©REV. LOIS E. VAN LEER
NOEMBER 11, 2016
WOODINVILLE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST CHURCH
“There are times when the heart, like the canary in the coal mine, breathes in the world’s toxicity and begins to die…” wrote Parker Palmer in his 2011 book, Healing the Heart of Democracy. If your heart, mind, and body breathed in the world’s toxicity and felt as if it would die sometime on Tuesday evening of this past week, you are not alone. If you were and still are filled with disbelief, shock, confusion, anger, despair, rage, pain, hopelessness, scared, afraid, you are not alone. If you feel unhinged or off balance, deeply troubled or perplexed, devastated, as if the foundation of your world has crumbled, as if there is a tear in the garment of the universe, you are not alone. If you awoke on Wednesday morning from a sleep filled with dreams of hope, only to wake to the reality you had not seen coming was indeed the new reality, you are not alone. If you feel betrayed by a political party or a political system, you are not alone. If you are broken hearted, you are not alone. If you cannot stop weeping, you are not alone.
I will not tell you to breathe. I will not tell you to get over it and get on with it. I will not tell you that everything happens for a purpose. I will not offer you the reasons why or some astute and insightful, explanation of how the unthinkable and unbelievable has happened. I will not assure you that everything is going to be alright. I will not tell you that the sun still rises and life carries on. I will not tell you that what we are experiencing is one of many kinds of cycles that we go through. I will not tell you that now is the time for healing and reconciliation. For to do so would be to ask you to legitimize and “rebrand racism, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, sexual abuse, bullying, distortion, lies, untruths and violence into a mainstream movement.” As a colleague asked, aren’t we to condemn and renounce such ideologies?
I will not ask you to fall in line or buck up and be a good soldier, putting aside differences, and say that the people have spoken. Let me be clear, Donald Trump does not speak for me. He is not my president. He does not represent my values. Years ago Bill Moyers said, “Democracy in America is a series of narrow escapes and we may be running out of luck.” I think we just did.
Here is what I will tell you. In a Huffington post article the day after the election, Zeba Blay wrote, “And so, the so-called ‘unthinkable’ has happened. Donald Trump, the racist, sexist, xenophobic candidate of the Republican alt-right, has been elected President of the United States. Across social media, white anti-Trumpers are expressing shock and disbelief, unable to recognize the America they thought they knew. Well, wake up. This is the America people of color have always known. This is the America that has always existed.” The outcome of this election is a surprise only for those of us who have lived within the bubble of white privilege. Michael Moore chided, “…we weren’t paying attention to our fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all “You're fired!” Trump’s victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him.” The joke appears to be on us.
Here is something else I will tell you: truth, facts- they are all casualties of the political war of words. Parker Palmer writes, “Research reveals that people who are shown solid evidence contradicting their most fundamental beliefs often become more forceful in advocating those beliefs. We will want the information we need to come closer to the truth only when we stop fearing whatever might challenge our convictions and value it instead.” Please don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind – actually, my heart- is made up. To challenge that would knock me off my feet and I am barely just standing. Yet, as Parker says, “When we allow emotions to trump the intellect, we swallow ‘facts’ that are demonstrably untrue, letting them fly around unchallenged in a mockery of civil discourse.”
I will tell you that we miscalculated the depth and breadth of white fear. Of course we did because that fear masqueraded as rage. We did not see the broken hearts of disenfranchised working and middle-class whites. Some of whom saw not only jobs but entire ways of living disappear. Look to the coal miners in Appalachia. When our way of life is threatened, we tend to withdraw and sequester with people who are like us. Any who may be other are looked at with suspicion, distrust, and blame. Parker explains, “We project our inner shadows on people of different race, social class, religion or ideology and blame them for whatever is lacking in our lives. We restore our sense of identity by tearing others down, claiming our superiority, against the backdrop of their inferiority.” Hatred has now been normalized. If you listened carefully to Trump’s victory speech, you will hear a lone male voice call something out. That something was, “Kill Obama.” There is a particular form of hatred that is reserved for and directed at Black persons in this country.
I cannot remember now who said, "Of course we will now have a Trump. Who else can we have following a Black presidency?" It is the corrective curve righting itself after huge cultural shifts that span a Black presidency to marriage equality for same sex couples to religious and cultural pluralism. The hope? A return to the familiar, white, male, Christian dominated society. A society that always lived visibly while insisting on the invisibility of any one or thing that differed from that norm. It is fear based, not reality based.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” And so here is what I will tell you; for this time that has been given us.
First let us make our way through the scramble and range of what we feel by feeling it. Feel what you feel without judgement. If we do not feel, we will remain broken hearted but not broken open. And we need our hearts to be broken open to do what must be done in this time that has been given us.
Sit down with your children. The most heartbreaking stories post- election come from children. A colleague’s adopted 11 and 8- year- old children who are Mexican: they wept thinking that they will now be deported to Mexico. Or the 6- year- old whose grandson woke up afraid for his Muslim and dark-skinned classmates. How do you explain to twin 4 year old girls who sold the family’s entire tomato crop to the neighborhood and gave the money to the Clinton campaign that we were wrong- all of us- she didn’t win. What will you say to them when they point out that we will have a president who would be thrown out of their classroom for violating the school’s bullying policy? Teach them that democracy is not an end but a process that is inhabited, again and again, and again. Explain to them, as blogger Miguel de la Torre wrote, “… embrace hopelessness which means regardless of how the story ends, the struggle for justice is what defines our very humanity.” Let them be broken hearted. Love them fiercely.
