This is the blog of the minister of Tapestry Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Mission Viejo CA. Please note that sermons seen here were created primarily for preaching, not reading and they remain unedited. For more information about the church, please visit www.tapestryuu.org. Most importantly, this Blog exists to create conversation. Please comment on what you see here, or what you think is missing.
There are many reminders of this
season. The carols, the Christmas trees, the cookies. And there are the folks
collecting money outside of shops with their little red bucket and bell.
The UU minister, Karen Solveing
Anderson tells a story about her fondness for these Christmas bells and the
ritual of collecting money for charity during the holidays. For years and years
as a child, these bell ringers reminded her of Christmas time. And she got
great pleasure tossing money into the bucket. Later as an adult she grew to
appreciate the opportunity to practice generosity, sometimes several times a
One year, she decided to join the fun,
not just in giving her money, but giving of her time. She signed up with a
charity to stand outside the local shopping mall and collect money for a few
shifts. She was terribly excited to participate in this quintessential
Christmas experience. For her first shift, she showed up at the mall and got
some very discouraging news.
Just before she arrived, the manager of
the shopping mall had decided that the ringing of that Christmas bell was just
too noisy. It was disturbing the people eating lunch at the restaurant nearby.
The volunteers could stand there with their bucket and kindly ask for
donations, but the bell ringing would have to stop.
So in place of that classic Christmas
bell, the volunteers were given a cardboard sign. On one side was written
“ding,” and the other side read “dong.” In place of the charming childhood
fascination of bell ringing and coin collecting, Karen found herself waving a
sign that said “ding-dong” while passers by mostly ignored her.
For four hours she flipped the sign in
despair. Finally, ten minutes before the shift was up, she noticed a guy in
black cowboy boots coming toward her. He chuckled at first, but by the time he
arrived, he was bent over in full hysterical laughter. Not sure what this was
all about, she flipped her Ding Dong sign with increased vigor. She was ready
to kick him in the shins for the rudeness, until he said “I must say, I’ve
never seen a sign like that before. Anybody that stands with a sign that says
‘Ding-Dong’ must be duly rewarded.” And handed her a crisp fifty-dollar bill.
That encounter changed everything. It
wasn’t the $50 bill that mattered so much, as the realization that her
willingness to go out on a limb made someone really laugh.
She says, “I now felt strangely in awe
of my DING-DONG sign. I was unabashedly proud that I was stupid enough to stand
in a mall tenaciously flipping a sign, waiting for humor and generosity to
awaken someone’s humdrum spirit. Waiting for it to finally dawn on me that my
gifts of generosity and time needed to lose their pretenses in order for any
true generosity to occur.”
Karen found that her pretenses, her
preconceived ideas of how the holidays should be celebrated, got in the way of
her enjoyment of the potential of this year’s holiday. She found that the
moment not living up to her childhood dreams somehow ruined it, until she was
able to let go. Let go of that particular vision of how things should be, and
make the best of what is in this moment.
For lots of us, the holidays don’t live
up to anyone’s notion of what they should
be. The song says it clearly. It’s the “hap-happiest season of all.” But the
honest truth is, Christmas is much more complicated than that. The truth is, in
the midst of the tinsel and the cookies, there is often pain involved in the
holidays. It’s the pain of being away from family, the pain of being reminded
of those who have died. It’s also a pain of confronting financial struggles.
For me, for most people I think,
Christmas is a bittersweet holiday, a mix of genuine good times, and a sizeable
helping of disappointment. That’s what I love about the poem that I read just a
moment ago from Edward Frost. He writes
suspect that the Christmas Spirit is Memory--
Personal, yet universal,
Shared collections of shards of other days
Pieced together in this season by common consent, …
sing together at Christmas,
I and all my children.
And so it is. At this time of year, when
memories flood our mind, layer upon layer of emotion and experience creates a
tapestry of the present moment. We become all our children, as all the
experiences of Christmases past sit with us still, all the joy and the
disappointment sing with us as we celebrate another year, Christmas 2012.
poem reminds me of something I know I’ve shared with you at least a few times.
