An interesting thing happened on my way to writing this sermon. First, I got distracted by my pear tree adventure. For those who are not aware: buckle up. I was picking some delicious pears from my backyard pear tree when the ladder I was on collapsed under me. Gravity being what it is, first the ladder hit the ground and a few moments later I hit the ladder. Happily I broke no bones. But I did get banged up pretty good. My cuts are all healing nicely, but it seems I also tore some ligaments and sprained some tendons … or maybe it was tore some tendons and sprained some ligaments. Whichever, as you may have noticed I’m on crutches and will continue to be seated during the sermon.
For me, there have been two learnings from this pear tree adventure. One is obvious. Climbing high on a ladder can be hazardous to your health. But it is the second learning, not at all as obvious, that has really captured my mind and that I would like to share with you this morning.
The result of my pear adventure has been a significant amount of pain and a sudden loss of free-wheeling mobility. As many of you know, I’ve had a succession of health adventures over the past few years. Pain is no stranger. That does NOT make it any more fun, but it’s not a stranger. And that has made it much easier for me to deal with, as “painful” as it is.
But I have gone a lifetime without suffering the loss of mobility that I have had over the past two weeks. And never having suffered it, I truly had no idea what would be involved. Yes, I have been ill and laid up in bed for several days and even a couple of times for a few weeks. But this was different.
Using crutches is a skill, and I’m still working on it. But more than that, it had never occurred to me that moving things around, simple things like carrying a plate of food or that essential morning cup of coffee, would be difficult at best if not flaming impossible on crutches. In the kitchen, I’m constantly in motion: cleaning this, checking that, dashing back to the oven to prevent something from burning. Now things not only take longer to do, but I’m actually trying to plan my movements so that I don’t have to cross back and forth as much.
And then there are the stairs.
I tend to go up and down my stairs at home probably thirty times a day when I’m working at home. Now I try to do it only once a day … as stairs can be a dangerous place when on crutches.
So where am I going with all this? For me, the lesson is a reinforcement of something that I knew but had never applied to mobility. … And that’s what’s crucial. I knew it, but still had never applied it to mobility. What did I know? – that we can’t really understand something until we have experienced it. No matter how empathetic and compassionate we may be, we truly can’t understand something until and unless we’ve experienced it. If before this adventure someone had told me that I suffered from “mobility-privilege,” I would not have understood. But I do now. Mobility is an incredible privilege.
Again, I believe it’s important to understand that it’s not a lack of feeling or compassion. It’s not that I wouldn’t have been sympathetic to a person, say, confined in a wheelchair or permanently on crutches, but my actual awareness would not have been anything close to what my awareness is now.
As Joni Mitchell sang it, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
I had no idea how completely for granted I took my mobility until I lost it. Now, barring some unforeseen mishap, I’ll have my mobility back in a few weeks. But this I can tell you, I’ll never take it for granted again.
It brings home for me what a person of color means when he or she says something like, “I appreciate that you care, and I appreciate you are an ally. But you don’t understand. You can’t understand. You haven’t lived as a person of color in this country.”
It brings home for me what my women friends mean when they tell me something like, “I appreciate that you truly reject patriarchy, and I accept that you are a feminist. But you don’t understand what a women is subjected to in this country. You can’t. You’re not a woman.
It brings home for me what my gay friends tell me as well.
Most if not all of us are familiar with the Native American saying that to truly know someone you must walk a mile in their moccasins. We know it. We’ve heard it how many time? But have we truly appreciated, I wonder, just how true and profound that statement is?
And please, I’m not talking about bigots. Yes, the bigots are out there, but right now, these are not the people I’m talking about. Yes, the racists are out there. But right now I’m not talking about them either.
I’m talking about those of us who are truly caring, full of good will and love. I’m talking about those of us who are compassionate and walk with our eyes wide open. As deeply as we feel, as much as we want to help, unless we have walked a mile in someone else’s moccasins, we can be warm and compassionate and caring, but we can’t truly know.
So, you may be asking yourself, what on earth has this to do with Living Interfaith? Hello?! In an important sense, it has everything to do with it. You may have noticed that recently the haters, for whatever reason, have come out of the closet. Right now, what is the most obvious from a sacred perspective is how quickly so many have become so afraid of Islam and Muslims – believing any and every weird thing that people may tell them. As a Jew, I am reminded of how quickly, and not that long ago, people were so afraid of Jews.
Many have asked how was it possible that people not only lived next door to each other, but were friendly towards their neighbors and then suddenly turned on them? Gays, Jews, Gypsies. Not that long ago people were frightened that a President John Kennedy would turn the country over to the Pope. Seriously! How was it possible? Actually, it was easy. That’s what we need to understand. It was easy then and it remains easy today.
It remains easy because even though there is interfaith discussion and interfaith action, there is so very rarely what we practice here – twice a month, ten months a year: shared spiritual paths. One of our core beliefs at Living Interfaith is that not only is it important to walk a mile in the moccasins of people whose spiritual paths are not our own, but heck … it’s also fun! We not only learn from each other, we grow from the experience.
For me this was and will always be the great call of Interfaith as a faith. Come, let us learn about each other. Come, let us explore the multitude of profound paths that can lead us to the sacred in all of us: all of us. No one excluded.
One of the great discoveries of Interfaith as a faith is that I don’t have to give up my spiritual path to explore and appreciate yours. But if I am to know you, I must walk at least a mile in your moccasins along your spiritual path. When we do this, fear vanishes. When we do this bigotry vanishes. When we do this hatred vanishes.
I deeply believe that our Interfaith model can truly help our troubled world. I believe that in too many ways our country, like one big herd of angry lemmings, is rushing to the horrid and jagged cliff of name-calling, bigotry and unbridled hatred. I also believe that this cliff can and indeed must be avoided if we are to leave to our children and their children the world of love we say we all want.
Interfaith is a path away from that terrible and deadly cliff. Interfaith is by its very nature a path that not only strongly encourages walking a mile in each other’s moccasins, but has made walking in each other’s moccasins a critical component of who we are.
So if you have never been to a Living Interfaith service before: welcome! And if you are returning after a glorious summer off: welcome! And if you’re still on vacation … see you when you get back!
We can make a difference. And with your continued help, we will. For there is much to do.