An Inescapable Network of Mutuality
For many reasons, it is meet and right this morning to recall the words from Dr. King included below, part of a letter written from a Birmingham jail. The past week of 24/7 news has left me wondering whether Dr. King was right, whether the way we now live is the way God’s universe is really made. Was Dr. King dreaming?
I recently participated in a group in my town, different folks from different walks of life gathered to think about how we address challenges facing our community, a reflection of wider challenges facing our nation. The fine facilitator tried to bring focus to our discussions. He led us in creation of a list of the issues our group could address. We knew we couldn’t do everything. Maybe we could not even do much. But we believed we could do something.
We quickly came up with a list of issues to address: poverty, discrimination, incarceration, education, income inequality, housing, homelessness, health care, child care, elder care. I bet you could come up with a very long list in very short order.
There were many voices, so I didn’t add to the list, but on the drive home, this issue came to mind. How might it be possible for us to see that in our communities, we are connected? How can we build a culture in which we share and bear responsibility for each other, built on the conviction that we are meant to be in community, that we are meant for communion?
Maybe there was a time when that sense was prevalent. Maybe not. Forgive me if I’m repeating this story about Mayor LaGuardia, as told by Brennan Manning in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel. In the middle of the Great Depression, the mayor turned up at a night court in the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. An old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. Her daughter’s husband had left. Her daughter was sick. Her grandchildren were hungry. The shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people a lesson.” LaGuardia said to the woman: “I’ve got to punish you. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.”
As the mayor pronounced sentence, he was reaching into his pocket. He tossed a bill into his hat, saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit. Furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.” $47.50 was turned over to the woman. Fifty cents (a big hit in those days) was contributed by the grocery store owner himself, while petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
All I know is that almost 50 years after Martin Luther King lost his life, gave his life, our country seems to lack that sense that we are in this together, that whatever affects one affects all. Our culture is gripped by division, leaders making things worse, as we are plagued by discourse undermining the dream of a single garment of destiny.
Jesus prayed on the night before he died for his disciples that we all may be one. I’m praying he is praying for us now.
We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
Jesus prayed: ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
From the Baptismal Covenant:
Will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?
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