Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Health Care Story

Recent news demonstrates the crucial difference the Affordable Care Act makes in our nation. According to recent reports, a record 6 million Americans signed up for coverage in 2017. And, earlier this month Vox ran a depressing story about a poor community in Kentucky that voted overwhelmingly for Trump despite the fact that the ACA has helped many in the community to receive insurance.

Earlier this month I wrote about the importance of speaking out and offering Moral Counsel by telling the stories of those who depend on the Affordable Care Act. But before I share some stories about people in my life, I want to tell you my own health care story.

My own health care story is largely one of privilege. All my adult life I have had health insurance. I was covered while enrolled as an undergraduate and graduate student.  Immediately following grad school I found employment as a Unitarian Universalist minister and have been employed non-stop for 14 years.

But one incident from the very beginning of my ministry haunts me. When I entered the ministry in 2003, most UU ministers were on their own to fend for themselves to obtain their own health care. For many this meant purchasing an individual plan. At age 25 I moved to a new city to begin my first ministry. The first thing I did was to apply for an individual plan with Blue Cross / Blue Shield. I filled out all the paper work to apply for the plan and a few days later received a letter in the mail saying that I had been rejected.

The reason they gave for rejecting me was that in the previous year I had filed insurance claims to pay for counseling. This, I was told, made me a bad bet. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing a counselor, but in this case I had seen a counselor because it was highly recommended for those preparing for ministry. Those preparing for ministry take counseling classes, work as chaplains, and practice pastoral care as student ministers. Under supervision we are strongly encouraged to seek counseling as a means of developing self-awareness and self-understanding. Not having been in counseling is seen as a mark against prospective ministers.

So there I was, stuck. I was in a Catch-22. I needed to go through counseling to become a minister but I couldn’t get health insurance as a minister because I had been through counseling.

In response I spent a good chunk of the next several weeks calling the insurance company to challenge the rejection. I worked my way up the ladder, pleading my case with one person, then his manager, then her manager. I wrote letters of appeal. Finally, BC/BS caved and offered me insurance. If things had been otherwise, if I had actually had had a pre-existing condition like a chronic disease or a history of cancer, I would have been stuck. I was only able to receive health insurance because I was privileged. I had the time and language skills to call, persuade, and advocate for myself. I also had the privilege of health.

In 2003 the reason I could get insurance, the reason I could start the job I had been hired to do, was that I was in good health and could prove to the insurance company that I was a good bet to earn them a profit. This arbitrary situation improved four years later when the denomination created a health plan available to UU church employees.

But one that experience from 2003 still troubles me. For those few weeks in the summer of 2003 I felt the anxiety of someone not able to access health insurance. I am horrified by efforts to make health insurance less accessible for the citizens of our nation.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Moral Opposition to the Repeal of the ACA

There has been much conjecture about what will become of the Affordable Care Act (and Medicare, and Medicaid, though those will be the topic of another post.) The New York Times recently ran an article suggesting that congressional Republicans may delay the effective repeal by up to three years. Politico reports that a schism is forming among Republicans who disagree about how to go about repealing the ACA. Writing for Mother Jones, Kevin Drum argues with extreme optimism that the repeal will not succeed. He claims a repeal of the ACA would effectively end the market for individual insurance plans thus making it too unpopular to pursue.

What is not under debate is that the incoming administration and the Republican controlled congress will make health care worse in the United States. Insurance will become less available and more expensive, services will be cut, and harm will fall hardest on the poor and the sick.

Christianity, like all major world religions, offers a moral commandment to care for the sick. Christianity, like all major world religions, offers a moral commandment to care for the poor. There is no doubt in my mind that the health care decisions this government will pursue will be deeply immoral. There is no doubt in my mind that these actions will kill a lot of people.

I believe that what is needed is a widespread campaign of moral counsel. Perhaps our politicians are too shameless to be shamed, but such a campaign might shame and disgust those who voted them into office.

Here is what I propose and what I ask you to do over the next six weeks:

1) Find out who are the people you know who get their health insurance through the exchanges and have health insurance because of the ACA. Thanks to the ACA approximately 20 million more Americans have health insurance, so you definitely know someone. I’ve actually started asking people where they get their health insurance.

