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.

Amen.


Sermon

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.