Back in my day… oh no, here it comes!… nope, not walking miles barefoot through snow to get to school…that would be Blue Hill in October, but I grew up where there was little snow, plenty of shoes, and school buses… Back in my day, when we were triangulating sound waves and flashes of light to locate enemy artillery, we used a slide rule. The thing was, the technology was already obsolete. The world had moved on and we were stuck in the past. There was this thing called radar. The first drones were being developed at Fort Sill, where I did my basic training. Soon there would even be computers on the battlefield. But not yet.
So we lived in this limbo of not yet, the old not letting go. The result was low morale, low combat readiness, lots of drinking and pot-smoking, and soldiers getting thrown out of the army. I was lucky, keeping myself busy with church, so stayed out of trouble, at least the worst trouble, though I was far from the perfect soldier.
Skip a few years, and slide rules are forgotten. I’m at the personal computer, an Apple IIc, playing a video game. Today our smartwatches have more power. Green text on a black screen. Do you leave earth with Ford Prefect? If yes, press 1. If no, press 2. It was the text only game version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, on this thing called a floppy disk that was actually floppy. Bet some of you remember them.
The game was a simple decision tree, the same kind you have to deal with every time you call the cable company. And believe it or not, it was considered a good thing. It was great to have a clear and consistent way to think through a decision. A modern decision tree was in the news this week as they discussed how military commanders decide if a service member’s tattoo is White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi, for our military considers membership in racist or fascist movements to be incompatible with an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Funny that.
But back when those first computers were coming out, the decision tree was re-purposed and used to create choose-your-own-adventure books. An employee I supervised in Manhattan’s tech industry even wrote one, “Escape from Fire Island,” filled with toxic waste and zombie drag queens. Not for children, though most books in the genre were. If you get on the sailboat, go to page 82. If you stay on the shore, go to page 88. Every choice had an immediate consequence.
But here’s the thing. Even before decision trees, “press 1 for yes” and mass market paperbacks, life was already a choose-your-own-adventure, with consequences. And not making a choice is a choice, because the world is going to happen anyway.
The pharaoh was given a choice. Stop exploiting people. Enough with the racism. He didn’t listen.
Of course, the people being liberated then complained and blamed Moses when liberation took some work. Because every crowd has at least one person who could have done it better.
Jesus let people make a choice. You can follow me or not. I’m offering you a future, but I can’t make you take it. The kingdom of God is here, and you can opt-in, but it is going to require some new thinking.
Of course, he was executed by Roman racists, fascists, really, for the very term derives from fascio littorio, the name of the bundle of rods tied around an axe that was the symbol of the Roman magistrate’s power, and the use of violence and threats of violence to maintain power is one of the definitive marks of fascism.
And Jesus’ opposition was not limited to the Romans. Up front evil is easy to identify. If we are to believe the gospels, though, he got thrown under the bus by good people, concerned people, people who believed in process. No doubt there was a committee of scribes and pharisees. Because that is always the way. True evil is not done only by truly evil people, but also by people who think they are doing good.
Folks worried that Moses was going to make things worse. The Pharisees didn’t want to upset the Romans… Good German Christians didn’t want to cause trouble. There were African-Americans who actually did not support the Rev. Dr. King.
“We must preserve our identity and our heritage at all costs,” said the growing German nationalism of the Romantic age, say American White Supremacists today celebrating the treason of the Confederacy, for that slow and gracious Southern hospitality was made possible by slaves, then sharecroppers, who were doing all of the real work. “We must preserve our heritage. That’s not the way we do things here,” say those who lovingly kill church after church, drowning in a sea of irrelevance and good manners.
Funny how every June 6th we celebrate the day anti-fascists fighting white supremacy landed on the beaches of Normandy.
And it needn’t even have come to that, because the real enemy wasn’t Hitler and his cadre of psychopaths. It was ordinary Germans who went along and it was Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who thought they could contain evil and work things out through diplomacy as Hitler grew stronger and more aggressive by the day. Talk, talk, talk. Meet, meet, meet.
How many millions of lives were lost to the notion of just getting along and waiting? How many disabled lives? Jewish lives? Roma lives? Gay lives? Children’s lives.
It is the same story every time. The truly evil are empowered by the timid and the concerned. Evils celebrate as we meet, every time we offer thoughts and prayers and do absolutely nothing. It has happened throughout history. It happens today, in nations, in high schools, in churches.
