As I look upon the faces and read the names of the 14 people murdered during a holiday party of colleagues serving the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, I am reminded of why I love the United States of America.
I see men and women of diverse national and racial and ethnic ancestries: African, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Iranian, German, English, Greek, Italian, Jewish, and more. I see Protestants and Catholics and Jews and possibly those with no religious affiliation.
They were charged with our public welfare as health officials, and some worked with the most vulnerable Americans, those with disabilities, including the partnered gay man who managed the coffee shop in the building and trained people with developmental disabilities.
I love that the United States is home to such diversity. Other nations are increasingly diverse and some are more welcoming than we, but I believe that our nation’s pride and strength comes from our multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-faith citizenry.
I hate that some would try to make us feel ashamed of our diversity, that some would try to make us fearful of the integrity that is the fruit of our unity, that some would try to prompt us to a “this is mine, not yours” mentality, that some would be divisive in pursuit of their political careers, that some would remove the welcome mat at the base of the Statue of Liberty. This is un-American.
The spiritually-impaired, the mentally-impaired, and the emotionally-impaired are not the only ones who need background checks; we must examine our own spiritual, mental, and emotional impairments. Almost any one of us can have a crazy moment when an easily accessible weapon may tempt us to destruction, whether a gun or the internet or a simple word of hate.
But there are those who more grievously enable mass killings: those who profit from the weapon-congressional-political complex*: the gun lobby and gun manufacturers, and the elected officials and presidential candidates funded by them. They all profit from those who resist our diversity with guns.
When I lived in West Hollywood, California, I participated in a conference sponsored in our community by the then-named National Conference of Christians & Jews. Soviet Jews were pouring into our community, and some of the elderly residents, often Jews themselves, felt threatened by their Russian “lifestyle” of congregating late at night on street corners to socialize, often talking loudly.
As I heard them express their fears—with some legitimacy, given the vulnerability felt by seniors—I couldn’t help but think they must have felt the same way about gay people flocking into their neighborhood years before.
As for me, I loved the fact that I could walk by a crowd of chatting people or go to a neighborhood deli and not understand a word that was spoken.
Of course some of this fearlessness was afforded me by both youthful exceptionalism* and white male privilege. But look today at those expressing the most anti-immigrant and racist sentiments, and they are predominantly white or male or both.
In his wryly-named book, Dirt, Greed, and Sex, Episcopal priest and professor William Countryman wrote that those of biblical times believed that they lived in a world of limited goods. Thus greed was possibly the most grievous sin. To want or to have more than one’s share was to take it away from somebody else, in effect, to steal.
The Ten Commandments could largely be described as opposing forms of stealing: you shall not take God’s image or name, you shall not take from the Sabbath’s holiness or from your parents’ honor, you shall not take another’s life, you shall not take another’s spouse, you shall not take another’s possession, you shall not take another’s reputation by bearing false witness, you shall not even yearn to have a neighbor’s house or anything belonging to the neighbor.
We too sometimes think we live in a world of limited goods, and environmentally and globally, there is some evidence of that.
But there should be no shortage of things that make a people truly great: diversity, equality, justice, mercy, compassion, and hospitality.
*These are phrases I’ve coined for this post. Next week’s post will explain “youthful exceptionalism.”
A reading for Advent: Why Must Politics Intrude on Our Faith?
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