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Topic “Minister's Message”

Taking Hope

Below is Rev David Schwartz's column in the January issue of Contact, our church newsletter. It is, to say the least, worth repeating.
From the Minister
"Hope happens exactly in the middle of difficulty.
A 36-year old geography teacher named Scott Warren joined with others in the activist group No More Deaths—a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist church in Tucson—to provide food and water to those crossing this country’s Southwest border.
In the summer of 2017, during an intense heatwave, the government we elected directed our Border Patrol to set up surveillance of Warren. We caught him in the act of providing food, water, and clothing to two migrants who had walked from Central America. Having caught him, the government we elected charged Mr. Warren with three felonies. We prosecuted him for providing humanitarian life-saving aid to the stranger. For two years, we prosecuted him for being the good Samaritan.
Just over a month ago, in his second trial, the jury emphatically declared him not guilty. He went free. The work of No More Deaths continues.
F Scott Fitzgerald wrote “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
When we tell the nativity story on Christmas Eve, we rarely dwell on the very next event to happen in the Gospel from Matthew. In his telling, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled to Egypt within 24 hours of the birth, escaping a tyrannical king bent on genocide. It was, for them, hopeless, and yet they were determined that it should be otherwise, as it is for countless refugees today.
In a world that is volatile, complex, unpredictable, uncertain, in lives that are not guaranteed peace, or tranquility, or even the promise of real justice, we a people who believe in hope exactly in the midst of difficulty. We light a chalice each week in the service in part because we are called to be light-bearers to one another.
The poet Jan Richardson writes:
Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
who testify
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow
and grief.
Blessed are you
in whom
the light lives,
in whom
the brightness blazes—
your heart
a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith
in stubborn hope
in love that illumines
every broken thing
it finds.
In hope,
Rev. David"

Minister's Message

Reverend Schwartz's message in the November newsletter is unusually lengthy. Worth the read, of course, but painful. His words remind us of what we would rather not think about and forces us not only to be aware and to care but to figure out what we can do to end this nightmare he so aptly describes. David's references are listed in the actual article; click on CONTACT to see them.
From the Minister
"Our nation runs internment camps for children where seven and eight year-olds sleep on concrete floors without soap, or toothpaste, or recreation, in windowless buildings where the lights remain on 24 hours a day. We inter children and adults in conditions that violate the Geneva convention for war prisoners. We treat migrating unaccompanied children worse than we would treat enemy soldier captured while actively trying to murder Americans. These internment camps may have no medical personnel or showers. People are housed a week at a time in standing-room-only cells. Our government has declared it will not provide flu vaccines; lice is rampant. When food is low, adults are fed a bologna sandwich for every meal.

To be clear, these are not prisons: the people inside them have not been convicted of a crime and are held there indefinitely. There is another name for this, and it is concentration camps.

Concentration camp is an uncomfortable word, and it is an inescapable word. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a concentration camp as: "A camp where persons are confined, usually without hearings and typically under harsh conditions, often as a result of their membership in a group which the government has identified as dangerous or undesirable." To call these concen-tration camps is not polemic or political: it is descriptive.

Why do we run concentration camps for immigrants?
For hard-headed, straightforward, pragmatic reasons! We are told that if security is tighter, fewer people will attempt to enter the country. If parents know they might be separated from their kids, fewer will enter the country. If asylum rules permit asylum-seekers in, fewer will enter the country.

Those justification—repeated by politicians and talking heads, by columnists, by friends, by family—take the form of a thoughtful, considered reasoning. But they are actually an attack on your core person; they are a method of deactivating your moral sensibilities.

Moral disengagement is the name for how we convince ourselves that ethical standards don’t ap-ply. Moral disengagement is an attempt to deactivate and disengage your internal moral controls that takes the form of a logical, reasoned argument. There is a part of you, a still small voice within you that says, hearing the conditions of the concentration camps: this is clearly absurd and inhumane.

And it’s terribly simple: you just disconnect your moral reaction from the immoral thing you’re seeing. You re-frame the behavior in a way that makes it acceptable without changing either the behavior, or your moral standard.1 We’re still good people, we still believe in being good to kids and in welcoming refugees—of course children shouldn’t be separated from their parents, every-one knows that. It’s just that those don’t apply to this situation.

