This week, I have been grateful for the openness and spontaneity of this congregation. I treasured the fun and improvisational nature of this past Sunday’s “Question Box” service. I treasured it most for the window it opened into the hearts and minds of each of you that submitted a question.
The questions themselves, more so than my brief responses, held insight, curiosity, and longing that can be guides for all of us.
To what do we or you pray? How can we bring a sense of courage and faith to children and young people in these scary times? What is the spiritual or religious significance of having a marriage ceremony? How can we resist/move on from shame? How do I give basic human respect to persons who I really think are evil? Do you believe in God? If so, how do you define God? How do you hope to help us navigate this time when the spirit and hope are swamped in waves of despair over an increasingly threatening future? Have you ever witnessed a miracle?
This small sampling of your questions provides a years’ worth of reflection! I take joy in the wonderings held in your hearts, minds, and spirits.
Questions can be the source of deepening connection with ourselves and others.
When used properly, questions have the potential to connect us to the world of another. A heartfelt “How are you?” or “How was your day?” can become the bridge that keeps us in relationship to the lives of those we love. Sometimes, too, questions create a bridge within ourselves, allowing us to hear what’s going on at a deeper level. We know when we’ve encountered a question that has this potential because it stays with us — maybe for the day, maybe for our whole lives. It taps us on the shoulder to wake us up, or it wiggles its way in more deeply, opening us up to seeing things in a new way.
Thank you for your questions. I will work my way into responding to some of them with sermons and blog posts, and I invite you to reach out to me to make an appointment if you’d like one-on-one time to delve into your question further.
These are the words of Juan Lopez, an environmental and human rights defender from the Aguan region of Honduras. He joined our Interfaith Delegation for a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa. The words he shared at the embassy, quoted in this post, speak directly to the root causes of migration from Honduras. It was an honor to meet him and learn from him.
A Reflection written by Juan Lopez, a lay leader in the Catholic Church, a teacher and Delegate of the Word of God. Juan is a leader in the Municipal Committee for the Defense of Common and Public Lands of Tocoa, which works in the region and in coordination at the national level. Here is his testimony that he presented to the Charge de Affairs, Heidi Fulton at the US Embassy. Because of threats, Juan and his family are unable to return to their homes.
(Translation follows each paragraph)
27 de marzo 2019/March 27, 2019
Eran las 8:45am del viernes 22 de marzo, sonó el teléfono y conteste la llamada. Una voz firme y pronunciación muy clara a pesar de la mezcla entre Español e Inglés, ella Estadounidense y yo Hondureño con pocas horas de conocernos pero con una historia y una fe que nos une. Me dijo; “la reunión…
I returned over a week ago now from a weeklong pilgrimage to Honduras to learn more about the root causes of migration and to offer witness and accompaniment to Honduran environmental and human rights defenders. There is so much to say about the trip and what I learned and experienced, and for now I’d like to share a few photos to give you a sense of what the trip was like. During the Easter Sunday/Earth Day service on Sunday, April 21st, I will be offering a deeper reflection on the whole experience and will be presenting about the trip on Wednesday, May 1st in an event sponsored by the Central Vermont Refugee Action Network at UCM.
The purpose of our pilgrimage was to learn more about the root causes of migration and to offer witness and accompaniment to local people engaged in the defense of their land and their human rights. In subsequent blog posts, I will share more about these themes.
Our March worship theme of “Journey” is very much on my mind as I count down the days to my departure to Honduras on March 18 for an interfaith “Root Causes of Migration” pilgrimage. Preparing for a journey like this one requires physical, material, emotional, and spiritual readiness. I have many questions running through my mind: Can I maintain my physical health enough to feel ready to leave and healthy while I’m away? What do I need to bring with me to feel that I have what I need for those eight days of travel? How can I prepare myself emotionally and spiritually to be ready to engage in a new experience, meet new people, and make meaning of this journey? What do I need to tend to here with you and in my personal life to feel okay about stepping away?
I find the four stages of pilgrimage that I have been learning about to be helpful in this preparation: motivation & longing, preparation & departure, journey – the way, and return & promise.
