Going My Way


“How can we be grateful enough?” Asks the text of that beautiful anthem. How can our minds and bodies be grateful enough?

Oh, we have managed to survive storms and we have escaped the wolves along the way, to quote again from the anthem. Our strength, our hard work and even our cunning have been important in whatever success and comfort we have achieved. That is all true.

But so much of what we have achieved has also been the luck of the draw and the headstart we were given by circumstance of birth. Don’t you think that is true? Or do you believe that you have done it all…or almost all of it? Many people seem to believe that.

It is a balance, a tension…like so much of living. How much did we receive, unearned? How much did we create by virtue of our effort? How much are we self-created? How much are we the result of the legacy in which we stand? A balance. (Scale hand gesture)

Regardless of how you believe those scales are tipped, it is hard to deny that we, each of us, has received much that we did not earn, received much that makes possible all that we are able to do.

How can we live in, and out of gratitude sufficiently, each of us? How do we know how much gratitude is enough? Is that even an answerable question?

We are approaching Thanksgiving, our American civic celebration of the harvest, when giving thanks is the order of the day. And in these complicated days, when the events in the world are so challenging, I have been searching for a way to get to gratitude…well before getting to Thursday.

My good friend, Denny Davidoff, former Moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association, offered these words in a time of great loss and uncertainty in her personal life:

“Spirit of Life, I know that I am one of the lucky ones…gifted with health and skill and spiritual and material wherewithal to do my work in the world.

Help me to make these wilderness days of uncertainty, of yearning, of disequilibrium an experience of learning about myself and others. Renew my appreciation for the precious gift of life and remind me that even when things aren’t going my way, they’re going my way.”

“Even when things aren’t going my way, they’re going my way.”

I remember encountering truly wealthy people for the first time when I went to college. It was Harvard and only affirmative action and a full scholarship allowed me to attend. I worked throughout college, often serving food in the dining rooms. And I remember so well overhearing some of my classmates talk about the size of their trust funds, about how much income they would have when they graduated, about the positions their fathers had promised them. I remember a few of them complaining that their trust funds were too small.

Have you heard the quip that some people are born on third base but go through life believing that they hit a triple? It is a baseball metaphor, for those of you scratching your heads, that just says that some people start out far ahead even though they may claim their success is all the result of their effort.

Not to put too fine a point on it, and just for example, if you are the son of a wealthy real estate developer and inherit your father’s fortune, it is questionable to claim all of your success as of your own making. Just sayin…

I resented my classmates, oh, did I resent their wealth and their privilege. Well, truth be told, I also envied them and began feeling so sorry for myself. Poor Bill. Black kid. Single working Mom. No trust fund for me.

It was my minister who told me to “get a grip,” who reminded me of how lucky, how blessed I was…with a mother who loved me, with intelligence, with recognition, with scholarships, attending Harvard… “Get a grip.”

You see, even when I thought things were not going my way, they actually were going my way.

And, over time, I even came to understand some of the privilege that came with simply being a male of the species, and with being tall…do you know what percentage of CEO’s are tall men…virtually all of them. About 15% of all American men are over 6’ tall…but 60% of the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies are that tall or taller.

We all have many identities…gender, race, orientation, culture of origin, physical size and ability, occupation, education…many identities.
And some of those identities put us on third base…
Some of those identities keep us down in the dug out…
I know I am working the baseball metaphors pretty hard this morning.
But I hope you understand where I am going.

Part of my own and part of our own spiritual life is to recognize just how much we have received and to find a way to live in gratitude for those gifts.

As the poet David Whyte writes: “Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake…”

To say it a different way, gratitude is finding the fitting response to noticing all that we have received. It is about how we respond.

This year, particularly, I am questioning whether simple thanks is enough.

How do I deal with being aware that I am taller than average? Is thanks enough? Or do I need to notice how that may have benefitted me over the years?

How do we deal with the luck of the draw, or our DNA, or our parents wealth, or lack of wealth? How do we deal with the reality that most of us in this sanctuary are white…in the racially loaded world of today.

Is the appropriate response simply to be thankful for that. Thank goodness I am not black or brown? Some of you, on occasion, may have thought that. But you know it is not an adequate response? Right?

I know I am entering some complicated territory, but we need to talk about some of these issues out loud and in public because we are being confronted with violence being done in the name of these identities and we remain silent at our peril and the peril of our society.

On election day, the Lake Oswego High School newspaper reported on a student Facebook post that urged seniors to “create a club called Ku-Klux-Klub and find every black kid and sacrifice them.” The editorial was titled: “Its time to Stop Lying About Our Racism.”

It was one of the school’s few Black students, who co-edits the paper, who wrote the editorial, not one of the many white students who “liked” the post.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports 437 incidents of vandalization, intimidation and violence between last Tuesday and Monday, November 14…6 days. Of these, 120 were classified as anti-immigrant, 89 as anti-Black and they have added a whole new “Trump” category to their tracking. 41 incidents fell there.

Other targeted groups include LGBTQ folks, women and Muslims. A Muslim teacher received a message from one of her students telling her to hang herself with her head scarf. The note was signed, “America.”

“Quit Overreacting,” argue sympathizers of the President-elect. “Its just politics.”

99 of these hateful incidents took place in our schools. This is not “just politics.” This is reaping the fruits of hate that has been promoted and permitted by those who have been elected to lead us.

Here in Portland, in this blue bubble, our elected leaders are resisting. Senator Merkley is leading the effort in the US Senate to have the President elect withdraw the appointment of Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist. It is unlikely to succeed. But it is important to take that stand. And we need to support him.

Our mayor has promised to keep Portland as a Sanctuary City, despite the President-elect’s threat to cut off all federal funding to cities that claim that designation. Like many of the President-elects’ promises, this one is very unlikely to survive review by the courts…even with new conservative justices. Still, it is important for us to support the mayor and our city.

Here at the church, we have experienced an increase in the number and the virulence of calls from our neighbors, especially about the Black Lives Matter banner. I am not going to repeat the language…it frankly is not appropriate for this sanctuary…but we have new protocols to get those calls to those best able to handle them, like myself, not the volunteers who help staff our office.


Resistance is what love looks like in the face of hate. That is a quote from a sermon of mine featured in UU WORLD magazine this month. Resistance is what love looks like in the face of hate.

I believe that we will very likely need to imagine new ways to resist hate in the days ahead. New ways and perhaps remembering some old ways as well.

During the Vietnam War, while some young men were burning their draft cards, there was a movement by older men, past the age of the draft, to compromise the functioning of the draft boards. In letter after letter, each requiring a response, they would update the draft board about each of their moves, each marriage, each divorce, each child born…all of the events of their lives since they passed draftable age. This was actually encouraged if not required by law. But no one did it and the draft boards were not staffed to handle all the communication.

This was an attempt to flood the draft boards with so much communication that their goal of delivering more and more young men to the war would be compromised. One friend of mine said that he wrote over 40 letters to his upstate New York draft board.

Our President-elect has said that he will create a registry for Muslims in America. A registry.

Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the Anti-Defamation League, which works against anti-Semitism and other bigotries, has promised to register as a Muslim if that database is created, because the Jewish community remembers when Jews were “identified, registered and tagged.”

“The day they create a registry for Muslims is the day I register as a Muslim, because of my Jewish faith, because of my commitment to our core American values, because I want this country to be as great as it always has been.”

How many of you would join me if I issued that call?… when that call, as I fear it will, becomes necessary? As a faith community that honors and draws inspiration from all of the world’s great faith traditions, we would have more grounds than most for claiming at least a partial Muslim identity. How many of you would help confound and confuse every effort to demonize, penalize or deport our Muslim neighbors?

We will be called to be counted. I have no doubt. How will we use our privilege and our voice? Where will we take our stand?

What I know is that the most marginalized among us…people of color, women, queer folks, immigrants, Muslims…so many of US…are feeling particularly vulnerable today.

And progressive people are beginning to step up. We hosted the ACLU here at the church last weekend. They expected 50 people and had 600, with 500 attending via live stream.

This afternoon our Pride Group is hosting the Human Rights Campaign for a service in recognition of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I expect that service to be full.

At the Friday night performance of Hamilton in NYC, the Vice-President elect was in attendance. He was both cheered and booed when he took his seat. And at the end of the performance, when the cast was taking its bows, Brandon Dixon, an African American actor who plays Aaron Burr, delivered the following statement on behalf of the multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious cast:

“We, sir, are diverse America, who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

How will we use our position and our privilege?

Remember what we said this morning:
We will continue teaching our children

that we come from a long line of justice seekers, who made the world better by their protests and marches and by taking a stand.

We will continue teaching our children

that bigotry is not a democratic value and that the human family is a beautiful tapestry of color and belief and culture. …

We will continue teaching our children

to celebrate the wonderful diversity of sexuality and ability and gender. …

We will continue teaching our children

that silence can be dangerous.

We will continue teaching our children

By showing them what love looks like in the face of hate.

May It Be So. Amen.

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