Harnessing Love’s Power
to Stop Oppression


Fasting for Immigration Reform

No Comments | Share On Facebook| Fasting for Immigration Reform Share/Save/Bookmark Dec 10, 2013

Children reading their letters to Congress, urging for comprehensive immigration reform.                               Credit: Jessica Halperin

I hadn’t intended to fast on Sunday. I hadn’t expected to be so moved. I care about immigration reform, but it wasn’t until I stopped eating, paused, and gathered with other advocates that I remembered what we’re working for.

On my way to All Souls Church Unitarian here in Washington D.C. last Sunday morning, I didn’t stop for a bagel because I didn’t want to be late. Really, who wants to be late and miss that choral prelude? Our theme of the month is hope, and indeed, hope was a gift that our guest worshippers that morning, fasters from the Fast 4 Families, gave me. Fast for Families is a widely acclaimed month-long protest to refocus Congress’ attention on immigration reform. Ciana Taylor, who had been fasting for six days, reflected for us:

“I don’t know what it’s like to live life as an undocumented immigrant [but] I do, as a black woman, know what it’s like to be criminalized for the way that I am. Although I don’t know what it’s like to have family in detention facilities, I know what it’s like to have family that’s incarcerated under the same private prison corporations that are detaining my immigrant brothers and sisters. Although I don’t know what it’s like to have family members who are detained without telling the rest of your family where they are, I know what it’s like, especially after the death of Trayvon Martin, to wonder whether my brother is going to come home after playing with his friends during the day.”

We all have deeply personal and moral reasons to be pressing for immigration reform. (Listen to Ciana’s comments and the rest of that morning’s sermon here). Inspired, I decided to attend Vespers with the fasters that night, at their tents on the National Mall. To prepare myself properly for that service, I thought, I could probably skip lunch. It would only be appropriate to be hungry.

As I went about my day, buying Christmas presents for my family and watching the Steelers lose (again), I did in fact get hungry. I knew, though, that the discomfort I felt was insignificant compared to the hardship that many immigrant families face trying to come to, or stay in, the United States. In this ‘land of opportunity’ too many people are turned away from health care, from a decent wage, from legal protections. Too many families are torn apart by detentions and deportations. Too many people are dying in the desert.

The Vespers service on the Mall that night was led by All Souls DC clergy, and cosponsored by Planned Parenthood and the We Belong Together coalition, of which the UUA is a member. Brought to DC by the We Belong Together coalition, children read letters to Congress describing their “Wish for the Holidays“: simply to be reunited and safe with their families. Heartbreaking.

We celebrated and prayed for the fasters, who have been abstaining from anything but water for the past day, five days, up to 22 days, in order to help these children’s wish become a reality. Humbled, I decided to skip dinner, too, to make it a day-long fast. It was only appropriate to be hungry.

A shoe, abandoned in the desert, is the centerpiece of the altar in the Fast for Families tent on the National Mall.         Credit: Jessica Halperin

Their make-shift altar displayed religious icons, photographs, letters, drawings, and other mementos of support from across the United States and beyond. I saw notes from Unitarian Universalist congregations from California to Ohio. I was most moved, however, by the centerpiece of their altar: a medium-sized, black shoe that was melted by sand on the sides and bottom. It had been abandoned in the desert. Nobody knows who it belonged to. Did that person survive? Likely not.

“Not one more,” we said that night. Not one more death in the desert, not one more mother or father deported, not one more worker without rights. Not one more.

Immigration reform has stalled in the House of Representatives. Please join me, the fasters, and millions of others, in calling for its passage. The bill, H.R. 15, is awaiting a vote. This Thursday, the fasters are ending their protest with demonstrations on Capitol Hill.

If you are willing and able, please join us in a solidarity fast from noon tomorrow (Wednesday) until noon Thursday, when the action will begin. If you cannot fast, please call you representative and ask for their support of H.R. 15. If you are fasting, please be sure to register with the Fast for Families webpage. It will be an act of hope in a time of hunger. You are needed.


In solidarity, in hope, in faith,



This post was written by Jessica Halperin, a lifelong Unitarian Universalist from Pittsburgh and the UUA’s Witness Ministries Program Associate. Jess holds the environmental justice and reproductive justice portfolios for the UUA.


