Monday, November 18, 2013

Unity vs. Uniformity

For the Catholics this week is a good time to take a look at the Bible you're using. If you can't find the 1 and 2 Maccabees in the Old Testament it's not a Catholic Bible. Whether you are Catholic or Orthodox and believe this story is part of the inspired word of God, or you are Protestant and reject it's inspired quality, the story we read this week of the Maccabean Revolt is an important part of Jewish History we all should know.

After the death of Alexander the Great, two great kingdoms formed on either side of Judea, one based in what we now call Syria and one in Egypt. The Jews were literally caught in the middle.

In today's first reading we hear that the starting point was what on the surface seemed like a simple decree meant to unify the people.

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, each abandoning his particular customs.

It was not just the Jews but all of the various people in the territory who were expected to abandon their ancestral customs and conform to the dominant culture, that of the king.

When we read about it being done to the Jews two millennia ago, we think "How awful!" And yet, how many people today right here in America think that to be a good American means abandoning the customs, traditions, and languages of your families and assimilating all things "American."

We confuse unity and uniformity. We forget that part of the uniqueness of the American Culture is precisely the fact that we can be one nation, and simultaneously hold on to our unique customs.

The Irish immigrants that founded my parish, St. Patrick's, in 1859 refused to assimilate. They built their unwelcome Catholic Church right across the street from one of the most historic churches in the country. They built a school where their children could be safe from the anti-Catholic prejudice that was rampant in Virginia at the time.

Now the whole country likes to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and we try to ignore the history. German was the second most common language in the US until it was seen as un-American with World War I. In Pennsylvania until 1950 official government documents were always available in German. The so called Pennsylvania Dutch are Germans.

With each new century in the history of our country new waves of immigrants have arrived and each have been unwelcome at first. Always met with the voice of the King in today's first reading demanding that they abandon their customs so that we can be one.

The truth is that our real strength is found in the fact that we are all mutts, only some of our dogs are purebreds. This week as we read the great story of how the Jews had to fight to hold on to their faith, their culture, their customs and traditions. We should search for ways to celebrate the freedom we have to live our diversity.

Our ancestors in 1859 could never have imagined and would have been horrified at the notion of Laura and I (St. John's Episcopal and St. Patrick's Catholic), a woman rector and the Catholic pastor standing side by side and calling each other friends.

Unity does not require uniformity. We can be one nation and still be proud Irish, German, Italian, Hispanic, Filipino, Scots, etc. etc. etc.