Lately, the news has left my head is spinning. So many things are competing for our attention, each more dire than the last. Banning books, forbidding abortions, teachers being forced to take down signs that promote equal rights, and more. All of this is happening in Florida, a place that I am more and more embarrassed to admit is my home.
Like many Republican leaders, my governor has aspirations for higher office. In fact, the highest office in the land. To prove that he’s the right man for the job he has instituted laws that trample the right of teachers to acknowledge that there are LGBTQ people in the world, including themselves. As one female high-school teacher said to me recently, “If my students ask me what I did this weekend, I can no longer say that my wife and I went to the farmers’ market.”
The effects of the “don’t say gay” law echo throughout our school system. Books that mention gay or trans characters are banned from schools and school libraries. School administrators are bowing to the demands of noisy disrupters who turn school board meetings into shouting matches. Their stated goal is to overturn democratic processes, not protect children.
Students who choose to wear masks have been mocked publicly by the governor, despite the fact that covid continues to spread and many families have immuno-compromised members. And a local gay high school valedictorian has been warned that the microphone will be turned off and graduation cancelled if he mentions anything having to do with gay rights.
But those of you who live elsewhere shouldn’t feel too smug. Attempts to limit our democratic rights are raging across the nation. Our LGBTQ neighbors, friends, and family members fear that they are being forced back into the closet by others who seem to want to deny their very existence.
Antisemitism is worse than ever. Abortion rights are being threatened in a majority of states. Replacement theory is becoming mainstream, including in a Republican lawmaker’s advertisements.
Don’t know what replacement theory is? You might have heard of it this week, because the boy who drove 200 miles to shoot Black people in Buffalo subscribes to it. He believes that Blacks, Jews, and immigrants are trying to push “normal” white people like him aside. Similar misguided thinking led a gunman to this week enter a church attended by Taiwanese immigrants and kill one person before being wrestled to the ground by the pastor and parishoners.
None of this includes the Russian war on Ukraine that has caused untold damage and millions of refugees. The fear that it might spill over into other European nations is real.
And then of course there is Covid. The past two years have been hard on everyone. So much isolation. So much stress. So many deaths. What’s worst is that we don’t know when it will end, or if it will end.
All of this begs the question: How does a decent human being even get out of bed in the morning? How do we go about our everyday lives with so much turmoil all around?
The amazing truth is that in many ways some of us are flourishing. My small congregation reinvented ourselves through Covid and we are now stronger than ever. New members have stepped forward into leadership roles. Longtime members reengaged. Others stayed engaged and involved throughout the pandemic. Although some stayed away for a variety of reasons, many took advantage of the new communal opportunities we’re offering and are happy and connected.
During Covid we were forced to move out of the community center where we’d rented for over a decade, and found a new home in a church that offered us a permanent sanctuary, something we’ve never had.
Congregants are calling each other up. They’re coming to picnics after Saturday services, even if they didn’t come to the service. They’re making suggestions, and helping make their ideas become reality.
Our new sanctuary was created by many hands, many different people who helped make it a warm, welcoming, and deeply spiritual place of worship and gathering. This isn’t luck and it wasn’t an accident. It happened because people cared and stepped forward, sometimes stepping out of their comfort zones. They decided to rise above the pandemic, the zoom services, the lack of a home, the uncertainty.
Most remarkably, we have members who are zooming in to services and classes, even though they haven’t been back in Sarasota for over two years. Even though some of them never plan to come back to Sarasota.
They have remained members, are still paying dues and making donations, are still active and engaged in our community. It speaks volumes about what I have begun to call “our small but mighty congregation.”
There is so much that is wrong with the world around us. But I cannot despair. Not knowing that my little congregation has overcome the odds. If we can do it on a small scale, so can the greater community. One problem at a time, one group of motivated, caring, dedicated people at a time.
I’m not saying it will be easy. But it is possible to achieve the impossible.