Persistance, Conviction, Bravery, and Compassion

You know, looking back at history can contextualize our current events, and it can also restore hope.We can look at those who have gone before, those who had endured the struggle, and persevered. I look, personally, to heroes like Judy Shepherd. The mother of Matthew Shepherd who has never given up.

  • The Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd Hate Crimes Act, introduced on April 3, 2001, by Rep. John Conyers and was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime.
  • The bill died when it failed to advance in the committee.
  • It was reintroduced by Rep. Conyers in the 108th and 109th congresses (on April 22, 2004, and May 26, 2005, respectively). It failed to advance out of committee.
  • In the Senate, similar legislation was introduced by Sen. Gordon H. Smith (R–OR) as an amendment to the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 (S. 2400) on June 14, 2004. Though the amendment passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 65–33, it was later removed by conference committee.
  • The bill was introduced for the fourth time into the House on March 30, 2007, again by Conyers.
  • The bill passed the subcommittee by voice vote and the full House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 20–14. The bill then proceeded to the full House, where it was passed on May 3, 2007, with a vote of 237–180 with Representative Barney Frank, one of two openly gay members of the House at the time, presiding.
  • The bill then proceeded to the U.S. Senate, where it was introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator Gordon Smith on April 12, 2007, and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • The bill died when it failed to advance out of committee.
  • On July 11, 2007, Kennedy attempted to introduce the bill again as an amendment to the Senate Defense Reauthorization bill (H.R. 1585). The Senate hate crime amendment had 44 cosponsors, including four Republicans. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ultimately dropped the amendment because of opposition from antiwar Democrats, conservative groups, and Bush.
  • For the 5th time, Conyers introduced the bill into the House on April 2, 2009.
  • The bill was immediately referred to the full Judiciary Committee, where it passed by a vote of 15–12 on April 23, 2009.
  • The bill passed the House on April 29, 2009, by a vote of 249–175, with 231 Democrats and 18 Republicans supporting. And on October 8, 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was rolled into the conference report on Defense Authorization for fiscal year 2010. The vote was 281–146, with support from 237 Democrats and 44 Republicans.
  • Back in the Senate, the bill had again introduced by Kennedy on April 28, 2009. The Senate version of the bill had 45 cosponsors as of July 8, 2009. The Matthew Shepard Act was adopted as an amendment to S. 1390 by a 63–28 cloture vote on July 15, 2009.

READY FOR THIS:

  • At the request of Senator Jeff Sessions (an opponent of the Matthew Shepard Act), an amendment was added to the Senate version of the hate crimes legislation that would have allowed prosecutors to seek the death penalty for hate crime murders, though the amendment was later removed in conference with the House.
  • The bill passed the Senate when the Defense bill passed on July 23, 2009. As originally passed, the House version of the defense bill did not include the hate crimes legislation, requiring the difference to be worked out in a Conference committee. On October 7, 2009, the Conference committee published the final version of the bill, which included the hate crimes amendment; the conference report was then passed by the House on October 8, 2009. On October 22, 2009, following a 64–35 cloture vote, the conference report was passed by the Senate by a vote of 68–29.
  • The bill was signed into law on the afternoon of October 28, 2009, by President Barack Obama.

Persistence. Judy Shepherd, John Conyers, Ted Kennedy, Gordon Smith. Persistence.~~~And how about, bravery and conviction too? We never know how strong we are to our convictions until those convictions are tested, right? Like Judy Shepherd an opponent to the death penalty, who stuck by that conviction, and demanded life sentences for her son’s murderers.And conscience objectors, like Desmond Doss, now immortalized in (2016) Hacksaw Ridge. And Guy LaPointe too…

~~~On this day, July 2, 1948, Joseph Guy LaPointe Jr. was born in Dayton, Ohio. LaPointe (July 2, 1948 – June 2, 1969) was a medic in the United States Army. Patrolling Hill 376 in Quảng Tín Province, his unit came under heavy fire from entrenched enemy forces and took several casualties. LaPointe, a conscientious objector, ran through heavy fire to reach two wounded men. He treated the soldiers and shielded them with his body, even after being twice wounded, until an enemy grenade killed all three men. LaPointe was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Vietnam War.~~~And then, there are the feel-good stories of compassion: On this day, July 2, 2016, Bono invited Adam Bevell onto the stage to jam with U2 during their U2 360 tour concert in Nashville, Tennessee. Adam Bevell’s brother-in-law had sketched out the small sign for him right there in the stadium and Adam held it over his head for the entire concert “BLIND GUITAR PLAYER. Bring me up.” at the end of the concert Adam’s wish was granted. The crowd hoisted him up on stage at the band’s request and Bono took his hand to lead him over to a guitar.” The guitar was strapped onto him and Adam chose to play his and his wife’s wedding song, “All I Want Is You,” while Bono sang along. Bono’s compassion for Adam brought out by Adam’s brother-n-law’s compassion for Adam as well.

~~~Persistence, bravery, conviction, and compassion…On this day, July 2, 2016, a man died who exemplified all those attributes and more.On July 2, 2016, Elie Wiesel אליעזר ויזל‎ died in New York, New York. Wiesel was a writer, professor, and political activist. He was the author of 57 books, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. Wiesel was involved with Jewish causes, and helped establish the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. In his political activities, he also campaigned for victims of oppression in places like South Africa, Nicaragua, and Sudan. He was outspoken against the Darfur Genocide and silence surrounding the silence surrounding the Armenian and Darfur genocides.