It’s the story of one of my very few prized possessions. It’s a chalice that
was made for me to commemorate my ordination.
This chalice is not a chalice of our
Unitarian Universalist tradition, at least it wasn’t originally. I have certainly
turned it into a Unitarian Universalist chalice in my own mind. This broken and
whole chalice is originally comes from a Christian community, where they use
one like this every week to serve communion.
That church is called Community of
Hope. It started in the late 90s as a mission to care for people living with
AIDS. A very dedicated minister, a hero of mine actually, along with five other
families, some gay and some straight, began to worship together.
Their mission was to serve those most
marginalized by society. They fed the homeless regularly. They taught GED
courses to inmates. They traveled to Guatemala to help build houses. They
provided housing for low-income families. And they dove into the HIV/AIDS
crises, head on. At one point, this tiny congregation conducted an average of
two funerals a month for people who died of AIDS.
They knew deeply the reality of
brokenness in the world, but they also knew that in the midst of that
brokenness, each person who walked through their doors, each person that they
served was whole and holy. At their very first worship service together, the
chalice like this one became their primary symbol, a chalice that is both
broken and whole.
And that chalice has become a powerful
symbol of my own life and theology. You will see it sitting in my office. It’s
the way that I understand the complexity of our lives. Every person has
inherent worth and dignity; every soul is sacred and worthy. But it is also
true that every person, in some area of their life is broken with feelings of
hurt, anger, loss, disabilities, addictions or a slew of other challenges. We
are both broken and whole, throughout our lives. We are broken and whole at the
It is a paradox,
two different realities, existing at the same time. Neither one more important
or more true, both broken and whole. That paradox is never more apparent than
the holiday season, when our expectations meet reality, and the layers of
holiday memory pile one on top of the other. The delighted memories of childhood,
the painful reminder of separations, and expectations for this year, whether
good or not so good.
Rather than continuing on about
theology in the abstract, I want to take a quick poll of us gathered here.
many of us are geographically separated from an immediate family member this
many of you are reminded this time of year of loved ones who have died?
how many of you think Christmas is simple?
There you have it, Christmas is
complicated. And if you feel like it is, you are not alone. I think more than
anything, today I want you to hear that you are not alone. You don’t have to
pretend that this is the hap-happiest season of all if you don’t feel like it
you are struggling, if you are facing difficult memories or feelings of
inadequacy, talk to someone close to you who understands. There’s a very good
chance that they already know you are having a hard time, and they probably
want to understand why. And if that’s not possible to bring it up with a friend
of family member, you can always talk to me. I won’t promise to take your pain
away. Your friends and family can’t do that either. But what we can do is help
you do not feel alone in it.
unfortunate truth is there is no substitution for the relationship you are
missing. Whether you are separated by distance or by death, there is no
substitute for another human being that you care about. If there were, we could
go to the shopping mall or a football stadium and feel like we were surrounded
by friends. But, relationships are unique, and that is what is special about
them. There is no replacement.
But, that doesn’t mean that other
people can’t bring new joy into your life. When we feel down, there is a slough
of different ways of dealing with it. One very legitimate way of dealing with
those Blue Christmas feelings is to find some distraction. In the Sound Of
Music, as Maria sings “I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t
feel so bad.” Believe it or not, there’s some very good advice there. Of course
you can’t bury negative feelings, but you also can’t wallow in them either. At the very least spending time with
other people this season is a distraction from what troubles you.
But more than that, going to a party,
getting coffee with a friend, putting up some decorations, whatever the
activity is, it is a starting place to opening yourself for new joy. That’s the
great thing about being alive, we can still honor the truths of Christmas past,
and open our hearts to new joys of this year, this moment.
In the darkest of times, we look to
find hope somewhere. That’s what this whole season is about, in these shortest
days of the year celebrating some sense of hope. For Christians that comes in
the story of Jesus, for Pagans it comes with the turning of the year and the
return of the sun.
