We are not powerless

As we approach Christmas, and before our collective attention span shrinks as short as the daylight, I want to put a concluding thought on the series of posts around Unitarian Universalist social engagement, though I expect to come back to the theme.

The big takeaway is that we are not powerless. Political and social influence are valuable, but we need to remember that our sense of self, and thus ultimately our power, does not derive from these. As human beings, we share an imprint of the living God; our hope rests on our common origins and common future. For these, our political and social actions are tools for a greater good. Tools, but not ends.

It’s no wonder that behind the recent killings of a set of black boys and men, particularly by police officers, that the theme of dignity and worth arise. And the shocking indignity of the killings, plus the overall callousness of the official response, only widened the conversation, here to include black girls and women, there to dead Gazans.

Substituting “all lives matter” for the call “black lives matter” — as sometimes happened — was a simultaneously true and false action. False because, in the moment, it was important to accent the peril that black people particularly face. And true, because of the underlying and unspoken fear that a régime of unaccountable violence can all too easily become universal, or near universal, as global wealth becomes more and more concentrated.

But I think of St. Lawrence, the early Christian deacon and martyr, who when asked to cough up the treasure of the church to Roman authorities, presented the poor. These are the treasure, he said, and for which he was tortured to death.

We are the treasure of the church, beloved by God and full of worth. Poor in this sense — for when some few have so much wealth and power, who isn’t poor? — yet not helpless. Though a cultivated will, though the blessings of mutual care and — yes — the multiplication of social and political engagement we can plainly assert our own value.

But this understanding is how we unlock this power, and as religious people we owe it to others to continually proclaim its truth.

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