Sermons 2012-13

Interfaith in the Home

Interfaith in the Home
Rev. Douglas Taylor
May 26, 2013


Unitarian Universalism is a wonderful religious home for people and families who have more than one religion.  As Rev. John Buehrens says, “It’s the one to have if you need to have two.”  We honor many sources and celebrate differences.  In an introductory video we show at the New UU workshop, a woman says: “I can bring my atheist mother here, and my Catholic ex-husband, and my modern-trained Jewish orthodox children, and there are, just, all loved!”

This is our annual Auction sermon.  Once a year, people are given an opportunity to bid on a sermon topic at our auction.  Last year we saw some rather heated bidding for this sermon topic and it was finally won by Lauri.  Lauri, who is Unitarian Universalist, will be getting married later this year to Betsy, who is Christian.  Lauri felt the intricacies of interfaith marriage would make a fine topic for this sermon.  How does it work?  Unitarian Universalism is a religious community not based in shared beliefs.  We encourage interfaith relationships in the community at large and here in our own congregation.  Does it also work to be faithfully interfaith in the home?

Usually I come to the conversation about interfaith relations from the perspective of the public sphere – meeting people at a public forum to honor each other’s different paths, gathering together here each week with our different beliefs.  Usually I come to the conversation about interfaith in a public manner – for the sake of community and peaceful civil society!  Today, however, we shall consider interfaith in the private sphere, interfaith in the home. 

I remember doing a child dedication service for a couple who were not members but came to me because they knew this aspect of our religion: that we honor the world’s religions and celebrate diversity.  They asked if I would officiate for their baby’s event.  It was a compromise.  He was Christian and she had been raised Jewish.  The marriage had been exclusively Christian.  The husband admitted that he had not honored his wife’s tradition at the marriage and had instead insisted on getting married in his church.  Now, after a year together, he was learning more and opening up more and wanted to find a way to honor her Jewish roots.  The priest they brought in was a friend of the family.  The Cantor still served the synagogue where she had grown up.  This was all down in the Washington D.C. area.  They came to me to be the lead Officiant and Master of Ceremonies for the event.

And it was an event!  The three of us up there, a priest, a Jewish cantor and a minister, we welcomed that baby, we named him, we baptized him, we dedicated him, and we blessed him good.  After the event I was mingling with the others and the Jewish Cantor leaned over to me with a bemused look on his face and said, “First we make him Jewish, then we make him Catholic!”  (with lilt in voice as if to say ‘I just don’t understand’)

Later he said, “You know in the old firing squad line up to kill a prisoner, there would always be one blank somewhere in the line up so each of the men pulling the trigger could think it was not his gun that had killed the prisoner.”  I grinned because I knew where he was going and quickly asked, “So which of us do you think is shooting blanks today?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “We’ll see.” 

So what is it like to live faithfully in an interfaith home?  What is the secret to making it work?  I imagined three possible answers. 

The first possibility I imagined is that one member of the interfaith home is ‘shooting blanks.’  One possible answer is that it works because it isn’t really interfaith.  It is possible to be nominally Jewish or Christian in name only.  This would be the case if one member of the couple is not really practicing their religion while the other is observant. It’s like an old cartoon I remember: The first person says to the second, “Marriage is when two live together as one,” and the second person replies, “Yes, but which one?”

A very common reading used in weddings is the passage from Ruth:

And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.  (Ruth 1:16-17)

This is a lovely passage and even a very lovely passage for same-sex weddings I will add.  Ruth is saying this to Naomi.  It is a vow made between two women.  I am delighted and amused that for ages heterosexual couples have used this piece of scripture to sanctify their relationships.  It is, indeed, a lovely passage.  However, it is not very lovely for a marriage that is meant to remain interfaith.  It basically speaks of conversion rather than interfaith.  It claims the only way an interfaith marriage can work is if one member of the couple converts.

Most of the couples I meet in Unitarian Universalist circles have not forsworn their own God for the God of their spouse.  Most Unitarian Universalist interfaith couples will mingle their customs, mix their blessings, and merge their traditions together to create a new family.  For some couples, religion is more important to one person than the other and this path of letting one tradition lead can be done with integrity.  Or this can be a way to step back from the difficult conversation for a time while strengthening the relationship. 

This is like “tolerance” in the public forums of interfaith dialogue where we agree to disagree by talking about a few commonalities and avoiding touchy topics.  Or we can imagine Unitarian Universalist congregations where there is a dominant theology in practice. There are also UU congregations where people don’t talk much about our beliefs together, where beliefs are not a big deal to the people gathered.  That would be one possible way to be interfaith in the world and in the home.                                                  

To use the metaphor from the Cantor and the baby naming event, if neither parent is shooting blanks, if faith and religion really do matter to both members of the couple, how does it work?  If the common center is not the shared faith or religious practice, what are the other options?  Think about your own relationships – marriage or otherwise – that are significant relationship that cross religious lines.  Sometimes agreeing to disagree is a fair way to do it.  Other times, wonderfully, there are other options.

Well, of course, love is always a great option.  This is the second great possibility I found for how to be faithfully interfaith in the home.  Set love at the center of your relationship and it can help bridge the differences, help open the way into compassionate understanding.  A Powell Davies, talks about marriage as a joining of two private worlds with love as the guide. “None of our private worlds is big enough for us to live a wholesome life in,” he writes.  All of us must find a way to bridge our individual living into the bigger venture of life.  Davies says,

What are we, any of us, but strangers and sojourners forlornly wandering through the nighttime until we draw together and find the meaning of our lives in one another, dissolving our fears in each other’s courage, making music together and lighting torches to guide us through the dark?  We belong together.  Love is what we need.  To love and to be loved.  (from We Pledge our Hearts, ed by Edward Searl, p 136)

Unfortunately, there is more to it than that. Nietzsche once said, “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”  Yes, we are in need of relationships, we are social creatures.  It is true that none of our private worlds are big enough to live a wholesome life in.  But love is something that ebbs and flows in relationship.  We don’t love each other all the time in constancy. Love grows and changes over time. 

There is a comparable public expression of interfaith relationship.  Similar to public ‘tolerance’ as comparable to private avoidance, here the equivalent might be meeting one person from a different faith that you like and seeing that one person as an exception.  Your acceptance of the religion is based on the character of your friend.  This person I love and respect is a Muslim or a Pagan, so I am curious and willing to explore this for the sake of the love I bear my friend or my spouse.  It can be a very good place to be.  It may be enough for some couples and some relationships. 

