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Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson

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Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime (Skinner Award)

Skinner Sermon Award 2020
UUCT has something to celebrate! Rev. Bethany's sermon "Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime" won the Skinner Sermon Award! This is an award given to a sermon that best expresses Unitarian Universalism's social principles. Rev. Bethany preached this sermon at UUCT the Sunday right after Dr. Scott Warren was found not guilty of two felonies by a jury of his peers. She has since preached an adapted version of this sermon at other congregations. This sermon will be distributed to Unitarian Universalists around the country in the coming weeks. This is a celebration of our minister, our congregation, and our partners in ministry, No More Deaths. 
 This award comes with an honorarium of $500 which Rev. Bethany intends to split between No More Deaths and the Tucson Second Chance Community Bail Fund. 
Many thanks to UUCT member Howard Tolley who submitted this sermon for this award, with Rev. Bethany's permission. 

Rev. Bethany Russell-Lowe
4831 E. 22nd Street, Tucson, AZ 85711
Settled Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson 520.428.4921, ​This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Delivered on November 24, 2019 at the UU Church of Tucson


Prelude - “The Eye” by Brandi Carlisle
Opening Hymn #6 - Just As Long As I Have Breath Offertory - “Never Leave Harlan Alive” by Darrell Scott Anthem - “Travellin’ Alone” by Jason Isbell
Closing Hymn - Somebody’s Been Hurting My Brother

Responsive Reading #464

And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power

And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind And then both men and women will be gentle

And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another's will

And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many

And then all will share equally in the Earth's abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old

And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life's creatures

And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth And then everywhere will be called Eden once again

Judy Chicago

Sermon “​Our Hearts, Broken Open”

A courtroom in downtown Tucson, Arizona was filled to the brim these past two weeks. Our government has been trying Dr. Scott Warren, a volunteer with the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, which is associated with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson. Dr. Warren was arrested in January 2018 for providing food, water, shelter, and medical care to migrants moving across the Sonoran Desert. What Dr. Warren and other humanitarian aid workers do is life-saving work.

When I say “life-saving” I mean that literally. Over 2,500 human remains have been found in the Sonoran Desert since 2000. Thousands more have not been discovered, because the landscape is virtually impossible for civilians to monitor. No More Deaths, alongside other humanitarian aid groups, puts water, food, and medical supplied out in the deadliest parts of the Sonoran Desert. This work, quite literally, saves lives.

And our government believes this constitutes harboring. So we went to court.

The courthouse was overflowing these past few weeks with humanitarian aid workers, desert dwellers, clergy, press, law students, and family of Dr. Warren. For some time, I was one among them. Collectively, we spent hundreds of hours in court. Listening as kindness was ripped to shreds. Listening as the impulse to compassion was openly questioned. We sat in silence on hard benches for hours. Taking in the deception and the lies. The arguments and counter arguments.

We listened to all the pain. We took breaks when it was too much for us. Others listened when we couldn’t anymore. We sent some out to drop water in the desert. We asked one another to care for themselves. We listened for the truth. We amplified the truth. We did not let our hearts break.

We let our hearts break open. So when the hour came, right after the flurries of texts and emails about a verdict. As we power walked back to the courthouse, we could feel hope begin to fill in the places where our hearts had broken open to the pains of the trial.

Hope began to fill in the cracks. Began to stitch up the gaps too big to fill.

I was filled with hope before I even heard the verdict. Because I’ve been in church my whole life. And I know that a group of twelve strangers does not come to a big decision unanimously in two short hours! Not unless they are choosing to Side with Love.

In the courtroom, we held our breaths together. And as the judge read the verdict, “Not guilty,” we gasped. The gasp that comes before shouting for joy. And then, again, “Not guilty,” another gasp. Smiles. Tears. The press ran out of the courtroom.

In that moment, our hearts, which had just that morning broken open to the pains of corruption, aggression, and xenophobia -- were welded back together by joy.

It was because we let our hearts break open, not break to pieces, that we were able to have such joy that afternoon. That we were able to laugh. And sing. And feel the fullness of joy in that moment.

As we gathered, some jury members of Latinx descent came and joined us. They said the work that No More Deaths and so many others do is “Fabulous.”

Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, President and CEO of the UU Service Committee, wrote in an op-ed in the AZ Star this morning: “It may not be possible to prevent all of those deaths, but it's well within our power to reduce them...Warren and the other volunteers with No More Deaths believe it is not only possible, it is what must be done.”1

Humanitarian aid is never a crime. Kindness won. Love wins, in the end.

And the next day, RAICES paid our $2.1 million to bond out 200 migrants from the deadliest detention centers in the United States.2

More joy to propel us forward. Into a world where we know there is more suffering ahead.

1 Morn, Mary Katherine. “Local Opinion: In Warren Trials, Humanitarianism Emerged Victorious.” Arizona Daily Star, November 24, 2019. https://tucson.com/opinion/local/local-opinion-in-warren-trials-humanitarianism-emerged-victorious/article_6ff33473-437b- 5dfd-b501-3d912a824869.html.

2 ​Shoichet, Catherine E. “Why One Group Is Paying $2.1 Million to Free about 200 Detained Immigrants.” CNN. Cable News Network, November 21, 2019. ​https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/20/us/raices-immigrant-bond-payments/index.html​.


English poet William Blake once wrote, “Joy and woe are woven fine,

A clothing for the soul divine. Under every grief and pine, Runs a joy with silken twine.”3

And Pueblo author Martín Prechtel wrote, “Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.”4

Joy and sorrow, grief and praise, are all connected. Inseparable. Two sides of one coin. We cannot experience the fullness of one without the depth of the other. We need to feel it all, in order to feel the fullness of any of it.

Unitarian Universalist theologian and professor Rev. Dr. Rebecca Ann Parker once wrote, “Evil’s accomplice is anesthetization.”5

Anesthetization, meaning, not feeling.

So to not feel is to allow space for evil to enter our bodies and actions. To feel is to resist the temptation to go against love. To feel is to discern where love resides, and where we find ourselves.

And, what I hear from you every day I serve as your minister, and what I feel in myself, is an overload of feelings. How can we feel it all?

Feeling everything is impossible. Take it from this empath learning how to set limits on how long I hold on to feelings I pick up from others.

3 “Auguries of Innocence,” ​The Pickering Manuscript,​ Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2004.
4 ​The Smell of Rain on Dust​, Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2015.
5 ​A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-first Century​, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2010.

We can’t feel it all. We shouldn’t try.
But we should always make sure that we are still capable of feeling. “Evil’s accomplice is anesthetization...”

In order to feel so much pain, and still be able to feel the joys, we must learn to let our hearts break open, without breaking to pieces. We must break our hearts open to the pain, and the joy. To the grief, and the praise.

A heart broken into pieces by grief cannot fully feel joy. A heart broken open is ready to receive whatever may come.

On Wednesday afternoon, as we gathered outside the courthouse, it was because we had let our hearts break open to the pain of these past 22 months that we were able to feel the full joy of that not guilty moment. Our broken open hearts was what allowed the fullness of that joy to reside in us. It is what carried that joy into Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday, and today.

It was feeling the fullness of that moment that allowed us to imagine where we go with all this joy. Back to the desert. Back to the long hikes with heavy gallons of water. Back to the side of love, wherever love is.

Because just that next day, it was announced that the Tucson sector would begin implementing a “remain in Mexico” program, intended to discourage and disempower people seeking asylum.

We must let our hearts break open, to all this pain. Break open, not apart. ~*~

Those of us who were listening, heard another important announcement that afternoon in the courtroom. Judge Raner Collins ruled that Dr. Scott Warren’s sincerely held religious beliefs compelled him to leave water in the desert,

something our government felt falls within the category of “abandonment of property.”

While Dr. Warren admitted to this action, Judge Collins ruled that this action was permissible under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. RFRA is the same law which allows some bakers to not make wedding cakes for same-gender loving couples. RFRA is usually upheld to keep a person’s freedom to discriminate or not do something. In this case, RFRA was upheld to allow a person to show more dignity than our government and laws enable. In this case, liberal religious values, which promote the dignity of all people, were upheld. This was the first time in many years that at RFRA claim was upheld by a federal judge.

