The Blessing of One Voice

(Click here to listen – as delivered at the UU Congregation of Saratoga Springs, NY – thanks to soloists Nancy Kass and Laurie Singer)

Fans of the TV show The West Wing are familiar with character President Josiah Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen. President Bartlet is smart as a whip, deeply religious, and a gregarious people pleaser. That can be good at times, but at other times it is a problem. As the press secretary notes on the morning of a televised debate, what happens next “depends who shows up. If it’s Uncle Fluffy, we’ve got problems. If the President shows up, I think it’ll be a sight to see.”

Now many of the sermons you’ve heard from me in the past few years – including the one I originally planned for today – offer messages of healing and spiritual growth, community and covenant, kindness and generosity. And sometimes I wonder if I am too much Uncle Fluffy. But the hard news of the week has called me to speak differently, to speak out with this one voice that is filled with righteous anger. In other words, you’re not getting Uncle Fluffy.

It begins with one voice.

This is the sound of one voice
 One spirit, one voice
 The sound of one who makes a choice
 This is the sound of one voice

(This and subsequent verses from “One Voice” by Ruth Moody)

“I am only one, but I am still one” wrote Unitarian minister Edward Everett Hale. I am one, and you are one, and you are one. We are all, individually, one.

That’s not a bad thing – but it’s dangerous now. To be only an individual, to care for only our own needs, to buy into the “I’ve got mine, so to hell with you” mentality we’re surrounded by is to ignore what it actually means to be human.

Imagine what happens when you, the individual, listens to another individual. Imagine making actual space to hear the experiences of others who might not be like us. Imagine hearing stories that tell us not only about individuals but about the world. As I sang at General Assembly, “some are called to listen closely – witness stories not their own; some are called to lift their voices, showing no one is alone.”

If we don’t listen to another’s stories, we are never going to understand the human suffering that is happening to families at the border. We are never going to understand the horror of yet another trans woman being murdered. We are never going to understand how a person working two jobs is still in poverty. We are never going to understand the fear of a father sending his child to school. We are never going to understand the fear of a black woman as she sends her child to play outside. We are never going to understand the frustration of a person in a wheelchair who can’t get in. We are never going to understand just how harmful unfettered individuality can be.

We were built for one another. We need one another.

This is the sound of voices two
 The sound of me singing with you
 Helping each other to make it through
 This is the sound of voices two

You see, when we connect to one another – tell our stories and share them, we become more fully open to relationship with one another. As the song by Joyce Poley says, we hear our voices in each other’s words.

Sometimes what we see is another’s fear and another’s anger. We can recoil from that, or we can lean in – lean in to the stories that tell us how bad things are or will be. This week we have learned that things we thought were settled – unions, reproductive rights, voting rights, marriage equality, fair trade – all these things and more, are now at risk. The very soul of our nation is at risk.

We can see the fear and anger in each other’s eyes. And we can recoil, or we can lean in.

Truth be told, I am not as comfortable as I’d like to be with anger – it’s easier for me to turn inward and be depressed. But righteous anger demands attention and motivates anger. Peter Finch in the film Network did not shout “I’m mad as hell and I’m just gonna sit here and fume quietly for a while and let you keep doing terrible things.” No, he climbed up on the desk and shouted “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” and was propelled into action. This kind of anger is righteous. Righteous anger turned inward is resignation; righteous anger turned outward is resistance.

And that’s what these times call for: resistance.

I’m not gonna lie – I’m scared too. The resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy, for me, has sharpened my existential angst into full blown fear. Yet I cannot let my fear make me compliant and complacent. My fear must turn into righteous anger so that I am compelled to join you and your fear so we may be strong together.

And when one joins one, another may join, and suddenly we are three and like a stool now have some stability.

This is the sound of voices three
Singing together in harmony
Surrendering to the mystery
This is the sound of voices three.

 When three come together, we harmonize, and suddenly are more complex than we first appear.  Now our fears and our anger can turn into something that looks like resistance.

Now let me be clear: this isn’t just about politics. This is about values and principles – which are what our form of government is based on, and what we as Unitarian Universalists have in abundance, and which we quote to one another frequently. And I am mad as hell that people who are now in power are threatening the very principles I and others live by, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!

You see, when someone doesn’t just demean women, Muslims, Mexicans, and people with disabilities but actually promotes policies and laws to actively harm them – I see a threat to the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

When someone seeks judges who will overturn civil rights legislation, reproductive rights legislation, and workers rights legislation – I see a threat to justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

When someone wants to preference one religious group over another and demand adherence for religious doctrine over civil laws – I see a threat to the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

When voting rights are limited, and gerrymandering ‘fixes’ elections, and a broken system is abused, and even the protection of the judicial system is compromised – I see a threat to the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process.

When the way to win power and prestige is to pit person against person, group against group, country against country – I see a threat to the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

When those in power flatly deny climate change and our rights to clean water and air– I see a threat to the very planet we live on and the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

These threats were apparent two years ago and are now becoming real. We are not just under threat, we are in the midst of the storm. The very things we say we affirm and promote are being denied and undermined and threatened. But I don’t want to just sit and fume. I want to do something.

