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August 7 – Kathleen Smythe

Kathleen Smythe


For most of us, helping those who are less fortunate is part of our ethical, religious, or spiritual practice. In fact, many would argue that it is part of being human and living in community. For Unitarian Universalists, it might be an integral part of practicing our first principle: the inherent worth and dignity of every person. In this sermon, I will suggest that there are some situations in which we should not help those who appear less fortunate than us. History and personal experience suggest that we can help those we don’t know, like Africans, far more by changing ourselves than by offering them aid.  The caution of Jesus to take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye is one way to think about this question.

Kathleen R. Smythe is a professor of African history at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio where she has taught for the last fourteen years. Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of African history, globalization, and sustainability.  Her first book, Fipa Families, explored Africans’ long-term relationship with European Catholic missionaries. Her second book, in progress, Understanding Africa, examines long-standing traditions and ideas in African history as sources of wisdom and creativity for Westerners caught in practices, ideas and institutions that are not sustainable (in social, economic, or ecological terms).

Music:  Gerri Friedberg, piano, and Kurt Johnson, violin (Houston Symphony)
Service Leader:  Helene DiIulio