Acting the world into wellbeing… It’s a catchy phrase. It resonates well with our mission here at Pilgrimage. It sounds like exactly what we followers of Jesus should be doing.
But in light of what’s been happening in the world since we began our summer theme… it’s getting harder and harder to believe in anybody’s power to act anybody into wellbeing. Orlando. Baghdad. Dakha. Medina. Istanbul. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Dallas. Why all this killing? Why this inability to see each other as human beings? What will it take to stem the tide of hatred and violence? I suspect most of us are feeling overwhelmed right now.
I had planned to preach something else today, but the events of the last week cry out for some word. But what can be said? What’s the point? Nothing seems to change. In fact, things keep getting worse.
And yet…If our faith doesn’t speak to events like those occurring this week, what good is it? Why believe at all if God doesn’t care about the brutal murders of so many people? Any word that attempts to speak to what’s been happening will be inadequate. But as people of faith, we are compelled to try. As a preacher of the Gospel, I must try.
A word about this summer theme. The description of love as “the power to act each other into wellbeing” has become one of our watchwords. Before I ran across that description, love always felt like a touchy-feely ephemeral kind of thing. But “acting each other into wellbeing”… that puts some feet to love. Love is best demonstrated when one takes action to help the beloved become who they are created to be.
Extending the description of love outward to the world, makes sense. If we are to “love our neighbor,” that love will be demonstrated by acting our neighbors–no matter where they live–into wellbeing. Thus far, we’ve considered the differently-abled, those who struggle with mental illness, women, and the imprisoned. Still on the schedule are the poor, refugees, those affected by racism, children, and the earth.
It was a helpful, well-thought-out plan. But here’s my frustration. The issues facing each group we consider are so complex–and big–that all we’ve been able to do is skate along the surface of the issues facing each group. Sure, we can listen generously to the lives of all these different populations of people, but how in the world will we be able to act anyone into wellbeing? The needs simply are too great.
In mulling over and praying about recent events, a thought occurred to me. Maybe the reason I feel so hopeless when these tragedies occur is because I’m trying to come up with a response equal to the violence that’s occurred.
Here’s what I mean. Events like Orlando, Istanbul, and Dallas happen so quickly. They’re big, immediate explosions of hatred and evil. I think I keep trying to come up with loving acts that are equally big and immediate.
But that’s not how love works, is it? Occasionally, there are huge events where we all come together, but on the whole, we don’t act the world into wellbeing with grand gestures. We do it step by step, system by system, encounter by encounter, person by person.
Which, in the moment, is frustrating. When these huge tragic events occur, we want to fix things right away. But these aren’t fixes that can happen right away. The circumstances that have led to each violent act have been building step by step for months, years, decades. Transforming the world into a safer, more loving place also will have to be done step by step for months, years, and decades. As much as I want to fix things right now, when I stop to think about it, I realize that taking things step by step actually is more empowering. Today, I have no grand gestures….but I can take a baby step.
Thursday of this week, I attended a gathering of clergy and law enforcement officers at the Carter Center. The meeting launched a program called One Congregation One Precinct. OneCOP is a step by step movement that seeks to “create a culture of consciousness, concern, and cooperation” by building bridges between law enforcement and faith communities. The issues facing our country, especially in light of increasing violence, can’t be solved by law enforcement alone. As the folks at OneCOP say: “Law enforcement officials, civil rights advocates, civic activists, and faith leaders must work cooperatively around common public safety goals.”
How does OneCOP work? The intention is to put a structure in place that will support the building of personal relationships between congregations and precinct law enforcement officers, the officers on the street…doing whatever we can, as one person said at Thursday’s meeting, “to see the humanity in each other.” Congregations are encouraged to invite officers to attend services, to meet with congregants, including teenagers. Each congregation will appoint a liaison to work with the precinct’s representatives. We’ll be learning more in coming weeks about exactly what is involved in being a participating congregation. I’ll keep you posted.
Today’s Scripture was read by a rabbi, who led Thursday’s gathering in an opening prayer. How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! What might that look like, kindred living together in unity, and how do we get there? I think it entails doing exactly what was suggested on Thursday: “Seeing the humanity in each other.” Every evil act begins by denying or diminishing the humanity of the other. If we commit ourselves to seeking out and celebrating the humanity in every single person, we’ll begin to see the way forward to living together in unity with our kindred. If we don’t seek and celebrate the humanity of every single person, unity will continue to elude us….and the violence will continue unabated.
After the 10:00 service today, we’ll brainstorm together some things we might do to act into wellbeing this new world we’ve entered. Whatever we choose to do—as individuals or as a community–it will involve seeing the humanity in each other….like two people at a convenience store did yesterday morning. Some of you will have seen this shared on Facebook a million times, but it’s a story that bears repeating.
Natasha Howell, a young African American woman, posted this on social media. “This morning I went into a convenience store to get a protein bar. As I walked through the door, I noticed two white police officers (one about my age, the other several years older) talking to the clerk behind the counter (an older white woman) about the shootings that have gone on in the past few days. They all looked at me and fell silent. I went about my business to get what I was looking for.
“As I turned back up the aisle to go pay, the oldest officer was standing at the top of the aisle watching me. As I got closer, he asked me how I was doing. I replied, “Okay. And you?” He looked at me with a strange look and asked me, “How are you really doing?” I looked at him and said, ‘I’m tired.” He replied, “Me, too.” Then he said, “I guess it’s not easy being either of us right now, is it?” I said, “No, it’s not.” Then he hugged me and I cried.
“I had never seen that man before in my life. I have no idea why he was moved to talk to me. What I do know is that he and I shared a moment this morning that was absolutely beautiful. No judgments. No justifications. Just two people sharing a moment.”
“Just two people sharing a moment.” How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. How vital it is to see the humanity in each other. Whatever we choose to do in response to events of the last week, we’ll do well to begin there…and to take things Step by Step.
Step by Step
Step by step the longest march
Can be won can be won
Many stones can form an arch
Singly none singly none
And by union what we will
Can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill
Singly none singly none
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2016