What is incredibly distinctive, for me, is that Dr. Warren is not affiliated with a formal religious institution. He has deeply held values which guide his work, and Judge Collins ruled in favor of the RFRA claim because, as he said in his judgement, “I take him at his word.”

We have an opportunity now, to reflect on what our own values call us to do. What does our faith compel us to do? Whether or not we agreed with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, what does this time we are living in call us, as people of faith, to do? What freedom do we have to create the world we dream about?

There is a trial ongoing in Washington whose outcome will impact all of us. And there are people dying in the Sonoran Desert, in the places where desert dwellers recreate.

What does our faith compel us to do in these moments?

Judy Chicago’s “And Then’s” do not flow from a static idea of support, but from an active alignment of our values and our actions. We, as religious people, have an opportunity to imagine, in these very moments, the future we want to create.

We do not yet know what was made possible this week. We have yet to fully realize how our faith will compel us to transform our world.

“I take him at his word,” Judge Raner Collins said this week.

What would you do with your sincerely held religious beliefs, if there was a future promise of a judge taking you at your word?

What future becomes more possible when you align your actions with your faith? What is that world you dream about?

And how can you continue to build it now?

Wherever you go, friends, go with your hearts broken open. Feel the pain and the grief of these times, so that when the times comes for celebration and joy, you are ready to receive those feelings, too. A broken heart needs medical attention. A heart broken open is within the bounds of community to heal. Figure out where love needs you to be. Take your beliefs there and act for more justice.

I will take you at your word.

And I will ask that your sincerely held religious beliefs take you further than they have before. There is a possibility waiting in this moment that we cannot forget. The future is in our hands, and will be determined by the work we do. May we continue building for tomorrow, today.

