On the Light Rail

by Abigail Conley

A street preacher made her way onto the train, walking down the aisles, calling people to repentance. The odor hovering around her made it clear that her newfound faith didn’t include regular access to showers. Her language was crass, naming all the sexual sins people fall prey to, including what makes them appealing. Substance abuse was a far second in what required repentance. My drunken neighbor said to no one in particular, “Well, she’s got passion. I’ll give her that.”

I knew her particular brand of fundamentalism well, chuckling to myself as she shouted some new tenet. Only one person took her up on her offer to talk. Graciously, I wasn’t close enough to hear any of the conversation. My neighbor continued to sip from his gas station cup, a whiff of what was most certainly not a soft drink wafting over occasionally. His running commentary on events continued for most of the morning.

“Get through the train, then start over,” he said of the man panhandling. It was true. I watched the man quietly make his way from one end of the train to the other, asking each passenger for some money. Even those who had in headphones to avoid conversation were asked repeatedly, until they took off their headphones and offered a response.

When he got to me, he told his story, “I haven’t eaten in two days. Do you have just a couple of dollars? Even some change?” Truthfully, I didn’t. The three or four dollars in cash I currently have are in the glove box of my car. As he spoke, the odor of cigarettes permeated the air around him. Looking into his eyes, I saw that they didn’t meet mine or focus as they should. It’s often that way with people who are chronically homeless. I’m not trained enough to recognize the whys, but I have the guesses of mental illness, low IQ, or lifelong trauma. Truth be told, in most cases, it’s the last one that means they can’t get off the street. They’ve lived under toxic stress their entire lives and there’s no way out.

Today, the light rail was more interesting than usual. My work and life don’t often give me an opportunity to use the light rail. When I can, I do, because I believe in systems created for the good of the public: public schools, public healthcare, public transportation. The world here is different than the one I inhabit daily. The homeless people I typically encounter are in a program. They’re not the chronically homeless whose struggles are so great that they will always be homeless unless offered free public housing. These homeless neighbors have been coached to be polite, to say thank you, to act how people who want to help expect people to act.

There is a rawness on this train, a rawness that grows as the day goes on. In the morning, it’s filled with commuters and college students. By mid-afternoon, it’s full of everyone. Get on a bus if you want to see truly raw, though. The bus is where people lug groceries, and coach their kids through boredom, and sit in pain. Buses that run late and clumsily roll down city streets are a different world than the reliable, well-policed light rail.

Here’s my confession: about every third ride on the light rail, I think about calling the police. So far, I’ve talked myself out of it every time. The conversation about my racism is one I’ll hold for another day. I know that’s part of it and why I must think through events to reach the conclusion that I’ve never been threatened in any way on public transportation. Instead, I’ve been taught to see people as dangerous even when they aren’t. To fix that, I need Jesus.

When I think, “Maybe I should call the police,” I start to tell myself, “These are the people Jesus loves.” It’s difficult, at first, to believe that Jesus loves the smelly street preacher, from her unkempt hair to her booty shorts. Jesus loves that man sitting across from me, in who knows what state of intoxication at 7:30 a.m. The man asking everyone for money, Jesus loves him, too.

Jesus loves the jerk who didn’t move from the handicapped seats until asked, even though she was obstructing the only place for a wheelchair to sit. Those noisy guys who were doing only God knows what, Jesus loves them, too. And Jesus loves the probably homeless guy who was overjoyed to find today’s sports section of the newspaper left on the seat of the train.

I don’t think that Jesus loves them more than he loves me, but am pretty sure he would be quicker to show them he loves them because they haven’t had enough people to love them. This in-between, nowhere sort of place is beautiful in its own Jesus-breathed way. On mornings like this, I am grateful that it pulls me closer to Jesus.

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”?

Hope, Creativity, and Art

by Rae Strozzo

In the midst of struggle, creativity is where hope finds vision.

We are in need of creativity and compassion in this moment.  This is a love letter to art and creativity that is so essential to all of us. Sometimes love is hard to see, and context is everything.  So first – the bad news.  

