Some Stories from Appalachia

by Abigail Conley

“They’ve got to come help those poor Appalachian people.” I remember the disdain in my mother’s voice as she said those words. I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. If you look at a poverty map of the United States, my county would be a lighter shade than those farther south or farther east, deeper into coal mining country. This was the place where coal was brought up on trains, then loaded onto barges to float down the Ohio River to Cincinnati.

As the trucking industry has replaced trains, the area has been bypassed. What were once company houses all along the river are now privately owned, though their outlines remain the same. Some Googling tells me that the population in that area was at its highest in the 1960s. My own thirty years of memory holds manufacturing and railroad jobs leaving, sometimes hundreds at a time, as recently as this year.

In high school, I participated in a leadership initiative funded by local businesses. “Leave,” they said. “Get an education. Then come back here. If our best people keep leaving, nothing here will ever change.” Looking back, I realize they had more vision than I gave them credit for. They saw we needed something. We’d do well to look at those somethings as progressive people, so here’s some perspective from someone who grew up in deep red, rural, white America.

Trust takes time. While Appalachia is a closed culture, this is generally true of rural areas. These aren’t places where someone can spend a few weeks or months, knock on doors, and get stuff done. People who have lived in a place for decades are still seen as outsiders. These are places where relationships reach back generations. There, I introduce myself by whose daughter I am. When I needed traveler’s checks in college, the fees were waived because the woman helping me knew my family. I couldn’t tell you who she was. It didn’t matter. There were generations of trust at play.

Drugs are one of the biggest threats. The stories I could tell you are horrifying. I remember an angry obituary a few years ago. One of the women in my high school class died in her mid-twenties. Her family took out their rage in the obituary, naming the “pill mill industry” and a few other things to blame. It’s true. Pharmacies pop up overnight, then disappear just as quickly. Oxycodone is nicknamed “hillbilly heroin” for a reason. These are places hurting from losing their children to drugs that they don’t understand. These are children turning to drugs because jobs are in short supply.

And yes, they need jobs. You’ve heard before that manufacturing jobs are drying up. That’s not just true in cities. The brickyards and railroads that used to be the good jobs are quickly disappearing in rural areas. My parents would love if I moved back there. I have no idea where I’d get a job if I did. Growing up, I never saw teachers as poor. These were coveted jobs because they meant good, steady paychecks and health insurance. Teaching would keep things afloat when the less steady but better paying jobs weren’t in season. A blue collar worker married to a teacher was common and worked out well financially. In the rest of the country, teaching is seen as underpaid and underappreciated.

Healthcare works differently.  Or at least most people wish it did. I went to the same doctor as my dad had gone to when he was a child. I think that doctor moved there when my dad was around eight years old. He was one of the people who wasn’t from there—and everyone remembered that—but had earned his place in the community. If you were sick, you just went to the office and they’d get you in. His prices were low enough that my parents didn’t even use their health insurance. In fact, later I learned that his prices were lower than an insurance copay. When he retired, the charge for an office visit was around $30. This was within the last ten years. I have no doubt he saw patients who couldn’t pay that much. I remember meeting him at his office in the night as a child, sick, before urgent care existed. At his office, he treated my sister for what was nearly blood poisoning, saving my parents a hospital stay he knew they couldn’t afford.

The first time I sat in another doctor’s office, I was overwhelmed. I’d never filled out paperwork nor seen my parents fill out more than a single sheet of paper. I’d never needed to find my insurance card. I’d never been somewhere that the office staff was unfamiliar. When we talk about health insurance and the Affordable Care Act, we’re already talking about systems that cause difficulties for these people. No one is inclined to sign up for more of it.

Guns really do matter. I don’t own a gun and doubt I ever will. That’s not true of anyone else in my family. Guns are for hunting. People care about how many points were in a buck’s antlers. Killing your first deer is a milestone. Some families rely on a freezer of meat for food. Also, in a place where police may not be able to get to your house within an hour or more, yes, guns are for protection, too. While there are some people who can’t imagine any gun control at all, there are easier conversations around guns for a large portion of this population. These are also the people who see guns as every bit as dangerous as they are, and treat them that way.

Paternalism never works. My mother’s offense that someone from outside would know better is real. We talk about that reality often with marginalized groups, worrying about being white saviors in black and brown communities. We talk about community empowerment, instead, and try to work with communities rather than dropping things we think they need. When we’re talking about white, rural and often poor people, we’re talking about people who are marginalized. They have to drive hours for services. They don’t have access to transportation. They live in old trailers instead of housing projects, but conditions are still bad. I fully acknowledge white privilege. The color of my skin means that no one assumes my childhood was spent living below the poverty line or questions whether I should be in certain rooms. That doesn’t change the reality that many of these people are struggling and existing systems don’t help them.

It’s easier to love some neighbors than others. I get that. Just this week, I officiated at the wedding of two lovely women. They’ve been together four years. They got married because they didn’t trust that next year they’d be able to. They got married because they were worried about one of them being deported. Most of us could tell dozens of stories of those neighbors who are more afraid now than they were a few weeks ago. Some of us could even tell stories of threats against those same neighbors. Still, Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As people of faith, we must work as hard to create relationships with the neighbors who offend us, and learn to love them, too. We must learn to see the brokenness they’re experiencing and help heal it, too. Those of us who are most privileged hold the most responsibility for this work; we are the people for whom this work is safe.

It is my deepest prayer that God will help us along the way.

Theology of the Nursery

by Karen Richter

This blog is dedicated to all church nursery staff and volunteers! You too are loved!

Where is faith birthed?

What early experiences correlate to a lifetime of prayer and service?

What opportunities are we overlooking or missing or failing to maximize for congregational vitality?

These are the questions that occupy me, especially on my commute to and from Shadow Rock UCC. As a parent and as a church staffer in the area of faith formation, these are crucial inquiries.

A couple of years ago, we were struggling with a mid-week after-school program. So many families couldn’t commit to regular attendance, and adult volunteers available 4 pm to 6 pm on a Wednesday were hard to find. For a time, we had a low-key program with several activity centers that required minimal adult direction. Different and often more cynical questions were asked: are social and play-oriented activities worth investing in? what kinds of experiences do kids need in the midst of the school week? where’s the proper balance between relationship-building and content for children’s faith programming?

In the end, we discontinued the program, but the period of questioning bore fruit for me. A vision for what children must experience in their spiritual community emerged: Church is where people love me.

I’ll say it again: Church is where people love me.

Church is where I am LOVED.

These wacky people really care about me!

When my teenage son was a wee Cub Scout, he got a little note from a church member congratulating him on a successful scout food drive. Under her signed name, she wrote (one of the church people you probably don’t really know). When I asked him about it, he said, “Of course I know who that is. She says hello to me every week.”

All of the life of faith, all service and care of people and creation, and all growth in faith, understanding and spirituality – the whole of what we do! – hang on this kind of experience. There will be time later to learn Psalm 23 and the Beatitudes, time for skits about Jesus calling the fishermen, even time for wrestling with Romans chapter 8.

But it starts in the nursery. The warm safety of the place, the gentle hands of nursery workers and volunteers, the opportunity to make connections and first friendships… for babies and toddlers, it’s their first Sunday learning.

So this week, show some appreciation and gratitude to those people who make this wonderment happen. Hug a nursery person. They might be a little sticky (or worse!), but it’s worth it.

Making Peace With Thanksgiving

by Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons

There is nothing sinful about gathering as a family or with friends to eat a meal steeped in tradition and memories. God isn’t against football. Remember that there are people in the world who don’t have life as good as we do, and to do something nice for them, seems like a pretty good idea – dare I even say religious. Why, then, did I feel so guilty every fourth Thursday in November?

As a child I felt suspicious of the Pilgrims. There was something fundamentally unfair about strangers arriving in a new land and taking it away from the people who lived there first. A teacher’s, “Well, we’re here now so don’t worry about it,” only confirmed I was on to something. As much as I liked the day with my family, I knew families who wouldn’t be together because of the war (Viet Nam back then). When we got back to school I could tell from their silence when the rest of us compared pie counts and turkey sizes, I had friends who couldn’t have the feast my family enjoyed.

Growing up taught me a new word for my uneasiness: privilege. It didn’t help. Nor did it help to discover that the only truth in the first Thanksgiving story was that there were Pilgrims, there were Indians, and there was a celebration.  As far as we know the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims never repeated their celebration. No one much thought about what happened that autumn in 1621 for 200 years. The details most of us learned in elementary school about what our teachers called ‘the first Thanksgiving’ were little more than the creation of Jane G. Austin in her 1889 historical novel Standish of Standish. Thanksgiving observances and rituals had been part of American Indian culture for thousands of years. Spanish colonists held a thanksgiving mass in St. Augustine, FL in 1565, and celebrated thanksgiving with Manso Indians near present day El Paso TX in 1598. French Huguenots observed a thanksgiving celebration in 1564 in what is now Jacksonville FL. English colonists had celebrated thanksgiving in New England in 1607, 1610, and 1619.  

