The Heart of the Matter
A Sermon Offered to All Souls Church, Unitarian Universalist
May 24, 2020
Rev. Shayna Appel
Welcome & Announcements
PreludeYou Must Believe in Spring by Michel Legrande
Chalice Lighting: Our Community Knows No BoundariesBy Nancy Reid-McKee [Adapted]
Our communityknows no boundaries. We are not confined by the physical limits
of walls or, for that matter, of what often bindsus, restricts us, holdsus back.
We are free-er than we know when werelease ourselves and each other
from expectations of what is neededfor true community.
We are here together in space.
I see you. I hear you. I love you.
And I light this chalice,
a beacon of this community holding us all together.
Opening Words: ClotheslineBy Marilyn Maciel
Wouldn’t it be lovely if one could livein a constant state of we?
Some of the most commonplace words can be some of the biggest dividers:
They? What if there was no they ?
What if there was only us ?
If words could be seen as they floated out of our mouths
would we feel no shame as they passed beyond our lips?
if we were to string our wordson a communal clothesline
would we feel proud as our thoughts flapped in the
Hymn#34 Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire
Time for All Ages
Reading:The Great Irony of America’s Armed Anti-Lockdown Protestors
By Firmin DeBrabander; Professor of Philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art
Published in The Atlantic, May 13, 2020
In recent weeks, the nation has been treated to an unsettling sight: angry men with assault rifles protesting various state lockdowns in response to the coronavirus pandemic. These demonstrations reached an ugly peak in Michigan last month—though they may yet worsen as the pandemic persists—when armed protesters rushed into the capitol building, and put on a chilling display of fury and intimidation. They claimed to be exercising their democratic rights of free speech and gun ownership. But there is something profoundly undemocratic about this form of demonstration.
Michigan lawmakers were understandably shaken when the armed throng surged into the capitol atrium; some donned bulletproof vests. The protesters screamed in the faces of stoic policemen who refused them entry to the Senate gallery. Many demonstrators sported fatigues and tactical gear, and also dark face masks—not so much out of public-health concern, mind you, though that was surely a handy excuse to seem even more menacing.
One immediately wonders: Why the guns? Are they necessary for this protest—any protest? A cursory glance at modern history reveals that some of the most effective demonstrations were strictly nonviolent. What did the lockdown protesters hope to add to their message with ominous assault rifles that they could not otherwise convey? Were they unsure that onlookers would appreciate the intensity of their anger?..
…Whether they admit it or not, when these men carry military-style guns in protest, they send the message that they have occupied the public sphere, and that others are not really welcome. The public sphere is less public in that regard—and these protesters are fed up with a diversity of viewpoints. Armed protesters don’t want to deliberate or debate, or even tolerate the opposition. When they appear, democracy ends.
SermonThe Heart of the Matter
Jim Ferrell is founding partner of the Abinger Institute and a renowned thought leader on mindset and organizational change. In October of 2011, he gave a TEDx Talk titled, simply, Resolving the Heart of Conflict. And, he began his nineteen minute talk by establishing this premise. He said, “We like problems. In other words, you like the trouble others create for you and I like the trouble others create for me. We like our conflicts. We like problems.”
Now, most of us would dispute this claim. After all, who in their right mind wants to live with conflict? And Ferrell agrees except he points to an alternative reality wherein the real possibility exists that most of the time, we do not, in fact, live in our right minds!
To illustrate his point, Ferrell tells the story of a man who came through one if his programs. The man had a sixteen year old son with whom he experienced a lot of angst. He didn’t trust his son, he didn’t like his friends, the kid was making bad decisions. And one Friday the son asked his father if he could borrow the car. Understandably, dad didn’t want to loan him the car, but neither did he want to appear mean spirited. So instead, he attached what he thought would be an unacceptable curfew to the cars use. Surprisingly, his son accepted the 10:30 curfew and off he went.
Now, the one thing dad was certain of was that his son was absolutely not going to be home by 10:30. This made him even angrier at his son and he stewed on his son’s failures for the entire evening. As the clock neared 10:30 he decided that this was it. This was the line in the sand and his son was never going to use the car again.
Suddenly, he heard the squeal of the tires as the car came into the driveway. He looked at his watch. 10:29! You might think dad would be happy about this. He was not!
Had we the chance to speak with this father on that fateful evening and asked him what he most wanted he would have told us, “a son who is responsible, who means what he says and has the capacity to follow through on his promises.” And if you’re thinking, “Well, that’s what he got, so why is he still angry?” you are in good company.
