weekend, Congregation Gates of Heaven hosted a service of unity for
the Capital Region after acts of anti-Semitism in New York made it
clear that a response was needed. The event was jointly sponsored by
the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York, the Capital Region
Board of Rabbis, and Schenectady Clergy Against Hate. By best
estimates over 800 people showed up!
(Interfaith Chapel at the University of Rochester)
event was particularly moving, even as the need for it was
distressing. Schenectady Clergy Against Hate are well practiced in
pulling together community witnesses after attacks on faith
communities. In our country today, that’s a good skill to have.
That said, I deeply wish we didn’t have the first idea how to respond
to violent attacks in faith communities. I wish we’d never had a
violent attack to respond to.
while the acts of violence have often been perpetuated by individuals
acting as lone wolves, there is a disturbing connection between them.
Within a society, violence and the threat of violence act as means
of control, particularly of disempowered groups.
would love to believe that in this forward thinking year 2020 we have
reached new heights of open-mindedness and equity, but evidence
proves me wrong. Violence against people of minority faith
traditions, against people of color, and against women and non-men
continues, and indeed in some areas are expanding. I believe this
violence functions as a way to maintain control over each of those
groups. That isn’t to say that is a coordinated effort, but rather
the way that power works in our society impacts who gets attacked and
what impact is felt. As each “lone wolf” acts, they function to
perpetuate the system of control.
I believe this is against the will of God.
hope is is painfully obvious to say this:
God’s love is for Christians,
Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sihks, Pagans, Druids, Agnostics,
Atheists, and members of other faith traditions. God’s love is not
determined by a person’s faith tradition nor faithfulness, and to
claim otherwise makes God very small and mean indeed.
Similarly, God’s love knows no
national boundaries, language barriers, or income requirements, nor
is it impacted conviction histories. That just isn’t how God works.
And, consistently, God’s love is
for females, males, people who are intersex, and people who are
non-binary all the same.
of this is news. We KNOW this. And yet, perhaps we have not been as
vocal as we need to be about sharing this. It is painfully obvious
that the world around us does NOT know this. There are a multitude
of forces around us that define who has value and who doesn’t, and
therefore imply that some people matter more than others – and GOD
DOES NOT AGREE.
Intersectional Justice Book Club discussion yesterday was on Michelle
Alexander’s The New Jim Crow,
in which Alexander names the ways that the War on Drugs has created a
racial underclass by imprisoning mostly men of color and then
enabling discrimination of those with convictions. She points out
that drug use and drug sales occur across racial groups equally, with
a little bit more happening among white people, and yet 90% of
convictions are of people of color (with the vast majority of those
people being of African American descent.)
names, quite directly, that if we cared equally about people of
color, we would not permit such a system in our society.
yet we do.
the service last weekend, the speakers gave us work to do. Their
messages included that we have to:
for religious freedom for each other.
respectfully and affirmatively of other faith traditions AT ALL TIMES
(For me, this works mostly as:
call out the problems in my own tradition before looking for others,
and I haven’t finished on my own tradition yet. 😉 )
out anyone who doesn’t speak respectfully of a faith tradition
of the times we have contributed to messages of hate
the contributions of people of other faith traditions
legislation that makes attacks on faith groups hate crimes
Rafi Spitzer, of Congregation Agudat Achim in Niskayuna, specifically
reminded us to attend to the things of the Spirit, as a means of
becoming more loving and more peaceful. That’s the particular
role of those of us who are part of faith traditions: to become more
loving and more peaceful as part of contributing to the world become
more loving and peaceful. (May it be so.)
got me thinking about how well we are doing at developing the things
of the Spirit. There are lots of ways that things are going well –
we have many ways for people to meaningfully contribute to building
the kindom, we have space for people to be loved as they are, there
is beauty that feeds us, there is space for questions and for being.
think there are also ways we could be making more space for the
things of the Spirit. The most historic Wesleyan question of all is
“How is it with your soul?” Let me tell you, this is NOT an easy
question to answer, and it is not a question you can ask others if
you are unprepared to hear the real answers. That said, it is a
great question. “How is it with your soul?” invites us to think
deeply about the answer, and share it with someone else. It brings
our faith journeying into contact with each other. A course I taught
once invited participants to answer the question with weather
metaphors, which turned out to be amazing (“it is cloudy, with a
distinct change of tornadoes”, “it is bright and beautiful, but
bitterly cold,” “the fog is very, very thick”) but I think that
there is even more value in having to answer the question directly.
So, one tiny little thing we could do: we could ask each other “how
is it with your soul?”
you might even be willing to ask someone this during the time of
passing the peace? And, dear ones, if you don’t want to answer,
perhaps a weather metaphor might share the gist without being too
a similar note, I don’t think we check with each other enough about
our spiritual practices. During Lent two years ago we did a study of
a Richard Rohr book, and thus had a regular shared practice of
centering prayer. It was amazing. For many of the participants it
was the most regular prayer practice they had, and it was a wonderful
addition to their lives. (I believe centering prayer is easier in a
group.) My suspicion is that many of us in this community do not
have regular prayer practices. Some of this may be due to not ever
having found a prayer practice that works, some of this may be due to
not being the sorts of people who want REGULAR practices, some of
this may be due to allowing other things to take precedence. I will
admit to you that while I had INCREDIBLE prayer times during my
renewal leave, I allowed them to become lax again this fall and have
been struggling to pick them up again. I adore prayer, but it is
very (VERY) easy to allow myself to get distracted with … well,
anything and everything else.
I know that my own development as a person, and a person of faith,
and into being more loving and more peaceful is directly correlated
to the time I spend in prayer. My prayer practices tend to be the
quiet and reflective sort, and thus the kind that let me see myself
clearly and make decisions at the right pace for me. Without them,
I’m pretty anchorless.
that’s the second thing I can think of – we could be more
intentional about checking in with each other about prayer and/or
meditative practices – including sharing what works for us,
admitting what isn’t working for us, and being willing to talk about
what impedes us from practicing. My personal experience says that
when I’m avoiding prayer, I’m mostly afraid of that some judgement
I’m making on myself is shared by God. Thus far, it never has been.
course, prayer practices are a WIDE range of things that can include
walking, or dancing, or bike riding, as well as sitting quietly,
writing, or coloring, and for many they even include conversation.
We as a church talk about and develop our prayer and meditative
skills more – I think it would benefit us and the world.
the first time this year, when I read Isaiah 42, I didn’t get worried
about the servant like I always have before. Instead, I heard it as
being all about the nature of God. The passage tells us about God
who has joy in people, who wants justice for all the nations, who
doesn’t move us towards justice with violence, who is patient and
consistent and trustworthy. This God, the very one who made all of
creation, is with us and working towards good with us. What has been
and has been hurt and broken is NOT all that can be, there is new
goodness that can and will come with God. Healing and hope are
you see, are things of the Spirit. They are things of seeing clearly
what is, and yet seeing what can be. And those things of the Spirit
are what our baptisms are all about. Baptism welcomes us into the
community of the Spirit, so that we can work together towards love
and peace for all. And baptism teaches each one of us that we are
beloved by God, which means we don’t need to prove ourselves worthy
of love, and means that we have love in abundance to share.
ones, there is a lot broken in the world, but God isn’t done with us
yet. And as we share with each other and seek out the Divine, we
make it possible to bring more goodness into the world. May we do
Rev. Sara E. Baron
First United Methodist Church of Schenectady
603 State St. Schenectady, NY 12305
January 12, 2020