Reclaiming “Us”

I feel a short preface should precede today’s message.  Today was going to be our Veterans Day service.  After all, today is Veterans Day.  But life has intervened.  Instead, we’ll be discussing two huge spiritual conundrums – two! – in one small sharing.  Hate, intolerance and violence seem to be crescendoing into a pandemic.  What can we do?  And at the same moment, our country and the people who lead it seem unwilling or unable to grasp the environmental nightmare headed straight for us.  What can we do?

So I thought we might share about how we might better frame and discuss the hate and division that so haunts us, as well as some thoughts on how we might stay engaged as we struggle to leave a living planet for our children.  And these conundrums are related how?   I believe that for both, the first step, not the last but the first step is to reclaim a sense of “us.”  Us, the human family.  Not proclaim it, we’ve done that, but move to reclaim it.

So buckle up.  None of this is easy.  This is a beginning, not an ending, how might we start reclaiming “us.”

I couldn’t help but notice that a violent man killing more than 50 people in Vegas just last month, didn’t scare us as a nation.  It saddened us, but it didn’t scare us.  Even more recently 26 people were killed by a violent man in Sutherland Springs, but that didn’t scare us.  It saddened us, but it didn’t scare us.  Yet when 8 people were killed by a violent man in New York the country panicked.  The newspapers screamed terrorism and the president cited this as an example of why immigrants are a threat.

Why?  There’s no one answer, but I believe a large part of it to be that most of America saw the murderer in New York as “one of them”.  A mentally ill “one of us” is one thing.  But a violent “one of them” is truly frightening.

“Those people.”  We hear that expression all the time these days – usually followed by a list of the transgressions “those people” have committed.  We’ll want to talk about this today, but we’ll want to do more than talk.  Talk, as they say, is cheap.  It’s important, I believe, to have some manageable, realistic ideas concerning what we might do about it.

For one thing, we can name the problem.  With all due lack of modesty, I will confess I have invented a word to describe it.  I believe we are suffering an epidemic of “theming”.  There’s “us” and there’s “them”.  Those people.  Almost every day it seems we’re creating new categories of “those people.”  That’s “theming.”  Those people.  Them, not us.  And, of course, once we create “them” it gives us permission to oppress, to discriminate, and to hate.

In its essence, “theming” gives us our rationale for hatred.  And while many, particularly these days, are talking about it in political terms, I believe this is not a political issue.  Hate is a deeply, indeed profoundly spiritual issue.

All of our spiritual paths have tried to teach us to love one another.

Some 2,700 years ago, the Hebrew Prophets tried to teach us to love our neighbor.

Some 2,500 years ago, the Buddha tried to teach us to love our neighbor.

Some 2,000 years ago, Jesus tried to teach us to love our neighbor.

Some 1,500 years ago, Muhammad tried to teach us to love our neighbor.

And this is the short list.

But the truth of it is: they all failed.  All of them!  All of our spiritual paths, be they theistic, atheistic, or agnostic, have tried to show us that we are but one family: the human family.  But we haven’t listened.  Instead, we not only split ourselves apart, but much too often actually use our spiritual paths to justify splitting ourselves apart.

I submit to you that any person who hates in the name of Judaism, be he or she an American or the Prime Minister of Israel, defames Judaism.

Any person who hates in the name of the Buddha, be he or she a Canadian or a leader in Myanmar, defames Buddhism.

Any person who hates in the name of Jesus, be he or she a Mexican or the President of the United States, defames Christianity.

Any person who hates in the name of Muhammad, be he or she an Indonesian or a leader of Daesh, defames Islam.

We need to be talking about this more.

The crucial truth of it is, whether or not we love our neighbor isn’t up to Jesus.  It isn’t up to the Buddha, Muhammad, Baha’u’llah, or any other prophet.  They can point the way, but whether or not we love our neighbor is up to us, each of us, not as a Hindu, or UU, or Sikh, or any other path, but as an individual.  Loving our neighbor isn’t a slogan, it’s a lifelong commitment, and we haven’t be willing to make it.  We have been and we remain too concerned about ourselves.  “Me first, my neighbor second” is how most of the best of us live.  “Me first, screw my neighbor” is how far too many of us still live.

All right.  We can name it.  “Theming.”  What more can we do … not, what should someone else do, not even what should we do, but what can we do about it?  We have become a nation of “those people.”  How might we begin to share the understanding that we are “those people”?  How can we begin to reclaim the “us” that is humanity?  And how do we make it sustainable?

I believe our actions will always speak louder than our words.  It is not what we proclaim that matters, it is what we do.  And again, let us not get caught up in the impossible task of trying to solve “love thy neighbor” by tomorrow noon, or next week, or next month, or even in our lifetimes.  Let us instead set about nibbling at the problem – day, after day, after day.

What I would seek to suggest this morning is not by any stretch of the wildest imagination “the answer” or “the solution.”  Would I would like to suggest are a few ideas for sustainable nibbling.  Nibbling that we can not only do today, tomorrow and next week, but nibbling that we can make a part of our lives and, by making it a part of our lives, model for others to it make a part of theirs.  This, I believe is our real chance to make a difference.  And it’s a huge world out there folks.  These are just a few concrete proposals for sustainable nibbling.  Enter the environment.

One area of reclaiming “us” is recognizing the very real environmental Armageddon our human family is facing.  Global warming, climate change, is bringing great storms and famine.  Right now – in Bangladesh as well as Puerto Rico.  These people are a part of “us”, not “them”.  Now, it’s true, nothing you or I can do will by itself halt climate change.  But we can begin to nibble at it.  Besides shaking our heads in dismay, and perhaps shaking some political trees, there is some sustainable nibbling available to us.

Realistically, not all of us can afford solar panels or electric cars, but all of us can afford bamboo toilet paper. … What!?  Do you know how much tp we use and how much wood it takes to make it?  Bamboo grows quickly, needs no fertilizer or pesticides, removes climate changing carbon dioxide, and provides roughly 35% more oxygen to the atmosphere than a comparable amount of trees.

But bamboo?  Am I serious?  Yes.  I have brought with me today bags with rolls from two different manufacturers of bamboo tp, Caboo and Silk’n Soft – each bag has one roll of each for you to take home and try out.  Try it out.  Let’s face it, we use tp every day.  This is a simple, sustainable something all of us can do.  I have yet to try bamboo “paper” towels for the kitchen, but that’s next on my list.  Nibbling.  Sustainable nibbling!

What’s another sustainable thing we can do for each other?  In the past I’ve handed out copies of “The Better World Shopping Guide.”  There is an updated edition available.  I’ve brought one to give away to one of us who has never heard of it before – by now most of us have.  The bottom line of “The Better World Shopping Guide” is that we don’t live in a vacuum.  What I purchase, every day, affects not only me but “us” – the human family.  Buying something on the cheap may come at the cost of slave labor – as can be the case with chocolate; or from horrific working conditions – as with some of our cheap clothes.  The food we buy and where we buy it matters.  We are connected.  We are a world family.  “The Better World Shopping Guide” helps to remind us that everything we do has a ripple effect.

Another sustainable thing we can do is to keep bringing food for the food bank and, during these cold months, donations to the cold weather shelter.  For again, the hungry and the homeless are not them.  They are a part of us.

Yet another sustainable thing we can do is risk putting ourselves out there for our brothers and sisters who have become victims of “theming.”  I will admit, it can indeed be a risk.  For those who have made “theming” a habit are quite likely to push back.  And as I found out just this past week from a Facebook post I made.  By my pushing back at the thought of “theming” I became one of “them” and subject to some pretty vile language.

Even so, I would share with you now that any phrase, any phrase that begins, “All Muslims,” or “All Hispanics” or “All Black People” or “All White People” that doesn’t end with “are part of the human family” is a part of “theming” and needs to be resisted.  But it needs to be resisted without resorting to “theming” of our own and, I would hope, without expletives.

What can we do to help reclaim “us”?  We can openly live our lives as a part of the world family.

I need to share at this point that this really isn’t a one sermon topic … though you may have guessed that.  So we’ll continue this discussion in two weeks when we ponder “The Need to Belong” and how this very human need has been used against our human family … and what we might do.   But that’s for next time.

For now what I’d like to close with is the need for us to speak up and speak out when we hear “theming” – whether it comes from people around us or from our own lips.  “Theming” is contagious.  If we are not intentional about ourselves and how we think and speak, we too become part of the problem.

And in the meantime, in the meantime with all that is flying at us, let us remember sustainable nibbling … let us seek out things that we can do, every day, that can help to connect us, that can help us to lift each other up, that can help take us from fear of “them” to love of all.  It’s a long road.  Let us walk it.  And as we do, we might just help save the planet.  Amen.

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