September 17, 2017
This year there was a huge public protest about the illegal killing of black men. Women marched in Washington for women’s rights. Fires displaced thousands of people.
This year, attacks on trains and ships killed 100s of people.
A government was overthrown.
War destroyed cities and villages.
Sounds like this year.
But all these things happened in 1917 too.
In 1917, the world was 3 years into was called at the time, the Great War.
It was the war to end all wars.
Which turned out to be a little optimistic.
It feels like the more things change, the more things stay the same.
It’s the same as it ever was.
Today it’s Syria being destroyed by war, not France.
Women have the right to vote but not economic equality.
And people of colour still have to be worried about being lynched.
The more things change…
Since 1917 we have had two world wars, the cold war, the Korean war, the Vietnam war.
Never ending conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria.
9-11 and the rise in terror attacks all over the globe.
And new problems too.
Extreme weather and rising oceans levels from climate change.
The explosion of the human population and strains on resources.
These are all global problems on a scale that no superman or wonder woman is going to fix in a sweet 2 hours.
The Doomsday Clock which monitors the state of the world stands at two-and-a-half minutes before midnight.
It is the closest to midnight that it’s been since 1953, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union had both detonated hydrogen bombs.
It makes me want to give up and eat popcorn and watch cat videos.
And sometimes I do just that.
I haven’t even mentioned the rise of drug resistant bacteria.
Or that we are living through the sixth mass extinction in the 14 billion year life of the planet.
If the internet was working here in the Great Hall, I would play you all a video of kittens meeting dogs. It’s really cute.
I don’t condemn myself for evenings of cat videos and popcorn.
I consider it healthy self care.
To be awake, to be woke today is a painful experience.
To be awake to the world means to be present to suffering.
People like me encourage others to be open, to ground the self and open the heart.
But people like me don’t always talk about the fact that when we open our heart to the world, there are 10,000 knives stabbing it to pieces.
The treatment of indigenous women.
The rise of addictions.
Human trafficking and slavery.
It’s hard to be woke and open. It hurts.
We are all interconnected, we belong to this planet.
Of course we feel pain for the world.
It may manifest as outrage, grief, guilt, despair.
Or at times – simply numbness.
These are normal responses.
Dealing with pain is a difficult process.
Being always “woke” is not healthy, we all need to sleep.
Sometimes all we can do is hunker back down and heal a little.
That doesn’t mean we should live in our pyjamas.
Or wear armour over our hearts.
Just that we all need times for healing.
There must be times for joy and delight.
And cat videos.
Let us have compassion for ourselves and one another in these troubled times.
To have compassion means “to suffer with”.
In spiritual traditions to develop compassion is a noble pursuit.
It is an acknowledgement of our interconnection.
It can look like the majority of people are in denial, going about their lives without concern for anything beyond getting the new iphone.
So why do we all wear so much black?
I was in a Toronto café at lunch the other day and every person in there except for me was wearing black or grey.
It felt like a very stylish funeral.
My sense we are all much sadder than we admit.
More aware than we want to acknowledge.
So we wear black to the world’s long funeral, pretending it’s just a cocktail party.
We can’t face the state of the world until we acknowledge the pain.
Until we honour our own awareness – we know and we care.
Facing pain is a hard and courageous act.
We run from pain for good reason. It hurts and its horrible.
And we fear if we open to grief, it will be a dark pit from which we can’t climb out.
But when people open to their full emotional experiences, they actually end up experiencing a sense of freedom, of a weight being lifted. (Macy in Active Hope, pg 70)
“When we touch into our depths, we find that the pit is not bottomless.”
When people are able to tell the truth about what they know, see, and feel is happening to themselves and their world, a transformation occurs.
With the weight lifted we can re-engage with life.
We are stronger when we go with the flow of our emotions, with our honest response to the world.
And that is when we can focus our energy on transformation.
We will take some time now to sit in awareness together followed by some gentle music.
Settle yourself in your seat. Close your eyes.
Focus on your breathing.
Don’t take deep breaths unless you need to.
Just pay attention as your breath flows in and out of your body.
If you wish, place your hand on your heart or belly.
