Delivered November 9th, 2014 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca
(Lightly edited version)
When I was preparing to write this sermon, my thoughts drifted back to childhood and a time when I fell off my bicycle. I remember the skinned knee and the attention from my mother with the ever present Bactine and Band-Aid. I was pretty young at the point, maybe 6 or 7. At 6 or 7 you shake that stuff off pretty quickly and that wonderfully smooth young skin just heals right up, maybe with a little scar, but it sure doesn’t seem to take long. Now, I can’t even imagine the damage it would cause if I fell off a bike today, that is of course if I could even still ride one. Like most of us, there have also been scrapes of the spirit from childhood that weren’t always so easy to heal and have taken more time, effort and intention.
The subject of healing is so vast and deep. We all have physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual scars that range from small scraps to wounds that never seem to heal. In exploring healing and forgiveness, the theme for this month, it seems that they are two sides of the same coin. I guess part of my healing from scraping my knee on my bicycle would be forgiving myself for falling, but maybe I was riding my bicycle in a risky way because I was being teased about how I ride by my brothers or friends on the block. Or in some childhood homes it possible that the one riding the bike was being yelled at by a parent about being uncoordinated. All of these scenarios lead to vastly different kinds of wounds and can create complicated layers in the need to heal.
Different wounds can also require different types of healing. Our meditation today lists some of those it says: “Have forgiveness in your heart for anything you think you've done wrong.” This is such an important subject we are devoting next week’s service to it. Then it says, “Think of your parents. Forgive them for anything you have ever blamed them for.” This in part will be the subject of our pre-Thanksgiving service but another important topic. Then it asks you to “Think of your nearest and dearest people.” People who are near and dear are usually people we have let in, people we have been vulnerable around and people where there has been some risk involved. These people are the obvious candidates to cause wounds that are hard to heal because family and those near and dear can cause pain and wounds, but the one I want to concentrate on today is this one listed in the meditation where it says, “Have a look again and see whether there's anyone or anything, anywhere in the world, towards whom you have blame or condemnation.” I was thinking about this one as I was watching the Fox News election coverage. I will tell you, the glee and smugness, the joy in what I perceive to be voting for in many cases a couple of years of anti-climate, anti-science, anti-healthcare, anti-compromise, anti-anything Obama, just seems so petty and small and I have to admit that I had some condemnation in my heart.
I thought deeply about this and I worried about the future of our country and the future of the planet. And then, like we have talked about so many times before, I got on Facebook. I saw a great deal of angst and anxiety about the election from my clearly mostly liberal democratic friends, all kinds of anger, frustration and in some cases lashing out. I went to bed and the next morning, this was one of the first things I saw from a friend in Orange County, she said, “Note to self: stop reading political Facebook post comments. I've just been reading up on what was happening while we were camping with no cell service during the election. (We voted by absentee lest someone jump on that) I am repeatedly appalled at the hateful speech, judgment, racism, sexism and superiority online. My friends, we have lost more than an election. We are losing our kindness, our right relations, our compassion, our civility, our inherent love and dignity of one another. Worse than election losses, we are losing our very humanity. Ok, off the soapbox and onto kitten videos. For now. My mind is working on the next steps, but for now...kitten videos. Other animals are so very much wiser than we (and cuter too!) Spread love.”
This has had me thinking all week, not about kitten videos, although they are really cute, but about healing, how are we ever going to heal this country? And I must admit I am conflicted about it. I have struggled with what healing in this case would actually mean and whether or not healing will really accomplish what I want because I am one of those people who are fed up with politics, and angry, and really frustrated. I often wonder what the best thing is for getting the things done that I care about. Should I quit ministry and become a community organizer? Should I get more radical than that and join an anarchist group? Should I go to law school and put corrupt and unscrupulous politicians in jail? Should I run for office myself, and speak my truth no matter if elected or not?
The interesting thing about all of this is that there certainly been times as bad as this if not worse in our political heritage. The New Deal faced fierce critics. Presidents from both parties have to deal with the opposition that sometimes said and claimed horrible things. Corporations and capitalism has always influenced policy through lobbying, corruption an influence peddling. I guess in part, this is why I supported the Occupy Movement to some degree. As disorganized and unfocused as it was, I saw for the first time in my life, people rise up in peaceful protest and really point to the broken nature of the political and capitalistic system in this country. Like the economic focus that Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had at the end of their lives, the occupy movement saw the system itself at the root of the brokenness in the country. I know that in 2016 the pendulum will swing back like after most midterm elections in the last 100 years or so but that is not the issue, swinging back and forth doesn’t help heal a broken system that is far too influenced by the powerful, the corporations, and the rich.
