Sunday December 13, 2015: Politics and Religion


Welcome and Happy Holidays, Happy St. Nicholas Day, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Abolition Day, Bodhi Day (Tuesday), Second Sunday of Advent

Chalice Lighting
~ Kimberly Knight, Minister of Digital Community, Extravagance UCC

No, my prayers will not stop the killing.
No, my prayers will not bring back the innocent.
No, my prayers will not relax the gnarled fist of hatred.
No, my prayers will not open the greedy hearts of those who profit from death.

But, my prayers can gently break the silence of despair.
But, my prayers can channel my rage at the machine.
But, my prayers can embolden me to be the hands and feet of The Divine.
But, my prayers can encourage others of faith to awake, arise and act.

I do not pray for God to send us a miracle.
I pray for God to remind us how to be the miracle.

I am because you are and only together, with a radical belief that a paradigm shift is possible, active hope and faithful resolve to be the change we seek, can we make it stop.

Song: Come, come whoever you are
Wandererer, worshipper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come, yet again come

Principles of Unitarian Universalism:

Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles, which we hold as strong values and moral guides. We live out these Principles within a “living tradition” of wisdom and spirituality, drawn from sources as diverse as science, poetry, scripture, and personal experience.

The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Story: from Elie Wiesel in One Generation After

One of the Just Men came to Sodom, determined to save its inhabitants from sin and punishment. Night and day he walked the streets and markets preaching against greed and theft, falsehood and indifference. In the beginning, people listened and smiled ironically. Then they stopped listening: he no longer even amused them. The killers went on killing, the wise kept silent, as if there were no Just Man in their midst.
One day a child, moved by compassion for the unfortunate preacher, approached him with these words: ‘Poor stranger. You shout, you expend yourself body and soul; don’t you see
that it is hopeless?”
“Yes, I see,” answered the Just Man.
“Then why do you go on?”
“I’ll tell you why. In the beginning, I thought I could change man. Today, I know I cannot. If I still shout today, if I still scream, it is to prevent man from ultimately changing me.”

Offering and Response (Unison)

For the gifts which we have received—and the gifts which we, ourselves, are—may we be truly grateful. Yet more than that, may we be committed to using these gifts to make a difference in the world: to increase love and justice; to decrease hatred and oppression; to expand beloved community; to share, and to keep sharing, as long as ever we can. Amen.

Reading: from the Roman Catholic readings for the Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:76-79
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Reading: from In Times of Hysteria by Doug Muder

“One of the most difficult experiences of democracy is to watch your country going crazy, and feel responsible. In a dictatorship you could just zone out: The Powers That Be will do what they do, and your opinion doesn’t matter anyway. Your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers — their opinions don’t matter either, so there’s no point in arguing with them, or even letting them know you disagree. You might as well just binge-watch something light on TV, and wait for the wave to pass.

In a democracy it’s different: We are the wave. Politicians really do respond to certain kinds of public opinion, sometimes to our shame.”

Sermon: Politics and Religion by Lisa deGruyter

When I began planning this service, and when Doug Muder wrote that blog post, we had just been through the Paris attacks and the backlash over Syrian refugees, and the Planned Parenthood mass shooting, in the midst of a primary election campaign where hate, lies, and even violence, from many candidates and their supporters seem endless. The church shooting in Charleston, continuing incidents of police brutality, the Chattanooga recruiter’s office shooting, Umpqua Community College, had each come up, caused heated rhetoric, and faded away, leaving a fog of bad feeling into which some new horror erupted. And so, as I was putting together this sermon, with a constant stream of bits and pieces of hate and fear, not just from politicians, but from people I know and their friends, yet other horrors erupted. On Monday I knew what I wanted to say; by Friday I didn’t know if I could even do this service.

At one point I attempted to retreat into the 18th century, in my research on the Virginia frontier, but soon came across this:

It was perfectly natural that the people of London and the vicinity should see nothing but a public nuisance, an imposition on their good will and charity, and a menace to their own poor and needy in these refugees, with whom they had nothing in common. Although individuals took them in, fed and clothed them, and the government furnished them with tents and inaugurated public collections throughout the country, the murmurings grew louder. Defoe had a hard time arguing down “his countrymen’s ill-natured suggestions of strange and imaginary mischiefs those poor people would bring them, of which not one tittle was otherwise true than in the prejudices of whimsie and ignorance.” He lectures to them most severely on their greed—”But it is our humor, we will wallow in plenty and let nobody partake of it;” he ridicules their unnatural pride and barbarity which is all the more unfounded since … they were all originally refugees in the shadow of Britain’s wealth and fertility, yet “we will not because we will not have strangers settle among us because we will not.”

