Though our proposed Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) of Ending Slavery was not chosen, I wanted to sare with you what I read, with many words provided by Lucas Benitez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Elena Stein of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida.

Congregational Study/Action Issues (CSAIs) are issues selected by Unitarian Universalist member congregations for four years of study, reflection and action. In the third year of this process, delegates at General Assembly (GA) can vote to approve a Statement of Conscience (SOC) resulting from congregational feedback on the CSAI. A fourth year is devoted to implementation.  This year’s chosen CSAI centers around reproductive justice, an issue near and dear to UUCFM hearts!  To stay abreast of how UUCFM can study this issue, check the UUA website.

Here’s what I shared on Friday during Plenary:

This year will mark the 150 years since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet today, fields across
the United States remain mired in a human rights crisis that enables slavery to flourish still.
To some, my home state of Florida is “ground zero for modern-day slavery.” This is my backyard. I am the minister of one of our congregations in Fort Myers, Florida, and the most recent indictment of slavery occurred at my county’s courthouse in 2009. The employers were charged with beating workers who were unwilling to work or who attempted to leave their employ picking tomatoes, holding their workers in debt, and chaining and locking workers inside u-haul trucks as punishment.  Please know, there are more cases pending in my state right now.  What is happening in yours? 

The good news?  Change is already underway, and UUs are a part of it.The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)
— an internationally-recognized farmworker organization — has reached groundbreaking agreements with ten of the
world’s largest food retailers, including McDonald’s, , Subway, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods. My congregation, as well as many other UU congregations, have been allies in the struggle.  Hailed by the New York
Times as “possibly the most successful labor action in the U.S. in twenty years,” the Fair Food Program establishes a code of coduct to protect farmworkers’ rights, creating a culture that has zero-tolerance for slavery. CIW member Lucas Benitez, states, “There is a new day dawning in the fields of Florida.”

Should this Study Action Issue be chosen, not only will we UUs have opportunities to learn about modern-day slavery, we will also grow in partnership with organizations like the CIW who are already engaging deeply in abolition work.”
 
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Please join our efforts to bring a representative from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and its ally Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida to General Assembly.

At the heart of this GA is not only witnessing to injustice in Arizona, but, just as importantly, strengthening our capacities to do the work of justice here at home.  One way to do this is to bring someone from a partner organization with us to Phoenix.  And one organization on the front lines of economic justice work here in Florida is the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and its ally, Interfaith Action.  Bringing their message to  Justice General Assembly, they will present in workshops, talk with people in the exhibit hall, and network with other partner organizations.

Together, we are making partner participation at General Assembly a reality.  We are working to raise $2500 to bring a spokesperson from the Coalition and a translator from Interfaith Action to Phoenix.  The Florida District Witness for Justice Fund, Florida UU Ministers’ Association, and matching gifts from the UU Church of Fort Myers Endowment have begun the journey. Will you join in the next steps?

We invite you to bring this appeal to your congregation’s leadership. Perhaps your congregation would take a special collection, or simply publicize this effort in your communications. Funds raised for this purpose should be sent to the Florida District (FLD) Witness for Justice Fund with the indication “CIW at GA.”

Mailing address:
Florida District UUA
PO Box 560246
Orlando, FL 32856-0246
Or online donation instructions available here.

Thank you for considering this opportunity to make Florida UUs proud!

Suzanne Fast, M.Div.
Rev. Allison Farnum

Any feedback or comments are welcome at Minister@uucfm.org, or call 239-561-2700 with your ideas and enthusiasm!

Derek Kemp carries the American flag at the head of a group of Occupy Fort Myers protestors who were marching Saturday 12/10/11 in downtown Fort Myers. The group, protesting corporate greed and corrupt and ineffectual politicians as part of a the international Occupy Movement, marched throughout downtown Fort Myers and over the Edison Bridge and back.Occupy Fort Myers, after leaving the campus of our church, is now back in action, looking to Occupy foreclosed homes in Lee County.  Must of us locals are well aware that Lee County was hard hit. For y’all who aren’t local, President Obama visited Lee County shortly after being elected to try and cheer us up it was so bad.

My partner and I live next to and across from an empty lot.  For sale and for rent signs are all over our neighborhood. Empty shopping strips FOR LEASE are ghostly reminders of the boom times.  Most of the time, I no longer notice.  When I travel to other places, I see buildings occupied with stores and home-owners and renters.  Then I remember that Lee County still has some major problems.  For those who do not have the luxury of traveling, Occupiers will help reframe and remind all of us in Lee County that the foreclosure situation is not okay.  It is not normal.  Homes used to be a symbol of the American dream, a symbol of success.  Now, many homes in Lee County, taken by mold and disrepair, are symbols of disappointment and failure.  Sadly, that failure lands on the homeowner, the person who invested in the dream of having a stable asset.

In the midst of my appreciation for Occupy Fort Myers, let me also mention a little something about the Advent season.  In these days leading up to Christmas, Christians are noticing and inviting their own Occupy movement.  Advent is the season to quiet one’s soul and anticipate the in-dwelling spirit of the Holy.  Emmanuel means god with us.  Anticipating the birth of Christ, the incarnation of Love and Peace in the world, the connections of Occupy and Advent are real for me.  The Occupy movement appeals to that very in-dwelling best-place self within me…the seat of my soul that compels me to love, to worship the beauty of the earth, to work for justice and peace…

As code officials discuss what fines Occupy Fort Myers will have to pay each day for their occupation of foreclosed homes, I am grateful that OFM too has occupied my conscience.  As such, their work has caused me to slow down and notice Emmanuel.  And I shall not wait passively for some magic miracle. Instead, I shall work to make my being a worthy companion and an open vessel to the in-dwelling Spirit of Love. I shall make of myself a birther of Peace in the world.

For Occupy: (lyrics from Latin 9th century, based on John Mason Neale, 1818-1866)

O, come, O come, Emmanuel, and with your captive children dwell. Give comfort to all exiled here, and to the aching heart bid cheer.  Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come within in as Love to dwell.

Rejoice Occupiers!  Thank you for making room for Love to dwell.  May the Spirit of Life and Love dwell in you as you occupy our minds and hearts.

This evening during yoga practice, I had the great invitation from the instructor to set an intention for my practice. The word that came to mind was gratitude. It may be my furlough week, but my work is always on the brain. And our theme for worship services next month is, not-so-surprisingly, gratitude.

I am continually annoyed at the Oprah-esque, Diet Coke, soft spirituality of gratitude.   Gratitude: an opiate of narcissists ?

or

a discerning practice of naming reality as it is and deciding, based on these observations, how one wants to appreciate, embrace and conduct one’s life?

OK, so this is a bit curmudgeonly.  Most days I am singing and smiling, but nothing takes the sunshine out of my mood more than seeing those sappy thanksgiving commercials that play on our sentiments to make us buy stuff.  Grrrrrr….

Gratitude has become a great way of marketing to the self-help crowd (takes one to know one!) and sending messages like: Yes, love your life, everything is fine!  Don’t listen to those people on the streets (99% anyone?)…instead, how about a new car that celebrates you and who you are!  Be grateful…and buy stuff!  Buy stuff and you will have plenty for which to be thankful.  Moreover, you might be in god’s favor when you buy nice things (so you better buy nice things just to have your bases covered.  Nice Hummer, pastor!)

And how many who struggle daily in their lives to survive can accept that they should just be grateful? “Oh yes, God, thank you so much for this day in which I discovered I have cancer.” “Thank you, mille grazie, for the foreclosure of my home and the medical bills from the merely coincidental heart attack and bevy of tests and hospitalization.”  Or, “Oh yes, thank you, Life, for the tsunami!” Or…”Ah, yes, great Cosmos, thank you for the meteor that is barrelling towards the earth.”

But in many ways, this way of thinking about gratitude is one that assumes a certain theological point of view. The point of view it assumes is belief in a certain god who exists in the realm of knowable human logic.  If A then B! It also assumes this is a kind of Santa Claus god (and one who had better get a thank you note at that…he was no joke about floods, plagues, and other forms of retribution for being slighted).  In this way, I loved the Greeks who, as captured in their plays, would throw up the great apostrophe to the sky, keening, and yell at the gods, “Why did you do this to me?”  And you have every freedom to choose to worship and believe those gods.  I mean, they have some great stories, AND, sometimes mortals get to procreate with them.

For another tack, let’s assume that god- instead- is a sort of container-like name for that which is beyond human logic but also is something that is known in the heart, in the inner life, in human imagination and even beyond it, some spot in us that observes, that nudges, that judges, that loves, that connects and makes meaning and renders us more human in one another’s eyes, revealing that which connects us and the spaces the hold us in our own integrity. Or, uh, whatever that requires more of a conversation about the mystery and ambiguity of god (or another word you prefer) as a felt presence of the More-Than that endures in the human being.  As I know it, this Mystery is more of a companion and less of an agent in control of the things that happen in our lives.

