The Intersection of Justice, Equity and the Transforming Power of Love

Rev. Benjamin Meyers, Minister, Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo

Rev. Benjamin Meyers, Minister, Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo

Some thoughts from  Rev. Ben …

John Scalzi is a Straight White Man who has a website called Whatever … I’m staring at the asphalt wondering what’s buried underneath.
A member of our congregation sent me the link to this site after I told him I was going to preach this sermon on “Intersectionality and the Transforming Power of Love.”  In his tagline to describe the content of his site John Scalzi says he’s been “Taunting the tauntable since 1998.”

I want to share something from his entry from May 12, 2014 in which he uses a very intriguing way to talk about white male privilege…(I know, this has the possibility of sounding like a turn-off, tune-out the minister topic, but bear with me…this is good…)

John Scalzi writes:

“I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they/we/I usually react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is an incorrect word to use for straight white men, it’s just that it’s not their word. So, when confronted with the concept of “privilege,” they/we/I usually fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.

So, the challenge, says John, is: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?”

Here goes…

The difficulty for us, especially for those of us with lower degrees of difficulty in the real world, is how to see these differences more clearly and not shy away from bridging the gaps between us, and others?

How do we see beyond our blindness of privilege, and reach beyond the buffers of blessings of our given lives and learn to stand in solidarity with others facing degrees of difficulty we are only beginning to truly see and feel and understand? How do we use the gifts of OUR lives to aid others caught in the oppressions of the real world? How do we make a difference in this very different world we now find ourselves?

The great human rights advocate, Grace Lee Boggs, said,

“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”

But is the world getting more connected or more fragmented? Facebook, in conjunction with the University of Milan …announced that there were only 4.74 “degrees of separation” among its …users…. That contrasts with the famous ‘six degrees of separation’ that Yale researcher Stanley Milgram found back in the 1960s. Social media, we are led to believe, are bringing people closer together.

A study published in the American Sociological Review found [that many] Americans say they have no one they can talk to about important matters. Imagine, not having a single confidante you may safely turn to in times of critical need … or just if you need basic information. It confirms the thesis of Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, that we’re becoming more socially isolated, even as the world gets more wired.

In fact, the phrase “online community” may be an oxymoron, like “Jumbo Shrimp” or “Unbiased Opinion.” … Researchers at the University of Wisconsin put teenage girls in stressful situations, like solving mental arithmetic problems, meanwhile measuring the girls’ levels of cortisol, a bio-marker for stress, and oxytocin, a hormone associated with feelings of well-being and trust. During the test, the teens were permitted either to text their mothers, or to call mom on the phone. It turned out that the phone conversation, and the soothing tone of mother’s voice, lowered stress levels in the girls. Texting had no such effect.

The study confirms my own unbiased…prejudices. Call me retro, but I still prefer chatting with a real live person on the telephone, rather than interacting with a voice-mail robot or typing in two dimensions while living in the multi-dimensional world of relationship. The world has gained in efficiency and cost-savings, but lost a dimension that’s warm and comforting and connected. This is not to say that there’s expediency and benefit in texting short messages and sending information, electronically. It’s just that these are not always the right tools to use if what we’re needing is connection.

It appears that we need an human presence—the shelter of each other—to feel whole—and to know the fullness of living beyond the bubble of preferred comfort levels. There’s no digital substitute for a hug, a handshake, a smile or a word of encouragement.

This is one role that religious communities play in our culture, as well as civic organizations and, of course, bowling leagues. And clearly, merely attending a church, mosque or synagogue doesn’t automatically mean you feel known and accepted and connected. You still have to do the work of building caring bonds.

It is still true that in order to HAVE a friend, you have to BE a friend; but my point is that meaningful relationships and spiritual growth are possible in congregations and similar affinity groups in a way that cyberspace just won’t allow.

How much of the vulgarity of American culture is due to the fact that we’ve become a nation of strangers? How much of the incivility in our politics can be traced to the breakdown of respectful person-to-person communication? How do we learn these skills if they are not applied in our daily lives? The good news is that the cure for this malady is readily available. Through everyday acts of kindness, and by reaching out to others in a spirit of unity and cooperation, we can begin to re-weave the fraying fabric of community.

Indeed, the mathematical algorithms that measure “degrees of separation” across the planet show that when we reach outside our personal comfort zone, for example to encounter someone from a different race, a different religion, or a different political viewpoint, our actions have a multiplier effect.

One person who breaks through the proverbial chasms of privilege and prejudice can lower the level of estrangement in ways unseen or unfelt. This is how we weave the invisible fabric of our connectedness. But perhaps you didn’t need a university study or a mathematical analysis to tell you what the world’s religions have affirmed for centuries. The best way to bring our world closer together—to lower the degrees of separation and oppression and to level the playing field of the real world—is to build real bridges between our divisions.

