Tomorrow Land

tomorrowReading: The House Called Tomorrow by Alberto Rios 

Just over three years ago, we convened an impromptu evening service – the night after the national election.   

People poured in to social hall for the potluck meal we invited before the service – they came urgently, and also cautiously, seeking comfort and community.

More and more people came.  All ages.  Some who were already here started pulling out extra tables, first from the closets in the social hall, then running across to the other building to set up more – until we ran out of tables and then people rotated, after they finished eating, giving up their seats, willingnly.   So many people came we spilled out into the patio. It was cold, but no one complained.  

And the food – there was so much food.  Homemade mac and cheese and the biggest box of pizza I’ve ever seen; all the salads and fried chicken and mashed potatoes.  Comfort foods.

Every table filled with people – most I knew, but many I didn’t.

I remember from the service – Sean’s prayer – he’d just been at Foothills a couple months, and his prayer had a swear word in it, and for a moment I was like oh no – but everyone laughed through their tears, because it was the most honest thing anyone had said yet. 

I also remember the candles, one by one, lit – just like we do on Christmas Eve – like we did four times this Christmas Eve – and we sang together –in that silent night we sang – 

There is More Love, somewhere
There is More Love, somewhere
I’m gonna keep on – till I find it.
There is More Love, somewhere

As we were planning the service, I confess feeling unsure what to do, I mean, unsure how to make it clear that we still did not mean to say liberal religion is the same as liberal politics.  I wanted to say then, as I’ve wanted to say so many times since then: this is different. 

Unitarian Universalist minister Victoria Safford says it this way

“This is not about Republicans and Democrats; it’s about ways of being human in the 21st century, and certain ways are loud now and ascendant, ways of being which are in fact choices, and they are beneath us as a people: ways such as greed and the celebration of greed, lying and the celebration of lying, sexual predation and its celebration, military bravado, disdain for the poor, for working people and the land, white nationalism (whether spoken in code or explicitly), and more – all amplified and sanctified, and increasingly normalized, and thus infused with power.”

This is different.

The pain in those days, the pain that led so many to come for an impromptu prayer service at the Unitarian Church on a cold night in November – was about all of this that was suddenly our reality – our present tense – we came seeking to tend to this feeling that as Adrienne Rich wrote, “my heart is moved by all I cannot save – so much has been destroyed.”

We came grieving the present, and we came grieving the past – the past, as in – the prior year, which, if you remember the election process, had been brutal – but also the past as in, history

In that moment, the weight of history was everywhere.  What we as a country have been capable of in the past, capable of doing to one another, doing to anyone considered “other” – the ways we had failed to truly reckon with and reconcile let alone redeem our history – and what that says about what we might do again in the future

We came grieving the present, and the past, but most of all, the thing that brought many of us to gather was about the future.  The future we had imagined we were headed for, that we were carving out by our efforts, small though they may be – but still worthy, possible – the future we imagined – for our children, and grandchildren, the legacy our lives would leave – I quoted the great 19th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker that next Sunday:

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways.  I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

In the late Fall of 2016, we gathered because many of us were suddenly unsure if we agreed with him.  

Which was then, and is still, new territory for progressive religion.

For all the ways we have evolved over the centuries, one anchor has been our unwavering optimism about the future. Not superficial, or naïve optimism –  though that is always a danger and sometimes a reality – but an unwavering loyalty to seeing the world as it is – in both its beauty, and its brokenness, and saying – we can do better, and we will.

As one of our hymns says:  we revere the past, but we trust the dawning future more.

We are so oriented to the future – as a religion, that we are technically what some would call an apocalyptic religion.  

I know, it’s probably not what you’d think of when you think of Unitarian Universalism – but as theologian Rebecca Parker says,

“our version of the apocalyptic dream doesn’t imagine that old worlds are destroyed and new ones created simply by the act of a transcendent god.  We put ourselves into the drama. We assign ourselves the task of dismantling evil empires, and we go to work hammering together the New Jerusalem.  In place of the thousand years of wrong will come the thousand years of right.”

For a lot of our history, actually, it wasn’t just that we were up for this task, but we believed could get it done with relative speed.  Like, in the course of our next five-year plan. Or at least, we could make good progress.

A lot of the twentieth century was about coming to terms with the fact that this was – let’s say, naïve.  Starting with holocaust.  And then, the unfinished work of the Civil Rights era. And then the unresolved conflicts around Vietnam, and the devastating toll that war took, the growing economic gaps and political polarization of the 1980s and 90s –  none of these broke our faith in doing our part to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice – but we did start to realize, it might take a bit longer than we first thought. 

That Sunday after the election in 2016, I talked about the LONG arc of history.  Affirming that the future seek exists far beyond a single lifetime.   And so we cannot rely on the hope of results to keep us going – but instead remember that, as Vaclav Havel says, 

“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” 

Since then, I have seen so many people – in this community, so many of you – working to take this in, and live it out – continuing to show up even when your hearts have been broken, serving in and beyond our community, listening to each other, and learning – pushing yourselves to grow, even when it has been really uncomfortable.  

Together, we keep finding our way back to gratitude, and joy – even when it has felt impossible.  We have learned what it means to be hope for each other. 

It has been beautiful to witness – to see in real life what courageous love looks like. 

And still, in these same years, especially as time has gone on, I have also witnessed our inevitable weariness, and a feeling sometimes articulated, sometimes not – that maybe we can just fix this in the next national election – which is, suddenly, within sight.

We know, we really do – that change will take a long time.  But also, it’s so hard to accept that we are working for a future we will not live to see.   

It reminds me of when we had Ingrid here in sanctuary with us, in the fall of 2017, many of wrestled with the hopelessness of her case – how long it would likely go on. Despite the recent pardon for her felony conviction granted by Governor Polis, even today, her path is narrow

Basically, she has committed to remaining in sanctuary until there is real comprehensive immigration reform. Likely, that is her only path out of sanctuary. 

It is a noble, courageous commitment.  

But here’s what I wonder – if she was here with us, still – would we be able to keep showing up for her on that path? Knowing that the journey would be long – like, years long, with many, many setbacks, and not many victories? How would we respond to a journey like that? 

Of course, there are different ways to think about sanctuary as a strategy for immigration reform – but I still think the question is good for us to think about – what it means for us to consider this work our faith calls us to dedicate our lives to – that is the future our faith orients us to – that it is the work of our whole lives? 

Or, maybe just to start – what it would mean to think about it as work for the next decade? From now, until 2030.  

I mean, whatever your work is – your place in the call of courageous love – how might it shift things when you actively consider that this is work you’ll be in for the next ten years? 

How would it shift your pace? 

The resources you’d need? 

The spiritual practices? 

The people you would show up for, and with? And how would you show up for them, and when?

When immigration activist and minister Alexia Salvatierra was here a few months ago, she spoke about the need to learn to grieve while you are in the work – if this really is the work of your whole lives- then we must acknowledge that our hearts are moved by what we cannot save – Name the pain of knowing how much has been destroyed –

If we are committed to a future beyond our own lifetimes, we need to learn to grieve with each other regularly, practice speaking aloud our grief, be present for others in their grief, make a space for grief as a regular companion – and learn its ways, its rhythms not as an aberration of life, something to minimize or escape, but instead we must know it as central to human existence, central to what it means to live, to love.

For many of us, this is not just challenging, we literally wouldn’t know where to begin.

So many of us are taught to avoid feeling – anything! In public – especially, let alone grief, or pain – we learn to shut it off and get over it – we learn to protect ourselves.  It’s what I’d call maladaptive coping – and it’s passed down generationally – we learn it in our families. 

Luckily there are those among us for whom this is not the case.  People we can learn from, and with. People who William James, in his book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” called “twice born,” by which he meant, those who have confronted tragedy and loss, fully – and come out the other side. Come out not the same, but changed. Transformed.  People who bear the scars of suffering, and survival –often these are people of color, people who have known poverty – especially generationally, queer folx, the disabled community, immigrants….to learn from, to honor them – to learn from and honor not just those who are alive today, but those who came before –

I was remembering this week this poem from Unitarian Universalist minister Theresa Hardy:

I got out of bed this morning because of all those who had to get out of bed before me: 
Martin and Coretta, the day after his home was bombed. (What did they tell the children?).
John Lewis, after nearly escaping death on the Edmund Pettus bridge.
My ancestors, who were dragged to the U.S. in chains,
laid flat like chattel on ships… and survived.
They survived and got out of bed each morning.
I am sick and tired and grieving and ready to quit this country.
But I got out of bed, shamed by the thought of letting these ancestors down.
And for now that’s how I am getting through this day.