2) Get permission to write their stories. Talk about who they are, what they contribute to their communities, what having health insurance means to them, and how screwed they’d be if they lost their health insurance. Then publish these stories on Facebook, blogs, and social media.

3) Call your local newspaper and local TV station and demand that they report on the faces and lives of the Affordable Care Act. Contact national news stations and publications and demand the same types of stories.

4) You get bonus points if you share the story of a Trump voter who is insured through the ACA. (There are millions of Trump voters who are in danger of losing their health insurance, too.)

5) Stay in touch with the people you write about. Document their pain, their hardship, their vulnerability, and the harm done to them.

6) If someone you know dies due to lack of affordable health care, make sure that fact gets named at the funeral. Make sure the obituary names lack of affordable health care as the cause of death.

7) Share this post. Help it go viral.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Sermon: Disobeying Herod

Call to Worship

The season begins with a star.
A symbol of hope and love.
A sign that portends new possibilities.
The in-breaking of light in a time of darkness.

The season begins with a star.
            A North Star for our moral compass.
            A light shining in the valley helping somebody to find their way home.

The season begins with a star.
            It called out to the wise men of the ancient story.
            It called out to seers, mystics, and prophets.
            It called out to poets, artists, and activists.
It calls out still, leading us towards hope, towards peace, towards love.

The season begins with a star.
            Come to behold.
            Come to envision.
            Come to nourish yourself for the journey.
            Come, let us worship together.
Then go into the world and tell them what the star means.

Chalice Lighting
"Tell them the star means wisdom
Tell them the star means kindness
Tell them the star means understanding
Tell them the star means tolerance
Tell them the star means sacrifice
Tell them the star leads to a vision of a fairer world."
(Last line of Call to Worship and Chalice Lighting are from Celebrating Christmas: An Anthology, Carl Seaburg, editor.)

Ancient Reading        Matthew 2:1-12

Modern Reading       Conscientious Objector by Edna St. Vincent Millay

It is worth noting in both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke the story of the birth of Jesus is located, is situated, within a particular political context. In Luke what causes Mary and Joseph to set out and travel towards Bethlehem is that the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, has called for a registration. In Matthew, the political context is this awkward and fraught moment in foreign relations. Foreign dignitaries have arrived in Judea, gone to King Herod, and told him, we’re here to meet a newborn child, a child who is the rightful King of this land and this people, for we’ve read the signs in the heavens and those signs announce that your reign, Herod, is illegitimate. We want to meet the King. It’s not you. (I’m embellishing a little bit here.)

And Herod responds, deviously, “You know, I’d like to meet him, too.”

Historically, Herod was a Jewish King who ruled Judea for more than thirty years. During his reign, Judea was a part of the Roman Empire which meant Herod ruled at the pleasure of the Roman Senate. If he didn’t make Rome happy, then he could be removed. As King he ruled with what we might call a conflict of interest. He was beholden not to his own people, but to a foreign power.

Historians’ opinions of Herod as King are polarized though few deny that he was a tyrant and a brutal despot. His critics describe him as a madman, an evil genius, and as someone who would do whatever it takes, no matter how immoral, to pursue his own limitless ambition. Herod was intolerant of dissent. He deployed secret police to spy on the population. He banned protests. He used his power to brutally persecute his opponents.

Herod’s personal life was embroiled in scandal, largely centered around him having his own family members killed when they got in his way. Herod plotted to murder his first wife and then later executed her. After his mother in law accused him of being mentally unstable and unfit to rule he had her executed as well. Herod also had tax problems. His use of tax revenues to furnish lavish gifts upset his Jewish subjects.

Historians who take a more positive view of his reign emphasize that he built a lot of impressive buildings. Indeed, this is true. Construction in Judea was uniquely prolific during Herod’s reign. He sponsored an enormous addition to the second Jewish temple; he constructed a massive port on the Mediterranean coastline that was a true wonder of engineering; and he built several key military installations including the fortress at Masada. On the other hand these projects were completed at the expense of impoverishing those he ruled through excessive taxation.

