Hello Brother, or The Jacinda Way

Hello Brother, or The Jacinda Way

Presented March 31st, 2019

One of my favourite aspects of our building is this wall of windows. While the windows are a source of discomfort for latecomers – scurrying by with heads down – it’s quite wonderful from this side of the glass.

Open and bright, welcoming the world in. The windows are fabulous.

For the past two years I have served on the Interfaith Council of Peel. We take turns hosting meetings so we can learn more about one another’s tradition. Last week we met in a mosque up on Edwards Rd.

We went in a small metal door at the back of the property, through a large open space, kind of a gymnasium, then into the mosque proper, where the worship area is behind another wall.

It was similar to the ISNA mosque and the Sikh temple, where you go through some other spaces and find the worship area is in the interior. None have windows to the outside.

For those of you who have been to Solel synagogue, the design is similar. The Jewish congregation’s worship area is in the middle of the building, closed off from the outside.  No windows.

Safety was not a necessary part of our building design. Other traditions – with good sad reason – have to think differently. They don’t have the privilege of windows, of openness to the world.

They go to their place of worship for a service, for a baby dedication, for a children’s play. It’s an ordinary day.

They are there with friends and family, tired from work or happy with a new hobby.  Wanting coffee, mind wandering.

It’s an ordinary day. Until it isn’t.

Until the gunman walks in and starts shooting. It’s over in minutes.

Two weeks ago it was 50 muslims at 2 mosques in Christchurch New Zealand. Last year it was 11 Jewish people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. 9 African Americans in a Methodist church in Charleston, South Carolina. Or 6 muslims in a Quebec City mosque.

All victims of white supremacist, alt right terrorists. Men who for various reasons found a religion to blame or a race to hate.

Imagine if we had to worship in a hidden away room, without windows, with the doors locked and security on hand on a Sunday morning.

We live in a society where this is already normal for jewish and muslim people. And it should not be normal. Windows in worship should not be a privilege.

White supremacism is on the rise.

Politicians are being elected around the world who look at the complex challenges of today and take the easy way out – by blaming certain groups of people. Right wing politicians and alt right media claim the problem is too much money being spent on gender equality, on LGTBQ people, on the rights of minorities, that immigrants are taking away jobs, and the list of blame, blame, blame goes on.

It’s a litany of anger, of loss, of fear. It’s the stress of uncertainty corroding into hate.

We do live in complex times where it’s harder to live well, where it’s easy to get lost in the system and lose out. But the shifts are economic and political and never the fault of another group of people.

The blame and scapegoat game is a dangerous one. History shows its horrors.

Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran pastor, became famous for these words which he shared in many speeches after world war two.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

 Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew.

 Then they came for me— and there was no one left to speak for me.

 In 1930s Germany, Niemoller was an enthusiastic nationalist who embraced Hitler and his rise to power. He didn’t have a problem scapegoating the socialists, the trade unionists, the Jewish people.  They were unpopular, not his kind, he didn’t care.

Then Hitler tried to control the Lutheran church.  It got personal, Niemoller got angry, and began to speak against Hitler’s regime. He ended up in prison for the war.

After his release, Niemoller began to understand the full extent of the holocaust and understood just how wrong he had been. And he admitted it.

Then they came for me— and there was no one left to speak for me.

We can worship with beautiful wide windows. We aren’t the ones doing the scapegoating. We feel comfortable and secure. Certainly for me, it feels unimaginable that violence could enter here. But I know I am wrong to feel that way.

You go to your place of worship to see the youth and children put on a performance of the musical Annie. It’s an ordinary day.

You are here with friends and family, tired from work or happy with a new hobby. Wanting coffee, mind wandering.

It’s an ordinary day. Until it isn’t.

A man with a gun walks in and starts shooting.

2 people die, 6 are injured. The shooter is tackled to the ground before he can kill more people.

It’s 2008, in Knoxville, Tennesse. It’s the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

The shooter targeted the UU church because they were liberals – in a manifesto found in his car, he said he hated the damned left wing liberals who were turning America to communism. He ranted against homosexuality, inter-racial relationships, major media outlets, and against the presidency of Barack Obama.

He called Unitarian Univeralism a cult that embraces the sick and the weird.

