Here Together (for Gathering): on the Music for Services page
“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”
Performed by Chris Powell
Rev. Greg Stewart
Note: This morning’s sermon is audio-only.
Things were going very well before the pandemic.
Things were not going well before the pandemic and have only gotten much worse.
Chances are, you fit into one of these two categories. Is the religious response to both groups the same?
Like me, some of you have been able to hold onto a job during the pandemic. While life has changed, we still have to do many of the same tasks during the pandemic that we did prior to it. The location for work has changed, yet deadlines remain. We continue to drive our own cars, only now with face masks. Grocery stores are open but we’ve been encouraged to wear protective gloves and eye wear while shopping (as well as masks, of course). The re-opening is taking place before our very eyes!
Do you want to have a beer pulled for you at the local bar? Tulsa’s taverns will surely fulfill your wish, but only for ten of you at any given time. Are you making stylist appointments to get your that mess on your head fixed? Enter the ark, ten by ten.
For people like us, things have changed, but not nearly as much as we like to think. We are still living our middle and upper-middle class lives, only now with more inconveniences. We still have a purpose but may have to approach it differently.
The big missing piece for people like us is community. We are humans who need human touches. We want into look our friends in the eyes, as they speak without words. We want to see trembling hands or nervous knees so we can get the whole story. We miss our friends, miss them like mad. Some of us have connected or reconnected with old flames or new friends, others have discovered family members they never knew about.
Says author Mya Robarts, “The human touch is that little snippet of physical affection that brings a bit of comfort, support, and kindness. It doesn’t take much from the one who gives it but can make a huge difference in the one who receives it.”
Have you personally witnessed the positive effects of human touch as either giver or receiver? Often, you’ll see shoulders and breathing relax in its aftermath. Words are optional and often get in the way of what the recipient really needs—a simple touch. Of course, one should always ask permission to touch, particularly if it’s someone you don’t know very well. There are people that have been abused in the past, and any touch at all can trigger memories of that painful abyss. Others just don’t like it.
We are not powerless during the pandemic. In fact, I think we are powerful beyond measure. India’s prolific writer, Uday Mukerji, gives us the weapons of our warfare:
“A human touch is explosive. It’s so warm that it melts away everything, including our ego.”
Indeed, the power in your fingertips is truly limitless. Some denominations lay hands on those who suffer illnesses. Healing Services, they call them. There is even such a ritual among Unitarian Universalists!
World chess champion Bobby Fischer has made this observation: “Nothing eases suffering like human touch.” Given the proliferation of COVID-19, finding human touch can be challenging, for some at least. Some can’t find it at all. But it is so necessary. Until recently, Hope members regularly had this opportunity. Yes, Hope had professional huggers on hand most Sundays! I believe that the lack of human touch underlies the other challenges of the day. This lack overwhelms us to the core of who we are.
This is why psychologists urge us to virtually communicate during the pandemic. While there’s no substitute for human touch, connecting and reconnecting virtually will help. Reach out more than usual. Replace fear with compassion. Then watch your own healing begin to take place. Getting our attention off ourselves liberates us from our obsessions and fears. We begin to see hope when hope is hard to find. We begin to build the confidence that all will be well.
This remedy is tried and true: in helping others, we help ourselves more. Your pandemic priorities will change when you reach out to “the least of these.” You’ll stop fixating on the impossible and the pursuit of perfection. Of course, “the least of these” are experiencing a very different pandemic than are people like us. The city of Atlanta recently reported that eighty percent of their COVID-19 patients are African American. Talk about justice! Or justice denied.
It should not surprise you that everything is more difficult in American society for people of color. You’d have to be living in a southern-fried society if you think differently. Only ignorant, committed racists would say otherwise. I have witnessed this first-hand in some of the poor communities we’ve dwelled in as a family of mixed races. I’ve seen what happens when my sons are pulled over for driving while black. Or being followed in stores even when I am present. I’ve spoken with friends in North Tulsa who say that testing is scarce where they live. The only “remedies” for COVID-19 are found in weed and liquor stores. The only flyers around advertise parties, nightclubs, and dances, not disease prevention.
Some churches are reopening prematurely (just like in South Tulsa) to counter the overwhelming hopelessness in their communities. They know who gets fired first. They know who goes without food most. They know evictions target them. They’ve weighed all options and have decided that the mental and emotional challenges experienced by their members have precedent during the pandemic. They seek to counter the absurd misinformation spewed forth by politicians.
Hope dwells in these institutions, like nowhere else I know of. You will be touched by human hands, but not just now. It’s been the balm that has soothed racist wounds for centuries. It looks beyond our circumstances to the bedrock of faith.
What role has your liberal religious faith played you during the pandemic? If you read Unitarian Universalist history, you’ll find some answers. If you consider the research of our own theologians, say, James Luther Adams, you’ll uncover help. Don’t forget the biographies of our UU heroes and heroines. They’ve been through some very tough times, not unlike our own. Where did they get such faith? It may be our first time, but they’ve been through it all before. To me, they are our UU saints. If your faith has been no comfort to you so far, you may need to dig a little deeper, to let it become a better foundation for your life. Says the Rev. Crystal Hardin, “While fear wants us to believe we are alone, faith knows differently.” We must have faith in faith.
You may want to start every day with a chalice lighting and inspirational words or music. It will ground you in your free faith and encourage you in your daily life. And that’s the key: do it daily. Only then will this spiritual practice become habit. Walking meditations often reconnect us with the earth and its vast knowledge. Take your time. By doing less we become more. While walking, our resolve is strengthened and our priorities are reordered, if we take the time to think singularly. A tiny flower becomes our whole world; its wisdom is shared without words. Such a fragile life, that flower, yet it blooms now in all its beauty.
Barbara Glasson, in the latest issue of Sojourners magazine, recently wrote a prayer (adapted) that I’ve found to be very helpful:
We are not people of fear.
We are people of courage.
We are not people
who protect our own safety:
we are people
who protect our neighbor’s safety.
We are not people of greed:
we are people of generosity.
We are people,
giving and loving,
wherever we are,
whatever it costs,
for as long as it takes
whenever we’re called.
This is the kind of courage that moves mountains and changes lives for the better. It’s not for the faint of heart.
A message from Rev. Greg:
Memorial Day remembrance
Typically on Memorial Day we read the names of members of Hope who have died since last Memorial Day. This year we lost Martha Pizarro.
This month’s Generosity recipient is Meals on Wheels. If you’d like to make a donation, visit this page for more information: https://www.hopeuu.org/MayGenerosity