You regularly encounter three big strategies for moral disengagement:

(1) “Moral justification involves reconstructing problematic behavior as acceptable because it ultimately achieves a noble or desirable goal.”
Or, as our president has said, “If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!”
Attorney general Jeff sessions: “If you don't want your child separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally.”
That’s moral justification. Maybe these things aren’t great, but we have a bigger goal and we’ve got to keep our eye on the big picture. It’s too bad people are unhappy, but we can’t let ourselves get distracted from “the immigrant problem” by talking about conditions.
(2) “Euphemistic labeling entails using strategic linguistic devices to disguise or conceal reprehensible behaviors, thus making them sound innocuous or less harmful and despicable. For in-stance, civilian casualties of war are referred to as ‘collateral damage’, spin doctors who distort the facts engage in ‘strategic misrepresentation’, and military reports may state that a ‘threat has been neutralized’ rather than detail the pursuit and gruesome assassination of enemy combatants.”
Not providing toothpaste or soap to children was, said the Vice President, “all a part of the appropriations process.” And of course, people are held in “detention centers,” not concentration camps.
(3) “Finally, advantageous comparison involves making undesirable behavior seem comparatively benign by contrasting it with more flagrant alternatives.”
One think tank policy director says we have to detain immigrants this way because: “It’s wrong to have a policy that entices people to come here illegally with their children on a long and dangerous journey in the hands of criminal smugglers, and having to release them into the country has been a burden for the communities where they have settled.”
That’s advantageous comparison: having concentrations camps is such a better option than not having them: think of the burden to our communities and all those criminals on the street!
Or, as Representative Liz Cheney says, “Allegations that somehow the United States is operating in a way that is in any way a parallel to the Holocaust is just completely ludicrous.” That’s advantageous comparison: think of how much better concentration camps are than death camps!

Each of these are strategies to turn off your moral brain under the guise of reason. They say: your ordinary way of thinking about the morality of concentration camps doesn’t apply to these concentration camps. Each of these strategies presents reasons, justifications, explanations.
But more than that, moral disengagement presents itself as if it is reasonable and wants a rational answer back. The moral disengagement of border concentration camps tries to turn off your values and trap you into a policy argument. We argue over concentration camp policy, and the pros and cons and deterrence instead of saying simply: This. Is. Wrong.

We are a people of reason in the service of compassion, and never without conscience. Keep them close.
In Hope,
Rev. David

Calm, Cool & Collected?

The following is Rev. David Schwartz's message from our September newsletter, Contact. There is a lot to reflect on here!
"You’ve made it to the airport with all your baggage. You’ve been through a long series of lines to figure out where you’ve got to go before you can go where you’re going. You’ve found your way down through the labyrinth of the terminal to find your gate.

You’ve made it to the departures and arrivals lounge. “Lounge” makes it sound like everyone is pleasant and relaxed and maybe listening to jazz and sipping chilled white wine. More accurate would be: a group of people pretending they are calm, cool, and collected, while privately trying to not be totally overwhelmed.

So, travel is good preparation for the rest of life!

This is our collective story: we’re here in this church with all the emotional and spiritual baggage of our lives. (So much baggage, right?) And we’ve found our way to the lounge with our people, the ones headed more or less in the same direction. All sitting still together while also on a whole series of journeys alone and together.

And, most of us, are pretending we are calm, cool, and collected, while privately trying not to be totally overwhelmed.

The truth in travel is like our spiritual lives; so much of it is out of our control. At the airport, we take elaborate steps to fool ourselves into thinking we are in charge of it all: luggage neatly packed; special airport shoes; check in to your flight in advance; carefully line up when your seating section is called: placing seatbacks and tray tables in their full upright and locked position.

But all of this is distraction from the reality that basically nothing is in your control. If your plane taxis out on the runway and proceeds to just sit there for hours your option is: sit there. There is not a second option. If it rains and your flight is cancelled, that’s what happens. You don’t get to negotiate.

There was a company called Wow Airlines that carried something like 1.6 million people a year and on Wednesday March 27, they announced that starting the next day, all flights would be cancelled because they were bankrupt and going out of business. That was it: attention travelers, starting tomorrow this airline no longer exists. The traveling life is often out of our control, just like all the other parts of life.

You think you’ve bought a ticket that will take you to a certain place at a certain time, but really what you have is an airline company basically saying: eh, you know, we’re gonna give it a good shot.

So you travel by doing, diligently, everything in your control that you can do, and then trusting, or hoping, or praying that grace will see you through to the destination – more than that, even, trusting or hoping or praying that grace will take you on a journey you did not know you would be going on.

This is our work as a people of faith: to do everything in our power that we can do: pack bags, put on comfortable clothes, bring snacks, be patient with the crew and fellow travelers – and let go of the rest when the ground falls away and we head to a cruising altitude and everything that will come.

Rev. David Schwartz"

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Buddhist Meditation

Reverend Marcia Curtis is temporarily canceling the Sunday evening meditation until further notice. For more information please click redlotussangha.org.
We hope to resume the meditation and dharma talks in the next few weeks.

Religious Education

       

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