By Joe Cistone
The March for Our Lives gathering March 24 on the Bar Harbor Village Green and around our country was inspiring and a welcome reminder for me that the Christian holiday of Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ own march into Jerusalem as a direct confrontation of Roman rule where the lives of Jewish children clearly didn’t matter.
While some took to social media to challenge who was “really” behind the prophetic response of Parkland’s students, many of us asked where the similar outrage is when black lives are taken? The March 30 release of an independent autopsy of Stephon Clark confirms what the Blacks Lives Matter movement has been reminding us of for almost four years: the way our society still views black lives and black bodies is infused with the bias of centuries of white privilege in a nation where we still falsely claim equality for all. It took a remarkable 11-year-old, Naomi Wadler, speaking at the rally in D.C. to remind us that we are still so far from what we claim to be.
Politicians looking for advantage took to social media to attack Emma Gonzalez and the Parkland survivors as opportunists or to point to Clark’s past as some sort of twisted excuse for being murdered in his grandmother’s backyard. But what I see in these events, and so many others like them, are signs of a nation that is lost and afraid.
Most of us in the U.S. claim Christianity as our religion, but over this Easter weekend, how many of us were truly willing to heed the words spoken to the first apostle, Mary Magdalene? Those words were “Be not afraid.”
It must be fear that divides us. I can’t, I won’t believe it is simply that we don’t care.
Why else would we stand by when a loving father, the Guatemalan-born Felix Garcia, who has been living and working peacefully in the U.S. for 23 years, is detained just as his U.S.-citizen daughter is completing her third year of medical school?
How could we even imagine forcibly repatriating more than 200,000 Salvadoran nationals with protected status to a country they barely know, while leaving a like number of their U.S.-citizen children behind at a time when our State Department claims it’s unsafe for U.S. citizens to travel there?
How can we continue to ignore what our own policies have done to further civil war from the Congo to Syria and then refuse to accept those who come to our borders seeking asylum?
The older I get, my best guess is that it is because we don’t see, let alone feel, how our lives are connected to theirs. Perhaps we feel there is just too much evil in the world to respond. Maybe, most simply, we are afraid?
On Maundy Thursday, I gathered at Seaside UCC with friends and colleagues from across our community to celebrate a Jewish Seder meal and Christian communion service. In rereading the Passover texts from Exodus and other sources, I’m reminded that the best of our religious holidays — Holy Thursday and Passover, Ifthar and Diwali — are not just about what we may or may not believe, but of the importance of gathering together and getting to know one another over a meal.
Clearly we can’t find a way to eat with everyone. But at any table with family, friends and even those we barely know, we come to understand that the vast majority of the world’s citizens desire the same things for their children and families that we do for ours: plentiful food, ready access to potable water, a quality education, affordable health care and the right to love whom we choose.
There are many ways to be part of such meals. Educational or immersion trips, supporting a local food co-op or helping a faith community provide more community meals. But do something. We all need to do something if we want to live free of fear.
When I looked at the faces of those who gathered with my children and me at the march last Saturday, when I look across the room at those commemorating Passover, when I recall breaking a fast or breaking bread on a floor in India, I see eyes that gaze back deeply at mine, eyes that won’t let me go, eyes that keep me awake at night and challenge all of us to do more.
As you gather with friends and family in the coming months, I hope you’ll acknowledge that so few people in our world have the opportunities we do. I pray you’ll recall with Martin Luther King, assassinated 50 years ago this week, that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And perhaps most importantly, I plead with you not to see difference in a young black man murdered in Sacramento, a young woman named Gonzalez standing silently in front of thousands in D.C. or a father detained in Georgia, but to see yourself and all you love in them.
For as we do unto them, we do unto ourselves. And until we come to respect and love one another despite our difference, we will always be afraid.
Joe Cistone is the CEO of IPM, an MDI-based international nonprofit organization, the pastor of Seaside UCC in Northeast Harbor and a lecturer in social ethics at Yale Divinity School.