We gather together today as the song says: as a gentle, angry people. As people in grief. As people perhaps in despair.

Because there are so many issues at play. So many.

As Unitarian Universalist Association President Susan Frederick-Gray says, there are “all the many layers of devastating grief and anger that are present, that are legitimate…. [Just yesterday] was the second anniversary of the brutal murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Today – and throughout this week – the memorial services for the loved ones killed in the mass shooting in Buffalo are taking place. We have not even had time to process the grief of the atrocity in Buffalo, the church shooting in CA, and now we have the grief of the mass murder of children and teachers in Uvalde, TX.”

It is sickening.

And then there is the issue of trying to understand people whose love of guns appears to exceed their love of children. Trying to keep an open mind and heart when it’s very tempting to see these people as irresponsible, heartless, maybe even demonic. 

In 2017, after the Mandalay Bay massacre in Las Vegas, in which a gunman killed 60 people and wounded 411 others, right-wing personality Bill O’Reilly said that massacres are “the price of freedom.” 


Yesterday, The New York Times reached out to all 50 Republicans in the Senate to see whether they would support a pair of House-passed measures to strengthen background checks for gun buyers. The legislation would expand criminal background checks to would-be purchasers on the internet and at gun shows and give the F.B.I. more time to investigate gun buyers flagged by the instant background check system. For years now, the vast majority of Republicans have opposed gun safety legislation, banding together to block its consideration or refusing to bring it up. But would the most recent shootings change their minds? 

Let’s see. Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville (with an N.R.A. grade of an “A”) replied, “I’m willing to say that I’m very sorry it happened. But guns are not the problem, OK? People are the problem. That’s where it starts — and we’ve had guns forever. And we’re going to continue to have guns.”

As for Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee (graded A by the N.R.A.), she says: “Schools should have secured, limited entry points, and increased funding for school resource officers. School officials with prior military or law enforcement experience should be allowed to carry firearms. Finally, mental health must be taken seriously. We should improve access to resources and treatment for those suffering from mental illness.” In other words, blame everything but the utter absence of gun safety laws and a public health approach that could truly make the difference, as it most definitely has with (for example) automobile safety. 

Tom Cotton of Arkansas? With his N.R.A. grade of A? He said, “I have no comment on that.”

And how about Ohio’s senator, Rob Portman? He’s graded A too. 

Senator Portman didn’t even respond. Said not one word in reply. 

What is going on with these folks? 

How have some folks grown to love guns so much? What’s the history of this?

Why have interpretations of the Second Amendment grown so strange since the 1970s and 1980s?

What’s below the surface? What’s the deeper logic? 

Let me ask an even bigger question: How has our democracy been so thoroughly hacked that we are in a place (as historian Heather Cox Richardson puts it), “where 90% of Americans want to protect our children from gun violence, and yet those who are supposed to represent us in government are unable, or unwilling, to do so? This is,” she says, “a central problem not just for the issue of gun control, but for our democracy itself.”

All these questions. 

All these issues. 

And I promise we will explore them. On June 19th, I’ll be preaching on this with a sermon entitled “One Nation Under the Gun.” It’s Father’s Day. I had a different sermon planned. But, as with Mother’s Day and the leaked Supreme Court decision on Roe vs. Wade, something else has come up and it must take precedence. And yes, it has everything to do with fathering and parenting. Parents can’t do it all themselves. There must be laws and regulations that help make society safe for children and people of all ages. Why does America continue to fail at effective gun regulation?

So come join us for that Sunday. 

Here and now, the issue I want to address is the feeling that it is all too much. That what is happening right now is just all too much. 

·      Gun violence

·      2nd anniversary of George Floyd’s murder May 25—police violence, racism, white supremacy

·      Abortion rights

·      War in Ukraine

·      Discrimination against LGBTQ+ community

·      Democracy in peril

·      Environmental crisis

·      Baby formula shortage

·      Don’t forget about Covid-19….

Over and above all these are the personal and interpersonal burdens we may be carrying:

·      Sickness we may be enduring

·      Problems in our relationships

·      Mental illnesses we may be struggling with 

·      Addictions we may be struggling with 

·      I’m coming before you right now with a migraine headache. 

I mean, it’s a lot. It’s just all too much….

And this is what I want to talk about. 

When we are feeling so overwhelmed that it’s hard to see which end is up, where to begin, there is a wounding to our sense of agency. It is a wound that strikes at the heart of who we are. Freedom is core to our sense of self, and it is vulnerable to the hard knocks of life. In some people, the wound grows into a full-fledged sense of helplessness, of passivity and fatalism.

In other people, the wound grows in the opposite direction and becomes a pattern of trying too hard, of carrying too many heavy things, of sheer denial that there should be anything beyond one’s control. The wound here is perfectionism.  

Some folks can even go in both directions at the same time. They feel positively helpless and also positively obligated to be the change maker. 

At the same time! 

Let’s start with the helplessness pole of things.  

If you are feeling overwhelmed and feeling gobsmacked, leveled, ground down, STOP. The feeling is real, but it is not true. There is still power at your command. 

