Shine a light against racism

by Talitha Arnold

Flaming torches are a powerful symbol of racism in this country. For generations, they’ve been used to burn crosses outside the houses of African-American, Jewish and Catholic families and to torch churches and synagogues. During Reconstruction after the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan Night Riders carried torches to light the way for the white-masked white men to spread terror throughout African-American communities.

Earlier this month, well-organized and heavily armed young white men carried Tiki torches in their march on Charlottesville, Va. As with their torch-bearing forbearers, their intent was not to illuminate or guide with their Tiki lights, but to intimidate and instill fear. They didn’t succeed, not that night, and not in the days and nights since then.

When Rabbi Neil Amswych, president of the Interfaith Leadership Association, wrote to Santa Fe clergy with Mayor Javier Gonzales’ request to organize a Rally Against Racism, I chose the African-American spiritual, “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine.” Born in the horror of slavery, the spiritual affirmed that African-Americans would let no one put that light out — not the slave owners, not the overseers, not the Night Riders, not the lynchers, not the Klan.

For a century after the Civil War, “This Little Light of Mine” also affirmed that no thing could put that light out — not the poll tax or voter intimidation, “separate and unequal” schools or a segregated military, unjust housing or employment practices. Not even church bombings or the water cannons and police dogs used against the children, youth and adults marching for civil rights could put out that light.

Most of all, “This Little Light of Mine” affirmed — and continues to affirm — the dignity of every child of God, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, orientation or every other way we divide and discriminate. That’s why we sang the song together at last Monday’s “Rally Against Racism.” It’s why we need to keep singing it — and living it — over and over again in this time.

Tiki torches or the light of God’s love for all people. Individually and as a nation, which will we choose?

Not Your Kids

by Abigail Conley

A story flashes across my screen. Philando Castile. Charleena Lyles.

“Not your kids,” a voice says from somewhere inside.

It’s the voice of relief, a promise really, “not your kids.”

June is Pride Month, so there’s an array of rainbow everything on that same screen.

Pictures of happy couples, of families with moms or dads, of chestfeeding and breastfeeding, of pronoun etiquette and label etiquette. Amid those happy pictures, happy shares of stories, there are stories of rejection intermingled.

“Not your kids,” says the same voice from deep inside. I rest assured that my LGBTQ+ kids know they’re safe at church, if nowhere else.

I know the hijabs the little girls wear set them apart from their friends and neighbors. I know the color of their skin does, too. Their families are from Pakistan. I cannot imagine what many of them have been through in their lives. These Muslim children joyfully welcome their Christian neighbors, snuggling up to the adults who are more familiar. I wonder how often they are not safe outside these walls.

“Not your kids,” comes the same voice.

This is the echo of privilege. The fears that accompany so many people do not accompany my kids—the ones from my church, the ones of my own I may have some day.

Children seem to be the great equalizer among people. Children are easier to play with and easier to talk to. They seem to more easily embrace any adult willing to play with them. They worry less about language barriers. My Spanish is even perfect for hanging out with preschool kids, where I can quiz them on colors and shapes.

I remember a plea made in my own denomination that stopped some of the fighting about LGBTQ+ welcome: our kids are dying.

Even the naysayers realized that’s the worst sort of pain.

The voice comes often, “Not your kids.”

If it’s not your kids, it’s easy to forget the sort of desperation that comes with it is your kids. It’s the kind of desperation that dragged Jairus from his home to find a man he’d only heard about. It’s the kind of desperation that made him pull Jesus along with him through the city streets, to a house where mourning had already begun. It’s the desperation that will do anything to save a child’s life.

“Not your kids,” will echo, again. Our privilege will remind us of the fears we don’t have for our children. I wonder, can we learn the answer, “But they’re somebody’s kids”?

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.


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.

Checking My Pulse

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I’ve been quiet.

That’s likely not a big deal to you, but for those who know me, I am rarely quiet. It’s an aspect of myself that I sometimes judge, that I sometimes embrace, that I sometimes just observe. There are many rooftop shouters and I happen to be one on a lot of occasions. I’ve come to accept that about myself and let it be.

Yet… I find myself quiet in all the ways I normally echo through the halls of my life. This quiet is because I cannot figure out the first word to the next sentence that would make sense of the loss of life in these endless mass shootings.

I have been reading the words of others and watching us collectively attempt that tried-and-true five-part model of coming to terms with grief as offered by Kubler-Ross. The problem is, once we get past that first stage of denial, entering into anger, we have yet another mass killing that brings us back to that denial. We only get to two-step our way through something that requires so much more to navigate.

“What? Another one? How can this be? I blame [fill in the blank]” and we never get to that elusive next step of bargaining then depression then acceptance.

Denial. Anger. Denial. Anger. Repeat.