While the story of the Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving has remained relatively consistent since then, the roles of the Pilgrims and the Indians have been re-written time and again to reflect the crisis or the mood or the prejudices of the country. The Indians were hardly mentioned during the western expansion. The Pilgrims of World War 2 were hardy war-winners whose victory came from God. According to Look Magazine, the Pilgrims of the 1960s were “dissidents” and “commune builders.” How is a someone supposed to make peace with a holiday that seems always to be reinventing itself? And when I discovered that the Wampanoag people today observe a day of mourning on the day we celebrate Thanksgiving because of the pain they experienced at the hands of the doctrine of discovery, well… I needed to make peace with this holiday!  

From the doctrine of the trinity to debates about the jurisdiction of the church in matters of marriage, Puritans held deep convictions about how to practice their faith, convictions out of step with the Church of England. In any religious movement there are always zealots. Puritan zealots were called Separatists. For them there was no compromise, and no value to reform-from-within. When the Scrooby Puritan Separatist congregation emigrated illegally to the Netherlands they thought religious freedom would complete their sense of well-being. But the society that afforded them freedom of religious expression also afforded others that same freedom. They worried about the moral influences of what they considered a corrupt and permissive culture. The Scrooby congregants were not skilled in ways that permitted them to participate successfully in their new economy. Poverty and deep concerns about providing for themselves in their old age took center stage. 37 of them, along with 65 adventurers recruited by the voyage’s financiers, decided to pursue a what they hoped would be a better life in the new world.

Those passengers and crew were unprepared to endure the winter of 1620 aboard a ship anchored in Provincetown Harbor. By harvest 1621, half of the passengers had died, including 14 of the 18 married women. Of the 53 passengers remaining nearly half were children and teens, and the adults were mostly widowers, only 3 of whom were over age 40.

That anyone survived was due to the intervention of the Wampanoag people, specifically a Patuxet named Tisquantum. After a 14-year odyssey as a slave, a story worthy of its own telling, Tisquantum returned to his homeland only to find his people had fallen victim to a plague, the origin of which was most likely European traders. Evidence proves Tisquantum’s duplicity when dealing with Wampanoag and Pilgrims alike, but motives aside, he attended to the well-being of the Plimoth (the Pilgrim’s spelling) colonists.

Thanksgivings in Puritan tradition were solemn religious occasions. This is the only paragraph – 112 words – that we have from eyewitnesses:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.

In today’s terms what the participants recorded about that event some 400 years ago reads more like what historian Robert Tracy McKenzie calls a week of “beer and barbecue, shooting and sports.” There turned out to be twice as many Indians as many as there were Pilgrims. Nothing like a good time to attract the neighbors! The scene reads like the typical human response to prolonged pain. Enough already – let’s party! After everything they had been through the survivors seem to have needed something to celebrate. And so they made the most of the legitimate reasons at hand to feel relief and gladness and gratitude, and to lay aside the concerns of the day at least for awhile. They needed to recover their sense of well-being.

The real story of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag is a story about the human quest for well-being. Christians have a word for that. The word is peace. We also have a word for how far people are willing to go to secure the welfare of others. Jesus called that peacemaking.

I have finally made my peace with Thanksgiving. No more trying to force a secular peg into a religious hole. The one-day observance we call Thanksgiving will be forever a secular holiday for me. No more outrage in God’s name about retailers opening at midnight Thursday; I choose to express my outrage in the name of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and others! Even in a secular world families’ well-being trumps corporate profits or personal savings.

My faith, like that of the Pilgrims, teaches me that gratitude is not a holiday to be celebrated but a discipline to be practiced each day at all times in every circumstance.

My faith teaches me to say I am sorry for wrongs done against others even when my ancestors did them, especially if it leads to reconciliation with others. Thanksgiving for me will forever be a day I stand in solidarity with the Indigenous People of this land as they mourn what they’ve lost, what my ancestors stole from them.

My faith teaches me that more important than the thanks I offer to God for my blessings is the thanks that someone else will offer to God because I have used my life to attend to, advocate for, and in any way I can, supply them with a greater sense of well-being.  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them [even on Thanksgiving], “Go in peace [or Happy Thanksgiving]; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Cor 9:11) 

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote “a false but clear and precise idea always has more power in the world than one which is true but complex.”  Oh how that lesson has played out these past few weeks. While Thanksgiving is the occasion that brings us together, we have a more urgent need. Tonight there are people in our world who are not living in peace. So tonight I ask you to embrace a more complex celebration of Thanksgiving, one in which you strive to put words of gratitude on the lips of someone else by improving their personal well-being. In these frightening and uncertain times people are looking what our brand of Christianity is offering. We are the purveyors of well-being – hope, safety, sanctuary, meaning, dignity and love.  Let us join one another on the narrow path that is peacemaking.  Amen.

Is it Okay to Laugh?

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

How is your heart?
How is your sense of safety?
How are your relationships since last week?
How are your thoughts as you attempt to navigate?
Do something for me: take a deep breath.
Do it again.
One more time.
Ah, for the heck of it let’s just do it again.

