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.
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?
Part of my work is providing something called “pastoral care.” It is not psychological counseling, but being present with and for people who are in crisis.
In order to prepare for that work, my training included clinical experience and lots of reading about how humans think, feel and organize their lives. One therapeutic technique that stood out to me is called narrative therapy. Broadly stated, how we tell the story of our life is a factor in how we experience our life. Changing our self’s narrative can change our selves.
This notion of the power of story is particularly important in religious traditions, like mine, that rely on fables, myths, histories, poetry, and song. We go back to ancient narratives over and over to plumb for truth about the human condition and holiness and how we are supposed to get through “this thing called life,” to quote a more contemporary songwriter. It is a process that takes a lifetime. It is a conscious choice to ally oneself with a specific collection of stories. It is a test of those stories and the hearer as to whether the effort leads to more safety and stability in the world, or greater danger and instability.
For the new American Nazi movement, their origin stories and narrative clearly lead to the latter.
So in this season ripe with ritual and commemorations—Mawlid, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Day—I invite you to join me in examining your own stories, your life narrative. Where does it put us in relation to each other? How does it shape our understanding of our work in the world?
And I pray, knowing that prayer is not a magic trick but a process of meditation and release, that you will join me in choosing stories of love and justice, stories that move us to resist those of hatred and murder, here in Ames and in the backyard that is the whole world.
That is the only way the grotesquery that has become the daily news will ever change.