I usually keep the Ukestra videos somewhere else on my page but I wanted to put this one here. Recorded under a variety of names, this song began life as a poem by Woody Guthrie to commemorate the (at that time) anonymous Mexican victims of a plane crash in 1948. The song was set to music by a schoolteacher named Martin Hoffman and it has been sung ever since. The passengers were migrant farm workers being transported back over the border to Mexico. Reports at the time did not feel the need to mention their names.
A name is important. It has practical uses, of course. It is also a recognition of our existence as holy children of God. To erase someone's name doesn't really erase their existence or their holiness, However, it makes it very hard to tell their story. What is happening today is a willful ignorance--a gross perpetuation--of our past and present injustices. It is suppression and oppression of people. It is an attempt to erase the reality of our shared humanity to comfort the status quo.
We cannot stand with the status quo. We cannot allow the victims of today's crackdown on immigrant families--separating them from each other and in some cases "losing" their identities--to become mere numbers. We cannot allow ourselves to be numb. We must know their faces and their names and speak them loudly to the powers and principalities of this world.
Obviously, this song still has meaning for us today. Our nation--both before and since the plane crash at Los Gatos--has grappled with recognizing the humanity of people who do not fit a "traditional" (that is, white) concept of "America". We played this song on Sunday in recognition of past and ongoing acts of injustice. It is a reminder that the more things change the more they stay the same.
One postscript to the story is that years later, thanks to some diligent work, the names of the victims of the plane crash were discovered. Here they are so that they are not forgotten again....
The 28 Mexican Citizens Who Died in the Plane Wreck Over Los Gatos January 28, 1948
Miguel Negrete Álvarez. Tomás Aviña de Gracia. Francisco Llamas Durán. Santiago García Elizondo. Rosalio Padilla Estrada. Tomás Padilla Márquez. Bernabé López Garcia. Salvador Sandoval Hernández. Severo Medina Lára. Elías Trujillo Macias. José Rodriguez Macias. Luis López Medina. Manuel Calderón Merino. Luis Cuevas Miranda. Martin Razo Navarro. Ignacio Pérez Navarro. Román Ochoa Ochoa. Ramón Paredes Gonzalez. Guadalupe Ramírez Lára. Apolonio Ramírez Placencia. Alberto Carlos Raygoza. Guadalupe Hernández Rodríguez. Maria Santana Rodríguez. Juan Valenzuela Ruiz. Wenceslao Flores Ruiz. José Valdívia Sánchez. Jesús Meza Santos. Baldomero Marcas Torres.
There were prayers this Sunday as well. Our Congregational Associate prayed for the displaced people of the world. I closed with a prayer for the dream of that Commonwealth of Heaven, or as Woody Guthrie put it in one of our readings, "One Big Union."
Prayer for the One Big Union
Yes, we do all believe in “One Big Union”
We may not call it that
We may use terms like “The Just Society”
Or the “The Utopian Ideal”
Or the “Commonwealth of Heaven”
But what draws us together in places like
The Eliot Church
Is the dream of something greater
The will to oppose inequality
To find a home for the displaced
And to see the humanity of the stranger
We also gather here to recognize the call
In the words of the prophet Micah
To do Justice, Love Mercy, and walk humbly with God
We know that this new world
This new society will not come
Without the sacrifices and labors
Of those who envision it
And we know that we need help
To maintain our vision
And so we pray:
We know that we have fallen short
Of the call to equality, peace and justice
To the building of a world
That is free of violence and oppression
That give to each according to their needs
In the spirit of radical welcome that Jesus
And other prophets taught
We know this and we are sorry
And promise to commit ourselves
To the One Big Union again
Dear God please give us the strength
To keep on traveling down that road
A road with many distractions
Many struggles and discomforts
Please give us the assurance
That (even though we may never see the day
Of the Commonwealth here on Earth)
Please give us the assurance we need
To still work toward that day
In Faith, in Hope, and always in Love
If you happened to walk or drive by the Eliot Church in the last few days, you probably noticed that something is missing. On Saturday night (as best we can tell) someone tore our Rainbow "Peace" flag out of its usual spot and walked off with it. In the morning, I noticed its absence as I headed in to work, Of course we went through a brief "denial" phase. We don't like to think of our neighborhood as a place where things like this happen.
