We have hung our heads and cried,
Cried for the ones who had to die,
Died for you and died for me,
Died for the cost of equality.
But we'll never turn back
Until we all have been freed
And we'll have equality.
No, we'll never turn back,
No, we'll never turn back.
The song is from 50 years ago. And 200 years before that. And today.
The mass murders in Charleston came --
- just at the beginning of Ramadan -- the Muslim month of fasting, self-reflection, and spiritual self- assessment;
- just as Pope Francis celebrated and enriched the loving teachings of St. Francis of Assisi by sending forth to all the world his encyclical on the need for all humanity to protect the Earth and the poor from the climate crisis and from other destructive uses of technology;
- just as 360 rabbis sent forth "to the Jewish People, to all Communities of Spirit, and to the World" the Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis.
What a day of profound contradiction! The worst expression of hatred and racism together with the most loving expressions of care and active healing for all humanity and all the life-forms that make up Mother Earth!
I think we face a central question: What would it mean for all American society to repent ---- in prayer, tears, fasting, and also action -- for our historic lethal arrogance in slavery, racism, & genocide; in aggressive & oppressive wars in Central America, Vietnam, & Iraq; and in our destruction of the Earth?
Can we name a specific day when all Americans would be invited to join in an act of penance?
Could we as a nation bear -- could we dare -- to pause, fast, pray, meditate on July 3 to reflect on and atone for our history of lethal arrogance -- and then turn on July 4 to celebrate our efforts to grow into compassion and community, and act to do the deeds and sow the seeds of change?
As the Prophet Isaiah taught -- Fasting, to be a real act of transformation, must be accompanied by "feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, and breaking off the hand-cuffs" forced upon those imprisoned by the violence of irresponsible power.
The truth that the USA is ALSO an experiment in growing freedom, community, and democracy calls on us precisely not to ignore but to embrace the need for repentance of these our society's sins.
AND -- As the Rabbinic Letter and the Encyclical both say, the real issue is eco-social justice, for the climate crisis, racism, and gross inequality of wealth and power -- all are linked. The Rabbinic Letter, like the action in NYC before Passover & Palm Sunday this past spring that was sponsored both by The Shalom Center and Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, speaks of Carbon Pharaohs, oppressing human beings and bringing plagues upon all Earth like the biblical Pharaoh.
Indeed, let us think about that story, central to Judaism & to Christianity (through the Passover events of Holy Week as well as through what Christians call "the Old Testament") and important though not as central to Islam. Think about what"Pharaoh" meant:
- " Top-down, unaccountable, oppressive power
- " Idolatrous claim to be a god, & rejection of YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Interbreath of Life. The Name that is within and beyond all human languages, the Name that unites by interbreathing all animals and vegetation.
- " Racism
- " Fear & hatred of immigrants
- " Oppression of workers & efforts to break what A.J Muste called "Brickmakers Union Number 1"
- " Militarism (Pharaoh's imperial chariot army)
- " Police brutality (the Bible calls them "overseers"-- think about their role in controlling the Hebrew people [in Egyptian context, as slaves, analogous to the Black community in America??? }
- " Plagues that were ecological disasters
How do we begin? I suggest we set aside, this coming week, time in all our religious and spiritual gatherings to say prayers in memory of the dead of Charleston and all their predecessors in the centuries of terrorism directed by some white Americans against the Black community.