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Elizabeth M. Strong
We have read
for long years that faith, hope, love abide, but the greatest of these is
love. But today,
following a day like no other, raises hope to the pinnacle of these three sustaining
human responses to life.
through the ages rings” are the opening words of one of our hymns. I believe this, and
today I believe that hope is the promise that through the ages rings. It is what has enabled
people of African American descent to hold on to their faith in God and in life through
their long years of slavery, and in the aftermath of oppression, injustice and inequality. It is what sustains all of us in our
lives everyday, through the big and little struggles
that confront us and challenge hope.
The hope that
people have held for freedom and equality, for justice and respect has been beaten down
time and time again in this nation by those who denied the Bill of Rights that affirms
that all men are created equal. We
are not yet to the place that Martin Luther King, Jr.
dreamed of when he spoke in Washington, DC,
on August 28, 1963, saying “I have a dream
that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We
hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’…That with this
faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of
we here in the United States went to the polls to vote for our next President. In the process of selecting Barack
Hussein Obama as the Democratic candidate we
had also affirmed in many ways Hilary Rodham Clinton as a viable woman
candidate for the highest office in the land. It was a heady time for women and for
African Americans, and by fiat, for all who had never dared to hope that one of their kind
could attain that pinnacle of achievement.
Hope was abounding in our souls, we began to
believe that our hope for such equality and respect for people of color, for women, indeed
for all, including gay/lesbian/bi and transgendered people could really happen this
“Yes we can.” And so we did.
But hope has
been challenged so many times before, and been brought to its knees battered and
nearly destroyed by the realities of the hatred and prejudice that barred the way. None of us here can fully relate to the
emotions Alice Walker evoked in her letter to President
Obama, but we can stand beside her—and now, beside him and face the challenges to
hope that now has a more powerful chance of survival than ever before in the history
of this nation.
challenges to this hope are cause for legitimate concern. Throughout our nation’s history
proclamations and laws have been declared and enacted only to come to the harsh understanding
that they did not guarantee what they decreed.
But as a
Boston Globe editorial tracing the relationships between Martin Luther King, Jr. and various
Presidents stated: “Much remains to be done to achieve racial justice, but on the eve of
the Obama inauguration, progress needs to be acknowledged as well. As Obama said at
the groundbreaking for the King memorial in Washington in 2006, ‘By dint of
vision and determination, and most of all faith in the redeeming power of love… he finally
inspired a nation to transform itself, and begin to live up to the meaning of
On Tuesday we
empowered ourselves and this nation to live that creed. Now we must stand beside
and behind President Barack Obama and do our part to meet head on the challenges to
the hopes that this has instilled within the hearts and souls of millions of Americans,
and around the world.
President-elect Obama spoke on Saturday, January 17th at the first
Inaugural event at the
Lincoln Memorial he told us what we need to understand as we prepare to rise to face
the challenges that face us as a nation and him as our President. He said: “But never forget
that the character of our nation is revealed not during times of comfort and ease, but by
the right we do when the moment is hard..”
Amid the joy
and elation, amid the hope in our hearts lies the hard knowledge of the realities
this nation currently faces. We all
know what they are. Many of us have personal
experience with the loss of a job, college debt, low or no health insurance, loss of
pension and 401K nest eggs, discrimination for who we are and discrimination in the places we
work. These are personal. Then we add those of us who have ones
we love in the military forces trying to do
the right thing to protect this nation at home and to win a war
far away. The challenges to hope
are real. It is our task now to
keep hope alive.
Where can we
look for the reasons to believe that hope will prevail this time? What is required of
us? We can understand that racism
is not divinely created nor is it carved in stone into the human psyche. It is a human social construct that we
can dismantle. President
Obama has called us to continue “the long march of those who came before us, a march for a
more just, more equal citizenship under the law… that what we have seen is that
America can change. That is the true genius of this
nation. What we have already achieved
gives us hope—the audacity of hope—for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”
reminded that the Emancipation Proclamation was issued January 1, 1863. One hundred years
and 7 months later Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech
on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Forty five years later we have elected our
first African American President.
Progress may move slowly, but it does move. And for the freedom and equality of
those who served as slaves in this nation, time has
accelerated. The audacity of hope
is a little less audacious today than it was just forty-five
years ago. Today we have a tangible
reason to believe and trust in hope.
But we are
not in the promised land that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of. Yet, at this time, as a
result of this election, the American people can look at the crushing
challenges to hope and say, with the words of
President Obama, “Not this time.”
Not this time can our hopes be
crushed and destroyed. Not this
time can our hopes be ridiculed as unreasonable. Not this time can our hopes be
doubted. Not this time can our
trust in the future be
broken. Not this time. Because we have crossed a river, a line,
a barrier into a different
For us, it is
time for our work to begin. It is
time for us to respond to the call from our new President
to believe in hope and to work for it.
He said, “…the …thing that gave me hope from the
day we began the campaign for the presidency… [is]a belief that if we could just
recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together… then not only would we
restore hope and opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe,
we might perfect our union in the process.
This is what I believed, but you made this
belief real. You proved once more
that people who love this county can change
it. As I prepare to assume the
presidency, yours are the voices I will take with me everyday when
I walk into that Oval Office. “…I ask you to help reveal [the character of this nation]
once more, and together, we can carry forward as one nation, and one people, the legacy of
our forefathers that we celebrate today.”
my prayer is that we will do the “right” thing in the hard moments ahead and work for
justice, equality and equity, exercise patience in the long haul to bring about
the change we
need, and a modicum of humor to help keep alive the twinkle in President Barack
Obama’s eyes, the engaging smile on his face and that audacious hope in his heart.
Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association
member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship.
Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.
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Last updated on Monday, March 25, 2013.
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