We Can’t Stop Now

by Rev. Terry Davis

Delivered at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation on
March 5, 2017

It’s humbling to hear the stories today about Summer Dale and Malala Yousafzai. And, it’s inspiring to know that the lives of these two young women have had an incredible ripple effect. Their selfless and courageous actions have encouraged so many others to act selflessly and courageously, too.

One person can make a huge difference. I think it’s safe to say that we hear this axiom often, and we may have even repeated it to ourselves or to others a time or two. But I imagine it’s sometimes easy to think quite the opposite.

We get bombarded with bad news over and over again and we become discouraged. We put our faith in heroes and role models and they let us down. We roll up our sleeves and get involved in something we think will help change a situation from bad to good, and then we realize that we’re using a little spoon to dig our way through a mountain.

Of course, people like Summer and Malala might encourage us to keep engaged, to keep the faith, and to keep digging. And possibly, if only because of their example or because we don’t want to let them or their legacy down, we do.

My guess is that each of us knows someone whose example of perseverance has kept us going during our own rough times. My grandparents on both sides offer stunning examples of courage and strength for me.

I have spoken before of my paternal grandparents, both children of poor Italian immigrants, both without much education, working blue collar jobs in a tiny coal mining town. On my mother’s side, my Grandma was widowed at age 41, her husband dying suddenly of a heart attack at his office. She was left with two young children, not much cash, and isolated in Toronto, Ontario – hundreds of miles away from her sister and family in Maryland.

My grandparents had bills to pay and mouths to feed. So, I can imagine that their perseverance may have been mostly about responding to an impulse deep within to survive physically, to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

On the other hand, when a young girl with cancer like Summer says, “I need a kid. Help me find a kid” and another young girl, who was shot and nearly killed, says “I need to help other girls receive an education, no matter what,” we might imagine that they are responding to an impulse deep within, too . . . an altruistic impulse, perhaps . . . where their spiritual or emotional survival depends upon aiding the survival of another.

To be of use to others in need–to commit to something larger than oneself for a greater good–these are the values that Summer and Malala made a priority in their lives, and – by doing so – perhaps made it more possible to create the best possible lives for themselves under very difficult circumstances.

Like Lynne, I have much to learn from people like Summer and Malala. They remind me that life will always challenge us in big and little ways, and that our life-saving response can be simply not to stop . . . not to stop giving ourselves to one another . . . not to stop imagining a better way and a better life for all . . . and not to stop believing that we can dig our way through a mountain of fear and injustice and eventually come out on the other side.

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As Unitarian Universalists, we often point to our Seven Principles as both the foundation of our faith and our religious mandate. These are the principles that, when we strive to keep them, keep us spiritually fit and make it possible for us to participate in the healing and transformation of this world.

If you’re not familiar with our principles, they can be found on the pages just before Hymn #1 in our gray hymnal. They invite us to:

  1. Affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Practice justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  3. Accept one another and encourage spiritual growth in our congregations;
  4. Promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning . . .
  5.  and use of the democratic process;
  6.  Seek the goal of world community, with peace, liberty and justice for all;
  7. Respect the interdependent web of all existence.

I love our principles. They’re why I’m here. They show no preference for theology or philosophy or politics. They simply tell me how to act, putting justice, compassion and accountability at the center of everything.

Several years ago, our Unitarian Universalist Association cleverly distilled our seven wordy principles into one succinct statement. They said, “We are the people standing on the side of love.” Standing on the Side of Love – that’s our slogan. Our elevator speech. The thing we can easily tell our neighbor or our co-worker when we dare to talk religion and they ask, “So, what is a Unitarian Universalist?”

To stand on the side of love means that we stand with the most vulnerable members of our society – immigrants, prisoners, black and brown persons, trans persons, those who are poor and those who are sick. We stand with the beautiful and vulnerable natural world and we care about the survival of all of its inhabitants.

Standing on the Side of Love – I mean, really, what decent person doesn’t want
to claim to be doing that?