Sometimes in our darkest times, we have
the energy to go out of our way and find some hope in the world. We can choose
hope, and cease it. But sometimes even making that choice is too much work.
Sometimes we need the blessing of hope to come to us, like a newborn child,
like the return of the sunlight. Today we are trying to bring some hope and
healing to you, in this dark time of year.
This morning we are going to do
something very different. As we
sing our meditation song, the three of us will be offering a personal healing
blessing. We will offer a short blessing of healing and hope for you in this
challenging time of year. Of course if you are not comfortable with that, or if
you simply don’t feel like you need that kind of support right now, please stay
in your seat, and keep singing our meditation song. It is #1021 in your hymnals
and the words will also be on the screen
As I said, this is something new for
all of us. I think it’s worth a little chaos to offer some hope to those in
Courageous love will transform the world. That’s what we
believe as Unitarian Universalists. We believe that the thing, the only thing
that will bring real and lasting change to our world is the compassionate
hearts of brave women and men. As we heard in our reading earlier, to have
peace between the nations, we must cultivate peace in our relationships, peace
in our families, and peace in our own
It’s not a small endeavor. That’s the “courageous” part of
what we believe. Courageous love will transform the world. And that
transformation begins within.
How many of you are familiar
with the name Utah Phillips? I was sure our senior rabble-rousers would know
who he was. Phillips was a major activist and folk singer. He died in 2008. I
want to tell you one of the stories he tells about becoming so convicted about
his stance on non-violence.
He says that one time he was on the road as a folk singer
and took his teenage son along with him. During one of the long drives, his son
asked, “How did you get like that.” I love this question from a teenager to a
parent. “How did you get like that?” In
the case of Utah Phillips, the question was a little more obvious. He was
asking, how did you get so invested in a counter cultural identity.
So Phillips thought for a few hours and realized that it
started, he started to “be like that” when he was serving in the Korean war. He
remembers serving there next to the Imjin River. He knew that 75,000 Chinese
were on the other side of that river and they didn’t want him there. Most of
the Koreans didn’t want him there, and he wasn’t so sure he should be there
himself. There next to the river, the clothes began to literally rot off of his
body, and every exotic mold you could think of was growing on him or in his
clothes. His army boots had holes in them from the rot.
He noticed that the Chinese soldiers would often swim and
bathe in that river that they were stationed by. He wanted nothing more than to
clean up in the river, to get the feel of rot and death off of him. But the American
troops were restricted from going in. He didn’t know why that was, until a
young Korean man who knew enough English could explain it.
You see in Korean culture, when a young couple gets married,
the move in with their elders. But now with the war in Korea, with the waste
and devastation, there is nothing growing and no food to eat. So, after when
the first baby is born into one of these families, the eldest goes with a
blanket and a jug of water to sit on the banks of the river and wait to
die. They role down into the river and get
carried out to the sea. He said “We don’t want you swimming in it because our
elders are flouting out to sea.”
Phillips says, that’s when it began to crumble and he began
to run away. He wasn’t just running away from the war, he was “running away
from the blueprint for self destruction he had been handed as a man.”
He also ran away from the war to hide in Seoul, at a place
called the Korea House. There, Korean citizens would take in GIs to teach them
about the real Korean culture. While he was hiding out with them, he went one
rainy stormy night to a concert at the Korean Student’s Association. There was
a giant auditorium with big holes in the roof where it had been hit with mortar
shells. And the light on the stage were powered by car batteries. The performer
that night was the great Black operatic soprano, Marian Anderson. She had been
touring in Japan and came over to Korea to sing. As Phillips watcher her sing
“Oh Freedom” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” through the rain, he
remembered having encountered her years before as a child.
In Salt Lake City, his father had owned a small theater.
They brought Marian Anderson to town to sing in 1948. Phillips was with his
father as the picked her up at the train station and took her to the best hotel
in town. Because she was black, she was rejected from staying at that hotel. As
a child he watched her humiliation and his father’s humiliation.
He remembered this childhood experience as he watched the
same woman singing in a bombed out auditorium for the Korean Student
Association. And he says, “Right then I realized that it was all wrong, that it
ALL had to change and that change had to start with me.”
