I am not a politically sound person. What I mean by that is that I don’t pay enough attention to what goes on in the political realm to have an informed opinion; I simply find it to be exhausting, weird and often disappointing. Time and again I have been burned by my naïve belief that people run for office because they have the best interest of average citizens in mind. Most certainly there have been a handful of decent, compassionate people who sport a clear moral compass in their public service as Representatives and Governors, Senators, the President. Unfortunately, however, I harbor a tainted sense of what we call “politics” in this country. It has grown to be a big parade with lots of entertainment value. I can’t stand the lawn signs that mar our landscape every election cycle. I can’t bear to think how much money is wasted in the name of “running for office.” The showmanship element is disturbing. I wish we could simply tend to the very important business of doing the very important work of running our towns and states and country without all this hoo-ha. And without all the division of humanity.
Two weeks ago a man walked into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and gunned down eleven people. Fill a room inside your mind with the eleven people you love the most, then imagine someone walking in with a gun and killing them all.
To my thinking that’s the story of the day, the one we should fixate upon. That we live at a time when people are so isolated and alienated that that becomes something that makes sense to them: shooting elderly people in a place of worship.
We wake up today and some people are happy and some not. Yay, we have the House and you have the Senate! Is that good news? I don’t know anymore. To me it smacks of those early stages in a divorce when a couple can’t stand each other anymore and so they start sleeping in separate bedrooms; they create invisible divisions within their home and then walk around all day seething. Who the hell are we as a country? Red? Blue? I mean I’m not a fan of purple but most days I wish we could melt it all together and make a new crayon.
This past Sunday’s reading was the motherlode: Mark 12: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Here’s what I told the folks in church: there is a reason these are called commandments. Not idea or suggestion ... Command! It’s because it’s so freaking hard to do—love thy neighbor as thyself— that we need to be issued marching orders. To be clear, this is not about bringing a casserole when Grandmother dies or taking in the mail when the folks next door are out of town. This is about humility and grace. This is about radical love, transformative love. This about releasing all the old garbage that’s not working and building something new.
In October of 2006 Charles Carl Robert walked into the West Nickel Mines School, a one-room schoolhouse in an Amish community in Pennsylvania and shot eight girls there, killing five of them before turning the gun on himself. Within hours of that shooting members of the Amish community went to the homes of Robert’s widow and his parents to comfort them. Read that again. To comfort them. "We must not think evil of this man," one of the Amish men apparently said.
Forgiveness. Grace. Courage. Humility. Love. Radical and transformative love.
This past Sunday, on page 19 of the New York Times, there was an “advertisement” with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. about hatred and love and the message:“In solidarity with families of the Tree of Life Synagogue, and all who have confronted the darkness of hate, we will meet every act of hate with radical acts of love.” It was followed by the names of many national and international organizations, including the Hip Hop Caucus, American Islamic Congress, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and the American Federation of Teachers.
We will meet every act of hate with radical acts of love.
Forgiveness. Grace. Courage. Humility. Love. Radical.
So we wake up today to a new day. The sun rises, I see some blue sky. We go about our business.
Here is the other thing I said in church on Sunday: the root of all of our actions is in our mind and heart. What we think, what we believe, what we gnaw on, what festers within us manifests in this world as either acts of kindness and love or the opposite: indifference, hatred, aggression, violence. It all starts with our thoughts and seeps from there into our hearts. Imagine that! The one space in our interior landscape we thought was wholly devoted to love can also be a harbinger of ill-will. The red, pumping Hallmark card Valentine of our imagination can just as easily become a darkened seed of transgressive acts. And all too often does.
Do you hate your neighbor who ran for a seat in the House with the belief that everyone should be able to own a gun, no questions asked? Do you hate your neighbor who ran for office with the belief that all people should have access to affordable healthcare? Did the gender of the candidate you saw waving to passing motorists yesterday bother you? Here in Vermont a transgender woman ran for Governor. Imagine that. Imagine how that probably played out in some people’s hearts and minds.
Take a moment, if you will, to examine the contents of your own heart. What are you hating today? Hate festers, it doesn’t dissipate. Hate is a tenacious little bugger that way. Where is it in you? What is it in you? And do you believe that you have the power to transform it into something else? Something less about death and more about life? Because you do. You do.
Red got the Senate, Blue the House. Do I have that right? Where do we go from here?
“I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and reach out to those who have suffered a loss …” was what someone said about the Amish community’s astonishing response in the aftermath of the murders of their daughters and granddaughters.
Those are acts of radical love, the kinds the New York Times piece speaks to. How do we do this? Where does it begin?
It begins today. In the thoughts you think. Start there, start small. Please try. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And I will do the heavy lifting of prayer, OK? I will pray that your thoughts of kindness and acceptance and compassion will eventually manifest in this world as acts of grace and acts of generosity and radical acts of love. More purple for us all, purple mountains majesties, please, starting right now. Amen.