A More Perfect Union

Wednesday, July 6, 2022
Featuring: Rev. Richard Rogers

Click HERE to download this transcript.

Click HERE to view Rev. Richard Rogers’ guided meditation during the service

There’s a Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” [Congregation laughs] It’s meant as a curse, right? And I don’t usually … I don’t usually curse from up here, but it’s … Try not to anyway!

But, my friends, I think it’s true, right? We live in an interesting time. There’s lots going on in the world today. And this talk; I got to rewrite it several times over the last couple of weeks. Because where I thought we were going to go a couple of weeks ago is not kind of where I ended up today. Because sometimes life is weird. [Congregation laughs] Has everybody had that experience once or twice in your life, where you thought you were going one direction and, you know, life kind of threw you a mickey? And you kind of ended up somewhere on a different bus?

So this week we celebrated our Independence Day. It was 246th anniversary of our independence from … our declaration of independence. It was years later before we actually had our independence. But it was that statement of faith that declared our independence. And I really want you to hear that: That it didn’t happen the moment they declared it.

Like, sometimes we get a little frustrated that we declare something spiritually in our life — where we declare a healing or we declare something in our life — and we think the moment we declare it, it should instantly materialize. Well, those things that are really of importance to us, we have to be willing to declare them, and then live into that declaration.

Here it is … at least the first two paragraphs:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

What I love about this statement — this declaration — is they said it out loud. Like, they were not mixing words; they were declaring their independence, and they wanted the whole world to know why. It wasn’t a quiet little overthrow or rebellion; they said it out loud for the whole world — for posterity — to hear their grievances. And there were 29 grievances. And they boiled down to kind of three major ideas.

The first one was that God made us equal, and gave us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The second basic point in the Declaration was that it is the main business to government to protect these rights. I want you to hear that! It is the main business of government to protect our rights.

And three: If a government tries to withhold these rights, then the people are free to revolt and set up a new government.

Their grievances were taxation without representation; religious freedom – that they didn’t want a state-sponsored church; they wanted separation of church of state; and justice for all. That all individuals had rights.

So when you think about the purpose of our country, what do you think the purpose of our country is? Why do you think … What do you think it is? If you had to put it in two or three words, what do you think the purpose of our country is?

In the Preamble of the Constitution, we read this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union …

Because I believe that’s it! I believe in the first sentence the purpose of our country was clearly stated in our Constitution. That the purpose of our country: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union.” That for the last 246 years, we have been in this journey of forming a more perfect Union.

And I place the … I put the Declaration of Independence out on my Facebook page on the 4th of July. And there was a lot of blowback from people. “Well, it didn’t include this group” or, “It didn’t include women” or, “It didn’t …” And it’s like, Yes! Yes; you’re right!

It was the very best … It’s an amazing document, but it’s not a perfect document. There is this evolution of consciousness that wanted to continue to grow and express. And they were committed to this central idea that the work of all of us that would follow after them was to create a more perfect Union. It wasn’t over at that point; the Constitution we have amended over and over again, because it was the best that they could do at the time. But it’s not over! Our job, over and over and over again, is to create this more perfect Union.

So let me read the whole Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Anybody who tells you that that document was full and complete when it was created over 200 years ago missed the whole point. That those individuals who created and established this country knew that it would always be a work in progress. And we can’t — as citizens of this great country — shy away from that it is a work in progress. That we’re always in the process of forming a more perfect Union. That’s our job! And none of us get to kind of walk away from that. If we do, it’s on our own demise.

If we don’t take that responsibility seriously in all the ways that we can move this game forward, you know; it’s our job to move the game forward. To vote. To be socially active. To do what it takes to move into a greater form. A more perfect Union.

Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. And it’s one of the shortest addresses by any president ever. It is 272 words. I’m not even getting warmed up in 272 words. [Congregation laughs] Right? 272 words! Please! Come on: 272 words; the whole speech was 272 words!

And I want to share it with you now, because it is so good:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Is that stunning? That’s a stunning statement.

In November 1872, nine years later — just nine years later! — Susan B. Anthony voted in the presidential election. Two weeks later, she was arrested. She was indicted and Anthony gave her famous “On Women’s Right to Vote” speech. In the speech, she invoked the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, pointing out in the address, “We the people … not we, the male citizens.” [Congregation laughs]

She argued that those countries that denied women the right to vote were oligarchies. At the end, she challenged her detractors to answer the question: Are women persons?

During the trial, Anthony was unable to testify on her own behalf, since women were not allowed to testify because they were considered incompetent. I want you to hear that! That they were not allowed … She was not allowed to speak on her own behalf, because she was a woman. Instead, her lawyer presented her argument.

She was convicted of casting an illegal vote, fined $100 dollars. And Anthony refused to pay the fine, stating, “May it please Your Honor, I will never pay a dollar to your unjust penalty. Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

The trial allowed Anthony to disseminate her arguments in support of women’s suffrage to a much larger audience. Her speech and her continued advocacy for women’s rights paved the way for Congress to eventually ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920, which gave women the right to vote.

Exactly 100 years after Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg address, Dr. Martin Luther King — in the shadows of the Lincoln memorial — gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. It was August 28, 1963. And I want to share just two little sections of his speech:

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice e is bankrupt.

See, our job is to take what we’re given and create a more perfect Union. That, over and over and over again, what we were handed was the best they could do. But our role — our responsibility — is to create a more perfect Union. To move the game forward.

See, this country is a “team sport.” It is! It’s a team sport! It’s not one person. No matter who you vote for, they are not going to save us. It’s up to us! It’s “we the people.” We have to move the game forward. We have to live in the tension of this country. And for many of us, we know the tension. And the tension is a celebration of all that is good and wonderful and noble with the tension of … and yet, we’re not done. That there are areas in our country — and there are aspects of our country — where we are not finished yet. Where we are called into a higher responsibility.

I heard Roger Teel — the past senior minister of Mile Hi Church — one time say that there are “4 C’s” when it comes to really looking at moving our country forward. And he called it “4 C-ing a more perfect Union.” And as corny as it is, I just loved it! Right?

And those 4 C’s: the first one is Caring.

And, you know, with all that’s going on in our world today, it would be easy for us to be pessimistic. It would be easy for us to say, “There is no way this is ever going to change.” I’ve heard those that say, “Are we moving to New Zealand or Australia? Will somebody decide?”

But for our country to fulfill its purpose, we must care! We must care about each other; we must care about our country; and we must care about what our country becomes.

Adlai Stevenson, in an address to the American Legion Convention in Madison Square Garden in New York City, August 27, 1952 …

Now, to give you some historical context, Adlai Stevenson was getting shellacked in the polls by Dwight D. Eisenhower. And when they invited Adlai Stevenson to come to speak in New York at the Madison Square Garden to a group of veterans, it … [Laughs] It took a lot of courage even to show up! Right? Because Eisenhower was, by far, the lead candidate. And Adlai Stevenson said this paragraph that I think is worth repeating:

It was always accounted as a virtue in a man to love his country. With us it is now something more than a virtue. It is a necessity, a condition of survival. When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, or the prairies glistening in the sun, or the wide and rising plains, or the great mountains and the sea. It means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw of self-respect.

See, when you’re in the game — when you’re doing your part; when you’re doing everything you know how to do to move your country forward — you can have self-respect in that. Even if it’s not perfect — even if it’s not exactly the way you would want it! But just the fact that you’re in the game is a level of self-respect.

So the first thing I want you to do is: I want you to Care.

The second thing I want you to see … The second “C” is Contemplation.

Living in this country requires that we think deeply and honestly. It requires that we think deeply and honestly about our country. And to be willing to become conscious about those things that we might have been unaware of.

See, there’s a difference between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism is kind of expressed in the bumper sticker that says, “Love it or leave it.” That the idea of nationalism: that you have to be all in.

But patriotism says that you can actually see what needs to be changed or transformed, and still be in;  still be a part of it. That there’s things that we need to see. We need to be able to look at the systematic racism that still exists. We need to be willing to look at the homelessness crisis in our country. We need to look at the gun violence, and why we’re killing each other, and especially our children. And the prison industry: that more Americans are in jail in this country than any developed country in the world. The environmental concerns. That wealth is concentrating around fewer and fewer people. I mean, there’s some things that we need to look at! And, as we look at those things, we can make choices.

So the first one is: I want you to Care. The second one: I want you to be in a time of Contemplation. To really look at what’s going on.

And three: I want you to Conspire together.

The word “conspire” actually, in its root sense, means to breathe together. Like, for us to move forward, it’s not a solo mission. It is a group project. Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” We need to conspire together; we need to vision together; we need to work together. This country deserves it!

And the fourth is that we need to Commit. And recommit to a more perfect Union.

There’s a book. Dr. Rachel Remen wrote a book entitled, Kitchen Table Wisdom. And there’s a story that she tells in this book about her own mother. And I’m going to share it with you, because it’s …

Two days before my mother’s 80th birthday, I asked her how she wanted to spend the day. “I want to climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty,” she replied.

“Isn’t there an elevator?” I asked.

My mother looked at me. “I want to climb the stairs,” she said.

She had lived in New York City for most of her 80 years, but she had never had that experience. She clearly remembered her first view of Lady Liberty when she sailed into New York Harbor from Russia. She had been five years old.

Now, of course, she had a severe heart condition, and there were 342 steps to the top. Undaunted, I realized we could do it three or four steps at a time, and rest in between. And we would take her nitroglycerin and simply allow the whole day. When I proposed this to Mom, she was delighted.

During the six-hour ascent, I had many misgivings. How had I gotten into this crazy thing, climbing the Statue of Liberty with an 80-year-old woman with severe heart disease? But it was her wish and so we continued, a few steps at a time. She may have had angina, but she also had an iron will.

See, this country demands that we not be lazy: lazy in our thinking; lazy in our commitments; lazy in our outlook; lazy in our belief that the world can be better place; for us doing our inner work. We can’t go back to some yesterday. We’re here to build a more perfect Union.

So what’s your role? What’s my role? Well, sometimes it means that we are politically active. Sometimes we means we sign petitions. Sometimes we actually allow ourselves to know what the issues are. Sometimes we actually get ourselves out to the voting booth and we vote. Because if we’re going to be and create a more perfect Union, nobody’s going to do it for you. Nobody’s going to do it for us. No one we elect is going to do our job. It’s “we the people.” And when we, the people, stand together, there’s nothing we can’t do.

Today, this is an interesting time where, in so many ways, we look like we are a country divided. One of the things I’ve always loved about this ministry is that we have people in this ministry that voted for Biden and would vote for Biden again. We have people in this ministry that voted for Trump and would vote for Trump again. And somehow, we stand together. We made it through the pandemic. We made it through every issue, because we are stronger together.

Will you pray with me?

Tonight I invite you to open your mind, your heart, your soul to a greater experience of truth. To the power that we have as Americans. For the responsibility that we have as Americans to form a more perfect Union. Tonight I’m going to invite you to hold that in prayer. God, lead us and guide us and direct us to a more perfect Union. To a country that works for all of us. For a country that fulfills our deepest understandings: that we are for every person. That we stand for the highest and the best for all of us. That there are issues before us, but God is greater. So in the name and through the power of the Living Christ, we give thanks. And so it is. Amen.

Copyright 2022 Unity of Phoenix Spiritual Center/Rev. Richard Rogers                                    

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Phone: (602) 978-3200

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