In Matthew, wise men come from the East, following the star. They’re identified as magi. We might imagine them as Zoroastrian priests, learned scholars, astrologers. Though the text in Matthew is silent, later tradition would embellish these descriptions, with different branches of Christianity telling the story in different ways. There were three wise men, or twelve. They’re given different names in different sects of Christianity. They are said to have all came from Persia, or from Persia, India, and Babylonia, or from Europe, Asia, and Africa, or even from China. They are imagined as sorcerers, wizards, kings, saints.

But, in the Gospel story, they come from the East. They visit Herod. With profound insecurity and devious cruelty, Herod enlists the wise men in reporting the identity of the child. The wise men journey to Bethlehem, visit the child, pay him homage, and present him with gifts. And then, they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod. So they disobey. They disobey Herod and take a different route home.

The text tells this part with one short sentence, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” But, you can easily imagine all kinds of questions:

What were the risks to disobeying Herod?
Did the wise men put their own freedom on the line?
Did they risk their own lives?
Would there be the diplomatic repercussions?
When the wise men returned home, would their homelands be at greater risk of incurring the wrath of the Roman Empire and its armies?
What exactly was the content of that dream, of that vision, that came to the wise men?
Did the dream come to all of them or only to one of them?
And, most importantly, how did they find the courage, conscience, conviction, and commitment to say, “No. We are not going to do this. We will disobey”?

People who study life under authoritarian regimes write about what is necessary for people to resist and to disobey. From her studies of authoritarianism, Sarah Kendzior offers the following advice for those facing life under authoritarianism.

Write down what you value; what standards you hold for yourself and for others. Write about your dreams for the future and your hopes for your children. Write about the struggle of your ancestors and how the hardship they overcame shaped the person you are today.

Write your biography, write down your memories… Write a list of things you would never do. Write a list of things you would never believe.

Never lose sight of who you are and what you value. If you find yourself doing something that feels questionable or wrong a few months or years from now, find that essay you wrote on who you are and read it. Ask if that version of yourself would have done the same thing. And if the answer is no? Don’t do it.

Perhaps it is as simple as this and as difficult as this. Perhaps what gave the wise men, the magi, the strength and courage to take that other road, to disobey and not return to Herod, and not reveal the identity of the child born in Bethlehem was simply that they each possessed a strong moral compass. They knew who they were and what they valued, what they could never do and what they could never believe. They knew this deeply.

Another scholar of authoritarianism, Yale history professor Tom Snyder, offers this advice about obedience,

Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked… Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

For Professor Snyder disobedience is a conscious choice that we need to remember we always have.

As I think about the wise men another source of strength and resilience comes to mind that may have been helpful in causing them to resist, to disobey Herod. Remember, traditions tell us that the wise men came from Persia, India, and Babylon, or from Europe, Asia, and Africa. The wise men are often depicted as coming from different cultures, as having different skin tones, different religions. And, maybe you’d think with their different ethnicities and different languages that one of them would cave, one of them would falter, one of them would say, “If I take the road back that Herod told me to take, I could get on his good side. I could earn all his favor for myself.” But, that’s not what happens. The three of them walk together, take the other road together. Today we’d use the term solidarity. We’d say they practiced solidarity with one another. I think of Rev. William Barber. I’m pretty sure if William Barber met the three magi he’d tell them that they are the beginning of a fusion movement!

For a fusion movement to work we can’t sell one another out. We can’t be in it only for ourselves, our own well-being, our own rights, our own survival. We have to realize that our fates, our freedoms, our lives are tied together. That none of us can be free until and unless all of us are free.

Yesterday, I went to Raleigh for the Justice and Unity rally. I saw a few of you there. We had more than 1,000 people gathered in a park proclaiming our resistance to the KKK march that was happening over in one of the distant corners of our state, proclaiming our resistance to white supremacy, bigotry, and hate in all its forms. The speakers at this rally were mostly people of color, mostly young people. They included immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ. It was inspiring. These gatherings are important. I’m convinced we are being called to show up, that we are all being called to show up in numbers one hundred times as large. One thousand times as large. But, being there yesterday and hearing those speakers reminded me of all the people to whom I am accountable, the people for whom I would disobey Herod. The people with whom I would disobey Herod.

The magi disobeyed by refusing to return to Herod. They took another road instead. But, there is a way of disobedience that is beyond what even the magi did. That form of disobedience is described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who was a major part of the Confessing Church resistance movement in Germany during the Third Reich. Listen to these words by Bonhoeffer,

[T]here are three possible ways in which the church can act toward the state: the first place, as has been said, it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e., it can throw the state back on its responsibilities. Second, it can aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. "Do good to all people." In both these courses of action, the church serves the free state in its free way, and at times when laws are changed the church may in no way withdraw itself from these two tasks. The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to jam a spoke in the wheel itself.

According to Bonhoeffer, disobedience can take the form of jamming a spoke in the wheel itself, of throwing a wrench in the machine, of pouring sand in the gears until they jam and falter.

Remember those words of Tom Snyder. “Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked.” Obedience, consent, going along are like oil lubricating the gears. Disobedience and dissent grind the gears down.

Like the wise men of the ancient story, like the wise ones through all history, let us pledge to disobey. Inspired by the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, let us pledge that,

[We] will not hold the bridle
while [Death] clinches the girth.
And [Death] may mount by himself: 
[We] will not give him a leg up.

So may it be. Amen.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Moral Fantasy

In my own grieving process over the election I find that I’ve entered a stage of bargaining. My thinking frequently goes in the direction of fantasies and magical thinking. The idea of petitioning the Electoral College to become faithless electors is a fantasy. The notion that recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will swing the election to Clinton is magical thinking.

And yet, from a different perspective, from a prophetic perspective, aren’t these fantasies worth naming? When the prophet Isaiah called on rulers to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks wasn’t that also fantasy? When the prophet Micah calls the people to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly is that magical thinking? Isaiah and Micah were correct in their prophetic proclamations. Today we are justified in our moral counsel whether that means directing the electoral college, calling for reviews of elections, or offering other kinds of moral instruction.

Below, in the form of a letter, I share my latest moral fantasy. I share it not because I have any belief that it will happen, but because, morally, it is what should happen. There is a moral obligation to name what is moral even if it is thought impossible.


Dear Billionaires,

You have the moral obligation and the collective power to save our world.

I have a fantasy that if Donald Trump tries to build his wall he will discover that Bill Gates has purchased a controlling interest in every major concrete company in the USA and the answer will be, “No deal.”

I have a fantasy that Warren Buffett buys the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline and scraps the project.

I have a fantasy that two years ago Mark Zuckerberg had purchased a contract to manage all the DMV offices in Wisconsin and used that influence to issue IDs to every disenfranchised voter in the state, swinging that state to Hillary Clinton.

My fantasy is that the wealthiest billionaires in the United States – in the world – use their individual and collective wealth to block or disrupt many of the objectives of Trump’s presidency.

Think this idea is way out there? Consider this: Five out of America’s six richest men opposed a Trump presidency. Warren Buffett openly campaigned for Clinton. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, the newspaper that went hardest against Trump. Michael Bloomberg spoke out against Trump at the Democratic National Convention. Consider this: Technology companies in Silicon Valley and beyond dumped millions into Clinton’s campaign and opened up their coffers for Obama before her. Tech companies tend to care about America being a welcoming home for immigrants and about issues of free speech.

There are, of course, Republican billionaires like the Koch brothers, the Waltons, Sheldon Adelson, and many others who are openly embracing a Trump presidency. But it is not like billionaires who embrace some form of liberalism don’t exist. In fact they’re plentiful. They include major executives at Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and other major tech companies. Mark Cuban was one of Clinton’s biggest backers. George Soros recently committed $10 million to fighting hate crimes. Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has pledged to battle Trump’s environmental policies.

Who else might be enlisted in the cause? Hollywood’s leading stars have the power to raise large amounts of capital. NBA players earn a collective $3 billion dollars per year. America’s Ivy League schools plus Stanford, MIT, and Wellesley control endowments totaling over $150 billion. It is time for these educational institutions to leverage their resources to defend freedom.

Paging Carlos Slim Helu, Mexico’s richest man and one of the handful of richest men in the world. I don’t know his politics but I do know that he was once an immigrant from the Middle East. I know that he would be regaled as a Mexican hero if he stuck it to Trump by throwing a monkey wrench in Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.

Perhaps this is all terribly naïve. If the world’s billionaires cared about poverty, health care, or the environment they would have already done something about it. But maybe, just maybe, this moment in history will be spark a moral awakening.

I wonder if Apple, Microsoft, and Google could join forces and purchase one of the world’s largest oil companies only to immediately begin decreasing oil extraction and redirecting company resources to the production of green energy.

I wonder if Martin Shkreli can purchase a drug and hike its price, why can't Paul Allen buy a drug and lower its price?

Could the Catholic Church buy a privately owned prison system and operate it according to the dictates of justice instead of the temptations of greed and exploitation?

The Presidents of the “Seven Sisters” colleges recently wrote a letter condemning Steve Bannon; could they use their endowments and collective fundraising potential to bolster public education in a region of the country where public education is being dismantled?

Truthfully, I’m not holding my breath. But the prophet Isaiah didn’t hold his breath when he called out for swords to be beaten into plowshares. Jonah didn’t hold his breath when he brought a message of repentance to Nineveh.

To those with massive wealth and power: it is time to do justice, to act compassionately, and to save our nation, our planet, and its people.

 Feel free to share and especially feel free to send this to any billionaires you may know.

Monday, November 21, 2016

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

When you took office eight years ago you inherited a country facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. This crisis was not of your creation but the responsibility for saving our country fell largely on your shoulders. You deserve all the credit in the world for rescuing our country. Now, as you prepare to leave office, you find yourself leading a country on the precipice, a country facing a threat larger than any it has faced since the Civil War. This crisis is not of your creation but the responsibility for saving our country again falls on your shoulders.

Over the past two weeks you have spoken calming words to our nation’s citizens. You’ve counseled us to have patience and give the President-Elect a chance. You’ve reached out to the President-Elect to offer him advice and counsel. You’ve traveled the world to reassure our allies.

I am convinced that this is the wrong approach to take. I am convinced that Donald Trump, at his core, is a sociopath, a narcissist, and a bully. He is not someone who can be trusted or reasoned with. He cannot be swayed by appeals to his better angels because he has no better angels. Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them, the first time.” Donald Trump continues to show us exactly who he is each and every day.

My recommendation, Mr. President, is that you take a much more aggressive and adversarial approach to the President-Elect. I was very heartened that you recently issued a five year ban on oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. I am hopeful that this is only the beginning of actions you will take over the remainder of your term.

Here are some other actions you might take in your final sixty days as President:

  1. Grant a pardon to all undocumented children and youth living in the United States and issue them irrevocable papers placing them on the path to citizenship.
  2. Grant citizenship to as many immigrants as possible over the next 60 days.
  3. Appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and immediately sue the Senate for failing to perform its constitutional duty. This probably won’t work, but it is better than doing nothing.
  4. Release the last two decades of Donald Trump’s tax returns to the media. The public has a right to know the extent of his investments in and indebtedness to foreign nations.
  5. Use the powers of Presidential pardon to depopulate our nation’s prisons, especially by freeing non-violent drug offenders and others impacted by the injustice of mass incarceration.
  6. Use executive orders to dismantle pieces of the federal government that a Trump administration could use to inflict harm on American citizens. This might mean, for example, destroying domestic surveillance capabilities.

However, far beyond any of these suggestions, there is the larger question of whether Donald Trump can be allowed to assume the presidency sixty days from now. Can a man who owes hundreds of millions of dollars of debt to adversarial foreign nations legitimately take an oath of office to defend our Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic? Can a man who is already using his political position to cut deals to enrich his business empire, a man who totally resists separating his political activity and his business activity, take an oath to serve the American people? Can a man whose core campaign promises were blatantly unconstitutional swear to uphold the Constitution? If Trump is allowed to take office it will set into motion the largest Constitutional crisis in our nation’s history.

President Obama, you have sixty days remaining in office. For the next sixty days you are the most powerful man in the world. I call on you to use your power wisely and judiciously over the next sixty days. It is unfortunate and unfair, but it is my belief that history will remember you most for how you approach these final two months as President of the United States of America.

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts. I'll cherish these freedoms as long as they still exist.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Moral Counsel for the Members of the Electoral College

Following my earlier post on moral counsel, I would like to put forward another group of people who I believe are in need of moral counsel: the 306 members of the Electoral College planning to cast their votes for Donald Trump one month from now on December 19.

The members of the Electoral College will gather one month from today. The founders of our country created a safeguard in the system that allows a small group of electors to choose the president. Alexander Hamilton said the system was created to ensure that, “the office of the president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” This system was created for such a time as this.

