fairness (nondiscrimination) is fundamental. June 16, 2013Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far
Fairness is Fundamental
A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on June 16, 2013
- the Congregant’s Perspective by Zoe S.
- the Sermon
Thank you, Zoe, for telling us your story and sharing your perspective. And thank you and the other members of the Red Pen, for realizing that there were stories that needed to be told by GLBTQ students at your school.
I am not sure how many of you may remember this, but in the Senior High Youth Service a few weeks ago, Zoe talked about about this congregation and how it has informed her way of thinking and being with people. She also played a song that is hugely popular right now, by the artist Macklemore. The song is called “Same Love” and in the song he talks openly about his support for gay marriage and equality, marking a breakthrough in mainstream hip-hop music. The track was inspired by his gay uncles and gay godfather and is an issue that is personal to him and the other musicians he collaborated with – it is quite powerful.
And it is telling that a such a breakthrough song is so popular right now. It speaks to the fact that 53% of Americans now support same-sex marriage. With the Supreme Court poised to rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), it seems as though same-sex marriage will be the law of the land – it is just a matter of time.
Much like, years ago, it was just a matter of time that interracial marriage would be legalized. This week celebrated the 46th anniversary of the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision handed down by the Supreme Court. Richard Loving, a white man, married Mildred Jeter, a black woman, in 1958. It was illegal for them to get married in the state of Virginia, so they crossed the border into Washington, DC. However, when returning home they were arrested and charged with interracial marriage and “mixing races.” These charges were punishable by 5 years in prison, but the Lovings pleaded guilty, received suspended sentences, and were ordered to leave the state. Virginia was not for those lovers, apparently. Before her death, Mildred Loving reflected on their Supreme Court case: “I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
Many comparisons are made between the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement of the 60s. Before the Loving case was brought to the Supreme Court, there were decades of nonviolent protests, sit-ins, marches, and more – all demanding that people not be discriminated against due to the color of their skin. Just last month, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the passage of the accommodations law in Louisville. Responding to increasing sit-ins and boycotts by black Louisvillians (mostly teenagers – youth will lead the way, as our banner in the Pride Parade asserted), Louisville became the first city south of the Mason-Dixon Line to pass legislation that required businesses to serve people no matter their race, their country of origin or their religion.
Next year, on July 2, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act. This landmark piece of legislation outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and ended legalized racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public.
So three years before Loving v. Virginia passed the Supreme Court and legalized interracial marriage, federal nondiscrimination laws were passed. In fact, in many ways, interracial marriage was hardly a blip on the Civil Rights radar at the time – there were much more urgent issues that needed to be addressed first. EJ Graff points out that “for blacks and for women getting a law guaranteeing the right to work was central to achieving dignity. Until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they were flatly denied equality on the job; their discrimination centered around the idea of them as people who couldn’t think or do well enough to stand side by side with white men.”
If we continue comparing the Gay Rights movement with the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, then you might assume that the push for rights for GLBTQ people would follow a similar pattern: first nondiscrimination laws, then marriage laws. And in fact, in 2011, the Center for American Progress reported that 9 out of 10 Americans believed that such federal nondiscrimination laws already existed. 74% Americans support such laws. With this much support, it seems like protecting GLBTQ people from discrimination and harassment in their workplaces (at minimum) is a no brainer – so how startling is it that such a federal law does not exist. And in fact only 21 states and Washington, DC have passed laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and only 16 states and D.C. also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. In 2011, 19 states had NO non-discrimination laws protect GLBTQ people at all on their books.
So what is going on here? Almost 40 years ago, in 1974, two Representatives from New York introduced the Equality Act to the U.S. House of Representatives. This act sought to ban discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals and unmarried people in housing, employment and public accommodations. The Equality Act marked the first-ever proposed national legislation that would end discrimination against gays and lesbians in the United States. It did not include transgender people. Regardless, the Equality Act never made it out of committee and was never introduced in the Senate.
Fast-forward to 1994, the first year that ENDA was submitted – the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. ENDA would have made it illegal to discriminate against employees based on a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation. It did not have the broader coverage of housing and public accommodations that the Equality Act did. Still, both the House and Senate versions of ENDA died in committee that year and then again in 1995.
In 1996, however, ENDA managed to make it to the floor for a vote in the Senate, only to fail by a maddening one-vote margin. Interestingly enough, that very same day, the House passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as being between one man and one woman.
After 1996 a version of ENDA was introduced in every session of Congress except one.
In 2007, the bill was changed to make it illegal to discriminate not just based on sexual orientation but also on gender identity. But even as limited as it is, ENDA has never passed. Earlier this year, a Representative from Colorado re-introduced an ENDA bill in the House (where it has 172 co-sponsors) and a Senator from Oregon introduced an ENDA bill in the Senate (where it has 48 co-sponsors.) The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) will be holding a hearing on ENDA sometime in July 2013.
So it is strange, indeed, that even though most Americans assume there is, there is not actually any federal non-discrimination legislation protecting GLBTQ people, and meanwhile the Supreme Court is currently deciding on the Defense of Marriage Act. This means that even if the Supreme Court overturns DOMA in just a few days, and even if all 50 states miraculously legalized same-sex marriage, it would still be perfectly legal in most states to fire someone for their sexual orientation, or even kick them out of a restaurant! What is going on here? Why are members and allies of the GLBTQ community pushing marriage rights, when we have not yet achieved basic nondiscrimination rights in the workplace, housing and public accommodations?
EJ Graff helps clarify what is going on, when she writes
“The symbolism behind marriage speaks to the defining feature of gay identity (same-sex love) in a way that workplace discrimination does not…it’s comparatively easy for most lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men to hide our sexual orientation…For us, the far more central denial of our dignity has been our exclusion from the social symbolism and law that have shaped our…family aspirations. Being denied recognition for our passions and our families has been at the heart…of our civil and social exclusion, and therefore our movement. Employment rights have been emotionally secondary to the LGB movement…in the way that the right to marry across races was secondary to the African American civil-rights movement. Being denied that freedom to marry across races lines was an insult, but not the central plank of oppression. But being treated as if none of my loves deserved recognition was absolutely at the core of my exclusion, at least as a lesbian, from full participation in my community.”
So the comparison between African American civil rights and rights for GLBTQ people seems to break down as the issues of marriage equality and non-discrimination laws seem to be reversed in priority. But there is something very misleading in all of this – something that I did not realize until I had it pointed out to me: Every state that has passed civil marriage rights already had nondiscrimination laws on their books. Every one. Each state where same-sex marriage is now legal first made it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in their places of work, housing and in public accommodations. Fairness came first.
Interestingly enough, this all came to my attention with the recent passage of Kentucky HB 279, the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” This law states that “Government shall not burden a person’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion.” There were many, many cries and much agitation from progressives against this act – the key point of the outrage is concern that this law might override the Fairness legislations in cities and towns that had already passed nondiscrimination laws – towns like Louisville, Lexington, Covington and Vicco. Conservatives argued that this would not happen, but a little bit of research shows that this is exactly why this type of legislation is being pushed in states around the country.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, has an entire article from 2011 on how they claim same-sex marriage constitutes a threat to so-called “religious freedom” and that nondiscrimination laws must be stopped before they are passed, or they must be maneuvered around, so that they don’t open the door to same-sex marriage. The Heritage Foundation says that conflicts between same-sex marriage and “religious freedom” will often involve some type of previously adopted nondiscrimination law or policy, and that, as such, nondiscrimination laws can impose burdens on “religious freedom” even in jurisdictions that do not legally recognize same-sex unions as marriages.
I have never used air-quotes so much in a sermon before! I am doing so now, because the “religious freedom” they are talking about is not at all what you and I think of when we talk about religious freedom. Instead, they mean freedom from having to consider other peoples religious or secular positions. This is a group that believes that if their fundamentalist Christian beliefs are not the general law of the land and are not being taught in the schools, then they are being religiously oppressed. As such, they believe that same-sex marriage is a severe threat to their “religious freedom” and that lawmakers should revisit nondiscrimination laws to make sure that these laws adequately protect their fundamentalist ideas. Never mind that no one would be forcing them to officiate or participate in same-sex marriages!
This particular branch of conservative fundamentalism pushes these “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” in an effort to cut off the blood supply to nondiscrimination legislation, in the fear that it will open the door to same-sex marriage.
Currently, both Kentucky and Indiana prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in state employment, but neither state prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in private employment, housing or public accommodations. Many of the advocates of House Bill 279 think this meager protection is too far and that in the case of towns that have comprehensive Fairness legislation, it is way too far. These folks must be particularly concerned, since a recent poll indicates that 83% of Kentuckians support Fairness legislation! And yet we still don’t have a statewide Fairness bill.
