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A different kind of politics

Manaus Valley Project Sponsoring Assembly The Orchard Church, Carbondale, CO

Good evening. I’m Rabbi David Segal of the Aspen Jewish Congregation. It’s so exciting to see this gathering after 3 years of conversations and planning! It’s wonderful to see so many different organizations and people coming together tonight for the first time as the Manaus Valley Project.

Now I want to ask you to raise your hand if you were ever taught that it’s not polite to talk about politics…

The idea that it’s not polite to talk politics is itself a political idea. It is a way to silence what threatens the status quo. “Don’t talk politics” means don’t bother me with what’s broken in our world.

The truth is, how we organize ourselves, how we distribute resources, how we teach our children — these are political questions. The heart of politics is this, just one question: How do we relate to each other in public? The rest is commentary.

It’s hard to have these conversations today because we’ve been trained to avoid being political. Without realizing it, we’ve sold our political selves, our right to public leadership, even our citizenship.

For corporations and politicians, our attention is the hottest new marketplace. We’ve been reduced to votes and dollars.

We need to rediscover our humanity.

In that spirit, I’d like to share with you two texts from the Bible, one from the Book of Exodus and one from the prophet Ezekiel.

First, from Exodus (34:6-7):

God [is] abounding in mercy and faithfulness, maintaining mercy to the thousandth generation, and forgiving … sin. Yet God does not leave the guilty unpunished; God punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.

What came before us shapes our universe, for better and for worse. We carry our past with us.

My privileges and opportunities rest on the struggle and hard work of my immigrant grandparents. Thanks to them, I enjoy the blessing extended “to the third and fourth generation.”

But Ezekiel the prophet tells a different story (18:20):

…A child shall not share the burden of a parent’s guilt, nor shall a parent share the burden of a child’s guilt; the righteousness of the righteous shall be accounted to him alone, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be accounted to him alone.

No more reward or punishment for what our parents did or didn’t do — here, I alone am responsible for myself. I am judged on my own merit and limited only by my willingness to work hard.

These two voices from the past — very much alive today — seem to be in tension because they reflect a real tension in our political lives.

We are the accumulation of our past. The victories and failures of our ancestors weigh us down and lift us up. We are our stories.

And yet, we are more than what has happened to us. We are also our potential.

To harness this potential, we have to meet, like we’re doing here tonight, across the lines of faith, class, race, and party that so often divide us. We have to open our eyes to the face of another and open our ears to each other’s stories.

That’s why we’re here tonight. This is our vision:

A new way to relate as neighbors.

A new politics based on relationship.

A new sense of shared power that we can wield together to make this valley a place of justice, mercy, and humanity.

Tonight we will hear stories that have surfaced across our community. We will begin to understand each other’s struggles, to bring us out of our isolation. From this base of relationship, we are creating an organization that can act with power to address our challenges by bringing us together for real conversations about what matters to us.

In closing, I want to share another text — a little less sacred, perhaps — in the words of comedian Maria Bamford:

I wish science would come up with a brain ride, where you can get inside somebody's brain and see all their thoughts and their experiences and their memories, and why they believe and think the way they do, and how they see the world. And I know there's a low-tech version, just called 'listening,' but… I WANT A RIDE!

Let’s hear it for low-tech listening.

Are we ready? Then let’s get going! Thank you.

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