Monday, April 05, 2021

 RISE AGAIN, RISE AGAIN:  Transformation and Tragedy

Rev. Kit Ketcham

Easter, April 4, 2021

It’s been 13 months since the world, our nation, our states, our counties, our towns, our selves were forced into lockdown and isolation, fearful for our own lives and those of our families and friends.  Life turned on a dime---or was it a molecule? 

 For the past year plus, we have contended with all manner of tragedy:  not only disease but also wildfires, landslides, floods, weather events that changed the landscape and destroyed homes and forests, multiple deaths, including mass murders, unfamiliar ways of being in the world with masks, no hugging, no touching, no crowds, and an overlying dread of “what will happen next” with an unstable and cruel federal government.

At the same time, however, we have participated in ongoing resistance to cruel and inhumane treatment of our fellow citizens.  Fueled by unjust laws, occasions of police brutality, neo-nazi threats and actions, our resistance has reflected the undying thread of hope and commitment to a life that offers love and justice to all living beings, to our precious Earth, and enhances our relationships with each other and with the land.

 And here we are at Easter, with its myriad rituals of celebration and dedication.  I ran over in my mind all the various things I think of when I think about Easter:  bunnies, eggs, the vernal equinox, Passover, Holi, death, resurrection, flowers, springtime, Ramadan, Jesus.

If you were a little kid in a traditional Christian Sunday School, like me, cue the old song: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” 

You may have noticed that in Unitarian Universalism, we include Christianity as one of our sources but only one of several, even though many of us grew up as Christians in churches that ranged from fundamentalist to progressive, and our UU principles are remarkably similar to the teachings of Jesus.

I think of myself as a UU Christian and am glad for the gentle guidance of Sunday School teachers of my childhood and youth, though when I went to college and learned from professors who were clearly better informed than those kindly women and men, I learned that there was no one-size-fits-all Christianity and gave myself permission to find the version that fit me best.

Unitarian Universalism presented me with the opportunity to use my skills and commitment---in social justice work, in songs and stories that reflected my values rather than tired old “washed in the blood” theology, and in a way of presenting our UU faith not by proselytizing but by attraction---attraction to a religious faith that honors science and critical thinking, reaching out to a world that sought love and justice in religion, not cruel rejection of The Other, those who were different---in race, in sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, the many ways religion has historically wounded those looking for a safe place to be their real selves.

One of those gifts of UUism has been the opportunity for me to find spiritual meaning and inspiration in a wide array of stories, songs, poetry, the arts, the outpouring of creative expression of an inner life, an inner commitment to say to the world, “this is important!  Listen, watch, sing, pray in these ways.  Let yourself dream, understand, create your own spirituality and meaningful life out of your own understandings and ingenuity.”

And I believe that it is my strong Unitarian Universalist faith that has made this past year a growing time for me, because I was able to see the contrast between the corruption and failures of our harsh government’s policies and the hopeful, justice-seeking practices of a nation of people who craved leaders who valued human life more than riches, whose intent was to help, rather than to punish or to narrow opportunities for all citizens.

This faith has helped me weather the loneliness and frustration of isolation, presented opportunities to be creative in new ways, and to reach out in small ways to connect with others safely.  Though I was inactive here at PUUF for much of this past year, it has been a blessing for me to return as a member of this Fellowship and to offer support to this beloved community of friends.

But back to Easter.  One of the things that has been important to me, and perhaps to you as well, is the overriding knowledge that we have been through an oppressive and dark time, and as the clouds begin to lift, as vaccines have become available, as we stretch out our arms to each other, many of us don’t quite know what to do.  

We want to return to normal, but what, under these circumstances, is normal?  As a congregation, we are diverse in our spiritual and religious lives.  We are definitely NOT one size fits all people. And we are all affected by PTTSD==post-trumptraumatic stress disorder.

It used to be that the old Easter songs—Up From the Grave He Arose—and others of that ilk gave me a certain thrill.  It wasn’t so much the words (you have to translate pretty hard to turn that hymn into something more meaningful to a UU Christian heretic like me), but the thrilling chorus “He arose, he arose, Hallelujah” was always exciting to sing.

