Spring, River, Well, Fountain

A reading from Exodus 15. 19 – 21 (Everett Fox translation)

19  For Pharaoh’s horses came with (their) chariots and riders into the sea,
but YHWH turned back the sea’s waters upon them,
and the Children of Israel went upon the dry-land
through the midst of the sea.

20  Now Miryam the prophetess, Aharon’s sister, took a timbred in her hand,
And all the women went out after her, with timbrels and with dancing.

21  Miryam chanted to them:
Sing to YHWH, for he has triumphed, yes, triumphed, 
the horse and its charioteer He flung into the sea!

Spring, River, Well, Fountain

The prophetess Miryam did not just ponder what she thought was right; did pass a resolution among her clan; did not just write a poem (sorry, potets0; but with a whole crowd of women friends, grabbed her tambourine, put on her dancing shoes, and celebrated, body and soul, their deliverance.  The angel-of-death had passed over them, over them all, known by the marking of blood; and together they had passed through a water –a mighty water, a dangerous water—they passed through a water protected by what had called them, what had made them a people, what had led them to liberation and would sustain them in their maturity.  Waters had opened up to them that they might pass through the waters, might be born anew, as it were, no longer slaves, but free, and seeking home.

            Water would continue to mark Miryam the prophet’s story water, so essential in the wilderness; not unlike the water placed in the desert by friends who would give water and thus life to travelers in harm’s way; but water that would bubble up in wells which seemed to follow Miryam wherever she went.  Jewish composer Debbie Friedman wrote a song about “The Water in the Well.”

Oh, the water in the well,
And the healing in the well,
The women and the water
And the hope that’s in the well.

            When this song was performed in Boston in the convention center, women and children leapt to their feet to dance their joy.  And why not?  A celebration of Miryam is a celebration of water and a celebration of life.

            And years later, when Miryam died?  The whole community was thrown into a tailspin. Miryam’s life meant water and wholeness and healing; Miryam’s death meant thirst, and panic, and division, and anger.  Miryam’s big brother Moshe—sometimes we call him Moses—was so angry, that he struck a stone with his staff…and what emerged?  Water!  Adonai, disappointed at Moshe’s anger, would tell him e would not enter the promised Land; yet Adonai’s knew the people’s need, and gave them water.

            One of my favorite places to visit in Washington DC is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial near the Tidal Basin.  You may know it:  a series of open air rooms that chart the four terms of FDER’s presidency. Those were tumultuous times in our nation’s story, and the differences between the Depression, and the New Deal, the growing threat of authoritarianism and our entry in world War II, and then his death—these are all captured in water that moves or sits still: a fountain it is, and a stream; a tidal pool, and a reflecting basin.  These waters share the shape of our nation’s heartache and hope.

            I love the memorial as a memorial, but I love FDR because of the New Deal.  A grand scheme that would set in motion a shared public understanding for half a century; that there is a social contract that we share, one that guarantees freedoms, that gives social security to those living in poverty, and promises, however incompletely, opportunity for many.  That the wealthiest among us might accept a burden for us all—you might remember that many considered him a traitor to his social class—and that government might be trusted to deliver something to working people of all kinds.

            I love FDR because I love thinking big.  I wonder, do we need big thinkers now?

            The New Deal has been being dismantled for thirty years, now.  I wonder, do we need a New Deal?  Might we have a Green New Deal?

Sam Adler-Bell, writing in the New Republic, shared this:

Jim Crow was the law of the land for 80 years, undergirding the architecture of social and political life in the American south.  How did organizers with SNCC, SCLC, CORE, and others manager to topple it in less than a decade?  How did ACT UP change the public perception of AIDS from a disease whose victims were scorned and blamed for their suffering to a public health crisis demanding federal interventions?  And why, despite over a decade of increasingly deadly hurricanes, droughts, monsoons, and heat waves, has no movement arisen with sufficient power to topple the cabal of fossil fuel billionaires who are largely responsible for the climate crisis?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets much of the credit for bringing the Green New Deal into the mainstream.  She visited Pelosi’s office during the sit-in[of Pelosi’s office by environmental activities in November], and in the following weeks, her staff collaborated with Justice Democrats, the progressive electoral outfit started by veterans of the Bernie Sanders campaign, to draft a policy proposal veterans of the Bernie Sanders campaign, to draft a policy proposal for a GND.  But the plan truly owes its swift rise to a grassroots climate organization called Sunrise Movement, launched a year and half ago by twelve young organizers—refugees from more mainstream climate organizations like sierra Club and 350.org, and veterans of fossil fuel divestment and anti-pipeline campaigns.

