Now What?

Now What?
Rev. Dan Schatz
Unitarian Congregation of West Chester
November 8, 2020

 

So how was your week?

I’ll be honest; mine was pretty tense. I didn’t sleep as much as usual. I had trouble concentrating. I tried limiting my TV news diet, but that didn’t stop me from obsessively checking post election coverage online, and it has been a roller coaster of emotion.

I imagine some of you can identify.

So when I sat down to start writing on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and on into the weekend, I kept coming back to my chosen sermon title. “Now what?” This was what I came up with a month ago – “Now what?” And I thought, “Did I have to be quite so prescient?”

It was worse than that, because when I chose that title, I had forgotten that two years ago I also preached a sermon called “Now What?” – meaning I had to make a new filename for this one on my computer.  Every time I went back to writing, over this crazy, roller coaster week, I opened a file called “Now What 2020?” My wife says that would have been a better sermon title anyway.

Looking for solace I turned, as I often do, to the Tao Te Ching. It’s one of my scriptures of choice, and a good place to go when you’re feeling anxious. I opened the book at random.  It said:

     “The highest good like water.
     Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
     It flows in places people reject and so is like the Tao.

     In dwelling, be close to the land.
     In meditation, go deep in the heart.
     In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
     In speech, be true.
     In ruling, be just.
     In business, be competent.
     In action, watch the timing.”

I sat there wondering how a twenty-five hundred year old Chinese mystic could understand quite so well the needs of a 48 year old Pennsylvania minister in the aftermath of the 2020 elections. It really was just what I needed. It’s pretty good advice for a new President, too.

Like any good scripture, that passage can mean a lot of different things to different people and at different times. “The highest good is like water.” I started out thinking about my personal need to let go of anxiety, take whatever happens as happened, and work from there. Be like water, taking the shape of the space it’s given. That’s pretty much the message I was looking for when I opened the book to begin with.

Then I went deeper, and there it was. “Water flows in places people reject.”

I thought about that. I thought about the places people have rejected. I thought about understanding, forgiveness, respect for human worth. I thought about the way so many people have rejected the human rights of immigrants, and of children, and women, and lgbt folk. I also thought about the way so many people have rejected the real lived experiences of people in Appalachia, and in the deep Midwest, and of people with less education, and of people whose jobs are going away, whose lives are changing, and who are afraid they’re being left behind.

     “The highest good is like water.
     Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
     It flows in places people reject and so is like the Tao.”

I also thought about all the striving so many of us have been doing, and that still we need, because we care, and because these things are important. I thought about immigrant justice, and Black Lives Matter, and lgbt rights, and reproductive rights, and voting rights. I thought about John Lewis and the need for good trouble. I thought about how, in the last four years, many of us have spent more time up at the Chester County Courthouse than anyone without a law degree should have ever have to spend, and we need to keep it up. But the highest good is like water, which flows in the places people reject.

This is a divisive age, and the hurtful rhetoric has come from all sides. Too often we have confused ideas with people, rejecting, belittling, or ridiculing others because of where they live, how they live, what religion they espouse, or who they vote for. It’s an easy trap to fall into, because honestly, some people are out there trolling, intending to provoke that kind of reaction. And when I know that the rights of people I love are in danger, it’s hard to have a civil conversation with those who would eliminate those rights.

But the highest good is like water, which flows in places people reject.

    In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
    In speech, be true. 

We can do both of these things. We can speak truth, and we can be kind even to those with whom we disagree. That’s what allowed John Lewis and Dr. King to accomplish so much – they were moved by a higher love, and never once dismissed the humanity of those who oppressed them. Instead they planned every action to highlight that humanity and bring it into sharp contrast with the inhumanity of racial injustice. We can speak truth boldly and we can be kind, and if we do these things together, maybe we can also begin to bridge some of what divides. If we do these things together, maybe life giving water will begin to flow into the places people have rejected.

Remember five years ago? June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage across the country. In the oral arguments for that case one of the justices said to the plaintiffs, suing for marriage equality that people seemed to be falling all over each other to come to their side.  I remember that. I remember how quickly it seemed to be happening. There was good organizing behind a lot of that, but what really made the difference was that more and more politicians and public figures realized someone they loved was gay or lesbian. It happened over and over. People said it openly: “I’ve changed my mind, because my child is gay and I love my child.” That love was more important to them than their political platforms or their political futures. Love is what flowed into the places people had rejected. Love entered the closed off rooms in so many hearts.

