Nuts and Bolts Blog – October 29, 2018
Greetings, Friends –
What a wonderful time was had by all at our 184th Convention of the Diocese of Michigan – Fire of Renewal: Being and Becoming God’s Beloved!! From the movie “I Am,” to the workshop “The Way of Love,” to presentations from our campus ministries, the deputation from last summer’s General Convention, to Morning Prayer led by our own Youth and Young Adults, an outstanding talk by the Rt Rev Robert Wright asking us to “go deep,” Bishop Gibb’s inspiring address on the theme of convention, and, of course, to the business sessions themselves, this year’s Convention provided much to ponder and take to heart as we face the challenge of living and loving as the Beloved Community. I’ll have more to say about convention in the weeks ahead but this morning I want to share a brief reflection about the tragic murder of 11 of God’s beloved in Pittsburgh.
The media is full of opinion pieces pointing fingers and assigning blame to many people and factors that have brought us to this horrific place. I don’t intend to say anything about that. I have my opinions, too, yet I know that heaping more negativity will not help us face the question of what we do now. We grieve with the people of Tree of Life synagogue (L’Simcha Congregation) and we offer our prayers for the victims’ families and friends.
We can do that – and that is good, but it is not enough. I think it’s also important to remember that this shooting was not the only troubling news of the week: at least 10 explosive devices were sent to prominent people who have spoken out against the current administration and, in a separate event, two African-Americans were shot and killed at a Kroger in Louisville, KY, after the alleged shooter had tried unsuccessfully to enter a Black church.
I imagine that you’ve likely read as many news reports and op-ed pieces as I have since these events. One has stood out for me and I’d like to share that one with you. This is written by Greg Garret of Austin, TX:
Like, perhaps, many of you, I am in that state that Jeanie identifies in me as “fragile” this week. I am shattered by the violence and terrorism done in America this week by white nationalists inspired by fear and prejudice, by another mass shooting in a sacred space, and it feels like one touch will reduce me to splinters and dust.
I am not preaching this morning, a fact for which I’m actually glad. I’m at the Austin Film Festival. Yesterday afternoon in a panel on the great writer and director Nora Ephron, I asked my AV guy to play the end of Sleepless in Seattle for the crowd in the Driskill Hotel Ballroom, because it felt like some kind of spiritual comfort food: two strangers meet, one holds out his hand, and they walk away together.
Hope instead of fear.
I am not here this morning to lay blame for the state of our nation. I certainly have opinions. But at the end of the day, it is just more “Us v. Them,” more “I won’t listen to you because you don’t think like me,” and my blaming leads only to more recrimination and separation.
What I can do is be proactive, can preach hope instead of fear. Yes, we are surrounded by misunderstanding, paranoia, hatred, violence. But instead of naming names, I want to name remedies.
In every wisdom tradition–including the ethical atheism championed by Alain de Botton–compassion and hospitality are the traits we are asked to embody. We are told that we are to treat others as we wish to be treated–which, I presume, is with love, gentleness, generosity. In the Gospel of John, we are challenged to love radically, without hope of return, sacrificially, if need be, and this is one of those periods in our history when we need spiritual advice at least as much as political or emotional.
By all means tend to yourself. But if your self-care starts to stand at cross purposes to your call to love, if you find yourself only wanting to separate and not to find common ground, then it may be time to ask some hard questions about what you’re doing.
Yesterday evening I took our beagle Gracie for a long walk on our neighborhood, self-care for both of us. Usually when we walk, people call out to us, because she is a beautiful little dog, a purebred beagle who was the runt of her litter, and is still close to puppy sized even though she is grown. I was sweating and puffing when a multi-racial group of kids who were playing football in a yard crossed into the street and asked if they could play with Gracie.
There were five of them, four boys and a girl, all around ten years old. Gracie was nervous–kids are not always generous and hospitable. And I was nervous too, for the same reason.
The tallest one, a blonde boy, asked, “What’s her name?”
“It’s Grace,” I said. “Gracie.”
“She’s a beautiful dog,” he said. “Can we pet her?”
“You’ll have to let her get to know you,” I said. “She’s very tiny, and gets nervous really easily. She won’t hurt you, and she doesn’t bite. But put your hand out. Let her smell you first.”
Five hands went gently in Grace’s direction. At first she shied away. But then she sniffed. And licked.
Giggles went up around the circle.
Five hands reached in to pet her, gently. Gracie looked up at me to see what I thought.
“Daddy’s right here,” I told her, and I put my own hand on her flank.
For a few minutes, they laughed and stroked and called her by name, and I actually had to turn away for a moment to hide my tears, because that would not have been cool.
Adults are supposed to hold it together a little bit at least.
But it felt like a lesson.
It felt like grace.
On my toughest preaching morning ever, I was asked to bring a message of hope and reconciliation in Paris at the American Cathedral on the National Day of Remembrance for the terror attacks in Nice on Bastille Day. I remember feeling shattered then, too. And angry. And full of blame.
But I remember how I ended that sermon–with the words from a song by U2:
There is no Them.
There is no Them.
There is only Us.
If we live behind our walls, if we withhold our compassion, if we refuse to call each other by name, we are doomed. And no matter who you blame at this moment for symptoms, the illness will be all our own.
There is only Us.
Pray this morning for all those whose hearts are broken–and pray for all hearts to be broken. Including your own.
Pray that love and compassion will win the day, as all our wisdom traditions tell us they will.
Pray for that peace that passes all understanding.
At the end of the day, being right is a hollow satisfaction. The Apostle Paul says,
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
These are hard times for our nation. But there are things we can do. Some of them are political. Some of them are personal.
But the greatest of these is love.
I think Greg has “hit the nail on the head.” When we are able put aside the “us v. them” mentality, we are practicing “the Way of Love” and maybe we won’t see changes right away but they will come as more and more of us go deep and admit to ourselves that this is, indeed, our purpose as followers of our Lord.
So, let us take time to mourn and remember. Let us say aloud the names of the deceased so they are not forgotten:
In the Kentucky shooting –
Maurice Stallard, 69
Vickie Lee Jones, 67
From L’Simcha Congregation –
Daniel Stein, 71
Joyce Feinberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97;
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal 54
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger 69.
And let us take seriously our call to love as Jesus demonstrated in his ministry, loving all our neighbors.
Let us pray –
Lord, in our shock and confusion, we come before you.
In our grief and despair in the midst of hate, in our sense of helplessness in the face of violence, we lean on you.
For the families of those who have been killed we pray.
For the shooters—help us to pray, Lord.
For the communities that have lost members—their anger, grief, fear—we pray.
For communities of faith striving to be your light in darkness beyond our comprehension, we pray.
In the face of hatred, may we claim love, Lord.
May we love those far off and those near.
May we love those who are strangers and those who are friends.
May we love those with whom we agree and understand,and even more so, Lord, those whom we consider to be our enemies.
May we be moved to spread your love for all your people actively, without fear, that others may experience your saving love and redemption. All this we ask in the name of your Beloved Son, Jesus. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council