Monday, November 14, 2016

Ripping the Lid Off of Pandora's Box

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Nov. 13, 2016

            We’ve just heard Nancy recreate the story of Pandora’s Box, and I’m grateful to her for giving our fellowship this gift. 
            I’m going to ask Frank to read a more detailed version of this story before I begin. 
Has your curiosity ever got you into trouble? Have you ever been so desperate to know a secret that you took no notice of a warning? All through history there are stories of people being told not to open doors, caskets, cupboards, gates and all sorts of other things and, in so many of the stories, the people just did not listen. One person who did not listen was Pandora. Her story comes from Ancient Greece and her curiosity brought a whole heap of trouble!

In ancient Greece there were two brothers named Epimetheus and Prometheus. They upset the gods and annoyed the most powerful of all Gods, Zeus, in particular. This was not the first time humans had upset Zeus, and once before, as punishment, he had taken from humans the ability to make fire. This meant they could no longer cook their meat and could not keep themselves warm.

However, Prometheus was clever and he knew that, on the Isle of Lemnos, lived Hephaestos, the blacksmith. He had a fire burning to keep his forge hot. Prometheus travelled to Lemnos and stole fire from the blacksmith. Zeus was furious and decided that humans had to be punished once and for all for their lack of respect.

Zeus came up with a very cunning plan to punish the two brothers. With the help of Hephaestos, he created a woman from clay. The goddess Athene then breathed life into the clay, Aphrodite made her very beautiful and Hermes taught her how to be both charming and deceitful. Zeus called her Pandora and sent her as a gift to Epimetheus.

His brother Prometheus had warned him not to accept any gifts from the gods but Epimetheus was completely charmed by the woman and thought Pandora was so beautiful that she could never cause any harm, so he agreed to marry her.

Zeus, pleased that his trap was working, gave Pandora a wedding gift of a beautiful box. There was one very, very important condition however, that she must never open the box. Pandora was very curious about the contents of the box but she had promised that she would never open it.

All she could think about was; what could be in the box? She could not understand why someone would send her a box if she could not see what was in it. It seemed to make no sense at all to her and she could think of nothing else but of opening the box and unlocking its secrets. This was just what Zeus had planned.

Finally, Pandora could stand it no longer. When she knew Epimetheus was out of sight, she crept up to the box, took the huge key off the high shelf, fitted it carefully into the lock and turned it. But, at the last moment, she felt a pang of guilt, imagined how angry her husband would be and quickly locked the box again without opening the lid and put the key back where she had found it. Three more times she did this until, at last, she knew she had to look inside or she would go completely mad!

She took the key, slid it into the lock and turned it. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and slowly lifted the lid of the box. She opened her eyes and looked into the box, expecting to see fine silks, gowns or gold bracelets and necklaces or even piles of gold coins.

But there was no gleam of gold or treasure. There were no shining bracelets and not one beautiful dress! The look of excitement on her face quickly turned to one of disappointment and then horror. For Zeus had packed the box full of all the terrible evils he could think of. Out of the box poured disease and poverty. Out came misery, out came death, out came sadness - all shaped like tiny buzzing moths.

The creatures stung Pandora over and over again and she slammed the lid shut. Epimetheus ran into the room to see why she was crying in pain. Pandora could still hear a voice calling to her from the box, pleading with her to be let out. Epimetheus agreed that nothing inside the box could be worse than the horrors that had already been released, so they opened the lid once more.

All that remained in the box was Hope. It fluttered from the box like a beautiful dragonfly, touching the wounds created by the evil creatures, and healing them. Even though Pandora had released pain and suffering upon the world, she had also allowed Hope to follow them.

