Nazis and Narratives

Published December 24, 2016 in the Ames Tribune

By Eileen Gebbie

Do I want to read another article on American Nazism, Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan (now re-branded as “alt-right”)? Do I need to read about another hate crime against people who are Jewish or Muslim or queer or female or of color? How will such news prepare me for when the violence comes to my door and my soul (again)? How will reading about more physical, emotional, economic and spiritual violence help me to be an engaged citizen and faithful pastor?

These are the questions behind my daily choice to read the news or not.

As I write today, I’ve been following a story about a new campaign to go after people who are Jewish in Whitefish, Mont. It is being promoted by a prominent white nationalist website, one with a specific anti-Semitic agenda, and whose name is a specific reference to Nazism. To the site’s authors and readership, people who happen to be born into a Jewish family (and, presumably, those who convert) are not the same kind of humans as those who happen to be born into another kind of family. So the site has published the email addresses, phone numbers and Twitter names of people in Whitefish, whom the site has identified as Jewish. The site’s authors are advocating for a “Troll Storm”—intense and incessant harassment—against these people on the basis of their perceived religious identity.

Such behavior is vile and un-American, but it is not new or original. Our homegrown hate group, the Ku Klux Klan, was in its origins far more interested in destroying people who were Roman Catholic and Jewish than those who were black, as it is so famous for doing now. But I think this latest iteration of cruelty has stayed with me because I have been to Montana. I have family in Missoula and Miles City. I attended the installation of my great-grandparents’ photographs at the Range Riders Museum. So this harassment is in my own extended back yard, against my own neighbors.

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In Miles City, MT (second from left)

But what does that have to do with me as a Christian pastor at a church in Ames at Christmas?

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Peace Hangs on One Word: Joel 2.12–13 and 28–29

2016-12-4-yesDelivered at Ames UCC
on December 4, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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heard rather than read.

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A WORD
A few years ago a poet named Christian Wiman wrote a book called My Bright Abyss. It’s his story of living with cancer, knowing the divine, and rediscovering Christian community, which just happens to have been through a United Church of Christ congregation.

As a poet, it is not surprising that Wiman reflects on the language and kinds of storytelling we encounter in Christian scripture. He states that, “Christ speaks in stories as a way of preparing his followers to stake their lives on a story.” (p. 90) In other words, Wiman believes that the use of stories to talk about life is a way of training us to stake our lives on those stories themselves.

He’s right, of course, that when we choose a religious tradition, we are saying that we would like the stories and ritual and even architecture of that tradition to inform us and our lives. But are we really saying we will stake our lives on them? Are we saying that we will risk our lives as the stories often directly ask?

Take last week’s story about Daniel, for example. Daniel stayed true to his faith regardless of a law that was enacted to scare and entrap him. His integrity revealed how willing people are, in a grab for power, to criminalize others, to make other people out to be a threat.

It was a risk, though. Daniel literally risked his life for the God of the exodus, the God of freedom. Will we? Will we let these stories do more than just inform our lives but be what we stake our lives upon? For me, some days, the answer can rely on just one word.
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What to Bring to The Night: Daniel 6.6–27

2016-11-27-remade-in-loveDelivered at Ames UCC on November 27, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

DANIEL AND THE GOLDEN BOOKS
The earliest Near Eastern reference to Daniel that has surfaced to date is of a Ugaritic king in the 14th century BCE. After that time, a whole cycle of Daniel stories spread across the region. In the Bible proper he’s in this book, Daniel, as well as Ezekial. He is also in the extra-Biblical books of Susanna, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three, Bel and the Dragon, the Dead Sea Scroll called the Prayer of Nabonidus, and the Ugaritic Aqhat Epic.1

The first six chapters of the book of Daniel are a series of self-contained folk tales. Daniel shares qualities with other Biblical folk heroes, like Joseph’s gift of dream interpretation, and success in foreign politics like Mordecai, from the book of Esther.

As collected by our Jewish ancestors, these characters helped the Jewish community with how to live under occupation.

But because of my age and how I came up in Christian churches, I can’t hear “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” without picturing the Golden Books versions, all cartoony and not looking at all ancient near-eastern. Daniel looked, maybe, more like he came from Iowa. And what I can remember from those children’s versions is a really bad king and David as a cherubic tamer of lions. In my memory’s eye, there is a big confrontation between Daniel and the lions before his release by the king.

The moral was always that with enough faith God can save you from all dangers. The flip side of that was that if you were not saved, it was because you did not have enough faith.
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Dictators and Christ the King: Isaiah 6.1–8

Delivered at Ames UCC on November 20, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

2016-11-20-x-the-kingREIGN OF CHRIST
The stole I’m wearing today depicts the logo of the United Church of Christ. It is the Christus victor, Christ victorious. We have a cross, crowned, standing on and over the world. The world is segmented in reference to Jesus’ instruction to be witnesses to love in “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8). It is a regal and universal symbol. I’m wearing it today to mark Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday.

