Monday Matters

What’s the core problem? Damon Linker is on to a piece of it: “It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole – of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good. Each of us thinks we know what’s best for ourselves.”
-from David Brooks’ column in the NYTimes last Friday. A good read.
Selections from readings chosen for the observance of Independence Day
The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and widow, who loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing.
-Deuteronomy 10:17,18
The Lord upholds all those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down. The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
-Psalm 145:15-17
All of these died in faith without having received the promises…but as it is they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
-Hebrews 11:13,14
Jesus said…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
-Matthew 5:43

We’re in this together


We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.                        

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The story is told of Mayor Laguardia (airport namesake…not necessarily an honor, but that’s another column). He showed up at a night-time courtroom in 1935. An older woman was on trial for stealing a loaf of bread. The Mayor had taken the place of the judge, as mayors were permitted to do. The woman explained that she stole the food because her unemployed daughter (a single mother) and children were hungry, presumably victims of the Great Depression. The woman admitted her guilt. The Mayor sentenced her to a $10 fine or 10 days in prison. The woman noted that if she had $10 she wouldn’t have stolen bread. She agreed to be imprisoned, but wondered who would care for her family. The Mayor pulled out $10 and paid the fine. Then he addressed the whole group gathered in the courtroom. He said that he was charging everyone in the room 50 cents for living in a city where an old woman has to steal bread to feed her family. They collected almost $500 and gave it to the woman.

These days, I’m feeling like someone in that courtroom. That may be why I love this story, so much so that I’ve probably included it in this column before. Scanning the internet, some doubt its veracity. I’ll simply say that if it’s not true it ought to be. If nothing else, it’s a parable shedding light on what systemic challenges are all about.

This story came to mind as I thought about the community in which I now reside. A wonderful place. In the middle of the night last week, without fanfare, protest, or violence, several Confederate memorials were taken down by the city. They weren’t destroyed. It’s yet to be decided where they’ll be placed (A museum? A cemetery?), but for me, it showed wisdom, courage and initiative from our civic leaders. In the very same week, three policemen in our city made national news, caught on tape making vile, racist comments about violent intentions toward local African-Americans. I’ve been thinking of how, as citizen of this fine town, I’m part of both these developments.

We’ve just celebrated Independence Day. We give thanks for exceptional freedoms many have enjoyed over the years. The day is one of few secular/national holidays (Labor Day and Thanksgiving are the others) that have made it into the church calendar, with readings and prayers to inform our celebration. It is a holy day, set apart to recognize that our common life is both gift and responsibility. It’s interesting to me that the word “independence” does not appear in the Bible but the word “freedom” is all over the place. And that freedom has a purpose. It is meant for service, for life in community. St. Augustine spoke about this responsibility by talking about the God in whose service is perfect freedom.

In the news, there’s debate about whether challenges we face are systemic or just the result of individual, rogue actors. It’s convenient to attribute the brokenness to a few bad apples. It’s more challenging to ask: What’s my part?

Our baptismal covenant calls us each to strive for justice and peace. That’s a call to connect with our community, to recognize our participation or complicity or indifference to systems that are not just, to seize opportunity to change those systems. We see injustice in those systems: our courts, workplaces, families, schools, neighborhoods, churches.

We are called to work for a world marked by respect for the dignity of every human being. We are the body of Christ, connected to all God’s children. Maybe this week, we’ll find opportunity to grow in that, to pastor the community, to see what God is up to in the neighborhood, to share good news in word and action, even if it’s just a small step. Maybe.

                                           -Jay Sidebotham
Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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