Being one of the most-churched cities in the country is a mixed bag.
Certainly many of us are grateful for the comfort that faith communities can bring in times of personal distress, such as illness and death, and personal joys, such as weddings.
There are times, however, when I wish that the faith communities could be seen as a unifying force for good in Memphis rather than a divisive and destructive one.
I still shudder at the shrill and hard-hearted nature of some clergy shouting and reading scripture at the Shelby County office building last August in opposition to a proposed non-discrimination ordinance against gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgendered people. I personally believe Memphis and Shelby County are richer because of the great diversity of folks who live here, and not just of different races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. Enough about that.
However, over the past few months I have witnessed examples of what Memphis indeed can become because of, and not in spite of, our differences.
In September, several thousand people of faith (and others!) gathered at the Levitt Shell for a “Tearing Down the Walls” concert. (By the way, if you haven’t been to the Levitt Shell recently, put that on your calendar for next spring. One of the very best things Memphis has to offer—and it’s free!) The concert featured a Jewish contemporary rock songwriter/singer, Rick Recht, with different choirs from the area, along with a wide and wild variety of black/white/Christian/Jewish/suburban/inner city pastors all united around the theme of letting the light shine in Memphis.
A few weeks later I was invited by the Memphis Islamic community to their Iftar dinner at GPAC so that we might observe Ramadan together. With their graciousness, the incredible middle-eastern spread put out, and their invitations to have Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist leaders speak, we got a glimpse of Islam that we rarely read about in the paper, an Islam that honors every human being and offers hospitality to the stranger.
Right now there is one issue that I hope that all Memphians of good faith might unite around. There are few, if any, stronger themes in our various holy books than care for the poor and concern for health and healing. Most of you are aware, I am sure, of the crisis facing the Med right now. Though the Med has survived crisis after crisis through the years, the warnings of the imminent downsizing within the Med’s Emergency Department in February, 2010 should send congregations of all shapes, sizes, and traditions to get busy in the political process so that our leaders explore all creative and appropriate means to sustain the Med both in the short and long terms.
Its closing would not only send ripples throughout all hospitals in the region, but would also most greatly affect those with the least ability to access care. It is a complex issue, to be sure, but has been made all the more acute with the recent announcement that the governor has proposed a cut to the Med of an additional $50 million. Suffice it to say the Med is now on life-support.
The only thing that will save the Med is political courage. And the best way to enable our leaders to act courageously is for people of faith in one of the most-churched cities in the nation to take our faith seriously. Hopefully wisdom will prevail over political expediency.