News, views, notes, and quotes

3 April 2015  •  No. 16
Good Friday  •  Pesach

Invocation. “Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten. / Those who seek God shall never go wanting. / God alone fills us.” —Listen to the Taizé chant “Nada Te Turbe,” based on the mystical writing of the Spanish mystic, St. Teresa of Avila (aka Teresa of Jesus). This past week marked the 500th anniversary of her birth. Teresa was canonized 40 years after her death and, together, with Catherine of Siena, was declared a “Doctor of the Church” by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

Hopeful news. Some 40 faith leaders across the width of Christian denominational lines have published a Holy Week letter calling for an abolition of the death penalty in the United States.
        “We urge governors, prosecutors, judges and anyone entrusted with power to do all that they can to end a practice that diminishes our humanity and contributes to a culture of violence and retribution without restoration,” the group said in a statement released the week Christians around the world commemorate the suffering and execution of Jesus leading up to Easter.
        “We especially ask public officials who are Christian to join us in the solidarity of prayer this week as we meditate on the wounds of injustice that sicken our society,” the statement said.

Artwork by Sydney M.

This week is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Billie Holiday, nicknamed “Lady Day,” who had a seminal influence on jazz and pop singing, bringing unsurpassed emotional heft and creative tempo to her music. Among her best known recordings is “Strange Fruit” , a soulful expose of lynching,  written by Abel Meeropol. Meeropol and his wife Anne adopted Michael and Robert, the two young children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after they were convicted and executed for treason.

Last week’s “Signs of the Times” noted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s race-baiting comments as national elections began. There is also another story to be told, though not in the interest of “balance.” (The first step in any equitable resolution of conflict is to analyze the relative relationships of power among disputing parties; and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is anything but equity.) Nevertheless, clear-eyed assessment must take into account all the brutal facts.
        “One has to go out of one’s way in Denmark to find a synagogue to terrorize—the country has only a few thousand Jews. And one has to go out of one’s way in France to find a kosher market to attack. The terrorizing of the grocery in east Paris [where four Jews were murdered] was not a ‘random act of violence,’ as President Obama oddly suggested. Nor was the February shooting of Dan Uzan outside a Copenhagen synagogue” or “the killing of four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels or in the murder of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse. A vicious anti-Semitism persists on the streets of Europe as well as in the Middle East and on the Internet.” —“Still targeted,” Christian Century editorial

Traveling with an interfaith delegation to Iraq in 2000, to assess the impacts of US-led sanctions, I didn’t realize until it was too late that my passport had an Israeli visa stamp. At the time, Iraq didn’t allow any person with such into their country. By means of a chemical bath, I managed to erase the ink of my Israeli entry stamp but not the exit. An attempted disguise didn’t fool the Iraqi border guard, and I very nearly had to hitchhike the 500 miles back to Amman, Jordan. Luckily our driver, who had made this trip dozens of time, was quick on his feet—a small bribe secured my entry.

On that same trip, Iraq’s foreign minister agreed to meet with us—but only four of us. Our delegation elected our representatives, one of whom was a rabbi, the first rabbi allowed entry into the country since the 1991 Gulf War. The foreign minister’s office refused. We discussed this stipulation and finally agreed to say, OK, if the rabbi can’t come, none of us will come. It worked.

It was Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt who coined the phrase “the banality of evil” in her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem,” describing the composure, during his trial, of the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel) leader Adolph Eichmann who managed the logistics of Hitler’s “Final Solution,” the genocidal plan to eliminate the Jewish people. What was most striking about Eichmann, says Arendt, was that he expressed neither guilt nor hatred; that he was neither beastly nor sadistic and was judged fully sane by a psychiatrist; that he endlessly insisted that he was only following orders; that what he did was fully legal; that he was only doing his job—all of which is true, which makes it all the more frightening.

In Scripture, “sin” is rendered in several ways with several nuanced meanings, thus needing several synonyms. I think the most significant, and most overlooked, way to capture the meaning is cluelessness, which aligns with what Arendt meant about the banality of evil. Such evil is not so much the result of intentional or heinous brutality but of heedless, negligent, inattentive action oblivious to the context of history and social circumstance—being blind, sometimes innocently, sometimes willfully, typically a mixture of both.

Some of my favorite quotes from Hannah Arendt:
        •"Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to a single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer’s apprentice who lacked the magic formula to break the spell.”
        •“Forgiveness is the only way to reverse the irreversible flow of history.”
        •"Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it."
        •“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”
        •“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.”
        •“I'm more than ever of the opinion that a decent human existence is possible today only on the fringes of society, where one then runs the risk of starving or being stoned to death. In these circumstances, a sense of humor is a great help.”

Illustration (left) from the 14th century Kaufmann Haggadah.

