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General Assembly 2012 Event 402
We are called to cross borders. Unitarian Universalists (UUs) around the world are involved in that work everyday. Some borders are between countries, others are theological. Some borders are marginalizing, and many are fraught with challenges. This morning we’ll celebrate the strength and courage of UUs crossing borders around the world.
The Coalition of UU International Organizations is honored to bring you this morning’s service in collaboration with two of our international partners: Francisco Javier Lagunes Gaitán, leader of Libre Congregación Unitaria de México and Olga Flores, leader of the UU Community of Bolivia.
BETH NORTON: 2002, at the General Assembly in Quebec City, the Reverend John Gibbons recited the Szekely Aldas or Hazi Aldas, the house blessing, in English and in Hungarian during a plenary presentation for the Transylvania Partner Church Council.
That same summer, the choir of First Parish in Concord, Massachusetts, was preparing for our first musical pilgrimage to Transylvania and to Szekelykeresztur, our partner congregation. I was inspired to write music for that blessing, a partner song celebrating the relationship between our partner congregations. Each melody and each congregation possesses its own identity, beauty, and strength. But together, they are so much more.
REVEREND ERIC M. CHERRY: I remember an inspiring story that Unitarian Universalist minister Reverend Carl Scovel once told about how love breaks down doors, metaphorically and literally. In this story, a spouse in the midst of mental and physical crisis steadily pursued isolation, going so far as to ignore requests to talk and to quite literally lock himself in his bedroom, perhaps more importantly to lock everyone else out.
In this story from parish life, Carl described how his wife warned this man and then broke down the door with three swings of an axe. Love breaks down doors, metaphorically and also literally.
In the same way, faith breaks down borders. It crosses borders metaphorically every time that a spiritual certainty, a religious idea, or a dogmatic position is confronted by a new one. The source of the new idea could be your next door neighbor or your spiritual neighbor halfway around the globe. That is a kind of faithful border crossing.
But faith also crosses borders quite literally when Unitarian Universalists carry their faith with them across geopolitical, social, economic, and other kinds of real borders. Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists from Transylvania and Mexico and Bolivia do so this very day. And multiple others from places as diverse as Burundi, Hungary, India, Uganda, the Philippines, Germany, and God knows where else have as well in just the past few months.
Sometimes these border crossers meet obstructions, like severe or harsh and unjust visa requirements. Sometimes they meet frightening immigration officials who interrogate them extensively or dismiss them with hardly a word. Other times, they meet warm hands and smiling faces, welcoming arms and open minds. Sometimes they meet all of this in a 24 hour period.
Faith also crosses borders every time a father tries to traverse the Sonoran desert because his family is in desperate need of a wage earner. Faith crosses the border every time a Guatemalan woman is dropped off penniless, starving, and injured in Nogales after 180 days of US detention. Faith crosses borders in thousands of circumstances and meets unknowable contexts. And so we can say that faith crossing borders is often an act of courage and as natural as love breaking down doors.
As we gather for worship this morning, let us embrace the voices and the multitude of voices they represent, explaining how Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism are crossing borders today and tomorrow. And may we be inspired by the countless ways they portray how we can hold each other and people across every border in love and faith. Come, let us worship together as border crosser of faith.
REVEREND ZOLTAN KOPPANDI: Spirit of life, we are here in this place to worship you and to try to maintain a strong religious community. Our hearts are filled with gratitude as we call on you and look into each other's faces. We open our hearts and souls and invite you to inspire us, to care for us each and every day.
We would like to experience the love of all creatures great and small, the peace—the inner peace—the deep faith, the feeling of togetherness, and the continuing guidance of your caregiving power in our lives. We light this chalice as a symbol of our faith. We hope this light can guide us in our everyday lives. We hope this flame can be a guide for all seekers on this Earth. We trust that it can be our light in times of darkness.
Dear God, we light this candle, but we don't want to put it under a bushel. We rather will hold it high because it will give light to everyone. We want to reaffirm, here in this place, that we don't have to be ashamed of our faith. We don't have to stay in shadows.
Our religion has so many values that we can be proud of. We want to speak out loudly that we believe in our unitarianism, our universalism. We believe in our UUism, and this can be an answer to the challenges we face in the 21st century.
We believe in or common vision for the years to come. We believe in visionary people who can inspire us with a "we have a dream" attitude as we strive for beloved community. We believe that our faith can keep us, even in the midst of great suffering. We believe that the very essence of our faith, our conviction about religious tolerance, and our firm attitude in support of liberty of conscience can make a real difference in this world. We believe that our community can be a religious community which can do good in each local neighborhood.
