Over omelets at Sarabeth’s recently, my friend Rabbi Joe Potasnik and I discussed the world at the close of 2016... and our dreams for 2017. We spoke of light and pleasant topics: family, food, and doo wop music. But, obviously, we also spoke of additional things: of Religion and our shared Judeo-Christian history, of politics (both global and national), of the similar issues facing houses of Faith (synagogues and churches), and of the changing nature of the world in which we live.
One of our shared dreams for the world, for the nation, and for institutions of Faith is that things in `17 will be better than they were in `16. The rabbi noted that a horrific lesson we learned from the Holocaust is that the world will sometimes allow indefensible genocide to happen. Then we discussed how Aleppo is a current day example of that – smaller of scale, to be sure, but still tragic and indefensible. Who could pretend that Assad can be trusted? Who would turn a blind eye to the escalating evil of Putin? How can the world allow Syria to savagely persecute the innocents (including moms and babies), to destroy religious relics sacred to Judaism and Christianity and varying sects of Islam, to bomb hospitals, and to murder its own citizens? What we have witnessed in 2016 cannot be repeated in a new year, for its sets a course for wickedness to dominate. We can’t allow our world to surrender to that.
We spoke of how the anger and divisiveness that resulted from the immature vitriol of the 2016 political campaign has to be addressed. We are either “one nation under God,” or we are not. And if we are, then people who differ from one another in political philosophy need to grow up and quit branding one another as “the enemy.” If there is no room for political debate and dialogue, then we have sacrificed the constitutional freedom so many have given their lives to defend. America is better than what we saw last year. Its time to reclaim civility and core values.
We spoke of institutional Religion and its changing shape. We’re blessed at Marble to be a congregation that remains strong and vital. There are reasons for that: a commitment to deep faith that is not determinedly dogmatic, a commitment to inclusivity, a commitment to the centrality of Worship, a commitment to the uncompromised importance of mission outreach, and a commitment to building the church on the foundation of Love. When those values are at the heart of a religious institution, it remains alive and vibrant. And yet, we discussed how the world is changing and, thus, how it accesses faith in new and emerging ways. Though Joe and I may have reached the age where one suspects we would be set in ways of the past, we acknowledged that we have to do business in ways that are consistent with the future. One of those ways is in the arena of virtual church and social media. For better or worse, people now search the web for everything – faith included. Churches that ignore that literally invite other organizations to elope with their audience. There are people all over the world seeking out Marble on-line, and their numbers will only increase. Thus, it is imperative that we remain ahead of the game in providing authentic distance-ministry to those who seek Christ through us but do not live near us.
At the close of the meal, Joe and I expressed thanks for being in relationship as clergy of different faiths but children of the same God. I was moved when a woman he knew came to the table, looked at him and said, “Happy Hanukah!,” then turned to me and said, “Merry Christmas!” It was a great moment as we had been discussing earlier those two faith holidays, our own winter festivals of light. She simply acknowledged that people of many faiths serve one God and, thus, are still family. It’s a lesson we hope the world will continue to discover in 2017 – that we all share this little spinning orb in space together, and God calls us all “children.”
As Robert Frost so rightly observed, there are “miles to go before we sleep.” May 2017 be a better year than 2016, and may we take important steps in the directions of holiness and peace.
Happy New Year!