[C]aminante, no hay camino se hace camino al andar. Traveler, there is no road, the road is made as we go. ~ Antonio Machado
In these days prior to leaving, I am reflecting on the reasons I am called to participate in this pilgrimage, what I seek to learn, and how my own life story is connected to the history and people of Honduras. The journey I have been on as a Unitarian Universalist has called me many times over to reflect on who and how I want to be in the world as well as for whom and with whom. Within our spiritual community at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, I witness so many examples of people choosing to engage in loving service of others. I believe that part of my journey with you as your minister involves finding those ways that I am most called to serve the world and to engage in dialogue and conversation with you about this service. I look forward to talking with you more about this journey in the days before my departure and after I return on March 25.
In the next few weeks, we have an exciting opportunity to engage in discernment, commitment, and generosity as members of our spiritual community. Our Annual Budget Drive for the 2019-2020 church year begins on Sunday, March 10 with the theme, “Fuel Our Flame.” One of the principles of pilgrimage is that we rely on each other for it is always a new journey. We, too, rely on each other within our congregation.
We care for one another with the gifts of a listening ear, warm meals, smiles, and laughter. The generosity of our time and many talents allows us to carry out our mission as a spiritual community engaged in shared ministry. And, our generous financial contributions are key to ensuring we can sustain our church community for one another continuing to be the people we desire to be and make a positive difference in the world.
I hope you will consider with an open and generous heart the many ways you can engage with our congregation to nurture your own spiritual journey – and others’ as well – in the months to come.
Below is a guest blog post written by Jo Romano, member of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier. She and two others from Montpelier, one also a member of UCM, answered the call from the UU College of Social Justice for volunteers to support asylum seekers and refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border and left for El Paso, Texas on February 1 to volunteer with Annunciation House, a shelter for migrants and asylum seekers.
February 6, 2019
As I feast my eyes on the magical El Paso night skyline, I am reminded how thankful I am to know beauty, compassion, and joy for this crazy world I live in – especially with those so much less fortunate than me.
On Friday, February 1, Sally, Abby and I arrived in El Paso, living in a sparse Air BnB.No bureaus, or tables to put our belongings on. So we use the floor. It is clean and spacious. I sleep on what feels like a very hard couch for a bed, but by morning as I awake it feels soft and comfortable and cozy. We are tourists today, for tomorrow we begin orientation with the Annunciation House with the goal to welcome, feed, clothe and help migrants arriving daily to their next destination, somewhere in the United States.
We explored El Paso by foot walking 5 miles on Friday and 5 miles on Saturday and went to the History and Art Museums passing by the El Paso Detention Center. Saturday afternoon we get a text from the Annunciation House asking us to change our plans and travel Sunday morning to Las Cruces, New Mexico because a new site to receive migrants has opened at a LaQuinta Inn. All three of us are up for the task and are driven to Las Cruces, which is only 45 minutes away from El Paso. We arrive 30 minutes before the arrival of 50 immigrants mostly from Guatemala, some from Honduras and El Salvador.
We receive no orientation and are thrown into the fire. 50 people arrived by bus and sit outside on sidewalks and curbs in the LaQuinta parking lot. They are families, mostly 2 people per family. A mother or father with a child, babies still in their mother’s womb to 17 years old.
We learn about their journey.I am furious and very disturbed by the experience that is confirmed.
They cross over the bridge from Mexico to El Paso and are taken to a holding site where they are registered. They are given a thin metallic (silver) paper blanket and sleep on a cold hard concrete floor with this one blanket for the two of them. The air conditioning is turned up high causing the people to be very cold, which is not what they are used to having come from warm climates. The adults are given one frozen burrito 3 times a day.The children are given a juice box and animal crackers, 3 times are day.
It is a stark and frightening experience for them, on purpose. The officials at the holding center are directed to make their stay very unpleasant in hopes that they will give up and decide to ‘self deport.’ They are there 2 to 5 days and a fair amount of these people develop sickness, colds, fevers, and upset stomachs.
