“As we experience our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live them.” (John Fitzgerald Kennedy)
November! We begin in the throes of a most disturbing and polarizing election for the President of our country. We end by returning to our collective recollection of what is right with our country, and a focus on gratitude that can be healing and binding.
We have about two weeks between the results of the election, and the invitation to offer authentic reflection, appreciation and gratitude.
It may seem like a stretch, not only the retrieval of civility, but of genuine love and compassion for our compatriots who saw a vision and direction for our country different from our own. It will be a challenge for many of us.
All of this is a reminder of why when we have disagreements, it is healthy and helpful to say clearly where the differences reside, and it is unhealthy and unhelpful to diminish or attack the worth and dignity of the person promoting the opposing views. Ideas can change, and often do. The dignity and worth of a human being is inviolate – even if we do not like them.
Why is the tattering of the edges of our commonweal a matter of spiritual concern, especially for those of us who cherish the separation of church and state?
It has everything to do with the church, with our faith and our tradition. It was the Free Church that conceived that people could govern themselves, that promoted the idea that individuals coming together could democratically make sound choices that could guide a church and then a town. The New England Town Meeting was the crucible in which the democratic processes, first incubated in the covenanted faith communities, found full expression. And from that, grew our nation.
There have been times when the towns and the country have failed to have civil discourse, and civil disagreements, surely. We saw that during the McCarthy era, and we are experiencing it now as we struggle to affirm that Black lives matter. We have seen it in the churches with the Salem witch trials. Those failures remind us that we do this thing called democracy imperfectly, and drop our vigilance to protect civility at our peril.
This church and our Unitarian Universalist faith stand as testimony to the resilience of the gathered community and our ability to affirm our faith and its principles even in the face of failure. We pick ourselves up, and we try again.
After this election, I will be profoundly grateful for you, my faith community and the tradition that supports us. It is here, day after day, week after week, gathering after gathering that we get to practice being humanly compassionate together even when it is hard, holding tight to the values we cherish, remembering not only to name them, but to live them, again and again, and again, until we hardly can remember we ever lived any other way.