August 13, 2017: This just doesn’t seem like Charlottesville

(I have been asked for a text of the words I spoke this morning. Because I had prepared with handwritten notes, what you find below is a restatement of what I said this morning but might be worded differently. Please forgive lack of punctuation and typos – my computer is in the shop and so I am dictating this. Rev.  Susan Frederick-Gray and Rev.  Carlton Elliott Smith also spoke in the service.)

“I’ve been hearing some people say “this just doesn’t seem like Charlottesville”.  Or, “our town has been lost.” Indeed, for many of us, our beliefs about the world are challenged. And as Susan just said, the system of white privilege is designed such that many people of color and other disenfranchised people already know about hatred and violence in their daily lives. And yet for all of us :whites or not, I believe that what happened here this weekend was an invasion on a new level. 

And so, many of us are in shock. Along with the rage at injustice there is also a shock and a numbness.

The nature of shock is that each person feels it differently in their own way and time. Some people react by wanting to be alone, others by clinging to company.  Some people lose their appetite. Some experience foggy thinking, others of sharpness of focus. Some may be unable to sleep even though you are exhausted.  You may find your mind racing with images from the media or what you yourself experience, and feel unable to stop your racing thoughts.  Or perhaps your body experience something yesterday and those sensations are still with with you and you can’t figure out how to shake them off?

All of these are normal reactions to an abnormal situation.

And each of us copes in unique ways.

Each of us is a whole person with whole lives although at this moment, our lives may feel fragmented, and all our attention turns towards mourning and outrage right here in our hometown.

I would like to pause and say something about this word hometown. As I crafted this sermon  I found myself using the word hometown again and again. And yet when I stood back and asked myself whether that serves the group gathered here today, I realized I needed to make a distinction.  The issue that we are up against that was made so clear this weekend is both a national and local issue.  I have heard friends and family say and I have seen on Facebook: people around this country are out raged and fearful about the Nazi rhetoric that was spoken this weekend in Charlottesville. And yet, those of us who live here face another layer of challenge: first, our self image as a town has changed. Second, we are still dealing with daily mundane tasks along with the cleanup and crisis.  Third, having one’s town in national media can be an upset in and of itself. Am I the only one here who is tired of seeing our hometown in the national news?  And so I find myself living with the distance: this is both a national story and a local story – and a global story.

And so it is important to respond to these horrific acts. And yet as we do, it is also important to acknowledge that we are in shock, and to tend to our own personal well-being. In the treatment of shock, a common recommendation is to drink water. The body needs to rehydrate. This may not be the time for coffee, or Soda pop, or alcohol.  The body just needs a basic replenishment of one of its own elements, water, which is in our cellular structure.

Drinking plenty of water can also be a metaphor for other ways we care for ourselves right now: spiritual and emotional replenishment — coming to the watering hole for the soul. For example yesterday in this building people offered a sort of spiritual and emotional water, a chance to be together and share and spiritual practices: walking the labyrinth, doing art together, sharing food.

You may know what gives you your personal emotional and spiritual hydration: what the basics are for you –. Perhaps it is hugs, naps, playing with the kids, a good book, or fresh air. Or perhaps it is something that I cannot even imagine that you find nourishing. I commend to you right now these healthy replenishing basics to help your whole system rebalance after the shock. In contrast, watching more media and Facebook and talking about it more may not be what you need right now. To be clear, I am not suggesting  being self-obsessed. I’m talking about self-care, because each of us is part of Creation and we need to steward ourselves as well as all of Creation.

Congregations another part of the country have been reaching out to us on the ministry team to offer help. They have asked: “what can we do?” Here’s what I have said: one, double down on your congregational efforts to understand systemic racism. Two, educate your congregation about the alt right and take it seriously to halt its spread. Three, re-devote yourself to volunteering in the religious education programs. The next generation needs intelligent information about how to be involved politically, threats to our democratic system, and how to speak up with love and courage.  The children need us to be there for them.  The UUA  has outstanding curricula for children. 

And so, as we here make it through this first stage of shock, as we literally drink water and also allow ourselves to be replenished with spiritual and emotional waters, we will then find ourselves in a next stage – going forward after the shock wears off.

And so as we look ahead, I offer you a quote from an artist. This quote is on a piece of art that I keep on the wall in the office that I share with Erik. The quote says: “she built her cathedral from the splinters of her shattering.” Indeed, the image does look like it could be bits of destruction, but it could also look like a cathedral stainglass window.  My friends, history is made up of people whose hearts were broken, towns were broken, who picked up the pieces and moved on. In our own way, and time, we will do that.

Our way of moving on may be entirely different from any way we have ever done it before. We see with new eyes now, hear with new ears, feel with new hearts. These complicated times we live in require new responses, and we do have the tools, even if we don’t recognize them yet.

One of our greatest gifts and greatest challenges right now is to be in touch with all parts of ourselves. And I speak here about our individual selves, and about our communal selves.  Right now, Fear would like to pull all of our attention. This fight or flight reaction is only part of who we are. Inside each of our beings, and woven through our community, is also a creativity and light and tenderness.

My friends, we are called to this wholeness. The spirit of love that pervades this universe longs for each of us to be our whole selves.

Let our creativity serve the world.

-Rev. Alexandra McGee

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