The story A Christmas Carol, to which there is the book by Charles Dickens and a multitude of adaptations done, focus on the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is in his office on Christmas Eve working, counting money. His nephew comes over to invite him over for Christmas, excuses are made, bah humbug. His employee asks for Christmas off, bah humbug. Two people ask money for charity, bah humbug, I only support prisons and workhouses. I was reminded of this story, A Christmas Carol, recently and wondered why was Scrooge so Bah Hambug? As a member of my generation I paid homage to that glorious digital sage know as Google who pointed me to spark notes. According to it “Scrooge, with his Bah! Humbug! Attitude, embodies all that dampens Christmas spirit–greed, selfishness, indifference, and a lack of consideration for one’s fellow man.” Scrooge’s apathy is only overcome with empathy. I hear and see this story, sure, as the issue of greed and selfishness. But I hear pain, jealousy of connection, unfulfilled meaning and purpose. I see a pit and hear the echoes of hopelessness.
Hope is essential to spirituality, it’s important to us as Unitarian Universalists. However you identify, hope is core to spirituality, and it requires a bit of a dream that may go against common sense realism. People go through addictions for various reasons. I know some who were addicted because they had voids to fill, and hope could have done that for them. I know those depressed because of tragedy and would not dare to hope because they were so broken hearted. Hope is essential.
Scrooge, we find out in the story, had spent Christmases by himself, recounts how his sister had died a few years past. He had a failed engagement due to his greed. He was full of torment and despair.
This is by far the most difficult sermon I have ever had to reflect and develop. I’m good talking person to person but this format, preaching, a growing edge. On top of that, I was hopeless 98% of my life. How was I with my personality type, with all my justice work, seminary and military experience hopeless? People used to tell me you should have hope. And I’d say why? The world is only getting worse I’d reply. My mom told me last year, Julio you are too young to be hopeless. Have hope. I know I was essentially cynical. And a bit of a hypocrite considering the social justice work I do, but there I was.
Serene Hitchcock, a renowned author, says that cynicism masks hurt. Personally I wonder, what is it that causes the pain of cynicism? I know my story, and I’m still healing from much of my pain. I have seen lots of it here as I shake hands, as I greet my neighbors, as I overhear conversations, as I drink cups of coffee. Ok Gallons, of coffee. It gives me the energy to jumpstart my hope. I didn’t internalize hope in myself until the past year. I am the living embodiment of a comment made by the comedian George Carlin- scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist!
I wondered what is it that made Scrooge unable to heal from his addiction to materialism. What would it take for him to be the little drummer boy. I’m referring to that story created 60 years ago depicting a child in the story of the gospel of Matthew, following the star to meet the new born Jesus. The song lyrics He who had no gift fit for a king. He a poor boy too. It took Mary to nod, for the ox and lamb to then keep time and for him to play that drum and then feel the love of that baby. Rum pa pa pum.
It took Scrooge looking into his past and lamenting the mistakes he made, unable to process his regret and his decision to choose money over love. In the hospital I interned at the summer of 2016, there was a woman in agony, not just pain but emotionally and spiritually. She cried, she wanted to commit suicide. She didn’t know what to do to voice her pain and thought God would be angry with her if she had. I told her that the bible is full of people who give their pain and despair to God. The book of Job, the book title Lamentations, and a multitude of Psalms. She felt such comfort in Psalm six, which I read for opening words. We both learned the power of lament over that summer, from that we began to heal, and hope. We felt we could be redeemed from our past mistakes, her by God, me by my actions in the future. I had not truly lamented my participation in the war in Iraq, and as a leader training people, usually fellow poor people, to fight against others in the Middle East, also poor. I can get into my process of lamentations and how that made me look into just war theory and my master’s thesis, but that’s a sermon series in itself. Scrooge lamented with the help of the Ghost of Christmas Past, which I believe. Any 12 step group can tell you, it takes community to recover. Even Ralph Waldo Emmerson depended on his wife and kids as he wrote the book Self- Reliance. This community can be a space for lamentation. The chaplains are here, John, Ed, Mary, Shahan, David, and I are here. We can do more than light candles if necessary.
