May 23–Open the Window: Dangerous Things 6

Rev. Charlotte Arsenault recently made this powerful observation: that when Unitarian Universalists covenant ourselves to our seven Principles, we are covenanting ourselves to dangerous things.  Standing together for our Principles has meant throughout our history individuals giving their lives for what they mean.

We covenant.  What does that mean?  To covenant means to come together, to gather ourselves around something, to form community and relationships around and because of something (from Latin, convenire = to come together).

We come together and create community around the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

These words almost sing like a child’s song: world community, with peace,  liberty and justice for all.  But for this idea perhaps more people have given their lives and more people feel threatened than any other.

I think that perhaps because these words or those similar “with liberty and justice for all” have a certain history in this country that the mere sound of them create in our minds almost the opposite of what they mean.  On their face, peace, liberty and justice for all describe the most radical vision of human community that could be stated!  Just think about the radical shifts in business as usual if there really were a world at peace for all, with freedom for all and justice for all.

Those words sound very much like the end of the pledge of allegiance to the American flag–a public ritual and mantra that rose out of fear itself–of communism and of “others.”  It arose from white people in leadership for white citizens to say at their gatherings (for when it was written black and brown citizens were totally disenfranchised from the American way of life that pledged “liberty and justice for all.”  It was further edited by a Judeo-Christian world view (one nation, under God) which omits anyone who does not hold that world view.  Those, mostly white, people who grew up saying it, are taken back into their all white community mindsets every time they say it, and they have little awareness of the magic it works on their minds, of how those worlds, liberty and justice for all, likely keep them in a frame of reference that specifically insures liberty and justice for very few.

If we are going to open the window, it means peering into some sacred closets that we have been living in and shining the light there.  It means pondering sacred words and asking what they really mean when we say them.  It means scrutinizing sacred acts and asking what effect they have on us.  It means redefining our mental and social and political spaces so that words like peace, liberty and justice for all are no longer in service to their very opposites.  These are dangerous words if we want things “the way they used to be.”

Bob Patrick

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