And, yet, when we witness actions in our country and communities that threaten the well-being of these vulnerable people and our vulnerable planet, we are called to do more than claim that we stand on the side of love. Like Summer and Malala, we must take action. We can’t stop now – especially today. So, what can we do?

How many of you received your copy in the mail this past week of our Unitarian Universalist magazine called UU World? If you did and you had a chance to look through it, you may have encountered a few articles that offers us some excellent suggestions on actions we can take. For example, in her article “The Call to Prayer,” Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd proposes that we take care of our spiritual health so that we can more readily do our spiritual work. She champions the role prayer has toward achieving this end, writing:

In my faith life, I do not often pray in order to comfort myself, but to agitate myself into being a better version of myself. I pray to remind myself that I have work to do, and it makes what work I do possible . . .

When we speak our heartfelt intentions aloud or into the silence of our hearts, we can honor life or death, we can acknowledge hope or horror. Prayer is not just a way of naming what we yearn for, but also of harnessing our own power, including what we choose to do with it once we harness it.1)Nancy McDonald Ladd, “The Call to Prayer,” UU World, Spring 2017, 21.

In other words, before we can help bring more love, justice and peace to our hurting world, we need to be clear on what we want and why we want it. Naming our aspirations in thoughtful prayer is a way to do that.

In addition to Rev. McDonald Ladd’s suggestion that we act with prayer, we might also consider the tips offered in the article “Field Notes for the Resistance,” which was written by former Unitarian Universalist Association public relations director Janet Hayes.

Hayes advises us to get beyond our Facebook and e-mail activism of commenting, sharing, and signing electronic petitions. Rather, she says that most of the actual work of resisting attacks on vulnerable persons and climate science will happen “in city halls, classrooms, courtrooms, and churches.”2)Janet Hayes, “Field Notes for the Resistance,” UU World, Spring 2017, 13–14.

Hayes outlines several concrete actions we can take, including:

  1. Setting up automatic monthly donations to the organizations whose work you most value;
  2. Subscribing to mailing lists for action calls;
  3. Giving contributions in lieu of material gifts for birthdays and holidays;
  4. Participating in state or local chapter events;
  5. Asking your congregation to include “Share the Plate” offerings for national civil rights groups;
  6. Attending meetings of the school board, city council, park commission, or police department citizen’s committee;
  7. And, following the local news and writing letters to the editor or producer when coverage is lacking or inaccurate.3)Ibid, 14 – 15.

Hayes also quotes Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Keith Kron, who suggests that, because congregations often have limited resources to address overwhelming community needs, they must become “very mindful” about their priorities. Rev. Kron says, “We need to ask, ‘What is the work of this church for the next four years? Eight years?’ Then we need to determine what’s needed to make that happen.”4)Ibid, 14.

And, finally, in the article entitled “Be a Patriot,” Yale history professor Timothy Snyder offers 20 lessons from the last century’s catastrophes that he believes will serve us and our democracy well in this one.

Here are three:

  1. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Snyder advises not to fall for the sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on.
  2. Believe in truth. To abandon facts, writes Snyder, is to abandon truth. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so.
  3. And, investigate. Figure things out for yourself, Snyder suggests. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you.

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These articles and suggestions found in our denomination’s national magazine are a call to action. They remind us that the actions we have taken in the past to make our values visible will need to be met by more action.

So, what is the next thing we each might do? And, what might Northwest collectively do to show that we stand on the side of love with both our words and our deeds?

We’re going to address these questions over the next few weeks. So, I invite you to reflect upon which of our seven principles moves you the most and what you might do to make it more visible in our communities and country.

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As I said at the beginning of the sermon, people like Summer and Malala inspire me and humble me. They remind me that there is no difficulty that cannot by countered by our impulse for spiritual and emotional survival.

As we consider the days and the work ahead, may it be so. Amen.

References   [ + ]

1. Nancy McDonald Ladd, “The Call to Prayer,” UU World, Spring 2017, 21.
2. Janet Hayes, “Field Notes for the Resistance,” UU World, Spring 2017, 13–14.
3. Ibid, 14 – 15.
4. Ibid, 14.