I had to go to the MVA yesterday. Yes, the dreaded Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland. It might be the DMV where you live or some other innocuous sounding jumble of letters, but it means the same thing: a little death. My vehicle registration had expired on June 1, and yesterday was June 13, but it had taken me that long to track down all the flags and little things to tidy up before I could renew, to the tune of several hundred dollars. I thought it was all done, and I thought I’d be in and out of there.
I arrived to find that EZPass, the nefarious organization which runs a local crime syndicate called “Tollway” had more outstanding fines for me to pay than their enforcer had told me on the phone last week. I had been told that the $50 I paid last week would get me in the clear, but their mob muscle at the MVA detailed another $650 or so I’d have to pay before I could ever drive legally again on Maryland turf. I posted the Gif here of a collapsing baby on Facebook from a place of inner pain and hopeless I thought could only be visualized by the falling innocence and dejection of an infant who would surely also flop right off the couch and land on their face. #carpetburn Really, this was all too much to take in… so much worse than their only having Diet Pepsi available as the low calorie soda option in the vending machine.
I was upset. I was stunned. I did not have $650 to clear my good name and my Nissan’s registration. Of course, I could have yelled and stamped my feet. I really, really, really wanted to yell and stamp my feet and basically wig the fruit right out of my grits and bacon. But let’s be real for a minute… everything and I mean everything my faith is supposed to be about is about not doing that kind of thing. I am supposed to be forgiving, patient, kind, joyful in distress and expectant of good things, among other things, all of which sound great in sermons and hymns and are really difficult at the MVA. I don’t know what exactly the woman with EZPAss saw in my face, the hopelessness, the patience, or just a face not screaming obscenities at her from a mess of my own making, but she next says these amazing and unexpected words: Have you ever had a one-time waiver?
A one-time waiver? I’ve suddenly got that feeling like Katniss when the salve dropped in on a chiming parachute to heal Pita: hope.
I have not had this thing, tell me more. She goes on to detail that she has the power to give me this waiver and bids me wait a moment while she checks and receives instructions from a small robot overlord on her desk she reverently called “My System.” She smiles and explains that all my many $50+ fines adding up to almost $650 can all be magically changed to $3 fines, but only once in my life. There can be only one. I had not had this done for me ever, so she could do it now, and all my fines and fees and great debt were shrunk to a total of $70.
I like to rant about the MVA. It’s fun to rant on the MVA. But once I cleared things with EZPass, I was out of there in barely more than thirty minutes updating the address on my license and renewing my registration. So as much as ranting might be fun and even funny, I have to be grateful. I have to be thankful. I’m so thankful that EZPass is housed at the MVA and I didn’t have to travel across the state to find them. And I’m glad I didn’t go nuts, because I’m supposed to be nice. I’m grateful for the ease with which things were settled, and for keeping my fruit together. Amen.
I have waited and reflected a bit since my pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine before writing something about the conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinians. Recent violence in Gaza and the conflicting destructive messaging all around in my social media circles has compelled me to go ahead and get this written out. I want to be clear and I want to be irenic (peace-making) in what I say. I was deeply grieved and affected by what I saw in Palestine. I was moved by the daily plight of Palestinians in the West Bank having to navigate checkpoints and walls in their daily lives. I was moved by the stories of families and communities who were displaced and dispossessed in the late 40’s when Zionist armed forces removed them from their homes and lands and set them adrift. And what I personally saw was just in the West Bank, we aren’t even talking about the world’s largest open-air prison, the Gaza Strip.
As I process what I saw and what I have come to hope for, let me be clear about a few things. I support the right of the State of Israel to exist, I support it as much as I support the existence a Palestinian State. I would support even more a single state which granted full human rights and civil liberties to all the people within it’s borders regardless of race or religion. Sounds down right American, right? This is my left hand most days now, pictured to the right, with my wedding band inscribed in Hebrew and my bracelet bearing the Palestinian flag and the word love. I choose not to hate either people, or to ignore the needs of either people. My desire is for a peaceful, secure home for all the people of that land. I am glad that the State of Israel was created as a solution to the global and historical problem of anti Semitism and existential threat to the Jewish people which culminated in the Holocaust. I am aware of and terribly empathetic to the needs of the that time which moved the international community to sanction and support the creation of the State of Israel. I have no ill will toward Jewish people or Israeli citizens.