Perhaps setting an intention of gratitude does involve searching for the positive, wonderful moments of grace in life. And yet, I wonder if gratitude is not a sweeping ackowledgement of our sentience: of both the moments of discontent and contentedness all wrapped up in this Life. And would not any good companion urge you to say,

Yes! I am a sentient being!

I get to taste and smell and touch and feel this very life. This life may not be easy. This life may not be fair. And my being grateful does not mean that I will just bend over and take whatever injustices I witness without a fight.  I choose gratitude as a way of living…not because I won’t go to heaven if I don’t thank my god…but because I have chosen to love life, to love this earth, to love people.

In the end, the curmudgeonly post ends in the ambiguous and annoyingly lovey-doveyspace of the minister blogger telling you, good people, that gratitude is about the messy act of loving life.  Some folks say it simple…like how meditation is simple…but it’s hard.  And no Hallmark card can really capture the messiness of loving Life and being thankful.

Today I am grateful for the complex and rich resource that is my family and for the opportunity to be connected to them.

I am grateful for my body and its complexities and my messy and haphazard relationship with it/me.

I am grateful for the continual ways in which I totally mess up and for the forbearance of those around me.

I am humbled by all this and more….I sing my thanks and praise.  All hail the wild and wooly life.

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Regarding today’s 50th Anniversary of Eichmann’s trial:

In 1963, Hannah Arendt wrote the book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, pointing out that Eichmann truly was not a Nazi mastermind.  Instead, he was careless and thoughtless, confessing to be a man crunching numbers (human lives) and simply “doing his job” pushing papers.  She concludes in her book that the evils of the Holocaust were not radical acts of monsters.  Conversely, these were insidiously banal actions of people living in a system of faulty logic.  Arendt’s book reminds us that if we continue to live in ways that are thoughtless to the human lives around us, we too may be committing atrocities, all in a day’s work.  Arendt, to this day, invites me to be more thoughtful. How easy it is to forget our mutual humanity.  If only Eichmann had remembered that simple, profound truth: we are all human, we are all connected.

http://www.salon.com/wires/allwires/2011/01/27/D9L0Q2F80_ml_israel_eichmann_reunion/index.html

Mother earth is bleeding. A gushing gash, I feel as if  we humankind have stabbed our own mother in her back.

And we can’t staunch the flow.

In the halls of Washington vampires still want more blood, more money- they represent families and tribes with generations and generations of wealth to protect,  Drill, baby, drill.  Never mind the blood, dear.

I push the blame off of myself as I drive my car, look around our crowded streets, and feel as if we are all imprisoned in the guzzling of gas- the lifeblood of a post-modern, uber-busy, little boxes lifestyle.  Using Oil is non-renewable and reprehensible.  I feel responsible.  I feel guilty.  I feel trapped.  The average person can’t afford to buy a Prius or fabulous hybrid.  And in Fort Myers, the public transportation system serves only a public that can expect to arrive one hour early or late to wherever they need to go, taking 2-3 times longer than if having traveled in one’s own vehicle- if you have one.  The bike paths are constructed for recreation, less for commuting.  I have read (and shuddered) at plenty of squeaky-wheels in the ever-enlightening News-Press mailbag letters- to-the-editor, complaining about cyclists on the road as if they were criminal or deserved to be hit by cars for the idiocy of trying to get anywhere by bicycle.

But somehow I feel like I need to own this- obstacles aside.  I feel like I am a 19th century new England coastal villager who invests in the rum trade.  The whole town is in on it- the most un-cool Co-op that ever existed.  Invested money goes toward the purchase of sugar, boats, crews, and…slaves.  How many villagers in small towns like Bristol, Rhode Island, quietly tried to ignore the fact that Africans were being trapped and enslaved, shipped to Cuba from Ghana on behalf of their growing investment in the rum industry?

In the past 48 days I have been unable to ignore oily film of complicity coating my being.  In the words of Lady Macbeth: Out damned spot!

I want to go clean birds and feel good about myself, the way many well-intended white people (example being me, for one)  flock to anti-racism trainings simply to expunge themsleves from guilt but never change their behavior in day-to-day living.  Frankly, I am scared to change my life into one that is independent of fossil fuels.  I can’t live here in Florida without air-conditioning.  I can’t not drive.  I can’t bicycle everywhere when I am also supposed to look professional.  I cannot cook over a fire- I love my new cooktop!  I can’t walk anywhere in my cute, grown-up, “What Not to Wear” shoes.

But I have always been very all or nothing.  People tell me I can take small steps- little changes.  I can have a conversation with my life partner about how we can do better.  I can think more on how to change my lifestyle while still doing the work I love.  This is the best I can do for now.  But is it true what Lady Macbeth says: “What’s done cannot be undone?”