Prayer -- 2021 Jan 10

Dear Ground of Being:

As we are rightfully concerned for the fate of our nation, let us remember and hold in our hearts the people in places that have it much worse:
The people of Syria: displaced and ravaged.
The people from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador where so many have fled due to record levels of violence, torture and death.
The Rohingya in Myanmar escaping genocide and now displaced in Bangladesh.
The Refugees everywhere who have traveled unbelievable distances and through unimaginable harms to be turned away, silenced, detained and imprisoned.

And famine has returned. World-wide efforts to avert famine came to a blessed fruition, with the last famine being a short one in South Sudan in 2017. Now, driven by wars and the economic dislocations brought by the coronavirus pandemic, and lockdowns that inhibit aid, famine looms again. So let us remember and hold in our hearts the famine-stricken in Yemen, South Sudan, Burkino Faso, Nigeria – and 16 other countries that don’t yet but soon may be facing mass food shortage.

Poverty and disruptions from the pandemic may push 13 million additional girls into child marriages, the UN warns. Disrupted campaigns against female genital mutilation may result in two million more girls subjected to that pain, fear, humiliation, and permanent curtailment of their human expression and birthright. Reduced access to contraception may lead to 15 million unintended pregnancies. Access to the means of literacy is narrowing: an additional 72 million children may be consigned to illiteracy as a repercussion of the pandemic.

And as we in the rich countries are impatient at the months it will take for the vaccine to reach most of us, in poor country, it will be years. In many poor countries, 2021 will end before one-fifth of their population is vaccinated. Let us remember – for to be forgetful would be to disconnect, to relinquish a part of our own humanity.

Let us hold in our hearts all who suffer, for they are we. We remember, too, in gratitude, the long hours of care put in by health workers, in our country and around the world. We hold in gratitude those who grow, harvest and transport food. Our thanks to aid organizations, and to schools and teachers everywhere striving to push back the ignorance that so destroys human flourishing. Our thanks and undying gratitude to everything in the universe that made us and gave us the capacity we have for compassion, for love, for joy, for purpose and meaning.

We ask of ourselves the mindful intention to delight in what is good, to confront what is cruel, to heal what is broken.




Dear Great Mystery that was and will be and is:

Let us this day, and often throughout our lives, enter into mystery, wonder, and awe, turning over the questions:

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Yes, there are answers to those questions. A range of narrative options is available. Let us not settle on any. Let us simply hold any answer, any story – whether curt and simplified, or long, complex, and detailed – whether felt with assurance or qualified with “probably” or “maybe” – and then move past it, return to nonnarrative presence, enter again into the mystery into which the questions beckon us.

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

We don’t know. The stories and fragments of story that guide us, that help us make meaning – are always incomplete, always obscure as they reveal. Therefore, let us hold our stories lightly and amend them often, guided always by compassion, attentive ever to who is hurt, and how, and who is liberated, and how, by the story before us.

May the stories that guide us guide us toward justice. May they keep before us that the conditions of our lives today derive from and depend upon centuries of dehumanization and genocide. We shrink our souls when we forget that.

May the stories that guide us guide us to notice where fear and greed, the roots of historic atrocities, continue today in our own hearts. May they help us see where our current habits of thought exclude from reverent concern and respect. May we grow our awareness of what we place outside our circle of loving and kindly regard.

Knowing that it is from our own wounding that we wound others, let our stories guide us toward healing, toward justice. Then will possibilities of life without violence, without coercion, without fear, without greed, and without deceit unfold.

Dear Great Mystery that was and will be and is:

Teach us to tell the stories that will lead us in the ways of compassion, that will open our hearts to all the pain and oppression that is and ever was. Strengthen our capacity for reality so that we will not seek the false comfort of turning away. Open our hearts to the joy that flows in when compassion flows out. Open our eyes to see where there is hurt. Commit our bodies, and the hours of our lives, to the work of love, of inclusion, of justice.

And grant us, from time to time, the grace of setting aside all stories to re-enter mystery, to re-inhabit nonnarrative presence.



Will We Come Together?

People often come together in disaster. Neighbors who had hardly ever spoken to each other turn up with casseroles or building supplies or just helping hands and sympathetic ears in time of disaster -- right? But pandemics aren't like hurricanes or earthquakes. Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year (published 1722 about the London plague of 1665) reports, "The danger of immediate death to ourselves, took away all bonds of love, all concern for one another.” Whereas other disasters wreak their havoc quickly and are done, allowing us to come together for rebuilding, a pandemic drags on and on, inducing a gradually growing fatalism, a slowly deepening sense of lost control of our lives.

In the 1918 flu pandemic, pleas for volunteers to care for the sick went largely ignored. About 675,000 Americans lost their lives to the 1918 flu -- over 12 times the number killed in battle in World War I -- yet there have been very few books or cultural products about it. It's as though Americans, as a people, didn't like who they became. We suppressed the shameful memory of how we turned away from each other.

Yet not all Americans turned away. Then, as they are now, health care workers responded with courageous compassion. Whether their example is more widely followed today than it was in 1918 is up to us. One century ago, your 16 great-great-grandparents would have been about the age that you are today. Some of yours might have been health-care workers; probably not all of them were. Now it falls to us to step forward to redeem our great-great-grandparents who didn't. Because the neighborliness to which we are now called is apt to be an extended deployment, we will have to pace ourselves more carefully than we would for a hurricane or earthquake response. We also have technological tools for connecting and supporting each other that our great-great-grandparents didn't have.

This morning I got an email blast to all alumni of one of my alma maters from the university president. She affirmed, "I am certain that the test of this pandemic will give rise to what President Lincoln once described as 'the better angels of our nature.'"

It didn't in 1918. Let us make it so in 2020.


The Doubtless Very Different St. Benedict

Words of Alasdair MacIntyre haunt me:
What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are not waiting for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict. (After Virtue)
(Why Benedict? Benedict of Nursia [480-547] composed the "Rule of Saint Benedict", a set of rules for monastic life that were so widely adopted throughout the middle ages that Benedict is thought of as the the founder of Western Christian monasticism. For MacIntyre, Benedict thus represents the salvaging of "civility and the intellectual and moral life" and "the tradition of the virtues" after the fall of Rome.)

"New dark ages . . . are already upon us," he says. The "barbarians . . . have already been governing us for some time." It's startling to realize that he wrote this 1980.

Actually, though, this sense of decay of order is a leitmotif of the last century. In 1919, W.B. Yeats wrote:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
I am not as pessimistic as MacIntyre, nor do I find the dichotomy between barbarism and virtue quite as compelling as he does. The Greek and Roman virtues are valuable, but some newer virtues -- equality, most generally and most significantly -- are also important. Still, the sense of things falling apart has only been growing -- if not continuously for the 100 years since since Yeats wrote, then in the 40 years since MacIntyre's passage. On the right, this manifests as a reactionary urge to return to a largely imaginary period of American greatness. On the left, it is the populist appeal of that reactionary urge that occasions a feeling of civilizational collapse.

Still, I believe MacIntyre is right that, "What matters . . . is the construction of local forms of community." It is that conviction, and the desire to contribute what I could to construction of moral community, that propelled me eventually out from the academy to the congregation.

My money's on the proposition that it is we -- we who gather to share our lives, strengthen our values, and deepen our wisdom -- who are ourselves the new St. Benedict. "Doubtless very different," indeed!


Justice on Earth: Chapter 11

The 2018-19 UUA Common Read is:

This week, I’m looking at Chapter 11:
Mel Hoover and Rosed Edington, "Water Unites Us.”

Hoover and Edington were co-ministers serving the UU Congregation (UUC) in Charleston, West Virginia in 2014 when a water contamination disaster struck the area.
“Freedom Industries and the West Virginia Water Company (WVAC) allowed 4-methylcyclohexanemethano (MCHM – used for removing clay and shale from coal) to poison a water system serving 300,000 people in nine counties.” (120)
Advisories told people not to use the water for anything other than flushing the toilet and putting out fires. Schools were closed. Restaurants were ordered
“closed until the tap water was declared safe or owners could demonstrate they had enough bottled water on hand to operate. . . . Some went out of business.” (121)
WVAW’s response was slow. Though a two-day supply of water in backup tanks was legally required, there was none.

What did UUC do?

They got to work
“helping low-income families who otherwise would have to choose between purchasing bottled water and paying their rent, delivering water to those who could not get to distribution sites, and organizing and advocating for legislation to ensure safe water.” (122)
In the ensuing, and ultimately successful, drive for new state legislation requiring chemical storage tanks to be registered and monitored, “rallies, demonstrations, and press conferences were often planned at UUC and attended by UUC member” (124).

To help UUC deal with the crisis, more than $24,000 was donated to UUC from individuals and UU congregations in the region and nationally. UUC “established a Clean Water Fund and a Clean Water Task Force to administer the financial donations” (126).

Hoover and Edington remind us
“that water everywhere is at risk, that everyone is downstream from something, and nearly everyone is at potential risk from flooding . . . increases in extreme water events are projected for all US regions” (128).
You’ll want to read the chapter to get the inspiring details of UUC’s work in Charleston.

How well do you understand the system that delivers water into your home? Where does the water come from? What potentially polluting industries might be a source of toxic contamination?

What do you know about lead poison risk in your area?

(A map of lead-poisoning risk is HERE. For may congregation in the metropolitan NYC area, the map shows that a large part of the Bronx is at the highest risk of lead exposure – Risk Level 10. There’s also a Level 10 risk in much of Yonkers and parts of Mt. Vernon, New Rochelle, and Ossining. Other parts of Yonkers, Mt. Vernon, New Rochelle, and Ossining are at Level 9 risk, as are parts of White Plains, Mamaroneck, Hastings-on-Hudson, Greenburgh, Mount Pleasant, Peekskill, and most of Pelham and of Portchester. About 90% of the area of the Bronx is at Risk Level 8 or higher. More than half the area of southern Westchester (that is, south of a line from Armonk to Sleepy Hollow), is at Risk Level 7 or higher. In all of Westchester, nowhere is the risk Level as low as 1 or 2, and there are a only few scattered census tracts at Risk Level 3. All the rest of the county is at Risk Level 4 or higher for lead. Community UU Congregation at White Plains is in a tract assessed at Lead Risk Level 4. To our southeast, the tract on the other side of the Hutchinson is at Lead Risk Level 6. Just north of us, the tract through the middle of which Bryant Ave runs, is at Lead Risk Level 7.)

What should you know about the factors for lead-exposure risk? What actions are called for?

For my reflection/summary on previous chapters, click the title:
  1. Jennifer Nordstrom, "Intersectionality, Faith, and Environmental Justice"
  2. Paula Cole Jones, "The Formation of the Environmental Justice Movement"
  3. Sheri Prud'homme, "Ecotheology"
  4. Sofia Betancourt, "Ethical Implications of Environmental Justice"
  5. Adam Robersmith, "Cherishing Our World: Avoiding Despair in Environmental Justice Work"
  6. Peggy Clarke, Matthew McHale, "Becoming Resilient: Community Life for a New Age
  7. Kathleen McTigue, "Drawing on the Deep Waters: Contemplative Practice in Justice-Making
  8. Pamela Sparr, "Transforming Unitarian Universalist Culture: Stepping Out of Our Silos and Selves
  9. Kathleen McTigue, “Learning to Change: Immersion Learning and Climate Justice
  10. Peggy Clarke, "Eating the Earth"


Shared Planet. Shared Faith. Reflection #2.

Rev. Meredith Garmon
All-Westchester Worship Service
2019 Mar 17

I'm mindful that as we gather to worship and reflect together on our Earth and our faith, our hearts are also carrying the fresh wound of Friday’s shootings at mosques in New Zealand. Fifty are dead; another dozen are in critical condition. While Australia has tight gun control policies, New Zealand is at the other end of the spectrum, similar to the U.S.

Our own country has been under a scourge of gun violence for some time – a shadow that will not lift. On the occasions of such shootings we hear people say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families.” We may also hear, “What good are your thoughts and prayers?”

Indeed, it’s tempting to be cynical about public statements of prayers being with. While we can pass no judgments on the sincerity of anyone’s prayers, we may suspect that many of these prayers are doing nothing to transform, deepen, or even connect the pray-er. We don’t know -- though it has occurred to me to wonder -- how much prayer actually happens. The prayers we are told are with the victims and families, in some cases, perhaps, are never prayed. If they were, we might see greater commitment to the holy tasks of building beloved community: reducing violence, fostering respect, ending injustice, making peace, strengthening institutions, developing practices of neighborliness, joy, and sustainability.
Our Earth needs our prayers.

Our Earth and all its peoples, all its inhabitants, all its life – need our prayers – because our daily lives push and pull at us with a constant flow of concerns, issue, matters to be dealt with, meals to fix, dishes to wash, jobs to do. If we do not pause, step back for a few minutes every day, to remind ourselves of what we want to our lives to be beyond to-do list, reconnect with the big picture beyond the minutiae of each day, reorient ourselves to the love that we are here for, then our spirits are not sustainable.

