Who are we? Many of us are contemplating that question since the events of Epiphany. Not the sacred event of the Magi reaching the manger after following a star. Not kneeling at the manger to offer gifts to the One whom we call Emmanuel , God with us. No, who are we given the events of Epiphany Day, January 6, 2021?
Are we the angry mob storming the Capitol steps and breaking down doors and windows as needed to make our anger known through violence and destruction on the grounds and in the building that symbolizes the heart of our Republic? Some have said that’s not who we are. Not who we are as a nation, a democracy, a free Republic with the peaceful transfer of power. That we believe those who perpetrated the act of insurrection are an element of our national life that we can’t and won’t claim. I would posit we are incorrect. Of course that’s who we are. We saw us there. Human beings with diverse motivations yet in a group closely packed together and stirred to some kind, seemingly any kind, of violent actions to make unhappiness known. Of course it’s who we are. Each polarized side began equally shooting verbal arrows at one another . . . it was antifa and the democrats, it was qanon and the republicans, it was the deep state and the russians and china and . . . and . . . and. Until we understand it was all of us, we will not begin to see our way toward a different future where we understand that we’ve seen the enemy and they are us.
Most of us didn’t perpetrate those behaviors, but how have we responded over the past thirty years to the widening gap in income, access to education and healthcare, and the possibility of living and caring for our families with acceptance and support in diverse communities? What happened on Epiphany both was and was not about that single moment. That single moment is a mirror of how ugly we have allowed life to become in our unwillingness to build with one another in community. In fact until we understand we are in this together, we will all be destroyed together, regardless of the “side” we’re on. Thank you Miss Sebelius, high school Government and History teacher, for my memory of this quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin two days before the signing the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, “We must hang together or surely we shall all hang separately.” Perhaps no truer words have been said?
So again, who are we? Are we Congressman Andrew Kim of New Jersey? Upon seeing the Capitol Rotunda for the first time after the rioters had been cleared he asked for an extra trash bag from the security officers and began cleaning up – the picture has gone viral. He’s in his suit and tie, on his knees, picking up the aftermath of the destruction – pieces of clothing, protective gear, destroyed wooden tables and chairs, water bottles and other things too ugly to mention. In the many interviews he has done since, he has explained that to him, the Capitol building and rotunda are the “heart of our democracy, the heart of our country, and if there was anything I could do, even if it meant cleaning up the rooms, I wanted to do my part.” Asian American the son of immigrants, Congressman Kim has been elected twice in an area that also voted for President Trump in majority in both 2016 and 2020. Representative Kim is from the opposite party and has been voted by the majority twice as well. Perhaps that is the best of who we are, of who we can be.
Who are we? Are we the leaders who called for this action? Are we the ones who wanted “trial by combat?” Are we the leaders who have decided that anyone and everyone connected to these actions are evil and not worth restorative justice, accountability with the possibility of rehabilitation? Or have we decided some people simply aren’t worth saving – on the right, it’s the left, and on the left, it’s the right? Are we the wielders of the fire-extinguisher that caused the bloodclot in capitol officer Brian Sicknick’s brain that killed him? Are we the voices of anger that became part of the context of capitol officer Howard Liebengood’s death by suicide on Saturday? Do we have blood on our hands for all, now six, deaths in the most free and powerful republic in the world? In fact are we all responsible as leaders for what is happening in our nation right now that is not only the breaking of a building, but the breakingof our spirit? The breaking of our commitment for the common good? Have we collectively lost our way?
Yes, friends, yes. We have collectively lost our way because we have decided that we are no longer related by justice, mercy, or a desire for the kind of freedom where all are created equal, endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; to use a few lines from the preamble to our shared Constitution. You know what I see less now? Happiness. We all are now claiming we are victims of “the others”. You know, the “others” who will not attend to the proveable facts and information. You know, the “others” who are making up the facts and faking proveable information. Am I covering all the “others”? At least in general understanding?
And how has deciding that the evil ones are all the “others” worked out for us so far? I don’t know about you, but I’m not sleeping so great these days. I’m terribly worried about my people who are in hospitals because of this covids 18+1 virus. I’m worried about becoming that country where what unites us is blaming a faceless, nameless “other” and an overwhelming grief at not being able to pull back enough to compromise for the common good. I worry that for good people of a shared Christian faith, following Jesus has become less important than winning. A winning seemingly with the hopes of crushing the “other” who we have labeled as enemy to be discarded in the midst of some undefined moment we would declare as victory.
Is the Capitol building being invaded and defaced a victory? Some have wanted to immediately jump to the looting and destruction of the summer protests around racial tensions. I would note those protests did not seek to overthrow an active Congress in the midst of carrying out their voted for and Constitionally appointed duties. But o.k., for false equivalency sake, were the buildings and businesses destroyed in those instances a victory? Do we see joy and happiness resulting from either, or from comparing – does it make it all better if we can prove who is behaving the worst? Does that move us ahead toward the vision of a world that’s better for all of us? ALL of US???
Call me a re-dumb-lican, call me a dumb-licrat; shall we simply call each other names until we get tired of the ugliness, until we get weary of getting nowhere, until we are exhausted by the energy, the wasted energy, it takes to hate? Maybe instead, let’s ask ourselves who we want to be moving forward. Not who we want our neighbors to be, but who we want to be because the last I knew, the only person I can control or change, is me.
I’ll end with this quote from Congressman Kim: “The depth of the divisions that we have isn’t something any single law can wipe off the face of our planet. We also need to recognize that how we get through that is by seeing the humanity in each other.”
I’m trying Congressman Kim, I’m trying.