Thursday, January 20, 2011

Animal Liberation

Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation

Animal rights is a relatively recent phenomenon. Many attribute its popular appearance to 1975 when the Australian ethicist Peter Singer published a seminal work titled Animal Liberation. Singer belongs to the utilitarian school of philosophy, emphasizing the greatest good for the greatest number. In Animal Liberation, rather than emphasizing inherent rights of animals, he focused on the elimination of suffering. He also introduced the word “speciesism” into the ethics of human relations with animals. Similar to racism where one race claims superiority over another race, speciesism claims superiority of the human species over all other animal species. In application, speciesism supports and sustains a viewpoint that animals are objects or property and leads to their oppression, particularly suffering.

In a brief span of thirty years, animal rights/liberation as an ethical area has emerged and rather astonishingly become mainstream. In this regard Europe has led the way, but even in conservative America the basic ethic of not to inflict suffering on animals is gaining momentum. This is progress, not just for the sake of other species, but for the human species as well, we reform our understanding of our place in Nature and our ethical relationships in the Web of Life. We acknowledge, at the very least, that suffering is suffering, whether in human being or animal; and it is an ethical principle not to inflict suffering.

There is a spiritual dimension to this growing understanding of our human relationship to animals. It relates to the notion of “anima” or soul, that essence of life that you and I experience; and to which we give ultimate value. When we become sensible to that essence in all other sentient beings, as well as our own self, a transcendence occurs. When we add to the equation a scientific awareness of a great Web of Life, an awe-inspiring interdependence, that transcendence expands. Of course, we must be ever vigilant to anthropomorphizing; and that is good from the spiritual dimension as we gradually transcend the merely human.

Albert Schweitzer’s Reverence for Life

The best expression of this spiritual dimension, in my understanding, is the Reverence for Life philosophy/ethic that Albert Schweitzer proposed a century ago. (Schweitzer had quite an influence on post war Unitarianism. He was, of course, a towering figure of the first half of the twentieth century: a significant Christian theologian, an accomplished organist and major interpreter of J. S. Bach, and a missionary doctor to French Equatorial Africa. He also affiliated with the Unitarian Church of the Larger Fellowship. My previous church in Youngstown had a Schweitzer Lounge with a handsome, leonine bronze bust of the good doctor.) Schweitzer once declared, "True philosophy must start from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness and this may be formulated as follows: 'I am life which wills to live, and I exist in the midst of life which wills to live'."

From this fundamental realization, Schweitzer proposed an ethic for the post-modern era that simply said it is good to enhance life, and it is evil to detract from life. Suffering and death detract from life, one’s actions-- each and every action, then,-- must be done with awareness of the consequences on self and other life forms.

Practically speaking, our focus is on preserving our own life, often at the expense of other lives. And this ambivalence chastens and humbles us, always pressing upon us the sacrifice made, a sacrifice that is unilateral and imposed by us. Always in mind, with every act, is the value of life--the anima of each creature. As Schweitzer emphasized, this rational process brings us into a harmony with Life and Life’s Source.

He summarized this spiritual equation by contending that Reverence for Life “…is the nature and origin of ethics. We have dared to say that it is born of physical life, out of the linking of life with life. It is therefore the result of our recognizing the solidarity of life which nature gives us. And as it grows more profound, it teaches us sympathy with all life. Yet, the extremes touch, for this material-born ethic becomes engraved upon our hearts, and culminates in spiritual union and harmony with the Creative Will which is in and through all.”

UU Animal Ministry

Our UUist religious way continues to be at the cutting edge of progressive religion and ethics in America and that now includes the ethical cause of Animal Rights/Liberation. An affiliate organization to our Association, previously called UUs for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (UFETA), has reformed as the UU Animal Ministry (UUAM).

The UU Animal Ministry has these Guiding Principles:

The seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism calls us to respect the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. We of UUAM understand that human beings are only a strand in the intricate web of life.

While our Unitarian Universalist principles affirm the "inherent worth and dignity of every person and call us to seek justice and compassion in human relations, we extend these principles to include other species who also possess an intrinsic value.

Recognizing the beauty and interconnectedness of all species that call us to wholeness and toward justice for all beings, we dedicate ourselves to:

Growing our Unitarian Universalist faith in the interdependence of all life that reveals itself in the inherent worth and dignity of all beings.

