(News that’s fake, but credible)
Today the White House announced that President Trump reached a deal with Russian President, Vladimir Putin for the return of Alaska to Russian jurisdiction and sovereignty. The United States originally purchased what is now the State of Alaska from Russia through an agreement negotiated by then Secretary of State, William H. Seward, on March 30, 1867 for the sum of $7.2 million. Russia is reportedly paying $10 million for re-purchase. “The president believes that this gesture will restore and strengthen friendship between our two countries,” said presidential press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The transaction, evidently negotiated in a series of e-mails between the two leaders, will be signed next week at a special ceremony in the Rose Garden where Mr. Putin is scheduled to appear with President Trump. Sanders brushed off concerns that the presence of Russian troops and military installations on the Alaskan frontier might compromise national security. “To the contrary,” said Sanders, “a strong Russian military presence on the North American continent will provide a necessary deterrent to the growing power of the Democratic House, the deep state and the liberal press. They’re are the real enemies of the United States.”
Opposition in Congress has been strong even among Republicans. “I sent a strongly worded objection to my e-mail draft box,” said Maine Senator Susan Collins. Senator Lindsay Graham also expressed concern over the president’s decision, but added “I still support Donald Trump as do the American people.” Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell likewise expressed dismay, though he criticized the Democrats and the media for its coverage of the Alaska transaction. “We need to view this whole thing in context,” McConnell said. “The president has an overall strategy. This is just one tiny piece of it.” The only Republican senators unequivocally opposed to the deal are Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.
The president lashed out on Twitter at critics of his decision. “I know real estate,” he said. “It’s what I do. Seward was an idiot. Served under a president who got impeached. No wonder he paid $7.2 million for an icebox. I sold it back for $10 million! $2.8 million profit!” In addition to the aforementioned payment of $10 million, Russia is also transferring several commercial lots in downtown Moscow to an American company, rumored to be a Trump subsidiary. “Fake news,” the president shot back. “The company is wholly owned and operated by my son, Donald Jr. No ownership by me.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin hinted that there might be further such transactions to come. “We are looking into the possible sale of California, Oregon and Washington to Russia as well.” Though stressing that these talks are in the very preliminary stages, Mnuchin went on to point out the advantages of Russia taking over the defense of America’s western border. “The savings in military costs would be astronomical,” he said. “We could give all that land away and still come out ahead.”
FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen. In the words of John Steinbeck, “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.”
SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Prayer of the Day: Bountiful God, you gather your people into your realm, and you promise us food from your tree of life. Nourish us with your word, that empowered by your Spirit we may love one another and the world you have made, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.” Psalm 67:4.
“On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22:2.
The relationship between Gods people and the “nations” is-well, a little bit complicated. In the Hebrew Scriptures the nations are often seen as enemies of Israel. “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.’” Psalm 2:1-2. These verses reflect the geopolitical reality of 9th and 8th Century Palestine where relatively small kingdoms like Israel and Judah led a precarious existence among other petty kingdoms vying for control of the fertile crescent in the shadow of the great Hittite, Babylonian, Egyptian and Assyrian empires. The nations and their ambitions posed an ever-present existential threat to Israel.
Particularly insightful is Psalm 82 in which “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” Psalm 82:1. The “gods” referenced here are the gods of the various nations. See Rogerson, J.W. and McKay, J.W., Psalms 51-100, The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible (c. 1977 by Cambridge University Press) p. 164. The religion built around these gods functioned as a divine justification for the hierarchical regime that stratified human society from the king down to the slave. In contrast to these gods who “judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked” (Psalm 82:2), the God of Israel gives “justice to the weak and the fatherless” and maintains “the right of the afflicted and destitute.” Israel’s God “rescue[s] the weak and the needy; deliver[ing] them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4. Indeed, this unique God to a band of escaped slaves turns the hierarchical regime of these other so-called “gods” on its head. So, too, in the New Testament the “nations” personified by Herod and Pontius Pilate were instrumental in the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus. Acts 4:27-28. In the end, the nations will be judged for their neglect and abuse of the poor, the hungry, the naked and oppressed. See Matthew 25:31-46.
