Monday, March 25, 2019

Musings after Mueller


I have to admit that when the television news came on last night I had to turn it off. I just could not bring myself to hear the President crowing about the Mueller report exonerating him, even though it specifically said it did not exonerate him.

I saw most people online express despair, and resignation that the power structure protects their own.   Since we haven’t seen the report, I will not comment on that. Clearly there have been many prosecutions and indictments already, so I think the Mueller investigation has brought much corruption to light. So I say it was worth every penny. The Mueller investigation stated irrefutably that Russia influenced our election to help get Trump elected. So let us make sure as a country that does not happen again.  I admit based on just what is public I thought there was reason for obstruction charges. Certainly campaign finance charges. Even if Trump is not charged, I do believe we should highlight and keep the pressure up about all the corruption of this administration. I do think that is an important issue. And I believe that will continue. 

But that is not enough.  The people need to speak about our values and issues and elect people who support our values. The challenge is there are so many issues. For me, the top issues based on my values are as follows :

Universal Health Care (in whatever form that takes)
Climate Change
Fair Wages
Full Funding for education.
Stop locking up children in cages and separating families.
Ending the proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Supporting individuals and families that are most vulnerable in our country and especially those that have been historically oppressed.
Free and accessible elections.  

I hear people say progressives are a threat to the Constitution. Yes, where it is corrupt we are. Progressives  were a threat to it when Conservatives allowed slavery, Progressives were a threat to it when Conservatives would not allow Blacks to vote. Progressives were threat to it when Conservatives did not allow Women to vote.  Progressives were a threat to it when Conservatives did not want people to vote for Senators. Yes Progressives are a threat because we because we are demanding change and demanding that all people be entitled to their rights. That rights should not be centered only with White Land Owners (that is what the Constitution originally allowed for).   

Yesterday in writing about the NCAA tournament I quoted journalist Daman Runyon who wrote, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.”  And when I wrote that, I thought of our political predicament in our country. The truth is the people are stronger. There are more people in this country who share my values then share the current administration’s values. Those who are manipulating power today are counting on the people to be resigned, counting on people to be divided. I should hope they do not want people to be in despair, for despair leads to desperation. And desperate people will do desperate things. We do not need to be desperate. We need to be deliberate.  We need to be together. We need to organize,

To elect officials that support our values.
We need to show up at school board meetings and city council meetings.
We need to run for and support people who support our values.  
Don’t tell me you are too tired or too busy or your children have an event you have to get them to. This is the event they need to be at. Learning to be active citizens of this country. 

Let us not despair. Let us take a deep breath. Let us redouble our efforts. We need to use the rights that so many have fought and died for. Let us continue to work for the good. Together the people can make change. We took congress in 2018. We can make change. Now is not the time to step back. No one else can save us but each other.  Let us remember why we are doing this. Because we believe that each of us has inherent worth. Each of us should be given the opportunity and means to reach our potential. We believe in truth, and justice on this earth and for this earth.

If you do not agree me this is not the venue for this, and I will delete your comments. This is for all those who are struggling today.  This is to remind you that you are not alone. We are in this together. If we believe we can make change. If we are willing to sacrifice. Then and only then will change happen. When we make it happen. And we can. WE CAN.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Antisemitism


