Two Stories

18 Jan

It is not unusual that events in my daily life prompt reflection. On an afternoon in January here at Montgomery Place a service remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. was followed by a Jewish Shabbat service. 

I was impressed that each service recounted two stories, they were on parallel tracks. One story tells of the miseries of the human condition—injustice, brutality, exploitation, The other story is centered on the ideals that picture human life as a quest for justice, kindness, deepened sense of community, and sacrifice for others.

The two-story structure underscores a theme of the King service: “the genius of humankind, the thing that makes us half divine, is that some human beings can envision a world that has never existed.” 

One resident left the service in tears, feeling the years-long weight of the evils of racism. We all know the truth in her tears—the “isms” that mark our lives, often so pervasive that we are blind to them: racism, sexism, classism, ageism. These are ways we label people as “other” from us because of race, gender, sexual orientation, and economic-social class. Barack Obama warned us against this “othering” we so often engage in—against those “others” who look different from us, who speak, think, love, vote, or worship differently from us. “We must not permit ourselves to go down that road,” he said. But we have gone down that road, and we continue to do so. 

There is something in those tears that can awaken vision in people, the vision that we can take a different road.

The Shabbat prayers spoke eloquently of this “half divine” dimension: “Looking inward, I see that all too often I fail to use time and talent to improve myself and to serve others. And yet there is in me a yearning to use my gifts for the well-being of those around me. Renew my vision; help me understand those about me. Let me remember that I depend on them, as they depend on me; quicken my heart and hand to lift them up.”

Two stories. One drives us to despair, anger, and tears. The other gives us vision to strive relentlessly for a world that does not yet exist, except in our hopes.

These two stories make us human.

(c) Phil Hefner January 18, 2020

 

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