To Be Hopeless Would Seem So Strange
Our reading from this Sunday was the poem, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by the Polish poet, Adam Zagajewski.
Where were you when you found out? Seems like an odd thing to be asking today. I was sitting at home, well into the evening, watching a channel I’ve watched nearly every day since the primary season began – it was becoming a problem.
My partner and I were watching and suddenly one of the more unabashedly liberal anchors, Chris Matthews, looked at the camera and his face sunk. Completely sunk. And then the camera cut away and cut back and he was gone.
The other anchors filled in the space. I asked my partner how he was doing and he said, “I’m getting scared.” Me, too. It was a fear that many people were feeling for their own reasons. It was a fear that is still very real.
Where were you when you learned the news that a reality TV star – amongst many other things – would become our next president? Were you watching TV as well, at an election party, or blissfully asleep with the news waiting for you the next day?
Wherever you were, this is indeed turning into one of those moments in our history – at least for progressives. We will all know where we were years from now when it sunk in. We will likely remember the week that followed, not for any additional shock to our system, but it’ll be remembered as a week of crying, anger, denial, or – if you were like me, walking around feeling empty.
Perhaps this is sounding a little extreme. I am likely overreacting for some of you. And for others, still, this might sound a little odd. You might ask, is this the same preacher that swore he would not get partisan during the election? Well, the election is over.
I often struggle with the provisions set forth by the IRS – I find them to be archaic and often not followed by our more conservative religious preachers. And I have to take the blame for not denouncing more clearly the evil that was before us. But now the gloves are off, for all of us. I have no election to influence by what I say anymore, though I’m not sure I would care.
And so now I can affirm what is before all of us, this country of ours just elected one of the most racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, hyperbolic, unstable, unqualified, abusive and dangerous candidates in modern history to be our president. Should any of those qualities be ones he truly does not possess as a person, his words have said otherwise.
And his refusal to disavow said qualities have incited them in our day-to-day happenings during and since the election. You need only look at the news to see the sudden spike in hate crimes. Every single vote for this man has validated the various hate groups that are waking up from their near insignificance.
It feels appropriate, then, to start off with my own brief story of shock and grief – of two gay men that realized the America they truly love and believe in was going to be a radically different place that could threaten their liberty and pursuit of happiness. I just happened to be one of the characters, though I’m sure many of you have seen yourself in similar stories since this past Tuesday.
Any LGBT person, woman, person of color, immigrant, differently abled, elder – let’s be realistic here, most of this room if not all – unless I’m missing any straight white billionaires, though if you do fit into that category, we need to talk after the service – but most of you in this room should be seeing themselves in a similar story of grief, anger, or whatever emotion feels appropriate when you reflect on the policies and platform that are about to be pursued.
But before we get too far into decrying policies – we have, at most, four years to denounce the institutional evils that are yet to be wrought – and if you hear a hopeful tone in me saying “at most, four years” – it is not intended.
While the President-elect is a volatile man that surely said anything to get elected, his number two is a true believer in an ultra-conservative theology that sees no separation of the political and the personal.
But, again, we have plenty of time to worry about these things should the electoral college follow protocol. What is here for us, then, in this room, is a continuation of the grief that a majority of Americans that voted are feeling. It is a grief that we need to continue to let ourselves feel fully. We need to know that anger and tears and numbness are all right in this moment.
And it will take many of us a long time to heal. Some of us might never fully heal – and still, for many, new wounds might be inflicted on us. We need to be okay with this grief. I cannot tell you half of what I did for the remainder of last week.
I know I answered many emails, talked to a good deal of you, made pastoral visits, led a vespers service with about a hundred of you on Wednesday night, and I ate a lot. Thank god for being a therapeutic eater. But surely as I stand here before you, I still feel like I am waiting for the alarm to go off and for Wednesday to begin with a different outcome.
I tell you this not because I need your pity or care, but because I need you to know that wherever you are in this process, it is okay. Ministers do no have a magical cure for grief, we go through it with all of you as well, however long it takes.
Part of this grief, for me, is in realizing that my words last Sunday about affirming the democratic principle and the realities of our electoral process are coming back to haunt me. And also they are coming back to comfort me. Our democracy chose a candidate on Tuesday.
And she is not going to be the next president. Because our Republic has built into it a system that has, for the second time in less than twenty years, ignored the will of the people. I do not have a solution for this other than to point it out and take a long hard look at it.
As a minister in a faith tradition that affirms democracy, I am conflicted. I want to respect the system, I want to see peaceful transfer of power, but I also want the will of the people to have meaning. I like to think I would say the same thing if it were the other way around. I truly do.
Because at the end of the day this is not the Church of the Democratic Party. It is not a church that favors all forms of progressivism without question, with a blank check, and with no thoughtfulness.
Yet at the same time, we are also not a church that will ever promote or affirm a party that has become so twisted that the KKK finds it to be an inspiration. If there are any Republicans in this room today, I hope you are wondering where your party went, because I sure am.
With all of this – the grief we are feeling, the incendiary demagogue that was elected, and the realities of our version of democracy in the United States, we might be tempted to take our anger out on people other than Donald Trump.
Many of you may be pointing fingers at third party voters, other progressives, the director of the FBI, republican voters, rural America, pick a group and I’m sure they’ve been blamed this past week.
Sometimes blaming others is part of the grieving process. But I must warn you, do not let it become more than that. We will do ourselves no favors in the years to come if we hold on to an anger that will fester and become hatred.
We, in this room, are still Unitarian Universalists. We can have our disagreements, we can have our anger and our grief, but we also have this nagging first principle of ours that affirms the worth and dignity of every single person. Every single voter that brought us to this point, every candidate we disagree with, and that one special candidate that incites hatred in his rhetoric. Worth and dignity.
