How do we build peace within, with others, and in community when our culture and communications have not adapted this new Age. Let us Unitarian Universalists look beneath the surface of the current political divisiveness and use the very meanings of our UU name to help us recognize the contradiction between the Humanist idea of self-actualization, and the need to build peace in responsive community.
This sermon is an example of the Unitarian “prophetic pulpit” because part of ministry is looking ahead and trying to see what’s coming next.
We are all still reacting to the invasion of the Capitol Building Wednesday, and I will address the important parts of it later in this talk.
The Reading that Stephen read ends with the author urging us to take every opportunity to reach out to those we feel are “not like us.” Avoiding those we feel are “not like us” makes it easier for us to think of them as “other.” Seeing people as “other” creates a deadly borderline that dehumanizes those who, in our minds, are too different, too “other”, too “not like us.” Once established, that borderline is too easily crossed and we may find ourselves persecuting those people who are “not like us.” It is human nature to e wary of the unknown, and has been so from the earliest times, going back to our prehistory. But there is a counter-current of relaxing and accepting differences, and I believe that this is the future.
The anthropologist Margaret Meade famously wrote that we can date beginning of human civilization when we uncovered human remains showing clear evidence that the person had recovered from a broken femur, and that meant that the injured person had not been abandoned by his tribe, but had been protected, nursed, and nurtured for the many months it took for his broken bone to heal.
This story has been challenged because supposedly, it is not found in Dr. Meade’s writings, and because some big animals have managed to survive broken legs. But I don’t care, because her view is generally true, and because it makes the point so memorably.
Instead of ignoring or merely finding commonality with not-like-us people, we might instead be proactive about reducing any alienation, any divisiveness.
The poet Edwin Markham, who lived from 1852 to 1940, wrote an epigram that addresses the “not like us” problem more actively.
As you may know, I have been writing and speaking in this election year about paying more attention and giving more respect to the Trump base. 74 million people voted for four more years versus 81 million who voted for change. But goodness gracious, 74 million voted for more attacks on democracy and on the media, or didn’t care! Yikes!
Much of what we saw Wednesday was a lot of unconsciously desperate and conflicted people making a statement, demanding recognition, and willing ot use violence to strike back at their “enemies.”
There is disturbing evidence that the insurrectionists were aided by some Capitol Police, and some Capitol Building staff.
There is disturbing evidence that the insurrectionists are planning to riot again on January 17th and 19th in Washington D.C. and in some State Capitols too. However, we can be pretty sure law enforcement will be ready this time. We can, can’t we?
These insurrectionists have an odd sense of entitlement. In my experience, entitlement accompanies narcissism, of which their leader is a remarkable example. Many clinicians feel that narcissism is rooted in trauma. Bernie Sanders says we need to show that we care about them, despite their very bad behavior. Otherwise, he says, we will continue to have angry uprisings. The situation calls for helpful, not punitive intervention, and for provision of much more safety net for everyone, not least the Trump base.
The people who broke the law on Wednesday at the Capitol building must be held to account, and it seems they will be. Agencies are busy identifying participants and many have been identified and some have been fired from their jobs for participating. There are calls for Senator Josh Hawley and Senator Ted Cruz to resign. It seems likely that many will be prosecuted. If we don’t, if they get away with it, we can be sure it will happen again. One devilish way they may get away with it is if the President pardons all the insurrectionists next week.
If we ask why Trumpism exists at all, let us being with the curse of slavery. Let us be clear-eyed about the aggression of the moneyed classes. Let us not forget that globalization has taken millions of good U.S. jobs and sent them to Mexico, and China, and Southeast Asia. Big box stores and Amazon have put small businesses out of business, and thousands of little American towns have lost their centers, their main street, their Lake Woebegon-type society. In Amazon, we have created a monster. Only the federal government can reign in companies that big.
The despair that drives the insurrectionists also drives the opioid addiction crisis.
Cultural norms and demographics are changing. We have women rising. We have non-whites rising. We have the sexual orientation and gender identification minorities becoming ever more proud and present.
By 2045, whites will compose less than half the U.S. population.
This is hard on certain white men.
We have a government that is not much interested in structuring taxes and opportunities to help the people who compose the Trump base – or anyone who is not already comfortable. We need to provide relief to all who need it. We need to restore financial security. We need to begin to carefully redistribute the fantastic wealth we create. We don’t want or need a revolution to get what we need, we need merely to expand current programs. An obvious example is expanding Medicare. First we provide Medicare, for example, to all children who need it. A few years later, we expand it to cover, for example, everyone age 55 to 64. In less than a generation we will get Medicare for all.
We have public works projects that need workers, and we should expand our works projects to include bridges, roads, and the conversion from fossil fuels to renewable sources. Contractors will have to be prevented from hiring foreign labor and out-sourcing. At least until the world begins to unite.
The pandemic has shown us that our system works very well for the upper middle class and the wealthy, and very very well for the fabulously rich, but does not work nearly as well for everyone else.
Given the havoc COVID has wreaked on jobs and income, Andrew Chang’s revival of the idea of a minimum income suddenly makes sense. $1,200 or $2,000 twice a year helps a little, but it’s not nearly enough. And why should a few benefit from the pandemic while millions are ruined, and while our government of the people, by the people, and for the people has no power to prevent it. Four in ten families report they expect to be in “survival mode” in 2021. Let’s tax the billionaires to pay for a lot of what’s needed, and at the same time disincentivize greed.
Doing the right thing here will require patience and wisdom and perseverance. Like vaccinations, the financial help should go first to those most in need: the poorest, oldest, youngest, then work up the ladder ’til we reach the place in the income scale where the people don’t really need it. It should be need-based, and end completely somewhere approaching the upper-middle class. It is stone cold crazy-wrong to send millionaires money that the poorest need so very, very much more. We need to rethink the capitalist system which is great for creating wealth, but lousy about sharing it.
We need to rethink everything. Our technological advances are way out in front of the necessary accommodations and adjustments. Education should be rethought in light of the quarantines, and the technology is being developed. We have seen the vulnerability of our communications networks and other spying threats.
We need to rethink the idea that technology should be customized to provide us with our personal preferences as we focus on making life more perfect for ourselves and our families. But doing that creates “cultural silos” when what we need to do is reach out and be helpful and establish new connections. We would do well to think about how to have intentional community, and unity, and cultural multiplicities of which we can all partake.
Invidivualism is all very well, but we will do better to emphasize community of all kinds, and take steps that may feel a little uncomfortable at first. So yes, let’s take a chance on reaching outside our comfort zone, to people not as like us as we might like. And let’s take a chance on talking with people about core values and happiness, rather than rushing to politics and religion.
Let’s try to find commonality.
Let’s be generous.
Let’s be kind.
And may everything we do be done in love.