting there in the sun, smiling at my accomplishment, the soft fluttery touches slowly drew me in until I was able to really feel the little life between my hands.

And I realized how frightened it must be! My mother had warned me not to touch its wings or it might not be able to fly, and not to hold it too long. But once I connected with the butterfly as a being and not just an entertainment, I could no longer ignore its fear. Then I understood why I had to let it go. Over the next few weeks I caught a few more, but eventually the joy I felt in this new skill paled in comparison to the echo of pain and fear I felt in the desperate flutter of butterfly wings. 

I learned some important lessons about being human that day, beyond realizing that I could feel a connection with insects as well as with my mother and other humans. I learned what it felt like to hold the power of life or death in my hands. And I learned that power comes with responsibility.

We live in a tumultuous time. Many of us are challenging the system of domination with its reliance on power-over. Many of us are working to shift away from a world rooted in oppression to a world where flourishing is nurtured for all—for individual humans, for human communities, and for the earth and all the many beings that live here with us. Much of the chaos and crises that explode across the daily headlines are directly connected to this struggle to birth something new.

Because this something new would benefit everyone, we have a hard time understanding why anyone would stand against this ideal. Why would anyone be against flourishing for everyone?

I offer that the difference goes back to what we believe about human nature. Are we humans basically good or are we basically bad? How we answer this question leads to very different societys.

If we believe that humans are basically bad, then things like obedience-based education, and punishment-rooted criminal justice make sense. In this world view, human nature needs to be firmly and clearly controlled, and it is a lack of appropriate and adequate control that results in poverty, drug use, crime, homelessness, and all of the other problems of our modern world.

If we believe humans are basically good, then obedience and punishment smothers and harms the divine spark born in each of us.

My understanding of human nature basically arises out of a mix of what is called process theology, and science. Process theology says that we are all a part of divinity and, as such, are co-creators with God. This means that we all play a part in creating this world every day. Process theologian Catherine Keller says, “In the image of the creator we are invited to a creative responsibility—an ability to respond in appreciative relation to the others, human and nonhuman. To respond not just dutifully but resourcefully, in the flow of creativity and in the beauty of grace.”

Unitarian Universalists also value science as one of the sources that informs our understanding humanity. So what does science say about human nature? From what I have read, on the whole, we humans are born with the potential for both good and evil. The relationships we develop and the environment we collectively create plays a large role in whether we act for the good of others or whether we act in ways that harm and oppress others.

In Trauma & Evil: Healing the Wounded Soul minister and psychologist Jeffery Means says, “While the embryonic self is innate and ordinarily contains the capacity to organize experience, it requires a matrix of relationships within which to develop and mature to its potential. This means that the structuralization of the human mind grows out of human relationships… Relationships and connection with others is more basic and necessary for our survival and development than is pleasure”.

I learned one beautiful way of summing this up from Rev. Ben McBride at a PICO training last year. He shared with us a part of traditional Zulu culture. In greeting each other one would say “I see you.” And the traditional response is “Because you see me, I exist.” This understanding of our interdependence is reflected in our seventh UU principle: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

Which brings me back to that butterfly and our first principle. I am called to use the power that I have responsibly. We are all called to use our power responsibly. Our UU principles exist as a guide for how we can do this. It is subtle, but the inherent worth and dignity of every person elevates humanity above other forms of life.

I see in this an unconscious reflection of the power-over domination model that permeates our society. This is the model that gives humans dominion over the world, and we have seen how well this dominion as fared—it has given us poisoned water in Flint Michigan, the Tar Sands wastelands in Canada, massive species extinction, and more. This model is also the model that supports some humans having power-over other humans which we see in racism, sexism, classism, homophobia. It is a model rooted in fear and obsessed with control.

Speaker and writer Winona La Duke says, “One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless. Deconstruct that disempowerment. Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”

What would our world look like if we stopped believing we are powerless? What might we create if we used power-with to grow a world where everyone’s divine spark was supported and nurtured? What would our world look like if we saw nature as our partner instead of our competitor?

