Delivered January 25, 2015 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca
(Lightly edited version)
I remember my dad yelling in frustration at the television at our beloved Chicago Cubs who were in the middle of yet another whatever, blown save, blown game, blown playoff, I doesn’t seem to matter, he would be so frustrated and I would think, “what is the point?” What was the point of getting angry at the Chicago Cubs? Getting angry at the Chicago Cubs loosing, is a little like buying a ticket for the lottery and going out and getting a new car sure that you soon will have money for the payments.
Let me continue with this Cubs metaphor for a moment. It is easy to become cynical being a Cubs fan. Or at least that is what I was thinking cynical meant. I was thinking that cynical meant sort just giving up and thinking that things are never really are going to work out, not having faith, of any kind and I don’t necessarily mean religious faith, I mean like “oh those Cubs, they will never win the World Series.” But listen to the definitions of the word cynical: a : contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives and b : based on or reflecting a belief that human conduct is motivated primarily by self-interest. Wow, this is much bigger than being from Chicago or giving up on baseball, this is a core feeling that comes when one becomes distrustful of human nature and human motives and believing that human conduct is primarily motivated by self-interest, this brings the meaning of cynical to a whole new level.
It makes me wonder how we get to that level of hopelessness or frustration. You don’t have to look too far in today’s world, I would make a list, but I do that enough and it always depresses me a little. I guess the thing that really strikes me about being cynical is that you have gotten to a place where you really do believe, “what is the point?” I don’t doubt that it can be an easy place to find sometimes. I hear people say all the time that they feel like it is hard to decide how to do something in the midst of needs that can feel overwhelming. And sometimes when you do something, and are met with anger or others cynicism it can tip our own scales.
Often I think that cynicism is a close cousin to “being realistic.” One definition of realistic is, “concern for fact or reality and rejection of the impractical and visionary.” Sometimes I feel like this is the world that we live in and I don’t really mean that as a complement. Of course I think it is important to assess fact and reality. For instance, a fact would be that the Chicago Cubs have not been in the World Series since 1945 and have not won a World Series since 1908. For those of you not doing the math, that is 107 years. And, although that is the fact, we from Chicago know in our hearts the saying that every true Cub fan knows, “there is always next year.”
I have talked before about Rabbi Michael Lerner’s thoughts on being realistic, Basically what he has said is, “The most significant changes in the US in the past fifty years were won because people fought for ideals that were universally seen as "unrealistic" when their struggles began--the struggle against segregation and for civil rights for minorities, the struggle against patriarchy and discrimination against women, the struggle for glbt rights, the struggle for rights of the disabled, all of these struggles were dismissed as "unrealistic." Over and over again people have been told that "politics is the art of the possible" and therefore they should give up their highest vision of the good and fight for what is "realistic." But history actually teaches a different message: that you never know what is possible until you fight for what is desirable, because in that struggle many desirable goals that seemed impossible begin to appear to be quite possible as more and more people struggle to achieve a more humane and ethically and spiritually rational world.”
As many of you know, I saw Selma this week. I am going to be talking a lot more about Selma in the coming month. The first week in March, I am going to Selma. I am going to participate in conference sponsored by the UUA to celebrate and honor the 50th Anniversary of the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the March to Montgomery and as I understand it, we will be joining thousands who are coming to join together in this experience. I will leave much of what I have to say about this until closer to the date for the services I am planning about this event, but let me say this, the March on Selma and the desire to gain voting rights for black voters in the south and throughout America was not a cynical movement nor a movement stuck in being realistic.