Yet if an interfaith couple relies only on love, eventually there will be a time of love’s ebb when the pressures of life pull a couple apart and threaten to sunder the bond of love.  At such a time, faith and religious community can serve as a container or a wedge.  And if the couple was relying on love to carry them through their religious differences, then the religious differences will likely become one of the pressures pulling them apart.

The third possibility I uncovered is very similar to the notion of holding love at the center.  A relationship must be founded on a solid base of shared values and a commitment to weather the ebb and flow of love.  The values that lead to strong relationships are values like honesty and mutual respect, open communication and generosity.  But really, the key to it all is mutuality and trust.  If the values are shared values, they can serve as the foundation for the relationship.  This is true for any marriage, but especially so when there is a significant difference such as religion in the relationship. 

Differences are important.  They can serve as barriers or as bridges; it all depends on how you look at it and how you use it.  In our reading this morning from our hymnal, Kahlil Gibran says to ‘stand together yet not too near together. … let there be spaces in your togetherness.”  He uses the imagery of trees to make his point.  He uses the imagery of the moving tides and the winds of heaven to make his point.  I’ve heard others use the metaphor of dancing to make this point. 

When two people come together to create a new family unit, they each bring with them their own form of dance.  Some people dance one form of dance with their family while growing up.  They learned how to salsa dance.  But they fall in love with someone whose people are foxtrot people.  When it comes time to argue or show affection, to buy a car or raise a child, suddenly we discover ourselves stepping on our loved ones toes.  One person is trying to do the dance they learned as a child for such activities while their partner is doing completely different steps.  Ultimately what we need to do is learn a new dance, to create new family traditions and patterns and expectations.  My wife likes to say marriage is like a dance where you need to know the steps but also how to improvise. 

When we approach our differences like a dance, then being faithfully interfaith in the home would allow each person to pursue their practice while honoring their partner’s faith.  Instead of avoiding the topic or seeing an opportunity to convert, we approach each other’s differences with respect and honest curiosity.  With trust and mutuality, we can lovingly open up questions of deep intimacy such as questions about God, enlightenment, salvation, and certainty … because the questions will be rooted in love not fear.

Brad Hirschfield, in the introduction of his book You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right, relates the story of a conversation he had with a cabbie. The cabbie asks him what he does and Hirschfield admits to being a rabbi.  The cab driver leads him into great conversation about faith and bridging differences.  The driver circles around to asking some advice.  He shares with Hirschfield that he is a recovering alcoholic and that his conversion to Christianity and membership with a particular church has been a key piece to staying sober.  His concern is for his wife of 20 years who is not a Christian.  He loved his wife deeply and didn’t want to change her or leave her, but he was feeling pressure from his church to do exactly that. He was torn. “Can I pray for my wife?” the Cabbie asked Hirschfield.

Hirschfield said, “For her to see the light?  To believe what you believe?  I guess so.  You probably wouldn’t be you if you didn’t pray for her.  But if your praying starts to make you appreciate her less, then you are praying too much.  Your wife doesn’t have to be wrong for you to be right.” (p7-8)

That would be the last piece I would suggest.  Don’t hold back for fear that your faith will overpower your partner.  And don’t fear the faith of your partner to think it might over power yours.  Instead, lean into your own faith.  Let it grow.  Let your mutual love and care be the bridge to expand your shared space. To be faithfully interfaith in the home, it helps greatly to allow the conversation to be bigger that ‘right and wrong’ so that truth and love can both have room to explore and grow. 

In a world without end,
may it be so.


Faith and a Little Anxiety

Faith and a Little Anxiety
Rev. Douglas Taylor
May 19, 2013


Let me begin with a vignette from a conference I attended several years ago, a clergy conference on Congregational Systems theory.  Congregational systems theory comes out of family systems theory.  Murray Bowen is among the pioneers of family therapy, specifically family systems theory – a branch of physiology that basically refers to the family as a self-regulating system.  Instead of treating an individual who has a specific problem, family systems states you have to treat the entire family because no problem exists outside the context in which the problem manifests.  ‘Systems thinking’ is a broad interdisciplinary concept for biology, engineering, philosophy and psychology.  Murray Bowen specifically referred to the family as an emotional system, as an interlocking, interconnected web of emotional relationships.  Ed Friedman, a rabbi and therapist, took Bowen’s theory into the realm of congregations and discovered that congregations also function as an emotional system of interconnected relationships.  

Several years back I attended a clergy workshop on Congregational Systems theory.  The opening activity for the conference was an exercise using the concepts of birth order from Family Systems Theory.  While birth order is not that dramatic of a determination of personality or leadership style, it is simple enough to use as a starting point for a conference, a way to begin the conversation.  So that’s what the presenter used. 

The clergy were asked to sort themselves into birth order groups and determine together what similarities they found in their ministry styles.  There were a few youngest, some middle children, a handful of only children and ‘other’ – you always have to allow for an ‘other’ category for complicated family systems.  By far the preponderance of clergy there were in the firstborn grouping. 

After talking in our groups about ministerial style similarities, we were invited to report back to the larger group.  A recently retired minister from the firstborn group offered a reflection that drove the remainder of the conversation.  She said, “I am really looking forward to being retired so I won’t have to worry about making other people happy anymore.”

The presenter got a little grin on his face and asked, “Was that a significant part of your work as a minister, making other people happy?  How about the rest of you in the firstborn group, is part of your job to make the people in your congregation happy?”  There was some mixed response, but most of them said yes.  In one way or another, to greater or lesser degree, yes; making the people in the congregation happy was an unwritten expectation of the job.

As the presenter invited feedback from the other groupings, he inserted that question each time.  As this question moved away from the firstborn ministers, the answers grew more muddied.  Some said it was a part of it but not the most important part, others said it was an expectation they ignored; a few said it was their work and others said it wasn’t. 

When the presenter asked the group of us who were youngest children if we saw ‘making the people in congregation happy’ as a significant part of our work I immediately piped up: “I have a hard enough time making myself happy.  Their on their own.”

That got a good laugh, which I will admit was part of why I said it.  I am the youngest from a family of four after all.  I have found playfulness to be a useful trait.  Rabbi Ed Friedman said, “Playfulness can get you out of a rut more successfully than seriousness.”

