A Time for All Ages
“The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen
“What to Tell the Children” by Rachel Kahn
The title of this service, “What’s Next,” is, not surprising to anyone who’s been listening to me, a reference from the tv series The West Wing. “What’s next” is often said by President Bartlet to indicate one moment’s over and he’s ready – if not eager – to move on. Sometimes the president that Martin Sheen portrayed said “what’s next” because something big needed attention, not the knucklehead stuff that sucks up a day. Sometimes “what’s next” was aspirational, knowing that the next day is the best day. But sometimes, ‘what’s next’ was is an effort to avoid wading into the thick of it – passing the controversy off or just not addressing it head on. As the press secretary notes in one episode, what happens next “depends who shows up. If it’s Uncle Fluffy, we’ve got problems. If the President shows up, I think it’ll be a sight to see.”
Now often when I preach, I show you my conciliatory side, and I have spent a lot of time in this pulpit preaching about healing and spiritual growth, community and covenant, kindness and generosity. And sometimes you might think I avoid the big issues and that I am Uncle Fluffy. But other times, you know I mean business. Today, as the reading suggests, you’re not getting Uncle Fluffy.
And that’s because I tapped into something I forgot existed in me: righteous anger.
Next week, the Reverend Kimberly Quinn Johnson will be talking more about creative uses of anger and why it’s important – and I hope you will listen to her sage words. But I can’t not talk about anger this week, because it is anger that sits at the heart of what must come next. Now I am not as comfortable as I’d like to be with anger – it’s easier for me to turn inward and be depressed. But righteous anger demands attention and motivates anger. Peter Finch in the film Network did not shout “I’m mad as hell and I’m just gonna sit here and fume quietly for a while and let you keep doing terrible things.” No, he climbed up on the desk and shouted “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” and was propelled into action. This kind of anger is righteous. Righteous anger turned inward is resignation; righteous anger turned outward is resistance.
And that’s what these times call for: resistance.
I’m not gonna lie – I’m scared too. I’m angry and scared, and I don’t like to think about what’s ahead for our security and our freedom. I worry about your health care and mine. I worry about the safety of women and children and minorities. I am scared that the calls to end political correctness are normalized acts of disrespect. I worry more globally about economic, political, and climate disasters. I am scared that lies will be normalized in an Orwellian doublespeak. I am scared that the voices willing to point out that the emperor has no clothes will be permanently silenced.
I know some will say I’m borrowing trouble, or that we need to wait and see what will happen. Sadly, we’re already seeing what could happen based on who’s being appointed and nominated to key positions sworn to protect the environment, health, education, the country itself – nominees who want to destroy those very things they would be called to protect. Within hours of the inauguration, the White House website was scrubbed of any mention of LGBTQ rights, climate justice, health care, and civil rights. It’s a topsy-turvy world, and no, I don’t think I’m borrowing trouble when I say the immediate future looks grim.
But this isn’t just about politics. This is about values and principles – which are what our form of government is based on, and what we as Unitarian Universalists have in abundance, and which we quote to one another frequently. But again, this isn’t an Uncle Fluffy, ‘gee, aren’t our principles nice’ sermon. No, I am mad as hell that people who are now in power are threatening the very principles we live by, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!
You see, when someone demeans women, Muslims, Mexicans, people with disabilities – I see a threat to the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
When someone seeks judges who will overturn civil rights legislation and weaken libel laws – I see a threat to justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
When someone wants to preference one religious group over another and demand adherence for religious doctrine over civil laws – I see a threat to the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
When voting rights are limited, and gerrymandering ‘fixes’ elections, and a broken system is abused – I see a threat to the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process.
When the way to win power and prestige is to pit person against person, group against group, country against country – I see a threat to the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
When those in power flatly deny climate change and indigenous people’s rights to clean water and air – I see a threat to the very planet we live on and the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
And that’s why I am scared and angry. The very things we say we affirm and promote are being denied and undermined and threatened. But I don’t want to just sit and fume. I want to do something. Yesterday, my fear and anger accompanied me to the Women’s March.
I was one of four hundred thousand in New York City, supporting two million more in big cities and small towns across the nation and the world – including 30 in Antarctica, all supporting the estimated 1.2 million more marching in Washington DC. Over three million people marched yesterday. I was only one, but I was one. I felt called to march as soon as I heard about the march, because I knew I needed to do something, to say these basic human principles must be affirmed.
I am glad I was able to go – I am young enough to walk and stand and shout, although after nearly five hours, we were exhausted. But wow, what an experience. Liz Morrison accompanied me into the city, where the train from Ronkonkoma was filled with pink hats and creative signs, and even Jennifer Eager from the Jamesport congregation.
We then joined Starr Austin, our Religious Education consultant, and her daughter… and we then joined the Reverend Sarah Lenzi from the UU Congregation of the Hudson Valley, along with some of her congregants. And we set out on amongst what would prove to be an amazing, righteously angry, determined, loving, open, welcoming, and really creative crowd. There were chants – this is what democracy looks like… black lives matter… women’s rights are equal rights… and a clear favorite from all the marches, “we want a leader, not a creepy tweeter.”
