Romany People Targeted by Right Wing

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Ukraine: Paramilitaries broadcast live pogrom against Roma on Facebook, the fourth in the last six weeks

Vigilantes Destroy Another Romany Camp In Kyiv

Local businessman shoots and kills 13-year-old Roma girl in Amfissa, Central Greece

This isn’t what I planned to write about this week, but the urgency expressed by a friend who is Roma changed my mind.

These are just three recent headlines about atrocities committed against Romany people. Yet I’ve seen nothing and heard nothing on the news outlets I go to.

Each headline is a link, so you can read the whole story for yourself. Please share widely.

Romany people were among the first sent to concentration camps in Hitler’s Germany. They have suffered abuse because of cruel myths for centuries. We must keep this on our radar.

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Let the Walls Come Tumblin’ Down

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(Sermon preached on 6/3/18 in Great Barrington, MA)

Did you hear what I heard when Pastor Randy read the gospel? Did you?

Well, here’s what I heard! (I knocked over Lego towers on the altar.)

I heard walls coming down!

So in these two incidents in Mark’s Gospel, what were Jesus and His followers doing wrong that so bothered the Pharisees? It’s difficult even to count the ways in which they were breaking the precious law that the Pharisees hugged to themselves as if the law alone were salvation.

First, we have to understand that, according to the scholars, it was actually corn that they were making their way through and the ears of corn that they were plucking.

Making a path on the Sabbath? Unlawful; it was work.

Plucking the ears of corn on a Sabbath? Unlawful; it was reaping, which was also work.

Shucking the corn? Unlawful.

Plucking the kernels? Unlawful.

Do you notice what Jesus does when He tells the Pharisees about David and his companions? He’s really chiding and mocking them. They were supposed to be the experts on Scripture.

Try to hear Jesus’s voice: “Did you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?”

In other words, you’re the experts yet you ignore that story? What’s wrong with you?

We’re not given the Pharisees’ response, but I’m sure they were very angry at being outed as hypocrites by this man Jesus.

In the next instance, he comes upon a man in the synagogue whose hand was withered. I’m pretty sure Jesus knew he’d find that man there and also that the Pharisees would be watching him. This time, we know the Pharisees’ reaction; they were silent. They could not in public answer Jesus’s question about whether it was lawful to save life or to kill it on the Sabbath.

Why?

walls coming downBecause “something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down!”

We’re told Jesus was angered by their hardness of heart. What is hardness of heart, but a wall a person puts up in order not to have care about other people?

Throughout the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, I hear walls coming down all the time. The biggest wall that came down was the wall between God and God’s people manifested through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

In everything Jesus did, He broke down a wall. Whether he was feeding the five thousand and teaching a lesson about sharing; talking to a Samaritan woman at a well; healing a Samaritan man who had leprosy (and was the only one of several men Jesus healed who came back to thank him!), or healing a woman’s tumor that was causing internal bleeding because she had the courage and faith to think that if she just touched his robe, she could be healed!

And what about the woman taken in adultery? Two walls were taken down that day! First was the wall of the draconian codes that said a woman should be stoned to death if found to have committed adultery. But notice, not the man! So the other wall taken down was the one placed by men between them and women, to treat women as if they were not also human. And Jesus said, Okay, if you’ve never committed a sin, go ahead, stone her, kill her.

So if Jesus spent His ministry breaking down walls that were preventing peopIe from receiving the grace of God, what does that tell us our job on this earth is? Is it not also to break down walls? Is it not that the Kingdom of God has no walls in it?

Because, He’s telling us, “something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down!”

In Robert Frost’s poem, “The Mending Wall,” his narrator begins:

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;”

He’s talking about nature, of course, which is really the Divine Order of things. The narrator’s companion, intent on picking the stones up and putting them back in place on the wall, will only say, “Good fences make good neighbors.” At this, the narrator says, “He moves in darkness as it seems to me, Not of woods only and the shade of trees.”

That darkness is the darkness of a hardness of heart wrought by a tradition that the man could not go against, just like the Pharisees. If you’re a gardener, you know that fences throw dead shade, as opposed to shade that trees provide with sunlight filtering  through them. There are flowering plants that just won’t grow in the dead shade, but will grow in tree shade.

This rejection of walls and darkness can be found in other religious denominations and traditions. The great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in this dungeon. I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into the sky, day by day I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow.

evelyn underhill

English mystic Evelyn Underhill knew it too.

“I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust, and sand lest a least hole should be left in this name; and for all the care I take I lose sight of my true being.”

Why?

Because something there is that doesn’t love wall, that wants it down.

Theologian Howard Thurman wrote about walls in Jesus and the Disinherited, referring to the oppressed and marginalized African –Americans who have been pushed by white society to a point where their backs are against a wall. It was true when Thurman was writing that book in the 1950s and it’s still true today.

I recently had an opportunity to be part of two wall-breaking  events in Georgia and Tennessee. The first was a “Dismantling Racism” training in Griffin, GA. I watched shutters be lifted from people’s eyes as we talked about our white privilege.

I’ve been going to such trainings since the 1990s, and I have come to the realization that I don’t even know how much privilege I have until a news story comes out about police being called because of African-Americans who wanted to use a restroom or were golfing or were taking a nap in their dorm or were just enjoying a barbecue. I’ll be learning about my privilege the rest of my life.

The second event was a retreat at a most beautiful cliff-side spot called St. Mary’s Place in Sewanee, Tennessee. About thirty-eight of us were gathered to learn how to use contemplative practices to foster energy and intent for compassionate action in the world. Using contemplative prayer to break down the walls of what Father Thomas Keating calls the false self that has all the ego mechanisms that keep us from truly experiencing the presence of God is a means by which we can go out into the world to help break down walls that keep other people bound.

Next fall, I will move to Georgia to join others in our common pursuit to break down walls and dismantle racism. My even considering such a move from my rural, settled life in Massachusetts indicates that God has helped me break down walls within myself.

Why?

Because “something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”

That something is God.

Pilgrimage to Highlander Folk School

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I’ve taken what I’ve thought of as pilgrimages before, tracing the steps of John Brown and Harriet Tubman.

I did those things alone, and they were invaluable experiences. But I didn’t understand that a pilgrimage is meant to be made with other people until I went on a retreat at St. Mary’s Place in Sewanee, TN.

Thirty-eight of us were there to learn to make contemplative silence an underpinning for compassionate action in our efforts to dismantle racism. The retreat included a pilgrimage to the original site of the Highlander Folk School in Grundy County, TN. Visiting that site was on my bucket list.

The original Highlander is a legendary and hallowed place for students of the Civil Rights movement. I haven’t been such a student for as long as many, but the intensity of my studies brought the names of Myles Horton, Septima Clark, and Ella Baker to my attention, along with the more famous names of Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Rosa Parks.

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MLK Jr., Pete Seeger, Rosa Parks, and Ralph Abernathy talk to Zilpha Horton.

John Lewis learned about the Highlander School from  Nashville guru James Lawson, who had been teaching the Fisk SNCC students about nonviolence and civil disobedience in the basement of the Clark Methodist Church. Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, and James Bevel signed up for a retreat at Highlander as soon they heard of it.

Horton, a native Tennessean, founded Highlander in 1932 after traveling in Scandinavia and learning about the folk schools there. On some 300 peaceful acres along a river, he began organizing coal miners and other workers during the Great Depression. It was a natural step to become a center for young activists, black and white, to learn more about radical nonviolence and for leaders of the civil rights movement to gain refreshment and renewal.

Septima Clark’s specialty was teaching literacy to poor blacks, sharecroppers, so they could begin the route toward registering to vote. John Lewis gives her great credit in his first memoir, Walking with the Wind, and he also credits the white Myles Horton with being able to tame the fiery James Bevel, who thought the “nonviolent revolution . . . was hogwash.”

Guy Carawan, music director at the Highlander, took the old spiritual “I’ll Overcome Someday” and turned into the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome,” made famous by another Highlander visitor, Pete Seeger.

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The original sheet music for “We Shall Overcome”

Because blacks and white mixed freely at the school, studying together, eating together, cleaning up together, living in dormitories together, that the Highlander and Horton came to be seen as a Communist enterprise. Horton was continually harassed by police, citizens’ groups, and eventually J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. The state eventually did close down the school. Today the original library resides in New Market TN, and the former library and grounds have been purchased by the Tennessee Preservation Trust while a concerted effort moves forward to restore the building.

On a warm sunny day in May, my fellow retreatants and I IMG_20180501_103211310piled into vans and cars and made the half-hour drive to the Highlander property. We were greeted by Joe, the property caretaker, who was the epitome of a hard-working man, straight and true, skin bronzed by the outdoors with blue eyes and the warmest smile you can imagine. We all fanned out, going through the small building, walking down to the riverside, taking blankets to spread out on the lawn and breathe in the air. My first sensation was that of awe that I was breathing the same molecules of air as all the long dead and aging living on whose shoulders the likes of Bryan Stevenson and William Barber stand.

Finally, we gathered in semicircles of chairs in front of the building. We chanted, we meditated, we prayed for this hallowed place and prayed for the strengthening of will and commitment to do our part in bringing Dr. King’s dream finally to fruition.

This was a pilgrimage.

 

A Modest Proposal

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White Nationalists Hold Rally In GeorgiaFor preventing the White Supremacists in America, from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public.

It is a melancholy object to those African-Americans, Muslims, Latinos, Native Americans, who walk through this great country, when they see the streets, the roads and cabin doors crowded with people who deny their right to exist on equal terms.