And so, bringing it to the level of this particular congregation: Comprehensive Fairness legislation, at federal and state level, is absolutely fundamental. We need to understand that until we pass broader nondiscrimination laws in Kentucky and Indiana that protect everyone from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations, we will almost certainly not be able to obtain civil marriage equality. If we are advocating for marriage equality, but not advocating even harder for comprehensive Fairness legislation, then we have put the cart before the horse and need to turn ourselves around.
I love how this congregation has hung a banner outside for years that says that “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right” and I love how you asked me a number of years ago to stop signing marriage licenses for heterosexual couples until gay and lesbian couples had the same legal rights. And I suspect that there are more than a few of us who thought, surely, this type of legislation was already in place. But it is not. In order to make sure we are building our house of equality on solid rock and not on shifting sand where it might collapse, we need to go back to the basics.
The US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will be holding a hearing on ENDA sometime next month. There are 22 Senators on the Committee, including Rand Paul from Kentucky. Write them, call them, pester the heck out of them to let them know where you stand on the importance of getting ENDA before the Senate. And then follow the bill and pester the rest of the Senators and Representatives so that this becomes the year ENDA finally passes. ENDA is not enough – but we must start somewhere.
In Kentucky, a state-wide Fairness bill will be introduced, again, in the next legislative session. Again, write, call, pester the heck out of your representatives and let’s get this bill passed! In Indiana, I am not sure what the status is – there does not seem to be quite the push as there is in Kentucky, but that does not mean you can remain silent – just the opposite!
Regardless of which state you live in, let’s show the fundamentalists that what they fear is actually true: that nondiscrimination laws will indeed lead the way to marriage equality, but that this is not something that they need to fear. Let’s show them that just as interracial marriage has not brought this country, or the institution of marriage, to its knees, neither will marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. As Macklemore reminds us,
“We press play
Don’t press pause
Progress, march on!”
Because it is the same love, and no one deserves to be discriminated against, bullied, hurt, fired, denied a job or housing or in anyway be oppressed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Fairness, nondiscrimination, is where we must start.
Clergy Gitmo Justice Fast. June 9, 2013Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
Each growl of my stomach reminded me of why I was doing this.
I am participating in the Clergy Gitmo Justice Fast, a loosely organized group of clergy that have pledged to fast and pray, one of us each day, for each of the 166 prisoners of Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility (Gitmo). Yesterday was my day, and I prayed and fasted for Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman.
Uthman is a Yemeni who had his habeus corpus petition granted in February 2010. At that time, the judge ruled that the only evidence against Uthman was derived from torture and therefore unreliable. But the government appealed, and the decision was reversed in March 2011. He is still in Gitmo.
So are 86 prisoners who have already been cleared for release, some years ago.
The situation at Gitmo is a travesty of justice. The more I read about it, the more angry I get. Until the recent hunger strike among prisoners became publicized in a New Yorker article in April, most people didn’t realize the dire situation. It is easy to turn away.
But it is not just a travesty of justice (as if that were not enough). It is also a spiritual and moral abyss. We are keeping men incarcerated for convenience - men who have been waiting over 10 years for a trial. We treat them as if they were already proven guilty, when we know that some have been cleared for release. We keep them detained and even force feed them when they try to control the one thing they have control over.
I am a pragmatist. I am aware that some of these men were probably associated with terrorists. I am aware that things happen in war that sensitive souls like my own find abhorrent. And at the same time, I am aware that each of these prisoners deserve to be treated as human beings with inherent worth and dignity. I am aware that these types of “witch-hunts” may start with valiant motives but end up over-reaching and catching innocents in their net as well. I am disgusted that my own government has allowed this situation to not only perpetuate, but to collapse into such a moral, ethical and spiritual disaster.
Those of us participating in the Clergy Gitmo Justice Fast will be taking turns fasting until
- The force feeding of the 130 plus men is ended.
- The 86 men who have been cleared are given their freedom.
- The remaining 80 men are put on trial or released.
- Gitmo is closed.
I cannot continue to turn away. I hope you can’t either.
remembering. May 26, 2013Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
I just finished reading the book “Thirteen Reasons Why” because my daughter had read it and I wanted to talk about it with her. Between the book, and it being Memorial Day weekend, I find myself awash with memories and with emotions.
The premise of the book is that a junior in high school has killed herself. Before she died, she recorded 13 stories that ultimately led to her suicide, and she sent the tapes to folks involved so that they might listen and learn.
Things sometimes converge in interesting ways. Twenty-five years ago, when I was a junior in high school, I was seriously depressed and became suicidal. I was lucky: unlike the girl in the book, I reached out for help and got it. I was hospitalized in a psychiatric unit for teenagers for over six weeks. At my request, when I first went in, my sister circulated a rumor that I had mono. But when I got back to school I was honest with everyone who asked. It hurt too much to try to lie.
Twenty-five years ago, on Memorial Day weekend, I broke my hand in what is called a “boxer’s break” after I punched a concrete wall. It was the day before I was to be released from the hospital. I was scared. A friend of mine had gone out with his parents on a day-pass and they had gone to Washington, DC for some of the Memorial Day ceremonies. Tim came back from his day out and he was so angry – angry that those of us still inside had spent all day without a thought to the sacrifices that our veterans make so that we might have freedom. Angry that young men had died for what he felt was a country that was going to hell in a hand-basket. Angry, too, to cover up his fear and concern for his dad, because like a notably large number of us in the hospital, he came from a military family. He lost it.
I remember calling out to him through the ventilation system after lights out: It will be okay. Hang in there. Don’t do anything dangerous. It will be okay.
It wasn’t okay. He got “bagged” – put into restraints and then into the solitary room. In frustration and not able to handle my own overwhelming emotions, I punched a wall and broke my hand. I spent the night before I was to go home in pain and confusion and fear – wanting desperately to get out but not knowing if I would make it. Depression doesn’t just go away.
I did go home the next day. Memorial Day, 1988. And forever after, on Memorial Day, I remember. At least for a few minutes during the weekend, I pause and I remember. I remembering wanting it all to end. I remember Tim, and the hospital. I rub my hand where the break was and remember summer school Calculus class with a cast on my right hand. I think about how thankful I am to have gotten the help that I needed. The slow road back to health that felt like it had more steps back than forward. I am in awe at how wonderful my life has turned out – I never would have believed it.
And I pause and I remember what made Tim so frustrated. I think about all those who sacrificed so much that we might be here today. I think about their families, and my heart hurts for them. I think about the men and women who come back wounded in body and spirit and the high rate of suicide among returning soldiers. And if, on Memorial Day, I am in the pulpit, I summon my sorrow and my gratitude and I preach it.
How could I not?
everyday deeds of ordinary folk. May 7, 2013Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
add a comment
Everyday Deeds of Ordinary Folk
A sermon about Oppression by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on May 5, 2013
Moment for All Ages
The moment for all ages was the book The Juice Box Bully by Bob Sornson and Maria Dismondy. In this story, Pete starts at a new school. In his new classroom, all the children have made a promise to not be bystanders, to take care of themselves, each other, and their classroom.
Poor Pete. He had been picked on at his old school and he had learned to hurt others before he himself got hurt. What a blessing it must have been for him to end up in Mr. Peltzer’s class, where his inherent worth and dignity were affirmed and where the kids would not tolerate cruelty to anyone – even to a bully. Yay Mr. Peltzer – what a great teacher!
Starting today, our ministry theme for the month is “oppression.” On the back of your order of service are some quotes and reflection questions that you can use to help you think about oppression. Oppression and cruelty are similar and overlap, but they are not exactly the same. I used the story The Juice Box Bully because most young children can’t distinguish the difference. I am reminded of the story of a 2 year old telling her playground friends “Don’t oppress me!”
Cruelty is a component of oppression. However, anyone can be cruel to someone else. It takes authority or power over someone in order to oppress them. Oppression is the exercise of authority, or power, in a cruel and unjust manner.
In our story, if the teacher had been being cruel to the students, that would have been an example of oppression, because a teacher has authority and power over students. If bullying has been reported to a school and the school chooses to ignore it, the school becomes oppressive. Power can also mean physical power, so if Pete had kept going and used his physical prowess to bully the other students, that could have become oppression. Likewise, when we experience cruelty or injustice from a boss or higher-up at work, this can be an example of oppression.
We know oppression happens on a larger scale as well. Today is not only Cinco de Mayo (a celebration of the Mexican victory over France at the Battle of Puebla), it is also Holocaust Memorial Day – a day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust, in which millions of Jewish people were brutally oppressed and murdered by the German Nazi regime.
We know oppression does not always involve genocide. The cause of the American Revolution is often understood as Americans fighting for liberation from British oppression.
And we know oppression is not only in the past. Today, women are oppressed in fundamentalist Islamic countries. In Uganda, gay, lesbian and bisexual people are oppressed and murdered because of their sexual orientation. Racial oppression still exists in the United States – if you doubt that let me share that my sermon about white privilege, which I posted online over a year ago, just yesterday received a comment by a local white supremacist who called me a traitor and a communist (I must be doing something right!) He identified himself as a white male – of course – and claimed to be oppressed on this basis. But this is NOT how oppression works: if you have power as a result of being part of the dominant culture, if you have nearly every privilege imaginable, if the vast majority of those in power in the government and in business are people like you, then you are probably not oppressed. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely prayed: “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”
Persecution is a type of vioent, harassing oppression. But being contradicted is not. This leads to the question of what are some of the characteristics of oppression? There are four particular qualities of oppression I would like to talk about this morning.
First, oppression is a form of systemic evil. I spoke about evil a few weeks ago, and talked about it being connected to lack of empathy. In that sermon, I briefly mentioned systemic evil, and said I would talk about it today, because systemic evil and oppression go hand in hand.
Systemic evil refers to a complex system or process, in which each small activity may seem harmless. Yet, the output of the system, the product of connecting the individual actions together, becomes harmful and cruel. For example, the March 2013 issue of Louisville Magazine has an excellent set of articles that detail the way the residents in the West End, primarily African Americans, are constantly and consistently oppressed in a complex cycle that continues to get worse. The infant mortality rate for African-Americans in Louisville is more than twice that for white residents. The death rate for African-Americans in Louisville is 39% higher than for white residents, for all causes of death. When you limit your cause of death to specific diseases, like lung cancer or diabetes, you are twice as likely to die of the disease if you are African American. There are many layers to this systemic evil: lack of access to healthcare, lack of access to healthy food, poor schools, consistently cut public transportation service, depressed real-estate values, lack of job opportunities, to name just a few. Each year, it seems, more decisions are made that marginalize and oppress the people in the West End. These decisions, taken individually, may not seem so bad, but combined together result in a systemic evil that is harmful and oppressive.
Second, the effects of oppression can be enduring: they don’t go away when the obvious oppression ends. The student who was bullied may suffer from longterm physical or emotional harm depending on the type and duration of the mistreatment. The plight of Native Americans in this country is testament to how damaging oppression can be to a culture. Even though official discrimination and oppression against Native Americans has been illegal for many years, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, for example, the school dropout rate is 70% and 97% of the residents live below the federal poverty rate. The unemployment rate is between 83-85%. The average life expectancy is only 45 years old, and the infant mortality rate is about 300% higher than the U.S. national average.1The legacy of oppression endures for generations.
The third aspect of oppression that I want to touch on today is that oppressors are also damaged in the process. Booker T. Washington famously said “You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.” Misogyny hurts men because when one of the worst put-downs to a man is to call him a woman, then a man feels he must repress his emotions and anything else that might be labeled as “feminine,” stunting personal growth and prohibiting true intimacy. Similarly, homophobia hurts heterosexual people: men in particular learn to avoid physical affection with other men and any other actions that might be construed as “gay.” Racism towards people of color hurts white people because whites may experience a sense of being cut off from, of not belonging with, or being welcomed by, people of color (who are a majority of the world’s population).
We have talked about this before: when we objectify someone or some group of people as “other,” we have to wall off a part of our brain that feels empathy and compassion for that group of people, which can cause a cognitive dissonance because we are trying to hold in our minds competing, conflicting ideas as truth. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Friere observes “This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well.”
Of course, Friere’s quote, when taken out of context like this, makes it seem as though it is the responsibility of the oppressed to liberate themselves. But this responsibility also lies with those of us who are not oppressed. This is the fourth characteristic of oppression I want to touch on this morning: It is our moral obligation, our duty, to work to free both those oppressed and their oppressors because we are all a part of the interdependent web of existence and I cannot be spiritually whole unless you are too.
It can be difficult, though, to know where to begin when we struggle against oppression – whether to free ourselves or someone else. We may feel as though we have to do something BIG. But Gandalf the Grey Wizard reminds us in the movie “The Hobbit”, that while some might believe that “only great power that can hold evil in check” but that is not what he has found. Gandalf says “I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
The class in “The Juice Box Bully” gives us some ways that we can implement these small everyday deeds into our lives. The class had made a set of promises to themselves. Four of their promises can give us pointers as to where to begin when we fight against oppression.
First, we will not be bystanders. Martin Luther King, Jr. wisely observed, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” The silence by the good people is, in part, explained by the bystander effect, which says that the more people there are around to witness a crime, the less likely any of the witnesses are to do something about it.
This is a powerful tool for fighting against oppression – to not just stand by and watch, or cover our eyes, when we see oppression happening, but to name it. We don’t have to dive right into the middle of a war or a fight or an abusive situation, but we can make sure that we stand up and call oppression for what it is. Silence makes us complicit and part of the problem. It is easy for those of us in privileged positions to ignore how our actions, or lack thereof, can lead to oppression, but we do this at our own harm.
This leads to the second thing we can do in our everyday lives to battle oppression: we can choose to not participate in oppression. Now, this one is often easier said than done. We make decisions every day that have an impact on others. It is virtually impossible to live in the United States without being complicit in the oppression of others elsewhere in the world. But we can pay attention and choose avoid it wherever possible.
I cannot help but think of the collapse of the clothing factory in Bangladesh last week. Over 700 people were killed when the poorly built 8-story building collapsed under the weight of overcapacity and heavy machinery. There are many such factories in Bangladesh and around the world, funded by the demand for cheap clothes in places such as the United States. Western retailers put heavy pressure on companies for low prices, resulting in bad pay and poor conditions for workers.
So that cheap t-shirt that I bought last month at the discount store, a t-shirt which was likely made in some sweatshop factory with terrible working conditions, connects me directly to the human beings who made the t-shirt, connects me to their working conditions, connects me to their lives. But knowledge is power. Now that I know how my clothing choices affect people on the other side of the world, I can choose be more careful. Now that I know how low-wage laborers are exploited in coffee plantations, I can choose to buy fair-trade. Whenever we are made aware of how we are participating in oppression, we can work to stop being complicit in such activities.
Which leads to a third way we can work against oppression in our everyday lives: we can forgive ourselves and others when we fail. Because we will – usually unintentionally. What we know about systemic evil is that the cogs in the machinery often don’t realize until too late their role in oppression. If we demonize ourselves or others when we fail, we dehumanize them, which just feeds into the cycle. Instead, forgive even the bully, make it clear that the behavior won’t be tolerated in the future, and move once again toward right relations.
Which is not as easy as it may sound. So the final way we can work against oppression in our everyday lives that I want to touch on this morning is to ask for help and join with others. When we speak together in the world, our voices are magnified. And besides, oppression is all around us and it can be lonely and demoralizing and exhausting to try to tackle it on our own. We need one another when our strength or endurance fails. As Margaret Mead wisely said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
In these ways, we can act with love and compassion to overcome oppression. Because oppression is a form of systemic evil with long lasting repercussions that harms both the oppressed and the oppressor, we understand it is our moral obligation and human responsibility to work to create the beloved community with peace, liberty and justice for all. For every great leader for a cause, there are hundreds, thousands, or even millions of everyday folks who go about their lives, working against oppression in small ways, speaking up for themselves and for others. Like the kids who speak up when they see someone being hurt or bullied. Or the DMV clerk a friend of mine witnessed, who would not allow a husband to answer questions for his obviously dominated wife. Or the black and white students in Georgia who, for the first time ever in their county this year, bucked tradition and put on an integrated prom. Everyday deeds of ordinary folks can create a culture of love and compassion, which truly can save us from systemic evil and oppression. May it be so. May we make it so.
transcendence. April 8, 2013Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
add a comment
A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on April 7, 2013
We had gotten up three hours earlier and to make drive around the island and were finally heading up route 550. The road was winding and I was not comfortable with the rightward pull of the rental car, so we were going pretty slow on our way up to Koke’e State Park in Kaua’i. As the road turned precariously, we noticed a look-off point and pulled over for a short break. The view was breath-taking – Waimea Canyon opened up before us. I realized, first-hand, why this amazing canyon is called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” – it is 10 miles long and up to 3000 feet deep, having been formed by both the steady process of erosion and by the collapse of the volcano that created the island Kauaʻi. The lookout point was near a peak. The red of the clay, the green of the foliage and the blue of the ocean beyond were highlighted by the rays of sunlight coming out from behind fluffy gray and white clouds. Suddenly, a double rainbow formed stretching from one end of the canyon to the other. And I wept.
I wept, because it was so beautiful. And so big. And so, so old. And my life was so insignificant and tiny and precious and amazing in the face of something so ancient and huge. And I wept because I was a part of this amazing cycle of nature that had created both my puny wonderful life and this grand awe-inspiring canyon and in fact we were made of the same star stuff that exploded from the big bang millions of years ago.
I wept. And I remembered one of my favorite lines from the movie Contact, based on the book by Carl Sagan. Ellie Arroway is a scientist who has been sent into space and travels through wormholes and sees planets and solar systems and more. When she comes upon a celestial event, she is struck dumb by the experience: “No words,” she says “No words to describe it. Poetry! They should’ve sent a poet. So beautiful.”
When we experience the transcendent, that which is larger than us, we are often left without words. Because the transcendent is so much larger than we can comprehend. Unitarian Universalist minister Karen Herring points out that poetry can help us talk about the transcendent “because it is all about pointing.” The poet says “Look here! Experience this!” Like this poem, What Is There Beyond Knowing? from Mary Oliver:
What is there beyond knowing that keeps
calling to me? I can’t
turn in any direction
but it’s there. I don’t mean
the leaves’ grip and shine or even the thrush’s
silk song, but the far-off
fires, for example,
of the stars, heaven’s slowly turning
theater of light, or the wind
playful with its breath;
or time that’s always rushing forward,
or standing still
in the same — what shall I say –
What I know
I could put into a pack
as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,
important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained
and unexplainable. How wonderful it is
to follow a thought quietly
to its logical end.
I have done this a few times.
But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing
in and out. Life so far doesn’t have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.
If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass
and the weeds.
There are many ways that we transcend. We can transcend our living circumstances. We can transcend the boundaries of our social class. We can transcend something that we feel pulls us into the depths – whether that is an experience where we choose to take the high road, or where we overcome the anxiety that threatens to pull us downward. And those are all valid understandings of ways we transcend – ways we rise above. But that is not what I am talking about today. Today I am talking about the experience of the transcendent. The experience of knowing that we belong to a larger reality, or as Fred Campbell puts it, when we “participate in the larger process of creativity that permeates our universe.”
Experiences like that of Thomas Merton on March 19, 1958. Merton was a famous writer, Catholic mystic, and Trappist monk. On that day 55 years ago, he was here in Louisville, standing at the corner of Fourth and Walnut (what is now Muhammad Ali Boulevard). That day, he wrote in his journal:
“Suddenly I realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or, could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream — the dream of separateness, of the ‘special’ vocation to be different…I am still a member of the human race — and what more glorious destiny is there…Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them.”
The spot at the entrance to 4th Street Live where Merton had his epiphany, where he had this experience of transcendence, is marked with a historical marker. But I think that the marker is there because of who Merton was, not because his experience of the transcendence was unique to him. Indeed, many of us have stories of experiencing the transcendent, of experiencing our own particular uniqueness in the context of something so, so much larger. Chris shared one of his stories in his reflection. On the back of your order of service are two stories by other Unitarian Universalists who have shared their experiences. Personally, my experience of Waimea Canyon is one of several ways I have connected with the transcendent – I have felt my own unique preciousness in the face of vast largeness when I was pregnant (knowing that every human being in all of time has been carried in the womb of a woman and that I was participating in something that was unique and universal at the same time); or when I held a baby goat and felt in my whole body my connection to the interdependent web of existence of which both I and the kid were a part of; or whenever I get a chance to get away from a city and gaze up at the Milky Way and pause to consider the size and age and wonder of the universe.
Another poet points to it like this. Primary Wonder by Denise Levertov:
Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; caps and bells.
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, 0 Lord,
Creator, Hallowed one, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.
Indeed, this experience of the transcendent is a part of where we as Unitarian Universalists find insight. The very first source in our Principles and Purposes says that we find inspiration and truth in the “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;”
For Merton and Levertov, the name of the transcendent is God. But as Chris aptly pointed out in his reflection, some of the most mystic authors are atheists. An experience of the transcendent transcends (if you will) theology and cuts across all cultures and religions. It is a humbling experience that makes room for empathy and compassion.
In our own faith tradition, this transcending of traditional theology has its start in the aptly named Transcendentalist movement in the 19th century. These were mostly Unitarians who moved beyond a Bible-based religion and into an experience of the divine that could be accessed by anyone, anywhere, anytime. These folks, who include such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, his friend Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Amos Bronson Alcott, William Ellery Channing, James Freeman Clarke (one of the first ministers of this congregation!), Walt Whitman, and Theodore Parker (who wrote first of the moral arc of the universe and it’s bend toward justice).
In 1836, four years after he had resigned from the Unitarian ministry to become a lecturer but two years before he gave his Divinity School address at Harvard, Emerson published his first book, Nature. It’s publication marks the beginning of the Transcendentalist movement. Listen to this excerpt:
In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part and parcel of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.
This was radical, RADICAL stuff Emerson was saying. The Transcendentalists were not saying that God was transcendent and beyond, instead they were saying that the divine is immanent, all around us, within us – available to us at all time and through diverse ways. They looked at the Bible and declared that the miracles of Jesus were not proof that the Bible was true, as was the party-line at the time. They went on to say that the teachings of Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism were just as valid a way of describing this ultimate reality as was Christianity. They were transcending religion as it was at the time and moved toward an ultimate universalism. They shaped not only Unitarianism but our entire culture. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the Transcendentalists “one of the first and most dramatic protests against civil religion in America. Perhaps even more significantly, transcendentalism marked the first substantial attempt in American history to retain the spiritual experience and potential of the Christian faith without any of the substance of its belief.”
Without the Transcendentalists, who were, it should be noted, despised by the traditional Unitarian church at the time, we would not have had room for the Humanists. Without the Humanists we would not have had room for the Pagans. It is not a stretch to say that without the Transcendentalists, our faith tradition (which prizes our own direct experience as a source of truth and inspiration) would not exist as we currently know it today.
From the transcendentalist poet William Wordsworth:
And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts;
A sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
A motion and a spirit, that impels all thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
“Rolls through all things,” Wordsworth writes. Because for the Transcendentalists and for Unitarian Universalists today, an experience of the transcendent is not far away but is right here. It is the realization that we are a part of something larger, that I am not the biggest thing there is (thank goodness!). Unitarian Universalist minister Meg Riley writes that “Transcendence does not mean that the holy exists separately from the beauty and heartbreak of life on earth, which pulses in our bodies and daily lives…Rather, divine mystery is woven throughout every moment of time, every cell of our aging and imperfect bodies, every interaction and choice. Our spiritual practice is to remember to see it!”
We call the transcendent by many names: Mystery, Wonder, Spirit of Life, God, Divine, Ground of our Being, Goddess, Grandmother, Grandfather, and so much more. It is an experience of that which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life. It is the realization of our own, unique, precious, wonderful miniscule lives as a part of the creative processes of Nature, of the Universe, of LIFE which is so much grander than we can comprehend that we sometimes need poets to help us point to it. Poets, like the Sufi poet Hafiz, whose mysticism speaks to me of the immanence and accessibility of the transcendent in ways that move me and to whom I give the last word this morning:
Cloak yourself in a thousand ways; still shall I know you, my Beloved.
Veil yourself with every enchantment and yet I shall feel you, Presence most dear, close and intimate.
I shall salute you in the springing of cypresses and in the sheen of lakes, the laughter of fountains.
I shall surely see you in tumbling clouds, in brightly embroidered meadows.
Oh, Beloved Presence, more beautiful than all the stars together, I trace your face in ivy that climbs, in clusters of grapes, in morning flaming the mountains, in the clear arch of sky.
You gladden the whole earth and make every heart great.
You are the breathing of the world.
Amen. Ashe. And very, very blessed be.
Easter: a back story. March 31, 2013Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
add a comment
Easter: The Back Story
A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on March 31, 2013.
Listen to the sermon here.
Holy Week, as celebrated by Christians around the world, honors the last week of Jesus’ life. Because our country is steeped in Christian culture, and because it is part of our heritage as Unitarian Universalists, it behooves us to be familiar with the story. One version goes like this: On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem while crowds of people covered the streets ahead of him with their cloaks and with palm branches. Monday was not the best – he visited the Temple and got furious at the money-changers that had set up shop there. Jesus lost his temper and chased them out of the Temple. After that, Jesus spent Tuesday and probably Wednesday preaching in and around Jerusalem.
On Thursday, things started to shift. Jesus ate a last meal with his disciples. It is during this meal that Jesus famously broke bread and drank wine, asking his disciples to do all this in his memory in the future. After the supper, Jesus and his disciples went to Gethsemane to pray. The disciple Judas had previously made arrangements with the Temple Guard to identify Jesus to them. While in Gethsemane, Judas came up to Jesus and kissed Jesus on the cheek. Jesus was then arrested by the Temple guard and taken to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court.
The men who held Jesus mocked him and beat him. On Friday morning, things went downhill at break-neck speed. The Sanhedrin took Jesus before Pilate at the Roman Court. Pilate asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered and said to him, “It is as you say.” The priests went on to accuse Jesus of many things while Pilate mostly seemed confused.
Pilate had a tradition of releasing one prisoner during this time. He asked the crowd if they would like him to release Jesus. The crowd insisted that Pilate release a murder named Barabbas rather than release Jesus. The crowd got more and more stirred up and insisted that Pilate should crucify Jesus. Pilate conceeded to the crowd.
The soldiers took Jesus and they stripped him and put a robe on him. They twisted a crown of thorns on his head and mocked him. Then they spat on him, took the robe off and led Jesus away. A man named Simon carried the cross for Jesus, as he was by this time to weak to carry it himself.
Then the soldiers nailed his hands and feet to the cross. Over his head was written: KING OF THE JEWS.
Other criminals were being crucified at this same time. One of them said to Jesus: “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” Another took a different tact: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said to this one, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
In the afternoon, the sun darkened, the ground rumbled and the veil of the temple was torn in two. Jesus cried out to God, and then he died.
Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate allowed it. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb and departed.
Saturday was a day of mourning.
On Sunday, Mary Magdalene and possibly some other women went to see the tomb. There was a great earthquake and an angel descended from heaven. The angel rolled back the stone from the tomb and sat on it. He said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, as he said….And go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead, and indeed he is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him.”
The women raced off, and ran into Jesus on the way. They cried with joy. That evening, Jesus stood in the presence of his disciples and said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them his hands and his side which had been pierced with the sword. Jesus spoke with the disciples for some amount of time, and then ascended into Heaven.
That is the most common Easter story, with some changes here and there. For instance, the specific words Jesus cried out when he died depends on which Gospel you are reading:
- The author of the Gospel of Mark has Jesus cry out words from the 22nd Psalm: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!”
- The author of the Gospel of Luke has Jesus say “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit”
- The author of the Gospel of John reports that Jesus says “It is finished.”
There are other differences as well. The story I just told comes from the Gospel of Matthew. The Gospel of Mark shares that the women were at the tomb in order to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. They were wondering how they were going to get into the tomb, when they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. The angel was waiting for them in the tomb. Again, Jesus appeared to the women first, but the male apostles didn’t believe them until Jesus appeared to them as well. The Gospel of Luke follows Mark, except that there were two angels, and they appeared to the women just outside the tomb.
The Gospel of John doesn’t mention any angels at first. Mary Magdalene appeared at the tomb, saw that it was empty, and rushed to tell the others. When they all ran to the tomb to check it out, the angel appeared and told them not to fear. Jesus then appeared to Mary Magdalene, but she did not recognize him at first.
For some modern day readers, these different versions can cause us trouble. We argue: If these books are supposed to be claiming to have been eyewitness accounts, shouldn’t they agree? Unitarian Universalist Minister John Buehrens, in his book “Understanding the Bible: An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals” points out that this was not necessarily the case in the ancient world. Then, the standard was that the more stories there were, even if they disagreed, the more likely the basic story was to be believed – in this case, the basic story about Jesus’s physical resurrection.
The New Testament as it is today, contains 4 different books that give stories of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Though the Gospel of Matthew is the first in the table of contents, if we put the Gospels in chronological order scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark is first. Mark was written to an international audience of Jews and Greeks, closest to the time of Jesus’s life – only about 30 years after his death. Next chronologically are Matthew and Luke – both of these were written 10-20 years after Mark and use Mark as a source. Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish audience, and Luke to a primarily Greek audience. These three are called the synoptic Gospels – they share many of the same stories.
The Gospel of John is more literary and less journalistic in tone. It is the newest of the Gospels included in the New Testament, written in the early 100s to an international audience of Christians who were struggling to figure out who they were in the world.
These four Gospels are the canonical Gospels. This means that they were authorized by the ancient church leaders. By the end of the 2nd century, well before the Council of Nicea in 325, almost all of the 27 documents in the New Testament canon had already gained widespread acceptance by church leaders, especially these four Gospels. It is not that there weren’t other Gospels floating around: there were! But those other Gospels told a different story, and church leaders wanted to make it clear that folks knew that the other Gospels were NOT acceptable. Particularly the Gnostic Gospels.
Gnosticism takes its name from the Greek “gnosis” meaning “insight” or “enlightenment.” Gnostics claim a special relational or experiential knowledge of God or of the divine or spiritual nature within us that other people are not aware of. It is a philosophical and religious movement (still alive today) that actually started before Christian times – there is speculation that it may have started in the Jewish community at Alexandria and was later picked up by some nearby very early Christian groups. By the beginning of the second century, Gnostic Christianity was one of the three main branches of the Church.
But by the end of the 2nd century, Gnosticism was deemed heretical and suppressed. It was so thoroughly suppressed that early 20th century scholars had very little primary source material about it. But with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi books in December 1945 changed that. Not to be confused with the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi books were found by farmers in an sealed earthenware jar containing thirteen leather-bound papyrus codices. The mother of the farmers is said to have burned one of the books and parts of a second has heretical, but twelve books and other loose pages remain. These books date back to the 2nd century and are almost entirely Gnostic texts that are believed to have been hidden by monks when the possession of such banned writings was declared a heretical offense.
The books found in Nag Hammadi that have caused the biggest fuss that are very much not in the approved cannon are the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.
The Gospel of Thomas does not include a narrative of Jesus’s life, but is rather a discourse between Jesus and his students. The sayings of Jesus found in this Gospel discuss that salvation is available immediately, internally, right at this moment, no matter what the status of your body or the world around you. This Gospel centers on the pursuit and experience of Gnosis, and the availability of such enlightenment to all. Saying 24 has Jesus declare: “There is a light within a person of light and it shines on the whole world.” My favorite from the Gospel of Thomas is saying 2, which takes a more accepted saying of Jesus and, to my mind, deepens it. Saying 2 is “Seek and do not stop seeking until you find. When you find, you will be troubled. When you are troubled, you will marvel and rule over all.” This Gospel presents Jesus as a spiritual guide whose words, when properly understood, will provide eternal life.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is a dialogue between Jesus and Mary and some of Jesus’s other apostles. In this Gospel, Mary holds a special role of leader among Jesus’ students. She is closest to him and understands him best. She comforts the other students when Jesus leaves, saying “Don’t cry or break into despair or doubt. His grace will go with you and protect you, and let us praise the greatness of his work for he prepared us and made us truly human.” Like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary focuses on salvation as a mystical, internal realization that is accessible to anyone who understands.
Even more recently than Nag Hammadi was the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, which takes what we thought we knew about the relationship between Jesus and Judas and turns it utterly 180 degrees. This Gospel was discovered in Egypt in 1970 but kept secret. For 36 years, it passed from hand to hand, through theft and intrigue, until National Geographic restored and published it. In this Gospel, Judas is a hero, Jesus’ confidant to the end. Jesus tells Judas that his is the most important of roles, for Judas is to “turn the mortal body of Jesus over to the authorities for crucifixion, after which the real Jesus, the spiritual Jesus, will return to the light of the divine above.” In his Restored New Testament, Willis Barnstone writes that Judas is a “tragic figure who must obey the master and ‘betray’; him in order for himself to find salvation and for Jesus’s earthly mission to be realized.” Note: after the service, someone reminded me that this is not at all unlike the role of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter stories, who you think is a villian but turns out to be the bravest of the brave…Great connection!
Like the other two Gnostic Gospels, resurrection is a spiritual event rather than a physical one. This is one of the main differences between Gnostic Christianity and the other mainline versions of the time. Gnostics believed that our human bodies hold us back and are base and animal. This attitude was carried into the Christian church, but the Gnostics took it even further. They believed they would be saved from their corporeal existence through relational and experiential spiritual knowledge. From a Gnostic perspective Judas was helping to save Jesus by releasing him from his physical existence so that his spirit could be freed.
There were other differences between Gnostic Christianity and the established church as well. For instance, the Gnostics tolerated different faith groups outside of their tradition and absorbed various groups within it. Much like modern day Unitarian Universalism, with our UU Pagans and UU Christians and UU Buddhists and UU Atheists and so much more, there were Gnostic Christians, Gnostic Jews, Egyptian Gnostics, and more.
Also, following in similar footsteps to Jesus, the Gnostics did not discriminate against women. Anyone could be enlightened by special knowledge from the divine and could lead worship. In this way Gnostic Christians reflected the earliest days of Christianity. The letters in the New Testament that were actually written by the Apostle Paul (the oldest documents in the New Testament canon) had this egalitarianism. This stands in stark contrast to later letters which claimed to have been written by Paul but actually were not.
Finally, in contrast to the direction the church leaders were heading, those filled with gnosis had no need of authority from priests, bishops or anyone else when it came to enlightenment: their own experience or secret knowledge from Jesus or from God or from the Divine, was enough. By the second century, church leaders were already entrenched in hierarchy and did not like this at all. And they were (rightly) afraid that if people read these documents on their own, they might come to conclusions the church leaders did not support.
So what does Gnosticism have to do with Easter’s back story? A back story gives a character (historical or fictional) a fuller history. It humanizes a controversial figure and gives us a different way of looking at what we might always have accepted as “the one right way” of understanding a situation.
A good example can be found in the Star Wars series. Episodes 4-6, released between 1977 and 1983, gave us a particular story about Darth Vader. Between 1999 and 2005, episodes 1-3 gave us a fuller view of how Darth Vader came to be. They humanized him. However, there are things about episodes 1-3 that many fans reject. We pick and choose what makes sense to us, and toss out what doesn’t work.
I think the same is true about the story of Jesus. The ancient church leaders chose Gospels for their canon that presented a particular story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. But this was not the only story. The Gnostic Christians of the 2nd century already were viewing Jesus’s resurrection as a spiritual event rather than a physical one. Elaine Pagels (the Ware Lecturer in 2005), in her book The Gnostic Gospels writes “Some gnostics called the literal view of the resurrection the ‘faith of fools.’ The resurrection, they insisted, was not a unique event of the past: instead, it symbolized how Christ’s presence could be experienced in the present.”
Gnosticism and the gnostic Gospels give Jesus’s death and resurrection a totally different perspective than the one many of us are most familiar with. They provide layers of meaning and interpretation to a story that, for most of us, has been presented in one way only; a story that may resonate with us in some places and may seem totally foreign in others. Who Jesus was, what he said, and what his death and resurrection were about varies based on which Gospel you read. And who knows how many other Gospels there may be out there, waiting to be discovered. How wonderful! So be it. Blessed be.
practicing balance. March 24, 2013Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on March 24, 2013
Our opening hymn this morning was #128, For All That Is Our Life. It was originally going to be what is printed in your order of service (#352, Find A Stillness) but as I was working on the service, I kept singing “for work and its rewards, for hours of rest and love.” I realized that I needed to incorporate this hymn because this is what we are talking about today – balancing work and its rewards, hours of rest and love, time for our, hearts, minds, and bodies. Like the life mobiles that the Middle Schoolers made in their RE class a few weeks ago using hangers, with “work” and “play” and “family” and “friends” dangling from them, moving the various components around to achieve a balance. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Let’s refresh our memories. What were the four principles that we pointed out with the kids, about what it takes to balance on something, like when you are learning to ride a bike?
- Sometimes we need help – like someone to hold the seat as we pedal like crazy.
- We have to be willing to risk falling down – its going to happen. It might hurt a little at first, but the rewards will be worth it.
- It can change – when you learn on one bike, it can be difficult the first time you try it on another bike, and riding on the road is different than riding on the grass.
- It takes practice – did any of you hop on a bike and ride it like a pro the first time? It takes practice, and as we practice we need to keep the previous 3 principles in mind – Go back to #1 start over each time.
As I shared with the kids, it turns out that these principles of balance are the same whether we are talking about concrete, physical things (like riding a bike or learning to walk the tightrope) or more abstract things (like leading a balanced life or learning to be spiritually balanced.)
Leading a balanced life? How many of you feel that you lead a balanced life? Many of us probably wonder what leading a balanced life even looks like! If we consider a Balanced Life to be a stool – what are the legs? I believe it takes a balance between work, family time and self-care to lead a truly balanced life. Let me explain. If one of the 3 legs of the stool is overly long, or is too short, the entire balance of the stool is off. And when the balance is off, it negatively effects our families, our physical and mental health, our productivity, and more. We end up sitting on the floor with a bruised tailbone!
Let’s take a look at the legs of the Balanced Life stool in more detail, starting with the one that, for most of us (whether we are paid or not, work outside the home or inside) probably takes up the vast majority of our time: our jobs. If we are employed, with today’s economy the way it is, the more our jobs demand from us the more we feel we have to sacrifice in order to keep them. Americans work more and more each year, to the point where we work more than any other developed country. In fact, outside the US, people have seen their work hours cut back. But not us industrious Americans with our overdeveloped work ethic! And the higher our pay, the more we work. In 2008, Sociologist Dalton Conley asserted that higher-income Americans worked longer hours than lower-income Americans. For those of us who work as homemakers or stay-at-home parents, the increasing hours that our partners work effects us, too: we may find ourselves having to pull even more weight around household and parenting duties. Working as much as many of us do causes our Balanced Life stool to be off-kilter.
The family leg of the stool is often next in our priorities. And by family, I mean those people whose relationships we value – it might be family by blood, or family by choice, or a tight circle of supportive friends. After work, these types of relationships are often what get the next amount of time on our parts. But they often don’t get enough: more than 2/3 of American parents who work outside the home say they don’t get enough time with their children. And what time they do get is neither quality time nor quantity time. Thankfully, I am beginning to see a shift in our culture in regards to this leg. At the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, TX earlier this month, there was a panel discussion between Chris Anderson (former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine) and Elon Musk (founder of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX). It was apparently a fabulous discussion and the audience listened with rapt attention. At one point in the conversation, Anderson asked Musk about his family life. Musk replied, “Kids are awesome, you guys should all have kids. Kids are great…I don’t see mine enough actually. What I find is I’m able to be with them and still be on e-mail. I can be with them and still be working at the same time.” And apparently, the audience shifted. Shifted! The audience noticed that there was something wrong with this picture. With an increasing number of us in the sandwich generation, taking care of our aging parents and our children at the same time, society is slowly beginning to realize that in order for our Balanced Life stool to be solid and stable, we need to make tending this leg a higher priority.
Finally, there is the third leg of the Balanced Life stool: ourselves. We often do the exact opposite of what they recommend when you are on an airline and the flight attendant is giving instructions as to what to do if the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling. Rather than taking care of ourselves and then our companions, we put ourselves as last (if we make the list at all.) This is especially true if we are women with children. Women today are less happy than they have been in the past 40 years. In part, this is because we have watched our amount of free time just disappear. Women still do the vast majority of chores and parenting, even if we work full-time. It does not give us much time to take care of ourselves. But if the saying “when mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is true, then we have a whole lot of unhappiness going around.
I know I struggle with this piece in particular as a working mother with 2 kids. Some of you may recall that two years ago today, the service was on one way that I was taking care of myself – by skating with the Derby City Roller Girls. Some of my teammates came and helped me out. The local news featured it a few months later. It was quite a service.
Last year, however, things shifted. My family needed me to be around more when my spouse unexpectedly ended up hospitalized briefly. After that, there were other changes in my family life that required more of my time and attention. And you may have heard that General Assembly is coming to Louisville, and although the UUA has wonderful staff and volunteers who know how to make this happen, it has taken more of my time than I ever thought it would. In the process of all these shifts, I am learning alternate ways to make sure the self-care leg of my Balanced Life stool is strong. Which leads me to another type of balance: Spiritual Balance.
Spiritual Balance turns out to be a three-legged stool just like the Balanced Life stool. By Spiritual Balance, I mean a balance between the heart, mind and body, because these are all ways in which we fill our spirits. As with Life Balance, if one of these legs gets too long, or too short, then we become lopsided. When we become lopsided and fall off the uneven stool, we are not as able to appreciate the beautiful moments in these precious, brief, wonderful and scary lives we have discovered ourselves in.
The heart leg of the Spiritual Balance stool is our emotional life. For some of us, our emotions rule our lives. Others of us bottle them up tight and would rather not feel them at all. Neither of these are healthy. We are not solely made up of our emotions, but they are a part of us. Our emotions give us the capacity to move from sympathy to empathy. Our emotions give us the ability to love, to cry, to laugh – sometimes all at the same time. We should not shut them off and become like unfeeling robots, but when they take over they can also cause problems. I tend to err on the “emotions taking over” side. I need to make sure I make time to tend this leg of my Spiritual Balance stool, by journaling or scheduling regular phone-calls with friends. At times when I can’t seem to process my emotions and they threaten to overwhelm me, I get help from a counselor or therapist.
Journalling also tends the second leg of my Spiritual Balance stool: my mind. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. It is our reason and our intellect that give us the capacity to examine, to look at things from various different directions, to puzzle out, to analyze, to question. Our minds allows us to get off the dance floor and up onto the balcony where we can better observe what is going on. I also try to read nonfiction regularly – my sermons would be pretty shallow if I were not stimulating my mind on a regular basis.
