Interfaith Insight - 2023
Permanent link for "Finding Our Moral Center with Radical Hope Uncovering Needed Change" by Doug Kindschi on May 16, 2023
My regular reading includes the monthly Christian Century, which includes the descriptor phrase “Thoughtful. Independent. Progressive” on its cover. When it arrives, the first thing I do is read the first-page brief essay titled “First Words” from its Editor/Publisher, Peter W. Marty. This month he discusses living an interesting life. Of course, he wants to live a happy life, but also he wants “to live a life of deep meaning in which there’s a moral center: one where virtue is prized, depth of character matters, and purpose comes through serving others.”
Marty continues, “I can’t imagine how much more selfish and depressing my instincts would be if I wasn’t attached to a faith community.” But he then goes further in suggesting that there is something more, “something beyond a life of mere pleasure or a life dedicated to meaning and purpose. What about being an interesting person?” He wishes this for himself and for others.
He was struck with the words of one time NCAA coach Jim Valvano who, when receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, said, “There are three things we all should do every day.... Number one is to laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears.... If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day.”
I was thinking about Marty’s and coach Valvano’s advice and wondered if that would apply not only to individuals but also to our nation. Even our Declaration of Independence affirms the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is hard to imagine the pursuit of happiness without life and liberty. And yet many people in our nation’s history were deprived of that life and liberty, and hence had very limited ability to pursue happiness.
But the aspirational goal of all persons being created equal brings us to Marty’s goal of living a life of meaning with a moral center. Should this not also be our national goal? Can our nation have a moral center without ensuring the life and liberty of all our citizens? Shouldn’t our historical failure in this area bring us to tears? An interesting life includes recognizing the times when our best intentions are not realized, when we have failed to live up to our moral principles. Our memories are not all wonderful and we learn from our failures and our tears.
This brings me to the book by Jennifer Bailey, To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss, and Radical Hope. Bailey, who a few years ago was our featured Sigal Lecturer, has emerged as a national interfaith leader as well as founder and executive director of Faith Matters Network. In these letters she shares both high points of happiness as well as the sorrows of losing loved ones. Bailey, an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, shares the journey with her mother’s 14-year battle with cancer, which was diagnosed when Jennifer was just a teenager.
She promotes radical hope, which is “the everyday practice of believing that the material conditions of the world can be better and that we have the capacity to bring about that change in the here and now.”
The final letter in the book is addressed to her younger cousins who will soon be dealing with the unresolved problems in our society. She urges them to listen to “the voices of our ancestors crying out ... ‘Remember! Remember!’” Remember the failings of the past, remember the sins of our history. Bailey notes that this is counterintuitive to a nation that is “rooted in a misguided conception of American Exceptionalism ... that our values, system of governance, and history have set us apart, thus making us worthy of universal admiration and praise.”
Tears are required in this remembering as we learn from this history. She writes, “We are living in apocalyptic times.” Not the end of the world, but a time “of remaking the world as we know it.” She reminds us that the Greek root of the word “apocalypse” means to uncover. We are in a period of uncovering those shameful and tearful aspects of our history that must not be covered but should be remembered and taught.
We can only pursue the radical hope required when we face our failings. When we uncover the parts of our history that bring us to tears, we can then seize the radical hope that brings about the needed change.