Sermon only:

E Pluribus UUnum

Rev. Kevin Tarsa
Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains
October 25, 2020
via Zoom

How are you doing? Have you voted?

Next Sunday is the Sunday immediately before the presidential election, but that is so close to E-Day that we’ve chosen to take time this Sunday to check in, to ask how it is with your spirit, to breathe together for a while, to anchor ourselves in what matters, and to steel ourselves to “keep going on” in the direction of our hearts and our values, no matter what happens.…

For so many people on both sides of the political chasm – and I am thinking of people I know and love on both sides, as I say this – that anywhere near half the nation could think and feel so differently is terribly disturbing, disheartening, and frightening, clearly! And for those of us who identify as progressive in some way, particularly those of us who are white and middle class, it is disorienting. It shakes our somewhat sheltered and optimistic faith in humanity and in the promise of the United States as a nation…

The election is being framed as not about a president, but rather about the soul of the nation. And it does feel that way, doesn’t it? If ours were a democracy, rather than a democratic republic – in other words, if every individual person’s vote counted equally and a simple majority determined the outcome – (then) this election would reveal the current soul of the nation. But given the use of the electoral college, and lord knows what other legal and political pathways this time, the election will actually choose the soul of the nation at some level, determining how the soul and spirit of the nation will be shaped for the future as long as most of us gathered this morning will live it.

The soul-shaping stakes do feel very, very high.

AND…given the national identity divide, the work of shaping our selves, our communities, and our nation toward compassion, toward equity, toward justice, toward kindness, and courage will be ever more necessary and important, no matter the outcome of this election.

Me? I much prefer to feel comfortable, thank you. I moved to a new home recently, and what I really wanting to be doing is nesting – putting things away and settling into a quiet, nurturing, comfortable and comforting space. But outside of home, in this larger, social journey we share, I think that the “feeling comfortable” option is off the table for a while for all but the most spiritually enlightened among us.

So, this morning, I want to say:

  • Let’s trust that we will find our way, no matter what, and no matter how difficult the path.
  • Let’s (prepare to) keep our hearts open, during and after the election, as challenging as that may be.
  • Let’s each work like hell for the next nine days toward the election outcome that we seek.
  • And let’s ready ourselves, steel ourselves, perhaps, for the possibilities to come and the work ahead.

Possibilities?

I’ll start at the end.

A group of colleagues surfaced what they believe are the three most likely election scenarios come November 3rd-ish.

  • A huge win for one of the candidates. A clear, decisive outcome that is not contested and that both major parties acknowledge.
  • An outcome that is not clear right away – due to slow returns and ballots still being counted – but that’s looking like it’s going to be clear enough eventually.
  • An outcome that is clear, but contested or “thrown” into some new scenario (Trump refuses to leave office, for example, or there is violent militia style action by supporters,

This group of colleagues is preparing for that entire range of outcomes, with the expectation that outcomes 2 or 3 are most likely. They are preparing for the possibility of violent voter suppression on election day and violent action afterward. They are going so far as to stock medical supplies, to identify places to bring the injured and to shelter the vulnerable. Just in case.

On the one hand, I want to share that without being alarmist or feeding our fear unhelpfully. On the other hand, I believe it’s important to our emotional preparedness and wellbeing, to at least acknowledge those possibilities enough, and ahead of time, so that should events unfold in chaotic and frightening ways, we can say to ourselves, “Okay, I knew something like this could happen. What do I need to do now? What do we need to do now?”

As one way to give yourself a compassionate and reassuring task, I would encourage you to decide ahead of time, who you are going to check in on, and perhaps, who is going to check in on you. Make a definite plan to find out about someone else’s wellbeing in whatever ways you can.

As a community, look to email from UUCM, to the website, M&F look to uucmConnect, and meanwhile think about ways our community resources might serve safety and wellbeing here for ourselves and for others.  On election night we’ll be holding an open Zoom room all evening so you can stop in any time to touch base, in small groups. We’ll do something similar the next day. On Thursday we’ll host our Singing Meditation, and on Friday our weekly check-in. Watch for opportunities to connect and to conspire as events unfold.

