Hate is the most virulent of viruses
Rev. Michele Rowe, my colleague in ministry at the United Church in Golden, gave this message on November 13th to her congregation. I really appreciate her honesty and clarity and her willingness to let me share it with you. Thank you Michele. Blessings, Juanita
I would not be serving as a faithful shepherd and minister to the people of this congregation if I did not address the events of the last week from the pulpit. The world has changed, and along with policy and process changes that come with a new leader in the U.S., the world has become a meaner, more deeply divided place.
Social media and conventional newsfeeds are filled with stories of women, Muslims, GLBTQ people and Latinos being openly assaulted, often by people who self-identify as Trump supporters. African-American children have been reportedly going to school in tears, asking their teachers if they will be sent back to Africa or made to be slaves again.
This is not just about one election that occurred far away from us and has no impact on our daily lives. Hate is the most virulent of viruses – infecting some, being carried by others, incubated within families and neighbourhoods and weakening us all. None of us are immune.
Hate, like other viruses, begins working within the individual long before there are any visible signs of invasion. It begins as a silent and persistent feeling that I am not getting my due and someone else is getting my share. It solidifies into the belief that my thinking is right and others are wrong and that my way of life is threatened by their existence. Just like coughs and fevers eventually appear, there are whispers, jokes, micro-aggressions and hate speech that make audible our prejudices. Like the droplets in a sneeze, they are carried through the air and no amount of saying, “God bless you” is going to help.
As people of faith, we are not immune to the spread of this disease. During World War II, the vast majority of churches in Germany supported Hitler’s leadership, war mongering and murder of millions of people. We have again and again failed to see the hypocrisy of following Jesus, the Prince of Peace, while waging war. We have used the name of God to justify excluding people from our homes, workplaces, governments, pulpits, and so on. But it’s long past time to set God free from the blame which belongs squarely on the shoulders of those who hate. God did not call us to do that unloving thing. Hate did that.
The reading from Isaiah describes God’s vision, God’s dream for the world. In the divine do-over that we hope will come sooner rather than later, there is no war, no sickness, no inequity, no “us” and “them,” no other, no lack of food or shelter. Friends, there is only one thing that stops this dream of God’s from coming true – us.
Jesus warned his followers that nations would rise against nations and kingdoms against kingdoms. In recent times, we have seen the creation of divisions between men and women, white and brown, straight and gay, rich and poor. As followers of Jesus, we are being called to account for how we respond or fail to act in these times. He warned that those who speak of justice in his name will be hated, but that our souls will be strengthened to withstand the onslaught. The Spirit can grant us immunity, if we are but willing to rely on Jesus, that great healer.
In a few weeks at a Board meeting that I encourage all of you to attend, we will be discussing a local initiative to sponsor Syrian refugees in Golden. In the days ahead, in your workplaces, schools or gathering places, there will be harsh talk and incidents of bullying and blaming and evidence that temples of good will, compassion and empathy are being torn down. We are right to be afraid, but we need not be terrified, paralyzed by fear, for God is yet working in and through the world to accomplish that dream of peace, justice and love. I want to close by sharing an excerpt of a piece written by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, an American poet, psychoanalyst, post-trauma recovery specialist and Elder.
“My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there.
We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good…We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up.
There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here.”
May the One who brought us to it, now bring us through it with abundant grace. Amen.