This is not the entire story, however. Abram was called and blessed in order to “be a blessing” and so that by his and Sarai’s descendants “all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” Genesis 12:1-3. Psalm 87 speaks of Zion as the mother of peoples from many nations, some of which were mortal enemies of Israel. The Lord declares to the prophet Isaiah, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6. John of Patmos visualizes the people of God’s new creation as coming from “all tribes and peoples and tongues.” Revelation 7:9. “The glory and honor of the nations” are to be incorporated into the new Jerusalem and by that holy city’s light the “nations shall walk.” Revelation 21:22-27. The nations as nations are objects of God’s redemptive goal for all creation. Like individual persons, they stand in need of God’s healing touch.
There is plenty of healing that needs to be done if the nations are to dwell together justly and peacefully in God’s new creation. I can’t think of any nation, past or present, that does not have injustice, violence and blood in its history. Every nation, including my own, has a tendency to demand loyalty that belongs to God alone, impose its own nationalistic agenda on the rest of the world and neglect the most vulnerable people under its jurisdiction. The indictment made against the Near Eastern deities in Psalm 87 could as well be made against the nations of the modern world. So, how does God go about “healing” the nations?
A nation is healed the same way individual persons are healed: through repentance and forgiveness. The delightful Book of the Prophet Jonah suggests that such a thing is indeed possible for the most wayward of nations. But it is hardly realistic to expect it occur with the speed and thoroughness that repentance overtook the empire of Assyria in response to the prophet’s message. There are some suggestive events in our own time that I believe give us clues about what national repentance might look like. One example is The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) assembled in South Africa after the end of apartheid. The TRC was a court-like body before which witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences. Some of these witnesses were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence under the former regime could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. A register of reconciliation was also established so that ordinary South Africans who wished to express regret for past failures could also express their remorse. The TRC hearings were crucial to South Africa’s transition to full and free democracy.
So how might repentance and healing take shape in our own nation? Clearly, there is much for which we need to repent. But if there is one defining sin of the United States it is the pervasive and systemic racism built into our nation’s founding document and the social and and economic arrangements under which was built an empire on the lands of dispossessed peoples and on the backs of enslaved Africans. If there is one sin that continues to breed violence, poverty and injustice it is the ideology of white supremacy that manifests itself not only in the overt activities of the Ku Klux Klan, skinheads and white nationalist organizations, but in the more subtle and therefore more lethal practices of discrimination in government, education and the workplace.
Proposals have been made for reparations in some form to descendants of slaves, most notably, Representative John James Conyers, Jr.s “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act” (H.R. 40). This legislation would “establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.” Few political leaders have been willing to promote even the notion of such action. It should be pointed out, however, that restitution to persons wronged by the American government under color of law is not a new idea. At the end of the Civil War, General William Sherman issued a series of orders granting each freed slave family forty acres of tillable land in the sea islands and around Charleston, South Carolina. This land was to be for the exclusive use of black people who had been enslaved. Around 40,000 freed slaves were settled on 400,000 acres in Georgia and South Carolina. (However, President Andrew Johnson reversed the order after President Lincoln was assassinated, and the land was returned to its previous owners.) Under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 the U.S. government apologized to Japanese Americans for their internment during World War II and provided reparations of $20,000 to each survivor in compensation for loss of property and liberty during that period. Additionally, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act transferred land, federal money, and a portion of oil revenues to native Alaskans. The moral imperative is clear. The legal precedent is there. What we lack is the will.
Admittedly, reparations to African Americans in the United States posses many difficult and perplexing issues: What form should reparations take? Cash payments made through restitution courts? A vigorous affirmative action initiative? Programs aimed at developing predominantly black communities and schools? Who administers the process of reparations? How will reparations in any form help to dismantle the hateful ideology of white supremacy and its ongoing contribution to discriminatory conduct? Should there be a “truth commission” component of reparations? Such perplexities, though daunting, should not deter us. Imperfect and flawed justice is still better than allowing injustice to continue. Nothing worth doing is easy and we have to start somewhere. Representative Conyer’s bill seems as good a place as any.
This is hardly a “hot” partisan political issue. Neither of the two major parties has shown any strong desire to make racial justice a centerpiece of its platform. But for disciples of Jesus, reconciliation isn’t a peripheral issue and it cannot be set aside in the interest of an election. Because “healing of the nations” is the end game for God’s new creation, followers of Jesus cannot be neutral when it comes to addressing this chief sin afflicting the nation in which we reside. The only way is forward and into the light.
Here is a poem by Elizabeth Alexander urging us to march forward into the light.
Praise Song for the Day
Source: Praise Song for the Day, (c. 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander, pub. by Graywolf Press). Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem in 1962. She grew up on Washington, D.C., however, where her father, Clifford Alexander, served as United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman. She earned her Ph.D. at University of Pennsylvania. Alexander is chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a professor of poetry at Yale University. She composed and read the above at President Barak Obama’s inauguration in 2009. You can find out more about Elizabeth Alexander and read more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.
 In a paper opposing reparations by the U.S. government, the National Legal and Policy Center cites a Harper’s Magazine estimation of total of reparations due as of 1993 at approximately “$97 trillion, based on 222,505,049 hours of forced labor between 1619 and 1865, compounded at 6% interest through 1993”.This figure does not take into account the corrosive effects on black families and their opportunities resulting from years of overt segregation or the continuing effects of ongoing systemic discrimination.
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Prayer of the Day: O Lord God, you teach us that without love, our actions gain nothing. Pour into our hearts your most excellent gift of love, that, made alive by your Spirit, we may know goodness and peace, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13:34.
This is not a “new” commandment in the absolute sense. The commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself comes directly out of the Hebrew Scriptures and lies at the heart of Torah. It is new only in the sense that we view it now through the lens of Jesus’ death and resurrection which reveals the depth of God’s love for us and which we, for our part, are called to practice toward our neighbors and one another. In Jesus, God takes love to extremes.
The term “extremism” has unsavory nuances. If someone calls you an extremist, it is probably not intended as a complement. The word conjures up images of suicide bombers, white nationalists and religious fanatics of all flavors pushing their perverse agendas by all means necessary-including violence. To be sure, these are all examples of extremism. But are they the only kinds? What about people like Saint Vincent de Paul who took generosity to extremes? What about people like Saint Francis of Assisi who took compassion to extremes? Isn’t discipleship about taking love to extremes? Isn’t Jesus’ determination to exercise love and healing rather than self defense against those who came to take his life about the most extreme expression of love imaginable?
Like everyone else, those of us in the church are suspicions of people who “take things to extremes.” We prefer moderation. If there must be change, let’s make it incrementally. Let’s be thoughtful and deliberate. By all means, let’s not take things to extremes! According to our lesson from the Book of Acts, the church leaders in Jerusalem felt that perhaps Saint Peter’s baptism of a gentile family was taking things a bit too far. They would become increasingly alarmed by Saint Paul’s mission to the gentiles. Many in the New Testament church seemed to feel that Paul was taking things to extremes. The Book of Acts gives us the picture of a church struggling to keep up with the Spirit of God pulling it incessantly to new extremes.
“Moderation” and “tolerance” are the supposed counterbalancing virtues to the vice of extremism. Admittedly, prudence might dictate practicing moderation in some areas of life, such as alcohol consumption. Wisdom and charity require my tolerance of the neighbor’s screaming children. But neither of these tepid virtues serve us well as guiding principles. We fault Nazi extremism for crimes against humanity, yet could we not as much fault millions of moderates of that time who tolerated conditions under the Third Reich and chose not to take love to the extreme of standing with the victims of state violence? Moderation does not go to the extreme of supporting racism, sexual abuse of women, separation of families, abuse of power and environmental degradation. But it will tolerate all of these things as long as the stock market goes up and unemployment goes down. Moderation would never deny a child food or access to medicine; but it will tolerate childhood poverty and disease if the price of addressing it takes a bite out of the wallet. Turns out that moderation and tolerance are often just polite words for cowardice and self-preservation.
