By Rev. Kevin Goldenbogen
It will not be news to you that we’re living through a bellicose period in our nation’s history. In a normal time, this would make for an especially volatile campaign season leading up to the national elections on November 3. This is not a normal time. COVID-19 has altered traditional campaign patterns, complicated our collective ability to hold safe and fair elections, and set many of us on edge. On this side of election day, I’m concerned about the state of our nation. What keeps me up at night, though, is not what’s on this side of election day, but what’s on the other side. What will November 4 bring? Will any election result be accepted by the losing candidates and parties? Will there be chaos? Will there be violence? Rather than allow myself to be overwhelmed by “what if” thinking, I’ve decided to take a long and purposeful walk during the week leading up to the elections on the roads of Charlotte instead.
Wakeful nights have afforded me time to reacquaint myself with some commonly shared values from our past which we could dust off for the future. One of these shared values is articulated in the Vermont state motto, written on our state seal and flying from our state flags: “Freedom and Unity.” A wonderfully concise phrase that summarizes the ambitious goal to balance our personal freedoms with the common good. The motto is not freedom OR unity. It’s not freedom OVER unity or unity OVER freedom. The motto is freedom AND unity, which encourages Vermonters to do that very hard work of holding these sometimes-opposing values together. We aren’t to coerce one another, nor are we to abandon one another. We aren’t to be controlled by one another, nor are we to be ignored by one another. It’s freedom AND unity…freedom AND unity for the good of us all.
A related value from our past that we could dust off for our future is found in the Judeo-Christian concept of lovingkindness (Hebrew: chesed). The idea is that God treats humanity with lovingkindness (lovingkindness=grace, forgiveness, humility, encouragement, justice, basic needs) and then invites us freely, non-coercively, to treat ourselves, God, and our neighbors the same way. As individuals we’ve been given free will to do whatever we choose to do. At the same time, it’s God’s ardent hope that we’ll freely practice the way of lovingkindness. Why? Because God loves us and desires for us to inherit the life that comes when we practice it.
Vermont’s State motto, “Freedom and Unity,” and the Judeo-Christian concept of lovingkindness are two sides of the same coin. The coin of relationship that:
- is aware of the real tension between personal freedom and the common good,
- invites us to do the hard work of balancing them in real time, under real circumstances, with the actions of our real lives.
Freedom and Unity is so easy to say and so hard to live out. Which is why there are times in our country when we find ourselves walking a quarrelsome road like we’re walking now. Some shouting, “FREEDOM,” some shouting, “UNITY,” and all sides preparing for war. I long for a different way, and maybe you do too. I long for a better balance. I long for a November 4 that’s filled with lovingkindness and not the division and violence I fear will proliferate.
I’ve decided to let my longing become my doing. I’ve decided to let my longing become an action that reminds Charlotters of some commonly shared values from our past which we can dust off for the future. I’ve decided to let my longing become a walk of 50 miles through our beloved town from October 28 through November 3. The 50 miles represents our 50 states and the ending date is, of course, election day. My goals are simple:
- to walk the roads of Charlotte with a few companions (send me a note if you want to walk a segment with me),
- to remind us all about the Vermont value of Freedom and Unity and its related value of lovingkindness,
- to proclaim the message that we need one another,
- to inspire my neighbors to freely choose actions that build the common good.
It’s not much, I know. Just some walking. Just some posts on social media. Just a gentle tip of the hat to our state’s motto. Just a stroll by the homes and business of my neighbors. Just a small act of lovingkindness on this side of November 3 to inspire small acts of lovingkindness on the other side, too.
Walk with me virtually from 10/28-11/3:
- FaceBook @: RevKevin Goldenbogen
- [email protected]: rev.kevg
- Charlotte Front Porch Forum
Kevin Goldenbogen is the senior-pastor at Charlotte Congregational Church, UCC.