Monday, June 5, 2017

Dear Friends:
I realize it has been a while since I posted. Copied below is a transcript of the speech I gave at the closing ceremonies of the second annual Interfaith Solidarity March LA, on Sunday, April 2nd, 2017.


We are at war.  Not with Iraq.  Not with Afghanistan, or Iran, or any other nation.  Not with humans.  We are at war with racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, ethnocentrism, religiocentrism, duplicity, corruption, greed, apathy, fear, hatred, willful ignorance, violence, and many other spiritual faults.  We are at war with all of these, and up until recently, we have been losing miserably!

But we are not going to win this war with guns or bombs or swords, not physical ones. 

And we are not going to win by treating other humans as enemies—either our own or those of God.  We often think that we are at war even with our own countrymen, liberals against conservatives, Democrats versus Republicans.  Rather, it is the forces of darkness that will us to be at odds with one another.  But the only way we will win the war is to realize that we are all on the same side.  It is a diabolical spirit, whether you take that literally or figuratively, which puts us at opposite ends of the spectrum, fighting over nomenclature and ideology, rather than seeking common ground.  We will only win this war if we seek compromise with our opponents.  Some of the people who most need to hear our words are those who are not here.  And it’s neither their fault, nor ours.  It’s a process.  We have to invite them.  We have to include them more and more. And if they resist, we need to try harder. 

If we reach out, first to the most willing, those of churches and synagogues, people of faith who may not agree with us, but who are indeed people of faith, we will begin the peacemaking process.  And we must honor their opinions, listen to their concerns, treat them as valid, try to understand their unique perspectives, and then—and  only then—can we possibly seek to find common ground, and to work together to solve the problems that haunt us all!  It won’t be easy, but this is the only way the human race will progress beyond the primitive, tribalistic spirit of constant aggression and xenophobia. 

The Apostle Paul talked about this 2,000 years ago. In his First Letter to the Thessalonians, early on in his career as a Xn missionary, he hints at the concept of the “whole armor of God”, a beautiful metaphor for godly righteousness not of this world.  Later, in Ephesians, he speaks more extensively, fleshing out this concept.  And from across time, he warns us not to treat our human opponents as deadly enemies.  Many people miss the point of this, getting caught up in the metaphor of arms and armor—particularly men, I have found—like little boys who have found something of interest in the scriptures, something to captivate their imaginations, full of soldiers and swords.  And they imagine that Paul is actually talking about physical arms and armor.  But Paul is not speaking of earthly battle.  He is speaking of a spiritual one, which we are still waging today. 

It might be helpful to recite, at length, his words about this from Ephesians 6.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

But I think his earliest mention of this concept, in 1 Thessalonians, is not only the most succinct, but the most salient, because it speaks to all of us, from any faith.  He states, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (1 Thess 5:8).  My friends, those are the three keys, which he mentions elsewhere as what will abide: faith, love, and hope.  And he reminds us that the greatest of these is LOVE.  Paul’s wisdom has not been surpassed by the realpolitik of modern times, which tells us that the wisdom of the ancients is no longer valid, or that the compassion of Jesus Christ is antiquated.  I assert that it is the time for those of faith—and even those of no faith, the people of secular conscience and humanistic reason—to stand up and proclaim our message of peace, to remind the jaded rest of the world that we are to be listened to.  Regardless of who is elected to public office, the rightful leaders of this country are the leaders of faith and conscience, and it is their time to be heard.  The great faith leaders of this generation are here in this room, the Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings of their time; and it is their time to lead and to be heard.