Welcome to the Resistance
Our reading from this Sunday was titled “Good Bones” from the poet Maggie Smith.
On Friday, January 20th, the year 2017, around noon, Eastern Standard Time, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. He had never held elected office once in his life. He is known primarily as a reality television star and real estate mogul.
And he defied all odds and was elected on a platform of nationalist populism. A nationalism that has been sweeping democracies from the Philippines to India, from France to the United Kingdom. A nationalism we should be paying attention to here and abroad.
And for us, in this country, a nationalism that was unapologetically misogynistic, irrational, xenophobic, racist, isolationist, anti-fact, and downright nasty. Should those words surprise you, I assure you my judgements of President Trump’s nationalism are taken directly from his own words, his own platform, and now his official Presidential agenda. He is now here to stay. For how long, we do not know. He is our President. And we are his employers.
For many of us, this might still feel like a waking dream. That in any moment, we will awaken to an America we thought we believed in and find a different outcome in our leadership. You can pinch yourself if you so choose, but there is no waking from this. This is reality. This is what progressives – religious and political – are facing each day.
And for nearly half of this country, the ones that voted at least, this is a good thing. We need to remember this. There are churches and groups across our country this morning giving thanks to God for President Trump. There are people that do not understand why millions of people across the world joined in solidarity and marched against him and his administration yesterday.
We need to get right with that fact, but first, let me just repeat for those of us here – millions of people yesterday, marched in support of women, of their neighbors, of the oppressed and downtrodden. Marched for hope, marched for love, marched for solidarity. We are indeed not alone.
Did you see the signs yesterday? The signs and the pink hats. The pink hats and cries for justice. The cries for justice and the swarms of people across the world who came out in solidarity, in protest, in communion with the values of dignity and integrity.
Did you see them? Did you see the National Mall overflowing, the streets of Chicago shut down? Did you hear the chanting from Los Angeles to Fairbanks, from Budapest to Sydney, from Kalamazoo to Lexington, Kentucky? Did you hear them? Were you amongst them?
I was there with many of you. We gathered, we almost heard what the speakers said, and we marched. We marched as one people, filling the streets, chanting our slogans, feeling our anger, feeling our joy in being in that moment. And then it was over. And I am left wondering, was this catharsis – was this a way to let out our disappointment, or is this an enduring movement?
Will this resistance continue or was that the moment of resistance we needed before we go back to business as usual? I hate to share with you that the latter option is my fear. I fear our complacency, not just you and I, but across this country and our world. If the first few days of President Trump’s administration are any indication of what awaits us, he intends to keep his promises and fulfill his agenda.
The overwhelming majority of us in this room are white Americans of at least a middle-class identity. I know some of you in this room that do not identify as such, but those are the demographics this religious tradition has had since it was formed. And this is why I fear complacency.
Because many of us in this room could very well come out from this drastic shift in our nation unscathed. But I need you to look at the people in this room. There are people here today that will surely suffer, and suffer swiftly.
Their much needed healthcare is on the line, their access to resources may diminish, they may fear for their marriages, for their safety, for their access in an inaccessible world, and their hopes for the future which could vanish overnight. These are the policies we are facing. And these are but a few of the people that could suffer.
As a minister, my heart will always go out to the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering. No matter who they voted for. My calling is truly very traditional – over my desk hangs words adapted from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:
Go out into the world in peace, have courage, hold on to what is good, return to no person evil for evil, strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak, help the suffering, honor all beings. That is the call, those words, that brings me to this work every day. And this is why I am at once angry, saddened, and ready to get moving – and it isn’t going away.
And here is where the crossroads emerges for all of us. We are called to fight injustice – the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ring true, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We are called to do this by the faith tradition we are a part of, this community we gather into each week.
And that call to fight injustice is wrapped up in our very real anger and heartbreak for the world around us. For some of us, we do not like anger. We certainly do not like anger from our minister let alone ourselves. And for others, still, our anger spills over into the people we see as the other. The ones we disagree with.
And in this case, the millions of Americans that looked at the misogyny, racism, and xenophobia and said, “That’ll do.” Let me tell you, dear friends, I am working on having compassion in these days since the election. I succumbed to one of the greatest flaws of our political landscape these days — that being those with whom I disagree are my enemies. Some may call that liberal elitism, I call it a blemish of Western politics. I need to find that compassion again. I need to hold on to the hope of building common ground and honoring worth and dignity in all people.
And yet, at the same time, I am called to resist. Now, I will be the first to admit, my personal life is intertwined in the political landscape we’ve just entered into. I fear for my family. And as an descendent of Chicago steel mill workers, I can’t help but carry a blue collar chip on my shoulder.
I know what it is like to have a single parent that works four jobs and can barely make ends meet, I know what it is like to know the sheriff is coming tomorrow to remove you from your home, I know how it feels to use food stamps, to not have health insurance for most of my life, and to worry always always always about money. I do not tell you this for your pity, but to outline that that is simply the story I bring to this work and to what I am hearing from our new President. And so, I must resist.
Resist for all those who are like me, all those who are like you, all those who are suffering in our city and our commonwealth and our country. I would sooner lay down this stole I am wearing, the symbol of my calling, than say our work of justice is ever done.
What stories do you bring to this new era in America? What will inspire you to take up your own calling to be not just an observer, but an active citizen? I ask this knowing that it is one thing to have anger, to have fear, to have a sadness that has not passed – and to use the stories of our lives to commit ourselves to some greater cause.
But where is the concrete hope in all of this? What can we do other than wring our hands? You may have seen several lists going around suggesting ways to resist the new administration should they enact the policies they’ve promised to pursue. I suspect we will all need these forms of resistance in the days ahead.
Here is but a handful of the ones I found to be the most meaningful for all of us and also something that every single person in this room can accomplish in some way. Remember, even the smallest acts will make a difference.
First, accept that your side lost. Be angry, be sad, but ultimately accept it and get right back into the fray. Losing does not mean giving up. Call your representatives, email them, call again, and keep calling until you get a response – they work for you. Attend their town hall meetings, and when the time comes, help build up grassroots movements to support the candidates that will reflect your values.
Second, do your part to avoid demonizing those with whom you disagree. Should they demonize you, meet them with compassion and kindness. Do your part, however small, to bring into existence the world you want to see. Go to an interfaith event, join a community organizing initiative, talk to your neighbors. Support organizations you are passionate about such as Planned Parenthood or Kentucky Refugee Ministries. I give money to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Find something you can support and be involved in. And while we are supporting our neighbors and these organizations and trying to build bridges, know that you still need to be an ally to the oppressed and call people out. There are trainings for that and there will be one here soon for just that kind of advocacy.
Third, support independent journalism. This item is on nearly every list I find. We live in an astonishingly post-fact environment and it is chilling to see how easily we all can be roped into it. Avoid the conspiracy websites. Avoid the echo chamber of only reading sources that support your agenda fully. Avoid the click bait.m Do the research and find quality journalism – subscribe to a paper or magazine or website or several of them – my own household has innumerable magazines flooding into it these days. Journalists with integrity are there to hold up a mirror to the world – and they are under attack – support them, read them, inwardly digest the sources you encounter.
Lastly, here’s the stock preacher response. Do not lose hope. Did you not see the marches? Hope abounds. Losing hope and giving in to injustice is exactly what those who would wield their power unjustly would want. Your greatest grip on your own innate power is to resist, to endure, and to never lose hope. No matter how bad it gets, no matter what we face, no matter who is the President or what their agenda is. Look to history, hear the freedom songs of people who had it much worse. They sang them not because they accepted their condition, but because they never lost hope for a kinder more loving world.
You can find these lists online, they are abundant. But as I’ve read these lists, I can’t help but wonder, however, why on earth we haven’t been doing these things all along? What difference would that have made?
And if you already have been doing these things, that is great. But something tells me a great swath of people across our nation have not. What if we always accepted our losses and got busy mobilizing for a better outcome in the years ahead? What if we never demonized those with different opinions? What if we always supported free, independent, and quality journalism?
What if hope and kindness and compassion – not greatness – were our highest ideals? We can only wonder now. But know this, these acts of resistance are not just acts against the fears many of us have in this political landscape. They are acts of resistance to all those forces that would pervert the truth and propagate injustice.
If we are to have any lasting relevance, this cannot be the only time we get busy witnessing to our values. The work is never ending and sometimes the picture is bleaker than we would like. It is up to all of us to do something for our LGBT neighbors, our Muslim neighbors, our black, white, Asian, female, disabled, or poor neighbors.
And yes, our conservative neighbors as well. Sometimes the only thing we can do is be there. Sometimes that’s the only thing that is needed. But that is a radical act – to be there, to listen, to not make enemies out of our neighbors.
In closing today I share with you the words of the poet Elizabeth Alexander, titled, “Praise Song for This Day.” Which she read at the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. It is a poem that offers a starkly different vision of America and the world than the one I read to you earlier. She writes:
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.
That is the America I still believe in. Remember the marches, dear friends. Remember you are not alone. Remember that our work is never done, and remember to resist for yourself, for your neighbor, for those you disagree with, and for all that awaits us, not just this moment. We could make this place, beautiful, couldn’t we? This place already is beautiful.