"This morning I will offer reflections on our understanding of Unitarian Universalism as a religion which challenges us to confront powers and structures of injustice with compassion, integrity and the transforming power of love. For me, this social justice aspect of Unitarian Universalism speaks of liberation. In these times liberation demands we reclaim the word “liberal” as part of our identity as religious seekers. Unitarian Universalist minister, Mark Belletini, now retired wrote:

We are a liberal church community which has not only dared to preach freedom but to live freedom as well, which has not only professed a more just day to come but has dared to live prophetically right now.

Living prophetically means creating the world we want to live in today. It means justice, equity and compassion in human relations. It means understanding ourselves deeply enough, personally and as a congregation, to embody a sense of agency and courage in the way we live our lives.

Our congregation’s mission statement names us as a liberal religious community, and today I want to reflect on that word Liberal. What do we mean by that? What does that word mean about who we are? As part of our current stewardship campaign, we are exploring Who We Are, as individuals and as a congregation. This exploration is important because you can’t take a stand if you don’t know who you are. The very act of self definition requires boundaries. Who We Are, then, is a vital journey.

To deepen this journey my Unitarian Universalist colleague, Reverend Victoria Stafford asks “Whose are you?” in this poetic exchange.

Whose are you?
Who carries you in their heart, thinks of you, whether you think of them or not?
Whose are you?
Who are your people, the ones who make a force field you can almost touch?
Whose are you?
Who is within your circle of concern?
Whose are you?
When you look in the mirror in the morning, whose bones do you see? Whose blood runs in your veins? Who are the people stretching back in time, beyond memory? Where did you come from?
Whose are you?
When you walk out of your room, out of your dwelling, into the sunlight of the day, to whom in this wide world do you belong? Where is your allegiance, by whom are you called?
Whose are you?
At the end of the day, through the longest night, in the valley of death and despair, who holds your going out and coming in, your waking and your sleeping? Who, what, holds you in the hollow of its hand?
Whose are you?

Whose are we as Unitarian Universalists?

This question is prophetic in Indiana today. It asks us to dig down into our souls as citizens of this state, a historical home of the KKK.

Only a few weeks ago, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) headquartered in Indianapolis, was vandalized. The ISNA President stated "The recent rise in attacks and acts of bigotry towards Muslims is an indication that anti-muslim bigotry has gone beyond a phobia, it has become a reality that is disuniting our society and moving away from the morals and values of the nation.”

And a week before, three young men were shot execution-style at an abandoned home in Fort Wayne, Indiana. 23-year-old Mohamedtaha Omar, 20-year-old Adam Mekki and 17-year-old Muhannad Tairab. What have we heard about this story? Not much. Loved ones of the victims are frustrated that the tragedy isn’t gaining more attention. Too many questions remain unanswered. The Ft Wayne authorities were very quick to declare this was not a hate crime. Regardless, the overall limited response to the crime illustrates racism against black men, black Muslim men in the United States.

One of the victim’s sisters, a student here at Indiana University said of her brother, “He was mother’s favorite because he was the most humble. He did nothing to deserve to die like that.

Reverend John Buehrens states that we, Unitarian Universalists, “believe in neighborhood—the universal spirit of neighborliness expressed in those Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” is the scriptural teaching. We too often forget the mutuality of that statement. There are two dynamics going on “Whose neighbor are we?” “Who are our neighbors?”

Essayist and farmer Wendell Berry speaks to these questions on a larger scale, “We have given up the understanding that we and our country create one another…As we and our land are part of one another, so all who are living as neighbors…are part of one another, and so cannot possibly flourish alone.”

As a liberal religious community, Who are our neighbors? And Whose neighbors are we?” Who is within your circle of concern? When you walk out of your room, out of your dwelling, into a spring day, to whom in this wide world do you belong? Where is your allegiance, by whom are you called?

At the end of the day, through the longest night, in the valley of death and despair…… who will we name as our neighbor?

(Invite Anna Maidi into pulpit.) Anna is a member of the Bloomington Islamic Center. Anna will invite us to participate in the Openhearted Pledge which you will find on your chair. With Anna, we will explore what it means to be a religious neighbor.

(Anna Maidi speaks)

Assalamu Alaikum (peace be upon you).

My name is Anna Maidi, and I am the women’s committee president at the Islamic Center of Bloomington, but today I am here as the founder of the Openhearted Campaign, a campaign for mutual understanding from Muslim Americans for all Americans. I first want to thank Mary Ann for inviting me here today and all of you for listening.

I founded the Openhearted Campaign because, when I turn on the news, I hear a story being told. I hear that Islam is a negative force in the world, and that Muslims are a group to be feared at best. I hear that Muslims are dangerous. This is not the Islam that I know.

The Islam that I know is founded on principles of peace. The Qur’an tells us it is better to forgive than seek justice. That we should find “a middle way” that is neither in excess nor ascetic. That we should give charity to the needy without a second thought. That we should be good to our parents and always speak to them reverently and with patience.

The Islam that I know is a positive force in the world, and the Muslims I know are an openhearted people that want to give to their communities and be accepted as valued members. The Openhearted Campaign was founded to tell THESE stories. The stories of the everyday Muslim-American. Stories that will, insha’Allah (God willing) provide a counterweight to the overwhelming misinformation that is plaguing our mainstream news. So let me start by telling you my story:

I was born and raised in Indianapolis and moved to Bloomington for college, where I studied Linguistics and French at IU. I met my husband when I was 18, and I have now known him for almost 10 years and been married for almost 6. We have two young boys that love learning about animals and playing in the bathtub, Alhamdulilah (all praise to God). When I was 21 years old I started reading the Qur’an, and I cannot express how the words moved me. It was as if it had been written just for me, and at the same time, written for everyone on Earth. Needless to say, I converted, and it has changed me in ways more beautiful than I can even describe. I could go on, but honestly, I think my story is pretty boring, because I am very, very average. I am a typical white girl from Indiana. But this more than anything else, is the point: I am just an American, and I am just like every other American.

So please, if you believe in Freedom of Religion, and that friendships with Muslim-Americans, like me, should be encouraged, take the Openhearted Pledge today, which reads as can be seen on the pledge card there at your seats, “I pledge to stand in solidarity with all people who seek and practice peace and safety for all, regardless of their religion, country of origin, or race. I affirm the great American traditions of freedom of speech and freedom of religion by using my voice to reject hate rhetoric, fear-mongering, and violent actions based on racism, xenophobia, and stereotyping. I welcome and encourage stronger friendships and partnerships between Muslim Americans and all Americans.” You can take this pledge by signing the poster that will be made available after the service or on our website at openheartedcampaign.org/pledge. I am so happy to be able to speak to all of you here today about the campaign, and thank you so much again for inviting me.

(Anna Maidi sits; Mary Ann resumes speaking)

Last week during our Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington Board Meeting I asked our Board to approve a Resolution on Muslim Solidarity. This resolution was initially drafted by the southeast Michigan Unitarian Universalist Ministers and will be presented at the Regional Assembly in April. It reads in part:

WHEREAS the histories of Unitarianism, Universalism, and Unitarian Universalism affirm the importance and centrality of freedom of religious belief and practice in this country;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: The 2016 MidAmerica Regional Assembly expresses its love and support for Muslims in our communities and encourages congregations in the MidAmerica Region to

  1. build bridges of partnership with Muslim neighbors in our local areas;
  2. increase understanding of Islam within and beyond our local congregations;
  3. learn more about the realities of religious discrimination and the Syrian refugee crisis; and
  4. work to foster greater inclusion of all peoples, regardless of their religious, ethnic, national, or racial identity(s)."