CLICK HERE for video of this sermon
Like so many of you I spent most of Wednesday transfixed by the inauguration. There was such dignity to the affair, largely bereft of spectators, and yet somehow even more inclusive. Beginning with the Memorial President Biden and Vice President Harris led us in at the reflecting pool Tuesday evening at dusk, to the very well-produced celebrating America (my daughter who lives outside of Washington said it was the biggest fireworks they have ever experienced), I truly found a glimmer of hope in first, the recognition of the immense suffering of so many Americans and second a call to unity, and a new America beyond this pandemic.
Nothing was as powerful for me as the young poet Amanda Gorman, in her bright yellow jacket and her beaming face, in her words I saw a vision for a new country, a new world and for us, a new faith as UUs.
“When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice”
What will change about our world after the pandemic? We are becoming aware that silence towards that which is wrong is death; death to democracy, and death to people of color, death to our faith itself. When emerge from the shade of crisis, and like Moses we must wade across the sea to the promised land. Our promised land is one in which all of us have a voice and the needs of all are heard.
I see the work of Justice Making to be our primary expression of faith in the world. Oh yes, we will still feed the hungry souls who need inspiration and sustenance to go on but our congregation will be known for our partnerships to those in the struggle.
The young poet continued: “Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished”
The work of our congregation will always be unfinished, and our country must always work towards that ideal. Beyond the pandemic we will embrace the idea that the ideal is always before us. We will stop comparing ourselves to how other congregations are doing and start measuring ourselves by what we are doing.
“And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried”
Globalization is not dead. If the pandemic has taught us anything about the world it is that the world is getting smaller. It is not possible to be America First because America is not America without the rest of humanity. We will find ourselves more in touch with change than ever before. Buckle up my friends, the ride is just starting. We must be more beyond our walls than ever before. We will meet across cultures, states and generations. To be a member of this congregation is no longer a local proposition. Even today with our friends from VT, we are a national congregation. This is our new normal. We will learn to meet globally even as our causes are ever local.
Ms Gorman continues “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division…
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promised glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare”
The digital and virtual world we inhabit with zoom and live-streaming is how we will be together. Yes, we will return to being a body physical, singing, holding hands and touching one another AND we will meet in all but the most sacred on line. This will be our world. And it will be a world of diverse colors and diverse voice, red, and blue, and purple too.
No fire burns all the life away. And while this pandemic has raged and ravaged our land and our loved ones, new life grows up from what once was. The post pandemic world will place quality over quantity. We will borrow tools, not own them, we will borrow music, preaching, new ways of learning, not copyright them as ours. Worship itself will use video and sound and imagery like never before.
It won’t be about what you get from your faith, it will be about what you give that will form who we are. Religion as participation not consumption.
Ms. Gorman said
“But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves”
In the post pandemic world, happiness will not be the point of our mean making, purpose will make us who we are . Once we realize that the freedoms we took for granted were not free, it became OUR meaning to create a world where all are welcome; the colors, the culture, the differing abilities and fluid genders. Our post pandemic world is full of color. It took me six years, a pandemic and an insurrection by white nationalists to answer Arnela Ten Mer’s question when I was candidating with you, about how we are going to get some color into this place. We will get it by existing outside of this space alone.
“How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright”
The future is not even ours anymore, we are only preparing our time and place for those who will move us beyond the tribalism that has robbed us of Spirit, the hatred that has moved us from the embrace of God. No, my beloveds, this world is only a bridge to the world beyond our sight, digital, global, embracing neighbors as family and our family as this church.
There is no doubt that as a species we are improving. Violent deaths per captia have been falling steadily for over a hundred years and the average age of most people in the world has double in the last eighty years. While death from diseases such as heart failure and cancer are higher per captia in this same time is due, in large part, to the fact we are living longer, to an average age of 82 in the West. Violence and malnutrition killed more of our great, great grandparents that will it kill us. On the face of these facts, we are kinder and more beneficent to those at the margins of our society. We are more likely to die of sugar than of violence. In fact, while malnutrition is still rampant especially among the poor, few people die of hunger and plagues and more die of obesity and diabetes. Steven Pinker who has gathered much of this data points out that if you look at the totality of human life, on average this is about the best time to be alive, unless we compare to the future which will have yet further advances in medicine, science and rights. After it was only six years ago that same sex marriage was against the law in most states in the Union. Furthermore, it is easy for us to see how far we have come and focus only on what injustices remain to be conquered.
