SERMON: Mother’s Day: Could Your Mother Really Be President? DATE: May 11, 2008 SPEAKER: Rev. Tim Ashton TRANSCRIBER: David Irvin We complain, often I think, of our complex society, as we call it. We complain especially about gadgets and technology. But I maintain, human life has always been complex. The important difference today is that we acknowledge the complexity of our lives, particularly our emotional and personal lives. Particularly on Mother’s Day, it is important to think about the complexity of our emotional and relational experience. Are we all having the same Mothers Day experience? Of course, not. Particularly today I want to recognize the different experiences we have as part of our personal complexity. Today we do not require people to stuff it in and try to look normal. Do not make the assumption that everyone else is being all happy and good and you’re sitting there and thinking, “I’m all by myself, abnormal.” But before I get into that I want to say the illusion of normal experience, it is important and a central part of this special day, to recognize and to appreciate motherhood and mothering. And to thank our particular mothers and the mothering people who are in our lives. There is no doubt, the mother-child bond is crucial to the survival and wellbeing of children. And I suspect any number of us could tell our stories of sacrificial love, enduring love, persistent love, love when it seems entirely foolish, which has salvaged us along the way, from one difficulty or another. There is also no doubt that there is Mom, the model, who lives inside of us; Mom, the very compass of our lives; Mom, the person who laid the template for doing so many things, approaching the world, and caring for others as she cared for us -- Mom is the person who forms these images and structures of our being. While mere magnitude is hardly the measure of things, it is in a sense, no surprise, that Mother’s Day is the 3rd biggest holiday, measured in commercial terms. Tens of millions of roses are given to her; hundreds of millions of cards are sent. And multibillions of dollars are offered up as presents, and rightly so. Now back to the diversity issue: it’s also important to remember who is out there on this Mother’s Day. Maybe Mother’s Day is a time when you particularly struggle with child tragedies and challenges. The death of children; diseases, their birth with different abilities, angry children, hostile kids, runaways, mental illness. Who knows what we are struggling with? Or maybe it’s fertility issues or maybe you’re hoping an adoption will come through. Or maybe you’re having that contemplation many preadoptive parents have: just how much capacity do I have to deal with what pre-existing difficulties in what child? What is fair to me and what is fair to that child? Or are you one of the many living in so-called nontraditional family arrangements? Maybe you never had a mother. Maybe you were raised entirely by a dad. Maybe you’re a dad’s who’s mom. Maybe you are a couple of dads or moms. Who knows? Maybe it is just the pain of the fact that your relation with your mother wasn’t great. It came as a shock, I probably was in my 40s, my Aunt Evy said to me the one sentence I can ever remember her saying about my mother’s family: “I don’t think our mother was a very good mother,” she said. “And Aunt Stella was rigid.” Aunt Stella was her mother’s childless but married sister who often helped with the children. And there it ended, but oh what volumes it spoke. So if you are sitting there saying “Maybe I didn’t really like Mom”, you’re not alone. And maybe you’ve spent ages and ages in therapy trying to put yourself together. Bless you. And trust me, there are many of us in just that situation. I join you. This is why Joys and Sorrows can be very important. Briefly, we tell a little bit about what is happening to us and most particularly, what is really focally important. When we hear these confessions, it reminds us we are not suffering and struggling alone – aloneness which is often the most terrible part of suffering. Further, when people tell their sorrows, don’t feel bad about telling your joys. It reminds us, life can be different. We will dig our way out of this hole and find joy, too. And we remember that we also have experienced joy. I don’t think I figured out my mother until I was in my 30s. Being a budding psychologist, I decided that she was a borderline personality, given to rage fits. This made life a little chaotic in my growing up home. She used to see herself as persecuted by my father, but as I began to get my little psychological brain going, I began to see this was a system. There was also a little goading going on. As I thought about her over the years, I began to see her as a tragedy of the Pre-Liberation Woman: she was trying to stuff herself into a pattern she thought she was supposed to follow. But it was a pattern that didn’t fit her. She tried to live through her husband, but that didn’t work to her satisfaction. Though my father always brought home a good paycheck, he didn’t advance in the company to her imaginings, so she was thwarted. Then she tried living through her three sons and, bit by bit, each one of us failed. As her failure began to seem more and more insurmountable, she did what psychologists would call decompensate. As I see it, she expired at age of 62 of a cardiac rage. For her, marriage and sex was a trap. No doubt, if she had gotten into liberation, lived in a different age, I wouldn’t be here, but she would have been a dramatically different person. So I say to all of you out there, however you are struggling, suffering, wondering or confused, you have a place here. You are not alone. And if you are filled with joy, we are thrilled to, that you bring that life into this room into the full expression of our humanness. Mother’s Day is complex. It is historically complex. Because it is complex, this whole mothering, motherhood