I am pretty sure I was not the only person headed for a pulpit this morning who let out an extra moan after hearing the verdict in the Zimmerman trial.
In the midst of weeping for the Martin family, for our young black men, and the failed justice system…and after a while weeping also for women, for immigrants, for students, for the poor, for the marginalized… somewhere in the midst of my uncontrollable weeping, I let out a moan, knowing I had a sermon that felt like half a loaf compared to the shock, anger, sorrow, and fear we were all facing. How could I stand up and talk about a loving, father-mother god, when God was not in heaven and all was wrong with the world? How could I present this hopeful, encouraging service when we were faced with such pain?
That is when Pat Humphrey’s song came to mind (song begins at 1:53)…
I began to sing to myself and slowly began to stop crying. I knew I could not let this travesty of justice go unmentioned, but I also knew I could not write an entirely new sermon at midnight on Saturday.
But I could do something: I wrote a new call to worship for this morning – one that acknowledges our pain, our frustration, and our need to come together for comfort, for peace, for space, for nourishment. I invited us all to not get stuck, but to keep on moving forward. And we sang. And then we moved on to the rest of the service, talking about the loving, transcendent God that is found in Unitarian Universalism.
Of the many lessons I have learned since entering seminary, the one that’s been most remarkable and meaningful is the lesson about being present to the present moment of a congregation. You can have everything perfectly planned, but if they are hurting, or if there is strife, or if something tragic has happened, you have to be present to that pain and address it in a way that comforts and encourages. People want space for their pain to be acknowledged – and they want something to both nourish and distract them for a bit. We can’t let our inner preacher silence our inner pastor.
Nor can we let our own pains get in the way. Last month, in the midst of a bizarre crisis that hit my village and my family, I was slated to preach on the virtues of theism and humanism; the week, however, was difficult, and in my pain, all I wanted to say was “God’s dead and people suck.” Of course, I didn’t… I found a path through my pain to provide a message that was both authentic to the situation I found myself in and was nourishing to the congregation I spoke to. I had to keep on moving forward.
And that’s the lesson. We can pause and honor our pain. We can weep out of anger, fear, frustration. We can feel paralyzed by injustice. And we can pause with others who feel as we do. But then we have to take that next step. We cannot, CANNOT let injustice and hate win. We have to keep on moving forward.