Jan 25 2012

December Theme: Hope The Discipline of Hope

Published by at 11:47 pm under Minister's Musings

The most powerful video from the Occupy movement that I have seen shows hundreds of students at the University of California Davis, sitting in silence in the dark, watching UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi walk to her car. The day before, campus police had pepper-sprayed students engaged in nonviolent protest. Since videos of that attack went viral, students, professors, and others have cried out for the chancellor’s resignation.

But on this evening the silence is broken only by the tap of the chancellor’s shoes on the pavement. Camera strobes light the path that students have cleared. Campus minister Rev. Kristin Stoneking performs the most profound of all ministerial functions: that of “walking with” the chancellor. Chancellor Katehi walks slowly, taking in the faces of the students. They meet her gaze steadily. It seems to take forever, that walk, those two and a half minutes of mutual witness. Each time I watch it, I hold my breath.

Some commentators have called this event Chancellor Katehi’s “walk of shame.” I think they are missing its true meaning. The students wanted face-to-face contact; they wanted “to see and be seen by the chancellor,” as Rev. Stoneking describes later. The chancellor agreed. The moment is profoundly humanizing on all sides. It embodies the power of hope—hope for understanding, for change, for reconciliation.

 “Why did I walk the Chancellor to her car?” Rev. Stoneking writes. “Because I believe in the humanity of all persons. Because I believe that people should be assisted when they are afraid. Because I believe that in showing compassion we embrace a nonviolent way of life that emanates to those whom we refuse to see as enemies and in turn leads to the change that we all seek.” 

Hope springs from such compassion. But hope takes the kind of discipline the students demonstrated with their silent, steady, peaceful witness.

Unitarian Universalism is a religion of hope. Hope in this world and of this world. But it is not a glib or easy hope; it must be earned through practice and experience.

My clergy study group, the Sparks for Growth, spent two days last week talking about the “core truths of Unitarian Universalism.” My friend the Rev. Chris Bell said, “We UUs have a positive view of evolution. We believe that things can, and should, and will get better.”

Really?” I said. “Isn’t that just too optimistic? Look at the persistence of violence, war, oppression, poverty, hunger, and plain old meanness.”

Ah, that’s where choice comes in, Chris and other colleagues reminded me. Unitarian Universalism is also a religion of choice. We humans are free, as individuals and as communities,  to choose how we live. We can choose to meet ourselves and each other face to face, with honesty, compassion, and a commitment to nonviolence. We can choose to walk this strobe-lit path through the evening’s dark.

This month we explore our own pathways to hope. Watch the video of Chancellor Katehi walking to her car at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8775ZmNGFY8. Read the whole of Rev. Kristin Stoneking’s blog, “Why I walked Chancellor Katehi out of Surge II” (Surge II is a UC Davis administrative building), at http://cahouse.org/Weblog/?p=160. And ask, What does this event say to you about the discipline of hope, about the possibility for reconciliation and healing? Where in your own life might the discipline of hope open the door to life-giving choices and second chances?


With gratitude that we walk this path together,

Rev. Nancy

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