Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sacred in the Ordinary

Unitarians have been arguing about miracles for a long time[i]. We like science and reason, and miracles almost by definition defy reason. Our Unitarian tradition has folks like Thomas Jefferson, who often attended a Unitarian Church before he became president and created a book called “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” by carefully cut all the miracles and supernatural events out of his new testament with a razor blade. We have spent much of our history cutting out miracles and arguing that when the Gospel of Matthew says “ behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.” the star might actually have been a comet, and so not a miracle at all.[ii]

On the other hand our UU tradition includes those, like the transcendentalists who were such an important influence on the Unitarians for the 19th century, who would argue that we don’t see miracles only because the world is so full of miracles that we’ve become immune to them. Instead of trying to disprove the miracles of the bible we would ask “what is not miraculous about a comment in the night’s sky?” Ralph Waldo Emerson In his “Divinity School Address” at Harvard in 1838 explained that “ [Jesus] spoke of miracles; for he felt that man's life was a miracle, and all that man doth, and he knew that this daily miracle shines... [miracles are] one with the blowing clover and the falling rain.[iii]

On the one hand Many Unitarians over the past hundred years or so have looked, for example, at the Nativity story and critiqued the virgin birth and the songs of angels as being without evidence and defying reason. I believe, on the other hand with the great UU Religious Educator Sofia Fahs that Jesus birth was a miracle, because every birth is a miracle. Fahs writes:

For so the children come
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come
Born of the seed of man and woman
No angels herald their beginnings.
No prophets predict their future courses.

No wisemen see a star
to show where to find the babe that will save humankind.
Yet each night a child is born is a holy night,
Fathers and mothers—
Sitting beside their children’s cribs
Feel glory in the sight of a new life beginning.
I believe a miracle did happen in Bethlehem many years ago, because I believe life itself is a miracle.

Science has measured and catalogued the progress of life in the womb, and life on our planet, but when you trace everything we know all the way back to the moment when the inanimate becomes animate, when a collection of genetic material turns into a human, that moment is still surrounded by mystery, and scientists are humbled by all we still do not know.

The word miracle comes from Latin miraculum "object of wonder" and from mirari "to wonder at, marvel, be astonished," [iv] The coming of new life into the world is both ordinary and amazing. The predictability of it does not make it any less marvelous; all the data we have collected about it does not make it any less wonderful, unless we let it.

Consider the Christian nativity story. Scholars of history tell us that many great religious leaders have very similar birth stories- suggesting that the miraculous birth story is more archetype than historical account. (We don’t really know even what season Jesus was born- early Christians celebrated variously in November, March, April and May.) Looking at the nativity story as an archetype rather than a journalistic report, we would expect the angels, we would expect the wise men traveling from afar to see a prophecy fulfilled. But what about that manger? Why doles Luke tell us that: “she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4–7)” Why lay the babe in a feeding trough? That piece is not part of the birth stories of other important figures- they are unique to this one.

While very few of us still have livestock in our lives any more, the manger would have been quite ordinary in the time of Jesus’ birth. Many of the people hearing the story would know what the inside of stable looked like. They probably knew what it smelled like too. Some of them probably even had the job of shoveling out a stable, or feeding their animals in a manger. I think it is precisely because the manger would have been so ordinary that it suggests something significant- that miracles can happen in the most ordinary of places.

There is an important theological question at the core of this: do we believe that the ordinary and the holy are very separate things? Or do we believe that God is inseparable from the world. As the great Universalist preacher Hosea Ballou pondered:
Is [God] not perfectly joined to his creation? Do we not live, move and have our being in God? …to take the smallest creature from him, … you have left something less than infinity.” (Treatise on atonement P. 81-82)
If the divine, if the spirit of life, is woven into every atom, then every life is a miracle. Your life. My life. And every moment of that life can be a cause for awe if we look at it right.

