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