Resurrecting Hope

Sunday, March 27, 2016, 10:15am
Rev. Shayna Appel

Easter in Unitarian Universalism is often a time in which we explore themes of resurrection and new birth.  This year, in light of all the hardship being experienced throughout our world, let us take a moment together a resurrect a little hope for ourselves and our world!

Resurrecting Hope

A Sermon Offered to the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church

March 27, 2016 -Easter Sunday

Rev. Shayna Appel



Our Souls Speak Spring   By Evin Carvill Ziemer

If we lived in another climate

Our souls might speak other languages

We might speak oasis or permafrost, dry season or monsoon

But our souls speak spring

Our souls speak green shoots pushing through last year’s leaves

Our souls speak flower buds stretching to sun

Our souls speak mud puddle and nest building, damp earth and worm castings, tiny green leaves and frog choruses

We speak spring because spring sings in us

We gather to nurture our faith in our own growing

Our own courage to push through

Our own blossoming in beauty

Our own small part in the spring of this world

Come, let us worship together




In  a speech delivered at Cape Town in June of 1966, Robert Kennedy said, “There is a Chinese curse which says 'May [you] live in interesting times.’"


Of course, this sounds like a blessing but it’s real meaning is, “May you experience much disorder and chaos in your life.”  Kennedy went on to say, “Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty…”  Cape Town, 1966.


For those of us who lived through the 60s (and can remember them) we recall, they were nothing if not interesting.  Of course, being alive in 2016 is proving to be no less “interesting”.  I’m not going to go into the whole long laundry list of exactly how “interesting” the times we are living in are…I trust you know of what I speak.


Instead, what I would like to do this Easter morning, this beautiful spring morning, is to take the theme of the day, which is “resurrection,” and apply it to “hope” because sometimes, when we are in the midst of “interesting times,” it can be easy to get just a little overwhelmed.  When we find ourselves living in “interesting times” it is easy to forget that there have been “interesting times” before these - times of great upheaval and uncertainty - and that humanity survived, in large part, because there is something about the human spirit that reveals its best self, that rises up, in the face of upheaval and uncertainty.


So, here we go…hope in 3 chapters!




On March 25th, 1911, over 140 women and children lost their lives to a terrible and easily preventable fire that broke out at the Tringle Shirtwaiste Factory in the garment district of New York City.  Apart from the atrocious physical working conditions of garment factories in these United States at the time, which set the stage for the fire and directly affected the aftermath, we must remember that employees were treated like slaves and paid very little for their labor. 


Pauline Newman was a young immigrant from Lithuania who had worked at the factory before the fire.  In a 1951 typescript letter preserved in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union Archives, Ms Newman recalled:


As I look back to those years of actual slavery I am quite certain that the conditions under which we worked and which existed in the factory of the Triangle Waiste Company were the acme of exploitation perpetuated by humans upon defenseless men, women and children — a sort of punishment for being poor and docile.


Surely the people caught up in the Triangle Shirtwaiste Fire - the victims, the observers, the firefighters, the mourners - surely anyone who came close to the Triangle Shirtwaiste Fire were living in interesting times.  But you know, there’s something about the human spirit that reveals its best self, that literally rises up, in the face of upheaval and uncertainty.


The Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire became a pivotal moment for not only the labor movement in these United States, but for women’s suffrage as well.  After the fire the State of New York passed more than 30 new laws setting improved standards for things like minimum wage, maximum hours, workplace conditions and child labor.  And, in the aftermath of that fire, working-class women joined their middle and upper class sisters in the fight for women’s suffrage, realizing now the importance of their collective political voice.[1]


The fire not only impacted the public, but also individuals who would eventually be vital in the movements for women's rights and workers rights.  The fire impacted Frances Perkins, who became a huge advocate for women’s suffrage and later went on to become Secretary of Labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt - the first woman to hold a cabinet post. About the fire Ms Perkins would recall: It was seared on my mind as well as my heart - a never-to-be-forgotten reminder of why I had to spend my life fighting conditions that could permit such a tragedy.[2]  


[#1074  Turn the World Around  v. 1]




In 2012 there was an international conference held to examine Water Security, Risk and Society.  One of the outcomes of this conference was an organized and edited landmark collection of papers that, according to Oxford University, demonstrate the growing scale of water security risks.  For example, over 45% of the global population is projected to be exposed to water shortages for food production by 2050.[3]  The problem of providing clean water is, according to the Oxford Scholars, most acute in developing countries, particularly Africa, where creaking infrastructures struggle to keep pace with fast-growing urban populations; in rural areas, millions of water pumps stand unused waiting to be repaired.  Despite hitting the Millennium Development Goal for drinking water access in 2012, over 780 million people still do not have safe and reliable drinking water…resulting in largely preventable health problems that most affect women and children.[4]


In the United States of America, a water crises is a major news story.  Just think of all we have heard about water shortages in California, or about the 300,000 people in Charleston, West Virginia who suddenly were without clean water back in January of 2014 due to a chemical spill, or the current situation in Flint, Michigan.  No access to clean water to drink or wash in these United States is a major news story, but in too many other parts of the world it is daily life.  But you know, there’s something about the human spirit that reveals its best self, that literally rises up, in the face of upheaval and uncertainty. And so, fortunately, there are some brilliant and dedicated people out there working hard to find solutions to this devastating problem.


People like Dean Kamen, best known for inventing the first insulin pump and the “Segway,” Kamen recently developed a machine he calls the “Slingshot.”  The name derives from the biblical story of David and Goliath because, like David, Kamen was able to take out a really big problem with a little technology.  Using about the same amount of power as a hair dryer, the Slingshot can generate about ten gallons of clean pure water an hour.[5]


Some people who have stepped up to make hope rise from the water are well known celebrities, like Matt Damon, one of the co-founders of works to bring whole communities together with locally based partners and microfinance opportunities to find the best solution for any particular location.  They emphasize bringing women into the process because, in so many parts of our thirsty world, women disproportionately bear the burden of collecting water.[6]


Some people who have stepped up to make hope rise from the water are people with a mission, like Scott Harrison, founder of Charity:Water.  Scott was working as a paying volunteer with Mercy Ships when he was first introduced to the scummy water sources that were often the only source of water for entire communities.  Scott observed that he wouldn’t let his dog drink from much of what he saw, and then amended his comments to say, “I wouldn’t let my dog step in that water!”


Realizing that fully 80% of the medical problems they were dealing with aboard the Mercy Ships originated in the bad water, Scott knew the problem had to be fixed.  His approach was to transform how Water:Charity worked to fund solutions.  100% of donations from the general public made to Water:Charity go to support water projects.  All the overhead of salaries and operational costs are met through sponsors, targeted fundraisers, and private donors.[7]


Some people making hope rise from the water are simply inspired, like Italian designer Arturo Vittori.  Vittori recently demonstrated models of what he calls the WarkaWater Tower which extracts water from the cool evening air of otherwise arid Ethiopia.


These are just a few remarkable efforts being made to provide reliable, efficient and sustainable methods for getting clean water to communities in developing areas.  These examples are big and dramatic, but it’s important to remember that those big successes depend on small contributions.  It is important to realize every little drop can make a difference.


[#1074  Turn the World Around  v. 2]




In 1993, Greg Mortenson got separated from his group in an attempt to summit Pakistan’s treacherous K2 mountain.  Lost and alone, he stumbled into a village where he was cared for and nursed back to health.  In return, he promised to return to the village and build them a school.  The book chronicling this adventure is one you have probably heard of.  It’s called “Three Cups of Tea.”  The title derives its name from a quote by one of the men Mortensen met while in Pakistan, Haji Ali.  Ali said, “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family..."[8]


Writing about Greg’s amazing story Amazon Books writes, “Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools—especially for girls—that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson’s quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Tea combines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit.”


