What in God’s Name is Happening

Preached to the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence on July 30, 2017.


I don’t think i can start with a litany of all the changes we’re seeing. Or how disconcerting it all is.

cause it’s bananas. all of it’s bananas. In the past week I was exhausted by like, 18 different things. Capitalism and imperialism, always there. Then, this week, trans people not being allowed to serve in the armed forces- then still being allowed, but still clearly despised by many. Health insurance maybe disappearing- and then, still here. Cops cheering for more violence against those being arrested. Missiles being fired. Communications directors making phone calls. All of it! All of it is completely bananas, and exhausting, and it makes me want to look more and more into theories that somewhere in the 80s, maybe we all ended up in an alternate reality where the rules don’t apply anymore.

So anyway. The question about ‘what in god’s name is happening’ is a real one. And I have absolutely no idea how to explain any of it, which hopefully you don’t mind.

When I have no idea what’s happening in the world around me, the question that rises up and surrounds me is ‘how can I help’. How am I called to respond and stay safe? How can I be helpful when everything hurts, and I’m exhausted a lot of the time, and I don’t understand what’s happening around me?

I think maybe we all have those questions. If we were to compile lists of “questions that keep us up at night” and “worries that wake us up in the morning”, we’d have a comprehensive list of all of the fears and terrors and concerns and worries that we could possibly hold these days. So. we’ve got that going for us.

And, of course, we’ve still got no guarantee that anything or everything is going to work out alright, whatever that means. But we’ve never had that guarantee, and I’ll probably always be grumpy about that.

If you’re following along, you’ll note that I’m now confused AND grumpy, which is a horrible place to be in when I’m trying to figure out how I’m called to help. But maybe you can all relate, because it’s grump-inducing to be this confused by the world- to feel, after this long, that it still doesn’t make sense.

And, amidst all of this nonsense, the attacks keep coming. Poor people, black and brown people, women, gay people, muslims, immigrants, trans people, prisoners…

And it’s exhausting- but it’s not exhausting because it’s new. It’s exhausting because it’s old. We’ve heard this before, in histories we’ve read and lived. You’ve heard this before. our grandparents and their grandparents have all heard variants of this type of attacks, which divide us into camps of ‘affected and non-affected’ every single week. And if we’re not careful, these old, well-worn tactics, will make us forget to be a ‘we’.

So we’re faced with how we respond. Do we respond on the individual issues? Do we use our language to ally(EYE) ourselves with those who are most affected? Or do we tell a story of attacks on a whole?

The way we talk about this matters. It doesn’t have to be “this week trans people, last week muslims, the week before that immigrants”. It can always, all the time, be an attack on all of us. On the fabric we create together, on the interwoven web of existence, on our collective survival.

The narratives we tell are imbued with power. Our words are an act of creation. Our words shape the frameworks that we rest on, the frameworks our children grow into. Powerful stories are contagious- We create a story about the world that other people try on, to see if it fits with their story about the world. And if it does, it’s a story they pick up and carry forward- that they share with other people.

When we tell stories of these attacks, it’s vital to our survival that we tell the story of interwoven communities. Tell the story of attacks on all of us, on our unity, of them trying to drive wedges between us, to fragment a powerful coalition of people. That story reminds us of the power we have together. Of our need for one another, of the shared commitment we have to defending one another.

In answer to that question, “how do I help?” – sharing this story is a powerful response.  

This story takes us from being a scared group of individuals, to a community strong enough to resist what’s thrown at us. The values in that story are upfront, central- we are stronger together. We care for one another. We are united, and our differences are valuable.

Last week, I was asked what I thought an appropriate response was to the attacks on trans people. And it was instantly clear to me that I don’t want to hear “they’re going after trans people today, and we stand with trans people”. I wanted to hear “They’re going after all of us”. I wanted to be included in that language, not a separate group of people.

And I know we have to name the attacks, and be clear with who’s most affected, and how it hurts people differently. That, too, is a foundational requirement for being able to support one another through all of this. But I want us to be mindful that we keep telling the story of the “we”, as we do that. “An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us” requires both parts of the sentence to make sense.

Our survival lies with one another. Our salvation lies with one another. If we still see ourselves as separate from one another, we won’t be able to fight together- to resist and struggle and love and breathe together. You belong to me. I belong to you.

I have no idea what in god’s name is happening- but I know that I’m responsible for the story I tell in response. We are all called to bear prophetic witness to a world trying to tear us apart. I want our interdependence to be the sacred story we tell in response.  

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