Active Hope: Dare To Believe by Taryn Strauss

I’ve been thinking lately about being disappeared.

Especially insidious is this administration’s ability or intention to “disappear” people.  I think of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Hundreds of children of asylum-seekers who are still locked away in internment camps, whose information was “lost,” and now may never be returned to their families.

I am thinking about my transgender friends, and the administration’s recent memo attempting to deny the very fact of their existence. I think of Matthew Shepard, the gay teenager in Wyoming whose beaten body was missing for 18 hours, not found in time to save his life.   Yet, his legacy and his family’s commitment defy his disappearance from the map of our national history.

On Friday, twenty years after his death, Matthew Shepard found his final resting place in the highly visible National Cathedral in Washington D.C., where he is now interred right next to Helen Keller.  His life and his death will not be disappeared from our nation’s story.

The Reverend Mariann Budde, bishop at the National Cathedral, sees the Shepard’s memorial becoming a place of holy pilgrimage for Americans.

Death does not have to disappear us.  That’s why I love Day of the Dead, and All Saints Day.  People’s lives, their efforts, their memories still have so much work to do, and so much to say to those of us who remain.

Right now, our ancestors are telling us to write a different story for our time.  In the book we have been following in this worship series, “Active Hope,” Joanna Macy highlights The Three Stories of our time.

The first story:  Business as Usual.  When you are living in the middle of this story, one that assumes economies should and will continue to grow, that wealth acquisition is the most important value, and that buying things will save you.  When caught up in this story, it’s easy to think this is just the way things are. The main plot is getting ahead, supported by the subplots of finding a partner, providing for your family, looking good, and buying stuff.  In this view, the problems of the world are seen as far away and irrelevant to our daily lives. This is a story of competition, and isolation.

There is a Second Story:  The Great Unraveling.

In this story, we are struck by how many issues are triggering alarm.  Social division and war, mass extinction of species, climate change, economic decline.  For increasing numbers of people who are living in disaster areas hit by hurricanes, war zones or famine, they are already living this story.

Not to be overly grim, but for people living in the middle of these two stories of our time, the options are either it’s “not that bad, or “it’s already too late.”  Either way, there is a resigned acceptance.

I want to focus today on the third story of our time: The Great Turning.

In this story, the plot is the collective commitment to act for the sake of life on Earth with vision, courage and solidarity.

I don’t know about you, but when I read the IPCC climate change report from a month ago, after a lifetime of meatloaf, steak, and hamburgers, I went right home, James my husband and I discussed it for literally one minute, and my family gave up red meat.  Just like that. Without fanfare, and without looking back. Another truth of our time: Did you know that as of right now, there are over two million organizations working towards ecological sustainability and social justice, worldwide? There is a Great Turning afoot.  We are already at the beginning of this story.

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t read about this epic transition in major newspapers or  seen it reported in other mainstream media.

We need to train ourselves to see the larger pattern and recognize how the story of the Great Turning is happening in our time.  Once seen, it becomes easier to recognize. And then we can begin to see ourselves in it.

How do you become a player in the Story of the Great Turning?

Joanna Macy suggests there are three Three Dimensions of the Great Turning.

First:  Holding Actions

Holding actions aim to hold back and slow down the damage being caused by the political economy of “business as usual.” They also counter the unraveling of our social fabric.

Being part of a congregation is a holding action.

So is welcoming refugees to your home for a meal.

Installing solar panels.

Going vegetarian.

Or you could count monarch butterflies, like my UU friend Terry Uselton does each season in the Smoky Mountain National Park.

He’s a retired high school chemistry teacher who spends his retirement tracking fauna in the Smokies, and posting his adventures on social media, so we can all learn from his work.  Terry’s efforts to track, count, and release birds and butterflies is his contribution to the Great Turning story, especially as I and others who see his work feel healed and informed by his beautiful pictures and stories of species perseverance.

Other holding actions include using cloth grocery bags, adding to the strength of campaigns, boycotts, rallies direct actions and protest are all holding actions that are essential, they save lives, and save species, and alone, they are not quite enough.

The Second Dimension of The Great Turning:

Is Life Sustaining Systems and Practices

This includes rethinking the way we do things, and creatively redesigning the structures of our lives.

Last week I was sitting in my intentionally racially diverse book club, and we were discussing Austin Channing Brown’s recent book, “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.”

In her final chapter, Brown writes:

“This is living in the shadow of hope.  Knowing that we may never see the realization of our dreams, and yet still showing up.  I do not believe that I or my children or my grandchildren will live in an America that has achieved racial equality.  And so I stand in the legacy of all that Black Americans have already accomplished- in their resistance, in their teachings, in their voices, in their faith- and I work toward a world unseen, currently unimaginable.”

We read that passage out loud, and there were a few deep sighs, and there was some laughter, which is the body’s expression of hope.  What can we possibly do to create a different world?

We joked about starting a commune together, sharing in the tasks, raising our children together, growing food and combining land and other resources.  The laughter died down, and we sat silently with the idea, rolling it around in our minds like a mystic rolls rune stones around in his hands, a little afraid, and a little exhilarated by the thrill of imagining a whole new life.

Communal living is a life sustaining practice that is included in the second dimension of the Great Turning.

Other examples of sustaining practice:

The fact that large numbers of people who have switched to eating organic has affected farming practices towards health and sustainability.

Large institutions divesting from fossil fuels, and other economic choices that affirm and uphold life can shape a new economy.

Macy says there are three dimensions of the Great Turning story, and The Third Dimension is:

Deepening our sense of connection

This is great news for Unitarian Universalists, who are already skilled at honoring the interdependent web of all existence, our seventh sacred principle.

We understand ourselves as a part of the Earth, and each other, and every action we take reverberates throughout time and across geography.  By strengthening our compassion, we widen the circle of support that protects us from burnout so we can do the work.

Do you see?  Changing the self and changing the world are mutually interconnected.

There is a saying that important changes often go through three phases.  First they are regarded as a joke. Then they are treated as a threat. Finally, they become accepted as normal.

Aspects of current reality that were once dismissed as hopeless dreams.

  • women have the vote in nearly every country in the world
  • an African American can become the US president
  • Apartheid came to an end in South Africa
  • Most people now accept that the earth orbits around the sun

Lucy Stone organized the first National Women’s Rights convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1850.  She never lived to see women finally get the vote in the United States in 1920, but that didn’t stop her from working her whole life to make that happen.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for more than twenty-five years before eventually becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994.

When we experience frustration, failure, obstruction or even backsliding, it is imperative we remember we are a part of a history and legacy of hope.

We must not disappear the hope of our ancestors, who call on us to complete the vision we may never see.

Macy asks us this:  Could it be that one day future generations will look back at us now and wonder how we dared to believe we could create a life-sustaining society, and dared also to bring it about?  For that to happen, we need the capacity to tolerate frustration. Rather than seeing frustration and failure as evidence that we’re pursuing a hopeless cause, we can reframe them as natural, event necessary features in the journey of social change.

What does success look like for you in The Great Turning?  It doesn’t look like having a lot of money, power, fame, or beauty, or the most followers on Instagram.  You have probably figured that out by now. Our individual sense of success must be inextricably linked with the body of humanity and Earth.  Now, if our measure of personal success is “did I stop climate change?” that will bring us back to defeat. Find small goals, sometimes just noticing something is amiss around you can be a small victory.

Build your network of support, because The Great Turning is a collective experience.  Macy suggests drawing a constellation of all the people in your network who you can turn to for support or ideas.

Develop a study-action group, with three main S’s:  study, strategy, support. The study part can be a window into a disturbing reality, so it’s best accomplished in groups.  I think UU Congregation of Atlanta is the perfect place for study-action groups to meet!

Find a listening post in nature.  A spot you return to. Go there to reconnect to the interdependent web of life.  Make it a habit.

Recognize enthusiasm as a valuable renewable resource, and follow the inner compass of deep gladness.  Remember that laughter is the body’s expression of hope.

Find your place in the Story, which means broadening your definition of activism.

Redefine what it means to have a good life.

The poet reminds us:

The bad do not win—not finally,

No matter how loud they are.

We simply would not be here

If that were so.

As a child at my UU Church’s Halloween party, I remember dressing up as a fortune teller, and offering other kids a chance to receive my divination.  I had a crystal ball, and whole speech that accompanied the experience.

But people would get frustrated with my fortunes, because I lacked certainty.  Instead, I portrayed their future as cloaked in mystery, and clouded by the possible choices they would make that would either lead to doom or success.

Our collective fortune is no different.  There is no crystal ball that harkens doom.  Failure is not imminent.

There is only the call to adventure if we dare to practice hope, to hold on to another for dear life and even long after that, and never let each other be disappeared.  We are building the House for Tomorrow.