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March 30, 2009
View Rev. Sinkford's Pastoral Letter (Windows Media) (QuickTime)
As we welcome spring this year, many of us feel a renewed sense of optimism now that the American political landscape has been transformed. At the same time, many of us are facing unprecedented financial challenges within our families, our work places and our congregations.
It has become almost trite to say that these are complicated times. But, let’s be honest, these arecomplicated times to navigate. We are celebrating our first African American president, elected on promises of hope and change. But at the same time, each new report on the economy increases our anxiety. The result is that we are pulled in opposite directions, tossed between hope and fear. It feels like a kind of emotional whiplash. Fear-Hope. Hope-Fear.
Fear and Hope.
I believe we are living in a Kairos moment. Kairos is the term used by the ancient Greeks to describe a critical moment, an opportunity for change. It is an opening in the ordinary stream of events when anything becomes possible.
In this Kairos moment, we know that the old ways will not carry us into the future. We know that the politics of divisiveness, the politics of horse trading, the politics of name calling—in other words, politics as usual—can’t save us in these unusual times.
In this special moment, what are we called to do as a religious people?
This may come as a shock to some of you, but Barack Obama isn’t the messiah. He’s a politician. Politics, as the old saying goes, is the art of the possible. President Obama’s job is to chart and navigate a broader range of possibilities.
But as religious people, our job—our calling—is to challenge the possible, to hold up a vision of the Beloved Community, to help stretch the public imagination of what can be. Because if our country’s only choice is between the status quo and what we already know to be possible, then we are limited in what we can achieve. By envisioning new possibilities and urging our leaders to reach further and dare more, religious people can spur history. If we do our job, then when the line of compromise is drawn, as it inevitably will be, it will fall closer to the ideal.
Let me offer an example. I was honored to visit South Africa last fall with my wife and some colleagues. South Africa is a very young democracy, only fifteen years old. Against all odds, it accomplished a relatively peaceful transition to democracy from an incredibly violent and oppressive regime. Part of the reason was the transformative work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Victims of violence on both sides were able to tell their truths.
Mary Burton, a member of the original Commission, believes that, “The Truth and Reconciliation process did a pretty good job—not perfect—of getting Truth out on the table. As for reconciliation, not so much.” Mary explained, “Reconciliation is not something that happens at one point in time. I have to work on it every day of my life.”
Although the hard work of reconciliation continues, the country as a whole has taken great strides. The unanimous opinion in South Africa is that the success of the Truth and Reconciliation process was due in large part to the religious values that guided it. Bishop Desmond Tutu’s voice was vital to keeping the work on course. Time and again he stood in the center of controversy and said, “We are one people and reconciliation is possible.” He said it so often that they called him a broken a record. And he succeeded.
So, as America stands on its own threshold, I want to offer an answer to the question: What are we called to do as a religious people?
We are called to stand in the middle of controversy and proclaim, “We are one people.” Like the South Africans on both sides who participated in the Truth and Reconciliation Process, we need to build relationships with people we aren’t accustomed to working with. Like Mary Burton, we need to work on reconciliation every day of our lives.
In Salt Lake City this June we have an opportunity to partner with representatives from the Catholic and Episcopalian churches to witness on behalf of justice for immigrants. We also expect to be joined by some members of the Mormon church.
We are one people and we can be reconciled.
We have created several high-profile opportunities to support BGLT citizens in Salt Lake City and throughout Utah. It’s not easy being “out” in Utah, nor is it easy being a Mormon parent who chooses to accept and embrace a BGLT child or children. Our sisters and brothers in Salt Lake City need and deserve our support, now more than ever.
We are one people and we can be reconciled. But only if we show up for the conversation.
Spring is the season of annual renewal, and in many faith traditions the days near the equinox are a time for holy observances. This spring, the potential for renewal feels even more profound. In this Kairos moment, as we experience daily—even hourly—change, the politicians are busy making laws and policy, trying to strengthen our nation. But the truth is that there is even more for religious people to do. And we are called to do it now. We must model our vision of the Beloved Community before we can expect it to take root in the world.
The beloved community requires hard work, patience, and making room at our table for everyone. Can we do it? In the words of our hard-working sisters and brothers, “Si, se puede!” “Yes, we can!”
We are one people, and we can be reconciled.
Reverend William G. Sinkford
Unitarian Universalist Life
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Last updated on Thursday, June 3, 2010.
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