Ferrell adeptly get’s beyond the theatre of this father-son relationship and to the heart of the matter when he lifts up the one thing this dad wanted more than a responsible son – and he wasn’t even aware of it – but the one thing he wanted more than a responsible son was to be justified, to be right. We like problems.We like our conflicts.But in order to keep them alive, we need for our problems and conflicts to be justified.
Many of you are, no doubt, familiar with Martin Buber’s seminal book, I Thou?In it,Buber put forth a theory that there are two very different ways we can view people. I Thou , in which case we see other people as people, with hopes and dreams and values, and fears just like we have. Or we can view others through an I It lens, in which case we’re not really all that interested in who they are or how they arrived at their hopes, dreams, fears and values.
From an I Thouperspective we are likely to view others as people, who count like we count, who have the same worth and dignity as we have, who are legitimate in the same way we are and we are interested in and honor all of that. But when we operate from an I Itperspective, others are seen as objects and if they have hopes, dreams, values and fears, we’re really not that interested in knowing about those things. When we turn people into objects, we are more likely to use them as vehicles to carry out an agenda, seen them as obstacles to overcome, or maybe dismissed them altogether.
And the reason any of this matters is because there are very real consequences associated with how we view others. For one thing, as Farrell notes, it matters a whole lot to others how we see them. I imagine it mattered a great deal to the son in our opening story how his dad saw him. I know it matters to me how others see me, or don’t. And I’m guessing it matters to you too. How we are seen by others, or not, matters. How we see others, or don’t, matters.
But there’s another consequence associated with how we view others and this one hits a bit closer to home. Because, as Farrell notes, when we objectify others we inadvertently purchase a need, and that is the need to be justified. When we objectify others we suddenly need to be justified for making objects out of them – for not bearing witness to the sacredness or holiness of their humanity.
Think about the father and son in our opening story. The father spent his evening objectifying his son by focusing his gaze exclusively on his sons mis-behavior. This allowed him to stand in a place of blame for his son but that blame came with a price. Dad had inadvertently purchased the need to be justified in his blame. What’s more, in order to be justified in his blame, he needed a blameworthy son.
There were any number of ways dad could have justified his blame. He could have grilled his son for squealing the tires as he came into the driveway. Responsible kids don’t do that. He could have asked the kid if he filled up the gas tank. Or maybe he could have gone after him for speeding, which he probably had to do to get home in time.
But dad chose a forth way. At 10:29 his son came flying through the door, arms victoriously raised above his head, and he said, with a big smile across his face, “Made it Dad!” This could have been a beautiful moment, a healing moment. But it’s hard to facilitate healing when we are stuck having to be justified. So, instead, the boy’s father said, “You sure cut it close, didn’t you?”
“We like problems. In other words, you like the trouble others create for you and I like the trouble others create for me. We like our conflicts. We like problems.” And maybe, most of the time, those problems are inconsequential. We get ticked off at a significant other for putting an empty mayonnaise jar back in the fridge, for not helping out around the house or with the kids as much as we’d like, or for squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle and leaving a crumpled up, sticky mess on the bathroom counter. Most of the time, the problems we purchase justification for are inconsequential.
But right now, we are living in a nation that is dangerously divided by the justification we have purchased. Right now, the ‘othering’ that is taking place is anything but inconsequential. Right now, the fissure in America is growing into an abyss so large, it is becoming difficult to see a way across. And nowhere is that divide playing out more clearly than on the lock-down front, the need for which has been brought about by a world-wide pandemic.
On one side are those who heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and on the other are those who fear they are being manipulated. On one side are those who wear face masks in order to do all they can to not infect their sibling citizens, and on the other side are those who see wearing masks as a sign of weakness or as caving in to an overreaching government. On one side there are those who fear losing lives, and on the other side are those who fear losing livelihoods.
Right now we are living in a nation dangerously divided. And as frightening as that is, it ain’t nothin’ in light of the rabid objectification each side has for the other. The hate the right has for the left is, I believe, evenly met with the arrogant dismissal the left has for the right. Our culture – our habits of mind and patterns of behavior – has driven us deeply into a divide made possible by our objectification of those who do not see the world the way we do. The pandemic may be responsible for breaking our nations financial economy, but the nations moral banks were emptied out long ago due to a run on justification.