I think it is agreed by all rational parties, that this prodigious number of Fascists is in the present deplorable state of the United States, a very great additional grievance, and therefore whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these Nazis sound and useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

My proposal is thus: Let us empty out all the prisons in the country of those people of the ethnicities mentioned above who have been wrongfully imprisoned, over-sentenced, unfairly convicted, and/or any other fitting reason why those persons are not a danger to society.

This would certainly include all those convicted of low-level drug offenses now that recreational marijuana use is legal in so many states.

These facilities could thus be used as rehabilitation centers for those amongst us who believe they have a grievance because of their white skin and frail egos that make them fear and hate anyone with a different lineage.

Since many who endorse and support neo-fascism believe that homosexuality is a human condition that can be reversed, would it not therefore be profitable to see whether race hatred can also be reversed through a strict deprogramming method?

If the *president* can use terms such as “breeding concept” when referring to immigrants in California, perhaps such a concept could also be used in rehabilitation. That is, initiate a program of breeding among males and females of the guests at such facilities, remove the offspring immediately after birth and foster them in the homes of those marginalized communities that White Supremacists seek to destroy.

The children would thus grow up learning firsthand that they are but one part of the human family, no more, no less.

The closing of so many prisons would undoubtedly provide funding that could help the foster parents of these children. This model would also open up many jobs to people who have been kept out of the job market; it would certainly include a wide range of employment as it has been proven that fascism has no economic boundaries. Indeed, from Congressional and cabinet positions to law enforcement, there will be no end of opportunities.

It would also be provident to have the rehabilitation centers self-supporting; guests will grow their own food (they will have to become vegetarians as they will not be allowed to have any equipment that could kill animals or other human beings). They will thus learn thrift and get a taste of life as a sharecropper.

The de-childrened inhabitants of the rehabilitation centers could be hired out for menial jobs now held necessarily by those who will assume higher levels of employment and their wages used to fund their programs.

Yes, there are many details to be worked out, such as who should work as guards at these rehabilitation centers, etc. But I think that the basic plan should be carefully considered.

 

 

 

Chokehold, Literally & Figuratively

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The Paul Butler who appears often on MSNBC as a legal expert has a very different voice from the Paul Butler who wrote Chokehold: Policing Black Men. Both voices are critical for our times.

All I knew about him was his role as a legal commentator on shows such Joy Reid or All In With Chris Hayes, where he has mainly been asked about the Trump-Russia investigation. In this book, he is a passionate revolutionary fighting for social change.

Mr. Butler is the Albert Brick Professor in Law at Georgetown University and was formerly a federal prosecutor. The awards he has received and the scholarly articles and other books he has authored lead me to the conclusion that this is a man I need to listen to. His latest book came out last July, but it took me a while to catch up with it.

He uses the term “chokehold” both literally, as in how Eric Garner was murdered, and figuratively, as in the chokehold that official (read white) society has over the lives of African Americans.

As someone who has been arrested for a crime he did not commit, Mr. Butler knows whereof he speaks. He also knows how fortunate he was to have had legal colleagues to help him get out of his dilemma. The vast majority of African-American men and women who are wrongfully arrested, if they are not outright killed by police first, do not have such resources.

And the point is not to make those resources help, though in the short term they are needed. Mr. Butler is looking at the long term and calls for a revolution that will completely reform the way policing is done in this country.

This is from Elizabeth Hinton’s review in The New York Times last July:

“ “Cops routinely hurt and humiliate black people because that is what they are paid to do,” Butler writes. “The police, as policy, treat African-Americans with contempt.” “

We have seen that with our own eyes, but still police are rarely held accountable and Supreme Court decisions have given them the impunity to do what they do. When SCOTUS decisions support racial profiling, how do we think those in our society who are already racist will behave?

I can’t help but agree with his argument that a complete transformation, not incremental steps, is what is needed in this country. “The United States of America must be disrupted, and made anew,” he writes.

Not only do incremental steps not help in the long run, they are an obscene insult to people whose entire history is one of oppression and inequality at the hands of white society. I’ve heard the “Why can’t they be patient?” argument in every decade of my life. It was an appalling argument in the 1950s and it is an appalling argument now.

Systemic racism, which leads to chokeholds and police violence against African Americans, has been a cancer on this continent for almost 500 years. No matter whether there’s someone we love in the White House or someone we hate, American society has a rot within it that needs to be surgically removed.

I will let you read Mr. Butler’s vision of solutions for the problem for yourself. Some seem shocking at first, such as abolishing prisons. But when you look soberly at our history and where we are now in equal protection under the law, you might start thinking along those shocking lines yourself.

How The Light Gets In

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In 1977, my friend Caroline and I made a pact. We were coming home from Pittsfield after having seen “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Driving down Route 183 by Gould Meadows overlooking Stockbridge Bowl, a full moon shone on the white and frigid earth. Everything was crystal clear. A perfect place to see a UFO!

