Posted by: MC | April 4, 2010

Easter and Reaching Across the Aisle

Yesterday a friend sent a text.  Charles is a Mandan-Hidatsa Indian from North Dakota who has for years been the lead public relations executive for a local non-profit.  He was asking if I knew of Easter celebrations in town.  Then there was Mike’s status update on Facebook.  Mike is Jewish and he was wishing all his Christian friends “a wonderful and redemptive Easter.”

This morning in a small gathering, Julie, a mom of three and grandmother of four, spoke of everyday resurrections – of relationships and circumstances miraculously rising from what had been taken for dead.  In the ongoing American experience of change there are, at the extremes, real threats of destruction and astonishing miracles of redemption.  More usually there are smaller resurrections that show up initially as options – in particular, as options for how we treat one another.  Options for how we reach across our differences.

Easter is about what follows the darkness of Good Friday.  The fact of the day of crucifixion reveals the ever present option of giving up, stopping there, settling for the besieged Good Friday state of mind.  In this way the Easter story is about choice.  We are always free to resist change.  We are free to stay afraid and embattled.  But the Easter story continues.  It ends in renewal. 

Maybe the question of change asks if we are willing to wait it out.  Do we die here, or do we open to redemption?  Whether we are aware of it or not and whether we’re Christian or not, it’s a question of immediate relevance to our lives and to our country.

On April 21, Easter Sunday, 1957, Reverend Martin Luther King offered a sermon pondering the questions and answers of Easter.  At one point, he spoke of his own doubts and the faith that overrode them.

“You know every now and then, my friends, I doubt. Every now and then I get disturbed myself. Every now and then I become bewildered about this thing. I begin to despair every now and then, and wonder why it is that the forces of evil seem to reign supreme and the forces of goodness seem to be trampled over.  And I can hear something saying, ‘King, you are stopping at Good Friday, but don’t you know that Easter is coming?’

“And when I hear that I don’t despair.  This is the meaning of Easter, it answers the profound question that we confront in Montgomery. And if we can just stand with it, if we can just live with Good Friday, things will be all right. As I look over the world, as I look at America, I can see Easter coming in race relations. I can see it coming on every hand. I see it coming in Montgomery. I see it coming in Alabama. I see it coming in Mississippi. Sometimes it looks like it’s coming slow, but it’s still coming.”

Almost 52 years later, I spent time with my new friend Michelle Browder in Montgomery Alabama.  Michelle gave up her job to volunteer full-time for the Obama Presidential campaign.  In late February, following the election, she said her highest value was on a shift in government attention and funding to “the have-nots.”  “Economic recovery is not going to happen overnight.  The recession is going to continue on for another two or three years.  We need to pull that money from the banks and put it into organizations that are providing things like shelters, meals, and hygiene products.  People are in need.”

Michelle fully lives the values she looks for in her government.  In the past few weeks, she returned from Haiti where she provided direct relief to earthquake victims on behalf of the Montgomery Rescue Mission and Faith Crusade (, the social service organization her parents established and have sustained over the past 20 years (EX:C blog, “Change and Topography” 03-01-2010).  Michelle and her parents live what Dr. King gave words to on Easter, 1957.  They show us what it looks like not to despair – not to get caught in Good Friday. 

In her EX:Change interview Michelle went on to describe the fundamental change needed to support the “have-nots.”  “It’s time for all Americans to be able to commune with each other without having to worry about color, or preconceived notions about who anyone is,” she said.  “On the campaign trail we had that.  I slept in the same room with lesbians.  I slept in the homes of Jewish people and Catholic people and in cabins with Muslims.  That’s what we need to keep as a constant.  We really can coexist and work together.  We can love one another, and yet still have our differences.

“It really is just great to say, ‘I love you because we are in this thing together and we’re going to make it happen together.’  We agree to disagree and move ahead.  That’s what needs to be done.  This is what I’m hoping for Congress; that the Senate and the House and everybody else will wake up and put aside their differences so we can get the job done.  That’s the change I want to see.  Quit the bickering and let’s do what we need to do.”

After I exchanged text messages with Charles and saw Mike’s Facebook wish, I followed a link to a blog a friend recommended written by a woman named Marianne Williamson.   Marianne Williamson is a beautiful woman of some fame related to the books she’s written on her spiritual journey.  I’ve not read any of her books, but I was curious about her blog – an open letter to Sarah Palin, another beautiful woman of both fame and influence.  Williamson’s letter was a sincere plea to Palin to be more careful with her use of language. 

Williamson wrote as one feisty, big state (TX) woman to another (AK).  She wrote as a deeply spiritual woman who was raised Christian.  Based on her reading of Palin’s book, Williamson sincerely acknowledged Palin’s own deep Christian commitment.  She also extended respect for Palin’s significant social influence and asked that Palin recognize the extent of that influence herself.  She asked particularly that Palin understand that violent language may be taken as an invitation to those among us who feel moved to enacting physical violence. 

The potential for such a tragedy is real.  Palin’s leadership can enhance the democratic process by modeling passionate defense of strong beliefs and opinions without the necessity of physical force.  Palin consistently calls for “reaching across the aisle.”  To reach is to be open to conversation, to conflict and its resolution.  Speaking and listening across the differences and doing so without violence is one of the premier challenges of our time. 

The nature and promise of democracy is its capacity to provide time and venue for contentious debate toward creative resolve.  That is the process and responsibility of democratic leadership.  Michelle Browder’s is one of many voices in the EX:Change that called for our leaders to put this promise of democracy into action. 

In the enduring metaphor of Easter I’m not sure what gets us past the contention – what gets us past Good Friday.  The people who saw Jesus Christ crucified had no idea what next.  There are a few stories associated w/ that time; word of Judas’ illeged betrayal, Thomas’ doubt, the fleeing of the other ten, Mary Magdelene staying and with perhaps a two other women going on the third day to the gravesite.  Perhaps they were in shock with grief. Perhaps they were fearful. Whatever the case, they persisted from Friday to Sunday when, in keeping with tradition, they went to the place Jesus’ lifeless body had been left.  What they found was a miracle, the details of which vary widely – one word holding them all:  Resurrection.  Life where  there was supposed to be death.

In his “I have a dream” speech, Doctor King said, “We are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  

Sending best wishes across religious traditions, attending celebrations outside those of our upbringing, considering the power of our words, reaching across the aisle.  All of these are ways we live the change.  In the Easter story, these are the things that keep us going in the direction of renewal when all we really know is the fact of Good Friday.  And in Dr. King’s vision, these are not weak, incidental and passive actions; they are steps toward justice rolling down like water, righteousness like a mighty stream.


  1. Preach it, Sister!

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