Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Niemoller Was Right

Martin Niemoller was a U-boat commander during World War I and a loyal German citizen.  Following the war after a brief time as a farmer, he attended seminary and was ordained as a Luther pastor. 
When things started falling apart in the Weimer Republic he supported those who opposed the regime in hopes of a revived Germany.  And to that end he supported Hitler and the National Socialists in the early years of their rise to power.  But in time, especially after Hitler issued regulation after regulation, stripping away the rights, and eventually the humanity of Jews, Niemoller began to have second thoughts.  He formed a pastors' organization to fight the discrimination against Christians with Jewish backgrounds.  And then took a step further, joining the Confessing Church, an organization that fought against the Nazi party in a number of ways.
Niemoller's preaching against the party did not go unnoticed, and 1937 he was arrested by the Gestapo.  Initially released, he was rearrested and ended up spending eight years in Sachsenhausen and Dachau. 

While in prison, Niemoller wrote a poem, which is his best known legacy:

            First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out--

            Because I was not a Communist.

            Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--

            Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

            Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--

            Because I was not a Jew.

            Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak out.

 For Niemoller, it was a hard learned lesson--the horrors of the holocaust didn't happen overnight.   They happened before, and they can happen again.  And while it may or may not be Jews who are endangered, while it may or may not be homosexuals, or persons with disabilities or political dissidents who are at risk, what matters is that we pay attention, and speak up when anyone is endangered--Muslims, women, young black men, anyone.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."  Certainly that was true for Martin Niemoller.  Despite all that was going on around him, it took some time before her realized the implications of what Hitler and his cronies were engaged in.  But once he did, he spoke up and spoke out.

Might we learn from history as well.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Everything old is new again--or so they say.  And certainly the theology being presented in Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell's book The Divine Dance illustrates that very point.  Which is not to say it is shopworn or boring or simply repetitive.  Rather, it is to acknowledge that their "take" on the Trinity reflects the writings not only of the scriptures themselves, but many early church writers.

To summarize the ideas put forth in the rather slim volume (as theological tomes go) in a sentence or two would be an injustice.  Yet there are core ideas that get reiterated in a variety of ways throughout the book.  Reminding us more than once that "all religious language is metaphor" (47)  Rohr and Morrell see the dance metaphor as a near perfect way to view the Trinity.  For the Trinity, they suggest, is all about "flow" and "relationship"--things that are found in dance.  "God is relationship itself," they write.  (45) 

There is something very appropriate about the fact that this volume is the product (if you will) of the work of two authors--not one.  Two authors in relationship.  Two authors working together.  Two authors engaging in a "word dance"--a phrase coined, I believe, by James Thurber.  Of course every published volume (other than some self-published works) is the result of relationships between authors and editors--but two named authors makes that even more explicit.

For Rohr and Morrell even the traditional names for the persons of the Trinity--Father, Son, Holy Spirit--become, as they put it "placeholders."  "The inner life of the Godhead," they state at one point, "this is a mystery that stretches language to the breaking point. . . . The all important thing is to get the energy and quality of the relationship between these Three--that's the essential mystery that transforms us."  (91)  Ultimately, understanding the Trinity is this fashion, the author posits, makes it possible for us to see how we can and do enter into the divine dance. 

No review can't begin to do justice to this simple, yet complex work.  Yes, that is paradoxical, even oxymoronic--but what relationship isn't?  The practices included at the end of the book can help to facilitate ones participation in the dance, but in the end, it isn't about reading or engaging in spiritual
practices, in the end, it is all about waltzing and twisting and quick stepping and more.  And Rohr and Morrell make great partners for those who wish to participate in the dance.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.   I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part5 255.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Unity Not Uniformity

Mega-church pastor and author Rick Warren and I do not often agree on a number of issues.  But I recently rediscovered something he said in his bestselling self-help book The Purpose Driven Life which I found most helpful.  He writes:  "Christians often have legitimate, honest disagreements and differing opinions, but we can disagree without being disagreeable . . . . God expects unity, not uniformity, and we can walk arm-in-arm without seeing eye-to-eye on every issue."  (The Purpose Driven Life, 158)

I would broaden that out even further.  I would suggest people of faith in general can walk arm-in-arm without always seeing eye-to-eye.  Indeed, there are times when we can do that with people of no faith as well.  It is, whether Warren realizes it or not, a basic premise, so I understand , of community organizing.  We come together around particular issues, and work with those who share the common goal. 

Sometimes, I've discovered over my six plus decades, just walking arm-in-arm with someone helps me better understand their point of view when it comes to those different opinions.  Indeed, sometimes, I have changed my opinion, my understanding, as a result.  And sometimes others have changed their views.  But here's the trick, so to speak.  We walk arm-in-arm not to change others, but rather to live out the mandate to truly love and respect our neighbors.

"This doesn't mean you give up on finding a solution [to your disagreements]," writes Warren, You may need to continue discussing and even debating--but you do it in a spirit of harmony."  (Ibid)
Well said.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What Will We Do with the Huddled Masses?

I looked up the text of the Executive Order banning refugees from Syria indefinitely, and others for specified periods of time.  It is titled "Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Entry into the United States of America."  It is a rather long document, with many references to various laws and regulations.  Not all the details are spelled out in the document itself--one has to read the outside materials for a clearer understanding of the order.

Among other things the order bans entry into the United States for all refugees from Syria indefinitely; all refugees in general for 120 days, and all persons from seven predominantly Muslim countries (designated elsewhere as "countries of concern") including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Somalia for 90 days.  

Perhaps if this order was issued free of earlier statements that we need to keep out all Muslims, it could be viewed as a security measure, plain and simple.  But that is not the case.  The larger context includes an increasingly virulent stream of language aimed at undermining the integrity of Islam and the humanity of Muslims.  Such language, and such actions, only add to the explosive atmosphere that resulted in the mass shooting this past weekend at a mosque in Quebec. 

There is little question that terrorism is a real issue in 2017.  But to blame Muslims in general, and Muslim refugees in particular (who are after all those who are most often the victims of terrorism), for terrorism itself, is misguided.  It is more than misguided.  It is un-American.  This is a land of immigrants--all kinds of immigrants and refugees.   

Maybe what we need to do for the next four months (or longer if necessary) is dismantle the Statue of Liberty--or at least cover over the words on the bronze plaque mounted inside the base which has those memorable words written by Ezra Lazarus  about tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free.  They're still yearning, but it looks like they'll just have to wait.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Building Bridges, Building Walls

I read this morning in the New York Times that the wall on the Mexican border has been ordered as promised by our new president.  He is also, according to the same article, also making good on several other campaign promises to curtail immigration, including blocking all immigrants from war-torn Syria.  In a Twitter post last night he wrote, "Among other things, we will build a wall."  (www.nytimes.com)

This should come as no surprise.  It was, after all, what was promised.  But that does not make it wise--nor does it seem to mesh, at least for me, with Christian understandings.  Not that this president or any president must adhere to Christian values or ethics.  This is a land of religious liberty, after all.  Presidents, and all elected officials, cannot be put to religious tests.  Still this president professes to be a Christian, and so, one would think the admonition to "Love your neighbor as you love yourself" would have some bearing on his decisions.  And building walls and blocking out those who are in the greatest need of protection seems quite contrary to that fundamental teaching.

Jesus also taught that if we are to inherit the kingdom of God we must have the trusting nature of a child.  Recently, on Facebook, an old friend and colleague of mine, posted a little vignette.  It is a tale of bridge building, so needed in this time of walls and barriers.

