Habit of the Heart # 1: An understanding that we are all in this together.
I stand dutifully, watering the plants and flowers around the house. Since I moved back home at the end of July, this is part of a brand new job: house-husbandry. These days, when I awake and make coffee, I watch for the morning light to interrupt my longtime ritual of reflecting, journaling and reading some morning meditations, along with a few headlines, or a Facebook post. Today, I realize, my duties and my life are changing.
While I stand waving a wand of water, giving a drink to the things that grow gracefully around our house, I begin to think, “I agreed to take on this chore, but today, I’m not doing it out of duty. Now, it has become part of my daily regimen, my spiritual practice. I’m helping to give life. I’m co-creating. Now, in a new way, I’m trying to respect the dignity, not just of other human beings, but of other kinds – all kinds – of beings.”
This awareness, at the beginning of my third week of retirement, comes at the end of a week filled with great sadness. While the whole world was watching the ongoing turmoil in Gaza, Iraq, and the Ukraine, two stories of personal tragedy emerged this week in our own country. On a Saturday afternoon, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American student, lost his life at the hands of a white police officer. Two days later, Robin Williams, a 63-year-old white comedian, took his own life after living with addiction, mental illness and Parkinson’s disease.
At first blush, Michael and Robin may seem to have little in common – with one another, with us. Yet both of these men were, in the eyes of so many of us human beings, an “other.” It may not be too strong to say they were somehow alien, strangers in what feels to so many Americans like a strange land – this land we thought we knew, this land we still love.
Starting October 1st, I will be part of a leadership team presenting a six-week, Wednesday evening series at Idlewild Presbyterian Church called “Civil Conversations: Healing the Heart of Democracy.” Inspired by Parker Palmer’s latest book, subtitled “a politics worthy of the human spirit,” we will explore together some practical ways to bridge our political and other divides. Parker proposes five “habits of the heart” which can help restore us to being “we the people.” The first habit, listed at the beginning of these reflections, leads logically to the second:
Habit of the Heart # 2: An appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
The good news, Parker teaches and reminds us, is that “‘us and them’ does not have to mean ‘us versus them.'” He further describes that second habit with this simple sentence: “The stranger has much to teach us.”
Studies now show that older, white American men are at very high risk for suicide. Other studies have shown for years that younger, black American men are at an equally high risk for incarceration and homicide. Whether I fit one of these categories does not matter. What matters is this: If we cannot look at any part of our own species and call each and every person – especially someone who is a “stranger” – a precious human being, what hope is there for all of humanity, for all of what Desmond Tutu calls “the rainbow children of God?” If we cannot learn how to appreciate the value, and respect the dignity, of very human being, what hope is there for all God’s creatures, for all of creation?
Slowly, as I stand and pour precious, life-giving water over creatures we call “plant,” creatures seemingly so “other” from me, I am coming to see, more and more, how these beings, too, are part of my family. As were Robin and Michael. As are men, women and children in all other parts of my neighborhood and my world. Slowly, in this, my new practice of house-husbandry, my habits and my heart are changing again – and I am hopeful.
The Rev. Tom Momberg
August 14, 2014