Extremism is not really the problem. It’s all a matter of the extremities. Extremists for hateful ideologies have demonstrated that they are prepared to injure, kill and even die for their perverse beliefs. They are prepared to close borders, gate their communities and segregate their schools to protect the purity of their nation and culture. In response to all of this, the last thing we need are moderates willing to tolerate it. What is needed are extremists unwilling to tolerate evil, extremists equally committed to opening borders, breaking down walls and pledging their allegiance, not to any flag or nation, but to that kingdom composed of “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9. If extremists of hate are prepared to embrace a bomb in furtherance of their perverse aims, extremists of love must be prepared to embrace the bomber accepting all that may follow. Disciples of Jesus are those who are prepared to die taking love to extremes.
Here is a poem by Denise Levertov dismissing the banal moderation that makes a false virtue of tolerance.
Goodbye to Tolerance
Denise Levertov (1923–1997) never received a formal education. Nevertheless, she created a highly regarded body of poetry that earned her recognition as one of America’s most respected poets. Her father, Paul Philip Levertov, was a Russian Jew who converted to Christianity and subsequently moved to England where he became an Anglican minister. Levertov grew up in a household surrounded by books and people talking about them in many languages. During World War II, Levertov pursued nurse’s training and spent three years as a civilian nurse at several hospitals in London. Levertov came to the United States in 1948, after marrying American writer Mitchell Goodman. During the 1960s Levertov became a staunch critic of the Vietnam war, a topic addressed in many of her poems of that era. Levertov died of lymphoma at the age of seventy-four. You can read more about Denise Levertov and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.
(News that’s fake, but credible)
This morning President Donald Trump allegedly shot and wounded a man identified as James P. Maga in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue in New York City. “I did it to prove a point,” said the President. “I told you I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and my supporters wouldn’t care. You thought I was joking. I don’t joke.” Mr. Trump’s supporters in congress are standing by him. “As usual,” said House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, “the Democrat party and the liberal media are taking this out of context and sensationalizing it for political purposes. The America people aren’t going to be fooled by this tsunami of fake news.” In fact, the latest polling from Reuters, ABC, Fox and CNBC all seem to confirm that the president’s base of support is holding firm notwithstanding the alleged shooting.
Attorney General William P. Barr has declined to prosecute Mr. Trump for the alleged shooting. “First off, you don’t indict a sitting president,” he said. “Second, I have reviewed the statements of the 789 eye witnesses, the eighteen surveillance films that appear to show Mr. Trump firing a pistol, the DNA samples linking Mr. Trump to the alleged weapon and results of ballistic tests linking the gun to the bullet striking the victim. My determination is that the evidence is insufficient to charge the president with a crime even if that were legally possible. I am currently investigating the individuals who placed the 911 calls that triggered the bogus investigation into this unfounded accusation. Prosecution may very well follow.” Meanwhile, the President’s legal team has been defending the president against severe public criticism for the alleged shooting. “Shooting someone in New York City is not a crime,” said presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani. “I should know. When I was Mayer of New York, the cops shot lots of people for lots of reasons and for no reason at all. They always got away with it. And that was just cops. This is the president, for godsakes!”
At a press conference this afternoon Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president’s action. “The president has made it clear that the American people don’t care about peripheral issues like whether or not the president colluded with Russia, obstructed justice, appointed sexual predators to the Supreme Court or shot somebody on the street.” She went on to say that these matters “are fixations of the liberal media.” Sanders insisted that as long as Americans see the stock market going up and unemployment going down, they will continue to support Donald Trump. “That’s all the news they care about,” she said.
