When Change Comes
(A group of Unitarian Universalists are having coffee together at the local bookstore coffee shop. They have been given letters instead of names to protect the innocent.)
A. This is a solemn occasion, this inauguration of a new president. This is not just any new president, but one of those whose election marks a real change of direction for the country. We need solemn resolve to follow through on our desire for change.
B. This is a festive and happy occasion, because so many of us worked so hard to bring this moment into being. All those phone calls, all those rallies, all those uncomfortable conversations with reluctant relatives, all those donations! It's time to celebrate!
C. This is an historic occasion, because for the first time ever, an African-American is becoming president. African Americans helped build the White House, but in those days, they were slaves. Time was when the only African Americans who entered the White House were servants. Today it is different. Barack and Michelle are going to be the President and First Lady. They will be waited on. They will entertain foreign dignitaries and important people from our own country. This is huge.
D. This is an occasion for worry. People are making comparisons of Obama to Lincoln and Kennedy, other presidents who came to office to bring change. I like the comparisons of Obama to Franklin Roosevelt better. We all need to pray for his safety as well as for the fulfillment of that promise of change.
C. Things are a mess. The country is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The government of Pakistan is on very shaky ground, and the Pakistani secret service seems to be helping not only the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al Qaida in its own tribal areas but also terrorists in India. And now the Middle East is flaring up again, with Iran in the middle making trouble for Israel just as we have a transfer of power in the presidency.
B. You're telling me! The economy is really in trouble, and the Federal deficit is already really large. It's a really inconvenient time for the banking system to be having trouble persuading itself to make loans. Talk about change! The economy certainly delivered up a big change we didn't want.
D. And in the meantime, we've spent a lot of time obsessing over the financial markets, forgetting that it's leadership in science that has always kept the American economy strong. The new green economy is being invented in other countries.
A. We need to get on the bandwagon with carbon reduction. Our electrical energy grid is wasteful and not well adapted to the kind of widely distributed energy production we would have if there were a lot of solar panels on a lot of buildings, a lot of smaller wind installations, all the things we expect for the future. Our transit systems are totally inadequate to a world where everything that uses energy is more expensive, and even though we're catching a break just now. The point is that nothing is more important than reducing our national carbon footprint,
We Unitarian Universalists need to be out there in front on this one, with our respect for the interdependent web of all existence. I think we need to be keeping in touch not just with Obama but with all our government people about climate change. Make those buildings more energy efficient. Make it easier to make private buildings more energy efficient. Make it possible to drive less. This is the kind of change I voted for—but let me get off my soap box—that's enough.
B. There's a lot to clean up, and there are good people who have been waiting for the chance. What we really need is a more Unitarian Universalist government. The rich have gotten richer, the middle class has sort of stagnated, and the poor have gotten poorer. We need to address the Unitarian Universalist principle of justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and I think there's a chance with this new administration. Already there's talk of a fairer tax system.
D. That's true. Just restoring a sense of fairness in dealing with people will help a lot. There shouldn't be one deal for Republicans and another one for Democrats, or one for rich people and one for poor people.
C. Competence. I think the central message of this new administration is that it will do things competently. We Unitarian Universalists really do believe in doing our best, though it's not right there in the principles. We believe in science, we believe in doing things right, and we believe in treating people fairly.
A. I think a lot of people learned from the past administration that there are government services we actually need, and we need them well done. From emergency management to regulation of securities trading, from National Parks to sludge ponds at coal plants. I hope we can restore the government as an instrument for serving the common good. Markets and private interest can't do everything. Isn't there a Unitarian Universalist principle that speaks to that? The common good? If there isn't, there should be. Somewhere in between the interdependent web and the goal of world community?
D. Well, this new president-elect is competent. He surrounds himself with competent people who know how to get the different jobs done. I'm impressed with what looks like the potential of this administration to do the big things that need to be done.
C. Barack really could be a Unitarian Universalist. He's a consensus-builder. That's our style, too. Heaven knows, in our congregations, trying to reach consensus can be a real obstacle to change or decision—he seems to have a way of doing it that doesn't let things get bogged down. I wonder if he could go the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Washington. It's not far from the White House, and it's very interracial. The senior minister, Rob Hardies, is a really good preacher, even though he's white. I bet Obama wouldn't dare. .
A. I like his communication style. He always sounds reasonable, and it's never “I know better than you.” He tells us what he knows and invites us either to talk back or to get on board. It's not that business we've seen so much of, that slamming the people you disagree with. Somebody said he had studied Ronald Reagan's way of presenting things. I think he's more honest than that, and just as effective.
B. He seems like a real man of the people, even if you take away that fake stuff about dropping the “g's” in workin', goin', bringin'. He knows his sports stuff and really seems to care about it. He wants to keep his Blackberry. I think he'll have to find other ways to stay in touch with regular people, but I have great hopes that he will do it. He seems to respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Yes, he could be a Unitarian Universalist.
A. Well, we Unitarian Universalists believe in the use of the democratic process, and a time of change, especially with a consensus-builder in charge, is a time for us to express our ideas about what is best for the common good. We need to find ways to be in touch with all our officials, not just send stuff into the vast heap of things pouring into the White House. Some things are going to be happening at the state level, and some locally, and for others we can get in touch with our congresspeople and senators. We haven't really talked about health care or unemployment so far, but those need everybody's attention.
B. I agree, it's not just about Obama. Even though it is. We need to be attending to what's happening at every level of government. We need to be applying our Unitarian Universalist values to state and local government—an anti-marriage equality thing is going to be happening in New Hampshire this legislative season. And there's a move to weaken or delay the mercury reductions at the Bow coal plant. Tax fairness is a whole can of worms that is going to have to be opened again with the current fiscal crisis at the state level.
C. And it's not just about the government. Government really can't do everything. They can make it easier to do the right green thing, for instance, but it's private companies that will build the green buildings, put on the solar panels, and a lot of the rest of it. Maybe we should be thinking in terms of starting companies or going to work for companies that do the things we believe in.
D. I'm excited about a refocusing on the common good, maybe not being so completely consumed with the idea that “more for me” is best. We can start in our own lives by being good neighbors. These are tough times, and people all around us are struggling, sometimes in ways we don't know. There is much for all of us to do.
A. It's a solemn occasion. An important change of direction for the country.
B. It's an historic occasion. Our first African American President and first family.
C. It's a festive and happy time. We've worked so hard, and now it's time to celebrate.
D. And a time for worry. This is an important time for our country, a time of new beginnings, a time of turning. We enter it with great hope. There's a lot of work to do, Let us turn to working together with a good heart.