Canvass Moment by NUUC Member Randy Hall.
One of the most important things I’ve done was to serve as foreman of the jury for a murder trial, with gang allegations. The circumstances were shocking, and the weight on the jury to decide the fates of the accused was immense. Even more shocking was how the jury pool responded to a question posed in the selection process. The judge asked each of us: “Did we know someone who had been murdered?” Half of that pool answered yes, and proceeded to tell their heart-wrenching stories. I answered no, expecting that I would never answer yes to this question.
Since that time I have been touched by two murders, one a former employee, the other a faculty colleague. Both happened on December 2, one year apart and both on the afternoon of an office party. Both murders were highly publicized.
Some of you have read the story of these murders, and my work in homeland security, in an essay that I posted online titled “My Encounters with Terrorism, Death and Hope.” It was viewed more than 500 times in one day. My message of hope, coming from the removal of walls rather than their construction, resonated with many people.
My first encounter with murder occurred in 2015, in San Bernardino. My former employee was the victim of a mass killing. The event precipitated the proposal for a complete ban on Muslims entering the country. The second occurred in 2016, on the USC campus, the accused being a student. The circumstances were far more common, an unhinged individual attacking someone he knew well.
Returning to my jury service, each person who experienced a murder in their lives was subsequently asked by the judge whether he or she could fairly adjudicate the case based on the facts presented. Could we apply our reason to the circumstances of the case, and not let our prior tragedies bias our judgment?
Today we are all jurors adjudicating the future of our country. To do so requires two things: application of reason to objectively assess the facts, and an ethical framework to judge and to act.
Since 9/11, foreign-born terrorism has not been a growing problem in America. Homicides have not even been increasing, as they have declined in that time. What has grown is suicides. We are more than twice as likely to die at our own hands today in the United States as by the hands of others.
I strongly believe that our ethics best come from active participation in religious communities. Neighborhood Church is our community. We become better people by being here, and in doing so we move our society toward a vision that reflects our beliefs.
In the years ahead, we will be tested. Our values will be challenged, to make choices and do things that can move the moral fabric of this nation and the world in a positive direction.
Neighborhood Church deserves our generous support. Our goals and mission depend on having the resources to reach out beyond this beautiful campus, to do the work that our nation so badly needs. Please support our pledge drive. And, please do consider increasing your pledge, because the resources are needed now more than ever before.
Randy Hall and his wife Janice Partyka (a trustee at Neighborhood) have been part of Neighborhood Church since they moved here in 1993 from northern California. Randy is a lifelong UU, growing up within the Palo Alto church. He and Janice were previously members of the Hayward UU church, and they were married 35 years ago in the Plainfield, New Jersey UU church. Randy previously led the first university center of excellence funded by the Department of Homeland Security, and has briefed three secretaries of homeland security on terrorism risk assessment.