In our religious tradition, we open our Sunday services with the lighting of a chalice. Different UU churches have different rituals around this, but at Jefferson Unitarian, a congregant is invited to share a personal reflection on that week’s topic before lighting the chalice. I was given the honor this week, along with this description for inspiration: “In 1911, President Woodrow Wilson wisely observed: A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about. When celebrating our country’s declaration of its own independence from England, we recall the vision cast, as well as the shadow often overlooked that finds its way into the troubling voter suppression efforts.”
This was my chalice lighting:
In 2007, America had been involved in what I felt was an unjustified war, and it appeared the economy was in serious trouble. Hoping to move in a new direction, I did something I had not done before. I volunteered for the Colorado Democratic Party, going door to door through one of the poorest corridors in Jefferson County to register voters.
It felt very noble at first, knocking on doors of qualified citizens who had been marginalized, unable to exercise their rights in a free and democratic society. Then I knocked on the door of a disabled man who invited me into his tiny, disheveled apartment. I assured him that he could vote by mail, that his lack of mobility would not prevent him from casting his ballot. He told me that he whether or not he voted would depend upon the outcome of the primaries: Using a despicable racial slur, he said he’d never vote for Barack Obama because “everyone ought to own one, but never vote for one.”
Sick to my stomach, I handed him the voter registration form, because I wasn’t there to register people whom I deemed worthy of voting. I was there to give everyone—everyone—a voice.
I have recently witnessed the impassioned voices of parents, students, and teachers fall on deaf ears at local school board meetings. This matters, because the only hope we have in a world where some people, like it or not, vote based on ignorance, is to have as few ignorant voters as possible. Citizens must understand where our democracy has come from, knowing all that is worthy of pride in our history and all that is deserving of our chagrin. They must understand real science, and experience the religious freedom envisioned by our founders. These things are vital to education and to an informed electorate.
Sometimes, I imagine Thomas Jefferson, for whom our county and our church are named, attending a school board meeting. I’m sure there would be some disagreement about which side Mr. Jefferson would take, but I think he’d be proud of the fight. He would see in this conflict the active democracy to which he and his colleagues mutually pledged their Lives, their Fortunes and their sacred Honor.
I light this chalice in the hope that we will all be engaged.