Weisel once said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Yes, we must take sides. Sides for the Medicare recipients who lost dental and vision today because KY Gov Matt Bevin didn’t get his way….

We must take sides, when innocent children are separated from their parents, and caged in the name of law enforcement.We must take sides when our Muslim sisters and brothers are banned from entry to the United States because of their nation-of-origin.

Yes, yes, we must take sides again White Supremacists who stage rallies in Portland and Charlottesville, and tie men to the back of trucks and drag them through Jasper, Texas.

We must take sides when a 21-year-old college student is beaten and left to die, simply because he loved differently from Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.

Yes, The L.A. Times called Elie Wiesel “the most important Jew in America” and, in 1986, the Norwegian Nobel Committee called Wiesel a “messenger to mankind” when it awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize.Guy Lapointe was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

~~~The rest of us? Who knows whether we’ll ever get any awards, accolades, or recognition. Heck, we might actually get arrested instead of getting awards. But what would we lose if we didn’t try? We might lose a bit of ourselves…Yes, looking back at history can contextualize our current events, and it can also restore hope. And perhaps reinvigorate our persistence, bravery, conviction, and compassion.

Leon Mugesera and Donald Trump

On this day, July 1, 1962, the Belgian-administered region of German East Africa was granted independence. From the Belgian support of the racist “Hamitic” origin theory of Tutsi superiority to the creation of two states with Hutu majorities (rather than more homogenous nation-states), sadly the seeds of the Rwandan and Burundi Genocides were already sown.

Belgians defined “Tutsi” as anyone owning more than ten cows (a sign of wealth) or with the physical feature of a longer nose, or longer neck, commonly associated with the Tutsi; the physical distinctions were explained by postulating a partial descent from Hamitic peoples of the Horn of Africa or even European Caucasians.

Thirty years later, in 1992, Leon Mugesera gave the most famous speech in Rwandan history. Mugesera was an official in President Habyarimana’s MRND Party (Movement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement). In his speech at a party conference in Gisenyi, Mugesera called on Hutus to kill Tutsis and to dump their bodies in the rivers of Rwanda…  To send them back to Ethiopia where they came from….

~~~

Shereen Marisol Meraji recently had a new episode on her podcast Code Switch and interviewed a neuroscientist, a sociolinguist, a philosophy professor, and a historian about the use of term animal and animal metaphors to describe people.

Now, there is this Godwin’s Law; it says that the longer a conversation goes on, the more likely someone will be compared to Hitler or Stalin. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. The fact is that Hitler used derisive language to describe people. Does that make Hitler unique? No. Does that make anyone who uses derisive metaphors of animals, am I calling that person Hitler? No. But the fact of the matter is that language matters. Skilled orators can inspire people, but it is much easier to use code language to galvanize a mob.

In the podcast, Meraji and historian Ibram X. Kendi discuss the history of referring to enslaved West Africans as animals and beasts….

And David Livingstone Smith, a philosophy professor, who wrote “Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, And Exterminate Others,” he continued the discussion and reminded listeners of that famous “nits make lice” by John Chivington (a Methodist minister on top of everything else!).

The podcast also mentioned how, in WWII, the Japanese were referred to as devils, when the genocide-committing Germans were not? I wonder why?

~~~

There is a history of interconnection between White Privilege and the language of dehumanization

On March 21, 1861, Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens spoke in Savannah, Georgia, and referred to the new Confederate government whose “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Another example that just saying something is a philosophical or moral truth doesn’t make it truth. But, perhaps more to the point, repetition will convince many people of a truth, even if it’s not…

Like on April 20, 1968, when British MP Enoch Powell delivered his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in which he recounted the belief that, within “15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” Incidentally, Powell’s district in Parliament is now represented by Eleanor Smith, a daughter of Barbadian immigrants who, as a young girl, was taunted after Powell’s speech.

And then, there’s John Blake’s recent piece on the “M-Word.” US Senator George Allen, cruising to a re-election victory in Virginia in the summer of 2006” as Blake writes, and the 18 words that ended his political life: “So welcome, let’s give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America, and the real world of Virginia,” Allen said to an Indian-American in the mostly European-American crowd.

Blake continues:

“Jimmy the Greek,” lost his job when he said that blacks were superior athletes because of breeding from slavery

Trent Lott resigned as Senate majority leader in 2002 after he seemed to suggest that the United States could have avoided “all these problems” if it had remained segregated.

Blake argues that overt racist speech went underground in 1968, the year that MLK, Jr. was gunned down and the year that George Wallace shouted Segregation Forever.

But now overt racist speech, dehumanizing language, and the language of violence is all back. Yes, there are pundits and politicians from both parties using violent language now, but it is clear who brought the language mainstream again. Arguing otherwise is simply the diversionary tactic of the Godwin Law Inverse.

The inverse of Godwin’s Law is a false declaration of victimization designed to immune our selves from responsibility. It goes like this, “Can you believe it? THEY’RE calling me/us/Trump Nazis! Nazis killed millions of people, I can’t believe THEY’RE insulting the memory of the Holocaust victims.”

It’s a logical conceit to protect the speaker and anything he or she might say, from criticism. The conversation then becomes about the accusation (inferred or otherwise) and not about the content of the offensive language in the first place.