However, it appears that it has. The grommets were still in their place so it wasn't one of us moving it for some reason. Members even walked around the neighborhood to see if the wind blew it away. This theory already seemed unlikely, as we had recently switched out an older, more fragile flag for this one. It was in pretty good shape. Needless to say, we didn't find it.
Eventually we contacted the police and they did the same things. The officer we spoke to, came to the same conclusion we did. Yes, it was most likely stolen. We don't know who did this, of course, and hesitate to ascribe a detailed motive. That said, we assume that they didn't take it to put in their room or to otherwise display for themselves. If that was the case they could have just asked for one. We have plenty for that purpose.
So, what did we do when we met for worship at our appointed time? It was World Communion Sunday, a service dedicated to what holds people together in the midst of disagreement. It is a day when Christians around the globe take communion together. The issues represented by that flag, of course, are ones that divide many people both Christian and non-Christian. It seemed fitting to mark this occasion the way we had planned. .We took communion, too. We chose to stand for unity and for building relationships across ideological lines.
Of course we also prayed. We prayed for whoever took the flag. We prayed for those in our congregation who were impacted by the theft. Finally we prayed the entire LGBTQIA+ community, who have to endure much more than a simple act of vandalism. In fact, they do so on a daily basis.
What are we doing now? We are putting up a new flag. Like I said, we have plenty. We will even give you one if you want. We like to see them put to use. That flag is part of our identity, like communion, the cross in the sanctuary, or the many good works we perform in the community.. It stands for peace, obviously. It also stands for diversity. It is one of the ways our congregation offers support and welcome to all people.
It is not healthy to hide who you are. We are an Open and Affirming congregation.
We will not hide. This is us.
This is an old post from when I wrote on Blogger. It seemed worth reviving, given the massive amount of football water that has flowed under the bridge since then. Did I quit watching football entirely? Well, not really. I quit watching everything but the Super Bowl as I have a longstanding tradition of inviting friends over. Otherwise yes, I have. I do not watch regular season or pre-season games. No following Brady, Belichik, no "Mr. Kraft". Of course, the reactionary and un-reflective politics of those guys have made it easy to step away. Now I am thinking I may just drop the Super Bowl as well and just have a party, instead.
The video above is about a boycott in honor of Colin Kaepernick that is gathering steam. I may join them. The statement below is only slightly dated, as it turns out.
Regular readers of Burbania Posts will know that there was a time when I watched a whole lot of football. I even religiously tuned in to the 24-hour infomercial that is the NFL Network. I wrote about it online. I made predictions. The first Sunday of our church year is called "Kickoff Sunday" partly because we are kicking off the new year...and partly because the new season begins that afternoon. The point is, I was almost a super fan. The only thing keeping me back was that I couldn't bring myself to engage in the frightening debates at the bottom of the "comments" section on NFL.com.
I got into it in a roundabout way. I live in a place where baseball remained king for longer than anywhere else (Go Red Sox!). It was as a youngish adult that I turned to the fandom of professional football. It began by hanging out with the Phys. Ed. majors in my dorm. I embraced it with the zeal of a convert. That is coming to an end now.
In fact, the end began a few years ago with the slow erosion of my trust in the institution of the NFL. I don't think I have to go into details, do I? There were a number of ill-conceived labor disputes culminating in the absolutely ridiculous lock-out of the referees. I took a break then, because I don't cross picket lines, even TV ones. Then there were the revelations around concussions. Perhaps most importantly, I (and others) had the creeping suspicion that the league and it's owners didn't particularly care about the health of players and former players as much as they cared about message control. About a third of the way through last year's season, I turned off the TV and didn't return until the Super Bowl.
