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."