We agreed then and there that if either of us ever told the other we had seen a UFO or met an alien, we would believe each other.

Perhaps Mary Magdalene, who seems to have understood Jesus’s message better than the male disciples, should have made a similar pact with them.

There are so many concepts to ponder in today’s Gospel, and for me, the least of them is Thomas.

Poor Thomas, whose name has come down through the centuries to be synonymous with “doubt.” Derivation of doubt? In fact, most of the disciples were doubters at that point.

A week before, with Thomas absent, they were living behind locked doors. Jesus appeared to them, they rejoiced, then said good-bye and re-locked the doors. Hmmmm.

There is also the question of why, when Mary saw him, Jesus told her not to touch him because he was in an in-between state of life and death. Yet when he appeared to those in the locked room, he invited them all to touch him.

Each of the Gospels has different versions of Jesus’s post-Resurrection, pre-Ascension appearances to the disciples, and you can find quite a lot written on whether these were dreams, or visions, or hallucinations.

Regardless, John’s is the Gospel in which everything is a metaphor for something else. So for me, the locked doors and the image of seeing Jesus’s wounds are what John wants us to focus on here, and they are closely related.

They are also crucial to our own responses both to Jesus and to the world we live in.

Have you ever seen a horror movie where the heroine couldn’t get out of the house because, in her panic, she couldn’t unlock the door. When you lock your door at night, it’s so that no one can enter. But what if the thing you fear is already in the house?

When we lock a door, we also lock ourselves in.

When we lock our minds, we lock out knowledge that might be helpful. When we close our consciousness to realities we don’t want to deal with, when we are fearful and won’t let ourselves admit to that which scares us, we keep that fear locked inside. The realities are there no matter what.

The Good News is that Jesus can break through the locks and bolts and closed minds and let in the light of understanding, of comfort, of guidance, of reassurance. If we let Him.

The Rev. Michael March, an Episcopal priest from Texas, points out on his blog the irony that while Jesus’s tomb was empty, the disciples had created their own tomb in which they had interred themselves. But Jesus found a way in anyway; Mr. March called it “eastering in us” and every year we have this most wonderful reminder that Jesus can break through any barrier.

For the disciples, this took place just one week after the Resurrection. We are now just one week after Easter. Are we different from the disciples? Are our lives perceptibly changed? Or have our minds and hearts gone back on lockdown?

Here’s where Jesus’s wounds come in.

During Lent, those who participated in the gatherings at Crissy Farm watched a short video of a TED talk by Brene Brown, in which she suggested that faith depends upon vulnerability.

She didn’t say it, but the word “vulnerable” comes from Latin roots meaning the capacity to be wounded. In no other instance do we make ourselves more vulnerable than when we dare to show our wounds.

Jesus the Christ is the ultimate archetype of vulnerability. First, he became human. Second, he came as a homeless baby. Third, he spoke truth to power in a dangerous age. Fourth, he willingly accepted a painful, horrifying death. Fifth, He loved us all the while and loves us still.

Inviting someone to touch a wound is an extremely intimate and vulnerable act. Do we allow ourselves to be that vulnerable? Do we allow ourselves to be fully human? Do we allow our spiritual or emotional wounds to show, or do we put on a stoic face and act as if we have everything together?

If we saw someone walking around with a physical wound, wouldn’t we take that person to the ER or get gauze and bandages? What about all the people, including ourselves, walking around with psychic wounds; how do we help them?

Why should we show our wounds? What’s the point in that?

Well, John’s Gospel today answers that. Jesus showing His wounds is how the light got in to the disciples’ minds. Jesus is also showing us that showing our wounds is how we let Him in so that we can advance to full Easter life and bring His message out into a broken Good Friday world.

Leonard Cohen knew it. He said it in the refrain to his song “Anthem”: “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”

We have many examples of people who were given what I believe was divine strength to use the cracks in their own worlds to bring light to the world. From Mamie Till-Mobley insisting that her son Emmett’s casket be opened so that people could see what Jim Crow really meant to Twelve-Step groups where people share their “experience, strength and hope” right up to Margery Stoneman Douglas students using their grief to spark a worldwide movement  to call a halt to the proliferation of military-style weapons that can murder 17 people in a few minutes.

From #BlackLives Matter to #MeToo to #NeverAgain, young people are making themselves vulnerable in the public square, risking insults, slurs and even death threats to shine a spotlight on the injustices of our society.

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it,” said the Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston. She knew a lot about pain.

We’ll turn, though, to James’s letter for the last word. He says that “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”

In that fellowship with God is the sanctification of our own wounds that gives us the strength to bring Jesus’s light to others. So “forget your perfect offering”  and “ring the bells that still can ring.” “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Amen.