Eating Well: The Role of Hope in our Unitarian Universalist Lives
Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “Hope is a good breakfast but it is a bad supper.” While Hope springs eternal, what good is it if we don’t spring into action? In this sermon, Mark will explore the relationship between Hope and Action and share his thoughts on our responsibility as Unitarian Universalists to engage in both.
Mark Bernstein has been a member of UUCDC for 25 years. He is a former staff member of the Central East Region of the UUA and currently works as Adjunct Staff with congregations in our region. Mark has great hope that you will enjoy his sermon.
Sermon: "Eating Well: The Role of Hope in our Unitarian Universalist Lives"; Mark Bernstein
When I was a kid back in the 50s (I was maybe eight or nine years old), the one toy I wanted more than anything else in the world was an electric football game. I dropped subtle hints to my parents and spent the few months leading up to my birthday filled with hope that I would get this amazing gift. Does anyone remember this toy? It was made by Tudor Metal Products and it consisted of a metallic board decorated to resemble a football field, plus 22 little metal figures to place atop the field. Beneath the playing field was a motor, which caused the board to vibrate at the flip of a switch. These vibrations moved the players around the field (usually in all different directions). One of the players, the quarterback, had a moving arm and you would put this tiny cloth thing that was supposed to be a football in the arm and then launch it into play. I don’t remember the rules very well after all these years but chaos ensued on this metal board as a combination of magnetism and luck helped the football figures move the ball to and fro.
Now the game had a lot of problems. There was limited control over the players, the quarterback had as much accuracy and control in his throws as an infant, and the player figures would sometimes wobble around in circles if their bases became the slightest bit damaged. And after every play, it would take forever to set up all the figures in formation to run the next play.
So after about maybe two weeks of playing the game, I grew tired of it. It was tedious and not very exciting and I really wondered why I wanted the darn thing in the first place. Here, I had hoped and hoped for weeks leading up to my birthday and the result was disappointing. My life hadn’t changed and I kind of wasted a good birthday present.
I tell you this opening story to point out that, while our lives are filled with hope, while hope is so essential to our being, sometimes hope hurts. Sometimes hope disappoints.
Now I realize that giving a sermon on Hope is not supposed to start out this way. I’m really okay with Hope. It gets us through difficult times; it helps us to get up in the morning; it enables us, as Desmond Tutu wrote. “…to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” And Martin Luther King counseled us on “accepting finite disappointment, but never losing infinite hope.” And then, of course, there is Woody Allen, commenting on the famous Emily Dickenson poem Hope is the Thing with Feathers, who famously said, “How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not "the thing with feathers." The thing with feathers has turned out to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich.”
The absence of Hope, I believe, is not hopelessness. It is desolation. Without Hope, we give up. We resign ourselves to an existence devoid of joy and wonder and faith and, yes, electric football games. The Unitarian Universalist minister, Rev. Diane Dowgiert, in a 2016 sermon, wrote, “It is the nature of hope to rise. It lifts our spirits. It buoys us when despair threatens to drag us down.”
So I’m good with Hope. But here’s the thing: Hope alone is not enough. Hope needs action and action needs Hope!! And that is the center point of my talk with you this morning. Hope and action are linked in an eternal dance that all human beings engage in. And we, as Unitarian Universalists, dance as well. Our faith calls us to be positive and optimistic and to believe in the promise of a better world. Our principles compel us to take action to realize that world. Hope and action. They need each other.
There is, of course, the kind of Hope that does not involve action, those things over which we have no control. For example, I hope that the Phillies win the World Series this year. I hope that the Eagles win the Super Bowl again next year. I hope that my great aunt recovers from the effects of her fall. I hope that we don’t get a lot of snow next winter.
But for most of the things that we hope for in our lives, the unwillingness or inability to take action leaves us empty or disappointed or simply inert. Hence the quote from Sir Francis Bacon: “Hope is a good breakfast but it is a bad supper.” We begin our day with hope, full of promise, and it feeds and nourishes us as we go about our lives, but in the end, if all we are left with is hope, it provides for a meager feast to end our day. If Hope floats, it does so only when it is followed by action. Hope is wishing on a star. Action is making our wishes come true.