First Principle Project Director Rev. LoraKim Joyner says, “This work of living out our principles is never easy, for our principles are not an acceptance of the reality under which we live with imperfect justice and compassion, but a vision for which we ache and long.” 

When we open up and let go of trying to control the world—that is where co-creation begins. Words matter. Changing our first principle from “every person” to “every being” would open us up to a sharing of power—with each other, with the earth and with the divine. What will you create today?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Our Principles Daring Us to Rise in Spirit and Justice

A Letter from Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner

To my fellow Unitarian Universalists:

The time has now come upon us after many years of hard work. This coming General Assembly in New Orleans, June 2017, we will vote to appoint a study commission considering how we might change the First Principle (and/or other principles) to reflect the inherent worthy and dignity of every being. 

It has been a beautiful process, full of joy and of pain, both of which are needed for change.  During this time I have seen in you a growing depth, increasing connection to life and to others, startling and unexpected awe and wonder about what life might hold for us, and a greater hope for justice of all kinds in this time of peril. I have recorded a few comments from others:

"Reflecting on the First Priniciple Project (FPP) has changed my life. I feel so much
more compassion for myself and others."

 “The FPP has surprised me about the depths of interconnection and beauty that is in life.
It has grown my faith in UUA and in my life."

“Our UUA needs this gift, for ourselves and others as we nurture each other, the earth
and other species. If we can pass this it will help us towards improving our anti-racism work,
understanding intersectionality, and promoting justice.”

Let me ask you:

Will you take the risk to hold difficult conversations and feel uncomfortable, slowing down and taking the time to reap rich rewards for the future?

Will you be willing to let go of a perceived sense of separation from life, that causes the malaise of disconnection and loneliness?

Will you heal yourself so that you can heal an aching and disconnected world?

Will you dare to rise to see all life as interconnected in beauty, worth, and dignity, growing compassion for humans, other species, and yourself?

Here is a video asking if we dare to rise:

I hope that the answer to these questions about growing love, compassion, and justice is yes, for the world needs us as never before. We can lead the way to help others surmount the challenges before us, but only if we say yes to life, and open ourselves to the risk of change and the responsibility that interconnecting beauty and worth places upon us.

Loving every part of the world and embracing reality is a great responsibility. I work in the  most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists, Honduras. There I partner with the indigenous people in conservation and humanitarian projects that promote environmental justice.  This is my calling as a Unitarian Universalist minister and wildlife veterinarian - nurturing nature, ours, yours, theirs, the earth's.  I approach this deeply meaningful work by knowing that the health of each individual is inextricably interrelated - we are one earth, and one health.

I heard this same sentiment expressed by Tomás, an indigenous leader of the Miskito people in Honduras. I am there to witness and stand in solidarity with the villages that wish to resist the overwhelming forces that seek to extract their trees, steal their wild parrots for the illegal wildlife trade, take their land, and impose violence, corruption, and the drug trade as a way of life. 

Tomás stood up to these forces that were destroying his ancestral lands.  For his efforts, he made enemies who ambushed him one day, and he was shot 4 times.  He nearly died. His whole village had to flee because they were likewise threatened with their lives. Tomas's parent's house was burned to the ground. Yet, four months later he returned to the ghost-like village to work with me and others on parrot conservation.  We had to hire a squad of soldiers from the Honduran military to accompany us and keep Tomas and others safe.  I asked him why he was willing to risk his life. He replied, "Doctora, everything is at risk so I am willing to risk everything. If the parrots don't make it, neither do my people."

I agree that we must take care of the least of these, the most oppressed, and ourselves as well.  To do so we need to investigate the root causes that lead to domination, colonization, and injustice.  To do so I feel we need conversation, reflection, and study, which may eventually lead to a change in our principles.

I beseech you to vote yes at the General Assembly and encourage other delegates to do so as well..  Let us together bring our principles to life.

Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner
Community Minister, Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation at White Plains, NY

In the last 3. 5years there has been much produced documenting the views of Unitarian Universalists and how we struggle and benefit from engaging in these issues. Please see the ample materials at our main website:  www.firstprincipleproject.org and at our blog:  www.ofeverybeing.blogspot.com

Friday, February 17, 2017

An Animal World as One

An Animal World as One

Guest Author:  Christopher D. Sims
Spoken Word Artist
Unitarian Universalist

The following poem comes from me asking Christopher Sims how he experienced the First Principle Project and possible bylaw change to the First Principle (inherent worth and dignity of every being).  We added discussion questions below for your journaling or small group discussion.

In the inner city, the concrete jungle,
we are animals inside a cage surrounded
by hate and rage. We are engaged in
activities that call for peace, unity, civility.

The concrete jungle adjusts to
whoever is in office. I many ways,
it is just us. No real justice.

As a person of color in the concrete jungle
I am concerned about my sisters, my brothers.

My hermanas and my hombres just the same,
because the concrete jungle has us singing
a collective blues, feeling the same pain.

As we harmonize, there’s a jungle
with wildlife we are not connected to.
About this disconnection what should
we do?

I say we leave our lairs to go outside
and breathe deeply fresh air. Say a
universal prayer that recognizes
our collective worth and dignity. Under
our glorious sun that’s how it should be.

As the reflection in the mirror looks back
at me, I contemplate Black Lives Matter
and the plight to include other beings.
Possibly creating new language in complex
times when people of color find our voices
still not being heard.

The animals, our relatives, have feelings
too. A polluted and warming planet they share
with us. Imagine what they’re thinking
as we lose Gaia’s trust.

How do we take care of the oppressed
and protect the animals in their habitats?

The climate is changing fast so we need
to organize, react. We need to create
policies and solutions that benefit people
and our fellow beings.

 How about conversations that leads
to Unitarian Universalist legislation
that honors every being without creating
a segregation of life? I think we have it in
us if we crafted it right.

© Christopher D. Sims
February 4, 2017

Discussion Questions

1. Where do you feel in your life that you are caged and need liberation? What does liberation look like for you? How do you get there?

2. Where do you experience that others are caged and need liberation? What does liberation look like for others? How do they get there?

3. Where do you experience that many different kinds of people and animals are caged and need liberation? What are the oppressive forces that keep our society and biotic communities imprisoned?  What does liberation look like for all of us together?  How do we all get there?

4. Where do you feel disconnected from others, nature, and other beings? How can your congregation help you, and the many others with the profound sense of disconnection experienced by so many in modern life?

5. How might considering that all beings have inherent worth and dignity nurture you and help you connect to others, the earth, and life?

6. How do you live with tension that others are like you, and are not like you? How might erasing the line between those with worth and dignity, and those without (in human perception) help you live and care for others who are different from you? In other words, how might a First Principle Practice, as it is now, or when it is changed, help us build communities of justice and flourishing?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Resistance is Not Futile

Resistance is Not Futile
Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner

Everyone one of us is held in creation's hand - a part of the interdependent web. - Therefore, strangers need not be enemies, - no one is saved until we all are saved, - and all means the whole of creation.
Rev. William Schulz

The First Principle Project offers tools to address the urgency many of us feel to develop communities or resistance, resilience, and solidarity. We have much work to do, the very reweaving of our culture, to make it stronger, and to make it more beautiful and inclusive. Our evolved biology is a dangerous thing, and that is why we need to be as intentional as we can to guide our culture's evolution.

In Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind, author Yuva Harari writes "Biology enables, Culture forbids." Biology provides for a vast repertoire of possible cultural expressions, and it is our cultures that can put the brakes on various possibilities, such as violence, sexual coercion, consumerism, etc. This is at once both liberating (we can overcome our biology) and daunting (it is up to us).  Harari goes on to write that in fact, though we have made progress in so many ways through various cultural revolutions, suffering seems to increase exponentially in each phase of human development.  This is because our cultural myths, which bind our cultures in ever advancing cooperation amongst more individuals, have allowed and thrived on oppression and domineering hierarchies. Each cultural shift appears to give us greater freedom, but really just lands us in a bigger cage with more room for suffering.

