“Think Global, Act Local: Rediscovering our Humanity”
Psalm 118:1-2, 22-24, Romans 8:35-39
By Rev. Don Ludwig, October 4, 2020
An Olympic Story
Back in 2016 at the Rio Olympic Games, a time that seems hundred years ago, there is a story that captivated the world’s attention. A New Zealand and US athlete were praised for embodying the Olympic spirit after they stopped to help each other up after falling together midway through their race. New Zealand Distance runner Nikki Hamblin and US runner Abbey D’Agostino were four laps from the end of the 5000m race in Rio when they collided. Hamblin, bunched tightly in the mass of running women, stumbled and fell face forwards, causing her US competitor D’Agostino —who was running directly behind her—to hit the track as well, falling on the side of her body.
As Hamblin lay in the foetal position on the track D’Agostino jumped up quickly and pulled the New Zealander to her feet. But moments after the two athletes had started running again, D’Agostino began faltering, her right leg injured as a result of the fall. In severe pain, D’Agostino fell again to the ground, crouching on all fours on the Olympic track, her face showing she was in pain. Hamblin stopped running and turned to D’Agostino, reaching for her with two open arms—the race and Olympic glory, forgotten.
Speaking to New Zealand’s Breakfast radio host Mike Hosking, Hamblin said that the moment of kindness wasn’t what she expected when she prepared for Rio. “When I look back on Rio 2016, I’m not going to remember where I finished, I’m not going to remember my time … but I’ll always remember that moment.” She went on to say, “sometimes I guess you have to remember that being a good human being is more important than winning.” Even though the two competitors finished the race last, they walked away from that race with an unexpected gift of friendship and respect for humanity.
Love and Compassion
We are in the middle of some profound political realities—the us and them mentality has become ever so apparent in 2020. Religious groups will tell you that they are under attack. Nationalist groups call to raise arms in defense of their country from so-called liberals, socialists, hippies, atheists, or whatever label works best to demonize caring about humanity. Media pundits and politicians wear the clothing of equality and then moralize with condescension and self-entitlement. You’re either on a team that embraces lowest common denominators from birth, or grouped in with an intolerant team that labels everyone else ‘stupid.’
Friends, I do believe it is a time for putting stakes in the ground. It is time for people of good faith to be clear about what we stand for and what we are not willing to accept. These are rubber meets the road times—I do believe that. But we are liberal religious people. We are people of faith. And so we cannot put aside our faith in love or our practice of compassion—promising that we will return to them just as soon as our point of view seems in the ascendance once more…
Somehow, we need to navigate these troubled and troubling times—without sacrificing all that we hope to be—our humanity. What we bring to these times, as progressive christians, will carry forward with us. We must be able to move into a future not determined by harm done to us or others but by our commitment to each other and our unwavering belief that human life matters:
- Like when the mourners at Mother Bethel AME in Charleston forgave the shooter who killed their pastor and 8 others in that circle of prayer…
- Or when the survivors of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh forgave the young man who opened fire among them…
- Or like, just on Friday night, when socialist Michael Moore, of all people, called us all, regardless of politics, to pray for the President and his family in the hopes of a speedy recovery from the virus…
These are examples of people choosing a future in which they could still believe in one love—the Golden Rule. They will never stop believing in humanity. And neither should we. Like them, we must refuse to be imprisoned by the tragedies of our past or the political differences of the present. As one survivor in Pittsburgh described it: “if you don’t [respond with love and forgiveness], the harm lives inside you, it eats you up… being able to love in spite of the harm is [what] gives you the ability to move forward.”
Yes, being able to love in spite of the harm is what gives you the ability to move forward. Friends, don’t allow the harm being done all around the world, the harm in our politics today—to eat you up. While it is naive to think that all we need to do is to get along to make everything alright, it is equally naive to think that harboring resentment will lead to a better future. It won’t!
Our love must go deeper. Love is more than getting along. Love is being willing to finish the race last…for the sake of another human being. Love is being willing to forgive — even if the other doesn’t deserve our forgiveness. Love stands up for what is right but never at the expense of someone’s identity and always in the service of their humanity.
Our Little Lives: The Prayer of Howard Thurman
I close with the words of Howard Thurman that we read earlier. For those that do not know, Thurman was born the grandson of slaves in segregated Daytona, Florida. He was born in poverty as part of a powerless minority—but still lived a life that celebrated all of humanity in words and actions, even in the midst of violent terrorism and injustice.
Pour out upon us whatever our spirits need of shock, of lift, of release
That we may find strength for these days—
Courage and hope for tomorrow.
In confidence we rest in Thy sustaining grace
Which makes possible triumph in defeat, gain in loss, and love in hate.
We rejoice this day to say:
Our little lives, our big problems—these we place upon Thy altar!