There was a sea of pink hats, and sails made of signs proclaiming “this country is just going to get browner and queerer” … “lets form a more perfect union” … “love is love”… “facts are cool”… men carrying signs saying “this is what a feminist looks like” and “real men get consent”… an occasional Standing on the Side of Love sign from other UUs from other congregations around the region… slogans supporting climate justice and reproductive rights, lots of calls for accountability from our government, and funny signs that often used not-safe-for-the-pulpit humor.
It cheered me to see such an intersectional crowd – people of all ages, all genders, all colors, all abilities – all cheering each other on, all talking nonstop about why they were marching, what we were seeing, how important this felt and how clear it was it’s just a first step. There was laughter and joy, people sharing drinks and snacks and stories. Sarah and I got thumbs up and appreciative smiles from those who saw our clergy collars, and we got choked up seeing the elderly woman using a walker with a sign “I’m marching for my great-granddaughter.”
And what I realized in the midst of the march, with my hip beginning to ache and my feet distinctly annoyed at the hours on asphalt, is that these throngs of people were not going to go home, hang up their pink hats, and forget to do anything else. These people – and I – understood that this was just the start. This was the kick off for the action we are called to. But if anything, the march set the tone – it told us we are not alone, that resistance may be fueled by fear and anger, but that it can be joyful, and funny, and kind, and creative – and that it should be. It must be.
Yes, I’m still scared and angry, even after this amazing experience that I shared with three million of my closest friends… but now the question is what’s next? What do we do now? For many of you, your days on the front line are long since over. But there is so much you can do:
You can contribute to an organization or two you care about — be it Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Girls Code, the ACLU, the National Women’s Law Center, NARAL, Girls Write Now, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Purple Purse, or others. These groups – with boots already on the ground and infrastructure in place, need support. Every dollar helps.
You can set your calendars to remind you to vote – in local elections, at the midterms. And you can learn more about the women who are already stepping up to run for office because they aren’t gonna take it anymore either.
You can call your local representatives regularly to speak for our principles and against attacks on our rights.
You can always learn more – read books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, or Bryan Stephenson’s Just Mercy, or William Barber’s The Third Reconstruction.
You can speak up when you hear bullying or derisive language – and let those being harassed that you are a safe, supportive person.
You MUST take care of yourself – both your mental and physical health. Eat good meals, take your meds, follow doctors’ orders. Talk to someone when you get sad or fearful – a friend, a partner, a therapist, a minister. Take breaks from the madness and dive into some joyful diversions – good food, good shows, games, crafts, comedy, satire. Remember to laugh, and always remember to sing.
Because the truth is this: the moral arc of the universe does bend toward justice, but it is really, really long. It can be tiring. But we have to keep singing – our values, our principles, our righteous anger. Not only because it will speak our truths, but it will feed our souls.
And it starts here, with you and me. We need to be present with one another in this, call each other out and call each other in. We need to support each other and be accountable to each other as we take our steps toward justice. We can’t be nice in acquiescence to what’s right. We can’t, as our opening hymn suggests, let anything evil cross this door. As the Reverend Rosemary Bray McNatt writes,
“We can read Thoreau and Emerson to one another, quote Rilke and Alice Walker and Howard Thurman, and think good and noble thoughts about ourselves. But if we cannot bring justice into the small circle of our own individual lives, we cannot hope to bring justice to the world. And if we do not bring justice to the world, none of us is safe and none of us will survive. Nothing that Unitarian Universalists need to do is more important than making racial justice real—here, where we are.”
We have to do this, here and now. We can’t stay stuck in petty arguments and distracting conflicts. We need to tap out of the things that distract us from what our faith demands of us.
This summer, the Reverend Nancy MacDonald Ladd preached the Sunday morning sermon at General Assembly. In her sermon, she lamented the “fake fights we waste our time on,” as others struggle against injustice. Instead, she longs for Unitarian Universalists to be focused on “real struggles and real battles” and not “confined by the smallness of our loving.” She said,
“The world does not need another place where like-minded liberals hang out and fight about who is in charge. … we need to lean into the real fights of our age. … And we cannot do that holy work together unless we are really willing to set aside our own need to win and reach out our hands and seek the deeper understanding that comes with difference.”
This is a time to reengage with what matters, what our faith calls us to. This is a time for strong words and rebellious thoughts and bold, beautiful, creative acts of resistance.
This is a time to be mad as hell and not want to take it anymore. It’s time.
This is a time for all of us to remember the thousands of exemplars over the years and decades and centuries, fighting for justice. This is a time to learn from their examples and become the exemplars of our age.
This is a time to be the people we have been waiting for.
This is a time to figure out what you, and you, and you will do to help resist hate and fear and discrimination and violence.
This is a time for courage, even a drop or two as we make our way in this uncertain world.
This is a time for American heroes – and we reach for the stars.
It’s time. So now I ask you: What’s next?
Meditation in Words
“Revenge” by Elisa Chavez
“Blessing of Hope” by Jan Richardson