Visiting Minister Sermons

“Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration”

Fred Hammond
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL

From Rev. Hammonds blog: http://serenityhome.wordpress.com

Last week I was part of a delegation with the School of the America’s Watch, the non-profit group that is seeking to close down the School of the Americas Military training camp at Fort Benning, GA. SOAWatch has added to their mission to understand the effects of militarization within Latin American countries and along the border of the USA. Their hope is this additional understanding will aid in their goal of shutting down the camp at Fort Benning and aid in the goal for humane immigration reform.

So among the many delegations SOAWatch planned this year, one of them was to visit the Arizona/ Mexico border at Nogales. Nogales is a city divided by the annexation of land in the 1850’s to enable a railroad to not cross the border into Mexico. Prior to 1994, this was a city where its people crossed the border daily to be with family, to work, to enjoy the mingling of two cultures.

The United States of America has had a schizophrenic approach to immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. In 1910 we encouraged Mexicans to cross the US border to aid in harvesting crops. The nation had a distain for Chinese immigrants so the nation passed a head tax on immigrant workers. However, employers who hired Mexican immigrants were given a waiver on this tax to encourage the hiring of more people from south of our borders. Many of these workers came up seasonally, would follow the harvest north and then when the harvest was done, return to Mexico. Then when the depression hit, we deported many immigrants back to Mexico but ten years later we were at war and the need for labor to harvest our crops and to build railroads was once again in demand. Many came across only to be deported at the end of the war with the promise that their final pay would be soon forthcoming. There are still survivors of the Bracero Program living in Mexico still waiting for the USA to make good on their promise of payment.

In the 1950’s we passed two pieces of federal legislation, federal codes 1325 and 1326. When we talk about the undocumented having illegal presence here, we are referring to code 1325. This code referred specifically to entry without inspection. It refers to entering our country without going through a specific port of entry. It is a civil offense, not a criminal offense. Part of the argument that the US Supreme court has with Legislation such as Alabama’s HB 56 is that the State sought to change this civil offense to a criminal offense.

Federal Code 1326 refers to re-entry without inspection after deportation. For those who have no violent criminal records this includes up to a two year sentence, if the person while here in this country also has committed violent crimes, the sentence can be up to ten years.

Along the border six of the 9 sectors are prosecuting individuals who are guilty of 1326, meaning they have been deported at least once before. It is considered a felony. Operation Streamline, a misnomer because none of the courts are doing this in the same manner, will sentence and convict en mass a number of people charged with violating 1325 and 1326. In Tucson, up to 70 people are sentenced per day in a court hearing that can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two and a half hours depending on the thoroughness of the judge. The defendants are encouraged to plead guilty to the civil offense of entry without inspection to waive the felony charge of re-entry. We have heard reports of being coerced or simply not having the charges explained and told to simply sign to waive their rights. Prior to Operation Streamline, a person would simply be deported, but now they are given an arbitrary sentence between 30 and 180 days in prison.

The federal court in Tucson since the advent of Operation Streamline in July of 2008, now devotes 60% of their time on deportation cases and no longer focus on violent criminals such as murderers and drug dealers. Of the 31 public defenders hired by the Tucson based Federal court, three are made available per day for these individuals. But to assist in processing such a large number, the federal government contracts attorneys at $125 an hour. Each person is seen for about ten minutes before the mass hearing in the afternoon. There is nothing the lawyers can do for their clients other than move them through the system. Justice is not being served here, only a crass form of cattle ranching the accused.

Congress has told us that the federal government has no money and must sequester costs. Beginning July 1st instead of rotating in three public defenders once a week to see defendants, the 31 public Defenders in Tucson will be rotating twice a year to see defendants. Because these defendants have the constitutional right to legal representation albeit brief and perfunctory, the contract attorneys will be given additional hours. All at taxpayers cost. The immigration bill before congress seeks to increase Operation Streamline to all nine sectors along the border and increase the number sentenced and deported in Tucson from 70 per day to 210 per day. The court case we witnessed in Tucson carried a price tag just shy of one million dollars, this includes the cost of their prison sentence. This amount of money is spent every day the court is in session in Tucson. We are told this is a necessary move to secure our borders. It seems doubtful that removing gardeners and maids is insuring national security. The truth is this is a necessary move to ensure the 90% capacity contractual obligations to Corrections Corporation of America. Our government is lying to us about the need for sequester when cost is of no concern when of utmost importance is the deportation of non-violent offenders for crossing the border.

In 1994 two events took place. One was the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, aka NAFTA and the other was the building of the wall between the two cities of Nogales. One can only speculate if these two events were connected to each other. It seems twenty years later the answer to that question is yes.

President Clinton in signing NAFTA into law, said: “… we have made a decision now that will permit us to create an economic order in the world that will promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment, and a greater possibility of world peace. … through robust commerce …that protects our middle class and gives other nations a chance to grow one, that lifts workers and the environment up without dragging people down, that seeks to ensure that our policies reflect our values.[i] ” None of these outcomes are true.

NAFTA may have created an economic order but it did not promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment or even promote the slightest possibility of world peace. Where ever NAFTA has been implemented there have been massive job loss, displaced people, an increase in criminal networks and cartels, and a growing disparity between the rich and the poor. Also in its wake has been violence and civil unrest as people struggle to maintain what little they have and with fear of losing it all.

NAFTA has several components that were detrimental to the people of Mexico and it is one of the factors that led to a great migration towards the north. The passage of NAFTA required that the Mexican government repeal Article 27 of their constitution. Article 27 was the heart and soul of the Mexican Revolution in 1917. This was the article that promised land to the people in perpetuity. The land was held in communal trust; it could not be sold or traded. It could be farmed and harvested to feed the people and offer an income. NAFTA required this be removed, the farmers became owners of the land but the real intention was so US Corporations could purchase the land out from under them. This was to have devastating results on the Mexican economy which was already fragile after its 1994 financial crisis.

The other piece that NAFTA required was the removal of Mexican farm subsidies to their farmers. The US farmers however would continue to receive US subsidies and they still do today. The amount of corn flooding the Mexican market went from 2 million tons in 1992 to 10.3 million tons in 2008. The small farmer could not even grow the corn for the price the US was selling it. Without being able to sell their crops, the Mexicans were unable to pay their taxes and they were forced to sell their land to the US corporations who were eager to purchase it. The poverty rate in Mexico grew from 35% in 1992 to 55% in 2008. Over 6 million Mexicans lost employment to the implementation of NAFTA. President Clinton promised NAFTA would create 200K jobs, a mere drop in the bucket to the number of jobs lost here in the USA and in Mexico. The wall between our two countries began to take on a new meaning and purpose.

Along the borders of the USA on the Mexican side sprung up Maquiladoras, factories. Nogales in Sonora Mexico has dozens of factories that are USA owned and ship their products through the Nogales border port of Mariposa. One would think with all these factories that the people of Mexico are experiencing the development of a middle class in Mexico just as Clinton predicted. Sadly, this is not the case. The average days wage for a factory worker is $8 a day. A pair of shoes made in Mexico and sold in the USA for $100 only yields 4 cents of that $100 to pay the wages of the Mexican worker. The retailer makes $50 the shoe company makes $33 on that pair of shoes. If that worker was paid a living wage of $15 an hour, and all other costs remained the same, the cost of that pair of shoes would only go up by 60 cents. It is a lie that cheap labor elsewhere makes for less expensive goods in the USA. The truth is cheap labor elsewhere increases profits for the retailor and the manufacturer.

NAFTA has not uplifted the people of the Latin American countries. The only people NAFTA has uplifted are the rich.