In my opinion, there is a difference between being realistic and real. Theologian and another one of my life teachers, Walter Wink says, “It is my own self-interest to recognize that my opponents have jobs or mortgaged houses that tie them to the existing economic and political system. They are afraid they are losing their grip on the world. They need to be reassured that revolution will not strip them of all means of making a livelihood or all that hard won security." This is being real about people and the facts of the world. There are ideologies, philosophies, theologies, that our different than ours. There are cultures of all kinds that are not what any one of us may be used to or that we may find comfortable and being real is understanding that they exist, being real is trying to assess and understand the facts.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke about “Why Hope?”, and today I ask the question, “What is the point?” why try to make a difference that may include what may be impractical or visionary. Wink talks about this as it relates to movements of social justice. He points out that it is about Fundamental Justice, a theme of nonviolent movements in history and perhaps a significant difference from movements of violent struggle, and this is highlighted by the difference between the need for victory and the desire for fundamental rights and justice. A good lesson for all of us. When talking about this Wink cites the Rev. James Bevel, a colleague of Dr. King’s, who when talking about a situation that called for the need to love ones enemies said, “We are not just fighting for our rights, but for the good of the whole society.”
Part of what the point is, is that at some point someone has to lay aside their own specific self-interest and fight for the good of the whole society, everyone involved, for everyone to be raised, to be healed, to be whole. This is different than victory and in many ways what I believe Dr. King was fighting for with direct nonviolent action.
Wink also said, "The Means are Commensurate with the New Order. This is almost the same as the Gandhi saying, be the change you want to see. But, it is also about the transformation of relationships versus the transfer of power. This is demonstrated well by another Gandhi quote. When speaking about the possible use of violence toward the British to fight for independence, Gandhi says, “We’ve come a long way with the British. When they eventually leave we want them to do so as friends.”
And another part of the point is to look inward and tend our own souls for as Walter Wink reminds us, "Resistance can take its toll and to avoid being turned into what one is fighting, there needs to be a commitment to doing the inner work necessary to stay spiritually fit.” Because, he says, 'What a wonderfully expansive feeling it is to denounce evil grandly, especially an evil so unequivocal as [something like] apartheid! What a host of oversights and sins are covered by such greasy goodness, how nice we feel about ourselves. In such a mood it is easy to fall into us /them thinking, to forget our own complicity in our past complicity toward the evil we now so tardily (always, it seems, tardily) oppose.'
He says this because he believes that we all have the capacity to be complacent and complicit with these kinds of evils. In talking about the white South Africans who supported the black South Africans, they were still beneficiaries of apartheid in subtle or not subtle ways. In 1950 and 60s America, there were many white liberals that benefited from our version of apartheid that didn’t rush to Dr. King’s side. Wink feels that this potential for evil, or to reflect the darkness of the oppressor, is something that is in all of us. It is something that is difficult to admit but an essential component of resisting the shadow side of systems of powers and privilege. The way he says it is “People who engage in nonviolent protest without at least some awareness of this cesspool of violence within them can actually jeopardize the lives of their compatriots.” I have often thought about this while watching peace rallies turn angry with violent rhetoric, shouting and mob-like behaviors.
Yes, there will always be struggles as we face all kinds of challenges. Of course there are times, when we must face it that the world can be a difficult place with tragic events possible, and part of “the point” is to not get sucked into the polarities so often painted so easily by so many. There are plenty of times that we need to take a stand for the evils sometimes can be too much to bear, but we need to be careful about our own certainty of right and wrong. We are so cut and dried sometimes about our own opinions. We are spoon fed 30 second sound bites that capture very little but superficial sensationalism. Life is so much more nuanced than that and we need to listen more, engage more, take more risks and as I said earlier in the year, be willing to stand together on the edge.
We will fall into cynicism and we certainly deal with bout after bout of realism, but hope calls to us with creative nuance to the possible and if we don’t go there we will never ever know. I think that is absolutely my point of asking, “What is the point?”, if we don’t go there we will never ever know. We have to take the seed, we give it water, we have to give it love. We have to take the dream we have to give it courage and we have to give it love. You have to take this song, this song of hope and love and give it strength and time, please give it the chance of time, “We are not just fighting for our rights, but for the good of the whole society.” There are different strategies for us to transform our conflicts and differences in the world, we so often try what we know, what we are comfortable with, or what has been before and although it seems perhaps naive at times, there is always next year and there is always the possible because each and every year in April it is possible that the Chicago Cubs can end the season in October as World Series Champions.
Please let that be so and Amen