Ross Douthat in an opinion piece in the "New York Times" on February 4, 2017, Who Are We?,specifically refers to the myth of the USA being a land of divinely guided settlers and pioneers where the dream of prosperity, freedom, and equality could be achieved by all. The USA was built upon this and much good came of it, yet it is a story of untold suffering for Native Americans, Africans, and the wildlife on this continent. Because of this the myth is losing favor, though it is far from dead, such as seen in the upset election season of 2016 where it seemed there was a backlash against those who would throw away the human and white exceptional story of pioneer America, because so much harm came of it.  The problem is that we have no current myth that can both replace it and include it, even honor it, binding us all together, resulting in a political process in shambles.

What myth will work that transcends globalization, commerce, religions, politics, and ideologies, and at the same time recognizes the heritage that made both the American dream possible and deadly? We need a new story that takes into account that there is no beauty without tragedy, and that beauty and tragedy connects all individuals, each of which has inherent worth and dignity.

A story such as this allows us to forgive ourselves and one another. We could not have gotten here where we are, with the hope of mass cooperation diminishing suffering on a global level, without having gone through our imperialist, genocidal, racist, and extinction producing past. With forgiveness in our hearts for our kind, we can move forward, though with no guarantees.

Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature indicates that we are on a knife's edge - we could go any direction. Our biology can still enable the very worst that we can do to one another. We could lose all the gains over the millennia that though may not have reduced suffering, has reduced violence, and in recent decades, suffering seems possible to diminish with recent decreases in global poverty rates. His solution to what must be done is deluge the world with a story based on an empathetic and deep awareness of nature, human and otherwise. This is a story based on the inherent worth and dignity of each, and that every being strives to live, and live well. No ideology can trump that.

Such a story might allow us to move to the next stage of cultural evolution that actually opens the cage doors and liberates everyone.  We need a larger myth that does not give any space to oppression, and only accepts liberation if it is for all of us. And by all, I mean all of creation - all species, all individuals.

We don't know how to organize under this story politically, or what it looks like, but we do know that what we are doing now is not working. Maybe our new way will be that of a "vitacracy" - a way of organizing our communities that is based on life. The needs of all individuals matter within the biotic community.  Each individual of all species has a vote, and indeed does already vote by being part of the whole. We just need to acknowledge those silenced voices, tally their votes, and see where life leads us when we consider the needs of each and all.

In the meantime, how do we live with the tension of existing in a world of utopian dreams mixed with dystopian nightmares glaring at us through our social and news media? Let us tell the story far and wide of the inherent worth and dignity of all, and let that be our source of resistance, resilience, and solidarity.  Maybe hope will come out of that, and maybe not. But for one moment, when we speak of beauty and tragedy indivisible, we are inviting momentous change, and that out of our witnessing must come real political engagement. We persistently ask, "How do we live together, well, all of us?"   I don't know exactly, but when we testify, we are living it, and exerting our political selves that resists any way of life that does not accept and affirm all of nature, human nature, and otherwise. Each of us can do this at any moment - in conversation, in activity, and in thought. When we do it together, we are ever more greatly empowered and nurtured.

This is what our congregations are for - nurturing ourselves and all of nature, and the call is urgent to do both of these.  You can do so by getting involved in the First Principle Project. You can also get support and ideas through the Nurture Nature Program.  We are seeking to seed Nurture Nature Communities throughout the USA. To find out more of these communities go here, and to find out more about the Nurture Nature Program and One Earth Conservation, which facilitates it, go here.

Let our mantra be; "Biology enables life, Culture affirms life."

Monday, January 16, 2017


January 16, 2017

     We now have 24 sponsoring congregations! Thanks to each and everyone who helped this happen! The vote to change the bylaws doesn't happen until General Assembly in June 2017 in New Orleans, but the chance for conversation and community building happens all year long. To become a part of it, please contact Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner, the First Principle Project Facilitator.

     Between now and General Assembly we will be hiring a First Principle Project Coordinator and will be reaching out to congregations and regions to get involved in bringing our principles to life.