One Unitarian who was present at the shooting said “Because of those few minutes, I have a clearer understanding of the word ‘chaos’ and a different sense of the word ‘sanctuary’.

If I believed in God I would pray fervently that we at UCM never have to learn new meanings for chaos and sanctuary. But I don’t believe in an interventionist God and I don’t actually think it is the work of the divine to respond to the rise of alt right, white supremacist terrorism.

I believe it is my work, that it is our work.

My Muslim and Jewish colleagues have had to learn over and over again that they are at risk just for celebrating their religion. And if the alt right continues to gain power, we are also at risk. When the rights of any religion or ethnic group are targeted, we are all under attack.

The best protest sign I have seen recently says: First they came for the Muslims … and we said Not today. Actually it says it more forcefully but I have skipped the swearing.

First they came for the Muslims … and we said Not today.

And it’s our work to make that true. To make it possible for everyone to worship, if they wish, by a wall of windows, open and safe.

First they come for Muslims and we said… Not today.

&

If anything good could be said to come out of the terror attack in New Zealand, it is the example of New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Arden.

She was already beating Justin Trudeau in the cool young prime minister competition.

And in the aftermath of the terror attack, Jacinda Arden has modelled a practical compassionate response. Prime Minister Arden has refused to name the shooter, asking that images of the shooting and his manifesto be taken off social media.

She has kept the focus on the victims, and on ways to repair and heal this devastating wound to the Islamic community. She visited survivors wearing a headscarf, a powerful act of respect.

She has brought her country together, united in sorrow, expressing love and support and rejecting bigotry. Within a week parliament began work to ban semi-automatic weapons and institute a buy back scheme.

Practical compassion. The Jacinda way.

Three days ago, Prime Minister Arden spoke at a memorial service for the victims, and her words speak to all people who focus on our common humanity. Arden says that the memory of this brutal terror attacks places a responsibility on all of us.

“A responsibility to be the place that we wish to be. A place that is diverse, that is welcoming, that is kind and compassionate.  These values represent the best of us.

But even the ugliest of viruses can exist in places they are not welcome.  Racism exists but it is not welcome here. As assault on the freedom of any one of us who practices their faith or religion, is not welcome here. Violence, and extremism in all its forms, is not welcome here.”

Arden says that “our challenge now is to make the very best of us, a daily reality. Because we are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other. We never have been. But we can be the [ones] that discover  the cure.”

We have work to do, according to Jacinda Arden. “The job of combatting hate is not for the government alone. We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness.”

In Daoism, practioners seek to follow the Way. I have become an enthusiastic follower of the Jacinda way!

“The job of combatting hate is not for the government alone. We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness.”

Let us live by Jacinda’s way. Freedom to worship, embracing diversity, and kindness are fundamental UU values. Each and every one of us can make a difference by actively living by those values.

Each act of open hearted kindness, each gesture of solidarity, each gentle refusal of Islamophobic statements contributes to the cure for hate.

When you hear an Islamophobic statement at work or elsewhere, silence is not an option. If someone is equating Islam with terrorism, remind people to make a distinction between the two. Do a re-frame.

Islam is a religion of peace that is expressed in all sorts of way around the world.

Terrorists are people who think badly, engaging in blame, targeting and attack behaviour. Many of them today are white.

Ask questions if someone says something racist or phobic, gently ask them to explain why they think that way. Engage in a conversation. Offer up your own experiences of Muslims as friends, as ordinary people, just planting a seed of common humanity.

If you see someone harassing a Muslim, intervene by speaking to the Muslim person, not the harasser. Engage them in light conversation, and don’t acknowledge the harasser. Stay with them until the harasser gives up.

Islamophobia is equivalent to anti-semitism – it is hate of the other. It’s all blaming and scapegoating and giving into fear. It’s dangerous and we can each do a little something to stop it. There is an infographic page available in the foyer that you are welcome to take and put up at your workplace.

We live in a time of increasing alt-right, white supremacist terrorism.  We need to speak out now, speak clearly from our values.

We can shift the conversation by lifting up the light of the chalice, by living by our values, and using our voices to choose over and over again, however long it takes, to choose love over hate every time.

I encourage all of you to follow the Jacinda way of practical compassion.

Be a beacon of hope and choose love over hate.

As-salaam Alaikum. Peace be upon you.

So Say We All.

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