“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
This quote is paraphrased from the teaching of the Talmud, a Jewish sacred text containing the intergenerational conversations and teachings of rabbis through the ages as they comment and expand upon the teachings contained in the Mishnah and the Torah. In the wake of the horrific mass murder at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this past Saturday, I find myself searching for ways to grapple with this latest violent attack in a series of violent acts carried out by extremists in our country. The senseless murders of eleven Jewish people, who had gathered in their house of worship to pray and come together as a community of faith, was motivated by hatred and anti-Semitic, as well as anti-immigrant rhetoric and ideology.
This kind of language is on the rise in our country, and we cannot close our eyes to the devastating effects it is having on so many communities – be they Jewish, Muslim, Sikh; whether they are transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer; if they are immigrants, refugees, or those who would give them aid; or if they are people of color, especially our Black and Latino neighbors, who may feel targeted because of the color of their skin. We are becoming isolationists, under national leadership who chooses to “go it alone” rather than work to build coalitions and partnerships between nations. We are on a dangerous path as a nation, and we stand at a crossroads. We must choose leadership that will unite and uplift all people within our country and beyond our borders. As people of faith, we are called to stand with the poor and the marginalized; to lift our voices and to put our own bodies on the line when necessary.
Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who lived most of his life in Pittsburgh, and for a time resided in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where the Tree of Life synagogue is located. Mr. Rogers was a believer in a God of love, a God who loves each of us “just the way you are.” He was not blind to the brokenness of the world and he sought to find ways to help children, and the rest of us, cope with the violence of the world and the violence within ourselves as well. When we find ourselves wondering where God is, in the midst of the world’s great pain, sadness, and destructiveness, Mr. Rogers advised us to look within ourselves: “Deep within each of us is a spark of the divine just waiting to be used to light up a dark place.”
He believed that we all have God within us, and that it is in all other people as well. “To be loved as God loves us is a primary way in which we encounter God, and to love as God loves is to make God real in the lives of others. When we love our neighbor, he or she really experiences God; we experience the same when our neighbor loves us. God is present, incarnate, in the sharing and exchanging of human love. Love is a sacrament.” (Michael G. Long, Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers, p.38)
Let us come together, and come alongside our neighbors in the coming weeks, to honor the divine spark within each of us; to shine some light in the dark places; to continue the work of justice, of mercy, of humbly walking with our God, and the God who loves us all.