The Fire This time

PLights in Winter's DarknessThis week I found myself deeply disturbed by a story in Indian Country Today (Vol 2, Issue 47), entitled, “The Fire Next Time”, and written by Mary Annette Pember. The piece discussed the arson of several buildings and sites dedicated to traditional healing and spirituality on the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe reservation. Apparently, the evidence suggests these acts may have been carried out by a person or persons connected to a Christian network, the New Apostolic Reformation movement. The NAR, which appears to be gaining in influence amongst some evangelical churches, reportedly sees First Nations spiritual practices as idolatry or witchcraft that must be ended. This is indeed troubling.

We are in the midst of Hanukkah, the celebration of a miracle, and this evening family gathered to light the candles for the fourth night. A little later I was walking past a bookshelf when I noticed someone had set out The Christmas Menorahs, by Janice Cohn. This children’s book tells the true story of the community of Billings,Montana’s response to a string of racist incidents several years ago. A group of unknown size began a campaign of terror against Jewish, African American, and First Nations families.  The story focuses on one Jewish family who, having placed a menorah in a window to commemorate Hanukkah, had a rock thrown through the window. The rising up of the Billings community in response to these attacks was a modern day miracle of the human spirit.

In response to such incidents, many Billings families, of all faiths, placed Menorahs in their windows to show solidarity with those under attack. The idea for this show of belonging and support came from the Danish people’s donning of  the Star of David in response to Nazi attempts to isolate and destroy Danish Jews. As a result of the actions of the Danish people, many Jewish families were saved. The rising up of the Danish people was a modern day miracle of the human spirit.

As we approach the time of the Winter Solstice, a time holy in many traditions, it is worth remembering that only communities standing together can end racist or ethnic violence. It matters little the ideological rationale behind that violence; violence directed against any group seeks to isolate and terrorize, and ultimately undermines the sense of community,and the safety, of all.

Burning sites dedicated to spiritual practice and healing is simply not justifiable. Neither is throwing rocks through windows holding pictures of menorahs, paining swastikas on Jewish synagogues, or defacing African American homes. Groups that teach intolerance and physical or emotional violence must be challenged directly by those they seek to influence. May we, together, challenge the behavior and validity of all hate groups, and in doing so, create yet another modern day miracle.

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13 thoughts on “The Fire This time

  1. I stand with you and believe that together we must challenge all behavior that diminishes the freedom of individuals to live and worship peacefully.

    I am particularly saddened by the burning of the sites of worship at Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe reservation. Please, if there is a way to let them know, tell them I love them and send them Light and Peace. If there is anything else I can do please let me know. .

  2. As soon as a spiritual teacher,’s message becomes organized into a flag behind which people can rally, a line immediately becomes drawn, and people suffer. I was told once that I worship a different God because of my spiritual practices. One truly in the know would understand that the words “different” and “God” are mutually exclusive. While physical manifestations – which in and of themselves are simply a reflection of culture – may differ, the source is entirely the same.

    Unless we stop waving our religious practices like a flag, and return to the personal, loving message at their core, attrocities like this will never cease.

    Conversely, one might also note the great pulling together which often arises from such events. In that sense, they also have a great deal to teach us about our spiritual veracity…

    • One hopes people will pull together. I am concerned the divisive nature of our current politic makes that challenging. Somehow we collectively seem to forget that we are all people. Religion can do much good as well as great harm. I think the problem is people and politics, rather than religion. I can’t imagine Jesus is happy with all this hatred and violence.

      • I hear you. I can’t imagine it much myself. A few months ago, my wife and I went to a Roman Catholic churce for a funeral. When we walked in, there was a statue of Joseph holding Jesue in his arms. Directly in front of the statue was a table with a sign: “Lottery Tickets 5.00”

        Made me think of the money changers in the temple…

  3. This is definitely sad. I do agree that people working together to end racism, and also to show a united front against cruelty (regardless of religious orientation) is the answer.

    • Thanks, Sienna! Bigotry takes many forms. I do believe community can successfully counter it. Of course, that requires seeing the human in all faiths, rather than being politically correct. We shall see where all this goes. I imagine the best antidote to these specific harmful ideas and actions is for Christian churches and denominations to publicly reject them. I imagine Jesus would be right out there in front saying, “Stop!”

      • …or take a bullwhip to the churches that didn’t.

        I once heard it said that there’s enough religion in the world to make people hate one another, but not enough to make them love one another.

        Sure, in and of itself, Religion is a beautiful artifice allowing man to reach Divinity.

        But when through human greed and feer it becomes a tool of opression…something’s got to be done.

