There Are More of Us Than There Are of Them (sermon)

There are more of us than there are of them.

There are more of us walking with the wind.

In November 2019, I raised to you these prayerful words from Sikh community activitist and author, Valerie Kaur

What if this darkness

is not the darkness of the tomb,

but the darkness of the womb?

For several hours on the 6th of January, it felt like a band of insurrectionists were attempting to put the lid on the coffin of democracy – the darkness of the tomb, not the darkness of the womb. 

With curbing of that event – I am not yet sure we can call it a failure, despite the success of certifying the outcome of the presidential election, for so much of the rot within our system was (once again, if we are willing to look) laid bare by their actions – the glaring disparity in how law enforcement treated these white terrorists – taking selfies with them? – and how Black Lives Matters protestors have been treated in the very same location.  Exposing the rot of white elected officials giving a white power salute and a sitting president telling these seditionists that he loves them.

On the Sunday before the presidential election, you might remember, I preached to you about possible scenarios. One was Biden winning and Trump refusing to leave. 

Part of the scenario included authoritarian-leaning elements using this to their benefit and the presence of violence from the far right.

I said then we must be prepared for chaos. 

Some are calling them terrorists or even white supremacist terrorists. There are questions whether to call it a coup, or an attempted coup, or some other nomenclature. Whatever you choose, please do not give them the label of protestor, that is so so wrong.

Though these rioters were removed from the Capitol building, and the election certified, I believe we must continue to be alert to possible authoritarian chaos.

In that sermon on the Sunday before the election, I worried aloud with you that some of you – not all, I know – might find my words hyperbolic. I said

I hope that I am wrong. I hope that have to eat crow and apologize to each and every one of you for falsely raising your fears. 

And while there have been areas of concern – baseless lawsuits; and elected officials teetering very close to sedition,and possibly over the edge; and last week the head of the Proud Boys was arrested for vandalizing Black churches in Washington DC.

Still, if you wanted to turn away and not see the public, visible, in-our-faces planning by the far right, you could.  It’s a powerful force persuading us to not see the dangers.

I did. I have to acknowledge that. Not completely, but I let the relative quiet and the demands of my own life keep my attention, narrow my vision. 

So much so, I had been teaching myself how to make a rice crispies treat in the shape of a crow, to eat as part of my last sermon before going on sabbatical.  I thought I should make good on my word and eat crow, because I had been lulled into thinking there wouldn’t be violence; that five people would not be dead after the capitol building was violently trespassed.

In September, Ibram X. Kendhi published in The Atlantic of the dangers of denial. 

I fear that this is how many Americans are thinking right now: Routine surgery— the defeat of Donald Trump at the polls— will heal the American body. No need to look deeper, at police departments, at schools, at housing. Are Americans now acknowledging racism, but telling themselves the problem is contained?

Denial is both a psychological defense mechanism and the foundation for wider dysfunction, but it is not part of a healthy spiritual or ethical system.  Yes, part of the human experience, yet an examined life includes a regular practice of illuminating and disarming it.

Our task now – as spiritual people, as ethical people – is to pay attention to how our denial might keep us from seeing the risks and the danger, might keep us from being – as I preached this past August – a stakeholder who defends democracy, rather than just sinking back into our comfortable couches and lives of relative privilege, assuming others will do this work.

We must be wary not only of gun-toting, pelt-clad Viking-wannabes, but also any draconian reactions that might swoop in under the guise of protecting democracy that actually work to undermine it.

You might remember Fiona Hill from the impeachment proceedings.  She had worked in the Trump Administration on the National Security Council as the top Russia advisor. She was one of the people who had been for weeks predicting violence on January 6th.

Ms. Hill spoke in a recent interview, describing Wednesday’s events as part of a long “self coup,” operating in plain sight over a longer time frame, that it was one of multiple “stress tests” to our democratic institutions.

I understand that term – stress tests – as parallel to the concept of “grooming” — what abusers do when they are picking their victims – testing if will they their hair be touched even without permission; will THEY apologize for things the abuser does. If they will turn away; if they will overlook it; if they will say let’s move on.

If Wednesday was an act of grooming by authoritarian forces – and there have been others – such as Trump using the military to clear the crowds so he could have his photo opp with that Bible in hand, that was a stress test (one the military failed, but then came to understand the risks and decided not to do it again) an act of checking if he could count on the military to quell peaceful protesters – then how we respond now and in the days, weeks, months, years going forward is crucial.

I know we are looking forward to celebrating a peaceful inauguration.  And we should. We should eat cake or light sparklers or call our dear friends and laugh and cry and feel relief. 

Just like – and it feels like a thousand days ago – many of you spent Wednesday morning joyful at the results in Georgia: a Jewish Senator, son of immigrants and a Black Senator – the first in that state’s history – a pastor, a Christian who supports LGBTQ+ communities, elected.

Yes, let us celebrate these, and the growing arrests of who fomented insurrection, for they should be held to account.  This is part of how we make real our imaginings of Beloved Community. 

And…

… and those white supremacists who have been flexing their muscles and feeling their oats: they are not going to stop just because their president is out of office. It’s far too complex for that.  I mean, look – leaders of the Proud Boys white nationalist organization include men of color!  Talk about complex!  Proud Boys is a thoroughly misogynist group, yet white women take full part. Our country is too fertile of ground for this complex, confounding version of dominance and white supremacy culture.

We ALL are responsible for what happens next. 

Good thing there are more of us than there are of them.

(Be sure to listen to the song by The Nields, Tyrants Always Fall, linked at the beginning of this post. That is the source of this sermon’s refrain.)

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