“Uncle Sam wants you to stay a dummy”

fencesWe have all seen pictures of “the wall.”  Usually, the pictures are taken in isolated desert areas with no sign of nearby human activity.

But, the wall is not just a barrier, or a fence.  The wall between the United States and Mexico is creating a Stammlager (you may be more familiar with the shorter version, Stalag). These were the camps the Nazis used to hold prisoners of war. Of course, Germany was not alone.

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America is not inexperienced when it comes to fencing in prisoners of war.  This country illegally interred more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans whose only crime was their ethnic heritage.  Thousands of German-American “enemy aliens” were also arrested and interred in 1917, when the U.S. entered World War One.

But now, we are building the biggest fence against our enemies in history. Who are these enemies? Not terrorists – most of them enter the country through visas, or are homegrown; not the drug dealers – most of them arrive via plane or boat; and not most human traffickers – their clients are wealthy businessmen with plenty of money to protect their modern-day slaves from detection.

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So, who are the prisoners of war being detained in Stalag 1776? Not the Mexicans, the Hondurans, the Guatemalians, or indigenous peoples fleeing violence in their homes – violence too often funded by the U.S.  No, the prisoners are you and me, and every American who does not speak out in opposition to the growing police state that is America. We are prisoners of a war of fear, a war of capitalist imperialism, a war of racial bigotry.

The title of this posting came from the back of a shirt worn by one of the managed migrants paraded before the federal judge on February 12.  I honor this man’s courage to wear such a message while imprisoned by vast paramilitary forces of our country.  Uncle Sam does want you to stay ignorant, to remain complacent, to focus on the needs of yourself and your loved ones.  To hell with these u wanted illegals, with their diseases, their gangs, and their drugs.

I say, to hell with Uncle Sam – an outmoded symbol of American imperialism.  Let us return to the Statue of Liberty, who greeted so many of our own ancestors to these shores.

The American Reich

20190213_101309Migrants entering the United States face an incredible array of personnel and technology.  Beyond the standard local police, county sheriffs and U.S. marshals, they must also evade the Border Patrol.

Close to 20,000 border patrol agents stand between a migrant and the dream of living and working in America.  Border Patrol trucks are everywhere in southern Arizona, some hauling horse trailers so agents can get to off-road locations.  Checkpoints – permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary stop vehicles on roads and highways.  Towers dot the landscape with motion and heat detectors.  Once located, quickly dispatched helicopters locate whoever is walking in the desert.  One must wonder how any migrant escapes their surveillance.

20190213_153319.jpgAnd what does it take to become a border patrol officer?  A six-month course (only recently expanded from three months) and passing a test.

In Nazi Germany, many men failed the entrance exams to become soldiers of the Wehrmacht.  Thousands joined Ordnungspolizei units – police battalions often stationed in the Eastern front.  There they traveled from town to town rounding up enemies of the Reich and shooting them, filling mass, unmarked graves in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere.  Report of Ordnungspolizei brutality only came to light decades later in Daniel Goldhagen’s book Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

The Southern Borders Community Coalition reports 83 deaths of migrants in the past eight years at the hands of border patrol agents, along with many reports of brutal treatment.

One must wonder how these vast resources could be used in a more constructive, humane, and moral way.

One World

Kenneth Patton was one of my ministerial heroes. At the core of his theology lay the idea that all people share a common body of symbols and concepts. These shared icons, often articulated through art, unite us in purpose and community.

16145160_10211987048219858_1759818400_oWhen people seek to divide us, they treat those symbols as inviolate.  In reality, however, art is art and the symbols all represent the same human feelings and behaviors: Love each other; Do no harm; Respect the world; Honor the gifts each of us brings.

On this eve of leadership transition in the United States, the forces of disunity seem strong, almost insurmountable.  Our President Elect seeks unity through fear, acceptance through intimidation, and equality through benevolent despotism.  The challenge looms large.  We are justifiably frightened for the future.  The course of events leaves us bewildered – how did this happen?

