My article for Pilgrimage UCC’s December newsletter.
The week before Thanksgiving was a busy one. The Saturday before, the Race Discussion group visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights. The next Thursday several Pilgrimage members attended the Ecumenical Thanksgiving Celebration at Temple Kol Emeth. The next night a few more of us attended the Transgender Day of Remembrance in Atlanta.
As I reflect on this array of experiences, I realize that a lot of what made each one meaningful was encountering friends.
At the Center for Civil and Human Rights, I saw my friend and fellow UCCer Bette Graves Thomas, who serves the Center as a docent. Bette shared a little of what it was like growing up African American in the 50s and 60s in Atlanta. At the interfaith Thanksgiving celebration, I ran into Mahmooda, one of the women from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community that helps us during Family Promise hosting weeks. Mahmooda’s mother died unexpectedly a few months ago. We touched base about that and I let her know that we’ve been holding her and her family in prayer. At the Transgender Day of Remembrance event, I was so proud to see the results of Darlene and Monica’s hard work of the past few months.
In one week, I directly engaged some of the most contentious current social issues: racism, religious conflict, violence against people deemed “different.” What deepened each experience for me was meeting my friends. Racial discrimination isn’t just about what African Americans in general suffer; it’s what happens to my friend Bette. Hearing a politician suggest that all Muslims should be registered, I immediately think of what that would mean for my friend Mahmooda. When I hear of increasing violence against transgender people, I think of my own friends who are transgender and pray even more fervently for their safety and wholeness.
During Advent, we celebrate the incarnation, literally, God’s “en-fleshment.” Ours is not a distant God out in the universe somewhere. No, our God is one who wanted to get to know us and so became one of us. Ours is a God of relationship.
As believers in a God of relationship, we too are called to connection with others. Large scale justice efforts are important. But the world really starts to change for the better when we befriend others, especially those who are different from us. Want to create some “peace on earth” this holiday season? Get to know someone of another faith, another race, another political party. It’ll be a great way to celebrate God-with-us!