Unitarian Universalists have made historic contributions to society by playing the role of first responders to oppressive agendas. Historically, first responders have taken bold stances against a wide range of controversial social issues: slavery, segregation, racism, sexism, homophobia, you name it. For generations Unitarian Universalists have effective responded to oppressive agendas. Now is the time for Unitarian Universalists to align our collective assets to become the ethical agenda setters of our time.
This sermon is an extension of his recent keynote titled Prophetic Purpose for the annual meeting of the Central Midwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Agenda Setters is a democratic strategy designed to mobilize people throughout the United States to participate in creating laws. An internet town hall forum will feature applicants' ideas, which will be voted on by residents in their Congressional districts. The top proposals will be featured in the national television series Agenda Setters.
It's like American Idol but for democracy!
Each episode will feature the top ten ideas in a related area, such as education or justice. Just like in a television game show, people throughout the country will elect the winners. This will give a platform to the next generation of national agenda setters and their elected officials the political capital to turn their ideas into law.
Special thanks to Jai Rice for converting the PowerPoint presentation into the movie file.
Rev. Nate Walker introduces his succession plan for leaving the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia effective July 31, 2014. He says, "Health, intentionality, are the bedrocks to this succession." Click here for a written summary of his resignation: http://www.philauu.org/profiles/blogs/intentions.
Tim Wise is among the most prominent anti-racist writers and educators in the United States. Professor Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University calls him "One of the most brilliant, articulate and courageous critics of white privilege in the nation." In 2010, Tim was named one of "25 Visionaries Who are Changing Your World," by Utne Reader. Tim has spoken in all 50 states of the U.S., on over 800 college and high school campuses, and to community groups across the nation, including last year at General Assembly of Unitarian Universalists. Tim has also lectured internationally in Canada and Bermuda on issues of comparative racism, race and education, racism and religion, and racism in the labor market.
He spoke at the First Unitarian Church on May 6, 2012 as part of the 200th Birthday of Dr. Martin R. Delany. Martin R. Delany lived an extraordinarily life as a social activist and reformer, black nationalist, abolitionist, physician, reporter and editor, explorer, jurist, realtor, politician, publisher, educator, army officer, ethnographer, novelist, and political and legal theorist.
Born on May 6, 1812, free, in the slave state of Virginia, Martin Delany's response to white supremacy was to create an Africanist vision of Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism. A pivotal person of the mid-nineteenth century, he is not well known today. He published Mystery, one of the first African-American newspapers, in Pittsburgh in 1843, and co-edited North Star with Frederick Douglass in 1847. He attended Harvard Medical School in 1850, but was expelled by Oliver Wendell Holmes, then president of Harvard, in response to white student's refusal to attend class with a "colored." Delany organized a number of "emigration" conventions to organize a "back to Africa" movement in the United States and Canada in1850's. He did not just talk about emigration, in 1959 he led an expedition to the Niger Valley, where he negotiated a treaty with the kings of the Yoruba for African-Americans to emigrate. His novel, Blake or the Huts of America, published as a serial in The Anglo-African Magazine in 1859 is one of the first presentations of an African American hero in literature and perhaps the first novel by an African American male. Delany became a recruiter for the Union Army in1863 and after meeting with President Lincoln was appointed the first African American officer, a Major, in the Union Army in1865. He worked with the Freedmen's Bureau in South Carolina during Reconstruction and then stayed in Charleston, South Carolina until 1884. During this period he became involved in Charleston real estate and politics, becoming a judge in 1875. Martin R. Delany died in Wilberforce, Ohio on January 24, 1885.
They were excommunicated, shamed, feared and condemned. They were marginalized for their questions, banished for who they loved... they were the people who are now on a quest for meaning. ~ Rev. Nate Walker, First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.
Rev. Nate Walker struggles to live his own ideals. He says:
"We, as one strong body, are required to lead by being. When we feel the impulse to be the interrogator we must choose to be the generator of visions larger than ourselves. When we feel the impulse to be enraged we must accept the invitation to be empathetic and no longer make people the object of our aggression. When we feel the impulse to be furious we must be curious. When we feel the impulse to be righteous we must transform our soapbox into a music box. Let us dare to be powerfully playful."
"What does justice-making look like, feel like, when we receive hostile communication? Are we hostile in return? Or is something else required of us? What we choose to do is a reflection of who we believe ourselves to be. It all depends on our beliefs about power. I once believed it to be powerful to condemn wrongdoers. I believed it right to tear down another's unexamined assumptions and vaporize those whose presence was not worthy of my attention. I believed that others were the cause of my aggression: others were to blame for my feelings of despair, disappointment and righteousness indignation. Rather than anger being used as a signal it became the solution to all my problems. I felt good to fuel the addiction of righteousness. I was doing justice. I was doing justice. But! I was being an asshole. I am merely five years into my ministry and have long since mastered the art of being an asshole. I have spent far too much energy using the public forum as a battlefield, annihilating those perceived to be my enemy. I have armed myself with faithful friends, so that each time we walked into a room, those present would shade their gaze and whisper in dread, 'The UUs have arrived.' I used to believe that being feared was powerful. I used to believe it was my duty to free the oppressed, but when reacting with righteous anger, guess who became the oppressor? Thich Nhat Hahn says, "I came to set the prisoner free only to realize the prisoner was me."
"We, as seekers of freedom, are required to make justice not simply a product but a process: just actions are the means by which to achieve a justice society. When we observe oppression let us develop strategies that free not only the oppressed but also the oppressor. Those who use their power to deny freedom to others are also imprisoned and are also worthy of care. Do not let their unjust actions inspire us to justify employing cruel means, or else we'll soon become what we set out against. The challenge is this: take up the miseducation of justice making by stripping your conscience of images of equity that claim to manifest through condemnation, through humiliation, through shame and blame and righteousness indignation. No. The craft of justice making begins by marrying a just thought with a just action, inspiring us to collective action: daring to free both the oppressed and the oppressor, for which know what it's been like to be both. Don't get me wrong, stand we must; stand strong and bold, but rather than shoving our foot on the oppressor's neck let us instead reach out a hand, and show them, and even ourselves, a new way of leading by being. I do not know what this new way looks like, yet. But hopefully together we can figure it out."
Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh, editor of "A People So Bold," and chair of the Ethical Eating Core team, speaks about the recent passage of the Ethical Eating statement of conscience passed by the delegates of the 2011 General Assembly of Unitarian Universalist congregations. Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh (Chair) serves as Co-Minister of the Winchester (Massachusetts) Unitarian Society. He serves on the advisory boards of the Food Empowerment Project, Setting the Table, and the Winchester Multicultural Network. Rev. Millspaugh wrote the four workshops on “Social Justice” for the UUA Lifespan Faith Development Staff Group’s national Coming of Age curriculum, and led or co-led seven workshops on food justice at four national conferences. His thoughts on social ethics have been featured in in The Los Angeles Times, The Orange County Register, The Boston Globe, UU World magazine, and C-SPAN.
Vicky Talbert, former chair of the Reverend for Life task force, and who served on the Ministry for Earth on the Ethical Eating Core team, speaks about the recent passage of the Ethical Eating statement of conscience passed by the delegates of the 2011 General Assembly of Unitarian Universalist congregations.
Revered LoraKim Joyner, a doctor of veterinary medicine and Unitarian Universalist minister speaks about the recent passage of the Ethical Eating statement of conscience passed by the delegates of the 2011 General Assembly of Unitarian Universalist congregations.
The Church of the Larger Fellowship, a unique congregation of 3,500 that only meets in person at General Assembly, celebrates the installation of its new Senior Minister, Meg Riley. This sermon, delivered by Rev. Nate Walker of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, speaks of the saving message of Unitarian Universalism.
It is a moral imperative to train social justice leaders how to mindfully harness the generative power of the imagination – to see the world through the eyes of another. This interactive and spiritually nurturing workshop will empower social justice leaders to use the moral imagination to achieve true transformation. ~ Rev. Nate Walker offered this presentation on Saturday, 25 June 2011 at the General Assembly of Unitarian Universalist Congregations.
Unitarian Laura Matilda Towne, a white woman, established the first school for freed slaves months after the Civil War began. After her death in 1901, the Penn School continued as a beacon for racial justice. How did the abolitionist ministry of Priestly and Furness influence Towne? How does her story influence us? ~ Panel Presentation delivered on Thursday, June 23, 2011 at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.
"If we really want to build a progressive, prophetic religion then we must be the ethical agenda-setters of our time. We cannot solely base our public actions on the reactions to conservative agendas. We need to rise up and make a bold and clear stance by saying that religious oppression, religious exclusion, and religious violence are illegitimate - period."
"We are saved when we stop giving new answers to old questions," says Reverend Nate Walker of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. "The question is not 'what happens when we die," but 'what happens when we kill?'" In this bold and provocative sermon, Reverend Nate calls Unitarian Universalism to be a truly progressive and prophetic faith by saving us from participating in systems of oppression and violence. Full text at: http://bit.ly/aSavingFaith
Three stories of faith reveal how it is natural for us to use our brain to make meaning of our lives. What's the science behind belief? Is there a physiological explanation for why humans throughout time have developed creeds and dogma? Is it natural for us to express our values and if so, why? What does science have to say about why people turn to religion? Do humans rely on belief systems during certain times of their lives more than others? If so, why? What happens when those beliefs are challenged and deemed obsolete? Where do we turn if we no longer believe but may feel like we are hardwired to turn to religious beliefs? Click here to watch.
