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

UPDATE

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!