Congress and Congregations


This week the popular writer John Pavlovitz posted an essay to his blog title  “The Extinction of the White Male Dinosaur.” He noted that as the 116th Congress was sworn in this week, it is the most diverse Congress in our history. Congress looks more like the America we actually live in than at any time in history  – and yet there is still a long way to go so that white, Christian males aren’t the overwhelming majority.

In his essay, Pavlovtiz notes that the White Male Dinosaur is not going “quietly into that good night” of history’s scrap heap. Quite the contrary, the dinosaurs are “raging against the light” of truth and are going to fight, kick, and scream all the way to their death bed.  This will probably mean our politics gets uglier before our country gets better, but the numbers aren’t going to change. We are headed toward a diverse beloved community.

Five years ago I wrote a similar blog post about this called “The Last Stand of the Old, White, Angry, Christian Men.” I noted that demographically their time is coming to an end and they sense it and it makes them dangerous, like a cornered wild animal.  A cornered wild animal is going to lose, but can still be very dangerous, just watch a YouTube video of animal control officers trying to capture trapped alligators, mountain lions, bears, or even raccoons.

I’m going to guess that you join me in happily cheering the most diverse U.S. Congress EVER. It’s another decided step-forward toward creating the country we dream about.  It hasn’t been easy. Some of this history is ugly, so ugly we don’t want to admit to it or to its full impact on not only how we live but how we perceive our reality. And yet, we seem to march forward inch by inch and maybe, just maybe this new Congress is a two inch step. And yet, we still have so far to go to realize the world we dream about.

The core reason our country is so conflicted right now is that older rich white straight Christian men (and the women who support them) are, for the first time in our history, having to deal with the fact that their days of a privileged position, their days of being more immune to life’s difficulties than others are going to end, and sooner rather than later. They are scared to death.  Are they scared of this change itself – partly, BUT they are more scared of what they will lose. They will lose their compass, the way they were taught to navigate the world used one map and now the map is being switched out for a new GPS system that talks back to them. Actual progress for the country means actual real and painful losses for the rich, old, white men.

And yet it has to be. We no longer live “in the old dispensation”, we live in a world where fairness, justice, and equality are freedoms and rights that have been tasted and imagined by everyone on the planet and they can’t be unimagined or untasted.  We live in a world where it is no longer accepted but ignorant to believe one group, one gender, one color, one religion, on language, one sexuality, one gender expression, one historically located and socially constructed location is better than another.  We live in a time where the way we’ve always done it – be it government, or health care, or education, isn’t working any more. We live in a time where if we don’t apply what we’ve learned from science about how our planetary ecosystem works, we will actually in all reality KILL our planet and we will all die.  If we step back, what sane rich, white old man wouldn’t want to bury his head and sand and ignore all this?

When people are scared, especially when they are scared of losing their way, losing their power, losing their feeling of control, losing their feeling of safety, they will say and do almost anything to prevent it or to not have to deal with it. They will blame and scapegoat – all our society’s problems stem from others – It’s the Jews fault, It’s the blacks fault, it’s the uppity women’s fault,  the gays fault, it’s the immigrant’s fault, it’s the Muslims fault. They will rant and rave and not understand why some people don’t share their point of view. After all, their perspective is THE correct one. Isn’t it obvious that marriage is between one man and one woman? Isn’t it obvious women should stay home and take care of children? Women don’t need to work or make the same money as a man for doing the same job.  America is Obviously a Christian nation where we speak English. The old, white men are throwing a tantrum – if everyone just did it my way, everything would be fine, even great, once again. What’s wrong with the way we’ve always done it? Virtually all of you are imagining the people I’m talking about – Nazis, Deplorables, MAGAs, Conservatives, Rednecks, and so on.

Now stop and think for a minute how this is exactly like so many congregations.  

Just like the situation facing our government, education and health care systems, and our social norms and mores – the way we’ve always done it isn’t working any longer at church either.  What’s wrong with these people who don’t value the Bible and the Lord’s Prayer, or who don’t like the old hymns, or won’t help teach Religious Education? Some of them don’t even want to have church on Sunday mornings because it’s inconvenient! And just like in the rest of the world there is blaming and scapegoating – things are wrong at church because of everyone in the congregation that doesn’t think like I do. It’s the Religious Education Director’s fault. It’s the Minister’s fault. It’s the “new” people’s fault.  What’s wrong with the way we always did things? What do you mean we are not “welcoming?”

And if right now you’re thinking, wait a minute, that’s not the same thing – let me assure you that it is exactly the same thing.  The fear and anxiety of loss associated with changes going on and changes yet to come is the same. And the reactions to it are the same. Church is the place where we practice being human said James Luther Adams.  How can we heal division in the world if we can’t heal it in our congregation?  

Notice what’s happening with this new, diverse Congress – Many of the freshmen class are unafraid to speak of things that were political suicide less than 5 years ago – Socialism, Medicare for All single payer health care, free public college education, guaranteed basic income, increasing taxes on the wealthy, rank choice voting, automatic voter registration, national election days as national holidays.  All the people who have traditionally been left out are organizing, working hard, dreaming and instead of just complaining about the way things are they are getting involved, getting elected, giving voice to new ideas, new approaches, new attitudes, new ….possibilities! What if we did the same in our churches?

Instead of focussing on fear, what if we focus on what’s possible? Before anything can happen, someone has to believe it is possible. Hope is built on possibility -that no direction or plan or fate is ever completely firm and fixed forever – revelation is ongoing is a cornerstone of our Unitarian Universalism – anything can, and eventually everything does, change.

Change isn’t something to be feared, it’s the playing field of life, of reality.  Will we be controlled by change? Will we put so much strength into resisting it that we can’t form it and shape it into a more pleasing and accessible shape?

Creating the life we want for ourselves and the future we want for our church happens in fits (and sometimes they are actual fits – arguments, taking my ball and going home tantrums) and starts and stops and starting agains and stopping agains and successes and failures.  

Possibility doesn’t come wrapped up in a holiday gift box – just open what you’ve hoped for and there it is! Possibility requires work and it requires courage.  We must be brave enough to consider new things, new ways of doing and new ways of being. We must be brave enough to give up certainty and assume an emotional as well as an intellectual posture of curiosity.  We must be brave enough to give up some of our personal preferences for the good of the group, trusting that others will too. Possibility requires trusting that there are enough resources within us and within our community and our congregation and the world around us to justify hope and optimism and this is another cornerstone of our faith.

Considering possibilities doesn’t have to be fearful, it can be hopeful. The way it’s always been is safe, but limiting – we may need ideas, practices, customs, and programs that are brand new to all of us. But instead of thinking of this as too risky to chance, how does our attitude change if we think of this as too risky NOT to chance.  

Possibility unleashes creativity. Possibility unleashes energy. Possibility and creative energy are attractive. Possibility unshackles us from the way we’ve always done it so we can create together the way we need to do it from now on. Possibility enables us to not only move forward but create a future even more glorious and storied than our past.

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