Friday, February 27, 2015

Instead of Guilt

Guest Author:  Rev. Dr. Meredith Garmon
Minister, Community Unitarian Church at White Plains
Sermon delivered:  February 15, 2015

Editor's Comments:  I lift up this sermon for us to read as part of the First Principle Project because in speaks clearly of the harm we all do, every day, in our choices and actions.  This brings humility to our endeavors to bring about social change, and can inspire each of us, no matter where we are on the curve of multispecies justice, to move just a little bit further along. We do this not because of guilt, but because we wish to bring our principles to life. (Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner)


"....steps toward reducing harm will feel joyful insofar as we understand them connecting us with life. Connected to life and this Earth, small acts of care for ecological systems and the sentient beings with whom we share our planet develop our love, expand how loving we are."


Instead of guilt, my hope, for myself and for all of us, is to be drawn by love, toward love, into acts of care for all of life.

The second source of the living tradition we share is:

"Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love."

The prophetic tradition is all about speaking truth to power. What if the power to which you need to speak some truth is yourself? What does it look like to confront yourself with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love?

Because we are all doing harm. Feeling guilty about that may not be the most helpful move, but I do think it’s good to recognize that fact. We harm other sentient beings and we harm the earth.

Strict adherents of the Indian religion Jainism carefully sweep the walkway wherever they go to avoid stepping on a bug, and wear a cloth over their mouth and nose lest they breathe in some organism. They’re trying really hard not to do any harm to any animal, but agriculture is not forbidden in Jainism. If you’re going to plough the ground, you’re going to cut through some worms and kill various microbes. There’s just no way around it.

The Pythagoreans of ancient Greece, besides being really into geometry, also had a very strict moral-religious code. They said, eat only fruits, berries, and nuts that have fallen by themselves from the tree. Don’t even hurt the tree by plucking it. I don’t know if that ever really worked, and I don’t think we could keep 7 billion humans fed that way. We’re going to need agriculture, and agriculture is going to do some killing. We do harm – and we have to.

We also harm our environment, and maybe, in this case, we don’t have to, but we will – unless and until catastrophe stops us.

The Earth does regenerate continuously, but we’re using it up faster than earth can replenish.

“Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what humans use up in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one.” (Global Footprint Network)

If everyone lived the way the average American does, it would take four Earths to sustain the 7 billion people. We’re doing harm, and it’s pretty clear we’re going to go on doing harm. In this country a significant chunk of the populace still has doubts about whether climate change is the result of human activity, so, I don’t see the US substantially reducing the rate at which it uses up the earth any time soon.

As for you and me, are we ready to really live sustainably? Apparently not. Maybe, though, we could move a little more in that direction.

Sometimes it seems silly to try.

Some years ago my mother clipped out a comic strip from the Sunday paper and mailed it to me without comment. It was from the strip “Zits.”

Jeremy [to his friend, Pierce]: “Why aren’t you wearing your boots today, Pierce?”
Pierce: “Can’t. I’m boycotting leather in support of animal rights.”
Jeremy: “Then couldn’t you just wear your sneakers?”
Pierce: “Nope. The rubber soles are made with petroleum-based plasticizers, and I’m against arctic drilling.”
Jeremy: “What about your wooden sandals?”
Pierce: “And support deforestation? Not likely. I’m an activist, Jeremy. I have to set an example to show others that there is a better way to live.”
[Last panel, we finally see Pierce’s footwear]
Jeremy: “Hence, the tofu shoes.”
Pierce: “Teriyaki flavor. Want some?”

Sometimes the quest to do the right thing with our purchasing decisions might seem silly. Yet our purchases and what we consume really does have consequences. I wrote back to Mom:

"It’s worse than that. Tofu is made from soybeans, and if the soybeans aren’t organic, there’s the harm of nitrogen-based fertilizers, and there’s pesticides. Even if it’s all organic, there may have been monoculture growing, without proper crop rotation and variation. Finally, even if you fix all that, there’s almost certainly some oppressed labor somewhere along the way. So, Mom, where do you draw the line? Do you so thoroughly trust your government as to figure that anything they haven’t outlawed has got to be morally and environmentally OK to participate in?”

