See and Speak

Sunday evening, my friend and colleague Rabbi Lisa Bellows, posted this on Facebook: I just concluded a weekend of nearly non-stop synagogue functions, most of them having to do with the holiday of Purim~celebrating the courage to stand up for who we are and what we are. I got home a few minutes ago, listened to news and heard about a new wave of bomb-threats. I learned that in NYC Anti-Semitic hate crimes are up 189% since the start of the year. I am exhausted today but tomorrow will begin again with determination to stop the hate. #neveragainmeansneveragain #refugeeswelcome #revolutionarylove Congregation Beth Am – Buffalo Grove, IL

I met Lisa recently through our interfaith immigration efforts, and I am inspired by her courage and commitment. Not long ago, a friend of mine went to the United States National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He spent most of his time at the exhibit titled Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration & Complicity in the Holocaust.  Image after haunting image showed ordinary people who watched it all happen without saying or doing anything, complicit by their silence and passivity.  He reflected:

Oh, I know, you and I are good people. We’re not bigots. We would never condone anti-Semitic behavior or attitudes. But as the exhibit reminded me, our passivity in the face of evil can be much more powerful than we imagine. Whether it is from indifference or exhaustion or inattention or distraction, our silence is much, much louder than we may realize.

The existence of hate and hurt in any form is deeply disturbing.  Researcher Brian Leven of the nonpartisan Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reports the following statistics: In 2016 there were 1,037 incidents in nine metropolitan, a 23.3 percent increase over last year.  This is a marked reversal from previous trends. In New York City, from January through March of this year, there have been 55 anti-Semitic crimes.  This is an increase of 189 percent over the same period in 2016.  Federal authorities are investigating a New York Jewish Center threat made over the weekend, the shooting of a Sikh man in early March and the killing of an Indian aviation engineer in Kansas City.

I heard about the Sikh shooting while another colleague, Parminder Singh Mann, was sharing messages of hospitality from the profound wisdom of his Sikh tradition.  And I know that the impetus for my Muslim friend, Shaheen Khan, to be one of the founders of the Children of Abraham Coalition came after a Florida pastor planned to burn 2,998 Qur’ans.  While not every initial report is confirmed as a hate crime, the overall rise of hurtful rhetoric and the sowing of mistrust, fear and violence is real. One cannot miss that our world is broken and hurting.

It is easy to be passive. I know it is for me. Life is full and busy, and I can fall into a place of helplessness. What can I do, after all?  Sometimes, it isn’t always clear. But God calls us to love each and every person as a child of God: to see and to love Christ within them, regardless of their skin color or gender or ethnicity or religion.  That is an incredible claim, and one that is easy to forget. We won’t be able to do it without God transforming our hearts, without desiring to be transformed and asking God to be at work in spite of our blindness, prejudice and helplessness.  Each day, we can choose to ask for the courage to lean into the kingdom of God with our actions and our words, with our willingness to see and respond.  Or we can be silent, complicit in our silence.

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth