It’s painful to admit, but we are a divided nation: Democrats vs. Republicans, white vs. black, citizens vs. immigrants, educated vs. less-educated, men vs. women, rich vs. poor, etc. The problem (as I see it) is we tend to define ourselves and others through division or difference. Many people tend to think, “I am not like_____________.”
Unfortunately, our divisions emerge early in life. I will never forget the searing pain of having a child mock my poverty when I was in second grade. I had just moved from Vermont to a small town in Maine. My poor single mom worked hard to put food on the table for her three children. At Christmas time, we didn’t have enough money to buy new gifts to exchange at our school Christmas party. So I cleaned and wrapped a used matchbox car we recently bought at a yard sale, and spent hours making a Santa’s sleigh out of candy canes, colored paper, tape, glue and glitter. When my classmate opened the gifts the day before Christmas vacation, he was not impressed: “Is this car used? What did you make? Is this a Santa Sleigh?” My face burned with embarrassment and shame. I wondered, “Did having less (money, possessions, etc.) make a person less?”
But it’s not just in America. Christian author and social activist Christine Caine describes the shame she experienced her first day of kindergarten at her Sydney school. Christine, who is an Aussie of Greek heritage, opened her lunch box and removed her olive-and-feta cheese sandwich. Suddenly a boy named Wayne shouted “Phew! What’s that awful smell? What’s that stinky stuff you’re eating?” He then called Christine a “wog” (a racial slur) and mocked her mercilessly. Sadly, no one stood up for her. The incident scarred Christine and her school experience for years to come.
As a pastor, I often wonder: are there constructive ways to bridge these divides? As I study the Bible I am convinced the key way to heal our divides is to unite around the hope we have in something that transcends us. Speaking from the perspective of a Christian minister, I believe that hope is found in the Triune God and his work in the cross of Calvary. Moreover I believe remembering together, praying together, singing together and sharing stories of faith build bridges of reconciliation. It’s seeking to create what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the beloved community.”
I am aware of at least two upcoming events in our community that seek to foster hope, reconciliation and unity. On September 11, from 4-7pm, fourteen churches (both local and regional) will be hosting the third annual New England Festival of Hope at Easton’s Beach in Newport. The purpose of the Festival is to bring people together for a time of new or renewed faith, encouragement and community. There will be inspirational speakers, live music, delicious food and fun children’s activities. Admission is free and everyone is welcome, so this is a great event for the family.
I am particularly excited about the speaking line-up, which includes Red Sox great Dwight Evans and his wife Susan; X-Games gold medalist Kevin Robinson (K-Rob), who is back again to do another BMX demonstration; and New England Revolution soccer star Teal Bunbury. This slate includes young and old, male and female, black and white bearing testimony to the power of faith to unite people. Lastly, for this year’s event, since it’s the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we will do a special tribute for first responders and families affected by 9/11. For more information go to www.nefestivalofhope.com
My good friend Pastor Steven Robinson of Crosspoint Church is hosting the third annual New England Prayerfest at the Providence Performing Arts Center on September 16-17, Friday-Saturday. The purpose of Prayerfest is to: “bring churches, pastors, and intercessors together to pray for the problems and sins of our community by asking God to forgive us and heal our land.” This event will be multidenominational and diverse, including both young and old, black and white, rich and poor. For more info go to www.prayerfest.org
Will these two events eliminate all our divides? Of course not. But they are a positive and constructive way of uniting around a common faith that builds bridges of understanding and reconciliation. Wouldn’t you agree, we need more of that in our world?