She never answered. When I saw her some months later at Christmas, I asked her about it. "I assumed the question was rhetorical," she said.

I can imagine my children writing to me with that question: “Well, OK, Dad, where do you draw the line?” I don’t know if I’d answer either.

* * *
This is part 1 of 4 of "Instead of Guilt"
Click for other parts: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Study Action Item: Multispecies Justice

One way to put forth the process of engaging Unitarian Universalists in the First Principle Project is to work towards a Study Action Item on multispecies justice (while we continue all the other goals of our project).  Below is a sample draft on a Study Action Item that your congregation could vote to put forward for a 4 year process for a topic with which all UU congregations could engage.  Congregations must vote and submit their Study Action Item by October 1, 2015.  It only takes one congregation to vote on it to move the process forward.  Please consider having your congregation be this one (and the more there are, the better).  If you'd like to know more, or would like to edit or change this draft, please comment below or contact Rev. LoraKim Joyner. Thanks for your efforts!

(the entire draft Item can be found here and more on the process here.

Study Action Item: Multispecies Justice:  How do we take care of the many in our biotic community?

Life on earth is under threat, fueled by humankind's false sense of separation from nature.  How can we create a biosphere sustainable for all beings while taking into account the inherent worth, value and well-being of every living individual? Addressing the intersectional of injustices, we improve life for all. 
Grounding In Unitarian Universalism:
Affirming respect for the interdependent web of all existence, we deepen our faith by taking up for the first time the call to multispecies justice. We draw on our anti-racism, animal welfare, animal rights, environment, economic justice, and environmental justice work, analysis of intersectional oppression, Transcendentalism, and earth centered spiritualities.
Topics for Congregational Study:  
·    What legal and moral responsibilities do humans hold toward other organisms -- particularly toward other sentient forms of life?  
·    To what extent do other species have a capacity to suffer, feel pain, love, grieve and endure emotional distress similar to our own?  
·    What economic, social, cultural and religious systems degrade or destroy the quality of life experienced by other inhabitants of our planet?  
·    How has science as well as theology reinforced an unhealthy and unwarranted assumption of human superiority over other living creatures, and how can they help us care for other species?
·    In what ways would our work, play, and lifestyles be altered if informed by an ethic of respect and compassion for all beings?
·    How might our current UU Principles be changed to and resources guide us in addressing multispecies justice?  
·    How can we support one another in this challenging work of multispecies justice given  the complexity of the interweaving of our lives with global systems of oppression.
  • What is multispecies justice and how does it relate to intersectional justice and the theory "no hierarchy of oppression?"
Possible Congregational/District Actions: 
  • Form a Intersectional Justice or Multispecies Justice Committee
  • Become a UUAM chapter (Engage in the First Principle Project or the Reverence for Life Program)
  • Educate congregation on intersectional justice, including presenting a lay service on justice on holding an animal blessing
  • Show films about relationships between humans and other species
  • Learn the behavior, thinking, feeling, ecology, and evolutionary biology of species on your congregational grounds.  What is the impact on other species, both beneficial and harmful in their relationships and proximity to humans?
  • Present an intersection justice working at district meetings
  • Advocate for legislative positions that foster multispecies justice
  • Give money to organizations that help animals – such as shelters and conservation and advocacy groups
  • Create interfaith networks and committees
  • Host a plant based potluck and invite discussion on the challenges and celebrations of being aware of our relationships with other species and humans through food
Related Prior Social Witness Statements
Animals and Biotic Community
Ethical Eating:   Food and Environmental Justice - Statement of Conscience 2011
Creating Peace - Statement of Conscience 2010
Threat of Global Warming/Climate Change - Statement of Conscience 2006
Responsible Consumption is Our Moral Imperative - Statement of Conscience 2001
Solidarity with the San Carlos Apache Regarding Mt. Graham - Action of Immediate Witness 1977
Toxic Substances and Hazardous Waste - General Resolution 1984
Problem of Environmental Policy - General Resolution 1977
Environmental Justice - General Resolution 1994
End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining - Action of Immediate Witness 2006
Safer Alternatives to the Alaska Pipeline - General Resolution 1973
Protecting the Biosphere - General Resolution 1989
Earth, Air, Water, and Fire - General Resolution 1997
United Nations and Earth Day Celebrations - Business Resolution 1994
The Green Revolution in Religion - Business Resolution 2010
Law of the Sea Treaty - General Resolution - 1982
Environment - General Resolution 1969
Safer Sources of Energy - General Resolution 1992