Have you had a moment like
that, when you knew deep down that the world needs to change? I think many of
us in this room have had moments of realizing that our lives are intertwined
with a system of political, economic and racial violence. Utah Phillips tells
the story of when that truth opened up to him and how he had to respond. He
knew then that it ALL had to change and that the change had to start from the
Phillips knew, and I think we all know, that violence
spreads like a virus. It’s not an isolated act, word, or feeling. It’s a
something that by its very nature is contagious.
In seminary I learned a great deal about the violence of
colonialism. Between the 1500s and 1900s, great European countries, and later
the United States, built their economies by overtaking less powerful nations
around the world. It’s the story of wealth and empire. The piece of that story
that doesn’t get told is that that violence and oppression comes home to roost.
The academic term for it is isomorphic oppression. It basically means that, in
the process of dominating another society, the dominator changes itself,
becomes more controlling and narrow in focus. Of course it imposes that control
abroad, as it subjugates another nation. But it also imposes those same values
of dominance and control at home. The quick and easy example that comes to mind
is Victorian England. As the country amassed great wealth by exploiting native
peoples around the globe, at home it put children to work in factories, and
fiercely controlled its women while poverty and prostitution rose to unthinkable
When a country inflicts violence abroad, it will increase
the oppression and control that exist within it’s own boarders. The examples of
this are endless. We know that violence, like love, is infectious. It lives and
dies through relationships between countries and people. And one piece of
violence, unless it is stopped, will result in other pieces of violence
We know about the web of violence. But somehow, we manage to
not see ourselves as a part of it. It’s those people doing this that and the
other that makes those other people perpetrate more violence. There are several
versions of the blaming game. The classic example that comes to my mind is the
idea that the violent video games that teenagers sometime play are what have
caused the increase in school shootings over the past couple of decades. This
simple equation is stated as if the companies making these games didn’t make
tremendous profit, or as if the teenagers buying them weren’t watching these
exact same types of violence on the nightly news.
And as we play the blame game with violence, I also hear
that there is too much violence in the media. Both entertainment and news media
are replete with graphic images and stories of death. But, media is a consumer
industry; it is a business. Newspapers will print the stories that will make
their readers buy their papers, and television programs will show the kind of
stories that increase their ratings. Neither the entertainment industry nor the
news industry creates violence. Rather they offer up language and images that
their customers are hungry for.
If we take violence seriously, it becomes clear that the
nature of it is not a simple action that some people take, or a simple cause
and affect scenario. It is in fact a whole interconnected web of cause and effect.
It is the whole social environment that WE live and breathe in. Like Utah Phillips
came to realize, it ALL has to change, and that change has to start with the
We may not be able to dictate which video games thirteen
year olds play, or how many images of dead bodies show up on the news. But we
can control the words that come out of our mouth, and eventually, with enough
practice we can begin to control our internal orientation toward violence or
The key to that concept is,
“with practice.” Addressing the violence that pervades our daily lives is a
tremendous, life-long endeavor. Utah Phillips likens it to ridding yourself of
booze. To start the project, you have to stop blaming other people, sit in a
circle with some others who are committed like you, and say, “I have a problem.
I am addicted to violence.” And then, slowly, day-by-day, we can begin to be
aware of how violence exists in our daily lives.
I’m sure you have heard of having a basket-ball practice, or
a choir practice. Some artists call their working time a practice, and yoga
folks call their collected yoga work outs, their practice. Just like training
our physical bodies or our artistic abilities, we can also practice a peaceful
orientation in the world. At first practice means doing something that is
challenging and new. But eventually through repetition and mindfulness, those
things that were once new and challenging become habit. And that is part of the
religious journey. It’s actually the part of the religious journey that counts,
cultivating habits and a lifestyle that embrace compassion rather than
It sounds very abstract, this practicing for peace. But
there are some very specific practices worth mentioning. Actually there are a huge
number of them, but I’ll describe a few.