Informing ourselves about nonhuman suffering

Seeking and promoting ecological justice

Inspiring respect and reverence for the earth all its creatures

Living in harmony with the natural world, which includes a deep respect and commitment to human as well as nonhuman animals.

As you now know, we have a recently organized chapter of UUAM—our very own animal ministry. This group has begun to plan activities, including a blessing of the animals as a possible summer Sunday service.

I’m pleased that this chapter has formed here, at UCH, especially by the leadership and enthusiasm of several new members. They reflect the tide our ever-evolving free religious and ethical way. They accept, without the scrupulosity of previous generations, the notion of ministry implicit in Animal Ministry.

Following today’s second hymn, I have a few insights to make regarding our human relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom.

Animal Liberation Rather Than Animal Rights

Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher/ethicist, advocates utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number. His 1973 book Animal Liberation challenged a species-centric point of view relative to human kind and the rest of the animal kingdom. He refers the notion of animal liberation rather than the notion of inherent animal rights, reducing the argument to the existential reality of suffering. In the simplest sense, according to Singer, whatever needlessly causes suffering on other fellow animals is wrong—in the popular sense, it is an evil. His reasoning seeks to free animals from manifest human oppression. This approach is more elemental and easily comprehended that the charged notion of animal rights, relative to the sort of rights we American citizens have long known as unalienable rights.

Singer has written, “A liberation movement demands an expansion of our moral horizons and an extension or reinterpretation of the basic moral principle of equality. Practices that were previously regarded as natural and inevitable come to be seen as the result of an unjustifiable prejudice. Who can say with confidence that all his or her attitudes and practices are beyond criticism? If we wish to avoid being numbered amongst the oppressors, we must be prepared to re-think even our most fundamental attitudes. We need to consider them from the point of view of those most disadvantaged by our attitudes, and the practices that follow from these attitudes. If we can make this unaccustomed mental switch, we may discover a pattern in our attitudes and practices that consistently operates so as to benefit one group—usually the one to which we ourselves belong—at the expense of another. In this way, we may come to see that there is a case for a new liberation movement. My aim is to advocate that we make this mental switch in respect of our attitudes and practices towards a very large group of beings: members of species other than our own—or, as we popularly though misleadingly call them, animals. In other words, I am urging that we extend to other species the basic principle of equality that most of us recognize should be extended to all members of our own species. …

“Surely, every sentient being is capable of leading a life that is happier or less miserable than some alternative life, and hence has a claim to be taken into account. In this respect, the distinction between humans and nonhumans is not a sharp division, but rather a continuum along which we move gradually, and with overlaps between the species, from simple capacities for enjoyment and satisfaction, or pain and suffering, to more complex ones.”

I recommend that you think of other than human animals in Singer’s terms, that a first step is not so much animal rights as we understand rights them from the human perspective, rather from the perspective of liberating animals from all needless acts of human oppressions that causes suffering to them. I know in my own experience this sort of thinking leads me toward a realization of that which is naturally right and good—right and good relative to each creature’s inherent nature in Nature.

In this light, I like what entomologist Jeffrey Lockwood, who calls himself a spiritual scientist, has said about his area of expertise, grasshoppers. In his book Grasshopper Dreaming, he asked, “What is good a grasshopper good for?” He answered, “Its presence is of no significance—an ultimate zero. Its value is in being a grasshopper, nothing more. The grasshopper just is. And that is enough.”

Women’s Rights/Animal Rights

Peter Singer has helped to revive a doubly ironic line of argument against animal suffering,, as told in Singer’s book Animal Liberation:

“Animal Liberation may sound more like a parody of other liberation movements than a serious objective. The ideal of ‘The Rights of Animals’ actually was once used to parody the case for women’s rights. When Mary Wollstonecraft, a forerunner of today’s feminists, published her Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, her views were widely regarded as absurd, and before long an anonymous publication appeared entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes. The author of the satirical work (now known to be Thomas Taylor, a distinguished Cambridge philosopher) tried to refute Mary Wollstonecraft’s arguments by showing that they could be carried one stage further. If the argument for equality was sound when applied to women, why should it not be applied to dogs, cats, and horses? The reasoning seemed to hold for these ‘brutes’ too; yet to hold that brutes had rights was manifestly absurd. Therefore the reasonings by which this exclusion had been reached must be unsound, and if unsound when applied to brutes, it must also be unsound when applied to women, since the very same arguments had been used in each.”

