I recently saw the movie “Dunkirk.” The story of the rescue of 330,000 Allied troops from the German advance by an impromptu civilian navy was familiar. Pleasure vessels, fishing boats, commercial boats piloted by ordinary men and women made the Dunkirk rescue possible.
The movie made me feel as though I were there, to be a rescuer, to need rescuing. Last weekend, as I watched the news of Hurricane Harvey, there was one particular image that reminded me of Dunkirk. Boats, lots of boats, bass boats, air boats, kayaks and canoes piloted down flooding streets to rescue those caught in the flood. There were black, brown and white men and women piloting the boats. No checking credentials at the door to see if, by virtue of race or ethnicity, the stranded merited help.
Why does it take a major crisis to push aside those walls that divide us? Why is it that in everyday life we cannot find common ground? Perhaps it’s because we are so profoundly shaped by the liturgies of our public spaces, by the liturgies of our political spaces.
James Smith calls liturgies “covert incubators of our imaginations.” We are accustomed to thinking of liturgy as something reserved for Sunday morning: the music, the prayers, the scripture readings — those things that we do week after week that are so familiar to us we don’t realize they seek to form us into followers of Jesus, to shape us into people of love and compassion and mercy. The competition against those Sunday liturgies, however, grows stronger and stronger. Some of the liturgies of our public life are commercials, seeking to convince us that we must stay ever young, never get wrinkles, always be beautiful and have perfectly beautiful things.
The liturgies of our political life shape us into an “us” and “them,” Democrat vs. Republican, white vs. black, Christian vs. Muslim. Like the liturgies of our athletic stadiums, the liturgies of our political life convince us that the “other,” the one who does not “wear my uniform,” is unworthy and must be eliminated. If not physically decimated, at least totally removed from my space. The images from “Dunkirk” and from the news feeds of the Harvey rescuers give me hope that these public liturgies haven’t shaped all human compassion out of us. Perhaps we need to learn to live in constant crisis mode.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were (so far apart) have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made (all) groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us … that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” (Ephesians 2:13-16)
The Rev. Camille Josey is the pastor at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church.