Adam Gopnick, a writer for the New Yorker magazine who covered the massive marches and demonstrations—the largest in the history of this country which occurred just weeks ago says:

“Community is the only cure for catastrophe. Action is the only antidote to anger.”

By practicing the core values of faith and principles, we continue to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, turning strangers into friends and enemies into learning partners, one by one by one.

We must remember the haunting and prophetic words of the Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller, speaking of the rise of Nazism in Germany,

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—/Because I was not a Socialist./Then they came for the Trade Unionists, / and I did not speak out—/Because I was not a Trade Unionist./ Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—/Because I was not a Jew./Then they came for me—/and there was no one left to speak for me.”

If we want hope to survive in this world today…then EVERY day we’ve got to build the bridges and do the dance that keeps hope alive.

Let us rise beyond the places where we are and Pray, Stand, Walk, Work, Move, March, Teach, Reach, and SING ON, together.

Let us dare to Hope, and by our actions, help hope survive.

Amen. Blessed Be. Salaam and Shalom!

– Ben Meyers

© 2017, sermon and photograph, Rev. Benjamin Walker Meyers, Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo, California

JEWS, CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS, UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS: San Francisco Peninsula Clergy standing in solidarity for the sacredness of all humans

USGS Satellite photo of the San Francisco Bay Area. The San Francisco peninsula protrudes northward. San Francisco is at its tip, public domain

Public domain USGS Satellite photo of the San Francisco Bay Area. The San Francisco peninsula protrudes northward. San Francisco is at its tip.

As you might suspect, there was a reason for featuring Emma Lazarus and her poem, The New Colossus, as part of the American She-Poets series this a.m. … the reason being a reminder of our American ideals in the face an unreasonable ban, free-flowing hostilitities, and the fear vulnerable people have given the ramped-up deportation policies finding support and stride under the current Republican administration. Almost all immigrants to this country are refugees even if they are not formally declared so. Formally or informally they seek refuge from violence, poverty, joblessness, hunger and environmental degradation.

“Now “refugees” are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by refugee committees …. We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. . . . ” We Refugees, an essay by Hannah Arendt in the 1943 issue of Menorah

The lack of empathy and compassion for and the fear of and prejudice toward immigrants is not new in American history and, as better people than me have said, unless you are a Native American, you are an immigrant, no matter how far back your roots go in these United States. It is likely that your own progenitors felt the sting of prejudice, might have suffered greatly and even died at its hands.

Here I report on the programs and practices that are being implemented by our interfaith community with the help of a number of organizations including Faith In Action, which is integral to the design of a Rapid Response Program. My hope is that in reading this more people in our own community will become involved and that other communities that don’t have programs and collaborations will be inspired to create them.


The Peninsula Solidarity Network of clergy representing diverse faiths was originally initiated to discuss and address the shortage of housing and affordable rents throughout the San Francisco Peninsula and South Bay area and is now taking on another crisis: creating sanctuary and building a Rapid Response Network to witness, accompany and advocate for immigrants facing deportation. On Wednesday, February 8th, it hosted a training by Faith In Action Bay Area. The training was on the Sanctuary Movement and The Rapid Response Network, a project of Faith In Action Bay Area, PICO and the Archdiocese of San Francisco in collaboration with Pangea Legal Services and California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance.

Please note: I do not speak for or represent the Peninsula Solidarity Network or its clergy and lay-leader members, Faith In Action or the Rapid Response Network, but  I was a butterfly on the wall with the good fortune to listen in and report back to you. This is what I learned. Any mistakes or mistaken assumptions are my own. If you are clergy or a professional journalist interested in the Peninsula Solidarity Network, the Sanctuary Movement, and/or Rapid Response email clergyhousingsummit2@gmail.com

While deportation is not a new problem, these efforts by the federal government are escalating and Faith In Action is working to bring our congregations together to foster the bigger scale of action and involvement that is necessary now . . . and we need everyone. Our job is to facilitate support among the races. Everyone has a role to play: diverse immigrant communities supporting one another and the greater community showing presence. Vulnerable ethnic and religious groups need special help and American citizens have responsibility to be present for victims and involved in this work.

Within the immigrant community congregations are the center for hope. Faith organizations can offer training to help families to defend themselves, to know their rights, and to get deportation defense through community campaigns, solidarity networks and for advocacy at local, state and federal levels.

Each city needs RAPID RESPONSE TEAMS of at least forty people. First responders verify raids, are moral and legal observers and connect families with legal services, social and economic services, advocacy and accompaniment services.

Victims of immigration raids can’t leave home or work to find sanctuary in a congregation. With rapid response, the congregation goes to the people.

In California, clergy and congregation members can also help by supporting the proposed California Values Act (SB 54) of California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León. Here is the short link to info about SB 54: http://tinyurl.com/j6e6ayv

Donate to Faith In Action Bay Area, 1336 Arroyo Ave, San Carlos, CA 94070-3913 (510) 234-8983

OUR PENINSULA RESIDENTS ARE INVITED TO attend the Faith In Practicing Solidarity During Immigration Raids Training (Rapid Response Network: Witness, Accompany and Advocate) to be offered on February 12, 4 p.m. –  6 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 225 Tilton Ave., San Mateo, CA (Parking on Catalpa). You will learn how to witness (be a legal observer), accompany (provide moral support) and advocate (prepare for opportunity to pass new protections). There will be a second training offered on February 28, 6:30 – 8:30pm, 2266 California St, San Francisco.

For more information on the training call  415 867 6279. REGISTER HERE or RSVP at fiaba@faithinactionba.org … Faith In Action Bay Area website is in the development stage.


What follows  is a short film (about 20 min.), which tells the history of immigration in the United States. If you are reading this feature from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to watch the video.


The following Q & A on the Sanctuary Movement was shared with me by Rev. Ben Meyers (Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo) and was developed by Rev. Dr. Penny Nixon (Congregational Church of San Mateo) with minor adaptions for use here.

  • Why a revival of the Sanctuary Movement?

Too many people are deported – or “returned” – many of them are long-term residents woven into the fabric of our communities and congregations, including our neighbors. Often this results in splitting up families with children who are U.S. citizens.

Time after time Congress has refused to address our broken immigration system. Donald Trump launched his campaign for president pledging to build a wall and deport immigrants. During his first two weeks in office he issued orders intended to begin implementing his vision for America. An order establishing a travel ban on Muslims from seven majority Muslim nations has had a chilling effect on nearly all foreign nationals living among us as friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers or family in communities nationwide. Consequently, a New Sanctuary Movement is rapidly gaining momentum among people of faith and moral conscience.

  • Why get involved as a Faith Community?

Our shared religious ideals call us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people; to seek justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and to create world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. We commit our values to action as we work together to transform ourselves while creating congruence between our ideals and our actions. Deportation of our neighbors and the breaking up of immigrant families in our communities are among the most compelling social justice issues of our time. Our congregations can make a difference. We can get involved in the New Sanctuary Movement by taking the National Sanctuary Pledge and becoming a Sanctuary Congregation, joining hundreds of others from all faith traditions across the country

  • What does it mean to be a Sanctuary Congregation?

Principally, it means helping prevent deportation of persons facing an order of deportation, on a case-by-case basis, one at a time, in concert with their legal representation. Participation varies from joining Networks of Protection and Rapid Response teams; Advocating for due process and policies; Accompanying Immigrant families and youth for protection and providing a safe haven.  This latter role means hosting or otherwise supporting a person in your facility and possibly their family too, while the person is engaged in legal proceedings intended to prevent them from being deported. We expect the duration of a person’s stay in Sanctuary would be from three weeks to three months. As part of growing coalitions of congregations you would not be doing this alone.

  • Is a house of worship a safe place?

Historically, churches, schools and hospitals have been classified as “sensitive locations” under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Sensitive Locations Policy. ICE has not entered any of those venues to take custody of a person facing an order of deportation. However, we should be aware that this could change as the current administration implements its plans. [ICE officials can make entry with a warrant. / J.D.]

  • How are candidates for Sanctuary vetted?

As a Sanctuary Congregation, you will have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with one or more not-for-profit organizations providing legal services for immigrants in or around your area. That organization, in concert with a person’s lawyer, will decide that the person would be the right candidate for Sanctuary: (1) ICE would not likely consider them a priority for deportation; (2) they are a good candidate for prosecutorial discretion, winning a stay of removal or an order of supervision or some other form of legal relief from deportation; and (3) they would satisfy any other requirements specified in our MOU. Where a candidate meets the requirements, the organization presents the case to the Sanctuary Congregations’ rabbi, minister or Iman and a “Vetting Team.”

  • What are the risks?

During the last forty years, no congregation has been prosecuted for allowing undocumented people to find shelter in their Church; no person associated with a Church Sanctuary Program has been convicted for offering Sanctuary; and no Church’s tax-exempt status has been affected. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “There comes a time when a moral man [sic] can’t obey a law which his conscience tells him is unjust. And the important thing is that when he does that he willingly accepts the penalty – because if he refuses to accept the penalty he becomes reckless, and he becomes an anarchist.”