Now let me be as clear on the Palestinian people. They are a dispossessed and disenfranchised people, expelled from their homes, some into exile in other countries and some into lives as exiles near or on their own lands. As a group they were forced into this situation by immigrating Jewish families and Zionist forces, at gunpoint, and their plight has been one of the great injustices of our age. Even as the international community has leveraged it’s great moral weight and power to end Apartheid in South Africa, it ironically has ignored the similar plight of the Palestinians and their systematic and nearly complete disenfranchisement under an invading and expanding power.
The State of Israel has not been a shining example of democracy in the Middle East, but along with it’s achievements and progress as a nation and a military power it has systematically destroyed a people, occupied and dehumanized them, and never extended them full citizenship in their own land or anything near equal representation. When speaking of the Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands Henry Seigman (past National Director of the American Jewish Congress) only a decade ago warned us that, “As a result of that ‘achievement,’ one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.” <— source The Palestinian people have been repeatedly removed from their homes and lands to make room for immigrating Jewish families, and with the newest settlement under construction just last year, they are still being displaced and dispossessed, today. That great injustice, met so often with war from without and terrorism from within, has been the foundation of all the death and hopelessness we see, today.
That is what we call a 40,000 foot view, from up in the clouds. Down on earth today we have Israeli settlements, Hamas, the PLO, checkpoints and walls of separation, Zionism, the War of 1967, the Oslo Accords, armed occupation and terrorism. We have a human rights mess of titanic proportions including the most recent demonstrations for the Right of Return in the Gaza Strip and the brutal, lethal military responses of the IDF. There is such an enormous difference in Israel and Palestine today between the Israeli cities and the cities of Palestine, an enormous gap in wealth, stability and hope. You can wine and dine in Haifa, Israel, and struggle to find basic affordable medical care in Nablus, Palestine, on the same day. And yet in both areas we find human beings, families, neighbors, communities seeking a future and deserving one. We must take a longer view to find a way to peace. Solutions are not found in one-sided histories or focus on any one day’s violence.
If you choose to unconditionally support the State of Israel continuing as it has, then you point to Hamas and speak of a sovereign state defending it’s borders. If you choose to unconditionally support the Palestinians, then you ignore the indiscriminate terrorism of Palestinian factions and speak of the State of Israel only as an oppressor and only as an occupier. I am asking that we change this narrative to speak unconditionally of human dignity and equity, and about the needs of the future. The security of the Israeli people is bound to the security of the Palestinian people. Justice and peace for both sides must be founded in an equity of belonging, an equity of civil rights, and an equity of human dignity. We citizens of the United States learned (and are still learning) this lesson in our own country as we deal with the deep and painful legacy and resurgent reality of racism and oppression in our own nation as we are still learning to live together. We eventually joined the international community and helped end Apartheid in South Africa… not by killing the white South Africans, but by demanding equity and taking economic and political steps to stop the oppression. We must do the same for the Palestinians. This is not about killing Jews or destroying the State of Israel, but about ending the oppression upon which it currently has anchored itself. This is about saving the both Palestinian people and the State of Israel, for their future security and peace are inextricably bound.
As we recognize that the State of Israel was established to protect the human dignity of the Jews, we must also as honestly recognize the great human injustice done to the Palestinian people in that establishment. That injustice is the foundation for the narrative of hate, violence, terrorism and displacement which we have witnessed for the past seventy years and this very day. A new foundation must be laid for the future because anything built on that kind of injustice will forever be plagued by the violence, confusion and loss of human dignity we have witnessed. As we work to help change this narrative we must also deal with our culpability as a nation. Our money has financed and backed the Israeli military for decades. We have ignored the injustices done to the Palestinian people. We have rationalized and sided with oppression, and that must change.
Pray for peace. Mourn the dead. Speak for the future. Help change this narrative of violence and conflict to one of restoration and reconciliation. I’d like share some amazing voices I have recently heard met, and from whom I am learning about a future of hope…
Rev. Naim Ateek who recently spoke in Chevy Chase, Maryland, at St. John’s Episcopal Church and said, “The God we believe in loves justice and all people equally.” I agree. He’s an Anglican Priest, a Palestinian, an author, a theologian and no enemy to any human being. His books can found on Amazon right here!