The first practice is more about what we let into our
consciousness than what we put out into the world. As I was getting at earlier
with the media, our lives are steeped in images of physical violence. From the
films we see to the news media we watch, even the stories in the newspaper are
filled with stories of aggression. And American humor often revolves around
making fun of another person. My suggestion isn’t to attempt to unplug from all
of that, not yet. Rather simply try to be aware of how much violence you are
presented with in your daily life. Be aware that hearing and seeing it affects
you. And hold onto an awareness that there are other stories and other ways of
being in the world. Practice being aware of what you are exposed to.
Another great practice to cultivate a quiet heart is simple
meditation. I know that word sounds very heavy, but it doesn’t need to.
Meditation really just means taking a moment to intentionally focus your mind. The
type of meditation that I practice is about clearing your mind. The goal of
this meditation is to slow down your busy brain, to let it come to a quiet
stillness. It’s harder than it sounds actually. But once your mind is quiet,
you can become more aware of the thoughts and feelings in a deeper way. You can
become aware when and if your reaction to something is negative or
compassionate. You can become aware of what situations make you feel
aggressive. And through this awareness you can better regulate the way your
emotionally respond to your environment. And you begin to control the choice of
responding with compassion or with aggression.
I know a handful of our members find the Buddhist meditation
practice called Metta to be helpful. It also is a practice to steer our hearts
toward compassion. We did a version of
it in our sung meditation just a minute ago. You start by feeling your own
experiences of suffering in the world. Knowing they are unpleasant, you feel
compassion for yourself. Then reaching out, you see the suffering of those you
love. Knowing that their suffering is unpleasant and not a choice, you feel
compassion for them. Then more broadly, reaching out with your heart, perhaps
to strangers, or to people you particularly have problems with. Recognizing
that they too have suffering in their lives, you offer compassion, knowing that
no one chooses to suffer. It’s a tremendously helpful spiritual discipline in
Like I said, there are a great many different practices you
can take on, to tune your heart and mind away from violence and toward
compassion. But practice only works if you do it. I’m not talking about
thinking about the theory behind it, or reading about it. There is enough
reading on non-violence to make you blind. But theory doesn’t get you anywhere
if you don’t practice.
I started and I want to end with our Unitarian Universalist
conviction that courageous love will transform the world. Mind you, courage is
not, not being afraid. Courage is doing your best to confront a challenge.
Courage is doing what needs to be done, even if it means letting go of some of
your power, letting go of assumption and fears that you have depended on for
security. Courage is opening yourself to the possibility of change. As we courageously
endeavor to change our own hears, may we take on the great task of changing the
world that is so in need of our love.
Our theme for worship in the
month of December is Peace. It is a fitting topic for the Christmas season I
I want to start this discussion of peace in what may seem
like an odd place. The journey toward peace, I believe starts with the Golden
Rule that we were discussing earlier with the kids. Do unto others, as you
would have them do unto you. Now I’m not talking about revenge or payback. The
Golden Rule is just the best example of a basic understanding of fairness and justice.
We usually talk about forgiveness, patience, understanding,
and love when we the topic of peace comes up, especially in Unitarian
Universalist circles. But I wanted to start with the golden rule to put us on a
common foundation of fairness in our dealings with one another.
Children learn about fairness from a very early age. Often
to the chagrin of their parents, they begin to realize that rules should be
consistent. What applies to one person, should apply to all people. Usually as
children, a sense of fairness is cultivated in defense of our own wants and
needs, whether it is who gets to play with what toy, or what the bedtime is
that night. Kids want life to be fair; they want all the rights and goodies
that they are entitled to. But eventually, our sense of fairness expands beyond
a defense of our own needs and desires, to a common understanding. We grow to
realize that each person, regardless of his or her stature or position, should
be treated with the same over arching rules and privileges that we each enjoy.