For churches like ours that use a traditional calendar of seasons and holidays, today is the bridge between Ordinary Time and Advent, the beginning of our Christian year. So today is like our new year’s eve. And we mark New Year’s Eve with a reminder of whom we are most loyal to, the Christ, and whose world we live in, God’s.

Which is easy to forget in daily life. In daily life we are residents of Story County, Iowa and the United States of America. Here in Ames our mayor is Ann Campbell, our representative to the Iowa house is Lisa Heddens, our governor is Terry Branstad. At the national level our senators are Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, our U.S. representative is Steve King.

Unlike the rulers of our scripture and of history, none of them are religious figures and they are not anointed by God. They do not inherit their positions and do not bequeath them to their offspring. They are our neighbors. From Campbell to King, they are regular humans with regular homes and regular families who probably all like to eat at The Café on Stange, too.

2016-11-20-regular-humansNow, Mayor Campbell and Rep. Heddens are a lot easier to get to than the others. Until this summer, Heddens was upstairs in our own building running People Place. Now she’s around the corner at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I’ve run into our mayor here for memorial services and around town at events for area nonprofits.

The rest, well, the rest have a whole lot of staff members and geography between us and them. The more power we give to regular people, it seems, the less access they give regular people. We, the very people they courted to get the jobs, the very people who could take those jobs away.

We may not have royalty but after a certain point, we have leaders who function at a scale that can put them at what can feel like a princely distance.

ISAIAH OF JERUSALEM
Isaiah of Jerusalem, the man anointed by angels and coal in our story today, was in a similar position. During his time, in the 8th century BCE, Jerusalem was under threat of conquer by the Assyrians. Isaiah was, personally, a wealthy Jerusalemite. But that didn’t mean he had easy access to the king in a time of crisis.

And looming war wasn’t Isaiah’s only concern. Jerusalem was his home, but it was also God’s. By the understanding of Isaiah’s day, Jerusalem was where God lived, literally, in the temple. So Isaiah was dealing with pending war and the loss of God.

Here he is, speaking with angels and being branded as a prophet then having to try to explain to his people why God would allow invaders to kill them and foreigners to close the opening between heaven and earth. This was a man in whose vision God was on a throne yet still had no answers for what was, in the end, the occupation of Jerusalem by two different foreign powers.

MUSSOLINI
Calling this Christ the King Sunday came in response to an occupation, of sorts.

The big holidays like Christmas and the Baptism of Christ and Easter and Pentecost are all scripturally based, all in reference to the stories we have in the Bible. But Reign of Christ Sunday started in 1925. In 1925 Pope Pius XI established this feast day for the Roman Catholic church. Why 1,925 years after the establishment of all of the other holidays, would he feel compelled to remind people of their true leader? What was happening in Italy in the first quarter of the 20th century?

It was the rise of fascism.
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A Step Backwards—To Hate

Published Nov 21, 2016 in the Ames Tribune

By Eileen Gebbie

When I was a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I had the opportunity to teach. Although I had never, myself, taken an introduction to sociology course, I was assigned to TA three discussion sections of 30 students each in the intro course at Illinois.

The lecturer for the course went through the primary markers that determine each of our life chances (our access to resources): race, class, sex/gender, sexuality and ability. I think if she were teaching it now, we would have also talked about nation of origin and religion.

As a result, we learned a lot of history and considered issues in the news. This included the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man in Wyoming, and the subsequent efforts to pass hate crimes legislation in local municipalities and at the national level. (The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2009. Byrd was a black man who was lynched and decapitated in Texas in 1998.)

I don’t think any of my students believed killing Shepard was acceptable. Some may have thought he “asked for it” by being “too gay,” but I don’t believe anyone tried to justify the actual beating or leaving him exposed to the elements with his arms tied out to his sides, as in a crucifixion. But they also really struggled with the notion of special protection under the law.

It sounded too much like “special rights,” the phrase often used by anti-gay groups to suggest that the LGBTQIA community was trying to get access to more power and privileges simply by asking for the right to fair access housing, the right to not be fired because of their biology, and the right to enter into the civil contract that is marriage.

Yet when I asked them whether they thought crimes ever went ignored, under-investigated or under-prosecuted because someone might be a woman or Trans or Latino, they said yes. My majority white, majority Chicago-suburb students had no problem believing there could be inconsistency in the treatment of victims of crime.

As of this writing, not quite two weeks since the presidential election, America has seen a surge in hate crimes (or at least the reporting of hate crimes). More than 700 have already been documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
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