Harnessing Love’s Power
to Stop Oppression


After the Boston Bombings: We Are the Next Responders

1 Comment | Share On Facebook| After the Boston Bombings: We Are the Next Responders Share/Save/Bookmark Apr 25, 2013

Sr. Simone addresses the crowd at the vigil. (Christopher L. Walton/UU World)

In response to the recent Boston Marathon bombings, the UU Mass Action state advocacy network quickly organized a vigil for Love Not Fear in Massachusetts as part of their seventh annual Advocacy Day on Tuesday, April 23rd. Over 100 Unitarian Universalists gathered outside of the Massachusetts State House as a faithful presence, calling for love and compassion for all our communities and especially for immigrants and Muslims. They were joined by Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK and organizer of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour, who was the keynote speaker for Advocacy Day. Sr. Simone spoke of the need for us all “to touch the pain and from that pain talk with each other and our legislators.” She described how she does that in her role on Capitol Hill and announced that the nuns are going on the bus again for federal immigration reform. She also talked about the importance of not demonizing any faith tradition and applauded the message of Standing on the Side of Love. When she was finished, Jesse Jaeger, Executive Director of UU Mass Action, presented her with a Love t-shirt.

Rev. Fred Small, Senior Minister of First Parish in Cambridge UU, led the group in song and then addressed the gathering, saying :

“If we respond to this tragedy with hatred, with fear, with racial profiling, with religious bigotry, with attacks upon immigrants, with a fortress mentality that demonizes and excludes—they win. If we respond with courage, with compassion, with generosity, with inclusiveness—we win. Everyone wins. We honor the first responders who risk their own lives to save the lives of others. And we—we are the next responders.”

Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh, Director of Congregational Development for the Massachusetts Bay and Clara Barton Districts, spoke on behalf of the District and the Unitarian Universalist Association. He said:

“Already in the town of Malden, a town I drive through each week, a white male has assaulted a hijab-wearing woman of Middle Eastern heritage out with her baby stroller. He punched her for two minutes, shouting obscenities and saying ‘Muslims, you are terrorists.’ It’s inexcusable and morally abhorrent. And yet, people whose sacred space has been violated naturally desperately want someone to blame. I shudder to think what we might add to the desecration.

“We need courage, compassion, and commitment. Courage to grieve what we have lost. Compassion for one another, for all people, all of us. Even for a nineteen-year-old boy in serious condition and in custody. And commitment to not only call on our highest values, but also to call them forth. We can respond to the actions of these two individuals by calling on our highest values, and calling them forth. Together, we can make new life out of tragedy.”

Rev. Millspaugh invited the crowd to share some of their highest values aloud and various voices called out—love, compassion, justice, dignity, respect, solidarity, courage, and more.

Patricia Montes, Executive Director of Centro Presente, spoke in support of solidarity and the need to get the Trust Act passed—legislation that would bar local and state police officers from federal immigration enforcement. She said:

“In 2012 more than 61% of the people deported by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)] in Massachusetts had no criminal convictions. The ICE [Secure Communities (S-Comm)] program has failed to increase community safety, has shattered thousands of innocent, hardworking families through deportations with no due process rights, and causes distrust between local police and crime victims which ultimately decreases community safety.”

She also thanked UU Mass Action for their solidarity and partnership and said Centro is also standing on the side of love.

Jesse presents Sr. Simone with a Love t-shirt. (Christopher L. Walton/UU World)

During the vigil, a group of high school students who had been touring the State House joined the sing-along and asked for Standing on the Side of Love placards and pins, and then placed the placards on the windows of the bus as they drove away. The message resonated with those observing: one man jumped out of his car to take a photo while stopped in traffic; Duck Boat tours waved along with other supportive passersby.

Following the vigil, UUs visited state representatives to advocate for immigration reform, gun violence prevention, and teenage homelessness. A meeting with Governor Deval Patrick was held with Jesse Jaeger, Sister Simone, Susan Leslie (UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director), and several UU ministers and lay leaders, including members of First Parish in Cambridge’s youth group.