My first memory of participating in a collective shared grief was when I was 8 and made to attend an elementary school assembly. We were gathered because the Challenger space shuttle exploded shortly after liftoff and people died. I didn’t fully understand this gathering we were doing. This silence they wanted us to sit with made very little sense to me.

My fellow elementary school peers and I tried to sit quietly, but we were fidgeting and coughing, because we had no idea why we had to suddenly be quiet together. I remember looking around and wishing we could talk again. I wasn’t bored, just completely confused by the whole deal and wanting to get back to whatever we would be doing if this hadn’t happened. As I looked around I noticed that the teachers were crying. Then, the slow dawning of the devastation settled on me.

The space shuttle had a teacher on it. The teacher was going to space, literally doing something out of this world, and that teacher died. Wait, could my teacher die? I remember looking for Mrs. Likes, my favorite teacher, seeing her crying and thinking “That teacher was like Mrs. Likes! Mrs. Likes could die!”

And this was the most tragic thing my new-to-this-world brain could imagine. I was so sad and I cried so hard as I imagined my Mrs. Likes blowing up in a space shuttle.

When we see ourselves or those we love in the death what follows is such a devastation to the soul. This life that we have been taught to nurture could just go away. Just like that. And in violent, murders, someone makes it go away.

“What? Another one? But how can this be?”

I’m trans. I’m queer. I love so many people who are trans and who are queer. This makes relating to the Pulse massacre in Orlando all the more real to me. I was able to cast myself as a dancer on that dance floor without even knowing I was doing the casting. Images came to me with no provocation, like laying my body over my wife’s body because there would be no way on earth I would let her be exposed to death without trying every defense within me.

I have loved ones who are police officers. I could cast them very easily into the badges and uniforms in Dallas, imagining their last breath. I have loved ones who have darker skin than mine and they run a greater risk to die violently and prematurely every single day just because of the bias, prejudice and fear our society has endorsed since the start of our country.

Once we see ourselves and our loved ones in the rampant hate, victimization, and debilitating disparities we can never “un-see” it. And we will often do anything we can to stop it.

Denial. Anger. Denial. Anger. Repeat.

The versions of me, the versions of you, the versions of all those we love are the ones that have their pulse taken from them in places that often had served as sanctuary.

Our souls cry out in denial: “No! Not again! No!”

Our souls grapple with the anger that is oh so appropriate for this loss, “I will stop them! They will not harm me!”

Our souls begin to well up with tears as the bargaining begins, “Please…”

We only can utter the single word of bargaining as it is interrupted by yet another shooting, another body crumpling to the floor. We return to the desperate denial chorus “No! Not again! No!”


Then the slow dawning settles on me with an unshakable truth:
That could have been my pulse that slowed and then stopped.
That could have been your pulse that slowed and then stopped.
That could have been the pulse of every single person that we know, every single person we love, that slowed and then stopped.

I’ve been very quiet, stunned into emotional muteness, a seemingly endless moment of silence as I find a new use for my hands that once fidgeted during that assembly thirty years ago. I use those hands now to check my pulse, to feel that life force pumping through my being, to witness the miracle that keeps me breathing and to acknowledge my pulse continues where so many others have ended.

As we go through the dark brokenness that has become the norm, let us never forget how rich, how powerful, how mighty and how unyielding that stubborn flow of life within is in the face of all that attempts to end it. The true grit of the heart keeps on going.

That pulse within you is ancient. That pulse has been giving a rhythm to life in this world since the dawn of time. That pulse is what unites us. That pulse that lives in you speaks to the one that lives in me. The radical act of intentional living in the face of all the destruction is the very thing that steady pulse within has been calling us to all along. And it changes our options, it changes our paths when we invite in the flow of life.

It says Look.
It says Be.
It says Please.
It says Love.
It says Live.

Out of Touch with the Poor in Africa

by Amos Smith

After graduation from high school I worked for Habitat for Humanity in Uganda, East Africa. I’ll never forget Semunyo, an elderly gentleman with an oozing foot infection. When my friend Matovu first took me to see Semunyo, his leg had begun to swell and gangrene was days away. It was obvious to me that he needed penicillin. The sorry fact was that Semunyo didn’t have enough money to pay for penicillin shots at the local clinic. So Matovu and I put him in a wheelbarrow and rolled him to the clinic, where I paid five dollars for penicillin which saved Semunyo’s life.

Many Americans have lost touch with the Semunyos of the world. Semunyo is the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Semunyo is a tame example of “third world” realities.

If a jumbo jet went down in North America it would be headline news. If two jumbo jets went down on the same day in North America it would be huge news, congressional committees of inquiry would form, a media shakedown would commence, and reparations would be made.

Every day the equivalent of five jumbo jets goes down in Africa. In other words, over three thousand Africans die from AIDS daily. This is a travesty. We add to the inhumanity of the situation by turning away. Where are the headlines in the daily paper and blog? Where are the congressional committees meeting around the clock to solve the crisis? These human beings are flesh and blood. They’re Christ’s body.