Shelley lives and works in  Connecticut.  Her congregation, the Church of the Redeemer, is located on the green in downtown New Haven.  One day, as she was unlocking the church door, she noticed a Syrian refugee family attending a class being held by the Integrated Refugee and Immigration Service coming up the steps. She was approached by their little four year old girl--a child she did not know.  "[S]he came running up to me," writes Shelley, "eager top practice what she had learned.  She stuck out her little hand boldly to shake mine, and with an enormous smile on her face, said 'Good morning!'"  (Posted by RocFacebook, 11-17-16) 

Some folks build walls.  Others build bridges. Perhaps one day, as scriptures promise, a little child shall indeed lead us. Then, just maybe, we'll see more smiles, more handshakes, more people being helped, more lives being saved.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


So we come to the end of the Obama years.  And later this week Donald Trump will take the oath of office and begin his tenure as President of the United States. For the most part the oath has been taken publicly in or near the Capitol Building in Washington.  George Washington and John Adams took the oath in the then capital cities of New York and Later Philadelphia.  When presidents have died in office, or have been assassinated, the oath has been taken in a variety of places.  Andrew Johnson took the oath at the Kirkwood Hotel after Lincoln was shot.  Calvin Coolidge was at his father's home in Plymouth Vermont when he repeated the words upon hearing of the death of Harding.  And LBJ was in the air, aboard Air Force One, when he raised his right hand after Kennedy's death.

Wherever they took the oath however, they made the same fundamental promises.  I looked it up to be sure of the wording.  In case you've forgotten here's the oath in full:  "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that  I will faithfully execute the office of President of the Untied States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."  In modern times, presidents have added the words "So help me God," but they are not required by the Constitution.

I don't know how our next president will end the oath; whether or not he'll add the words "So help me God."  Surely they should not be required.  While we've never had a president who was openly atheistic, we could.  We could also have someone who is religious but who understands divinity in a different way.  And that's all well and good.  But it does seem to me that anyone who serves in that office is wise to call on all the help they can, divine and human.  For it is a challenging task--especially the part
about preserving, defending and protecting the Constitution.

Indeed, ultimately, it is a task we all must take seriously, and any of us, all of us, who are citizens, would do well to also raise our hands and swear to do what ever is in our power to watch over the Constitution.  And when anyone's right to speak is threatened, when anyone's right to assemble is challenged, when anyone's right to worship as they please (or not at all if they so choose) is ignored, each and all of us must speak up and speak out.  Regardless of the individual who takes the oath on the steps of the Capitol.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Cookies, Vodka, Chips and Guns

So here we go again.

Another mass shooting--and more debate about guns.

Here in Florida, where this past weekend's attack occurred, our legislators are looking at a bill which would for all intents and purposes eliminate gun-free zones.  If the bill passes and is signed, folks with permits to carry concealed weapons would be allowed to bring guns onto college campuses, into airports, and other currently restricted areas.  As I understand it, supporters believe this will make things safer because should an attacker open fire there would be people present who could shoot back and minimize the loss of life.

I'm sorry, but that sounds to me like an open invitation to recreate the shoot-out at the OK Corral here in the Sunshine State.  It just makes no sense to me.  Apparently I'm not alone.  Law enforcement officials have spoken out against it.  College administrators and faculties are opposed to it. Those who might be most impacted by such a piece of legislation have said, no thank you.  This isn't the Wild West.

It seems to me that we should be able to come up with some reasonable solution to the gun violence.  Yes, we need to pay attention to the paucity of mental health services in this country (especially here in Florida).  Yes, we need to address the prevalence of violence in film, music, video games and other popular culture.  Yes, we need to deal with the break down of trust in families, in communities, and between various groups.  But we also need to recognize there are too many guns, and too many types of guns, within our borders, and too little control over their availability and use. 

If I want to lose weight, I don't fill my cupboards with cookies and potato chips.  If I want to stop drinking, I don't stock up on vodka and beer.  Adding more guns to the equation is not going to limit violence. Period. So let's talk.  Let's find the answers that work.