      We also will have an ad running in the next UU World. You can use this add to distribute at your congregations, and please do!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Nonhuman Rights Project and the Unitarian Universalist Principles

Guest author:  Steven M. Wise
Nonhuman Rights Project

On December 2, 2013, I filed a habeas corpus lawsuit in the Fulton County, New York, Supreme Court demanding the immediate release of a person who had been imprisoned for years, alone, in a cage in a warehouse on a used trailer lot in rural Gloversville with nothing but a small television for comfort and company. The next day I filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of another person who, for many years, had been imprisoned in a cage in the back of a cement storefront in Niagara Falls. Two days later I filed a third lawsuit on behalf of two persons who had been held for five years in the basement of a Stony Brook University computer building. There wires had been thrust into their muscles and they were forced to undergo general anesthesia every few weeks. 

I filed those three suits as an attorney for the Nonhuman Rights Project on behalf of chimpanzees. Attached to our habeas corpus petitions were nearly a hundred pages of affidavits from some of the most experienced and respected chimpanzee scientists in the world, from Japan, Sweden, Germany, Scotland, England, and the United States. They demonstrated that chimpanzees have capacities for autonomy and self-determination, that they possess an autobiographical self, episodic memory, self-consciousness, self-knowingness, self-agency, referential and intentional communication, empathy, a working memory, language, metacognition, numerosity, and material, social, and symbolic culture, that they have the ability to plan, engage in mental time-travel, act intentionally, engage in sequential learning, mediational learning, mental state modeling, visual perspective-taking, cross-modal perception, that they can understand cause-and-effect and the experiences of others, that they can imagine, imitate, engage in deferred imitation, emulate, innovate, and use and make tools. Our arguments were explicitly grounded in scientific fact, justice as it has long been understood in the Anglo-American tradition, as well as the liberty, dignity, equity, and equality of each prisoner. In subsequent cases, we filed seven more affidavits that showed that chimpanzees routinely bear duties and responsibilities both within chimpanzee communities and within human/chimpanzee communities.

In short, contrary to a species solipsism that permits us humans to pretend that only humans had minds, chimpanzees live intellectually rich, emotional, and sophisticated individual, family and community lives. They recall their past and anticipate their future and, when their future is imprisonment, they suffer the enduring pain of isolation and the inability to fulfill their life’s goals or even move about as they wish, as we humans do. In short they are, or ought to be, persons, at least to the extent of being able to demand freedom from imprisonment.

The First Principle of Unitarian Universalism affirms and promotes the inherent worth and dignity of every “person.” The word “person” has multiple senses. In the legal world I inhabit it is not a synonym for “human being”; it is a protean concept. A legal “person” is an entity that evolving ideas of justice, equality, liberty, policy, and morality demand we ought to treat as if he or she possesses inherent worth and dignity. “Person,” we show, is not restricted to humans; it is not even a biological category.

In its legal memoranda, the Nonhuman Rights Project walked the judges through an Anglo-American legal history in which, over the last quarter millennium, women, blacks, Native Americans, children, and others who were once treated as “things” - those who lack the capacity for any legal rights - and not “persons” - those who possess the capacity for legal rights. We demonstrated how even such entitles as corporations, ships, Sikh Holy Books, a Hindu idol, and a New Zealand river came to be treated as “persons” for some purpose in parts of the English-speaking world, and argued that, as a result of new scientific discoveries about chimpanzee minds, advances in public morality, and the accretion of human experience, the time had come for chimpanzees to be treated as “persons,” at least to the extent of preventing their confinement and exploitation. Oppressing a chimpanzee who suffers oppression in a way similar to how we suffer oppressions is morally wrong and is inconsistent with the vision of the First Principle. Their thinghood strips chimpanzees of their inherent worth and dignity and relegates them to the status of a nonperson, a slave; it entirely undermines their ability to exercise their autonomy, as it would undermine yours.