The historian Howard Zinn wrote that, “The essential ingredients of all struggles for justice are human beings who, if only for a moment, if only while beset with fears, step out of line and do something, however small.” It is time to step out of line. As many have suggested, now is the time to start local and work our way up from there. Begin now to volunteer politically. Be the constant hum in the ear of your political party, holding it to accountability. We have a mid-term election in two years. We need to get cracking now. As one friend of the congregation did, sign up for your Washington and federal representatives' Facebook feeds. As well as the president’s. Get informed and stay informed and up to date. Sound the alarm early and often. The New York Times predicts that the moral battles that were waged at the federal level will once again return to the states.
Join Washington’s UU Voices for Justice whose mission is “to inspire, educate and empower congregations and individuals to effectively foster and support legislation in Washington state consistent with our vision.” They are our watchdogs in Olympia.
Join The Northwest UU Justice Network, started by John and D.D. Hilke to link UU’s in the Pacific Northwest to one another in the work for justice. If you go to their website you can be connected to UU’s and UU partners who are working on numerous issues of social justice. You will find resources as well as events in the area as well as ongoing updates about justice issues such as Standing Rock, Income Inequality, and Immigration.
Give memberships to the American Civil Liberties Union as holiday gifts throughout this upcoming season of gift giving. Donate and encourage others to do the same to the Southern Poverty Law Center: "a non-profit organization monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists…" They also litigate cases against such groups as well as produce the fantastic educational resource, "Teaching Tolerance.”
Be reminded that in Nazi Germany, laws were passed one by one that restricted or took away the rights of Jews until they were rendered less than human. We face the very real possibility that in the next four years, laws that were passed to protect basic human rights, will be repealed. As has been said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Step out of line.
Write your own life mission statement. A mission statement defines “the reason for being.” What is your purpose? What do you most value? What are you committed to? Carry it around with you. Use it every time you create the day’s or month’s to-do list. Do all those to-do’s fulfil your mission? If not, send them packing. Take back your lives from the busyness of living life in a blender of activity. You can’t pay attention to what is going on if you are in perpetual movement, flitting from here to there. Busy has actually created more isolation than community. Settle down and in to your life’s mission.
Find and stick to a spiritual practice. A spiritual practice is that which you engage in to feel connected to what is of ultimate meaning and value for you. Says Rev. James Ishmael Ford, “Spiritual practices are not about making you feel better. They are about walking through a door from one place to another… Spiritual practices take us into authenticity, into intimacy with what is.” They also orient you when the ground shifts beneath you. They pick you up and lift you up. To walk the talk of Unitarian Universalism, we must wake up, become aware and informed. If we awake, then we will want to act to transform our world. Once again, to narrow the gap between the way the world is and the way it could be. And if we act, we will need something to wrap around and sustain us for the work. As Ishmael Ford says, “You need some shut up time. If you’re making noise all the time it is hard to pay attention, hard to notice the lessons and the lesson. You need some regularity. Doing it once might open your heart and eyes. Has happened. But most of us need to return and return and return.”
Build community. Here, where you work, where you live. Connect, build, and maintain relationships near and far. Read, play board or card games with family and friends. Create. Cultivate. Garden. Care for an animal. Write a card to someone. On paper. Mail it. Cook and share meals together in small groups on a regular basis. Create circles of care for one another. Carry around a gratitude notebook to remind you that all is not lost. Tend your heart.
Reaching across a divide that feels like an abyss- not yet. That comes later. In a sermon on November 27.
Stay sane. Apparently Carl Jung said that a society needs 40% of its people to be sane to keep society functioning. Given the popular vote of the election, at least 40% of us are sane. And please do not think that if you suffer from depression or bi-polar disorder or other mental illnesses that you cannot join the ranks of those who keep our society sane. The insanity that Jung refers to are attitudes and actions that destroy the social order: misogyny, xenophobia, racism, narcissism, greed, violence. The events of and the culmination of the last 18 months this week are enough to drive anyone to insanity. Stay sane. Join the 40% and stay there.
I will tell you as the Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford, says “to love the hell out of the world…” Love it in all its brokenness and fragility as well as in all its beauty and possibilities. We can ride that anger train but I can assure you that it will not, in the end, take us where we want to go. It will derail you. Fear, that great masquerader and challenger of love, keeps us locked up, compromising our fullness of being. Fear and its offspring, hatred and violence, cannot in the end, out shout, out maneuver or overpower love.
One of our Universalist preacher ancestors, John Murray, is purported to have said sometime in the late 1700’s, “Give them not Hell, but hope and courage.” Hell has always lived in proximity to we humans for it is of our own creation. It seems in this past week to have drawn nearer to us, reaching with its tendril’s of fire to scorch and burn our hearts and our hope. But I ask you to gather the waters of courage and hope- and yes, of love- that lie within your hearts and pour them out, dousing the hell out of this fire.
Rev. Crawford says, “We are the only form love will take and the work is ours to do.” So go on, pour out the waters of your heart. And love the hell out of this world.