So, the implication is clear. What now holds for women, long denied rights, might one day hold for animals.

Contemporary Science and a New Appreciation of Animals

The antique, judgmental term brute, rather than animal, is slowly being eroded by science’s careful consideration of genetics and behavior. Which is to say, that distinctions between human beings and all other animals are gradually eroding. Obviously, the most startling advancements relate to evolution, genetics, and the preponderant percentage of DNA we share, converging on common ancestors.

Perhaps easier to appreciate because it involves human traits we’ve long extolled as unique are such attributes as tool making and using, emotions of love and grief, and language. Tuesday’s NY Times Science section offered an article about a Border Collie that can identify and fetch over a thousand named objects—an astonishingly large, and as the article explains, nuanced vocabulary. The Times article recommends a February Nova PBS program on animal intelligence in which Chaser, the Border Collie will star. Two aspects of the dog’s training fascinated me: 1) that the dog’s learning of language can shed light on how children learn; and 2) the psychologist who trained Chaser is now trying to teach it rudimentary grammar, toward the goal of enhanced communication between human beings and animals.

PC Speak and Consciousness Raising

I conclude with a recommendation that might change your consciousness/understanding of creatures other than human. It’s a simple step and a matter of language. If you “own” a dog or cat or perhaps another animal species, don’t call that creature your pet. Rather, call the creature a companion animal. I know this smacks of political correct talk/think. But the upside of PC language far outweighs the downside. And it is attitude altering/consciousness raising, relative to the mutual relationship between human and animal not to perceive yourself as owner or master, that is to live with a companion animal rather than own a pet.

In this regard, it’s a good ethical exercise to consider the standard distinctions we apply to animals from the traditional human perspective: wildlife, game, domestic, livestock, service animal, companion, pet.

To conclude these remarks, I looked through my collection of quotes about animals in my Skinner House collection titled In Praise of Animals. I settled on a quotation by Mechtild of Magdelburg, a medieval mystic. “The truly wise person kneels at the feet of all creatures and is not afraid to endure the mockery of others.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Prophetic Tradition

This is the annual weekend dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. With each passing year, following his 1968 assassination at age 39, his significance in the American Narrative has grown. On a very short list of contemporary prophets, I rank him at the top. And when I say prophet, I am placing him squarely/appropriately in the Jewish Christian Prophetic Tradition.

Evolution of the Prophetic Tradition in Ancient Israel

Let me sketch for you how the Prophetic Tradition evolved through the history of ancient Israel as recorded in Hebrew scripture.

The Jewish Prophetic Tradition revealed God's design and will to humankind. The prophetic tradition progressed through three historic stages:

At first, more than 3000 years ago prophets gathered in guild-like groups and engaged in ecstatic practices in which they would lose their self-consciousness in a God-consciousness. Ethics were not part of the first stage of prophecy.

In a second stage, known as the Non-Writing Prophets through 850 BCE, particular prophets filled with God's spirit, emerged from the guild-group as inspired individuals to personally and dramatically confront egregious injustices. The names of some of the Non-Writing Prophets are familiar: Elijah, Elisha, and Nathan. Two stories illustrate how this second group of prophets dared to challenge the king for his immoral behavior. Until then, no one dared question royal prerogative.

In one tale, Elijah berated King Ahab, who through state trickery stole the vineyard of Naboth, which Ahab had coveted. God told Elijah to go to Ahab and say: "In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood."

David and Bathsheba tells a similar story. David lusted for Bathsheba. To make her available for his pleasure, David sent her husband Uriah to the front lines of the battlefield to be killed, which he was. Hearing of this, Nathan the Prophet went to King David and relayed God's displeasure over this injustice, promising to David that he would reap what he had sewn. What he'd done to Uriah, Nathan prophesied, God would similarly do to him— taking David's wives and giving them to other men.

These two tales from the Non-Writing Prophets tell of a radical innovation: royal prerogative was subject to a higher, that is God's, law; and more significantly, the royals could be called to account by ordinary people in whom God's Justice burned—ecstatically! This challenging of authority in the name of Justice was a radical departure in the course of civilization.

The third stage of the prophetic tradition, 800 through 400 BCE, involves the great Writing Prophets, who left behind books that became scripture. The Writing Prophets—including Hosea, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah—lived in a morally decadent era, when the rich and powerful of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah lorded it over the enslaved, the poor, women, children and other underprivileged. The great Writing Prophets spoke out against not merely corrupt individuals, but against the whole corrupt social fabric that had become the people Israel and the nations of Israel and Judah. These Writing Prophets invoked the demands of the covenant relationship Israel had with God, even as they intoned God's displeasure. They warned that God's righteousness would punish an evil people who had abandoned right relationships with God and with one another. The moral imperative they proclaimed was simple: establish what we now call social Justice—an equitable and fair society kept through "laws" that reflected transcendental (or Divine) ideals, not selfish special interests.

A Progressing Heritage

The progressive ideal of social Justice realized through the Prophetic Tradition in ancient Israel are early and secure links in a long chain that have made Justice a centering principle of Western societies. Justice has passed from the ancient Jews, through several millennia of complex evolution, to come to us today in ever expanding understandings. (Whether or not the ancient Jews came up with the varying aspects of Justice all alone or borrowed and adapted from surrounding peoples is moot. But it is a fact that the ancient Jews focused Justice as a beacon for the ages.)

Whenever I read the founding sentiments of our nation, phrased by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, I hear a resonance with ancient Israel. In particular, two related notions strike a harmonious chord: the notion of the Divine in every person (rudimentary humanism) that comes from ancient Jewish doctrine that humankind was formed in God's image and the notion that Justice has a transcendent source. Recall now, Mr. Jefferson's words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

I think it's relatively easy to recognize that what we have come to cherish as "unalienable Rights" have a sure resonance, if not a source, in Judaism's remarkable parlay of covenant, election, humanism, and Justice. The Jewish religious and ethical consciousness firmly established society's purpose not in politics or power, rather in transcendental ideals.

Though we may no longer take literally the covenant notion that sooner or later God will punish injustice, especially an unjust society, we may well take that notion metaphorically. Injustices, especially borne by the so -called “underprivileged" have in them the seeds of their own destruction. As Huston Smith phrased it, "The prerequisite to political stability is social Justice; it is ingrained in the nature of things that injustice breeds its own demise."

Wisdom guides us toward Justice, certainly. But prudence also guides us toward Justice. It's politically prudent in the short term and matter of survival in the long term to create a social system of Justice that is fair and serves everyone from the most powerful and privileged through the weakest and most underprivileged. Indeed, the Justice-deprived demand special attention so their oppressions will be lessened. True social Justice has in it the practical imperative of egalitarianism, if only equal opportunity or a level playing field, otherwise the society will eventually perish. A Prophet-voice for broad Justice resounds as passionately now as it did 2500 years ago.

I identity certain contemporary liberal attitudes and outlooks with a Jewish sense of Justice that has informed our cultural outlook that includes:

· sensitivity to civil liberties,

· compassion for the poor and unfortunate,

· a fierce commitment to a society that is fair to all—of, by and for the people,

· a willingness to adapt laws to changing awareness and understanding—a progressive vision of the rule of law centered in not only Justice but equally in mercy that edges into fairness.

This morning I look at Martin Luther King, Jr. in the context of a prophetic tradition both ancient and progressive.

MLK, Jr. and the Prophetic Tradition

Recall the main signatures of the Prophetic Tradition:

· a God-consciousness

· challenging corrupt or evil authority in the name of Divine Law and Will

· challenging an unjust society in the light of Divine Law and Will

· creating a just society through transcendental ideals and values accessible by all, as opposed to pandering to special interests.

Keep these four signatures in mind as we consider one of the great ethical documents of the 20th century—Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

I returned to this Letter, written April 1963, partly in light of the recent tragedy in Tucson AZ, because it provides a paassionate summary of the strategy of non-violent protest that Dr. King embodied. In the Letter, Dr. King addresses timeless concerns, including how to determine if a law is just or unjust; and when a law is unjust, in fact or in application, how is change effected by the oppressed?

