Remember the story of the little red hen?
The little red hen asks for help with reaping and grinding wheat and making and baking bread, but there are no takers.
“Who will help me bake the bread?” she asks her farm friends.
“Not I,” they each tell her, and they leave her to complete each task on her own. But they all want to eat the finished loaf.
When I was in college, I read this story as a cautionary tale about group assignments!
Unfortunately for us all, life on Earth is a group assignment. I’ve become increasingly sensitive to the way that religion motivates or discourages me and others in my chosen groups to take up our portions of that work.
I’ve been asking questions like: How does our shared faith inspire us to move in the world? What are the lived consequences of the things we believe and teach one another in our faith communities? What do our religions mobilize us to do? How do we rightly orient ourselves to people like and unlike us? How are we compelled to act when our government is targeting other people and we’re probably not going to directly benefit from intervening, when we might even risk something by intervening?
Christian Dominionists have very clear answers to many of these questions, and they have for the last forty years.
Occasionally, evangelical Christians like those I was raised with have clear answers too. But I left a service today at a congregation that reminded me of my childhood church and am not sure what answers its members would offer if polled.
Reminder: 81% of White Evangelicals voted for a man who can’t name a single Bible verse & stands against everything Jesus ever said or did.
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) January 28, 2017
I came home from church and spent an hour listening to the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary talk about R. Abraham Heschel with On Being’s Krista Tippett. During a charged, politically active era, Heschel managed to hold a deep, rich sense of his own religion alongside an equally deep and rich sense of responsibility for acting well in the world around him, not alone, but in solidarity with other people of faith and conscience.
Heschel once told an audience at Union Theological Seminary that people of varying religions shared the core experience of being human. He said that as such, they were mutually responsible for nurturing “the power of love and the care of man,” even and especially when tempted to withdraw into “parochialism” or “isolationism”—the consequences of common suspicion of difference and an inflexible belief in one’s own rightness.
There was never a time when any of us could really survive in this world by being the little red hen or her farm friends, but even if there had been such a time, today is not it. Our social challenges are much too large and much too complex for any of us to not need help from others or not need to pitch in with others.
As Eisen said from his own perspective as a Jewish man, “With humility we listen to God as best we can and do God’s work in the world as best we can along with others who likewise feel compelled to do God’s work in the world.”
We each have to find our issue, and we each have to find our people. I want my tradition to spur me more than it pacifies me as I work: it’s not enough for me to be nourished in my congregations while my communities are ablaze. I need to be fueled for action and matured for responsibility.
More and more I agree with Heschel that anything less than that is a betrayal and we’re all impoverished by it.