A response to Charlottesville
Dear Beloved Federated Members and Friends,
The following pastoral letter reflects my personal view of faith in light of current circumstances:
It is with a heavy heart and soul that I write to you. Many of us in church and in our nation are deeply troubled and shocked by the events in Charlottesville this weekend. But my heart and soul also are heavy because I know that many of us are carrying personal life burdens that at times seem unbearable. For many of us, our church needs to be a place of solace and comfort; a place to retreat from the struggles of life and the incessant despair of our broken world. I understand this.
But I also know that our Scriptures – both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament -- will not permit us, as a church, to retreat from engaging in the strife which occupies our community and nation. On Sunday morning, Sharon Leder and Milton Teichman taught us that Jewish spirituality requires that we respond to the world, even as we cultivate our individual relationships with God. Christian spirituality requires the same.
Without doubt, the Scriptures offer God’s word of strength and hope for our individual life journeys. But at the same time, the Scriptures speak of God’s imperative to the gathered community – that is, “church” – to respond to injustice, violence, and hate wherever we see it. Moses and the Hebrew Prophets and Jesus all boldly challenged the authorities of their day. They all boldly, even at great sacrifice, spoke truth to power and love to hate. And they called on the faithful to do the same.
In this context, my heart and soul are heavy because I do not really know how to adequately address, in the context of the Federated Church of Orleans, the violence and terrorism of Charlottesville, VA this weekend. I want to be quiet and pastoral and make it all go away. We live on Cape Cod, after all. National strife should not concern us, right? But, the Bible tells me differently. And I take seriously the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil, is evil itself. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” So, my words may make you angry; you may think them inappropriate in your understanding of what church is meant to be. But as a Christian who hears God’s word through the Scriptures and who seeks to follow Jesus Christ, I believe we must respond to the violence and hatred in our nation, and that we must respond now. Racism, violence, hate, and bigotry deny God and deny Jesus. Racism, violence, hate, and bigotry are sins.
In Charlottesville this weekend, the neo-nazis and white supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us.” Pretending that we did not hear this, or ignoring this, or failing to respond, is denying the humanity of our Jewish friends Milton and Sharon; it is denying the humanity of our friends in Am HaYam.
In Charlottesville this weekend, the neo-nazis and white supremacists chanted “white lives matter” and “blood and soil.” Pretending we did not this hear this, or ignoring this, or failing to respond, is denying the humanity of our friend Natalie Keagul, who provides our child care on Sunday; it denying the humanity of our friend Rev. Wesley Williams, and all persons of color who still live with the sting and sin of slavery. If human beings are created in God’s image, as we read in the first chapter of Genesis, then to deny any person’s humanity is to deny God.
Racism and hate and bigotry have been alive and well throughout our nation for a long time. But it certainly seems that the current administration, intentionally or not, has given permission with its rhetoric and policies for voices of racism and hate and bigotry to become louder and louder and more virulent. Comparisons to Nazi Germany no longer seem so far-fetched. The church can no longer be silent about the distorted ideology of white supremacy and neo-nazism. Racism, violence, hate, and bigotry say false things about God. This is not political. Rather it is an expression of faith.
Yesterday morning, Sharon and Milton taught us about the Jewish notion of “Tikkun Olam.” Tikkun Olam requires human beings to repair the world. Milton and Sharon reminded us that when God finished creation, God called it “good” (Gen 1:31). God did not call creation “perfect.” As such, the act of repairing creation is a spiritual mandate. We need to repair our nation before it is beyond repair. This is a spiritual mandate from God to us.
So, how can we, at the Federated Church of Orleans on Cape Cod, do this? By doing all we can to confront racism, violence, hate, and bigotry; by making Cape Cod a model to the nation of how to live with everyone, honoring and respecting each other with love. This sounds easy, but it is hard and constant work. But I believe God is not giving us a choice anymore. I have a few ideas of how we can begin this necessary work of faith. You may have ideas also. I hope you will share them. Can we do the following:
Take the lead in Orleans on gathering small groups which are comprised of people who are different; different in race, faith, political beliefs, sexual orientation, age, economic status, nationality, etc. In these small groups, people who are different from each other will listen to one another, talk to one another, learn to love another. I cannot claim this as an original idea. This is an idea I learned from Hope Central Church in Jamaica Plain. This church has been hosting these small groups to miraculous transformation both in the church and the community. All the diversity and difference I have mentioned exists on Cape Cod. Let’s gather these small groups and start talking. Let’s motivate other faith communities and organizations and towns to do the same. Listening and sharing and respecting stories of our deepest selves is a key to transforming hate into love.
Organize, participate in, or coordinate with other faith communities and other organizations, to create Cape-wide public rallies which denounce racism, violence, hate, and bigotry and show solidarity in diversity. Public and peaceful displays of love and unity and respect for diversity, will engender love and unity and respect for diversity.
Make renouncing racism, violence, hate, and bigotry the theme of our second annual Concert for Peace and Harmony.
We are people of faith. We trust in God, we follow Jesus, and we receive strength from the Holy Spirit. With humility and love, I am asking us as a church to become vocal and active proponents of doing all we can to dispel the sins of racism, violence, hate, and bigotry, and to build God’s world of love, respect, and dignity for every human being. This may not be what we want from church, but it is, I believe, what God wants from us as church, as disciples of the Risen Christ.
To conclude, I share with you the following beautiful prayer which was written by a seminary student from All Saints Church in Pasadena, California who was part of the counter-protest in Charlottesville:
To the God whom we have forgotten; To the God who is not male and is not white;
To the God who takes no pleasure in violence; To the God who is Love; To the God who is tender-hearted and warm embrace; To the God who is not deaf to Her children’s cries and is moved to tears by their suffering; To the God whose law is love of neighbor, hospitality for the stranger, care for the weak; To the God whose touch is healing, whose gaze is compassion; whose way is lovingkindness; To the God who is Justice; To the God who tramples fear and hatred under Her feet; To the God who convicts our hearts, stirs our spirits, transforms our minds; To the God who revels in the joyful dance of community and invites us to do the same;
To the God whose own child’s lynched body hung limp on a tree, not by Her own hand, but because of the fear and hatred of those human beings who feared the kind of world they were promised would be ushered in and hated the changes they would have to undergo to get there;
Our memory is so short: Our failure to remember the sins of our parents, Our aversion to repentance, Our refusal to make reparations, Is killing us.
Our souls are wasting away. And black, brown, female, queer, trans, Muslim, differently abled bodies Are dying. Every day, so many.
O God whom we have forgotten, We do not even know how to call on your name. We have not seen you in the faces of our sisters and brothers. We have not felt you in the pain of our neighbors, strangers, friends and enemies;
O God whom we have forgotten, Do not let our imaginations be infiltrated by war-mongering forces of violence. Do not let our spirits be colonized by the depressing fear of our oppressors.
Transform our minds that do not know how to think of you Existing without these heavy chains we have placed on ourselves and on each other.
Love and Peace in Christ,