Remember What Everything Is For

November 13, 2016: Post-Election Sunday

Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 4:18-25

The Rev’d. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Episcopal Parish of St. Paul, Newton Highlands, MA

Well here we are. And Jesus, as usual, said it best in Luke chapter 4:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. Has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20  Let us hope that the scripture is indeed fulfilled in our hearing.

I can only speak for myself this morning. But it has been a difficult week…to say the very least. A week full of tears and comfort food. To quote a plaque I saw in a store window yesterday – I wanted to lose 10 pounds in the month of November. As of today, I only have 15 to go.

I am grieving. Mightily. In ways heretofore known only to me with the loss of deeply loved friends and family members. My grief after this presidential election is palpable, and it is on several levels. First, I am grieving the loss of an ideal that I held for our nation. An ideal grounded in a widespread acceptance of the dignity that exists in every human being. A Gospel ideal. And although we are far from there, it seemed to me as though we were moving in that direction. Marriage equality. Black Lives Matter. A female Presiding Bishop in the Anglican Communion, of all places. The Paris Climate Accord. The circle of respect seemed to be expanding. But the anger and rage and hateful speech that has been simmering in pockets of our nation for the last 18 months, or maybe 18 years, is now boiling over. And I see that the ideal of even common civility, let alone common dignity, could well have been a farce all along. And I am grieving.

I am also grieving on a number of personal levels. As a person of what my mother once called “the rainbow persuasion” I am feeling once again a target of public scorn at the least, and possibly personal violence. I grieve the loss of feeling part of the whole, which was making great strides with marriage equality dawning on a national level in 2014. My own personal memory of the America that we have voted to “make great again”……was enshrined in a closet.

As a woman, I grieve what I had hoped to be the obliteration of the final glass ceiling in our national arena. This was the year. Exactly 150 years after Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the first woman to run for public office in the congress, more than 50 years before she was permitted a vote, I might add.  Yesterday was her birthday. And in 1866 she ran for office on a platform to allow “voluntary motherhood” which included provisions for both a woman’s access to birth control and her right to refuse marital relations with her husband. It seems unconscionable that those issues are still on the table. And Elizabeth Cady and Henry Stanton were the first to publicly remove the word “obey” from their own wedding vows. She got 24 votes.

But she never stopped working for women’s dignity. In 1895 she wrote and published the first Women’s Bible, addressing what she felt was rampant sexism in the way our scripture was presented and interpreted, challenging the seemingly apriori biblical notion that women were subservient to men. She was eventually kicked out of the National Women’s Suffrage Association (of which she was a founder) because her co-Suffragettes felt that she had become so distracted with her biblical cause that it was taking away from the goal of securing a woman’s right to vote. Deep sigh. And so 150 years later, I had hoped and believed that we were moments away from the first woman president. And I am grieving.

But I am not just grieving the defeat of the first woman candidate of a major political party, for president. I am grieving the defeat of this particular candidate. This loss feels very personal. She has a few years on me, but the candidate and I were raised in the same general field of dreams. Both born in the middle or late middle of the twentieth century in regular ordinary Midwestern families who raised their daughters to value intelligence, hard work, education, preparation, and competency; and encouraged us to put all of those things to work in service to those who are the most marginalized and vulnerable among us.

And for me, Hillary fit that bill to a tee. And those are the values that I have aspired to as well. And so the almost violent, hateful rejection of this particular candidate, and all that she is and all that she has worked toward in the whole of her adult life, feels like a kick in my own gut. And I am grieving.

Although, there is that bit of blessing of common ground that I suddenly feel with the disenfranchised Trump voter. Because now I know what it feels like to have a hopeful life turned upside down, almost out of the blue. To be swimming along in a world that seems to value you and who you are, and then, bam! to have that world turned on its head. To lose your sense of security, and acceptance, and hope. I now know how that feels.

So, here we are. How do we who feel the pain of this election move forward? And maybe that is not all of us, but it is some of us. So what is the plan, Stan? What is the path, Kath? How to get on the bus, Gus? And get out of this grief. What is the tune, June? How back to the joy, Roy? Where is the best chance, Nance? To get some relief. Well, clearly, I have been drowning some of my sorrows in comfort music! A realization that I think I would be all over a candidate who wanted to make America’s music great again. But that’s a sermon for another day.