The well intended are so destructive.
God does not want your caution. God is not interested in the past. God is “I Am Becoming,” a truly living God, a God that is still dreaming of a world, still calling us and still calling us to justice, and we live into the future. The past is dead, and while we can appreciate it, the remarkable legacy, those with eyes always on the past are killing and are dying. Learn from the past, don’t worship it.
Love in action is not passive lip service about loving the enemy. It is a call to action, a call to the streets, even when that is risky. It is marching into Jerusalem with palms in the air, even when you know where that might lead. It is speaking out for the poor people of El Salvador, even though you know where that might lead.
It is daring to hope and telling the world you have a dream, even where you know where that will lead, even when the Holy Spirit tells you that you are on the mountain top but you will not see the promised land. It is taking to the streets to show that love must win, in the West Bank, in Barcelona, in Charlottesville, in Blue Hill.
Love in action is not worried what the Pharisees will think. Just as Jesus said about the poor, the Pharisees will always be with us, worried about appearances and what others might think, willing to stomach the worst evils so as not to upset. They are arrogant. They are the true enemies of the prophets. Today’s worst Pharisees we call evangelicals, though they are not limited to the heresy of fundamentalism.
We say black lives matter because in America a white armed escaped murderer can be taken alive, and an unarmed African-American with a broken brake light can end up dead. Does end up dead, Again and again.
Protest, just don’t do it where we can see you. Don’t take a knee during the national anthem, or we will blackball you from the National Football League. Don’t protest in the street, or we will make it legal to run you over.
What? You think the murder of Heather Heyer was the act of a lone madman, or that somehow this White Supremacist got his inspiration from ISIS, which carries out similar attacks?
The seeds of last weeks attack were not planted in the Islamic Caliphate. They were planted in the United States, and we let it happen. This year, six state legislatures have considered legislation to protect drivers who run over protesters. In addition to the usual suspects, Texas and North Carolina, there was Florida, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.
This has been a constant theme on white supremacist and Neo-Nazi media, the right to run over protesters who were in the street, so much of this rising extremism funded by billionaires we can name, men like hedge fund thief Bob Mercer.
We snicker when Alex Jones of InfoWars says “A lot of the KKK guys with their hats off look like they’re from the cast of Seinfeld. Literally, they’re just Jewish actors…. they are leftist Jews that want to create this clash and they go dress up as Nazis.”
Well, we laugh until some lunatic shows up at a pizza shop with an automatic weapon. But we put him there, all in the name of tolerance.
But, you know, they were in the street. He didn’t respect the flag. He didn’t listen to the officer. It was dark. I’m not a Jew.
The Jew the killed on Calvary was love in action. He put his body on the line for love. Heather Heyer was love in action. She put her body on the line for love.
Those kids at Kent State who said enough war were love in action. Pissed off drunk drag queens mourning Judy Garland who said enough is enough were love in action. Malala Yousafzai is love in action every time she declares that girls and women deserve an education despite being shot in the head and continued threats from the misogynists that claim to be protecting tradition. We just don’t understand how things work here. We are proud that we do not change. Educating women isn’t what we do. Don’t come here and change our ways.
I’m sure Malala upset some people. Maybe we can have a vote, let the Taliban weigh in, after all, we need to make sure all voices are heard. Wouldn’t want them to feel that they weren’t welcome.
Continuing to reach beyond our own Christian tradition, we can consider the list of Seven Social Sins published by liberator Mohandas Gandhi in 1925. The sins were:
Politics without principles.
Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without character.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Worship without sacrifice.
Today, I would add the three “C”s to social sin… caution, committee, consensus.
It’s just talk?
Word matter but actions matter more. And while we are sitting around talking, evil is getting stronger.
This is a choose your own adventure moment. Coming together does not mean tolerating the intolerant, or lovingly allowing the forces of hate to take over our country. It does not mean allowing obstructionists to block progress in the name of caution and tradition. Tradition would kills some of us, enslave others, silence the rest, leaving only straight white males with a voice. No thank you.
Coming together does not mean lovingly allowing the fearful in our midst, the cautious, to silence the voice of the prophets, which is the voice of a living God.
He has told you, human one, what is good and
what the Lord requires from you:
to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.
Love in action requires action. It requires courage. It requires seeing that the real enemy is not the active evil out there, but the passive evil in our own house.
May the Spirit be with us.