After 9/11 there was a rapid increase in the militarization of the border. The goal stated was to keep the border safe from terrorists entering the nation. Since militarization of the border with highly skilled marksmen, the number of terrorists that have been apprehended at the border is zero. We have built surveillance towers that are not used, drones that fly 12 feet off the ground, biometric technology on our own citizens who cross the border daily and not one terrorist has been apprehended, however lots of gardeners and maids have been captured, deported, and sometimes randomly shot and killed. The wall is not protecting the USA from terrorists it is instead an intentional attempt to keep the oppressed from finding freedom and fulfilling their dreams. The ground on the USA side of the wall is deliberately angled and jagged to cause the breaking of ankles and legs of those jumping the wall.

Humanity is a migratory species. We have always migrated to find new hunting grounds, to find new places to raise crops, and to find new opportunities. This is part of our evolutionary make up that makes the human beast very adaptable to its environment. How many here today have lived in this town since birth? Very few. The human species is a migratory animal and when situations become intolerable in one location, humans will migrate to another location with the hopes that that new land will offer new opportunities to thrive. Life in Mexico and in other Latin American countries continues to be intolerable with the exception of Venezuela.

That socialist government demonized by the USA has provided during Hugo Chavez’s life improved housing and education for its people. Those living in one room shacks with no running water now are in three bedroom condos with 1.5 baths. The buildings include a community center where educational programs are provided. Their standard of living has risen where the standard of living in every other country of Latin America and in the United States has declined. People are not seeking to leave Venezuela because life is livable, dreams are being fulfilled. Our Government has lied about Chavez in part because he fulfilled what he promised to do and the people of Venezuela are uplifted from the extreme poverty that plagued that country. There are no mass numbers of migrants coming out of Venezuela because there is no need to flee a country that treats its citizens humanely.

Just as the USA border has become more militarized, the Mexican border has become increasingly dangerous with the Mexican Mafia and cartels. A person can no longer cross the border on their own, to do so is to risk being tortured and possibly killed by the mafia. When I was in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, I heard a heart wrenching tale of two young men who had not heard that they must pay the cartel in order to cross the border. In their attempt to cross over the wall they were approached by a person who appeared to be someone willing to help them. The person calls on his radio and soon a truck arrives. The Men in the truck question the two migrants. They are told they are not allowed to cross without paying the cartel. Who did they pay? They are the ones that control this territory and they were not paid, so who did they pay? No one they replied. The men over powered them, taped their eyes and mouth shut, taped their wrists and ankles and threw them in the truck. They drove some distance to a house. The two men do not know where they are but they can hear chickens and sheep in the back ground. The men interrogate them asking them who they paid to cross the border. Then the men beat them, place a pistol to their heads and pull the trigger but the gun is empty. This was just for psychological terror. After a few days of this, a car comes with the head person, who also interrogates them. He also beats them. The man wanted to know if they were carrying drugs for another cartel. He eventually states that the men must be lying and that they escaped from a coyote. So the coyotes who work for this man are brought in and asked if they know these men. If they did, the men were told they would be killed. But none of the coyotes did so the men were released and told again they must pay to cross. They wander and see police, they try to get help but the police ignore them. Then a stranger takes pity on them and convinces the police to help them and they are taken to Nogales hospital. They learn that the police are sometimes in league with the mafia cartel.

It is important to note who are the mafia leadership. All of the captains of the mafia are members of a Mexican Special Force that defected from the Army called Los Zetas. “ About 200 of these former Mexican Special Forces … were trained by U.S. Army Special Forces at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., in the early 1990s.[ii]” We, the taxpayer, are the accomplices in this violence on the border.

While the Mexican and USA government make public statements that decry the atrocities committed on both sides of the border, neither government has made any move to address the situation. There are US border patrol agents and Mexican government officials who are allies with the Mafia. The Mexican government does not interfere in part because it supports the doctrine of deterrence that the United States has taken towards immigration from Latin America. This doctrine has been implemented in Arizona and in Alabama; the notion of enforcement through attrition making the environment so horrendous that undocumented individuals will choose to self-deport. Their logic follows that if the process to cross the border becomes easier, then more people would cross but if it becomes increasingly a dance with death, then less people will attempt the passage.