It sounds terribly simple, fairness and the golden rule. But
I wanted to bring children into the conversation for a particular reason. Their
inclination toward fairness is a good sign that we are hard wired to seek out a
social organization that treats people in a stable, predictable, and equitable
manner. It’s part of who we are as social animals. Whether that message comes
through religious, moral, or political voices it is a core of our social
organizing. Speaking in broadest terms, fairness is after all the goal of
Democracy… and Socialism… and Communism. Though they take radically different
paths to get there, the end goal of each of these systems of government is a
fair society, in which everyone gets what he or she is entitled to.
We have an innate drive to cultivate fairness within our
human community. How then, could we assume that a peaceful relationship could grow
between two nations, or two individuals, if the very basic issue of fairness
has not been addressed? How could we possibly achieve peace without first
addressing the issue of justice.
As far as I can see, we are hardwired to seek out and create
a fair world. Yet so much of the dialog about peacemaking ignores this basic
component of the human experience. There are two equally oversimplified
understandings of peacemaking. Both of them ignore our basic human need for
From one side, we have peacemaking through force. This is a strange
assumption that it is possible to bomb or starve a community into submission.
Throughout history, around the world great nations are guilty of making this assumption.
It’s the assumption that enemies can be subdued and peace created through
force. I’m ashamed to say that this is often the mistaken strategy that our own
country takes. Even though we see time and again that the aftermath is
resentment, depravation, corruption, and more bloodshed. Subduing an opponent
by force does not create peace. It creates a time-bomb of frustration.
But then, on the other side of the peacemaking dialog, we
encounter an equally misguided dismissal of the importance of fairness in human
hearts. This is the perspective that peace is only about forgiveness and
letting go. It’s the perspective that if we could all just agree to get along,
the world would be all right. This is the perspective of many Unitarian
Universalists. It’s a very warming picture, but where do we compensate for
fairness when we talk about letting go and moving on? How do we hold onto our
conviction that people are created equal and should be treated in equal manner?
How do we honor decades, even centuries of oppression in a conversation of
There has to be some accounting the scales of justice. We
see that in our own country and around the world, people have made great
strides toward equality through non-violent means. But what I want to point out
is that even in those non-violent movements, a great struggle has been
undertaken. Confrontation is made head on, and an appeal to fairness, not
forgiveness, is put front and center.
It sounds strange, but peaceful resistance hinges on the
power of suffering. Both Mahatma Gandhi
and Rev. Martin Luther King thought and wrote about it.The primary tactic of non-violent resistance is to voluntarily undergo
suffering, to such an extent that your adversary is forced to see the injustice
being perpetrated. Real non-violent action is terribly hard work. Gandhi
realized that stable human relationship, peaceful relationship, depends on a
mutual recognition of what is fair. It requires deep sacrifice to melt the
heart of the adversary and appeal to his innate sense of fairness. This sort of
peace building is founded on suffering and sacrifice, not just forgiveness and
Lasting peace requires justice. Neither forced submission of
an opponent, nor empty appeals to forgive and forget provide the foundation for
peace. The real work for peace rests in working for justice. It is not simple,
it is actually quite complex and messy business, peace.
With Christmas right around the corner, we are going to hear
a good number of different names attributed to Jesus. The one that I can’t
resist touching on today is the idea of Jesus as the Prince of Peace. It’s
quite a flattering name, though it probably doesn’t jive with the way many of us
understand the life and teachings of that man. You see there are so many
different stories about Jesus, stories of what he taught, how he lived, and
what his life means, that it’s difficult, even impossible to pick out one
singular message that he embodies.
What happens much more often, is that we attach ourselves to
the stories of his life and the meaning of his death, that we find resonate
most strongly with our own lives. What we believe about Jesus says more about
our own lives and our own convictions that it does about the wandering Jewish
teacher who lived 2000 years ago.
As UUs, those of us who do celebrate Jesus, remember him as
a radical reformer. He was an out there, in your face, challenging, radical
teacher. He flipped over the tables of moneychangers at the temple. He shared
his meals with outcasts. He spoke about a revolution. He spent time with the
poor and the disabled and the religious minorities. And, best of all, when the
government came knocking at his door, he stood his ground. He was a man of deep
conviction who fought to build the beloved community on Earth.