As the poet Anne Sexton proposes in today’s reading, the eggs you cook each morning can be a chapel. “All this is God” she writes “right here in my pea-green house…and I mean, though often forget, to give thanks, to faint down by the kitchen table in a prayer of rejoicing.” [v] Sexton eloquently describes the spiritual practice of noticing the sacred in the ordinary. You don’t need special gear or training to connect with the Spirit of Life, it is available to all of us in every moment. You don’t even need a minister. We gather in community on Sundays not because this is the only way to access the Spirit of Life, but because we remind one another that even in these dark and difficult times, the sacred is all around us. Because, as Sexton suggests “The joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard, dies young.”

Like our Baptist, Quakers and Mennonite neighbors, some folks call the way we worship “low church.” We worship in spaces that are relatively plane. We tend to have fewer rituals and traditions thank congregations called “high church.” Our minimalist worship style has roots in the Protestant tradition which theorized that all the icons and idols and robes of the high church tradition sometimes create a barrier between the people and the spirit. Our branch of the Protestant Family tree had kind of a “back to basics” philosophy that would allow us to be spontaneous and give a sense of freedom to our religious life together.[vi]

In seminary we talked a lot about ritual – about what makes worship powerful and how to keep worship from getting stale, how to keep it relevant. We inquired what parts of tradition could be discarded and what grounded us? One of the professors encouraged his students to use very ordinary objects in worship. He scandalized some by proposing a Dorito communion- saying he wanted a ritual that followed us into our daily lives, that if we ate a Dorito on Sunday for communion maybe each time we ate a Dorito we would remember our connection to the divine and one another. For what we do together on Sunday to be truly relevant, we want whatever is good about what we experience together in worship to leak out into our lives all week long.

As today’s readings imply, our feelings of awe don’t require the presence of angels, but a “towel, newly washed” can inspire awe and gratitude. We didn’t miss the last miracle if we weren’t there the night that Jesus was born, because we experience a miracle every time we look into eyes of a baby. Gifts of Gold Frankincense and myrrh are more important than the sorts of gifts Befana brought, help for a new mother with sweeping up, or changing a diaper, calling a friend who is sick, a warm bowl of soup, or a hand written letter, a moment of quiet.

So in this time that the Christians know as advent, I encourage each of us to be on the look out for the sacred in the ordinary. As we consider the star in the east that guided the wisemenn, let it be a reminder to us to gaze at the special way stars twinkle on a crisp winter’s evening, to savor a true moment between you and your family on a Tuesday evening. These moments are as unique as each one of us, so I invite you into a time of guided meditation….

Come to the Ordinary: A Guided Meditation by Janet Corso

Use each your senses and your imagination to picture in your mind's eye the following:

Sound: Hear.. the ordinary
  • the sound of a gentle rain - peepers on a Spring night - the crunchy sound of footfall on snowy February day
  •  a clock ticking in a silent room
  • the wind soughing through white pines
  • a screen door opening and banging shut
  • church bells off in the distance
  • now imagine, and hear, another ordinary sound - one that you particularly love
Touch: Feel the ordinary

  •  the elasticity of bread dough
  • the warm embrace of someone you love
  • pulling on thick, clean socks
  •  standing under a hot shower 
  • the warm body of a pet snuggled against you
  • laying your tired head down on your pillow at night
  •  now imagine, and feel, another ordinary feeling - one that you particularly love
Sight: See the ordinary
  •  a brilliant blue May sky and the bright green of new grass
  • the hand of an elderly person you've loved: veined, with papery thin skin
  • two persons greeting with joy at an airport
  • sun glistening on icy trees
  • candles flickering in a darkened church
  • yellow daffodils dancing in a stiff breeze
  • now imagine, and see, another ordinary sight - one that you particularly love
Taste: Taste the ordinary...

  • · milk chocolate melting in your mouth - cold water on a hot day
  • · salty tears of joy
  • · biting into a drip-to-your elbow peach
  • · tartness of a lemon
  • · the first sip of morning coffee or tea
  • · now imagine, and taste, another ordinary thing - one that you particularly love

Smell: Smell the ordinary...
  • · clean sheets, line dried outside
  • · bacon frying
  • · the piney smell of a real Christmas tree
  • · incense rising at a liturgy or service
  • · an orange as it's being peeled
  • · a newly powdered baby
  • · now imagine, and smell, another ordinary sight - one that you particularly love
Now go to your life ... your ordinary life... see in your mind's eye your daily rounds, your usual activities.