"Protect the Shield" is the unofficial slogan of Commissioner Roger Goodell and it has made him very popular among his employers. The league does its best to project an image that is as pure and wholesome as eating apple pie at a church social, but reality keeps sneaking in. Do I need to mention that racial slur used as a "mascot" in our nation's capitol? The league keeps saying that it is respectful--even an honorific--to Native Americans even though pretty much everyone they aren't paying says it isn't. This week we get to hear that there are new rules around players committing acts of domestic violence. Why? Because the league just discovered that most fans view it as more heinous a crime than smoking pot. The two-game suspension of Ray Rice seems a bit too much like the punishment parents give out to kids when they secretly think their child can do no wrong. What world do they live in? Protect the shield. Always make sure the money keeps rolling in. That is their world.
Here is what I saw before I turned off the TV. In earlier times I had seen a pleasant diversion, an interesting metaphor for the struggle of life, even a certain regional pride as I watched my home team. In the last time I watched I saw something different. I saw a wealthy old billionaire high-fiving his billionaire friends while his employees permanently damaged their heads, spines, legs and backs in pursuit of...something. On the sideline was a coach. Theoretically he is worthy of respect. In reality he was the caricature of the sort of horrible, screaming, obscene middle-aged suburban dad most of us try not to become at youth sporting events. I asked myself if I wanted to be the sort of person who condones this. The answer, it turned out, was "no".
Look, I am not anti-football per se. You will see me at the annual high school Thanksgiving game and maybe at a couple more. What I am is anti-NFL, at least in its current incarnation. The game has problems. It has really, really big problems that trickle down to that high school field and need to be addressed in an open, honest, forthright manner. They need to be dealt with by the folks at the top. They need to be dealt with by the people who build (and profit from) the dream.
No pretending. No fakes. Deal with the issues and I will come back. Don't and I won't. I can go outdoors and spend time with my family on Sunday afternoons. I am quitting the NFL.
My Facebook feed is full of statements opposing the rise of white supremacy. Ministers tend to like words. We also expect to speak out on issues that we find important. There is no way in the world that one could look at what happened in Charlottesville and see anything other than a potential turning point in race relations. Which way will we turn? I do believe that among the many, many markers of the rise of the radical right this weekend will stand out. Therefore, I have been reading and talking and listening along with everyone else.
In fact, there has been a part of me that wonders if there is anything left for me to say that hasn't been said better by others. For a moment I even thought of letting this pass and to wait for another news cycle to bring a new set of offenses. However, speaking out is something we all have to do.
Besides, otherwise I am just walking around angry anyway.
So I thought I would point out a few markers in the internet sea that make the anti-racist/anti-fascist case better than I can. Each of them gets to specific concerns (among many) that I have and that many of you have as well.
Paul Krugman, in his column "When the President is Un-American" opens with a reminder of Sarah Palin's "real America" phase. You will remember the concept. It isn't difficult as many people right, left, and center, fall into it's trap. "Real" America--according to many--is populated by a strangely simplified form of "rural" or "working class" whites. We raise them up as examples of what we perceive as American virtues. The problem is that when we do this (whether we mean to or not) we have instantly labeled everyone else as less "real" and therefore less worthy.
Liberals do this, too, by the way. Right now there is a lot of talk in the Democratic party about "reclaiming the base". Along with this effort, there is little thought given to the risk of romanticizing the crueler part of whiteness that--as we have seen this week--simmers beneath the surface. Perhaps they (we) do it unconsciously and without reflection. However, when we ascribe greater authenticity to one group, we give them greater power. Their narrative then controls the conversation.
My faith tells me that all humans--and that would include all Americans--are equally "real". This is a bedrock of the theology I preach. However, it is a challenge to assert that position when so much of the noise around us tries to tell a different story. That is why speaking out is important, even if it feels like our position has already been said, and said with more art than we can muster.
But I digress: Krugman's article is an indictment of the President, who has inhabited the "real America" narrative of his base. Donald Trump has increased the noise in what at best can only be called a failure of leadership. In many ways, the stoking of this narrative has led directly to society's apparent new comfort with white supremacist language. The results of that should be obvious.
