Posts Tagged joy

Go Vote!

“We covenant to affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.”
Fifth Principle of the Unitarian Universalist Association

"I Voted" sticker with flaming chalice pinThe congregation I serve makes its major decisions by voting.  As a church belonging to one of the faiths descended from the early American congregationalists, we elect our own officers, we set our own budget and we vote to call our own ministers.  One of the primary benefits of membership in the congregation, in fact, is the right to vote on such matters, though we do not exclude sympathetic non-members from discussing the issues, too.  But it is a unique responsibility of membership to vote, to contribute in this and other ways to the collective wisdom of our decision-making.

We trace this tradition of congregational self-determination back almost four hundred years.  Indeed, with the rejection of religious hierarchy — rejecting both the king of England as the head of the church and the bishops as its officers — more than a hundred years before the United States declared their independence, the congregationalists were trying out democracy long before the country as a whole embarked on its similarly bold endeavor.  Liberty was the watchword in both cases, but for the churches it was specifically the freedom of mutual love.

After all, there is more to democracy than simply voting.  Being engaged participants, whether as members or as citizens, is essential.  And simply voting on an issue according to majority rule needs to be accompanied by a commitment on everybody’s part to stay in relationship, or else risk succumbing to divisiveness.  It is a fact of life that there will always be differences of opinion, so the real question is not which opinion is more popular, but how to live and work together before and after the vote.  The right to participate in shared decision-making is inseparable from shared responsibility for the health of the community, whether that community is one congregation or a whole country.

This makes efforts to rig elections all the more distressing.  I’m not talking about so-called voter fraud, which like other boogie men doesn’t actually exist.  Apply some reasonable common sense to the idea of repeated visits to a polling station while pretending to be a different person each time and it is clear that such a scheme would have little impact but require lots of effort and risk.  On the other hand, redrawing district lines to segregate certain voters or passing laws to prevent certain people from being able to vote at all are clearly ways to skew elections that, for all that they have the appearance of legality, are only sophisticated forms of cheating.  And since they inevitably target marginalized individuals — including women, people of color and poor people — they are also unjust and immoral.

We are already saturated with coverage of the various presidential campaigns in anticipation of next year’s elections, but this year’s elections — today’s elections, in fact — are just as important.  Candidates for national office often begin at the local or state level, working their way up as their political careers gain momentum.  Ensuring that we have capable officials who truly represent the will of the people, rather than special interests with deep pockets, begins — and is most critical — in so-called off-year elections.

For all those people who can’t vote or are prevented from voting, each of us who can do so should embrace with joy and gratitude the right and the responsibility to vote.  The purpose of an election is indeed to pick a winner, but when participation is low, whether due to voter apathy or deliberate disenfranchisement, then we all lose.

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What Really Matters

“Joy and woe are woven fine, A clothing for the soul divine.”
— from “Auguries of Innocence” (1803) by William Blake

July 19th will be a red letter day on my calendar for the rest of my life, for it was the day on which my daughter was born.  I shall always remember her first cries as she was delivered: I held tight to my wife’s hand and the world stood still in that moment.  Much later, after a long day in the hospital, busier than any we had known in a long time, and having shared our happy news with family and friends, my wife and I finally drifted off to sleep, tired but filled with joy for this new life.

Then, on July 20th, the new day woke us with unhappy news.  We noticed that some of our friends had posted on Facebook their reassurances that they were okay, and we wondered what had happened.  We learned that a heavily armed man had opened fire at a movie theater in Colorado, killing a dozen people  and wounding dozens more.  Our hearts sank when we recognized the theater, which is not far from where we lived in Aurora only a few years ago, and where we had ourselves watched movies with friends.

Religion is at its best when it helps us to celebrate life and to grieve in the wake of death.  Particularly at times of great joy and at times of great woe we all need a community of the like-hearted that can support us by sharing in our struggle to find meaning in both life and death.  For a church is like a gym for our souls, a place where we can go to exercise our spiritual muscles by practicing the gratitude, compassion and hope that we need to be fully human throughout the week.

The unfortunate fact is, however, that the number of people in the United States who report no religious affiliation is increasing, many of them turned off not just by church-based homophobia and sexism but also by injustice’s decoration in religious bromides.  It doesn’t help that the media tend to portray the more conservative forms of religion as the only forms of religion, but when religious leaders would rather dictate the details of citizens’ sexual lives than feed the hungry and shelter the stranger, then it is nothing short of a massive failure of our calling to minister to the real needs of the world.

And yet, it doesn’t need to be that way.  There is no shortage of opportunities to wake up, to open our hearts to the call “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”.

For every birth is a reminder that life is both precious and all too short, and every death is a reminder of what really matters in life.  Both provide occasions for us to exercise gratitude, compassion and hope.  As we enjoy these first weeks of my daughter’s new life, for instance, my wife and I are grateful to many people: the doctors and nurses at both the Center for Women’s Health and Mary Immaculate Hospital for their skill and care; our own parents, for their love and support of us in countless ways; and the members of my congregation who helped us make ready our home for a baby and are now bringing us meals.  As we think about our friends in Colorado and our former neighbors in Aurora, we mourn the senseless loss of twelve all-too-young lives and we keep in our prayers all those who are still suffering from the trauma and loss of that terrible night.  And for all of us, for every family and community, we hope for a future where none of us need live in fear, a future where each of us is free to discover for ourselves who we are and what we can be, a future where every religion supports rather than opposes our striving to be fully human, fully realized and, most importantly, fully loved.

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