~~~

Just last week, on June 24, 2018, Ed Henry of Fox News’ had a segment on TV with the onscreen banner which read “PUNDITS CALL TRUMP SUPPORTERS RACIST, NAZIS.” During the segment, Trump’s deputy campaign manager told Democratic strategist Joel Payne, who is African-American, that Payne was “out of your cotton-picking mind.” Yup, he said that. While, as I said already, the onscreen banner said, “PUNDITS CALL TRUMP SUPPORTERS RACIST, NAZIS.”

~~~

David Bossie, the Trump surrogate did apologize. I even have the feeling he didn’t realize the loaded-language which he had used. Rosanne Barr was held accountable, the Netflix Exec. But….

 

Ronald Reagan has been called the Teflon President, but I think its time to pass that baton to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Donald Trump has mainstreamed insensitive language, conspiracy theories, and replaced fact-based journalism with self-serving opinions of perceived reality.

The Donald’s Art of the Deal is the art of making destructive language fashionable while remaining beloved by his base, perhaps even beloved because of the dehumanizing discourse. After all, it wouldn’t resonate if it wasn’t already in so many of us already, right?

Blake concludes his piece by suggesting that the increase of dehumanizing language could be a new norm. Let us hope it is not, let us hope we will not become desensitized to it like violence and inappropriate language in music, movies, and TV.

~~~

In my book, This Day in Donald: The 140 Character President, I wrote, “Words matter.  Language is a neutral reality; it can be used to hurt or to mend, to shame or to love, to tear down or to raise up.” The book is a collage of tweets, speeches, and statements by the 45th President of the United States and weaves together an overview of the how the 45th President of the United States chooses to communicate, represent himself, and represent the Office of the President.  Each entry catches his choice (and indeed the current American capacity) to tear down others and his propensity to equivocate moral and personal condemnation of persons with whom he disagrees with on policy.

~~~

Yes, Leon Mugesera called for Tutsi’s to be killed and sent up river. Other Hutu extremists called Tutsis “cockroaches” that needed to be stamped out. Presumed racial superiority and hate, whether it be Hutu, Nazi, or White American must be relegated to history. Otherwise, if we embrace the language of dehumanization, we are replacing US President Abraham Lincoln with Confederate VP Alexander Stephens, replacing Bobby Kennedy with George Wallace, and replacing US Representative Tom Lantos, who survived the Holocaust, with the former White House strategist, Steve Bannon, who said to wear the label of “racist” as “a badge of honor.”

~~~

On March 15, 2016, I posted the following parody of Martin Niemoller’s famous poem on Facebook and submitted it to the Providence Journal. I received back an email from Ed Achorn, the editor of the Journal, arguing that the parody if invalid since no one has yet ‘come for the Mexicans.’

The New America?

In America, they came first for the Mexicans,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Mexican;

And then they came for the Muslims,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Muslim;

And then they came for the African-Americans,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t an African-American;

And then they came for me . . .

And there was no one left to speak for me….

~~~

We have lost the understanding that at the other end of each sound bite, text, tweet, email, and phone call, at the other end there is a person. It is not about “The” Blacks, “The” Jews, “The” Gays, “The” Muslims, “The” Liberals, “The” Democrats, “The” Republicans, or “The” Conservatives. It is about, and always should be about our fellow Americans and, indeed, our fellow humans.

There is still time to reject racist rhetoric and return to respectful discourse.

And the time is now.

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/28/624416635/what-happens-when-groups-of-people-are-described-as-animals

https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/04/20/603884872/an-anti-immigration-speech-divided-britain-50-years-ago-it-still-echoes-today

https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/29/us/racial-rhetoric/index.html

 

Hope: Looking Back at June 2018

The Supreme Court:

  • Masterpiece Cake v CCRC
  • National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra
  • Trump v. Hawaii

Trump, Canada, and North Korea:

  • The 44th G7 summit was held on 8–9 June 2018, in Quebec, Canada… Trump feuds with the other 6 members, and suggests Russia should be let back into the G8/G7.
  • In fact, the summit was dubbed the “G6+1” by the Government of France and political commentators. This resulted from the United States withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and from the Paris Agreement, American tariffs, and trade-related disputes between Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau…

Trump-Kim Summit:

  • Trump and Kim signed a joint declaration at a summit in Singapore on June 12 and pledged to work toward peace and to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. “We’re ready to write a new chapter between our nations,” and called his meeting with Kim “honest, direct and productive.”
  • Then, on June 21st, satellite images show the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center upgrading its nuclear facilities. That’s less than two weeks after Trump boasted of a diplomatic breakthrough with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program after decades of hostility.

Immigration News:

  • June 15: For the first time, the Department of Homeland Security says how many children have been separated during the zero-tolerance initiative: Nearly 2,000 children from April 19 to May 31.
  • June 18: Nielsen says the administration “will not apologize” for separating families. “We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing our job,” she says. “This administration has a simple message — If you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you.”
  • June 19: Iowa’s GOP governor calls the separation of immigrant families “horrific” and says the government shouldn’t treat children as “pawns.”
  • Also, Methodists sign a formal denominational complaint against AG Jeff Sessions for his role in causing the separation of families.
  • Later, Maryland’s GOP governor recalls his national guard troops from the border.
  • June 20: Facing a national outcry, and after blaming Democrats in Congress (who control neither the Senate nor the Houses), Obama/Bush/and Clinton, as well as saying it was a policy he could not reverse, Trump signs an executive order designed to keep migrant families together at the U.S.-Mexico border, abandoning his earlier claim that the crisis was caused by an iron-clad law
  • And, of course, on June 21st, The First Lady wears a jacket making it clear she really doesn’t care; about what we’re not too sure.

Russia? How about some Russia news:

  • Later, Trump announces summit with Putin and reminds us all that Russia says it did not interfere in the 2016 Election…
  • Perhaps the highlight of the Russia probe this month was when Jim Jordan (OH-4) called Rod Rosenstein a Democrat. He’s not. And it shouldn’t matter regardless.

But The Biggest News:

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announces his retirement.

  • Citing his so-called swing vote, moderates and liberals have suggested same-sex marriage, abortion, and other issues are endangered.
  • However, Kennedy voted with the conservative majority in Bush v Gore, and the travel ban, so he’s hardly the Saint of Liberalism.
  • In fact, the court has only taken away rights once that it had recognized. The right to be free of cruel and unusual punishments.

~~~

On this day, June 30, 1934, the Night of the Long Knives, Adolf Hitler’s violent purge of his political rivals, occurred in Germany.

Operation Hummingbird eliminated Gregor Strasser and his leftist wing of the Nazi Party, as well as prominent German conservatives including former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and Gustav Ritter von Kahr as well as Hitler’s own supporters when he eliminated the Brownshirts (SA) and its leader, Ernst Röhm.

~~~

On this day, too, nine years later, on June 30, 1943, the Częstochowa Uprising was ended with additional 500 Jews burned alive or buried beneath the rubble. Another 3,900 Jews were captured and put to work in the labor camps of Apparatebau, Warthewerk, and Eisenhütte. A random selection of 400 people were shot and, in December that year, 1200 prisoners were transported to Germany. The men were sent to Buchenwald, the women to Dachau… all perished.

~~~

Truly dark days on this day in history, and the history of June… But there is hope, amid struggle as well…

~~~

On this day, June 30, 2001, as the deadline of the international body overseeing decommissioning paramilitary (terrorist) weapons  approached, David Trimble threatened to resign as First Minister if the deadline was not met. The next day, July 1, 2001, David Trimble resigned as Northern Ireland First Minister.

~~~

In a shout-out to my Rhode Islander listeners:

On this day, June 30, 1983, Vinny Pazienza (December 16, 1962) defeated Keith McCoy in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was The Paz’ second career win; the bout was called in the 3rd Round by KO. His career total is 50-10, with 30 KO. Pazienza held world titles at lightweight and light middleweight; Bleed for This (2016) is based on his comeback from a spinal injury.

But good things happen too:

And, on this day, June 30, 2007, Peter Rometti sang the National Anthem at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts, during Disability Awareness Day. Rometti had autism and halfway through, he started to struggle… stammering, laughing nervously, and losing some of the words. 38,000 Red Sox fans responded and carried Rometti through the remainder of the Star-Spangled Banner.

~~~

The United States has weathered the disenfranchisement of women, the attacks on Native Americans, the enslavement of West Africans, the internment of Japanese Americans, and discrimination against immigrants and gay human beings before.

For every John Chivington, Roger Taney, George Wallace; we have many more Sojoioner Truths, Frederick Douglasses, Elizabeth Katy Stantons, Susan B Anthonys, Fred Korematsu and Yuri Kochiyama.

We have lost Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepard; we have lost Trevonn Martin, Freddie Gray, Stephan Clark and just this month Antwon Rose too.

~~~

“Yes, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

And, yes, We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter… because [we’ve] been to the mountaintop [already]…

We’ve seen John Adams defend the crew of the Amistad… who can tell me the name of the plaintiff in that case?

We’ve seen Teddy Roosevelt denounce the San Francisco segregation of Chinese children,

Who can tell me the name of that Mayor of SanFran?

Who can tell me the name of the judge who found Susan B Anthony guilty of voting?

Tell me, please, what was the name of the bus driver who ordered 2nd Lt Jackie Robinson to move his seat on the bus, or the driver who told Rosa Parks to move?

We can bury the Andrew Jacksons in the annals of white privilege and arrogance; while raising up Thurgood Marshall, Ruby Bridges, and Leroy Collins.

This country has weathered the Alien & Sedition Acts, we will survive Russian interference and recalcitrance of our own politicians to find the truth; the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Japanese-Internment, we will survive the current administration’s border policy and travel bans.

That’s not to say it doesn’t hurt. That’s not to say that there won’t be lasting pain and consequences for these immoral decisions.

I dare say more people know the name Barack Obama, than George Wallace.

~~~

“And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.” Its not about our personal comfort, its about what side of history do we want to be on, do we want to look back with regret that we didn’t stand up to bigotry and vile verbal rhetoric?

[I’m not perfect, not at all, but I know God is with me.] “And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. [I may never see the Lion lay down with the Lamb, but]…  I’ve seen the Promised Land [in glimpses here and there, in the faces of our children]. I may not get there with you. [you might not get there either]. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, [we] will get to the Promised Land!”

~~~

We’re better than the Alien and Sedition Acts, we’re better than the Know-Nothings; we’re better than Jim Crowe and McCarthyism… Every time we have been challenged from our believe in this New Jerusalem, every time we have been knocked down like the Second Temple itself, we have stood up taller, and held our hands out to more people, bringing those huddled masses yearning to be free. Amen, we will rise, we will rise. This is our country and we will make it better, with more hope, and more love, for more people and stare down the voices of fear and xenophobia… 12 score and two years ago, our Founding Fathers set forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all white male landowners were are created equal… but we didn’t stop there, we rose higher, we stood taller and recognized that landowner or not, free or slave, male or female, we are all created equal.

~~~

Now we are engaged in a great civil [debate], testing whether this nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated to protecting the freedom and liberty of people we might not like, who might look differently than us, that might pray differently than us, we are being tested to see how can long endure. We meet daily on a great battle-field of that war: social media, partisan news, blind following of our ideological politicians.

We have to dedicate a portion of that battlefield, as an oasis of peace, a final resting place for those who gave their lives that that nation might live in harmony. Amen, tt is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. [But it is a lot harder to do than to say.]

But, in a larger sense, we cannot stop. Think of those who have gone before, who struggled here, before us. The world will little note, nor long remember what I say here on podcasts or social media, but the world can never forget what we have done together already as a nation. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which our forebearers fought for already and have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored aliens among us, those too who love differently and pray differently. We must take increased devotion to that cause for which others gave the last full measure of their devotion—that we here highly resolve that the women, Native Americans, West Africans, Catholics immigrants, Japanese-Americans, African-Americans and Gay Americans shall not have struggled and died in vain

—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

John 15: 9-17

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Gospel of John 15:9-17

“Jesus said to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”