I know for me it took years to lament and grieve and heal. It took seminary to deal with the issues I had growing up Catholic. It took Clinical Pastoral Education and therapy to help with childhood issues of loneliness or bullying, as well as army stuff that I hadn’t thought of or truly faced. It took so much to transform my despair into hope, and half the battle was realizing how disappointed I was. In my life, the world trade center was bombed, then destroyed by airplanes. Hanging out with friends at school, another duo of friends mugged me. Going to war did not fill me with hope, of course at the time I was all for the war, and wondered what it would take to win it. I cannot speak for my whole generation, but I know the housing bubble stripped away hope, I know the seven trillion dollar debt a generation of students owes in college loans strips away hope, I know unemployment stripped away hope for me.
Yet the years of anger, fear and sadness took a toll on my spirit, and I was afraid to hope. If you don’t have hope for the future please come talk to me, John, Ed, pastoral care chaplains, etc. Hopelessness is a spiritual crisis and I feel and know intimately that silent deadly spiritual pain. That abyss that threatens to stamp out all joy from dreams. My hope is in making paradise a reality. Your paradise, may not be my paradise, your hope may not be, my hope and that’s fine. But hope requires radical revolutionary unrealistic idealistic vision that goes against common sense and all the evidence which supports the norms of oppression.
I do recall the first glimpse of hope I had in the army, it happened when I discovered Unitarian Universalism. Does anyone here remember when they first read the 7 principles? I was skeptical, no, this is too good to be true. It’s one of the reasons I cried my first UU service. Each of these principles resonated home and acceptance. I had hope that I found a religious community where I can be myself. It was probably the first community I felt I can be loved. Who has felt love here? How does your spirit find nourishment here?
What is it about our past that makes it difficult to lament, or is it something in the way we were raised that we can’t lament in community. I know I have to watch something sad or listen to something powerful to cry. My fiancée Chandni says that I better cry at the wedding or she’s walking back up the aisle and starting again. I’m really hopig for some powerful entrance music.
Our third principal talks about spiritual growth, and our fourth talks about the search for truth and meaning. Those are conversations I have had often with my fellow UUs over the years. But I think it’s significant that we don’t talk about hope, and I wish we did. Hope for many is not realistic, but essential to spirituality. Two Chaplain mentors of mine gave some guidance as to what spiritual health consists of: Connection, finding meaning, a sense of purpose, and hope. Connection to yourself, connection to people, connection to something grander. Meaning in life, what may be the truth in this reality, is an existential question. A sense of purpose, something which gives fuel to your day to day lives. And hope, that goal which encompasses our dreams and aspirations, hope is by definition not realistic. Hope is a radical thing. The reality of the world is dreary, tragic and full of suffering. People get mugged, people get dragged into war, people die of cancer, people are abused. Hope may seem childish. Yet what is life without hope? The alternative is full of anger, fear and sadness. I know this for a fact because I was hopeless for years. It took a lot for me to feel hopeful. And I feel we UUs can be more explicit about our hopes. Hopes on personal level, hopes communal level, hopes global, nay, universal level.
Charles Weinberg of the Mental Health Center in Virginia says how hope, purpose and meaning are essential to recovery of any mental health or addiction issue. Annahitha Varahrami talks about existential psychology and how purpose and meaning are important, and there is a correlation between hope and psycho social development. (THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MEANING & PURPOSE IN LIFE, HOPE, AND PSYCHOSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT, Annahitha Varahrami, 2001). She quotes Victor Frankl who says without meaning and purpose life is an existential vacuum. And she says there is empirical research to back this up. She says there are two of scales for hope, one involving will power, the other being a social spiritual support. The Herth Hope Scale dealing with spiritual and social support talks about looking forward to the future, presence of loved ones, fear, inner strength, sense of possibility, love, ability to bring positive change, and plans for the future. The Snyder Hope Scale talks about personal energy, cleverness, resilience, health, problem solving, past experience, and meeting goals set for themselves. I know when I feel alone and unable to make positive difference, and worthless with insecurity, I do not feel hope. I know when I feel I can’t meet goals, or out with a problem, and especially personal health issues, I know I do not feel hope. Despair overwhelms easily in those periods of time.
I know hope requires dreaming big dreams, hope requires being emotionally vulnerable, hope requires spiritual depth, hope requires a vision for the future, and hope requires the possibility of transforming reality; from whatever hopeless mess it is to some hopeful exciting place to be. Hope isn’t always realistic, but it is necessary and it requires faith in humanity to overcome itself. Hope is rebellious. Hope is revolutionary. Hope can be heartbreaking over time, and over and over and over. That’s why we need each other, that’s why we need solidarity with so many people. Solitary hope, is better than no hope, but is unsustainable. Hope that climate change can be reverted, makes no sense but necessary, hope that racism can end is unrealistic but needs to happen, hope that poverty, war and patriarchy can be things of the past is foolish and must be core to our faith.