Are we destined to love only one person? Is there such a thing as a single Soul Mate? Or could it be that love comes in many forms and changes over time? Some people experience that evolving love with one person over a lifetime, others experience different kinds of love with different people. Reverend Nate's Valentine's sermon will reflect upon the nature of love and how it is manifested in intimate relationships.
We need not wait for some future increase in non-western religions for the United States to face the complexities of diversity, because the problem of governing pluralism has always existed and will continue into the future. What is changing is our awareness that the United States is and will continue to be a nation of religious minorities.
~ Reverend Nate is indebted to the insightful comments of those who responded to my request for feedback: Natalie Aydin, Reverend Paul Beedle, Justine Blau, Jeff Frankl, Ed Greenlee, Reverend Alex Holt, Eric Isaacson, Dan Johnson, Stephen Kramer, Linda Lord, Kate Luhr, Anne Slater, Mary Stomquist, and Dan Widyono.
Hours after Robert Bentley was sworn in as the new Governor of Alabama he told members of the Montgomery Baptist church, quote, "Anyone who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister." In response, Joe Williams, a member of the Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York, stands on the side of love by standing against these kinds of false doctrines. He calls Unitarian Universalists to action by proclaiming our religion as a much needed theology for our time.
Reverend Nate turns from a sermon intended to be about white privilege to the subject of the polemic nature of our political discourse, of which we are all a part. He examines his own thoughts and actions in relation to the assassination attempt of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as well as the words Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. Reverend Nate reflects upon the struggle of playing the middle, of being the bridge, as articulated by poet Donna Kate Rushin.
Click here to read or press the play button below to listen or click here for the YouTube video.
What moral stance would lead you to break a civil law? For what social justice issue would you be willing to put yourself at odds with the police? Reverend Nate reflects upon the nature and effectiveness of non-violent civil disobedience in relation to some of the most morally compelling issues of our time. He does so by reflecting upon Derren Brown's reenactment of the Milgram experiment conducted by Stanley in 1963. Click here to watch the 9 minute video before listening to the audio sermon.
By Rev. Nate Walker of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
Tripping over one another three grieving clowns stumbled up the hillside.
The first clown wailed and bemoaned and used his glistening trophies to collect his tears. “Look at my pain,” he’d cry. “I’ve earned so many trophies of tears.” He blubbered, “I’m the King of Despair.” The trophies hung from the bar that spread over the back of his neck, as if he was a nineteenth century farm boy delivering milk. Every once in a while he’d clumsily fall and the tears would spill from the trophies. In those moments, he would verbosely lament, “My trophies, my trophies must hold more tears: proof of my pain!”
The second clown, a ballerina, stoically faced the horizon. Not even the warm light reflecting off the amber clouds could reveal her invisible tears. The inconspicuous water could not be seen running down her cheek, nor down the lacy ruffles; by the time they reached her ankle the tears began to collect in her pointe shoes made of glass. Even though trying to appear weightless, the legs of the ballerina clown moved like stilts. The only sign of her grief was found in her pristine slippers that were overflowing with salty water, leaving a trail of tears.
The third clown, with many colorful orbs hovering around her, had the deepest of frowns. As a tear would fall down her cheek she’d catch it with her tongue and blow the tear into the air while making a wish. The tear would transform into an expansive luminescent sphere. It floated among the others while memories of her delightful past danced within each orb. These images tickled her frown. Soon enough her grin lifted each side of her lips while her eyes gleamed with the joy of remembering.
What’s the moral of this story?
The first clown with trophies of tears mistook his pain for pride and therefore collected his pain as if mourning was a prize worthy of boasting.
The second clown with invisible tears mistook her grief for stoicism and therefore denied her sorrow as if bereavement was an errand and not an art form.
The third clown, however, knew her true nature: she was a clown – clowns have the innate gift of transforming sorrow into silliness, the past into the present, and mourning into memories.
A story about a young widow who asks her 14 year old son, "What are you waiting for?" It was her own answer to the question that left her speechless. ~ A sermon by Rev. Nate Walker of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia inspired by the writings of Wayne Muller, Thomas Merton and the music of Eric Whitacre (Lux Arumque). Click here to watch.
A healthy congregation is one whose members cultivate a culture of direct communication while practicing deep listening and loving speech. In this way, language is used to open-up meaning rather than used to demean an idea or a person. It is not only about the words we use but who we address. Indirect communication, for example, can foster a culture of gossip, secrecy and suspicion, which prevents us from achieving the goal of transparency. Direct communication will be one of the spiritual practices Rev. Nate explores in the sermon entitled, "Language as a Generative Act," a term used in the Newfeld communication model. For a sample "Communication Toolkit" please visit http://philauu.org/page/communication-toolkit. Until then, here's a clip of the sermon.