Between now and then, I invite you to work like hell for the outcome you desire. UU the Vote continues its invitations to phone bank right up through Nov 3. Even it that scares you a little, consider calling Florida and Wisconsin voters to make sure they have the information they need to cast their ballot safely and overcome any attempt at voter suppression.

Closer to home, I invite you to ask every person you interact with between now and the night of November 3, “Have you voted?” Offer to help get information if needed. Contact the folks you think might not vote without a little extra encouragement.

Find and share with each other ways to invest in the election during these remaining nine days.

I happy to report the final tally for UUCM’s Vote Forward letter writing effort – UUCM members and family and friends wrote and mailed 4710 letters to voters! Thank you!

As to keeping our hearts open, no matter what:

Given the high stakes of the election, and given that the destructive actions of the current president violate so many progressive values so egregiously – it’s difficult for many not to demonize the people who support him, or at least it’s tempting to place them on another planet or in another species in our understanding of humanity.

I struggle with this. So, when someone’s social and political stance feels inconceivable to me, which happens often, I try to remind myself that my views are surely just as inconceivable to them, and then, when I’m at my best, I ask myself, “Why would a kind, caring, well-meaning human being hold views so different from my own? Which of their fundamental needs are being met there?”

When I watched the Republican convention, and listened to a few everyday speakers from around the country, I recognized and felt, beneath their words, some of the heart and the hurt of members of my own family. People harmed, terribly, by the shortcomings of government bureaucracy, people whose grounding world view and values are challenged and shaken by same-sex marriage, trans rights, the idea that racism pervades their lives, the painful surfacing of US history from the indigenous perspective that topples the founders and the founding of the nation from their bedrock pedestals, the sense of being looked down upon by the permissive, highbrow societies on the coasts….people whose very identities are challenged by an unavoidably changing world.

In an exploration of how congregations are handling the election, Scott Tayler named the wisdom that “If you don’t give someone a chance to say ‘I hurt,’ they will end up saying ‘I hate.’”

Most of the time, the answer to my question, “Why would a kind, caring, well-meaning human being hold views so different from my own?” involves recognizing, eventually, a set of hurts and unmet needs. One of the reasons for the depth of the national divide at this moment, is an inability to recognize, acknowledge, and speak to the hurts and needs on the other side of the chasm. No matter what happens around the election, this is a piece we will need to learn if we want to hold together and if we want to move forward,

Which is not to say we don’t need to place clear limits on people’s behavior along the way, and to protect the vulnerable in our midst, and to resist and protest as necessary. We will want to be ready for these things too.

AND… 

I don’t know how well or how badly people will behave come November 3 and afterward.

Indications are…worrisome.

These are some severe growing pains for this adolescent nation of ours, and there is no way to get around being part of them. It’s our nation, struggling to grow into its promise. In many ways we will need to “make it up as we go.” We, here, will have each other, I trust. We’ll have the values and the principles we say matter to us to draw upon, and we will have our own tradition’s practice in trying to hold theological diversity within a sense of unified community.

Though it’s not the official motto of the US, as many believe, “E pluribus unum,” captures the crux of our history and our challenge.

“E pluribus unum,” it says on the Great Seal of the United States since 1782. “From many, one.”  –  a reference to the original 13 colonies finding a way to join together into a single entity. But the deeper weaving of many into one has always been difficult and incomplete and, like our own religious pluralism, aspirational. As Langston Hughes wrote from within his experience as a black man in the U.S., “America never was America to me.” More and more of us are learning how America has never fully been America to many.

The most encouraging aspects of US history trace the efforts to include more pluribus in the unum. The most painful aspects of US history capture the efforts to exclude people – right up to this day. This is the soul of the nation around which US citizens are voting.

My hope and prayer is that these are indeed the intense national growing pains of a nation in the process of becoming, ultimately, more healthily unum. And that no matter how much America has or has not been America to each of us, we will say with Langston Hughes, as he continues his poem – “And yet I swear this oath – America will be!”

It’s going to take commitment, courage and action on our part.

May we commit, together, to help it be so, come what may on Nov 3-ish and afterward.

Remember, you are not alone, and that we will be finding our way, we will “keep going on,” together.