I am listening to some music while I write today. I often need to be in quiet to write, but quiet does not seem to be going outside right now, can’t seem to find that quiet anywhere. Quiet is likely in a cabin somewhere doing some solid self-care so it can return and help us once again. Even quiet needs a rest.

I am listening to music in lieu of that quiet, leaning into the sounds of a person singing, making me feel less alone. There is an awesome song that I have turned to on the regular this year. It’s playing right now as I write.

It’s by Passenger and the song is “Whispers”. The part that gets me every time are these amazing lyrics:

“Well I spent my money
I lost my friends
I broke my mobile phone
3 am and I am drunk and I am dancing on my own
Taxi-cabs ain’t stopping, and I don’t know my way home,
Well it’s hard to find a reason, when all you have is doubts,
Hard to see inside yourself when you can’t see your way out,
Hard to find an answer when the question won’t come out,
Everyone’s filling me up with noise and I don’t know what they are talking about
You see all I need’s a whisper in a world that only shouts.”

So good. So very good.

I am not going to shout at you. You are safe from attacks if you read on. I am with you.

I want to encourage your heart and the most wonderful way I know to do this is in laughter. Here is a story that I hope makes you laugh. Your laughter is a prayer, an affirmation and a commitment to still live despite the pain. Way to go!

I am a pretty diligent, helpful worker in general. Always have had a strong sense of affirmation through doing a good job. When I was 18 years old and free from the albatross that was high school, I got a job at the old Park Mall theater. When I say old, I mean old! I swear I once sat in a seat that Socrates sat in before. It was run down and breaking and I so much loved it!

There was an incentive program called “Knock Your Socks Off Service” or KYSOS for those of us in the know. Yeah, acronyms. Alienating others since 10000 BC (see what I did there)? The incentive was simple. If you were caught going above and beyond you got a star pin. Three of those and you got a 25 cent raise. I wanted those star pins more than the raise. I am easy to motivate through trinkets and such.

I did all I could to get those star pins. I chased down a couple in the mall because they forgot a purse. I helped elderly men and women to their cars when they struggled. I carried things for people. I came in early and stayed late. Star, Star, Star, Star.

And here is where I may have gone too far.

There was a Toyota truck with a canopy that had left their lights on. My co-worker and I decided that we would KYSOS this situation. We went to the truck and checked to see if the doors were locked. They were locked to keep intruders out. It didn’t occur to me that I was the intruder in this moment. We walked around the back and the trailer was unlocked. I looked through and saw that window between the canopy and cab was open.

You know what’s about to happen, don’t you?

Yep. I got in the trailer.
Yep. I crawled to the open window.
Yep. I reached through said window.
Then… my coworker says “I think they’re coming”
Yep. I froze in panic.
Yep. I now saw this as breaking and entering.

I quickly laid down in the back of the truck and tried to figure out how to get out. The driver got in, turned it on, and started to drive. I was clearly going home with this guy. Hope he liked surprises. I heard my boss’s voice yelling my name. My co-worker was a tattle-tale. The truck stopped at a stop sign, still in the parking lot. I broke free and made a run for it. I ran right into the open door of the theater. I caught my breath and then looked around at my co-workers, four of them staring at me like I lost my mind. And then we laughed. We laughed hard and long. We cried from it. Through tears and fits of laughter, my boss says “You are so not getting a star.” I laugh hard still when I think of it.

Laughter is a prayer of joy for me. I seek it and it creates a better version of me every single time. The first Saturday Night Live (SNL for you people who are in the know) had an amazing opening the first time they had a show after 9/11. It was powerful. The cast stood with then Mayor Giuliani as he expressed the pain and a strong affirmation to those watching. The best part, though, was when Lorne Michaels asked, “Is it okay to be funny?” Giuliani responded “Why start now?”

Do you see what that was? We asked permission to live again. That’s important. That’s crucial. That’s vital. That’s healing.

Take a deep breath again.
One more.

You can’t stop yourself from breathing without some kind of force. It’s automatic. You can’t control it to make it quit. You can’t kill it with your will to simply make it stop. It would require action. Yet the thing that makes me believe in God, in Spirit, in the Great Mystery that is our beginning and endings is this: while you can’t just decide you don’t want to breathe anymore, you can decide to breathe deep. What a thing of beauty that is – – – you can opt in to more life with a simple act but you cannot opt out.

To put it in a different way, you can’t quit, but you can start over.
And to put it in yet another way, life and love wins. Every. Single. Time.
Life is undefeated. It keeps on coming. Look at you, breathing. Look at you loving. Look at you living. You are amazing.

I’m just a guy.

