Aretha and Sen. McCain: Respect
It has been quite a week. Two icons of American life have died and we find ourselves joined together to celebrate two extraordinary lives. Just as the threads that hold our national life feel they are approaching a breaking point, the memories and the values that we hold dear are knotting us together to continue the journey.
Aretha Franklin is known more for the lyrics and the presentation of her music. Yet she was so much more than a performance artist. As I write this entry, the Queen of Soul is being honored by her friends, fans, and family. The hearse that carried her body to her public viewing carried the mortal remains of Rosa Parks in the 2005. It is appropriate that she was accorded this honor. Born in 1942, Aretha knew the struggle for racial equality that has torn our American fabric in our lifetime. Grounded in the New Bethel Baptist Church of Detroit, Michigan, she used her amazing voice and her celebrity stature to advocate for civil rights – human rights – rights for African-Americans – rights for Native Americans. R-E-S-P-E-C-T is not only a great song, it is a title that is a foundational touchstone for our human identity.
As we as a nation remember the life and legacy of John McCain we go beyond partisan positioning to recognize that which is a part of all of us, that which defines us a people of a particular place. Few of us feel that we would have the courage to endure the captivity experienced by John McCain. In that defining experience we see the cost of citizenship. It is patriotism writ large because it was never all about him. It was about the others with whom he shared captivity. It was about a country he had promised to defend. It was about the memories and the stories from his father and his grandfather, both men who had chosen a life of public service through the U.S. Navy. It was about the hopes and dreams he had for his country. It was courage he probably did not know he possessed. That crucible would shape his public career. Again, all his policies would not be popular or acceptable to all. However through the years he would advocate for RESPECT for one another. He worked with his political opposite, Sen. John Kerry, to reestablish diplomatic relations with Vietnam. He made political enemies because he wanted immigration reform that gave respect to the gifts and graces of Central Americans and Mexicans who sought a better life in the United States. He famously and publically gave respect to Barak Obama even when running against him for political office.
In 1 John 3:11-18 we read: For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. . . . Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
The path from hate to love goes through R-E-S-P-E-C-T. We can’t love without granting the dignity of respect. Otherwise we love in the abstract and remain locked out of relationships of life. Love and Respect are active verbs.
They are seen as our actions. They are seen as we face the truth of one another’s pain and hopes. To love and to respect means we must expose our vulnerabilities. We must rise to a courage we did not know we could possess. We must lay down “our selves” in service and respect for others. When we learn to do this we discover that we have really found “our selves”. We will be loving, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
Grace and Peace