What do hear? Smell.., feel ...taste? What do you see about you that gives you comfort, gives you solace, reminds you?

Allow God to enter into the space of your days hear what God says about your ordinary life, your ordinary days, How are they good?

How does God identify you by your days? How does God rejoice in what you love?

End notes
[i] for a wonderful overview of the whole debate, see
[iv] (in Church Latin, "marvelous event caused by God"), from mirari "to wonder at, marvel, be astonished," figuratively "to regard, esteem," from mirus "wonderful, astonishing, amazing,

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Honorable Harvest (November 20, 2016)

Harvesting Wild Edibles I’d never heard of ramps before I moved to Ithaca. They are a kind of wild leek that often grows by the side of the road, or under a tree in the woods in our part of the world. But over these past 10 years Ramps have become so popular, you see recipes for them in Huffpost[i] and the New York Times. I imagine this is part of our “field to table” ethic that has become increasingly popular; we love the idea of foraged food, vegetables that grow wild in the forest. The problem is that ramps are becoming extinct. We are literally loving them out of existence. The wild plants grow very slowly, taking up to four years to flower and reproduce. Americans are used to being able to buy pretty much any fruit or vegetable we want any day of the year. We are shocked when we find an empty place in the grocery store where strawberries or apples or grapefruits usually are - even if the produce person assures us they are expecting a shipment tomorrow. It is trendy, now, to crave locally sourced seasonal foods, and this has its roots in our desire for a new, more sustainable food ethic, but unfortunately we are taking our supermarket habits out into our local ecosystems which follow other rules.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, who wrote today’s readings, is a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation. She writes:
“Collectively the indigenous canon of principles and practices that govern the exchange of life for life is known as the Honorable Harvest. They are rules of sorts that govern our taking, shape our relationships with the natural world and rein in our tendency to consume—that the world might be as rich for the seventh generation as it is for our own. [p. 180]
Regardless of how you voted in the presidential election, I think everyone agrees that we are living in an important crossroads. The choices we make in the present always impact the future, but things are changing so quickly in our world that this appears to be a particularly critical time. I believe that each of us is called to work to steer this change in a positive direction, and I believe that there are at least as many ways to lend a hand as there are people. I was lucky to have the chance to study with Buddhist teacher and activist Joanna Macy. She is one of the folks thinking about how to create a cultural shift that would take us in a sustainable direction. She describes 3 different approaches to guiding this change.[ii]

The first is “Actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings.” This includes the things we usually think of as activism – calling your senator, picking up a sign and heading to a protest. This is the kind of work our state wide UU legislative advocacy groups do. UUPlan, here in Pennsylvania, Interfaith Impact up in NY state. [hold up brochures] Macy calls these “holding actions” actions that say “this far and no farther.” If we wanted to make sure ramps would be here in the twin tiers each spring for our children and grandchildren, this kind of approach might involve working with county officials to create some kind of law against picking ramps on public land until the population could return to normal. Or creating limits like we have for hunting and fishing.

To make such activism truly meaningful, and not just a gesture of political showmanship, we would have to understand something about ramps. We would have to learn how they grow, how quickly they can recover when harvested, and what conditions they need to thrive. Therefore the second path of the Great Turning is “Analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives.” Sometimes we are so busy arguing about our legal territory, we don’t really know which actions are going to lead to substantive change. I bet we can all think of an example of a piece of legislation that helped politicians with their poll numbers, but didn’t really fix the problem it was designed to solve. To make our actions truly effective, we need to study, and observe, and listen. We need to experiment with new ways of doing things, and see what works.

Project Grow is one of the ways we do that here in this church. While there is a strong history of family farms in the Valley, the younger generations have lost the knowledge and wisdom their parents and grandparents learned through years of experience about how to grow food here. Project Grow is trying to find ways to help all of us understand that food doesn’t come from a store, it comes from the earth, from seeds planted and tended. To this end we have built community gardens where anyone can come and plant and tend and then take home part of the harvest of fresh food. Project Grow is also a teaching program, helping kids learn how to cook their own fresh foods, through the Mad Kitchen, and helping teens get job skills by tending our gardens in the Summer YTI program, and an exciting new hydroponic program coming to the Waverly High School Green House.

One of the core values of Project Grow is[iii]:
“Responsible land use includes agricultural practices that protect and nourish nutrient-rich soil, beneficial insects, local wildlife, and local flora and fauna within our valley watershed.”
So we use Permaculture techniques like Berm and Swale and the 3 sisters to embody our values in our gardens. And after a season of harvesting the abundant fruits from our gardens, at this time of year we take time to put the “beds to bed” making sure we give back to the soil so that it can have something to give us when the earth wakes up in the spring.

Our values shape the work we do, so beneath our work on holding actions, and our analysis, must be a clarifying of our own values, and making sure those values will save humanity and the whole biosphere for 7 generations. So the third and final path is working toward a Shift in Consciousness. We must make sure that the way we think about the world is a way that will lead us in a positive direction.

Kimmerer notes that in indigenous cultures, what the earth offers us, whether that be wild strawberries, ramps or sweet grass, are considered gifts. And a gift implies gratitude and reciprocity. When we buy leeks at the grocery story, we feel the transaction has ended once we have exchanged our money for our consumer product but a gift “establishes a feeling bond between 2 people”[ p. 26]. When we forage ramps from a woodland park , or from the side of the road, do we understand this as a gift that establishes a bond between us and the ramps? Between us and the land? As we harvest those delicious ramps and begin to imagine the meal we will make with them, do we also imagine what we will give back in return?

Kimmerer asks “How, in our modern world, can we find our way to understand the earth as a gift again, to make our relations with the world sacred again? I know we cannot all become hunter-gatherers- the living world could not bear our weight- but even in a market economy, can we behave ‘as if’ the living world were a gift?” [p. 31] If we were truly able to make this shift of consciousness- to see ramps as a gift instead of a product, it would have ripples that would affect our actions every day. This is where we come in as a people of faith. Could we UUs help one another and the larger community shift our consciousness so that we see every ramp, every apple, even the oil we pump into our cars as a gift? What would it mean to receive both fruits and fuel oil in gratitude and reciprocity to the earth?

I would argue that every action we take grows from our vision and values; every action has its roots in the consciousness we cultivate. If we spend time deepening our consciousness to really understand our place in the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part, we increase the odds that our research actions and our holding actions will bear the fruits we really need, rather than a reflexive protection of the way things are now.

This Summer, at General Assembly, the UU world will have its first chance to vote on whether to change our first principle from “the inherent worth and dignity of every person”, to “the worth and dignity of every being”. This proposed change of wording represents an evolving of our shared consciousness.

Says Macy: “The realizations we make in the third dimension of the Great Turning save us from succumbing to either panic or paralysis. They help us resist the temptation to stick our heads in the sand, or to turn on each other, for scapegoats on whom to vent our fear and rage.” The panic and fear we have watched sweep over our country during this last presidential election cycle shows us that there is much work to be done here. It feels to me like we are a culture whose values have come loose of their moorings. As people of faith, we must be take the time to know deeply our values, and to reflect them and show them in all the circles in which we move, whether on Facebook or in the garden.

Macy is clear that all 3 ways of working for positive change, which she calls “the great turning” are important. There are an infinite number of “battles” we could fight right now. Or, to use less militaristic language, there are many seeds we could plant. Some will feel called to those holding actions- whether you feel called to protest the LPG storage facility that jeopardizes our fresh water and farmland around lake Seneca, or to visit your state legislators to ask them to pass laws that will protect the human rights of LGBT neighbors and Friends. Some of us will be called to Analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives. Whether you feel called to teach a young person build a burm and swale garden for the community, or to analyze the flow of rivers and creeks to manage floods in the coming decades. Or perhaps you want to start with that important conscious-shifting work of re-visioning our human place in the great web of being, imagining a way for our children and the children of all the beings who share life with us take the time to weave a shared vision of our path into the future.

This year as we sit down to a Thanksgiving meal, let us wonder together what we can do to make sure that even 7 generations in the future our people will also know the gift of a full pantry, and a full plate. I challenge us to do something more than just wish that this will be so. This year, as we put our gardens to bed, our root cellars and grocery stores heaped with winter squash and apples and leeks, let us receive all that abundance as a gift- a gift that implies reciprocity and gratitude, and let us begin to imagine how we can give back in return.

[iii] Project grow is based on 4 values:
Growing a family garden instills familiarity and respect for healthy diets and local food sources.
Working together in a garden bonds both family and neighbors through mutual labor and reward.
Quality local food sources should be available to community members at reasonable cost regardless of income or social status.
Responsible land use includes agricultural practices that protect and nourish nutrient-rich soil, beneficial insects, local wildlife, and local flora and fauna within our valley watershed.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What is a Unitarian Universalist to Do about Evil? (November 6, 2016)

Unitarian Universalists have trouble with Evil, my teachers in seminary explained to us. Our movement was born as an alternative to fire and brimstone theologies that spoke of the sinfulness of humankind, and the real threat of hell, and the temptation of the devil. We strive to be a faith that is not about sin and guilt. We, as an alternative, offered a theology of a loving, forgiving god (from the Universalists) and a positive view of human nature and progress. The humanists taught us that the world is in no hands but ours, so we better get started building a world of justice and compassion.

But how can we work for justice if we can’t see clearly the broken-ness of our world? 15 minutes of watching the evening news shows us a less hopeful side to our human nature. In 1913, the Rev. William Wallace Fenn, a Unitarian Minister, wrote of this faith:
“We must seriously question whether [this faith] can bear the weight of the tragedies of human experience. Does not its amiable faith in inherent goodness appear but a ghastly mockery when confronted by the facts of life. And what of human sin? Here more than anywhere else, the weakness of Modern Liberal [religion] shows itself. It may be conceded that traditional theology made too much of sin (and evil), but surely that was better than to make light of it.” [i]
 One of the most disturbing “tragedies of human experience” in the last 50 years is the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Our faith must be able to hold even something as appalling as this. In her book Finding Beauty in a Broken World Terry Tempest Williams Writes-
 “This is a hell of our own making – those who killed and those of us who looked away. No surgical strikes, computerized or digitized by military minds and top gun pilots, the eyes of these killers were on the eyes of those they killed. By hand. One million Tutsis were murdered in 100 days. Their killers were neighbors with farm tools, machetes, and hoes.” [p. 227]
How does it happen that an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans could be killed during in 100 days? Although history tells that the genocide was planned by political elites in the Rwandan government, huge numbers of ordinary people were swept up in the homicidal urge, neighbor attached neighbor, even clergy were involved in the killing. Historian Omer Bartov explains that in the 19th century German and Belgian missionaries to Rwanda favored the Tutsis as being more European. In the 1950s a new generation of missionaries a backlash “that identified the Tutsi as culprits in Rwandan history while ignoring exploitation by the German and Belgian colonial rulers. Hence when a Hutu uprising occurred in 1959, attacks were directed against the Tutsi rather than Belgian administrators. The inaccurate ideal promulgated by the missionaries that the Tutsi had grossly exploited the Hutu for centuries continues to shape Hutu understandings of Rwandan History and eventually became a primary ideological justification for genocide.” [Finding Beauty in a Broken World  p. 305] This false rhetoric was cultivated and fanned for generations, until the fire was easy to spark in 1994.

In those 100 days, every manner of atrocity you can imagine occurred. I will spare you a description of them this morning. As many as 70% of the Tutsi and 20% of Rwanda's total population were killed in those 100 days. If that is not evil, I don’t know what is. We can’t blame this on one evil supervillain, but a rushing river of systemic forces that swept up ordinary people into the killing frenzy where ordinary civilians committed evil acts against neighbor and friend.

What do we believe about evil? UU theologian Rebecca Parker answered that “We believe evil is trans-personal, that it exists in structures and cultural systems outside ourselves. We believe that all humans have the capacity for a huge range of good and evil.” Humans aren’t evil, but they can do Evil and participate in evil. Parker clarified that Evil is NOT a transcendent being that takes control of us – we are not a fait that speaks of devils and demons - but I wondered, but when we get swept up in an evil system, is that really so different than being possessed by evil?

