Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sermon for Lech Lecha: Our Post-Election Journey. November 11, 2016

Dear Friends, 
This has been quite a ground-breaking few weeks…..
Just a few days after the joy of watching my beloved Chicago Cubs come back from a 3-1 deficit to put the curse of the goat to rest and  win their first world series since 1908, our entire nation was stunned by another upset as the predicted winner of the 2016 presidential election – and the first woman candidate for our nation’s highest office, Hillary Clinton was defeated by the ultimate political outsider, Donald Trump.  I would hazard a guess that most of us here tonight, regardless of political affiliation, were shocked and surprised by the outcome of the election.

Last night, I participated in a panel discussion at the Iliff School of Theology that  sponsored by Iliff, The Denver Seminary, Regis University and the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado.  This was supposed to have been the 2nd of three events under the rubric of “Healing the Divide.”  The original purpose of these three sessions was going to be dealing with specific issues that arose from the intersection between religion, politics and the public arena.  But we made the decision to change the topic in the aftermath of the election in order to deal directly with the complex emotions around the both the victory of Donald Trump and the defeat of Hillary Clinton.  During the course of the evening, I – and the other two panelists:  Dr. Jennifer Leath of the Iliff School and Dr. Mark Young – president of the Denver Seminary  - responded to questions about how we were feeling in the aftermath of the election;  how we might explain our feelings to our children; and strategies to bring about healing to our communities.  After each of our answers, the over 150 participants in the room were given time to discuss their thoughts and feelings in groups that were designed to be a mixture of political and religious backgrounds. 

The vast majority of the politically, ethnically, racially and religiously diverse people in the room were upset, confused and worried about what the future held in these very uncertain times. None of the aforementioned catagories had any bearing on the degree of concern that we all felt. I would wager that most of us here tonight feel the same way as well.

This has been a particularly grueling and unsettling campaign.  In particular, the rhetoric of demonization and de-humanization that was the daily fare of advertisements, debates, and prognostication by political pundits took their toll on all of us.  The charges of immoral and illegal behavior that were carelessly and callously thrown about from both sides were sometimes more representative of a Jr. High School Cafeteria than the sacred striving for our nation’s highest political office and the quest to become the Leader of the Free World.

And this all took place in concert with the rise and legitimization of the “alt-right” and a terrifying resurgence of racism and anti-Semitism that I have to say was emboldened by the Trump campaign’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric – coupled with misogynistic comments caught on hidden camera by then candidate and now president-elect Trump.  We also saw leaked emails from the Clinton Campaign that were exposed by outside forces who attempted to manipulate the electorate by showing the unfiltered  ugliness of the political process and the real flaws of Candidate Clinton.

In addition, the prevalence of social media and self-selected sources of information meant that most of us heard the same tropes over and over again.  We all created our own “bubbles” inside of which we heard what we wanted to hear and tuned out what was unpleasant.

We painted two dimensional pictures of the candidate that we opposed.  In the eyes of those who supported Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton became a lying, dishonest career politician who embodied everything that was bad about Washington.  In the eyes of those who supported Clinton, Trump became an ignorant racist buffoon whose narcissistic arrogance and impulsive behavior was a recipe for disaster.

This was an election that was fed by fear, intolerance and voyeurism.  It pandered to our basest emotions and threw out all previous rules of legitimate discourse.

In this week’s parasha, Lech Lecha. Abram is challenged to "go forth"  to a new place - " a land that I will show you."      Our tradition teaches that the commandment to leave every thing that they knew  was one of many tests that Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah would face throughout their lives.

As a nation, we have been cast into uncharted territory. Like Abram and Sarai, we do not know what we will encounter as we travel on our journey into the future. Each step we take brings us further away from the touchstones we thought we could count on to steady ourselves as individuals and as a nation. We are in shock – we don’t know where to turn. 

Over the past few days I have observed how some people are reacting to the election results. 

Some are seething with anger.  They are marching in the streets and screaming for justice.  They refuse to accept the will of the electorate and are lashing out at a system that they believe has failed them.

Others are expressing dismay and grief.  They see disaster looming around the corner and are preparing themselves for the worst. 

Some are gloating.  They see Trump’s victory as a vindication and an opportunity to express their darkest impulses of racism and xenophobia.

Others are conciliatory.  They seek to smooth over differences and “begin the healing process.”  They look for signs of normalcy in meetings in the White house and political pronouncements.

The truth is, none of these responses, in and of themselves, are healthy in the long term.  Anger, fear, self-congratulations and denial are all part of a continuum of response that are to be expected in a diverse population,. And yet, all of them, taken to an extreme are self-defeating.

Last night, at the panel at Iliff, one of the comments that made an impact on me came from a couple who identified themselves as physicians and social-justice missionaries.  They had spent the past 30 years travelling around the world and volunteering at disaster sights in the aftermath of earthquakes, Hurricanes, typhoons and war.  They said that one thing that they had learned during their travels was that if an infection occurs, no amount of medicine or bandaging can be effective unless and until the wound is opened and the toxins within are released.  A boil will fester if it is not lanced. 

Today we must take stock in and learn from our new reality.  Covering up our emotions and praying for healing sounds nice – but it won’t work.  Our task is to pause in order to feel our pain, our division, our fear – and then expose it to the light and the fresh air.  Only after we do this can we begin to talk about healing and finding the strength to choose our path.

Remember - healing does not mean complacency. Let us not forget that another test faced by Abraham and Sarah was when God told them about the plan to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gemorah. The fact that Abraham, unlike Noah, challenged God and passionately argued for mercy and compassion bore witness to both his character and his leadership.

Our task, as we go forth in the aftermath of a difficult and destructive  election is to speak up and make our voices heard if and when we see injustice and bigotry injected into our daily lives. Our character will be on display as we go forth into this wilderness. Will we be able to speak truth to power?  Will we be voices of conscience, compassion and consistency, or will we allow the waves of ugliness that this election has unleashed go unchecked?

As we take our first steps today, let us remember that our faith, our values and our footsteps are all intertwined.

One concrete step that we can take is to continue the dialogue on racism that we began on Yom Kippur afternoon.  We have set up our next meeting in December.  If you are interested in participating, contact Rabbi Immerman at temple.

Two days ago – the day after the election –was November 9th – the 78th anniversary of Kristalnacht – the night of broken glass.  My nephew, Rabbi Ari Hart wrote the following facebook post about my mother – his grandmother, Sophie Black.

“On this day – November 9th, 1938, my grandmother, living in Leipzig, Germany woke up to shattered glass. It was the morning after Kristallnacht, the night where Nazi sympathizers burnt synagogues, smashed windows, and let the Jewish people know once and for all they were not welcome in Germany. My grandmother’s love for Germany and German culture made the trauma of Kristallnacht and her family’s refugee flight to this country that much more painful. November 9th is seared into her being as the day her world changed forever.

Today is November 9th, 2016.

Right around now, that same grandmother, now 90 years old, is waking up. She, the first female president of her synagogue, voted for a woman to be the first female president of the US. She was hoping to shatter a different kind of glass – a glass ceiling. This morning, that glass remains unbroken.

But she, and we, are waking up to a different world. It’s not Kristallnacht. Yet, the world feels changed. For many that change feels right, like things are finally getting back on track. For many others, that change feels wrong and dark. Many are afraid, and given what’s been said over the past campaign those who are afraid have a right to be. No matter who you supported, these days, weeks and months are a time of reaching out, of listening to one another, and of affirming our most basic American values - freedom, equality, and tolerance. It’s especially a time to reach out to those who are most vulnerable in these times and stand with them, shoulder to shoulder. We all have work to do to try and piece together the pieces of our union which feel so fractured.

Ari continues:
At the end of [a] wedding, as we do at every Jewish wedding, we … shatter glass. We shatter glass at times of joy to remind ourselves that there is brokenness is in the world. If you're feeling like the world is broken today, I would challenge you to do the opposite - lift up a full glass. Make a toast to all the values you will continue to fight for no matter who is president. Remember that love is not a politician, faith is not a political party, hope is not a president. The power of these are just as real today as they were yesterday and will be tomorrow. Regardless of who would have won last night, we all have so much work to do to manifest those values in our world.

Rebbe Nachman says that if you believe breaking is possible, you must believe that fixing is possible.

Leeonard Cohen died yesterday.  He taught us: There is a crack, a crack in everything that's how the light gets in.

The glass breaks, the glass is fixed, Lechaim - to life.”

My friends, as we enter into this new journey – as a nation, as a community concerned with social justice and equality, as men and women who care deeply about affirming the holiness in every one of God’s creation – regardless of ethnic or racial background; regardless of gender or sexual orientation; regardless of political proclivities – let us commit to working and journeying together – with our eyes open and our voices raised.

Shabbat Shalom

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