Again, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. We need Hope in our lives, if only as a catalyst. Hope rises out of a yearning, a cry for something new or better. As Moltmann tells us in the opening reading, “hope causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in [all of us].”
So Hope is the starting point that spurs us to action. One hopes to repair a broken marriage and so one seeks marital counseling. Another hopes to take that long awaited vacation in Hawaii and so seeks a second job over the holidays to earn extra income. A third hopes for a return to normalcy and morality in our nation’s capital and so seeks to run for office or demonstrates in the streets or canvasses door to door or donates money to a political campaign. Still another hopes to lose weight and so joins a gym or Weight Watchers or simply walks around the high school track a couple of times each night.
Hope, in order to mean something, has to be tangible. It needs to impact on our lives and the lives of others in a way that makes a difference. Theologian Paul Wadell puts it this way: “Hope has to be seen to be believed. It has to be made visible. It has to be something we can feel and touch. We are called to be persons who embody hope for one another. We have to be each other’s partners in hope.”
And if Hope inspires action, doesn’t it follow that action inspires hope? The author and activist Cornel West, along with a colleague Roberto Unger, contend that Hope is not the condition or cause of action, but rather that Hope is the consequence of action. As West and Unger see it, when we lose Hope, we take action, and that restores our sense of Hope in a better world, or a better life, or a better tomorrow. So maybe this interrelationship of Hope and Action is not linear, but rather circular. I Hope, I act, I have renewed Hope, I act again, and so on.
In the late 1990’s, I was burned out in a job that I had held for 13 years. I was hoping for something to change: my tyrannical boss would get off my back; my problem employees would decide to go work for another agency; my energy and creativity would suddenly return. I was in a rut and I was very unhappy. When I realized that hope alone was not going to get me out of this, I decided to take action. I was invited by a member of this congregation, one Mary Clinton, to attend a self-improvement seminar conducted by a group called Landmark Forum. The seminar lasted all weekend and it was intense. As a result of that experience, I looked at myself and my life and my values in an entirely new way. I was given renewed hope that I could find my calling and that it wasn’t too late to make a difference in the world. A few months later, filled with hope, I left my job and started my own business. That led me to adventures I never would have dreamed possible, including seven exciting and life changing years as a staff member of the Unitarian Universalist Association. My hope called me to act and taking action gave me renewed hope which, in turn, inspired me to take even more action.
As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to translate our hope into action. It is part of our legacy. UU leader Takiyah Amin reminds us that Unitarian Universalism calls us to work toward building a sustainable, equitable context for all of us to live and thrive. If we embrace and believe in our principles, we can’t sit idly by in the absence of those ideals in our society. And Amin challenges us with this statement: “If you aren’t called to act in, on and through our principles, maybe you shouldn’t call yourself a Unitarian Universalist.” It’s kind of like asking the metaphysical question, “If a Unitarian Universalist falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound?”
In today’s deeply troubling and disturbing world, where the stakes are so high, we cannot just hope that things get better. We need to follow up that hope with action. For my part, I am actively involved in the campaign of Jennifer O’Mara, who is running for State Representative in my district and attempting to flip a district that has been Republican for longer than most of us can remember. I have also been working with an interfaith organization in Delaware County called FUSE, the Fellowship of Urban Suburban Engagement. Its purpose is to deepen relationships across racial, ethnic, religious and geographic lines and to create a shared sense of destiny and purpose among all people in the city of Chester and the surrounding suburbs. Specifically, FUSE, and an affiliate organization, Making a Change Group, is working to improve the lives of those who live in Chester, one of the most impoverished and dangerous cities in the five county Philadelphia area. Chester represents 6% of the total population in Delaware County, yet accounts for 75% of the homicides each year. I know that I can’t just hope that things will get better in Chester. I need to put my hope into action through participation in community events, donating money to the cause, and working with the Fuse steering committee to develop a strategic plan as they move forward with their important work.
I believe that all of us, as Unitarian Universalists, need to figure out how we’re going to dance this dance with Hope and action. It is a decision that we can only make for ourselves. For me, while not a particularly good dancer, I will attempt at least to stay on the dance floor. To hope for better things…and to do what I can to make things better. And now that I think about it, I might still have that electric football game in my attic. I’ll have to get it down and give it another try. I hope it’s up there.