I would like to thank you for participating in the special collection to send to the Red Cross to help with rescue efforts in Japan. Several families in our church have family and friends there, and are personally affected by the disasters there. So far, everyone they know is safe, but it is still emotionally frightening to hear about loved ones so close to danger. The enormity of the earthquake and the tsunami are frightening and humbling for all of us, a reminder that the earth is capable of such destructive forces, as natural as they may be. There are things for which no amount of preparation can protect us.

When I planned the special collection for this past Sunday, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee had not organized any relief fund. If you are interested in donating to relief efforts through the UUA, here is the information:

Following Friday’s devastating earthquake and resulting tsunamis, the UUA has been in contact with our religious partners in Japan to express our concern and our willingness to partner with them in recovery efforts.  Our partners, including Rissho Kosei-kai, Tsubaki Grand Shrine, the Konko Church of Izuo, the Tokyo Dojin Church, and the Japan Chapter of the International Association for Religious Freedom are all in discernment about the specific efforts they will be taking to support recovery work, and the UUA will walk with them in the directions that are ultimately chosen.  Please join with UUs throughout the United States by contributing to the UUA’s Japan Relief Fund which will support the work that our Japanese partners pursue.
You can go to their website, www.uua.org to donate.

Meanwhile, I offer the meditation I shared on Sunday morning by Theresa Novak, found in Without or Without Candlelight, a Skinner House meditation manual edited by Victoria Safford. Prayer never hurts.

Pray with me now,
if you will.
I think
we need
to pray.

Pray with me now.
Not out to some great intervener,
a handsome stranger
coming to the rescue.
You don't have to barter your soul,
your mind, your free and restless spirit.
Pray with me now.

We need to pray loudly sometimes,
giving voice in word or gesture
to the urgent fires within our hearts.

Screaming out, "Why this?"
"How long?"
Screaming out for help, for courage.
Outrage rumbles through our veins
and the pulse of our prayer is ragged.

Pray with me now,
if you will,
I think
we need

We need to pray softly sometimes,
our silent bodies held still,
a quiet hope, rising in the wind,
blowing about the world in wonder.

Pray with me now.
Pray silently or out loud.

Our very prayers are an answer,
the pulse of life, of hope,
in our oh so human hearts.
May our prayers be heard.
to pray.

p.s The latest Table of Plenty newsletter offers thanks to individuals from First Parish and our congregation as a whole, information about an upcoming fundraising concert by the Tervos, and a guest column written by yours truly. If you are interested, you can read it on their website, http://www.tableofplentyinchelmsford.org.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen
There is a growing unrest in our country and our world as people are gathering to protest for economic justice and political freedom: in Wisconsin, in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya. Enough people feel that something of great import in their lives is on the line: precious rights that they fear losing or that they have never had.  And so, they have joined together to march, to take a stand against their governments.

But there are major differences. We live in a democratic country, governed by the rule of law. The protesters in Wisconsin have as their civil right the freedom of speech and assembly. The main responses to these protests have been harsh words and political hyperbole. But there exists a process. It may take a long time. It may be messy. For democracy is all these things. But the safety valve exists within the system for people to express what they believe, what matters most to them, even if they disagree. The danger arises when we lose sight of this truth, and believe we are above the law, above the process.

Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya are all governed by authoritarian regimes of varying power. The protesters gathering in these countries were desperate enough to overcome fear of retaliation by their governments. In Tunisia, there was a brief crackdown. But the government was so weak, that the leaders fled. In Egypt, the military refused to follow Mubarak’s demands to crush the protests. Still, almost 400 protesters were killed, as far as we know. While some protestors did turn violent against security forces and foreign journalists, others worked to keep the protests peaceful.   In the end, both governments fell.

In Libya, things are much worse. While some key government officials and military have refused to participate and have even defected to other countries, Gadhafi has used military and foreign mercenaries to enforce a violent and bloody crackdown.

It is terrible to see what is happening abroad. It reinforces how truly precious and fragile our system of government is, how hard it is to “export” it to people living in desperate circumstances, where it is easier to live under autocratic rule until it becomes unbearable. I do not know what will happen in Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya: if the new governments will indeed respect the rights of their citizens, if the protesters themselves can step into roles of a more humanitarian leadership; or if the likes of Gadhafi will stay in power or succeed. I hope that at home we are aware of what we have and that we honor it and participate in it fully. As Unitarian Universalists, we have an added religious responsibility to affirm and promote the democratic system not only in our congregations but also in our world, as well as justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. There is more than politics at stake.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen