History is my thing. You may have figured this out. I love looking back to see where we were because I think we exist in an ongoing story where everything happens because of what happened before it. Whenever I need to understand, I ask what happened before this, and what happened before that.
I don’t want to do that today. I did that last week and the week before and we know I’ll do it again, but today, I want to look forward. I don’t want to remember; I want to dream. I don’t want the facts. I want imagination. Possibilities. Democracy feels difficult these last few years and certainly this last week. I suppose if it’s going to work, democracy always requires engagement, but in a country with 300 million people, there’s also been plenty of time to let someone else do it. Not this week. This has been more of an all-hands-on-deck situation. And that’s good. We had to step up to bring our nation back into alignment with the values we say we espouse. Now it’s time for us to imagine, to visualize a new world.
While I dream, I’m inviting you to do the same. We have this chat function here in Zoom which can be used for good or ill. It can be distracting, it can be used inappropriately, or it can be another way for us to talk with each other. Normally, I think it’s rude to post in the chat while someone is preaching, and it can certainly infect the overall experience of worship for everyone else, but today, we’re doing this differently. That’s because this dream isn’t mine alone. We’ll need to envision it and to build it in community. This is a shared vision, which means, in some way, this is a shared sermon.
I’m talking about the world as we want it to be. I’m doing this because we have a lot of work to do and we need to know why. As I said last week, we live in a nation not-yet. The founders articulated and institutionalized a new worldview, but we have never fully realized the freedom or inclusion they thought they embodied. We are still birthing the American Dream and if that’s true, we need to know what it looks like. What is the world we are working so hard to bring into existence? What step forward brought people into the streets yesterday, dancing and cheering? We need to know what we’re fighting for. We need a vision that will propel our work and that will sustain us when we feel defeated. Today, we’re going to put words to that amorphous hope, that sense that the world can be better than it is. So, what is the world we dream about? I’ll start and as I go through topics, add to the chat what you’d like to see happen. I think, depending on how this works, before I’m done, I’ll read your ideas out loud. (And, I realize some of you are on phones and getting into the chat is more difficult. There’s a metaphor in there about equity and who has a voice, but I’m putting it aside for the moment.)
(Let’s begin.) The year is 2050. It’s been 30 years since the pandemic and almost as long since the rise of authoritarianism, nationalism and fascism around the globe. Economies struggled and some collapsed. Hundreds of thousands of people died from disease alone and more from rebellion, revolution and conflict. The burning of fossil fuels and massive agribusiness brought us drought, storms, floods, and fires.
Luckily, we turned it all around. Today, many forms of renewable energy are employed. We have solar fields and wind turbines and some buildings are using geothermal when necessary. We’ve reduced travel, limiting airplane use to emergencies which wasn’t so hard to do once high speed trains could bring us cross country in under half a day and boats could get us over an ocean in less than two weeks. After investing in infrastructure, our internet connections are fast and reliable which means many people can work from anywhere, sparking long term travel. Today, people swap houses internationally and live abroad for months at a time rather than taking a one week vacations.
Life is slower. People expect to take longer to get places or accept the limits of not being able to get there at all. Families don’t spread out as much. Neighbors connect more with each other and know each other over generations.
Economies are more local, too. While we’re still a capitalistic country, we no longer look for quarterly gains, having accepted that our resources are finite. Instead, we maintain, keeping inflation low. People work fewer hours each week and instead of getting most of their social connections in an office, neighborhoods have reinstated community centers and shared green space. This is even true in big cities where many streets were closed after the use of cars dropped so dramatically.
There’s still a global market for food, but with the end of corporate agriculture, farms are independent and access to non-local food is less common. Local food, on the other hand, has become ubiquitous. Every alleyway and rooftop has been turned into a community garden. There are strawberry vines hanging from terraces and spinach growing in window pots. Lawns across America have been transformed into corn fields and pumpkin patches. In NY, we don’t get much sugar cane and instead rely on maple trees for sugar which is often traded for small batch beer or wine from a local vineyard.
People work for their money, but the country has shifted priorities as well as power centers. We reverted to an older system that taxed the wealthy heavily, creating a strong social safety net. Instead of shelters for the homeless, we now have tiny-house parks which include people who can and can’t pay their own overhead. There’s a universal income guaranteed to every American which is low, but ensures that children don’t go to bed hungry.
Having ended the grip of health insurance corporations, we now have a system of health care accessible to everyone. No longer profit centers, hospitals can make choices based on what’s best for a patient rather than what will bring in the most money.
It’s been years since prison abolition freed millions of people, giving them a chance at life. We’ve redefined the functions of a police department, leaving them to fighting and solving crime while issues of poverty and mental health are now addressed by social workers, also on call all the time. Because education is free through college for those who want it, we’ve hired more teachers as well and have seen that social equity reduces crime more than programs we’ve used in the past.
There are many other things that have changed. I’m wondering if anyone has written in the chat any of your ideas…
The world of 2050 might feel impossible, like some Pollyanna dream, even to the point of being infuriating. I’m here to tell you that if we don’t dream it, it will never happen. I’m also here to tell you that the impossible has happened before. I promised to skip the history lesson today, and I will, but any assessment of any moment in time will remind us that things do get better, if we are determined to make them so. I mean, tell me that seeing Kamala Harris in that white suffragette suit accepting the role of Vice President didn’t demonstrate exactly that.
And in this world of progress, this church has played a real role. We were at the forefront of the Community Church movement, where we became the largest Community Church and later the largest Unitarian Universalist church in the country. We were key players in the founding of the NAACP, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the ACLU as well as the labor and civil rights movements. We’ve been heavy-weights in the fields of liberal religion and social movements. But, that’s what’s behind us. What do we have in front of us?
I foresee us becoming a model for multiracial churches, of which there are too few in this country. I see us church-planting maybe locally in the Bronx where there is no UU church and maybe oversees, a dream we’re starting to articulate. I see us becoming a sanctuary for people seeking asylum and for New Yorkers who need a place to rest. I see us finding our voice around climate, racial, and immigration justice. (Go on- what are your ideas? Put them in the chat.) And in this very attainable fantasy, I see all of us stepping up to make it happen. Last year, I told you I was starting a ministry of Yes. So many of you have embraced that ministry which has led to a very exciting and successful year, even while so much in the world is on hold. The pledge season is about to begin; you’ll be hearing from Paul Hampton or Valerie Lynch soon. Fundraising is critical to our ability to realize our hopes for ourselves. It’s awkward and annoying and when the economy is slow, it’s even more difficult. Of course, it’s when the economy is slow that we are most in need, so we’re asking you to consider ways you can step up. And, that’s not just about money. If you’re willing to help us with other things, there’s always work to do.
There’s work to do inside the church and there’s work to do outside the church. We are living in an in-between space, a time of transition, of watching one world die while we still don’t know what will be born. But, the possible is so beautiful. It’s worth waiting for and even worth fighting for. That new world will exist then because of what we do now. This is our time. We who believe in freedom cannot rest.