Here’s what I’m not saying. I’m not telling you to go love a Nazi. I’m not saying we should accept or make peace with what is unacceptable, or that people shouldn’t be held accountable for the harm they do. That includes fascism, racism, violence, ecological destruction, and sexism in all its forms. I’m not saying it’s time to just accept all that. I’m not saying you have to forgive it, and I’m not certainly not saying you should forget it. We must never forget what has happened in this country. Nor am I saying we shouldn’t hold people accountable for the harm they do through their actions, including their rhetoric, or that we should back off from the struggle or quiet our voice for justice. I believe the world needs our Unitarian Universalist voice more than ever.

But we can’t go through life despising millions of people. It’s bad for the soul, bad for the heart, and frankly it’s bad for the cause. And I don’t want to live that way. Who would want to live that way?

Here’s what I am saying. Bring love to bear. Bring it to bear. Carry it with you. Let it guide you. Become it. Love, like water, flows into the places people reject and gives life to the ten thousand things. Bring love to bear. I honestly believe, in the depth of my heart, this is what Unitarian Universalism calls us to in this moment.

Bring love to bear.

I’m not talking about affection. I’m not talking about what Dr. King called “emotional bosh.” I’m talking about that fierce and determined love that lifts humanity. I’m talking about what Gandhi called soul force. I’m talking about a love that is sacred and transcends human emotion. If you believe that God is love, think of it that way, and bring the God that is love to bear. If you believe in inherent worth and dignity, think of it that way, and bring it bear.

Bring love to bear.

It’s hard, I know. And it isn’t necessarily fair. Some of us have been hurt, and badly. Some of us have good reason to be angry, and we should be. We can be. But we can be angry and still bring love to bear. I think we have to, because the healing has to begin somewhere. Maybe it shouldn’t be our responsibility. But somebody has to do it, we are here, and this is what we’ve always done.

When the old Universalists preached the gospel of creating heaven on earth, we brought love to bear. When that great Unitarian Francis Ellen Watkins Harper spoke of one great bundle of humanity, even as she suffered from multiple injustices, she brought love to bear. When a reporter asked Rev. William Sinkford, then the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, where we stood on marriage equality, and he said, “We stand on the side of love” – he brought love to bear.

It isn’t easy, I know. The highest ideals seldom are. But I promise you this – it is rewarding for the soul, and in the long run it is the most effective way forward for justice.

So – now what, 2020?  What do we do right now, in the aftermath of this messy election, in the midst of this still rising pandemic, in the stress and loneliness and fear so many of us feel as we come to the holidays? Now what?

This is what I hope you’ll do.  Give love. Work for justice. Be good to the people around you whether they are friends or strangers. Give some love to the people working at the stores, and the people working in the schools, and the people working alongside you. Don’t let the social distance and the mask stop the caring. Bring compassion, even for those you will never understand.

     “In dwelling, be close to the land.
      In meditation, go deep in the heart.
      In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
      In speech, be true.
      In ruling, be just.
      In business, be competent.
      In action, watch the timing.”

And bring love to bear.

 

Holy Love,
Fill us with your balm.

In the anxiety of this time,
the troubles of our lives,
and the division of a nation,
help us find peacefulness,
compassion,
and unity.

As we honor veterans this week,
remind us of the sacrifices
made on our behalf
by those who acted without political agenda,
but with dedication
for the ideals of this country.

As we struggle through the pandemic,
give us compassion for one another
in the fear we all experience,
and help us respond by caring for others
with the precautions we take,
the patience we give,
and the forgiveness we share.

In a time of national transition,
teach us that we are better
than our worst impulses.
Help us to bridge division,
transcend violence,
and overcome hatred.

Be with those who are grieving today,
who are afraid of the coming years,
and also be with those who are celebrating and relieved.
Open all our hearts,
that we may understand one another’s
struggles and joys and fears.

Be with those who are leaving office,
and be with those who will lead us through the next four years,
so that we may have a smooth and peaceful transfer of power.

Holy love,
fill us with your balm,
and guide us,
this night
and onwards.

Amen,
and blessed be.