Called to Community… But How?

Post-Election Sermon
November 13TH, 2016

Called to community…but how?
McCabe – Post-election sermon, 11-13-2016

Is it starting to feel a little better? Do you feel like you’re getting “back to normal” after the events of this week?

It’s what every cell in our bodies is programmed to do. It’s called homeostasis. When the system receives some kind of shock that sends it off balance, it struggles to find homeostasis again. Whether that place of normalcy or balance is healthy or not, that’s where the body goes.

It’s what happens when we go on a diet. In fact, it’s the reason why diets so often do not work. It may be healthier for us to drop a little weight, but that is no longer what the body thinks is “normal.” So it rebels against healing, and puts all the weight back on, and adds some more for good measure.

Don’t screw with me, the body says. I want what I want when I want it. Some of you know what I’m talking about, don’t you. The siren song of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.

I don’t blame any of us, myself included, for wanting to feel better.

But in this moment, it’s not a good idea.

I looked up the word “healing” in the dictionary this week, and it defines “healing” as a return to wholeness. And that is a beautiful and wondrous thing. It is the generous and loving mission and vision of this religious community, after all.

But again, it’s only “healing” if what you’re returning was healthy to begin with. It’s only healing if restoration brings every last one of us back together to a place that allows every last one of us to breathe in freedom.

“I’m ready for the fight,” many of us are saying. “Bring it on. We will come back stronger.”

I pray with every fibre of my being that these valiant words aren’t the moral and political equivalent of saying, “this time, I’m really going to stick to my diet. This time, I’m really gonna LOSE the weight and keep it off.”

Forgive me for saying this my beloveds.

But I don’t want you to feel better right now.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports 201 hate incidents since the election, as of Friday afternoon at 5pm.

The majority are directed against African Americans. Closely following are attacks against Latinx folks, presumed to be immigrants. In third place are hate crimes against Muslims.

Some of you have heard me say this already, but I’m going to say it again. Yes, patriarchy and pervasive gender bias were and are an issue in this carnival of hate we call an election season, but at its heart, this is about white supremacy.

The hate data say it all.

Surely you’ve heard about the swastika spray painted in South Philadelphia on the anniversary of Kristallnacht this week. Using the letters of Mr. Trump’s name to form the symbol of holocaust.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the African American students at UPenn targeted by a vicious social media campaign depicting some of the most sickening images I’ve ever seen.

Or the students at Millersberg High School here in Pennsylvania who mercilessly harassed a Latina student, chanting Trump and cheering when she ran away crying.

This is perhaps the saddest fact in all of this. The most frequent location for these incidents is in our schools.

I don’t want you to feel better too quick.

That’s what got us here in the first place.

Our addiction to immediate pain relief. Our economy depends on two things, my friends: our need for instant gratification and unceasing war. Or to use the vocabulary of our news media and political candidates … our consumer goods and our national security.

I pray that the results of this election will ignite a fire in the hearts of the people in this country. The kind of fire that does not go out. The kind of fire that does not revert to diseased homeostasis when the going gets rough.

Let me explain by telling you a story. Maybe two.

I’m gonna start with one of our Universalist ancestors in the faith George DeBenneville.

As many of you may know, he practiced his ministry right here in Philadelphia from 1741 to 1793. But this story happened earlier.

He went to sea at the age of 12. When his ship docked in Algiers, a he tells it, a group of “Moors” came on board with food and drink. Now you need to know that “Moors” was a racialized term, used by Europeans to loosely describe Arabs, Muslims, Berbers, dark-skinned people….

Well, they came on board and one of them fell and badly injured his leg. His companions fell to the deck beside him, crying tears over his wound, kissing his leg and turning their eyes to the sky, they seemed to pray to the sun.

De Benneville scolded them for their “heathen silliness” – his term – by the way.

Patiently they explained that they kissed his leg to show their sympathy. They cried salt tears into the wound to cleanse it and keep it from infection and they turned their eyes to the sky in prayer to the Creator of all to have compassion and heal him quickly.

Susan Ritchie, in her wonderful book “Children of the Same God” explains that it was in the moment of listening, that De Benneville was converted to an explicitly multi-religious belief in universal salvation.

De Benneville cried out: “Are these men heathens? No, I confess before God they are Christians and I myself a Heathen.”

Our great UU theologian Thandeka gets right to the point. De Benneville’s pounding heart, and flowing tears and overwhelming feelings “constituted a revelation that challenged the racial, class, and religious creeds that were core to his self-concept.”

Did the events of this week cause your heart to pound, your tears to flow and your feelings to overwhelm you?

De Benneville never returned to “normal.” He lived the rest of his life and ministry from a new space, a new commitment. Literally from a different body.

Oh, he felt better. But it was not homeostasis. It was inspiration that expanded his world instead of shrinking it.

There is an exhibit at Independence Mall called “Forced from Home.” Sponsored and created by Doctors without Borders it tells the story of refugees and aid workers in their own words.

One of the physicians traveling with the show tells of her experiences in the Sudan, treating families on the run from their homes. She tells about treating a very sick child and realizing that she would have to tell the child’s mother that this little boy was not going to make it.

With the help of an interpreter, she relayed the news only to see a broad smile on the mother’s face.

You must have gotten it wrong, the doctor frantically told the interpreter. Try again.

You don’t understand, the mother said. I have already buried one child in the land we will never see again. I will get to bury this child on free soil and we will never be separated.

This moment changed everything. She understood as George De Benneville had understood, that her perspective was simply too narrow. She thought she knew what was right, but she had a great deal more to learn.