Sister Simone spoke eloquently and warmly to Gov. Patrick’s Director of Constituent Services, Thomas Reece. “The TRUST Act is really an important step to deal with the issue of Secure Communities and making sure people feel comfortable reporting crime to law enforcement and protecting them from the consequences of that, the real need is for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. Compassionate state legislation can help move us in that direction.” She conveyed thanks for Governor Patrick’s support and asked that he continue to exert his influence saying, “What we need is leadership.”

Thomas Reece, Jesse Jaeger, Sr. Simone Campbell, Susan Leslie (Credit: Audra Friend)

Mr. Reece was receptive to the comments, and asked in return: “What I need to say to all of you is, don’t stop here at this office or at this State House. Keep pushing and putting a face to the story so our congressional leaders understand how important this is to all of you. “

Jesse delivered a letter that was also passed along to all Massachusetts legislators, signed by UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, UU Service Committee President Rev. William Schulz, UU Urban Ministry Director Rev. Catherine Senghas, UUA Clara Barton & Mass Bay UUA District Executives Rev. Sue Phillips and Rev. William Zelazney, the UU Mass Action Board, and 300 UU clergy and congregational leaders from across the state, calling for Massachusetts legislators to let compassion not fear guide public dialogue and public policy, and to continue progress on immigration reform, gun control, and respect for all faiths and peoples.

This post was written by Audra Friend & Susan Leslie of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Congregational Advocacy & Witness Office. They are also Bostonians and members of our Standing on the Side of Love Team.

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Include My Family in Immigration Reform

No Comments | Share On Facebook| Include My Family in Immigration Reform Share/Save/Bookmark Apr 24, 2013

This message was written by a member of the Standing on the Side of Love community and Unitarian Universalist minister who asked to remain anonymous as she approaches her eligibility for citizenship.

I came to the United States because I fell in love with a U.S. citizen. She had family obligations and I did not, so I relocated. Unfortunately, because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) will not recognize a same-sex relationship, even if you are married in another country or in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. The only way for binational same-sex couples to live in the U.S. is for the non-U.S. citizen to find another way to immigrate.

Fortunately, I was called by a U.S. congregation that sponsored me for a Religious Worker Visa and later for permanent residency. This process took over 5 years and cost $10,000. Citizenship will cost a few thousand more.

Call your senators today and insist that families like mine are included in immigration reform. Click here to download instructions and talking points.

I was blessed to have a sponsor, but there were risks. If I lost my job, I would have to leave the country and start again. Because of this, many employers assume we will tolerate low wages and poor working conditions because they know we won’t quit. I was fortunate that my congregation provided steadfast support and fair compensation.

There was another risk. If INS learned that I was in a committed same-sex relationship, I could be charged with visa fraud and deported. The existence of an U.S. same-sex partner has been used as grounds to deport many LGBTQ immigrants.

To protect ourselves, we went back in the closet. We did not share a home or bank accounts. We did not designate each other as powers of attorney. Any thoughts of marriage were put on hold. I don’t think I could overstate the spiritual and psychological impact of this.

Our colleagues at Immigration Equality are visiting with members of Congress today to share stories like mine. Please add your voice to theirs and call your senators today to insist that same-sex binational couples and their families are included in immigration reform. Click here to download instructions and talking points.

I received permanent residency a few years ago. I was so relieved. I was no longer dependent on the good will of an employer and I was here on my own standing. Shortly thereafter my partner proposed to me and we were legally married.

Yet, I am writing anonymously because we still feel vulnerable. We do not know if I could be retroactively charged with visa fraud if INS were to find out the lengths we went to to hide our relationship. We do not know if this could jeopardize my ability to become a citizen or to renew my green card. We do not trust the immigration system in this country to treat us with respect. I will not feel completely safe until I am a citizen.

In faith,

Rev. Anonymous

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

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Coming Out and Keeping the Faith

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How strong does a person have to be to reconcile their LGBTQ identity and their faith in the face of family, religious, and community rejection? The short answer is: Incredibly strong.

For 80+ attendees of “Coming Out and Keeping the Faith” at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts, that strength was demonstrated by 6 panelists–3 young adults from the LGBTQ community and 3 local religious leaders.

Sponsored by LGBTQ Welcoming Communities of Faith (Welcoming Faiths), a coalition of open and affirming congregations in the Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts, and Greater Boston PFLAG, the evening’s discussion addressed one of the biggest and most divisive issues facing the LGBTQ community: bullying in the name of religion.

The three young adult LGBTQ panelists illustrated how religion factored into the anguish and rejection they felt from family, community, and even themselves, as they struggled to reconcile their faith and their sexuality. Kate spoke of her conservative parents who rejected her based on their religion. Carlo talked of being afraid he would “burn in hell” for his growing realization of his sexuality. Zach prayed nightly that God would “make him straight” and faced abuse from his peers that ultimately lead him to attempt suicide.

In response to these emotional stories, the religious leaders on the panel offered perspectives on how their faiths focus on acceptance, inclusion, and understanding. Rev. Lara Hoke of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover and Rabbi Karen Landy of Havurat Shalom in Andover talked about their congregations’ long-time acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Bill Henson, founder of Lead Them Home, spoke of his evangelical beliefs and his commitment to including all people who want to embrace his faith, regardless of sexual orientation. Personally and professionally, they expressed their own stories and reiterated their belief that everyone, no matter who they are, deserves a chance to embrace a faith. As Rev. Lara Hoke put it “God loves diversity.”

It is the ongoing mission of Welcoming Faiths to build upon the strength of the open and accepting spirit of their member congregations so that we can be as strong as the people who choose to join us. The eleven-member coalition was founded by South Church in Andover in April 2011. Faith communities represented include Episcopal, Jewish Reconstructionist, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist. To learn more about Welcoming Faiths, find us on Facebook or email us at welcomingfaiths@gmail.com.

This post was written by Lauren Remes. Lauren lives in Andover, Massachusetts, and is proud to be a part of LGBTQ Welcoming Communities of Faith as a representative of her congregation, Havurat Shalom.

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Grateful for Everything, In Spite of Everything

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Rev. Fred Small

We had originally scheduled the following litany by Rev. Fred Small, in honor of Earth Day, as the second installment in a four part series leading up to the UUA General Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky exploring the impact of energy production and the interdependent web of life in our communities.

Because of the recent tragedies in Boston, we thought we would also include Rev. Small’s sermon from Sunday, April 21, in which he explores the connections between Earth Day, the bombings, and why we must let our hearts be broken open. Rev. Small is the senior minister at First Parish Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist.

“Standing on the Side of Love: We Are One”

A litany by Rev. Fred Small
First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist 

We are one.

One people.

One community.

One earth.

One spirit.

We are one.

The coalfield family flooded out of their home by mountaintop removal.

The baby with asthma who lives in the shadow of a coal-fired power plant.

The miner with black lung.

We are one.

The family whose drinking water is poisoned by fracking.

The sick mother in Cancer Alley.

The grandfather dead of heat stroke in another record heat wave.

We are one.

The Katrina victim in Louisiana.

The Sandy victim in New Jersey.

The refugee displaced by flood waters in Bangladesh.

We are one.

The hunter whose family goes hungry because game has disappeared.

The worker who can’t get to a job because bus service was cut.

The retiree who can’t pay the heating bill.

We are one.

The young woman who fears bringing a child into the world.

The adult who fears growing old.

The child who fears growing up.

We are one.

The coal companies, the oil companies, the energy conglomerates want to keep us apart.

They don’t want us talking to each other.

