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While the coronavirus pandemic has certainly impacted all of our lives in the moment, what are the lessons we have learned from it and will bring forward with us when it comes to pass?
Pandemic as Practice
A Sermon Offered at All Souls Church, Unitarian Universalist
May 10, 2020 Rev. Shayna Appel
“Pandemic as Practice; Where Do We Go From Here?” While the coronovirus pandemic has certainly impacted all of our lives in the moment, what are the lessons we have learned from it and will bring forward with us when it comes to pass?
PRELUDE:Lady Luckperformed by Tom Baehr
CHALICE LIGHTING: By Eric A Heller-Wagner
Blessed is the fire that burns deep in the soul. It is the flame of the human spirit touched into being by the mystery of life. It is the fire of reason; the fire of compassion; the fire of community; the fire of justice; the fire of faith. It is the fire of love burning deep in the human heart; the divine glow in every life.
OPENING WORDS: By Rod Richards
We who gather here In this tender and anxious and confusing time We have been awash in a sea of information And misinformation and disinformation and this information that we seek is simply so that we May make wise decisions about how we respond And learn how we hold one another when we can’t hold one another And decide how we can be when we can’t be together.
What is this we face? How best do we respond? And why is this happening, the why the why the why And why do those who suffer so, suffer most, always suffer Suffer most from what we now face…why? And what can we do for those who are most at risk, most vulnerable all the time, and now, again. And how do we respond and how do we hold one another When we can’t hold one another and how do we stay together And stick together and worship together when we can’t be together
Yet we are, here we are, we are Here Together.
HYMN:#63 For the Earth Forever Turning
TIME FOR ALL AGES: The Beautiful Tiger by Christopher Buice
READING(S):“Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting” by Julio Vincent Gambuto Cognocenti April 14, 2020
First, a primer: Gaslighting, if you don’t know the word, is defined as manipulation into doubting your own sanity. As in, Carl made Mary think she was crazy, even though she clearly caught him cheating. He gaslit her.
Pretty soon, as the country begins to figure out how to “reopen” and move forward, very powerful forces will try to convince us all to get back to normal.
Billions of dollars will be spent on advertising, messaging and media content to make [us] feel comfortable again. It will come in traditional forms — a billboard here, commer- cials there — and in new-media forms, like memes.
In truth, [we] crave that feeling of normalcy. We want desperately to feel good again, to get back to the routines of life, to not lie in bed at night wondering how we’re going to afford our rent and bills, to not wake to an endless scroll of human tragedy on our phones, to have a cup of perfectly brewed coffee and simply leave the house for work. The need for comfort will be real, and it will be strong. And every brand in America will come to [our] rescue, dear consumer, to help take away that darkness and get life back to the way it was before the crisis. I urge you to be well aware of what is coming.
SERMON:Pandemic as Practice
Sometime in the second week of March, the world seemingly turned upside down…or maybe we all just went through the looking glass. Either way, things out here have got- ten extraordinarily strange. Suddenly, it’s older folks who are sneaking out of the house and their kids are yelling at them to stay indoors. Where it was once common wisdom to avoid negative people, now we are told to avoid those who are positive. And that old saying, “I wouldn’t touch so-and-so with a six foot pole,” is now an encouraged practice upon which our lives may depend.
The requirement for physical distancing is, at this time, making many of us a little nuts. I was so bored the other day I called Jake from State Farm just to have someone to talk to. He asked me what I was wearing! Seven or eight weeks into this national shut-
down and my dog Arlo looked at me the other day and said, “See? This is why I chew furniture!”
Of course, there are those who are putting this time to good use. Cleaning their homes, preparing their gardens, exploring new recipes. Some have even decided that, since we can’t eat out, now would be a great time for us all to eat better. Not me! I mean, we’re quarantined! Who are we trying to impress? We have snacks, we have sweat- pants …I say we use both!
Sometime in the second week of March, our world turned upside down. And not only do we not know when it will turn right-side up again, we don’t even know what right-side up will look like when it does arrive. Oh sure, we will eventually develop a vaccine for this virus. Chances are very good that the human race will go on. But as we gather today, there are questions burning in my heart, and maybe you’ve felt them on yours as well. What will the new “normal” look like, and what is the obligation – the call – of progressive faith communities and individuals to actively shape what lies ahead?
Of course, from our current location in time it is virtually impossible to say what the new “normal” will look like. But one thing is certain. Writer and Producer Julio Vincent Gam- buto talks about it in our opening reading when he warns of an impending media blitz guaranteed to be even more virulent than the corona-virus it follows.
“Pretty soon,” writes Gambuto, “as the country begins to figure out how we “open back up” and move forward, very powerful forces will try to convince us all to get back to normal… Billions of dollars will be spent on advertising, messaging, and television and media content to make [us]feel comfortable again.
The seriousness of this media blitz and its potential impact cannot be overstated. As Gambuto notes later in his article , “Smart marketers know how to highlight what brands can do for [us]to make [our lives] easier.But brilliant marketers know how to rewire [our hearts]. And, make no mistake, the heart is what has been most traumatized this last month [or so]. We are, as a society, now vulnerable in a whole new way.”
The things we have seen with our own eyes, read about and heard about are real, and really disturbing. We have watched as a health-care system, touted as one of the best in the world, has been pushed to its absolute breaking point, and those on the front line of that system pushed well beyond it. Personal Protection Equipment, or PPE, is now a part of the public lexicon, even as it remains elusive to those who most need it. Small businesses are getting creamed in the race for government funds, leaving millions of their workers unemployed and parked in food lines the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression. And in the midst of all this, we have watched helplessly as our government has so severely shaken the credibility of our national media that 300 million people now don’t know who to listen to or who to trust for facts that could save their lives.
There was a video that appeared on or about March 30th. This video was brought to my attention by Rev. Scott Cooper from Center Church in a homily he offered on Good Friday during the community service. In it, a man pulls off a highway in New York to record the image of bodies being forklifted into refrigerator trucks. The images are strik- ing enough, but what stopped Scott cold, and subsequently stopped me too, were the videographers words;
This is real. This is real y’all. Family, y’all take this serious. This is Brooklyn. Y’all take this real serious. This is life in Brooklyn, New York. This is Brooklyn Hospital and they puttin’ bodies into eighteen wheelers y’all…into the back of a freezer truck. This is for real. Y’all stay inside. This is for real. My hand is shaking because it’s hard to look at what I’m seeing right now, it’s hard to believe this. But this is real y’all. This is happen- ing right here. It’s coming down right here y’all. This is real. This is now…
And who will ever forget the image of unclaimed bodies being buried in a place ironically named ‘Hart Island’ in the western side of Long Island Sound, Bronx, New York? The picture of coffins being laid in a common grave appeared in the New York Times on Fri- day, April 10th – Good Friday. The problem for some of us trying to preach the promise of resurrection on Easter Sunday was that we couldn’t get that image out of our heads.
Sometime in the second week of March, the world seemingly turned upside down. The things we have seen and heard are real, and they are really disturbing. And very soon, in fact right now, as our country begins opening up, some very powerful and well funded forces are attempting to gaslight us in an effort to convince us all to get back to “normal.” Make no mistake about it, our hearts are what has been most traumatized this last month and a half. And so we as a society, are now vulnerable in a whole new way.
But, we are not defenseless. We are neither paralyzed nor powerless – not destitute nor disabled. We did not ask for, nor did we seek out this pandemic. But as long as we’re stuck with it, like our snacks and our sweatpants, I say we use it – pandemic as practice!
I had the good fortune to be able to attend a webinar with Joanna Macy a few weeks ago. It is from that webinar that the title and idea for this sermon arose. For two hours, 1000 people from all over the world explored the depths of our grief and fear in the face of COVID-19. And it’s a funny thing that happens when you stop trying to be O.K. Be- cause when you stop trying to be O.K., you eventually realize that you are not…O.K. And once the shock of not being O.K. wears off, you realize that it’s actually O.K. to be not O.K. And once you realize that it is O.K. to not be O.K., you get that you’re O.K. just the way you are. And then, the work can begin. Then, we begin to really awaken!
So, what is the obligation and call of progressive people of faith in this time and place? Well, for starters, we might stop trying to pretend that we’re O.K.! In one of my favorite quotes by the thirteenth century sufi poet Hafiz he writes, “First the fish needs to say, “Something ain’t right with this camel ride…and I am so damn thirsty.’ ”
Good for the fish! Admitting they are not O.K. on a camels back is indeed a good place to begin. But, I believe it is easier for the fish to admit its own thirst, admit that they are not O.K., than it is for many of us UU’s to acknowledge that we are not O.K. Because we swim in a culture that venerates wellness, business, having it all together, business, being a hard worker, business and oh…did I mention business?
If we are going to acknowledge that something ain’t right on this came ride, we are go- ing to have to wake up to our culture – our habits of thought and patterns of behavior – that keeps us too busy to deal with any of that and a whole host of other problems. We’ve known these problems existed for some time now, but this pandemic has brought them uncomfortably to the forefront. As Julio Gambuto puts it, “The plain truth is that no matter our ethnicity, religion, gender, political party (the list goes on), nor even our so- cioeconomic status, as Americans [and yes, as Unitarian Universalists too] we share this: We are busy. We’re out and about hustling to make our own lives work. We have goals to meet and meetings to attend and mortgages to pay — all while the phone is ringing and the laptop is pinging. And when we get home, Crate and Barrel…Louis Vuit- ton and Andy Cohen make us feel just good enough to get up the next day and do it all over again.”
Perhaps the greatest misconception we carry with us is the belief that our social, politi- cal, environmental, and economic problems exist because we simply don’t care enough to do anything about them. When we conclude that white people don’t care about the problems of Black America, that men don’t care about women’s rights and safety, that straight people hate LGBTQ folks, that humanity doesn’t care about the environment, we miss the mark.
The real problem isn’t that we do’t care. The real problem is that we are all too busy to do anything about the problems that vex us.Something ain’t right with this came ride… and we are so damn thirsty.
And then, bam! Just like that we get this once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience an an- swer to the age-old question, “What would happen if the whole world suddenly stopped?” Getting beyond any disputations regarding the detrimental impact on the world wide economy caused by this stoppage, consider this; residents in northern India can now see the Himalaya mountains for the first time in 30 years, animals are again roaming in our national parks, ‘Victory’ Gardens are making a comeback, empty beach- es have allowed Leatherback sea turtles to make a comeback, jellyfish are visible swimming in now clear Venice canals, and the federal Energy Information Administra- tion is forecasting a nation wide decrease of CO2 emissions of 7.5%. [Frank Kummer. 7 Ways the Earth Has Gotten Better Since the Coronovirus Shutdown. The Philadelphia Inquirer.]
If we are to use this pandemic as practice, if we are to grow from it in ways that will em- power us to effectively partner in the shaping of what comes next, we must resist the urge to recoil from what has been laid bare before us. For once we saw dimly, but now we see clearly the beautiful and painful truths about how we live. Running from the
devastation, the heartache, the depression – that would be the understandable thing to do. But true growth comes when we run headlong towards that from which we would rather run. And this now is the race that has been set before us.
The flaws of Americanism have been laid bare. It doesn’t work for everyone. It’s re- sponsible for great destruction. It is so unevenly distributed in its benefit that three men own more wealth than 150 million people. Its intentions have been perverted, and the protection it offers has disappeared. (Gambuto, Julio Vincent. Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting. Forge. April 10, 2020.) We can, and we must, do better.
But, as Julio Gambuto notes, until then we must ready ourselves for the greatest cam- paign ever unleashed. It [is coming] from brands, it [is coming] from government, it [is even coming] from each other, and it will come from the left and from the right. We will do anything, spend anything, believe anything, just so we can take away how horribly uncomfortable all of this feels. And on top of that, just to turn the screw that much more, will be the one effort that’s even greater: the all-out blitz to make [us] believe [we] never saw what [we] saw. The air wasn’t really cleaner; those images were fake. The hospitals weren’t really a war zone; those stories were hyperbole. The numbers were not that high; the press is lying. You didn’t see people in masks standing in the rain risking their lives to vote. Not in America. You didn’t see the leader of the free world push an un- proven miracle drug like a late-night infomercial salesman. That was a crisis update. You didn’t see homeless people dead on the street. You didn’t see inequality. You didn’t see indifference. You didn’t see utter failure of leadership and systems. (Gambuto, Julio Vincent. Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting. Forge. April 10, 2020.)
But we did. We’re not crazy! And now is our turn, our chance, our opportunity to co- create the new normal. On a personal scale, we can begin in our homes by choosing how we spend our family time on nights and weekends, what we watch, what we listen to, what we eat, what and where we choose to spend our dollars on. Locally we can be intentional about what organizations we support, what truths we tell, and what events we attend. And nationally, we can impact our government by voting in leaders with in- tegrity.
If we want to use this pandemic as practice, then let’s step up and powerfully own our capacity to make a difference. This last month and a half has shown us what we can do. If we want cleaner air, we can make it happen. If we want to protect our doctors and nurses from [this or] the next virus — and protect all Americans — we can make it hap- pen. If we want our neighbors and friends to earn a dignified income, we can make that happen. If we want millions of kids to be able to eat if suddenly their school is closed, we can make that happen. And, yes, if we just want to live a simpler life, we can make that happen, too. (Gambuto, Julio Vincent. Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting. Forge. April 10, 2020.)
How? Well, in the words of the great UU prophetess Lynn Unger;
[Start by]Disarm[ing] yourself of the need for comfort. Go lightly into places where you are a stranger. Disarm yourself of loyalty to what is normal, but false. Pledge alle- giance to the tree outside your window, to your neighbor’s children, to the speed of light. (UU World. Spring 2019. Blog Roundup: Strategies for Revolution. pg.48)
And for the love of All that is Sacred, resist the massive gaslighting that has begun. We did see what we saw, we did hear what we heard, we did feel what we felt, and it is our obligation to the next generation to tell the truth about what happened…less they too find themselves on a camel ride from hell.
Stand fast. Hold on to the truth. Live your values. Resist the gaslighting. And may peace find us all. Amen.
MEDITATION:Written for the UU the Vote by the Rev. Ashley Horan
Another world is possible. We say it, again and again, even when the proof lies somewhere beyond the horizon, beyond our reach, beyond our imagination.
This is our faith: Another world is possible. Not somewhere else– another world, another lifetime– but here, and now, for us and for all.
Another world is possible. There is no single path toward that world; no one strategy or approach that will restore balance, heal brokenness, sow wholeness, free creation. There are many routes toward liberation; toward freedom. But the abundance of options does not absolve us of the responsibility of acting.
Another world is possible. The call–the duty– of each moment in history Is to discern: Who are we, and what can we bring with humility, integrity, faith? What is the context, and how can we address it with agility, resilience, skill? What is the vision, and how can we realize it with accountability, relationship, joy?
Another world is possible. In this time of despair, of fear, of collapse– this time that is both like every other era and like no other time in history– It is audacious to declare our faith and to commit our work to a world that is more free, more just, more whole.
But we are an audacious people in good company, with many kin, and we are ready to show up and work hard and stay humble and make friends
and hold the vision starting here, now, today, with us and persevering– however long it takes– until that other world Is not only possible, but Another world is here.
MUSIC:Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder performed by Playing for Change
OFFERING: Shared with Groundworks Collaborative
JOYS & SORROWS: PRAYER FOR JOYS & SORROWS: by A. Powell Davies
When sorrow comes, let us accept it simply, as a part of life. Let the heart be open to pain; let it be stretched by it. All the evidence we have says that this is the better way. An open heart never grows bitter. Or if it does, it cannot remain so. In the desolate hour, there is an outcry; a clenching of the hands upon emptiness; a burning pain of be- reavement; a weary ache of loss. But anguish, like ecstasy, is not forever. There comes a gentleness, a returning quietness, a restoring stillness. This, too, is a door to life. Here, also is the deepening of meaning – and it can lead to dedication; a going forward to the triumph of the soul, the conquering of the wilderness. And in the process will come a deepening inward knowledge that in the final reckoning, all is well.
CLOSING WORDS By Kendyl R Gibbons
There is, finally, only one thing required of us: that is, to take life whole, the sunlight and shadows together; to live the life that is given us with courage and humor and truth.
We have such a little moment out of the vastness of time for all our wondering and lov- ing. Therefore let there be no half-heartedness; rather, let the soul be ardent in its pain, in its yearning, in its praise. Then shall peace enfold our days, and glory shall not fade from our lives.
HYMN: Fire of Commitment by Jason Shelton (#1028 Singing the Journey)
We extinguish this Chalice trusting that its light lives on in each of us. So, let’s carry that flame in our hearts, minds, souls and whole selves as we depart from this service and share it with those we know, with those we love, and most especially, with those we have yet to meet.