On the same day and in the same paper Michael Eric Dyson wrote "Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy" I don't feel the need to add much commentary. He refines the point that Krugman makes until it cuts with surgical precision. He quotes LBJ saying "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you are picking his pocket". To me that is an accurate--if somewhat dated in its language-- description of how myth of "realness" functions.
Dyson concludes with a call to people like me. "Now is the time for every decent white American to prove he or she loves this country by actively speaking out against the scourge this bigotocracy represents. If such heinous behavior is met by white silence, it will only cement the perception that as most white folks are not immediately at risk, then all is relatively well." This article has reminded me once again that I need to finally get through his book "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America".
Finally, I have one more item. This is an old film first shown in 1943 and then edited and rebroadcast (as far as I can tell) in 1947. "Don't Be a Sucker" is many things. I see it as a classic noir PSA. The narrative of America it provides us, though, is still a powerful antidote to the rhetoric we are hearing from the alt-right, the fascists, and many in the conservative establishment,
Many folks have been linking the tw0-minute clip. If you can stand it, however, I suggest you watch the whole thing below. It is jumpy and the beginning feels like a non-sequitur at first. That said, I am glad I stuck with it. It made me uncomfortable in parts. However, it made me ask why...
Oh yeah... and the American Nazi? He talks about "real Americans" too.
I wanted to share this video with you. I had held off doing so before because of a variety of reasons. The sound isn't quite right. Lee forgot her strap. The lens on the camera made it seem like we were in different rooms when we are actually right next to each other. We did not reject Lee! There was also mic trouble. Anyway, we had plans to clean it up or make a slide show, but things didn't work out that way. Still, we thought we would put it out even with its imperfections. The message of this song is important to hear right now.
We hoped that the context would be different. “Marching Together” is an old song from the women's suffrage movement, used in the state of Kansas (among other places) to urge men to support women in their quest for equal rights. It was part of our Reformation Sunday service honoring the 19th Century trailblazer, Rev. Olympia Brown. You can hear the congregation singing it with us. We were proud and pleased and hopeful that the work of people like Brown would finally result in the election of a female president in these United States. As we all know now, it was not to be...at least this time.
Of course, it makes even more sense to post this now. It makes even more sense for us all to learn it and sing it. Polls show that most white men supported Trump over Clinton. Many, many did not support him and I am one of those white men. However, we have our work cut out for us. It appears that our society has not come as far as we had hoped from that Kansas suffrage campaign in 1867.
Now, about this song; Songs from the Kansas movement were collected and published together in a variety of forms over the years. This one comes from a book published in 1909. There is a lot of great stuff in it, including the lyrics we are using. I will link to it below.
Actually, there are other versions, too. After we performed it at church we learned that the tune--also used for a happy song about Sherman's march to the sea--had been used for a song supporting the candidacy of President McKinley! There were also many variations to the suffragist version. However, most of of them played the “mother/daughter” card. These days we should be careful about men defining women based on the relationship those women may have to men (sorry Louis CK). I didn't vote for Hillary Clinton to honor my mom. I did it because she was (and is) the right person to lead the country at this time.
We also chose this version because of the Kansas connection. It is quite likely a version that Olympia Brown would have sung during her work organizing there. I know I have mentioned her elsewhere. She is a hero of mine. A gifted minister, businessperson, and politician, she was the first woman ordained and recognized by her denomination (Universalist). She was also one of very few first generation suffragists who lived long enough to vote, herself.
The song has simple chord pattern which, of course, is best for something everyone should sing.
Bring the good old bugle, boys!
And let the truth be shown
That woman has as many rights
As any man has known;
And let us help her win the fight
She may not win alone
A(7) D G
While we go marching together
G G C G
Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
G G A D
Hurrah! Hurrah! For woman shall be free!
G C G G (Em)
And have as many sacred rights as God gave you and me,
A(7) D G
While we go marching together!
This is our arrangement, more or less. The other lyrics are in that songbook linked below. Lee Manuel set this up for us. Anything in parentheses is optional. 7th chords (in case you don't know) will make it sound old timey. We used them in the video but usually had someone else just play the regular chord at the same time. It keeps things exciting! Don't worry about changing stuff around to suit your style, skill level, and taste. You can't break it. It is a folk song.
So there you go. Apparently some Trump supporters want to take the country back to a magical before-time. Let's give it to 'em and fight the patriarchy the 19th Century way!
Here is a link to that book. It is wicked cool! You will notice that most of these songs are set to older tunes. This is a common practice in actual folk as singing along is a key part of the exercise. Just like hymns in church.
It is about 11:50pm on election night and I was planning to go to bed. The "paths to victory" for my candidate, Hillary Clinton, are closing rapidly and I don't know if we will win or lose, but the tone of conversation among the pundits, my friends, and my family makes it clear. We are expecting the worst. I was going to hit the sack, rest up, and head back out tomorrow. I really was going to do that. The computer was off and the lights were out.
I want to say something that will hopefully still make sense when I look at it in the morning.
I just went into the living room to turn off the TV and I saw my son falling asleep on the couch, still waiting for Pennsylvania. When I saw him, my mind drifted back to when I was his age. It was election night and I was in the "Governor's Suite" at the Portland Sonesta Hotel. We had gathered the family along with close friends and key campaign officials to plan the exact steps that would lead to my father's concession speech in his race for governor of the state of Maine. There was silence mostly, and tears. Eventually we lined up and walked to the door, Then we slowly marched down the hall and into the elevator to the 1980's-tacky ballroom where more people waited. There was more silence and more tears. The son of the outgoing governor appeared next to me and guided me, my sister and brothers up to the riser and behind the lecturn. "It is going to be OK," he said. Then he drifted into the crowd.
I was standing directly behind my parents and slightly to the right. My mom was standing next to my dad. Then he began to talk. I don't remember much about the speech but it was one of those gracious ones. Dad had lost to a man who had been a friend and rival since high school. They had the sort of respect for each other you don't see anymore. What I do remember was watching Dad finish reading a handwritten page of his speech and then slipping it to Mom in a way that the people out in the audience--shocked and dismayed--could not see. Her hand was on his back and Dad stood as still as he could but we were all shaking.
It was one of the darkest moments of my life and I haven't really felt that way since. Now I remember it. I remember the sadness. I remember the sense that we happy few had worked so long and so hard and all had been for naught. All that we had hoped and dreamed wasn't going to happen after all. We--all of us in that hotel ballroom--had lost. In the morning we would need to face the new world. We would have to live with someone else's goals and dreams.
You know what? I remember something else, too. I cannot tell you where the voice came from. Maybe it was inside me. Maybe it was something my parents said. Maybe it came from somewhere else in the room. Whatever it was and wherever it came from I remember standing up there looking out at the people and the cameras while saying four short words to myself over and over and over again.
"So now we fight".
So now we fight. That is what rattled around in my head at the lowest of moments when I was fifteen years old. We fight for every person who stood by our side. We fight for everyone who needs someone to struggle with them or on their behalf. We stand up for that cause we believed in enough to dedicate our time, our effort and our money. We will enter this new world with a firmness of resolve and a chip on our shoulders. Dammit we were right! That rightness was--and is--worth fighting for.
You know what? Those four words have guided my life. That awkward kid in the picture is seventeen-year-old me at the 1988 Democratic convention fighting again, this time for Jesse Jackson. I sure know how to pick a winner, right? That week in Atlanta was when I heard the call to ministry. I chose to be a pastor because it gave me a voice. It gave me a way to enter into the struggle.
It is now 12:30 and I have spent more time on this than I should. The outcome is clearer now. My son is yelling at the TV. I am glad he is a fighter. We are entering another new world. There will parts of it that will truly be awful. We need to keep hope alive. We need to check in with each other. We need to stand up for each other, especially for those who will probably receive the heavy blunt end of the backlash against our shared dream. Women, Muslims, LGBTQIA, poor people, Native-Americans, African-Americans, latinx and other minority groups need every ally they can get. We cannot let the side down.
Dammit, we are still right! We will act that way. We may have lost but we are not defeated or dead. We must remember the requirements and responsibilities of a just society and we must shout them from the rooftops. We need to rush out of our houses tomorrow to continue what we began. Hold your heads high. Meet every gaze firmly and with confidence. No sulking. No hiding. Now is not the time.
So now we fight. We will be back. The truth is on our side. and in the end...
We. Will. Win.
I am technically on vacation, but I have taken a little bit of time to get started on one of my sabbatical projects. You see, we are trying something new in our Sunday school. We are going to a "one room" model in which all of the kids will work together on a single topic and then (at the end of each unit) will present something (a play, readings, music, or reflections) during worship. I, at least, have high hopes for this. I hope the kids are engaged. I hope the parents are engaged as well. Maybe that is why I have taken it upon myself to develop the curricula for four of the five units.
The first of these units (ending with a play on Reformation Sunday) is about women in the church. In particular, we are focusing on one of the giants of Universalism, Olympia Brown. There is a lot to say about her. Here it must suffice to point out that she was a "first-generation" suffragist, an abolitionist, and the first woman to be ordained and serve a congregation while also being fully recognized as a minister by her denomination. She was smart, determined, tough, and (according to many) a great preacher and pastor. In my world she is held up as a role model for ministers of all gender identities.
Of course, I want people in my church and Sunday school to know more about this remarkable person. However, I am also well aware of the context in which they will be learning about her. This unit begins when people come back from their summer adventures and it will end on October 23, the day Brown died (in 1926). Obviously, we will be thinking about another leader during that time. We will be thinking about (hopefully) the impending election of Hillary Clinton as the first female president of the United States. Brown was one of the few women of her generation of feminists who had the opportunity to vote for the 19th amendment. I cannot help but wonder what she would say about our momentous opportunity.
I have watched parts of both the Republican and Democratic national conventions. I have followed the election coverage. I have been involved in many conversations with political friends and foes. So often we seem to be stepping around conversations about gender. Some people (pundits, mostly) seem to feel it's not that big a deal anymore. Others, perhaps, are struggling with their own feelings. I even get why this event is occasionally downplayed by Clinton supporters. It appears that many in my white male cohort are intimidated by the possibility of a female president. I suspect others from other cohorts are as well. There is always the question of how much our impressions of her--those famous "unfavorable" ratings--are based on our own unrecognized biases.
I am not intimidated. I am looking forward to it. That said, having been raised from the cradle as part of the American left, I have never voted for her (or her husband for that matter) in the primaries. This time around I was excited by the energy that Sen. Sanders has brought and I am looking forward to participating in whatever his (our) movement generates in the future. However, like the vast majority of Sanders supporters (look it up), I will proudly and happily vote for Sec. Clinton. We are making history, people! My vote will not be anti-Trump (at least not entirely). It will be anti-fear and pro-future.
Even if you are not voting for her, it is hard to miss the significance of this moment. Sexism in this country is so vast a force that we participate in it without even being aware. We all do. We have never known a different way. This is part of why we see so much resistance. There is a disconnect. We experience a cognitive dissonance when we think of the idea that--after a run of 44 men of varying competency--we will be doing something different. Will doing the different thing cure us of sexism? Obviously not. Electing Barack Obama didn't cure us of racism, did it? That said, it is a huge step and one I look forward to making.
Anyway, as I prepare for this religious education unit I am aware that I will not be there to help teach. Two of my sons will be there (at least part of the time) and I will certainly follow its progress. I hope that the people who are connected with it (kids, teachers, parents, and congregants) will greet with excitement the chance to look back to a time not so long ago. I hope they take advantage of what is going on around them. I hope they celebrate how far we have come.
Yep, I am a minister and have revealed my political preferences and party affiliation. I will remind you that Burbania Posts is not affiliated with the congregation I serve. All the opinions herein are my own and not necessarily those of my congregation or individual members of that congregation.
Dear Eliot Members and Friends,
Like many of you, I have been upset and angry about the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. This act of mass murder directed against members of the LGBTQIA community once again reveals a darker side to our national culture. Once again, we are forced to recognize the ever-present forces of homophobia and discrimination. We are forced to acknowledge the high comfort level our society has with violence. We must also once again question the ease with which a private individual can acquire weapons of war.
