On my wall is a picture of a rabbi preaching from his pulpit. Beside it is a brass plate with a map of ancient Israel encircled by the names and symbols of the 12 tribes. Beside that is a framed Star of David. To me these represent my heritage. My soul’s allegiance is to a Jewish carpenter, a construction worker who lived some 2000 years ago.
When I was in college I was introduced to the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel. I had been taught that anyone who didn’t say the magic words, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior” couldn’t get into heaven. But my professor said we were required to read this book by this Rabbi. So, I read it.
One evening, as I was reading words that drew me in deeply, I began to cry. Sitting in the reference room, alone at a table, with this book in my hands, I got overwhelmed. I was reading about the grace of God, how God deals with human beings in ways of mercy, of gentleness, with the fulness of life that God possesses. I was being told that God understood our frailty, our limitation, our moments or years of despair. I cried because I knew how much I wanted that grace, the peace it afforded. I wanted that grace that comes after salvation, the peace of knowing God as a friend. And I cried because I did not understand how a man, who could not get into heaven, could understand God’s grace so well. Much better than I did.
And with my tears, I began to pray.
“I don’t understand how this works. Judgment. I don’t get it. I can’t do it. I don’t see how anyone can do it. How do you do it? So, I’m giving it up. It’s yours. However it works is up to you.” As a young man, wandering around big ideas, I occasionally found the trap door that allowed me to get into one before it snapped shut behind me. That night the trap was set keenly and as I came down the steps below the door, walking into the cool depth of truth, I felt the door slam shut above me and then I heard the voice of the carpenter say,
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
And I was free. Somehow the trap deposited me out into life.
I was free in the reality that I never needed to judge, to decide who gets in and who is kept out. That’s not my call. My call is just to make friends and to welcome anyone to my table.
There is a voice shouting over our heads today that is saying that we must judge, we must decide, we must because we should be afraid. That fear is used to win elections. It’s also the fear that loads assault rifles. Like any big idea, the idea inhabiting that fear has a trap door that will snap shut locking us inside. But there is a burning, flame, bursting around inside this idea that scorches the conscience, sears the heart and burns away compassion. It leaves us thinking we are in touch with truth, but it only deposits us in pain. That pain is so severe it motivates us to bring it onto others, confusing our pain with truth. This is hate. It captures enemies, those who believe they can make the world better without the other. The trap of this fear/idea doesn’t care which side you’re on. It’s burns regardless.
As I mourn tonight, I stand looking down into the opening of this big idea, to the fire below the trap-door, and I think, I must vote well this year.