At the holding sites, each adult and child is registered, given a date for legal action. A thick heavy black permanent ankle brace is put on the adult programmed with the address of a family or friend, who will sponsor them while they wait for the government process to unfold. The ankle brace does not come off, so the government can keep track of each person at all times. If there is a change of address or if the address is wrong and needs to be changed, they need to return to the detention center for the brace to be reprogrammed to the new address.
The government officials at the detention centers refer to the immigrants as “bodies” and when it is time for them to eat, they say “it is feeding time.” They see these people not as human but more as animals and treat them as we might treat our animals on farms.
You may have read about this in the news. Currently there are 30 people in one detention center in El Paso that are on hunger strike because of the conditions. They are force fed by a tube that is put through the nose and down their throats.
The day before Christmas Eve, the government dropped off, by bus, a hundred or more in a park in El Paso with no food, water, or a place to go, knowing no one. It is winter here and it was colder than usual out that night — 30 and 40 degrees.
Lindy, a 31-year old site coordinator for Annunciation House was awakened by a call at midnight by Reuben, the director of the Annunciation House, and was asked to contact all 6 sites/shelters to see what capacity of beds they had, if any, to receive these 100 mothers, fathers and children. By 2 am, Lindy completed her research, found transportation provided by local volunteers and delivered them all to one of the 6 sites in El Paso or to a hotel (where a new site had to be opened).
By 6am some of the migrants were placed. The rest, a large number, were transported to a new site at a local La Quinta Inn. 30 rooms were booked (2 family pairs to each room). Often a new site needs to be open at a hotel to meet the need.
There are 300-400 people arriving daily in El Paso seeking asylum from poverty and violence in their home countries. Lindy said that in one month (Nov – Dec), it cost $150,000 just to temporally house migrants in hotels. This does not include the costs of the fully functioning 6 sites in El Paso.
The Detention Centers do have a relationship with Annunciation House’s director, Reuben. They call him daily to say how many they are releasing from detention to the temporary shelters. Usually by 11am, Reuben notifies site coordinators at shelters and hotels how many will be arriving at their site. There is a tremendous amount of coordination going on to make this system flow daily, thus the need for volunteers locally and from afar.
95% of the migrants have someone in the U.S. who will sponsor them, where they can go to live. Thesedestinations are all over the U.S. – Chicago, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Atlanta, Washington DC, NY upstate and NY City, Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, Florida, California, Oregon, Washington State, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and even Vermont to name the few that I have worked with so far.The receiving family member or friend (sponsor) pays for a plane ticket, or a bus ticket. It often times takes l to 3 days to get there by bus.
Life as a volunteer.
We arrived in Las Cruces, New Mexico at the LaQuinta Inn, a new site that opened on a Monday housing 100 people, then the next day 50 more were added. That is when Sally, Abby and I arrived.
In the full group of 50 or 100, each mother and child or father and child (sometimes there are 2 or 3 children per adult) is oriented. They are welcomed by the coordinator of that site and told that 1) they are safe here, 2) there will be food to eat here and enough water to drink here 3) there is medicine here for those that need it 4) they will be warm here, 5) they are welcome and respected here and 6) we will do our best to support them in the next l to 3 days to help them continue on their journey to their sponsor and reach their destination by bus or plane. Volunteers are introduced, so they know whom they are to go for help and ask questions.
They are escorted family by family into one of the hotel rooms, which is the “central office.” Here there are four volunteers (must speak Spanish) doing intake in two rooms. One volunteer writes down the full name of the mom or dad, the name and age of the child(ren), where they are from, and where they need to get to next.
Then the family moves to another table where another volunteer (must speak Spanish) begins to make transportation plans. They call the receiving sponsor in the U.S. and the sponsor tells the volunteer that they will purchase tickets by bus or plane and a date and time is decided upon. Usually the mom or dad talks on the phone with their sponsor to ensure that the mom or dad understands the plan. Forms are filled out and pinned to complex white boards delineating the next step by date. Today, tomorrow, or the next day by bus, plane or pickup (if very local).
Sometimes the destination address given at the detention center that is programmed into the ankle brace changes. And when that happens, it is a real problem, because then arrangements have to be made to go back to the holding center to get permission and reprogram the ankle brace to the new address!
Then the family goes to the next station, where I am serving as a volunteer who coordinates and assigns a hotel room number. Keeping track of the rooms and where everyone is assigned is a feat. With a large matrix on the wall, filling in who is where, with colored sticky notes, color depending on the day they arrived. I need to make sure that mothers with female child(ren) are assigned in the same rooms, fathers with male child(ren) are assigned in the same rooms, a mom with a male child is assigned with another mom with male child, a dad with a female child, etc. Of course we need to make sure that male and female children over the age of 6 are not assigned together. Yes, it is complicated!
Then I give the family their room number and escort them to the next station where they get a small packet of toiletries (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb). This is where Sally is volunteering, making sure they get their packet and that they connect to the next station, which is meeting the “runner” who will take them to their room.
Abby is serving as a “runner,” taking the adult and child(ren) to their assigned room.
Abby speaks enough Spanish to help them get settled in their room. She tells them
how to open and close the door, how to work the shower, to make sure that they flush toilet paper inside the toilet (rather than put in the trash can, which back home they are accustomed to), that they cannot use the phone, that only one key to two families is provided, that breakfast is from 7-8am, lunch 12-1pm and dinner 6-7pm, that they can come down to the lobby but not leave the building, and that they can come to the office at any time with any questions or medical needs, etc.
They they relax – or sometimes not!Rooms are limited. I often have to reassign a family to another room at a moment’s notice (Abby goes to them, asks them to relocate to the room I reassign).Abby says they are all so accommodating – “sure no problem and thank you.”
Whenever there is a quick reassignment, I have to make sure I go and find their paperwork and change the room assignment on the form so we can keep track what room they are assigned to.
The other volunteers (must speak Spanish) are now working on transportation plans, time and flight, and they have to assign a “transporter” to take the family to the airport or the bus station. There are volunteers who help in this way. I took a family to the local bus station in Las Cruces and made sure they got on the bus.
The people are being transported to bus or plane throughout the day, morning or night, every day. I am amazed at the coordination that these volunteers and coordinators are responsible for.And then there are missed busses or connecting flights that have to be solved.
There is a room assigned for “medical help and supplies.” Sometimes there is a nurse practitioner or doctor who needs to be consulted.Today, there was a mom and 3-year-old daughter who had a rash. The nurse practitioner was called in to look at it and he determined it was scabies that can only be treated by a prescription. So a prescription needed to be called in, a volunteer had to go to pharmacy in El Paso to pick it up, etc.
At any time during their short stay at the hotel, they may choose to go to the “clothing room” where Sally, Abby and I also volunteer, organizing and sorting donated clothing.Each person is provided one new pair of socks, one new pair of underpants, a pair of pants, blouse or shirt (if needed), and a winter coat (if needed).Many of the immigrants’ destination is Northeast and requires warm clothing.
Local churches volunteer to provide lunches and dinners for 100 which consists of rice, pinto beans, corn tortillas, sometimes shredded chicken. When there is a lack of volunteering, pizza is brought in.
When the moms and dads and children leave, they are provided with a bag filled with the following — if they’re leaving on a plane (no water): an orange, apple, granola bars, pudding, or other snack, juice packets and 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white Wonder Bread per person. If they’re leaving on a bus, a similar bag is prepared, with a water bottle for each person, and 3 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches per adult, per day.So a family of 2 traveling on a 3 day bus trip requires 18 sandwiches.
Sally, Abby and myself are pretty busy all the time from 7am into the evening making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and packing destination bags.
We smile and comfort these folks whom many are frightened. It is our honor to greet our neighbors from abroad with empathy, compassion and a smile.As the mission of my home Unitarian Church of Montpelier says: We welcome all, as we build a loving community to nurture each person’s spiritual journey, serve human need and protect the Earth, our home.
The UU College of Social Justice is still accepting applications for volunteers to support refugees in Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border. More information can be found here.
