Firstly, I begin with an apology for not using Dr. Maya Angelou’s proper title. I built my recent sermon and text study around Dr. Angelou’s wisdom, but I referred to her as Ms. Angelou. I am very sorry about not showing more respect.
Secondly, I am most grateful to our service participants, Jonathan, Meg, and Dani Porter, Cantor Friedman, our fellow ECRA colleagues, including Pastor Fred Kinsey, Rector Erika Takas, Dr. Jamal Hussain, Rev. Monte Johnson, Rev. Juan Guitierrez, and Dr. Jane Steinfels, as well as our tech captains Leah Jones and Cassandra Tenonbaum. Also, my thanks to the many of you from Emanuel and throughout our ecumenical ECRA community. If you’d like to watch Friday’s solidarity and memorial service, please go to 5959online.org. The interfaith services represent one positive step (one of many to come!) in our communal commitment to make matter the lives and losses of George Floyd and others killed by brutal police tactics, if not racial animus, and to take a good hard look in the mirror and change our own ways.
Thirdly, beginning Wednesday, ECRA will offer an online prayer circle to give us all an opportunity to mourn the loss of Mr. Floyd and others, to ramp up our intentionality for heroic change that Dr. Angelou, z”l thinks we can make - each one of us. We’ll also find opportunities to convert our intentions into groundbreaking alliances and actions that will prove us worthy partners in healing the centuries of pain caused by our racism. My colleagues and I are still navigating some details, but for the time being, we will do an early morning experience at 8am daily via Zoom:
Topic: ECRA Solidarity & Mourning Circle
Time: Daily 8am CT for one month (and maybe beyond)
Meeting ID: 907 864 0920
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+13126266799,,9078640920#,,1#,316504# US (Chicago)
Phone in: +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 907 864 0920
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kb7aPCN2TI
Finally, I’d like to close with an excerpt from Saturday’s D’var Torah. Here I recast the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing, initially interpreted in the following way by Rashi:
Bless you: “May your property increase”
Keep you: “Guard you from evil”
Deal kindly and graciously with you: Gifts of wisdom and kindness
May God’s spirit fill you and lift you and lead you to peace: May God suppress the divine anger...
I’ve been wondering how we might shift our Birkat Kohanim in our own time. How would we modify it to meet the moral challenges of today? How might we alter it as a summons to heal the bleeding soul of our nation and the brokenness of our world? Here is what I am up with in response to each of the blessing’s parts.
Bless you: May god bless us not only with material abundance but with the courage to confront economic inequality and entitlement.
Keep you: May God guard us from evils that we bring on ourselves like racism and all other forms of prejudice and bigotry. May we guard ourselves and each other, as well, from the same evils.
Deal kindly and graciously with you: May God inspire us with the gift of wisdom culled from discernment of simple to complex paths to reconciliation and the gift of kindness, accompanied by the humility, respect, patience, resilience, and the capacity to pay attention to the fact that we are all created betzelem Elohim and are full of intrinsic worth - no matter what makes us similar and different. And may we treat each other accordingly.
May God’s spirit fill you and lift you and lead you to peace: As we confront the lasting wounds of racism in a more open and honest way, may God grant us all the space to receive real anger from those hurt by our racism, to dwell in the humanity of that anger long enough to summon not only greater empathy for those in pain but our own anger against continued acts of racism. May we be angry enough not to be silent; angry enough not to stand idly by; angry enough to rebuke and reproach and reject (but not to shame just to shame); angry enough to effect real change in ourselves and our society; angry enough not to stop being angry until our world is whole.
The road to peace is often paved with righteous anger. But the road to peace must also be paved with the power of reconciliation. Reconciliation - like mourning, like building trust, like letting our emotional guard down, like taking moral risks - takes time. May compassion and perseverance fill our hearts and humbly ground us and gird our steps as we struggle forward. And may God bless us and keep us and smile upon and be gracious to us and inspired toward a life of shalom and shleimut, of peace and wholeness. Kain yehi ratzon! Shabbat shalom!
Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good. Stay in the fight and struggle onward!
Rabbi Craig Marantz