So I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. I believe in all the things I have read to you in sermons before. I agree with Matthew 18:21 - 23 from the New Testament says, “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church* sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven* times.” I love the teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who says, “our capacity to make peace with another person and with the world depends very much on our capacity to make peace with ourselves.” I have studied the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” I have taken to heart the words of modern day profit Maya Angelou when she wrote "We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate --- thereby, making the present comfortable and the future promising."
I have taken these words in to my heart and I am working on the complicated work of healing from the anger that rises in me when I read articles about the ploys of enacting voter registration laws that claim to be addressing fraud when everyone knows that is complete and udder BS, because all it is meant to do is to stop minority voters from voting.
So with a system that at its heart really does think about fairness and the common good, but has long since been molded to be just free and fair enough not to tip everything over, what do we do to heal this country? Of course, I don’t have a great answer for that because it often feel like there isn’t that much we can do. But no matter what we do, I agree with my friend, that we really do lose if we become what we are standing against, if we lose, “our kindness, our right relations, our compassion, our civility, our inherent love and dignity of one another,” we lose are our very humanity.
I don’t want to pretend that there aren’t deep divisions but I also don’t want to tell the self-fulfilling stories that these are the worst times we have ever faced politically, although I am guessing they are pretty close. I don’t want to believe that anarchy and violence are the only ways to change system. I also don’t want to invent a story that I have somehow been personally wronged by the Republican control of congress. I have amazing privileges in this world with all kinds of freedoms that a huge portion of the people on this planet don’t have. I am free to travel, eat, waste natural resources, love who I want, vote, live how, where and however I pretty well can afford. I am not oppressed and I am actually pretty happy. I think about the level of my freedom and I bow deeply to the words of those who haven’t always lived in a system with these freedoms and have had to do some really serious healing from much deeper wounds than I, wounds I hope I will never carry with me, wounds of the flesh and spirit. I bow to the words from people like Bishop Desmond Tutu who said that both "Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing."
Our honest confrontation, our honest reality is that maybe the system has never really been as good as it can be. The system is just like humans who don’t always live up to our best selves and need to be reminded of that, held accountable to that, shown new ways to get there and how to love like hell even when we fail miserably. I am not sure how it would be to sit in a room and talk to John Bohner or Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz, we seem to come from such different perspectives, but I can’t image healing the rift between us by shouting at the top of our lungs while they shout at the top of theirs.
I haven’t talked about this but after we went to the city council with the Gun Control resolution a couple of years ago and after the Fox news story was done about me and the gun store owner trying to have a honest conversation about things we could agree on, and after having a very nice lunch where we talked about those things, he abruptly sent me an email that basically said he wasn’t interested in talking any further. I try not to make assumptions about things that I don’t know about, but I have to admit, I have made an assumption and my guess is that after that news story aired on Fox News he somehow was pressured and felt it could harm his business. I have NO idea if this is the right assumption, but I have no further information and to me, it was a very sad thing.
I could have been angry about this, I could be furious about the elections, I could be enraged that the Senators about to take over the environmental oversight committee in the senate is a climate change denier, but I am not sure how effective my anger is at helping people change and I feel like unless we engage people in ways other than anger and this constant back and forth tug of war of the American political system, the system itself will never really be healed and we will never really move on.
There is another quote that I have used before, I love it and I find it to be true and insightful, Frederick Buechner said “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” This country and this world have systems supported by assumptions, distrust, frustration, superficial understandings, cultural differences, and deep and complicated wounds from generations of pain and suffering. Violence, anger and an eye for an eye will never ever lead to healing. I believe it has never been more important to listen more deeply, tell our stories to each other more often, be honest about the personal and societal issues that keep us apart, but radically engage the other in conversation from a place of love, kindness, deep understanding and a willingness to change and be changed. We must change this broken system, we must engage with our minds focused on healing. I am convinced this may be the most complicated healing for us to do but perhaps the best and only way for us all to move forward together.