Let me tell you the story of V Street versus 13th Street. It is my family’s story wrapped up in the story of my family’s hometown.
My beloved hometown is just a stone’s throw across the Potomac. I am fond of telling people on my tours at the Library of Congress, that D.C. is not a swamp. It is filled with history, monuments, museums, and parks, and people from all over the country and all over the world. Washington is a beautiful and wondrous city.
My family’s roots are generations deep — in this most political of places. But my family has never trafficked in politics nor made their daily bread in that much maligned profession (My apologies to those who do!) I descend from a long line of barbers, plumbers, and bookkeepers. One of my great-great uncles was a purveyor of fish and my paternal grandfather was a tire salesman. All in the service industries, they made their home in Anacostia.
My dad grew up in a two-story row house on 13th Street. My mom grew up in a two-story town house on V Street. Just a seven-minute walk between them, just two-tenths of a mile apart. But according to my dad it was more like a chasm: “Those V Street people!” I can still hear him rail. Apparently “those V Street people” spoke a different language, were not quite as intelligent, and bordered on the uncouth. They could not possibly hold a candle to those brilliantly enlightened people of 13th Street.
This, of course, made some of our family gatherings more than a little uncomfortable. But as a child, this made no sense whatsoever to me. My Grandma Cady’s house was just as much of a haven as my Grandma Peacock’s house. And my V Street grandmother was so much the better cook, so how could this be? It was a distinction without a difference.
But this 13th Street versus V Street distinction was a way to build oneself up, while putting others down. Not so subtly reducing your neighbors to a caricature. No need to bother getting to know one another. “Those V Street people” were so very “other”, they never really belonged. Ridiculous, right?
I bet my D.C. family’s dysfunction might ring a bell. Does it sound familiar to you this fall? Does it remind you of our current climate this election season?
Tragically, our politics have grown toxically partisan – regardless of which tribe we ascribe to. We self-righteously proclaim who we vote for as a badge of honor, while we pin a “Scarlet ‘R’” or a “Scarlet ‘D’” on those we oppose.
Though our political convictions may be passionately held, castigating those with whom we disagree is not the Christian thing to do, right? It is a gift to respectfully live with and work with and worship with people across the political divide. As people of faith, we are called to witness to this truth. We are in the love your neighbor business. We are in the reconciliation business.
“How we judge our public leaders is different from how we treat one another,” a columnist recently wrote. “As it is, too many politicians love to make us hate each other, and too many of us find comfort and company in our shared derision. But if we can close the gap, maybe we can talk.”
Better Angels is a non-profit group that has taken up this work. Some of you may recall a few years ago when Emmanuel hosted one of their skills workshops. This blog post is not so much intended to recommend and have us sign up and register for their programs as to commend the spirit of their work.
Founded four years ago, Better Angels’ very first workshop took place in a small town in rural Ohio. Over a three-day weekend a group of “red” leaning folks came together with a group of “blue” leaning folks. Not to debate or argue or convert one another, but to honestly get to know one another — their first session was led by one of the founders (who happens to be a marriage counselor!)
Recorded in this 50-minute documentary, I invite you to watch and take a look. Their discussions are grounded in humility and mutual respect. Eschewing labels, each group examines unhealthy stereotypes and unhelpful clichés. Soul searching, listening and learning are prioritized. They find common ground. Spoiler alert! The best part of the documentary is an unlikely coupling: the Muslim and the Evangelical Christian become the best of friends!
And now Better Angels has evolved into Braver Angels. Their former name was inspired by words from Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address:
“We are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained it may not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely there will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
And their current and continuing mission “With Malice Toward None” takes its name from Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address.
“With malice toward none ; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, let us strive to finish the work that we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for them who shall have borne the battle, for widow, and orphan – to all which achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
And in this exceedingly divisive time, Braver Angels invites all citizens of good will to join with them in this pledge:
“Regardless of how the election turns out, I will not hold hate, disdain, or ridicule for those who voted differently than me. Whether I am pleased or upset about the outcome, I will seek to understand the concerns and aspirations of those who voted differently and will look for opportunities to work with people with whom I disagree.”
A tall order, the pledge is aspirational, an aspiration that we will translate into our Sunday prayers – in Emmanuel at Home and at The Chapel Garden. May these words motivate and inspire us — both personally and as a community of faith – in all of our interactions and conversations and connections and relationships. May they help us to find meaningful ways – no matter how small — to truly and honestly love the neighbors who disagree with us as much as we love ourselves.
Make no mistake, this is hard work, really hard. But seeking God’s grace every step of the way, nothing is impossible with God. Not even this.😊
Pax vobiscum, Joani
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog