Parson to Person:  “Hope: The Thing with Feathers” June 5, 2020

There is so much happening in our country right now that it’s hard to absorb it all.

For one thing, we are dealing with COVID-19–which is something we all share to some degree, but which especially hits people of color (because of front-line exposure, less ability to work from home, job terminations, economic fall-out, etc.)

And then we have seen stories on the news of structural and personal racism:

  • The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man killed by a police officer who knelt on his neck for over 8 minutes–despite his cry: “I can’t breathe!”
  • The jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed by 2 white citizens who thought he didn’t belong in their neighborhood.
  • The incident in New York’s Central Park, where a black man (Christian Cooper) told a white woman that her dog was supposed to be on a leash, and she took offense and called the cops saying “An African-American man is threatening my life and my dog.”

It takes willful blindness, I think, to miss the structural racism in a society which allows incidents like these to go on with little or no consequence.

What makes this especially hard–at least for me–is that when Barack Obama was elected (twice!), I really thought our country had passed a milestone. (The truth, of course, is that we did pass a milestone–but we are now dealing with some of the pendulum-reaction to that milestone.) It was easier then to have hope.  It feels a lot harder now. And yet, I believe it is precisely when things feel most desperate…that hope is most necessary. Already we are seeing people–not just in our own country, but around the world–protesting racial injustice. It may be that Obama’s “hope and change” didn’t happen as fast as we thought it would–but is it perhaps happening before our eyes today?

I don’t want to be naive here. I don’t know how things will work out in the end, or how the election will go in November. But I do know that our very ability to perceive injustice…is a holy thing. One of our UU forebears, the transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, was sometimes accused of being Pollyannaish in his views of the divine within us all. “It’s all very well to say the divine is in everyone and that evil is merely good in the making,” people said, “but what about the very real evil in the world? How do you explain that?” Emerson’s answer was: “The argument which is always forthcoming to silence those who conceive extraordinary hopes of (humanity) is forever invalid. We give up the past to the objector, and yet we hope. (They) must explain this hope. We grant that human life is mean; but how did we find out that it was mean? What is the ground of this uneasiness of ours?”

Yes, we grant that there is a lot of evil in the world. But our very ability to see it–and our efforts to change it–are a sign of hope. Or, as poet Emily Dickinson put it in her “Poem # 254”:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tunes without the words

And never stops–at all.

Never stop singing, my friends. Never stop hoping. Never stop doing or loving or voting. And do it all with..

peace and unrest,

tony