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Here is the sermon text:
Rev. Sarah Buteux
All the Feels
Romans 12:9-21, Proper 17, Year A
Hymns “My Shepherd will supply my need”
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
I’m here to tell you this morning that it’s ok….you’re ok. Not the world. Certainly not our country. Our country is !*!&%$ing $#!* show right now.
Watching the news feels like watching a horror film on a loop with different actors stepping in to play the same roles of unarmed black man or biased white police officer or angry white male with a gun.
Campuses are replacing nursing homes as ideal settings for the spread Covid. California is on fire. We’ve seen that show before. But now, so is Wisconsin? The gulf coast has just survived another hurricane, but did you know that so has Iowa?
Our country is not ok.
But you and how you feel about it all, you’re ok. It’s ok. Your grief, your anger, your joy, your exhaustion, your hope, your fears….all the feels you’ve been feeling…it’s ok to feel them all, especially here in this moment, because you my friend are in church right now, and here in the church we make room for people to feel what they really feel.
We rejoice with those who rejoice and we mourn with those who mourn.
At least that’s what we are supposed to do. And actually, for the most part I think that is what we do, especially at First Churches. We do our best to make the space to be real with one another about our joys and our sorrows, our fears and our frustrations….and yet… and yet…I still feel like I need to say all this out loud because there is something else I’ve been hearing, in my own head and in the confessions of others.
I’m hearing a lot of guilt of late and a lot of shame creeping in around the edges of our conversations as we check in with each other and pray for one another. I hear more and more people apologizing for what they feel or judging themselves for being too much or doing too little or not handling all this as well as they think they should be.
And I hear the silence left in the wake of people who have drifted away, perhaps because they felt like there wasn’t enough room for them to express their grief or their pain, or their anger…
And maybe there wasn’t, in which case we as a church need to remember our calling and make more room, because everyday brings us something new to mourn and there is a lot to be angry about right now.
I heard the anger in John Dorhauer’s facebook post on Monday. John is the president of the U.C.C., and at the end of a full day of meetings he learned the awful news about Jacob Blake. “I watched the video,” he wrote:
I wish to God I had not seen that. It is utterly sickening and soul crushing. There was no provocation. The police could have easily detained him without violent, much less deadly, force.
Now, I don’t even know what to say or write here.
Everything feels utterly pointless and useless.
I am sick.
I am angry.
I am so very sad.
The collective outrage and protest over this that finally has come to light in America does not create even a moment of hesitation as another white police officer opens fire on another unarmed black man with nothing that comes close to defensible provocation. This blatant act of police violence against another black body is a huge F-you to the entire black race.
What new outrage can we muster to end this? How much grief and anger and fear and rage must we express to at least stem the tide of this outrageous and murderous zeal?!!
That law officer needs to be in jail right now. Right now!
Oh, I am sick of this.
I cannot fathom it at all.
God help us.
I read John’s post with gratitude, especially that expletive, because that is what I felt too. But then I saw the comment left by the Rev. Luther Holland:
John, I am with you, (he writes) but you already know my stance when I will tell you that as a powerful, Privileged leader of a denomination that I have been Ordained in for fifty years, Your grief, anger, fear and rage just does not compare with my life long grief, anger, fear and rage living in a nation of powerful, privileged men…Yes, your feelings, (are) as true as you make them sound, just understand (that) as a black man my feelings are more than feelings…THEY ARE REAL, (he says switching to all caps) THEY ARE WHAT I LIVE WITH, EVEN IN OUR BELOVED UCC, FOR I DO NOT BELIEVE MY FEELINGS ARE UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTABLE.
THAT IS PART OF MY LIVING ANGER …LIVING WHILE BLACK IN AMERICA!
PRAY FOR ME AS I PRAY TO HEAR and feel YOUR PASSION!
Dear Ones I know there is room for John’s anger in our church, in the U.C.C., – the measured, rational, shake your head and throw your hands up in frustration anger of a white man who deeply cares – but we need to make room for Luther’s anger as well, for his feeling “that is more than a feeling.” Room for the fear and rage and hopelessness he lives with every day as a black man in America.
So I ask you this morning to just hear him. Hear his cry! Hear the reality of this pastor’s experience and just make space for it.
Don’t try to understand it or intellectualize it, because if you’re white you’re probably never going to understand and if you’re a person of color you don’t need to try because you already know. Just hold it… hold it with him like the burning coal that it is. Hold it until it sears your soul, until your heart is as burnt out and broken as his.
That’s what John tried to do, when he responded to Luther’s comment. He made room by admitting right away that he couldn’t begin to even fathom the depths of Luther’s pain. All he could do was hear it and hold it, and Luther thanked him for that.
You may have also seen the response of Bradford Community Church, a UU congregation out in Kenosha whose building was badly damaged by the rioting on Monday. On Tuesday they issued a statement to the community of Kenosha and beyond, saying:
We…are outraged (outraged – but notice against whom) outraged at the violence perpetuated in the name of law enforcement on our people of color throughout our nation’s history and yesterday in Kenosha in the case of Jacob Blake for whose life we now pray. Despite the fact that we cannot condone violent response to injustice, we understand and appreciate the anger and frustration that fueled the events of last night. While we are relieved that our church home mostly survived the inferno in the lot next door, we affirm that we would rather lose 100 buildings than one more life to police violence.
Friends, here is a church that knows how to weep with those who weep. Here is a church full of people who understand what Dr. Martin Luther King meant when he said that “a riot is the language of the unheard;” and in response they are trying to listen.
Their post goes on, and you can find it in my foot notes, but look at the way they make room for the righteous anger of their neighbors. See how they hold the pain and frustration of their community with understanding and compassion. I’m sure they love their building as much as we love ours, but the fact that they would rather lose a 100 buildings than one more life to police violence, speaks volumes about what they truly hold dear.
