Archive for the 'Race' Category

Words from the Past about Our Future

One convention down, one to go. Right now that feels like two too many! These extravaganzas whip the faithful into a frenzy, do their best to sell their party’s “product”  to voters, and widen the partisan fault lines separating the 330 million+ of us who reside in “…one nation…indivisible…”

RecentlyJFK assume responsibility for the future in the space of a few days a number of Facebook friends posted this JFK quote. They are a diverse group politically, spiritually, and ideologically. They don’t all know each other. But President Kennedy’s words touched them. They heard hope and possibility. They heard the Good News of a way forward. They heard the promise of healing our national brokenness. They wanted more of us to hear what they’d heard: “…not…the Republican answer, or the Democratic answer…the right answer…not …blame for the past…accept… responsibility for the future.”

What a healthy, adult approach! Fixing blame is a good way to gain political advantage, but a terrible way to solve problems. Blame binds us to the past we cannot change. Future-oriented responsibility empowers us to shape our collective future. Blaming, especially in politics, is toxic, divisive, and self-centered. By contrast, claiming and facing our future together offers new energy, new hope, and renewed purpose. It’s our future, our country, our environment, our children and grandchildren, our traditions and values to be passed on to future generations.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer, or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”  I can hear the protests: “The R’s will say they have the right right answer, the D’s will say they do, the verbal food fight will begin, somebody will throw a fit and walk out, and we’re back where we’ve been for years—going nowhere.” How do we move together toward a “right answer” that bridges our deep and real partisan differences?

More recently some other Facebook friends shared these words from John Kennedy’s brother Robert. I don’t know thRFK when you teache original context of these words. But, except for the male-oriented language, they sound as fresh as today’s Twitter feed. Teaching and preaching fear based on human differences is an old human game. During RFK’s career as senator and later Attorney General, that fear focused largely on Communism and racial differences. Fifty years later political and religious leaders—and just plain folks– teach hate and fear of the Other with regard to a bewildering range of fears and prejudices. We’ve demonized so many sorts of folk as “Them” that we’re struggling desperately to find an Us with room enough for all our uniquenesses.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific” taught us correctly that “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.”  That specific “hate and fear” was the island community’s view of love between a US soldier stationed on a South Pacific island and a native woman. Both the native culture and the US military base culture forbade that relationship. In the theater, love conquers all and the couple lives happily ever after. But our real-life experience too often validates RFK’s wisdom: “When you teach a [person] to hate and fear [the neighbor]…you… learn to confront others not as fellow citizens, but as enemies.”

As I stand on this small island of sanity between the two parties’ conventions, I hunger for leaders who affirm the Kennedys’ wisdom. Who will lead our nation toward the right answer for all of us, not just for their special interests? Who will renounce the blame game and lead us—all of us—to take responsibility for our common future? Who will reject hate and fear as motivations for political and social action? Who will take the lead in refusing to demonize the Other? Who will lead us beyond a culture of toxic fear, hate, and prejudice toward a culture of mutual respect and even love for one another? Who will lead us to see others with whom we differ not as enemies but as neighbors?

Elections can obscure our view of life’s Big Picture. In case you’re struggling with that, the prophet Isaiah offers a very clear view of it. God’s dream for God’s world is that Really Big Picture:

But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies
    will throw a feast for all the people of the world,
A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines,
    a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts.
And here on this mountain, God will banish
    the pall of doom hanging over all peoples,
The shadow of doom darkening all nations.
    Yes, he’ll banish death forever.
And God will wipe the tears from every face.
    He’ll remove every sign of disgrace
From his people, wherever they are.
    Yes! God says so!”  Isaiah 25:6-9 MSG

messianic banquet 7-16

This “messianic banquet” sounds too good to be true—“all the people of the world” sharing an incredibly lavish feast together, the end of death and “every sign of disgrace”. Followers of Jesus believe we act out God’s dream for God’s world every time we share the Lord’s Supper.  All are welcome at the table. We feast on the very life of God. Christ’s body and blood transform us into new people. We come away forgiven, renewed, reconciled to God and one another.

This vision puts day-to-day politics in perspective. It reminds us that God’s dream for our neighbors on the other side of political, religious, and social issues is for them to sit with us at God’s ultimate feast. It helps us see each person as God’s precious child. That identity supercedes all the other labels we stick on one another. God’s dream leads us to choose God’s limitless Love that prepares, invites, and works ceaselessly to gather God’s children at God’s table. It empowers us to reject “carefully-taught” hate and fear that poisons every aspect of our life together. Claiming and living out this vision is the best way I know for us to take responsibility for the future we leave as our legacy–NO MATTER WHO WINS THIS ELECTION.

 

KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF

EchoPark_Lake_Birds

One day this week our youngest grandchildren (Lucas, 5-1/2, and Amelia, almost 4) took Dianna and me to Sunset Park. We didn’t know that’s where we were headed when we started out. Small people have a way of “redirecting” the big people who think they’re in charge. Geese winter at this park’s sizable lake. Huge flocks of ducks call it home year-round. Some people even claim they catch fish.

The lake and the surrounding shoreline were teeming with waterfowl–and pigeons. They expected, sometimes demanded, that their visitors pay the price of admission—FOOD! But we had nothing to offer. We’d set out without knowing our destination. But we were standing near a couple with two boys about Lucas and Amelia’s ages and a younger girl. They’d come well-prepared with scraps of bread. We watched those boys toss bread to the ducks, geese, and pigeons for a couple of minutes. Their dad soon noticed that Lucas and Amelia wanted to be more than spectators. He asked his oldest son, who was holding the bread bag, to share.  All the children shared the bread, the birds stuffed themselves chowed down, and a great time was had by all.

Finally we returned Lucas and Amelia to their parents and made our way home through rush-hour traffic. We moved into the left-turn lane at an intersection teeming with nearly as many cars as hungry birds at the lake. Our green arrow came on—and nobody moved. Then cars began leaving the turn lane. We wound up sitting at the red light next to the reason for the delay. The first car in the left-turn lane sat with flashers blinking, engine not running, and the driver on the phone looking very flustered.  Nobody was doing anything to help her. We went through the intersection, worked our way back, and decided to park and offer assistance.

The stranded driver agreed to let us push her–maually!–out of the intersection. Her car was very nice—and very heavy! Just as we ran out of “push”, two young women joined us. When the four of us couldn’t get all that steel up the driveway and off the street, a very fit young man helped make the final push. The driver had a safe place to wait for help and the rest of us went on our way.

Now here’s the rest of the story: The family we met at the lake was African American. Race didn’t matter as they shared their bread with Lucas and Amelia. Race didn’t matter as we enjoyed being outdoors together watching those birds. The driver of that stalled car was African American. So were the two young women who helped us push her stalled car. The “muscle” who helped us make the last push was White. Race was irrelevant as we worked together to solve a problem.

I believe our experience suggests a way to build bridges in our culture. Someone took a first step—that family shared their bread; Dianna and I offered to help the stranded motorist. Others joined in. Our shared experience—feeding the birds, watching children be children, pushing a car out of a busy intersection into a safe place—transcended, just for a moment, cultural barriers. Such shared experiences can become building blocks for deeper relationships.

Somewhere in this discussion we who follow Jesus remember his words we call the Great Commandment: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ And…’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39 NRSV) Most of our “social justice” initiatives have roots here and/or in the teachings of Old Testament prophets. But our efforts to address large systemic issues often become abstract and impersonal. I’m more intensely motivated to work for change when I know people who are experiencing injustice and will benefit personally from the change we seek.

What if we heard that Great Commandment say …”know your neighbor as yourself”? (See Luke 10:25-37 for Jesus’ definition of “neighbor”.) We can’t know personally all our 7 billion neighbors on this planet. But we can cultivate relationships that expand our knowledge of neighbors. We  can begin putting faces on black, white, brown, liberal, conservative, senior, boomer, millennial, Jew, Muslim, etc. The more we do that, the more those stereotypes disintegrate. Nobody I know is adequately described by labels, stereotypes, or social role labels. Our creative God has made us unique individuals. We discover the rich wonder of that creativity as we learn to “know our neighbor as ourselves”.

Before we were taken to the park, I’d been reading Jim Wallis’ book America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. While the book addresses a complex and divisive cultural issue, it flows out of Wallis’ experience growing up in Detroit. On his first job he worked with a young black man named Butch. They became friends and learned a lot about their very different lives. One day Butch invited Jim home for dinner. During the evening Butch’s mom described the negative experiences all the men in her family—her father, her brothers, her husband, and her sons– had had with Detroit police. “’I tell all my children,’” she said, “’if you are ever lost and can’t find your way back home, and you see a policeman, quickly duck behind a building or down a stairwell. When the policeman is gone, come out and find your own way back home.’ As Butch’s mother said that to me, my own mother’s words [and mine and many of yours as well] rang in my head…’If you are ever lost and can’t find your way home, look for a policeman. The policeman is your friend. He will take care of you and bring you safely home.’”

“Love—and know– your neighbor as yourself.” I don’t know precisely the way from here to there. I do know it’s long, complex, and challenging. I know Buddhists say, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Let’s take those first steps! We are Easter people. We serve a God who says, “I am about to do something brand new” (Isaiah 43:19 MSG); “Look! I’m making everything new.” (Revelation 21:5 MSG)

I expect these beginnings will happen first at a minew beginningscro-level, in neighborhood, community, congregational, less formal settings. Watch for them. Join in as you’re led.Let us become the new beginning for which we work and
pray!


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