This week I took my first fall on a New York City street. And this was no simple trip, catch yourself and move on kind of fall. This was a sprawled-out-onto-the-sidewalk kind of fall.
Certainly, there is a moment of shock when one finds oneself on the ground. More shocking, however, was my realization after a few seconds that no one was stopping. All I heard were the click, click, click of the boots and heels and wingtips walking by.
Unfortunately, that sound describes how many people prefer to approach the suffering of others. Whether it is the click of our heels walking by someone in need, or the click of a remote control to avoid images of pain, many choose to love thy neighbor – but at an appropriate and safe distance.
Haiti — click
Illegal immigrants — click
Those without adequate healthcare — click
LGBT Hate crimes – click
Racism in America — click, click, click
Oh we want to know a little bit about what’s going on in the world. It’s good for cocktail conversation and certainly a world crisis might affect the financial markets! But when push comes to shove, we’d prefer to change the channel or walk on by.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warns of the evil of such silence: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
We need to be clear: The people that we walk by, the people whom we turn away from are our own family. Oh we may think we are different and separate, but we aren’t. We are like islands that appear separate on the surface of the ocean, but deep down are all connected to one unique core. Every life lost, every broken body, every heavy human heart is equally ours.
Dr. King also wrote that “human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts of [people] willing to be co-workers with God.”
If we are to be co-workers with God, then we need to make the same promise God made to the Israelites in Isaiah 62:1: “I will not keep silent.”
Let’s make that promise today – that we will not be silent in the face of suffering and injustice. A promise that we will look on each other as brothers and sisters, that we will treat each other as family, and that ultimately we will live our lives like the words inscribed at the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC: “Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”