The philosopher Martha Nussbaum talks about “concentric circles of concern” (Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice, 2015). Usually our first circle includes those we love, such as family and friends. The next circle includes the communities we are part of including this congregation. From there we might include the circle of our town or city, a circle of nation, and ultimately the circle of our planet and life itself.
Alas, we tend to express less concern for those farther from our center. Sometimes we create a circle around race, ethnicity and political affiliation. Social media is quite good at recognizing and reinforcing these other circles.
It is aspirational for us as a congregation to stretch these circles of concern; to be moved by what Nussbaum calls “public emotions.” It’s halting and messy. We can open our doors to some who are different but not too different. We took some early steps in reaching out to transgender folks but we have yet to reconfigure our restrooms. We have a lift for those differently abled but it doesn’t always work. Or personally, I hand out money to one person who asks but not to everyone. It’s not easy to live up to the aspiration to extend our sense of belonging, is it?
I don’t believe we actually need to be completely consistent or systematic in how we reach out into these circles. Human nature being what it is, it may be enough to extend our concern as often and as far as we can. We need to recognize we fall short of the mark more often than not. This is, in fact, the meaning of sin – falling short of the mark. It’s ok to miss from time to time as long as we continue to aspire to continue reaching.
We are in the midst of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which ends on Yom Kippur October 4-5, completing ten days of penitence. I find these holy days very moving. By coupling the Jewish New Year with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the Jewish people are recognizing that while we do fall short of the mark, we must take time, at the dawn of a new year, to recognize where we have fallen short and do what we can to atone for our shortcomings. This is one reminder that it is never too late to repair the tear in the fabric of our lives. While the tear, like any scar, can be repaired, it will always remind us to strive to embrace those circles which stretch away from us.
Yours always, John