And hope takes different forms in different faiths. Today’s Christianity is hope in going to heaven with eternal life, Islam is in heaven and being one with God, Judaism is that the Messiah will come and Zion a reality, Hinduism is in Samsara and being one with the divine, Buddhism in Nirvana and being one with the universe, Daoism in immortality. Wiccans in the Summerland. Santeros of Santeria wish for a good life, to find soulmates and good community relationships. The American Indians of Southwest Canada, hoped for strength in this life to overcome adversity. Humanism hopes for better world for our children and posterity.
As Unitarian Universalists who knows what your hope might be. Maybe we can get a team or committee to propose a vote at the congregational meeting. But mine is in the hope that we can change the world in solidarity with everyone else. And I hope that everyone feels accepted, that you feel encouraged to spiritual growth, to search for truth and meaning. I recognize the hope, the promise of our 6th principle; the goal for world community of peace, liberty and justice for all. I only have two pieces of advice. One, Spirituality requires hope. Two be radical with your hope. When I say be radical, I merely meant what John meant last week when you take hope as a noun, an idea, and turn it into action for the future. That is radical against the anguish of realism and cynicism. It is powerful in despair and that inner work engages in finding the obstacles to spiritual healing and growth into the future. We have to encounter our inner pains, we can’t like Scrooge, ignore them until we are faced with the spirits, or a crisis. If we wait for crisis, that piece of resilience, that resource to help us get through it won’t be there.
Hope is what allowed our faith to live from its dual inceptions as Unitarians and Universalists into Unitarian Universalism. It was a base if survival for the two faith groups to combine, merge resources and be successful in making the world a better place while sustaining the spirituality of its congregants. Most faith groups split, few merge. It was an unrealistic maneuver. We talk about meaning, we talk about affirming and promoting. But have we dared to hope? Maybe some of us, but like Scrooge and Christmas Carol, it may not be talked about explicitly, but I hear hopelessness. In Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians, he writes “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” We got love, it’s the spirit of this church, without a doubt. But hope will be the Technicolor rainbow to a television set in gray tones, the Blu Ray to DVD, the 4K to HD.
In Puerto Rico, the story of the three wizard kings from the Gospel of Matthew is sacred. The same story from the Little Drummer Boy The celebration of the epiphany, is as big as Christmas. We can be just like the story in the gospel of Matthew, where the three magi go to see Jesus and give rich gifts. They were like the Underground Railroad in giving a head start to that poor homeless, persecuted family. They are an example of solidarity, but in that story they left, and we must not leave. No matter the realistic responsibilities we have, I’d like to think we never have. We must have hope that we can help make the world a better place.
Why am I hopeful for us? It started with the women’s march, and it continues because of my faith and work with so many people. It took me years to realize my role in the military as an oppressor, and it took hope to transform my trajectory. Instead of changing the world with violence, I change it with non-violence. Being a peace activist requires hope that the world will be less violent. Fighting against poverty, to mean that poverty won’t merely be alleviated but eradicated. Believing in love is the spirit of this church, it is hopeful and can be the basis here for all who attend today. I am still surprised at the Women’s march in January. I told some of the seniors at meadow ridge that if they carried signs through the halls for a minute and had someone took a picture, it would go viral. Hope is powerful, it’s difficult, and it’s transformative to the spirit in you, as well as to the world. Be a rebel, be radically hopeful, it takes lots of love.
People are mired, and stuck in details, and are afraid to hope. I hear hopes pushed away because of details usually in resources of people or monetary, that hope is impossible. I disagree, in my personal experience, it started with the seven principles, from personal acceptance to the idea of beloved community. But even if, say in my case, Beloved community is impossible, hope while not rational is necessary to spirituality. Radical hope especially, that hope as a verb. Much of the field of psychology agrees, many religious groups agrees, and I do. My life changed drastically when I dared to hope. In my opinion it happened with Scrooge. When lamented, he changed his priorities and dared to hope, when his life took on new purpose and new meaning, when he connected with his nephew, his employees, his past, and hoped for the future that he could avoid a fate of loneliness, despair and death. While we must all die someday but between then and now, hopefully, we can do it in good company, joyful, with love in our midst, and little worry.