Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"A Quiet Christmas" - Sermon

A Quiet Christmas
         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 day.
         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

I 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, …

We 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.

         The 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 same time.
         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.
How many of us are geographically separated from an immediate family member this Christmas?
How many of you are reminded this time of year of loved ones who have died?
And 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 is.
         If 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.
         The 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 need.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"The Peaceful Heart" - Sermon

         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 hearts.
         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 inside.

         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 heights.
         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 somewhere else.
         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 self.
         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 compassion.
         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 violence.
         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 life.
         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.


Monday, December 3, 2012

"Know Justice, Know Peace" - Sermon

         Our theme for worship in the month of December is Peace. It is a fitting topic for the Christmas season I think.
         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 justice.
         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 forgiveness?

         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 hugs.
         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 forgiveness.