Month: April 2022

A hidden archive

On Easter evening, we watched a 12/4/2019 conversation hosted by Dana Bash at the 92nd Street Y on the JBS. Her guests were Roberta Grossman, Nancy Spielberg and Samuel Kassow. Grossman was Director and Spielberg was Executive Producer of the documentary Who Will Write Our History (which we watched last night via Amazon Prime), based on Kassow’s book, Who Will Write Our History?

The book and film tell the story of extensive writings and photographs that were preserved by Jewish residents of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of WW2. The writings form the Oyneg Shabes (literally “joy of the sabbath”) archive, which was buried in three locations prior to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. After the war, two of the three caches were found.

The Oyneg Shabes archive is housed at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. The interview and the documentary are timely as inhumane horror once again visits Europe. The Warsaw Jews were determined to record in real time their tragic experience in hope that we would learn from their suffering to “never let it happen again.” Wholesale inhumanity can happen again. It’s happening now.

From the Dana Bash conversation on JBS, via YouTube

A holy war (against democracy)

During a Russian TV broadcast, Deputy of the State Duma Vyacheslav Nikonov claimed: β€œIn the modern world, we are the embodiment of the forces of good. This is a metaphysical clash between the forces of good and evil… This is truly a holy war we’re waging and we must win.”

Heather Cox Richardson unpacks Nikonov’s statement in her April 17 letter. She references:

A recent interview in The New Statesman with Sergey Karaganov, an insider close to Putin and Lavrov, who says the long reign of the West in world politics is now at an end.

A 2013 article in The Guardian about Putin’s popular consolidation of power in Russia, “Vladimir Putin defends anti-gay laws as bastion of global conservatism.”

An April 5 Reuters article describes an upcoming meeting of CPAC in Budapest, with Viktor Orban as keynoter. Nikonov’s “holy war” reminded me of a US right-winger’s claim of the “moral high ground.”

HCR’S letter offers this historical context:

Democracy is a moral position. Defending the right of human beings to control their own lives is a moral position. Treating everyone equally before the law is a moral position. Insisting that everyone has a right to have a say in their government is a moral position.

This moral position is hardly some newfangled radicalism. It is profoundly conservative. It is the fundamental principle on which our country has been based for almost 250 years.

From “Morality and Democracy,” by Jade Saab, Medium, August 21, 2016

A formula for love

The world’s major religions, in various ways, express the centrality of love. Common themes are love God and love your neighbor. This past weekend saw a rare calendar convergence of Passover, Easter and Ramadan. In the days between this religious trifecta and Earth Day (April 22), it seems appropriate to focus some of our attention to loving one another and loving the earth.

Last week, my friend Stephen Kirkemier made a compelling and encouraging presentation on climate change. It was compelling because of the urgency of achieving global net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and encouraging because our home is a very resilient planet. It just needs a little help from its friends. The Earth has survived five major mass extinctions. The most recent was 65 million years ago.

I want to be a friend to my neighbors and to the earth–to love my neighbors and to love the earth. For me, the formula is: (1) a commitment to truth by supporting free speech and the free exchange of ideas, and (2) a commitment to basic human rights based on the universal love commandments of the major religions and on the principle of equal justice under the law in the US Constitution.

Let’s devote some brain cells to this between now and Earth Day!

From “Top 15 Countries by GDP in 2022,” Global PEO Services

The greatest gift

I believe crucifixion and resurrection are present in each of us simultaneously and eternally. I find deep meaning in the Good Friday/Easter story, but it’s about more than us or what we believe.

The crucifixion/resurrection Reality is simply the way life is. The contour of Jesus’ life, including the mystery of his death and resurrection, was so clear and compelling for his followers that they saw in him an eternal pattern of birth, death and New Life. I believe it’s a rhythm we can trust for eternity.

Life can seem like a hopeless journey down a dead-end street when a relationship ends, a terminal prognosis is received, an army invades a nation and destroys non-combatants, injustice seems to win, politics becomes hate-filled, or human rights take a back seat to the preferences of the majority.

Easter is a day to hope, to refuse to let loss or death be the final word, and to see our brief time on planet earth as the greatest gift in this vast, unfathomable Universe. Easter announces that each human life has eternal value and importance. We are loved and love will prevail. That’s the good news!

In the wake of recent destructive Alabama political rhetoric toward trans-gendered people, a congregation responds: “At First Church we believe that all of us are created in the beautiful image of God who made us perfectly – the person we are and the person we are becoming. We believe trans rights are human rights. Full stop.
May you know that you are cherished, worthy, and loved by a God who made you perfectly just the way you are.”

Holy Saturday

When I was a child, If you had asked me to explain Holy Saturday, I might have said, “I think it’s the Third Saturday in October.” As I grew older, I learned that Holy Saturday is the name given by the church for the day before Easter. So, today is Holy Saturday.

As a child, if you had asked me what happened on the day before Easter, I might have said it’s the day my mom dyes Easter eggs. I thought the purple ones tasted best. Historically, it’s a quiet day with a focus on the death of Jesus, symbolized by the cross.

The “carry-over” from Good Friday is an opportunity for reflection about the meaning of Jesus’ suffering and the meaning of suffering in our lives today. It’s a day of waiting. On this day, I try not to anticipate Easter, but to live with my feelings of loss or grief.

Today, I’m aware of my need for healing around my son-in-law’s bout with chronic rejection two years after a lung transplant, a brewing split among Methodists, social and political polarization, the rise of authoritarianism, the war in Ukraine, and violence in our world.

From “What is Holy Saturday, the Day Before Easter, and Why Do We Celebrate It?” by Arricca Elin Sansone, Country Living, March 1, 2019 (photo Nancy Brown/Getty Images)

Were you there?

Faith is historical and trans-historical. Its words and stories have an original context, but faith endures because the “funding events” continued to be relevant with fresh meaning for later generations

No one knows the composer. It’s in 195 hymnals, first published in William Barton’s Old Plantation Hymns (1899). Slaves understood that crucifixion and resurrection co-exist in in our present struggles.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Long-ago events in Jerusalem can inform and inspire the our lives, as they did for American slaves and for all who suffer injustice and death.

This Good Friday’s colors are blue and yellow. The people of Ukraine demonstrate in fresh ways the co-existence of crucifixion and resurrection, as new life, new hope, new courage emerge from the ashes.

From the Facebook page of the Ukrainian Catholic Church Guelph, Ontario

Where are the people of faith?

It’s a painful question. In the present tense, it can be unpopular or dangerous. For the sake of faith’s integrity and mission, it must be asked. Those who come later will ask in past tense, for example, “Where was the church (or the synagogue, or the mosque) during the Civil Rights movement?”

One of the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion was the Jewish Passover meal he celebrated with his friends. In Christian tradition, it’s called the “Last Supper” and it’s the origin of the Christian celebration of he Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, or Eucharist (a Greek word for thanksgiving).

Some Christian traditions observe today as Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” comes from the word mandate, as in “I give you a new commandment, or mandate, that you love one another.” It’s part of the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Community, and love, are vital for our well-being.

Posts for tomorrow (Good Friday) through April 22 (Earth Day) will be about loving one another and loving the earth in 2022. Moscow’s Patriarch Kerill must feel a kinship with Caiaphas, the High Priest who sought to maintain order in the Temple and avoid the ire of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor.

The challenges raised by the events of Holy Week are eternally relevant.

From “Eastern Orthodox Leaders Are Outspoken on Ukraine War. Except One.” by Liam Stack, New York Times, March 13, 2022

“I am not giving up.”

I lived many years with a quaint, naive optimism that the world will become more mature and humane. That optimism has been replaced with a sober hope. (This is another parallel of Richard Rohr’s assertion that we are both “crucified and resurrected” at the same time–a timely affirmation for those who observe the Christian tradition of Holy Week.)

The Ukrainian people’s courageous stand against evil has demonstrated once again resurrection in the midst of crucifixion. Their inspiring witness and commitment illustrate the cost of resistance to oppression. It’s part of what Heather Cox Richardson calls “a battle between democracy and authoritarianism in America and around the world.”

I need hopeful reminders, such as this April 7 Facebook post by Steven Charleston:

I am not giving up on peace, even if, right now, it is taking some heavy blows. I still believe justice will not desert the innocent. And I will always believe that truth will find its way to the light. These bedrock visions guide me into the future. They hold me up when the going gets rough. Conflict may have the upper hand now, but never count love out. The Spirit has a few surprises to offer in the days to come. Signs of hope will find us wherever we may be. I am not giving up.

Steven Charleston is a Native American elder, author, and retired Episcopal bishop of Alaska. Adjunct Professor of Native American Ministries at Saint Paul School of Theology OCU, Citizen of Choctaw Nation. 

Jim Tuohy

In 1981, as a UAB campus minister, I met Jim Tuohy (1937-2022). I was 30. He was 44. His quick, contagious smile and his delightful, light-hearted mischievousness seemed part leprechaun and part court jester. He enjoyed playing the bagpipe in Birmingham’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade. He was a strong tenor vocalist, which you can hear by following the “Remembrances” link below.

Jim was UAB’s Episcopal campus minister and Rector at Saint Andrews. We collaborated on projects. As a Roman Catholic priest in Ireland, Jim was recruited to Alabama by Thomas Joseph Toolen, the Roman Catholic bishop of Mobile from 1927-1969. Jim’s Roman-to-Anglican transition and his marriage to Elma, a former member of the Sisters of Mercy, are part of his son’s “Remembrances” link below.

Jim died on April 8. Good stories about Jim are in his Birmingham News obituary and a February 11, 2019 post, “Remembrances of a Week and a Life,” by Jim’s son Fergus at Medium, including a powerful video rendition of “Danny Boy” sung by Jim in 2017, accompanied by his daughter Niamh on the violin. A service for Jim will be held today at 2 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham.

From “Remembrances of a Week and a Life,” by Fergus Tuohy

“To your tents!”

After Solomon, King Rehoboam had two sets of advisors. The older group said Israel needed a kinder, gentler king. Rehoboam took the younger group’s advice to be tough, causing Jeroboam to call the northern tribes to rebel: “To your tents, O Israel!” Israel’s “big tent” became a divided kingdom.

Big tents are difficult, whether a political party or a community of faith. In 1861, the southern US tribes’ secession led to 620,000 deaths and still-lingering pain. A recent look at Qatar’s Al Jazeera headlines pointed to difficult issues faced by Brazil, Burkina Faso, Egypt, France, Gambia, Iran, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Slovakia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Yemen and Hollywood.

I know so little about those places. I read Al Jazeera to learn more about this village we call Earth. Burkina Faso and its capital, Ouagadougou, were unknown to me. Tomorrow, I’ll attend a discussion about climate change. It’ll be humbling. I know even less about science than geography. My contribution will be pretty simple: If we think of Earth as one big tent, we’ll take better care of it.

A mural by Sasha Korban in Obolon, a district of Kyiv, showing the hands of a Ukrainian military stitching together a torn Ukrainian flag, from the Facebook group All Things European (source)