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Silent Inauguration Speaker: Confront Hate with Love

Photo copyright Robert A. Martin for Fredericksburg.Today.

Rev. Doug McCusker of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg, Virginia, was the keynote speaker at the Silent Inauguration in Hurkamp Park on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.

The event was organized to show Donald Trump “that many millions reject his divisive messages and wish to turn away from his words of hate and exclusion,” organizers said.

Following are Rev. McCusker’s complete remarks.

Good afternoon. It is so nice to be with you all today. It is such an honor to be invited to speak at a silent event. This is January, so I am grateful for the rain. It could be snowing. But we didn’t come here to the park for a leisurely walk or to smell the flowers. We are probably here for many reasons. But I will take a guess that one of them is to be in solidarity with others in our Fredericksburg community.

So, let’s take a moment to reach out our hands to the people standing next to us, and introduce ourselves. Say hello to your neighbors, your fellow citizens.

A presidential inauguration is a quintessential American event. It happens every four years and symbolizes the peaceful transition of power. Our democratic form of government is built on the presumption that no matter how an election turns out, the institution will prevail.

This should be a community gathering because “We the People” is what makes our government and our nation strong.

Most people in the country are probably not even paying attention. It’s just another day in their lives. Others are celebrating at the National Mall or watching on television. But you are here on a rainy afternoon because today is anything but an ordinary day. Something inside of you told you that you had to show up and be present.

Eight years ago, I was standing on the Mall in frigid weather filled with American pride. I felt a real connection with all the people around me, shivering in unison as our first African-American President took his oath of office. We were right in the middle of a serious economic crisis, a near disaster, and yet I was brimming with hope. I was cheering and clapping and making as much noise as I could.

That was then.

Right after this recent election, I was called to pastor to deep grief, anger and despair from some in my congregation. I carried it too. I fear for our planet, the poor and homeless, those without health insurance, immigrants, Muslims, the LGBTQI community, and for decent civility in the public square. But that fear is something that I want to leave behind in 2016. I want us to move beyond fear and despair and wake up to the agency that we all possess.

I look at you all and I have hope again. I can see that the real work begins not when everything is going our way, but when we realize that inaction is no longer an option. I am inspired by all the organizing that has been initiated by people who have never led a protest or a demonstration. I am seeing people get off their couches and turn out in the streets or in the park to confront hate with love. And we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

I wrote a poem about six years back, right after I started working at a homeless shelter in Alexandria. I was so moved by the experience that I felt something shift inside me. It is called “Boulders.” I’ve been thinking about that poem a lot these days.

It ought to be a requirement to graduate from life
that we must work in a shelter, or soup kitchen,
or be with a stranger upon their death,
or witness to a prisoner cut off from the world.

It is easy to judge people when we take away their faces,
and remove their voices so they can’t be heard.
We freeze our hearts like an ocean of ice
when we distance ourselves from those on the edge.

But when summer comes in the turning of our lives,
and a hidden world is revealed beneath our feet,
we must be willing to nudge the boulders we find
because justice never happens when we look away.

We are here because we can no longer look away. There are too many boulders lying around. We are called to embody what it means to be a community of presence. The work ahead will take many shoulders working together to move the boulders and clear the fields. And that is our source of hope. We are not alone, nor outnumbered when we choose to be present.

Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” That’s kind of ironic because we are here to make a statement with our silence. This is not the time or place to debate policy, but to simply be together and acknowledge the power that we possess when we turn out as a community.

In the days ahead, there will be plenty of opportunities to make a lot of noise. To speak out as one voice about things that matter. Perhaps tomorrow at the Women’s March on Washington. Or at a rally to protect the Affordable Care Act; Medicare and Social Security; or to protest the building of walls that separate us from our neighbors. But today, on this quintessential American day of transition, let us be silent in body, but not in spirit, as we renew our strength for the struggles ahead.

Please join me in a spirit of prayer.
Dear one, spirit of life and love, connective tissue of the universal flow of energy. Show us the way to peace and justice through compassion and understanding. Help us to see our common humanity in each of our fellow citizens. Enable us to respect and even lift up our differences while we break down the walls of division. We open our hearts in gratitude for this life, this planet, this nation and for all the abundance that sustains us. Let our silence speak volumes and our voices quiet nerves. Give us the strength to resist oppression in all its forms and to work toward a world community of love starting right here in our own neighborhood. In offer these words in the name of all that we hold holy within our hearts. Amen.

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