      • Ben, I guess I really don’t know how to think about this. I imagine people will find ways of gathering into identity groups and distancing from The Other, whether we have religions or not. Perhaps we will need a long time to become inclusive of Others, to push back against whatever biological and cultural drivers push us along these perilous paths. I believe religion at its best points us firmly towards the joyous and the Infinite. Maybe those are just places many humans don’t know how to go.

  4. I’ve seen religious communities do some very beautiful things. Food drives, clothing drives, building homes for people who lost their homes to fires…These acts, in and of themselves, could have been done by any group of human beings, certainly, but their religions seemed to have put them in touch with a higher spirit behind the acts so that, in the end, what was witnessed was somehow deeper…

    But I’ve also seen members of thoose same religions do some very negative things, all under the auspices of “this is the way God says it has to be done.” Could that have been their own egos getting in the way? Sure. But when their acts fall directly in line with the teachings of a religion, it might be time to take a look at those teachings and ask ourselves how, why, and through whom those teachings actually came to be (e.g. Catholic priests not being able to marry)

    If I fly a flag stating “I’M A CATHOLIC!!!!!” there’s the given implication that “YOU’RE NOT!!!!!!”. Throwing one’s support behind any religion without embracing its spiritual core is really no different than rooting parttime for your favorite NFL team: You get to wear the colors, participate in the celebrations, scream at (and sometimes grapple with) the opposition, and you get to go back to your other life after it’s all said and done. Meanwhile, you also forget that the one thing that binds you all together is the game itself.

    We need to remember, I think, that religion is an artifice designed for a specific purpose. Imagine for example, that God is a book sitting on the top shelf of a book case. Some people are tall enough to reach the book. Other people need a ladder. When they climb the ladder and take down the book, do they still need the ladder?

    Our religions never really seem to prepare us to step boldly beyond their borders once we reach a pure connection with the divine. We’re told that we’re unworthy, that we’re sinners, and that there’s a special – and very warm – place waiting for us if we don’t repent. If I’m unworthy, how can I ever trust my own experience enough to recognize when I’ve had a direct spiritual connection to the divine? In matters of religion it often appears that I’m always beholding to a power structure that spiritual movements would seek to rail against. Even Jesus had some pretty radical views on the religious authority of the time.

    If a person comes seeking a direct personal experience with the divine, he answers to one authority alone. If a person seeks to gain that experience through a rigid system of traditions, he then finds himself answering to more than one authority. The responsibility, then, seems to be with the human authorities to not only encourage a person to grow, but to allow them the space to grow beyond the need of certain traditions once their ends have been met; otherwise, those traditions once seen as a means of spiritual liberation, could very well end up becoming shackles…

    • Being a human being is such a complex task! We are so often drawn in conflicting directions, our egos keep us alive and make us miserably lonely, and we steal and hoard, imagining we can take our possessions into the next world, even as we long to share. We tell stories about the gods, and sometimes actually meet one. We create social hierarchies and destroy our joy competing for the perks that go with position. Yet all the while we long for connection, joy, and deep comfort. And yes, we so very easily become shackled by the very yearnings that might liberate us. Unfortunately, our religions mostly simply echo the human dilemmas and contradictions that are our collective inheritance. I believe we are unfair to insist they do otherwise, as much as we might yearn for them to. They, like us, can be angelic and daemonic, but they remain profoundly human in their kindness, generosity, and compassion, and even in their rigidity and, sadly, meanness.

  5. “They, like us, can be angelic and daemonic, but they remain profoundly human in their kindness, generosity, and compassion, and even in their rigidity and, sadly, meanness.”

    You offer up a lot of wisdom here. Nothing accomplished through the agency of humanity can ever be fully bereft of its influences. The conditions of the world are definitely a mirror of our own souls. Perhaps if we really learned to see ourselves in the situations that surround us, we would finally begin to understand the direction those situations have taken, and that only through changing ourselves, can we ever hope to change the world.

    Accepting Divinity as imminent goes a long way toward making that happen. In my heart, I feel that the belief that God is “out there, somewhere” and not present in every living thing, is truly at the heart of the issues we now face.

    If God’s not in those humans over there, or in those Buffalo wandering the prairie, or those millions of acres of rain forest, we (who, according to Judeo Christian teachings have been given dominion over everything by God) will not even blink when it comes to wiping any of them out for our own personal gain.

    If I’m one of the elect, and you’re not, and never will be, no matter what you do, then I can bomb you out of existence, and claim I’m following the will of God.

    Unless we truly examine the practices of our Religious beliefs – or any other beliefs for that matter – we are simply following blindly, and not using the free will we’ve been given. Any system which refuses to accept that aspect of our humanity is truly a dangerous thing…

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