“I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
These words are from a century ago, by Edward Everett Hale, an innovative observer of society and a Unitarian minister. He lived in a time where wealthy people and corporations controlled the lives of workers: through “company stores,” through monopolistic practices, through collusion and corruption.
What was a minister to do? Hale saw that social change would only take hold if advocates worked in a sustainable way. To try to do everything is a perfect way to burn out. To resign yourself to do nothing means that you are not contributing to the solution, and, because others spend energy being frustrated by your inaction, you actually are part of the problem.
What are we to do in an age of rapid change, where every button in the social machine is being pressed at the same time? Transgender students are being written out of protection rules. Taxpaying workers are being deported without due process for “illegalities” they committed as two year olds. School funding will soon be a major issue and racist changes will be disguised as “good fiscal sense.” And that is just this week.
What are we to do?
The first answer is “everything!” Sign every petition, march every march, go to every meeting. Listen to all voices. If you don’t do it all, feel every guilt trip.
The second answer is “do something that you can do” — even if it is knitting caps for marchers. Be aware of what you can do, and do that well. Mahatma Gandhi asked people to spin cotton and weave cloth for the liberation of India. It sounded like a very small thing, but any action is an action. Gandhi’s image, leading a peaceful march of people in homespun cloth, sent a message to those working for liberation: “We can do this.”
Unitarians are a very small part of the religious landscape, and the religious landscape is a very small part of our nation and of our world. What is the “something” we as Unitarian Universalists can especially do well?
On a national level, the UU Association adopts “Actions of Immediate Witness.” This past year the UUA General Assembly adopted three:
- Build Solidarity with our Muslim Neighbors
- Stop the Hate: Protect and Support our Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Family
- Some Guns, All Guns: Legislating Appropriate Restrictions
On a larger scale, the General Assembly adopts Congregational Study/Action Issues (CSAI) for common work toward change. Two issues are currently active:
- 2016-2020 CSAI: The Corruption of Our Democracy
- 2014-2018 CSAI: Escalating Inequality
The Association’s website (http://www.uua.org/statements) has extensive resources on each of these
Here at UCN we also have our Social Justice priorities. At one time our congregation adopted these areas of work:
- Affordable housing
- Affordable healthcare and healthcare access
- Environmental quality, global warming, sea level rise
- Community resiliency as an integrating theme
From that list, UCN has concentrated on Environmental Justice and Housing and Homelessness. Recently the Social Justice Committee agreed to work on developing a new revision of our priorities, based on changing times and awareness.
I am leading a group to work on this, and I want us to take time considering the many possible areas of work. We cannot do everything, but we can do a few things. We can be aware of other concentrations, and our congregation can be a place of refreshment and renewal for those working in other areas. I want the process to be inclusive of ideas, and also focused on hearing many voices. Secret processes do not lead to common effort. Stay tuned.
I’ll close with a couple of things you CAN do now:
FIRST: The NARO Cinema will be showing “I Am Not Your Negro” in the 5 PM slot this weekend. Many folks saw this documentary Wednesday when it opened. I saw the line was around the block and decided to go to the 5:10 show tonight (Friday). It is a chance to re-learn about the Civil Rights Era from one who was in it: James Baldwin. Nominated for an Oscar, it is a “must see.”
SECOND: Learn to connect the dots for the processes that take our students from school to prison. This will be the subject of a workshop on March 18th, from 9 AM to 2 PM. The day will be facilitated by Norfolk School Board Chairperson, Rodney Jordan and held at First United Methodist Church, 6870 N Military Hwy in Norfolk. Let’s have seven UCN’ers there!
One more thing… Got Award Shows on your mind? Come to the service Sunday!
I love you,