Thank you, Frank.  We’ve had a hard week, haven’t we?  Tuesday night and its aftermath have been difficult for us all, I expect.
For me, the past 2 years of drama and of building hopes about the possibility of continuing the progressive values of   President Obama  have been exhilarating and yet there came a time when I was ready for it to all be over.  I expected Hillary Clinton to be our next president.
But as I sat with others from the Fellowship at the Election night party at Silke’s, I felt a sense of growing dread, watching the early returns.  The tension in me became so high that I needed to leave the party and be alone to process what was beginning to be apparent---that hopes and dreams are not always enough.
I had a wakeful night, up and down several times, trying to write out my feelings and fears to release them to paper, to release them to the universe as prayer that goodness would prevail.
 I got about 2 or 3 hours of sleep and, of course, the cat woke me up about 4.  Her needs prevailed.
That morning, I dreaded getting the official news, as I knew in my gut what it would be.  Reading the news online, reading the words of colleagues and friends on email, and Facebook with its endless stream of news and cat videos----I got the picture interspersed with memes of grief, of dismay, and I put my own conflicted feelings into posts.
Reading the words of others who were wakeful in the night, I felt the enormity of what had happened to our nation and to my own hopes.  I shuddered at the dire predictions made by some pundits, the jibes at those who might have voted in ways that skewed the results,  my own anger at the revealed misogyny, distrust, sexual violence, racism, and the other ills that were revealed when the lid was ripped off Pandora’s box during the election campaign.
As an aside, do you know what Pandora’s name means?  It is a combination of two Greek words, Pan, which means “all” and Dora, which means  “giver”.  Pandora’s name means “Giver of All Gifts”.  I think that’s interesting.  And ironic, because what was loosed when the lid came off the box was horror after horror, not the gifts Pandora hoped for.
Anyway, my feelings Wednesday were a quite a lot like the feelings I might experience when “The Big One” comes, the Cascadia subduction earthquake and tsunami that has been predicted now for quite some time, and hasn’t yet arrived.
On that occasion, whether with warning or without,  I would find myself needing to take some immediate actions, if I were able to.  Those of you who are first responders or government employees or medical personnel know the drill pretty well.
I’m not as well versed as others, but my personal response, assuming I was conscious and able to act, would be to assess my situation, see what injuries I might have incurred, stop any bleeding as well as possible, determine the safety of myself and those around me---are we safe where we are or do we need to find a better location?
If possible, I’d move to safety, helping less mobile folks move too.  I’d take my go-bags with me and head for higher ground, assisting others as possible.  I’d group together with others for assistance and support.  I’d create a place to stay until help arrives.
I think we can modify these disaster-related actions to fit our current national scene, in disarray after a shocking turn of events, a life-changing turn of events, in our national comfort level, from relative complacency to coping with possible chaos. 
We want not only to be safe from the chaos but to protect others more vulnerable, from the chaos.  We want to mitigate the effects of damaging policies on our physical earth and in human lives.  We want to influence the development of policies toward a humane stance, rather than a vengeful stance.  We want to reduce fear and increase trust.
Remember the “stages of grief” put forth years ago by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross?  They’re a bit out of date because we’ve learned that people move fluidly between stages, rather than proceed neatly from one to another in a predictable way.  But they’re handy and a pretty good starting point when I’m experiencing events of loss, big or little.
Shock and denial.  Becoming angry and feeling betrayed.  Trying to figure out ways of changing  the loss.  Sadness, despair, depression.  Eventual tempering of the pain of the loss and entering some degree of acceptance and adjustment to it.
I have a tendency to hop around these stages!  I was in shock and denial until I got up Wednesday morning and had to face the reality of the election outcome.  Even then, I couldn’t quite get it into focus and it was raining hard at the time, so instead of going for my normal walk, I met a couple of friends at the coffee shop to kibitz and commiserate for an hour before coming home again, over-caffeinated and sharply aware that what I had planned for today’s sermon was going to need to change.
Pandora’s Box still seemed to be a good starting point.  Okay, I thought, where am I right now?  I was still shocked and desperately wishing I could deny the reality, but it was no longer possible---my friends Roger and Mike were evidence that it wasn’t a bad dream!
What I felt curious about  at that point was who might be our first responders in this situation, the ones who put their shock and denial aside and don’t spend time being angry just yet, but jump right into ways of managing the effects of the loss, not just for you and me and our friends and family but for the entire nation, for the earth.
I think about similar life-changing events in history and what their outcomes were, how those first responders---mostly just ordinary people like us---stuck with the work, not giving up after setbacks but pressing on until the vote was won or the equal housing act went into effect, until same sex marriage was legal.
Generations of Americans have been through similar traumas and have gone on to do whatever the situation demanded of them.  Our spiritual forebears did not give up; they slogged on:  Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King Jr, and now whole spiritual and secular communities—like us, the UUs---and progressive Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, Humanists, and others have come out on the side of humanity and against injustice.
I take heart today, despite my grief, that there are messages of hope amid the messages of doom. I'm grateful that there are those who can look beyond the shock of loss and find a path forward, that there are still bright spots emerging, new leaders coming forward, and that all is not lost after all. We have work to do, work that we would have had to do anyway---to protect the vulnerable, to care for the lost and hurting, and to keep our own selves fit and strong to continue what we have been doing all along.
Who are our allies in this resistance movement?
Here’s who I am looking to for help:  the American Civil Liberties Union has already issued a warning to Trump that they will fight him on any unconstitutional matters.  Human Rights Campaign; Basic Rights Oregon; Basic Rights Washington; Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, The Interfaith Alliance, Lower Columbia Diversity Project, the Rural Organizing Project, Southern Poverty Law Center, and many more.  And I’m planning to wear my Safety Pin whenever I’m out and about---to be a safe place for someone who needs it.
We are in the aftermath now of A Big One, the emotional and political equivalent of an earthquake and tsunami for many of our friends and neighbors---and ourselves.  
What are we to do?  We will do what we would if we had experienced a physical disaster:  we will check ourselves and our fellow survivors for injury, we will get back on our feet and start finding a path through the rubble, so that we can start rebuilding and helping each other survive.
In his message to us Unitarian Universalists, President Peter Morales wrote this (I’m paraphrasing):  “We are shocked and horrified, we are emotionally exhausted and deeply offended by this experience.  This is a time to take a deep breath and a long view.  Our role as religious progressives committed to democracy, compassion, and human dignity is to help bend our culture toward justice.  Our role is to help change attitudes, to lead by example.  Let us reflect and draw strength from one another.  Together we can recover.  Together we can shape the future.”
I’d like to end with a passage from a longtime favorite story of mine, something I go back to on occasion for reminders of another heroic journey.

FRODO: I can’t do this, Sam.
SAM: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened.
 But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
 Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?
SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.
--J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
            Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.
Hymn # 291, “Die Gedanken sind Frie

Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering that grief must be expressed and healing may be a long time coming, but as we assess the damage we’ve experienced, may we see what is still standing, what has been revealed, and what are the new shoots of growth that were not destroyed by the disaster.  Though much has been lost, a certain amount has been gained and much is still standing.  May we find strength with one another and the courage to go on. May we reach out to those who are endangered by these times.   And may we remember that in the ancient fable, the final thing to emerge from Pandora’s Box was the beautiful dragonfly of Hope.    Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.