Weekly Reflection: February 24, 2022

It’s Complicated!

Sirach 44:1-15

 

Dear Family and Friends of Grace Church,

It’s President’s Day as I write this. And I am having an internal conflict as I write. All morning, the words of Sirach, (Ecclesiasticus), chapter 44 have been rolling through my head. The opening reads: “Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. The assembly declares their wisdom, and the congregation proclaims their praise. “(44:1&15) That passage always comes into my mind when I think of great past leaders. Perhaps because it is so often quoted in commemorations of their deeds. Commemorating the great and famous used to be so much easier. It’s so complicated now. 

You see, I come from one of those families (as many of you also do) that has been here since 1620, with nearly all of my emigrating ancestors having arrived before the end of the 1600’s.  Collectively, they have served in every American conflict, big and small, and have been present for many of the larger historical moments, and been participants in most of the important cultural/social movements. I was raised on stories of their “noble valor” in service of the “Greater Good” and charged to “sing” their praises. 

Like for all four of my Great Grandfathers who fought in the Civil War. Given that they were not all on the same side, I have had to accept that not all served a “Noble” cause, and that their “valor”, though very real, was not given for the truly “Greater Good.”  My love of their memory is now complicated. 

So, here’s the internal struggle I face every President’s Day or Veteran’s Day, or any other National or State commemoration day: Can I still love them? Can I still honor them for the sacrifices they made? Can I still “sing their praises”? This is why I’m offering Bishop Goff’s comments here this morning. Her gentle, yet deep pondering of these questions has helped me in finding some peace with my complicated and conflicted ancestry. More importantly, though, her words can also help us to see that accepting the human complications in everyone around us, can have a positive effect on our current relationships with others. I offer her words to you in the hope that you will also find her thoughts helpful as well. 

Peace, 

Fr. Rick

Beyond the Silhouettes

When I was in elementary school, back in the day when Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday were separate holidays, our classrooms would be decorated with silhouettes of the two famous presidents throughout the month of February. Art projects during the month often included making silhouettes of our own. Of course, we also learned stories about the Father of our Nation and about Honest Abe. The stories were often told as morality tales — be as brave as George Washington, be as honest as Abraham Lincoln. The stories we learned were simple, clear and as black and white as the silhouettes that decorated our walls.    

Living in black and white was easy. Complexities were overlooked. All shades of gray, never mind anything approaching color, were eliminated. Our heroes were presented as perfect icons, without flaws, without shadows, without the entanglements that make us human. It wasn’t until much later that I learned about the political machinations in which each of our heroes were caught, or Washington’s disastrous first military campaign or Lincoln’s ongoing battles with depression. Beginning to see these men in living color didn’t diminish my admiration for what they accomplished but increased my gratitude for their actions. They were fully human in all their complexity, just like me, and they accomplished much because of (not in spite of) it. 

These days, as people of our nation and wider world continue on a path toward greater and greater polarization, we can be tempted to reject the complexity of other human beings. We might want to remove all shading and reduce others to simple black and white silhouettes. Living in that kind of black and white is easy. Ignoring the complexities in the lives of other people and rendering them as flat as a piece of silhouette paper is easy. And it is as destructive as it is easy, because it strips others of their humanity; it ignores the image of God in which they are made.

Jesus said, as we heard in our Gospel reading (Sunday), “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-28, 31). To love is to see people in living color, in all their wonder and woundedness. To love is to see people in multiple dimensions, in all their complexity and complicity. To treat others as we would like them to treat us, and not to treat them in ways that we ourselves don’t want to be treated, is to honor the depths of our shared humanity.

(A Prayer:) 

God, grant us the grace to see more than black and white cutouts, but to look for the depth, the dimensionality, the color and shadow and shade in each human being. Grant us the honesty to see each person for whom you created them to be, and the bravery to live in a bigger, more colorful world. Amen. 

Bishop Susan Goff