So, instead of fifty ways to leave the country, I have resorted to my regular go-to grief relief which is the top ten list. It is almost always the way I can best organize the chaos of my sorrow and find the nuggets of gratitude and hope that move me forward out of my morass. If you are feeling as I am feeling at this juncture in our national life together, I highly encourage you to make your own top ten list of…….let’s call this lessons and carols:

  1. Wake up. This is not a revolution it is a revelation. Things are not all of a sudden different in our country. America did not adopt racist and sexist tendencies overnight, or even with the advent of the inappropriate slop-slinging of the president-elect and his contingent. This harassment and hatred and divisiveness is not new. Although it does seem newly acceptable. And paradoxically, that may be a gift. Because it is surely igniting some Gospel opposition. So let us wake up and act accordingly.
  2. Choose well. We must stop choosing sides and start choosing God’s creations. “Choose love” is the chant of the day. But we must think carefully about what that means. Because it is the ultimate “easier said than done” bumper sticker. Choosing love requires deep sacrifices, sacrifices that this nation has been unwilling to make thus far. We (and by we, I mean we who have everything) did not leave the working families of the nation behind because we did not want them to succeed. We left them behind because we did not want to make the sacrifices that were necessary to care for the wellbeing of all Americans.And so God forgive us for leaving the working classes behind. We (and by we, I mean we who have everything) have turned a blind eye to the suffering of rural and industrial America, for decades. We will not heal this great nation until we embrace every American. Loosely paraphrasing Gloria Steinem: we must realize that in the natural order of human affairs we are linked, not ranked. And we will not be free until, loosely paraphrasing Isaiah: the wolf and the lamb share a meal together, and the lion eats straw like the ox. Let us choose love, and act accordingly.
  3. Order is Everything. And the truth comes first. It is all well and good to call for a healing of our deep national wounds. But there is no reconciliation without the truth. Ask Desmond Tutu. The truth comes first. The healing follows.Although, in the words of Jack Nicolson’s Colonel Nathan Jessup in Few Good Men, maybe we can’t handle the truth. But that does not make the truth go away. And it does not change that fact that reconciliation first requires truth. I heard one conservative columnist from the New Republic say yesterday on NPR, that we need to put our differences aside and give peace a chance. No. Not without an acknowledgement of the damage that has been done, and continues to be done with the hate speech that threatens so many of us. Let us tell the truth, demand the truth of our elected leaders, and act accordingly.
  1. Pay Attention. We must not allow ourselves to be lulled into wishful thinking. As my grandmother used to say, people can soften and change their ways for the better if everything in their lives pulls in that direction. But a leopard in the jungle never changes his spots. And the spots on our new leopard-elect have seemed, at least in the last 18 months, to be more grounded in manipulation than in truth-telling.So we who are concerned about preserving what justice exists in our national character, what peace exists in the world, and what dignity exists in our common cause must be careful not to believe everything we hear, even if it sounds like an olive branch. First we want to see the olive. And maybe even taste it. We must be careful not to be so hungry for an end to the animosity and anger that we settle for less than real movement toward justice and peace. And that includes both words and deeds. It is important to be able to tell the difference between truth telling and pandering. We must pay attention and be willing to sit, if we must, in the discomfort of reality, and act accordingly.
  2. Hope Well. Let us not allow our good manners to put our hope in the wrong place. There is always reason to hope, and as the Apostle Paul says, that hope will never be in vain. But there is a lot of talk in our current national conversation about how we must hope that the new president-elect turns out to be a kinder and gentler and more just minded leader than he was a candidate. We must open our minds and give him a chance to lead.  And that is all well and good. And of course we will.But that, I think, is hope misplaced. Fundamentally. Not only because we have been given no indication but lip service that civility and justice will prevail in this new administration, but also because our hope is only properly placed in God and the work that God does through us. And us is the operative word…..the community of love. So take heart! Let us put our hope and trust in God and the communities that work toward God’s ideal of love, and act accordingly.
  3. Ask for forgiveness. Constantly. We who are bereft with the results of this election are not without culpability. God of all hopefulness, forgive us our blindness and our self-centeredness and our judgment. Open our hearts to go forth with genuine humility and an unwavering commitment to the dignity of all of God’s creation. Let us ask for forgiveness, and act accordingly.
  4. Discomfort is the agent of growth. Good news! Times of stress are times of growth. And the current intense public outcry is evidence thereof. People are protesting in the streets! All over our nation! And not just protesting, but finding new and creative ways of supporting each other. Could it be that we are becoming a nation filled with George Herbert Walker Bush’s thousand points of light?! Starbucks in Seattle is providing a safe haven of LGBTQI folks who are targeted with hate crimes. In Oakland, neighbors are putting together diabetes testing and counseling alternatives for the most vulnerable among them, in case the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Lawyers for Black Lives Matter are (pro bono) preparing legislation and court appeals for a host of initiatives that will address age- old injustices. And the list goes on and on and on! These are all things we might have been doing to care for each other all along.And so in biblical language, this election result is a bit of a paradox. Para, meaning beside. Dox, meaning appearance. An appearance beside itself. A blessing in disguise. Maybe. But let us continue to use this adversity as a wake-up call for ministry. Let us fully feel our discomfort and use that pinch to motivate us beyond the levels of the relative complacency that got us here in the first place. Let us continue to feel the burn, as it were, and act accordingly.
  1. This too shall pass. As our Buddhist brothers and sisters remind, all of life is impermanent. That does not mean that we give up or hunker down, do nothing and wait these four years out. But it does mean that there is always change on the horizon. Every day will dusk and in its place a new one will dawn. With or with us. As the Talmud says: The sun will rise without you. So let us keep this day in its cosmic perspective, and act accordingly.
  2. Be careful what you wish for. We all know this warning well. It’s when you wish for a lifetime supply of Eskimo Pies and the whole delivery fits in your freezer. And you realize that you are either near the end of your life, or the serving size is so small that you will end up being tortured rather than satisfied. And so we know from Goethe’s Faust, and Brendan Frazier’s Bedazzled, and the passage right before this morning’s reading in Luke where Jesus is tempted in the wilderness that whenever we are asked to forfeit our deepest Gospel values in return for something we think we want more; values like respect for the dignity of all people, respect for all of God’s creation, loving our neighbor no matter where they were born …….that temptation is a sure-fire trap. When we compromise our core human values of dignity and respect for one another and God’s creation for……anything, even the prospect of better jobs, we are making a deal with the devil. Because we will either find out that the trade was not worth it, or what we wanted comes in a form that we don’t want after all…..or both.There are no shortcuts to the promised land. If we speak truth to power with anything but love, we are not speaking for God. There is no goal or objective that is worth the acceptance or promotion of hate speech of any kind. There is no wish in God’s good world that is worth tolerating sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and racist language, or predatory behavior, sexual or otherwise.I know many of the supporters of the president-elect voted for change. And boy are they….we, going to get it! But it may not be the change that was expected or wanted. It may be change that leaves the most vulnerable without anything more than they have now, and maybe less. So let us be careful of what we wish for, and act accordingly.
  3. Remember what everything is for. At the end of Fiddler on the Roof, Hodel and Perchik are talking about their new life ahead. And Perchik says: I will send for you as soon as I can. But it will be a hard life, Hodel. And she replies: But it will be less hard if we are together. And Perchik says, actually sings: Besides having everything, now I know what everything is for.My dear friends, in the scheme of things in our great nation, we in this beloved community have everything. We have voices. We have power. We have relative economic and social security. And most of all, we have this beloved community with whom we can walk this next leg of our national journey. Together, we have everything.So let us share a bit of our everything in solidarity with those who…do not have everything, at least at the moment. After the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom this summer, an initiative fueled by the same intense white supremacist bigotry and xenophobia that seems to have reared its ugly head in our own neck of God’s world, the symbol of solidarity and resistance has become the ordinary safety pin. How great is that?! I think it is a brilliantly clever, abundantly affordable, perfectly named agent of resistance and solidarity. Wearing a safety pin has become a sign of one’s willingness to serve as a safe haven to another.

    I read an article last night that chided the safety pin as a symbol of white privilege. But I do not agree. No matter who you voted for, I hope it gives us all pause that the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party have both boldly, proudly and vocally support the new administration. And thus far, that administration has not disclaimed or denounced that support. The safety pin is not a symbol of white privilege, it is a symbol that we will not tolerate white supremacy. Like wearing orange to protest gun violence, the safety pin is a sign that we love our neighbor more than we love our own right to unbridled power over others. I am quite sure that Jesus would embrace the pin. I’m just not sure where he would wear it.

    So at the peace, I invite you to take an “I will share my safety with you” pin from the bowl in the baptismal font, and wear it as a sign that you stand with God’s creatures and against the forces of discrimination and isolation and alienation and deportation and systemic evil.

    And so my friends, as Perchik and Hodel shared: the road ahead will likely be long and hard. But it will be easier if we walk it together. Because together we have everything. Let us never forget what everything is for, and act accordingly.

           Alleluia! Amen.

© November, 2016 The Rev’d. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

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