When we consider an evil act, we reflexively look for a single individual to blame and punish. But this belies the complexity of how evil enters the world. Every person, ever event happens in a web of other people and events. The Rwandan Genocide is one dark dark place in the human history of this century where it is very difficult to narrow the blame, because so many thousands were swept up in what are surely evil acts. There is blame to go around, not only for the political elites, not only the armed militias, not only the ordinary civilians that took up violence against their neighbors, not only he churches that fomented and encouraged this ideology and violence, not only the missionaries who first taught that the Tutsi’s were the source of all that was wrong in Rwanda, but all the countries, including our own, who had the power to act but instead watched without speaking up, without intervening, as the evil spun out. Certainly individuals were to blame, and individuals were punished.  The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda met for 20 years, convicted 61 individuals[ii]. But just this summer the U.N. Committee Against Torture warned that acts of violence and incitement to hatred against the ethnic Tutsi minority in Burundi could develop into genocide. Jens Modvig Chair of the The U.N. Committee Against Torture told reporters that “you could consider that systematic torture directed towards certain political and ethnic groups could be an early warning sign of a process that could deteriorate into genocide.”[iii] This I believe that this is what Parker meant when she said “We believe evil is trans-personal, that it exists in structures and cultural systems outside ourselves.”

I have been wrestling with this sermon for months, trying to pin down and articulate exactly what evil is- how to define it, how to know it. I have finally resigned myself to the fact that evil is a mystery. It does not announce itself like the super-villains in the comic books. I think if we were going to create a character to portray this abstract concept, it would surely be a shape-shifter, sometimes charming and logical, sometimes an ugly monster, and sometimes an ordinary neighbor. That is why I changed the title of the sermon from “What’s a UUto Think about evil” to “What is a UU to do about evil”. And the answer must be…resist.

We resist by speaking up. My teacher Don Bisson pointed out to in one of his lectures that one of the signs of evil is that people seem to go silent around it. So one of the most important ways we can resist evil is to speak the truth with love. That makes sense as a survival instinct- if you saw a man with a gun pass you in a dark alley, your survival instinct would tell you to get super quiet. I will tell you honestly I really struggled with the sermon this week. So many times as I was writing it I thought “They are going to be mad at me for saying this.” But as UUS we are called to give voice to those very things that make us nervous. Be very suspicious of things on one is talking about, about things people try to shush when you speak them. When we had our recent safe congregations training, one of the things our trainer emphasized was the power and danger of secrets. Abusers rely on the silence of those they abuse, and on the silence of those family and friends and co-workers who suspect. Children are taught these words “no- go- tell”: to say no to the thing that makes them feel unsafe, to go away from the situation, and then to tell someone they trust. That’s good advice for us adults as well.

We resist by speaking the truth with love. In seminary when we were taught to “speak the truth with love” we were counseled that both parts of the sentence are important. It is definitely possible to speak the truth in such a way as to cause or perpetuate evil. Part of the reason I a giving this sermon today, 2 days before the election, is because people on both sides of the election have said some really horrible, unkind things about the other side. We live in a time when it has become okay to say- in public - the meanest, most cruel things one can imagine. Why, as a culture, have we decided this is okay? We can’t really think it serves the good, can we? Do we believe that once someone has done something we dislike, that no words can be too cruel? That those who displease us deserve to be punished and we ourselves can do no wrong in the punishing? Or is it that we don’t consider the ethics of our actions because it has become culturally normal? This distinction is critical, because evil is seductive. For those 100 days in Rwanda the most stunning acts of cruelty had become culturally normal.

When we try to beat evil at its own game, evil wins. When we fight a bully by bullying back, evil has won. When we avenge violence with violence, evil has won. One of the most seductive ideas is that if we are good, and our cause is just, then whatever we have to do to win is good and just. “Genocide depends on raising voices,” writes John K Roth, “It cannot exist unless divisions between people are constructed by speech, fears are expressed in ideology and propaganda, and killing is unleashed by voices that proclaim it to be necessary” [Finding Beauty in a Broken World  p. 307] I’m not trying to equate online bullying with genocide, merely to suggest that we have a responsibility to resist even with our small acts, because we never know how the seeds we plant will grow. All the great evils of history begin with small casual acts.