The message above went out on Tuesday, December 10, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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Our Lives Are Valuable

1 Comment | Share On Facebook| Our Lives Are Valuable Share/Save/Bookmark Nov 12, 2013

My life is valuable. There is no greater gift than the ability to touch everyone and everything around me with the joy and playfulness and creativity that come forward when I can be my full, authentic self and at home in my gender. For me, being transgender is a blessing.

But being transgender also means constant worry if I haven’t heard from one of my chosen family members when I expected to. It means that I am never more than one degree removed from the violence and prejudice that plagues my community. For so many of us, particularly my transgender siblings of color, this violence is constant. The grief and trauma of losing so many family members is constant.

Transgender Day of Remembrance—honored each year on November 20—is the day that we set aside to mourn. This day is dedicated to honoring all those we have lost in the past year to anti-transgender hatred; bearing witness to the transphobia, racism, and sexism that play such a central role in this violence; and recommitting to our vision of a world with no names to read on this day.

For the third year, the Church of the Larger Fellowship will host an online vigil that can be attended by anyone with internet access. This service is a partnership with Standing on the Side of Love and Multicultural Ministries, and for the first time also a partnership with the new transgender-led coalition TDOR Unite!

Please join me for the online Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil this Sunday November 17 at 9:00pm ET. Click here to RSVP and spread the word.

Thank you for all that you do to stand on the side of love with trans* people and our communities. This Transgender Day of Remembrance, join in uniting across lines of difference and proclaiming that our lives are valuable!

In faith,

Alex Kapitan
Congregational Advocacy & Witness Program Coordinator
Unitarian Universalist Association

PS: Are you planning a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in your community? You can find our TDOR resource page here.

* – “Trans*” is an all-inclusive, umbrella term that refers to all of the non-normative identities within the gender identity spectrum. Check out this article to learn more.

The message above went out on Tuesday, November 12, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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The Embodied Border: Reproductive Justice and Immigration Reform

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Women and families will continue to be marginalized by U.S. immigration systems unless Unitarian Universalists and others continue to advocate for gender- and health-equity in immigration reform.

On Monday, November 4th, please join the UUA Reproductive Justice team for a webinar, “The Embodied Border: Reproductive Justice and Immigration Reform,” as we discuss the intersections of these two hot-topics. You will have the opportunity to learn from issue experts as they delve into the legislative process, current legislation, and ways in which your congregation can create advocacy initiatives based on the connections between women’s issues and immigration. This webinar will kick off a series of monthly organizing opportunities on reproductive justice — keep an eye out for upcoming events.

We will provide log-in information on Monday – both on the webpage and via email if you register (at the bottom of the page)!

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Speaker Boehner Have a Heart–We Need a Vote on Immigration

1 Comment | Share On Facebook| Speaker Boehner Have a Heart–We Need a Vote on Immigration Share/Save/Bookmark Oct 24, 2013

Our long struggle to get comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform passed by Congress hangs in the balance over the next three weeks.  Speaker John Boehner could allow a bill to come to the floor in the House for a vote.  There is bi-partisan support in both chambers and polls show that 70% of registered voters want immigration reform.  All that’s stopping us is the lack of action on the part of our elected officials.

Will you please join me in telling Speaker Boehner we need a vote on immigration reform and urge him to bring a bill to the House floor?

I am grateful for our religious movement and the people who have been standing on the side of love with immigrant families.  My family is one of those families.  In 1994, I came to the US from India on a student visa to study for the ministry.  My wife and infant son joined me the following year.  Despite producing the required paperwork, we were subjected to an arduous, often dehumanizing process before being granted visas.  Even though we were fortunate enough to have the requisite documents, too often we have been told to leave because we did not belong here or had to prove that we were here legally.  Even after becoming citizens in 2012, my family and I live with constant reminders that we are outsiders, people who don’t belong.  For millions of others, the lack of those papers has led to detention, deportation, and the tearing apart of their families.

During my ministry in Florida, I met migrant farmworkers who would wake every day before 4 am and be packed into old school buses to travel to fields to pick 2.25 tons of tomatoes per day just to earn minimum wage.  Some of these workers would be picked up and detained, deported without their wages, their families’ survival threatened, all because they went into town for a small break.  Since I have been in the Washington, DC, area I have met courageous undocumented migrant leaders who have traveled here to advocate for their right to remain, risking arrest and deportation.

Earlier this month I was proud to witness UUA President Rev. Peter Morales demonstrate his profound commitment to immigrant justice by getting arrested on the steps of the Capitol with other prominent faith leaders and six members of Congress. He carried all our voices to Washington that day—all of us who have witnessed, organized, and formed partnerships for migrant justice through our congregations, youth groups, UU state advocacy networks, or individually in our communities.

Now, we need to come together once again to seize this historic opportunity, lending our shoulders and hands to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice.

Now is the time to urge Speaker Boehner to give us a vote!

Our hard work has brought us to this point and we can’t stop now.  We need to keep reminding our elected leaders that the role of government is to protect the rights of all of the people and to preserve the common good.  What sustains me through my personal experiences and my witness for justice is my Unitarian Universalist faith.  It accepts me for who I am, as I am, without prejudice or preconditions.  By showing hospitality of the heart and hand, my faith community helps me feel grounded and at home in this country.  May it be so for all people.

In faith,

Abhi Janamanchi

Rev. Abhi Janamanchi

Rev. Abhi Janamanchi is Senior Minister at Cedar Lane UU Church in Bethesda, MD, and previously served as Senior Minister for the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, FL, for fourteen years.  His years of international and interfaith work include a former role as President of the International Association for Religious Freedom and he currently serves as UUA Ambassador to the Khasi Hills, India.  Rev. Abhi lives with his wife, Lalitha, and two sons, Abhimanyu and Yashasvi, in the Washington, DC, area.

The message above went out on Thursday, October 24, 2013, to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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Because No One Else Had: Why a Buddhist Wrote a Book about Islam

No Comments | Share On Facebook| Because No One Else Had: Why a Buddhist Wrote a Book about Islam Share/Save/Bookmark Oct 23, 2013

I may be Buddhist, but I’ve spent a good portion of my years building bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims. As I was preparing for a reading recently of my second multigenerational book on Islam, Muhammad: the Story of a Prophet and Reformer, I pondered this rather unexpected vein in my life’s work.

Long ago as an undergrad in religious studies at the University of Colorado, long before the words Islam and terrorist were coupled together in our media, I sensed the profound Otherness of Islamic cultures for Americans. I remember seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 and leaving the theater before the movie finished, fuming at the stereotyping of volatile, threatening Arabs. In that moment I recognized that Hollywood had used this shoddy currency throughout its history, lodging harmful images deeply in our cultural unconscious as what Sam Keen called the Faces of the Enemy.

A few decades and careers later, one of the first things I wanted to teach in public school was media literacy, most of all to help students identify The Other embedded in our everyday news—especially visual news. As U.S. involvement ramped up in the Middle East, it was almost too easy for my students to find images in newspapers, magazines, and TV of an angry, violent Arab mob. During these years in education, I was fortunate to receive several grants from the State Department to travel to the Middle East twice and collaborate with Muslim teachers and their classes. All of my U.S. students had email-pals in Egypt during the U.S. invasion of Iraq and we studied both countries’ unfolding media narratives. Believe me: They were two very different stories.

The stereotyping continues unabated. Most recently, I was deeply disappointed that the film Argo received such accolades. If you time the angry mob scenes, which front the film, as well as the turbaned gun-toting men running amok in the city, they take up about 50 times more of the narrative than the single, rather touching scene in which an Iranian actually voices her feelings about the U.S. role in aiding the Shah’s brutal regime.

I had my first book on Islam, Ayat Jamilah, Beautiful Signs: a Treasury of Islamic Wisdom for Children and Parents, with me when I visited teachers in Jordan. Some people actually wept at a book reading held in Amman—amazed that an American made the effort to present a respectful collection of the Islamic stories they’d grown up with.

So why did this Buddhist write the first multigenerational narrative about the life of Muhammad for non-Muslims and Muslims? Why did Skinner House Books, an imprint of the Unitarian Universalist Association, publish it? Because no one else had. Because our collective ignorance about Islam fuels our willingness to let our government wage wars again and again. Because Americans need to know why the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is so beloved by millions around the globe. Because, whether one is a Believer or not, Muhammad’s story is one of the most remarkable and influential hero’s journeys in history. Because one man risked everything to follow a spiritual calling and guide others on a path of virtue. Because such a rare and courageous life is always worth our time and understanding.


This post was written by Sarah Conover. Although many of Sarah’s books target a multigenerational audience, she insists on accurate scholarship and a sensitivity to the complex, culturally embedded perspectives of religious faiths. She facilitates religious literacy through her writings, writing workshops, books on world wisdom traditions, interfaith dialogue, and media literacy training. Her web site is http://www.sarahconover.com/

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