This is love, the genuine love Paul speaks about. This is what it looks like to mourn with those who mourn. This is how you overcome evil with what is good. You listen and you feel. You listen to the voices of those in pain, including yourself, and you allow yourself to feel it for what it is.
You trust that the righteous anger around you and within you is of God. It is God trying to wake you up to what needs to change. You listen to the voices crying out from the outside and the underside and your insides, because all the things that break your heart – families separated at the border, a black father shot in front of his children, ancient red woods burning on the coast, and hundreds of thousands of people dying of a disease we could have kept at bay, all the things that break your heart are breaking God’s heart too.
Now I know that we live in a culture that isn’t comfortable with strong feelings. And I know church can easily become just one more place where we keep our feelings in check for fear of offending or embarrassing one another. We feel the need to put up a good front lest we make others feel uncomfortable.
But that has got to stop. Church, we can’t afford to play nice right now or to pretend, for the sake of appearances, that everything is okay right now, because it’s not, and pretending you’re not upset about it all or silencing someone when they try to speak up only messes us all up even more.
“You are not a mess,” says Glennon Doyle. “You are feeling person in a messy world.” You don’t need to apologize for that, and yet so many of us feel like we do, which is why I’m preaching this sermon. I’m saying this out load, because I think all those feelings we’ve been taught to hide or dismiss or pretend not to notice may well hold the key to what can save us. But first we need to feel them.
Glennon talks a lot about this in her writing. In her newest book, “Untamed” she admits that it wasn’t until she found herself in the basement of a church for an A.A. meeting that she finally understood what her feelings were for. Newly sober, acutely aware, and hating every moment of it, Glennon was approached by a woman who sat down next to her and assured her that she was ok.
I just want to tell you something that somebody told me in the beginning,” she said. It’s okay to feel all of the stuff you’re feeling. You’re just becoming human again. You’re not doing life wrong; you’re doing it right. If there’s any secret you’re missing, it’s that doing it right is just really hard. Feeling all your feelings is hard, but that’s what they’re for. Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones. The secret is that you’re doing it right, and that doing it right hurts sometimes.
As obvious as that sounds – “feelings are for feeling” – it was a revelation for Glennon:
I did not know, before that woman told me, that all feelings were for feeling. I did not know that I was supposed to feel everything. I thought I was supposed to feel happy. I thought that happy was for feeling and that pain was for fixing and numbing and deflecting and hiding and ignoring.”….(But AA taught her that) “You are not supposed to be happy all the time. Life hurts and it’s hard. Not because you’re doing it wrong, but because it hurts for everybody. (So now Glennon tells people,) Don’t avoid the pain. (Recognize instead that) You need it. It’s meant for you. Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.”
Happiness and pain.
Joy and sorrow.
Hope and fear.
We need all of it right now.
We need to pay attention to our grief and our anger and our fear, because that is what wakes us up to what is broken in the world. Our pain is God’s invitation into the work of repair and restoration. We are a nation full of walking wounded right now, a nation full of justice seekers and love warriors who are worn out and worn down, people who need safe places like the church where we can be held and supported as we pour out our hearts. We need people who will weep with us over what has been lost. We need people who will rage with us against the machine of white supremacy.
But you know what else we need? Joy. Hope. Love.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice.” I’ve heard more than one person quietly admit that in spite fo it all, they’re actually, personally, doing ok. I’ve heard more than one person confess that they’re enjoying the way the world has slowed down during the pandemic. Their hearts are breaking for others, yes, but they themselves are thriving in this new normal, to which I say, God bless you!
Please know that we need you too. You don’t have to hide your happiness. We need to make room for your joy and the gratitude you feel as surely as we need to make room for sorrow and anger, because all the pain that calls us into the breach to heal and repair what is broken will need love and joy to sustain it.
In a beautiful essay she wrote this week, Sarah Bessey encouraged her readers to embrace their anger. “Be angry,” she said. “Anger can serve as an igniter…a starting point, sometimes she is our invitation,” but remember, says Bessey:
it is Jesus who sustains the passion and directs it into life-giving transformation. Our anger gets us engaged but it is love and hope, joy and faith, community and discipline, rest and contemplation that keeps us in the long game.
If we “want our passion to last longer than a viral hashtag,” she says, if we want our “work to be sustainable over the long haul,” if we are ever to overcome evil with good, then we will need joy too. Joy and people with which to share it. We will need gratitude and hope, grace and love, and people willing to hold that too.
Church, the days ahead will not be easy, so please, don’t make it any harder on yourself by denying how you feel or hiding it. Instead harness your feelings, trust them, and share them, because we will need one another more than ever as we move forward. We will need one another in all our anger and joy and sorrow, in all our doubt and fear and pain.
So please, just keep showing up…showing up so we can work together till this world that God loves so much is finally ok too. Amen
1. The post continues: “Some folks have already commented that our decision to display “Black Lives Matter” on our road sign in some way contributed to the fire or that our support of the BLM movement is hypocritical or “un-Christian.” Indeed, all lives do matter to us (that’s what “Universalist” means), but given the overwhelming and disproportionate injustice suffered by Americans of color we are compelled by our faith to speak up and affirm that Black Lives Matter too.
If this is not your faith, so be it, but it is most certainly ours and we ask that all folks be respectful in honoring our sacred calling to speak truth to power, protect the innocent, empower the disenfranchised and promote equity and compassion in human relations. In the name of Love, Rev. Erik David Carlson On Behalf of Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist, Kenosha”
2. Love Warrior
3. Go forth. Keep doing hard things. https://griefcollective.com/blog-posts/2018/5/2/uyz3b5t0z02kfo6z9q2a6tyy9fuzdu-rb79s-m42bj-7hhnz