and being mothered is complex, because it is part of our very being. And intriguingly, the three historic expressions of Mother’s Day, express three major dimensions of motherhood. The earliest one usually noted is Annie Jarvis’ Mother’s Day of Service, which had its liberating edge. “Women, let’s get out in the community and improve things.” They worked on projects such as cleaning up the community, public health issues, sewers, sanitation. Well, if you’re going to go to all this trouble to raise these children, why just stand by and watch them go out into a community where they’ll catch some perfectly preventable disease. Public health, we know, has saved more lives than modern medicine. It is all too easy to forget the brutal scourges of communicable diseases that went through 19th century American cities. Then there was Julia Ward Howe. She’s our Unitarian Universalist. She was an abolitionist and advocate of the Civil War until she saw what a brutal, pointless, barbaric, unending carnage that war was. Such a humanly planned disaster was unacceptable as a way to solve our problems however grave. With her consciousness so radically changed, she began forming her Mother’s Days for Peace, and did this for a number of years. Again, why raise these children and just send them out to be slaughtered? And finally there is our so-called conventional Mother’s Day. Annie Jarvis’s daughter, thinking of her mother, campaigned to get Mother’s Day recognized as a national holiday. Let’s just have a time to recognize our mothers, Annie thought. But, you know, it had a cutting edge, too, because she became a crank, wasn’t so welcome at those Mother’s Day’s activities she had promoted, because she said cutting things, like “You have no more capacity than to send your mother a bougthen card? You cannot write to her your personal feelings?” Well, you can imagine how unpopular she became at Mother’s Day events! Truly it’s a truly complex, emotional and symbolic subject, Mother’s Day, complex enough to have three dimensions. There is the Annie Jarvis day of service: that’s woman as community-builder, demanding support for the work of motherhood, giving women the tools they need to do their job, and by extension, reproductive rights and reproductive health and a social voice. And the visionary Mother’s Day: Julia Ward Howe, the end of war, the effort to find more effective ways of solving problems. I think of the symbol there as Athena, Goddess protector of Athens, formed fully, bursting forth from the head of Zeus, goddess of wisdom and war, woman able to move and change the world. And the appreciation day. Not so thin, really. Earth mother goddess, the primal caregiver bond, the virgin statues, the sanctity of life, sacrificial love, the association of mother and security. Now moving on to the presented topic as you read about it in the newsletter. I do read what I write. It’s a surprise, but actually quite appropriate that on Mother’s Day, it seems we are coming to terms with the likely end of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s struggle to gain the Democratic nomination. And it is quite amazing at this moment that her competitor is a biracial male. However it comes out, to me it is important to remember, fifty years ago and probably a good deal less than that, either candidate, let alone both, wouldn’t have even been a consideration. We don’t want to lose track of that amazing progress. A political scientist suggested that very unpopular presidents come at the close of political eras. We are moving through, he said, the close of a conservative political era. Think of Hoover to Franklin Delano Roosevelt: big shift, huge shift. Such an opportunity which eventually led to a big shift or change was also a moment of danger until the possibilities were resolved into actuality. That which is open is in part unknown and could lead to new difficulties. But it is precisely that opening that makes it possibility for something new to happen like Hillary and Barack. But realistically we know their election is not a shoe-in, because we don’t know how it will turn out until it does happen. To me, Hillary and Barack are the fruition and represent the completion of or a major step in, two great liberation movements: the civil rights movement and the women’s liberation movement. I think Hillary’s struggle was expressed most starkly when a college girl said “Oh, ick, God, could you think of our mother as President?” It felt brutal when I read it, it really was. And there it was: Well, if you are too nice and too motherly, could you be president? So if you’re too assertive, you’re not feminine and then what do we have? It is the tough spot every women finds herself in when she tries to move into “male” territory. Whatever else one may think of Hillary Clinton, I believe that she has conducted herself with extraordinary self-control, capacity, and aplomb through an extraordinarily difficult and demanding campaign. On the other hand Barack Obama has his nemesis. He bumps up against the angry black man stereotype. Or is he just going to be a conciliator oreo. To date he has managed with finesse to handle the stereotypes a little bit differently. He says, “Do you notice that I am here, and doesn’t that indicate a change?” Doesn’t that tell you that people of color are moving ahead. We aren’t just sitting at home enraged over what it was once supposed that iron racist fate has dictated for us? Rather insightful. Hopefully true. The world does change. So I say, fellow liberals, let us keep our eyes on the prize. See the success of the liberation movements that have brought us these two candidates. What if neither of them win? Even their nomination is a huge step ahead. Our country has come a long way. And on this Mother’s Day, though her candidacy may be fading, I say it’s great to think that Mom could be President and had a damn good chance at it. And with that I wish you a happy Mother’s Day.