These are hard issues to deal with. It is enough to make us fear each other. Certainly—since the perpetrator this particular time was Muslim—it is enough to make us lift up that word “terrorism” once again. However, we need to be better than that. There are extremists in all faiths and of no faith in particular. Our tradition teaches us to be open to difference and to engage with the world in ways that promote understanding and acceptance of difference.
I believe that even in the aftermath of an event as horrendous as the one we saw last Sunday, we must find ways to think and act from a place of love. On that same Sunday, during her faith statement, one of our confirmands quoted those lines from the Universalist Hosea Ballou, “If we agree in love, no disagreement can do us any injury.” This seems to be a good place to start.
In this spirit, the members of the Natick Interfaith Clergy Association are hosting a vigil this Sunday at 7pm, and you are all invited! We will be gathering a Natick Common. We wish to gather to offer our support to the LGBTQIA community as well as to our Muslim friends and neighbors. The Clergy Association is also taking a position in favor of banning assault-type weapons both locally and nationally. If you are interested in attending all or some of the vigil we—and I—would love to see you. It is good for progressive people of all religions to be together and to speak from our shared convictions.
Yours in Faith and Hope,
Okay so I want to use this picture one last time. It is a picture of me and some of my local colleagues at lunch several days before Christmas. In amongst the scattering of Christians of various stripes you will find representatives from the Jewish and Muslim community as well. When I posted this on Facebook slightly before Christmas Eve, this is part of what I said.
"Most folks don't realize (not willfully but I bet you haven't thought about it) that this area's religious (and secular) community is served by some really great people who work well together and genuinely enjoy each other's company. This isn't the first time most of us have sat around a table together. It won't be the last.
Present at this table are leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities as well as whatever we are at Eliot Church. We live in the same communities. Our kids go to the same schools. We experience the same divine presence and work to help others experience it too. There is diversity here. There is a diversity that we all should celebrate this Advent or whatever you might want to call the dark (I can't say cold) days at the end of a very long year."
After that I didn't give it too much thought. Or I wouldn't have except for the fact that people kept bringing up the picture to me. You see, it came as something of a surprise to many people that a group this diverse would get together and have lunch. It was usually a pleasant surprise for folks but surprising nonetheless.
However, as I mentioned in my original Facebook post, it isn't all that unusual for us to see each other. There is a monthly meeting that we try to attend (and I usually fail to attend). We work together on a variety of projects and initiatives. After all, the December meeting was partly to check in with each other and express support the Islamic community but also to celebrate progress on a community garden project the congregations are working on. Also, we see each other at public events. As I noted, our kids go to the same schools which means we go to the same kid functions.
All of this made me think about assumptions. Some assumptions are good. Some not so much. For example, there is the assumption in society that this group of people in this picture will not get along. The reasons for this are many. One obvious reason is that there are many religious people who DON'T like each other at all (just as there are non-religious people who don't like each other). Another is that, in most people's jobs, similar franchises are naturally considered competitors. Then there is the way religion is reported in our society as a sort of intellectual sporting event with teams and mascots. In this context our "Super Bowl" is that time in December that we just went through. These, I think, are the reasons that people are pleasantly surprised to find out that not only do we meet during December but that we see each other more often as allies rather than as enemies.
The whole experience made me think about assumptions. Most of us make assumptions about everything. There are social and religious assumptions. There are cultural assumptions. We make assumptions about science and relationships. We even assume what other people assume about us and others. Without doing some of this we would never get out of bed in the morning. However, there are times when we need to remain open to surprise. In our hyper-connected world certain assumptions have proven deadly.
I think my New Year's resolution this year will be to assume less. It sounds really pretentious to say but I mean it. I feel like I have become more closed minded lately. I can't say that this is true in areas that I know quite a bit about (like religion and the folks in the picture) but there are other ways where I have found myself being either dismissive or accepting of other people, places, and ideas. Maybe there is just more going on that points to what I am closed minded about! So here is to being more open to surprises in the future.
What is your resolution?