Our new President happened because we allowed fear to cloud our reason. We failed to take a stand when oppressed neighbors suffered intimidation.  We confused volume with truth and celebrity with competence.

And so, we march.  Tomorrow, I join hundreds of thousands on a pilgrimage to our nation’s capital.  We march to take back the symbols of universal humanity from those who would desecrate them for profit and sustained privilege. We march for love, for kindness, for respect, and to honor our inherent worth and dignity.

Patton asked the question, “What is equality?”  He answered that nothing is equal since every creature is unique and unmatchable.  At the same time, everything is equal because every creature is equally unique and unmatchable.

America is already great.  Our wondrous diversity makes us strong.  Our commitment to democracy, freedom, and equality leads the world.  And our journey toward Beloved Community and a religion for one world offer everyone hope for tomorrow in spite of any setbacks.

Christmas Message for Modern Times

Billions across the earth celebrate the birth of a child. Some doubt the accuracy of factual details of the event. Others question on the nature of the child and the circumstances of his conception. Centuries of scholarship and spiritual contemplation failed to resolve different interpretations of the child’s purpose and of his eventual actions as an adult.

Nearly everyone can agree, however, on one thing. Whether you are a Christian, Muslim, or Jew, whether you follow Buddhist, Hindu, or no religious teachings at all, we can all agree on this specific aspect of the life of the man known as Jesus.

Early in his ministry, this wandering rabbi preached a message to the people. He preached from the hilltops and from the valleys. His message resonated with every person largely because other prophets had preached the same wisdom throughout the centuries. And in 21st century America, this message rings especially true.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Jesus lived in a world where the privileged held reign over the oppressed. He foresaw a time when all their wealth, power, and military might could not prevent their eventual downfall.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

Jesus called out the hypocrites, the policy makers who dined in fine style while the poor made do with the scraps. He preached fairness and equity for all the people.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

The arrogant leaders, distant from the faith and dedication of the people, thought they controlled the truth. Jesus did not mock or threaten others to serve as an inspirational leader.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Truth is not whatever reality most benefits you. Truth is truth. Jesus showed that true leadership consists of honesty, openness, and candor regardless of the consequences.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

Jesus spoke truth to power, never backing away from the challenges of scribes and Pharisees. He never sold his principles for comfort, advantage, or influence.

Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

The Golden Rule is the single most universal ethical belief of humanity. Jesus lived this ethic and taught others to do the same.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.

Hold people accountable, but always do so with love and understanding. Jesus held malice in his heart for no one and yet stood on the side of love opposed to all oppressive authority.

castingoutmoneychangersNear the end of his ministry, Jesus demonstrated that we cannot achieve justice passively, and that we must sometimes meet oppression with active resistance.  Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying…he said, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.”

After his active resistance to the corrupt bankers and priests, Jesus taught in the temple and healed those who came to him seeking cures. He told the crowds that the scribes and Pharisees tie up heavy, hard to bear burdens and lay them on the shoulders of others to carry. They exalt themselves, claiming great deeds and the best seats in the synagogue. Jesus called them blind guides and fools, for they valued the gold and not the sanctuary that made the gold sacred. Instead of tithing, Jesus called on the self-indulgent and greedy to practice justice, mercy, and faith.

Prophecy. Christmas celebrates a world-changing event in the past. But Christmas also commemorates the spirit of the man born under that star. Christmas proclaims the message of brotherhood and sisterhood among all people, and compassion for every person, whether poor or sick, hungry or hated.

So, honor the wonder of birth this Christmas season. May you see in every child the promise of a great life of service, a great love of others. Honor the child – wherever and whenever born – as the symbol of hope for billions born into poverty and oppression. Then, honor the person that child then grew and now grows to be; the one who then taught and will now teach the beatitudes of unconditional love; and who will always sacrifice everything to show us the meaning of justice, of mercy, and of faith. May we honor those teachings every day of the year and find the courage to stand up publicly for those principles.