Sabeel is the foundation for peace and dialogue which was established by Rev. Naim Ateek.
FOSNA is the Friends of Sabeel North America and offers ways to be involved with Sabeel and a peaceful way forward in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine.
Jewish Voice for Peace is an amazing Jewish voice for our time! They are a great resource for our peace studies.
I wish I knew an easy, concrete answer to making peace in the Middle East happen today or tomorrow. I don’t think that such an easy answer exists, but I do fully believe that a secure, peaceful and joyful future for both Israel and Palestine does exist. We have to change our thinking and telling of the narrative, and speak and act for that peace. We have to give each other the grace to grapple with these emotionally charged issues and events, and stay committed to arriving on the other side together. We must at all costs avoid the voices of one-sided extremism who call us to violence and to hatred.
On a personal note… I love my many Jewish friends. I love and appreciate our shared religious roots and I abhor the anti Semitism and history of racial discrimination that Jewish people have faced around the world, and sadly often at the hands of my sisters and brothers in Christ. You matter to me. The safety and security of people in the State of Israel matter to me. I also love my Muslim friends, a group which has grown in recent years and months to include Palestinian friends of both Muslim and Christian faiths. Your lives matter to me and the future joy and security of the Palestinian people matter to me. Never think that I fall on one side or the other, but only ever strive to be on the side of human dignity, something that each and every one of us possesses in equal measure by God’s grace. Renouncing oppression, disenfranchisement and violence is our way forward, a way to peace that will never be purchased with rockets, bullets, bombs or walls. The sooner we can help our respective faith communities, social groups and governmental leaders change the narrative, the sooner we can take real steps toward the future that we all need and deserve.
Ok, white people. It’s getting a little embarrassing out here. A string of recent events have caused some of us to scratch our heads and wonder at the audacity of your racism. You do know that when non-white people do stuff you don’t like them doing (like sitting, napping or having a cookout) that your dislike and racism does not criminalize their behavior, yeah? You know that, right? Because when you don’t, that same racism calls the police for no reason and even might put on a uniform and a badge and start assaulting grandmas and learning your life lessons the hard way… and that’s when we have to have a chat. Come on. Going after a grandma?
Wait, it’s not just adults and senior citizens… some white people will shoot at a black teen for asking for directions! We cannot look away. This is a stunning white sin on display, shameless and feeling very entitled. I wonder how many of our gallery of racist rogues linked above were at church, today? How many of them will claim Christ and a Christian life? I know I linked all the above stories, but let’s stop for a moment and say their names: Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, Lolade Siyonbola, Kenzie Smith and Ms. Campbell.
I totally understand the feeling that many white people get when these videos start popping up on Facebook and our news channel of choice, “Hey! That’s not me! I’m not like that! I’m not racist!” I mean, I’m not one of those rifle-toting Swastika-wearing (very fine people) nutters like those we see on TV and the internet! Well, good. But these episodes remind us that in all times and all places people of conscience who have a voice must speak. We all need to speak out in every social platform available to us: white supremacy and racism are wrong. Some may have the uncomfortable job of telling coworkers, friends and family to stop their racists language and behavior around us: don’t back down. Every time we remain silent we further enable racism and violence against our non-white neighbors, friends and family. This is an all-hands-on-deck, white people!
“The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the Prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, 11 January 1907 – 23 December 1972
The white sin of racism passed from generation to generation will not stop until white people stop it. We can’t legislate it away. We have to change white culture, white society and white people. No more excuses. Not being racist is not enough. We need a war on racism. We need a war on racism because non-white folks need to sit down sometimes, might become fatigued while studying and need a quick nap, and will surely enjoy cooking out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
“Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better. It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us… each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful.”
Colossians 3:10-11 & 15, St. Paul
All of us, white people of faith especially, must be loud and clear in our condemnation and opposition to racism and white supremacy. There is no other way for us to be but loudly, clearly and completely opposed to this historic and tragic sin. Our weapons are love, grace and truth. Say it peacefully and say it civilly. But for the sake of all our beloved non-white friends, family and neighbors: say it!
We had such a beautiful Sunday, yesterday. Teresa and I fasted for social justice and mercy during the day with our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and many others from the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. We also heard from a special guest in Sunday School, Imam Tarif Shraim of the Islamic Community Center of Potomac (the ICCP). He attended with another teacher from the ICCP and several of their youth.
I met Imam Shraim at his mosque on my birthday, March 31 of this year, when I attended Friday prayers with other guests invited from our parish of St. John’s Episcopal Church Norwood. By the way, both Imam Shraim and Reverend Sari Ateek, our pastor, are Palestinians. When they are together you can feel the contagious energy of two humans thrilled to be present with each other.
Imam Shraim was gracious and wise as he shared with our combined Sunday School of 8th to 12th graders some of what it is like to be a Muslim in America. He shared his own story of facing racial and religious hatred here in America (a high speed pursuit and attempt to run his family off the road) because they have brown skin and his wife chooses to wear a head scarf. He expressed sincere gratitude for his welcome at St. John’s, and he invited us all to visit the ICCP any time we can make it. I plan to visit again as soon as my work schedule allows, hopefully during the coming celebration of Ramadan, beginning the evening of May 27 until June 25.
It warmed my heart to spend our class time helping our students grow in their understanding of our shared humanity with our Muslim neighbors, and our shared religious heritage and aspirations. I loved that our epistle reading in worship that morning was of the Apostle Paul in Athens, Acts 17:22-31. I’ve always believed that this should be a foundational text for our interaction with other faiths and adherents of other faiths. Paul shows respect for them and appreciation for what they share in common, and he even quotes their own poets. There is a humility and graciousness in this text that we have lost in so many of our own interactions with other faiths. Paul has a message to share and his own faith convictions, of course, but he doesn’t belittle, hate, fear or condemn the aspirations of the Athenians.
I pray that this is a week marked by more love, more learning and more service. May we find ourselves drawn to a shared grace and mercy for all people, and may we speak loudly and consistently against the hatred, fear and violence that threaten so many of our neighbors. And to support our prayer, may we do more loving, do more learning, and may we do more service. This is our calling as followers of Christ, to be known by our love: love for neighbors, love for friends and family, love for enemies, love for all. “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:14
You are not alone.
To every one of my Muslim friends and neighbors, you are not alone. The demonizing of your religion will not go unchallenged. Threats to discriminate against you because of your faith will not go unchallenged. You are our neighbors, friends and family. There are so many Americans, so many Christians, who will defend you.
To every immigrant, even those who came to us undocumented, you are not alone. We will still speak of your dignity and worth and celebrate our connection as human beings. You are our neighbors, our fellow humans, and you matter to us. Your children matter, and we will not leave them forsaken.
To every woman who feels that deep pain in their soul when men use and excuse demeaning language like “grab them by the pussy,” you are not alone. We will continue to hold people accountable for their words and actions. We will always speak of your value and we will defend your bodies and rights.
To every LGBTQ friend and neighbor, you are not alone. We have seen important civil liberties achieved in the last decade for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer minorities, and we will not sit idly by when those are threatened. You matter to us, and we will continue to safeguard your life and liberty.
To the millions who have healthcare for the first time, and those who finally have coverage even in the face of preexisting conditions, you are not alone. We will not sit idly by while your health is threatened by political games and rhetoric. We will fight for you and with you to keep the healthcare you so desperately need.
To our non-white friends and neighbors who have been vilified, faced condescension, and suffered demeaning, racist abuses, you are not alone. We will continue to stand with you for equality and truth. We will continue to work for a day when no one’s race or ethnicity is used as a weapon to disenfranchise, demean or discredit them.
To refugees around the world and those who have made it to US soil, you are not alone. We will not allow you to be further victimized by fear and suspicion, but will loudly proclaim your dignity, value and humanity. You are our sisters and brothers.
Those holding public offices change, but some things will never change. We will always stand together to create a better world, a safer world and a more beautiful world where our diverse gifts and shared dignity brighten every dark time. We will work harder each day to embrace love and accept our differences, and we will safeguard one another against all threats. We will stumble and we will misstep, but we will always rise and be better for our shared efforts.
You are not alone.