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UU Service Committee Report, General Assembly 2014

General Assembly 2014 Event 503

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This report is part of a longer event. Go to General Session VII for the complete video and order of business.


JIM KEY: Now, please, give a warm welcome to an old friend of the UUA. Well, I shouldn't say old in terms of age, but a long time friend of the UUA—the Rev. Dr. Bill Schulz, President of the UU Service Committee. The UUSC and the UUA are working collaboratively together, as evidenced by the jointly sponsored college of social justice, which you'll hear from a little later this morning.

One of the first notes I got, soon after my election, was from Bill, inviting the UUA Board of Trustees to join his staff and the board members at the UUSC, to underscore this renewed spirit of collaboration. Please welcome Bill Schulz.

BILL SCHULZ: Thank you, Mr. Moderator. Good morning to you. Here is the most dazzling philosophical retort I have ever heard.

Now, we all know that mathematically and linguistically, a double negative amounts to a positive. If I say, I don't think you are not an idiot, you ought not to be flattered. The great linguistic philosopher J.L. Austin was once lecturing at Columbia University and made the assertion that though two negatives make a positive, it is never the case that two positives make a negative—

BILL SCHULZ: To which a member of the audience, Sidney Morgenbesser—himself, a great philosopher—shouted, yeah, yeah. When I read that story, many years ago, I decided not to become a philosopher. I was just not smart enough. I had never been good with numbers or computational logic or math. In fact, I flunked Algebra 1 in high school and had to attend summer school, the only compensation for which was that Tippy Canfield, the most beautiful 14-year-old girl in Pittsburgh, did too. My parents could not understand, that summer, my newfound passion for algebra.

Nonetheless—nonetheless, this morning, in an attempt to confront my numerophobia, I'm going to show you some numbers because they tell more quickly than words, alone, can what a remarkable organization the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is. Here's the first one. 75—that's how old we'll be, this coming year.

Here's another one. 30%—that's how much our budget has grown since 2011. 81%—that's how much of that budget we spend on helping people, and only 19% on overhead. And it's one reason that we received, this year, a number of which we are particularly proud, four—that's the number of stars we've been awarded by Charity Navigator, for transparency and efficient use of funds. It's the highest rating you can get. It means that every penny you give UUSC is spent wisely and productively.

But how many people do you really help, when you help UUSC? Most of us know that we work in four program areas—the human right to water, economic justice, political liberties, rights at risk from human or natural disasters, such as our new work with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. What you may not know is that we do that work in 15 countries and the United States, that we do it with 55 program partners around the world, and that 2/3 of our work is international, and 1/3 is domestic.

Here are some numbers that give you a little sense of our success. 200—that's the number of former child slaves in Haiti to whom we've taught a sustainable trade. 2000—2,000—that's the number of people whose farms we are rebuilding in the Philippines, following the typhoon there. 10,000—that's the number of Haitians we've treated for trauma over the years, since the devastating earthquake hit Port-au-Prince.

$600,000—that's the amount of back wages we've retrieved, so far, for poultry workers in Arkansas whose wages the big poultry companies have stolen from them. 1 million—that's the number of trees and seedlings we've planted in Kenya to reforest the land there. $27 million—that's the amount we forced a corporation called Goldcorp to pay to clean up the water supplies of 18 communities of Mayan Indians whose water had turned toxic by the runoff from Goldcorp's mines.

Now, we remember that Joseph Stalin famously said, one death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic. So enough with statistics. Enough with numbers. But I hope they give you some sense of how effective and far reaching your Service Committee is.

I want you to be proud of all that is being accomplished in your name. And in a moment, Kathleen McTigue, the director of the UU College of Social Justice—a joint program of UUSC and UUA—will tell you how you can do justice directly, if you want to. But finally, I want to tell you why UUSC exists in the first place, why I have done this work for justice for 50 years, and maybe why you have too.

It came to me in an instant, about 10 years ago, in the middle of a horrendous refugee camp in Darfur, Sudan. 90,000 teeming people who had been burned out of their villages, their menfolk murdered, many of their women raped and battered. It was in that camp that I met a young woman who, amid the squalor and degradation, her clothes, such as they were, tattered and falling off of her, but who wore around her neck a lovely piece of jewelry—just glass, no doubt, but a turquoise colored glass that sparkled constantly in the relentless sun.

At first, I thought it was a religious symbol, and I asked our Arabic speaking translator to ask her what it was. She says, it is me, he told me. At first, I didn't understand and thought she had simply said, it is mine, and that he had mistranslated.

What did she say, I asked, did she say it is hers? No, he said definitively, she said, it is me. And suddenly, I understood. I've led such a blessed life—two loving parents, no experience of want.

The gift of the sun has never been a threat to me. My life has rarely been in danger. I kiss the Earth with my gratitude, the gifts of creation mine for the asking.

But when you are in a refugee camp with nowhere to shelter, the gift of the sun becomes not a blessing but a curse. When you are in constant fear for your life, the gifts of grace—a starry night, a baby's coo, the color purple, your lover's smile—the gifts of grace are almost impossible to see. They are there, but they are hiding behind toxic water and men with machine guns and only bread, if that, to feed your family.

This piece of jewelry, this small sparkling piece of glass around my neck, this is me. This is how I know that though I am near brute flesh, bone, water, swollen tongue, excrement stained thighs, my most private parts exposed for all to see, that though I am brute flesh right now, in this horrific camp, I am not just those things, and there is more to life than this. There is also flash and color, dazzlement and decoration.

I can wear a piece of turquoise glass around my neck and call it beautiful. I can wear a piece of turquoise glass around my neck, to remind me of the gifts of grace. This glass is me because even here, I am a human being still.

That's why UUSC exists. In that instant, I understood why I did this work and maybe why you do too—to give back, of course, for my good fortune, but even more than that, to do what I can to strip the varnish from life's blessings, to take down the walls that block its favors, and to defeat all of that which would blind us to creation's grace, so that at the end of the day, at least a few more people might know its comfort, and at least a few more people be able to say, I am a human being still.