Do you ever meet someone who just makes you feel crazy?
When we lived in the city of Kanazawa, our house was above a river and every day the weather permitted and in some pretty harsh winds and storms we walked down to the river and walked. (Yesterday would have been a light snowfall in that place.) Often, we passed a woman who stood on the path along the river plugged into her music and hopping on one foot and then the other. I can’t tell you how much that annoyed us. She could have been dancing, running, or walking and she chose to hop on one foot. Then one morning, it dawned on us: we were in a period of inaction and needed to take a step. This realization became rocket fuel for us to make changes. We would say to each other, “Let’s not just hop on one foot.”
It is hard when that person who makes you feel crazy is the president of the country in which you live.
And, when we turn away (which is my instinct right now), we’re turning away from an opportunity to learn some important lessons about who we are as a country. Could we take a long hard look at what our president says about our country and the way we are in the world and work on a part of that over which we have control? What is the invitation for us?
When I was lamenting the way Russian hacking had influenced the election, it wasn’t long before I remembered Salvador Allende, the elected Marxist leader of Chile in 1973:
On 11 September 1973, the military moved to oust Allende in a coup d’état sponsored by the (CIA). As troops surrounded the presidential palace, he gave his last speech vowing not to resign. Later that day, Allende committed suicide with an assault rifle.
Following Allende’s death, General Augusto Pinochet refused to return authority to a civilian government, and Chile was later ruled by a military junta that was in power up until 1990, ending almost four decades of uninterrupted democratic rule. The military junta that took over dissolved the Congress of Chile, suspended the Constitution, and began a persecution of alleged dissidents, in which thousands of Allende’s supporters were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered.
What we have sown, we are reaping.
His open lack of empathy for some people in poverty, for the migrants crossing our borderlands because of the poverty we have wrought in Central America and Mexico in part through the NAFTA trade agreement and other forms of economic colonialism shine a spotlight on the ways that we have been in the world for a very long time.
These are ways to which we are so accustomed, we have ceased to see the violence and cruelty. Mahatma Gandhi said that poverty is the worst form of violence. Seeing this disregard so clearly in our new president’s face is opening our eyes.
And yet, President Trump, as a candidate, did notice and listen to people suffering from a systemic poverty resulting from complex economic factors. And, I am deeply disturbed and dissatisfied about what he sees as solutions to the poverty of some in our nation that involve disrespecting our Earth.
I also know that this disregard of the Earth and its non-white inhabitants has been part of the face of this country since the first explorers and settlers landed. Ask Native Americans, African Americans, Guatemaltecans, about our respect for their inherent worth and dignity and islanders of the South Seas where we did nuclear testing.
When we have a president who says things we agree with we comply and turn our eyes away from those hard bits and in many ways we fall asleep. We fell asleep and now we are awake. And, if we look into history, when we open our eyes and wake up, we have been pushed to greatness. The American Revolution was founded on wanting a new dream for America as was the Civil Right’s Movement and the movement to stop the Vietnam War. We have only been great when we knew we had to step up because the leadership wasn’t.
As Gloria Steinem said yesterday addressing all the marchers in Washington: The constitution begins with “We the people” not “I, the president.”
When we trust our president, we become sloppy—I have felt very strongly about the use of drones—about our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and I believe that my love of President Obama kept me from raising my voice.
This country is a beautiful place to be when we as a people are empowered and on fire. So don’t try to change your feelings of dissatisfaction when you look at the news. Study our history—the whole of it and see where you are led to do reconciliation work. There is enough for each of our lifetimes. Reconciliation is at the core of peace. We are going to have some wonderful speakers this year who will talk of their experience as native peoples in this country. Study to prepare for them. Fan your dissatisfaction and new knowledge into a movement. That is what the far right did while we were feeling good as we ate our Wheaties, their fire got them into the oval office and majorities in Congress. They had tea parties! They were reminded of the times of great dissatisfaction at the beginnings of the country. I don’t like to feel dissatisfied and uncomfortable just like I don’t like for the face of our country to be greed and narcissism. To make rocket fuel that will make us great in the vision that we have of greatness, those reactions need to be our teachers. Already in the marches yesterday, we witnessed people waking up, finding their voices and speaking out.
