“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”
—The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare
Strange days in our nation.
The New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow may have best described the intense swirl of conflicting feelings and emotions millions of Americans experienced in the past three weeks. He writes: “[It]…was a bit surreal. As America was celebrating the victory of marriage equality at the Supreme Court, it was also mourning [nine] black people in South Carolina murdered by a white supremacist.” These are awe-filled and awful days. One day our nation takes a historic step towards full inclusion. Another day, in bloodshed and heartbreak, we remember how far we still have to go.
Millions of our fellow Americans have been empowered with the legal right to marry: to love and to make families. Millions of our fellow Americans are still targeted for hatred and bias and violence. The “other” welcomed in. The “other” cut down. It makes me weep and laugh, celebrate and grieve, proud to be an American and ashamed to be an American. In July 4th’s shadow, these events remind us that we have come a long way in 239 years—but we still have such a long, long way to go.
When will we as a people see the full dignity and worth of all people? All people? All of our neighbors and friends, every last one? All of the men and women and children with whom we share this home, the United States of America? Some argue that through the rule of law we’ll finally get to the promised land, and they point to the Supreme Court’s ruling as proof of this power. Others say we are already there. Look—we have an African-American President. Look—folks of different sexual orientations are very out and visible in our culture and country.
True, and yet…
Laws are not enough. The human heart cannot be changed through a legislative act or court decision. Authentic inclusion cannot be mandated or forced. We can post rainbow flags all we want on Facebook or Twitter but such public posturing risks little or nothing. The only truth that finally redeems is our shared humanity and our ability to embrace this reality. That we all bleed if we are pricked. We all weep when a loved one dies. We all aspire to love another special person and be loved in return and live in peace. Until we recognize this flesh and blood connection to the person we may still label as “the other,” nothing will change.
As Atticus Finch says to his daughter Scout in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, “…if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Until we who are white have the courage to face how hard life is for so many people of color in our land, things won’t change. Until we who are straight have the moral imagination to understand what it is like to have your essence as a child of God called “sinful” and “unnatural,” nothing will change. Until we who are privileged by virtue of the class we are born into or the zip code we call home, until we confront the pain of poverty and being poor, nothing will change.
Finally, we are all human, all children of God, all.
Before we are a color, or a gender, or an orientation, or a class, or a race, or a religion, or a nationality, we are all human. Get that and the world can change, absolutely. Miss that and the world will continue on as it is. Two thousand years ago a wise teacher was asked to name the most important of God’s laws. His answer was simple: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Such ancient wisdom seems so simple. If I want to be treated with equality and justice, I’ll do the same to others. If I want to be accepted for who I am, I must accept others for the person God made them to be. If I don’t want to be judged, labeled, or stereotyped, I need to stop doing that to my neighbor.
Amazing and incredible days filled with joy. Sad and tragic days filled with loss. America, we’ve come a long way. America, we’ve still got miles to go to reach our promised land.