Those of us of a certain age, and younger folks with good comedic taste, will recall a running gag in the classic film, Airplane, when Lloyd Bridges’ character says “looks like I picked the wrong week to give up smoking … looks like I picked the wrong week to give up drinking … looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue.”
Well, it’s been that kind of week. I stopped watching the news, so that I didn’t have to see a bunch of grown white men with smug faces toasting one another for taking healthcare away from children and women, from the poor and the vulnerable. So that I didn’t have to see religious conservatives smirking behind the president as he signed one more executive order designed to hurt our political process, and to keep children from being adopted into LGBTQ families.
But I didn’t stay off of social media, so I did see his face. His face. Jordan Edwards. The young man shot by a police officer in Balch Springs, Texas last weekend, as he drove away from a party with his brothers. And he is all that I can think of, all that I can pray for, all that I can atone for.
In his face is every little boy I’ve ever loved. I have only brothers, and my nephews are my favorites in the family, so I just have a great love for little boys’ faces. And for their joy, and for their sweetness and for the challenge of keeping up with them. And I know a thing or two about the love between brothers, so I sought out those other two faces, Vidal and Kevin. Jordan’s brothers.
The Edwards family statement included these crushing truths: “Not only have Jordan’s brothers lost their best friend; they witnessed firsthand his violent, senseless murder. Their young lives will forever be altered. No one, let along young children, should witness such horrific, unexplainable, violence.” It brings me to my knees. We hear these stories, we condemn these actions, we move along to the next awful thing that happens – but families like the Edwards wake up every morning with a gaping hole in their lives, with a loss that is unspeakable, with no relief from the pain. So we need to see their faces, the murdered and the left behind.
In February, Amy Hunter, racial justice activist, teacher and preacher, began her presentation in the Rector’s Forum by asking us to pair off and gaze into the face of another, in silence, for a full minute. Turns out a full minute is a very long time. Because when we do that, we just simply fall in love with one another. Our faces, in Whitman’s words, show our descent from God, from the “Master himself” — from the holy, from the wordless mystery that swirls through the universe. We are hardwired by our creator to fall in love with one another’s’ faces. We cannot help ourselves. So I’ve spent time with Jordan’s face every day, throughout the day, so that I could fall in love with this child of God.
Or as described by Luis Valdez, playwright, actor, director and activist, who wrote in 1971 in the epic poem Pensamiento Serpentino: “You are the other me. If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself. If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.”
The same concept flows throughout so many of our religious traditions, but I find the stark simplicity of “you are the other me” life changing and I cling to it like a life raft.
Rumi says “you the one in all, say I am you.”
Martin Luther King Jr. tells us, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”
And Frederick Beuchner said about empathy, “it is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”
We KNOW this. We FEEL this. We’ve heard it many different ways and yet, You are the Other Me, shakes me out of my complacency and breaks my heart. And makes me pray, with all the cosmic energy I can muster, for that beautiful face.
Jordan Edwards is my little brother. He is my sweet nephew. Now, my brothers and nephews were not angels, but they had the safety of white skin, so they were allowed the priviliege of making bad choices and coming through unscathed. Jordan didn’t make bad decisions. He did everything right. And it wasn’t enough to keep him from getting murdered by the state. No one deserves to dies this way, no matter what they’ve done, but this kid was described by everyone as a young man who did everything right. Honest to God, if his murder doesn’t shake us out of hash tag advocacy and confining our anger to blogs and posts and editorials, we are doomed. If we don’t make our righteous anger count for something real here, we cannot save the next Jordan and we cannot save ourselves.
I have been struggling all week with how to find joy, and peace and hope in all that has happened. I’ve lived long enough to know that we all need those things. And that I get paralyzed by anxiety and fear without them.
I definitely picked the wrong week to give up hope. Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up joy. Oh, brother, did I pick the wrong week to give up beauty. Good lord, we need moments of joy and beauty to sustain us.
Did you see the clouds and the mountains this morning? Did you hear the songs of birds when you rose? The peaceful sound of rain this afternoon? Are you able to take in this glorious music and let it vibrate every cell of your being? I need these things, but more than that, I need you. I need your faces. You are the other me. We need to look at one another deeply and fall in love. And only when we feel that in the deepest places can we muster the energy and sustained conviction to end state murder of black men and boys, to end the attacks on bodies and souls and families, to end the assault on our planet and on creation.
In Lak’ech. You are the other me. Let our tears of compassion wash over us and make us whole. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Meditation by Christina Honchell given at May 7, 2017 service of Jazz Vespers at All Saints Church in Pasadena. Readings: Excerpts from Poems of Faces, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman; Say, I am You by Rumi