“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” – Mahatma Ghandi
Throughout my life I have spent an unusual amount of time in Holocaust memorial museums.
In 2007, a decade ago now, I stood in the DC Holocaust museum when I was visiting the States for a few months. My eyes caught a label that read ‘Hannah’ in Hebrew on one of the suitcases.
My name is Hannah. I felt my heart break and my eyes fill.
I knew then that it could have been me, or a person I loved. Then, even worse, I realized that for someone, somewhere, this kind of abomination was their reality now, today.
That someone somewhere was running from a threat so great that they may not make it. That surviving was all they could do and even that is unlikely.
As I left the museum, I said a prayer and bought a pin that read ‘Never Again’. I made a private promise to myself and to God that I would do everything I could to make that come true.
With this in mind, I can now feel the conviction of this promise tugging through my being.
As a child I was moved by ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit‘ written by Judith Kerr. Kerr takes us through her memories as a young child when her family was forced to flee, then through developing Nazi Germany. She narrates with a humor and grace that allows a small child to read without abject horror and allows an adult to be unable to deny that same horror.
I myself had a ‘lambie’, not a pink rabbit. I none-the-less understood the concept of someone stripping you of all that you love and hold dear and the pain that causes. I personally sobbed through much of the book.
It’s with a heavy heart that I begin to see a similar trend as the pre-WWII years take place on the world stage in front of us. The political elite have dutifully, and often selfishly, gone about the business of politics while the people they serve become disengaged, disenfranchised and afraid.
The game for power, while won by individuals and in many cases individuals who are good people, was being played far away from the truths of people’s lives. Out of touch and out of care.
The election of Donald Trump as US President, Brexit, the non-election of Theresa May as Prime Minister in the UK, a movement towards the right for Marine Le Pen in France and the disturbing, alleged interference of Russia in elections throughout the world are just a few indications that a shift is taking place.
A shift that should grab our attention and our prayers.
A shift that should be ominous.
These collective decisions, often made democratically and with a lot of support from certain groups in society, point towards a deeply broken and deeply hurting version of humanity.
I don’t say that with any tone of superiority, sarcasm or condescension like I’m not actually part of the broken mess. I am. In many ways I will have contributed to the problem or been ineffective in the communication of my beliefs.
Whichever ‘side’ you stand on, you have been attacked with rhetoric; lies have been told about you and who you are; you have been made to be ultra-defensive.
All to the detriment of us actually figuring out what is good and right.
All to the detriment of us seeing the true versions of who we are as human beings and who our neighbor really is.
I did not vote for Donald Trump. I am left deeply disturbed by his campaign, his first few days in office, and his tone. On a personal level, I believe that we would agree on very little.
I don’t believe however, that Donald Trump or his choices, are the root of the problems and divisions we now face. I don’t believe that Brexit or Marine Le Pen are the root of the problems we face. I don’t believe getting angry at those things, despondent about our voice or distracted by soundbites will fix anything.
I do believe that the movement towards the normalization of what the far right represents is terrifying. The premise of creating a hierarchy of humanity based on the place of one’s birth, one’s faith or the color of one’s skin will never be justifiable.
Similarly the reductionist way that people on the far left (and maybe not-so far left) have dealt with issues has often damaged the discussion.
For example many people have fervidly compared Trump to Hitler. This kind of rhetoric is seen as over-emotional and over-reactive, perhaps fairly at times. It can be seen as an attempt to rile up people’s reactions to a historical event that is still living in the collective consciousness of the world.
However I don’t feel that this point should be wholly overlooked, just like many claims of passionate people.
The legitimate rise to power of Hitler within the democratic process of inter-war Germany, while not as populist as Trump’s ascension, certainly shows what can be achieved when a great orator and man of influence come together to gain and maintain self-interested power.
Hitler’s rhetoric was essentially about ‘Making Germany Great Again’. It was about blaming ‘others’ for why things had gone so badly wrong for ‘Germans’. It was about protecting Germany. None of these things are overtly bad, two of them may even be seen as good and honorable.