But my playful answer was also a true answer.  If my work as a minister is to make people happy or keep people happy, then I need to reconsider my career choice.  But I don’t think I am wrong.  Each of us is responsible for our own happiness.  I care about your happiness.  I would like to see all of us happy.  But I can’t make anyone happy just like I can’t save anyone or enlighten anyone or make anyone realize their full potential – or any other grand goal of a meaningful and good life.  I can help.  But I can’t do it for you, no one can.  In his letter to the Philippians (2:12) Paul said “you must work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  I see my calling as a witnessing and an opening of doors, creating opportunities.  But ultimately, we each must breath our own air, write our own stories, break open our own hearts, fall into our own love, find our own happiness.

You know, as a minister, as a member of the ‘helping profession’ as it is sometimes called, this perspective is a little disconcerting.  But then Murray Bowen is the one who said “When all else fails, don’t just do something, stand there!”  Your presence is the best resource you have to offer.  Your integrity as a human being is your greatest asset. 

Ed Friedman wrote, “The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change.  If you want your child, spouse, client, or boss to shape up, stay connected while changing yourself rather than trying to fix them.”

So instead of trying to fix anybody, I stand witness to the resources you have within you for your own healing.  This is not simply for counseling and pastoral meetings; this is a stance for preaching, teaching a class, leading a committee, and really any situation in which I am wanting to accomplish something.  My integrity is my strongest asset.  My presence, not my expertise, is what I have to offer.  But that is not an easy position, because I and most people have a deep urge to step in and help people, to fix them, to make everything better, to keep things smooth.  Friedman said we live “in the land of the quick fix.”  What is needed is maturity, stamina, and personal responsibility, not expertise, information, or even empathy.  “The emphasis [is] on strength, not pathology; on challenge, not comfort; on self-differentiation, not herding for togetherness.” (A Failure of Nerve, by Edwin Friedman, p 2-3)

This perspective fits my basic ministerial inclination and has proven effective when I can relax and trust the process and people around me.  This is the “faith” I am thinking about that I am alluding to the title “Faith and a Little Anxiety.”  I use the word faith in different ways at different times; there are several valid meanings to the word.  Today I mean it is a fairly simple way.  I mean it as synonymous with trust.  Trust the process, trust yourself.  To be like the Domino that wasn’t ‘dominoed’ in Friedman’s fable (“Panic”), be concerned first with your own stability and integrity.

I was talking with someone the other day who was trying to determine the best approach for resolving difficulty he was having with a team he was working on.  This was a team in conflict.  This was not a church committee, I’m thinking of an example here with a little distance.  But we do have committees in conflict from time to time.  Of course we do.  And I’ve offered the same council to people who have asked me about dealing with difficulty on a congregational committee.  But for right now, I’m speaking of a situation outside the congregation.  This person was a leader on a team working on a justice issue in the community and he was experiencing a lot of tension and conflict on the team and wanted to know what to do about it.  I said to him: first, find your integrity, find your center.  What is it you want, what is your goal for the team or for the project?  Start from your own integrity. 

Then, when you enter a tense interaction or meeting, don’t react, don’t demonize the other perspective, and don’t rush to fix the problem.  Instead, while staying centered and true to your integrity, lean in to the conflict.  The truism stands, “We cannot change others, only ourselves.”  The ultimate responsibility of any leader or change agent is to take charge of yourself.  The work is not to motivate, move, or manipulate others.  Friedman said, “Stay connected while changing yourself.”  That doesn’t mean giving in to whatever someone else wants.  That means listening to what they want, hearing them, and then responding from your own centered position.   

One of the past moderators of this congregation who has since moved away gave me a great way to talk about this.  “Freeze, unfreeze, refreeze.” I saw him use it in a board meeting and I asked him about it afterword.  I’ve since learned that it is a change model from Kurt Lewin, a social scientist from the 1940’s.  Basically the model says: know where you stand, where you start.  Know your center, your integrity.  Then listen to what’s going on around you when you are in conflict or are amid difference of perspective.  Freeze, but then unfreeze to consider other understandings.  Then refreeze, re-center yourself. 

We have to lean in to the difficult places in our lives, lean in to the tense conversations.  But first we need to be centered in our own integrity.  Both are necessary.  Center yourself and then lean in to the anxiety, the difficulty, the trouble you are seeing.

And here in lies the latest lesson I am learning.  I have long subscribed to the general perspective on anxiety and difficulty in life: it’s not good and having as little anxiety and trouble is the goal.  No anxiety would be perfect.  If you know me at all, you’ll have picked up on the flaw in my thinking.  Perfection is overrated, I’ve often said before.  ‘No anxiety’ is an impossible and perhaps an unfavorable goal to achieve.  Anxiety is a part of living.  Yet I have a strong propensity toward being non-anxious, toward calming everything down or lightening everything up.  Bowen and Friedman talk about a good leader as one who is non-anxious.  But being non-anxious is impossible and a better goal I am learning is to be less anxious. 

Anxiety is associated with stress and instability.  It is usually seen as synonymous with fear. We all have a certain amount of anxiety in our lives no matter who we are.  Indeed, anxiety is not only a reality we all live with, we can have a healthy, necessary level of anxiety.  It is all in how we use it.  Anxiety can be a source of energy for change in our lives and in our communities. 

In a 2008 there was an article in the UU World magazine by Robert Rosen entitled, “Do you have just enough anxiety?” Rosen suggest that there is a health level of anxiety, just enough.  It is the “amount you need to respond to danger, tackle a tough problem, or take a leap of faith.”

He acknowledges that not all anxiety is healthy.  Anxiety can interfere with our good judgment and normal functioning.  Anxiety blocks our ability to respond, it can close us off to possibilities that would serve us well, it narrows our vision and focuses us on our fears, our inadequacies, our failures, and our feeling of insignificance.  Anxiety can close us down or send us send us off frantically in strange directions.  Too much anxiety is a bad thing for our physical and psychological health. 

This much is well known and acknowledged by pop psychology.  This much is the base critique of systems thinking.  What Rosen adds to the conversation is this: 

Too little anxiety … is the face of complacency. It comes from the belief that all is well, and an unfounded expectation that good times will continue unabated, with no need for change or improvement. Too little anxiety leads to passivity, boredom, and stagnation.

Paul Tillich, in The Courage to Be, writes: “The basic anxiety, the anxiety of a finite being about the threat of nonbeing, cannot be eliminated. It belongs to existence itself.”  So in a sense, too little anxiety is a ‘checking out’ of life, it is a way of stepping off to the sidelines of life to be a spectator rather than a participant of your own life.  The Buddhist assertion to “wake up” is in keeping with this concept of anxiety.  Just enough anxiety is like finding the self-aware balance between non-attachment and compassion. 

Anxiety tends to narrow our focus onto the issue that is making us anxious.  As I said at the beginning, ‘systems thinking’ is a broader view.  If we think of our families and the congregation and really any community in our daily lives as a system, then instead of focusing on any particular issue that is bothering us we can consider the whole context of patterns in which that problem is manifesting. 

The trick is not to avoid all anxiety.  The trick is to learn, instead, to acknowledge my anxiety but not let it determine my actions.  Anxiety, like fear or guilt or anger or any other unwanted emotion, is information about what matters to me and what has a hold of my heart.  But anxiety should not be given free reign on my response to situations.  I can instead have faith that a little anxiety can be a healthy. Change and uncertainty will always unsettle us and make us anxious.  And if we always avoid anxiety then we will always avoid change and uncertainty in life. Allowing for just enough anxiety, we can lean in to the trouble, trusting our own centered integrity to hold us.  With both faith and a little anxiety, we can respond to all the challenge and the beauty life holds.

In a world without end,
may it be so.



This I Believe

This I Believe
Rev. Douglas Taylor
May 5, 2013

The invitation is simple: using only a few hundred words, write about the core principles that guide your life.  Our Coming of Age youth do it every year.  When we host the Building Your Own Theology class, participants do it as well.  In these staples of Unitarian Universalist religious education curricula, we ask participants to write a Credo statement, an “I believe” statement.  Interestingly, there is a secular parallel thanks to Edward Murrow and his 1950’s NPR “This I Believe” series. The rules are a little different for the National Public Radio series.  NPR asks people not just to write about what they believe; they specifically ask people to avoid creeds, doctrines, dogma, and instead focus on one core belief or principle.  The guidelines they offer are: Name your belief, tell a story, be brief, be personal, and be positive. You can actually read or listen to the essays online at  They currently have over a hundred thousand essays and continue to receive more.  The tag line is “A public dialogue about belief – one essay at a time.”

What do you think you might say if you were to write such as essay for NPR?  What belief or principle would you focus on?  Perhaps you would focus on God or some aspect of God as Susan Cosio, a hospital chaplain from California did in her essay when she said, “I believe in a daily walk to listen because that is when I am close to God, that is when I find my way.” (This I Believe, 2006, p 45)  Or you might say something like what Actress Helen Hayes concludes: “I must help myself, yes, but I am not such a self-contained unit that I can live aloof, unto myself. This was the meaning that had been missing before: the realization that I was a living part of God’s world of people.”

Or perhaps the opposite. Magician, comedian, and research fellow at the Cato Institute, Penn Jillette (the taller, louder half of Penn and Teller) said,

“I believe that there is no god.  I’m beyond Atheism.  Atheism is not believing in god.  Not believing in god is easy, you can’t prove a negative, so there’s no work to do…  But, this “this I believe” thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life’s big picture, some rules to live by.  So, I’m saying, ‘This I believe – I believe there is no god.’  … Believing there is no god gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-0, and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.”

                                                                                    (ibid p129-31)

Remembering the guideline to ‘stay positive,’ Jillette made that distinction between not believing in god and believing there is no god.  For what it’s worth, Jillette’s essay continues to be the top most viewed essay on the website.  I think people find his essay compelling not simply for its commitment to no God and its clever twist of the ‘state what you believe, not what you don’t believe’ rule.  I think people like his essay because it is a compelling step into that public dialogue about belief that the website claims as their purpose. 

As Unitarian Universalists we, of course, endeavor to have this same conversation in our congregations on a weekly basis: a public dialogue about belief.  We trip up when we get caught in the trap of polite society that does not discuss religion or politics in mixed company.  We slip when we allow the religious equivalent of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ to close down our attempts at open conversations.  I think we, in this congregation in Binghamton, are a little more relaxed and willing to talk about beliefs.  That is certainly the goal of all the personal witnessing of my own faith and beliefs that I have offered over the years from the pulpit: to create an atmosphere of engagement and an example of stepping into the conversation. 

When I’ve written my credo, which I’ve done a couple of times over the years, I find I too want to talk about the nature of God and the implications it has on human nature.  But here’s the best part: a personal Credo, or a ‘This I Believe” essay does not need to focus on God of any other traditional theological belief.  Of all the essays I have read, and I have read no more than a small fraction of the thousands that are posted, very few actually focus on God.  Of those that refer to God it is often in passing.  The majority I saw focus on other aspects of belief and principle. 

For example, General Colin Powell, when he wrote his NPR This I Believe essay, said, “I believe in America, and I believe in our people.” (ibid p184)  In the original 1950’s series, First lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “I am pretty much a fatalist.  You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give.” (ibid p203)

What would you write about?  Perhaps you would focus on ethics and morality, as physicist Albert Einstein did in his essay in which he said “Man’s ethical behavior should be effectively grounded on compassion, nurture, and social bonds.  What is moral is not of the divine, but rather a purely human matter, albeit the most important of all human matters.” (ibid p59)  Or as journalist Norman Corwin said in his essay, “Good can be as communicable as evil, and that is where kindness and compassion come into play.” (ibid p41)

Famous essayists have included John McCain, Gloria Steinem, Temple Grandin, Bill Gates, Helen Keller and John Updike.  For every famous person there are hundreds of regular, thoughtful, interesting people like you and me who have offered essays.  What do you believe?  Maybe this is a question about God but more likely it is a question about life and the principles that guide your living. 