Unlike more traditional environmental groups—which have long pushed for incremental, market-based reforms to mitigate the crisis—Sunrise doesn’t intend to appeal to elite opinion or sway elite institutions.  Defeating climate change, Sunrise’s leaders have come to believe, will require a massive reordering of the U.S. economy—away from free-market fundamentalism and toward something fairer and more democratic.  If they succeed, they may not only dramatically shift the policies of climate change, but also provide a new model for grassroots organizing in America.

Oh, the water in the well,
And the healing in the well,
The women and the water
And the hope that’s in the well.

            What would a Green New Deal mean in Baltimore? If we are able to turn our nation toward a comprehensive public transportation policy, we could see real movement by the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition toward a regional transit system that would allow throughs of people to escape their neighborhoods of poverty and low opportunity and have access to new jobs in the green economy that would provide opportunity for all who want to work.  Our rundown rowhouses could be profited with green technology, and community creativity could be harnessed for new investment in one another.

            We need big dreams, these days, that will outshine the lure of simple, regressive, back-ward looking answers like making America “great” (I put that word in quotation marks!) in ways that were not great for all of us.  At the end of the second world war, Universalist theologian Clarence Skinner argues that we were in a moment where we could choose the older ways of tribalism and division, or we could forge a way ahead toward a new humanism, that would bring us all together to rebuild and to uplift.  “It is Universalism or perish,” he argued.

            “Universalism,” I respond; I respond; and I believe a Green New Deal would be part of directing America toward a new greatness. Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition—of the few Black-lead coalitions in our city—could help lead toward a Green New Deal which would allow Baltimore to move toward a new greatness.

            And what about our church?  In some ways, as we complete these Bicentennial years of looking backward, we are in a place where we could retreat toward a self-satisfaction based on who we’ve been, and even who ww are right now.  But I think that will not equip us for the future. We need to have clear sense of why it is we are moving tighter, and how it is we plan to go forward.  We have established a Strategic Planning Team to prepare and propose a plan for us to adopt in the near future.  Maggie Neely is heading up the effort to take the shared vision we adopted a year ago and se priorities, propose the assignment of resources, challenge ourselves to develop new resources and make decisions about things we should continue and things that we should end, and things we should try anew.

            I, myself, will be preaching, about once a month in the next three months, about my sense of what our Strategic Plan should contain,  How I think our facilities need to be reorganized so that our campus can be better used by us and more available to the community—that we see this not as our clubhouse, but as a public resource for the democracy our principles aver. How we need to get serious about our won contributions to sustain this church not only for today, but for the future. How we need to find more people to help fund this institution, and how we need to make this place a bigger financial priority for those who can afford us.  And how we can bring our governance and our ministries and our staff relations into increased effectiveness.  How we can become the intentional spiritual community we said we wanted to be when we last held an all-church conference.  How we might retain that vision but alter the ways we are with one another so that we might first become kinder with one another, more direct in our feedback, gentler with our criticism.

            How might we pursue what we want to be  a more inclusive community, “Mosaic Makers” building toward a multicultural future; a community of faith were we trust each other, trust our leaders, trust our processes, trust our ends.

            My intention in my preaching will be to suggest ways that I think we can grow together as a community; not easily, not without challenges; but simply, and with risk that is worth taking.  A Green New Deal on the outside might include a rainbow-colored new commitment on the inside to become a kinder, gentler and more effective people.  And my hope is that our interactions will include new fountains of inspiration, new rivers of communication, new springs of refreshment, and always the deep wells of wisdom which have long been the stuff of our being.

Oh, the water in the well,
And the healing in the well,
The women and the water
And the hope that’s in the well.

Blessed be. Ashe, ashe. Peace, Salaam, Shalom. I love you. Amen.