The current political moment seems so polarized and almost surreal.  We are at war now.  The U.S. is fighting itself as it has been since its creation but with a scary vigor. Fear seems to trump so much of what is good in the world if we spend our time on Facebook or watch more than 10 minutes of the news.  Shuffling through the lies to try and sort out what might be true feels like the new daily battle.  

The U.S. is fighting and exploiting other countries for the needs and greed of a few and the government and pop culture feeds it back to us as nationalism and what a “great nation” does for freedom.  All the while internally African American churches burn, Jewish community centers deal with bomb threats, and our Muslim brothers and sisters try to cope with threats, acts of violence and destroyed property.   Transpeople of color are murdered, gender expansive people commit and attempt suicide at astoundingly high rates, and lgbtq youth are homeless at much higher rates than their straight and cis gender peers.  

Walls are built to make and keep people illegal and separate, and families fear being broken up by immigration sweeps.  Our country incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and that is also to make a buck at the expense of those people’s lives and the lives of their families – most of whom are people of color.  Many of our neighbors grow up trapped in poverty and in systems of oppression that get labeled welfare, child protective services, and the mental health care system and so on, but work against the people they are created to help and against the people who work in those systems who want to help.  

Many ignore these problems and systems, and we step past the oppression because it is as subtle as “professionalism” in a workplace that really just says look/be whiter.  Or we say we are moving to a better neighborhood or sending our kids to better schools without seeing that those are whiter neighborhoods and whiter schools.  We live in “Right to Work States” that really say it’s okay not hire people who aren’t white enough, straight enough, gender conforming enough, Christian enough because as long as we don’t say it, we haven’t done anything wrong.   

Now is a time when a college education is so expensive only the most privileged can have it without the reality of mountainous debt and where public education is stifled by our system of lack. We live in a time where art and music struggle to find access points to most people’s lives and where the funding for those things are viewed as unimportant and stripped away.   We are taught to blame the poor rather than help. We are taught to walk away from people who don’t see things the way that we do. We are taught that tough love is about shunning people from families, from churches, from communities, so that somehow they will want to come back to us, but in the way we want them and not in the way that the universe created them.  

We use our limited understanding of creativity to control other people. We use our limited understanding of creativity for greed.  Succumbing to those same limits causes us to destroy our planet.  Our creativity is limited by what we think we know and it is wasted on anger, fear, destruction, and an illusion of control. We stifle vulnerability because we mistaken it for weakness rather than a place where new ideas are born.  We are strapped down by prejudice and are unable in those moments to be our fully connected and creative selves.  Empire wants us to die for lack of imagination. White supremacy wants us to hold it up out of that same lack of imagination.

That is a lot, especially acknowledging that it isn’t even close to giving voice to all of what is up in the world right now.

But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  I firmly believe this.  All of these situations are things that were set in motion by people.  Logic suggests that if people created it, then people can also dismantle it. So there is hope. If we can be vulnerable enough to hope, then we have a place to start to vision something different, and that means creativity can come back to us and with its divine purpose intact.

Hope is where real creativity comes in.  Creativity, as it meets compassion, produces healing and love. This is where the arts are a healing force. Creativity as it is connected to love gives us the capacity for participation in beauty. It is the ability to turn the wound into a foundation for solidarity and into an olive branch for the “other side.”

As it is said, those with the capacity for great anger hold the capacity for great gentleness. So too those with great creative power towards greed hold that power for generosity. Those with great creative power toward destruction also hold great  power for creation. All of us hold creative power.  It is the link that bonds all of us to each other and to the universe. Creativity is what makes us human. It isn’t just a painter or a musician who holds creativity. Creativity is our mirror of the universe. It is our tether to the divine.  

Artists are a part of the priesthood of the creative and have a connection to the creative energy of the universe. When artists share their work, they open that connection to and establish that link for others.

The creative process and the artistic result aren’t just for the artist. Art is about completing a cycle and about helping other people and the culture it is a part of change, grow, and evolve. Art is a sacred reminder that we are ALL part of the creative flow of the universe. That is its purpose. Art reminds people that they have things to express and to express them. Creative expression is divine language no matter how it is spoken.

