For years I have been looking for a mentor for my work. I always knew and believed that those who have gone ahead of us — walked the path, fought the dragons, built their armor, found their heart — were wanting to assist those of us who were still further behind them on our own journeys, eyeing their footprints while shaping our own. If we could just catch up enough to lightly tap them on the back, maybe they would know we were here in need, only strides behind them.
In September I was sitting at Yom Kippur services in Shreveport, Louisiana next to the man who is the mentor I’ve been seeking. I had been visiting to more deeply understand the work he laid down there twenty years ago which became Community Renewal International. CRI is an organization which has been transforming communities through identifying and addressing a simple illness — the lack of caring for each other. An illness which leads to every issue we deal with in our neighborhoods, towns, cities, national and international communities.
We were sitting in the synagogue because – in my Northeast culturalization – I thought it would be truly amazing to hear all the prayers in a southern drawl. But as it turned out, after days of my ‘full immersion’ into the bible belt of the country – into wonderful homes and classrooms, and community rooms, meetings, gatherings and meals with amazing people – more than hearing a sound, I needed to feel the smallest bit of where I came from as a tiny respite. My ear was pleased for the southern drawls of the congregants wishing me ‘L’shanah Tova,” with that melodic regionalism but, ironically the prayers were said by their rabbi – a Northerner – who sounded exactly like me.
My mentor is that melodic southern regionalism. He is all that it contains. I am a willing disciple of Mack McCarter…. who is among many things a former paster in Texas, a high school football player, a civil rights activist of the first order, and not at any point in his experience an artist. If any one of us looks back at how we come to meet another, the road is filled with stories of madness and mayhem. So the question of how did I meet him of course is a long one which came from a thoughtful suggestion in an email and then a phone call, a meeting and then – as Mack likes to say – “Hammathahammata!”
He says it enough that I thought I would see if it actually meant anything. I assume that it must because Mack is an educated and self-educated man. He is someone who has studied societal and communal systems thoughtfully, his pastoral education and experience has made him mindful and sensitive to individuals and relationships, he is a powerful speaker and a champion for humanity.
Apparently Hamma or Hammath is Hebrew for ‘hot spring’ and in one particular case was related to those found near Tiberias (a city established in the first century CE). These particular springs were famous since antiquity for being curative. Near the springs was built a Synagogue from 286 to 337 CE. At the excavation sites one of the images found was a mosaic of Helios the sun god. And now I understand. “Hammathahammata!” is a called from the deep spring of healing to shine a light on our humanity.
That is what Mack does. That is his call to me through our work together. Both in our partnership, which will be shared in more detail as time goes by, and the mentorship I receive through his friendship and generosity of self.
When we sat together at B’nai Zion in Shreveport I felt a bit more at home with the rituals, the prayers and the northern sound. But Mack, who was so excited to join me, knew the people. Practically all of them. Because when the Ku Klux Klanner David Duke was running for governor of Louisiana in 1991 there was fear in the Jewish community of what would happen if Duke won office. Mack crossed the border of his deep Christian roots and went there every Saturday to sit with them during Shabbat services in solidarity and community. A shining sun drawing a cool long drink from the deep spring of humanity. One smiling hand clasp or greeting at a time.
Because that’s what you should do Y’all.