The victim, James P. Maga, is being treated for non-life threatening injuries at an undisclosed hospital. He has issued a statement, however, to make clear that he holds no ill will toward President Trump. “I voted for him and I support him 100%,” he said. “I am proud that I could take a bullet for Donald Trump. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” Maga’s family also expressed their appreciation for the president. “He’s been doing great work for America,” said Albert Maga, the victim’s father. “Sure, he’s got some rough edges and does some crazy things. But that’s what we love about him. He’s not afraid to shake things up.”
FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen. In the words of John Steinbeck, “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.”
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Prayer of the Day: O God of peace, you brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep. By the blood of your eternal covenant, make us complete in everything good that we may do your will, and work among us all that is well-pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
“…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:17.
I used to do that for my own children whenever they suffered the pain and indignity of a skinned knee or bump on the head. Additionally, I would kiss the site of the wound, blow on it, give it a gentle rub and tell them everything was fine. It always worked. I think that was largely because, at the tender ages of three and four, they believed me when I told them I would take care of them, keep them safe and protect them from everything scary-including monsters lurking under the bed. I encouraged my children’s simplistic faith in my ability to protect them because I wanted them to feel safe, loved and secure in their home.
I often wondered, however, whether I was doing the right thing. Clearly, I was over promising. There are plenty of terrible things form which no parent can protect one’s children. Much goes wrong in the life of a daughter or son that mom and dad can’t fix. That became painfully evident to me the night my infant grandson Parker died a day after he came into the world. There was nothing I could say or do to take that pain away from my son, pain that I felt deeply myself. All I could do was hold him as we wept. In the final analysis, that’s all we really have to give our children.
I thought again about that dreadful night as I was reading our gospel lesson for this Sunday in which Jesus promises that “no one shall snatch [my sheep] out of my hand.” John 10:28. In the worst of times, we remain in the Triune embrace of our God. Or, as St. Paul puts it, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39. Tragedy, suffering, doubts, traumatic wounds and all kinds of evil are capable of causing us to doubt and perhaps lose altogether our trust in God and God’s goodness. But our salvation does not rest on the strength of our faith, but on the strength of God’s faithfulness. It is only because of God’s tenacious faithfulness that it is even possible for us to have faith.
But is a hug all that God has to give us in times of despair? I would rather say that a hug is the best God has to give us. The whole point of the Incarnation was to make it possible for God to hug us with human arms, love us with a human heart and dry the very tears from our eyes. The Book of Revelation, so frequently misused to support the lurid and bloody fundamentalist fantasies of global carnage, is actually summed up in just this: the horrors that have been inflicted upon us and the ones we have inflicted upon others will finally find healing in God’s eternal embrace. That’s not a quick fix, but it’s a real one.
Here is a poem/hymn by George Matheson giving profound expression to God’s stubborn and determined love that will not give up on us. (Sadly, it did not make the cut for the most recent hymnal of my church.)
O Love That Will Not Let Me Go
O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
Source: The lyrics of this hymn are in the public domain. George Matheson (1842-1906) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. His sight was impaired from birth and, by the time he entered his teenage years, he was nearly blind. In spite of this limitation he enrolled as a ministerial student at Glasgow University where he excelled in his studies. Matheson served several parishes in Glasgow and the surrounding area. In 1886 he became pastor of the large and prestigious St. Bernard’s Parish Church in Edinburgh. Matheson authored several books on theology and published one volume of poetry. It should be noted that Matheson received a great deal of assistance from his sister who learned Greek, Latin and Hebrew to help him through his theological studies and also helped with his pastoral responsibilities. You can read more about George Matheson in his biography, The Life of George Matheson, (c. 1957 by Hodder & Stoughton) available on line at this link.
THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
Prayer of the Day: Eternal and all-merciful God, with all the angels and all the saints we laud your majesty and might. By the resurrection of your Son, show yourself to us and inspire us to follow Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
This weekend, on the final day of Passover, a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in California killing one and injuring three others. Last weekend, on Easter Sunday, over 300 people were killed and around 500 others were injured in eight coordinated attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. Prior to that, the world was shocked by an attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand killing 49 people and wounding 20. There is something particularly revolting about attacks on houses of worship where people gather to express their deepest faith convictions, support one another in prayer and perform works of compassion and service. What kind of perverse and twisted soul would desire to kill people on account of the way they pray, worship and believe?
