The Courage To Tackle the Impossible

The body is such an inconvenient thing. Especially when it gets pneumonia. And is running for President. Or when it overdoses on heroin and passes out while driving around a four year old. Or when the police keep killing African American bodies for no good reason, even those with their hands on their head. Very inconvenient and unreliable, the human body can be.

Dead bodies can be inconvenient too, especially when you’ve spent billions of dollars on 60% of a pipeline like Energy Transfer Partners has for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and there are sacred burial grounds of Lakota ancestors. Or are there? Either way, the pipeline will be completed, so says the corporate CEO – media and actual living Native Americans be damned. Put the dogs on their bodies. That will send a message.

The news this month has been awful. And so much of it seems to come down to a total lack of respect for the body – for human life, especially if you are poor and black, or if you are native to this land we call ours.

As a religious leader, it’s one of my prime messages. The body is sacred above all else – not our spirituality (whatever that is or may be), not our mind, our religious beliefs, our convictions. We aren’t brains floating around disembodied. Everything we do and accomplish is due to our having a body. Our well-being as individuals and as a society is centered in our bodies.

This Sunday, September 25, the title of my homily is “The Courage to Tackle the Impossible.” I chose this title because I’m tasked with addressing the epidemic of gun violence in America. The UU Church of Studio City has a Gun Violence Prevention Project, and my first reaction was, “wow, they are really taking on the impossible.” After all, if the aftermath of Sandy Hook could yield no meaningful legislation, what on earth could? What do we do about the NRA wearing the pants in our country? What do we do about the militarization of the police, about our culture of violence growing ever more pervasive and virulent?

My 7 year-old son won’t watch Star Wars because he says it’s too violent. He told me, “I’m afraid if I watch it, I will become a bad and violent person, and I don’t want that to happen.” This is based on watching his classmates warring with each other Star Wars-style with pretend light sabers. My boy is saying, “peace starts with me” and I couldn’t be prouder. I am not a perfect parent in this regard – my children are frightened by the violence in shows you would think benign for children to watch, like Puss in Boots, and even the Care Bears, for Chrissake. There is no social contract about keeping violence out of TV and movies for kids.

While it may all seem overwhelming and impossible, I have hope. While rioting is worrisome in Charlotte, NC, it is all the people have left to do, as it is with the Standing Rock Sioux nation and other nations in North Dakota – they can put their bodies on the line.

When all is lost, and there is no hope in the decency of others, all hope is put in the body. A body can protest – take up space and draw attention to injustice. I think of the hunger strikers of the undocumented mothers in immigrant detention or the men at Guantanamo Bay. It is the last resort, to use our bodies to save our own lives and say, “you may try to destroy my life, but I will use my body to fight for my life.”

We also use our bodies in less dire circumstances to protest, organize, and gather ourselves en masse to create pressure that creates change. This is the method of a new organization developing in Pasadena, called Pasadenans Organizing for Progress, or POP. We are debuting our existence this Sunday, September 25 at the Pasadena Peace & Unity Festival, from 2 – 6:30 PM behind Madison Elementary School, which includes some awesome musical acts like Ozomatli. This event is organized by NDLON (National Day Laborer Organizing Network) and sponsors include the Pasadena Playhouse and Weekly. The idea is to have some joy in place of the worry; peace in place of the violence; unity instead of division.

I’ll be there 3:30 – 5 PM and you can come say hi at the POP table. I believe in POP because such an effort gives me courage and hope that we can tackle the impossible. That with enough bodies working together, changes in how we police Pasadena could set a national standard, as could high standards of enforcement for the new minimum wage, among other important concerns.  We are raising money to hire full-time organizers.

Progressive grass-roots organizing, and/or supporting it financially, is the least of what we can do – especially white people. We don’t have to resort to rioting, risk being bitten by pit bulls, or stop eating so we and our children can possibly be released from prison, our only crime existing without papers. Our bodies are not particularly in danger the way bodies of people of color are in this country.

It’s an excellent opportunity to get involved and support POP if you care about progressive change. It’s change that not only could make Pasadena a stronger city, but our whole country. With courage and faith in our potential, we can put our bodies where our mouths are and where our hearts are in our highest hopes for humanity.

For more information about POP, contact Ed Washatka

Hope to see you this Sunday, and until next time, Do the Hustle!

– Rev. At-Large, aka Hannah Hustlin’ Hope Petrie!




The New Consensus

David Shechtman has written an article for the Good Men Project that is worth a read.  David and I are the same age (solid Gen Xers going on 43) and grew up in the same corner of the country, the Chicago area.  We share that Midwestern wry and no-bs way of looking at the world.  We think in practical and functional terms.  I have appreciated his friendship over the years because we are not of the same political persuasion and yet we find much on which to agree.

I currently call myself a Democrat and, in recent years, David made the switch from Republican to Independent.   David is committed to not allowing candidate Trump to become our next President.  He talked to me recently about strategy in his communications with Republicans and how he can convince them to, if necessary, “hold their nose and vote for Hillary.”  He sees four categories of Republicans that any of us who has access to them can influence in a customized way:

Right-wing ideologues

  • David Duke types.
  • Authoritarian personalities.
  • Extreme social conservatives.
Countering strategy

  • Likely too extreme to influence.
  • Best hope is to expose their venom for what it is.
Bandwagon Republicans

  • People who grew up in Reagan/Bush households.
  • Like the party because of its electoral success since 1994.
  • Pro-business, socially moderate (or at least sensible).
Countering strategy

  • Appeal to patriotism.
  • Talk about heroic, defining moments.
  • Give tacit permission to explore an alternative.
Globalization casualty

  • Someone who has lost work or made less money because free trade.
  • People who feel threatened by progressive social changes (immigration, diversity, political correctness).
Countering strategy

  • Provide context: this system has created opportunity AND it needs fixing. Better to fix it than to destroy it.
  • Give people tools for making change in their life.
  • Fall back on social/religious ethics of decency, conflict resolution, and engagement.
Clinton haters

  • People invested in exposing the Clinton family as frauds and soulless politicians.
  • Women who Hillary as a doormat for Bill after his infidelity.
Countering strategy

  • Sitting the election out is too costly.
  • Hold your nose and vote.
  • The alternative is ghastly.

Perhaps this is helpful, for those of you who wish to have these conversations with your friends and family, or your neighbor in the check-out line.   But this isn’t a blog about getting “our side to win,” it’s about the idea that none of us are really on any side.  Or, that we’re all on the same side – the side that wants to find solutions for our country together, instead of wasting time by fear-marketing and assigning blame.

David wants to see a “new consensus” emerge – one that counters the vicious tensions between the left and the right, and whose foundation is the idea that we are tired of being “stuck” and we are ready for “restoration” as defined by Peter Block’s seminal work, Community:  The Structure of Belonging.

Block says, “The overriding characteristic of the stuck community is the decision to broadcast all the reasons we have to be afraid.  This is a kind of advertising that exploits the fear we have of violence, of the urban core, of terrorism, of African-Americans and other ethnic groups, of immigrants, of those who are poor or undereducated, of other religions, and of other countries . . . Restoration comes from the choice to value possibility and relatedness over problems, self-interest, and the rest of the stuck community’s agenda.  It hinges on the accountability chosen by citizens and their willingness to connect with each other around promises they make to each other.”

I really like that word “promise” Peter Block uses because the keeping of promises is the glue of healthy structures of belonging, be that in our marriages, the workplace, the religious community, or the country we call home.  I will be exploring our promises more at length in my first pulpit appearance at the UU Church of Studio City on September 11.  The theme is “covenant” which is basically a hoity-toity word for “promise.”   There is  also sermon material in the idea of the new consensus, and that may occur closer to November.

No, I really don’t want to see Trump become president (although I think it would be, um, beneficial for the liberal religious business! HAR), but I know that no matter who becomes president, the need for a new consensus will be as pronounced as it is now, if not more so.  No matter who wins, it will be a very big deal.  Historic if the first woman takes the helm, historic if someone as unconventional as Trump does.  Whoever it is, it’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable – and here is the opportunity.

As people experience cognitive dissonance, they may be ready for a new way of seeing things.  They may be more interested in having the difficult conversations about their fear and anger, and be more open to new solutions.  Imagine how angry Trump supporters would be when, after a year or two of Trump’s administration, things are even worse for them.

They say the pendulum swings in politics between right and left and David and I are suggesting that perhaps the pendulum could swing also between divisiveness and unity, between moderate and extremist.  There were times our country was more unified, but we don’t live in that world anymore, nor do we want to – we are ready for the world where equity and humanity are the default, not the opposite.

No political party can help us get there, and we need to embrace that truth.  It is ordinary people like ourselves who hold elected officials accountable, be they Dems or GOP.  Some say we don’t even have a two-party system anymore and haven’t for some time – it’s all the same corporate-bought party.   However you see it, join the post-partisan conversation.  What do you think it will take to develop an effective “new consensus”?

Until next time, Do the Hustle!

Rev. At-Large, aka Hannah Hustlin’ Hope Petrie!