Pete Seeger taught us the meaning of the word “bilge” (the outside surface of a ship’s hull). Each year, we, along with our daughters, went up to Saugerties, NY where the Clearwater docked for maintenance. We were a part of the team that was assigned to cleaning the bilges—both of us, and our young daughters. We did a great job with the bilges….
At the end of the day after returning to the community home where we stayed, we enjoyed dinner, singing, and hanging out, family style. Then we would change into night clothes for our midnight sing…. The gathered community found a nickname for our family of four—“The Ladies”! The Ladies…? Who were they talking about? Surely NOT us!!! We were women, our daughters we’re young women. Though a “cute description,” we simply did not understand. It was Pete who explained that we were in the midst of a cross-cultural experience. He assured us that this was a term of endearment and noted that our outfits were well coordinated in terms of color, and in terms of style. He explained to the larger community that the whole world does not need to wear jeans and t-shirts when they clean bilges….
Pete Seeger taught us a lot about the world. Politics. Unions. Music. Sailing. And more, so much more….
Loyalty and Friendship…. The circle widened. Realizing that we were Jamaican, Pete asked us if we knew where to find a tremendous Jamaican folklorist, Louise Bennett. He “owed her some money” said he. Well, a la six degrees of separation, we shared that she was our Aunt Louise, a relative on our mother’s side. She was living in Toronto caring for her husband, our Uncle Eric. We gave him her address and phone number. Who knew! Pete had set money aside for every time that he used her music. The royalties had grown exponentially…. So much so that they assisted in covering medical costs for her spouse. This thoughtful man did not know where to find her. How many people bring that sense of integrity and think like that…?
Mentorship and Leadership Development….It’s interesting to hear Pete Seeger described as a folk hero. We consider him to be a humanitarian hero, a national treasure, a family man, and a loving human being. Pete was also one who embodied an extraordinary understanding of welcome and inclusion. We met Pete in the early 1990se at the home of our musical coach, Gene Glickman. About a dozen folks were spread out across two large rooms. A few of us were in one room singing a fabulous new song that we had learned, “Rosa,” by Canadian singer-songwriter Libbey Roderick. It was a song of tribute specifically to Rosa Parks, more generally to women of color. Unbeknownst to us, Pete, in the next room, heard us singing. He came out saying that everyone should hear us singing that song. He took us to Syracuse to perform. He invited us to join Peoples Voice Café. He introduced us to dear musician friends…. Pat Humphries…. Bev Grant…. Kim and Reggie…. David Amran…. George Levine…. And many more.
Back in the day we were part of a wonderful group called “community”—a multicultural group of 4 singers and a signer all members of the Community Church of New York. We traveled all over the country under the direction of Gene Glickman, sound direction by Lliam Greguez and our manager was Rev. Dr. Tracey Robinson-Harris. We formed the group because we needed a vehicle that would be successful in helping others to understand the importance of celebrating diversity in a non-racist way. We had our first coffee-house in the middle of a snowy night. Our special guest was Nick Paige, wonderful UU musician. As we set up the tables café-style, we wondered if Nick would make it, much less anyone else…. Wouldn’t you know that the first person to walk through the door was Pete Seeger, with banjo in hand…. That was so “Pete” and from that each member of the group learned the importance of showing up, the importance of presence.
As UUs we are proud that Pete was one of our members. Collective memories include he and his beloved wife Toshi at GA…. The huge celebration of Pete’s 85th Birthday at Community Church…. Pete Seeger leaves a rich legacy behind—one that is filled with challenge. One that is filled with optimism. One that is filled with love.
Let’s pass our blessings on—as Pete did! Friends, we are in the stormy seas together.
May we be willing to “get into the muck” so that we can clean the bilges that we encounter through the precious lives that we have been given.
Masakhane, Janice and Yours, HOPE
Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson, UU Congregation of Central Nassau
Dr. Janice Marie Johnson, Director, Multicultural Ministries UUAMore >
Today is Day 19 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to learn more about resources available for welcoming servicemembers into our congregations and communities. Click here for resources available from the Church of the Larger Fellowship’s Military Bridge Builder Kit. The kit is currently being revised and will be republished by the UUA this spring as Military Ministry Toolkit, an on-line program that includes workshop plans and supplemental resources for congregations. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
When I mentioned the “Building Bridges of Love” campaign to a Brooklyn friend, she automatically quipped: “The bridge is a nightmare. Take the tunnel.”
It was a good spur to memory, because I often use a tunnel metaphor to describe what it’s like to move between the worlds of a Unitarian Universalist minister and a military officer in the U.S. Navy. I wouldn’t say I’m a “mole” (not a welcome word in the world of military intelligence), rather a micro-tunneler.
The most direct path between one community and another is not always clear. Often, I have to feel my way, taking somewhat winding routes, unsure precisely where I’ll pop up.
And a lot of the time I’m working in the dark.
All military chaplains straddle the world of faith—where peace is among the highest objectives, no matter the religion—and the world of the warrior, where peace is always desired, but security is the goal.
In my case, the divide may be even more demanding than usual. Facts of my life don’t always make me an easy fit with military culture. For example, I’m serving two of the most male dominated professions—and every so often a military colleague tells me that women don’t belong in either domain.
But there are challenges in the other direction as well. Military service was no mere career choice: I felt deeply called, and I responded. Attending Harvard Divinity School during the time of the university’s ROTC and recruiting ban, I knew that this would be a hard sell to friends and colleagues. When eventually I “came out” concerning my naval aspirations, responses at HDS were largely as anticipated: silence, shock, sometimes condescension, sometimes anger.
As a person of faith hoping to build a world of peace, the military is the most gripping, complicated, daunting, and occasionally devastating place to be. It is also possibly the most inspiring.
Every day of ministry brings me into contact with men and women who exactly understand the toll of war. No matter our politics, we generally agree with two things: 1) military service demands incomprehensible sacrifices at times; and 2) those sacrifices help make it possible for U.S. citizens to live free of the fear of open conflict on their own soil.
We men and women of the military serve with fierce dedication, regardless of our fears or misgivings. We demonstrate uncommon loyalty to one another. And we usually are better at organizing and getting a job done than anyone I have ever met.
Learning what servicemembers know about both war and peace; understanding what we’ve experienced; supporting our efforts to return to the civilian world and contribute to our home communities, just as we have contributed to mobilizations in distant countries—these are all critical ingredients to building a world where love and peace flourish freely.
Yet for the most part, servicemembers often feel deeply misunderstood by our own country, and perhaps by no constituency more so than progressive, educated, peace-focused people—people like the readers of this blog.
I love the idea of building bridges, and I am inspired by this campaign. Yet it strikes me that, at the outset of efforts to bring two communities together, a bridge may be an overly ambitious undertaking. To build a bridge one has to know where it will start and where it will end. One has to know how people will travel across it. One has to know what kind of weight it needs to bear.
Sometimes, I would urge, we may need to tunnel a little bit first. Quietly, slowly, inching our way.
If you do not have a servicemember in your life, why not start by meeting a serviceperson and their family? Just to get together and discover what our experiences are like. You can start by going down to your local VFW or American Legion or contact a civilian and family support group. Perhaps you could join a day of community service and work side by side for a few hours with a servicemember?
Don’t worry about whether you agree with their politics or they agree with yours, or whether you can build a friendship that will stand. Just dig down into the experience for a while, and see where you pop up.
Because tunneling in the soil, as blind and directionless as it may seem, is actually the same activity that allows all good new things to grow.
In faith and fellowship,
Rev. Cynthia L. G. Kane
Lieutenant Commander, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy
Cynthia Kane is Unitarian Universalist minister serving on active duty. She was commissioned in August 2001 and is a pioneer in UUism concerning military ministry. Her current assignment is with the Marines in Kaneohe, Hawaii.More >
Today is Day 18 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to learn more about our partners at No More Deaths. Click here to learn more about No More Deaths and the important work they are doing to build bridges of love at the U.S./Mexico border. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
Sandra Lopez, age 22, a lifelong Tucson resident who was brought to the U.S. as a three-week-old infant by her immigrant parents, is a graduate of Amphitheater High School in Tucson, where she was an honors student. She is one of the two million undocumented immigrants who were deported under the Obama Administration over the last five years, despite the fact that she would have been eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, a program that allows people who were brought to the U.S. at a young age (called DREAMERS) to apply for work permits and a guarantee against deportation for two years.
Deported without any of her money, her cell phone or her personal belongings, Sandra spent five days living on the streets of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, dodging sex traffickers and sleeping in a railroad car. When she asked a Mexican police officer for help in finding safe shelter, he also tried to recruit her for prostitution.
On her last day in Nogales, Sandra was accosted by an armed man who tried to drag her off the street. She ran up lanes of traffic at the U.S. DeConcini Port of Entry to ask for help from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBE). They told her that an asylum officer would talk to her about what happened to her in Mexico. Instead, she found herself facing felony charges for illegal re-entry to the U.S. after a deportation. She was convicted of the felony and transferred to a private, for-profit federal prison in Florence, Arizona.
After spending four months in Florence, Sandra was transferred to the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, where she spent the next two years fighting for asylum in the U.S. from within the privately-run, for-profit prison. She is sharing her story with the larger immigrant rights community so that people will know the stories of the 2 million immigrants, many of whom were brought to the U.S. as children and whose husbands, wives, children and extended families have lived in the U.S. and worked here for 20 or 30 years.
No More Deaths, which documented these abuses after interviewing almost 13,000 migrants for its report, “A Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody,” is currently researching what happens to the migrants’ money, cell phones and other personal property confiscated by the Border Patrol and not returned to migrants when they are deported. The new report is expected out in late spring.
Immigrants being deported are not even given a hearing to determine if they are eligible for asylum based on domestic violence or threats of death in their home countries. We are seeing more and more migrants escaping the extreme violence, corruption or torture in countries like Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia.
Parents who are being deported from the U.S., after years or even decades of living and working here or graduating from our public schools, are not even allowed to make a phone call to their childrens’ school or daycare center to tell them who can pick up their children at the end of the day. They are simply “disappeared”, leaving the children in severe trauma and subject to depression, anxiety disorder and attachment disorder.
Each of the two million deportations tears another impoverished family apart, turning immigrant parents into criminals and their U.S.-born children into orphans. The system is out of control, said immigration attorney and public defender Margo Cowan, who is representing Sandra in her pending asylum claim.
What we are seeing is the second generation of immigrants; only unlike our own ancestors, this second generation has no way to gain legal residency or citizenship under our broken immigration system today. More than 75 percent of the children of undocumented immigrants are U.S. citizens by birth, yet our immigration system has no provisions for any sort of “family unity waiver” to allow their undocumented parents to remain here to support and provide love and nurturing to their children, giving them a chance to build a brighter future without the threat of violence. More than 6,000 migrant men, women and children have died of exposure, severe dehydration, heat stroke and resulting liver and kidney damage while crossing the Arizona desert.
To learn more about its incredible work for human rights and participation in the “Not One More Deportation” campaign, go to the No More Deaths website and the Culture of Cruelty website. A better world is possible, and with an end to the unjust deportations that are destroying the lives of children and families torn apart, with no way to obtain legal status, and the passage of compassionate immigration reform instead of catering to the greed of the military defense industry through further militarization of the border, we can make it happen.
From the Border,
No More DeathsMore >
Today is Day 17 of the Thirty Days of Love. For today’s daily action, we invite you to practice an act of radical love: strive to see the beauty in all people, especially those you struggle with. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
“They’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed.”
Langston Hughes, I, Too
Oppression is the sustained refusal of beauty. Coming out as a transgender man and subsequently undergoing medical procedures to bring my body in line with my spirit caused me to shift my entire way of thinking about beauty. We are living in a culture with very rigid and narrow definitions of what counts as beautiful: thin, white, able-bodied, clear skin, perfect teeth…no room for scars, no room for visible markers of the journeys each of us have been on to come to love and accept ourselves. I also realized that I couldn’t learn to love my own beauty until I learned to recognize and see the beauty in others.
Practicing compassion and love in the face of oppression is about the courage to proclaim the beauty of your person without scorn for the beauty of those who oppress you. One of the ways to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you is to cultivate an open heart for all the world’s beauty. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, each stage of creation was repeatedly declared good and we are all made in God’s image. When people refuse the beauty of people of color, women, LGBTQ people, disabled people or any other group, it creates what W. E. B. Du Bois called double-consciousness. Oppressed people are expected to see the world through other people’s eyes of whiteness, maleness, cisgenderness, heterosexuality and ableness and often experience amused contempt and pity for their own beauty. “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness,” writes Du Bois, “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others…There is confusion and doubt in my soul, for the beauty revealed to me was the soul-beauty which my larger audience despised and I could not articulate the message of another people.” (2-3)
How do we practice compassion and love in the face of the frustration and anger created by double-consciousness?
When some nations seek to criminalize same-gender loving people
When Jim Crow puts on new clothes through the mass incarceration of black youth
When debates in our churches make LGBTQ people feel they are a problem, rather than beloved in they eyes of God
When women are paid less than men
When the far-right in California seek to overturn protections for transgender youth
When 2,666 migrant deaths in the Arizona desert are U.S. policy
When Utah stops same-gender marriage in its tracks
Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes wrote hundreds of poems about his own people’s struggle against racism and has been called the poet laureate of African Americans and is perhaps the greatest popular poet since Walt Whitman. In the early years (1921 to 1930) of his career as a writer, he wrote two poems that teach us the power of articulating the message of our beauty without scorn for the beauty of those who oppress us.
In “My People,” he paired the beauty of the night with the beauty of the faces of his people; the beauty of the sun with the beauty of the souls of his people. In “White Ones,” he wrote “I do not hate you / For your faces are beautiful, too,” calling forth images of “loveliness and splendor,” yet closing with the plea “Why do you torture me?”