2020-06-14: Why

2020-06-07: Where

2020-05-31: What

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  252. 14-03-23: Wellspring
  253. 14-03-02: The Fingerprint of Grief
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  255. 14-02-09: A Valentine for Liberal Religion
  256. 14-02-02: Discrimination in the New Generation
  257. 14-01-12: Mind, Body, and Spirit
  258. 14-01-05: Friendship in the Digital Age
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  260. 13-12-22: Teach Us All You Can of Saying "YES!"
  261. 13-12-08: God and Beyond: Spirituality for Today and Beyond
  262. 13-12-01: Opening Into Grace
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  266. 13-10-13: Service, Sacrifice, and Honor
  267. 13-10-06: The Courage to Trust
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  271. 13-09-01: Practice Our Preach
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  273. 13-08-18: Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion
  274. 13-08-11: Seeing the Full Spectrum
  275. 13-08-04: Poetry Service
  276. 13-07-28: Private Prisons, Public Problems
  277. 13-07-21: What to Say About the Immigration Reform Legislation
  278. 13-07-14: My Trip to Israel
  279. 13-07-07: Can We Achieve Freedom From Fear, Anger, & Hopelessness?
  280. 13-06-30: From Promise to Commitment
  281. 13-06-23: Your Children or Your Money
  282. 13-06-16: Called
  283. 13-06-09: Beloved Community - Growing Beyond Congregations
  284. 13-06-02: Associating with the Sacred
  285. 13-05-26: Warriors in Training
  286. 13-05-19: Transforming our Lives, Transforming our Faith
  287. 13-05-12: This I Believe
  288. 13-04-28: The Doctrine of Discovery
  289. 13-04-21: Earth and Forgiveness Day
  290. 13-04-14; Truth and Reconciliation
  291. 13-04-07: Pre-forgiven
  292. 13-03-31: Easter Sunday
  293. 13-03-24: Who Are You?
  294. 13-03-17: Reflections on an Old UU Joke
  295. 13-03-10: The Beauty of Brokenness
  296. 13-03-03: The Paradox of Powerlessness
  297. 13-02-17: Evolution as Our Sacred Story
  298. 13-02-10: Standing on the Side of Love!
  299. 13-02-03: Love as a Spiritual Practice
  300. 13-01-27: Beyond Duality to Sanity
  301. 13-01-13: Adopting Goodness, not Evil!
  302. 13-01-06: Fallow Times
  303. 12-30-12: Make Time your Friend!
  304. 12-23-12: A God That Looks Like Me
  305. 12-9-12: Where is God Hiding?!?
  306. 12-2-12: Finding Quiet in a Noisy World
  307. 11-25-12: Transcending Individuality
  308. 11-18-12: How We Love: On Growing a Soul
  309. 11-11-12: Aspirations
  310. 11-4-12: Our Daily Bread
  311. 10-28-12: All About UUCT's Covenant Circles
  312. 10-21-12: The Challenge of Covenants
  313. 10-14-12: Promises
  314. 9-30-12: Beyond Borders - Where Justice and Compassion Cross our Borders
  315. 9-23-12: Is There Meaning in Pain and Suffering?
  316. 9-9-12: Freedom From Fear
  317. 9-16-12: Turning Toward Freedom
  318. 8-26-12: Accepting Gifts, Receiving Grace
  319. 8-12-12: Poetry Sunday
  320. 8-05-12: Immigrants and Tucson's Federal Court
  321. The Interdependent Community: Pathways Out of Poverty
  322. 7-15-12: Reflections on an Old UU Joke
  323. 7-22-12: Intercultural Relations Across Europe
  324. 7-29-12: The Gentle Way: Similarities between Martial Arts and Religion
  325. Bringing It Home
  326. Nothing Less Than Saving the World
  327. Spirituality and Health
  328. Born and Re-born Again
  329. Kindness Can Heal Us
  330. What Do We Really Mean by "Democracy"?
  331. Mercy and Other Non-rational Acts of Kindness
  332. Family Values and Immigration Policy
  333. A Question of Worth and Dignity
  334. Standing on the Side of Fear: How can we stop bullying before it is too late?
  335. Coming Back to Life
  336. Five Steps to Building Beloved Community
  337. Shared Ministry
  338. Bringing Justice to Phoenix
  339. Out of the Garden: Original Sin or Original Blessing?
  340. Come Dream a Dream With Me
  341. Aria in Vermillion
  342. Cowboys, Conmen and Conservatives
  343. Personality and Spirituality
  344. Human Nature
  345. Reality Television and Interfaith Dialogue
  346. The Courage to Love
  347. Where the Paths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Unitarian Universalism Crossed
  348. I Shall Not Live in Vain
  349. Ordinary Time
  350. An Old Agnostic's Sentimental Xmas: Virginia, Santa, Rudolph, Ralphie, Scrooge, Tiny Tim and Baby Jesus
  351. The Spiritual Benefits of R.I.C.E.
  352. Waiting
  353. What We Are Thankful For
  354. After the Apocalypse: Gratitude
  355. Occupy!
  356. The Worst Mistake the Church (Any Church) Can Make Right Now
  357. Day of the Dead
  358. DOGs and Other Super-Natural Beings
  359. Faith in Pink
  360. Living in a Multi-Religious World
  361. Morality and Human Nature
  362. Entertaining Angels Unaware
  363. Restoring Ruins
  364. DA/GA 2011 and 2012
  365. Coming Home