You are breathing. You are breathing life.
Everyone in this room is breathing life, part of the vast living web of life on this earth, all breathing the same breath.
Let life flow through you.
Let your emotions flow through you.
Let all you feel be with you.
And Let it be.
So we deal with our pain and grief, admit our sense of helplessness or anger or overwhelm, and feel lighter.
Being present and aware of our feelings can lead to action.
Just knowing about the problems is never enough. The information is out there. What is needed is will and motivation.
If we can deal with the pain, and speak out, we can find others who feel similarly, and we find solidarity.
We name our pain. We name the issues.
We admit to ourselves that the cocktail party is really a funeral.
When the silence is ended, when we name what we know is true, we save ourselves.
Survivors of abuse know the power that comes from speaking their truth.
Those traumatized by war are helped by speaking the unspeakable.
One person’s declaration sparks another and then another.
Scientist Helen Caldicott named the consequences of an escalating nuclear arms race, and gave rise to the anti-nuclear movement.
Today white supremacist culture is being named.
Once named, once spoken out loud, people begin to gather.
You gather with your friends. You talk. You learn.
You gather with people with the same experiences or the same concern.
You gather together and things begin to shift, sometimes slowly, sometimes in a torrent.
The most unexpected things come together. And change happens.
Think of the Berlin Wall.
The Berlin Wall was built in the divisions of the cold war, separating the German city of Berlin into the free west and the soviet East.
Travel was strictly controlled.
In the 1980s, the political dynamics began to shift. Diplomatic ties were growing between the Soviet Union and the West. Some restrictions were loosening.
And then came November 9th, 1989 and the fall of the wall.
At a press conference, an East German official misread a new travel regulation and said that east germans no longer required travel documents to cross to the west, effectively immediately. Journalists took note.
Rumours began to fly that the wall was open, people gathered on both sides, wondering.
Security officers at the wall were receiving confusing information.
One officer was told the wall gate could open, so he decided to let a few people through, trying to release some of the growing tension.
Then a west german broadcaster said it was a historic day and the gate was open. East Germans came out of their houses and into the streets and to the wall.
They gathered in great numbers and the security officers opened the gates.
And the wall that divided Berlin came down.
It wasn’t intended to happen that way.
“Power shifted decisively from the so-called powerholders – to the people.
Because everyone said the Wall was open, the Wall was open.
Because everyone said everything had changed, everything had changed.”
Berlin became a party, a celebration.
People played music, singing, dancing, drinking, smoking.
East and west germans together.
The night was spent in freedom, in joy.
There is power in the people, in gathering together.
First we feel, then we name, then we gather.
In the crisis, there is always potential for astonishing change.
In crisis there is opportunity.
There is a chance to do things differently.
And we do need to do things differently. We are still living within many of the same social and political systems in place as they were in 1917.
Many social norms have shifted for the better, and technology has changed our daily life in many ways.
But women still fight for equality, black people still fear for their lives.
There are still winners and losers in the economic system.
This doesn’t fit our UU vision of interdependence.
Our vision of interdependence, of the inherent worth of all beings, of justice, equity and compassion means living in new ways.
The way of the chalice is a way of integrity, of bringing our values into our daily lives. Making our principles come alive in our choices.
It’s a collaborative way, one that tries not leave anyone behind.
It`s one that recognizes no one person can do it all, that we need the gifts of everyone.
It’s a way of decentralized leadership and shared work.
We focus a little more on relationships and a little less on outcome.
Our way moves more slowly, requires a lot more conversation and patience.
We start with ourselves.
We aim to practice a new pattern of being.
A pattern that in time, might grow larger.
When enough people are empowered and working together, walls come tumbling down.
We feel all of our emotions at the state of the world, especially the painful ones.
We name the problems, make the invisible visible.
We gather and collaborate with others.
And slowly, we change ourselves and society.
Feel, name, gather, and change.
Civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs said “transform yourself to transform the world”.
I close with the prophetic words of Maya Angelou, from her poem on the occasion of Bill Clinton’s inauguration, On the Pulse of the Morning’.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
So Say We All.