Tough times

Tough times

We progressives are prone to believing progress is a lot easier than it is.
Peter Morales
UUA President Peter Morales
UUA President Peter Morales (Nancy Pierce/UUA)
© Nancy Pierce/UUA


It was a rough summer. As I write this column (in early September), I look back on the killing of an unarmed young African American, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. I recall the violence in Gaza, the conflict in Ukraine, and the umpteenth postponement of any action on immigration reform. Given the time gap between writing this column and your reading it, there will likely be some new soul-wrenching news on our minds.

If all this were not more than enough to sap our spirits, there is always the cancerous growing divide between the ridiculously wealthy and the rest of us. And I just saw news that the carbon in the atmosphere that contributes to global warming is up dramatically. The climate change crisis is accelerating.

It would be easy, and a temptation, to lose hope. And to lose perspective. We progressives are, I believe, especially prone to a couple of “sins” that do us great harm. We are susceptible to two shortcomings that can sap our spirits.

First, we are given to believing progress is a lot easier than it is. We think we have won a grand victory when we have won a skirmish. This leaves us prone to become disheartened when the next skirmish goes against us. We get a good election result or a favorable court ruling and think that great moral arc of the universe has shifted dramatically in our favor.

We religious liberals have a long history of underestimating the power of evil in the world. Evil, born of fear, ignorance, and petty tribalism, is resilient and cunning. Greed, racism, violence, and fundamentalism are passionate and persistent. We underestimate their power at our peril.

Our second “sin” is to take the short view. Think back two hundred years—a mere blink of time in human history. Two hundred years ago slavery in America was the law of the land and expanding. Women could not vote and had few basic human rights. Heaven help you if you were gay or lesbian or Native American or a Jew. Try to imagine life for the typical person in India, or Africa, or South America, or Japan, or even Europe.

When I find myself getting discouraged, I try to think of people like Susan B. Anthony, who worked for decades to win the right of women to vote and yet never voted herself. I take inspiration from all of the people who worked for decades to end slavery. They could have given up, but they did not. The work of bringing justice to our world is a marathon, not a sprint.

Alone, we will get exhausted and discouraged. Alone, we will lose hope. Alone, we feel powerless.

Actually, alone we are powerless. This is why we need our religious communities, our congregations. Together we can remind ourselves that we are part of a great tradition not only of hope, but of historic victories. Just look at what has happened on the issue of marriage equality in the last few years. Together, we can console ourselves in trying times and draw strength from one another.

Are you feeling discouraged by the hatred, injustice, and violence in our world? Go to church! Really. Are you bummed out? Volunteer to do something that heals the world and feeds your soul.

The fact that evil is persistent and resourceful is why we need life-affirming communities like our UU congregations. This is why we need institutions like our Association. Together we give one another strength. Together we become strong. Together we help bend the long arc of the universe toward justice and compassion.

This article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of UU World (page 5).