09/14/2011

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Ten years later September, 8, 2011 On September 9, 2001, I led a small Sunday worship discussion with several young adults at the University of Illinois. We were talking about the watershed events in our lives and world. My generation remembers the moon landing, Elvis’ death, the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. The generation before me remembers the assassinations of Dr. King and the Kennedys. The generation before that remembers the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the dropping of the A-Bomb a few years later. The young adults in that worship service on September 9 said they didn’t have any such events in their lives. That would change just 48 hours later… Some say that the world changed on September 11, 2001. But violence and evil have always existed. Human beings have always been capable of and too often willing to engage in the unimaginable. We can read about the most horrific human terror in even the most ancient manuscripts written across the millennia. The world didn’t change ten years ago. It simply continued in the reality explained to us in Ecclesiastes–that there is a time for everything, and there is nothing new under the sun. Even the U.S. didn’t really change ten years ago. Our ancestors have repeatedly seen tragedy of epic proportions in poverty, war, slavery, and genocide in just the past few hundred years. What happened that day was that we once again lost our innocence. The unimaginable happened to us. All of us. As with natural disasters, few people never feel safe (and are always fearful) in the aftermath of terror. This is because we lose our sense of control, and so our natural instinct is to regain that control. The problem is that none of us can control the hate of another. We can only control our own feelings of love and hate. “There is a season for everything under the sun…” Vengeance, as natural as that response is to our human sensibilities, doesn’t work. As Dr. King said: Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. And so, ten years later, as prophets and sages have been calling us to do since the beginning of time, we are again called to love one another–to live our lives to the fullest despite the uncontrollable realities of the world. We are called also to remember that good and evil happen to both saint and sinner. We needn’t respond with cynicism or hopelessness to life’s unavoidable tragedies. Quite the contrary, our fragile existence, and the certainty that one day each of us will meet death, are the very things that call us not to take life for granted–to “eat, drink, and be merry,” as Ecclesiastes also encourages–to live with faith, hope, and love in the face of evil. On this anniversary, our grief remains strong. For some of us, vengeance is still a temptation. But all of us are called to the difficult and painful process of healing–of letting go–letting go of all hope for a different yesterday–letting go of some of our memories of tomorrow–letting go of our anger and hate so that we can make room for joy and love. Looking forward to the life that awaits us rather than reliving the one that has formed us. As Maya Angelou said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. But if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” There is a time for everything under the sun. Blessings, Rev. Matt
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Occupation? My values and my ministry are founded largely on the struggle for justice. I preach regularly as a counter-culture voice against the status quo. I have preached against corporate personhood, and have called for a radical revision of the U.S. Constitution with the goal of better protecting human rights. I am one of countless millions of victims (or is recipients a better word?) of the crumbling U.S. economy, trying with difficulty to raise a family, and wondering whether either of my two pensions will ever be sufficient to allow me to retire. And yet, I am struggling with whether I can support the Occupy Wall Street movement. Many colleagues, parishioners, friends, and others will be angry at me for saying that I don't support mass protest of our nation's oppressive financial sector. But for now, I don't. At some level, I want to. I want to scream out, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" I agree that we have created an oppressive economic structure that will eventually crumble beneath its own weight, bringing all of us down with it if left unchecked. But that's also why I am struggling with taking to the streets in emotional outrage, righteous indignation, with a litany of demands, as being an effective means of countering the system. First, we created this mess. Not you and I per se--but in the short span of 200+ years, a quarter of which I have witnessed, our not-so-distant ancestors erected an economy founded on occupation, conquest, and slave labor. We (you and I) have perpetuated it as consumers par excellence, even if only in allowing ourselves to be manipulated by it. Ironically, every ideology that has sought either through rhetoric or action to destroy our noble democratic experiment of freedom, equality, and justice for all, has done so by