I am not an expert.  I am not a person in power.  I don’t have letters behind my name.
I don’t have any letters in front of my name. That being said, just in case you were waiting for someone to give you permission to live, accept my offering:

I think we should laugh.
I think we should laugh together.
I think we should laugh together until we cry.
I think we should cry.
I think we should cry out.
I think we should go out.
I think we should go outside.
I think we should side with love over hate.
I think we should love.

I think in terms of we… because you make me feel that I am not alone.

I hope I can do that for you, too.

In the meantime, keep breathing.

The Silence in the Shattered Glass

guest post by Andria Davis, Acting Senior Minister at Church of the Beatitudes in Phoenix, Arizona

In order to enter the main buildings of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, a visitor must walk down the Avenue of the Righteous Among Nations.

Situated in the middle of a large garden, this tree-lined walkway and the surrounding landscape commemorates those many non-Jews who risked their lives and their livelihoods in order to save Jews from the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.

As you walk down the Avenue and stroll reflectively through the winding paths that weave through the surrounding garden, you may become overwhelmed with awe as you realize that each of the more then 2,000 trees that line the paths were planted to commemorate a unique person, and that each tree represents the life of one who worked diligently and under great threat to save the lives of countless others.

And as you walk through the garden, you may become overwhelmed with awe as you learn the stories of some of the thousands of names engraved on the stone walls that form the many coves and inlets, and when you hear the many stories of the ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

If you are like me, you may become overwhelmed with awe as you look around you, and you cannot see through the trees and benches and the signs and engravings, through those more than 25,000 markers commemorating those who worked diligently, ceaselessly to save the Jews from certain extermination.

I imagine that of many who walk down the Avenue of the Righteous Among Nations or who take time to sit with names that fill the garden walls, that they are as much overwhelmed by the stories of those remembered there, as they are by their own answers to the question: in the same situation, would I have done the same?

Would I have opened my door to that frantic knock in the middle of the night? Would I have opened that hidden passage in my house? Would I have secretly employed those fleeing for their lives and would I have arranged for their escape? Would I have said yes when the call came, or would I have said no?

A few years ago, as I sat in that Garden, I wanted to so badly to say that I too would have been counted among these who risked their lives to choose good instead of evil.

I wanted so badly to know that when faced with an impossible decision between my life and the lives of many others, the pursuit of safety for the many would have been the only pursuit I could follow.

I so badly wanted to be assured that when faced with the decision between what is right and what is wrong, I would always choose the hard path of righteousness and integrity over the easy path of complacency and status quo.

Above all, I wanted to know with conviction that when the world goes to pieces and all goodness, and all peace, and all love seems gone, that I would follow unwaveringly in the way of Christ, who said as he did in today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark, that it is better to sacrifice yourself in the name of justice, than to sacrifice another in the pursuit unreflective, unjust harmony.

In today’s passage, Jesus offers us a black and white way of living. He offers us a stark reminder of the obligations of one who calls him or herself a Christian.

Hear his words:

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” – Mark 9:38-50

For the faithful who strive to follow in the way of Christ, this is a black and white edict that comes to us who live in a much greyer world.

It comes to us in a world where right and wrong do not always appear so cut and dry and where our convictions sometimes have unintended consequences.

It comes to us in world where the small and individual injustice can build like a cancer, growing within us without our notice, that then spreads into the very blood and bones of our societal, religious and civic systems, unable to be amputated from us as we would a sick limb.

As you sit in the Garden of the Righteous Among Nations, among the trees and plaque commemorating the 25,000 brave souls who risked it all, life and limb, to save others, it’s hard to grapple with the thought that we ourselves might not have been so brave.

On the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, there is a quote from a named Martin Niemoller, who was a Lutheran minister in Germany during the Holocaust.

As a young man, he distinguished himself in the Navy as an officer and commander of a German U-Boat during World War 1. He was proud of his country and his service, but after Germany’s defeat in the first world war, he found himself at political odds with Weimar government.

Forced to give up his U-Boat and his office, he, like many Germans, felt like the changing government had abandoned him and all he stood for.

Disenfranchised, he sympathized with and supported the rising Nazi government.

Niemoller went on to pursue seminary and found himself in a prominent church in Berlin, where he was widely supported and his anti-Semitic sermons were well attended.

Quickly, however, Niemoller’s support for the Nazi government began to wane.

But It wasn’t the dangerous and xenophobic policies that were being solidified under the Nazi regime that ignited in him the spark of resistance, it was, instead, the Nazi interference in the life of the church and the removal rights of Christian of Jewish decent that caused him to take action.

It short, it was only when his own rights began to be infringed upon, that he spoke up.

Regardless of his motivations, his actions against the Nazi government were impactful and led to his arrest, apparently under orders from Hitler himself. Niemoller the spent the rest of the war imprisoned in concentration camps.

Unlike millions of others, Martin Niemoller survived the war imprisoned by the Nazis. His survival allowed him to live on into late life as an ardent anti-war activist, who spoke with ferocity about the importance of not remaining silent in the face of injustice.

His most famous quote, which is known in a few different forms, is inscribed on the Holocaust memorial in Boston. It reads as follows:

“They came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time, no one was left to speak up.”

I saw this quote shared widely this past Wednesday.

Among other things, it was the 78th anniversary of one of the defining moments of the Second World War, an event that is widely understood to be the beginning of the Holocaust as we know it.

On November 9th, 1938 Germans, fueled by anti-Jewish sentiment and supported by Nazi-issued propaganda, went on a rampage of terror that specifically targeted Jewish business, synagogue, and Jews themselves.

According to Nazi totals, 8,000 buildings across Germany were vandalized and defaced with anti-Jewish slogans and slurs. Nearly 100 Jews were murdered. Glass from widows strewn the streets, giving the event the name Kristallnacht – Crystal Night – the Night of Shattered Glass.

Two days later, on November 11, 30,000 thousand Jews were rounded up and deported to concentration camps at Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen.

This act brought to the surface the reign of terror that had already existed in Germany, and would soon be on the forefront of the minds of people across the world.

They say that hindsight is 20/20 – that when we know we now know, we can look back and feel confident about what we would have and could have and should have done.

That when we look back on that day, 78 years ago, we can proclaim boldly that had we known

Had we known that this is what the future held,

We would have stood up.

We would have spoken up.

We would have put our bodies in between rocks and widows,

and used our selves as human shields.

We would have opened our homes and our safe spaces to our brothers and sisters and we would have gathered, arm in arm, linked in front of the rail cars, the tanks and the trucks to do everything in our power and anything at all, to reorient the world toward justice.

It is that 20/20 vision in hindsight tells that it would have been us, doing just what Jesus called on us to do:

That if we had been there, on that pivotal day 78 years ago, it would have been us giving up our hands and our feet and our eyes that our brothers and sisters might have a future in which they could continue feel and walk and see.

It would have been us.

We would have fought and screamed and risen up and joined together.

It would have been us.

We would not have stayed silent.

But two days later 30,000 Jews were rounded up and deported to concentration camps. Over the next six years, millions more would take that same journey. Millions would die.

Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran Minister who devoted his life to follow in the way of Christ. And yet even as a follower of Christ, an ordained minister, he felt sympathy for the ideologies of the Nazi government – ideologies that tended toward pointing a finger rather than lending a hand; ideologies that would exclude people who thought and acted and believed differently than the prevailing power; ideologies that said that ‘whoever is not with us is against us,’ rather than the ideology of Jesus who declares “whoever is not against us, is with us.”

It wasn’t until the communities of which he was a part and Niemoller himself came under attack by those ideologies, that he began to take action against them.

For his life following the war, Niemoller is said to have lived with the guilt of not taking a stand against those forces of evil until they came knocking on his door, when all the networks and systems that were designed protect him and those around him, had been stripped away.

“They came for the Communists,” he wrote, “and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time, no one was left to speak up.”

On Wednesday morning, I read Niemoller’s quote attached to an article depicting the events of Kristallnacht, 78 years ago. By Wednesday evening, I had read the poem more times than I could count, shared not in response to the historical past, but to the real and pressing present, shared in response to events that had happened that very day.

She was shopping in Walmart. A woman came up to her and ripped her Hijab off her head. “this is not allowed anymore, so go hang yourself with it around your neck not on your head.”

            They came for my Muslim brothers and sisters,

but I did not speak out because I am not a Muslim

They woke up to a note on their car. “I can’t wait for your ‘marriage’ to be over turned.  Gay families burn in hell.” Signed ‘#Godbless.

            They came for my LGBTQ Brothers and Sisters

but I did not speak up because I am not LGBTQ

He came out to his car to find all four tires slashed.

She found hers covered in graffiti. “Go back to Africa you N word, you B word.”

A black baby doll was left in the gutter with a noose around its neck.

            They came for our Black brothers and sisters

but I did not speak up because I am not black.

She was walking to math class at her high school

She was pumping gas

She was getting coffee

She was heading home

“Why aren’t you gone yet?”

“Build a wall”

“Grab her by the…”

“I should kill you right now, you’re just a waste of air.”

            They came for our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our wives.

But I didn’t speak up because I am not a woman.

I didn’t speak up, not for my Muslim brothers and sisters, not for my Black brothers and sister, not for LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

I did not speak up for my immigrant brothers and sisters or my disable brothers and sisters. I did not speak up when it mattered the most.