Endorse the Earth Charter - Action of Immediate Witness 2002

Economic Justice, Class and Racism (mixed with others)
Phoenix General Assembly 2012 - Business Resolution 2010

Self-Determination for Blacks and Other Ethnic Groups - General Resolution 1968

The Civil Rights Act of 1990 - Resolution of Immediate Witness 1990
Congregational Programs on Racism and Classism - Responsive Resolution 2006
World Conference Against Racism - Action of Immediate Witness - 2001
Toward an Anti-Racist Unitarian Universalist Association - Business Resolution 1997
Racism Imperative - Business Resolution 1981
Immigration as a Moral Issue - Statement of Conscience 2013
Economic Globalization - Statement of Conscience 2003
Economic Injustice, Poverty, and Racism: We can make a difference - Statement of Conscience 2000
Economic Conversion for Peace and Human Needs - General Resolution 1989
Working for a Just Economic Community - General Resolution 1997
Deepen Our Commitment to an Anti-oppressive Multicultural Unitarian Universalist Association - Responsive Resolution 2013
Reference (not part of one page - refer to Issue section)
  • UU Food Justice Ministry
  • UU Buddhist Fellowship
  • UU Animal Ministry
  • UU Ministry for Earth (?)
Certifying Congregation
Endorsing Congregations:

Friday, February 13, 2015

Why I Prefer Revising the Second Principle

Guest author: Jennifer Greene

Jennifer is lead author of the new food education curriculum, Demonstrating Our Values through Eating (DOVE). She has served as RE director at the South Nassau Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Freeport, NY; interim RE consultant for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Great South Bay; and board member for the Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry. Jennifer is part of the Food Justice Ministry team, and she assists Dr. Melanie Joy with her international speaking tours.

I love the reverence for life that's expressed by the First Principle Project!


I think maybe we should shift the campaign, and target the second principle instead of the first.

Here's why.

1. If we want to explicitly challenge humancentrism, isn't the second principle, with its "human relations" wording, the place to do it?  The first principle is not actually necessarily humancentric, since "personhood" can be understood as not limited to our own species.

2. The second principle's direct reference to "justice, equity, and compassion" makes it more clearly action-focused, which I see as a definite plus. Because at the end of the day, what really matters to animals is our actions and behavior toward them, not our beliefs about them.  "Deeds not creeds" is another way to put it.  (To paraphrase Patti Rogers: animals don't care why we stop hurting them, just THAT we stop hurting them.)

3. Conversations I've already had with UUs on this topic indicate to me that changing the second principle would be less contentious than trying to change the first principle. Why provoke more resistance than we need to? 

4. Changing the second principle may serve the animals' interests better than changing the first, since the second principle explicitly affirms justice. The harm and suffering inflicted by humans on other-than-humans needs to be understood as a justice issue rather than a matter of personal choice. The second principle is where we can make this critical point on behalf of our animal kin.

In conclusion: let's campaign to replace "human" with "all our" in the second principle, so that it reads:

Justice, equity, and compassion in all our relations.

Yours for love and liberation,