Langston Hughes is able to recognize the beauty of his oppressors, affirm the beauty of his people, and challenge the harm that the irrational, privileged refusal of beauty brings.
When we can cultivate an open heart for all the intersecting rays of beauty streaming from the human race, we will have the foundation to love our neighbor adequately and build the beloved community that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., dreamed about:
As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him… In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself.
As you move through your day today, I invite you to practice an act of radical love: strive to see the beauty in all people, especially those you struggle with. Part of this practice is recognizing that whether or not we show it, each of us moves through the world hiding scars, covering up what we think the world deem ugly if we were truly seen. It is easy to see beauty and practice compassion toward those we like or enjoy the company of; it is far, far harder to see beauty and practice compassion in the face of people who frustrate us, or, worse yet, actively hate us. Practicing love in the face of oppression is incredibly difficult, but it starts small, with practicing love every time we struggle with another person for any reason.
Through your actions and thoughts today, how can you bear witness to King’s proclamation that “love is the most durable power in the world”? I will start by loving my scars and the scars I can’t see of those whom I encounter.
Yours on the journey,
Alex Patchin McNeill
More Light PresbyteriansMore >
Today is Day 16 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to think about who in your life might deserve a Courageous Love Award. You can learn more about them here and download a template, or make your own hand-made award. Present at your congregation, or within any group you are a part of. The only requirement is that you give it in love! Click here for resources, family activities, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
“Love is a whole lot lighter to carry than hate.” – Agnes Furey
“Love is an infinite supply of electricity,of power that you’ve got to plug into and connect with for all your cylinders to fire. Without it there is no life or light; without it you are a leaf without a tree to fall from.” – Leonard Scovens
I am proud to be a newly appointed board member for Achieve Higher Ground (AHG), a non-profit Restorative Justice (RJ) organization that advocates for the adoption of RJ practices by the criminal justice system. Achieve Higher Ground was co-founded by Agnes Furey and Leonard Scovens. They met and found common ground many years after Leonard murdered the daughter and grandson of Agnes in 1998. Their approach to RJ is a focus on restoration for everyone involved in a crime, including the perpetrator. “Best case scenario” states Agnes, “is when that can occur with a reconciliation between both parties.”
The story of these two brave individuals involves a kind of love that many cannot fathom. During this third week of the Thirty Days of Love campaign, we are being encouraged to practice a radical, courageous love, and their story has certainly taught me that. Agnes and Leonard began a written correspondence in 2005, initiated by Agnes, some of which can be found in the book they have co-authored titled Wildflowers in the Median. Leonard is presently serving two consecutive life sentences in the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). Together, they have created FDOC’s first ever residential program for violent offenders, Circles of Restoration. The program’s vision is to transform participants into mentally sound, virtuous, and productive citizens.
I was honored with an invitation to speak about Trauma-Informed Care to the Victim Impact Awareness (VIA) class at the Northwest Florida Reception Center, where Leonard is currently housed, on October 24, 2013. Being in that room, filled with 50 plus inmates serving varying sentences for varying charges, was a powerful experience. I was also invited to sit in on the Higher Ground group, co-led by Leonard Scovens and Dr. Deborah Weidlund, FDOC Psychologist. In a small room with about 10 participants, Leonard urged his peers to look deep into themselves and reveal their humanity, despite the criminal behavior that presently defines them.
During my first meeting, Leonard called in to thank us for our contributions and to share about the newly approved Circles of Restoration program. At the end of this brief call, Agnes ended by saying “love you,” which I had not expected, but also did not surprise me given the depth of their history. I would like to honor both Agnes and Leonard with the “Courageous Love Award”. I am proud to have met both of these virtuous individuals and to be a part of their budding organization whose vision is avant-garde and sure to inspire others.
If you would like more information about Achieve Higher Ground you can join their Facebook group or click here to purchase a copy of Wildflowers in the Median. I encourage you to think about how you can build bridges of love in your own life and community during this Thirty Days of Love campaign. Perhaps there is someone you would like to honor with a Courageous Love Award.
In faith and love,
Aimee Griffith, LCSW, is the Clinical Director of DISC Village, Inc, a private non-profit behavioral health organization in Tallahassee, FL. She works with individuals and families who are adversely affected by substance abuse, mental illness and criminal behavior. She co-facilitates the local Trauma-Informed Care Workgroup, co-leads a Suicide Loss Support Group with Big Bend Hospice, and serves on the board for Achieve Higher Ground. Aimee is also a congregation member, youth advisor and choir member at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee.More >