As Christians, we must remember: they also came for Christ.

It wasn’t because he expressed a theological doctrine or dogma that ruffled the feathers of the powers that be, but because he spoke out for his brothers and sisters:

For the tax collectors and widows,

The prostitutes and the impoverished.

They came for Christ because he dared to say, “you matter” to those that society had pushed aside.

They came for Christ, but by then, Christ knew it was too late.

Jesus gave himself to the cross that no others should have to live and die as he did – that in his sacrifice, he could offer up a different view of the world – one in which all of God’s beloved creation lives in peaceful harmony befitting the kingdom of God.

But in his sacrifice, he did not absolve us, his followers, of our God given purpose in life and faith, that which is our salt and our saltiness.

He did not absolve us of our call to build around us world in which silence in the face of injustice cannot and does not prevail, where the evils xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and sexism are finally and eternally amputated from who and what we are; and a world in which all people are showered with the grace and dignity that is required to be shown all children of God.

You are the salt of the earth, he says.

But if salt has lost its saltiness, what good is then, but to thrown on the ground and trampled under foot. What good is it, if we, as Christians, do not share with the world our Christ-given call to stand behind and fight for our convictions of justice and peace?

You are the light of the world, he says. But what good is it if we should hide our light under a basket so that the world cannot see it and be shrouded in darkness. What good is it, if we do not illuminate a path forward with visions of love and hope?

How will you share your light? How will you season the world with the saltiness of God’s love?

My friends, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

We are the voices that ring out in the silence.

We are people who stand up to show the world that the Kingdom of God is real, and that peace and justice and hope and love are at its foundation.

It’s time to stand up. It’s time to speak out. It’s time to let our light shine. Amen.



by Karen MacDonald

I don’t know what to say today.

So in the midst of being heartbroken, I step outside this early morning and breathe in life. The waxing super-moon is veiled in thin clouds, throwing soft tree-shadows on the yard. The Big Dipper has wheeled around into the north sky. The wispy clouds on the horizon begin to show tinges of deep pink sunlight……Breathe…..Breathe….

The sun is still burning and the Earth is still turning—and we’re amazingly being given another day.

In the midst of being appalled, I seek the company of those also hurting and seeking hope. Together we pray and tell stories and cry and sing and hold silence and reach for the Spirit of Life.

In the midst of being angry, I re-visit what I wrote in June after the shooting in Orlando: “And we have to do this [pray and act] with an open heart and a spirit of love for all.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.’

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’”  

Somehow, someday, maybe beginning today in the midst of deep emotions, may we all find a way to shalom, to peace, to well-being for all beings on this beautiful Earth.

Finding Security in Tumultuous Times

by Amos Smith

All of us more or less thrive on a predictable world, where things go as planned. When Brexit happened in Britain and when Donald Trump happened in America it was a jolt to our central nervous systems. And the shock waves were felt throughout the world. The establishment has been rocked.

For me, Bernie Sanders was the omen. His popularity, especially with young voters, was unprecedented. Then when Jeb Bush, who I thought was the strongest Republican nominee, departed the campaign, I thought to myself… “This country wants deep change. It does not want another Bush or Clinton. It wants someone who will disrupt business as usual, someone who will shake things up.” The American people want someone on the margins like Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.

Now I pray that our people, government, and nation will find ways to mend the divisions among people, heal the anger and hatred fueled by the campaigns, create hope where there has been fear and suspicion, and attend to the very real concerns, problems, and needs of people.

We live in tumultuous times. Political storms, storms of climate change, international storms are brewing around us. It is tempting to despair, to feel alone and forsaken. And most of all many feel insecure, like the ground is shaking beneath their feet.

In light of all this I think of the story of Jesus calming the storm at sea (Mark 4:35-41)… In the case of the storm at sea, the waves were crashing on and spilling over into the boat. In the midst of all that Jesus said “Be not terrified! There shall not be a hair of your head that perishes.” In other words, “Yes, there are many reasons to feel timid and hopeless. Yet, in the midst of it all, I will calm you. I will help you find your center of gravity. I will deliver you.”

I was comforted by Hillary Clinton’s conciliar speech on the morning of November ninth. She said (my paraphrase) that no matter how hopeless we may feel; we should never give up the fight. And that in the big scheme of things, our acts of service, no matter how small, are never wasted. They are chronicled and used by God to further the kingdom.

