This sermon was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington on 9/5/21 as part of a service of meditation and contemplation following a historic week.
Happy Rosh Hashanah all. Shana Tova! A good and sweet year to us all. In the Jewish calendar, we begin a new year; returning once again to a time of reflection, a time of atonement, a time of seeking out those we have wronged, and seeking to make amends, face to face. It’s a ritual that we return to year after year. Sacred ritual has a power to it that transcends human generations. I marvel at the rituals we have been enacting millennia after millennia. That which the human community does in concert, again and again, takes on a sense of eternity. It seeks to encounter the moment between the moments that the poet T.S. Eliot famously penned. The world will continue its spin, our days and lives will grow long and short, from coffee spoon to coffee spoon, but these moments of ritual, punctuate the routine. The rote becomes pierced, and one moment stands outs, amongst all the rest. When I hear the shofar be blown each year, it quickens my spirit. Time seems to shorten and stretch, to pause before eternity, knowing it will pass in a breath or two. We can return to this still point, again and again, but we can’t linger. It’s ever before us, but never any less urgent.
And it is in these still points, in the return to the Shofar, the return to rituals and community, that we innervate, or re-energize our spirits after times of hardship. And as we heard Tomo Hillbo’s wisdom earlier in the service– the thorns, whether we want them there or not, sometimes give cover for something new to grow. What will grow in this new year?
Today’s message will be more of a longer spoken piece broken up with song and meditation. We have all witnessed so much this week in our communal story. The hurricanes and tropical storms, the end to a 20 years war with little clarity on what’s next, and the stretching of Christian Theocratic Fascism in Texas as a springboard for too many other states. This is a service of contemplation and song, of the sweetness of the possibility of a new year found in this Holiest of Days in the Jewish calendar, and a time of witness for the labors of this week.
We begin with the storms. I have no answers now. But I do know we need to address where are hearts and spirits are after yet another historic hurricane. We can pray for all the people impacted, and there still needs to be a word for us as well. Many of us here lived through our own storms. Hurricane Sandy was devastating. Neighborhoods were destroyed, people lost their lives. Several of our own members lost their homes, or waited years for them to be fully repaired. Every massive hurricane that comes, can bring us back to that place again where we saw horror. I remember living by the power station that blew on the East River in NYC at the time. We wouldn’t know it for 4 days, when we could finally leave our Ave B apartment, but one of the piers on the East river had floated across a wide park and 4 avenues to rest near us. I stop watching the news when I learn of massive hurricanes in other parts of the world, until it’s over and there’s something we might be able to do to help those in need. It’s just too retraumatizing. If this applies to you, try to just turn off the weather channel if it’s not an immediate need for your own safety; it could be doing you harm. And I know some of us were hunkering down in our basements a few days ago, due to Tornado warnings. Every few hours, we were getting the emergency alerts for flash flooding. With all the thousand things that are going on in the world, that high pitched sound seems to be wearing all in its own, and cuts through to be just too much.
All of that is very real. It can be physically dangerous, and assuredly is, and it is also spiritually enervating. And for those that hear this message now, or read it later, we are through it. If your home took damages or you are in need, and you need help, please reach out. Our community will partner with you to figure out how to help.
The song we are about to hear, and we’ll return to it again one more time, has been written onto the tablet of my heart when it comes to the after math of storms. Those 4 days later, after Sandy, when we could finally descend 11 stories from our apartment, because the East River had finally receded enough to go outside; we walked around our neighborhood and there was massive destruction in the East Village. But we managed to find a patch of rose bushes in our public garden that were unscathed and fully in bloom. Join with us at home in singing, or sit back and meditate into the song.
… (queue I know this Rose will Open)…
We have a shared pain in two historic moments this past week. The last of our soldiers have left Afghanistan – a war that has seen 4 different presidential administrations – and images of Afghani’s desperately trying to flee the country before the arrival of the Taliban. 46,000 civilians have been killed by all sides over these past 20 years.
And in Texas, we see again, the dangerous practices of Christian Theocracy. Women (and all those with a uterus) are being denied their constitutional rights, and their religious rights, to have control over their own bodies. I call it Christian in name only, for it does not resemble the teachings of Jesus in any fashion whatsoever. Jesus was on the side of the immigrant, the refugee, peace, healing, the most vulnerable. None of his core teaching are honored by American Christian Theocracy. As the old quote goes, fascism will come draped in a flag and bearing the cross. And this new Texas law, is about power, pure and simple – not about ethics or morality.
I put these two historic moments together now because they resonate in painful ways. It’s hard to know what will come next. I know in the States, it will mean for us to organize, organize, organize. I recently read of Rev. Daniel Kanter, the senior minister of our large church in Dallas, Texas, say to the effect (and I’m only slightly paraphrasing here), that ‘Unitarian Universalism needs to be a firewall against harmful religion here.’ (end paraphrase.) And this blending of partisan politics and religion is dangerously harmful for medical reasons, for emotional reasons, for reasons of abuse, and personal agency, and on and on.
I also am seeing a disturbing trend of soundbytes, and pundits, and memes suggesting that Texas is our Taliban. That’s Islamophobic, although I get what the point is meant to mean. Yet, it lets us off the hook for our own White Supremacist Christian Theocracy. We need to name the problem for what it is, or we won’t solve the problem. Pretending it’s something that it’s not weakens are effectiveness. And we are going into a time, or continuing into a time, where we need to be very, very effective – before this spreads to other states.
And we know how to be effective; we saw it in our last UU the Vote. The Rev. Daniel Kanter, who I just paraphrased, serves the very UU church that helped sponsor the plaintiff in Roe v Wade. We know how to be effective.
Join with us at home in singing, or sit back and meditate into the song.
… (queue I know this Rose will Open)…
I’ll close with the words of my colleague, Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford who also serves in Texas: