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 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.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Pastoral Message to My Congregation

Today I'm dusting off this blog that I haven't updated with any regularity or seriousness for years in order to record messages to my church and my world about this scary world in which we live. First, my message this morning to my beloved congregants at The Community Church of Chapel Hill, Unitarian Universalist.


Dear Beloved Congregants,

On Wednesday of this week we opened our doors to hold a space for sharing our tears and our fears, and to be together in the midst of grief. Approximately 60 of us came together to process and pray.

The results of the election are traumatizing. As I’ve spoken and visited with many of you, I’ve learned that we are struggling to make meaning and find direction in many different ways.

Some of us are numb and are turning to the simple things that bring us comfort and warmth.
Some of us are turning to spiritual practices to help us to regain our center.
Some of us are turning to analytical articles to seek explanations and to help chart a way forward based on understandings of racial, gender, and class divides.
Some of us are organizing and preparing strategies of engagement and resistance.
Some of us are reaching out in solidarity to our Muslim, Latino, African American, immigrant, and LGBTQ friends and neighbors who are especially vulnerable. Some of us are made especially fearful because of the identities we hold.
Some of us are sending donations to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the NAACP.
Some of us are trying to regulate our own feelings in order to create an emotionally safe environment for our children. For some of us, our own personal struggles are only compounded by the troubles of our nation.

I want you all to know that I am here for you. So is our excellent staff. So are our devoted church leaders. Our beloved community has never been more valuable or more needed. Church reminds us that we are not alone and helps us to find a sense of our own power even when the world has lost its way. Church keeps our deepest values and ultimate concerns ever before us.

This Sunday we’ll continue the work of grieving and the work of finding a way forward. We will sing. We will pray. We will hug. Community is a balm to us.

I love you and I am with you.

Rev. Thom