On the other hand, the word “person” is often understood outside the courtroom as being synonymous with “human.” To the extent this sense is enshrined in the First Principle, the “First Principle Project” seeks to widen the circle of those individuals entitled to be treated as if they have intrinsic worth and dignity to all beings. That is why the Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry initiated the First Principle Project, which is now a collaboration of sponsoring congregations and organizations. The First Principle Project proposes that the First Principle be amended to substitute “being” for “person.” Its purpose is to emphasize that individual worth and dignity go beyond just human beings to bring all the individuals who comprise the interdependent web of existence to which the Seventh Principle speaks within the circle of moral concern. It is fully within this spirit that the Nonhuman Rights Project works to assure fundamental legal rights to those beings for whom real legal rights, as well as moral rights, are most appropriate.

The Second Principle of Unitarian Universalism is a call for justice, equity, and compassion to human beings. But in the first quarter of the 21st Century, in light of the ongoing scientific inquiries into the nature of so many nonhumans, it would be unjust and inequitable to limit the ideals of justice, equity, and compassion to human beings. The Seven Principles derive from the Six Principles that accompanied the 1961 formation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which were revised and extended to the Seven Principles in 1985. Both the First And Second Principles were drafted and discussed at a time before the explosion of scientific knowledge began that has allowed us to begin to understand how remarkably autonomous chimpanzees are. A more equitable, humane, and just reading of the Second Principle would take into account the evolution of scientific knowledge, morals, and human experience, and ask that justice, equity, and compassion be extended to those who can understand they are benefitting from it,

The Sixth Principle of Unitarian Universalism affirms and promotes the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Again the question is “who is encompassed by the word ‘all.’” An appropriate response might be that  “all” should embrace those who can flourish in the medium of peace, liberty, and justice. Whomever else may be a part of that “all,” science has left us with no doubt that the chimpanzees the Nonhuman Rights Project has chosen as its first plaintiffs should. But the science is not limited to chimpanzees. Our knowledge about the minds of nonhuman animals from great apes to elephants to whales to parrots and corvids, dogs, and others continues rapidly to expand.

The Seventh Principle, introduced in 1985, suggests respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part: as early as 1985, the Unitarian Universalists were beginning to look past the ancient prejudice that only one species, out of the more than ten million who share the earth, should count. However, the Seventh Principle is vague about the degree to which humans might respect the many individuals who comprise this web, and how.

Not only are apes, whales, elephants, and many others part of the interdependent web of all existence, they are nearly the same part. The cognitively complex qualities we share should surprise no one who knows that we also share a substantial portion of our DNA, have brains that are similarly plastic, flexible, and heavily dependent upon learning. As Mark Causey, President of the Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry, reminds us: “we are all made of the same star-stuff and all share a common destiny. We all share the same hopes of a life free from harm and suffering and the same aspirations of happiness, love, and flourishing—being able to express our own unique natures and capacities as best we may.” Not only is the Seventh Principle a call to embrace something greater than oneself, but to embrace something greater than one’s species.

Principles of equity and equality suggest that the Seventh Principle should cause us to embrace any one of our fellow species consonant with the nature of that species. As James Russell Lowell wrote: “New occasions teach new duties. Time makes ancient good uncouth.” The respect to which our fellow beings should be entitled should harmonize with who they are, and we learning more every now who they are.

If you wish to learn more about the ongoing work of the Nonhuman Rights Project, please visit our webpage at www.nonhumanrights.org, look us up on Facebook, or follow us on twitter.

Steven M. Wise, Esq.

March 30, 2016

Friday, July 8, 2016

Vows and Bows for Black Lives

July 7, 2016

Today was the day I had scheduled to write  how changing the Unitarian Universalist First Principle from the inherent worth and dignity of" every person" to "every being" can aid human beings, not just in terms of spirituality, wholeness, and becoming fully who we are, but specifically in terms of alleviating the multiple oppressions facing humans.  As an advocate for humans and other animals (wildlife veterinarian and Unitarian Universalist minister) I believe that my perspective and experiences can help clarify the moral morass of how we live in a world where harm and benefit are interwoven into the very fabric of all life on this planet.  In light of this week's shooting of Alton Sterling in Louisiana by police, the shooting of Philando Castille in Minnesota by police, and the targeted shooting of Dallas police officers by one or more gunmen during a peaceful protest, I don't know how to write through the pain, or how that writing could be of help to anyone.  So I write for myself, to make sense of something that cannot be undone, this unraveling of human community that shreds families and lives without end.  

