July 8–Blessings and Privilege

I write this today on our son’s 22nd birthday.  I could write the same on January 8 or March 24, the dates of the birth of our daughters, but it happens to be July 8, one of the mornings after two more black men have been killed at the hands of police officers who, by every indication (lots of video), misused their authority, trust, and their weapons.

On this date twenty-two years ago, like any father who is even remotely interested in his family or children, I was once again (this being the third) swept away in the emotions of having this child laid into my arms.  Like each time before, I could tell by looking into his face that while I had a lot of work to do as a parent in caring for him, he was already somebody, and it would also be my delight to spend the rest of my life getting to know this person.

Twenty-two years later, the world he is living in makes me take a second look at the things I hold dear in my faith as a Unitarian Universalist.  We say that these Principles guide us.  I am seeing them a little differently this morning, and I have the privilege and luxury to do so.

  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

It is a privilege to never question whether your child is worth something to the community around you.

It is a blessing to see the instances when your child is valued, treated with respect, and cared for by the community around you.

2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

It is a privilege to be able to expect the system of laws to work for your child, to not even have to know what the word equity means, and to only have experiences of compassion between you and people who look, talk, and think like you.

It is a blessing when your brown skinned child has a brush with the law and comes away unhurt, unjailed, and unharassed; when she is given opportunities that brown people are often not given and when his experiences with people who don’t look, talk, and think like you are kind and gentle.

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.

For some of us, it is a privilege to walk into church and be recognized, smiled at, and supported on our journey.

For others it is a blessing just to be able to walk into church and not be rejected because of their journey.

4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

It is a privilege to know that I can ask questions that are important to me without being shamed, shouted down, or threatened.

It is a blessing for some to know that they were able to ask questions, and that the shaming, shouting, and threats were only minimal.

5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large

It is a privilege to follow my conscience, go where I want, assemble with whomever I wish, choose to own a gun or not own a gun, put the political signs on my car or yard as I wish, and expect no push back from those things at all.

It is a blessing for some of us whose hair is non-traditional, whose skin is not white, whose manner of loving does not conform to “one man, one woman”, and whose political affiliations don’t match the community around us to find our persons and property have not been disrespected for today.

6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all

It is a privilege to think that the people I love to associate with somehow constitute world community, peace, liberty, and justice for all, and that this must be working since I don’t personally know anyone who is in jail.

It is a blessing to experience community at the hands of otherwise strangers who act out of some sense of real peace, who cherish their own freedom in helping you enjoy your own, and who know that justice is a work never done.

7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

It is a privilege to have a safe, uninterrupted life where one never has to listen to the news or read a paper, and believe that this is the way God has made things.

It is a blessing to weep and travail in one’s soul at what is happening in our world and to know that we are an interdependent web that has lost sight of itself.  It’s the sort of blessing that feels like a curse.  It’s the sort of curse waiting on us to do something–like start with number 1 again–recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of all people.

Birth and death are a circle, and so are our Principles.  We cannot claim an interdependent web of all existence and then withhold the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Number 7 and Number 1 are essentially the same.

Privilege and blessing are not the same.  Our system in this country serves up privilege to some who can afford to take it for granted.  The rest are left to count their blessings when privilege has done them no harm.

I live mostly in the realm of the privileged.  We have much work to do, and we are the ones who have to do it.  Privilege is not ever required, but to be authentically human, we cannot live without blessing.

Bob Patrick

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