Tag Archives: history

The end of history: 75 years after Auschwitz

Embedded videoRep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) says:  “One thing that I love so much about mill — this new generation is the radical acceptance that I see from so many and they actually take time to read and understand our history, the history of the labor movement, civil rights, history of racial struggles, history of economics, history of the United States, history of colonialism.”

I know those people she loves. Many of them are members of Circle of Hope forming the next generation of the church. Many of those members go so far as to see themselves as “transhistorical.” They not only know the history of things, they are part of an eternal now with their ancestors in the faith (like the real Valentine). They keep making history with all those faithful people from the past. I love them at least as much as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does.

I think I feel about Circle of hope like Paul did about the church in Rome, planted as it was in the first century’s facsimile of a megalopolis:  “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (Romans 1:8ff).

But what about those who have lost history?

However, I experienced a jarring collision between my Headspace trial and Jane Pauley on the DVR last night. It did not make me happy about the way history is going and being lost.

The Headspace app I spoke about in my speech last night taught me and many, many others to shut out the world and live in the present moment. The app provides a cartoon version of Buddhist practice for anxious millennials, especially. Their withdrawal reflects “the Buddhist way,” which includes this kind of teaching: “Buddhists reject identity by saying the self is empty Anatman. They reject reality because they do not believe in external reality. They reject presence because their goal is absence, absence of suffering.”

Buddhism is a pretty big tent, these days. But pop Bushism on apps fits right into the fearfulness that leads people to find ways to shut things out and just be in the moment, history included.

Holocaust survivors walk below the gate with its inscription "Work sets you free" after a wreath laying at the death wall at the memorial site of the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz during ceremonies to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the camp's liberation in Oswiecim, Poland, on January 27, 2020 (JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)
Holocaust survivors walk below the gate with its inscription “Work sets you free” after a wreath laying at the death wall at the memorial site of the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz during ceremonies to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation in Oswiecim, Poland, on January 27, 2020 (JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

When I got home from the meeting at West Tulpehocken, I sat down to watch the rest of CBS Sunday Morning. It spent a lot of time on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Here’s the best story.

The people who have spent their whole lives and millions of dollars preserving Auschwitz, so no one forgets what happened there, are frightened. As each remaining survivor dies, there is a bit more slippage in society’s grasp of the history. The CBS reporters lifted a paragraph out of the Wikipedia page about Millennials to make that point:

A February 2018 survey of 1,350 individuals found that 66% of the American millennials (and 41% of all U.S. adults) surveyed did not know what Auschwitz was,[226] while 41% incorrectly claimed that 2 million Jews or fewer were killed during the Holocaust, and 22% said that they had never heard of the Holocaust.[227] Over 95% of American millennials were unaware that a portion of the Holocaust occurred in the Baltic states, which lost over 90% of their pre-war Jewish population, and 49% were not able to name a single Nazi concentration camp or ghetto in German-occupied Europe.[228][229] 

Meanwhile, reported hate crimes are on the rise (see this WP story about kids!).  The Brookings Institute collected data to show how Trump’s persistent racist and xenophobic rhetoric increases hate crimes. For instance:

Another study, based on data collected by the Anti-Defamation League, shows that counties that hosted a Trump campaign rally in 2016 saw hate crime rates more than double compared to similar counties that did not host a rally.

It is disheartening to anyone who knows what Auschwitz is to think that world leaders can find followers willing to scapegoat despised people groups and unleash hate in their direction.

Don’t gasp, act

Maybe more people will “tsk” than gasp when they read about the sorry state of the world. Thank God Rep. Ocasio-Cortez can find hope in the good people rising up in her generation. I am encouraged by the people of our church who keep hope alive.

But I don’t think any of us should be surprised that people are so wicked. I have a B.A. in history and quite a few years of personal history, now. It would take quite an effort for me to overlook how people keep inventing new ways to express the same old evil. Evil is redundant. When i saw the evil portrayed in Parasite, my first response was, “This movie is so redundant!” It was almost like people who love Bong Joon-ho’s “fresh look” have forgotten the 1930’s, or 1880’s, or 1780’s or Nebuchadnezzar.  Bong hasn’t. One of his favorite movies is How Green Was My Valley, which is the same old story of cruel capitalists and their throwaway slaves.

Jesus-followers apply the same old hope to the same old wickedness and keep the possibilities of forever alive. We have to keep our ability to be appalled intact as Trump and Bloomberg corrupt the populace swimming in the mud of their mudslinging. The people least capable of enduring the same kind of evil that could build an Auschwitz are the ones who will commit more hate crimes and scare people enough to barricade themselves in their countries, homes or minds. I hope we are not afraid to face these poor people and save them. First we need  to make a real relationship with God, especially now that we really need one. And we need to let that love build us into a community of others who share it. From that authentic community, we need to act with all we’ve got, to answer every piece of hate with the power behind the love that transforms it. We need to gasp. Even more, we need to keep acting.

