Thursday, January 9, 2014

Protecting the Vision

On Monday, Boston inaugurated a new mayor. I had the great privilege to be one of the 8000 who attended the event, with all of the pomp and circumstance, uplifting music and inspiring words.  Like a bar or bat mitzvah or a wedding, the ceremony makes us pay attention to a process that has already begun and will continue to evolve. Like many rites of passage, the rituals mark a liminal moment, that period of vulnerability and potential danger as a person or group moves through a transition.

The most memorable line of the new mayor’s speech was a kind of drash (commentary) on the oft-quoted image coined by John Winthrop, that Boston would be a City upon a hill. Mayor Walsh continued
“We are a City Upon a Hill, but it’s not just the shining light of Beacon Hill. It’s Savin Hill, where I live. It’s Bunker Hill, Bellevue Hill and Fort Hill. It’s Pope’s Hill, Jones Hill, and Telegraph Hill. It’s Copp’s Hill, Mission Hill and Eagle Hill.”

The import of those words, describing our diverse neighborhoods, was echoed by every detail of the carefully-orchestrated event. The city’s population and culture was reflected in the clergy -- the Cardinal and the African American preacher,  in the political leaders -- Senator Warren and Governor Patrick, and especially the music -- the pipe and drum band, complete with bagpipes, Yo-Yo Ma, students from the Boston Arts Academy and from Neighborhood House Charter School, and the student choir from Boston Renaissance Charter School singing a song written by former mayoral candidate Mel King. Even the new city council looked a lot more like the people of Boston they represent.

Mayor Walsh campaigned on a vision of diversity and inclusion, and spoke at the inaugural of his vision of City Hall serving all residents of the city. The fact that he chose a venue that could hold 8000 people demonstrated the mayor’s commitment to listen to as many voices as possible.

Another moment that struck me was when Governor Patrick turned to Marty Walsh and gave him a bit of advice: remember why you wanted this job in the first place. With years of personal experience of the urgent and often distracting demands of governing, the governor was reminding the mayor to hold onto his vision.

Recently, a professional coach asked me for the best advice I had ever given. After I responded, she explained that the advice we give is a very strong indicator of what’s important to us. Later that week I was reminded of that truth when I offered this advice about making change in an organization: you need to decide whether you are committed to the mission or not. And I realized that I need to remember that too, and not let petty disagreements or convenient excuses obscure the larger goal. In other words, “Keep your eyes on the prize!”

At the end of the inauguration ceremony, Rev. Dr. Ray Hammond asked for protection for our new mayor. In this liminal moment, a moment of transition that can be as fraught with danger as it is open to possibility, we also need to ask protection for the mayor’s vision. Just as we pray in the evening service that God protect us from harm in the darkness of night, so we should also pray that our dreams and goals be kept safe in the days ahead. As we say in the Hashkiveinu prayer, may we be sheltered beneath the wings of the Shechinah (the Divine Presence), let us all pray that our common vision of a city on many hills, with many different faces and cultures, keeps all of our leaders and elected officials and citizens working together through whatever dark nights may lie ahead.

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