In the context of the midterm elections, Reverend Nate will serve as a race critic by asking, “What if the Tea Party were Black?” Specifically, he will draw upon questions asked by Tim Wise, “Imagine that hundreds of black protesters descended on DC armed with AK-47s. Would they be defined as patriotic Americans?” Reverend Nate will draw upon the history of the Black Power movement and political examinations of the rise of the Tea Party in America. Click here to watch video.
Reverend Nate Walker of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia asks, "What unites Unitarian Universalists?" Paul responded "respect for one another"; Ranwa said "our differences unite us"; Whitney and Kim said "love"; and Peter said "hope"; Manish said "ethics"; Paul said "the magnetic pull of acceptance"; Leroy said "what unites me with other Unitarian Universalists is a lack of belief in the supernatural explanations for the universe"; Jean Sue said, "the inability to blindly believe unites us"; and Janet says that "compassion" unites us "and a willingness - in fact a need - to question assumptions"; while Ed said that we are united by the ability to "appreciate a good question as much as if not more than answers." How would you answer this question?
One in five Americans describes themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” What does this mean? This sermon will explore the various private practices that spiritual people may affirm, as compared to rejection of the public rituals and statements of faith professed by organized religion. Reverend Nate ask what happens when the supermajority of the members of a Unitarian Universalist congregation describe themselves in this way? Isn’t it ironic that many UUs have an allergy to religion and yet are members of a religion?
In his first sermon of the year-long series on “Big Questions,” Reverend Nate asks, “How do we contribute to Islamophobia?” He will reflect upon the prejudice that Muslims are currently facing with the building of the Community Center at Park51, the proposed Islamic Center in lower Manhattan. He will draw upon political and sociological data to reflect upon the religious conflicts that are being played out before these mid-term elections.
For more information about the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia visit www.PhilaUU.org.
Directors from Monsanto came to the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia for dinner to discuss the ethics of biotechnology. When asked, "will you vow to do no harm," Monsanto replied, "We already do no harm." Listen to Reverend Nate Walker's summary of Monsanto's response to the proposal to develop a modern Hippocratic Oath that could lead the entire field of biotechnology to "do no harm, to do good, and to be just." Click here for the full text: http://bit.ly/agEV5f
Shame can be a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the awareness of wrong or foolish behavior. When this emotion becomes a pervasive mood it can cripple people, especially when used by religious organizations. There is also a kind of shame that can be positive, preventing us from harming others and ourselves. Reverend Nate Walker reflects upon various spiritual practices that can heal feelings of negative shame and inspire one’s moral and faith development. Click here for the full written sermon, entitled "A Shame-Free Church" or click below to listen to a recording. This service draws upon the writings of Ronald and Patricia Potter-Efron in their book "Letting Go of Shame: Understanding How Shame Affects Your Life."
In the 21st century, undocumented immigrants are put into a sphere created by the state and then punished for being in such a sphere. Margaret Fuller reminds us that the 19th century woman was put into a sphere created by men and then punished for not being a man. ~ Rev. Nate Walker, First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.
Why does a 4-year-old keep throwing his mother's Blackberry in the toilet? Why does a 12-year-old listen to an iPod while holding a dead baby? How can the century's technological advances be matched by comparable advances in human relations? Rev. Nate reflects upon these questions in the context of a sermon entitled iMinistry.
In response to the Camel & Eye of a Needle parable Rev. Nate asks, "Why should the wealthy man's net worth be used to demean his inherent worth?" This sermon by Rev. Nate Walker of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia is about the interlocking oppressions of class, race and gender.
iWedding at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. Present for their ceremony were the groom's parents and two friends, and thanks to Skype's video conferencing, the bride's mother and aunt in the Ukraine and the groom's sister and brother-in-law in Los Angeles. The pulpit was moved into the isle of the chapel in order to hold the two wireless laptops. The families in Ukraine and L.A. had a good view of this intercontinental ceremony.
Rev. Nate Walker of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia recently joined an Amici Curiae brief for the case Kalman v. Cortes, which charges a Philadelphia man for blasphemy for trying to name is film company "I Choose Hell" productions. In this sermon, Rev. Nate defends Kalman's right to freedom of belief and speech. He will do so by drawing upon the legacy of various Unitarians and Universalists who were imprisoned, exiled and killed for their so called blasphemous beliefs. Given this history, Rev. Nate will articulate how Unitarian Universalists are poised to help overturn the current blasphemy laws in Pennsylvania. For the complete text click here, including footnotes click here.