What I would Have Said

This morning, I watched the inauguration of President Obama with 400 neighbors and friends at the Belcourt Theatre in Hillsboro Village. The viewing “party” was sponsored by Nashville for All of Us, the group leading the opposition to the English Only amendment being voted on in Nashville this Thursday. I had been scheduled to speak at the event, to share some words on why I and other faith leaders are against English Only, but the organizers were late in getting the speakers on and it was getting close to the inauguration, so the crowd was in NO mood to hear any stump speeches. I voluntarily gave up the opportunity to speak (I valued my life too much to try!), but if I had spoken, I would have said something like this:

Yesterday, many of us spent the day celebrating and reflecting on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Those of us gathered here know the result of King’s work, in fact, our gathering today is the direct result of one who had a vision that would not die, in spite of all those who tried to kill it.

In 1968, when I was just 8 years old, Dr. King came to the National Cathedral just a few miles from our home in Maryland, and preached a sermon titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” I, like many today, was caught up in my own life, my own needs and wants, and knew nothing of this sermon. But many years later some words from the sermon grabbed my heart, and I keep them framed near my desk in my office.

King wrote:

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. 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. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

Yesterday, I spent several hours phoning people about the English Only amendment. My heart jumped with joy when I came upon those who said “Of course I am voting against, for it’s bad for our city.” However, I also came upon those who support the amendment. As I talked with them I heard the problem that Dr. King was trying to describe. “They need to learn to speak English,” these people said. “They are taking over our city.”

And that my friends is what we our struggle is about. This English Only amendment is not simply a matter of finances or politics. This is about a different vision for our city, a different vision of our world. This vision understands our interconnectedness, that we are “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” and that we know that the world as God created it is not about “them” but “we.”

That is part of what we celebrate today in the inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th president. While Obama could have focused on his individual gifts, his charisma, his intelligence, instead he harnessed the power of “we.” He reminded us that when we come together, as brother and sister, dependent on one another, that we can have the power to move mountains. “Yes WE can,” he told us, and having seen the failure of the “them” culture, we believed him.

I and other faith leaders like me are voting against English Only because we are tired of making out those who come to our home to find freedom from oppression, economic security, and a safe place to raise their children to be “them.” As long as we continue to create divisions of “us” and “them,” our world will continue to be broken.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, reminded them that the old distinctions have been cast aside by our faith. He wrote, “…you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…” Paul understood that in God’s kingdom – or as some might say, God’s kin-dom – there is no “them,” only “we.”

I urge you this Thursday to remember that “…whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…” and cast your vote against amendment 1 and amendment to.

Let us say to the people of Nashville and the entire world that “Yes WE can.”

2 thoughts on “What I would Have Said

  1. Thanks for all your work on this issue, Jay. It was so encouraging to see Nashvillians move past the baser instincts of “us” vs. “them” to a “we” mentality.

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