That was in 1993.  In 2012, an investigation into his charity, the Central Asia Institute, or CIA for short, alleged that Mortensen had spent millions in donations on personal expenses, including travel and clothing.  His book turned out to contain large-scale fabrications.  Some of the schools he boasted of had no students.  Some appeared not to have been built at all.[9]   His co-author, in response to the revelation of fraud, completed suicide by kneeling in front of an oncoming train.  His daughter attempted suicide.  And Mortensen himself almost died of heart failure.


At the height of his career Mortensen won fame as a humanitarian who build hundreds of schools in Afghanistan.  Four-star generals sought his advice on Afghan tribal dynamics. President Obama donated $100,000.00 of his Nobel Prize winnings to Mortenson’s charity.  Former president Bill Clinton praised him.  [And] four million people bought his book.

An October 12, 2014 article in the Washington Post says:


 It is true that some of Mortensons promised schools arent functioning. Last year, a Washington Post reporter trekked across the Wakhan Corridor in northeastern Afghanistan, where many of the charitys schools were built. Several of them were vacant. In one, the desks and chairs were in a pile. Many of CAIs schools were clearly built in the wrong places — away from population centers.


But, continues the article,  nearly every aid organization here has had failures. In some cases, foreign donors constructed schools and handed them to the government to run; they werent maintained. U.S. military units often built schools that closed as soon as those troops withdrew from the area.


At Mortensons school in Logar, every classroom was full. In one, he pointed to a girl wearing a black headscarf.  “Her father is a Taliban commander,” he whispered to a reporter. “When she came to the school, other families felt it was safe to send their daughters, too.”


It was not possible to confirm such deals. But the Taliban had shuttered nearby schools, deeming their curricula “un-Islamic.”


In the school, Mortenson was a man transformed. He went room to room, teaching arithmetic with a handful of stones. Suddenly, the inarticulate man was funny and no longer self-conscious. He made eye contact with every student.


There’s something about the human spirit that reveals its best self, that literally rises up, in the face of upheaval and uncertainty. Sometimes, in spite of getting crucified for trying to do good.


Now days, Mortenson  is weighing his options.  He could try to return to public life, to write another book or advise those looking to start nonprofits. But he often seems unready to reemerge.

“Sometimes, I think it would be better if I just stopped talking,” he said. “This stuff from the past is going to come for a long time, whether I say everything was or wasnt a lie.”


During one of his classroom visits in Kabul, he walked from desk to desk, asking 9-year-old girls what they planned to do when they got older. Some wanted to be midwives or doctors. Others wanted to be teachers. As he saw it, their ambition was another validation, another sign that he shouldnt give up.  He came to the desk of a girl with a wide smile.

“I want to be a lawyer,” she said.


Mortenson shook her hand.


“I could use some more of those.”


When we find ourselves living in “interesting times” it is easy to forget that there have been “interesting times” before these - times of great upheaval and uncertainty - and that humanity survived, in large part, because there is something about the human spirit that reveals its best self, that rises up, in the face of upheaval and uncertainty.





Won’t you sing with me?


[#1074  Turn the World Around  v. 3]









[2] Kort, Melissa.  “The Fire That Changed Everything.”  MS Magazine. March 21, 2011.

[3] Hall, Jim, David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson and Rob Hope.  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. “Water security, risk and society.”  November 13, 2013; Vol 371, No 2002.

[4] Hope, Robert and Michael Rouse. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences.  “Risks and responses to universal drinking water.” November 13, 2013; Vol 371, No 2002.

[5] Casalina, Anita.  Water: Making a Difference - One Drop at a Time.  Huffington Post, 4/18/2014.  Posted at

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Penguin Books, NY, 2006, p. 150.

[9] Sieff, Kevin. The Washington Post. October 12, 2014.