Standing against Evil and Its Effects
“When we are trying to follow the loving invitation of God in our life, we will find that the good spirit tends to give support, encouragement, and oftentimes even a certain delight in our endeavors … The evil spirit generally acts to bring about the opposite reaction.” – Ignatius of Loyola’s “Rules for Discernment”
I Know These Names, I Know These Stories
The tragedy of what happened at Tree of Life synagogue really hit me when I read the stories of the eleven victims. Immediately, I thought, “I know these people.” Not really, of course. I’ve never personally met Cecil and David Rosenthal, Jerry Robinowitz, Rose Mallinger, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, and Irving Younger. But, I have met them.
I meet them every Sunday. They’re the early crowd – a gathering of incredibly loving and loveable individuals who are there because this faith community is their family. Some are there as faithful volunteers to help out each and every time. Some are there because this community means the world to them. Some still have very active lives. Many are retired. And some, like Cecil and David Rosenthal, are there to greet you with a smile and hug. Every time.
So, to picture someone walking into our narthex with the desire and intent to kill these people, that’s what breaks my heart. To know that it actually happened to the community of Tree of Life synagogue, means it’s important to speak up and to speak out.
There’s no way around it. This was an act of evil.
As people of faith, it is direly important to remember this and to be vigilant about rooting out the weeds of such evil.
Lord, Cleanse Us
This is where it gets hard. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:12 that the real root of evil present in the world goes much deeper than any one act. It is a spiritual reality that grows insidously and dangerously into our hearts and minds. This is why I call it a weed, for that is what it is.
We need to be very clear about this. The weed is the presence of Anti-Semitism, and – deeper than that – the weed of nationalism and unhealthy religious fundamentalism that is on the rise again in America and elsewhere.
America is plagued by these weeds. It’s been part of our history, an unfortunate reality in a garden that includes all sorts of other beautiful growth through the centuries. And while I do not have the complete answer, it is important for us to stand in resistance, to name it when we see it, and to personally and collectively tear it out … to tear it out intentionally.
Here, then are some ways we can identify this weed.
#1 – Beware the sin of nationalism and tribalism
Anti-Semitism, at it’s core, is built upon the lie that God’s desires/promises/plans are for “this” people over “that” people. Anywhere in our life we are beginning to see another human being as our enemy or the cause of “what’s wrong,” the devil is at work, not God. Nationalism in any form is a sin and opposed to God’s will.
I invite us as a congregation to reflect upon any way in which this weed is growing in our midst and to seek to be cleansed of it personally and communally.
#2 – Beware when God becomes a “Punisher”
At the core of racism is an angry God who must cleanse or “fix” others. When our image of God becomes someone who should do battle, we should ask ourselves what is really going on in our own hearts. The good spirit, according to Ignatius, moves to bring life, not destroy. There is, unfortunately, a trend in America right now to enact a “pure” form of Christianity. It’s seen in the fundamentalist push against immigrants, gays and lesbians, and others that are deemed as being “outside” of God’s will. This is evil.
I invite us as a congregation to reflect upon what image we are honoring as God and to ask if Christ is our focal point or some desire for man-made control and order.
#3 – Be aware of our own places of hurt, grief and pain
This last one may be the most important one to those of you reading this. The evil spirit moves into the hurting places of our heart and seeks to pull us towards darkness by leveraging our pain, our frustration, and our fear. When we find ourselves getting angry or feeling a rise towards vengeance, let this be a call for self-examination. What have I lost? Where do I feel vulnerable? What fears do I have about my own safety and value? These should be the questions we are asking today. Not, Who is my enemy? Why is that group so terrible? Why can’t they get it?
Let us do the hard work of looking internally and to ask for God’s renewal in our own hearts.
It is a sad time. Culturally, the evil one is seeking to pull us away from civility and good will, out of community and into chaos, making us enemies instead of neighbors.
But by our God-given identity of being created in God’s image, we are kindred, even if we’ve never met. In a very real sense, God is leaving it up to us to figure this out together, and as the Church we have been especially called to carry out this mission. This is why the nasty weed of racism and prejudice in our country is so tragic. Called to be light and charged with the ministry of reconciliation, we’ve too longed helped perpetrate seeds of division instead of seeds of healing. Let us ask ourselves what role we’ve played, and how we can do better.
Because at the end of the day those families who are gathering in Pittsburg today and this week to lay to rest their loved ones … they are our brothers. They are our sisters. We haven’t met them. But we are like them. And they are like us.