But as one Honduran refugee stated after fleeing the recent coup conducted by School of the Americas’ graduates, “If I am going to die in Honduras of hunger, then I would rather die struggling to live.” Such is the determination of a people who are desperate.

One woman I met told her story. She and her family had lived in NYC for about 13 years. Her husband’s mother and brother had become ill so they returned to Mexico to take care of them. Their children, one of whom born in NYC and the other only having lived less than a year in Mexico before crossing did not know Mexico, they do not speak Spanish. They missed their friends in New York and they did not understand Mexican Culture. So after a year they decided to cross back into the US. The son who was born in the USA purchased airfare and was flown back. The father was able to cross the desert with no problems. She and her other son attempted to cross the desert and were caught by the border patrol agents. They were treated horribly by the agents, pushed and shoved. They were deported to Nogales. The mother was able to secure for her son car transportation across the border to New York. She paid $3800 to do this. While we were there speaking with her, she received a phone call stating her son was now in transit towards NYC, he made it through the desert. She is relieved. She stated she is determined to join them in the near future. There is no question in her mind that she will be reunited with her family. She will not stop until it is so or she is shot and killed.

A friend of mine wrote a song with lyrics of being like a mother bear that will do anything to defend her cubs. This is the determination of the families who are being deported, separated from their families. There is no law, no 30 foot high wall, no desert terrain no matter how dangerous can or will deter families from being with their loved ones.

The US government and the media call these people criminals. How can something as inherent in our evolutionary development as love be criminal? This is the ultimate lie that my government tells me about people who are immigrants. May we continue to choose to stand on the side love.

[i] http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/3927

[ii] http://www.tedpoe.com/newsarticle.php?article=128

 

This was presented under the title of “The Cost of Privilege: Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration” to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntsville in Alabama on 2 June 2013 (c)

“How to Change the World”

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Emerald Coast
Rev. Rod Debs
March 20, 2011

Also presented at UUCP-June 17, 2012

Story: “The Evil Wizard” by Joshua Searle-White (What If Nobody Forgave? by Colleen McDonald, 1999)
Have you ever known someone who would pick on you or your brother, your sister? What did you do? What would happen then?

This is the story of an Evil Wizard, and of a girl named Esmeralda. Esmeralda is a pretty normal nine-year-old girl except that, for several years, she has been on adventures all around the world, saving all kinds of people and animals from the clutches of the Evil Wizard. And the Evil Wizard is, well, evil. He is totally and completely mean and rotten. Once he stole a whole forest of animals and put them in cages in a cave underneath the ocean; Esmeralda had to save them. Once the Evil Wizard stole a space-ship and went to the planet of the Hoodoo and tried to start a war there—he tried to get all the yellow-striped Hoodoos to kill the green-striped Hoodoos; Esmeralda had to stop him. And once he went to Shangri-La where everybody is happy all the time and does nothing but ride merry-go-rounds and water-ski and eat chocolate; he tried to wreck the fun and make everyone miserable; Esmeralda had to catch him and put him in jail.

Esmeralda spent a lot of her time chasing the Evil Wizard around the world, into space, under the oceans, up the mountains, and she caught him every time. But the Evil Wizard kept coming back. As many times as Esmeralda stopped him from doing terrible things, he kept doing more. As many times as she put him in jail, he kept breaking out. It was very, very frustrating, but Esmeralda kept doing it because, after all, these creatures and people needed to be saved from him.

Then one day, Esmeralda decided to go on a trip of her own. All her other adventures had started when the Evil Wizard had caused trouble somewhere, and Esmeralda had gone to help the poor victims. But this time was different. This time, she was going on an adventure all by herself. It was a Saturday, and she was going to climb to the top of a mountain—a mountain she had wanted to climb for a long time. She got her backpack, her magic hat, her binoculars, some food, and some extra socks, and she headed off along the trail.

As she walked along, she was enjoying the smells and the sun and the leaves on this summer day. But she hadn’t been walking for ten minutes when whom should she see, sitting on the path ahead of her? You guessed it: the Evil Wizard, dressed in his gloomy robe, grinning at her. “What is he doing here?” she said to herself. “I fight and fight and fight this guy, and every time that I think I finally have him put away, he’s back again. I can’t believe it!” And just as she thought this, the Evil wizard darted off the path and into the forest. She began running after him, thinking, “This is it. This time, he is not getting away. I’m going to catch him, and when I do, I’m going to put him where he will never come out again. I don’t ever want to see his ugly face again.”

Esmeralda ran and ran, dodging trees, climbing up hills, jumping over streams, gaining on him, getting closer and closer. Finally, as the Evil Wizard ran around an enormous boulder, Esmeralda climbed on top of it and jumped off, landing right on top of him. He flailed around and tried to escape, but Esmeralda doesn’t lift weights for nothing, and he was caught. And Esmeralda thought to herself, “This is finally it. I’m going to put him where he will never get out.” She looked around, and right there, next to this boulder, was a hole in the ground. She dragged the Evil Wizard over to the hole, and stuffed him in. Then she looked around and spied a small rock underneath the boulder. She kicked that rock out of the way, and the boulder rolled right over the hole, sealing the Evil Wizard in.

“Phew!” she gasped. “He’s trapped now. He’s never coming out. And I am FREE!” Esmeralda turned and walked back to the trail, picked up her backpack, and started off again when she heard a sound behind her. She stopped. Slowly, she turned around… and there was the Evil Wizard, on top of a log, staring at her. Esmeralda threw herself onto the ground, pounded her fists, and kicked her feet. “That’s impossible! You can’t be here,” she cried. “How did you manage to escape again?” Then she thought, “I shouldn’t have just put him in a hole—I should have dropped him off a cliff and let him tumble onto the rocks. I should have taken him to the ocean and let him get eaten by sharks!” And then she looked at the Evil Wizard. He looked at the trail, and she looked at her watch. And she realized that she’d spent most of the day, in fact, she had spent most of her life trying to conquer the Evil Wizard, and nearly forgotten about her climb up the mountain.

Esmeralda thought about that for a minute, and then she realized something else. “Maybe trying to get rid of him isn’t the answer. If I wait to go on my adventure until I get rid of him, I might never get anywhere. Something has to change.” “Okay, Evil Wizard,” she called out to him. “This is it. I’m going on this journey, and I’m not going to let you take over. I won’t let you do anything evil, but I’m not taking off after you just because you decide to show up. This is my adventure. If you want to come along, okay, I’ll have to deal with you, but you’ll also have to deal with me.”

And Esmeralda took a deep breath, shouldered her backpack, and proceeded up the mountain. And the Evil Wizard—well, he looked around, hopped off his log, and went after her; but she continued in the lead.

Message The Persian poet Kahlil Gibran wrote of those who disagree:
“You are my brothers and sisters…, here as my companions along the path of light, and my aid in understanding the meaning of hidden Truth.
“I love you for your Truth, derived from your knowledge. I respect it as a divine thing, for it is the deed of the spirit.
“Your Truth shall meet my Truth and blend together like the fragrance of flowers and become one whole and eternal Truth, perpetuating and living in the eternity of Love and Beauty.”

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) expressed this same liberal spirit toward disagreement, calling for a kind of civility when he wrote: “We must love them both – those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in the finding of it.”

Unitarian Universalist congregations gather with an explicit covenant of civility. We promise to affirm and promote the “right of conscience,” the right of each person to their integrity. Our covenant goes so far as to declare: “Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support” (UUA Bylaws).

