Rabbi Ron Symons on July 6, 2020
I recently learned this moral and spiritual truth by reading it in See No Stranger, by Valarie Kaur, a civil rights activist and spiritual leader at the forefront of progressive change.
I continue to learn this truth along my journey of meeting others who are a part of me I do not yet know.
PART 1 – A Pastor, Imam and Rabbi:
For the past 6 months, I have been building relationships with Pastor Chris Griffin and Imam Kadir Gunduz. Our Center for Loving Kindness work is driven by our desire to redefine ‘neighbor’ as a moral concept. We can only do that by being in relationship with our neighbors. Chris and Kadir are our neighbors, we all live in Greater Pittsburgh. What is unique about our relationship is that we are in this intentional trio because Chris is an Evangelical Pastor, Kadir is a Muslim Imam and I am a Jewish Rabbi.
With thanks to the Multifaith Neighbors Network, guided nationally by Pastor Bob Roberts, Imam Mohammad Magid and Rabbi David Saperstein, we are beginning to realize how much we are a part of each other and how much more we have to learn about ourselves and each other. Imagine what it would be like if Evangelicals, Muslims and Jews in Greater Pittsburgh could find common ground in moral and spiritual conversations and actions. Imagine how our civic dialogue might become more civil if we considered each other a part of me I do not yet know.
The three of us, now a part of each other and learning more about each other, are organizing another 20 Pastors, Imams and Rabbis in Greater Pittsburgh to get to know each other through a summer long on-line cohort. As for us, we had a physically distanced lunch the other day outside of the Cathedral of Learning. More to come.
PART 2 – The UPstanders:
The urgency of now requires that we act on the moral pandemic of our day.
When the call came out for people of faith to gather in Oakland at an Interfaith Vigil for Black Lives, we embraced the invitation and promoted it far and wide. Standing in physically distanced ways with neighbors from all backgrounds, we humbly shared our posters “Neighbor is a moral concept” and “We stand with our neighbors” with anyone who asked.
We stand as allies and UPstanders at this time because the pandemic of racism impacts us all no matter our race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, economic status, education… Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said it well in his eternally contemporary understanding, “…that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” (“The Reasons for My Involvement in the Peace Movement,” 1972)
Lining the streets of Oakland, talking with our neighbors, hearing the supportive honking of cars, public buses and construction vehicles as they passed, it became all the clearer to me that, “We can look upon the face of anyone or anything around us and say—as a moral declaration and a spiritual, cosmological, and biological fact:” You are a part of me I do not yet know.”
PART 3 – Valarie Kaur:
I spoke with Valarie Kaur, author of See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love and Founder of The Revolutionary Love Project.
Let me begin by stating the obvious. In the past 4 months, the only physical contact I have had with other people has been the embraces I have shared with my wife and children. These have been so meaningful to me. They meet a physical, spiritual and emotional need that sits deep down inside. Meeting Valarie through a Sofa Spirituality online interview with Rev. Liddy Barlow, I felt such a strong virtual embrace from her. “Ron and Liddy,” she said, “you are a part of me I do not yet know.” She taught us about the origin story of her Sikh faith and how it compels us to understand the Oneness that we all inhabit no matter our differences. She shared her sacred story in a way that brought out my sacred story. She modeled “You are a part of me I do not yet know” through her wonder in meeting us.
She taught us in that conversation and through her passionate work for spiritually infused social justice that we need to follow the instructions of the midwife: BREATHE and PUSH. And in pushing we will give birth to a new world. She asserts with all her being that the darkness we are in now is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb. She asks, “What if our America is not dead, but waiting to be born?”
‘Waiting to be born,’ and we, you and me, all of us, are the midwives who need to work together to get through the sweet labor before the new life emerges. We, you and me, all of us, are a part of me I do not yet know. Now is the time for a unique kind of self-discovery and wonder.
It is just that simple: You are a part of me I do not yet know.
We invite you to join us in learning from and with Valarie Kaur. Watch her video interview with Rev. Liddy Barlow and Rabbi Ron Symons and then register for a live conversation about that interview with other curious people on July 10 at 10 am or July 14 at 7 pm. We promise that you will learn something new about yourself through our conversation with each other.