The Jewish observance of Passover (Pesach) begins this week, starting Friday 3 April at sundown and lasting for seven days (the 15th-22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan). The date moves around on the Gregorian calendar because the traditional Jewish calendar is lunar rather than solar. The Jewish calendar loses about 11 days relative to the solar calendar every year, but makes up for it by adding a month every two or three years. The Muslim calendar is also is lunar but does not add months, which is why Ramadan circles the calendar.
        Passover commemorates the Hebrew escape from the Egyptian Pharaoh’s brickyards. They left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise. In commemoration, for the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason Passover was called the feast of unleavened bread in the Torah or Old Testament. Thus Matzo (flat unleavened bread) is eaten during Passover and it is a tradition of the holiday.
        The Hebrew verb "pasàch" is first mentioned in the book of Exodus (12:23) and is generally understood to refer to God’s “passing over” the houses of the Hebrews during the final of the Ten Plagues of Egypt. The term may also refer to the lamb or goat designated as the Passover sacrifice.

Yom HaShoah (aka “Holocaust Remembrance Day,” more formally “Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day”) is observed one week after the end of Passover, this year beginning at sundown on Wednesday 15 April, the date linked to the anniversary of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Increasingly, the word Shoah (“calamity”) is preferred because holocaust has historical roots in the Hebrew word olah, meaning “completely burnt offering to God,” with the implication that Jews and other “undesirables” murdered by the Nazis during World War II were a sacrifice to God.

In November 2005 the United Nations created the Holocaust Outreach Programme, designating an international Holocaust Remembrance Day observance for 27 January, the day in 1945 when the Auschwitz death camp in Poland was liberated.

¶ Web resources. The Path to Nazi Genocide,”  (38-minutes, produced by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum) is a good primer on that history. Here is a poignant four-minute rendition of Schubert’s “Serenade” playing over photos from the Final Solution. “Keep the Memory Alive”  is well-produced video (8:45 minutes) interview with a Holocaust survivor using photos and animation, created specifically for use in an assembly with primary school children.

Profession of faith. “I have looked our destruction, our miserable end, straight in the eye and accepted it into my life, and my love of life has not been diminished. I am not bitter or rebellious, or in any way discouraged. . . . My life has been extended by death, by accepting destruction as part of life and no longer wasting my energies on fear of death or refusal to acknowledge its inevitability. It sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life we enlarge and enrich it.” —Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life (A Dutch Jew, Hillesum died at age 29 in Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp, in 1943. Her story been referred to as the adult counterpart to that of Anne Frank.

Here I stand. “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” —Elie Wiesel

“Klezmer,” the traditional music of Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, is sometimes referred to as “Jewish roots music”. One beautiful example, “Shnirele Perele,” is a Yiddish folksong whose provenance is uncertain. Some say it originated from a Jewish religious source, Got fun Avrom, a woman’s prayer at the end of Shabbat (Sabbath), and some attribute the song to Rabbi Levi Yitzchok (1740-1810), a Hasidic rabbi. Watch a beautiful rendition of the song (with displayed lyrics) by the Klezmaniacs.

Good Friday? There are a host of explanations as to how “good” came to be attached to Holy Weeks’ “Friday.” (Germans use the word Karfreitag, “Sorrowful Friday,” which seems more straightforward.) Maybe the ironic modifier “good” simply lends itself to creative exploration. Maybe Good Friday represents the commitment we carry in the midst of the collision between sorrow and joy, despair and hope, imperial aspiration and the one Lordship that undermines all lording, Pax Romana and Pax Christi.
        The irony continues to this day to play out in a host of circumstances, as in this recent story.
        MidAmerica Nazarene University chaplain Randy Beckum has been relieved of some of his duties because of a “controversial sermon,” where he suggested that “Christians should take seriously Jesus’ injunction to love one’s enemies and by his questioning of Christians’ use of violence.” —Patheos

“Practice resurrection.” If you haven’t read it in a while (or never), see Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.”

Artwork (right) by Kaki Roberts.

Preach it. “Let him easter in us. . . .” —Gerard Manly Hopkins, “The Wreck of the Deutschland"

Lection for Sunday next includes a text from the early church’s vision of what practicing resurrection looks like. “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” —Acts 4.32

Altar call. “Clarence [Jordan] viewed the resurrection as God's refusal to stay on the other side of the grave. ‘He raised Jesus, not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that He himself has now established permanent residence on earth," Clarence said.  "The resurrection places Jesus on this side of the grave, here and now, in the midst of this life.  The Good News of the resurrection is not that we shall die and go home with him but that he is risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner brothers with him.’" —Dallas Lee, Cotton Patch Evidence

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

      • “The Top 10 Reasons You Know It’s the Sunday After Easter"

      • “Draw near,” a litany for worship


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