As a minister, I’ve dinked around on Easter with other hymns of the season, but my taste really runs more to the folk genre, the songs that challenge us to think about the injustice in the world, the plight of people who are cheated out of a good life by racism or ableism or homophobia or other subtle and not so subtle oppressions.

Listening to the music that came out of the Pete Seeger era and the stories that accompanied those songs, I found that many songs told a story of moral courage, of resurrection and rebirth, of overcoming despair and deprivation, some of them tied to words about God or Jesus but many of them simply telling a story with an outcome that was triumphant.

And isn’t that what Easter is all about?  Buried bulbs turn into daffodils and hyacinths, gnarled old trees produce abundant blossoms, the vernal equinox signals the spring season, eggs and bunnies represent the flourishing of new life.

A long time ago, probably in Denver at one of the many folk jams I attended in those days, I heard a song I really liked.  It was about a fishing boat off the shores of one of the Canadian provinces, a vessel that hit a rock and went down.  I want you to hear it, so I’ve arranged for us to listen to a song that has been meaningful to me for a long time and now even more as I think about its being an allegory for the past few years.

It’s called The Mary Ellen Carter and it has come to mean more to me than just a fishing boat that sank.  See what you think.  We can talk about it in our social time, if you wish. 

I learned this song some time ago, before the days when our nation was starting to deal with the aftereffects of governments that seemed bent on changing our system of self-governance to a system of corporate domination.  We may not have fully recognized its toxicity until 2016 when it began in earnest to poison and kill.

But a time of isolation and social deprivation and distance has made it possible to consider the stories we heard of kindness and connection, the ways people were rising and have always risen during times of crisis.   We and all our global neighbors were living through the same experience and it had quite a leveling effect.

We noticed kindness, we shouted down injustice, we read about what it has meant to be Black, to be Brown or Asian, to be disabled and mocked by a tone-deaf president, to be banned from crossing US borders, detained for minor reasons, as was our friend Ruben Perez.  

To be unprotected as a deadly virus roamed the planet, killing millions of helpless people and here in our country, killing over a half-million of our friends, our grandparents and parents, our children, our young adults, and ourselves as well as many of the health workers who came to serve the ill, risking their own wellbeing.  We have been in mourning for a long time and for a lot of reasons.

Fueled by our anger at the corruption revealed by investigations and arrests, livid that our democracy should be so attacked by those who had for a generation or more enriched the rich, oppressed the poor, and professed a variation of Christianity that had nothing to do with the teachings of the prophet Jesus and had everything to do with corruption and greed.

We resisted, we pushed back, we organized, we marched.  We learned about the Black and Brown and Asian people who were suffering under the hammer of white supremacy and we learned how we colluded with it unwittingly.  We read about Caste and the works of James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, and other writers who made clear the agony and the anger which were the product of that hammer of whiteness.

And we read and watched stories of kindness, of people reaching out to help those struggling, of triumph over loss and fear, of rising despite the obstacles we faced.  We got used to Zoom meetings, went through a lot of dry eye meds as we stared at screens, rejoiced with each other as vaccines became available and more and more of us were fully protected.

We connected with friends on email, on Facetime, on Facebook and Messenger, and some of us reconnected with friends from whom we had been estranged.  Families who lived far apart from other members checked in weekly rather than yearly.  We celebrated birthdays and holidays in new ways.  We stayed home and got creative with cooking or sewing or painting or writing.  We watched the birds.  We walked a lot.

We watched the news and rejoiced as a new federal administration took the reins of a weakened democracy and began to rebuild the damaged pillars of our national life.

We rose and we continue to rise. We celebrate Easter this year with a new sense of resurrection, even with all the deaths that have taken our loved ones away.  We rise. 

So maybe the real message of this time of year is simply this:  Rise Again, Rise again, though your heart it be broken or life about to end.

Rise Again, after four years of watching our precious democracy chopped away at by greed and corruption and the relief of finding leaders with compassion and a determination to make real democracy live again.

Rise Again, through the confusion and fear and sorrow of not knowing who you are and lifted up by kindness, finding possible joy and truth beyond the fear.

Maya Angelou closes her epic poem “Still I Rise” in this way:

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION:  Our worship service is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering that the message of Easter is of Rising Again, and again, and again, and helping our friends and neighbors Rise with us.  May we offer always kindness instead of meanness and may our strength make others’ lives easier.   Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

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