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Take Action: Defend Standing Rock Reporter Jenni Monet

tumblr_okv1lt81ku1qflj9ao1_1280This message is from PEN Center U.S.A. Feel free to re-blog or link to this post.

The information for this campaign was sourced from The Los Angeles Times and the High Country News

PEN Center USA objects to the arrest and the charges made against Native American journalist Jenni Monet (her website), who was covering protests against the North Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota.

“Monet was wearing press credentials as she covered ongoing protests near the Standing Rock reservation. She provided her credentials to an officer when asked, but was arrested Feb. 1, at 4 p.m., Central, near protest encampments along Highway 1806. Monet was held for about thirty hours and was not released until 9 p.m., Feb. 2. She faces charges of criminal trespassing and engaging in a riot from Morton County prosecutors.” High Country News

A statement was released by Indian Country Today Media Network reiterating her press credentials.

We call on Wayne Stenehjem District Attorney of North Dakota to drop these charges immediately.

Take Action – Please Sign

The first amendment rights of journalists and free press liberties are in danger. Please join us in demanding that the District Attorney of North Dakota drop these charges immediately. ADD your name to the petition that will be sent to Wayne Stenehjem, District Attorney of North Dakota, and Allen Kopp, Morton County State’s Attorney.

“I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.” Margaret Atwood

Nothing “so called” about the world’s journalists: seventy-eight died in 2016 to bring us accurate reports and important information

"Len Ganeway" by Derek Wernher (in Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina) Statue by Derek Wernher

Man reading a newspaper by Derek Wernher (in Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina) Statue by Derek Wernher

There are some institutions that are necessary to support healthy democracies … public libraries, good public education, freedom to assemble, free speech …. and a free press that is allowed to carry-out its moral mission with impunity. While our occupational cousins – professional journalists – are coming under attack from certain quarters, there are dedicated journalists who brave dangerous territory, horrible work and living conditions, and long stays away from family and friends to bring us important information, correct and timely reports. Many end up with PTSD. They are often physically wounded, maimed or killed in torn and sometimes out-of-the-way-places that politicians and oligarchs wouldn’t fly over much less dare to set foot to ground.

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] reports today that in 2016 seventy-eight journalists (representing a diversity of counties, races, genders and religions) died to bring us accurate news reports. CPJ investigates the death of each journalist to confirm the motive. It reports that among the seventy-eight killings the motives for forty-eight are confirmed. Among the seventy-eight are also two media workers and twenty-eight journalists for whom the motive is unconfirmed. The deaths have been by murder, crossfire, or  while covering dangerous assignments. Beats covered in 2016 were:

4% Business
19% Corruption
17% Crime
13% Culture
17% Human Rights
38% Politics
4% Sports
75% War

According to the CPJ the numbers are rounded up and the percentage is over 100% because many covered more than one beat. The chart belongs to the CPJ and is protected under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.

Journalists at work in Montreal circa 1940s

Journalists at work in Montreal circa 1940s

I would also submit at this time that discussions of fake v true news are too simple and among other things they don’t often acknowledge the reader’s responsibility for careful selection, analyses, sharing and wide reading. Anyone who clicks on “click bait” for example, those links that start with “you wouldn’t believe what happened next” or ” he was walking down the street and …”  are accessing sites for sales and marketing not news outlets. On Facebook these are rife on the roll to the right of the screen. Shared posts on Facebook or Twitter or other social media like blogs should not be our primary sources of news information.  Conspiracy theories, satire, comedy “news” media and news aggregates (v. original stories) are not reliable resources nor are news sources that are partisan and consistently confirm our biases, whatever they may be.

Among the more balanced and accurate news outlets are: AP and Reuters news agencies, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post print news, and the BBC and NPR for broadcast media.

If we want our news outlets to hire the very best journalists and to fund in-depth research and reporting, we must use them, pay for them or donate to them as appropriate. I’m pleased to see that so many people are now subscribing to the New York Times in an effort to help keep this, the premier American newspaper, afloat.  The New York Times was founded in 1851. It has been in continuous publication since then and is widely considered to be “the newspaper of record” for the United States of America.

The video below is of Christiane Amanpour’s 2016 Burton Benjamin Memorial Award Acceptance Speech. She addresses the responsibilities of journalism and journalists in the context of a post-truth post-values era.It’s about fifteen minutes. There’s good substance here, much to chew on.  If you are reading this feature from an email subscription, you’ll have to link through to the site to view the video.

Photo licensing: Reading the newspaper header photograph is under CC BY-SA 2.0 license; Canadian journalists by Conrad Poirier from Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, reference number P48,S1,P23104 Public domain

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