  366. The Ethical Side of Climate Change: Compassion
  367. Looking in the Mirror: Who are We?
  368. U.S Immigration and Border Policy: A Call for Compassion and Justice
  369. Not Just for Black History Month
  370. Genderqueer and Here
  371. Happy Birthday U.S.A.!
  372. Today's Ancient Wisdom
  373. Keepers of Light
  374. If Not Now, When? (A Look at the Election)
  375. The Flying Trapeze and the Fine Art of Freedom
  376. Trusting Life in the Presence of Death
  377. UUism in the French Speaking World
  378. Our Legacy: Honoring the Past, Looking Forward to the Future
  379. Letters From a Phoenix Jail
  380. What’s Your Worldview?
  381. Blindspots, Rearview Mirrors, and Headlights
  382. A Noisy Silence - Poetry Service
  383. 5 Vital Signs of Spiritual Health
  384. Family Resemblances and 'Language-Games'
  385. Chaos and Creativity
  386. Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Just as Well...Or Better?
  387. Reflections after Fifty Years in Ministry
  388. Don't Wait
  389. The Meaning of Welcome
  390. Independence and Interdependence: Thoughts on both Topics
  391. The Value of Vulnerability
  392. This Land Is My Land -- ?
  393. Spill Baby, Spill
  394. Vessels and Voyages
  395. Grace Across the Ages
  396. Happy 200th Birthday, Margaret Fuller
  397. Coming of Age in an Age of Uncertainty
  398. Be the Change: Three Crucial Changes for Times Such as These
  399. Earth in the Balance
  400. Beyond Local Thinking
  401. The Actual U
  402. Easter: A Time to Forgive
  403. Something About Addictions
  404. Taking a Risk for Justice
  405. Universalism: Past, Present and Future
  406. The Things We Do For Love
  407. Standing on the Side of Love
  408. What I Love About Unitarian Universalism
  409. Violence and Anarchy on the Border
  410. Confronting Evil
  411. I Have a Dream
  412. The State of the Church
  413. Looking Back, Looking Forward
  414. Struggles and Progress in Swaziland
  415. Night of Wonder, Night of Silence
  416. Enumerating God: None, One, or Many
  417. Three Miraculous Births
  418. The Gospel According to St. Lute
  419. The Lost Art of Thinking
  420. Stories of Hope: Guest at Your Table
  421. Question Authority
  422. Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC)
  423. A Conscience is a Terrible Thing to Waste
  424. An Agreement With Life
  425. The Community Food Bank
  426. Universalist Heritage
  427. Class Matters
  428. Wise Restraints That Set Us Free
  429. Free Pulpit, Free Pew
  430. To Whom It May Concern: A Sermon on Prayer
  431. One Family
  432. Poetry Sunday
  433. Who Knows What Will Come To You?
  434. Will the Minister Be Speaking in the Service Today?
  435. Life or Litter? The Value of People and Hope
  436. Parts of the Bible You Do Not Know
  437. Chaplain Stories
  438. Eating as a Spiritual Practice
  439. Gifts of Our Fathers
  440. Faith of Our Fathers
  441. To See Beauty, Even When It’s Not Pretty
  442. A Nomination for the Greatest Unitarian Ever
  443. We Remember
  444. Milestone Moments: A Service of Rituals
  445. Many Hands Make Light Work
  446. Ritual
  447. Earth Day
  448. Music of My Heart
  449. Friendship as Spiritual Practice
  450. Light, Life, Freedom, and Love
  451. Civil Initiative
  452. First Things First
  453. Three Keys for Abundant Living That Will Work Even Now
  454. Divine Creation
  455. Jazz and the Art of Making Justice
  456. Here I Am. Send Me.
  457. And a Child Shall Lead
  458. Getting Unstuck (While the Getting's Good)
  459. Willing to Forgive
  460. Weaving the Web of Trust
  461. New Beginnings
  462. Light One Candle
  463. Find a Stillness
  464. Where Justice and Compassion Cross All Borders
  465. Stone Soup for Thanksgiving?
  466. Loss: An Inevitable Journey
  467. Finding Hope in Troubled Times
  468. Out Many, One
  469. Growing in Spirit
  470. Seasons of Life, Seasons of Loss
  471. And the word is no
  472. Welcoming the Stranger
  473. Ministry in the New Millennium
  474. Diversity and the Interdependent Web of Existence
  475. Engaging Our Theological Diversity
  476. What Americans Believe
  477. Reflections from Nicaragua
  478. Deep Like the Rivers
  479. Seeking the Purpose of Life
  480. Bless this Home
  481. Language of Reverence
  482. Sharing The WUUrd: Poetry Service
  483. A New Look at the Universe
  484. Tell me your image of God and I will tell you your theology
  485. We hold these truths ...
  486. Integrity or Success?
  487. By Their Roots You Shall Know Them
  488. Peace Means the Beginning of a New World
  489. Desert Spirituality
  490. UUs Who Made a Difference
  491. Singing Our Peace: A Musical Contemplation
  492. Faith Without Certainty
  493. Our Unitarian Universalists Brothers in Africa
  494. Univeralists and Unitarians on Easter
  495. Always a Mother
  496. Just War or just War

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