We resist by remembering that no people are disposable. This should be natural for us if we remember our first principle “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” Every person. Even those whose lives seem purposeless to us. Even those whose choices seem wrong to us. Even those caught in the crossfire of our righteous acts. We can never become comfortable with the idea of collateral damage. When waste of life becomes easy, when waste of life seems like a normal part of doing business, then we risk becoming that which we seek to resist.

We resist by refusing to demonize the other. Jungian thought suggests that much of what individuals think of as “evil” is really our own shadow. Much of what we hate and fear in the world, Jung suggests, we project onto others who inhabit those characteristics we reject in ourselves. Consider the Hutus who were taught and believed that all their difficulties came from the Tutsis. The Tutsis, scapegoated for all the evils of Rwanda, were then no longer human, no longer had any human rights. And because the Hutus had good on their side, and the Tutsis were cockroaches, there was no limit to the evil that could be perpetrated even on innocent Tutsi children. UU was founded on the belief that we humans are not 2 distinct camps of people- good and evil, saved and damned, worthy and unworthy. We resist the characterization that some people are humans and others are demons. Because as we have seen in all the great atrocities in Western history- from the Nazi concentration camps, to the African Slave trade, to the Native American genocide, once we have labeled a human being as something less than human, it becomes easy to excuse evil acts against them. Moreover, if we project evil onto others, it is easy to overlook it in ourselves.

So we resist, as the 12 step programs suggest, doing a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Williams writes “if human beings are capable of mass murder within mass hysteria, then I, too, as a human being, am also capable of such things. My only protection is my independent mind. Fear is the mechanism used to get both the masses and the bureaucrats, clergy or clerks, to carry out the anonymous orders of those in power [Finding Beauty in a Broken World p. 307] “ I sit with my own demons as I wonder what violence I am capable of. None of us is immune from inhabiting the dark corners of human nature.” [p. 275]

We resist sitting with our own demons, by doing our own inner work. For example, it is very common for kids who were abused to grow up and abuse their own children. This cycle of abuse can best be interrupted by the adult who becomes conscious of their history and behavior, and chooses to do whatever is necessary to break the cycle and create a new more healthy pattern. If we do our own inner work, reclaiming and integrating our own shadow, then we can, at least, reduce the amount of evil each of us does in the world.

Finally, we resist by not letting evil set the agenda. Evil is seductive, it can be fascinating. But you can’t fight evil with evil. We resist evil by changing the conversation, pointing the system toward health and growth and beauty and life. because whatever we give our attention to is what we are nurturing. So plant and nurture the seeds you want to grow. Earlier this year I showed you the video of Lily Yeh creating public art in broken places like Rwanda. She writes “we want to create. We long to create. We can transform a very bleak situation into a place of joy and color. … When your environment is beautiful, it gives you dignity. You feel more dignified and your sense of self-esteem grows. All this is nurtured from working together. Seeds. Planting seeds of beauty helps the tree of community with all its branches to grow.” [Finding Beauty in a Broken World p. 270] It would be so easy, and understandable, for those who experienced unimaginable suffering in Rwanda to devote their lives to vengeance. But many are devoting themselves to restoring life to their battered communities, to building a new life for their children who paint visions of the future in colorful murals on the walls of the survivor’s village.

Unitarian Universalism must be a faith can bear the weight of the tragedies of human experience. While we focus on compassion and truth, reason and beauty, we must not be afraid to resist evil in all its guises. Let us resist by speaking the truth with love. Let us resist by refusing to demonize the other, because we know that great evil can be done by those who think they have the right on their side. Let us resist by doing a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Let us resist by noticing the seeds of good and the seeds of evil in ourselves. As the bible says [Deuteronomy 30:15] "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil… I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live."

[i] (thanks to my colleague Craig Schwallenberg for this quote)