What if, …..the pain and disorientation, the shock, the loss, the disgust, the fear …. What if the overwhelming feelings engulfing us this week offer us this same opportunity?

And no, I am not one to say that everything happens for a reason, or that God wanted Mr. Trump to win.

That has never been and will never be my theology. Bad things are bad things. Unspeakable cruelty is unspeakable cruelty. Unapologetic white supremacy is evil. Period.

Always. Evil. Period.

I’m saying something very different.

Instead of trying to make the pain go away… lean into it, even if only for a moment. Where is it calling you?

Take a deep breath my beloveds.

Perhaps you will want to close your eyes.

Connect with the pain – if it is still there. Don’t chase it away.

Let it seep into your bones. Let it settle there.

Let it wind itself around the very strands of your DNA.

And imagine, that unto seven generations, not one of your descendants will be able to escape from it.

The pain will be part of every breathing moment of life.

Don’t rush to chase it away.
Don’t rush too quickly to false hope.

Instead, ask yourselves this question. What is my commitment?

With deep respect to the founders of the movement for Black Lives, Opal Tometti, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors… are you woke? can you stay woke?

Is it possible that you understand in a new way, the pain so many of our human siblings live with every day?

Many of us will never, in our lifetimes, know what it is like to be truly free. To have a country we can call our own. To live in a space where our rights are guaranteed, and the sanctity of our opinions prevails.

For 118 years the people of Puerto Rico have had no representation in the government that occupied our island by force during the so-called Spanish-American war.

We can vote in United States presidential elections only if we have a residence in this country, not if we choose to live on our beautiful island.

And yet, on the island, Puerto Ricans pay the highest sales tax – 11% – anywhere in the Americas, most of which goes to pay down a crippling debt imposed by United States bankers. The same financiers who engineered the occupation and grew obscene wealth from it. Do you use Domino sugar? It is the brainchild of Puerto Rico’s first United States “governor.”

Empire is always hungry for more.

This is the promise we have been given. In our names, more walls will be built and thousands, tens of thousands, millions, tens of millions more will be abandoned to die. And if recent history holds true, most will neither have the time nor the inclination to witness the dying.

It is a very hard thing to do.

Maybe the walls will go up along the national borders. It interests me that Canadian immigration site crashed on Tuesday night. I wonder why the site for Nicaragua, Pakistan or the Democratic Republic of Congo didn’t see much action.

Maybe the walls will be strengthened and expanded in Northern Liberties, or el Bronx, as my mother used to call it.

Or Graterford prison.

Or Berks Immigration Center.

That’s homeostasis. That’s what normal is, and has been for a very long time.

I can’t help but telling liberals in the United States, especially white liberals. Haven’t you been listening? When we told you that the fault lines of injustice were deepening, you said but we have an African American president. When we said police are murdering people of color with impunity, you said it’s just a few bad apples.

A few bad apples have elected a gleefully racist, xenophobe and self-declared sexual predator to be president of this nation. And even if the popular vote did not do this, the system of awarding electoral prizes guarantees a bad apple advantage.

This is the reality!

Will you listen now? In a new way?

Not just because your conscience tells you that all of this is wrong. It is. Not just because you feel sorry or guilty for what has happened. God knows, those are natural and very human things to feel.

Because sorry and guilty don’t last.

Only a change of heart really lasts.

Will you listen now?

Will you listen in a different way because your heart is pounding, your tears are flowing and you are not the same person you were on Tuesday morning. Because you can never again be the person you were on Tuesday morning before the votes were counted.

Are you woke?

I have never in my life been so grateful to be a Unitarian Universalist. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be with you this morning!

As Unitarian Universalists, our core values call each of us, into community, regardless of where we stand in the social structure of this nation.

It is tempting, and even comforting to surround ourselves with folks who believe as we do, and represent similar demographic characteristics. This is actually the dictionary definition of community. Actually, we are so conditioned to do exactly this, that most of us never think to do otherwise.

This is not a terrible thing. But our faith dares us, prods us and calls us to boldly cross the traditional boundaries of community…. not to proclaim or impose our message of redemption, but to live it. With the humility to listen to and learn from Others…. With a capital “O.”

The great, justice-loving prophet of the Hebrew Bible – Micah – says “what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justice, love mercy, and to travel humbly with thy God.”

We live at a time when technology, media, and the blurring of global economic and environmental interests truly interconnect us. In spite of all the outdated political rhetoric of the last several decades, the notion of a sovereign, independent nation simply does not mean what it did when I was a child.

We live at a time of a massive, global diaspora. In 2016, the UN High Commission on Refugees estimates that 65.3 million have lost their home, a record number. One in every 113 human beings on this planet is currently displaced.

Some of us feel as though we lost our home, our country this week, don’t we. And we want so desperately to do something!

I honor and share that feeling with all my heart.

Our faith calls us to live in the world with love and curiosity. It calls us to listen, to the call of our own conscience and to the call of our fellows. We are in this together.

Let us live fully and joyfully, embracing the gifts of life for all; and holding the suffering of humanity right alongside the joy. Embrace the gifts of love, respect and witness. As Secretary Clinton invited us to do, let us not stop fighting for what we know is right. Let us expand our world view, not narrow it.

In his last published work, Dr. Martin Luther King echoed the words of “founding elder” Thomas Paine: “we have the power to begin the world over again.”

In his call for a Third Reconstruction, the Rev William Barber calls us to take the wisdom passed down to us and together, write humanity’s next collective song.

Love is still present.

Amen. Ase and blessed be.