My first trip to the US-Mexico border in 2004 was an ordinary experience. After finishing a grueling year-long organizing campaign in New Mexico, I took off for a road trip with a couple of friends. We toured around the state visiting the mountain forests of the Sierra Blanca, White Sands National Monument, and Roswell (famous for a UFO sighting in 1947). The final stop before returning to Albuquerque was Ciudad Juarez, Mexico just across the border from El Paso, Texas. I don’t remember much about the actual border crossing. I imagine we had our passports ready. We arrived to Juarez, parked the car, and spent a few hours as tourists visiting local shops and having lunch before heading back. As U.S. citizens with all the proper paperwork, we didn’t worry about what we might experience as we re-entered the U.S.
Eight years later, I visited a different part of the US-Mexico border. I journeyed to Phoenix, Arizona for what was billed “Justice GA,” our annual denominational assembly which that year was focused on the calls for justice in Arizona. Unitarian Universalists from the Tucson congregation offered a border trip to anyone who wanted to arrive early and spend a few day in Tucson and across the border in Nogales, Mexico. I learned about the work of No More Deaths / No Mas Muertes, a humanitarian organization dedicated to stopping the deaths of migrants in the Arizona desert. It is an official ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson. Recently, the work of No More Deaths has been under attack by the U.S. government. On January 18, four volunteers with No More Deaths were found guilty on all charges related to their efforts to provide life-saving humanitarian aid to migrants in the Arizona desert. Five aid workers still await trial.
Last week, I returned to the southern borderlands as part of the “Beyond the Call 3: Grounding and Growing our Prophetic Ministries” program. Our second retreat was held at a ranch 45 minutes south of Tucson and 30 minutes north of the US-Mexico border. One of the most impactful parts of the retreat for me was spending a couple of hours with three people from the UU congregation in Amado, Arizona, just 10 minutes north of the ranch where we had our retreat. The minister, their office manager, and a long-time member of the church hosted our group of about 25 people. We were there to bear witness to their stories.
For more than an hour, they shared reflections on what it has been like for each of them to try to live in faithful witness and action in their community. They shared stories of people – in one case a 13 year-old girl – showing up at the front door of their homes and the church lost, hungry, thirsty, and tired. They shared stories of day to day life attempting to travel through checkpoints and watching truckloads of concertina wire headed for the border. They shared stories of showing up at the port in Nogales to shut down the border crossing in protest of the treatment and separation of migrant families in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol custody. I found it especially moving to hear Barbara Lemmon, now in her 80s and formerly a resident of Waterbury, VT, share that providing help to migrants traveling through the area has now become her life’s work.
We also learned that the congregation had been in a months long discernment about changing their name from Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Green Valley in Amado to Borderlands Unitarian Universalist. Another sign of how their faith is calling them in new directions.
Living many hundreds of miles north of the US-Mexico border, it may seem as if our lives in Vermont are quite removed from the issues facing those in the southern borderlands. In our state, however, we do have hundreds of immigrants from Mexico and Central America who have traveled long distances to work on our dairy farms. There are people in our community who spend significant parts of the year in southwestern states and Mexico and who consider these parts of the country and world to be home. And while the militarization that is ramping up in the southern borderlands is happening at an alarming pace and scale, in our proximity to the northern border we are also subject to the impacts of increased militarization of our borders and the expanded reach of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We are all connected and we are all impacted by the policies that control who can enter our country and how immigrants are treated once they arrive.
I am inspired by UCM members Abby Colihan and Jo Romano who left Vermont on February 1 to spend two weeks volunteering with Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, a shelter for migrants who have recently entered the U.S.
In my own discernment about how to respond to the continuing moral crisis at the border and in our treatment of those migrating from Central American and Mexico, I have decided to join a weeklong interfaith pilgrimage to Honduras, March 18-25. I will be one of two ministers representing the UU College of Social Justice on this trip. The “Interfaith Root Causes of Migration Pilgrimage” is sponsored by SHARE El Salvador. During our time, we will visit with organizations working for the rights of migrants, accompany members of targeted Honduran communities, participate in an interfaith solidarity action, and reflect on the life of Oscar Romero. My hope is that I will be able to learn more about how political unrest, violence, and climate change are showing up in people’s lives and affecting migration. I hope to join in community with others who are inspired by their faith traditions to serve in witness and accompaniment. I hope to bring an open heart and mind and to bring back stories to share with you all and our broader community.
