Betty Mc. from South Carolina seems to think I’m just like the New Zealand mass murderer. I guess my stand for human decency in light of the latest desecration of a Jewish cemetery so offended her that that was the comparison that jumped to mind. All I could muster in response was “Wow! What it must be like to be you.”
But that brings me to a bigger issue, one that has bothered me I think for as long as I’ve been alive. And it’s only grown, in terms of how central it is to who I am and what I believe. Call it a “feature” if you will, not a “bug.” And that is the yawning gap between courage and cowardice, the willingness of some to speak up and out while most sit on their hands, bite their tongues, turn their faces away. Betty is Betty. I can’t change her. And I won’t waste my time trying. And maybe at some level, that’s wrong. But there is too much work to be done, too many yet-to-be-activated folks who need to find their voices, find their pens, put on their shoes, and get to work.
I’m no one’s idea of a hero, but I am one thing for sure. I walk my talk. And I will do it until my feet are raw and my voice runs out. Some days, I just want to hide under the covers–and I probably should. But the little girl in me–my father’s daughter–won’t let me. She keeps telling me to get up, to try, to use whatever skills I have to add my portion of goodness, of decency, of generosity, of honesty, of compassion–to a world desperately in need of all of these, and then some.
I’ve been taking a class at a local synagogue on Bamidbar, and on the topic leadership. There’s a lot to discuss, given the centrality of Moses in the story. But something the rabbi has said twice now has made me want to jump out of my seat. “I’m not political,” he’s declared. In relation to what, I cannot recall. But it really doesn’t matter.
I wanted to stand on my chair and scream: “WHAT A CROCK. WHAT A COP OUT. WHAT A COWARDLY EXCUSE FOR NOT CHALLENGING THE WRONGS OF THIS WORLD.” And by the way, I might add, the Hebrew Bible is a PROFOUNDLY POLITICAL BOOK featuring A GOD WHO IS INHERENTLY BIASED. How, you might ask? Well, what makes God angry–really angry? Mistreatment of the poor, the widow, the orphan, for one thing. God rages against man’s failure to live up to his job as the bringer of justice, as the fighter for justice, as the vehicle and vessel through which what God has created can be made better, can be perfected. Not political? What a load of malarkey. And I would extend that to every religious figure who refuses to engage with the politics of our time, who refuses to call out the cruelty, injustice, lies, slanders, and scapegoating that define the politics of America today as practiced by the Republican Party. There is no equivalence here. Try that nonsense on someone else; I’m not buying.
If you only take out your moral compass on Saturday or Sunday, and you only–in the most roundabout of ways–deign to discuss our troubled times–you have failed as a leader. Not only as a religious leader (of any faith and denomination), but as a human leader. If you can’t or won’t speak up, then have the good grace to sit down, shut up, and make way for someone who will. The world doesn’t need your good manners; it needs your outrage, your willingness to challenge the evil in our midst, your determination to call out the wrongs we hear and see, day in and day out. And the world needs you to get your followers to do the same. That might be the only hope we have. And God knows, we need hope.