The Apostle Paul, for one. We read in our lesson from the Book of Acts that Paul (then known as Saul) was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Not content with cheering on the lynching of Stephen and driving the disciples in Jerusalem out of town or underground, Paul obtains authorization to purge the Jewish communities of Damascus by imprisoning all he found who adhered to the good news about Jesus. We know very few specifics about Paul’s upbringing. The Book of Acts tells us that Paul was born in Tarsus, but brought up in Jerusalem and educated in a “strict” manner. Acts 22:3. Paul himself tells us in his letter to the Philippians that he was, in his “zeal,’ a persecutor of the church. Philippians 3:5-6. As a Jew brought up under the pharisaic traditions of Jerusalem, Paul no doubt witnessed what he saw to be the corrosive effects of foreign teachings and traditions on his faith community of Tarsus. One can readily understand why he would perceive the Jesus movement, taking place as it did initially on the front porch of the Holy Temple, the the very heart of Judaism, as a direct attack on the faith of his ancestors.
Paul’s background, what little we know of it, mirrors that of Zaharan Hashim, the mastermind behind the Easter church bombings in Sir Lanka. According to an article in this morning’s New York Times, Zaharan was educated in the strictest expression of his faith, namely, Wahbhabism. This variant of Islam, forged in Saudi Arabia, the heart of the Muslim world, is fiercely intolerant of rival faiths, including other forms of Islam. Such rigorous and isolationist tendencies often prove attractive to religious minorities struggling to maintain their identity in predominantly foreign cultures. As a member of a minority Muslim community in the predominantly Buddhist nation of Sir Lanka, it is understandable that Zaharan saw in Wahbhabism a way to preserve the integrity of his faith and culture. Like Paul, he is fighting a life and death battle against hostile cultural forces to ensure the survival of his faith. Like Paul, he believes that requires taking human life.
My purpose in drawing these parallels between Paul and Zaharan is not to justify or minimize the violence and intolerance practiced by either of them. There is no excuse for persecuting, to say nothing of killing, people on the basis of their faith. Yet I believe this biographical episode in Paul’s life has been preserved for us as a salutary cautionary tale. Though persecution of persons adhering to other faiths runs counter to the fundamental teachings of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, all three faiths have been guilty of this sin. Historically and currently as well, our sacred scriptures have been used to justify acts and words of hatred directed at one another and toward those of other faiths. As St. Paul learned on the road to Damascus, when religion gets sick, when it becomes incapable of tolerating contrary points of view and demonizes everyone holding such views, it winds up destroying within itself the very image of the God it claims to worship.
More than all of this, however, the story of Paul’s conversion is a reminder that all people are capable of redemption. All people bear within them the image of their Maker, however distorted that image may have become. That is so even when they have names like Hassin Zaharan. All people are objects of God’s love and so must be subjects of our compassion. We are the people who believe in redemption, that all are capable of being changed or, rather, God is capable of changing anyone. That is why love of enemies is at the heart of discipleship. “…while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” says Paul. Romans 5:10. God’s perfection is demonstrated in God’s lavish kindness poured out on the wicked and undeserving. That, too, is the way of discipleship. Matthew 5:43-48.
The message is worth repeating in this present culture of polarization. The problem is not that we disagree. The problem is that we are no longer even speaking to one another. We are instead shouting slogans at one another from behind our entrenched positions. We live in our proverbial bubbles, associating with people who share our views, listening to news sources that tell us what we already believe and growing more certain by the moment of our corner on all truth. Such isolation kills our curiosity, dulls our ability to think critically and makes us increasingly unable to tolerate difference. The extremes of religiously and ideologically inspired violence reflect the growing consensus that there are “some people you just can’t talk to.” Mass killers are people like us who have run out of words and decided they’re through talking.
