Reflections at the American Unity Town Hall
Thursday Evening, January 13, 2011
Another said, “When you can tell the difference between a fig tree and an olive tree.” And again, the rabbi shook his head, no.
Now understandably, there were no other suggestions. And finally, the rabbi stood and slowly walked among them. Row by row. “You can tell that the first moment of dawn has arrived,” he said, “when you look into the eyes of another human being and see yourself.”
Like the rest of you, I’m watching this week’s events and feeling this week’s pain keenly. And I’m feeling that we need not only a national dialogue on civility but kind of a greater awakening, a new spiritual awakening. Do you know what I mean? We need to wake up to the interconnectedness of the human community: that I can’t be all that I can be unless you are everything you are meant to be; that you can’t be all that you can be unless I’m everything I’m meant to be. We need to wake up to the interconnectedness of the American experiment: that we depend on another, that we rely on one another, that Republicans need Democrats, and Christians need Jews, and students need teachers, and neighbors need neighbors.
Think about it. We will know that our nation is waking up – finally – when we look in one another’s eyes and see ourselves. When we look in the eyes of immigrant families risking everything to start new, and see ourselves. When we look in the eyes of young people going off the war, leaving families behind, and see ourselves. When we look in the eyes even of those whose politics we’ll never understand and never like, and see ourselves. Some years ago, my friend Rabbi Paula Marcus and I were discussing the great ethical teaching of Jewish and Christian tradition: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But Rabbi Marcus reminded me then that some rabbis have long interpreted that great teaching with a twist. Not: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But: “Love your neighbor who is yourself.” Love your neighbor who is yourself.
I wonder about living into a “more perfect union,” as the President urged last night. What a powerful dream for a wildly diverse nation like ours. And what a huge task. The President suggested we ought to live up to the dynamic expectations of those who died on Saturday. Doesn’t any perfect union begin with kindness, with compassion, with humility? Maybe humility most of all.
If I’m going to be a part of a national dialogue on civility – or a national awakening of any kind – I’m going to have to get real with my own inflated ego and my own need to be right and my own blustery temper. If I’m going to take part in healing the body politic, I’m going to have to do some inventory. You know what I’m talking about. When am I overly judgmental? When do I too quickly dismiss other points of view? When does my cynicism get in the way of constructive action and thoughtful public life? I believe that we will truly love our neighbors and live into a “more perfect union” as we acknowledge our limitations, and accept our imperfections, and take responsibility for our mistakes. Humility will go a long ways towards creating a better politics, a more dynamic politics in our land.
So we come together this evening – from all walks of life – to mourn the deaths that hurt us, to pray for survivors who are known to us and loved by us. And we come together this evening to imagine a still more perfect union, an American union, a union of left and right, a union of gay and straight, a union of west and east and everything in between, a union of the well-healed and well-connected and the isolated and very lonely. We want to believe in the interconnectedness of the American experience. We want to believe in the interdependence of American dreams. We want to believe that the time for humility and a greater awakening is now.