To keep showing up for this future that is beyond what we will see, we must turn again and again to these guides, and so many others whose lives never saw the results of their efforts but on whose steadfast commitment rests many of the freedoms we know today. 

In the last few days, I confess however, that I have been less worried about cultivating patience and commitment towards a far-off apocalypse. Because instead, I’ve started to think – maybe it’s already here.

How can you not think of Apocalypse when you see the images of Australia burning? Or read about the animals, and habitat destroyed? Or the helplessness of knowing that those in power continue to deny the science, knowing what inaction will mean. Thinking already of the summers ahead.  How can you think about any of this and think anything other than: this is the world ending.

Which is another way to think about the future – to imagine that the destruction we might fear, the overturning of the world, which is to say – our potential for rebirth is not in some future time, it’s now. 

That this moment we are in is not about the darkness of the womb rather than the tomb – which is a message Valerie Kaur offered a couple of years ago as a message of hope – that this darkness we are in is not about death, but about life – but if we are actually living in the middle of the apocalypse,  it’s both the womb, and the tomb.  

That’s what Apocalypse is, afterall– the ending which signals the beginning; deconstruction that can bring rebirth. It’s another reason Rebecca Parker says to turn to those guides who have bear the scars of suffering, and survival – because they are living evidence that resurrection is possible. 

Civil rights leader and my teacher Dr. Vincent Harding used to say we are midwives for a world trying to be born – and, he’d also say, we are hospice chaplains for a world that is dying. 

We cannot neglect either of these roles, and the tenderness they invite, the embodied human community they necessitate – the chaos they imply, the pain, the risk, the circling around.

It’s an image that makes sense to me in the middle of catastrophe.  Just think of what it is like to find yourself in the middle of a true disaster – there is so much kindness, generosity – tables are set up and we sit out on the patio in the cold without complaint, and we eat mac and cheese and light candles even though we don’t know where we’re going or what will happen next. 

“The bad do not win—not finally….”

Alberto Rios was inspired to write his poem “The House Called Tomorrow” by the journey of his father, an immigrant from southern Mexico, and his mother, an immigrant from Northern England – they met, fell in love, and their family grew up together – in the border town of Nogales Arizona –  

The bad do not win – not finally        
No matter how loud they are.
We simply would not be here
If that were so.
You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.
You are the good who has come forward
Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise. 
From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,
The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:
That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,
Is ourselves.  And that’s all we need
To start.  That’s everything we require to keep going.”

That night in November, when we sang about there being more love somewhere – we knew it then.  The somewhere we were longing for – it was already here. And in so many moments since then we know it again. 

Everything we need for the world ending, and for its beginning again – its and our resurrection – is right here. 

In you, in me, in the choice to keep showing up with tenderness, imagining something more. 

Here is the future we’re longing for, this is the land called tomorrow, the tomorrow that is already today.

About Rev. Gretchen Haley

Gretchen Haley is relentlessly curious about most things, especially the big stuff of theology, the beauty of creation, the magic of collaboration, and the great joy of pop culture (reflected in this blog by random posts on Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Scandal, Orphan Black, or the latest Marvel movie). She has an audacious ambition for the liberal church, believing in its capacity to transform lives and our world by way of hyper-local relationships and partnerships that inspire the unleashing of courageous love. She's all in on adrienne maree brown's emergent strategy, and finds solace in the trails in and around Fort Collins Colorado where she serves with the brilliant Rev. Sean Neil-Barron as one of the ministers of the Foothills Unitarian Church. She and her amazing partner of over 20 years, Carri, have 2 children, Gracie (14) and Josef (12) who both relish and resent being PKs, and who keep her grounded, frustrated, inspired, and humbled, everyday. She is basically obsessed with her puppy, a large sized mutt, Charlie.
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