But just because we affirm worth and dignity does not mean we cannot hold people accountable to what they do. That is the distinction we need to make. Do not let your anger become hatred, affirm dignity, hold each other accountable. I say this to you not just about our President-elect. Enough about him for right now. I say this to you to remind you that there are people sitting next to you that voted for him.
There aren’t many of these voters here with us. But there are some. And for those of us in this room that call ourselves political progressives – that is most of us – we need to get to a place where we can let go of our anger toward our neighbors.
Keep the anger toward the rhetoric of hatred, but forgive the human beings before you. Differentiating this work is not easy and it is not instant – and it may never happen. But the important thing for us is to acknowledge that we are aiming for it. That we do not want to let go of our principles as religious liberals because the specter of evil was made manifest and it was too much to handle.
To those of you that are celebrating this past Tuesday, you have work to do as well. If you voted for Mister Trump for economic reasons, that is fine, I will believe you and respect that choice. But here is the cost of being in a Unitarian Universalist community for you.
You can support his economics, but to all of us in this room that have been marginalized by his rhetoric and followers, you owe us an explanation of how you will fight that rhetoric with us. I can tell you right now, as your minister I will always be there for you, but as a gay American, we are not in right relationship.
I need to know –for all who will be impacted – how you will get your hands dirty. Some of you might smile inside thinking, “well I voted Green or Libertarian.” Your hands better get dirty, too. You are not exempt. This election belongs to you as much as it does to anyone else. Surprise, we are interconnected.
And to all of us, not a single one of us is exempt from the work that awaits us. Do we know exactly what it will be? Absolutely not. This past Wednesday at our vespers service I said that we might very well be surprised these next four years. Do I believe it? No. But it is a possibility.
However, if you’ve been watching the news and seen the increase in hate crimes since the election, our work is already making itself known in certain specific ways. This is not a time for us to circle the wagons or reinforce differences that keep us apart from other progressives.
Part of what awaits us is learning to work again with liberal and not-so-theologically-liberal Christians in Lexington. And other faith traditions as well. So, too, we need to remember that Trump supporters will suffer as well should all of his policies be implemented.
It is often said that liberals need a good enemy to be motivated in their work – be it political or religious. Did it really need to be this man in order for the wider progressive movement to find some unity? We will see.
But for us, here at UUCL, we are not messing around. We need to get right with ourselves, our grief, our community, and get serious about being not an oasis, but a rallying point for the work that is needed.
We all have but a few short days left to truly grieve. I said it once and I will say it again, I need you all to let it happen. Let the sadness be there. Let the emotions, whatever they are for you, come and permeate your soul. Remember how this feels. Remember that you were in the company of friends when you felt it.
Don’t forget it. And some of us may never recover. Some may get angrier and wonder when the light will shine through the cracks. All I can tell you is that we will be here for you however this unfolds for you.
What I do know is that you can use that anger, use that grief, use your emotions to fuel what will be required of us. In the very least, our work of advocacy and being allies – true allies – began again this past Tuesday. How will your grief and hurt and anger make you a better ally?
On this beautiful autumn Sunday, the grief is still heavy in my heart. I fear for my family, my friends, and you, this congregation – I fear for people I will never know, but whose pain will be a part of my story as an American.
And while I feel as if the fog is starting to lift just a little bit and I can at least get myself out the door, I am not there yet. I don’t know when I will be. But deep down inside, dear friends, I know one thing is true in this – I still believe in our democracy. I still believe in our Republic.
It is not perfect. Not by a longshot. But this nation has seen darker days and I pray that those days will always be a thing of the past. We need to be ready should that hope prove to be wrong.
We need to be willing to show those who would further marginalize the vulnerable that we will not accept that – that we will love the hell out of this world and we will be willing to look hatred in the eyes and say not today not now not ever. And we need to be able to say we will do that with those we’ve disagreed with. Those we find it hard to forgive.
You my have seen the safety pin movement growing here in the United States since the election. After the Brexit vote, the British would wear safety pins to show solidarity with their fellow countrymen and women.
For many of the same reasons it is happening here in the United States. This pin represents to any who see it that you, the wearer, will be present to those who are suffering in this political climate.
But we need to unpack that a little. It doesn’t mean wearing it and smiling at what a wonderful thing you’re doing. It means putting yourself on the line should you see a person of color being harassed, an immigrant treated with indignity, an LGBT person being attacked, a woman being degraded – any form of hatred.
You will be there. You will call the cops, you will deescalate the situation, you will step in knowing that what happens to one happens to all.
There has been commentary floating around about this safety pin movement. One commentator calls it embarrassing, others say it is enough to just wear it – but I like the reminder that this pin is not a simple thing to wear. You can witness, you can be an ally, but you need to really do the work in order to make that happen.
You need to be ready. This pin has no words but it says loud and clear, Black Lives Matter. LGBT persons have worth and dignity. Women deserve equal rights. Immigrants are not trash to be taken out at night. And all those who suffer are not alone.
And so we have a box of these pins. Take one if you need to. You don’t need to wear it yet – but when you do, be sure you are ready and you mean it. Those who are being targeted already by hate groups cannot take off their identities that are being oppressed.
But should you not take one, there is no guilt in this. No compulsion. We all need to do what is necessary to first grieve. But those days are limited. We need to begin to hope again – to carve out some small patch of ground where we can engage the work before us.
Do not lose hope. Do not lose your passion. Do not forget that at the end of the day you still have this community to support you and be with you in the years to come. So, here we go. Into the unknown…are you ready?