In my sermon last Sunday, I spoke about being prepared to act when the time comes. The disciples had “stood by and watched” while Jesus was seized by the authorities; would we do any better? Could we? How do we get ready?
To begin, it’s a good idea to know what you stand for, and what you stand on, and the simpler to understand the better. When families ask me about teaching their children ethics, I suggest they write their “code of conduct” together with the small fry, using language suggested by the kids. Start with a couple of essential principles, add new ideas as you need them, and post the list in some central location. Then like every good athlete or musician or friend, practice.
My family has a set of rules that we call “Ware-Do’s” that we’ve written together over the past 15 years. (We borrowed the name from what my brother and I call our hair when we wake up in the morning—long or short, it stands straight up, so our rather special hairdo is called a Ware-do…) Sometimes we post the rules on a bulletin board in the kitchen, sometimes they end up in my sock drawer, but wherever they are, we know them and refer to them quite often. Among other things, the Ware-Do’s say:
Share. Be kind. Love your neighbor and love yourself: God loves you both. Finish what you start. Don’t run away. Show respect to others… especially if you disagree with them. Rinse off your dishes and put them in the dishwasher. (This rule has been underlined by dad.) Make a friend. Listen, ask questions, draw the other person out. Speak, if what you have to say will make the situation better. If you can’t say something nice about a person, don’t say anything. You are entitled to your feelings, but if you have a meltdown, move it to the driveway, where there is less traffic. (Also underlined, twice.) Put the other guy first. Give one another the benefit of the doubt. Practice.
Our family rules are a living document, written with different hand-writing at different times, in pencil, ink, and crayon. When a bit of clarity dawned in the midst of a struggle, we wrote it down and referred to it later and slowly got it into our bones. Our sense as a family is that the Ware-Do’s equip us for what might come; they are both practical and aspirational, ordering our loves and stretching us to be our best selves. We made up the rules, but really they make us.
Last year at this time, I invited you to use the letters in THANKSGIVING around the table on Thursday to say what you are thankful for. If you are ready for a new game, this year ask each person to offer one rule to live by, and see what you create together. Throw out anything that doesn’t deeply resonate, keep the treasures, make a list, and practice.
As I got of my car and headed to the front door of the Y, a foreign thought entered my consciousness.
I am a brown-skinned woman, walking alone. My head is covered. It is still dark. What if I encounter someone who thinks I am Muslim?
What followed was a few seconds of unfamiliar anxiety. A few seconds of irrational fear. What if I am attacked? I hesitated. Should I uncover my head? Right now? But it’s cold outside!
Then the neurons of my neocortex began firing. You live in Maryland. You are in north Baltimore. It’s the Towson Y. Lots of diversity here. A welcoming place. Breathe. Relax.
So I kept walking and left my head covered until I got inside where it was nice and warm. A friendly person greeted me and swiped my card. Minutes later, the water of the pool filled my senses and soothed my soul.
What a luxury. Lucky me. A few seconds of fear.
You know where I’m going with this, of course. Not everyone is as lucky as me, or you. There are countless for whom fear is a 24-7, not a few-seconds deal. For some this fear is a new, unwelcome phenomenon; for others this fear is and always has been a constant, intimate companion. And I’m not talking about the general, pervasive anxiety and fear of the unknown that has settled like cold, damp fog around many of us, seeping into our skin, weighing heavy on our hearts, invading our awareness. Nor am I talking about the fear of not being able to put food on the table, not having a job, or one that pays enough, paralyzing fears in and of their own right.
I mean the visceral, fear-for-your-life-kind-of-fear. Fear of being targeted because of the color of your skin. Fear of being uprooted and deported. Fear of being attacked because of who you love or how you praise God.
So how do we respond? How are we to be? And what are we to do?
A Muslim student at the University of Michigan was recently threatened because of her faith. The president of the Muslim Student Association decided to organize an evening Ishaa prayer service and called for allies to come in support.
Hundreds of students and faculty showed up. Jews and Christians alike stood side-by-side, forming a human circle around their Muslim brothers and sisters so Allah could be worshiped in safety. A circle of sanctuary amidst danger. A circle of faith amidst doubt. A circle of courage amidst fear.
We are called, my friends, to show up, to stand together, to bear witness to Christ as we create concentric circles of sanctuary, faith and courage.
The kind of courage that listens and engages in authentic dialogue with those whose perspectives and thoughts seem foreign to us, and with those with whom we vehemently disagree.
And the kind of courage that stands and speaks, prays and acts, strategizes and organizes, when “disagreement” is used to legitimize oppression, and “having-a-different-point-of-view” is used to justify the violation of human rights and the trampling of human dignity.
In the words of Rabbi Paul Kipnes:
There was that moment at the Red Sea when our people despaired like never before. Looking behind, the people saw an enemy coming for them. Looking ahead, the waters seemed ready to swallow them up.
To stand still was not an option….and so we pray:
Oh God of our fathers and mothers,
When our nation is divided,
When our people are afraid,
When our children are confused,
When we ourselves are unsure about how to move forward;
Grant us the courage to face our fears and walk forward into the unknown.
Grant us the insight to find the hidden waters in the wilderness to quench our thirst.
Grant us the wisdom to decide wisely as we face difficult questions in the days and months ahead.
Grant us the faith to speak truth to power demanding truth and justice, compassion and kindness.
And may we lie down in peace and rise up each tomorrow, refreshed and renewed, prepared to work towards blessings for all.
I spent yesterday the way I imagine most of you did, moving from conversation to conversation, stitching together a variety of responses to the presidential election. Some of those talks were difficult, others were sublime, and the honesty was a privilege to be invited into. As one member of the Wednesday Bible study said, sharing our differing emotions in this way is “raw and real” and an essential practice for healing the chasm that exists between so many people in our country. As a nation, we woke up yesterday in an America more divided than many of us had heretofore realized.
The world is changing so fast, one said, and many Americans feel left behind or threatened, forgotten and forsaken. “How did I miss that,” she wondered. The boundaries of self or family or country seem infiltrated, icons of success have been challenged or replaced or lost. People of every race and class and gender have been marginalized at times in the past two years. Will the center hold?
Secretary Clinton said, “This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it…Our campaign was never about one person, or even one election. It was about the country we love and building an America that is hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted… I still believe in America, and I always will… Donald Trump is going to be our president. (And) We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead… I count my blessings every single day that I am an American. I still believe, as deeply as I ever have, that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strengthen our convictions, and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us.”
I am encouraged by president-elect Trump’s words in his victory speech. “For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so we can work together and unify our great country… Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division… Every single American will have the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer… All people and all other nations. We will seek common ground not hostility, partnership not conflict.” Mr. Trump revealed his capacity to be a statesman, and each of us must not only wish him well, but shoulder the work of our common goals.
President Obama reminded us that “we are not Republicans first, or Democrats first, but Americans first.” He acknowledged that the last 18 months have been difficult, perhaps damaging for us, but that partisan politics in the end is “an intramural skirmish. We are on the same team.” As another member of my Bible study remarked, “The work ahead is like darning the holes in my husband’s sweater. I start sewing slowly around the edges, stitch by stitch, and slowly the gap is filled in. The finished product isn’t always pretty, but the mended fabric holds.”
The community of faith, especially in our work to foster relationships between people of different faiths, has much to offer our nation at this moment. According to Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, who spoke last night in our “Morality in a time of National Decision” series, we know that faith was built for tumultuous times. “We know how to mourn, how to lament and cry, and then how get back into the game,” said Cardin. And our call is “not only to pick up our spirits, but to help pick up the spirits of others.” We can model and promote unity, we have resilience, and we have hope. Remember Abraham Lincoln’s pleading, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” (First Inaugural)
God mends through broken hearts and our capable calloused hands.
How would it be
if just for today
we thought less about contests and rivalries,
profits and politics,
winners and sinners,
and more about
helping and giving,
mending and blending,
reaching out and pitching in?
How would it be?
– Anonymous, from M.J. Ryan’s A Grateful Heart
Last week, David, Cristina and I attended a luncheon at Notre Dame hosted by the Northern District of the Baltimore City Police. They had invited regional clergy from many faith traditions to gather in order to connect and form relationships. Major Richard Gibson, District Commander, spoke to the assembled group. He reiterated the message that he delivered to the Wednesday Evening gathering at Redeemer several weeks ago. His goal is to empower his police to become advocates and supporters of those in the precinct. He is passionate about having his officers be perceived as good people and not bad cops. He admits he has been changed by the events since Freddy Gray and he now wants to be the agent of change for those he leads. Among other initiatives, he is encouraging his officers to do at least one unexpected good deed every day for the citizens they encounter.…and as we all know, that one action will only become a compounding habit with many good deeds daily.
He is also finding other creative ways in order for the community to redefine their perception of policing. This past weekend, the police station was transformed into a Halloween themed party that welcomed the neighborhood children. In addition, Redeemer was invited to donate adult coats. Betsy Willett is coordinating this effort and you have responded with such generosity!! The area around the Welcome Center is full of wonderful outerwear. His latest request is for canned foods so that the police can make up bags for families at Thanksgiving. These will go to those individuals in the community whose family member may be in jail or are having a particularly tough time. (The Women Who Wonder have offered to lead this effort with Leigh Lowe coordinating it. Playfully we are referring to this as “Women Who Can-Can”!) If you are interested email Leigh at email@example.com or me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The theory behind the coats and food is that that police will be the ones distributing them; they will be the ones that will benefit from the community viewing them in more positive ways. This approach is so exciting, positive, and hopeful for shifting perceptions and assumptions among all people.
Our role at Redeemer in this situation is “…helping and giving, mending and blending, reaching out and pitching in…How would it be if it was not just for today?”