Another shooting on Erie’s streets. For a community of roughly 100,000 souls whose history has not been considered unusually violent, there are far too many of them these days. I serve a suburban congregation and live in a suburban home. What is our connection to such events beyond thinking “how terrible?” The neighborhoods we choose to live in are not just chosen because of what they offer us together. They are also chosen by what they separate us from. Do people not choose suburban communities at least in part because of the distance that puts between them and more urban problems? I am not saying this to make us feel guilty for where we may have chosen to live. But what about that separation? How real is it?
In America we think of ourselves and families as independent units each making their own free choices. Biblically that is barely half true. It goes way beyond such traditional sayings as “no person is an island.” Isaiah the prophet was speaking to people whose surface religiosity he was calling into question. They observed religious worship and festivals and fasted along with their prayers. But their behavior in the world was governed by conflict and self-centeredness. In response to this kind of religion the prophet said, “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice…and break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
The key to the behavior Isaiah is recommending to us is that last phrase – to not “hide yourself from your own kin.” The key is to see our connection with other people – not our separation. They are “kin” to me. Those people who are shot and those who do the shooting are kin to me. Those growing up in communities where gangs dominate the neighborhood are kin to me if I live in the neighborhood, or several blocks away, or miles outside of town. If they are part of an ethnic group whose identity and values may be somewhat different from mine, and my temptation is to view them with suspicion, they are still kin to me.
St Paul calls those who trust in Christ the “body of Christ,” and in 1 Corinthians 12 notes that what happens to one happens to all. Our separation is an illusion created by distorted egos, and allowing it to grow is self-destructive. Church groups and Christians that can’t get along well with each other do well to reflect on this. It sure disturbs my spirit regarding my own separations.
Paul’s words, of course, are about the connection between adherents to Christ. How are we kin with everyone else? It all starts with us being broken. The very brokenness that separates us from one another is also one of the things we all have in common with each other. Once acknowledged, it becomes part of the glue that builds compassion and understanding. Humanity was not created to be separate. We are created to be one with God and with each other. Oppression or pain that happens to any of us truly happens to us all as well. Having a township or municipality or country border between us does not change that.
As much as we may try not to be, we are all connected – connected to struggles around us, connected to the joys around us, connected to those who have gone before us, connected to those who annoy us. To be connected does not mean there are no boundaries. A healthy connection will in fact require them. But our refusal to recognize our connection only increases our self-destructiveness. To go back to the opening image, that shooting in Erie happened to me in Millcreek as much as it happened to the family, friends, and neighbors in Erie. Really get ahold of that, and it changes a lot of things. More to come on the subject in the future!
- Rev. Charlie