Today, I spoke a second time, I got to finish what I had begun a couple of weeks ago, when I spoke for the first time in years. Tonight, I spoke about God. And I was on fire. It went very well. Our Second Speaker knocked it out of the park. She was just amazing. I was so moved, the story was beautiful. I may get her to speak for me later on.
A thought that came to me as I meditated on my talk, last night before bed, came in a whisper. In order to find God, one must begin with Gratitude.
We are given the authority to label things. Then we live with the consequences.
As I sat in a building purpose built for worship, I watched as at least a hundred people walked in, crossed them selves, knelt, and labelled that space as sacred. The same naming has been done by thousands of people for decades in that place. The walls are painted and named on behalf of certain stories and blessings. And daily prayers and rituals are done in that space bringing even more purpose filled direction to that specific space.
It finally clicked. After watching my catholic housemates do things that my ex-evangelical mind didn’t understand for a few months, it finally clicked.
We label things, and that labelling holds with it such power.
Every time I walk into a Catholic church, I am filled with awe. A deep respect. Even if I don’t agree with every conclusion made about the physical building. There is still honour and awe enough in me that I take off my hat, and I walk around quietly.
I grew up in a church that was a white shoe box. No decoration. No labelling. No awe inspiring. Just dirty carpet, weird smells, and white walls. But there was always something special when a bunch of us would gather. We would gather around a campfire and sing into the night. We would gather on a soccer pitch and compete. We would gather to go on a road trip. And thats where our labelling was held. Not a building. But a gathering point.
So as we gathered for pentecost, we combined the two. This physical location that had been drenched in prayer and labelling and a gathering of a community. One that loved each other and celebrated a time that the spirit was first liberally poured out on the people of God. And the spirit fell again. I have journaled that much in a long time. I haven’t felt joyous shivers down my spine whilst songs I didn’t understand were sung around me for months or more. Tangible yet spiritual God, met spiritual yet physical humanity, and we celebrated the union.
Fast forward to this morning. A week ago I had finished reading a history of the orthodox church. And I wanted to see what I had read in action. So I figured out a place and a time. 8am, old town. And got there on time. I waited for an old lady to walk in, and following her I found myself in an almost empty giant church. I found a seat (not normal in orthodoxy, everyone stands) and got my journal out. A man started singing, occasionally responded to by another man behind a door. And after awhile a group of women started singing to. It was heavenly. It smelled awesome. And although there was only 5 people there, once again, this space had been labelled a place of worship. Of community. Of meaning. Once again I journaled like crazy, and then moved on to a second orthodox church. Smaller. More intimate. But just as beautiful.
We live in houses that get labelled “home”. We are educated in the halls of schools that are sometimes labelled as safe spaces, but are more likely places of tumult. And ultimately we are all apart of nation states that have labelled out populace, our neighbours and our history, one way or another.
And after a year and a half in a country not my own, watching my own from a far. I have this deep desire to walk nations through a process of conviction. We parts of our history we need to deal with. And what parts of our future we need to dream about and work towards.
I want to paint this world with life, because death sucks. And a life paint for ALL, not just an elite few. And i feel like God calls us to label sacred spaces, to connect with Him, but also to become sacred spaces that walk this earth, connecting with others so that God can work through our sacred spaces in his redemption plan for eternity.
Be a sacred space. Clean house.
A number of my friends have better words than I could ever write.
Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day, and like many righteous folks – Jews and non-Jews alike – I felt the need to mark it in some way. Originally, it was a simple thing, really: A quick screen grab, shared to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, with a similarly simple set of hashtags:
#HolocaustMemorialDay #Holocaust #NeverAgain
However we choose to do so, we mark the day because failure to do so dishonours the memories of those who died simply because of who they were. As a Jew, it is my responsibility to shine the light on racism wherever I see it. Not only because of what happened – and continues to happen – to my own people. But to all others, as well. Because if we stand by in silence, we may as well be party to the atrocities in the first place. Until, of course, they come for us, too. Take your pick of identifiable groups – gays, Latinos, African-Americans, whoever – and think about how easy we make it for anyone to marginalize anyone else if we fail to step in. It doesn’t have to be directed at you for you to take action.
That should have been more than enough. But then the newly minted president (lower-case deliberate) of the United States, Donald Trump, signed another executive order (he really does love those things, doesn’t he?) banning anyone from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the U.S. for at least the next 90 days. The order also indefinitely suspends Syrian refugees from coming to America, and also pauses the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. That last program will be reinstated only following the implementation of a so-called “extreme vetting” process, and even then only for countries that meet the new administration’s yet-to-be-shared criteria for entry.
The irony that Trump would sign such an order on Holocaust Memorial Day should not be lost on any of us. Adding another bizarro element to the story was Trump’s own statement on the day that left out any mention of Jews. Or of anti-Semitism. If these actions don’t make us sick to our stomachs as members of the human race, I’m not sure what will.
During the Second World War, the U.S. famously closed its borders to refugees from war-torn nations. European Jews tried – and failed – to gain admission to the U.S. as the country maintained strict immigration quotas against Jews from Eastern Europe and from Germany in particular. Anne Frank’s family tried numerous times to obtain U.S. visas, only to be denied every time.
A ship, the St. Louis, packed with 937 European refugees, mostly Jews, was turned away from the Port of Miami in 1939 after being similarly denied entry in Cuba and Canada. The ship had no choice but to return to Europe, and many of those on-board were subsequently murdered in the Holocaust. This story loomed large in my upbringing, as the phrase “One was too many” echoed through my home every time my parents saw a news report of another country saying no to those in need.
It sickens me to no end to think of what might have been had xenophobia and self-serving silence not prevailed during that era. Of the lives that could have been saved. Of the entire family trees whose branches would have continued to spawn new branches. Instead, they were amputated right then and there, by leaders lacking humanity. And by everyone else who stood by in rapt inaction and let it happen.
Now, it’s 2017 and those echoes reverberate more strongly than ever. In the actions of a man who dwells more on the size of the crowds at his inauguration than the profound needs of the country he now leads. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we’re willing to stand by in silence. Or do something about it.
One was too many then. And while it may be too many for a certain leader of the free world, it shouldn’t be for those of us standing by and watching this seems-like-fiction circus play out in front of our disbelieving eyes. Unfortunately, this time it isn’t fiction. And this time we’re a little better equipped to get off the sidelines and actually put a stop to this nonsense.
My ancestors weren’t slaughtered so that a couple of generations later we could forget they were ever victimized and allow the entire episode to be repeated. When we say Never Forget, we mean it.