Clearly, this attempt to get the members of the electoral college to change their vote is a “Hail Mary” with the lowest of odds. However, it is technically possible and I believe that these times call for the full exploration of rare and unusual strategies.

There are numerous on-line petitions circulating. The petition on Change.org calls for the electors to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of Trump. This petition is approaching 5 million signatures. Another petition, called Faithless Now, claims to be putting pressure on the Republican electors to select another Republican instead of Trump. And, a group of three Democratic electors in Colorado and Washington claim to be working on this strategy as well.

There is another way to influence the electors and that is to contact them directly. Possible contact information for many of the electors is available on this website. A full list of electors without contact information can be found here.

I strongly recommend that any direct communication with an elector be polite, personal, and civil. As I reach out I will attempt to convince the electors to vote for someone other than Trump. In these letters I will make my case based on Trump’s incompetence (it’s clear he has no idea what the job of president entails), corruption (his failure to release his taxes, his failure to avoid conflicts of interest with his own business interests and with other nations, his appointment of people with profound ethical entanglements), his disregard for the Constitution of the United States, and his selection of openly bigoted individuals to advisory and cabinet positions.

For these efforts to work we would need to convince at least 37 Republican Party operatives to cast their vote for someone other than Trump. If no candidate reaches 270 votes, the House of Representatives would select a President between the 3 highest electoral vote recipients. In other words, if 37 Republican electors decided to cast a vote for Mitt Romney, the House would choose between Trump, Romney, and Clinton.

Like I said, the odds here are a million to one. But I also believe that those 306 individuals planning to vote for Trump are in need of moral counsel.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Moral Counsel

Last Thursday, and again this Monday, I called into a national conference call hosted by Rev. Dr. William Barber II of the North Carolina NAACP. Rev. Barber is one of our nation’s foremost moral leaders and listening to him is a balm to the soul.

Two words Rev. Barber spoke repeatedly over these two calls struck a chord with me. The first word was Counsel. The second word was Resistance.

I will have more to say about Resistance soon. At this moment I am convinced that the best response to a Trump presidency is for all Americans who oppose his presidency and policies to become ungovernable. I’ll say more on this later.

When Rev. Barber talked to us about counsel, he was speaking to us out of the prophetic tradition. Counsel means going to those in power and speaking to them in the most powerful moral language we have. His call is for us to take up the mantle of the prophetic tradition and speak moral truths just like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Amos.

Counsel is the making of moral demands.

Yes, it is probably naïve to think that writing letters to Trump will change his mind on climate change or that making calls to Paul Ryan will cause him to change his stance on the Affordable Care Act. (I would still say to make these calls and write these letters, just make sure that's not the only thing you're doing.)

But, it occurs to me that there are other forms of Counsel that are needed, beyond just counseling the president-elect.

We need to be reaching out to all our elected officials counseling them to denounce Steve Bannon and proclaiming that he must not have any role in this administration.

President Barack Obama has 64 days left in office and we need to offer him our moral counsel about the transfer of power.

The Electoral College will convene on December 19 to cast their votes for President. It is a “Hail Mary,” but these electors need to be approached indirectly and directly and counseled that the Electoral College was created to prevent this from happening.

We need to counsel any Republicans in the Senate or House that might possibly have any shred of human decency remaining to break ranks with their majorities.

We need to counsel Democrats in the Senate and House to unite and remain indivisible.

And, we desperately need to counsel those at the very top of our economic order of their power in this time to challenge the political order for their own sake and for ours.

I am committing myself, beginning today, to a daily practice of moral counsel. I will be posting links and information on Facebook and on this blog so that you can take part.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sermon: "A Letter to My Daughter"

An audio version of this sermon can be heard here.

Chalice Meditation
I’d like to begin the service by drawing your attention to our chalice. Our faith’s symbol. The chalice is a fierce symbol. It stands for resistance. It stands for defiance. It stands for courage and sacrifice.

The chalice symbol was first associated with Unitarian Universalism during one of the world’s darkest times. It was during World War II and the Unitarian Service Committee was active in Europe helping to rescue Jews and other enemies of Nazi Germany from the Holocaust. The chalice symbol appeared on letterhead and documents. Those following the call of the chalice forged papers, smuggled religious and political refugees, worked night and day doing all within their power to save life.

The chalice is a fierce symbol. It stands for resistance. It stands for defiance. It stands for keeping our humaneness intact, no matter what. It stands for loving, because how can we not?

It stands for light. So lift me up to the light of change. This little light of mine. The fire of commitment. The luminaries whose lights shine on us and light our pathway forward. As the poet Auden put it, “May I, beleaguered by negation and despair, show an affirming flame.” As James Baldwin wrote, “One discovers the light in darkness. That’s what the darkness is for. But everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light.” As the Gospel of John puts it, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” The light. The light.

Pastoral Prayer
Please pray with me:

Let us begin by praying for our bodies. We have experienced a great trauma and we carry that trauma in our bodies. We’re struggling through sleepless nights, profound anxiety, a heavy knot in the pit of our stomach. Our bodies are grief’s battlefield. We pray for the soothing of our bodies. We pray for our bodies with our breathing.

We pray. We pray for those in our community and our nation who are especially afraid. African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, and LGBTQ persons. Outraged we pray for an end to hate crimes. With deep resolve we pray for the strength to be allies.

We pray for our anger and we confess our anger. Yes, you can pray with anger. Anger for the tens of millions of Americans who did not vote, anger on behalf of the millions of Americans whose votes were suppressed, anger at our political parties, anger at the electoral college system. It’s OK to be angry. I am angry.

We pray for our nation. We pray for healthcare, for our civil rights, for our human rights, for peace, for our environment and for this planet.

We pray for the soul of our nation. We lament the chorus of bigotry and hatred, the politics of fear and despair, the celebration of ignorance and arrogance, the mendacity and double-speak, the countenancing of crudeness and meanness. We decry the election of a serial sex offender. We reject the misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and religious intolerance so very present in our body politic.

As we pray in the darkness, we claim the light of the spirit needed to guide us through it.

We pray in the words of Rebecca Parker,

There is a love holding me.
There is a love holding all that I love.
There is a love holding all.
I rest in that Love.

There is a love holding us.
There is a love holding all that we love.
There is a love holding all.
We rest in that Love.



November 9, 2016

To my daughter,

For the past several months I dreamed of awakening on this Wednesday in November and composing a letter to you. Not a letter to the wonderful and spirited four year old you are right now who we love so much, but a letter to you in the future, a letter to the woman you will one day become. A letter capturing some of what I am feeling and thinking right now so that when you are older you can look back and know what I wanted to tell you in this moment.

I had hoped, I had truly hoped, to be able to write a different letter than the one I am forced to write today. But even the letter I had hoped to be able to write would have said many hard things. Even against a backdrop of relief, that letter would have talked about sexism, about misogyny and rape culture. It would have warned you of something we’ve come to know, that the results of an election – even when we are glad for the results – do not and cannot cure the forces of hatred and bigotry and exploitation that are so deeply woven into the fabric of our society. It is a sad fact of our history and our present that African American progress, whether the end of slavery, the victories of the civil rights movement, or the election of President Barack Obama, did not end racism. So too it is a sad fact that the victories of the women’s rights movement, the right to vote, Title IX, a woman winning the popular vote in a Presidential election, did not and could not deal a death blow to sexism and misogyny.

I lament. I lament that when you read this letter you will realize that the world you are inheriting is so much harder than it should have been. I lament that you will look back and judge us, as it is right for children to judge their parents, as it is right for generations to judge those who came before them, and that you will judge us harshly for this. And, I pray that you are able to summon gratitude, or at least understanding, that many of us worked as hard and as well as we knew how to try to pass down to you a better world. Until the day when I share this letter with you, I will work and many of us will work as hard and as well as we know how to hand you a better world. But the truth is, the world you will inherit would always have required of you your conscience, your convictions, your labors, and your love. No parent can give their child a perfect world. So you will need to take this world you’re given and spend your life loving it and holding it and working for it.

I awakened on November 9 to the sounds of you playing Play-Doh in the living room and I sobbed. I wept for your innocence and for your future, for the world which will be when you are old enough to read this letter, a world which will almost certainly be more damaged. As I heard you playing I gave some perverse thanks that I will be able to insulate you, to protect you at least for a little while from awareness, from knowing too much. Hopefully, I will be able to protect you for a long, long time. As I wept, I also gave thanks for this church which will always practice and profess the values of acceptance, justice, and love. I gave thanks for the schools, the teachers and professors, the public officials, the artists and activists in this little village who will be our partners in raising you. I gave thanks for the message sent by superintendent of the Chapel Hill / Carrboro school system proclaiming their core values of acceptance of children of all colors, all national origins, all gender expressions, and promising to stand up to anyone who would try to make it otherwise.

This is not the letter I wanted to write, but it is the letter I must write. And, what I must write to you, what I most want you to know and what I will endeavor through my example to teach you, are these few lessons about courage and love and faith.

Daughter, you should always remember who you are named for. You are named for a mighty woman, a courageous truth-teller, Lydia Maria Child, a famous Unitarian from 19th century New England who was ahead of her time in so many ways. She was an influential author and used the power of the pen to advocate for the end of slavery, for the rights of women, for Native American rights, and for the United States to curtail its war-making and expansionism. She was the first woman in the United States to write a book calling for the end of slavery. Lydia Maria Child advocated for what was right because it was right, not because it was easy. She dreamed and worked for a world beyond the imaginings of so many people in her time. We named you after her because we wanted you to have something of her moral center and moral clarity. We wish for you not an easy life, but a meaningful life. Not to go along to get along, but to live with passion for this world. We wish for you a full-hearted life, but being full-hearted means having a heart that, as Adrienne Rich puts it, breaks for all you cannot save as you cast your lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.

Daughter, I also want you to know about the spiritual lessons of resistance. There is a great tradition of resistance in the world’s religions, from the nonviolence of Gandhi to the civil rights movement to the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany. Resistance was key to the suffragettes who faced jail and beatings a century ago for the right to vote, and for African Americans who marched against clubs and dogs in Selma for the right to vote. As I write this to you, I want to tell you that we may be preparing to enter into a new era of resistance. This might mean a sanctuary movement for Latino immigrants and Muslims. It might mean an Underground Railroad for women’s health care. It might mean civil disobedience on a scale the world has never before seen. For the world to move forward we may need to declare ourselves ungovernable. Resistance does not come without risk, but to fail to resist is to lose a part of our deepest humanity and we must never lose that.

So, yes, I want you to know about courage and I want you to know about resistance, but I also want you to know about love. To live by the power of love means to live a life that connects you with the pain of the world. A Unitarian Universalist minister friend of mine, George Tyger, writes of loving the way that Jesus loved.

Jesus is not and has never been on a throne, he's in the gutter, on the streets, walking in the refugee camp, kneeling among the frightened masses, holding out his hand to the outcast and the stranger. Jesus on the throne is the idolatry of the Empire, it is the bejeweled cross of Caesar leading Armies of oppression. Jesus on the throne is a betrayal of Gospel. If Jesus stands among the marginalized so must we. Speak up, speak out, and like him bow down, reach low, get dirty, carry your cross and overcome fear. Look around and see Jesus among us resisting the will of the empire to bring death and fear. Join with him walking among the lost and the least.

This love isn’t easy, but it is liberating. It is the power to love that makes us most fully human. If we love this way, the world can never take our humanity away from us.

I’ve written to you about courage, resistance, and love, and I would like to end by saying a few words about faith. It is a terrible misunderstanding to think that faith is about one religious statement of belief or another. That is not what faith is. Faith is about having an existential trust in what is most enduring, most worthy, most true, and most worthy of committing our lives to. Put your faith in love and in love’s power to spur care and humaneness in our lives. Our love and compassion and humaneness are worth fighting for. James Baldwin writes of such a faith,

One discovers the light in darkness. That is what darkness is for. But everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light. It is necessary, while in darkness, to know that there is a light somewhere, to know that in oneself, waiting to be found there is a light. What the light reveals is danger, and what it demands is faith…

For nothing is fixed, forever, and forever, and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have…The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. And the moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

Daughter, you will look back and wonder. You will look back and mourn. You will look back and judge. You will look back and know that you are so very loved and that we have worked with conviction, with resistance, with faith, and with deepest love to give you a better world. I love you. I love you.