This civility among people who disagree was first legislated in Transylvania (now Romania) under Unitarian King John Sigismund by the Diet of Torda in 1568. The Edict of Religious Toleration of 1568, declared, in part: “… in the matter of religion… in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well, if not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore… no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone,… and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment or by removal from his post for his teaching, for faith is the gift of God…”

Liberal democracy is founded upon these principles of “the right of conscience” and the working out of public policies through representative government designed to serve “the general welfare” rather than the private interests of ideology, power or wealth. Yet, we have seen a break-down in civility with hate-radio and TV opinion-reporters and evangelical religious and secular extremists. New atheists claim that ridicule is required to address “religulous” ideas, and Tea Party activists shout down those with whom they disagree.

Incivility, fear and hate is nothing new. In the 18th century, John Murray’s preaching of Universalism in the new United States was dangerous heresy to those convinced that God would damn most of humankind to hell. Here is an account of how The Father of Universalism in America responded to incivility:

“While the Rev’d John Murray was delivering a discourse upon Universalism, some person threw a large stone at him. It crashed through the window and fell upon the floor. He picked up the stone, which weighed fourteen pounds, held it up to his audience and remarked to them, `Brethren, this is a solid and weighty argument, but it is neither rational nor convincing.’” Murray continued—speaking with the royal `we’:

“We cannot persuade ourselves that scurrilous epithets are any more rational or convincing than weighty stones. In spite of the severe visitations we have for nearly thirty years received, and which we are still receiving from professional brethren with whom we differ, we are yet of the opinion that logical reasoning is the best argument with which to disseminate truth. Ridicule, misrepresentation, abuse, everything of the kind, may be used, but they are not argument. They may, it is true, as they have done, hold the sway for the time being. It is, however, only a question of time for truth to develop itself and enlighten humanity.” (Horace R. Streeter, Voice Building, 1871)

Universalist Hosea Ballou had this to say about evangelism: “The law of heaven is love.” “Ministers who threaten death and destruction employ weapons of weakness. Argument and kindness are alone effectual, flavored by the principles of Divine love.”

I grew up within the Evangelical Christian world of revival preaching, outdoor camp meetings with rough-cut benches and wood shavings under big tents, long altar calls with all six verses of “Just As I Am” (without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me)–all six verses repeated over and over again. The guilt and fear was, in my opinion, abusive—especially to children. After college, I saved my money to study philosophy in graduate school so that I would be able to stand nose to nose with theologians and be more than an angry young man. I wanted to know the Bible better than they did. I wanted to get the monkey of a religion of fear and guilt off my back.

Today, I am able to distinguish between the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount who taught, “Love your enemies,” and the imperial conquering Christ as presented by the first-century Messianic Jews who wrote the New Testament. To ridicule Christianity whole cloth would be to throw the baby out with the bath-water.

Within this last year, I have come to a new understanding even of the theology of the cross, that an imperial God requires the blood sacrifice of his son in order to forgive sins. The more I reflect upon Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addictive behavior, the guilt and self-loathing in an dog-eat-dog society that drives workaholics and losers alike, the more I understand the function of a theology of divine redemption. No matter who you are or what you have done, the almighty king and judge of all creation declares that your repeated failings, your shameful addiction, your unnamable actions in the frenzy of war—they are all forgiven. You who can never forgive yourselves, by the sacrifice of God’s only son, the price has been paid by his blood, and you have been redeemed, forgiven, an adopted child of the king of all creation.

Not only by following the loving-kindness of Jesus, blood redemption is also a saving faith for many. Their integrity and their wholeness requires Christian redemption no less than our integrity requires Unitarian Universalism of us for our wholeness.

To ridicule the Christianity of Fundamentalists, to ridicule the Islam of the Taliban or of the Saudis, to ridicule the Judaism of the Israeli military occupation and settlements would be as misguided as to ridicule Christianity as represented by Jonestown, the Branch Davidians, or the Third Reich. Nor should we ridicule atheism based on the atrocities of Stalin or Mao Zedong. There are many versions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and of atheism. It takes suspending judgment, it takes listening and respectfully engaging believers, it sometimes takes open-hearted scholarship to discover the value and worth of others’ faith as well as the offensive qualities.

When it comes to literalist interpretations of ancient sacred texts, atheists who accept literalist readings of Scripture and ridicule Christianity, are just as misguided in their literalism as the evangelical who embraces literalist mis-readings of Scripture and cries, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.”

John Murray said, “We are yet of the opinion that logical reasoning is the best argument with which to disseminate truth. Ridicule, misrepresentation, abuse, everything of the kind, may be used, but they are not argument.”

Certainly it is easier to ridicule a person or their beliefs than to reason against the dogma of believers. The great danger of incivility is that, like Esmeralda chasing the Evil Wizard, we become like those we make our opponents. We become ideologues with whom you cannot reason.

In his Autobiography, the elder statesman among our nation’s Founders, Benjamin Franklin wrote: “Disputing, contradicting and confuting People. . . get Victory sometimes, but they never get Good Will, which would be of more use to them.”

Today we are witnessing people’s revolutions against autocratic governments in North Africa: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain. A reporter for the BBC cited a study of the relative effectiveness of peaceful demonstrations in contrast to those demonstrations that were attacked and turned into violent confrontations. Peaceful demonstrations succeeded. It seems that the cycle of violence breeds violence. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.”

Perhaps it is too easy for me to preach nonviolent resistance—work-stoppage, boycott, sit-ins and peaceful demonstrations from the ivory tower of relative peace and security in this country. However, the cycle of violence is very real. Violence breeds violence in return. What can we do?

Perhaps we might clarify our goal. Do we wish to control, to coerce others? or to share influence? The power politics of authoritarian control involves violence rather than dialogue, indoctrination rather than education, coercion rather than reason. If the goal is to share power with others for the common good, then dialogue, education, and nonviolent negotiation of differences are the means consistent with the ends.

The more we know about oppression in the world, the more we see of tragedies and atrocities and the grinding destitution and disease around the world, the more we want to change the world, not by degrees, but now—no, yesterday! We find ourselves willing to use any silver bullet, to turn the world toward justice. We want more than influence; we want control to stop the suffering.

Paul Tillich wrote: “The first duty of love is to listen.” Among Unitarian Universalists in discussion, do we practice listening around the circle? Sometimes—OK often we find it hard to listen when we think we have something that would enlighten everyone. In spite of our self-perceived brilliant insights, we would be wise to listen 90% of the time when there are ten present. “The first duty of love is to listen.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk from the Vietnam War era, advises:
“Though we all have the fear / and seeds of anger within us,
we must learn not to water those seeds, / and instead, nourish our positive qualities–
those of compassion, understanding, / and loving kindness.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

How do we change the world? I am sorry to disappoint you by saying that you and I do not have the power to control the world and independently put an end to suffering and injustice. Despite wishful thinking, and a deep longing for justice, we know this.

But our influence is far greater than we can imagine. If we practice compassion, listening for understanding, the loving-kindness that all humankind long for, both the just and the unjust, we influence the world. If we learn to live our covenant of mutual trust and support, not only with those with whom we disagree here, but also with those with whom we disagree throughout the world, we can hold one another to a higher standard of compassion and justice by our modeled behavior. Children are watching.

Piet Hein offers us a way to change the world: “If we want peace, the things we must accomplish to deserve it, are, first, to win each other’s trust, and second, to deserve it.” May we invest our energies in building the wholeness of mutual trust and support.

“Go out into the world in peace. Have courage.
Hold on to what is good.
Return to no person evil for evil.
Strengthen the faint-hearted. Support the weak.
Help the suffering. Honor all beings.”
–Thessalonians, adapted
Chalice Lighting (Opening Words):  The elder statesman of our nation’s founders, Benjamin Franklin, who was a member of Joseph Priestley’s Unitarian Chapel in London, wrote these words:  “Disputing, contradicting and confuting People… get Victory sometimes, but they never get Good Will, which would be of more use to them.”

Chalice Extinguishing (Closing Words):  “Go forth in fellowship–that quality of relationship among human beings that respects, listens, and invites hidden possibilities, and gently summons each to our better selves.” (anon)