My High School Freshman is reading Harper Lee’s, To Kill A Mockingbird in her English class. The poor thing doesn’t have a chance, with two parents who have their own personal copies between us and own the movie, we are on her every minute, asking her “where she is in the book, what’s happening now, and has she gotten to the trial yet?”
It’s a beautiful book, with rich story telling of childhood, summertime, make-believe and growing up in a time of political and social unrest. Remember how Scout has to encounter her classmates and even her relatives say that Atticus is a word that she is not aloud to say and doesn’t know what it means, or what they mean when they say it? Remember how Atticus knows he is going to lose the case, but he takes the case anyway? Remember how he tried to protect her and Jem from comments from a community that just assumed he be quiet? Remember how she curled up next to him on the porch swing, after she got in a fight with a classmate, and he said, “You never can fully understand someone until you consider things from his point of view” and then went on to say that “you need to climb into another person’s skin and walk around in it.”
That strong, protagonist we all admired was Atticus Finch.
Atticus never spoke harshly of his neighbors or of any person who saw the world differently than he did. He treated everyone, regardless of class or race with the same respect and dignity. He never tried to convince them to change their minds or call them names or demeaned their position. He did try to be a voice of reason in a community that was divided racially and socio-economically. In essence, he lived a life of integrity. He said, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
I dream of a world where we all find the Atticus living inside us.
We need to launch an Atticus Project in our nation. Imagine a world where we all take the higher ground. A fire has been stoked that is now ablaze and we have become far too comfortable using language that is divisive and obstructive. We need to calm down. That doesn’t mean we don’t speak the truth in love, or refrain from standing for the innocent, or abandon our integrity. We do that and remain in relationship with each other.
My biggest worry, or fear, or anxiety is that some day there will be a crisis. -A storm will come, made by nature or man, and we will all need each other. We will need to bring a meal to a neighbor, a hand to a friend, water to a stranger, and it will not matter where we stand on the issues, it will matter that we stand together.
We need to take all of the anger and distrust and frustration we are feeling and turn those feelings into a movement of radical empathy. I got this term from this article in the Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/02/a-third-way-in-the-respectability-politics-debate/514667/
Empathy is a building block of morality—for people to follow the Golden Rule, it helps if they can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. It is also a key ingredient of successful relationships because it helps us understand the perspectives, needs, and intentions of others.
Without empathy, our morality crumbles. Studies show that empathy is good for your health, it reduces bullying, it’s good for your marriage, and it reduces prejudice and racism. Without empathy there cannot be a just society.
So I am calling for each and every one of us to participate in the Atticus Project. A project in which we will try to be less judgmental and more empathetic. A project in which we look upon our friends and strangers and try to see where they are coming from.
You look across the way and you think, “Man they are really scared. I don’t really understand why they are scared, and I think they are really stupid for being scared, but they are scared. I do not share their fear, but I have been afraid before. I know what fear feels like, I’ve been there. I know what I needed to hear when I was scared, maybe I can listen.”
You look across the way and you think, “Man, they are really happy. They are so enthusiastic about the future and how things are going. I don’t really share their hope, but I remember when I felt hopeful. I remember feeling really annoyed with anyone who rained on my parade. I remember wishing they would come on board and get with the program. I can’t really do that, but I can respect that they feel hopeful, even though I don’t, maybe I can listen.”
My other daughter is studying India and is sitting across from me at the dining room table as I write this. She just asked me how Ghandi died. I remember the story of how he brought a divided nation together and I remembered his words, “I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.”
Finally, and personally, I believe this is the work of the church. The church must express at it’s very foundation the commandment to do unto others as you would have them to do you. We must show the love of Christ to our neighbors, even the one’s we would rather not have over to dinner. Peace begins with us.
May the Peace of Christ be with you.