Gloria Steinem was born out of that need. Who is going to emerge? We are being called to the greatness of being citizens—of being amazing leaders who feel needed. Discomfort inspires us to become more ourselves. Dissatisfaction gives birth to amazing music that would have just stayed inside. We are at the beginning of birthing a new face of America that is complex, deeply aware of our history with an addendum of reconciliation that will be ongoing for the next two hundred and fifty years. If we do our work, then the 250th anniversary of this country could be the celebration of a United States that reconciled slavery and injustice. The Emancipation Proclamation as wonderful as it was lulled us into thinking that slavery was over. We were not watchful when the face of slavery transformed again and again like one of those shape changers that are arch enemies of superheroes—becoming most recently a War on Drugs that led to mass incarceration.
At the heart of our chalice flame is the fire of resistance to what religion came to mean. As Unitarian Universalists, we bring a new face to religion of acceptance for all. We are angry that religious belief has made people feel less than, has led to the tragedy of suicide and simply lives lived less fully, with less joy. Our creation of a new face for religion has been a beacon to the hungry and dissatisfied—has given hope to lots of people we will never meet.
Take your dissatisfaction and do the hard work of articulating what is on your mind. We can’t just growl—find out what that fire wants to say. When I spoke of Imam Shuaib Ud Din a couple of weeks ago, he said that the violent reaction to American occupation of Iraq by the citizens could partly be explained by the fact that they had not known democracy. Other options were not available to them.
There are myriad options available to us—and the option of sitting by and watching is going to be very depressing. To flourish in these times, we are going to need to take a stand, make our voices heard.
These next years are going to be a wild ride and a great adventure. I wonder at the leaders who are being born right here. Leaders are born out of difficulty. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born out of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the awful racism that was so blatant in the Jim Crow south. Up here in the North, many of us turned our eyes away. The segregation we had right here was mostly beneath the surface. Blacks could not hold the priesthood of the dominant religion. Could not take a room at the Hotel Utah or most of the hotels in Salt Lake City. Whenever an organization does something blatant that was hidden, our seeing opens up the opportunity to dissent. We’re going to have lots of chances coming up!
There is no duality of spirituality and activism when we are focusing on the most vulnerable whether that be a human or our beautiful Earth, our activism is spiritual! If you’re looking for a spiritual practice, make Salt Lake City more welcoming to the most vulnerable. Your spirituality will expand.
Are you with me?
Last week, we started writing letters after church. This time, I would love for you to write to your new president and tell him about what is on your mind. Challenge yourself to be respectful as you articulate what is on your mind.
What we sow, we will reap. Let us sow respect. You parents of young children, if you are sighing and feeling like this call is one more thing for your overstuffed days, please know that you are doing the work by raising children who are taught to seek justice.
We need song makers and writers and knitters and people who will make coffee and vegan soup. We need all our gifts for this work. And part of our work is respecting the gifts of each person. There is not a hierarchy—activists on the top and potato peelers on the bottom. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. The only gift we don’t need is energy-sucking behavior. Complaints without action are not welcome. Instead of complaining let us see dissatisfaction and anger as our great teachers.
And if you want rocket fuel for this work watch the news! If you don’t let it depress you, you will find that great teachers of justice are among us. The years that Richard Nixon was president were some of the most vibrant this country has known—as you have heard in the music today. Thank you, JAM!
We are awake like our ancestors were awakened by the taxes they had to pay without a voice. Let us not go back to sleep. Let us use this great gift of living in a democracy. Through finding our voices, our places as citizens, we will find, when we least expect it, that inner peace that is escaping many of us. This is how we will give peace a chance within and in the world.