October, 17, 2019
It is an honor and a delight to be here with you as we join people all over the world in celebrating a man who was both great and good –and to be representing MeckMIN and our many houses of faith throughout Mecklenburg County who share in your joy today.
On Friday night, my husband and I were here with you for a lovely movie that tells some of the story of the Báb’s life and highlights people from all around the world whose lives have been impacted by his understanding of God and humanity. I was touched by the fact that the life of this man who was born 200 years continues to impact people and communities in very real ways.
There are times when God brings the same lesson to you in many different ways at the same time, and I think one of the things that God is working to show me right now is the way that we impact one another. Last weekend, I attended my 30th college reunion. I wanted to be there in particular because one of my favorite professorsis retiring, and I wanted to be there for the reception being held in his honor. His name – I kid you not – is Dr. Einstein.
At the reception, there were numerous speakers who have followed in his footsteps to become psychology professors. Dr. Gilles Einstein has taught for over 40 years so some of the speakers graduated decades ago while others did so rather recently. Therewas nonetheless a strong theme among their talks. They all said something along the lines of, “He was so much more than a professor. He saw potential in me that I did not see in myself and gave me ways to develop it. He was a friend. He was a mentor. I model myself, the way I teach and the way I interact with students after him.” When Dr. Einstein spoke, following the testimonies of his former students, he characteristically spent his time giving credit to the people who shaped him.
He began with his parents. His father was a German Jew who escaped Germany just ahead of the Holocaust. His motherwas French Catholic woman who was part of the effort to rescue Jews leaving Germany – one of whom she fell in love with and married. Gilles was born in France and moved to the US with his family when he was four year old. He spoke also of his PhD advisor. It is important to understand that he’d written his speech weeks ago, and so he was not responding to the students when he described his advisorwith something along the lines of, “He was so much more than a professor. He saw potential in me that I did not see in myself and gave me ways to develop it. He was a friend. He was a mentor. I model myself, the way I teach and the way I interact with students after him.” He also shared that his advisor died tragically young – at the age of 49.
The next day Dr. Einstein and his wife invited all of us to gather at their home. While there I pointed this all out to him – the connection between what his students had shared about him and what he shared about his advisor. I mentioned that though his advisor had died far too young, he was still impacting the world in very real ways, his ways of teaching and interacting with students are being modeled in college classrooms even today.
Dr. Einstein replied, “That’s a lovely thought.” “No,” I said, “It isn’t a lovely thought – it is a concrete reality.”
I saw that same reality in the movie. A man patterned his life after the call of God. People patterned their lives after him and the teachings he helped to usher into the world. And even now, his distinct way of bringing the call of God to life, his care for the oneness of all, his way of giving people a bridge across difference, his call to service – are being lived out all over the world, including right here this morning as we come together from our varied traditions. This is not a lovely thought. It is a concrete reality.
As I have been thinking this week about the oneness of humanity and quotes that I might share with you this morning, I realized that the writers and thinkers and activists that I most admire are those who get to the heart of this aspect of being human, this interconnectedness, the ways we can harm one another when we fail to recognize our shared humanity and heal one another when we do.
Hear, for instance, this quote from the Quaker writer Parker Palmer:
For some of us, “soul” is an important word . . . It points to the mystery at the heart of being human— a mystery known by many names .. .
Secular humanists call it “identity and integrity.”
Hasidic Jews call it “the spark of the divine in every being.”
Thomas Merton called it “true self.”
Quakers call it “the inner light.”
Buddhists call it,paradoxically, “Big Self” and “No-Self.”
What you call it doesn’t matter — but that you call it something matters a great deal. When we fail to name and celebrate the “being” in “human being,” we are more likely to treat each other like objects, commodities, or machines.
Poet Jericho Brown renders it simply: “How easily we forget what it is to be human.”
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said: “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes: “My humanity is caught up, it is inextricably bound up, in yours.”
The writer Anne LaMott says, “We are not here to see through one another but to see one another through.”
Dear Friends, thank you for the opportunity of being here today. May this day and this celebration of the birth and the life of the Báband the witness of the people and communities gathered here today, help us to see one another through.
May it be so.