Change The World | May 29, 2022 by Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton
This song came out in 1975, the year before I graduated from high school. At the time, I clung to its message. I had a lot of hope that people were waking up, despite evidence to the contrary. During that time, I began seriously engaging in drug use, watching Saturday Night Live, All In The Family, Good Times and MASH on TV, and working in a gas station on the corner of Madison and Lark Streets in Albany, New York. I think at the time, many of us were trying to avoid the persistent realities of war, environmental catastrophe, hatred, deceit and injustice. Sound familiar? Of course, now we know more. We are witnessing an escalation of the violence, the hatred, the “evil” …innocent people…men, women and children being slaughtered, not only in war-torn Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Yemen, but also in Texas and elsewhere in the US. Have we woken up? Or maybe we have gone back to bed…
The message of that time is clear…teachers, doctors, builders must wake up and work together to change things.
More than 10 years before the release of Wake Up Everybody, Sam Cooke sang about his hope amid such violence and despair…such injustice and evil.
It is difficult to comprehend that a man like Sam Cooke…like so many others knocked down by life, could harbor so much hope. Are we able to muster such hope in our own time? Can we access that kernel of hope even amid such horror? I have to admit that I am finding it hard. Like so many people, I have tried to numb myself from these tragedies…with media, consumerism…a flight from the world. I have not been successful.
Back in the 12th century, Meister Eckhart spoke of this flight. He said,
Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world,
by running away from things,
or by turning solitary and going apart from the world.
Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever
or with whomsoever we may be.
We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.
Eckhart was talking about drawing spiritual strength from internal resources…a penetration of the facts…the reality…and the ability to find the Sacred there…the ability to find first the strength and then the commitment to change.
And there are people committed to this change. They are the real heroes…the saviors of the soul of this nation and all the other nations on earth. They are Everyday People…
And these are not the people we see or hear about in the media…they are not the ones we see portrayed on TV…but they are the ones, I think, that help tend the hope of a seed. These people are the ones that have been able to meet God in that inner sanctum…the ones who have realized, according to Howard Thurman and many others, that they are children of God…they thereby also realize that all people are children of God. This means that we cannot run away…we cannot escape from the loving care of our parent. It does not mean that we accept abuse or disrespect. We can “steal away” to that inner sanctum…the altar of the soul where we experience our kinship with the all-pervading presence and with all life and draw strength for the journey.
In the book, Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman wrote about what happens when we are unable to internalize this truth…when we live in a “climate of fear” that descends “like the fog in San Francisco”. Thurman says that this leads to the “killing of the soul”. He says that it “dries up creativity and meaning” because we are focused on this fear…the “perpetual threat of violence everywhere”. Thurman wrote of the phenomenon for the disinherited…those living on the fringes of society…those who “lack the protection of the state”. He says that this fear becomes the way that people protect themselves and prepare to face the violent foe. Can this preparation and protection now be seen in the idea, held by millions, that we must arm ourselves…we must carry “protection” with us for we never know when something could happen? Is this what is going on today? In response to the recent deadly school shooting, members of the NRA are saying that we need better protection to stop such events from happening. We need greater security in our school and our teachers should be carrying weapons.
Thurman points out that this is what Jesus was fighting against in his own time. He fought against the practice of the ruling powers to separate people…to keep them in a state of fear.
As Jesus taught, we must come together to fight this evil in our time…we must form community strength and become builders of the change we need to finally experience…we must join hands…and roll up our sleeves.
This Love Train…the Beloved Community spoken of by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is what will bring us home…home to our true nature as children of God. But this community needs nurturing and care, just as a seed in the ground. Thurman wrote:
A farmer plants a seed in the ground and the seed sprouts and grows.
The weather, the winds, the elements, he cannot control.
The result is never a sure thing. So what does the farmer do?
He plants. Always he plants. Again and again he works at it –
in confidence and assurance that,
even though his seed may not grow to fruition,
seeds do grow and they do come to fruition.
It is this seed that contains the hope that we need to move forward with this change…the hope of the seed keeps us planting and tending…caring for all life as if it were our own. And it is the trust that seeds do grow, and they do come to fruition that feeds the strength we need to do this work.
But this life…this seed is so fragile. It is in need of care. Julian of Norwich, 14th Century mystic, spoke of this reality in a description of a vision she had during an illness. She wrote:
And in this [sight], he showed a little thing the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand as it seemed to me,
and it was as round as any ball. I looked therein with the eye of my understanding, and thought: “What may this be?”
And it was answered generally thus:
“It is all that is made.” I marveled how it might last, for it seemed to me it might suddenly have fallen into nought for its littleness.
And I was answered in my understanding: “It lasteth and ever shall, because God loveth it.
And so hath all things being by the love of God.
The vision of this hazelnut showed the vulnerability of our lives…even the place of our planet in this galaxy and indeed in the entire universe. How precious is our planet, our solar system, our galaxy or indeed each individual? Each is precious because it is loved by God. Knowing this is how we sustain the inspiration and the stamina to change our current reality…our political system…our institutions…even our culture. Thurman wrote that,
As the oak tree cannot grow unless, with each new ring it adds, its old bark cracks and splits, so humanity cannot develop without the rupture of its old institutions and laws…
Are we committed to the rupture of old institutions and laws…of old ways of doing things? Are we committed to make room for the new ring? Are we ready to take on the mantle of the Royal Personhood that our creator intended for us…for each child of the universe? Are we ready to lay down our sword and shield in favor of an embrace of peace and love…of compassion and understanding? Let us wake up and study war no more.