These days I’m asking “Now what!?” constantly, and in a certain tone that blends outrage, fear, and embarrassment.
Now what!? When Congressman John Lewis questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency, rightly reminding people that the 2016 election was indeed deeply tainted, and not just by Russian intervention on Trump’s behalf but also the false impression that the F.B.I. gave about Clinton just days before the vote—when this happened, Trump demonstrated once again his terrible instinct to humiliate via a twitter rant saying most of Atlanta is in “horrible shape and falling apart” and describing Georgia’s U.S. Rep. John Lewis — a civil rights icon — as “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”
Now what!? Oxford dictionary editors were inspired by Trump in their choice of word of the year for 2016. It is: “post-truth.”
And it goes on and on….
No wonder the fear, the anxiety, the depression, the horror, the bafflement, the grief, the anger. Millions of protesters yesterday in Washington D.C. and all across the country and all across the world in what amounted to a counterinauguration. “Not my president.” “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter.”
But in contrast to the outrage, fear, and embarrassment of “Now what!?” there is a different way of asking the question. You ask it like this: “Now what?” and the tone is calm and clean and full of resolve. It’s about what happens next, how we will respond.
And my answer to this different kind of “Now what?” is simple. Simply this: to be deeply and authentically ourselves. To be Unitarian Universalist.
Our religious identity is an answer. We are an answer for this time.
History helps us know what this means. Our Living Tradition (with all its twists and transformations) ultimately began—and we must never forget this—with a rabbi two thousand years ago who taught that everyone has inherent worth and dignity and not just some. There’s always been a system of haves and have nots, which bullies of one form or another sustain. But Jesus said no to bullies. Jesus refused to go along. He resisted. He believed everyone is welcome, everyone belongs.
To Rome, the main bully of the time, this vision was punishable by death, and so the great rabbi was crucified. Pontius Pilate thought it would have been enough to crush the spiritual rebels that followed Jesus but it was not to be so. The love of Rabbi Jesus was too powerful to die. Rabbi Jesus died but his spirit was resurrected in the lives of his followers, and they felt this love as a restlessness within them that wouldn’t stop until, as theologian Beldon Lane points out, “it turns all woundedness into health, all deformity into beauty and all embarrassment into laughter.”
Justin Martyr, an early Christians who lived around 70 years after Jesus’ death, gives us a picture of how this love changed people back then. He said, “We who formerly valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possession, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies.”
That’s love at work, incessantly restless. Religion wasn’t so much a matter of what you believed as what you did. To stand up to bullies and say NO. To care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor, the sick. To create communities of love and justice.
And that’s what we have to do today. Just feel the restlessness of a spirit that is larger than ourselves—a spirit we can feel so powerfully when we come together, especially in worship. A spirit people felt while marching—millions marching—people feeling the unity and the resolve. Call that spirit divine and feel ok about it, whatever the skeptical reservations might be, because heart-body-soul healing and spiritual beauty and liberating laughter are about as divine as you can get.
That’s our answer to the times.
What now? Just be ourselves. Just be UU.
Here’s what the optimist says: “Okay, we all realize that the situation is hopeless–temporarily” (Robert Brault).
An optimist is someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s a cha-cha (Robert Brault).
In the long run the pessimist may be proved right, but the optimist has a better time on the trip (Daniel L. Reardon).
The thing about optimism and pessimism is that they’re beliefs about the future, and fact is, we can’t ever really know what the future will bring. Only vague reassurances are possible. As Unitarian Universalist writer Doug Muder says, “Human history shows that things do not go on getting worse forever. Eventually they turn, and the moments when they turn are hardly ever obvious at the time. Even decades later, historians are usually still arguing about them. Right now, we could be closer to a turning point than anyone suspects, or it could still be a long way off. I don’t know.”
Vague. Which is why Doug Muder recommends stronger stuff these days, which he introduces by first talking about pessimism: “Pessimism is going to the plate in the ninth inning when your team is behind, assessing the situation, and concluding that you’re probably going to lose. Despair, on the other hand, would tell you not to bother taking your turn at bat, or if you do step into the batter’s box, to let the pitches go by without swinging, because what’s the point? What difference could it possibly make?” And now he introduces the stronger stuff: hope. “Hope,” he says, “is the opposite of [despair]. Hope is that feeling deep within you that you are alive, and that in this particular time and place, the only thing you need to concern yourself with is what you do next. Hope means refusing to prejudge the situation, it means doing whatever you can think to do and then whatever happens will happen.
Optimism and pessimism both claim to know something, but hope thrives on the unknown. It focuses on those parts of the future that remain undetermined, and it says, ‘Let me see what I can do.’”
This is wonderful. Hope is what we need in this time. What can keep us showing up and showing up and showing up no matter what. Refusing to prejudge. Not needing to know the effects of your actions up front. Just get out there. Just let divine love’s restlessness act through you, and do not cling to results.
I want to invite everyone to consider the Love and Justice Pledge, which I developed as a specific way of showing up to our world these days. Its name comes from something Dr. King once said: “One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
The Love and Justice Pledge is about using our Unitarian Universalist power toward the ends of healing, resistance, and positive change. It staunchly affirms freedom, truth over propaganda, science in the service of humanity, diversity, and liberalism of heart and mind. It is fundamentally an expression of hopefulness and a rejection of despair. It is an expression of divine love’s restlessness.
The Love and Justice Pledge also acknowledges that the work before us is a marathon, not a sprint. That’s why it invites people to do practical things over the course of an entire year. It also acknowledges that we don’t exactly know how things will evolve as the new presidency unfolds and what the particular needs at any given time might be. For this reason, the Pledge incorporates both specific actions as well as more general ones that can be adapted to the concrete needs of the moment.
The Love and Justice Pledge states:
In the coming year of 2017, I pledge to do six things that will truly make America great again:
- AFFIRM TRUTH: I will seek out the truth and speak the truth in a spirit of nonnegotiable civility;
- AFFIRM AWARENESS: I will explore three different kinds of injustice that the new administration wants to reinforce, and, for each kind of injustice, I will engage in at least one action that seeks (in one way or another) to get us back on track;
- AFFIRM DIVERSITY: I will reach out to at least five people who are significantly different from me (in terms of race, class, political affiliation, ability, and so on) in a spirit of curiosity and friendship, to find out about the life experiences that have made them who they are, and to share mine;
- AFFIRM SERVICE: I will get clear about the personal strengths that are uniquely mine, and I will find ways to offer them up in the service of humanity;
- AFFIRM SPIRIT: I will memorize a prayer or poem that grounds my practical actions in a spirituality of love and justice;
- AFFIRM SUSTAINABILITY: I will strive to balance work for peace and justice with enjoyment of the things in life that are good and beautiful.
As Unitarian minister Edward Everett Hale once said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
I, ______, pledge to do these six things as my way of contributing to the ongoing work of love and justice in 2017.
That’s it. I am asking UUCA members and friends to make a pledge to affirm six values in 2017 which exemplify what it means to be Unitarian Universalist in this day and time. There’s so many things we could do, but the Love and Justice Pledge aims to focus energies that are so easily scattered.
If you want to learn more, come join me in my middle hour class for the next two months. We are exploring the theory and practice behind each of the six points of the pledge. Today we look at “truth.”
My personal hope is that the Love and Justice Pledge might help grow our community. It’s a way to let folks know who we are and what’s on our hearts, and for them to join us in the work of divine love that would make Jesus proud.
But, again, we do this fundamentally out of a spirit of hope. That is how we are living these days. We are in a marathon, not a spirit. We don’t know what the future will bring. All we know is that, if we’re at bat, no matter how hopeless it feels, get up there and take your swing. See what happens.
And maybe what happens resonates with what happened to President Obama and the people he loves during their eight-year journey in the White House—he talks about this near the end of his very last speech.
He tells Michelle, “You took on a role you didn’t ask for.” That’s going to happen. Humans plan and God laughs. Some of us—many of us—are going to take on roles we never anticipated. But let us ask WWMD—“What Would Michelle Do”—and make the unexpected roles our own with grace and grit and with style and good humor.
Then President Obama says something about his kids. How they have become two amazing young women “under,” he says, “the strangest circumstances.” And that’s going to keep happening: “the strangest circumstances.” But that doesn’t have to stop us from becoming amazing too.
And then President Obama gets around to that “scrappy kid from Scranton,” Vice-President Joe Biden. He says, “You were the first decision I made as a nominee, and it was the best. Not just because you have been a great vice president, but because in the bargain I gained a brother.”
People, Unitarian Univeralism was born in strange times like this one, and it is an answer to our time now. It calls us to resist evil and to fight for justice. It puts us on a journey, and you better believe, in the bargain we will gain brothers and we will gain sisters and we will gain siblings, and they will be every bit as cool as the scrappy kid from Scranton. We will gain family.
We are family.
A family of faith.
Unitarian Universalists whose oldest memories
embrace Jesus and the disciples and the earliest Christian communities,
and whose latest memories are being forged right now,
as we live and work and strive together,
in the fire of this strange time.