Don’t you? Join your voice with ours and sing our next verse, found in your order of service.

This is the sound of all of us
Singing with love and the will to trust
Leave the rest behind it will turn to dust
This is the sound of all of us

 The sound of all of us is powerful. The sound of all of us helps us be a tide of justice and compassion, raising all boats. The sound of all of us is pledging our support to all in need, and knowing we have support when we need it. And the time is now – past now – to affirm our power, together.

Please join me in this pledge by the Reverend Catie Scudera, by responding “we pledge our support” – I invite you to rise in body or spirit:

From those of us who are white or Euro-American, we honor people of color — black, Latinx, Asian, and indigenous — and we commit ourselves to acts of solidarity. Now please reply: We pledge our support.

From those of us who are heterosexual, we honor the LGBTQ community and commit ourselves to acts of solidarity. We pledge our support.

From those of us who have not been imprisoned, we honor those who have been incarcerated and we commit ourselves to acts of solidarity. We pledge our support.

From those of us who are not Muslim or Mexican, we honor our Muslim and Mexican neighbors and we commit ourselves to acts of solidarity. We pledge our support.

From those of us who are insulated from the effects of climate change, we honor those on the front lines and we commit ourselves to acts of solidarity. We pledge our support.

From those of us who are men, we honor women and trans people and non-binary people, and we commit ourselves to acts of solidarity. We pledge our support.

From those of us from middle- or upper-income households, we honor those who struggle with poverty and we commit ourselves to acts of solidarity. We pledge our support.

From those of us who are neurotypical and of presently healthy body, we honor those who have disabilities and we commit ourselves to acts of solidarity. We pledge our support.

From those of us who have American citizenship, we honor those who are immigrants and we commit ourselves to acts of solidarity. We pledge our support.

From those of us who have reliable access to health-care, we honor those who don’t and we commit ourselves to acts of solidarity. We pledge our support.

From those of us who have not been assaulted, we honor those who are survivors and we commit ourselves to acts of solidarity. We pledge our support.

For all those who suffer from injustices whom we have not named or perhaps do not know yet, we keep our hearts and minds open to solidarity in new ways to new people. We pledge our support.

Thank you. You see, the moral arc of the universe does bend toward justice, but it is really, really long. It can be tiring. But we have to keep singing – singing our values, our principles, our righteous anger. Not only because it will speak our truths, but it will feed our souls.

And it starts here, with you and me. It starts with being present with one another in this, call each other out and call each other in. It starts with supporting each other and being accountable to each other as we take our steps toward justice. We can’t be nice in acquiescence to what’s right. We must remain vigilant in our resistance, now more than ever.

We have to do this, here and now. We can’t stay stuck in petty arguments and distracting conflicts. We need to tap out of the things that distract us from what our faith demands of us. We need to lean in to the real fights of our age. As UUA president Susan Frederick-Gray reminded us last week, this is no time for a casual faith. This is a time to reengage with what matters, what our faith calls us to. This is a time for strong words and rebellious thoughts and bold, beautiful, creative acts of resistance.

This is a time to be mad as hell and not want to take it anymore. It’s time.

This is a time for all of us to remember the thousands of exemplars over the years and decades and centuries, fighting for justice. This is a time to learn from their examples and become the exemplars of our age.

This is a time to be the people we have been waiting for.

This is a time to figure out what you, and you, and you will do to help resist hate and fear and discrimination and violence.

This is a time for courage, even a drop or two as we make our way in this uncertain world.

This is a time for American heroes.

This is the time for one voice. Please sing with us.

This is the sound of one voice
One people, one voice
A song for every one of us
This is the sound of one voice
This is the sound of one voice

 We can be individual voices, individual thinkers, individual marchers and protestors. But when we say “we can join our voices together not just as different parts of a song but in one song” – we become strong. Therein lies the blessing.

This is the power of the resistance movement. The power of the Women’s March. The power of #metoo. The power of the March for Our Lives. The power of the Poor People’s Campaign.  #KeepFamiliesTogether

Whether we are individuals in a congregation speaking with one voice against hate, discrimination, and violence – or we are a larger group speaking with one voice for the very soul of our nation, we can make a difference. We don’t lose ourselves – we are still individuals. And you may continue to see yourself as Hale described, as “only one, but still one.” But let us not forget the rest of the quotation: “I cannot do everything,” he writes, “but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” When we use our strength, our ability, our passion, and yes, even our questions, we make a difference, and we bless the world.

I will close with the words of Unitarian Universalist theologian Rebecca Parker:

“The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude to search for the sources of power and grace; native wisdom, healing and liberation.

“More, the choice will draw you into community, the endeavor shared, the heritage passed on, the companionship of struggle, the importance of keeping faith, the life of ritual and praise, the comfort of human friendship, the company of earth, its chorus of life welcoming you.

“None of us alone can save the world. Together—that is another possibility, waiting.”

 

Photo credit: http://uumeadville.org/about-us/our-beliefs/uu-principles-and-sources/

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