Sometimes, our mind leg gets too big in this stool. I think Unitarian Universalists probably become unbalanced this way more often than the other. We over-think. It reminds me of a scene in the Princess Bride movie, when Vizzini and the Man in Black engage in a battle of wits. Vizzini is supposed to choose which cup of wine does not have the Iocane powder in it, and in his choice displays a dizzying capacity for getting stuck in his head. I try to meditate for a few minutes every day to help even out this leg of my Spiritual Balance stool, but it is hard for me – I often feel like Vizzini, over-thinking even my meditating.
And then there is the last (but definitely not least!) leg of our Spiritual Balance stool: our bodies. We are embodied people. Our emotional and intellectual health effect our physical health, and vice-versa. If we are not taking care of our bodies, then our stool gets off balance. No pun intended. Taking care of and respecting our bodies can take many forms, from exercising and eating healthy, to thinking positive thoughts about our bodies, to getting a massage and much more.
I have found that if I don’t do some sort of psychical activity every day, then I fall apart. I have learned to start my day with a quick 15 minutes of yoga to help wake me up mentally and physically. I can skip meditating if I need to, but these 15 minutes of being in my body help set a tone for the rest of the day. Several times a week I try to get in something more strenuous.
Tending our Spiritual Balance stool is an important part of self-care, and it means paying attention to our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. I have mentioned a few of the things I try to do to take care of myself: Yoga, meditating, journalling, reading and exercising. I don’t think I have ever done all 5 of these in one day, but those days when I hit 3 out of 5, I feel pretty good. I feel more balanced internally. My spirit, and my self, feel cared for.
So tending our Spiritual Balance stool is an effective way to shore up the Self-Care leg of our Balanced Life stool.
“This is very interesting,” you may be thinking, “but how does this connect to those 4 principles of balance that you talked about with the children?” Excellent question!
First, sometimes we need help – we need reminders to slow down, to maybe not work so much. We need others to stand up with us for better working conditions and more reasonable hours. We need models who show us balance is possible. This is really important, because if we can imagine ourselves doing it, we have a much better chance of success! We need friends, colleagues, sometimes we need professionals to help us learn how to do something or help us process something. I reach out to every minister mother I possible can and talk about how she makes it work. We compare notes, and inspire each other, and, in the process, we don’t feel so alone.
Second, we have to be willing to risk falling down – to make mistakes. Sometimes, we may err by working too much, other times, we may err by spending too much time on our family, or on ourselves. Towards the end of my Derby involvement, I began to realize the toll that it was taking on my family. My self-care leg had grown out of proportion and my family-leg needed tending. Often-times these errors can teach us things and are part of the learning process. Sometimes we love to much, or think too much, or spend a weekend eating comfort food because life is too stressful. And that is okay. We fall down, and then we pick ourselves back up and try again.
Third, even if we think we have it down pat right now, it can change – life may well throw us a curve-ball. Our kids will enter a different stage of development, we might get a different job, or come down with an illness or disease. Something might happen totally outside of our control and it affects the conditions of our precarious balance. The techniques we previously learned for bringing balance into our lives no longer work. Flexibility and creative thinking are called for.
Fourth, it takes practice – Just like learning to ride a bike, we don’t hit adolescence or our adult years and suddenly know how to lead a Balanced Life or find a Spiritual Balance. We mostly just go along and make decisions and do our thing until suddenly, one day, we find we are way OUT of balance. We throw up our hands and say “Things cannot go on like this!” Then we go up to the top and start from scratch. It takes practice. This is one reason they call it a “Spiritual Practice.” Perhaps we need to also start talking about a “Balanced Life Practice.”
Balance. It is not easy. Like riding a bike, or learning to walk a tight rope, there are certain aspects to balance that apply to our physical balance, our life balance, and our spiritual balance. We often need help, we must be willing to make mistakes. We know that things will change on us – usually just when we think we have it all figured out. And it takes practice – very very few of us are born knowing how to do this. But the benefits are numerous, for all that is our life.
envisioning our future. March 21, 2013Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
add a comment
Envisioning Our Future
A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on March 17, 2013
I rewrote the sermon several times and it never worked out right until Sunday morning, when I scrapped it all and just went with the energy in the room.
You can listen to it here.
the nature of evil. March 12, 2013Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far
The Nature of Evil
A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on March 3, 2013
A Reflection on Evil, by Chris Rothbauer, First Unitarian Church Intern Minister
When I came out of the closet in my early 20s, I had a sort of naïve optimism about my life. I thought that, since I came out, things would only get better for me from there. I was dating, making friends, and learning to accept that part of my life. Around this time, I hung out in a little coffee shop that was open late on Preston Street across from Tryangles bar. It became like a haven for me and I felt at home in my new community.
One night, I must have been 22 or 23, I was in the coffee shop with friends when we started hearing people calling, “Fag! Fag! Fag!” and we saw a group of about a dozen teenagers running by. Soon after, a homeless man ran into the shop bloodied up. The employee at the shop took him into the restroom and tended to his wounds. Meanwhile, a couple of my friends went outside to see what was going on. I started seeing panicking people run back and forth so I went outside to see what was going on.
There on the sidewalk was a man, unconscious and bloodied. We would later find out he had been violently attacked by the teens as he walked the block from The Connection to Tryangles. Though he survived, suffered brain damage. Arrests were eventually made, and it was soon discovered the teens lived in Clarksdale, a notoriously violent housing project. Unfortunately, the homeless man was the only witness to the actual attacks and he soon skipped town, never to be seen again. The teens were released due to lack of evidence.
I struggled to reconcile this attack with my burgeoning optimism, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me a bit cynical at the time. It was really my first glimpse into how horrible the world could be. This was an evil act perpetrated on two people merely for being from marginalized places in society. Looking back, though, I can’t help but think about the teens as well. They were marginalized, living in a housing project that no one wanted to raise their kids in. They were forgotten and angry, and they decided to take their anger out that night on two innocent men who were easy targets. The system failed them, as it did the gay man and the homeless man. In this way, they were victims as well, victims of an evil system that marginalizes people, taking away their dignity and self-respect and pushing them
into a life of crime.
Clarksdale is gone but I still vividly remember that day. It’s one reason I have a passion for social justice: because no one should be a victim to an evil system and evil acts. Everyone has inherent worth and dignity, and, if we don’t speak up for those without a voice, they are forgotten, just as these teens were.
In the powerful reflection Chris shared with us this morning about his own experience, he identified two distinct types of evil. One type is the oppressive and unjust systemic evil of generation upon generation of poverty and dehumanization that taught the teenagers that assaulting another person was within their rights. We will talk about systemic evil as an expression of oppression on May 5.
Chris also named what the teenagers did as evil: the actions were cruel and dehumanizing. Many of us wonder: how could someone cause such violence, pain and harm to another person? What was going on inside those teenagers that allowed them to commit such actions against another human being?
These are the types of questions that led Simon Baron-Cohen to write his book The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. Baron-Cohen, as a scientist, is particularly troubled by the fuzzy theology around evil. Religions, he say, can tell us what it is, but a scientist wants to know what creates the conditions that allow evil to occur. Scientists, and most contemporary liberal religionists, are not satisfied by answers such as “The Devil made me do it.” Evil is most often not a noun, but an adjective or an adverb. We want to know how someone is able to commit such actions because, in part, if we know the conditions in which it occurred, then the hope is that we can figure out ways to prevent such evil actions from occurring in the future.
What is it that allowed doctors, for instance, to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in rural black men in Tuskegee, men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. Government?
What is it that allowed regular people, like the students randomly chosen to be guards in the Stanford Prison Experiment, to, within 48 hours of having been given their new status, douse the “prisoners” (other students!) with a fire-hose, strip them naked and start verbally abusing them?
What is it that allowed Nazi men to kill innocent Jews during the day and then go home to their families and kiss their children goodnight each night?
Baron-Cohen ends up the same place as others before him, such Captain G.M. Gilbert. Gilbert was the Army psychologist who was assigned to watching the defendants at the Nuremberg trials, held between 1945 and 1949 for the purpose of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. Gilbert writes: “In my work with the defendants I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”
Baron-Cohen has spent much of his professional life studying empathy, and so is uniquely poised to study how what he calls “empathy erosion” sets the stage for and is a precondition for cruel, dehumanizing acts that most would call evil.
But before we go much father, we should clarify what we mean by empathy because it is often confused with sympathy. Basically, empathy is understanding what someone else is feeling, because you have either experienced it yourself, or you can put yourself in their place and imagine how they feel. Empathy requires us to be in touch with our own feelings, and to use our imagination and our people-skills in an effort to understand and, at some level, imaginatively experience, where another person is coming from.