The problem was the intention and the heart behind the words.
Further to that, those who supported Hitler were not all ‘Nazis’ as we understand them today. They were people who were afraid or were angry or were being extremely logical about the way that seemed best to grow the German economy. They were people who may have known and loved their Jewish neighbors, who would never have signed up for sterilization of people with learning disabilities and not considered themselves part a supreme race.
Yet, over time, what became normal, reasonable and acceptable changed.
The level of freedom of thought changed.
Many who would not have agreed or voted for the eventual outcomes, suddenly no longer had the freedom they thought to make a choice. The result was beyond disastrous.
And that’s one of the scariest things.
During this season, most of what I believe has been tested and tried and questioned.
I fundamentally do believe in the ability of goodness, decency, and integrity to shine through in humans. I want to always expect the best of a person and see it as one of my duties to always seek to find the best in those I come in contact with.
This belief though, should not lead to a blind trust that individual human beings will always make good and right decisions. It shouldn’t lull us into a sense of security that says we have no responsibility to stand against those things that are wrong.
I keep asking questions. Questions like:
When did we get to a point where we decided that we don’t support the Black Lives Matter Movement because it isn’t overtly obvious in our own personal interest? Or that somehow it motivates us to prove that our life matters too, an case anyone forgot?
When did we get to a point that we condemn all police officers as authoritarian, legal killers who heartlessly target a person because of the color of their skin?
When did we get to the point where our government is genuinely considering creating a registry for people of a certain faith background because they pose an undefined threat?
When did it become reasonable to think of our security exclusively over our neighbors?
When did it ever become acceptable to assume anything about a person without knowing them?
Save The Children released a video in early 2016 telling the story of a year in a girl’s life, one second a day. It is a representation of a typical refugee story, unusually set in the UK, rather than in those places we would ‘expect’ there to be a need to flee. It was an attempt to move our hearts into an understanding that, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, if there is ‘a threat to justice anywhere it is a threat to justice anywhere’.
Like Dr. King, I personally have a deep Christian faith.
I believe in a God who is the ultimate judge, but also the ultimate forgiver.
I believe in a God who loves me and Trump and Ghandi and Clinton and Hitler and King and Joe-in-the-coffee-shop-down-the-street identically.
I believe in a God who delights in true freedom. Found in the expression of humanity as it was originally intended and designed. Without the darkness that we bring on ourselves and on others. Without the darkness of evil that is undeniable.
I believe, then, there can only be one response to all of these things that are happening around us, to us and through us.
Love. Open-handed, open-hearted, fierce and radical love.
A love that doesn’t discount someone for an opposing opinion.
A love that doesn’t allow an injustice to go unchecked.
A love that is honest even when to tell the truth seems impossible and dangerous and unpopular.
A love that admits when we are wrong and seeks forgiveness. A love that also forgives.
I call to the Church around the world to come and be the hands and feet of a servant God who called us to love our enemies, to sacrifice daily, to see the divine in each other and trust that we are taken eternally care of and so don’t need to worry about taking care of ourselves – but instead to be concerned with looking after others.
If he were still here I would want Ghandi to change his opinion of Christ’s representatives in the world.
I am profoundly aware that as a human being I walk in shades of dark and light and that I will never be fully right about all my opinions and feelings. That I will make selfish decisions. Decisions that I think are for the good of others when they are actually self-serving. I get ‘facts’ wrong too. I mishear, misinterpret, become unreasonable and am not a good ambassador for the things that I hold close to my heart and deeply desire to show other people.
However I do know that even in my broken nature there is an ultimate morality and an ultimate truth. The threads of it are inter-weaved into our hearts and we can hear it if we take the time to listen.
I’m learning to listen.
We all walk through life with individual challenges that bring us, at times, to the extreme versions of ourselves. On personal, professional, political, and global levels.
It is during those moments that I hope the extreme version of me would be kind, would be passionate, would be honest and would not be silent when it mattered.
I hope that for you too.