The teacher who makes a place for a struggling kid to learn because they take the time to rethink how they teach is a part of that energy.   The police officer who figures out how to stop violence without using it has that energy.  The activist who rallies support while seeing the other side as people and not just an opposing force is a part of this creative energy too.  

These are just examples. All of us have a link to what makes us our best selves. That is our link to the creative energy of the universe. We have been given this gift. But it isn’t about our minds and not even about our skill sets. It’s about our willingness to get vulnerable and listen to what our higher selves are telling us.  To listen to what our souls are telling us. To listen to what the universe is telling us.  

The path that is uniquely ours in life is lit by love and compassion as motive. Come to life with love and compassion and the steps to take become real.  The creativity to make things happen in our lives and in the lives of others becomes real.  Art is made in song, in paint, in photograph, and in every kind word, in every loving action. Listening to the creative energy of the universe and using that energy for kindness and compassion can heal a lifetime of wounds.  

True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art says, “Thinking goes as far as the mind understands. Then what? Art.”

Change for the good of all goes only as far as our ability to create compassion.  Then what? Art.

The Three Most Revolutionary Words in the Gospel

by Amos Smith

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:28

This verse from Galatians is what made the early church profound – what made it spread like wildfire. In the highly stratified society of Jesus’ time no one could believe that different classes, genders, and ethnicities sung, prayed, and broke bread together. This was unheard of.

In Jesus’ time “acceptable company” was defined very narrowly. For example, it was taboo for a Rabbi to associate with women, Samaritans, or ritually unclean people, among others.

The early church drop-kicked all the purity codes. They learned this audacious behavior from Jesus who “touched the leper” (Matthew 8:3). In my estimation, those are the three most revolutionary words of the Gospel. In Jesus’ time no one ever looked at a leper, much less considered touching one. When lepers came around most people ran, and some pelted them with stones. So for Jesus to “touch the leper” was radical.

Contemporary Christian author Brian Zhand writes “Jesus was trying to lead humanity into the deep truth that there is no ‘them,’ there is only us.”

Most people would say, “Okay I can accept this statement, but there are obvious exceptions, like lepers.” Jesus shattered this exceptionalism of the liberal Jews of his time when he fearlessly touched the loathsome leper. The liberal Jews wanted to minimize factions and to broaden boundary lines of acceptability. Yet, the leper blew away all categories and was out of bounds.

When we experience factions, superiority complexes, power struggles, purity codes, and sibling rivalries, we are mired in the human condition, otherwise known as original sin. If, on the other hand, we stretch the comfort zone and reach out to people on the margins of society, as Jesus did in his time, we edge toward the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God, as envisioned by Jesus, stretched comfort zones, even to the point of touching the untouchable.

Someone might have a valid claim to superiority because of nationality, IQ, class, et cetera. Yet, from the perspective of the Gospel, any advantage we may have, should be used to serve the less fortunate. We may possess legitimate authority and power. Yet, according to Jesus, that power is best utilized in service to our neighbors. In other words, the best leaders are servant leaders (Matthew 20:25-28).

The grace the early Christians experienced in their own lives through the radically inclusive love of Jesus they extended to others, not just to their own clan, class, or religious group. The early Christians saw the beauty and God-given worth of each and every person. This made the early Christians extraordinary.

Discrimination against minorities is becoming more common in the United States today. Whenever a minority is discriminated against in America, even a leper, we are called to resist in Jesus’ name.

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.

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.

Who are you listening to when you listen to yourself?

by Karen Richter

A short reflection today – I hope you are able to find something to do for the holiday today that blesses you and the world around you.

I had an interesting and surprising experience recently. I can’t share much about it, because of confidentiality. And honoring confidentiality is helpful to me in this instance, because the recounting of the full anecdote would not be flattering to me. I was asked about what I thought about something, and my first reaction, that knee-jerk, snap decision response reflected a deeply internalized sexism of which I wasn’t fully aware.

And that experience of “What was I thinking? Where did that COME FROM? I can’t believe I almost said that!” got me thinking about the voices in our heads. Our culture prizes the notion of acting on your split second decision… trusting your inner voice… acting on impulse or instinct. But not every voice in our minds is helpful, compassionate, or mature. Our culture is also awash in sexism, racism, classism, xenophobia, and other fear-based responses to Otherness. Despite our efforts, these –isms become part of our conscience, one of many inner voices.