Empathy is a much more complicated emotion than is sympathy, which basically just means that you acknowledge a person’s emotional hardship and are led to provide some comfort. You feel bad for them.
I don’t generally quote politicians from the pulpit, but there is a line from Barack Obamas book The Audacity of Hope that I believe captures the distinction “It is how I understand the Golden Rule,” he says, “not simply as a call to sympathy or charity, but as something more demanding, a call to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.”
Baron-Cohen explains that empathy is something that is measurable – and that when we measure it, we find that it is not a light switch, either you have it or you don’t, but is instead more like a dimmer with various settings…7 of them, in fact, ranging from 0 to 6. And when you measure a person’s empathy, and plot it on a graph along with the measured empathy quotients of other people you find that where we fall on the empathy scale creates a bell curve: some people are at the low end, some people are at the high end, and most of us fall somewhere in the middle.
Baron-Cohen connects our empathy quotient to the language of Martin Buber, who defined our relationships as either I-Thou, meaning we recognize a person’s inherent worth and dignity, their humanity, their uniqueness and sacredness, or I-It, wherein we relate to people not as human beings, but as objects. I-Thou relationships are higher on the empathy scale, I-It relationships are lower.
Zero empathy, says Baron-Cohen, puts us strictly in the I-it mode, where we can only relate to other people as things, not as people. If you have zero empathy, you have “no awareness of how you come across to others, how to interact with others or how to anticipate their feelings or reactions…not just oblivious to other people’s feelings and thoughts but also oblivious to the idea that there might even be other points of view.”
He points out that we all shut down our empathy occasionally in transient, short-term ways – cutting people off in traffic, walking past the homeless person without looking or acknowledging them. I know that whenever I see pictures of starving, maimed, or abused children in particular, I either collapse in tears or literally can feel something inside turn off in what feels like self-protection. And indeed, it turns out that empathy actually connects with 10 different parts of the brain, and some of these we do have some conscious control over. These 10 interconnected brain regions make up what Baron-Cohen and neurologists are calling the “Empathy Circuit.” Malfunctions or changes in any of these 10 can reduce a person’s level of empathy.
For example, people who are psychopathic, with antisocial personality disorder, or people with borderline personality disorder, have, by their nature, a level of zero empathy. And, not surprisingly, their brain-scans show malfunctions in the empathy circuit. Baron-Cohen advocates for new treatments that address this lack of empathy as a key factor (not just a symptom) in their disorders. Treatments that address the lack of empathy though medical and behavioral techniques, similar to those used to help people with Autism and Aspergers, who also have low empathy but are not inclined toward cruelty to others.
Baron-Cohen identifies twelve factors that influence our empathy circuit. I don’t have time to go into detail on all of these, but here is a brief summary: Our intentions influence the empathy circuit – there are times when we may want or need to switch it off, such as when surgeons are operating on a patient. Also, if we feel threatened, and our fight or flight response has kicked in, it is hard to feel empathy. The third factor that influences our empathy circuit is if our culture tells us it is okay to act in a certain way – such as to treat women or girls in a particular way. Fourth is our ideology, such as our religious or political beliefs. Fifth is our early experience in childhood – were we shown empathy and were we able to form stable attachments to others? Sixth is conformity or obedience to rules and institutions. Seventh is in-group/out-group identification. Eighth is corrosive emotions like anger, hatred, jealousy and revenge. Ninth, tenth and eleventh are genes, neurology and hormones – some people just biologically programmed to have more or less empathy. And finally, physical states such as how tired or hungry we are, or if we have been drinking or taking drugs can also alter the functioning of our empathy circuits.
So we see that there is much that can influence our ability to have empathy for another person. When we drop to low or zero empathy, when our empathy erodes, it can create room for us to engage in cruel, dehumanizing acts – it can set the stage for us to act towards others in evil ways.
I think one of the most important things, in understanding and reflecting on evil, is to have a level of what Angela Herrara calls spiritual humility. That is, to know that just as we are almost all capable of amazing acts of compassion and kindness, so too do we have within us the capacity to act in evil ways. We have the capability, through any of those 12 factors Baron-Cohen identified, through a reduction of our level of empathy (intentionally or not) to become cruel, harmful, and dehumanizing of others. And it is not all or nothing – empathy erosion can occur with specific sets of others – like the Nazi soldiers who would murder Jews during the day and yet come home and be loving to their families. Evil is not always identified with big, glaring, neon signs. This is what Hannah Arendt identified as the banality of evil, when she observed that the great evils in history, such as the Holocaust, were perpetrated not by fanatics or psychopaths, but instead by ordinary people who participated with the view that their actions were acceptable and even normal.
We religious liberals once believed that human beings were inherently good. The modern view was of onward and upward forever. The Holocaust of the Jews changed that. Now we understand that humans have the capacity for good, and for evil. What we believe about the nature of evil has a strong impact on how we relate to one another. Understanding that we all have this capability in us is an important step towards not taking that path. It gives us empathy for those who commit evil acts, because we know we are just like them.
What I particularly appreciated about Chris’s perspective is that he did not name the teenagers themselves as evil. Though it took him time and reflection, he came to recognize that they, too, have inherent worth and dignity, as did the homeless person, and gay man who was attacked. Chris came to be able to see the circumstances and decisions that led to the malfunctioning of their empathy circuit, which enabled them to commit such evil acts. If Chris had labeled those teenagers as evil, he would have been denying their humanity, their inherent worth and dignity. And in denying their humanity, he would view them not in an I-Thou relationship, but as objects – which then makes it much easier to further dehumanize them.
Let me say that again. When we label a person as evil, we deny their humanity and thus objectify them. This makes it possible for us to treat that person in cruel and dehumanizing ways. We see this in our current incarceration system, where prisoners are routinely and as a matter of course dehumanized. Dehumanization is a standard operating procedure in our jails and prisons.
In order to not allow our own empathy to erode towards others, particularly towards those who commit evil acts, we must work to not dehumanize them but instead recognize their inherent worth and dignity as human beings. And then treat them accordingly – with compassion. I believe this is what Jesus was talking about when he urged his listeners to turn the other cheek – to not respond to dehumanizing behavior with more dehumanizing behavior but instead with compassion.
Because, as it turns out, just as empathy erosion can lead us to commit evil acts, so too can amplifying our empathy for others lead us towards compassionate actions, which are the opposite of evil. This does not mean not setting boundaries or enforcing rules or laws. It means acting with an eye to the inherent worth and dignity of all involved: victim and perpetrator.
This is the goal of restorative justice, which is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims, the needs of the community and the needs of the offenders. Rather than focusing on satisfying abstract legal principles, or focusing on vengeance, or on punishing the offender, restorative justice involves the victims taking an active role in the process and the offenders being encouraged to take responsibility for their actions by working to repair the harm they’ve done—by apologizing, making right what they have wronged, or through community service. Restorative justice involves both victim and offender and focuses on their personal needs. And it provides help for the offender in order to avoid future offenses.
Amplifying our empathy benefits us as individuals, as well. Like the story that was in the news last week, recounting the aftermath of the murder of Unitarian Universalist civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo. Her daughter, Penny, was bitter and angry, with good reason, not just at the murders but the government for how it portrayed her mother. But when she saw the torment and regret on the face of the man who murdered who mother, she began to feel compassion for him, and was able to open herself up and forgive him. It changed her for the better.
Or like Robbie Parker, whose daughter Emilie was one of the 20 children that tragically died during the shooting at Sandy Hook. The day after the horrible tragedy, he shared a message of love and forgiveness and expressed compassion for the family of the shooter.
It is has Martin Luther King, Jr. wisely said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” I would add, evil actions cannot stop evil actions. Only compassion can do that.
If it is empathy erosion that enables people to objectify and dehumanize others, allowing them to then perpetrate acts of evil on their fellow human beings, let us work to amplify our empathy through love and compassion for one another, and particularly for those who may seem to deserve it least. In this way, we may best fight the capacity for evil that is within ourselves.
not “burdening” my religious practice. March 1, 2013Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
Dear KY House of Representatives, Senate, and Gov. Beshear,
I would like to inform you of a perhaps unintended repercussion of the passage of HB 279, which reads:
Government shall not burden a person’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A “burden” shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.
As soon as this bill passes into law, I will officially begin conducting weddings and signing marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples, as is standard practice in my religion. It will be my right to act in this manner, in accordance to my faith. If a county clerk refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, I will have him/her cited for burdening my freedom of religion, but I am sure I will be able to find at least one who will understand and sympathize and act in accordance with the law.
The Rev. Dawn Cooley
First Unitarian Church