In the first of the recent reissuing and updating of the “This I Believe” essays, a book by that exact title from 2006, there are two essays written by the same person.  At the age of 16, Elizabeth Deutsch had her essay selected in the 1950’s for inclusion in the radio program.  Then, decades later, when they reinstituted the program as a weekly radio series, she wrote a new one.  I’ve abridged both of her essays for time, so it is still worth it to you to look them up later to see the full essay.  Here is what Elizabeth Deutsch wrote in 1954

An Honest Doubter by Elizabeth Deutsch

At the age of sixteen, many of my friends have already chosen a religion to follow (usually that of their parents), and are bound to it by many ties. I am still “free-lancing” in religion, searching for beliefs to guide me when I am an adult. I fear I shall always be searching, never attaining ultimate satisfaction, for I possess that blessing and curse—a doubting, questioning mind…

The one rule that could serve anyone in almost any situation is, “To see what must be done and not to do it, is a crime.” Urged on by this, I volunteer for distasteful tasks or pick up scrap paper from the floor. I am no longer able to ignore duty without feeling guilty.

… During this year, I have visited churches ranging from orthodoxy to extreme liberalism. In my search for a personal faith, I consider it my duty to expose myself to all forms of religion. Each church has left something within me – either a new concept of God and man, or an understanding and respect for those of other beliefs. I have found such experiences with other religions the best means for freeing myself from prejudices.

…This is my youthful philosophy, a simple, liberal, and optimistic feeling, though I fear I shall lose some of it as I become more adult. Already, the thought that the traditional thinkers might be right, after all, and I wrong, has made me waver. Still, these are my beliefs at sixteen. If I am mistaken, I am too young to realize my error. Sometimes, in a moment of mental despair, I think of the words, “God loves an honest doubter,” and am comforted.

Deutsch lived in Cleveland when her first essay was selected.  Her essay reminds me of some of the lines we usually hear from our youth at the Coming of Age Service.  She talks about being untraditional, she suggests that she might be wrong and will keep searching, she talks about respect for other beliefs, and she talks about the importance of being a good and kind person.  Fifty years later Elizabeth Deutsch is now living in Ithaca and working as a professor at Cornell.  Here is her follow up essay from 2005.

Have I learned anything important since I was 16? by Elizabeth Deutsch

Over 50 years ago, at the age of 16, I wrote an essay published in the original This I Believe series. …

I still believe most of what I wrote long ago. Many of my early traits remain, including skepticism about religious authority, curiosity about the world and the lofty desire to live a righteous life. The world I see now worries me at least as much as it did in the 1950s.

So, have I learned anything important since I was 16?

I now know that life is very often unfair. My own life has gone well, with much happiness and no exceptional grief or pain. Yet travel to other countries, experiences closer at hand, and just reading the news show me how hard things are for many people. That contrast troubles me, and I’m still not sure how best to respond to it. I do believe that those of us who have prospered should view our good fortune not as an indication of personal merit or entitlement, but as an obligation to recognize the needs of others.

Sadly, I’ve fallen short of my optimistic youthful goal of “doing what must be done.” I … recognize that my efforts have changed the world only in small ways.

…after the events of 9/11, I returned to the Unitarian Church, the same denomination in which I was active when I was 16. I’ve come to appreciate once again that communal reflection about life’s deeper matters is sustaining and uplifting and provides a consistent nudge in worthy directions. I believe that it’s good to spend time engaged in the present.

I recently heard and admired the phrase “wherever you are, be there.” This may not work for everyone; dissociating from misery may be wise. But someone like me, who focuses on lists of the next day’s tasks and often reads a newspaper while walking outdoors, should remember also to look up at the sky and at the people around me.

…When I was young, an honest and moral life seemed like a straightforward goal. I now know that it’s not always easy to see what should be done and even harder actually to do it. Nevertheless I’m grateful that I still have some time to keep trying to get it right, and to savor each remaining day in my life.

Both Kathleen (our Worship Associate for this morning’s service)  and I were interested  not only by this unique pair of essays from a single person, but to also learn that she is somewhat local to us in Ithaca, and more than that, she’s a Unitarian and was back when she wrote the first essay! One of the valuable opportunities of writing down a credo like this is to be able to look back later and see the trajectory of your living, to see the evolution of what you named at the core of your life. 

A dozen years back, before I was serving this congregation, I was the Assistant minister of a large UU church in the Washington, DC area.  I offered a sermon with this same title, “This I Believe.”  Pretty much everything I said then still stands for me today. 

I talked about how I believe God is an event, a reference to Process Theology which I’ve preached about several times over the years.  I talked about what I see as the core of Unitarian Universalism: our shared belief of human nature articulated as a commitment to every person’s capacity to choose good and evil behaviors. 

I have not recently written a brief credo statement.  I have preached on beliefs and on what *I* believe multiple times lately.  Indeed the Gould Discourse I delivered in Niagara Falls last weekend was significantly focused on my personal witness of faith and belief.  But that was 45 minutes and 10 typed pages long.  I haven’t written a succinct credo recently.  I was tempted to do so for this service, but decided the real point I have for today is not to do my credo but to encourage you to do yours.  Really the point is to encourage the public dialogue about belief.

What would you write about in your brief, personal, positive, storied version of the core belief or principle that guides your life?  I will post this invitation as my newsletter column coming out this week: an invitation into a summer project. Let’s see how many This I Believe essays we can produce together. 

Founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel begins his essay saying, “I believe in pluralism.” (ibid p178) Poet Gregory Orr begins his essay with, “I believe in poetry as a way of surviving the emotional chaos, spiritual confusions, and traumatic events that come with being alive.” (ibid p175) Creator of The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler said “I believe in the power and mystery of naming things.” (ibid p62)  These examples show how the focus of your life, Monday through Friday, is exactly the grist for reflection on Sunday or whatever day you set aside for Sabbath reflection. 

Have there been particularly formative events in your life that have shaped who you are today?  Is there a story you keep returning to of your own experience that you are working to understand?  Is the work you do or a passion you have rooted in something deeply important to you? 

Me?  Here is one rendering of what I might come of with this summer.  I believe in people.  I believe all of us shine and I have invested my life in Unitarian Universalism ministry because it makes a commensurate claim that all people shine and all people are of worth.  Any conversation about the earth, about God, about justice, about good and evil, about the meaning of life is rooted for me in a commitment to by belief that all people shine. 

What about you?  What is your story?  What is your credo?  What is at the root of your living?  What do you believe?  I believe we can talk about this and that talking about it will bring us closer, and will help build a better world through understanding and compassion.  Because that is what Unitarian Universalism is all about: the beauty of our diverse beliefs together.

In a world without end,
may it be so. 

