Who Are My People?
Forgive me! This is a subject I’ve written on before. Still, I consider it so important in today’s world of divisions and divisiveness that I am doing so again. In this morning’s Old Testament Lesson in our Episcopal Church we read in Leviticus 19, in the mid-teen verses, “You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin. . . . You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
First, it is remarkable but not unusual that in the second millennium BCE, supernatural lords, including this one, are tribal gods, with a clear distinction between “our people” and “your people.” It is even less surprising that in the Common Era “my” people, given all the “thems” theming us, have tended to circle our wagons, stick together, and make clear distinctions between our kind, the Jewish people, and them, the Great Other, AKA, the Goyim, the Gentiles, “the Nations.” In my case, as I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s as a third-generation American Jew, my parents would socialize exclusively with fellow Jews. At work, to be sure, they each had a Gentile buddy or two, but those folks never showed up at our house for dinner. They were “out there,” not “in here.”
There was one exception, however, and that was Florine, our live-in “colored maid,” the operative term in those days. Like many other middle-class Jewish families living in the suburbs, we had one. Besides cleaning and cooking for us (Yum!”), she was my primary care-giver, and what a care-giver she was: the first saintly person I was blessed to know! For me “Flora” was my real mom, the mother of my soul, the person to whose bed I ran for protection when we, on Long Island, had an air-raid warning or news that a German sub had been sighted in Long Island Sound. Florine was a religious Christian while my parents were secular. She told me about Jesus and her church. She hummed what I later learned were hymns while working. Even as a small child I knew she was the strongest and best person in our home. Later, at prep school and Yale, I was fortunate to interact and become friendly with other others who also became my people. Jesus said to love your enemies. Well, as a junior-year exchange student in Germany 13 years after World War II, I came to do just that. In fact, I ended by marrying one, Simone, the mother of my two wonderful daughters, with whom I had a harmonious, fulfilling marriage until she died 43 years later. When I was 21, moreover, I encountered my spiritual guide in an Indonesian man from Java, someone whose spiritual practice I still follow 60 years on. So, when you ask me “Who are your people?,” I’ll answer, “Everyone. No exceptions.” Dear reader, for the sake of our shared world, I hope you feel the same way. Amen.
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