Posted on September 28th, 2012 | Filed under Community, Featured, Interfaith, News, Philosophy
Tagged with boston, democracy, environment, identity, Interfaith, interfaith appalachia, multi-dimensional, political, politics, RNC, tampa, Tea Party
I was walking through downtown Boston in late August, and passed a group of men dressed as Minutemen, as Revolutionary soldiers. This is a common sight during the tourist season, in the birthplace of the Revolutionary War.
However, the most recent time I had seen someone dressed as a minuteman was in Tampa, FL – on televised coverage of the Republican National Convention. There, a handful of attendees had donned these outfits to represent the Tea Party. And so it struck me: Boston and the recent RNC probably have the highest counts of people dressing this role, the capital city of a solidly democratic state and the national convention of the Republican party. Perhaps an irony to some, I see this as a statement of the history that all Americans share, regardless of their religion, politics, race, class – or any other category.
The Minutemen turned ideals into action, defending our bold Declaration of Independence – to ensure that all American people would be guaranteed their rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness.” Inspired by their legacy, I believe in the great importance of multi-dimensional interfaith work, tackling specific and related areas. We must engage across religious/philosophical, political and other interconnected areas of worldview. When we do, we will discover many differences amongst ourselves; these will often be painful. We will also come closer to discovering what makes us American, and indeed, human.
Consider two examples. I am a democrat, a Jew, and a citizen concerned about what I believe to be human causes of climate change – just a few areas of my layered identity. I have several friends who are political conservatives, Christians, and supporters of coal as the major industry and employer across hundreds of rural counties – especially in the central Appalachian region.
Do we all believe in the same creedal truths? No. Do we all believe in the same relationship between citizens and government? No. Do we have the same perspective on how to address the challenges of unemployment and natural resource management? Of course not. Do we believe that every human being is endowed with the inalienable rights named in the second sentence of our Declaration of Independence? Yes. Do we share an unshakeable desire to make these rights a reality for our fellow countrymen? Yes!
Interfaith engagement must be not only multi-dimensional, but must also track to core beliefs that shape values and behavior. The unalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence are based on strong beliefs. Many Americans believe, as the Declaration itself says, that all people are endowed with these rights by their Creator.
In my particular approach to Judaism, I articulate my belief that every human carries a spark of the Divine. Still others believe that life is an incredible coincidence of the world, and every person inherently deserves the freedom to pursue a fulfilling one. Of course, there are many other perspectives, too many to list exhaustively. These beliefs, and the values they correspond to, are like the mass of an iceberg beneath the water: only the top, the behavior, is visible – but it rests on a great foundation.
This is the iceberg and the minutemen. When I peel back the toxic political rhetoric of our campaign season, I see diverse people struggling to translate their beliefs into values, and their values into action. When I peel it back far enough, I see many distinct groups sharing similar aspirations and anxieties.
Sometimes this American road starts to look ugly, messy, and maybe even disgusting to some of us – regardless of one’s particular identity. Some wonder if “our side” is marching one way, and the “other half” of America is marching against us. At such moments, it is all the more important to forge friendships in place of distrust, and create cooperation in place of anger. May we carry forward the heritage of the minutemen, together.
Image via Wikimedia.
David is a 2012 graduate of Oberlin College, where he completed majors in Jewish Studies and Environmental Studies and launched Interfaith Appalachia in his senior year. Interfaith Appalachia brings people together across differences of faith, politics, and environmental perspective for service, dialogue and community development in central Appalachia.