Sunday, October 28, 2018

Jews Murdered in Pittsburgh Synagogue

Hate crimes against Jews are on the rise and, according to the Anti-Defamation League, attacks targeted at Jews accounted for half of all religiously inspired hate crimes in 2016. The eleven murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue by an anti-Semite in Pittsburgh this weekend come on the heels of a pipe bomb mailed to Holocaust survivor George Soros (along with other prominent Democrats) from a Florida man known for sharing his anti-Jewish conspiracy theories online. This past spring, a self-described white nationalist openly calling for a United States "free of Jews" drew nearly 90,000 votes in the run up to California's statewide Republican primary, while an assortment of neo-Confederates, white supremacists, and other hate groups marched openly in Charlottesville last year chanting "Jews Will Not Replace Us."

This is becoming a nation that most of us not longer recognize, where vile ideologies once relegated to the shadows are making their way to the forefront of political rallies. We must not allow these distortions of American values to go unchallenged or further enter the mainstream. As our parent's and grandparent's generation fought the Nazis in Europe, we must continue to fight bigotry, racism and calls for ethnic purity in our own time, on our own soil. We must form coalitions and stand in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers, with our GLBTQ sons and daughters, with blacks, with immigrants and every other minority that has become a scapegoat to channel the unfocused anger of an Empire in decline. For in this diverse land, whatever our faith or lack or faith, whatever our skin color, whatever our national heritage, we are all minorities and in danger therefore of becoming victims.  Tribalism must not triumph.  

In the famous words attributed to pastor Martin Neimoller, "In Germany, first they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time, there was no one left to speak up." On this Reformation Sunday, we should remember and resemble this courageous Lutheran who was imprisoned at Dachau for his resistance to Hitler.

Speak up and act up. 

Rev. Gary Kowalski

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Thoughts on Parkland on Palm Sunday

Love is stronger than death.  Tragedy will not have the last word in human history.  That, for Christians, sums up the meaning of Holy Week.

With Palm Sunday at hand, young people made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem (a.k.a. Washington, D.C.) this weekend, the seat of a corrupt, monied and brutal state, calling for an end to violence and bearing a message of idealism and hope.  The crowds (a.k.a.the national media) adored them, throwing palms and welcoming them with shouts of Hosanna.  

Meanwhile, Herod and Pilate knew who controlled the legions, and knew how easily the multitudes of voters could be distracted by other spectacles.  “What is truth?” asked jesting PIlate.  To him, it was all fake news.  

The chronology is not quite right.  That old story ended in crucifixion, in one man’s blameless blood being spilled.  This revised version began with the slaughter of innocents as seventeen students in Florida were gunned down by the fusillade of an AR-15.  The narratives agree in this much, however: for no good reason, there was a massacre, and the authorities treated it as business as usual.  

Jesus was executed as an enemy of the state: a threat to existing structures of power and privilege.  Crucifixion, in the Roman Empire, was a sentence reserved solely for the crime of sedition or inciting insurrection against the hegemony.  

The students who led rallies across America yesterday to ban assault-style weapons are likewise receiving death threats.  How many more will have to die before their demands for non-violent change are made effective?  With school shootings almost weekly, no one knows.  The answer is probably too many.  

We can take heart, though, in knowing that resistance is not futile.  The good news  of Easter is that goodness has power.  Decency and kindness may suffer temporary setbacks, may even seem to perish entirely, but will resurrect in the peoples’ struggles for justice and dreams of peace.  In the words of eighteen year old Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez, “"if all our government and President can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it's time for victims to be the change that we need to see.”  

Didn’t same prophets who said the promised one would come riding on a colt also proclaim that the children would lead the way? 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Thoughts on Charleston ...

Racism is like a disease or virus.  Hatred festers quietly, incubating in some obscure corner.  And like measles or Ebola we think we have the monster controlled, perhaps even vanquished, until another outbreak reminds us that the sickness is still in our midst and always has been. 

The senseless murder of nine worshipers in an African Methodist Episcopal Church by a young, white supremacist ideologue, Dylan Roof, is a searing reminder that America’s history of racial violence is with us still.  The passing of time, the turning of generations, has not been sufficient to contain the illness.  Racial hate has not been quarantined to the past – to the bad old days of Bull Connor or the KKK – but continues to infect the minds and hearts of even the youngest.

Signs of progress, hopes that the sickness is abating (like the election of an African American president seven years ago) are countered by the clear evidence that microbes of malice continue to multiply.  Indeed, when President Obama opened his White House twitter account for the first time last month and sent a message of goodwill to his countrymen and women, the response was a flood of race-baiting vitriol.  Not only is the disease still active.  It threatens to reach epidemic proportions. 

In these plague times, indifference is not enough.  Pretending to be “color-blind” or insensitive to racial disparities is not sufficient.  Treating Dylan Roof’s act of savagery as the isolated blunder of a misguided young man will not do, any more than treating a single viral specimen of rabies as an isolated organism will do.  It is a symptom and harbinger of a malady that will linger until its moment comes to manifest in fevers of madness and destruction. 

Like doctors without borders or the CDC, decent-minded people must not only look inward to purge and protect themselves from this illness.  They must travel to the front lines to combat the virus where it exists.  We must become vigilant in our pro-active resistance to racism to build resistance in others.  We must name and turn the microscopes of media examination on this animal, exposing it as the malevolent beast that it is.   We must join in public outcry.  For exposure to the light is like a powerful antiseptic. 

Why did the KKK ride at night?  Why do the authors of malicious tweets cloak themselves in anonymity? The germs cannot breed, except in darkness.