I wasn’t supposed to be sharing a message with you today.
If you read the January Newsletter, you may have been looking forward to hearing a message by Rev. Mellen Kennedy.
Mellen is a UU minister serving in Vermont – and we were seminary classmates at Meadville Lombard.
Mellen will be sharing with you, instead, on February 28.
She called me about a week and a half ago and indicated that her worship committee thought they might NEED her in the pulpit the Sunday after the inauguration – not knowing what possibly could happen on that day.
And she added – I’m sure your congregations might need you that Sunday as well. And so – whether you need me or not – here I am.
I’m certainly glad that Mellen’s fear of additional violence did not happen.
And I didn’t really think it would happen.
But I looked on this as an opportunity and challenge to share a post inaugural service and message with you.
And I decided on a title for it based on some of the words I heard in Biden’s victory speech in November – Restoring the Soul of America.
I looked to a book by historian Jon Meacham entitled,
“The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels”
published in 2018 to get a little help with understanding.
Indeed Meacham and Biden use much of the same language as they both
look back to Abraham Lincoln’s words from his first inaugural address
in 1861 for inspiration.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.
Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.
The mystic chords of memory,
stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave
to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land,
will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched,
as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
By using these words – “the better angels of our nature,” I think Lincoln was referring to that deep, good, Soul that we know we can be as a nation.
Of course, a brutal civil war – where brothers became enemies followed,
with our better angels silenced by some for a very long time.
It’s helpful to know all of this history.
Because indeed – we have been here before –
a divided nation with efforts to move us backward to a less perfect union –
many times before.
Our nation was birthed with the sins of genocide and slavery
and a deep patriarchy and white supremacy that still rears it’s ugly head. Meacham’s book details so many of these. Meacham states:
“To know what has come before is to be armed against despair.
If the men and women of the past, with all their flaws and limitations
and ambitions and appetites could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed, to create a freer, stronger nation,
then perhaps we, too, can right wrongs and take another step
toward that most enchanting and elusive of destinations: a more perfect Union.`
Indeed, throughout history, we have moved forward.
Yes, sometimes it feels like it’s two steps forward and one step back.
But the movement is forward.
We do call forth those better angels – our better selves –
and we certainly need to do so at this moment in history,
as President Biden has called on us to do.
In his inaugural speech, President Biden called for Unity
with strong words of inspiration and encouragement.
But our president is a realist.
He knows that we can’t get everyone on board this soul train,
and we never have.
President Biden reminded us of this with these words:
“The battle is perennial, and victory is never assured.
Through Civil War, The Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifices, and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed.
In each of these moments, enough of us—enough of us—
have come together to carry all of us forward, and we can do that now.”
I’ll share some of Meacham’s ideas about how we might do this.
But first, I think it would be good for us to move this effort down to a smaller scale – to us as individuals, as congregations, and as communities.
For we have to restore our own souls as well.
So, I’m going to take a 5 minute break from this sermon
and put you in smaller groups to just share with one another
what some possibilities might be.
Don’t try to save the world – you only have 5 minutes
and each of you should try to contribute at least one thing -
it’s not much, but it’s a beginning.
For we have a new day now. Hallelujah.
What will we do with it?
You all try to watch your own time –
but you’ll get a warning when there is one minute left to wrap it up.
I encourage you to join a group when you get the invitation.
I know from experience that some of you won’t – and I’ll encourage you to use this time to make some notes about this – and perhaps share that in the chat – or email them me.
I hope that some of you will email me some notes on what you heard discussed – if anything – related to our congregations – and I’ll share those with our leadership.
Now here are those suggestions from Meachum that I promised.
1. Enter the Arena. The battle begins with political engagement itself.
Those who disdain the arena are unilaterally disarming themselves in the great contests of the soul, for they are cutting themselves off, childishly, from what Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., called the “passion and action” of the age. One need not become a candidate (though that’s certainly an option worth considering) or a political addict hooked on every twist and every tun and every tweet. But the paying of attention, the expressing of opinion, and the casting of ballots are foundational to living up to the obligations of citizenship in a republic.
2. Resist Tribalism. “We know instinctively,” Jane Adams wrote, “if we grow contemptuous of our fellows and consciously limit our intercourse to certain kinds of people whom we have previously decided to respect, we not only tremendously circumscribe our range of life, but limit the scope of our ethics.”
4. Respect Facts and Deploy Reason. “The dictators of the world say that if you tell a lie often enough, why, people will believe,” Truman wrote. “Well, if you tell the truth often enough, they’ll believe it and go along with you.” Meacham – “To reflexively resist one side or the other without weighing the merits of a given issue is all too common—and all to regrettable. By closing our minds to the even remote possibility that a political leader with whom we nearly always disagree might have a point about a particular matter is to preemptively surrender the capacity of the mind to shape our public lives.
6. Find a Critical Balance. President Kennedy realized the importance of this within the press. He said, “I think (the press) is invaluable, even though…it is never pleasant to be reading things that are not agreeable news. But I would say that it is an invaluable arm of the Presidency. …
8. Keep History in Mind. To remember Joe McCarthy, for instance, gives us a way to gauge demagoguery.
Me --So many times as I read some of our history – or watch documentaries or movies about it I realized – “We’ve been here before.”
And yet – with enough of us – enough of us calling on our better angels – we can survive and move forward.
I don’t know about you – but I’m ready to get on that SOUL TRAIN and know as Sam Cooke sang – A Change is Gonna Come!
Yes it will!