A new year and the stirring of old hatreds. Just as everyone looks to project their anger and frustration on a scapegoat, we know that scapegoat can be an entire people. There is much we need to do as we are threatened by all sorts of enemies and dangers that seem to lie in wait to undo and unsettle us.
As we enter a new year and a new decade we are confronted with old nemeses. In every generation there are challenges, and, in every life, there are frustrations. The mature person accepts the challenges and the consequences of their behaviors. But there is a far easier route for those who project their troubles and conflicts onto others.
After the humiliating loss of WWI and the financial collapse of the Weimar Republic, many in Germany fell under the toxic spell of a demagogue who told them the problem was the impure corruption of the Jews in their midst. They looked and prayed different and they became the scapegoat for all that frustrated and humiliated the common citizen. Of course, we know that this process of projecting the inner darkness onto others led to unimaginable horror and the systematic extermination of millions of innocent Jews as well as anyone else who didn’t fit well with the national movement.
The church, for the most part, was silent. I think it is safe to say that complacency is complicity.
In the past few years we see a growing number of attacks on Jews. A propensity for scapegoating that had seemed mostly bottled up, is finding more and more opportunity to manifest in our streets and synagogues. We heard tiki torch young men chanting in Charlottesville, Virginia, “The Jews will not replace us.” A synagogue was shot up in Pennsylvania and just this past week, a machete wielding man broke into a Jewish home and viciously attacked worshippers, celebrating Chanukah.
To be clear, others are being attacked too. It is more than disturbing to hear the constant mantra of building a wall to keep out “those people.” It is truly tragic that African American parents have to worry about how their sons and daughters have to be especially careful when they encounter any law enforcement situation. Christian Churches and people gathered in bible studies, are not immune as they teach about love and justice. Hate crimes against gays and other minorities so frequently go underreported. Perhaps it is also true that we are a long way from a systematic holocaust. But we must not close our eyes to the increasing level of incidence of this kind of scapegoating and the almost blasé response that our benumbed society seems able to muster.
It is hard to say who or what is to blame. But there is definitely a heart of darkness that is increasingly becoming activated in our midst.
Our message will ring out hollow and irrelevant if we don’t prophetically identify the signs of evil and destruction operating in our midst.
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? The answer, in brief, was prove yourself a good neighbor. We, as a church, must see the victim as well as the victimizer and the system that condones this process. As we see something, we must also say something. We must guard against complacency/complicity that hides behind a sacred veil of social silence. We need to seek out our neighbors, offer compassion, speak truth to power and begin to model another way of being human. This means acknowledging our own infirmities, forgiving those who seek reconciliation and offering radical hospitality to the sojourner and the refugee, the widow and orphaned.
As Epiphany approaches, let us ask, “What wisdom we can gain from seeking and encountering the Christ in our midst?”