"You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant 'low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay.'”
“So, what’s your plan? You going to keep working your way up to bigger and better churches and church leadership positions?”
This was the end of a conversation I had with one of my parishioners at the church where I am the newly minted minister to children. Over the past few weeks it has become clear how difficult it is for most people to get their heads around my recent change in ministry roles.
“Why is the world silent while Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa?” asks Ronald S. Lauder. The World Jewish Congress president frames the question in a larger paint-by-numbers argument defending Israel’s assault on Gaza and criticizing the moral instincts of “beautiful celebrities,” reporters, and the U.N. who have not responded adequately to the brutality of Boko Haram and ISIS.
An argument like Lauder's is liable to predictable demands for greater American military involvement in the region. But the silence he names is real.
In August 1994, I was an introspective, brainy 16-year-old, fresh from a summer in Israel with a busload of other 16-year-olds. On my last morning in Jerusalem, I had watched the sun rise: cool breezes over ancient golden stones. I heard church bells ring and the Muslim call to prayer, whispering my own Hebrew dreams into fuzzy pink air. As a Jewish teen who went (reluctantly) to Israel for the Roman ruins but stayed for the prayers, when we chanted under desert stars I was suspended somewhere in between Reform Jewish teenagerhood and a future as a religious studies professor—plus my always evolving, complex relationship with Jewish adulthood.
This was when I first encountered Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India.
Religious fanaticism is, regrettably, front and center in our collective consciousness again in this the summer of bad news. Whether it is Iraq or Israel/Palestine or other places around the globe, many people are quick to point to the role that religion plays in stoking the flames of violence and hatred. And whenever there is violence associated with religion in the news, we can expect to see articles like “The god effect” over at Aeon magazine.