Righteous and Almighty One, in a special place, this ground made holy by our intentions, we want to feel that we belong to each other. Please help us to feel these in our inner self. Help us to strengthen this feeling every time we have the opportunity. We want to be candles. We want to be chalices whose lights are shining so that other people might see our good actions and might glorify creation.
Inspire us to be stronger communities, better people who make a difference. Let us be a loving and caring community where sisters and brothers who might not think alike are still able to love alike. Let us worship in spirit and in love. Let us pray together. Let our souls be fed by the spirit of this moment.
We give thanks for this opportunity. We give thanks for this gathering. May it be a blessing in our lives, a blessing on our congregations, and bless our prayers. So be it. Amen.
REVEREND KELLIE WALKER: Please rise in body or spirit to sing "Let Freedom Span Both East and West." This melody is based on an African-American spiritual with words written by Jacob Trapp in the mid-20th century. We honor the anonymous people who, though they struggled during the time of slavery, created powerful and beautiful music that still lives on today.
FRANCISCO JAVIER LAGUNES-GAITAN: Nowadays, Mexicans are in a moment of violence in our immigration rates to the US. But our liberal faith is slowly but steadily crossing the cultural border southwards, into Mexico's mind, heart, and life, luckily, on its way to get full citizenship.
FRANCISCO JAVIER LAGUNES-GAITAN: Well, thanks to the internet, some of us got to know the Unitarian Universalists's great, deep theology, inspiring poetry, well-crafted sermons, illuminating jokes, and visions of wonder, open hands in action for human rights, full equality, and social justice—a glimpse of a liberal, religious community of real praxis.
But where to begin in order to create a Mexican all-native Unitarian group? We began with an invitation in some email groups, and there we are. In February 2006, we lit the chalice of our living tradition, and then, regularly—twice a month—since then, teachers, computer wizards, thirsty seekers, activists of social justice—we are experiencing spiritual growth in our coming together, sharing our religious home and finding our own collective soul as Libre Congregacion Unitaria de Mexico.
We are crossing the cultural border with a post-Calvinist faith into a growing post-Catholic society.
FRANCISCO JAVIER LAGUNES-GAITAN: The critical assimilation of our liberal religious faith and practice is beginning a conversation with our sensibilities, our history, our own native religious liberal traditions, and references. We are crossing the border of class and preaching with feet and hands, reaching out to some of the most neglected people in our society. Our emerging group supports prison education ministry in two prisons in Mexico City for four years now.
FRANCISCO JAVIER LAGUNES-GAITAN: There, they badly need and greatly appreciate spiritual empowering resources and humanist tools for critical thinking. There, we promote sexuality education with the perspective of sexual justice and rights. Our whole lives, in colloquial Spanish, will be soon lo que es nuestra vida.
FRANCISCO JAVIER LAGUNES-GAITAN: Now, I want to share with you these words by Mexico poet Rosario Castellanos. against In her poem, "Meditation on the Brink," she said, "No, it's not a solution to throw oneself under a train as Tolstoy's Anna or gulp down Madame Bovary's arsenic or await on the barren heights of Avila the visit of angel with a fiery dart before binding one's veil back over one's head and starting to act. Not to deduce geometric laws by counting the beams of one's solitary confinement cell like Sor Juana did. It's not a solution to write, while company arrives, in the Austen family living room or to shut oneself up in the attic of some New England house and dream with the Dickinson's family Bible under a spinster pillow. There must be another way that's not named Sappho or Mesalina or Mary of Egypt or Magdalene or Clemence Isaure. Another way to be human and free. Another way to be."
FRANCISCO JAVIER LAGUNES-GAITAN: It is my pleasure to introduce to you my friend and colleague Hal Walker who is Director of Music at the UU Church of Kent in Kent, Ohio. He wrote this wonderful song, "Praise Song," which can be sung with just a trio, an ensemble, or a full choir. I'm happy that we have a whole group here of UU Musicians Network folks to sing it for you today.
Although the struggle against oppressive institutions and racism must still go on, we all yearn for the today when we really are all treated equally. And as Hal's song says, we're just people.
OLGA FLORES: Every day, thousands of migrants, risking their lives and in terrible conditions, gross borders to reach the land of their dreams. What attracts people to migrate are the lifestyles, the commodities of the rich countries, the ability to earn money to buy things and to escape from poverty.. In the contemporary world, despite the current economic crisis, the lifestyle of people in the rich countries is the prevalent paradigm.
The paradigm of life in our times—a legacy of modern and industrial society—is the constant development and the economic growth to live in comfort with a high level of consumption. All countries in society, even the communists, seek to achieve this sort of development. Profit and high consumption are not only the driving force of this kind of development, they are also the supreme goal of this philosophy of life, which leads to the whirlpool of insatiable need for consumption and its consequences for our environment.
Religions have no longer provided interpretations of existence, giving sense to our human life and creating certain philosophies of life. Our secular society has long ago given up practicing certain virtues which were suggested or required by religious institutions. We have adopted new practices no longer dictated by religion, but the rationality of science.
The new religion is consumption, and its cathedrals are malls where people go not just to satisfy their material needs, but many artificial needs created by the machinery of advertising. The desire of unnecessarily material goods to satisfy hedonistic ends outstrip the desire to satisfy spiritual and cultural needs.
In the ancient times, the promised land was freedom from slavery. Now, we can say that economic development is the promised land of our times. It is the departure point and the final destination of all. That's why our world is classified in terms of developing and under-developing countries. Behind this development lies the philosophy of profit and consumption, which is destroying our planet, because it's valid to do whatever you want to earn money.
What's more true and right is no longer articulated by the divine right of kings, but by the economic power of corporations, who dictate our norms of behavior. This is the new catechism. The catechists include those who advocate for totally free markets, for accumulation of capital by a few, and for the need to convert all nations to these primary goals.
In this system, there is a huge gap between the supplying of material needs and the feeding of more intangible needs which are cultural and spiritual in nature. This imbalance these two such disorder in human beings, that each day the number of people who are divided within themselves grows and grows. We are divided against ourselves, fragmented within, and suffer from an existential vacuum, because in reality, we are body and spirit. We need to eat food, but at the same time, we need to feed by joy, peace, and other non-material goods.
Economic development can easily be compared to fair tradition. The new dogma of development, preached by the mass media and the propaganda, are believed and trusted, just as in former days, people believed and trusted the clergy and church. On one hand, we are very proud to have given up the magical thinking, superstition, miracles, which were at the center of many religious traditions in our view. Yet, on the other hand, it's not difficult at all for us to believe almost everything we hear through mass media, especially anything written by scientific journals.
OLGA FLORES: The heretics of our time are no longer speaking against the trinity. The true heretics today are those who still refuse to incorporate into the sacred cause of economic development.
OLGA FLORES: The current inquisition and the repression is aimed against indigenous people who fight development projects that damage the area, is today in Bolivia, who are opposed to the construction of a roadway which will destroy rivers, forests, and biodiversity in the Amazon. As in the past, our martyrs spoke against from outside of the logic of mainstream thinking.
Now, indigenous people speak against the orthodoxy of economic development that is being imposed on them. In Brazil, they are fighting against the construction of a mega hydroelectric river dam that will destroy their land. In Ecuador, they are struggling to protect their lands from the ravages of petroleum extraction. In Chile and in Argentina, they are trying to stop the mining industries that destroyed the glaciers.
They defend not only their land, but also a way of life that respects and reveres nature. They want to live in ways that honor life, which do not just see nature as a sort of profit or commodity. They want to live under a different life paradigm and a different understanding of time, in which days are not divided into hours and minutes, but in which days are lived as days.
OLGA FLORES: They want to live in a different kind of relationship with nature, considering rivers, forests, and mountains not as commodities or resources, but as beings and entities which represent and hold different qualities of existence. Rather than watch the news on TV, they would rather watch the sunrise, or clouds moving across the sky.
OLGA FLORES: Countries and borders are human creations, demarcating territories and false temporal powers. We've come to believe that countries and borders we live within have always been defined this way. We have engaged in wars to defend these imaginary borders. But these borders are actually imagined, illusions that we accept event to the point of preparing our young ones to kill to maintain these borders.
Our countries are human creations that are only a few centuries old, while borderless spaces always existed, long before our existence, and surely will exist long after our deaths. The rivers, the forests, or the migratory birds do not have any nationality. They live within none of our borders, as our souls also cannot live within these borders.
This is why the Unitarian Universalists of the world, and of Latin America in particular, affirm the principle respect for the interdependent web of existence, of which we are a part. In this way, we participate in movement and actions to defend the integrity of ecosystems and biodiversity, to stand against predation and the destruction of nature.
