Live your Unitarian Universalist values out loud. Make your year-end gift today!
Wendy von Zirpolo
The words came and my heart soared.
He said ... “A new dawn
of American leadership is at hand."
And I sat up, listened differently ... wanted to
He said "I will listen to you.
I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation. Block by block, brick
by brick, callused hand by callused hand."
Tears came to my eyes. I knew in that moment
that his words moved from my ears, through my head, through my heart and spoke
directly to my soul.
He said “The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be
steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America—I have
never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you—we as a people will get there.”
My head and heart had been engaged for
months. But on this night, he spoke and my soul lurched
forward, listened and I believed.
Perhaps it was the same for you as the soon-to-be 44th
president of our country accepted the nomination to lead us for the next four,
perhaps eight years.
I was surprised by the depth of my emotional
It ringed of another time. Over 4
decades ago when souls across the nation also lurched forward and
listened. When words moved from ears, through heads and
hearts and into human spirits yearning to be called. Yearning
to make a difference. Yearning to change a
When a different man spoke and said,
“Let the word go forth from this time
and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new
generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a
hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or
permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always
been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the
And when this same
man said: “We
observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning—signifying renewal, as well as
said “Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its
terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate
disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.
then said “ Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the
command of Isaiah—to "undo the heavy burdens ... and to let the oppressed go
when that man said “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your
country can do for you—ask what you can do for your
Spirits of all ages responded, birthing the
Peace Corps, beginning new initiatives and laying groundwork for the next great
voice who would one day say,
“I have a
and a nation of
spirits understanding that when spirit leads a nation, then injustice is bared
and there is no other choice but to act, lurched forward. An
army of clergy and citizens would open their souls to his words, their eyes to
the truth and travel to Montgomery and to Selma. Pulled by
their spirits, they would act swiftly, with great courage uniting hands, hearts
and souls in the most holy and spiritual work possible.
The aspiration of justice for all of creation’s children, of beloved
And so here we
are today, poised yet again on the precipice of great change, great hope and
great aspirations. About to take our helm, a voice that like
JFK and MLK, Jr. captivates the multitudes, energizes the young, reminds the old
of a better time and brings hope to those of us in between, reminding us that
change can happen.
All three of
these men, visionary. All three of these men,
passionate. All three of these men, believers and
doers. All three deeply spiritual. All
three leaders. Leaders able to speak directly to the souls,
the spirits of the people. Directly to you and to
me. All three understanding that we need a
History tells us
that it worked. Each of their messages
since I was a little girl, people have told me that my father changed their
lives. They got involved in public service, in government, in their communities
because he asked them to and they wanted to be part of something larger and
better than themselves.” We know the Peace Corps inspired nearly
200,000 volunteers serving in over 138 countries and learning more than 200
languages and dialects over the past 4 decades.
We know that MLK
inspired civil rights leaders all over the country to mobilize, go to Selma, put
the rest of their lives on hold to correct grave injustices, at great
risk. We know his efforts gave birth to the
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference, inspired civil rights activists and leaders,
some of whom gave up their lives to serve that vision.
We know their stories live on today, still inspiring, still
stirring souls. We could parade heroes and heroines in front
of us all day long, all week long, saying ‘they lived the dream.’ And that would
be true. That would be inspiring. And that
would also miss an important point.
How easily we point to those stories and say ‘See.
That’s when we were all living the dream.’ We point
and perhaps we yearn for those times, when we felt like we were making a
difference, when we were engaged, when we were winning the battle toward
a better tomorrow.
But the truth is that it’s all been on our watch. The good, the bad
and the horrific. That JFK and MLK drew us into engagement,
but that it wasn’t about ‘our time is now.’ It was about our
The truth is that we had no business not being involved then and
we’ve let ourselves down now. The truth is that this is our
world to do with what we please and it’s wrong to point and say ‘look what
they’ve done.’ Because we’ve been here all along.
It was true then and it’s true now.
Because it is on our watch that we have entered the worst economic
crisis since the great depression.
On our watch that civil liberties have been
On our watch that our worldwide identity has become associated with
words like occupier. Arrogance. Empire.
Did the dream evaporate? What of our
souls? Did we stop listening? Was it all
about one man dream? And then another’s?
And once lost to death, we could not or would not carry on?
How is it that we lost our way? Did
it happen quickly? Or erode like the sands changing over time?
Because on has been our watch torture condoned
and conducted by our people.
On our watch good men and women detained without due process—rendition.
On our watch, thousands lost to war?
On our watch, marriage equality stolen away in CA and measures to
block constructed elsewhere
On our watch poor African Americans remain without housing in
On our watch we still celebrate Columbus Day knowing how his crew
really came ashore.
On our watch, immigrant children left parentless because we won’t
figure out a better way.
I know there are those among us who would say “Not here in church
should we have to look at these unhappy truths. But therein
lies the rub. For it was when our spirits let go of the dream
that we lost our way. When, as a country,
we began to dance with prosperity at the expense of humanity that we
began to lose. When, as a country, we placed more of a
premium on personal safety than communal justice that we lost more.
When, as a country, we let spirituality become something isolated and
given rather than relational and earned that we let go entirely.
It was on our watch, not some disconnected ‘other.’
How easily we look to this new day, claim it as ‘our time’ and the
past eight years as another’s. A colleague said ‘my new year
begins on Tuesday.’ Others count down.
Some sneer and point. I’ve been members of each of
those groups. But it was on our watch that we arrived
Earlier I noted that JFK and MLK, Jr. understood that we needed a
dream. That to speak to our spirits, our souls, the dream
must be central to our humanity, call upon our deepest sense of justice and
good. The dream needed to get past our head and heart and
speak to our spirits. But they understood something more as
well. I’m not sure we did or
do. They knew the dream was not theirs to
own. Not even theirs to author. They
knew it had to be that which was authored and owned by our deepest, best
selves. The sort of yearnings that can only be authored by
spirit. That they were merely stirring that which we knew to
be true and just and right. And so it is with Barack
He spoke and something stirred. It was my
spirit. My soul and I suspect yours stirred too.
It is critical that we pay attention to that moment.
We need to turn toward that stirring and once and for all connect the
feeling of awe, excitement, hope or fervor. Whatever you name
it, recognize it as our spirit crying out ‘yes’ and commit it to
action. Lifelong, strong, strong
Figuring our how we landed in this economic crisis and figuring out
how to survive, how to support each other, how to support this institution
because now more than ever we need each other. Now, more than
We cannot lose our way again. Not ever
Yes, in two days we will inaugurate the 44th president of the
United States of America. It will be a day like no other in recent
history. Tears will be shed.
But then tomorrow will come. Our watch will
As that dawn breaks, I pray it be a watch that
Marriage equality for all Americans
Truth telling about the American genocide of Native
A return to economic health based on fair practices, fiscal
responsibility, business models rooted in fairness rather than executive greed,
consumerism grounded in need rather than excess and local economies supportive
of small business owners rather than big box monstrosities.
A refusal to entertain the notion that because a black man has been
elected president, that this is a post-racial America and instead turn toward
racism, address issues of white privilege, tell the truth about our history and
seek to undo systemic racism still embedded in our culture—still embedded in
That our watch includes an embracement of world community valuing
diversity rather than empire-building.
That our watch seek justice everywhere with special attention to
the rights of women and children.
That on our watch we will see the hungry and homeless and feed and
house them and yes, redistribute wealth so that they are hungry and homeless no
That our watch puts an end to hate crimes against those who are
seen as different in any of our communities.
That on our watch, a transgendered teen will find support rather
than suicide. That we reach into the lives of those
suffering from abuse, whether domestic, elder or other and find ways to name it,
correct it and prevent it.
That our watch seeks to understand rather than occupy, to learn
rather than impose, to engage rather than vanquish.
I pray that our watch never ends. I pray that we
see our watch, not as something we pick up casually or when need is driven by a
state of affairs finally so unpalatable or inhospitable that we MUST join on the
special watch. Instead a central piece of spiritual practice
for all people seeking a better tomorrow.
In two days we will inaugurate a 44th president and I am more
excited about that than words can say. But today, our watch
continues and on this day, when we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., quite
possibly one of our most powerful leaders of spirit seeking justice, might we
commit ourselves anew to the role each of us plays in leading—yes, leading our
country, our communities, our congregation, our families, ourselves to that
If it be so, then in two days, we will arrive at the inauguration of
our president an army of souls, ready to join the very best sort of force. And
when he begins to speak our souls will lie open, ready to receive those words,
knowing full well the dream he paints is already ours. And as
we take in the words a hush will wash over our bodies.... And we’ll commit to
finding our path toward action. Lifeling action.
And in doing so, as we receive and affirm his words of ‘Yes we can. Yes
we can’ we’ll be able to add ‘Never again, will we let go.
Not on our watch. Not on ours.’
I pray it be so. Blessed be and
Choir then sings ‘Hush’ before the closing hymn ‘Spirit Says
Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association
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Last updated on Monday, March 25, 2013.
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