by Cindy Elder, Lay Member          –          November 1, 2018

(Cindy shared this editorial with me on Sunday, October 28, 2018. This was the day after 11 people had been killed in a Pittsburgh Synagogue, and at the end of a particularly challenging hate-filled week in our nation’s history. I was deeply moved by her writing and felt that there was no way I could say it better. She has given me permission to share this with you all. Rev. Dale Azevedo)

Hate is an insidious thing. It masquerades as pride, patriotism, and the desire to protect something dear.

Hate is strangely entangled with the same strong feelings we associate with love: passion, fear and confusion. Both hate and love live most often bottled up inside us, wordless, pushing and pulling us into knots. Only in the outward expression of these emotions do we see the stark difference in their manifestation.

A child invites a lonely newcomer to join the game, challenging his friends to welcome someone outside their circle. A passerby grabs a child from the path of a rushing car. Is this love?

An adult releases words like shrapnel to cause pain and stoke fear. A lonely outcast slaughters worshippers whose faith he does not understand. Is this hate?

No one wants to be aligned with hate. When people commit hateful crimes and claim allegiance to a particular ideology, we condemn the act and seek ways to attribute it to an anomaly: his father left when he was young, she was an addict, he was a loner, she lost her job. Yet we all know people who endure these challenges and remain peaceful and kind-hearted.

It’s time we stopped making excuses for the people and organizations that allow hate to flourish unchecked. It’s time we recognize that hateful crimes do not sprout from dry dust. They are the awful fruit of the seeds we have sown. For too long, we have turned our heads as people in power fertilized the fields of hate with fear of others. We must rise up and say we are not afraid of our fellow humans. We are here for each other. We must defend each other. We must not be cowards.

I grew up in the 1970s, during that collision between the anything goes period and the era of political correctness. I know what it feels like to struggle for the right word, trying not to use an outdated term that might offend. But I have also seen people intentionally use words that divide and deride. There is a difference. Mistaken rhetoric versus intentional insult. We must learn to tell the difference.

My understanding of kindness and justice was nurtured by my mother, my father, my siblings, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my teachers, my friends, faith leaders, shopkeepers, and many others who created the community of my childhood. I made more than my share of mistakes. No one gave up on me. Gentle course corrections and, in some cases, hard turns, helped me to develop a sense of responsibility for my behavior. A simple phrase, oft repeated by my mother, applies to nearly every situation I encounter: “Leave the house cleaner than you found it.”

Well, our country’s house is a mess. I will not stand by and watch another faith community bury its members because we allowed a culture of hate to grow in our backyard. I will not stand by while children fear for their lives in school, while public leaders and news reporters check their mail for letter bombs.

This is up to all of us. I, alone, am a voice in the wilderness. But we, together, can be a choir. Let’s make a joyous noise and say, THIS WILL NOT STAND.

In the aftermath of the most recent tragic events in our beloved homeland, I took comfort – and found direction – in the words of a song by Bill Withers, “Lean on Me.”

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won’t let show

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on

Let’s rise up with the courage of compassion. Let’s do our best to speak thoughtfully, to behave with kindness, and to plant seeds of hope in every community across our land. And if the people who claim to lead us can’t live up to our own standards of goodness, let’s politely show them the door.