It is evident they do not come because their country won’t keep them or the earth supply their families with necessaries—but they are ravaged by enemies, they are the frontier of this bloody war, the French have frequently plundered their country, burned their cities and towns, and almost every year exacted contributions from them, with the utmost rigor. This has improverished them, and made them unable to pay the heavy taxes their own prince exacts—so that between Papism of the enemy and the imposts and exactions of their own sovereign, the poor people have been ruined, their labor devoured, their properties taken from them by violence, and they oppressed and devoured with unsufferable injuries.

“From these distresses they look abroad for an asylum, a place of rest, a land where liberty is established, and property secured; where what their industry has gained the government
will permit them to enjoy; where they may reap what they sow, and eat what they earn—where they may call their souls their own, and may not starve in the midst of plenty.—And this they have been told, is to be obtained in England, above all the nations of the earth.—And to this end they fly hither—this is the true, genuine and only design of their coming.”

That was part of a newspaper article that Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, wrote in the summer of 1709. The refugees in question were from the wars in Germany, most of them were sent on to the colonies, and I am descended from some of them. So it became clear that a) I couldn’t escape into the 18th century and b) these are eternal issues that have to be dealt with, so I got on with it.

Edmund Burke is quoted as saying “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”

Apparently, it was John Stuart Mill who originally said “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

So, here I am, talking about politics, religion, and what we can and I think, must, do.

What Burke actually said is also interesting:

No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

Cricket talked last week about being a tribe, a community for supporting each other – but not just for ourselves, but to “touch our community” and live our principles. We are the good who must associate.

Now, the very first amendment to our Constitution, in what we call our Bill of Rights, separates Church and State. Our government is prohibited from supporting any religion, and churches are prohibited from interfering in government. Not just the Puritans, but the Quakers, the Germans, the French Huguenots, the Swiss Mennonites, the Presbyterians, and many others, perhaps most of our immigrants, were refugees from the imposition of a religion, persecution because of their religion, or death and destruction because of wars in which religion payed a part, much of which was in living memory or still happening. There were already provisions in most of the state constitutions providing for religious freedom, and there were petitions from the people, especially in Virginia.

The control of a government by a church, or a church by a government, is a dangerous thing. But that doesn’t mean we should separate politics and religion. I don’t think we can separate politics and religion. Here’s why:

In our representative democracy, politics is our process of deciding who will represent us in making our laws, our rules for how the polis – the city, state, community, body of citizens – lives together, and the process of letting those representatives know what we think. In a dictionary definition “the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power” or “the activities, actions, and policies that are used to gain and hold power in a government or to influence a government.” So politics is our debating about what is right, and who is best to carry out what is right.

How are we to decide who should represent us and how will we decide what laws they should make, except by whether they will makes laws we think are right? And religion is how we decide what is right. Many dictionary definitions of the word “religion” will say something like “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” That’s a pretty restrictive definition, which would leave out religions like Buddhism, which don’t believe in a God, or even many Christian denominations, who don’t believe in a controlling God, but in free will. Wikipedia, which gives a number of definitions from sociology, anthropology, psychology, and theology, settles on “A religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence.” And I think that is right. By that definition, everyone has a religion, whether it includes a God at all. We all have a collection of beliefs, practices, and world views about existence, the place of ourselves and others in it, and those beliefs govern what we believe is right. Some believe that what is right is written down in a particular text. Unitarian Universalism has as one of its principles “the free and responsible search for truth and meaning” – we test ideas from many sources that claim truth against the results of acting on them, and decide for ourselves.

Democracy, among ourselves and in our wider community is part of our Fifth principle. I think we are called to live that principle, and our others, in the wider community.

I’m not going to talk much about particular issues. We each will have our own take on what is most important. What matters is to think on the issues for ourselves, and to be prepared to speak out. For me, that a Presidential candidate justified the beating of someone who disagreed with “maybe he deserved to be roughed up” symbolized the central issue. The person who was said to deserve beating up that day was black, but Hispanics and Muslims are also being targeted, and there is a lot of judgment and hostility toward all sorts of groups who “don’t deserve this or that.”

Politics and religion are two of the things we are not supposed to talk about in polite society – at social events, at family dinners, on Facebook – there are several memes going around telling people to cut it out – and many people complain that church, including UU churches have gotten “too political.” But where else are we going to talk about how we think life should be lived and our country run?

There are six steps Doug suggests we can take.

“1. Don’t make it worse. In particular, don’t be the guy hysterically running around and yelling at other people not to panic. Sanity begins within. You have to find it in yourself before you can transmit it to other people.”

