The Needed Virtues

When something horrible and tragic happens, like bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I go to a very calm, even distant and repressed place emotionally.  I am good in a crisis, but cold. I do have a catch in the throat that comes and goes randomly.  Like Roger on Mad Men, my grief comes out at odd times, as for him when he burst into tears over the death of the man who shined his shoes, after keeping it together through his mother's funeral.

I almost lost it today when reading a stupid Buzzfeed posting about 29 things to love about Boston; it was a picture of the ducklings with little red scarves tied on them on a snowy day.  

I become very observant of what others say and think.

My UU colleagues are so much more sensitive and articulate than I am at such a time as this.  And I have been reading their twitter feeds and facebook postings.  For a professional group spread far and wide across the country, few do not feel connection to Boston.  So, their collective words today came from a deep place. 

What is the message of liberal religion?  What is our good news?  Today is a day when we testify to our message, our good news, without much ornamentation, or elaboration.  

I will not quote specific people and specific utterances.  I am too tired for all that cutting and pasting and researching.  Anyway our message came through clearly today.

My colleagues in liberal religion said this today:

Stop, and hold humanity sacred at this moment.  The dead, the injured, the traumatized, the heroic, and the brave.  My colleagues are telling us it is time to pray, to sit in silence, to watch a dancing flame in the dark, to hold a hand.  Tagore calls upon us to lift our lamps to those we love who have gone on that journey and to say our last words in silence.  And everywhere I read of my colleagues organizing on line and real life vigils and prayer circles and church sanctuaries open for rest. 

My colleagues are asking you to recommit tonight to be especially honest and humble.  What do you really know, and what are guessing and speculating?  Resist the headlong rush to know, to explain, to make all of this fit into some narrative that you have already constructed.  They are reminding us that we don't know much, that much of what is said in these first 24 hours will turn out to be not true, and that the most inflammatory and shocking piece of information that shows up in your Twitter feed is more likely false than true.  Be brave in not knowing.

My colleagues are lifting up compassion and solidarity and gratitude now.  Today we are all Mr. Rogers, reminding everyone to look at the number of people running toward danger to help. 'Look to the helpers,' he said, and we are quoting.  My colleagues are honoring the first responders, the doctors, the nurses, the police, the volunteers, the strangers who helped strangers. When the bounds of community are broken by violences, my colleagues lift it up higher.  We know, deep down in the very marrow of our bones, that there is more good in humanity than evil.  My twitter feed is full of concrete information about how to help -- where to call to offer your couch to a stranded runner and/or their supporters.  

Above all, my colleagues are calling upon us to maintain our self-possession.  Turn off the TV news when it is repetitive and inflammatory.  Sing to yourself the centering chant: "when I breathe in, I breathe in peace; and I when I breathe out, I breathe out love."  (Or is it the other way around, I can never remember.  Does it matter?)  Our self-possession is why we must remember to be humble and honest about what we know.  We need to guard ourselves today and tomorrow against a collective group-think   that leads to bad decisions.  We need to keep clear heads and a firm grasp on right and wrong as we all process the shock, the denial, the anger, the bargaining of this violation and loss. Stay centered and grounded. 

Honesty -- Humility -- Gratitude -- Reverence -- Openness -- Compassion -- Self Possession.  These are the needed virtues on the day after Patriots Day in Boston.  

These are the virtues of liberal religion -- the gospel that is needed for this time -- the reminder we need to recommit ourselves to what is best, and wholesome, and holy and healthy when it is so tempting to be hateful, or vengeful, or tribal, or otherwise less than our best selves.  If we can commit to these ways of being in the world, we make it possible to discern the way of Love in the present situation.

I am so proud of my colleagues in the Unitarian Universalist movement for holding up these virtues tonight, although I know that they are not the only ones.  Does liberal religion have a message for times of violence, tragedy and evil in the world?  We do.  It is simple, clear and compelling.  And it is as close as your phone.


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