Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Such Silence?

I have been so distraught over the relentless targeting of civilians by Israeli forces.  I see the faces of Palestinian children in my dreams and every morning I wake up Gaza has been the first thing on my mind.  Perhaps I am being naive, but I really am in shock that the international community, especially the US, is allowing such atrocities to continue without forcing Israel to stop dropping bombs on innocent civilians.

What I find equally if not more disturbing is the silence of the church regarding the massacres taking place in Gaza.  I've seen clergy promoting books and church programs on facebook, but not mention a word about Gaza.  Israel bombs UN shelters full of women and children in Gaza and the church largely has nothing to say about it.  Why?  Why the silence?

Christians are the only people in the world who proclaim a crucified Savior.  We believe that God is most clearly revealed among the poor and oppressed, not the rich and the powerful.  Liberation theologian Jon Sobrino refers to all people who suffer unjustly as "the crucified people".  What does it mean to proclaim a crucified Savior but ignore the suffering of the crucified people?  Why does the church fail to recognize the Palestinians as a crucified people?  They have been stripped of their homeland by force, occupied by a military regime, trapped in ghettos and refugee camps, stripped of their right of self determination and basic human rights in general, for no other reason than living on land coveted by others with superior military force.  As if living in a concentration camp were not enough, now the people of Gaza must be bombed as well.

To be silent in the face of such injustice is sin and a betrayal of Jesus himself.  We are our brother's keeper.  We are our sister's keeper.  We cannot pick and choose who we will defend if we are to be authentic to the way of Jesus.  We must stand up for the crucified people wherever they appear, whether in Gaza, Syria or the urban ghetto.  I have never been as disappointed with church as I am now, so slow to move, so slow to take notice, so slow to act, so wrapped up in its own agenda.  A church that proclaims a crucified Savior but turns its back on crucified people has lost its way and is of no use to the world.

The world doesn't need more church services.  The world needs people who will lay their lives on the line for the sake of justice and the liberation of the oppressed.  The world needs people who refuse to be silent in the midst of atrocities and will fight for what's right regardless of what it might cost them.  If the church turns its back on Gaza then it has turned its back on Jesus.  Make no mistake about it, we cannot call ourselves the people of God without taking up the cause of those who suffer unjustly. There is no room for us in the kingdom of God if we do otherwise.

Following The Way,

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Deception of Despair

The atrocities currently taking place in Gaza have affected me deeply.  The death of innocent children and the apathy from so many people regarding those deaths have been beyond discouraging.  I found myself nearly slipping into depression and despair, wishing for an eject button to get me off of this planet.  I do not want to live in a world where 1,500 pound bombs are dropped on innocent children in their own homes while the international community fiddles as to what to do about it or barely takes notice at all.

But despair is a deception.  Evil knows that it has already lost and its days are numbered.  Despair is a last ditch attempt to delay the inevitable.  What is the inevitable?  The end of injustice, the end off oppression, the end of violence, the end of unnecessary suffering.  When good people are silent evil wins.  And when good people become overwhelmed with all that is wrong with the world and fall into despair, evil prolongs its last days.  Do not be deceived.  The darkness cannot overcome the light.  Despair is a smoke screen, nothing more than evidence that evil is in its final death throes.  It is designed to keep us from seeing our power and fool us into believing that we cannot overturn every system of oppression.  Do not be deceived.  We can and we must.

Evil will never win because no amount of violence and oppression can ever extinguish the thirst and hunger for righteousness.  The thirst and hunger for righteousness, the desire for a world free of violence, poverty, oppression and hate, the capacity to imagine a whole new world that is just, is eternal.  It cannot be killed.  It cannot be exterminated.  It can only be satisfied and it will not rest until it has had its fill.    

Evil has already lost and because we know this we will fight it wherever it dares to show its face.  We do not give in to fear, apathy or helplessness.  We confront it head on.  I believe that authentic Christianity requires radical militancy regarding injustice, an uncompromising, unyielding, unstoppable determination to end injustice wherever we find it. 

We are seeing injustice now in Gaza where innocent civilians are being regularly targeted by Israel.  Stripping the Palestinians of their homeland and civil rights, locking them into ghettos and blocking them from resources and access to power and self determination apparently is not enough.  Now innocent Palestinian men, women and children must be bombed.

But let us not give in to despair and the paralysis it brings.  Let us not turn our heads and look the other way in apathy.  Now is the time to take our faith, hope and love and translate it into action.  We must stand up to injustice wherever it appears.  We must love the oppressed enough to risk our very lives for their liberation or cease to call ourselves the people of God.  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Martin Luther King Jr.).  It is time for all of us who consider ourselves  be the people of God to join the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed.  If not now then when?

Following The Way,

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Slaughter of the Innocents

Photo by Momen Faiz
Matthew chapter 2 tells the story of the slaughter of the innocents as a part of the birth narrative of Jesus.  According to the story evil King Herod fearing the prophecy that a new king of the Jews has been born orders the Magi to tell him when they find the child.  The Magi do not report back to him so Herod orders the deaths of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and younger.  It's a tragic story of the blatant disregard for for human life in the quest to maintain power, but it is most likely completely fictional.  There is no historical evidence to suggest that such a slaughter of children ever took place under Herod's reign.

The same cannot be said for the Palestinians in Gaza, however.  A real life slaughter of the innocents is taking place there right now.  Over 200 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air strikes with over 40 of them being children.  Civilian homes have been targeted with the 1,500 pound bombs used by Israel.  It is important to keep in mind that the residents of Gaza have nowhere to go to escape the bombing.  The borders of Gaza and Israel have been closed and they are hemmed in by the sea.  A population of 1.7 Palestinians live in about 140 square miles and half of the population is comprised of children.  To target civilian homes is to target innocent children.  No political jargon or double talk can avoid this fact.  Israel is dropping 1,500 pound bombs on children.

This fact was made abundantly clear by Wednesday's bombing of  four children on a beach in Gaza.  Hamas was not present.  No rocket launchers were in the vicinity, just fisherman trying to go about their daily lives and children playing on the beach.  Ahed and Muhammed Baker were 11.  Zakariah Baker was 10 and Ismail Baker was 9.  Their crime?  They simply wanted to play outside after being cooped up in their houses for days since the Israeli air strikes began.  They were innocent and they were slaughtered.  No one can deny that.  What are we going to do about it?

We must not remain silent.  We must inform people about the atrocities taking place in Gaza.  We must speak up and demand an end to the slaughter.  We must remind the world that slaughtering children is never acceptable, justifiable or inevitable.  And for people of faith in particular, we have absolutely no right to call ourselves the people of God if we do nothing in the face of injustice, suffering and oppression.  If the slaughter of innocent children does not move us to take action what will?  Now is the time to put our faith into action.

Following The Way,

WARNING!  The following video shows graphic footage of the victims of Wednesday's bombing.  Please be advised.  It is very difficult to watch, but I believe it is very important to bear witness to such atrocities so we may be motivated to act and prevent future atrocities from happening again.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Blood of Jesus

 (Image Credit: AP. Blood in the streets of Gaza City after an Israeli air strike killed seven, July 12)

The blood of Jesus runs red in the streets of Gaza and the church barely takes notice.  In his book The Cross and The Lynching Tree, James Cone defines salvation as "a liberating event in the lives of all who are struggling for survival and dignity in a world bent on denying their humanity" (p. 151).  For Christians we see this salvation illustrated most clearly in the person of Jesus and paradoxically in the scandal of the cross.  It is on the cross that the Son of God becomes the Oppressed One, aligning himself not with the rich or the powerful, but the poor, the oppressed, the trampled upon.  Tragically, the Jim Crow South never recognized the crucified body of Jesus in the lynched bodies of about 5,000 black men, women and children who were brutally beaten, burned, mutilated and hung from trees.  And today we often fail to recognize the blood of Jesus in the shed blood of all who suffer unjustly.

The blood of Jesus runs red in Gaza where the targeting of civilian homes have left over 200 Palestinians dead, over 40 of them children.  The latest victims were four children whose only crime was playing on the beach when an Israeli airstrike violently ended their lives.

The blood of Jesus runs red in Chicago where the combined forces of capitalism and racism have trapped many blacks in ghettos buried in poverty, violence and despair, while being ignored by the rest of society.  Over 80 shootings took place over the course of Independence Day weekend alone.  Let us not be deceived, ghettos are no Chicago phenomenon.  They can be found all throughout the US.  They are created by the rich and the powerful to keep the poor from access to resources and power.

The blood of Jesus runs red in Syria where the death toll continues to rise higher and higher though mainstream media no longer report the atrocities taking place there.  We are over that I guess and on to other things.

Wherever innocent blood is shed the blood of Jesus flows, yet many of us who are his followers fail to recognize this fact.  Many of us care more about the sufferings of fictional characters in shows like Orange Is The New Black than the very real suffering of victims in Gaza or the ghetto.  The cross of Jesus ought to fuel us with a desire to put an end to any more crosses.  The shed blood of Jesus ought to fuel us with an indomitable desire to stop the shedding of any more innocent blood.  The horror of the cross ought to move us to place our very lives on the line in order to create a world where violence, oppression and unnecessary suffering are nothing but distant, distant memories.

Over 2,000 years have passed and yet the blood of Jesus, the blood of the persecuted, the blood of the trampled upon still flows.  When will we take notice?

Following The Way,

Monday, July 14, 2014

What Have We Become?

     Something deep within my soul cried out when I saw this photo of the body of a three-year-old Palestinian child being carried by mourners.  Pain shot through my body.  I wanted to look away at the horror of it all, but I made myself look.  I made myself bear witness to this tragedy.  Can you imagine having to bury your child at the tender age of three?  Mohammed Mnassrah is just one of over 20 Palestinian children killed by the Israeli airstrikes over Gaza.  Many civilian homes have been bombed.

I don't want to talk about politics.  I don't want to talk about military strategies.  I want to talk about humanity.  Was three-year-old Mohammed not human?  Did he deserve to die?  What was his crime?  Should we not mourn his death?  Should we not mourn the deaths of all innocent victims of violence?  Some say that the taking of civilian lives is inevitable because Hamas uses civilian sites and Israel must defend itself.  I ask you to lay aside your ideologies and look at the lifeless body of three-year-old Mohammed. How can we look at this picture and not feel pity?  How can we look at this picture and shrug our shoulders and say it was inevitable?

What has happened to us?  What have we become?  Have we lost our souls?  Have we lost the capacity to be human?  When the death of innocent children no longer stirs any sorrow or empathy within us, what have we become?  When we are more interested in the World Cup than the bombing of civilian homes, what have we become?  When the church is more interested in its liturgies than being a cause for justice in the world, what have we become?

I mourn for Mohammed.  I mourn for Naftali, Gilad and Eyal, the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered.  I mourn for Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive at the age of sixteen in retaliation.   I grieve for every victim of violence, suffering and oppression.  I grieve for every person who can look upon the death of a child and talk politics and not humanity.  I long for a world where people care more about ending oppression, injustice and violence than soccer, reality television and shopping.  When good people are silent evil wins.  There must be another way.  There must be another way to resolve conflict without killing little children.  And if all of us who clam to know God do nothing to help find that way, then what have we become?

Following The Way,