They don’t want us caring for one another.

We are one.

Today we close the circle.

Today we break the silence.

Today we find our voice.

We are one.

Today we listen to one another.

Today we speak out for justice.

Today we stand on the side of love.

We are one.

We will heal our wounded communities.

We will heal our wounded earth.

We will heal our wounded souls.

We are one.

We will dwell in beauty.

We will abide in love.

We will see the sacred in all.

We are one.

“Grateful for Everything, In Spite of Everything”

A sermon by Rev. Fred Small
First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist
April 21, 2013

175 years ago this July, barely a half mile from here, Unitarian minister Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the senior class at Harvard’s Divinity College.

In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life. The grass grows, the buds burst, the meadow is spotted with fire and gold in the tint of flowers. The air is full of birds, and sweet with the breath of the pine, the balm-of-Gilead, and the new hay. Night brings no gloom to the heart with its welcome shade. Through the transparent darkness the stars pour their almost spiritual rays. Man under them seems a young child, and his huge globe a toy.

In the nearly two centuries since Emerson spoke these words, how little has changed, and how much.

The sun still shines as brightly, the birds sing as joyously, the shade of night brings the same welcome.

But the child—the wanton, reckless child has broken the toy.

The earth I explored and marveled at as a boy a half-century ago is no more.

Oceans are rising. Glaciers are melting. Arctic sea ice is vanishing. Coral reefs are dying. Drought spreads. Crops wither. Wildfires rage. Extreme weather floods the coasts and batters the heartland. Unprecedented numbers of entire species are driven to extinction by human activity.

Maybe our own species will be next.

And then last Monday, Patriots Day, a perfect New England spring day in our city on the hill—terror and mayhem.

Lives ended and upended, a world of beauty and normalcy shattered into fragments of pain and confusion.

Worse, we knew that someone had done this, had wished for it, planned for it, rejoiced in it. And that someone was still among us.

The very same day, in Iraq, coordinated bombings and a shooting left fifty dead and nearly three hundred injured.

Wednesday night fire and explosion in Texas at a fertilizer plant with multiple safety violations, not apparently an act of terror but of how we put food on our table cheap. Fourteen people now confirmed dead, ten of them first responders, with hundreds more injured.

Earthquakes this week in Iran, Pakistan, and China left hundreds dead and thousands injured.

So much suffering. So much horror. So much brokenness.

What do we do with our pain? What do we do with our grief? What do we do with our anger?

First we must feel them.

We must feel everything we feel—all the pain, all the grief, all the rage—let them possess us, let them course through our bodies, surge through our souls, and sweep us clean.

Let our hearts be broken.

Let our hearts be broken open.

Open to it all—the ugliness and the beauty, the cowardice and the courage, the despair and the hope, the sorrow and the joy.

“Life is filled with suffering,” teaches the Vietnamese Zen master and war refugee Thich Nhat Hanh. “Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, and the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.”

You don’t have to be a Zen master. You just have to pay attention to the signs of wonder all around us.

Brian Downes couldn’t be with us here this morning, but if he were he could have delivered the sermon instead of me.

With his son and daughter-in-law both gravely injured by a terrorist bombing and now facing their future life as amputees, here’s what Brian says: “What I’m thinking about right now is that 99.9 percent of humanity is full of heart and soul and love for their fellow human beings, and those people saved my son’s life this week.”

Paying attention means looking deeply into everything.

We don’t really know what to make of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, do we?

Is he American or Chechen? A sweet kid or an angry jihadist? A gifted student or a troubled stoner? A sensitive, suggestible teenager in thrall of his big brother or a confident leader who knew exactly what he was doing?

What if he is all of these things?

What if, however monstrous his crimes, we can’t file him neatly under “monster”?

What if the only completely accurate label is “human being”?

But that can’t be.

Because then he would be one of us.

A very long time ago, I was a high school wrestler. It’s an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport. I know the bond among wrestlers.

So I got exactly what Peter Payack was talking about. Peter coached Dzhokhar for three years at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, where he was an all-star wrestler and team captain.

When he heard that Dzhokhar was a suspect, Peter said “It was like a bomb going off in my heart . . . because [he] was one of my guys.”

And when I heard Peter’s words, I thought: In the eyes of God, they’re all “my guys.”

Every single one of ’em.

Every single one of us.

That’s the core of my faith.

That’s the essence of Universalism.

Each of us is responsible and accountable for what we do.

But no matter what we do, no matter how fatal our mistake or contemptible our conduct, we cannot be cut off from our connection with each other or from God’s infinite love.

Ours is a paradoxical faith for a paradoxical world.

And even as that world breaks and it breaks our hearts, we are grateful for wholeness.

Grateful for first responders who plunge into the carnage to rescue the wounded disregarding the danger that another explosion could take their life, too.

Grateful for athletes who after running 26.2 miles keep on running to donate blood.

Grateful for bystanders who tear their clothing into tourniquets.

Grateful for police officers and firefighters and paramedics who risk their lives every day to keep us safe.

Grateful for friends and family who, at our bedside in the valley of the shadow of death, take our hands, whisper in our ears, and by the power of their love will us back to life.

Grateful for a sip of juice.

Grateful for hospital food.

Grateful for fresh air and open space after a day of lockdown.

Grateful for company.

Grateful for community.

Grateful for democracy, however flawed.

Grateful for those who peacefully and relentlessly resist the desecration of the earth by protest, political engagement, or civil disobedience.

Grateful for all who work for justice and peace and understanding.

Grateful for the inexorable profusion of new life in the springtime.

Grateful for dew glistening on the grass at daybreak.

Grateful for baseball on a sunny afternoon.

Grateful for the cacophony of seagulls.

Grateful for wind rustling in the trees.

Grateful for stars gleaming in the endless sky.

Grateful for everything, in spite of everything.

Amen and Blessed Be.

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A Mother’s Day for All

No Comments | Share On Facebook| A Mother’s Day for All Share/Save/Bookmark Apr 20, 2013

In some ways, Mother’s Day is an easy holiday, right? Lots of people have important “mother” figures in their life, for whom they can find something in the greeting card aisle, buy flowers, or make breakfast in bed. We celebrate these women because we love them. Setting aside a special day for them acknowledges the critical and often underappreciated role they play in our lives and in our communities.

And yet, some experiences of motherhood aren’t so easily found in the greeting card aisle, such as families with queer or trans or two mothers. It might be impossible to make her breakfast in bed if she’s incarcerated or recently deported. While many of us already celebrate those women who raised us (whether she was our nanny, our grandmother, our aunt, our foster mother), how do we acknowledge the experiences of women who wanted children but couldn’t, due to economic circumstance, medical condition, unjust adoption rights, or any other reason? How do we stand on the side of love with all those who “mother” and their families?

This year on May 12, join me in celebrating a more inclusive “Mama’s Day.” Click here to learn more.

Mother’s Day was originally founded as an antiwar rallying cry by Unitarian Julia Ward Howe. This history reminds us that Mother’s Day is more than a day for flowers and pancakes. It’s a call to honor the resiliency of all those who mother, especially those who bear the brunt of hurtful policies or who are weighed down by stigma in our culture. It’s an opportunity to take action to create conditions that enable all families to thrive.

This year, transform your Mother’s Day into “Mama’s Day:” a multicultural, justice-oriented celebration of all those who “mama.” For the first time ever, the UUA has partnered with Strong Families, to offer beautiful e-cards and resources for advocacy, worship, and more.

Let’s do “Mama’s Day” on the side of love. Click here to find out how to transform your celebration this year.


Jessica Halperin
Witness Ministries Program Associate
Unitarian Universalist Association

The message above went out on Saturday, April 20, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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