Renewal of Faith
This is a hard time to have a lot of faith.
I’m writing in the middle of the Republican Convention to nominate Donald J. Trump to run for a second term. The rhetoric is full of lies, distortion, fear, anger and hate. The couple of lawyers who threatened Black Lives Matter protesters with guns outside their homes are featured speakers. While I vehemently disagree with this President, what disturbs me more than his words and behavior are his devoted followers. Some are core white supremacists who would be quite happy to turn the clock back 150 years and reinstate Jim Crow. Others have their core issues like abortion, or anti-LGBTQ or guns that dominate any concerns about Trump’s thirst for authoritarian rule. That so many rural areas of America are dominated by this sensibility, enough perhaps to put Trump back in office for another four or more years, shakes my faith deeply in my fellow Americans.
But this concern about my countrymen (and it is mostly men) is just one of the discouraging challenges of our times. Twenty-nine year old Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times by police as he was getting in his car in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Police just can’t seem to take in the message that shooting Black men not engaged in threatening behavior has to stop. Thankfully he wasn’t killed but suffered serious trauma to his body that will prevent him from walking again, much as what happened here in Albany with nineteen year old Ellazar Williams shot in the back and paralyzed two years ago in August.
Our nation’s inability, primarily through the lack of Presidential leadership, to fight COVID-19 is also deeply demoralizing. The first round of financial support from the government has come and gone. A second round of stimulus from Washington doesn’t look good which means evictions, people going hungry and some serious economic distress coming this fall. Parents must choose to risk the health of their children and themselves. They must make the difficult choice of sending them back to school or keeping them home and trying to educate them while continuing to work their jobs, a very difficult proposition. Rushing an inadequately tested vaccine and forcing it on a wary population will further prolong this outbreak which could go on indefinitely – even more demoralizing.
And of course, climate change is already in full swing. As I write, two major storms are headed toward Louisiana. Siberia experienced an unprecedented heat wave and thaw this summer, artic ice and Greenland’s ice sheet continues to shrink as glaciers disappear, one by one. All while the President is readying the Arctic for oil drilling.
Will we be able to stop this? Watching what is happening as China continues building the surveillance state with video cameras everywhere and facial recognition software, cell phone GPS tracking and massive databases means protesting will get harder and harder here in the US, especially if Trump expands his Federal Homeland security force.
Without faith that another way of living and being is possible, one could be tempted to throw in the towel and give up. The trends here are terrifying and four more years of Trump will make all these situations vastly worse.
The evolution of big brains is clearly a mixed blessing. Our ability to observe, experiment and learn has opened an amazing wealth of knowledge and capacity to support human well-being. Yet our prosocial behavior clearly isn’t keeping up. The evolution needed now is our ability to move from tribal group mentality to a sense of being a planetary citizen, a steward of all life. The planetary ethic isn’t about what I want but what we as a network of mutuality need to survive and thrive collectively.
That transformation from a religion of individualism and personal freedom to one of interdependence, mutuality, and inclusion of diverse people and all of life is happening right now in our Unitarian Universalist congregations across the nation. We witnessed that transformation happening at UUA General Assembly in June and the final report of the UUA Commission on Institutional Change.
What drives this change is our core values found in our Principles and Sources. Valuing the inherent worth and dignity of every person drives us beyond tribalist or racially exclusive thinking and practices. Our commitment to compassion, equity and justice cannot coexist with white supremacy or a nationalism that puts American interests as exclusively dominant. Our commitment to democracy asserts that government here and elsewhere should be determined by and accountable to the people. Government must be guided by shared humanistic values and scientifically grounded evidence not religious doctrine or ideologies disconnected from reality. Our commitment to the interdependent web of life, to the wisdom embedded in natural systems drives us to work in harmony with them to protect the ecosystem upon which we are totally dependent for our continued existence.
Faith in these Unitarian Universalist values is what our congregation is all about. Our congregation is a place for us to gather to renew those values even when we don’t see a lot of evidence of them in the world around us. These values are precious, indeed they are critical to the future we desire for our children and grandchildren, for the redwood and maple forests, for the bald eagle, the dolphin, the whale, and the honeybee.
We are not expecting a savior or a divine intervention – it is up to us collectively to make it so.