July 30, 2017 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Psalm 150, Romans 12: 1-18
In 2001 I was hired as an ethicist for a large health system based in Michigan but with hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies and clinics all over the country. It was a meaningful and interesting position. It paid very well, I interacted with wonderful people, and I learned something new every day. The only drawback was that I had to get an apartment in Michigan, fly there at 6:00 a.m. every Monday morning, and then fly back home on Friday nights. In addition, I flew regularly to various health facilities from Silver Spring MD to Fresno CA and everywhere in between. One month after I began this job 9/11 happened and the experience of flying changed overnight. At that time in Portland, airport security was on the second floor. Before September 11th I could arrive at 5:40 for my 6:00 o’clock flight. After the attack on the twin towers, if I arrived at 5:00 a.m. there was no guarantee that I would make my flight. The line to go through security ran the length of the second floor, down the stairs and continued the length of the first floor to the entrance doors. It sometimes took over two hours to go through security. And each week, the rules for what we could take in carry-on luggage changed. That continues today. This is only one small, irritating problem as a consequence of a major tragedy. It is, however, an example of how a violent action can have on-going consequences many years beyond the action.
One of the highlights of my time in Michigan is that I got to stand in another long line. This was the line for the wake of Rosa Parks. It was in 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, that Rosa Parks refused to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat in the “colored section” to a white passenger, after the whites-only section was filled. Her arrest for civil disobedience in violating Alabama laws captured the public imagination. Her act of defiance became an important symbol of the modern Civil Rights Movement. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She also suffered for her act. In addition to being arrested she was fired from her job as a seamstress in a local department store, and received death threats for years afterwards leading her to move to Detroit. I had the privilege of standing in line for a couple of hours and interacting with inspiring people working for racial equality. I also got a few moments to view Ms. Parks’ body and take in her strong, peaceful face. Her body remained in Detroit only one night, because it was moved the next day. Rosa Parks was the first woman and third non-US government official to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda. The United States Congress gave her the titles, “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”. Who knows how many young girls, women, blacks and those working for social justice she has influenced, inspired, energized, strengthened. And why did she resist giving up her seat? Parks recalled going to elementary school in her small southern town, where school buses took white students to their new school and black students had to walk to theirs which was pitifully underfunded. Of this experience she said, “I’d see the bus pass every day… But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.” Because of that early experience, Rosa Parks saw sitting in the bus, even in the “colored section” in the back of the bus, as a step up from walking. She wasn’t going to go backwards by giving up her seat.
One more story: One day several autumns ago I was having a hard time with seasonal affective disorder. The days were getting shorter and I was struggling with my mood. For no real reason things looked bleak and it was an effort to get out of myself and do what needed doing. That day I found myself in the grocery store, a chore that I really dislike. I was feeling very down and I was upset with myself knowing that my life was very blessed and thinking that I should be able to overcome these feelings of depression. I remember trudging to the cashier line with my items. As I got in line, a woman smiled at me and said, “You only have a few things. Why don’t you get in front of me?” I can’t remember what her face looked like, but I can still remember taking a deep cleansing breath and feeling my heart lift and my mood shift. In that small act of kindness I had experienced goodness in the world. And to this day, when I see news about violence or greed or intolerance or anything bad that starts to get me feeling discouraged about the world, that experience in the grocery store comes back to me. And I remember that this good woman is out there, and many more besides, and it keeps me buoyed and hopeful. Her small caring and generous act has an impact on me still, and as a result one what I do and on those whom I encounter.
Each of these stories exemplify how every event, even a single action has an unplanned spreading effect or series of consequences. Every action reverberates into the universe, into the future, for better or for worse. Whether we want to or not, we make a difference.
Last week I quoted Alfred North Whitehead who wrote about living by the law of expenditure and that we find the greatest joy by expressing what we are. I would also say that it is by being aware that our actions have a ripple effect and thus in being intentional about our behavior, that we find meaning. As spiritual pilgrims we want that our vision that all of creation resonate in harmony comes to pass. Trusting in the domino effect, causal sequence, contagion, or reverberation can motivate us to act encouraged that the smallest step for good will effect more than what we will see.
A poem by Rebecca Parker that I read recently affirmed for me the importance of us taking advantage of the reality of reverberation. Here it is.
In the Midst of a World:
In the midst of a world marked by tragedy and beauty there must be those who bear witness
against unnecessary destruction and who, with faith, rise and lead in freedom, with grace and power.
There must be those who speak honestly and do not avoid seeing what must be seen of sorrow and outrage, or tenderness, and wonder.
There must be those whose grief troubles the water while their voices sing and speak refreshed worlds.
There must be those whose exuberance rises with lovely energy that articulates earth’s joys.
There must be those who are restless for respectful and loving companionship among human beings, whose presence invites people to be themselves without fear.
There must be those who gather with the congregation of remembrance and compassion, draw water from old wells, and walk the simple path of love for neighbor.
And, there must be communities of people who seek to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God, who call on the strength of soul-force to heal, transform, and bless life.
There must be religious witness.
This month I borrowed themes from the UU community all having to do with “soul recharge”. Despite the busyness of our summer my hope was that we would take time to nurture our own spirits by rejoicing, by having a reverent awareness for the beauty and goodness in and all around us, by relaxing and through positive relationships with ourselves, others and the divine. How does reverberation fit in to soul recharge? There’s a great soul song entitled “Can’t Help Loving that Man of Mine” Some of the lyrics are that the angels have planned that “Fish gotta swim, and birds gotta fly”. Made in God’s image, we have to love in order to truly be ourselves. And love is an action word.
Reverberation: A man went on a journey to New Mexico to stand before some stone-faced canyons and meditate and “find himself.” With a deep longing he went before a canyon wall and yelled, “More of You. I need more of You!” And the echo came back, “More of you.”
And lest we feel hesitant about spreading our wings, fearful that we will fail, concerned that we will fall short of what we want to achieve, let’s just count on it. The only ones who don’t fail are those who don’t act. When our son Christopher excitedly told his brother that he had been accepted at every college to which he had applied; Andrew’s response was, “Obviously you didn’t reach high enough.” If we stretch ourselves, work towards worthwhile goals we won’t always reach them; but we will likely take a step towards good. Here is a blessing for all for risk-takers, all losers, all failures far and wide by Robin Tanner:
Blessed are they who fall in the mud, who jump with gusto and rip the pants, who skin the elbows, and bruise the ego, for they shall know the sweetness of risk.
Blessed are they who make giant mistakes, whose intentions are good but impact has injured, who know the hot sense of regret and ask for mercy, for their hearts will know the gift of forgiveness.
Blessed are they who have seen a D or an F or C or any letter less than perfect, who are painfully familiar with the red pen and the labels as “less than,” for they know the wisdom in the imperfect.
Blessed are they who try again, who dust off, who wash up, who extend the wish for peace, who return to sites of failure, who are dogged in their pursuit, for they will discover the secret to dreams.
Blessed are they who refuse to listen to the naysayers, for their hearts will be houses for hope.
Blessed are they who see beyond the surface of another, for they will be able to delight in the gift of compassion.
Blessed are they who stop running the race to help a fellow traveler, who pick up the fallen, who stop for injured life, for they shall know the kindness of strangers.
Blessed are they who wildly, boldly abandon winning, for they shall know the path of justice. Amen