~~~

IF

“If,” No, this is not about the Christopher Moore’s Gospel According to Biff, Jesus’ Childhood Best Friend, but about “If.” The state of possibility. But what is “IF”?

“If” is typically half of a conditional statement. It is half of an agreement, if – then, right? Therefore, like the good legalese Pharise,es as the Jewish scholars are portrayed in the New Testament, we can reason that if we do X, then Jesus will do Y.

Correct?

But that’s not what the line from this allegorical gospel says, is it?

Let’s read it again together: “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there’s no then, then, is there?

The point is what we, as good little literalists expect to see and read, is simply not there. It does not say If you keep my commandments, THEN you will remain in my love. Oh, but Tom, is there, but it’s just understood! Like the grammatical rule of the invisible YOU UNDERSTOOD, the THEN is there, it’s just not written out…

Now, I’m not a scholar of ancient Greek, so forgive me if I stick to the text as its written today, but, what if, it’s NOT an accident? What if the statement is intended as written: If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love… that the onus is not on us to complete a contractual agreement, but the continuation of a relationship and a state of harmonious being.

Personally, I have never been a huge fan of the Gospel of John; don’t get me wrong, it is such beautiful prose… but when I stop listening to the flowery language and read the text, I have visions of a high Christology Super Jesus and the fiery pits of Dante’s hell and the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. I see hand-held signs at sports stadiums declaring, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

THAT whoever believes shall not perish…”

~~~

IF you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.”

So what if I don’t believe or keep the commandments? I suppose that’s always been my problem… I’ve always considered John to be a veiled threat. OK, maybe not so veiled, after all, the next line shortly after John 3:16 is: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” You see my problem… or, maybe you don’t…

Yes, the Catholic Church, in particular, teaches that people must accept Jesus to enter the Kingdom of God. But the Catechism also says, “the window of Heaven is also open to those “who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart.”

What about atheists who are aware of Christian teaching but still don’t subscribe? What about people like those who may live in a culturally Christian society but who has no use for irrational dogma?” The key concept that many supposed orthodox who profess to be Christian seem to miss is the understanding behind Line 847 of the Catholic Catechism, as already stated, that none of us know anything about the personal experiences of one another, experiences or intellectual hang-ups, hurt, anger, or questions… Who are we to know each other’s hearts and minds?

If we accept the Catholic Church’s teaching, and that’s just one perspective, but if we start here, we presume that the received Good News was authentic… what about if someone was abused by a representative of the Church, someone in a war zone who sees bombs dropped by Christian soldiers, someone who witnesses a crime committed by a purported believer at a formative age, etc., etc. These are all inauthentic experiences of the Good News which would mean that Heaven would still be open to those “who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart.”

~~~

And yet, not all our Christian sisters and brothers would probably agree. For the sake of argument, however, let’s consider an alternative.

What if John, with all his If’s and That’s, what if John is not a veiled threat of suffering and hell, but an invitation of love and a no-strings-attached invitation to a state of being. What if, as Paul VI stated in Nostra aetate, all people of good will and good faith are welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven?

Yes, the consortium of John writes, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” Amen, my friends, what if that is as easy as it is!! Keep the Commandments, remain in the state of love! Just as Jesus, our translation of his name Yeshua exists, in a state of God’s love!

~~~

[For contextual purposes, let us remember that the Gospel and Epistles of John were as famed British Methodist scholar C. K. Barrett, and later Fr. Raymond E. Brown of Union Theological Seminary, as both theologians pointed out, a Johannine community most likely wrote those parts of the New Testament ascribed to St John, the Beloved. The Gospel of John, being the last of the canonical Gospels, was written after Christianity and Judaism had separated, and, particularly in the regions of Judea, were now rivals… thus, John is written with a bit of an “us v them” competition, so perhaps that’s where the veiled and not-so-veiled threats come from? It is not exactly the same in the Gospel of Matthew, for example, which is written more to invite and entreat Jews of the early 1st century C.E. So, yes, John is more allegorical and have more articulated/implied consequences than the Synoptics, and is written later, but John also continues the evangelical call for all people to hear and accept the Good News.]

~~~

Interestingly, in the passage of John that we are discussing, Jesus distinguishes between the Father’s commandments, what we call the 10 Commandments, and Jesus’ commandments, what he refers to a “my commandments” and later, even more specifically, he says “This is my command.” It seems to me that a lot of our sisters and brothers who may congratulate themselves for “following Jesus” may have read this passage a bit too quickly because, if I’m reading this correctly, Jesus has said that:

If you keep my commandments (which he lists in the next line is the commandment to love one another) you will remain in my love.

My brothers and sisters, it seems that, even if you’re still holding out hope for that missing “then” part of the If statement… even if it were here, some of us, including my self might be in trouble. For if it’s the Ten Commandments that I’m being judged on, I’m doing pretty well… Don’t Kill, check, don’t covet thy neighbors donkey, check, honor the Sabbath, well we’re here right now, aren’t we?

But, if its Jesus commandment to love one another that we’re being judged upon, then Dante’s Hell and Bosch’s paintings are getting a little scarier right now… and, is it me? Or is it getting a little warmer in here too? (Smile)

I confess, I have judged people for how to dress, how well they speak, and other superficial characteristics that I would not want to be judged upon.

I sadly can tell you that I have avoided making eye contact with people who are homeless and the needy.

My family can definitely tell you that I have lost patience at times and may have even raised my voice once in the distant, distant past…

~~~

Friends, I am aware that the Golden Rule is not repeated anywhere in the Gospel of John, but does any one of us believe that the Golden Rule, then does not exist?

Amen ,I say to you, if the Golden Rule is real, if we are to do unto one another as we would hope that they doo unto us, then, should or WOULD God be any different? If we believe that God is a merciful God, a God of Forgiveness, and a God of the Washing of the Feet, yes, that God. Would THAT God not uphold the Golden Rule of the Universe… No, I do not think that God inspired the wring of John to build a relationship with us based upon fear or conditions, nor threaten us with hell…

For, in the very next part of today’s reading, as I’ve already pointed out, says, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That is a relationship of love and sacrifice.

~~~

One of my many favorite stories of heroism, in 2015, New England Patriots Vince Wilfork, was leaving Gillette Stadium after the AFC title game, and saw a car, overturned on the side of the road, pulled over to the accident and carried the driver to safety… do you know, apparently, he didn’t even ask the woman if she was a Patriots’ fan?

In 2016, I watched the movie Hacksaw Ridge about the life of Desmond Doss… you know what? Shockingly- there are no records of Doss doing any quick 10 Commandments “check-in” before he saved any of the 50–75 wounded soldiers he carried to safety.

Just last year, in the chaos of the Congressional Baseball Shooting, I don’t remember Brad Wenstrup checking with Steve Scalise about his charitable donations as he fought to control the bleeding in Scalise’s wounded thigh.

And just two weeks ago, James Shaw Jr. ended that deadly shooting at a Tennessee Waffle House before more lives were lost. Does anyone here think he counted off the sins of the bystanders while counting the number of rounds and waiting for the moment to take wrestle the gun away before anyone else was hurt?

Sure, these events are remarkable stories of heroism, but also of the Golden Rule. Every day in this country and around the world, there are house fires and tragic car accidents. And, as far as I know, first responders don’t check the church attendance of those in car accidents or burning homes… Would our God be any different?

~~~

Amen, I say to you, John 15:9-17 is NOT a story of exclusion, self-congratulations, and hubris. It is a story is IF. It is a story not just invitation, but IF-vitation. Join me; join the “if” – and together, we will uncover the meaning of what it means “remaining in God’s love.

If/That, and God… Amen.

April 30th ~ Bishop Geralyn Wolf

Welcome to This Day in Today,

My name is Tom Keefe, and I’m the Babbling Professor!

~~~

On this day, April 30, 1947, Geralyn Wolf was born Brooklyn. Later raised in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Wolf became a priest in the Episcopal church and later the first female dean of a cathedral in the United States; Wolf was Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in the Diocese of Kentucky. Later She was elected Bishop of RI in 1995, where she served for 17 years. She is the author of Down and Out in Providence: Memoir of a Homeless Bishop (2005). The book is a recollection of Wolf’s experiences when she took a sabbatical and lived as a homeless woman named “Aly” on the streets.

Soil, Sower, Seed

It was the summer of 1994 and, somewhere off the coast of Belize, I lay on the bottom of the Caribbean, resting my scuba tank on the ocean floor, gazing upward. I remember looking up to the surface and the refracting sunbeams reaching into the sea… and I remember thinking, wow, that’s a lot of water. Who knew, right? There’s a lot of water in the ocean?

Nearly twenty-three years later, somewhere in Alamosa, Colorado, I sat in a potato field… and, quite similarly… I was thinking: Wow, there’s a lot of potatoes in the earth. No, really. There were potatoes everywhere! We may sing about “amber waves of grain,” and Peter Piper may have picked a peck of pickled peppers but let me tell you! Those potato fields in Alamosa are filled with a lot of potatoes…. You could almost close your eyes, plunge your hand into the rich dirt, and pull out potatoes of every size and shape. And, like Ruth of the Old Testament, we were gleaners; picking food from the fields after harvest; So much food left in the good earth, and we were the second gleaners of the week!

How could ANYONE go hungry in the world, in the United States, in Colorado…? I had flashbacks to college classes on Soviet history, stories of bountiful farms of abundant food, rotting in the rich soil… and I thought, are we much different??

~ ~ ~

There’s a social media app called “Facebook”; if you know me, you know I’m rarely online and barely post anything, but that day I uploaded pictures of the potato fields and wrote that same question as a caption, “How can anyone be hungry in this world of abundance?” And, almost immediately, the answer came, not from Heaven, or Washington, DC, mind you, but the answer came nonetheless:

“It’s never been about the abundance of the food, but the distributive justice and economic factors that make it more appealing for food to rot in the fields than to feed the homeless and hungry.”

