07 Jan A Reflection by Our Senior Pastor on yesterday’s events in Washington, D.C.
From Fracture, Fresh Sight
Dear Sisters, Brothers, and Friends,
In the course of our Nation, there are moments that shock us. Moments that shake us to our core. Among these shocking moments are: The assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. The explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The attacks on 9/11. The videotaped killing of George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer, as he was abetted by other uniformed police officers.
And to this grievous litany, we now must add… yesterday’s storming and siege of our nation’s Capitol.
The images of an angry mob swarming the physical and symbolic seat of our Democracy, disregarding the requests of sworn officers of the peace, defiantly parading about the hallways while brandishing a Confederate flag, breaking into offices and leaving threatening notes, and desecrating the Congressional chambers appalled anyone in their right mind. That our Nation’s President spoke in tones and in terms, however thinly veiled, that encouraged, even incited and praised—and certainly did not discourage—such anti-democratic actions only makes yesterday all the more ghoulish and grotesque. Even for those who would say we should have seen this coming or who felt certain it would, there was still shock. Was still a sense of “But, how could this be…? Here… in America? In our nation’s capital?” Was still a stunning sense of events exceeding even our worst imagination.
The images of this grievous moment will not soon disappear. And, in a way, we must hope they do not. More actively, we must not allow them to disappear. As horrific as they were, and as much as we might yearn to close our eyes and to “put it all behind us”—we cannot. And we must not.
It has long been true that moments of profound fracture proffer a sacred aperture, a sacred insight, a sacred opportunity. As unwanted and excruciating as they invariably are, these moments afford us the blessed and undeniably prophetic chance to see what, perhaps, for whatever reason, we were unable or unwilling to see before; and, which we now need to see—with fresh eyes—if we are to truly heal and grow from these fractures and the decisions and dynamics that led to them.
America is ever and always two things. Not separately. Not alternately. But both at once. America is both the high and holy ideals to which we aspire. And it is our common commitment to these high and holy ideals. No human and no human institution is perfect. So, at any given time, our Democracy and each of us as citizens will fall short of the ideal mark. (The same is, of course, true for us as Christians seeking to fulfill God’s commandments.) Without question, one critical measurement of our Nation and of each of us as its citizens is how far we have fallen short of, or fallen away from, the foundational ideals we hold so dear. And yet, the more profound and prophetic measurement of the state of our Union is not the gap, itself, between our ideals and our actions, it is our willingness to stop… and to acknowledge that gap. To name it with a bald, confessional candor and with a sobered reverence for the greater good (what our Christian forebears would call the commonweal).
The gap is our mirror. It is our looking glass. The reflective measure of what we are and what we are not. A chastening check against a self-perception that all too easily credits us for being something that we no longer are or that we have not even yet become.
Yesterday’s grievous moment appalled us. It cut us. To the core. It reminded us of the divisions and iniquities that persist within our National fabric. And, yet, strangely it also served to unite us. It sowed a fledgling unity in the furrows of what seemed, but hours before, to be irresolvable divide.
Yesterday’s desecrating moment pained us. But it need not—and it must not—paralyze us. In fact, it must do the opposite. It must motivate us. Not with frenzied rhetoric or wild accusations. Not with a desire to accuse, topple, or tear. But, rather… with a civility and secular piety that has too frequently eluded us (or, better said, that we have willfully eluded). With a truth that is spoken in love. With a willingness to speak truth to power. And with a renewed recognition that, as Senate Chaplain, the Rev. Barry Black, prayed in the benediction with which he closed yesterday’s session of Congress after they unanimously chose to reconvene to carry on Democracy’s churning work: “the power of life and death is in the tongue.”
Alongside all our brothers and sisters and neighbors and, yes, even our adversaries…
Alongside Muslims and Jews and Sikhs and Buddhists and Hindus and Baha’is and atheists and agnostics and those who are spiritual-but-not-religious, as well as alongside fellow Christians…
With fellow citizens of every gender, age, ability, orientation, party affiliation, status, and background…
And in the revelatory spirit of Epiphany (which is precisely what yesterday was)…
… may GOD HELP US to claim yesterday’s shocking moment as a chance to re-envision the ideals to which we aspire, to re-commit to honoring those sacred ideals, and to more honestly name what we—both as a nation and as individual citizens—must do to better bridge the gap between them.
This, I pray, in Jesus’ holy and healing name.
Yours in Christ,
Winnetka Congregational Church
P.S. I encourage you highly to listen to all of the Rev. Barry Black’s benediction offered at 3:44 A.M. this morning in the United States House of Representatives during the joint session of Congress. It is among the most thoughtfully rendered, fitting, and prophetic prayers I’ve ever heard… one that was composed and delivered in as pressurized and high-profile a setting as one could imagine.