Dr. King rightly declared, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

In 1963, the Civil Rights Movement was volatile. A newly emergent Black Nationalist movement, largely associated with the Elijah Muhhamed’s Nation of Islam, particularly Malcolm X had emerged. The strategy of Dr. King and his followers was a form of peaceful resistance joined to civil disobedience, drawing on Jesus, Tolstoy, and Gandhi against laws he and his followers considered unjust compounded by centuries of oppression. In his words, “A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

Dr. King’s nonviolent campaign had followed four proscribed steps: “collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.”

And he answered his critics call, and the famous Letter was addressed to fellow clergy who were critical, urging Dr. King to continue to relapse into negotiation rather than to continue to engage in protest. “You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension, which is necessary for growth. … The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.”

The Letter from a Birmingham Jail served several purposes: It stated centuries of oppression on American blacks in the South. It took the temperature of the day. It chronicled the failure and futility of so-called negotiation. It justified nonviolent protest—a calculated civil disobedience. And in it Dr. King assumed the prophet’s mantle, as early in the letter he declared, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.”

Perhaps in 1963 he didn’t seem himself as the iconic prophet he became. But he certainly saw himself within the great Jewish Christian Prophetic Tradition.

I bring you these thoughts today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., a Prophet of the American Experience cast in Biblical terms, to remind us all that righteous protest must be non-violent in its essence and that it must be integrated into a four step process that includes self-purification—a deep examination of intent as well as action. It is a way opposed to violence but passionate for justice, justice not as an abstract principle, rather as an essential aspect of life for all.

In advocating activist change against deeply entrenched systems of evil, Dr. King lifted up non-violence in the higher name of love. He called himself an extremist of love.

Where is the love today in American society—the transformative love that Dr. King realized and set into motion to bring about the American Kingdom—the more perfect union prophesized in the preamble to the Constitution?

In my estimation, the motivating factor of too much national intercourse relates to hate. Hate's harvest is violence.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dedication Ceremony: A Blessing and Naming

[In an early January service, The Art of Parenting, I included much of the dedication ceremony I do in naming and blessing a new life.]

I welcome you to this most important occasion, the blessing and naming of __________and ___________ daughter/son.

I’m Rev. Edward Searl, minister of the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale. We Unitarians have a most optimistic faith in the human condition. We believe that with the right nurture,--that is love and care, education and encouragement, support and adult example,--the child will grow into the balanced individual that Creation has intended--confident in Self, joined to a larger humanity, and loving of LIFE. Toward fulfillment of these glorious possibilities we will use two elements in this service: a budded rose to symbolize the child’s inherent beauty and future blooming and the more traditional symbol of water. For us water consecrates the child to all that we know to be beautiful, true, and good.

The parents have invited you, their dearest family and friends, to join with them in proclaiming the miracle of this precious, new life. For __________ and __________, their daughter/son is, indeed, a miracle.

Today you are reenacting what you’ve already done with your love. You’ve taken this child into your two families and into the larger society of which we’re all a part. In a way we’re introducing you to her/him, too. You are a significant part of her/his world. Who s/he will become will significantly depend on what you will give. On her/his behalf I thank you.

I want to thank the godparents, _________ and_________ in particular for the promises they are making now. You are special emissaries--emissaries from the very heart of Creation. You must provide the very best example to this tender child. Let her/him learn through your words and deeds to be full of respect and love, for all others as well for herself. Let her/him be confident in you. You will love, her/him of course. But spoil her/him some, too, so s/he will know how special s/he is.

__________ and __________, your hearts are overflowing with this gift of life that has been given to you in this child. Be in awe and have a strong understanding of what s/he represents: the coming together of two families, a rich humanity, and the love of Creation. S/he is your fulfillment and your hope.

Love her/him both fiercely yet gently, so your love will let her/him grow, and s/he will become the unique and full individual s/he may become.

Never be reluctant or hesitant to call upon us when you need support and counsel. You will be better parents with the help of your family and friends. And it is truly my hope that the miracle of this child shall make you each more loving and respectful of the other than you were before her/his birth.

At this time we are mindful of the succession of generations and the passage of time. We remember those who are in our hearts but who have died.

Candle Lighting (by family elders)

Let these flames be to us a symbol of the consecration we now seek:

Their brightness dispelling gloom, lighting a path to faith and hope.

