Last week, we talked about justice. Protests, and occasionally riots, had been breaking out around the country, so we talked about righteous anger and about Being Church. We’re now on day 11 and protests aren’t getting smaller, like they usually do; they are getting larger. And there are more of them. In every major city but also in hundreds of small towns, even in red towns in red states, people are coming out and speaking up for racial justice.
People are coming out and speaking up around the world, too. George Floyd’s name is being chanted in London and Accra, in Hamberg and Sydney, in Nairobi and Melbourne, in Frankfurt and Paris. People are holding up signs that say I Can’t Breathe and Black Lives Matter across the globe.
What started as an eruption of rage seems to have shifted into a national and maybe even a global movement. Multiracial, multicultural and multigenerational crowds are in our nation’s streets holding signs and holding silence, lifting their voices to chant and sing, and claiming their space by dancing, marching, kneeling. They are crossing bridges and stopping traffic, refusing to be invisible. Thousands of people filled American streets yesterday and thousands more are doing it today. Sports clubs, retail chains, major corporations and countless small businesses are making note of the moment and voicing their support.
When I created our liturgical calendar, I marked the first Sunday in June as Gratitude Sunday. I did that because this is the Sunday of the budget vote and I thought it might be a good day to remember all the things we’ve got going for us. I hadn’t anticipated any of what June, 2020 had in store.
Turns out, today is a perfect day to talk about gratitude. Gratitude is spiritual practice and one we can engage at any time. That might seem trite or simplistic; I do tend to think of a lot of things as spiritual practice, because that’s how I live in the world. But, the statement, as unsophisticated as it might sound, is true. The practice of gratitude is spiritual. It’s a way to live meaningfully, a way to recognize the value in the lives we have. It’s powerful in its simplicity, and easily accessible which is how I like my spiritual practice. How many of us have made gratitude lists? It’s an easy lift, an accessible way to change your mood, to alter your attitude.
Try it right now. I’m going to give you a moment. See if you can look around the room you’re in and find 3 things for which you’re grateful. Or, think about the last 2 hours. Can you name 3 things to be grateful for that happened between 10:00 and now? Remember to feel free to chat during the sermon. That’s an unusual thing to do, right? Something I’m grateful for is the ability to experiment with worship a little. Instead of focusing on the disconnect I sometimes feel from some of you because we’re on Zoom and instead of wishing we were in our hall of worship together, I’m practicing gratitude. It’s a joy to have access to new tools to use during worship. I can feel excited about the opportunity we have before us. I’ll wait just a moment for you to think a little.
Gratitude has many benefits. It can ground us, keep us present, keep us focused. Whether the world is in crisis or feels frightening or unfamiliar in no way diminishes the potential for gratitude. Gratitude doesn’t depend on external circumstance; it’s entirely about how we relate and how quickly we can tap into joy.
Practicing gratitude is, as polyanna as it sounds, a surefire way to shift our own internal process, easing the pressure and helping us to live both more joyfully and more productively. Gratitude is the force that pushes the negativity and anxiety away, the bright light that chases the fog. An intentional practice of joy, of taking time from each day to recognize the things that have gone well, the things for which we are grateful, alters the moment and the day and over time can change our characters in a fundamental way. And we all know this. There’s no profound insight in that statement. It’s an old truth we’ve become so accustomed to we nearly dismiss it.
Practicing gratitude doesn’t just help us feel better, which, on its own is a good thing. It also allows us to see the world as it really is, and to see our place in it with humility and honesty. When we are grateful, we recognize our inter-dependence. We see that we survive well because we have each other.
In both good and bad times, one truth on this planet is our mutual dependence. Consider any of the things for which you are grateful. If you haven’t thought of one, go to the chat to see what others are saying. Right now, I’m grateful for Zoom. I’ve been using Zoom for many years, but only for occasional meetings; like many of us, Zoom has now become part of my daily routine. It keeps me connected to all of you. It also means my husband still has a job and my son can be in touch with his friends even as we continue to sequester ourselves. For Zoom to exist, though, we need a whole lot of people. There’s the people who invented Zoom, those who run it including Phil, the man assigned to the Community Church account. I’m grateful for Phil. For Zoom to work, we need the internet, computers, microphones and cameras. There’s all the people who manufacture those things and who sell them. Consider all the systems of production and sales. Then we have the people who built the buildings where people work to support and sell and improve all those things. I’m grateful for all of them. And the people who invented and manufactured and now operate the many means of transportation so all those people can get to work. And there are the roads and tracks and bridges. There’s also the person selling coffee and bagels from a cart outside those work places and the people who picked those coffee beans…should I go on? When we are grateful, we become profoundly aware of our interconnections. Whatever path you follow in, you will ultimately find yourself in a room filled with people. Our mutual dependence. Whatever it is we’re doing right now, it couldn’t be done without millions of other people reaching all over the world and back in time.
Gratitude is accessible and it’s mood-altering. It’s quick and easy and free, along with being genuinely transformative.
As an activist, I also think it’s a necessary tool to have in our belts along with righteous anger and some other things. The work can be exhausting. Just living in a world defined by systemic racism and economic injustice is exhausting, but the dismantling of these structures that define our way of life is a lot of heavy lifting. The stories are depressing, and the hours are long. When we add our current state of quarantine, the constant concern about getting sick or bringing the virus to people we love, and the threat to our democracy we’re facing into this week, our stress levels are significantly higher these days than most.
That’s when we need joy. We need gratitude. And there it is, accessible at all times. It’s about noticing the world and saying thank you. It’s about remembering all those who’ve gone before us to get us to where we are. It’s about all those who are working to maintain the things we need to keep us going. Gratitude becomes the fuel for the work of justice.
A man named Dan Gerber wrote a poem I’m going to share.
“It’s perfect,” I said one day
the thought coming out of nothing I knew,
to no one sitting beside me,
while driving home from the market...
said this without thinking, it seems...
but could there be such a pure expression
with no intention to express?
The fields were incomparably green,
the sky incomparably blue...lupine and poppies almost blared from the hillsides.
At least that’s the way I thought it.
“You were made for enjoyment,” Ruskin said,
and the world is filled with things you will enjoy,
but every day I stumble
over cries I can’t still.
“The world is suffering.”
Say it twice, and it’s not the same
“The world is suffering.”
Disease, eviction, envy, grief,
loneliness, rejection, dementia,
when those I love may not love each other,
anger, suffocation, helplessness...
my suffering at the moment.
My friend’s daughter, the pianist,
whose index finger, lost to sarcoma,
I can’t replace,
my daughter whose breast I can’t replace,
my dear friends whose murdered son
I can’t replace,
all, over which, I’m at this moment suffering,
though they may be, at this moment, not.
Closer to home,
I pull off along the side of the road,
staunched by the fleeting,
incomparable beauty of the world
in which everything happens
Thousands of people marched in the streets of Washington, DC yesterday. According to the New York times, by early evening, the mood was that of a street fair, with ice cream trucks idling on the side of the road and parents pushing tired children in strollers. People played guitars and others danced and everyone got quiet to hear a woman belt out Lift Every Voice and Sing. There have been some wins this week, along with some very ugly losses. I’m sure we’ll have more of both. We’re trying to dismantle a system of oppression that was baked into our national founding; this will take time and a serious, sustained effort from all of us.
While I’m not currently looking around thinking things are perfect, like Gerber was in that poem, I am profoundly grateful for what we have. We have the beginnings of a national movement actively working to bring balance into our systems. We have people of color leading the movement and white people showing up in force. We aren’t yet seeing people in power concede or make the necessary changes, but we are seeing their feet held to the fire in ways we haven’t seen in decades. As a church, this isn’t our time sit back, to wait another year, to jump in when the waters are safe. We are also called to active resistance, and justice cannot wait.
Gratitude is the practice that can sustain us through this long, hard fight. Today, I’m grateful for the hope this movement has brought. I’m grateful for the difficult conversations I’ve had this week and the new ways people are willing to listen. More white people asked “what can we do” this week than I’ve heard in a decade and for that, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the books White Fragility and How to Be An Anti-Racist and I’m grateful for first steps like renaming part of 16th street in DC Black Lives Matter Plaza. I’m grateful for the beginnings of accountability and for the sustained pressure for more meaningful steps. I’m grateful for bold ideas like defunding police departments and new conversations about what communities really need in order to thrive.
I’m grateful for ministry, for authentic relationship, for partners in justice-making, for building community in the spirit of love and mutuality. It’s good to see your faces even if I can’t wrap my arms around you. It is for you and for all that we are building, here, together, that I am profoundly grateful.