This first step is essential, for our own well-being, as well as to keep us from being part of the problem. I tend to sink into despair rather than getting hysterical, and I’m a liberal, so instead of imagining Syrian refugees running amok with AK-47s, I was reading all the articles on fascism, seeing the country turning into the Third Reich before my very eyes. Working on this service has made me concentrate on what I can do, and how I can help others.

Doug says “If you need help, seek out other calm voices. The needed attitude is a firm determination to slow this panic down, not a mad urge to turn the mob around and run it in the opposite direction.” For me, Doug’s weekly posts are one of those voices, a few old friends, and a variety of UUs around the country and world. Find a news source that is not hysterical, and if it is on-line, not one that allows comments. You know you won’t be able to resist reading at least some.

“2. Disrupt the spread of rumors. Panics feed on fantasies and rumors. Fantasies tell people that horrible things could happen. Rumors assert that they already are happening.”

Pay attention. You probably already check things out on or by Googling before reposting. Do it before you like something. If something is false or misleading, say so, gently. On social media you can post a link to the facts. Sometimes I’ll send an email with information to someone I”ve had a conversation with.

“3. Make fantasies confront reality. …Sometimes the most devastating response to a nightmare fantasy is the simple question: “How does that work, exactly?” If you can get a person to admit “I don’t know”, you’ve restored a little sanity to the world.

“4. Call out distractions. So if somebody says we shouldn’t be taking in Syrian refugees while there are still homeless children or veterans or whatever in this country, the right response is to ask what they’re currently doing to help the people they say are more deserving.”

Doug is big on asking questions, and it is a great technique. Stating you opposing view is more likely to get you a counter-argument. A question is more likely to get some insight into the other person’s point of view, or make them think. Just figuring out what to ask may help you understand more about heir point of view. Often people don’t know what they are really thinking – I sometimes don’t until I try to explain or write it down or explain

“5. Make sensible points. If you can capture somebody’s attention long enough to make a point of your own, try to teach them something true, rather than just mirror the kind of bile they’re spreading.”

This is something that disturbs me about some of my liberal and UU friends. Remember that just not the oppressed need respect – even those saying evil things do – too often we say awful things about people who say awful things. Every once in a while we will forget inherent worth and dignity, and love, and call names, or put up cruel memes, although I have yet to hear a UU death wish anyone. I’d also like to see more of people’s own thoughts on Facebook, rather than competing memes. If we post someone else’s words, we often don’t really think about what we’re saying.

“6. Look for unlikely allies, and quote them. Listening to Trump, Cruz, and the rest, it’s easy to imagine that everybody in the conservative base is part of the problem. But that’s not true.”

Doug only mentions the candidates, but it is also easy to assume from what we hear in conversation and see on social media. The hate and fear is not from the majority, but the hysterical minority is loud. This week I found that the Southern Baptist Convention went on record condemning abortion clinic violence 20 years ago, and posted it. The National Association of Evangelicals and other evangelical organizations have a coalition to support Syrian refugees, and are sponsoring a national refugee Sunday next week. The Pope issued a wonderful encyclical on climate change, and polls show it has changed Catholics’ minds. He also tied it into economic justice. Read it and quote it to your Catholic climate denier friends and families.

Living our values, speaking up, and voting our conscience does have an effect. Even this week, we have seen signs of change. Police officers are beginning to be fired, tried, and even convicted for corruption and brutality. Don Blankenship was convicted, prosecuted by Booth Goodwin, appointed by the current administration. Texas is accepting Syrian refugees. The Christian Science Monitor coverage featured a picture with protestors including a “Unitarian Universalists for Religious Diversity” sign, and First UU Dallas is hosting a Syrian refugee family. There is a mental health bill in Congress that has apparently has some chance of passing. We have marriage equality. Farther back, many of us remember when there were no strip mine laws, and the West Fork ran orange. We remember when schools and public places were segregrated, and most African Americans couldn’t vote. We remember when you could tell a woman she wasn’t being hired because she was a woman. All of those have happened because people spoke up, not just in protests, but in letters to the editor, letters to their government, and everyday conversations with their friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

I’ll end with two quotes, the first from more of the Bible readings for this Sunday in Advent:

Philippians 1:9 -10
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best…

and the second from Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Joys and Sorrows

If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it; or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.
For the joys and sorrows that haven’t been spoken, but which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts.
These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.

Silent Meditation

Song: Go Now In Peace

Closing: The Work Continues by Martha Kirby Capo

Our time together is finished, but our work is not yet done:
May our spirits be renewed and our purpose resolved
As we meet the challenges of the week to come.
The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.
Go now in peace.