Sitting in the Simple Gratitude

by Amanda Petersen

Gratitude does not need to be complicated. In fact, practicing gratitude for the simple things actually helps one simplify their life. Acknowledging something simple, like breathing, can heighten one’s awareness of the places where things get complicated. This is especially true for one’s spiritual practices. As beautiful as a practice can be, it can become complicated very easily. Prayer lists can grow very long. The sense of ritual can take over. Certain positions or postures, times, and order can complicate to a point where heart of the practice can be lost. Coming back to the heart of a practice with gratitude is a very powerful spiritual practice. Beginning the prayer list, reading, examen, meditation, or physical practice with gratitude for the heart or why of the practice can shift the whole experience.

One of the main points I like to bring forth in meditation is the most important part of this practice: the fact that everyone there chose to come and sit. It is the act of sitting in my opinion that is the important. Whether the mind clears, or one stays with their breath or mantra, or one leaves feeling peaceful or enlightened, there is a nice benefit, yet the real power in the practice is the choice to sit. I believe that because we choose to sit, and step out of the norm or complications of life, the world is literally a different place when we leave. Beginning with gratitude, appreciation  and acknowledging the Source of one’s life changes the practice from one of doing the practice to one of being with the practice.

Beginning a spiritual practice with gratitude takes the focus off of the doing and moves us into the participation and relationship with God/Love/Divine. That is a wonderful place to dwell. It helps one come back to noticing, savoring and to the gift of Life. I encourage you to begin your spiritual practices grateful for the gift of showing up, sitting down, using time, or just breathing. See if you notice anything different in your practice.

I’d like to end with a poem by Mary Oliver from her book A Thousand Mornings:

Poem of the One World

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of
this one world
we all belong to

where everything
sooner or later
is part of everything else

which thought made me feel
for a while
quite beautiful myself.

The simple act of gratitude can change the world. A thank you to Diane Owens for the inspiration of this week’s writing.

Adventures in Privilege

by Karen Richter

Shadow Rock begins the first section of the UCC’s White Privilege: Let’s Talk curriculum (Part 1 – Spiritual Autobiography Told Through the Lens of Race) next Sunday.

I’m excited. I’m anxious.

I’m excited because being a witness (on my best days, a catalyst) to people’s spiritual growth and maturation is my calling. This curriculum, used wisely and gently, is a formative experience. It’s easy to cast aspersions on this kind of topic… can you imagine someone – maybe you – saying, “well, that’s just politics,” in a dismissive tone? The women’s movement is known for equating the personal and the political. I’d like to make an argument equating the political and the spiritual. It’s all part of life.

I’m anxious because I know what I experienced when reading this material. Since September, I’ve studied the Spiritual Autobiography Told Through the Lens of Race section, reading deeply about 3 times. And as I read, I remembered.

  • the black friends I knew and loved, even though we never attended the same birthday parties or church services, never visited one another’s homes
  • the awkwardness in high school homeroom when the teacher suggested that the black students nominate a black girl for the homecoming court
  • the shock I felt in college when I had my first honest conversation about race with black and white friends late at night in the dormitory
  • the realization, too little too late, that I have been in work environments with differing expectations, standards, and assumptions for colleagues based on race
  • the embarrassment I felt recently when a salesperson ignored store policy for my convenience because I’m white.

I remembered. I felt things. Sometimes as I engaged with the curriculum and the personal histories of the authors, I felt gratitude, appreciation, impatience for the world to be better. And yes, sometimes I felt guilty.

You see, the curriculum doesn’t have a goal to “make” anyone feel guilt or shame. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU WON’T. Guilt can be a healthy reaction when we realize a mismatch between our actions, inactions or complicity and our deeply held values.

I am white. I can’t help that. I don’t feel guilty about being white.

I am white. I am responsible for what I do with my whiteness.

What does it mean to take responsibility for my own privilege? Over the next few weeks at Shadow Rock, we’re going to be leaning into that question. I’m excited. I’m anxious. Pray for us, friends… for our churches, our communities, our nation.

A Sense of Sabbath

by Amos Smith

On the Sabbath the ancient Hebrews read Torah and rested from all physical work. The Hebrew notion of Sabbath made a profound impact on Western society. The two day “weekend” practiced by all industrialized countries has its roots in the Judaic Sabbath.[1]

A sense of Sabbath reconnects us with the burning desires of our lives. It puts our lives in perspective, and helps us discern what we in truth want to do with our time. “What are my priorities?” “Am I happy?” “Are my choices in line with my faith?” “What am I on fire about?” “Do I take time to serve?” “Is my life caught up with numerous insignificant details?” “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” “What is my life’s mission?”

If we don’t take regular time to get perspective, we may get ensnared in numerous commitments out of sync with our core values. Sabbath time is the Mary part of the Mary and Martha story (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was busy, multitasking to make it all happen. Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet, absorbed his words, and listened in stillness and rapture.

The essence of the fourth commandment (a sense of Sabbath) is just as important today as it was to the ancients. The commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8).

[1] Cahill, The Gift of the Jews.