Salvation in the Wild Places

Salvation in the Wild Places
Rev. Douglas Taylor
April 21, 2013


William Cullen Bryant begins his poem “Green River” saying, “When the breezes are soft and skies are fair, I steal an hour away from study and care, and hie me away to the woodland scene.”  Me, I did that this weekend but stole more than an hour!  Midway through the writing of my sermon I did steal 24 hours and hie me away to a spirituality retreat at Sky Lake with a number of church members in tow. 

At midday yesterday I was walking the path that rings the lake.  My companions were spread out some ahead some behind, some with cameras to catch a moment of beauty and some with conversation to catch a deeper sense of those with whom we walked.  I occasionally dropped behind the main group to become lost in patch of light or swell of moss, to explore the path of a fallen tree or the rill of a small incoming stream.  I wanted to stay with the main group circling the lake so I didn’t linger, but I also could not resist the small silent moments of solitude with earth.

Bryant’s poem concludes with the lines, “I often come to this quiet place, to breathe the air that ruffles the face, and gaze upon thee in silent dream, for in thy lonely and lovely stream an image of that calm life appears that won my heart in greener years.”

Wilderness is significantly important for human beings because as natural creatures we need nature to help us stay balanced and in touch with our spiritual root. That is my experience of nature and wilderness. It is a touchstone back to balance for me, a taproot of spiritual health, and a resource of relief for my spirit.  Wild places are necessary for if we do not seek out wild places in nature then we will not learn the gift they offer to the wild places in our hearts, and we will starve a sacred and necessary aspect of our lives for want of wilderness.

There is a wonderful misquotation of Thoreau that says: In wildness is the salvation of the world.  It comes from that great naturalist Aldo Leopold in his book A Sand County Almanac.  In it he wrote, “Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world.” (P 133)  The line comes in exactly my favorite section of that book, Leopold’s conversion story of killing a wolf and realizing the deep interconnectedness of the mountain and the wolf and the deer and the men.  Leopold realized that to survive we would need to learn to think like a mountain.  He realized that we humans must learn to see ourselves not as separate from the earth and the other animals.  That the wild places need not be tamed, they are necessary and we can learn from them.  “Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world.”

Except Thoreau never said that, at least not precisely that.  The correct quotation comes from Thoreau’s essay, “Walking.” “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.”  Preservation is different from salvation.  They have similarities to be sure.  They both carry the tone of being made whole.  Salvation and preservation each signal a sense of a goal both secure and sound.  But while salvation rescues and restores that which is unsound back to soundness, that which is broken back to wholeness; preservation maintains and safeguards the wholeness that exists already. 

Sometimes I find myself agreeing with Thoreau and other times I agree with Leopold.  I’m not always sure.  Sometimes I think salvation is not what’s needed, there is nothing fallen or lost; it is all held in the beauty and we need only turn and notice the beauty that has always been there! But other times I think the world has gone mad and there is so much destruction and violence we pour out on each other and on the world that perhaps preservation is not enough.  The major environmental issues are not wilderness conservation and the protection of endangered species.  Today the issues are about hydrofracking and climate change – both of which do carry a deep concern for harm that could well be irreparable for the world as we know it. 

Whether wildness is the preservation or the salvation of the world perhaps depends on what you see going on in the world; but either way, it is wildness that is needed.  For if we do not have the experience of the wild places in nature then we will not learn the gift they offer to the wild places in our hearts.  Those who rage against the fracking and who cry out against climate change are invariably those who have felt the touch of nature, have been “won” as Bryant said in his poem, have had their hearts won by nature.

In various religious scripture and poetry and folklore we find references to the natural world as a place to uncover lessons for living, sometimes explicitly as a place of testing.  Nature is sometimes cast as the place of temptation or a place where we get lost.  Nature is also presented in fairy tales as a dangerous place yet also a place where we must go to grow up.  The mountain top, the desert, the woods and the wilderness each carry a metaphoric or mythic tone that the actual natural locations can truly convey.

There is a reading in our hymnal from Ralph Waldo Emerson that is about roses.  The transcendentalists were generally quite skilled at recognizing in nature the lessons for living well.  “These roses under my window,” Emerson wrote, “make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today.  There is no time to them.  There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.”  This is so common a statement from naturalists and transcendentalists.  It recurs in literature regularly.  The world of nature: flowers, animals, waterfalls; these do not tax themselves with preoccupations and worries.  One of the goals of Buddhist meditation is to become present to the moment.  A task which is so simple for a dog or a bird or an infant, is so very difficult for you and me.

As Emerson says, the rose under his window is ‘perfect in every moment of its existence.’  “But we postpone or remember.  We do not live in the present, but with reverted eye lament the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround us, stand on tiptoe to foresee the future.  We cannot be happy or strong until we too live with nature in the present above time.”  Think back to a time when you were fully happy.  Where you watching the clock?  Or was time flying while you were having fun?  Think back to a time when you were fully happy.  Were you multi-tasking?  Or were you fully present and enjoying the moment, ‘perfect in every moment of your existence.’

Henry David Thoreau wrote,

Nature never makes haste; her systems revolve at an even pace.  The buds swell imperceptibly, without hurry or confusion, as though the short spring days were an eternity.  Why, then, should man hasten as if anything less than eternity were allotted for the least deed?  The wise man is restful, never restless or impatient. 

So many examples from nature lead us to the conclusion that single-minded attentiveness is highly valued.  So often, however, we hear appreciation and praise of multi-tasking; as if multi-tasking is some how better than being able to focus on one thing, as if having a fragmented attention is a good thing.  Multitasking only gives the illusion of creating extra time.  This and other behaviors like it work to divide our attention in too many directions.  We are in danger of becoming fragmented. 

There was a little study done in Scotland recently.  It was reported in the New York Times last month.  (“Easing Brain Fatigue with a Walk in the Park” by Gretchen Reynolds; March 27, 2013, Primarily it was a test run for a portable EEG pack.  Until these little devices, any study of brain activity had to take place within the confines of a lab where the Electroencephalogram machine could be used.  Well they invented a portable version that people can wear.  The electrodes are hidden beneath an ordinary cap and the readings are sent wirelessly to a laptop carried in a small backpack.  Thus configured, an individual can walk around town rather than sit in a lab.  So one of the first experiments they did was to study the impact of different environments on a person’s brainwave activity.  They had volunteers walk through three distinct neighborhoods in Edinburgh: first an historic shopping district with very little vehicle traffic but plenty of sidewalks, next a park-like setting, and finally a busy, high-traffic commercial district.  It is no surprise I am sure that the findings showed people were more meditative in the park-like setting and more frustrated in the busy setting.

This is not a dramatic study.  As I said, the primary goal seems to have been to test run the new portable EEGs.  But still, I’ll point out that the busy, commercial and concrete setting was very demanding on the brain activity.  Urban settings demand our attention, the commerce, the people, the traffic, we need to be paying attention.  The more natural setting allowed the brain activity to settle into what psychology is calling ‘involuntary attention.’  This is using the word ‘involuntary’ in the automatic sense used biologically for breathing and the beating of our hearts.  We don’t think each breath, it just happens naturally.  Our brains also have a default setting.  This study corroborated this understanding by showing that the volunteer’s brain wave activity went into the involuntary attention mode while in the park-like setting.  In other words, they relaxed.  The brain is still engaged, but the attention demanded is effortless.  The natural world holds our attention but is also allows us the freedom for reflection and contemplation. 

Another study, done several years back reaches much the same conclusion: we seek out nature because we find it good for our spirits.  It was a study about how children use elementary school playgrounds. They replaced “an acre and a half of asphalt with a diverse group of traditional playground swings and bars; structures and sitting area; and a half-acre of fishing ponds, streams, woods, and meadows.” (from The Geography of Childhood by Gary Nabhan and Stephen Trimble, p 66) Then the researchers did the low-tech option, rather than hooking the people up to potable EEGs, they just watched the children to see where and how they played. As you might guess, the kids spent more time with the ponds, streams, woods and meadows compared to the traditional playground structures.  But more than that, “the natural area of the playground saw wider ranges of activities and more mixing of the genders.” (Ibid) The researchers also talked to the kids about the play spaces. This is how the children described the natural area: “It’s a very good place. Really quiet. Lots of kids just sit around there and talk.” “It’s just perfect.” (Ibid) Children make themselves at home in nature. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson speculated that adults don’t really see nature anymore.  “The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child.”  He claimed when we come back to the woods we come as children in wonder.  Perhaps there is something about the single-mindedness here of which Thoreau spoke.

In his essay, “Nature” Emerson writes: “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 or particle of God.”

Or to consider a different topography, my colleague, Marni Harmony, has a prayer in which she writes, “I say it touches us that our blood is sea water and our tears are salt … I say we have to go down into the wave’s trough to find ourselves, and then ride her swell until be can see beyond ourselves into our neighbor’s eye.”

Or to say much the same thing but with a mountain theme, poet Elizabeth Rogers writes, “I am a part of the earth.  I am a part of the solid, unshakeable, immutable rock of the mountain; a part of the stark, rainwashed slabs of slate, a part of the walls of wet and weathered gritstone, a part of the crumbling granite of shining boulders.  I am part of what makes the green rounded hill with its splashes of laughing yellow gorse.”

John Muir wrote: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Wild places are necessary for if we do not seek out wild places in nature then we will not learn the gift they offer to the wild places in our hearts, and we will starve a sacred and necessary aspect of our lives for want of wilderness. It is my balance, my taproot of spiritual health. Wilderness is the touchstone of my spirit.  Go seek out the wild places in your life and in our world for there is the perseveration of all we hold dear.

In a world without end,
may it be so.

Neighbors at an Unseen Border

Neighbors at an Unseen Border
Rev. Douglas Taylor
April 7, 2013 (Social Justice Sunday)

Last year I agreed to serve a term as a board member of the American Civic Association.  The reason I did this is because I care about diversity and plurality. Here in this congregation I strive for theological plurality with you of course – that is a basic element of our covenant together.  But further than that I strive to embrace and help us all embrace other differences of race and ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and sexual identity.  We do that because personal identity matters and our differences beautify the whole.  We are a better people when we honor and encourage differences.

Earlier this week Lynne Theophanis and I were talking with Andrew Baranoski about his participation on the Social Justice Sunday panel later this afternoon.  Lynne is the chair of our Social Justice Council and is responsible along with the rest of the council for the fine event we’re hosting this afternoon.  Andrew is the executive director of the American Civic Association, a local non-profit that supports immigrants and refugees working to become naturalized citizens. 

Andrew was lamenting the boxes we tend to put people in when we talk about immigrants.  He mentioned a recent local news story in which the individual was regularly referred to as a Cuban.  The man had come to America when he was four years old, at what point is he an American in the eyes of society? 

Binghamton is a small but many-cultured community. One box that I have and think many of us have is that immigration is a problem for states like AZ and TZ; but up here.  We generally don’t see immigration as a local concern.  But it is.  Binghamton and Broome County have a significant immigrant population. We don’t need to travel to a US border to bump into the dilemma of Immigration. The border is many miles away, yes; or perhaps there are unseen borders hemming us in and keeping us from really meeting our neighbors. Binghamton has its own distinct flavor of immigration. 

Part of our history, for example, is the influx of immigrants during the Endicott-Johnson era, the influx of eastern European immigrants to work in the shoe factories. Those immigrants settled and became locals.  The demographics of immigration have changed since then and many of the people who become citizens in Broome County these days are from places like Burma, Haiti, Vietnam, and Pakistan. 

According to recent census data there are a little over 12 thousand foreign-born individuals in Broome County; something less than half that number are not naturalized citizens at the moment.  Of those roughly 5 and ½ thousand non-citizens, and I have no idea what the break down of percentages would be, there are some with documentation and some without, some in the process of becoming citizens and some who are not.

It is easy to lump the various types of people together under the issue heading of “immigration,” but really there are many different situations to consider. There are people here on a work visa or a student visa.  Many of the scenarios by which a person is considered ‘undocumented’ are simply cases of their temporary visas running out.  There aren’t simple solutions for that though it seems like a fairly simple problem.  Another scenario is the many examples of refugees and people seeking asylum.  And of course there are the migrant workers as another category of immigrant.

Lynne Theophanis mentioned to me that one of the people she tried to get on the panel was too busy, a person who works with local migrant farm workers, mostly undocumented people.  I admit I was surprised by that information.  I was living in the misperception that migrant farm workers don’t come to New York State.  This information didn’t fit in the box I had for what migrant workers are all about.  It’s not easy to challenge assumptions, there are so many assumptions we make in life, many of them necessary to get through our daily lives.  But we also have many assumptions that don’t help us get us anywhere

I was watching a TV program and the show introduced a character from a minority status.  When I saw this I thought to myself, “How interesting.”  This show is introducing difference, something that seems out of the ordinary to our society and beginning the normalization process for us.  But then at the end of the show, rather than letting the character be normal, the show did this twist where the regular characters basically agreed that the minority person was still in the stereotyped box of ‘unusual’ or ‘exotic.’  It’s like any social awareness growth pattern. 

First, members of the dominant culture are totally unaware that there is anything other than quote-unquote ‘normal.’  Then there is awareness of the ‘other’ and gradually there is some tolerance and eventually acceptance.  Historical trends offer evidence that this sort of pattern holds not as a ‘how-to’ concept but as a general social dynamic reality people move through whether we are talking about what we think of here as our social justice issues such as sexual orientation, ethnicity, physical disability, mental health, or any number of other identities or situations. 

Indeed, I have dramatically over-simplified the concept merely to make this point I stumbled into while watching my TV program: We make progress and it is wonderful if all we were talking about were ideas and concepts.  And in the grand scheme, two steps forward and one step back is pretty good.  As I’ve said many times, mistakes and set backs and failures are part of the process. But we’re not talking about ideas and concepts.  We’re talking about people. In our understanding of immigration, it is good for us to have the freedom to take two steps forward and one step back in our understanding of how it all works and what it means to us.  But it is also important to remember that for many people it is not an ‘issue’ it is how they live.  So compassion is a key component to everything we are talking about.

To look at immigration from the perspective of laws and regulations is to miss the human part of the situation; it is to miss the stories of families.  In many ways I think the situation is largely fueled by economics.  And this is true from the legislative side of the issue and from the human side of the situation.  “Illegal” immigrants are people looking for work to support their families and to build a better life.  Undocumented workers are not criminals, they’re workers.  They often work without the protections many citizens assume such as the expectations of minimum wage and a fair grievance procedure when they are ill treated.

From the legislative side of things we could end undocumented immigration pretty quickly if instead of going after workers we went after the major businesses that are taking advantage of these workers. There are huge and powerful interests that like to keep things just the way they are.  Of course not all employers are exploitative or sometimes even aware of people’s immigration status.  But the employment of undocumented workers is easy money.  The exploitation of migrant workers and undocumented immigrants is a systemic problem. The whole system benefits from the arrangement.  That’s something I try to remember whenever I eat a salad I didn’t grow in my own garden.  You and I don’t chose to exploit undocumented workers, but we live in a society where it happens and we are therefore implicated as well.  While the economics of it all is hidden below the surface, I think even that is a distraction from the heart of it all. 

At the heart, immigration is a human issue, not a legal issue.  And I am more interested in the question “Is it moral” than “Is it legal.”  All manner of legal actions over the years were immoral.  Forcing the indigenous North Americans from their land onto reservations was legal.  Building the country on the backs of slave labor brought in from Africa was legal.  Jim Crow laws keeping African Americans from voting were legal.  The detention of Japanese Americans citizens during World War II was legal.  All of that was legal, but was it moral?    

As UUA president Peter Morales points out (in his 5/30/10 sermon “Immigration”):

Apartheid was legal in South Africa. The confiscation of the property of Jews at the beginning of the Nazi regime was legal. The Spanish Inquisition was legal. Crucifying Jesus was legal.

Our Unitarian Universalist principles call us to speak out against injustice and work to build a fair and equitable world.  We honor the words of other religious traditions that call us to treat the alien like anyone else, to love my neighbor as myself, to desire for my brother or sister that which I desire for myself.  These shining precepts from around the globe inform our Unitarian Universalist faith and lead us to ‘Stand on the Side of Love’ as our banner proclaims.   

The story I read at the Time for All Ages, “Hannah Is My Name,” evokes Dr. King and his message.  And I think it fits to refer to the King when talking about immigration.  The specifics of King’s message was about racism and voting rights, but all that was encased in the bigger message he offered about democracy and America. 

In his sermon at Riverside church in New York City in April of 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. clarified the theological ground he stood on when calling for non-violence.  He said the work is grounded in the call to love your neighbor, to love your neighbor before all other calls for allegiance.  He said we the love of neighbor should come before nation, before tribe, before race.  Dr. King said,

“When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response … I am speaking of that force which all great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”

This big orange sign we keep moving around the inside of our building claims that we are “Standing on the Side of Love.”  That is our theological ground.  It is a challenge and a calling for us to live and act from an open place.  Standing on the Side of Love is a people-first perspective.  Our calling as Unitarian Universalists has always been to put people ahead of laws.  The dissenters and non-conformists of our heritage refused to be bound by church creeds and laws.  And we now hear that call drawing us to use that same logic, that same theological ground to consider how we respond to the justice issues of our day.  We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In the end the issue is not about jobs or the economy or border control.  Reasonable and clear statements of truth can assuage misinformation; and logical, researched arguments can poke holes in rhetoric.  In the end the issue of immigration is a struggle for this country because of a particular form of racism called xenophobia.  At the end of the day, for reasons I find it hard to understand, this country founded on immigration has become afraid and hateful toward immigrants. 

Yet immigration is deeply engrained in the fabric of our country.  Unitarian Universalism can only affirm the benefits of embracing differences.  Diversity and plurality enhances our faith community; and we can witness to the ways it enhances and strengthens the country.  America benefits by the multitude of cultural sources flowing together. I encourage all of you to take advantage of the panel program the Social Justice Committee is offering this afternoon to learn more about immigration as a local issue and simple steps you can take to make a difference.

Unitarian statesman Adlai Stevenson once said, “The world is now too dangerous for anything but truth; too small for anything but brotherhood.”  Our Unitarian Universalist principles lead us to forgo the easy solutions that rely on “us” vs. “them” ways of thinking.  Our liberal faith leads us to refuse the division of humanity into those who are worthy of rights and respect and dignity from those who do not matter.  The world we strive to build demands that we see an injustice against one as an injustice against all because how we treat each other – particularly how we treat the vulnerable among us – defines who we are as a people.  In recognizing the global village our world is becoming, our faith calls us to respect our neighbors and to treat the stranger among us with the dignity.

In a world without end

May it be so.