Check out Jane Palmer’s sermon for the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Berks County, inspired by our vision for all of our futures
Sermon: The Years of Repair
Jane Palmer, for First Unitarian Universalist Church of Berks County
January 3, 2021
It’s customary at this time of year to sum up the year that’s just ended, but we’ve had quite enough of 2020, haven’t we? We’re going to have some fun today because, boy do we need it. We’re going to create something gorgeous. It might be a little bumpy at first, possibly un … comfortable, but trust me, it’s gonna turn out all right.
So rather than focusing on 2020, I want to look at bigger blocks of time — the last four years, the last four … hundred, and, god willing, the years to come. The years of repair, I hope.
A good friend just said to me, “I can’t wait for this to be over.”
He meant the current administration, and I feel that, but I thought, wait, what is “this” exactly and when will it be over? On Tuesday when Georgia votes? On Inauguration Day? Or when we all get the vaccine? Will it be over then?
Listen, I know we need to take a break. I’m going to take a big one myself this year. I understand the longing to get back to “normal,” like being able to hug people, and go to restaurants, and not have chaos spewing out of the TV machine every night.
Our minds and public spaces alike have been crowded with awfulness for too long. Depending on our inclination and the extent of our resources, we have focused on avoidance, resistance — or survival. I’ve been in the resistance, fighting against cutbacks in the social safety net, extremist judges, and so on. Most of us have a few things we wish were over.
- But imagine yourself in my friend Shakair’s shoes. When will she no longer be terrified when her Black son goes out in the world?
- Or Carlos, who walked 2,000 miles to escape a drug gang in El Salvador, only to find himself and his family locked up in Leesport during a pandemic. When will they feel safe?
- What about Migrildi, a Dominican hairdresser in Reading who might with her three kids be evicted this week? Will this be over soon for them?
The answer is no, “this” will not be over soon. Yes, we will have a different president, and I’m all for that, but the pandemic won’t be over, nor homelessness or mass incarceration, or climate collapse, or greed.
Right now we stand at the beginning not just of a new year but what could be a vast reimagining of what’s possible. We can hand over the reins to a new set of professionals, nice ones this time, and hope for the best, knowing big change probably isn’t possible. Or we can imagine a healed and healthy world, abundant and generous and forgiving, and start to build it today.
In which case we have to face some facts:
Starting with the fact that this country we love so much and whose principles we hold dear was founded on land stolen from native people. Right here, this is Lenape land.
Our magnificent country, the richest in the land, was built by the labor of enslaved people whose descendents have been systematically exploited, disenfranchised and incarcerated ever since.
For half a century, our dominant narrative has held that the market should dictate what’s worthy, that if you pulled yourself up by the bootstraps you could be successful, and that “job creators” should get tax breaks but government support made working people lazy..
This particular era began with the 2016 election, and a lot of people, including me, were shocked, I tell you, shocked. This was not the America we knew! We were horrified by the loss of decency. We anguished over Muslims at the airport and kids in cages. We worried that folks were losing their health insurance, especially because that could be us.
And then there was Charlottesville, Parkland, El Paso, Las Vegas, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Nashville.
There was Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown. Black men, women and children, murdered by police.
Then Officer Chauvin murdered George Floyd in broad daylight, and white folks began to realize what everyone else had known all along, that liberty and justice is for some but not all.
Meanwhile, our institutions crumbled. Were they built on sand after all? Or just norms. Those of us who had lobbied the daylights out of our elected officials realized that they didn’t give a damn what their constituents want or need. They consorted, maskless, with Nazi sympathizers, dismissed our votes, and gave trillions of dollars to big corporations while millions of humans lost their jobs, healthcare, homes, and lives.
And then there was the coronavirus, leaping like wildfire from China to Italy to New York City and the next thing we knew, the doors slammed shut and every interaction put us in mortal danger, especially if we were Black or brown or in prison or seeking asylum or poor. If there was any shred of doubt about how broken, how cruel and unjust things were, the pandemic has laid it bare.
You tell me. When is this going to be over?
“We were wrong about America,” said John Pavlovitz about the most recent election. “Numbed by a cocktail of optimism and ignorance, many of us imagined this was a sick, momentary aberration and that sanity would surely come to the rescue. We were wrong to believe that white people weaned for decades on supremacy, would suddenly embrace disparate humanity and make more space at the table.”
Yeah no, it’s not going to be over soon. And you know what? We the people deserve better. There’s plenty of money to go around; it’s just that it’s held by a handful of billionaires.
Strategy, says Marshall Ganz, is about turning “what you have” into “what you need” to get “what you want.” I want us to focus on the what we want part of that, not all the reasons we can’t get there. Because, in the immortal words from South Pacific, “if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true.” So let’s imagine a country that works for all of us. Who’s to say it can’t be done?
Naomi Klein writes, “The coronavirus has already ushered in changes few imagined or foretold just a few months ago. Entire high-carbon, high-consumption industries are on their knees: cruise ships, airlines, fashion. The Movement for Black Lives has redrawn the political map, and nurses are local heroes. If this isn’t the time to advance a vision of the world governed by radically more humane and inclusive values, when is?”
This. This is the time.
I’m going to show you a 9-minute film called “A Message From the Future II: The Years of Repair.” The film features the art of Molly Crabapple, with the political storytelling of Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis, and Opal Tometi. The cast of narrators includes Tometi, Emma Thompson, Gael García Bernal, and the Nigerian poet and activist Nnimmo Bassey.
We’ll watch this film and then do some imagining ourselves.
I can hear you going, “that was a nice fantasy, but we can’t get there from here, given this and that and the other thing.” I know there are obstacles. All I’m asking is that we take this pivotal moment — this new day, this new year — to go beyond what we want to be over to what we really want. Let that be our vision.
We’ve been thinking very big this morning. As we close, let’s zoom in to the very small and very personal. Adrienne Maree Brown, author of Emergent Strategy, reminds us that the most resilient systems in the world are tiny, like mycelium growing underground in thread-like formations, gaining strength by connecting their roots to one another. Systems change doesn’t start at the top, but with shaping the smallest patterns of our daily lives.
I invite us to begin the years of repair by building deeper connections with each other and the world around us. As Brown puts it, let us “…intentionally change how we live in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.” We can start at coffee hour.
May it be so.