Who do we listen to when we listen to ourselves? by Karen Richter, Southwest Conference Blog, www.southwestconferenceblog.org

Sometimes they’re loud, overpowering other voices from other sources. There are voices from our Christian tradition – voices of acceptance, grace, justice, trust, peace, liberation, voices from our faith communities – voices of love and exhortation and encouragement, and voices from our own personal spiritual experience – voices that whisper of mystery and simplicity.

How do we differentiate between these voices? We test and discern. Our Jesuit brother and sister have much to teach us about this process. We pause, building into our decisions and thoughts a holy gap in which we listen a second time. And when we act on the voice of grace and peace, the voice of God, that voice gets a tiny bit louder and easier to hear.


Why I’m Absolutely a non- Absolutist

by Kenneth McIntosh

I just returned from the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City. My wife and I agree it was the greatest show on earth. From Friday through Monday 10,000 people gathered from 70 nations to share lives and faith. There were plenary sessions packed with great speakers like Marianne Williamson, Karen Armstrong, Jane Goodall, Alan Boesak, Brian McLaren, Katherine Hayhoe, Jim Wallis and speakers that readers of this blog might not know by name, but who are leading figures overseas and in their respective faith communities. There were hundreds of workshops, of every imaginable sort. I got to experience Matthew Fox’s Earth Spirituality rave service, a Jain discussion of countering violence, a talk on how to convince religious skeptics on climate change, and an improvisational and interactive theater piece on how ISIS twists the Quran. I also saw our own Southwest Conference pastor Teresa Cowan Jones share how Sacred Space works to fulfill the goals of the Compassion Charter, and my friend Professor Elizabeth Ursic led a very moving service of worship to God in her feminine nature. Every day, Sikhs from around the world worked hard to feed 5,000 people –for free—in a very dignifying way, with delicious Indian vegetarian food. The grand finale’ service was in the Mormon Tabernacle, filled with saffron-robed monks and turbaned Sikhs mingling with LDS members in their ties and suits. The presentation was a 3 hour extravaganza with everything from a bagpipe band to Chan Buddhist drumming to Indian Sitar and Thai dancing and the Bahai and Mormon choirs. I posted on Facebook, “This is what Heaven is going to be like.”

So what was the takeaway from all this (besides being totally overwhelmed)? This extended weekend renewed my sense of hope, truly. For some time previous, the violence, prejudice and arrogant tone of our country’s troubles had been chafing at me. In truth, I was becoming desperate—and therefore rather shrill about things myself. What I saw was community —formed of the unlikeliest allies. I realized there are enormous numbers of good-willed people from all the world’s religions, all working for similar positive goals—to end discrimination against women, to reduce violence, to save the earth. I know we’ve been doing our part in the UCC, but we’re really rather small at under a million members. It’s wonderful to see that we’re just part of an amazing puzzle, that can interconnect and work shoulder-to-shoulder with a huge variety of sects around the planet (I’m all for good sects).

I also picked up a new word that’s going to stick in my vocabulary (and hopefully my heart). That is Anekantavad. It’s one of the three major tenents of the Jain religion. The Jains, founded by Mahavira at approximately the same time as his near neighbor Guatama Buddha became enlightended, have not killed animal or human for 2,500 years. This is possible because of adherence to the “three A’s:”

Ahimsa = Non-violence

Aparigraha = Non-attachment


Anekantavad = Non-Absolutism.

I noticed in their workshop that the Jains shorten their non-absolutism to Anekan. I’m a bit relieved, because there is something in the tongue that dislikes spewing out five-syllable words. Three I can handle, and I can remember the shortened version by thinking of Anikan Skywalker (perhaps a name chose by George Lucas because Anikan starts out understanding the Jedi way of Anekan, then abandons it for the absolutism of the Dark Side?