Apparently, our pastor, Curt Preston, was on Facebook too that beautiful autumn morning…

Such rich earth; such good soil. In fact, Colorado is part of what is economically known as the “Breadbasket of America”; Collectively, the United States, Canada, Zimbabwe, Ukraine, and Russia are known as the world’s breadbaskets; the good soil of just these five countries, producing food at peak capacity, could feed the whole, entire world. I kid you not. No more hunger; no food insecurity, no starvation; no famine. Such is the good soil of this Earth, this Garden of Eden…

And yet, we live in a starkly different reality, don’t we? We live in a world in which one out of every five residents of Alamosa County, Colorado, is below the poverty line; in 2010, the per capita income in Alamosa was just $18, 820 (and for comparison, Jefferson County, in the same report, had nearly double a per capita income of $34, 714).

~~~

We live in a world, similar to the time of Jesus, in which the powerful cluster together in their trappings, whether it be behind the walls of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, or the echo chambers of Washington and Wall Street… and the poor and the needy go without… without food security, without employment opportunities, and at times, without even hope.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus preached to the hopeless and the poor. His Good News is recorded for us in the Four Gospels… the more allegorical Gospel of John, and then three Synoptics which retell similar biographical accounts of Jesus’ ministry and his parables… Parables… Parables, as we know, are those little stories that Jesus used to make a deeper, often table-turning point to his followers. Parable comes from the Greek word, para-bol-ē (παραβολή) which, etymologically speaking, comes from “Bolla” meaning “I throw” and para meaning “beside” so a para-bol-e is something thrown side by side… and the word para-bol-ē can it can be translated from the Greek into English as a “comparison, an illustration, analogy…”

All told, the three Synoptic Gospels contain approximately 46 of these parabol-es, or parables; Yet out of all 46, only four appear in all Synoptics Gospels: The Parable of the Mustard Seed, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, the Parable of the Faithful Servant… and… yes, today’s reading, the Parable of the Good Soil that we just heard so beautifully proclaimed…

The Good Soil, appears in Matthew 13: 1-23 and Luke 8:1-15, as well as Mark 4: 1-20… Matthew, written to the Jews; Mark written to the Greco-Roman people of the Empire; Luke, written to Gentiles who already converted to Christianity … three very different audiences and yet all share this parable with us? Why it this parable so important that it is retold in all three synoptic Gospels?

I mean:

Sure, Jesus, talking to a crowd? We’ve heard that before…

Jesus in a boat? Yup, we’ve heard that before too.

A farmer? Of course!! Jesus’ stories were being told to an audience of Jewish peasants, so, of course, he referenced tenant farmers, the farmer sowing seeds, and the day workers in the vineyards who today we might call migrant labor… We’ve heard about seeds too multiple times in Gospels: the Seed Growing Secretly, the Mustard Seed, etc., etc.

So, what’s the big deal? I mean, sure, I think I get it: We’re supposed to listen to the parable and determine what kind of soil we want to be, right? Or perhaps we’re called to consider what kind of soil our world has become?

Are we Number 1? Seed thrown along the path and eaten by birds: What a waste… like fertilizer on the driveway, washing into storm drains… watching sprinklers run all summer long at 2pm in the blazing sun, or worse, in the middle of a rainstorm… school lunchroom trash barrels, filled with food, and discarded fruits filled with seeds… wasted… never given a chance to grow… all that waste…

Or have we become the rocky soil and scorched by the sun? Do we have hard hearts? Has our earth become rocky soil? Soil Depletion, the Dust Bowl, climate change… temperature fluctuations, some places that were hot are getting cold, some places that were cold are getting hot, and some places that were hot are getter even hotter! In the news, we hear of each new ‘hottest day on record’, hottest month on record, the hottest year on record… longer summers at the South Pole, and melting Arctic ice and drowning polar bears in the north… Our planet is being scorched by the sun and is becoming rocky soil like the hardness of our hearts…

And then there’s #3: The seeds that grew among the thorns: Weedy soil. Weedy soil, filled with thorns… thorns that could be any of those things choking out the Good News from our lives: gossip, social media, political vit-riol, substance abuse, greed… Or more literally, look at the invasive species taking over native plants and animals… the ash borer beetle brought here from Asia and now destroying Colorado’s beautiful mountain forests… The round goby and Asian carp fish affecting the ecology of the Great Lakes, and -my personal favorite- invasive species… Mosquitos; No, mosquitos are not native to North America, but brought to this continent on slave ships from Africa, perhaps aboard that very first slave ship, the White Lion, that sailed up the James River in 1619… what an ironic, ironic, reminder of our country’s Original Sin…

And then there’s #4. Finally. The Good Soil. Well, hey, that’s it, right? Easy-peasy. We’re supposed to the Good Soil, like the God’s bountiful Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis. And the Seed is the Good News being planted in our Good Soil. Done.

But wait…

As Billy Mays used to say, “But, wait! There’s more!!” Or at least, there might be, right? What if we’re not just the good soil? What if there’s more to the parabole? As Curt and Mollie suggested during Lent, what if this parable is an invitation to turn the tables? Yes, we have the human capacity to be like all four of the soils in the parable, but aren’t we also the Farmer, the Sower?

Farmer/Sower

Having been exposed to many different Christian theologies, I can tell you there are those in the universal Christian community who believe this is a story of exclusion, a story of protecting yourself, a story that cautions good women and men not to waste their time spreading the Good News to those rocky soils, those weedy soils, those carnivorous birds and heretics. After all, the Gospel writer Mark also quotes Jesus as saying, “The poor you will always have with you.” There ya go: Save your time. Stick to the Good Soil.

Yet, many other Christians have a different take on spreading the Good News. The volunteers of La Puente, for example, spread the Good News to all people, regardless of whether others would consider them to be Good Soil or not. The LaPuente volunteers are like the Biblical Farmers of the parable, and they also tend to the farmers, to the migrant workers of Alamosa County…

