Oh Friends, it has been a heartbreaking week. Thank you for being here this morning.
I named this sermon a month or two ago, calling it “I will not be afraid”. I intended to talk about how to foster a resilient faith community in the face of societal fear. I guess I still intend to do that. But I also acknowledge that the title of this sermon isn’t true. It’s never been true, but it’s even less true this week.
The premise of this sermon was never that we somehow shouldn’t or won’t be afraid. Rather, it’s that we shouldn’t be afraid alone.
The shooting at Pulse Nightclub last Sunday has torn through my queer community. Has torn through queer communities around the country. For Muslim queers, for Latinx queers, the impact is magnified. For all of us, it has change our relationship with our fear.
And so I want to open this sermon by acknowledging that in this room, many of us are afraid. Some of us have been afraid for much of our lives. Some of us are feeling deep fear for ourselves, or our loved ones, for the first time. Some of us don’t know how to survive with this much fear, and find that it’s been turned into resignation. No matter who you are, or how you hold your fear, thank you for bringing your broken hearts this morning.
We have a culture of fear in our society- being afraid isn’t new. But normally it’s a culture of fear that we don’t acknowledge. In much of White American culture, we talk around our fear- offering up solutions that never address the root of it. Our response to gun violence is to teach our children how to be small and quiet in their classrooms- how to be afraid.
Weapons manufacturers and xenophobes and hate mongers tell us our fear can be solved if only we fight the right people. The stores tells us our fear can be solved if we buy the right face cream, or exercise equipment. But these are all false solutions, selling us a myth of individualism. Telling us that if we try hard enough, and spend enough money, and fight people before they fight us, evil won’t reach us. Death won’t find us. We won’t be left disabled, dead, old, or unlovable. It’s a myth that leads to isolation and distrust, and a myth that completely collapses under us whenever tragedy shows up.
It is holy work to break down the culture of unacknowledged fear. We have to be forging communities that can hold each other in the face of despair and tragedy without turning to hate, revenge, or resignation. Because our future is fundamentally shaped by the communities we’re a part of today.
The holy texts I pulled from today come from a variety of traditions. Each of them presents a different response to fear. What I ask of myself, what I ask of all all of us, is that we choose a response to fear that is live-giving.
What I find so life-giving about all of these readings is that they can be turned to when fear appears, and that act, of reaching for something in response to our fear, acknowledges that our fear is real. Unitarian universalism pulls from a variety of sacred texts and traditions. When it comes to fear, what traditions and texts do you pull from? What words do you turn to, when all is dark? .
And let us go beyond an individual response. We should not be facing our fears alone. Resilient communities share more than joys and celebrations- they also share despair, and heartbreak.
If you are LGBTQ+, I hope you have a community to be a part of, and that you havae been physically held by other queers this week. The most sacred space I was in this past week was simply holding another member of my community in silence, as we let ourselves feel beaten down and afraid together. Never underestimate how much community resilience is forged from shared grief and fear.
The queer community is one that has been beaten time and time again, and still survives without turning to hatred. We have found resilience in one another, resilience in our softness. Our commitments to being colorful, and open, to dancing, to pride, have never been about a victory- they have always been about survival in the face of very present dangers, about community in the face of hatred.They have always been message to our family still in hiding, still in closets- “you are loved. love is possible for you.”
If you are queer, whether you or out or not, I am so grateful you are here, and alive. My life is better for you being in it. This community is better for you being in it. I see you, and I love you.
If you are not queer, I recommend looking at the queer community here in the valley. I wish you could ask the young, poor queers in this town to tell you about how their community takes care of each other. I wish you could hear stories about how often people pay rent for one another- and dental bills, groceries. I wish you could see the love poured into community meals, where nobody leaves feeling hungry or unloved.
And I wish you could witness a community that talks openly about and wrestles with mental illness, and holds one another through the worst times. It is all holding that is done imperfectly. It is never enough. But it is still done, and it is still meaningful, and it still means survival for so many of us.
The communities around us that experience oppression- like the Latinx queer community in Orlando, like the Black communities around the country, the disabled community- have always known about fear, and have had to be resilient to survive. They hold fear, and acknowledge it openly, and lean on their community, and often their faith, to survive in this world. And that’s what I’m asking us to do, as well.
Whether you have one marginalized identity, or five, or none, I need you to acknowledge your fear. Because if you find a solution to your fears through some sort of individualism, or you stay quiet bout your personal response to fear, your strength doesn’t become a resource for your community. In this time of increasing heartbreak, increasing fear, we need all the resources we can get for our communities to be resilient. Otherwise we will only ever be reactionary, reeling individually in our grief and outrage, unsure of how to hold each other as a community when each tragedy comes home.
So talk to me. Talk to each other. Talk about what you’re afraid of. Who you’re afraid for. And talk about where you draw strength from, when fear rises up to claim you. Let the story of this community have fear in it, so that it may also resilience and courage.
I love you. I need us to be afraid together.
Readings used in this service:
By Tekeal Riley
If you are here
stay in your bones!
As rickety as they are,
bones are racks of staircases
long tunnels of marrow
connecting heart to home.
Never mind wild philosophies of where
you could roam–
Where are you now? How do you live
in the shadows of the corners of your skin
that does not melt?
When we have opened our temple doors
to too many,
bearing touch we don’t like,
Strangers slowly creep in
and convince our already fading,
that it really isn’t here
that we want to live.
John 14: 27, the Bible
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
The Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, from Dune
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
The Tao, Lao Tzu / Ursula Le Guin
Chapter 76 – Hardness
are soft and tender.
Corpses are hard and stiff.
The ten thousand things,
the living grass, the trees,
are soft, pliant.
Dead, they’re dry and brittle.
So hardness and stiffness
go with death;
go with life.
And the hard sword fails,
the stiff tree’s felled.
The hard and great go under.
The soft and weak stay up.