You had power to show up tonight, to not be alone, to feel connected to something larger, to be helped. Sometimes that’s all we can do: simply to make ourselves available to sources of support. Reaching out to a friend to say, HELP. 

Coming to church to say, HELP. 

Beyond that, there is always enough power to re-establish some basic sense of agency. When you are feeling completely overwhelmed, this may not be the time throw yourself at huge social problems. It’s better to rediscover your center. This can happen in very basic ways. 

Establish regular routines of living. Morning routines, afternoon routines, evening routines. It could be anything. If you have a pet, they will teach you how. The point is, something as small as a daily routine can have ripple effects that make a person feel less wind-tossed and more solid, more there

Another thing I commend to you is the wisdom of the camel in the desert. Our days can be so full of personal issues, family issues, work issues, larger issues of injustice, on and on, and it’s not like we can just drop them all. We can’t. It’s like we are camels crossing a desert and it’s our job, but the sun is burning us, the heat is relentless, and the distance we have yet to go seems forever. So be like the camel, and make sure you schedule-in times at the oasis. Take time away. This includes real, dedicated time away from all forms of social media. Take time away from the news. Let your oasis time be a time for recovery, for restoration. Be like the camel. 

It’s about re-establishing a basic sense of agency, when you are feeling completely overwhelmed. So important. 

But now, what about that other dimension of the wound: feeling obligated to be the changemaker, to be the one who’s actions decisively turn things around–and if you aren’t doing that, then you feel guilty, you feel unworthy…. 

The underlying problem here is our social conditioning as middle-class Americans, or maybe just as Americans. The social conditioning I am talking about has been given various names over time: 

·      The Protestant Work Ethic

·      Radical Individualism

·      The American Dream

The essential idea here is that each individual person has the potential to create a world of happiness for themselves—however they may define that—but only if they work hard enough to earn it through their individual efforts. If they aren’t happy—if they don’t achieve what success looks like to them—then they must not have tried hard enough, and it’s their fault. 

From sea to shining sea, Americans are conditioned to believe this. 

The fly in the ointment is that there are plenty of problem Americans face which are way too big to be dented (forget about being transformed) by individual heroic action. Remember that list of problems I mentioned a moment ago? 

·      Gun violence

·      2nd anniversary of George Floyd’s murder May 25—police violence, racism, white supremacy

·      Abortion rights

·      War in Ukraine

·      Discrimination against LGBTQ+ community

·      Democracy in peril

·      Environmental crisis

·      Baby formula shortage

·      Don’t forget about Covid-19….

These are all problems whose causes have been in motion for a while now, if not generations. The momentum around them is huge, and they all reflect systems of oppression of one kind or another. For an individual person, in the face of any of these problems, to take upon themselves the obligation to be the change maker, is analogous to being a single baseball player taking on an entire baseball team. I don’t care how good you are individually. The worst team will beat you. It’s the difference between individual and collective action. 

My point here is that, because of our American conditioning, we put a success standard on ourselves that is in truth ridiculous, but it still has force in our conscience, and so when our individual action isn’t the change maker, we feel bad. We feel flawed, guilty, worthless.

The discomfort is reduced somewhat by momentary escape fantasies such as we see in superhero movies—movies about Superman and Captain Marvel whose individual agency always proves stronger than anything opponents throw their way…..

But when we leave that movie space, we are back to the world we know. We are back to our personal sense of helplessness. 

There is a solution here. It is to reimagine the nature of the power we do have to address systemic issues. The power we do have is the power of collective effort over time. 

This has been demonstrated by the power of the women’s movement which took more than 100 years to deliver the 19th amendment and women’s right to vote. 

It’s the same collective power behind the Civil Rights movement which led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act and more. 

Every time we vote, we act collectively. 

Every time we let our politicians know how we’re feeling, all the cumulative feedback takes on collective weight. 

In the face of social crises like gun violence, it’s time to stop giving our energy to the social conditioning that makes us feel like failures if we can’t function like social justice superheros. It’s time to stop that. It’s time to start acknowledging how to generate real power for change, which is collective power—each of us finding a way to do our part. 

I know—there’s so many problems to face. But part of the collective power paradigm is relying on others to be busy with the issue that they are passionate about, so you can be busy with the issue that you are passionate about. No one can do everything, but what is the one thing you can do? 

Edward Everett Hale, who was one of the most celebrated American authors and historians, who was also a Unitarian, blesses us today with words we really need to tattoo on our hearts: 

I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.

Right now, that something may be to re-establish daily routines so you are feeling less rocked by the winds of change. 

Right now, you being here may be this one thing you can do. 

Maybe some oasis time is long past due. 

And then, when you are feeling more centered, what is the problem area that compels you most of all? Gun violence? Women’s reproductive rights? The environment? You don’t have to do it all. And you don’t have to put on yourself the obligation to be a super hero. 

Just be yourself. Give what you can. 

Remember the women’s movement and its eventual success. 

Remember what the Civil Rights movement created. 

An issue like gun violence is going to take time and work—maybe over generations. I hope not. But maybe. 

At times like now, it’s going to feel impossible. 

But remember: the day before the Berlin Wall fell, that whole situation felt impossible. 

Then the next day happened. 

Change will happen. 

Believe it.