Seeking Our Better Angels

I think all decent people are heartbroken about the senseless murders of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiassen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. As someone who served on the Community Editorial Board for six months in 2014, I have a deep appreciation for the work, dedication and due diligence that goes into producing a quality newspaper every day. I do not always agree with some of their positions or conclusions, but I am also confident that their positions are not random or malevolent, but well thought-out, from their perspective. I understand that we will not always be in agreement, but I believe that we can at least be decent in our interactions, even when we disagree.

That’s necessary to affirm given the precarious and oftentimes ugly era we are enduring in the public square right now. In spite of all that, most of the response to the shootings has been decent and humane. Humane is an apropos word right now. Being humane means to be compassionate, kind and “inflicting the minimum of pain.” How often, in our public interactions, have we approached things from an almost scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners perspective? But the thing that struck me most during the prayer vigils that were sponsored last week, was the fundamental spirit of humanity and decency that was on display. The vigils drew very eclectic groups of people together that might not usually be in one another’s company. We were there for a common purpose. To remember the people who lost their lives, to offer support and comfort to their families and coworkers, to praise the first responders for their quick response, and to affirm the work of journalists and journalism, even in difficult circumstances. And these crowds gathered in spite of personal or political ideology or ethnic variety.

However, all of this decency-in-the-moment raises a big question for me. Why can’t we be decent to one another ALL the time? Why does it take a tragedy before we will put our pitchforks and torches down and interact with one another in a respectful way irrespective of our “differences?” I don’t know about you, but I am past tired of the nonsense that we have come to accept as “normal.” Your being in a different political party from me does not make you the devil. Your having more or less melanin in your skin should not be the decisive factor in how I see or interact with you.

While it is difficult to see what “good” can come from a tragedy like this, I would like to suggest that I believe #AnnapolisStrong can become more than a momentary catch phrase for a grieving community. If we become resolute in our determination to interact with each other decently and respectfully, Annapolis and Anne Arundel County may be able to show a way forward to our beleaguered nation that calls us back from the muck and chaos to a place of decency, even when there is not unanimity.

In the latter chapters of the Book of Genesis, Joseph encounters his brothers who sold him into slavery and tells them “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.” I firmly believe that if we decide…if we choose to treat each other decently and humanely all the time, we will find our way to a better place politically and become a true community. I felt a palpable sense of community last week, a feeling that no matter what, we’re in this thing together and we will only be able to make it through this – together! I quoted Dr. King at the vigil last week, who said, “we must learn to live together as brothers (and sisters) or perish together as fools.” I choose to live civilly with each of you, my brothers and sisters, no matter what!

I close with this quote from President Abraham Lincoln, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” That’s Annapolis Strong!

Pastor Stephen Andrew Tillett
Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church