At the workshop Anekan was defined as “Realizing that you are never 100% totally right in anything that you believe, and those who oppose you are never 100% totally wrong.” Now believe me, this is not how I was disciple into my faith. Coming from a Calvinist Evangelical background I heard over and over that non-absolutism was the worst possible thing that anyone could embrace. “God said it and that settles it.” “Open your mind too far and your brains will fall out.” “If you don’t believe it all you’ll end up with nothing.” “Doubt one word in the Bible and you’ll slide all the way down the slippery slope until you reach hell at the bottom.” But now…it’s happened. I realized this past week how vital Anekan/ non-absolutism is, if we’re to make any progress in the world.

As long as two people are absolutely convinced they are entirely right on a topic, there is no room for peace between our positions. Embracing Anekan gives me a tool to flex and move toward the other, and might enable an opening for them to walk through and meet me. The first step is to critique my belief: does my position have to be utterly rigid? Then I can mirror the other’s thoughts—even if they present themselves as enemy. I can begin to see how I might look unreasonable, dangerous even, to them. And I can see why they hold to the things they adhere to so strongly. Yes, perhaps they are bound by greed, fear, lust, the need to control….but all these are simply mal-adaptations (or over- compensations) of basic human needs for safety and agency.

So I see a person wearing a confederate flag on their t-shirt. My normal reaction is to immediately think judgmental thoughts. “They’re a racist” and they’re probably also (fill in a series of negative and judgmental blanks at this point).  But by Applying Anekan, I can try to perceive where there may be elements of good in that person’s choice of apparel. They might not associate that symbol with slavery (though I know historically that was its genesis). They may take pride in their southern state community, may have seen their neighbors pull together against odds. That flag has always been associated with their civic life, and they feel comfort and attachment with that association. For that matter, maybe they’re just straight males of a certain age with pleasant memories of watching Daisy Duke ride along in the General Lee—with that flag on top. Who knows?

If I label that person “racist” out the gate, then I am unlikely to have any good effect conversing with them—if I come in knowing “they’re just bad, or crazy” I’m not likely to win them over on any point, and why should they respond well to me? But what if I try to seek a common humanity between us? I might say, “You look like a person with some strong connection to your community —where do you hail from?” I might just say “It’s a nice day, isn’t it?” This would not be in any way an endorsement of the awful dark history connected to that symbol, nor would it overlook the fact that he may indeed be wearing that symbol to denote hatred. But even with the worst sorts, Anekan opens up the possibility (even if it is slim) of a transforming relationship. What if more people had chatted with Hitler and encouraged his pursuit of art when he sat on the streets of Berlin with paintings that no one would buy and slid over the fulcrum point into hatred and fanaticism? What if someone looked past the brown shirt and saw the eyes of an artistic soul that was turning to stone inside?

And here’s the funny part. My Jain brothers and sisters have given me something that—rather than destroying my faith as a Christian—enables me to live out my faith in a much better way. When asked the greatest commandment in the Torah Jesus didn’t go off talking about the slippery slope or the inerrancy of Moses or the danger of brains falling out of heads. He simply pointed to love—of God and of others. And the fact is, if I assume I’m totally correct and unmovable in all my beliefs, then I’ll never be able to move onto the ground where I can see my enemies as people of value. I cannot love them. Despite everything I’ve been told, non-absolutism is the way to love like Jesus.

I absolutely believe in non-absolutism.

Oh, wait. That’s a contradiction. “You can’t absolutely believe in non-absolutism” I got them from an apologist years ago. Well, I’m learning that “both-and” thinking is on a higher plane than “either-or.” Both-and allows things in the universe to move more freely. And many Christians believe a number of things that non-Christians find contradictory: like the Trinity, or death-that-leads-to-resurrection.

In the Star Wars Cycle, Anakin loses his faith in Anekan and goes over to the absolutism of the Dark Side—the Sith pursuit of ruthless greed and power. He loses his ability to see through his natural eyes, seeing the world only through a life-sustaining helmet. But at the very end of life, he chooses to remove that mask, deciding instead to embrace commonality with his estranged son. He ends his life redeemed. I hope I can remember to keep taking off the mask and seek the common humanity of everyone I face. Anekan / non-absolutism rocks.