The still points: Finding home in the midst of change

Things change. The world is a transient experience. We are lonely for home – someplace we can feel anchored, someplace certain, someplace where our roots feel secure and stable.

While we are meditating on that, someone plows into our pizzeria or we just hear about ten such things from the 24-hour news alarm. While we are trying to secure our place in the world as the church, our constant failure and dislocated relationships scare us and discourage us until we worry that our fragile connections will deteriorate and we will be alone again.

How do we deal with this lonely, rootless experience we have as humans? The main thing is our lifelong movement toward the goal of oneness with God. That pursuit causes deeper integration, a new instinct for being rejuvenated in solitude, and the capacity to pray. But I think there is even more. There are attitude shifts and decisions we make that provide us with “still points” where we feel secure in a world that keeps shifting. We need to find the “clefts in the rock” where we feel covered.

still point

How can we find these points and overcome the nagging rootlessness that often makes us so lonely? Here are four suggestions.

The still point of faith

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:1-3

When our faith is out of our minds and hearts and also into our bodies and habits, the symbols we use, the language we speak, and the time we share all provide thin places where we experience the security of the cleft, where we feel covered with God’s hand. They all lead to the great still point.

There is something beyond time and history, beyond what shifts in its impermanence. There is something that can’t be debunked by investigation or made obsolete by new discoveries. That something is a Someone. That Someone is known as we journey into the realm of faith, hope and selfless love. That journey in mind, heart and step will help dispel rootlessness if we persevere in it.  Our friends in recovery know this well, the first three steps of the twelve steps are all about facing rootlessness and coming home. #2 says: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. It takes working the steps to find the still point.

The still point of commitment

I was overjoyed when some of the friends arrived and testified to your faithfulness to the truth, namely how you walk in the truth. – 3 John 1:3

Much of our rootlessness can be overcome by committing ourselves to certain people, values, things, and projects and then refusing to be unfaithful to those commitments. We need to give up on “hang loose.” Otherwise our lives end up characterized by infidelity, broken promises, broken words, cheap commitments, and hastily withdrawn loyalties – and acute loneliness.

Permanence adds a missing ingredient to the words love, friendship, promise and loyalty. It brings the element of timelessness. Teilhard de Jardin, the philosopher-scientist-Jesuit, spent much of his life frustrated with his church family. He was occasionally encouraged by his friends to abandon them. However, he would always dismiss the temptation with the simple statement: “I can never leave because I have given my word.” His commitment gave him a still point.

The still point of history

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. – Romans 11:17-18

I think it is great that we can swipe our cheeks and find out from what part of Africa our ancestors derived. The DNA science gives us a small sense of having roots. Maybe it is good that archaeologists become more clever every day and uncover the truth (or fiction) behind ancient texts. They help us feel like our faith has a secure foundation.

We all feel better when we stand within our tradition and know our history. The newest person who comes into our church or any church does better when they refuse to think their history with the group begins when they make their covenant. They are grafted into a long history and are supported by the roots. They are not losing themselves when they adopt certain traditions and add their energy and voice to steering the future. In a real sense they are transhistorical, alive in Christ wherever Jesus has been honored throughout history. That sense of history provides a still point.

The still point of community

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. – Ephesians 2:19-22

Finding home is more than finding a building, a city, or a country where we feel we belong. That’s just part of it. It is finding a heart or a community of hearts where we find enough safety and warmth to dare to be faithful and loving, to be true — like when Adam first saw Eve and said, “At last, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!” That wasn’t just sexual attraction, that was comfort to his heart. He found in Eve what the rest of creation did not have for him.

We go through life needing to find that home. Jesus demonstrated how we find it when he was sitting with his disciples one day and his family came to the house looking for him. No doubt Jesus loved his mother and his family, but he did not immediately get up and go to them. Instead he said” Who is my mother? Who are my brothers and sisters?” Pointing to those around him he said, “Here are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.” He is not disrespecting his mother, he’s just teaching us that home is deeper than blood. Faith makes a family than transcends all the ancestries that divide us.

One of the great scandals of being a Jesus follower is contained in that moment. Jesus respects his origin as a man, but he is king of country that transcends and unites all other identities. Many people would fight even the hint that their personal identity does not make them who they are and should be defended at all costs. Yet Jesus persists in knitting together a new family sharing a renewed blood, heart to heart, bone of bone. In another incident a woman shouted out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” Jesus answered, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”  Yes I had a wonderful mother, but I am more than my biology.

Our community in Christ is bound together by something beyond blood, ethnicity and geography and will outlive them all. Our new home in faith is an answer to the loneliness, it is the great still point, the shelter from the storm, the cleft in the rock, that can root out our rootlessness.

