The Hard Truth of Beloved Community

Today is the day we celebrate the gifts of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. to our nation and world. 

Martin Luther King, JRThis is a time when many in our nation participate in some action that they believe helps us achieve Dr. King’s vision of “beloved community.” My intention is to continue to do that continually throughout the year, throughout my life, and my hope and prayer is that is true for others as well. 

Yesterday, I heard a fine sermon by Rev. Dwayne Johnson at Metropolitan Community Church in Washington, D.C. in which he focused on the active love of God working in and through us. He drew much inspiration from early writing of Dr. King, such as “An Experiment in Love,” which appeared in in 1958 in a magazine and also as a part of his early book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Circle.

In that article, Dr. King focuses on the Christian ethical concept of agape (a transliteration of the Greek word for love), often described as God’s love for humanity. This love is different from love songs and courtship. He wrote

Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. 

Community. There are so many forces, so many people, seeking today to disrupt, even destroy community. From politicians to terrorists to intolerant individuals and xenophobic groups, our life in community is under siege. Dr. King would be preaching, writing, marching, praying to turn that around.

Jonathan and Robin JVP Islamophobia actionSome of the worst right now is virulent negativity toward Muslims and Islam (of course, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere, as well as transgender people, differently-abled people, and LGB people continue to face this, too). 

That’s why Jonathan and I, with other members of the DC Metro Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, went yesterday to the Columbia Heights neighborhood in our nation’s capital to focus on Islamophobia and to encourage others to join in opposing this harmful attitude that seems to be affecting, infecting, so much of our public discourse. 

About 20 of us handed out flyers, talked to people on the street, and visited store managers and owners asking for permission to put posters in their windows. About 25 retailers accepted the posters and quite a few hung them immediately in their windows. We are shown with one poster, and the other is below. 

Many of us also wore small stickers in the shape of the yellow star Jews were forced to wear in the Holocaust with the word “Muslim” (and the Islamic crescent) super-imposed where the word Jude (German for Jew) was usually displayed. This was not without controversy for some, but the intention was to express solidarity with a people being marked for ugly treatment on the basis of their religion and heritage.

yellow star with Muslim and crescentI also know that expressing that solidarity right in the face of so much hatred is what so many should have done in Germany and elsewhere, including in the United States, when Jews by the millions, and many others (my own tribe, gay men, wore the pink triangle), were being forced to leave their homes and be slaughtered. Just think what might have happened, how different things might have been, if people–non-Jews all over–had stood up in 1935, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, etc.! Hitler and his minions did the deeds, just as others engage in genocide and racial profiling that leads to death and imprisonment for far too many today, but we all bear responsibility for whatever we did not, do not, do to stop it. 

Refugees are welcome here posterThis is what Dr. King meant when he often spoke of the silence of the “good people,” the ones who look the other way in the face of injustice. As Dr. King, and so many who marched with him, knew well, we are called on to speak truth to power when, as it so often is, it is on the side of oppression. And too often for some, perhaps many depending on the circumstances, the power that oppresses some actually sustains, even raises, the rest of us. It is not easy to stand up against our own group when it is wrong, but if we want beloved community, the community which is the whole of God’s people (all people are God’s people) to survive and thrive, we must do just that. 

The fate of community, beloved community, rests not only with others but also squarely with us. Thank you, Dr. King, for not letting us forget that truth. 

 

Of Bombs and Massacres

Political rhetoric often gets in the way of facts, not to mention reason and logical thought.

Ted Cruz
Texas Senator Ted Cruz bbc.com

Texas Senator Ted Cruz–wanting to establish his bona fides  as the toughest of the tough against ISIL–proposed “carpetbombing” the terrorist group into oblivion, suggesting that with enough bombs the desert might glow.

However, Cruz misuses the term “carpetbombing,” when he suggests not that we level the ISIL capital but rather bomb where the troops are. This is not carpetbombing–it is targeted bombing, which the United States and its allies are already doing. Carpet bombing is what the United States and Britain did to Dresden, Germany in World War II, flattening the city and its people.

Dresden one year after the bombing
People boarding a tram in Dresden one year AFTER the bombing that left the city mostly destroyed. news.bbc.co.uk

Another word for carpetbombing could be “massacre.” As I read about Cruz’s proposal I thought back to two episodes of “Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman” Jonathan and I watched recently. Entitled “Washita,” it involves a re-telling of the complete destruction of an encampment of Cheyenne by troops led by then Lieutenant Colonel George Custer in 1868.

Washita massacre
hubpages.com

At the time, this battle was seen as a great victory over the Cheyenne, many of whom were resisting being moved onto reservations–and it restored Custer’s reputation as a military hero, ten months after he had been stripped of his rank and command for desertion and mistreatment of his troops.

There is one problem, however. The encampment was entirely populated by peaceful Cheyenne, including Chief Black Kettle who promoted peaceful relations with the government and settlers. The entire camp was on reservation land where the people had settled after being promised safety by the local Army commander. There was a white flag flying from one of the dwellings, indicating a desire to avoid conflict.

Within a few hours of the early morning raid, begun while the village was still sleeping, 103 Cheyenne braves were killed, including Black Kettle and his wife, and many other women and children. Some braves escaped and fought back, but in the end nothing was left.

custer.over-blog.com
custer.over-blog.com

This is how carpetbombing looks up close and personal. Of course, it is demoralizing, one could say terrorizing, to many of those who remain–which is what Custer and his boss, General Philip Sheridan, wanted, in order for more native Americans to move onto reservations.

But it also creates deep resentment and anger in others, which is, I suspect, what such action would produce in the Middle East. The loss of innocent life would be a great recruitment gain for ISIL and other extemist groups.

However, I imagine it would make Senator Cruz, and presumably others, feel good about his leadership skills, believing that toughness is the main ingredient . . . if we are just tough enough, violent enough, mean enough, these ugly people will either cave in or be destroyed.

This is what fear induces, unless it is coupled with reason and intelligence. Public policy rooted in fear, flavored in shrillness and hyperbole, is invariably bad policy, producing reactions and counter-reactions that leave the world in a worse place than before.

Senator Cruz, like Mr. Trump, is well educated–Cruz after all his talk and actions about being a political outsider, is a Harvard Law School grad and served as a clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist–but in his drive to win the presidential nomination seems willing to sacrifice accuracy in speaking, not to mention thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of innocent lives.

Caveat emptor.