Interfaith Insight - 2021

Permanent link for "Seeking wisdom from others" by Doug Kindschi on January 12, 2021

 “These are the times that try men's souls.” These words of Thomas Paine seem to describe our situation today. It is hard to know how to respond so I have sought help from historical perspectives. Today’s Insight will rely heavily on the wisdom of others.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Abraham Lincoln said in a speech during the Senate campaign of 1848. It likely lost him that election, but two years later he was elected president of the United States. The speech brought to mind the passage in the Gospels where Jesus spoke the words, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Mark 3:24-25)

Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address of 1861 included the words, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory…will yet swell the chorus…when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln concluded his address at Gettysburg with resolve “that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  In his second inaugural he said "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Historian Jon Meacham, in his book “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels,” quotes Lincoln frequently as well as other national leaders as he provides an historical perspective on our nation’s challenges.  

“For all of our failings – and they are legion -- there is an abiding idea of an America in which anyone coming from anywhere, of any color or creed, has free access to what Lincoln called the ‘just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way for all.’”  Meacham continues, “In our finest hours … the soul of the country manifests itself in an inclination to open our arms rather than to clench our fists; to look out rather than to turn inward; to accept rather than to reject. In so doing, America has grown ever stronger, confident that the choice of light over dark is the means by which we pursue progress.

“The measure of our political and cultural health cannot be whether we all agree on all things at all times,” Meacham writes. “We don’t, and we won’t. Disagreement and debate — including ferocious disagreement and exhausting debate —are hallmarks of American politics.”  He continues by quoting one of the leading theologians of the 20th century, Reinhold Niebuhr, who in 1944 wrote, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” In that same era, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote, “The Presidency … is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.”

Meacham notes other recent presidents and their responses to national crises. In the 1990s, an anti-Semitist, white nationalist, anti-government terrorist bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people including 19 children in the building’s day care center. President Clinton responded, “When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life. As St. Paul admonished us, let us ‘not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’” 

President George W. Bush, following the 9/11 terrorist attack, stated clearly that America was not at war with Islam. “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying in effect, to hijack Islam itself. … The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.”

Jane Addams, the social worker, activist, and reformer from the early 20th century warned against what today we might call being caught in a limited tribal worldview.  She wrote, “We know instinctively that if we grow contemptuous of our fellows and consciously limit our intercourse to certain kinds of people whom we have previously decided to respect, we not only tremendously circumscribe our range of life, but limit the scope of our ethics.” 

Meacham’s historical sweep does not give him cause for despair. He writes, “History, however, shows us that we are frequently vulnerable to fear, bitterness, and strife.  The good news is that we have come through such darkness before.”

“The opposite of fear is hope,” he concludes. “Fear feeds anxiety and produces anger; hope, particularly in a political sense, breeds optimism and feelings of well-being. Fear is about limits; hope is about growth. … Fear points at others, assigning blame; hope points ahead, working for a common good. Fear pushes away; hope pulls others closer. Fear divides; hope unifies.”

Our religious traditions also provide us with hope. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Psalmist wrote, “Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” (Psalms 33:22)  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount declared, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

The following is a prayer from the Mishkan T’filah, the prayer book of Reform Judaism:

O Guardian of life and liberty,

May our nation always merit Your protection,

Teach us to give thanks for what we have by sharing it with those who are in need.

Keep our eyes open to the wonders of creation and alert to the care of the earth.

May we never be lazy in the work of peace;

May we honor those who have died in defense of our ideals.

Grant our leaders wisdom and forbearance.

May they govern with justice and compassion.

Help us all to appreciate one another and to respect the many ways that we may serve You.

May our homes be safe from affliction and strife and our country be sound in body and spirit.

A prayer from St. Francis of Assisi also gives us guidance:   

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

Earlier this year we announced that 2021 would be the Year of Interfaith Healing, with one of the themes being “healing for our political divisiveness.”  As we work for peace and healing, let us learn from our history and from our faith to never give up hope. 

Abraham Lincoln

Posted on Permanent link for "Seeking wisdom from others" by Doug Kindschi on January 12, 2021.

Permanent link for "Can we find healing in 2021?" by Doug Kindschi on January 5, 2021

As we close the book on 2020, there is no question that it has been a difficult year. What is our task as we enter 2021? An important Jewish concept is “tikkun olam,” usually translated “repair the world.” Is the coming year a time to repair or heal the world from the ills of 2020?

U.S. COVID deaths have surpassed 350,000 with single-day deaths often exceeding 2,000 or even 3,000.  That is the equivalent of 10 or more 737 jets crashing every day. There has been recent controversy about the 737-Max returning to service because of the tragedy of two flights within a five-month period which killed 346.  But the virus is currently killing more than six times that combined loss each day.

2021 does bring hope as we look forward to a vaccine that will slow that death rate, but at the same time overconfidence has led to relaxing the simple practices of wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Health care workers who are overworked and subject to their own exposure are expressing frustration with the large number of people who are ignoring these simple acts that help prevent hospitalization and death. Can we find healing for our bodies in 2021? 

The political divisions persist not only in Washington D.C. but throughout our country, to the point where compromise and working together have given way to polarization and demonization of those with whom we disagree. Our divisions have become toxic. We have come together too often not by what we agree on, but on whom or what we hate. Have our belief tribes become so isolated and solidified that we cannot even have civil dialogue with those in a different camp?  It has been observed that “Change doesn’t come from Washington; change comes to Washington.” Can the change in how we engage with one another and how we respect those with whom we disagree, begin with us and then have impact on the national scene? Can we find healing for our political divisiveness in 2021?

The past year has made vivid the huge racial disparity in our country. We have had to face again the persistence of structures going back to slavery and the Jim Crow era. We have been challenged by books like “White Fragility” and “How to Be an Antiracist.”  The coronavirus has further exposed the disparity of death rates for Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous peoples that have been dramatically higher than for so-called whites. Unjust killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have played out in the media and burned into our consciousness. Can we find healing for our racial disparity in 2021?

Frequent hurricanes, floods, and wildfires have made real what science has been telling us about how our climate change is coming close to a point of no return.  Records have been broken on the number and severity of hurricanes. Wildfires in California have this year burned more than four million acres, doubling the previous annual record. Fires have also brought record-breaking devastation in Australia, the Amazon, and other parts of the world. These fires add heat to the earth system as well as greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, making future fires likely to be more intense and frequent. Other parts of the country and world have experienced record-breaking floods. Can we begin to address the healing for our earth in 2021?

While we look to the new year with hope that the new vaccines will bring an end to the pandemic, we must realize that it will not come soon and some of the darkest days are projected for this winter. Furthermore, we realize that there is no vaccine for the other challenges of political polarization, racial disparity, and environmental change, facing us in this new year.

The Kaufman Interfaith Institute sees the coming year as a time to focus our attention on what people of faith and goodwill can contribute to understanding and action in these challenges ahead. The interfaith movement has experience in bringing people together for understanding and acceptance when there are differing beliefs that tend to divide.  Our various faith commitments all emphasize caring for the other, seeking justice, showing mercy, and preserving the creation. Continuing a pattern started by our founder, Sylvia Kaufman, every three years we focus on coming together around a common theme.  In 2012 we introduced the Year of Interfaith Understanding.  2015 and 2018 addressed service and friendship respectively. The Kaufman Interfaith Institute is announcing 2021 as the Year of Interfaith Healing with the four themes identified above.

The events of this past year have made vivid these additional areas that need our attention. Healing must be an active practice. It is much more than resting or convalescing in hopes to return to our previous condition.  Healing can and must be active in seeking better conditions for our future.   

We must seek a healthier body, with more attention to staying healthy ourselves and actions which will preserve the health of others. We must do whatever we can to reach out to those with whom we may not agree. As we seek understanding and acceptance of all persons and their beliefs, we can help build a community that can work together. Our personal and local attempts might also contribute to the change that “comes to Washington.”  Our interfaith efforts have made great progress in bringing together those who have different faith beliefs; let’s also reach out to those with different political beliefs.

Our increased awareness of racial disparity should also inspire us to live out the teachings of loving our neighbor, doing unto others as we would like to be treated, and seeing all persons as sharing a common humanity as children of God. Increased awareness of what we have collectively done to threaten the creation should give us a new commitment to care for our earth as well as for each other.

We have concluded a very challenging year, and we now face the long, difficult effort to address those issues that have been exposed. Let us come together in the faith that we can have a better world by working together to seek justice and love mercy as we walk humbly into a better future.

Posted on Permanent link for "Can we find healing in 2021?" by Doug Kindschi on January 5, 2021.

Page last modified January 12, 2021