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.