I Am…

As a Unitarian Universalist, I draw ethical and spiritual inspiration from the wisdom of all religions. One gains an insight when studying comparative religions; the world’s major faith traditions share most of the same fundamental principles. Love your neighbor. Care for the sick, the poor, the oppressed. Do not kill. Love your enemy. Speak the truth. Do not steal. Love unconditionally.

“Do not wrongfully consume each other’s wealth, but trade by mutual consent. Do not kill each other, for God is merciful to you.” Sura 4:29

Sacred texts of the world’s major religions vary widely. Some combine history and theology. Others resound like lyric poetry. Most include mythic tales, riddles and parables. All provide instruction on mindfulness and spiritual practice.

Most important, religious writings challenge readers to think, to feel and to act. Possessing only right belief does not make one truly religious. Empathy and kindness alone cannot produce complete salvation. And correct action without knowledge and belief is like a foundation of brick without water and cement. Spiritual growth requires exercise of the mind, the heart and the hands as one.

“Be good to your parents, to relatives, to orphans, to the needy, to neighbors near and far, to travelers in need…God does not like arrogant boastful people, who are miserly and order other people to be the same, hiding the bounty God has given them.” Sura 4:36-37

Studying religious texts presents a special challenge to the student. Each work resides in a past time, reflects ancient contexts and suffers human frailty in translation and interpretation. Subsequent to the writing of every major religious work, questions arose causing scholars to amplify, clarify and even correct previous understandings. Out of this expansion of spiritual insights emerged countless denominations and sects within all the major faiths.

The metaphor of stone tablets ignores the reality that every religion represents a living tradition, ever changing, ever growing. For religions to remain vital, spiritual practice must recognize changing times and adapt to each new generation’s capacities and needs.

Underlying these swirls of change, however, lie immutable principles — rules of decency, goodness and basic common sense — to which we all can agree. Despite our human history of violence and war, we possess the ability to dialogue, to compromise and to reach mutually acceptable rules for living.

“Repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend…only those who are steadfast in patience, only those who are blessed with great righteousness, will attain to such goodness.” Sura 41:34-35

The shadow of fear now cloaks America. Some use fear to divide us, to set us against each other, and to maintain historic systems of oppression. America must strive for better. Our greatness does not lie in our wealth; the world does not respect us because of our power. America endures because its arms embrace the refugee, its blood pumps the beat of freedom and its eyes see a future of equal opportunity and equal reward for all dedicated to its principles. We must never look backwards for our greatness. America’s greatness lies in its future — a time during which all people will be treated with inherent worth and dignity.

Achieving this future will take a revolution of the mind, the heart and the body. In other words, America’s future depends on a spiritual awakening that respects all religious voices and rejects any notion of dogmatic truth. Joining together in unity and cooperation, our faith traditions can tear down the walls of separation and break the chains of conquest, manipulation and cultural invasion.

“There is no cause to act against anyone who defends himself after being wronged, but there is cause to act against those who oppress people and transgress in the land against all justice…” Sura 42:41-42

I am not a Muslim or a Christian. I am not a Jew, a Buddhist or a Hindu. But I find much of worth in each of these religions and in their writings. As such, I am to some degree a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist and a Hindu. I am a Sikh, a Jain, a Taoist and a Confucian. I walk the path of Shinto, the Goddess, the Creator gods of all cultures and the Oversoul by all its names.

If our president-elect pursues the registry of Muslim Americans — an idea he repeatedly suggested during his campaign, and which his transition team continues to discuss — then I will be the first in line when the government officials come to Midland. I will stand with my Muslim brothers and sisters not simply because it is the just action. I will stand with my Muslim neighbors because I believe in what they believe and I love them as kindred souls.

By whatever name we use, each of us experiences transcending mystery and wonder during our lives. Regardless of our culture, each of us faces opportunities to renew our spirits and guide us on our path toward enlightenment. Our current national climate will test our resolve to love unconditionally, and it is up to each of us to rise to that challenge.