Last week, during a meeting of the Bremerton City Council (in Washington), Jennifer Chamberlin delivered a secular invocation for the first time in the council’s history.
That said, Chamberlin, a member of the Humanist Society, didn’t seem to have too much opposition to giving her speech, which is a positive sign.
You guys are welcome to sit and also to leave your hats on…
My name’s Jennifer Chamberlin, and I’m a member of the Humanist Society. The principles of Humanism include helping others, concern for our environment, meeting in community with others of like mind, making connections, and — probably the hardest of all — growing by connection with others who hold diverse beliefs, and building a legacy that makes our world a better place.
So thank you, Bremerton City Council, for the opportunity to open your session today in this secular invocation. I understand it’s the first of our kind here, so thank you for the opportunity again.
I’d like to begin by first thanking the Duwamish people whose land we convene on today and who took care of the land long before settlers or colonists came. Rather than bow your heads, I invite you to look towards our flag for a few moments. This year, we’ve seen our nation’s flag in distress, under foot, burning in streets, worn like a cape, and dragged through the mud, flying upside down against the backdrop of protest.
Yet here, in this hallowed hall, that flag sits sacred and unfettered. We can look at that flag and know that this space is one that exists to create harmony by the principle of democracy, despite the complexity of serving our diversity.
The motto of our great nation is e pluribus unum: Out of many, one. We come together, here, and offer our story as your constituents, and you’re charged with coming together in a consensus that benefits our city, and a consensus that cares for our most fragile and most marginalized individuals, while at the same time representing the interests of the majority.
In a time when the tenets of science are under attack, we’re also learning through neuroscience that one’s proclivity to be conservative or liberal might just lie in our inherited brain structures. These discoveries make it even more important to recognize that our perspectives are driven by nature and must be nurtured and honored. That we must process each perspective and story to find the new story that reflects our shared values as humans. E pluribus unum is your charge. And it’s your privilege. And I appreciate it and thank you.
I invite you to use your charge and your privilege in a way that honors not only the voices of those you hear from your constituents but also the voices you know are silenced by fear.
This Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day. To the council and to the public, I invite you to participate in an activity that honors our Earth. We do, after all, live in the most beautiful state in the nation. So please enjoy it. Some folks like to do art projects with recycled material. Some folks like to take part in park cleanup efforts. You might just want to find a nice park in Kitsap County — we have so many to choose from — and take an appreciative and meditative walk. Personally, I’ll be with my fellowship at the March for Science in Seattle on Earth Day.
I’d like to close by reading a favorite poem of mine. I was inspired to choose this one after seeing folks come together in support of our immigrant neighbors. While this poem, which rests at the base of our Statue of Liberty, is describing a bay on the other side of the country, you might easily be able to replace that imagery with that of our beautiful Puget Sound and rugged Salish Sea.
“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
It was a beautiful, timely invocation — and if the council insists on keeping prayers at the beginning of meetings, they should be sure to include more non-religious people in the mix.
By the way, Chamberlin gave a similar speech to the Washington State Senate the next day:
Chamberlin told me last night she’d prefer the elected officials do away with the invocations all together, but until that happens, she’s happy to join the mix.