Perhaps, if I am honest, I also write to speak to other people of privilege who think that by announcing our take on things we can nullify the anguish.  As a white person, isn't it time, as Black Lives Matter commends, that I make a safe space for black people to come together and then  go  to the back of the room, keep quiet, listen, and have my heart break open?  I don't feel silenced. I am silenced.  There is a longing for wholeness that washes over me when I am given my marching orders on how to be present to the lived experiences of others.  It is no easy task. These events of the last year, and this last week, hit me like a whiplash, my attention ripped from my daily concerns to see more deeply the lives, love, and hurt of others.  May I not return my gaze where it once was directed, but draw on agitation and awareness so that my actions angle my path forward ever more towards reconciliation and justice.

So today I try to hold the anguish in a very specific way for black lives in the United States. I want to know, I want to feel despair and then anger, and then the thrill of action. But let me be so very human, though a privileged one to be sure, I cannot turn from the pain of police officers.  My son, a person of color from Honduras, serves as a police officer in North Carolina. Confusion and anger, his or mine, it's hard to know, seeps into me with every phone call and text between us.  He is on the front lines, battling racism as his job calls him to protect, to be safe, and to control situations   How can any of us protect those whom we love and create safety when it has all gotten so out of control?

I can only imagine how the family members and loved ones of those who have died and been injured might have woken up this morning, petitioning with a heart too broken perhaps to rise out of bed, "Can't we take back the violence and bring my dear beloved back?"  And those of us more removed, did you ask yourself like me this morning, "How can I take back all those years of inaction, of not being completely and soulfully swept up in the beauty and the suffering of the other?" 

It's not that I have been idle. I have dedicated my life towards improving the lives of parrots and people in Central America, including witnessing and being in solidarity with marginalized indigenous groups and those descended from slaves. The trauma of those experiences knows no bounds, nor does the beauty.  I get that there is no hierarchy of pain and suffering, and do not judge my efforts and experiences as inconsequential.   Even so,  I suspect that though I have studied "intersectionality" where the various forms of oppression link to each other, I carry the burden of white supremacist enculturation  that demands, "Look at the suffering of this group, now, in the way that I see it!"  I have not made or had enough room to love, listen, learn, and act all that I could have.

I vow to do so, as I bow down before the agony of our times.  The very act of bowing down low causes to rise up from the body into awareness a sense of humility and interconnection .  These I ache for.  So I bow before you, dear black lives, dear life, dear earth, dear many others of all species, mourning, and longing to really see the beautiful other, and in holding that beauty, be able to hold their suffering.  I want to see the other's point of view, and I want to see it before things get further out of control, before there is any more violence or pain.  I pray that we can really see each other, and in that furnace of beauty and suffering, may we find the strength to start again, and again, until we humans find a way to live in humility, awareness, peace, and love.  

My prayer finishes with this music video, "Could We Start Again Please?" (This is from the musical, JC Superstar.  It was inspired during my time serving as minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, Florida, and transmits my hope of how UU congregations can be a place to start again.)

I've been living to see you.
Dying to see you, but it shouldn't be like this.
This was unexpected,
What do I do now?
Could we start again please?

Now for the first time, I think we're going wrong.
Hurry up and tell me,
This is just a dream.
Oh could we start again please?

I think you've made your point now.
You've even gone a bit too far to get the message home.
Before it gets too frightening,
We ought to call a vote,
So could we start again please?



*Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM, combines her experience as wildlife veterinarian and Unitarian Universalist minister  to address the importance of both human and  nonhuman well being in considering conservation and care taking strategies.   She serves as Community Minister affiliated with the Community Unitarian Church at White Plains, NY, Right Relations Consultant for the UU Metro NY District, Facilitator of the First Principle Project, and Co-Director ofOne Earth Conservation. Bringing 29 years of experience working in Latin America, she currently has projects in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. She promotes nurturing human nature through relationships with other species and nature in the Nurture Nature Program offered by One Earth Conservation.