The election of 2016 laid bare the fault lines that have long divided our nation. Those fault lines run right through the middle of our churches. This fact affords us the opportunity to be centers of healing and reconciliation. Sometimes, that has in fact occurred. But frequently, the issues of race, sexuality and gender identity have proved too explosive for congregations to handle. Too often, we have lost the capacity to trust one another. Too often, we have been unable to recognize in one another anything more than what we hate and fear. Too often, we have simply given up on each other. When that happens, the false gospels of religious intolerance and the ideologies of culture, blood and soil find welcome audiences. That is why it is more important than ever for all who identify as disciples of Jesus to begin putting themselves into the skin of those we think of as enemies, trying to see the world through their eyes, acknowledging that what we hate and fear in our enemies often reflects the darkest elements of our own fears and prejudices. More than ever before, we must determine that we are not going to give up on one another. We are not going to give up on the world Jesus died to save. We are not going to give up on reconciliation.
I am not suggesting that we should “heal our wounds lightly” by agreeing to ignore pressing issues and “just get along.” More than at any other point in my lifetime, I believe it is critical that we speak the truth about white privilege, American nationalism and its symbiotic relationship with the American Church and the persistence of patriarchy in church and society. Having conversations about these matters will be painful for all of us. But the church is the community of the one who took up the cross and whose resurrected Body is presented to us with the wounds he bore for the world he loved. We are the community of deserters that left its Lord to die alone, but who were called together again by that same Lord and given the Great Commission. We are the community of the man who denied his Lord and was nonetheless entrusted with feeding that Lord’s sheep. We are the church which hears the words of God’s limitless compassion for Jew and Gentile, slave and free, female and male, gay and straight, legal and illegal, Christian, Jew Muslim-all through the lips of a man once driven to murder by fanatical religious and cultural hatred. Yes, loving one’s enemy and seeking reconciliation is hard work. And it needs to be said that for those most deeply wronged by our society’s structural injustice, to which many of us more privileged folk remain blind, it’s a big ask. But the atrocities we have seen in New Zealand, Sir Lanka and California over these last few weeks remind us that the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.
Here is a poem by Joy Harjo painting for us an image of what reconciliation might look like and what it might demand of us.
Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings
I am the holy being of my mother’s prayer and my father’s song
—Norman Patrick Brown, Dineh Poet and Speaker
1. SET CONFLICT RESOLUTION GROUND RULES:
Recognize whose lands these are on which we stand.
Ask the deer, turtle, and the crane.
Make sure the spirits of these lands are respected and treated with goodwill.
The land is a being who remembers everything.
You will have to answer to your children, and their children, and theirs—
The red shimmer of remembering will compel you up the night to walk the perimeter of truth for understanding.
As I brushed my hair over the hotel sink to get ready I heard:
By listening we will understand who we are in this holy realm of words.
Do not parade, pleased with yourself.
You must speak in the language of justice.
2. USE EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS THAT DISPLAY AND ENHANCE MUTUAL TRUST AND RESPECT:
If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters “as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run.”
The lands and waters they gave us did not belong to them to give. Under false pretenses we signed. After drugging by drink, we signed. With a mass of gunpower pointed at us, we signed. With a flotilla of war ships at our shores, we signed. We are still signing. We have found no peace in this act of signing.
A casino was raised up over the gravesite of our ancestors. Our own distant cousins pulled up the bones of grandparents, parents, and grandchildren from their last sleeping place. They had forgotten how to be human beings. Restless winds emerged from the earth when the graves were open and the winds went looking for justice.
If you raise this white flag of peace, we will honor it.
At Sand Creek several hundred women, children, and men were slaughtered in an unspeakable massacre, after a white flag was raised. The American soldiers trampled the white flag in the blood of the peacemakers.
There is a suicide epidemic among native children. It is triple the rate of the rest of America. “It feels like wartime,” said a child welfare worker in South Dakota.