The famed writer John Steinbeck highlighted the struggle of farm labor in The Grapes of Wrath, but it was really the Caesar Chávez who put agricultural issues into the national spotlight… Chavez once said, “It’s ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that fill your tables with abundance have nothing left for themselves.” Migrant labor and family-owned farms… falling prey to xenophobia, agribusiness and mechanization…

But, in Alamosa, the volunteers of LaPuente and their community partners gather in “the lost and forsaken”; together they live out the Biblical commands to leave food in the fields for the poor, the orphans, the immigrants; so that they might glean from the fields and find sustenance.

And here, at the Lakewood United Church of Christ, like LaPuente, we too are Farmers. We are a community blessed with a rich harvest of gifts, that we’ve reaped, and, in turn, we freely sow back into each other, into our community and into the world…

Week after week, month after month and year after year, I see the people of this congregation spreading Good News to those in need, sowing hope in the hearts of those who may have lost hope… I see Linda Robal sowing a greater empathy and understanding of mental illness… I see our faith formation teachers passing along the gift of faith… Because it is not enough to receive the bountiful Graces of God, we must multiple those graces, like loaves and fish, and give back to the world…to Deane Elementary School. Amen, I say to you, of course, we can be the Good Soil, but we can also be the Farmer, sowing the Good News in the Good Soil… and even, maybe, what others might not see as good soils….

Seeds

But aren’t we also the Seeds? Are we not called to root ourselves in the Good News to grow in the Good Soil? Isn’t that the Gospel message, the Call to Action? To go forth, to GROW forth, and spread the Good News? To support the Neighbors in Need and the 5 for 5 Special Offerings, to run at Clement Park and support Second Wind project, and To March for Science?

After all, what good is it to be a Farmer or a Seed, if nothing ever grows? As the epistle writer James says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?

Amen, I say to you, each of us is called to tackle the issues of the day, to build up the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth, and though we may be overwhelmed by the decadent waste and the thorns of opulence, to throw ourselves upon the rocky path!

Our hymn says, “We are called to act with justice….” because, as the philosopher, Paul Tillich, stated, “Our having is not unrelated to others not having.”

Yes, Mark quotes Jesus as saying there will always be the poor, but here’s a fuller version of the quote, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” Jesus knows the poor will always be with us, because he knows the hardness of our hearts…

And so, we are called to soften our hearts…

To be present on the rocky soil, to be witness to the scorched Earth, to consumed by the fire of righteous anger that our Mother Earth, our home, is being burned by the flames of greed, of hoarding, and of a rejection of Stewardship…

We are called… to live among the thorns; to be in the world but not of the world. We are called… to stand up to invasive attitudes and invasive species, so that “all might have abundant life.”

In Genesis 1, Verse 26, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the Earth.” Is that an invitation to squander and consume, or an invitation of Stewardship to care for creation?
Just three chapters later, perhaps my favorite line in all the Torah, God asks Cain, “Where is Able?” And Cain famously retorts, how should I know, “Am I my Brother’s Keeper?

Friends, let suggest that, yes, there are two parts of the Bible, but maybe not Old and New Testament as we’re used to… Perhaps the two halves are, on the one hand, the invitation to Stewardship and then the rest of the Bible is the 2nd part…

Cain asks, “Am I my Brother’s Keeper?” And Dr. Michael Barram points out everything after Genesis 4:9 is the answer! And the answer is a resounding YES! YES, we are our Brother’s Keeper!

And, if you happen to need a little extra motivation, try Malachi 3, Verse 5: “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, thus says the LORD.”

My sisters and brothers, it never ceases to amaze me that so much energy is spent on two lines in Leviticus that are allegedly about homosexuality, while some of us miss the entirety of the rest of almost 70 books in the Bible and the explicit demand to care for the orphan, the poor, the widow… and to be our Brother’s Keeper! To do unto the Earth and to each other as we would have the Earth and others do to us. That is not just the Golden Rule, that is the Green Rule!

Amen, we are called, as the Iroquois once did, to make decisions based not upon our own self-interest, or on the wants of our generation, but upon the best interest of the Seventh Generation… our children’s, children’s, children’s, children’s, children’s children… our progeny that we will never know… Caesar Chavez also said: “History will judge societies and governments not by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless.” What world are we leaving behind for the Seventh Generation?

~ ~ ~

Para-bolē. I mentioned that Para-bolē can be translated as an illustration; Friends, let me suggest that the universal message illustrated by the Gospel parables is compassion. I think it is compassion that we are called to learn from the 46 parables… Compassion… meaning “co-passion” or “passion with another.” Amen, I say to you, we are called to act together with passion and justice for our Brothers and Sisters as well as with passion for Creation, and justice for our world.

We are called…

Whether it be spring planting or fall harvesting of the potato fields in Alamosa; today’s Earth Day celebrations or yearlong Stewardship; the parables of yesteryear, or the environmental news of today; the hungry peasants in the time of Jesus, or the hungry families in our midst… Let us remember that Jesus is the Good News and the Good Soil, sent by the God-Head, and we as a people of faith are rooted in the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier. In turn- we are called to become Good Soil to enrich and nourish all our communities. But we are also the Farmer and the Seed!!

Thus we have a trin-itarian calling, to be Soil, Sower, and Seed, to be present in the world and care for creation, to spread the Good News and grow the Kingdom of Heaven, here, in the good soil of Lakewood and Alamosa, Colorado… yes, We
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