Like so many of you, I was stunned at the improbable results of our election. It is small solace that Hilary Clinton won the popular vote, the fact remains we have a president elect who stands for everything our faith tradition does not. When we think about this fully, and many of us have, this is not so much a partisan issue as it is a moral one. All the rights we have worked so hard to achieve are in jeopardy. That might be the end of the story but of course it’s not. For those of you who are worried that what I am saying from this pulpit is partisan, it is not. But what I am saying is moral and political and, because we live in a world where values are affected by political and moral realities I speak to you today.
America, the America we still believe is in here did not stop being America on Wednesday morning. As the filmmaker Michael Moore wrote: “you live in a country where the majority of its citizens have said they believe there is climate change, they believe women should be paid the same as men, they want debt free college education, they don’t want us invading other countries, they want a raise in the minimum wage and they want affordable health care.” (FB, 11/11/16). That is still our majority story. So what part of our story changed this week?
What changed is that we are grappling with the rage of people, mostly good and honest people who have been shut out of an economic system that is stacked against them. To say that less than half of this country are racist, misogynist , bigots is unfair. Many of the people who voted for Donald Trump did so because they felt so powerless. They voted for him even though many detested much of what he said. In time, we will be needed to understand their story as well. We will be able to empathize with those people but not yet. No, not yet. While the story of their lives is connected to our lives in many human ways, this is not a sermon about the universality of our American story. This is a sermon about the story of our life together, as Unitarian Universalists.. Here, together, in this church, in these communities, with our friends and even our neighbors. This is about the story of our life in this moment of fear and courage right now.
In the book of Esther, Esther is a Jewish woman who marries the Persian Emperor Xerxes although he does not know she is a Jew. Xerxes has decided that all the Jews will be killed. At this point, Esther’s cousin Mordeici appeals to her to help since she might be able to sway the Emperor. Esther hesitates. To do so might cost her her life. So she asks her people to pray with her, so that she might find the courage to stand with those of her people who are less privileged. This will be part of our story my friends. To reflect, to feel and to prepare.
The power of our story is not just in where we have come from individually and together but where we are going. We are a remarkable community here. On Wednesday night we gathered for prayer and sharing in the aftermath of this election. By the light of candles, people shared their fears and their rage. Some remembering what it was like to be an accomplished woman but to be told they still weren’t good enough. Some recalling the strength it took to become who they were and their fear of how that identity might be denied. Others recalled struggles long ago and recently that this election brought back to them again. What was redemptive in our vigil Wednesday night was that in the sharing of our stories, our pasts and our worries for the future we actually became part of one story. Our story as a congregation. Because the plot line that runs through all of our lives is that while we have known struggle, while we are struggling now, we are not alone. We are not alone. We are so very much connected. And that is what makes us a people. Our collective stories of our pasts are now joined into this one story of our present and future.
The power of our story, of any story, is that it speaks to deeper truths. Indeed, we as human beings are made of flesh and bone and stories. Sometimes those stories are horrific but more often than not they are our strength. I used to worry I would run out of things to say as a minister, until an old friend, now gone, said, “just tell them a story, tell them your story, remind them of their story and the meaning will take care of itself.”
Stories do more than just entertain. Stories speak to our values, in fact, the oldest stories inform our values. Any of the German fairy tales inform much of our American work ethic: the boy who cried wolf, teaches us not to lie; the Jewish story about the Three Little Pigs informs our work ethic; the tale of the frog prince, teaches us the virtue of seeing the inner self. Stories are a means to meaning, or as the author Roy Hedin puts it:
“Stories are the central means by which we demonstrate our desire for a meaningful life. It is through stories that we convey our central wishes, fears, and values. Stories are more than just a tool to giving meaning they are a system by which meaning is conveyed most effectively. This is why stories are such a necessary part of our worship celebration. You will forget all the niceties of any well-crafted theological argument, I can assure you, but if I start and end with a story, you will remember that. In fact, better yet, you will retell the story and therein lays the real power.