And yet he is called the Prince of Peace. We Unitarian
Universalists celebrate a very rebellious Prince of Peace. Regardless of the
white-washed Christmas cards we may soon get in the mail, and the simplified
sanitized Jesus in white robes, it is actually his radical message of fairness
and justice that makes Jesus a Prince of Peace.
It can be easy for some people to forget that version of
Jesus. It can be easy for us to forget the struggles that occurred to create
the justice and peace that we enjoy today. Maybe those histories are painful to
remember. But we cannot afford to forget them.
That’s why I wanted to sing those hymns of struggle earlier.
To remind us, that while we do enjoy a pretty high degree of peaceful
cooperation in our country, we have gotten to this point through centuries of
struggle. Those at the margins have fought and sacrificed in unimaginable ways
to build this increasingly fair community that we thrive in.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing" was performed first as a
poem as part of a celebration of Lincoln's
Birthday, by 500 school children at segregated school. Its
principal, James Weldon
Johnson, wrote the words to introduce its honored guest Booker T.
Washington. The poem was set to music by Johnson's brother John in
1905. Within twenty years the song became the anthem of the NAACP and was being
sung in schools and churches and on special occasions throughout the South.
Singing this song became a way for African Americans to
demonstrate their hope for the future. In the calling for earth and heaven to
"ring with the harmonies of Liberty," they could speak out subtly
against racism and Jim Crow laws—and
especially the huge number of lynchings
accompanying the rise of the Ku Klux Klan
at the turn of the century. It’s a tremendous song of struggle and I’m very
proud that it is held as a part of our UU hymnal.
And, I told you earlier about the song “We Are A Gentle
Angry People.” Holly Near composed it spontaneously after the assassination for
Harvey Milk. But the song of struggle takes on a personal tone for me. I was
singing this song in 1998, when Matthew Shepard was killed. I was in college, only
two years younger than him. In the aftermath of his murder, none of the
ministers in town stepped forward to provide comfort. None of the school
administrators did either. So as an overwhelmed nineteen-year-old, I organized
a vigil to commemorate the murder of a man who was frighteningly similar to
myself. The night of the vigil was overwhelming and I honestly don’t remember
much of it. I do remember being incredibly moved by the large number of people
who showed up, and I remember singing this song with my friends. And we were in
fact a gentle angry people, singing for our lives.
I wanted to highlight these hymns because they are struggles
that we are familiar with, struggles that continue in our communities today.
But they should also be reminders of other struggles of other peoples around
the world. Because wherever there is a story of oppression, there is a story of
resistance. It is part and parcel of that human inclination toward fairness.
Wherever there is a story of oppression, there is a story of resistance.
Regardless of the media’s willingness to cover it, regardless of historians’
ability to uncover and preserve it, it is the story of human history. Wherever
and whenever there is a story of oppression, there is a story of resistance.
Of course it’s not just voluntary, non-violent resistance
that has bought the peace that we enjoy. This lasting peace and the end of
slavery were paid for with the sacrifice of war, war that could have been ended
more quickly. This was exactly what was explored in the recent film “Lincoln.”
If I could give homework from my sermons, this would be it. Go see that film.
Go and see the astounding struggle that our country went through, as President
Lincoln saved our integrity as a nation. He knew that an expedited end to the
Civil War, a peace that left in tact the horror of slavery, was actually no
peace at all. He knew that the way must continue until the Thirteenth
amendment, and the abolition of slavery could be secured. In his Second Inaugural
Address, in 1865 Lincoln said:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty
scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until
all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of
unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the
lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand
years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether."
My friends, peace is not simply the absence of war. It is
not simply forgiveness and turning the other cheek. As we dive into this topic
of peace, and as head deeper into the holiday season, let us remember what it
means to be a real Prince, or Princess of Peace. As we build peace in our
hearts and in the world around us, let us hold out hope for one of the earliest
things we learned as children, that the game should be fair. And in our
conversation of peace, let us give justice its rightful place along side