Take the Challenge

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Take the Challenge

 I am on the train heading back to RI after a wonderful couple of days in New York City. I stayed with my daughter, Juliana, an actor and nanny. Last night I filmed Jules as she accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge. Five friends had challenged her to dump a bucket of ice water over her head to raise awareness and funds to help stop the brutal illness ALS. (see side link for the video of her Ice Bucket Challenge if you wish)I have heard a lot of hype about the Ice Bucket Challenge. This morning I heard that George W. Bush did it, and challenged Bill Clinton to do it. Pretty cool that some things, like stomping out ALS, cross partisan lines. I myself have been committed to ending ALS, ever since the husband of one of my dearest friends fought a courageous battle, then died at age 37 from ALS. I am not sure who thought this whole Ice Bucket Challenge thing up, but I am always encouraged when someone uses their creativity to challenge people to work together, have fun, and fight for an important cause all at the same time. Now I would like to challenge you, each and every one of you who is reading this blog, to take up another challenge. A challenge to use your creativity to bring people together, have fun, and fight for an important cause.

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I came to New York this weekend with my nephew, John and his family. On the way here my nephew and I had a wonderful, challenging conversation. Two things weighed heavily on my mind when I got into my nephew’s car Sunday night: Ferguson, MO, and income inequality, two things which are actually very deeply related. Sunday the new Vicar (intern) at our church, Brett Hertzog Betkoski, had preached his first sermon, and it was what I call a “Kick butt” sermon, which is the greatest compliment I can give a preacher. It was about Ferguson and racism and income inequality. (See link in sidebar to hear this sermon). So I was all revved up by this sermon, and by wanting to do something about Ferguson in some way.

My nephew John and I are pretty far apart on the political spectrum. Our life work is pretty different too: I am a pastor, writer, and spiritual director; he is the Director of Health Care Coverage for Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank, the eighth largest bank in the world by assets. But despite our differences, we deeply love each other, respect each other, and enjoy being challenged by each other’s very different perspectives. And…we both care deeply about our country and the challenges we face as a nation, especially in the aftermath of Ferguson, and the deep racial, economic, and political chasms that exist between us in these sadly not so “United” States. In fact, when John was a college student, he and I worked as a team organizing community service projects for “Rebuilding Together,” and Youth Service and Opportunity Program (YSOP) in Providence, RI, and New York City. John is a brilliant financial executive with soul. If he ever runs for president, I will vote for him, even though it would probably mean crossing party lines! But I would keep challenging him to continue to see things from “the other side” also.

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 Isn’t that the beginning of bridging the great divides? To actually engage in conversation with people who feel on the opposite end of the spectrum, to open ourselves to truly listening respectfully to their perspective, and to be mature enough to admit when we are wrong, or short-sighted, or clueless? One time I spent the six hour drive back from my son’s home in Delaware really ticked off at him over a challenging conversation we had had. By the end of the drive I realized that I was ticked off because he had struck a nerve! He was right! I needed to change that entrenched belief I had been clinging to because it was inherently wrong! Are you a big enough person to admit when you are wrong? Only then will you be able to learn, to expand your perspective, and to be part of the bridge rather than part of the great chasm that divides people from one another. For many years I have had a close friend who at the beginning of our friendship admitted to me that he was racist. This took a lot of courage on his part, because he knows that I am passionately against racism. Rather than end our friendship, we entered the challenging place of talking about his racism, of trying to understand where it came from, and what it is he is really afraid of deep down. I have seen him change, I would even say transform! I continue to challenge him. How will racism ever end unless we white people have the courage to challenge our racist friends, family members, co-workers, and the systems which maintain racism? How will our nation ever again experience unity we have in the past when Republicans and Democrats worked together for the common good to build a stronger nation for ALL?

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The day after our conversation my nephew John said, “You know I thought a lot about what you said, and did a couple of hours of research on income inequality, and some of my previous information had not been as accurate as I had thought, so thank you for the conversation.” Imagine the maturity of a young financial executive who s willing to change his mind? I replied, “Yes, well, thank you, because I had been shortsighted and had not-considered the international dimension of income inequality, and really need to think about that (namely that if we put “caps” on salaries at the highest income levels, or too heavy a tax burden,then many of our most brilliant, talented people will move to other countries where they can continue to make a billion dollar income where there are no income caps and where there are less tax burdens).” In other words, we were both willing to learn and to change, to open ourselves to hearing the other perspective.

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So, my challenge to each of you does not require you to dump a bucket of ice water on your head. That might get a lot of hype, but it is only worthwhile if you let it change you. My challenge is for you to be willing to change. My challenge is for you to have a difficult conversation, at least once a week, to be a big enough person to admit your own short-sightedness, and to let that conversation change and expand you. That is step one. Step two is to watch a film called “Inequality for All” (available through Netflix), and then discuss it with people who you know are on the opposite end of the political spectrum from you. Finally my challenge to you is for all of us to use our creativity, our intelligence, our skills and talents, our genius to bring people together,  and end the chasms of racism and income inequality which are plaguing our nation, our world. A nation is judged not on how it treats the brightest and best of its citizens, but on how it treats the most vulnerable of its people. If you are treated as less, I too am diminished. I challenge all of us to live as Gandhi challenged us to live: To BE the change we wish to see in this world. 

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 May you see God in ALL you encounter,

and may you reflect God to all you encounter.

Pastor Linda Forsberg, Copyright August 26, 2014

Photos:  Canal, Greece, 2011; my nephew John, his wife Nicolette, and their son, John Luca, 2012; great chasm between tectonic plates, Iceland, 2008; chasm between “heaven and hell,” Turkey, 2011; Juliana under a bridge in Central Park, New York City, 2013; the Newport Bridge, this last amazing photo by Jules, 4th of July, 2012.

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