In his article for The Atlantic, from which our reading for today was drawn, Firmin
DeBrabander makes the point that when armed protestors show up in the public sphere, the sphere becomes less public. I know I have certainly felt that way. Debrabander asserts that these armed protestors don’t want to deliberate or debate, or tolerate any opposition because they are fed up with a diversity of viewpoints. To be honest, I’m fed up with them. And, I suspect, I am not alone.
They’re idiots. They are racists and they are science deniers. They are also exclusively Trump supporters so, why they don’t just go home, swallow an ultra-violet light bulb and wash it down with a little clorox is, frankly, beyond me. They don’t want to debate. They don’t want to deliberate. They have no tolerance for any idea or any reality that challenges their own largely ill-informed understandings of…well…let’s start with reality!
Does this sound like the voice in anyone else’s head, or is it just me? I bet if we were to take a moment and really think about it, we could “listen in” on the voices in their heads too…or, we could just tune into Fox News and hear those voices spoken out loud.
The problem is, our nation is dangerously and deeply divided along these political lines…but it ain’t the politics that’s the problem. The problem is that we have allowed our differences to eclipse our humanity. We see the politics before we see the person. And the moment we do that, we turn the “other” into an object. And once we’ve turned those NASCAR lovin’, pick-up truck drivin’, chick-fillet eatin’, gun toting, Fox watching Trumpians into objects, we’ve got to purchase enough justification to keep them there.
And guess what? They WILL stay there. You see, this is how the game plays out. THIS IS the Heart of the matter. This is why one Trump tee shirt sold more than any other Trump tee shirt during the last election. Anyone want to guess what it said? One word. “Deplorable.” And when my podcast partner Chris and I went to interview folks at a Trump rally last summer in Manchester, New Hampshire, those tee shirts were being proudly worn by thousands of folks.
The divide in our nation is real, it is deep, and it is getting deeper by the day. Nowhere is that divide more on display than on the front line of the current pandemic. But, you know, there is a cure – or, at least a way to slow the deepening of the divide.
You know the old saying, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging?” We could stop digging. We could stop objectifying others. O.K., maybe we can’t stop objectifying certain others. But we can be awake to the fact that we have done so when we do so. Just stop and notice what we’ve done – in thought or in deed – and don’t purchase that ounce of justification.
When DeBrabander looked hard enough at the armed protestors to see past his own objectification of them, his reaction wasn’t fear. In fact, it was just the opposite. He saw those armed protestors as totally impotent. He saw people who were so insecure in the manifest justice of their cause, they had to bring guns in order to amplify it. Furthermore, writes DeBrabander, “It also indicates a kind of desperation and ignorance – they either don’t know about the tradition or practice of civic protest, or decided to largely abandon it. In any case, they could not have reasonably expected a democratic response to their show of force.”
I agree. They didn’t expect, nor did they want, a democratic response to their show of force. Their story is that the government doesn’t work for them, has been taken over by the Democrats, or subverted by the Deep State. What they don’t know is that the justification they have purchased reinforces their experience and expectation of a government doesn’t work for them. In order to justify believing our Democracy is dead, they need a democracy that doesn’t work, won’t work, and so they show up with guns to insure that is the case – whether they know it or not. And round and round we go.
Tomorrow is Memorial Day. A time in which we honor and give thanks to all of those who gave, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “the last full measure of devotion,” to the great cause of America. Lincoln wondered then, as we may wonder now, whether or not a nation, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal…can long endure?”
I don’t know. But I am certain it cannot long endure apart from our commitment to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. And I know we cannot do that if we look past their humanity and see them as only objects.
So, on this Memorial Day, let’s dedicate ourselves to rebuilding a solid foundation for democracy, equality and freedom. It is, after all, the only monument worthy of the sacrifices too many have made for it.
Hymn/MusicMy Country Tis of TheeCrosby Stills and Nash
Offering/Joys & Sorrows
Closing Words: Let Us Begin Again in Love By Lois Van Leer
Having let go,
Set our intentions,
Named our curiosity,
Committed our energies,
And given ourselves over to lives of balance, purpose and meaning,
Let us begin again
Hymn#121 We’ll Build a Land
Chalice Extinguishing: We Are OneBy Amy Zucker Morgenstern
Never has it been more true than now:
We extinguish this flame,
But the sparks within us remain alight.
From each of us, in our supposed solitude,
The signals buzz and hum, sparkling through space one to another,
Connecting us invisibly
We are one.
And from every window,
Our light shines.
Singing Ourselves Onward:
Carry the flame of peace and love until we meet again
Carry the flame of peace and love until we meet again