I am writing in the midst of what is shaping up to be a bittersweet time. Earlier this week, we celebrated the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most important religious warriors for human rights our world has ever known. By week’s end, we will have witnessed the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, a man whose words, actions and policy proposals are anathema to the work of religious progressives everywhere.
In the days and weeks after the election, I imagine most of you felt as I did—angry, disbelieving, depressed, even resigned. Looking ahead, you might see only disrespect, hurt, and real harm ahead to those among us who are the most marginalized in our society. If you are queer, a woman, a person of color or live with a disability; if you are an immigrant, a Muslim, live in poverty, are transgender or marginalized in some other way, perhaps you are afraid now. Even if you are not part of any targeted group, perhaps you are afraid anyway, because someone you love may be in danger now.
The question that would not let me rest throughout this time seemed simple enough: “What is it that I must do now?” But the answer seemed complicated at first. Should I throw myself into organizing, or pray without ceasing, or write a damning indictment of this country’s toxic stew of intersectional oppressions? Should I fear for the safety of my young adult black sons even more than I usually do? What difference am I being called upon to make in this national emergency, this time of crisis for this troubled country that I nonetheless love so much?
Once I took a deep breath (well, several dozen, really!) I made a note of my blessing: I was precisely where I needed to be, doing precisely what I had been called to do—helping to form Unitarian Universalist and other progressive religious leaders to promote our values in a broken world. And though I am no Esther, I couldn’t help remembering what Scripture records her hearing from Mordecai after she says no to a seemingly impossible task: “who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Allow me, then, to offer Mordecai’s words to you as well. These next few years will be difficult ones for values we hold sacred—freedom of religion; inherent worth and dignity; justice, equity and compassion; the importance of the democratic process itself. Wherever you find yourself today, there is work that only you can do to protect those values. Who knows? Perhaps you are where you are for just this reason. I urge you to take courage, not only for your own sake, but for the sake of those whose lives may depend on you. I used to think such language was a bit dramatic. I don’t think that anymore.
Here at Starr King, we have been focusing on ways we can be helpful to more progressive religious people in this challenging moment. For more than 20 years, we have been working and praying and teaching in a counter-oppressive, multireligious way. As a result, we have a wealth of experience to offer those of you who wish to deepen your practice and witness now. You’ll be hearing more about our plans in the next several months, plans to give more of you the tools you need to turn back the regressive tide rising fast not only here in the US, but in the larger world.
I hope you will add the school and all of us here to your prayers; we need them! I also hope that you will consider making a gift to the school’s operating fund, to strengthen our capacity to be of service at this all-important moment. Whatever you choose to do, please know that you are in our hearts and our prayers, especially as we meet in chapel each week. May each of you, wherever you are, find the strength and courage to move forward, and the grace to move forward with purpose and joy.