America is divided and fearful in the wake of the latest police killings of black men and the killing and wounding of police officers. There is a vital question to be answered in this pluralistic and diverse nation - Who is your neighbor? Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton's answers to the question will be revealing. The soul and character of the United States of America depends on how we answer this question.
Do we double down on our commitment and work to be a country marked by the pursuit of justice and liberty for all? Or do we allow Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas to represent a collective descent into the murkiness of those nations where the rule of law and the pursuit of justice and liberty are only given lip service to or worse? The answers we offer about who our neighbors are point to the future we are creating.
Our current crisis is an opportunity for personal and national renewal. It requires leaders to lead by encouraging our best selves and whose vision invites creative paths to heal, unite and emerge as a more perfect union. We may look to presidential contenders for leadership but we shouldn't discount the leaders among us - we are each those leaders; those leaders are us.
Our religious pluralism is a powerful toolbox to draw upon. To scratch even the surface of this treasure trove of wisdom is revealing.
For many Jews the notion of tikkun olam is central to what it means to be Jewish - to be participants in the repair of all that is broken in the world. For Muslims the annual month of Ramadan that recently ended is about recommitting and remembering that Islam is about doing good deeds and contributing to peace and human dignity.
The Sikh recognition of the divinity within every human being and the resulting oneness this creates and the love it generates, together with a measure of the Sikh sant-sipah, the warrior-saint, who balances spirituality with community service might illuminate the question. Likewise a dose of the Buddhist emphasis on compassion and kindness could be good for all of us.
The concept of Karma for Hindi's holds that good actions are rewarded and bad ones are punished in this life or the next; the logical extension of Karma is found in the leveling tool of justice, known as dharma.
In Christian churches across the country attendees recently heard a question that is central to Jews and Christian - Who is your neighbor? These lectionary based churches heard something known as the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke.
The essence of the question can easily be connected to what lies at the heart of the wisdom of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and other traditions. You don't have to be religious to answer the question of who your neighbor is - it is a question at the core of what it means to be human and part of the human family.
In the story we are told that a hostile person wanted to trick Jesus with a question about how to inherit eternal life. They have a back and forth about what it says in the Hebrew Scriptures - the direction to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind but equally love your neighbor as yourself. The hostile questioner won't let it go because he wants to justify himself and his own views and so he demands to know who his neighbor is.
Jesus responds with a story with carefully chosen characters! A man was on a journey when he was attacked. He was stripped, beaten and robbed by strangers who left him half dead alongside the road.
A Priest and a Levite - representing the religious leaders and those who attended to the rituals of religion - came down the road where the man was lying half dead. Both ignored the man and intentionally crossed to the other side of the street.
A Samaritan then came along. It's important to understand why this character was included in the story. Centuries of hatred and enmity between Jews and Samaritans had been accentuated by Samaritan desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem around the time of Jesus' birth. Relations between Jews and Samaritans were hostile at best; most Jews did not believe that Samaritans were good or capable of goodness.
We're told this Samaritan was "moved by pity." His pity or humanity caused him to act, to do something. So he cleaned the wounds of the half dead man and bandaged them up before taking him to an inn where he took care of him. The next day he had to continue his travels and left money for the innkeeper to care for the man who had been left for dead and passed over by supposedly devout people.
After telling the parable Jesus asks his questioner which of the three people was a neighbor to the man who was robbed and attacked. He says, "The one who showed him mercy." He is told to, "Go and do likewise."
It is an elegantly simple admonition with little room for misunderstanding! To love God and neighbor leads to actions.
To ask who your neighbor is and to answer that question is not usually a simple exercise. Are we the one left for dead or are we the unexpected Samaritan; who's Samaritan might you or I be? The man lying on the road was ignored or abandoned by those of his own tradition or race. A much loathed Samaritan saved his life by caring for him. Their lives were inter-dependent, inter-connected.
So, who is your neighbor? How do we answer this, not as a religious question, but a question for what it means to be an American in this moment in time? It is an urgent question because it is a question about our empathy, compassion and shared humanity. It is a question about how we understand the pursuit of justice and liberty for all. It is about what sort of people we still aspire and yearn to be.
The motives that drive violence and killings are reprehensible but we know that violent responses to violence only beget more violence. Or as Gandhi said, An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.
The answer from Trump and Clinton could be illuminating. If the official leaders cannot or will not lead, it is we who can and must lead. Our Union is too significant to neglect. Who is your neighbor and whose neighbor are you?