Political correctness is a tough subject for me. In many ways, I’m not a fan, especially when it comes to cleaning up our history with a modern mop.
And I love comedy that pokes at our comfort zones around sensitive issues like race and religion.
But then someone like Donald Trump says we shouldn’t let Muslims into our country, prompting the rest of us to discuss the difference between free speech and hate speech.
I was pondering that when I called Rev. Carie Johnsen, a Unitarian Universalist minister and a member of the Capital Area Multifaith Association. That association along with the Winthrop Area Ministerial Association are sponsoring a candle-light vigil in Augusta on Wednesday, Dec. 16.
The vigil is a call to people who want a more civil political discourse, one that is more closely aligned with long-held values in our country.
An announcement about the vigil reads, “Religious, cultural and ethnic diversity are American values.”
When I spoke to Johnsen on the phone, she was quick to point out that it wasn’t just about Trump’s recent comments regarding Muslims. Trump’s comments are a part of it, but she spoke of how “so much of the rhetoric in social media and political media is about social division and hate. We want to counter that with messages of hope and love.”
Johnsen said that “people are hungry for a different message,” and area church leaders are offering the vigil “to celebrate what it means to be an American and a person of faith at this time.”
Attendees of all faiths or lack thereof are invited to bring an enclosed candle or a battery-operated candle or flashlight to the Memorial Bridge in Augusta. The vigil will start at 4:30 p.m. and end at 6 p.m.
Johnsen went on to say that our social and political discourse has reached a point where she and her colleagues feel it is “a religious imperative for clergy to respond.”
She said they hope to bring about “a positive approach to how we talk about tough issues like gun violence and how to create safe neighborhoods and safe communities for all people.” To that end, attendees will be invited to sign a pledge to participate in civil discourse on an individual level.
The pledge will be a version of a covenant that the Maine Council of Churches presented to legislators a few years ago. Johnsen said the pledge is being modified for the vigil to remind people that changing the discourse starts with each and every one of us. Johnsen hopes the pledge and the vigil are “a means to change the discourse.”
She acknowledged we are living in challenging times, and disagreement is part of facing those challenges, but she and her colleagues are calling on their fellow citizens to “communicate and engage in respectful ways. The conversation starts with us.”
She added that we need to look at “extremism on our home turf,” and not just “religious extremism, but also political.”
I echoed that I’ve been feeling like extremism is the plague of our times.
Area faith leaders have been proactive about supporting and welcoming Muslims to central Maine, including speaking to the Augusta City Council about the importance of religious diversity when a mosque was being established recently. These leaders maintain contact with their Muslim colleagues to keep abreast of issues they are facing and what they might find helpful in terms of support.
As part of that effort, vigil attendees will also be invited to fill out cards of welcome to new families who may move to the area.
For more information about the vigil, folks can contact Johnsen at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve attached the information provided by the sponsors of the vigil below.
It closes with a reminder to dress appropriately for standing on a bridge in December in Maine. For attendees not familiar with Augusta, the recommended parking location should be easy to find with Google and is quite close to the vigil location.
Lighting up Augusta with Hope and Love
Memorial Bridge Augusta
Wednesday, December 16th 4:30 – 6:00 p.m.
Now is the time,
To commence the litany of hope
Now it the time,
To commence the litany of love
Now is the time…
~ Mzwakhe Mbuli (adapted)
Religious, cultural and ethnic diversity are American values.
Hope and Love are religious values.
Civil discourse is a moral imperative.
Together we can bring the light of hope and love to this great city. Join us as we stand together, side-by-side, shining light into the darkness of fear, hate, intolerance, discrimination and violence. Be part of a wider call to spread acts of hope and love across the nation.
Bring candles in containers to block the wind, battery powered may be best or flashlights. Bring signs with uplifting up themes of hope and love. Dress for inclement weather as the bridge could be windy and cold.
We encourage participants to car pool. Please park at the entrance to bike path, Green Street Methodist Church, Penny Memorial Church, or in one of the city lots on Water Street.
This event is being sponsored by:
Capital Area Multifaith Association
Winthrop Area Ministerial Association