Of course, there are real worries as to our future, to our long hill we climb. The first being the fact that we may heat up this planet towards our own extinction. That is the present Anthropocene Age will be the last gasp of humanity. And then there is the real possibility that we will imagine ourselves as gods, Homo Deus as the author Yuval Noah Harari writes, human without known disease, parts largely replaced by machines, a singularity that would change us from a carbon based life form to a silicon one. Not likely you say? Consider hip, knees, hearing, hearts, eyes, oncology.
What will become as meaning makers in the future? How can we reimagine ourselves going forward? As much as we can extend our lives indefinitely, I do believe that what will keep us human, indeed more human is how we develop artistically rather than technically. Indeed, what will define us as human beings; will be how we care for our each other and how we express the human condition beyond the technical. Poetry, art and music, even our religion will remain the essence, of who we are, not how many answers we find to the mysteries of the world. For technology will never answer our calling to purpose. Purpose lies between the layers of what we can do, calling us every onward to why we should do it. Not so much answering “are we doing it right?” but rather “what is the right thing to do?” This query is essentially humanity’s essence.
I think religion has a lot to do with this future. The old stories of creation, destruction and reincarnation are not just outmoded myths but timeless expressions of our evolving being. We seek new wine in old wineskins. We seek hope out of despair. We seek beauty out chaos. We will always be reimagining ourselves as meaning makers. This is our world after the pandemic.
This time we are in, this time of social and political upheaval is the necessary falling apart of the institutions of suffering that have accompanied our culture evolution; patriarchy, racism, despotism, homophobia, cruelty… each has to desperately hold on until the technical progress of humanity makes such institutions unnecessary. Consider the fact that as a nation European Americans will very soon be a minority. Consider the fact that multi-racial children are overtaking the prevalence of single race children. What will a future with so much color coupled with the technological means to communicate almost instantly mean for such desperate last gasps as making America Great Again? We are giving way to a multicultural paradigm increasingly in need of cooperation, not conflict. This is humanity reimagined.
And what of our place as progressive religious people in this new world? We have the opportunity to uphold the religious humanism at our core as a guiding light for the meaning our grandchildren will need to thrive.
I believe that humanism is our religion. We keep people alive longer than necessary in the hope that they will garner more meaning from our existence. And we as UUs have been embracing that humanism for nigh on the last 500 years. It’s not that we reject a deity per se, but that any deity we imagine must be necessity include us as active participants. Homo Deus to be sure, but not at the expense of other living creatures. We must include the rest of our planet. Our future faith will be embraced by our first and seventh principle, that we do believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people (although as I will argue on Earth Day, all beings is more likely) AND we believe in the interconnected web of existence of which we are a part, no matter whether that existence is human, animal, plant or even part machine.
It is our common faith. The belief that we are all interconnected is the higher ground that we call the world to, it is the reason we are about the business of building the radically inclusive community. It is true to our heritage as Unitarian, the believers of One God and the Universalists, the believers in Universal love. So strong is this common faith that we could actually save the world with it, testify to congress for it and shout out to the world with it.
As a father sat weeping at the death of his daughter to COVID he said,.
“Do you think there is a God out there?” he asked me. I started to formulate my answer, thinking instead of the Hebrew God within but somehow that seemed entirely too trite to say to a man who had just lost his teenage daughter. I said nothing. “I don’t think there is, John. I used to think so but not now. I think God is a drug.” Years later he would reform his anger with a new experience: the one of human companionship, deep love and forgiveness. He would write me a letter. “God IS a drug, John” he wrote, “The idea that there is more than us has helped me heal. I still miss her terribly but now I know she was part of that same God we call life. I go on remembering what truly is beautiful and it is still good to be alive.”
As my colleague Robert Latham once said “the most profound and critical agent of human transformation are our answers to the questions of mystery – the more committed in community a religion is searching, the more powerful a tool of social change is becomes…(From PSWD UUMA Retreat Jan. 2006)
So in the words of Amanda Gorman:
“When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it”