Community in diversity

Last night was the annual Black Hills Works gala. It is one of many fund-raising dinners that non-profits hold in our community. A bunch of us from around the community make donations in exchange for a dinner and an evening’s entertainment. There are a few speakers who talk about the benefits and contributions of the organization and a pitch is made for continuing support. It seems that these dinners, and now a few very similar lunches and breakfasts, are essential in keeping public awareness high for important organizations in our community.

The Works Gala, however is a bit different. First, and perhaps most importantly, the highlight of the evening are awards that are made to recognize outstanding individuals among those who receive services from Works. The high achievements, resilience, courage and energy of those honored is always inspirational. I find myself with tears in my eyes as I watch the videos telling the story of these members of our community. Everything else aside, it is a powerful experience to witness those presentations.

Additionally, last night’s entertainment was provided by Flutter Productions a dance/theater group which combines “fully abled” (whatever that means) and disabled persons together onstage. If you haven’t seen such a production, I highly recommend availing yourself of the opportunity when presented.

The effect was a fully-engaging evening that celebrated our community with all of its diversity.

At the dinner, while we were visiting with others before the meal was served, I had a brief conversation with a friend who is running for political office. He commented that he was out to enjoy an evening that was free of politics, not about him, and not about the campaign - a time to just enjoy being a member of our community. The conversation then turned, briefly to politics, of course.

People are anxious about the coming election. The tone of political rhetoric has been upsetting, especially in the race for President. There has been an unusually high amount of deception and lying and the fact checkers point out again and again that the candidates say things that are blatantly untrue. There have been dire threats made about what will happen if one or the other candidates is elected. The vitriol and anger has been more than merely off-putting. It has been frightening.

And it has been going on for so long.

November 8 is literally the latest that an election can fall on the calendar. Because the constitution specifies the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the month of November, this year turns out to be as late as it can get.

For a preacher, it is a challenge to know what balance to achieve when making public presentations. Do I or do I not mention politics when I address my congregation? Were I to be completely silent, it would be a failure to address one of the most important things going on in the lives of those I serve. My job is to enable people to make connections between their faith and their everyday lives. For anyone who watches television or reads a newspaper or spends time exploring the Internet, this election is part of our everyday lives. I did write a piece for our church newsletter about voting as a spiritual discipline and an opportunity to consider Jesus’ invitation to think of our neighbors and to act for others.

On the other hand, my congregation doesn’t want me to take sides when issues are contentious. To do so would be to risk alienating those who disagree with me. One of my roles in the church is to remind people that we can form genuine community in the face of disagreement. We are bound by faith, not by political ideology. Unlike some religious organizations that print voter guides and attempt to influence the way their members vote, ours is a congregation that trusts our members to make their own decisions and understands that we won’t vote as a block.

Frankly, I am grateful for the diversity in my congregation. I enjoy listening to people whose perspective is different than my own. I don’t mind spending time with those who are likely to vote different than I will. I do get a little tired of too much regurgitated rhetoric from particularly slanted television news programs and I am likely to turn off televisions in waiting rooms if the remote is left where I can get my hands on it, but that is a different topic entirely.

Our Congregational forebears had a tradition of an election day sermon. The sermon wasn’t, as some have described it, a political rally where people cam and were advised how to vote before casting their ballots. Rather the election day was considered to be a holiday with multiple public events and whenever people gathered, sermons were part of the event. The preacher would make a presentation after many of the ballots had already been cast and generally election day sermons were reminders of the rule of law and the benefits of living with the decision of the people.

Perhaps that is a role that I might be called to assume. With all of the dire threats that have been made about shutting down government, refusing to fulfill constitutional obligations, and other reactions to losing the election, our leaders need to be reminded that we continue to be a nation of laws and of institutions deeply rooted in our history and traditions. I can imagine the need for more than a few peacemakers to calm the fervor that some will attempt to stir.

But don’t look to me for partisan campaigning from the pulpit. I have more important things to say. And one of those messages is about the wonder and joy of life in community with those who are differently abled and differently behaved than ourselves. Last night’s dinner did indeed prove to be a wonderful respite from the contentious election process. Together we celebrated the contributions to our community of people living with disabilities. Political dissension may have caused deep rifts in our community, but the strength of the community exceeds those divisions.

Black Hills Works is a community service institution that is deeply rooted in the love of parents for their children and their desire to provide the best for their offspring. That love is far stronger than the forces that threaten to divide us.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!