Already today I have confronted my weakness, been in an argument, heard about a car disaster, read a distraught email, found myself confused by problems in various structures, lost something, and the Facebook news reported that Texas A&M had also scheduled a white supremacist rally for next month. It is 9:00 am! I am going to reread this post and see if I can’t find that still point I long to live in, sensing God’s sustaining glory in the cleft of the rock.

2014 #1 — Jesus – and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality

Thursdays, so far, have been TOP TEN of 2014 days. This is the #1 most read post of 2014. Last March I tried to collect some basic thinking that could help us focus where we needed to focus when it came to the tender topic of sexuality. There was plenty of dialogue about just what all this means — and that is a good thing.

The other day a distant acquaintance accused our church of not talking about sex enough  (in the neighborhood gossip column, at least). It was right after we enjoyed an open forum about our theology of sexuality attended by over 100 people! It never ceases to surprise me that the more one does something, the more excuse it gives a few people to criticize you for not doing it!

If anything, Circle of Hope has been a good place to work through the trauma of our over-sexualized society. As our forum uncovered, a lot of people have had painful sexual experiences, and not just because the powers that be limit their sexual expression (since they don’t really do that anymore). Sex is painful because they are confused. And it is painful because they get run over by the wave of immorality that is surging through the culture. (Maybe using the word immorality even made you uneasy, since who could say what that is?). It is painful because sex has become an incessant demand and a constant source of scientific study. And it is painful because a lot of people can’t figure out what Jesus says about it.

Listening to people lately has helped me collect a few of the assumptions I often share when people want some spiritual direction about what to do with what they feel and how they are acting. When you only have your own impulses and a lot of societal pressure to work with, things can get confusing – and painful. So here are five things about Jesus that I think should inform how we have a dialogue about sexual behavior (among other things, of course). These five things will not solve everyone’s problems, and I’m not speaking from a place that has been processed by the leaders of the church, but I hope to name some basic things that guide life in Jesus and that apply to how we continue the dialogue about sexuality.

Continue reading 2014 #1 — Jesus – and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality

Exile or Pioneer — we don't really know what you are going to do with this blog post

I really have no idea what is going to happen — most of the time, I like it that way. I don’t really know if Circle of Hope can sustain itself, since it runs on conviction and covenant. I don’t know whether the stock market will dive and take us with it, whether aggrieved people will unite and upend the social order, whether my friends will move away, or whether my pipes will freeze in the endless winter. Most of the time, all that uncertainty seems like a good excuse to have faith. It is a great grace that living by faith is more fulfilling than knowing whether I should have bought salt before it was all sold out.

mr. batesBut people have a lot of guilt and anxiety about not knowing. They are ashamed they made what look like mistakes and they did not know what was going to happen before it happened. Mr. Bates may do something terrible because of his guilt and shame about not knowing what was happening to Mrs. Bates!

The other day I was at a baby shower and people were quite satisfied that they did not have to buy yellow baby clothes because they knew the baby’s gender already — I am sure science developed in utero photography to ease the anxiety about how to decorate the nursery!  Maybe you laugh, but people are still angry that the government did not predict and prevent 9/11!  Many people defend the government’s right to collect our phone records because they think every measure must be taken so “nothing like that ever happens to anyone ever again!” — we even see our personal experiences as contributions to anxiety relief, guilt reduction and the hope of controlling the future. Don’t we insist that the future must be “better” than the past? And aren’t we taught that good people band together to make sure it will be?

Continue reading Exile or Pioneer — we don't really know what you are going to do with this blog post

Jesus — and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality

The other day a distant acquaintance accused our church of not talking about sex enough  (in the neighborhood gossip column, at least). It was right after we enjoyed an open forum about our theology of sexuality attended by over 100 people! It never ceases to surprise me that the more one does something, the more excuse it gives a few people to criticize you for not doing it!

If anything, Circle of Hope has been a good place to work through the trauma of our over-sexualized society. As our forum uncovered, a lot of people have had painful sexual experiences, and not just because the powers that be limit their sexual expression (since they don’t really do that anymore). Sex is painful because they are confused. And it is painful because they get run over by the wave of immorality that is surging through the culture. (Maybe using the word immorality even made you uneasy, since who could say what that is?). It is painful because sex has become an incessant demand and a constant source of scientific study. And it is painful because a lot of people can’t figure out what Jesus says about it.

He wept over it
Enrique Simonet, 1892

Listening to people lately has helped me collect a few of the assumptions I often share when people want some spiritual direction about what to do with what they feel and how they are acting. When you only have your own impulses and a lot of societal pressure to work with, things can get confusing – and painful. So here are five things about Jesus that I think should inform how we have a dialogue about sexual behavior (among other things, of course). These five things will not solve everyone’s problems, and I’m not speaking from a place that has been processed by the leaders of the church, but I hope to name some basic things that guide life in Jesus and that apply to how we continue the dialogue about sexuality.

Continue reading Jesus — and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality