The Joy of Protest – Text


What the heck is going on here? Why are we sitting at tables? Why are there pencils and markers and sheets of poster board? And what’s with all the color?

Today is a day of pulling some threads together – threads that seem unrelated. Yes, I’m about to connect a spring festival, some historical figures, and local events.

Thread – or in this case, braid – one is about a holy day called, well, Holi. Holi (also called Holaka or Phagwa) is an annual festival celebrated on the day after the full moon in the Hindu month of Phalguna (early-to-mid March). It celebrates spring, commemorates various events in Hindu mythology and is time of disregarding social norms and indulging in general merrymaking.

Thread two is made up of a lot of little threads of people inspired by the idea that non-violence is an effective way of protesting things we want to change, and helping make change happen. That thread starts with an ancient Palestinian we know as Jesus, and weaves in generations of non-violent protestors, many of whom we don’t know, but some of whom we do, like Henry David Thoreau, and Susan B. Anthony, and Mahatma Gandhi, and Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and William Barber.

Thread three is about all of the local events that are a response to the times we live in. Over the last few months I’ve preached about our call to fight for justice; we’ve sent people to the Women’s Marches; we’ve engaged our local politicians on issues of immigration and reproductive rights, and we’ve found ways, through our Live/Act/Stand handbook, to put our faith into action. And now we have a list of events, beginning today in Riverhead, where we can put our faith into action.

And that’s what the art supplies are all about: while I continue to share stories and ideas about the joy of protest, I invite you to make a protest sign of your own. You can use one of the slogans I’ve provided on the table, or use one of your own. You may have a particular action in mind – one of the events listed on the flyers, or a different one you know about. You may plan to go yourself or you may give it to someone who’s going to an event. But I encourage you to engage in the art of protest sign making, because there is joy in the creation.



Now I’d like to start connecting our three threads a bit.

As I said, this first thread is about the Hindu festival Holi. While today it’s celebrated with bonfires, spraying colored water all over each other, along with feasting and dancing and general abandon, it does have some ancient roots.

And not surprisingly, as large and diverse as the Hindu culture is, and as many gods and goddesses as they have, it’s not a surprise that there are many legends that may have inspired Holi. The one I like is the legend of Kaamadeva.

According to the legend, Sati, the god Shiva’s consort, was deeply ashamed because her father had utterly disgraced Shiva. She threw herself into a fire, which made Shiva so sad he renounced his worldly duties and went into deep meditation.

This was a problem. Because Shiva was disconnected, there were growing complications in the affairs of the world, and chaos was ensuing. The other gods became concerned, especially Parvati, the daughter of the mountains, who hoped to marry Shiva.

They went to Kaamadeva, the god of love and passion to bring Shiva back to his original self. Kaamadeva knew that this was risky, yet he agreed to shoot Shiva with a love arrow if it would bring Shiva back to the world.

As planned, Kaamadeva shot his love arrow at Shiva while he was in meditation. This made Shiva extremely angry and he opened his third eye – reducing Kaamadeva to ashes in a blaze of color. However, Kaamadeva’s arrow and the burst of color had the desired effect … and Shiva married Parvati.

But more, Shiva returned to the world and, feeling love anew, helped put the world back in order and became the embodiment of love himself.

Thus, at least according to this legend, Holi celebrates the day of Shiva’s reawakening and returning to the world to do that which he was meant to – in love.

So now we have some interesting threads that make up this braid… love, a concern for the world, color.

Now the second thread, as I said, is made up of historical figures. I listed Jesus, Henry David Thoreau, Susan B. Anthony, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and William Barber.

I would also add the American patriots in Boston harbor…

and the women who marched for the right to vote…

and the African Americans who sat at the Greensboro lunch counter…

and the hippies who offered flowers to the National Guard…

and the Wisconsin light brigade who stand on bridges with lighted protest messages…

and Bree Newsome who climbed a pole to remove the confederate flag…

and the graphic designers who project protest messages on the sides of buildings…

and the folks who carried a papier maché golden calf on Wall Street…

and football player Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee…

and the young man who faced off a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square…

and the athletes who raised their fists in the air as they accepted their Olympic medals in Mexico City…

and the women and children who protested at the White House for fair labor laws…

and the native Americans who camped at Standing Rock to protect their sacred land and water…

and the people who wore pink pussy hats and marched in cities and towns around the world.

All of these, and more, engaging the power of non-violence as a way to change the world.

We often associate non-violent resistance with Mahatma Gandhi, and with good reason – not the least of which is that while he got some of his ideas from his Hindu faith, he also learned a lot from the Transcendentalists, in particular the essay “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau.

In turn, Martin Luther King Jr. was influenced by Thoreau, and Gandhi, and others, and beautifully articulated what it means. King writes,

“the nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. ….our aim is not to defeat … not to humiliate … but to win the friendship of all of the persons who had perpetrated this system in the past.

The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. A boycott is never an end within itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption.”

In other words, when we resist through non-violent means, we are saying “we love you and us and all of humanity enough that we will stand in love to make the society we long for – to build that beloved community.”

That’s what signs are for. And marches. And walks across the country or down to the salt marshes. And putting messages out into the world in non-permanent ways, through light or melting ice or removable signs or protest placards.

Which leads to this third thread: local events. As you’ve noticed, there is on each table a list of events happening over the next few months. Most of these are educational or organizational. Some may require more commitment than others…and many may lead to further action.

I know that some here are interested in reproductive rights, and I know there are people on Long Island and the North Fork working to coordinate efforts to protect and affirm women’s health.

Some here are interested in immigrant rights and affirming the sanctuary movement. There are groups on Long Island and a strong movement within the Unitarian Universalist Association to affirm or even become sanctuary congregations – several, including First Universalist in Denver, Colorado, are already helping people.

And there are other issues – the environment, LGBTQ and gender rights, education, religious freedom, and more. The list is infinite, and now is the time.

And, as we have talked about here and in our Live/Act/Stand handbook, we know there are many ways to support these efforts. Sitting together and making protest signs is just one of them. But it matters. If we are to say we are people who affirm and promote justice, equity, world peace, stewardship of the earth, freedom to live and breathe and believe and be, then we must be willing to do something – anything. This is the inextricable consequence of our Universalist faith. We must – we MUST love the hell out of this world.

So now – it’s time to weave these three fairly bulky threads together. On this day when we talk about non-violent resistance, and have opportunities to resist, we get to bring a little order out of chaos, and celebrate the colors that come when we have been through that fire, when we rise up like a phoenix from the ashes, when we turn up the fire of commitment.

We need loving, non-violent, colorful and creative ways to say No More. No more hate, no more fear, no more discrimination, no more oppression, no more power grabs, no more destruction. When we put all these threads together, standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before, seeing the incredible power that love has, knowing that while the moral arc of the universe is long AND STILL bends toward justice, we are putting our faith into action, building bridges instead of walls, building the beloved community, and loving the Hell out of this world.

Now… instead of a time of silence today, I want to invite you into a meditation of color … continue your work on your sign, and as you do, revel in the colors on your sign and around you.

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