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Light in Darkness

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2016 at 10:04 pm


This sermon was prepared and preached for my Unitarian and Universalist Theologies class at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.

“There is in human nature a deep-seated and universal tendency for both individuals and groups to ignore the demands of mutuality and thus to waste freedom or abuse it by devotion to the idols of the tribe, the theater, the cave, and the marketplace. It cannot be denied that religious liberalism has neglected these aspects of human nature in its zeal to proclaim the spark of divinity in humanity. The practice of shunning the word “sin” because “it makes one feel gloomy and pious,” has little more justification that the use of the ostrich method in other areas of life”

-James Luther Adams – The Changing Reputation of Human Nature

“One discovers the light in darkness. That is what darkness is for. But everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light. It is necessary, while in darkness, to know that there is a light somewhere, to know that in oneself, waiting to be found there is a light. What the light reveals is danger, and what it demands is faith…I know we often lose…and how often one feels that one cannot start again. And yet, on pain of death, one can never remain where one is. The light. The light. One will perish without the light…For nothing is fixed, forever, and forever, and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have…The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. And the moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”

— James Baldwin – Nothing Personal

Did the light go out for you for a moment, or two, or more this week?

For James Baldwin, light is found in darkness. A shard of creation that glows within each of us and that propels us. Yet Baldwin’s light is not unlike the light of truth which enables us to see reality for what it is. That which illuminates us also shines a light on the world.

For some of us, earlier this week, we might have understood light as the beacon we were moving toward. A hoped for result in a hard-fought election, a result that called us like a beacon toward a vision of a people we hoped we were, or that we might become.

By Wednesday, that beacon was extinguished. And on Wednesday morning, I wept. As soon as the kids were out of the house and I was able I wept, and wept, and wept. For my daughters, for all of those who look like me – terrorist poster boy – who have the visceral sense of being unsafe in my own country. I wept for all of us, for what this all might mean.

The truth that was illuminated for us on Wednesday morning is a truth that, depending on where you stand, was either deeply shocking and surprising, or was such a foregone conclusion that you almost had a hard time understanding why so many seemed so shocked.

The truth I refer to here is not that Donald Trump won or Hillary Clinton lost or that the polling or the pundits or the predictions were so wrong or that the Senate and the House were both in the hands of the Republicans.

The truth I refer to here is that roughly half of those who voted, voted for a candidate who is openly racist, sexist, misogynist, anti-gay, and an admitted sexual predator.

Strongly suggesting that roughly half of those who voted are not just accepting of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and sexual assault, but they think its Presidential.

Now, it is isn’t totally fair to say that – we can debate the extent to which Trump supporters *actively* support those things versus tacit support or even mild disapproval. But that does not change at all the truth that was revealed: America is still deeply, deeply racist, deeply sexist, deeply in the grips of a toxic masculinity that has spilled like a pipeline into all our water sources poisoning the entire landscape.

This election has held a mirror up for us, and what I’m seeing, what you may be seeing, isn’t pretty.

We want to look away, but the light is too bright, the truth too awful to look away from. Particularly since we are people who pride ourselves on seeing reality for what it is – and many of us did not see this.

When my father passed away, I arrived home just hours after he’d passed, and was able to sit with him. In the hours that I sat with his body, I swear that I saw him move. Even though I could reach out and touch his cold hand, kiss his cold forehead, the light and the cries of my heart played tricks on that long fall afternoon and I swear I saw this hand move, his chest rise.

It was good to sit with his body that day because being with him, surrounded by family, started to rewrite my whole being – beginning a new chapter in the story of my relationship with my dad, this one titled, “After His Passing.”

From everything I’ve seen on social media, from everything I know of talking with some of you, I think we all might be feeling a little bit like I did that afternoon, sitting in the lengthening shadows of fall along side the now-extinguished beacon and our story of how things were supposed to be. Perhaps seeing a slight movement, a small breath, even while we know that the hoped for story is over.

Maybe, even now, our beings are starting to write the next chapter of our collective story, one that we might title – bear with the working title –  “We didn’t see that coming, We’re starting to see how deep the Toxicity Goes…..”

In and through our grieving, I feel we are awakening to this new and hard reality; we are integrating it into our bones, and starting to see it for what it is.

It may have felt like things were getting worse – grieving pretty much sucks after all, but as my friend and writer adrienne maree brown recently wrote: “things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight & continue to pull back the veil.”

And isn’t that exactly what our tradition calls us to? To hold each other tight, as we continue to seek truth, even if and when it means pulling back the veil of things we’re not totally sure we want to see in ourselves or in America via the reflection of this election.

And wow, what a reflection!

We are staring in the face of what James Luther Adams wrote about – ignorance  of community and coexistence, the waste and abuse of freedom in the pursuit of a toxic ideology. It is a painful and deep taproot of America, one that caught many of us unaware.

Yet there is also some light. The paradox is that what illuminates right now is itself the darkness – the toxic ideology, the racism, the sexism – the light is that now we see more clearly what was previously obscured. America really is this racist, this sexist, this misogynistic.

It is a revelation, and like any experience of revelation, any “opening of what is hidden,” this light breaks us open to a new reality, a new relationship with ourselves and the world around us. The danger revealed demands faith, and our faith calls us to follow the light.*

The beacon we follow now points us to gift of a clearer picture of reality. America has revealed to the world its racist and sexist side in a big big way, and if you can, I invite you to join me in a sigh of relief that we now know more clearly than ever exactly what it is we’re working with and who we are as a society. But this beacon does not direct us toward a path of unity, not yet, perhaps not ever.

Friends, what if, even as the calls for healing and reconciliation and unity grow louder – and we are already hearing them – we got clearer and clearer about our vision for humanity. This is a time when our historical impulse to accommodate the culture is strong, and it is exactly the wrong impulse to follow. America has just told us how racist and sexist and homophobic it really is – it has told us that roughly 1/2 believe in denying the right of people of color, women, LGBTQ folk, and immigrants to their humanity and existence. When someone tells you who they are – believe them! This is not a time to accommodate to the larger culture but a time to stay deeply rooted in who we are and what we will not tolerate, in our communities, or in our society. It is a time to draw moral and ethical lines and not be lured away by the false hope of understanding. Basic existence and respect for our humanity is not a question for debate – not for me, not for you, not for any of us.

Rather than jump into the temptation to accommodate, heal, or reconcile, it is time for us to stand still. To live into the liminal space between polarities and false equivalencies and hold fast to what we know is true. Human worth and dignity are non-negotiable, our interdependent web of existence must be protected for all of us, and justice, equity, and compassion are are guiding stars for our individual and collective lives.

May it be so.

*Paraphrase of Rudolph Bultmann on revelation.