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Worshipping Together, Witnessing Together, General Assembly 2008

General Assembly 2008 Event 4002

Sponsored by the Commission on Social Witness
Prelude: Annease Hastings, music director, Bull Run Unitarian Universalists, Manassas, VA

Introduction: Kathleen McTigue, Executive Committee, Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA)

Sermon: Rev. Dan Schatz, recipient of the 2008 Social Witness Sermon Award of the UUMA and the Commission on Social Witness: "Reflections of a Unitarian Universalist Pacifist."

Saturday morning's worship service preceding the plenary session focused on the prophetic tradition within Unitarian Universalism. After a prelude of flute and piano music drawing from diverse sources (including Japanese shakuhachi music and American folk and gospel traditions), an opening reading from the ancient Sanskrit by the poet Kalidasi, "Look to This Day," and a chalice lighting honoring commitment to the "light of truth, peace, and justice," the assembled worshippers joined in singing "This Is My Song (Finlandia)."

Kathleen McTigue introduced the speaker and award with a tribute to the Unitarian Universalist prophetic preaching tradition, quoting Abraham Joseph Heschel about the prophetic perspective of judging history from the point of view of justice, righteousness and corruption, compassion and violence. She held up key questions: "What are the truths that we hold to be most holy? How shall we live by them?" She continued, "Remember who you are. Remember that you are called to love and forgiveness, to generosity and hope, remember that you are linked to everything around you in this precious world. Remember that your life is over so quickly and so unexpectedly. Remember that you wanted to count for something important. These reminders are at the heart of prophetic preaching." She presented a plaque and a check to Rev. Daniel F. Schatz in recognition of his winning the 2008 Social Witness Sermon Award of the UUMA and the Commission on Social Witness.

Schatz began by recalling the response of Danes to the occupation of their land by Germans in 1940. They resisted, not with guns, but "with their integrity," choosing not to cooperate with evil, protecting Danish Jews—transporting all but five hundred to Sweden—and continuing to resist peacefully. "The Nazis never established control, because there was never anyone to fight," he said.

Schatz told of his own journey to pacifism, grounded not in a "fear of dying but of having to kill." He then recalled the beginning of the current war in Iraq and the expectations of a quick end, even by those who protested the invasion, with the cheerfully chatting television commentators. "We gained our innocence [on 9/11], the day we died. We lost our innocence the day we killed. The chaos that violence breeds is nearly inevitable and lasts for generations."

He called, instead, for creativity. Making war to resolve conflicts, he said, is a kind of insanity; "war at its heart is a failure of creativity." Those who oppose war are labeled appeasers, and their patriotism and sanity questioned. Peacefulness works because it changes the rules. He quoted an Isaac Asimov character who said "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." Schatz asked us to imagine the results if the American civil rights movement had not been nonviolent.

Peacefulness connects with Unitarian Universalist values of human dignity and the sacredness of life. Yet, he continued, he would not urge all to become pacifists, or even the Unitarian Universalist Association to do so. Such a "creed" would violate our creedlessness, and also violate the spirit of peacefulness. Peacefulness must be chosen freely.

He spoke then for the need to move beyond ending war, to the goal of creating peace. "Anyone can create," he said, including soldiers in war. "Even in the worst kind of war, peacemaking can take place." One of the worst tragedies of the Iraq war, he said, is that the occupiers are forced to be isolated and thus cannot do anything to create peace. This isolation also produces the conditions in which violent insurgents can thrive.

Schatz closed with a hopeful affirmation. "Anyone can create peace, give love where there is hatred. Look deep within ourselves and out into the world, and work for justice where justice is denied seeking those places where human goodness is needed and doing whatever is needed to plant those seeds. If we teach our children to be peacemakers, the day will arrive. Everyone can create peace. One day, peace will come."

After the sermon, a meditation focused on how easily we turn to violence, possibilities for choosing compassionate justice, and gratitude for the hope of "the graceful art of peacemaking" that can be chosen and practiced by each. Those assembled sang "My Life Flows On in Endless Song" and the worship service closed with a benediction.

Reported by Jone Johnson Lewis, edited by Dana Dwinell-Yardley