It is my faith in the power of our connections to heal division that calls me on this journey. It is my faith in the liberation of all people through moral struggle and resistance that calls me on this journey. It is my faith in our shared ministry – minister and congregation and all of us working together – that continues to call me on this journey.
As most of us were finishing up our Thanksgiving dinners this past week, three spacecrafts were making their final approach to the planet Mars. NASA’s InSight Lander trailed by two briefcase-sized satellites, MarCO-A and MarCO-B (nicknamed “Wall-E” and “Eve”) had traveled nearly seven months to reach their destination beginning a two-year mission to study the interior composition of the planet.
One of the hopes for the mission is that the data it sends back will help us learn more about the early formation of our planet Earth and other planets in the inner solar system.
The human drive to answer big questions and unravel timeless mysteries continues to move us forward. This drive also stops my in my tracks in total wonder at all we may never fully understand about our own human existence and the universe of which we are one tiny part.
As we enter this holiday season, I hope that you will allow yourself a moment (or two or three) to stop and marvel at the wondrous mystery that is all around us. It is our capacity for awe that can help replenish our wells when the weight of the world starts to feel too heavy.
Option A: Return to an Ordinary Moment of Deep Meaning
We’ve all experienced it: the mystery of an ordinary moment that suddenly unfolds and offers deep meaning. The everyday becomes luminous. This exercise invites you to remember some of those luminous moments and revisit the gift they gave. To do this, simply make some time to watch and meditate on the following video:
As you watch, think of moments you’ve experienced when life suddenly and mysteriously lit up and reminded you of the marvel and preciousness of being alive. And think about how that lit you up – move you from a feeling of “the same old, same old” to a feeling of dancing with the sacred. Go one from there to imagine images from your own life that you’d include if you were making your own video. Then keep watch during the following hours and days to see if this meditation changes the way you perceive or dance with your “ordinary” days.
Option B: Connect with Mystery on a Clear Night
Since the beginning of our existence, star-gazing has been a primary way we humans contemplate mystery. For scientist and mystic alike, it is a central way we sort out our mysterious place in the universe and the mystery of who we are. As we connect with the universe we connect more deeply with ourselves. This exercise invites you to lean into this connection between the stars above and deep meaning within.
To do this, make room on a clear night to listen to the following podcast while you gaze at the open sky:
The podcast tells the stories of numerous people’s efforts to connect with and make meaning of the mystery that lies beyond. As you listen, treat each story as an invitation to see something new in the vastness overhead. Simply allow this visual and auditory meditation to soak over you. When the podcast ends, continue to sit or lay in the quiet stillness and listen for the new story that your own voice starts to tell. Come to your group ready to share what this clear night clarified for you.
We UUs have had a mixed relationship to our mystical side. Sadly, we’ve tended to distance, deny or ignore it. But it’s there. From the Transcendentalists to our love of earth-centered spirituality, from our first UU Source to those of us who describe themselves as “freethinking mystics with hands,” stories of UU mysticism are woven fine throughout our history. This exercise invites you to add your own mystical experience to that narrative.
Throughout the month of December on our Soul Matters Facebook page, we will invite Soul Matters participants to share short versions of their mystical experiences on the Facebook page and in our Soul Matters google folder. It’s an effort to collect, affirm and articulate the first of our UU Sources: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”
All you have to do is make some time this month to reflect on and condense your mystical experience into a paragraph or two. Or if you have the heart of a poet, maybe even into 8 or 12 lines. When you are done, copy and paste it into our UU Mystics document (or post it on Facebook when we solicit stories).
To help you on your way, visit our UU Mystics document where some stories of UU mystics already are.
As you write your story, think about the phrasing of our first UU Source and ask yourself how your story continues to “move you to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”