This coming week is the Jewish Holiday of Purim. The holiday is based on the Book of Esther in the Jewish Scriptures.   In 2016, I talked about Purim in a sermon entitled the toxicity of Fear speaking about the scriptures feminist heroes and the need to speak truth to power even in the face of fear and risk.  That message is even more true today. However today I raise up the story of Esther as it is one of the stories in the Hebrews Scriptures that speak to attempted extermination of the Jewish people.
Earliest in the Hebrew scriptures, In the Book of Exodus, the pharaoh orders all male children killed, and tries to drown the Hebrews as they escape bondage.
In Psalms 83 the psalmist pleas for God to be active claiming their enemies say “Let us wipe them out as a nation, Israel’s name will be mentioned no more” And in the book of Esther which was believed written during the Jewish exile after the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians in the 6th century bce in chapter 3 Haman counselor to the  Persian Kings issued a decree to all the King’s provinces stating
“ to destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women”  
I point to these biblical events to show that antisemitism is very ancient and has been with the Jewish people since the beginning of Judaism. After destruction of the second Temple and the expulsion of the Jews from Israel in 70 AD by the Romans the Jewish people became a people without a country and were considered outsiders and faced violence, discrimination and often faced expulsion from countries where they lived. They were expelled from England in the 13th Century, From France in the 14th Century, Austria and Lithuania in the 15th century this just to name a few (the list is quite long) and most famously from Spain in 1492 during the inquisition. And although there had been violence all along it reached its pinnacle during WWII in Europe with Nazi Germany. But here is the interesting part in most instances except for Europe during WWII often if Jews were willing to convert to Christianity, they were allowed to live peaceably within the community. So it was not about Race, or ethnicity, but the idea of Judaism.
So why the Jews?  Why did they and do they create such hatred. It is hard for us to imagine now, but back when Judaism came to be, it was a radical idea that God could not be seen, or that God’s name could not even be spoken and that challenged the validity of other Gods who people sacrificed to and had statues of. It is interesting to read how this caused many of the ancient religions to consider the Jewish People atheists.  Another key difference were the 613 laws that the Torah required of Jews. This included dietary laws, which required to minimize pain to animals, which was really interesting to learn, that the desire to reduce pain to animals is why often Jewish people did not hunt and why it was not part of our culture. As well you could not eat meat and dairy together. So no cheeseburgers. So this as well as many other of the disciplined laws in and of itself set Jews apart from other people.
In the book of Esther, Haman originally convinced the King to kill the Jews because as it said in ch 3. V 8 “There is a certain people …whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s law”.  And that is true. And yet, even after the enlightenment when reform Judaism did away with many of the laws, Anti-semitism still persists. One reason is that Judaism proposed a radical ethical monotheism.  Believing in the oneness of the universe. The Oneness of God. And this God called for creating systems of ethics to care for the poor and the widow and the orphan. Creating a more egalitarian society.
Responding to the world with a this world moral vision for all people as God said in Isaiah ch 49
“I will make you a light of nations”  The Jewish people held themselves to a higher law and that often put them at odds with their oppressors or the countries in which they lived.
Jews refusal to acknowledge the Greek and Roman gods created ongoing conflict. Philostratus 3rd century philosopher said,
“For the Jews have long been in revolt not only against the romans, but against humanity; and a race that has made its own life apart and irreconcilable that cannot share with the rest of mankind in the pleasure of the table nor join in their libations or prayers or sacrifices, are separated from ourselves by a greater gulf than divides us from the more distant indies”.

And yes without question Christianity more so then any other religion or government laid the groundwork for much of the suffering of Jews across the millennium.  I will say it is amazing to me how many Christians do not realize that Jesus was Jewish. In the Christian scriptures it is clear that early Christians, which were a Jewish sect, their preaching to Jews did not take root and thus they proceeded to preach to and convert pagans whose origin stories of their Gods who became human died and were resurrected were similar to the story of Jesus. As well Romans and Christians  found it easier to convert pagans to Christianity then to Judaism. Christians did not require following the strict Jewish dietary laws and as well did not require circumcision. I can just imagine that circumcision does not encourage adult conversion. In order to separate themselves from the Jews in the eyes of others, Christianity demonized Judaism in an attempt to invalidate Judaism and validate themselves. Gospel of John, the last of the four gospels written well after the death of Jesus, was particularly focused on blaming the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. And that was promoted for much of Christian history. Over the millenniums church laws which were civil laws outwardly discriminated against Jews. Over time this just became part of the thought process of life. It seeped into cultural writings including Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare's’ Merchant of Venice, and even surprisingly for me, Votaire’s writing.  
With the advent of the protestant reformation in the 16th Luther had originally spoke favorably about Judaism, imagining that once they read his interpretation of the Bible they would convert. Surprise, they didn’t!!  When they didn’t, he became virulently antisemitic. In his later years he wrote a book called  “On the Jews and their lies which was truly horrid promoting violence against Jews.
I will add one last example that deeply influences Antisemitism. The protocols of the elders of zion. Some version of this book existed by the end of 18th century and it was more prevalent starting in 19th century Russia. Henry Ford printed 500,000 copies for the United States. In it,  it concocts a story of a global conspiracy by Jews to take over the world. We still hear echoes of this today when people blame George Soros and the media and Bankers, for their troubles.
I have just given you the briefest of overviews of the long hatred that has been inflicted on Jewish people and even with just a cursory glance it is easy to see how when times get hard, when there is a need to scapegoat someone, it is easy to look to the people who are different from you. Who dress differently, who have different customs. And then we attribute negative attributes to those people. Think about how we see that and experience that in our culture. Let us be grateful for the freedoms we have here and let us not take them for granted and let us have the moral vision to live out our values in the world. For Everyone.
One other attribute of Judaism includes the concept of tithing as written in the book of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. And so as prepare for our offering, I encourage you to be as generous as you can be whatever you have in your wallet, knowing that 50% of that will be shared with a group chosen by our social justice team as indicated in the order of service.  Once you have had a chance to donate I invite you go come down to light a candle to mark a joy or sorrow in your life. Let this sacred time begin.

Part II
Growing up in a Jewish Household, in the 1960s and 70s, I was required to read books on the Holocaust. I was told I had to work twice as hard and be twice as smart as Christians to get into a good school and to get a good job. And I was told at some point Christians would try to kill us because we were Jews. This is the mindset I went out into the world with.  For my parents, this was most definitely the world they lived in. They grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust.  Their job options were more limited as larger companies did not hire Jewish People.
My father was the only Jewish person in his advanced degree program at Indiana University, after numerous rejections from other schools all of which had limited enrollment for Jews.
My experience was different then my parents. When I came of age, most schools would take anyone who could pay. (and as we saw from the news this week we have to what extent parents pay to get their children in college) And although there were still certain companies where it was difficult to be hired or ascend if you were Jewish, there were many opportunities available to me. In fact in a sort of antisemitic stereotype, my Jewish background helped me as I had one business owner told me he hired me because he knew Jews were good at business. And I admit I had mixed feelings about the fact that I fulfilled that stereotype for him. There were certain country clubs I was not invited to play golf in, a reminder that there were still people who hated me for who I was, but there were enough other places to play golf and at least it singled out for me who were the people who are anti-Semitic.  
Becoming a Unitarian Universalist was an easy shift for me as our focus on the interdependent web of existence and the lack of required belief in Jesus as God, and our ethical and moral systems were aligned with the basic teachings of Judaism. In fact, in some ways I feel being a Unitarian Universalist (minister) is the most authentic Jewish thing I have done in my life. And yet I still to this day remember my mother saying to me “So you want to call yourself a Unitarian, fine. The Nazis will still consider you Jewish and kill you.”  And I think that is true.
Nazis considered someone Jewish if they had a Jewish grandparent. And the totality of the Holocaust left most Jews whether they had relatives who died in it or not with a psychic wound.
A mindset that the world will go to almost any length to kill us or look away as others do.
The united states knowing what was happening, refused to take in refugees from Europe during world war II sending them back to their death.
Just as today we refuse to take in refugees from worn torn countries and we separate families and lock up children. We as a country have lost our moral compass. The issue of anti-Semitism which in this country had died down a bit has raised its ugly head this past couple of years. In Charlottesville, a protest for white nationalism, coalescing around the issue of confederate statues, the marchers were chanting “The Jews will not replace us”  Think about that for a moment. Eric Ward, the Executive Director of Western States Center sees White Nationalism and racism predicated on antisemitism. “White Nationalists want people to imagine a conspiracy , that what we do in a democracy doesn’t really matter because it is all an illusion, and this is meant to dis-empower and divide people.”
Because the truth is, if we are together on this if we truly believe in the intersectionality of oppressions, we have the power to change the world. We saw how the women’s march this year was sabotaged because the leaders refused to acknowledge anti-Semitism as a real oppression.  That is how fascism wins. As Benjamin Franklin said “We must indeed hang together or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately”  The next major recent event was the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. Egged on by fear of immigrants by the president, the shooter believed that the caravan of refugees was a Jewish conspiracy. Right out of the elders of zion.
It is important to have this context when I speak of what happened recently with congressperson Ilhan Omar.  She has made three statements that have been called out as anti-Semitic. First she said “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Then in talking about an Israeli Lobbying group in the US she said “its all about Benjamins” a line I think from a Puff Daddy song, referring to Benjamin Franklin who is on the $100 bill. And most recently she said “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country,”  Although I think people overreacted to the benjamins comments, the first and latest comment raised fears for me of encouraging these same stereotypes about Jewish people. Words have power. For good and bad.
            One of the 8 fold path in Buddhism to end suffering is right speech. Let us be gentle and accurate and speak truthfully without malice, avoiding gossip in our speech. In response to the Omar statements and the reaction to her Congress passed a  7 page resolution that started with:
“Condemning anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values and aspirations that define the people of the United States and condemning anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry against minorities as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contrary to the values and aspirations of the United States.”
I am glad they included Islamophobia within this statement and I am glad that Congress did not punish Omar for her statements and I hope she has used the experience to learn
I do think because Rep Omar is a black Muslim she has received harsher criticism then other white Christian members of congress including the  President have received for their bigoted and anti-Semitic statements. I don’t have enough time to list them here. This does not mean we cannot object to actions of the Israeli government. I do.
But to conflate those actions with the Jewish people and to question Jewish People’s loyalty to the United States is what is antisemitic. Just as we don’t blame every American for actions of our Government.  The blame should happen if we do not speak up against injustice in the name of our government fermenting fears of Muslims and Latinos that are directly linked to the killings in Pittsburgh and the latest killing in New Zealand.  Let us hold ourselves to a higher moral value.
I believe that only together love can overcome hate. Not a passive love from afar,
but a fierce love that will not let go.  

Let us find strength in love to overcome hatred and to find peace in the world.
A world where each person is valued for who they are,
not how they are dressed
or who they love,
or how they pray.
Let us like Esther accept ourselves for who we are and risk all for each other. May it be so.