attacking or predicting the demise of our economic system. The Soviets knew they would never defeat the west militarily. Their openly admitted goal was economic victory. Communist (or is it now capitalist?) China is now attempting the same without shame or secrecy. Those fringe ideologues who attacked us physically ten years ago, attacked Wall Street at least partially because of U.S. economic world domination and oppression. Are those the footsteps we want to follow in? In the past year, as in years past, we have watched people in many nations courageously take to the streets to overthrow oppressive regimes with some measure of success. However, those regimes were not founded upon the primacy of the people. They were not representative democracies (or even republics) created with inherent checks and balances, of the people, by the people, for the people. Ours was and is. We are already in charge. To try to topple our own nation's economic infrastructure through an admittedly anarchic strategy of occupation is to commit social and cultural suicide. It is knocking down our own house of cards rather than building it stronger. If these efforts are successful, we will all suffer. I am not saying that peaceful protest and even well-placed civil disobedience are not useful tactics. They are often incredibly important elements of a larger strategy. I simply think better strategies and tactics could be employed to fix a broken economic system that is the pulse of our capitalist (or is it socialist?) nation, for better or worse. Perhaps we should just stop using the system for our own gain and comfort with such wild abandon. This isn't so hard to do if those of us with something to sacrifice would be willing to do so. I am changing my bank accounts from the well-known giant I use for convenience to my member-owned bank. I plan to start using cash almost exclusively for daily tranasctions. I have closed some credit accounts than I no longer need. I am again looking more closely at how my 401K retirement account is invested. There are many other steps that we can take as consumers to quickly get the attention of a failing economy. We own it, we feed it, we drive it. It is of the people, by the people, for the people. They (Wall Street) use OUR money, which WE choose how to spend. Wall Street couldn't care less if every citizen of the world takes to the streets, as long as we keep lining their corporate pockets. Changing our spending habits will, however, get their attention quickly. Again, I know that this will be an unpopular position among my usual associates. I know that there are many more complexities to this critical issue. I agree that we have slowly created a system of economic apartheid under the guise of the American dream. I know that many with extreme wealth exploit the system and everyone in it. I know that many living in poverty don't have the leverage that I have. I know that the rapidly growing poverty gap must be fixed soon before this house of cards comes tumbling down on all of us. But again, this is exactly the point. Those of us with some leverage CAN make a rapid difference by rapidly changing our spending and voting habits with which we feed the system. My bias is that I have most often effected change and countered the status quo from within the systems I have been a part of, not by tearing them down from the outside. Some will simply call me a hack, a company man, a stooge. But isn't changing a system from within the truest manifestation of revolution? Didn't Jesus ride through the gates of Jerusalem knowing full well what he was doing? One final point. Occupation? Isn't occupation and oppression what we are trying to overcome? Aren't the people occupying Wall Street and main streets all over the nation and world the same people who oppose military and ideological occupations? How can we occupy what is already ours? We can take it back, but we can't "occupy" it like an army. If we are truly a nation of the people, by the people, for the people. If we are truly a nation founded by people of faith who espoused the virtues of neighborly love and care, then let us move beyond the language and symbolic practice of the violence and oppression that we oppose and go deeper. Let us create a beloved community without tearing down the entire forest, without throwing out the baby with the bathwater, without the militaristic language and practice of occupation. With all that said, I want to be proven wrong. I want the "occupiers" to be successful in tearing down oppression. I just want them to be smart, careful, clever, and creatively subversive. Much like Jesus was. Jesus turned over the money changers' tables too. But that was a small part of his revolution. His was a revolution of the mind, body, and spirit. I see people taking to the streets. I want to see people occupying hearts and minds with justice, equity, and compassion. Maybe I'm just getting old and mellow. Maybe I am too much a part of the system to any longer change it. But maybe not. Maybe changing the world one heart, or one dollar, at a time is still the best way. Blessings, Rev. Matt

Rev. Dr. Matt Tittle

Rev. Matt is a Unitarian Universalist minister and author.

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