If you send your children to our schools we will train them to get along in this changing world. We will educate them.
We had no choice. They took our children. Some ran away and froze to death. If they were found they were dragged back to the school and punished. They cut their hair, took away their language, until they became as strangers to themselves even as they became strangers to us.
If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters in exchange “as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run.”
Put your hand on this bible, this blade, this pen, this oil derrick, this gun and you will gain trust and respect with us. Now we can speak together as one.
We say, put down your papers, your tools of coercion, your false promises, your posture of superiority and sit with us before the fire. We will share food, songs, and stories. We will gather beneath starlight and dance, and rise together at sunrise.
The sun rose over the Potomac this morning, over the city surrounding the white house.
It blazed scarlet, a fire opening truth.
White House, or Chogo Hvtke, means the house of the peacekeeper, the keepers of justice.
We have crossed this river to speak to the white leader for peace many times
Since these settlers first arrived in our territory and made this their place of governance.
These streets are our old trails, curved to fit around trees.
3. GIVE CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK:
We speak together with this trade language of English. This trade language enables us to speak across many language boundaries. These languages have given us the poets:
Ortiz, Silko, Momaday, Alexie, Diaz, Bird, Woody, Kane, Bitsui, Long Soldier, White, Erdrich, Tapahonso, Howe, Louis, Brings Plenty, okpik, Hill, Wood, Maracle, Cisneros, Trask, Hogan, Dunn, Welch, Gould…
The 1957 Chevy is unbeatable in style. My broken-down one-eyed Ford will have to do. It holds everyone: Grandma and grandpa, aunties and uncles, the children and the babies, and all my boyfriends. That’s what she said, anyway, as she drove off for the Forty-Nine with all of us in that shimmying wreck.
This would be no place to be without blues, jazz—Thank you/mvto to the Africans, the Europeans sitting in, especially Adolphe Sax with his saxophones… Don’t forget that at the center is the Mvskoke ceremonial circles. We know how to swing. We keep the heartbeat of the earth in our stomp dance feet.
You might try dancing theory with a bustle, or a jingle dress, or with turtles strapped around your legs. You might try wearing colonization like a heavy gold chain around a pimp’s neck.
4. REDUCE DEFENSIVENESS AND BREAK THE DEFENSIVENESS CHAIN:
I could hear the light beings as they entered every cell. Every cell is a house of the god of light, they said. I could hear the spirits who love us stomp dancing. They were dancing as if they were here, and then another level of here, and then another, until the whole earth and sky was dancing.
We are here dancing, they said. There was no there.
There was no “I” or “you.”
There was us; there was “we.”
There we were as if we were the music.
You cannot legislate music to lockstep nor can you legislate the spirit of the music to stop at political boundaries—
—Or poetry, or art, or anything that is of value or matters in this world, and the next worlds.
This is about getting to know each other.
We will wind up back at the blues standing on the edge of the flatted fifth about to jump into a fierce understanding together.
5. ELIMINATE NEGATIVE ATTITUDES DURING CONFLICT:
A panther poised in the cypress tree about to jump is a panther poised in a cypress tree about to jump.
The panther is a poem of fire green eyes and a heart charged by four winds of four directions.
The panther hears everything in the dark: the unspoken tears of a few hundred human years, storms that will break what has broken his world, a bluebird swaying on a branch a few miles away.
He hears the death song of his approaching prey:
I will always love you, sunrise.
I belong to the black cat with fire green eyes.
There, in the cypress tree near the morning star.
6. AND, USE WHAT YOU LEARN TO RESOLVE YOUR OWN CONFLICTS AND TO MEDIATE OTHERS’ CONFLICTS:
When we made it back home, back over those curved roads
that wind through the city of peace, we stopped at the
doorway of dusk as it opened to our homelands.
We gave thanks for the story, for all parts of the story
because it was by the light of those challenges we knew
We asked for forgiveness.
We laid down our burdens next to each other.
The following poem by Joy Harjo paints a picture for how reconciliation might begin and what it demands of us.