This year, Unitarians in Bolivia joined in supporting the Eighth Indigenous March in defense of indigenous territory and National Park Isiboro Secure— TIPNIS. We walked nearly 500 miles together with 1,000 indigenous children, women, and men to try to unify the spirit of Bolivia. And we have seen that we can have an impact.
After 60 days of walking, when the March arrived in La Paz, almost the whole population of the city received the marchers with bread, jewels, food, toys for children, flowers, song, and much emotion. In that way, we reached the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
Our Unitarian identification with the Guarani tribe, one of the largest and most spread in South America, is why we congregate for a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. So we are searchers. And they are searchers too. Their sense of life is to walk, I mean always, toward what they call the Land Without Evil. They do not set boundaries. Their lives are a pilgrimage to the transcendent.
Today, I bring to you this inspiration from the Guarani tribe—"May we walk toward a land without evil."
[APPLAUSE AND CHEERING]
REVEREND STEVE DICK: We turn inwards.
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: In reflection, in meditation, in prayer, thinking and feeling, alone.
REVEREND STEVE DICK: But knowing we are always together with everyone on this celestial Island we call Earth.
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: There are more—so many more—people here than those we see around us.
REVEREND STEVE DICK: We reach out in concern.
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: Crossing a border. We speak out in dialogue.
REVEREND STEVE DICK: Crossing a border. We offer our love and support.
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: Crossing a border.
REVEREND STEVE DICK: Stretching, growing, risking.
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: We cross a border and live from the other side.
REVEREND STEVE DICK: We have become—
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: The stranger, the immigrant, the refugee.
REVEREND STEVE DICK: We are now—
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: The wounded, the frightened, the hungry.
REVEREND STEVE DICK: We live—
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: The fraught existence of the alien.
REVEREND STEVE DICK: Soon we return to the comforts of the familiar.
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: Safe in the security of not being the stranger.
REVEREND STEVE DICK: But transformed nonetheless—
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: By crossing the border—
REVEREND STEVE DICK: In our minds and hearts.
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: Crossing the border—
REVEREND STEVE DICK: That divides humanity into friend and foe.
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: Crossing a border—
REVEREND STEVE DICK: That leaves so many outside.
REVEREND STEVE DICK: That separates and fragments.
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: We reach out.
REVEREND STEVE DICK: We speak out.
TOGETHER: We share in love, pulling, stretching, challenging the border—
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: Until that which alienates us—
REVEREND STEVE DICK: In our own souls—
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: And in the boundless community of life—
REVEREND STEVE DICK: Is transcended—
REVEREND JILL MCALLISTER: So there our no borders to cross—
TOGETHER: Because we all have learned to live as one. Blessed be.
REVEREND KELLIE WALKER: I like to add some hand motions when we sing "From You I Receive." These gestures are somewhat adapted from American Sign Language. Some are my own. So we're not doing an actual translation of the piece. But "from you" will look like this. From you—so we bring it in—I receive, to you I give. Together we share, and from this—like you're holding something heavy—we live.
Please rise in body or spirit. We'll sing it twice through.
REVEREND GARY SMITH: We have come together to share our deepest concerns, speaking and singing words of inspiration and hope. We have committed ourselves to do what we can to ease the burdens of those who suffer, to stand for decency and compassion. We have pledged to work for a more wholesome environment, for us and for all the generations that will follow.
But these are just words. The hymns we sing are just songs. All are reflections, are just idle thoughts. When we convert them all into loving and responsible action throughout the week, then and only then will this morning become what we want it to be—a time of worship.
CAROL HUSTON: And so, we go forward on this day to a day of witness and service, to lives of witness and service. And as we do that, may the voices empower us—voices we have heard from far and wide proclaiming prophecy in our hearts.
May the songs we hear be songs of justice. May our thoughts, even idle thoughts, focus on equality for women and men around the world. And may our worship here, among kindred spirits, provide for us the peace that fosters compassion and the power that fosters courage for the work of creation and crossing borders that is still ahead of us. Go in peace and go in power.
[SPEAKING IN HUNGARIAN]
[SPEAKING IN SPANISH]
CAROL HUSTON: Please say it together, all of us, say to each other in whatever language is your own and whatever language you choose, go in peace and go in power. Go in peace and go in power. Shalom, salaam, so be it, and amen.
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Last updated on Monday, October 1, 2012.
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