This is why it is so important for us to write a new story of our life as a community starting today, starting this year, this moment, when the sun seemed most thin. How does the story of our life begin? It began on Wednesday night when the first of you came to share by candlelight, your stories, your fears, your anger, and yes, for some your courage. It has continued to grow this week, as many have come here over these few days for solace and courage to stand again for what will happen next. It grew as we settled an Afghan Refugee family of seven into their new home in Bridgeport, it happened when we went to Mercy Learning Center and helped young mothers learn how to read, it happened at the Beardsley School where some of us go to tutor kids and help out the teachers. Our story is unfolding and it is not one of despair. Revolutions wrote Roseau are born of hope not despair. Our story is growing again now, every day.
Perhaps it is true that the America we thought we knew is not. I am reminded of what Hosea Williams the great civil rights leader once said, “The country I live in does not yet exist”. So what will we need to do to create the story of an America that reflects what half its people believe. We will need to start sharing our stories. So here is what I want you to do in the weeks ahead:
First, breathe. Remind yourself and those you love, especially your children that this is a big country and there are a lot of people like us, many boats in the same river, who will work for a better day.
Second, Come. Start coming to church every Sunday. Every Sunday. And tell your friends to start coming again. Every Sunday. Gathering here as a community is the best thing we can do to remind ourselves that we are part of the same story. I am serious about this. We need to be together at least once a week.
Third, check on loved ones. Give them a call. Even if you don’t like them. Call them anyway.
Fourth, join with us as we organize for change and protest. It is true that hate crimes are up. We will need to support our Muslim and marginalized friends more than ever.
Fifth, buy some chalk and start leaving love notes on public sidewalks. Like “you are loved” or “we stand with you” or “you are welcome in our country”.
Then, I want us to re-engage with our world. Part of our shock is that we did not see this coming. But I have lived in the mid-west I know their reality is very different than ours. Some communities only get Fox News. We don’t know one another. And until we do we can’t change the paradigm. I don’t know how we will do this now, but a path will be revealed. In the story of Esther, she finally finds the courage to reveal to Xerxes that she is a Jew. And although she is threatened, she is able to convince him not to kill the Jews because of all they had done for the kingdom. Our story will take a certain kind of courage as well, but, unlike Esther, it will be a courage we find together not alone.
I want to close on a very personal note. Francis and I have six daughters. On Wednesday night after I closed up the church following our vigil I wrote our daughters a letter. I want to share it with you now.
My dearest daughters,
I woke up at 4 am Wednesday morning and my heart was broken. All that we had worked for, all the dreams we thought still possible seemed shattered on the rock of a misogynist, racist, bigoted bully. Like so many I vacillated between being numb and angry. Fear, a collective fear born of an economic system that has left so many destitute, had been misplaced into a man who is the very enemy that is destroying their lives. Worse, a woman who was singularly the most qualified candidate to be president, was swept aside by the same sexism that has plagued women since the ascendancy of patriarchy. It was all so wrong and it seemed so very overwhelming.
In the course of this day I met dozens of people, many of them women who shared their rage and their grief. Tonight dozens of people shared in candle light their fears, their rage, their grief and finally their courage to find a new way – to be as strong and as gracious as Hilary was in her concession speech. Grandmothers, mothers, single women, queer women, and then men, strong and gentle men, all gathered wondering at the monstrosity of this moment, and then hand in hand breathing in compassion and courage for the fight ahead.
I closed the door of the church tonight and thought of you, my most precious and fierce, tender and worthy daughters. Tears streamed down my face as I imagined what this means for you, your partners and your children. Our world is still in need of so much. Perhaps this will be the brokenness we need to truly triumph. Not in our generation, and perhaps not in yours, but with the generations that will follow. I believe we are bigger than this, and we shall overcome.
I write to you to say first that I am saddened that our world is still so very broken and that the strides your mother and your grandmothers made while not erased are not yet certain. But more than that I write you to say how much I believe in you and your partners. How proud we both are of what you have become, the fierceness of your love, and the courage of your convictions. I write to tell you that love will conquer fear. Hope will transcend despair and you will make a better world than what we face now. We have always been more together than we have ever been apart.
Your mother and I love you all so fiercely. So completely. So hopefully.
In the words of Denise Levertov:
“Don’t say there is no water to solace the dryness of our hearts.
I have seen the fountain spring out of the rock.
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain was always there among the scalloped stones of our beating hearts, it was always there, with its quiet song and strange power to spring in us, out and through the life we share.”