Their glow reminding us of the sacred bond that link us to all people.

Their radiance calling us to cast the light of freedom, justice, and peace upon the entire world, reminding us the place to begin is here and the time is now.


There is a Mysterious Power that animates every living thing,

a mysterious power that sustains what we call Life.

We do not know from where it comes when we are born.

We do not now where it goes when we die.

We only know its wonderfulness, all around us and within us,

in this moment and in this place.

Some of us call this Mysterious Power, God.

Some of prefer another name: Eternal Being, Creative Force,

or perhaps Spirit of Life and Love.

Some of us do not know what to call this Mysterious Power,

because all names seem inadequate.

Yet we all feel this Mysterious Power at the core of our unique


We experience it through he transformation of our individual


We sense it at work in the being and transformation of every living


Like a flame passing from candle to candle,

so this Mysterious Power passes from being to being

and from generation to generation.

This Mysterious Power is the unity of the whole of creation:

past, present, and future.

There is a Mysterious Power that animates every living thing,

a Mysterious Power that sustains what we call Life.

And we are glad to the heart of our being.

In this ceremony of dedication, we celebrate a new life while dedicating ourselves to that child’s nurture and possibilities. We have three dedications to make: by the family and friends or community, by the godparents (or sponsors), and by the parents.

As we make these dedications it is my hope that we may we build for this dear child and for every child a world in which the horizons continually expand and soar. May we offer to her/him the nurture, support, and community that create the bonds of love and true human society, so s/he shall always be at home wherever s/he goes, confident in her/his own abilities, yet compassionate of her/his companions.

Family/Community Responsive Dedication

In the house which becomes a home, one hands down and another takes up the

heritage of mind and heart, laughter and tears, musings and deeds.



Therefore we do not neglect the ceremonies of our passage:

When we wed, when we die, and when we are blessed with a child;



Let us bring up our children. It is not the place of some official to hand to them their heritage.





Let us build memories in our children, lest they drag out joyless lives, lest they allow treasures to be lost because they have not been given the keys.




--Antoine de St. Exupery (adapted)

Godparents’ (Sponsors) Dedication: Do you, ___________ and ___________, promise that you will take this child into your heart and through the years you will be there for her/him -- providing support where appropriate, as well as your continuing care and counsel? (I do.)

Parents’ Dedication: do you, ________ and __________, do you promise to love and provide for your daughter/son, nurturing and guiding her/him so that she/he will grow self-assured and strong: independent yet connected to family and community, at home in the world, compassionate, and reverent? (We do.)

Ritual of Dedication

With a touch of water, an ancient symbol of consecration, as well as of freshness and purity, I imitate the consecration that has already been granted to you in your birth--the vastness, wonderfulness, and holiness of Life.

I touch you on the eyes that you may be clear of vision.

I touch you on the lips that you may be pure of speech.

I touch you on the brow that you may be pure of thought.

And I touch you on the heart that you may be rich in love.

And with this budded rose, beautiful in its own right, yet with the promise of a continuing and more mature beauty, I welcome you to the larger human family.

Whether a flower is beautiful or not; whether it comes into full bloom or not--depends upon the nurture it receives. No flower grows alone, apart from the sunshine and the rain, apart from the soil in which it lives it lives. So, too, no child grows alone.

May this budded rose, be a reminder to us all of the potential beauty of fulfillment--of the reward which comes from love and understanding, from teaching and example in which each of us plays a part.


Dear child, we welcome you in love, a new member of the human family. Forevermore you name will be __________ __________ ___________.

By this name you will be known. You will answer to this name. Your deeds will reflect upon it.

It is our prayer that you will make it a name of honor and respect, a name that evokes confidence, trust, and love in whomsoever hears it. May your name be blessed by the deeds you do.

Closing Words

As we contemplate the miracle of birth and new becoming,

As we renew in our hearts the sense of wonder and joy,

As we dedicate this child and rededicate ourselves to all that is

Beautiful, True, and Good,

May we be stirred to a fresh and enduring sense of Life’s

sacredness, as well as the promise of our children.

May we pass to this child and to all our children courage and

compassion, and most of all a questing spirit.

May that light burn more brightly in our children than it has in us.

In the Name of all we hold sacred, we ask these things,

And end this ceremony of dedication in peace and joy.