Monday, July 18, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

[I read this Sunday, July 3, following a spoken reflection on the value of sports (Go Broncos!) as an alternative to violence. Since then, headlines have reflected an apparently unending cycle of violence.]


Until today, I was not a sports fan. My primary physical chemical is estrogen, not testosterone. And I fear that even the Broncos cannot stem the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric and the escalating violence in this country.

How do we hold on to our nascent ideal of universal rights and values? How can we stem the torrents of partisan, seemingly irrational, contention that pervades government chambers and invades our homes through robo-calls and junk emails? What do I do with the surges of anger I feel toward demagogues and the National Rifle Association? How do we move away from verbal and physical violence and return to inching toward peace and justice? Like most UUs, I look for clues in the words of great souls and thinkers.

One of those has to be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The title of his last book was “Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?” Never mind that it was published 48 years ago. There is probably no better question to ask right now. He had one answer – one that I think we need to read and listen to and learn from. He wrote: "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater; but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

 ‘Only love can do that’. … How wimpy. How profound. How do we get there?

There’s another book that has clues. It’s our grey hymnal. If you open it to the beginning pages, before the first hymn, you will find a list of UU principles and an acknowledgement of the sources from which we draw those principles. It’s okay with me if you stop listening to me and read them right now. For those of you still paying attention, check out the first principle: “We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” [Even demagogues I suppose.] If you scan down to the sources section, there’s this phrase: “Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love.”

Love again. Wimpy and profound. How do we live this?

There’s a smaller book … one of the world’s most valuable – a United States passport. I renewed mine recently. Looking through its yet un-stamped pages, I discovered quotations inconspicuously printed throughout. Of the ten individuals quoted, only one was female. The estrogen representative was Anna Julia Cooper. We used her quote when we lighted the chalice: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.” I had never heard of Anna Julia Cooper. I looked her up. She was born in 1858, the daughter of a slave woman and her white slaveholder. After the Civil War, Anna enrolled in a school for freed slaves. She did well, teaching math part-time at age 10. Married at age 19 and widowed at 21, she enrolled in Oberlin College where she earned degrees in mathematics. She joined the faculty of a high school for African Americans in Washington, D.C. There she taught math, science and Latin (and eventually served as its principal). She was a popular public speaker, encouraging higher education for African American women … all the time working toward a doctoral degree. In 1925, at age 67, she received a doctorate from the Sorbonne having written her dissertation on “Slavery and the French Revolutionists”. . . in French. She raised two foster children and five adoptive children. From 1930 to 1941 she served as president of the Frelinghuysen University for working adults in Washington, D.C. She died in her sleep at age 105.

 I never knew any of that, but knowing all of that, I am even more moved by the quotation printed in my passport: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

 And it is. And it reflects “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” And the faith that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

 Hold on to those thoughts. Hold on to these truths. They are as close as we humans get to getting it right. And it is only by holding on to these truths that we can inch toward a social order based on universal rights and values.