You can make your house fully solar powered – get rid of your car and walk, bicycle, carpool or use public transportation to get around – eat vegetarian because 15% of greenhouse gases come from the meat industry – plant a tree every day, grow your food, remove plastic from your life.
You can reduce your carbon footprint and your net resource consumption and pollution to zero. You can do all that and still not be living sustainably if you aren’t taking times for quiet reconnection to, and reaffirmation of, what’s the meaning of your life and the joy of existence.

Our energies will flag if our spirits are not sustained. Worse, we may be driven by anger and frustration and fear and set back the very causes to which we vociferously declare our allegiance if we do not maintain the spiritual work of keeping ourselves grounded. It’s not that anger and fear don’t have roles to play. The wholeness of our humanity makes a place at the table for the voice of every emotion to be heard. But the beloved community is not constructed where the loudest voices are fear or anger.

The Earth needs us, and it needs our spirits sustained for the long work, and so, it needs our prayers. It needs not the claim of prayers that substitute for action but actual prayers enabling and energizing action: strengthening our resolve, deepening our grounding, and bringing cheer to the work. So let us pray.

Shared Planet. Shared Faith. Reflection #1

Cindy Davidson
All-Westchester Worship Service
2019 Mar 17

As Unitarian Universalists, we are often called to minister to a weary and unjust world…. And we do rise to the call for justice!

Over the years, we have learned we do our best justice work when we leave behind any tendencies to swoop in as experts and try to fix things, and instead, we build relationships and partner with impacted communities.

We do this, in part, by centering the voices of those most marginalized and by flanking their leadership. We become allies, even accomplices, at times, for the good of all. The same is true as we work together to create climate justice.

Among the many on the frontlines of climate change and injustice are our children, youth and young adults. Because their physical presence, feelings, and energies are absent in today’s line-up of speakers and musicians,

I want to at the least lift up the words of two young climate activists.

Greta Thunberg is a Swedish fifteen-year old who began in August 2018 to skip school on Fridays and sit outside the Swedish Parliament protesting their inaction on reducing carbon emissions. You may have heard she was nominated last week for the Nobel Peace Prize. She addressed leaders of the 2018 United Nations Climate Talks last December and the World Economic Forum in January. There, she said,
“Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic....I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act...I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.”
What began as her solitary action spawned a global movement: Fridays for the Future.
This past Friday, an estimated 1.4 million students skipped classes to attend 2,052 organized protests in 123 countries.

Columnist Rebecca Solnit, writing in The Guardian, recognized these climate strikers as “the force of possibility that runs through the present like a river through the desert.”

Thirteen-year-old Alexandria Villasenor is part of that force. She is a native of California whose family relocated to New York City so she could breathe more easily. She has followed in Greta’s footsteps and spent every Friday since December outside the UN headquarters protesting their inaction on climate change.

In a recent interview for The Nation, she said,
“It’s important to take action now, because we don’t have time left. By the time the youth are in positions of power, it’ll be too late to reverse climate change. We have to force politicians to start acting on climate change.”
When asked why she wasn’t in school, she replied,
“Why go to school if we won’t have a future? Why go to school if we’re going to be too busy running from the next hurricane or fire?”
She is one of three organizers of the US Youth Climate Strike and was, I imagine, among the many students in New York City on Friday protesting at schools, City Hall, and Columbus Circle, before staging a mass die-in on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History.

Would you, could you, do the same? How might you amplify this force of possibility, and step into the “present like a river through the (parched) desert?”

I encourage you to take more than just this moment and our time together today to reflect upon the fears and courage demanded of those whose future unfolds amidst such unimaginable change and uncertainty. We do owe them and all beings a livable climate.

As Greta Thunberg reminds us, “The one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.” So then, tell me, and tell the children, tell the youth, and tell the young adults, and tell each other – what actions do you intend to take in your one life to help build today’s movement and create climate justice?

For your acts are their hope today and for tomorrow’s tomorrow.


Greta Thunberg, TEDx Stockholm, Nov 24, 2018

Greta Thunberg, COP24, UN Climate Talks in Krakov, Poland, Dec 12, 2108

Greta Thunberg, World Economic Council in Davos, Switzerland, Jan 23, 2019

Rebecca Solnit: “Thank you, climate strikers. Your action matters and your power will be felt.”

“Why Go to School When You Have No Future?” A Q&A With a 13-year Old Climate Striker