Hurricane Sandy: Our Common Humanity

“We will be a shelter for each other in the storm.”  Every time I hear that song, every time I read the words, I tear up.  “Love can build a house that stands forever; stronger than a wall of steel or stone.  We will be a shelter for each other in the storm.  And when we come together,  we’ll be home.”

I want to thank you for your generosity, not only your generosity of coin but generosity of soul.  Last Thursday, you probably noticed, was Thanksgiving.  I give thanks for this congregation; for our willingness to walk our talk, as many of us did quite literally in the CROP walk – raising a good chunk of change to engage hunger worldwide, as well as for our local family shelter.

One of the great and truly wonderful qualities of the human species is our willingness to rally around those in need in a time of crisis.  Sandy was such a crisis.  It struck over a month ago now, and still the need is great.  People without shelter – without food.  So whatever we’ve been able to gather today will be put to good use.

We come together in times of crisis, in the name of our common humanity.  And yet, more and more it appears that we are so divided that we seem to come together only in times of crisis.  And what the last month has shown is that sometimes, not even then.

You may remember, in the aftermath of Sandy, that a Democratic President, running for re-election, and a Republican Governor, trying pretty hard to make sure that didn’t happen, did their jobs, put politics aside and went about the business of helping Sandy’s victims.  Yet we are so divided that many couldn’t accept that.  The very idea that two people from opposite sides of the political spectrum would actually put aside politics and work together for the common good was so unusual as to be mind-boggling.  And many, publicly, questioned their motives.  It’s worth, I think,  taking a moment to ponder how on earth did we get here?  Everything has to be politics – and partisan politics at that.

I was reading an article, just the other day, about humans being hardwired into thinking in terms of “them and us” – starting at infancy.  Perhaps that’s so.  Perhaps that’s why our spiritual paths, all of them, have begged us to think not in terms of ourselves, but rather of community, the human community.  I have a feeling – can’t prove it, and wouldn’t know where to start – but I have a feeling that if thinking in terms of an inclusive “us” and not a divisive “them and us” were easy, and we could say, “Oh sure, of course!” and then truly come together, our spiritual paths would not have spent the past several thousand years  pleading with us, nagging us, incessantly begging us to think of our neighbor as ourselves, to do unto to others as we would wish them do unto us.  If it were easy, we would have done it and moved on.  And our spiritual paths would have shut up!  But we haven’t, so they haven’t.  OK.  I acknowledge that.

But I think that being a shelter for each other in the storm, calls to us … all of us.  If we will let it.  And watching most of America rise to the occasion in the aftermath of Sandy, I know it is something we can do.  The question that I would ask this morning is, how big does the storm have to get before we are willing to be a shelter for each other?

What does it take to open our hearts, to truly open our hearts?  Our food banks are working overtime.  We know that.  There are thousands in every major city who are hungry.  Hungry.  And without shelter.  We know that too.  Is that a big enough storm?  I don’t know.

I go back to Sandy, and Governor Christie working with President Obama.  Why is it that a partisan Republican and a partisan Democrat working together for the common good is so shocking? … Because it’s so unusual!  Because we are so divided.

What does it take to rid ourselves of the disease that constantly forces us to divide?

As I listened to what passed for political discourse this last year, and you’ll have to admit, it was pretty hard to avoid it, I don’t think I once heard a candidate for office say, “My opponent’s ideas are well intentioned and good; but mine are better – so vote for me.”  Did you???   Wasn’t it rather, “I have good ideas, but my opponent will bring about the end of the world.  You have to vote for me!”

We will be a shelter for each other.  How do we do that if we can’t speak to each other?  How do we do that if we won’t listen to one another?  How do we do that if we constantly demonize one another.

To be conservative is not evil.  To be liberal is not evil.  To be in the center … while certainly dangerous because both sides are coming for you! … is not evil.

Now I wasn’t born yesterday, as you can probably tell.  There are some people for whom self is all.  For these people, as long as they have shelter, they have no interest in anyone else’s problems.  But I have to tell you, that is not a conservative position.  Nor is it a liberal one.  And it is certainly not a tenable spiritual position.

In that regard, I would like this morning to share just a few quotes, a taste from our diverse spiritual paths about being a shelter for each other.

From Ghana, and if you’ll permit me to be honest, it is one of my favorites; an Akan proverb.  “It is because one antelope will blow the dust from the other’s eye that two antelopes walk together.”

From the Baha’i.  “O contending peoples and kindreds of the earth!  Set your faces toward unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you.”

From Judaism.  “Who is to be honored?  The one who honors humanity.”

From Buddhism.  “Consider the flame of a single lamp.  Though a hundred thousand come and light their own lamps from it so that they may cook their food and ward off the darkness, still the first lamp remains the same as before.”

From Christianity.  “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

From Islam:  “The best Islam is to feed the hungry, and spread peace both among friends and among strangers.”

From Taoism.  “Relieve people in distress as speedily as you must a fish from a dry stream.”

From Jainism.  “Charity – to be moved at the sight of the thirsty, the hungry, and the miserable and to offer relief to them out of compassion –  this is the spring of virtue.”

We will be a shelter for each other.  This is a fundamental tenet of Interfaith.  We will be a shelter for each other, because we are all brothers and sisters.  Our divisions, be they spiritual, racial, gender-based, economically based, political … or whatever … our divisions are as dust.  We are one.  We are all connected.  All of us.  Even the people who scream at us are our brothers and our sisters.

Many of you know that it is the goal of this church, as we grow large enough to be able to be able to afford a building of our own, that that building will serve as a shelter, particularly for the storm of hunger that so plagues our community as well as so many others.

There is an horrific and debilitating question that we’ve all asked at one point or another.  I’ve asked it of myself, and know from experience that it is indeed horrific and debilitating.  The question is: “What can I do?”  And the honest answer is … not much.  Not much.  But what can we do?  A lot!

We can be a shelter for each other in the storm.  And when we come together … we’ll be home.  We’ll be home.


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