Sunday, December 4, 2016

First Principle and Politics

This is a chalice lighting I did for my Unitarian Universalist church today. I've been asked to share it.

I've been watching sadly but with interest the amount of anger and vitriolic language going on in social media spheres. I had my moments in the week after the election to do some of that same venting. It’s a stage of grief - anger. But anyone who has been through grief counseling knows that it isn’t and shouldn’t be the emotion we get stuck in when suffering a loss which, I believe, this election is for most of us.

We chose one tenet of our Unitarian Universalist values to be first among seven life-guiding principles. We even have shorthand for it — “The first principle”. We all know it by heart and don’t even have to look at our cheat sheets to say it. “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” 

It is indeed important.

In the Coming of Age program with our high schoolers, we take a trip to Target to buy and then package as holiday gifts items prisoners in Concord need. We talk to the youth about our first principle at length. How we need to reach out to those who we might not understand and whose actions we disagree with but who have inherent worth and dignity nonetheless. When we say “Every” person, we mean “Every. Person.”

I wonder then, If we can do this with convicted criminals, why can’t we have this same attitude with those who vote differently from us?

We show great respect to those who we feel need our help and sympathy, and to those who share our values but not so much with those we disagree with on politics. We dismiss them. We shut them down. We lecture. We judge. 

These are our neighbors I’m talking about not the politicians. People who live and work in the same community as us. Whose kids sit in classrooms with our kids. Who help friends and family in need. Who volunteer in their towns. Who lie awake at night worrying about making the rent or the mortgage. Whose parents age and fail and whose hearts are as broken as ours when their loved ones die. 

I feel that we, as Unitarian Universalists, are uniquely qualified and experienced to lead a respectful discussion of differences because of our first principle. It is what is needed most in this atmosphere of anger and fear.

This does not mean that we accept actions of prejudice, misogyny, religious persecution, homophobia, and inhumane treatment of the poor and the handicapped. 

But we are never going to understand why our neighbors feel the way they do and what compels them to vote different from us if we keep yelling at them. This only creates more of the Us/Them mentality that is destroying the country both liberals AND conservatives love so much.

I’ve always believed that we can change the world one person at a time by forming relationships of mutual respect and open conversation with people in our lives. I’m not saying it’s always easy. It isn’t. I have tried and failed with an extended family member.

We have work to do after this election but we also have lessons to learn. We have to stand up to injustice and hateful actions. Our principles matter. But we also have to have respectful conversations with those who are not in agreement with our political dreams for the country. Only then can we begin to close the widening chasm. 

The Pollard library in downtown Lowell is hosting a discussion on Saturday at 9:30am about how to start these conversations. If you’d like to join me, please reach out.

I light the chalice today for the work we have ahead of us and our first principle that will light our way.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Stars, Stripes, and Collisions

I put my flag up today. Something my husband and I only do on Memorial Day and Independence Day. 

It started with a conversation with a friend yesterday who said that she can't fly her American flag or she would be accused of voting for Trump. 

I've noticed in the past few years (specifically post-9/11) that conservatives have somehow embraced the symbol of our country more than liberals. It seems that every time I see a flag waving from a pickup truck, the bumper has a Trump sticker and/or some anti-liberal sentiment.

When I spoke with a relative today, he was very distraught about the fate of our country under not only Trump but also his cohorts and ultra-conservative Republicans like Paul Ryan whose goal is to privatize Social Security. 

It's been a long election cycle. I'm glad it's over. However, the anxiety and fear that has been rampant during the election has escalated and turned into catastrophic thinking. My husband reminded me of 1972 when MA was the only state to vote against Nixon. MA Dems were convinced that Nixon would pave the entire state over in retaliation. Well, we know how Nixon's story ended.

My propensity for anxiety and panic forces me to choose another path or I will certainly suffer for it physically. So I work to find a way to find balance in my thoughts.

My love for astrophysics has helped me see that the universe seeks balance. It is how it not just survives but continues to expand. Sometimes stars implode but they create more stars from that radical shift, and on and on it goes. Augusten Burroughs writes, "Inside every single thing that lives is a debt to a distant star that died. Nothing new is ever created without one thing colliding into another."

We not only have to have faith that balance will ultimately happen but that something new will come from it. And for something new to be created, we must work for it. No one ever accomplished anything worthwhile without work. 

There is work to be done in our country. Work to ensure that the Constitution is upheld. That the marginalized are not harmed by changes in policy. That our voices are heard. That this collision creates new stars. 

I do what I can to help my country and those in it. I have been an election officer in my town and worked every election no matter how small since 2004. I have been a member of three non-profit boards that promote animal rights and land conservation. I work with youth to encourage free thinking and social justice. I serve on the Pastoral Care team at my church to help those who are struggling. And I do a lot let less than others I know. 

We need to get out of our electronic devices and start putting our hands and hearts to good work. There is so much to do and, as Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local." Let's start there and with our good intentions we will make change in our communities. Even if it doesn't change the nation, we can say we have done all that we can do. 

I can't fix this divided nation. But I love it anyway. With all its broken pieces and people. They are my neighbors, my family and my friends. 

So fly the flag proudly and if anyone makes assumptions then consider it an opportunity for dialogue. And those stars on the flag? Let them collide.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On Election Day

As I head out in an hour to work the polls for my town, I ready myself by focusing on the voting process. I reread instructions that I need as a precinct clerk to ensure that all anomalies are logged and every voter has their right to vote protected by me through our laws. I rest in order to prepare for a long night of processing all the paperwork after the polls close. I am expecting to be there as late as 11 due to write-ins and the pure volume of ballots.

When I get dressed, I dress in neutral colors so I don’t appear to be biased in any way. I wear comfortable shoes because I will be on my feet for at least 7 hours straight. I also dress my mind and attitude. This is a great country with a democratic process that works even though some folks would say otherwise. I love my country and I wish that all those who vote in my precinct today will see that all of the election officers are there for them and the process that keeps voting fair and legal. We may have strong feelings about certain candidates and issues but we check those at the door when we arrive to work. 

I place any qualms about safety and emotionally-charged voters in the hands of the police officers present and the universe. 

I’ll take a deep breath as I always do before entering the polling place and thank my lucky stars for being born in a country that allows people’s voices to be heard. 

And then I’ll get to work.