You might be surprised.
Truffle fries and sparkling wine is our communion tonight as I sit and ponder the significance of salt and pepper shakers suddenly reappearing on restaurant tables across America. Thank God, because on occasion you have to throw a little salt over your shoulder, or who knows what evil might befall you.
I’m having dinner with my husband Larry and daughter Kelley near her new apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. There are two couples enjoying wine, pasta, and a basket of bread at the next table. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re in their forties, but I tend to round down when it comes to age.
We’re eating outside on tables set up along the sidewalk under one of those lean-to structures. The temperature is finally cooling, a light rain is falling, but as the evening settles around us it is the twinkle lights that I find enchanting.
I’m shamelessly eavesdropping on a conversation ensuing at the next table.
In my defense, it’s not like I’m trying to listen, they’re just talking so loud. I’m one of those people who has a hard time blocking out third-party conversations at restaurants, or any large social gathering for that matter. It’s a nasty habit, horribly distracting, and your empathy is greatly appreciated but misplaced.
As if Judas Iscariot, I have no qualms about betraying my own ethics, and unabashedly sharing your conversation on social media. Harper Lee whispers in my ear, “Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?”
It’s not as if I’m working for the F.B.I., but you might want to migrate to another location if you’re discussing something highly confidential and I’m within earshot, seriously, I won’t be offended. My kids do it all the time.
So, here I am, half-listening to these couples banter back and forth about the jeopardy of library funds, and the traffic bottleneck in the Lincoln Tunnel. I’m also marginally trying to follow the conversation between Larry and Kelley speculating about taxes and interest rates (yawn), but my interest is piqued when the neighbors start demonizing some poor sap who failed to respond to an invitation because the address label was offensive.
The woman with a mop of elegantly styled brunette hair says, “Honestly, she’s never even read Virginia Woolf, I think she went to a state school, and now she refuses to acknowledge my invitation because I used the wrong honorific.”
Yes, I googled honorific, it’s a form of address denoting status, politeness, or respect such as Mr. or Ms.
I toss some salt over my shoulder because it reminds me of my Zoom classes during the pandemic and my epic failure with pronouns. My students were allowed to write the pronouns they preferred by their names so it would be easy for me to reference them properly. In the heat of the moment, I’d inevitably use the wrong one so I dropped all pronouns for the rest of the year, referring to everyone as “hey.”
That was not in any way honorific.
We’re so quick to find fault with each other, especially when our political views are in opposition with each other, or worse, when the tenants of our most deeply held beliefs are in jeopardy.
The recent reversal of the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade has everyone up in arms.
We all have our own views on abortion but I believe compassion might be our only ethical response. (Don’t click off yet, you’ll miss the best part)
Compassion is a huge risk, because if I grant you access to my heart, I’m talking all the way to the core of my being, you might change my mind, and open my pleasantly closed eyes. The thing is we can’t see the hurt we are causing others, or the hurt others are experiencing, with our eyes closed.
I love what Harper Lee wrote in To Kill A Mocking Bird, “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of another… There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.” How does one write a passage sixty years ago with such relevance for today?
It would be impossible to count the atrocities that have been committed in the name of God because when we fail to acknowledge the dignity of all people someone is going to get the shaft.
I know the Bible didn’t make the New York Times Best Seller list, but talk about relevance, and it was written over two thousand years ago!
Mary was a pregnant unwed teenager who could have been stoned to death legally.
The woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11) could have been stoned to death legally.
And now a woman seeking an abortion could be charged with manslaughter legally.
Men have never had to deal with the same repercussions as women especially when sexual activity results in a pregnancy.
All condemnation does is limit our ability to empathize with each other. Everyone is fighting deeply personal battles, life is not easy, and without compassion, we’ll never arrive at the heart of the issue.
And I think that involves respect, not only for opposing views, but a reverence for the very different circumstances we are born into, ones that have influence over our entire lives, and the power to keep us trapped in endless cycles of misery.
Jesus was continually being chastised for reaching out and touching our misery. He was not caste conscious, he’d dine with tax collectors and whores, healing the demons, illnesses, and infirmities of the downtrodden. I admit I would have enjoyed eavesdropping on some of those conversations?
The Pharisees were furious because this vagabond, by today’s standards, choose to not only heal but consort with the object of their judgment. I mean how are they going to feel good about themselves if they can no longer dump on the people whose afflictions some carpenter just cured?
Jesus doesn’t care what the moral majority thinks, his platform was based on nonviolence and compassion, and he remained loyal to his convictions to the bitter end.
He’s not coerced by wealth or lack thereof, he doesn’t care if you are fashionable or emo, liberal or conservative. He doesn’t care about your ethnicity. It doesn’t matter if you serve the poor, are covered in tattoos, or drive a Prius. He doesn’t care about your stand on climate change, your unconscious biases, or your vaccination status. He was a pretty woke guy.
He loves both Roe and Wade.
I admire a person who goes right to the core of a person, past the addictions, the mental illness, the disordered opinions, especially our crusty pride, and touches our most vulnerable asset, the heart.
The only vehicle that drives change is love. We know this!
I like how Leigh Roberson, from Living 50, illuminates the concept of acceptance. She writes, “More often than not, acceptance refers to identity. In practice, it looks like unconditional love. Accepting someone with all their faults and flaws is one of the greatest acts of kindness we can offer to others. It recognizes our likeness as human beings not necessarily our likeness of behavior or ideas.”
Jame Baldwin claims our inability to love is the central problem, because that inability masks a certain terror, and that terror is the terror of being touched. And if you can’t be touched, you can’t be changed.
We all have people we champion. You might care for the migrant worker, while someone else wraps their wings around the homeless, the drug addict, the immigrant, the prisoner, the elderly, or maybe you’re sheltering a gay or trans person who has been rejected by their families, church, and/or society. All are vulnerable and worthy of our collective love.
He said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
All being the keyword.
I think last Sunday’s reading was about Jesus feeding the five thousand broken and bewildered human beings who were listening to him preach on some isolated mountainside. Probably because he was run out of town. It was getting late and the disciples wanted to send everyone home for dinner.
Jesus had something else in mind.
He gathers some bread and fish from those in attendance and by some miracle it blesses, stretches, and multiples enough to feed everyone.
Notice how he did not meander through the crowd saying “sorry my dear, you don’t get to eat, or you, and especially not you Cheryl.”
He fed everyone.
He even fed Judas the blessed bread and wine at his last supper, on the night he was betrayed, even though he was woefully aware of what was to come. If that’s not a powerful example of compassion and inclusion I don’t know what is.
I guess my long and overly belabored point is about expanding my view, digging deeper if you will, down to the core of those who look, act, or worship differently from me. I know what I will find. A beating heart, one exactly like my own, one created by the same maker, for the same purpose.
That’s what Rumi was talking about when he said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”
I guess the question remains, how can we love each other in this world, not the next, when we’re sporting wings, happily expired, and living with a heavenly endowment?
As Bob Goff says, “loving people we don’t understand or agree with is just the kind of beautiful, counterintuitive, risky stuff people who are becoming love do.”
I’m going to try harder today, instead of scanning for differences, I’m going to search for our commonalities because this is what love does. And while fights ensue around the proverbial tables across America, voices raised in anger and frustration, I’m going to listen even harder. No condemnation, no shame, no judgment, no stones. As E.A. Bucchianeri claims, “there are times when wisdom cannot be found in the chambers of parliament or the halls of academia but at the unpretentious setting of the kitchen table.”
Pull up a chair, put down the armor, let’s talk.
I’m Living in the Gap, searching for common ground, care to join me?