We are intimately connected to Mayans in Guatemala, day laborers in Arizona, Buddhists in Japan, farmers in the Philippines, and religious progressives all over the world.
When I was a kid I dreaded those “What did you do over summer vacation?” assignments. I never had much to say. Well, this summer could fill a book. After General Assembly I participated in a Unitarian Universalist Service Committee JustJourneys delegation to Guatemala. After that I was arrested during an act of civil disobedience in Phoenix, Arizona. (See page 42.) A couple of weeks later I literally traveled around the globe, visiting partners in Japan and the Philippines and flying on to India for the congress of the International Association for Religious Freedom. (See page 45.)
It was a journey of discovery. It was also a spiritual journey with profound implications for our movement, not only at headquarters but in all our congregations. The implications have to do with connections and partnerships.
The journey to Guatemala included attending a memorial service in Plan de Sánchez, a remote village, for more than 200 women and children massacred by the military government in the 1980s. One surprise for me was how important our presence was for the Mayan survivors. Our being there meant that their suffering had not been forgotten. The following day we visited with twenty teenagers who are getting an education because of donations from Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado. Our hearts soared as we listened to the students. The scholarship program is run by a Mayan organization that has partnered with the UUSC.
Then it was on to Phoenix, where I was arrested for the first time in my life. I was protesting what I feel are the egregious violations of human rights by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department. Just days after witnessing the site of a massacre, I saw first hand how dehumanizing a group in our own country today leads to violence. I also saw how oppression dehumanizes the oppressor. We joined UUs from across the country in an action made possible by human rights groups in Phoenix and our Arizona UU congregations.
In Asia, I visited the Tokyo headquarters of the Rissho Kosei-kai. The RKK is a thriving Buddhist movement with whom we have had a long partnership. (See UU World's 2001 article about the RKK's friendship with the UUA.) They regularly attend our General Assembly, and I have received their leaders in Boston. We share with them a commitment to interfaith partnerships and to a spirituality engaged in the world.
In the Philippines we visited a dozen of the twenty-three tiny UU congregations in that country. These are probably the poorest UUs in the world. They meet in simple chapels, sitting on rough wood planks or broken-down plastic chairs. I saw how the liberating, affirming message of universal love and freedom can speak just as powerfully to a poor farmer as it does to a Ph.D. Our partners in the Philippines have much to teach us as we strive to extend our faith.
Finally, I had the privilege of meeting with the Dalai Lama at the International Association for Religious Freedom congress in Kochi, India. What an extraordinary man he is.
You and I belong to congregations. We can so easily lose sight of the fact that we are intimately connected to Mayans in Guatemala, day laborers in Arizona, Buddhists in Japan, farmers in the Philippines, and religious progressives all over the world.
Our connections are sacred. Our relationships transform us and transform those with whom we are in contact. In true partnership we can accomplish wonderful things. Imagine, just imagine, what our spiritual partnerships might do in the future. The possibilities are breathtaking.
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The Rev. Peter Morales was the eighth president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).
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